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by P.L. Nunn


P.L. Nunn

There was nowhere in Metropolis to take Lex but Chloe's apartment, and Clark didn't really want to do that. But he didn't have much of a choice if he wanted the time to figure out what the hell he was going to do. If there was anything that could be done to salvage this mess. Big 'if' - - monstrous, huge 'if' - - considering Lex had incontrovertibly seen him use his powers. The old nightmares kept flashing through his head. Exposure, imprisonment, experimentation, dissection . . . He felt as nauseous as if he'd come face to face with a hunk of green K.

He dug in his pocket for the spare key to Chloe's two room place, holding Lex's dead weight against his side with one arm. The door swung open on the small living room and all of Chloe's organized clutter. She was a pack rat, but she kept her refuse neatly sectioned and catalogued. The couch was free of everything but an old Daily Planet and he swiped that onto the floor before dumping Lex onto the cushions.

He spared a moment to stare. Lex's normally pale skin was flushed, his breathing a little rapid, lashes trembling minutely against his cheeks, hands twitching occasionally. The shaking would get worse, if what Chloe had gone through on the same drug was any indication. It had taken her two days to recover from the aftermath. Two days lying in the hospital with the doctors claiming they couldn't do a damn thing but let her ride it out - - all their efforts at flushing it out of her system failing. Until she'd simply snapped out of it and woken up with a vague craving for another taste of the toxic stuff.

Which was why he didn't feel particularly guilty not having taken Lex to the emergency room and dropping him off there. Some body else's problem. As it was, sleeping it off one place was as good an another and at least here, when he woke up and remembered - - as he was absolutely certain to - - about what he'd seen at the warehouse lab - - Clark would be there to try and do a little damage control.

There was one narrow window that looked out over an alley between this building and the next. Nothing but time stained grey out that view. Clark leaned his forehead against the glass regardless, staring miserably at nothing. He was fucked. Completely fucked because the loosely dubbed 'Snazz' didn't blur perceptions, but sharpened them. Chloe had claimed everything she'd seen while actually conscious on the drug had been so crystal clear it had been like a 4-d Technicolor Imax experience broadcasted directly into her brain. Her normally sharp recall had gone into overdrive, everything remembered, everything absorbed. She'd grudgingly admitted to actually enjoying the first part of the Snazz high. It was highly doubtful that the drug would have a reverse effect on Lex just because it would be more convenient for Clark. Which got him back to being fucked.

Maybe four or five years ago, if this had inadvertently happened, he might have held a little more optimism that Lex wouldn't sell him out. That Lex would at least have weighed the options - - Clark's well being, Clark's friendship against Lex's obsessive curiosity and maybe decided the former more valuable to him than the later. Now - - well, they hadn't been friends in a long time. Hadn't shared easy camaraderie or private jokes or the intimate conversations that Clark had never been able to have with his parents, or Chloe or Pete or even Lana. There had been a time when laying his soul bare to Lex had come so easily. He'd shared everything but what Lex had really wanted to know and that had destroyed them.

Now Lex's obsessions were all-powerful. His quest for answers mutated into something so much more dangerous than the desperate need to justify his life, when he should have died all those years ago at the bottom of a Kansas river. Clark lied to Lex. Over and over. Lex shattered Clark's faith in human nature, disappointing him time and again with the lengths his fixation took him. Mutual destruction.

Sometimes when Clark's mind wandered, and he was feeling maudlin, he mourned lost chances, lost friendships - - the loss of Lex - - down to his soul. Almost more than Lana, who had moved on, gotten on with her life and was happy. Sometimes that scared him, thinking about Lex, when he should have been thinking of Lana moments. But then, Lana didn't have her hands into secret labs and questionable, if not downright illegal research, the sorts of things that just made Clark's blood boil.

Which tendency had directly resulted in the unfortunate situation in which Clark now wallowed. If Lex hadn't been there, hadn't been sniffing around Caster Bennet's research - - God, maybe even funding it - - then none of this would have happened.

Clark banged his head against the side of the window frame a few times, wondering if he ought to call home and beg his mother's advice. God knew she'd been figuring out how to protect his secret longer than he had. But no, he wasn't a teenager anymore and at twenty-two he ought to be old enough to deal with problems that required more than strength, speed or any of his other various alien-born abilities. He'd just freak her out, anyway. Lex had always been at the top of his parent's list of imminent dangers. He couldn't begin to count the number of times they'd sat him down and preached about the importance of keeping Lex at arm's length. Of how much more of a treat Lex Luthor was than anyone else in Smallville. They were his parents and he'd believed them to a certain degree. Not enough to fight the overwhelming allure of Lex's company though. Not enough to hate him like his father had.

That came later.

A groan came from the couch, a shifting of weight on the cushions. Lex coming out of the first stage of the Snazz.

Chloe had slept a lot longer before she'd woken up. She'd been so shaky she couldn't talk coherently, weak and dizzy and starving. Food had helped her a bit and she'd managed to tell him how disastrously bad her sniffing about the Snazz lab had gone. She hadn't been able to tell him where until she'd woken up the second time, her system free of the drug. It was just as well. He'd been so pissed at what they'd done to her, that he might have gone in and done damage that he'd have regretted later. The cool down time had kept his hands free of blood. If Lex had had anything to do with the development of that drug - - much less the test distribution - - Clark wished all the pain that Chloe and the other unwitting victims had suffered upon him. Let him wake up dizzy and nauseous and so sick he wanted to die - - that's what Chloe had gone through.

Only Clark had to seriously doubt that Lex had taken a hit of Snazz willingly. It wasn't his style. And secretive little fledgling operations like Bennet's would probably be licking the boots of the money backing them, not dosing it with an experimental and dangerous drug.

Clark relented and went to see what Chloe had in the fridge. Getting food into her had gotten her over the first hump, gotten her able to talk and as much as he dreaded it, he needed Lex capable of conversation.

There was some leftover macaroni and cheese in a bowl. The out of the box sort, not the good kind his mom baked in the oven. A few boxes of Chinese take out that had started growing fuzzy white fungi. He tossed those. American cheese. Peanut butter. Pickles. A half empty galleon of 2% milk. Lots of Soda. Chloe liked her caffeine. She needed to do some serious grocery shopping.

He pulled out the mac and cheese and stuck it in the microwave and figured out how to get Chloe's coffee maker working. It might not suit Lex's usual culinary standards, but if he woke up half as messed up as Chloe, he probably wouldn't care.

By the time the microwave pinged, there were low, guttural groans coming from the couch. Clark took a breath and walked around to see if Lex was back among the living. Barely. He'd drawn his knees up, curling in on himself a little, the whole of his body trembling. There was a faint sheen of sweat on his skin that hadn't been there before. The flush was gone and his skin looked pasty and ill.


Lex's lashes flickered open. It took a moment for him to focus on Clark's legs, for his gaze to travel up and find Clark's face and there wasn't accusation there yet, just the expression of someone about to heave up their guts.

"Shit," Clark said, and ran for the little plastic trash receptacle by Chloe's desk and got back with it in time to help Lex lean over and hurl. He crouched there with a hand on Lex's shoulder until all that was left were dry heaves and tried not to look in the container when he deposited it in the bathroom. He didn't get sick, but his stomach was already aflutter enough tonight that he thought it wouldn't take much to push him over the edge and into new territory.

He brought a wet rag back with him. Lex had his face pressed into the seat cushion, still shivering badly and Clark urged him to shift enough to wipe his mouth and chin. Lex blinked at him, eyes fever bright and a little bloodshot.

"Y-you - - you - - f-fu-ck . . ." Lex couldn't get the words out past the chattering of teeth. Chloe had had similar problems until he and Lois had gotten enough food and coffee into her to replenish whatever the Snazz had burned off.

"Listen, you need to eat something. Drink something and it'll get better." He pulled Lex up to a sitting position in the corner of the couch and Lex curled there looking as miserable as Chloe had, only there was accusation behind the suffering that made Clark's stomach drop and he clenched his fists and went and got the mac and cheese and the coffee.

Clark put the plastic travel mug, the only clean thing he could find, in Lex's hands, closing his fingers around it when he shook too much to keep hold.

"Drink it, Lex. It'll help." Clark crouched there shoulder touching Lex's knee, ready to catch the mug if he couldn't hold on to it and spare him scalding via hot coffee in addition to everything else.

Lex was too fucked up to refuse out of sheer stubbornness and he got the mug to his lips and only spattered a few drops in the process. He took a swallow and another and shut his eyes, knuckles white around the mug.

Clark balanced the bowl of macaroni on the couch arm and got Lex's attention by nudging his knee. "You might wanna eat."

Lex stared at the macaroni like Clark was trying to poison him, which got Clark's back up. Clark was going out of his way to be generous when none of this was his fault and a great deal of it very well might have been Lex's.

"Don't give me grief, Lex. I'm trying to help."

He got up and left Lex to his own devices, going into the bathroom to clean out the trash container so Chloe didn't have to deal with it later. He washed his hands and splashed water on his face afterwards, staring at himself in the mottled bathroom mirror with eyes way too haunted to be his own. He didn't want to have to go back out there and wait for Lex to drop the bomb. He didn't want to admit that life as he knew it was probably about to become worlds more complicated. Dropping Lex off in the river instead of bringing him back here would have solved a lot of problems. Clark forced a wry smile at himself in the mirror at his attempt at dark humor, but it faded when he remembered that dropping Lex into rivers, wasn't his modus operandi.

Not surprisingly Lex had relented when Clark decided to abandon the sanctuary of the bathroom. Chloe had said that, once the shakes and the nausea had started to fade, the hunger hit like the worst case of pot-induced munchies known to man. Lex had downed the mac and cheese and the coffee and looked somewhat less likely to fall off the couch if he moved to fast. Which was a good thing for Lex and a bad thing for Clark since Lex's eyes picked him up and tracked him with as much intensity as one could expect of someone suffering the aftereffects of an unstable new drug.

Clark shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shifted aimlessly in the middle of the floor, words failing him under the weight of Lex's knowledge.

"Chloe got a dose of the same stuff you did," he said, because it was easier to hit on the facts surrounding the problem, than the problem itself. "Pretty nasty stuff, and I've got to won-"

"I saw you," Lex cut him off softly, a little tremor in his voice that might have been the drug, or might have been elation, and Clark swallowed back a lump of dread in his throat and automatically came up with the beginnings of a denial.

"What did you see? There was a lot of smoke. A lot of confusion."

This was Lex's Grail and Clark hated him for his almost religious pursuit of it. He wouldn't let it drop simply because Clark tried to skirt the issue.

"They shot you and you caught wall - - a concrete wall - - and tossed it aside like it was Styrofoam. I. Saw. You."

What Clark wanted to blurt out was, yeah, and if I hadn't you'd be pancake shaped now. But all that he managed was a stupid, helpless stare while he tried to hash out in his mind how to come up with a reasonable explanation. What had he said to Pete and Chloe when he'd come clean with them? He been so freaked out admitting it to Pete, it was all a blur in his memory, and Chloe had pretty much figured things out for herself before he had to open his mouth, so that wasn't much of a help. Of course Lex was so far removed from Pete and Chloe that it made the question mute. Pete and Chloe weren't xenophobic, paranoid, obsessed, backstabbing billionaires with facilities and labs specifically designed to take apart the strange and unusual. I.e. people like Clark - - only there weren't any people like Clark - even if Lex didn't know it and had to settle for varied meteor freaks and mutants to fuel his need for knowledge.

Did he just come out and say? I'm an alien. From so far away, I don't even want to think about it. And yes, I'm directly responsible for all the terrible things that happened in Smallville - - for what happened to you - - the deaths, the meteor freaks - - so much more it makes me sick sometimes to think about it. I can toss a truck over the county line, move faster than the speed of sound - oh, and break the laws of gravity like they weren't even there. I can do all that and more and I'm still terrified of what you'll do if you find out.

Or he could try and find a lie that Lex would buy.

"Lex, that's ridiculous. You were drugged - - and seeing things." That was what came out of his mouth. He'd told smoother lies when he was 15 and a world more naive than he was now.

Lex stared at him. For a split second the disbelief was plain as day in his eyes and the old flicker of pain at the lies. Then the shield slammed down and all emotion drained away. A nerve twitched in Lex's jaw, one of the little tell tales that betrayed turmoil that he otherwise hid so well.

"Fuck you, Clark." Lex might have been ordering off the wine list for all the inflection in his voice. He pushed himself up with effort, limbs shaky and weak and stalked towards the door. It would have been a more dramatic attempt at storming out if he'd been able to walk a straight line.

Panic reared up, red eyed and insistent, spurred on by Lex's cold fury. Clark got a shoulder between Lex and the door, and Lex stopped, breathing harsh, eyes dilated to the point where the black of his pupils almost eclipsed the ring of color around them. He was swaying just a little, body not agreeing with his head's decision to be up and about.

They stood there, at an impasse, Clark staring at Lex and Lex staring at the doorknob just peeking out from behind Clark's hip.

"Lex, just - - you can't - - I didn't - - you don't understand." He was babbling. He knew he was babbling. It had been a long time since he'd been scared of anything.

Lex looked up from under his lashes and the anger was so raw that Clark considered taking a step away. Even when he was really, really pissed, Lex never let that much slip, never completely lost that sense of casual control that he bandied about so well. Maybe it was the drug. Maybe he'd finally gotten pushed beyond the point where he cared.

"Don't. Talk. To me. I'm so . . . tired of your lies. Get out of my way." His voice was weary and when he shouldered Clark aside, Clark let him, mind spinning about in a simplistic loop that centered on, Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Lex had the door halfway open before Clark's survival instinct kicked in and he slammed it shut with the heel of his hand, snatching the knob out of Lex's fingers. Lex looked at the door, at Clark's arm holding it shut and finally worked his way up to Clark's face. Clark could hear the frantic tempo of his heart and if his x-ray vision had been a little less literal and a little more fanciful, he might have seen gears upon gears turning inside Lex's head while he was trying to figure out what to do about this irritating quandary.

"Just wait, okay? I can't let you go without explaining." Not without some hope that Lex just wasn't going to walk out that door, make a phone call and set the massive machine at his disposal into motion with the express purpose of making Clark's life hell. They hadn't been on friendly terms for a long time and Clark seriously doubted the extent of Lex's mercy. He also seriously doubted Lex would get very far in the condition he was in at the moment. And animosity aside, he didn't want Lex passing out on the street.

"Get out of my way." Lex wasn't used to being hindered. Lex reached for the door knob and yanked, trying to dislodge Clark, which was, well, like trying to yank a hundred year old oak up from the ground with nothing but willpower and a piece of twine.

Lex ground his teeth and glared, less than rational and lacking his usual aplomb. He shoved at Clark again and this time Clark didn't budge and Lex staggered off his balance a little from the impact of shoulder to immovable object. Clark caught him by the lapel and Lex growled in protest, trying to knock the hand away.

Okay, the hell with reasoning. He lifted Lex off his feet and hauled him most of the way back to the couch before tossing him back onto it. Lex rebounded a little off the back, but managed not to sprawl off the edge. Clark put a hand on the couch arm and one on the back and leaned down to glare.

"I know what you are," Lex glowered up at him, but he looked queasy again, white around the lips. Getting manhandled across the room probably hadn't helped.

"Okay, so you've seen. You sure you want to piss me off, then?" Clark spit back. Angry utterances didn't seem any more politic than freaked out, scared ones. God knew what Lex actually had known before tonight.

"All these years of lying - - lying badly. Did you think I was stupid," Lex let out an aborted, humorless laugh. "Or so self-involved that I would fail to notice that you always manage to be in the eye of the storm? Did you just think I would turn a blind eye or hope I wouldn't ask questions because you were such a fucking good friend?"

And there was the old bone of contention, the accusations, the allegations that Lex had always been too polite, or too generous, or too something, to come right out with when Clark had been a kid and halfway in awe with him. Time and frustration changed all that, because Lex's sphinx-like patience had always been a clever front, and Clark had gotten tired of being put under a scope.

It hadn't been fair really, or pretty, but that was how friendship ended and all the other little grievances along the way, were just gravy.

"If I had had proof - -" Lex was saying and Clark squeezed the arm of the couch so hard his fingers went though the upholstery.

"And if you did, what then? Would I have ended up in a lab under a knife? What Lex?"

And because it was second nature to him to try and deflect attention from himself, and so very easy to place the blame for everything that went wrong in his life at Lex's feet, he attacked.

"Are you in the drug trade now, Lex? I knew your hands were dirty, but conspiring with drug dealers and thugs - -?"

"Are you even human?" Lex ignored the diversionary attempt, doggedly on target, even though he was wavering.

"No," Clark snapped, and as soon as he'd said it, the bluster drained out of him like air from a ruptured balloon. He sat down on the coffee table and ground his palm against his forehead.

"God - -" Lex breathed, maybe expecting any answer but the simple truth. "The ship. The meteors. I knew it- - "

Clark got up and let Lex come to all the right conclusions, because he was nothing if not quick on the uptake and he'd already put most of the pieces together long before tonight. Clark went to the window and wondered if jumping out it and running away were an option.

Living life on the run might not be so bad. Except for his mom. And his friends. And a life that was just starting to take a turn for the better with graduation finally a semester away. If he hadn't been distracted so often dealing with everyone else's problems, maybe he'd even have graduated two semesters ago, like Chloe.

Lex had rolled his head against the back of the couch, silent running now. Something about the way he looked, like gravity had doubled and Clark hadn't noticed, made Clark think he was close to crashing.

"I hit you," Lex said simply and Clark knew exactly what he was talking about even if it was 8 years past.

"Yeah." No reason not to admit it. It was a relief of sorts.

Lex shut his eyes, one corner of his mouth twitching in a faint smile. Grim satisfaction from a long sought victory.

"I'm not - - dangerous." Clark needed to clarify, whether Lex believed him or not, because Lex had experienced some unsavory things courtesy of Krypton's other refugees, not to mention the other aliens, the non-humanoid kind, from the West Virginia crash. Lex had reasons for his paranoia.

Lex didn't answer. Clark shut his eyes and wished Chloe would come home, because he needed an ally in this. Needed Chloe's sharp wit and analytical mind, because God knew he wasn't thinking straight. He looked back over at the sofa and didn't see Lex. For a moment his breath caught in his chest, before he picked up the slow rhythm of another pulse in the room, the calm beat of a heart at rest. Lex was out again, having held on impressively longer than Chloe had during her bouts of consciousness while the drug was still in her system. But Lex had had a mission and sheer Luthor stubbornness had probably achieved what normal human endurance could not.

Lex had slumped to the side, face in profile pressed against the natty cushions of Chloe's couch. His hands were long and pale, protruding from the black cuffs of his coat. The fingers twitched a little, curling and Clark swallowed and blinked, turning away, because he'd always found Lex's hands fascinating. Clean and elegant in a way that Clark's never were. He felt oddly guilty staring at them now.

He tried Chloe's cell again and this time she actually picked up.

"Where have you been?" he demanded in lieu of hello.

"Well hello to you, too." She sounded a little breathy.

"I've been calling you."

"I've been busy."

"You just got out of the hospital, Chloe. I was worried."

"Sorry, I had a story to finish." She sounded contrite. "Then Lois and I went down in the crypts at Met U, and did a little background research on our Dr. Bennet. Crappy reception. Speaking of the good doctor - - what happened with the lab?"

What hadn't happened?

"Ahhh, we need to sort of talk face to face about that. I'm at your place." "Well good, then that jangling you're hearing is me getting out my keys. I'm home."

He whipped his head around to stare at the door in panic, x-raying through it to make sure that Chloe was alone. The last thing this situation needed was Lois to stir things up.

But it was just Chloe, with a bag of groceries in her arm and the cell caught between her cheek and her shoulder as she unlocked the door. He didn't quite have the time to warn her about Lex passed out on her sofa before she stepped through the door and got an eyeful herself.

"Hey, Cla- -" she stopped mid-Clark and her smile grew strained. Chloe had Lex issues. "What the hell, Clark?"

"I can explain." He sounded like a broken record.

"Can you get rid of the Luthor stench that gonna be clinging to my couch?" She glared at Clark and stomped past, depositing her bag on the counter before turning to fix Clark with the Chloe look-of-death.

He winced. "He was at Bennet's warehouse. He got a dose of the Snazz. I didn't know what else to do with him."

"Leaving him there comes to mind. Hospital is another option. Dumping him in the river would have been a good one. God Clark, what were you thinking?" "He saw me use my powers, Chloe."

That stopped her mid-rant. She swallowed, eyes darting over the sofa. "Oh, fuck," she whispered.

"Yeah." There really wasn't a more adequate word.


He told her the story. Getting the dockside warehouse where Bennet had his little lab set up. The gunshot he'd heard before he'd even gone inside and then finding an unexpected standoff. Two guys that were obviously professional muscle with hand held automatic weapons pointed across the lab at Lex, who had a sleek, powerful looking handgun pointed right back at them. Caster Bennet had been frozen uncertainly in-between, looking as scared as any rat in a lab.

When the shots started, Bennet dove to the ground, and Lex had just stood there, half laughing, pupils blown, not even caring that he was a second away from being riddled with bullets.

It could have been Ben Laden and Clark still would have gotten between that spray of bullets and mortal human flesh. It was just the way he was made. The way his instincts kicked in to protect first and think later. The fact that it was Lex - - well sometimes dealing with Lex on the instinctual level instead of the rational one caused Clark a lot less headaches. Except this time, when he'd taken a dozen rounds in the chest before a bullet ricocheted and hit something highly flammable. The chemicals went up, half the building came down. It was either do something or let Lex and the groveling Bennet get squashed and that just wasn't an option. He didn't think the gunmen had seen him, tossed aside by the explosion. Bennet might not have. Lex couldn't take his eyes off him.

"So you can see where dropping him off at the ER might have presented a problem," Clark finished sourly.

"Clark, I got to tell you, I'm not seeing how this is going to turn out much better.."

Clark gave her an miserable stare and she threw up her hands, looking over the back of the couch at their problem. "Are you absolutely sure he- - "


They both stared at Lex. Chloe was biting her lip in serious thought.

"So he thinks you're a meteor freak. So what? You come from Smallville. It happens. Its not a crime to be genetically challenged."

"He knows I'm not - - y'know - - from here."

She let out a sharp, irritated breath. "Well, that's just peachy. You told him or he figured it out?"

"Both. Sorta. Maybe we can turn this around on him. The drug thing. If he was in business with Bennet he's not going to want that to get out."

"I seriously doubt he was. Luthorcorp doesn't really need to push drugs to the college crowd for that little added bit of annual profit. The Snazz was a side project for Bennet, probably a way to fund his other research. His real interest is cutting edge nanotechnology which I can totally see Lex having an interest." "Chloe, what am I going to do?"

She paced into the kitchen and started pulling out groceries and putting them away. Her brows were furrowed in thought, so he didn't complain.

"I say ride it out, Clark," she finally declared, her back against the counter, her expression determined.

"Ride it out?" His voice broke embarrassingly.

"Clark, what's he going to do, come out and announce to the world that Clark Kent, Smallville nobody is in actuality a visitor from another planet? The Inquisitor might print it, but c'mon, he'd look like a loon. He doesn't have proof. And you're the all American boy. Football. Mom. Apple pie. The works. Granted he could come after you - - but you're not the easiest target. God, he doesn't know about - - you know - - the rocks?" She mouthed that as if she were afraid Lex might pick it up.

"No! I don't think so." Clark hoped not with a passion. "I'm not worried about me. I 'm worried about mom, and you. Lois. Lana. Anybody that could be hurt because they're close to me."

That gave Chloe pause, but she rallied. "He can be a bastard, but he's not the mob. I don't think horse heads and hit men are going to be a problem."

"Chloe you don't know - -"

She cut him off with stern look and finger against his lips. "I know enough. You making yourself sick over something neither one of us can control, is just pointless. Do what you always do. Deal with the proverbial shit when it hits the fan and try to control the spatter."

He gave her an unhappy smirk. It was not the advice, the miraculous answer to this dilemma, that Clark had been hoping for. Maybe he should have called his mom, but he somehow doubted her advice would be any more sage than Chloe's. More comforting perhaps.

They spent the next few hours rehashing things. Arguing, coming up with scenarios which did not always end pretty. Him playing Devil's advocate some of the time, Chloe taking that role more often. She was better at it.

Chloe staggered off to bed around 2. Clark sat in her rattan basket chair and brooded, watching Lex in the near dark. When he was still like this and quiet, it was hard to remember where the threat was. When his eyes were closed, the sin got washed away and it was just Lex again. His Lex, from years ago before obsession and lies got the better of him.

Clark shut his eyes and shied away from that direction. Nothing but melancholy there. And regret.

Clark's sleep requirements were minimal, when it came right down to physical need. He could survive on a few hours a week if he needed - - and had during various exam weeks. Mentally, however, he craved it. Enjoyed it like a drug and if given the opportunity would happily oversleep his alarm. His permanent high school records contained an embarrassing number of tardies because of just that.

He hadn't meant to doze off, but the quiet dark of the apartment, the steady, soft exhalation of Lex's breath, two days worth of worry over Chloe, and now over the exposure of his powers, begged for relief. He drifted off, slumped in the cradle of the chair, and dreamed of being ten and skipping rocks across Crater Lake, while Chloe and Pete egged him to throw farther and farther from the opposite bank. Lex was there, all sleek and predatory in black on black, leaning against the hood of one of his criminally expensive Italian sports cars, fondling a glass of something with his long fingers. There was a benign, faintly amused smile on his lips.

"If you break all your mother's china, won't she be upset?" Lex asked and Clark looked down to see a diminished stack of the blue and white country pattern that had adorned his mother's china press in the kitchen for as long as he could remember. He had a dessert plate in his hand, ready to fling out over the lake. Mom was going to kill him. He blinked and looked up to Lex, who shrugged, not seeming particularly concerned with Clark's impending doom.

"What the fuck, Clark?" Chloe said, suddenly on his side of the lake, small fists on thin, ten year old hips. She shoved him and leaned close - -

- - Her face melted into something older, but no less annoyed as dream faded and reality cut in. Clark blinked, sitting upright so fast that he almost clipped Chloe's chin with his head. Sleep deserted him, leaving a bad taste in his mouth. "What happened to 'I'll stay up and watch him, Chloe? I don't need the sleep'" Chloe huffed. Panic started in.

He shuffled her aside with a hand on her hip and the bottom dropped out of his stomach. Lex was gone. Clark opened his mouth. Shut it.

Chloe gave him an exaggerated brow arch, and waved her hand towards the empty couch like she was selling yachts at a boat show. "Exhibit number one against the validity of that claim. Geeze, Clark!"

"I don't know what happened. It just - - just snuck up on me." It was a lame excuse and he hated it.

She gave him the eye, then harrumphed and went into her bedroom to look out the window overlooking the street. "Well, no S.W.A.T. or black SUV's screaming up to the curb. I guess the Men in Black aren't here to take you away. That's one thing."

"I didn't think he was gonna wake up so soon. He wasn't supposed too. You didn't." Okay he was picking up on the whine in his own voice now. It was nice of Chloe not to call him on it.

"Yeah, I guess that's Lex's own meteor freak coming out." She ran a hand through sleep tousled hair, while she looked around and took stock of the apartment. "Okay. I'm going to shower and hightail it to the Planet and see what I can sniff out there. And don't you have a class this morning?"

"Class?" Journalism 420 was the least of his worries.

"Clark, snap out of it." She caught his arms and gave him a shake, peering up at him intently. "You haven't done anything wrong. Stick your routine. Don't do anything stupid and watch your back. When you come to work we can maybe find a different angle on this in the light of day."

Easy for Chloe to say. But he was being panicky. He'd faced down worse things than this with out blinking an eye. Compared to a Phantom Zoner, Lex was downright amenable.

It was just the waiting that was going to make his life hell.

Clark had an internship at the Daily Planet. He'd won the spot thanks to the damned bugs in West Virginia. Not that he'd been able to write anything about them, what with the military claiming the site in the name of National Security and leveling all sorts of threats, treason chief among them to the parties involved in the incident. Namely him and the surviving LexCorp team and Lex, who'd wanted his hands on the remains of that crashed alien craft something awful and had gotten bullied out of it by a power greater than him. Government bureaucracy

So Clark hadn't written about the bugs or whatever the hell the freakishly resilient thing and its offspring had been. He'd written about the dirt poor West Virginian families that he'd seen while he was there, and a sort of rustic poverty that alien in and of itself to the rest of modern America.

Chloe had gotten misty-eyed editing it for him. Lois had patted him on the shoulder and told him he was sentimental and girly, but she'd had that little twinkle in her eye that hinted at approval that she'd never verbally admit.

Not only had it gotten him the internship, but it had been published in the human-interest section of the Planet. His mom had it framed.

He'd learned that weekend in the mountains, that there were stories to be told that had nothing to do with life and death and freaks and disasters and he wanted to tell them. He'd also learned how to fly.

Between school, the farm and five afternoons a week at the Planet, Clark hardly even needed the occasional spice of krypto-freaks on the rampage, unscrupulous chemists or demented psychopaths to make his life complete. It was all he could do sometimes to remember what day of the week it was.

The last thing he needed was driving himself crazy wondering when the hammer was going to fall, courtesy of Lex. But nothing noteworthy came through the vast influx of the Planet's informational pool. Nobody showed up on Clark's doorstep. He resorted to calling Oliver to see if his more specialized information network had picked up anything odd from the Luthorcorp feelers. Nothing. He gave a vague excuse when Ollie wanted to know why. He didn't tell his mother, not wanting to burden her. She tended to over worry.

Two days passed. Three. There was a cave in at one of the coalmines in the eastern part of the state. His mom pointed it out to him on the news when he came down for breakfast. They were already bringing out the bodies and 20 more men were trapped. He was out of the house before she could bemoan the sorry state of safety regulations on some of the older digs. It was good to be doing something. Anything to take his mind off his other problem. He saved 20 lives in the process, so it was win win, until he got back home, filthy from the coal dust and came down off the adrenalin high. Then he started worrying all over again.

He brooded in the shower, watching the black water sluice down the drain, that Lex was doing this on purpose. Playing a waiting game that Clark didn't have the patience for. Driving Clark nuts trying to figure out what he was planning, when the plan all along was to make him squirm in the first place. Twisted. Just like Lex.

If Lex had still lived in the mansion in Smallville, Clark would have stormed right over, full of indignation. But Lex hadn't set foot in town for eleven months, almost to the day, and Clark had no clear idea where to find him on a Sunday in Metropolis. He knew where his office was in Luthorcorp Plaza, but wasn't certain where he actually lived. Chloe could find out, but she'd chew him out over it and he wasn't in the frame of mind for a lecture today.

He took out his frustrations catching up on farm work. They had two hands that came in during the week now, but it was a lot of acreage and he could do the work of ten men in hour. His mom kept talking about renting out the land to the Peterson's, next farm over, and Clark kept talking her out of it, because it would it would have killed his dad to see the family land worked by someone else.

"Renting is better than selling outright." She would say and he knew she was right, because after graduation, they'd both decided he needed to move to the city. His mom had wanted him to go last year, urging him to leave the nest, as she called it. It depressed him, the thought of leaving her alone in the house. But the prospect of moving to the city and getting an apartment of his own, out of Smallville, away from all the mistakes of his past, kept him awake at nights planning.

When Lex decided to play his hand, he might not get that chance. At least not with the anonymity he wanted. He couldn't stand it. He had to know.

He was up with the rooster, showered, fed and finished with the chores before 6:30 rolled around.

"You're agitated. What's the matter, honey?" His mother had emotional radar that never failed. She could spot a sulk or a lie like he could pick out bone through layers of flesh and muscle. He'd been very careful not to come anywhere in the vicinity of what he'd been doing on the super powered front, or his secret or the lack thereof, during his time home.

He wiped off his hands on one of her dishtowels and turned to face her with a hesitant smile. "Calculus test. It's a big one and after dropping it last semester, I really need that credit to graduate."

"Clark, you're not failing the class?"

"No! No. I just missed a couple of classes - - because, y'know, stuff happened."

She knew. She just didn't think 'stuff' was always as important as him getting a degree.

"Well, maybe Chloe can help you study. Her GPA is exceptional. So I hear." Which meant his mom had been trading gossip with Chloe's dad. Fantastic.

"I'll ask her." He muttered, placing a kiss on her cheek before shouldering his backpack and taking off. He actually did go to class. There was a calculus quiz, so he hadn't lied to her, technically speaking. He might have even passed it with a reasonably high mark.

He ran to Metropolis afterwards, because he still wasn't entirely comfortable with the flying thing, and stashed his backpack at Chloe's before heading downtown to the shining crowns of the Metropolis business district. Luthorcorp Plaza. Glass, steel and money that sprawled over two full city blocks. The seat of an empire that Lionel Luthor had built from nothing and Lex had taken to the next level. Lionel and Lex weren't on speaking terms. After Lionel's last bid to retake the company had failed, he'd retired to Europe to plot God knew what. Lex's paranoia was probably well founded on that count, because Lionel was a force to be reckoned with.

Clark stood on the sidewalk outside the west tower and stared up at a building that seemed to go on forever. The east tower had a vertical mall on the first few floors and housed high-rent apartments, but this one was devoted to office space and had marginally less foot traffic flowing in and out of the polished lobby doors.

He'd been here before for a variety of reasons, not all of them legitimate. He knew where Lex's office was and if he'd wanted to get in unhampered by security, he probably could have. He just didn't think that would be the wisest way to begin this encounter.

He took the elevators to the 40th floor and went to the reception desk outside the tinted glass wall that separated the lobby from the vast maze of offices beyond. He told the cover model behind the desk that he was here to see Lex Luthor. She looked up at him and took in his jeans, his t-shirt and the windbreaker that had seen better days. Her eyebrow twitched.

"Your name?" she asked, all false politeness.

"Clark Kent," he said, trying not to grind his teeth.

"I don't see an appointment." She said and didn't offer to make one or connect him with someone who would.

Clark leaned on the counter and gave her a tight smile. "Call up and let him know I'm here."

"Mr. Luthor is very busy." Her annoyance was starting to show.

"So am I. He'll see me." He'd better or Clark was going to have to take the hard way up. He was getting attention from the receptionists on either side of the one presently eyeing him like he was something she'd scraped off the bottom of her shoe. She could call security or call upstairs.

She chose the later to avoid a scene. Clark stood tapping his fingers on the marble desktop while she murmured into her headset. She looked up at him in surprise, quickly covered as she got her answer.

"Mr. Luthor will see you." She ushered him personally to the private elevator and the grey-jacketed security swiped a card and punched the top floor for him.

There was more security than he remembered. They stood outside the glass doors to Lex's office after they'd escorted Clark in, large and intimidating. Clark didn't give them a second glance. In the scheme of things they didn't matter. The man behind the desk in front of a sheer wall of blue glass was the power here. And Clark could crash through that window and take Lex with him if he wanted. And maybe Lex knew that. And let him in anyway, not giving up one iota of power, one grain of ground.

Clark stopped in front of the desk, his determination like a suit of armor that shielded him from the fear.

Lex's stare was cool, composed, vaguely disinterested, as if Clark were here trying to sell him encyclopedias. He was all conservative chic today, in a charcoal grey jacket over a crisp white shirt. Nothing hinted at disorder, everything in its place. A man in control, while Clark felt his fracturing along the edges.

"What are you playing at, Lex?" His frustration seeped out with his words, palpable.

Lex lifted a brow. Faint mockery and Clark knew it.

"I'm sorry? You barged your way here demanding to see me. Who's playing games? Or was there something you wanted to tell me?" Lex's voice hinted at impatience, like he had other things to do that took priority over the questions that had consumed his life since Clark had known him. Lex's lies had always been more exquisitely formed than Clark's but Clark could still read Lex well enough to scent them out.

"You mean you haven't got it all figured out?" Clark snapped.

Lex leaned back, steepling his fingers, some of the coolness replaced by contemplation. "I could fill in the blanks on my own, but I'd rather hear it from you. What is it they say about confession being good for the soul?"

"How would you know?" He didn't know whether this preternatural calm of Lex's was a good thing or a bad. It was driving him crazy though, when what he really wanted was a good argument.

Lex's mouth twitched, a cold hint of smile that meant nothing.

"Damnit, Lex, I want to know what you're going to do?"

"Going to do? What would you suggest I do? You seem to have an opinion on the subject. Why don't you enlighten me as to the customary method for dealing with - - what do you call yourself?"

"Clark Kent." Clark said peevishly, returning Lex's arched brow look with one considerably more heated of his own. Lex held his stare, and there was something there, in the depth of his eyes, that belied the Wall Street faade and begged answers. That needed them like he needed air and Clark felt a stab of the old guilt. The old shame at lying to Lex when he knew it hurt him. Of keeping him at arm's length when what he'd really wanted to do was welcome him in - - shield him from the huge cold of the mansion and the frigid manipulations of a callous father. He'd wanted - - things that he'd never really comprehended at sixteen and that scared him now to reminisce. And fear made him angry.

He leaned down, palms on the cool glass top of the desk. He knew very well, he could be intimidating if he tried. It was more than his size or the power. Maybe it was a Kryptonian thing, the steel in his gaze that came out when he was pissed. Lex hadn't exactly faltered under it before, but he'd been fazed. Maybe because any time Clark had been pissed enough to give him the 'look', chances were some sort of violence had followed.

Lex sat forward, not flinching from the stare, but his hand slid over to a box beside his laptop. Clark hadn't noticed it before and reflexively he tried to x-ray it - - and couldn't. Okay, his assumption that Lex didn't know about the rocks might have been premature. He let his eyes drift back up to Lex's.

"I think," Lex said slowly, fingertips stroking the inlaid edge of the box.

"That you owe me more than a sentence or two of explanation when I wasn't really in the frame of mind to absorb it."

"I don't know why you think I owe you anything." It was pissy and Clark knew it, but Lex upset him so much he couldn't control the beat of his own heart, much less his tone.

Lex smiled at him, the strained one he reserved for children and country bumpkins that were fraying his last nerve.

"Why? Because I tolerated your deceit for years - - you would smile and lie and I swallowed it. I'm not the one whose whole life has been a lie. My secrets are front page, Clark. Just pick up an Inquisitor and you can read about my nefarious exploits. Nothing is sacred. But wait! You don't even need to read about my skeletons - because you know them first hand. Because I fucking told you or you stuck your nose in where it didn't belong and found out yourself, like you were the only one who was virtuous enough to have secrets. Self righteous prick!"

Lex shut his mouth, pulling in a deep breath, as if he'd surprised himself. When Lex was angry, his eyes darkened. They were a deep, murky green now and no less angry than Clark's. There was something in the expression and the way he was breathing through his teeth that killed the retort on the tip of Clark's tongue. Something that had no relation to fear coiled in the pit of his gut. Something that responded to Lex's loss of control and wanted to rage against it, which was a damn good reason to straighten and break that uncomfortable eye contact and try to get his own breathing under control.

"I didn't know until I was fifteen," he said quietly. "And my dad took me to the root cellar and showed me the ship and pretty much destroyed every dream I'd ever had - - because how do you go back to normal after that? How do expect anyone to ever not see you as - - " he struggled for a word to cover all his teenaged angst. Freak was too tame. Freaks were a dime a dozen. " - - As an abomination, if they ever found out?"

"How many people did you test that theory on?" Lex asked and he sounded drained or melancholy or regretful. Clark couldn't tell which.

"None. Willingly." Clark shook his head, feeling younger than he was.

Lex half laughed, then waved a hand as if he were tired of this. "You came here worried about your secret. Worried about the people who mean something to you. Don't."

Clark swallowed. He hadn't said as much, but Lex was good at reading between the lines. Clark wished he had that ability, because he would have loved to know what Lex was thinking. He stared uncertainly, not trusting that promise at face value, but how could he knowing what Lex was capable of? It didn't stop him from wanting to badly. Lex looked down at his laptop, middle finger making little circles over the touch pad.

"I would have protected you. If you'd given me the opportunity." Lex said unexpectedly, softly, and Clark looked up from Lex's hands to meet half-lidded eyes. There was emotion there, ragged and real. Fathomless depths that Lex seldom revealed because it wasn't what the heir to the Luthor throne did. It stole Clark's breath, just like it used to, in that old unnerving, peculiar way; burning him from the inside out until he had to look away or drown, because God, he missed the empathy and the challenge. All the thousand little things that Lex could convey in a glance when he was feeling charitable enough to let someone in.

When Clark looked back up it was gone, the knife-edge coolness back in place. "I'll have someone show you out. Don't show up again unannounced. It would be problematic for both us."

Lex started awake from a nightmare that vanished the moment sleep did. It was just as well; most of the ones he did recall left him chilled and shaken. His body remembered this one though, and hinted at its intensity with a harshness of breath and the frantic thudding of his heart.

Lightning flared outside the window, followed moments later by a muffled boom of thunder. Rain beat horizontally across the thick glass, soundless and frustrated in its fury.

He took a breath, and looked at clock on the bed table. 3:37 am. He'd gotten a little over an hours worth of sleep and that hadn't been restful. He needed at least three more if he wanted to be functional to deal with the people from Jacoby-Meyers tomorrow morning. It was a huge deal and not yawning through the talks could only play to his advantage.

His heartbeat slowed to normal. He shut his eyes and tried to blank his mind and return to sleep. He knew he was doomed to failure when the first fleeting Clark-thought crossed his mind.

A week had passed since the impromptu meeting at his office and a day hadn't gone by since, that he hadn't berated himself as ten kinds of fool for letting Clark slip away so easily. He could have had detailed answers instead of half answered questions. Clark might have talked - - given honest answers - - if wounded pride and hurt feelings hadn't stripped Lex of his common sense.

He'd sent Clark away and Clark had gone and despite all the resources Lex had at hand that could track him down, put him under constant surveillance and keep Lex abreast of just what he was doing and where and with whom, Lex didn't make the call.

Just like he didn't contact any of the various research facilities that he had specifically created to explore the subject of aliens among the masses. It would have been justification and benediction all in one pretty package for so many questionable acts of necessity.

The Clark as alien concept was he could accept, because he'd known from day one that Clark Kent was different. The admission simply validated all of Lex's uncertainties and suspicions. It was the Clark as not human thing that defied him.

He reminded himself what he'd seen in Caster Bennet's lab. Those brief/endless minutes he'd been soaring on Bennet's unfortunate little drug were so clear and sharp it verged on painful. A vivid, startling world where everything was enhanced, wired for sound and pumped directly into the brain. An interesting and unique experience to be sure, and Lex was intimately familiar with the highs and lows of designer drugs, having partaken liberally during his pre-banishment to Smallville days. The only real problem with this particular drug was the devastating crash that came afterwards.

That and the fact that a man who was probably the most brilliant mind in his field was wasting his time cooking up designer trash instead of concentrating on the work that had gained him Lex's attention to begin with. And LexCorp wasn't the only high powered interest sniffing after Caster Bennet. Royster Internatinal, Procter and Gamble, Starr industries just to name a few of the bigger players that had been prowling around Bennet's Met U labs trying to take him off the public market and into private research.

Lex wondered if any of them knew about the little side projects. Someone with influence and money did though. If the quality of the equipment in that rundown warehouse was any indication, Caster Bennet had someone with deep pockets financing him. Whether that someone cared about the nanotech work was in question, because generally Procter and Gamble recruiters didn't skulk about with automatic weapons to chase off the competition.

Lex's people had yet to track down just whom the two goons with the uzis answered to. Lex really didn't like being shot at.

Which brought him full circle back to Clark, showing up where he was least expected, catching a dozen bullets in the chest before the lab exploded and brought the crumbling wall down. Lex remembered laughing. It had seemed all too perfectly ironic and hilarious at the time. Until he blacked out in a haze of dizziness and nausea.

He didn't remember what had happened to Caster Bennet. Which was a concern, for a variety of reasons, oddly enough chief among them being whether he had seen what Lex had. If the man had seen, he needed to be found and given ample reason to keep his experiences to himself. A lab, with unlimited resources, someplace far distant from Metropolis might fill that need. If anyone was going to benefit from the exploitation of Clark Kent, it was damn well going to be Lex Luthor.

4:12 and the storm hadn't let up and his mind would not stop working.

Clark had taken him to Chloe's apartment. Had seemed comfortable there, like it was a familiar place to him. Lex wondered if they were sleeping together. Wondered if he had told her his secret. Looking back, piecing things together, he thought probably so. A stab of inexplicable irritation made him frown into the darkness and he wasn't sure if it was from the thought of Clark fucking Chloe or the idea that he had bared his soul to her.

4:30 and he needed to be up by 6 and if he didn't stop dwelling on Clark Kent, tomorrow was going to be a very long day.

It was. But he still nailed it. And LexCorp made an acquisition that he'd been sniffing after for months. By the time he got out of negotiations it was well into the afternoon and he'd been running off caffeine and willpower all day. It wasn't necessarily an unusual habit for him. He got distracted by the details, by the game, and sometimes forgot the little things.

He was on his way back to his office, leaving the paperwork to the lawyers, when one of his security team quietly informed him that they had located Dr. Bennet.

He stopped in front of the Pollock in the elegant hallway between reception and the private elevator that went up to the executive suites. "Where?"

"A rent by the night motel on the lower South End, Sir. Kirby Street. He's alone."

A hop skip and a jump from the ever-changing borders of Suicide Slums. Not a place he'd expect a squirrelly little researcher like Caster Bennet to take refuge in.

"Is he likely to bolt?" Lex stared at the chaotic sprawl of brush strokes in the painting. He'd never particularly liked the piece. He could debate the qualities of abstract expressionism with the most snobbish of art appreciatios, but this piece just made him edgy. Maybe that's why he kept it.

"Very likely, sir."

He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck, the beginnings of a tension ache creeping up. Taking a moment to wind down and relax was apparently not an option.

Lex took a modest security contingent just in case he wasn't the only one who had tracked Bennet down. Enough muscle to make sure he wasn't interrupted a second time with a man whom he was beginning to think was considerably more of a liability than an asset.

The motel was a dilapidated, four story building likely as old as Metropolis, squashed up in-between similar structures long past their prime. The whole street was one step away from the slums that pockmarked the city's 'Old South End'. His father had risen out of those same slums, on the wings of blood and corruption, rough trodding over anyone that stood in his path. The closest Lex wanted to come was tearing the whole mess down. Paving it over with something that would wash the acrid taste of poverty and the sort of low rent crime that poverty spawned, out of the City's collective mouth.

He left two men outside and one followed him into the threadbare lobby, a large menacing presence at his back that made the greasy clerk swallow and keep darting nervous glances past Lex.

"I need a room number," Lex told him the name and described Bennet in case the man had had the presence of mind to use a false identity.

The clerk looked back at him, taking in the cut of his clothes, the watch worth more than what this place probably cleared in a half a year and saw a chance for profit.

"Don't ring a bell. What's it worth to you for me to remember?"

Lex canted his head, and the muscle behind him shifted his jacket to reveal the holstered gun under his armpit. Lex wasn't in the mood for negotiations with rattrap motel managers after a morning of matching wits with a conference table full of wall-street wizards.

"Ummm. That'd be 307."

Lex nodded and headed for the elevator, motioning for his security to stay in the lobby.

"That don't work," the clerk called from the counter. Of course, it didn't. Lex changed direction and headed for the stairs.

"He's got a woman up there," the clerk offered another tidbit of information, suddenly helpful now that he was faced with the company of Lex's bullnecked security guard.

The whole place stank of urine and spent sex, but the stairs were worse, sporting the stray beer can here; used condom there.

Room 307. He paused outside the door, hearing the murmur of voices. A woman's tone and a man's panicked response. If Bennet had a hooker in his room, then they were having a disagreement over something.

Lex rapped on the door and the conversation on the other side suddenly dried up. There were a few thumps, as if someone were scrambling or tripping over their own feet. He'd met Bennet, so he knew the later was entirely plausible.

The door opened and he found himself unexpectedly face to face with Chloe Sullivan. He recovered two beats before she did and gave her a bland, inquiring look while she opened her mouth and closed it, then got her wits about her and glared at him like he'd come spreading the plague.

"What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing," he took her in at a glance, digital camera dangling from one wrist, doubtless a tape recorder in her pocket. "But its clear you're digging for a story where you really ought to be leaving well enough alone."

"Why? Because you say so and the Luthor word is gospel?"

He shrugged and strode past her, as willing to accept that take on the subject as any.

Bennet was futilely trying to get the window to the fire escape open. The window frame had obviously been painted long shut.

"Where are you going to go, Dr. Bennet?" Lex inquired. "Haven't we had this conversation once, already?"

Bennet turned wild eyes to him, stare strangely magnified behind the thick lenses of his glasses. Justifiably enough, the man's face drained of color. "Oh, no. No. No. I didn't mean to do it. It was an accident. You were pushing me. And they were pushing me. I didn't know what they wanted - - I couldn't sythisize it to their specifications - - God - - you don't understand!" The man was hysterical.

"What are you talking about?" Chloe pushed her way past Lex to place herself between him and Bennet, almost protectively. It almost amused Lex. "What was he pushing you to do, Dr. Bennet? Who's they and what did they want you to do?"

Bennet ran his hands down his face, blunt nails leaving little red trails. Bennet was strung out, that much was obvious. On what was another question. What a waste of a brilliant mind.

"I was pushing him to give up playing mad chemist and concentrate on more legitimate research," he directed that to Bennet instead of Chloe. "But you panicked, and did something you ought not, didn't you Caster? But I can forgive that, because I realize you're under stress.

Which wasn't quite true, because Lex did hold grudges and having a syringe full of dubious drug plunged into his body was high among his list of unforgivables. Which wasn't to say, he wouldn't work around that, if it could benefit him. "Any obligations you've made to less than legitimate parties can be bypassed."

Bennet stared at him, mouth working soundlessly, god knew what going on behind his dilated eyes. All Lex needed was a nod, a hint of agreement and he'd shuffle Chloe from the room, and have a few private words with the doctor.

"This is not just going to disappear, because you want it to. Over twenty people were seriously hurt by the 'trial run' of his little drug project." Chloe said, journalistic indignity rising to the occasion. The people have a right to know, would have probably, predictably, been her next line, but Lex cut her off.

"And the fact that you were among them makes you all the more eager to right the wrong. Or is it that this just might get your name on the front page? Looking for a little fame, Chloe?"

"What are you looking for, Lex? Another scientist with no moral compass to advance illegal research in unsanctioned labs?"

"You sound like you're fishing for a quote."

Her mouth twitched, but she didn't back down. Chloe's sense of self-preservation had always been a little stunted.

"I think I've already got a few."

"Go ahead. I'm sure a libel suit will do wonders to advance your career."

She glared. Lex had better things to do than trade insults with Chloe. Bennet's hoarse cry made them both start. The man was pulling at his hair, backing away like snakes were coming up out of the floor after him.

"No place is safe. No Place. You don't know who you're dealing with. What lengths they'll go to! They'll come after me again. You saw what they sent after me. You saw what he could do - -you saw!! " he rushed at Lex, clutching at his lapels. "And he's only the first - - enhanced strength, speed - - they shot him - - it must be alien nanotechnology invading the human substructure - - It's only the start. People have to be warned!"

Lex met Chloe's eyes while he was peeling Bennet's fingers off his jacket. This time she looked more worried than accusative. Though the paranoia Bennet was spouting was a mad mix of the far-fetched reaches of his own specialty and wilder conspiracy theory, he did have the alien part right. Which was a problem.

He caught Bennet's jaw and forced the man to look him in the eye. "I can keep you safe. I can get you help so you can think coherently again. Understand? If you stay here, you're right, they will get you."

Bennet moaned, rolling his eyes, but he nodded, fear driving him to acquiescence.

"So what? You're just going to pull an Amelia Earhart and make him disappear?" Chloe ground out, frustrated.

"Would you rather have him babbling to everyone who'll listen about aliens?" he inquired mildly.

She laughed in disbelief. "Oh my God. You don't actually expect me to believe you're doing this to help Cl- -" she bit off the rest of that sentence, clearly wanting to say more, but prevented by Bennet's presence. "What's to gain? Gratitude?"

"I don't need gratitude, Chloe." He flipped open his cell and made a call downstairs. Within minutes his security was upstairs and quickly and efficiently ushering the muttering Bennet out.

"If you want to write a story, feel free. " He brushed past her on his way out.

"If I need to produce Bennet, I will and when he starts talking, it won't be me that's damaged from it. LexCorp was simply out to recruit a brilliant, but misguided mind. I would be more worried about his less legitimate contacts. The ones who commissioned his little drug trial and probably do have things to hide. But again, that's entirely up to you."

He expected Chloe to tell Clark. A perverse part of him maybe even hoped she would exaggerate the encounter, because a week of Clark following his dictum of no contact, was driving Lex nuts.

Enduring a little outrage or self-righteousness or accusation was a small price to pay to get Clark in the same room, where he might breach a few more of his secrets.

Lex had taken precautions. He knew the meteor rock was Clark's weakness. He'd known that years ago, before he even knew about Clark. He just didn't know all the whys and wherefores. He certainly had enough of the stuff in his possession. Labs full of meteor rock, being researched in any number of fields for possible applications. He'd had a rock in a lead box on his desk the day Clark came calling, just in case. It was still there.

He'd thought about having bullets made up. Decided against it. Then rethought the notion and decided on enough for a couple of clips for his own personal guns. Just in case. He didn't want his security toting around weapons with meteor rock bullets. Even the most professional hired muscle could get twitchy when strange things began happening and he honestly didn't want anyone shooting Clark.

Other than him.

Which negated having a security team at all, when it came to Clark.

He was being irrational.

He went back to his office to make provisions for Dr. Bennet. In addition to the other problems the man had caused him, now he had to arrange for a detox program before he could reasonably benefit from the man's mind.

He sat there afterwards, pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off a threatening headache. Running all day on the fumes of coffee and a few hours of sleep was making him lightheaded. He was hungry, but it was late to call any of the various models, actresses, or other beautiful people that he usually had on his arm for public outings in Metropolis, and he didn't like to eat alone. It was a bit of insecurity that he'd never quite been able to shake from his youth, where his baldness had made him an outcast in the various elite schools his father had shipped him off to. The cutthroat cruelty of the world of big business had nothing on the inventive malice of children.

The penthouse then, where he'd have something sent up. He shut his laptop and stood, reaching for the jacket draped across the back of his chair. And stopped, breath stalling for a heartbeat when he saw someone standing in the doorway to the darkened conference lounge off the side of his office.

A tall someone with a pissed off stance, that Lex was all too familiar with. He took that stalled breath and debated whether sitting back down, or standing would allow more tactical advantage.

Perhaps sitting, since the box with the meteor rock was on the desk and the gun with the special bullets in the top left drawer.

"I thought I made it clear that appointments were required now on for you little visits," Lex remarked mildly, sitting down and casually leaning back in the chair. But his heart was thudding madly and it was a struggle not to let quickening breath betray him.

Lex didn't carry security around like a cloak the way his father did. If one were going out to the slums and confronting potentially dangerous psychopaths, then it was all fine and well to have the backup, but frankly, hovering bodyguards annoyed him. The building had ample security, they just did not lurk around the hallways outside Luthorcorp's executive offices. If you got up past reception and the private elevator then you belonged and there wasn't the need. He wasn't sure it would have mattered in this case, since Clark obviously hadn't come in the front way.

"How did you get in?"

Clark stepped forward. He had on a pale blue shirt that was rumpled enough that was quite possible it had been slept in and an actual tie that had been loosened and fidgeted with until the knot looked mangled. The tie was green, a few shades duller than Clark's eyes. He must have been at the Daily Planet then, which had a dress code, even for its college interns. Cheap clothes never looked so good.

"What did you do with Dr. Bennet?"

Lex rolled his eyes. Honestly, why Chloe and Clark were so concerned about the well being of a man who'd been cooking up recreational narcotics, had gotten Chloe dosed with the stuff and had been in tentative talks with assorted members of the Metropolis underworld, was beyond him. You'd think he was the kindly pastor from the Smallville First Baptist church.

"What business is it of yours, Clark? I thought you were interning at the Daily Planet, not the Metropolis PD? Do you have a badge now to go with that Boy Scout mentality?"

"You can't just make people disappear, Lex."

"There's that word again. What do you and Chloe think I do all day? He's a researcher. I'm setting him up to research somewhere where he won't have the temptation of experimenting with illegal drugs or I might add babbling on about the freakish feats of strength and invulnerability he witnessed that day in the warehouse. He's not being harmed. He's not being held against his will. No one died during the trial run of his drug. Get over it."

Clark really, really wanted to dispute his logic, that was clear, but even the renowned Kent pigheadedness was having a hard time coming up with an argument with Lex's solution to the problem. Of course, Lex had sold Clark short before. So far from short that it was laughable now, all things considered.

"How do I know you won't have him mass producing that stuff, or creating something worse?"

Lex drummed his fingers, annoyed. Having to explain himself over and over again was not something he particularly enjoyed doing. Especially when he'd actually been telling the truth and most of the extra effort he'd put into the Bennet relocation plan had been for Clark's benefit. He had yet to sit down, really sit down and try to rationalize why.

"His field of expertise is molecular nanotechnology and the development of smart materials that could be used for a variety of commercial applications. Most notably, in the medical arena. I could give you some of his thesis work, but honestly, I'm not sure if your classes at K-state covered advanced speculation in that particular field. You might find yourself a little lost." The level of Bennet's work when the man was operating at full capacity, left Lex lost and he'd done a fair bit of reading on the field.

Clark glared at him. Lex allowed a hint of a smile.

"You threatened Chloe."

"I did not threaten Chloe." Lex denied immediately even as he replayed the conversation with her in his head, trying to recall if he actually had. There had been the libel thing. Did that qualify?

Clark laid his palms flat on the desk, then frowned, pulling the right one back up with an odd look. His eyes fixed on the desktop, where his hand had been, over the left hand drawer. He looked back up, eyes practically spitting indignation.

"You've got a gun with kryptonite bullets."

"You can see through the desk?" Lex hadn't known that. Kryptonite?

Clark muttered something under his breath and yanked Lex up before Lex even realized his shirt had been grabbed. He got hauled away from the desk and into a wall, Clark glaring at him all the while. Arguably, he could have hit the wall significantly harder than he did.

"You were going to shoot me?"

"No. No." Lex had his hands up, trying to derail that notion, even though he wasn't entirely sure himself what his intentions on the subject actually were. "Not unless you forced the issue."

"How? By being alive? I knew I couldn't trust you."

"Who's threatening who? Stop acting like you're nine, Clark. I'm not your mother so I'm not falling for the spoiled brat routine."

"Don't talk about my mother." Clark was pissed, cheeks flushed and eyes spitting indignation/frustration/anger/passion. With Clark you got what you saw, his eyes a mirror of his emotional spectrum.

He got pulled away from the wall and slammed back again, hard enough this time to make him lose a little breath. Clark's hands transferred to his upper arms, fingers like vises in his flesh. He jammed his hands against Clark's chest, wanting him off, but it was like shoving against the side of a brick building and finding out that 'no' the foundations weren't going to tremble. He'd been on the receiving end of violence from Clark before. He knew Clark was damned strong, but knowing just how strong, just how easily those big hands could shatter and break was a little intimidating. Lex hated to feel intimidated. It made him rash.

"Does it make you feel more like a man, pushing us mere humans around?" He could almost feel Clark flinch at little at that and the fingers biting into his arms let up. Lex pushed his advantage while it was fresh and leaned in to growl in Clark's face. "You're the one who broke into my office. You accuse me of using power and money to get what I want. At least I don't leave bruises. And you wonder why I've got Kryptonite bullets."

He was so rattled he had his teeth bared. Clark was glaring stubbornly back at him, eyes close enough that Lex could see the iridescent gold spokes radiating through the green. Clark had the most beautiful fucking eyes . . .

Vocabulary unexpectedly failed him, caught up in those eyes, utterly aware of the beat of Clark's heart under his palms, the heat of his body through the cotton shirt. He tightened his fingers in cheap material and Clark looked down where Lex's hands pressed against him, then back up, breath rapid, lips half-parted, those too-pretty eyes widening just a little.

Adrenaline fueled anger settled lower, shifting into something new - - or not so new. It slunk up on him from where it had been lurking in the shadows, hit him like a fist in the gut, need so raw it hurt.

Lex took a breath, wet his lips and tried to rationalize something that simply had no rationalization. It was simple as basic arithmetic; he wanted to fuck Clark until he screamed. And that was no new craving, it had simply been shifted back to a dustier part of Lex's brain. There was just something at the edge of Clark's expression, in the quivering tension of his body that made Lex think - - maybe.

He spread his fingers, palms flat again and slid them across Clark's ribs, a teasing trail of contact that Clark would either flinch away from or endure. Tentative testing of muscle and flesh that would either make or break the deal.

Clark started, a shiver of nerves that made the muscles ripple under Lex's fingers. But he didn't pull away, he simply moved one hand from Lex's arm to the wall beside his head, leaning there like his knees had gone suddenly weak. His eyes were a maelstrom of conflicted emotion. Distrust. Confusion. Anger. Fear. Want. Like there were a handful of Clarks in there instead of one, warring for control. Lex knew from control. Came close to losing it entirely when it really sank in that Clark wasn't adverse to this or whatever Clark thought this was.

He trailed his hands lower, to hips and back up again, never taking his eyes off Clark's. You didn't avert your eyes facing down a predator. You didn't avert them from a competitor across the negotiation table. You didn't break eye contact when sex was involved. You let your gaze convey everything. Want. Promise. Reward.

"Lex . . ." Clark said, a hoarse whisper, as if his mouth were bone dry, as if he were out of his depth and floundering. He was. But Lex knew the way.

Lex leaned forward, so close his lips were almost touching Clark's jaw, but not, and exhaled. Clark smelled like some cheap, drugstore soap, and the outdoors and some other indefinable scent that made Lex's fingers curl. He did it again, against Clark's lower lip, so close he could feel the electromagnetic pull of his skin.

He ran his hands down Clark's hip, across the bulge - - yes, there was a definite bulge - - in his jeans, until Clark was shuddering, breath a ragged thing in his chest, hand clenching Lex's shoulder as if he didn't know what else to do with it.

"Fuck - - Lex . . ." Clark gasped as Lex squeezed him through his pants.

"Maybe," Lex murmured, and slid down the wall to work at Clark's buckle. If he hadn't been deft about it, Clark might have given in to the uncertainty and pulled away, but once Lex had his hand on his cock, thick and hard and very certain what it wanted, even if Clark wasn't, doubt was not a factor.

Now Lex had, in his younger days, given his fair share of head. He hadn't particularly been choosy in his sexual partners, male or female, as long as they were pretty and might piss off his father if and when word got back. Like everything else he did, he was good at it. His competitive nature demanded no less.

Not a one of them had stuck in his mind longer than it took to fuck them and loose them. With Clark - - God - - had a day gone by in the last 8 years that he hadn't crossed Lex's mind one way or another? - - a good blowjob wasn't an option. Lex wanted it to be the best fucking blowjob he'd ever had in his life. He wanted him to remember it and mourn that he'd never had the like before and might never again, depending on the state of Lex's mercy.

You started with the hands. You always started with the hands, readying the field of combat, so to speak, for the deployment of tactical weapons. But of course, when you were dealing with a skittish opponent, too much foreplay might allow him the opportunity to gather his forces and retreat. Timing was everything.

Lex didn't have a lot of maneuverability, between Clark and the wall at his back, but he was nothing if not inventive. He'd seen bullets bound off Clark's skin, so he was going to assume that a firm grasp and a hint of teeth weren't going to present a problem. And contrary to that same vein of reasoning - - God, but Clark's skin was soft.

Clark's head hit the wall between his hands when Lex squeezed the tip, then leaned in and licked the shaft, from base to head in one long, slow stroke. He looked up, the tip of Clark's cock resting against his lips, and met sex-hazed green eyes. With deliberation, he licked the little drop of pre-come and his own cock thrummed against his belly as Clark's eyes rolled back in their sockets and little helpless groaning sounds issued from parted lips. Clark tasted organic, as if all of his mother's farm grown dinners had affected the taste of his come. Or maybe it was simply his alien biology at work. Regardless, the taste was as appealing as the sense of heady power knowing that at this moment, all that strength and power meant nothing, because he held control.

He waited until Clark's eyes focused again, until he was staring down in flushed anticipation, hands clenching and unclenching on the wall - - and then Lex went in for the kill.

He wrapped his lips around the uncut head of Clark's cock, swallowing a few inches, pressing his tongue against the throbbing pulse of the shaft. He pulled back and went down again, this time all the way, until the tip pressed against the back of his throat. He had to take a second to adjust to that, not having experienced the sensation in some years. Clark wasn't miserly in the size department, so swallowing all of him without going into the realm of serious deep throating wasn't going to happen. And though Lex didn't mind - - rather liked if truth be told - - the feel of cock in his mouth, he wasn't big on it forced halfway down his throat. But again, that was what creative hands were for.

And tongues. And lips and mouth. The shivery tease of teeth. The firm pressure of fingers cupping tightening balls, kneading and shifting until Clark was making urgent, breathy noises, body rocking against Lex and almost throwing him off his balance.

The sounds got to him. The flush that spread out from Clark's cheeks to his perfect lips. The look in his eyes that had gone past confusions and complications and was just simple animal need. Lex was almost creaming his pants before he reached down to scrub his palm across his own bulge. Desperate, rough strokes that ground the soft material of his briefs against the hypersensitive length of his cock.

He tightened his grip on the base of Clark's shaft when he came, maybe even bit down in reaction to a surprisingly intense orgasm.

Clark made a sound that might have been a curse, might have been his name. His body shifted, hands dropping down from the wall to grasp Lex's head. Lex had brought him to the breaking point and now he was past it, body taut and shuddering. He thrust his hips and the back of Lex's head hit the wall with enough of a crack to make him see stars. He did bite down that time, but again, with skin that could take bullets, teeth probably weren't a dilemma. Clark's hands on his head might prove to be, if the fingers splayed out across his skull clenched in the throes of passion and cracked bone. But even in the midst of mind-stealing culmination, Clark seemed to have a subconscious awareness of his strength and the damage he could do to fragile mortal flesh. The grip let up, but not enough that Lex was able to take control back. Clark set the pace, thrusting with fast shallow strokes, never quite breaking Lex's comfort barrier and cramming himself down his throat. It was either tense up and choke or relax and accept the shift of power and try to work it to his advantage. Which in this case was sliding his hands around to grip Clark's ass, which was no less tight and firm than one might have expected.

Clark tensed and pressed in tight against the back of Lex's throat, shuddering as he came.

Fifteen seconds. Twenty. Lex thought he was going to choke a little on the warm come oozing down his throat.

A sigh of release foreshadowed the softening of Clark's cock. Despite having lost control of the situation at the end, it was still a victory. Retribution and justice for lies and years of frustration. It felt like a coup, until Clark's legs gave way and he slid down to the floor next to Lex, knees straddling Lex's, face still flushed with orgasm.

Lex tried to think up something to say. Something casual and cutting. Clark caught him by the neck, big hands pulling him forward so that he rested his forehead against Lex's, leaning against him and simply breathing. For the second - - maybe third time tonight, words failed Lex. He'd never been so inarticulate in his life.

His heart hadn't thumped so frantically in his chest when he was coming in his pants.

And then Clark was gone, leaving nothing but a startled breeze in his wake. Lex sat there, completely devoid of balance. Mind reeling. He got his bearings and leaned back against the wall. After a moment he looked down and took stock. There was a wet spot at his crotch, which was unfortunate, since he didn't have a spare set of clothing in the office. He could send someone, but he wasn't quite prepared for an assistant wondering how he'd managed to mess his pants alone in his office. Which proved that even though he could still go down like a sex club junkie, he'd thoroughly gotten over the masochistic little buzz of seeing printed in the next day's tabloids.

He'd wait and see if it dried clear and if not, perhaps a convenient glass of split water?

Clark actually flew, which in and of itself was a testament of just how freaked out he was. He'd only discovered how about 6 months ago, in the middle of a fight with a carapace coated alien in the remotest part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He wasn't particularly comfortable with the ability. It messed with his equilibrium sometimes if he got too high and into cloud cover, and sometimes he'd look down it would hit him how high he was and the old acrophobia would sneak up on him. He sucked at graceful landings.

But launching himself off the garden balcony on the top terrace of LuthorCorp West had seemed the most efficient way of putting as much distance between him and Lex as possible. He didn't even have to think about the initial take off this time, didn't have to concentrate on parting ways with Earth's gravity and propelling himself skyward. He just wanted and it happened, slick and smooth, and he was almost home by the time he realized that if he walked into the house with the look that was probably on his face, his mother was going to know something was up. He was a good liar, but he wasn't that good.

What was he supposed to say? Sorry I was late, mom, I was just having a little gay sex - - God! Wait, was a blowjob technically sex? He hadn't been paying much attention to the whole debate when Clinton had gotten called for it - - being all of 14 - - and couldn't recall how the jury had come back on that deliberation. Did it count if he hadn't actually participated? But, no, he had sorta at the end - - because well, he would have died if he hadn't. Just exploded into a billion little particles all over Lex's office if he hadn't taken things into his own hands and finished off what Lex had been drawing out with unbearable, mind-blowing malice.

Thinking about it caused a little surge of interest in his pants and he growled and shot upwards, through dark, angry clouds that left his clothing and skin damp with moisture by the time he exited the other side. The sky was black velvet above them. Stars all laid out like some careless jeweler had spilled a thousand diamond chips. It was cooler up here, soothing, and with the layer of clouds below it didn't seem so high up, more like he was skimming a field of dark, soft cotton.

What the hell had happened? Sure, maybe he'd jumped a little quickly at the notion of confronting Lex over the Bennet thing, but he was still antsy over Lex knowing, and one reason had been as good as another. It wasn't like he got lots of chances nowadays to read Lex's intentions face to face, Lex living in the city and all. Still, wrapping his mind around how things had metamorphosised from him being angry and no small bit freaked out over the gun, to Lex doing . . . to him letting Lex do what he'd done.

A little visual of Lex in flagrante flashed through his head, looking up at him with eyes that just screamed dirty, dirty things, lips stretched around Clark's - - -

Damn. He was falling and he wasn't even sure when the flying had sputtered out on him. The air was whipping past him and he was plummeting through black clouds and panic setting in didn't help him regain control of the situation. He wondered if he could survive a fall of 10,000 feet or so. He'd never tested the theory. He got a handle on the flight controls nearer to the ground than he would have liked, and came down with enough impact to create little twin craters in the asphalt of the road he'd landed on. At least he'd kept his feet this time. There was nothing but flat land all around, and a road that ran straight for as far as the eye could see. He saw a highway '56 to Springer' sign and did a little mental calculation, finally figuring he was Southwest of Kansas and into New Mexico.

He ran a hand through his hair and paced a little bit, walking the double line in the middle of the road. He needed to get a grip, put on a face that wouldn't trigger his mother's emotional radar when he went home, which he'd have to do eventually. If he had his own apartment, like any other self-respecting college senior he wouldn't be having this problem. He could hide at his own place and not have to submit to parental questioning. He felt a pang of regret as soon as the thought crossed his mind, because she respected his privacy. She felt guilt she didn't deserve for him staying home to help with the farm this one last year. He might have gotten a look, but not a lecture if he'd chosen to come home smelling of sex. He might even have admitted to it, granted with embarrassment, if it hadn't been with Lex.

Did that make him gay? Being on the receiving end with another man and enjoying it? He liked women. He really did. He'd worshipped Lana for most of his life. Wanted her with all the passion of teenaged love. Had idolized her and had her and lost her. Which was a testament to heterosexuality, right? Even if, maybe the sex hadn't been quite as good as he'd built himself up to believe it should. But it had been all right, because she'd been inexperienced, too. Was it her fault she hadn't screwed half of Metropolis to get her technique down pat?

Really, a blowjob was a blowjob, regardless of who was doing it. He'd heard that somewhere. Just close your eyes and imagine a woman, even if it wasn't. Only he hadn't closed his eyes and at the time - - and he had to take a shuddery breath and grind his teeth at this honesty - - nothing or no one he could imagine, even now when he was actually trying, would have been half as hot as Lex on his knees with Clark's cock in his mouth.

It was like some deep dark, subconscious little fantasy come to life and he couldn't shake the uncomfortable notion that, issues aside, it had maybe been lurking for a very long time.

He swore under his breath, glowering at a lone set of headlights approaching from the west. If Lex had been trying to mess with his head, then his plan had been a brilliant success.

It had been spaghetti for supper. His mother's own special recipe that was more like sloppy Joe in sauce form than traditional tomato sauce. That's the way his father had liked it, chocked so full of ground beef, green peppers and onions that it was thick enough to hold its shape piled atop a half piece of toasted hamburger bun. She warmed it up for him when he dragged himself into through the kitchen door at quarter past 10.

"Rough night, sweetheart?" she asked while he was wolfing it down and he slowed down enough to recite the excuse he'd spent the last hour or so coming up with out in New Mexico.

"I was practicing the flying thing and lost track of time. I think I'm figuring out the landing part." It was basically the truth.

"I thought you hated flying?"

He shrugged. "I do. Just less than I used to."

"Well, be careful."

He wasn't sure what she thought might happen up there for him to beware of, but he nodded anyway, relieved that she was focused on flight safety rather than other less comfortable lines of questioning.

He used the excuse of finishing up a paper for class the next day to retreat to the loft once he'd finished eating. He actually did have a paper due, but it was pretty much complete. So there wasn't a lot to do but slouch on the beat up old couch and torture himself rehashing things he'd already gone over a dozen times tonight in his head.

It was surprising he got to sleep at all. Not so much, that he woke with a raging boner. Since he had fallen asleep in the barn, away from the off chance that his mother might walk in to make sure he hadn't overslept his alarm or deposit clean laundry, he took care of it the manual way, instead of thinking unsexy thoughts and letting it go away on its own.

His own hand felt good, adequate for the job. It still didn't stop his wayward thoughts from drifting where they ought not and remembering things that had felt so much better. He glared daggers at an innocuous spot on the floor and finished up with a few rough strokes that actually hurt.

It was a relief though, that cleared his head and let him focus on what needed doing this morning. Shower first and then breakfast, then the livestock, and the gate on the north pasture, both of which he could finish in a few minutes at super speed. He zipped into the house and past his mother at the kitchen island, so she wouldn't see the wet spots on his pants. No matter how old you got, that was just not something you wanted to explain to your mother. He took a little leisure with the shower, and went downstairs to consume two bowls of cereal stocked with sugary goodness.

Work done, he grabbed his bulging backpack with its books, research and shirt and tie for work at the Planet that afternoon, and headed the twenty-six miles to Central Kansas State. It took about twenty seconds to cover the distance on foot, but then he wasn't in a dire hurry, the day was nice and the two classes he had this morning were among his favorites. If he could keep his mind focused, it might turn out to be a decent day.

He kept his thoughts mostly on track during class, only drifting once during one of Professor Kinely's more long-winded discussions on the dangers of metaphor in modern journalism. But he jerked his errant thoughts back where they belonged once he realized he was in dangerous territory.

The traffic around the Daily Planet was backed up as always, but that was a given, since the Planet Building sat smack dab in the center of the Metropolis business district. Catty corner in fact to the west tower of LuthorCorp Plaza. Clark zipped through it like it was frozen in time, skirting around motionless bumpers, and pedestrians caught in mid-stride. He made a distinct effort not to look up at the shinny faade of the Plaza tower. He slowed in a relatively quiet hallway of the Planet and melted smoothly into a brisk walk. He changed shirts in the bathroom, struggling with the tie. The way he consistently mangled the knots, he was seriously considering investing in some clip ons.

He shouldered his backpack and walked through the main newsroom on the way to the desk he shared with two other wageless interns in the basement. Chloe had been moved upstairs. She had a desk with a nameplate and everything.

Chloe wasn't at her desk, but Jimmy was there, on her phone, speaking fast and loud to be heard over the noise. Something was up and the newsroom was in a frenzy over it. Clark stared at the overhead television screens broadcasting news from around the world, but nothing seemed more screwed-up with the state of the world than usual. He eavesdropped on Jimmy's call, halfway worried that something might have happened to Chloe, but it was her voice on the other end, asking Jimmy if he was sure about something.

Jimmy saw Clark and beckoned with a rapid roll of his hand. "See for yourself when you get back. Gotta go." Jimmy told Chloe and hung up.

"What's going on?" Clark asked, watching one of the assistants to the assistant editors run by in a high panic.

"Chief Kahn quit. Just turned in her resignation today with no warning whatsoever and cleared out her office." Jimmy was more red-faced than usual over this news and Clark couldn't quite tell if it was journalist glee or alarm. Janice Kahn had been a dictatorial, hard to please Editor in Chief. You either respected her, or you feared her and there had been little room for anything else in-between.

"Just quit?" Clark raised an eyebrow.

"Word is she got a very healthy inheritance and decided to hell with everything and is moving to the tropics. I would." Jimmy grinned at him.

Clark looked around at a newsroom in turmoil. "So who's taking her place?"

"Don't ask me. I'm just a working grunt. She didn't give notice so the bigwigs are going to have to scramble. Who knows who they'll bring in."

Somebody yelled at Jimmy to get back to work and Jimmy flinched and gave Clark an apologetic shrug, before snatching his camera off Chloe's desk and heading across the room.

Clark hadn't had time to ask where Chloe was. Out following up a lead somewhere, no doubt. He just wished she'd drop the Bennet thing, because he didn't think the LexCorp angle - - will not think of Lex - - would lead her anywhere and looking into whatever drug trade contacts Bennet had made would just get her into trouble she wasn't equipped to handle by herself. And she didn't always think to call him up for backup when she went sniffing after a lead.

He got snapped at a few times by the senior staffer he'd been assigned to shadow, but it was the pandemic stress that had spread throughout the offices that had everyone on edge. Still, five hours seemed like twenty and he was feeling mental exhaustion if not physical by the time 6 o'clock rolled around.

Chloe and Jimmy cajoled him into going out after work for dinner in the city.

"My treat." Chloe begged, giving him the eyes and threading her arm through his. She knew he was scrimping and saving for the big move in the fall.

"Cheap then." He countered, a little prickly about the charity, but knowing she wasn't going to let loose of his arm until she got the answer she wanted.

"Pizza." Jimmy chimed in, coming up on Chloe's other side and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. He had his camera - - he always had his camera - - around his neck and a fresh copy of the evening addition in his free hand.

The best pizza in the city was universally agreed to be Piccolo's on 37th. It was a fourteen-block walk from the Planet, but it was a Friday night and the city was bustling with people released from the weekly grind. Shows were opening, Clubs were just starting to open their doors, the neon lights were flickering on and the city was alive.

Chloe talked as they walked, going on about a story she was working on concerning a garbage vandal striking trashcans one of the city's residential neighborhoods. She talked about something Lois was working on that had her down in Texas. Clark listened with half an ear and Jimmy browsed the paper, pointing out photos of his that had been used.

There was a shot of his in the society page of the mayor kissing the hand of a matronly blueblood at a fundraiser. Clark craned his head to see the picture below it. It was a shot of Lex going into some exclusive restaurant with his hand on the hip of a tall, reed-thin supermodel whose face had been on the cover of a thousand magazines. Paulette something or another.

There were always pictures of Lex in the society page, with some model or actress or debutante hanging off his arm. The press followed his dating habits more feverously than they did his business coups. And he had been notoriously active since returning to the city.

The article below the picture said something about Paulette - - she only went by the one name - - being in town for a string of big name fashion shows, and she'd been seen in public with 'billionaire' Lex Luthor. Speculation abounded. It was Friday night. She was still in town. She'd been called the most beautiful woman in the world, though personally Clark didn't see it, but still, Lex had a thing about having the best of the best so he'd probably be out with her tonight. He'd probably take her home at the end of the evening and fuck her. An image crept across Clark's mind unbidden - - of bodies moving under clingy sheets, of sounds made in the heat - -

"Clark. Clark!" They were stopped at a crosswalk waiting for the light, and Chloe was hissing at him, jabbing him with an elbow in his side with all her might. She looked down urgently and he followed her gaze. He was mangling the metal top of a Daily Planet paper dispenser. There were five deep, finger shaped indentions. He pulled his hand back guiltily and shoved it in his pocket, hoping no one else would notice the destruction of property.

There was a crowd outside the pizzeria, which was nothing unusual. They got a round sidewalk table ideally set up for two, but Clark pulled up an extra stool and they crowded around. The waitress came round and took their orders. Xlarge, double pepperoni, onions and ground beef on one side, mushrooms and olives on the other. Chloe got bottled water, Jimmy got a beer and Clark ordered a Pepsi. What was the point in paying twice as much for a beer when he couldn't get a buzz? Plus he liked the sugar.

Jimmy declared an urgent need to pee, and weeded his way through the crowd towards the restrooms in the back. Chloe waited until he had disappeared, before leaning forward and asking.

"Soooo - - what about the Lex thing?"

Clark almost gagged on his soda, guilt and panic surging up, another dirty image crossing his mind.

"Lex?" He managed not to sound like he was on the verge of hyperventilation.

"You didn't call me last night and tell me what he said about Bennet. You went to ask him, right?"

Oh. That Lex thing.

He took a big gulp of Pepsi and tried to gather his wits and remember the exchange that had taken place before reality had turned upside down on him. He gave her an abbreviated version of the conversation. Very abbreviated. She looked dubious.

"Do you believe him? About the Bennet thing?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe."

"And the part about trying to protect the secret? The benevolent act is a little hard to swallow."

Trying to protect him. God. He needed Lex's protection like he needed one of Lex's kryptonite bullets. But still, it had been almost two weeks since he'd found out and Lex still hadn't made a move - - well, other than the one last night and really, that didn't count. He fended off another little flash of sensory input and ground his teeth- - he really, really needed to stop the mental imagery from popping up unannounced.

He ran a hand through his hair and gave Chloe a wry look. "Don't ask me why - -but I sort of do."

Which baffled him.

He wished he could come up with some third person, friend of a friend scenario that Chloe would buy, so that he could get her input on the subject. Because there was no way on earth he was going to broach it otherwise.

Jimmy's return forced them away from the topic and Chloe and Jimmy kept up the lion's share of the conversation discussing pleasantly mundane things. The pizza arrived and was devoured in short order and they cleared out soon after to make room for other waiting customers.

It was pretty clear that Jimmy was hoping to go back to Chloe's apartment for some quality time. The flirting was making Clark feel very much the third wheel. He made the excuse of having to go back to the Planet and retrieve his backpack, which had indeed been left under the desk in the basement, and urged the two of them to continue home on their own. Chloe gave him an eyebrow over her shoulder, entirely aware of the boy's club consideration that had turned their threesome into a pair.

It was not quite 8 and Clark wasn't ready to go home yet himself. So he walked. The city was a multi-hued beast. The neon-lit, decadent side he knew all too well, from his months prowling the Metropolis wild side on red K. But it wasn't the glitter that fascinated him now. It was the pulse of a giant that never slept. Sprawling and varied, from the staggering wealth of uptown, to the seething underbelly that festered around the edges and all the shades of life in-between. It was violent in a way that Smallville with its occasional meteor freak never was. Cold and ruthless to the unwary. And utterly breathtaking with its museums and endless skyscrapers, its famed city parks which were like separate little worlds unto themselves, with art markets and venders, street performers and little grottos where puppet shows and plays entranced the public.

It was easy to walk the streets of Metropolis, soaking in the sights, the sounds, the endless variety of people and forget his own particular brand of problems. Easy to step out and casually stop a car that had swerved in to grab an open parking space, unaware of the elderly man stepping off the sidewalk between it and a parked sedan. He didn't even have to stop walking, just sort of leaned in with his hand on the hood and the car jerked to an abrupt stop six inches from the old man. The driver stared through her windshield, eyes wide at the surprise breaking and the old man flipped her off with an arthritic middle finger. Clark grinned and kept going, no one the wiser. It was easy to be faceless in the crowd, where at home very few people were strangers.

It was 10:30 when he made the circuit back to the Planet building. His route took him past the two city blocks that supported the LuthorCorp towers. There was a group of photographers mulling at the corner to the East tower. They looked like the low rent sort. The type that worked for the Inquisitor, or the Tattler or any number of other less than respectable rags. Dirtbags, was Jimmy's word for his less than principled peers, who'd go to any lengths to get the money shot and didn't necessarily hesitate to use a little Photoshop to enhance the results.

Clark thought he recognized one of them as a photographer that had worked with Lois on one of her embarrassing Inquisitor stories.

Curiosity got the better of him, or maybe that inner newshound that Chloe always used to swear he had lurking beneath the surface, but had just been too distracted by high school romances and burgeoning superpowers to take full notice of.

They were staking out a private entrance off the side of the building, but not getting too close thanks to uniformed building security.

"Hey." He shuffled up with a half smile. "What's going on?"

He got wary stares, but the one guy squinted his eyes at him and nodded. "Friend of Lane, right?"

"Well, sort of, yeah." Sometimes admitting friendship to Lois was like admitting to masturbation, a little embarrassing and not something he generally liked to do in public.

The man took in the fact that he didn't have a camera or any other recording device, so dismissed him as competition. "Lex Luthor has been seen with Paulette twice since she's been in town. A shot of him bringing her home tonight would be front-page material. There's always somebody staked out here, because you never know who he'll turn up with."

Which sentiment made him twitch a little in irritation, until the appalling realization that they were out here all the time, stalking Lex sank in. Clark valued his own privacy so dearly that he couldn't imagine being in the sights of the press all the time. Having them literally camped out on his doorstep just waiting for him to provide them with a scrap of scandal in which to enthrall the public. Lex hadn't had them crawling all over him in Smallville, but then, he hadn't been as busy and Smallville wasn't exactly the world capital of breaking news.

The photographers perked up, migrating across the street where tower security was already stepping up to keep them firmly on public sidewalk and not an inch beyond. Clark stayed where he was, looking down the street to see what had perked their interest.

A sleek, silver sports car had turned off of Temple Ave and was gliding through the sparse traffic of 21st Street. It pulled under the colonnaded awning, protected from easy view off the street by long marble barricades lush with greenery. You had to actually walk a little down to the driveway exit or entrance to see who was coming and going.

Something entirely self-destructive motivated Clark to cross the street and loiter a ways behind the eagerly waiting shutterbugs. He'd already convinced himself that avoiding Lex if at all possible was the best course of action, so why in hell did it matter if he might or might be scoring with a Scandinavian supermodel? That would actually be a good thing, implying that what had happened last night had meant absolutely nothing.

The bellhop rushed to open the passenger side door and a tall, leggy brunette got out. From this distance it was hard to see if she was the girl from the society page without resorting to super vision. From the excited clicking of the photographers, it probably was. Lex got out, with the car still running, and left the door open for the valet. He strode around the back of the car to join the woman, ignoring the gaggle of photographers being held at bay by security 50 feet away. Then he paused, as if something had triggered a sixth sense and stared past the photographers right at Clark.

Every instinct Clark had screamed get the hell out of there so fast that all he left in his wake was an afterimage, but his feet refused to budge. Expression was obscured by distance, but Lex canted his head slightly, a moment before he laid his hand on the bare back of Paulette, and ushered her inside.

Clark remembered to breath. He took a great number of deep breaths and none of them alleviated the building head of tension pounding behind his temples.

He was angry and he was angry that he was angry. Which made no rational sense. He stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets, because walking around clenching and unclenching his fists was getting him stares.

He stalked across the road and circled the long way around the block towards the Planet so he could get the placid face on and wouldn't scare the security guards at the entrance.

The cell phone in his inner pocket vibrated, the ring on mute, since he'd had it in class this morning. Unless it was a 911 from his mom or Chloe he had no intention of answering it. He fished it out of his jacket and saw the call was coming in from an unlisted number. He stared at it suspiciously. It kept vibrating in his hand. He scowled, put it to his ear and said 'hello?'

"Are you stalking me, Clark?" Lex's smooth voice in his ear. "Or is the Daily Planet sending their interns out now to train as paparazzi?"

Clark ground his teeth and turned around to glare at the slice of Luthor Plaza East that could just be seen behind the silhouette of its twin. "I wasn't - - What do you want?"

"I was just wondering if you'd ever read Cialdini?"

"Who? What?"

"I've always admired his take on reciprocation. I won't go into his whole philosophy on influence theory, but the basic rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. It's only polite."

"Recipro - - ?" He was seeing red. He was actually seeing red around the edges and that couldn't be good. Lex had just taken a woman up to his apartment/penthouse/whatever and he had the balls to call and lecture Clark about reciprocation? He might have felt a great deal of embarrassment over the conversation if he hadn't been so pissed.

He snapped the phone shut so hard the casing cracked a little and winced because it hadn't been cheap and the last two had gotten demolished one way or another.

Reciprocation. If his sense of humor had been functioning at the moment, he might have found the concept laughable. Just because Lex had gone off the deep end last night didn't mean Clark was required to return the favor. Which adamant belief was promptly followed by a visual representation to which his mind filled in details which his eye had never actually seen.

He cursed a little under his breath.

The phone vibrated again. Clark glared at it, then flipped it open, hoping it was still in working order, cracks and all.

"If you keep hanging up on me, I'm going to stop calling." Lex with his patronizing voice.

"Why are you calling me at all? Don't you have a supermodel to entertain?"

"Paulette? I imagine she's in her suite, vomiting up dinner as we speak." It sounded like Lex was talking and walking at the same time. There was the sound of doors sliding, the faint rustle of what, to Clark's sensitive hearing might have been breeze through leaves. "Her agency is a subsidiary of LuthorCorp. The talent always stays in the Plaza."

Oh. Clark looked where he was walking and found himself backtracking his path. He was back at the base of Plaza East. Like its sister building, this one was glass plated and sleek, some of the higher levels boasting broad terraces. If it was twin to the other, then the penthouse suite would have a balcony bigger than Clark's whole house.

"It's been a long time since we've talked. I've missed our conversations. I enjoyed last night's little chat."

"Nothing we talked about last night was enjoyable." Clark focused his vision, cutting through layers and layers of glass, steel and concrete, up up and up, discarding the peripheral information until he zeroed in on what he wanted. The skeletal structure of a figure moving along the edge of the terrace, phone to ear.

"Oh really?" Lex said lazily. "That's funny, because I thought the repartee was sparkling."

If Clark was going to be baited, he damned well wasn't going to have it done over the phone. He glanced both ways down the street. There was a couple with their backs towards him, walking towards Temple and a taxi heading in the other direction. He gathered concentration, willed a divorce from the laws of earthbound physics and launched himself off the sidewalk like a New Year's festival rocket. He was so used to running at super speed that it had become second nature to him, but the utter lack of restraint that flight offered still surprised him sometimes. He overshot the penthouse terrace by a vertical building length or two, then overcompensated and came down right in front of Lex so fast and hard that concrete crumbled under his feet and Lex staggered backwards, the tails of his long coat flapping in Clark's breeze.

"If you're going to aggravate me, do it my face." Clark tried for cool disdain to cover his graceless landing, but wasn't sure it came across as casually as he'd hoped.

Lex took a breath, staring at the rubble Clark was standing in, then up at the night sky from which he'd descended. He snapped his phone shut and met Clark's gaze without a hint of the wariness most people might have shown after Clark had just came barreling out of the sky at them like a damned big bat out of hell.

"That's the problem with you, Clark," Lex said. "You could never tell the difference between provocation and flirtation. What the hell was that? Can you fly?"

Getting grilled by Lex on his powers was not why he'd come up here. Then the first part of what Lex had said sunk in and a retort that it was none of Lex's business if he could, died on his lips.

Lex kicked a piece of rubble with the toe of his shoe. "Your landings need work."

"Yeah, well, its relatively new and I haven't been practicing a lot." Clark muttered. "I don't like heights."

"You don't like - -?" Lex looked up at him with surprise that melted in to an amused grin. "That's right, you don't. Aren't life's little ironies precious?"

It had been so long since Clark had seen Lex smile - - really smile in honest amusement - - that he'd forgotten how mesmerizing it could be. He'd forgotten how his pulse used to race a little faster and his focus on the world would narrow down just a bit when he'd drag a grin out of Lex, until for a brief heartbeat or two all there had been was Lex. Lex maybe talking about something that had skimmed right over Clark's head, but Clark not minding because he'd been too busy basking in the satisfaction of having brought something out in Lex that very rarely saw day. Humor that wasn't dry or sarcastic and being at ease enough to show it, because Lex, even Lex at 21, had worn armor against the world.

Clark realized a painful truth. That back then, he'd wanted badly to crack that armor and hadn't really known why or how, and had shied away from trying because it might have meant revealing more of his own secrets than his ingrained fears would have allowed. Because Lex had been beguiling and confusing and unnerving and how was a kid raised by the salt of the heartland supposed to deal with the yearning other than pretend it didn't exist?

His pulse was hammering again. Lex was talking, a casual wave of his hand towards the night sky.

"It never occurred to me that exterior security might be an issue on the 50th floor, banning paratrooper invasion, but now I've got flying farm boys to contend with . . ."

Clark kissed him. It was either that or shake him and at the moment as riled as he was, as tightly coiled and as just - - just hot, kissing seemed the safer course of action.

Not that impulse and frayed nerves equaled grace or coordination. He sort of knocked Lex a little off his balance, and caught him by the lapel to keep him upright. Misjudged alignment didn't help. And Lex was more or less enduring it, lips parted a little, hands at his side.

Fuck. Mistake. The sting of growing mortification started to replace the heat. He pulled back, feeling the utter embarrassment of one of those naked in public dreams.

He opened his mouth, looking anywhere but Lex's eyes, trying to think up some excuse or apology or accusation that would make it all go away.

Lex's mouth touched his lips and there was nothing nervous or awkward under his initiation. Slow tease of lips, flickering brush of tongue, Lex's fingertips barely touching his chest as he leaned into it. It was flirtation that left Clark breathless and deprived when Lex pulled away. Lex looked up at him, eyes betraying a faintest trace of wariness beneath the curiosity, but mostly he looked out of breath and hot.

"Okay," Lex had to talk. Had to reason things out and find the rational behind things that just couldn't be explained. "That's a start - unexpected, but definitely - -"

"Lex, I need you to shut up." It was either that or flight, because if he had to stand there and think about what he'd just stepped into - - the truths it told about him - -

"All right. No talk."

When he was willing to let you share, you could drown in Lex's eyes, in all the little complexities and subtleties he practiced so deftly. There was something in his gaze now that understood. That comprehended the trembling precipice that Clark teetered on. That focused on Clark like there wasn't anything in the entire world more vital to him. Lex had always looked at him like that . . .

It was a mutual move to close the space between them and this time teasing little forays into unfamiliar territory got plowed under by open mouths and tongues being sucked into each others mouths and - - God, but Lex tasted like wine and whatever sinfully sweet thing he'd had for dessert. Any semblance of rational decision-making just shriveled up and died, deprived of the blood that had all suddenly flowed down to Clark's aching cock.

It was like something that had been building and building up pressure had finally ruptured and there was no stopping the violent release of stress. He pushed Lex's jacket back off his shoulders and had to wrestle a little to get it off, because Lex had a hand under Clark's clothes and one twined in his tie and didn't want to let go.

Lex came up for air that Clark wasn't feeling the need for yet, panting a little through parted, moist lips. He had that look in his eyes, the sinful one Clark couldn't get out of his head from last night when Lex had been on his knees. The one that said Clark truly had no idea how thoroughly his world was about to get rocked. He discovered that he was open to finding out. It was an awkward, stumbling trek to the glass wall that separated penthouse from terrace. Clark lost his jacket along the way, and inadvertently popped half the buttons off Lex's silk shirt, but that was okay, because he knew Lex probably had a closet full and it got his hands on Lex's skin, which was an entirely new, giddy experience.

The only thing soft about Lex's body was the texture of his skin, everything else was hard and firm. Lean muscle, sleek frame, skin entirely smooth from the meteor exposure that had stolen his hair.

They came up against glass, Lex's back against the ultra thick pane. Clark pulled the slick fabric of Lex's shirt off his shoulder, popping the last button in the process and dipped down to press his mouth against the juncture of neck and shoulder. Lex shuddered, head rocking back against the glass, hands trying to get past the barrier of Clark's cotton shirt. Clark could hear the rush of his blood, the rapid thump thump thump of his heart, the soft panting huffs of breath; the human machine at work and it was electric. All the more fascinating because it was Lex and every emotion he'd ever had for Lex, good, bad or otherwise had always been intense.

"Fuck - - Clark - - inside." Lex's fingers were curled in his hair. It took him a second to realize Lex was hauling at him with a good deal of pressure. He looked up, mind still sex fogged.

"We're 50 stories up and the wind is freezing." Lex explained breathily.

Clark wasn't cold. Clark was so hot he was liable to go supernova, but he understood human frailties. He let Lex push him off and reach for the sliding door, then followed him inside into a spacious room with clean lines and uncluttered dcor. It looked like something out of a magazine. Beautiful, but with little real warmth.

"You live here?"

"You don't . . . like it?" Lex pushed him back against a wall thick with sheer drapery and lunged up to bite Clark's bottom lip, his fingers slipping button after button out of the holes in Clark's shirt.

"It's . . . god, Lex . . . it's sorta cold."

"I'll redecorate."

Lex hissed a little when he had it open, and ran his hands up Clark's abs to his chest, then followed the trail with his tongue. Clark's eyes rolled up in their sockets and he gasped, that much closer to imploding. Lex tried to push the shirt off, but the tie hampered the effort and the faulty knot gave him trouble, so Clark tore it in half at the collar to rid himself of the thing.

Lex was all over him, then, mouth, hands, hips grinding, palm pressing against the outline of his cock. Clark grabbed Lex's ass and dragged him up against him tight, grazed the ridge of a collarbone with his teeth, worked his way to the hollow at the base of his neck. He sucked at the pulse and Lex dropped his head back with a groan, bracing his hands on Clark's biceps, fingers kneading flesh.

Clark really, really wanted to take this vertical. He wanted to feel Lex's weight on top of him. He wanted to see him naked, to pin him down, to kiss him breathless. He wanted Lex to do to him what he'd done last night, he wanted to return the favor, even if he'd probably bungle it because he didn't know how. He wanted inside Lex. All of which probably stemmed from a stretch of abstinence that had to be record breaking for any other healthy, male college student on the face of the earth. Masturbation sessions were nice relief, but they just didn't compare to the real thing.

The couch looked more decorative than comfortable. There were doorways leading to other places and one of them had to be a bedroom. Bed with Lex. His balls tightened at the thought, even as his mind sort of spun a little from the absurdity. A month ago he'd been raiding one of Lex's labs.

He let Lex slide down his body and Lex's hands started in on his belt when his feet were back on the floor. Lex inserted a hand, between underwear and jeans and Clark thought he might come then and there, which would be embarrassing. He caught Lex's wrist and drew his hand up.

"Is there someplace else - - you know - - with maybe carpet or a mattress?" Clark flushed even asking it, but Lex grinned at him, apparently not contrary to the idea and pulled him away from the wall with a finger in the pocket of his jeans.

Down a hallway lined with artsy framed black and white photographs of architecture and close ups of shapes that could have been anything. Past branching rooms to the end where there was a bedroom that Clark hadn't the time to really take in, all things considered. Lex had unfastened his jeans the rest of the way and was tugging them down his hips, pulling his boxers with them, freeing Clark's cock, which bobbed out like it was trying to give a salute. Clark toed off his boots and sort of shuffled stepped the rest of the way out of his pants, not at his most graceful, but damned determined to get rid of them. And hesitated pulling the remaining sock the rest of the way off, because Lex was staring at him strangely, with a look that Clark could only approximate to one he'd seen Lex use on the acquisition of a particularly rare, ungodly expensive (even for Lex) Italian sports he bought when Clark had been 16.

"God, Clark." Lex let out a breath. "You're fucking beautiful."

Clark never had known how to respond well to flattery. Half the time he suspected it to be some sort of joke at his expense and the other - - just embarrassed him because he wasn't quite sure he deserved it.

Lex got up close, running a hand down Clark's hip to his thigh, bypassing his aching cock with what could only be malicious intent. Lex shoved him and Clark's legs were watery and his body willing enough that he fell backwards onto the edge of the broad bed. Lex crawled on and Clark scooted back to make room, and sat feeling hot and exposed all at the same time. Lex knelt there, looking down at him, gaze serious like he was working out strategies in his head. Clark wanted to pull him down and get the sexed up, blissful expression back, because Lex with the plotting look made him nervous.

"Just to avoid you accusing me of scheming something against you, there's a gun with kryptonite bullets in the bed table."

"What?" Clark sat up a little straighter, eyes darting that way. He didn't feel any kryptonite, but then bullet casings, clip or gun could have had trace amounts of lead and shielded it.

"I like to cover my bases." Lex explained reasonably, "And you tend to overreact."

"The hell I do . . ." He trailed off because Lex was unfastening his pants, slipping them over his hips where they pooled around his knees, framing long white thighs between black briefs and puddled black slacks. Clark stared at the outline of the bulge constricted by the soft material of Lex's briefs and the issue of kryptonite bullets sort of sputtered out in his mind.

He had never touched another man's cock before. He wasn't sure, in all honesty if he hadn't thought about it in guilty little spurts when he was younger, and simply repressed the urge by obsessive pursuit of female ideals. He wanted to touch now. He reached out and laid his palm over the shape and Lex sucked in a sharp breath. It was hot under the fabric and there was a little wet spot soaking through the black where the tip was.

Fuck the bullets. He'd deal with the bullets later. He grasped Lex's hips and pulled him forward, pressing his mouth against his briefs and inhaling the scent of him. Lex's fingers dug into his hair, his body bucked. Clark slipped his fingers under the waistband and pulled the briefs down, freeing Lex's cock, which was beautiful and naked with the lack of pubes. Of course he wouldn't have hair down there either and Clark recalled hearing Lex mention in passing that lashes and eyebrows were artificial, implanted not long after the meteor exposure at the order of a father who'd not wanted a son who looked like a complete freak.

He squeezed the back of Lex's thighs, maybe harder than he meant to, because Lex gasped and bent over him, then shoved at his shoulders until Clark's back hit the mattress and Lex was looming over him, twisting a little to rid himself of his pants. Clark had known Lex's weight would feel good. Comfortable, hot, full-length upon him. He hadn't expected the explosive sensation of cock sliding along cock.

He groaned and arched up, grinding against Lex and Lex muttered something incomprehensible and bit Clark's shoulder hard and raked his nails down Clark's ribs. Anybody else would have been thoroughly marked. To Clark it just felt like exquisite foreplay, rougher and more satisfying than anything he'd experienced before. Lex was breakable to be sure, but he didn't feel fragile in Clark's hands. It didn't feel as if Clark had to hold his breath in fear of damaging him past repair.

Lex was working his way down Clark's torso, exploring, tasting, teasing. His tongue flicked Clark's navel, his fingers encompassed Clark's cock and stroked and Clark tangled his hands in the comforter and saw stars.

It was awesome. It was fucking fantastic. But he was on his back staring at the ceiling and Lex was in control again and damned if that was the way things were going to keep playing out with them. He surged up, put a hand on Lex's shoulder and pushed him over, sideways across the big bed and onto his back.

Lex didn't protest the change in position, when Clark crouched over him, just grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled him down to suck his tongue into his mouth. Lex had complained that Clark hadn't returned the favor. He'd already discovered that he liked the taste of Lex's mouth and his skin, and he was willing to take the plunge. And the way that Lex arched his back when Clark grazed his teeth across his ribs made Clark's eyes sort of burn and he had to grit his teeth and take a precious second to get that disaster waiting to happen under control. And there was Lex's cock, clean and smooth and just there waiting for attention. Clark took a breath and wrapped his fingers around the shaft and Lex drew in a hissing breath and urged him on with little under the breath suggestions. Gentle. It's not a gearshift. Touch there. Harder. God, your mouth is so hot.

Clark stopped listening to the words, getting a hang of this, liking the silky texture of the head on his tongue. Liking the feel of Lex's body thrumming under his hands, pulsing against the inside of his cheek. Liking the power that had nothing to do with strength. He maybe understood what Lex had gotten out of initiating what he had last night. Power over him. And it had worked. Because all he'd been able to think about for twenty-four straight hours had been Lex and Lex's mouth and what it had done for him.

He pulled back and Lex made a disappointed sound, body trying to follow Clark's retreat. Clark grasped his hips and pulled him a little forward, the back of Lex's thighs across the front of his, Lex's wet cock touching Clark's belly, while his was pressed against Lex's ass. Interesting place to be, really. It almost made him forget his epiphany. But he got a grip and leaned over, said flat out. "This doesn't change anything, you know?"

Lex blinked up at him, eyes dark and dilated and caught off his guard. He rallied quickly enough, even though Clark thought the words were more patronizing than anything else.

"Of course. I never assumed otherwise." Lex pulled him down by the ear and kissed the line of his jaw.

"I don't believe you." Clark murmured, distracted by Lex's tongue on his throat. "Mmm, but do you want to fuck me?"

It wasn't a fair question.

Clark's face must have betrayed the answer, because Lex's lips turned up in a faintly amused smile and he said. "Lube's in the drawer. With the gun." Clark felt outmaneuvered and found it didn't sting so much in this circumstance, so he only scowled a little when he reached back and stretched for the lube. The gun was sure enough, in the drawer, and Clark did feel the tingle of kryptonite when his fingers skimmed across it. He fought the urge to fling the thing through the wall of windows, but snatched the tube of lube instead, sliding the drawer firmly shut in his wake.

He knew what he wanted, he just wasn't up to date on the techniques of anal sex, since he'd never been with a girl who wouldn't have run screaming if he'd suggested it.

Lex was disturbingly well versed. Lex didn't mind telling him what he ought to be doing. Slick his cock, slick his hands. Lean over Lex and slowly jerk him off while he slid a finger between his buttocks and found entrance. It was warm and tight and Clark's cock ached to be there.

Lex exhaled a shuddery breath, all splayed out before him, thighs wide across his lap, hands running across his own chest and stomach since he couldn't reach Clark. He was all sex and promises and Clark couldn't take it anymore.

Lex Clenched a little, initial reflex, when Clark pushed in, and Clark took a shuddering breath and forced himself not to plow in past flimsy defenses. Take it slow. Penetrating muscle and flesh wasn't like punching through a stonewall. Concentrate on not loosing control - - always concentrate on containing his strength so he wouldn't damage the people around him. Sex was worse, because it was all about loosing control one way or another.

Lana had never known what she was trusting him with, or his one time with Shelly Tate his sophomore year at K-State. Never realized how utterly they were at the mercy of his self-restraint. Lex had to know, or at least suspect how vulnerable he was in the face of Clark's strength and he still invited Clark inside. Clark couldn't fathom the workings of Lex's mind. He stopped trying, overwhelmed by warmth and living flesh clamped around his cock.

Lex arched off the mattress, muttering Clark's name and urgent little instructions between panting breaths. He wanted Clark's hand on his cock, he wanted Clark harder, faster, he wanted - - . Clark wanted him to shut up so he could concentrate, which was hard to do when his mind was turning to white static.

Lex came in his hand, he felt the wet warmth spill over his fingers and spurt onto his belly. He stopped being aware at all as white-hot sensation rolled over his body, filled him up and burst, spilling pieces of him like thrown confetti. Tension drained out of him through the illusionary ruptures.

He slumped forward, dropping next to Lex, the both of them sideways on the bed. It was funny that though he felt no physical exhaustion, but his mind felt flayed. In a nice way. He liked it.

Lex's breathing was still uneven and Lex's skin was overheated and sheened with sweat. Clark liked that, too. Clark rolled onto his side, pressed his forehead against Lex's shoulder, put an arm around his waist and dragged him close, simply relishing the feel of his body still and quiet now that the sex was finished, while Clark's mind rebooted.


Clark didn't want to talk. He wanted to lie there and bask in the afterglow. But life-altering sex didn't stop Lex's mind from working. Clark made a non-committal sound.

"I need to know," Lex spoke slowly, as if he were considering each word before it left his lips. "About you. What you are? Why you are? These are reasonable questions."

"What I am?" A dash of cold rushed in solidifying the heat into a painful knot in Clark's belly. Of course Lex would pump him for information. Clark sat up, the knot turning angry. "Maybe you should have asked during sex. I might have - - you know - - given something away in the heat and all."

"I was busy then." Lex said, trying to sound reasonable.

Clark found his boxers and his jeans. His shirt was in another room entirely. He hadn't been embarrassed before. He was starting to feel it now.

"You can't tease me with scraps of information and expect me not to want to know the rest. Do you even know me?"

"If you wanted to know so bad, why didn't you send people after me? How come I'm not in a lab?" The old/new fear bubbled to the surface, his hands were shaking from it. Lex knew and Lex had the resources. And right now in a room that smelled of sex, thinking about Lex ordering his dissection made Clark nauseous.

"Because I want to hear it from you."

Clark stared at Lex, sitting in the middle of a rumpled bed, naked and calm while Clark was flittering around the edges of real panic. The panic won out. He snatched his boots and his shirt from the other room and bolted out of there faster than any human eye could track. He was in the air above the terrace so fast that Lex didn't even have time to call his name.

Lex was ticked. People did not just walk out on Lex Luthor without a 'thank you so very much, it was the best sex of my life. I'll be waiting by the phone at the off chance you might want to do it again, so please, please call.' Which, granted, he normally didn't and was generally specific in his dismissals, having been burned in the past by casual bed partners with delusions of permanency.

He actually had called Clark. With an astounding lack of ulterior motive, other than the jolt of electricity that had gone straight from brain to crotch when he'd seen him across the street from the private drive. He'd let Clark rip up his clothes, leave bruises on his skin - - fuck him, and Clark had cut out on him like he was fleeing an alleyway experience with a 40-dollar whore. Twice.

Lex had a good mind to - - what? That thought stalled on him and he scowled at the shadows on the high ceiling trying to get a grip on emotional ambivalences that were fucking with his higher brain functions. Clark wasn't that good a lay.

He sprawled on sweat-dampened sheets and tried to convince himself of that fiction. He wasn't sure if the sex had been as good as it had because of any latent skill on Clark's part, or simply because it had been Clark. Maybe that was one of Clark's alien abilities, some sort of phenomenal aphrodisiac that went straight past the neocortex to the hypothalamus. God knew Lex had wanted him from the first moment he'd laid eyes on him.

He thought about that for a while and dismissed it. If Clark had powers of sexual persuasion, he wouldn't have spent years mooning over Lana Lang in abject abstinence.

While he was showering, washing off the sweat and the semen and the smell of Clark, he questioned his motives, his calm acceptance of liberating truth. Of course he'd known for years - - he just hadn't known, so it wasn't like he hadn't been prepared. The reasonable thing to do - - the responsible thing to do was pin Clark down and ferret out the answers. But he remembered the look in Clark's eyes, the hollow fear when he'd spoken of himself as an abomination in his office and understood the underlying terror of being taken away into a small cold room and studied. He understood why Clark hated the labs so much, and Lex's obsession with the meteor infected.

The responsible thing would be to call in the researchers and maybe even the military, even though Lex had little faith in them after the fiasco in West Virginia - - but he knew he wouldn't, even if he didn't know why.

Which meant he'd have to deal with burrowing out the truths that Clark didn't easily want to part with, himself. He knew how now, because he knew what Clark wanted. And now Clark knew, too.

And though Lex might have hesitated to push when Clark had been sixteen, there was no restraint now. He'd press his advantage, his experience, because that's what he was good at and no matter what else Clark Kent was, he was still small town naive.

There was a function in Chicago that Lex was obligated to attend. The open house of the newly completed LuthorCorp Chicago. 80 stories of premium real estate in the heart of downtown along the Chicago River. It was one of the projects that his father had started before the Federal justice system and Lex had conspired to wrench control of LuthorCorp away from him. Lionel had always had a thing for real estate.

Sunday night was black-tie and elite. A gathering of 200 or so potential investors. The cream of Chicago aristocracy. The strains of Serenata notturna in the capable hands of the Chicago Symphonia sweetened the air and Lex fell into the familiar dance of charm and influence. He smiled and spoke words he didn't mean with the sincerity of a career politician, subtly tested waters with men who might be competitors and might be investors or acquisitions, flirted with women who's names he'd never remember and lost himself for a while in the game.

It was Lionel's project and everyone here knew it and Lex fended no few inquiries veiled in politeness regarding his father's absence. Lex had a half dozen various answers prepared, none of which entirely covered the truth. That he and Lionel weren't exactly on speaking terms. That putting an ocean between them had seemed the best method of avoiding violence on more than the corporate level.

He hated the fact that he was still trapped in the mammoth shadow of his father. He hated that the old money, the established powers still looked down on him as the trust fund brat that had displaced his father from his seat of power. He knew what they talked about behind his back.

They smiled and congratulated him on the completion and brilliant success of Luthor Chicago and he smiled and pretended he believed them. He'd been dealing with lies all his life.

He wondered what Clark was doing a thousand miles away. Whether he was at home, keeping farmer's hours or in the city with his friends. He'd told himself he wouldn't dwell, because dwelling would only make him weak. The way to play the game, now that he had the hook out, was to wait for Clark to come to him. And Clark would, because Clark was twenty-two and they'd had memorable sex, and that generally trumped common sense. And Clark wasn't the type to run out and hit the clubs, exploring the boundaries of his newfound sexual proclivity. He wasn't Lex. Lex hoped.

Lex frowned into his champagne, hearing one word out of five from the overstuffed Wall Street mogul that was boring him with the latest grain future exchange predictions.

It was quarter past ten and Lex had made more than the required effort. He was distracted and maybe a little drunk, but champagne dulled the tedium. He excused himself from the one-sided conversation, deposited his empty glass on the trey of a passing waiter and left the soft symposium, now onto one of Bach's orchestral suites and the purr of cultured conversation behind.

Luthor Chicago sat flanking the river. A broad pedestrian avenue ran between water and the skyscrapers that bordered it. The lights of the city were elongated, flickering flames on black liquid and if you didn't look at the lights of the city behind you to see the harsh reality of origin, it was almost ethereal.

Lex loosened his tie and walked down the avenue. Restaurants and bars sat perched over the water on stone piers. The nightlife was rich and in this section of the city, not tainted by the homeless or the aimless or the unwashed masses. It was why his father had chosen the location. It didn't matter where in the world Lionel Luthor went, he liked to distance himself from poverty, as if he feared in some deep, dark corner of his heart, that it might pull him back in.

He found a spot overlooking the water, and leaned against the rail, watching the lights of a ferryboat pass below. Something trendy and upbeat was playing in the patio of the bar down the way.

"Felt the need to escape, too, huh?" A young woman drifted over from the patio, a mostly finished glass of what might be bourbon and coke in her manicured hand. She was curvy and dressed in low-cut black evening ware. He had a vague memory of meeting her at the premier, the daughter of this tycoon or that. He might have even flirted with her.

"There's only so much you can take." He smiled at her.

"I thought I was going to die." She grinned at him, and what had been bored plastic-perfect debutante turned mischievous. "But I'd think you'd have reason to tough it out. It being your building and all."

"You would think." He agreed.

Her eyes tracked him up and down, an obvious appraisal. Her smile grew warmer, and she leaned in, showing a good deal of cleavage.

"So you want to get a drink?"

He looked down at the glass in her hand. "You seem to be ahead of me on that one."

"I meant, somewhere - - quieter."

She was bold, which he didn't particularly mind. She probably got whatever she wanted, when she wanted, which was all right, because he was the same way. He looked at the deep valley between her breasts, the swell of her hips, and couldn't keep his mind on the game. All he could think about was broad shoulders and hard, rippled abs.

He thought about Clark being hit on by a woman like this, sultry and confident. He thought about Clark being hit on by someone like him and hissed through his teeth, annoyed.

"So?" She was pressing him, her hip touching his.

"No," he said flatly and defied his own agenda to reach for his cell.

He left her behind and called the number.

Three rings, four, six and before it could go to voice mail. "What?"

"Your phone manners are terrible. What if it had been your mother?"

"My mother's not unlisted. What do you want? I'm busy."

"At 10 o'clock on a Sunday night? With what?"

There was an irritated sigh on the other end. The sound of voices in the background, of multiple TV's. He wondered if Clark was at the Planet this late on night he didn't work. Better that assumption than at a club.

"Lex, what do you care? We're not friends."

It was testament to Lex's failings as a true Luthor that that stung a little each time Clark reminded him. But, Luthor-like he rallied and ignored it.


A longer sigh, and a pause and he could imagine Clark struggling with that. Then, "You've slept with half of Metropolis."

Dating habits aside, it wasn't what Lex had expected to hear. Past duplicity, fringe labs, ethically challenged experiments and meteor - - Kryptonite - - enhanced weapons projects would have been what he would have expected to be at the top of the recrimination list. It was charming actually, that bit of jealousy.

"Dating is not the same as sleeping."

"Doesn't dating mean going out with the same person more than once?"

Lex laughed. "You've been following my exploits in the gossip sheets. I don't know whether to be flattered or offended, but I promise you, I don't have the stamina that they give me credit for."

"I have not. And I don't care."
"You brought it up."

Someone in the background was calling Clark's name. A male voice that sounded urgent. Lex thought he heard Chloe's name mentioned and Clark muttered a curse under his breath and snapped.

"I have to go." And the connection severed.

Hung up on again. It was getting to be a habit. Of course so was calling Clark like a love struck teenager, so really, he didn't have a lot of room to complain. He put the phone back in his pocket, amused, despite himself.

Lex was back in Metropolis early Monday morning, with a few meetings on his agenda and a tour of a facility on the outskirts of the city that he was considering as a LexCorp subsidiary. It was a light day. He slept in till nine, and was across the street at Luthor West by 10 for his first appointment. By 3 he had collected an acquisitions lawyer and two of his R&D specialists and was ready to ride out and tour the industrial wing of Creighton Biotech Resources.

The limo pulled up under the colonnaded drive on time with Lex's exit through the revolving glass doors. One of the young valets ran to open the back door while the two R&D techs were stalled in the doorway, arguing quietly behind Lex about functional genomics verses structural genomics. It promised to be a long drive. He was a dozen steps away from the car, turning his wrist up to check the time when the world exploded.

He didn't even see the source of ignition, just felt the concussive release of pressure shock wave that flung him backwards like the hand of God. His back hit high impact glass with enough force to shatter, or maybe that was residual shock wave from the explosion as well.

He kept thinking about the time - - about the watch face he hadn't had the chance to look at. It was hard to focus on the flaming mess of the limo thirty feet away or the scrambling blur of bodies, faces stretched in mute panic, arms waving, glass falling, bits of charred flesh on the marble paving.

Someone crouched next to him, black suited security with a scratch on his face, mouth working rapidly but no sound issuing forth. There was pain, but it was far away, like the awareness of a drill bit past the Novocain.

He needed to know what time it was. There was an appointment to keep. He saw the elusive watch face in his mind's eye and it followed him down into darkness like a shark plunging into the depths after wounded prey.

Chloe was still jumpy and it was her own fault for pulling a stunt right out of the Lois handbook and leaping into something before she really understood the implications. Chloe was usually smarter than that, but she was like a terrier after a rat when something really peaked her interest. Curiosity, she'd often admitted, was her best and most damning trait.

It only became really, truly annoying, when she was delving into something Clark would rather keep private, or got herself into trouble she couldn't deal with when Clark wasn't around to help her out of it.

Case in point. The Bennet thing. Once the LexCorp angle had hit a dead end, she'd started looking down other paths. She hadn't said a word about it to Clark. Jimmy only came to him, freaked out and scared when Chloe had been picked up right outside her apartment Sunday afternoon, by what Jimmy described as two very intimidating slabs of beef that would have looked right at home on the set of any hardcore mob movie.

Of course, he'd told Clark this when it was too late for him to do anything about it, other than to fret as helplessly as Jimmy and scour Chloe's computer, both home and work for clues as to what she'd stumbled upon. Some of her stuff was password protected and neither he nor Jimmy had the know how to bypass her protections. Clark kept fighting the urge to toss the damned thing against a wall, but getting to its secrets was a more delicate matter.

When she'd finally called Jimmy, Clark had been on the phone butting his head up against a wall of frustration that was Lex. Clark didn't know who'd been more freaked out, Chloe on the other end of Jimmy's cell, or Jimmy who could barely get a coherent sentence out in-between thanking God she was okay and bitching at her for getting into this mess in the first place. Clark would have zipped across town to get her his own way, if Jimmy hadn't latched onto him and practically dragged him to his beat up old car with intentions of driving them there himself.

"What the hell, Chloe?" Jimmy was out of the car before Clark when they saw her under the awning of a bookstore on Hawthorne Street. She'd looked forlorn and pale, hugging herself against the night in a neighborhood that boasted strip clubs and porn shops, gritty and flickering with dying neon signs.

Cars rolled down the street slowly, drivers trolling for dates by the hour while pimps resided in parked Cadillac's, watching their merchandise. The foot traffic was shadowy and unwholesome.

"I'm sorry you had to come down here to pick me up, guys. Really." Her mascara had bled a little down one cheek. Jimmy hugged her and Clark stood there, glowering, still feeling helpless and hating it.

"What happened?"

She looked over Jimmy's shoulder at him. "I guess I should have taken Lex's advice and just stayed away from the Bennet thing. But that would have been the intelligent thing to do, right?" Her voice broke a little. Her hands on Jimmy's jacket were trembling.

"Chloe, what happened?"

She forced a smile and wiped her hands down the front of her jacket, like she was taking stock of herself.

"What do you think? Me sticking my nose in where it definitely wasn't wanted. I found a lead from one of the Met U students who was distributing the Snazz and picked up a money trail."

"Which led?"

"Absolutely nowhere." She said bitterly. "But apparently somebody had feelers out, looking for Dr. Bennet and when I started prying - asking about things I shouldn't have known if I hadn't actually talked to him - - I got red flagged." She flinched as a black sedan slowed down a little as it passed them. Clark looked over his shoulder and x-rayed the interior, but there were no goons with guns. Nothing more dangerous than a guilty husband looking for something new.

"Can we get out of here?" she asked.

They piled into Jimmy's Honda and pulled out into Hawthorne street traffic. "By who?" Clark asked.

"God, Clark, wouldn't I love to know the answer to that question? I've been cornered by meteor freaks and psychopaths, but let me tell you these guys were scary and I think they were just the muscle. They wanted Dr. Bennet in a really bad way."

"Do you know where he is?" Jimmy asked, being out of the loop on all the details of that particular escapade.

"No," she said, then hesitated before adding. "They were really - - insistent. They um - - put a wire around my neck and I was having visions of decapitation."

Jimmy made a sound of outrage, and Clark leaned over the back of Chloe's seat to look under her collar. There was a thin red line across the front of her throat, but skin hadn't been broken.

Chloe shifted uncomfortably and forced a laugh. She looked back at Clark and frowned a little, which meant he must have been seriously glowering. He felt like finding somebody and hurting them.

"They let you go?" he asked.

"I told them everything I knew and I guess they believed me. A garrote around your neck inspires a lot of honesty. They warned me to mind my own business, put me back in the car and dropped me off here. I called you."

"Home or to the Planet?" Jimmy asked.

Chloe let out laugh that was more sob than humor. "As much as I'd like to ignore all warnings and try and figure out who the hell these bastards are - - I'm really, really tired. I just want to go home."

"Okay. But you're not staying by yourself." Both Jimmy and Clark were unanimous about that and Chloe was freaked out enough that she didn't object.

Jimmy let her and Clark off in front of her brownstone, and drove down the street to find a parking spot.

"Where'd they take you?" Clark had every intention of finding the bastards and doing a little interrogation of his own.

"I don't know, I didn't recognize the neighborhood. It was ten minutes from where you picked me up. The back room of a restaurant, maybe. But listen, I told them more than what I said in the car. I told them about Lex spiriting Bennet away to some LexCorp research facility. If they find him, he knows about you Clark and these guys aren't exactly in the Mother Theresa vein."

"Chloe, if Lex doesn't want him found, he's not going to be found and besides, they're not interested in me."

"Yeah, they want Bennet. But why go to so much trouble for a drug that - -believe me - - isn't going to be big hit with the crowd that likes to not barf up their guts and be non-comatose."

Good question. He wasn't feeling inclined to let it go, but there wasn't a lot he could do, without knowing who they were or where exactly they'd taken Chloe.

He called his mother to let her know he was staying in the city, that Chloe had had a little mishap, but that everything was okay and not to worry.

He went back out once Chloe was settled and Jimmy was on the couch watching muted TV, claiming he wanted to check around the block and make sure no one was lurking. What he really did was go back to Hawthorne Street. Most of the shops were closed, but the clubs were still open and people still loitered on the street.

No one he talked with had seen anything of note, at least that they admitted. All Chloe remembered was a black sedan with tinted windows and pulling up behind a building that could have been a restaurant. Even if he supersped up every street in a twenty block radius of Hawthorne, without something more solid to go on, it was doubtful he'd find anything. There were a lot of black sedans in the city. A lot of restaurants.

Not knowing who these people were, or where or what they really wanted, he was starting to think maybe Chloe should drop it. They were thugs with a beef with Dr. Bennet, who they probably would never find. Maybe they should give what information Chloe did have to Lex, who did have an interest in Bennet, and let him deal with it.

Funny that a month ago, Clark wouldn't have considered the possibility of going to Lex for anything. Of course a month ago - - a week ago - - a lot of things had been different. Last month he'd been perfectly capable of going a week without a Lex thought crossing his mind. The last few weeks, he'd hardly been able to not think about him, and the last few days - - well, it had taken Chloe being kidnapped to get him out of his head.

Clark would have skipped classes the next day and gone into work with Chloe and Jimmy, but there was a test that was a good portion of the grade and Chloe seemed to have bounced back from her ordeal and insisted that he go. She'd call if anything remotely suspicious happened.

"Clark, they weren't after me. They were after Dr. Bennet. As long as I don't raise any more red flags, I think I'll be off their radar. So go take your test and come in early afterwards."

The test was a miserable affair, since his concentration was shot, but he thought he'd passed, even if the flying colors thing was a lost cause. He called Chloe and everything was fine. No threats, no mobsters, not much on the information front.

He stopped home briefly and wolfed down a hastily made sandwich, took care of the essentials around the farm in record time and returned to Metropolis. The only interesting news were the rumors of the list of hopefuls presently being interviewed for the coveted Editor in Chief position. The newsroom was a buzz of speculation.

He got noticed by the senior staffer he was supposed to be working under after the man came in from a long lunch and sent down to the archives to pull some research. He couldn't even cheat at it, scanning outdated microfiche faster than any human eye could track, because there were a dozen other staffers down there with him, going about the daily business of information collection.

There were frosted windows in the archive that let in diffuse sidewalk level light and the fuzzy shapes of legs could be seen, constantly moving to and fro outside. During the day, the foot traffic was never ending. It never seemed to slow or change patterns and like snow outside a classroom window, sometimes it was easy to get distracted and stare at the rhythmic motion. Especially when he wanted to be upstairs.

Clark was staring at the windows, a pile of notes next to him, when the pattern altered. He heard the deep 'ka-chuung' of explosive sound a moment before the frosted windows rattled, and the ever-mobile legs outside faltered. He cocked his head, listening, even as the staffers in the archives with him started chattering, wondering what had happened - - a car crash outside the building maybe, construction on the street - - but Clark heard the cries of panic and horror that they couldn't.

He was out of the room while the others were gathering at the window, trying to see past the rippled glass. Outside and he could see where the crowd was migrating, across the street towards Luthor West. There was black smoke coming out of the 21st portico. People running out from the colonnaded drive with terror on their faces, even while inquisitive bystanders rushed inward.

Something lurched in Clark's gut. A cold knot of fear that swept up and paralyzed his brain for a few precious moments. The first blare of siren, from way down Temple shook him out of it. It had been maybe a minute, since the windows had shook, and he ran across the street, pushing his way through the gathering spectators, and not particularly caring if he knocked the gleefully curious off their balance and left them wondering what the hell had just shoved past them. He saw the flaming wreckage of the car, black, oily smoke twining with the rippling incandescence of hot burning gasoline. There was confusion in the drive, men picking themselves up off the pavement, security dribbling out of the shattered glass doors, no more certain of what had happened than anyone else at this point.

Clark couldn't take his eyes off the twisted mess of the car, couldn't stop the bile from rising in his throat. He looked inside it, sorting through distorted metal and melted plastic to find the remains of a human body. Not much left of it. A hand clutching the steering wheel, a leg smashed up under the dash. It was sickening, devastating to see the bare bones off what was left of a man, but some little part of him surged because it was only one man and he'd been in the driver's seat of a stretch limo, not in the back.

He looked past the car and saw people picking themselves up, people that had been at the edge of the blast staggering in shock. Then he saw Lex between the crouched forms of two black-suited security, sprawled and not moving. Relief warred with dread.

Clark surged forward and somebody got in his way, someone in Luthor Tower colors that he plowed aside, engulfed in his panic. Someone else put a hand out, yelling to stay back. This time he stopped, restrained by nothing more than a modicum of reason. Bowling over Lex's security in the midst of all this would benefit no one.

There was a flood of security, finally arriving on the scene in mass, trying to keep the onlookers back. And Lex was down, a spidery imprint of broken glass five feet above his head where he'd probably hit the wall. A smear of blood. Clark focused his hearing, trying to pick up on the beat of one heart amidst a throng of hammering pulses. Then the sirens grew louder, more than one and he couldn't pick through the sounds. He was about to throw caution and good sense to the wind, force his way past grim-faced security and fuck the repercussions, just so he could get close enough to see if Lex were alive.

Lex saved him the trouble. He moved his head, blinking to stare at the burning limo through the gap in the security surrounding him. Clark could hear their insistent questions, yammering at Lex was he all right, could he move. Clark didn't hear an answer. He saw the flash of a camera from the corner of his eye though. Pictures were being snapped in a frenzy, people with cell phones aimed, digital cameras, all wanting to memorialize the car bomb in the middle of downtown Metropolis. To capture frozen images of the wounded, maybe a rare glimpse through the flames, of the dead.

He saw the photographer that had been outside Luthor East the other night, waiting to see who Lex would take home, and a black ball of rage clotted behind Clark's eyes.

The moved and the camera hit the sidewalk with enough force to shatter and the stunned paparazzi stared down at his empty hands in shock, then at the ruin of his camera on the ground. Two more hit the ground, before Clark shook himself out of the temper at the edge of the crowd. A waste of time, really, when the Daily Planet building was right across the street and a floodgate of hungry reporters were already pouring out of its brass doors, desperate for the story. How was he supposed to shield Lex from that, when he couldn't even shield him from a car bomb right across the street? Just like he couldn't protect Chloe from dangers she didn't warn him about. He was failing all around.

Four minutes after the explosion.

The police were on the scene, weeding their way through the chaos and bringing the mantle of authority that private security didn't hold over the general public. Clark saw the car across the street, pulling away as police were pulling in. He might not have given it a second glance if he hadn't spent half the night in the seedier part of the city trawling for black sedans with tinted windows. He narrowed his eyes, and spied past dark glass and metal. Three men in the car, each one armed. There were weapons in the trunk, not all of them firearms. Clark's belief in coincidence had been wrung out of him years ago and he made a connection that left him cold and focused.

"Clark!!" Chloe was scrambling across the street in the midst of a pack of other Planet staff. Jimmy had veered off, camera in hand heading towards the blackened portico. Clark clenched his jaw and tried to ignore it.

"What happened?"

"Chloe," he grasped her arm. The sedan was turning onto Temple, slowing to let a roaring fire truck past. "I've gotta go, but I need you to see what you can find out about Lex, okay?"

"Lex? Was that him?" Her eyes widened.

"Close enough. Just - - do it, all right?"

He waited a breath for her nod, then he took off after the car that had disappeared east past the turn.

What he really wanted to do was tear into it, rip it apart like the twisted husk of the limo, yank out the human entrails and hurt them until they squealed. Until they explained to him in terms he could comprehend, why people he valued were being hurt. But if they were simply lackeys, working on someone else's orders, then rattling them might not lead him to the source of the problem.

So he followed, holding the rage at bay, just like he held his strength in check while he moved through a world filled with breakable people, with a will born of nineteen years of unswerving diligence.

It was easy to tell himself the wrath boiling his blood was mostly for Chloe, but he couldn't get the image of the spidered glass where Lex had hit the building out of his head. That smear of blood. A human body didn't need to be caught in the heart of an explosion to perish, residual impact would serve just as well. Internal bleeding, brain swelling . . . so very many things that could snuff out a life.

His nails were biting into his palm, the sting of pierced flesh was a distant awareness. He opened his hands and saw little blood filled crescents, damage only he could do himself, before they closed in on themselves, his body healing itself as no true human body could.

The car drove out of the business district, headed towards the section of city that Clark had spent a good deal of last night searching. It wasn't a restaurant that they finally stopped at, as Chloe had surmised, but a bar. It was the sort of place that catered to neighborhood regulars and looked with suspicion upon strangers entering its smoky recesses.

Clark got looks when he walked in. A scowl from the old man behind the bar as if he'd come in with dog crap on his shoes and smeared it on the floor. Curious, hostile glances from the patrons sitting at the long, brass railed bar. He ignored them, tracking the passage of the three men from the sedan with his X-ray vision as they passed through a back door marked 'private'.

"You drinking?" The old bartender asked shortly.

"Beer." Clark said and when the old man grunted and turned to get it, Clark sped through the bar, a few napkins flying in his wake. He was through the private door, past men that probably would have had issue with him passing it, with none the wiser.

There was storage back here, and an office, behind the walls of which his quarry had settled. Clark paused outside the door, listening. They were talking about dinner and a woman one of them wanted to sleep with behind the back of her husband. It was as if they hadn't just witnessed and possibly caused a car bomb explosion. Maybe they were so deadened to suffering that it just wasn't that big a deal. Dinner and sex was more important.

Clark's patience ran out. He pushed the door open with the heel of his hand and it hit the back of the man standing closest to it hard enough to propel him across the room into the edge of the desk. The other two were reaching automatically for the weapons under their jackets with the reflexes of men used to acting first and thinking later. Clark didn't exactly break the sound barrier getting across the room - - they were staring right at him and even pissed off, he had the sense not to broadcast the extent of his powers - - but he got there before they could clear their holsters. He flicked the one on the right on the forehead, putting him down in a heap of overstuffed, cheap suit on the floor. He caught the other one by the throat and slammed him back against the wall. The gun cleared the jacket and Clark let the muzzle veer towards him before he covered the thick fingers gripping it with his own and squeezed.

The guy screamed as much as a man could who had his throat in a vise. Clark let go the gun hand and the weapon dropped with a muffled thud. Several of the fingers left behind sat at an odd angle. He felt a little twinge of guilt at that casual brutality, but the image of the red mark on Chloe's throat and Lex sprawled under splintered glass made it recede.

"Did you plant that bomb?" he growled, up in the man's reddening face. "Did you?"

He loosened his grip enough for the guy to speak and got a succinct. "Fuck you."

The man was every bit as tall as Clark and heavier by good deal from the look of him. He was most certainly not used to being lifted off his feet by a hand around his throat while the air bled out of him. Clark held him that way, until the face turned a little purple and the struggles grew frantic. He let him down and asked again.

"It - - hack-cough - - it was a contract job."

"To assassinate the CEO of LuthorCorp? Contracted by who?"

The man swung white rimmed, bloodshot eyes up to him. "It wasn't a hit. A message. Somebody wanted a message sent."

"Who?" Clark wrapped his fingers in the man's collar. "And Why?"

"You think I know?" the guy laughed up at him bitterly. "That's not the way it works. We got the job through Metropolis 'contacts', but the orders came from out of town. Somebody big here, scratching the back of somebody big there. " "Where?" The guy he'd pushed against the desk was coming to, fumbling for his weapon. Clark gently pushed his head into the desk and the guy went still again. The one he was speaking with swallowed.

"We got a number. To call and report progress. That's it." He fumbled in his pocket with his unbroken fingers to bring out a cell. Clark took it from him and pulled up the one saved number. He didn't recognize the area code, but that was easy enough to remedy with Chloe and a computer.

"Any other orders from out of town?"

The man shook his head warily. "Not yet."

"Go after him again," Clark caught the man by the throat again, two fingers this time, in the hollows of his neck. "And I'll find you and we'll finish this conversation. Understand?"

The guy nodded frantically through his struggle for oxygen. Clark shoved him back and he hit the wall and slid down.

He hadn't mentioned Chloe, because, frankly, he didn't know how far threats would go with these men and if she was off their radar, he didn't want to put her back on. Lex was already there, in a louder way than Chloe had been, so it was a mute point protecting his anonymity. Besides, he had a world of security to watch his back, once they knew there was threat.

When he was in the back alley, he dug out his own phone and called 911 to tip off Metropolis PD that the LuthorCorp bombers were in the back room of a bar on St. Charles Street.




A confusing jumble of faces hovering, with urgent, serious expressions. Mouths moving with no sound, like an odd recreation of a silent movie, only in flaring color and without the subtitles.

Panic swelled, like the expanding ring of concussive fire/sound/impact and he struggled, but restraints held him flat and immobile, his neck starched stiff and straight in the grasp of a foam coated brace. Hands moved out to steady him, faces stretched into comforting masks, designed to pacify. He couldn't comprehend what they were saying. No, he couldn't hear past the muffled silence that clogged his head.

He could remember the sound of the blast though. And the soft ticking of his watch. The sound of the young valet saying something to him before he enthusiastically hurried to the limo to open the door. There were pieces of that boy on the pavement. A hand, surprisingly uncharred by flame, divided from its body, lying on the fine marble of the portico walk. The boy had a name, but he couldn't recall it. Maybe he'd never known it at all.

The explosion ate up everything again, sucking light and air out of the world and he went down again.

He dreamed of innocents torn to pieces by mindless eruptions of flame and metal. Of the Bugs skittering along the ceiling of the cave in West Virginia, alien eyes, alien minds trying to enrapture the weak. Clark catching that wall and looking at him in dread when he'd faced him afterwards. Alien eyes that you could drown in and never regret. He had a meeting, and it was important he know the time, but he couldn't focus on the face of his watch . . .

Lex came to again in a private ER room, off the backboard, but with the torturous neck brace still in place. He reached for it and his left wrist blared pain. A nurse caught his arm, and a doctor in green scrubs leaned in and spoke. There was ringing this time, instead of packed cotton, but he couldn't hear words. He thought the lips formed things that might have been x-rays and broken. Broken was a possibility, a probability as far as the wrist went. Breathing came with a multitude of pain, but he could move his arms and his legs, so the threat of a broken spine seemed unlikely.

Odd that he could rationally deduce that, when the rest of his thoughts were a chaotic muddle.

What was the boy's name? Had he heard it before in passing? Brown hair. Crooked teeth. A high school ring on his finger. That had survived the blast as well.

The nurse laid his arm down at his side and he let her, half tracking the movement of the other staff in the room.

A grey-haired, white-coated someone shined a light in his eyes, and spoke at him. Someone else had already done that and it annoyed him. He batted the penlight away with his good hand and growled something he couldn't hear himself say.

The car exploded and bits and pieces of a young valet littered the pavement. Dizziness drew Lex down again.

There was sound when he came around this time. Sound couched in the quiet of a room that wasn't in the heavy traffic flow of the ER. The ringing was still there, accompanied by the vague sense of vertigo and nausea that seemed to go hand in hand with concussion. His left wrist was encased in a cast. The rest of him felt much like a beetle placed in a jar by a malicious child and shaken until its exoskeleton fractured.

Being caught in the blast radius of an explosion tended to do that. He remembered it now for what it was, although only snatches of imagery came to him. His imagination was resourceful enough to fill in the blanks.

He needed his phone and his head of security, but neither one was in sight at the moment. He pushed himself up and incapacitating pain made him reel, stealing his breath. He froze, half propped on an elbow while it passed, forcing past the pain. It felt like every rib he had was cracked or fractured or bruised. Pain he could deal with, ignorance would kill him.

He pushed himself up, more carefully this time, swung a leg over the edge of the bed and stared down dumbly at the bare skin of his leg below the hem of a hospital gown. His focus thinned a little, like dye in water. He lifted his good hand to his head, sliding his fingers to the back of his skull and gingerly touched the edges of a lump covered by a small bandage.

A nurse noticed him perched on the side of his bed and came running in to chastise, going on about concussions and shock and bed rest. It was a relief to hear her words, even if they were accompanied by the faint ringing. He wasn't interested in the content of her warning. They had taken his watch and that bothered him more than the lack of pants. He swung his gaze around, while the nurse was trying to decide whether to lay hands on him to get him back down, looking for a clock.

8:37. Was it the same day, or a different one? The blinds were closed on the broad windows, so he couldn't see if it were night or day.

A doctor came in, with attending sycophants on his heels, a placating, highly concerned look on his face, which was to be expected when LuthorCorp was a major contributor to Metropolis General funding. There was a wing named after his mother. She hadn't died here, but during the last year of her life, she had been here a great deal, having things done, that at the time, no one had deemed necessary to explain to him.

It bothered him being here.

The doctor was asking him formulaic questions. What was his name, the date, the president? The sorts of things a mind ought to know if it wasn't scrambled. He answered, distracted by the movement of the little hand on the wall clock. He shut down the need to look at his bare wrist, recognizing the impulse for what it was. Shock, trauma, the mind trying to compensate and he refused to fall prey to it when there were more important things to be done.

Compartmentalize the physical trauma, the horrible images of the dead Valet and focus on who he'd pissed off enough lately to plant a bomb in his car.

Outside the doorway, he saw the hovering forms of at least two of his security team on the job after all. One of them had a bandage on his forehead and gash across his cheek, but Lex didn't remember the man being in the portico when the car exploded.

He beckoned with his good hand and the one with the scraped face, Jenkins, came in. "Talk to me."

"We have very little information, Mr. Luthor. The police have the scene closed and we're having to work around them. They've been waiting to talk to you."

Fantastic. He remembered body parts on the pavement. "How many dead?"

"Two sir. Six wounded, including you. But mostly cuts and bruises. You were closest to the car when it went."

Other than the valet. And his driver. Lex knew his name. His last name at least. He only used drivers occasionally.

He wanted out of here, and the medical staff was only a hindrance. His security didn't balk at instructions simply because they thought they knew better than him. He asked for his clothes and they got them, the doctors babbling protest all the while.

He had to have help with the shirt buttons, the fingers of his left hand not particularly mobile. He negated the tie altogether and stuffed it in his jacket pocket.

It was 5 hours after the explosion and walking hurt. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. In another 5 hours, once the aches really settled in, he was going to regret being here within easy access of a morphine drip.

There was a uniformed officer by the elevators, who looked up at his approach with surprise. "Mr. Luthor! I'm going to have to ask you to stop. There are detectives who need to take your statement."

The officer put an arm out to prevent him from stepping onto the elevator, but Jenkins stepped in the way of that, determined to do his job whether it consisted of treading over a badge or not.

"They can come to my offices." Lex suggested as the doors were closing and the officer rapidly speaking into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder.

Lex felt his phone in his pocket. His watch was there as well.

There were a dozen things he needed to do in the face of this - - questions to ask, resources to set in motion, panicky stockholders to placate - - LuthorCorp and LexCorp stock was going to take a hit from this - - very public assassination attempts of company CEO's made people nervous. The attempts on his life were generally quieter in nature or at the very least easier to cover up when they weren't in the middle of downtown Metropolis.

"Do you know the name of the valet that was killed?" Was what he asked instead on the elevator ride down.

"I can find out for you, sir." Jenkins promised. "The driver was Paul Granger."

Lex nodded and pushed himself off the elevator wall as the car glided to a stop lobby level. Another LuthorCorp security detail met them downstairs, along with Lex's personal assistant, Nancy and the head of his public relations staff. He got detoured away from the main lobby and its public entrance, towards a more secluded side exit. The sharp clacking echo of a half dozen sets of feet down an empty corridor was making his head throb. He gave instructions that his people duly noted.

There was a car waiting outside, and Lex couldn't help hesitating a beat outside the door as Jenkins went to open the door for him, images of light, heat and deafening sound stalking his memory. There was a distant flicker that made his heart flutter a beat, but it was only the flash of a camera as a small group of diligent reporters who'd had the good sense to realize that if he left, it wasn't going to be through the front, pelted across the parking lot.

He was inside the car with two security men and his assistant before they were halfway there, his PR man left behind to fend them off with smoothly prepared statements.

The young valet's name had been Brian Simms. He'd been a sophomore at Met U, working his way through college. Lex found that out when he reached his office and spoke with his chief of security. The bomb had been a remote device, triggered, from what the MPD bomb squad had deduced from somewhere within a 500 yard radius. Which made a senseless act that much more pointless. If someone wanted him dead, why not wait until he was in the car and a certain casualty?

Luthor West was crawling with security, the area around the explosion cordoned off, even though curious spectators still flocked the sidewalks beyond the barricades. He'd made the evening edition of the Daily Planet, which Nancy thoughtfully provided when they'd waded through security and police and gotten up to his office. Black suits were unusually obvious on the executive level as well and Lex was assured that the building had been swept and reswept for more devices.

He glanced at the Planet, but his head hurt too much to scan the 10-point type, so he listened to the newscast from three different stations and discovered that no few number of crackpot extremist organizations had already claimed responsibility. Everyone from the Committee for the Liberation from Capitalism to the Army of God seemed to think claiming credit for an attempt on his life would boost their reputation. He could only imagine the clamor if they'd actually gotten him.

It had been a bungled job, so it was entirely possible some half-wit with a social agenda had tried to orchestrate it, but he wouldn't put money on it. It was more likely someone with a personal grudge, and though he had earned his fair share of enmity in his four years as CEO, his various pet projects were more likely to have engendered the sort of enemy that would resort to this extreme. And then he had a lifetime of his father's victims to consider, that might not be picky as to which Luthor they took out their vengeance upon.

He'd already given security his list of possible culprits when the police showed up and started in with an endless cycle of questions. They came up with a captain and two detectives, and handled his interview with care. LuthorCorp had long arms and the city knew which side its bread was buttered. He gave them an abbreviated list of people who might want him dead and promised to contact them with more, if any occurred.

Even still they were dogged in their pursuit of facts that Lex just didn't know. His diplomacy started to quiver. There was strain in his voice that he just couldn't manage to shake. He was tired, he hurt and he was starting to regret not staying at the hospital long enough to acquire a prescription for very powerful pain killers. He'd get Nancy to take care of that after the police left. Finally they retreated and left him to the dubious peace of an office filled with the strains of CNN and networks news. Security came in and gave him updates that shed little in the way of new light. Nancy kept the trivial stuff away from him and he sat behind his desk and tried to keep the room from spinning. Shutting his eyes made it worse.

"Sir?" Nancy had been his PA for close to eleven months now. She wasn't pretty, which was fine, because he tended to get in trouble with the pretty ones, like an addiction that he couldn't control, but she was utterly competent and had a talent for predicting his needs before he realized he had them.

He looked at her and saw an alarming after image that spoke volumes about the state of his head.

"It's late and I have people dealing with all of your requests. Capable people, sir. You should go home and get some rest. The doctor was very specific on that. I have your medication."

It wasn't a bad idea, crawling into his own bed. Just for a few hours while the wheels of the machine turned and information was procured. He'd been sitting here for hours now, dealing with the police, dealing with the problem from the Corporation side. There was a point where rational decision making could no longer compete with the demands of the body. He thought he might have reached that point some while ago, because the hands on the clock - - the clock that he still was having problems not flashing glances at in a vaguely compulsive manner - - had shifted thirty minutes forward, without him noticing it.

He consented with a condition. "Call me immediately with any new information."

He pushed himself up and had to lean on the desk to keep from falling back down. It hurt so bad, the sudden momentum of standing, after sitting so long, that he felt physically ill. When he caught his breath, he swept up the bottle of pills, and thank God the cap wasn't childproof or he'd never have gotten it open with his casted hand without having to resort to Nancy's help. He wasn't so far gone that he was willing to relinquish that much dignity. He shook out two on the desk - - then four - - his body's metabolism tended to take the kick out of the best of drugs - - and chased them down with a swig of water.

There were security waiting for him by the elevator, two fresh, unscuffed faces that Lex hardly focused on. They weren't letting him out of their sight until they reached the penthouse of Luthor East, and he couldn't summon up complaint with that at the moment.

They took the private elevator; the straight shot right to the basement and the connecting walk under all the police tape and the crowds on street level, to Luthor East, then up to the penthouse with no one the wiser. Since they let him walk right in, he assumed it had been swept for illicit devices and passed grade.

He poured himself a full glass of scotch first off, just in case the pills needed a jump-start. Closed his eyes to savor the burn, then walked down the hall to his bedroom and painfully shrugged off his clothing.

Awkwardly, he unwrapped the bandages around his ribs and got into the shower. He turned it as hot as he could stand and stood there while the water washed away the stench of hospital and smoke and blood. Standing there, immobile under the spray his mind drifted to those seconds of consciousness after the explosion. He shook himself out of that threatening loop with effort. It would haunt his sleep though, he had no doubt. The terrible things always did. He never seemed to have good dreams. Maybe the pills would help, because his head was beginning to feel less strident pain and more cloying heaviness.

He smeared fog off the mirror afterwards and stared at the bruises and the cuts. The left side of his back was a mass of discoloration. There was a gash on his shoulder that he hadn't realized he had. Not deep enough for stitches but they'd put three butterfly bandages on it. The shower had peeled them off. He had a small cut on his cheek, angling up towards his right temple. Those were what he could easily see. He didn't exert the effort it would take to twist and examine the rest of him.

The carpet in the bedroom felt achingly good under his toes, which was probably due to the effectiveness of the drugs. The bed was a beckoning field of goose feather and fine linen.

Someone was knocking on his door. Lex blinked, thinking about that, and the fact that there wasn't a front door, only an elevator that one had to have a key card and a code to access.

It was more like a tapping, actually, like someone beating an aluminum bat against the industrial strength glass of a 50-story skyscraper.

He pulled on a robe and wondered down the hall, good hand trailing the wall, because he really was starting to feel the effects of booze chased pills now. There was another half-hearted tap on the glass, and Lex, with something akin to dull surprise stared at Clark standing on the other side of the terrace doors as politely as if he were waiting on the stoop of a two-story walkup.

Surprise melted into something closer to weary satisfaction. He hadn't even had to call this time and here Clark was. He reached for the handle with his right hand and the door wouldn't budge, but he kept trying it for a few seconds stupidly until it occurred to him that there was such a thing as a lock. He was truly fucked-up.

He turned the lock, and pulled on the door and it complied this time, letting in a gust of cold air that had the curtains billowing. Clark just stood there on the other side, dark hair a mess of windblown curls, expression almost laughably somber. He was the prettiest thing Lex had seen all day. A sullen-faced spot of bright warmth in an otherwise shitty afternoon.

"You hung up on me again." Lex remarked.

Clark's eyes widened a little, disbelieving. Then he let out a breath and shook his head, giving Lex the wary sort of look people usually reserved for madmen or megalomaniacs. "I just wanted to - - I just came to see if you were all right."

"All right? You know me, Clark - - I may not be bullet proof, but I have the uncanny ability to bounce back from near death experiences. And hey, according to the flood of care calls, I'm in the hearts of half the extremist organizations in America. A few internationals as well. So I'm good. Great even."

"Lex?" Clark was frowning at him. "Are you drunk?"

Drunk? Well, it was only a matter of semantics. He laughed and it sounded odd, like it was issuing from someone else's throat.

"Shit, Lex. Your ribs." Clark was staring at his robe-covered torso intently and he wondered what he looked like, under the skin, to Clark's spy ware vision.

Lex shrugged off the concern, stepping backwards and staggering a little. Clark put a hand on his arm, shoring up unreliable balance.

"I was going to call," Clark's hand was still on his arm, solid, dependable strength. "But I don't have your number and you keep calling me on an unlisted phone."

"Phone calls are so impersonal."

"Lex . . .?"

"I'm tired." There. He'd said it out loud and sky hadn't come crashing down. He ventured a little bit more, because Clark was safe and Clark understood things that you'd never think him capable of comprehending. "It's been a long day. I have to keep looking at the time to remind myself it's still Monday."

"For a while yet, anyway," Clark said slowly, warily. "Do you know who was responsible?"

There was something in Clark's expression that penetrated the fog in Lex's brain. That self-deprecating sense of culpability that Clark had always worn when someone he knew would end up hurt, as if he were responsible for all the bad luck in the world.

It pissed Lex off. It had always pissed him off even before he'd known the honest roots of Clark's hero complex. To get looked at by Clark, like he thought Lex needed saving, when if he couldn't save himself, he didn't deserve to be in the game in the first place. Lionel had taught him that. One of those hard lessons that had starting coming after his mother had died and there had been no one to deflect his father's ideas on the rites of manhood.

He pulled his arm out of Clark's grip and Clark looked at him oddly, waiting. Lex gathered his wits and tried to recall the last question. Ah, responsibility. "The MPD is working on it, but my people are better."

He started towards the bar. Something besides Clark to lean against would be nice. And there was the scotch.

Clark hesitated a beat, then slid the doors closed and followed. He circled around the back of the bar where Lex stood, instead of leaning across it from him. Big fingers touched the cast of the hand Lex was using to steady the glass, grazing it lightly, like casts and broken bones were such a wonder to him. They probably were.

"Lex . . ."

Lex wanted him to shut up. To back away and stop threatening his defenses, because it was hard enough to deal with Clark when he was in control and coherent, when he could properly recall all the excellent reasons he had to tread very carefully. This close, Lex could smell him, the unique Clark scent that brought back vivid memories of the night on Lex's bed, the smell of some citrus shampoo and it made Lex's head swim.

His good hand was shaking. Badly. More liquor sloshed on the bar than in the glass. Clark took the decanter away from him, put the stopper in and dipped his head to look Lex in the eye.

"What are you doing, Lex?"

"Trying to get a drink." He tossed down the quarter inch of scotch he'd managed to get in the glass.

"You're not okay."

"No." he agreed a heartbeat before he realized that was the wrong answer.

"Tell me what happened, Lex."

He blinked at Clark, heart thudding, purpose scattering. Eyes you could drown in. Fuck Lionel and his life lessons anyway. Fuck Luthor pride when all it ever got you was animosity and alone.

So he recounted the stark facts of the incident, much as he'd done for the police and Clark kept watching him afterwards, waiting like this was the first act of a play and Lex had more lines to share. And it was so hard to deny him, when he was staring like it mattered.

"I've gotten complacent, I guess," Lex leaned both elbows on the bar top, pressing his forehead into the palm of his good hand. "After going so long in Metropolis without anyone actively trying to kill me, I wasn't expecting it. I was distracted because - -" he had think a moment to remember why. "Today was supposed to be a light day and I wanted to get the tour over with and I was running behind. I walked right past him at the door and he said something - - but they always say the same thing, so I stop listening sometimes. I was worried about the time, as if ten minutes would make a difference in the scheme of things and then - - I don't know what happened. I didn't see it, Clark. I couldn't hear what they were saying."

The beat of his heart became painful, his chest constricting in panic as his mind constructed an awful, silent parody of life and death. He shut his eyes and it was still there, and the lack of vision only made the dizziness worse. God, he was tired.

"There was a hand. It was just lying there on the ground. I don't know where the rest of him is."

"Who was he?" The calm of the question brought Lex back from the edge of abyss. And Clark wasn't asking about the job, but about the boy that had done it. The sort of thing that Clark would want to know, the sort of thing that Clark would have known, if he'd met the kid more than once. And maybe that's what bothered Lex. That he'd never cared and he hated himself for being so callous, that he could see a man almost everyday for a year and not even know a name. That it took research from his assistants to find out the basic facts about a boy that had gotten blown to bits in front of him trying to open a fucking car door.

The name he recalled with biting clarity, the rest he had to search out through the stupor that was trying to suffocate his thoughts.

"His name was Brian Simms . . . He was 20. He went to Met U. That doesn't say very much about him, does it? But it's what personnel supplied. We don't run in-depth background checks on part time valets."

"Its not your fault."

It was ironic to hear Clark say that, after spending the last few years actively blaming Lex for everything. And this time Lex actually did feel guilt.

"I've seen a lot of death, Clark. People die every day. Every second of every day. It's just the way things are. The world is a terrible place with no compassion for the innocent. I don't know why I can't get this kid out of my head.

"I don't know, Lex. Maybe you're just human."

It made Clark uncomfortable, in a place deep down between his chest and his gut, that he'd needed to come here so bad. That all afternoon and well into the night when he'd been hanging over Chloe's shoulder, helpless to do anything but try and help her track down leads and money trails, because there was nothing solid to tear into, all he could think about was Lex.

He knew Lex was mobile from the fact that he'd left the hospital, but not that he was okay. Really okay. Certainly the hospital wasn't giving out uncleared information and Lex's PR people weren't saying anything that the news hadn't already covered. But Clark knew Lex's PR machine was slick enough cover all sorts of half-truths and blemishes, so God knew how Lex really was.

He'd half hoped for a call, but of course none had come. So he'd fretted, worked himself into something no less disturbing than the black rage of earlier in the day and reminded himself that a lot more people than Lex had been hurt today. And he regretted that terribly, just like he regretted every dismal news report that came through the Planet, plane crashes, earthquakes, rapes and murders. And if he was capable, and could get there in time, he'd try and stop any of those things from happening. He'd put his life on the line - - or as much on the line as his impenetrable body would allow - - for complete strangers and not think twice. But the plain fact was, none of those people were his. Not like Chloe. Not like Lex.

He had no clear idea just what Lex was anymore and he couldn't rely on Lex to clarify the issue because Lex didn't know how to live in anything but a maze of machinations and ulterior motives. How did you go from friend, to unfriend to enemy to fucking and have any inkling how to deal with the situation? But then, when had anything with Lex, during any of those stages, been simple and uncomplicated?

What Clark did know, what was an unshakable reality, was that he needed to see with his own eyes, feel with his own hands that Lex was safe and well.

He took to the air, hoping the night would cover his presence. As long as he didn't bounce into any windows, he would probably go unnoticed. Slow flying was not as easy as rocketing through the air breaking the sound barrier. Hovering took either a great deal of concentration or an utter lack of attention. He was best at it, when he was totally distracted and not thinking about things like simple physics and gravity. He'd already figured out, that the key to flying and flying well was all in his mind. His body knew what it was supposed to be doing, it was just thought processes that kept screwing him up.

Lex was in his office till late, and Clark had to find other things to do to keep his mind occupied. He was in need of a shower, and going home would only incur questions from his mother that he didn't want to answer. So he went to Chloe's and used hers and had to contend with body soaps and shampoos that were embarrassingly unmasculine. Didn't Jimmy ever shower here?

He heard a woman's screams on his way out and stopped a mugging that would have probably turned into something worse in an alley off Darcy Street. It was a satisfying distraction.

When Lex finally did leave the office, when Clark saw that one body in the vast warren of rooms of the Luthor East penthouse, it was like a weight had been lifted.

Until he saw Lex and saw what skin and flesh hid, and then the black rage seeped back a little. And it was probably a good thing that Lex was marginally drunk and a lot doped up on painkillers, because it would have been excruciating without the buffer.

Lex was wavering, regardless and it was only willpower and displaced stubbornness that kept him on his feet. He was maudlin and that wasn't like him, but that was probably drugs and trauma. It triggered every protective instinct Clark had. Made him want to do something impulsive like gather Lex in his arms, no matter the embarrassment factor - if there could be an embarrassment factor after Friday night, or grudges that just didn't seem important right here and right now. But Lex could be prickly, defensive of his own weaknesses and you had to be careful.

"You should probably lay down. Get some sleep."

"Probably." Lex was pressing the palm of his hand into his forehead in little rotating patterns, like he was trying to iron out a wrinkle of pain.

Clark caught the elbow above the cast gently, and tugged him away from the bar. "C'mon. Take the first step. The rest will be easier."

Lex allowed it, with a muttered. "Easy for you to say. When's the last time you had a rack of broken ribs, a fractured skull - -"

"You don't have a fractured skull. I looked. And that would be - - let's see - - freshman year high school for the broken ribs."

"Oh. Yeah. You'll have to explain that to me sometime."

Clark remembered the way to Lex's bedroom with alarming clarity. He remembered the frantic, hands everywhere, rebounding off of walls, knocking pictures askew progress there the last time they'd made the trip. The bed was bigger than he remembered. It hadn't seemed large enough before for everything he'd wanted to do.

It seemed to engulf Lex now, when he settled down with careful movements, like an old man with bad bones. When he had shrugged of his robe, the shadows made the bruises purple, mottled like the skin of a rotten plum. And huge, from his shoulder blade to his hip, covering half his back and wrapping around under his armpit to his side. That wasn't even counting the other smaller bruises, the cuts, the carefully stitched gash, surrounded by purple on the back of his head.

How had Lex been on his feet this long? Fragile human body. Indomitable will.

Lex shut his eyes, with a sigh, releasing tension into the luxury of expensive linen and cloud-soft pillows. Clark stood there a moment, bereft of purpose, then moved to draw the blinds. Dawn wasn't that many hours off and the arrival of the sun wasn't a disturbance Lex needed. Clark was very uncertain what he needed, even if parts of him seemed to have come to a conclusion on what he wanted. Really, he ought to leave. He didn't belong here.

"You don't have to go. " Lex murmured, halfway to gone, like Clark's thoughts were broadcast stereo. "You smell nice."

"Ahhh, Chloe's shampoo." He felt himself blushing. But something else eased, and he settled carefully onto the other side of the bed, his back against pillows and the mahogany backboard. A whole arm's length away. The bed was that big. The pillows were nice and he hadn't really rested since the night before Chloe had been taken. It was pleasant here and the sound of Lex's breathing was even and comforting.

He thought Lex was asleep, but, "You stay at Chloe's a lot?"

"Sometimes." Clark answered automatically, thinking about how soft these sheets were, and how little he'd noticed the other night when he'd been rolling around on top of them with Lex.

"- - You sleeping with her?"

Clark blinked at the mumbled question. Lex's eyes were still closed, his face turned just a little away from Clark.

"No. No!"

"Um. Good."

Which seemed to satisfy Lex, because he didn't say anything else, didn't move again, other than the soft rise and fall of his chest under the sheets.

Clark toed off his shoes put his feet on the bed, shrugged out of his jacket after removing his phone. He made sure it was on mute, in case Chloe called, which he'd told her to, just to check in and let him know nothing untoward had happened. If she didn't in an hour, he'd call her. His optimism wasn't at an all time high at the moment.

He should have told Lex about the men he'd tracked down after the bomb, about Chloe and the Bennet connection before this, so he could get his people on it, but Clark had been distracted and Lex hadn't needed one more reason not to take the rest his body so badly needed.

He watched the shadows in the room. Huge room. High ceilings, clean cut and airy, not at all like mansion back in Smallville that seemed to press you down with the sheer weight of brooding gothic. There was still a ridiculous amount of space here, so many rooms for just one person. This floor barren of life save for him and Lex. He had to wonder if Lex even went into half the spaces here.

He looked at Lex. Listened to the slow sleeping rhythm of his breath, of his heartbeat. Lex at peace finally. Quiet down to his battered bones. There were faint rings of exhaustion under his lashes, but the other tensions were gone, erased from his face by slumber. He reached out his arm, fingers touching the edge of the cast on Lex's left arm. His fingers grazed the skin above it, soft and unnaturally smooth with the lack of hair.

He shut his eyes for a moment, strangely at peace with his fingertips on Lex's skin.

And opened them at the soft tones of a muffled phone. There were bands of wan light striping the floor by the big windows that hadn't been there a moment ago and a rapid look at his watch said 7:34.

He grabbed for the cell that had slipped onto the bed beside him, but it wasn't his phone making the insistent noises.

He tracked down the sound coming from Lex's jacket, flung carelessly over the padded bench at the end of the bed. Lex stirred, making unhappy noises and Clark crawled to the foot of the bed and reached into silk lined pockets after the cell.

Lex held out a hand, eyes half-open and Clark deposited the phone. He reached for his own while Lex was putting it to his ear, to see if Chloe had called and he'd slept through the vibration.

"Who is this?"

There was something in Lex's voice that made him look over before he had the chance to bring up voice mail. Something shaky and on the cusp of angry and Clark turned up his hearing to catch the voice on the other end.

. . . wanted to make sure the message got across, Mr. Luthor. There's no such thing as untouchable.

"Who the fuck - -?"

There was the soft click of a severed connection. Lex stared at the phone like it had grown scales and teeth.

"What. The. Hell. Was. That?" Lex hissed out a curse and struggled up. Cursed a little more from the discomfort of that, but seemed determined to forge ahead anyway.

"Lex, wait." Clark caught his arm and stopped Lex's forward momentum short.

"I just got a fucking phone threat. By the son of a bitch who blew up my car. I know it! How the fuck did he get my private number?" Lex flipped open his phone again and tried to pull up the listing for the last incoming call and got a 'number unlisted'.

"Just calm down." Clark was trying to be cool himself, when upset would have been a much easier emotion to channel. But Lex had the upset covered for the time being, in a weird moment of role reversal. "I've got a number, Lex."

"You've got a - - ?" Lex took a breath. Bits and pieces of thought clicking into place, while his hand was shaking on the phone. "What number?"

Clark took a big lungful of air himself. "I got it off the men who exploded your car. I tracked them down after - - they were just hired help - - but they had a contact number, of whoever is pulling the strings." He trailed off because Lex was glaring at him with something akin to shrapnel in his gaze.

Through clenched teeth, Lex said. "Getting this information would have been so much more helpful if you'd fucking mentioned it earlier. Jesus, Clark, you must be my muscle, then."

Clark blinked at him, lost.

"The opening line of conversation and I quote: 'It wasn't a smart move sending your muscle after my men.' Fuck." Lex pressed his palm against the bridge of his nose and sat there on the edge of the bed while a quiver of pain or fury or black humor washed over him.

Some of the fainter bruises that had been on his back and shoulders were almost gone, the shallower cuts and abrasions half healed already. Clark knew that Lex tended to bounce back from injury quickly, and God knew he'd had enough chances to prove that back in Smallville, but this rate of mending was surprising. Meteor enhanced healing. The other thing Lex had come away with after Clark's cataclysmic arrival nineteen years ago. Clark just hadn't realized it was so fast.

He doubted bones were mended yet and Lex's very stiff movements as he shifted around to better face Clark were testament to that.

"Would you care to - - I don't know - - Share the wealth of information you've apparently been sitting on? Maybe turn a new leaf and not keep me in the fucking dark about things that are really fucking important?" Lex's control broke on the last part of that request and the final two words got yelled at Clark. Lex winced though, which meant being inside his head right now, while he was in the midst of temper, was not a good place to be.

And okay, he deserved that and Lex could be emphatically forgiven for being pissy about it. Clark held up his hands, a sign of surrender because Lex always liked to win a fight and maybe that's what he needed to curb the anger.

"You're right. I'm sorry. Its about Dr. Bennet, I'm pretty sure."

"Bennet - -?"

"Chloe got picked up outside her apartment at gunpoint Sunday by people who wanted to know what she knew about Dr. Bennet's disappearance. She'd been digging around campus, asking a lot of questions and I guess word got back to the wrong people. They threatened to kill her, Lex and she told them that you'd spirited him away. She wasn't trying to steer trouble your way, and I swear it never occurred to me that they'd come after you. I thought they were drug dealers at worst - - not the sort of people who explode cars just to get points across."

"What point?" Lex asked him, eyes gone so dark it was almost hard to see the color. "Why? If these people are his financers, I don't see where the profit lies. I'd pay not to take the fucking drug. What do they want with him? And what are they trying to do, intimidate me into handing him over? I'll track down their asses down and obliterate them."

Which claim Clark didn't doubt Lex was capable of, with his array of legitimate and not so legitimate resources at hand. But then corporate raiding and quasi-military secret weapons programs weren't necessarily a guarantee of success when dealing with organized crime.

"Lex, if this is some crime syndicate - - the mob - - whatever they're calling themselves these days - - isn't that a little outside LuthorCorp's general realm of influence?"

Lex lifted a brow and gave him a dubious look. "I could take down a small country with enough money, Clark. And they fired the first salvo. What was this number you said you had?"

He almost didn't want to give it to him, not when Lex looked like this. Damaged and out for blood.

"Enough people have been hurt." Clark said slowly, leaning forward and meeting Lex's rage-darkened eyes unflinchingly. "Don't do anything to make more casualties."

Lex canted his head, nostrils flaring a little as if it were a challenge. As if Clark giving him ultimatums pushed every button he had. Which it probably did. "Don't make any more Brain Simms, Lex. It's not worth it."

And Lex flinched at that, lips parting on an expelled breath, and God, when he was off his balance his eyes could be so expressive and Clark had just pushed him hard. Cold fury one second. Pain/guilt the next. It made Clark feel vindicated somehow, - - good even - - that Lex could be nudged off target by simple guilt. For a long time Clark hadn't thought him capable of it.

"What do you suggest I do, Clark? Sit back and let the police deal with it? Wait for another phone call and see what they want? Maybe I could give them Bennet, if they want him so bad and he could start spinning tales about you? Maybe I should let you handle it, you with your hero complex and all."

"Lex - - the police aren't a bad idea - - the FBI?"

"Are state lines in play?"

"Well, actually yes."

Lex arched a brow, waiting.

"Gotham. The orders came from Gotham. We traced the number there to a guy named John Smith. Probably a fake name."

"You think? I want the number and the phone if you've got it, and whatever information Chloe has dug up and if she gives me grief over it I will give it back."

Lex held up a finger before Clark could complain about that and added. "As talented as I'm sure Chloe thinks she is, my people are better. I'll think about the authorities when I see what we're dealing with. Does that meet with your satisfaction?"

It was probably as close as Clark was going to get, so he nodded warily, and flipped on his own phone while Lex punched a number on his.

Chloe had called him. Twice. And left messages. Once when she was leaving work and once after she'd gotten home. She was okay. It was still shy of 8 am, so she might still be at the apartment. Clark stood by the windows, looking down over the grey tones of early morning Metropolis. It was a spectacular view. He listened to Lex quietly giving directions to someone while Chloe's number rang.

"Hey, Clark. Where were you?" Chloe picked up. It sounded like she was in the middle of chewing.

"Sorry. I had some things . . . Listen, do you think you can do me a favor?"

"Always. What?" she asked, sounding interested.

"I'm going to come by later and pick up the phone, but I need you to gather up all the information you have on Bennet and his contacts, whatever you came up with on the Gotham number - - everything and email to Lex."

There was a big pause. He waited for the inevitable. It took about five seconds for it to come. "You want me to take all my hard work, all my time and effort, information I almost got killed for, mind you and just gift wrap it and hand it over to him?"

"Chloe," Clark said very softly, wishing he were somewhere other than within hearing distance of Lex while having this conversation. "You know you can't sit on this. Let LuthorCorp resources track down what we can't."

"What's stopping them?"

"Chloe, nobody's trying to steal a scoop. It's important."

She sighed on the other end. "I know. I get it. I just don't like dealing with him. Where are you anyway?"

Now that was an awkward question. "I'm at - - uh - - Lex's office."

He glanced over his shoulder at Lex, who was off his phone and watching him with a faint sardonic arch of the brow.

"Okay. I've got most of it on the computer at work. I'm on my way in now. I'll send it over when I get there. What email addy?"

"Email address?" he asked and Lex rattled one off and Clark repeated it to Chloe, who sounded very much like she wanted to grill him on the circumstances that had landed him in Lex's office so early in the morning. He had no doubt he'd get the third degree later.

"Ashamed to admit you spent the night with me?" Lex inquired, mildly amused, after Clark got off the phone.

Embarrassed would be a more accurate word, but Lex had the general idea. "She'll email in about thirty minutes. What are you doing?"

"Getting dressed. I didn't sleep in my clothes, like you." Lex got to his feet stiffly, seemingly unmindful of his nudity. Clark was mindful of it. Last night he hadn't particularly been paying attention to anything other than the extent of Lex's bruising, and easing Lex in to bed rather than letting him collapse onto it in a painfully jarring way.

"You're not going to your office?" Granted, bruises were a detraction, but Lex looked really good from behind. He made himself look away.

"Yes. I am."

"You can't tell me that getting blown up yesterday doesn't qualify as a good reason to cancel work today?"

"The world doesn't stop just because I've got a few broken bones. I have things to see to," Lex walked into the vast cavern that was his closet. Clark had never seen the like. It was bigger than his bedroom at home. By a lot. And brimming, bursting, nearly overflowing with neatly organized clothing. Clark had to blink a second while his mind caught up with the enormity of what was obviously the result of years of a deep-seated obsessive-compulsive fashion disorder.

He got back on track.

"That you can't see to here? Phones are miraculous devices. You can talk to people over long distances - - give orders, get information, intimidate minions, all in the palm of your hand."

"I don't have minions." Lex bent over to put on a pair of what could only be silk briefs and discovered that simple task difficult and probably painful. He glared at Clark like it was his fault and Clark stared at the inset ceiling lights, because really, he was having trouble keeping his eyes on Lex's face and it would be embarrassing to be caught staring below the waist. Or at Lex's legs, which were also really, really smooth and indecently well shaped. He had a little flash of imagery of Lex's pale thighs flung over his and he had to sort of take a breath and turn around so he could shut his eyes and grind his teeth in determination to shut down those thoughts without Lex seeing him.

"Lex, you can't even put on a pair of pants without breaking out in a sweat. Can't you take a sick day and conduct what business you have to from here, where you can be comfortable, instead of sitting behind desk? You know, feet up, pillows behind your back? Pain pills."

"I need my head clear," Lex said from behind him. "I can deal with a little discomfort. And who would be fluffing these pillows?"

Lex brushed up behind him, a grazing slide of loose silk sleeve across Clark's arm. Part of him started like a rabbit caught in open field by a hungry fox. The other part looked down at the unbuttoned shirt, the loose cuffs, the pale strip of hard stomach between edges of pastel silk, and he gleaned a deeper understanding of the fox's instinctual need to hunt down tender prey. God, he thought, if I back him into the wall now, I'm just going to hurt him, so stop thinking like the fox.

"You have assistants for that sort of thing, right?" Clark thought that came out sounding more than a little strangled.

Lex canted his head, eyes more blue than green in this light, a faint, deliberating curve on his lips. He held up his left hand, the edge of the cast visible past the cuff. "I can work a phone. It's one of my many and varied talents. I'm having problems with buttons though."

Clark wasn't sure he trusted his hands not shake if he attempted the task. But Lex was looking at him, unflinchingly, waiting, and maybe there was a little bit of challenge in the glint of his eyes. Of humor, and God knew where he'd dragged that out from, after being spitting mad a half hour ago.

Clark reached out, started about two down from the collar and his knuckles brushed bare skin. Second button. Focus on the buttonholes instead of Lex's face and the skin he was covering up.

"You know, I'm still finding buttons on the terrace?" Lex commented and blew Clark's steadfast concentration, because he recalled vividly how those buttons had gotten there.

Lex's right hand ghosted across Clark's forearm, thumb stroking his wrist. Clark looked up, fingers stalled on the third button, as clumsy at this as Lex with his broken wrist.

Lex half smiled at him, that self-satisfied little smirk he wore when he thought he knew so much more than anyone else. It sort of echoed the challenge in his eyes.

It made Clark want to kiss him. Not the desperate, half angry clash of mouths like the other night, but slow and sweet. He needed to see whether the taste of Lex's mouth was as intoxicating in the light of day, as it had been when he'd been so high on sex that he couldn't form a coherent thought. Because maybe that would prove something - - maybe that he didn't like it. That what they'd done had been a terrible mistake - that he'd been tricked, or mislead or was having some sort of fucked-up Kryptonian hormonal imbalance.

He dipped his head and grazed Lex's mouth, a gentle brush of lips that felt chaste and vaguely sinful at the same time. He'd kissed Lana the same way, in the loft, during their stolen moments and it had been sweet. It had been what you'd expect from a high school girl, shy and a little passive.

Lex wasn't passive. Even when he wasn't trying, even when he was standing there, letting Clark explore his lips, there was nothing shy and nothing expected about kissing Lex. So really, it evolved from the same way he'd kissed Lana into a heady rush of dissolution. Like lying in a patch of sunlight on a cool autumn day and letting the heat and the pure sensation of golden rays seep into your skin, liquid honey.

That was kissing Lex slow and sweet, and it dashed Clark's half held hopes that he'd been just a little mad last week.

Clark's fingers tightened in the shirt, lost at button three. He let out a breath, staring down at his hands tangled in fine fabric.

"Maybe I will stay in today. I'll have Nancy transfer my calls." There was only a tremor of lost breath in Lex's voice, his fingers stayed on Clark's forearm, though, idly making concentric little patterns on his flesh. It was electric. A distraction that made goose pimples rise on his skin. Everything - every touch was a distraction with Lex, individual little stimuli that joined as a whole to try and short circuit Clark's brain.

"Are we buttoning or unbuttoning?" Lex inquired calmly, like the most patient man in the world, when Clark knew emphatically he wasn't.

Clark threaded the button through the hole and moved down to the next. Lex gave him a look that hinted disappointment.

"I would have guessed you'd go the other way."

"You're not in any shape for me to go the other way." Clark was trying very hard not to think about the hopeful twitching in his pants. Lex's fingers slid up his arm, past the hollow of his elbow to his bicep. His nails scraped skin that was impervious to - - well almost everything - - and Clark still felt it to his bones. The ring of a phone made them both start. But it was Clark's cell, not Lex's and pulling away to retrieve it off the bed gave him the chance to gather the wits that Lex was scattering.

It was Chloe calling and he took a ring or two to even his breathing before answering.

"I'm sending the files now, Clark. Don't let him keep us in the dark on this, okay?"


"Clark, everything all right?" She was unnervingly perceptive.

He put on a casual voice. "All things considered, yeah. I'll be by to pick up the phone in a little while." He was good at the lying. Even to Chloe who knew almost as many of his secrets as his mother. Especially to Chloe, who, like his mom, could scent out Clark's evasions with unerring accuracy and he wasn't ready to make Lex public. He didn't know if he'd ever be ready for that.

He glanced back at Lex, still at the Closet doors, a few buttons still undone. Watching him. Waiting for him to speak or act or God knew what. Maybe that was what scared him so badly, that he couldn't keep up with what Lex wanted, with his quicksilver mood changes and unspoken motives. Scarier still was, that five minutes ago he hadn't cared.

"Chloe's sending the stuff now."

Clark was sitting on the edge of the bed, phone held loosely in his big hands, a faint frown line marring his brow. Confusion, Lex thought. And God knew he'd exhausted enough time over the years learning to interpret Clark expressions. Learning to decipher miniscule facial shifts like he was studying some long dead language.

Not that Clark was difficult to read, not with those eyes, big, liquid mirrors to his soul. Eyes that registered guilt when his mouth was spouting nonsense lies, indignant ire when someone called him on them, diamond hard anger when not everyone shared his own truncated moral agenda and a plethora of others that Lex had filed away in his mental pocket translation guide to Clark Kent. The hazy-passion look was a new one, and already held a top spot on the list, but the confusion was familiar enough and understandable for a young man brought up by a set of parents that Lex knew for a certainty were not big on change.

His desktop was on the bureau. He booted it up and entered his password and waited for his email to register the incoming mail. A lot of email since yesterday that he hadn't checked. And this was the account that he didn't necessarily trust to Nancy, so he'd have to spend time going over it today. He could already feel the pressure behind his eyes multiplying. He got the email from Chloe, which contained a big zip file of information that he forwarded to his head of security. He would open it and browse through it later himself, but at the moment, he was feeling a different need. The gist of which involved shaking Clark loose from the disturbing course of thoughts that were creating the furrow in his brow. He was aware that his priorities were fucked and just couldn't seem to bring himself to care.

Lex over thought things, he was very well aware. He'd go at a problem from every angle trying to get an understanding, inside the box, outside it, he'd even come at it from entirely unrelated directions just to make sure he had his bases covered.

Clark on the other hand, tended to think himself into corners. He'd get a notion stuck in his head and he'd run with it, forsaking reason and good sense and all evidence to contrary paths of belief. Unshakable. As reliable as flannel on a farm. No doubt a trait picked up by Jonathon Kent, who had been a world-class authority on stubborn.

It could be an endearing trait when you were on the good side of it. When you got on the bad, it was just damned annoying.

Lex moved off of parquet floor and onto thick carpet, thinking that maybe today, since he was embracing relaxation, he'd forgo shoes.

"We have all of Bennet's notes," he commented, moving purposefully into Clark's personal space, the front of his pants brushing Clark's knees where he sat. "I had everything cleaned out of his Met U offices and his apartment after he agreed to relocation. I'm having it gone over now. I'm told the man was a bit of a pack rat, so there should be something."

"Why not ask him?" Which was a very reasonable question.

"Have you ever detoxed?" Lex shifted into the space between Clark's knees and Clark opened his legs a little wider, instinctually, to give him more room.

Clark was staring up at him, trying to figure out what to do with his hands, and really he looked so good flustered that Lex's train of thought slipped a little.

"No," Clark admitted.

"Take my word, he's not going to be of help to anyone right now and pressure would make it worse. In a week, maybe."

"Have you?" Clark's hands had decided that Lex's hips were a good place to be. It took him a beat to realize Clark was asking about rehab.

He shrugged, resting the casted hand on Clark's shoulder, skimming the fingers of the other along the curve of his neck.

"Nineteen was a bad year."

Clark's legs pressed in against him, but the hands stayed gentle on his hips.

"A lot of them were, weren't they?" Clark asked softly and Lex started, a little moment of surprise, at the things that Clark might have guessed at and the things he might know. But of course he couldn't, because who would ever assume in their wildest imagination that the obscenely entitled would ever be that desperate. Lionel didn't even know and it had been his money that had paid for it all.

"They were - - educational. I appalled my father weekly, which made it all worthwhile." Clark had his lies. Lex had his.

He slipped his fingers into Clark's hair, thick, luxurious silk and leaned in against the solidity of Clark's chest. Clark shuddered a little, pressing his mouth into the hollow of Lex's throat. It tingled and Lex had to press his lips to keep from shuddering himself. The hands slid up, under the loose tails of his shirt, fingers splayed out, ghosting over his left side feather soft, careful of his bruises and the deeper aches beneath.

Clark leaned backwards, taking Lex with him, a controlled descent, pain-free that ended him full-length atop Clark. Clark's mouth was easier to get to. He'd enjoyed the teasing little sweetness of the kiss in the closet, but he wanted something more. Something solid and real to take the edge off the annoyance permeating the rest of his world.

Clark opened his mouth and let Lex in and current ran wild. It chased away awareness of the headache, and most of the dull ache of breath expanding cracked ribs. Lex had kissed more people than he liked to admit, more women by far than men, and that mostly because his dalliances with men tended more towards instant gratification. Clark was unique. Raw almost, like he'd just figured out that he really liked kissing, or that he'd never done it right in life before and was delving in with a passion to make up for lost time.

Lex had to stop, because breathing was important. Clark's hands were low on his back beneath the big bruise, fingers finding the shallow spot at the small of his back, following it down his spine and dipping under the top of his pants. A subtle, pulsing throb sort of rolled through Lex's body. Simple touch. Uncalculated, like the kisses, and it almost sent Lex over the edge. The phone rang again. Lex's this time. Lex cursed under his breath, not nearly so far gone that he was prepared to ignore it when it might be vital information - or more pertinent yet - - the source of the problem. He pushed himself up enough to look at Clark and Clark gave him an embarrassed grimace, before Lex rolled off onto his unbroken side and lay there while Clark fetched the phone.

It was neither. And he stared at it for about 8 rings, seriously considering not picking up. But then avoiding unpleasant confrontation had never been his style.

"Hello, Dad."

"Lex, I just heard," Lionel's voice fought through the static of a weak connection. Endearing parental distress dripped from his tone. "Are you all right, son?"

"The concern is touching, really, but no need for theatrics on my count."

"Is it true? A car bomb outside Luthor West? Who have you managed to infuriate to the point of mayhem now?"

"I gave your name to the police as a possible suspect," Lex offered.

"Among a long and imposing list of others, I presume." Amusement got through past the static. Lex wondered idly where the call was coming from. His people in Europe kept loosing track of Lionel and Lionel's personal staff were frustratingly unbuyable.

"If you were just calling to check and see if LuthorCorp needed a new CEO, then rest assured, the job's still secure."

"Not at all, Lex. Your welfare is of paramount concern to me."

"What does it say about us, Dad, that I find that sentiment unsettling? As I'm sure you can imagine, I've got quite a lot on my plate, so you can go back to - - whatever it is you've been doing - - your familial duty fulfilled."

He severed the connection and fought the urge to hurl the phone. Clark was looking down at him with something that could have been wry curiosity and Lex wondered if he'd overheard the call. He'd seemed to have listened to the one this morning.

"Did you hear that?"

        Clark's look faltered a little.  "A little bit.  Some.  How is your dad?"
        Lex narrowed his eyes and tried to recall every suspect conversation he might have had with Clark within range to overhear.  He suspected that range was appalling long.

"I only do it when I need to." Clark said, accurately reading his expression. "And I only did it then because you were looking at the phone like it was poison and I thought it might have been them again - - and then, well - - you two give warm and cuddly a whole new name. Sorry."

Lex looked up at the ceiling until Clark loomed into his view with an apologetic closed-mouthed smile.

"What else can you do?" Lex found that curiosity often trumped - - well everything else - - up to and including, enjoyable little moments of distracting intimacy.

Clark's expression soured a little, the smile flattening out. It was a mood killer, to be certain, Clark's privacy issues being no less monumental than Lex's. Only really, when you got down to it, Clark had considerably greater motivation. Lex lay there, in a relatively comfortable position, and waited while Clark struggled with the concept that it was late in the game to conceal details when Lex already knew the big secrets. Clark rose and paced half the room, then turned back and stalked to the edge of the bed to stare down at him with a focused edge of determination.

"You want to share? You tell me something, Lex. Tell me something I don't know about you and I'll . . . reciprocate." Clark flashed a humorless grin, reminding Lex that beneath the heartland exterior there was a whole well of intelligence and indefatigable will. Twenty-two years old and only a handful of people in the world knew the biggest secret ever to cross the boundaries of this solar system. How did you keep that sort of thing bottled up inside and not implode unless you were extraordinary?

Lex's secrets were more earthbound.

"What do you want to hear about?"

Clark thought a minute, maybe surprised at his easy victory, maybe frustrated that he was bargaining away his own secrets. "Tell me something stupid you did as a kid. I dunno, something you don't talk about because it's embarrassing and un-Luthor-like."

Almost Lex laughed. Of all the things Clark could have asked, of all the nasty little scenarios of his misspent college years, the wealth of things Lex would rather Clark not know about now, he chose less damaging disclosures. And Lex was trapped in a web of his own making because he wanted Clark's trust - -he needed Clark's trust and Clark wasn't fool enough to give it blindly without getting his in return. Giving up one mortifying little lesson of adolescent rebellion wouldn't be that great a cost.

"I ran away when I was twelve. I got pretty far, considering. All the way to Utah via Greyhound bus."

Clark gave him a dubious look, like he couldn't wrap his mind around the notion of Lex stepping foot on such a contraption. Lex pushed himself up with an unsettling shifting of ribs and managed a wry look past the twinge of pain.

"I was twelve. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My mother had just died. My father shipped me off to a school where I was not making friends and influencing people, and I hated him. I hated it there. So it seemed like a good way to kill two proverbial birds and leave it all behind. I had it all planned out. I had a nanny that had been let go about a year before, that had liked me, and hadn't been afraid of Dad, which was probably why she'd been fired in the first place. She lived on the west coast - - and I was certain she wouldn't turn me away if I showed up on her doorstep.

I squirreled away my weekly allowances and slipped out one afternoon after classes and went to the bus station. I had my book bag full of clothes and snacks and maybe a hundred dollars after the ticket and it felt so good. Thinking about how upset Dad was going to be glossed over everything else. The grime of the depot, the stink of the bus. It was all good.

I remember this woman sitting down next to me at the back of the bus - - maybe your mother's age, and looking at me like I was the saddest thing she'd ever seen. And I did have the freak thing going. Being twelve and bald either engendered pity or ridicule, depending on the company. She thought I was a chemo patient. She kept going on about it, and I just sat there and let her think it, because it was more comfortable than the truth. She talked at me all night long, and I said maybe six words the whole time. But it was okay, because once we really got out on the open road and it hit me how big the world was and how little I knew about it, having her there was a comfort.

When she got off, at some stop or another, this man got on. A dozen empty seats and he sits down next to me. I don't think I'd ever smelled beer before and he stank of it. And he kept looking at me through the corner of his eye, or sneaking glances like he was embarrassed to be doing it. Which he should have been, because after a while he got his courage up and starting talking to me. Asking questions, like was I traveling along, and what sports I liked - - as if I 'd ever played any - - and he'd sort of lean in and touch my arm and try and make me meet his eyes. I don't know if I was too scared to just get up and move to another seat, or if I was afraid I'd offend him. Like it mattered. Funny how your mind works when you're that young. So I just hunched up against the window and did math equations in my head trying to drown him out.

He tried to get me to get off with him at the place we stopped for lunch - - some roadside diner - - and he got a little insistent about it, and maybe that caught the driver's attention because he finally looked back and the guy shut up and got off with the rest of the passengers. It was at about that point that I really started regretting the whole plan. I was in the middle of nowhere, with what had to be a child molester at best, on a bus full of people that didn't seem to care one way or another and dad was going to kill me.

When we got going again, I'd moved right up front behind the driver and the guy went and sat in the back. And about a half hour down the road we heard the sirens and the bus got pulled over and I was busted. It was a huge production, with the FBI and State troopers and local law. The pervert in the back had to be thanking god that he hadn't sat back down next to me.

Dad let me sit in FBI custody for a few hours before he came and got me. I don't even remember what his excuse was - - not like it mattered since he'd done it on purpose anyway. As far as I know he might have had me pegged at the bus station, and let me get as far as I did as one of his little life-lessons. That one worked, I guess, because it never occurred to me again to take off without the resources to do it in style."

"Did you tell them - - the police - - about the guy on the bus?" Clark asked, ever concerned about proprieties.

"Tell them what? For all I knew, he might have just been drunk and friendly. And even if that weren't the case - - admit to it? To strangers? I never told anyone. Would you have?"

Clark looked up at him, an elusive flicker of something in his eyes, then he frowned. "I wouldn't have been on a bus running away from home."

"It was school. Running away from school. And I forget," Lex said, wincing a little as he twisted to reach for the pillow on the other side of the bed. "That your home life was a study of Rockwellian perfection."

"It wasn't." Clark ran a hand through his hair, the scowl fading into contemplation. He looked down, eyes shielded by lashes that any model Lex had ever dated would have happily killed over. "I broke a lot of things when I was really young. Furniture, doors, walls - - anything within hands reach was at risk. I think my dad spent most of the first year they had me repairing stuff I'd sort of mangled. Toys were a lost cause. I think it was after I'd broken my favorite one beyond repair that it started sinking in that I had to be careful. At least that's what mom tells me. It still boggles my mind sometimes, that - - they didn't run screaming, you know?"

Clark sat down at the end of the bed, something in his face that was worlds younger than twenty-two. Like he really didn't understand what he'd ever done to deserve the unswerving loyalty of Jonathon and Martha Kent.

And maybe it was that - - his affable diffidence to his own self-worth that drew you in and snagged you - - a trait made so much more poignant by the ridiculous beauty. Lex had always wondered how was it humanly possible to look that good and not know it? To not flaunt it, to use it, to get everything you wanted?

Humanly possible. Well, the answer to that one was self-evident now. If he wanted to believe that there was an agenda afoot that involved camouflaging perfect bone structure and god-like physique in cheap flannel.

He doubted it. He rather thought the Kent's had browbeaten Clark into diffidence the same way his father had browbeaten Lex out of it. Probably only a matter of methodology.

"As if the strength wasn't enough for them to deal with, when I was about 5 the speed thing hit and that was a real joy to get a handle on."

"How fast?"

Clark canted his head with a 'do you really want to know?' look, then answered before Lex could state the obvious. "I can make it from Smallville to Miami in about thirty minutes - - running. Flying, I haven't tested the limits yet, so I don't know. A lot, lot faster, though."

2000 miles in half an hour. Lex tried to calculate how many times past the sound barrier that worked out to be. Mach 3 at least. And flying was faster. God.

"Things sort of evened out for a long time after that. I was pretty tough-skinned but I wasn't bulletproof - or didn't know I was - - until, well, you hit me with your car. Then I figured out I was a whole other world of different than what I thought I was and that made my year. Thanks."

"No trouble. Really," he said dryly and got a wry smile from Clark in return. "And then the next power to crop up was x-ray vision - - oh, and that sort of got triggered by you too - - or your doppelganger."

Lex shifted to his right side, where the pressure was off his ribs, curled the casted arm between pillows to make a nest for his subtly aching head and let his body relax. It was just past nine o'clock and the morning had been extraordinarily full. He deserved to sink into the mattress while the morning sun made vivid stripes across the carpet and listen to Clark talk about miraculous things and make them sound ordinary.

Clark was speaking about burning things up with his eyes and Lex ran his foot along his thigh, following the seam on the outside of worn jeans. It was odd that he'd wanted to hear these very things for years and now they were competing for his attention against the feeling of how hard Clark's thigh was under the soft material of his jeans.

Clark caught his foot, drawing it up on top of his leg, fingers curled around the arch like he wasn't sure letting Lex keep free reign of it was a good idea. His hand was warm, and when he pressed his thumb into the instep, it was a slow ache of pleasure.

"Are you hungry?"

Extraordinarily hungry. Then it occurred to him that Clark was actually asking if he was hungry, and he had to press his face into the pillow for a moment to stifle the laugh at the incongruousness of the question. Or, perhaps the utter lack of. Because, now that he thought about it, he was actually very hungry. He halfway recalled lunch between meetings yesterday, but nothing after. "I can run out and get something." Clark offered, thumb still idly kneading the bottom of Lex's foot. "There's this breakfast bagel place down the street . . ." "Or," Lex countered. "I can have something sent up and you can stay here and keep doing what you're doing. Maybe move up to work on my neck. Morning after stiffness is a bitch."

Clark's mouth quirked in consideration. Lex reached for his phone.

The mattress dipped behind him, Clark repositioning himself. The weight of a body settling close enough to sense the warmth. Fingers touched the slope of his neck, underneath the collar, pressed into muscle he hadn't realized was rigid and tension bled out. Clark had amazing hands, incredible fingers, instinctive knowledge of where to rub, to press, to knead.

"God," Lex breathed, little spots of endorphin laced relief dancing behind his eyes.

"Hurts?" Clark asked, the pressure of his fingers easing and Lex made a sound of protest.

"No. God, no!" It did hurt a little, but it was the necessary sort of ache that was the prelude to pleasure. The sort of hurt that Lex liked. And the blood that had dispersed from his cock the moment he'd heard his father's voice flooded back down. He slid his hand down, pressed it against the front of his pants. Slow grind of cloth against flesh that made his eyes flutter.

Clark's hands faltered, his attention snared, maybe, by what Lex was doing, and there was a moment of stillness, of deliberation. Then there was the warmth of Clark's breath on the back of his neck and the feel of Clark shifting closer, his hand sliding from shoulder, to arm, to hand. Clark's hands were marginally larger than his, incalculably stronger. They covered his and pressed both their palms down onto his cock, which lurched at the combined pressure and jumped more at the feel of Clark's jean clad erection crushed against him. Clark slid his hand under Lex's fingers defining the shape of him under the slacks and breath sort of stalled.

What had started off lazy became a little more desperate. He caught at Clark's wrist, guiding his hand where he wanted it, and Clark got the idea and slipped his fingers under the edge of Lex's pants. He found him under two layers of cloth and all it took was a few heady strokes and he was coming, clenched in the grip of Clark's palm.

The fingers loosened, the hand splayed out, fingers slick, on his stomach. Clark's mouth was on the back of his neck, open and sucking, his hips making jutting motions against Lex's ass, a little frantic, a little out of control. And it hurt, the momentary crush of strength as Clark pulled him back against him, muttering his name against his neck while he came in his jeans. And then Clark's arm relaxed, pulling back a little so it wasn't resting on his ribs, and he lay limp against Lex's back, chin on his shoulder, breath meandering its way back to normal.

I could get used to this, Lex thought, lethargic with post-sex bliss. Clark could be addictive. Could be? Was already a habit, years old, only now that Lex had tasted the sex, it was doubtful he'd ever get over the craving. Which meant basically, he was fucked. How was he supposed to deal with the mysteries when he couldn't be in the same room any more without his thoughts straying to sex? Lots and lots of fucking? Get it out of his system and perhaps he could regain functionality. Of course that would require he miss a tremendous amount of work, and Clark's assent, which he doubted would be a problem at this point, other than the fact that he had classes and an internship and the farm in Smallville, which was a sinking ship if Lex ever saw one and ought to be sold outright. Not to mention all the wrongs in the world that Clark thought he was personally responsible for . . .

And he was doing it again - - over thinking something into oblivion, when really, the most he ought to be worrying about at the moment was having to get up and go through the discomfort of changing pants again.

And breakfast. Was that the smell of coffee drifting down the hall to the bedroom?

"Food's here," he murmured and felt Clark stiffen after a moment when it sank in that someone had slipped into the penthouse to deliver it while they'd been engaged in a bit of late morning frivolity. The staff was very efficient and very discreet. He could have been murdering monkeys in his bedroom and they wouldn't have veered off the path from staff elevator to the alcove where they parked the service carts.

Clark sat up, staring intently at blank wall, likely worried that wait staff were lurking about the penthouse with their ears to the wall. Lex didn't disabuse him of the notion, since Clark was obviously in the midst of settling his own fears with that enviable vision.

After changing into another pair of pants, Lex seriously reconsidered his avowal about the pain pills. One or two might take the edge off and not mess with his head at all if alcohol wasn't involved. He took the bottle and his laptop with him to breakfast and started going idly through the mountain of email while Clark enthusiastically started in on the mini buffet that he'd had ordered.

He flagged the things that needed answering, because typing one handed was frustrating. Most of it could be forwarded to Nancy anyway. And honestly, he was having trouble concentrating with Clark in the same room.

"Is the internship going well?" Lex asked, because it seemed appropriate to speak if he was going to stare.

Clark paused, a folded up piece of toast bulging with eggs and bacon that he'd scooped onto it halfway to his mouth. "Really well. Its great there. It's not a sure thing, because there are about a couple of us in the running, but I'm really hoping they'll take me on in an actual paying position after graduation. Chloe said Chief Khan liked me, but she left last week and we don't know who they're going to replace her with."

"They've printed a few of your pieces," Lex reminded him.

Clark managed a self-scoffing eye roll. "Yeah, lots of classified."

"No, there was something about K-State and trees."

"How did you notice that, 300 words and buried at the back of Metro? It was a tree planting ceremony by Students for a Greener America. I think we needed filler that day."

"Your sob story about the plight of the impoverished in West Virginia got a quarter page."

"They are impoverished and don't be pissy about it just because the people you met were under the influence of bugs from outer space."

It was true, of course. It had not been a pleasant week. He had not encountered amenable people, even the ones that had not been influenced by outside forces. But it was entirely possible that the same backwoods hick that trained a shotgun at him, would turn around welcome Clark with open arms. Lex wasn't exactly certain if that said more about him or Clark.

"Of course it was you that killed it, and not the freak collapse of the side of a mountain."

Clark shrugged.

"And the craft?"

Clark sighed and met his eyes. "Yeah, on both counts. I was sort of afraid to just leave it there and I dunno broadcast a signal that would attract more of them or have it fall in the wrong hands."

"My hands?" Lex was trying not to be irritated. But it was a sore spot. An open wound really, when he was almost certain that the Federal Government wasn't doing a damn thing to research the parts of the craft that hadn't been demolished in the explosion. In Clark's explosion. Fucking bastard.

Lex smiled and topped off his coffee and sipped it while he worked his way past the moderate-sized paroxysm of temper he was throwing in his head. He'd had an abbreviated conversation/argument with Clark about this very subject last year, on the side of a fucking mountain, and it hadn't ended well and he wasn't prepared to start in again - - at the moment - - when tentative negotiations on other things were going so well.

"So, your mother? Doing well?"

Clark blinked at him warily, but nodded.

"And school? Did you miss class this morning?"

Clark looked at his watch and winced. "9 o'clock advanced Lit. Damn. Slipped my mind, sorta."

When Clark looked at him this time, with a half embarrassed grin, it was hard not to let old irritation slip away.

"I've got a 10:30 Journalism class that I could probably make."

"Then you should. I don't want to be responsible for you having to make up another missed credit to graduate."

"How did you know I was missing credits?"

Lex shrugged, smiling for real this time. "I keep up."

The air was crisp, cold like the taste of fresh mint, full of moisture from a slow moving storm front coming down from the north. The flying came easy today, like he was an old hand at it instead of a nervous novice, and the heights weren't bothering him at all. He was soaked through and through but that was okay, wet didn't bother him when he could soar above the tempest and fly so fast that the air-dried his clothing in moments.

But really, he didn't mind the wet. It was a good day despite the rain.

"Honey, you're dripping on my floor." His mother complained when he stomped in the kitchen door, and Clark grinned and brushed wet hair off his forehead, figuring that it could have been mud as well as water, if he'd run home.

She was baking and the house smelled like fresh bread. There were a few loaves cooling on racks on the counter.

"Did you get Chloe's problem sorted out?" she asked and he had to take a moment to recall what he'd told her.

"Not quite. But we're working on it."

"Have you eaten?"

"Yes," Breakfast had been nice, and before breakfast had been really nice and he remembered that with certain warm buzz of satisfaction while he was peeling off wet clothes in the upstairs bathroom.

While he was looking in his closet for dry ones, he thought about Lex's ridiculous room full of clothing and had to grin a little. He'd ask Lex next time he was there if was any chance that he'd actually wear all of them.

Next time he was there.

He flopped down on the chair before his desk- - the same desk he'd used all through middle and high school - - and took a second to think about that. He was feeling a surprising lack of uncertainty about the prospect.

Lex could be manipulative and calculating and Clark knew this, but he kissed like he really meant it, and when he got hazy with passion something honest came through that Clark knew down to his bones wasn't an act. Like the talks they'd used to have, before misguided intentions and deceptions got in the way, when Lex hadn't been prying and Clark wasn't lying and they'd just seemed to connect. Like what Clark said and thought meant everything, like his teenaged problems had been more important than running the factory and waging corporate warfare with Lionel. Maybe Lex was just that good at compartmentalizing. Or maybe Clark hadn't been the only one harboring unrealized desires. More likely yet, Lex had known exactly what he wanted and never acted on it, because Lex, despite all the cutthroat mentality that had gotten him where he was today, could be surprisingly honorable. And now that Lex knew about him and Clark was reasonably certain that he wasn't going to use it against him, it was like a weight he hadn't fully recognized was there was lifted off his shoulders.

It felt comfortable in a way Clark hadn't expected, baring his soul to Lex. Like putting on a pair of old, treasured jeans, after being forced into a suit and tie all day.

He went downstairs, sliced off a big hunk of warm bread and slathered it with butter. Just because the rain was really coming down good now, didn't mean there weren't a list of chores that still needed accomplishing. The cows needed to be fed rain or shine, as he father used to say, and there were a dozen odd repair jobs that could be undertaken in the barn out of the weather. The sorts of things that he might actually have to take time with to get right, and had been putting off.

It was past noon and he wondered if Lex had heard anything, then he wondered what Lex was doing, left to his own devices and figured if he hadn't broken down and gone to his office, then the penthouse was probably swarming with staff, carrying his work to him. Clark could always call. He had Lex's private number now, which Lex had given him before he'd left for class.

But he really didn't need to call Lex, and he didn't need to be at the Planet until 2 today, so there was no legitimate reason not to catch up on chores that needed doing. If he cut out on his duty to the farm again today, he'd feel guilty over it all afternoon. Besides which, he'd gotten a promise from Lex, that he would call if his people turned up enlightening information.

He spot welded the back axel of the tractor with narrow beam heat vision and spent an hour of real time labor cleaning and regreasing the parts he'd pulled out in preparation of putting the thing back together. He didn't have the healing touch his father had with all things mechanical. Pulling things apart came easy, but it was rooting out subtle problems and the putting back together that always frustrated Clark.

He rather deal with people. Who didn't fit into molds and who always surprised you with the depths of their motivation and the range of emotion. It was why this internship was so important and hopefully the job at the end of it. He'd used to wonder at Chloe's fascination with uncovering truths on every school paper she'd worked on from grade school to high, but he hadn't really caught on until college, hadn't gotten the bug.

He'd had a three-inch column article in the paper three weeks ago, second page from the back, metro section. He'd gotten paid for it, freelance rate. And Lex had read it. It made Clark ridiculously happy.

He scrubbed off the grease in the shower and dressed for an afternoon at the Planet. White shirt over good jeans and a blue tie that had belonged to his father that wasn't too terribly wide.

His mother snagged him before he could leave the house and tied it for him and complained about his lack of skill in simple, mundane things like tie tying. He grinned at her, and immediately loosened it a little bit after she'd finished. He'd never ever make it anywhere near the world of business, because he couldn't stand the feeling of a collar clinched up tight around his throat.

Since he didn't want to be completely drenched he flew back to the city, rocketing up through the rain and the ominous clouds dumping it so quickly that he only was only marginally damp by the time he got above it. The sky was grey, but rain free over Metropolis.

He landed on the rooftop, just in case he came down faster and harder than anticipated. The loose gravel over the tar scattered under his feet, but he didn't do damage so he regarded the landing as a brilliant success. No one would think twice about him coming down the stairs from the roof, since the roof was a popular smoke-break retreat. There were scattered cigarette butts on the ground and the odd gum wrapper. The huge Daily Planet globe slowly spun above and across the street the glass-paned monolith of Luthor West towered above the Planet building. Luthor East was just beyond.

He couldn't help himself, he had to dial the number. Up here, before he went down and immersed himself in the controlled chaos of the newsroom. Up here where there was only the wind and the occasional high flying pigeon to wonder at the embarrassed edge to his voice.

It was only a call. But it was his first one sort of, that didn't have to do with the asking of favors, or advice or angry accusations or any number of things that had no connection to the recollection of the taste of Lex's mouth or the cleverness of his tongue.

"Hello, Clark." Three rings and Lex picked up.

"Hey." Brilliant.

"Are you at work?" Lex picked up the slack when Clark fumbled.

Clark held the phone away from his mouth long enough to take a breath. He was neither sixteen nor hopelessly infatuated, so he really needed to get a grip.

"Almost. I haven't gone in yet. I thought I'd call first and - - um- - " Check and see if the number worked. See what you're doing. Just listen to you talk. God, he'd had a thought twenty seconds ago - - what had that been about? Oh, yeah, not being juvenile and hopeless. Right. "See if anything turned up?"

"Not yet. Was that all?" There was a faint shade of amusement in Lex's voice and Clark got a mental picture of him maybe sitting on the couch, with one foot tucked under his knee, still barefoot - - absolutely still barefoot - - pecking at his laptop one handed - - frowning because he hated the limitation of the cast. Or maybe not the couch, because the couch was stiff backed and uncomfortable - - maybe the bed - - shit. Clark ground his teeth and turned around to look up at the dull brass of the Planet globe.

"Well, mostly. It's raining cats and dogs in Smallville." Small talk. He rolled his eyes at himself, feeling like a fool.

"Really? Are you wet?" Lex was going along with it.

"Um - - damp."

"That's too bad. Do you have on nice clothes?"

"Work clothes."


"Well, good jeans and shirt and tie. I'm in the basement most of the time so it's not like - -"

"What color shirt?"

"What?" The conversation was veering into the bizarre.

"What color?" Lex repeated, soft voiced, tone dripping velvety fascination.

"White." Clark took a breath and shifted the phone to the other ear.

"And it's wet?"

"Damp." He looked down at himself, at white fabric splotched here and there with rain. It clung a bit to his arms, a little across his shoulders, transparent fabric darkening with the tones of flesh underneath and it occurred to him that he was engaged in a bit of subtle phone foreplay.

"You should come over and dry off before you go in. I'll send Nancy away." The content of the invitation was so blatant that Clark almost missed the last part of the sentence.

"God, somebody's there?" Clark's burgeoning interest in talking dirty to Lex on the phone evaporated in a blaze of embarrassment.

"My assistant." Lex clarified for him.

"Right there? God, you have no shame."

"For what?" Lex asked all practiced blamelessness. And really, other than the sex oozing from his voice, he hadn't actually said anything. Then, maybe to prove Clark's point he asked. "What's the matter, Clark? Haven't you ever done anything dirty in public, where the chances are high that somebody might walk in and catch you at it? Jerked off under the bleachers when you were watching Lana Lang at cheerleading practice? Or in the barn, when you knew there was a chance of your parents walking in. In the locker room at school? Because maybe something you saw in the boy's shower turned out so much more appealing than you thought it could be and if you didn't take things into your own hands, you thought you might explode? Nothing like that?"

"Fuck you, Lex."

"As I said, you're welcome to stop by. I could tell you about some of my public - - experiences - - afterwards."

"I hate you." Clark leaned against the cold stone of the building, concentrating on slow breathing, trying not to think about the ache in his pants.

"I don't think so. And I sent her out to fetch some papers. Your phone virtue is safe. You can stop by after work, if you like. I'll probably know something by then. Aren't you supposed to be in at two? It's five after. You'll never get ahead if you're always running behind."

And Lex severed the connection, having thoroughly gotten in the last word. Clark laughed breathlessly, feeling like he'd just ended up on the losing end of some unspecified battle - - and not particularly minding.

He took a few moments for everything to settle and started down stairs. The newsroom was busy as usual, people hurrying to get stories in before deadline for the 6 o'clock edition. More confusion than usual without an acting chief. The assistant chiefs were doing their best to curb the chaos.

Chloe was at her desk, concentrating on a sticker-covered laptop, typing occasionally. She wasn't alone. Lois was back, perched on the edge of a chair she'd snagged from the desk next door, looking over Chloe's shoulder. Chloe was probably editing whatever story Lois had brought back from her trip - - where had she gone? - - Texas? Lois sucked at spelling, at punctuation and she tended to get wild with her metaphor, but her articles always seemed to have flare, even if the topics weren't necessarily things that the prestigious Daily Planet might consider printing. The Inquisitor had no problem with riskier speculation.

"Hey, Lois, you're back." He strolled up, smiling at the both of them.

Chloe nodded at him without looking up from the screen, fixed in editor mode, and Lois gave him a smirk. "What gave it away?"

He shrugged, ignoring her sarcasm. "How'd it go? Break the big story?"

"Broke a story," she said and held up her right hand to show off unusually short nails with chipped paint. "Broke four nails."

He lifted his brows and asked, since she seemed to want him to. "How'd that happed?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" she grinned up at him.

"Not as much as you'd like to think?" He grinned back at her, not feeling particularly flustered by Lois's irritating sense of humor today.

"If you two would shut up, I'm working here." Chloe suggested. Clark grinned wider.

Lois narrowed her eyes. Canted her head and looked at him like a spider she was trying to identify crawling up the wall.

"Oh, my God Smallville, did you get laid?"

Clark's grin faltered. Chloe looked up from the screen.

"No I didn't get - - what are you talking about?"

"I'm not getting that normal 'stick up the ass' vibe, that I usually get from you. Something else. You're either high, or you got laid. Do you even know how to get high, Clark?"

"I am not - - I did not - - Lois, why are you even in this newsroom? Doesn't the Inquisitor have editors?" In all technicality, he hadn't gotten laid - - today. What was it about people talking about sex in public today? And where had Lois picked up that uncanny sixth sense of hers?

"Who's he seeing?" Lois asked Chloe and Chloe looked up at him with a raised brow, curiosity obviously pricked.

"I'm not seeing anybody."

"Oh, God, it's not Lana again?" Lois rolled her eyes and Clark glared.

"I'm in a good mood. Can't I be in a good mood without being high or having sex?"

"I've never seen it," Lois looked to Chloe for confirmation.

"Weelll," Chloe said considering. "The moments are few and far between. But, really, Lo, he's not nearly as sulky as he used to be. You should have known him at sixteen."

"Yeah, and the both of you can - -"

Lois held up a hand cutting off his suggestion. "Geeze, Smallville, most guys would be crowing about getting a little. I thought you lived in Smallville, not Pleasantville."

Clark glowered, Lois smiled and Chloe put the finishing touch on her edits.

"All done. It's a good story. Put it in your portfolio, Lois." Chloe closed up the laptop and slid it to Lois, who picked it up with a pleased-with-herself grin and sashayed out.

Which left Chloe looking at Clark with an uncomfortable amount of speculation in her eyes. "You know, considering how much you were glowering yesterday, you are in a pretty good - -"

"Chloe," he cut her off. "Who's working on the Luthor car bomb story?"

She rolled her eyes, looking faintly disgusted. "Well, everybody wants to, but Louis Reid got the front page yesterday and he's doing the following up, of course. And Tanya Robertson has the LuthorCorp press pass and is working on an exclusive, but Lex hasn't agreed to talk to anybody yet. Oh, anybody but you. He was apparently talking to you. What gives? Are you suddenly on speaking terms again, now that he - - you know? - - has inside information?"

"Did you think he wouldn't be interested in what we'd found out?" He pointedly ignored going into that.

"Speaking of which?" She gave him an arched brow look of inquiry.

Clark shrugged. "He said he'd call if his people found out anything."

"Yeah. I won't hold my breath waiting. And here I am working on another garbage story. Sewers this time and trash clogging city drains. Can you believe it? I'm going to get a reputation. I'm going to be known as Chloe Sullivan the Daily Planet source on refuse. God."

"Kent!" His senior staffer spotted him loitering and he was off with the older reporter to city hall to cover a meeting involving city council salary hikes. He drifted around the assembly room afterwards, getting comments from the various supporters or detractors of the proposal.

It was boring stuff, but it took his mind off his other problems and Lex. At least for a while.

The slow moving storm finally hit Metropolis and an already grey day turned sodden and dark before 4 pm. Chloe had gone out into it to pursue her sewer story when he got back and he spent the rest of the afternoon copyediting and playing gopher for his staffer. 6 o'clock rolled around and the newsroom let out a collective, if brief sigh of relief at the successful release of another edition. It lasted barely longer than the span it took to draw air, before the never-ending cycle rolled on.

Lex had said come over after work.

Lex had said a lot of things, but he hadn't called yet with any enlightening information. Information would have been a wonderful excuse to go over and not feel a twinge of guilt.

Guilt. Clark turned that over in his head, while he sat in front of the computer he'd just logged off of. It was there, the nagging little stab of something he wasn't quite sure was guilt or uncertainty or fear, but he wasn't sure who he was feeling it over. Who he was betraying by looking for reasons to get into the same room as Lex. Chloe for lying to her for the first time in years? The memory of his father, who'd be turning over in his grave if he knew Clark had slept with another man? Had slept with Lex. Himself for conveniently forgetting or at the very least shuffling back in the order of importance certain activities he knew Lex had been involved in because it felt so good talking to Lex again and touching him?

Lois saw something different in him today. And maybe it was the release of tension sex brought with it. Maybe he was happier today than he had been in a long time and maybe that was where the guilt really came from. Maybe he'd gotten so used to worrying about everyone else, about everything else, that he didn't know anything else.

Lex had said come over after work. Clark really, really wanted to. A planned thing, not flying in like a thief in the night, but a take the elevator up like a normal person sort of thing. And be there and not feel like he was committing a crime, because in the back of his mind he was worried what his mother might think or Chloe or anyone else.

He dialed Lex's cell. It took more rings this time for Lex to answer.


"Hey. I thought I might stop by."

"All right. I have people here now." He sounded all business, almost short, and Clark heard the rustling of paper in the background, the murmur of voices that weren't Lex's, quietly conferring. He didn't take it personally. If Lex didn't want him to come by, he would not have hesitated to spell it out.

"I thought I'd come in the front way, this time."

There was a pause, then. "Give me thirty minutes to wrap up. Use the penthouse elevator. I'll leave word with security."

Which meant Clark had half an hour to kill. He'd been cooped up in the Planet for the last few hours and rain or no, he was ready to get out.

Since no news about the police catching the LuthorCorp bombers had come through the newsroom, Clark assumed that his tip had either been ignored as crackpot or the three heavies had picked themselves up and fled the scene before the police arrived to investigate. He ran across town to take another look himself, going in through the ally door this time and scanning the backrooms for bodies. There were shady deals going down, for certain, which he heard through the closed doors, but they involved bookmaking, not plots against corporate Metropolis, so he left well enough alone.

He stopped two drenched hookers from cutting each other up next to a dumpster further down the alley by twisting a broken bottle out of one hand and a pocket knife out of the other. It didn't even require much in the way of speed or strength, just a tolerance for a criminal overuse of cheap perfume and bad language as they tried to get at each other through him, cursing and screaming the while.

The flashing lights of a slow moving police cruiser put a stop to that and they both scattered. Clark was out of the alley before either one cleared the dumpster.

He was pretty drenched himself when he showed up in the shiny, brass accented atrium of Luthor East. Granted most everyone who'd come in off the street, was a little wet, but most people had the good sense of umbrellas and raincoats. At 6:30 the upscale boutiques that lined the first four floors were bustling with shoppers released from work and the four star restaurants already had people lining up in hopes of getting a table sans reservation. There were trees in the center of the atrium and a magnificent plummeting waterfall that spilled down from four floors up that people all along the balconies of the retail levels could look out on in awe.

He had to inquire where the elevators were to the private residences that occupied the upper floors. There was a private, entrance for residents that did not require them to traverse the public mall. An elegant, tranquil place in comparison to the overstated sheen of the atrium. Security in those areas was quietly competent.

Clark felt out of place, dripping on fine carpet, under the scrutiny of uniformed staff. Why had he wanted to come in the regular way again? He asked for the penthouse elevator and the black suited security guard that led him to it, asked for his name and his Id, which he scrutinized like he was memorizing it for later reference, before swiping a card that opened the brass doors, and punching in a code instead of hitting a button.

The lift doors opened on an entrance foyer with a set of closed doors to the left and open ones to the right. He ventured towards the open doors, looking into another of those immaculately clean-lined rooms with two story high ceilings and windows that made up the entirety of one long wall. It was a much more formal room than the one off the terrace. Clark's shoes squelched wetly on the marble floor.


There was a broad entrance at the back of the room that led deeper into the penthouse. Lex appeared from down the hall, same clothes from this morning, but buttoned and tucked in and sporting shoes. He stopped short upon seeing Clark. Opened his mouth, apparently couldn't come up with adequate words and shut it, lifting a brow instead.

"It's raining outside." Clark felt the need to explain the obvious.

        Lex didn't call him on it.  Just got a look that was disturbingly similar to one his mother might wear in the same situation and beckoned him to follow.  
        The smaller den with its white stone hearth and straight lined leather couches was just beyond.  The glass topped sofa table was scattered with papers and Lex's open laptop.  

"Go dry off." Lex waved him towards the master bedroom. "I've found out a few things you might be interested in."

In the sinfully large bathroom, Clark scrubbed at his damp hair with a towel, toed off his boots and shoved them under the sink, and cheated with his clothes, quick drying them with a gust of super breath. The jeans were only a little damp at the thickest part of the seams when he put them back on, and a lot more comfortable. He left the tie on the bathroom counter and walked back to the den in sock feet. Lex was on the couch, phone to his ear.

Clark debated sitting down in one of the chairs across the table or on the sofa beside him. He chose arm's reach of Lex and sat down.

Lex was finishing up his call, brisk and intolerant of someone's apparent incompetence on the other end.

"What?" he asked when Lex had snapped the phone shut.

Lex looked at him. Looked at him closer in miraculously dry clothing, then waved a hand towards the table with its scattered paper.

"I found out what Dr. Bennet was working on."

Most of the documents seemed to be photocopies of originals that had been scrawled on scraps of napkin, or notebook paper. Almost everything written on them was indecipherable to Clark. The scientific notations of a very disorganized mind.

"Fatal addiction, via smart bug." Lex said with a cold smile.

Clark looked at the papers, then back up to Lex and waited for the inevitable explanation.

"At least that's the hypothesis of my best and brightest. The drug that was circulating around campus was a test run of an incomplete formula that was being refined for the insertion of a nanonodule. A microscopic, complex nanostructure that once in the human bloodstream would migrate to the brain and attach to the amygdala."

Clark lowered his head a little and gave Lex a meaningful stare that translated to 'Speak English'.

"The part of the brain that basically controls craving in an addict. The idea was to synthesize a formula that would support the 'smart bug' and allow it time to dig in before the body's defensive systems could swing into gear and expel it. Hence the almost comatose state after the initial high, in order to shut down enough of the brain's higher functions to give the intruder time to get a foothold. Once there and you've got an addict for life. No other high would ever do, because there'd be a bug in your head basically telling your brain that it was either get a fix of this particular drug or die. Somebody stood to make an tremendous amount of money."

"My God, Lex, you got dosed with the stuff. Chloe did!" Clark felt a little of that helpless panic that came on when no power he possessed was capable of dealing with a problem.

Lex shrugged, as if it were not great concern. "It wasn't complete. That was what he was going on about when I tracked him down. His formula wasn't capable of sustaining the nanonodules in an active state and apparently the people backing the project were not taking the setback well."

"Are you sure? About the no nanobugs thing?"

"Very sure." Lex canted his head and gave Clark a wry smile. "I appreciate the concern."

"And do you know who his backers were?" That was a problem Clark did feel capable of handling. And wanted to, with a vengeance.

Lex sat back carefully, a neutral look on his face that might have hid a multitude of emotion. It was the look that veiled schemes and intrigues and any other of a thousand motivations that Lex didn't feel the need to share confidence with.

"Lex," Clark couldn't come anywhere near the dispassionate mask that Lex had perfected, so didn't bother to hide the frown. "Don't make me regret not going straight to the police with this information. You promised."

"I don't want you jumping the gun."

"I don't - - Damnit Lex."

Lex held up a hand, expelling a short breath and yielding.

"The number in Gotham belongs to a business that exists only on paper. It's a front for laundering money that according to the FBI's Organized crime division is connected with an organization headed by a man named Fredrick Solomon." "Never heard of him. Where's he at?"

Lex smiled at him humorlessly. "Neither had I, but then I've never had my father's 'underworld' connections. Apparently Gotham has more organized crime families than Metropolis and New York combined and the Solomon organization is one of the oldest and largest."

"Why didn't they do all this in Gotham then?"

"Bennet was here. He had his tenure here, his research. When you're dealing with a prickly commodity, you accommodate. But that's not the curious part."

"There's a curious part?" Clark asked dryly.

"I'm trying to get the Bureau's detailed records on the Solomon family, but from what my people have gathered, it's an old school organization. Fredrick Solomon is close to eighty and has never condoned drug trafficking. Anything else you could file under racketeering activity, yes, but he's always steered away from narcotics."

"Sooo - -?"

"I don't know. I'm withholding assumptions until I get more information."

"And that's all?" Clark asked. They were the start of answers, but not something he could really get his hands on and he wasn't entirely certain Lex had spilled everything he knew.

Lex gave him a look that bordered on exasperation. "You gave me the information a little over nine hours ago, Clark. If you want miracles, go find a saint."

Which was Lex being testy. Probably because he'd decided against the painkillers after all, and had worked all day after Clark had left instead of taking it easy like any sane person the day after concussion and broken bones. And no one on his staff had had the good sense or the courage to call him on it. The little cut above his temple was half again better than it had been, though, and Clark wondered what other bruises had already started to disappear.

"How's the head, Lex?"

"The head's fine," Lex came close to snapping, but caught himself, considered, then added with a shrug. "Everything's fine. The cast is driving me crazy. I can't work one handed."

"You're a liar." Clark smiled at him tightly, point blank.

"You would know."

Clark's smile grew wider and Lex rolled his eyes, mouth quirking.

Lex leaned in a little and inhaled. "Why do you smell like a drugstore perfume counter, Clark?"

Ah, there had been a lot of wet, perfumed skin against him in the alley. Lex had a sharp sense of smell, because Clark hadn't really noticed. He lowered his head and picked up a faint whiff of the scent now.

"I was downtown killing time." Which was the truth.

"With prostitutes?" Lex inquired mildly.

"What, is there a trademark fragrance?" And why are you familiar with it? Which he managed not to ask.

He got a little bit of teeth with Lex's grin at that, and it was nice to see an honest bit of humor in the aftermath of what had possibly been an afternoon-length bad mood.

Lex leaned his head back and sighed, like it was the first time in hours that he'd shut his eyes and allowed himself the time to relax. "I'm tired of being here. I need to see something other than walls and rooftops out the window. You game?"

"Are you sure? It's still pretty nasty out there."

"You drive. We find someplace to eat, maybe get drunk and go from there."

It was a plan with ambiguity. Clark liked it. "I don't get drunk."

Lex rolled his head and looked at him with something akin to pity. "Interesting. Sad, but interesting."

"I make due," Clark insisted, not sure why he ought to be on the defensive about not being able to get shit-faced.

"Sure. I'm going to change."

Which he did, into a dark pullover of some fine, clingy weave that begged to be touched, black slacks and black overcoat. All killer casual and enough to make Clark feel schlumpy in his rumpled white shirt and soggy boots. Lex didn't seem to have a problem with him though, or at least not one that he was careless enough to mention out loud.

They took the elevator down to a private garage, which housed some dozen fine foreign automotive masterpieces. Lex had either cut back on his collection or he had others housed elsewhere. There was a lot of security down here, probably more than usual after yesterday. If he'd bothered to look when he'd come in, he'd probably have discovered a massive amount of men with arms under their jackets patrolling the whole area, all of them on edge and hair trigger. He wondered how many people were going to catch shit after word filtered up to the people in charge of safekeeping LuthorCorp, LexCorp and all of its assets, that Lex had breezed out without a bodyguard in sight.

"Pick a ride." Lex suggested and Clark stopped worrying about the state of Lex's security in favor of sweeping his gaze along the row of potential candidates. The lure of Lex's cars was no less mouth-watering now, than it had been when he was fifteen. There were some things you just never outgrew.

There were cars he'd never heard of - - from low, long Swedish coupes to round nosed German powerhouses that would have been more at home on the Audubon than the streets of a bustling city. The Lamborghini he recognized, and the steel blue Ferrari Lex had actually had back in Smallville. Clark went with simple. If you could call a sleek, black, four hundred thousand dollar Porsche simple.

It was all soft beige leather inside, with seats that just sort of swallowed you and supported you at the same time. Clark moved his back to accommodate his legs while Lex slid into the passenger side. It still had that new car smell that was almost like - - well, some sort of masculine aphrodisiac, and when he turned the key and it hummed to life, all 500 horses harnessed and waiting under the hood - - it was near heaven.

Lex was looking at him like he was the most amusing thing he'd seen all month and Clark gave him a scowl and pulled out of the parking space. Security popped the gate for them and Clark followed the curving drive up out of the neon lit shadow of the underground garage to the rain filtered gloom of Metropolis. He took a right up towards Temple while Lex tilted the back of his seat back and made himself comfortable.

"So, what are you in the mood for?" Clark asked, a little bit nervous weaving through the streets of the city in something that cost more than what he'd probably make in a decade on a reporter's salary. He heard the sound of tires skidding and the crash of fenders crumpling somewhere off to the right and winced, wondering if Lex's insurance covered male drivers under 25.

"Your choice." Lex was watching him, instead of the road, shadows flickering across his face and hiding whatever secrets his eyes might have told.

They reached a crossroads that would either take them deeper into the congestion of the city or to the bypass that led to the interstate out of Metropolis.

"How far do you want to go?"

Clark hesitated at the light and Lex smiled a little, like the answer was self-evident. Clark shifted into gear and headed out of the city.

"Tell me about your day." Lex asked, and Clark wasn't sure if it was because he really wanted to know the mundane details or if he just disliked the silence. Halfway through a description of people protesting city council pay hikes and Clark still wasn't sure, but Lex was a good listener, and even if he didn't care, he absorbed what Clark was saying like it was important.

Clark figured out a destination, twenty minutes out of the city. A Mexican restaurant about an hour out of Metropolis towards Smallville in one of the outlet towns along the interstate. The food was authentic and cheap, and he hadn't had the chance to eat there in a while. It was not the type of place he'd have expected Lex to ever walk into, with the Christmas lights strung along the ceiling and the black velvet paintings of bullfighters and dark eyed dancing girls. Clark loved it.

Lex didn't give him grief over the choice, just a 'if you can dish it out, I can take it' kind of look, and Clark felt a rush of affection that caught him off guard.

There was a fair crowd tonight, families and working class people and they had to weed their way through a couple with three kids intent on reenacting WWF wrestling moves in the middle of the floor. It was seat yourself and Clark had a favorite booth, one in the back with a big, glittery sombrero tacked on the wall over it.

"If you're really hungry, I recommend the Mexi-sampler platter. But their specialty is Chile Rellenos and they're awesome."

Lex glanced at the wine and beer list, then slid it back against the wall with a fatalistic smile. "There's nothing like Mexican beer and tequila to provide a memorable hangover."

"Sounds like something to aim for."

"There's a time and a place for everything," Lex said sagely, then added with a flash of a grin, "even puking your guts up in a Tijuana bar after swallowing the worm at the bottom of a bottle of really cheap mescal."

"I didn't think you drank cheap liquor."

"Like I said. Time and place."

"When's the last time you were in Tijuana?"

"Now that's an interesting story," Lex said and related it while they drank Mexican import beer out of long neck bottles while waiting for the food.

Lex admitted that the Chile Rellenos were indeed good, and had a bowl of sliced limes and half bottle of the best aged tequila the house had to offer sent to the table afterwards, entertaining himself alternating between the two while Clark told him about his last few trips south of the border.

"You're surprisingly well traveled for a Kansas farmboy." Lex remarked with an insolent smile.

"You know, I'm trying to shed the image."

"My advise. Burn the flannel."

"Funny." Clark smirked at him, and wondered how many looks they'd get from all the working class diners, if he slipped over to the other side of the booth and crowded in with Lex? Because Lex maybe had the beginnings of the buzz he'd been looking for and a lazy look in his eyes. And all of a sudden Clark couldn't get the notion out of his head of running his tongue across the teasing curve of Lex's mouth.

Yeah, they'd get looks. And of all the things Clark wasn't scared of, the challenges he wouldn't hesitate to tackle, being outed in the middle of a Mexican restaurant halfway between Metropolis and Smallville wasn't one.

The moon was peeking out from behind a hole in the thinning clouds and the air had that fresh, after the storm smell to it. At the rate the clouds were moving, it had probably passed Metropolis, too.

Lex wasn't the 'drunk' he'd suggested at the beginning of this trip, but he was considerably more relaxed and probably feeling a little less pain. Clark could see it in the way he held his body, not as instinctually careful of exaggerated movement that might cause hurt.

The silence didn't bother Lex as much when he wasn't keyed up and he sank back in the seat while Clark pulled onto the highway headed back towards the distant points of light that marked the city. Other than a marked 'This car goes faster than ten miles over the speed limit, in case you hadn't realized,' most of the ride home was spent in companionable quiet.

It was pleasant. As enjoyable as sitting in a off-the-interstate family restaurant with one of the richest men in the world talking about trips to Tijuana and drinking cheap Mexican beer. If it had been a date, it would have been the best Clark had been on in years - - he stopped himself mid-thought, feeling silly, because a date was something you planned and agonized over and crossed your fingers that the other person wouldn't turn you down flat when you asked - - not a spur of the moment, entirely comfortable excursion with a - - friend? What was Lex? What did you call a friendship that turned hostile and then inexplicably warm again? What did he call Lex? Capricious? Confusing? Overwhelming? A dictionary full of adjectives and none of them covered the whole.

Okay, he'd go with friend, it was a familiar concept for Lex, he just hadn't associated it with him in a while. But what did you call a friend you desperately wanted to fuck? A word came to mind, but Clark hesitated to use it.

The trip back was twenty-five minutes shorter, the absence of rain and Lex's subtle chiding combining to increase the weight of Clark's foot on the gas pedal. It wasn't that Clark wasn't intimately familiar with the feel of speed, he just wasn't used to it behind the wheel of an automobile. The fastest the Kent truck could reach with the pedal to the floor was 80 mph and the engine really didn't like it. Topping 130 mph, on a long stretch of flat Kansas highway felt sinfully good. Clark didn't maintain the speed though, fearful of state troopers even if Lex scoffed at the danger of tickets and fines and black marks on licenses. The streets of Metropolis were shiny and dark when they breached her limits, the grime washed away by the rain. The storm had chased a good deal of the usual night traffic inside. It was only just past eleven and on a clear night, the streets were still bustling, even on a weeknight. It took a card to get into the private drive off the street, and that didn't count the security at the bottom of the ramp that had to recognize the car, but still walked forward and peered in confirming Lex before the second gate was raised allowing them into the garage.

It was good there was a lot of security and good they took it seriously, even if Lex always didn't. And his mind sort of drifted back to what he'd been thinking before they'd left about security letting Lex out of the building without protection - - because he needed it, and hoped somebody did catch shit.

"That's a pretty fierce scowl," Lex had his door open and was looking at Clark. "I'll let you drive it again, if you're feeling separation anxiety already."


Lex lifted a brow.

"Well, yeah, that would be great," Clark amended, "but that's not - - how come they didn't give you grief about going out alone, after somebody just tried to kill you?"

"I wasn't out alone."

"You know what I mean."

Lex shrugged. "I didn't require it. Drop the keys off with the man at the security station."

He did, while Lex strode towards the basement elevator with its brushed steel doors. Lex had gotten a bit brusque when Clark had asked him about security, like there were issues he had with it, or maybe it was simply none of Clark's business. Or maybe it was a hint that the date was officially over and Clark ought to get the clue and find something else to occupy himself.

Only Lex was holding the elevator doors open, waiting for him, and God, he wished he could read Lex better, so when the mood shifts occurred he wasn't still two tracks back.

The doors slid closed and Lex let out a slow breath, leaning back against the elevator wall, all black against pale brass. Clark stood in the middle of the car, feeling oddly off his balance.

"Do you need to call home," Lex inquired. The fingers of his good hand loosely circled the rail, fingers idly stroking gleaming metal.

"No, I don't need to call home. I'm not twelve." Clark felt indignant at the assumption. He truly needed the city apartment so he could avoid embarrassing questions like that.

"My mistake." Lex apologized smoothly. "I assumed you wouldn't want her to worry if you didn't come home again tonight."

Clark pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, heart beating a little faster, met Lex's lazy, inquiring gaze and felt a giddy sense of relief.

He wanted to say something laced with just as much careless insinuation, but couldn't come up with anything more eloquent than stepping forward and simply kissing him. Lex tilted his head back against the elevator wall, hands still splayed out on the railing and let Clark into his mouth. Warm. Wet. Tequila and lime. He thought he could happily kiss Lex forever, but the elevator doors quietly dinged and slid open on the penthouse foyer.

Clark pulled away, reluctantly, licking his lips and Lex's eyes tracked the movement, before shifting up to meet his. Not so lazy anymore. Not close.

Lex pushed himself off from the wall and grabbed Clark's hand with his uncasted one, pulling him out of the elevator and through the foyer. There were no lights on, save the sporadic illumination of the view of the city from above and Clark could have gotten lost in here, but Lex knew the way.

Past the den and into the bedroom, and the light that Clark had left on in the bathroom before they left threw shadows on the high ceiling. Lex shed his coat. Let it hit the floor and Clark thought that Lex was probably never so careless with his things. Never so sloppy, unless he was intent on other goals.

He wanted to say something, but the words still wouldn't come. He wished Lex would, but Lex was standing there, staring at him like he wanted to get inside him. Then Lex moved forward, tangled the one hand in Clark's hair and kissed him, open mouthed and wet, sucking Clark's tongue into his mouth. Clark felt his body go a little weak, a little tingly and stopped himself short of wrapping Lex in his arms, and settled for gripping his shoulders.

Lex unbuttoned Clark's shirt, ran his hands over Clark's stomach, his ribs, pressed his lips to the hollow of his throat. Clark helped rid him of the pullover, with the button on his pants. The bruises, even the big one, was already turning an assortment of mottled browns and greens along the outer rim. Clark ran his fingertips across it and felt the shiver of muscle in his wake. It was electric, that quiver of flesh, like a shot of adrenalin straight to Clark's bloodstream.

He dropped to his knees, hands splayed out across Lex's hipbones and took his cock into his mouth. He was hard and solid and the skin so, so soft. Clark drew his hands down Lex's thighs, felt the muscles tense under his palms, slid his fingers around to the inside where the skin was hot, where he could feel the pulse of the femoral artery. Lex shuddered and leaned over him, fingers on his shoulders, nails trying to bite into his skin, saying little things now, like, God. Fuck. Clark.

Lex inarticulate made Clark's cock thrum in his pants. Lex's skin under his hands made him want to come.

He didn't know if he was as good at this as Lex - - didn't think it was possible for anyone to be as good at this as Lex - - but he wanted to take all of him in, and touch everything, and make Lex as crazy and Lex had made him that first night. And maybe he was better than he thought, or maybe Lex was like any other guy with his cock in somebody's mouth and it didn't take all that much skill to get him off. Just persistence and an eagerness for the task. Lex came with a convulsive shudder and an exhaled curse. Clark clutched the back of his thighs and controlled the overwhelming urge to pick him up and toss the both of them onto the bed and let Lex satisfy the screaming need in his pants.

Lex's fingers tightened in Clark's hair, pulling his head back. Clark looked up and met dark, dilated eyes. Lex urged him up and Clark rose, body brushing close, the thickness in his pants pressing Lex's hip. Lex pressed back, breathing still ragged, but eyes focusing with purpose.

He pulled Clark towards the bed, unzipping his jeans as they went, and Clark finished the job, shucking out of his remaining clothes in two seconds flat.

"What do you want to do?" Lex breathed against his mouth, hand on his ass. What Clark wanted to do involved rolling around and slamming Lex into the mattress or the wall and Lex's body wasn't up to that just yet, no matter how fast the outside hurts healed.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You do a little and that's okay," Lex said and pushed Clark onto the bed. Clark didn't know whether that was a lie or sextalk or an insight so intricate he couldn't fathom it. But the need was so strong he thought he might explode, so he went with it. Lay back against the pillows when Lex urged it, reaching up and trailing fingers down the center of Lex's chest. Lex brushed his hand away, smiling faintly, reached into the drawer next to the bed - - the drawer where Clark recalled there was a gun loaded with very dangerous ammunition - - and pulled out the tube of lube. He straddled Clark's thighs, popped the top of the tube and squirting a line of clear gel across his belly. Lex leaned forward, smearing it with his hand and ran one slick palm up Clark's stomach, to his shoulder, thumb teasing a nipple along the way. Clark's cock twitched, leaking and needy and so close to the warmth of Lex's thighs that he was likely to die.

"Lex," Clark said raggedly. He caught Lex's wrist, wanting those clever fingers down where they belonged. Wanting some part of Lex - - and at the moment, he really wasn't particular - - surrounding his cock, or really, he was going to have to take care of it himself.

"Impatient," Lex chided softly, but he squeezed another dollop of gel onto Clark's stomach and tossed the tube aside. And this time his coated hand encircled Clark's cock, slicking it with a few quick strokes. He leaned towards Clark, hand on Clark's chest to brace himself as he scooted forward, kept his balance with the fingertips of the casted hand and reached back to guide Clark in.

Clark forgot to breathe, shut his eyes as tight, pulsing heat sank down, slow and maddening, enveloping him. The feeling of Lex's weight on his hips, fully seated, the sound of Lex's hitching breath, of his muscles contracting around the most vital part of Clark.

And then Lex started to move and - - God. Oh, God. He had to keep his eyes squeezed shut, because if he didn't he'd explode in more ways than one, he knew it. The yellow sun could have bled red and he wouldn't have cared. Lex could have taken out that gun and shot him and it wouldn't have mattered. His mind bled white. He clutched at Lex's thighs and thrust up, spilling everything he had, convulsing into Lex's body.

Lex leaned across his chest after the last shudders had passed, eased off and collapsed next to Clark, overheated skin against overheated skin. Clark was still seeing spots, tremors of orgasmic high leaking out of his body and leaving him limp and sated and wonderful.

He curled around Lex, pressed his face into the juncture of his neck, inhaled the scent of his sweat, felt the incredible beat of his pulse and wondered how regular people survived something like that when it had almost killed him. And then he thought, I love him. Absolutely. Completely.

And then with a weary grin pressed into Lex's shoulder, he thought. I'm so fucked.

Three days, the FBI had been putting him off. Three days of Lex's considerable influence being acknowledged and if not so much ignored, then hedged around with all the red tape of government bureaucracy to back the lack of action on his request. Which was why he hated dealing with the government, fucking sluggish beast that it was.

Local authorities could be bought or awed into compliance with the promise of public contributions or private donations, or hell, even simple blackmail if the right city official were on the hook. When you got federal, especially federal law enforcement, the intimidation massive wealth could provide proved less of an incentive.

Agents tended to be a little too cocksure about the extent of their influences. And even if you were lucky enough to find one willing to play, loyalties to outside sources were fickle at best, and they were as likely to turn and bite the hand that fed them as not. His father had found that out the hard way. Lex had. It was easier to work down the food chain than up, and he'd been pressuring his Washington contacts to in turn pressure the Bureau aristocracy to get the people at Organized Crime to set up a meeting. But Organized Crime was a sprawling operation and often worked in tight-knit, independent cells in various hotspot cities, Gotham being chief among them. They didn't like to share.

Three days and they finally agreed to send a man down from Gotham to the Metropolis field office to meet with Lex. It was a grudging agreement at best, and Lex knew from inside sources of his own that they'd been digging into his business while they'd been considering his requests, not trusting LuthorCorp's interest in the inner working of an established criminal organization. Never a comfortable feeling, to be under the Justice Department's magnifying glass, but he was good at covering his tracks and the sorts of things they might be interested in were buried deep.

All that trouble and irritation and he left the meeting knowing not a great deal more than he had going in. Frederick Solomon wasn't in the drug trade- - everything else was fair game, but the old man had his standards. His sons weren't so picky, and it was common knowledge that the elder Solomon wasn't long for this world, crippled by a recent stroke and health fading fast. The hyenas were circling and vying for power and apparently the Gotham crime world was holding its collective breath to see who'd end up on top. The two older sons were the strong favorites - - the younger one was the wild card. But then younger sons tended to be, when inheritance was on the line. If there was a Solomon hand in drug development in Metropolis, it had to be one of the younger brood. And why, the Feds wanted very badly to know, would the Solomon's see LuthorCorp and Lex in particular as a hindrance to that cause? And of course, Lex had an answer for that, having known without a doubt that the question would come up.

If Lex hadn't had distractions, he'd have been a coiled knot of indignant wrath by the time he did get that meeting. And a frustrated one after. But Clark disrupted everything from his schedule to the flow of his thoughts, and purpose that had seemed vitally important a week ago tended to get shuffled back to minor significance in the face of - - well, Clark.

Lex was having a considerable amount of trouble recalling how he'd ever possessed the will not to lay hands on Clark back in the Smallville days, when all it really took now to throw his mind off track was a look from those eyes, the hint of a smile, the smooth ripple of muscle under skin when Clark reached for a can of soda or ran his fingers through his hair.

He was entirely distracting. Entirely fascinating, unraveling puzzles that had plagued Lex in the past. Answering questions, that before this dtente they'd established, had only speculation as resolution and never legitimate facts. Clark satisfied some of Lex's curiosity, when he asked for clarification on certain incidents. Evaded some queries, as if the answers weren't entirely his to share or maybe he just didn't trust Lex enough to spill all his secrets. And Lex could understand that, having enough of his own that he had no inclination to share.

And though it was a minor relief to get him out of the penthouse and off to school or home or work so that Lex could actually concentrate, invariably his mind would drift in the middle of something and he'd wonder what Clark was doing or where or with whom, and he'd have to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call. It brushed at the edge of annoyance. He hadn't been so infatuated with a lover since - - well, Desiree and that didn't count because he'd been riding the sex-high of meteor-enhanced pheromones. If he recalled though, he hadn't been able to get a decent day's work done then either.

He needed to change his tactics. Getting out of the penthouse and back to the office was imperative. The place smelled of Clark and he couldn't walk into the bedroom without thinking about Clark on his knees sucking him off, or Clark spread out naked on the bed. The den wasn't much better, because there had been a 'discussion' the evening before involving comfort verses decorative functionality in regards to the couch. Which Clark had won, demonstration proving more convincing that theory. There were some victories that Lex didn't mind handing out, if the spoils of defeat were so rewarding.

He needed to get his hands - -or hand - - the cast was an agitation that couldn't go away soon enough- - into something more interesting than mundane corporate business. He had an army of underlings who could deal with that, and more than legitimate reason to cancel meetings and avoid face to faces. Most people, with the injuries he'd incurred, would have still been lying in a hospital bed. His bruises were almost gone and all but the one deep cut on his shoulder, healed. The ribs still hurt, bone taking longer than flesh to knit, but he was optimistic that within a week, he'd stop noticing the ache. The wrist would be a problem, only because it was a public hurt, and people had seen the cast and even if the bones melded in a few weeks time, if he got rid of it too soon, it would raise questions. That was the one drawback to meteor - - or Kryptonite - - enhanced healing, having to come up with explanations or deceptions to cover the fact that he was a bit of a freak himself.

That used to bother him a lot, knowing he was one of them. Mutated by something beyond his control. Used to make him feel a twinge of hypocrisy when he'd walk through the halls of a facility expressly created to explore the possibilities of the meteor-infected. But then his alterations were latent, never manifesting outside his own body, never a threat to the rest of the world.

A minority in the majority, but he'd always been in the minority by grace of massive wealth and the power that came with it.

The 33.1 labs were sparse now, partly due to the indefatigable efforts of the costumed vigilante's that he knew Clark associated with on occasion. And partly due to the fact that most of the violent meteor freaks, the one's that had been driven half-mad from the onslaught of their abilities, had either been apprehended - - one way or another - - or had gotten smart enough to go underground. Frightening thought, that the only ones out there were the slyest and most powerful of the lot.

There were other projects now that overshadowed his interest in the biogenetic labs. His current pet was ARP, an autonomous robotic probe, designed with a NASA contract in mind, that might net LexCorp billions, if the technology panned out. There was a test run today of ARP's terrain navigation abilities, in the enormous research facility on the outskirts of the city that housed the project. Lex dearly wanted to be there.

He'd spent the morning after the meeting with the Feds, directing his people to subtly look into various Gotham holdings in which the Solomon's might have interest, no particular goal in mind yet, just the need to have his bases covered. At noon, when he couldn't stand it any longer and knew Clark was between classes and his internship at the Planet, he called. The phone rang six times before it was picked up, not by Clark, but by Martha Kent.

Lex literally froze for a breath or two, fighting with the urge to simply hang up and avoid the explanation of why he was calling Clark when she knew very well they hadn't exactly been on speaking terms. The federal Government he could deal with, heads of international conglomerates he could out maneuver. Considering what he'd been doing with her son - - Martha Kent stymied him.

"Hello?" she repeated.

Lex took a breath, determined not sever the connection like the proverbial 'other man' and said smoothly. "Mrs. Kent. Lex Luthor. I was calling for Clark." There was a pause, pregnant with God knew what running through her head.

"Lex?" She said his name a little slowly, a little questioningly, as if it might have been some other Lex Luthor calling her son. She recovered quickly, having nineteen years experience covering tracks and diverting attention. "Clark is outside, catching up on work. The last few days of bad weather have - - well, farmer's schedule, you understand. I could call him in?"

"No. I was just getting around to returning a call." The best lies were the ones that didn't go into detail and possibly tread on what she might already know. Let her fill in the blanks herself.

"Oh. I heard on the news about the explosion. I'm sure he was concerned. Are you all right?" Martha Kent never failed to sound gracious and if the concern in her voice was a lie, then she was better at it than Lex and that was quite the feat.

"I'm getting there. Let him know I called."

"Of course." She sounded like she wanted to say more, but didn't and thus ended that little moment of discomfort.

It was a disappointment, and he sat for a moment considering the implications of that - - that fifteen hours without - - and he was sulking over a failed call. He needed to get his priorities in order.

He had lunch sent up to his office while he was looking over the most recent ARP project stats and the projections for today's test run. He dabbled with it, picking through spinach leaves to spear marinated shrimp and roasted red peppers, while he read. Eventually impatience got the better of him and notified Nancy that he was leaving early.

Security wasn't taking chances. He hadn't been outside the LuthorCorp Towers once - - other than the impromptu outing with Clark - - without security swarming around him. It was an inconvenience not being able to just take a car and drive out himself. There was no place in the world that he could think so clearly as behind the wheel of a car, aimlessly driving while he worked out problems and created solutions. It was hard to do when there were two stone-faced bodyguards and a driver, riding with him.

He was met outside the sprawling facility by white-coated research sycophants, who eagerly shadowed him to the onsite obstacle course.

There was an arena the size of a softball field set up to resemble the hostile terrain of a theoretical alien landscape. If this test was a success they would take it on site to Zacaton Mexico to test its abilities in the deepest sinkholes on earth.

The ARP itself, was the size of a mini-van and had an uncanny resemblance to a great, crouching spider, six multi-jointed legs supporting an oblong body that could be equipped with the most sophisticated of information gathering devices or in case of another scenario, devastating weaponry.

Lex stood in the control booth perched above the testing arena amidst a flurry of some of the most brilliant minds the field had to offer. He'd poached some of these scientists from NASA itself, from Lochheed Martin, from Aichi and IBM and paid through the nose to get them. It would be worth it to see ARP on the next Mars project and LexCorp stock would soar along with it.

He leaned forward as the ARP moved out into the field, its titanium exoskeleton gleaming, the red eye of its AI blinking as it took in the course. It was a thinking machine. It was given a goal and it would figure out its own path to achieving it. It reminded him vaguely, uneasily of the alien insect in West Virginia. The big one that had perched in its cave with its cold, hungry, non-human intelligence.

Unsettling that in their quest to come up with a body that could thrive in harsh alien terrain, they'd created something so similar to a creature spawned in those same environments.

It skittered over a sheer thirty-foot cliff face, and demolished a jumble of boulders blocking its path with the swipe of one mechanized arm. It tore its way through the course with a purpose and he smiled, while the researchers and technicians cheered and congratulated themselves. He was already planning out the calls he needed to make, the people that needed to be made aware of the projects initial success and be brought in to observe the field tests in Mexico.

It was a good day after all, despite an aggravating start. He made a call to Nancy in the car, to get the ball rolling, to set up appointments and calls. LexCorp had created an exceptional product, now it was a matter of securing contracts and promises to take it to the next step.

"Detour, sir." The drive alerted him mildly, and Lex glanced up at a city works truck and orange cones blocking off a section of street repair. He turned his attention back to his phone, scrolling down to the number of his director of R&D, then he scrolled further down to Clark's number. He'd be at work now. Hopefully with his cell on his person instead of lying about unguarded on counters for anyone to pick up, and Lex felt the need to share his good mood with someone who wasn't in his employ. He wondered what it would take to get Clark someplace where the stuffing wasn't poking out of vinyl seat covers, and the shrieking of unsupervised children didn't scour nerve endings raw?

The jarring screech of impact knocked the phone out of his hand, slammed him against the door with Jenkins sprawled against him. For a terrible moment, he had a flashback to the explosion, to impact and pain and body parts, but he shook himself out of it, seeing the smoking grill of a truck tangled with the rumpled driver's side doors of the Mercedes. His driver was unconscious or dead, slumped against the steering wheel. Jenkins was yelling at the other bodyguard in the front, and reaching around Lex trying to get the door open. It took Lex a moment to get his body working in conjunction with his brain. He wasn't hurt, other than initial shock. Jenkins and the other bodyguard seemed fine.

They staggered out, Lex turning to see the damage from a new vantage. It was a garbage truck. He caught a glimpse of the hydraulics, a waft of the stench before one of his two men was bodily shoving him towards the back of the car, the other one drawing his weapon and firing. The impact of gunfire rattled the car, and Lex hissed and ducked, while Jenkins was trying to cover him, backing away and shooting.

"Go. Go!" Jenkins yelled at him and Lex rose from his crouch and saw the other bodyguard on the ground and men approaching from the cover of a car parked across the street. And then there was the pop of a shot and the strangely muffled thud of an impact too close for comfort and wetness splattered the side of Lex's face.

Jenkins lurched forward, the side of his head blown away.

Lex wasn't a professional at this. He brainstormed projects, he negotiated deals, he hired people to do his dirty work. His hair trigger instincts tended towards conversational, not gun fight etiquette. He froze that integral moment, warm blood on his skin, a dead man crumpling next to him, maybe two seconds of indecisiveness before survival instinct kicked in and he snatched at the gun. Maybe twenty seconds since they'd stumbled out of the car.

He had to get his bearings, had to find a direction to retreat where there was better cover than the car. It was a semi-residential street, with brownstones and street level storefronts. Where the fuck were the people? The only life he saw was shooting at him, and they were padding across the street with fucking semi-automatic pistols in their hands and he had a Gloc that had already gone through - - how many rounds? It was run or shoot and he didn't particularly care to take a bullet in the back, so he fired at the approaching men and they scattered.

He swung around and caught movement in his peripheral vision. Too close, rushing up from the shadow of the truck. He swung around, back against the trunk, but there was a gun pointed at his forehead before he could bring his own weapon up. The face behind it impassive, eyes the brittle sort of cold of a man who killed for a living.

"Wait - -" Lex started, but a foot lashed out, smashing into the hand that held the gun and it clattered onto blood soaked pavement. A rawboned fist swung down, clenched around the grip of the gun, and slammed into Lex's temple with the brief blossoming of color-coded pain. Then the light went away and grey flooded to black.

Lex fought his way back out of the murk, trying to make sense of the quiet vibration that leeched into his bones, the subtle, invasive sway that might have been dizziness, or might simply be the surface he lay upon. His head hurt, but it had hurt worse a few days ago, and he didn't feel the nausea indicative of concussion - - so perhaps it wasn't so much dizziness as - -

"He's awake."

Hands latched onto him, roughly hauling him up before he was quite ready to be vertical and vision did sway a little, but he got that under control via an adrenalin laced rush of indignation.

"Get your fucking hands off." He hissed, digging in when they tried to force him forward, two shadow faced men in a small, shadow filled room that smelled of rust and mildew, with the hint of more unsavory odors. They weren't paying attention to either his request or his resistance and dragged him forward, slammed him down into a hard backed chair and slammed him back again when he lurched up. The second time stole his breath, and he sat there, trying to catch it while they made sure he stayed put with hands on his shoulders.

There was the screech of a heavy door opening behind him, the tap of feet across the metal floor. Another man circled to stand in front of him, a fourth standing at his back, the one that had pistol-whipped him at the site of the accident.

Accident. Right.

Two dead men, maybe three left on the street and Lex felt more rage than fear looking up into the small eyes of the man responsible. Black eyes, black hair. Maybe Lex's age or a little younger, it was hard to tell in this light. Black silk shirt undone three or four buttons down, sleeves rolled up. Tan chinos that were a shade too tight, probably on purpose, showcasing a not that impressive package. Expensive Italian loafers. Rolex. Big ring with lots of stones on his index finger.

This was a man who thought he was something special and felt the need to show it off. A man who thought he was dangerous and probably was in the crowd he ran.

"Which son are you?" Lex asked, as the guy was about to open his mouth and deliver some opening threat. "I would assume the youngest - - Anton? - - from just the sheer stupidity you've exhibited so far."

He got hit for that. Saw it coming when Anton Solomon's eyes swelled with flashflood rage and he drew back his hand. There was nothing really to do, but take it, the hands on his shoulders damn sure not prepared to let him twist away.

His cheek stung, warm blood rising where the ring had caught him. There was blood in his mouth. He swallowed it, sucked it off his bottom lip and looked up under his lashes, uncowed. He almost got hit again, because of the look that was probably in his eyes. Contempt.

But Solomon pulled out a gun instead and shoved the muzzle under Lex's jaw, forcing his head back against the belt buckle of one of the men behind him.

"Do you even realize you're dead?" the man sneered at him.

"Do you?" Lex countered, pushing past the screaming voice in his gut that said there's a fucking gun to your head and a man that's probably buried more bodies than you want to think about, so be fucking polite. But the voice in his head, the one that knew the politics of human nature, said that polite would get him dead, that fear would set them on him like dogs and they'd get what they wanted if they were persistent enough and he'd get that bullet in the head regardless. "Where's my fucking chemist?"

Chemist? Did this idiot even know what he'd had? Did he even realize he'd been financing what could have been not only the break out drug of the century, but a miracle in modern medicine? Or had he stumbled upon a brilliant, eccentric addict, desperate for funds to research a revolutionary idea that he couldn't comprehend the limet of? The means for a younger son to branch out on his own, separating himself from Family values. Lex could empathize with the sentiment- - to a point.

"Are you asking about Dr. Bennet or some hack cooking crack in a basement tenement on the bad side of town?"

The gun cracked up against his ear and he would have gone out of the chair if not for the hands. He lolled a moment, while the ringing in his head reduced to tolerable levels and he could see again without the dancing lights.

"You step on my toes, you fuck with my interests and you want to give me grief? You think all the money in the world's gonna make a difference when I put a slug between your eyes? Where's the fucking squint chemist?"

"Does your daddy know you're dabbling in drugs? He will."

Solomon drew in a breath, face red and twisted. "I'll blow off your fucking kneecap."

He pressed the gun against Lex's knee and Lex lunged up with panic fueled strength. The two thugs behind him scrambled to keep their grips, got control of him, pressing him back down, arms twisted behind him in positions that bone and muscle just didn't want to go.

"S&B Convenience. Warsaw Salvage. The Scapegoat lounge." Lex hissed. The names of various Solomon interests that the Feds had caught Anton Solomon visiting rather too frequently to be on his father's business. It was a guess, a wild assumption that if the younger son was branching out, he'd try to gather resources on the outskirts of the Families notice.

Maybe one of the names actually hit the mark, because Solomon hesitated, eyes narrowing in wary suspicion.

"What the fuck do you know?"

"You think I pulled your name out of a hat?" It was hard to achieve the cool voice of negotiation with his arms trying to pop out of their sockets. "I was on to you the day your people were stupid enough to shoot at me in Bennet's lab. I've got more dirt on you than you realize you have, and it can either go to the Justice Department or to your own forgiving Family. You kill me and my people will take you down."

It wasn't entirely a bluff. Even if his body never turned up, his people would figure it out - - hell, his father would happily wreak a little vengeance after he'd settled himself back in control of the company. Clark might - - and though Lex wasn't sure he wanted blood on Clark's hands - - oh, what the hell, who was he kidding? - - he'd be fine with the taint on Clark's soul, if it meant avenging his murder.

But Solomon was thinking, Lex could see it in the furrow of his brow, the way his hand was flexing on the grip of the gun. Lex sucked in a breath, composed his face, muscle by muscle until he was boardroom calm.

"You're not thinking big enough, Anton. You want to branch out, do it on a big scale. Sure, if Bennet perfects the drug then you'll have an instant fan base - - a permanent one. But it won't last, because once you start hooking sons and daughters of influence, and you will, because people will try anything once - - the Federal Government will shut you down."

"Yeah, like they make a dent in the distribution of every other fun drug on the market."

"There's no profit in this for them. Just drawbacks. The money's in medicine. Program the nanodes to say - - perk up the sex drive or kill the need for nicotine and you've got the corner of the market over Viagra and NicoDerm right there. Billions in clean money. Wouldn't that be a nice change?"

Solomon stared at him, snagged by the word 'billions', but interest evaporated past that, because he couldn't fathom the processes it would take to follow those paths. His father might have - - might have been willing to bargain for a chunk of that return in terms Lex might have been willing to hear, fair trade for his life. But this was a young man who wasn't interested so much in the big picture, as he was in following the easy path to money the only ways he knew how.

God, if he'd been dealing with a thug with a little more ambition and a lot more intelligence, he could have talked his way out of this.

"No thanks," Solomon leaned in, the gun still pressed against Lex's leg. "I want Bennet."

"Then you're an idiot," Lex said neutrally. "Because the formula was incomplete. Why do you think he ran? If he can fix it, it's not going to be in a warehouse lab stocked with inferior equipment. I could provide what he needs so he could alter the formula. Amp up the high and curb the downside and you might get something that won't raise as may red flags."

Solomon canted his head, a nerve in his jaw twitching. The gun ran up Lex's leg to his belly, digging in. "What? You want to go into business?" "You're not doing very well on your own."

Solomon thought about it. Lex could see the hesitation, the consideration.

"You've got me at a disadvantage and I've got resources you can't begin to imagine. I'm worth nothing to you dead. Alive there are any number of possibilities."

"Tell you what, Mr. Luthor. You produce the doctor and we'll talk business. A sign of trust."

Fuck. The man wasn't entirely stupid.

"I'll make a call." Lex didn't miss a beat.

"No. You give me a location."

"He's not in the country. Do you have international influences? I make a call and he's on a plane to Metropolis or Gotham, today. Your choice."

Solomon stood back, tapping the gun against his leg thoughtfully. "I think you're a fucking virtuoso when it comes to bullshit. I think I'm going to let Frank and Donny here talk to you a while and see if maybe when they're finished, you're more agreeable to my terms."

He got yanked up out of the chair and started to protest, had to come up with something rational that this man would accept - - only maybe there wasn't a way out with a desperate younger son who'd made a bid for power that his father would most certainly not approve and failed. A fist caught him in the gut, then in the side when he struggled and his ribs screamed bloody murder. He gasped, pain blind for a few moments, legs watery while they dragged him out into a narrow hall to a room where the sound of rumbling engines was deafening. A long, cramped space crawling with overhead pipes and crowded gauges and valves.

He got his legs under him and tried to jam an elbow into the one on his right while they were maneuvering him through the door. A ship, he thought, he was on a ship with that hatch-like door. He hit the guy in the kidney and got a grunt and a moment when his right side was free, but the other one slammed a fist into the side of his face and swung him around into the wall and his sight went again and he was sliding down the wall in a sprawl of limbs. The one he'd elbowed kicked him solidly, and the blow glanced off Lex's hip with bright, white pain. Then the one was pulling the coat off of him while the other flung a length of rope over a thick pipe.

Now would be a good time to figure a way out of this. Before they strung him up and took away his options. The cast was giving them problems. They couldn't figure out how to tie his wrists with it on.

"Break it." One of them suggested and went for a wrench to shatter it open. Lex went very still, very limp against the wall while the other one crouched over him, jacket gaping open, the grip of a gun visible under his armpit.

He lunged for the gun, squeezing off a shot before he'd really cleared the shoulder holster, that probably didn't do more than graze flesh the angle it was fired at, but the man fell backwards anyway, out of reflex. Lex fired a slug into his chest, the biggest target available, then turned the gun on the second man, who was running back with his wrench, which was the wrong damned weapon to be brandishing, all things considered. Lex fired repeatedly, the first shot going wild, the second catching the man high in the shoulder and the third somewhere low abdomen.

He knelt for a second, breath ragged, trying to steady his gun hand with the casted one. He listened for the sounds of feet running down the hall to this room to discover what all the shooting was about. Heard nothing but the roar of the engines. Maybe, the din had drowned out the gunshots as they'd have likely drowned out his screams if the two bodies littering the floor had had their way.

He laid the gun down between his knees and reached for the cell phone hooked on the belt of the closest man. His hand was shaking. Badly. The blood kept flowing in his mouth, from the torn inside of his cheek and he kept swallowing the coppery stuff down.

He could call his own security - - fucking good they were - - or the police, but really only one person had never failed him.

He dialed Clark's number and preyed there was nothing down here to interfere with the signal.

One ring and Clark picked up.


"Hey. I've got a bit of a problem."

"God. Lex, where are you?" There was relief in Clark's tone that hinted at more than simple pleasure in hearing Lex's voice.

"That - - that's a very good question." He almost laughed. An actual location for the cavalry to arrive would have been a nice thing to have.

"They found your car. Your people - -" Clark was saying. "I've been looking - -"

Lex got to his feet and it was a little harder than anticipated. Transferred the cell to his casted hand and picked up the gun with the other. He edged the door open a few inches with his shoulder and looked out. The corridor was empty. About halfway down were steps leading up. Clark was talking in his ear about going back to the bar where he'd found the bombers and tearing into the place looking for answers and Lex had to take the phone away from his ear so he could listen for the sounds of life up above.

Sunlight dappled the top of the stairs, coming in through a round window on the door. He turned the latch with the gun hand and slipped out onto a narrow walk with a rusty rail overlooking - - water.

Brown water and a distant shoreline that might have been the other side of the Kansas River from Metropolis because he wasn't seeing the city or the outlying structures from this view. He backed up against the rail to take in the structure of the boat/ship whatever he was on, and saw a long, broad deck towards the prow, crowded with crates of cargo.


He heard Clark's tinny voice coming up from the phone at his side and lifted it back to his ear. "I'm on a river barge who the fuck knows where. I don't see the city."

"Hey!" Someone yelled at him from down the walk at the stern end of the bargehouse, running towards him and pulling out a gun. Then there were several someone's and Lex cursed and took off towards the stairs leading down to the front of the barge with its tons of secured crates and boxes and cargo containers.

A bullet clipped something close to his head and he skidded into the side of a canvas-covered stack of equipment trying to avoid it. The phone slid across the deck and he didn't have time to go after it. Barely had time to avoid the shots that tore into the canvas.

"Mother Fucker." Anton Solomon was screaming at him, and Lex turned with the gun extended, boxed in on one side by the row of cargo and the other by the rail that separated him from the slow moving river. Two others were approaching from behind Solomon and Lex didn't lower his arm, didn't take his eyes off the man in the lead.

If he went down, he was taking the son of a bitch with him. If he could hit target. He was a good shot with his dominant hand, but the weak one was proving inferior and he could only assume that Anton was damningly accurate, considering the requirements of his occupation.

Lex squeezed the trigger. Maybe Solomon did simultaneously. Hard to gauge because Clark was just there, between them, facing Lex and taking his bullet square in the chest, and the one's coming from behind in the back. He didn't flinch, even though Lex's heart tried to lurch up his throat at the initial impact of bullet against flesh. Hard not to when it was his bullet. Clark just stood there a heartbeat, piercing gaze and focused green eyes. Angry almost. Solomon didn't have the time to swear in shock, or Lex the time to blink, before Clark was gone and it took Lex's brain a moment to catch up and realize he was gone too, an arm like fucking iron around his waist, movement so fast he might have whiplashed from the rush if Clark didn't have a stabilizing hand against his head.

And then there was ground under his feet and the subtle solidity of land threw off a body grown used to the underlying sway of the barge. He staggered and Clark's hand clamped down on his arm, not exactly the sweetest of grips. The river was nowhere in sight, and Lex didn't even recall seeing the water flash under them. It had been that damned fast. It was hard to wrap his mind around in reality what he'd accepted as fact in theory. But maybe that wasn't his fault, considering his afternoon.

"Clark?" he said and pried at the fingers biting into his bicep. Clark took a breath. Looked down and released his grip.

"Just stay here."

"What?" Here was apparently somewhere in the Metropolis warehouse district, close enough that the smell of the river still wafted in to flavor the air. "Why? What are - -" was about as far as he got before Clark took off with a backlash of contained power and was a speck in the air.

Son of a bitch. Lex stood there, the gun he still had possession of loose in his hand. A vagrant curled in the ruins of a packing crate against the side of a warehouse, blinked up at him owlishly. Lex cursed again, more creatively and started walking.

Sit and stay were just not commands he felt inclined to follow at the moment. He hoped Clark had the good sense to either kill the bastards or not let them get more of a look at him than they already had. But then again, it really didn't matter, because one way or another, he was taking them down.

Four hours of stark fear. Four hours when he hadn't known if Lex were alive or dead - - and all evidence had pointed towards dead, what with the bodies of his driver and bodyguard left like so much refuse on the street. A second car brutally twisted, casually splattered with the blood of the driver, who he'd heard a rescue technician say had probably already been close to dead when someone had put a bullet in his head. And Lex just gone, maybe to be made an example of in some twisted mob-mentality justice. Every bloody scene in every Godfather movie Clark had ever seen raced through his head. Amazing how much darker his imagination could be, when the life on the line was vital to him. How hard it was to think past fear and anger and the need to do something - - anything to make headway.

In retrospect, he hadn't been rational. He'd gone after the two men he did know to be involved in this mess like a madman and people had seen his face and seen him do questionable things. He'd wrecked that bar and injured people that more than likely had nothing to do with Lex or Gotham based interests. And found nothing but dead ends and railed at the world until his phone had rang and he could breath again at the sound of Lex's voice.

He'd almost taken out that boat. Come damned close to just ripping a hole in her hull and watching her sink in the sluggish current of the river. The blood on Lex's cheek had been stark against his pale skin, and the side of his face sported several ugly bruises and for a while all that Clark had been able to think about was hurting the people responsible. But he stopped himself, having gained enough calm back, enough reason after setting Lex down on dry land, that his own survival instincts kicked in and he figured it was simpler just to cripple the barge and let the MPD take care of the problem than risk a boat full of men seeing his face and remembering it, just to bleed off built up tension.

After that, the evening belonged to the Metropolis PD, the FBI, LuthorCorp Security and the baying cries of the press who'd been all over this story since the first reports of the bloody gunfight on the street and the kidnapping of the richest man in Metropolis. Lex let himself be pulled into it and refused to let Clark near. Vehemently garnered a promise to keep his face and his name clear of the incident, before the first LuthorCorp sedan screeched up, the howl of police sirens not far behind.

Clark had balked, until Lex had asked how desperately he wanted his face plastered across the front page along with his, how badly he needed the scrutiny of the authorities and how he'd answer questions that were sure to be damning.

"Let me deal with this. I can work this out without things coming to light that don't need to. Don't make it more difficult for me, Clark." Lex had hissed at him, at the corner of an intersection where the river could be seen four blocks down one way and the misty spires of downtown rose above the stark simplicity of the warehouses down the other.

Clark had stared at him, at the dried blood on his face and the bright urgency in his eyes and realized that Lex was trying to protect him. To shield him and Lex couldn't do that if Clark was there, in the way, unwittingly contradicting whatever story Lex had come up with to deal with unwanted questions. So he'd given in, despite every protective instinct he had screaming at him to stay and defend - - even when there was nothing tangible to defend against anymore.

He didn't go far though, watching and listening on the roof of a warehouse a block away, while Lex gave an initial statement of what had happened to the police. The men on the barge were being brought in, bodies and all, on a police cruiser, while tugboats pulled the barge to dock.

There were bodies scattered and the police weren't treating Lex with the kid gloves they had after the explosion and perhaps that was due to the FBI that had been stalking around the scene of the kidnapping, trying to exert their influence, and the MPD needing to prove their own control over the situation by taking Lex down to Merrimont Plaza Central to give his statement, instead of taking it at LuthorCorp West.

The press was crowded outside like a flock of impatient vultures waiting for a scrap of anything. This was better than the car bomb by far - - shootouts on the street, murders, kidnapping, rumors of organized crime associations with LuthorCorp interests. Clark mixed with the crowd and listened to the speculation, frowning at the slurs and the insinuations. Frowning again as he wondered if any of them might be true.

He could find Lex inside, among the multitude of bodies crowding the MPD's central headquarters and if he concentrated, willed himself to block out all the other outside noises, he could focus on the familiar sound of his voice. There were mentions of attempted extortion, pressure on union sanctioned workers on some LuthorCorp construction project in Gotham, of refusal to submit to payoffs and bribery and retaliation from certain underworld interests.

It was like Lex had been planning his lies for weeks, not the eight blocks they had walked before the world caught up with them. He had answers for everything, glib deceptions that Clark heard bits and pieces of past the occasional distraction of the crowd or police radios blaring reports of traffic accidents, crimes, disturbances, all the everyday conflicts that were part and parcel of a big city.

And two hours later, when they let him go, Lex avoided the media altogether, retreating in one of the two LuthorCorp sedans while the press bemoaned the lack of comment from the victim of the spectacle. A department spokeswoman came out to appease them, or deliver as much appeasement as possible concerning an ongoing investigation. Clark didn't stay to listen, shadowing Lex all the way back to LuthorCorp West where he disappeared in a ring of security to his offices. Where Clark wasn't wanted. Lex had said he'd call. When it was safe. Free of witnesses and questions and the things Lex needed to take care of to reinforce his claims to the police. So Clark went across the street to the Planet, where he should have been all along, hoping after the fact that his abrupt absence hadn't put him in shit that was too deep to wade out of.

Chloe was still there, at her desk and typing away at her computer. A dozen other reporters were, because there as no such thing as 9 to 5 in this line of work, and especially not now with another Luthor centered breaking story to cover. She looked up at him when he came in, waited until he was at her desk before saying quietly.

"You went after him. Lex." It wasn't a question.

He shrugged, because he wasn't going to lie to her outright. Not about that.

She shook her head, gave him a tired smile and said. "Once a hero . . . I shouldn't be surprised, huh? How'd you know?"

Where, how, who? She might have been asking anything. "He called me."

She looked at him closer, considering that, wondering what he wasn't telling her and deciding maybe that she could wait it out and let him fill her in on the rest on his time, not hers. She'd mellowed a lot over the years, learning it was easier to earn his confidences if prying wasn't involved.

"You ought to ask for an exclusive. It would get you off the hook for bailing work today."

"That got noticed, huh?" He gave her a little, pained grin and she snorted.

"Yeah. I think Marty had you in mind for some more Crypt work today."

"Great," Clark muttered. He could have gotten the front page if he'd reported half of what he knew of the situation. And hell, Chloe had been turning out articles for years about the crazy shit that had, to a bunch of kids that had never really left the boundaries of their hometown, seemed centered on their small portion of the world. Their personal exploits, only minus personal involvement. That's what reporters did, they reported. Shared what they'd seen with their eyes and uncovered with their persistence and he had seen an awful lot of things. He wouldn't use Lex though. Wouldn't use the fragile exclusivity that he most definitely had even if it might gain him regular front-page status. A name. A reputation in the business. But a reputation just wasn't that important to him. Not like it was to Chloe or Lois.

He thought he'd rather have Lex's trust. If such a thing were possible. If Lex even knew how to invest total faith in anyone anymore. There were only so many times you could get burned before you stopped trying altogether and Lex had been let down a lot, by people that should have been looking out for him. And maybe Clark was included in that number, by omission or choice, one time or another.

"I guess you didn't hear, then," Chloe broke his train of thought and he looked down at her. "Word is we've got a new editor-in-chief and I think you know him."

Clark got tired of waiting for Lex to call long before Chloe packed up and went home. He kept himself busy for as long as he could, finished a story he'd started researching - - oh a week ago - - before he'd gotten thoroughly distracted. Went up to the roof to look across the street and see how many potential witnesses were still active in and around Lex's office. Went back downstairs and called his mother, told her he'd probably be home late - - if at all - - and she asked him, with a quiet sort of worry in her voice if everything was okay. Of course. Nothing to worry about. Go to bed, mom, it's late. See you tomorrow.

He went up to the roof again, saw a lull in activity within the confines of the executive office and decided enough was enough. A handful of seconds and he was on the terrace outside the posh meeting lounge off Lex's office. The glass doors weren't latched, so maybe Lex had been expecting him. Or maybe someone, gardener or janitorial staff had simply forgot to lock them after work. It wasn't like the threat of intrusion fifty stories up was that great a concern.

He slipped inside, quietly sliding the doors shut behind him, and did one more scan to make sure no one was striding down the hall outside towards Lex's office. There was security down the hall, and Lex's assistant's desk was empty. Lex was in his, the fingers of one hand resting on the glass covered keyboard in his desk. He was all focused energy, Clark could see it in the lines of his body, straight and rigid, stubborn. Refusing to admit that a body needed to stop now and then, even in the face of obsession. Clark was tired after today. Maybe not physically, but he felt it in the thread of his thoughts.

Then Lex saw him, and his fingers froze on the keyboard, the rolling sense of forward momentum that had oozed off of him a moment ago stalling.

"I got tired of waiting." Clark moved towards the desk. Lex tapped a key and the screen went to screen saver. Clark told himself not to care. That was just Lex being cautious, one little piece in the whole Lex-trust issue.

"I still have things to do."

"What things?"

Lex gave him a 'you don't expect me to answer that, do you?' look and Clark braced a palm on the desk and the closest chair arm and shrugged it off.

"Are you on something? Amphetamines? Main-lining caffeine? Shouldn't you be slowing down by now?"

Lex's expression softened a little, a faint grain of humor touching his eyes. "I'm in a zone Clark and I like to finish what I start. Some of my adrenaline highs actually come from the satisfaction of success, believe it or not."

Clark swiveled the chair, got a hand on the other arm and his shin pressed against the edge of the seat between Lex's knees. Lex's expression flickered, interested despite himself, despite the lure of his machinations.

"You sure you're okay?"

The cut on his cheek was thin and scabbed over. The bruises were shadowy blushes on translucent skin in the muted light. He hadn't let Clark really touch him since snatching him off the barge, surly in his avoidance of seeming weakness. The corners of his mouth twitched up though, and he held up the casted hand.

"There was a suggestion this afternoon of cracking this open. I'm beginning to think it was a good plan."

Clark eyed the proffered wrist, the miraculously almost melded bones and cartilage. Almost perfect, with little of the callous formations that grew over most healing bone. But not quite yet.

"Ask me again next week and maybe."

Lex shrugged and laid the hand on his thigh, since Clark was hogging the arm rests. "You should go home. Get a night's sleep or do whatever it is you do on a Friday night. You still have friends, don't you?"

"I have a few," Clark said dryly.

"Some of the things I'm working on are time sensitive."

"The story you told the police in your statement? Union scandal? Extortion? Is there even a LuthorCorp project in Gotham?"

Lex frowned at him, not even close to being used to Clark's unique methods of gleaning secrets. For a man used to the clandestine and covert it was bound to make him uneasy. "Of course there is. How sloppy do you think I am?"

"I don't think you're sloppy at all. Devious and underhanded . . ."

"Shut up."

Clark grinned, leaned down and kissed him. Lex curled his fingers into Clark's hair at the nape of his neck, thumb stroking the skin beneath, mouth slow and easy under Clark's. Soft lips, rough velvet tip of a tongue that lazily teased the inside of Clark's mouth. Clark sank down, onto his knees before the chair, Lex's thighs pressing his hips, hard, long muscles under his hands. He was fever hot so quickly he'd hardly realized it was rushing up on him. He reared forward, trying to deepen the kiss and Lex leaned back, breaking it. The chair tried to roll backwards and Clark kept it from moving with his grip on Lex's legs.

"I need to finish this," Lex reaffirmed his earlier statement, his breathing only half again faster than it had been and his eyes only a little brighter.

"Right now?" Clark pulled a bit, sliding Lex's hips to the edge of the chair, Lex's groin firm against his belly. Lex grabbed the armrests, a hitched breath escaping.

"Right now would be preferable."

Clark ran his hands up Lex's thighs, luxuriating in the feel of lined trousers sliding against smooth skin underneath.

"Not ten minutes from now?"

"Ten minutes wouldn't be enough." Lex argued, lashes fluttering down against pale cheeks when Clark slid his hands around his hips, fingers pressing into the small of his back.

"I can be really, really fast."

"That's not necessarily a quality that merits bragging rights. Oh."

Clark pulled him off the chair and onto his lap, leaning back with Lex's weight on this thighs and the skin of Lex's throat at mouth level. He pressed his mouth between the open collar and licked the hollow at the base, nipped at the knob where the clavicle met the sternum. Wonderful skin, silk on the outside, hard underneath. Angles and bones and jutty places because Lex just didn't have proper eating habits and Clark couldn't have loved running his hands over him more.

"Fuck." Lex said softly and said it again, but it was more like a moan than a word, when Clark sucked at the juncture of neck and shoulder.

Lex's fingers tangled in his hair, pulling, and it felt nice, a vague tingle against his skull, not as nice as the solid feel of muscle and tendon under his mouth, or Lex's weight on the erection in his pants or the feel of Lex's back under his hand.

"Damnit - - Clark. If you leave a mark I will hunt you down and hurt you." Lex had his breath back, and maybe the hauling on his hair hadn't been foreplay. Clark pulled away reluctantly, tilting his head back to look up at Lex, who was flushed and dark-eyed and probably in control of a lot more of his wits that Clark. Clark let his eyes flicker down to the spot on Lex's neck that had so fascinated him. There was a blossoming, irregular patch of pink. If he were optimistic, he'd say that Lex's collar would hide it, if he were buttoned up with a tie.

Clark looked back up with a weak smile and Lex narrowed his eyes.

"Okay," Lex said with a huff of faint irritation. "There needs to be a safe word."

"What?" Clark asked blankly.

"You know," Lex said, his fingers still clenched very tightly in Clark's hair, but leaning in close to breathe next to his mouth. "A word that, say if I felt the need for you to tie me up, maybe punish me in really dirty ways for my misdeeds, a word that I would use if I truly, honestly wanted you to stop."

"Why not just say 'stop?" Clark's cock was achingly tight in his jeans, because frankly, the way Lex said that, sort of hinted that it might be something he'd bring up one day. He was going to burst the zipper anytime now.

Lex sighed and rested his forehead against Clark's for a moment. "I could, but that's really not the point. You take the fun out of things."

"All you ever have to say is stop." Clark said softly, feeling suddenly awkward and foolish and guilty. Because of course there would be follow-ups tomorrow with the police or the FBI or someone else as humorlessly professional and the edge of a hickey peeking out from under Lex's collar would be embarrassing. Clark would personally be mortified, on Lex's behalf. On the bright side, at the rate Lex healed, it would be gone by tomorrow afternoon.

"Sorry," he murmured. Lex shut his eyes, shook his head minutely like he was dealing with a moody teenager, then pulled Clark's head back and kissed him. Kissed him again and deeper while Clark leaned back with his hands braced behind him on the floor and let Lex do what ever Lex wanted. Which seemed to involve pushing himself up Clark's body, and thoroughly taking charge of his mouth. The feel of Lex's cock against his stomach, hard solid length through expensive pants, Lex pressing against him, grinding his hips against the ripple of Clark's abdomen, tongue meaty slick soft in Clark's mouth, thrusting like he was fucking . . .

Clark came in his jeans, just shuddered and released, gasping against Lex's mouth, fingers digging into the carpet behind him. Lex kept kissing him until the last shudder passed, then pulled away, teeth bared a little, eyes dilated and narrow, then let himself slide down Clark's thighs until his knees were on the floor, like he'd planned the whole thing, getting Clark off. Lex was still hard, and Clark would have happily taken care of that for him, but Lex pushed himself up, arranging himself a little as he stood, taking a calming breath and stating evenly.

"As much as you would have thought I'd learned from past mistakes, I don't have a change of clothes in the office. So don't give me that look. It'll go away on its own once you go find somewhere else to - -" he stopped mid-sentence and stared down at the floor behind Clark. Clark looked back and saw ten finger spaced holes in the carpet that probably went down into the flooring underneath.

Lex took another breath, composing himself and Clark could just imagine the wheels turning, as Lex tried to figure out how he was going to explain this to the repair crew.

"Sooo, you're really okay and - - everything?"

"Get out."

Clark knew good advice when he heard it. He was out of there before Lex starting figuring out those ways to hunt him down and hurt him.

Two days later Anton Solomon was dead. Chloe showed Clark the post from the wire feed. Showed him information that he hadn't known before. That the MPD had not been able to hold Solomon on the kidnapping charges, because Lex hadn't identified him as one of the culprits. There had been a lot of legal maneuvering with lawyers coming down from Gotham, and Anton Solomon had been released, a person of great interest in the investigation and warned not to leave the state.

Which of course, he had, straight away, heading back to Gotham. A mistake, because the Gotham papers claimed that it had been a mob hit and Chloe's inside sources went even further and supposed that it had been a 'Family' matter.

"It seems like," Chloe said. "Information came to light, concerning Anton Solomon doing a lot of business outside the organization. Nobody is printing that yet, because nobody has been able to pin down solid facts. But from what I hear from very reliable sources, is that the Solomon family had no idea about the alleged 'extortion' at the LuthorCorp construction site, but that proof of it supposedly reached the elder Solomon's. Not only that, but information about the younger Solomon buying out a few small family franchises and rumor running wild that he was trying to undermine his big brothers. They apparently didn't take it well."

"It doesn't look like," Clark said slowly, scanning the article concerning the 'hit' that had taken place in a Gotham club called the Scapegoat Lounge. He'd been gunned down in the middle of dinner Sunday evening.

"It's really coincidental," Chloe surmised. "That this just happened to come to light now. If he were doing all this, trying to position himself for a move up, he was doing it really blatantly. Ether that or he had a death wish. Or somebody set him up. Somebody with an excruciating eye for detail. So why didn't Lex ID him after the Police brought him in for questioning again?"

Clark would have loved an answer to that, that didn't make his gut churn with unease. And Chloe had that self-satisfied look on her face she got when she'd convinced herself she knew the answers to mysteries untold.

"Miss Sullivan, I don't see a story on my desk."

Chloe looked up, the satisfaction turning to a wide-eyed 'oh shit' expression at the complaint called out across the newsroom.

"Oh my God," she whispered to Clark as she brushed him aside to bring up a file and hastily hit print. "One day, and I'm already on the new Chief's shit list."

Clark stared across the newsroom, saw the time worn face of a man he'd known briefly years ago. Chloe had told him Perry White had gotten the job. He'd half expected it to be some other man by the same name, because the one he'd known had been disillusioned and wasted. But not so much that he hadn't almost discovered Clark's secret. Chloe said he'd come to them via a stint at the Chicago Tribune and an assistant editorship at the New York Times. Perry had been busy the last five years.

Clark was spotted and he wasn't sure why he had the urge to flee before Perry could navigate the busy newsroom between them.

Chloe spun on her heel as he came up, her newly printed article held out like an offering. He took it out of her hands, eyes scanning the text, a slouch shouldered man at the end of middle age in a rumpled white shirt with a coffee stain on the collar and a loosened tie and ink stains on his fingers.

"I understand you have the tendency to miss work, Kent," he commented, without looking up from reading.

Clark swallowed, caught under the scope. "Well - -"

"Won't do in my newsroom, even for interns and especially not for staff reporters. Not unless you come back with a story in hand. I can tell you from experience, you get off track, it's hard to get back on."

There was confidence here that hadn't been, years ago in backwater Kansas, a man that had rediscovered his calling - - born again newspaperman. Almost frightening concept.

"Uh, yes sir?"

"Of course, yes. And stop hiding in the damn crypts, boy. Go out there and write. That's what you're here to learn, damnit. Take a page from Miss Sullivan here. Even if her last two stories were about trash, she got to the heart of it." He thrust the story back to Chloe with a nod of approval and 'get it to copy'.

He slapped Clark on the shoulder, attention already snagged by a passing journalist. "Good to see you in it, Kent. Where's that damned kid with the 4th street fire pictures?"

And Perry was off and Chloe was hurrying to get her story to the copy editor who'd get it to press before the printer's started rolling, while Clark stood there feeling like he'd been bowled over by too much information in too short a time.

Lex hadn't identified Anton Solomon because Lex had wanted him on the street. Lex didn't do things arbitrarily and Lex had been very intent on tying up loose ends Friday night. Sometimes Clark wanted to believe coincidences were every day occurrences, even though he very well knew better.

He had not seen Lex all weekend. Lex had been busy and Clark had work to catch up with on the farm, the harvest of the first crop of the year, and the semi-annual Main street farmer's market in downtown Smallville to deal with all day Sunday. Farmers from all over the county gathered, showing off the bounty of first crops, sharing homemade food and gossip and camaraderie. His mom knew everyone young and old. Funny how so many of the faces Clark recognized as schoolmates were still here, rooted to this town, following in their father's footsteps in a way that Clark desperately wanted not to do.

He'd passed by the Talon. Saw Lana inside laughing quietly with her new beau and passed on by, because she would call him over to talk and he'd go, because even now he couldn't refuse her and he'd be miserable. Easier to avoid her altogether. He hadn't been inside the Talon in 6 months.

He'd called Lex Sunday night, after they'd gotten home and put everything in its place and he and his mom had sat drinking coffee and eating the last of the two pies she'd had left over from the market. It had been late and Lex had sounded tired and Clark wondered now if he'd known about Anton Solomon's murder when they'd spoken.

Happy coincidence.

Clark turned it over in his head all day. All through class and carried it into work with him. He worked on a fluff piece about the Smallville farmer's market and all the not-so-much kids of his generation that were carrying on family tradition, caught in the cycle generation after generation. If anyone in Smallville ever actually saw it, they might find his social commentary less than appealing. Perry took three minutes to read it at the end of the day, said the content was good, but the fluff clogged his sinuses and to harden it up, then tossed it aside, which was a relief of sorts.

He went to Lex's office after work. Didn't call, just went in the front way, a lot, lot easier this time than weeks ago when Lex hadn't wanted to see him. The receptionist called up and he got ushered to the elevator, straight shot up and walked down the swank hall with its museum quality art to the reception area where Lex's secretary smiled at him and told him that Mr. Luthor was on a conference call and please take a seat while he finished.

Clark flipped through a Metropolitan Arts Magazine, a Newsweek, a Time Magazine while he waited, and the secretary kept tossing him surreptitious glances like she was trying to figure him out.

"Mr. Kent. He'll see you now." He looked up from an article on US Forces in yet another Middle Eastern country and smiled his thanks and the woman blushed a little.

Lex gave him a curious half smile when he walked in. Grey suit, white shirt, grey tie. Very Forbes. Like he'd been meeting with people today that wouldn't understand a flair for style and he'd been dressing down to impress. Odd, Clark thought, that plain conservative, even thousand dollar plain conservative, made Lex seem somehow younger than the casual chic of his preferred clothing. Or maybe it just made him seem less predatory.

"So, you're recovered from Farmer's market?"

"Anton Solomon was murdered last night." Clark stopped in front of the desk and said it flat out.

"So I've heard." Lex leaned back, head against the back of his chair, the smile gone, eyes grey-green in neutrality.

"Tell me," Clark asked, wanting not to believe. "That you didn't have anything to do with it."

"It would be naive to think I didn't, wouldn't it?" Lex said smoothly, everything smooth, unfaceted, like he'd crafted a mask to hide emotion.

"Considering the facts - - well, you're not that naive."

"Lex, he was gunned down. Two of his men were killed with him."

Lex sat forward, slowly, cold eyed. "I'm paying for five funerals. If certain information was leaked, certain allegations suggested . . . That's the cost of doing business in the mob. There's no blood on my hands. If you choose to see it otherwise, then that's your prerogative. It would frankly be out of character if you didn't."

The stab of disappointment hurt. The lurching of his gut felt like betrayal, although Clark wasn't sure why it felt so damned personal. It wasn't personal, any more than any of the other things Lex had engineered over the years that Clark had found intolerable.

He nodded once, sharply, wanting away from Lex now, and though taking off from the terrace would have been a quicker route to escape, since he'd come in the front way, he needed to be seen exiting it. He turned on his heel and left, and maybe it was wishful thinking, but he thought he saw Lex flinch, mask cracking that instant when he thought he had Clark's back. Maybe.

He flew to Gotham. He didn't have a plan, or intention of doing anything but soaring over the sprawling, soot grey mass of a city older than Metropolis and so much more riddled with decay. He didn't set down, just hovered for a while in night dark sky and listened to the distant sounds of sirens and alarms, of the occasional gunshot and scream that he picked up through the collected cacophony of noise. Even in the dead of night, Metropolis was a shining beacon compared to Gotham. Little wonder crime ran rampart.

He left Gotham airspace, depressed, and flew north. Fast. Pushing himself until Canada passed beneath him in a blur and soon there was land cut up by channels of cold, cold water and then only the white of icebound land.

A few weeks ago, if he'd have burst in on Lex and demanded the truths of him that he had tonight, he would have gotten glib diversions or outright lies. Lex hadn't lied to him. Hadn't told him outright, I had this rumor planted, I bought off this interest and created a money trail that would lead interested parties exactly where I wanted them, but still, he hadn't lied. And he hadn't lifted a gun himself, or ordered violence - - God, Clark really hoped not - - he had simply taken care of a problem in the same ruthless manner in which he'd been attacked. Was turnabout fair play when lives were involved? Clark couldn't justify it, but maybe Lex could and would sleep just fine. Hell, the government justified it all the time, which didn't make it right, or necessarily wrong. Just biblical. Eye for an eye - - human nature. Some humans just played nastier than others. But all of them - - and it felt odd not including himself in that thought - - had the same basic instincts.

He didn't believe in God. Not the god his mother did, but he did believe in forgiveness and second chances, because he'd be a hypocrite otherwise, as much as he'd fucked up trying to get a grip on adulthood - - as much as he'd hurt people that he loved.

Like Lex. Who he'd rend mountains for, and die for and maybe, in the heat of the moment if passion and rage got the better of him, kill for. Not a comfortable thought, but he'd almost been there Friday in the grip of terrified desperation. The least he could do - - the very least, was give him the benefit of the doubt. He sat down on icy ground frosted with light snow and wondered what the hell he was doing in the furthest reaches of Greenland when he really ought to be in Metropolis dealing with his issues head on instead of running from them.

Idiot. Plain and simple.

Lex was tired. It was more than the fading injuries, or the busy schedule, the near harassment from the police and the FBI now that he'd put himself on their radar, or the hurried maneuvering of pieces on the board to assure that LuthorCorp was beyond reproach - - from any direction - - in a mess that had eaten up the better part of a month.

He'd fended off another call from his father today, a late, late commentary about Friday's fiasco. Insinuations in his voice, sly little comments that Lex didn't know whether to take as Lionel's brand of teasing or subtle threats. He always assumed the later. Always with his father. Talking to Lionel always wore him to the bone.

Clark exhausted him. Clark took his purpose and shredded it, made him question himself and things he damned well knew to be right and necessary and just made him crazy trying to figure out exactly what it was that Clark wanted of him. As if Clark knew. As if Clark operated on anything other that gut instinct and his own personal code of ethics, brighter and shinier than the rest of the world. Unfaltering. Unreasonable.

Lex had tried to hate him for that indefatigable sense of righteousness time and again, but it never stuck. He couldn't hate Clark anymore for those qualities than he could hate him for being more than human. So much more than human. A young god with so much vitality and so much fucking blind hope. Welcoming, warm, generous - - critical, demanding, indignant when the world wasn't fairy tale bright.

Beautiful, beautiful eyes, glances from which could be addictive when they gleamed with affection and humor and passion. And when they flashed reproach, they could wound to the core.

Fuck, but Lex needed a drink. Or six.

He'd maybe gotten three down, barely enough to even hint at the numbness he was searching for when Clark came back. He landed on the penthouse terrace and stalked through the doors like he had a purpose, while Lex considered what face to put on to meet it. If there were more recriminations he was going to get testy. He might even regret getting rid of the clip of kryptonite bullets in the night table drawer if Clark decided to really push his buttons.

"That was locked," Lex complained about the sliding glass door. "Having to explain the bizarre damages to building and door locks to the maintenance crew is taxing my imagination."

"So don't explain. You're Lex Luthor." And caught his face in his hands and kissed him. It was a stunningly good kiss, on the merit of the surprise factor alone.

When Clark broke it, still holding on to the sides of Lex's neck and asked earnestly, "Can we go to bed?" there was no other sensible response than yes.

And afterwards, the comforter was on the floor and the sheets strewn mostly off the bed, the headboard loose from Clark's gripping hands when he'd spread himself out under Lex and moaned to high heaven when Lex had slid inside. And both of them had learned the valuable lesson that when Clark orgasmed, and clenched in uncontrollable reaction, easily damaged human body parts were best removed from harms way until the spasms were over. Clark had apologized profusely until Lex assured him - - and himself - - that no permanent damage was done and that he was capable of rising to the occasion again and then Clark had switched his contrition's to those offered with gentle hands and mouth. And Lex, not easily deterred or at least not liking to admit it, had gamely taken up where he'd abruptly stopped.

Which left Lex lying sated and exhausted and Clark sprawled next to him - - simply sated. And after a while Lex's mind started working again, because although Clark's methods of avoiding problems was highly satisfying, it didn't make the issues disappear.

"What do you expect of me?" he asked and there was silence for a moment, while Clark digested the question.

Then, a tentative, "What?"

Lex shifted onto his side to look down at Clark, sweaty black hair spidered on his forehead, a little frown of unease between his brows. He was good at pretending ignorance, but Lex knew it was simply evasion.

"You looked at me as if I'd shattered your illusions in the office this evening. Or skewed your worldview. I don't know what you expect of me, but I'm almost certain I can't live up to it."

Clark shut his eyes, silent and unmoving for a while, just breathing and thinking about things that ought to make Lex very nervous. Finally, he said. "I know what I am. I know what I'd like you to be and what you are. And maybe someday there'll be a happy medium. But probably not today. And I think I can live with that - - even if you piss me off."

"If I piss you off?" Lex gave him a narrow look, thinking of multi-million dollars in damaged property in various incidents that he was almost 100% certain Clark had been party to.

"Even if." Clark flashed that wide white grin of his, like it was amusing, then his eyes deepened, soul-serious and dark and he rose up on an elbow to stare solemnly at Lex. "I'll be here. There. Wherever. Okay? I'll try really hard not to jump to bad conclusions - - not without asking you first."

"And if you hear something you don't like?" Lex asked warily, feeling very much off his balance.

"Then you explain it to me and we go from there. That's how it works, right? Honesty and trust in a relationship? It would be nice for a change, don't you think?"

Honesty and trust. God. As if either of them were capable. And that look in Clark's eyes. It was ridiculous fiction. Romance and whimsical promises Lex could deal with, but that look just made him want to retreat. The last person that had looked at him like that, with nothing in their eyes but concern for him had been on a deathbed and he'd been twelve.

"It's a grand fucking sentiment," he said bitterly, on the offensive because that was the only way he knew to deal with the uncertainty. "but it wouldn't last through the first time I broke the rules in your personal play book. I know you."

"Are you trying to talk me out of dating you?"

"Dating?" Lex blinked at the concept, then. "I'm just trying introduce you to a tiresome little thing called reality."

"Yeah, dating. Seeing each other. Relationship. Whatever. I sort of like the idea. And I know all about reality, by the way, so don't get snotty with me, just because you're feeling insecure."

Clark cocked an eyebrow at him, daring him to deny it. Lex chewed on the inside of his cheek and thought up all manner of rebuttals, every one of which would have worked perfectly well on almost anyone but Clark, who'd had the uncanny ability to read him from almost the first time they'd met.

An annoyance and a comfort all in one. He settled back down onto the pillow. After a moment, Clark flopped back down, head on Lex's shoulder. "Did I mention that I think I lo - -"

"God! Don't say it." Lex flared, exasperated. Too many people had claimed it in the past and he was worse off because of it.

Clark chuckled. Lex could feel it against his skin when Clark turned his face into his shoulder. "You are seriously screwed up. You know this, right?"

Dignifying that with an answer wasn't going to happen. His mind was too busy churning possibilities, scenarios, calamities to form a vocal reply anyway.

Clark trailed idle fingers across Lex's stomach. Soothing touch. Big, warm hands.

"Did I tell you, I got a 94 in my Copy Editing mid-term today, " Clark said lazily, recounting the mundane aspects of his day and oddly enough, Lex wanted to hear about it. Meaningless talk that meant everything and helped soothe the frenetic workings of his own thoughts.

"Perry White's the new editor-in-chief. Sober as the day is long. Rumor is he's been in AA since the day he left Smallville- -"