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Quality Time

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Quality Time

by P.L. Nunn

http://bishonenworks.com


"And there was no video capture - - not one of thirty seasoned professionals who witnessed any part of this fiasco?"

Lex stepped over debris, pausing to look up at the gaping hole in the ceiling that let in the unforgiving light of Iquique Chile at mid-day. The nervous director of the Iquique facility security trailed in his wake. The sounds of cleanup, of machinery moving debris, of men directing the progress of the removal were a constant cacophony in the background.

"They infiltrated the network, sir. Disabled all monitoring systems, triggered the emergency evac alarms and the non-essential staff was out of the facility before we realized it was an attack. And once the subjects were loose - - most of this damage, Mr. Luthor, it was from the level 4's."

It was supposed to be the most secure of the remaining 33.1 compounds; hidden on the outskirts of Iquique in the Atacama Desert of Chile. A holding facility for the worst of the worst. The one's that would have been rotting in state or federal prisons even if they hadn't been driven that last step over the edge by meteor infection. The one's that were capable of damage on a large scale - - some of them regrettably, more so now, after continued experimental exposure and certain unregulated genetic manipulation - - not all of which had progressed with his express knowledge.

And they'd uncovered the existence of the base - - the costumed vigilantes - - terrorists with advanced toys, enhanced physical abilities and no concept of harsh reality - - and as they had other compounds before this one, they'd broken security, demolished research and released subjects. He could only hope, in a moment of bitter spite, that the liberated level 4's had promptly turned and bitten off the hands that helped them.

He was almost 100 percent certain that Clark had had nothing to do with this particular mess. If so, he'd crept out of bed last night with more quiet grace that he usually exhibited. And woken up in a better mood than anyone who'd just finished demolishing a detainment center for the genetically challenged might have, when the person he was sleeping with had carefully managed to avoid mentioning the existence of said center. Little wonder of that, when all they'd do was argue if the subject came up.

One day, they were going to have to have a particularly long discussion about necessity verses ideology. And probably a long cold, silence afterwards. There were simply some things, they didn't see eye to eye and probably never would.

But Lex understood certain things better now than he had. Comprehended the scope of various threats, or the possible lack of, and had accordingly altered the primary objective of some projects, phased out others entirely, and instituted various policy changes that could only benefit in the long run. Some of that, a pragmatic man, a man that liked to believe he was honest with himself at the very least, was the direct result of Clark Kent.

Not that Clark had made ultimatums, because Clark hadn't and Lex wouldn't tolerate them. But he had a way of finding out things, at the worst possible time, and he'd do what he thought he had to do, whether it was reasonable or not, whether he knew all the facts or not, and there would be anger and tension between them. Arguments and disappointments and Clark would pull away and question things that Lex didn't want him to question - - things like attachments and loyalties and tenuous commitments.

Lex had it all worked out in his head, the way things might go - might slide into decline against his will - - and so, Lex made subtle changes. Things that needed alteration to begin with, really. Because some things were worth reassessing priorities for.

Except for this facility, with its nine high level mutants, each and every one of which had proved a threat worth breaking a few rules over. It was doubtful there was another facility in the world capable of containing them, because no one else in the world had bothered to research them enough to know what they were dealing with.

And now that facility was a smoking wreckage in the desert.

"Salvage what you can." Lex adjusted his sunglasses and headed back outside. "Level the rest."

There was a Land Rover waiting to take him back to the small airstrip outside Iquique. He'd gotten the call mid-way though breakfast about this mess. Had made arrangements to fly down after Clark had left to return to his own apartment to change clothes before work.

If Clark didn't know already, he certainly didn't need to be enlightened. Lex didn't need the headache. He didn't need Clark's accusative stare, big eyes solemn and disappointed, like this was a problem Lex had created, instead of one he'd been trying to resolve. He didn't like that Clark could make him feel guilt for things he damned well didn't need to be guilty about. Lex didn't mind keeping secrets - - he thrived on secrets - - but somewhere along the way, lying to Clark's face had become distasteful.

It was a twenty-mile drive from the facility to the airstrip. Twenty miles of flat, dry land that soaked up the sun and spat it back up in shimmering waves of heat. Lex spent most of that time on the phone, ignoring the flat vista outside the tinted window of the vehicle, pulling in resources to deal with this problem.

The airstrip was a low collection of buildings, one long paved strip that ran out into the desert, and a small gathering of single engine prop planes, most of which had seen better days. The LuthorCorp jet stood out among them, large, sleek and silver.

The Land Rover pulled up beyond the runway and Lex got out, heading towards the plane.

He had just finished with a call and was slipping his phone into his pocket when the ground trembled. A faint shiver of earth that he barely noticed for the first few steps, before the packed dirt sort of hiccupped, shifting under his feet.

First thought was, earthquake. The Atacama desert was a major fault zone and the area was rife with seismic rumbling. A common occurrence by all reports. He stopped in his tracks regardless, assaulted with the unease of any mid-western boy raised on ground that never so much as hiccupped, much less threw tantrums under his feet.

But the jet wasn't trembling on the tarmac and the distant native air strip workers were going about their business as if nothing were amiss - - and you'd think commonplace aside- - they'd at least pause to see if something groundbreaking was on the way.

Lex looked down, at small pebbles trembling near his feet. And suddenly sound was screaming at him, a sonorous roar of tearing, cracking earth, the ground rupturing open some scant yards from where he stood. Dry earth and rock ripped, the clamor huge and deafening, and there was a swath cut through the desert, a widening chasm that spewed sand and rock into the air like someone had planted charges beneath the surface.

First instinct said duck and run, even though there was nothing to duck behind. He brought his arms up, shielding his head as bits of rock and debris pelted down, and stared, eyes watering from grit as the rent widened, snaking across the ground. It reached the Land Rover, yawning beneath its back end and the men still inside threw open doors and struggled to get out. One of them made it before the earth split wide enough to swallow the whole of the vehicle.

Lex staggered back from the edge, fighting for balance as the earth continued to shake wildly, as more spidery rents appeared under his feet, traveling to the airstrip and buckling the grey asphalt. The ground rippled under his feet like it had a vendetta. He fought for orientation in the cloud of dust that rose, obscuring clear vision. He heard the cries of his driver, and maybe the calls of someone at the door of the jet, wanting them onboard and airborne to escape this unexpected earthbound rage.

He squinted through the dust and saw the shape of a man, striding forward from the direction of the desert. The cloud cleared enough to make out details. Big man, broad, square face with small dead eyes, the faint curve of a smile on his wide mouth. There was a smaller man scurrying behind him. Young, raw-boned, pixie featured.

Lex drew a dust-laden breath, the taint of bile rising in his throat. He knew these men. Knew their files. Knew what they could do, and what they 'had' done. That they'd made it here, twenty miles through the desert, was not particularly surprising, considering their abilities. The young one was doing this, manipulating the earth. The big man had other talents and terrible tendencies.

The earth exploded up under his feet and he staggered backwards, going down, sliding in sand and loose dirt. He scrambled for purchase, kicking away from the edge of a chasm that might not go deep. It wouldn't be the fall that got him, but the smothering fall of sand and dirt and the inescapable jaws of the earth as it closed up around him and the notion of that sort of death terrified him.

A figure appeared on the other side, bare arms under the institutional grey of the jumpsuit. There were tattoos along the forearms, and the ridges of ceremonial scarring - - a mark for each victim. And supposedly the scarring had begun long before this man had gotten caught, trapped in the cab of his overturned truck, pinned next to a chunk of kryptonite the size of an engine block, in the second Smallville meteor shower.

"You think I forgot you?" The voice wasn't natural, not when the man practiced his abilities. "You think I'd forget the bastard that put me in that place?"

Lex wouldn't expect him to. Two years ago when they'd apprehended this man - - Garrison Rule was the name - - Lex hadn't been particularly shy about letting him know what was in store for him. There had been a great deal of ineffectual threats made against him. A great deal of promises that a man doomed to a high-tech prison would never make good on.

"I said - - remember I said - - you and me would share some quality time?"

Fuck. He didn't want to think about the reports of what this man did for entertainment. He tore his hands trying to get up the crumbling grade, and Rule jumped the distance, landing barefooted in the loose earth next to Lex with impact that suggested his weight had taken on considerably more density than simple human flesh. Then Rule was sliding backwards, battling for balance, even as the sound of nearby gunfire close to deafened Lex. The bullets hit Rule dead center, tearing holes in the jumpsuit, knocking him into the chasm, even as Lex crawled up.

A hand grabbed Lex's arm, hauling him the rest of the way out. His driver, with a gloc in his other hand, staring down in alarm as the man he had shot dead on, looked up grinning, low, almost inhuman laughter drifting up, the dull roughness of sandstone pebbling the visible flesh.

"Go," Lex cried, pushing his driver, pelting towards the plane, because he didn't know how fast Rule could climb out of the chasm with his body weighted down with the geometric density of desert rock.

Not as fast as they could run.

And the boy was still out there, a boy that could manipulate earth, that could tear up the ground under them even as Rule could absorb it and take on its characteristics.

A dangerous pair to have ended up together.

The runway buckled. A trench that might or might not make take off an impossibility - - which meant death sentence, with himself unarmed and only one man with one gun to face down two very dangerous mutants. One a serial killer and one a boy with no remorse, no conscience, and very little hold on sanity.

The plane was taxiing, the pilot pragmatic enough to want the hell out of here, passengers or no. Lex caught the rail of the boarding stairs and swung up, his driver hard on his heels. Something hit the body of the plane, putting a dent in metal. Flung debris and he had horrible visions of rocks flying up and getting sucked into the engines, igniting the whole of the jet.

The driver pulled the door closed, and the both of them fell into seats as the speed picked up. There was jolting, teeth jarring impact that sent everything in the cabin that wasn't secured tumbling. The wheels hitting that trench maybe. The plane skewed a little, and Lex clutched his armrests, having little enough optimism left involving the probability of him surviving one more aircraft related mishap. There were only so many lucky breaks a man could have before his quota was up.

But then there was that stomach lurching sense of leaving the influence of the earth, a sudden cessation of vibration against solid ground. He counted the seconds - - five - - ten and figured if they hadn't exploded mid-air yet, they weren't likely to.

He took a breath, hands shaking, palms stinging from where he'd gouged them on rock. His cell rang, an unexpected, startling chirp, in his pocket. He reached for it, flipped it open. Recognized the number as the first on his own speed dial.

Fuck.

"Clark?" He wrung every ounce of tension out of his voice and it came out cool and calm. Shut his eyes, leaned his head back against the seat and quieted his breathing. Even over the phone, Clark had frustratingly sharp hearing.

"Hey, Lex, about dinner tonight."

"What about it?" Dinner? Dinner. There had been plans to cook in. The penthouse or Clark's apartment? He was usually so much better at retaining details during crisis.

"Something came up at work - - and before you get pissy with me, I'm not canceling, I just need to push it back a little."

"Fine. When?" He didn't even have the energy to complain about the insult.

"Seven?" Clark suggested with a hopeful tone. "If I'm not home sharp, I won't be long after. Promise. Just let yourself in. A story just ran over me and I need to stay and finish it up. I'll tell you about it tonight."

"Seven works for me. I've got some things to tie up myself."

Seven was a godsend. It would give him time to get back to Metropolis and start damage control.

"Lex? You okay?" Clark asked instead of making Lex's life easier and hanging up. Lex gnawed the inside of his cheek, wondering what Clark had picked up on. Heart rate, maybe? Or the sound of the engines? God help him if it was something in his voice.

"I'm flying. Turbulence. It gets on my nerves." Clark would understand that, knowing his history with planes. One crash and three near misses did not a comfortable flyer make.

"Statistically, it's still the safest - -"

"Shut up. I'll see you tonight."

Clark's idea of cooking, was cooking out. In the footsteps of his father and his father's father, the kitchen was woman's domain, but the grill - - ah, the grill was his passion. He had learned at his father's side, so the story went, and the Kent family grill and the big, tin can modified smoker, were spoke of with quiet reverence.

Clark could cook anything over coals. Meat, vegetables, concoctions in iron skillets, though Lex actively dissuaded him from those sorts of rustic casseroles.

Being summer, Clark, along with half the neighbors on his street, if the constant smell of burning charcoal during the evenings was any indication, was caught up in the craze of grilling out.

So, when Lex got there, five minutes after seven - - because even if the metaphorical shit had hit the fan at work, it was no reason not to be punctual - - Clark was just breaking out the charcoal.

He came in the back way, pulling up inside the fenced yard. He could hear the buzz of the landlady's television through the bottom floor screen window. He very seldom saw her, and when he did, she was usually scowling, though Clark mentioned occasionally that Mrs. McClusky's cat had done this, or Clark had offered to help with the gutters or the boards of the front porch and she'd baked him cookies or muffins or tried to set him up with her granddaughter. Which went beyond wishful thinking to rude, because Lex's car spent enough nights behind the fence of her backyard for her to know he was staying the night on a regular basis and that Clark was neither free to pursue this granddaughter, nor particularly inclined towards daughters in general.

Clark waved a pair of tongs at him in greeting from the second story patio that he had refurbished almost from the foundation up, and went back to arranging coals. He had changed out of his usual Planet uniform of button down shirt and tie, and into a t-shirt and a pair of baggy, khaki shorts that almost reached his knees. He was barefoot.

Lex climbed the steps and arched a brow, taking in the outfit close up.

"I'm so overdressed, I feel out of place." He'd shed his jacket in the car and the shirt was a light silk mix, conducive to summer weather.

"I keep telling you to get cook out clothes. How're you supposed to enjoy bar-b-que and corn on the cob in hundred dollar shirts?"

"God, we're not having corn on the cob?" Hundred-dollar shirt? Not even close.

"No," Clark reached for him with fingertips smeared with black soot, and Lex leaned back, giving him a warning look. Clark grinned, wiping his hand on his pants - - God - - and said. "Steaks. The good cuts, because I know you're finicky. And grilled tomatoes and squash, and baked potatoes and bread - - and maybe a salad if that's not enough."

If Kryptonian metabolism could be harnessed, world obesity could be wiped out, because Clark regularly ate enough for four people and never gained a once of anything other than solid muscle.

"Finicky is a word you'd use for a cat," Lex said mildly. "Try, discriminating instead. I'll take less offense."

Clark grinned, wide, white smile that never ceased to make Lex's breath hitch a tiny bit. He lit the charcoal without benefit of a match, just a quick glance from under sooty lashes and heat radiated over black lumps of coal like the sun off the surface of the desert, and flame was born.

It was almost a turn on watching him do it, being so casually on the inside of a secret he'd been on the outside of for years.

Lex walked into the kitchen, where a bag of groceries sat on the hideous orange counter and Clark followed him in, happy with the state of his burning coals.

"What happened to your hands?"

Of course Clark was going to notice sooner or later. Lex healed fast, but not 'that' fast and generally, when the two of them were alone together, the use of hands became an issue. Lex shrugged, not trying to divert the subject. Diverting the subject didn't work as well with Clark now as it had when he'd been a teenager.

"There was an incident at the airstrip in Chile this afternoon. Me basically meeting the ground. Embarrassing." It was absolute truth - - just minus pertinent details. If Clark asked him what he was doing in Chile, which was a possibility, he'd have more trouble coming up with a half truth that might not come back to bite him in the ass.

Clark canted his head, snagging one of Lex's hands in his, turning it palm upwards to examine the scrapes. He looked back up with a smile, thumb softly stroking the whole flesh between the parallel scrapes. Lex shivered. "Did anybody get a picture?"

Lex allowed the ghost of a smile to cross his own lips, as much fueled by relief as wry humor. "No. It won't be in the rags this week that I was on a South American binge."

Clark gave him back his hand and went to pull vegetables out of the brown bag. Lex pulled up a long-legged stool and sat down at the end of the counter. The kitchen didn't allow for a lot of room, so it was better to plant himself and let Clark bustle around unhindered.

"So tell me about this story that ran over you." It felt good to focus on Clark, to divert ninety-five percent of his attention to something that relieved his stress instead of the things that kept him awake at night. Clark made him a better man, and he knew this because one; Clark told him, and two; most nights he 'did' sleep better. Because most days, he didn't receive reports of project progress that made him feel cold and tight inside and he wasn't actively commissioning things that stole little bits of his humanity.

And then there were days like today, where there had been nothing but bad news, and he 'had' felt cold and he 'would' sleep badly, unless he could convince Clark to fuck him into oblivion - - and then he might actually get a decent few hours rest.

He'd work on that after the steaks.

He didn't expect Clark's story to be quite so literal. Clark related it while he was preparing his vegetables.

"I was in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time, depending how you look at it." Clark paused in his seasoning process to consider. "Anyway, I was on Marshall Street and this car came barreling right onto the sidewalk and through the front window of the Marshall street jewelry exchange. There was this couple walking by that would have gotten sideswiped if I hadn't been there."

"And you saved this couple in a manner that no one will question?" Lex interrupted, because really, Clark's common sense evaporated in crisis situations. And Metropolis was not Smallville.

Clark gave him an under the brow, 'don't give me grief' look. "I can be very quick, Lex. Anyway, It wasn't an accident. It was these two guys who were high on something, and they jumped out in all the confusion and started stuffing jewelry from the shattered cases in their pockets. One of them had a gun, and was waving it around with this sort of wild eyed look, and so I sort of quick fried it from the edge of the mess and then sort of - - uh, tripped them up when they were trying to make their getaway and the police had arrived by that time, so I hung around to give a statement - -"

"You gave a statement? Are you insane? You're supposed to be reporting the news, not making it. People in Metropolis aren't like people in Smallville who look out their window every other day and see some sort of freakish incident." Clark was going to give him ulcers before he was thirty.

"Of course I gave a statement. I was a witness," Clark said calmly, like he was trying to explain something fundamental to a slow child.

"And I needed to stick around to get more information for the write up. It'll be in the morning paper. Page two."

Clark was entirely well pleased with himself.

"Wonderful." Lex said dryly.

"It's what I do." Clark grinned at him, one of the big blinding ones that tended to make Lex loose his train of thought.

He held on to it this time, and lifted a wry brow. "The reporting or the hero complex?"

The grin turned into a smirk and Clark wielded the big knife with which he was currently slicing onion, in Lex's general direction. "Just because you had an embarrassing afternoon, don't give me a hard time. I did good. Perry loved the write up. Only, and I want an honest opinion here - -"

"What other type do I generally provide?"

"This is the third story I've gotten printed involving incidents where I lent a helping hand. Perry says he's thinking of transferring me to the crime beat and that's fine - - that would be 'awesome,' because I'm like first year - - if I'm not taking advantage. Is it ethical for me to benefit career wise - - from situations I'm impacting using - - you know, 'abilities'?"

First off, it was flattering that Clark was asking him an ethics question, when Lex recalled a time when Clark repeatedly and pointedly accused him of not having any. Secondly, if anyone actually accused Clark of lacking a quality which he obviously possessed in dangerous excess, Lex would buy out the paper and make a few staff changes. But of course that would require Clark being outed in a way that stretched the definition of the word, and that would be a whole other crisis to deal with - - and hating to be unprepared, Lex had been spinning damage control scenarios in his head for weeks, in case the situation arose. He mentioned neither of these things to Clark.

"No," Lex said carefully,

"No?" Clark asked with the arch of a dark brow. "All that over thinking and all I get is a no?"

It was faintly appalling that Clark could read him so well. "If you're going to risk exposure doing these things - - and I really wish you wouldn't - - then I certainly see no reason why someone else should benefit out of some misplaced altruism on your part. It's not as if you're out there creating problems to deal with - -" Not like certain of Clark's acquaintances. "You're simply reaping the rewards of being a boy scout and quite a few boy scouts have risen to fame and fortune."

"What would you know about being a boy scout?"

"Absolutely nothing. I'm the anti-boy scout. I get lost in the woods if there are more than three trees. But I know good work ethic."

Clark grinned at him, speared the steaks onto a platter and went outside to throw them on the flames.

Clark excelled at his grillwork and the steaks were no less savory than fifty-dollar plates at The Two Deuces. They ate out on the deck, on a patio table and two mismatched chairs that Clark had picked up at a thrift store. The weather was nice this late, the breeze cooling, with even the occasional chirp of a cricket from the little slice of yard behind the brownstone. Clark kept smiling at him. Slumming had never been so good.

There were never leftovers with Clark around, so it was just a matter of washing dishes and tidying up before they retreated to the living room and the long leather couch that Clark had relented and let Lex buy him. Clark cut the TV on, while Lex read the copy of Clark's story about the aborted heist.

Clark flipped around until he found what might have been a rerun of Jeopardy and paused. "So what do you think?"

"Tight." Lex shrugged, tossing the hard copy onto the battered end table.

He could only talk Clark into so many domestic gifts and Clark always acted like he'd struck buried gold when came back from the second hand store, or the dumpster in this alley or that, with a new find. It drove Lex mad. The apartment was certainly eclectic because of it. If Clark had any idea how much the couch cost in relation to the mismatched end and coffee tables, he'd probably burst a blood vessel - - if such a thing were possible.

"Who is Albrecht Durer?" Lex said absently, as a pictorial question came up on the TV showing a late fifteenth century woodcut of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It felt good to sink back into the couch, to lean against Clark and feel Clark's arm automatically slide around his shoulders. e He He hadn't realized he was sore from today, until he he'd slowed down enough for his body to catch up with his mind.

One out of the nine 'liberated' subjects had been retaken within six hours of escape. One damned subject, in a small town outside Peru, apprehended in a local bus terminal in the process of sucking the eyes out of a man she'd lured into the dark corner of a restroom.

All of his resources on red alert and they'd only managed one. Sooner or later the others would make themselves known. God willing sooner and not in a manner that sent the media into a frothing frenzy.

Clark's bare foot rubbing up against the top of his socked one, both their legs stretched out on the coffee table, proved a much-needed distraction. The remote lay on Clark's thighs, unguarded.

"Watson and Crick." Lex said, when the answer popped up about double helical DNA.

"You forgot to phrase as a question," Clark reprimanded him. "And who knows all this stuff, anyway?"

"Anyone who's ever taken the time to learn." Lex snatched the remote and flipped over to CNN. "If all you're going to do is complain about me knowing all the answers, we can broaden our minds with current affairs."

"I work in a newsroom, Lex. I get current affairs all day. Turn it to Scrubs."

Lex transferred the remote to the other hand and gave Clark a narrow-eyed, provocative stare. "Make me."

Clark's breathing hitched and the sweet tint of a blush rose on his cheeks. The fact that he still could, after all the things they had done together, never failed to amaze Lex. And charm him. And make him immeasurably grateful for the twist of fate that had brought Clark into his life.

He slid the hand not currently holding the remote captive up Clark's thigh, drawing the edge of the khakis up, raking the tips of his nails across lightly haired, golden skin.

A shuddery sound issued from Clark's throat, a not so subtle tenting rose in his shorts. Clark never, ever failed to rise to the occasion. Repeatedly. One might almost consider it one of his Kryptonian abilities. Not that complaint was ever warranted.

Lex looked down and lifted a critical brow.

"Is that all you've got for me?"

Clark snorted, grinning and bowled him backwards, considerable weight pressing him down into soft leather, big hand on the wrist with the remote.

Clark still had enough kid in him that the prospect of a good tussle never ceased to appeal, even though wrestling with Clark tended to be a loosing proposition. But, Clark's sense of fair play, overdeveloped thing that it was, tended to make him go to efforts to hold back, to offer advantages that weren't really there, when sometimes what Lex really wanted was a hard, stress-relieving fuck.

There was no drink, no drug, no mental exercise that he had ever tried that was as good at making him simply forget, as a liberal dose of Clark Kent.

Clark kissed him, a hot/sweet nibble across his mouth, but not what Lex wanted when he was in the mood to be bullied. Sometimes Clark just didn't pick up on obvious hints without a little show and tell. Lex reared up and bit him, hard as he could short of breaking teeth, on the throbbing sweep of Clark's jugular. He didn't leave a mark, but Clark got the clue.

Clark drew a breath, body going tense and serious, hands clenching just enough on Lex's wrist that he 'felt' it. It made his pulse speed up and his cock hard. He bit his lip, dropping the remote with a clatter that probably meant the back had popped off and batteries had spilled over the floor. He honestly didn't care, he'd get Clark a new one, a really good one that would operate everything in the apartment.

He growled a little and ground his hips up against Clark's. Clark pushed back down, molding Lex to the couch, worming a thigh between his legs and coming down for another kiss that was enveloping and invasive and more along the lines of what Lex was looking for.

Clark pulled back, looking down, eyes dilated and dark and focused. His breath was annoyingly even compared to Lex's rapid panting and even that turned Lex on.

Clark pulled his arms above his head, casually crossed his wrists and gripped them with one big hand. Lex tested the hold. Half the excitement was in trying and failing. Feeling the sting of powerlessness. Reveling in the grip of power beyond human ken and 'owning' it.

"You like this shirt?" Clark asked, an arch of a brow and a glint in his eyes. Lex had a few changes of clothes here. He could deal with the loss.

"It's not my favorite."

"Good." Clark slid a finger down from collar to hem, popping buttons like they were attached with strands of spider web. Lex shivered and rubbed himself against the knee between his legs. Issued half strangled sounds as Clark leaned over and started biting and sucking his way down from throat to nipple. Sharp, white teeth clamped down and Lex didn't even bother to muffle the sharp sound of shock. The pleasure/pain connection jacked directly into his brain and he arched, cursing breathlessly, so damned hard he was going to come in his pants if Clark didn't get on with it.

"Get naked - - ah, god - - and fuck me."

Clark looked up, having moved from the one nipple to the other, sultry and dark eyed behind velvety black lashes, teeth bared just a little like a predator interrupted in the middle of feeding. So fucking hot it was painfully clear he wasn't human, because nothing human could disrupt his higher brain functions so efficiently.

Clark grinned at him, and where he'd learned to tease so brutally, Lex had no idea. Oh, wait, he did. He'd picked that up from him.

"Eventually." Clark bent and ran his tongue up the center of Lex's chest, to the hollow of his throat and up the underside of his jaw.

Lex tilted his head back and groaned.

Clark laughed, low, deep in his chest and sat up, releasing Lex's wrists to strip off his T-shirt, revealing golden skin and sculpted musculature that went on forever. Lex's own personal Adonis, only better, for there were no jealous deities bickering over a share of his time.

Clark swung off him, a little faster than Lex could follow and was heading for the bedroom and hopefully the lube. Lex sat up, shrugging out of his shirt, got his fingers on the buckle of his belt and Clark was back, entirely naked and gloriously erect. His cock was simply perfect, uncut and jutting proudly, the weight of it pulling it out from his belly to bob perpendicular to his body.

It was too temping not to reach out and touch, but Clark batted his hands away, catching his arms, pulling him off the couch and turning him forcefully around. He got hugged against Clark's naked front, one arm around his waist while Clark worked at his zipper and shoved his pants down, underwear and all.

His own erection bounced free, all neatly cut and pink compared to Clark, glistening at the tip and badly needing some sort of hands on attention.

His pants pooled around his ankles and Clark just lifted him up so he could kick them off, and then took him down, knees on the hardwood floor, belly pressed against the edge of the couch cushions with Clark tight against his back.

"How hard?" Clark whispered against his neck, cock this scalding hot presence against the cleft of Lex's buttocks.

Lex shut his eyes, a full body tremor rolling over him. "I want to feel it tomorrow."

Clark moaned against him, arm tightening enough to steal some of Lex's breath, before he pressed him forward. A finger pushed inside him, slick with lubrication, twisting and turning, finding that spot that made Lex lay his cheek to cool leather and grope for the edges of the seat cushion.

Another, stretching, scissoring and Lex thought he might have started drooling against leather, pushing back against the welcome invasion, and not making much leeway, because Clark's other hand was on the small of his back, keeping him in place. Keeping his cock trapped between his body and leather that was becoming slick with sweat and precome. He wanted to grind so bad it felt like his insides were knotting and Clark wasn't making it any better, leaning hot against his back, sucking at the back of his neck, fingers fucking him into oblivion, teasing that spot one thrust out of five.

"Fucking - - bastard - -" He couldn't wrap his mouth around a cohesive sentence.

"I love you, too," Clark said, low and rough against his ear.

Then the fingers were gone and Clark was pressing against him, thick, blunt heat of his cock unrelenting as it pushed in. Pain blossomed and Lex keened at it, treasuring it, worshipping at the alter of it, wanting it deeper and harder and faster before it faded and pleasure took over.

Clark was exasperatingly slow easing in, the measured pressure of inhumanly hot flesh spreading Lex open. Clark allowed him moments he didn't want to adjust, before rocking slowly backwards, a gentle movement in counterpart to the unyielding pressure of the hand holding him down. Lex sobbed in frustration.

"Ready?" Clark leaned down and kissed his shoulder, too soft and too sweet for what Lex needed now. He hissed and Clark moved his hands to his hips.

The first serious thrust rocked him forward, knees leaving the floor, hands braced against the back couch cushion. The second took his breath and actually scraped the couch flush to the wall. Then Clark was driving into him with long, hard strokes, leaving no vulnerable spot untouched inside him.

Lex always marveled, when his mind would start working again afterwards, at the sheer control Clark practiced, knowing how much strength was just enough - - how hard was just hard enough to drive Lex over the edge and well beyond and not destroy him in the process. It always amazed Lex that he was capable of trusting anyone that completely.

The rhythm of Clark's thrusts slid him across the edge of the seat cushion, ground his cock against body warmed, slick leather. The clasp of it was as good as a hand, better even, edged with the hint of pain each time he was driven down by Clark's forward momentum. And - - God - - Clark had the angle down pat, hitting his prostate with each inward stroke and no amount of will power in the world could stave off the orgasm that rocked through him.

He screamed, body spasming, nails scoring leather. Teetered at the apex for a too brief moment of euphoria then soared down the other side, dizzy and blind and shuddering at the fall.

Clark paused a few beats, groaning as Lex tightened around him, fingers digging into Lex's hips, riding out Lex's climax, then shoving into him again in pursuit of his own. A dozen rapid thrusts, and Clark cried out, pressing into Lex balls deep and spilling so strong Lex could feel his cock jerking inside him.

Clark stilled, collapsing across Lex's back, catching his weight with his elbows on the cushions, breath gone a little harsh but not the ragged gasps that ripped though Lex. It wasn't the physical exhaustion that got to Clark, it was the mental. It always took a few moments for his brain to reboot after intense orgasm.

Lex would have been happy to indulge him, but his knees were beginning to hurt on the hardwood floor and the sticky feeling of come soaked leather against his stomach wasn't as much of a turn on now as it had been a while ago.

"Shower?" he suggested, cheek pressed to the seat cushion.

"Mmmm." Clark made a sound of assent, and shifted just enough so his softening penis slipped out.

Lex made a little, inadvertent sound and lifted himself up enough to get Clark moving. Clark sighed and rolled over, and onto the floor. He pulled Lex with him, across his lap.

"Good?" Clark pressed his cheek against the curve of Lex's shoulder, breathing deep.

Lex's laughter felt a little dazed. "Fishing for compliments?"

Clark nuzzled the fleshy part of his ear, lazy and satiated.

"Expectations exceeded." Lex leaned his head back and relaxed into the embrace.

"Yuck. You are filthy." Clark observed, hands smearing the cooling residue on Lex's stomach and chest. Lex twisted his head and gave him a look. Clark grinned and managed to get them both up on their feet without dumping Lex to the floor. Lex's legs weren't entirely pleased with the demands being placed upon them and other parts of him just wanted to sprawl somewhere and avoid movement altogether.

After the shower.

He put a hand on Clark's chest and pushed off. With the closet Clark called a shower - - the small, dark, dismally cramped closet - - there was little space for sharing.

"Clean that before it dries, or it'll stain." He waved a hand towards the couch. Fine Italian leather deserved better treatment, but what could you do?

"If you'd let me keep my couch, it wouldn't matter," Clark complained. Lex ignored that ludicrous statement and headed for the bathroom.

The brownstone's antique water heater promised a finite amount of hot water and Lex had endured the unpleasant sensation of a warm shower turning suddenly cold on at least two previous occasions. It encouraged quick showers.

He dried off and settled into the very nice, very broad bed, which had been the first 'housewarming' gift he'd talked Clark into accepting from him, while Clark took his turn in the shower. The bed took a great deal of the room, only allowing for a dresser crammed up against the wall, and a charming deco fireplace, original to the building. Most of Clark's clutter was stuffed into egg crate cubbies in the apartment's acceptably spacious living room, as was Clark's desk/work area. Most of his junk - - and Lex used the term with complete authenticity - - was still in storage at the Kent Farm in Smallville.

He shut his eyes and drifted, naked on soft sheets - - also gifted by him to Clark - - and listened to the whine of the window unit AC as it attempted to take some of the heat and humidity out of the air. Clark could have cared less, but Lex didn't like extremes - - in temperature at least - - and Clark liked Lex reasonably happy when he stayed over.

He didn't hear Clark come in until the end of the bed dipped under his weight. Clark's hand slid up his ankle to his calf.

"Your knees," Clark said, and Lex cracked his eyes, looking down to the scabbed scrapes. They weren't deep and would be gone by tomorrow. Clark lay on his side, between his legs, half off the end of the bed, damp hair and stray beads of water on his broad shoulders.

Lex held up a similarly scraped palm and shrugged.

"You really fell hard," Clark commented and Lex shut his eyes and made a noncommittal sound, not wanting to expound on half-truths. Hoping Clark wouldn't push it.

"I don't like it when you get hurt," Clark grazed his lips over Lex's right kneecap.

"I'm not crazy about it myself."

"You should have told me when I had you on your knees on the floor." Clark kissed the other knee.

"Mmmm. I was distracted."

Clark moved his hands up the outside of Lex's thighs, fingers spread wide. Lex could feel his touch linger over little spots of faint soreness. Bruising from Clark's earlier grip that Lex didn't mind, but Clark always felt the need to do penance for after the fact.

Clark's mouth brushed in the wake of his fingers, warm and soft and Lex spread his limbs and let him have his way, lulled by the gentle touches.

"Have I mentioned," Clark murmured, lips brushing the inside of Lex's thigh. "How much I love your legs?"

His hair was tickling Lex's complacent cock and it felt nice. Nice enough to make interest stir.

"And your thighs - -" Clark sucked a little on the big vein on the inside of the right one. "Your thighs are really amazing."

"How about you veer a little east, and offer a critique there?"

Clark chuckled and slid up to lick Lex's hip. Licked his way across his stomach and flicked the tip of his tongue into the crater of his navel. A little breath escaped Lex at that and he squirmed away from the tingly sensation. Clark looked up and grinned at him, pleased with himself.

"I also love that you're ticklish."

"I'm not." It had to be denied for the sake of pride.

But Clark was on to other things, content with nuzzling and ghosting fingertips.

Clark mouthed his way down Lex's stomach, big hand whisper soft against his skin, stroking, petting and when Clark's lips closed around his cock, he shut his eyes and drifted, a gentler glide of ecstasy that lacked the hard edge of desperate need.

Tomorrow he'd go back to his towers of glass and steel and glittering wealth, and conduct business as usual in-between listening to reports of success or failure on the front of retaking dangerous meta-human threats. But tonight, he'd sleep in a brownstone apartment that had seen better days, with an air conditioning unit that wheezed as if it were keening its death note. Next to a man that didn't own a car, who lived from paycheck to paycheck and wouldn't take gifts without a fight, who could shatter iron in his hands and soar in the heavens, and filled that part of Lex that he'd thought hopelessly barren and empty.

Tonight, he'd sleep well.

The hours of a newspaperman were very similar, come to find out, to those of a farmer. Which was to say, ungodly, and Perry White was a cruel taskmaster, expecting his newsroom staffers in just as bright and early as he was himself.

Getting up at six most mornings, was no great inconvenience on the days Clark slept alone, but on those other, more frequent days, when he had a warm billionaire in his bed, it was sheer hell.

Lex liked to sleep in. Not that he was slothful - - far from it - - it just wasn't often he willingly saw the early side of 8 am. And even though he'd tried to hide it, he'd been stressed and weary yesterday and Clark was loathe to disturb those last few hours of morning's rest.

Which meant super speeding through shower and dressing and grabbing breakfast on the go on the way to work, instead of klutzing around the kitchen and eating it here and generally making enough racket to rouse Lex.

Clark shifted out of his sprawl and rolled towards Lex, who had reverted to his normal compact sleeping arrangement. Clark sprawled like a puppet with its strings cut during deep sleep, limbs flung every which way. Lex always started out loose and relaxed, but inevitably ended curled on his side, taking up as little space as possible, as if he were protecting some subconscious vulnerability.

For a few precious moments, he allowed himself to Lex-watch, fascinated as always, by the sleep induced serenity. All the tension lines eased, all the contained energy diffused. Ten years smoothed away like it was nothing but illusion and all by the grace of letting go - - however briefly - - of conscious burdens.

Clark could almost hate LexCorp for that - - for the demands the company made on Lex. But it wasn't the company, really that expected more than a reasonable man could offer, it was Lex and the expectations he'd been groomed to expect from himself. It was Lex that was never satisfied and Lex that drove himself to distraction. And Lex that came to Clark and wanted to be torn down when it became too much.

But that was okay, because Clark didn't mind deconstructing the 'Luthor' part of Lex, shattering walls and driving away demons. Reminding Lex of things he needed to be reminded of from time to time. Of his humanity, that he was far removed from the man his father had wanted him to be, that 'love' wasn't a dirty word and that he could let go from time to time and trust himself to that love.

Clark smiled, traced a finger across the sleek curve of muscle and flesh where Lex's neck joined his shoulder, then rolled out of bed, parting with gravity just enough to keep from jostling the mattress.

He showered and dressed and idly entertained something ridiculously romantic, like running home and plucking a few of his mom's tulips to lay on the pillow next to Lex, before he headed to work. But he rolled his own eyes a little at the notion, because he wasn't 'that' much of a girl. Besides he didn't want to get subtly ribbed about it later by Lex, so he settled for leaning down and brushing his lips across Lex's temple. Lex didn't even twitch, firmly caught in the grips of sleep.

There was a bagel place on Watson St. that offered cheap breakfast sandwiches. Clark picked up an egg and cheese and sausage one, plus a plain one with cream cheese and two coffees. He was at Chloe's door before the first curls of steam could really start to snake their way up out of the slots in the coffee cup lids.

"Hey, Clark." She was in the midst of pulling on shoes when she opened the door. He grinned and offered caffeine and carbohydrates.

"My hero." She snatched a coffee and grabbed for the backpack she called a purse.

"I'm so late," she moaned, locking the array of deadbolts on her apartment door. "I have an meeting at seven that I cannot be late for."

She took a second to catch her wind and actually look at him once they'd reached the sidewalk outside her apartment building. She was closer to downtown than he was, on a street lined with renovated apartments, neighborhood restaurants and quant little specialty retail stores. Two blocks down some of the cities older office buildings began a gradual rise towards the spires of downtown Metropolis.

"You look like you're in way too good a mood for this early in the morning."

An awesome night of sex had that effect. "It's Friday. I love Fridays. Besides which I'm on page two this morning."

He waggled the paper he'd picked up on his run over at her.

"That's right." She grinned at him, digging in her purse for car keys. "Congratulations."

Meeting Chloe and riding into work was a morning ritual. Working full time at the Planet, he'd thought they'd have more time to connect, but with both of them busy and her on the 20th floor and him in the basement, it ended up less. Add to that that most nights he made a beeline for Lex - - they made what time they could. Sometimes living in the real, 40 - - ha - - 60 hour work week world, sucked.

It was a twenty-minute drive through city traffic from Chloe's place to the Planet. Clark opened the paper to his article while she drove, sighing in contentment at the look of it in newsprint, his name on the byline. It felt good. He'd take a copy home to his mom for her collection.

He hadn't been home in a week - - maybe a week and a half - - and really, there was no excuse, considering he could be there in a few beats of the heart, say hello, make sure everything was okay on the farm and be back in the city before anyone missed him. It was guilt, of course. He acknowledged that he was a giant pussy when it came down to looking Martha Kent in the eye and lying. Or negating to tell the whole truth and nothing but when she asked the time honored questions that seemed to be mother's credo. So honey, how's the apartment? Is the job going well? Have you met anyone?

It had been eight months. Eight of the best months of his life - - and he still hadn't gotten around to mentioning to his mom that he was sleeping with Lex. That any hetro tendencies he'd entertained in his younger years had been wiped clean by the sheer magnitude of Lex Luthor. He wasn't entirely sure why he couldn't come clean.

Oh, Lex had a plethora of reasons, most of them centering around the upheaval Clark's life would experience if the press got wind he was sleeping with a Luthor. 'The' Luthor since Lionel hadn't set foot in a LuthorCorp boardroom in close to three years or the country in the last two.

Lex worried about close scrutiny from the press outing more than Clark's sexual orientation and that was one of the few things that Lex and Chloe actually agreed upon.

None of which explained why he couldn't grow enough of a backbone to confide in his mother. It wasn't like she would make a beeline for the press. He just didn't want to see her face fall in disappointment, when she realized there was one more strike, in an astronomically long list of strikes, against the normalcy of her son.

He didn't know who he was wronging more, her or Lex, but he'd die for either of them, so it seemed a tragically mute point.

"That happy Friday face has dropped, " Chloe remarked at a stoplight. Clark folded the paper carefully and met her remarkably observant stare.

"Perry's talking about moving me to the crime beat."

"Really?" Both her brows shot up. "That's fantastic, Clark. You have been getting a lot of - - you know - - first account stories."

"Yeah. Lex thinks its okay using it to my advantage - - work wise."

"He would," Chloe said dryly.

"You don't?" Clark stared at her expectantly.

Chloe pursed her lips, and cast him a sidelong, wry look as the light turned green. "No. I'm just saying that 'he' would. Even so, I think it's a good move. Even if it weren't for your abilities - - you still have that whole boy scout mentality thing going - -"

"Hey, that's what Lex said - -"

"Don't compare me to Lex. And hey, it'll get you out of the basement. We could even end up on the same floor."

He grinned again, and dipped his head a little to look up out the windshield at the rising spires of LuthorCorp towers, and beyond them, the gothic faade of the Daily Planet building.

They parted ways at the lobby, Clark taking the stairs down, Chloe the elevator up. He spent the morning doing classifieds and gophering for the senior staffer in charge of the basement staff. Around lunchtime, he called Lex to see if he were free. But Lex begged off, having a business luncheon on the books, but promising to call later in the afternoon.

Which he did, close to five o'clock, because even distracted by business, Lex never failed to make good on promises. Even if it was only to dash Clark's hopes for Friday night.

"I'm sorry, but some unexpected issues came up that have blindsided me and I've been trying to get a handle all afternoon, but it looks like I'll be dealing with damage control well into the evening. Tomorrow, I'll make it up to you."

Clark pouted at the phone on his desk for a few moments, before he realized he was doing it, then shook off the disappointment - - because, God, what was he, twelve? - - and decided to see what Chloe was up to after work.

"Jimmy and I are going to see the new Tarrentino movie." Chloe said when Clark idly asked for her Friday itinerary. "You wanna come, or do you have plans with 'you know'?"

Clark had no desire to be the over large, over obvious third wheel, while Jimmy and Chloe snuggled in a darkened theater. Besides which, it wasn't like he couldn't entertain himself on a Friday night without friends to hold his hand. Metropolis was the third biggest city in the country, rich in culture and nightlife. If he couldn't find something to distract himself on a Friday night, he might as well have stayed on the farm.

"Its Friday night, what do you think?" He gave her a casual grin that she didn't look closely enough to question - - because come on - - when you were dating Lex Luthor, it sort of went without saying that you had plans Friday night. The fact that he ditched you for paper work didn't necessarily need to be shared.

But Clark didn't mind, not really. He'd bailed on Lex enough times, because Chloe or Lois had gotten in a scrape in pursuit of a story, or he'd picked up the sound of something preventable happening in the middle of dinner or a movie, that fair was fair. Lex did have a business to run and Lex generally bent over backwards to accommodate Clark, whose work schedule was generally a lot more structured than Lex's - - Clark being at the mercy of an editor that brooked no excuses and expected top quality work from the lowliest of his staffers.

So, in efforts not to just go home and vegetate in front of the television - - really, there wasn't even anything good on Friday night anyway - - he struck out on his own.

He walked for a while, enjoying the last rays of the summer sun. The shadows were long and the city sweltering, people walking past with loosened collars and coats slung over their shoulders. There were distant clouds though that occasionally flared with heat lightening, that the lazy breeze might or might not blow over the city. Metropolis could use a summer shower. The city always gleamed after it rained.

Well, most of it. There were places, like the eastern end, and little Grenedine and Suicide Slums that no amount of rain could wash clean. Clark thought about walking through those streets, which he did sometimes, one of the very few who had nothing to fear from the perpetual shadows, but he wasn't particularly feeling the need to vent. And it was depressing, knowing what lay across the tracks.

He ended up at a sports bar, slipping in amongst a sparse crowd of working class. Wall mounted TV's displayed various sports channels, though most of them were broadcasting football. He took a seat where he could see one that was showing a Shark's game, ordered a plate of chicken wings and waffle fries and blended into the crowd.

He ordered a beer, even though he couldn't get a buzz to save his life, and watched the Sharks fumble towards another loosing game. It had been a bad year for the hometown team. Lex, who watched select games - - though he generally got distracted by halftime and brought out the laptop or the cell or whatever stack of prospectuses he'd brought home from work with him - - for two reasons; one because he owned the team and two because he liked to watch Clark get caught up in the pigskin conflict, said a major revamp of the current line-up was in the works.

New blood brought in to replace old-time hometown favorites that hadn't been playing up to par for seasons. It wasn't public knowledge yet. Hometown fans were going to be disgruntled. 'Clark' felt a little disgruntled - - he still had a poster in his room at the farm of the Shark's current longtime quarterback, back from his high school days. Lex claimed as soon as the team started winning again, the fans would forget all about a shift in membership. And he was probably right. People liked winners.

He left before the game was over. The clouds have moved in after all and the first fat drops of summer rain had begun to pepper the street. The sun had finally retreated and it was on its way to full dark.

The lure of going home had yet to hit. He could go and see what Lex was up to - - hover outside LuthorCorp tower like a freakish peeing Tom - - or be a little less creepily freakish and take to the skies without agenda.

He didn't do this during the day, unless he absolutely had to, but the night hid a lot of things from casual observation. He stepped into an alley, a few streets down from the sports bar, checked to make sure there were no loitering vagrants in the shadows, then simply launched himself at the sky. He was cloud level in the blink of an eye, leaving Metropolis behind faster than any human eye could reasonably follow, even if someone had been looking out a window when he'd passed.

He'd used to hate flying, before he'd learned the finer points of control. But then, every new power he'd ever developed had scared him shitless before growing into it. Flying was no different.

It was hard to imagine now, being eternally ground bound.

He soared above the storm clouds, the wind whipping his clothes dry as he left Metropolis airspace and flew west. There was no particular destination, just the lure of the sky and speed. He really liked the effortless speeds his body was capable of when he defied earth's gravity.

The Rockies were an undulating carpet of green and browns and whites below him. He swooped low over a remote area and sat down near a high altitude mountain lake. It was beyond gorgeous, smooth dark water with mammoth round white rocks piercing the surface, broad enough to lie down upon spread eagle and gaze at the clear night sky.

He did just that. He ought to bring Lex here. Tear him away from his work and his laptop and his cell phone, and let him absorb a bit of utterly unspoiled nature.

Clark liked the notion. He liked the idea of getting Lex away alone anywhere.

There was a sparkling trail of light in the sky. And another. A meteor shower, so vivid up here it was like someone had created CGI effects just for the occasion.

Clark grinned and rocketed upwards, towards the thin edge of the atmosphere where the trailing end of the shower was in the first stages of its atmospheric burn towards the earth. He snatched a plummeting rock from its trajectory and the thing smoldered in his hand, red hot and glowing and big as a baseball.

It cooled quickly though, cold as it was up here in the stratosphere. The outer layer was glassy and dark and pitted, and there were neat veins of some metallic substance running throughout. It was pretty like fossils and really old relics were and absolutely rare, considering he'd plucked it out of the atmosphere before it could burn up to nothing.

Tulips would have been a silly romantic gesture, but Lex would 'love' this.

With his prize in hand, he decided that home wasn't such a bad idea after all, and headed back east, a long, steep glide back down, the country spread out below him like a giant, textured canvas.

He'd gotten pretty good, during the last few months of figuring out geographically, where he was going. For a while there, when he'd first started venturing out long distance, getting himself lost had been a routine thing. But now, even when the spidery light in the center of North America that represented the lights of Metropolis was obscured by clouds, he still was drawn instinctively towards it. Like with the practice of flight he'd developed some sort of homing pigeon ability. If so, it was a good one.

He descended though the steady, warm rain and touched down lightly on the roof of his brownstone, hopped lightly to the second floor patio and let himself in. He shook beaded water out of his hair, and shed his damp jacket over the kitchen stool. He got rid of most of the rest of his work clothes and tossed them in the general direction of the hamper, donning a white T and jeans so old they were transparent in places and butter soft. Devoid of sports coat and button down and slacks, he felt like himself again.

He flopped down on the couch and turned the meteorite in his hands, wondering idly where it had originated from. Just trash from some orbiting comet made of ice and rock, or had it traveled further than the orbit of the sun?

He laid it down on the end table and flipped on the TV. He found a movie he'd seen enough times not to mind coming in on the middle, and slouched down, stretching his legs out across the coffee table.

There was a knock on the front door. A polite rapping that was probably Mrs. McClusky because the only other people that came to see him habitually used the back. The TV wasn't loud enough to warrant a trip upstairs to complain, so either her cat had gotten out and she needed a hand getting him in out of the rain or she needed some sort of heavy lifting done.

He padded to the door, pulled it open with his landlady's name on his lips and stopped dead. It wasn't a wizened old woman at all, but a young, sopping wet one who looked up at him with a tentative smile and embarrassed green eyes.

"Hi, Clark."

"Lana!" He couldn't have been more surprised if it had been Mrs. McClusky's cat itself, balanced on hind legs and speaking cultured English. He hadn't spoken to Lana Lang since his college graduation and even then it had been uncomfortable, with her boyfriend in attendance and the unsmiling ghost of Lex hovering over Clark's shoulder.

"I hope I'm not interrupting - -" She really was wet, her small fingers clutching the strap of her purse.

"What are you doing here?" he blurted, then realized that his manners weren't exactly firing on all heads. He smiled apologetically and tried again. "No. You're not interrupting. I mean - -you're drenched - - come in. Is everything okay?"

She stepped in, her sneakers making squishy sounds on the floor. Her hair hung about her face in long, sodden strands. It didn't make her any less pretty. "Of course. I was just - - I realized that I'd never seen your apartment - - so I - -" she trailed off, shrugging, while Clark shut the door behind her.

"So you decided to make the drive in the middle of a storm, ten o'clock at night?"

She dropped her eyes, chewing on her bottom lip. She looked back up and smiled wanly. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. I guess I could have timed it better - - but, I needed to get out of Smallville for a while and I just thought talking to you would be a good thing."

"Something 'did' happen."

Her eyes teared up a little, her chin trembled and she admitted in with a heart wrenched sob. "I think I just broke up with Greg. And I really, really just needed to be with a friend tonight."

She flung herself against him, thin arms circling his waist, warm, wet body pressed flush with his while she quietly wept.

He stood there, blinking. Wrapped his arms around her back out of reflex, patting her shoulders, stroking her wet hair and letting her cry. Hurting for her, because it was obvious that she was wounded and seeing her hurt would never set well with him, no matter how long they went between actual conversations.

But he felt a distinct little curl of uneasiness. Comforting a friend in need was all fine and good, except for the fact that it was an ex-girl friend - - 'the' ex-girl friend - - that had also been an ex-girl friend of his current boyfriend, which relationship had not exactly ended well.

He really, really didn't need Lana and Lex crossing paths in his apartment. It was actually a horrifying thought. He shivered a little and swallowed.

"Lana, did he hurt you?" he asked, because he needed to know whether he needed to go back to Smallville and return the favor.

But she shook her head miserably and whispered. "No. Please, I don't want to talk about it right now. Can we just - - can we just maybe sit and you can tell me about life in the big city and your job and - - and just catch up?"

"Yeah. Yeah, we can do that. First maybe, I can find you something dry to wear."

"Pick up, Chloe. Pick up!" Clark hissed at the phone, casting nervous glances at the closed bathroom door.

The phone blithely ignored him, until there was a connection made and Chloe's voice greeted him perkily from the other end.

"Thank God - -" He started in relief, only to have hopes dashed as she rambled on over him.

"- - and I'm not available at the moment. So leave a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I am."

Clark groaned, slammed the back of his head against the door jamb a few times waiting for the beep and then whispered urgently.

"Chloe, I need you to call me as soon as you get this. I mean, really, really need to talk to you. It's an emergency."

Going on in detail about the nature of the emergency over the phone just didn't seem prudent, no matter how desperate he was for succor.

He'd started panicking around the time Lana had started hinting that a friendly place to crash for the night would be so very appreciated. Around which time he'd brought up the fact that Chloe, being a woman, would make a much more sympathetic shoulder to cry on, and wouldn't it be great if she and Lana could stay up half the night dissing men in general, together?

"I wouldn't want to intrude," Lana had said. "I mean she and Jimmy are so close now, they need their private time. At least with you, I won't be treading on anyone's toes."

At which he'd stood there, mind swirling with a bevy of possible responses to that statement, any one of which would have set the record straight and let her know exactly whose very sensitive toes she might be treading upon - - and none of which passed his lips.

He wasn't sure if it were possible to be any more of a wuss.

He was standing there, phone clutched in his hand, berating himself over his lack of metaphysical balls, when she came out of the bathroom. He'd given her a pair of drawstring sweat shorts and a T-shirt to wear while her own wet clothing dried over the old radiator. She was lost in them, which was sort of cute and sort of sexy and made Clark's palms itch. There was simply no way, the way his luck tended to run, that this was going to end well.

"Tea?" She smiled at him and he recalled that he'd promised hot tea before she'd retreated to the bathroom and he'd frantically started calling Chloe.

"Oh. Yeah." He ran water from the tap into two cups and stuck them in the microwave.

When the water was hot, he plopped in tea bags, a few spoonfuls of sugar in his, and carried them into the living room, where Lana had curled against a corner of the couch.

"Cup's a little hot," he warned and she took it gingerly, while he sat down against the other arm.

"So - - um, you sure you don't want to talk about - - Greg?" Clark was pretty sure that was the name. Greg Riley, who owned a nursery outside town. A rather big, family nursery that supplied flowers and plants to florists in all the surrounding towns and even as far as Metropolis. Clark didn't know the guy personally, had actively avoided running into him back when he and Lana had first started dating, when Clark still lived at the farm, but from what his mother said, he was decent enough.

"I'm sure," she said softly, sipping her tea. "Tell me about what you've been doing, Clark. I've missed talking with you."

She hadn't exactly missed it, he thought, but purposefully avoided him almost as much as he'd avoided her, after their last, final breakup. Even though they'd ended it on relatively good terms, it had been painful and he understood that better than anyone.

"Well, its pretty boring most of the time," he admitted. "Busy and hectic, but I'm not out running down stories or uncovering breaking news - - more like buried under classifieds with the occasional article in between. I might be in for a promotion soon through - -"

He settled down to talk. She had always been a good listener. He told her about the apartment and how he'd fixed it up, and his favorite Metropolis haunts. She told him about how well the Talon was doing, and that she'd started painting and had even sold a piece or two she'd displayed in the shop. But the gaps in her conversation, the things she left out because she didn't want to talk about Greg Riley were almost as large as the one's Clark didn't mention concerning Lex. And really, if you took Lex out of the equation, Clark's life, aside from the occasional super powered activity, sounded pretty damned boring.

When the clock had rolled past twelve and Chloe still hadn't called him back, he sighed and bit the bullet.

"Listen, I don't want you out driving this late in this weather, so why don't you take the bedroom and I'll sleep on the couch."

"Clark, I don't want to put you out. I know me just showing up on your doorstep, bending your ear is inconvenient - -"

"What are friends for, if not ear bending? It's no inconvenience."

She looked at him with eyes that used to simply make him melt. Now they just made him nervous, because he couldn't shake the feeling that of all the situations that might come up, Lana Lang spending the night at his apartment was the one that, if he found out about, Lex was simply not going to take well. Lex could deal with disaster and calamity without batting an eye, but interpersonal trust issues were a weak point with him.

It wasn't his fault. He'd been burned an awful lot. It had just become easier for him to accept that eventual betrayal was a normal part of a relationship, than to believe that some people simply didn't swing that way. Lex would come to the worst possible conclusions, because that's what he had been conditioned to do and Clark was damned and determined to avoid that. Which meant getting up at dawn if he had to, running over to Chloe's and begging her to take Lana off his hands.

"Okay, but I'll take the couch." Lana yielded.

"No way." He shook his head, firm in his chivalry. "Just let me go pick up a few things."

Sheets definitely needed changing after last night and the chances of Lex having performed housekeeping chores before he'd left this morning were pretty damned low. He slipped into the bedroom, supersped his way through a linen change - - looked around to make sure there was nothing that screamed Lex.

By the time Lana got to the doorway, he was standing there with an extra pillow and a throw for the couch.

"That's a - - really big bed, Clark." She blinked at it. It did sort of dwarf the room.

Clark glanced over his shoulder and flushed a little, remembering very explicitly the things done in that overlarge bed. "All those years of sleeping in a twin - - I - - um - - yeah, it is sort of - - so anyway, I'm just gonna shut this."

He pulled the door closed behind him and shut his eyes, berating himself for being a babbling fool.

He collapsed full-length on the couch, shifting the pillow to a more comfortable position under his head. He stared at the ceiling, trying to block out the sounds of Lana in the other room, that he couldn't help but hear. He focused on other things instead, the sounds of distant dogs barking, of sirens, of late night arguments, of the patter of lazy rain hitting a thousand rooftops.

If he got up early enough, and got in touch with Chloe, she could come over and talk Lana into returning with her before Lex was even out of bed, across town in his glittering penthouse apartment.

Clark shut his eyes and drifted.

And woke to the ringing of his cell. He sat up, immediately awake and aware and was across the room to the kitchen counter where he'd left his phone by the end of the first ring.

"Clark, what's wrong?" Chloe's worried voice threaded into his ear.

The light coming in through the back door was bright and clearly closer to noon than dawn. He looked at the clock on the kitchen wall in a panic.

8:57.

God. He'd overslept in a huge way.

"Chloe where were you?" he whisper complained into the phone.

"Is everything okay?" she countered. "You said emergency. You sounded upset."

He took a breath and chanced a brief look through the walls and into his bedroom to make sure Lana was not about to walk out on him. She was still asleep, exhausted probably from a long and emotionally trying day.

"Lana's here."

There was a moment of silence, then. "'Here' as in at your place?"

"Yes," Clark practically hissed. "She had some kind of fight with her boyfriend. She wouldn't tell me about what. She just showed up here last night, really upset and - - "

"She stayed the night?" Chloe interrupted.

"I slept on the couch." Clark said defensively. "You have to come over and talk her into going back to your place."

"Clark, Jimmy's here."

"Jimmy's not going to loose his freaking mind," Clark said, no small bit of desperation seeping into his voice. "Because Lana Lang sleeps in your bed."

Another long pause, while she considered. "He might even like it." Chloe finally said, a bit of wry humor in her tone. "Okay, I concede that your boyfriend is likely to have more problems than mine. Give me forty-five minutes and I'll just happen to show up at your apartment."

"Thank you. I owe you."

"Yeah, well, I'll put it on your tab."

Leaning on the counter, he breathed a sigh of something close to relief. He took advantage of the closed bedroom door and slipped into the bathroom. He showered in record time and put on the jeans and T from last night, since he didn't have access to the rest of his clothing. He scooped coffee into the machine and stood in the kitchen watching the dribble of dark liquid start to fill the pot.

He'd downed his first cup by the time he heard Lana stirring. The caffeine did nothing for him, but he liked the taste and Lex had gotten him hooked on the really good stuff, which Lex thankfully kept him stocked up in, since Clark had the suspicion that the stuff in the brown paper bags Lex brought over was probably way out of Clark's price range.

Lana came out of the bedroom, with soft, sleepy eyes and tousled hair that was about as far from bed head as it was possible to get. It wasn't even natural how she could wake up looking better than she went to sleep. He'd seen Chloe enough times, just roused and not happy about it, looking in serious need of a comb and a bit of bathroom time, to know that most women just did not roll out of bed looking like Lana Lang.

"Hey," she said softly, smiling at him. She'd shed his sweat shorts for bed and was just in his T-shirt. Granted it hit her about mid-thigh - - but still - - she was wearing nothing but his shirt.

"Morning. I - - uh - - there's coffee." 'And your clothes are dry. Right over there. ' He smiled back, swallowing, trying not to look pointedly at her things next to the radiator.

"It smells wonderful." She complimented and headed towards him instead. He poured her a cup, and she doctored it to her liking while he looked at the hands of the clock and willed them to move faster.

He got himself a second cup, just to have something to do with his hands.

"This is a quiet neighborhood," she remarked, filling his awkward silence. "I didn't get a good look last night, but from what I could see out the bedroom window, it's very nice."

"Yeah. It's an old neighborhood. A lot of retired folks live on the street. I was lucky to get this apartment."

She took another sip, her eyes drifting, as if things other than the state of his street were passing through her head. She sat her cup down and looked back at him solemnly.

"I feel bad for showing up the way I did." She stepped closer, and for a second he found himself looking down at the part of her hair, until she looked up with big, earnest eyes. "You don't know how much I appreciate you letting me stay. Talking with you last night made me feel so much better. You always make me feel so - - safe, Clark."

She leaned in a little, and her fingertips just ghosted the front of his shirt. And for a moment, it felt good, having her look at him that way, having her feel secure in his presence the way he'd always fantasized about when they were younger. If only he'd ever wanted her physically as much as he'd wanted the idea of her mentally, things might have been different.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe he'd never have been really happy without the challenge and the passion of what he had now. Maybe he'd never have been really happy without Lex.

Maybe if he hadn't been in the midst of a quiet panic over Lana he might have heard the back door, might have had time to step away, even at human speeds and put a little distance between them. But then again, he hadn't had a desperate ear out. He'd been expecting Chloe at best. Certainly no other visitor before ten in the morning.

The back door swung open on well-oiled hinges and Clark and Lana both turned in surprise to stare at Lex, who had stopped on the verge of stepping over the threshold, his hand on the knob, his eyes momentarily wide, until he donned a flat look of disinterest.

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck.

"Lex - -" Clark took that desperate step backwards, his own eyes feeling like saucers in his head.

"I'm interrupting." Lex said smoothly, and with patently false sincerity. His gaze traveled slowly over Lana, from her sleep tousled hair to her bare legs protruding from the hem of Clark's T-shirt.

The coffee felt like it was going to come back up.

"No!" Clark said, voice an octave or two higher than normal.

"Lex." Lana said, a tense little smile on her lips. "I didn't know you and Clark were talking again."

"Didn't you?" Lex hadn't looked at Clark yet. He let his gaze drift over now, and there was the flicker of something very cold and very dangerous in the depths of hazel eyes gone decidedly dark.

Clark couldn't think of a damned thing to say, with Lex staring at him with that unforgiving expression and Lana looking between the two with a little furrow of question between her brows.

"Clark?" Lana sidled a little closer to the spot Clark had retreated to, like she was taking up sides in some unspoken war. "Is something wrong?"

He hadn't had the desire to push a girl away so badly since he'd been six and convinced they carried cooties.

Lex lifted a brow, so deeply into the realm of not amused that Clark could practically feel it emanating from his pores.

"I'll let you get back to it, then," Lex said, turned sharply on his heels and headed back across the patio towards the steps.

"Clark," Lana had her hand on his arm with curious concern. "What was that all about?"

He felt a little short of breath. It was a novel experience. Very carefully, he removed her hand. "Listen, I need to - -" 'Chase down Lex and grovel? Try and get in a word of explanation past the jagged ice?' "I just - - I'll be right back."

He left her standing there, and it took everything he had not to use his speed to go after Lex.

As it was, he pelted down the back steps and across the yard to the drive, where Lex had pulled up inside the fence, like he always did, to avoid his cars, with their often-distinctive license plates, being seen from the road. It was an open topped Jaguar convertible today.

Lex was in the car, with the key at the ignition when Clark reached the driver's side door.

"Damnit, Lex, would you just let me explain?" Clark gripped the edge of the windshield, fingers coming close to denting metal.

"Get your hand off my car." Lex said flatly, turning the ignition. The Jaguar purred to life like the fine tuned beast it was.

"Lex, its not what it looked like," Clark cried and realized even as he said it that that was probably the most clich,d 'caught in the act' lines of all time.

Lex gave him a fast, furious look that clearly said, he concurred and jerked the car into reverse. Clark felt the car jerk against him, heard tires spin, and the frame of the windshield did actually buckle a little before he realized he was holding it back.

Damn. Damaging Lex's toys was the way to endearment.

"Get your fucking hand off my fucking car." Lex ground out, an odd little tremor in his voice that you just didn't usually hear from him. His hands were white knuckled on the steering wheel. There were driving gloves on the seat next to him that he hadn't taken the time to put on.

Clark removed his hand, wincing a little at the bend in the frame. There were the faintest spidery cracks in the glass where pressure had been applied.

"Lex, she just showed - -" Was as far as Clark got before the car was shooting backwards.

He was standing close enough that the front tires rolled over his bare toes with an almost comical little lurch. Not that Lex slowed down. He swerved out onto the road with a squealing of tires and came very close to clipping Chloe, who was coming up the drive, from the street where she'd parked.

He stood there red-faced and sick as the Jag tore down the quiet street. Mrs. McClusky's wizened face was clearly pressed to the back window and God knew if Lana were upstairs looking down.

He found that he really didn't care. If it had been a backcountry Smallville road, he'd have gone after Lex already. Metropolis streets weren't exactly conducive for chasing down cars on foot and remaining anonymous.

"So, I'm guessing I'm a few minutes too late?" Chloe said with more sympathy than sarcasm in her tone, which was the only reason Clark didn't glare. She was looking down at his feet, one of which sported a neat set of tire treads.

"That did not just happen," he said numbly.

"Yeah, I think it did." Chloe glanced back towards the street, then up at him. "Do I even want to know what set him off?"

Bad timing? Bad judgment? A total lack of anything resembling courage?

"I gave her one of my shirts to wear - - she was wet last night - - she was standing really close and he walked in."

"Ouch."

"I've gotta go talk to him."

"Then I'll be the bearer of bad news and say I came over to tell you you've got to go and do some emergency research for your senior staffer."

That was as good an excuse as any. He started towards the steps.

"Oh, and you want to hear some news from the world of weird and disturbing?"

He really didn't, attention very firmly fixed on how he was going to mollify Lex, but Chloe went on anyway.

"This hasn't reached the associated press yet, because so far there are no reliable witnesses and just a lot of off the wall hearsay but I got it through the underground grapevine. Yesterday a small town in Mexico was literally swarmed - - biblical sense swarmed - - by local wildlife. Everything from insects, to snakes, spiders, scorpions. Local livestock even went mad. My source doesn't know the details because most of the people who were there are dead or not able to talk, but it seems like a stranger wandered into town and got rousted by the local law and that's how this started."

"Mutant?" Clark stopped mid-way up the steps, interest caught despite himself.

"Sounds like to me. Like Smallville's own junior political wanna be, Bee-girl, but with wider range. Want the kicker? There were reports from neighboring towns of unmarked black helicopters heading towards the disturbance - - government or private sector is anybodies guess - - but an hour later, an anonymous request for emergency assistance went out to the Mexican authorities and when they got there, they found the surviving population of the town out cold, as well as an awful lot of the creepy critters that had gone on the rampage littering the streets. When the animals revived, they were back to normal.

"I would guess, whoever was in those choppers gassed the whole place to take down the meta-human, swiped him up and then called in help."

"How many people died?"

"I don't know." She moved past him on the steps, then stopped on the one above him to look him in the eye. "But I'm looking into it."

When they stepped back into Clark's apartment, Lana had changed back into her own clothing. She greeted Chloe with a surprised smile and a hug.

"What brings you to the big city?" Chloe asked. "Why didn't you call me and let you know you were coming?"

Lana shrugged helplessly. "It was sort of spur of the moment. I just needed to get away for a while."

"That bad?" Chloe winced sympathetically and hugged Lana again. "You can tell me all about it over lunch."

Lana glanced at Clark, who was rooting for sneakers and socks under the coffee table. "Well, I was hoping to spend the day with Clark - -its been so long since we've seen each other - -"

"Well, I'm definitely the bearer of bad news then. I came by to let him know his supervisor is screaming for him to double check some research for the Sunday edition."

"Oh," Lana said softly, and she looked so crestfallen that Clark's gut lurched a little in guilt. Not enough to stray from his course.

"I'm sorry," he said. "If it looks like I might be able to finish up early, I'll give a call. Could you lock up when you leave?"

He palmed his meteorite and backed away, the smile he generally wore when he was lying through his teeth plastered on his face. You'd think Lana would have learned to distinguish it by now.

Maybe she had and was just too polite to call him on it.

Lex was not always entirely predictable when he was in a snit, but today, Clark got lucky.

He was pulling into the private garage under LuthorCorp East when Clark tracked him down. The presence of garage attendants and security were a deterrent from simply running up to him there, so Clark landed on the penthouse balcony and slipped in through the doors that were seldom locked now, what with Clark's occasional unorthodox entrances.

He moved through the darkened penthouse and stopped in the big room that opened off the foyer, stood there shifting from foot to foot, waiting for the elevator to make the trip up from the basement garage.

The doors slid open and Lex was halfway into the elegant, marble-floored entrance before he glanced up and saw Clark in the room beyond.

His pace faltered, and for a split second Clark was afraid he might turn around and walk back out. But apparently Lex had retreated all he was prepared to for one day, for he straightened his shoulders and continued on. Granted he was scowling and his easy pace had turned into a stalk and the keys that hit the table in the foyer by the door were tossed hard enough to make a terrible clatter.

"Don't you have a guest to entertain?" Lex strode right past him with nothing but a brief, narrow glare.

"Would you just let me explain?" Clark exclaimed in exasperation and padded after him.

"I find my tolerance for fiction today is precariously thin." Lex was heading for the bar. "Why don't you go ply Lana with your tales. She always seemed to tolerate them better than I did."

Clark ground his teeth, beginning to get a little irritated himself. This wasn't his fault, damnit and he hadn't 'done' anything to deserve Lex's claws. He thumped the meteor down on the lacquered surface of the bar and diverted Lex's attention with the motion enough to get another word or three in edgewise.

"We didn't 'do' anything. She just showed up and she was crying and wet and what was I supposed to do?"

Lex was still half staring at the rock, as if Clark had plopped a clod of manure on his immaculate bar top, but he tore his gaze away and slowly lifted his eyes to Clark. "So she showed up on your doorstep unannounced, last night?"

"Yes."

"And stayed the night?"

Clark opened his mouth - - shut it and thought there was just no safe way to answer that question. "Yes, but I slept on the couch."

"How gallant," Lex said dryly. "And you even loaned her clothes."

"She was wet."

"Lucky for her, then."

"It not like she planned for it to rain," Clark muttered.

Lex lifted a brow, with that look in his eyes, the imperious one he wore when he was dealing with people whose intelligence levels were trying his patience. "No, that would be ludicrous."

He turned his attention to a decanter of scotch, poured a measure into a cut crystal tumbler and remarked dryly. "You'd better get home, and make sure she's not raiding the rest of your wardrobe."

There was simply no way Clark was coming out ahead in a verbal argument/debate/whatever with Lex. So he did what he was better at, and acted physically, catching Lex as he was heading away from the bar with the half full tumbler of scotch in his hand, wrapping his arms around him from behind.

"God damn it," Lex growled warningly, the drink sloshing across his hand as he struggled against the embrace. For an intelligent man, Lex never had learned to bow to the inevitable. Clark wasn't letting go.

"We talked. That's it. I tried to get in touch with Chloe so she could stay with her, but she had her cell off until this morning. We 'did not' do anything. It never even crossed my mind. The only thing on my mind was that you were going to completely not understand and freak out - - which you didn't and you did - - if I let her stay the night. But she was upset and it was late and raining and I wasn't going to have her driving home at that hour in it - - so I acted the friend and I let her stay. Understand?"

"I'm capable of grasping simple English." Lex said stiffly, but he'd stopped resisting. The length of his body was warm and solid against Clark. The cold ball of tension in Clark's gut began to unravel.

"Yeah, but do you get it? Because sometimes, I don't think you do." Clark rested his chin on Lex's shoulder, cheek against the side of his head. "I don't want her. I want you."

"I don't suppose you made that clear to her?" Lex let himself relax a little, back against Clark.

Clark winced. "Ah - - not exactly. But its not like she's interested in me anymore, anyway."

He felt Lex sigh. "Why did you bring a rock, Clark?"

It took Clark a second to catch up with the abrupt subject change. He glanced down at the meteor on the bar. "Um - - that's sort of for you?"

"You brought me a rock?"

"It's not a just a rock. It's a meteorite. There was a shower last night and I caught this one before it before it could burn up. I thought maybe you'd like it." It sounded marginally silly now that he'd voiced it.

Lex was very still for a moment, then he shifted wanting loose and Clark dropped his arms letting him. Lex stepped back to the bar, put down his drink and picked up the meteor. "You know my luck with meteorites tends to run badly. We can hope this has no residual radiation or lurking alien parasites."

"God," Clark widened his eyes in dismay, not having thought of that at all. "I hope not. I didn't think - -"

"I'm teasing," Lex said dryly and cast Clark the barest trace of a smile. "You caught a falling star for me. I'm not even sure I can come up with off hand, a more poignantly romantic gesture."

"Sooo - - we're okay?" Sometimes interpreting Lex was like trying to find his way through a particularly snarled maze.

Lex took the rock over to the wall of windows facing the patio to examine it better in the light. "I may have overreacted."

"You ran over my foot."

Lex lifted a brow and looked down at Clark's sneakers. He shrugged. "There were images running through my head. I have a vivid and detailed imagination."

Clark laughed a little helplessly. "Yeah, I'm aware."

"Forgive me for making assumptions, when she was standing there, half naked - -"

"She wasn't half naked."

"With her hands all over you."

"They were not. She was thanking me."

"Is that what you call it?" Lex laughed, but he didn't sound really amused.

"Lex, she was thanking me." Clark insisted, because, well, she had been. "She was embarrassed because she'd showed up such a wreck. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend."

"Ah." Lex waved the hand with the rock. "Then that explains it. Of course she'd run to you."

"What does that mean?"

Lex gave him a pitying look. "For a reporter you can be painfully blind to the obvious."

"Damnit, Lex, you 'are' trying to pick a fight." Clark snapped, offended.

Lex stared at him a long moment, as if he were calculating and weighing balances, then he shook his head dismissively and sighed.

"You're right. I am. I'm sorry. I react badly to the perception of threat to the things I hold precious."

Clark had to smile, despite his irritation, because Lex never said the L word, but he found ways around it. In Lex's mind, declarations of love were the surest path to the downfall of a relationship. He had a long line of personal examples, in case argument of the belief was warranted.

Clark stepped a little closer, leaning his shoulder against sun-warmed glass. "That's sweet."

Lex narrowed his eyes and Clark grinned.

Closed the rest of the distance and kissed the frown off Lex's mouth. Just a soft exploration of lips that Lex leaned into with the fingers tips of one hand against Clark's shoulder.

"So what were the plans for today?" Clark asked, pulling back enough to see Lex's eyes without having to cross his own. In the bright mid morning sunlight, the hazel was so clear they were almost blue. "I didn't expect to see you on a Saturday before ten."

"Obviously."

Clark kept waiting, smiling with stubborn pleasantness and Lex relented.

"The Sharks are holding tryouts today at the stadium and I thought you might enjoy it."

Clark blinked. "For real? That would be awesome."

Lex shrugged, as if he were well aware of the brilliance of his plans.

"We can still go, right?" Clark asked, then. "Wait. You were gonna sit through an afternoon of football related activity for me?"

"An hour or two." Lex corrected. "Tops."

"And you weren't even going to take your laptop?" Clark felt his grin widening again.

"Shut up."

Clark crowded in close again, pressing Lex back against the window. Partly because Lex had gained a grudging glint of amusement in his eyes, partly because - - well, he just liked pretty much any part of him touching any part of Lex and the more the better.

"How could you possibly think I could stray from somebody willing to make that sort of sacrifice?"

Lex made a noncommittal sound because Lex could probably come up with a list. Clark dipped his head and kissed him again before he could dwell on it. Lex kissed him back, one hand curling around his neck, fingers treading in his hair. Clever mouth. Clever tongue that dazzled Clark.

"Or" Clark said, when Lex broke for air. "We could stay here and have make-up sex?"

Lex kissed the edge of his jaw. "That wasn't a fight. That barely registered as miscommunication."

"Oh," If Clark tugged just so on the front of Lex's shirt, he could slip his hand up under the hem - - and God, Lex's skin was the best thing ever - - he could spend hours just mapping out territory on cream pale skin. He had. He knew every inch, every stray freckle, every smooth plane of muscle, dip of sinew, curve of flesh. And every time he got Lex naked, he rediscovered it again, like virgin territory newly claimed.

Clark counted himself extraordinarily lucky.

"Or," Lex countered. "We could go and watch the tryouts - - so you'll have bragging rights to your friends Monday - - get lunch at Dempsey's and - - God, Clark - -" Lex thumped the back of his head against the glass as Clark's fingers slipped up under his shirt and found a nipple.

Lex had really sensitive nipples. It pebbled instantly under Clark's touch, a hard little nub that simply begged to be pulled and twisted. Lex's lashes fluttered and his breath grew harsh, the hand in Clark's hair tightening. Clark could feel another burgeoning reaction against his hip. He thought maybe he'd won the make-up sex verses tryout debate without uttering a word.

But then Lex pushed against him, because Lex didn't like being out maneuvered, and looked up at Clark from under his lashes when Clark had reluctantly taken a step back.

"Lunch at Dempsey's and - -" Lex took up where he'd left off, just a little short of breath, a really nice flush on his cheeks. " - - There's a piece of property I want to take a look at in Little Bohemia and then if you want to come back here and fuck, I'm open to suggestion."

Clark almost laughed. Lex generally didn't utilize the term unless he was in the midst of the activity and engaged in the sort of dirty sex talk one might pay a professional to hear, or really pissed off.

Lex lifted a brow and straightened his shirt. Clark stared at the cityscape over Lex's shoulder for a moment, willing his own erection down - - which just wasn't as easy as it sounded when Lex was standing right there, with a kiss reddened mouth and a good deal of collar bone and chest showing where Clark had managed to work loose the top two buttons of his shirt.

"Okay," Clark said, with a martyred sigh. "If I have to go watch my favorite team trolling for new blood - - I'll make the sacrifice. Do you think Cody Rafferty will be there?"

Lex rolled his eyes.

The subject of Lana was only brought up two - - maybe three times during the course of the day, because Lex was incapable of dropping certain things, even if he seemed for all intents and purposes, to have absolved Clark of guilt in the matter. Lex liked to know details. Like what they'd talked about and who this new ex-boyfriend was that had set Lana on a trek to Metropolis.

Clark felt badly uninformed and testily suggested during one such session - - it might have been over lunch at Lex's favorite casual restaurant - - that Lex might want to give Chloe a call if he wanted to know the details of Lana's recent activities, because Clark had his hands too full with his own temperamental boyfriend to have paid attention.

Lex had stared at him for a moment, a piece of lemon and chive poached salmon on his fork, poised halfway between plate and mouth, before he'd decided on amusement over offense. "I was merely interested. It doesn't matter," Lex said lightly and Clark chewed on his lip and felt bad for snapping, before returning his attention back to pork medallions that Lex had sworn up and down were better than steak. They were okay, but there were too many mushrooms and he really preferred his pork fried and smothered in gravy.

It was during dessert - - a glass of white wine and a plate of fresh fruit sorbet for Lex and a slice of chocolate cake with white chocolate sauce for Clark - - that Lex expounded on the merely interested, with the idle comment - - "Was it because you had your hands full here, or that it was too painful to know about what she'd moved on to that kept you from wanting to know the details?"

Which was about the time that Clark figured out that regardless what Lex actually said, it did matter and he was going to hold onto it like a dog with a bone until Clark could figure out some way of convincing him otherwise.

If it wouldn't have made a total scene, he'd have banged his forehead against the tabletop.

By the time they reached the quaint streets of Metropolis' arts district the afternoon shadows were just starting to lengthen. Little Bohemia was a haven for small chic shops, dark restaurants and bars that hosted live jazz and poetry, galleries and bookstores and sidewalk artists and vendors that hawked their talents and wares.

The property Lex was considering was a grand old dame of a building that had to have been one of the city's original landmarks. The stonework was massive and hand detailed, bold with Deco lines.

It sat abandoned now, a pretty piece of architecture taking up vital city space. Lex was strong believer in renovation. LexCorp had a half dozen developments in progress in the city, the new paving under the old. But apparently one of Lex's VP's, a man with a soft spot of fine old architecture had brought Lex pictures of the old Hawthorn building and a prospectus that involved restoration instead of demolishing. Retail space on the ground level and fourteen floors of high-end city living above that would appeal to those young urban professionals who had a taste for the bohemian lifestyle - - or at least the luxurious appearance of it.

Lex had a key to the building, and had come on his own to make a judgment call without architects and advisors and sycophants trying to sell the project. Clark's he didn't mind.

"I like it." Clark said, peering through the gloom of a great marble floored lobby, with massive columns supporting a second floor landing where the doors of what looked to be very old elevators sat. There was lots of stonework and hammered brass. "But, it smells like a urinal."

"I would imagine," Lex said, wandering down a set of steps leading to what have been a large ballroom area. His voice echoed in the vast unoccupied space. "That various homeless have found their way in from time to time. The building has been vacant for the last decade. It's a wonder its in the good shape it is."

"Considering when it was built," Clark stood under a great brass and cut stone mosaic on the wall over the front doors, staring up at the clock in the center that had long stopped the telling of time. "It's in really good shape. Did you see this?"

Lex glanced back, from the doorway to the ballroom. "They built things better back then for a fraction of the cost. Reproducing something like this now - - yes, that's very nice - - would be cost prohibitive."

Lex's pocket chirped, and he pulled out his phone, frowned momentarily at the number, then said. "I need to take this." He moved into the ballroom, out of Clark's line of normal vision.

Clark stood for a moment longer, thinking that if Lex tore this building down, it would be almost a criminal act. The city had few enough of its old gems left because it was easier and cheaper to simply bulldoze them and build new cardboard cutouts. It might make a decent story, the plight of the city's history via modernization.

Thinking of work, made him think of Chloe and thinking of Chloe had him wondering how she was making out with Lana. If he was lucky she'd talked sense in to her and Lana was on her way back to Smallville. He pulled his own cell out and hit Chloe's number on his speed dial.

After a few rings, she picked it up.

"Hey. You get things cleared up?" Chloe liked to cut right to the meat of the matter.

"Hello to you, too," he said, kicking a bit of brittle paper debris out of his way on the staircase leading to the elevator landing. "Pretty much. How about you? Did she tell you what was going on?"

He stood at the railing overlooking the lobby. There were really tall, narrow windows with leaded glass panes on either side of the big brass mosaic. He imagined the place bustling with people when it was sparkling new in the 30's.

"Yeah. Mostly." Chloe lowered her voice a little and Clark could hear the sound of her moving, maybe putting a little distance between her and someone else overhearing the conversation. "We're covering it in bits and pieces. But the brunt of it was - - he asked her to marry him."

"Really?" Clark blinked, wondering if maybe he ought to feel more devastated by that news. Once upon the time the mere thought of Lana Lang even considering going on a date with another guy was enough to send him into a bout of depression. What Lex had asked at the restaurant hadn't been totally off the mark. Clark had avoided her because he didn't want to know who she was dating and how happy she was doing it. A lot of years of avoiding her because he hadn't wanted to feel that way again - - and maybe it had just become habit after a while, because right now, he almost felt relief.

"That's a bad thing?" he asked warily.

Chloe sighed. "Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but Lana's had a lot of bad experiences with guys she thought she could trust - - and right now she's in the middle of a major panic attack over committing to man and maybe having it backfire on her one more time."

"There's a right way to take that?" he asked wryly, but he knew he'd been first and foremost among those guys - - he'd never meant to hurt her, but there had just been so many reasons why he had, one way or another. Lies would do that. The ones he'd told her to protect himself and the one's he'd told himself in efforts to deny the things he'd really wanted.

"We're still talking," Chloe whispered. "But she keeps hinting around about calling you and seeing when you think you'll be getting home. She's baring her soul to me, but I really think she wants your shoulder to cry on."

He shut his eyes and grimaced. "Listen, can you just tell her that I had to - - I dunno - - drive to Edge city for research and had to stay the night?"

"Yeah, I can tell her that," Chloe said, but she didn't sound happy about it. "But, you really need to fess up and tell her you're seeing somebody, even if you don't tell her who. Otherwise I can just see the hole you're digging getting deeper and deeper."

"Yeah, I can see that too." He said softly.

He stood there a while after he'd hung up, wondering why he hadn't told Lana last night. The same reason he hadn't told his mother? Because if he admitted he was in a relationship, they'd want to know with who and how long and all the relevant details that he just wasn't sure he was up to selling when he was afraid of the truth.

He loved Lex more than he'd loved anything in his life, but he couldn't just step up and cry it from the rooftops. He couldn't even whisper it in one old yellow farmhouse to the second most important person for fear of what she would think of him because of it. So maybe Lex was right to be suspicious of the depths of Clark's commitment.

He swallowed and looked the way Lex had gone, listening for the sound of movements, the beat of his heart. He heard it, steady and strong, along with the soft sound of footfalls, and the occasional crumple of debris on the floor as Lex moved through accumulated trash paper.

There was an echoing thud of heartbeat and Clark frowned, separating out the distinct sound of a second pulse. He focused his vision, cutting through stone and plaster, finding Lex at the far end of a huge room, near a stack of piled furniture and debris. There was a second figure amidst the tangled forest of chairs and desks, that growled and lunged - -

Clark was there. With out even thinking, his own heart thudding in panic. He put himself between Lex and a wild eyed, grey bearded old man, who'd surged up out of the nest he'd made in the furniture, a mostly empty bottle of cheap wine in his hand.

Lex made a soft, surprised sound behind him, and the old man, who stank of alcohol and sweat and urine stared with wide, shock filled eyes at Clark's sudden appearance. With an incoherent curse, the man staggered away, scrambling to a dark hallway not far away and likely the broken window he'd used to get in.

"Have you completely lost your mind?" Lex hissed at him, stalking around to glare. "Or were you hoping to get a front page outing?"

Clark took a breath, scanning the building for other occupants. There was just the old man, squirming out an alley-facing window.

"He could have had a knife." Clark shuddered, imagining not being fast enough to prevent a blade sliding into Lex's flesh. It made his stomach turn and his mouth go dry.

"He had a bottle of Mad Dog," Lex snapped, angry. "And I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself - - certainly against an unarmed old drunk."

"Sorry," Clark muttered, not feeling very sorry at all. "It's not like anyone would believe him - - if he even remembers in an hour."

"Don't be sorry. Be careful." Lex stalked off, towards the exit, pulse a little faster than normal. Scared. But not of the surprise the old vagrant had given him. Scared of the threat of Clark's exposure. Clark was sorry for that. Lex worried as much as his parents ever had.

Maybe he had more reason, having a better grasp of the dangers curious men with power represented when faced with the unknown.

"Lex," Clark trailed him out the building, stood there shifting on the sidewalk while Lex relocked the big, brass entrance, for all the good it did since the homeless seemed to have their own way in. "I saw him move at you and I just acted, okay?"

"Okay," Lex said and smiled but there was this sharp edge beneath the surface of it. This little curl of tension. Like he wasn't close to okay and that didn't make sense - - because it really hadn't been that big a deal, the thing with the vagrant. And whatever unease Lex was feeling about the Lana thing he'd been smooth at covering. Well, mostly, but it had been a different sort of upset.

"Is something wrong?" Clark asked, when they were back in the car and pulling out into Saturday afternoon traffic. Lex flashed him a quick look and looked back to the road.

"Why would it be? Like you said - - gut instinct. I can't fault you for that, can I?" All honey smooth voice and casual dismissal and Clark knew him way too well to buy it.

He could keep asking and Lex could keep dancing around the subject, and Lex was a better dancer by far than him. If Lex didn't want to talk, then Clark damn well wasn't going to make him by pestering.

Clark leaned back and shut his eyes, listening to the sound of the city passing by. He wasn't Lex and the not knowing of a thing wouldn't eat at him until it consumed him. His curiosity wasn't that overwhelming. And he was not quite certain this was about him at all. Lex had been leaking those little traces of anxiety that most of the world never picked up on, but Clark knew like the back of his hand, since Thursday. He'd been mostly okay after they'd left the penthouse though - - until that call.

They didn't talk all the way back to LuthorCorp East. The ride up the elevator was silence, Clark leaning against the back wall, Lex standing dead center, hands idly at his side, staring fixedly at their mutated reflections in the gleaming brass of the doors. Clark stared at the straight line of Lex's back, jacketless in the summer heat, all lean contours, and wondered what Lex was really seeing.

He trailed Lex into the penthouse, through the big formal room off the elevator that Lex never used and into the more comfortable living space that he'd refurbished because Clark had made a heat of the moment comment about the starkly uncomfortable lines of the designer furniture that had graced it like pieces of utilitarian modern art.

Sometimes Lex's desire to accommodate bordered on the obsessive. Especially taken into context with those other times when he went out of his way to breed discomfort.

"So," Clark said, because there came a point where even the most comfortable silence began to feel like a weapon. "The weather today was great, huh?"

Lex turned and gave him a look. A flash of narrowed eyes. Irritated maybe. But maybe not, because he closed the distance in two long strides, snagged Clark by the T-shirt and kissed him. Open mouthed and hungry. And if sucking Clark's tongue into his mouth was a new method of expressing irritation, Clark was all for it.

Clark's back hit the wall, Lex leaning into him full body, Lex's fingers practically ripping thin cotton and the movements of Lex's mouth absolutely no nonsense. He still sort of tasted like the fruity sorbet he'd had for dessert and the subtle hint of sweat under the scent of his cologne was enough to make Clark want to drag the both of them down to the floor, spread Lex out under him and lick a swath across all that fragrant, pale skin.

Lex broke the kiss, air deprived and flushed, eyes gone dark and full of purpose. Just sex on two legs when he looked like that, and Clark made a little sound in his throat, and lunged towards him again, wanting intimate contact back. Got his mouth on Lex's throat, sucking at the pulse, while Lex's hands clenched at his shoulders, body arching against Clark's.

Then he took a breath, pushed himself off Clark without breaking his hold on Clark's shirt and pulled him towards the bedroom. Down the hall with the door to Lex's study to the left and some unspecified room to the right and the wide entrance of the master suite yawned.

Clark caught Lex by the waist, spinning him around at the threshold, drawing him back in for another kiss, ravenous for the taste of him, now that Lex had stoked the hunger. Ravenous for the feel of his skin, fingers tugging at the edges of Lex's thin summer silk shirt to get it untucked so he could get his hands on the flesh underneath.

He started moving them towards the bed, an odd little give and take, bumbling dance, because neither of them were paying attention to the path their feet were taking. Clark had his eyes closed anyway, because Lex was sucking on the soft skin behind his jaw and when Lex did that, thoughts sort of scattered.

"No," Lex said, and pulled Clark to stop, halting bed ward progression. Clark didn't understand exactly, his cock hard as diamond in his jeans and the bed seeming the best place to take care of the condition.

"No?" It sounded a little like a whine - - but really, Lex didn't seem to be exactly with the program.

"Shower." Lex wriggled to extricate himself from the body meld Clark had them in, and shoved him towards the bathroom.

It seemed a waste of time, since they'd just have to shower later again anyway - - but if Lex wanted to start off with a joint bout under the water, Clark was game. He'd never realized showers could be quite so entertaining until he'd starting taking them at Lex's where the stall was big enough for six people. Or two very energetic ones.

Besides, Lex had this look underneath the sex haze that darkened his eyes, that still had that hint of something - - taut and edgy - - like he was looking towards the prospect of the shower to wash off more than the accumulated sweat of a summer day.

It stalled Clark's libido, made him grasp at Lex's arm and stop him at the door, staring down with blatant concern.

"What's wrong?"

Lex canted his head, a faint line between his brows. Pretending not to understand.

That nagging worry was starting to bloom. It had to be more than the Lana thing, but usually Lex was damned efficient at not carrying LexCorp problems into personal time - - like there was very little that could come up that he knew the reach of his power and wealth couldn't deal with.

"Nothing's wrong, Clark. C'mon - -"

"Liar." Clark said it gently, laid his palms flat on the door either side of Lex's shoulders.

Lex met his eyes, unflinching, stared for a long moment, as if he were picking apart the inner workings of Clark's mind. "If I hadn't stopped by this morning," he asked calmly. "Would you have told me about Lana sleeping over?"

Clark blinked, off guard. He hated - - absolutely hated - - when Lex did that. He had to think it over though, anyway.

"No?" Lex asked, when Clark didn't answer right away.

"Not because I'd done anything wrong," Clark said defensively.

"Just easier to avoid trouble with a carefully applied non-disclosure."

Clark swallowed. His thoughts exactly and how this had gotten turned around on him, he wasn't quite sure. "Yeah - - "

"Easier to avoid misunderstandings."

"Yeah." He admitted warily.

"Okay, then. I won't fault you for it," Lex's fingers rose to the buttons of his shirt, slipping them though button holes, one by one, revealing hints of the lean curve of his chest beneath. "If you won't fault me."

Which was all fine and good, and God, he loved Lex and trusted Lex implicitly in some things, but in others - - well, Lex simply wasn't Boy Scout material and Clark wishing otherwise didn't make a damn bit of difference and - - maybe he didn't want to know after all.

It was hard to concentrate anyway, when Lex was shrugging the shirt off his shoulders, silk sliding down his arms to drop carelessly on the floor. Hard to consider all sorts of things when Lex was unbuckling his belt and shedding his pants, a whisper of silk and wool that was like foreplay. Slow and sensual like Lex got off on the feel of fine material sliding across his skin and wanted to savor the sensation.

Clark's jeans were so tight it almost hurt. Finding fault with a naked Lex, who trailed the back of his hand tauntingly across the front of Clark's jeans before he stepped towards the shower, was patently impossible.

Clark couldn't get naked fast enough. He stepped into the shower, shut the frosted door behind him and crowded close to Lex, close enough almost that their bodies touched, but not quite.

"Okay," he said, trying not to look down, because once he looked down he'd have to touch and he wanted to get this out first. "But you know I'm here for you, right? Even if it's just to vent about some business thing that I won't really understand or some project that went south or whatever. If you think you're trying to shield me from something - - you don't need to."

"Like you try to shield me?" Lex asked.

"From things like knives and bullets, Lex. You're a little more vulnerable in that department than me."

Lex smiled at him, one corner of his mouth twitching up. He turned on the water and shuddered when it sprayed down, initially cool. Clark grinned, not feeling the discomfort at all.

He fumbled for the soap, used it liberally, sharing with Lex, and hands slid over slippery flesh with no resistance.

Lex's mouth locked on his shoulder, and God their cocks were slipping against each other, little flares of sensation and Clark's hands gripped Lex's hips, wanting to grind him up close, create more delicious friction.

Lex slid down instead, a press of wet, utterly smooth body down the length of his. Clark's breath hitched, the whole of his body prickling as Lex mouthed his way down his stomach, to the trail of hair that began below his navel, soft lips detouring to his hip, teeth nipping not so gently at angled bone and muscle.

Lex settled on his knees, dipping under the insistent bob of Clark's cock to lap water off the tightening skin of his balls, before he sucked one into his mouth. And God - - just fuck damn Lex God - - Clark couldn't stop the roll of words, couldn't stop his head from thumping against the imported tile of the stall, maybe cracking a few expensive squares - - because again - - God. Lex.

Lex's tongue was brushed velvet and the inside of his mouth was slippery satin and as awesome as it felt caressing Clark's balls, Clark knew it would feel so much better wrapped around his cock - - if he could survive the foreplay, he'd be in heaven.

He moaned, arching against Lex a little, curling his hands into fists until the initial desperate need surged through him. He didn't like his too powerful hands on Lex's skull when he was in the throes of mindless want. Bad enough he left bruises on the rest of Lex, crushed skulls were the things of nightmares.

Lex's hands slid up the outside of his thighs, one hand circling around, fingers slithering up the crevice of his ass. Long, tapered fingertip circling his clenched hole. Teasing.

Lex let the nut slip from his mouth, licked a leisurely trail up the underside of Clark's erection, following the line of the big vein up to the uncut tip. His free hand circled the shaft, tugging the loose skin down, revealing the shiny red head, weeping evidence of Clark's need.

Clark braced his legs to keep his knees from buckling. Couldn't take his eyes off Lex studying him, the cant of that pale head, skin beaded with water, as Lex considered how best to drive Clark out of his mind. When his eyes flicked up, dark pupils surrounded by circles of blue-grey, there was nothing behind them but want. Clark almost came from the look. From the glimpse of Lex's hard, flushed cock jutting up from between his legs, untouched and awaiting its turn.

"God - - Lex - - please - -"

Lex liked it when he begged.

The tip of Lex's tongue darted out, catching the bead of precome that the water hadn't washed away, and Clark's eyes rolled back in their sockets, all the breath stalled in his lungs, all the blood throbbing through his veins at what felt like double speed.

When Lex slipped his lips over the head, sucking gently, infusing Clark with the luxurious, wet warmth of his mouth, Clark whimpered and shut his eyes.

The warmth disappeared.

"Look at me," Lex said softly. "I want you to watch."

Clark opened his eyes, blinking water from his lashes. Lex smiled, parted his lips and took Clark in again. Clark watched in shell-shocked fascination at the languorous way his cock disappeared and reemerged between Lex's pink lips. The way Lex never broke eye contact while he slowly fucked his mouth upon Clark's cock.

Not until Clark began to gasp and shudder, body tensing all over in that tell tale tightening surge before orgasm, and then Lex picked up the pace, lashes flickering down a little as he took as much of Clark as he could. With Lex's hand snug at the root and his throat convulsively clenching around the tip, Clark almost forgot how to breathe.

He cried out, breathless opened mouthed sobs, a dark wave of release and kaleidoscopic sensation. Wild thrusts into Lex's mouth and Lex held onto his hips with both hands and obligingly swallowed him deep, accepting it all. Nuzzling him still as Clark softened in his mouth.

Clark slumped afterwards, drained, strengthless as only really good orgasm could make him. Knelt on the tiles next to Lex, just breathing, trying to get his mind to work again while Lex idly stroked wet hair off his forehead, licked water off his cheeks with soft swipes of his tongue.

"Love you," Clark whispered, hoarse and overwhelmed, voicing things he knew Lex wouldn't voice back and not caring, because he understood. Lex shivered and leaned into him, soft kiss on his forehead, soft kisses on his eyelids and down to his lips, answering in a different way.

Clark's hand drifted down Lex's ribs, across his abdomen to his hard cock. Lex drew breath, rising up a little, straddling Clark's thighs, pressing himself against Clark's belly.

"My turn?" Clark murmured.

"No. My turn again." Teeth caught at the skin behind Clark's jaw. Shivery, tickly sensation, then Lex ghosted his lips across his ear and whispered. "Turn around."

For someone who functioned perfectly well on a fraction of the rest human beings required to survive, Clark took a great deal of pleasure from the act of sleep. He could fall into slumber at the drop of a hat, and stay that way, happily devoid of disturbing dreams, for hours.

Lex, who physically needed the sleep, who felt the lack of in his bones or that space behind his eyes, often found it as elusive as that fabled streak of perfect luck.

He lay for a long while in the curve of Clark's body, while Clark's breathing slowed and Clark's limbs relaxed around him. Long, hard muscle, perfect body, incalculable, casual strength that Clark was always so very, very careful of. So very careful of Lex. Like he was breakable and valuable in ways that Lex never considered himself to be.

He could stay there forever, in that warm embrace, protected - - cherished - - and it had been such a long time since he'd felt either, before Clark, that it was hard to imagine the permanency of this. Hard not to, when Clark talked about forever's. Hard not to sometimes think that maybe, just maybe, Clark wasn't the na<ve one.

And other times, when Lex was morose, and feeling masochistic, he doubted it could last, because eventually Clark would come to his senses. Then he'd fall into darker musings and consider ways of assuring as much permanency as he could. Less than honest ways.

He'd dislike himself after. Hate how easy it was to fall into mental patterns that he'd tried hard to escape. But sometimes it was just so simple to walk the line or consider bending - - shattering - - the rules altogether when something precious was at stake. Because Lex never had learned to surrender to inevitability. And once he'd laid a claim, he never gave it up.

And what the fuck was Lana Lang hoping to accomplish? She was in for a rude awakening if she thought Clark was in any way still an option for rebound comfort. Lex ground his teeth and wallowed a little in the comfortable knowledge that yes, he was jealous and that no, he wouldn't hesitate in the least at ruining her if she tread on his territory.

Of course, his righteous indignation over the whole ridiculous situation would have been better served if Lana actually had a clue she was trespassing. He couldn't entirely fault her for approaching Clark when she thought he was a free agent. And he couldn't fault Clark for not telling, when there was so much at risk if the fact that he was sleeping with Lex, became public knowledge

Clark's reputation mattered to him. The security of Clark's secret did. So maybe Lex didn't mind Clark not telling her.

And maybe there were more reasons than the obvious ones. Maybe he was okay with the secrecy because this mattered more than all the affairs that had littered the society pages and the gossip rags and if it became known, if it was out there, this concrete acknowledged thing, and then it went away, it would be all the more devastating.

He shook himself out of it. Lana Lang, if not the least of his problems, was considerably less volatile than the other headache inducing complications he was presently dealing with.

He slipped out from under Clark's arm, and Clark stirred a little, dragged a pillow close and settled again. Lex let the edge of a smile grace his mouth. It faded as soon as he left the bed. He grabbed a light robe and padded through the darkened apartment to the living room.

The phone had been off since he and Clark had come back from Little Bohemia. He'd heard all he needed to at the Hawthorn building and feared Clark overhearing any follow up reports.

Eight dead at the outskirts of Austin. Three of them his people, one meta-human and four innocents, caught in the backlash of something that simply shouldn't have happened. Something that should have been safely confined under strict supervision.

They'd retaken three of the escapees alive. The one in Austin hadn't been so lucky. He hadn't given them the choice. A bullet to the brain had efficiently stopped the rampage, when tranqs and other containment measures had not.

Lex turned on his cell and checked for messages. Listened to the reports that the Austin authorities had found the four civilian bodies and were combing the scene for evidence. They wouldn't find any. His people were good. Those deaths would end up unsolved, families never knowing the why or the how, or the fact that the killer had met justice the quick, high caliber way.

It made him feel cold again. And dirty. The anger was a given. To a certain degree, the mutants couldn't help themselves. Extreme cases of Kryptonite mutation almost inevitably fucked with the mind. The sons of bitches that had let them go - - Them he could blame. He could lay those deaths on their shoulders because they sure as hell weren't on his.

Clark's friends. Who Clark wouldn't tell him the names of, but who Clark insisted were trying to do good - - were trying to protect people who couldn't protect themselves. As if locking up undeniably dangerous meta-human threat wasn't protecting the masses.

But then again, Clark was in a bad position and Lex knew it. Clark was on the outskirts of their little clique, at best. Clark didn't feed them information on Lex's activities any more than he shared their secrets with Lex. And Lex trusted that if Clark did have problems he'd come to him first and give him the chance to explain. They'd come a long way in that respect.

Clark actually listened and Lex went out of his way not to engage in things that Clark would find unforgivable. It was a fair trade. And honestly, Lex would have given so much more to keep Clark happy.

And it might come to the point where he had to explain this little fiasco to Clark, but not if he could help it. Iquique had been designed as a containment facility, but that hadn't been its sole purpose and Clark wouldn't understand and he wouldn't condone the things that had happened there before Lex had started overhauling certain prime directives. He might not understand the measures it took sometimes to keep control of a woman who could bend the minds of the people around her, or a man that could absorb the properties of any substance he touched.

Lex moved to the windows looking out over the broad terrace, and the silhouettes of the sleeping city beyond. There was nothing to obscure the view, no building as tall as LuthorCorp East save for its twin that stood rooted one block west. If he went out on the balcony, and leaned over the rail, he could see the lights of traffic that never seemed to completely dry up in the city. Crawling below like bugs in a maze.

He rested his forehead against the glass, recognizing the fact that the way his thoughts were circling tonight, sleep wouldn't come easy. A drink or four might help, but he didn't want to go back to bed smelling of alcohal when he hadn't started out the night that way. Clark's obtuseness never seemed to work at the times that most benefited Lex. He didn't want to have to concoct another excuse - - he hated traveling that path. It was so easy for excuses and half-truths to bloom into full-fledged lies and they'd had too many of them between them in the past.

He went back to the bedroom. Shed the robe and slid under the sheet next to Clark. Lay for a long time, listening to the steady sound of Clark's breathing, soaking up the absolute peaceful stillness of his body at rest, until finally - - finally, it began to catch.

Light had long since started coloring the horizon by the time he drifted to sleep.

And came awake what seemed mere minutes later as the bed dipped, and something wet and soft tickled the immediate area of his ear. He growled in annoyance and instinctively reached for a pillow to protect against the irritation.

The warm wet something traveled down his chest, lazy and slow leaving little tingling prickles in its wake.

Lex drifted closer to unwelcome awareness. But the warmth wasn't entirely unpleasant, most certainly when it drifted lower still. The heat compressed, a lethargic brand of pleasure that eased up under his skin, until it reached his lashes. He lifted the edge of the pillow and pried his eyes open enough to focus fuzzily on the dark head presently bent over his hips.

As ways to wake up went, this held an unparalleled place at the top of the list - - but God, hadn't he just gotten to sleep? And really, Clark's mouth was undeniably the hottest part of him and his ability to deep throat without the hint of a gag reflex was an enviable and treasured skill. It was enough to unerringly wake certain parts of Lex, even if his head wasn't quite up to full operating capacity.

"What time is it?"

Asking questions - - blatantly unrelated to oral sex questions - - proved not to be the sharpest of tactics, since it led to Clark lifting his head and grinning up at him, that big, beautiful, Cheshire cat smile of his that showed off the sharp points of his fangs. Lex felt cold and bereft at the departure of mouth from cock.

"Eight-thirty. I'm starved."

Which was certainly no unusual state for Clark to wake up in, in every sense of the word. Clark generally awoke horny and hungry and eager to embark on the satiation of both. And early. Did he mention early? Because God knew if Lex were left to his rathers, Sunday mornings would have seen him comfortably ensconced in bed till considerably closer to noon.

Lex made an unhappy sound and Clark's pink tongue slid out to lick at his lips, before he bent back down. Wet lips sucking in the head of Lex's cock, big hands on his hips and - - oh, God.

Lex lost focus, and it had nothing to do with sleep-hazed minds this time. Everything to do with Clark's perfect, perfect mouth.

Clark pulled away again, sucked at Lex's hip and worked his way southward, worming his way up to lie full length atop Lex, the hard length of his erection pressing against Lex's abandoned cock. Clark weighed a ton, but when he shifted his hips hard stomach grinding against Lex's erection, easy breathing became a secondary concern.

"Its Sunday," Lex gasped, not one to let go of a righteous complaint, even if he were seeing stars. "You know, day of rest?"

"You don't believe in rest," Clark said, nibbling at the tip of Lex's chin. "And I don't think they meant sleeping in till noon with that whole 'day of rest' thing."

Or getting up before nine and fucking the morning hours away - - but then, semantics.

Lex shifted, getting his legs out from under Clark, which let Clark settle more comfortably between them and lined them up oh, so nicely. He arched up, not dislodging Clark in the least - - because Clark wasn't going to be dislodged until Clark was good and ready, but it did send a sweet little buzz of sensation through his lower regions.

Clark made a breathy sound, apparently getting some of that too, and blew out a breath against Lex's neck. He nuzzled Lex's ear and soft hair brushed his cheek. He still smelled of the shampoo he'd used last night and Lex shut his eyes and inhaled. Splayed his fingers out over the landscape of muscle on Clark's back and enjoyed the scent and the weight and the slick feel of Clark's cock pressed up tight against his own.

Perfect fit. Perfect body. Perfect honesty when they lay like this, skin to skin.

His. Just - - his.

Clark's lips moved down his neck, big hand traveling down his hip, curling under Lex's thigh and sliding leisurely back to his knee. Lex obligingly spread his thighs wider, encouraging that line of thought.

A sharp nip at his collarbone, and Clark was rocking against him. Lex heard himself make a sound, needy and low - - the little stab of pain and the grind of warm pleasure a heady mix. Clark came back up and met his mouth, warm thrust of tongue in tandom to the grind of his body, fingers sliding around Lex's wrists, pinning him down as he moved. Urgent slide of bodies and it was too early in the morning to prolong it - - it only took a few hard thrusts and Clark was shuddering, coming, gasping Lex's name like a new religion. The squirt of heat on his stomach, the press of Clark's hands on his wrists and Lex was tumbling right after him.

A long, dark fall into bliss. Mind pleasantly blank. Body reeling. If he lay there long enough, drifting in post-sex lethargy, he might very well be able to fall back asleep.

But with a kiss, Clark rolled off and without body heat to warm it, the sticky wetness on his stomach turned rapidly cool and uncomfortable. Lex forced a breath through his teeth, cracked his lids and watched Clark stride naked to the bathroom. It was a fantastic view.

"So I was thinking," Clark said through the door. "CrackerJack's for breakfast. Its scrapple Sunday."

Lex shut his eyes again and groaned. The only thing conceivably worse than an all you could eat buffet and the horrifying array of germs contaminating it from the varied hands that passed its public food troughs, was the thought of chopped bits of discarded meat product packed together, formed into a loaf and consumed.

"Or, we could have something sent up? As much fried pork as you want." Lex suggested hopefully.

"Oh, come on," Clark said, sounding happily undeterred. "You know how hard it is to find scrapple in the city? And there was asparagus with lunch yesterday. Asparagus. So you owe me."

He heard the sound of the shower and the slice of Clark he'd been able to see disappeared inside the stall.

"I don't owe you enough to pick up Ebola from a buffet," Lex muttered.

"That's a myth," Clark yelled in over the sound of the water, having apparently picked up the complaint. "And you couldn't get it anyways and you can order off the menu."

Other than flat out refusing to go, he wasn't budging Clark from his quest for scrapple with simple logic or cautionary tales of culinary - - and he used the term liberally in this case - - disaster.

Lex could surrender gracefully, if he had to. And there were perks to be had from capitulation.

He slipped into the shower with Clark and collected a few.

Dressed down afterwards - - a good deal afterwards - - for breakfast. Summer silk shirt and jeans, because half the places Clark loved to eat, tended to be on the lower rent side of town and Armani and Rolex were just invitations to bad service and attempted robbery.

Besides which, the jeans were guaranteed to distract Clark, who apparently had a thing for denim that went beyond its practicality for farm work. Or maybe it was just the rarity of Lex in soft pre-faded blue that agitated him. Clark liked to touch and Lex spent most of the ride down from penthouse to garage against the elevator wall with Clark's tongue in his mouth and Clark's hands stroking his thighs.

It was a wonder either one of them could walk straight when the elevator doors opened on the private garage and the always grim face of the permanent security stationed there.

"The black 911, Jerry." Lex headed towards the Porsche with Clark on his heels.

The attendant returned with the keys from the security station.

"Will there be anything else, Mr. Luthor?" The man's eyes flicked behind him, to Clark, and the faint disapproval had nothing to do with the fact that Clark was sleeping with him and everything to do with the fact that Lex insisted on leaving proper security behind when the two of them were together. It was the only reason Lex let him get away with it.

"That'll be all."

The man nodded, too professional to let his frustration at not being able to properly carry out his job function show.

Lex tossed Clark the keys. "You know the way. You drive."

The keys were snatched out of the air with a wide, white grin.

"We need to make a quick stop by my place. I've been wearing these clothes for two days now. But it's on the way." Clark said, as if Lex might be concerned at the delay in reaching the scrapple buffet.

Lex idly checked messages while Clark drove. There were no updates on the mutant manhunt front. A few business related calls that he saved to listen to later. He put the phone in the compartment behind the gearshift, adjusted his sunglasses and relaxed back into the seat while Clark drove.

They got onto the subject of Clark actually buying a car, if for nothing more than appearances sake, when they passed a beat up old ford mustang, with panels from at least two other different cars on the passenger side, with a for sale sign in the window. It immediately appealed to Clark's inner redneck.

Since the probability of him being able to convince Clark to accept a gift vehicle on any terms were astronomically low, Lex didn't even bother to tweak his frustration levels and attempt it. Instead they launched into a debate over domestic vs. foreign, practicality vs. aesthetics and the all-important issue of budget. Clark was barely managing his bills now on the salary of a first year reporter. Anything he could remotely afford was going to be a piece of crap. With no credit history to his name getting a loan would also be difficult.

"Get your mother to co-sign," Lex suggested. "You'll get better rates with a secure loan. It's what most kids do, with that first big purchase."

"I wouldn't want to ask her. We've had some credit problems with the farm and some of dad's old hospital bills and - - well, it would be really embarrassing for her if there were a problem."

Lex rolled his eyes behind his glasses because these conversations where Clark moaned about money and absolutely refused to take a cent of his, were entirely annoying. "Then get me to co-sign. No credit problems. Promise."

Clark cast him a speculative look. "You know, I have this picture in my head, of you coming in with me to co-sign for some three grand clunker and the loan officer just falling down in a dead faint."

Lex returned the look over the rims of his glasses. "If you're going to use your imagination - - splurge. Five grand clunker at the very least. Do it. Let's go get something today." There was no shopping like car shopping, even if it were for something he wouldn't be caught dead in.

"Lex, I can't just go buy a car spur of the moment. I've got to figure out my budget and shop around - - maybe do some research."

"You sound like your mother. Where's your sense of adventure?"

Clark snorted, grinning.

There was a little green Honda in the driveway of Clark's brownstone when they pulled up, so Clark had to park down the block on the side of the street. It was a prime spot though, under the shade of a big elm that had been there long enough that the sidewalk had buckled up under the bulk of its roots. Most of the sidewalk was speckled with shade from trees planted at intervals down its length.

They climbed the back stairs and Clark unlocked the door. Lex was close enough on his heels that when Clark came to an abrupt stop, he came close to colliding with his back. He stepped back, to see what had brought Clark to a standstill and saw Lana Lang slipping down from the barstool at the kitchen counter, an embarrassed little smile on her face.

She was good at it, too, looking genuinely abashed. Soft hair falling artlessly about her shoulders, flawless skin, big innocent eyes that could snare even the coldest heart. Vague images of her falling headfirst down the back stairs, thin limbs flailing, flittered across his mind.

He shut down that line of thought and pasted a coolly pleasant expression on his face while Clark stumbled over himself trying to adjust to the shock of her presence. Or maybe her presence combined with Lex's presence was what had him stammering out her name.

"L - - Lana - - hey. Ah - - what are you - ?"

"Doing here?" She bit her lip, casting her eyes down in a faultless moment of shame. She held up a thin gold chain and smiled. "Sorry. I realized I'd left this - - and I told that nice Mrs. McClusky I was an old friend and she was sweet enough to let me in."

Of course the old bitch had. It was only Lex she hated with a passion.

"Yes, what's a little breaking and entering among old friends?" Lex asked smoothly, leaning against the doorframe.

Lana started a little, as if she'd been trying to ignore the fact that he was standing right there, and her eyes flicked to him sharply, some of the softness she'd held for Clark getting a hard edge when she looked at him. "Like you've never bypassed things like personal privacy and gone where you weren't wanted?"

She asked it so softly it was almost as if there were no bitterness at all in the statement/question. Clark might have missed it entirely, never quite having shed those Lana sized blinders he'd worn most of his life.

And oh, yes, she remembered quite vividly, it seemed, the less than pleasant set of circumstances surrounding her breakup with Lex. After which, if one wanted to be accurate in the account of personal histories, and Lex did like his historical accuracies, she'd run right back to Clark.

The discomfort Clark was emitting was so strong, Lex could practically feel it. He did not look back at Lex. Lex thought he was probably afraid to. Good.

"So, I thought you were hanging out with Chloe?" Clark managed to find his voice.

"I was," Lana turned her eyes back to Clark and stood there with her little hands curled around each other, nervous and uncertain. It set Lex's teeth on edge. "But she had to meet with a source, so I thought I'd come over here and see if you were back from your assignment."

"Uh - - yeah. I got back this morning and um - - ran into Lex." He glanced back at Lex and a half blind fool could have picked up on the blatant way his eyes screamed lies. Lana was a lot of things, but she wasn't a fool.

Lex lifted a brow dryly and refused to help with the alibi. Let Clark dig his own grave with inept fabrications. He was good at it.

"Oh," Lex could see her trying to work out the mechanics of that in her head, how he and Clark were on really friendly terms again after that last summer in Smallville when they'd been at each other's throats. He idly considered strolling up behind Clark, maybe running a possessive hand up his chest, and letting her do that math.

"Did you guys have something planned?" With the wistful tone of an orphan deprived of the simple warmth of human comfort.

"Just breakfast," Clark said hastily and just - - no - - Hell, no. "You're welcome to tag along. It's scrapple Sunday."

Lana's smile bloomed, this graceful, grateful thing that Clark couldn't help but smile back at. "I love scrapple."

Lex hadn't actively hated her before - - not really. He was feeling it now.

Clark turned to look at Lex, this pleading look in his eyes that just begged 'be good.' "That okay, with you?"

"Why would you think I'd have a problem with that?" Lex didn't let his expression falter. Not one iota.

"I just need to get a clean shirt - -" Clark started, then canted his head a few seconds before Lex heard something clomping up the back steps that sounded vaguely like some hoofed beast on the run.

It turned out to be Chloe in clogs, flushed faced and patently shocked when she skidded to a stop on the patio and took in the three of them. Wonderful. Lex supposed he'd have to deal with Chloe at breakfast now as well, since most of Clark's women seemed to be converging. Lois Lane showing up would make the morning complete.

"Hey, You're home." Chloe stated the obvious and edged past Lex through the doorway. She gave him a quick little look on the way that was more venomous than usual.

"We're all going to breakfast. You haven't eaten yet have you?" Lana smiled at her and the furrow between Chloe's brows deepened as if she too, realized what a disastrous notion that was.

"Uh. No. Um, Clark, can I talk to you a minute? Work stuff." She made a grab for Clark's arm and obviously wanted the talk in private, because she was hauling him towards the patio. Clark obligingly let her drag him, and Lex stepped into the kitchen to let them pass.

Chloe pulled the door shut behind her, and Lana stood in the spot she'd been rooted in, staring warily at Lex. She'd made herself a cup of coffee. There was still half a pot on the warmer. How quant that she was making herself at home.

"Don't you have a coffee shop to run?" He strolled to the counter, trailing around the edge, making her turn to follow his movement.

"I have competent people running it."

"Really?" He lifted a brow. "Last time I checked, you were on the books as general manager. If you're not going to take the Talon seriously, I just might have to reevaluate that whole parking garage concept."

"You can't do that," She said icily, not flinching, for which he had to give her a little credit for. "I'm half owner."

"No," he corrected. "You're forty-nine percent owner. That one percent is always the killer."

Her chin went up, eyes big and angry and she really was beautiful when her ire was up. "You're a bastard, Lex."

He shrugged, trailing fingers along the counter top until he came to where she stood. "Why don't you go back home, make nice with your boyfriend and leave Clark alone. Don't you think he deserves a little better than being your personal rebound toy? The game's a little old now, isn't it?"

"You don't know what you're talking about," she said, that little waver in her soft voice that gave away her agitation. "If anyone's using Clark, its you. I don't know what you did to get back in his good graces, but sooner or later, he'll see through it and he'll see through you."

He felt a cold wash of real anger, the dangerous kind that usually left someone regretting getting on his bad side.

"What's your new boyfriend do - - owns a nursery outside Smallville? If you lost the Talon and he lost his business - - wouldn't that be a streak of bad luck?"

She opened her mouth - - shut it, eyes wide, picking up maybe that Lex didn't level empty threats. "Don't you - - Steve has nothing to do with this."

"What is this, Lana? Did he get too close? Scare you off with offers of permanency? So you run to Clark, who's always there for you, but who you know, deep down, isn't the one?"

"Shut up," she whispered. "Just - - shut up."

"Go home, Lana. Go stay with Chloe. Your Aunt Nell. I really don't give a fuck. But you keep using Clark as that convenient shoulder and you won't have anything to go home to. Am I making myself clear enough for you?"

"Lex!"

Lana blinked, staring beyond him, eyes glistening with unshed tears that might have been resentment as much as fear. The look in Clark's eyes, though, when Lex turned, could most certainly be classified as anger.

Lex pressed his lips and returned an icy glare of his own, annoyed to be caught in the act. Annoyed even more when Clark stalked over caught him by the arm and pulled him away from Lana - - who'd managed to actually spill a tear down one rounded cheek.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked her and she nodded, chin trembling, fighting back a sniffle. Clark's fingers tightened on his arm enough to actually hurt. Manipulative little bitch.

"Lana, just stay here a minute, all right?" Clark said, and started for the backdoor, jerking Lex with him. They passed Chloe, who'd edged into the kitchen and stood there glowering at Lex as they passed. Lex endured it, the manhandling, because there would be more indignity involved in struggling and most certainly failing to free himself than just allowing himself to be dragged along in Clark's wake.

How much of that had Clark heard, to be this pissed? Fuck him, anyway, if he thought he was going to get away with chastising Lex for correcting a situation that Clark had let get out of hand to begin with.

"Get your fucking hand off me," Lex growled, as soon as they'd hit the patio. Which Clark didn't do, until they'd tromped down the stairs and out into the narrow strip of back yard.

"I can't believe you just threatened her." Clark jerked his hand off Lex's arm and stalked a few feet out onto the grass.

"I can't believe you're still acting like a fifteen year old with his first crush." Lex snarled back. He would not rub at the ache in his arm. Absolutely would not.

Clark turned and glared at him, eyes fever bright, cheeks flushed red in agitation. There was something in his eyes that went beyond annoyed at Lex leveling threats to ex-girlfriends. Something hurt - - something that hinted at betrayal.

"Damnit, Lex - - you told me you'd shut down all the 33.1 facilities."

Fuck. Just - - fuck.

Chloe. It had to be Chloe and her dubious contacts, that had broken the news. He wished a little of the ill will that had gathered towards Lana in her direction.

"Technically, I have," He had to be very careful here. Flat out lies would ruin him. Half-truths were equally likely to wreak havoc.

"Oh, the hell," Clark yelled, no voice control whatsoever when his emotions were on a roll. "You told me no more experiments."

"Your sources are mistaken," he said levelly. "There is no experimenting, Clark. There's only containment."

"You were keeping people prisoner and now people are dead."

"Get your fucking facts straight before you come at me with accusations." Cool slipped away, driven back by a surge of indignation. "There was no risk until your friends created it by opening fucking Pandora's box. They were neutralized, the worst of the worst, until those vigilantes demolished the containment facility."

"That's what you were doing in Chile," Clark said, jaw so tight it was a wonder he could get words past. "Damage control. That's what you've been so uptight about. You lied to me."

"I didn't." And he hadn't. Just a careful avoidance of the truth.

Clark narrowed his eyes, not believing that. The expression on his face one of the old familiar ones - - disappointment and scorn.

It came to a head - - day's worth of frustration, lack of proper sleep, of irritation and maybe not so ridiculous moments of insecurity - - damned if he would tolerate Clark looking at him like that when he'd goddamned well been doing the right thing.

"Fuck you. Just. Fuck. You." He snarled, shoved Clark away, and Clark was actually surprised enough to take a backwards step. Lex gave him his back, stalking for the driveway gate. So goddamned angry that his vision tunneled, black on the sides, focused on putting distance between himself and Clark and those vipers waiting in Clark's apartment.

Fucking bitch - - and he wasn't even sure which one he meant. Could have been either, Chloe sticking her nose in where it didn't belong or Lana treading on his territory. He'd make a call and level the Talon outright. Hell, historical Smallville Main Street had needed an overhaul for years. Maybe he'd buy out the whole district, and all those quaint little shops with their ignorant little country proprietors just might find themselves the home of a new set of office complexes.

He reached the car and stopped, stood at the door reaching for keys that weren't in his pocket. Clark had the keys. Son. Of. A. bitch.

He'd walk before he went back and asked for the keys. Or find a cab.

"Nice car."

Lex narrowed his eyes and glanced down the line of parked cars. A man was strolling up, hands in the pockets of a grey hoodie. If he was looking for a car jacking, he was out of luck. If he wasn't - - well, Lex wasn't feeling generous enough to exchange pleasantries.

There was another one, on the sidewalk, coming from the same direction. A boy, thin, pale, who leaned a hand against the big elm.

Something struck a chord of recognition. Something cold knotted in Lex's gut. He turned to look at the man on his side of the car. Broad face within the confines of the hoodie. A wide, flat mouth curved into a humorless smile. Sharp, black eyes. He'd seen them over a chasm in Chile. He'd seen them in a lab, with this man strapped down spitting ineffectual threats at him through safety glass.

God. He started to lunge away, but the asphalt buckled a little under his feet, throwing him off balance. A big hand caught his elbow, swung him around, against the car. A body pressed in behind him, something sharp prodding his side. Garrison Rule, if he remembered correctly, was fond of knife work.

Lex stared at the boy across the roof of the Porsche, and the boy stared back, heart shaped face and dead, dead eyes. His name was James Gordon Elliot, a sociopath that had only just started his path of destruction, where as Rule had been at his games long before the meteors had altered his body.

"I told you," Rule pressed the tip of the blade into Lex's side, in the soft flesh above the edge of his jeans. "That I'd be seeing you."

"What do you want?" He felt a little trickle of blood emanating from the sting of the blade, warm against his skin, soaking into the denim. If he screamed for Clark, would Clark hear? Clark tuned things out most of the time from necessity and Clark would be distracted now, with Lana and Chloe and his own turmoil.

"Get in the car."

Lex took a breath, turning over possibilities. If they didn't want him dead on the street - - if they wanted him alive long enough to change locations - - "I don't have the keys."

The hand on his elbow tightened, became heavier, harder and Lex had to stifle a cry as the pressure increased. He glanced down saw the fingers, no longer flesh colored but speckled grey, like the asphalt under their feet. The hand ran down his side, patted his pockets looking for confirmation. Slid around to his stomach, under the loose edge of the shirt and scraped across the skin, rough and hot like the summer hot surface of the road.

"Okay," Rule said, voice gone low and gravelly and too close to Lex's ear. He pulled Lex back, arm this unyielding weight around his waist, and smashed his free hand through the driver's side window. "C'mon, Gordy."

The boy trotted around, reached in and unlocked the door, then slid into the compact back seat. Rule pushed Lex into the driver's seat, handed the boy the knife, a long switchblade. The boy leaned forward, against the back of the driver's seat and laid the edge of the blade against the side of Lex's throat.

Lex stared straight-ahead, unmoving, fear coiling in his gut. Neither one would hesitate slitting his throat, but Rule at least might postpone it to feed ulterior motives. This boy had no such compunctions.

Rule slide into the passenger side, reached over with his asphalt grey hand and twisted the ignition right off the steering column. He pulled out another smaller pocketknife and stuck it in the exposed ignition, bringing the car to life.

"All right, Lex," Rule leaned close, that sickening grin still on his face and the way he said his name - - it was like a perversion. "Drive."

"Clark, is - - is everything okay?"

Lana poised the question, a little furrow of worry between her brows, when Clark stepped back inside the kitchen.

It wasn't. Not even close.

Chloe wasn't saying a thing, looking like she'd rather be elsewhere. Knowing things Lana didn't - - hell, knowing things Clark didn't, information gatherer extraordinaire that she was. Clark knew that she did a lot of outside work for Oliver - - he hadn't known that she was further up the loop than he was. But then, maybe that was intentional, because Oliver Queen and Lex Luthor had been carrying on wars for some time now, one way or another and Clark wasn't impartial anymore. So they hadn't told him things it would have been nice to know. Just like Lex hadn't told him for different reasons altogether.

It pissed him off. A lot.

Oh, I had an accident at the airstrip in Chile. Oh, nothing's wrong, just tired, Clark. You weren't going to tell me about Lana - - I wasn't going to tell you about the meteor infected I had stashed in South America. Fair's fair.

Prick. Conniving, clever bastard, who hadn't actually, now that Clark thought about it, told a lie, but just skillfully avoided revealing truths. Clark wanted to strangle him.

"Clark?" Lana put a hand on his arm, concerned. He didn't even want to imagine how dark his expression was. It felt like ten degrees of black.

Lana's fingers were very soft, very delicate, like all of her. And the concern was real - - Lana didn't fake things like that. Lana was a kind, decent girl just trying to find her own way. Her lies were generally small, white ones.

"I'm with Lex." The words came out fast, like air from a punctured tire, pressure decreasing by the second now that the seal was broken.

She blinked at him, not understanding. Chloe's eyes had grown large and round. Clark took breath, pacing past her into the living room, anger and frustration still making his fists clench a little - - and feeling a surge of liberation despite it.

Lana shook her head a fraction, that soft, confused look on her face that always used to make him melt a little.

He turned to look at her when she trailed him in and said it again, with more clarity. "I'm with Lex, Lana."

"You're with - -? I don't understand." Why would she? It wasn't like he hadn't chased after her for enough years for her belief in his blatant heterosexuality to be firmly rooted.

Admitting it was one thing, explaining it was another. He'd played out having this conversation with his mom, in his head a thousand times, but Lana Lang had never entered the equation. Telling the girl he'd wanted to marry what a tragic mistake it would have been if it ever had worked out between them - - telling her that she'd never really been what he'd needed - - telling her that what he did need and what he did want had just stormed away in a self-righteous huff because he'd gotten caught covering up things he'd damned well should have admitted - -

"I love him." Maybe admitting wasn't so hard after all.

She stared, confused. Patently bewildered and the part of Clark that wasn't spinning its tires in frustration over Lex, felt bad for it.

"But - - but you're not - -"

"Yeah, I am," he confirmed, with a pained smile.

"Oh." She sat down like a doll with her strings cut, staring at nothing as she tried to process. Clark cast a helpless look at Chloe who gave him an equally powerless one from the kitchen.

"But - - how - -?"

Like he knew the answer to that question. He'd tried to figure it out himself back when he'd first been struggling with an attraction too strong to deny - - how you could spend your whole life not knowing and just have it jump up and slap you in the face one day. Had it been some Kryptonian sexual awakening thing, or just Lex, who God knew had enough sexual combustion to turn a straight man's head, or had Clark just been that badly in denial?

He squatted down before her, covering her tiny hand with his, dipping his head to catch her unfocused eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. Honestly, I didn't know how. It's not something I've had a lot of practice sharing - - my mom doesn't even know."

"He didn't even tell me," Chloe offered, edging out from the safety of the kitchen. "I had to walk in on something I shouldn't have to figure it out."

Lana glanced to Chloe, then back to Clark, swallowing. "In a way, I guess," she said softly. "It explains a few things."

Chloe lifted both brows and advanced further into the room, hesitation overridden by curiosity. Clark wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"What things?" Chloe asked.

A little smile trembled on Lana's lips. "I thought it was my fault - - when we made love - - and it wasn't good. I thought that was why you didn't want to again. I guess it wasn't me after all."

Chloe made a sympathetic sound. Clark opened his mouth - - shut it - - feeling a stab of wounded pride. Somehow, in his memory of the event, he'd managed to convince himself that even though he hadn't come away from it with all his expectations met, that Lana had been fully satisfied by the experience. Guess he'd been in denial about a lot of things.

"If it makes you feel any better," Chloe said, squeezing Lana's shoulder. "After all those years of him ignoring the fact that I was lusting after him, finding out he was batting for the other team really boosted my ego."

'Thanks Chloe'. Clark gave her a dirty look, which she ignored entirely.

Lana attempted another smile and this time it was stronger and warmer. "You shouldn't have to explain yourself to me. Lex - - Lex said some cruel things - - but he was right. I'm so used to you being there for me, Clark - - to save me from my mistakes - - I just took for granted that you would be this time."

"You can always count on me to save you from your mistakes, if you need me too. It's just - - well, sleeping over kinda gets me in deep shit."

Lana looked down, nervously wrapping the gold chain around her finger. "Did you fight about me? Is that why he left?"

Clark sighed, looking over her head at Chloe. "Not this time."

"I think, maybe I will go and stay with Aunt Nell until I figure out a few things," Lana said. "She's got a guest room and I won't be stepping on any toes."

"You can still stay with me, if you want," Chloe offered.

Lana shook her head. "I know I chased Jimmy out last night. Aunt Nell will be glad to see me."

She rose and Clark rose with her, feeling that little tingle of guilt at the idea that she was fleeing the shock of his revelation. But it was overshadowed by the relief of getting her safely out of there so he could focus on the more important problem of Lex and whatever the hell it was Lex had been up to.

She hugged Chloe, made an aborted movement towards him, hesitating and then simply nodded.

Chloe sort of looked like she wanted to follow her.

"Don't even think about it, Chloe," Clark said grimly. Lex himself needed some serious cooling down time before Clark tried to pry information out of him, but Chloe - - Chloe was bound to have more facts than the abridged version she'd shared on the patio. "I want details."

The knife was at his throat until they cleared the city, the boy humming softly now and then and scraping the blade experimentally across the pulse in Lex's neck. It pressed deeper when he attempted to speak and after the first few dribbles of blood rolled down to soak into his collar, he stopped trying, knuckles white on the wheel, heart beating so hard it felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. But he didn't allow it to show on his face. Didn't allow them to see the fear or the various terrible scenarios that his mind insisted on concocting.

Garrison Rule had pushed the passenger seat back to make room for legs almost as long as Clark's and one booted foot was propped up on the dash, heel scoring fine leather. He'd found a country music station on the radio and the toe of the boot tapped in time to the wailing lament of the present tune, as casual as if this were any ordinary Sunday morning drive.

He directed Lex out of the city, eastbound and it wasn't until they hit the interstate and picked up speed that the boy leaned back, the blade withdrawn, once the easy prospect of Lex opening the door and hurling himself from the moving car had decreased.

He glanced down at his cell phone, in the well between seats - - all he needed was to hit the speed dial and just leave the connection open - - he wouldn't even need to speak, because Clark's hearing was just that good - -all he needed was just to slip his hand down when the chance presented. Not now though, with the boy rocking in the back seat, taut-strung and the flesh and blood again fingers of Rule's left hand tapping lightly on the gear shift.

"Where are we going?" Lex asked softly, making his voice calm, as if he were only vaguely interested in the answer. 70 east was a straight shot almost out of the state, with a lot of possibilities in-between. A lot of open road and long stretches of empty land.

"I used to drive this route all the time, hauling freight," Rule commented.

Lex remembered the bio. The man had left a string of bodies in his wake. Mostly hitchhikers and drifters, victims that no one would miss, found in shallow graves from Texas to Indiana - - scattered far enough apart that the authorities never put together that they were all the victims of one man. After the second meteor shower and Rule's mutation - - he'd picked up his pace - - gotten sloppier as kryptonite infection took a furtive, simmering psychosis and turned it manic.

It was the only reason they'd been able to track him down.

It was a nice day, the sky vast and cloudless, the road this long, straight strip of black spread out before them. Another 150 miles and they'd pass the exit to Smallville - - where each and every one of them had been altered, one way or another.

But in another two, there'd be a roadside billboard, that Lex knew from experience was a favorite state trooper hiding spot.

"If you're trying to lay low," he eased down on the gas and the needle on the speedometer drifted up. In this car, you barely felt the increase. "Taking me isn't the way to do it. My people are probably looking for me as we speak."

Rule laid his head back against the rest, eyes shut against the glare of sunlight, mouth curling at the edges in that damned unnerving grin. "Some things, they're just worth the risk - -"

Lex let his hand drift off the wheel, down to his thigh, across to the sleek little cell, fingertips feeling for the call button.

Rule's hand latched onto his, warm flesh turning cool and slick as the man absorbed something he'd connected with inside the car.

"Getting you alone someplace dark and quiet for some quality time," Rule leaned across the seat, compacting Lex's fingers around the cell. "That would be worth a whole lot of risk."

Lex hissed, jamming the gas pedal into the floor, the bones in his hand close to fracturing under the pressure. The Porsche leapt forward, ninety to one twenty-five in seconds. The boy in the back seat giggled, the first real emotion Lex had heard from him since - - well, since Gordon Elliot had been taken into 33.1 custody close to fourteen months ago. It seemed fast cars and pain struck a chord with the cold-eyed little fuck.

There was a wail of sirens behind them, the flash of lights in the rear view mirror. Rule loosened his grip enough that Lex was able to snatch his hand back. He held it to his chest, fingers throbbing, while Rule held up the cell and crushed it in his altered hand. The bits and pieces fell down to mingle with the shattered glass on the floorboard.

Rule was looking over his shoulder at the tan trooper car that was struggling to keep up with them. The boy was curled in the narrow back seat, still giggling softly, as if this were some great game.

"Now look what you did," Rule whispered, but the serpent smile was spreading. "Got those fine, upstanding troopers involved. Nothing to do but pull over."

Lex cast a quick glance at Rule, cold comprehension dawning. You only ran if you were afraid of getting caught. These two weren't afraid, because there was nothing two unsuspecting state troopers, trained to deal with mundane levels of threat could do to stop them.

"Pull over," Rule growled again in his ear, hard, cold hand on the back of his neck.

"I'll deal with them," Lex said, pulse pounding. He willed it to slow, willed himself to unclench and put on the cool face. He'd made this call and he didn't want two more deaths on his head. "I'll take the ticket and they'll be on their way."

Rule chuckled, fingers tightening. "Yeah, you just do that."

The Porsche skidded to a stop on the broad shoulder, dust from a weeklong dry spell thrown up in its wake. Rule's fingers rested on his neck, just above the collar of his shirt, foreign feeling, even though the man's face still retained its fleshy appearance. It was a new skill, the partial absorption - - or one that Rule had managed to conceal during his time in 33.1.

Lex clenched his teeth and stared at the approaching figures in the side view mirror. The usual trooper mold, hard brimmed hats, reflective shades, impeccably pressed uniforms, like these guys never even slouched in the seats of their patrol cars when they were waiting for motorists to chase down and harass. Lex had gotten enough tickets, back when he'd been making frequent commutes from Smallville to Metropolis, to know the routine by heart.

No matter the outcome of this, they'd have called in his license plate number - - there'd be a record of him here, for someone to track once he turned up missing. Unfortunately that might not be until tomorrow when he started missing morning appointments, since security would assume he'd spent the night at Clark's and Clark - - God, if he was lucky Clark would give in to the urge to accuse him of atrocities to his face a bit more and try and track him down this afternoon - - if he wasn't, Clark would sulk the rest of the night, taking solace in the company of Lana and Chloe.

"License and registration." The silhouette of a state trooper blocked out the sun. The other one lingered by the back of the car.

"Of course," he reached for his pocket, and Rule's other hand slid over, fastening on his wrist and stopped the movement.

The man leaned over Lex, peering up at the trooper with fever bright eyes. "What's the problem here, officer?"

The trooper's gaze flicked down, taking in the edges of the shattered driver's side window, the glass fragments on the floor. Lex saw the moment the man realized this wasn't a run of the mill traffic violation. Saw the moment the trooper made the decision to go for his weapon. Rule saw it too, and lunged past Lex with a hand gone sleek silver and hard as the polished steel of the gear shift shaft, grabbed the trooper by the utility belt and jerked him forward against the car with enough force to make it rock.

Lex had a flash of the trooper sliding down, open mouth, glasses askew, even as he heard the other one shouting. Then the car rocked again - - only it wasn't the car, it was the earth under it, buckling and rippling as the boy pressed his face to the back window.

Rule was out the passenger door, scrambling around the back of the Porsche. There was a shot, one lone pop of gunfire. And then Rule was on the second trooper, jabbing a hand into his gut, once, twice, and the third time Lex saw the bloody blade of the pocketknife.

God. Lex pushed the door open and it jammed against the body of the first trooper. He put his shoulder to it and his weight behind the effort. Got it open enough to scramble out, even as the boy was turning, realizing he hadn't been keeping his eye on the ball.

Lex slid to the ground, one knee in the dirt, snatching for the gun the state trooper had almost cleared of its holster. Take out the boy first, because the boy didn't have the ability to shake off gunshots.

The boy stared at him, wide eyed, young - - so damned young to be what he was - - and Lex hesitated that one second too long in pulling the trigger and the ground split open under his feet, swallowing up the limp body of the trooper, sucking him into a chasm that crumbled and rolled beneath him like it was alive. He scrambled backwards, fighting for the far edge as the earth under the front wheel of the car gave way. Then there were hands on him, implacable hands that dragged him backwards, up and out of the sinkhole and flung him over the hood of the Porsche and into the underbrush at the edge the shoulder.

He hit hard, impact chasing away breath and vision. He lay there, dazed, listening to the distant buzz of passing traffic and wondering idly why no one was stopping. Didn't they notice the carnage? Were people that wrapped up in their own worlds? Too afraid to get involved? Or did they just not care? He couldn't fathom it, that deliberate blindness - - he had never been able to fathom it.

Something hit the ground next to him and shook him out of the stupor, sunlight getting in past the murk. Lex turned his head and saw the sightless eyes of a dead man. He choked a little, and pushed himself up as Rule was heading back for the other one. Looked around desperately for the gun and didn't find it. The man beside him had an empty holster.

If he ran, he might make it, Rule was slow, encumbered by the weight of the substance he absorbed and boy had a finite range for his control over the earth.

"You don't wanna do that," Rule purred, when Lex started to rise. The second trooper landed in a sprawl of limbs near the first, tossed like a rag doll by Rule, whose body gleamed gunmetal grey. The man moaned, not dead, just battered by his impact with the car.

Rule grinned, holding a gun in one hand that matched the shade of his new flesh exactly. The dully gleaming fingers were covered in blood.

The muzzle lifted in Lex's direction.

"I think I'll do the driving from now on." Rule's grin was this strange, tensile thing when his face was the consistency of cold metal. There was a bit of blood there too, spattered on his jaw.

"Gordy - -" Rule called. The boy slipped out the passenger door, leaned against the car with a reptilian look of interest, and the earth began to swallow up the two troopers, hard dirt and stone turning granular and parting like quicksand to consume evidence.

One of them was still alive, eyes half open, fingers grasping weakly as he was sucked under.

"You son of - - " Lex gasped, making a grab for a man about to be buried alive, half sliding into the unstable earth himself, but Rule latched hold of his collar dragging him back. A more horrifying way to die, he couldn't presently conceive. "He's alive - - he's still alive you sick fuck - -"

"Wanna take bets on how long?" Rule laughed and shoved him towards the car. His hip rebounded off the side view mirror and it hurt like hell. He didn't have the time to properly savor the sting, his face impacting with the heat of the hood with Rule's fingers clenched around the back of his neck, Rule's cold hands drawing his wrists behind him and fastening them together with handcuffs obviously liberated from one of the troopers.

"Pop the trunk, Gordy and bring me the bag," Rule directed, and the boy obediently reached in and did it.

"Wait - - wait. No - -" The back trunk was small and cramped and not much better than coffin space, and Lex was already jittery over the concept of live burials. Rule shoved him backwards into it. He hit his head on the way down and saw stars. Heard something tear and that something ended up being silver duct tape, that Rule had pulled out of the canvas backpack the kid had brought to him. Rule slapped a piece of it across Lex's mouth, muffling further protest, stifling attempts at reason, as if madmen could be reasoned with. Rule caught his legs and lashed his ankles together with a few layers of tape. Then stuffed his legs in and stared down with a satisfied leer.

"You just sit tight now, Lex. Before you know it, we'll have that time together. A good long time."

Lex cursed at him through the duct tape and Rule laughed, before slamming the shut the trunk, plunging Lex into complete darkness.

"Don't shoot the messenger," Chloe said with a weak smile, hands held out placatingly, as if she expected Clark to jump down her throat for being the bearer of disconcerting news.

"I'm not - -" Clark took a breath, focusing his vision through the wall to follow Lana down the driveway towards her car. This was not a conversation he needed her inadvertently walking in on. This was not a conversation he wanted to be having period.

Especially not second hand.

"No shooting. I'm not angry at you." Not unless she'd known all along and only just decided to spill. Then he might be justifiably mad. "How long have you known about all of this?"

"I just found out," she assured him. "I was doing some digging about the thing in Mexico and some of my sources talked to some of Ollie's sources and it got back to him that I was interested - - so he gave me a call and told me the rest of the details."

He stood there, with his back to the refrigerator, staring at her across the island counter that separated kitchen from living room, wondering why no one had thought about giving him a call. He tried very hard not to clench his fists. "All right. Share them with me."

"There's not a lot, Clark." She spread her hands on the countertop and looked at him imploringly, maybe knowing how torn he was about this. "Lex has discontinued a lot of his less than legit projects, I know that, and lot of that I think is because of you, but you know he's like a dog with a bone, Clark. We always knew there were the possibilities of more 33.1 facilities out there - - you knew this too - - they were just well hidden."

"Or they didn't exist anymore." Clark said, because Lex had told him that he'd terminated so many of those questionable projects and he wanted to believe the things Lex told him now. He wanted to believe in Lex even though he knew there were things in which they simply didn't see eye to eye.

She gave him a skeptical look, but didn't question the state of his gullibility. "Either or," she conceded. "But they got a hot lead a few weeks ago - - one of LexCorp's dummy companies making regular shipments to South America and to make a long story short, they tracked down the facility in the middle of a desert in Chile. They hit it last week. Freed the prisoners, but couldn't get an information dump, because the network had a contained self-destruct protocol. Apparently the meteor infected scattered when the containment systems failed - - and apparently some of those infected were responsible for the thing with the animals in Mexico and a killing spree in Texas yesterday. Four bystanders died at a truck stop outside Austin."

"God," Clark shut his eyes, a quiver of dismay curling in his belly. "Lex said that he was containing the worst of the worst."

Chloe just stared, worried.

"Why didn't they contact me about all this?" Clark said. "If they were going up against a secure facility and dealing with dangerous mutants - - why not call me?"

"It was Lex's project, Clark." Chloe shook her head at him, as if the answer to that were self-evident. "You lost your objectivity concerning Lex a long time ago."

He stared at her in shock. "You told them - - you told Ollie about me and Lex?"

"No!" Her eyes widened. "I'd never betray your secrets, biological or personal - - you have to know that. But come on, Ollie's got eyes on Lex and Lex is over here a lot and you're at Lex's - - you may be keeping it from the front page of the Inquisitor, but you didn't expect to hide it from people scrutinizing Lex with a fine toothed comb, did you?"

"They don't trust me." Clark clenched his jaw, felt a muscle twitch his cheek. Felt a surge of protective indignation at the idea that Oliver Queen and his cohorts were as obsessively interested in Lex as Lex used to be in all things meteor related. They were treading on his territory damnit, and the fact that they knew it and still went behind his back - - it pissed him off.

What if Lex had been there when they'd hit? Ollie sure as hell didn't have a grain of concern about his welfare. What if Lex had been one of those casualties?

"They trust you," Chloe tried to assure him and he blinked his attention back to her and off of nightmare scenarios. "Ollie knows you. I think maybe he's just not sure you won't give Lex the benefit of the doubt."

"Of course I'd give him the benefit of the doubt - - doesn't that sort of go along with the whole, innocent until proven guilty basic component of the American justice system thing? - - but I wouldn't turn a blind eye. And I'd damn well ask him about it before I jumped the gun - - and how many people are dead, Chloe, because Ollie went in half-cocked without a back-up plan if the shit hit the fan?"

"Clark, there were people being held against their will in a secret facility on foreign soil - - he was probably thinking time was of the essence. You would have too, if we were talking anybody but Lex."

"You're probably right," he admitted and maybe he had been hanging around Lex too long, because once upon a time he would have been so focused on the little injustices that he wouldn't have been able to see the tragic larger irony. "You think me being there would have made a difference what these people did once they were free again?"

She looked torn. "Clark, they didn't know what they were setting loose. "

"If they'd have come to me - -if Ollie had asked - - I would have found out. If I'd confronted him with it, Lex would have told me the truth."

"You're sure of that?"

"I'm sure." And he was, damnit, despite the occasional little flickers of uncertainty. He knew Lex was no angel. He knew Lex loved his shades of grey - - but he also knew Lex was no monster. And that though pure altruism was a damned far stretch, Lex believed in the concept of greater good - - even if it meant some unfortunate along the way was probably going to get screwed. Even if it meant he fought tooth and nail with Clark over divergent ideology.

And Clark could live with that, because the alternative was unacceptable. The alternative was fighting with Lex and not being able to hold a reasonable debate, not being able to listen to Lex's brilliant and sometimes skewed logic and pick out the reasonable points and bounce his own opinions back and have Lex actually consider them - - sometimes even act on them. Of not making up at the end of the day - - of simply not having Lex.

"And what would you have done if he told you?" she asked, and he blinked, not sure how she meant that. She took a breath, gave him a pained little smile. "Let it slide? Gone down there and shut it down yourself? Slapped his wrist? What do you do, when you find out your boyfriend is actively imprisoning and experimenting on other human beings?"

"He wasn't experimenting," Clark said softly and he believed that. Lex's lies always came cool and calm, never in the heat of outrage and indignity. Nothing Lex had said to him in the back yard had been a lie - - he'd stake his life on it.

Almost he could hate her for that little stab of cold logic. Until he talked to Lex, until he heard Lex's side of this disastrous little story, until he got uncolored facts, he honestly couldn't answer the question of what he might have done.

Lex's internal clock was normally quite accurate, but then crammed into the too small trunk of a car, unable to find a modicum of comfort, unable to properly breath in stifling heat, with a duct tape gag plastered across his mouth, he was seriously losing time - - or gaining it.

When the car finally stopped, and the trunk popped open he expected the long light of evening - - because it honestly had seemed like hours and hours of hell - - but the world outside was painfully bright, and the sun still high in the sky. Maybe not much past noon, which meant it had only been a few hours. Which meant a few hundred miles outside of Metropolis at best.

The slam of the car door, the crunch of boots in gravel and Garrison Rule blocked out the sun. Lex blinked up and glared - - but God, it was hard to keep up the derisive look when his eyes were watering from the sudden flood of light and keeping up appearances was running a distant second to outright terror.

Rule reached down and hauled Lex out of the trunk, as careless of him as he might be a bag of dirty laundry. Over the rim of the trunk and Lex hit the ground. The impact drove air from his lungs and gravel bit through the thin silk shirt, gouging his shoulder.

He lay, breathing hard through his nose, staring at Rule's boots and the boy's ratty tennis shoes, when he came around from the passenger side. They were in an unkempt lot, at the back of what looked to be an abandoned warehouse or factory building. There was an old faded, logo of a farmer and a mule on the side under an array of filthy windows, but the type had long chipped away. He didn't recognize the place, but he thought it could have been in Granville or Enerton. The distance was about right, and both had been agriculturally inclined factory towns, before the economy had driven those industries into decline.

Rule dragged Lex up, got a shoulder against his mid-section and hauled him off his feet with a grunt, not nearly as strong when he was simple flesh and bone. The boy trudged along in his wake, but all Lex could see of him, ass up and head down across Rule's shoulder, was the tips of his shoes. Then the kid ran ahead, and he heard the grate of rusty hinges protesting, as a door was forced open.

Then they were in shadow and inside it smelled of dust and disuse. A big, open space, with a hard packed dirt floor covered in so much dust it seemed unlikely that a human foot had trod upon it for years.

Rule dropped him, and Lex managed not to land on the same shoulder he'd hit the ground with upon his exodus from the Porsche trunk. He rolled onto the side that didn't feel bruised to the bone and took in the place from a right side up viewpoint. Rusted barrels against the walls, rotting wooden crates, old equipment decades past its prime and rusting in the shadows, holes in the tin roof, here and there that let in a modicum of light. A dead place good for nothing but demolition, but Rule seemed to know it.

Rule stood for a moment and breathed in the stale air like a man coming home, then headed for a chain hanging from the ceiling with a hook on the end, like it was an old friend. He reached up and touched it, fingers trailing over the bottom links and the flecked stains there. Rust stains maybe, or more frightening, perhaps aged splotches of dried blood.

They'd apprehended Rule close to four years ago and honestly Lex hadn't been interested so much in where the man had committed his atrocities as he'd been in removing him from public circulation and seeing what made him tick. This warehouse, with its hard packed floors and its dusty stench of decay might have been one of his haunts. One of the places where he'd taken his victims and taken them apart.

"You hungry kid?" Rule's voice broke the silence and Lex started a little, twisting his head a little to look at the boy.

The kid shrugged, as if food held as little interest for him as anything else that wasn't covered in blood.

"I know a place in town- - makes great burgers. If it's still there. Been a few years since I've been back."

"Yeah, I could go for a burger," the kid said.

Rule nodded. "Good. We'll grab a bite and pick up a few things in town."

He strolled over to Lex, grabbed the back of his collar and dragged him across the floor, towards that dangling chain. It was useless to fight, the mind knew that, but the body rebelled regardless, and he twisted, trying to shed the grip, trying to dig his heels in and impede progress.

Rule laughed at him, all malice. Dropped him a few yards from the hook and crouched down to rip the tape from his mouth. It hurt, but it was a distant pain and superceded by desperation.

"You don't want to do this," Lex was gasping as soon as he was free to form the words, but his voice sounded thin to his own ears, and scared. He hated it, the fear he couldn't hide. "No matter how much you want your revenge, I can make it worth your while not to take it. Name your price - - your wildest dream - -both of you. I can make it happen - -"

"You don't wanna go up on the hook?" Rule followed the glances Lex couldn't help directing at the gently swinging chain.

He took a rasping breath, shook his head slowly, not sure if any answer was the right one.

"Okay," Rule smiled and stood. "He don't wanna go up on the hook, Gordy. Let's put him in the ground instead, then."

The kid's mouth curled up at the corners.

"Son of a bitch - - no!" Lex cried, but the protest was eaten up by the deep groan of the earth splitting not far away. Eaten up by the boy's toneless giggles. It trembled under him, bits of dirt raining down as a trench formed as if it had been gouged by the hand of some invisible giant.

Rule grabbed him by the ankles, Lex fighting it the entire way, dragged him the few feet to the edge of the pit the boy had created, then kicked him over the edge with a boot between his shoulder blades. A short fall, against cold, hard earth, but enough to jab the cuffs into his lower back. It was grave deep almost, maybe a few feet shy of the customary six-foot trench most bodies were interred in. If he started screaming now, he wasn't sure he'd be able to stop. He didn't want to die in the midst of a fit of hysteria. He didn't want to die at all, but the chances were starting to look good.

Something hit his face. The end of a long, coiled piece of clear tubing that Rule had pulled out of the tattered backpack. Rule crouched at the lip of the pit - - Lex refused to use the term grave - - and held the other end in his rawboned hand.

"Take it in your mouth, Lex."

Lex stared up, not getting it, near hysteria - - he'd already seen a man buried alive today - - slowing his uptake.

"Last chance," Rule said wistfully.

Dirt was beginning to fill in the pit at the whim of the boy standing at the head of the hole, slithering over Lex's legs like a living substance.

God. God. If he started babbling ineffectual threats or begging for mercy they weren't inclined to give, he'd lose the tenuous lifeline they'd offered. He made a desperate grab after the end of the plastic tubing. Got dirt in his mouth in his efforts, but caught the tube with his teeth and latched on as dirt cascaded over his head.

Shut his eyes and sobbed - - simply couldn't help it - - heavy earth, moist like wet clay, pressing around him like a body mold, gripping tight enough that he could only take shallow little half breaths, and those were a battle, dragging air through five or more feet of tubing that couldn't have been more than a half inch at best. It didn't help when the panic set in, the utter, incapacitating dread of the earth pressing down - - of helplessness that was the stuff of nightmare.

Hyperventilation robbed him of proper air, and if his jaw hadn't been forced shut by the pressure of all encompassing earth he might have lost his hold on the airline. As it was, he just lost his hold on full-consciousness, driven into a faint by oxygen deprivation. Came back drawing air desperately through the tube in his mouth, seeing stars behind his lids that God knew were hallucinations, because there was nothing but compressed darkness and earth all around him. He almost fell back into hyperventilation again, screaming on the inside, twitching ineffectually because the tight pack of the earth didn't allow him to anything else.

He forced it back - - reciting mantra in his head. Rites to calm anxiety he hadn't had to use since childhood - - since those days after his mother's death - - that terrible, terrible day they'd put her in the earth - - and there'd been no one to temper Lionel's expectations.

The only trouble was, his father's disapproval had never entailed live burial. Reciting the periodic table, or listing the full succession of Roman emperors from the first Romulus to the last simply weren't enough of a distraction to fit the bill. It couldn't block out the fact that he was fucking - - entombed - - by cold earth. That he was hanging onto life by a thready source of air that he had to work to gain.

He'd used to imagine his mother, trapped underground in her gleaming box of mahogany and pearl - - used to spent countless nights, curled in his bed in the old Penthouse in Metropolis - - thinking that it was some terrible mistake - - that she'd wake up in that box and no one would hear her cries to be let out.

None of those imaginings had been like this - - even the mind of a morbid thirteen year old hadn't been able to fathom this. He felt himself spiraling down the dark path to hysteria again, logic and calm and rational so far gone he couldn't even recall the flavor of their presence.

He screamed again, this muffled sound inside his head. A new mantra that he couldn't shake - - Please - - God - - please please please - - Clark.

It wasn't surprising that Lex wasn't answering his cell. Lex in a snit tended to give the term 'cold shoulder' whole new meaning. Clark was usually more than happy to give him the space to calm down, because getting ripped to verbal shreds was not high on his list of fulfilling activities and Lex could be damned vicious when he was feeling wronged and adversarial.

And if this had been a fight about finances - - and his refusal to accept charity, or say an equally embarrassing misunderstanding about one of Lex's public 'dates' - - the ones he went on to give the gossip rags something to speculate about other than the amount of time he spent with his close male friend, Clark would have given it more time to blow over.

This one was more important. This one had to do with life and death and trust and Clark really, really wished Lex would pick up the phone. Or just go home or to the office, where Clark might corner him into talking.

But Lex was proving unpredictable and Clark had checked the penthouse and then his offices in the adjoining building to no avail. Twice. Standing out on the terrace the second penthouse trip and wracking his mind trying to figure out where Lex might head to work off a little righteous indignation.

They'd been talking about buying cars, and Lex did like to spend money when he was feeling down - - were there any car shows in town this weekend - - had Lex mentioned any new models of his old favorites due for release? Of course tossing around money like it was confetti wasn't limited to automobiles - - it wasn't like Metropolis didn't cater to the rich and pissed off - - Lex could be anywhere.

He stuck his hands in his pockets as he was pacing and his fingers came into contact with a set of keys not usually nestled within his pocket. He stopped, pulling them out - - the distinctive little Porsche symbol on the ring. He stared for a moment, confused. If he had Lex's keys - - how had Lex taken the car? The car had been gone, right? He'd taken for granted that it was, because Lex had been gone.

Almost before he'd finished the thought, he was on the sidewalk outside his brownstone, next to the old elm whose roots buckled the sidewalk. There was a motorcycle in the spot, wheels resting on the cracked asphalt surface of the road. A lot of spidery cracks that might have radiated out from the tree roots, if the tree roots had gone through a sudden growth spurt, because there was a good deal of new rubble along the little splits - - and a few little octagonal shaped pieces of thick glass.

Clark crouched down, plucking a piece of glass up. Safety glass. The sort they used in car windshields and windows. He clenched his fist around the shard and stood, looking up and down the length of the street in concern. How long had it been since Lex had stormed off? A few hours?

Mrs. Dawson across the street was doing gardening, her big brimmed hat obscuring her head, but she was mostly deaf and half blind and barely noticed people standing right in front of her. One of the neighborhood kids was cutting grass a few houses down - - had maybe been making the rounds that morning, trimming lawns for money. A teenaged boy would have noticed that Porsche.

"Sure, I saw that car." The kid gave him an impatient look, like Clark was really cutting into his time, when Clark trudged up the narrow strip of inclined lawn to inquire.

"You see it leave?" Clark had to yell to be heard over the mower, which the kid refused to cut off.

"Yeah. You doin' a survey?" The kid admitted with this sort of smirk that clearly said if Clark had asked for details, maybe he might have gotten them. Maybe not. He started to push the mower up the hill and Clark reached out and caught the handle, stopping the progress dead.

He didn't repeat the question, just stared, waiting while the kid tried to figure out why the mower wouldn't even lurch when he put his weight against it. Clark didn't ever recall being that ornery when he'd been that age.

"Yeah, I saw it pull off. I was down the street. The one guy - - the bald one that usually pulls up where you live in like a different sweet ride every week," And the kid gave him a look that clearly said that in and of itself was enough to be suspicious of, then went on. "He drove off with these two other guys. Didn't recognize them at all."

"What? They walked up to him off the street?" Clark asked - - pulse speeding up.

The boy shrugged. "Yeah. Looked sorta grungy. Think it was a car jacking?"

Clark took a breath, the concept of that making him a little dizzy. He let go the mower and walked away from the kid blindly, back towards the brownstone, head spinning.

What if Lex hadn't answered his calls because he hadn't been able to? What if Lex were in trouble? He felt himself start to vibrate a little, nerves going taut, muscles bunching and he had to force a few deep breaths to calm down.

Before he started flying off the handle he needed to get a grip and approach this rationally. He had Lex's secretaries number, so first thing to do was give her a call and explain - - god, how did he explain that he'd misplaced her boss? - - and see if Lex had called her. God knew she generally knew more about what Lex was up to than Clark. Then he needed to track down Chloe and get Oliver's new number and find out exactly what he knew about these escaped mutants - - because in the world he lived in only fools believed in coincidence.

Time ceased to have meaning. No light. No sound. The only measure, each hard won breath, and even that became animal impulse, survival instinct cutting in when the higher mental functions succumbed to sheer, overwhelming horror.

He would die under the earth. Slow, if they left him the air, from dehydration or starvation - - fast if they came back and deprived him of that source - - and then the creatures that fed on things trapped beneath the dirt would come and begin their slow consumption of his body.

What if they came before? He could feel tiny movement against his skin - - a hundred little pin point touches and he screamed, silent, echoless strain that made his throat raw, the panic within as black and fathomless as the black heaviness of the earth surrounding him.

His thoughts looped on the notion, endless variations of the same horrifying end. Waking, Poe-esque nightmares that drew shadows like magpies, feeding on fear.

The world moved, and broke the looping decent.

The dirt shifted around him, loosening, no longer surrounding him like a cast that refused movement. He clamped down on the airline, and twisted reflexively, snatching at the chance of voluntary movement after God knew how long of being denied it. The earth gathered under him, pushing him up like an offering and if he'd had hands free he would have franticly aided the expulsion.

Fingers latched onto him, dragging him out, and he leaned into the warmth of a body, drawing in lungfuls of unfettered air, blinking dirt out of his eyes, vision hazy and full of sparking lights. Someone was mumbling - - babbling nonsense words between gasping sobs - - it might have been him.

The arms around him moved to his back, and his wrists were free. One less constraint and it felt like he could breath again - - like just enough of the black weight was lifted so he could think.

He pushed away, needing distance, needing to breath with nothing but air around him, but fingers clamped around his wrists, drawing his hands in front of him.

Lex blinked up, sight swimming back into focus, registering the last face he wanted to see leering down at him. Rule. Who was trying to recuff Lex's wrists in front of him.

The notion was intolerable, and Lex cried out, sheer panic giving him the strength to throw a larger man off balance. If his ankles hadn't been taped together, he might have given himself a window of opportunity - - as it was, he was effectively hobbled. He kicked out, damned good aim considering, and caught Rule between the legs - - had the satisfaction of seeing the man's face go beet red in shocked pain a moment before rage took over.

Rule roared, spittle flying, and fell upon him. His fist came down along with a cascade of bright pain and the taste of copper. Blood flowed inside Lex's mouth, cheek shredded by impact with teeth. Rule perched over him, drawing back his arm to strike again, and from the corner of spinning vision Lex could see the boy loitering around the edges, silent witness with large, emotionless eyes. The second blow made him see stars again, a glittering accompaniment to echoing pain inside his head as his brain bounced around inside his skill. Concussion in the making.

Rule cocked his fist again and hesitated, muttering under his breath. He grasped Lex's hand instead, circling the free wrist with the loose end of the cuff. He pushed up, dragged Lex with him, got an arm around his waist and hauled him to the dangling chain with its rusted hook.

Adrenalin got past the cotton in his head and gave Lex the strength to resist. He let out a wordless growl and arched backwards, slamming his heels down into Rule's instep, twisting desperately even though there was simply nowhere to go.

Rule staggered backwards, legs splayed, body becoming a little colder, a little harder, and Lex hadn't a clue what he'd touched to absorb the qualities of, but the arm that came around his neck was dark and strong and cut off his air with brutal efficiency. Maybe fifteen seconds and Lex's mind was slipping again, spiraling down into light sparked shadow.

Rule jerked him around, letting him breath, hefted him up with the arm around his waist and drew his arms up over his head with the other. Slipped the chain between the cuffs over the tongue of the dangling, blood crusted hook and let him fall. His weight came down and the unforgiving metal of the cuffs cut into his wrists. The pain brought him back, and he scrambled for purchase. He couldn't quite stand flatfooted, and balancing with his ankles taped together took a degree of grace that simply escaped him at the moment. So he dangled there, like meat on a hook, stars still dancing merrily at the corners of his vision, thoughts a haphazard swarm that insisted on scattering rather than shoaling as a cohesive whole.

Rule touched his face, smearing fingers across his cheek and Lex snarled and jerked away. Instinct, that threw him off balance and he teetered forward. A little trickle of something wet and warm snaked down the side of his wrist.

Rule laughed, his humor back, and trailed his fingers down Lex's neck, pressing against the thudding pulse.

"You're filthy," Rule said, back to flesh and blood again, and the fingers bit down, pressing into the hollows beneath the sides of Lex's jaw.

"Hand in hand," Lex spat. "With being fucking buried alive." He was surprised almost he could say it without his voice breaking, because the flash of imagery the mere mention brought with it, was enough to make him flinch a little on the inside.

A sly smile split Rule's face and he stepped closer like he was enjoying the smell of fresh dirt or maybe it was the scent of fear. "Guess it does at that."

He let Lex go, walked towards antique piping sprouting out of the ground next to a support beam, and turned a rusty valve. The sound of squealing metal echoed in the recesses of the empty warehouse, high pitched and torturous. The boy made an unhappy sound, somewhere behind Lex. Rule didn't seem to mind.

Rule picked up the end of a thick hose, the industrial grade sort, and dragged it over.

Fuck. Fu - - was as far as Lex got in panicked comprehension before the blast of water hit him.

It wasn't the temperature that was shocking, but the impact, like getting kicked in the chest by a very large, very wet hoof and then having it start to work over the rest of him.

It knocked him off his balance, shot up his nose and mouth before he could turn his face into his arm and there was nothing to do but hang there and endure, sputtering in indignation that wanted very badly to melt into blathering fear.

Clark hadn't come. Clark hadn't figured it out and God knew Lex's people hadn't worked Rule and the boy coming after him into the equation. They were working on the assumption of their prey going to ground or striking furtively when the urge was no longer controllable. Initiating a major strike against the respective powers that be had been far down on the list of possibilities. They might figure it out eventually, but it wouldn't be soon enough.

This wasn't going to end pleasantly.

How many of Rule's victims had been found? Not nearly so many as the scars marked into the man's flesh to commemorate them.

He wondered how many had stoically held onto pride until the end, refusing to plead for mercy that wouldn't come? He'd like to think he'd be capable of it, but that was wishful thinking. The earth had already broken him and he doubted he could pull himself back together enough to endure the sadistic stylings of a madman's imagination.

Lex was gasping after breath when the water relented. Half blind from water in his eyes, half deaf from it in his ears, skin numb from the battering. He felt Rule's hands on him though. Fingers grasped his jaw, forcing his head up and he blinked water from his lashes, focusing on the gleaming length of the switchblade, then past it to Rule's perverse grin.

"If you kill me," Lex said softly, fighting to keep the tremor out of his voice, looking for that last out, that last chance to reason with a man who's greatest pleasure was the kill. "You'll be on the run for the rest of your life - -"

"I'm on the run now." The blade slid down, severing the buttons of Lex's sodden silk shirt.

"Your patterns are known." Don't look down, don't follow the path of the blade along his belly. "Every disappearance, every body found with a hint of your MO and you'll be that much closer to capture - - you think my facility was restrictive - - see how the government treats mutant psychopaths - -"

"Now you're just being insulting," Rule grinned at him, and drew the flat edge of the blade up the center of Lex's torso, then flipped it around and started slicing through the material of the left sleeve.

"No, I'm offering you an alternative. A man like you - - with your talents, with your particular insensitivities to human suffering - - could be an invaluable asset."

"You're offering me a job?" Rule hesitated, the blade halfway up the remaining sleeve.

"Did you think my interest in meta-humans was purely altruistic? I'm not in business to make the world a safer, happier place, I'm in business to make a profit. And to do that, sometimes men like me, have a need for men like you."

Rule was thinking. Lex could see the consideration in his eyes. And if there had been a grain of truth in the offer, it would have been a damned good one - - hell, if Garrison Rule hadn't been a serial killer, it might not even have been such a fictional proposal. But Lex preferred his attack dogs leash trained and Rule had likely been a wild card from the day he'd been old enough to appreciate the kill. Still, he'd promise him the world, if it got him interested in negotiation.

"What about the boy?" Rule cocked his head towards Gordy.

"The boy, too."

It was a mistake and Lex knew it, the moment the acquiescence left his mouth, but he was off his game. Any offer that looked too good, usually was and Rule was no fool. He tried to cover it with a rider. "But only if he's trainable - - black ops work requires tact."

The blade slid the rest of the way up Lex's sleeve, tearing through thin silk like it was soft butter. Rule stepped in close to him, the hand with the knife brushing his back, curling around and skimming his armpit until the blade lay flat against the curve of his neck.

"Hear that, Gordy? He wants to train you - - you wanna work for him?"

The boy skulked up, restless like a wary beast, eyes glued to the knife against Lex's skin.

"I wanna cut him." The boy said softly and Rule chuckled, free hand splayed out across Lex's stomach.

"Soft skin." Rule commented, stroking appreciatively. Lex clamped his jaw and tried not to flinch when Rule unbuckled the belt, and worked the button beneath out of the hole. "I don't think he wants to work for the man who had him in a cage. I don't think I wanna let you out of this place, false promises or not, in anything other than pieces. I'll train the boy, all right. I'll teach him how to make it last. How to make the quality time stretch out."

Rule beckoned with his free hand and the boy stepped close enough that Lex could smell the sweat on him.

"First lesson Gordy," Rule grinned, and drew the boy's fingers across the hollow just above Lex's jeans, between hip and lower belly. "Is mapping out all the soft places on a body where a man can be hurt without delivering the killing blow, then figuring out all the different things you can do to him, before he begs you to slit his throat."

The boy didn't smile, but his dead eyes glittered. His fingers skimmed up Lex's ribs, like he was touching something precious or something dead - - maybe both - - towards the knife. Drawn towards the knife.

"No," Rule said. "You're not ready for the knife, boy. But don't worry, I'll show you other ways to make him bleed."

The inherent problem with involving Lex's security was they hindered Clark's ability to do what needed to be done without fear of exposure. Not that he was feeling the particular need to be circumspect, the more his desperation levels rose - - but in the long run, it would be problematic for Lex to have to bribe, or threaten, or do worse to members of his security team - - and Clark was not naive enough to think that Lex wouldn't stoop to less than entirely ethical methods persuasion to protect him - - if the need arose.

Clark could understand the feeling. The need to protect what was his at any cost when danger threatened. Even if it meant breaking into Lex's security network in efforts to track him down without setting LexCorp security on full alert. Which might be the next step regardless, if Clark and Clark's resources couldn't uncover Lex's whereabouts.

As it was, he had a LexCorp pass card that would get him past just about any door, he knew where Lex kept his ever-changing security passwords and he had Chloe.

He sat down with all three outside Lex's office near the top of LexCorp South, scanned the office for LexCorp employees and found it empty, then hustled a windblown Chloe in through the sliding doors.

"Flying wouldn't be half so bad," she pushed hair out of her face and rubbed the back of her neck, her cheeks pink from wind chap or emotion. "If you didn't zip around like a bee in a jar. I think I've got whiplash."

"Sorry," he mumbled. "It's the middle of the day, I had to sort of be quick about it."

She gave him a raised eyebrow and moved to Lex's desk and the closed laptop resting neatly center, before the chair.

"Oh," Chloe said, settling down. "This is a really nice chair - - I have got to get one of these."

"It probably cost more than your car," Clark leaned over her shoulder as she opened the computer. He dug in his pocket for the handwritten list of pass codes, he'd picked up from Lex's penthouse apartment. He handed it over and watched Chloe work her magic.

Getting into LexCorp security was no easy feat even with the pass codes, but it would have been impossible from anywhere but within the LexCorp system itself. He was hoping very much they could get the information they needed from Lex's office and not have to risk attempting slipping down to the security level and logging on one those systems.

"I'm in," Chloe crowed softly and Clark shut his eyes in relief. "What's the license plate of the one he was driving?"

"I don't know, but it was the black 911 Porsche."

Chloe chewed her lip and did a search. Clark x-rayed through the office walls to check on Lex's assistant. She was safely behind her desk, working on her own computer. He kept an ear out for movement beyond the doors, and turned his attention back to Chloe.

"I've got it," Chloe brows furrowed a little as she read. "The car's GPS says it's in Grandville - - parked apparently at the intersection of Sufford and Grange - - wait, isn't that where the Grandville Wallymart is? Would Lex be caught dead in a Wallymart?"

Lex wouldn't. Not of his own accord.

"Okay. Come on." He scooped her up with her fingers still on the keyboard and was out of the office before she could yelp in complaint. He sat her down in the alley beside her apartment building, lingered just long enough to make sure she was steady on her feet before he was gone again, heading east.

Without the worry of damaging a frail human body, holding back on speed wasn't an issue. He was over Grandville before Chloe had probably finished taking the breath she'd started before he'd left her. It took a few more seconds to orient himself - - to locate the big Wallymart superstore and the sprawling parking lot outside it. Another few moments to spy the top of the only Porsche in the lot, parked by its lonesome out towards the unpopulated fringes of the parking lot.

Clark set down next to the driver's side door and scowled down at the gaping hole where the window should have been. There were pieces of shattered safety glass on the floorboard and in the well between seats. The ignition was mangled. There was a twisted carcass of something electronic on the floor of the passenger side. A crushed cell phone, Clark discovered when he retrieved it and from the degree of damage done, not something any normal human hand could have managed.

The band of fear in his chest tightened. God, what had Lex gotten himself into? And where the hell was he? The hood of the car was cool, so it had been here a while, and not even under the grandest stretch of imagination could Clark imagine Lex loitering within the confines of a Wallymart. He checked inside regardless, standing at the intersection of two main aisles and scanning the store, shuffling through hundreds of bodies wondering the aisles and dotting the backrooms. No Lex.

He shuddered, gut churning, fighting the impulse to tear through the rows of discount merchandise in his frustration. He needed to tear through something in his frustration, no matter that all the power in the world wasn't going to help him, if he didn't know where to look.

He went back outside, stood by the abandoned Porsche. Took a few deep calming breaths and tried to organize his thoughts. It wasn't easy when his mind kept insistently dwelling on all the terrible things that might have happened to Lex - - things already done and too late to alter. Lex dead - - dumped already somewhere between here and Metropolis - -

God. Clark drew a sobbing breath, and hit the roof of the car. The hood crumpled, the front right tire popping as the frame was driven down.

Damnit. Damnit. Clark pulled out his phone and made a call.

Lex wouldn't beg. He held on to that shred of self-control, almost by some stubborn instinct, even when the rest of his rational mind ran shrieking to disconnect itself from the rest of his body. He screamed. Oh, he screamed a lot, voice hoarse and weak by the time they tired of the game. But he never gave them the satisfaction of hearing him beg them to end it the only way they'd allow.

He might have, if they'd put him in the ground again - - because that had damaged something inside him - - opened wounds he didn't know he'd had and seared the edges ajar. If they put him back in the earth, he wasn't sure what he'd be reduced to. But they couldn't lay hands on him if he was entombed in the dirt, they couldn't participate in his destruction, so they didn't use it as a threat against him. Maybe they simply didn't know how effective a tool it had been.

Lex wasn't about to enlighten them.

They loitered by the warehouse door, letting in a slice of afternoon sun, but the fresh air didn't reach far enough inside the cavernous warehouse to breach the stench of blood and sweat and pain that hung heavy in the air around Lex. There was blood on the floor at his feet. The hard packed dirt was soaked with it. It still flowed freely in places - - from the most recent cuts and down his arms from where the cuffs had lacerated the skin at his wrists. Most of the slices would have clotted abnormally quickly on their own, thanks to his enhanced healing - - even the deepest of them would heal at an accelerated rate and vanish completely from his skin if given the chance - - but they'd cauterized the nastiest cuts regardless, Rule meticulous in his art, and not prepared to have his canvas bleed out before he'd exhausted his creative energies. The lit ends of cigarettes or the flame from a lighter worked well enough to sear skin and stop unruly bleeding.

When they'd come back the first time, they brought with them a few six packs of beer. Rule had systematically reduced the number, but he only allowed the boy a few. The boy voiced no objection, content with the older man's authority. He followed Rule like a young dog at the heels of an alpha male, baring his throat when necessary and eager to please. Just as well, Lex thought, because Gordon Elliot was one of the most powerful mutants alive and without restraint his destructive potential was terrifying. Rule might be a twisted and sadistic killer, but he was disciplined and furtive in his habits. With Gordon under his control the casualties would be limited to single victims captured and toyed with, instead of the mass destruction the boy was capable of. There had been very little left of the small town he'd lived in, after he'd snapped and murdered his parents and he'd been all of fourteen then, his powers only newly active.

They wondered back and Lex shut his eyes, trying not to move, trying not to shudder, though his body betrayed him when Rule moved in close behind and laid a callused hand along his ribs.

"You catch you breath yet, Lex?" The man asked and Lex felt the scratch of stubble along the back of his head as Rule pressed close.

The big hand slid down and squeezed his genitals and pain lanced through him, bright and intense. They'd used the knife on him there too, and sealed the nicks with the hot end of a cigarette. Rule took a great deal of pleasure from inflicting pain in erogenous zones, though he never showed signs of physical arousal from his efforts. Oh, it shined in his eyes, the excitement over the infliction of hurt and degradation, but his body never reacted. Lex wasn't sure he was capable, for none of his multitude of victims had ever shown signs of rape. Oh, there had been sexual mutilation galore, and penetration with foreign objects, but no semen had ever been left behind. Impotence might be a symptom or a cause of his psychosis. Either way, it was one small bit of luck in an abysmally long string of bad.

The boy had no such problem. The boy's jeans tented off and on through the play, aroused by the blood and torture, but he had no interest in doing more than scrubbing a hand down the front of his pants, like he was scratching a curious itch.

"You wanna fuck him, boy?" Rule had asked once, while the boy stared bright eyed at the blood trailing down Lex's stomach, pooling in his navel and traveling lower.

"I ain't no fag," the boy had muttered, with the offended dignity of a youth unsure of just what he was. Lex imagined Clark responding in much the same tone to the same suggestion, when he'd been sixteen and trying desperately to convince himself he was unwaveringly heterosexual.

"It ain't about being a fag or not," Rule had said, like a teacher lecturing the basics of prison psychology. "It's about you being top dog and putting your bitch in its place. Sometimes all the pain in the world won't hurt a man as much as your dick up his ass - - or in his mouth. Don't much matter, it's the principle that counts."

The boy had considered, while Lex had hung, shuddering convulsively from pain and shock, not entirely capable at the time of wrapping his mind around the full impact of Rule's words. But Rule's disciple though he was, Gordon had declined, with a furrow in his brow and a hand idly scrubbing at his still tight jeans.

Lex tried to focus on the strip of light through the cracked warehouse door - - afternoon light? - - evening? How long had he been here? How many hours? Long summer days stretched on forever and it might be late into the evening - - he'd lost track - - passed out enough times that he had no concept of the passage of time.

Why hadn't Clark come? Clark always came. Even when they'd been at odds - - Clark had always come. Clark wasn't coming, because Clark was with Lana, licking her mental wounds, playing her savior like it was his salvation from all the rest of his astronomically abnormal existence. Like she was the normalcy that would make him closer to human.

Fuck Clark.

No. He wasn't being logical. It wasn't Clark's fault if Clark didn't know. It wasn't Clark's fault if Clark was practicing a bit of hard learned wisdom and was giving Lex a cool down period before he called. It wasn't Clark's fault that even if he did suspect foul play, he wouldn't know where to look.

So maybe Clark wasn't coming and maybe it had nothing whatsoever to do with Lana Lang. Maybe it was just bad timing. Bad luck. Bad karma.

Lex came out of the delirium of a half faint, gasping from the lingering pain of Rule's parting gift. The boy was staring at him, close enough to touch, but not. Rule was gone and the place seemed somehow lighter, the air easier to breath without his presence.

Beer. There had been a mention of going out and buying more beer. Enough to last the night. And something about jumper cables and a car battery and Lex didn't want to think about what they needed those for.

But the boy was staring, manic dark eyes flickering across the tell tale marks they'd left on his body. Tracking the undulating paths that blood had taken, staining his skin. Lex dropped his head, shivering involuntarily and tried to get his toes on the ground to take some of the pressure off the cuffs. Rule had cut the tape off from around his ankles - - a necessity to strip him down - - a necessity for better access to soft, vulnerable places.

The boy reached out a hand, fingers trailing the edges of a cut. Lex flinched and lifted his eyes. There was less reasoning with this child than there was with Rule and more chance of sparking a fit of madness that would send him into a frenzy.

"He said not to touch, when he was gone, didn't he?" The negotiator in Lex refused to bow to that wisdom. The agitator in him was compelled to plant the seeds of doubt, even if his voice trembled when he spoke. "You don't follow his rules, you think he'll be any more lenient with you than he is with anyone else that pisses him off?"

Gordon paused, the tip of a finger pressed between the open edges of a wound that was sending little sparks of pain into the spaces behind Lex's eyes.

"If you don't follow like a good dog, he'll either leave you behind or kill you outright."

"He's not like that," the boy said. "He's not like them. He cares."

Them. The deceased elder Elliot's, Lex assumed. Lex could almost understand the staunch loyalty from a boy who's home life had been shit even before his powers had manifested - - a boy who'd never had a support system would latch onto the first body who expressed a real interest and that loyalty might well be unshakable.

"Test the theory," Lex suggested - - likely the stupidest thing to ever come out of his mouth - - but desperation made for recklessness. "Draw unsanctioned blood and see what he does."

The boy's eyes narrowed, the only sign of uneasy possibilities dancing inside his head. He drew his hand back, idly sucked the blood off his fingertip and turned - - put his back to Lex, close enough to see the dirt behind the kid's unwashed ears - - and the chance was just there.

Adrenalin laced fear fed strength into watery limbs - - numbed the pain in his wrists he put his full weight on them, drawing his legs up and catching the boy unawares, crossing his legs and attempting to choke the breath out of him. The kid struggled, trying to get his hand under Lex's knee to loosen the grip. The ground quaked, weakening the foundations of a building beyond its prime, causing bits and pieces of loosened material to fall from the rafters. Maybe if Lex had been on the ground, it might have shaken his grip, no matter strength lent by the grace of desperation.

Then it just stopped, the boy going limp in his clasp, the weight of his body falling jerking him out of Lex's hold. Which left Lex hanging again, trembling and out of breath with a body at his feet that was red faced, but breathing shallowly and likely to come to at any moment. Or be found by Rule if the man came back unexpectedly.

God.

He couldn't get a grip on the hook to lift himself up, but the boy's body lent him that extra height. He stepped on the kid's shoulder and caught the bottom link of the chain holding the hook, hauled himself up despite the screaming pain in his wrists and slipped the cuffs over the blood slick tongue of the hook. He hit the ground the moment the unwanted support was gone, legs crumpling as strength fled. He sprawled next to the boy, agony stealing his vision, dizziness threatening his consciousness, and tried to catch his breath and clear his head.

He had to clear his head, because if he passed out, he was lost.

Everything hurt. It felt like things were broken inside - - like he couldn't get enough air in his lungs. He made himself move, pushed up and saw the remnants of his clothing not far away. Pants were salvageable, but the shirt was a lost cause. Getting them on handcuffed was no easy task. He didn't bother with the belt, coiled innocently a few yards away - - Rule had made use of it - - had let the boy loose with it - - and Lex stood for a second, staring, the memory of the sounds it had made, more intense than the ones of the stinging pain.

He snarled, shaking off the spell and drew back his foot and kicked the boy. Again, in the head, feeling a surge of retaliatory viciousness that was like acid in his veins that warmed the chill of a body half gone to shock. It put him off his balance, and he stood there, wavering, while his vision spun and the notion that Rule would come back drained the moment of rage out of him and replaced it with the driving need to escape.

He made for the door, grasped the age pitted handle and put his weight into sliding it open enough to slip through. It was late evening outside, the sky the ashen purple of dusk. There were crickets battling for dominance in the overgrown weeds and the not so distant clatter of a train. There were the shapes of other grey warehouses that he hadn't noticed on the way in - - dilapidated structures, marred with graffiti and broken and boarded windows.

It was a wasteland, no cars, no people, no activity save the rustle of wind through the grasses. The sound of the train came from behind the building he'd been kept in. He headed that way, following the border of the warehouse and retreating around the corner, relieved to be out of easy sight of a car that might come down the old gravel road out front.

He saw the tracks almost immediately, an array of them spread out below - - an industrial yard that fed what seemed acres of warehouse spaces spread out beyond. It had to be the Grandville train yards, or the outskirts of it. LexCorp owned a section of storage facilities somewhere along the Grandville industrial transit mile - - but he honestly had no idea exactly where. It wasn't like he made a habit of visiting warehouse property. He'd bet though, they weren't located near the worn down hulks here.

He limped down the incline towards the tracks, each step a jarring impact that made lights dance behind his eyes. He didn't need to reach LexCorp property, he just needed to find someone with a phone. The closest track was empty but a slow moving train clanked along on the next one over. Boxcar after boxcar, a great deal of them the wooden slated sort used for the transport of livestock. It seemed to trail on forever, preventing passage across the tracks. Which meant walking along the tracks and hoping he came across something on this side.

There was a cry from behind him, distant and hoarse and he turned, saw a figure at the top of the same incline he'd staggered down to reach the tracks, nothing more than a shadowy silhouette against the evening sky, but he knew in his bones who it was.

Rule. Returned to find his prey fled and his pack of one down for the count. Lex stumbled into a run, blood thudding in panic. He tripped over a section of railway timber half hidden in summer dry grass and couldn't catch himself soon enough with cuffed hands to avoid the impact of a nasty fall. Vision went the sort of dark that was laced with red spots of pain.

He pushed himself up, a fresh stream of blood slicking his palms from the torn skin at his wrists, and ran. He looked back once, saw the dark shape loping down the incline towards the tracks in his wake. On a good day, Lex could outdistance the man with ease, he was certain. Today wasn't a good day. Today he thought his lungs were going to burst, his muscles fray and disintegrate from the effort. And then Rule would be on him and there would be no second chances.

There was nothing ahead but the incline with a chain link fence at the top to one side and the barrier of the a train that was picking up speed on the other and God knew how far ahead there might be anything else - - there might be nothing else but Kansas plain lands if they were at the east end of the train yards.

But there was something ahead that broke the monotony, a structure between the two sets of tracks, a dilapidated wooden ramp that might have been used to load cattle into boxcars. e siHe

He heard the labored gasp of breath and for one desperate moment, thought it was Rule, close on his heels, but a glance behind his shoulder showed the man a good distance away, but gaining. So the harsh breath was his own. He laughed at that, a little madly, and veered across the slats of the empty track towards the old loading ramp.

Scrambled up the incline and stared dizzily at the passing motif of boxcars panels, dotted with the occasional dark maw of an open door. If he missed, he'd be a spatter on the side of the train, or worse yet, tangled under the churning wheels. A messy death, but preferable to the one Rule wanted to give him. Lex was nothing if not a firm believer in high risk, high return ventures.

He glanced down the track, saw Rule a hundred yards away, saw the glint of the man's teeth in the fading light. Saw the approaching gap of an open cattle car and made the decision - -

He jumped, avoided being clipped by a hair's breadth and hit the floor of the cattle car in a sprawl of limbs. Rolled onto his back and lay there drawing in lungfuls of air tainted with the musty odor of moldy straw and dung.

It took a few moments before the pain of the landing sank in, before the rough texture of wood and old straw grinding into the abused skin of his back began to burn. He couldn't make himself move. It hurt, but realistically, it wasn't going to stop hurting just because he changed position and balanced against the simple fact that he'd escaped the clutches of a madman by the skin of his teeth - - lying there, simply breathing in relief, swaying with the subtle motion of the train and enduring a little bearable pain was a good trade.

He shut his eyes and dizziness swam in the darkness behind them. Like motion sickness, drenched in a cold sweat that made him think maybe he should make the effort to shift to his side, just in case his stomach decided to heave up its contents. He shuddered and made himself move, curled onto his side, drew his legs up and felt the icy kiss of cold. Which was unnatural on a balmy summer night. He shouldn't be sweating and freezing at the same time, unless he was succumbing to shock - - or blood loss. Both maybe.

He wondered how much blood the dirt floor under the hook had soaked up. A lot. He healed freakishly fast, but would his blood replenish at the same accelerated rate? He clenched his fists, drawing his arms tighter against his chest, feeling the metal of the cuff bit into flesh and not caring. The pain was exquisite - - born of his own will instead of the will of another and cherished because of it.

A dark veil drew down across his awareness, making thoughts unfocused. He felt himself begin to slip, and the pain dissolved with the fall until all that was left was the rhythmic clank of the train and then, even that went away.

The reverberating screech of sound clawed its way through the darkness, the first wail of a particularly offensive alarm. Lex obligingly roused at it, thoughts hazed by more than simple sleep. His head was heavy - - his body was, and for the span of a heartbeat or two, he floundered, bereft of where or when or why. Then it hit him, the grim particulars, a moment before the screech barreled closer and the world turned upside down.

The roar was deafening. The train rocked with it - - the boxcar did, impacted from the front and then the back in short succession and sending old straw and dried dung and its single human passenger hurtling towards the back wall, then the side as it groaned and tumbled.

Vision went bright this time, instead of dark, infused with the flare of sparks and pain, then clouded over by the rising fog of dust and dirt that billowed through the slats of the box car's sides as it gouged its way across dry summer earth.

Lex lay there, sprawled like a broken doll in the corner of what had been the top of the car, in the midst of straw and bits of broken timber slats. He was too shocked to feel pain, too stunned to feel anything but amazement that he was alive at all for a few precious moments.

Then his brain kicked in and brought with it a sort of dull panic. It hurt to move - - it hurt a lot - - but he wasn't entirely certain that wasn't the result of a body gone stiff and sore from old wounds. He cursed regardless as he forced himself upright enough to check that everything moved that was supposed to. It didn't feel as if there were broken bones, though there were certainly bright new spots of pain. There was wetness leaking down his face that hadn't been before and he lifted his cuffed hands to gingerly touch his head. There was a gash above his left eyebrow that ran across his temple to his ear. Not deep enough to expose bone, but bleeding profusely nonetheless. Just what he needed, more blood loss.

He cursed again, long and low and inventive. How bad could his luck possibly get that on top of being kidnapped and tortured, he just happened to hop the one train in a thousand that managed to wreck? But then, he didn't believe in luck, did he? You made your own, was the hard learned rule Lionel had driven into him growing up. And though that might be the case with the good variety, Lex was beginning to reconsider the possibility of bad luck being a universal force all its own.

He gathered resolve and hauled himself up enough to lean against the slanted wall - - no, roof - - of the overturned boxcar and stared up dismally at the open doorway overhead and the patch of dark sky it revealed. He wasn't sure he had it in him to climb up there and reach it, but there was a disturbing protuberance of what looked like a section of train track stabbing up through the floor (wall) of the car and a dangling bit of rope attached to the bottom of the sliding door, that was probably used to open and close it from the ground, and with the help of those, and the fact that the car was lying at a slant and the climb wasn't entirely vertical, he made the edge, and pulled himself over.

He perched there for a moment, on the edge, and stared with the awe usually reserved for great catastrophes out over the field of destruction.

The dark shapes of boxcars were tossed like toys, carelessly scattered across a child's miniature set. The wreckage was worse further up the track where the brunt of the collision had occurred, cars crumpled and piled atop each other like so much flotsam.

He dropped down to the ground, rolled on the soft embankment and lay for a moment, catching his breath and categorizing aches and pains.

Something exploded, a distant reverberation of sound, and he flinched, reflexes just shot to hell, before he got his breathing under control and figured it was the engine going up too far up the line to be a threat to him. He pushed himself up and saw the billowing cloud of luminescent smoke, burning oil and dust up ahead. An orange glow that illuminated the worst of the wreckage, cars so mangled that nothing living on board could have survived. If he'd jumped a car further up the line - -

No. Stop that line of thought. He'd survived this, just as he'd survived Rule - -just like he survived every other fucked up bit of ill luck that seemed drawn to him like he was magnetic north for perpetual disaster. He had enough actual's to deal with without going into the what if's.

He got to his feet, took a moment to let a shimmering wave of dizziness pass, and started maneuvering east, along the edge of the wreckage.

The closer he got, the more he was able to see the carnage and figure out what must have happened. A bridge had to have gone out, for it seemed the first half dozen cars and the burning engine were lodged haphazardly in the cleft of a ravine. There were no scurrying survivors, no wail of sirens yet to signal the approach of rescue personal, but they'd be here eventually, to poke through the debris.

If there had been a passenger train - - the loss of life would have been enormous, but there didn't seem to be any car in the mix up ahead that resembled an Amtrak passenger car - - chances were this was a Union Pacific line dedicated solely to freight.

He found himself wading through a field of feathers- - they coated the ground and floated lazily in the air - - and hesitated, a mind that was a little too slow on the uptake from shock and blood loss not quite able to fathom the surrealness of it. There were sacks scattered, hurled from an overturned boxcar, torn and mangled and releasing their contents into the air.

Feathers, everywhere. Floating softness incongruous with twisted metal. He made himself keep walking and his knees almost gave way. The faint headedness wasn't coming in waves anymore, it was just there - - a constant that made his vision tunnel and his limbs shake. He wouldn't be able to make it much further on his own. Find a place, then, to sit/fall down where he'd be seen if he chanced to succumb to the dizziness and passed out.

A bit closer to the point of impact though, because that's where the first responders would gravitate and Lex's own morbid curiosity demanded he get a closer look at the cause of this devastation.

Nearer still and another incongruity struck him. There was no river or overpass ahead, just flat Kansas plain land marred by what seemed a gigantic sinkhole a hundred feet wide - - no hint that the structure of a bridge had ever been there.

Sinkholes just didn't appear in the middle of fertile plains land - - not unless they were created.

God.

Something ignited in the midst of the burning mess of the engine and a smaller, secondary explosion made the ground tremble. Lex recoiled, staggering backwards as a new cloud of dust went up, and small pieces of dirt and rock littered the air. One leg gave out on him, ankle twisting in a rut and he went down on bruised knees.

He blinked his vision clear and saw a figure striding out of the haze. He knew who it was. The sort of optimism that might have lent hope that it was rescue and not damnation had never been a strong point with him. But then again, neither was submission.

Luthor's didn't crumble and quietly give in to fate, even if that was exactly what his body wanted to do. He might not have the strength to push himself up off his knees, but damned if he'd cower.

He saw the glint of metal along the line of a long arm - - the dull sheen of tempered steel, like the durable sort used in railways. He wondered, curiosity waging war with the fear, if Rule had been there, at the brunt of the crash, or even near it. If his altered body had been capable of surviving the devastating impact. He'd evolved since he'd been apprehended, but they'd never tested the limits of his durability to this extent.

The boy certainly would have had to have reaped his havoc from a distance. He'd be somewhere out there in the darkness, waiting, watching while Rule waded through the catastrophe the boy's powers had wrought.

There must have been a service road out there, running alongside the tracks, one that Rule, with his trucker's knowledge of rural back routes would have been familiar with - - It wouldn't have taken much speed to outdistance the lazy pace of a freight engine pulling a hundred plus box cars.

All the boy would have needed was a few minutes to bend the earth to his will and devastation bloomed. The boy wouldn't have cared - - Rule must have been desperate though, to risk such a noisy method of recapture. If recapture was on the agenda at all and not a simple, quick end to a man that would bend heaven and earth, if allowed the chance to see these two neutralized.

If Lex were in Rule's shoes, he'd kill him outright and flee while he had the chance - - but of course, Lex liked to think he was slightly saner than Garrison Rule.

He put on a grim smile, and met the eyes of a madman when they were close enough to see through the darkness.

"All this," Rule waved an arm heavy with metal. His feet sank in to the earth from the weight of his altered body. "Is your fault."

The whites of Rule's eyes weren't quite white anymore, but a faintly lighter steel gray than the dark pits of the irises. His white smile was blunted as well, gone train rail dull.

"Yeah," Lex agreed with that statement. "If I'd had you put down, like any conscionable person would a mad dog - - all of this could have been avoidable. You've taught me a valuable lesson."

"You little fuck," It was a strange sound, when Rule clenched his metal fist. Then he drew it back, and Lex figured the man had decided on the rational route of quick dispatchment, because one hit from that fist would be all it took to crush a skull.

Clark stood in the shadow of a roadside sign and watched police and state troopers scurry around the abandoned state trooper cruiser that had pulled over Lex's Porsche earlier in the day. The Porsche of course, was long gone, abandoned itself it a Super Discount store parking lot, but the investigation into the disappearance of two officers was still in full swing.

Clark himself had gotten this lead from Chloe, who'd in turn called in a favor from sources within state law enforcement to red flag anything with the Luthor scent. The roadside stop had come up immediately and authorities must have contacted LexCorp because a black SUV reminiscent of the one's LexCorp security used was parked beyond the police lines and black suited men with earpieces and stony faces conferred with equally stone faced state trooper brass.

They weren't saying anything useful though - - nothing Clark didn't know already - - which was that Lex was missing, the victim of a possible car-jacking/kidnapping and that there were no leads.

The dogs the state police had brought in to search the area were raising a ruckus and they hadn't even left the scene, concentrated on a spot of ground at the edge of the brush that bordered the roadside. Clark focused his own vision, trying to find whatever it was that had the hounds so agitated - - the moment his vision went x-ray he saw what the dirt concealed. The bony skeletal shape of a hand frozen in the act of clawing towards the surface.

No. No. No.

Clark drew a panicked breath, vision spiraling out of control for a brief moment as fear breached his control. It took everything he had not to rush over there and tear into the earth. He shut his eyes, forced calm and took another look.

The hand was attached to the rest of a skeleton and there was a second one just below, both complete with all the little bits of metal and gear that a state trooper might have about his person. There was no third more familiar figure and for a moment all he felt was relief, before he got a grip and chastised himself for the emotion when there were two dead men stashed in the earth under the very feet of their colleagues.

Aside from strolling up out of the dark and mentioning the fact - - and wouldn't that inspire confidence in a group full of on-edge law enforcement - - he had to leave it to them to follow the instincts of their dogs and figure it out for themselves.

Which still left Clark the same place he'd been before he'd seen the bodies underground - - lost. More than lost because now he knew for a fact that wherever Lex was, he was in deep, deep shit.

Something stirred up the gathered troopers across the interstate more than the agitation of the dogs - - there was a general migration towards cars and various radios blaring out information.

Clark cocked his head and concentrated on picking up the tinny voice of the trooper dispatcher.

" - - Pacific engine 617 eleven miles west of the Smallville junction. Repeat all available personal respond to a major derailment of the Union Pacific freight engine 617, eleven miles west of the Smallville junction off route 33. Injuries unknown - - no radio response from engine personal - -"

He knew where that was. Had watched hundreds of trains chug their way across Kansas farmland, tracks cutting through fields rich with corn or wheat or soybeans. Never once - - at least in his memory, had he heard of a train crash on those long, straight stretches of rail. Something caught in his chest - - some absolute surety that this wasn't coincidence.

He looked east in the direction he knew the railroad lay, and he was there, following the tracks in the air faster than he ever had as a boy stretching his ground bound legs. And there it was, marring the unwavering line of the rail below. The last few dozen cars still stood upright on the tracks, perfectly seated, but rest of the line was dislodged, zigzagged off the track like a snake with a dislocated spine, some overturned, some just forced off the rails by the impact of sudden stop from the front and collision from the rear. It was worse up front, cars crumpled and mashed like they were made of tin foil. There was a great gouge in the earth, a ravine that just shouldn't have been there bisecting the tracks, where the engine and the first few cars had tumbled. Smoke rolled up from the wreckage.

He listened for signs of life and heard the thud of heartbeats. Zeroed in and saw figures on the ground at the side of the wreckage. Pale skin gleamed in the ambient light and he knew it was Lex even before he picked up on the details. Saw the raised fist of a man whose heartbeat didn't sound right - - deep and dull in his chest as if it were heavily shielded.

Clark swooped down, so hard and fast that his heels kicked up dirt at his landing. Between the fist and Lex, who was on his knees and not making the effort to avoid it. He didn't know why and he didn't get the chance to look, because the blow connected with him, as intended and if he'd been prepared for something other than a human backed hit, he might have taken it without staggering backwards a step at the impact.

As it was - - he felt it. Really felt it. He kept himself from tripping backwards over Lex by the grace of Kryptonian born reflexes and caught a glimpse of the man's face that had delivered the blow. The features were certainly human but the flesh was far from it, the dull, brown/gray of weathered steel. The whole of the man was, through and through, the only indication of skeletal structure of separate internal organs denser patches within the whole.

"Clark - -?" he heard Lex gasp behind him and thought of the possible damage done to fragile human flesh and bone had that blow connected with the intended target. It pissed him off.

He drew back his own arm, before the metal man could cock his fist for a second blow and slammed it dead center in the man's chest. It was like punching a man-sized block of solid cast iron. The results were predictable. Cast iron blocks did not stand up to yellow-sun enhanced alien strength. The man went sailing backwards, into the smoking pit where the wreckage of the engine lay.

Clark spun, falling to his knees in the dirt before Lex, drawing Lex into his arms in utter relief before Lex had the chance to draw breath for another attempt at speech. Lex was shirtless and his skin was chill, and wet in places from open cuts or healing ones.

"You're okay. You're okay."

"Clark," Lex's fingers clutched ineffectually at the bottom of Clark's shirt. He was shivering, full body quaking that must have been involuntary because Lex never would have allowed such weakness to show otherwise.

"It's okay," Clark felt the need to reassure.

"Its not," Lex pushed at him, wanting free and Clark let him go just enough to see his face. There were bruises there, marring smooth skin, and exhaustion marred the usual spark in blue-green eyes. There were handcuffs on Lex's wrists, that had bitten into skin and - - god - - almost down to bone. It was hard to tell with all the blood. He reached down and twisted them off while Lex was trying to get the breath to form another sentence.

"Go after him," Lex urged, desperate. "Don't let them get away."

"He's not going anywhere," Clark assured him. He wanted Lex calm. He wanted Lex somewhere safe and quiet where he could gather his wits and tend to his wounds. "He's down."

"He's not down - - not from that." Lex insisted, wild eyed, trying to get to his feet with Clark's shoulder as leverage, staring past him at the place where the man had fallen. "There's a boy who can move the earth - - They need to be contained - - I need to get a team here - -"

"Lex calm down," Clark put his hands on Lex's shoulders and Lex winced, as if it hurt to be touched. It probably did from the look of him, so many welts and cuts and bruises. Clark felt the black anger rising again. Someone had spent time hurting him and someone other than Lex needed to regret that.

"No," Lex pushed past him, staggering a little, like his legs weren't up to supporting his body weight. "Go check on him - - and find the boy. It won't take much to put the boy down, if you come up fast. Do it, Clark."

Arguing with Lex right now, wouldn't do either of them any good, and each minute that ticked by meant the authorities were a minute closer to getting there and if Clark had his rathers, he'd rather he and Lex be long gone to avoid unnecessary questions, by the time they did.

"Okay. Just stay here."

Leaving Lex standing there was no easy thing, but Lex wasn't prone to hysteria and if he was this upset about the metal man - - this certain that one hit hadn't taken him down - - then maybe it hadn't. The man was obviously a meta-human, obviously dangerous and obviously holding a grudge against Lex, so making sure he was past the point of danger was probably a good idea.

Clark reached the edge of the yawning crater. Smoke and dirt still hovered in the air like low-lying fog, concealing scattered debris. He saw a figure at the bottom though, not far from the bulk of the smoldering engine, on hands and knees amidst the rubble of displaced earth and twisted metal. Not unconscious at all, which was surprising, considering the angry force that Clark had put behind the blow.

Clark hopped down into the pit, was a half dozen feet from the slowly rising figure before he felt the twinge. He glanced down at his feet and saw a shimmer of green in amidst the dislodged rock and dirt. A chunk of meteorite no bigger than his fist. He kicked it away, instinct born of self-preservation and it clattered a far enough distance that the nausea churning in his gut should have receded, instead of growing stronger. Which meant there was more, broken loose by whatever- - whoever, according to Lex - - had created this crater in the earth.

He shuddered, feeling that first stab of pain like acid in the veins and saw bits and pieces of more green rock scattered in the loosened earth. To hell with dealing with the metal man here, he thought. What he needed to do - - the smart thing to do, was get out of the crater where he could breath - - get Lex and get out here for the time being. He could track down this man and the boy Lex claimed he worked with later, away from chunks of unearthed kryptonite.

"Not bad, boy. I like a man who can give a decent punch."

Clark was surprised the man had gained his feet without him noticing, but then standing amidst a field of kryptonite debris was a bit of a distraction. The gleaming metal face grinned at him a moment before a fist that had somehow gained the green glimmer of stone amid the grey sheen of steel, slammed into his face.

Blood. Clark tasted blood. It was one of those rare flavors that he only got to experience once in a blue moon. Or under the influence of green rock.

The overheated metal of the decimated engine pressed into his back, where he'd been flung against it - - and he felt the heat - - actually felt it in a way that wasn't good. He pushed himself forward, still feeling the too close presence of kryptonite. Dropped to his knees and fought back the overwhelming urge to vomit. He shook his head, trying to clear the clinging disorientation and saw the man - - the still metal man with the gleam of green running through the exposed shell of his skin like veins.

The son of a bitch who'd been about to crush Lex's skull, who'd maybe been the one that had caused all those bruises and cuts that marred Lex's beautiful skin.

Clark growled, ignoring the weakness that threaded through his limbs - - damn sure ignoring the pain and lunged forward. Maybe not as fast as he could have, but fast enough that human reflexes couldn't react in time to counter him.

He hit the guy, a shoulder to a metal gut, and bowled them both thirty feet across dirt and debris, plowing into the soft earth at the edge of the crater. He wasn't entirely sure who he damaged more with the action. He'd never actually experienced a bone slipping out of joint - - but it certainly felt as if his shoulder had gone through some sort of dislocation.

Something hit his side - - a jackhammer disguised as a fist - - and he rocked backwards, spitting dirt, distracted from the pain in his shoulder by the pain in his kidney. He curled amidst the dirt and debris and tried to remember the last time he'd experienced so much consecutive pain. A long time.

"First time I hit you, didn't make a dent." The man was standing over him, dirt in his clothes, dirt dulling the sheen of his metallic skin. He was staring at his forearm and the tracery of green. "Is it the green rock? Same damned green rock that came down out of the sky that day and made me the man I am now? Rock do something to you too, boy? Or you one of his experiments?"

One of his experiments? Lex's? Was this one of the liberated mutants? If so, Clark found a certain lack of sympathy for the bastard.

"I don't have a grudge with you." The guy said, with this smile that made Clarks skin crawl. "You back off and let me settle my business with Luthor and you and I will be honky dory?"

Clark looked up, shook the dirt out of his hair and felt something almost feral cross his lips. Something deadly and determined that he'd back up with his life. "Over my dead body."

A grin, no less feral than Clark's, but less blood stained, split the metal man's face. "That's not a problem for me, boy."

The man drew his leg back for a kick, but Clark wasn't so far gone from the kryptonite exposure, not like he might have been when he was say, fifteen, and got weak kneed ten feet away from a necklace sized chip of the stuff. Maybe another ten years and he'd hardly flinch at all. A man could wish, anyway.

He caught the heavy heel when it came at him, and put his weight behind toppling the man backwards. A little cloud of dirt billowed up from the impact of the dense body.

"Clark!"

Clark looked up and saw Lex at the edge of the crater, too close for comfort to the overheated wreckage of a still burning engine.

"Get out of there," Lex was yelling at him, staring not down at Clark and the metal man, but across the width of the crater. Clark turned to follow his stare and caught half a glimpse of a small figure standing at south side of the rift and then the ground heaved under him. A rolling wave of earth that tossed him off his knees and culminated under the engine, bulging like some living thing under the massive chunk of twisted metal, then hoisting it up and flinging it, along with tons of dirt and rock towards them.

Clark was fairly certain, meteor rock weakened or no, that he'd survive the impact. The metal man very well might. Lex on the other hand, wasn't quite so durable and he was close enough to the edge that some of the tidal wave of earthen debris and mangled train would catch him on the way down.

Ignoring the lethargy that wanted to weight his limbs, Clark launched himself up. For a moment, it almost seemed as if the kryptonite wouldn't allow him to break the bonds of earth's gravity, but with a surge of will he overcame the weakness and shot up. With the shadow of disaster on his heels he caught Lex in the crook of his arm and shot skyward, carrying them both past the groaning rumble of destruction.

He kept going, up and up, drawing in breaths of relief as the distance leached the weakness from his body. There were still lingering hurts, still the taste of blood in his mouth, but the hurts faded rapidly and he could swallow the blood away.

"God," Lex said softly, shivering. Clark shifted him, light as a feather in his arms now that he had his full strength back. He got an arm under Lex's knees, cradling him close, far enough up now that the wreckage below was a thin jagged line bisecting straight track and flat squares of fields planted with summer crops. He could see the approaching lights of vehicles coming down the service road running parallel to the tracks. Really close from the direction of Smallville, miles further out from the interstate and the westward towns.

"There was kryptonite," Clark said, feeling the need to explain his failure. "It was like he'd absorbed it."

Lex pressed his face against Clark's shoulder, shuddering, heart beating frantically, not saying a thing, which in and of itself was a damned big tell to just how bad a shape he was in. Lex never lacked an opinion to offer.

"Hospital?" Clark asked and Lex shook his head minutely, the fingers of the hand curled against Clark's T-shirt tightening slightly. Lex said no, but he was fading. Clark could feel it in the loosening of his body.

Clark needed to get him someplace safe, in the hands of people he trusted unflinchingly, because he couldn't turn his back on what he'd left loose down there, no matter what sort of rock was lacing its fists. He couldn't trust that the unsuspecting rescue workers who were rushing to lend their aid to that terrible wreck wouldn't run headlong into something worse than a mangled train.

He flew home. Low and slowly enough not to chill his half clothed burden. Lex was out, head lolling and limbs lax, by the time Clark sat down in front of the farmhouse. He was up the steps, calling out for his mother by reflex alone, even as he questioned the wisdom of not taking off and heading straight for the hospital. Lex healed abnormally quickly - - but he broke just as easily as the next human being and some breaks needed help mending.

"Clark?" The kitchen door swung open and his mom was peering out the screen door at him in shock.

"Mom - -help," he felt halfway on the verge of some sort of hysteria. He was shaking bad enough that he didn't dare try and shift Lex enough to make a grab for the screen door.

But one of the many admirable things about Martha Kent was that she never failed to act, even in the face of the most daunting surprise. Having her son show up unexpectedly with a bloody, unconscious Lex Luthor in his arms didn't stop her from throwing open the door and ushering him in.

"On the sofa, put him on the sofa. What happened?" She moved out of his way, letting him maneuver Lex through the door, then followed him into the living room as he bent to lay Lex down on the sofa. The TV was on, the soft buzz on news in the background. The smell of coffee drifted in from the kitchen and some sort of baking. Muffins maybe.

She crowded him out of the way, bending down to look at Lex herself. "What happened to him? How long has he been unconscious?"

She had her hand on Lex's forehead. She slid it down to his neck, fingers light against the vein, checking the rate of his pulse. Clark could have told her it beat steadily. Clark couldn't focus on anything else.

"Not long. He was awake a few minutes ago."

She looked up at him, eyes wide and concerned, but he wasn't entirely sure if it were more for Lex or him.

"You - - you didn't do this, did you, honey?" The way she asked it, it was like it hurt her even voicing the thought. But she asked anyway, because another one her traits was a total lack of squeamishness when it came to vital matters.

He felt a jolt of shock that almost stole his breath at the question though. Of course she might consider the possibility. A year ago and he might have, when he and Lex had still been at odds, if Lex had done something to push him far enough - - and he'd never told her anything to let her know that the feuding was long over.

"No." he whispered.

She accepted that with a nod. "Go get the medicine kit, and warm water and some clean wash cloths. My God - - are these burns?"

Clark didn't want to look. He had the kit and the cloths in a heartbeat, but had to wait for the water to run the old fashioned way and stood at the kitchen sink trying to still his breathing as he listened to the sounds of his mother kneeling on the floor next to the sofa, and the sound of Lex's heartbeat and his soft breaths.

He sat the required items on the sofa table and stood, clenching and unclenching his fists as she took a wet cloth and began cleaning off the dirt and blood. The black rage began to churn again as the damage was revealed. Insidious, painful things that his mom made little sympathetic noises at as she tended.

"Who did - -?" she started to ask, pausing to look up at him, but the words froze on her tongue, her sharp eyes glued to his face. "Clark?" she asked softly, but he could barely register the words, the anger so terrible inside him.

She put the cloth in the bowl and it slowly leaked pink into the clear water as she rose. She lifted a hand to his face, her cool fingertips touching his cheek.

"It's going to be okay, but you need to calm down, honey."

He wasn't sure what she meant. There were a series of burns, interspaced with the shallow cuts, the size and shape of the end of a cigarette on Lex's chest. One normally pink nipple was angry shade of raw from it.

"Clark!" His mother's raised voice didn't get through to him. He didn't feel the sharp slap across his cheek, but he registered it and blinked in surprise, the smothering fury receding enough that he could focus on her face.

"Breathe." She said, in that stern mother voice that brooked no argument. He took the requested breath and it felt good enough that he realized that he might have gone some time without one. She held out her palm and there was the glistening residue of moisture there.

He lifted a hand and touched his cheek and amazingly enough the wetness was still there.

He took another breath and said. "I need to go deal with the people who - - who did this. I need you to take care of him, mom. Please take care of him."

Her eyes were still on his face, distressingly intuitive eyes that he'd never ever been able to keep a truth from for long. It was one of the reasons his trips home since he and Lex had been together had been few and far between. She glanced down to Lex, then back up to him.

"You and Lex have patched things up."

He shut his eyes. That was one way of putting it. "Yeah."

She kept staring at him, waiting and he really needed to get back to those mutants before they took innocent lives. In fact flying back into a fray that had him at a distinct disadvantage seemed a really good excuse for not expounding.

But she needed to know - - if something terrible happened, and it just might with green kryptonite in the mix - - she needed to understand that it wasn't just a patched rift. She needed to understand that there was nothing more important to him that the battered man on the couch. She needed to understand because Lex - - no matter how self-sufficient and emotionally distant he liked to portray himself as being - - would need someone who understood.

"I love him, mom," he blurted. "I'm sorry - - I'm so sorry I didn't tell you - - but I couldn't figure out how - - I thought you'd be ashamed - - I thought dad would turn over in his grave - - I thought - -"

"Clark," She caught his face, small hands that were so fragile and so strong. She waited until he shut up, until he was willing to listen to what she had to say. "I could never be ashamed of you honey. Never. You understand that." It wasn't a question, it was a demand and he nodded, slowly.

"I don't care who you love, as long as you have love. Now go and do what you need to do. I'll see to Lex."

Lex swam towards the indistinct, lazy light of consciousness. Things became apparent. The constant, low chatter of a television or radio. The smell of strong coffee. The dull ache of pain.

Pain. He remembered the infliction. Sharp, bright recall that made him start in panic.

Flailed, expecting restraint and finding only the insubstantial heaviness of a light blanket. He knocked something over, a knick-knack on a coffee table in his efforts to scramble to something resembling upright.

"Lex!" A concerned female voice, half familiar, edged it way in through the pounding in his ears. Again and this time accompanied by the face and form of Martha Kent. She scrambled around to kneel before him, trying to keep him from bolting up or falling off the couch - - either was a viable option considering the way his limbs felt disconnected from his body. She said things, the calming sort of nonsense a mother might say to a frantic, injured child. He couldn't quite latch onto the words, his mind still half in that other place, where pain and fear came at the hands of madmen.

"Lex." She said it again, loud and firm and grasped his jaw with unflinching, strong fingers. He blinked at her, her face swimming into focus.

"You're okay. You're safe, now. Whatever happened to you, its over."

He shuddered, higher brain function beginning to cut through residual panic. Martha Kent. The Kent farmhouse. Clark had brought him home.

Clark.

He must have said it out loud because she nodded, a look of relief easing over her face at his apparent return to sanity. She moved her hand from his face to his arm, gently squeezing his forearm. "That's right, Clark brought you here. How do you feel?"

He felt like he'd recently survived torture and a train wreck, but he shook the cob webs out of his head and tried to focus on remembering important details. Like a man who could absorb the properties of a very dangerous alien rock and the alien in question who tended to rush headlong into trouble.

"I'll survive, Mrs. Kent." There were white gauze bandages around his wrists. The glossy smears of ointment on the burns on the soft skin of his inner arm. He imagined she'd swabbed other places. He refused to look down and see. Suppressing a shiver instead and looking away from the evidence of the ordeal and into her worried blue eyes.

"Where's Clark?" Clark was a priority. If Clark wasn't here, then Clark had most certainly taken that headlong plunge.

She pressed her lips, that look passing over her face that he remembered from old. The look that said she was debating what she might safely say that wouldn't implicate her son in things that might threaten his secrets. He ached to his bones and had neither the time nor the patience for it. Truth be told, he'd lost patience for those quietly furtive looks the Kent's always used to pass amongst each other whenever someone asked for simple - - or not so simple - - truths, quite a few years ago. Another one of those reasons he'd abandoned the country and moved back to Metropolis. Cutthroat metropolitan lies were easier to swallow than those thinly veiled in false, rural hospitality.

"He'll be back - -"

"You hope," he cut her off, knowing, absolutely knowing Clark had gone back after Rule and the boy. And Rule wasn't stupid. Rule had seen Clark's reaction to the kryptonite.

He tried to push himself up and gasped, grimacing as pain shot up his arm from his wrist. A sprain. He hoped it was a sprain, though it was entirely possible one too many impacts of metal cuffs against wrist had fractured bone.

"Lex," she hovered, torn between helping him up and keeping him down. "Whoever these people are that - - that hurt you, Clark can take care of himself. He's probably gone to the sheriff."

Sheer fabrication. She was so good at it he doubted she had to think anymore before voicing viable excuses. Someone had had to teach Clark after all. She'd lie with her hand on the bible, he thought, to protect her son. Then again, so would Lex. He'd do considerably more.

"There's kryptonite involved and two mutants who kill for the sake of killing," he said bluntly and she stopped with her mouth open, breath caught in her throat. "And he's been gone for how long now?"

He had no idea. He had no concrete notion how long ago all this had even started, time having lost meaning somewhere along the way. They'd taken his watch, so he didn't even have that as a beacon.

"Kryptonite?" She was keeping up the pretense, too wily after years of keeping this secret, to easily let admission slip.

He took a breath, frustrated, aching bone deep and afraid for Clark.

"I appreciate, I really do, why you and your husband horded Clark's secrets all these years, but the secret doesn't mean a goddamned thing if a psychopathic mutant with the ability to absorb kryptonite weakens him enough to do mortal damage. How long has he been gone?"

She lifted her chin, nostrils flaring and said. "Thirty minutes, maybe more."

She was a practical woman and a smart one. She had that look in her eyes that said she was turning things over in her head and coming to conclusions that she didn't like.

"Do you have a gun in the house?" he asked, trying for his feet again and gaining them this time. It hurt. Everything screamed bloody murder at the exertion. His knees wanted to give right back out, but if he sat down again, he doubted he'd be able to get up again.

"No," she said, then rethought, gaze going to the wall by the front hall where an antique shotgun graced a rack. "Clark's grandfather's old shotgun."

"Tell me you have shells." It wouldn't be much use in taking down a man long distance, and it might not be of use at all against Garrison Rule, and God, he didn't want to get close to either of them again, but some things couldn't be helped. Lex had seen Clark incapacitated by a small chunk of the meteor rock; he didn't want to think what a man constructed of it might do to him.

Martha produced a box of shells that she kept in the dining room hutch. She also offered him an old shirt, Clark's or his father's, soft, worn flannel that he shrugged into with a hiss of pain. It was much appreciated, plain warmth when he couldn't stop shivering.

He stood in the kitchen doorway, staring out at the only method of transportation available and turned to ask for keys. She was a step ahead of him, the keys jangling in her hands as she brushed past him to the porch.

"Come on, then, if you're coming," she said, starting down the steps.

"No," he gave the automatic male response to a woman suggesting such a thing.

"If you tell me its too dangerous, I'm leaving without you," she turned to face him, hair that had to be colored - - because there wasn't a strand of grey and God knew raising Clark all these years was enough to have produced a head full - - glinting in early, early morning sun.

He swallowed, half his focus directed on standing up, the other half not quite up to the reasonable, rational arguments that usually came so easily to him. He was gripping the doorjamb with his free hand. Hard. Without its support he might have toppled over.

"Lex," Martha said, no-nonsense tone. "You can barely stand. How are you going to drive? Stop being a fool and come on. We're wasting time."

She turned, without waiting for agreement from him and marched towards the old red pickup. Lex took a breath, trying to clear his head, outmaneuvered and outvoted and he hadn't even gotten more than a word in edgewise. Martha Kent was a tyrant, he realized, on a mission to save her son.

He gathered his equilibrium, hoisted the gun more securely in the crook of his elbow and started down the steps after her.

She had the truck running by the time he climbed in the passenger side.

"There was a train wreck. West of Smallville, I think. We should start there."

"It's been all over the news." She said. "It happened just past route 19 to Bakersville, eight miles west of town. There were casualties. Did the men who did this to you have something to do with it?"

The truck spit up dust as she pulled down the dirt drive. He ground his teeth, putting a hand on the dash to brace himself as she careened around the turn out of the Kent Farm's long drive onto the road.

"Yes."

"And they have meteor rock?" She wasn't entirely comfortable admitting to the origin of the rock.

"In a manner of speaking."

She frowned, casting him a worried glance. At the speed she was accelerating he really rather preferred she keep her eyes on the road. The radio was on a local talk station and the DJ's were chattering on about the train wreck. Big news in a small town that usually liked to keep its less than commonplace tragedies private.

It occurred to him belatedly, that he should have made that call when he'd had the chance in Kent farmhouse. Gotten men on the way here that had better equipment than fifty-year old shotguns to deal with dangerous metahumans. He'd hadn't been on top of his game, every thought he'd had directed towards Clark running right back into the sort of trouble that could slither past his usual invulnerabilities.

"How long have you known?" Martha broke into his thoughts before they could spiral down to a place where he started imagining the damage a kryptonite enhanced Rule could do to Clark. Her knuckles were white on the wheel and her eyes glued to the road.

Loaded question. But he knew she meant more than educated theories. "Eight months. Give or take."

Her eyes flicked to him once, a quick, gauging glance, before they shifted back to the rural route she was speeding down.

"He told you?" she asked.

"For the most part." After Lex had caught him in the act and fear and uncertainty had compelled Clark to honesty. Even after almost a year of having Clark and his secrets, Lex found that he wasn't so big a man that the echoes of those lies, from a purely personal point of view, still didn't agitate him.

She cast him another sharp glance. Not happy. Clearly not happy. He wondered what else Clark had told her, or she'd figured out on her own while he'd been unconscious. God. What must she have thought, Clark showing up with him, battered and half dressed? He knew for a fact that Clark had been avoiding the issue of them with her since day one. As far as he knew Martha Kent still considered her boy monotonously heterosexual.

Even if she hadn't possessed for years, the rare ability to intimidate, it wasn't his place to bring it up. Clark's cowardice's were few and far between, but coming out of the closet seemed to be on the short list. Breaking the news to his mother was most certainly Clark's burden to bear. Ideally with Lex safely a hundred or so miles distant - - but then, he supposed he'd dealt with more frightening individuals this last day than Martha Kent - - so he'd probably survive.

"When we all get back home," she finally said, stubbornly optimistic. "You can both explain to me what that means."

Joy. He fumbled after the gun and braced the hand that wasn't screaming bloody murder against the dash as she swerved off the main road onto a considerably older, precariously paved side road.

"It shouldn't be far," she said. But Lex had figured that out, from the not too distant billow of dark smoke rising up into the pale sky. A helicopter passed overhead, maybe a news chopper out of Metropolis, since none of the local stations had a budget that allowed for air reporting. He saw another one, further away, circling like a buzzard over a promising meal.

If they got a shot of Clark doing something patently beyond human ability - - Lex didn't even want to think of the lengths he'd have to go for damage control. He did anyway, cursing his lack of a phone and his ability to call in preemptory favors.

Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. Movement a good ways off to the east of the train wreck. There was a line of trees past broad oceans of corn and something big had risen past the foliage and arced back down like it had been shot from a catapult. There was a dirt road coming up fast that led that way. A road that ran parallel to the tracks. Probably the same road Rule and the boy had used to pace the train in pursuit of him.

They wouldn't have waited around after Clark left. They'd have gotten back in that car and fled the scene. Maybe gotten as far as those trees before Clark chased them down.

"Make a right," he said, staring at that distant tree line.

"What?" She didn't understand, focused on the obvious destruction.

"There. Turn there." He jabbed a finger at the upcoming intersection. "Head towards the trees."

She opened her mouth. Shut it without argument, jamming on the breaks to make that too close turn in a vehicle not designed to make 60-degree changes in direction at those speeds. Martha Kent must have had a back stock of good karma, because if Lex had been driving, his own store of bad probably would have had flipped them twice over off the side of the road.

A good ways down that long country road running between fields of corn, a test of endurance for an old Ford's shock absorbers to be sure, more so for a man lately abused. They came upon the trees soon enough, a large copse at the edge of the cornfields to the left of the road. There was no question this was the place.

"My God," Martha whispered, jamming on the breaks as the road gave out before them. There was a car ahead, on its roof, half on, half off the road. Great gouges in the earth , like some gargantuan thing had raked claws across the road and into the low foliage at the edge of the wood ran parallel to it. Trees were uprooted, and rich, dark soil spewed everywhere. The boy's doing, certainly. Who'd flipped the car was anyone's guess.

Lex stuffed shells in the big pocket of the shirt, and got out, weeded around the edges of the closest chasm while Martha Kent gaped, dismay clear on her face.

"What did this?" she asked.

Lex didn't answer, attention snared by the faint trembling of the ground under his feet. Something shrieked, the ripping sound of wood splintering that wove its way out between the boles of whole trees from the depths of the forest.

Mostly whole trees. There was a path of damage leading from the road and into the depths of the forest.

They were in there, easy to follow and find where, and Lex knew in his gut that it wasn't good. That Clark was in danger, hurt maybe because Clark played by the rules that Garrison Rule and his psychopathic little sidekick didn't acknowledge the existence of. Clark wouldn't have gone into this with the intention of striking fast with a killing blow and that would have been Clark's downfall. Lex would have. Oh, absolutely he would have. But then Lex was a realist and his quota of narrow escapes was likely long depleted.

"Mrs. Kent," he turned, gave her a level stare. "I need you to get in the truck and go and find a phone."

She shook her head at him, ready to argue the point. He didn't give her the chance.

"If he's in trouble, you being here is just one more thing to distract him. I need you to call a number and tell them a code."

"Code? Who's number? What kind of code?"

"The kind that will bring people here that can deal with what Clark's up against out there and can clean up the mess afterwards without word of it leaking to every news outlet in the world. Neither one of us wants that sort of exposure with Clark involved."

She stared, turning that over and if it had been Chloe he'd have gotten an earful of accusations on the other reasons he might have to wish avoidance of exposure, but Martha Kent's priorities were considerably more focused. She nodded, her mouth set in determination.

He told her the numbers and she climbed back into the truck. Lex didn't wait to watch her pull away, starting instead into the wood, picking his way along the path of destruction made by Clark and the two mutants.

It felt like his knuckles were broken. Honest to god broken, though he'd never experienced the feeling of sheer pain radiating up from his hand before to really be sure. Maybe slamming a fist into a man whose jaw glinted green/blue with the shimmer of a mixture of kryptonite and tempered railroad steel, hadn't been the smartest move Clark had ever made.

But he'd really, really felt the need to get up close and physical with the bastard who'd hurt Lex and good sense had followed on the heels and wings of the unlucky wildlife fleeing the destruction that had come calling in their little patch of woods.

Clark didn't have a lot of time to appreciate the novel pain, before a new source exploded in the area around his jaw, courtesy of the very kryptonite laced bastard. He crashed through a group of saplings and came to an abrupt stop against the trunk of a bigger tree with a splintering crack.

That hurt too. His body ached from too close exposure and really it wasn't like he was ground bound, so taking to the air and approaching this from a different angle might be a very good change of tactics. Tackling it hand to hand didn't seem t be working out so well. The fact that this man, with his psychopathic smile and his gleaming dead eyes, could toss Clark around like he was a rag doll - - or a frail human with nothing but ordinary human strengths to support him - - had had his hands on Lex - - was horrifying.

He dislodged a good-sized limb and pushed himself up and the ground went soft beneath him, like solid earth had suddenly decided to turn to quicksand. It clutched at him, trying to suck him under. Broken limbs shifted, offering no resistance to the earth but doing a good job of tangling with him.

A thunderous creaking signaled the fall of the abused tree behind him, the earth under its roots no longer offering solidity. It toppled down upon him, and he threw up hands to ward it off, the weight of it sinking him deeper into the greedy earth.

There was the jarring impact of weight hitting the tree, then the man jumped off the trunk to the mangled earth where the roots had torn free - - earth that miraculously held his weight even though the dirt a few feet away sucked at Clark with murderous intent.

Clark immediately felt the sickening presence of kryptonite. It sapped his strength and lodged as he was by dirt and wood, there was no judicious use of speed to distance himself from it.

A fist smashed into his face. Instant, debilitating pain. The tree pressed down, compacting the air out of him. That rare, curious blood taste filled his mouth.

"Told you," the man's voice echoed in-between the ringing in his ears. "Told you to just walk away and leave me to my business." The fist came down again, kryptonite-laced iron and Clark thought he heard the sickening crack of bone. His bone. Hard to tell what bone in the midst of such all-encompassing hurt. The kryptonite exposure by itself felt like a thousand rusty nails digging their way up out of his insides. But maybe his nose - - maybe it had been his nose cracking. Novel experience.

"But you just wouldn't listen." The man leaned over, the sort of smile you might expect from a mass murdering used car salesman on his wide mouth. "Now I'm just going to have to find him again and finish what I started. Maybe start from scratch, nice and slow - - peel all that pretty skin from the flesh. Start from the feet up, so he's got time to savor it."

"Son of a bitch - -" Clark growled past the pain, caught the man's fist on its way down a third time and felt the sharp edges of kryptonite slice into his palm. He screamed, acid eating into his torn flesh, the earth clinging tight to him, trying to restrain him and pull him deeper all at once.

A booming crack shattered the air and the earth loosened, suddenly inert around Clark.

The man jerked his fist out of Clark's grip and straightened, staring over the bulk of the tree to something beyond Clark's current line of vision. His face twisted in a sudden flare of rage, and he scrambled over the tangled tree roots, Clark forgotten.

Which was about as bad a mistake as a man could make, considering the red Clark was seeing around the edges of his vision. As soon as the kryptonite was out of range, he felt his strength flooding back, felt the subtle shifting of the bones in his face as they melded. He shoved the tree off and erupted out of the loosened earth, shaking off dirt like a dog shedding water.

The man was running through the swath of destruction they'd made of the wood, but slow, weighed down by iron and alien rock. Clark could see what he was heading towards clearly enough. A body at the top of the slope leading up from the gully where Clark had landed. A body lying supine, with a spreading stain of red on its chest. The boy Clark had seen earlier, who'd stayed out of range while he and the man had been going at it, but who'd had a devastating hand in ripping up the forest nonetheless.

Clark felt a pang of regret for a young life lost before another entirely unexpected figure topped the rise. Lex. Who, if the shotgun he carried under his arm was any indication, had been the author of the earlier boom and the boy leaking blood into the mulch of the forest floor.

Clark cursed under his breath, even as the man did, loud and vulgar, storming up the rise towards Lex and the boy. Lex lifted the gun and fired point blank, and buckshot shredded the man's shirt, but barely faltered his pace.

What Lex was doing there, Clark had no idea, but he cursed under his breath himself, and let loose a blast of concentrated heat vision as the man continued up the tree dotted slope towards Lex.

That did more than shake the rhythm of his steps. It staggered him when the impact of a shotgun shell hadn't. The man whirled, clothes crisping on his back and glared up. Lex did, from his stance on the rise above the body of the boy.

The man roared something, incoherent rage, and plowed ahead, still on target with Lex. And Lex wasn't doing the reasonable thing and retreating, Lex was making Clark's life difficult, cracking the shotgun open and reloading.

Clark hit the man in the back with another burst of heat vision, willing it as hot as his anger at the thought of the bastard laying hands on Lex again. The man went down to his knees, the leaves and mulch going up in flames around him from the intensity of the heat. With the dry summer heat, the whole of the woods was tender waiting to ignite and the fire spread quickly to nearby bramble.

That got Lex moving backwards a few steps as fire traveled up a dry vine of ivy and into the foliage of a tree. Damn.

"Goddamnit, Lex - - go!" Clark yelled, then had to dodge a section of root the man ripped free from the earth and hurled up at him.

"Get down here, boy!" the man screamed up at him. "So's we can talk up close and personal."

As if. Twice was the limit of Clark making the same mistake. The man hurled another, standing in the midst of fire, untouched, save for his charred clothing. His body gleamed hard and metallic underneath.

Clark caught the second projectile by one twisted root and flung it back down with enough impact to drive the man into the blackened earth. He swept past, super speed, snagged Lex who was grudgingly retreating down the opposite slope and deposited him without ceremony on the side of the road a good walk from where Clark had stopped the getaway car outside the wood. He didn't pause for polite talk, time being in rather short supply where the metal man was concerned, and zipped back, hovering in the air above the man just as he was pushing himself out of the crater in the ground. Clark wasn't entirely sure the melting point of the tempered iron the man seemed composed of, but he was willing to bet it was blast furnace hot. And blast furnace hot would incinerate anything within the immediate area.

If he'd had another choice, he'd have used it. If he could have gotten within striking distance without the absorbed kryptonite turning him into putty, he'd certainly have attempted the chore of beating the bastard into submission.

He focused his will, narrowing his eyes and letting the heat behind them build, then let loose a searing blast so fierce it incinerated mid-air the next chunk of tree the man tossed up at him. It hit the man dead center, blasting him backwards. Leaves and limbs not even in the line of it caught ablaze, the air shimmered with the heat. Clark's own clothes sizzled with it, the torn edges of his t-shirt darkening, the soles of his boots starting to send up that burnt rubber smell.

The body of the boy burned, but there was no helping it, and the boy was beyond feeling it regardless. There was no climatic explosion, no eruption of flame or molten metal, not even a garbled scream. There just ceased to be movement or the slow thud of pulse and with a shudder, Clark shut his eyes, cutting off the heat vision, eyes stinging from the intensity of it. It took a second or two for his vision to clear of the red haze, and when it did, all he saw was fire and smoke and a charred pit that could have easily fit a few of Lex's sleek little sports cars. What lay at the bottom wasn't pretty or easily recognizable as a human being.

He'd killed a man and no matter he'd had little enough choice, no matter he'd been protecting what was his, he felt a sickness inside because of it. If he'd been a little bit better, a little stronger, a little faster, a little more resistant to the effects of kryptonite, maybe he might have avoided murder. He couldn't dwell on it though, the fire demanding his attention.

Gusts of air only served to multiply the problem, dry as the timber was, so he ended up flying to the closest farm, ripping a water tower right off its stilted foundation and hauling it back, sloshing water in his wake, before dropping the whole thing down on the center of the blaze. Water flooded out and soaked dry earth, smothering ground bound flame, which made the putting out of the fire in the foliage a more manageable chore.

In the end, he managed to save a good portion of the little forested area, and certainly the fields of summer corn and wheat beyond.

He went looking for Lex after he was sure the last of the flames were out, and found him leaning against the front fender of a very familiar old red pickup. Clark's mother stood not far away, staring at the smoke hazed sky over the wood.

"Clark," she cried when he landed, storming up to him in a rush of motherly concern, while Lex refused to budge from his position by the truck. The shotgun was propped against the fender by his side.

"My god, honey, are you all right?" She wiped a smudge off his cheek and eyed the singed state of his clothing with wrinkled brows.

"I'm fine, mom,"

She frowned, not believing him, but she had enough practice not to push. He looked over her head at Lex, who had a wan, emotionless expression on his bruised face, a sure enough sign that all sorts of things were brewing under the surface.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked and Lex just shrugged as if he were indifferent to the whole matter of bodily injury.

"You shouldn't have come," Clark said, the utter fear and shock he'd felt at seeing Lex stepping into a field of battle that a normal human man couldn't have survived, coming back full force.

"We need to leave. Now," Lex ignored Clark's admonishment and pushed himself off the truck with a wince of pain.

"You could have gotten killed," Clark wasn't so willing to let it go.

"Clark, we were worried about you," his mother said, her hand on his arm, urging him towards the truck.

"Either fly home now, and be quick about it, or get in the damned truck so you and your mother are out of the area before people come that I'd rather not be aware of your presence here."

Clark stared between the two of them, then took a breath and followed Lex around to the passenger side of the truck while his mother climbed in behind the wheel. Clark slipped in beside Lex, who shifted the shotgun between his knees and didn't protest being crammed in the middle.

They rode in silence for a while, until they reached the intersection where rural route met service road and the dark oily smoke of the train wreck could still be seen in the distance.

"I killed him," Clark said softly, feeling that hollowness in his gut again. He'd killed before, but it had been accidental, a byproduct of a fight that got out of hand. This had been intentional. Purposeful.

"Oh, honey," his mother cast a sympathetic look his way. Lex stared straight ahead, jaw set, eyes cold, attention only shifting when a helicopter flew overhead in the direction of the charred forest. It was sleek and black and accompanied by a second that followed close on its tail. There were no markings on them that Clark could discern.

"Are they yours?" Clark asked softly, thinking of those shadowy black ops teams Lex employed for use in those projects that he didn't want connected outright with LexCorp.

"Yes," Lex said simply, stare not wavering from the front windshield.

"There's not much left for them to find - - the fire - -" He trailed off, swallowing back bile. Nothing but bones and not even much of them, what with the level of heat Clark had generated. Two sets of bones.

He looked at Lex's profile, at the bruises and the scrapes above the collar, and knew there were a lot more underneath borrowed clothing. Bone deep hurts that made Clark clench his fists. They'd had him for almost a day and the bruises and the burns and the insidious cuts were only the ones visible to the eye. If he let it, his imagination could go to very dark places speculating what else they'd done. And Lex kept his wounds - - most especially his emotional ones - - locked securely away. Clark could practically see the layers upon layers of protective armor falling into place.

He moved a hand over subtly, and rested it on Lex's thigh, above his knee, squeezing gently. Lex's eyes shifted down minutely, then back up to watching the road, but he didn't protest or try to brush the contact off. Which was either a good sign or simply Lex not wanting to draw attention when Clark's mom was sitting right there next to them.

The silence was thick as January ice in the truck and it would have been a relief if his mom had started hammering them with questions. Maybe she could have gotten Lex talking, because Clark had the sinking feeling that most of the cold Lex was exuding was directed towards him. It hadn't been that long ago, relatively speaking, that they'd argued. Lex had been damned pissed off at him and Lex held onto his resentments a lot longer than Clark.

He tried to work up a little of the indignation he'd felt when Chloe had told him the details that Lex had conveniently not mentioned and it just wouldn't come on the heels of his fear for Lex's life and the overwhelming relief that he was safe.

The porch lights were on when they reached the farm, a lure for nighttime flying bugs that gathered in the weak light. The sky was pale overhead, streaked with a few wispy strands of clouds, a few winking stars disappearing with the onset of dawn.

"I'll take that," his mom said, holding out a hand for the shotgun Lex still carried. Lex handed it over and stood in the dust of the yard, as if he didn't quite know what to do, deposited in the familiar dirt driveway between the looming red barn and the farmhouse. It had been a long time since he'd been here. A long time since he'd been welcome.

"Come on," Mom beckoned tiredly at the both of them. "I'll put on coffee and whip up a little early breakfast."

Lex swallowed, as if that didn't sound appealing at all, even as Clark's stomach rumbled hopefully at the thought of one of his mother's breakfasts.

Clark didn't start moving until Lex did, shadowing him through the picket fence that protected the little square of front yard with its flowerbeds from hungry chickens and curious four legged farm residents, up the walk and into the house. Lex moved stiffly, holding one arm protectively close to his body. Clark hadn't taken the time to scan for fractured bone, but he would. A trip to the ER might be necessary after all, whether Lex wanted it or not, if things needed to be set for proper healing.

"Clark," his mother said, that tone in her voice that made him stand a little straighter and cant his head attentively. "You smell like you just walked out of a forest fire. Go upstairs and shower. And leave the hot water for Lex, he needs it more than you do."

"I did just walk out of a forest fire," Clark grumbled.

"I'm fine," Lex said softly.

She narrowed her eyes at both of them and Clark started backing for the stairs.

"You're not," she said to Lex. "I'm not going to say what you smell like, and the hot shower will do you good."

Clark could have listened in on the rest of what she said to Lex, but it was easier just to shed his clothes in the bathroom hamper and step under cold water.

He finished in good order, dug around in a trunk of old clothes he hadn't taken with him to the city and found a holey pair of jeans and a threadbare t-shirt in his old room and tromped downstairs barefoot.

The smell of bacon frying filled the air and mom was busily multi-tasking in the kitchen. Lex had taken the phone into the living room and was holding a low voiced conversation. He paused when he saw Clark, a wary look crossing his face, which meant it had to do with the 33.1 escapees.

Clark pressed his lips. They were damned sure going to have a conversation about Lex's need for secrecy about his remaining pet projects. Clark was willing to accept that mutants like the Man were most certainly better off in highly secure facilities and he was willing to believe Lex when he said the treatment was as ethical as treatment could be when restraining destructive individuals - - but it was just damned annoying when Lex went to lengths to hide it from him. If Lex wanted negate suspicion of questionable activities, then Lex could damn well come clean about them.

After all Clark understood better than anyone the damage the meteor enhanced or meta humans could do when they stopped caring about the difference between right and wrong. On the other hand, he also knew better than anyone that Lex expected the worst of everyone and it took a lot of effort to alter that opinion. But, right now wasn't the time for that talk, not when Lex looked as if sitting upright was a chore and not when Lex had that defensive look on his face.

"I laid some fresh clothes out for you upstairs," Clark said neutrally. "And if you need any help - - I'm here."

"I'll contact you again when I'm back in the city," Lex said shortly into the phone, before severing the connection, then delivered Clark a dry look. "I think I can manage a shower on my own."

Clark shrugged, on to his tactics and not prepared to argue the point when Lex was obviously rooting around for conflict.

Lex stared at him a moment more, trying to get inside Clark's head, then took a breath and eased up from the couch as casually as he could, when everything he owned had to be aching. He handed Clark the phone on his way towards the stairs, and after watching to make sure Lex was stable enough to make it up them, Clark padded into the kitchen and placed it back in its cradle on the wall.

His mom gave him a look from the corner of her eye, as she was flipping the fried eggs.

"Lex just went up to shower," he said. "But I'm doubting he'll want much more than coffee."

She pursed her lips with a look that clearly said 'nonsense' and that she'd take the issue up with Lex himself when he came down.

Clark took a seat at the table and pressed his forehead against his palm, images flooding back of what he'd left in the crater in the woods.

"You did what you had to do," his mom said softly and sat a plate and a cup of coffee in front of him. "I don't doubt that for a second."

"I could have done better," he said, staring down at three eggs, over easy, unbroken yokes glistening up at him. He picked up a piece of bacon and used it to idly break one of them. "Dealing with just regular people - -that's easy - -but these guys - - They almost had me. And you were out there and Lex was - - and a lot of other innocent people. I could have done better."

She sat down across from him, a coffee cup held between her hands and waited while the lure of the food finally overcame the melancholy. He crunched into the bacon with a sigh and started into the eggs.

She watched for a while, letting him get comfortable, before she asked. "How long were you going to wait before you told me about you and Lex?"

He swallowed down a lump of fried potato and stared up at her, wide eyed. He didn't have a good answer for that. "I dunno. I just - - couldn't figure out the right way - - the right time?" Was there ever a right time to tell your mom you were gay?

"You haven't been able to hold a decent conversation with me for the last half a year." She stated a simple fact.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Shame will do that that," Lex remarked with deceptive negligence, having succeeded in coming downstairs without Clark overhearing him. He hovered in the doorway, in a pair of overlarge sweatpants and one of Clark's plain white T's. Without the long shirtsleeves to cover them, the marks on his wrists were blaringly obvious.

"Nobody was ashamed of anything," Clark muttered. "I was just - -" Afraid? Of his 5'4 inch mom.

"Sit down, Lex," his mother directed, getting up herself to fill a plate.

"Please, no food." Lex waved the hand he wasn't favoring. "A glass of orange juice, if you have it. I could use the sugar."

"You could use some solid food," Mom contradicted, but detoured to the fridge anyway to pour a glass. Lex eased into the chair at the end of the table, eying her warily. She sat the glass of juice in front of him, as well as a dish of cubed cantaloupe and gave him an arch browed look that dared him to butt heads with her and refuse it.

But Lex did have a fresh fruit fetish, and it was likely Lex hadn't eaten since this morning - - no yesterday morning - - so he poked idly at a chunk of melon with his fork.

She sat down again, hands automatically going back around the coffee mug, an instinctive way of soothing nerves that had to be just a little frayed, considering the night she'd had thrust upon her. She had that heartfelt look on her face, like she was about to say something that was going to make him feel entirely guilty. And she did.

"I've always respected your decisions and supported them, so I just don't understand why you felt you couldn't share with me, Clark."

"I haven't shared with anybody." He admitted glumly.

She lifted a brow. "You've told Chloe."

"How do you know Chloe knows?" He looked at her in surprise. He hadn't exactly told Chloe. She'd just sort of walked in on it while it was sitting in his lap with its tongue down his throat, unannounced.

"Because every time I've seen her recently and asked about you she's clammed up and acted as if she'd swallowed something sour."

"Yes, I seem to have that effect on Clark's friends," Lex said acidly.

She cast him a narrow glance, not much for sarcasm in the middle of a family discussion. And Lex was his, which made him family, whether Lex or his mom liked the idea or not.

But his mom finally shook her head and sighed, as if she were just figuring that out and reconciling herself with the reality. "You two have been at each other's throats for years, what happened to change that?"

"There was an incident at my office - -" Lex started, and Clark's eyes went wide. The very last thing his mother needed to hear was about that particular encounter. Sure, mom the ice was broken when Lex went down on me and gave me my first taste of how good sex could really be. Because before then it had all been pretty bland. Yeah, right, that would go over really great.

"We had a very enlightening conversation," Lex said mercifully. "And eventually came to terms."

"Uh hum." She absolutely knew there was more to it, absolutely knew Clark was engaging in things that would make his dad turn over in his grave, but she didn't press.

She sipped at her cooling coffee, while Clark automatically cleaned his plate without tasting a good portion of what he ate. Lex ate a few cubes of cantaloupe but his heart wasn't in it and his hands were shaking beyond his ability to control. Lex had done really, really good to stay on his feet this long, all things considered.

"You okay?" Clark asked.

"I'm just - - tired," Lex admitted after a weary pause and shook his head as if to deny it a moment later.

"Go upstairs and lay down in Clark's old room," His mother suggested, and Clark was glad she did, because Lex might not have yielded if he'd asked. Lex might not have yielded at all, a lot of things on his mind and most of them probably having little to do with Clark, if he hadn't been sorely abused and dead on his feet.

"Feel free to talk about me when I'm gone," he said in passing. So, so on the defensive and Lex's idea of defense was a strong offense.

"He used to hide that better," Mom remarked tiredly when the stairs had stopped their soft creaking under Lex's ascent.

His innate distrust of people, she meant. Clark knew what she thought of Lex, knew a lot of the things she and dad used to discuss back when Clark had been young and enamored in ways he hadn't began to understand at the time, of the millionaire down the road. Mom had never held with dad's beliefs though, mom always had had a forgiving nature and the tendency to think the best of people even when they didn't always live up to standards. She'd always understood that Lex had reasons for the way he was - - for the things he hid under that implacable veneer of charm. Clark loved her for that.

"He's tired," Clark said, feeling a wash of weariness himself.

"I know." She reached for Clark's empty plate. "Why don't you go up and make sure he's settled while I clean up down here?"

"I can help - -"

"No. I can do the motherly thing and pester you for details later when you're not so worried and he's feeling better enough to regret being snide. You just go up now and see to Lex."

It was what he wanted to do and he nodded gratefully.

Lex had closed the door to Clark's old bedroom, and Clark loitered for a moment outside it before drawing a breath and walking in. He'd taken a lot of the furniture with him when he'd moved to the city, but the bed remained and his old desk, too small now to really accommodate the work he brought home from the Planet. Mom had taken the posters down sometime this spring to put on a fresh coat of paint and the walls looked bare without them. Clean, but bare. Clark rather liked clutter. The people he loved best liked to organize it.

Lex sat on the edge of the bed, with its country quilt, one bare foot tucked under his knee.

"Hey," Clark said, shutting the door behind him and leaning against it. Lex just stared, skin wan in the blue shadows of early morning.

"I told Lana that we were together," he said, because Lex was upset about something and since he wasn't sharing, Clark needed to reduce the list of possibilities. Lana was probably right up there at the top.

Lex took that in, expressionless. Finally he turned his head a little, gaze flickering away. "I didn't tell you about the operational 33.1 facilities for the same reason you never told your mother about us - - the fear of disapproval. It's a strong motivator to hide things from the people who matter."

"Oh," Clark moved to the bed, sat down next to Lex, turning that over in his head. Lex wasn't angry about Lana - - well, not at the moment - - Lex was tearing himself up worrying about Clark being angry with him.

"I shot the boy point-blank," Lex said, lifting his jaw as if he were preparing for an attack or waiting for Clark to condemn him for it, as if he'd been waiting for condemnation since they'd reunited on that dirt road beyond the wooded area Clark had burned down.

"I know," Clark said and gently pushed him onto his back, since Lex didn't seem inclined to let himself just lay back and relax. "I know you had good reason. "

Lex stared up, expression wavering, some of the bruising that was so obvious on the outside seeping into his eyes. "He was more dangerous than Rule and I don't believe he'd even reached full potential. And he was dead inside, no emotion, no pity, no remorse. People like that - - they inflict pain in others - - instill fear - - because they can't feel it themselves and under Rule's tutelage - - god - - "

There was an edge of desperation in Lex's voice that provoked every protective instinct Clark possessed. "What did they do to you, Lex?"

Lex swallowed, shook his head and stared up at the slanted ceiling of Clark's room. Clark didn't ask again, just settled onto the narrow bed next to Lex, shoulder pressed against shoulder, one long leg hanging off the edge and shared the view.

"Underground - - I saw him about to bury you under the earth and then he turned towards me and the ground trembled under my feet and I thought - -" Lex shut his eyes, full body shiver passing over him, breath coming fast and harsh as something deeper and emotional churned inside.

If it had been Lana or Chloe or any other woman in Clark's acquaintance he'd have instinctually drawn them into an embrace, let them share his strength when their own faltered. But women were easier to comfort than men, who had male ego to contend with and prickly pride. He'd learned that the hard way with Lex a long time ago. Lex was all fine and good with submitting when sex play was involved, but when it came to emotional baggage, he'd rather slit his own wrists than admit to simple human vulnerability.

So Clark had learned, by necessity, to be crafty with Lex in certain situations - - Offers of comfort were sure to be scorned, but letting Lex seek it out on his own or better yet, offer it to Clark and in the process allow Clark all the opening he needed to share a little of his own, tended to work out better for all involved.

"I killed a man, too," Clark said softly, and thought it horrible to play upon a man's death to ease his way into a little shared warmth, but desperate times and all that. "I didn't see another way. If it weren't for the kryptonite, I could have dealt with him without resorting to murder."

"Self-defense," Lex said with absolute absurdity. "He had more deaths to his name that you want to know and he would have kept killing if you hadn't stopped him."

"You had people coming - - maybe they could have - -"

"Unlikely," Lex cut him off. "Not with the two of them powered up - - you were the best option and you did what you had to do."

Clark shivered as Lex mirrored his mother's words. Lex shifted closer, feeling it, pressed his forehead against Clark's shoulder and that was opening enough. Clark wound an arm around him, pulled him close and Lex sank into it, relaxing against his body.

Clark shut his eyes, sighing in a relief that was oddly more profound than the one he'd felt when he'd first found Lex by the train wreck. Sweeping Lex out of danger was easy for the most part, dealing with the aftermath not always so cut and dry.

"You can't keep stuff like this from me anymore." Clark said softly. "If you think what you're doing is so horrible I'm going to hate you for it - -then that's a pretty good indication that you need to reexamine your methods, because it would take an awful lot for me not to want to take your side, get it? I could have helped with this if you'd brought me in at the get go. Hell, I could have prevented it entirely if you'd just sat down and talked with me about who was in that facility and how important it was to keep them there. I'm not saying the people who hit it confide in me all of the time, but we do have contact and I might have been able to make them understand what they were messing with."

Lex was silent, tensing just a little before he let it go and softened again in Clark's arms.

"I only trust my people so far and I don't want you on anyone's radar but mine."

"Then we're going to have to figure a way around that - - sooner or later."

"Sooner or later," Lex agreed, sounding drowsy, body loose and warm against Clark's. Clark shut his eyes and let himself relax into his pillow. He could hear his mother puttering about downstairs, leaving them the privacy of upstairs. Could hear Lex's pulse slowing, drifting into that steady rhythm of sleep. He pressed his lips to Lex's temple and shifted a little into a more comfortable position, expanded his hearing to the world outside, to the restless sounds of the horses in their stalls, waiting for their morning portion of grain. The rustle of cows in the pasture, the old rooster in the henhouse irritating the fat white hens.

Two years ago he hadn't been able to fly. It was a joy now, and he got better and faster at it the more he tested his limits. There were a lot of other things he hadn't been pushing himself to improve, a lot of abilities he'd gotten lazy with, busy with life in the big city, with a new job, with a boyfriend who was undeniably high maintenance. He hadn't been to the fortress in a long time, but he thought maybe it was time to start making the occasional foray, see what sort of deal he could wrangle with the AI about undertaking the training the ghost of his biological father so dearly wanted to give him, that didn't involve jerking him out of his life or stripping him of his humanity. If the AI wanted him badly enough, then it would damned sure learn to make compromise, because Clark wouldn't. Lex would understand a week away now and then. Hell, Lex might even be utterly fascinated by the concept.

Clark would bring it up later, maybe in a few weeks after time had begun to heal the wounds of today. It would be a good thing, after all, to strive to be the sort of man that would walk away victorious from a conflict like the one they'd been through and not leave bodies in his wake. A man that didn't come within a hair's breadth of losing the things that were most important to him because he was a little too slow, or a little too weak. He wanted to be that man and maybe someday, he would.