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Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

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"It's too quiet," Lex whispered.  "Is everyone—"

"Everybody's still here, Lex."  Clark bent over him, stroking his forehead.  "Nobody's leaving you alone tonight."

There had been a time, not all that long ago, when being alone would have been all Lex wanted.  Now the thought was more than he could stand.  Where the hell was Lex Luthor?  Who the hell was Lex Luthor?  He took Clark's hand and held it between both his own.  "I can't think, Clark."

"Stop trying."

"There are…things that need to be done.  Arrangements…"

"Eli is taking care of all that."

Lex took a breath.  "I love you."

Clark smiled.  "I love—"

"Shut up, I'm practicing normal boyfriends.  I love you.  I love—"

Clark cut him off with a kiss.  "Weirdo.  You don't need practice."

"Clark, am I lying on the floor of my pantry?"

Clark rolled his eyes.  "Ah, yeah, mastermind.  Points for noticing."

"I need practice.  Why am I in the pantry?"

"Because this is where you stopped yourself from doing something stupid."

"I see.  And why have I stayed in the pantry?"

"Because you needed some privacy, and we don't need to maintain in the pantry."

Lex sighed.  "And you believe this is normal behavior?"

"Define normal."

"One:  conforming with or constituting a norm or standard or level or type or social norm."

"Um—"

"Two:  in accordance with scientific laws."

"Well, the gravity's still working in here."

"Three: being approximately average or within certain limits in intelligence and development."

"Can we separate intelligence and development?"

"Four:  convention; something regarded as a normative example."

"You and convention have never got along very well, Lex."

"Five:  forming a right angle."

Clark started laughing; it made Lex's aching throat relax and the steel bands around his chest fall away.  "Oh, come on.  It does not mean that."

"It does."

"You are so lying."

"An obscure meaning, certainly, but a meaning nonetheless.  You asked me to define."

"Did you memorize a dictionary or something?"

"A photographic memory has its perks."  And its disadvantages.  Fortunately, the sound of a cupboard being opened and pans being moved distracted Lex from his most recent memories of the little room upstairs; he took another deep breath, and reached up to stroke Clark's hair.  "Your mother is resorting to her most deeply-engrained coping mechanism."

"Feeding us?" Clark smiled down at him.  "When was the last time you ate?"

"I don't remember.  What day is it?"

"Friday.  No—"  Clark glanced at his watch.  "Saturday, now."

Breakfast, yesterday.  Before his entire universe had changed yet again.  These events seemed to be occurring with increasing frequency.  At this rate, another cataclysm must be imminent.  Lex grimaced.  Eli Cohen had definitely infiltrated his thought processes, such as they were.

Clark nudged him.  "Come on.  Let's get you fed."

Lex swallowed against a dry throat and nodded, letting Clark help him to his feet.  Clark picked up the key, smiled, and offered it to Lex.  Lex tried to summon an exasperated glare, and failed utterly.  "Jiminy, exactly what part of the phrase 'your trust is misplaced' have you failed to—"

"Shut up," Clark murmured, slipping the key back into Lex's shirt pocket.  "Shut up, you big dumbass.  You're the only one here who's not getting it."

"Clark—"  Lex was cut off by the sound of a knock at the door, but before he could respond, it swung open.  Martha regarded them with red eyes for a fraction of a second; something in her gaze made Lex step toward her in alarm.  "Martha?"

Martha drew a shaky breath and threw both arms around Lex's neck, murmuring something incoherent that sounded absurdly like "little birds."

"Mom?"  Clark was instantly close, and Martha pulled one of her arms from Lex's neck to wrap it around her son, her forehead resting on Lex's shoulder.

Lex held her in confusion, shooting a desperate look at Clark, but he looked as lost as Lex was.   "Martha, what is it?  Has something—"

"I love you both."  She sounded breathless.  "You know that, don't you?  You're my boys."

Lex rested his head against hers, some dim understanding dawning.  "Yes," he whispered, amazed that he did.  He knew it. "We know that."

"We love you, too, Mom.  What—"  Lex stepped on Clark's foot, and Clark fell silent. 

They stayed huddled together for a few seconds, then Martha let out a shaky sigh and pulled back, wiping her cheeks and getting her game face on.  "Would you mind helping me getting some soup and sandwiches together?  I assume you have food in your house, Lex Luthor."

"I do," Lex said with a small smile.  "I was trained by the best, after all."

***

Two seconds out of the shower and her cell was ringing, and god damn Chloe knew who it was.  What she didn't know was why the hell she was hurrying down the hall toward her bedroom with a towel wrapped her, praying that her sleeping father wouldn't hear anything before she could answer it.  She should have turned it the hell off.  That's what voicemail was for, and voicemail was all Pete Ross deserved today.  Tonight.  This morning.  Whatever.

Chloe closed her bedroom door behind her and snatched up her cell, flipping it open.  "I don't believe your stones.  I really don't.  It's one o'clock.  In the morning. Ante.  Meridiem. I just got out of the shower and I've had about three hours of sleep in the past two days and I'm not talking to you and you call me?  The world had better be ending.  I'm serious."

Silence.

Chloe sighed and sank to sit on the end of her bed.  "Fine.  What is it?"

"You were right."

Chloe felt a chill that had nothing to do with being sopping wet touch the back of her neck.  Pete had never sounded like that before.  "What?"

"You were right.  About Lana."

Maybe the world was ending.  "What do you mean?  Has something happened?"  Pete started laughing.  It was horrible.  It wasn't really laughing, it was…  "Pete, talk to me!"

"She's gone, Chloe.  She's…she's like Whitney.  Luthor's fucking mad scientists downloaded some guy named Dickinson into her head."

Chloe tried to say something, but nothing came out.  Nothing.

"One minute she's Lana, next she's Dickinson, next she's…both."

"Oh, my God," Chloe said faintly.  "I didn't…She seemed…I just talked to her yesterday.  She was a little weird, but I thought…you know.  She was stressed out over Whitney.  Are you sure—"

"She's down in the Kent's kitchen right now explaining particle physics to Moira," Pete said, his voice all over the place.  "She's gone, Chloe.  Even when she's Lana, she's not.  You know?"

"I'm sorry," Chloe whispered, hugging her damp towel to her.  "I'm so sorry, Pete.  Maybe…maybe there's some way to undo this.  Maybe—"

"You were right.  Score one for special girl powers."

Chloe's gut twisted.  "I didn't want to be right!  I was afraid I was right."

"Yeah."  Pete was breathing too hard.  "I know.  Sorry."

"I'm coming over."

"There's nothing you can do here.  I think you'd better go over to Lex's place."

Chloe blinked.  "Why?  What…oh.  Oh."

"Yeah.  About an hour ago."

"Clark called?"

"No.  Max called Eli.  They're still on the phone.  Eli says Clark and Lex aren't up to talking."

Chloe tried to imagine Lex Luthor not being up to talking and failed miserably.  "That's bad."

"Yeah."

"That's scary bad."

"You should go, Chloe.  You'll know what to say.  I'm no good like that."

Oh, this was absolutely unnatural.  "You'd know what to say once you got there.  It's Clark, Pete."

"I need to stay here for a while.  Tell Clark…tell him I'm sorry about Pamela.  And I'll talk to him later, okay?  He'll understand.  And tell Lex…fuck, you'll know what to tell Lex."

"Okay.  Okay.  I'll get some food together and go."

"Food?"  Pete almost sounded like his old bitchy self for a second.  "What do you need food for?"

Chloe sighed.  "It's what you do, Pete.  Just let me handle it.  And…tell Lana…I mean…oh, hell."

"Yeah."  Pete's voice got thick.  "I'll see if I can get a message to her."

***

"And so we've been thinking, what about Bessie?  What if there's something inside her that—"

"Whoa.  Clark.  Slow down."  Jonathan forced his mouthful of ham sandwich down, casting a quick glance at Lex.  The boy hadn't said a word in the past half hour.  That was positively…unnatural.  "Who or what is Bessie?"

"He means the ship," Lex said flatly, fishing something out of his pocket.  He laid a familiar metallic object on the kitchen table, and returned to his soup.  Damn, Jonathan had never seen anyone so crazy about Martha's chicken noodle soup before. The boy was beyond weird. Well, there was always one in every family.

"Oh," Martha breathed, reaching out to touch the key.  "You think—"

"I think it's bad idea," Lex said, his eyes fixed on his spoon.  Clark sighed.

"It's a hell of a Hail Mary," Jonathan said softly, watching as Martha picked up the key carefully, as if it were some precious object.  "There's been no sign that the thing isn't so much scrap metal, let alone something that could help us."

"But if it worked," Martha murmured, turning the key over in her hands.

Lex raised his eyes to Martha.  "That's a gargantuan 'if'.  I find it difficult to believe that even technology that advanced crash-landed without sustaining damage."

"It might," Clark said, low and insistent.  "It might have been built for a landing like that."

"Whatever is inside might be dangerous," Lex continued, as if Clark hadn't spoken.

"Not to me," Clark returned, and Jonathan could see the Kent obstinacy rise in the boy's eyes.

"That's more than we know, Clark."  Martha was firm, and Jonathan let loose a little sigh of relief and took a bite of his sandwich.  Martha would nip this idea in the bud.  "If it's damaged, it could be dangerous to all of us."

"Even if it's not damaged," Lex said quietly, finishing his soup.  "We would have no idea how to operate it."

"They wouldn't make it hard.  They'd want us to figure it out."  Clark shoved his plate away in obvious annoyance.

"Who's they?" Jonathan demanded, abandoning the idea of eating when it was clearly comic book hour.

Clark looked at the table.  "I don't know.  Whoever sent me here."

Martha and Lex locked eyes for a moment.  "I'm not comfortable with trusting the motives of whoever sent you here, Clark."

"You think…you think my people were monsters or something?"  Clark's voice wavered as he locked his gaze on the table.  Lex rested his hand on Clark's shoulder in silence.

"That's not what she thinks," Jonathan said emphatically, although he'd had a few unpleasant thoughts in that neighborhood himself.  What kind of person seals a toddler in a spaceship and shoots it through space to God-knows-where?  What the hell could justify that?

"No, that isn't what I mean."  Martha shot Jonathan a look that told him she'd had a few thoughts in that neighborhood, too.  "I just mean that we don't know why someone sent you here.  We don't know who they are or what they want."

"Whatever they want, they'd have to keep me alive to do it," Clark said, his voice rising.  "There could be a weapon in there, something we could scare the crap out of Karloff with." 

Jonathan groaned inwardly.  His old man had always told him he'd get his own back when he had kids.  Karma.  You can't run and you can't hide.  Clark was every bit as stubborn as Jonathan had ever been.  "I don't know about you, but that idea scares the crap out of me."

"I share your concerns."  Lex's voice was quiet.  "So did Pamela.  She thought it was a bad idea."

"That's good enough for me," Jonathan said, locking eyes with the chip off the old block.  Clark sighed and slumped back in his chair.

"But we are running low on options, and the situation is…deteriorating."  Lex was barely audible. 

"This should be our plan of last resort," Martha said, turning the key over and over in her hands.  Jonathan rested his head in his hand and eyed her wearily.  Oh, he could just see the wheels turning.  Time to keep an eye on Calamity Jane.

"A plan of last resort is generally one in which the chances of success at least match the chances of disaster," Lex said dryly.  "And preferably exceed them.  I wouldn't recommend relying on Bessie for either."

"But you think there's a possibility of success," Martha said, her voice soft as her fingers slid across the metal. 

Lex gave her a weak, crooked smile.  "I haven't thought about much else for weeks now."  He glanced at Clark, and his smile faded.  "Clark?"  Clark was staring through the door into the living room with wide eyes.

Jonathan reached over and plucked the key from Martha's fingers.  "Okay, that's enough of that.  That busted toaster is no basket to put all our eggs in, that's for damn sure.  And I don't think—"

"No," Clark said faintly.

Jonathan looked at him, startled. Now what?

"Clark."  Lex clutched Clark's shoulder, his face drawn.  "Tell—"

The deafening wail of a security alarm pierced Jonathan's eardrums and he clapped his hands over his ears, but he could still hear his son loud and clear.

"Son of a bitch!" Wrenching free of Lex's grasp, Clark streaked out of the kitchen at top speed.  Lex followed him, hitting the emergency light switch on his way out of the kitchen and plunging the entire first floor into darkness.

Jonathan heard the door being wrenched open, heard it bang mercilessly against the wall, and wondered wearily, and not for the first time, if Lex was properly insured.

"Cricket!"  Eli's shout of alarm brought Jonathan and Martha to their feet; Martha darted through the darkness into the living room with Jonathan hard on his heels. Jonathan was just in time to see Eli moving at full ninja-speed through the wide-open front door, which was still quivering in protest at its rough treatment. 

Martha paused in the doorway, took one long look, and closed it, blotting out even her silhouette in the darkness.  "Lex, get away from the window!"

"I'll fucking kill him," Lex snarled, staring out the front windows onto the lawn. 

Jonathan pushed him aside, only to see Clark coming to a halt in front of Chloe Sullivan, who had been marching across the lawn with a baking dish in her hands and the wrath of God in her face. The claxons fell mercifully silent.  "Good Lord. Doesn't that girl have a remote…"  Jonathan's voice died in his throat as Clark walked past Chloe toward the drive, toward the limousine parked there, toward the two figures standing beside it.

Lex bolted toward the door, but Jonathan grabbed his arm.  "Don't!  It's just what he wants.  Eli will handle him."

Lex tried to pull away again, but Jonathan felt rather than saw Martha get in his way.  "Lex. Stay with us.  Clark is safe with Eli."

Lex went still, panting, and Jonathan stared out the window, longing for his shotgun.

***

Chloe took the turn onto Lex's lane and slowed to a crawl.  It was dark and narrow and as creepy as the last few days had been, and she did not want to wind up in a ditch or hitting a tree.  Apart from the delightful prospect of hiking up the lane through what appeared to be a forest, which for all she knew was inhabited by a fleet of attack choppers, there was always the often-threatened remand to Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows hanging over her head for wrecking the car.  Nuns trumped punctuality.  Hell, nuns trumped attack choppers, if it came to that.

Chloe grimaced and took the final curve at a snail's pace, then slammed on the brakes in a panic.  Oh.  Shit.  Oh, holy mother of God.  There was Lex Luthor's limousine, and there was Lex Luthor's chick-bodyguard, leaning against Lex Luthor's limousine, and there was what was passing for Lex Luthor these days, sitting on the roof of Lex Luthor's limousine, smoking a cigarette like he was in Lex Luthor's living room and not in the middle of the woods a stone's throw from the real Lex Luthor. 

It was all she could do not to try to pull a u-turn, despite the risk of creepy trees and attack choppers.  Chloe took a deep breath.  She could do this.  She could at least warn everybody at the house that this twofer was within arms' length of the security perimeter.  You know, by accident.  Luthor didn't know that she knew anything.  She was just sweet little Chloe Sullivan, coming to comfort her grieving friend with her father's lasagna dinner (and wouldn't there be hell to pay when he found that missing, grieving friend or not).  She parked the car beside the limo and turned off the engine.

She saw Mercy give Luthor an inquiring look, but he just smiled and shook his head.  Well, okay.  She wasn't going to get shot, at least not right away.  Yanking on the oven mitts, she picked up the extremely hot casserole dish of lasagna and fumbled with the door.  Mercy approached her with what Chloe construed, perhaps uncharitably, as an extremely bitchy little smile on her face, and opened the car door for her.

"Thanks."  Chloe climbed out of the car.  "I don't think we've met."

"Mercy Graves," Mercy replied, shutting the door behind her.  "Mr. Luthor's bodyguard."

"I didn't know he had a bodyguard, but I'm not surprised he needs one," Chloe replied in what she hoped was a breezy tone.  "I'm Chloe Sullivan.  Hello, Lex."

"Chloe Sullivan."  Luthor smiled.  Lionel's smile.  Clark was right.  There was no trouble telling the difference.  "It's been a while."

"I haven't suffered," Chloe returned tartly, uncomfortably aware of Mercy behind her as she approached the limo.

Luthor chuckled and slid off the roof to land neatly on the road, like a cat.  "Now, Chloe.  I thought we agreed to let bygones be bygones."

"You and my father agreed to let bygones be bygones.  I don't do bygones with pricks who try to foreclose on us."

"Ouch.  That's not very nice."

"So who got to your face before I did?  It looks like a street-cleaner parked on it with the brushes going."

"Little girl, watch your mouth," Mercy said in a soft, menacing tone.

"It's all right, Mercy."  Luthor was still chuckling.  "Chloe and I are old friends.  Aren't we, Chloe?"

Chloe opened her mouth to tell him exactly what size prick he was, but changed her mind.  "What are you doing here in the middle of the night?"

"One might ask you the same question."

Chloe hesitated for a nanosecond, trying to determine if that bit of information would give the creeptastic wonder an advantage.  "There's been a death in Clark's family, if it's any of your business."

Luthor's face changed; he glanced toward the house, jaw set.  "Pamela?  Pamela's dead?"

For one fleeting moment, Chloe saw something in his eyes; a flash of something, and she knew she'd seen what Clark had talked about.  That piece of Lex.  It was gone before she could study it.  "Yes.  Clark's very upset.  I came over to keep him company."

"I didn't realize that Clark knew Pamela that well."

"Well, now you're enlightened."  Chloe turned toward the house and blasted her loudest whistle, guaranteed to shatter illegally cloned eardrums at a distance of twenty feet.

"Surely," Luthor said between clenched teeth, "You have a perimeter control device, being such a good friend of the family."

"I'm a good friend of Clark's family, not Mr. Cohen's."  Like she was stupid enough to take that thing out in front of this weasel.  "Mr. Cohen's privacy is serious business."

"You don't say," Mercy drawled.

Luthor ignored her.  "Haven't you ever wondered about Mr. Cohen, Chloe?"

"I wonder about everybody.  Who was it who hit you, again?  I want to send him a card."

"Cohen's a dangerous man."

"Yeah, that's what Mr. Cohen says, too.  All the time.  So far the only danger I've seen is to the weeds on the football field.  'You see this weed-wacker, Miss Sullivan?  Do not touch it.  It is dangerous.  But so am I dangerous.  Do not touch me, either.'  Sometimes I think he keeps booze in his tool shed."

Mercy snickered, and this time Luthor gave her a look that reminded Chloe exactly who she was playing with.  Mercy fell silent.

"When you get inside, I want you to tell Clark to come out here."  Luthor fixed her with an icy blue stare.  "He's not returning my calls.  None of them are."

Chloe glared back at him.  "Are you nuts?  Did you hear what I just said?  His friend just died.  He's in no shape to be dealing with you."

Luthor stepped closer. "He'll be in even worse shape if he doesn't hear what I've come to tell him."

Chloe clutched her lasagna dish.  "Are you threatening him?  God, I don't believe you!  You never were his friend, were you?  All that bullshit—"  She gasped as Luthor lunged forward to seize her upper arms in painfully strong hands, shouting into her face like a lunatic.

"I am a better friend to Clark Kent than any of you!  You have no idea what's going on here, Chloe.  And trust me, you don't want to.  But if you want Clark Kent to make it through the next couple days alive, you'll send him out here.  Now go!"  Luthor gave her a rough shove that sent her staggering over the unmarked security perimeter, setting off every light and alarm on the place.

Chloe turned to walk toward the house, determined not to run, blinking in the harsh light, and wishing to God she'd shoved the damn lasagna down the asshole's pants. The front door was yanked open, and a strange blurry object like somebody's home video of a UFO hurtled toward her.  Chloe drew breath, not to scream or anything – she most definitely did not do screaming – but Clark solidified in front of her before she could make a sound. She stared up at him, knowing her mouth was hanging open and not caring.

"Did he hurt you?" Clark snapped.

"Wow," Chloe said faintly.

"Chloe!"

Chloe snapped out of it.  So that was Clark in supersonic mode.  He was so going to take her along when all this was over.  "No!  I'm fine.  He wants to talk to you.  And you could have warned me that he's an obnoxious insane murderer-clone. You know, like a friend does."

Clark almost smiled.  Almost.  "Get inside as fast as you can."

Eli strode past them, gun drawn.  "We are in your debt, Miss Sullivan, for the warning. Kindly take cover immediately."

Well, it was about time Eli started appreciating her.  "Clark—"

"Chloe, go."  Clark stalked after Eli, his eyes fixed on Karloff.

Chloe sighed and trudged toward the house, glancing over her shoulder.  If she knew the look on Clark's face – and she did know the look – Mr. My-Mother-Was-a-Test-Tube was about to get his ass kicked, and at this point she heartily approved. She saw the front door open enough for Martha to stick her head out and gesture urgently.  Chloe broke into a trot, glancing over her shoulder for one last look; Eli and Clark were squaring off with Mercy and Karloff.

Chloe grimaced.  She really had to invest in some decent surveillance equipment.

***

Eli flung an arm across Clark's chest, barring his progress.  It was not what he wished to do.  He wished that Clark would dismember the creature; he wished that he himself would provide the coup de grace by firing five shots into its then partially-decapitated head.  But this was neither the time nor the place, and the harm to Clark might be worse than to the thing standing entirely too close for Eli's liking. "This is a house in mourning.  You desecrate it by your presence.  Leave at once, or I shall deprive you of the use of your kneecaps." Eli saw Mercy roll her eyes, and comforted himself with the certain knowledge that Miss Graves had made the same tactical error that Jonathan and Lionel Luthor had:  they thought his threats empty.

Luthor flicked a glance in Eli's direction, his expression for once unreadable. "Chloe told me about Pamela.  I'm sorry, Clark.  I didn't know you were so close."

Clark stared at him wordlessly; Eli could feel the boy quivering with anger.

"I had to come.  You are in more danger than you have ever—"

"Yeah, the attack helicopter, the gun, Dr. Hamilton; is there any other damn threat to life as we know it that you and Lionel have set loose?"

Clark's voice held a harsh, strained tone Eli had never heard before; the pressure was pushing the young soldier beyond his limits.

Luthor raised an eyebrow.  "Quite a few, actually, but congratulations on your intelligence network.  Perhaps now you'll see reason and allow me—"

"I know who you are," Clark said flatly.

Luthor's mouth took a grim twist.  "You read the journals.  I really didn't think you'd demonstrate that much sense. Although considering it was he who committed murder and not me, it might be more accurate to say you know who Alexander is."

"He didn't kill anybody, and I've always known who he is.  You're the only one who doesn't know. You don't even know who you are."

"Clark, people are trying to kill you! Don't you think—"

"'I bent over the side of the crib; the top rail dug into my stomach, but I didn't care.  Lowering it would make too much noise.  I pressed the plastic over Julian's face—'"

"Shut up!"  Luthor's voice was a snarl, but he composed himself immediately.  "This is hardly the time for a dramatic reading!  When Lionel Luthor wants something, he gets it, and—"

Clark's laugh was all ice.  "God, you're stupid. But you're right about that.  He wanted Julian dead. He had Williams' Syndrome, and he wanted him dead. So now he is.  Simple, right?"

"Williams' Syndrome?"

"Oh, he didn't tell you?"

Luthor flashed a forced smile. "I'm truly impressed by the extent of your denial, but that little exercise in fratricide is Alexander's memory.  I—"

'I bent over the side of the crib; the top rail dug into my stomach."  

Luthor stared blankly.

"You do understand that Lionel downloaded his memories into your oversized egghead on top of Lex's, right?   You understand discrete matrices, genius? I can't believe you just assumed that was Lex. What, did you think he was on stilts when he bent over the side of the crib? Christ.  You are SO. STUPID."

Luthor took a step back, breathing hard.  Had this thing been any other living being, Eli would have pitied him. Fortunately, he was not anyone else, and Eli felt nothing but satisfaction. "Lionel's memories…Julian…"

"Oh, and there's a dead man's switch, too," Clark informed him, his voice becoming increasingly savage.  "You get that, don't you?  That means if – I mean when Lionel dies, he takes over.  And you just get flushed."

"He killed…Julian."

"Clark oversimplifies the process," Eli cut in coolly, noting Mercy's sharp glance at Luthor. "There is a long period of excruciating side effects.  An examination of the example of Mr. Fordman may be instructive."

Luthor went a whiter shade of pale.  "Fordman…"

"Mr. Luthor's first successful attempt at the process, if success you call it.  I doubt Mr. Fordman characterizes it so. The agony of feeling one's mind, one's self, slipping away over weeks, months, perhaps years—"

"That is not going to happen!"

"Oh, it will." Eli smiled. "And I find myself admiring the elegance of Mr. Luthor's design, despite my better judgment. For if you take your revenge, you will slowly cease to exist, and he will inevitably inhabit the body you claim as yours. And yet, if you stay your hand to extend your life, you will go slowly mad, and then he will kill you whenever it suits him. Madmen are so easily dispatched. Yes. Yes, it is quite elegant."

"Fuck his elegance," Luthor rasped. "And fuck you."

"I sympathize with the awkwardness of your position."

"This is all a tissue of lies.  Who put you up to this, Clark?  This relic?  Or was it that superfluous loser squatting in some palais in the Loire?"

Eli allowed himself a contented smile. "Denial is common in such circumstances, yes?  Perhaps—"

Luthor lunged forward.

***

"If he takes so much as one step in Clark's direction, I'm going to break his neck."

Chloe shot a startled look over her shoulder at the savage malice in Lex's voice; for one second, he had sounded like Karloff.  And looked like him.  She felt Martha's arm going around her shoulders. "Eli will handle this, Lex."

Martha was firm, but Chloe could have sworn there was a little shake in her voice nonetheless. She looked from face to face, and saw nothing but people about to break. She had thought it couldn't get any worse for them. And now this.

"No one is killing anyone tonight."  Jonathan's hand tightened on Lex's shoulder as they stared through the living room windows at the ongoing drama on the lawn.  "No one is killing anyone period."

"Lex," Martha said in a gentler tone.  "Chloe is here."

The resemblance to Karloff drained from Lex's face; he turned to glance at her.  "So I see.  Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"You could have gotten yourself killed again."  The strain in his voice was unmistakable; his gaze was torn between Chloe and the window.

"It's what you do," Chloe snapped. "Were you raised in a barn?"  Oh, that was bad; that wasn't what you said to the bereaved, especially when their boyfriends were squaring off with serial killers and the entire universe was going to hell in a cloned handbasket.

"Unfortunately, no. I take it I've committed a Kansan faux pas?"

"Lex," Martha said, fixing him with a look that made Chloe glad she was on the woman's good side.  "The appropriate response is 'Thank you for coming.'"

Lex met Martha's gaze, his mouth slowly twisting into a grim smile.  "Thank you for coming, Chloe. You're sure tall, fair and redundant didn't leave any bruises?  That was quite a shove."

Jonathan snarled quietly.

"No damage."  Chloe hesitated, then barreled ahead. "I'm sorry about Pamela, Lex.  So is Pete." 

Lex gave her another odd smile. "Thank you," he said softly. He turned back to the window, blinking rapidly.

Oh, damn. Damn, if she saw Lex Luthor cry tonight that would be it.  There had to be a way out of this. There had to be a way to scare the ever-loving crap out of that creepazoid out there.  "I'll take this back to the kitchen," she said softly to Martha.  "And start some fresh coffee."

Martha flashed her a smile and dropped an absent kiss on her cheek.  "Thank you, sweetie." She wandered back to stand beside Lex, her gaze locked on the figures on the lawn.  Chloe could actually hear Clark and Karloff yelling, although it was impossible to understand what they were saying.

Sighing, Chloe turned away from the entertainment du jour and made her way into the kitchen.  She slid the lasagna dish into the oven and set it on warm, then took the pot from the coffee maker and turned toward the sink. 

And that's when she saw it.  Lying there, just lying there, all gleamy on Lex Luthor's kitchen table.  It was as if God Almighty had parted the clouds and dropped it in front of her.

Chloe sprinted to the table and snatched it up, slapping the coffee pot onto the table.  It was real. And it had to be what she thought it was -- it was the same kind of metal Bessie was sporting, and the perfect shape to fit in that slot in her side. 

They had the key? These idiots had Bessie's key and they weren't using it? When they were surrounded with clones and mad scientists and attack helicopters? Oh, sweet mother of God, what were they thinking?  That ship had to have computers and weapons and God knew what-all -- it could kick Lionel Luthor and his monster to Mars and back! And it was probably programmed to obey Clark -- it had brought him here, right?

Maybe they had tried it and it hadn't worked.  No. Clark would have said something.  Then again, Clark hadn't said anything about having the damn key, either, so that proved nothing. Chloe drew a breath.  They were all fried, just fried; could anyone blame them with all this going on?  They weren't thinking straight.  Well, she was.  And she was going to do some science.

Chloe strode to into the panty and heaved open the trap door to the cellar.

***

Clark watched Luthor wriggle helplessly as he dangled him over his head by the lapels of his expensive suit jacket.  He looked like a bug pinned to a card.  Clark briefly considered pinning Luthor to something, then thought better of it.

"Put me down," Luthor rasped, staring down at Clark with wild, wide eyes.

Clark watched him squirm.  "Why?"

"Stay where you are, please, Miss Graves." 

Eli's cool tone steadied Clark a little.  Just a little.

"Put him down!" Mercy snapped.

"I came here to help you, you damned idiot!" Luthor snarled.  "And all I get in return—"

"Is the truth."  Clark casually tossed him onto the hood of the limousine, relishing both the metallic thud and the grimace of discomfort on Luthor's face.  "Now get the hell off Eli's property before we call the Sheriff."

Luthor scrambled off the car, pale and wild.  "This is a mistake, Clark."

"Yeah, well.  I've made enough of them not to be afraid of it anymore."  Clark strode around the front of the car in Luthor's direction, enjoying the sight of a decidedly rattled Karloff backing away.  Mercy darted around the back to open the limo's passenger door.

"We should be allies.  We have the same enemy.  Lionel Luthor will—"

"You.  Are not.  Getting it."  Clark stopped, toe-to-toe with the…the creature.  Yes.  He leaned forward, staring into eyes that no longer seemed familiar in the slightest.  "You are Lionel Luthor."

Luthor's lips parted slightly; he stared back at Clark in obvious shock.

"All his memories.  All his craziness.  All his…his fucking evil, that's been downloaded into you. It's been part of you from the very beginning – why the hell else would you have done all this?  Murder?  Poisoning our entire town?  Trying to turn me into your boy-toy?  Beating up women?"

Luthor actually twitched.  "No.  No, I'm not—"

"Thought I'd forgotten what you did to Pamela, didn't you?  God, I should—"

"That wasn't--  I'm not him!"

"Pretty soon you won't even remember you were anyone else.  Whatever isn't Lionel will just cease to exist—"

"No!"

"And Lionel Luthor will be walking around in your body."

"I am Lex Luthor!"

"You're nobody.  And soon you won't even be that."  Clark straightened.  "Now go, before I break something you need."

Drawing a ragged breath, Luthor threw himself blindly into the back seat of the limo.  Mercy, eyeing Clark with something akin to respect, slammed the door shut behind him.

And is if on cue, the ground shook.  A low, uneven hum started to build; Clark whirled in the direction of the noise.  The metallic cellar doors were rattling on their hinges.  The cellar doors? 

"I would recommend a hasty departure, Miss Graves," Eli said coolly, gesturing with his Glock as if he were directing traffic.

Mercy dove into the driver's seat and started the engine.

"Beresford Lane," Luthor shouted over the noise.  He pointed at Clark.  "Don't think this childish trick--"

"Leave!"

"This isn't over!  I--" Luthor was cut off as Mercy floored it, driving roughly over the lawn to pull a u-turn back onto the drive and roar off into the night.

Eli watched the retreat for a fraction of a second, then whirled to address Clark.  "What in the name of all that is holy--"

"It's coming from the cellar," Clark said shakily, watching as light flooded through the cracks around the cellar doors.  God.  It couldn't be.  It couldn't be...

***

Chloe knelt and ran her hands over the cool metal of the ship, noting their nervous tremor with annoyance.  What could happen?  Either it wouldn't work, in which case duh, no hum no foul, or it would, in which case...what?  It would hum and light up, presumably.  It had to be run by a computer, right?  Probably the most freaking brilliant computer this planet had ever seen.  And logically, there must be a way to communicate with it.  An interface.  Well, maybe a way for Clark to communicate with it, she conceded reluctantly. After all, she didn't speak Martian.  So once she got it working, Clark would have to get his Martian ass down here and put in his password or whatever. They could make this work, and once they did Lionel and his science project wouldn't dare come near any of the Kents again. 

"Just so we understand each other," Chloe muttered, "you do have the specs for phasers on your hard drive, right?  Or an equally scary equivalent?  Because that's what we need right now."

Chloe lifted the key to the octagonal-shaped indented area on Bessie's surface, convinced as she did so that she felt an almost magnetic tug as it came close.  "That's my girl," she breathed.  "You be a good spaceship, now. You--" She slipped the key into the slot. "Talk to us nice."

The ship vibrated gently under her fingers, and a low, uneven hum began to build.

"Yes," Chloe crowed in soft triumph. "Come on, come on, come on, you can do it!"  Oh, Clark and Lex would love this!  The answer to all their problems in one package the size of a VW bug.

Red and blue light, dim at first, then brighter, began to fill each crack and crevice of the mechanism's surface, and a harsh sound erupted over the mechanical hum.  Some instinct Chloe couldn't define made her pull her hands away from the machine.  That had sounded almost…vocal.  And it wasn't a nice voice, either.

"H-hello?"

"AHLO."  Was it really trying to talk?  It definitely didn't sound very happy. A fleeting vision of the HAL 9000 darted at her mind's eye; she rose to her feet and took a step back.  It was always possible that this had been a bad idea. Playing with space junk that said shit like I'm sorry, I can't do that, Dave and We are Nomad could reasonably be considered a bad idea, awesome notwithstanding.  She cleared her throat.  "Look, if it's a bad time—"

Something like the sonic boom she'd once heard at an air show shook her, the floor, and everything around her, and a mass of what felt like hot, stinging air lifted her off her feet and flung her backward against the cold cellar wall.  She slid down to lie on the floor, pointlessly fighting unconsciousness as the ship rose, leveled itself, and hovered in its alcove, its red and blue latticework of light now blinding in its intensity. "LUKAFIZAHBADTYM," it fairly screeched.

Chloe let her eyes close.