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~*~*~*~*~*~

To say Clark was pissed as an understatement.

"WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!!!" being screamed at him two seconds upon landing was generally a very good indication of that.

Lex looked up at the irate Kryptonian standing in his living room.

"Mai Tai?" Lex asked.

"No I am not drinking your goddamn--" Clark spat out, as he took the drink from his offered hand and sat down on the couch next to him.

Then Lex watched bemusedly as Clark blinked once, twice, glancing around at where he was in the house, down where he was sitting, the drink, and the other drink that Lex was now picking up from the glass-top coffee table and sipping at.

"I hate it when you do that," Clark ground out, glaring.

"I didn't order you to," Lex said with a smile, "soooo... I suppose that means that you must've wanted one," he ended with a smirk.

Clark glowered at him, holding the martini glass out like it was going to bite him.

"Try it," Lex said.

Clark clenched his jaw, then drank the whole thing down in one gulp.

Lex had to bite his lip as Clark sputtered and gagged. "That's horrible!"

"Well, I suppose it's a good thing that you downed it all at once then," Lex said philosophically, sipping his own.

Clark huffed out a sigh and set the glass down on the coffee table. Then he turned back to Lex, crossed his arms, opened his mouth--

--and Lex interrupted him with, "Feeling calmer?"

"NO!" Clark declared. Then he stopped. "Maybe a little," he grumbed, deflating.

"Have I told you how I love that you can do that and still be telling the truth?" Lex said mildly, smirk intact.

"Yes," Clark said dourly, shoving himself back into the couch cushions, arms still crossed.

"Well, I still find it utterly fascinating how you manage to keep yourself operating at such high levels of self-denial and repression."

"I blame you."

"I know you do," Lex said with a chuckle. "But you really ought to work more on your self-awareness, when you have the chance."

"That an order?"

"A suggestion," Lex corrected, gently. "Now," Lex sighed, setting down his glass, and turning to face Clark, pulling one leg up underneath him. He slid an elbow over the back of the couch and propped his head up on a fist, before asking with a measured casualness, almost sing-song and candy-sweet: "Would you like to try that again?"

Clark looked obstinate for a moment, before the wall of anger broke down into a frustrated fatigue. "Why the hell did you do it?" he asked almost plaintively.

"Do what?"

Clark glared again and threw his hands up. "All of it! Any of it!"

Lex sighed and reached for his glass. "Do we need to have another talk about specificity--?"

Clark got up and started pacing. "I mean, the thing with Tess was bad enough, leaving her in charge without any training at all, and the whole diaries thing -- I mean, come on!" He whirled to face Lex, hands on his hips. "Like you would ever write anything that important down about me someplace where Lionel could get at it!"

"Well, there was The Room at the mansion--" Lex pointed out.

"Oh, shut up -- you were young and stupid and that was before you knew Lionel was a complete douchebag who would stuff his nose into every little thing you do and fry your brain at the drop of a hat. Doesn't count." Clark said, throwing his hands up.

Lex eyed his empty martini glass and decided he was probably going to need more alcohol for this.

Luckily, he had some within easy access. He reached around the back of the couch for the wine cooler and snagged himself a nice Tokaji Aszu, while Clark rambled on about "sociopathic half-sisters" and "stupid Checkmate crap," and many other old grievances, all of which he had "conveniently 'forgot' to ever mention!" at the time.

Well, of course I did, Lex thought brazenly. It wouldn't have been a surprise if I had. He had needed Clark surprised, among other things.

When Clark got around to rehashing the brief takeover of the mansion by the Kandorians when Lex lived right below them, Lex reminded him, "It isn't as though I didn't vacate the premises for the interim," which Clark knew full-well because he'd helped with the temporary move, not wanting to leave anything possibly interesting behind for the militaristic aliens to find.

"I almost went with them, you know!" Clark blurted out.

"You had ties here; you'd have stayed," Lex said simply, assuming he meant the portal via the so-called 'Book of Rao', and damn but he was pissed at that Jor-El clone for hiding it on him. The too-short timetable hadn't allowed Clark to have gotten away with it without suspicion, to bring it to him for copying prior to its use -- his fingers still itched over that lost opportunity -- the Crystal of Knowledge only had oblique references to the damn thing. Apparently Kryptonians had kept their 'scientific religion' and their science-proper separate, lord knew why. Lex guessed it had something to do with those clone wars a few eons back.

Clark growled at him, then finally -- it seemed -- got to the damn point. "But this piece of bullshit--"

"Have I mentioned lately how thrilled I am that you don't stutter or blush over your curses anymore?"

"--is the worst by far!" Clark continued. "What the hell was all this crap with the cloning!"

Lex raised an eyebrow.

"I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!!!" Clark shrieked at him.

"Of course you did; I needed you to. You wouldn't have been able to take on Darkseid properly if you hadn't."

Clark went still.

"Breathe, Clark."

Clark took a breath, then looked startled and let it out again. He ground his teeth together.

"Explain," Clark demanded, looming over him.

"Really, Clark, I'm surprised at you, that you think I would die so easily," Lex said as he focused on pouring himself a glass of wine. Expecially after the Arctic Incident, he thought sourly.

He picked up his glass, leaned back, then sighed at Clark's expression. "...What?"

"I thought you died," Clark repeated, hands lowered, palms up, almost as if in supplication. "When the mansion exploded, I--"

"You pulled mirror-Lionel and Martha out first, and, what, didn't think you could go after me after the fact with them watching?"

"I--" Clark straightened, fists clenched at his sides. "You didn't call me--"

"I was busy. You didn't need the oversight. This is hard to comprehend?"

"You say I always need oversight!" Clark complained.

Lex had to fight against a smile. "Not that much." He sipped at his wine. "Not at the time. You needed a small measure of independence for the interim." He looked at Clark over the rim of his glass. "You felt some darkness inside you that you attributed to me. You needed to work through it without feeling my constant presence."

"But--" Clark ran his hands through his hair, looking frustrated.

It took Lex a moment to realizethat it wasn't the autonomy Clark was protesting -- which would admittedly have been odd. "You're wondering why you didn't go after me, despite the two of them standing there."

"You aren't supposed to die." Clark looked like he was having trouble breathing. "It's-- you--" Clark bit down on something, and instead said, "You said no dying. You have plans for me, and you said I need controlling, by you. You dying would be against your plans. I'm not supposed to be able to let that happen without..." he trailed off. They both knew the consequences by now.

Trust Clark to try and use logic to distract me, Lex thought. Well, he's learning, at least. ...I'll get it out of him later, he decided. Might as well reward him for trying to use his brain for once.

"Clark, you have informed me before that I have a very distinctive heartbeat, yes?"

Clark nodded.

"And you have also said that you don't consciously hear everything you can hear all the time, yes?"

Clark nodded again.

"And we have determined that your 'blocking out' noise doesn't actually prevent you from doing anything other than subconsciously filter through everything you're capable of hearing, correct?"

Clark nodded slowly, beginning to frown.

"Now, this would imply...?"

Lex waited.

When Clark didn't seem to get it, Lex sighed and said, "You most likely subconsciously heard that I was out of the mansion and perfectly all right, from the location of my rather calm and measured heartbeat, and felt no need to pursue the matter further."

"...You weren't in the mansion?" Clark seemed to lighten up slightly at this.

"I wasn't about to remain there while Lx-15 was lurking about," Lex scoffed, waving a hand. "I have my own ways of getting information. Mirror-Lionel wasn't the only one watching his movements. His running into me -- either of them doing so -- would have been more than a little disastrous. Lx-15 might have had trouble accessing all of my memories as needed, but he had them. He knew about the sublevels, if not what had happened since the Arctic."

"He thought I was a bad man," Clark said quietly.

"You are," Lex grinned. Clark's head shot up. "Oh, honestly Kal," Lex said, rolling his eyes, "That's not necessarily a bad thing."

"I'm pretty sure being 'bad' is a bad thing," Clark glared at him.

"Fine, fine. Not an insult, then."

Clark stood there and glowered.

" 'Bad' is relative," Lex said, finally. "Evil is not."

There was a long pause.

"...What are you going to do?" Clark asked quietly.

"Hm?" Lex asked, inclining his head.

"What are you going to do. With Conner?" Clark gritted out.

"Nothing. For now."

Clark's glare started going red at the irises.

"Clark..." Lex sighed. He grimaced a little, then patted the couch cushion next to him.

Clark stomped over and sat, crossing his arms again.

"He's doing well enough with Mrs. Kent looking after him, yes? She managed to raise you to be... human-sane, after all."

"So?"

Lex looked at him askance. "So, I think she would do a better job of it than I would." He passed a hand over his face. "She at least has a known track record for it." He glanced at Clark sideways. "And you promised not to lie to him, supply positive reinforcement when he gives open displays of his powers, and are helping him to develop them. I think that, with you making up for those particular failings of your adopted mother's, that that should be enough."

"But I'll have to lie to him, now! Because of you!" Clark exclaimed roughly, getting angry all over again.

"Clark--" Lex stopped, shaking his head. "You meant it at the time, yes?"

"I thought you were dead!"

"That's irrelevant," Lex overrode him. "Subconsciously you knew that I wasn't. You would not have felt completely free in that regard if you knew I was not all right with it."

Clark stared at him for a moment.

"You want me not to lie to him," he said, disbelief evident.

Lex nodded. "I should think that would be obvious, given the discussions we've had about how damaging Jonathan and Martha's lies and secrecy were to you during your youth."

Clark sputtered for a bit. Lex took the opportunity to down more alcohol.

Finally, Clark demanded, "What if he asks about you?"

"Then tell him."

"The truth?"

"Yes," Lex said calmly.

"I thought you didn't want people to know!"

Lex sighed and refrained from rolling his eyes. "You don't have to tell him every last detail, Clark," he said. "If he specifically asks after me, then you can tell him I'm alive and such, but also impress upon him that he is not to inform anyone else of this, and the importance of why this is so." Lex stared down into the steadily-declining fill-line of his glass. "Just don't do something stupid like telling him where I am or what I'm up to."

"Lex!"

"You can tell him that I told you not to disclose the information," Lex sighed. "That's not lying." Lex drained the glass, then poured himself another. "I could have sworn I remember having discussions with you on the differences between not knowing, not being sure, and not wanting to share information, and how to articulate such," he reminded him blithely.

"He's your son!"

Lex blinked at him.

"You actually want him to know that you're alive, but don't want to see or talk to him?" Clark demanded, furious.

"...Are you actually suggesting that your opinion on the matter is that you want me to be exerting control over his life?" Lex asked carefully, curiously.

"No!"

Lex looked at him and let the silence draw out.

"No!" Clark repeated. "I--" He stopped and looked away, with an expression that meant he had more than one reason, and was offering the lesser. "I want to know why. Why you did it in the first place!" He nearly stood up again but Lex put a restraining hand on Clark's shoulder and he dropped back down onto the couch. He looked frustrated at the interrupted physical motion, but said, "I want to know why you cloned yourself and--"

"Just Conner?" Lex asked, thinking that they were finally getting to the real heart of the matter. "Or all of them?"

"All of them!" Clark looked pained, and ran his hands through his hair. "God, Lex, you've got a copy of you running around Metropolis without your memories, running Lu-- LexCorp. Why?" he asked desolately, desperately, turning to face him.

"Because Tess was wholly unsuitable for the job, and I'm too busy with you," Lex said, frowning. "I also want to live forever, because I don't want to plan on having to kill you when I get close to death just because your normal lifespan is longer than mine. It's not your fault you were born Kryptonian, and I human," Lex muttered into his glass. "We've gone over all this before."

"So-- so your solution is to clone yourself?" Clark asked, bordering on hysteria.

Lex sighed. "Technically, it's not a clone, it's a 'Frankenstein's monster' of clone parts -- but yes. It's a good first-cut at a try."

Clark looked at him, horrified.

"For some reason, my DNA is harder to clone than other people's," Lex sighed out. "Perhaps it has something to do with all the exposure to alien technology I've had over the years," he said flatly, eyeing Clark. Because god knew, between BrainIAC's cocktail that he'd injected Lex with -- and oh, hadn't that been a fun discussion with Clark! Lex still worried about the bastard pulling a Chloe-remix special on him and popping a new version of himself out of his head, even despite the scans proclaiming the contrary, that the tech was nearly dissolved, only traces of it remaining -- and then subsequent possession by the Phantom of General Zod himself, and the use of Clark's S-shield crystal on him to remove the bastard, and the full-body exposure to the Crystal of Fire before that...

Not to mention the damn meteor shower's effects on him, but Lex wasn't about to bring that up, because that always sent Clark into a snit at the supposedly-implied accusation of fault and then a depressive episode of guilt. Par for the course -- nothing to do with the meteor showers ever ends well, least of all Clark, because, really, when had he ever had the last word in anything?

"You-- so you--? ...even though--!"

"I didn't think that whatever is forcing you to be subservient to me was tied to something other than my DNA or my voice." So it's back to the drawing board on that one. Lex sighed again and swallowed down more alcohol. "I also can't say I'm not curious about how the lot of you are inclined to treat a 'me' who has no memories and shouldn't be held accountable for anything I ever did, either," he admitted. "But you know that I do things for multiple reasons," Lex ended, as Clark wasn't having anything of it, glaring even harder.

Lex poured himself another glass of wine, and resisted the temptation to just guzzle it from the bottle. "I needed a 'me' that could confront you and help push you to take on Darkseid. You needed that one last thing -- someone who would have no reason to think you capable, who could have every reason to lie to you and tear you down if they felt like it, ridicule you, belittle you, trample you into the dust--" Lex took a breath, forced himself to calm down. "You needed an adversary who would spit the truth in your face, but also see you as a worthy opponent; one who you would think of as being capable of serving as such, even though he had no real subjective reason to."

"I needed someone to believe in me who I thought wouldn't just be saying what I wanted to hear, lying to me, or flat-out wrong," Clark said quietly.

"Yes," Lex said dourly, drinking down the glass in one fell swoop. Because god knows what horrible state of affairs you are in that I am the only one who can do that for you, out of all the people who now know of your background and heritage.

...the trouble and real crux of the matter possibly being that Lex himself might be the only one alive today who knew about the Jor-El AI wanting Kal-El to rule over humanity with a hard Kryptonian G2V-star-powered fist. Not only did Clark not trust easy -- he didn't trust anyone.

Not that he doesn't have good reason not to. Lex wouldn't trust any of those League bastards farther than he could throw them. Less, even. If they knew he was supposedly 'destined' to rule the planet... Lex didn't doubt that that would go about as well as their learning that Lex had control of Clark, if that ever came to be. Lord knows I'm still trying to keep that under wraps as best as I'm able, under reasonable risk.

There was silence for awhile as they sat next to each other, Clark thinking dark thoughts, and Lex trying to get progressively more and more drunk. (He deserved it, damnit.)

"I thought... you had let me go..." the young Kryptonian said quietly. "Even though you said you never would, I thought--" Clark looked almost sad, hugging himself as he stared down at his knees. "You--" Clark stopped, started over even more quietly, "He-- made me think that you'd decided that I didn't need to be kept smashed under your heel. That you'd gotten strong enough that you didn't need to resort to that anymore. That I'd gotten strong enough... trustworthy enough... that you wouldn't worry about me going so far out of bounds. That we could... could stop each other if..."

Clark choked, unable to continue. He hunched in on himself, looked about to cry.

Lex leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, craned his head back to look at Clark. He'd tried to set up the charade as perfectly as he could, but he hadn't been sure that it would work -- that Clark would really believe that the clone had been him. He'd had his reasons why he'd thought it would work out, but it had still been a big gamble -- especially in the duplicate-control aspects, which hadn't worked out at all. "...You thought that I'd gotten hurt in the fire?" he asked, holding up his perfectly healed right hand.

Clark nodded.

Lex smiled. "I think we may need to work more on logical thought, Clark," he said gently. "You of all people should know how much of your blood I still had left, stored away."

He pulled a single teary laugh out of Clark with that one, because there would have been no reason not to have healed himself completely with a new batch of RL65 serum. He could have done so, many times over.

"What else?" Lex prodded.

"I..." Clark sighed and rubbed at his eyes, wiping the beginnings of tears away. "I did... and I didn't. I knew something was... wrong. Off. But I--" He shook his head. "I... backed away from him when he put his hands on my shoulders. Felt weirded out. But..." Clark took in a deep shuddering breath, let it out shakily. "I guess I just... wanted to..."

"...Hope?" Lex said quietly, almost sadly.

Clark nodded, miserably.

"Mm. I suppose nothing beats the power of belief, when it comes to a fist-fight with rationality."

Clark grimaced unhappily. He knew how Lex felt about that sort of thing.

Lex thought for awhile in silence.

"...Clark, I have never lied when I said that I would always keep you under close watch. I wil always have you under my control." Lex stared him right in the eye. "Always."

Clark, unable to look away, shivered in place.

"I haven't lied. That will never be a lie." Lex took a deep breath, then took the plunge and shared something he had never before. "But that does not mean that I do not wish that it were unnecessary."

Clark stared at him.

Lex turned away, poured himself another two inches, and then sat back again and stared at his wine, slowly swirling it in his glass.

"Then why do you do it?"

"Someone has to. I trust no-one else." Lex took another sip, for strength, or perhaps weakness. "I cannot ever give up that control, because to do so would be folly." He looked at Clark sideways and let fly the next truth. "If I ever promised you the possibility of freedom from my influence, you would say anything, do anything to get it. Your efforts would not be genuine."

Clark sat bolt upright. "That's not--!"

"You kneeled before Zod," Lex said succinctly, each word bitten off like a threat.

Clark shut up.

"Don't think I will ever underestimate you, Clark. You lied for years. Badly, but you still went unnoticed, your status as a member of humanity left basically unchallenged." Lex stared into his wine again. "You may have always had difficulty suppressing the larger whims, but you are more than capable of the fine and subtle lies." He gave the Kryptonian another sideways look. "You'd never have been able to pass yourself off as human, otherwise."

"The Kandorians did," Clark groused quietly.

"They kept to themselves, had little meaningful interaction with humans, paid a lot of money for silence from those who did," or killed them outright went without mention, "and quite frankly weren't actually real Kryptonians -- just clones of them," Lex ended.

"It's not that much of a difference," Clark griped, glaring.

"It is very much of a difference," Lex insisted.

"I was the one interacting with them--"

"--and, what, you should know? Simply because your alien brain structure should natively pick up on their programmed social and biological cues better?" Lex scoffed. "You can barely determine what goes on in your own skull; why should I trust you to be careful and observant enough to understand what went on in theirs?"

Clark glared. "It's social, not--"

"--It is a biology-based social construct. All the underpinnings come from it!"

"You don't know that!"

"Remind me, Clark!" Lex spat out, slamming his glass down on the coffee table and baring his teeth, "Who exactly has spent hours upon hours combing through the Fortress databases, scouring the Library to determine--"

"--It's biased!" Clark yelled back, standing up. "It's biased because it's written by Kryptonians and they think their biology and their science and their everything is better! It wasn't outsiders looking in; it wasn't written for other species to read! It's not impartial information, it's biased!" Clark was breathing heavily again. "You're only through the smallest amount of that stuff anyway, and it's all out of order and jumbled--"

"--it isn't jumbled, the indexing is just crap--" Lex muttered, glaring.

"--and I spend a hell of a lot of time going through the databases in the Fortress during my training, too! And--"

"You reported that the Jor-El AI stated that Kryptonians don't feel human emotion! That they aren't suppose to lie, to even be capable of it!" Lex yelled, shooting to his feet as he finally lost his patience, and poking at Clark's chest. "You did. You. When you were unable to lie to me. And, god help me, I haven't caught the damn thing in an outright lie yet!"

"That doesn't mean it doesn't lie, or that it isn't wrong!" Clark shrieked back frantically. "That doesn't mean it meant that biologically! That doesn't mean I'm insane because I feel! That doesn't mean--" Clark was shaking. He fisted his hands in his hair. "You're the one who taught me the difference between lying, telling the truth, and being right! Or wrong!"

Lex gritted his teeth and fisted his hands at his sides. He slowly sucked in a breath and willed himself to calm down.

"You are entitled to your opinion Clark, no matter how" -- goddamn fucking -- "wrong" -- it is -- "I believe it may be."

Because god help me if I force him to believe me on this -- it'll probably fucking crash his entire brain, it's so ingrained at this point, and that wasn't something Lex wanted, by any means.

"I'd better damn well be 'entitled to my opinion' -- I hate it when you fucking mindcontrol me like that and make me believe the same things you do! The things you want me to!" Clark spat back, turning away to pace the length of the room.

And then Lex saw Clark freeze in place, mid-stride, and then turn back so quickly he had to have slipped into super-speed.

Given how Lex wasn't sure quite when Clark grabbed his by the arms between one blink and the next, he considered the question of super-speed use confirmed.

"--Tell me you didn't!" Clark said desperately, looking into Lex's eyes.

"Didn't what?" Lex said, looking up at him.

"Tell me that Conner isn't some fucking science experiment to you!!" Clark shouted, irate.

Oh, he can't connect the dots on the simple crap, but in this--?! Lex, angry all over again, shoved Clark's hands off of him and yelled up into his face, "Of course he's a fucking trial-run! That doesn't mean he's not working out exactly as I thought!"

Clark froze, wide-eyed.

"Breathe," Lex commanded, pissed off that he had to keep reminding him.

Clark breathed in, then out.

"What?" Clark croaked.

Oh christ, Lex moaned mentally. He only got halfway. Fucking half-baked reasoning. He swore he was going to pummel start-to-end logic and the methods to produce fully-thought-out consequences-to-actions into Clark's brain if it was the last thing he'd ever do.

"Yes, I wanted confirmation about the damn biology-thing as part of it," Lex ground out, glaring up at Clark. "Yes, I have other reasons for his genesis," he continued, taking a step forward, forcing Clark to back up. "But in case you haven't noticed, Clark," Lex hissed, "Everything I do these days is about you." As if it wasn't always, and I just didn't know about it, you fucking--

Lex got up into Clark's personal space, tilted his head back. "Do you think I say I can't afford any other distractions for my health?!? We don't lie to each other anymore."

Clark looked almost frightened, taken aback. He shivered. Lex was so close to the alien he could almost feel it against his skin, the air vibrating between them.

Clark swallowed hard, and then he paled further.

"You--"

"--I am trying to find something that will work," Lex ground out. "I don't want to have to worry about turning my back for two seconds and you losing your mind, going cold and haughtily-arrogant Kryptonian-'sane' and deciding to vaporize half the intelligent life on the planet for giggles and grins."

"But the training at the Fortress--" Clark whispered.

"Didn't work," Lex bit out. "You still think of yourself as inferior to humans; Kryptonian as inferior. I tried inverting that belief and letting the AI reinforce it, hoping I could put you through that long enough to balance things out, but it didn't fucking work, now, did it?" Lex ground out. "You were all across the damn spectrum, even more out of balance than ever, running around half-stangling people -- don't get me started on all your bulshit, and don't just blame it on Chloe being mad at you about Olsen dying. I helped you with that part of it, and the rest... --You came out of it on your own." Lex passed both hands over his head and turned away. "Fucking AI in your head for the second time -- multiple times -- and it couldn't manage it properly, even with my direction."

He turned back to Clark and glared. "I could either give up, or try to remake you over the course of the few centuries or so. I'm choosing to give up," he spat out. "You consider yourself human -- don't fucking argue with me, you do whenever you don't fucking overthink it, you did not ten minutes ago, fucking think about it," he demanded.

Clark paused, then looked almost hurt. "I... that's not my fault, you know..."

"...that your adopted parents lied to you for eleven years, yes, I know," Lex ended with an eyeroll, throwing up his hands. "I'm not complaining. I'm giving up complaining. I'm trying to come up with something fucking functional instead."

Clark stared at him, and then looked like he'd been slapped in the face. "You-- You--" His eyes went wide. "You..."

"Making you fully human won't work," Lex said, waving off the idea. "You'll get yourself killed trying to do the same things, as you have in the past," Lex grimaced, remembering the nuclear silo incident, which he now had the full details of a la previous debriefings with Clark. "I'm loathe to depower you when you are a very effective weapon--" he sighed, "-- tool, vigilante, 'Hero', whatever you'd prefer as your nom de plume --"

Clark gave him an almost weak smile at that.

"--stop looking at me like that, I know you're human, if not in biology. That's half the fucking problem," Lex groused.

"Lex..."

And then he got hugged for his trouble.

"Why the hell are you here, anyway?" Lex griped, half-heartedly returning the hug as he leaned up against him.

"Got pissed off about the damn explosion in the shuttle, listened for your heartbeat, realized I was hearing it in a different direction than the LuthorCorp Towers, when I was floating in the stratosphere, staring right at the bastard clone-you," Clark mumbled into his shoulder.

"Pfft," said Lex.

"You didn't fucking call me for a year!" Clark complained, pushing himself out to hold Lex at armslength again.

"Oh, we're back to this again?" Lex complained wearily. "What are we going to talk about next, the local weather?" he snarked.

"...A Hawaiian island, Lex? Really?" Clark said, eyes twinkling in amusement.

Let it not be said that he doesn't bounce back unusually well for an insane human-sane alien, Lex thought morbidly. He pulled away and scrubbed at his face with his hands as he walked out the open door onto the patio and into a strong warm breeze.

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly to release the tension, before glancing back behind him into his sun-lit, comfortable beach house, windows open to the wind, paper-thin curtains fluttering like gauze in the breeze. Clark looked more at home in there than he did, most times.

"It's my fucking island," Lex said, claiming ownership of the small damn islet, because fuck Helen if he'd let her ruin anything for him at this late date.

"It's got sand. You hate sand," Clark pointed out, walking out to stand beside him. His cape streamed out behind him, as his boot made a soft 'clomp'ing sound as he made his way across the wooden slats.

"I love the sand; the sand is mine."

Clark's mouth twisted up into a half-smile.

"You're being obstinate," he informed Lex, as if he didn't already know.

"I've got twelve sublevels in a bunker about half-a-mile that way," Lex gestured, "with access from a hidden staircase to a basement under this thing," he poked a thumb behind him.

"Of course you do," Clark soothed, sounding like he was going to laugh.

Lex sniffed.

They both stared out over the majority of the island. Lex had had the little house made at the top of the hill where he'd first 'strangled' Louis to 'death'.

Let it not be said that he did nothing if not own his own shit.

"...Was this actually a vacation?" Clark asked after awhile.

"I wish," Lex muttered. It had been a busy year, even without the daily early-morning Clark-debriefs to schedule around.

Clark just sighed.

"Lex..."

"Hm?"

Clark licked his lips, undoubtedly choosing his words carefully.

"Is Tess alive?" Clark finally asked.

Lex let himself indulge in a small smile as he stared out across the water.

"...Lex?"

Lex turned slowly and looked up at 'Superman'.

"Well," Lex said, drawing out the word with relish. "I suppose it depends on your definition of 'alive'..."

~*~*~*~*~*~

In retrospect, Lex probably should have expected Clark's reaction.

I suppose I could have told him, rather than just leaving it there, Lex mused, as he read about 'Superman's slap-attack on LexCorp's supposedly shatterproof windows.

...But what would a Lex Luthor be, without a Clark who got mad at him occasionally for no good reason? he chuckled to himself.

He poured himself another glass of wine, kicked back his feet, and then proceeded to log into the mainframe under the island from the tablet computer in his lap.

May I live in interesting times, he toasted himself.

~*~*~*~*~*~