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It was warm in the apartment when Clark got up. Used to early farm mornings, it was strange to pad, barefoot, into the empty kitchen at 10 a.m., with no sense of guilt about the luxury of such a late rising.

There was, however, an undeniable sense of displacement. After all, Clark's whole life – or at least as far as his memories went back – he'd woken up in his bedroom at the farm and gone downstairs to find his mother making breakfast for him. This was an unfamiliar place, an unfamiliar hour for breakfast, and Clark was utterly alone in his quest to find a cereal bowl in strange cupboards, wondering where they had unpacked the Froot Loops.

Once the battle was won, Clark turned to the small kitchen table and was surprised to see a stack of papers waiting there. Someone must have been by the apartment while Clark was out with his parents the previous day. A bright purple post-it note adorned the top sheet. Clark spared a moment to be amazed post-it notes came in that shade before reading the message. Someone's careful writing requested that Clark sign the documents today. The anonymous writer had even left a pen, uncapped, at the ready.

Clark supposed he should be very careful with these papers. He should photocopy them and run them over to Bill Ross. He should peruse them himself, checking for possible loopholes, making sure there was nothing untoward. That's what a smart person – even a nineteen-year-old guy – would do.

Instead, Clark picked up the pen and scrawled his name next to every 'sign here' tab, then pushed the papers aside and applied himself to eating his Froot Loops.

There is nothing strange about this moment, Clark told himself firmly. The voice of reason seemingly held little sway, though, because immediately, his rebellious mind began to wonder if he should have worn a suit jacket. Lex was wearing a suit jacket, after all.

But then, Clark had seen Lex exactly four times before, and each time, Lex had been wearing a suit jacket. If he hadn't worn one now, it would have felt like something of an insult.

Which begged the question, was Clark's choice of attire – newly pressed khakis and a blue dress shirt Chloe had liked – inappropriate? Insulting, even? Maybe he should have been more... dressy.

Lex had said this was only a formality, only an unusual aspect of the contractual agreement they had made. He had said it in this smooth, rational voice that made Clark nod even when he wasn't expecting it. So why was this such an out-of-body kind of moment? Why was Clark inwardly panicking about his clothing?

"Clark, will you repeat after me, please?" Clark started unwillingly, regaining awareness of his surroundings, of the sweatiness of his palms and the comparative coolness of the hands he held between them.

"I, Clark Jerome Kent," said the man, and it took Clark a moment to remember that he was to repeat the words. He did so, haltingly.

"Take thee, Alexander Joseph Luthor, to be my lawfully wedded husband," prompted the man. The panic re-emerged, but Clark glared steadily at the pale fingers clasped in his own and forced himself to parrot the words. The justice, apparently sensing Clark's nervousness, limited himself to a couple of words at a time, which effectively turned the vow into nonsense bursts of sound. It made the process indescribably simpler.

"And Alexander," the justice continued, turning his scrutiny to the man opposite Clark. "Please repeat after me. I, Alexander Joseph –"

That smooth, logical voice which Clark remembered overrode the justice's words, taking over. "I, Alexander Joseph Luthor, take thee, Clark Jerome Kent, to be my lawfully wedded husband. Before these witnesses I vow to love you and care for you as long as we both shall live. I take you, with all your faults and your strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and my strengths. I will help you when you need help, and will turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life."

Clark was caught off-guard by the level of Lex's nonchalance. How did he do that? How did he sound so certain? Clark looked up to see Lex smirking at him, like this was a joke. Like they were friends. Like they, two complete strangers, hadn't just vowed to love each other all their lives.

This is not a big deal, Clark reminded himself firmly. Contractual agreement, remember? Just a formality.

There were rings, and Clark wondered stupidly if Lex would provide him with a bill for his own ring. Maybe that was in the pre-nup he'd signed that morning. They were plain gold bands, nothing extraordinary, certainly nothing that indicated Lex was a billionaire's son... except seeing the ring on his hand reminded Clark of his father. And he'd promised himself he wouldn't think of his parents today.

Then it was almost over. The justice was saying something, addressing the two men in dark suits whom Lex had brought as witnesses. "Inasmuch as Clark and Alexander have this day consented together in the state of matrimony,and have given and pledge their faith to each other in the presence of this company, by virtue of the authority vested in me under the laws of the state of Kansas,I now pronounce you husband and –" Here the justice faltered, and Clark bit back a semi-hysterical snort. "Erm."

"Husband and husband?" Lex suggested, still smirking. Obviously this was the first same-sex marriage the Grandville justice had officiated.

"Married," corrected the justice with great dignity. "I now pronounce you married. Lex, you may kiss your bride. Groom."

Lex laughed outright, and so did Clark, overcome by the ridiculousness of the situation. Clark was still laughing when Lex's lips suddenly covered his mouth, only for an instant, so Lex was already halfway to the registry table by the time Clark understood what had happened.

"Cheer up, Clark," Lex exhorted, holding out a white and gold pen. "I'll have you know I've done this before and lived to tell the tale."

Clark shot a startled glance in the direction of the justice, who was trying not to look shocked, then realized the man wasn't exactly going to rescind the ceremony at this point, no matter how irreverent Lex seemed.

Clark leaned over to sign the paper, biting back another giggle when he saw he was signing on the space marked "Bride". Apparently the Kansas clerk of court's office in Grandville had yet to order in the new, politically correct licenses.

Well, he was the one wearing blue. Borrowed, old, and new would just have to fall by the wayside... along with his dignity and his adolescent notions of tradition.

They had dim sum in the downtown Chinese restaurant for their wedding feast. Lex spent most of the meal on his cell phone, cussing out LexCorp underlings (Clark presumed), while Clark tried to make small talk with the witnesses.

"So, um, you're Lex's. Chauffeur?" Shit. Was that the right title? Or was it like saying 'secretary' instead of 'assistant', or 'waiter' instead of 'server'?

A nod. No sign of offense. Then again, other than the nod, there was no visible sign of higher thought of any kind.

"And you're his... assistant?"

Another nod from the other man. Lex, apparently momentarily noticing that there were actual live people around him, raised an eyebrow at Clark and went on in his rant. Clark tried for righteous indignation, but he couldn't help feeling more of an intruder than the two witnesses were.

"Have you been to Grandville before?"

One nod, one grunt.

Clark grinned hesitantly. "I grew up in Smallville, about an hour away. Grandville was, you know, the big city. I used to get so excited when my parents brought me here for the day."

Another grunt. Apparently the excitement of a seven year old farmboy was of little interest to these two.

"And now I'm actually living in Metropolis. It's... weird." Yes, Clark, that's the weirdest thing about this situation. Not the chatting with corporate flunkies, not the eating dim sum with a billionaire's son, not having just gotten married to a man in freaking Grandville of all places. No, it was the fact of living in Metropolis.

"I have to. Um. Pee." That statement having established Clark as a blithering idiot, he bolted up from the table and made his way to the generically dirty washroom, the same one he remembered from when he was a kid and his parents would take him here for lunch after a long day of shopping amid the heady business of the Grandville Shopping Center.

Right. Not thinking about the parents. Clark glared at the ring on his left hand before pulling it off and stuffing it in his pocket. Then, with a quiet sigh, he extracted his cell phone and dialed the farm.

"Kent residence, Martha speaking."

Clark smiled to himself. Mom was always so formal on the phone. "Hey, Mom."

"Oh, hi, honey!" Her voice melted instantly. "How's Metropolis? Are you settling in okay?"

"It's fine," Clark answered, wondering if the echo factor in the tiled room would provoke a comment. "I mean, Pete's made this detailed schedule of all the things we're gonna do tomorrow. He's, like, drawn out routes between our classes and the beer gardens."

Mom laughed. "Sounds like Pete. It's good you have a friend there, Clark. How's the new roommate? Are you guys getting along?"

Clark stuck one hand in his hair, the tacky feel of gel reminding him that he was, by his standards, dressed up. "Oh, yeah. I mean, he's a grad student in biochemistry. I don't think we'll see much of each other, really."

"I don't suppose you would have that much in common with him," Mom commented almost wistfully. "It's too bad... You both having the LexCorp scholarship, you could benefit from his experience."

Clark released a breath of laughter. "I'll be okay, Mom. Met U's a big college. I'm sure I'll find my niche."

Mom returned the chuckle. "I'm entitled to brood, you know. You've only been gone for two days."

"I'll... I'll run home for a visit tonight, okay?" Clark offered, overwhelmed with guilt and something sharper he couldn't name.

"No," Mom countered unexpectedly. "No, honey, you should stay there for the first couple of weeks. Give yourself time to get used to things."

Clark fingered the weight of the ring in his pocket. "Right. You're right. It's just... new."

"I'll tell Dad you called. He's out in the west pasture right now."

"Yeah, okay. I love you, Mom. Tell... tell Dad." The sound of the door opening made Clark glance up. In the mirror over the sink, he saw Lex sauntering in.

"Love you too, sweetheart," Mom answered, almost distractedly. "Call anytime."

"Yeah, I will. Bye."

He hung up and tucked his cell phone away again, wondering if Lex was going to wait until he left before going to the urinal. If they were married, shouldn't they be able to pee in front of each other? Mom and Dad's bathroom door was pretty much permanently open into their bedroom. Clark wasn't even sure the hinges worked anymore. Which was, you know, gross... but it said something about the two of them. Something nice.

Lex was just standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets. Not moving towards the urinal, but effectively blocking Clark from leaving. "How's the old homestead?" he asked.

Oh, great. Meaningful marital conversation time, apparently.

"Okay," Clark answered briefly, looking anywhere but at his... God, his husband.

"Too bad this is all a big secret. I'd like to meet your parents sometime," Lex went on, leaning against the door. His tone wasn't exactly insincere, but it was laced with a wry humor that had something in common with sarcasm.

Lex hadn't sounded this way when they met, at the scholarship interview. Clark distinctly remembered his first impression of Lex – smooth, sleek, glossy. Impossibly manufactured, like the girls on Chloe's magazines. Like Lana Lang's hair. Like the waxy, evenly colored commercially-grown produce his parents disdained.

Now? Lex seemed rougher around the edges, more immediate, more real.

"I don't think they'd..." Clark began, thoughtlessly. "I mean, my dad. He isn't your father's biggest fan."

Lex shrugged, bonelessly shifting against the fake wood-paneled door. "Something we have in common, then."

There it was. The difference. When Clark had gone for the LexCorp scholarship interview, Lex had been presenting a version of himself, inhumanly immaculate. Then, it had been all about Clark, all about his transcripts and his extracurriculars (or lack thereof, thanks to Chloe). About his home life and his aspirations. Lex then hadn't been cold, exactly. They had even laughed about Clark putting 'certified cattle insemination technologist' on his application. But Lex had been distant, perfect. Adult. Other.

This Lex, the one Clark had met at the apartment yesterday, the one who was now watching him with interest, was a different creature entirely. He was real. And he seemed almost... hurt by the intimation that Clark's father would dislike him.

"You and your father don't get along," Clark stated baldly, opting for a shift in focus.

Lex snorted quietly. "That's putting it mildly. Surely you've read the papers. You know he's disowned me. Set his little puppet up in my place."

"Lucas?" Clark supplied, remembering a color photograph in the Ledger of a darkly handsome man not much older than himself.

Lex nodded. "My father saw to it that Lucas grew up poor and unloved while I grew up rich and unloved. Guess he decided to trade our roles for a while."

Clark suddenly became aware they were having this conversation in a bathroom... a rather smelly bathroom. He made a move towards the door, but a slight gesture from Lex stopped him.

"Clark." Lex's eyes were interesting – almost blue, but not quite. Their steady gaze was both mesmerizing and disconcerting. "I... I appreciate this. What you've done. I know it's not going to be easy for you."

Clark stared stupidly for a moment. "If it wasn't for you, I would be helping Dad with the harvest right about now," he said, and it almost came out as accusatory rather than grateful.

Lex licked his lips, betraying nervousness that Clark had never expected to see. "I just. There aren't many people I could trust with this kind of..." He trailed off, but kept his gaze locked on Clark. "What I'm trying to say is," he tried again, and though his voice sounded perfectly even, the words betrayed a sense of helplessness.

"You don't have many friends," Clark said, then was horrified with himself for sounding so pitying. "I mean. I'd like to be a friend. If you want."

Lex's gaze flickered away at last, but not before a tiny smile flared on his lips. "I'd... like that."

"After all, we are husband and husband," Clark joked, unspeakably relieved by that tiny chink in Lex's armor.

Lex laughed, then led the way back out to the restaurant.

The apartment alone almost made the whole thing worthwhile. A far cry from Pete's closet-sized dorm room (shared with a freshman from Kansas City with a kind of worrying obsession with Justin Timberlake), the two-bedroom suite was complete with hardwood floors, 10 foot ceilings, a dishwasher and a laundry room. Clark's bedroom was slightly smaller than Lex's, but it could still comfortably fit Pete's room inside its walls. There was an almost-private bathroom, shared with a guy who didn't even need room for shampoo or shaving cream. Since Lex made it clear he didn't clean house, they had even hired a woman to come in on Saturday mornings to take care of the things Clark hadn't gotten around to doing.

Mom would go to her grave ignorant of that last bit. She'd been upset enough about the dishwasher.

There was also a big television, not enormous, but flat-screen and attached to an obscene home theater system. Clark had spent the best part of an hour blasting Radiohead through nine speakers and a subwoofer after his parents left for Smallville on Friday evening.

Lex's personal belongings hadn't arrived until today, Saturday, but the cupboards were full of dishes and the place was stocked with dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, even garbage bags. Mom had found depressingly little to do, and Dad, who had brought his toolbox in the expectation of a ratty falling-apart hovel, had instead engaged in a vigorous debate with himself about whether the hardwood was real or laminate.

"LexCorp certainly treats its scholarship recipients like royalty," Mom had sighed enviously. "Clark, I lived in a studio apartment halfway across town from campus for two years. I had rats."

Clark had leaned back on the futon sofa and grinned. "Well, you should have been brilliant in school, like me."

"It was certainly generous of the committee to overlook your lack of extracurriculars for your senior year," Dad had contributed later, pacing out the length of one wood strip.

"I was on the Torch for three years, Dad," Clark had submitted as he gleefully uncovered a stash of videogames for the PS Platinum system secreted in a niche of the entertainment center. "Lex – Mr. Luthor – didn't seem to think it was very strange that I... left."

"I just hope there isn't a hidden price tag on all this," Dad had said gloomily, by which Clark deduced that the hardwood was indeed genuine.

Mom had kissed him on the cheek as they left, exhorting him to call often and reminding him Smallville was only a five minute sprint away.

Now Lex was flicking on the lights and tossing his set of keys onto the counter by the door. Clark caught a slight moue of distaste on the older man's face as he surveyed the place. So far, Clark had been an immaculate housekeeper, so nothing could really be amiss but – "Guess this isn't exactly like what you're used to," Clark hazarded, trying to smile and regain the sense of ease they'd had in the restaurant washroom.

But Lex's shield of perfection seemed to be back in place. He only smirked distractedly in Clark's direction, then headed straight for the television and flipped to CNN. Clark stood in the entryway awkwardly for a few moments before taking his cue and slipping down the hall to his bedroom.

Clark perused the four blank walls of his room – he'd been too scrupulous with the fresh paint to put up posters – and sighed. "So much for my wedding night."

"No, that's completely unacceptable!"

The voice rang through the apartment, shaking Clark from sleep. He rolled over to see his clock displaying the time as 10 a.m.

"Look, who's the fucking CEO here?"

Clark stared at the ceiling, wondering if this was going to be a regular occurrence.

"Dammit, I needed that file yesterday!"

Clark tumbled from his bed, blinking sleepily at his reflection in the mirror over his dresser. After a quick pit-stop in the bathroom, he made his way into the kitchen, the boundaries of which were demarcated by a stretch of counter at the edge of the living room area. He poured himself a bowl of Froot Loops, watching Lex pace and shout. Even though they had a perfectly serviceable land line, Lex was cupping his tiny cellular to his ear. The phone was so small as to be obscured by Lex's slender hand, giving the impression he was holding a conversation with the voices in his head.

Clark slowly settled down on the sofa in the living room, balancing his cereal bowl on his knees and pretending to watch the muted CNN on television.

"Just... get them. Soon. It's not just my ass on the line, you know."

Clark suddenly wondered if his ass was the other ass Lex was referring to. Maybe Lex had some romantic notion of marriage which involved fiercely supporting his more financially vulnerable partner. And, you know... said partner's ass.

This notion was quickly banished with Lex's next exclamation. "Mark, you're taking a chance on LexCorp. That means I need you to give it all you've got... if we screw this up, we're both looking at Burger King as our next place of employment."

There was a pause, then Lex continued. "I know you're worried. We all are. Just... get me those numbers, okay?" The shift in Lex's voice was amazing – he had gone from vitriolic to coaxing in a bare instant. His whole physical aspect had changed, too – his shoulders had settled down and his free hand was now tucked into his pants pocket. Maybe Luthors received training in acting from a young age.

Clark watched as Lex almost smiled, then concluded the phone call.

"Sorry if I woke you," Lex said, offhanded, studying the television screen and tucking his phone into his pants pocket.

Clark shrugged. "Time to get up anyway."

Lex sat down next to Clark, but clearly his mind wasn't on the television – for one thing, it was still muted. Clark felt tense just sitting near Lex.

"So... trouble at work?"

Lex's eyes narrowed for a second, not noticeable unless one happened to have super reflexes. Then he smiled more easily and inclined his head. "LexCorp is at a critical stage – we need to show potential investors that we're viable, but in the meantime, we have little to no capital to do it with."

Clark fought an urge to squirm. If Lex couldn't afford to keep his company afloat, how could he afford the money he was giving Clark?

"Investors are a bit hesitant to throw in their cards right now – I mean, not only am I relatively young and inexperienced, but they're worried that siding with me might bring Lionel's wrath down upon them."

"Your dad would do that?" Clark asked, disbelieving. Dad had always spoken about the Luthors like they were corruption incarnate, but it seemed fantastic in the extreme for a father to treat his son like that.

Lex smirked. "No. But not for the reasons the investors think... mostly, he just thinks it's beneath him to meddle in my affairs. He'll save that for when LexCorp's really getting on its feet. It'll be more spectacular that way, and I'll be more humiliated when I have to crawl back to him for a job."

"But you won't, right?" Clark prompted hastily. "Because he doesn't know about... about the plan." He waved his hand in the direction of the wedding band Lex was still wearing.

Lex nodded slowly, apparently lost in thought. "He's been very careful in cutting me off from all the angles he can reach... but my mother's attorney assures me my father was never apprised of this particular fund."

Clark sighed with relief. "And by the time he finds out..."

"Even if he found out now, he couldn't stop me from inheriting the thirty million," Lex continued. "The only way he could do that is by proving our marriage is a sham." With an abrupt motion, Lex twisted the wedding band off his finger. "And since no one even knows we're married in the first place, that's not likely to happen. All we have to do is play it close to the chest for twelve months, and I'll be in a position to properly launch LexCorp with my own money."

"And I'll be able to finish my degree without resorting to prostitution to make ends meet," Clark added with a grin.

Lex pocketed the ring, smiling. "All thanks to your generous LexCorp scholarship."

Clark allowed himself to feel the teeniest bit self-satisfied. A year-long sentence in this apartment with a seemingly cool roommate was a small price to pay for a college education. Clark was very resolutely not thinking about what his parents and friends would say if they ever found out... but, as Lex said, there was no need to divulge the information. Even in a year's time, when he had to reveal this secret so Lex could collect his money, Clark could carefully couch it in the same terms as Lex had – 'business arrangement', 'unusual contractual obligation'. Yes, the way Lex had said it, it had sounded so reasonable, even though Clark, reflecting later, after he'd agreed, had been beset by doubts and questions. But by then, it had been too late. Besides, he reflected, he and Lex were in this together, and even if he didn't know Lex very well, he at least knew the other man wasn't likely to endanger his business. That wouldn't make sense, would it? Clark quickly shelved each worry as it arose with this kind of logic.

"Lex?" Clark spoke, just as Lex made a motion towards the television remote. "Why did your mother make that bequest? I mean, why would she care if you got married and stayed married for a year?" The terms of the bequest had seemed strange, to say the least, but the strangeness of marrying Lex Luthor had overridden the idea until this moment.

There was a long pause, and for a moment, Clark was afraid he had overstepped his bounds. "My mother wanted me to be happy," Lex spoke, quietly, then hit the 'mute' button.

Clark couldn't stop himself – he blurted, "But she couldn't have intended this, could she? I mean, surely she wanted you to marry someone for... other reasons. This isn't making you any happier, is it?"

Lex muted the television again and turned a cold gaze on Clark. Clark knew he had gone too far this time, with a sick falling feeling in the pit of his stomach. "She was the one who suggested I go along with my father to Smallville on the day the meteors hit," Lex spoke in a clipped tone, running a hand over his bald head. "She wasn't really known for her great ideas." With that, Lex turned his attention back to CNN, his posture indicating not only that this conversation was over, but also that he and Clark might never have another conversation again in the whole course of their marriage.

As helplessly as though Lex was forcing him out the door with a node of kryptonite, Clark rose to his feet and left the room feeling like a giant asshole. Lex was angry and hurt, and rightly so.

Lex left the apartment half an hour later, giving no excuse or explanation, only returning shortly before midnight. Clark was already in bed in his own room. The honeymoon was definitely over, and not even twenty-four hours had passed since the ceremony. Clark sucked at being married.

If Chloe had been around, she would have met Clark first thing Monday morning with a fat file on Lex Luthor – all the unsavory details of his youth, clipped from the tabloids that never made it as far as the Kent farm. She would have warned Clark against dropping his guard too far, then she would have linked her arm through his and guided him into his first college class without allowing him time to panic about the milestone moment or anything else on his mind. Everything about Chloe was matter-of-fact like that.

Clark, left to his own devices, was considerably less cool. Not only was he still reeling from his recent change in marital status, Clark was unable to keep from noticing the throng of students around him. They all looked so adult... so sure of themselves, of their direction of travel, of their direction in life. There was, Clark noted bleakly, not a single plaid shirt to be seen. No one else's father could possibly be as full of platitudes as Jonathan Kent. And Clark was almost positive he was the only Met U student who'd woken up to the discovery that Lex Luthor took a surprisingly long time in the shower for a guy with no hair. The only good thing about his day so far was that the long shower had allowed Clark to slip out of the apartment without having to confront Lex after the previous day's encounter. Of course, it also meant that Clark was sporting come serious bedhead, as he hadn't waited around for his turn in the bathroom.

"Clark!" Clark heard Pete's voice, but couldn't immediately pick him out of the milling crowd. "Clark, man!" Pete's hand slapped down on Clark's forearm.

Clark pasted on a giant smile for Pete, turning to face his friend.

"Clark, man, where were you this weekend?" Pete grinned, playfully smacking Clark's shoulder. "Freshman orientation was a blast. I think I puked every color under the sun."

"Sounds... cool, Pete," Clark managed, still holding onto the smile. "I was just... you know. Unpacking."

Pete rolled his eyes. "Girls, Clark. College girls. And we're college guys! Stay with the tour!"

Clark nodded, his mouth fighting the smile somewhat now. "Pete, why didn't you tell me that no one wears flannel to college?"

Pete shook his head balefully. "Clark, no one wears flannel except you and your dad, even in Smallville. I thought you noticed that."

Clark resisted the urge to use his superspeed to bolt underground. "Do I look like a total geek?" he hissed, pulling Pete closer.

Pete's face did an interesting contortion as he wrestled between truth and consolation. "Not any more than usual."

Clark's smile faded away completely. "God, it's just like freshman year in high school."

Pete patted Clark on the shoulder and gently shoved him towards the humanities center entrance. "You'll be fine, man. Just... try not to trip over anything."

Clark kept his eyes firmly fixed on his giant feet and focused on steering himself inside the lecture hall without injuring himself or anyone else. College sucked.

"Rules," Lex announced, startling Clark as he entered the apartment that evening. Clark had been watching bad Monday night reality TV, and he now hastily changed the channel to Discovery, sensing instinctively that Lex was not a fan of "Supermodel Search".

Lex didn't appear angry, which relieved Clark. He merely seemed slightly distant and supremely businesslike as he removed his coat and set down his briefcase.

"One – neither of us answers the landline unless we recognize the caller ID as one of our contacts. Two – don't bring visitors over without giving me prior notice so I can be out of the apartment. Three – you refer to me as 'Alexander' to your friends and family. If they ask, my last name is 'McLaren', but try not to go that far. Four – neither of us can date anyone over the next twelve months. If my father's keeping tabs, it'd make it too easy for him. Five –"

"That's not an issue," Clark interjected, trying desperately to seem amenable.

Lex stopped, looking surprised as he hung his coat up. "What's not an issue?"

"The dating thing," Clark explained, blushing. "I don't. I mean, I'm kind of... on hiatus from that sort of thing." And that was more information than Lex Luthor needed to know about Clark Kent. Clark flipped through the channels furiously, heading for the cartoon network. "Uh. Go on."

"Oh." Lex sounded vaguely disconcerted, as though he had forgotten what he was saying. "Five... five was that you don't fill in marital status on any forms you have to submit. Just leave it blank. Six – anything I say about LexCorp stays in this apartment. Even a casual slip could lose me my company."

"Loose lips sink ships," Clark said, then promptly wished for death. It seemed he was doomed to geekhood forever. "No talking about LexCorp, got it."

"I think that's it, for now." Lex suddenly seemed to lose his sheen of formality, making Clark wonder if he'd ever get used to Lex's mood shifts. "Isn't that supermodel thing on about now?"

Clark shot a disbelieving glance in Lex's direction, but Lex seemed sincere. "So you... with the supermodels... I mean..." Great. Just when Lex seemed to have forgiven Clark for his blunder yesterday, Clark was ratcheting his foot right back in his mouth.

But Lex smiled and sat down on the sofa next to Clark. "I'm not gay, Clark, if that's what you're asking."

Clark felt himself blush from the tips of his ears down. He'd assumed, with Lex marrying a man... but that was a stupid assumption, now he thought of it, because it wasn't as though he and Lex were doing it, and, after all, it was probably better that Lex wasn't gay because then it wasn't like he secretly wanted Clark and that's why he'd offered Clark this deal. And, God, that idea had just occurred to him for the first time and now he was blushing even more. Clark didn't know what to say to Lex to make him understand that Clark didn't even care, because what with all the blushing, he clearly did care, and would this be an inappropriate time to mention casually that Clark himself was of the straight persuasion? Because maybe that should be established now, while the topic was current. Because Clark was. Straight. And why did he feel almost disappointed that Lex was, too? Clark opened his mouth, needing to speak in order to banish that last thought. "I –"

"I'm bisexual," Lex interrupted smoothly. One hand descended into Clark's lap area and for a wild instant, Clark thought Lex was about to make an inappropriate grab in an area no one but Chloe had ever grabbed, but then Lex had scooped up the remote from between Clark's legs and hey! There were potential supermodels on TV and that was probably a safe place to look right about now.

Did Lex just say bisexual?

It was disappointingly easy to keep Pete away from Clark's apartment. All Clark had to do was drop a few hints about his roommate being older and not exactly friendly, and Pete seemingly lost all interest in viewing Clark's digs. Actually, Pete had apparently lost interest in anything that didn't either involve beer or freshmen girls. Since Clark himself wasn't noticeably affected by beer, and he'd actually agreed to stay clear of girls until the conclusion of his marriage term, Clark saw very little of Pete outside of lecture halls. The few times he did see Pete, Clark was alternately fighting jealousy and boredom as his friend recounted tale after tale of drunken dorm room sexcapades.

Classes were boring and really not much different from the AP courses Clark had taken during his senior year. He wondered occasionally if Chloe was more challenged over at Columbia, but every time he sat down with the intention of e-mailing her, he lost his courage and sent a note home to his parents instead.

Unlike Pete, who seemed to be best friends with everyone he saw, Clark was overwhelmed by the sheer number of students around him. He didn't have a single class with fewer than a hundred students. Clark seemed unable to remember any of them from one lecture to the next. Only a few girls had made friendly overtures, and even fewer guys, but Clark couldn't seem to make his mind accept the notion of casually befriending people he'd only known a few days (which was kind of funny, since he'd casually befriended his husband of a few days with much less difficulty). It wasn't like Smallville, where he knew not only every name, but the family history of each student. It wasn't like Smallville at all.

The worst day was when Lana Lang sat four seats over from him in Introductory Sociology. Clark had spent the lecture trying not to vomit from pain induced by her ridiculous kryptonite pendant. Then, adding insult to injury, she'd smiled and called him 'Cliff' as she swept past him on her way out. Sure, it had been a few years since she'd moved from Smallville, but he'd been her next door neighbor for thirteen years – surely she could have learned his name in that time. Clark was beginning to think Chloe was right about Lana – she was kind of self-centered.

It was strange, but really, par for the course in Clark's life, that the best thing in his new college existence was going home to his bisexual marriage-of-convenience husband. This wasn't to say that things were exactly comfortable between him and Lex – but they were a far cry from the constant din and shuffle of Met U.

Lex was unlike anyone Clark had ever met. He should have expected that, since Lex was also richer and more urbanized than anyone else he knew – but Lex wasn't different in those predictable ways. Lex wasn't obviously spoiled. Even in undeniably reduced circumstances of living, Lex displayed no resentment about sharing his living space with Clark, or about parking his Porsche in the car-park beside Toyotas and Fords. He didn't comment on Clark's rural background or make Clark feel inferior because of his financial circumstances.

Lex's differences were in some ways more subtle, and in other ways, more complete. He could be just any guy, most of the time, albeit a bald guy wearing really expensive shoes. Then he'd have one of his dizzying shifts of mood, or he'd make some bitter comment about his family, and suddenly Clark didn't know where to put his limbs and how to formulate a meaningful sentence. Clark was used to feeling like a klutz and an outsider, but Lex could throw him in a way no one else ever had. One moment they'd be eating dinner, companionably discussing Clark's coursework or Lex's car, then suddenly Lex would close down somehow, withdraw without moving a muscle. It could go the other way, too – in the middle of an awkward silence, Lex would unexpectedly burst forth into a stunning smile and crack a joke about Clark's inability to leave for school on time.

Lex also had this weird way of working Greek mythology into almost every conversation.

The day of the Lana Lang Incident, Clark came home to find Lex glaring menacingly at the clothes dryer. Said dryer was open, wet clothes dangling from it like innards pulled from a fallen prey animal. "Is it broken?" Clark asked, setting down his backpack and eyeing the machine.

"I'll call the repairman," Lex announced, prodding at a damp knit shirt. "These clothes have just been going around for three hours, and they're barely warm."

"No, wait," Clark urged, stepping forward. "I might be able to fix it myself."

"I need these clothes for tomorrow, Clark," Lex said dryly.

Clark grinned and chose not to take offense. Instead, he dramatically rubbed his palms together and knelt down to examine the dryer. "Hey, did you check the lint trap?"

"What's that?" Lex asked, somewhat irritably. Most likely he wasn't eager to appear ignorant about the inner workings of a domestic appliance.

Clark tugged at the mesh frame and held it up. It was thickly layered with grey lint. "This is the lint trap. You have to clean it off after every load or the heat won't come through as well. That's why it's taking so long to dry your clothes." Neatly disposing of the lint and replacing the trap, Clark stood up and tugged at the machine. "Also, if the dryer gets pushed back too far, it can block the dryer hose."

Clark pushed the wet clothes back into the drum, closed the door, and twisted the start button. "Should work now."

Lex stood still and watched the dryer, ostensibly to make sure Clark was telling the truth. When the dryer showed no signs of exploding, he stuck his hands in his pockets and smiled over at Clark. "My hero."

It was something Chloe always used to say, in just that tone, when Clark did some small task for her. The familiarity made Clark blush with confusion, inordinately pleased at this teasing praise. "Growing up on a farm, you learn how to make things work," he commented lamely. "Because they don't always. Work." Stop, Clark. Stop it now. The voice in his head sounded as disconcertingly like Chloe as Lex had a moment earlier.

Lex just laughed, kindly overlooking Clark's attack of spazzitude. "How was school?" he asked, heading back towards the kitchen. He opened the fridge and tossed Clark a bottle of the expensive water Lex kept in constant supply.

"It sucked," Clark replied, twisting off the bottle cap and sitting at the table. "Just like it sucks every day."

Lex sat down opposite Clark and flicked his own bottle cap across the surface of the table. "Still no luck on the friends-making front?" he said sympathetically.

Clark shook his head. "I just... in Smallville, I was this big dork, right? But I had my place as a dork and people didn't mind I was a big dork and here, it's like I'm wearing this invisible nametag that says, 'Hello! My name is Big Dork! Shun me!'."

Lex chuckled. "It can't be that bad, Clark. You're a nice person, you're smart, you're attractive –"

"Yeah, right," Clark interjected gloomily.

Lex did that thing, that thing where it was like someone offstage flipped some switch and Lex became a totally different person. He shifted forward maybe an inch in his seat, moved his elbows some infinitesimally small distance, and said, in this low purr, "You're attractive, believe me."

Clark had just enough time to feel his pulse skyrocket and his body freeze with shock before Lex powered down the Sexy Generator and continued with a casual, "I wouldn't marry someone who wasn't."

And when Clark looked up again, it was like it had never happened. Maybe he'd imagined the whole thing, invested it with some sort of meaning that wasn't there. Clark must still be subconsciously freaking out about the whole 'Lex is bisexual' thing, because he'd never known anyone bisexual before, not really. Sure, Chloe had said that thing about how she'd go for another girl, but Clark had always suspected she mostly said that because she liked Clark's reaction. That reaction, in fact, hadn't been wildly different from how he'd felt just now, when he'd imagined Lex was coming on to him.

Clark seized his water bottle and made for the Playstation, trying for a friendly smile at Lex as he beat his retreat. Clark knew from experience violence didn't solve anything, but video game violence was extremely useful in preventing troublesome thoughts from resurfacing.

Chloe had once called Clark the Master of Denial. At the time, Clark had thought it entirely unjustified – they were fighting about her occasionally bendy morals when it came to investigating a kryptomutant's medical files. Chloe had accused Clark of avoiding the truth, whereas Clark was simply unwilling to break certain federal laws.

Now, however, Clark felt he had truly earned that title. Even his ever-patient parents had begun to hint that he should move on from Chloe, while Clark could barely make himself comprehend that things weren't as they had always been. It'd been a year since he was involved in journalism. Detective work and puzzles and saving people – all those things were wrapped up with Chloe in Clark's mind. The search button on Google held a strange poignancy Clark couldn't conquer. He'd completed his senior year in a haze of matriculation and farm chores, certain Chloe would forgive him any moment and life would return to normal. The day had never come.

Clark had been in Metropolis for almost a month now, which meant he'd been married for a month. School hadn't gotten any better, or any more difficult, so when Lex finally suggested (in an almost exasperated voice) that Clark join a club, Clark had sighed and agreed.

The problem was, he wasn't Buddhist, West Indian, into role-playing games, anime porn, marching band, or Star Trek. Intramural sports were out of the question. Really, the pickings were kind of slim.

Which was why he now found himself standing in front of the offices of the Met U Monitor. Met U was known for its journalism program and as a result, the college boasted several student newspapers. The Monitor was the biggest and most prestigious – even profs read the paper on a regular basis. It was a well-known fact that a position as a regular volunteer on the Monitor was practically a ticket to an internship at the Planet or the Inquisitor.

It wasn't much like the Torch. For one thing, they seemed to use PCs instead of Macs.

For another, there were at least a dozen people moving around inside, none of whom had short spiky blonde hair paired with the aura of a megalomaniac. As Clark had suspected, getting involved in journalism again was going to mean finally forfeiting his title of the Master of Denial. It seemed he was going to have to accept that Chloe was gone.

"Right. We'll need a sample of your work, a C.V., and two reference letters. One should be from a professional in the field. If you pass muster, we'll see about giving you some assignments. And if those work out, we might find a regular beat for you."

Nope, Wayne here wasn't about to be mistaken for Chloe. Chloe had wheedled a bit more.

"Reference in the field?" Clark stammered, staring at the goldenrod information sheet Wayne had slapped into his hand. "You mean, a real reporter?"

"Reporter, editor, journalist, anchorperson, or a journalism prof. Not some switcher for cable access who's a bigger expert on Big Gulps than on syntax." Wayne's swivel chair was suddenly half-way across the office. Clark realized he'd been dismissed.

"Um. Okay," Clark spoke weakly, then hiked his backpack up and left the office without much expectation of returning.

"Why not?" Lex was stirring something on the stove that reminded Clark of the time that kid with the ulcer had downed some kryptonite-laced Pepto-Bismol. The concoction smelled only slightly better than the mess that had resulted from that unfortunate incident.

"What's in that?" Clark asked, wary to approach in case there was kryptonite involved.

"Milk. And noodles. And some tuna," Lex replied casually, but a little line near his mouth told Clark he wasn't completely sure of his answer.

"Should I order pizza now?" Clark asked, lunging for the portable phone on the counter beside the stove.

"You didn't answer me. Why aren't you going for the position on the Monitor?"

Clark tried to remember the expiration date on the milk. He had a bad feeling it had passed a few days earlier. "Extra cheese, right?" he asked, hitting the talk button.

Lex's hand descended on Clark's, slender fingers grasping firmly. "Clark."

Clark sighed and put the phone down. "They want a C.V. And a sample. And two references, one from someone in the field."

"So?" Lex had returned to stirring the putrid mess, which now appeared to be breathing smoke.

"So? A C.V., Lex? Mine's called a 'resume' and you know what it says? 'Helped parents with organic produce' and 'worked on school paper'."

Lex was trying not to smile. "I think it also says something about cattle insemination, if I'm not mistaken."

"Oh, yeah, that'll impress them," Clark groaned. "Besides, the articles I wrote for the Torch are really stupid. They're about new gym mats and cafeteria menus and stuff like that. The only good stories were... they were co-written. I can't submit something that's only half mine."

"They won't care about the subject matter, Clark. They'll be looking for delivery. I'll help you polish your C.V. and we'll choose your best-written article." Lex seemed to notice the smoke and turned down the burner.

"That still leaves the issue of the reference," Clark added gloomily. "Who am I gonna put, my folks?"

"Well, you could put me down. I selected you for a very prestigious corporate scholarship." Lex lifted a spoonful of the pot's contents to his lips, then seemed to think better of it.

Clark frowned. "You can't be a reference. We're married."

Lex laughed outright, nudging Clark with his elbow. "The Monitor doesn't know that, remember?"

Clark shook his head. "But it's still not right."

Lex's brows came together as he turned his head to scrutinize Clark. "You really care about that? Even if they'll never know?"

Clark shrugged. "I just... it's not right."

"The world is full of shades of grey, Clark," Lex said, becoming serious.

"Doesn't mean there aren't still some black and white areas around," Clark persisted. "Thanks for the offer, Lex, but I can't accept." Since Lex seemed surprised and even a little disappointed by Clark's refusal, Clark hastened to add, "Besides, I don't have a reference in the field."

Lex's shoulders were rigid as he resumed his stirring. "I have a few friends at the Daily Planet. I'd offer to introduce you, but that might fall into the black zone." His voice was teasing, but Clark saw Lex wasn't entirely playful in his delivery. "A few enemies there, too, come to think of it. Perry White isn't overly fond of me."

Clark's head snapped up in surprise at the name. "Perry White? I know him! He came to Smallville a couple of years ago. I kind of gave him a hand with something, and he said if I ever needed help, to look him up."

Lex allowed himself a half-smile at this, raising his eyes to meet Clark's gaze. "Sounds like you don't need my assistance after all."

Clark couldn't hold back a grin of relief. "I wouldn't say no to the help with the C.V. and the sample article."

Lex's smile spread a little wider. He prodded at the mess on the stove, then asked, "Do you think peas would make this taste better?"

Clark eyed the bubbling substance, which seemed about to take its revenge on its creator. "You know, I hate peas. So it's not a good thing when I say 'yes'."

"Extra cheese," Lex said simply, with a final prod. "But it might be a while before this smell dissipates, so maybe we should go out for pizza and leave all the windows open. Bring your C.V. and samples... we'll make it a dinner meeting. Then I can write it off as a business expense."

Clark laughed and agreed, happy that the tension seemed to have melted away. But as Lex pulled his coat on, he paused. "Clark?"


"This... marriage. How do you fit that into black and white?" Lex was keeping his eyes averted, but a tremendous amount of energy seemed to radiate from him even as he pulled his keys from his pocket.

Clark bit his lip, unsure of how to proceed, then decided on honesty. "If I hadn't gotten a scholarship for college, my parents would have mortgaged the farm to pay for it. My dad loves that farm and they'd probably lose it, especially without me around to help out. I figured..." He trailed off, afraid to see Lex's reaction.

"Shades of grey," Lex said softly, then laid a hand on Clark's shoulder, briefly squeezing it before he opened the door and exited the apartment.

"You said you've been married before," Clark said, eyeing the last piece of pizza.

Lex nodded, pushing the piece across the table towards Clark. "You must have a stomach of steel, to eat so much of this greasy crap."

Clark didn't waste time in scooping up the slice. "Cast iron, actually," he corrected, which made Lex smile. "Was it a woman?"

Lex nodded again. "I was too young. It was an impulse decision that ended badly."

"How old?" Clark asked around a mouthful of crust. "Younger than me?"

Lex frowned, as though trying to remember. "No. I was... I must have been just twenty-two. Three years ago."

"Is twenty-two too young?" Clark said, surprised. "My parents were that age."

Lex shrugged. "Maybe you're never old enough to marry a psychopath."

Clark laughed, but stopped abruptly when he saw Lex was deadly serious. "She was... crazy?"

"Tried to kill me," Lex clarified, prodding at a leftover cheese globule. "She was a school teacher, gorgeous, perfect breasts." He lifted his hands from the table and mimed a slight cupping motion, as if seeking to recapture the sensation. "Legs up to... And christ, could she kiss. Made the whole world melt away."

"She –" Clark had been momentarily distracted by Lex's long fingers stroking the air, but now his mind seized on the salient point. "Tried to kill you?"

Lex grinned ruefully. He'd been surprisingly open since their conversation over the ruins of dinner. Clark considered it something of a victory that he'd managed to ask a personal question and Lex was still smiling. "Convinced some LuthorCorp security guy he should kill me, that they'd run away together. She just wanted my trust fund, of course."

Clark suddenly found it hard to swallow. "That's... terrible, Lex."

Lex's eyes were still sparking with memory. "Nah, another guard stopped him in time. She went to prison. The marriage was annulled. I escaped all the wiser." Lex took a moment to wipe his hands off on a paper napkin, then continued. "Never trust someone just because they want you to, Clark. Always make them give you a reason."

Clark set down the rest of his pizza, his appetite gone. "Does that include you?"

Bright blue eyes met Clark's. "Of course it does." Clark found himself unable to look away, mesmerized by Lex's sincerity, his fearlessness. Then a noisy group of preteens barged into the restaurant and the moment was broken. Lex sat back in his chair and extracted his wallet. As he tossed a twenty onto the table between them, he shook his head regretfully.

"You know the best thing about Desiree? Her lips. I have a weakness for beautiful lips."

Clark was unreasonably glad he was wiping his mouth when Lex made this announcement.

Wayne tapped a pen on the plain manila file folder as he searched his computer screen. "Kent. Here, let's see... how are you with technology and science?"

Clark frowned. "What..."

"I've got an e-mail here, says that one of the more prominent members of the microbiology faculty has recently sold the rights to a new product. Find out what it is and possible applications. Probably dull as shit, but if you can make it read well, we'll see if we can't find you a better assignment next time."

"You're... giving me an assignment?" Clark's carefully assembled application package was still tucked into the manila folder. Wayne had barely cracked it open before offering Clark this story.

"Perry White's on your side, man. I'm not arguing," Wayne said, face stoic. "Besides, between you and me, most of the other freshmen who applied spelled 'Curriculum Vitae' wrong. We'll give you a shot... due Monday by 4 p.m. We need time to get it through the copy editor before it goes to press for Tuesday."

Clark nodded, stunned, then took the e-mail print-out that Wayne extended. "Um. Thanks. I mean... I won't let you down."

Wayne was unmoved. "4 p.m. Not an instant later."

Clark couldn't suppress a grin as he headed back out the door. Sure, there was a serious dearth of cute girlfriends at the Monitor as compared with the Torch, but he couldn't deny he'd missed this. The search field on Google seemed less threatening now.

Clark and Google were on the outs again. He had asked one simple thing of it – one – and this was the treatment he received?

Leading the list of search results for the buyer of Dr. Nicholas Uyeda's latest discovery was The future of LexCorp is bright! insisted the jaunty splash banner at the top of the page. Further down, under the heading "Subsidiaries and Holdings", there was a link to the mysterious Cadmus Labs.

The page was very purple.

Clark distracted himself by clicking on the link labeled "Our CEO", then spent a moment smirking back at a very posed picture of Lex. The caption read, "Lex Luthor, CEO, chairman, and founder of LexCorp is a dynamic and ambitious businessman whose goal is to build a corporation that truly cares for its employees while maintaining the highest standards of success and sustainable growth."

What Clark really should do, was turn this assignment back in and make some excuse about conflict of interest. But then, Wayne would want to know what Clark meant. And Clark couldn't exactly explain. He'd simply have to do the best he could and hope he didn't uncover anything that... that Lex didn't want him uncovering.

Clark reluctantly hit the 'Back' button and followed the link to Cadmus Labs, then to recent press releases. The newest release was almost three weeks old and mentioned nothing about Dr. Uyeda's discovery. The Met U webpage and Dr. Uyeda's departmental page had proved equally unfruitful. He would have to wait until morning to call Uyeda's lab and make contact with Cadmus. It would probably be much simpler to walk into the living room, where Lex was engrossed by The Return of the King, and just demand information... but Clark felt he'd drawn some pretty solid lines between his home life and his school life, and now was not the time to blur those lines.

Clark sighed, then glanced down at the e-mail that Wayne had given him – Hey Wayne, blah, blah, blah, don't have time to track down this lead, but thought you might be interested, blah, blah, blah, Cadmus, blah, Uyeda, blah, Yours, L. There was a confidentiality clause at the tail of the message that declared that the message originated from the offices of the Daily Planet. Clark flicked his gaze back up the page, curious to see who Wayne knew at the Planet.

"Oh, shit," he said aloud, disgusted that he hadn't noticed until now.

The e-mail was from one Lois Lane.

"I don't know where you heard about this, Mr. Kent, but I can assure you, I haven't had any dealings with Cadmus Labs at any time. The Dean of Research will confirm it for you."

"So you're willing to go on record, that LexCorp hasn't recently paid you –" Clark consulted his e-mail – "two million dollars for the results of your research into immunoboosting microbial agents?"

"Of course, you're welcome to print my statement, Mr. Kent, but I'm not convinced you have a story to write, since there is no such deal."

Clark sighed, wondering how quickly he could befriend an undergraduate lab tech from Uyeda's department. The man was far too defensive for his story to have the ring of truth. "Thank you for your time, Dr. Uyeda," he concluded politely.

Lucy Sikora was really pretty. And, judging from the stack of research and long-titled textbooks on her desk, she was really smart too. Something about people who were both beautiful and intelligent always scared the crap out of Clark, but he tamped the feeling down and forced himself to pretend he was perfectly equal to the situation.

"It's for a story, for the Monitor," he explained, sinking into the rolling chair opposite the junior. "I'm doing the science beat for this article and to be honest, I'm not exactly an expert in this sort of thing. Could you maybe give me a layman's definition of what Dr. Uyeda's doing?" Cue brilliant smile, the one Chloe couldn't ever resist kissing away.

It worked. Lucy smiled back and opened up a notebook. "Okay, microbial immunoboosters are agents that supplement a person's natural immune defenses but don't provoke an immune reaction against themselves."

Clark let his expression – which was hopefully communicating 'speak English' – do the talking.

She laughed indulgently and began to draw a diagram. "The human body doesn't react kindly to anything it doesn't recognize as belonging to it. That's been a major obstacle to fighting diseases like AIDS and cancer, because even when we can come up with something that might help, it either indiscriminately attacks healthy and diseased tissue, like chemotherapy drugs, or it is broken down by the body's immune system, which decreases its effectiveness."

Clark nodded slowly. "So Dr. Uyeda's come up with something that discriminates between healthy and diseased tissue, but doesn't get broken down by the body?"

"Not exactly." She tugged a file out from the stack on her desk and opened it. "He's found that applying a certain treatment to this viral vector, then packaging it in a bacterium, has the effect of supercharging the subject's immune reaction. Nothing fights disease so well as the body itself, you know. That's why this is so effective."

"So, what, this cures AIDS and cancer?"

Lucy laughed again, her hand touching Clark's as she closed the folder. "No. Someday, with a lot more development, it might help, though. So far, all it's done is make some lab rats live longer than they should. Clinical application is years down the road. You wouldn't believe the hoop jumping we have to do before even considering human subjects. I'm surprised Dr. Uyeda didn't drop the research sooner."

"He's dropped it?"

Lucy shrugged. "They don't tell us undergrads much about stuff like that, but he mentioned something about focusing our attention on another aspect of his research. I understand, though. I mean, it's hard to get funding when you're fighting the FDA every step of the way."

"Is the FDA really stalling something that could help people this much?"

Lucy's expression closed down immediately. "There are some... unknowns in this research."

"Like what? Something dangerous?"

Lucy glanced around the empty lab. All the other students and researchers were gone for lunch. "It's the treatment for the viral vector. I only saw them doing it once – and only the post-docs are allowed – but there was some sort of green phosphorescent liquid. I would guess it was a radioactive compound, except they didn't seem to be taking any of the usual precautions – no Geiger counter, no plexiglass, no fume hood. They weren't even wearing latex gloves, and we wear those for almost everything around here. It's as though... as though they were convinced that it was as harmless as water."

Clark swallowed hard. He might not have paid much attention in biology, but Smallville High had definitely taught him that green phosphorescent anything was bad news.

Cadmus Labs was an unimpressive squat little building. It certainly didn't look like the mysteries of life and death were being investigated within its walls. It looked more like the community center where Clark went to story-time as a kindergartener in Smallville.

Security here was considerably tighter. The guard at the desk didn't believe Clark when he explained that he hadn't yet gotten a press card from the Monitor.

"We don't answer inquiries from the press without the proper verification, sir."

Clark glanced desperately at the clock over the guard's shoulder – it was five minutes to five o'clock on Friday afternoon. If he didn't talk fast, he'd have to wait until Monday to hear Cadmus' side of the story. And with a story deadline of 4 p.m. Monday and not even a paragraph's worth of story, Clark couldn't afford to wait that long. "Um, could I give you the number of my editor? He could tell you –"

An abrupt head shake at this juncture convinced Clark it was a lost cause. "Well, do you have any investors' information, a quarterly report or something that I could look at?"

"You'd have to contact our head offices at LexCorp for that, sir. This here is just a research facility, not a corporate headquarters."

Clark took a last chance. "Well, maybe you could just answer one question – do you ever get deliveries here from a place by the name of Smallville?" He tried on his boy scout grin, the one that had worked so spectacularly on Lucy Sikora earlier in the day. "It's my hometown and I heard that it might be getting a little business with Cadmus. I know the economy there could sure use the boost."

"Smallville?" repeated the guard, still unfriendly, but not as dismissive. "I wouldn't know – it's the nights that get all the deliveries. Isn't Smallville where that fertilizer plant is, the oneLuthorCorp owns?"

Clark nodded, maintaining the smile even as his face began to ache. "Biggest single employer in town."

The guard grimaced. "LuthorCorp ain't exactly my kind of corporation. Say what you like about Lex Luthor, but at least he's human. Can't be so sure about his father."

"Guess that's why I'd be glad to hear LexCorp was pouring some money into Smallville for a change," Clark segued smoothly, feeling very proud of himself. Chloe would have been flashing her cleavage by now.

The dimmest hint of a smile flickered under the guard's severe mustache. "Well, how about I give you the number for the night guard and you can call tonight after eleven and ask him yourself?"

Clark nodded enthusiastically and left one minute later, clutching his final lead in his hand.

Lex wasn't at the apartment when Clark got home. He'd left a note, though, saying he didn't expect to be home in time for dinner. Clark felt a moment's regret, reflexively, then realized that Lex's absence was something of a blessing. After all, Clark hadn't yet discovered anything conclusive about Cadmus' dealings with Uyeda, but his experience in Smallville made him more than a little suspicious of Met U's conspicuous silence and Uyeda's mysterious treatment. Clark didn't know yet if Lex's company was involved in something shady – and even if it was, there was no way of knowing if Lex was party to it – but, when he considered it, Clark preferred not to spend the evening in Lex's company when the matter was weighing so heavily on his mind.

Pete called and demanded that Clark join him at a club on campus. When Clark politely but firmly refused – he couldn't for a second imagine himself in that atmosphere when his brain was whirring away like this – Pete muttered something about boring aliens, then hung up. Clark had forgotten how rotten it felt to lie to his best friend.

He then spent an hour clearing the fridge of all the food that had recently gone bad – for some reason, Lex seemed irresistibly drawn to spoiled food – and tidying the apartment. Lex wasn't messy, exactly... but he did tend to forget that when he put things down, they didn't automatically migrate to their proper location. Clark had gotten into a daily habit of shifting Lex's briefcase from the middle of the living room next to the couch, where Lex collapsed after work, to the front hall closet, where Clark's knapsack lived.

Clark actually put the briefcase away and was halfway back to the living room, intent on folding up the knitted afghan his mother had given him, before he realized – Lex's briefcase was LexCorp's briefcase. The solution to Clark's investigative difficulties could well be contained in its depths. It would only take a quick x-ray scan to confirm or refute the theory, and Clark wouldn't have to use the evidence he found within – he could simply take the direction indicated, maybe pluck out a few choice contact names or research directives. So he wouldn't precisely be breaking Rule Six – the loose lips sinking ships clause. He'd just be... making the most of his available resources. He'd done it dozens of times in Smallville, all in the name of a story, in the name of Truth and Justice and also, Making Chloe Happy (which, coincidentally, often led to Clark Getting Laid).

But... this was Lex. Lex, whose money was being made off of enterprises like Cadmus. Lex, whose money was currently paying for the apartment in which Clark sat, not to mention Clark's tuition.

More importantly, this was Lex who burned rotten food and listened to Clark's stories about home and used elaborate classical analogies to describe board meetings and helped Clark get this assignment in the first place. Clark couldn't quite believe that this Lex – the Lex Clark knew – could willingly involve himself or his company in anything that might be dangerous or irresponsible.

But if he called the night guard at Cadmus and found out the lab was receiving kryptonite from Smallville? Clark wasn't sure he could conclusively prove to Monitor readers that meteor rock was harmful, but he was almost certain it wasn't the sort of substance the FDA looked kindly on. Lucy's hesitation had said as much. And if Cadmus was using kryptonite in their research, then the lab was a danger, clear and simple. But did that danger justify Clark's intrusion into Lex's private documents?

Clark sank down onto the sofa, suddenly paralyzed with indecision.

"Don't know exactly what it is, son. I just sign the forms. All's I can say is we got a truckload of something from Smallville last night, and it got put straight into a storage vault."

"Was it –" Green? Did it glow? Would you say it would make you violently ill if you were, for example, an alien? "Was it a hazardous substance?"

"Nope, we don't take anything dangerous on night duty. Only the senior researchers receive the radioactive things and specimens... and those things usually come in little bitty boxes. This here was just a bunch of metal containers, about the size of a microwave."

This wasn't particularly helpful, since the EPA had sworn up and down and sideways that meteor rocks were harmless, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Still, if Clark had to guess what was being delivered to Cadmus from Smallville, he wouldn't bet on it being fertilizer. And Smallville only had one other export.

Just one quick peek. Just an instant's glimpse, and not even a human instant, but a Kryptonian instant, the kind where rain stood still and bullets hung in mid-air. People's lives could be in the balance, and Clark's scholarship and his sham marriage and even his tentative friendship with Lex couldn't stand in the way of public safety. Clark guiltily made his way to the front hall closet, pretending to rehang a coat just in case Lex should walk in the door during the Kryptonian instant. With a quick, decisive exhalation, Clark focused on Lex's briefcase and –

Who the hell owns a lead-lined briefcase? Clark was so taken aback, his Kryptonian instant stretched into about thirty human seconds before he realized it was no use. Either he'd have to break the briefcase open – 'Sorry, Lex, I accidentally tripped and broke your titanium, digitally locked, and, oh yeah, lead-lined briefcase' – or he'd have to find some other way to pursue this story.

Which, unfortunately, left Lois Lane. She was the one who'd provided the tip, so she must have uncovered something Clark hadn't found. And if Lois was anything like her cousin, she had probably sunk a lot lower than breaking open a briefcase to do it.

"You have reached the editorial offices of the Daily Planet. If you know the extension of the person you are trying to reach, please enter it now."

Clark tapped his fingers on his mattress, trying not to contemplate what he was going to say.

"Please enter the first three letters of the surname of the person you are trying to reach."

Clark had never thought of his fingers as being particularly fat, but somehow they managed to spell out "LAW" instead of "LAN".

"Hi, this is Alvin Law, assistant to the chief copy editor for the Daily Planet. I will be in the office on –"

Clark hung up. No, there was no way he could call Lois Lane. It would have to be e-mail. E-mail was cool and impersonal and had the added advantage of being able to put forethought into what was said.

Right. Forethought. Clark glanced at his clock – Lex had come in about half an hour ago and had since gone into his bedroom. It was 2 a.m. But the late hour should only serve to convince Lois that Clark was wracking his brain to break this story.

Dear Ms. Lane,

I am a Met U student on assignment for the Monitor. My editor Wayne gave me the lead you sent him, regarding Dr. Uyeda's research and Cadmus Labs. I have investigated this information and have not been able to gather any evidence to support your claim. Could you please tell me where you heard about this sale?


Clark Kent

p.s. Yes, I am that Clark Kent, from Smallville, so we've sort of met before. About that time... I guess I wasn't really myself, or at least not at my best – see, my mom had just lost her baby and I was kind of out to forget all about myself and Smallville. Maybe Chloe told you some of this... I don't know how much you guys talked about me. I mean, I don't think you ever told her about that night, but then I don't know because, as it turned out, Chloe knew a lot of stuff she never told me she knew. She's a lot better at keeping secrets than you might think for someone in the field of journalism. Actually, you might not even have made the connection between Clark Kent and the guy from that night, because I was calling myself Kal, which is a long story. But maybe Chloe showed you a picture or something when she was in Metropolis looking for me. She said something about you helping her find me, so I guess I'm just assuming you figured out it was me that night. It was only chance that I remembered that Lois Lane was her cousin, and honestly I only remembered the next morning, and at that time I didn't really care because, like I said, with my parents ...

Okay. E-mail was also not an option.

Somehow, Clark didn't think he could face Lois Lane in person, so tracking her down – aside from being a difficult proposition on a Saturday morning – was pretty much out of the question. He didn't get much rest that night, only lying flat on his back and asking the ceiling if there was a quick way out of this situation that didn't involve tossing back a couple of shots of kryptonite.

When Lex made the first quiet sounds of rising in the morning, Clark got up to join him. Considering that Lex – or his corporation – was the source of Clark's problem, it didn't exactly seem like the logical thing to do. Still, Lex wasn't just a CEO and an indirect pain in the ass. He was also an excellent conversationalist and, as Clark had discovered, Lex was actually good at making scrambled eggs.

"Good morning, dearest spouse," Lex said in his low morning voice. He was fiddling with the coffee maker. "I swear to god, I set this thing to start brewing half an hour ago." He, like Clark, wasn't dressed, and stood barefoot in a plum bathrobe. Except Lex probably called it a dressing gown or something funny like that.

Clark looked over Lex's shoulder. "It's set for 7 p.m., not a.m.," observed Clark.

"No, it's not!"

Clark jabbed a finger at the digital display. "Unless it says 'a' beside the time, it's p.m."

"You know, that's flawed product engineering."

Clark grinned and rolled his eyes. "Here, let me."

Lex obediently moved out of the way and let Clark set the coffee to brew, heading for the fridge (and, Clark hoped, the eggs).

"Where were you last night?" Clark asked, annoyed that his fingers seemed perfectly capable of accurately pressing these buttons.

"Charity function. Booze and schmooze," came Lex's answer from inside the fridge.

"Any luck?" And hey, why's your briefcase lined with lead, anyway?

Lex backed out of the fridge, bearing the egg carton and a pitcher of orange juice. "Did you throw away the milk?"

"It was four days past the expiration date."

"Oh." Lex set the food on the counter and pulled a skillet down from the pot rack. "The evening went pretty well until my father showed up. God knows how he heard I was going – the affair was pretty low-key, so I doubt he was even invited. Anyway, he made an appearance and I spent the rest of the night avoiding him."

"Can I have three eggs?"

Lex acknowledged Clark's question by cracking a fifth egg into the bowl. "How about you? Any wild college parties I should know about?"

Clark shook his head, watching the coffee maker as it began to produce a stream of wonderfully-scented coffee. Lex bought these really expensive beans and ground them himself.

"What about your new Monitor friends? Don't they even get together to smoke up and shout about left-wing politics?"


"Oh, like you've never tried an illegal substance," Lex chuckled, eyeing Clark's shocked expression.

Red kryptonite wasn't illegal, but Clark didn't want to seem like a complete prude, so he just let his blush speak for him.

"Speaking of newspapers..." Lex abandoned the eggs for a moment and went to the front door, returning with the fat weekend edition of the Planet. Clark watched, downing a glass of orange juice, as Lex studied the front page, then flipped to the city pages.

"What are you looking for?" Clark asked, wondering if Lex was going to ruin the one dish he had seemed competent to cook. The eggs were beginning to look a bit like they needed active scrambling, but Clark was loath to point that out. Lex was very territorial about his cooking, such as it was.

To Clark's relief, Lex set the paper down on the counter and turned his attention back to the eggs. With a wry smile, Lex looked over at Clark.

"I floated a lead to one of the Planet's more ambitious cub reporters, about a week back. I've been checking the paper all week for her follow-up, but it doesn't look like she bought it."

Clark took a moment to observe that his life had a way of constantly kicking him in the ass, before posing the inevitable question.

"Um. This lead? You didn't happen to send it to Lois Lane, did you?"

Clark had been debating, for several weeks, whether Lex was strangely averse to showing surprise or if he was simply really good at guessing what people would say or do next. The point was now settled as Lex's hand stopped stirring the eggs and his whole body went tense. "You... how did you... Clark, did you look in my briefcase?"

Clark didn't do anything nearly as cool as tensing his body and stilling his hand. Instead, he spat out a bit of orange juice and blurted, "It's locked!"

Lex's moment of shock seemed to have passed, which was really unfair because Clark was still trying to get the orange juice off his chin. Lex was calmly transferring the eggs onto two plates. He wasn't smiling. "So, you tried to look in my briefcase."

"I noticed it was locked when I moved it," Clark attempted. "Into the closet. Because you left it in the middle of the living room." Yes, Clark, now's the time to start a domestic argument.

Lex didn't dignify this with a direct response. Instead, he pushed the plate with the larger portion towards Clark. "Clark, relax. I'm not angry."

"You're not?" Clark said desperately.

"No. Do you want a cup of coffee?"

"But –"

Lex poured Clark a cup and sedately made his way to the kitchen table. "Sit down. We should discuss this." Lex wasn't being Lex the Domestically Incompetent. He was being Lex the Inhumanly Cool, the Lex Clark had first met at his scholarship interview. It was funny how he could do that while wearing purple silk pajamas.

Clark, at a loss, obediently picked up his plate and cup and sat down opposite Lex.

"So, you didn't look in my briefcase – which I keep locked. I thought for a minute I might have forgotten to relock it before I went out yesterday. You obviously tried to open the briefcase, out of idle curiosity or maybe something else. But that doesn't matter, because you clearly were thwarted. What I want to know is, how did you find out it was Lois Lane I sent the lead to?"

Clark remembered this feeling. This was the feeling he'd had when he was five years old and he'd lifted something too heavy in front of a neighbor. The way Mom had grabbed his hand and squeezed. The way Dad glared. It was as though Clark had suddenly moved into a world where there were a hundred unspoken rules and he'd unwittingly broken every single one. "It was my assignment, from the Monitor. My editor gave me an e-mail from Lois Lane. She said she didn't have time to pursue this lead, but she didn't say where she got it. Wayne seemed to think it was something boring, but when I started looking..."

Lex appeared to be contemplating this revelation. "She's a much less competent reporter than I thought... or maybe she's just inexperienced. I mean, if she'd taken half a minute to investigate the truth of the document I leaked, she would have jumped on the story." Clark's mouth went dry when Lex shifted his cold gaze to Clark. "As you did, I'm sure."

"I was going to take it back, when I realized you owned Cadmus," Clark said quickly. "It was a clear conflict of interest, but then I didn't know how I'd explain that to my editor. Since the marriage is a secret, I mean."

Lex leaned back in his chair and shook his head, as though saddened by Clark's stupidity. "But your substantial LexCorp scholarship isn't a secret. And it's certainly as good a reason as the marriage." Lex studied Clark. "Something wrong with the eggs?"

Clark realized Lex thought Clark was lying. "I... I didn't think of that," he protested lamely. For a guy who claimed not to be angry, Lex was giving off some serious anger vibes.

Lex finished chewing a mouthful of his own portion. "Of course you didn't. So, you went ahead with the investigation, because, as you say, your editor didn't think there was much to the story. No harm done, right? But then you found out Uyeda was denying all knowledge of a deal with Cadmus. And I expect Cadmus said the same when you contacted them."

Clark didn't think it would help him to admit he'd failed to get so far as properly contacting Cadmus.

"So, you tried to look in my briefcase, hoping I'd have some confidential documents about the sale. Of course, you couldn't have used them, even if you'd succeeded, because I would know you had looked, but maybe you were hoping for some explanation so you'd have another path to follow."

Clark tried for a casual sip of coffee, as if all of Lex's mental machinations weren't boggling his own rather fast mind. He suspected the sip came off looking more nervous than casual.

"Which brings us up to this morning, and back to Ms. Lane. Have I missed anything?"

Clark slowly shook his head, wrapping his hands around his coffee cup. He didn't think now was the time to confront Lex about the possibly illegal use of meteor rocks in his company's research.

Lex brought his own coffee to his lips, as though he was modeling what a truly casual sip should be, then he continued. "Are you working for my father?"

"What?" Clark squeaked, sending a dribble of coffee the same route as the orange juice. Superhuman reflexes really weren't working for him today. When Lex only tilted his head, awaiting an answer, Clark said the first thing that came to him. "You really think your father would hire someone as incompetent as me?"

Lex shrugged. "You made the coffee machine work."

"Clearly a genius, then," Clark returned sarcastically.

"No one ever said my father had the best judgment when it comes to employees. My half-brother is a case in point."

Clark couldn't suppress an eye roll. "Lex, I'm not working for your dad."

Lex almost smiled, and that tiny motion of his lips released at least one of the awful knots that had formed in Clark's chest. "So you were just after this story? I didn't think you were so ambitious, Clark."

"Well, like you said, I didn't think it was a big story, until I started hitting all those dead ends," Clark explained. "I just wanted my first story for the Monitor to be good. I really didn't think of using the scholarship thing as a conflict of interest."

"And my briefcase?"

Clark blushed deeply. "Moment of weakness. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have violated your trust like that."

"I'm not angry, Clark, remember? I told you, trust has to be earned, and if I had been foolish enough to trust you with my unlocked briefcase, I could hardly blame you for taking advantage."

Clark wasn't exactly on the high moral ground here, but he couldn't help responding. "No, I shouldn't have even tried looking. That was one of our rules. I had no right." Curious as he still was as to the reasoning behind Lex's deliberate information leak, Clark couldn't bear the thought of asking Lex to explain when this issue of the briefcase still lay between them. It was strange – he and Chloe had done worse, frequently, while writing for the Torch – but Clark couldn't stand the sudden coldness in Lex's attitude.

Lex seemed to accept this apology, because instantaneously, his stiff demeanor fell away and he leaned in towards Clark. "Let me tell you how you can make it up to me."

He was so close and so overwhelmingly inviting compared to a moment before, Clark backed up instinctively. Lex's regard was just as intense as his distrust. "How?"

Lex reached across the table, as though he wanted to take Clark's hand. Instead, he plucked a piece of rapidly-cooling scrambled egg from Clark's plate. With a grin, he popped the food in his mouth and announced, "You can write that article."

Clark had married a man who was either very intelligent or slightly unbalanced – possibly both. It was the only way to explain this situation.

"So the whole thing, about Uyeda selling his research to Cadmus... it's a lie?"

Lex was a patient genius-slash-psychopath. He didn't seem to mind having to explain again. "It's a mislead. Cadmus is hiring Uyeda away, with a two million dollar signing bonus. Uyeda and Cadmus have both been on a media black-out about it because Met U hasn't yet been told."

"But you want me to break the story?" Clark asked. His head was kind of hurting from trying to follow the convolutions of Lex's strategy.

"Right. Uyeda's going to have to come clean to Met U sooner or later... and if you break the story, then it'll deflect some of the anger he's likely to be facing from the Dean of Research."


"Because the Dean'll be spending enough time trying to figure out how you found out – don't worry, you can always claim to be protecting your source – and how he didn't, Uyeda will be able to slip away relatively easily. Besides, Met U has been shutting down his research on a few fronts... they'll probably be glad to be rid of him, in the end."

"Why have they been –" Clark began, but Lex kept going.

"The bonus for LexCorp is that we get press coverage for acquiring a prominent researcher and pursuing some fairly promising research in the field of cancer treatment."

Clark nodded, then opened his mouth to try his question again.

"The bonus for you is that you're not just going to blow open the Monitor with this story... you'll knock the Planet on its ass. It'll be a hell of a kickstart for your career as a journalist."

"But Uyeda –"

"And the best part is that my dad will be so busy throwing a tantrum over how I snatched Uyeda out from under his nose, he'll stop snooping around you and our little living arrangement."

"The research Uyeda's doing –" Clark began, relieved to finally have space to speak. Then Lex's words hit him, full force. "Your dad is snooping around me?"

Lex shrugged. "Just because he's disowned me, it doesn't mean he's lost all interest in my life. I'm sure he's keeping close tabs on me, which means he's keeping tabs on you too."

Clark stared at Lex, his mind whirling with shock. "But you said your dad didn't know! What, he found out about the marriage?"

"Of course not," Lex said dismissively. "But he's noticed that I moved out of my penthouse and into this place, and he must have also noticed that I have a roommate. Naturally, he would have dug up everything he could on you."

Clark was trying very hard not to panic. When he panicked, things tended to go into slow motion, and Lex's words were disconcerting enough without them stretching out even longer. "He's, what, investigating me?"

Lex laughed lightly, as if Clark's anxiety was quaint in some way. "Clark, part of the reason I chose you for this arrangement is that your history is squeaky clean – good, wholesome farm kid, raised on organic produce, with a propensity for helping people out and getting great marks in school... and just enough teen angst material thrown in for believability. Don't worry. If my team couldn't turn up anything bad about you, I really doubt my father's going to succeed."

"Team? You had a team on me?"

"You didn't think I was just going to marry you based on the details of your scholarship application, did you?" Lex scoffed.

"Well, yeah!" Clark answered in a rather undignified squeak. "Jesus, Lex!"

Lex tilted his head and sat back in his chair, his whole posture screaming, 'Tell me another one, Clark.' "Come on, I'm sure you dug up every old tabloid and rag in Metropolis and read all about my tortured youth before you decided to accept."

"Actually, I didn't!" Clark returned, horrified. God, how much had Lex discovered about Clark's activities in Smallville? True, the police reports tended to play down Clark's involvement in strange activities – the sheriff was Dad's buddy from high school and did his best to keep Clark's name out of things – and the Ledger seemed to spend more time focusing on Metropolitan crime than Smallvillian freak incidents ...

Lex chuckled, disbelieving.

"So, what, your dad thinks we're just roomies? That you've befriended your scholarship recipient? Is that what he thinks?" Clark blurted, coming back to the first horrendous revelation.

"Mmm," Lex mused, grinning. "I believe the exact words he employed at the benefit last night were 'your little rentboy' and 'your flavor of the week'."

"He thinks we're... that we're..." Clark flushed frantically and stood up, unable to keep still a moment longer. "And you didn't correct him?"

Lex shook his head, still smiling. "Clark, as far as my father's concerned, the only extraordinary thing about you is your beauty. If I told him you and I were just friends, he'd never believe me."

Clark opened and closed his mouth several times, but was unable to reply, except with an outraged, "Your dad has a dirty mind!"

Lex laughed outright.

"He does!" Clark insisted.

Lex stood up, taking the breakfast dishes over to the dishwasher. "Life with my father is a game, Clark. The only way to survive is to make use of how devious his mind is... for every twisted idea he has, you have to keep him looking for another bend in the path. I had to book a flight to Tokyo on our wedding day so my father wouldn't figure out I'd really gone to Grandville. And, sadly, I could have used that money."

In an instant, Clark understood Lex's take on the briefcase incident, his strange methods of garnering press attention, his opinions on earning trust, even this whole ridiculous marriage. Growing up with a father like Lionel Luthor, Lex couldn't help but view everyone else as having ulterior motives for everything they did. Clark watched, filled with newfound sympathy, as Lex stacked the dishes (wrong) and closed the dishwasher door. Suddenly, Lex seemed so fragile, so mistreated, so... so young. Lex's bare scalp seemed like a hideous vulnerability, and Clark had to resist the urge to go over and gather Lex into his arms.

"Not everyone's like that," Clark spoke, finally. Lex smirked, straightening up and looking over at Clark. "No, really, Lex. Sometimes people are just... good to each other."

Lex still looked like he expected a punchline any minute.

"I'm not saying people don't do each other wrong... I mean, I've done more wrong than I'd care to admit... but people do good things, too, just for the sake of goodness."

Lex's smirk deepened somehow.

Clark had one last arrow to sling. "I'm adopted, you know. My parents... they took me in, and god knows I'm not a perfect son, but they loved me more than anything else in the world, even when... when they shouldn't have."

"The summer you ran away," Lex provided blandly, but the smirk was gone, replaced by something more akin to envy.

"Then... and other times," Clark acknowledged, unwilling to show his surprise that Lex knew about that lost summer. "People can be like that, too."

It was only an instant, really a Kryptonian instant, but Clark saw Lex look at him with startlingly vivid longing and disbelief. Then it was gone, and the smirk was back.

"We should do this exclusive interview thing," Lex spoke. "But I'm going to shower first, if it's okay."

Lex's form retreated down the hallway towards the washroom. Clark had never expected that Lex Luthor might need saving, but he did. Clark only hoped it wasn't too late.

The article which Clark published did as Lex had predicted – not only was Wayne suddenly treating Clark like an indentured servant (which, the other Monitor reporters assured him, was a good sign), but the Planet picked up Clark's story and reprinted it in an expanded version with his name on the byline, on the front page of the city section. Clark was one of the youngest reporters ever published by the Daily Planet, and he had the meager freelancer's check to prove it.

Clark's parents had the article framed and hung it in Clark's loft over his old desk. Pete clapped Clark on the back and called him 'my man' repeatedly. Somewhere in New York, Clark had no doubt, Chloe was sticking pins into a voodoo doll wearing plaid.

Clark himself was somewhat less impressed with his success. Sure, the article was well-written and thorough, and of course, it was a journalistic coup for the Monitor... but Clark felt like he'd cheated, somehow, having scored his exclusive interview more by luck than by merit. If it hadn't been for his connection to Lex, Clark wouldn't have managed to extract the story that he did.

And that story was woefully incomplete. The written explanations which Lex had provided for Uyeda's research made no mention of the viral vector treatment which Uyeda's undergraduate had described. There wasn't even a vague euphemism Clark could pick at, some random phrase he could bite into. Instead, in the place where the treatment should be, there was a very specific, "Viral vector SQ13-B demonstrates positive immunological effects, as shown by Uyeda (1997)".

Clark had looked Lex in the eye at this juncture in the interview and said, "But where does this vector come from?"

"Clark, there are countless viruses in the world that occur naturally, and for almost every one of those, some scientist has mapped out its genetic code and toyed with the genes it carries to see if any of them have useful application for pharmaceuticals. This particular virus infects a particular bacterial strain – it's hardly a threat to humans, if that's what you're implying."

And, really, there had been enough of a story to cover, between Uyeda's secret defection, Met U's silence, Cadmus' profile, and the potential benefits of the research itself, that focusing in on a minor point of protocol seemed like it would cause more trouble than it was worth. Clark had obediently stuck to the material provided by Lex and produced his article by 4 p.m. on Monday. He was a success and his parents and friends were proud and really, everything was all right.

Except, sometimes, in the middle of the night, when Clark lay awake trying to block out the sounds of the city, he knew the real reason he hadn't pursued the angle. Clark was afraid. He was afraid of Lionel. He was afraid of the meteor rocks and every terrible thing they'd done, every wish they'd fulfilled. He was afraid of labs and government agencies and long metal tables and bright white lights and every nightmare that had come to him since his sixteenth birthday and that conversation in the storm cellar.

And Clark had let his fear of being found out decide the issue – Clark published the story, in its incomplete form, because Lex thought it would draw Lionel's attention. And if Lionel ended up looking too closely at an article about the effects of meteor rocks... Clark really wasn't certain his fear was unjustified. No, it was better to keep the article clear of green glowing rocks and the Wall of Weird and Smallville, better by far to focus the older Luthor's interest in the direction of his son and Dr. Uyeda, not towards the one thing that could possibly kill Clark. After all, Lex's research was trying to help, not harm, and Lex wouldn't knowingly market a product that hurt people, even if he might slip some things past the FDA. Lex... he wouldn't.

Dad always said, "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't." Clark figured if Lex had to be a devil at all, he must at least be the devil Clark knew. And with that small comfort, he sometimes found rest.

Clark had heard Lex shouting over the phone often enough that he'd become familiar with the names and even the personalities of most of LexCorp's major players. Mark was good, but needed a lot of bullying combined with reassurance. Steven had an inclination to slack off and Lex was always struggling to keep the guy overloaded with work. Nancy was kind of anal retentive and she lacked imagination, but Lex was good at talking her down from recurring mild panic attacks. And Ben was the one guy that made Lex laugh on the phone.

Lex explained to Clark once that his executive team wasn't exactly conventional. "They're all about my age, maybe a little younger... mostly acquaintances from my boarding school days, people who have moved on past clubbing and making trouble and want something more to do with their lives. Some of them have absolutely no business sense, others have no ambition."

"Sounds like a bunch of winners," Clark had joked.

Lex had shrugged. "They're willing to throw themselves in the ring with Lionel Luthor, which is more than I can say for most people. I can't say I trust them all equally, but I think they have the potential to make this company fly."

Lex must have had a much broader definition of potential than Clark, however, because the rowdy group of half-drunk football-watching maniacs currently in their living room didn't seem like they could fly a paper airplane, never mind a corporation.

"Clark!" Lex called cheerily from the sofa. "Meet the LexCorp gang!"

"Hi Clark!" echoed the rest of the gathering absently, most raising a bottle of some sort in salute.

Clark dropped his backpack on the floor and stared. Rule number two – thou shalt not have company over unless the other person is away. Lex was breaking rule number two. Moreover, he had just casually introduced him to about six people who had seen him walk in the front door without knocking. Surely they'd notice Clark seemed kind of at home for a visitor?

"Grab a drink, have a seat," Lex called, turning his attention back to the football game.

Clark wasn't sure how to respond. He needed to go to his room and pack a suitcase for Thanksgiving weekend – Pete was going to be by to pick him up in about half an hour – but he couldn't just saunter casually down the hall, could he? "Um. Lex?" Clark asked.

Lex's eyes snapped back up. "Oh, sorry, Clark, I didn't introduce you to everyone. This is Mark, Nancy, Baldwin, Steven, Yolanda, and this is Ben."

Ben, the funny one. He was sitting next to Lex on the couch, grinning at Clark as though Clark were the punchline to a joke he hadn't told yet. "Hey, Clark," he said smoothly.

"Hey," Clark returned, shifting his weight. "Um, Lex?"

"Mmm?" Lex queried, distracted again by the game.

"Can I... talk to you for a second?"

Nancy, who seemed slightly drunker than the rest, burst into giggles at this. Clark flushed, not certain why her laughter bothered him... but all eyes were on Lex as he extricated himself from the tangle of his employees and made his way over to Clark.

"Yes?" Lex said quietly, just as some play on TV elicited a groan from the gathered company.

"What... Lex, what's going on?" Clark hissed, seizing Lex by the elbow and steering him a little ways down the hallway.

Lex was completely unconcerned by Clark's panic. "We're having a pow-wow about an upcoming acquisition. Thought we'd make a night of it. Aren't you leaving for Smallville anyway?"

Clark raised an eyebrow sharply. "Lex. How can I leave without them noticing that I'm taking a suitcase with me?"

"Why can't they notice that?" Lex returned, mystified.

"Because they don't know we're married?" Clark pointed out. "What, are you drunk?"

Lex's gaze suddenly sharpened. "Of course not. They don't have to know we're married for you to get your suitcase, Clark."

"But they'll see that I'm living here!" Clark protested.

"I think your shaving cream in the bathroom and your plaid jacket in the closet and your giant shoes in the entrance already made that obvious."

Clark didn't know how to answer this, except to blurt, "Rule number two!"

Lex blinked. "What?"

"No visitors unless the other person's had time to clear out! You know, including giant shoes and shaving cream and plaid."

Lex laughed. "Clark, my execs know that you live here. You didn't think they would be ignorant of something like that for long, did you?"

"You told them?" Clark said, more loudly than he'd intended.

Lex made a small shushing motion with his lips, then planted his hands on Clark's shoulders and gently pushed him towards his bedroom. "Clark, don't make such a big deal of this."

"They think we're... that we're doing it, don't they?" Clark asked, aghast. "Like your dad."

Lex pushed Clark again, still gently. "There are only so many reasons that I would be living with a young man such as yourself. Would you rather I told them about the sham marriage?"


"Then what do you want me to do, Clark?" Lex said reasonably.

Clark was flushing more and more as he contemplated the fact that at least seven people in Metropolis, possibly more, thought he was Lex Luthor's rent boy. "Tell them that you're not paying me, at least," Clark insisted, hardly believing that he was speaking these words.

Lex smirked. "We're... what? Madly in love?" Clark had never been on the receiving end of a taunt from Lex before, and the words were surprisingly cutting.

Clark must have shown some of his hurt in his eyes, because Lex squeezed his shoulders in reassurance. "Better than me being a..."

Lex smiled, seemingly amused by Clark's inability to say the word. "Okay, lover boy. You're my one and only. Happy?"

Clark wouldn't precisely label his predominant feeling as happy, but there did seem to be a strange dash of something pleasant mixed into his overall misery, perhaps induced by the still-gentle touch of Lex's fingers on his shoulders, so Clark nodded once before heading to his bedroom.

When he re-emerged, he found Lex back on the couch next to Ben and everyone slightly more inebriated than before. It wasn't unlike the after-grad party last spring, except without the meteor-infected kid who was vomiting fire. "So... I'll go outside and wait for Pete," Clark announced uncomfortably, shifting under the gimlet eye of Nancy.

Then Lex was on his feet and walking towards Clark, instead of just waving absently as Clark had expected. "Have a good weekend," he said solemnly as he approached.

"Thanks. I will. I'll... um. Bring you back some pie." Clark's words faltered as Lex first hit and then passed through the line normally demarcating Clark's personal space.

"Sounds great," Lex breathed in his low, suggestive voice. His hands were still jammed into the pockets of his wool pants but Clark felt like Lex's arms were right around him, he was so close. Nancy was giggling again.

"I'll be back on Sunday night," Clark concluded, his voice getting higher. Was Lex going to kiss him or hug him or was he just going to stand there, just so close and so... smug?

"I'll miss you," Lex said, again in the low voice, and somehow those words made Clark's hands come up to Lex's waist, if only to complete what Lex's whole stance and tone were suggesting. Then Clark couldn't just stop there, like some kid at a junior high dance, too shy to make a move, so he swooped in and pressed a kiss into the center of Lex's forehead.

Clark's heart was hammering when he drew back again, so loudly that, to him, it drowned out the sounds of the game on TV. Lex's eyes were half-open and he was looking up at Clark with a mixture of amusement and surprise. Then Lex moved in, brushed his lips against Clark's ear, and whispered, "Not bad for a straight guy."

Clark laughed aloud, quickly coming unhinged, then stepped back, picked up his suitcase, and lunged for the door. "Bye."

"Bye, Clark!" hollered the crowd in the living room.

Lex was... he... Clark firmly decided not to think about what had just happened. Instead, he'd think about Mom's pie and the possibility of seeing Chloe this weekend.

Pete's little hatchback had nothing on the freedom of running solo along the highway between Smallville and Metropolis. For one thing, Clark's legs were folded up somewhere around his ears. For another, the ambient noise was somewhat less pleasant – Pete had recently discovered the joys of early punk rock and they were listening to the Sex Pistols the whole way. Pete was completely unsympathetic when Clark tried to explain that the low fidelity of old recordings was quite painful to his alien ears.

"Naw, man, that's how it's supposed to sound," Pete enthused.

Clark poked at the ancient tape deck. "It's supposed to sound like there are hundreds of angry crickets eating away at my brain?"

"It's all part of the anger, Clark. Rage against the system."

Clark briefly considered this an invitation to rage against the sound system of the hatchback, but he managed to get his hands under control when he realized they were passing the "Welcome to Smallville" sign. Clark had run home for a quick visit only a few weeks ago, but this time he could go into town without facing awkward questions about his manner of arrival.

"God, it looks so small," Clark observed, and even though it was a hopelessly cliched thing to say, something inside him felt a little squashed upon viewing Main Street with Metropolitan eyes. The last time he'd spent a long time in Metropolis, his return to Smallville had been flooded with emotion. This time, there was a strange detachment, like Clark was visiting someone else's hometown. Fordman's had a big 'Happy Thanksgiving' banner in the window, the same one they'd used every year as long as Clark could remember. The photograph of Whitney in his Marines uniform was beginning to fade from sitting in the sun for almost three years.

"A bunch of us are getting together down at the Beanery tomorrow night," Pete announced as they pulled into the Kent farm driveway. "You coming?"

Clark took his time extracting his backpack from between his feet while he tried to devise a tactful way of finding out –

"Chloe's not coming. She's staying in New York for Thanksgiving," Pete spoke, answering Clark's unspoken question. "Just some guys from school, maybe some of the girls, too. Come on, you can talk about your big article in the Planet."

Clark opened the car door, glancing up to see Mom and Dad standing on the porch, smiling eagerly. "I don't know, Pete. I don't think..."

Pete shook his head, annoyed. "I understand feeling uncomfortable in Metropolis, Clark, but Smallville? Come on, it's home. No one's gonna bite."

"My parents – I should be spending time with them," Clark explained hurriedly. "My dad needs help with chores, you know his heart's not so great."

Pete just scowled. "When are you going to get over her, Clark? Seriously, it's getting old. You're going to stay single forever because of one bad break-up?"

Clark hopped out of the car and tugged his suitcase out of the back seat. "It's not about Chloe, Pete."

Pete rolled his eyes. "Well, if you change your mind, you know where we'll be."

It was hard for Clark to imagine what his parents' life was nowadays. He knew the mechanics of it, of course, the patterns and motions that governed their time... but the substance of their existence was a mystery. Maybe it was the conceit of an only child, but Clark honestly couldn't envision his parents alone together in their empty nest.

Mom chattered cheerfully about the autumn fair and the book club she had joined, and Dad told Clark in bluff, manly tones about the new bull he'd acquired. There were pieces of middle-aged gossip, too... someone's elderly mother with Alzheimer's had made a scene at the last Crows game, and someone else's daughter had won a state-wide music competition. Clark listened dutifully, trying to understand if things were better or worse without him. They certainly seemed calmer.

Clark must have taken the chaos with him to Metropolis, because for the first time in his life, it was kind of peaceful being in Smallville – just as long as he resisted thinking about Lex and the tangled mess Clark had left behind him in Metropolis.

Clark made it until midnight on Thursday night before he gave in to temptation and called Lex.

The cell phone rang four times, which was strange because Lex always answered on the second ring – not too eager, nor too slothful, even Lex's phone answering habits were carefully planned. "Lex here."

"Lex? It's me."

A sleepy sigh – but Lex never went to bed earlier than 1 a.m. – then the reply. "Hey, Clark. What's up?"

"Did I wake you? I'm sorry."

"No. You didn't... I was just watching TV."

Clark tuned his hearing closely, listening for the telltale whine of the TV screen, but couldn't hear it. Lex must have turned it off already. "I just... Lex. I had a question."

"Yeah?" A tiny sound in the background, like someone drinking water, at the same moment Lex spoke. He wasn't alone.

Clark forced himself to focus on the conversation. "If your executives know what they think they know... and you don't trust them, not completely... how can you be sure they won't go to the press? I mean, part of the deal was that my parents can't find out." The question had been niggling at Clark ever since he left Metropolis the previous day, and he couldn't wait another moment to hear Lex's reassurances on the matter.

A definite noise, this time, soft but distinct, of flesh sliding on flesh. It could be just Lex running his hand over his scalp, as he did when he was tired or stressed. Or it could be the mysterious visitor. "There are several answers to that, Clark." For a moment, Clark thought Lex couldn't outline those answers because of the other person's presence, but then Lex continued. "First of all, my father's got almost every newspaper in Metropolis in his pocket, one way or another. He's determined not to have the media focused on me right now, because he knows that any PR is good PR for a young corporation like LexCorp. So, in some ways, he's on our side in keeping this quiet."

"But the Planet published my story," Clark pointed out.

"Well, the Planet's a different game altogether. They publish what they please, but they're not drawn to sensational stories like the tabloids. I really doubt you'd find an article about our little love nest on the front page of that paper, not unless they could dig up a good corporate scandal to go along with it."

"But you don't know. You don't know that they won't publish it." Clark knew he sounded frantic, but he couldn't help it. "Lex, you have to be more careful!"

Lex's next comment was slower in coming. "Clark, you knew there were risks coming into this. I promised I'd do my best to protect you and your family, but you were aware that it might not be within my power."

"But you didn't have to go and tell your whole executive management staff, did you?"

"Believe me, it'd be a lot more dangerous for me to play secretive with my top employees than to tell them that I'm boffing a college freshman. These people need to trust me, and I can't gain that trust if I'm obviously hiding something from them."

"Well, how am I supposed to trust you when you don't let me in on this sort of thing?" Clark said at last. He'd seen his mother deliver this sort of line with a lot more panache when his father was being a bastard, but then Mom had that whole pouty lips thing going. Clark would have to hope his pout was being transmitted over the phone line.

"Clark... you don't need to know everything that's going on. In fact, it's probably better if you don't."

"This marriage is a partnership, isn't it? I don't recall promising to obey you and submit to you in the wedding vows," Clark said forcefully. This was another Martha Kent gem.

Another long pause, then Lex sighed. "No, you're right. I should have warned you about everyone knowing." The shift of fabric, and Clark suddenly wondered if Lex was in his bedroom. If he was in bed. And why wasn't he alone, if that was the case?

"It was kind of an unpleasant surprise," Clark replied distractedly. "And now I have to act like I'm being boffed by a CEO." The words were out before Clark could reconsider them.

Lex laughed, obviously surprised at the way Clark had turned Lex's own phrase back on him. "Do me a favor, and try to look like you're enjoying it."

Clark laughed too, even as he blushed. Then there was the shifting fabric noise again, followed closely by the flesh on flesh sound. "I'll try," Clark answered hurriedly. "I should go. See you Sunday."

"I'm expecting that pie, so don't forget it," Lex answered teasingly.

"Got it. Pie. Goodnight, Lex."

"Goodnight, Clark."

At Martha's urging, Clark attended the gathering at the Beanery. The ranks of 2005 Smallville High graduates had been slim to begin with – four years of meteor mutant attacks had taken their toll – and now were even thinner with most of the class having scattered across the country, away from the repressive reach of their hometown. The group that met at the Beanery consisted of the few grads who were attending Kansas State or Met U, mingled with the even fewer grads who had elected for Grandville Community College or were working for family businesses in town.

It was an odd assortment of people, tails and fragments of cliques, and the evening was spent in somewhat stilted conversations interspersed with communal recollections of some of the stranger moments in their high school careers. There was a surprising number of statements beginning with the words, "Did you hear about –" or "I heard from –", all concluding with a story about someone whose existence was more interesting than anyone who found him- or herself at the Smallville Beanery that night.

All told, it was kind of a depressing experience. Clark was glad to find himself wedged in the hatchback again on Sunday afternoon. The major drawback in heading back to Metropolis was that Clark again had to tolerate Pete for company. The Sex Pistols had already been abandoned in favor of some indie band that Pete had discovered in his older brother's collection, but the conversation, such as it was, was just as awkward as the gathering at the Beanery had been. They tried several topics – on Clark's side, midterms and the Monitor, and on Pete's side, a pub crawl and the girl two doors down from him in the dorm – but everything seemed to fall flat.

Clark wondered when he and Pete had stopped being best friends and started being long-acquainted strangers. It was strange, especially given the general strife lately, but Clark was tempted to think of Lex as a closer friend than Pete was. Pete knew about Clark's abilities and origins, knew everything about Clark from the time he'd peed himself in kindergarten up to the time Clark and Chloe had had sex under the bleachers of the gym during a pep rally. But Lex understood Clark and his insecurities in a way Pete never had, in spite of all his knowledge of Clark.

"See you in English tomorrow?" Pete said simply when they pulled up in front of Clark's building.

"Yeah. Thanks for the lift, Pete," Clark answered with a big fake grin. Pete could tell it was fake, but he answered with one of his own.

"Anytime, man."

The very last thing Clark had wanted to see, upon returning to his apartment, was the overgrown and kryptonite-powered rottweiler who had nearly killed Clark the previous year.

The giant hickey Lex was sporting on his neck ran a close second.

One time, one horrible traumatic life-shattering time, when Clark was eleven years old, he'd seen his father touch his mother's breast, Jonathan obviously forgetting Clark was in the room. It had been a small thing, in retrospect, but Clark had felt as humiliated as if he'd walked in on some full-on pornfest featuring his parents. It wasn't so much the action as the intimacy which it implied, and the unwelcome vivid images it summoned, that had Clark bolting, full-speed, for the Fortress of Solitude.

The sight of Lex's hickey had a similar effect – it was one thing to suspect intellectually that Ben the Funny Guy might have been staying over on Thursday night. It was quite another to see that he – or whoever the mysterious visitor was – had left his mark on Lex's neck. Because to leave that mark, there must have been kissing. And sucking. Someone had been allowed to suck on Lex's neck. And Lex was seemingly unashamed of letting the world know about it.

Clark's bedroom just wasn't far enough away from the rest of the apartment to qualify as any kind of fortress... and the solitude bit was kind of ruined by Lex following him down the hallway and suggesting they rent a DVD and order food from the nearby Thai restaurant.

"You know, I kind of have to catch up on some reading..." Clark replied lamely, standing in the doorway of his bedroom and trying not to look at It.

Lex smiled that knowing half-smile. "Don't tell me you're actually doing readings for a junior level course."

They'd had this discussion, way back in September when Lex was outlining academic strategies with Clark. "Don't even buy the books for most courses," he'd advised. "Take good notes and ask your prof a few intelligent questions near the beginning of term. That's all you need for a top grade."

Clark placed a hand on the edge of his door and began to pull it closed, unsure of how to reply to Lex. "There's a quiz on the reading tomorrow morning," he suggested. The hickey was just under the line of Lex's jaw, the strong angle of bone accented by Lex's fine white skin. Clark wondered if Ben the Funny Guy had been making jokes about Lex's young and naive boyfriend, who called in the middle of ...

"Clark, what's going on?" Lex asked, his smile dimming.

"I'm tired. My dad had me helping him with chores all weekend," Clark explained, trying a different tack.

"Did something happen in Smallville?" Lex was leaning in the doorway, one hand splayed on the surface of the door.

"My dad had a heart attack a couple of years ago and he tries to do too much so I do what I can when I get the chance," Clark continued desperately, moving the door again.

"Is this still about the newspaper thing? Because if you want, I can make a few contacts and see about buying some insurance against a media leak." Lex took a step forward, moving towards Clark again.

It was like one of those nightmares where Clark was trying to tell someone something vitally important but the person kept misunderstanding him, except in reverse – Lex was unerringly reading the subtext of Clark's flimsy excuses and was unwilling to let Clark go. "Plus I should unpack or all my clothes will get wrinkly and I don't know how the iron works."

"Clark, if you're upset about this, we should talk –"

"You're fucking around!" Clark shouted, much to his own shock.

Clark was getting quite good at surprising Lex. Lex actually took an involuntary step backwards and released his hold on the doorframe. "I'm... what?" he asked, completely stunned.

"You're... you had someone over this weekend."

Lex's hand rose to cover the hickey, his brows slowly knitting. "And?"

"And I know the rule wasn't 'no skronking', it was 'no dating', and I know you probably have a hundred plans for how you'd keep anyone from finding out, and I know that there's no way anyone could prove you and whoever were doing it, but... it bothers me, okay?"

Lex seemed completely at a loss for words, which was almost as disconcerting as the feelings Clark was voicing.

"I know this is just a business deal, Lex, but we're friends, right? And friends don't treat each other like this... I mean, first you let your staff think that I'm some prostitute you brought home, then you make this big show of how in love we are, and then you just go and fuck around with one of them?"

"I don't see how that last part's any of your business, Clark," Lex said sharply, folding his arms across his chest.

"It's my business because you're making me look like a total tool. Even if it's just to your co-workers, you're acting like I don't matter, like my feelings don't matter."

"You don't even know that it was one of my employees that did this," Lex pointed out, gesturing towards his hickey and regaining his calm. "You're just assum–"

"It doesn't even matter who it was!" Clark exclaimed, overriding Lex's complaint. "Anyone who was in this apartment for more than ten minutes would see that you don't live alone! Whoever you were fucking, they thought you were cheating on me."

"Cheating on you?" Lex repeated, his voice brimming with irony. "Clark, we're not dating."

"No, we're married!" Clark returned vehemently, not sure himself why this seemed so important.

Lex seemed about to answer, but he suddenly paused and studied Clark. "That matters to you, doesn't it? That we're married. That we act married."

Clark shook his head in annoyance. "No, of course not."

Lex persisted. "No. It does matter to you. Otherwise, why would you be so pissed off? I mean, you're not even interested in me sexually, so why else would you get defensive of me?"

Clark blushed furiously.

"No, don't be embarrassed, Clark," Lex added hastily, but with a small amused smile. "I mean, it's only... I never knew anyone who took marriage so seriously, let alone a fake marriage like ours."

Clark immediately felt like a giant naive farmboy, squirming under Lex's fascinated and entertained smile. "Look, Lex. I'm not... I'm not saying that I believe we've vowed to be together for the rest of our lives," Clark managed at length. "All I'm saying is that as your friend, I wouldn't treat you the way you've been treating me."

"No," Lex said, simply. "You wouldn't. But then, you're too ashamed to publicly call me your friend, so the situations aren't exactly parallel."

It was as though Lex had suddenly slapped Clark with a fistful of kryptonite. "You... I'm not ashamed of you, Lex!" Clark blurted, horrified Lex would think such a thing. But then, Clark had been the one who'd insisted on keeping the marriage a secret, adamant his parents and friends stay in the dark. Clark suddenly realized how that might appear to Lex.

Lex's eyes were guarded but the smile remained. "It's all right, Clark. I'm a Luthor, I'm used to it."

"It's not you, Lex! It's... I don't want them to think... My parents... they wouldn't like –"

"They would worry that Lex Luthor will corrupt their son by luring him into some shady business scheme," Lex finished blandly. "Which, to be fair, I suppose I did. I understand entirely, Clark."

Clark stared, unable to formulate a logical response.

"I'm sorry if I upset you. It won't happen again," Lex spoke in a low tone, then walked back down the hallway. Clark heard the click of the front door seconds later.

Chloe was not a stereotypical girlfriend. She didn't get angry for obscure reasons and she didn't stop talking to Clark if he said the wrong thing and she never turned down a chance to make out in the barn. She disdained cliched feminine behaviors and condemned them in others. Though a bit prone to tears when she and Clark argued, Chloe was brutally direct in expressing her emotions and almost never failed to listen to Clark, even when she was angry. And the one time Clark had really managed to wound her and infuriate her, it was just as though a light had flicked off – nothing more could exist between them past that moment.

If only Chloe had been a bit more traditional, Clark might have had a better idea as to how to proceed with Lex now – because Lex was being a grade A archetypal wronged princess.

Clark tried being very polite.

"Would you like me to pick up some of that green cabbage stuff you wanted to try? I'm getting groceries after school today."

"No, it's okay, Clark. I'll get one of my employees to do that."

Clark tried acting as though things were back to normal.

"Lex, can you explain the difference between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells again?"

"Clark, that's high school biology. If you haven't figured that one out yet, you're better off dropping this course."

Clark tried addressing the issue head-on.

"Hey, Lex, about me not wanting my friends to know... It's not because of you. It's because of me... I mean, my best friend Pete, his family doesn't have the best history with your dad, and even though he knows it's not you, it's your family, he..."

Lex didn't need any cutting comments to prove to Clark that this approach wasn't working. He employed only a slight eyebrow raise.

Finally, Clark tried being unobtrusive.

Lex left a purple sticky note on the bathroom mirror on the morning of the third day Clark was avoiding him. It read, "I appreciate all the time and space you're giving me for random skronking of employees, but it's really not necessary. I meant what I said – no more adultery. - L."

Then finals crashed down on Clark and he spent most of his time buried in books, too busy cramming to worry about his marital woes. The night before his last final, Clark was half-heartedly lamenting the fact that he'd run out of giving a damn about exams before he'd run out of the exams themselves, when the phone rang.

The display said 'Kent J M', so Clark picked up the portable phone. "Hello?"

"Hi sweetheart," his mother answered. "Am I interrupting your studying?"

"Nah," Clark said eagerly, closing his textbook – Lex was right, they really were useless – and settling in for a nice parental coddle. "Everything okay there?"

"Everything's fine. I suppose you heard about the big storm – it really looks like Christmas out here now, with the snow piled up to our eyeballs."

"I hope Dad didn't shovel all the snow himself," Clark worried.

"I helped, if that's what you mean," his mother laughed. "And one of the boys in town came around with a plow to do the driveway."

Clark grinned, happy to hear his parents were doing well in spite of his absence. "Did you get my e-mail about my last story in the Monitor?"

"The one about the TAs dating their students? Sounds like you had fun researching that one."

"The best part was trying to find a TA who would admit it. Every student in the class could know about it, and the TA would just say, 'I make it a policy not to date my students.'" Mom laughed along with him. "And then I'd offer to keep their names out of the article, and suddenly it was, 'I don't know why we shouldn't date our students... it's not like six years is a big age difference.'"

"Still, I'd rather you dated a girl your own age," his mother chuckled. "Any prospects?"

"Jeez, you're nosy," Clark answered in a teasing tone. "Even if there were, I'm hardly likely to be bringing anyone back for Christmas, now am I?"

"I'm not being nosy, I'm just –"

"Concerned," Clark chimed in. "I know the drill."

There was a rattle at the door and Clark looked up to see Lex dropping his keys on the counter. Clark would move them to their place on the key rack later on. Having come directly from one underground parking garage to the next, Lex was free of the snowflakes that had dotted Clark's own jacket and hair when he'd gotten home an hour earlier. Lex almost smiled at Clark, then seemed to remember himself and shifted the smile into a smirk.

"Alexander just got home," Clark announced unnecessarily.

"Where's he going for Christmas?" asked Mom, unable to pass up a chance for prying.

"Oh, I think he's got family to go home to," Clark lied, watching Lex drape his coat over the back of a chair and deposit his briefcase amid the detritus of Clark's class notes.

"That's good."

Lex settled on the couch, politely sweeping a few books aside, then pulled his laptop onto his knees and hit the power button. Clark (who was still going for the unobtrusive strategy, since he hadn't come up with anything else) began to stand, intending to move into his bedroom and out of Lex's sight, when a thought struck him.

"Hey, Mom?"


"You know, I might have a visitor come by over Christmas, if it's okay."

"Of course, your friends are always welcome to stay with us."

"Well, he's got a house in Smallville, actually, but I'm going to ask him to come for dinner or something."

"A house in Smallville? Is this someone from your high school?" Clark could practically hear Mom flipping through her mental Smallvillian rolodex.

"No," Clark answered, pretending to ignore the way Lex was suddenly watching him over his laptop screen. "Actually, it's Lex Luthor. After the scholarship interview and then the article in the Planet, he and I got to talking. We're sort of friends now."

Clark considered covering Mom's long silence with more chatter, but instead affected a serious listening face, as though his mother was applauding the revelation. At length, she spoke. "Clark, I'm not sure if you should –"

"He's really a good guy, Mom. I think you and Dad will like him a lot."

"Yes, but you know how your father feels about the Luth–"

"I don't think he has any plans for Christmas... the whole thing with his dad, you know." And Lex was probably really pissed off that Clark had brought that up, but Clark knew what worked on his mother – she had a weakness for strays.

"Oh, of course. Well, I don't suppose it could hurt to have him over. He's been so good to you with the scholarship."

Yep, and he's stopped cheating on me too! Things are great! "I'll be coming home on Saturday," Clark said, feeling Lex's gaze burning into his back. "I'll catch a ride with Pete again, probably."

"Drive carefully," Mom said in a distracted tone. Likely she was already formulating a strategy for breaking the news to Jonathan.

"We will," Clark replied automatically. "Love you, Mom."

"Love you too, sweetheart."

Clark set the handset down and tried not to be too obviously solicitous when he turned to face Lex.

Lex's face was a strange mixture of annoyance and tenderness.

"I'm not going to Smallville for Christmas," Lex said simply.

Clark grinned. There was a definite note of forgiveness in Lex's voice.

"That stupid mansion my father's saddled me with is freezing in the winter," Lex added bluntly.

Clark continued grinning, because the corner of Lex's mouth was twitching.

"And I'm definitely not having dinner with your parents," Lex announced.

Clark bounced a little on the balls of his feet.

"Clark. I'm not going to Smallville!" Lex repeated, trying to sound irritated and failing. "The place is riddled with bad memories – that's where I lost my hair, you know. And also, just because you told your parents we're friends, it doesn't mean that they're going to welcome a Luthor with open arms. Besides, I already planned a ski trip to Vermont."

Clark arched an eyebrow. Really, for a person born into the corporate world, Lex couldn't lie for shit.

"I'm not going. Give your parents my regards," Lex concluded, lowering his eyes to his laptop screen again.

Clark knew it was pushing his luck to be this obnoxious so soon after Lex had forgiven him, but he couldn't resist whistling "Let It Snow" as he sauntered down the hall towards his bedroom. Lex was so going to Smallville.

Clark had stumbled into a parallel universe – there was no other explanation. He was frantically trying to recall some sort of incident, possibly involving a head injury and definitely involving kryptonite, but it didn't really matter how he'd wound up in this incomprehensible world. All that mattered at the moment was that things were very very wrong. Maybe it was one of those tears in the time-space continuum that seemed to pop up regularly on Star Trek.

"And then – he takes me down in the diving cage and he's gesturing like crazy, trying to tell me something, but I think he's just pointing at the sharks so I just nod and keep one eye on the giant rows of teeth – and when we surface, it turns out he was trying to get me to hold his hair out of his face – it kept floating into his field of view and he missed seeing the sharks at all."

Dad was killing himself laughing, but he gathered enough breath to ask, "Why couldn't he pull his hair back himself?"

Lex made a noise that would have been a snort, coming from anyone else. "He was holding this stupid expensive underwater digital camera – this is in the early nineties, so it was huge, he needed both hands for it – and he hadn't thought to strap it around his neck. So instead of dropping the damn thing or handing it to me – because I couldn't be trusted, I was just a clumsy kid – he spent the whole time watching his hair drift past in the ocean currents."

Jonathan was wheezing for breath, he was laughing so hard, and Lex, for his part, was smiling more broadly than Clark had ever seen him do. Clark cast a desperate look at his mother, seeking some explanation for the fact that his father and a Luthor were getting along.

"God, he was so pissed off at me, he made me wait for three hours until he could go down for another chance. One of the sailors finally tied his hair back, but it was too short for one ponytail, so –" Lex stuck each index finger out from the back of his head, miming pigtails. "He looked like a demented girl scout."

Clark hadn't ever seen his father laugh so hard – he was ticking silently with laughter, wiping tears from his eyes. When he finally caught his breath, he reached across and patted Lex on the shoulders. "Son, it's a miracle you grew up as normal as you did, with a role model like that."

God, this was bizarre. His father had just called Lex Luthor 'son' – it had taken ten years and the revelation of Clark's alienhood for Pete to merit that treatment.

"He's not that normal," Clark chimed in. Mom kicked him under the table, which must have hurt her a lot more than it affected Clark. "You should see him playing video games – if he's losing, he'll physically tackle his opponent to gain the upper hand."

Lex was still chuckling sporadically, and now it was his turn to boot Clark under the table. "Mr. Kent, your son's telling lies. I would never –"

"You took the controller out of my hand, Lex!" Clark protested, but he couldn't help grinning back at his friend. So maybe there was a tear in the space-time continuum. At least it was working in Lex's favor.

"That was a penalty for you using codes I didn't know," Lex replied logically. "Everyone knows that there's a sixty second penalty for that."

Clark wrinkled his nose in mock disgust and was about to retort when Martha suddenly stood up from the table. "How about dessert?" she said abruptly, and now there really was a parallel universe anomaly, because Mom looked – she looked pissed.

"Um, I'll help you," Clark quickly said, rising and helping her clear the table. Lex and Dad were now discussing the drawbacks of letting children play with video games – and their opinions were eerily congruent. Clark followed his mother into the kitchen, noting the tense line of her shoulders.

"What's wrong? You don't like Lex?" Clark asked, toeing the dishwasher open.

Mom's eyebrows drew together as she began scraping plates. "Of course I like Lex, Clark... why would you say that?"

Clark eyed her, taking each plate as she cleared it. "Because you haven't looked this ticked off since Nell Potter beat you out for best floral arrangement at the county fair."

Martha shot him one of those quick, placating smiles she seemed to consider adequate cover for her true emotions. "Lex is a very nice man."

Ah. Man. "He's only twenty-five, you know. He kind of acts older but he's really not much different from me."

"There's a world of difference between twenty-five and nineteen," Martha answered in an almost-light tone. "By the time I was twenty-five, I had been married for four years and we had you."

"Yeah, well, Lex isn't married," Clark rejoined, then hoped his mother didn't notice the way he immediately flushed when he realized that was a lie. Luckily, her face was turned away from him as she attempted to hide her own expression. Clark continued quickly, aiming for his mother's soft spot. "Plus, he's kind of lonely – he can't really be friends with his employees because they work for him and his dad has cut him out of most of his circle. I think he really needs a friend."

Mom's way of wielding that knife might have been alarming if Clark didn't know for a fact that it couldn't cut him. "Clark, I'm not denying that... I just don't know if you're the kind of friend he needs."

"Why not?" Clark countered, annoyed now.

"Because, Clark, he's older and he's had a lot more experience in the world and his version of entertainment is going to be vastly different from yours. I grew up in Metropolis – I know how those kids live their lives, and it's not like it is in Smallville."

"Mom," Clark protested. "First of all, I'm not some little kid you need to look out for. And secondly, yeah, Lex might have had a wilder adolescence than me or Pete, but he's over that now. I swear, hanging out with Lex is like, watching DVDs and talking about football. It's not like he's taking me clubbing and racing cars."

Mom pursed her lips – when she did that, Clark knew he was sunk. "I don't think you should trust him too far, Clark. The Luthors aren't known for their ethics when it comes to business practices. If he found out something about you –"

"He won't, Mom," Clark insisted. "God, what do you think I'm doing, using my heat vision for party tricks?"

Mom handed Clark two plates of pie. "Of course I don't think that," she reassured him distractedly. "All I'm asking is that you keep your distance. Make some friends your own age. Maybe spend some time with old friends from school."

Clark was following his mother as she led the way back to the dining table, too distracted by her words to notice their proximity to Lex and Dad when he blurted, "Mom! I'm not getting back together with Chloe!"

"Did I say that?" Mom returned, sounding a little irritated, which was a sure sign she had meant it.

"Who's Chloe?" Lex asked as Clark set his pie down.

Clark glowered at his mother. This is all your fault, he transmitted with a scowl.

"Now, Martha, don't go trying to patch things up between Clark and Chloe... you know it's better the way it is," Dad interjected. Clark, sitting down, had to stop himself from pounding his head on the table. Lex was watching the exchange with interest. "It was just a high school romance, and those are best left in high school."

"I haven't said a word about Chloe," Martha replied earnestly. "Eat your pie, Jonathan."

"Who's Chloe?" Lex repeated, fork poised over his slice.

Clark shot him a dark look. "I'll explain later," he mumbled. This parallel universe sucked.

Clark didn't bother trying to delay the inevitable, once they attained the privacy of the loft. "This is Chloe," he announced, holding out a photograph for Lex to examine.

Clark hadn't taken any pictures of Chloe with him to Metropolis. It was as much an attempt to keep the phantom of Chloe away from his sham marriage as it was a gesture towards moving on... but he still knew exactly where his favorite snapshot was. Unlike all the carefully posed pictures of the two of them – the freshman spring formal, the sophomore homecoming, the junior prom – in this photograph, Chloe wasn't just smiling brightly. She was laughing, bent over in giggles, the motion blurring her in the picture, her blonde hair whipped by the wind. Clark had been the one to take the picture, and she'd insisted it was terrible, but Clark loved it. "I look like a hunchback on speed," Chloe had protested. "You look amazing," Clark had replied, simply.

And she did. Chloe wasn't beautiful, not in the strict sense, but her vitality was overwhelming in person. A simple picture couldn't quite capture it, but this snapshot came the closest to reminding Clark of what it felt like to be near her – as though every inch of the surface of his skin was buzzing slightly, as though at any moment, something incredible might happen. In the months after the break-up, the corners of the picture had become dog-eared and it was slightly bent from Clark's habit of brooding while cradling the photo in his palm.

Clark couldn't say why he'd chosen to show this, his most intimate memory of Chloe, to Lex. After all, Clark had intended to keep her in a separate part of himself, never to be contaminated by the mundane and oftentimes unpleasant aspects of his existence. Lex wasn't supposed to know about Chloe.

Except there was something about Lex, something about how he approached the world, like it was some giant puzzle someone had left for him to solve, how he seemed convinced of his own importance in the universe... something about Lex resembled Chloe. Clark supposed he was counting on the call of the kindred spirit to explain his offering when words couldn't.

Lex didn't disappoint Clark. Instead of merely smiling and teasing Clark about past loves, he spent a long moment perusing the photograph, as if trying to divine what Chloe was to Clark, much as Chloe might have studied a picture of Lex. "I wondered," Lex spoke at last, handing the picture back. "I wondered who it was, that broke your heart."

Clark blinked in surprise. They had never spoken of heartbreak, except for Clark's oblique assertion that he wasn't into dating at the moment.

"I knew it had to be someone incredible, to make you feel like you'd never be in love again," Lex continued, raising his eyes to look at Clark. "She definitely seems like the type."

"How did you –" Clark began, startled anew by Lex's ability to read him.

Lex shook his head slightly. "It was crazy and I regretted it later, but I loved my wife more than I'd loved anyone before. I know what it feels like to have someone at the center of your world."

Clark looked down at Chloe's image, the vivid splash of blue that was her shirt, the strawberry smear of her open, laughing mouth. If somebody had asked Clark, at the time he took the picture, to define the center of his universe, he probably would have named his parents, their love for him. Yet, short months later, after... there had been no doubt in Clark's mind that Chloe had been his true balancing point. "And you know what it's like when you lose that person, too," Clark concluded bitterly.

"How long were you together?"

"From the spring of freshman year until the summer after junior year – it worked out to about two years."

Lex whistled, impressed. "That's pretty intense for a high school romance – isn't that what your dad called it?"

Clark rubbed his thumb over Chloe's visage, obscuring it momentarily. "I was going to marry her." He waited for Lex to chuckle, but no laughter seemed forthcoming. Clark looked up to see Lex's gaze still riveted on him. "I know it sounds stupid, but... Chloe knew what she wanted in life – she wanted a Pulitzer, she wanted to live in Metropolis, and she wanted me. I could never quite believe that I ranked so high on her list."

"Your dad didn't like her?" When Clark looked askance, Lex explained. "You seemed surprised that he and I got along – I assume there's a history of him not liking your friends."

Clark shrugged. "Chloe – she wasn't exactly Dad's kind of girl. When she came over for dinner, she would act like Mom cooking was some sort of antiquated ritual." Clark skipped over the part where Chloe had dug too deep into Clark's adoption back in freshman year, the way his father warned him about getting too close to Chloe. Suddenly, Clark felt naked, vulnerable, with Lex watching him study Chloe's image. Clack quickly stuffed the photo back in its drawer and forced a grin at Lex. "Ancient history, right?"

But Lex wasn't prepared to drop the subject, not yet. "She worked for the school paper? And your break-up... that's why you quit the paper, your senior year."

Clark nodded abruptly. "She made it pretty clear she didn't want me around."

"What happened?" Lex asked.

Clark's heart squeezed as he remembered the moment, the human-sized split second that had spun into an eternity of indecision, watching the kryptomutant's bullets move inevitably towards Chloe, her eyes wide open and focused on the death heading her way. The step in front of the projectiles, the elastic snap against his back, the way her human vision slowly caught up. The look of shock on her face.

"I didn't trust her when I should have," Clark said, simply, letting the weight in his voice implore Lex not to ask anything more.

You can't tell anyone, Chloe, you have to keep it a secret, please please please don't say anything, don't put this in the Torch, oh god, I had to choose and I chose this but you have to promise, you have to ...

She was still shaking, running a palm over his back, over the places where the bullets hit, the little holes like mouths in his shirt.

Chloe, please say something, say that you won't do it, it's so important.

You think I'd do that? Crossing her arms over her chest, backing away. All this time, I thought you were trying to protect me, by not telling me what I already figured out for myself. And you were only looking out for yourself, weren't you? You thought I'd... that I could... How could you... God, who are you?

"It's a huge thing, when someone asks you to trust them completely," Lex spoke, jolting Clark out of his unpleasant memories. "Maybe she was asking for more than you could give."

"My dad says he likes to have faith in people," Clark replied, his lips feeling numb. That phrase had haunted him in the weeks following the incident, Clark certain that at some point, he should have known that Chloe was worthy of his faith in her.

Lex smiled wryly. "Your dad also owns a shotgun."

Clark looked over at Lex, puzzled.

"It's amazing, the things we got to talking about while you and your mother were in the kitchen," Lex offered, smiling a bit more. "All I'm saying is that platitudes like that are useful generalizations, but real relationships are messy and they don't always fit into categories and rules."

Yes, an alien in love with a reporter certainly fell outside the bounds of normality. Clark smiled back at Lex, suddenly feeling his heart lighten a bit. "Except our relationship... six rules, right?"

Lex laughed, taking Clark's jibe in stride. "Rule number seven – there are no rules," he pronounced.

Clark's smile widened. "Fight Club."

"Actually, in Fight Club, rule number seven is 'fights will go on as long as they have to'," Lex corrected.

"Well, which rule is 'there are no rules'?" Clark demanded, trying not to grin at Lex's display of dorkiness.

"That's not a rule in Fight Club."

"As long as I get to be Brad Pitt, I'll go along with anything you say," Clark replied gravely.

"Lex Luthor?" Pete repeated indignantly. "Man, I didn't believe it when I heard it, but you're saying it's true?"

Clark sighed heavily, gliding slowly towards the boards of the hockey rink where Pete was sitting on the bench, unlacing his skates with ferocity. "Pete, I didn't tell you because I was afraid you'd react like this."

"Why shouldn't I?" Pete retorted, snapping a lace. "Clark, you know how I feel about the Luthors."

"I know how your family feels about Lionel Luthor," Clark corrected patiently. He'd known, once he and Lex were spotted together at the Beanery, that it would be only a matter of time before Pete found out, but Clark had been reluctant to break the news himself. Instead, Pete had related the so-called crazy rumor in incredulous tones and Clark had been forced to admit the truth. "Lex isn't even a part of Lionel's company anymore – he sold all his shares to start LexCorp."

Pete was tugging at his skate, which was kind of cute because since he was six, he'd relied on Clark to help him pull his skates off. Pete's arms were disproportionately short for his body – it was one of the weird little secrets Clark shared. "He's a Luthor, whether he works for the man or not."

"Pete, don't be like that," Clark exhorted, wondering if it was safe to approach the blade of Pete's skate – it couldn't hurt Clark, but a good kick would cut a hole in Clark's new jeans. "Come on, he's a good guy."

"You know what? He could be a goddamn superhero and I'd still be pissed off. Clark, you didn't tell me yourself! I thought I was your best friend!" Pete was whapping his foot against the concrete under the bench, trying to lever his skate off of his foot.

Clark opened his mouth to reassure Pete, but the words stopped before he could form them. "Are you my best friend?" he said instead, beginning to feel the slow burn of anger.

"What, now Luthor's replaced me?" Pete snarled, the skate finally loosening marginally.

"Pete, we've hung out maybe three times since September. You can't honestly tell me that you haven't noticed."

Pete shook his head. "It goes both ways. You haven't come to a single thing I've invited you to... you hide away in that apartment of yours and chase down stories about bus passes for the newspaper. And then you start hanging out with a Luthor?"

"I wish you'd stop saying his name like that," Clark spoke darkly.

"And I wish you'd stop acting like you're not partly to blame in all this. I thought we were past the point where you kept stuff from me. I tell you everything."

"It's not the same," Clark retorted sharply. "What do you have to talk about? Beer. In case you forgot, I can't even get drunk like a normal person. Maybe I'd prefer you kept some stuff to yourself too."

Pete looked up at Clark, glowering. "Fine. Have it your way." Then his face did the shift from Angry Pete to I'm Not Speaking To You Pete. Clark hadn't seen that Pete for a few years at least. It was the cue for Conciliatory Clark.

Clark stared for a minute, then pushed off the boards and skated away.

It was the most screwed-up Christmas Eve ever. Mom was still acting strange, getting quiet when Clark said he was going out to meet Lex. Dad kept chiming in with his hearty approval. Pete was being an asshole. Lex was being sympathetic and strangely friendly. Clark hadn't finished his Christmas shopping (okay, that wasn't that abnormal). And Chloe –

Chloe was actually making eye contact with Clark, across the crowded aisles of Fordman's. He'd seen her come in and had expected she'd beat a quick retreat when she spotted him amidst the tennis shoes. Instead, when she looked up at him, she met his gaze. It was sort of like that moment on the Discovery Channel, when you knew the lion was about to take out that antelope. Clark had never felt like an antelope before.

He tried a weak smile. To his shock, Chloe echoed the gesture.

"Clark, do you really need another pair of –" Lex began, spotting the box of sneakers in Clark's grasp. Then he noticed the direction of Clark's gaze and followed it. "Oh. That's her, isn't it?"

Clark's heart was doing a strange skipping jig. Chloe was walking towards them. "I need to – I should –" Clark stammered, thrusting the shoes at Lex and backing up.

"No, stand your ground, Clark," Lex ordered in a level voice. "Steady."

Clark obediently forced himself to stay put, even as he mentally calculated the risks of speeding out of the store before Chloe could reach him. Panic was stretching the interval into minutes, hours. Clark shook his head, trying to regain a normal sense of time. But Chloe... she hadn't spoken to him since...

"You never get your shopping done in time, do you?" she said, right in front of him, smiling. "I guess college hasn't changed Clark Kent."

Clark stared, unable to process this event.

"Lex Luthor," said Lex, inexplicably. But then he was extending a hand and – oh.

"Chloe Sullivan. I heard you two had become friends. That was a great article, about Cadmus. Must have been good exposure for your company," Chloe answered.

Lex was smiling in that way that meant he was hearing two different meanings in one sentence. "It was," he said simply.

Clark got his tongue unstuck. "Hey, Chloe," he managed, but shit. It was really too late in the conversation to be doing greetings.

Chloe looked back at Clark, and a glimmer of sympathy in her eye showed she understood why Clark was acting like an idiot. "Hey, Clark."

That was all they got out between them before they were interrupted by the bright jangle of Chloe's cell phone. Clark glanced over at Lex, who was pretending to examine a pair of puffy silver running shoes – at least, Clark hoped he was pretending. Lex outwardly seemed calm and politely distant, but Clark could tell he was busily calculating the dynamic between Clark and Chloe, drawing conclusions about them based on even that briefest exchange. Looking at Lex had a grounding effect, and Clark felt his lungs inflate completely for the first time since Chloe had walked in the door.

Lex looked up to see Clark watching him, and he smiled a quick bitter smile in response. Lex was... he was jealous, Clark realized, startled. Clark was about to make some gesture of comfort, some overture to show that Clark wasn't going to abandon Lex in the shoe department of Fordman's, when Chloe's voice, pitched high and distressed, reached him.

"That was my dad. LuthorCorp just announced that they're closing the fertilizer plant."

There was a startling instant where Clark couldn't understand what Chloe had said. He could only stare and try to force his mind from thoughts of Lex.

"Chloe – oh god, Chloe," Clark managed, and stupid instinct kicked in and he suddenly had Chloe in his arms, pulling her against him like they'd never finished, like the last couple of years had vanished. For an instant, she moved into the embrace, then she tensed and pulled back.

"I have to go – I have to see my dad. He needs me," she spoke roughly, and then she was gone. Clark was left standing mute and the only thought he could process was that she was carrying that red bag with the butterflies, her purse from freshman year.

A small sound from Lex jolted Clark back to the present. Lex. Lex Luthor. Oh, god, it was his father's plant... how had Clark forgotten that? Clark turned to look at Lex, found the older man extracting his keys from his pocket. "I'm gonna head back to the mansion," he said, separating the Porsche key from the keys to the apartment, to his office. "I have a feeling it's going to be a media circus in a matter of hours and I'd better get on the phone to my PR team."

"But it's not your company," Clark half-asked.

"But my father's the bastard who fired twenty-five hundred people on Christmas Eve. Trust me, every news program in Metropolis is going to be looking for a sound bite from me, calling him an immoral asshole. And if the word gets out that I just happened to be in Smallville when the announcement was made..."

"You think your father knows you're here?" Clark questioned. This point hadn't occurred to him. "Is that why..."

Lex shrugged. "I honestly can't say. But I've got to try and figure it out." Lex seemed closed down, distant, but that was the way Lex always acted when he began to talk about his business. Clark wondered why he was so wounded by the sudden shift. "I won't make it to dinner tonight," Lex concluded, already dialing a number on his cell phone. "Tell your parents I'm sorry."

Clark didn't bother responding because Lex was already barking orders to Steven as he wound his way through the Christmas rush.

The official reason for the closure, as given in the rush edition of the Ledger, was that the plant had been running at a deficit for three years in a row. Lionel Luthor himself had made the pronouncement, and the editor had several choice phrases to deal with a CEO who took such pains to ruin Smallville's Christmas. Parallels with the Grinch were inevitable, if somewhat plebian to Clark's Daily Planet-accustomed eyes. But Lionel was in Smallville... at least, he had been earlier in the day. It was an unusual occurrence, to say the least – the last visit Luthor had made had been shortly after the meteor shower, to mark the opening of the fertilizer plant on the site of the Rosses' old creamed corn factory.

Even given the resultant bracketing effect of Lionel Luthor's personal interventions, it seemed strange to Clark that the CEO would have bothered to make an actual appearance to deliver such bad news. It might have made sense if Lionel had couched the closure in sympathetic terms – perhaps if he'd made extravagant promises of severance packages and vowed to find other employment for as many workers as possible – but in fact his speech had been harsh, cold, and not a little condescending. Clark had now lived with a Luthor long enough to know that this was aberrant behavior. No wonder Lex was suspicious.

"Well, there are going to be a lot of unhappy families in Smallville tonight," sighed Dad again, and Clark had to resist the urge to sigh right back in exasperation. Of course there would be unhappy families. And of course this event likely spelled the death of Smallville commerce. Of course, Pete was sitting in his parents' living room, surrounded by enraged relatives, and of course they were probably all enjoying a tirade at the Luthors' expense. Pete was probably thinking about calling Clark and crowing 'I told you so!' at the top of his voice. And Chloe... well, she and her dad would be a study in false optimism, but their long silences would last well into the night. Clark wondered if Chloe was wishing for his presence – she had once said he could fill the gap between her and her father, that he was the long-absent third point in their triangle of family.

"I hate to think what Christmas day will be like for those poor people," answered Martha on cue.

Clark's own family triangle was hopelessly skewed at the moment. Clark felt like a dissonant note sounding between his father's periodic exhalations of predictable dismay and his mother's stock replies. He hadn't said anything and he was pretending to join in their gloom, but really he was itching to run over to Lex's house and find out what he could. But that had been forbidden to him by a brief phone call about an hour earlier – Lex had spoken tersely, telling Clark he had better stay away. When Clark had pressed for a reason, Lex had said, "My father wouldn't expect to see my fucktoy by my side in a time of crisis." The words were harsh and Clark had again been irrationally wounded, but he understood the intent and had said goodbye with stiff formality.

"What kind of man would do a thing like this?" demanded Jonathan, apparently freshly enraged by a sixth re-reading of the lead article of the Ledger.

Over his shoulder, Clark's mother was similarly moved. "I can't imagine why he would choose today, of all days."

Clark sighed and let his head loll back on the couch. It was going to be a long night.

Clark didn't pretend to understand the corporate world – even if he'd been paying close attention to Lex's work over the past four months, he couldn't possibly have grasped the intricacies of how businesses grappled for position, how fates were decided in boardrooms. He had, however, glommed on to one important fact – Lionel Luthor was as likely to do something out spite as out of good business sense. It was, Lex said grimly, one of the privileges of the ridiculously wealthy.

Turning the plant closure over and over in his head that night in bed, Clark could only guess that Lionel was making use of that privilege. The way it played in Clark's mind was this:

Step One – Lionel discovered his son had moved in with a college freshman who also happened to be the recipient of a LexCorp scholarship. Lionel assumed – reasonably enough – that said freshman was his son's latest acquisition.

Step Two – Lionel learned Lex had gone to Smallville – the acquisition's hometown and site of one of Lex's most traumatic experiences – and assumed, again reasonably, that Lex might be harboring something more than a business relationship with his young scholarship recipient. After all, why should his son bother meeting the parents of a boy he was defiling, unless there was something more involved? Lionel thought Lex was in love.

Step Three – Lionel closed the plant in Smallville, thus decimating the mainstay of the town's economy and essentially dooming his son's lover's hometown to economic decline and ruin. That was where the spite came in. In Lionel's mind, Clark was certain, he had made a grand gesture of warning, letting Lex know that even though his son was no longer financially dependent on him, Lionel could ruin Lex's personal life with the flick of a finger.

Of course, the shitty part – okay, the shittiest part – was that Lionel's very first assumption was wrong. Clark wasn't Lex's rentboy and, further, Lex wasn't in love with him. Unfortunately, the wrongness of Lionel's assumptions didn't lessen the spite of his actions. Smallville was hurting because of Clark, and this time it wasn't a meteor shower that caused the pain... it was Clark's own rash decision, his decision to form this ridiculous association with Lex. Because of Clark's choice, Chloe's father was unemployed and Chloe herself was in real financial danger. Her scholarship to Columbia didn't cover her room and board. Only Gabe's ability to help her out had allowed her to go. If Chloe found herself at Grandville Community College next fall, if she wound up as a rag reporter for the Inquisitor, Clark would never forgive himself.

Clark was already mucking out the stalls when his father came into the barn to do morning chores. Dad looked surprised but didn't say anything.

Clark hadn't slept at all.

A heavy snowfall such as the one that had hit Smallville the previous week normally gave the Kent home a warm and cozy feeling, but this Christmas Day, it was as though a hand had descended and was pressing the house firmly, inexorably into the earth. Clark couldn't muster his usual enthusiasm for the gifts his parents had managed to scrape together, but neither of them seemed to notice. Mom kept drifting towards the kitchen and Dad kept finding reasons to go out to the barn, to the pasture. Clark spent most of the day absently fiddling with his new low-grade MP3 player, alternately wanting to call Chloe and Lex.

It was traditional for Pete to come over on Christmas afternoon. When they were small, Clark and Pete had eagerly compared gifts and shared treats and then they'd gone outside to hurl snowballs at each other and trade illicit dirty words. In more recent years, they'd gone up to Clark's loft and traded lewd stories and outrageous theories, then they'd come inside for gingerbread, playing at being children again. Pete didn't call, didn't show up, and Clark's parents didn't comment on the aberration.

The doorbell rang during dessert, and for a second, Clark hoped it was Pete. Then he remembered Pete would never ring the front doorbell. Since he was five, Pete had tromped right in the kitchen door as though he owned the place. Martha made as though to get up and answer the door, but Clark stood up faster and announced that he'd get it.

It had to be Lex... Lex had made it in spite of everything, in spite of Lionel's stupid spies and plots. Lex wanted to have Christmas dinner with Clark's family, and if he was a little late for the turkey, Mom would make him a plate and Lex would sit across from Clark and tell funny stories about sharks and Greek gods and he'd smile at Clark in silent apology for the previous day, and –

It was Chloe. She was pink-cheeked from the cold and she was smiling up at Clark in a way he hadn't seen since before they broke up and now she was biting her lip like she did when she was nervous and christ, why was Clark disappointed?

"Merry Christmas," Clark managed, stepping back to allow Chloe room to come inside.

Then she was hugging him fiercely, her arms squeezing his torso and her heels lifting off the ground. It took an instant for Clark to understand she was laughing or crying and it was another moment after that before Clark remembered to hug her back.

"Chloe!" Mom's voice, warm and delighted, the sound of footsteps in the hall as his parents came to investigate.

Chloe pulled back at Martha's voice, and Clark could see she was crying, but smiling at the same time. "Hi Mrs. Kent, Mr. Kent. I'm sorry to interrupt your dinner, but I had to come by and say thank you."

Mom and Dad exchanged a puzzled look, then turned in unison towards Clark.

"Thank you?" Clark repeated, noting Chloe had reestablished the distance between them and had stuffed her hands into her coat pockets, as though embarrassed by her earlier display.

Chloe sniffed, impatient with her tears. "I know you were behind it, Clark," she smiled shakily. "Come on, you know you can't fool me."

Was Chloe thanking him for getting the plant shut down? Clark blinked in confusion, turning back to his parents. Dad was glowering at Clark, clearly suspicious that Clark had used his powers for some unworthy end. "Chloe, I don't know what you mean," Clark said slowly.

Chloe met his eyes, searched him in a way he wasn't used to being searched anymore. "You don't know?" she asked, incredulous.

"Know what? What happened?"

Chloe seemed to withdraw a bit more even as she spoke. "LexCorp organized an employee buy-out for the plant. Your friend saved my dad's job."

Intense joy and relief were quickly chased by fear and irritation, but Clark was forced to hide his second reaction and join with his parents in congratulating Chloe on the news and questioning her on how Lex had orchestrated his miracle rescue. It seemed Lex had called a meeting of the plant management team shortly after Lionel's announcement and he had spent the entire night and morning formulating a strategy. He'd somehow organized an emergency meeting of the LuthorCorp board of directors and they'd voted in favor of the buyout, thanks to Lex's influence with several of the board members.

"Lionel Luthor must be furious," Chloe speculated in a gleeful tone. "Lex really pulled the rug out from under him on this one. Dad says he thinks they can turn the plant around, now that LuthorCorp's HR policies aren't terrorizing the employees. He says Lex seems like he's got the best interests of Smallville in mind, not just what's good for LexCorp."

Clark was conscious of his mother's glance flicking towards him constantly, searching for his reactions, so he did his best to seem overjoyed and surprised with every new revelation. It was becoming increasingly difficult as Chloe elaborated on the way Lex had heroically thrown himself before the giant and come away victorious.

"I was sure you asked him to do it, Clark," she concluded at last, and her genuine smile should have made Clark happy, but he could only manage a brief smirk in reply. "Not to impugn the generosity of your friend, but it hardly seemed like something that a Luthor would do."

Clark forced himself to laugh. "Lex is full of surprises." For his mother's sake, he added, "I hardly know him well enough to ask him for that kind of favor, Chloe. We're just getting to be friends."

Chloe shot him a doubtful glance that mirrored the one Martha was wearing. "Well, he's the Smallville savior today, anyway," she concluded, suddenly seeming awkward. "I should... I should get back home. I just wanted to..."

Clark stood up, eager to be rid of Chloe and her troubling implications. "I'll walk you to your car," he offered, more out of habit than desire. Before, he'd walk Chloe out to her car so he could kiss her goodnight out of his parents' view. Now, it was a vestigial pattern – it had lost its purpose.

"Clark?" Chloe spoke into the darkness. It felt strange to be with her again, strange not to be holding her hand.


"When I came to talk to you yesterday in Fordman's... I wasn't just after a story with Lex."

Clark hadn't paused to consider Chloe's motivations, but he nodded slowly, accepting her offering.

"I mean, that was sort of an additional incentive, but really, I wanted to... I wanted things to be okay between us." Chloe's voice was low, even, calm, which was decidedly unlike the Chloe Clark had known. "I guess I wanted to put the past behind us and just be able to be around you again. I miss you."

"I've missed you, too," Clark replied earnestly as they stopped by the little convertible. It was the sort of conversation he'd longed to have all last year, but now it seemed anticlimactic, unimportant.

"And I just want to say... you don't owe me anything anymore, not friendship, not truth, not even common courtesy if you don't want it. But, for what it's worth... you can still tell me anything." Chloe's eyes were dark pools in the starlight, her skin glowing faintly in the reflected glimmer of snow. Once, Clark would have embarrassed her by calling her beautiful. Now, he simply hunched his shoulders in his jacket and stared.

"I'm an alien," he stated baldly, unsure what Chloe meant.

Chloe laughed, sounding surprised. "I knew that, you dork." Her small fist connected with his arm, a brief contact that was uncomfortably comfortable. "I meant... anything else."

Clark couldn't understand what she was getting at until he noticed the way she was avoiding his face. "Chloe, I told you, I didn't ask Lex to buy the plant."

She smiled tightly, eyes fixed on his feet. "So you didn't even have to ask," she concluded with a slight nod. "Tell him thanks." Then, before Clark could come up with a proper denial, she was climbing into her car and backing out of the lane.

Though Lex had been in Smallville for several days, Clark hadn't yet been invited over to the mansion. Of course, he knew where it was, what it looked like. If it hadn't been for the rumors of elaborate security systems and rabid guard dogs, Clark had no doubt he and Pete would have explored the place long ago. It was a source of fascination for the youth of Smallville, who referred to it as "the haunted Luthor castle".

It was the sort of place you expected to house a staff of at least a dozen creepy servants. Clark knew Lex was alone in the house, but he was still startled when his friend, and not a gaunt butler, opened the door to his knocking in the late evening of Christmas day. "Clark," Lex said, sounding unimpressed. "I thought we agreed you should stay away."

"And I thought you weren't going to go and do anything to make your father madder than hell," Clark answered, pushing his way inside the gloomy entrance. "What were you thinking? An employee buy-out?"

"The plant's a good investment for my corporation," Lex retorted, his offering of a rational explanation the surest sign he was being irrational. "It's our biggest acquisition to date, and we swept it right out of my father's hands."

"It's a crap factory that's been crashing and burning for three years, according to your father. It can't be as bad as he's made it out to be, but surely that's not a risk LexCorp should be taking?" Clark countered, following Lex as they moved farther into the darkness.

"The plant has been failing because of poor corporate management and low employee morale," Lex added, ever calmer. "It'll take some capital expenditure and some serious work, but we can turn it around. Clark, I know what I'm doing."

"Then would you mind letting me in on your reasoning?" Clark demanded. "Because from here, it looks like you're acting like a crazy person."

Lex opened a pair of double doors and led them into a lamp-lit room dominated by a pool table. "It was a sound business decision," Lex insisted, heading for the cue rack on the wall. "I wouldn't expect you to understand, Clark. You're hardly an expert in these things."

Clark glared but accepted the cue Lex was extending towards him. "What about your father?"

"What about him?"

"He didn't just close the plant for business reasons, Lex." Clark was sure Lex must have come to the same conclusions as he had... for all he knew, Lionel had come to Lex and outlined his intentions himself.

"My father acts on his emotions, Clark," Lex explained, racking the balls. "It's a weakness he's never overcome."

"So you're going to let him think you rescued the plant because your boyfriend wanted you to? You're going to let him think you acted on your emotions?" Clark asked, half-angrily, half-frantically.

Lex smirked. "If he suspects me of playing on his level, then he discounts the possibility that ours is a business arrangement. It's all to my advantage. Do you want to break or shall I?"

"Lex, he's not going to stop at this, you know. You're the one who's always saying how ruthless he can be." Lex seemed to take this as an invitation to break, judging by the way he bent over to take the first shot.

"So when he makes his next move, I'll counter it, just like I did this one. Let me worry about my father... you just keep your end of the bargain." How could Lex be so placid? Clark watched, paralyzed by Lex's calm, as Lex sent a ball spinning into a side pocket. "I'm solids," Lex observed, circling the table. He bent over to take another shot, and as he did so, he asked, in a casual voice, "So did Ms. Sullivan come by to convey her gratitude?"

Living with Lex had done wonders for Clark's powers of deduction. Like the tumblers of a lock, the pieces of Lex's bizarre behavior spun into line. "You bought the plant so my ex-girlfriend would make up with me?" Clark blurted, disbelieving.

The pitch of Clark's exclamation must have been responsible for Lex's scratch, but Lex graciously waved Clark towards the table, smiling proudly. "That wasn't the principal reason, but it was certainly an additional motivation."

"Lex!" Clark cried. "Jesus!"

Lex seemed a little bemused by Clark's reaction, but he was otherwise unmoved. "I take it she did express her thanks?"

"I told her I knew nothing about it," Clark insisted.

Lex shook his head slightly. "But she didn't believe you."

Clark opened his mouth to retort, then realized this wasn't the salient point. "I can't believe you bought a factory to try and improve my love life!"

Lex's smile spread slightly, as though he was proud of his lunacy. "Your shot, Clark."

Clark was tempted to use the pool cue on Lex's head, but instead, he stood and stared. "What about the no skronking thing?"

Lex's eyebrows shot up. "Wow. You're a fast mover, Clark."

Clark flushed, adding embarrassment to his already brimming pool of emotions. "I meant, why are you bothering when I couldn't date her anyway?"

Lex shrugged one shoulder. "You're only married for another eight months. I make no claim to dictate how you run your social life after that time has elapsed." Seeing Clark's continuing gape, Lex elaborated. "I opened a door, Clark. It's up to you whether you want to walk through it." His eyes were points of intensity, pinning Clark in place, making his mind race and crawl at the same moment.

"I don't want Chloe back, Lex," Clark pronounced, startling himself with the admission. But it was true. He'd had ten chances to kiss her this evening and he hadn't been tempted by a single one.

As Clark was still trying to comprehend the implications of this epiphany, Lex broke his gaze and moved so he was facing the (purple-felted, Clark noted wearily) table, and distractedly gestured with his cue. "Your shot."

The conversation was apparently over.

Lex went back to Metropolis about a week after Christmas, having completed his buy-out and sidestepped his father's countermoves. One inevitable part of the fall-out from Lionel's wrath was that the Smallville Savings and Loan was now in the hands of LuthorCorp. Lex had foreseen this measure and had encouraged his new employees to transfer their mortgages and savings to a larger national bank, but some had stubbornly maintained their small-town loyalty and now faced dire consequences if the LexCorp Fertilizer Plant should fail and their loan payments faltered.

Clark knew this bothered Lex, that he felt the weight of Smallville's economic welfare settling on his young shoulders, but Gabe Sullivan's effusive praise of Lex's capabilities proved to be warranted. By the time Clark rejoined Lex in Metropolis, the plant's production had increased substantially. Three truckloads of new equipment passed Clark on their way to the plant as he ran back along the highway towards Metropolis. Clark tried not to worry about how Lex had raised the capital for the purchases.

Lex seemed strangely unexcited by his success, Clark noticed. Instead, he came home later and later, leaving the apartment before Clark got up in the morning. When Clark saw him – usually on Sunday mornings before Lex left for the office – Lex looked strained and tired. One such morning, when Clark set a plate of waffles in front of him, Lex looked up, caught in an unguarded moment, and said, "This was too big a move."

Clark sat down opposite Lex and passed him the syrup. "You're amazing. You can do this."

Lex prodded at a file beside him. "I need to hire more staff but there's no way I can cover the expense. I spent Friday night trying to teach myself how to calculate net productivity quotients because our staff accountants are five seconds away from nervous breakdown."

"You're good at math," Clark smiled. "I bet you figured it out."

Lex's mouth twitched. "It's hard to do math when you're exhausted from juggling twelve other problems. Who knew processing shit was so much work?"

Clark watched as Lex's fingers mindlessly turned the pages of the file. "Eat your waffles," Clark ordered, pulling the papers away. "I'm good at math too."

"Clark, you can't –" Lex began, but he was too tired to beat Clark's reflexes and missed his chance to pin the file down under his palm.

"Eat your damn waffles," Clark grinned, scanning the columns of numbers. "You forgot to carry the three here, that's why your numbers aren't lining up. Do you have this on a spreadsheet? It'd go faster the next time you do it. If you let me use your laptop I can have something rudimentary in place for you in about an hour. Your accountants can adapt it to their requirements, but having the basics in place will save them a lot of time."

Lex had managed to pick his fork up on Clark's order, but had frozen in shock at Clark's next string of comments. Clark, looking up from the file, flashed another grin. "Pretty and smart," Lex commented at length, then applied himself to eating the waffles.

"You wouldn't have married me if I wasn't," Clark answered cheerily.

Martha would be thrilled to find out that marijuana was among the substances Clark's alien biology disdained to recognize as an intoxicant. Clark himself was only slightly gratified by the observation. His sense of disappointment that he was a freak in one more way was, however, greatly tempered by the fact that everyone else was acting like an idiot.

Lex had been wrong about the left wing politics, though. The main topic of discussion among the gathered Monitorites was currently a debate about whether the old Spider-Man cartoon was better than the current movie series.

"Tobey Maguire is not cool enough to be a superhero."

"That's the point, man! He's just this ordinary dork with all these normal problems, and on top of that, he's got these superpowers and feels this responsibility to protect people." It was no secret that Allistair spent exactly as much time reading comic books as he did attending Student Union meetings.

Clark cleared his throat, feeling he might have something to contribute – if not on the subject of superpowers, then at least on the subject of dorkdom. But before he could get a word out, the first speaker – Shawn from advertising – was unleashing a retort.

"Okay, then, Tobey Maguire isn't cool enough to be an ordinary dork," said Shawn, sitting back a little so his tight t-shirt rode up, showing his belly.

"Shut up, he's hot." Trina seemed to think this was an adequate argument.

"There's no way that Kirsten Dunst would go out with a guy who looked like that," Shawn scoffed.

"Just because he's not Ashton Kutcher or Gale Harold doesn't mean he's not hot. Some of us aren't panting little gay boys with a hard-on for men with big pouty lips." This last was said in a teasing banter, Trina reaching out to prod playfully at Shawn's exposed navel ring.

"Oh, so women have different standards of masculine beauty than gay men?" Shawn retorted, batting at her hand and laughing.

"No, I think you're just living in a dream world where guys all shave their chests and wear mascara," replied Trina.

"I don't think that! Come on, name someone that you think is hot in a manly way – not Tobey Maguire – and see. I bet we'll agree on the next one."

Trina sat back, pursing her mouth in thought. Suddenly she sat up and shouted, triumphantly, "Lex Luthor!"

Clark jumped in spite of himself.

"Ugh, christ. The guy is completely bald, Trina. How is that hot or manly? He's like one of those gross hairless dogs, all pink and wriggly. Plus his ears are funny." Shawn's tone was dripping with disgust.

"I think he's hot," someone interjected. Another male. Oh, god, someone apparently hijacking Clark's brain and vocal mechanism. Because there was no way Clark himself had said those words. But everyone was looking at him as though he had.

Trina laughed triumphantly. "Okay, I have one member of the gay – bi? – gay?"

"Bi," said the Person who was Controlling Clark's Mouth. Who certainly wasn't Clark.

"Bi? Really?" Trina echoed doubtfully. "Anyway, Clark's on my side. Lex Luthor is sex on a stick."

"You should see him playing pool," Clark blurted, and, okay, that time it really was him, because how could the demon possessing him know about what Lex looked like playing pool? And when had Clark taken the time to notice what Lex looked like playing pool?

"And the way he walks? Remember that press conference when he announced the incorporation of his company, the way he moved up to the microphone?" Trina couldn't be addressing Clark, but a happy sigh from the female portion of the crowd suggested Clark wasn't alone in his admiration. "It's like there's something supernatural in the region of his hips, the way he moves..."

"I call it the Sexy Generator," Clark submitted, then wondered why in the name of god he was still talking.

A general round of laughter answered his remark. Clark grinned in spite of himself as the conversation turned to suggestions of other celebrities in possession of the Sexy Generator. Yes, Clark had friends and they collectively had a social life. Who needed Pete? Who needed a workaholic husband? Who needed to spend hours worrying about Lex's mysterious projects at Cadmus, Lionel's increasing interest in Clark, Pete's continued silent anger, and, of course, the ubiquitous fear of discovery?

It was very possible that pot did affect him after all.

At least, it certainly seemed to be making him gay – no, bi. Gay?


Clark was almost certainly a little fucked in the head by the time he was making his way to the subway station. It was a brisk, windy night in Metropolis, perfect weather for speeding home without drawing any undue attention to the draft his passing created, but Clark thought it was probably a bad idea to run that fast when bi – high. Instead, he stuck his hands in his jacket pockets, affecting to feel the cold, and restricted himself to a quick walking pace. Trying to occupy his thoughts, he tried to ascertain when exactly he'd first been attracted to Lex, but was quickly distracted by the various images and memories this train of thought provided.

Clark was at the point of recalling, with particular interest, the first time he'd seen Lex drink from a water bottle, when a scream tore a hole in the pleasantly muddy swirl of his thoughts. Within an instant, Clark's heart was racing, his ears honing in on the source of the sound. It wasn't far, not far enough for Clark to have to run faster than a human could, and there was still a chance he could resolve this situation without resorting to extraordinary measures.

A girl in an alley behind the business building, a menacing figure grappling with her. "Leave her alone!" Clark shouted. The attacker didn't look like any college student Clark had seen. He looked more like one of the bikers that frequented the Wild Coyote in Smallville.

The man looked up, flashing a glint of metal. "Mind your own business, kid."

Right. Time for heroism. Clark didn't like the proximity of that blade to the girl's flesh and in an instant, he had his palm wrapped around it, crumpling the knife in his grip and twisting the man's other arm into a hold behind his back.

"Run!" he urged the girl, who was staring, mouth agape. She didn't look much like a college student, either. She was too sleek, too polished. "Go on, get out of here!"

She reached for her purse, which was sitting on the ground, and for a moment Clark feared she was extracting a gun and intended to take her vengeance. The sudden dazzle of a photographic flash was his first warning that he was wrong.

"What are you doing?" Clark asked, stunned and confused. The man in his grasp was still struggling and it was taking most of Clark's concentration to prevent the idiot from breaking his own arm in his struggles.

"Your hand's not even bleeding, is it?" said the woman with some wonder, backing away and snapping another picture. "Everything they said about you is true." This time, Clark had the presence of mind to duck his head, so his face was obscured. Before he could ruin the camera with a quick burst of heat vision, however, there was a car in the alley and the woman was climbing in the passenger side. The attacker in Clark's hold redoubled his efforts and Clark felt the man's radius crack with a strange detachment.

"Who do you work for?" Clark demanded, slamming the man to the ground as the car squealed out of the alley. He barely remembered to lift his forearm off the man's windpipe, to allow him breath to reply. Clark's head was swimming with the after-effects of the marijuana and he was skimming along the ridge of an adrenaline high as well. It took all Clark's concentration to remind himself of his own strength, to keep himself from injuring the man any further.

"Morgan Edge," rasped the man.

Clark lifted one hand and delivered a carefully gauged blow to the man's forehead, knocking him unconscious, then sped off towards home.

Chapter Text

Clark's first instinct, on reaching the safety of his apartment, was to wake Lex and tell him what had just happened. An instant's reflection proved how impossible this would be – he couldn't convey any of the relevancies of the incident without letting Lex know far more than was reasonable. His second instinct – to call his parents – was rejected almost as quickly. They had seemed so peaceful, so content at Christmas – what right did Clark have to involve them in something potentially dangerous? After all, anyone who was prepared to stage a rape to catch Clark's attention was hardly going to submit to his father's straightforward reasoning or his mother's pleadings. Knowing would only worry them and bring them into a vulnerable position. He would have to deal with this situation himself.

Clark retreated to his bedroom, dully noting that it was 3:30 in the morning. Lex would be up and doing work within a couple of hours.

A quick search on the internet provided Morgan Edge's identity. He was the biggest crime boss in Metropolis. It was easy enough to envision what a man like Edge could want with Clark. Even if his invulnerability and strength were the only powers Edge knew of, Clark must be an unbelievably tempting target for recruitment into crime. How Edge might have gotten word of Clark's abilities, however, was beyond mysterious. The people laying the trap had suspected something, certainly, or they wouldn't have lain in wait for Clark. And now they had photographic evidence of two of his abilities, maybe more.

Clark had only rarely made use of his powers since coming to college, and tonight was the first time he had rescued anyone. In fact, since his break-up with Chloe, Clark had done little in the way of heroism. He'd been too busy with his Master of Denial act. Still, it was possible that if someone were watching Clark, trying to find evidence that he was extraordinary, they might have caught him doing something – vanishing into nothing when he sped off, for example – when he himself had been convinced no one was around to see. But that presupposed that Edge's men had known to watch him, had somehow found out Clark was in possession of some special gifts.

So how could Edge know about Clark in the first place? How could he have known Clark was different? He must, by now, have dug into Clark's past, discovered his propensity for being in the right place at the right time, the incredible luck that had allowed a teenaged boy to defuse any number of dangerous situations without injury to himself. Looked at objectively, though, Clark's activities in Smallville were nothing terribly untoward, nothing to draw the attention of a Metropolitan crime magnate to a smalltown farmboy – Lex's own conviction that there was nothing unusual about Clark was testimony to that effect. This led Clark to believe someone must have tipped off Edge, pointed him in Clark's direction. Of course it couldn't be Pete or his parents or Chloe. But the only others who knew were those few kryptonite-infected people whom Clark had fought, and they were all either dead or presumed insane.

"Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean nobody's watching you," Clark murmured to himself, then opened up another browser window. Thankfully, Chloe's successor hadn't changed the passwords that secured the Torch files and archives. It was the work of a few seconds to type the words 'Eric Summers' into the search field. Chloe's Wall of Weird file, written back in 2000, yielded the pertinent information.

It looked as though Clark would be making a visit to Belle Reve Mental Hospital.

Clark spent the next morning helping Lex with several accounting files. Now Lex had discovered Clark's weird talent for numbers, he was exploiting Clark all he could, cheerfully handing him fat stacks of expenditure logs to audit. Clark didn't mind – the math part of his brain didn't require conscious thought, it sort of buzzed along on its own – but this morning he was preoccupied, alternately impatient to get to Belle Reve and deeply reluctant to pursue the matter.

There was also the somewhat distracting fact that, while the pot had long since been metabolized by Clark's body, it hadn't taken its disturbing revelation with it. In the cold sober light of morning, Lex was still undeniably attractive, and Clark was uncomfortably aware of the fact. Sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch with his legs extended across the area rug, Clark kept his back to Lex, but there was no repudiating that Clark's newfound bisexuality was out in full force.

Lex's proximity, the way he curled his fingers around his coffee cup, the small smiles he cast in Clark's direction every few minutes... Clark felt it all, was mentally enumerating each glance and casual touch, keeping a tally somewhere in his mind alongside the column of figures on the page. Being around Lex was like having a live fire in the room – Clark could never quite allow himself to forget where he was, or to look away for too long, for fear of being burned unexpectedly.

It should have been a novel feeling, but the longer it persisted, the more Clark was convinced that it had been this way for months. Since returning from Christmas break, certainly... but, no, before that. Since the hickey incident? No, longer... since the article in the Monitor, since the first time Lex burned their dinner... Since that day in the Chinese restaurant in Grandville, that moment in the bathroom? Or was it really the first moment he saw Lex, that first step into Lex's office for the scholarship interview, the mesmerizing glide of Lex's body, the smooth outstetching of a pale hand? Had he really been attracted to Lex this whole time?

"Are you done with Maclean's expenses?" Lex asked, and Clark jumped. To his relief, his inner calculator had kept going and he was able to answer coherently.

"There's only a small discrepancy, but I think it's just because he adds tips into his expenditures and your policy doesn't cover that." Okay, Clark had handled bigger epiphanies than this. After all, he had been reasonably cool when his parents told him, on his sixteenth birthday, that he was an alien.

"It doesn't? I thought we covered fifteen percent for business luncheons."

"You do... this was a tip for Starbucks. And your policy doesn't say anything about coffee." And then, the next year, when Clark's biological father had become a voice in his head and had told him he was destined to conquer earth and subjugate its people... well, there had been the urge to run for the Smallville psychiatric ward, but it had quickly been overcome.

"That cheap little... he claimed three bucks for a coffee tip?" Lex was smiling in spite of himself, peering over Clark's shoulder from his spot above him on the couch. Lex's breath puffed onto the back of Clark's ear, raising an involuntary shiver from Clark. "I'll write him a check myself."

Clark barely understood what Lex was saying, but he laughed back, closing the file and putting it on the laden coffee table. "I've gotta go," he announced, urging his body to stand. It was putting up a fight, probably because of the way Lex's hand was thoughtlessly resting on Clark's shoulder.


"Monitor. Doing a story on mental institutions." Compared with the alien world-conqueror thing, bisexuality was kind of small potatoes, wasn't it? Yet Jor-El's brand, burned into his chest, hadn't produced the kind of heat Lex's casual touch was currently generating.

"That's... nice," Lex replied distractedly, becoming re-absorbed in whatever file he was reading. "Have fun." His hand was still on Clark's shoulder, absently stroking the flannel of Clark's shirt. And now Clark really couldn't stand.

Clark thought of Morgan Edge, of the pictures now in his possession. He thought of Eric Summers, and how it had felt to be struck by lightning. He thought of steel bars and straightjackets and he thought of massive-bosomed psychiatric nurses with trays of pills. When all that failed, Clark resolutely thought of his mother.

"See you later!" Clark exclaimed, bolting to his feet as soon as decency and his mother's image allowed.

Lex didn't look up, making all Clark's efforts into wasted energy. "Yeah."

Then, because it really wasn't the pot that made Clark say stupid things, he blurted, "You want to go for dinner tonight?" Please say no, please say no, please say no...

Now Lex looked up, his blue eyes startled. "That'd be..." Clark watched in exquisite slow motion as Lex's mouth formed the final word. "Nice." God, Lex had a really good mouth. It was so... good. "Mickey's Diner, seven o'clock?"

"Yeah. Okay," Clark managed, his throat dry. Was this a date? Was he asking Lex on a date? Mom in a nurse's uniform, getting struck by lightning. "See you then."

Eric Summers was a dead loss. The nurses gave Clark doubtful looks when he said he wanted to visit.

"You know he doesn't talk much these days," said one tenderly.

"We were friends in high school," Clark answered in his best forlorn puppy voice.

Still, he wondered nervously if his visage might make Eric agitated – people thought he was crazy because of things Clark had done, after all. It was the sort of thought that had made Clark's habitual denial more of a necessity than a bad habit. After all, if Clark truly considered the consequences of his actions, the ways in which he had destroyed so many people's lives... but Clark's anxiety, it turned out, was wasted.

Eric had never been particularly muscular, but what little definition he'd once possessed was now submerged under a layer of sedentary pudginess. He was clothed in the blue institutional pajamas that seemed to be the unofficial uniform of Belle Reve's inmates. His room seemed cozy, lived-in, but Eric himself was out of place amidst all the comfort. He simply sat on his bed and clutched his knees to his chest.

"Hey, Eric," Clark attempted hesitantly, not wanting to recognize his former classmate in this disturbingly catatonic body.

Eric made no reply. Clark sat on the bed, right in Eric's line of view, but the boy showed no sign of noticing Clark's presence.

"Eric, did somebody come and talk to you recently? Did somebody come and ask you about me? About Clark Kent?"

Eric was silent. His eyes were dull. God, he'd spent four years in this place, four years protesting that he wasn't insane, four years listening to doctors tell him he was delusional. Was it any wonder he'd sunk into this state? Yet, there was a strange quality to Eric's stillness. It wasn't as though he was withdrawn, so much as he was buried under the chemical effects of sedation.

Clark reached out a hand, wanting to touch Eric's knee or shoulder, wanting to offer some tangible comfort, but his courage failed him. At last, Clark picked up a notebook on Eric's bedside table and flipped through it. There were pieces of paper clinging to the spiral binding, indicating that most of the pages had been torn out, but the rest of the notebook was unhelpfully blank. On impulse, Clark took out a pen and wrote, in a large clear hand:

You're not crazy. It really did happen.

Clark hesitated for only a moment before ripping the page out and crumpling it up. Maybe it would be better if Eric believed he was delusional. Maybe it would make things easier.

"See you, Eric," Clark spoke, unsure why he was bothering, except it seemed wrong to leave without a word of farewell. "Get... get better."

An orderly was passing by in the hall, an orderly who unsubtly gave Clark a slow once-over. It was a struggle to suppress a startled blush, but Clark forced a grin onto his face, hiding the sense of disorientation that still overwhelmed him, like he was playing a part. "Hey, you been working here long?" he asked, eyeing the orderly in return. He wasn't bad... about Clark's age, maybe a bit older, fairly built – and whoa, since when was Clark this okay with being bisexual?

"Couple months," answered the orderly, turning to face Clark.

"You know Eric?" Clark continued, making himself return the man's steady gaze.

Another slow shift of eyes, and Clark felt like the orderly was the one who could see through clothes. A nod.

"How long has he been like this?" Clark asked, trying to remember how exactly Lex modulated his voice to sound so commanding and seductive. There was something about using a low tone, something about sounding like he not only expected an answer, but that he deserved one.

There was a long pause, and Clark worried his attempt at the sexy voice had made him sound more like a chain-smoking truck driver. But then the orderly shrugged one shoulder. "About three weeks."

"Any idea why?" Clark remembered another lesson from Lex, and made a show of rolling his ballpoint pen between his fingers. Sure enough, the orderly's eyes were quickly drawn to Clark's busy hand.

Another shrug. "He was getting noisier at nights. Couldn't shut him up. He was always shouting about how he had superpowers. Docs changed his meds, now he's quiet."

Clark half-laughed, as though this was too amusing for words, now shamelessly stroking the length of the pen between his thumb and index fingers. "But hasn't he been here for a few years? Why would he start acting up now?"

"Only thing I can think of is his dad came to visit. His folks've never come here before, but one day his dad came."

Clark had a vivid memory of Mr. Summers, a stout and thoroughly unpleasant balding man. "Eric and his dad never got along." Right, the pen had lost its interest, so Clark leaned against the wall, jutting one hip out and sticking a hand in his jeans pocket. Now the orderly was eyeing Clark's... generator area.

"Well, they seemed okay this time. They sat and talked for a couple of hours. His dad's a weird-looking guy, though. Got all this long curly hair, walked around like he owned the place."

And that definitely wasn't a description to fit Mr. Summers. It did, however, ring some unpleasant bells.

"He was a real asshole to the staff, said that they weren't giving his kid the right dosages and sure enough, not long after that, Eric started acting up. That's when they changed his meds, made him into a vegetable."

A conveniently uncommunicative vegetable, Clark noted. "Thanks for your help," he said, extracting his hand from his pocket, standing up tall, and sticking his pen in his notebook. The orderly seemed confused by this sudden change of tactics, but Clark barely noticed as he walked past the other man.

Lionel Luthor and Morgan Edge. What could those two possibly have in common?

"Morgan Edge is possibly almost as big a bastard as my father," Lex replied, reaching across the table to snatch one of Clark's fries.

"You know him?" Clark asked, slapping absently at Lex's wrist.

Lex shook his head, chewing. "By reputation. He and my father were friends when they were younger. They're still friends now, but Dad doesn't think anyone knows. Are you getting pie?"

Clark nodded, his mind elsewhere. He had told Lex that Edge came up during a discussion with some of his friends at the Monitor, his name linked with Lionel Luthor's, and Clark had just applied to Lex for the truth of the matter. In fact, the Monitor office files had yielded some evidence of a connection, mostly in the more sensational conspiracy theory stories written by reporters in the mold of Chloe Sullivan. Still, if the pieces had made it into the Monitor, there must have been a grain of truth underneath all the elaborate constructions. Lex had just casually confirmed that. "You think they do business together?"

"I have no doubt that they do. Edge's crime ring is basically the underbelly of LuthorCorp... they do all the work that's too grimy to soil LuthorCorp's white linens. So are you getting the apple pie?"

"No, pecan. So when your dad needs something done and doesn't want it traced back to him, he gets Edge to do it?"

"Yeah, that's the idea. The apple pie is good here. They put vanilla ice cream on it."

"So get it."

Lex shook his head. "I don't want dessert."

"You're going to eat half of whatever I get anyway, so just get your own piece," Clark pointed out, a little testily. He wasn't so much annoyed by Lex's dessert-stealing routine as he was worried by the discovery that Lionel Luthor seemed to be behind yesterday's attack.

Lex opened his mouth, looking like he was about to protest the unfairness of Clark's statement, but then he seemed to rethink his impulse and said, accusingly, "I never used to eat dessert before I married you. Your mother's pie ruined everything."

"You're welcome," Clark returned, gloomily.

The waitress chose this moment to return, and the look she split between Clark and Lex seemed to imply she thought they were having a marital spat. And they so weren't. "Dessert?"

"We'll both have the apple pie," Lex answered, in that voice which brooked no argument. "Extra ice cream on his." The waitress made a quick retreat, clearly not wanting to become embroiled in the dispute.

Clark's glare was of short duration only because he didn't want his heat vision to kick in accidentally – at least not in a public place. If this was a date, it was one of the worst Clark had been on... and that was counting the time Chloe had eaten the bad prawns at that expensive restaurant and threw up all over Clark's shoes later.

"Are you going to tell me why you're in such a bad mood or am I going to have to resort to blackmail?"

Clark shot Lex another carefully measured glare from beneath his bangs. "Blackmail? Like you have anything on me."

Lex's tongue pushed out his cheek on one side. "Don't I?"

Clark scowled. "Other than the marriage thing, which you can't tell anyone because it's your secret too."

Lex, displaying his usual fascination with cylindrical objects, was spinning the salt shaker between his palms. Clark resolutely refused to find that attractive, even though Lex's fingers were really nice.

"Two words," Lex spoke at last, his blue eyes locking on Clark. "Lois. Lane."

Clark had learned a lot in the five months he'd been married. He'd learned leaving the bathmat rumpled and wet on the floor was sure to earn him a dirty look over breakfast. He'd learned commenting on his husband's bad culinary choices meant he would be forced to eat the results. He'd learned pouting was a remarkably effective way of getting what he wanted. But, more than anything, he'd learned nothing annoyed his spouse more than maintaining an obstinate disinterest in Lex's leading statements.

It wasn't that Clark didn't want to know what Lex knew about Lois Lane, or what Lex thought he knew, or if Lex was just bluffing the whole thing. It was just that between the revelation of Clark's bisexuality and the fact that someone somewhere – either Morgan Edge or Lionel Luthor, maybe both – had a snapshot of Clark crumpling a knife in his palm... well, there wasn't much room for playing mind games with Lex.

Not that Lex had given up on trying to initiate said mind games. During the movie they watched later that evening, Lex kept dropping the smallest hints. When an attractive blonde actress made an appearance, Lex said, "I prefer brunettes, don't you?"

Clark said, "They're okay," aiming for bland unconcern.

Then, when the storyline delved into a media circus around one of the events in the plot, Lex smirked and said, "No offense to your hobby of choice, Clark, but every single journalist I've ever met has been an absolute bottom feeder."

Clark nodded slightly, as though he wasn't really paying attention.

And as the credits rolled and Clark stood up to stretch, Lex hit the stop button on the remote and asked, "Want to walk down the lane with me to return the movie tomorrow?"

Clark just rolled his eyes and went into his bedroom. Lex could be so annoying.

Also, he'd sat way on the other end of the couch the entire time.

The problem was, it was really hard to sleep that night. Even through the accumulated fatigue of barely sleeping the previous night and having run to Belle Reve and back, Clark lay flat on his back in the middle of his bed, unable to chase unwelcome thoughts out of his mind. His principal worry – the idea that a major crime boss and one of the richest men in the world were working together to uncover his secret – alternated with his secondary worry – his newfound attraction for Lex – and while the latter was actually some relief from the former in terms of severity, it tended to make him panic slightly more often.

Crime magnate and evil CEO, plotting Clark's dissection and/or induction into the ranks of American organized evil.

And the way Lex had looked in the tight grey sweater this morning.

Clark was hard-put to say which terrified him more.

He found himself making a cup of hot chocolate at two in the morning, trying desperately to convince himself everything would be okay, but then Problem Number Two made his way into the room, yawning.

"Did I wake you? I'm sorry," Clark murmured quietly, trying not to be startled by Lex's lack of a shirt.

"I'm a light sleeper," Lex answered in an equally quiet tone. "Make me a cup too?"

"You should try to go back to sleep," Clark scolded, even as he spooned some chocolate powder into a second mug. "You're barely getting any rest as it is."

Lex lifted one shoulder as he poured boiling water from the kettle. "I can either stare at the ceiling in my bedroom or I can come out here and keep you company."

Clark didn't think Lex much resembled a hairless dog. For one thing, his skin was much smoother. And it wasn't pink, it was an even, hypnotically silky pale cream color. The way the shadows of the darkened room played across his surprisingly muscular shoulders was – "I'm sorry if I was weird earlier," Clark spoke, trying to drown out his thoughts.

"You're still not going to tell me what's wrong?" Lex asked, reaching out with a delicate foot and kicking Clark's shin.

Clark cast about desperately in his mind for an excuse, any excuse. "It's... complicated."

"Try me."

Unbidden, the memory of Eric Summers flashed in front of Clark's eyes, the way the boy had been hunched on his bed, the flabby dullness of his young body. "That place I went today? For the Monitor?" Lex nodded. He remembered Clark's activities. He always remembered things like that. "Well... one of my classmates from high school was there."

"In a... mental hospital?" Lex asked, pausing in his pouring.

Clark nodded, surprised to feel a lump rising in his throat. Why should that visit be upsetting him more than anything else that had happened? "His name is Eric Summers. In our freshman year, this weird thing happened..."

Lex pulled his own mug over and began to fill it with the steaming water. "Weird thing?" Lex's voice was strangely tense, edgy. It had lost the sleepy calm from a moment earlier.

"I don't know how much you know about Smallville," Clark began, wondering if he was doing the right thing, wondering if he should just shut up and forget about the whole thing. But his mouth kept going. "Since the meteor shower, there have been these str–"

Lex's shout interrupted Clark. Clark looked up to see Lex had spilled some of the scalding water on the back of his hand, which was quickly turning bright red. "Dammit!" Lex hissed, waving his hand and setting the kettle down.

Clark quickly seized the injured hand and stuck it under the tap, turning the faucet all the way to the cold side. Lex was breathing between his teeth, clearly in considerable pain, but he didn't object to Clark's treatment. The burn was bad, already raising a wide white blister on the reddened area. "Keep your hand there, I'll get some ice," Clark ordered. He'd burned his hand once or twice as a child, back when he was still almost as vulnerable as a human, and he vaguely remembered the searing pain, the way it just kept getting worse.

"I just poured it too fast, I didn't realize the kettle was still so full," Lex said over the rush of the tap. "Dammit, that stings."

Clark put a few ice cubes inside a dampened dishcloth and held the compress to Lex's hand. "Keep it on ice for another couple of minutes, and then I can put some ointment and gauze on it for you."

Lex was biting his bottom lip and emitting short breaths, containing his discomfort, but not completely. "It's been a while since I burned myself," he spoke roughly. "Forgot how much it hurts." Then, with a disarming upwards flicker of blue eyes, he added, "Thanks."

Clark smiled instinctively, feeling pleased as he always did when he helped somebody. "No problem," he answered, then realized he was still clutching Lex's hand in his own. "So much for the hot chocolate."

"You can still have yours," Lex offered, squeezing Clark's hand. "But I have to admit, I'm not exactly in the mood for a hot drink right now."

"Nah," Clark answered, reluctantly releasing Lex's hand. "The caffeine'd just keep me awake anyway."

"Wanna watch the deleted scenes from the movie?" Lex suggested, drawing his injured hand into his chest and studying Clark intently. "Since we're being insomniacs together?"

"Yeah, okay," Clark agreed, smiling. It was amazing, how performing that simple service for Lex had completely reversed his mood. Maybe moping and brooding about Edge wasn't the answer... maybe Clark should start putting his energy into more productive channels, doing things that could help people. After all, if Edge wanted something of Clark, he would know soon enough. And in the meantime, what could Clark possibly do that wouldn't draw more attention from Edge or Luthor?

It was just as well that Lex had burned his hand and prevented Clark's confession about Smallville weirdness. It was safer this way.

"What time is it?"

Why was Lex asking Clark? He had a perfectly good alarm clock in his own bedroom, after all. Clark grunted and tugged his pillow closer.

Except his pillow was the source of Lex's voice. "Come on, Clark, I can't see the VCR from here."

Clark sat up, startled by this incongruity. He was in the living room, reclined on the couch next to Lex. Lex, who was lying beside Clark. Clark, whose legs were all sort of tangled up with Lex's legs. "What time is it?" Clark asked, blinking his eyes.

Lex smirked. "That's my line."

"We fell asleep watching the movie," Clark deduced, stretching.

"No, you fell asleep watching the movie," Lex corrected, wriggling into a sitting position from his place, squeezed between Clark and the back of the sofa. "I put a blanket over you and watched a few more deleted scenes and then..."

"You fell asleep, too," Clark concluded when Lex trailed off, looking confused. "How's your hand?"

Lex held up the bandaged appendage. "Feels okay. A little sore. What time is it?"

Clark glanced over at the VCR. "Eleven something."

"Shit." And Lex was straddling Clark's lap, just for an instant as he scrambled off the couch, and then he was walking into the kitchen and his pajama pants were sort of hanging low on his hips, so that Clark could sort of see a bit of the cleft of his – wow. Sunday morning. Not the time to be contemplating molesting his roommate. "I wanted to be at work by now."

"Sorry," Clark said automatically, though he wasn't sure why exactly he was sorry or how it was his fault.

Lex already had the phone in his hand, though, and wasn't listening to Clark. Clark, meanwhile, was glad he had a blanket to huddle under as certain parts of his anatomy began to wake up.

"Ben? Look, I'm going to be later than we planned," Lex was saying, one hand casually hitching up his pants. "Can you start on the Rolston file without me?"

Ben. Clark hated Ben.

Lex smiled. "Well, what if I bring the bagels and coffee this time?"

Stupid Ben the hickey-giver.

"No, don't worry about that part. If you could just take a look at whatever research that intern managed. It should be on my desk. If it's not, she's looking for a new position come Mond–good. Okay, look, Ben, I'll be there as soon as I can."

Clark wondered if this would be a good time to find out what Lex knew about Lois Lane. Not that Clark cared.

Another smile, this time with a short laugh. "I had a late night." Lex shot Clark a wry glance. "You know how it is."

Clark frowned back at Lex.

"Okay, half an hour. Don't have too much fun without me." That was the sexy voice, and when Lex did it, there was no hint of a chain-smoking truck driver. Damn Lex. "Bye."

Lex started down the hallway towards the bathroom, but just before he disappeared, he turned on his heel and said, dryly, "It wasn't Ben, you know."

"What wasn't Ben?" Clark asked testily.

"My guest at Thanksgiving. It wasn't any of my employees. I have this rule... I don't sleep with anyone who gets checks from me." Lex smiled briefly, then ducked into the bathroom.

Clark's moment of weird triumph over Ben only lasted for as long as it took for Lex's words to sink in.

At that moment, Clark's wallet was carrying a check – his monthly scholarship payment – with Lex's signature on it.

When Clark returned to school on Monday, he became aware he was being followed. It was impossible to say if this was a new development, but between classes – and maybe even in classes, though that was harder to say – Clark was peripherally conscious of eyes watching, steps following. As unnerving as it was, Clark didn't have anything to hide. He was behaving as any other college student would... it wasn't as if he was using his x-ray vision to cheat on quizzes or levitating above the crowds to make his way across the quad. But the knowledge of being watched made Clark feel restricted in his freedom. He avoided friends and acquaintances, not wanting to drag them into the situation, hating the thought of their faces in surveillance photos.

As Clark was eating his lunch alone at the end of a long table on Monday, he was joined by one of his quieter Monitor colleagues. A young-looking but appealingly cute freshman, Jacob was one of the assistant copy editors and he'd never spoken more than three words to Clark that didn't involve terms like "dangling participle" or "split infinitive".

"Hey, Jacob," Clark said, wondering how quickly he could finish his sandwich and make his excuses.

"Hey, Clark," Jacob answered.

"Oh, hey, about my latest submission – sorry about all the typos, man. It was about five in the morning when I finished it. I could barely see the keyboard."

Jacob shrugged, then smiled slightly. "S'my job."

They ate in silence for another few minutes, then Clark desperately cast about for a bit of small talk. "So, you were at the party on Friday, right?"

Jacob nodded, eyes on his milk carton.

"That was pretty cool. I mean, I had fun."

Jacob nodded again, then looked up at Clark. "Um, Clark?"


Jacob appeared to be having a bit of trouble with whatever he wanted to say. He turned several shades of pink before he even got his mouth open. "Do you... sometime, do you want... Do you drink coffee ever?"

Clark blinked, surprised at this seeming non-sequitur. "Yeah, I drink coffee."

Jacob's smile was immediate and blinding. "Want to go grab some, sometime? Together."

If Jacob wasn't a guy, Clark would swear he was asking Clark out – oh, wait. Jacob had been there for Clark's drug-induced coming out. And clearly Jacob was interested. And the last time Clark had fielded a question like this, he was fifteen and still thought he was human and straight and, besides, the way Chloe had phrased it, 'no' hadn't really been an option... Okay, so Clark didn't exactly have a graceful refusal prepared. He was forced to go with a listless, "Oh. Um."

"If you want," Jacob added hastily, looking panicked.

So, was Clark involved? And if he was, how did he avoid more leading questions on that subject? And if he wasn't, how could he reject Jacob without sounding like a jerk? Maybe he could say that he wasn't ready to explore this bi thing, except all the time he'd spent surfing the net last evening seemed to suggest otherwise and Clark had never been a good liar. "The thing is..." Clark began, wondering if he could improvise something about having to study for an upcoming barrage of exams.

Jacob looked exactly like a kicked puppy. It was kind of... really adorable.

"Sure. Coffee sounds great," Clark concluded. Coffee wasn't a date. It wasn't. It was a totally casual friend thing to do and in the meantime, Clark would have time to construct some elaborate tale that would warn Jacob away – maybe Clark could work in the alien world-conqueror thing?

Jacob beamed. "Really?"

Clark nodded, trying very hard to keep an answering smile on his face. "Um, let me give you my cell phone number."

After the appropriate exchanges, Clark decided he would sacrifice the uneaten portion of his sandwich in order to get the hell out of this situation, Jacob with his successful coffee-excursion-asking glowiness and that man over in the far corner of the room who was looking up at Clark just a bit too often. "Well, I gotta hit the library before class, so..."

"Me too," Jacob concurred cheerily, standing up.

Clark froze in the process of hoisting his backpack onto his shoulder. "Really? Oh. Cool."

The man in the corner got up too.

"So are you from Metropolis?" Clark asked, resigning himself to Jacob's enthusiastic, if clueless, company.

He had resolved to help people, after all. This was just an unusual kind of help.

The thing about Jacob was, he was kind of... everywhere. Either Clark had been spectacularly oblivious to the guy before, or Jacob had suddenly founded the Met U branch of the Clark Kent Stalkers' League, because as often as Clark saw someone tailing him across campus, he'd turn the other way and see Jacob grinning in his direction. The coffee-not-date had been set for Thursday afternoon, once the paper had gone to press and there was general rejoicing amidst the Monitorites. Jacob hadn't called Clark again after this plan was set, or even talked to him much, but... he was everywhere.

It was almost a relief when Clark bumped into Pete on Thursday morning. Pete scowled and was about to pointedly brush past Clark in silence, when Clark spotted Jacob hovering in the distance.

"Pete. I need to... can we talk?" Clark spoke hastily, before Pete could move on.

Pete kept scowling, but he didn't move. "We're talking."

Clark was unexpectedly flooded with longing for his old comfort with Pete. "Not like that. I mean... can we talk about what happened at Christmas?"

Pete seemed to consider this. "I'm still mad at you," he said finally.

"Okay, and I'm still mad at you," Clark replied. "But I miss hanging out with you. I miss telling you stuff."

Pete's implacable frown suddenly fractured a little, one eyebrow shifting up and pulling the corner of Pete's mouth with it. "Is this about you batting for both teams? Because, to tell you the truth, I've known that longer than you have."

Clark gaped.

Pete playfully smacked Clark's arm. "Word gets around fast."

Clark gaped some more.

"Oh, come on, man... when we played ninja turtles, you always wanted to be that reporter chick."

"Because she was their best friend," Clark retorted. "She was, like, the only one who really understood that the turtles were good guys, not just, you know, mutant freaks. Can you blame me for admiring her? I mean, come on, Pete, you know why," he spoke significantly.

"You just liked her yellow coveralls," Pete grinned.

Clark couldn't help grinning back. It felt good to be smiling with Pete again. "Yellow's a good color on me," he said.

Pete tossed his hands up in the air, shaking his head. "And I'm supposed to be surprised that you're into guys?"

Clark laughed, feeling relaxed for the first time in almost a week. And when he looked over to where he'd last seen Jacob, he saw only a group of strangers talking animatedly.

"You look really nice," Jacob said when Clark arrived at the Monitor offices.

Clark looked down at his red t-shirt and jeans. "Um. Thanks?" This was so not a date, but Jacob was messing it up by commenting on Clark's clothes. "You too."

Jacob actually did look nice, in jeans with a white untucked dress shirt under an open light brown corduroy blazer. His dark hair was mussed, but sort of purposefully, not like Clark's own curly mess. Even though Jacob looked much younger than eighteen, he was actually a really good dresser, and how had Clark not noticed that before? "I'm all finished here, so you wanna..."

"Yeah," Clark agreed hastily. "Yeah, let's go." The other people in the Monitor office were watching with the unapologetic curiosity of journalists. He seriously doubted anyone there would believe Clark's not-a-date theory.

As they walked to the nearby cafe, they discussed the latest editorials and some of the stupid letters they'd received in response, which got Jacob talking about how he hated copy editing letters that were sent in. "I mean, if they're too dumb to spell properly, why on earth should we have to fix it for them?" he grouched.

Clark laughed. "You could say the same thing about my articles, couldn't you?"

Jacob blushed and muttered something about not meaning reporters, and Clark just grinned. "So are you a big coffee fan? I mean, how serious are you about coffee?" Jacob asked, once his color had receded somewhat.

Clark raised an eyebrow. "Five?" he guessed, smiling. "I'm serious to the degree of five."

"Five out of?" Jacob prompted, smiling back.

"Um. Fifty? You're not about to start talking about shade-grown and Columbian varieties and coarse grind, are you?" Clark asked nervously.

Jacob shook his head, smiling. "No. Though I do appreciate a good Turkish–"

"Stop! I get enough of this at home!" Clark ordered playfully.

"Oh, are your folks into coffee?" Jacob asked, holding the door of the cafe for Clark, even though they weren't on a date.

"Um, no. My roommate. My parents have a farm, about three hours away."

"Oh." It was the kind of 'oh' that denoted some disappointment, probably about Clark having a roommate, which was good because it was part of the plan to get Jacob to back off. Clark was aiming for giving off the 'taken' vibe without having to be explicit about it. But Jacob looked so sad.

"Why don't you grab a table and I'll get the coffee?" Clark suggested, eyeing the line-up. "What do you want?" They quibbled briefly about whether Jacob should buy his own coffee, but Clark conceded the point because it wasn't a date.

"So are you, um, recently out?" Jacob asked when they were seated with their drinks. "I just... kind of got that impression on Friday. Like you couldn't believe that you were saying it."

Clark couldn't escape a blush as he nodded, saying, "It's kind of new still."

"I know what that's like," Jacob said sympathetically. "I just came out last year. Tell your parents yet?"

Clark's blush receded as quickly as it had come. "God, no." And I never will, Clark added internally.

"My advice? I mean, if you want my advice..." God, Jacob was endearingly awkward. He kind of made Clark feel smooth and cool in comparison.

"Oh, sure," Clark urged, trying to sound interested.

"Tell them now. Don't wait until you're already in a relationship, because this way, they won't automatically blame whoever you're with." There was an undertone of bitterness in Jacob's voice that spoke of personal experience.

Clark nodded thoughtfully, as if this was in some way applicable to his life... but it wasn't, because Clark was never telling his parents. "So what are you taking this semester?" Clark asked, after a short interval elapsed.

They went through all their courses, most of the Monitor reporters, two refills, and a bathroom break each before Clark realized he probably should have ended this not-a-date sooner rather than later. Jacob was starting to smile a lot more and he seemed less nervous and now he was making little flirty gestures, like casually touching Clark's hand across the table, and clearly Clark wasn't making a good case for this being not-a-date.

Clark was trying to think of a way to end the evening when his cell phone rang. "Oh, um, sorry. It's my roommate," Clark apologized, checking the display. "Do you mind if..." Jacob waved a hand, still smiling.

"Clark, where did you leave the celery salt?" Lex demanded in reply to Clark's 'hello'.

"What's celery salt?" Clark asked, frowning.

"It's that stuff you use in the omelettes. With the... it's sort of green and it's salty. And it says 'celery salt' on the jar."

"Oh, that stuff. That's called celery salt?"

"It's not where you normally put it. You know, in with the other herbs."

"Well, maybe you're the one who put it someplace different, then," Clark suggested, grinning at Lex's testy tone.

"I don't even use celery salt!" Lex snapped, but it was the playfully pissy voice, the one that meant Lex was having too much fun pretending to be angry to admit he wasn't actually that mad.

"Then why are you looking for it?" Clark laughed, spinning his empty coffee cup with his free hand.

"I'm making an omelette," Lex replied with exaggerated patience. "And I want it to taste like when you make an omelette."

"As opposed to when you make an omelette and it tastes like carbon," Clark teased, picturing Lex at the kitchen counter, glaring at the eggs.

Lex huffed into the phone, but Clark could hear he was smiling in spite of himself. "Well, if you're such a culinary artist, why aren't you here cooking my dinner for me?"

"What am I, your little housewife?" Clark snorted.

"If the giant shoe fits..." Lex began, laughter edging into his voice. "Where are you? I hear sad broody college music in the background. Are you still on campus? Hasn't the paper gone to press by now?"

"Yeah, I'm having coffee with a friend," Clark answered, recalling Jacob's presence. Jacob was busily inspecting the words on the empty sugar packets lying between them, affecting not to listen to Clark's conversation.

"A friend? What's her name?" Clark wasn't sure if it was an effect of his enhanced hearing, but he could swear he heard Lex leering.


A surprised exhalation. "Clark! You're full of surprises," Lex insinuated in that ultra-sleek voice.

Lex clearly meant to embarrass Clark with the implication, but Clark refused to react. Instead, he cupped his hand closer around the phone, and said, smiling, "You have no idea." This time, there wasn't so much as a hint of the chain-smoking truck driver in Clark's tone. Practice made perfect.

Lex's long silence confirmed Clark's success with the sexy voice. Finally, Lex released a low laugh of appreciation. "Well, bring some celery salt when you come home."

"And a fire extinguisher," Clark appended gravely. "And maybe some air freshener."

"You're killing me here," Lex returned smoothly. "Say hi to Jacob for me."

"Bye," Clark said pointedly, uncomfortably aware that Jacob was fidgeting with impatience.


By the time Clark tucked his phone back in his pocket and looked up at Jacob, he knew there wouldn't be a second not-date. He only wished there was some way to make Jacob look less depressed about the prospect. Still, it would hardly be helpful to provide Jacob with Lex's policy on not paying people who sleep with him... so Clark smiled in feigned obliviousness and brought the conversation back to where they'd left it.

"It's nice that you and Pete have worked things out," said Martha, sounding a little too relieved for Clark's taste.

"Yeah, he even met Lex and they actually get along. I mean, not like Dad and Lex got along, but it helps that Lex has every comic book Pete's ever wanted to read," Clark replied lightly, disliking the way his mother seemed to view Pete as a replacement for Lex's more unsavory influence.

She was silent for a moment, then she changed the subject, mentioning that the considerable snow pack would be good news for the crops this year, especially if the slow spring continued, letting the moisture gradually seep into the soil as the snow melted. Clark allowed the shift of topic, glad he had gotten Lex out of the way. Unlike Martha, Pete had been surprisingly accepting of Lex, even when Clark had revealed to his friend Lex was his mysterious roommate.

"Hey, Mom, I won't be coming over for the next little while. I mean, I'll be there for spring break, for sure, but... you know. No surprise visits," Clark announced, eager to get Unwelcome Fact Number Two out.

"Is it your schoolwork?" Mom said sympathetically.

"Um. No. Look, you and Dad don't need to worry about it, because I'm probably just being paranoid here, but... I just don't think now's a good time for me to be using my powers for anything."

Of course, Martha immediately poured out a hundred worried questions and panicked ideas, but Clark managed to assuage her in much the same terms he had used to placate Pete's curiosity regarding Lex. "Look, I can't tell you the whole story. It's better if you don't know. Just trust me, everything's under control and I'm fine. I promise I'll tell you if I need to. In the meantime, trust me. I don't want you to worry, that's all."

After many more such reassurances, and after Clark had to repeat the entire line to his father, both his parents seemed resigned that their son wasn't about to provide any more information, though they were reluctant to trust he wasn't in any danger. For the first time, Clark felt like he was the parent, trying to make a bad situation seem better through misplaced optimism. He was filled with a sharp sympathy for what his parents must have endured over and over throughout his childhood.

"Dad, you know I turned out okay, right?" Clark said, finally, when the eruption of angst seemed to be ebbing.

Jonathan sighed, almost laughing. "More than okay, son. You know how proud we are of you."

"Then..." Clark twirled the phone cord around one finger, thinking of how much he was concealing from his parents. "You know that whatever I do, I do it because I think it's right."

"I have faith in you, Clark. Your mother and I just worry about you, that's all."

The white phone cord now formed a ring around Clark's fourth finger on his left hand, a parody of the wedding band that was stashed in Clark's underwear drawer. "And I know you only worry because you love me, Dad," he said quietly. "But I need you to trust me on this."

After a long pause, Jonathan sighed again. "Of course we trust you. You're... you're a grown man now. You have to do what you think is best."

It was typical of Clark's stupid life that his father first called him a grown man on the day when Clark felt less capable of dealing with his problems than he'd ever been before. "I love you, Dad," he spoke, tugging the phone cord free. "I'll see you in a couple of weeks, okay?"

"Love you too, son. Remember, you can call us any time."

"Yeah, I know. Bye."


The weeks leading up to spring break seemed in some ways to fly past and, in others, to drag. There were no further incidents like the staged rape in the alley, but Clark was still being followed continuously. Try though he might, Clark could find no solid evidence linking Morgan Edge and Lionel Luthor, which should have been reassuring, but Clark only grew more and more convinced that the men were both striving to uncover his secret.

Now Pete was at least partly privy to the situation between Clark and Lex, life at home was somewhat less... intimate. Lex never showed any signs of resentment that Pete was now a regular visitor, but Pete's presence put a palpable distance between Lex and Clark, made Clark conscious of how close he and Lex had been in comparison when it was just the two of them. In spite of their forbearance, Pete, for his part, seemed inclined to agree with Chloe in regards to Lex and Clark's relationship. He never said as much, but it was clear he now viewed Lex not as a contender for his place as best friend, but as Clark's replacement for Chloe. Clark could only wonder what Pete would think if he saw Lex and Clark when Pete wasn't around to temper their intimacy.

It wasn't that anything had happened, exactly. Lex was still apparently resolved on the check-no-sex rule and Clark wasn't convinced he himself was mentally prepared to act on his bisexuality. It was the most static of status quos, to outward appearances. But, from where Clark was standing, there was an undeniable sense of tightening, tensing, building. Every casual glance, every playful comment, every slight motion... everything was infused with an extra layer of meaning, double dipped, in fact, with Clark's attraction to Lex and his increasing certainty the attraction was reciprocated. When Pete was there, it was almost a relief, because he and Lex did that thing where they played at being friendly roommates, instead of being... whatever they were the rest of the time.

It was the second last day before spring break and Lex and Clark were supposedly playing a video game. The 'supposedly' part came from the way they weren't so much minding their own respective controllers as playing tackle-Playstation, physically obstructing each other from successfully executing any moves. Of course, this wasn't conducive to actually winning the game, but it did give Clark a chance to leap on Lex and have Lex leap on him in turn, so it was not only a good game, it was the Best Game Ever.

"You are such –" Lex was panting as Clark threw an arm across Lex's face –"a pain in the ass."

Clark giggled and lunged harder, knocking the controller out of Lex's grip. "Oh, too bad!" he crowed as his character managed to get in a few punches before Lex regained control. "Pain in the ass or pain in the–" Here Clark was forced to feign a grunt of injury when Lex retaliated, flying across the couch to land on Clark's forearm. "Still good, still good!" Clark laughed, managing to fumble a grip on the controller.

Then Lex was on his lap and one of them had hit the pause button, but it didn't matter because Lex was trying to grapple the controller away from Clark and they were both enjoying the semi-forceful battle of hands and elbows, Clark liking the feel of Lex's thighs on either side of his own, the heavy weight of Lex on his knees, the little breaths of laughter that escaped between foul curses. Then Lex was darting a hand towards Clark's ribs, and Clark was invulnerable and everything but he was still fatally ticklish and it was so unfair Lex should have guessed that. Now Clark was trying to hold onto the controller and fend off the tickling attacks at the same time, laughing and pleading alternately but Lex's gaze was just locked on Clark, his face in a permanent open-mouthed smirk, his eyes daring Clark to... to something.

Clark had just about decided to do it, to do something, when the phone rang.

His immediate thought was that his parents, with typical parental bad timing, were calling to check when he and Pete were arriving in Smallville on Saturday, and that thought alone was enough to make him bolt up and toss Lex aside.

But the call display said 'buzzer', which meant someone was at the door downstairs. "Are you expecting a delivery?" Clark asked of Lex, who was too comfortably splayed for someone who had just been thrown across a piece of furniture. It must have been the lack of hair – there was nothing to look mussed.

Lex shook his head. "Pete, maybe?"

"Nope, Pete's out partying tonight." Clark shrugged and hit the talk button. "Hello?"

A frantic voice responded. "Clark?"

"Yeah. Um, who is this?" Clark asked, distractedly. Lex was fiddling with his controller now, clearly considering his chances if he just hit the pause button and kicked Clark's fighter's ass while Clark was otherwise occupied.

"It's Jacob."

Clark was in the process of shoulder checking Lex and it was a moment before he could connect the name with an actual person. "Jacob? What's going on?" Clark asked, standing up abruptly. Jacob sounded upset, like he was either crying or on the verge of crying.

"I just... can I come in?"

Clark looked over at Lex, who in turn was watching Clark with interest. "Um. Of course," Clark replied, unable to think of a good reason why not. It seemed to be his tragic flaw when it came to Jacob. "Hang on, I'll buzz you in."

Lex's eyebrows shot up at this, but he waited until Clark pressed the button to unlock the door and hung up before asking the pertinent question. "What are you doing?"

"It's Jacob. You know, that guy I was having coffee with? He sounds really upset."

Lex nodded. "And he got our address how?"

"Oh, the Monitor has a list of everyone's contact information. I guess he used that," Clark suggested. "Um, should we just tell him that you're visiting, then?"

"Better yet," Lex replied, "I'll be in my bedroom. Just tell him your roommate's antisocial."

"So the truth, then?" Clark grinned.

"Try and get him out as soon as possible," Lex continued, ignoring Clark. "There's probably some LexCorp stuff lying around here but we don't have time to round it all up."

As if in confirmation of this, there was a knock at the door.

"Take him to the cafe down the street," Lex ordered, rising and heading towards his bedroom. "Oh, and turn off the Playstation." Clark obediently hit the power switch and rounded up one of the controllers before heading to the door.

Jacob wasn't crying, not presently, but he looked like he had been and would do so again, given the slightest prompt. "Hey, what's going on?" Clark asked sympathetically. He and Jacob had become friends since the not-date of doom, but they hadn't quite progressed to the showing-up-at-each-other's-door-in-tears phase. Come to that, only Chloe had ever gotten to that phase with Clark and more often, she showed up and made him cry, rather than crying herself.

"It's s-stupid," Jacob said, shakily. "I'm sorry to barge in on you like th–"

"No problem, it's fine," Clark hastily assured Jacob, waving him inside. "I was just playing a video game." Actually, it had been more of a flirtation game, but that sort of detail was unnecessary. "What happened?"

Jacob allowed Clark to usher him over to the kitchen table. "I had a fight with my dad," he said. "I thought... I thought we were past it all, but he just..." A tear slipped down Jacob's cheek and Clark began to feel that helpless anxiety of being ill-equipped to comfort someone.

"It's... the gay thing?" Clark asked, unsure if his phrasing would give offense.

Jacob nodded, then began to sniffle in earnest. "God, I'm just so sick of his bigoted shit, you know?"

Clark wondered if he should offer food. His mom would have offered food. But how could Clark get up from the table without seeming insensitive? Instead, Clark sat still, feeling big and awkward as hell.

"He pretends to be all liberal and he..." Jacob paused to take a breath and Clark was alarmed to hear a slight wheeze as he did so. "He'll just say the most disgusting things, like I'm supposed to –" another gasp "– just sit there and laugh."

Clark decided to pat Jacob's hand consolingly. They were at that point in the friendship, right? The hand-pat? "What'd he say?" Clark asked, losing courage at the last moment and faking left to grab a napkin, offering it up as a tissue.

Jacob grabbed the napkin and coughed a little. "Oh, just something about –" Another cough, this one a little more pronounced. Jacob was now patting his jacket pockets with one hand, looking a little distressed. "Oh fuck." This expletive was chased immediately by a disturbingly prominent wheeze.

"You have asthma?" Clark deduced, his sensitive hearing picking up on the extreme noisiness of Jacob's constricting bronchioles.

Jacob nodded, then carefully gathered enough breath to say, "I forgot my inhaler at home. Shit." His breathing had very rapidly gone from somewhat noisy to extremely laboured.

Clark stood up, startled. "Should I call an ambulance?" he asked nervously.

Jacob shook his head, then coughed again. It sounded like it was increasingly difficult for him to catch his breath again. "I'll be okay. I just need to chill for a... second." But Jacob's color was quickly fading and Clark was unable to trust that Jacob would be all right. When Jacob went into another coughing fit, Clark instinctively bolted towards Lex's room.

"Lex, you have to... can you drive my friend to the emergency room?" Clark asked, pushing the door open. "I think he's having an asthma attack and he forgot his in–"

Lex was already brushing past Clark and breezing into the kitchen. "Hey, Jacob," Lex said in this eerily calm voice. Jacob, who was looking a bit purple around the lips, looked mildly startled by Lex's presence. "How's it going?" Lex asked, still calmly, sitting down across from Jacob.

Jacob shrugged, not having air at this point to reply.

"Clark, go into the bathroom and run a really hot bath. Make it scalding, keep the door closed, get as much steam as you can," Lex ordered, not taking his eyes off Jacob. "Are you coughing at all?" Clark heard Lex say as Clark gratefully went to follow orders. He wasn't sure how Lex seemed to know what to do, but as he sat on the edge of the tub and twisted the faucet, Clark decided he was happy to let Lex take charge.

There was barely a swirl of steam in the room when Lex came in, leading Jacob. He sat Jacob on the toilet and knelt down beside him. "Concentrate on my voice," Lex said in his CEO tone, which was a slight variant of the sexy tone. "Just keep working on getting the air out, nice and slow. Don't think about breathing in again, just let it happen. Think about someplace quiet, someplace peaceful."

Jacob nodded, hands clenching at his jeans fitfully. "I'm okay," he insisted with an awkward smile. "I'm sorry to be such –" Another coughing fit, and Lex very coolly reached around and thumped a hollowed hand on Jacob's rib cage.

"Clark, I just put a pot of coffee to brew," Lex said. "Can you grab a cup for Jacob?" When Clark looked askance, Lex explained. "It's a bronchodialator. It's not as good as his rescue inhaler, but it's what we've got."

Five endless minutes later, Jacob drained the last of the hot coffee and wiped sweat off his forehead. "That really worked," he said, inhaling deeply with only a slight rattle. "How do you..."

"I had asthma as a kid," Lex replied bringing his hand down in time with Jacob's lessening coughs. "My dad hated me having an inhaler around so my mother used to try holistic approaches when I had an attack. Steam, menthol, coffee, mental imagery..." A wry smile chased his next revelation. "I was the only eight year old at my school who had a thermos of coffee at lunch time."

Clark laughed, relieved to see that Jacob seemed almost recovered. "Thank god you knew," he said appreciatively, sitting down on the side of the tub. "I was freaking out."

"So was I," Jacob chimed in sheepishly. "I was stupid to leave my house without my inhaler, but I was so pissed at my dad... The only things that set me off anymore are cat hair and getting all worked up like that."

Clark reached out and squeezed Jacob's knee, then draped his other arm across Lex's shoulders. "Saved the day."

Lex was tense under Clark's touch, and Jacob's next question told Clark why.

"So... you're Lex Luthor, right?"

Lex nodded once, curtly.

"So you're... Clark's. Um. Roommate?"

Clark suddenly noticed his arm, still resting on Lex's shoulders, might seem a bit... incongruous. But removing it now would be even worse, wouldn't it?

"Yeah, I'm his roommate," Lex repeated coolly, the soothing voice only a distant memory. "Clark, can I have a word? In my room?"

"You're okay?" Clark asked, more out of a desire to avoid the anticipated conversation than any actual concern at this point.

Jacob nodded. "I'm fine. I'll just hang out here and breathe a bit more steam, if that's okay."

"Shout if you need anything," Clark ordered. Lex was already standing by the bathroom door, looking a little impatient and kind of appealingly damp from the steam.

This was so not how Clark wanted to get into Lex's bedroom.

"Well, what are we going to tell him?" Clark asked, closing Lex's bedroom door and taking a surreptitious glance around. It wasn't that he wasn't familiar with Lex's bedroom – Lex usually left the door open – but he'd never been inside before.

Lex sat on the bed and sighed. "What did you tell Pete again?"

Clark grimaced. "I kind of didn't. I mean, I told Pete I couldn't tell him everything, that you were my roommate and it had to do with the scholarship and your business and..." Clark trailed off. "Pete only went with it because he –" knows that I have secrets sometimes. "He's my best friend."

Lex nodded, looking a little weary. Clark felt a pang of guilt for having brought this situation on them, however unintentionally. Lex didn't need any additional stress at the moment.

"Can you tell him that we're... together? Or would he spread that around too much?" Lex asked. "I don't care if other people think that, but it could get back to your parents."

Clark nodded. "I think if I asked him to keep it a secret, he would. I mean, we're sort of friends."

Now the crisis had passed, Lex seemed diminished somehow, looking both younger and older than his age. Clark sat next to Lex, unsure if his presence was a comfort or an irritant. "You like him?" Lex said finally, in a small voice.

Clark frowned. "He's a good guy."

"We're past the halfway point," Lex observed. "Five more months. Just think, at the end of August, you could turn up at his door, crying because you and I broke up." There was a grain of hardness in the center of Lex's playful words, something grating that Clark couldn't bear to hear.

"I don't want to date Jacob, Lex," Clark replied reassuringly. "I don't..." He considered his words carefully before proceeding. "Aside from our agreement, I really think it's better if I don't get involved with anyone right now. I mean, I just got over Chloe, really, and now... I'm just figuring out how I feel about liking guys." Clark hadn't said it before, not explicitly, not to Lex. "It's maybe not the best time for starting something new."

Lex's hands, which had been twining with nervous energy, went suddenly still. He nodded slowly, seemingly lost in thought, then looked up at Clark and smiled faintly. "So what are we going to do with Jacob? I assume he's here because he doesn't want to be at home."

Clark shrugged, trying to ignore a dark feeling of worry, like he'd just closed a door he hadn't meant to close. "Maybe he could... could he stay the night?"

"I'll get some sheets for the couch," Lex said, rising. "If Jacob has another rescue inhaler anywhere else, we should go and pick it up for him. I'm not convinced coffee will do the job if he has another attack and I don't really like the idea of hitting an emergency room on a Thursday night before spring break."

Clark nodded, pretending it didn't bother him, the way Lex was so businesslike all of a sudden. "He might have one at the Monitor offices. I have a key, I can grab it."

"If not, you can get one from any pharmacist if you explain the situation," Lex said, sticking his hands in his pockets and pacing a little.

Then the bedroom door creaked open slightly and Jacob poked his head in. "Um, Clark? Can I just... I'll go home. I have to face my dad sooner or later."

"Are you sure?" Clark asked, concerned. Jacob's breathing sounded almost free again, but Clark remembered how quickly he had gone from a tiny wheeze to purple lips.

Jacob nodded. "If I could just... I'm kind of beat. Can I just lie down for an hour or so and then I'll go?"

Lex waved a hand towards his immaculately made bed. "I'll give you a lift home when you're ready," he offered, then walked out of the room.

Clark was left feeling awkward and intrusive in Lex's room, but he knew why Lex had left him alone with Jacob. Right. Now for the lying. "Lex and I..." Clark began.

Jacob smiled. "I get it, Clark. Don't worry, I won't say anything if you don't want me to."

Clark nodded gratefully.

"You're right, by the way. I didn't see it before, but in person... he's really hot."

Clark grinned. "You should see him without his shirt on."

The best thing Clark could say for the pre-spring break party Pete forced him to attend was that alien hearing made it much easier to understand what people were saying under the impossibly loud thud of the speakers. Otherwise, with staggeringly drunk people careening about, random girls making grabs at his ass, and Pete occasionally coming by to extol the glories of college life, there wasn't much to be had in the way of entertainment.

Clark stood in a corner, awkwardly downing cup after cup of beer, wondering if he could get drunk if he overwhelmed his body with sheer volume. Unfortunately, the only noticeable effect was that Clark had to pee every half hour, which led to standing in line for the bathroom, which usually meant getting groped by the girls in line.

But Clark had resolved to make an effort with Pete, and if Pete could come to his apartment and patiently ignore Clark and Lex's domestic squabbles, then Clark could surely be stoic about public molestation and frequent peeing.

By the fourth time Clark found himself needing bladder relief, however, he decided it was entirely within reason to make use of the great outdoors (or at least the frat house lawn) instead of risking another visit to the toilet. Martha wouldn't approve, but then she wouldn't approve of the party in general, never mind Clark's breach of urination etiquette.

He'd only just unzipped when he heard sounds of struggle from a nearby clump of trees. It took a few seconds of close listening to verify that the struggle wasn't of an amorous nature, but then the words, "No, please stop!" cut through the night. Clark didn't think – he ran, faster than he had since the Morgan Edge incident, hoping this wasn't another maneuver to document his powers.

But either Edge had gotten more extreme, or this was the real thing. The guy was already moving, the girl was already crying, he was already – god, he was raping her. Clark launched himself forward, still moving at an impossible speed, and knocked the rapist aside, kicking him in the ribs and then knocking him unconscious for good measure. The girl, when Clark turned to look, was crawling away sobbing, seemingly unaware of how she'd been rescued, clearly drunk or drugged. Clark reached out for her and got an elbow in the groin for his trouble, along with a healthy scream. "Shh, no, you're safe now," Clark murmured, deciding not to bother with a fake wince. There were more important things. "Come on, we'll get you in the house and then to the emergency room, okay? Do you have a friend at the party?"

But she only collapsed, shaking. Clark had to work very hard to resist the urge to return to the rapist and just break his neck right there. "I'll get help," Clark spoke, though the girl hardly seemed to hear him, and then he ran into the house.

Pete, though more than half drunk, was a Smallville boy after all and could go from party animal to deadly serious in seconds. It only took Clark a minute to explain the situation, then he bolted back outside to make sure the girl was still there. She was, but the rapist had disappeared, Clark noticed with a sinking sense of fear. Could the rapist have gotten away on his own, or did he have an accomplice? Was this one of Edge's set-ups? The girl seemed genuinely shocked and terrified... Clark found it hard to believe she could be acting, which meant the rape had been real, whatever its motivation.

They were quickly joined by a crowd and the girl's friends took over, taking her off to the rape crisis center at the Metropolis General Hospital. Clark was left with a hollow sense of nausea, torn between fearing for himself and despising the crime he'd witnessed. There would be questioning by the police, there would be difficult explanations to make, but for the moment, all Clark could think of was whether someone had been watching the whole thing, videotaping it for Edge's purposes.

"Man, you okay?" Pete asked, passing an arm around Clark's shoulders.

Clark nodded.

"You want me to call Lex for you?"

Clark half-laughed, finding it funny that Pete was volunteering to locate his alleged significant other. "Nah. I think... I'm gonna walk home, Pete. Need time to clear my head, you know?"

"I'll pick you up at ten tomorrow morning?"

A nod sufficed as an answer.

Clark was halfway back to the apartment when his cell phone rang. He'd given his number to one of the victim's friends and he expected the call was from her, but to his shock, he saw that the display read 'Lane L'. With great trepidation, Clark hit the answer button.


"Clark?" Chloe. That made sense. Chloe was probably staying with her cousin for spring break. The only question was why she would call Clark in the middle of the night.

"Hey," Clark said, trying to sound enthusiastic and not doubtful.

"Clark, there's something I need to tell you."

Chloe's voice was tense and fearful, and Clark's mind quickly ran through the list of bad things Chloe could have to say to him. He had just considered the possibility of Gabe Sullivan's illness or death when Chloe spoke again.

"Lois is rushing a story on you as we speak. She'll kill me when she finds out that I tipped you off, but this way at least you'll have the chance to clear out of the city, make a break while no one's watching. I figure I owe you one, after what you did for me and my dad at Christmas."

Clark's breath stopped. Oh, god, the spies weren't Edge's, they were the Planet's, and Lois Lane had somehow witnessed Clark's heroics tonight and tomorrow he'd be splashed all over the front page of the Daily Planet, 'Freak Boy Saves College Girl' or something like that, his parents would die of panic, Lex would never forgive him for not telling–

Chloe interrupted Clark's thoughts again. "Why didn't you tell me you got married?"

Of course Lex would choose tonight, of all nights, to have a social life. Clark frantically paced the apartment, listening to Lex's voicemail message yet again. Where could he be at 3 a.m.?

"You've reached my cell phone. I'm not available at the moment to take your call. Please leave your name and number at the tone along with a brief message, or you can contact my office at –"

Clark hit the disconnect button ferociously. He'd already left two desperate messages in the last ten minutes. A third wasn't going to change anything.

Right. Three in the morning. The Planet would already have gone to press by now. In an hour or so, the paper would go out to be tossed on every citizen's doorstep and the Planet website would display Lois's story of the year. Clark and Lex had an hour to make their escape before the press descended. But Clark had no idea where Lex had gone or when he'd be back.

Clark flipped his phone open and hit redial.

One ring, two rings, three, it was about to go to voicemail again –"Lex here."

"Oh, thank fucking god," Clark groaned. "Lex, where are you?"

"I'm just getting in my car, on my way home. Clark, what's wrong?"

Clark was suddenly unable to talk. He swallowed several times, but no voice came to his rescue.

"Clark? Are you there?" Now Lex sounded almost panicked, and no wonder, with Clark calling at this time of night.

"I... Lex, why isn't our marriage certificate in a safety deposit box somewhere?" Clark knew intellectually this wasn't the salient point, but it suddenly seemed like the most important question.

"What – Clark, were you looking in my... What's going on?"

Clark ran his fingers over the certificate, which he'd found in Lex's underwear drawer along with his wedding band. Lex had a lot of kind of skimpy underwear. "You need to get home right away," Clark ordered. "Drive fast."

"My lawyer, he needed the serial number for a document he was preparing," Lex blurted, sounding frantic. "I only took it out on Wednesday, I was taking it back first thing tomorrow."

God. Dumb luck, then. Sheer stupid luck. "How fast could we leave the state, if we had to?" Clark asked, spinning Lex's ring on the surface of the table.

"Clark, what the hell?" Lex returned, stunned. "Jesus, what happened?"

"Jacob. It must have been Jacob, when he was resting in your room," Clark replied distractedly. "That little shit, I wonder if he even staged the asthma attack?"

"Wait a second... are you saying your little boyfriend saw our marriage certificate and leaked the story to the media?"

Clark took a moment to marvel that Lex's mind was able to extract the story from the fragmentary thoughts Clark had been spouting. "That's my best guess, though I bet he wasn't looking for the certificate. I mean, Chloe said that Lois said she had a source at the Monitor and I don't know who else could have –"

"I'll be there in five minutes," Lex interrupted, then hung up.

Clark folded his phone up again and resumed pacing. He should pack. He should decide where they were going. God, he should call his parents and warn them.

Clark was about to be outed as Lex Luthor's secret husband. At school, everyone would look at him and know. They probably had some hideous yearbook picture of him blown up on the front page of the Planet, or maybe Jacob had a picture of Clark from the party a few weeks ago. The phone would start ringing and there would be all sorts of questions – why hadn't Lex told the public, why was the marriage a secret, how had they met, when had they fallen in love...

Clark sincerely hoped his father's heart wasn't going to stop with shock.

At least Pete wouldn't be too upset. Clark could explain the whole story to him now, and he'd probably think it wasn't such a bad plan. After all, he didn't seem to care that Clark was bisexual, or that he and Lex were living together... why would he kick up a fuss about a sham marriage?

Chloe, on the other hand... God, she'd been pissed off. Clark, once he'd extracted as much information as she could give, had spent a good half hour improvising one lie after another about how an outwardly straight Kansan farmboy met and married a billionaire's son for love within a week. Clark had been too wary of Chloe's connection with Lois to tell her the whole truth, though he regretted that fact. It wasn't that he didn't trust Chloe – he didn't trust Lois not to claw any information Clark provided out of her cousin. Chloe had simply kept repeating, "But your dad, Clark! He's going to kill you!"

Which wasn't the most comforting of thoughts, however true it was.

Lex burst in just in time to save Clark from a deeper contemplation of what kind of weapon his father would use. "How long do we have?" Lex barked.

Clark glanced at the clock on the stove. "Less than an hour until the Planet hits the streets."

"Shit. Okay, I'm calling a press conference for eight o'clock then," Lex announced, then disappeared into his room. He emerged again, cell phone clamped to his ear, holding out a thick sheaf of papers. "Sign wherever there's a – Nancy. I need you here now."

Clark took the proffered documents. At the top of the first page, it said, "Divorce Settlement". Little purple flags stuck out in various places, indicating where Clark's signature was needed.

"Bring your laptop and get here. Don't ask questions, we don't have time."

"Lex, what the hell is this?" Clark asked, shaking the packet of papers.

"Divorce settlement," Lex said, already dialing another number. "Marty? Marty, listen. I need two tickets to Vermont, first flight out after nine. Also, two tickets to Hawaii and two to Toronto. Then I'll need to get a couple of stand-ins for myself and three for my friend. I'll have a picture and description faxed over within half an hour. You can call the usual ones for... Of course I'm not going to Toronto. It's March... Well, okay, make it Los Angeles, then."

Clark was frozen with confusion, listening disbelievingly as Lex closed the conversation with Marty. Before he could dial yet another person, Clark clamped his hand down over Lex's. "Lex."

"Clark, I have to call –"

"What. The fuck?"

Lex sighed shortly. "Just sign the papers, I'll explain when I get this under control."

"You want me to sign a divorce settlement?" Clark demanded disbelievingly. "It's only been seven months!"

Lex nodded once. "Don't worry, you're still getting the hundred grand I promised you. It's all in there, take a look if you don't believe me."

"But you won't get the thirty million," Clark protested stupidly. "It's not a year yet."

Lex nodded again, impatiently. "I know. Just... sign the papers, Clark."

"But... why?"

"Because the deal went bad," Lex answered. "This wasn't supposed to go public. The least I can do is make good on the bargain, since it's my fault."

"But it was my friend who leaked the story," Clark observed. "And he was snooping around looking for dirt on LexCorp."

"And I'm the one who made that possible by being careless with the marriage certificate."

"Lex, I knew all along that there was a chance this could happen."

"Clark, your parents are going to be angry enough. At least this way you'll have a chance of –"

"No, Lex. No, I'm not signing this!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Clark. If you don't divorce me and disappear right now, you're going to be under intense media scrutiny. It'll be bad enough as it is. If you stick around, do you think they'll leave any stone unturned? Are you prepared to have your life investigated, to be hounded constantly by reporters and cameras?"

Clark swallowed, surprised. The way Lex said that, it was almost as if... but Lex couldn't know. "Are you implying I have something to hide?" he managed with an uneasy grin.

Lex rolled his eyes, and the mundanity of the action was enough to reassure Clark that Lex knew nothing. "No one's life is pristine, Clark, not even a boy scout like you. At best, people will say that you're a gold digger. What do you think that'll mean for your social life, your career later on? Come on, sign the papers."

Clark shook his head and laid the agreement down. "No, I made a deal and I'm not backing out just because it's getting difficult suddenly. Like you said, now the media knows, I'll be under scrutiny anyway. I'd rather do that with your help than without. Besides, if I'm a gold digger, divorcing you is exactly what they'd expect me to do. If I was really your husband, I would stand by you."

Lex pressed his lips together, looking torn between anger and amusement. "So you're saying you want to stay with me."

Clark grinned, sensing Lex was about to cave. "Yep, that's what I'm saying."

"Because we had a deal."

"And because I'm your friend." Clark dared to meet Lex's gaze, then realized he was still sort of holding Lex's hand, even though Lex didn't seem about to use his phone anymore.

"You're a hell of a friend," Lex replied, wryly. "Thank you, Clark," he added in a more serious tone. "Just for that, I'll brave the Kent farm and go with you to break the news to your folks."

Clark felt all the color drop out of his cheeks. "We don't have to –"

"Yes, we do. Come on, we'll leave now and get there in time to beat the paper."

Clark swallowed hard, casting a longing look at the divorce papers before steeling himself for the ordeal to come. "Yeah, you're right."

Lex gently tugged his hand free. "I'm canceling that press conference. If we're staying together, we'd better just disappear for a week. Lucky it's spring break. Lots of air traffic, lots of chances for false leads for the media. Hopefully by the time we get back, we'll be old news."

"It's like a second honeymoon," Clark announced, trying to ignore the sense of doom that oppressed him when he thought of Smallville. "I mean, if we'd had a first honeymoon. Where are we going?"

Lex paused before answering. "Where do you want to go? Anywhere in the country."

Clark grinned. "Anywhere?"

Clark couldn't sit still, which was a problem because, as it turned out, Porsches were not made for squirming. He barely had his legs inside the vehicle, his knees were up around his chin and the dashboard was constantly making small advances, slowly crushing Clark into a Porsche-sized cube.

And damn it if Lex didn't look as though he were sprawled out in the cab of a diesel truck.

"Stop squirming," Lex spoke, inscrutable in mirrored sunglasses.

"Lex, this thing is like the size of a matchbox," Clark whined, wondering how and when his left foot had become wedged under the glove compartment. "It's not made for people my size."

"You're just shitting yourself over having to break the news to your parents," Lex observed calmly. "I'm not too excited about the prospect myself. Did you call Pete and tell him?"

Clark nodded, miserable. He had made the call to Pete while Lex had been packing. "He laughed for about three minutes."

Lex smirked.

"No, seriously, Lex, doesn't this seat move back or something? I swear my seat is farther forward than yours."

Lex glanced down. "Nope. They're the same."

Clark was busily trying to find a place for his right elbow. It was either pressed up against the glass of the window or wedged into his side, which was surprisingly painful. And if it hurt him, then he probably shouldn't risk popping out the window with his stupid superhuman elbow. "Can I roll down the window?"

"Windows don't roll in a Porsche, Clark. And no. It's March."

"I don't mind the cold."

"I do. Okay, what's our opening line? The opening line is the most important."

Clark scowled at his seatbelt and resolutely stuffed his elbow into the crack between the seat and the door. "Hey, Mom and Dad, there's someone I'd like you to meet?" he suggested testily.

"They've already met me," Lex pointed out. "In fact, your dad likes me. I'm more worried about my mother-in-law."

Clark groaned at this phrase and lolled his head back, promptly developing a new animosity for the headrest on his seat, which jabbed right into his spine. "Dad's going for the shotgun."

"I figure it's really you they'll be angry with," Lex continued optimistically. "After all, you're the one who's broken the Kent moral code. I'm Mephistopheles, you're Faust. No one blames Mephistopheles. Corruption is his nature."

Clark shot Lex a dirty glance. "Can't we just get on the plane and call them from –"

"No. Then they would be mad at me."

"You're such an asshole," Clark grumbled. "You're not telling your dad in person, are you?"

Lex laughed. "God, I wish I was. I'd love to see the look on his face." Lex's gloved hands flexed slightly on the wheel. "When he figured out I was bi, he gave me this whole lecture about how the Greeks separated domestic love and martial love, how it was all right to fuck a fellow warrior, but I'd better make sure I had the wife and two kids at home for PR purposes."

"Your dad is an asshole, too," Clark observed.

"He had a point," Lex conceded. "I'm never going to be elected to public office now that I've been married to a man, at least not in Kansas."

There was something a little bruised in the way Lex said that, in spite of his flippant tone, that made Clark reach out and squeeze Lex's shoulder. "Sorry."

Lex grinned, white teeth flashing, and glanced over at Clark. "How could I regret marrying such a fine piece of ass as yourself?" he leered. "You're worth the loss of my political aspirations any day."

Clark smiled back, only blushing a little, but the smile fell away when Lex turned his attention back to the road and spoke, more seriously. "What about 'Hi Mom, hi Dad, I'll never be President, but my husband's got a Porsche'?"

Clark groaned again. "I'm dead."

As it turned out, Clark and Lex didn't beat the paper. They arrived only moments after it did, the paper boy gawking, stationary on his bike as the Porsche sped past him.

The headline screamed, "Lex Luthor's Secret Marriage Revealed!" Clark looked kind of stoned in the picture Jacob had provided. Lois Lane's byline dominated the head of the article, which was short but potent.

Clark and Lex stood over the paper where it lay on the porch, silently perusing the horror in front of them.

"We could hide it in the cornfield," Clark offered.

"I have some matches in the trunk," Lex suggested.

"How fast do you think we can get to the neighbours' porches?" Clark asked.

"I could probably buy out all the copies in town," Lex proposed.

"Maybe we could cut the cable service and the phone lines," Clark said thoughtfully.

"Too late." Shit, that was Dad's voice, and oh god, Jonathan was coming up behind them on the porch and of course he was already awake, he was always awake by this time. Clark turned, fearing the next moment would bring a speeding bullet Lex's way, but Dad seemed eerily calm. With a businesslike frown, Jonathan said, "Chloe called a couple of hours back. Said she didn't trust you to break the news yourself. Lex, how are you?"

Lex smiled slightly, pulling off his sunglasses. "I'm fine, Mr. Kent. How are you?"

Jonathan smiled in return, but it was the creepiest goddamn smile Clark had ever seen, more like the rictus of death than an actual sign of goodwill. "I'm a bit tired, Lex." Then his gaze shifted to Clark. "Inside. Now."

Clark wanted to ask what had happened to Clark being a grown man and trustworthy and to protest that he was Faust and it wasn't his fault, it was Mephistopheles here, but the look Jonathan leveled at him made him incapable of any reaction other than a terse, "Yes, sir."

"Lex, why don't you go up to Clark's loft? We need to talk to our son in private."

Lex was a dirty rat bastard, because he didn't put his arm around Clark and say some line like Patrick Swayze at the end of "Dirty Dancing" about nobody putting Clark in a corner. Instead, he nodded once and took off in the direction of the barn, not even giving Clark a reassuring look on the way.

For better or for worse, my ass.

Things had never been like this before. Usually, Dad was the one who got unreasonably furious and Mom was the one who was the voice of moderation and Clark was the one who flung Dad's platitudes back in his face.

Everything was all screwed up.

"How could you do this, Clark Jerome Kent?"

"Now, Martha, give the boy a chance to explain. I'm sure there's an explanation, this is all some sort of mix-up."

Mom had never seemed so big before. Clark hunched his shoulders unhappily and settled further into his chair, trying not to look directly at her – it was like looking at the sun on a scorching Kansas summer day.

"That you would lie to us, that you would keep this from us... Clark, I am your mother, why on earth wouldn't you trust me enough to tell me?"

"It's a mistake, Martha. Tell her, Clark."

Clark extended his left hand silently, displaying the wedding band.

Martha's mouth fell open and she looked from her husband to her son, clearly about to confirm every stereotype about redheads and bad tempers.

"Clark, what were you thinking?" she spat, seizing his hand by the wrist and shaking it. "I don't care about you being bisexual, lord knows I saw that one coming a long time ago, but this? Getting married at your age? To a Luthor? And lying about it?"

"Clark's not bisexual, Martha," Jonathan interjected heartily. "Just because the boy liked dolls when he was little –"

"I'm an alien, I didn't know that boys weren't supposed to like dolls," Clark blurted desperately, hoping to steer the conversation in a more manageable direction. Mom was squeezing his hand so hard it hurt, which had to be some kind of freak occurrence.

"Jonathan, you're not helping." Whoa. When had Mom gotten so scary? "Clark, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Clark looked from one parent to the other. "Dad's right, Mom. I'm not in love with Lex, it's not what it looks like." Before Jonathan could triumph verbally, Clark went on. "Dad, Mom's right. I'm bisexual. But not because of the dolls."

He took a deep breath, aided by the moment of stunned silence that reigned, then said it. "Lex and I are married. We got married back in August, before school started. I only met him at the scholarship interview. See, his mother had a lot of money, and when she died, she left thirty million dollars to him as a marriage bequest. But in order to collect the money, he had to be married for a year. And with his father disowning him and Lex starting his own company, he needed the capital. The deal was, we get married for a year and Lex gets the money, and in exchange, I get the LexCorp scholarship, a hundred thousand dollars. At the end of the year, we get divorced, no harm done, and we're both happier. You guys didn't have to mortgage the farm and Lex doesn't have to crawl back to his father."

There was more gaping, Mom gradually turning paler and Dad getting redder.

"I know it was wrong to lie to you both, but I knew you'd never agree and we never intended to let anyone know. This story in the paper, it was an accident. Lex offered to divorce me this morning, still wanted to give me the money, but I said no, because we had a deal. I understand that I'm going under a microscope here, but look at the article – it's all about Lex, Mom. All it says about me is that I'm a college freshman. People don't care about me, I'm just Lex's boytoy or something, so you don't have to be worried about the press snooping around me. If anything, it'll distract them from me later on in my life, because no one will ever think of me as anything but... anyway, they won't ever suspect because I've already been labeled by the media. And hey, if I'm going to come out, at least this is sort of an efficient way to do it. You won't have to call Grandpa Clark, Mom, he'll read about it in the paper and –"

Mom started crying. Dad looked ready to go for his shotgun.

Things were sort of back to normal, but Clark still felt like utter shit.

"Dad, you're the one who always says, a good man sticks to his end of the bargain. That's what I'm doing," he attempted weakly.

Mom shook her head slowly, disappointment etched into every line of her face. "Clark, this was a foolish thing to do."

"Your mother and I would go bankrupt a hundred times rather than have you involve yourself in this sort of –" began Dad furiously, but he was interrupted by Lex's knock on the screen door.

"Clark, we have to hit the road if we're going to make our flight."

Clark thought longingly of his swim trunks and sandals, tucked into his suitcase destined for Honolulu. He briefly considered lying on a beach getting a really good tan and learning how to surf and watching Lex swim in clear blue water. He considered the odds of having to share a bed in their hotel room, figured they were pretty good. Then he stood up and looked at Lex. "I'm not going."

Lex stood still on the other side of the screen door for a moment, then silently pulled it open and stepped into the kitchen. "We'll stay at the mansion," he said simply.

Clark felt his jaw drop. He hadn't thought for a second Lex would actually choose to stay in Smallville. On the drive here, Lex had explained his travel agent had several Lex and Clark stand-ins flying to several locations, all designed to confuse media reports. Clark had assumed if he chose to stay in Smallville, Lex would simply vacation with one of the Clark look-a-likes. After all, Lex had assured him that the security against paparazzi at the hotel in Hawaii was absolutely watertight – at best, they would get a blurry zoomed-in picture of Lex and the Clark double, nowhere near close enough for anyone to know that it wasn't really Clark. Moreover, Lex needed this vacation. In spite of the stress that had occasioned it, and in spite of the horrors that awaited them at the end of spring break, Lex had been surprisingly cheerful about going away.

"You'll stay here with us," corrected Dad. "At least, Clark will."

"Mr. Kent, it's important that Clark and I disappear off the media's radar. The farm is one of the first places they'll check. It would be better if we hide out at the mansion."

Clark watched as Lex reached for his sunglasses again. "Speaking of which, we'd better get over there. Mr. Kent, one of my PR people will be in contact within the next hour or so. They've prepared a press release on your behalf, but of course we'll need your approval. My advice is to take the phone off the hook and keep to the house for a few days. I can have my staff bring you groceries and anything else you might need." He reached into his jacket pocket and extracted a business card. "Here's my cell number. Only you, Clark, and my top employees have this number and it's a secure connection. Clark and I will come back later tonight, after dark. You can talk more then."

Clark stood up, torn between wanting to hug Lex and wanting to hug his mother. She looked so shocked, so worried... and Lex was being so calm, so confident without stepping over any boundaries of his relation to the family. "Mom, Dad, I'm sorry," Clark spoke, needing to fill the silence that ensued.

Dad glanced between Lex and Clark, then silently left the room.

Mom looked like she was considering calling him back, but then she just stretched out her hands to Clark and drew him into her arms. "You know we love you, honey," she murmured into his shoulder. "Your father's just... it's a lot for him to take in."

Clark kissed his mother's soft hair, comforted by her familiar scent and shape. "I know, Mom. Me too." He pulled back gently and looked over his shoulder at Lex, who had a strangely wounded look on his face. "We'll be back tonight," Clark repeated, more to reassure himself than his mother. "Mom, it's going to be okay. Call me if you need anything."

Martha nodded, then folded her arms over her chest and forced a weak smile onto her lips. "You know, I really wanted to be there when you got married."

Clark convulsively touched his wedding band, which still felt heavy and strange on his left hand. "You will be. When it's for real."

"This is amazing." Clark turned around several times, feeling a little giddy with relief to be away from his parents and their tangible gloom.

"It's a ridiculous piece of vanity that costs me exorbitant amounts in property tax every year," Lex replied, very pointedly not gawking at the ceiling as Clark was doing.

Clark had been at the mansion over the Christmas break, but then he'd been so preoccupied with the news of Lex's employee buy-out, he hadn't taken the time to be properly impressed. "So why haven't you sold it?" There was a very cool echo where Clark was standing, in the middle of the front entrance. Clark resisted the urge to speak more, just to hear his own voice resonating around the space – Lex would think that was childish.

"Because, strangely, no one wants to buy a Scottish castle situated conveniently close to Bumfuck USA." Lex was crabby. He was probably thinking about the beaches and surfing and maybe even Clark swimming. Clark still couldn't believe that Lex had elected to stay in Smallville rather than spend a week on faux honeymoon with a Clark lookalike. Clark could only attribute the decision to Lex wanting to reciprocate Clark's loyalty in refusing to sign the divorce papers.

"Do you have any rolling desk chairs? You could get around this whole first storey on rolling desk chairs," Clark observed, sock-skating across the marble. "It'd be fun."

Lex grunted. "I have to make some calls. Pick a bedroom, any one you'd like. Mine's the one with the –"

"Purple bedspread?" Clark suggested wickedly, skating backwards. He nearly fell as he hit an uneven seam in the flooring.

Lex just turned and walked down the hall, which Clark took to mean that Lex really did have a purple bedspread.

It took Clark three hours to find and explore every room in the castle. With his x-ray vision, he managed to make his way into several secret passageways, one of which terminated in a bedroom Clark claimed as his own, mostly because the other end of the passageway opened into the biggest entertainment center Clark had ever seen. After a substantial nap, trying to make up for the previous night's lack of rest, Clark made his way to the television room. There was a satellite dish outside on the back lawn and sure enough, the television was pulling in hundreds of stations.

Clark's picture only showed up on about a third of the English ones and a handful of stations broadcasting in other languages. They were still using the stoned picture. Clark could only hope his mother was too surprised by the marriage to notice how glazed Clark's eyes were in that picture.

"Local Boy Weds LexCorp CEO," Lex spoke from the doorway. Clark turned to see that Lex was holding up a copy of the Smallville Ledger. "That's probably the only paper in the world where you're the one leading the headline," he observed sardonically. "They even rushed an edition."

"They called me a boy?" Clark asked, getting up on his knees to hang his arms over the back of the couch. "I'm nineteen!"

"They used a weird picture of you, too," Lex continued, walking into the room. "It's like a prom picture, but you're wearing some sort of crown made out of leaves."

"Oh, shit. They didn't use the – oh, geez, I knew that was going to bite me in the ass someday! I'm gonna kill Chloe!" Clark had seized the paper and was now staring at a picture of himself as Corn King in junior year. Chloe had wanted them to win the title of Corn King and Queen for some report she was preparing on popular culture in rural centers. Clark suspected she had just been after the stupid tiara and the silver corn wand.

"Are you holding a cob of corn?" Lex asked, peering over Clark's shoulder.

Clark scowled and crumpled the paper up. "Corn King. Don't ask."

Lex, surprisingly, was silent as he made his way around to the other side of the couch. Once he sat down, however, he spoke. "I didn't know I was marrying royalty."

"Shut up."

"I hope I didn't offend the populace of Corndom by not showing you the proper respect."

"Shut up."

"Do I get my own corn crown now?"


"The only reason I ask is that I'm kind of allergic to corn. Do you think they'd let me get away with a silk replica?"


"No, you're right. A true corn queen would accept no substitutes."

Clark lunged. Lex's serious countenance melted into a wicked grin, which didn't disappear even when Clark had Lex pinned in under ten seconds.

Clark was trying not to giggle, but it was difficult when Lex was grinning at him like that, not to mention the way he was wriggling slightly, which was distracting as hell. "You are never. To mention. The corn thing. Again," Clark intoned as darkly as he could.

Lex was laughing and struggling against Clark. "Yes, your majesty."

Clark bit his lip to keep from smiling and pressed Lex further into the leather couch. "You think I'm kidding?" he growled, shifting his weight so Lex was lying under him.

"There's nothing funny about corn," Lex agreed, with a brusque, hearty tone.

Clark couldn't resist. He burst out laughing and let go of Lex's hands. "You sounded exactly like my dad," Clark snorted, burying his face on Lex's shoulder. Lex was laughing too and his shirt smelled really nice. He had changed since they'd arrived at the mansion, Clark noted absently.

As their laughter subsided, Clark became aware that he was still lying on top of Lex, that they were stretched out on the couch, that they were touching all along the lengths of their bodies. Lex was still smiling but his grin slowly faded as Clark lifted his head to see Lex's eyes. Lex's lips were still curled a little around the corners, but they had gone still, his pupils dark and wide with anticipation. Clark felt himself getting uncomfortably warm looking into Lex's eyes. Nervously, Clark licked his lips. He was going to kiss Lex. He was going to do it now.

Clark closed his eyes, unable to bear the beauty of Lex's features, and leaned in close, aiming for the outside edge of Lex's smile. It was a quiet kiss, tender and tentative. Lex's breath stopped while Clark kept his mouth against Lex's skin, only resuming when Clark shyly retreated. But Lex's eyes, when Clark gained enough courage to look, were hooded and distant.

"Your parents are going to ask you if we're fucking," Lex spoke in a half-whisper.

Clark nodded, though he had only the vaguest idea of what Lex was saying.

"Do you really want to lie to them again?" Lex asked, now speaking quietly. "Because I think the only way they're going to forgive you for this is if you admit that there's nothing between us."

"Nothing," Clark repeated stupidly, still trying to separate sensation from thought. "There's nothing?" he managed, latching onto that thread.

Lex shifted a little, enough so Clark could feel he was half-hard. "This... is complicated enough," Lex said. "If your parents think I'm paying you for –"

"I'd do it for free," Clark said hastily, then proceeded to blush thoroughly. "I mean –"

"And getting involved sexually, when we're living together, when we're married... Clark, you're too young. You don't know."

Clark leaned down, certain another kiss would quell Lex's anxieties, but Lex turned his head at the last moment so Clark caught his ear instead. "I'm not some blushing virgin," Clark protested, then blushed some more. "Okay, well, I blush, yeah, but that's like a complexion thing, it doesn't mean I can't –"

"Clark. No," Lex interrupted firmly. "Let me go."

Clark felt something deep inside him crumple, but he obediently shifted back onto his heels and let Lex get up. Lex stood, but made no motion to leave the room immediately. Instead, he stuck his hands in his pockets and stared at the coffee table. He looked defeated, exhausted.

"Lex, I'm sorry," Clark blurted. "I thought you wanted it."

Lex sighed. "It's not that I don't want it, Clark." He looked up at Clark and produced a small painful smile. "It's just that you're better than this."

It was a late dinner with his parents, and it went well into the night. Lex tacitly refused to be exiled to the barn again, instead sitting quietly and observing the confrontation as it unfolded. It had only happened a very few times before, that Clark had felt he was in the right and his parents couldn't or wouldn't agree, but as always, it came down to one very specific sticking point.

"You can't protect me forever," Clark said, with somewhat less vim than he'd intended.

Mom sighed and rested her forehead on her hand. "We just want you to understand that your actions have repercussions," she spoke tiredly.

"I realize that," Clark rejoined, with more spirit.

"Yet you put yourself in this situation," Jonathan said impatiently. "Clark, it was a stupid thing to do."

Clark shook his head. "It was hasty, and maybe I didn't think it through enough, but I refuse to believe that it would have been better for you guys to put us all at financial risk just so I could afford to go to Grandville Community College's arts program. There's no way I could have foreseen what happened, Dad. It was just rotten luck."

"The point is that you shouldn't have put yourself in a position like this," Martha said.

"No, the point is that I did. And I'm not going back on my decision now. Lex needs me. He's my friend. And I need him. You have no idea how good he's been to me, how much he's helped me with school and with the Monitor..."

"I'm not denying that. I believe you that Lex is a good friend to you, Clark," Martha replied in an unconvincing way. "I just don't know if you owe this to him."

"We're not fucking," Clark said bluntly, making his father jump and his mother sigh. "We're not! So you can just forget the idea that he's extorting this loyalty from me because he's got me chained to his bedpost."

"Clark, I don't care for your language," Martha said sharply.

"It's better that I just said it," Clark insisted. "You were thinking it anyway. You've been thinking it since Christmas, Mom. But the truth is, we're just friends." And it was horrible to admit it, but Clark had to concede Lex was right. This information did seem to make his parents relax visibly, once they'd recovered from his method of delivery. Clark pointedly didn't look in Lex's direction. If he did, he'd blush.

"I wanted to stay in Smallville because I didn't want to leave when you're both so angry with me," Clark said, after a few moments passed. "But I'm not seeking your approval. I know that you think I did wrong, and I know that I think I'm in the right. We're never going to see eye to eye on that. All I want is for you to forgive me for making a choice that you see as a mistake. I need you guys to support me now, because it's too late to change what I did in August."

Dad got up and left the room again.

Mom reached across the table and squeezed Clark's hand. "When did you get so grown up?" she asked wistfully.

Clark thought of the way he'd jumped Lex earlier in the day, knew that if Lex hadn't stopped him, he would still be fighting with his parents, and on much shakier moral ground. "I'm not grown up," he answered gravely. "But I'm trying to get there." He looked over at Lex, who was so still, Clark knew his parents had almost forgotten he was present. Clark wanted to convey gratitude, concede Lex's rightness, but Lex's eyes were fixed on Clark and Martha's joined hands. There was a strange expression of sadness on his face.

The next day brought several reports of Clark and Lex's location. Clark was amused to find out they'd not only travelled to every place Lex's travel agent had chosen, but they'd also been spotted as far away as Paris, Winnipeg, and Hong Kong. So far, no one had bothered to check Smallville and Lex's mansion, though reporters came by the Kent farm early Sunday morning to request information from Clark's parents.

Martha must have lied like a pro, since the afternoon news reported Clark Kent's parents were shocked and dismayed to 'learn of their son's departure'. Lionel Luthor had done one better, appearing on the six o'clock news heartily assuring reporters he was well aware of his son's marriage, that he'd known all along, and that his family simply wanted to maintain a low public profile and enjoy their lives in privacy.

Lex snorted at this when Clark called him into the room to watch Lionel speak. "Yes, very private to call a press conference and lie about your relationship with your son," Lex said dryly.

Lois's article on Monday was all about Clark. Apparently she'd done her legwork over the weekend and had managed to get interviews with several of Clark's friend and several more complete strangers who also claimed an acquaintance. Most asserted they'd had no prior knowledge of Clark's marriage, but a few (most of whom were in the complete stranger camp) spoke wisely of Clark's discretion in mentioning his marriage and his oft-spoken desire for privacy and anonymity.

Clark drew up a list of names and vowed never to speak to any of these people again.

Things were strained between Clark and Lex, not just because of the kiss and the ensuing conversation. Spending time with Clark's parents seemed to make Lex quieter, more intensely private. It reminded Clark of the Lex he'd known back in September, the Lex who didn't engage in tickling and who didn't create culinary disasters and who was distant and formal. Clark spent Sunday and Monday watching television, alternately avoiding the news and watching the reports with horrified fascination. Lex isolated himself in his study and spent his time shouting at various LexCorp employees. It was only in the evening, when they went to the Kents', that Lex and Clark voluntarily spent time together, and those evenings were necessarily laden with the tension that was only slowly easing between Clark and his parents.

"I'm surprised Lois Lane spent so much time researching you," Lex said in a rare moment of talkativeness, when Lois's revelations were picked up by the ten o'clock news on Monday night. They were at the Kent farm again, watching the news with tired eyes.

Clark cut a quick glance over at Lex to see if he was being facetious. "Lex. Don't," he said quietly when he thought he saw a smile playing on Lex's lips. As glad as he was to see Lex returning to something of his usual playfulness, Clark really didn't want to discuss Lois Lane in front of his parents.

Martha looked at Clark, having overheard the exchange and obviously misinterpreting it, but she remained silent.

Lex shifted back in his chair, more obviously smiling now. On the screen, a slick male reporter was narrating, "Whether it was love at first sight is purely a matter of speculation at this time, as LexCorp's young scholarship recipient and his spouse have retreated from the eyes of the media and could not be reached for comment."

"I called Gina and had her revoke the scholarship retroactively. I know that went out on the wire today," Lex commented with annoyance.

"Does that mean I can't put it on my resume anymore?" Clark asked, feigning disappointment.

Lex grinned. "Why would you need that when you were Corn King?"

Clark scowled, Jonathan smirked, and Martha pursed her lips, trying to suppress her own smile.

Later, in the car (a more sedate domestic rental Lex had acquired) on the way back to the mansion, Lex said, "So... Lois has it out for you?"

Clark sighed, looking out the window. "Guess so."

Lex fiddled with the radio. "All you have out here is country and western?"

"It's Smallville, Lex."

"But... Christ, I haven't heard this much Tammy Wynette since my father was dating that chick from Tennessee."

Clark's mind was elsewhere. "I mean, we didn't even do anything, not really!" he protested suddenly.

Lex looked over at Clark, brows drawn.

"Me and Lois," Clark elaborated, seeing Lex's confusion.

"You and Lois..." Lex repeated slowly. "And Tammy Wynette."

Clark rolled his eyes. "No, you know.  The thing. With Lois. No Tammy Wynette."

Lex tilted his head quizzically. "You lost me there."

"The thing with Lois," Clark said again, his voice heavy with meaning. "You know." Lex was being shockingly slow on the uptake.

"Wait. So there was no Tammy Wynette, and you didn't do anything, and Lois was there?"

Clark exhaled with irritation. "No, the time that Lois and I sort of hooked up. Which she is really overreacting about, because nothing happened."

Lex nodded slowly, then pulled the car over.

"Why are we stopping?" Clark asked.

Lex put the car in park and turned off the ignition, then faced Clark. "You. And Lois Lane. Hooked up?"

Clark raised one eyebrow. "You knew about that, remember? Walk down the lane? Blackmail? Ring any bells?"

Lex laughed outright. "I was bluffing you, Clark!" Clark just had time to wish for the car to explode, taking Lex with it, before Lex went on. "Are you telling me you slept with Lois Lane? When?"

Clark really wished he didn't have the Blushing Alien Skin gene or maybe it was the Too Stupid to Notice When Someone's Bluffing gene. Luckily, it was dark enough that Lex might not be able to tell how red he was turning. "I didn't... nothing happened!"

"Yet something did happen," Lex purred, still grinning. "Something that pissed her off enough to try and take you apart in the Planet today."

Clark groaned, rubbing a hand over his face. "Okay, so the summer I was seventeen, and I ran away to Metropolis? I kind of went through this phase where I. Um. Picked girls up. Anyway, one time, it was Lois. But I didn't know it was her and she was still in college then and I only found out later that she was Chloe's cousin. Anyway, we just kissed a little and then when she asked me to come back to her dorm room, I..."

"You what?" Lex prompted.

Clark took a deep breath, figuring he couldn't very well stop now. "I kind of. Um. Said no?"

"How did you say no, Clark?" Lex asked, patiently and with way too much amusement.

Clark briefly contemplated making the car explode himself. Then he bit his lip and spat it out. "I said that I'd rather stick around the club and see if anything better came along."

Lex's long silence was a bad sign. It meant intense teasing was on the way – the longer the silence, the worse the fall-out later. Clark began to reconsider the car explosion option when Lex remained silent as he restarted the car and pulled back onto the highway.

"I was kind of high," Clark attempted when Lex showed no signs of speaking five minutes later.

Lex made no answer, but a quick glance in his direction revealed he had that maniacal gleam in his eye, the one that meant he was thinking of too many good one-liners to be able to settle on a single option.

"It was really loud in the club. She might not have really heard me," Clark added as they pulled into the driveway of the mansion.

Lex parked the car and they got out. Clark followed Lex into the kitchen, feeling he'd better provoke a reaction sooner rather than risk giving Lex even more time to contemplate ways of tormenting Clark. With that in mind, Clark took the apple Lex offered him and spoke. "Girls can be so touchy. I mean, you'd never react like that."

Lex eyed Clark suspiciously, then took a bite of his own apple. "You," he said at last, swallowing and licking his lips, "are really lucky that it wasn't me at the club that night." He flashed Clark a shark's grin, then walked out of the kitchen, tossing a careless, "Good night!" over his shoulder as he went.

It wasn't until the next morning, whenClark surfed the Met U Monitor website, that he understood what Lex had really meant.

The headline on the main page read "Former Monitor Editor Named in Plagiarism Investigation". There was a picture of Jacob just underneath.

"Mom thinks we should move somewhere else for a few days," Clark announced from the door of Lex's study.

Lex glanced up from his laptop and gave Clark a quick once-over, the kind of look Clark now realized he'd become accustomed to, but which suddenly felt out of place in their new strictly-defined platonic relationship.

But then, Clark was wearing his pajamas still and his t-shirt was kind of too small. Clark wondered if he was something of a subconscious strategist, and the thought made him smile slightly.

"Your mom read my mind," Lex replied, and was that the faintest tinge of a blush on Lex's pale cheeks? "I was hoping you would agree to leave soon. I've got a cabin on a private lake about three hours away. It's already been hounded and abandoned by the media, so we're probably safe to stay there for the rest of the week. We can take secondary highways to get there, there'll be minimal reason to stop along the way."

Clark nodded, shuffling his left foot on the marble. "I think... I think things will be okay with my folks. I mean. Mom says they need time, but..."

Lex smiled, a genuine smile. "I'm glad to hear it."

"And also? Good work with Jacob," Clark grinned, then ducked out the door before Lex could react.

There was no cable at the cabin but Lex got daily reports from his staff that neatly tabulated each mention of their marriage in the mainstream media. Clark was a little dismayed when Wednesday brought no change in the numbers – though Martha was proven right when Lex's mansion was stormed that afternoon – but Lex only shrugged. "Wait for it," he said simply.

'It' came on Thursday around noon in the form of a embezzlement scandal at City Hall. Lex laughed when Clark asked if he had orchestrated the scandal. "I'm not that influential, Clark. It's just a fact of the news world that a story with no new information is a story with no viewer interest. Ms. Lane's moment in the sun has subsided."

"But when we go back, there'll be all sorts of stuff again, right?"

Lex nodded. "I plan to issue a press release on Friday so that by Sunday night, all the media will be craving is a picture of the two of us in our marital bliss. A photographer is coming by tomorrow to get one. We release it simultaneously with our return to Metropolis, and there will be less focus on us settling back in at home."

Clark eyed Lex speculatively. "You know a lot about this."

"It's part of being a Luthor," Lex replied dismissively. "I've been in the press my whole life."

Clark privately thought this was kind of sad, but it was a sign of how well he knew Lex that he forebore to say this.

The cabin wasn't exactly what Clark had envisioned. A far cry from a rough-hewn one room hunting lodge, Lex's cabin was really a split level four-bedroom bungalow, constructed of smooth river stones and floored with exquisitely finished pine boards. Clark's bedroom had its own bathroom and even if the water smelled a little sulfurous, Clark could hardly argue with the accommodations. It wasn't peak season for the cottage community, so they were completely isolated on their side of the lake. The first time Clark decided to go swimming in the icy-cold March waters, Lex told Clark point-blank he was going to die of pneumonia. Clark replied that he might as well use the swimming trunks he'd packed for Honolulu. Lex said it was out of concern for Clark's welfare that he sat on the pier to watch, but Clark knew Lex was too absorbed by Clark's wet torso to notice Clark wasn't shivering at all.

The next day, Lex revealed there was a jacuzzi on the deck. Clark spent all day filling and preparing the jacuzzi for its seasonal debut. He horrified Lex by going for another swim in the evening, the better to enjoy the heat of the hot tub, he explained, and then they sat in the jacuzzi together and talked until they were both pruned (which took substantially longer for Clark).

"Classical education is seriously undervalued, Clark. For two thousand years, a person wasn't considered well-read unless he could read and write Latin and Greek."

"But that's a western bias, don't you think?" Clark returned, lifting one foot idly so it floated on the surface of the bubbling water. "I mean, you're talking about European culture. Nowadays, the world is bigger than the little area around the Mediterranean."

Lex lifted one side of his mouth in that really cute way that meant he saw Clark's point but was unwilling to admit it. "Tell me you know at least one line of Latin and I'll be satisfied," he said at last.

Clark thought for a moment, then grinned. "Carpe diem."

"Oh, come on," Lex groaned dramatically.

"Um... Semper fidelis?"

"Something that's not a stupid motto."

"Wait, are you saying that the Romans didn't speak in stupid mottos? Because that's been my impression."

Lex smirked, then sent a wave of water Clark's way. Clark barely had time to giggle before Lex was speaking in a low purr, the shape of his mouth varying between the sublime and the obscene as he recited. "Mellitos oculos tuos, Iuventi, si quis me sinat usque basiare, usque ad milia basiem trecenta nec numquam videar satur futurus, non si densior aridis aristis sit nostrae seges osculationis."1

Clark only remembered to close his mouth some seconds after Lex finished. "That's... Latin?"

Lex smiled faintly. "Latin's a very sexy language."

"What... what does it mean?" Clark stammered, still stuck on the way Lex had said 'aridis aristis' like he was mouthing the filthiest dirty talk ever.

"Take Latin next semester and I'll tell you," Lex grinned sharply.

Clark grinned back. He was willing to bet 'basiare' had something to do with mouths. The shape it made on Lex's lips put the notion beyond questioning.

Then Lex seemed to remember where they were, what they were doing, and his face suddenly went blank. "I'm expecting a fax," he said flatly, and clambered out of the jacuzzi.

Stupid Latin.

Clark spent most of Friday afternoon giggling over the press release Lex's staff had compiled. "'We met,'" Clark read aloud, already laughing, "'at the LexCorp scholarship interview and immediately struck a spark of mutual attraction.' Hey, Lex, was this before or after the cattle insemination technologist discussion?"

"During," replied Lex blandly. "Cattle insemination gets me hot." They were sitting out on the deck of the cabin, enjoying a remarkably mild afternoon. Clark had gone so far as to put on a pair of the shorts intended for Honolulu.

"It wouldn't if you actually saw it happening," Clark assured him. "I love this part: 'We were determined to keep our relationship out of the public eye because we felt LexCorp's prominence would undermine Clark's ability to blend in at Metropolis University.' LexCorp's prominence? They make it sound like you're Bill Gates or something. Didn't you have to issue a memo last month about how employees stealing pens from work was pushing LexCorp to the brink of bankruptcy?"

"Sometimes I have to be a little dramatic to make my point," Lex muttered into his laptop screen.

"Something you learned from me, no doubt," said a male voice from behind Clark.

Clark jumped a little and turned his head to see Lionel Luthor standing at the edge of the deck.

"So this is my son-in-law?" Lionel spoke lightly, taking his time in examining Clark. "He looks much better in person. That picture they kept reprinting in the Planet was awful... I was convinced he was a drug addict of some sort."

Lex showed no surprise at this intrusion, merely glancing up at his father over the top of his sunglasses. "Good afternoon, Dad. What brings you to our neck of the woods?"

Clark wondered if he should stand up but nervously followed Lex's lead and tried to look unworried. He'd heard a car pull up, he remembered now, but he'd been so diverted by the press release in his hands, he hadn't registered the sound as anything unusual. After all, they'd just had another visitor earlier in the day – the LexCorp photographer who had come to get his publicity shot. Clark wondered if Lex's nonchalance meant Lex had noticed the sound, or if Lex was just being a spectacular actor.

"I came to pay my respects, of course," Lionel announced brightly, showing very white teeth. "It's not every day I get a new son."

Lex glanced up again, tilting his head. "I don't know, Dad... given your extramarital activities, I'd think it's safe to say you could be getting a new son every day, if you'd just take the time to look them all up."

Clark wondered how Lex had done that invisible thing when they were visiting Clark's parents. It seemed like it would be a handy skill right about now. As it was, he felt like a giant lump of farmboy, ripe for the taunting. Lionel had circled around the deck so he stood in front of Lex and Clark. He was dressed in a suit – Clark wondered if the man ever wore anything else – and he was keeping his eyes on Clark even when he was addressing Lex.

"Oho, Lex, my boy, you're not still holding a grudge over Lucas replacing you, are you? I thought you would understand by now that you weren't cut out for the business world. I mean, this little... entanglement surely proves that?"

Lex pulled off his sunglasses and stared up at his father with a smirk on his face. "It's just killing you that you don't know why I married Clark, isn't it?"

Lionel smiled back and Clark recognized the scary smile Lex sometimes got right before he tore someone a new one. "You really think I don't know why, son?" he asked jovially. "Why, because you've been so secretive about it?"

Lex's jaw flexed visibly as he closed his laptop. "I have no idea what you mean," he said in a flat tone.

Lionel was still watching Clark, making Clark wish he was wearing jeans or maybe one of those burkha things. "Well, he does have a certain allure, if your tastes run that way," Lionel conceded. "I can see why you've decided to keep this one around."

A glance over at Lex, and under the mask of smooth amusement, Clark saw a trace of fear. With that, Clark decided being invisible wasn't going to work for him. Instead, he slowly but smoothly rose to his feet, inhaling as he went, so he was towering above Lionel. "I think you'd better leave," Clark said.

Lionel kept smiling, but Clark thought he suddenly seemed a little apprehensive. Clark hadn't often used his brute size to get his own way, but it had been remarkably effective when he had. "Call down your boy, Lex," Lionel said easily.

Lex stood too, moving so he was shoulder to shoulder with Clark. "No, I think Clark's right. You should go now."

Lionel laughed shortly. "Son, you don't honestly think that you can be rid of me so easily?" Clark took a step forward, and Lionel raised his hands. "I'm going, don't worry about that, Mr. Kent. I was speaking metaphorically. But before I go, I should warn you... Lex isn't the man he makes himself out to be."

Clark took another step and felt intense satisfaction when Lionel backed away slightly.

"I'm sure he has you convinced that he's a good man who had a bad childhood, but Lex here is not an angel. He's a Luthor... he's ruthless when he's pursuing something he wants."

"Stop it, Dad, you're making me blush," Lex sneered.

"Think about it, Mr. Kent," Lionel said smoothly, then walked around them and down the stairs leading to the driveway. Clark, following him with his gaze, saw Lionel get into the back seat of a dark sedan waiting there.

Clark could feel the tension radiating from Lex, who was still standing beside him. "Are you okay?" Clark asked, once the car had pulled out into the road and was driving away.

Lex nodded abruptly, returning to his seat. "I'm sorry you had to meet him, Clark," he said, his voice blank and hollow.

"I'm sorry you had to grow up with him," Clark returned sincerely. "He's... God, he's..."

Lex was opening up his laptop again. "He's a lot like me," he stated.

Clark opened his mouth to protest, but Lex overrode him. "Trust me. I've been fighting my genetics all my life. He's right. There's darkness in me, a darkness you can't really imagine because you don't have it." Lex said it so plainly, so calmly. "I'm doing my best to overcome the destiny he's laid out for me, but sometimes I can feel it, I can feel myself becoming him. It's the small things that move me closer – things like what I did to that kid at the Monitor. But they build. It builds."

Clark watched Lex, Lex who was trying so hard to be casual about the most private thing he'd ever said to Clark.

"This was my mother's cabin," Lex added, as an afterthought. "She had a lot of places like this... a ranch in Montana, a chalet in Vermont, a chateau in Switzerland... places to hide from him. She left them all to me in her will. Guess she thought I'd need hiding places too." He smiled ruefully then, shaking his head. "She never knew that I would be hiding from myself."

Clark took a deep breath, trying not to drown in the wave of sympathy that was welling up inside. "Lex," he began, hesitant. He thought of all the things he could say... you're not like him, I know you and you're not, your mother would be proud of you, you can't let him get to you, he's just a mean vicious old man... But in the end, the words Clark spoke were much simpler and much less hackneyed. "I have darkness too," he said. "I've done things... Lex, you wouldn't believe the terrible things I've done."

Lex's face shifted slowly from hardened indifference to active surprise. "I find that hard to –"

"Lois was the least of it," Clark interrupted. "By far the least."

Lex stared at Clark some more, as if trying to assess the truth of what Clark was saying. He seemed to see something that satisfied him, though – his expression shifted again, this time to open wonder. "How did you do it? Walk through it unscathed?"

Clark smiled slightly. "I'm invulnerable, I guess. At least on the outside – I carry all my scars out of sight."

Lex ran a hand over his bare scalp. "Then I'm envious," he answered, almost smiling back.

As hideous as it had been, Clark was almost glad of the encounter with Lionel. Because of it, he and Lex seemed to have established a new level of trust, of friendship, one they might never have gotten to if Lionel hadn't stopped by to taunt and insult them both. Though Lex was still determined to keep things platonic between himself and Clark, the silence that separated them had a different quality. It was less strained, more peaceful, like the deep silences Clark and Pete enjoyed during long summer days spent together when they were little boys.

Lex's plan for handling the media went off as planned. The official picture Lex had commissioned – a posed shot of them lounging in the cabin's living room, Lex's hand draped gently over Clark's shoulder – appeared in all the newspapers and prevented them from facing a media circus in front of their apartment building when they arrived home.

But when Clark walked into his bedroom to put his suitcase down, he received a sudden shock.

His bed was gone. So was his dresser. All that remained of his possessions in the room, in fact, were his desk and his bookshelf, and these items were keeping company with Lex's own rather imposing desk. "In here, Clark!" Lex called from the room next door. From Lex's room.

Clark went into the other room with an uneasy premonition of what he would find.

Sure enough, Lex's bedroom was almost unchanged. The only furniture item that was new was Clark's own dresser, which was neatly snugged in beside Lex's wardrobe, looking rather small and unimpressive. "Hey, you have a plaid bedspread," Clark observed, still not quite accepting what his eyes were suggesting.

Lex grimaced. "Guess they thought that would make it more authentic?"

"Make it..." Clark repeated dimly.

"As if I would allow plaid in my bedroom without being tragically blinded first," Lex scoffed, pulling back the coverlet. When Clark cast a despondent look at his own plaid shirt, Lex added, "I mean, as a design motif."

"Lex, what..."

"We're married in the eyes of the public now, Clark," Lex explained, folding up the offensive coverlet. "Here, put this in the linen closet."

When Clark returned, he tested his theory. "So we have to share a bedroom?"

Lex nodded, busily smoothing the original grey coverlet back on the bed. "We can't afford to slip up, if my father should decide to contest the marriage. Of course, the apartment's been checked for espionage devices, but, as we now know, it wouldn't be impossible to get someone in here to count beds. Also, you should wear the wedding band from now on."

Clark went over to the left side of the bed and sat.

"That's my side," Lex pronounced. "I sleep left."

Clark obediently got up and walked to the other side. The bedside table caught his eye and he tugged open the drawer, then blushed to see a package of condoms and a tube of something called Astroglide. "Nice detail work," Clark commented, determined to seem cool. Yes, he could handle sleeping in the same bed as Lex. This was no big deal.

Lex didn't even look to see what Clark meant. "Oh, that stuff was there before," he said casually.

Clark blushed more.

Right. No big deal.

Lex has probably had a lot of sex in this bed.

Clark wasn't going to freak out.

"So will I sleep on the couch?" Clark asked, hoping he sounded calmer than he felt.

Lex looked over, now unpacking his suitcase. "No."

"The floor?"


"So... right side?" Clark asked, his voice getting a lot higher, like he'd suddenly sucked in a lot of helium.

"Yes," Lex affirmed, tossing his clothes into the hamper. "Clark, it's a king sized bed. We could fit four more people in between us and not even notice. Stop panicking."

"I'm not..." Clark gave up the lie immediately. It was no use trying to bluff his way through this with a Mickey Mouse voice.

"I promise not to get fresh with you," Lex smirked, placing his shoes in the closet, which – whoa. Had all of Clark's clothes hanging in it, just right in there with Lex's expensive pants and stuff.

"Ha ha," Clark retorted lamely, mesmerized by the juxtaposition of Lex's lavender shirts and his own flannel collection.

"I mean, I hear that you're waiting for someone better to come along, anyway," Lex added carelessly.

Clark threw a pair of dirty socks at his head in retaliation.

The first night sharing a bed with Lex, Clark got absolutely no sleep. Aside from the issue of going back to school the next day, with everyone staring at him and whispering about sparks being struck at scholarship interviews, Clark couldn't make himself forget Lex Was In Bed With Him. Lex had been right about the size of the bed, though. As big as Clark was, he would have to make a concerted effort to get close enough to Lex to be able to touch him. The mattress was really nice, too, as Clark had suspected, and the pillows were all fluffy and firm, not like the lumpy flat ones at the farm. When Lex moved, which wasn't very often, Clark could barely feel the motion on his end of the bed.

Lex's body was remarkably noisy when there wasn't anything else to listen to. The cacophony of his lungs, circulatory system, and his digestive tract made an impressive soundtrack. Clark had only rarely shared a bed with someone – okay, Chloe – and those few times, he'd been so sated that his sleep had been immediate and deep. Sex was a great relaxation tool. Abstinence, combined with sharing a bed with the object of one's lust, was not so relaxing. Every little motion Lex made, every tiny sigh, made Clark instantly awake and often half-hard. His mind kept suggesting ways in which he might insinuate himself across the bed, ways in which a sleeping Lex might roll towards him – well, roll towards him a few times, to make it across the distance separating them – and they might just accidentally, sleepily move into each other's warmth, so Clark could feel Lex beside him, feel his lithe body in Clark's arms.

Clark tiptoed into the bathroom at three in the morning, determined to jerk off and maybe lull himself into a sleepier state, but then he remembered Lex saying he was a light sleeper... and how embarrassing would it be if Clark woke Lex up with the sound of his masturbation? Clark stared woefully down at his erection and tried to think of how he could survive the three hours until Lex's alarm went off. Failing to come up with any ideas, Clark then considered what excuse he might make for getting up at three in the morning. He'd forgotten about a paper that was due, maybe? He was nervous about school?

How about, he was horny as hell from just smelling Lex on the sheets in their bed and he couldn't close his eyes without picturing how things might have ended differently that day on the couch in Lex's mansion?

How Lex might have kissed him back, how Clark could have taken Lex's hand and just pressed it there, just there where Clark needed the warmth of Lex's palm, and how big Lex's hand would seem compared to Chloe's, how Lex would look with his mouth slightly open when his hand was working Clark's cock, what sort of sounds Lex would make when Clark gathered his courage and reached for Lex, touched Lex there, God, yeah, right there, moved there and ...

Clark gasped for air, realizing even as he came, hand on his cock, that this was what he'd decided not to do. There was a panicked roar of blood in Clark's ears, but as the orgasm subsided, Clark was able to pick out the sound of Lex's breathing in the bedroom and it was slow and even and thank god Lex hadn't woken up. Clark grabbed a handful of tissue and cleaned himself up, wondering if now he'd be able to sleep and whether he should throw the tissue in the toilet or the wastebacket, because either way Lex would see it and wonder ...

Clark tossed the tissue in the wastebasket, then crumpled a few more pieces of toilet paper and sent them in after it so it looked like Clark had used the toilet paper to blow his nose or something. He wanted to wash his hands but he didn't want the sound of the faucet to wake Lex, so Clark decided to risk having sex-smelling hands and made his way back into the dark bedroom.

Once safely back in the bed, Clark closed his eyes and began to count the seconds until dawn.

"Hey, congratulations, Kent," Wayne said when Clark poked his head in the Monitor offices. "Gonna write us another expose on LexCorp?"

Clark flushed, which was really unfair because he'd been on the receiving end of similar comments all day and he should be getting better at not reacting. "I –"

"Just fucking with you, Kent," Wayne assured him, poker-faced. "Get your ass in here, I have an assignment for you."

"Does it have to do with Lex?" Clark asked, worried.

"No, dumbass, it has to do with the SU elections that are happening this week."

With relief, Clark entered the offices and sat down to listen while Wayne gave him the details of the article he wanted. In conclusion, Wayne added, "You've probably heard that we're out one copy editor, so can you try to write this article without typos for once?"

Clark nodded, then smiled a little. "I'll get my husband to look it over." It was the first time Clark had said it out loud, the first time he'd used it all casually like that, and it gave him a ridiculous little thrill to think Wayne and the rest of the world thought he and Lex were together.

Wayne was non-plussed. "You do that."

When Clark got home after school, he found Lex already back from work, which was a bit of a surprise. "Hey, aren't you supposed to be desperately clinging to your desk at the office? I thought you were in work-deprivation mode by now," he asked cheerfully, hanging up his jacket and kicking off his shoes.

Lex looked up from his seat on the sofa. "Bedroom."

Clark blinked, but apparently had finally met his daily quota for blushing, because his cheeks didn't warm up immediately. "Bedroom?"

"Go in there, Clark. I've laid some clothes out for you on the bed."

"You've... why?"

"Because you're not going to your first charity function wearing that shirt."

"What, am I Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman?" Clark asked, hurt. "And how come you didn't tell me we're going out tonight?"

Lex looked up again and chivalrously ignored the Julia Roberts reference. "Now you're in the public eye, you have to start coming along to these things." Before Clark could reply, he continued, "Go try them on. It's surprisingly difficult to find nice clothes in size humungous."

Clark scowled, but obediently went down the hall into... well... their bedroom. A folded pair of black pants and a blue dress shirt were spread out on the bed. Clark had been envisioning a tuxedo and spats, so this was something of a relief. After a moment's consideration, Clark pushed the bedroom door so it was almost closed – he didn't want to actively discourage Lex from coming in, after all – then stripped down and pulled on the shirt. It fit, though it was a little tight across the shoulders in the back. Lex must have gone for the XLT size rather than the XXLT Mom normally bought.

The pants were another story. They sort of looked like flood-pants, hovering just above his ankle bones. They were rather tight around the generator too.

"Lex?" Clark called, surveying himself in the mirror. "Um. Help?"

Lex came in the room, and stopped short when he saw Clark. "Dammit. I told Sophia that you'd need a longer inseam. She wouldn't believe me that you were six foot three."

"I'm six four, actually," Clark corrected dismally. "Guess I looked shorter in the publicity shot."

Lex was surveying him with dissatisfaction. "Can you even move your arms?"

Clark attempted to spread his arms out and was rewarded by a shirt button pinging off.

"God, you're a giant." Then Lex seemed to notice the tightness of the pants and his gaze went sort of fuzzy. "Those are... too small. Definitely."

Clark grinned in spite of himself. "Guess there's no charity function for us tonight, huh?"

Lex shook his head, seeming to regain focus immediately. He moved to the closet and pulled it open. "No, I'll find something that will do," he announced, determined.

Clark winced, anticipating Lex's disapproval of his wardrobe. "Seriously, Lex, I don't have anyth–" But Lex was already extracting several shirts and pairs of jeans.

"These jeans make your ass look really good," Lex commented, holding out one hanger.

Clark was too shocked to reply.

"They're pretty new, they fit nicely, they're a hip style. Put them on."

Clark stupidly wriggled out of the tight pants and into the jeans, forgetting to be embarrassed until he was already dressed again. Lex, however, wasn't paying attention. He was sorting through Clark's shirts, tossing anything flannel to the floor.

"I can't wear jeans to a charity function," Clark protested. "My mom would skin me alive."

Lex smirked. "Good thing your husband's dressing you, then. Clark, don't worry. It's a low-key affair and, besides, it'll make a splash in the media if you can pull off a sexy casual look instead of looking like I stuffed you into a suit. That's what Sophia was aiming for with that ensemble." Lex held up a ratty old dress shirt. "How come you never wear this?" he asked accusingly.

Clark tilted his head. "Because it's all fuzzy and crappy? I used to wear it when I was helping Dad paint–" He stopped as Lex pushed the shirt into his arms. "Lex! It's got red paint on the sleeve! And a giant tear in the back!"

Lex was unmoved. "So you'll wear this blazer over it," he said shortly, holding out another article. This time it was a tweedy grey blazer Mom had bought and Clark had promptly rejected. He'd worn it to church once at Easter last year and it had languished in his closet ever since.

"I hate that blazer. It's ugly."

Lex raised one brow. "It's got a new vintage look to it. It's perfect with the shirt."

"What's 'new vintage' mean? Does that mean ugly?" Clark asked, refusing to accept the blazer from Lex's hands. "Because that's ugly."

Lex gave up on politely handing it over and simply tossed the blazer at Clark, moving over to Clark's dresser and pulling out the drawers until he found the t-shirt drawer. "You need something for under the shirt," he said. "Where's that tight thing you were wearing at the mansion?"

"My pajama shirt? It's in the hamper – Lex, no!" Clark protested, watching in disbelief as Lex unearthed the white shirt from the depths of the hamper.

"Oh, relax, you're just wearing it under everything else. It's in perfectly good condition," Lex sighed, pushing it at Clark.

"It's from when I was fourteen!"

"Which is why it fits so nicely," Lex answered with a sudden sharp grin. "Come on, let's see it all put together."

Clark started to pout, but quickly realized Lex wasn't going to yield. With a dramatic sigh, Clark tossed the three garments onto the bed and unbuttoned the too-small blue dress shirt. This time, Lex made no pretense of ignoring Clark and Clark found himself strangely grateful to pull on the tight pajama shirt.

"Don't I look like I'm wearing my little brother's clothes?" Clark asked, even though he knew it was hopeless. He began to tuck in the shirt but Lex shook his head. Next came the painting shirt, with frayed collar points and more than one threadbare spot.

"Button it up, but not the top three or the bottom one," Lex ordered in a vaguely creepy voice, like Arnold Schwarznegger in True Lies.

Once the shirt was buttoned, Clark picked up the dreaded blazer and tugged it on, grimacing. Lex directed him to leave it unbuttoned and then he tugged at the cuffs of Clark's dress shirt so they were sticking out from the slightly-too-short sleeves of the blazer. Lex pulled at the tails of the dress shirt to similar effect, Clark trying and failing not to blush when Lex's hands brushed the front of his jeans.

"Sit," Lex ordered, and Clark sat, feeling miserable and certain he looked like an idiot. Lex left the room and came back with something stinky and gooey that he applied to Clark's hair. "It's good you need a haircut," he said approvingly. "I like it long like this. And you didn't shave this morning, either. Good."

Clark bit back a sarcastic comment about Lex's ability to style hair, submitting to the ministrations more because he liked the feeling of Lex's fingers on his scalp than because he trusted Lex not to make him look even stupider. Finally, Lex stepped back and surveyed Clark.

"You look tired. There are circles under your eyes," Lex observed.

"If you go and get cucumber slices or whatever, we're getting a divorce," Clark answered in all seriousness.

Lex smiled, moving back over to Clark's dresser. "I thought I saw... yeah, here they are." He came back, holding out an object for Clark to see. "Put them on."

"Lex, no," Clark said, firmly. He was not submitting this time. "No way."

Lex unfolded the glasses and made as though to put them on Clark. Clark held up his hands, blocking the motion. "No!"

Lex stared.

Clark shook his head. "No."

Lex stared some more.

"No. I had a vision problem when I was a junior in high school, but I got better and I don't need those anymore. I don't even know why Mom packed them."

Lex folded up the glasses with an infinitesimal sigh, a breath of a sigh that expressed worlds of regret.

Clark let Lex get all the way back to the dresser before he said, "Fine. But only for tonight."

He let Lex put the glasses on him, noticing that Lex was carefully not smirking in triumph, then Clark stood up and walked over to the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door.

"I look like a bum," Clark announced. With stubble on his chin and cheeks, mussed and styled hair, a worn old shirt under an ugly blazer, faded but serviceable jeans, and worst of all, these stupid glasses... Clark couldn't understand how Lex, of all people, could possibly think Clark looked ready to go out. It was as far from Lex's style as Clark's normal flannel ensemble. "Mom is going to freak out when she sees this picture in the paper."

Lex stood behind Clark and to the right, studying Clark's reflection. "What do you want to bet she hardly recognizes you?" he asked, a smile touching his lips.

"What's this benefit for?" Clark asked, once again wedged into the passenger seat of the Porsche.

"The Metropolis Zoo," Lex answered as they pulled up in front of a posh hotel.

"Why isn't it at the zoo then?" Clark asked, trying to ignore the press of media just outside the window.

"There was an incident with a monkey and someone's silk dress one year," Lex said, then smiled at Clark. "You look hot."

"I look like a freak," Clark grumbled.

"Well, try and act like you don't believe that, then," Lex exhorted, slipping on a pair of sunglasses, then popping open his door and smoothly handing his keys to the waiting valet.

Clark braced himself and concentrated on getting out of the car without tripping. If he was going to look like a weirdo, he might as well be a confident weirdo.

There was a brief blinding moment as the flashes began flaring all around, then Lex was at his elbow, guiding him towards the hotel entrance. "Smile, for Christ's sake," Lex said under his breath, slowing Clark down slightly.

Clark tried to smile, but it was difficult when he was tormented by the thought of being in all the papers and celebrity magazines wearing the ugliest blazer in the universe. Lex drew to a halt just outside the door and turned Clark with him to face the media. They were all shouting questions, but Lex casually scanned the group and picked out one person with deadly accuracy. "Ms. Lane?" he said quietly, but the crowd seemed to hear him somehow, and silence descended.

Lois Lane, smartly dressed and impeccably groomed, stepped forward with a dignified smile. "Lex, was your decision to organize an employee buy-out of your father's fertilizer plant at all influenced by your husband's origins in Smallville?"

Lex had one hand on Clark's elbow, just enough contact to make Clark feel grounded, safe, without the awkwardness of an unaccustomed closeness. "Absolutely," Lex smiled. "And, as I'm sure you know, Ms. Lane, my own family has a history of association with Smallville, entirely aside from the plant there."

"That's right, your grandfather was arrested there... for petty theft, wasn't it?" Lois purred, biting the tip of her tongue between perfect white teeth. Her gaze hadn't once flicked over to Clark, so it was impossible to tell if Lois recognized him as Kal from the club a few years ago. In fact, Clark was willing to bet that even if she did, she'd never show it. Clark tried to smile again, forcing himself to look away from Lois and her vicious smile.

Lex, to Clark's surprise, laughed. "So you've done your homework. What a nice change. Are the rest of you listening?" Lex asked, ironically addressing the rest of the media. "Well, Ms. Lane, we all have colorful backgrounds," he said, still smiling, then pointedly looked over at Clark. "Don't we, Clark?"

Clark wondered if Lex meant he had a colorful past, then realized stupidly that Lex meant Clark's past with Lois, and God, if there was any chance she hadn't remembered he was Kal she sure as hell would now after Lex's little statement – and now it was too late to see Lois's reaction to this statement, because Lex had opened the hotel door and Clark was being ushered inside.

"You need to learn how to relax in front of the cameras," Lex said quietly as they moved towards a coat check. "Your smile was a little on the scary side."

Clark glared at Lex. "Maybe it's because Lois Lane was out there and she was trying to take a chunk out of you and you were baiting her," he suggested. "And also, I look like a dumbass." Clark wished he could ditch the ugly blazer at the coat check but the paint stains and tears in his dress shirt pretty much forbade it. "Was your grandfather really arrested in Smallville?"

Lex wasn't listening, Clark realized. He was scanning the ballroom just beyond the double doors. "Good, they have a couple of photographers in there. We have to try again, see if we can't get you to drop the deer-in-headlights act."

Clark was mid-groan when Lex went very still.

"Oh, fuck," Lex breathed softly, his gaze fixed on something in the ballroom.

"What?" Clark asked, following the direction of Lex's gaze. "Oh, fuck!"

Lionel Luthor was standing in a small knot of people.

"No, it's... it's okay," Lex said, but he was pale. "Shit, he never comes to this event! He must have guessed this is where you'd debut with me... he's here just to screw things up for us."

Clark took the token for Lex's dress coat and stuck it in his jeans pocket. Clark may have looked like a weirdo dumbass homeless person, but if he could fake being confident and brash for Lex's sake, he'd do it. With that in mind, Clark mentally brushed away all thoughts of Lois, Kal, the ugly blazer, and the media throng. "Well, let's not let him screw things up, then," he said, reaching down and grasping Lex's hand.

Lex looked at Clark, startled out of his speculations by the action. A sly smile stole across his features as he saw Clark's sudden resolve. "You're something else, Clark Kent," he said quietly, squeezing Clark's hand. "Let's go."

It took exactly ten minutes for Lionel to descend on them. He did it very casually, walking up to speak with one of Lex's associates and feigning surprise when he shifted his focus to Lex and Clark. "Lex! Well, this is an unexpected pleasure," he said warmly, and Clark could almost believe Lionel wasn't an evil bastard.

"I'm sure I could say the same," Lex answered with equal warmth, but his fingers had tightened on his wineglass.

"Lionel, it's good to see you again," Clark said boldly, extending his right hand. Lionel took it, still playing at cordiality. Clark squeezed slightly harder than he should, but Lionel didn't betray the pain he must be feeling, especially since he had the slightly swollen joints of an arthritis sufferer. Clark waited until he felt something soft pop in his grasp, then relaxed his hand and grinned broadly.

"Always a pleasure, Mr. Kent," Lionel said calmly, taking his hand back. One finger was slowly moving, as though Lionel was testing to see if it still worked.

Clark grinned some more. "Please. We're family now. Call me Clark." He glared the older man in the eye, daring him to comment on Clark's aggression.

"So we are," Lionel laughed, his expression fixed. "If you'll excuse me, son, I'd like a word with Mr. Oates here."

"Of course," Lex assented graciously, moving off with Clark. They were barely out of earshot when Lex said, "I think my father actually likes you. I don't know whether to be impressed or worried."

Clark looked over his shoulder and saw how Lionel was subtly cradling his injured right hand. "We have a chemistry, I guess," Clark said easily. Lionel hadn't reacted... any normal person would have objected to Clark's grip, if not actively exclaiming on his strength. It was one more point in support of Lionel's association with Edge.

"You scare him. He respects that," Lex said bluntly, perusing the sandwich tray proffered by a waiter who paused by them. "Here, I think there's a salmon one in here somewhere."

Clark took the sandwich Lex extracted and popped it in his mouth in one bite, gratefully leaving the subject of Lionel Luthor. "I hope you're not expecting to get out of buying me dinner because of that," he said, swallowing. "Why is all the food so tiny?"

"Because it's a charity," Lex answered. "They can't afford to toss around porter-house steaks just in case a hungry farmboy drops in."

"Yeah, they have to save those for the hyenas," Clark jibed. "Okay, who's the woman across the room who's looking at you like you're the steak and she's the hyena?"

Lex looked in the direction Clark was indicating and grinned in a way Clark didn't like. "Old friend."

"You're a married man now," Clark reminded Lex. "No communing with old friends." He shot a conspiratorial smile at Lex, aiming for distraction. "Besides, aren't we supposed to be making out in front of the photographers or something? Affirming that our love is so pure?"

Lex shook his head slightly. "Best to keep it minimal. It says a lot more about our intimacy if we're not clinging to each other in public. That way, our relationship is obviously not something to be displayed, it's just a simple fact of our lives."

Clark was distracted from the mild disappointment Lex's statement occasioned when he spotted the old friend eyeing Lex again. Instinctively, Clark ducked in to kiss Lex's mouth, just a quick peck, as though Lex had said something complimentary and Clark was thanking him. Lex's expression, when Clark retreated again, was best described as bemused. "What did I just say?" he asked, smirking.

"It was a minimal kiss," Clark insisted. "No tongue and I didn't grab your ass."

Lex smiled at Clark, his blue eyes flaring with sudden intensity. "I like when you're all possessive like this," he said, then before Clark could deny the accusation, Lex had returned the kiss, a brush of lips, a hint of tongue, but regrettably, no ass-grabbing. "Now go and mingle."

Clark watched Lex move off towards a group of older men in suits, afraid he was wearing a very stupid expression indeed. Reflecting that his stupid expression would at least match his outfit, Clark went off in search of more sandwiches.

Once Clark had sniffed out and devoured all the salmon sandwiches to be had, he found himself at something of a loss for what to do next. One photographer was following him, so Clark figured there would be about two dozen pictures of him stuffing his face in People magazine next week, but otherwise no one seemed very interested in talking to him. Clark blamed the blazer.

After taking a quick glance to confirm that Lex was happily talking to some people not including the hyena/old-friend, and that Lionel was occupied by the bar, Clark slipped out of the ballroom, ostensibly in search of a washroom. Once free from the cameras, Clark wandered around the hotel lobby a bit, noting the media had mostly packed up for the day, only a few reporters lingering here and there. According to the sign in the entrance, there was a male-male wedding going on in Ballroom B... at least, so he presumed from the words 'Steven and Stephen Wedding Party' and the sounds of 'Dancing Queen' drifting down the hallway.

"Lost, little boy?" said someone close by, and Clark turned to see Lois Lane standing just behind him.

He attempted a cheerful smile, but he was almost certain it looked more like a chimpanzee grimace of fear. "Just... escaping, you know?" he spoke, pseudo-calmly.

"All the pressure of being a society wife getting to be too much for you?" Lois asked dryly. "I'll be honest with you, kid... I don't envy you."

Clark felt his ears getting red. Was Lois being genuinely nice, or was she just honing in for the kill? "It's not that bad," he said lamely.

Lois took a few steps so she stood even with Clark. "Can I get you a drink in the lounge? Ten minutes and then you can dive back into the thick of things."

"Is this like... an interview?" Clark asked nervously. "Because I don't–"

Lois raised one hand, displaying neatly manicured nails. "Scout's honour. Off the record."

Clark hesitated,hesitated,; unsure if he should trust Lois... after all, she had sent someone to spy on him. She seemed sincere, but ...

"Jacob was supposed to be looking for LexCorp files," Lois spoke, reading Clark's thoughts. "It was just a lucky break that he found the marriage certificate."

Clark glanced over at Lois, distrustful.

She smiled wryly. "If it helps at all, he genuinely had a crush on you. He was heartbroken when he found out that you were with Lex. He'd hoped you were just friends... that's what he'd heard from everyone around campus."

"Yeah, I feel really sorry for him," Clark returned flatly. "Snooping through my husband's personal belongings must have been emotionally wearing."

Lois bit her bottom lip slightly, one hand toying with her purse strap. "Look, Kent, this is how it goes with me – you cross me, you cross my baby cousin, and I get back at you. It's business, it's life. But we're even now, right? No hard feelings?"

Clark was too surprised to make a reply.

"Chloe says you're a good guy," Lois continued abruptly. "I can't say that I've seen any evidence to support her theory, but I guess I want to give you the chance to prove it."

"Chloe said that?" Clark asked, suddenly shy. "Really?"

Lois smiled, this time with real sweetness, and for the first time, Clark could see the genetic link between his former girlfriend and this sleek bold woman. "One drink. Ten minutes," she reiterated.

Clark glanced back towards the ballroom, then nodded. "Ten minutes."

Lois was actually really pretty, Clark thought as they settled at a table. She was dressed in a two piece business suit, some dark shade, the color indiscriminate in this dim light. Her hair was perfectly straight and glossy smooth, like Lana Lang's but shorter. Clark was wondering a little at the pickiness of his seventeen year old self when Lois looked up from the drink menu she was perusing. A single arched brow spoke volumes.

"You're... you look..." Clark blurted, feeling the need to explain himself. He cleared his throat and tried again. "You're beautiful. I... kind of forgot."

Lois's lips curved a little. "I could say the same for you. I mean, I remember Kal and his club-styling ways, but this..."

"Ugly blazer?" Clark supplied when Lois trailed off.

She laughed. "I take it Luthor dressed you?"

Clark ducked his head a little in response.

"Well, he did an amazing job. Our fashion editor is doing a full-page spread on the scruffy college chic look for the Sunday edition and you're going to be front and center."

Clark laughed. "You're joking." It seemed Lex had been right after all about this ensemble. It didn't change the fact that Mom was going to kill him.

Lois shook her head. "Scout's honor," she said, then seemed to remember that she'd just used the phrase and looked away, mildly embarrassed. The waitress appeared at this juncture and Lois ordered a glass of white wine.

Clark squinted at the drink menu. "Um. Do you have coke?"

"Rum and coke," the waitress said, making a note on her pad.

"Um, no. Just... you know. Coca cola. I'm only nineteen," Clark explained, feeling incredibly stupid.

The waitress blinked in surprise. "Oh, sure," she said, shaking her head. "You could pass for twenty-five, you know," she added with a smile.

Clark blushed again, fiddling with his coaster. "Thanks," he mumbled, and the waitress departed.

After a long silence elapsed, Clark looked up, watching Lois. She seemed preoccupied, staring at her clasped hands on the table's surface. "So... have you talked to Chloe lately?" Clark said, unable to keep quiet.

Lois snapped out of her private thoughts, looking up and beaming benevolence. "Yeah, I just saw her onto her flight yesterday. She's back in New York, safe and sound."

Clark nodded, but couldn't think of an appropriate reply.

"She... was surprised. About you and Lex Luthor," Lois added. "But she wouldn't say what you told her."

So Chloe was as trustworthy as he'd hoped. "I asked her not to say," Clark said, simply.

Another long silence reigned, during which the waitress returned with their drinks.

Finally, Lois sighed. "Okay, here's the deal, Kent." Clark looked up to see her dark eyes fixed on him. "I don't know why you're with Luthor, and to be honest, I don't care. But seeing you together, and from what Jacob and Chloe said, I can tell that you care about him. Which is why I feel like I have to tell you..."

Clark leaned forward involuntarily.

Lois was biting her lip again. "I've been investigating him, ever since you broke that story back in the fall. At first, I was just mad that I dropped the ball and that you caught it, but then, the more I looked into it... I found that LexCorp isn't exactly what it seems."

Clark felt a sickening lurch as he remembered everything he'd chosen to ignore in the Cadmus Labs story. "What do you mean?" he asked, mouth dry.

Lois's brows came together. "I can't tell you... I can't tell you most of it. To be honest, I'm still working on the story and that's why I sent Jacob after Lex, but... what I can tell you is this: Lex is using Cadmus, in fact all of LexCorp by now, to investigate some kind of shady areas of medical research. There have been some unauthorized –" Lois stopped abruptly. "I can't. I can't say more. But... people could get hurt."

Clark's first instinct was that Lois was lying, or, at best, stretching the truth to meet her needs. She was using Clark, trying to pump him for information, and the next words out of her mouth would be a request for his help. He clamped his jaw tight, ready to walk away the instant that happened.

But Lois's gaze softened unexpectedly when she saw Clark's reaction. "I'm sorry, Clark. This must hurt to hear, you can't want to believe what I'm saying..." She trailed off, then started again. "I just... Chloe said you wouldn't do anything wrong, not on purpose. And even though I'm not sure that she's right, I felt like I couldn't leave you in this mess without a word of warning." When Clark remained quiet, she exhaled sharply and continued, more businesslike. "Maybe you know what you're doing, maybe not, but when this all goes down, make sure you're standing on the right side of things, Clark." She reached for her purse and tossed down a twenty dollar bill, rising.

"Lex wouldn't," Clark said, simply, though something deep inside him was squirming uncomfortably. "He wouldn't do anything like that."

Lois gazed at him for a minute. "Good luck, Clark," she concluded softly, then walked out of the lounge.

Clark returned to the zoo benefit feeling like Lois's words had torn away at the edges of his world. He felt more raw, more sensitive to the brassy sounds and sights of the benefit, and more detached, strangely outside of the scene.

"Clark," Lex said, moving to his side. "Come on, I want to introduce you to some people." But Lex seemed different suddenly, foreign, and Clark was afraid he was being hopelessly stiff and awkward with Lex's business associates.

"Where'd you disappear to?" Lex asked softly, walking with Clark towards the desserts table once the introductions were finished. "You missed all the boring as hell speeches. I didn't have anyone to roll my eyes at."

Clark tried to laugh, but it came out a little stilted. He reached for something that looked like a custard cup like his mom made. "I just took a little breather," he managed. "Too much salmon."

Lex was watching him now, apparently noticing Clark's strange behavior. "You aren't going to get food poisoning, are you?" he asked suspiciously. "Should we stop and get some kaopectate on the way home?"

Clark rallied himself and managed a more believable grin this time. "Nah, I never get sick," he pronounced, grabbing a chocolate-dipped strawberry. "Want it?" he asked, holding out the confection.

Lex studied Clark for another moment, then wordlessly opened his mouth. Clark snickered, but obediently guided the fruit to Lex's lips. Lex took the whole strawberry in, drawing into his mouth with his lips until Clark's fingertips were pressed to Lex's mouth. With an intense gaze, Lex bit down, leaving Clark holding the strawberry's stem, working his lips so he kissed Clark's fingers slightly.

There was a photographer's flash at that moment and Clark started to laugh, embarrassed, when Lex reached out with one arm and drew Clark into his embrace so Clark's little plate of desserts was uncomfortably wedged between their chests. Clark hardly noticed it, though, since the next thing he knew, he was dipping his head and tasting Lex's strawberry lips, licking away the trace of chocolate there, feeling Lex move into the kiss, Lex's tongue gliding inside Clark's mouth and tasting him in return.

It felt like it lasted forever and yet it couldn't have been more than a few seconds before Lex suddenly released him. "We should go," Lex said, glancing at his watch. "It's late for a school night," he added with a wicked smile.

"Oh, screw you," Clark retorted amiably, his lips still tasting of strawberries and his whole body singing with excitement.

Once they were away from the photographers' lenses, Lex seemed to shed the pretense of flirtiness and retreated into something more like his usual self. And though Clark regretted the change, the resulting silence did give him a chance to mull over his conversation with Lois.

She hadn't extracted any information from him, no facts or even hints of facts. Coming from Lois, who must be as ruthless a reporter as Chloe, this seemed to support her avowal that she wasn't trying to interview Clark. Still, she might have been trying to establish trust, to lure Clark into a false sense of friendship in order to find more out later. If that was her motive, then she had used Chloe's name shamelessly and effectively in pursuit of her goal. Clark admitted to himself he'd been more than willing to trust Lois simply because she was Chloe's cousin, which seemed like thin enough ice to tread on when Clark considered Lois's recent actions.

But then what about Lois's own words? She had been open enough about her motivations – she wanted to warn Clark about Lex. Clark still bristled to think of her words about Lex, her implication that Clark shouldn't trust Lex, that Clark was blind to Lex's activities.

Except she was right. Clark didn't really know what Lex was doing with Cadmus, except that it most likely involved kryptonite and some kind of semi-illegal testing – all of which Lois had hinted at. So either she was a very lucky guesser, or she had indeed been following up on the Cadmus story.

And why wouldn't she? She was a reporter, she'd let the lead slip, she was hoping for a deeper story to uncover, and according to her own professions, she'd found one. Clark wondered if Lex knew Lois was investigating him... he hadn't seemed that surprised by Jacob's betrayal, nor by Lois's involvement. Maybe Lex knew Lois was sniffing around – in which case, he'd probably be angry at Clark for speaking with her, even if Clark hadn't said anything about LexCorp or even their marriage.

And Clark had lied to Lex because he sensed that.

Clark glanced over at Lex, who was focused on driving, fingers tapping the steering wheel to the beat of some techno CD he'd chosen.

"Did your dad do anything else?" Clark asked abruptly, feeling the need to clear his mind of these troubling thoughts.

Lex made some vague noise of inattention.

"After I took off for a little bit... did he say anything else?" Clark repeated.

Lex shook his head. "Not really. Made some comment about you, something snide. No doubt he was bad-mouthing us to everyone he spoke with. But nothing major. He left a while before you came back. Said he wasn't feeling well. Probably just had somewhere more important to be." Little lines of tension bracketed his mouth, though, and his free hand moved back to the stereo controls.

And now Lex was lying to Clark.

Lex didn't come to bed immediately, though Clark was tired enough to head straight for the bedroom. Even though he was troubled by thoughts of Lois and tormented by memories of kissing Lex, Clark's fatigue won out in the end and he drifted off into a light slumber, lulled by the distant clacking of Lex's keyboard.

"Come on, Clark, move over a bit," Lex spoke some time later, prodding at Clark's limbs.

Clark groaned in protest. He was warm and comfortable and what right did Lex have to come and make him move?

"Jesus, how the hell do you take up an entire king-sized bed?" Lex was saying, placing hands on Clark's side and giving a good shove.

"Stop it," Clark ordered muzzily. "I'm trying to sleep."

Then there was a shift of the mattress, and Lex was slipping under the covers next to Clark, his relatively cool skin tugging Clark out of his fuzzy dreamy state. "Sorry," Clark managed, then rolled away a little so his back was to Lex. But then Lex was unexpectedly curling into Clark, nestling into him.

"Don't be sorry, you're warm," Lex replied. "Just don't kick me."

Clark smiled, feeling the expression tugging at the sleep-slackened muscles of his face. "Try not to," he promised, and then Lex's arm slipped around Clark's waist and his hand settled heavily on Clark's belly. "G'night, Lex," Clark managed, even as his brain informed him he should be finding this arousing.

"'Night, Clark," Lex answered, his breath cooling the back of Clark's neck.

Clark woke to an empty bed, unsure when Lex had left and how Clark had slept through it, but this ambiguity didn't prevent Clark from joyfully jerking off to memories of the previous night while he showered. He wondered, shuddering in aftershocks, standing in the steaming spray, whether Lex had done the same thing earlier in the day, and that thought alone nearly set him off again.

But this rather enjoyable start to the day didn't last much beyond breakfast and a note on the fridge that proclaimed Lex would be home late, that Clark shouldn't wait up. This new evidence of Lex's attempted coldness, contrasted with the way he'd wrapped himself around Clark in bed, made Clark wonder anew what could be bothering Lex. Was it really that he had Clark's best interests at heart, when he continued, fitfully, to reject the possibility of a physical relationship? Or was Lex hiding something? One thing was certain... Lex wanted Clark. The kisses at the benefit had completely stripped away all Clark's doubt on that account, because while Lex was a good actor, Clark knew him well enough to know that the sharp contrast Lex was drawing between his public affection for Clark and his private attempts at withdrawal from him spoke of a deeper attachment than either behavior would suggest.

Clark was halfway through Tuesday, stumbling in a thoughtful haze brought on by his conversation with Lois, and Lex's shifting moods, before he realized he wasn't being followed. The realization brought him up short in the middle of his path, where he stood still and scanned the surrounding crowds carefully. Sure enough, a moment's surveillance confirmed Clark's suspicion. He'd been so distracted by the buzz of his classmates whenever he was spotted, as well as by his more serious speculations, Clark had completely forgotten to be on the look-out for the shadow-men who had followed him faithfully since the Monitor party.

"Are you getting a new power?" Pete spoke, suddenly by Clark's side.

"Pete!" Clark hissed, jolting out of his thoughts. "In public!"

"You always get that dumb look on your face when you're getting a new power. The last time you looked that stupid, you were concentrating on that cold breath thing you do," Pete added conversationally, then thwapped Clark in the arm. "Back in the plaid uniform today? Man, I was hoping Luthor had overhauled your whole wardrobe."

Clark grimaced. He'd tried to avoid the papers today, but it was difficult when his classmates insisted on passing him copy after copy of the Inquisitor, where he and Lex had their chocolate strawberry moment immortalized on the front page. "That was my wardrobe," Clark said. "Lex just picked the combination."

Pete shook his head. "I've never seen you in that blazer."

"I hate that blazer," Clark grumbled, heading down the path towards the student union building. "That's why I never wear it."

"Are you completely retarded? Half the girls in my dorm have practically begged me to introduce them to you so they can see the blazer on you again. They've even named the blazer, Clark."

Clark stopped in his tracks. "Really?"

Pete grinned. "Really. They're calling it the Billion-Dollar Blazer. Want me to hook you up?"

Clark raised his left hand. "Um. Married?"

Pete rolled his eyes. "Oh, sure." They took a few more paces before Pete spoke again. "How the hell did you decide you needed more secrets, anyway? What, the ones you had already weren't enough, you needed to go and get married, too?" he asked, in the same voice he'd used to admonish Clark for eating his blue crayon back in kindergarten.

Clark laughed. Sometimes it was nice to have Pete around to make fun of him. It helped him forget all the things he was worried about, at least for a little while. "As long as I keep sharing them with you, I've got nothing to fear," Clark joked, elbowing Pete. "You can be the outlet for all my alien angst and marital problems."

"I can take the pressure, I'm used to it by now," Pete smiled back. "Hey, did I tell you about Louisa?" he asked, suddenly beaming.

"No, tell me about Louisa," Clark replied, feeling light and a little silly from the unexpected freedom he'd been granted. True, he'd been almost too busy with other concerns of late to worry about Edge's goons, but it still felt like a giant to-do box had been checked off of Clark's mental list. To do: regain freedom to use powers without constantly checking for spies.

As Pete began to extol the virtues of his new girlfriend, Clark half-listened and pondered the possible meaning of this change in procedure. Maybe Lionel had given up on Clark. Maybe Lex was right, Clark had scared him, perhaps so badly that Lionel didn't want to cross Clark.

Then again, Clark reflected, his luck had never been that heavily weighted on the good side. As if in confirmation of this thought, his cell phone rang.

Clark extracted the phone as Pete waited. "Oh, crap," Clark breathed, seeing the call display. Wincing at Pete, Clark hit the talk button and lifted the phone to his ear. "Hello?"

"Clark, why did you go to such a nice party without even shaving first?" Martha said, exasperated. "And tell me you're not wearing your old painting shirt under that blazer I bought you. I thought you hated that blazer!"

Yep, Clark's luck sucked. It didn't bode well for the sudden change in the Edge situation.

It was the silent echoing apartment that evening that finally drove Clark to a decision about the Lex-Lois situation. In the middle of watching a rerun of Malcolm in the Middle, Clark realized if Lois Lane had the chutzpah to chase down a story Clark had already scooped her on, then Clark could surely meet her standard and pursue the angle a little himself. Sure, it was his husband he was investigating, not just some rich man's son, but, Clark reasoned, if he stuck to strictly legal channels of investigation, he couldn't possibly turn up anything Lex wouldn't want him to know.

Clark went into the bedroom-turned-study and fired up his computer, then began his research. The Daily Planet archives were scanty on the subject of Alexander Joseph Luthor – beginning with an impressively large birth announcement dating from 1980 and ranging up through the meteor strike, adult Lex's various clashes with his father and ending with the recent revelation of Lex's marriage, the Planet's stories were, without exception, tastefully and truthfully written, not playing on sensationalism or scandal to make good copy. Disgusted, Clark turned to the Inquisitor.

Here there was more fodder for the imagination – conjecture based on rumor based on wild theories, Lex's badboy street cred began to add up at an alarming pace. Drugs, clubs, orgies, even hints of incest, nothing was beneath the notice of the rag, and, Clark suspected, their methods of reporting were more akin to fiction-writing than actual journalism. Combined, the articles made for a fascinating read, and Clark printed out page after page of alliterative headlines accompanied by grainy pictures of a bald youth.

On impulse, Clark logged on to Chloe's old Wall of Weird database, curious to see whether she'd listed Lex as being among the victims of the meteor shower. He didn't imagine Chloe would have Lex on her list – she'd mostly stuck to the freaks that made trouble for Clark and other Smallvillians – but to his surprise, there was a file called "Luthor, A." Opening the document, Clark was impressed to see the amount of information Chloe had collected. Along with the articles Clark had already gathered, she'd found news clippings from the Time magazine than had reported on the meteor shower and other major papers who had picked up on the story of the billionaire's injured son. Further down the chronology, there was a link to a file called, "Possible Effects?" which proved to be a hacked copy of Lex's medical file from the Smallville Medical Centre. Clark realized he was already crossing the bounds of legality he had established for himself, but then Chloe was the one who'd done the digging, and he was already looking, so ...

It seemed Lex had an unusually high white blood cell count, which, if Clark remembered his senior biology, meant his immune system was overactive. A quick Google search further revealed that the high white cell count was indicative of a number of medical conditions, but Clark couldn't decipher most of the medical sites. Instead, he found the e-mail address of the lab undergraduate who'd helped him back in the fall and sent her a message, requesting an explanation for possible causes and effects of an elevated white cell count, saying it was for another Monitor story.

At the bottom of the medical file, Chloe had typed, in red font: "Was he just sick or does he have an increased healing ability? Used to have asthma as child."

That last bit was true, by Lex's own admission, Clark realized, and quickly closed the window, feeling sickened and not a little worried. It seemed Lex might have reason to know about the effects of kryptonite, which would mean any research Cadmus did involving the rocks might be at Lex's personal request. In fact, hadn't Uyeda's research involved immune boosting?

Clark turned off his computer and went into the bathroom, preparing for bed feeling a deep rancor toward Lois Lane and the challenge she had unknowingly issued.

Sometimes it was better not to know.

Lex crawled into bed next to Clark some hours later, again wriggling into Clark's embrace, this time chest to chest. Clark, only half-awake, found himself tilting his head down to plant a sleepy kiss on Lex's mouth. In response, Lex exhaled on a happy hum, one hand snaking under Clark's t-shirt to rest on Clark's lower back.

"Rough day?" Clark asked, dragging his eyelids open.

Lex was almost asleep already. "You have no idea," he answered, his voice rumbling into Clark's torso.

As Clark fell back into unconsciousness, he wondered if Lex really wanted to go toe-to-toe on who had had a worse day.

The next day, Wednesday, Clark woke when Lex did, feeling the sudden absence when Lex rolled away, his waking apparently prompted by the almost silent buzzing of Lex's PDA on the bedside table. It was raining outside, the smell of wet pavement and the patter of drops slowly registering in Clark's mind.

"Time's it?" Clark asked with the bleary-minded compulsion to orient himself temporally.

"Five thirty. Go back to sleep," Lex answered, his voice low and quiet. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, head bowed, sleepily rubbing one palm over his face. Clark lazily let his eyes trace the strong line of Lex's spine, the slight indentation it made, the almost invisible delineation of Lex's ribs, the gentle slope of his shoulders.

Inhaling deeply, Clark lifted a hand and ran it down the landscape of the skin in front of him. Lex didn't move, only shivering a little under Clark's touch, didn't object when Clark's hand came to a stop with two fingers slightly hooked inside Lex's waistband, Clark's thumb idly stroking.

"I have to get in the shower," Lex said, but his voice was thready, his tone almost breathless.

Clark dragged himself a bit further from his state of half-slumber. "Lex," he said, simply.

Lex turned, looking back over his shoulder. He opened his mouth, presumably to ask what Clark wanted, but he froze when his eyes took in Clark's recumbent form. As if Lex was unaware of the motion, his hand stretched out and settled on Clark's warm cheek. "You have no idea how you look right now," Lex said, his voice even rougher, raspier.

Clark smiled, reveling in the feel of Lex's palm on his face, then moved his head a little to kiss Lex's fingertips. When he looked up again, Lex's mouth had fallen slightly open and his eyes were bright spots of intensity in the almost-black of the room. He looked so tired, god, so worn out, and it wasn't even a decision, it was just a smooth motion for Clark to lift his hand and gently tug back on Lex's shoulder, pulling him down, down, and close to Clark's face.

Clark studied Lex for a moment, saw Lex waiting to be kissed, eyes closed, barely breathing, his whole presence speaking of power contained, dominance muted, fierce energy momentarily banked.

If Lois could see him like this, thought Clark suddenly, she'd know that she's wrong about him. Unable to keep Lex waiting any longer, Clark closed the gap, moved the final inch, and felt Lex under his mouth. Lex released a quiet moan, almost a sigh, and the last of the tension fell away from him, his body slumping down onto the mattress beside Clark.

Clark raised himself up on one elbow, industriously kissing Lex, suddenly desperate for Lex to respond, desperate to see the Lex he'd known before Lois's article, before the whole stupid thing with Jacob, the incident with Edge's lackeys. Lex tasted like the rain falling outside, a little cool and earthy. Lex made another soft noise, and Clark pulled back to lick at Lex's lips, wanting to take away whatever was bothering Lex, whatever was weighing him down.

"Clark, we shouldn't," Lex said, but his arms were pulling at Clark, his hands levering him so Clark was on top of Lex, cradled between Lex's legs.

Clark kissed away this objection, absorbed with the way Lex's touch was indecisively skating across the surface of his skin under his t-shirt, first up towards his shoulders and then down, almost to the waistband of Clark's pajamas. Inspired, Clark drew his own fingers over Lex's chest, finding the hard peak of a nipple and gently tugging at it, extracting another long sigh.

Clark shifted up a little and then he realized Lex was hard under him, hard as Clark was, that Lex's cock, the hot length of him, was pressing up into Clark's belly, almost touching Clark's own cock. "Oh, god, oh god," Clark gasped, immediately aroused almost to the point of pain. "Oh god, Lex," he said, and thrust, trying desperately to relieve the sensation.

Then Lex came alive under him, his fingers dipping under Clark's waistband, short blunt nails digging into Clark's ass, Lex's heels rising and settling on the back of Clark's thighs, his mouth biting at the juncture of neck and shoulder, hips lifting with brutal urgency.

Clark didn't know what to do with himself, torn into separate pieces of longing. He wanted Lex naked under him, he wanted Lex on him, stroking him or tonguing him or christ, fucking him. He wanted to taste Lex, feel him weighty and vital on his tongue, he wanted to just lie back and let Lex paw him over like he was Lex's newest toy. He wanted to thrust into Lex, fuck him harder than he'd ever dared to fuck Chloe, let Lex know exactly how strong Clark was, prove to Lex he was the dominant one.

One of Lex's fingers made the decision for Clark, slipping, almost in accident, down the cleft of Clark's ass. Clark cried out, shocked anew with lust, and instinctively began to fuck down into Lex, needing the friction, uncaring that they were both still mostly clothed, that Lex would think he was a horny inexperienced teenager for coming this fast, because – this, and this, and fuck, this, this was the best thing Clark had ever felt, and it was too much and it had to end now, because if it kept going, Clark was going to die from trying to take it all in, Lex's hot pants of breath on his skin, Lex's rough tugs at his ass cheek, Lex's hard cock shifting against his belly, Lex's intermittent moans and sighs, and cCchrist that finger, that amazing finger that was just slowly dipping lower and lower, every motion propelling it down until –

Clark got one hand under Lex's hips, roughly pressing Lex's body to his own as he came and came, in long, unrelenting waves and before he had a chance to worry he was being too violent, Lex made this sound, this broken harsh sound that somehow meant Clark's name, and Lex was pumping his hips up too, that was Lex throbbing and coming and sobbing Clark's name.

There was a long moment where Clark completely lost track of language and the meaning of objects, where all he could do was perceive, animal-like, the various stimuli that his surroundings presented. Smooth sheet, sticky pull of skin on skin, muted thunder of two racing heartbeats, musky-sweet smell of come, little starbust of freckles on Lex's shoulder, right by where Clark had collapsed.

Then Lex's PDA buzzed again, apparently feeling its first message had gone unheeded, and Lex went from inanimate puddle to sinuous human in a bare instant. "Holy shit," he said, his voice having returned to its regular consistency.

Clark giggled, a little hysterically, and slowly raised himself up on his elbows. "Did we just..."

Lex threw one arm across his eyes and nodded, apparently trying for a dramatic pose, but his lips were twitching in spite of his best efforts. Clark kissed him impulsively, privately amazed at how quickly this had become normal, this long-coveted kissing.

Clark experimentally moved his hips, grimaced at the cooling dampness of his pants. "I've never been this cheerful this early in the morning," he announced, succumbing again to a fit of laughter.

Lex lifted his arm and the smile spread a little. "And since you're usually revoltingly cheerful, that's saying something," he added, still playing at being horrified, but then his hands were running up under Clark's shirt again and he was nuzzling into Clark's neck, making little sounds of satisfaction. "I have to go to work, still."

Clark decided, upon reflection, that the badness of this statement was balanced by the fact that Lex didn't seem to be going anywhere at the moment. Clark lifted his head again after dipping down to lick a circle onto the V of Lex's collarbone. "Okay, but when you get home, we're doing this again," he spoke, grinning.

Lex grinned back. "Maybe even naked," he suggested wickedly.

The sooner he got to work, the sooner he'd be home again, and that meant Clark could have him naked in bed sooner. Clark decided this idea was worth pursuing, so he rolled off of Lex. Lex slowly sat up, then stood, dropping his pants and kicking them into a corner before heading naked towards the bathroom.

Lex, not surprisingly, had a really adorable ass.

Clark had every intention of rising to join Lex in the shower momentarily, prompted by the idea of getting to see more of the adorable ass, but when he opened his eyes again, it was to the sound of his own alarm clock and Lex was long gone.

Clark grinned to himself as he stumbled out of bed. The rain that had been gently pattering down at dawn was now sluicing down in sheets. Clark was pretty sure his pants were stuck to a rather sensitive part of his anatomy. He had a German test today that he'd neglected in favor of his research the previous night. It was the best day ever.

Pete knew something was up the moment he saw Clark. Clark told him Lex had just gotten the newest Grand Theft Auto for their PlayStation. Pete chose to accept this version, probably sensing he'd prefer this obvious lie to the actual truth.

Wayne, the perpetually crabby, also noticed. "You're still working on that SU election article, right?" he asked suspiciously.

Clark widened his shit-eating grin and lied without a trace of guilt. "Yep, I'll have it by tomorrow!"

His German test went remarkably well. Clark wondered, as he penciled in another umlaut, whether an aptitude for languages was among his alien powers, because it seemed odd to him he should be able to write complete sentences using vocabulary he'd seen only once before in the textbook. The only difficulty lay in keeping focused on the test before him, rather than letting his mind wander to rather more entertaining thoughts of the early morning.

Clark wished he'd remembered to open his eyes, now he had leisure to think about it. He'd been so overwhelmed, so hungry and desperate, he'd kept his eyes squeezed shut the whole time, trying to limit the sensations barraging him, but now, biting down on his pencil eraser with an unconscious oral fixation, Clark needed to know what Lex had looked like, when Clark ground into him, when he came on him, when Lex came himself.

Clark shifted in his seat and thoughtfully added another sentence to his essay on his spring break.

Sometimes, when Lex was stressed, he bit at his lower lip, just a little, barely showing perfectly straight white teeth against the unashamed red of his mouth. Clark could almost imagine Lex had been biting his lip when Clark had snaked one hand under his ass, pressed Lex up towards him. He had to remember, this afternoon, to keep his eyes open, see if Lex did bite his lip.

"Funf minuten," announced the prof, and Clark forced himself to finish the paragraph. Five minutes, then he was done for the day, and he could go home and... what? Lie around naked, waiting for Lex to get home? No, that would never do. In his current state, Clark doubted his ability to last five minutes alone with his cock without exhausting himself before Lex even walked in the door.

He would have to occupy himself otherwise, in some very unsexy activity.

"Well, the cows aren't going to feed themselves."

Definitely unsexy, Clark thought, a little disturbed at exactly how far his brain had carried the pursuit of this goal. Still, after refraining from using his speed for so long, the run out to the farm had been exhilarating, and the adrenaline Clark had generated made up in large part for the fact that he now found himself with a bag of feed under each arm, stepping in piles of cow poo.

Dad seemed pleased to see him, in his non-effusive fashion. They spent a good hour working together in a long-accustomed silence, the only tense moment arising when Clark handed over a pitchfork with his left hand and Dad caught sight of the wedding band. "You have to wear that now?" Jonathan grunted without inflection.

Clark nodded, but he couldn't suppress a slight smile at the thought of Lex. Luckily, Jonathan had turned his back again in the meantime.

"I'll finish up here," said Jonathan after another quarter of an hour went by. "You go in the kitchen and visit with your mother before you run back to Metropolis."

Martha was more verbal in expressing her delight, but she was relying heavily on cookies and muffins to emphasize her happiness. Clark didn't complain.

"How... how are things?" she asked, setting down a giant tumbler of fresh milk.

Unlike Dad, she was observant and caught the grin that automatically arose. "Things are really..." he began, then trailed off, unsure how strong a superlative he could use without awakening even more suspicion. "They're really... good," Clark concluded, erring on the side of understatement.

"You aren't getting too much trouble from other students? The media's leaving you alone? And you ran here, so I guess whatever you were being careful about, it's... gone?"

Well, Mom had to worry about something, so Clark swallowed his mouthful of cookie and provided a point of focus, drawing on one of his relatively minor concerns. "Yeah, that's all fine. But remember I told you about that girl I helped, the one who was raped?"

Martha nodded. Clark had recounted the story during his sojourn in Smallville the previous week. "Is she all right?"

Clark nodded slightly. "I guess so. But I ran into one of her friends yesterday and she said the girl's not going to press charges. I guess that's why the police never contacted me to give a statement."

Mom shook her head in dismay, reaching across the table to squeeze Clark's hand. "But she knows who the rapist was?"

"Yeah, apparently he was an ex-boyfriend," Clark explained. "Which is why she didn't want to turn him in."

Martha was silent for a moment. "Well, she's making a very bad decision, but I suppose it's not your place to try to change her mind."

Clark agreed, sighing. "Her friend said they're still trying to convince her, but... Anyway, she's got my e-mail address and phone number, so I guess if she decides to press charges after all, she knows where to find me."

Martha watched while Clark took a few gulps of milk, clearly preoccupied by her thoughts. "So sad when something like that happens to a young person," she commented at length. "It can take years to work through the emotional damage." This seemed to remind her of something else, because some of the sympathy faded from her expression and she perked up a little. "Did I tell you about that Summers boy?"

Clark was glad for superhuman reflexes, because the sound of the name nearly made him choke on his cookie. Managing a quick swallow and blinking back tears, Clark shook his head, trying desperately to appear uninterested.

"Well, I saw his mother in Fordman's on Saturday and she was telling me that Eric moved into a new facility. She said he'd declined a lot at the old place, but they couldn't afford to move him to a private treatment center, and then they were approached by a medical research agency who wanted to trial some new treatments on Eric."

Clark carefully bit down on his tongue, keeping himself from showing any surprise. When he thought he could manage it, he spoke, "So he's... um. Doing better?"

Martha smiled. "Mrs. Summers said he's really making progress. They haven't been allowed to see him yet, but they got a few letters and he's more like himself than he's been since before the accident." She squeezed Clark's hand again. "I know it's bothered you, that Eric wound up in that place because of what happened, but you have to understand, he had deeper issues that were troubling him anyway. And now he's getting the therapy he needs, he may well believe that having your powers was just a delusion. It's better this way."

Clark swallowed and nodded like he was absorbing this comfort. "Did Mrs. Summers say where they moved Eric?" he asked, mindlessly crumpling a napkin in his free hand.

Martha's fine red brows knitted a little. "She did say, but I can't quite..."

His mind pounding with panic, Clark was painfully certain the facility operated under the control of LuthorCorp – if not directly, then in some covert way. Lionel Luthor hadn't been satisified to leave Eric catatonic in Belle Reve. No, he'd had him removed entirely and now he had Eric under his complete control. Eric might well be dead already... Lionel would have his staff make it look accidental, but he would have effectively silenced his source on Clark, wiping out his own trail of discovery and isolating the dangerous information within his most trusted inner circle. Maybe Eric had divulged something else, something that gave Lionel the confidence he needed to form a plan. Eric hadn't known about the kryptonite, at least not at the time, but maybe... he'd had a long while to figure it out, after all–

"It started with an M, I remember," Martha declared. "Ma... Madma?"

Clark opened his mouth, suddenly terrified his parents would be Lionel's next logical target, ready to confess what had happened and beg that the Kents be careful, but his mother's next words obliterated his ability to speak.

"No, it was Cadmus. That was the name," she said, pleased to have recalled at last. "She said they've taken on quite a few cases from Eric's old hospital, they've been very gener– Clark? What's wrong, sweetheart?"

Clark hastily stood up from the table, knocking over his empty glass. "I just remembered..." he blurted. "I think I left the stove on." And in the annals of Clark Kent's Sad-Ass Lies, that was officially topping the list, but it silenced Martha long enough – probably from shock that Clark would tell such a blatant untruth – to allow Clark to make a getaway.

Running along the highway back to Metropolis, all Clark could think of was Lex... Lex and his secretive dealings with Uyeda, Lex and the shipments to Cadmus from Smallville, Lex and his own potential kryptonite infection, Lex saying trust had to be earned, that Clark shouldn't trust anyone, even him, without having good reason beforehand.

He arrived back at the apartment just before five o'clock, but Lex still wasn't home. Checking his e-mail with a sudden sense of urgency, Clark found a reply from Lucy Sikora that was less than encouraging. She listed many diseases that had elevated white cell count as a symptom, but then went on to say:

Clark, I wouldn't mention this except Uyeda's no longer my supervisor and so I guess I can disclose this much... those trials we were doing, back in the fall? Well, the rats we were testing on exhibited this elevated white cell count you describe, but as far as we could ascertain, there was no illness causing the increase. In fact, these rats... they were resistant to infection and injury, and they healed extremely quickly when they were injured or ill.

Another weird thing, one that Uyeda didn't like to talk about... about a third of the rats in the test group went completely bald and another third exhibited increased aggression and anti-social behaviours. I don't know if this has any relation to your story or not, but... I'm worried, Clark. If Uyeda's testing on humans...

I'd appreciate you keeping my name out of this, if you need to use this information. I hope I'm just overreacting.

Clark stared at the computer screen for a few minutes, reading and re-reading the message compulsively. Complete baldness and increased immune powers? Clark tried to remember if Lex had been ill or hurt anytime during the past seven months, but from what he could recall, Lex seemed to be always in perfect health, despite the way he'd driven himself to the point of exhaustion again and again since the plant buy-out at Christmas.

Suddenly, Clark remembered Lex burning his hand, remembered the way the skin had blistered, the way Lex had hissed and sworn. So he clearly wasn't completely resistant to injury... his skin had reacted just like any human's would. But how quickly had he healed? Clark tried to recall, but couldn't place a time value on how long the bandage had been on Lex's hand. Even if he'd remembered, Lex could easily have kept the bandage on longer than necessary, in order to give the illusion of a slow healing process.

But skin that had been burned formed a brownish-pink scar, didn't it? Clark remembered his mother setting her arm down on a hot pan once, the long stripe on her forearm that had slowly faded over the course of a few years, still faintly visible as a whitish almost-shiny line on her skin. Recalling the tackle-PlayStation sessions with perfect clarity, Clark summoned up an image of Lex's fine-boned hands on the game controller, the smooth white skin taut and perfect over his right – burned – hand. So it was true. Lex had healed unnaturally quickly.

Thinking about the burn incident, Clark suddenly remembered Lex had burned himself just as Clark was about to confess to the meteor weirdness that plagued Smallville. Caught up in his own stresses at the time, Clark hadn't thought to consider Lex's action might have been purposeful. Lex could have burned himself to prevent Clark from talking about the meteor mutants. But why?

Clark sat back in his chair and sighed. Clearly Lex already knew about the mutants, at least in his own particular case, and if the burn had indeed been intentional, it suggested he knew more. It was a fact that anyone with half a brain and a search engine could have found and devoured Chloe's countless Torch exposes on the subject, and Lex certainly qualified. If driven by curiosity, Clark had no doubt Lex would have exhaustively researched the subject matter, to the point that Lex himself might know almost as much as Clark did about the oddities of Smallville. From a scientific standpoint, Lex might even know more, if he was actively gathering other mutants from Belle Reve and studying them at Cadmus.

Right. But Eric Summers wasn't, technically speaking, a mutant, so what did Lex want with him? Clark remembered, with a sickening lurch, that he had mentioned Eric's name to Lex, right before Lex had burned himself. Maybe Lex had thought Eric was one of the mutants... but surely a quick study of the boy's history would prove that his powers, whatever they had been, were long gone. And then there was the uncomfortable fact that Eric Summers knew – or thought he knew, at one point – about Clark's own gifts. Did that mean that Lex knew, too, now? Or had Lionel's drugs obliterated Eric's ability to relate his story? Clark almost hoped for the latter, then felt a rush of shame at the notion.

Clark was about to return to the puzzle of why Lex would be hiding his Cadmus project from Clark when he heard the click of the front door. Clark immediately recalled he was supposed to be doing... naked things with Lex, approximately now, and though the idea still held a disturbingly strong allure, Clark had priorities.

Enough of speculation. Enough of projection and contingencies and theories. Clark stood up, not bothering to close his e-mail program, and walked into the front hall, determined to drop all pretenses and just ask Lex what was going on. If Lex was who Clark hoped he was, if Clark wasn't terribly wrong about Lex being a good person, there had to be a logical explanation and they could put an end to this strange miasma of untruth clouding the space between them. Lex was Lex, and Clark knew him, knew him so intimately and so completely... no, there was no way that Lex was in the wrong.

Clark braced himself and raised his head, looking up at Lex, feeling simultaneously confident and terrified.

And Clark's world promptly collapsed onto a single point of focus. Lex was pale, his face drawn, and he was standing, utterly still, in the middle of the front hallway. He was still clutching his briefcase in one hand and his eyes were riveted to a point on the floor. He gradually seemed to become aware of Clark's presence and lifted his gaze to Clark's face.

"Did you... you heard?" Lex asked, sounding eerily unfamiliar, like someone else was inhabiting his body.

Clark couldn't nod or shake his head. He didn't even get as far as wondering if Lex meant Clark had heard about Eric Summers and Cadmus, wondering how Lex could know Clark had heard, because there was something wrong about Lex, something drastically amiss. It was only after he'd moved that Clark realized he had closed the gap separating him and Lex, that he was reaching up to bracket Lex's shoulders, feeling the urge to brace him up somehow.

Lex's mouth opened, and his gaze dropped again. "My father. He just died."

Chapter Text

"Here, it's the tomato kind my mom makes," Clark said, setting down an optimistically-sized portion of soup in front of Lex. Lex didn't seem to notice. "Come on, Lex, you have to eat."

Lex's head snapped up a little, as though he was just hearing Clark, and he nodded and picked up the spoon. Clark watched Lex make an attempt at consuming the soup, watched as Lex gradually lost interest and eventually drifted back into his strange contemplative trance.

The details of Lionel's death had been relayed easily enough. After Lex's first, shocked-sounding conveyance of the news, he'd gone on to explain, in a flat, matter-of-fact way. Apparently had a brain aneurysm. Happened really suddenly – dead within an hour of going to the hospital. Not really preventable. Random stroke of fate. The facts of the incident startled Clark with their starkness. Lionel Luthor, master plotter and planner, had died this quickly, this unexpectedly.

Having finished telling Clark the backstory, Lex had gone straight for the television and spent a good hour flipping through all the local news programs, where the story of Lionel's sudden death was the leading item on every station. It came on later on the national networks, then finally settling on CNN, Lex seemed to find a strange fascination in the steady expansion of the story with each successive news cycle. 4 p.m.... checked into local hospital... brain aneurysm is a sudden killer... family could not be reached for comment.

The phone rang around the third CNN incarnation. Clark answered. "Luthor-Kent residence," he said, as he'd schooled himself to do over the past week.

"Oh, honey, we just saw on the TV," said Martha. "I'm so sorry."

Clark looked over at Lex, Lex silent and intensely focused on the anchorwoman's words. "Yeah, it's... um. Sudden." Clark fought the compulsion to run into the bedroom, close the door, and beg his mother for help.

"How is he?" Clark almost resented it, that it took Lex being unexpectedly orphaned for his mother to demonstrate some compassion for her son-in-law, but he quashed the unfair emotion and tried to answer.

"He's... we're just watching the news, you know... seeing what everyone's saying."

"Do you think that's a good idea, sweetheart? Maybe Lex just needs to be quiet, take some time to absorb this. I mean, I know he and his father had their differences, but still, it must be a nasty shock."

"He wants to watch it," Clark returned, a little defensively. "He's doing okay, Mom."

"Is there someone you can call, a friend or maybe his brother? Someone should be with him right now," Martha asked, worried.

Clark squeezed the phone reflexively, heard it crack a little. "I'm with him," he spoke, his voice hushed. "I'm here."

"Clark, you've only known him for a short while, even if you are his friend. It might be a good idea to get another person involved, someone who understands him better."

Clark looked over at Lex again, saw the fragile curve of his skull. It was true, Clark didn't know, couldn't even begin to guess, what Lex was thinking or feeling at the moment. But Clark was absolutely certain Lex didn't want anyone around but Clark. Clark couldn't begin to put this into words, so he stayed quiet, listening to the soft sounds of the farm coming through the phone line, hearing his father watching the news in the background.

"Just remember... people aren't always themselves when they're grieving, Clark. Lex might do things that seem strange or out of place." Lex is dangerous, unpredictable, Clark. Don't let your guard down just because he's hurting.

"I know, Mom. I'll take care of him, don't worry," Clark said in a near-whisper. Mom, I'll do anything I can to get him through this. I'm not a child anymore.

"Clark," said Martha at long last, and her voice had gone from motherly coddling to something deeper, more serious. "I love you."

"I love you too, Mom," Clark replied woodenly. "Tell Dad."

And Clark had gone and made a huge kettle of soup and lured Lex away from the television during the seven o'clock to ten o'clock news lull, and now he was trying to make Lex eat.

"Do you want something to drink?" Clark asked. "Some blue water?"

Lex smiled and shook his head. "I'm okay, Clark. You can stop mothering me."

That act might have worked on Clark six months ago, but now, Clark wasn't fooled for an instant. "Scotch?"

Lex was about to decline, already shaking his head, but then he caught Clark's eye and paused. "Yeah, I think I could use a drink."

"Me too," Clark surprised himself by saying. He rose and found Lex's scotch in the cupboard over the fridge, then brought it back to the table along with two tumblers.

He waited until Lex had downed his first glass before asking.

"How are you doing?"

Lex seemed unsurprised by the question, but he took his time in formulating an answer. "I'm... not really here yet, you know?"

"I'm sorr–" Clark began, but Lex interrupted him, looking up and continuing.

"No, not like that. I just mean. It's not real. I keep waiting to find out that it's some stupid hoax my dad cooked up to boost his image or something."

Clark felt stupid as soon as he said it. "Do you think it is?"

Lex shook his head, laughing a little. "No. No, it isn't." He tapped his fingers on the side of the tumbler, then looked up at Clark. "Lucas called me, he was so cold about it, and I was cold right back and I was thinking, 'Jesus, we're the Spock family.' And then I went to the hospital, I don't know why, and he was still in his room, still in bed, and –"

Something seemed to lodge in Lex's flow of words, and he reached for the scotch bottle, refilled his glass, and took a swallow before he continued.

"And he's gone. He's just. Have you seen a dead person, Clark?" Lex's fine brows were suddenly knit, his gaze fixed on some point under the surface of the table.

Clark had seen several dead people, more than he cared to think about, but he thought a nod would suffice.

"They're just. Gone. Like there's no mistaking it. My father wasn't in the room, in that bed. It was just some thing that looked vaguely like him. Lucas... Jesus, he's such a little shit," Lex chortled unexpectedly. "He comes up behind me, looking down at Dad, and he says, 'You think he's faking it?' And I cracked up, because I was thinking the same thing, somehow. And then we're killing ourselves laughing and then we both just stop. And I said, 'I keep thinking he's gonna bust in here and give us both a lecture about deathbed decorum. Something about Alexander the Great and "to the strongest" and all that bullshit.'"

Lex's lips twitched again, and Clark smiled instinctively, even though he was privately horrified at this story. "Lucas and I haven't spoken since Dad cut me off and brought Lucas to his side. Last time I saw him, I told him he was a dead man. And I meant it." Lex shook his head disbelievingly. "It's so ridiculous to me now. Lucas has his empire and I really couldn't give a shit. I hope he's happy at least."

Clark found himself at a loss for words. This fucked up family dynamic was so far out of his own realm of comprehension, he wasn't sure if consolation or sympathetic humor was more appropriate.

Lex seemed to notice Clark's difficulty. "You think we're nuts." Clark's expression must have confirmed it, because Lex just laughed again and kept talking. "I think so, too. But sometimes, I kind of like it. Like it's a part of the great Luthor heritage to be so goddamn dysfunctional. Guess Dad instilled that in me."

Lex drank in silence for a few minutes, then the phone rang again.

Chloe. "Hey, Chloe," Clark said into the receiver.

"I didn't know if I should call," she said.

"No, it's okay," he assured her.

"Jesus, I'm so sorry, Clark."

"Um..." And because it was Chloe, Clark could say it. "What do you say to that? I mean, I've never done this. What's the answer?"

A breath of laughter, the hint of Chloe's you're-adorably-dense smile. "I think you just say 'thanks', Clark."

"Oh. Thanks."

"Is he okay? Is he there?"

Clark nodded, then verbalized. "Yes. Yeah."

"And you're doing all right?"

"Yeah, we're... um. Getting drunk."

"Good luck with that."

"Worth a try," Clark said, then scolded himself for almost smiling. This wasn't funny.

"Okay, well, call if you need to talk or anything."

"I will."

"Love you, Kitten Toes," Chloe said with tenderness, using a long-abandoned pet name to the same effect as when his mom suddenly called him 'baby'. It made Clark feel young and fragile.

"Me too," Clark murmured, knowing she'd know what he meant, and hung up.

Lex had gotten through another glass. Clark quickly drank his in a bid to catch up, but the silence stretched on until it was interrupted again by the phone ringing.

Pete. "Hey, man."

"Clark, I just heard. Sorry, I was out at the coffee house with Louisa, I just got back and someone said... what happened?"

Clark patiently relayed the details of Lionel's death, having memorized the turns of phrase from CNN.

Pete exhaled. "Do I say... is it 'sorry'?"

"That's what Chloe said," Clark agreed.

"Well, I am. Sorry. I mean, Lex is a good guy. Tell him I'm sorry."

"Thanks," Clark replied. It still sounded strange to say.

"You okay, man?"

Clark looked over at Lex again, as though he could ascertain his own condition by seeing Lex. "Yeah. We're okay."

Pete was quiet. "Um. I'll let you get back to him, then."

"Thanks, Pete."

"Bye, Clark. Call me if you... well, you know the drill."

"Sure, Pete." 'Disconnect button' seemed like such an apt term right now.

Clark had barely seated himself again when the phone rang.

The number was blocked. "Hello?"

"Clark. It's Wayne from the Monitor."

"Hi," Clark said with some trepidation, unsure if the call was business or personal.

"I saw the news. I'm sorry to hear about your loss."

"Thanks." No, really, wasn't that an odd reply? Was Chloe sure this was the right thing to say?

"Is Lex there?"

Business then.

"Yes." Clark made no motion towards Lex.

"Look, I just need to know, is he releasing a statement?"

Clark didn't know the answer and didn't care. "Call his office, Wayne. Not here."

"I already did, Clark, and there's no answer. I was just hoping that you could –"

"Well, I can't, okay?" Clark snapped. "Jesus, Wayne."

"Sorry. I'm... sorry."

Clark hit the disconnect button with more panache this time.

"You don't have to be rude to the press," Lex said in his smooth almost-drunk voice. "My team's putting together a press release. Just say no comment for now."

Clark glared at the phone. "He's my assignment editor. He's being an asshole."

"He's doing his job, Clark. Just like you do yours when you're on assignment."

Clark was about to fume aloud about his own sense of decency when he realized this was backwards. He was supposed to be the one comforting Lex. "Should I take the phone off the hook?"

"No, leave it," Lex advised, shifting his spoon through the cold soup. "Not many people have this number anyway." After another moment, he stood up and went back to the couch, taking his scotch with him, then turned the TV on to CNN.

Feeling helpless and inept, Clark considered sitting down next to Lex, but rethought the notion when he remembered what Martha had said about Lex needing to absorb the news of his father's death. "Do you really want to watch this?" he asked.

Lex nodded. "You don't have to, though. I mean. You probably have homework." It was a clear dismissal, and Clark moved into the study in obedience.

Grief, it seemed, was mostly an exercise in silence.

When Clark re-emerged into the living room at about ten o'clock, having fielded five phone calls from concerned classmates, he found Lex asleep on the couch. He was still upright, arms folded across his chest, but his head had lolled to one side and one knee had fallen slightly askew. Clark shut off the television and quietly put away the soup kettle and the scotch, disposing of Lex's mostly full bowl, then tidied the kitchen and moved Lex's briefcase and jacket into the closet.

He went into the bedroom last, knowing what he'd find there. The bed was still unmade from the morning and Clark's pajamas were bundled into the middle of the messy sheets. Clark stripped the bed and remade it, depositing his and Lex's pajamas in the hamper and throwing the sheets directly into the washer.

Lex was still sleeping. He'd had a lot of scotch.

Clark sat down in the armchair and tried to deduce the sequence of events for the next few days. First, there would be a funeral.

No, first there'd be the funeral planning. Lex would have to have his staff do that, unless Lucas was taking care of it. Saturday seemed like a likely day, though it might be Friday or Sunday. Clark's parents would come, and they'd all have their pictures taken by the media and they'd appear in some tastefully-constructed little montage in the evening news.

Would Lex go to work tomorrow? Clark guessed he would, though he had no idea if Lex could work in his current state. Should Clark discourage him from going? Should Clark stay home with him tomorrow, endure another full day of this strange silence?

Clark looked over at Lex again, wondered if he was doing the right things, saying the right words. Lex had hated his father, by his own admission, and his father had mistreated him all his life and finally disowned him. But, still... it was his father.

Clark hadn't forgotten about Cadmus and Lois and what he had meant to ask Lex. In a way, Clark was just as conscious of that issue as he was of Lionel's death – but somehow, the question of blame, of needing an explanation, had faded to the background. It didn't make any sense, because Clark should put this first. Before he spent the next week or more devoting himself to Lex and Lex's grief, Clark should establish whether Lex was worthy of his friendship, of his trust.

But this was real. This was happening, and Clark could no more turn his back on Lex than he could stop Lionel from being dead. It was that simple. Questions would have to wait.

At eleven o'clock, Clark got ready for bed. He thought about moving Lex, undressing him, but Clark had a feeling he wasn't sleeping that deeply and that he wouldn't appreciate Clark carrying him anywhere, so instead Clark threw a blanket over Lex and went to bed alone.

The phone rang at six the next morning and it was only then that Clark realized Lex had come to bed at some point. Clark felt Lex move at the sound of the ring, felt him start again, probably remembering his father was dead just as Clark himself remembered it.

Clark reached over Lex and grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"

"Hello. I'm sorry to disturb you so early in the day, Mr. Luthor," said a deep, crisp voice.

"This is Clark Kent," Clark corrected automatically.

"Oh, my apologies, Mr. Kent. Could I speak with your husband?"

Lex could obviously hear the voice on the other end, as he silently reached out for the phone, sitting up.

Clark handed it over and shamelessly listened in on the conversation.

"Lex here," Lex said. "Hey, Ted."

"Lex, how are you?" The voice had suddenly lightened, gotten more human.

"I'm half-asleep at the moment," Lex grunted in reply. "But I'm doing all right other than that."

"Look, Lex, I got a call from your father's attorneys. They want you to come in right away."

Lex sighed, running a hand over his scalp. "Need me to come and pick up my check for fifty cents, do they?"

Ted didn't laugh. "They want us there at eight o'clock, LuthorCorp towers, the executive board room."

Lex grunted and yawned. "I'll be there."

"I'm sorry about this, Lex."

Lex nodded. "I just want it all over with."

"I don't imagine this is going to take very long," Ted answered consolingly. "From what I understand, your brother's going to be a very busy man very soon."

Lex smirked. "Serves him right, the little bastard."

"Eight o'clock, then. I'll bring a few of my associates, you bring your husband."

"You got it, Ted." Lex hung up the phone and began to get out of bed, sighing slightly.

Clark reached out for Lex's hand as he went. "Hey."

"Hey," Lex returned, looking back at Clark.

Clark suddenly didn't know what to say, so he settled for getting up on his knees and tugging Lex in for a kiss. He meant for it to be chaste, simple, but Lex moved towards him with surprising alacrity and released a little groan of pleasure into Clark's mouth.

Lex finally pulled away and spoke. "Come in the shower with me?"

Clark shook his head, more to clear it than with the intent of answering Lex's request. "Lex, you... I mean. Is now the best –"

Lex reached down and slipped his hand inside the front of Clark's pajama pants. "Let me restate this. I'm coming in the shower. Do you want to come in the shower too?" A single stroke along Clark's length had him shamefully hard in the space of a breath and made Lex's meaning crystal clear.

Clark nodded mindlessly. Coming in the shower sounded like a great idea.

"Good." Lex grabbed a fistful of Clark's t-shirt with his unoccupied hand and hauled Clark to the edge of the bed. "Let's go then."

Clark stumbled after Lex, which was really unfair because Lex was the one walking backwards, but it was difficult to concentrate on graceful locomotion when Clark had just looked down and seen Lex was already naked and already hard and yeah, bare all over. And this was the weirdest moment yet, including the time Clark set the barn on fire when he was making out with Chloe and the time he'd accidentally run to Mexico, because Lex's dad was dead and Lex was really really horny.

Lex stripped him down in the bathroom, efficiently divesting him of t-shirt and pajama pants then pausing to study him with disconcerting thoroughness. Clark bowed to kiss him, if only to distract him from Clark's body, but that turned out to be a really great move because when Lex shifted closer, Lex's cock was pressed up against Clark's thigh and Clark's cock was prodding Lex in the stomach and this felt just much better than Clark had ever expected and Clark was not going to come yet. He broke away again with the last thought, stepping into the bathtub and pulling Lex in after him, tugging the shower curtain shut to enclose them in their little tiled sanctuary before Lex turned the faucet on and hit the switch that activated the shower.

It was cold at first blast, raising gooseflesh on Lex's back and softening his interest a little, but the water ran warmer and warmer and Clark boldly reached down to touch Lex. Lex moved his legs a little farther apart and sighed his encouragement. "Yeah, Clark."

Clark bent his head to lick at the water running over Lex's neck, finding a rhythm with his hand even though the angle was strange and the shape of Lex unfamiliar in his palm. "Tell me if it's okay," Clark asked after a dozen strokes or so.

"It's amazing," Lex answered, mouth tracing over the surface of Clark's chest. "Faster."

Clark picked up the pace a little, moving from a leisurely pulse into a more urgent thrum. "Like that?"

Lex's hands were fitfully closing on Clark's shoulders, his face, his back, his ass, his hips, but now one slipped away and took Clark's cock in hand. "Like that," he agreed, and matched Clark's rhythm. "Harder," he added, demonstrating on Clark.

Lex's grip was distracting Clark almost past the point of comprehending – rough and careless and a little tighter than Clark was used to – but he managed to translate this directive and followed it. Lex gasped and pushed his hips forward, so abruptly that Clark worried he had hurt Lex inadvertently. "Don't stop, don't," Lex begged, sensing Clark's sudden hesitation. Clark kept going and Lex came a few sharp strokes later. His hand fell away from Clark's cock and his head toppled down to rest on Clark's chest as he caught his breath.

Clark had been right – Lex bit his lip right before he came.

And before Clark expected it, before he had time to predict Lex's next move, Lex had fallen to his knees in front of Clark, he was licking at Clark, his hands were cupping Clark's hipbones.

"Lex, wait," Clark gasped, unsure why he was speaking, but unable to stop himself. "No, Lex, wait!" he repeated, more urgently, pushing gently on Lex's shoulders, sending him back so the shower's spray pattered on his shoulders.

Lex was panting, seeming startled and strangely animalistic.

"We can't..." Clark began. "I mean, this isn't..."

Lex blinked water off of his eyelashes and tilted his head back to look at Clark. "You've never had anyone die, anyone close to you."

Clark shook his head.

Lex settled on his heels. "Then you wouldn't understand." His hands rose up and ran along Clark's thighs, settling at the crease of his groin. "But trust me when I say that this helps me. It helps me forget for a little while."

"But... Should you be forgetting?" Clark asked, albeit a bit shakily, as Lex mouthed him back into full arousal. "I mean, isn't grief about accepting what's h–happened and – holy jesus, your mouth – moving... moving..."

But Lex was running his tongue over the head of Clark's cock, and with Chloe this act had always been an unstated contest, a running joke of who could make the other person come harder, faster, more noisily. Who could giggle the most and still keep to the work at hand – or mouth – and who could be more outrageously inappropriate about choosing the time and place. (Chloe always won that last bit.) But now... now with Lex ...

God, this was serious. This was adult. Lex went down on Clark like he was addressing congress, or maybe going through airport security. No joking here, no messing around, and certainly nothing but what mattered, and what mattered was making Clark's whole body arch in ecstasy, making the muscles of Clark's stomach jump and pant, making Clark's universe contract to the infinitely tiny and yet monumentally important world of Lex's motions. And there was something significant about that, about the way Lex was distracting him, and Clark had been trying to say something but it all got lost under a wave of hot lust when Clark looked down and saw exactly what Lex looked like with his lips wrapped around Clark's cock.

It was all going to be over just as soon as it ever was with Chloe under the bleachers, though, unless Lex... and then there it was, an easing up at just the critical moment, a chance for Clark to catch his breath. Lex licked delicately at the ridge between head and shaft of Clark's cock, running two fingers lightly back and forth along the skin behind his balls, then withdrew his lips long enough to say, audible to Clark under the hiss of the water, "Moving on's the eventual plan but right now I just want to blow you."

And Lex usually knew what he was doing, so Clark thought it was hardly his prerogative to argue with him, watching with dazed disbelief as Lex went back to work. It took only a few more motions on Lex's part before Clark was coming, his body trembling as though the pleasure wasn't something he'd sought, but something that had found him out. Clark didn't see Lex stand, didn't feel it, but then Lex was kissing him and pulling him tight against his body.

"You're so beautiful, do you have any idea?" Lex spoke as Clark's mind began to reassemble.

Clark dipped his chin down and licked lazily at Lex's ear in reply. Lex was half-hard again, Clark noticed.

"We have to get going," Lex said when Clark made some motion towards his cock. "Come on, you wash your hair, I'll use the soap." And that was it. Lex was all business again, as businesslike as anyone possibly could be when completely naked and wet and half-erect and covered with soap. Clark tried to follow Lex's example, but he'd never been so distracted when trying to use shampoo. It was the first time he'd seen Lex naked, had the chance to admire Lex's body properly, and that kind of activity wasn't conducive to lathering and rinsing.

By the time Lex finished washing, Clark was still scrubbing suds out of his hair. "I'll go and find something for you to wear," Lex said, pausing to kiss Clark before pulling aside the curtain at the far end of the tub and exiting the bathroom.

Clark spent the next five minutes wondering if this was what his mother had meant by a strange reaction to grief.

Lucas was much bigger in person than Clark had expected. Far from resembling Lex's own lithe form and slinky demeanor, Lucas was broad through the shoulders and moved his body with an obvious consciousness of his own strength. It must have come from his mother's side, Clark deduced. Lionel was – had been – more like Lex, physically.

The death-bed camaraderie Lex had described seemed dissolved between the two brothers. Lucas greeted Lex with a sharp grin – and there was Lionel's genetic contribution – while Lex was all cool disinterest. "My husband, Clark," Lex said, and Clark stuck out a hand automatically.

Lucas's grip was firm, his palm surprisingly clammy. Could he actually be nervous? Clark maneuvered himself down into the big swivel chair next to Lex's, feeling like he was disguised by the dark suit Lex had produced. Apparently Sophia had been shopping again since the zoo benefit, and this time with more success.

Ted was Lex's attorney, Clark guessed, seeing the small black man busily chattering with a more imposing gaggle of LuthorCorp legal types. Lucas was sitting, non-chalantly, right at the head of the table, which must have been Lionel's place. He even kicked his feet up onto the table, crossed at the ankles, and leaned back with an easy smirk.

Clark looked over to see how Lex was taking this behavior.

Lex was perfectly still, elbows propped on the table, hands clasped, leaning slightly forward but without giving the impression of having anything to say. To a casual glance, Lex seemed properly decorous, a study in contrast with Lucas's lazy impudence, but Clark knew him well enough to see the fine lines of tension in his shoulders, his jaw. Lex was very unhappy to be here.

Clark projected wildly that he'd drop down under the table and suck Lex right here if he thought it would help. Instead, he reached over tentatively and took one of Lex's clasped hands. The movement seemed to startle Lex a little – he lifted his head and blinked at the sight of Clark's fingers touching his – but he didn't make any objection, so Clark pulled at the hand and then clasped it, pressing gently to convey comfort.

Lex didn't look over at Clark, but one corner of his mouth curled a little in acknowledgment.

"I think, if everyone has arrived," spoke one of the LuthorCorp men, "we should get started."

Lucas grinned more broadly and pulled his feet down, scooting closer to the table. "About time."

Someone went and closed the open boardroom doors and someone else came and offered Clark and Lex coffee. "Yes, black for him, cream and sugar for me," Clark answered when Lex seemed unaware of the question.

Lex let go of Clark's hand when the coffee was set down before him, clearing his throat a little.

"Now, as you know, at the time of Lionel Luthor's estrangement from Alexander, Mr. Luthor had his will revised," began the head attorney, extracting some paperwork, "leaving his voting shares to his son Lucas as well as the majority of his estate. At that time, Alexander also chose to sell his own shares in LuthorCorp to his brother, essentially removing himself from all interest in the corporation."

Lex already looked bored. Lucas was sort of twitching, fiddling with a pen and then with a pad of paper before him. Clark realized with surprise that Lucas was only twenty-one. It suddenly seemed hideously unfair he should be burdened with such an enormous responsibility.

"But last week, the late Mr. Luthor made a revised will and revoked this previous document. Of course, we can in no way disclose what your father had in mind, Lex, but the fact remains... Lionel left LuthorCorp to you."

Lex set his coffee down abruptly, the clank of ceramic a harsh interruption to the general silence that followed.

"By this, I mean you now hold the majority voting shares for the corporation. All Mr. Luthor's other, private holdings – land, investments, personal property – have been left in Lucas's name."

Lex had gone very pale. Lucas was turning red.

"I know this must be somewhat alarming, gentlemen," continued the lawyer, "but I can only assure you that your father made this decision with his sons' best interests at heart."

Lex was looking across the table at Lucas. As though they were already in the middle of a conversation, Lex insisted, "Lucas, I swear to god, I had no idea."

Lucas stood up with sudden energy. "You... what the fuck did you say to him, you asshole? You don't deserve this, I'm the one who did his every fucking bidding and kissed his evil old ass. You were a disappointment, you know it!"

Lex swallowed, but made no reply.

"His smart-ass faggot son who fucking humiliated him every day since you were born, who couldn't be bothered to tell him when you –" Lucas slammed his chair into the table. "Fuck this. Fuck it!"

Clark didn't know when he himself had gotten to his feet, but he found himself standing between Lucas and the door. "Lucas, you don't want to leave like this," he said urgently, hyperaware of Lex's strangely defeated posture. "Come on, man, stay and we'll figure this out."

Lucas glared into Clark's eyes. "I know what you are," he hissed, low and sinister. "He thought I didn't know, but I do."

Clark blinked, startled by this strange pronouncement, but he held his ground. "Lucas, it's not like he left you pennile–"

"Get out of my way, you freak." And he said it with such coldness, such contempt, Clark retreated instinctively, backing into the door behind him. Lucas shoved him aside roughly while he stumbled to regain his balance, and stormed out.

"You okay?" Lex asked, and he was at Clark's side, taking him by the arm and bracing him up.

Clark nodded, annoyed that, once again, Lex was the one doing the comforting.

"He'll get over it once he figures out he's got enough money to never work another day in his life," Lex said, almost smiling. "I'm the one with the shit end of this deal."

"Lex, we're going to have to appoint you as the new CEO and President, today if possible," spoke the head attorney. "I hope you can stay for the board of directors meeting at nine?"

Lex nodded, not bothering to look in the direction of the speaker, his eyes still locked on Clark. "You should go to school," he said.

"No, I want to stay with you," Clark protested.

Lex shook his head. "You can't. Once I'm appointed, there are a hundred things to do, not the least of which is plan the media event that will be my father's funeral."

"I can help," Clark insisted, gripping Lex's elbows. "Please?"


Clark studied Lex, recognizing this wasn't an argument Clark could win. Instead, he asked the first thing that popped into his mind. "Why did your father do that? I mean, why would he leave LuthorCorp to you instead of Lucas?"

A quick flicker of gaze told Clark Lex was conscious of the listening group of LuthorCorp employees. "That's on my list of things to find out," he said simply. "I promise I'll be home by four o'clock, okay?" He kissed Clark casually and for an insane moment, Clark was worried the others would see, but then he remembered this didn't have to be a secret, and he kissed back.

"Love you," Clark said, because it seemed right to say, like the natural line for a husband.

Lex laughed shortly in response, clearly surprised by this addition, but comprehending Clark was playing a part. "Four o'clock."

Clark nodded and left the boardroom.

The elevator was just passing the fortieth floor on the way down when Clark realized he'd meant what he'd said.

He loved Lex.

The last time Clark had realized he was in love, it was five minutes after Chloe demanded to know who he was and then walked away from him. It had been the most intensely agonizing epiphany of his life and it had been that pain that had convinced him he shouldn't fall in love again.

This time, the realization was almost a silly afterthought. He'd grown so close to Lex, first as a friend, and now, gradually, as a lover, Clark couldn't say when he'd fallen in love, how long ago or why. All he knew was that he loved Lex. It was anticlimactic in a way, but it felt as strangely natural to acknowledge it as it had felt to say the words to Lex. Whether or not Lex returned his feelings, what Clark's realization meant for them, Clark couldn't begin to imagine. Now wasn't the time for declarations of love, that much was clear.

Clark went to school, not sure what else to do, and almost immediately wished he hadn't. Bad as the whispering and giggling had been for the previous three days, the silent stares and the occasional heartfelt, "I'm sorry," were much much worse. The third time someone conveyed her sympathies, Clark began to feel as if it was his father who'd died, which was when it struck him Clark was the one getting all the sympathy for Lex's loss.

"Know what?" Clark said, instead of saying 'thanks' in a mildly piteous tone. "You should send flowers." The girl blinked at him, confused. "To Lex, I mean. Send flowers. He likes orchids."

Obviously this wasn't the most polite response, but Clark was past the point of caring.

By the time the fourth person approached Clark, he had a better plan. "You know, my father-in-law was a very strong advocate for gay rights," Clark said earnestly. "I've been thinking there should be some sort of fund."

The unwitting sympathizer nodded enthusiastically. "Maybe I could talk to some other people..." he offered with some hesitation.

"Would you?" Clark blurted, grinning. "Oh, that'd be great."

After that, Clark's strategy was set. Every person he spoke with was regaled with stories of Lionel's (newly) renowned tolerance, assured that rumors of the estrangement between Lex and his father were highly exaggerated, and encouraged to think that the best tribute to this great liberal thinker would be to organize some sort of memorial fund.

When Clark went into the Monitor office to confess to Wayne he hadn't done the SU election story, Wayne already had another assignment in hand.

"The Lionel Luthor Pride Memorial Fund," Wayne said. "I've been getting e-mails all day."

"You have?" Clark asked, incredulous. It had been more of a private joke than anything else. Clark hadn't expected an actual response.

"I want a full page," Wayne said, holding out a package.

"I can't write this," Clark said, taking the stack of papers Wayne handed him. "Conflict of interest." Even as he said it, though, he was grinning insanely, thinking how irritated Lionel Luthor would be that Clark was using his name for such a project.

"Not an article, Clark. An advertisement. You know, a call for support. Celia in layout will help you design it."

And that was probably as close as Wayne was going to come to an apology for his phone call the previous night.

When Clark put the key in the apartment door at three thirty, he was torn between elation at his success and dread of another long uncomfortable evening with Distant Lex. The unpleasant half of Clark's emotional state only lasted as long as it took him to open the door and be overwhelmed by floral perfume.

"Who sent me orchids?" Lex asked, from somewhere behind a wall of flowers.

Clark gaped at the front entrance, which was littered with bouquet after bouquet.

"Um. Everyone?" Clark guessed, picking up the nearest card. It was signed from someone named 'Thom' who may or may not have been on the Monitor team.

"Okay, then," Lex's voice continued, and Lex himself emerged from behind the laden counter dividing hall from kitchen. "Who told everyone to send me orchids?"

Clark picked up another card, on a particularly beautiful bouquet of mixed variety. This one was from his parents. "Are you mad?" Clark asked, hunkering down to smell this arrangement, overwhelmed with affection for his mother.

"No, I'm not mad," Lex said, toeing aside three arrangements to clear a path to Clark. "I'm just... really surprised. I came home around noon to sort through some paperwork in peace and it's been non-stop flower deliveries ever since."

"I..." Clark glanced around, then up at Lex, who was smirking down at him. "I might have mentioned to someone that you like orchids."

"And by 'someone', you mean every person on campus," Lex surmised dryly.

Clark stood up and shook his head. "No, it really was just the one. I mean, even if I'd told everyone I knew, it would be, like, twelve people."

Lex smiled at Clark. "Yeah, clearly a social outcast. What's this I hear about the Lionel Luthor Pride Memorial Fund?"

Clark blinked, remembering something and choosing to ignore Lex's last comment. "Oh. I think... Um. I think the girl I told? Is kind of popular. And she gets all... well, she's big on the organizing of people."

"Who?" Lex asked. "Eva Peron?"

Clark toed another arrangement aside. "This girl from Smallville. I mean, she used to live there. I'm surprised she even knows who I am." He chuckled, realizing he'd been in such a fugue state, he'd barely recognized Lana Lang as the girl he was desperately in love with from age six through age sixteen. If she'd been wearing her necklace, he would have made the connection sooner. "I think she thought my name was Cliff at one point," he offered, still smiling, then slipped one arm up around Lex's waist. "Do you like orchids? I kind of made that up."

Lex's breath caught as Clark drew him nearer. "They were my mother's favorite," he said, his voice getting rougher. "Hey, guess who's a CEO?"

"You were a CEO when I met you," Clark pointed out, but he placed a congratulatory kiss on Lex's mouth anyway. "How are you?" he asked, more gravely. "Long day?"

Lex gestured at all the flowers. "You're just lucky I'm over my asthma, or I'd be dead in the middle of the floor." Clark must have shown a bit of his dismay at this, because Lex quickly added, with a soothing kiss, "Thank you."

With that, he slithered out of Clark's grasp and walked back into the kitchen, leaving Clark stranded among the flowers. "Your mom also sent food."

"How'd she –" started Clark, setting his backpack down, but he stopped abruptly when he realized his usual spot on the floor was occupied by a small, familiar purse.

"Mom?" he called.

"I'm in here," she answered from the kitchen.

Clark kicked off his shoes and followed the sound of her voice, desperately trying to recall if he'd said anything inappropriate since coming in the door. Certainly, he'd thought a lot of inappropriate things, but had he given them voice? And had his mother heard the kissing through the wall of flowers?

Oh god, had they cleaned up the bathroom? Were the sheets from yesterday still in the dryer?

"Hey Mom," Clark squeaked. She was busily unwrapping several containers of food.

"Hi sweetheart," she greeted him distractedly, and why not? He'd just seen her the previous afternoon, even though it felt like it had been ages.

"Um. Just dropping in?" Clark managed, ignoring the way Lex was laughing at him. Not that Lex was so much laughing as he was quietly smirking and sort of pointedly not looking at Clark, but it amounted to the same thing with Lex.

Martha looked up from the food. "Well, I thought I'd stay until after the funeral," she said. "Your father's driving up on Saturday for the service and we'll go back to the farm together."

Lex was now sitting at the kitchen table, busily devouring a bowl of the tomato soup from the previous night. It seemed his appetite had returned.

"You're... staying?" Clark repeated. The couch did fold out into a double futon, but Clark had a funny feeling that sometime over the next three days Martha's keen sense of observation would lead her to notice that her son didn't have his own bedroom anymore.

"Not here," Martha reassured him, sounding amused. "Lex has booked a room for me at a bed and breakfast down the block."

"Oh," Clark said, trying for disappointed and ending up with something closer to obvious relief.

"Soup?" Lex asked, and he was doing that detached amusement thing he did when he was avoiding really talking about something, so Clark retaliated by sitting down across from Lex and glaring.

"Lucas do anything else today?" Clark asked, stealing a cracker from Lex's plate.

"No," Lex answered, immediately becoming cranky, which was a sure sign Clark was right about the avoidance.

The phone rang and Lex sighed. "Flower delivery number thirty-three," he announced, but Clark was already answering.

Lex was right, it was another flower delivery. Clark put it in the study, the living room/kitchen area having reached critical floral mass.

"Well, I'm about done here," Martha said when Clark closed the door on the delivery person. "I'll take a few of these arrangements and drop them by a nursing home before I go back to the bed and breakfast... unless you wanted to keep them, Lex."

Lex waved a hand dismissively. "Thanks, Mrs. Kent, but my office at LexCorp is full of flowers too and I have a feeling that LuthorCorp is overflowing by now."

Martha nodded, smiling, then stood up and squeezed Lex's shoulder. "You need anything, you call me, all right, boys?"

Lex looked over at Martha's hand, clearly taken aback, but he smiled anyway and nodded.

"Clark, will you help me carry some of these down to my car?" Oh, crap. That was the I-have-to-lecture-you voice. Clark wondered if Mom had already noticed the one bed situation.

"Sure, Mom," Clark said with fake cheerfulness, holding out his arms to take the arrangements Martha was offering him.

She was silent in the elevator on the way down and on the short walk to her car. It wasn't until the flowers were stowed in the back seat of her sedan that she spoke. "Clark."

"We have to act married, that's why there's only one bed," Clark blurted.

Martha raised an eyebrow. "There's only one bed?"

Clark wished he could set himself on fire, but he'd tried that once already a couple of years ago and he didn't so much as singe. "Um. What were you going to say?"

She eyed him closely, but thankfully didn't pursue the one-bed thing. "I was going to ask what your plans are now that Lex has inherited LuthorCorp."

"My plans?" Clark asked, confused.

"Well, my understanding was that this whole situation arose because of Lex's financial difficulties, and he surely doesn't have any money problems now, does he?" Martha pointed out.

Clark felt like he'd been sucker-punched by a meteor mutant. He could only gape at his mother, shocked.

"You haven't discussed this with him yet," Martha concluded.

Clark managed a small head shake. Oh god, she was right. Thirty million compared to the LuthorCorp shares Lex now owned was a pittance – and Lex had said, way back in August, that he wouldn't have even bothered with the money if he hadn't been disowned by Lionel.

"Clark, I understand that you may have to continue with the marriage sham for another few weeks, at least until all the media coverage settles down again, but I really think it would be best if you got divorced after that. Lex doesn't need the money and you certainly don't need any more exposure."

It made perfect sense. "But my scholarship –"

Martha shook her head impatiently. "Your marks have been excellent this year. I'd be very surprised if you couldn't get a legitimate scholarship through the university, especially with the work you've done on the paper. You could even talk to Perry White about a summer internship at the Planet, make some money over the summer."

Clark wondered if aliens could hyperventilate. It certainly felt like he was about to find out.

"Honey, I know Lex is your friend and you feel like you have to stand by him but you have to think of your own future. Besides, he'll likely be relieved to end this marriage sooner rather than later, he'll be able to start fresh, get on with his life."

Clark nodded, but he wasn't really listening. "I... I have things to do on campus tomorrow, Mom, but I'll call you later."

"Sure," she said. "I've offered to help Lex with some of the funeral planning so I'll probably be with him in the afternoon. I'll see you back here?"

Lex hadn't wanted Clark's help. Clark closed his eyes briefly, then nodded. He felt Martha's hand cupping his cheek. "I love you, baby."

"Me too," Clark answered, then backed away. "I should get back."

Martha drove away, leaving Clark feeling bleached out and worn.

When Clark returned to the apartment, Lex was back into his compulsive news-watching mode. This time, though, it was his own face that kept popping up on item after item. Apparently Lex had held a press conference in the late morning and clips of it were continually airing. Clark sat down beside Lex and watched him watch himself for a while. He desperately wanted to tell Lex what his mother had said, find out if Lex agreed with her, but Clark had a suspicion that sort of conversation would lead to the untimely declarations and it was just simpler to sit here and feign interest in CNN.

"I'm sorry if my mother seemed pushy," Clark said finally.

Lex shook his head. "I think she feels sorry for me right now. She kept asking me how I was feeling. But it's great that she came. I like your mother."

Clark nodded in agreement. "She's probably waiting for you to break down so she can wipe your nose and give you apple juice and graham crackers."

Lex laughed a little at this, idly flicking to NBC. "I forgot it's Thursday," was his only response as the Must-See TV ads blared.

Clark leaned into Lex's side a little, and, finding him pliant, tucked his legs up on the couch and laid his head down on Lex's lap.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked, as Lex's free hand began to stroke Clark's hair.

"You keep asking me that," Lex said, a trace of annoyance in his voice.

"Guess I'm waiting for you to break down, too," Clark admitted. "You seem so..."

"Distant?" Lex supplied. "I kind of feel like this is happening to someone else. And I'm royally pissed with my father right now for leaving me his mess to clean up. But I'm not... I'm not sad."

Clark closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation of Lex's fingers on his scalp. "I can't imagine what it'd be like, if my dad died."

Lex made some noise of agreement, his attention obviously focused on the television. Clark wondered if Lex's distraction was related to an intention of ending the marriage, not wanting to get too attached to Clark.

The phone rang again, more flowers came up, and then Lex was on his cell phone, discussing casket selection with a lackey. Clark was back to feeling superfluous, so he busied himself with sorting the flowers and tidying the apartment. He had homework and he should be doing the layout for that Luthor Fund ad, but Clark was restless and uneasy.

He went into the study and checked his e-mail. Under a pile of condolences and queries about the Luthor Fund, Clark rediscovered Lucy Sikora's warning about Uyeda's research, the contents of which he'd all but forgotten in the past twenty-four hours.

Right... Lex. Freak. Burned his hand on purpose?

Lucas had called Clark a freak today and his words suggested either that Lucas knew something about Clark, or that he knew enough to bluff that he knew something. It all tipped the scales heavily in favor of Edge and Lionel's involvement, but it didn't help explain why Clark was no longer being tailed, or why Lionel would be exhibiting an interest in him in the first place, particularly if Lex was the one who seemed to be pursuing research in the meteor phenomena. Maybe it was a family fascination, Clark theorized.

But Clark couldn't concentrate on his conjectures with all the uncertainty his mother had aroused in him. Again, Clark had to fight the impulse to go and demand answers from Lex. Lex had enough to worry about now without Clark troubling him with these details.

Around six o'clock, the noise from the TV abruptly stopped and Clark went into the living room to find out why. Lex was still seated on the couch but his attitude had changed from bland indifference to intense concentration.

"What?" Clark asked from the head of the hallway.

Lex looked up, startled. "I just... I still can't figure out why my father did this."

"Maybe he's proud of you?" Clark suggested. "Because LexCorp is doing so well."

Lex snorted. "LexCorp is barely breaking even right now. Another month, we'd have been in the red and it would have been a slippery slope. Now it's being merged as a subsidiary of LuthorCorp, it'll be fine, but we were on the brink of a freefall."

"Or maybe just because he thought it was fair," Clark tried, a little startled by this revelation.

Lex shook his head. "It's never about fair with my father."

"Maybe Lucas pissed him off?" Clark asked, weakly. Lex was right, it didn't make any sense.

Lex didn't bother replying to this statement, merely sitting and staring at the blank television. "When my mother died, all I could think about was what was going to happen to her body. I was only thirteen, you're very morbid about death when you're so young. She was cremated, there's a memorial to her in a cemetery near the city center." He broke his gaze and looked up at Clark. "She died twelve years ago today. Weird synchronicity."

Clark nodded, unsure how to respond, then made his way back to the couch and sat next to Lex.

"My father was an atheist," Lex continued, as if this were a logical segue. "But he wanted the full works at his funeral, big Catholic mass and ridiculous fuss. I've already engaged the prima donna from Metropolis Opera to come and sing Schubert at the graveside." Lex laughed, apparently finding the thought of graveside Schubert mildly amusing.

"I can't –" he began and then stopped abruptly. "God, I can't stand the thought of him buried next to my mother's gravestone." He spoke with sudden revulsion, and Clark was startled to see tears spring up in Lex's eyes.

Clark cast about desperately for something to say, wishing his mother had stayed to field these difficult moments. But Clark had said to her he was there for Lex, and now he had to be. "Do you think she loved him?" he asked, because it seemed relevant.

Lex angrily dashed away an escaping tear. "No. Yes." He exhaled, sounding a little shaky. "They fought. But she saw something in him, I think, something good that hadn't been extinguished." Another tear slipped down, but this time Lex let it go. "I think that whatever she saw died along with her." Lex turned his eyes towards Clark, pleading with barren vulnerability. "I couldn't save him like she did. I wasn't enough."

Clark knew this cue, knew this moment, and put his arms around Lex, pulling him close and letting him hide in Clark's shirt as he quietly fell apart. It wasn't as terrifying as Clark had feared, seeing Lex like this, open like this. Even though Clark had never seen Lex any way other than in complete command of himself, this man Clark was holding was still Lex – not Lex purified, or Lex weakened, or Lex wounded. This was just Lex, Lex in Clark's arms.

"Fuck, I'm sorry," Lex said after a few minutes had passed, straightening up and sniffing. "I'm sorry, Clark, I think I'm overtired, I hardly slept last night and the night before that."

Clark stopped his defensive apologies with a kiss, and Lex was silent again when Clark drew away. "You don't have to be that for me," Clark whispered into Lex's mouth. "You're safe."

Lex heaved a shaky sigh, but he nodded once and then slipped back into Clark's embrace. They spent another few minutes in silence, Lex occasionally lifting a hand to swipe at an errant tear, then Lex dug the remote out and turned on the television once again. This time he found the cartoon channel, which was showing an old Spider-man marathon, and they settled into an easy sprawl on the couch, laughing together at the bad one-liners and commenting on the polluted skies of New York.

That night, when they went to bed, it was together. They brushed their teeth standing next to each other in the bathroom. Lex's elbow kept bumping Clark's side and he apologized every time, which Clark found to be hopelessly adorable. When they went into the bedroom to get undressed, Lex shed his clothes, turned on the bedside lamp and shut off the overhead light.

"Don't bother with the pajamas," Lex said, seeing Clark hesitate when he got to his boxers.

"Don't bother?" Clark asked, slightly embarrassed that just that sentence was making him hard. Lex was in shock this morning but tonight he was truly upset and Clark didn't want to look like some insensitive horny basta–

"Don't bother," Lex repeated, slipping under the sheets. "I want you naked."

Oh. So maybe Lex wanted to forget again. Clark wasn't going to argue. Hell, Clark wanted to forget a lot of things right now, too – mostly his mother's intimations about the marriage ending, but also Lionel's death and Edge's involvement and Lucas's words and Lex's possible wrongdoings... Clark could do with a bit of forgetting. He dropped his boxers and crawled in beside Lex.

It was all still so new, this hot tangling of long limbs, this sense of being out of control. Lex was touching him all over, exploring him with his fingers, leaving no place unclaimed. Clark wanted to do the same for Lex but it was difficult because Lex kept slipping away from his hands like a fish darting through water. The small hints of skin Clark experienced were tantalizing, however – smooth and silk and here and there, a bit of sweaty dampness.

"What do you want?" Lex asked, then squirmed up against Clark so they were hip to hip, Lex's cock trailing wet on Clark's belly.

"Anything," Clark gasped, pushing towards the sensation.

Lex plunged forward and stole Clark's breath with a vicious kiss. "Anything?" One of his hands was slipping down Clark's back, creeping towards his ass. "You mean that?"

Clark thought he knew what was next, and even though the idea terrified him, he nodded.

"I want to fuck you," Lex said, confirming Clark's suspicions. "Will you let me?"

And Lex's hand was teasing in and out of the cleft of Clark's buttocks, willing Clark to answer in the affirmative because Clark had to get more of that sensation, however frightening the prospect. Clark nodded again, then moved into Lex's arms and kissed him, groaning with a mixture of apprehension and lust.

Lex pulled away and got up on his knees, leaning over to Clark's side of the bed and tugging at the drawer. He tossed the lube and a condom over his shoulder and Clark caught them, holding them awkwardly. He was too fascinated by the view of Lex's ass to examine the objects.

"Is this..." Clark asked when Lex had closed the drawer and was back next to Clark. "This is going to feel weird?" He was trying his best not to sound apprehensive, but it had been a long time since he tried something new and a bit scary like this.

"Yep," Lex answered, obviously not going for the comforting voice. "And it'll probably kind of hurt at first too."

Clark scooted up the bed so he was sitting against the headboard. "Oh."

Lex smiled playfully. "You'll like it though." He collected the condom and lube from between Clark's legs, then ran his other hand up Clark's inner thigh, raising a shiver. "You're going to come harder than you ever have before."

Clark's cock was more than willing to believe that line, and Clark's legs fell open in response. Lex's hand kept trailing, nudging Clark's legs farther apart until Clark felt scarily exposed. "We don't have to," Lex said, apparently seeing Clark's recalcitrance.

"No, I want to," Clark blurted, suddenly thinking of his mother's advice. If he was going to lose Lex, he wanted this now. He'd hate himself forever if he put it off at this point. "Just... just tell me what you're going to do."

Lex nodded, settling himself down in a kneel between Clark's legs. "First I'm going to touch you here," he began, running one finger up in intimation, "then I'm going to fuck you with my fingers, open you up."

Clark thought this sounded really strange and somewhat clinical, but he nodded.

"Then I'm going to put my cock inside you and fuck you."

Well. That was... straightforward. And Clark's body was applauding this progression even as his mind was still reeling from the 'being touched there' part.

"Clark. We don't have to," Lex repeated, serious.

Clark shook his head. "Do it."

Lex studied Clark for a moment, then nodded once. "Okay, turn over."

"On my –"

"It's easier that way," Lex explained, pulling at Clark and helping him turn onto his stomach. "And you'll feel less embarrassed, your first time."

"I'm not emb–" Clark protested, face turned sideways on a pillow, cock pressed between his belly and the cool sheets.

Lex's hand interrupted him, running in a shivery line down the path of Clark's spine, closely followed by Lex's tongue. While Lex painted elaborate circles at the base of Clark's spine, he was doing something with the lube – Clark could hear the click of the cap, the wet sound of the liquid.

"Might be a bit cold," Lex apologized, then he was spreading Clark open and one slippery cool finger was gently running over Clark's hole. Clark expected it to feel weird, and it did.

"Relax," Lex ordered gently, still moving the finger back and forth. "Come on, Clark, it'll make you feel so good if you just relax a little."

Clark obediently tried to make his breathing more even, tried to concentrate on something other than what Lex was doing. His cock, heavy and unrelentingly hard, seemed like a logical point of focus, and Clark shifted his hips a little to provide some friction. The motion made Lex's finger slip, just infinitesimally, into Clark, and yeah. That felt... nice. Clark released a soft sound of enjoyment.

"That's it," Lex coaxed, and slipped his finger, just the tip, in again. Clark shifted back into the action, torn between the soft slip of sheets against his cock and the strange but tantalizing tickle of Lex's finger. "Mmm, you're getting ahead of me," Lex laughed when one of Clark's lazy twists made Lex's finger slip in a bit farther.

"Keep going," Clark panted, unsure if he just wanted the anticipation ended or if he was actually seeking more of this sensation.

"Shh," Lex breathed, and of course Lex was a control freak in bed, he was a control freak everywhere else, wasn't he? But then his finger moved again, steadily and purposefully this time, slipping inside Clark. More of the strange sensation, more of this exposed feeling, but Clark moved back into it anyway, half-rising on his knees.

"Okay?" Lex asked, and Clark nodded against the pillow. He wanted to look, had the impulse to look back over his shoulder and see Lex doing this, but shyness prevailed and Clark kept his eyes shut. "Okay, then, I'm going to just move it a little."

Lex slowly withdrew the finger and then plunged it back in more quickly. Clark's hips rose again, instinctively, and this time the catch of cloth on his cock was exquisite. "Oh," Clark exhaled, surprised.

Lex laughed voicelessly and kept going. Clark could hear Lex's heartrate increasing, his breath quickening and it was really the idea that this was turning Lex on that made Clark eager for more, made Clark loose the little sighs and catches of breath that tried to escape his throat, made Clark shift his hips against the mattress, rubbing into it.

When Lex's finger withdrew, though, Clark's protesting sound was genuine, but it only lasted as long as it took for Lex to slip back inside, this time with two fingers. "You're doing great," Lex whispered. "You look so hot like this."

Clark took leave to doubt this, that anything about his asshole could look hot, but when Lex said it, he felt inclined to believe it, and god, two fingers were definitely better than one and Lex had turned his hand or something, because now the fingers were sort of crooked inward and something told Clark this was a good thing and –

"Fuck!" Clark cried, and Lex laughed. "Is that –"

"Yes," Lex agreed, moving more forcefully, more quickly now.

"Oh, god, it's like..." And Clark couldn't say what it was like, because it wasn't like anything. Clark realized he'd shifted up onto his knees, that the primary focus for him had shifted away from his cock, which was tightly curving towards his belly, impossibly hard. All his attention was for Lex's fingers and their motion. And then Clark wasn't thinking at all, because Lex was hitting that spot with every quick twist of his wrist and Clark was saying all sorts of filthy things involving god and just about every swear word his father had ever used when he hit his hand with a hammer.

"Are you going to come?" Lex asked, sounding genuinely curious, and it was as if Lex had ordered it rather than inquired about it, because immediately Clark was coming and Lex was right, this was more intense than anything he'd ever experienced, because he could feel Lex's fingers pressed somehow against the source of his orgasm, feeding it and pushing it and – "Fuck, oh fuck, Lex!" Clark called, wondering if this moment would ever end, if it had to end.

But then it did end, and Clark was trembling but somehow still up on his knees and Lex had procured a handful of tissue from his bedside table and he was gently dabbing at Clark, reaching under and unfailingly finding all the places where Clark had come, all the way up his chest. Lex dropped the balled-up kleenex and moved a little and Clark realized Lex's fingers were still there and Clark was still hard and god, were they going to do this again? Because Clark just might die from it this time.

But then Lex pulled his fingers out and Clark breathed a sigh of relief that lasted only as long at it took for the snick of the condom wrapper to register. "Are you..." Clark asked, opening his eyes and looking back. Lex smiled, one hand slicking over his sheathed cock.

"It'll be best now when you're relaxed," Lex advised. "Don't worry, I'll go easy on you."

And as hard as Clark had just come, that suddenly sounded like a Bad Thing. "Don't go easy on me," Clark asked. "Go as hard as you want."

Lex laughed and shook his head in disbelief. "Okay, grab onto something. This is going to hurt."

Clark opened his mouth to say it wouldn't hurt, he'd be fine, but the words got lodged in his throat when Lex shifted forward and was suddenly right there. "Breathe out," Lex instructed, "and try to just stay as relaxed as possible."

Clark nodded, breathing out slowly and forcing himself to stay calm as Lex began to push inside. One of Lex's hands ran up his back and tickled the curls at the nape of Clark's neck, and Clark smiled in spite of himself. Then the hand clenched a little and Clark heard Lex's breath stop. "Lex?"

"Don't –" Lex gasped. "Just..."

Clark obediently didn't. Another moment passed, and then Lex was moving again. "I almost came," he explained. "God, I haven't been this turned on since I was sixteen."

Clark was too busy noticing that Lex's cock was inside him to really process the import of this comment. It was nothing like Lex's small, clever fingers. It was an extreme stretch, an undeniable rending, hot and deep and god, it was Lex. "Fuck me," Clark spoke, unable to withstand the stillness.

Lex drew back, his hands coming to settle on Clark's hips. "Clark," he said, roughly, and then pushed back in. "Tell me if it hurts," he ordered breathlessly, and Clark wanted to respond that it did hurt – and it did. But it wasn't the kind of pain Lex meant. Clark felt like Lex was laying him open, exposing his deepest self – not the Kryptonian self, but the one deeper than that, the one who was hopelessly in love with Lex, who was scared of Lex at the same time.

Time shifted out of any sense of order and Clark lost track of whether his eyes were open or closed, whether his hands were clenched in the sheets or stroking the pillows. All he could consciously process was Lex – how hard, how fast, how deep – interspersed with sudden flares of painful pleasure when Lex changed his angle. It seemed to last forever and it seemed like one long single instant.

But then Lex was moving more quickly, his breath was coming faster and faster, and one of his hands which had been idly stroking up Clark's underside suddenly closed around Clark's cock and began to pump.

Clark cried out, shocked anew that there could be a higher level of sensation.

"Yeah," Lex was panting above him. "Oh, yeah, Clark, I'm going to come in you."

Clark was trapped, pinned between Lex's hand and his cock. Fleeing from one feeling meant flying headlong into the other and both were inextricably connected. It was a matter of two or three panicked breaths before Clark came, the feeling barely subsiding when Clark felt, with bright shock, the pulse of Lex coming inside him, the heat of his come trapped by the condom.

Then Lex was making these small broken noises, like he had earlier when he'd been trying to stop crying. Clark wanted to turn around and comfort him, see if he was all right, but Lex was still in him, still holding him. Thankfully, after a moment, Lex withdrew and Clark was able to roll over.

Lex was removing the condom and he wasn't crying, but he was trembling all over, not looking at Clark. "Lex," Clark said, and his voice was scratchy.

Lex didn't look, only crawled over to the bedside table and deposited the used condom.

"Lex," Clark tried again, managing to make his limbs function enough to sit up and reach for Lex.

Lex stilled at Clark's touch but he was still shaking. "What is it?" Clark asked, worried that it was Lex's father, that Lex felt this had been a mistake.

Lex didn't answer, but lay down next to Clark, pressing close to him. Clark kissed Lex's scalp, then his mouth. "Was it okay?" he asked, nervously.

Lex nodded, then managed a weak smile. "That was... it's never been like that."

Clark was startled by this pronouncement. He didn't know the specifics, but Lex certainly gave the impression of being experienced and knowledgeable when it came to sex. But then, when Clark considered it, maybe that wasn't what Lex meant. Because although Clark and Chloe had been lovers for over a year, it had never been like this between them, even at times of intense emotion. Just now, with Lex, Clark had been laid completely bare. Maybe Lex had felt the same way. Clark had supposed it to be part of the specific act, but maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was something just between him and Lex. "Me too. It's never been like that," Clark said at length.

Lex looked up, meeting Clark's eyes for the first time since Lex had turned Clark onto his belly. For a long time, Clark could only bathe in the intense blue of Lex's gaze, and then finally Lex spoke. "You trust me."

Clark nodded.

Lex broke his gaze and tucked the point of his chin into Clark's shoulder. "And I trust you," he added, almost as an afterthought – Lex, who had always said trust had to be carefully bestowed and who'd insisted people had to work hard to earn his trust and who, Clark guessed, had trusted only a handful of people in his entire life.

Clark fell asleep grinning.

Sometime around the middle of Friday, Lex had taken to referring to his father's funeral as 'the gong show'. Clark, standing amidst the mass of paperwork and trying to find the ringing portable phone, had to agree with the terminology.

"I think it's by the contracts for the string orchestra," suggested Martha, who was busily consulting with Lex's PR person about flower arrangements.

Clark didn't have the faintest clue what string orchestra contracts looked like, but x-ray vision was good for something after all. "Hello?"

"Clark, it's Lana Lang. Look, about the memorial fund... I was talking to some people and they said you still needed help?"

Clark nodded inanely, making his way through the pods of people gathered at various spots in the living room. "Could you? Thanks for the orchids, by the way. It meant a lot to Lex."

Lex, who was seated on the couch, looked up at the sound of his name, saw Clark was on the phone, and smiled slightly before returning to his own cell phone conversation.

"Oh, it's my pleasure. So, with the fund..."

"Okay, Celia at the Monitor is really the one to talk to right now," Clark said, looking for a clear space to sit. The only spot seemed to be at Lex's feet, and Clark wasn't about to argue with fate. He settled down between Lex's parted knees, setting his clipboard on the floor in front of him. "She was doing the layout for the ad and kind of got carried away in the project." Clark didn't mention the part where he pretty much dumped the unwitting Celia with the task and took off, pleading bereavement leave.

"Okay, what's her number?" asked Lana. "And do you have someone from the organizing team to speak at the funeral?"

Clark grinned in spite of himself. Lana had always been big on the visibility scale. "You know, you'd be perfect for that."

While Lana made the proper dismissive noises, Clark wriggled a little, forcing Lex to acknowledge his presence. Lex's hand descended on cue, stroking Clark's hair. "No, it would mean a lot to me if it was someone I knew," Clark said, when Lana had stopped protesting. This time, she graciously acquiesced, and Clark passed her off to his mother.

Lex had gotten off his own phone a moment before and he bowed down to kiss Clark's hair while Martha's back was turned.

"How are you?" Clark asked, even though he knew Lex was tired of the question.

Lex chewed thoughtfully on the inside of his cheek. "Hungry."

"You want me to heat up one of my mom's dishes?" Clark offered, even though he was loath to surrender his spot.

Lex shook his head and got a glimmer in his eye that meant he was thinking of last night and this morning. "Not that kind of hungry."

Clark grinned up at Lex, chin tilted back, inviting a kiss, but then Martha hung up the phone and turned back towards them, and Clark was forced to pretend he was teasing Lex about something. "Bottomless pit," he accused. "How do you stay so skinny?"

"Genetics," Lex answered, not missing a beat. "Mrs. Kent, how are we for the order of events? Do you have an estimate for the length of the service yet?"

Martha flipped through some pages and shook her head. "We've just added another five minutes, so I'm guessing we're past the two-hour mark."

"Do you have the poetry reading in there?" Clark asked.

"Poetry?" repeated his mother.

Lex sighed. "Whitman. I got the director of the Shakespeare On The Prairies festival to read. It's pretentious as hell, but –"

"That's the way your dad wanted it," finished Clark. "How can he still be bossing everyone around when he's dead?"

"Clark," admonished Martha, with a glance in Lex's direction.

But Lex was tousling Clark's hair gently. "Watch out, kid, that's another genetic trait."

"Don't call me kid," Clark retorted, squirming around to face Lex.

Lex raised an eyebrow delicately.

"I'll be twenty in two months," Clark added, trying to sound blase and mature.

And Lex laughed and Clark grinned to see Lex was really happy, even in the middle of this craziness, this torture orchestrated by the late Lionel Luthor.

"We didn't finish with the caterers," said Martha, her voice cutting into Clark's happy thoughts. "How many are you expecting again?"

And Lex was talking about projected numbers and then the phone was ringing and Mom had put it down somewhere and it had since sunk, dinosaur like, into the paperwork-cum-tarpit of the living room floor.

Clark squinted, thinking it was a good thing someone present was an alien.

Lex wasn't feeling particularly amorous by the time the apartment was clear again. Clark could tell the stresses of the day, combined with the protracted grieving for his bastard of a father, were making Lex grow more introspective as the hour of the funeral/gong-show approached. Clark silently helped Lex reorder their living space, then retired with him to the bathroom and, after that, to the bedroom. The bed was made – Clark had taken a moment to tidy it up in the morning after their second encounter – but the room was still laden with a sense of sex. Lex stripped down to his boxers but stopped there, crawling into bed without looking at Clark.

Clark followed suit, taking his position on the other side of the bed but quickly shimmying over until he could wrap his arms around Lex from behind. He kissed the bump on the back of Lex's head, nuzzled into his neck, and murmured the words that seemed to thrum through him with every heartbeat from Lex.

"I love you."

There was the faintest flicker of a tense reaction from Lex, and then it passed.

Mom was wrong. This wasn't going to end.

Clark had a new black suit which he donned when he rose at seven o'clock. The funeral wasn't until ten, but Clark had a feeling there was going to be constant activity between now and then. As if to confirm this, just as Clark was knotting his tie, the phone rang.

Lex had gotten up half an hour earlier and was already dressed and drinking coffee in the kitchen, the Saturday Planet spread out in front of him.

Clark dealt with the phone call, which was another request for clarification from a Luthor Pride Fund enthusiast, then sat down opposite Lex with his own cup of coffee. Following the pattern of the previous evening, Lex was yet more withdrawn, not in any way that made Clark feel intrusive, as he had immediately after Lionel's death. Lex's silence was more comfortable than that, as though he was trusting Clark to understand his need for quiet. And Clark did.

Lex was all the way through the city pages when he lifted his head. "Your mother thinks we're in love."

Clark blinked. He knew his mother had her suspicions about him and Lex, but... "She does?"

"She said something about it yesterday," Lex explained.

"She did?"

A nod. "When you were at school still. She mentioned that you two thought we should divorce in a few weeks."

Clark's first impulse was to correct his mother's misinformation, but his mind seized on the more relevant point. "How does that mean that she thinks we're in love?"

Lex smoothed one hand over the newsprint page. "Because she's trying to pull us apart. She wouldn't bother if she didn't think that we have feelings for each other."

This hadn't occurred to Clark, and he was silent, absorbing this idea for a moment. "She said something about it to me, too," Clark admitted. "But I never agreed with her."

Lex nodded. "It makes sense for us to see this through. My father's not around to contest it, and Lucas won't bother because the money wouldn't go to him anyway."

This didn't sound like the kind of reasoning Clark wanted Lex to employ, but it was at least better than stark agreement with Martha. Clark wanted to tell Lex he had a better motivation, that five months wasn't nearly long enough for Clark, but the words got stuck. Instead, he settled for plucking the city pages away from Lex and delving into the extensive coverage of Lionel's funeral plans.

It began to rain around nine.

Clark was unthinkingly grateful to see his father at the funeral. Jonathan might not be much on the sympathetic comfort and the provision of food, but he had a bluff sort of stoicism that instantly made Clark feel stronger by proxy. He clapped his work-roughened hand around Clark's shoulders, looking strangely uncomfortable in his cheap dark suit, and said, "How're you holding up, son?"

Clark nodded tersely, letting this gesture express his own manliness.

"It's almost over," added Dad, squeezing Clark. He had a hell of a grip for a human.

Clark permitted himself another terse nod, squinting through the gloom of the cathedral to scan the assembled crowds. There was Lucas, looking like one of the Smallville football players at graduation, stiff and lumbering in his suit. And there was Lex's corporate cohort, all dressed in the same suits, all seeming falsely dignified as contrasted with the last time Clark had seen them. And there was – there was Chloe.

She was talking quietly with Lois Lane and she looked so grown up in a dark blue dress, the likes of which Smallville Chloe would never have worn. She even had pumps on her feet and diamond studs in her ears. Clark wanted to go and talk to her, but before he could make a motion to do so, Lex was at his side, greeting Jonathan and then leading Clark up to the family pew at the front of the cathedral.

"Are we allowed to sit together?" asked Clark, as he and Lex settled onto a pew. "I mean... Catholic church and everything."

"If the priest has a problem with it, he can come tell me personally," Lex spoke starkly, then slipped his hand into Clark's. "I've asked the media to keep focus off of us, but there are a few moments when they'll be allowed to photograph and film us – during the eulogy by the mayor, and when we're processing out with the coffin."

"Right," Clark nodded nervously. "What should I do then?"

Lex cut a glance at Clark. "Keep your fingers out of your nose and try not to laugh."

Clark couldn't suppress a smile at this. "I'll do my best," he promised sincerely.

The service, as Lex and Martha had predicted, was both long and boring. Clark was valiantly fighting back a yawn during the whole process. There was nothing of grief in any of the words spoken, the notes sung. Even Lex remained profoundly unmoved, faced with Lionel's sleek mahogany coffin at the head of the church. Whenever the media had permission, the dark massive space erupted into a flurry of clicks and flashes, the sudden lightning storm serving to rouse Clark back to consciousness each time.. The most entertaining moment was when Lana Lang came forward and spoke about Lionel Luthor's commitment to gay rights, his pride in his son and his son's husband, and the establishment of a charitable fund in this great benefactor's name, chaired by the late Luthor's own son-in-law. Lex, with his annoying talent for deadpan, managed to look gravely contemplative throughout this farce, even though half the cathedral was breaking into murmurs by the conclusion of Lana's speech. During the mayor's eulogy, Clark held Lex's hand and tried not to laugh (as Lex had asked) when Lex's middle finger twitched every time the mayor said something outrageously complimentary about Lionel.

The procession following the coffin was a gamut of dazzling flashes and Clark having a very itchy nose. He blamed Lex, but managed to refrain from scratching it by thinking of what his mother would say if it looked like he was picking his nose on television. He could feel Lucas's resentful presence at his back the whole way down the aisle and hated to think that tomorrow's paper would have shots of Lucas glaring at him over his shoulder. Chloe was near the back, with Lois and the other media, but Clark squeezed a quick smile in her direction as he left the building, hoping they would get a chance to speak later, after the graveside service.

They had a quiet lunch with Clark's parents back at the apartment, Jonathan making a few polite attempts to demonstrate he was still capable of being civil to Lex and Martha firmly restricting the conversation to the attendees of the funeral and the plans for the afternoon's activities. Clark bit his tongue against asking Lex if he was okay every time he looked over and saw the tension that outlined Lex's presence. Lex, for his part, was polite but untalkative.

The rain had let up somewhat for the graveside service, which attracted a much smaller crowd and was more intrinsically emotional from the simple nature of the act performed. When Lionel's coffin was lowered into the ground, Lex's fingers found Clark's and Lucas began to sniff back tears. Clark simply stared and tried to imagine what it would be like to watch someone put his father in the ground.

The final act of the three-part funeral took place in the Metropolis Regent Hotel, in a huge ballroom for the public reception. The media were restricted to the lobby this time but a select few had come into the ballroom proper, Clark presumed by swearing not to report what they witnessed within.

Not that there was much to see. Vast crowds of businessmen in dark suits, whip-thin heavily-made-up women by their sides. As a measure against the numbers, Martha and Lex had decided against having a receiving line, so Clark and Lex instead were stopped every two paces by someone earnestly expressing their sympathies. It was like repetitive assembly work in a factory. Step, pause, shake hand, nod seriously at commiseration, murmur 'thank you', step, pause, and repeat.

The routine was suddenly interrupted when a slender, over-familiar cold hand slipped into Clark's grasp. "Clark, how are you doing?" she said, and hearing the unaccustomed sympathy in her usually brash voice was strangely moving.

"I'm good," Clark replied, looking at Lex as he always seemed to do lately, judging his own state by Lex's appearance.

"Lex, I'm so sorry," Chloe said, but her voice was strangely curtailed, her eyes averted.

Lex replied with his thanks, already looking beyond Chloe to the next hovering individual.

"Um, Clark. Can I... I know you're busy, but if you have a minute?" Chloe asked. Clark looked over at Lex again, who nodded and waved Clark away.

"Sure?" Clark asked, taking Lex's hand.

Lex nodded again, and Clark planted a casual kiss before following Chloe away to a quieter corner of the room.

"Not that I'm not happy to see you here," Clark began, "but I can't believe you flew out from New York for my father-in-law's funeral."

Chloe seemed strangely edgy. "I didn't come out for that. It's just... when I was reading the obituary for Lionel Luthor on the Planet website, something else caught my eye." And with a gesture that recalled every stressful event of Clark's adolescence, Chloe reached into her bag and extracted a pile of papers. "Eric Summers is dead."

Clark blinked, disbelieving, at the obituary Chloe was extending towards him. It gave his place of death as 'a private care facility'.

"I called the Summers', to find out when Eric got moved from Belle Reve – I try to keep all my Wall of Weird files up to date, but it's been hard since I moved – and they said he went to a place called–"

"Cadmus," Clark supplied, stunned. "How did he die?"

Chloe flipped the page. "The Summers said it was an accidental overdose of pain medication, but the coroners' report? Here. Look, it said it was suicide."

"Why are you telling me this?" Clark asked, averting his eyes from the pictures of Eric's dead visage.

Chloe flipped the page again. "I know Lois tried to talk to you, about Lex and Cadmus, but she said you wouldn't believe her."

"Just because Eric Summers was depressed, doesn't mean Lex had anything to do with it," Clark protested, ignoring the page Chloe was now displaying.

Chloe thrust the sheet out, forcing it into Clark's hands. "Lois got this list last week. She buddied up to a Cadmus employee and – Clark! Look at the list."

Clark frowned at Chloe, but obediently lowered his eyes to the paper. It was headed 'Subjects Under Examination for Project Heracles', and had a long list of cryptic acronyms in a column. The next column was labeled 'manifestations' and this was more comprehensible. The first line read, 'enhanced strength, featural morphing, imitative behaviors'. Further down were such phrases as, 'dichotic fission at will', 'teleportation', and 'pheromone enhancement'. Clark looked up at Chloe questioningly. "What is it?"

"Look at this one," Chloe said, pointing to a line marked by an asterisk.

Clark looked. Subject C346J. Greatly enhanced strength, speed, and nearly invulnerable epidermis. Above average auditory perception. Possible ocular manifestations, but type and dependability unclear. Subject is extremely resilient to extreme conditions of heat and cold.

"What..." Clark began, confused.

"It's a list of the people Cadmus has been studying, Clark," Chloe hissed urgently. "That's Tina Greer, first on the list. There's Alicia – remember that skank who tried to split us up? – and that's Eric–" now pointing to the words 'Documented episode of increased strength and speed' – "and that one is you."

Clark looked at the list, feeling suddenly cold. "Cadmus is studying the meteor mutants?"

Chloe nodded, eyes large and frightened. "And you."

Clark stared down at the asterisked line, his heart beginning to race. "No. It can't be me."

"Clark, Lex thinks you're one of them," Chloe insisted. "That's probably why he picked you for this scholarship, so he could study you more closely."

Clark shook his head. "No, Chloe, it's not like that–"

"Clark, you know better than me what Lex is like. You've lived with him – you've been married to him – all year. But you have to believe me... Lois won't tell me all the details of this case, she's still busy cracking it, but once I saw this, I knew I had to tell you." Chloe sighed. "You say he wouldn't do this, that there must be some mistake. All I'm asking is that you find out for sure. Just... I don't know, ask him."

Clark looked down at the list in his hands again, skimming for one more thing. He found it next to Subject L103L – 'enhanced immunological response, alopecia totalis'. Lex was on his own list. Surely, then, even if he'd included Clark, it meant Lex had no bad intentions? And if Clark explained the destructive effects of the meteor rocks, if Clark told him what Tina Greer was like, how Alicia had hurt her father, Lex would listen. "I have to go back to him," Clark said, his tongue strangely unwieldy.

Chloe nodded. "You'll want to get rid of that," she said, pointing at the paper Clark was clutching. "Burn it. You didn't get it from me, okay?"

Clark folded the sheet and tucked it into his jacket. His fingers were numb.

"Clark, I'm sorry. I just want you to be safe," Chloe was saying, but Clark hardly heard her. Instead, he was walking away, scanning the crowd, trying to pick out the sound of Lex's voice amidst the babble.

"–have to get back to the ballroom," Clark heard.

"You liked me well enough like this, back at Thanksgiving," said another male voice, cajoling. It was a voice that sounded not unlike Clark's own. Clark looked around, peeling away layers of people and drywall to try and find Lex. Ah. Coatroom.

And strangely, the man he was standing with looked remarkably like Clark. He was touching Lex's arm in an overly familiar way. Clark forced himself to wait for Lex's response before he reacted.

"Tina," Lex said, sounding mildly irritated. "Really. This is just grotesque. Could you please... revert?"

The Clark look-a-like abruptly shifted into a non-descript older man. A quick flicker of x-ray confirmed it. Lex was speaking with Tina Greer. And now Clark was too stunned to react.

"I thought you had something to tell me," Lex continued, still sounding irritated.

The older man – Tina – inclined his head. "I wanted to know why you didn't warn me that Lana Lang was going to be at the service today."

"Who's Lana Lang?" Lex repeated tiredly.

A creepy Tina smile slithered across the man's features. "Old friend from Smallville. I'm surprised Clark hasn't mentioned her... he had quite the infatuation with her when he was younger."

"That's it, I'm going back," Lex said abruptly, and turned to leave.

"When do you want me to start following Clark again?" Tina asked, her voice more direct, losing its taunting edge.

Lex stopped, but didn't turn back around. "You're not needed in that capacity anymore," he said formally, then left the coat room.

Clark blinked and came back to himself.

Oh, god, Chloe was right.

"Thank god that's over," Lex sighed, leaning against the closed apartment door and kicking off his dress shoes in a very un-Lex-like way. Clark bent down to untie his, mostly because he thought Sophia would skin him alive if he mistreated his new size fifteen Italian leather shoes. Truth be told, he certainly felt like kicking something.

Or someone.

"Do you want a drink?" Lex asked, loosening the knot of his tie and sauntering into the kitchen and Clark was getting more inclined to violence by the second because Lex knew something was wrong and he was pretending he wasn't bothered by it.

"No," Clark said shortly, shrugging out of his suit jacket and carefully hanging it up in the closet.

Lex was kind of noisy getting a glass and setting it on the counter. Clark looked over, disbelieving – Lex was angry too. What could Lex possibly have to be angry about? The notion fed the already growing flame of indignation in Clark's belly.

Clark had been forced to behave normally immediately after catching Lex's little scene with Tina Greer, having been joined by his father and then by his mother. By the time Clark met up with Lex again, they were preparing to leave the reception for a quiet family dinner at a restaurant down the block from Clark and Lex's apartment. Lex had seemed withdrawn, but Martha had seemed to attribute it to the stresses of the day, and Clark had been more than willing to passively pretend Lex wasn't present, giving himself a chance to think about everything he'd seen and heard.

Lex had been spying on him. Lex knew about his powers, had known possibly as long as he'd known Clark. Lex had Clark listed as a subject in a study. Perhaps because of Lex's activities, Lucas (and the late Lionel) had known, or thought they'd known, that Clark was a meteor freak, and because of that, Clark had been targeted by Morgan Edge. Lex, or Lex's company, was possibly responsible for the death of Eric Summers.

As disturbing as all this was, Clark's scattered thoughts kept returning to a single horrible point of focus.

Lex had cheated on him with Tina Greer. Tina Greer in Clark's body.

In a twisted way, it was almost flattering. Clark had never suspected a thing, yet Lex had clearly been lusting after Clark as long ago as Thanksgiving. And Clark had to admit, though it seemed strange in the context of his new 'out-to-the-entire-world' state, if Lex had made a move on Clark back then, Clark wouldn't have been very receptive. So had Lex simply been sparing Clark? Trying to get over an unrealistic desire?

On the other hand, Clark despised the thought of Lex's hands on anyone else's body, even if he hadn't been with Lex at the time, not technically. And the idea that Lex had seen Clark naked, had touched him and made love to him without Clark having the slightest notion of it... Clark felt like he'd been raped, somehow. And Lex had done this. Lex.

If he was capable of such a thing, then somehow it wasn't so hard to credit him with every other terrible act hinted at by Chloe's evidence and Clark's own investigations.

Clark looked at Lex closely. He seemed like the same man, undiminished by the events of the day, still quietly energetic, even when he was tired and stressed. He looked exactly like the Lex who had trembled in Clark's arms, like the Lex who had joyfully participated in tackle video games – but to Clark, Lex was suddenly a stranger. He wasn't who Clark had thought he was.

Lex was very still, save for the sporadic sips of his scotch, as though he was conscious of Clark's examination and was obligingly remaining stationary for Clark's better observation.

"I'm going to bed," Clark said, feeling the need for solitude, the need for time to formulate questions.

"Me too," Lex said, unexpectedly stepping on Clark's implicit request for time apart. It was only eight o'clock.

Clark considered changing his mind, to see if Lex followed suit, but Kent stubbornness prevailed and he made his way to the bedroom with Lex close behind. Clark stripped in rough, efficient motions, caring less now for the state of his clothing, wanting only silence and darkness. Across the room, Lex stood, drink still in hand, sipping and watching Clark with overt hunger.

Clark turned his back and dropped his pants, tugging at his socks and only realizing he was waving his ass at Lex when he felt a touch on the small of his back. And if Lex thought they were going to have sex tonight, then he was making a big –

He was making a line with his fingers, heading straight for Clark's ass, his hand slipping under the waistband of his boxers and then, unceremoniously, gripping the elastic with both hands, tugging down so the boxers fell to the floor with the pants.

Clark stood up, having successfully removed his socks, but couldn't decide what to do next. He could feel Lex's breath on his back, feel Lex – not touching anymore – the heat of his body, the– but Clark was seething with unspoken rage and he didn't particularly want to express it now, when he was still feeling so raw.

Lex's bite, descending on his shoulder, decided the matter. Clark turned around abruptly, seizing Lex's wrists and pinning them to Lex's sides. Lex smirked up at him, the shock quickly passing from his expression. One raised eyebrow questioned Clark's intentions, and Clark answered with a forceful kiss, pressing Lex's mouth open and claiming it with his tongue. Lex was passive for a few beats, and then he wrenched his hands from Clark's grip and began tearing at his own clothing, his kisses becoming vicious, angry.

Clark helped Lex, pulling away at garments when Lex had loosened them, dropping them to the floor and then hungrily scraping fingers over the newly bared skin. Then Lex was naked and his hands were clutching at Clark's ass, pulling Clark tight against him so cock brushed cock, making Clark growl and thrust his hips. A twist of motion and they were entangled on the neatly made bed, Clark's heels digging into the slippery lilac coverlet, Lex's hand dipping down to explore Clark's ass while his knees levered Clark's legs asunder. Clark was immediately agonizingly desperate to have Lex inside him, fucking him, obliterating thought and feeling. His lips fell away from Lex's, his attention going to the touch of Lex's fingers circling his ass.

"I need –" Lex said, and even those words were too much between them right now. Clark tugged him back down, kissing him to mute him, even as he wriggled on his back towards his side of the bed and the lube Lex needed. Clark blindly opened the drawer, found the tube, pressed it into Lex's open palm, then busily returned to pinching and biting, only marginally aware of the weight of his hard cock brushing his belly. All his focus was for Lex.

Lex wasn't gentle this time, one finger and then two. He sat back on his heels, escaping Clark's assault with difficulty, and reached down with two glistening fingers, businesslike. Clark pressed down towards the intrusion, taking in Lex's fingers as deeply and quickly as he could, relishing the stretch and the rough burn. Lex watched his face, watched Clark's reaction as he scissored the fingers and fucked them in and out.

"Condom," Lex ordered breathlessly, having already taken longer than Clark would have liked.

Clark reached into the night table again and threw the foil package at Lex, hips still instinctively pistoning up with every assault from Lex's hand. But then Lex was taking too long and he was trying to do this one-handed, so Clark seized the condom impatiently and tore it open, took it out and rolled it on with a brief sense of vertigo at the change in roles. Lex held out the lube and Clark took it, quickly slicked up Lex's cock, already mentally taking it inside him.

Lex's hand withdrew and he hooked Clark's legs up over his shoulders and in case Clark had forgotten, Lex was still angry, because it wasn't a gentle, tender slide, but a brutal, uncaring thrust that made Clark cry out with shock, if not pain. Lex's hands slipped under Clark's knees and pressed Clark further down into the mattress, splaying him open, powerless, as Lex began to fuck him in earnest.

Clark refused to be taken, to be denied his part in this act of fury, so he scraped a hand down Lex's chest, reached around and dug his fingers into Lex's ass, thrust up and met each twist of Lex's hips, trying to make Lex as helpless before this moment as Clark was.

Clark slipped his legs down, used his heels on Lex's back to force Lex closer to him, face to face, Lex's jaw meeting Clark's shoulder with a thump, Lex's flexing arms enclosing Clark's torso. With a flash of rage, Clark wondered if this was how Lex had fucked Tina, if he'd done it hard and ruthless and it was that thought that made Clark sit up, getting his elbows on the bed behind him and shifting up, up, until Lex was forced back into a kneeling position, until Clark was in his lap, straddling him and yeah, in control.

Clark's cock was pressed tight between them now, he could feel the jump of the little muscles on the surface of Lex's belly as Lex was overcome with sensation, Clark slowing their motion to a sexy, impossibly sensual grind. Was it like this? Did she ride you like this? Clark's body asked, each shift drawing a pained groan from Lex.

And it wasn't supposed to end this way – it was supposed to end in fury and violence, not with this inexorable tug towards the brink, this slow gasping and flexing under Clark, the way Lex seemed to be breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces of himself. Clark reached between them, roughly jerking at his own cock, unable to bear the sight of Lex's fragmented expression, the sounds he was making.

But for all his efforts, Lex came first, his whole body pushing up into Clark, a taut arch of ecstasy, his gasps and spasmodic clutching of hands making Clark recognize not an object of anger, but of overwhelming, consuming love. As Lex collapsed against Clark's chest, Clark came, but the physical release was powerless against the wave of pain and helpless love that had arisen simultaneously. He slipped off of Lex, feeling Lex's almost-hard cock slide away from him, feeling sick and torn and dangerously fragile. Lex, still leaning on him, slithered down beside Clark as Clark collapsed onto his back.

Nothing had ever hurt like this. Lex's betrayal wasn't just a wound to be healed, or even a missing part of Clark. It had torn away at Clark, torn out pieces of him, corrupted others, so Clark felt like there wasn't a part of himself that hadn't been irreparably marred. And yet, he couldn't bear the thought of Lex leaving, didn't for an instant wish Lex wasn't pressed into his side, breathing out the shuddering aftermath of his climax. As the haze of sexual release receded, the pain grew ever sharper until Clark suddenly gasped with shock at the bright slicing hiss of it, realized he was crying.

Lex sat up, apparently becoming aware of Clark's tears, but Clark couldn't meet his gaze, concentrating instead on keeping himself from shivering into pieces.

"What is it?" Lex asked, touching Clark's hair.

Clark turned away from the touch, unsure if he was repulsed or elated by it.

"Clark," Lex said quietly. "Tell me what's wrong."

Clark closed his eyes, fighting back the image of Lex fucking Tina in this bed. "You," he said at last, and his voice sounded metallic and cold.

Lex's hand froze.

"You're wrong," Clark continued, and it felt true because Clark shouldn't love someone who could do this to him, could make him feel like this. It had been a mistake and now it was eating at Clark, making him hollow on the inside.

"Clark –" and Lex's voice sounded crushed, like the soft bruise on the side of a perfect apple. "Clark," he repeated, one hand skimming down over Clark's chest.

Clark knew this voice, this was the voice Lex had used when mourning his father, the voice that had told Clark he was trusted. Every time Lex had used this voice, he'd had this darkness at heart and Clark hadn't seen it, hadn't seen how Lex was changing him, making him trust.

"Get out."

Clark didn't realize the words were his until Lex withdrew his hand. "Clark," he said again, more urgently.

And Clark had actually believed he was shining a light into Lex's soul, that he was saving him and making him whole, happy, secure. He should have known, even an invulnerable alien couldn't touch such darkness and come away unscathed. "Just like your father," Clark said, concluding his thought out loud. Lex had been corrupted by Lionel and now Clark had been touched by the same thing.

There was a shift of fabric and then Lex was gone. He was dressing and then he was closing the bedroom door and then, with a muted cling of keys, he was gone.

Clark turned onto his side and tried to make sense of the maelstrom within.

Chloe had said to ask Lex. Chloe had said, "Just ask him, Clark," and Clark hadn't done it. Instead, he'd engaged in angry, indecently amazing sex, broken down, and accused Lex of being like his father, the one person Lex most feared becoming.

Clark had suspected for a long time that he was a complete moron when it came to human interaction, but this put the notion well past theory and far into the end zone of law.

Clark stared at his reflection in the mirror and despondently wished he'd wake up someday soon with green skin and antennae, because with his lack of emotional sense, he should really come with some sort of warning system for hapless people in his path.

Having spent most of Sunday in a deepening gloom, waiting vainly and with some self-righteousness for Lex to come home and explain himself, Clark had remembered finally to check his cell phone's voicemail. There was, of course, a message from Lex (who had known perfectly well Clark would forget to turn his cell phone back on).

"Clark, just to let you know... I'm staying at the penthouse. I'll have people by during your journalism seminar on Monday morning, they'll clear out my things. I'm leaving tomorrow, going to be overseas for the next couple of months – I've got to sort out some LuthorCorp messes in Hong Kong, so if you need to contact me about any problems with the apartment, you can call Penny and she'll let me know."

All of this spoken in such a calm, reasonable manner, like Lex was reading from a script and Clark knew Lex and he knew Lex probably was reading the words, had probably typed them up and practiced them before calling.

But after a four second pause – Clark timed it during the third listening – Lex spoke again, in a more natural voice. "Tell your folks thanks for coming down, next time you talk to them."

Three seconds.

"Bye, Clark. I love you." This last blurred, so quietly spoken, so quickly, that but for the grace of alien hearing, Clark wouldn't have been certain of the words.

Clark didn't know where the penthouse was and Lex had his cell phone turned off and no one was answering at his office and Clark slammed his fist through the coffee table in a fit of self-loathing. In the cold light of day, after listening to that message a dozen times, there was no way Clark could believe Lex capable of all the terrible acts that had seemed so reasonable through the haze of jealousy that had possessed him the previous night. Clark didn't know how, couldn't see any way to make things make sense, but there had to be an explanation.

Lex loved him. So there had to be an explanation.

"Rough weekend," Pete observed when he saw Clark on Monday at noon. "Didn't you have class this morning?"

Clark nodded. He'd spent the morning arguing with Lex's movers about the necessity of clearing out Lex's things – he'd finally bargained them down to about half Lex's wardrobe and the bare essentials of his toiletries. Clark had managed to hang on to Lex's low-riding pajama pants by shifting them into his own dresser when the movers weren't watching.

Calls to Lex's PA, Penny, were greeted with a polite, "I'll tell him you called," which clearly had the unspoken coda, "once he's safely in a foreign country."

It was all happening too fast. Though Clark was still torn about what Lex had done, the evidence Chloe had brought to light, now he wanted nothing more than to see Lex – partly to get an explanation, but mostly, overwhelmingly, because Clark's whole body was aching for Lex. As horrible as he'd felt in the aftermath of orgasm the previous night, it was nothing compared to this all-consuming longing, every cell of his body – if his stupid alien body had cells – crying out for Lex, Lex's touch, Lex's voice, Lex's scent.

"So I didn't get a chance to talk to you at the funeral, but that was a smooth move with Lana Lang and the memorial fund," Pete was continuing blithely. "Did you see how she was looking at you? Chicks, man. As soon as a guy's off the market, they're interested. Hey, you should ask her out when this whole thing's over."

Clark nodded absently. They were sitting at a table in the cafeteria, Clark's tray of food untouched.

"And if you don't, can I?" Pete asked, picking up Clark's yogurt and peeling off the top.

Clark nodded again.

"Good, because I owe you from when you stole my girlfriend in eighth grade."

Clark blinked down at his soggy french fries.

"Okay, it's weird enough that you're not eating, but when you don't immediately start telling me that Chloe was your girlfriend all along, I know something's seriously wrong. What's going on?"

Clark opened his mouth, but only managed a sigh.

"You and Luthor fight?"

Clark nodded, and was shocked to find that Pete's display of brotherly sympathy, as brusque as it was, was drawing prickles of tears to his eyes.

Pete noticed. Clark could tell by the way his hand dropped the spoon he was using to stir the yogurt. "Okay, I thought you told me that this whole living together thing was just a show," Pete said quietly. "That you were just pretending to mack on Luthor and you guys were just friends. Is that not what you told me?"

Clark nodded again, dashing a hand across his eyes. "It didn't... things changed."

Pete sighed. "And he saw the way you and Chloe were getting all cozy on Saturday and he freaked, right?"

"No," Clark blurted, but then blinked in surprise. "Chloe and I weren't –"

"Okay, to me? And I know you, man – it looked like the two of you were settling something pretty serious."

"We were – she was showing me pieces of paper!" Clark protested. "How is that cozy?"

"The way you were standing, no one could see what you were doing. You were really close together. And you kept looking at her during the service in the cathedral. And Clark, I know you don't notice this, but you talk about her all the time, in front of Lex, too. That's why I never thought you and Lex had really gotten together. Anyway, not long after Chloe hauled you off to talk to you, Lex left the hall. I wasn't the only one who thought he looked kind of pissed off."

But Lex hadn't been angry with Clark, he'd been annoyed with Tina... Clark didn't want to get into that with Pete – but then Clark remembered, even at the beginning of the conversation Clark had caught between Tina and Lex, Lex had seemed oddly curt towards someone Clark presumed he did business with. Maybe Pete was right – Lex had thought Clark was still in love with Chloe, that he wasn't over her. It would certainly explain his apparent anger later on in the evening.

But Lex had never seemed jealous before, not even of Jacob, Clark remembered, shaking his head. Still, if Lex had thought all along that Clark was still in love with Chloe, maybe Lex had thought he never had a chance anyway, that any vibe of attraction he was getting from Clark was purely on a physical level, that he had no chance of winning Clark's affections. If that were the case, it not only contributed to the explanation of Lex's affair with Tina-as-Clark and Lex's apparent indifference to the romantic threat of Jacob, but it made Clark realize it could only have been in the past few days, as he and Lex had finally consummated their attraction, that Lex could have begun to hope Clark really cared for him. Clark remembered how Lex reacted when Clark said "I love you," in the darkness the night before the funeral – that little tense flicker of doubt. Lex, who mistrusted and denied his own self-worth, had perhaps only started to understand Clark's feelings then. It would have been such a fragile idea, so delicate and so terrifying, it would be no wonder if Clark's discussion with Chloe had destroyed Lex's hope.

No wonder he'd seemed pissed off and defensive when they'd gotten home that night. And Clark himself had been thoroughly unpleasant, which Lex had perhaps taken as further evidence Clark was thinking of Chloe, was regretting his decision to be with Lex. Clark had been too absorbed with his own anger and jealousy to take much notice of Lex's reaction to their angry act of passion, but now he remembered Lex had been equally fierce, staking a claim to Clark, trying to possess him with a desperation that seemed out of place unless, as Pete suggested, Lex had felt his place threatened. And near the end, when they had subsided into something blazingly intense, but infinitely more tender, Lex must have felt like he'd won, like Clark wouldn't make love to him in this way if his heart was elsewhere.

And then Clark had promptly crushed him.

"Pete, I am such a dumbass," Clark groaned, dropping his forehead into one palm.

Pete was nonplussed. "Clark, man, when it comes to relationships, you are the lord of all dumbasses." He took Clark's apple and bit into it. "So, call him up and tell him that it's over with Chloe." Pete shot Clark a suspicious glance. "It is over with Chloe, right?"

Clark frowned, nodding a little. "He's... He left for Asia today. Won't be back for two months."

Pete shook his head in disbelief. "Man, rich people are dramatic. Couldn't he just, you know, avoid you for a couple of days?" Pete took another bite of apple. "Well, do that thing you do, you know, the thing you were working on last summer? With the –" Pete mimed raising one arm, hand fisted. "Whoosh."

Clark scowled. "Pete, I could barely make it from the barn to the roof of the farmhouse. I'm not going to try it out over the Pacific."

"Suit yourself," Pete shrugged, scanning Clark's tray for more salvageable food items. "All I'm saying is, sometimes you gotta make a gesture. Remember, when you and Chloe split? And you were too scared to call her and just say you were sorry?"

"Chloe's a scary person," Clark insisted.

"And Lex isn't?" Pete dropped the apple, apparently giving up on Clark's tray. He met Clark's eyes, intent. "If this really means something to you, Clark... if you really give a damn about this guy... then you gotta do something about it."

Clark was amazed anew at how much he missed Lex as he contemplated talking to him, seeing him. He looked down at his left hand, the wedding band there. "It's complicated, Pete," Clark said at last, thinking again about the Cadmus documents, Eric Summers, the kryptonite experimentation, Tina Greer, and the other Luthors' involvement. "It's really complicated."

Pete stood up. "Ball's in your court, though, flyboy. You figure it out." With a conciliatory smile to soften his words, Pete picked up his tray and walked out of the cafeteria.

After his conversation with Pete, Clark began to devise approaches to talking with Lex. He weighed the benefits of opening with affection versus venting annoyance, getting straight to the point or forcing Lex into small talk first. Clark was confident, though, that however he opened the conversation, they wouldn't conclude it until things were properly sorted out between them.

Clark's wild optimism was short-lived. To be precise, it lived only as long as it took for him to get home that day and find a couriered package in the mailbox downstairs. It said LexCorp on the return address, and the package – a flat, document-bearing kind of envelope – was unpleasantly weighty.

Clark tore it open, already suspecting what it contained, and he was right.

It was the divorce settlement Lex had first shown him almost two weeks ago. There was a little note attached to the front that read, "Clark – Lex asked me to forward this to you. Could you please sign where indicated and return the document to me? Thanks. – Penny." Flipping through the fat package, Clark saw Lex's bold signature already adorned every line marked, leaving a space for Clark. The signatures were dated with yesterday's date.

Clark stared at the pages for a long time, unable to understand what Lex was doing and why. He had said "I love you" on the phone yesterday. Why was he now divorcing Clark? It didn't make sense. Sure, Lex could be a pretty spectacular drama queen when the occasion arose, but this seemed a bit extreme, to say the least.

Finally, Clark took the papers and went into the bedroom, then stuck them in his underwear drawer. He wasn't signing anything.

Clark and Penny the PA developed quite the rapport over the next few days. Clark called her first thing in the morning – she got into the office around 8 a.m., he learned – then between each of his classes, and again before she left for the day at 4:30. Each time, his object was the same.

"Tell Lex to call me," he'd say.

"I'll let him know you called, Clark," she would answer politely.

"Where is he now?" Clark would continue, wondering just how much momentum he'd need in order to jump over the Pacific. He still had much more faith in his jumping skills than his flying technique. With all the blinds closed and a lot of sugar in his system, Clark could circle the apartment once before he panicked or lost control.

Here Penny's answer would vary. The first day, Lex was enroute to Hong Kong still. The second, he was in meetings. By Thursday, he had moved to Bangkok. The weekend was a black-out period because Penny didn't work on Saturday or Sunday, but on Monday, Clark found out Lex had finished with Thailand and was now somewhere in Malaysia.

Lex's cell phone was a lost cause – the very first time Clark had gathered his courage and dialed the number, he'd been rewarded by hearing its distinctive trill emanating from the pocket of Lex's dress coat in the front hall closet. His office voicemail didn't give the option of leaving a message, but referred Clark back to Penny. E-mails were bounced back with an automatic reply saying Lex was abroad. And LuthorCorp's phone system was a giant network as diabolically twisted as the mind of its late CEO. Clark spent two hours navigating the dark waters of corporate telecommunication before conceding the victory to the machines. There was no way to access the new CEO via this labyrinth of menus and redirection.

It was somewhat disorienting that in the space of one school year, Clark had gone from being unmarried, to secretly married and pretending to be single, to secretly married and pretending to be involved, to being openly married and pretending to be in love, to being openly both married and in love, and ending up here: married, miserable, in love... and pretending everything was fine.

"He explained everything," Clark told Chloe when she called to check. "He's sorting it all out now."

"We're going to talk about it when he gets back," Clark told Pete even though Pete did that scrunchy thing with one eye that suggested doubt.

"Mom? I don't really know how to say this... and I don't know if you're really going to be surprised... but I think I'm in love with Lex," Clark said into the phone one night, having inhaled enough second-hand marijuana smoke at a Monitor party to feel dangerously uninhibited. She made all the right noises, but the undertone of shock and discomfort in her voice was somehow comforting to Clark. This is how it would be, Clark told himself. If he'd stayed. If I'd just asked.

Lex had been away two weeks when Clark got a call from LuthorCorp. Wondering briefly if the phone system was exacting its revenge, he lifted the receiver. "Luthor-Kent residence," he said, as cheerfully as he could, simultaneously muting the cartoons playing on the television.

"Mr. Kent? This is Ted Inman, Lex's personal attorney."

Clark recognized Ted's voice from the morning after Lionel died, and from the meeting with Lucas. "Hey Ted. When did you move to LuthorCorp?"

"Lex has transferred most of his staff to LuthorCorp by now," Ted said, almost casually, but the businesslike edge returned to his voice. "Mr. Kent, I'm calling regarding some documents you should have received two weeks ago by courier."

Clark's mind immediately flashed to the divorce settlement, crumpled a little under the mounds of underwear and socks in his top dresser drawer. "Yes?" he managed, trying to sound unimpressed.

"Did you receive them?"

"Yes... I... yes."

"And have you found time to sign them and return them to Lex's office? I spoke with Lex's PA this morning and she mentioned she hadn't heard from you yet."

Penny was a traitor. Only this morning, they had been making feeble and painful little jokes about how often Clark was calling. "I'm not signing them," Clark snapped.

"Is there something about the settlement that you find unfair? If you like, I can refer you to a colleague for legal advice."

Clark bit his lip hard, fighting back an irrational impulse to shout at the hapless Ted. "I need to talk to Lex before I sign it."

A long pause followed. Finally, Ted spoke again. "So your conditions require that Lex contact you before you will agree to sign the divorce settlement?"

Clark nodded, exhaling with sudden relief. At last, here was a way to force Lex to speak with him. "Yes. Tell him that. Tell him... he has to call me or I won't sign."

"Very well," Ted replied calmly, as though Clark's request were perfectly rational and usual. "I'll speak with Lex later on tonight. Thank you, Mr. Kent."

"Thank you," Clark returned, and hung up feeling terrified and shaky, but also secretly triumphant. He would get to speak with Lex, maybe even tonight.

Clark practiced all evening. He wrote out lists of things he wanted to ask and then he drew diagrams of his theories and then he threw them all away and decided to open with "I love you." But soon that seemed over-simplistic, too contrived, and Clark was back to arguing his case like a defense attorney, itemizing all the reasons they should stay together, all the logical and the illogical things that made Clark want to burn the divorce settlement and weld his wedding band onto his hand.

And when this activity exhausted him again, Clark went and opened Lex's side of the closet, stroked his fingers over all the shirts he couldn't bring himself to look at yesterday, buried his nose in the soft expensive fabrics and inhaled, even though the only scent was of their laundry detergent. His longing for Lex hadn't abated at all in the days since Lex had gone away and it made him wonder, a little dizzily, if Lex felt the same way, if Lex wished he had something of Clark's to touch and to smell. If all went well in this conversation, Clark would send Lex one of his old t-shirts, maybe the too-small one which would be a little big on Lex. Then, Clark could picture Lex in his hotel room across the ocean, in dress pants and black socks, but with Clark's old t-shirt on, watching Spider-man cartoons and missing Clark.

But Lex didn't call.

Clark decided his new contact with Ted was no reason to leave off calling Penny and the next morning he found out Lex was in Kuala Lumpur and would be leaving for Singapore soon. Maybe he was busy packing.

Lex didn't call that day either.

Clark called Ted the following morning. "Did you tell him what I said?" Clark asked, peevishly. "Have you talked to him?"

"Yes, Mr. Kent. I've told him."

"Then why hasn't he called?"

"I'm certain he has his reasons."

Clark hung up on Ted, then felt contrite and called him back to apologize.

He was definitely opening with "I love you."

The phone finally rang at 4 a.m. on the third day after Clark spoke with Ted for the first time. Clark was instantly awake, reaching for the phone before it completed its first sound. "Hello?"

"Clark, sorry if I woke you," Lex said, and Clark almost cried with the relief of hearing Lex's voice again.

"It's okay," Clark answered, a little shakily. "Lex, I'm sorry." Shit, that wasn't what he'd intended to say. Still, it wasn't a bad beginning, providing Lex didn't just hang up that second.

There was a beat or two of silence, and Clark opened his mouth, ready to pin on the part about love, when Lex spoke again. "Ted said you wouldn't sign. Is there a problem with the settlement?"

Clark struggled into a sitting position, rubbing his face to try and push himself into greater alertness. He needed to be firing on all cylinders if this conversation was going to work. "Yeah, there's a problem."

"If it's about the amount –"

"I don't want to get divorced," Clark interrupted. "Lex, I want to stay married. Not just until August. After that. All my life."

He could hear Lex sighing. It sounded like he was in a bar or restaurant, the noises of glassware and plates dimly punctuating the silence. "The last time we spoke, I had the impression that you were of a vastly different opinion," Lex said at length.

When Lex started speaking like that, it meant he was getting pissed off. Clark kicked off the covers, clutching the phone to his ear with sudden fear, afraid Lex would hang up any minute. "The last time we spoke, I had just heard some things... found some things that upset me. I wasn't being rational, Lex. And neither were you."

"And you're being rational now?" Lex rejoined. "A nineteen year old boy who wants to commit to a near-stranger for the rest of his life? Clark, this is crazy. There's no need for this."

"I love you," Clark blurted, but it came out all wrong. The words were right, but his voice sounded plaintive, piteous, not strong and self-assured as he'd imagined. It was impossible to sound confident when Lex was ripping at his guts like this.

Another sigh. Lex seemed unmoved. "What had you just heard?" he asked, completely sidestepping Clark's proclamation.

Clark breathed deeply a few times, gathering his thoughts. The important thing was to keep Lex on the phone, and the disclosure of facts was more likely to do that than any amount of emotional upheaval. "Chloe. At your father's funeral. She gave me some of the things Lois had been working on. Lists of subjects being researched at Cadmus. People who had been affected by the meteor shower in Smallville."

"And?" Lex seemed entirely unsurprised by this.

"And..." Clark began. "And I was on it. So were you."

"What else?"

How much of this had Lex already figured out, and how? Clark was struck by Lex's non-chalance, but forced himself to continue. "And Eric Summers. You had him in your facility, you were researching him. And he died. Killed himself. Chloe thought... she thought you'd married me just because of... because you wanted to study me too."

Lex made some noise of interest. "Anything else Chloe told you?"

"No, that was everything from her. But there are other things... like when I started to tell you about the meteor phenomena, back before Jacob blew our cover, you burned your hand on purpose to stop me."


"You've been having me followed. But not anymore."

"I was wondering if you knew about that," Lex said, sounding a little impressed.

"And you hired Uyeda to do illegal meteor research," Clark said, now unable to stop disclosing information. "Lois Lane tried to warn me about you, at the zoo benefit. She met me in the lobby there and told me that you were going to be in trouble soon. That you'd done... wrong things. And she was going to expose you."

"How humanitarian of her," Lex said wryly, with the clink of a glass underpinning his words.

"I didn't believe her," Clark said, panicked by this dry tone. "I knew there was a mistake. I knew there was an explanation. And Chloe, I didn't know what to think, I was so shocked, but Lex, you have to believe me, I never really doubted you. Because you wouldn't do that. You're not like that. You're not like your father, I should never have said it."

He thought he heard Lex's breath catch at the last part, but it must have been his imagination, because immediately Lex was speaking again. "Clark. Listen to me."

Clark pressed the receiver hard against his ear, desperate for the words that would relieve this terrible anxiety.

"What Lois said? And what Chloe said? All those things you found out, about Uyeda?"

"Yes," Clark urged.

"They're all true."

Clark actually laughed aloud, the shock was so great. Lex must be joking, was his first coherent thought. His next words would be, a la Wayne, "I'm just fucking with you."

"I chose you because your abilities fascinated me. Of all the mutants produced by the meteor shower, you have the most diverse manifestations. I've been studying you for years, since you were a junior in high school. I've been studying all of you, all of us, the ways that the meteor rock changed people. My father thought it was a ridiculous obsession based on tabloid journalism, berated me for pursuing it, but I wouldn't stop, couldn't stop trying to find out more, understand more. I read all of your girlfriend's articles. I've known who Chloe Sullivan is as long as I've known who you are."

Clark opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

"This year, with Uyeda's guidance, Cadmus began clinical trials of various medical techniques using the meteor rock, trying to reproduce the manifestations of the Smallville mutants. We've bent a few rules along the way, and not all our methods of getting results have been... humane. But I didn't care, because I thought there was a profit to be turned... I mean, imagine if I could market my immune system, or Bob Rickman's skills of persuasion, or Cassandra Carver's ESP, or your strength and speed. Imagine if I could combine them."

Clark's tongue felt heavy, his mind was whirling with terror and disgust.

"Unfortunately, due to Lane's snooping and my father's death, I've been forced to put this research aside. I'll have to wait until things have settled somewhat before I can pursue the marketing side of the investigations." Now Lex sounded really regretful, as though he couldn't understand the motivations of a Lois Lane or the bad taste of his father in dying so unexpectedly.

"Lex –" Clark spoke, haltingly. "You... studied me?"

A breath of laughter. "Yes, Clark. Didn't I tell you, a long time ago, that you should never trust anyone unless they give you a reason to do so?" When Clark was unable to reply, Lex went on, his voice more closely approximating his normal tone. "I'm giving you the chance to walk away from this, Clark. You've been a good friend and you've been there for me, so I'm offering you this. You sign those papers, you leave now, and I'll drop you as a subject, I'll have you erased from all records and databases. You make trouble for me... well, I know how you'd hate being the center of attention for the media."

Clark had never felt this sucker punched before, not when he'd lost his powers, not when he'd been walloped with kryptonite, not when Chloe walked away from him two years ago. He literally couldn't draw breath to answer Lex.

"Sign the papers, Clark," Lex repeated calmly. "That's my best advice." And there was a click.

Clark hung up the phone. Two seconds later, he found himself retching over the toilet bowl.

All pretense was finished. Clark signed the divorce papers and dropped them at LexCorp's head office on his way to school that morning. Penny smiled at him until she saw what Clark was holding out to her, then her expression dropped away into something more businesslike. "Thank you," she murmured.

"How long does it take to process?" Clark asked brusquely. "How long before it goes through?"

Penny was putting the dog-eared document into an envelope. "My divorce took six weeks, but it varies."

Clark nodded. Six weeks was perfect – it would be the end of term, as well as when Lex was scheduled to return to Metropolis. A clean breaking point. "Thanks," he replied, and walked out of the office. He saw funny Ben on the way out and wondered to himself how he could ever have suspected Lex of fucking him. He wasn't Lex's type at all.

"We're getting divorced," Clark told Pete at lunch.

Pete's eyes widened dramatically. "What?"

"It'll probably be in the papers tomorrow, Lex'll go through the Metropolis clerk of court." Clark didn't want his sandwich, but the facade of normalcy required enthusiastic eating habits, so he took a big bite and tried not to gag.

"What happened to... I thought you were going to work it out?" Pete asked, waiting impatiently while Clark chewed and swallowed.

"Turns out it wasn't work out-able." Clark took a gulp of milk to wash down the bread that seemed stuck in his throat. "We were getting divorced anyway," he assured Pete. "This is just sooner than we'd planned."

Pete stared at Clark with a look Clark hadn't seen since the day Clark told Pete about the alien thing. It was the 'you're not human' look. "Clark. You can tell me anything."

Clark nodded enthusiastically. "That's why I'm telling you this," he said in all seriousness.

"Is there, like, a purple or maybe orange kind of meteor rock that makes you act like a serial killer or something?" Pete asked after another minute of staring.

"Pete," Clark smirked. "Very funny."

Pete shook his head, disbelieving. "Okay, well when you decide to tell me what's up, I'm here for you, man."

Clark nodded politely and attacked the flavorless coleslaw. "How was your calculus midterm?"

The call to his parents was more difficult.

"Hello, son. How's school?"

"It's good," Clark said, annoyed that his father had answered. This would be harder with his father. "How's the farm?"

"Well, the snow's about gone, just enough sittin' on the fields to keep 'em nice and moist when the wind kicks up. Even if we don't get a good rainy spring, I'd say we're in for a good year."

"That's great," Clark replied automatically. "I'm getting a divorce."

And that was less smooth than he'd hoped.

"I thought that wasn't until August," said Dad, with some surprise. Clearly Martha hadn't passed on Clark's drug-induced revelation of last week.

"Well, the situation just... things changed. I just wanted to tell you because it'll be in the papers tomorrow and you'll need the heads-up for the media."

"Why the change of plan?" Jonathan asked, and he was so matter-of-fact, still using his 'wind kicking up', 'it'll be a good year' voice. Clark wasn't sure whether it was comforting or annoying as hell.

"Well, he just thinks I should step out of the public eye, a little." That was sort of truth. "And he doesn't really need the thirty million, not now."

"Well, I figure that's a good move, then," Dad said, sounding relieved and content. "How's the weather been up in the city?"

Clark must have made some reply, but he couldn't remember what it was later. Eventually, he excused himself and hung up.

He spent the evening curled up on the couch, feeling wretched and lonely.

After the furor raised by the tidings of the Luthor-Kent divorce had died down somewhat, Clark struggled through his classes. During the daytime, he could be actively outraged with Lex. He could ponder Lex's words and rethink their time together and curse himself for trusting, for not obeying the dictates of the sense his parents had taught him, for believing Lex was what he seemed.

Sociopathic was the word, Clark learned when he actually got around to studying for his psychology final. Able to wear a convincing game face, to interact and be charming and lure people in, but inside, inside everything was dark and pointed and chaotic, destructive and angry and egotistical.

But in the evening, as the spring days slowly faded, Clark was overcome by grief and hurt. It was torture to be in his apartment, to see Lex's things, remember moments with Lex that had seemed so normal, so perfect. But it was impossible to be with other people – Clark couldn't manage it when his whole body felt like an instrument tuned to resonate with pain. Instead, he took to prowling the streets, stopping crimes where he could, practicing his long jumps and short flights from the tops of buildings. He was being incautious and foolish, Clark knew it, but at least it distracted him for a while.

When he got home again in the dark, Clark would crawl into Lex's bed, their bed, and relive one of the five times they'd had sex – the heavy silent wonder of the rainy morning of Lionel's last day on earth, the frenetic clash in the shower the next day, the rending beauty of the first time Lex laid him open, the soft joy of the next morning, and, most often, the fury and hatred of the last time, the clench of Lex's true self, his sharp inner self coming to light in the violence of that encounter.

Clark always came thinking of that time, the way Lex had looked at him, eyes dark in the night-lit room, the press of his fingers into Clark's legs, of his cock in Clark's ass. And afterwards, lying sticky and disgusted in the ruins of their bed, Clark would remember Lex saying, "What is it?" and stroking Clark's hair, so gently, and all the anger Clark had gathered during the day would fall apart like rotted paper.

"Sociopath," Clark whispered to the darkness.

It was an apt description for himself, actually.

Clark turned his last article into the Monitor in mid May. The paper shut down during exams. There would be a meeting of all the volunteer staff in a week's time, planning for next year, but Clark still felt a profound sense of relief as he passed the disk over to Wayne across the desk.

Wayne popped the disk in his CPU and opened the file. "What the fuck is this?"

"Reports of renegade activity keep popping up, some people stopping crimes on campus," Clark said flatly. "I investigated."

"I wanted you to cover coping methods for pre-exam stress," Wayne stated, skimming the article on the screen.

"Yeah, well. This was better."

Wayne read in silence for a moment. "No leads on who this guy is?"

"Sounds like more than one guy to me," Clark said. He'd been very careful to keep the descriptions vague in the article.

Wayne grunted. "Keep on it over the summer. Can you put together something more extensive for the June 3rd edition?"

"Going back to the farm, Wayne. I'm not sticking around here."

"Isn't your guy coming back soon?" Wayne asked, his eyes still fixed on the screen.

Clark flushed with annoyance. "We're getting divorced, you know that."

Wayne was forwarding the article to Jacob's replacement. "Huh."

"Huh?" Clark repeated, a slow anger beginning to rise.

"You're still wearing the ring. I figured..."

Clark looked down, strangely startled to realize Wayne was right, even though Clark was thoroughly aware he hadn't yet removed the ring. "I... it's..."

Wayne apparently sensed that Clark might be about to emote, because he cut him off abruptly. "Okay, next week, meeting, right? Good luck on exams, man."

Clark nodded stupidly and left the office.

That night, he still couldn't bring himself to take the ring off.

The term, according to his psych textbook, was erotomanic type delusional disorder.

Little pieces of Lex kept slipping into place, catching Clark off-guard.

Clark was in his intro physics class, learning about electromagnetic radiation, when the first one unexpectedly snapped in line. A lead-lined briefcase. Because Lex knew Clark could see through some things, but not lead.

He was eating dinner at the farm, talking about swimming in Crater Lake, during the second incident. Lionel's words at the cabin during spring break. Because that was when Lionel started taking notice of Lex's little obsession.

He got an e-mail from Chloe and she mentioned her dad. Lex buying the LuthorCorp fertilizer plant. Because it was easier to control the collection and transportation of meteor rock with an industrial base in Smallville.

He was putting fresh sheets on the king-sized bed. Lex saying, "Clark, as far as my father's concerned, the only extraordinary thing about you is your beauty." Because Lex had known there was something far more extraordinary all along.

It was an odd process. Clark felt like he'd been in possession of a puzzle for months, had considered the picture complete and the problem solved; but someone had scrambled the puzzle up, and now it was coming together to make an entirely new picture.

Yet there were some pieces as yet that seemed too large, too mysterious and unwieldy to make sense in the picture Clark was reconstructing. Lionel sending Edge after him. Edge dropping the matter as soon as he got his picture evidence. Lex having Clark followed. Lucas's threatening words at the meeting after Lionel's death. What Lionel had said to Lex on the night of the zoo benefit.

Lex saying "I love you" in that brief message on his way to Hong Kong.

Clark supposed that eventually, all these lumps of seemingly incomprehensible facts would break apart, sliver away into smaller, more manageable pieces. He found himself very loath to have it happen.

In a way, then, he was grateful when the Daily Planet headline screamed, near the end of May, "LuthorCorp CEO implicated in medical research violations". Lois's accusations were pointed and substantiated, small instances of FDA violations that seemed to point towards greater evils, even a pilfered grainy picture of a bald rat with the caption 'Some results from Cadmus Labs' testing have had serious side effects'. Lois had properly launched her career with the story, Clark supposed, and perhaps she had even waited until Clark was pretty much out of the public eye before dropping her bombshell. But it wasn't her story that made Clark oddly gratified.

It was Lex's public rebuttal. Though Clark wasn't naive enough to take Lex's words – filtered and polished by LuthorCorp's sleek PR department – at face value, there were strange instances, small phrases, that felt like truth.

"Prior to LexCorp becoming a subsidiary of LuthorCorp, the acquisitions department of the larger corporation was making advances on the smaller. Part of the strategy involved exaggerating rumors of lax bioethics and circulating forged documents regarding research procedures at Cadmus."

For 'acquisitions department', Clark read 'Lionel Luthor'. Apparently, once Lionel had begun to investigate Lex's meteor obsession – spurred perhaps by his investigations of his son's new love interest – he'd decided to reap the benefits of Lex's work for himself.

"While some human subjects have been participating in clinical trials of new treatments, all are of the age of majority and all have signed comprehensive legal releases agreeing to the procedures. Each of these courageous individuals is fully aware of the risk undertaken by joining in the clinical trials, and the FDA and the Planet are both welcome to peruse the attached copy of said agreement, parts of which have been removed for patent and research protection."

So Lex hadn't been collecting the meteor mutants and abusing them against their will. In fact, given that Eric Summers had been contacted by and subsequently chemically silenced by Lionel Luthor, Clark began to wonder if Lex wasn't gathering up the meteor mutants to protect them from his father's reach. By Lex's own admission, he'd had his own capitalist interests in view, but Clark couldn't resist the notion that Lex had been playing the hero in this scenario, albeit a reluctant and – at least in Eric Summers' case – an unsuccessful one.

And now the puzzle began to change again in Clark's mind, shifting from a sinister and bleak scene into something dappled with the occasional unexpected patch of light. Clark felt like he could breathe again for the first time since he'd received that early morning phone call from Lex.

"Is this box for the CDs?"

"No, it's for his books, because it's smaller."

"Clark can carry more books than this in one go," said Jonathan sensibly.

"But the bigger box might not be able to hold all the books without breaking," answered Martha, tipping in a handful of CDs.

Clark lifted up the sofa. "Have either of you seen my Smallville High pennant? I thought it was in the study, but maybe Lex had it in here."

"The yellow one? That says 'Go Crows'?" asked Martha distractedly.

"Yeah, did you see it?" Clark said, x-raying the seat cushions of the armchair.

"No. Clark, honey, did you remember to pack your towels yet? Those blue towels in the bathroom are yours."

Clark started to go for the towels, scanning for the pennant as he went, when the phone rang. "Buzzer," Clark announced, strangely happy just to have someone in his home other than himself, other people to announce things to.

"Delivery for Clark Kent?" said the voice.

"Um, yeah. Four oh three, come on up." Clark buzzed the courier in, wondering what could be arriving by messenger.

It was a flat package, one that looked uncomfortably familiar. Clark cut a glance at his parents, hoping they weren't paying attention, but no such luck.

"What is it?" asked Mom, getting up on her knees and nudging a box closed.

Clark opened the package, hoping against hope that Dr. Swann had decided to start harassing him by mail again. A packet of papers fell out, as well as a sealed envelope. "It's the divorce settlement," Clark announced, and was amazed by how calm he sounded. He was divorced. He and Lex weren't married anymore. Clark automatically glanced at his ring finger, as if expecting to see the wedding band melt away, but he'd taken the ring off in anticipation of his parents' arrival.

He absently opened the smaller envelope. It was a check, a personal check. Right, the settlement amount. Clark blinked at the signature, stroked the embossed gold on the edge of the paper, wondering how recently this check had been under Lex's fingers. It was dated with today's date, so Lex must be back in Metropolis, or maybe he had sent it post-dated. As an afterthought, Clark glanced down at the amount, wondering if his dad would have another heart-attack when he saw a six-digit number on such a small, unassuming personal check.

Clark blanched when he read the number. It was for thirty million dollars.

"What's that for, Clark?" asked Jonathan, snapping Clark out of his stunned gaze.

"It's... my scholarship, I guess," Clark answered quickly, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket and stuffing the check in before either parent could approach. "That's a lot of zeroes," he added, trying to sound less frantic. "Guess I won't see a check that size again." It was truth, but it felt like a lie, because Clark was still firmly stuck on the figure Lex had scrawled carelessly. It was an impossible number to process.

Thirty million. The amount of his mother's bequest, the amount Lex would have received if their marriage had lasted until August, as was the original plan. Clark's own scholarship was supposed to be a hundred thousand dollars, and if it had never occurred to Clark before to wonder why Lex hadn't offered more – after all, out of thirty million, one hundred thousand was a negligible sum – now the notion hit him with a vengeance. Clark could, last August, have reasonably asked for half of Lex's mother's bequest, since he was doing half the work, if it could be called that. Still... the full amount? And out of Lex's own pocket? It was unfathomable.

Which made it pretty much par for the course, given Lex's behavior over the past few weeks.

Clark took a moment to wonder inanely if ATMs would accept a thirty million dollar deposit, then shook his head and tried to remember what he had been doing before the check had arrived. Even the sight of a dozen half-packed boxes and his parents carting objects into said boxes wasn't enough of a cue for Clark. He blinked, trying again.

"Clark, why don't you go get started in the bedroom?" asked Martha as she began to sort through DVDs. "I hope this copy of 'Sorority Boys' isn't yours."

"Sorority Boys?" repeated Jonathan in an appalled voice. "Now, I don't much like you having smutty movies sitting around like that, son. We raised you better than that."

"Oh, for goodness' sake, Jonathan, it's a comedy," returned Martha irritably. "It's a sexist and brainless comedy, but it's hardly pornography."

Clark still had one hand in his back pocket, almost afraid to lose contact with the check. His only cogent thought was he needed to escape, needed room and time to grasp what Lex meant. "I have to grab some things from school," he blurted, lunging for his shoes.

"Do you want to take the truck?" offered Jonathan, still looking a little embarrassed over the smutty comedy.

"No, I'll run," Clark answered, shoving his feet into his shoes and smushing down the heels the way his mother hated. "I'll be back."

Clark did run. He ran to the LexCorp headquarters, found them abandoned, and recalled Lex was now installed at LuthorCorp. A shorter jog to LuthorCorp resulted in a second epiphany – it was Sunday. The building was locked. Even if Lex was working – and Clark knew him well enough to know he almost certainly was – there was no way of reaching him.

It was with a more human pace and slightly more gathered thoughts that Clark turned away, walking mindlessly in the direction of Metropolis's city park.

Lex had given him thirty million dollars.

Even without beginning to presume why Lex had done such a thing, the fact of the check felt like a slap in the face. Back in September, Clark had cracked a joke about not having to sell himself to get through school, and later on, Clark had made it clear to Lex he didn't want anybody thinking he was a rentboy, and even later, Clark had cast off Lex's attempts to make him look like a gold-digger, ready to abandon Lex at the first sign of trouble. If there was one thing Lex knew about Clark by now, it was that Clark couldn't be bought, that he loathed the slightest intimation of the thought.

A hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money, but it was the amount they'd agreed upon, it was the figure Lex had offered, and it was the number Clark had seen as extremely generous, but not out of the bounds of reason. Thirty million... Lex couldn't possibly expect Clark to accept it, so it was a gesture, a signal of some sort. And since Lex knew Clark's extreme aversion to being a kept man, it could only be an insult. Lex was still angry, Lex was still hurt, and this was his way of showing it, shoving it in Clark's face and making Clark feel like he was nothing more than a hooker who'd earned his keep.

There was a funny thing about anger, though, Clark mused, sitting on a park bench once the initial wave of fury began to settle into a dull throb. Anger was an emotion, and the Lex who had called Clark and had so coldly enumerated his wrongdoings and trespasses and had advised Clark to walk away... that Lex had been void of emotion. Lex's flat voice, his lack of inflection, of interest, had haunted Clark's thoughts through the past six weeks, and that Lex wouldn't have done anything as unreasonable as this. That Lex wouldn't have risked Clark's renewed anger with such a ridiculously extreme measure.

This wasn't a casual act of vengeance. This was an act of passion.

The thought made Clark stand up again, heart racing. Lex wasn't behaving in a cold and calculating way; he was raging and lashing out. It was a negative reaction, certainly, but the very fact Lex was reacting so strongly meant something – it meant he still cared about Clark. He cared enough to hate him and to want to hurt him. He wanted to hurt Clark the way Clark had wanted to hurt Lex on the night of Lionel's funeral. Clark vividly remembered the sense he'd had then, of wanting Lex, wanting to consume and subjugate Lex, wanting Lex to conquer him, wanting Lex to vanish off the face of the earth and wanting him to die. There was nothing of kindness in such desires, but at their root lay love.

Lex still loved Clark.

Clark began to run again.

The Daily Planet news archives, available to the public, were on the fourth floor and operated from noon until four o'clock on Sunday afternoons. Thankfully, this meant the Daily Planet building was unlocked, unlike its looming neighbour across the street. Clark pretended to peruse some recent copies of the Planet, then slipped into the back stairwell when the archivist was otherwise occupied. It was a quick jog up to the roof, and from there...

Clark had this little fear of heights, something he'd never quite conquered in spite of his best intentions. Driven by despair and self-loathing, Clark had managed quite a few inter-building leaps over the past month, but those had been at night, over small distances, and under the fear-muting blanket of depression. Now, in broad daylight, when Clark was finally suspecting life was really worth living again, the gap between the Planet and LuthorCorp (which spanned a busy street) seemed impossibly wide. Not only that, but the LuthorCorp building topped the Planet by about ten stories. If Clark wanted to land on the roof opposite instead of crashing through a window, it couldn't just be a jump. Clark was going to have to do the thing, the defying gravity thing. He was going to have to fly.

He took a couple of practice bounces, gingerly moonwalking across the roof, trying not to panic every time his feet left the ground for an unreasonably long span of time. Then Clark thought of Lex, thought of him working alone in his dead father's office, just a short flight away, and the practicing time was over.

Right. The goal was to remain calm. Clark pondered taking a running jump, but decided it was easier to control his speed and trajectory when he started slowly. Lifting one fist, Clark let himself rise slightly above the gravel roof, floating up until he was over the ledge that ran along the top of the building. Now it would have to be fast – he couldn't risk pedestrians seeing him gliding lazily across the sky – so Clark pressed the arm forward a little and concentrated on the white point of the door of the stairwell on the roof opposite. He could feel the tails of his shirt falling down as his body began to tilt – this was the part Clark hated the most – until he was belly-down, navel pointing towards the street below. What did he do with his feet again? Right, they could just sort of hang there. A soft sliding tap on the side of his foot let him know his right shoe was coming untied.

Mom would kill him if he lost his shoe in the middle of Pender Street, so Clark pressed forward a bit more, suddenly breathing faster as a draft brushed past him, one of the unpredictable air currents that buffeted the sky at this altitude.

Clark aimed with his fist, squeezed his eyes shut, and thrust his arm out hard, feeling the air suddenly whip against his face as he whooshed across the gap.

Landings were hardest, Clark remembered an instant too late. He tore his new jeans when he crashed to a halt on the asphalt helicopter pad, but it didn't matter, because he had made it and he was about to see Lex again for the first time in two months.

It was a simple matter to break open the stairwell door, and Clark remembered Lionel's office was on the top level, so he exited after the first flight of stairs, finding himself in a marble hallway dimly illuminated by wall lighting fixtures. Only every third one was lit, probably to conserve energy over the weekend. Clark headed right, figuring if all roads led to Rome, then up here, all paths probably led to Lionel's office. He was right – within a few turns, Clark found himself in a sumptuous waiting area, complete with a fountain, double doors heading the room.

He had just convinced himself this couldn't be less scary than the daytime flight between rooftops, when the doors opened unexpectedly. Lex stood there, one hand clutching a cell phone to his ear.

"Never mind," he said to it, blue eyes fixed on Clark's frozen form. "False alarm." He closed the flip phone and tucked it back into his pocket, all casual grace and unflappable composure.

Clark wished he could say the same for himself, but the very sight of Lex, the relief of seeing him in person, had immediately lit some sort of flame inside his chest and he couldn't speak or smile or shout. All he could do was stand there and wonder how he'd survived two months without this.

"Clark," Lex said, at length, then walked back into his office, obviously meaning for Clark to follow.

Clark moved forward, his feet coming unstuck as his brain began to demand contact, tactile proof this was happening. Lex held his ground just beside his desk, but his posture remained remote, unwelcoming.

"I thought we had an agreement," he said, jamming one hand in his blazer pocket. "This is over."

Clark reached into his back pocket, extracting his wallet.

But Lex hadn't finished speaking. "You're very foolish, to come here like this. In broad daylight, jumping between buildings? It's almost as ridiculous as your little vigilante missions, the ones you've been conducting every night for the past month."

Clark had his wallet in his hand, but he'd forgotten why he wanted it. He was too absorbed by Lex's words, Lex's delivery. Here again was the calm, unemotional Lex, but his meaning... it was jarringly inconsistent with his manner.

"I can't fathom you, Clark," Lex went on. "I offer you a chance to return to total anonymity, and what do you do? You begin risking yourself in these ludicrous ways, writing articles about it as though no one will put two and two together, practicing your long jump on a Sunday afternoon –"

Clark interrupted here. "I wasn't jumping. I can fly."

Lex sighed shortly. It was a tiny gesture, but it was, nonetheless, a crack in Lex's perfect facade of indifference. "It doesn't matter. What matters is, you're going to wind up on the front page of the Planet if you're not careful, and not as a byline next to Lois Lane, either." Slight tension had begun to coil through his voice.

Clark stepped forward again. "Why do you care?" Now he was within the compass of Lex's space, but Lex seemed determined not to back away.

"I care because I just had to field a call from my security team, who wanted to let me know that somebody just broke into the building from the rooftop," Lex replied, a trifle irritably. "That might be a bit hard to explain later, when they find the lock really is broken."

Clark shook his head, brushing off this explanation. "But about the other things. Me being a vigilante. Why do you care?"

A tiny muscle in Lex's jaw flexed a little, but his answer was almost immediate. "If someone's going to exploit you, it should be me, not Lois Lane. After all, I've paid enough for the privilege."

Clark knew this was where he was supposed to get angry, pull the check out of his wallet, and tear it up while shouting, but he forced himself to remember – Lex's anger meant he cared. This was Lex trying to guard that fact. Clark nodded finally, as though accepting this insult. "And why did you pay so much?" he asked, gently tugging the check free from the insides of his wallet. He held it up between his first two fingers, seeing the gold embossing catch the dim light. "We had agreed on less."

Lex didn't let Clark's motion distract him, keeping his gaze fixed on Clark, distant. "If you'd bothered to read the divorce settlement before you signed it –"

"But why?" Clark asked, even as he realized Lex was right – the amount must have been in the settlement, but Clark hadn't been able to bring himself to look at it. "Why, Lex?"

Lex smirked, a dirty, derisive little smirk, and reached out with one hand to stroke Clark's shoulder. "You've earned it," he said, but he looked away at the last moment, his eyes dipping to a place behind Clark, and that took all the sting out of the cruel phrase.

Clark didn't move away from Lex's touch. Instead, he dropped the wallet and check and roughly drew Lex to him, hands at Lex's waist. "You're bluffing me," he whispered. "You're trying to hurt me, but it's not working."

Lex laughed. "Is that what I'm doing?"

Clark nodded, bringing his face down to Lex's, brushing his lips over Lex's mouth. Lex had frozen in his grasp, no longer exaggeratedly limp and unworried, but tense and panicked. Clark could hear Lex's heart start to race, even though he maintained the outward appearance of calm. "But it's not working," Clark repeated, breathing in Lex's quickening exhalations, then kissing Lex properly.

Lex's mouth opened under his slowly but inexorably, tension slipping from his body under Clark's hands. When he planted his palms on Clark's shoulders, Clark thought he'd won, but then Lex was pushing Clark away.

"It was true. What I told you. About me studying people, the Smallville people," Lex said breathlessly, stepping away from Clark, towards a glass of scotch on the side bar.

"Because you were protecting them. Keeping them from your father," Clark added, resisting the urge to grab Lex back and kiss him again.

"No. I wanted to study them. I wanted to find out what made them freaks," Lex contradicted, but his calm was almost entirely gone, a would-be matter-of-fact sip of scotch turning into a less genteel swallow.

"You wanted to know what made them different. What made you different," Clark agreed, holding his ground. "And me." Clark raised his eyes, and suddenly his heart began to pound even harder, because Lex wasn't even close to succeeding at this game anymore. He was a wreck – his hands were trembling as he set the tumbler down.

"The meteor rocks." Lex exhaled shakily. "They're why."

Clark nodded. "They're dangerous, Lex. Their effects are unpredictable and they hurt people."

Lex laughed shortly, and Clark expected a contradiction, but he only nodded. "I know. I've known that all along, but I still wanted to harness their power, use them for my own purposes." Lex's blue eyes flickered up towards Clark. "I wanted to profit from the pain of others."

"You're using the past tense," Clark observed.

Lex blinked. "I told you, because of Lois and the FDA–"

"No. You've stopped. Not just with me, not just because of the press and the FDA, but the whole thing. Haven't you?" Clark asked, insight striking him. "Because you know it's wrong."

Lex pivoted on his heel, facing Clark again. "My father would never back away from something that promised that kind of revenue."

"You're not your father."

"You know why he gave this company to me, Clark? Do you know?" Lex demanded, suddenly raging, his voice rising in volume. "Because he was investigating LexCorp, he was digging into what I was doing, and he wanted it. He was going to take me over by force but he changed his will just in case, so if he died, LexCorp would become a subsidiary of LuthorCorp, his company would still profit from my brilliance." Lex advanced on Clark as though Clark had launched an attack and Lex was retaliating. "So don't tell me I'm not like my father. I'm so goddamn like him, he wanted to be me!" Now Lex was close again, he was shouting, he was shaking with fury. "Christ, Clark, you said it yourself. You said I was just like him, and you were right."

Clark shook his head. "I was angry and hurt and I was stupid, Lex. You're not him, you're nothing like him," he insisted desperately. God, there was so much pain in Lex's eyes.

"Explain how I decided to exploit an innocent young man, then, for my own benefit, for my own profit and my curiosity," Lex spat.

"You were wrong," Clark agreed. "But the difference is, you realized that. You changed things. Because of me. Because you love me."

"You're nothing to me," Lex returned, almost screaming. There were tears standing in his eyes. "You're just a – a freak, you're nothing! You're a disappointment and I don't love you." He raised a palm to shove Clark away.

Clark seized Lex's wrist and pulled him close again. "Lex, he's gone." The words seemed to come not from Clark's conscious thought, but from somewhere deep inside Clark's body. "He's gone and he can't hurt you anymore."

And Lex was still shaking, he was almost crying, he was fighting Clark's embrace. "I don't care about you," he insisted again, but his voice had lost conviction.

"I still love you, Lex. Nothing you do will change that," Clark responded, and suddenly Lex was still. Clark let him go a little, let him step back so he could see Clark's face, see the truth there. "I love you," Clark repeated, more tenderly.

Lex stared at him, with slowing breath, as if trying to understand what Clark was offering. A few tears had slipped down his face, but he seemed to be calmer again. One hand came up and settled against Clark's cheek. "Is this real?" he asked softly, his fingers stroking Clark's cheekbone.

Clark turned his head and kissed Lex's thumb. "Yes," he murmured. He tilted his head further and kissed Lex's palm, which was still trembling with a fine, continuous motion. "Don't you remember? 'I take you, with all your faults and your strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and my strengths.'" Another kiss, fleeting as Lex's hand fell away. "I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life."

Lex's exhalation was like a sudden, barely audible shift of wind. Everything changed between them in that instant. When Clark raised his eyes again, met Lex's gaze, he finally saw and recognized the Lex he'd known before Lionel's funeral. "We're divorced now," Lex said, and he was almost smiling.

Clark shook his head. "Doesn't matter. The words are still true."

"You do realize," Lex said, even as Clark's hands tugged him closer, "that your strengths are considerably less substantial than my weaknesses? And that's saying something."

Clark laughed and kissed Lex. "But I could say the same thing about you," he replied when they parted. "Lex. God, I've missed you."

Lex's mouth found his again. "I feel like I'm just waking up again," Lex said, echoing Clark's own thoughts. "Like I've been asleep and dreaming ever since that night after the funeral."

Their kiss lasted much longer this time, and Clark's hand had just untucked Lex's dress shirt when they were interrupted by Clark's cell phone. Clark was fully prepared to ignore it, but Lex drew away, always the sensible one. "It's okay."

Clark reluctantly pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Hello?"

"Clark, where have you been?" Mom. Annoyed.

"I... had to talk to Lex about something," Clark hedged. "About the settlement."

"Well, we need you here. Your father and I have no idea which of these things belong to you."

Clark raised an eyebrow at Lex, suddenly feeling giddy with the familiarity of this moment – a parent on the phone, Lex watching him with bemusement. "Can Lex meet us for dinner?" Clark asked.

A stunned pause.

"Seven o'clock, we'll go to Fiori's," Clark said, as though he'd received an enthusiastic acquiescence. "I'll be home really soon, I promise." With this, he hung up the phone and grinned at Lex. "You up for it?"

Lex had gone a little pale, but he bravely smiled, aided perhaps by Clark's renewed attentions to the skin just above his waistband. "Yeah. Seven o'clock, Fiori's."

"And after," Clark added, feeling himself get harder just with the thought, "you can come home with me. My folks are staying at the bed and breakfast again."

Lex's tentative smile flared into full brilliance. "Yes." He leaned forward and kissed Clark's chin. "Go home, then. We have a lot to talk about tonight."

Clark cupped Lex's ass in one hand and nodded. "Naked talking."

Lex laughed, then stopped as though the sound startled him. "Tonight."

"Tonight," Clark agreed, then kissed Lex one last time. "Should I take the stairs this time?" he asked as he backed towards the doors. "Or would it be easier to explain to security if I just jumped off the roof again?"

"You're in a good mood," said Martha when Clark arrived back at the apartment. "And you tore your new jeans."

"Did you deposit that check Lex sent?" asked Jonathan, more practically. He was under the sink, presumably having decided to perform some impromptu plumbing rather than be idle for the space of fifteen minutes.

Clark felt for his wallet and realized it was still on the floor of Lex's office, along with the check. "Um. Not yet."

"You should do that soon," advised Dad. "Do you have a wrench, son? Don't want to be carrying around something like that." It took a moment for Clark to understand his father wasn't advising him against wielding tools, but he went to the hall closet to find the wrench that resided in his toolbox.

"Yeah, you're right," Clark agreed, referring back to the check with the same vagueness. Martha was eyeing him closely, even as she busied herself washing the walls. "I guess I should do that. Tomorrow, before we leave?" he suggested, then bounced a little, thinking of what would be happening before tomorrow. "Um. Where are those things you needed me to sort?"

"Why are we meeting Lex for dinner?" asked Mom, not one to let things slide.

Clark shrugged, barely suppressing a grin. "He's still my friend, Mom. I mean, just because we're divorced, it doesn't mean..." Then Clark decided he didn't care. "I'm still in love with him. And he feels the same way."

Martha dropped the rag she had been using. "Clark –" she began.

Dad audibly smacked his head on a pipe. "What are you talking about?" came his muffled query.

"I told you, Mom. Before the divorce. We're... involved. The divorce put me out of the public eye, but we're still seeing each other." Clark smiled, unable to stop himself. "Mom, he's... he makes me happy." And, more recently, miserable, appended Clark mentally, but forebore to voice the thought.

Martha was still staring, aghast.

Jonathan was clambering to his feet behind Clark, but Clark kept his eyes on his mother, hoping she was going to understand. Dad was still stuck on the bisexuality, so it'd be a long time before he could handle the idea of Clark actually dating a man, let alone –"Well, if you're happy, then we won't stand in the way."

It was Dad who said it. Clark snapped upright with shock.

"Jonathan, Lex is a very powerful person. It's dangerous for Clark to get too close," protested Martha, as though Clark had winked out of her line of sight for a moment. "If he found out –"

"Clark is a grown man," said Jonathan, firmly, and Clark felt his father's hand descend on his shoulder. "We've always said, someday Clark would have to take risks, to do things that would frighten us and endanger himself, but when that day came, we would have to let him go. He's able to decide for himself, what's right and who to trust."

Clark tore his eyes away from his mother, who looked worried and upset, and turned to face his father. "Dad," he said, a little huskily.

Jonathan's eyes were a little bright, too. "Just remember, this means you clean up your own messes. Things don't work out with Luthor, you're the one who has to deal with the consequences of that, whatever they may be. And it could be more than just a broken heart. Your mother's right, he's a powerful man."

Clark laughed, shaking his head. "You're unbelievable. Thank you, Dad," he said, throwing himself into his father's arms and squeezing gently.

"I love you, son," murmured Jonathan. He pulled away after another moment. "There's a clog in the garbage disposal, I'm going to try and get it cleared up." And with that, he took the wrench Clark was still holding and hunkered back down to glare at the pipes under the sink.

Clark turned back to his mother, who was watching him with tears in her eyes. She didn't say anything, just looked at him for a moment, then nodded, as though agreeing to some internal proposition. Clark bit his lip, observing the slightly defeated set of her shoulders as she retrieved the rag from the floor. It would take some time, but Clark knew she'd trust Lex eventually. Lex was getting better at earning trust.

By the time seven o'clock arrived, Clark's euphoria had worn away a little bit, letting him return to his earlier fear and nervousness. What if Lex had changed his mind again? What if something had happened in the meantime to make Lex angry? He was quiet as he drove his parents to the Italian restaurant, alternately surging with the joy of anticipation and the fear of something going wrong.

But nothing was wrong. When they got to the restaurant, the maitre d' took them directly to a small table in the corner where Lex was waiting. And Lex stood, presumably out of deference for Martha, but really, Clark knew, because he was relieved to see Clark. He'd probably been torn by the same apprehensions. Clark settled them immediately by greeting Lex with a polite kiss on the lips, squeezing his hands in reassurance, and sitting down in the chair opposite. From there, he was free to enjoy the sight of Lex, to smile at him and bask in his presence.

"You've been away," observed Martha tightly. "I didn't know you were back already."

Lex nodded, taking a sip from his water glass. "I had business with some of our overseas branches." The conversation gradually spun out from there, Clark's mother revealing a rather surprising grasp of business practice and corporate law in the process. Jonathan mentioned that the fertilizer plant in Smallville was doing booming business the past month, and Lex smiled and attributed the success to Gabe Sullivan's capable management. Here Clark interjected, not wanting to linger too close to the subject of Chloe Sullivan, with a comment about the good pasta he'd ordered and then he told his parents about the first time he and Lex had eaten in this restaurant.

"Um, what was it, February?" asked Clark. "It was after Christmas, because you were working your tail off with the Smallville plant. You came home at about eight o'clock –"

"Two hours earlier than usual," inserted Lex, smiling and toying with his garlic bread.

"And you looked like utter hell. I had this huge paper due for my journalism seminar the next morning, so of course I asked you to proofread it for me."

"And I said something not fit to be repeated in public," Lex added, with a wry smile.

"Anyway," Clark laughed, looking at his father. "I struck a deal. I would help him with some of the LexCorp accounting stuff if he'd look at the paper. And he said, only if I threw an Italian dinner in to sweeten the deal." Clark glanced at his mother, addressing her next. "He meant that I should cook him your spaghetti, he loves that sauce with the clams. But I just grabbed my laptop and his files and headed for the door."

Jonathan laughed obligingly and Martha smiled at the mention of her spaghetti sauce. "Anyway, we did that every week for a little while – we'd go out on a Sunday night and have dinner and do each other's homework."

"It was a Sunday and you were getting home at eight?" asked Jonathan censoriously, frowning at Lex.

"Oh, like you're one to talk," smirked Martha, and she and Clark's father began their own round of marital back-and-forth. Lex seemed completely enthralled by this bickering, his grin flickering on and off as he spontaneously showed, then tried to suppress, his delight.

It was a surprisingly pleasant evening, marred only slightly by Martha's guarded politeness and Jonathan's pretense of comfort. When it was concluded, Lex and Jonathan argued politely over the bill until Lex conceded with good grace. There was an awkward moment as Clark and his parents settled how they were going to get to their respective destinations, but Clark finally offered to drive them back to the bed and breakfast, giving Lex a significant look that both the Kent parents pretended not to notice.

Clark was really looking forward to the naked talking.

Lex had let himself in, Clark noticed, parking the beat-up truck in the parking garage next to Lex's red Ferrari. It was a car Clark hadn't seen before, which made him smile because it meant Lex was enjoying his newly restored wealth.

The door was unlocked and Lex was sitting on the couch amid all the boxes looking like he'd never left. Clark's heart squeezed a bit in his chest. The sense of joy that had lasted all through dinner seemed to be receding again now, leaving some awkwardness in its wake. Things felt familiar, normal, and yet this moment seemed unscripted, untenable.

"You told your parents we're seeing each other," Lex observed.

Clark nodded, then blushed. "I hope I wasn't being too presumptuous."

Lex smiled and shook his head. "It's the end of term. I'd forgotten. So, you're leaving soon?"

Clark nodded again. "My dad needs my help over the summer on the farm. And I kind of felt like... getting away. I mean, back when I decided." He stepped out of his shoes, saw Lex's shoes in their old spot, and felt himself sigh. "I can run to Metropolis in less than five minutes. So I can visit a lot."

"Good." Lex cleared his throat, seemingly embarrassed. "It'd be good if you could come."

Clark glanced around the apartment. "So. Talking?"

"Naked talking," Lex amended, stretching out his legs to display bare feet. "I started with the socks."

"Very bold of you," Clark grinned, eased a little by Lex's attempt at a joke. He bent over and pulled off his own socks. "And good that you closed the blinds. Pictures of your naked feet would get quite a few dollars for the paparazzi, I'm sure."

Lex laughed quietly. "Sit down?"

Clark went over and sat on the opposite end of the couch. There was a restraint still between them, something almost palpable that seemed to coat the air Clark breathed. "You want to start?" he asked.

Lex frowned a little, and Clark was about to withdraw the offer and begin by asking questions, when Lex spoke again. "Yeah. But for every thing I tell you, you have to take off another piece of clothing."

Clark laughed from the shock. "Are we playing strip truth-or-dare?"

"I'm implementing a reward system for total honesty," Lex answered evenly, as though explaining a new HR policy.

Clark laughed again, more easily this time. "All right, but only if you abide by your own rules. You ask me something, and you take something off too."

Lex's nod conveyed his agreement. "Ask me something, then."

Clark surveyed Lex, then decided to start at the beginning. "Your mother's bequest... was it even real?"

Lex nodded. "Oh, yes. It was. I genuinely needed the money, too. What was fabricated was the selection process. Smallville High was the only school to receive scholarship forms and yours was the only application that was granted an interview. I knew I was going to choose you from the moment I had the idea."

"And you were sure I'd accept?"

Lex paused. "Part of the same truth?"

Clark nodded, accepting.

"I wasn't sure. But I'd hoped. I... I had this dirty little obsession with you, from the first time I saw a picture of you. You were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."

Clark blushed again, and Lex only made things worse by raising an eyebrow in the direction of Clark's suit jacket. "My turn?" he asked with a wicked smile, once Clark had removed the jacket. "Okay, then. For my shirt – how long did it take for you to realize you were attracted to me?"

Lex unbuttoned his shirt as Clark spoke. "Well. Remember that night you burned your hand?"

Lex arched a brow. "My pain turned you on?"

Clark rolled his eyes. "No. But the night before... I was at a party and someone said how hot you were and I just... agreed. That was when I realized." Lex pulled his shirt open, shrugging it off his shoulders. "It didn't take much longer to figure out it was mutual."

Clark wondered how he'd managed without this sight – all that fine soft skin, that whip-fine muscle definition. Clark's gaze flicked down to see Lex was already hard, but he forced himself to ask another question. There were still so many unanswered. Moving along chronologically, he momentarily skipped over the Tina Greer incident, feeling a bit squeamish. "For my tie – because I'm almost sure I'm right – you bought the plant in Smallville because you wanted to control the meteor supply?"

Lex mimed a tie-loosening motion in response.

"And one more, for my shirt," Clark added hurriedly as he pulled his tie off. "Is that when you started getting jealous of Chloe?"

Lex blinked, showing momentary surprise, but then he nodded. Clark obediently moved his fingers to the buttons of his shirt. Lex said, watching avidly, "I knew there was a good chance you weren't over her – but when you showed me her picture in the loft, the way you talked about her... tell me you weren't still crazy about her."

Clark thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Part of me will always be crazy about her. But I think, even back then, I cared about you just as much. I was just too stupid to know it." He removed his shirt, tugging his sleeves free. Lex's eyes were devouring Clark's bare skin, and it didn't feel like an intrusion of any kind. It felt wonderfully comfortable, like it was Lex's duty, his responsibility, to be the one who looked at Clark like that.

Lex added, as if to compensate for his unashamed hungry stare, "I even had her investigated, after that. I thought I knew everything I wanted to know about her, but then you said something about not trusting her and I got worried. I wondered if she knew about you, if she was a danger to you – but I told myself I was protecting my own interests. My search didn't come up with anything conclusive. Most of her files were quite easily accessed, quite extensive. But as far as I could tell, she never wrote down a single word about you."

Clark nodded, wanting to reach across the expanse of couch and stroke Lex's shoulder, but he was distracted by Lex's next question. "What does she know?"

Clark glanced down at Lex's remaining garments and was almost relieved to discover he'd chosen a belt to go with his khakis. As much as he was enjoying the slow revelation of Lex's beauty, the display was a little distracting from the purpose of this discussion.

As Lex put his hand to his buckle, Clark replied. "Everything. She figured it all out on her own. But you don't need to worry about her, Lex. She'd never –" He bit off the words 'betray me' because the reference seemed too fresh, too raw. "I trust her," he concluded, watching Lex draw the belt out of its loops in a single motion.

There was a pause from Lex that spoke of his lingering doubt and jealousy, but Clark figured that only time would truly convince Lex of Chloe's trustworthiness and Clark's romantic indifference to her. "Did you know about your father setting Morgan Edge on me?"

Lex's lengthy silence and his raised eyebrows answered the question. "I... how ?"

"He set me up... staged a rape, back in February. I went to save the girl and she snapped a couple of pictures of me scrunching up a knife. I pinned the guy, but she got away. He said he worked for Edge."

Lex was now obviously distressed. "Edge has pictures of you?" He shifted forward on the couch, as unconsciously graceful half-clothed as he was in the most formal of suits. "Shit, Clark, why didn't you tell me?" He answered his own question with the next breath, shooting a wry blue glance at Clark. "Because you didn't know if you could trust me."

Clark nodded, but stayed silent.

Lex sat back again. "I have enough on Edge to bring him down where he stands," he said finally. "My father was a double-crossing bastard – he kept careful documentation of every deal he did with Edge, most of it not even doctored to save implicating LuthorCorp. I can arrange a meeting, get all the copies of the picture, threaten him with a few choice documents to keep him quiet." That point of blackmail settled, Lex relaxed visibly. "Pants," he ordered playfully.

Clark frowned a little, wishing he'd worn a belt too, but obediently unfastened his fly and wriggled out of his dress pants. "Why did you have me followed right after Edge's attack, if you didn't know?"

Lex tilted his head. "I had you followed from January. I thought you said Edge acted in February."

"I must not have noticed, before," Clark interrupted, feeling a little foolish. "Edge's attack put me on guard, I suppose. But why didn't T– your spy see the staged rape?"

"Because she was just watching you while you were at school," he replied. "I only had her watching you because I was beginning to suspect my father's investigation of you had gone too far. She wasn't spying on you, so much as she was guarding you – watching for other spies. I figured, when you weren't at school, you were usually with me or safe at home. And you just asked two questions in a row, but I'll take pity on you." Lex put a hand to his own fly and slipped out of his pants like he was standing in the middle of a room instead of packed into the corner of a futon couch.

Clark's cock immediately submitted the suggestion that they finish the discussion post-coitus, but Clark ignored it. "Then it's your turn," Clark said. "To ask, I mean."

Lex's smile had sharp corners, the way he looked when he was closing a really good business deal. "No. You go ahead."

Clark forced his mind back to the chronology he'd been following. "So you were starting to worry that your father was investigating me too closely. But you didn't suspect that he knew anything about my... abilities, until he came to see us at the cabin during spring break, and said those things about knowing why you married me." Lex nodded. "And then at the zoo benefit, he –"

"He told me that he knew all about you, he had evidence – including, I suppose, Edge's picture – and he was going to find you a fascinating subject for research." Lex's voice was suddenly rife with remembered fear and anger. "I got scared. I had no idea he'd gotten so far. I was busy covering my tracks, burying leads, burning my paper trail, but it suddenly seemed like he'd gotten too far. I was – God, Clark, I was so scared for you. I guess that's why I finally let you... why we had sex the first time. I was worried you were in danger. I just wanted to keep you safe from him."

There was no resisting Lex's admission, and Clark rewarded this piece of honesty by walking on his knees over to Lex's end of the couch, putting his arms around Lex's neck, and kissing him thoroughly. "I'm safe now," he murmured, his whole body lighting up at the feel of Lex's soft fine skin. "We're both safe." Clark shifted one knee so he was straddling Lex's lap, their chests brushing together, then kissed the feathered arch of Lex's eyebrow. "I love you so much," he whispered, running his hands over Lex's back.

Lex took a moment to respond, but then he was slipping a hand down the back of Clark's boxers, tugging at the elastic and stroking his fingers over Clark's ass. "We should go into the bedroom," he said, shifting so the fabric of their underwear made a soft whisper.

The noise reminded Clark. "One more question," Clark asked, even though he was afraid of the answer. "Why did you fuck Tina Greer in my body?"

Lex froze under Clark. "Why did I –" he repeated, sounding shocked.

"I overheard – and saw – you at the funeral, talking to her," Clark explained, surprised to find the memory had lost some of its power to make him crazy. "And she said something about Thanksgiving..."

Lex, to Clark's surprise, didn't either launch into vehement denial or soulful confession. Instead, he started laughing. "Oh, god, don't remind me. The hickey incident."

Clark scowled, shifting back a little and glaring at Lex.

"I had a stupid idea that if I fucked her while she looked like you, I'd get over wanting you so much," Lex explained, and so far this wasn't helping Clark with the scowl. "We got as far as making out on the bed, which was when I got the hickey, and then you called." His hand left Clark's boxers and drifted through his hair. "Hearing your voice... I couldn't go through with it. I asked her to leave as soon as I hung up. There wasn't... a substitute wasn't good enough, I knew that as soon as I heard you say my name."

The relief that flooded through Clark was overwhelming. He bowed his head, kissing Lex passionately, so grateful to know that Lex had known, even then, that Clark was the only one, even before Clark had known himself.

They somehow got off the couch and pulled away their boxers, walking, while kissing and stroking, towards the bedroom, leaving a trail of tipped boxes in their wake. Clark fell back on the bed when Lex pushed him gently, greedily drinking Lex in and almost trembling with eagerness to feel Lex in him, over him. "I need you," Clark murmured, eyes darting around the landscape of Lex's nude body – the dark peaks of his nipples, the slink of his hips as he advanced on Clark, the stark power and beauty of his erect cock – "God, I need you."

Lex's hand descended to the center of Clark's chest, but instead of drawing a path down to his cock, as Clark anticipated, his fingers slipped outwards, across his chest and over his shoulder, down the length of Clark's outflung left arm. He ended by hooking his fingers inside the strap of Clark's watch. "One more question," he said. "But it's my turn to do the asking."

Clark nodded, unsubtly thrusting his hips up towards Lex. "Anything."

Lex's finger was stroking the inside of Clark's wrist, under the strap where it was slightly damp from being contained inside the leather. "You're not one of us," Lex said softly, and that touch felt so good, so incredibly sensual, Clark groaned. "You're not a meteor mutant." He lifted Clark's hand and trailed his tongue around the ring of the watch-strap. "Who are you?"

And someone once had asked him that question, with the same inflection, the same intent, but this time Clark didn't feel panic or self-contempt. He only felt the simple joy of total trust.

"I'm an alien," Clark answered, then gasped when Lex's deft fingers tugged on the strap to loosen it from the buckle. "Please."

"An alien?" Lex repeated, pulling the long end of the strap free, then gently exhaling on the sweat-damp skin he had bared. His eyes were fixed on Clark's arm, blue focus given over to his mundane task. "As in, not from this planet?"

Clark nodded, then verbalized. "From a planet called Krypton and it blew up which is why my biological parents sent me here and can we save the rest for another game of strip truth-or-dare?"

Lex laughed, a sound of pure joy that Clark had never heard from him. Tossing Clark's watch to the floor beside the bed, he nodded. He shifted so he was kneeling between Clark's legs. He ran his palms lightly over Clark's sides, raising a shiver, and grinned. "Are you ever going to stop surprising me?"

Clark reached down between Lex's legs and took hold of his cock. "No. That's one of my alien powers." Lex made a noise trapped between a laugh and a moan, his hips shifting into Clark's fist. "Want to see another?" Clark asked deviously, feeling amazed by how unimportant that most important of revelations had been. Lex opened his eyes and looked askance.

"I can hold my breath for a really long time," Clark said, his voice getting scratchy. "And I'm pretty sure I don't have much of a gag reflex."

Lex seemed to like this implication, brushing Clark's hand away from his cock and rolling over on his back beside Clark. "Feel free to demonstrate," he ordered.

And Clark rolled onto his hands and knees, complying. He'd never done this before, but in his imagination, he'd sucked Lex a thousand times. This was even better. The taste of him was sharp, the texture and warmth, the heft of him weighting Clark's tongue, but the best part, the part Clark had neglected to imagine, was the way the rest of Lex reacted. Not one to be overly demonstrative in everyday conversation, Lex was unbelievably verbal in bed. His hands clenched at Clark's hair spasmodically as his mouth formed the most obscene sounds and half-syllables. His body shifted under Clark's pinioning hands, sinuously moving in a slow, sexy figure eight until Lex's whole self tightened, compressed, jolted, and he came in Clark's throat. When Clark raised his head to look, he saw Lex looking down at him, his mouth slightly open, his eyes blazingly blue and his expression speaking of devotion.

Clark smiled, nuzzling Lex's softening cock. "You're beautiful."

Of course, this sort of statement embarrassed Lex, and Lex embarrassed didn't blush or disclaim or get speechless. Lex embarrassed seized Clark by the hair and none-too-gently suggested it would be wise to follow his lead. Clark scrambled up to lie on Lex, relishing this full-body contact, the press of Lex's flat abdomen, the bump of his hipbones, against Clark's hard cock. "I'm sorry," Lex said, once his face was safely hidden in the crook of Clark's neck. "I'm sorry I tried to push you away like that."

Clark kissed the ear that appeared in his field of view. "I did the same thing. And I'm sorry too."

Lex's sigh was soft on Clark's back, then he planted a kiss on the point of Clark's shoulder. "Grab the lube and condoms, will you?"

Clark hiked up on his elbows and cast an appraising eye down at Lex. "Already?"

Lex giggled – there was no other word for it – and replied, "I want you to fuck me. And correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem pretty ready."

Clark gasped with arousal at the surprising suggestion, which made Lex laugh again. "Really?" Clark scrambled up onto his knees and from there bounded off the bed, heading for his suitcase.

Looking up to see Lex watching him with a bemused expression, Clark explained. "I couldn't leave that stuff in my bedside table with my parents coming to visit." He dug the tube and a condom out of the side of the suitcase, then, feeling optimistic, pulled out a couple more condoms. "You really want me to do this?" Clark asked, feeling dorky as soon as the words left his mouth.

"Do you want to?" Lex asked, drawing his knees up a little, smiling.

Clark nodded, the gesture quickly becoming understatement of the century as he watched Lex part his knees a little. He had to reach for his cock and squeeze it at the sight Lex presented.

"Mmm, I like it when you touch yourself," Lex purred happily, providing Clark with a similar stimulus.

It turned out to be a really good thing Clark's hand was still on his cock, because that grip was suddenly even more vital. Good thing too it was a Kryptonian hand on Kryptonian cock, because if Clark had been holding Lex's right then, the party would most definitely already be over, in a not-even-remotely-pleasant sort of way. With that thought to steady him more, Clark made his way back to the bed.

In a way, the process of preparation was insanely frustrating, because all Clark wanted to do was to lose himself inside of Lex, to know this moment was happening, that this was real, that the months of pain were over. At the same time, Clark had never felt quite as intimately connected as he did now with Lex, watching Lex open for him, treating Lex like the precious being he was. It was incredible to see what Clark's fingers did to Lex, how they made him gasp and plead, his heels kicking at the sheets, his chest heaving with the need for air.

"God, now, please. Please, Clark," Lex said, and Clark was willing to bet it was the first time Lex had said 'please' to anyone this year.

The heat and pressure of Lex immediately threatened to push Clark to climax. It was only by fixing his concentration to Lex's eyes, forcing himself to guess what Lex was feeling, what he was thinking, that Clark managed to painstakingly press his way inside. Lex was breathing like an overworked horse, his ribs heaving, and Clark wasn't in much better shape himself. "Okay?" Clark asked, and Lex nodded, eyes closing.

Clark had never felt more tender, more breathtakingly loving, than he did the first moment he pulled back and then surged forward into Lex's heat. The motion drew a cry from Lex, his blue eyes flying open again. "I love you," Lex gasped, his hands raking over Clark's chest.

Clark slowly began to pump his hips, just as lost in Lex's expression as he was absorbed by the incredible sensation enfolding him. Lex was warm, slippery with perspiration, his skin sticking and sliding against Clark's, his breath stuttering and stalling with every thrust. Clark couldn't believe Lex was allowing Clark to possess him in this way, knew that this was confession and contrition and devotion all at once. What Lex didn't realize was that it was the same for Clark, the same sense of making amends, of compensation for past wrongs.

Then the pace suddenly slipped, quickened, and Clark lost any sense of conscious thought. Sensation and emotion blurred through him, space fragmenting into instants of perfect feeling – the sticky trail Lex's hard cock made, cooling on Clark stomach... the flutter of Lex's eyelids when Clark drove into him harder... the impression of Lex's heel sliding over Clark's lower back... the increasingly urgent noises Lex made... the shockingly physical glide of Lex's hand when Lex reached for his own cock and began to stroke it. Clark was sweating harder than he had in years, his hair clinging to his forehead in distracting little wet spots, his arms trembling, not with the strain of motion, but with the strain of such intense bodily focus.

Then Clark saw Lex bite his lip, knew Lex was about to come, and there was a white-hot flash of light at the base of Clark's spine and he was coming with a shout, hips driving mindlessly, one hand clutching at the sheets and the other cupping Lex's hipbone and pulling Lex tight against him.

He had scarcely stopped moving when Lex came too, came in shockingly vivid splashes against Clark's chest. Clark slowly lowered his weight down and to the side, pulling out of Lex and trying to convince his heart not to beat its way out of his ribcage.

"So..." Lex murmured, rolling onto his side and turning into Clark's arms. "That, technically, was extramarital sex."

Clark laughed, kicking lazily with his legs to free himself of the sheets that were insinuating themselves around his overheated body. "Don't tell my husband. He'll be pissed," Clark returned.

"Mmm, of course not," Lex said, but he was already falling asleep in the crook of Clark's shoulder. Clark had just enough time to think that someone – not him – should turn off the lights before sleep claimed him too.

"Where did you unpack the Froot Loops?"

"I refuse to acknowledge that we own that cereal," replied Lex languidly from the couch, "let alone be apprised of its whereabouts."

Clark knelt in front of the cupboard and squinted into the gloom, his x-ray vision kicking in unexpectedly. "What if it had a toy surprise in it?"

There was a pause. "What kind of toy surprise?"

"Something metallic," Clark answered, vaguely discerning the outline of something non-frooty as he reached forward and tugged at the box. It was the first morning back in their old apartment, and even Lex's attempts at grumpiness weren't going to spoil Clark's happiness. Though he'd seen Lex almost every other day through the summer months, this was something different, something more intimate, and Clark was only now understanding how much he'd missed these mornings. "Do you want some?" Clark asked, pulling a bowl out of the cupboard over the counter. "It has one hundred percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D and niacin."

"I prefer all my internal organs to remain the colors they were intended to be," answered Lex. "Two spoonfuls of that crap and your liver turns purple from all the artificial coloring."

Clark had spent most of the summer nervously anticipating that Lex wouldn't want them to live together again, or that if he did, Lex would want Clark to move into the sumptuous penthouse or someplace even more absurd for a college sophomore. Lex hadn't mentioned anything about living accommodations until a month ago, when he had come to Smallville to have dinner with the Kents. Casually, in the midst of praising Martha's apple pie, Lex had mentioned something about needing to stock up their freezer in the apartment. Clark still couldn't believe Lex had wanted to move back into their former home, since it was so small and unbefitting a billionaire, but Lex had insisted, when they discussed it later in the barn loft, and Clark had submitted willingly.

Now Clark smirked, rolling his eyes, and grabbed a spoon. It was a bit of a struggle, but he managed to pick up it, the bowl, the cereal, and the milk carton from the fridge, all at once. Thus encumbered, he walked over to the couch. After unloading the food and utensils, Clark cuddled into Lex's side. "Why are we watching this?" he pouted. "I want to watch cartoons. It's traditional."

Lex didn't move to change the channel from CNN. "There's an item on LuthorCorp up next."

"Blah blah blah, LuthorCorp is taking over the world," Clark narrated dully.

"Eat your cereal."

Clark poked Lex in the ribs, but got no reaction, which made Clark grin because when Lex went to such trouble to pretend he was annoyed, it meant he was afraid of showing how happy he really was. Clark bit gently at Lex's ear, got a hiss for his troubles, then sat up and poured himself a bowl of Froot Loops. "My parents are coming by before they leave," Clark informed Lex. "So you should put on clothes at some point."

Lex looked at Clark, pointedly taking in Clark's ragged t-shirt and threadbare flannel pajama pants.

"They're used to seeing me like this," Clark explained. "But they'd die of shock if they found out that you sleep in your boxers and nothing else."

"Shh," Lex said in response, turning up the volume on the television. The anchorwoman was introducing a report on LuthorCorp, prefacing the item with words like 'skyrocketing stock' and 'praises of environmental watchdogs'.

Clark filled his bowl up with milk and listened with half an ear as the reporter launched into the latest news from Cadmus Labs. It was nothing Clark hadn't heard – several of the meteor-mutated immunoboosting agents had been stabilized and were now moving through FDA trials as a treatment for AIDS patients. The reporter then segued into a discussion of Lucas Luthor and his attempts at creating a rival company to Cadmus, using much of the same technology. Clark snorted lazily. "He'd have to stop getting arrested first."

Lex exhaled, a little puff of amusement. "I don't know, Clark. If he manages to survive his rebellious phase, he might be an actual threat to me. Look at me and my father – similar situation."

Clark spooned the last of the cereal into his mouth and spoke around the froot loops. "But he doesn't have a sexy alien at his side to help him with the math." Lex deciphered some part of this, absently kissing Clark's head in thanks.

"Still, I'm keeping an eye out," Lex said as the TV showed footage of Lucas's various escapades since Lionel's death. "He knows more about you than I'd like."

Clark nodded, setting the empty bowl down on the coffee table and picking up the cereal box again.

"Shh, can you wait a minute?" Lex said, impatiently, as Clark's fumblings for the prize overpowered the sound of the reporter's next words.

Clark hit the volume button again with his free hand and continued to dig in the cereal.

"What does the future hold for the elder Luthor brother? Since his much-publicized divorce last spring, there have been rumors that Lex Luthor and his ex-husband, the 20-year-old college student Clark Kent, may be patching things up. A prominent member of Metropolis society has informed this reporter that wedding bells may be sounding again for the young couple in the near future."

Clark burst out laughing at this final proclamation and was about to turn to Lex to see his reaction when Clark's fingers closed on the prize he was looking for. It had fallen down to the bottom of the box, which was no wonder, because it was metal, as Clark had guessed. It was a metal ring.

Looking over his shoulder at Lex, sure this was some sort of joke, Clark slowly extracted his arm, clutching the object. Lex was smiling with one side of his mouth and he wordlessly hit the mute button on the remote. Clark looked down at his hand to see what he had found.

Dusted with the multi-colored powder that lined the bottom of the cereal bag, the ring was still unmistakeably gold, and unmistakeably the ring Clark had first donned one year ago today. Clark looked up, disbelieving.

Lex's half-smile fell into something more nervous. "If you want," he said quickly.

Clark looked back down, gently dusting off the ring, then felt his face split in a giant grin. "If I want," he repeated, laughing, meeting Lex's gaze. Lex, seeing his smile, looked extremely relieved, and an instant later, beamingly happy. "I want," Clark assured Lex, dropping the cereal box and leaping at Lex.

Lex returned Clark's kisses enthusiastically and they were about to shift into something more serious when Lex stopped and pulled away from Clark.

"Wait. I have to make some things clear," he said, with a great air of authority. "Rule number one, you have to deposit that check I gave you last spring and that we've been fighting about ever since."

Clark opened his mouth to protest, but Lex overrode him, continuing to talk loudly.

"A separate account, I'll set it up, untaxable and untraceable. There will come a day when you'll need that money for something, something that you might not want linked back to you, and I insist that you have it at the ready," Lex ordered, and by the tone of his voice, Clark knew Lex was going on his 'You're a real live Warrior Angel' kick. Clark couldn't really object to such an irrelevant disposition of the money, since he had no intention of living out Lex's superhero fantasy, and so he nodded.

"Rule number two," Lex said, his fingers tracing the skin just under the edge of Clark's t-shirt. "This is in no way an unusual contractual obligation, a business arrangement, or an agreement with a twelve month term attached to it."

Clark laughed his agreement, kissing Lex again for being such a compulsive control freak.

"And the last thing," Lex said, tugging Clark's shirt over his head. "Rule number three."

Clark threw the shirt behind him and slid into Lex's embrace, still clasping the familiar ring in his hand, feeling the pleasant glow of love fill him as his surprise receded. "What?"

"The celery salt stays on the shelf with the other herbs and spices."

Clark laughed again, freeing his hands so he could slip the ring on his finger, grinning at its familiar weight. "Isn't that rule from Fight Club?"