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Clark leaned forward, resting his head against the cool tile of the shower as he angled his back to let the hot water pound into his shoulders. There was an almost ache there that he wasn't used to and the water seemed to be helping. He didn't understand why he felt as tired as he did; all he'd been doing today was clearing away some brush for his dad in the south field.

Of course, there was that huge chunk of meteor rock he'd uncovered with the last stump. Probably the only thing that'd saved him was that it startled him so badly he'd jerked back and fell down the hill away from the tree he'd been working on. Even so, he'd had enough of a jolt from it to pass out for a few minutes. Clark knew he'd better edit out that part of the story when he told his dad about it, his parents worried about him too much as it was. Besides, he'd start feeling better soon anyway, he always did once he got away from it.

Turning off the shower Clark went into his bedroom and finished dressing. He and Lex had a date and it was too important for him to miss, headache or no headache. Yesterday was his eighteenth birthday and Clark was determined to tell Lex the truth tonight, all of it. Hell, he would have told him long ago if his parents hadn't begged him to wait at least until he was eighteen.

He'd waited, although it'd been hard. Lex had been great the last couple of years about not pushing him for his secrets. He'd told him that it didn't matter, that he trusted Clark and knew he'd tell him when he could. Lex had probably guessed most of it already but he'd never hassled him about the rest. Said that they'd both had secrets in the past; the important thing was what they did with their present and future. Of course, that'd made Clark feel even guiltier.

He was just so tired of hiding who he really was. He loved Lex and knew in his soul that he'd never hurt him. Now he just had to face his dad and tell him about his plans. Clark smiled, shaking his head. Hopefully the explosion afterward wouldn't do too much damage to the rest of house.

Downstairs in their small office Jonathan sneezed for what felt like the hundredth time that day. Okay, maybe the twentieth. As he tossed the offending tissue in the trash the end of his nose sure felt like it was the hundredth.

His cold was actually much better. He still felt like crap though which made sitting here at his desk and keying in the monthly books even more fun than usual. Scrubbing his hands over his face, Jonathan worked his shoulders to relieve some of their accumulated tension. After a couple of moments he was relieved to hear a loud, satisfying crack. At least he and Hannah were the only two who'd caught it; thankfully Martha had shown no signs of getting sick.

A loud bump overhead caused him to look up. Glancing over at the couch he was relieved to see his daughter still sleeping soundly; even someone as sweet-natured as Hannah became cranky when they were too miserable to sleep through the night.

Clark's shower had cut off a few minutes ago. Jon knew that he'd be leaving soon to go over to Lex's. He'd mentioned during breakfast this morning that they'd planned to drive to Metropolis for dinner and a late movie tonight as a late birthday present for Clark.

Jonathan smiled ruefully to himself; at least now he could sit calmly and think about his son dating another man. He'd even finally come to terms with his being a Luthor to boot.

Looking back now he saw how unfair he'd been when he and Lex first met. The hardest part for Jon was that Lionel Luthor and he went way back. At first, no matter how hard he'd tried to do otherwise, all he'd seen every time he'd looked at Lex was his father's smirking face.

Martha had been the one to open his eyes. To make him see that he was treating Lex the same damned way that Mr. Clark had treated him when they'd first started dating. Once Jon took his blinders off he'd had to admit that, even with the age difference, Lex was still little more then a boy himself, smart-assed comments or not.

Yet, in spite of his age, Lex had made the town stop and pay attention. He'd brought about change, good change, for almost everyone he came in contact with. Especially those poor souls who'd had to work under Lionel all those years at the factory. Lex had improved the safety standards and working conditions almost immediately. He'd gotten them better wages and somehow still managed to post the first profit they'd had in years when he took over the plant.

He'd become even more a part of the community after he'd been able to push through the plant buy-out from Lionel after Lex came home from the hospital. He'd never admit it to anyone, but Jonathan secretly felt that Lionel had let Lex win that battle because of the guilt he'd felt. Lex had been injured so badly in the first place saving his father's life. Who'd have thought that there'd be a silver lining to the twisters that'd ripped through the town?

He realized how lost in thought he'd been when the numbers he was staring at on the computer screen blurred again. 'Okay, you win, that's enough work for now.' Jonathan closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair, one hand going to rub his neck, the other shutting off the monitor.

Hearing a small noise he turned his head, opening his eyes. The first thing he saw was Clark standing in the doorway looking worried about something. As soon as he realized that Jonathan was looking at him, Clark pushed away from the door frame, moving into the room.

"Dad, how's your cold? You and the munchkin feeling any better now?"

"Don't worry son, I feel a whole hell of a lot better than I probably look." He smiled, looking over at his still-sleeping daughter. "Hannah's doing better too. Doc Johnson was here earlier and said her lungs sounded a lot clearer. We've been lucky, a lot of the kids who caught this thing ended up with pneumonia."

Jonathan's smile grew even more as he saw Clark walk quietly over to the couch. Reaching out his hand he gently pushed the sweaty curls off of his little sister's forehead. Jon never got tired of seeing the two of them together. Though sixteen years separated them Clark never lost patience with Hannah. He'd spend hours playing with her and seemed to delight in teaching her new things.

Wincing as he stretched too tight muscles he finished turning off the computer and turned to fully face his son. "I can't face anymore of this right now, Clark, my eyes are crossing. I know you're meeting Lex soon but do you have time to keep me company while I raid your mother's kitchen for a snack?" Jon saw Clark's hesitation as he glanced back at the couch. "Hannah's okay, I think she's gonna sleep for a while."

"Sure Dad." Clark looked down at the watch Lex had gotten him as his graduation present. It had meant a lot to Martha and Jon that he'd approved it with them beforehand. "It's still early; I wanted to talk to you before I left anyway."

Entering the kitchen Clark sat down at the table while Jonathan made himself a sandwich and grabbed a soda out of the fridge. He was worried by the look in his son's eyes, added to the fact that he looked a little pale, which Clark never was.

Jonathan picked up his food, setting a soda down in front of Clark as he joined him at the table. "Okay, Clark, what is it? I can tell something's wrong."

Looking at his son, it hit him just how much he'd matured over the last couple of years. Whatever this was, he could tell by the look in his eyes that he was really bothered about it. "Your Mom will be back from the store soon, she just had to pick up Hannah's cough syrup. Is this something we both need to hear?"

"No Dad. I sort of spoke to Mom about it this morning before she left. She said she was cool with it but said I had to talk to you too before I did anything."

Jon sighed, putting his sandwich back down on the worn kitchen table. Martha was usually the one better equipped to handle their 'Clark' sized problems but he'd do his best. "Okay Son, you've managed to severely spook me here. What's wrong?"

Clark looked down, fidgeting with the fringe on the placemat in front of him. "I've decided to tell Lex the truth about myself tonight. It's time; I'm just so tired of lying to him about who I really am all the time. He's not dumb, Dad. He knows I'm different but he stopped pushing me about it once we got so close."

Reaching across the table to touch Clark's hand Jonathan was shocked to feel how cold it was. That alone helped to suppress the initial surge of knee-jerk worry and anger he'd felt. Clark had tension radiating off of his body and Jonathan could see how important this was to him.

"Clark, are you sure about this? I've come to trust Lex but Lionel is still his father. If he had even an inkling of who you are he'd snatch you so fast that none of us could stop him, probably not even Lex."

"Dad, I don't care, Lex won't tell his dad. Do you honestly believe he'd hurt me like that after everything he's done for us the last couple of years? His dad could have disowned him when he stood up to him about the factory workers but he did it anyway."

Jonathan had to strain to hear what Clark said next, he had his head bowed staring intently at his hands. "What does he have to do to prove himself to you, Dad, die?"

"Son, look at me." Jonathan reached over and put his hand under Clark's chin raising his eyes to meet his. "I can't believe I'd ever say this, much less have it be true; I trust Lex but, more importunately, I trust you. If you feel it's time and that Lex won't hurt you, or us, then you have my permission to tell him. And Clark, thank you, I know you didn't really need our blessing for this, it's just nice that you'd still want it."

Jon looked up at the clock on the wall. "It's getting late, guess you'd better take off so you boys aren't late getting to Metropolis." He grinned at Clark, winking as he started to stand up. "Lord knows we don't need to give the 'maniac in the Porsche' any excuses to speed now, do we?"

A huge smile lit Clark's face as he started to get up, "Sure, Dad, I ..."

Jonathan had to push himself quickly out of his chair as Clark paled even more and would have fallen if not for the support of the table and Jonathan's arm placed quickly around his waist. He eased Clark back down into his chair and was alarmed to feel his hands felt even colder than before. "Son, what's wrong, does anything hurt?" Jonathan placed his hand on Clark's forehead, automatically checking for fever, but it too felt cold to the touch. That was wrong. His son was always warm, even in cold weather. If it was anyone but Clark he'd think he was shocky. "Clark, come on, talk to me, you're seriously scaring me here!"

Shaking his head as if to clear it Clark said, "Dad...I'm okay...I'm just dizzy. I had a run in with some kryptonite earlier today when I was clearing those stumps out of the south field and I guess I got more of a dose of it then I thought. Looks like I'm going to need your help taking out that last stump after all." Clark laughed a little shakily, looking sheepish.

Jonathan passed his hand over Clark's face again, scared by his pallor, the fine, cold sweat he felt underneath his fingertips where he touched him. "Son, are you sure that is all this is? Those damned rocks don't usually hit you this hard once you get away from them. Was anything different this time?" A thought grabbed him, feeling like a cold hand gripping his heart. "There's no possibility you could have inhaled any of the dust like last time, is there?"

"I don't know, Dad. I don't think so. I was so busy getting away from it everything's kind of a blur." Clark's eyes met his looking confused and more than a little scared now. "I was going to tell you, I was. I just didn't want to worry you and Mom over nothing."

"Clark, something that hits you this hard isn't 'nothing' and we can't just ignore it. Especially now that we don't have your ship here to give us another miracle cure if something goes wrong." Jonathan placed his hands on Clark's shoulders, squeezing them gently for emphasis. "Are you sure you feel up to seeing Lex tonight? He'd understand if you were sick and had to postpone your plans."

"Yeah, I guess so. I'm really tired and I'm starting to get a monster headache. Maybe I should call Lex." Clark leaned back against Jon, closing his eyes. "This is so unfair, Dad. Once again the fact that I'm a freak keeps me from just living my life!" Clark hide his face in his hands as he said this, looking miserable.

Jon knelt down next to Clark so that they'd be on eye level with each other. "Son, I don't want you to ever call yourself a freak in my presence again. You have a good soul and are one of the most 'human' beings I've ever had to honor to know." Cupping his fingers underneath Clark's chin he gently raised his face up, smoothing the hair out of his eyes the way he used to do when Clark was just a child.

"But, Dad..."

"No buts. Go up and lie down, you can call Lex from your bedroom. You've pushed yourself pretty hard this last week with me being sick and you trying to get everything ready for when you leave for college."

Jon leaned back on his heels, searching his son's face. "Even you have limits, Clark. Getting a dose of that damned rock may have just pushed you over them. Get some rest, Mom and I will check in on you in a bit."

"I will, Dad, I promise." As they both stood up Clark gave his father a quick hug and seemed only a little unsteady on his feet as he did so. "I really love you guys; you know that, don't you?"

At his words, Jon ruffled Clark's hair, smiling at his immediate grimace. "Of course we do, Son. Now, scoot. That is, unless you want me to sic your Mom on you when she gets back, which should be any time now."

"Okay, okay... Geez, I'm going. You'd think I was six years old or something..."

Jonathan's smile faded as he moved to the kitchen door and watched his son climb the stairs to go to his room. Clark was moving slowly, like an old man whose every joint was aching. That more than anything scared Jonathan. Clark didn't get sick. Except that one time before Hannah was born and that had been caused by meteor rocks too.

Jonathan shook his head, worried as he went back into the kitchen to put away the remains of his lunch. He suddenly wasn't hungry any more. Cold dread filled his heart, afraid that one of these days they'd be thrown a curve-ball that they couldn't handle from the damned things

When Clark got to his bedroom he changed into a pair of his warmest sweats. He knew it wasn't cold outside but he was freezing! He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this cold. He almost never felt changes in the temperature anymore. Just to be on the safe side, he'd taken some Tylenol, it was one of the few drugs that they knew were safe for him to take from when he was a little kid and could still get scrapped knees.

Sighing, he crawled into bed, wrapping himself up tightly in the quilts his Mom had made for him. Clark hit speed dial and closed his eyes to keep the room from spinning as he waited for Lex to pick up. God, he hoped that the pills would stop the needles pounding into his brain soon.

"Luthor here."

"Lex, hi, it's me, Clark..."

Clark heard Lex's voice immediately relax as he recognized who it was on the phone, "Clark, hi! I was just getting ready to leave to come pick you up."

Rubbing his hands over his eyes Clark cautiously opened them to see if the room had stopped moving. He didn't try to keep the disappointment out of his voice as he answered. "Lex, I really hate to do this but I'm going to have to cancel for tonight. I'm coming down with something and I feel pretty lousy right now. I'm so sorry..."

Even with as fuzzy as his brain felt right now, Clark recognized the worry in Lex's voice as he interrupted him, "Are you okay? I know both Hannah and Jonathan have been sick but you don't get sick any more than I do, Clark. What's wrong? Do you want me to come over?"

"Maybe later would be really nice. I think I'm just going to sleep for a while and see if I feel any better." Clark sighed again, trying to keep the shakiness out of his voice as he scooted down further under the covers trying to get warm. "Lex, I wanted tonight so badly. I had something I wanted to talk to you about, damn it!"

"Clark, don't worry, whatever it is can wait until you're feeling better. Your health is what's important right now. Besides, with the week I've had I'd be happy just to hold you when I get there."

Lex's voice washed over Clark, making him feel warmer, drowsy as he snuggled down into the blankets. "Mmmm, that'd be nice. I'd really like some cuddling right now, it'd help me forget the drum band playing in my head." Clark felt disconnected, like the only thing keeping him anchored was the sound of Lex's voice on the phone. He knew he'd better end the call before he scared Lex any more than he already had. "Lex, I'm going to hang up and try to sleep for a while. Come over later, okay?"

"Sure, Clark, I love you."

"Me too, Lex, bye..." As he placed the phone back on the nightstand, chills started to rock his body even harder and he huddled in on himself under the covers trying to get warm. Clark moaned as another sharp pain ripped through his head. Darkness blocked out his vision, the dizziness growing with each breath he took. His last thoughts, scattering away as it swallowed him, were of Lex and his parents and how much he loved them.

Jonathan heard Hannah waking up in the office and was there to check on her before she even got out the first "Daddy"

"Hey, Hannah-bear, how are you feeling? Would you like some juice?"

"Yes, please. Mommy 'n Clark gone?"

"Clark's upstairs taking a nap just like you did, sweetie. Even big boys like Clark need them sometimes. Mommy went to get the stuff to make your throat feel better. How about I get your juice then we can read some more about 'Little Bear' until she gets here, does that sound like a plan?"

Scooping her up into a hug Jonathan managed to check her over at the same time. Her fever was down but he could tell how tired she still was by the way she just listlessly leaned against him. The doctor had said the best thing for both of them now was rest. Although, if Clark really was getting sick he didn't think he'd be getting much more sleep any time soon. Summer was a busy time for the farm but, they'd cope, they always had. He'd have to think of hiring more hands soon anyway with Clark leaving for college in the fall.

He'd just gotten Hannah settled in her room when he heard Martha coming in downstairs. Jonathan met her in the hall and helped her bring in the rest of her packages.

"Martha, I just got Hannah back to sleep but I'm afraid we have worse problems to deal with than mine and Hannah's bugs now. Something's wrong with Clark."

What? Where is he? I thought he and Lex were going out, was there an accident?"

"No, nothing like that, Clark had a run-in with some Kryptonite this morning. Hell, Martha, he almost passed out while we were talking in the kitchen. I got him to go lie down but I'm really worried about him." Jonathan saw his fear for their son reflected in his wife's eyes. He knew she was thinking about how close they had both came to dying the last time something like this happened.

"Jon, what will we do if it's really bad? We don't have the ship here any more and that stupid AI won't talk to anyone but Clark!"

"I don't know, honey. All we can do right now is pray it's not."

"I've got to see him. Is he in his room or the loft?"

"He's upstairs, I was just going to go check on him again when I heard you come in."

Moving quickly back up the stairs and into Clark's room he heard her quick gasp when she saw Clark lying buried under his covers. They could both see the tremors he was having and, even though he was still as pale as he had been before, Jonathan was worried by the bright spots of color he saw on both of his cheeks. Reaching down to touch him Jonathan felt the heat radiating from Clark before his hand came in contact with him.

Martha ran to the bathroom to get Hannah's thermometer, and to fill a basin with cool water, while Jonathan tried to wake him.

"Clark, come on, son, wake up. Your mom's here and we need to check your temperature." Jonathan got his arm under Clark's shoulders and lifted him up long enough to slide his damp sweatshirt off. Even with all the movement Clark didn't wake up and that really scared him. Martha put down the basin on the table next to Clark's bed then, while Jonathan held Clark's head steady, she placed the digital thermometer in his ear and checked his temperature. He saw her eyes widen when the monitor beeped to tell her it was finished.

"What is it, what does it say?"

"Normal for Clark is about 101 degrees. If this is right he's at 108 degrees right now. We have got to get his temperature down, Jonathan or he could go into seizures! Here, take this cloth and work on his face and chest. I'll get his bottom sweats off and work on his legs."

Jonathan helped her finish undressing Clark then moved to apply the cool compresses as she'd said. He felt Clark try to flinch away the minute the cold cloth touched him.

"Wha...no, please stop, so cold..." Clark tried to stop them but his movements were weak, uncoordinated.

Jonathan saw Martha put her hands on either side of his face in an attempt to force Clark to focus on her.

"Sweetie, don't fight us, we're trying to help you. Listen to me, Clark, can you tell me what you're feeling?"

"Hurts...it hurts Mom..."

"Where, baby? We need to know so we can help you."

"My head...eyes...everything...hurts so much..."

Suddenly, Jonathan felt Clark stiffen in his arms, his head arching backward as strong tremors racked his body. He saw the look of horror on Martha's face that he knew matched his own.

"Oh God, Jon, hold him. Don't let him fall off the bed, he's seizing! We have got to get his temperature down right now!"

Grimly Jonathan held on to Clark, trying to keep him from hurting himself, or either one of them. It showed just how weak he was becoming that Jon was able to hold on to him like this. After what felt like hours, he felt his son go limp in his arms.

He looked down and saw a thin trail of blood at the corner of Clark's mouth and prayed that it only meant he'd bitten his lip during the seizure. Wiping it away with one of the washcloths he noticed that Clark didn't respond at all to the cold cloth now and Jonathan was scared shitless by that fact. All those first aid classes they'd both taken still didn't prepare them for it's being one of their own children that they had to care for like this.

Jonathan shifted Clark, automatically checking him over. He became even more scared as he did. Clark lay completely limp in his arms, his lips and nails were slightly blue-tinged and his breathing was rougher, more labored than before. Jon was so tightly focused on Clark that he jumped when Martha spoke to him. Looking up he saw tears rolling down her face.

"We've got to get him in the tub, if he convulses like that again he could go into cardiac arrest. I'll go and get it ready while you stay with him." Just before she got to the door, Martha turned and looked back at him. "Jon, you'd better call Lex, we're going to need his help with Clark. And, he needs to be here, just in case..."

'Just in case...' Jonathan felt his breath hitch on a sob as he lowered his head and touched Clark's forehead to his. 'God, he's so damn hot... He doesn't deserve this. Hasn't our family been through enough?' Keeping one arm wrapped around his son Jon picked up the phone on Clark's bedside table and dialed Lex.

"Clark, are you feeling better?"

"Lex...it's Jonathan, not Clark. I think it would be a good idea for you to get over here...we need you."

Jonathan was relieved when Lex's only response to his plea was a terse, "I'm on my way", before the line went dead. He didn't want to think of how many traffic laws he'd broken getting to the farm because, by the time Martha came out to let him know the bath was ready, Jon heard the front door slam and footsteps running up the stairs to Clark's room. Tightening his arms around his son, he buried his face in his hair, wishing furiously that it was him lying in that bed so ill, not Clark. His breath caught on a sob as he held on, afraid to let him go.

Lex didn't know what to expect as he entered Clark's bedroom but it wasn't this, a devastated Jonathan with unheeded tears on his face holding a silent, fragile-looking Clark.

He froze, just inside the door, his lungs tightening for a moment in remembered panic as he looked at the scene in front of him. "My God, what's happened? He seemed all right when we talked. What the hell's wrong with Clark?"

Lex felt a gentle touch on his arm. Turning he saw Martha standing next to him, looking frightened but determined.

"Later, Lex, I promise we'll explain what we know. Right now you've got to help us get Clark in the tub. His fever is dangerously high and he's already had one seizure. We've got to try and get it down before he has another."

Lex moved quickly over to the bed, reaching down to help Jonathan lift Clark up so they could drape one of his arms over each of their shoulders. He couldn't help the shock he felt as he pulled Clark up against him. 'He's burning up, how the fuck is this happening?' Fear ran through him as he got a closer look at Clark so he focused instead on getting him into the bathroom.

"One of us is going to need to get in with him, it's the only way we can keep him from going under..."

Lex began unbuttoning his shirt and toeing off his shoes and socks even before he answered Martha. "I'll do it. Please, let me, I have to." He couldn't help his involuntary shiver as he stepped into the cool water, dreading Clark's reaction when it touched his own overheated skin.

Unfortunately, there was nothing, not even a whimper from Clark as they settled him against Lex in the tub and began frantically rubbing down his body with the cool water.

Lex began whispering quietly to Clark, begging him to react. "Clark, come on, don't scare us like this, okay? I can't do this without you, you know that. Hannah will never forgive me if I let something happen to you and, you sure as hell don't need to give your parents this grief. Please..."

The whole time he spoke to Clark, Lex and his parents continued to pour water over him; through his hair, on his face, everywhere, hoping to get a reaction from him. Martha kept checking his temperature every few minutes and adding more cool water to the bath as they needed it.

Just when Lex felt he was going to become a human icicle Martha seemed pleased that Clark's temperature was back down to 103 degrees. 'This was good? Okay, that's another one of the questions I'm going to get some damn answers for...' His train of thought was interrupted as Lex felt Clark move weakly against him, a soft moan escaping his lips as he began to shiver.

Lex felt Martha's hand upon his shoulder, "Let's get both of you out of the tub and into some dry clothes, I think that it's safe for now, his temperature's come down enough."

He helped Jonathan stand Clark up so they could get him out of the tub; Martha quickly wrapped both of them in thick towels before they helped Clark back to his bed. He seemed more alert and was able to help some on the return trip but he still hadn't spoken. When they got him settled Lex felt Martha's hand on his face, it startled him and made him jump a little.

She moved him back away from the bed with just the gentle pressure of her hand against his chest then handed Lex some clothes, "Put these on, Lex, you're freezing. Jon and I will get Clark dressed, I don't want you getting sick too."

With those words she was already moving back to over to the bed, she and Jonathan making quick work of getting Clark into a dry tee-shirt and boxers then covering him with a light sheet. He watched for a few seconds, dazed at how quickly everything had been happening then, as another shiver shook him, his brain kicked back in.

Lex felt his anger and fear returning as he stripped off his remaining wet clothes, false modesty of being nude before Clark's parents forgotten in his haste to get some answers. The soft, much washed sweats she'd handed him still smelled faintly of soap and Clark. They wrapped him in comfort just as their owner could do.

As he approached the bed Lex could hear Clark's labored breathing, he still hadn't responded to their attempts to wake him although he seemed more aware. He saw that Martha had packed ice filled plastic bags wrapped in towels along his sides in an effort to keep his temperature down.

Lex leaned down, placing a soft kiss on Clark's forehead before turning to face his parents. "Talk to me. Either you give me some damn good reasons not to in the next few minutes or I'm calling for the Lexcorp helicopter to take Clark to Metropolis General." Somehow, he wasn't surprised by the immediate response those words brought from both Jonathan and Martha.

"Damn it, Lex..."

Martha moved quickly in front of Jonathan, stopping his rush toward Lex. "No, Jonathan, what do you expect, Lex doesn't know..."

He couldn't suppress the note of disgust in his voice as he answered her. "Oh yes, the precious secrets you've guarded so closely. So tell me, Martha, are they worth his life? Look at Clark, damn it! He needs real care, not what we can give him!"

Her breath catching on a sob Martha continued, "God help me, Lex, they are his life! If anyone else found out the truth we'd lose him." Lex watched as Jonathan put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

Lex saw Jonathan glance over at Clark, a look of concern on his face as he shifted restlessly in the bed at their raised voices. He saw Jonathan take a deep breath, forcing himself to relax before he continued, "Son, maybe we'd better take this downstairs, we have a lot to tell you and it's going to take a while."

"But..."

Placing a gentle hand on his arm Martha said, "Both Hannah and Clark should be fine for a few minutes, we'll hear if either one of them starts to wake up."

Lex sat down on the old sofa across from Martha and Jonathan. He was grateful for the afghan she'd placed around his shoulders. He knew it was mostly reaction to seeing Clark sick and helpless but he was still freezing. Looking across at them Lex wondered when Jonathan had started to look so old, he hadn't noticed it before now.

"Son, you should know that Clark wanted to tell you this himself, long ago. The only reason he waited was because of promises we made him give to us. If you have any anger when we're finished, direct it at us. We deserve it, not Clark."

Lex heard a hint of self-loathing in Martha's voice, "We were great parents weren't we, Jonathan? We did a wonderful job of teaching our son how to be dishonest with people who cared about him, we taught him to be afraid of himself, who he was becoming from the very beginning."

"Martha..."

"No, it's true. We were so busy 'protecting' Clark we didn't stop to think what we were doing to him. Our actions set him more apart than his differences ever did."

Martha stopped to draw a shaky breath as Jonathan wrapped his arm around her shoulder pulling her up against him. "Lex, what do you know about Clark?"

"I've...guessed a lot of it. I would have to have been blind and stupid not to. I knew Clark hated the lies as much as I did so I stopped asking for answers he couldn't give me." Lex closed his eyes for a second, rubbing his hands over them tiredly, "I knew he loved me, trusted me, that the other would come when it could." He saw the look of gratitude on their faces as he continued, "I know he's strong, very fast, I didn't think he could get sick or be hurt by anything other than the meteor rock..."

"Kryptonite, Lex, we know it's called kryptonite now." Martha interrupted him gently.

Lex felt his eyes widen, "How do you know...never mind, it can wait. Okay, at first I thought he'd been changed like I was, that he was a mutant too. Over time, with what I've seen him do, I've become less sure of that but the alternative seemed too 'X-Files' to be real." Lex was surprised to hear a short bark of laughter from Martha as he said those words.

"Believe me, Lex, Mulder and Scully would have a field day at the Kent household. The truth couldn't be very much more 'out there' if we tried."

He listened as Martha and Jonathan began to speak, their words slowly destroying the last of the barriers standing between him and Clark. They held nothing back; Clark's arrival with the meteor shower culminating with Lex's own rescue and first meeting with Clark that day.

"Why didn't we remember any of that, Martha? I don't understand." Lex was surprised at how shaky his voice sounded, even to himself.

"It was an unbelievable trauma you'd both just survived, sweetie. You were such a small child and Clark was just a baby. It was too much for either of you so your minds simply blanked out most of the memory."

Jonathan spoke of the rightness of their decision to adopt Clark, explaining Lionel's role in making that possible. They even explained how his rescue from the river all those years later resulted in them finally telling Clark the truth about his origins, at least as much as they knew then.

Martha and Jonathan spoke of Clark's fear, panic and wonder at his emerging powers. How their lessons about the need to be careful became even more urgent in the face of his changing relationship with Lex. That they constantly stressed the importance of "don't tell anyone, hide yourself, Clark".

They told Lex of their growing trust toward him. Even so, they'd still asked him to wait. That Clark's trust for him had had to be balanced out by their continued, and real, fear of what Lionel would do to Clark if he, or anyone else, found out the truth about his origins.

They explained more of what had happened two years ago, when Clark had run away. Before Lex had left to search for him Martha had admitted the truth about Clark's allergy to the meteors; what both the red and green types did to Clark. "I had no choice, Lex; we didn't know who, or what, you'd be facing when you found him."

It had taken him two months but he'd finally found Clark in St Louis; lost, hurting and punishing himself for sins he refused to tell Lex about. Neither of them had ever told his parents everything that had happened while they were there but it had changed them, their relationship. They'd been through fire and survived it. That was when they committed to each other and they'd never looked back.

Martha's voice drew him back from his memories as she continued, "Jor-El was his father, a part of his consciousness was imbedded in Clark's ship and it melded with Clark and force-fed him information. That has been how he's learned most of what he knows about his home planet." She continued, "But, Jor-El wasn't content with that, he wanted Clark to become what he felt was his destiny; to rule the Earth. His attempts to change Clark into his vision of what he wanted him to be almost destroyed him."

"That's what drove him away?"

Martha continued, her sadness coloring every word she said to him, "Yes, he did it to protect us when he felt his control slipping away from him. He and Pete attempted to destroy the ship but its central core remained, it convinced him that he'd hurt me and the baby, that she'd died. The damned thing made him believe that we no longer wanted him to be our son and then influenced him into putting on the ring with the red kryptonite in it."

"But, none of that was real..."

Jonathan continued softly, "It was to Clark, all he wanted to do was disappear. I still don't know how you got him out from under the ship's control, Lex. I was just so glad when you brought him home. That, more than anything else, convinced us of your true feelings for our son."

He'd thought he'd feel satisfaction at finally knowing the truth but it was bittersweet to learn it this way. "I don't understand, what's made him so sick? There's no kryptonite here at the farm is there? I thought he had to be in direct contact for it to affect him like this."

"Yes, he does, that's what makes no sense. The last time something like this happened he'd inhaled some of the meteor dust and it made him sick. But, he was outside this time, not in an enclosed space. I just pray that's not what's happened." Lex saw Martha shudder within the circle of Jonathan's arms as she said this.

"What do you mean?"

"The ship cured us last time, Lex. It no longer exists. If that's what's happened again we might lose him." Lex saw the fear in both Martha's and Jonathan's eyes. He knew it was reflected in his own.

A loud crash overhead kept Lex from asking any other questions. They ran for the stairs, Lex and Martha going toward Clark, Jonathan heading toward Hannah's room.

Entering the room they found Clark lying face-first on the ground, part of the blanket they'd covered him with still draped over his back, the red standing in vivid contrast to the pallor of his skin. Lex was frightened by the fever-bright glassiness of Clark's eyes as he stared up at Lex when he turned him over, looking lost and impossibly young.

Martha hovered at his side as he knelt down, bringing Clark to a sitting position. Lex didn't try to hide the trembling in his fingers as he gently smoothed Clark's hair off of his sweaty forehead.

Clark's continued silence worried him. His hands shook as he held Clark, afraid he'd slip away if he didn't. "Hey, sleeping beauty, what was with the swan dive off the bed? Got a hot date or something you needed to get to tonight?"

Clark's breathless laugh at Lex's words quickly dissolved into a wet, painful sounding cough, the rattle in his chest scaring him. Hating how helpless he felt, Lex rubbed between Clark's shoulder blades with one hand as his other kept him sitting upright, wrapped around his chest. Martha's hand settled on Lex's back in silent support as he urgently whispered to Clark.

"Shhh... Shhhh... Easy, Clark, easy... Take slow, deep breaths... I know you can do this, work with me, okay?"

Lex eased down onto the floor, positioning himself behind Clark, letting him lean back against him, silently helping him match his rhythm to Lex's as he fought to catch his breath. The renewed heat radiating from Clark scared Lex almost as much as his struggle to breathe. Especially now, knowing how screwed they truly were. There couldn't be any conventional help for Clark; the danger was just too great.

They had no way of knowing what physiological differences there might be. They couldn't take the chance of any of his blood being taken. Even if they could figure out a way to get it drawn the risk was just too high.

He heard the door open behind him. Turning his head slightly, he saw Jon enter the room, Hannah still more than half asleep in his arms. Lex kept his focus on Clark and his fight to breathe, afraid to spare the other two more than just a cursory glance. He felt it as Clark finally relaxed against him, his struggles lessening as he matched Lex's rhythm.

Lex kept up a quiet stream of encouragement; pouring all of the love that he had for Clark into his touch and words as he held him. By the time Clark fell back into an exhausted slumber, they both were drenched in sweat. Lex felt like he'd just run a race against Death with Clark's life as the prize. Looking up he met Martha's eyes, seeing the same fear that he knew was reflected back in his own. His voice cracking, he had to clear it twice before he could even speak.

"Martha, if we don't get some kind of help for Clark, he'll die... You and Jonathan can deny it all you want but you know it's the damned truth! Unless you have another miracle ship hidden somewhere in the root cellar, we're fucked."

Jonathan leaned down next to him, at some point he must have taken Hannah back to her bed but Lex hadn't even noticed. "Lex, son..."

Lex shook his head, his voice low, afraid to wake Clark from his restless slumber against him. "No! Damn it, no platitudes, no lectures! Clark is dying; I will not just watch that happen, I can't! There has to be something that we can do." Closing his eyes, Lex rested his forehead against Clark's, pretending to himself that the moisture on his face was just from sweat, nothing more. "There has to be..."

He sat there, gently rocking Clark, trying to summon the strength to get him back in bed, even with Jonathan's help. Suddenly he felt Martha's fingers on his shoulder stiffen.

"Oh my God, Jonathan, look at Clark's hand..."

Opening his eyes, Lex looked down and noticed what he'd been too distracted to see before; a cut along the side of his hand, sluggishly bleeding. Lex closed his eyes again, thinking he must have scraped it somehow when he'd fallen.

Then it hit him and his heart stuttered, eyes flying open again; Clark didn't get cuts, of any kind, unless there was some type of meteor rock involved. Looking up he saw the panic in Martha's face.

"Martha?"

She shook her head, tears standing in her eyes. She reached trembling hands and touched Clark's head, a small gasp escaping her lips as she studied him more carefully. Turning slightly she motioned Jonathan over to her side.

He watched as Jonathan folded his large frame down next to them on the floor, his work-roughened hands gentle as they examined his son. "Martha, what the hell is going on?"

"I wish to God I knew, Jon." Pointing again at Clark's face, she looked at Jonathan and then at Lex with stricken eyes. "Look, on his right cheek, there's a bruise forming there too..."

Cold chills ran down Lex's spine at the implications of her words. The only other time he had ever seen Clark able to be hurt was when he'd lost his powers. Lex prayed to a god that he didn't really believe in anymore that that wasn't what was happening.

Clark was an alien. The normal, every day colds, flu's and other ailments that all kids got had never affected him before. He was immune because of his powers and his unique physiology. Without those powers did he lose his protection too? Lex was afraid that the answer to that question was all too apparent as he felt the waves of fever rolling off Clark, heard the increasing wetness of his breathing.

He looked up into Martha's worried face. "Martha, you need to pack a bag, both for yourselves, Hannah and Clark. We're taking him to the mansion; I've at least got my lab and some equipment there. I can have anything else we need in a matter of hours. If he can be cut that means I can draw some blood, maybe at least get some idea of what's happening. Why he's suddenly so ill and vulnerable"

He saw Jonathan's eyes narrowing; Lex cut him off before he could speak. His arms involuntarily tightened around Clark, his mind racing. Lex cursed himself for the turmoil of his thoughts, knowing he had to be icy, that this was one time he had to be his father's son again. He'd wasted too many precious moments already.

"Jonathan, you know he can't stay here. Look at him, really look..." Lex let the steel creep back into this voice. "It's your choice, either trust me not to want to vivisect my own damned lover or we can leave him here and just watch him die"

Lex watched as Jonathan's face reddened, as much with shame as any other emotion. "Damn it, son, you know that's not what I'm thinking. We both trust you. It's just hard to break the conditioning of a lifetime to let someone else in. Protecting Clark and his secrets is second nature to us now."

Lex let his head fall forward, resting his face against Clark's hair. "I know... I'm terrified too." A sudden thought stabbed through him. "Wait... What about Helen? She took care of both of you when you were ill. How much does she know? Could she help us?"

Martha looked at Jon, a sudden flare of hope on her face. "Jon, do you think...?"

Jon leaned forward, giving her a hasty kiss on her cheek. "Of course, I'm just an old fool for not thinking of calling her already." He looked at Lex. "She doesn't know the whole story, still thinks that he's just one of the Smallville mutations. But she's seen his blood. She at least has an idea of just how different Clark is." A tired smile creased his sun-weathered face. "And, she's known all this time and no black vans have ever shown up to take him away so I guess it's safe."

Lex sighed, telling himself the lecture about keeping Clark safe would need to wait until a better time. And, as much as he knew he could do a better job, he also had to admit, even if only to himself, that Clark was the man he was, the good caring man he'd grown to love because of the two people sitting here in this room with him. "It's settled then, I'll call her, see how fast I can get her here. In the meantime, let's get Clark and Hannah moved. That way I can make arrangements to get whatever Helen tells me she'll need delivered and installed by the time she gets here"

Martha glanced at her watch. "Lex, it's ten o'clock on a Sunday night..."

"Martha, would you tell me no if I told you I wanted something, no matter how outlandish?" He laughed at her poorly concealed smile as she shook her head 'yes'. "No, wait... Of course you would, Kent's are made of sterner stuff." Lex smiled tiredly as he tilted his face up to look at her. "Thank God, it's the rest of the world that caves whenever enough money's waved their way."

Martha kissed his brow, standing and moving about the room with short, purposeful movements as she opened drawers and Clark's closet, quickly filling an old, battered knapsack. Jonathan watched her for a moment, a lost look in his eyes before he hid it, turning to help Lex get Clark back up on his bed. He gave Lex a quick pat on his shoulder as they got him settled with Clark's never waking.

"Son, I'll go get Hannah ready. You make your calls. You just tell us what you need from us and we'll do it. No questions asked. You have my word."

Lex ignored the sudden ache he felt in his chest at Jonathan's words as he moved out into the hall, quickly making the arrangements to have them picked up. The van would be here within the next half hour. He had no doubts that it would have all of the modifications needed to make Clark as comfortable as they could.

Closing his phone with a snap, he walked back into the room, praying that Fate would give them the time that they needed. That's what worried him the most. Lex knew first-hand just what a fickle, demanding bitch she could be. He'd fought her all of his life.

Crossing back over to the bed he sat down, carefully pulling Clark against him, head resting on his chest. It scared the hell out of him that Clark barely stirred, one arm going around his waist. His breathing sounded more labored, Lex saw a slight tinge of purple around his lips now, his skin pale except for the hot spots of color on his cheeks. He knew they were losing him, that each moment was precious if they hoped to save him. He was never so glad to hear a clatter of steps coming up the stairs, muffled voices clarifying as Martha opened the door, ushering in two of his security guards. Lex was relieved to see Nathan and Jeff, men he trusted implicitly and who had been with him the longest.

Nathan inclined his head pausing in his efforts with Jeff to raise the collapsable stretcher they'd rolled into the room with them. "The helicopter left ten minutes ago to pick up Dr. Bryce as per your instructions. I assumed that you wouldn't be needing Dr. Tobias?"

Seeing Lex's quick nod of 'no', he moved with Jeff over to the bed as Lex rose and got out of their way. Nathan handed him a sheaf of papers before they quickly transferred Clark to the stretcher after they finished setting it up.

Lex took them, glancing down to see transcripts of the equipment Helen had requested, smiling to see that it was already en-route as well. He followed them down the stairs, joined by Martha, Jonathan and a sleepy Hannah, watching as they carefully shifted Clark into the waiting emergency van that they'd brought from the factory. One of the staff medics was already fitting oxygen tubing onto Clark's face, the head of the stretcher elevated to try and help him breathe. Closing the doors, the van started, leaving the farmhouse behind in a cloud of dust.

Martha's hand on his arm made him jump, Lex turned so quickly everything thing else grayed out around him for a second.

"Lex, go. Don't worry about us, we'll be right behind you in the truck." Her smile was sad, her eyes tired as she took Hannah from Jon, carefully placing her in her carrier before turning back to give Lex a quick hug. "Besides, I know the way you drive. You'll probably still beat them to the mansion."

Lex felt Jon's warm hand on his shoulder, giving his own silent support. "I'll see you there then. Helen is on her way and should be here shortly."

Taking a deep breath, Lex fought for his center, knowing Clark needed him. That he didn't have the luxury of surrendering to the panic threatening him with the ghost of his long-ago asthma attacks. "We'll save him Martha, Jonathan. No matter what, we won't lose him."

Martha's soft kiss on his cheek, the resigned look in her eyes, blurred his vision as he quickly turned away. Moving toward his car Lex started it, hearing the gears grind as he threw it into gear, for once not caring about fine Italian engineering. By the time he arrived at the mansion, they'd already set Clark up in the guestroom next to his own.

The room had been transformed into a makeshift hospital suite; the array of equipment already surrounding Clark seeming to dwarf his large frame. Lex moved over to the bed, his hand shaking as he gently brushed Clark's hair away from his face, the skin hot and dry under his fingertips. Clark was lying on a cooling blanket, an oxygen mask over the lower part of his face, the stream misting the plastic with each ragged breath he took.

He heard Martha's gasp as she entered the room but Lex couldn't take his eyes off Clark. A part of him scared that if he did, Clark would already be gone. He felt her presence at his back before her hand covered his where it rested on Clark's face.

"I don't understand, Lex, none of it makes sense. Clark doesn't get sick, not like this. What could have hurt my baby like this?"

Lex moved his hand, fingers tracing over the bruise discoloring Clark's right cheek. "I don't know, Martha, but I'm sure as hell going to find out. I promise you."

Wanting nothing more than to give in to the tiredness weighing him down, he sighed, leaning down to touch his lips to Clark's forehead. Straightening up he moved back, pulling a chair over so Martha could sit next to Clark, her hand already covering Clark's as she held it.

"Martha, I'll be right back. We'll need blood samples for Helen to compare to what she'd seen before. I'd worry about our being able to draw it but we've already seen that he can be hurt now, for whatever reason."

Martha looked up at Lex, determination shining in her eyes. "I'll stay here with him. Mabel has arranged for someone to look after Hannah for me. Jon's gone. He's taken the truck to go and get samples from the field where Clark was working. Before he got sick he told his father that he'd seen some meteor rock there, that it'd made him feel ill. He's going to try and find it, bring some back for Dr. Bryce."

Silently cursing himself for not already thinking of that, Lex nodded. "That's good, we'll need everything we can get our hands on to try and figure this out. I'll go get everything set up and have Hope draw what we need for the first samples. You remember her, right? She and Mercy have both had field Medic training and I trust them not to ask questions. I want to have as much analysis done as we can by the time Helen gets here."

He felt her free hand on his arm, giving silent comfort. "Lex, sweetie, I know you'll do your best, it's all we can ask. No matter what happens, Jon and I know he's safe with you."

Lex drew strength from the love that Martha so freely gave him, steeling himself for what lay ahead. "I'd give my life to keep him safe, Martha. You have my word."

Her hand moved up to lightly touch his face. "I know that, sweetie. I know."

The next hours passed in a blur. Helen arrived and looked at the data that Lex had waiting for her, quickly doing what tests they could to see what might be safe to give Clark to try and fight the infection raging through his body. It finally came down to their just taking a chance, knowing that he'd die any way without the medication maybe buying them some more time. As he helped Helen sit up the IV Martha's strangled yell startled them both.

"Lex, Helen, he's not breathing!"

Helen sprang into action, pushing Lex aside. Placing her fingers against Clark's neck, Lex watched as she quickly checked for a pulse. "Martha, move! Lex, help me lift him and get that board underneath him!" As soon as they settled him, Helen tilted Clark's head back, beginning rescue breathing, motioning for Lex to get in place and begin compressions.

They both worked furiously, moments ticking by, Lex focused on following her every instruction. Finally, just as the burning in the muscles of his arms was becoming painful he heard it. Heard Clark take a ragged breath, felt the jump of his pulse under his hands as Clark's heart began its erratic beating once more.

Helen's eyes met his over Clark, the naked concern in them almost sending Lex to his knees. He saw her glance over her shoulder; Lex followed her gaze, taking in the pallor, the look of horror on Martha and Jonathan's faces as they held each other. Lex knew how frustrating it must have been, watching them and being powerless to help.

Helen reseated the oxygen mask over Clark's face, adjusting the flow upwards as she did. She and Lex removed the hard board from underneath Clark and they got him resettled.

She finished setting up and started the medication she'd been about to add before. Lex tried to ignore the shaking of her hands, knowing his were no better. The monitors still pinged at them, unhappy with Clark's readings. Helen turned them down before turning away, motioning the three of them away from the bed.

She ran her hands through her hair, looking more rattled than Lex could ever remember seeing Helen, glancing again at the readouts and frowning at what she saw.

"I know I don't have to tell you how bad what just happened was. I honestly don't know if Clark could survive it's happening again." She placed her hand on Martha's arm. "Martha, Jonathan, I need to know how far you want me to take this. Clark's systems are starting to shut down from the sepsis of the infection. I'm giving him medication to try and help and he's receiving breathing treatments but his lungs are filling with fluid almost as quickly as we can drain it off. I can put him on a ventilator to take some of the strain off his lungs but I need your permission to do it. The cooling blankets are helping but his temperature is still dangerously high. There's no guarantee that, even if he pulls through that there won't be brain damage from this."

Fear clutched Lex's heart, each word she spoke another stab of pain. Martha cried out quietly, Jonathan's arms going around her, tears of his own coursing down his worn, lined face. His voice was roughened by them when he answered her.

"Do whatever you have to, Helen; just buy us some more time. We have faith in you and Lex. If there's an answer to find to help Clark, I know you'll find it. Just a little more time, it's all we ask."

He turned his head toward Lex, Martha's face still hidden against his shoulder. "Son, I know you're doing your best for Clark. I just... I wanted you to know that we're proud of you. We couldn't have picked a better person to love our son. No matter what happens, we wanted you to know that."

Lex stood there, warmed by his words but terrified by them as well. He wanted to shout at them, tell them no, he'd never deserve Clark. No one could. He hadn't noticed his own tears until he felt a gentle hand wiping them away, Helen offering him a tissue from the box on Clark's bedside tray.

Clearing his throat, unable to speak at first, he took a shaky breath, adrenaline still coursing through his bloodstream, wanting to get away. Needing to do something, anything but just stand there, helpless. "Thank you, that means more than I can ever tell you." Turning back to Helen, he gestured toward Clark. "I'll be in the lab, I'll check the newest data while you do what you need to Clark. I'll send Hope and Mercy to assist you."

"Thank you, Lex; I'll join you there as soon as I'm finished here."

Back down in the lab again, Lex looked at the latest readouts, checking them against the last. Even his untrained eyes could see how bad it looked. Trying to be useful, he sat up the latest blood specimens they'd drawn and had them ready under the microscope as Helen walked in, looking as tired as they all felt.

"It's done, Lex, we've got him on the ventilator. Jonathan's gone to lie down with Hannah for a while and Martha is sitting with Clark. I left Mercy in charge, she'll call us if there's any change." Pulling on her lab coat, she moved over to the sophisticated microscope that Lex had obtained for her and began her analysis.

Lex nodded silently and went back to cataloging the findings they had so far. They'd learned so much. The fact of Clark's sudden vulnerability was both a blessing and a curse. They now knew more about his physiology than they had ever known.

Clark was essentially human, Helen said, almost too human. She's told them that he'd had to have been modified genetically to be able to fit in on earth. That, even as ill as he was, his readings had been almost textbook perfect at first but were declining now as his body lost its fight against the infection ravaging him.

There was one amazing thing they'd seen that they'd just found with the new microscope right before the crisis. Even though he had both white and red corpuscles in his blood, there was another element there too. At first it had almost overwhelmed the other components of his blood and she'd thought it was more evidence of the infection. But, instead of increasing as the infection grew, whatever this was was decreasing in numbers as she watched. More quickly as Clark's sickness grew. That was what she was examining now, trying to isolate it, see what its function could be.

They both worked quietly until Helen cried out suddenly. "Lex, come over here and take a look at this."

Setting his own work aside, Lex moved over quickly to her side. "What is it? What have you found?"

Excitement clear in her voice, Helen moved aside, motioning for Lex to look at the series of slides she'd been working on. "I knew there had to be some function to this stuff so I've been exposing it to various stimuli to try and determine what it could be."

She gestured again at the slides, pointing to the first group as Lex began to study them. "I've exposed them both to the green and the yellowish meteor rocks that Jonathan found and brought back. I've also exposed them to various light spectrums."

She quickly began arranging them, changing out the slides as she spoke. "The green rocks caused them to degrade, begin to mutate and break apart. I think that might be what causes his violent reaction to the green meteor rocks. They're toxic to Clark, almost like a severe allergic reaction."

She reached for the next series. "The ultraviolet light seemed to strengthen them, repair the damage the green rocks caused. I think that may be where Clark gets his strength, his amazing abilities. He's almost like a walking solar battery in some respects. Lex, I think if this hadn't happened to Clark he may have been almost immortal. His parents seem to have engineered his body to constantly renew itself through exposure to our sun. This element must have been introduced into his immune system to let that happen."

Lex interrupted her, unable to hide the excitement in his voice. "That's good, right? That's something we can use to help him fight the infection. We'll set up UV lights around him to help strengthen him."

Helen shook her head, frustration clear on her face. "It should but there's a problem, the added cells are disappearing from his blood and, as they do, his immune system breaks down faster and faster. When they're gone, he'll die, no matter what we do. The infection, everything he's always been resistive to, will simply overwhelm him. If we do get him through this, we'll need to set up a whole series of shots and immunizations to try and build up immunity to Earth bacteria that his body has never needed until now."

Lex looked at her, not bothering to try and hide the confusion he knew was clear on his face. "I don't understand, what's changed? Always before, when he got away from the green stones, the damage would reverse itself. What's different about this time?"

"I know, it made no sense from what Jon and Martha had told us, what you'd seen for yourself." Helen moved over to the newest collection of slides and placed them under the microscope. "I think I may have found what's causing it though. Look, see the concentration of the element on this slide?"

"Yes, it's covering most of the slide."

Helen switched out the slide and gestured to Lex. "Now look. See the difference? This is from the same blood specimen as the previous slide."

Lex looked, surprised at the difference, there was almost no evidence of the strange element, it looked almost normal. Human normal at least. "I don't understand, what changed?"

Helen placed another slide on the scope. "This did, look, Lex."

Moving quickly she took a piece of the yellow stone and moved it closer to the blood on the slide, a dull yellow glow beginning to shine from it. Lex watched as the strange element in Clark's blood disappeared before his eyes. "What the hell is that stuff, it's killing all those cells!"

Helen moved it away, Lex watched as the shine diminished and then finally disappeared. "It has a different crystalline structure but it matches the signature of the green stones. Lex, I think this is another variation on the meteor rocks. Whatever this stuff is, it seems to strip Clark's ability to process the ultraviolet light. He must have been exposed to it in the field and that's why he's losing his powers now." She moved restlessly about the lab, returning their specimens to the refrigeration unit they'd set up. "I think there may be a small amount that got into his bloodstream somehow. That may be what left him wide open to the flu that Jon and Hannah had. Only, he had no built-in immunity for it and it's worsened as his body has lost the ability to draw more power from the sun."

Lex walked over to Helen, placing his hands on her arms to stop her, force her to look at him. "Then, we clean his blood, stop its progress. That will help, right?"

Helen didn't try to hide her frustration. "Yes and no. I'm going to order a dialysis unit so we can do just that but it won't replace what he's lost. He'll still be wide open to more infection and probably won't be able to fight off what he has now. He's already lost a dangerous amount of the element from his body. Unless... Hold on a moment, let me get the unit ordered, there's some more tests I want to run while we're waiting for it to arrive." Moving quickly, she went over to the phone, calling Hope to tell her what they needed.

Walking back over to Lex, he could almost see the wheels moving in her brain as her mind worked through the problem. "Lex, you and the other mutants, you were all changed by exposure to the Kryptonite, right? And, you were almost at ground zero?"

Lex, nodded 'yes', not even annoyed to be grouped in with the other oddities that the storm had produced, too focused on Helen's train of thought to care. "Yes, I was. And each of us has manifested a different ability, or curse sometimes. As crazy as it sounds, it's almost like the rocks granted our most desperate wishes. For me, it was my health. I'd been so sick all of my life, all I wanted to be was healthy, to not be sick any more."

"So, for you, it appeared as a healing ability? If you're injured you heal quickly, you don't tend to get sick any more?"

Lex moved over to the table and sat down, Helen following him. "Yes, that's right. I broke my ankle once and it was healed in least than a week. It seems to have been getting stronger as I've gotten older."

Helen face showed her excitement as Lex answered her, apparently happy with what he was saying. "I know you've been tested, has anything strange ever shown up in your blood?"

"According to what they've told me, only an abnormal white cell count. It's supposed to be extremely high."

Helen tapped her lips, lost in thought for a moment. "I wonder... when I first found this stuff I thought they were abnormal white blood cells too." She jumped up, a smile transforming her face. "Lex, I need to take a sample of your blood."

Lex was already shrugging off his jacket and folding back his sleeve. "Of course, whatever you need. What is it you're looking for?"

Helen moved toward him, quickly collecting a sample of his blood. "I'll tell you as soon as I know, give me just a few minutes." Moving back over to her equipment, she fell silent as she furiously worked with the blood she'd just drawn from Lex.

Lex settled back into his chair, his eyes slipping closed as the exhaustion he'd been fighting began to catch up with him. Starting awake at the touch of Helen's hand on his arm, he scrubbed his hands over his face, furious at the lapse. "Damn it, Helen, you shouldn't have let me fall asleep."

Helen smiled at him, her face soft, some of the tension seemingly erased from it. "You needed it and it was only for a few minutes. There was nothing you could do while I worked and Clark is safe with Mercy and Martha. Lex, that's not important... your nap didn't hurt anything. I'm going to need you strong anyway."

Lex shook his head, trying to get rid of the lingering cobwebs. "What? Why? What does my strength have to do with helping Clark?"

She tugged gently on his sleeve, her smile growing. "Your blood is different, Lex. Only, it's not your white count that's abnormally high. It's just what it looks like in purely human blood. Or, at least what started out as purely human blood. Your blood is anything but that now."

Lex frowned, hating being reminded of just how much of a freak he really was. "I don't understand. How does this help Clark?"

"Lex, your blood is filled with the same element as Clark's. It even works the same way for you, just not on as grandiose a scale. Although that may change as you continue to get older. Your life span will be much longer than a normal human's." "Her face softened even more as she looked at him. "It truly is like you were made for him. And, with what Martha has told us was Clark's reaction on seeing you for the first time, who's to say you weren't."

Lex felt his heart racing at Helen's words, amazed at what she was telling him. But he was still confused. "I don't understand though, Helen. What does any of this mean for Clark?"

Helen out and out grinned as she answered. "A transfusion, Lex, several in fact over the next few weeks I think. I'm going to isolate the element out of your blood and will give it to Clark to replace some of what he's lost. It will be like donating plasma to Clark only this will be much more specialized."

Lex felt his own grin growing, a little of the oppressive weight on his heart lessening a little. "Then, you can cure him, right? Make him the way he was before?"

A shadow crossed her face, dimming her smile as she answered. "No, Lex, even with this, he won't be as strong as before. The damage from the yellow stones is just too severe." Helen reached over, gently clasping Lex's hand with hers for a moment before releasing it. "But, we can get him close. I'm afraid though that he's lost his immortality and his powers will be much diminished. He'll still have an incredibly long life but there will be an end to it now. Over time, as he regains his strength, we'll test him and determine what his new normals will be."

Lex closed his eyes, overwhelmed at the renewed hope rushing through him. No matter what changes there may be, they'd cope with them somehow, together. Looking at Helen, he opened his arms, determined. "Take whatever you need from me. I'm yours for whatever you require to save Clark."

Helen laughed, the sound music to Lex's ears. There had been nothing for them to laugh about the last few days as they'd raced to find some hope for Clark. "Don't worry, Lex. I promise to leave you at least a little bit. I'm not prepared to face Clark if I damaged you in any way. I've seen first-hand how fierce he can get about 'his' Lex."

Lex felt his face heating as he smiled back at Helen, her laughter growing even more at the sight. "Yes, well, if it means Clark's getting better I'll take that chance."

Things moved quickly after that. Helen dialyzed Clark's blood several times over the next few days to make sure all traces of the gold meteor rock were removed from his system. With that, combined with the antibiotics and the first transfusions of platelets from Lex's blood, Clark slowly began to improve.

Finally, on the fourth day, he woke up enough to be weaned off of the respirator. As Clark opened his eyes and croaked out his first quiet, 'Mom', they all cried a little. Lex still was barely sleeping. When Clark became aware enough to see the raccoon circles under his eyes, he'd put his foot down.

Lex was so happy to see him awake he didn't even mind when they all ganged up on him. Once the last of the machinery was taken away, except for the oxygen that was still helping Clark heal and his IV ports, Clark finally convinced him to slow down.

Lex smiled at the memory of Clark bargaining with him to get him to agree to taking this nap. He'd even promised to eat his peas if Lex would only rest. Martha's quick sputter of laughter had convinced Lex of just how major a concession that had to have been.

Snuggling down against Clark, Lex finally let himself relax. He felt Clark's arm, heavy and warm, cross over his stomach, pulling him closer. Lex would have gladly given everything he had, just to be where he was right now, with Clark safe and alive and in his arms. What made it even better was the sleepy 'I love you' murmured quietly against his throat. Lex smiled as sleep slowly claimed him, happier than he could ever remember being in his whole life.

The afternoon passed quietly, they'd all napped to catch up on some of the sleep that they'd lost. Martha left Jon and Hannah still asleep in their rooms as she went in search of Helen. She'd wanted to make sure that she was all right. Martha had noticed the sadness in her eyes at times as she'd looked at the boys the last few days. She knew from her own experience just what those looks could mean.

Martha finally found Helen standing in the doorway to Clark's room, silently watching the two boys asleep on the bed. She turned toward Martha, a sad smile on her face when she saw her approaching.

"They're both so powerful, each in their own way, that they can make you forget just how young they still are until you see them like this; vulnerable and unguarded in sleep."

Martha could hear it in the timbre of Helen's voice, the subtle way she almost leaned toward the door opening. "Does Lex know?"

She didn't even try to pretend she didn't understand what Martha meant as she shook her head, answering. "No, and he never will, not from me. I think I was his last attempt at 'normal'; career wife, fast track life, 1.2 kids. I know he loved me in his way, just not in the ways that matter. I was never his 'everything', Clark always was. I'm just glad I woke up before we both made a horrible mistake."

Martha hugged herself, lost in her memories for a second. "They were both so lost at the time, Clark especially. The ship, and his father, Jor-el, had almost driven him insane. When Pete came and got us at the church, told us what had happened at home, that Clark had taken the red kryptonite and left, I was so afraid I'd never see my son again. At least not the boy I'd loved and raised all these years."

"I know, both Lex and I could see it in your eyes. But Martha, it wasn't just your eyes that were being truthful that day. From the moment he heard about Clark I knew. That's why I stopped everything, told him there wouldn't be a wedding. Lex had to go and find him. I used you and your pregnancy as an excuse, saying that the strain of searching for Clark would be too much for you. But, we both knew the real reason; Clark was who he wanted, not me. When he found Clark and brought him home two months later I was already gone, I'd taken the job at John Hopkins."

Martha reached out to Helen, pulled her into a hug, letting her lean against her for a moment. "That was a very noble thing you did for them, Helen. Because of you I have both my sons here, alive and sane. You saved them then and now, two years later you've saved them again."

Helen pulled back, her smile sad. "I did it to save myself Martha. Look at them, they fit. I never would have and in the end we all would have ended up hating each other. I didn't do it to be noble, Martha. I did so we could all survive."

Martha reached up and smoothed Helen's hair away from her face just like her mother used to do for her when she was upset. "And you say you weren't noble?" She gently placed her arm around Helen's shoulders as they slowly closed the door, hoping that in the silence both boys could get the rest they so desperately needed.

When Clark opened his eyes again the room was much darker, he vaguely wondered what time it was, whether it was even the same day. God, it felt wonderful to wake up slowly; nothing hurt, he could take a deep breath without feeling like he was drowning. And, best of all, he had a nice, warm Lex sprawled all along his right side gently carding his fingers through his hair. He wondered if purring would be okay right about now.

"Hey..."

"Hey yourself sleepyhead, you going to stay awake for a few minutes this time?"

Clark smiled as Lex shifted his fingers from his hair and began to draw lazy patterns across his chest and stomach. 'Yep purring was definitely called for, any minute now.'

"Mmmm... Not if you keep doing that, Lex, feels too good."

Meaning to reach up and capture his fingers for a kiss, Clark was surprised at how much his hand shook, from just that little effort. Lex pulled him even closer, into a fiercely protective hug, his voice trembling slightly as he began speaking again.

"Clark, I was afraid I was going to lose you, it was so damn close. It scared the hell out of me that I might do something your body would reject, that I'd end up hurting you more. You didn't exactly come with an instruction manual you know."

Clark hugged him back. "Lex, I'm so sorry, that wasn't how I wanted to tell you. Nothing like finding out your boyfriend's a big, dorky, lying alien, huh?"

He felt soft laughter rumble against his chest, "Well, big and dorky maybe, lying no. Your parents told me about the promises they made you give. I don't blame them, Clark, I wouldn't have trusted me back then either."

"It wasn't you, Lex, it was mainly because of your dad, he can be pretty scary most of the time. They were afraid he'd find out and cart me off to a lab somewhere." Clark felt the increased tension in Lex's body at the mention of his father.

"You don't know how much I wish I could say they're wrong but they're not. I've got too much first-hand experience of the things he did to me after the kryptonite changed me, and I was his own son!"

Even though it was barely above a whisper, Clark heard the steel in Lex's voice as he continued speaking. "I promise, Clark, that he will never touch you, he may be my father but I'd kill him before I'd let him hurt you."

"No, Lex. I never want to put you in that situation, to have to take that step. We'll have to make sure he doesn't find out. I'll have to learn to be more careful now anyway, I'm not "Invincible Boy" any more you know."

He'd meant it as a joke, something to break the tension, but Clark was surprised to see the sadness reflected in Lex's eyes as he looked up at him, raising his hand to lightly trace alone his jaw.

"I'm so sorry, Clark..."

"Sorry, for what, Lex?"

"For the change in your powers, that I couldn't fix things completely, that you're mortal now, like the rest of us. Your biological parents wanted you to live forever..."

Clark couldn't stop himself as he pulled Lex to him, kissing him quickly to stop the flow of words. "God, no, don't apologize! They wanted that, not me. I've had nightmares for years about that, about everyone I've ever loved dying and leaving me alone. My powers scared me, I kept right on changing and I didn't know what I was going to be when it was finished. I didn't want to be this all-powerful creature; I just wanted to be Clark." He couldn't help the crack in his voice after he gave Lex another, gentler kiss, "I didn't want forever without you, Lex."

Lex began drawing soft patterns on his skin again, a sweet tender massage for his sore muscles. "I wouldn't either, Clark. But, things have got to change. No more solo rescue missions. We've got to figure out your new limits as you get stronger. If you're going to keep playing the hero we're going to have to be a team, make sure we protect both you and your secrets. If we're going to do this we're going to have to be united. Remember what you said that time? Clark Kent and Lex Luthor..."

Clark could feel himself edging toward sleep again as they lay together, touching each other, trading lazy kisses. "Mmmm...I still really like the sound of that."

A warm chuckle followed him down into sleep, "Destiny, Clark. Just remember, your ass is mine now."

Clark snuggled even closer, lulled by the sound of Lex's heartbeat under his ear. "S'okay... long as it goes both ways..."

He felt warm lips touch his hair as awareness faded away again. "Always, farmboy, always; body, heart and soul."

fin