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Certain images had a pull over him. Certain images that reporters never bothered to notice that they perpetuated as much as he did: white, lilies, sunflowers, slick black marble, striking silver gleams, purples so rich and deep that they bordered on black.

LexCorp Purple, LuthorCorp Purple.

No, not LuthorCorp any longer.

Those were just things half-associated with him. No-one understood why they pulled at him, no-one cared to understand that. No, they wanted explanations, they wanted explanations for every thing he'd ever done. One couldn't simply look back and clearly pinpoint what influenced action A, which led to B, which had led to him standing before his father's casket on a murky Saturday morning.

Lex's own memorial ceremony had been held on a clear, cloudless day. His father had waxed poetic about the service, almost damp eyed as he'd retold Lex about the events that had passed while he'd been away.

Lionel had always liked the lilies that Lillian had favored, so his casket had been covered with a cascade of them; the monument Lionel was buried beneath was the same as Lillian's, visible but nothing so extravagant as his own 'monument' had been. That was a bare spot in the grass, a ghost of a reminder despite that Lionel had it taken down.

When a phoenix rose from the ashes, it was understood that the creature was returned to the highest peak of its strength. Lex considered himself a phoenix, burning out sharply and coming back better and keener of mind than ever before.

The board had been assured that his hospital records were understandable. The youthful indiscretions that had had him sent off to Smallville weren't even something for him to explain. And without point A, reporters had trouble going to point B, to point F, to point U. News was a chain, and as much as a reporter would be loathe in admitting it, some people were above the watchdog of the media.

It felt good to be a phoenix, covered in purple lilies.

The memorial service would last long enough and with the pomp and tasteful flair of drama that Lionel would have appreciated. Lex had managed to speak eloquently at the funeral, a traditional catholic mass that no one had dared to intrude on uninvited. The public memorial service was for media, acquaintances. People who really didn't give a fuck about his father. The Catholic mass had included the presence of what little family they had left, respected business friends of theirs, respected criminal friends of theirs.

Sometimes, they were one and the same person.

Managers and acquaintances attended the memorial, people who'd benefited from things Lionel had done. Some familiar faces, sympathetically looking up at him as he spoke.

Where had they been when he could have needed them? The same place that so-called caring people had been all of his life. Elsewhere, doing things that pleased them. When they needed him though, well, no amount of gentle excuses was enough to get them to leave him alone.

How dare they attend.

He had sat at his father's side, watched him struggle with every breath for two slow, teetering weeks. Two slow weeks of watching his father die, watching it happen alone except for brief appearances by people seeking to better themselves in his eyes.

"My father was a great man, who had the pleasure of growing up in this fine city, the pleasure of converting some of the worst parts of the city into areas that now teem with life. I cannot help but feel that if his life had not been claimed in the car accident, he would still have so much more to offer the city. There were plans we'd discussed, new developments -- and unlike the dreams of some people, Lionel Luthor's dreams will not die with him. His hopes for our city were not buried in the earth with him."

It could have, though. They'd been in the same car accident, sitting in the back of their limousine. Just three weeks ago, just three bare weeks ago, they'd been leaving that damned charity auction. A dinner date with his father had garnered a quarter of a million for Metropolis Children's Charities. Last Lex had heard the cheated bidder had paid her quarter of a million to the charity anyway. He'd booked a lunch meeting with her in a week, just to thank her for her conviction in helping charities. Dinner that same evening was to be with an anonymous bidder who'd won him 'for the night'.

That damned auction. If they hadn't gone, Lionel would still be alive. If he'd just worn his seatbelt, if they both hadn't been so relaxed and half drunk that--

"You think of Lionel Luthor, and most of you think of Luthor Corp. That's just a chemical company that my father built up out of nothing but his own iron determination to make life prosperous for himself, and for this city. But he was more than just a businessman. He had a family, hobbies -- the quiet passions that truly define a man. His favorite music was classical, and he played the piano with skill. He excelled in fencing -- my father excelled in everything he undertook. Business, chemicals, expanding the good works systems that existed in our city. And that is how he should be remembered. Not as a businessman, but as a man who has accomplished unthinkable things in his lifetime."

A man who sometimes forgot about his family, a man who'd hurt his son and cheated on his dying wife, but was always there when they needed him. It was more than Lex could say for the rest of humanity. Things had passed between them that made Lex's spine crawl to remember; but in recent years, they'd calmed, they'd worked together, for and with each other.

Lex could still see the look on his father's face when his spine had snapped, the horror and pain that had washed over them both before the crunching metal had swallowed them whole.

The crush of steel when they'd been broadsided had wounded his legs, cost him a hand, and broken his father's spine. The official telling had been that Lionel was kneeling by the wet bar within the limousine. There was nothing to say otherwise in the accident scene; the broken glasses, the break in Lionel's spine. It had been overlooked that Lex's left thighbone had been shattered, that he and Lionel had been entwined in the crash when the rescue squad had arrived. Two lovers caught in tragic coitus?

Of course not. They were father and son. Two rich businessmen, both with a publicly acknowledged taste for fine liquor, crushed together in a cage of crumpled steel.

The media never clutched at those oddities. They grasped at the idea that Lionel had died and Lex had lived, their favorite conspiracy theories. The Limousine driver had died, Lionel had languished unconscious before dying, but Lex had survived. It made for a good story, didn't it?

Lex shifted, leaning heavily on the podium for a silent moment. Both hands clutched at the edge, one crude and covered with a glove. His real right hand had probably been what had kept Lionel from being decapitated. Because it had been entwined in Lionel's hair, curving at the base of his father's neck. Severed so quickly that he hadn't even felt the pain.

"I ... hope to do my father's name a service in carrying on his dreams. This city will not be abandoned to it's own devices." He could feel the memorized speech trailing off within him. He went on, tearless and tired. Like the automaton he felt like he had become as he spoke to those kindly, useless faces. His legs were aching, but he could stand there, and he could walk away when his speech came to a close.

Money bought the best healthcare, the most advanced healthcare that a stubborn businessman could want. Perhaps it made him look suspicious in the eyes of reporters, but it kept LuthorCorp on firm footing. There was no slip in the price stock of the double ls, not with him forcing himself to carry on.

When the service dissolved after a few prayers for Lionel, Lex stood there and accepted condolences. He didn't offer his gloved hand to be shaken. It hurt to carry any weight on the limb, and the surgeries that let him wear it were still recent, so it stayed tucked into his pocket. He could see morbid eyes drop down there momentarily to glance from time to time.

It was almost understandable. There had been murmurs about what sort of injuries he'd suffered, but none of them had made it into the media. Murmurs stayed merely murmurs.

Lex watched until they were disbursing before he turned his back to them. Lillian would have been proud to see that he'd survived once more, that he was still trying to exist and live. His father would've been happy that he'd taken up the Luthor banner and hadn't let it lie sullied in blood for very long.

He bent carefully on the smooth stone before their headstone, reached out to trace their names for a moment.

There was no one left to Alexander J. Luthor. Seven, eight years beforehand he'd felt the painful tugging of loss, betrayal and madness. His sole friendship had done nothing but drain him, his attempts at love had left him mad. Love and friendship were bitter pills; his father had been testing, but when Lex needed him, he was there. A backhanded comfort, perhaps, but it had been a comfort for him.

How his father's face had twisted would always remain burned into his mind.

"God. I miss you both so much..." So many moral and ethical questions that Lex wasn't going to even begin to think about. The only thought worth noting was that he was hurt, and no one had been there to just say 'it's okay, you're on the right track'. Someone other than a doctor, who had merely laid out for him the facts of having his father removed from the respirator.

Just like he'd made the hard choice about surgery on Lionel years before, after the twister. But he knew he'd made the right choice. His father wouldn't have wanted to be a guinea pig for new techniques. His spine could possibly be reconnected with LuthorCorp's new technologies, but it wouldn't make him un-brain-dead.

A footfall behind him, and Lex started to stand; it wasn't any of his people. He'd driven himself there, and he'd drive back home by himself. Someone looking for his attention? Fuck them. They'd get a tight smile and a dismissal, but Lex would not let himself be driven from the family plot.

Two people, side by side -- one woman and one man, or so he could see from the reflection of glossed marble. He stood slowly, balancing his weight just so he didn't have to struggle to stand. His turn was less smooth than he would have liked, but it was certainly smoother than if he'd submitted to the local hospital's care for long.

A pretty woman in a two-piece suit, and a reporters smile; and just behind her... just behind her, just...

"Can I help you?"

"Mr. Luthor, Lois Lane of the Daily Planet." The woman managed to be businesslike, even with an obvious false attempt to be sympathetic. "My condolences on your loss. We were just wondering if you had any statement for the press?"

The man behind her, with curious green eyes framed rather ludicrously behind glasses, now seemed to be watching him intently

One could never call the hounds at the Daily Planet anything other than cunning. Interview the recalcitrant in pairs, so there was twice as much to escape from. Clark was... enough, more than enough to want to try to escape from. But Lex looked coolly back to Lois, and folded his hands behind his back as he looked at her.

"Ms. Lane, I have no statement for the press."

"Mr. Luthor, would it not be politic for you to get your opinions into the press as soon as possible?" Lois pressed, "You must be aware that questions have been raised in certain areas?"

Clark shifted forward a little, looking uncomfortable at that topic shift. "Lois, I think ..."

Lois just shot him a look that was nothing short of scathing. "Mr. Luthor, if I were you I should take the opportunity."

"To what? Deny, once more, the untrue accusation that I killed my father?" Lex lifted his chin, looking back at her with challenge written in his eyes. How dare she, and how dare anyone pry so blatantly -- get his opinions to the press? Why did it matter? People could make assumptions about his injuries, he didn't care. There was no way to guess at the reality of what he and Lionel had been doing when the crash had happened. "It was an accident, a very tragic accident."

"People tend to doubt the veracity of a man who stands to inherit billions and lead the LuthorCorp consortium." Lois pressed again, pushing further, as if sensing some sort of weakness.

"Lois," Clark interrupted, "This really isn't the time."

"Clark, I told you to stay out of it, I'll take the by-line if you won't do your job." It was said as a quiet, barely audible aside as she turned the brittle smile back on Lex.

Lionel had taught him well the proper tactics and techniques to distract a person; and where better to prove that he'd learned the lesson than standing before Lionel's grave. "I've always stood to inherit LuthorCorp, Ms. Lane, and my personal finances are certainly formidable when taken into account without my inheritance." He took a step towards her, slipping his right hand into his pocket casually. "There is no story here, Ms. Lane. That car accident could have killed me as easily as it took Lionel from this world."

"But the point is that it didn't, did it, Mr. Luthor?" Lois seized on that aggressively and that time Clark did move.

"Lois, stop now," he said, with a sharper edge to his voice than he had ever shown her before. "There is a time and a place and this is not it." Lois looked like a pet rabbit had savaged her.

"Get out of my way Clark... there's a story here, I can smell it."

"Then go ask the people who enjoy dishing dirt," Clark said firmly. "I'll speak to... Mr. Luthor."

There was a distinct atmosphere between the two of them and with ill grace Lois backed off. "Go get him farm boy," she said with a slightly mocking tone. "It's only your job on the line."

"There's no need for an un-called for tag-team effort," Lex drawled as he stepped both away from Clark and towards Lois. God knew why Clark was there, but Lex had listened well enough when he'd been told to leave the Kent's alone. He'd held up his part of the demand, and now Clark was there, calm and...

Whole. Fuck them both; sometimes one needed a proper diversion.

"I barely survived the crash, Ms. Lane. Would seeing my injuries convince you of the veracity of my mourning of my father? I've hardly just buried him, I just gave his fucking eulogy, and now you're hounding me. I'm not a murderer!"

"Your words Mr. Luthor," Lois gave a victorious smile.


Perhaps it was the novelty of the sound of her usually mild mannered colleague actually sounding angry, but she actually did back off. "Fine, fine, I've got all I need here, for now," she said, and then smiled at them both before she stalked off.

Clark glanced after her and then turned back to Lex Luthor. "I'm really sorry about that Le... Mr. Luthor," he said, with what seemed to be genuine sincerity. "That wasn't appropriate."

'Seemed to be' being the main phrase that Lex concentrated on. Clark seemed to be genuine, but it was in all likely-hood a PR motion. Lex knew how that worked, but it didn't make the seeming sincerity hurt any less. He watched Lois as she stalked away, rather than actually looking at Clark yet. "It's a pity that the first amendment 'freedom of press' rights lack a clause requiring some semblance of compassion. Good day to you, Mr. Kent. I have no statement to give."

"Lex, it wasn't about statements," Clark said uncomfortably, "I only wanted to see how you were doing and offer... well, support I guess for what it's worth."

And where had he been when Lionel Luthor had, under heavy media mutterings disguised as coverage, languished towards death for two painful weeks before Lex had made his aching decision? Where had he been when Lex himself had been in pain, when he'd undergone those first lifesaving surgeries? When he'd gone to the funeral home and picked a casket for Lionel, when he'd selected the stone, when he'd put that final cutting end to things?

Nowhere. The only people there had been on his payroll.

"It's been years, Clark. Why now?"

"Because." Clark shrugged a little, a bit helplessly. "Because this is the closest I've been able to get to you in years Lex."

"It was your decision, Clark, not mine," Lex muttered as he turned away slightly, looking over to his inviting Benz. He was letting himself be driven off of his own family plot, yes, but it had to be done for a victory. Before he said something stupid, before he did something that just hurt more. "Reporting suits you well."

Clark looked shocked at his words, enough that he moved to stop Lex. "Are you kidding me? I tried. Look forget that. Lex, I know how important your relationship with your father has been for you. All I wanted to say was to offer my sympathies and to say perhaps... if you need someone to talk to or just be around, I'm offering."

As declaration of a possibility of a rekindling of a friendship, it lacked elegance, which perhaps helped; if it had been a ploy, then it should have been smoother.

Except that something smoother was something that Clark would have known Lex would spot as a ploy. So there was every possibility that it was still a ploy, a keen manipulation of the way Lex's mind had worked in the past. But eight years ago, Lex hadn't learned to keep his eyes on the ball. Madness and pain and isolation had been a sharp price to pay to learn lessons that his stubborn pride had refused to let him learn sooner.

"That's very kind of you." And it was. It tugged at something in his chest, as he looked back towards his parent's graves, the smooth marble memorials to lives ended too soon. "If your paper wants an interview, tell them to schedule an appointment with my secretary."

Clark nodded. "We'll do that. And Lex -- here." He pulled out a small business card, offering it. "If you should change your mind, just call."

Lex reached out, took the card with his right hand, and slipped it into his jacket pocket after a fleeting glance at it. Cell phone and office number, either of which he might or might not ever actually bother dialing. "I will. Goodbye... Clark." He started towards his car without so much as a backwards glance, letting himself limp to compensate for the pain of having stood, so still and so properly, for so long. He'd already disobeyed doctor's orders by standing while delivering the eulogy, and the family plot was vacant save for two sets of reporter's eyes.

Clark watched his move away from him again, seeing more than just the limp, seeing the truth behind the words of Lex's injuries in a way that Lois would never be able to see. He had tried to reach Lex over the years, only to not even get past the door. And to stumble over their own history time after time. His friend had been taken away and then Lex just never came back.

As Lex walked towards his Benz and paused to pull open the door, he had no idea that Clark was looking at him, looking through him. That he could see the experimental metal framework that shored up his shattered femur, the equally experimental prosthetic hand that was covered with expertly crafted silicone; that he could see the bandages, the bruises that were finally fading to pale green and yellow, the padding that protected his mangled genitals while they healed.

Lex merely opened the door, started the car once he'd slipped into the seat, and drove off in his modified vehicle. Ignoring possibilities like that, the possibility that Clark could know, was what made living day to day something Lex could do.

It was hard to be a creature of habit when that habit was still badly disrupted and impossible to ever return to, for all the wishes in the world.

Any time when he wasn't working was a one-sided tango.

Mornings were rough because he'd become accustomed to waking up with Lionel beside him, to kisses and passing easy conversation as they showered and dressed for the day to come. Now it was hollow, without anyone to talk with, without anyone beside him, with that hollow space beside him where Lionel should have been. He could feel the emptiness at the breakfast table in particular, so Lex had started to begin his workday earlier, taking breakfast in the office that had been Lionel's.

Mid-day was rough because there was no one to bounce his ideas off of over lunch and coffee, no quick rough sex in that familiar office. There was just... himself. He started to schedule business meetings over the lunch hour so he didn't have the opportunity to reminisce.

And evenings, the free hours, the weekends -- as few as there had been so far -- were like knife-thrusts to his heart. He could work late, but it didn't fill the routine of going to bed, the comfort of fencing with his father, of sport and relaxation and...

The interviewing reporter would be there any minute now. Lex sipped at his latte, powered down his laptop while he waited for her. After all, once he'd said that Clark would be a 'conflict of interest', there wasn't any question who they'd send up. He was still thinking over that card, letting it burn a hole against his chest from where it was tucked into the pocket of that day's suit; there was no need to mix business with what might become something like pleasure.

The bitch had probably taken a sedative before coming there, Lex noted as he spared an obvious glance to her legs, while he gestured for her to sit down. He didn't stand to greet her, despite that it would have been the most polite thing to do.

"I'm sure. Please sit down, Ms. Lane, and make yourself comfortable. Would you like any coffee?" he asked her graciously.

"That would be very kind of you, yes please," Lois replied, playing the astute game of reporters everywhere. Accepting a drink tended to make the interviewee regard you more as a friend then an enemy, and then they might just reveal that crucial something in a moment of weakness. "I have to admit Mr. Luthor, I was surprised that you might allow me back to speak to you. My methods are direct and I thought I might have alienated you at our last meeting."

"There is a lot to be said for learning some tact, Ms. Lane, but I have to admit that I was under duress yesterday. Since neither of us behaved properly, perhaps we should start over." He reached with his right hand and carefully pressed the intercom button. "Hope, send in a latte for Ms. Lane."

"Yes Mr. Luthor..."

"Unfortunately tact isn't something I've ever been accused of possessing, but likewise, I can roll with the punches that come my way," she said, making small talk to try and relax the man a little. "Shall we begin?"

"Of course. Start wherever you'd like," Lex murmured as he carefully, painstakingly folded his hands in front of him. There was no way she could notice his right hand wasn't real; the texture and tint matched his left perfectly, it moved so well... it just felt clumsy and wrong still. But the doctor said that with time and tuning, with new developments, it would feel like it had never been lost at all.

"Mr. Luthor, you mentioned something yesterday about barely surviving the crash yourself and injuries that you had sustained. Would you care to reassure the public as to the state of your health?" Lois asked in a carefully designed question. If he said he was fine, he would be undermining his claims that he had been harmed.

Catch twenty-two. But Lex could do both. "Peripheral injuries -- as you can see, I'm more than capable of doing my job, and any societal functions, as you saw yesterday. However..." Lex had gestured slightly with his right hand, and moved his left to reach into his sleeve as he talked. A little further than where he'd previously worn his wristwatch, and there was the lip of the silicone covering. He started to very delicately peel it back, going on, "I'm lucky that I have access to the best doctors in the world."

Lois was professional enough not to startle too obviously. Even so, when the fact that Lex had lost a hand was revealed she did appear to do a rapid reassessment of the situation. "Indeed. What can you remember of the accident Mr. Luthor?"

"Very little. I was sitting on the side that was struck, and my father was at the wet-bar pouring drinks. He started towards me, and I reached for my whiskey, and..." He paused, eyes dropping to his hand as he finished peeling the silicone cover off of gleaming metal that was almost aesthetic in nature. "I felt pain in my leg, not my hand. I never felt that go. And my father had the most horrified expression on his face. That's all I remember."

"He was facing you at the time?" Lois probed, "To what do you attribute the fact that even though you were on the side that was struck that you survived and tragically your father did not?"

"He... lunged towards me, and I leaned back at the same time." He could still see it playing in slow motion through his mind, the reality that made his words slow and sound saddened. "He ended up where I would have been; I was leaning forwards before. It could have been my neck that snapped. It was just... chance."

"Obviously a very traumatic experience for you Mr. Luthor. How do you feel about what has happened? Personally?" Lois found the soothing style awkward and not her own, though she made the effort. This was where she missed Clark; there was something about him that seemed to look right into people and get them to unlock their hearts as well as their thoughts. She had to say, that was one area where the 'farm boy' had her beat.
And maybe Clark had gotten into Lex's mind and heart -- after all, she'd only been tapped for the interview due to what Luthor himself had called 'a conflict of interest'.

"I..." He hesitated, and took a long sip of his own latte. "I wish it hadn't happened. It was an accident, a sad one, but there are no charges to press. The driver of the other vehicle was drunk when he ran that light, and died on his way to the hospital. My father... was comatose, lost brain activity, and had a severed spine. There wasn't any hope for him. William, our driver, died of blood loss on the scene. It... There isn't much to feel about the accident, other than wishing it hadn't happened."

"How do you feel that you are coping in the aftermath of such a devastating event?" Lois asked, jotting down notes, and was mildly impressed that he knew the name of his driver for a start. She knew a lot of the elite who did not.

"I'm coping well; I've kept the various wings of LuthorCorp on track while undergoing surgeries and making painful decisions about what to do with my father." He twitched the mechanized hand into a lax position, and started to pull the silicone glove back into place over top of it. "It was three weeks yesterday since the accident."

"That is a heavy workload Mr. Luthor, I'm sure no one would think less of you if you took a hiatus to recover?" Lois half stated and half questioned.

"I'm sure they wouldn't, however -- I do enjoy my job," Lex drawled. His words sounded as sincere as they felt; work was filling a hole, albeit badly, that he needed filled. Ms. Lane didn't need to be aware of the details of how much work he was doing.

"What would you say to those people who have made unsubstantiated connections between your survival and your inheritance of LuthorCorp?" Lois said smoothly, as if she wasn't trying to imply that Lex was a murderer.

"There isn't much to say to them. Anyone who knew my father or myself knows that we had a close relationship. It's unthinkable to consider me capable of killing my father and mentor." Once the 'glove' was back in place, Lex picked up his coffee cup carefully with it, and took another sip. "He's been my best friend these past few years. I'm still half-expecting him to come in here and demand to know why I've missed our last few fencing matches."

A nice human touch. Lois nodded. "Are there many who do know you Mr. Luthor? "

"Our business associates, a few old friends... our respective staffs." It was semi-public knowledge that after Lex was released from the institution; he'd been reclusive when compared to the socialite partygoer that he'd been before. "Bruce Wayne and his associates. I'm curious, are you looking for people to vouch for my sincerity, Ms. Lane?"

"Not at all, just to provide their comments and perspectives on the events and how you are dealing with it," Lois replied, unabashed. "There was one time when practically all of Metropolis was lining up to say how well they knew you."

"They would have been lying then, as they'd be lying now," Lex replied smoothly. "Money draws sycophants, and I have no taste for the company of yes men."

"Your reputation proceeds you there." Lois said dryly, "Have you had opportunity to decide what direction you are going to go in from here? You and LuthorCorp?"

"The same direction I've always helped to guide it towards." Lex smiled, a sharp flash of teeth reminding her that the dozing young lion could be just as dangerous as his grizzled father. "Upwards."

"The sky's the limit?" Lois asked, smiling sweetly as she marked that as a quote.

"You could put it that way. But since we've created a satellite for the largest telecom company in Germany, it seems that even space isn't a limit." The smile slipped towards something more self-pleased, and Lex sat backwards in his chair, crossing his legs out of habit. Habit hurt, mentally and particularly physically in that moment, enough to stun him into momentary silence before he uncrossed his legs.

Lois noted the uncomfortable movement. "Mr. Luthor, there is a rumor regarding the circumstances of some of you injuries. I couldn't help but notice some discomfort to your movement there?"

He gave one final shift, legs spread beneath his desk to avoid any further pain -- thankfully not glass-topped, since that was his own preference and not his father's. "My femur was shattered, and there were... some shards of bone and metal," he dismissed. "Once more, it's a personal issue, and not one that affects my ability to work."

"So there is no truth to the rumors that you and your father were rather entangled when you were rescued from the car?" Lois was watching him like a hawk, though her smile remained fixed and pleasant.

He stared at her with shock that could only be perpetuated by the extremely guilty, or the startled innocent. "Excuse me?"

Lois was not the type to get embarrassed, and took a mental note to follow up on that rumor a little more closely. "Oh, just a rumor, probably from the people on scene. I'm sure there's an explanation for how you could have ended up... so crushed together. Force of impact perhaps?"

"I told you what happened -- he lunged at me, pushed me back in the seat." Lex took a slow sip of his coffee, watching her with that startlement still in his eyes. "It saved my life."

"But perhaps caused more injury to you?" Lois smiled again, "I think the fact that you were injured will go along way to addressing the unfounded suspicions of the general public. And of course, with either yourself trying to protect your father or he you by such a close embrace... well, the publicity angle is obvious."

"Is it? I'm afraid I'm not following you," Lex drawled as he set his cup down and leaned back in his desk chair. "It was an accident, and to be honest, I haven't given much thought to the actual step by step events of it. There has been more pressing matters these past few weeks."

"Of course, Mr. Luthor. Maintaining the market's confidence in Luthor Corp and dealing with the consequences of the tragedy," Lois replied, backing off on to a safe subject until she could lunge in again. "How do you feel you and the company are bearing up?"

"As I'd already said, we're doing well. When a founder and CEO dies suddenly, the grand plan is usually lost in the chaos that follows, the scramble to find a successor. However, the successor had already been chosen, and my father kept no company secrets from me. Every plan Lionel had for LuthorCorp and the various branches of it will continue as if nothing had happened." Lex relaxed as he said that -- it was obvious to both himself and Ms. Lane that he dealt better with work than personal matters. He was personally a badly cobbled together mess, but LuthorCorp was the thing he put all of his effort into preserving properly.

"And you yourself Mr. Luthor...what will the death of your father mean to you personally?" Lois said, tilting her head a little as she asked.

He was silent for a moment, lacking a pat answer to that. It meant he was alone again, it meant that there was a hole in his life, that the warmth and comfort was gone, that there was no-one to talk to, that there was no sounding board, that-- "I suppose what it means for all people who find that suddenly their parents are gone. I miss him badly, but I know that it's for the best. The state he was in wasn't anything close to living, and I know my father would not have wanted to be a vegetable on a respirator indefinitely. I'm certain that he's happy... wherever he may be, with my mother again."

Lois nodded knowing a good quote when she heard on, even if it didn't fit with her story profile plan, "What do you feel is the greatest legacy your father has left?" she asked, running through some of the stock questions. She didn't have the evidence to confront Lex with more of the "rumor" but she would go looking. Definitely.

"I personally believe it would have to be his charity work, but the most obvious is LuthorCorp. He started it from nothing but his brilliance and some unlucky money, and built it into what you see now. Metropolis as you see it was his city, something that created him and that he molded in turn."

"Would you say that description applied to you as well?" Lois asked shrewdly

Lex answered shrewdness with a sly smile. "I can only hope to match my father's accomplishments with this city, given time and opportunity."

"With your own stamp of individuality or with the characteristic Luthor flair?" Lois asked, pen poised to take notes, though the interview was being recorded.

"I think you'll find that I'm much less dramatic than my father. If he hadn't had a passion for Chemistry in college, I'm sure his Theatre minor would have been his major." Lex smiled that, a comforting memory for him in so many ways. Lionel had always been a drama queen. He'd always liked the show, the swirl of media, and the attention -- as long as he controlled it. So very photogenic...

Lex's eyes dropped momentarily to the picture of them at the skiing lodge. The Lodge's photographer had snapped it, and they'd cheerfully posed. Moments earlier Lex had hit a rock and gone tumbling ass over teakettle down the last few feet of the slope, so he was red-faced and breathless looking, with snow on his clothes, while Lionel was perfectly collected as always.

Thinking of it, Lionel always seemed perfectly collected even when his hair was sex tousled and his body was sweaty.

Lois gestured to the photo, noticing the drifting attention. "You had a close relationship with your father -- there aren't that many sons who would holiday with their parents past their teens." She flung the statement out there like a net, to trawl for information.

"I wanted nothing to do with him when I was in my teens," Lex told her honestly. "I had a checkered childhood, and I was a... an ungrateful son. Once I'd straightened my life out, I felt I should make up for lost time -- which I don't regret doing."

"It is fortunate that you had the opportunity for reconciliation," Lois agreed pleasantly. "Is there anything that you would have liked to have said to your father that you didn't get a chance to say?"

"I can honestly answer 'no' to that question." Which made him lucky, and made Lionel's death easier to deal with. "My only regret is that he's dead."

Lois smiled, "You hear of so many rich families that are screwed up, it really comes as a novelty to find one that seems so...idyllic. Which makes it all the more tragic of course, what happened. You obviously had a very special relationship."

The empty coffee cup was pushed aside lightly, and Lex crossed his arms over his chest with a slow sigh. "You're insinuating something, Ms. Lane."

"Not at all Mr. Luthor," Lois said smoothly. "Just commenting on the unusual closeness between you and your father. Most of your peers are at odds with their relations. I should know, I interview most of them and they cordially despise each other. Much as you appeared to when you were recalled to Smallville. I was curious to the secret of your success in that regard."

"Stubbornness," Lex laughed, "and a ruthless sense for business. My father wanted me to cut the employees by 20%, but that was only a temporary bandage for the spurting wound that plant #3 was. So I sat down with the plant manager -- Gabe Sullivan, who is still a very good friend. His daughter works for the Inquisitor -- and we went over what the superfluous costs were. We consolidated things, tightened up the way the plant worked, and the rest is history. Plant #3 is still the number one producer in the company. I learned that the people in your company were the important part, and with time my father eventually came to share my views. You can't run a successful corporation without people who are loyal to it, and have reason to be loyal."

Lois knew a well-rehearsed speech when she heard on but it would make for a good article. "Of course. So you clashed over a philosophical point initially?"

Lex, if he had've known, would have been offended to think that his very off the cuff opinions were rehearsed. But he didn't know, and so answered her question in a timely manner. "And over my rather obstinate, idiotic personal choices. I was going full-out with rebellion at the time."

"Which according to my notes came to a rather abrupt halt?" Lois probed.

"I shocked myself back to reality," Lex shrugged. "When a man hits rock bottom, the only direction left is up."

"Very true Mr. Luthor," Lois agreed silkily. "And Smallville is of course, rock bottom in anyone's estimation. There were concerns about your mental health for a while I believe? Hopefully that won't be an issue now will it?"

"Not at all," Lex deflected easily. "After my ex-wife tried to murder me, my mental state was entirely understandable -- the board of directors was advised of my mental health eight years ago when I was released from the hospital."

"And as yet, I believe there has been no trace of your ex-wife." There was an insinuation there somewhere but practically every other word with Lois was an insinuation of some sort.

Lex was growing both tired of it and strangely accustomed to it. "It's a shame. I would have liked to see her serve jail time," Lex smiled at Lois.

"I'm sure you would. Understandable, really considering what she did. I assume that this experience has given a healthy fear of intimate relationships?" Again there was a hint of... something.

"I've been burned a few times -- all of which have been well documented in your own newspaper. I've taken a break from the heiress of the week scene since Helen." He lifted one eyebrow a little, peering at her with a brilliant, sharp smile. "Have you seen my secretaries, Ms. Lane? Hope and Mercy?"

"I have indeed. Very... ah, nice and competent I am sure," Lois replied, wondering at the aside.

Lex threw his red herring at her with a sly smile. "They're gorgeous, Ms. Lane. I'm not the sort of man to have a public relationship and cheat with my secretaries on the side. I just stick with my secretaries."

"Both of them?" Lois practically glowed at the thought of that as an exclusive, for all the fact she didn't believe a word of it.

Lex just shrugged with his eyes, and drawled, "No comment."

Taking a hit with a lie was less painful than taking a hit with the truth. Mercy and Hope were loyal to him, and it wouldn't bother either of them. The safest route with reporters was always the red herring, and a smokescreen of tolerable scandal to hide the real issues. It was a tactic that served him well even as he politely and firmly rounded up the interview and got another reporter out of his life, at least for now.

Clark had been deliberately NOT asking Lois about the interview. The excuse that had taken his name off of the roster had seemed to him just another reinforcement that it had been both Lex and Lionel who had rejected his attempts to contact his one time friend. In a strange way it was like facing that feeling of being rejected all over again, and he was angry with himself for regressing back about eight years when Perry broke the news to him. Of course Lois had been like the cat that got the cream and insisted on dragging him along to do the "follow-up" interviews.

And talking freely about the interview without Clark's prompting.

"I tell you, Smallville, he's swearing he hasn't been affected by what happened, but he let plenty of juicy bits fall."

"Uh-huh," Clark replied not looking at her deliberately. He held out for a credible amount of time before he had to ask, "Like?"

"His sickeningly perfect relationship with his father -- there's something not kosher there, believe you me. And I think he tossed me a red herring about his secretaries when I started to ask why he hadn't made the social pages in years and years. A juicy rumor, but not likely." Lois was chipper as she talked and drove, glancing over occasionally at Clark.

"What do you mean by not kosher?" Clark said, playing on his reputation of naivet. He did know; there was something about being able to see through walls and have superhearing that meant he was more educated in that respect than anyone would credit. But Lois liked to play sophisticate to his farmer type and as yet, she hadn't connected him and Lex at all. That he knew of at least.

"Well, they used to fight like cats and dogs, right? It was pretty well known that Luthor younger hated Luthor elder. Death threats, the whole nine yards, maybe an actual assassination attempt or two. They kept it in the family, and thus very hard to report on. But there were always rumors. Lex gets committed after a countywide manhunt, having apparently been hid by some farmer's kid. Steps out of the mental institution, and he's like peanut butter and jelly with his father, and moves back to Metropolis. Heck, he moved into Luthor Towers. Tell me, Clark, how that's kosher at all."

"It is a ... little screwy," Clark replied, nearly wincing at the mention of 'some farmers kid'. He'd taken the fact that, in his paranoid delusion, Lex had managed to seriously hurt his mother by accidentally pushing her out of the loft, to heart. The back injury had been serious enough that, for a while, no one was sure Martha Kent would walk again. But, his Mom never let anything like that stop her and had gone on to make a full, determined recovery.

And there had been nothing from Lex.

He'd just disappeared and when he came out he went to Metropolis without even showing his face in Smallville again. Considering what he had seen, Clark hadn't known whether to be hurt or relieved.

"Maybe it was the intense therapy," he suggested. "Having to talk out his issues or something."

"Bet he had a lot," Lois smirked. "He's got a pretty recent looking photograph of Lionel and himself at some ski-place, all buddy buddy. Do you take vacations with your parents, Clark?"

"Well no." He didn't take vacations as such. "But that's not really weird is it? Come on Lois, you've obviously got some angle on this. Spill it."

"We're going to visit an EMT who was there when they pried the Luthors out of the wreck," Lois drawled. "Neutral location -- this sort of seedy bar type place. Lex says that just before the crash, or maybe during it, Lionel lunged at him and pushed him backwards, that Lionel Luthor was coming back towards him from the wetbar. This EMT has a different story. I want you to handle him."

"Any particular reason why you don't want this bit of the scoop?" Clark replied, looking at her sharply. It was never a good thing when Lois handed him an interview.

"Because I like the idea of you being employed. Anyway, you're more of a... people person than I am. I need you to tell me if this guy is lying or not," Lois smiled over at Clark. There was a gleam in her eyes to match the gloss on her lips in brightness. "He says that the Luthor's were engaged in sexual relations when the crash happened."

"Lex and... Lionel Luthor? Together? You are kidding me?!" Clark didn't have to feign the shock at that revelation.

Dear god it could be true. He'd seen it, in the hidden injuries.

"According to the EMT, it's the honest to god truth. We'll get his full story soon, but apparently Lionel's head was in Lex's lap, and there were genital injuries. I watched Lex cross his legs today and his eyes nearly fell out of his head for a second." Lois took a right turn onto the parking lot of the bar -- a brilliant neon sign declared it to be the Parliament House -- still grinning to herself.

"You can't put in print a story like that Lois, not if you don't want the Daily Planet to have its ass sued off, unless there is more than a rumor," Clark said cautiously. "This isn't the sort of thing you can just speculate on, couched in reporter-ese."

"Which is why we need an eye witness account," she drawled, while backing into a parking space. Watching Lois park was always a harrowing event for any passenger. "Care to tell me about this 'conflict of interest' that got you excused from interviewing him?"

"Uh, no?" Clark tried following up the rejection with a disarming grin. "Just some old history Lois. He doesn't much like me, that's all."

"Really? I didn't know you'd ever met him." She put the car into part, pulled out her keys, and popped her door. "C'mon, Smallville."

Clark got out of the car slowly. He wasn't looking forward to this but on the other hand, he needed to know what the deal was with Lex. Would that explain why he'd never come back? Or made contact. What had Lionel Luthor done to him? Perhaps he was just hopelessly clutching for the proverbial straw to find an excuse that would let Lex off of the hook. That was much more likely.

They entered the bar and it was typical of its type. The lighting was bad, the music a twitch too loud and all in all, the ideal place to meet someone and not be too noticeable. Lois trailed behind Clark, but waved to a fellow in the darkest corner possible. He waved back, and with that, Lois grasped Clark's arm and started to pull him forwards.

The man had sandy-colored hair, looked to be average height, decent build, and a quick glance over proved that he had no weapons or listening devices on him. One small mercy, at least. Clark allowed himself to be led and then took a seat in the dim light, "Hi... uh, you've spoken to Lois earlier?"

"Yes," he nodded, and inclined his head towards Lois with an easy smile. "So you'd like to hear my story?"

"Any information would be welcome," Clark said nodding, "We would very much appreciate it."

"Right. I guess... where do you want me to start?" he asked, half-watching Clark and Lois settle into the same side of the booth.

"How about from when you took the call?" Clark asked matter of factly. In other words, he wanted it right from the start, so there was a full picture not just misleading snippets that could trip them up later. "Your impressions on reaching the scene if you don't mind?"

"Okay. Jake and I were on our way straight from the hospital when the call came -- we were a fresh shift, so there was no way we were groggy." He shifted his hands on the glass between his fingers. It was just a coke, so the guy was probably sober, too. "The fire truck was already there when we arrived, and they'd cut the door off on the opposite side even while they pulled the car out of the other side with a winch. I climbed in through the opposite side to assess the victims, and... There was blood everywhere, and the younger Luthor was making a god-awful noise. I'd make that noise, too, if someone had chomped down on my bits."

Clark nodded as if he wasn't mentally wincing at the image, "Were they actually... well you know... when you found them? "

"When we removed Lionel Luthor from the scene, I had to lift his head up and off of his son's groin. It looked like they were hit while he was, you know, going down on him. It looked like the only reason why Lionel Luthor wasn't beheaded was because his son's hand was right at the point of impact on his neck. We found Lex Luthor's hand amazingly cleanly severed on the floor."

That bit of news probably should have surprised Clark, but he didn't show it. He was becoming more practiced in hiding his true reactions to strangers. "I'm just playing Devils advocate here... or more like a prosecution lawyer when we get sued for this," he made it a bit of a joke, "But, couldn't it have been a coincidence? Jostled into that position by the car being hit?"

"That what I wanted to think," their informant admitted, "But Lionel Luthor had a cock in his mouth, and the other Luthor's pants were down to his knees. That just doesn't happen normally, does it?"

Clark frowned a little. Not much leeway for interpretation there if the man were willing to swear to it. Fuck.

"Was there anyone else aside from yourself who could corroborate this?" he asked carefully.

"Jake, and pretty much everyone who was on that run from the Fire department. They were engine 11. You can ask any of them." He looked back at Clark steadily. "Most are too scared to say anything."

"And you're not?" Clark asked softly, understanding what he was saying. The unwritten rule of Metropolis: annoy the Luthors and don't bother making any long term plans. "What prompted you to come forward with this?"

"Dunno. Civic duty?" He shrugged his shoulders. "It just seemed strange, and it's not the telling of events that's made it into articles so far."

"No, perhaps not. If it goes into print then we will be facing a lawsuit, guaranteed, and that will mean sooner or later you would have to testify to this. And perhaps several others, otherwise it will come down to your word against them." A good lawyer could rip an eyewitness account apart in moments. He'd seen it done and Lex was always going to have the best of the best. And Lex wasn't seeing anyone apart from his own medical doctors so there would be no... physical evidence to back it up, not by the time it got to trial. It seemed solid, but because there was a Luthor involved it was as shaky as hell.

And for once, Clark found a part of him that was glad.

"I'd testify. I'm sure some of the others would, if it were needed."

Lois put a hand on Clark's knee beneath the table, and squeezed a little as if sensing his discomfort.

"Would other medical professional corroborate your assessment do you think?" Clark asked, for once ignoring the fact Lois had touched him without prompting.

"I think... yeah. The nurses who saw them before the Luthor's personal doctors swooped in like some sort of swat team."

Clark nodded again slowly and deliberately. "Thank you for your assistance," he said, his thoughts flying over all the implications of this simple bit of information. "It has been very revealing, certainly puts a different complexion on things."

Lionel was a fucking bastard. With the emphasis on the 'fucking'.

Clark could almost feel the concerned weight of Lois's eyes on his face, then the squeeze of his knee again. "Thanks Ted -- here, if you can just write this down. We promise to do our very best to not reveal you as a source, unless there's a court order."

Their contact nodded and then jotted down some notes quickly on the piece of paper provided, "Here we go. Pretty simple when it comes down to it," he said as he passed it over.

Clark looked at the piece of paper with deep misgivings, with half a mind to fry it there and then. If not for the fact there were people who might possibly regard THAT as a bigger story than The Incest of the Luthor's. And the prime representative of those people had just been squeezing his knee.

Maybe he could convince Lois that there needed to be more meat to the story than just that on sensational fact. A full out expose -- oh god that hurt to think of -- so they wouldn't seem as trashy as, say, the Metropolis Star or the Inquisitor when they printed the 'scoop'. He could convince Perry of that. After their editors own experiences with the Luthors, he would be cautious.

"Okay -- thanks for talking to us. You have my card?" Lois asked as she stood up.

"Yep -- thanks for listening."

Clark nodded and shook the man's hand before he turned away, his unease showing in every step as he preceded Lois out of there, wanting some fresh air badly. It explained too much about his one time friend, which in retrospect he could see clearly and felt the hot sting of associated shame for not recognizing it for what it was and helping him. But was it child abuse or incest? Subtle but profound difference.

When had it started? Was it... no, the man hadn't been lying, it was true as far as that man knew.

"Clark?" Lois didn't walk until they'd left the bar behind them, until they were standing beside her car. "You okay?"

It wasn't like Lois to notice whether he was or not, so from that he concluded that he must be reacting badly. "I... uh," he hesitated, "I really don't know Lois. I don't like this story. We could be heading into a whole heap of trouble. And... I'm not sure how ethical it would be to run it."

"We'll run it past Perry. If something that un-kosher is going on, there might be more. Maybe we can start doing a full story on anything Lionel Luthor might have been up to," she suggested, looking even happier at the thought. "Still, makes me shudder thinking of it."

"But it's not Lionel Luthor who's going to have to face this. Is it? " He went silent a moment. "We'd be treading a fine line of malicious intent Lois."

"Clark, the public has been lied to," Lois soothed as she opened the car door. "About what happened. The ethical choice rests on Perry about what to do with it. Our job is to find out. Investigative journalism remember?"

"I suppose," Clark said disconsolately. "A truth that does no one any good though, is not the sort of truth that needs to be shouted from the rooftops."

Let her think he was scared. He was; not for himself, but for what this might do to Lex. Even after all these years, he still thought there was a chance for reconciliation if nothing else. A distant chance, and in pursuit of his career he was about to ruin everything.

"Which is why we need to find a way to do more investigating on the matter," Lois murmured. "Maybe confront Luthor himself with the facts."

Which was probably sensible, and good reporting procedure; Clark didn't know if he wanted in or out on this one. "We'll see what Perry says," he replied again, with a sigh. Perhaps he wasn't hardball enough for this game after all. Or perhaps it was that he knew Lex and what this could do to him better than anyone.

"Okay, okay." Lois gestured a little vaguely as she started the car, and then pulled out into traffic in a harrowing movement. "I've never seen you so touchy before, Clark."

"Sorry Lois." He apologized automatically. "Just that bit of history I mentioned earlier, okay? Nothing important."

She cleared her throat as she took a right turn onto the main road. "Okay, so... why don't you start explaining this 'bit of history'?"

Clark went silent a moment even as they headed back towards the office. It was relevant and the moment she started digging deeper she'd pick it up anyway. All it would need was for her to archive dip a little deeper and find, well, even the original "billionaire heir saved by Local student" would give it away. He sighed again looking for the way to break this in the least painful fashion.

"Guess who the farmers kid who hid the mentally disturbed Lex Luthor was Lois?" he said eventually.

"Y-oh. You?" She glanced over at him for what had to be far too long to make her a safe driver, before shifting lanes. "You're kidding me."

"No. I'm not." Clark glanced out of the window a moment, the memories of seeing Lex hidden that way, bloodied and hunted still fresh to his perfect recall. "I used to be one of his friends. Well, maybe his best friend in Smallville anyway."

"Thus the 'conflict of interest'? Just how well did you know him?" Okay, her driving was pretty bad, but it got worse when she was looking at him more than the road. Someone honked at her, which resulted in the window being rolled down, icy chill outside or no, and her shoving her finger out at the person.

"Pretty much, since as part of his escape Lex accidentally injured my Mom. Seriously injured her. I thought I knew him pretty well. Afterwards, I wasn't so sure."

"Did it ever seem like he could possibly be sleeping with his father?" Lois snerked.

"He loathed his father when I knew him," Clark replied seriously cutting Lois' attempt at humor dead. "If he was it wasn't willingly. Lionel Luthor was a bastard through and through." That statement was all the more shocking because of the fact that Clark rarely used any swear words at all, at least not where people could hear them

He was... a farm boy. Sweet, mostly innocent, a goofball. Lois stared for a moment, before easing off the gas. "See. That's a story. Damn, I can't let myself get it to print without more information."

"Not everything is a story Lois. There were some truths that came out. I don't think even Lex knows that his psychotic incident had been drug induced. He was being poisoned. Then he was taken away and...." He looked out at the streets of Metropolis. "He returns as Lex Luthor, the dutiful son."

"Sounds like a story to me," Lois prodded a little. "Drug induced, you say? So you were close enough to him to know that?"

"We were friends. I saved his life on his first day in Smallville. I was... fifteen or sixteen and he went off the bridge into town. I dove into the river, dragged him out of the car, gave him CPR and he didn't die. Otherwise I would never have crossed paths with him I guess. With me still at School and all. My mom worked for LuthorCorp for a while as well. Look, it's a complicated thing, but basically for a while I was pretty close to him. A couple of years maybe and then -- and then nothing."

"Huh. And then he came to Metropolis, and... pretty much was always the shadow by his father's side." There were wheels turning in Lois' mind, and Clark wasn't sure he wanted to see them. "Why don't you try calling him up?"

"I tried for years, Lois. Calls, Letters, emails even. Nothing." Clark looked at her, unaware at how many of the years of that continuous rejection were showing in his expression. "The odds of him picking up now after 8 years aren't good."

"Suspicious, suspi~icious. So, retell me this. You saved his life and the two of you're just... what, clicked? Young millionaire and small-town high school kid? Pretty weird."

"Well, he kinda helped me out by cutting me down off of the Scarecrow." Clark smiled a little at that recollection. "I got uh... hazed. Crucified up on a scarecrow pole and left there and he cut me down. Maybe it was the fact we had nothing in common that was the reason why we 'clicked'. I've often wondered. He used to give me advice like an older brother would, you know? You've often gone on about me and not dating Lois; you want to know why? My high school and college years were such an unmitigated disaster that I still get flashbacks."

"That's because you were getting dating advice from a Luthor," Lois winked. "And that particular Luthor was at one time known in the society pages as 'Dating another murdering bitch' Luthor."

"Yeah." Clark gave a half laugh. "I was best man at a couple of those weddings." Meant to be one at another. He'd always wondered if what had happen to Lex had somehow been down to him not being there.

"Best man? Okay, now you have to tell me all about that..."

And the rest of the ride to the office was like being pushed through a sieve for this fountain of information that Lois thought she was hitting. It was only half of the story, though.

She didn't need to know any more than pieces at a time, until she did some real research on her own.

Getting off work at 8pm left Lex with just enough time to return to the penthouse and have an excuse to not start the tiring duty of cleaning the place of his father's things.

There just wasn't time, was there? There was time for him to make himself a light dinner, and have a small drink, put the news on as background noise while he surfed WebPages. Perhaps it was a little egotistical to look for message boards about himself, but it was fun to start flame wars that ended up engulfing the theories that struck too close to home for Lex to leave alone. A little poke there, a reference to fascism here, and the whole page went up in fire.

It still didn't make up for the fact that his routine was missing.

They should have been together, either working or talking. Lionel liked to have him near in the evenings and he liked the familiarity of it all, the security that the routine of living left. There would be a meal, drink and then if his father was in the mood, some sort of entertainment. It didn't seem to matter exactly what it was; it left him with a glow of satisfaction and comfort.

It was... a good life, and it had made him happy. Now he was listless, even though he had the soothing weight of responsibilities to keep up with. Work was all right, work was good, work... was something he could do by himself. Being home didn't work.

There were three stories of silence in which he was living, alone but not alone because his father's things were everywhere. When he went to sleep, his father's dressing gown was still thrown over the back of the chair. When he showered, his father's shampoos were still in the bathroom they had shared. When he ate, there was still the other chair.

It shouldn't have been empty.

"Fuck it," Lex sighed, just to hear a noise other than the muted ramblings of twenty-four hours news.

Everywhere he looked there was a memory. Some were better than others of course. Sometimes there had been things that he hadn't been particularly keen on doing, at least to start with. He could remember saying no, and his father's beard tickling as he leant to whisper in his ear. "Don't you want to be Daddy's good little boy?"

And somehow that no always became a yes.

It wasn't always bad, was it? He loved his father, and Lionel had loved him, and that was all he'd ever wanted. That was what he got, that praise, that teaching and help, and he did things... for Lionel, to Lionel, with Lionel. With people they knew. Friends. With...

He closed his eyes tightly, and searched for a moment over the laptop's keys with his left hand so he could depress the 'sleep' button. Lex had to find something to do to quiet his head.

He could... what? Go out? That filled him with a certain amount of muted fear and revulsion. And what would he do when he was out there? He was too hurt to do anything and too lost not to reach out. He could talk perhaps. Right now he'd even welcome a conversation with that reporter.

He might even welcome a conversation with... anyone.

There was that card Clark had given him. The card that had burned a hole in his jacket all day, right against his chest. Maybe, maybe Clark had given it to him for a reason. Maybe it was time to call. A sign from God or whoever it was up there that was watching the world as it spun day to day.

Lex pushed himself out of his chair, and strode over to the closet, brushing aside his father's coats to grab the suit jacket he'd worn that day. Just inside was... yes, that card.

Even if it was the expected bitter recriminations, even that would be better that silence. He couldn't stand this aimless silence. Before he'd always known what he had to do and he'd had a purpose. There was a lot of security and comfort in having a purpose; worth putting up with the occasional unpleasant requirement. He'd been content. There were a lot of people who couldn't say that.

Could you have too much of the absence of something? The absence of the sound of a life sharing the same space?

He picked up a phone hesitantly as if he expected it to burn his hand. Phone and card juggled in his good hand, Lex made his way over to the sofa and ticked the volume of the TV down a few notches. Dialing was an equally careful thing, one finger of his prosthetic extended to gently tap each number before he held it up to his ear.

Office phone first. Then the cell phone.

The office phone came up with nothing, but the cell was answered promptly with a very familiar voice. "Clark Kent, hi."

A few different tones to it maybe, but without seeing him it wasn't hard to imagine the Clark he'd known. Lex let the awkward silence hold for a moment, before he murmured, "Clark, evening. It's Lex."

"Lex, hey." There was evident surprise in his voice, and Clark obviously had to turn down something in the background. "That's better, I can hear you a better now. It's good to hear from you. How... how are you doing Lex?"

Christ. Why had he called again? There had to be some plausible excuse, but there was nothing coming to Lex's lips. "I'm doing... decently." Horribly. He swallowed, closed his eyes and concentrated on Clark's voice. "I figured since you gave me your card I should call you back."

"Well to be honest I wasn't expecting it" Clark replied cautiously, "Considering."

"I know. I'm sorry about that." It was easier to apologize over the phone than it was in person, easier because he didn't have to see the hatred on Clark's face, or whatever emotions Clark felt towards him. The old big huge smile was easier to remember.

That and the way the car had wrapped around Clark the last time he'd seen him.

There was a slight sigh. "Lex, it's okay, really. I gave you my number in case you need someone to talk to, or help or anything, I'm not going to give you a hard time."

Clark wasn't making it any easier to talk to him. Placating, as if things hadn't ever gone sour. Maybe it was some special Clark ability, to forget past sins with such ease. But he laughed a little, brushing that offer away. "I just thought that... maybe we should get in touch again. Would you like to do dinner sometime? Or maybe coffee?"

"Sure. Any time" Clark was trying not to sound too eager. "You uh, got any time in mind? "

"When are you free?" Lex shifted on the sofa, eyes still closed. If it weren't for the faint static Clark's phone was giving him, he could imagine it was a whisper in his ear, no matter how awkward the words were. "My schedule is fairly open."

"Well, now?" Clark gave a slight laugh. "Or pretty much most nights. I get teased by Lois and the others for my lack of social life."

"I'm sure that with her... ravishing personality, Lois just can't find time to fit in all of her social events," Lex sneered a little. It was good to hear Clark laugh, even a little. "Not right now. I should probably start clearing out this place tonight or soon. But what time do you get off work?"

"I can be out by six thirty," Clark replied with a hint of concern, "Do you need help with that Lex? I can't imagine that's going to be a pleasant task."

No, it wasn't going to be a pleasant task at all. Clark wasn't even going to be a helpful voice of experience on the matter, since Martha was... alive, last Lex knew, and Jonathan, too. Them and their happy fucking little farm, whose deed he'd bought and given to them as a gift. "To be honest, I don't even know where to start. Everywhere I look there's... something of his."

"Maybe by choosing a few items for friends of his, or business acquaintances and give it to them?" Clark suggested ,"Mom did that when her father died. Meant a lot to the people that got the gifts and made them feel better that they just weren't getting rid of things." He had no idea if that were a good idea or not, but it was something to say.

Lex was silent for a moment, but he finally nodded to Clark's words. "That sounds pretty viable to me. Maybe if I start there, it'll seem less overwhelming. You know, when I was in Smallville, I never thought I'd be doing this."

"No?" Clark queried, "Your father had a few close calls there, like you did Lex. There was more than once when you could have lost him then."

"Things were different then." Lex had lived in the mansion, which was his in the entirety, and his father's things were in the penthouse, it would have just taken a browsing through for Lex, taken perhaps a few boxfuls of things with him before he had the rest packed up or sold.

"True, they were," Clark replied soberly, "Make sure you keep the things you really want to, but you might want to think about, I don't know, making it your place? Everyone needs somewhere which is their own."

Lex laughed quietly into the phone, eyes still closed to better listen to Clark's voice. "Clark, the Penthouse is my own. I'm afraid I'm not following you."

"I thought you said everywhere you looked was something of his," Clark replied awkwardly, "I know it's yours Lex, but it might be easier if you don't have the things there to remind you, or if you want to keep the things, redecorate or something. Move stuff around. That sort of thing." Clark offered the advice, while considering the unbidden whispering speculations his day at work brought to him. How willing had he been? He missed his father, that much was obvious.

The Lex of before had once confided that he'd debated about saving Lionel's life in the hurricane. And there had been the time where Lex had been suspected of shooting Lionel. Yet now... "Yeah. I'll think about it." Then Lex fell silent, before murmuring, "So. How has life been treating you, Clark?"

"Not bad. Made it into journalism after all," Clark replied, "Lois thinks I'm too soft for the street journalism, but I think I'm partnered with her to try and pull her back a little. Hope she didn't savage you too much today Lex, she was out of order at the funeral."

"She was," Lex agreed. "Memorial service. The Funeral was a few days earlier than that. And she wasn't so bad in the interview. I was expecting it then."

"She's uh... relentless," Clark replied, "In reporter terms that's a compliment, from your point of view it probably means something you won't like. Most of her interviewee's come out feeling like that." How much of a hint could he drop? A damn big one if this might be his only chance to do so.

"It probably would have been easier for you if I'd been the interviewer."

"Conflict of interest," Lex said easily. "I can't give an interview to an old friend without seeming nepotistic."

"An old friend who you haven't spoken to for 8 years," Clark couldn't help pointing out, spurred on by a twinge of hurt. "That would stretch the definition a little."

It made Lex go quiet. "Well, it isn't as if you tried to contact me at any point in those eight years."

"Are you kidding me? I tried calling, I tried writing. I even sent emails to LuthorCorp's general contact address for your attention. I was very firmly told that you were not available to take my calls. Well that was the polite version, I had much less subtle messages on your behalf. That's why I didn't think you'd call me. Does that mean you didn't get Mom's letter either?"

His mom's letter? As if after what he'd done to her, she'd write him? How could he know if any of that was true? Clark could be lying, lying for the purpose of...

Lex didn't know. "I didn't receive anything." So if things had been sent, attempts made, who had thwarted them?

There was an exhalation. "Well shit. Looks like we have further to go than I thought. I thought that maybe you, uh, well that it was reaction to the last time we saw each other." That he was alien -- did he remember that? That he left him to be taken in to Belle Reeve Institution and the tender mercies of them all.

"We really need to talk about this in more detail Lex. Something's not right here."

"So I gather," Lex murmured dryly, but almost coldly as he listened to Clark's waffling words. "Care to do coffee tomorrow? There's a Starbucks across the street from the Daily Planet." He knew, he could see it from his office window.

"If you want to be so public, sure," Clark replied.

"I'd just like a chance to catch up with you, Clark." Public was fine -- public meant neutral territory and neutral conversation, so Lex could assess if it was going to work, or if he should just give up and abandon hope.

"Okay, you want to give me a call when you're ready to meet or say a time now?" Clark asked

"Seven? I don't usually have my work wrapped up until then."

"Seven I can do," Clark replied, betraying his eagerness with his quick agreement, "No problem."

"Great." Lex drew one leg casually up to his chest, his good leg that had the comfortable range of motion. "I guess I'll see you then." Only he didn't want to hang up the phone; but he couldn't exactly tell Clark about the hollow, echoing silence of the penthouse. After all, being alone had never been a problem in the mansion.

"I'll look forward to it." Clark rounded off and then paused. It was an old skill, one that had been dormant in a long time but it came whispering back to life even after all these years, "Are you sure that you're alright Lex? Really?"

Lex had always given Clark the verbal equivalent of a smile and a nod. But there was silence, then an un-assuring, "Yeah. I'm managing."

"I'm just a phone call away if you need me," Clark replied, pushing again at those defenses in a familiar, painful way.

"I'll keep that in mind. Good evening to you, Clark." Lex hung up quickly, telling himself it wasn't nervousness that had made him do so with such speed.

Though if it wasn't nervousness, he wasn't really sure why his hands were still shaking. Maybe he needed a drink. Fuck the fact he wasn't meant to with all the medications. He was alone again.

Lex abandoned the phone and card on the middle of the sofa, rubbing the palm of his left hand agitatedly against his hip as he walked away. No, he wasn't nervous, but he did need a drink, or maybe... a shower. Or just to sleep. Something simple, because he'd already spent too much time awake for one day.

His father had been right. He was a survivor, but he'd never said anything about how much strength it took just to be normal after such a catastrophe. For a long time, Lionel had been that strength, so how did he go on without it?

Badly, it seemed. Lex decided that he could take small comfort in the artifacts of his father's life when he showered and went to bed, as long as he didn't stray from that routine. It was just like as if Lionel had gone on a business trip.

A very long, permanent business trip. But he had to be strong, because that was what would make his mother and father proud of him. Lex paused just outside of the bathroom, and carefully removed the prosthetic. He could be strong as long as he took things day by day.

The day seemed to crawl in the office of the Daily Planet as Clark looked at the clock for the thousandth time. Not even the occasional averted disaster did any more than divert his attention for mere moments. Would Lex stick to the appointment? Or would he look an idiot sitting in Starbucks just waiting for nothing? It had been a rough day, with Perry grilling him mercilessly about his past with Lex Luthor, getting progressively more thunderous by the moment. Lois, on the other hand, seemed to be assuming the official verdict would be to go for the story and was already digging up information.

Clark had endured her teasing about some of the archive stories and with relief he escaped the office with ten minutes to go, taking his time so he would arrive just before the hour. He looked around even as he entered, prepared to wait if necessary.

It seemed that he wouldn't have to wait at all. Seated in the furthest corner of the comfortable coffee house, Lex had a large cup of coffee clutched in his hands and was effortlessly driving people away from him with the hunch of his shoulders and the ice in his eyes. He didn't even seem to see Clark when he entered the establishment.

Clark got himself something to drink and then headed over, looming suddenly by the table. "Mind if I join you?" he said with a slightly hesitant smile.

Lex glanced slowly up at Clark, and cracked a small smile. "Not at all -- sit down. I arrived a little early."

"Not too early I hope." Clark sat down carefully and looked at the other man. He looked tired and still had that hidden air of pain. "I ducked out before I could be used as a researcher any more."

"Researcher?" Lex twitched one eyebrow as he lifted his venti whatever it was to his mouth and took a slow sip. Still too hot. "For what?"

"Lois. She still treats me like the office junior on occasion." Clark deliberately misinterpreted the question. "How's today been for you?"

Painfully long. Slow, and full of sparks of memory and thought. Morgan Edge had come to talk to him, and while he once would have enjoyed the verbal sparring, it felt... painful and inappropriately aggressive. "Decent. I actually wrapped up my work sooner than I expected."

"Nothing too stressful I hope," Clark replied, "That's the last thing you need right now."

For his kind words, Lex gave Clark a tight, tired smile. "Clark, I appreciate being in communication with you again. But your platitudes wear on me."

"They always did." Clark smiled a little, accepting the push back easily, and replying with a blunt forthright approach. "Sorry. Habit I guess, though the concern is sincere enough. I'll tone down the platitudes, if you tone down the stoic exterior."

The grimace Lex gave wasn't affected. "I'm glad we're starting out on the right foot again, Clark."

"What, the one I usually manage to put in my mouth?" Clark replied, as he studied him carefully. "I don't want to screw this up, but if you want the Clark who said the things that maybe you didn't necessarily want to hear then, you've got him. "

Of course. Of course Clark had changed with time. It was unfair of Lex to expect him to be the same almost innocent farm boy he'd been in Smallville. Unfair of him to expect Clark to play along with his personal games of pretending certain things hadn't worked out the way they had.

"Well, then I guess it depends. If this new Clark Kent as good at lying as the old one?"

Clark looked up from his coffee direct into Lex's eyes. He knew. He definitely knew. He could see the shadow of memory in the blue eyes, flickering darkly.


"Probably better," he said softly, holding true to a terrifying decision he had promised himself if a second chance came his way, "But not to you. If you give both the new and the old a second chance."

"It sounds like it could be an even deal, since I'm not quite the Lex you used to know." Lex held Clark's gaze, a tiny spark of triumph dancing along behind his eyes.

"But it's not something I'll talk about here Lex. " Clark said firmly, "I may be pleased to see you but I'm not stupid. Well... look, don't answer that last bit okay? It's a relative thing." He gave a slight grin, nervous and a little shaky.
He knew. Lex knew.

"I'll believe that." Lex gestured with his coffee cup, almost smiled. "Why don't you tell me what you've been up to since we last talked. High school through college."

Clark smiled and took him through the more prosaic parts of his High School and College career. He touched lightly on the fact that his Mom had managed to defy the medical odds and get herself back and walking in those years, that the whole thing with Lana had seemed to spark into flame, and then had gone horribly wrong with the same sort of fascination and compelling drama of a soap opera in the making. How despite all that, he'd done really well at school -- so had Pete and Chloe -- and he and Chloe had ended up going to Met U.

Where she then proceeded to ruthlessly stalk him down and yes, eventually catch him. Which had turned out to be a really bad idea as well. Because it seemed that Chloe was one of those who only wanted things she couldn't have and he had discovered that after 6 months she was sleeping around on him. That she wanted the ideal and the mystery, and the attraction faded when he was hers.

And another ugly scene later, and it was just as well they were interning at different papers as that would have been very awkward. How his interning quietly impressed Perry White, for all of his willingness to repay his favor to the young farm boy who had put him back on the road to success. How it was good to finally be told that actually he did have a talent for something else that was just him. And how a few risks, a few good pieces to prove himself and he landed himself a job offer... which meant he was secure.

All this was told in the classic Clark fashion, slightly self-mocking and endearing in tone, with frequent checks to see if his listener had fallen asleep.

But Lex listened intently. The cock of his head was attentive, the way he slowly drained his coffee down as he watched and listened to Clark.

Clark, despite apparently claiming to be a different Clark entirely, was still... Clark. Maybe less naive, but Lex had always wanted to break Clark of that innocence. It was just a pity that he hadn't done so with his own hand.

"I'd always wondered what Chloe had against the Daily Planet, you know. I'm glad to hear that life's been... good to you, Clark." Good to him with nothing but Clark's own hard work. No shadowy helper working behind him to cast suspicions over what Clark had done with his life, for good or for bad. If he'd stayed friends with Lex, would it have been the same?

"Well, its had its moments," Clark replied a little evasively, "I haven't gone into the boring detail obviously, but it's had ups and downs, and uh, there's probably been more ups on the whole than downs. How about you Lex?"

"I've been vice president of LuthorCorp for a few years now." Before... Before the accident that had changed everything, but Lex had earned that position with hard work. "Lucas died in a motorcycle accident two years ago -- slid under an 18 wheeler. I own my own lab now, separate from LuthorCorp -- S.T.A.R.R Labs. Other than that, I've been studiously maintaining the Status Quo."

"I'm sorry about Lucas, Lex." Clark did sound regretful about that. " But it's good that S.T.A.R.R Labs is your own project. Doing anything interesting in there?"

The merging of the fledgling LexCorp into LuthorCorp had been swift and almost designed to leave no traces of its existence. Clark was starting to suspect in retrospect that something very strange had happened to Lex. But that in a strange way there were parts of him that hadn't been wiped away, that showed there was a part of him that was himself. And that was the confusing thing. If that was the case, had he chosen what had happened between him and Lionel or not?

"Everything and anything that catches my fancy," Lex smiled, a smile that actually touched his eyes. "They've made a few things privately just for me, but... the big one we're going to market is the LeXWing. And it's an actual acronym, not just egotism." He winked then, and seemed twice as much the Smallville Lex as he had just a few minutes before. "Oh, and uh, somewhere between Smallville and here I started to take flying lessons. I'm really a decent pilot."

"You're kidding? What about the whole heights thing?" Clark asked, smiling back immediately. "And what the hell is a LeXWing?"

"After the two plane crashes," Lex drawled, "I figured it was damn well time I learned how to pilot a plane. Some anti anxiety pills, and once I got the hang of the basics, I got over my fear of heights. It's been pretty miraculous." The edges of Lex's mouth quirked. "I'll show you a model of the LeXWing some time, Clark. Have you ever seen a Stealth Jet?"

Clark nodded. "Yes, on occasion." Up close and personal as well, though the military hadn't been pleased to have Superman knocking on the canopy of one of their Stealths and giving the pilot a friendly wave.

But then, when you were a 'Superhero' you had to take your amusement where you could.

"They have nothing on the LeXWing for speed and maneuverability," Lex grinned. "The Government says they'll buy from me after I launch the first solid prototype."

"Close to doing that then?" Clark asked, interested. He grinned back , pleased that they seemed to be slipping inexorably back into their easy talk, "Are fast planes going to become your new obsession?"

"Fast planes and artificial intelligence," Lex told Clark easily. "Obsessions keep a person busy."

"I'm always surprised you have time. I can remember wondering if you ever slept when we are Smallville," Clark recalled.

"I got plenty of sleep, between clashes with the natives, arguments with my father, and dating killers." Lex flashed Clark a smile as he started to stand up. There was a slight unsteadiness to the motion. "I always wondered when you had time to do homework, between your own romantic endeavors, and... clashing with the natives. Hey, I'm going to get another cup of coffee."

"Lex, look, I can do that," Clark said looking at him with concern. "You should be taking it easy."

"I pay my doctors hideous amounts of money for the pleasure of ignoring their advice. Don't tell me I could do just as well ignoring your advice, for free, Clark." Lex smiled almost wickedly, then turned to walk away and back towards the short line to order another coffee.

Well he should have known that wouldn't work. And it hadn't even been a platitude. Still.

"Lex? Get me one too?" he called out, glancing around the place automatically as he did so.

Lex gave him an easy thumbs up, and Clark had a few minutes of time to himself before the other man came back with two cups of coffee. One seemed to be gripped a little too tightly, and there was a delay in letting go of it once Lex set it on the table. He pushed it towards Clark with the back of that hand, his right hand, while taking a sip from his own. "There. I got you a mocha -- hopefully you still have the same drink tastes that you used to."

"Still like mocha," Clark admitted looking at the hand. "How's the hand doing?" he asked a bit bluntly, but Lex wanted honesty, so he got it

Lex glanced down at it, and spread the fingers in a relatively natural gesture. "Better than I expected. It still needs a lot of tuning, and I need to get used to it." The answer was working on the assumption that Clark knew, that Clark knew already that he'd lost his hand, when the only person he'd ever told about it was Lois. For an article that hadn't hit print yet.

Curiosity got the better of him and Clark reach to touch the prosthetic, fascinated with the complex electronics and functions he could 'see', and completely oblivious to how intimate the move would look. "You get sensory information from it?"

Cool blue eyes watched Clark as he stroked and touched the prosthetic. "Not a damn thing. A little pressure, but past that... It's a miracle that I can even gauge pressure. It's wired quite well."

"Yeah, I would expect nothing less. There are some things that allow nerve conduction, I've read. I did an article on a guy who was experimenting in the dynamic translation of electronic signals to nerve impulses, using a sort of bio-cybernetic interface. " Clark replied looking up at him a moment, "He's not well known. It was one of those quirky human interest pieces that Perry asked me to do, but looking at it, he had something going on there."

"He does have something going on," Lex agreed. "Professor Emil Hamilton, isn't it? He's always looking for funding that allows him to do the things that make him happiest. S.T.A.R.R Labs gives him some funding in exchange for..." Lex curled his fingers up beneath Clark's hand, almost a clasping motion. "A few things."

"That's the guy." Clark nodded, "And there was my not so helpful tip."

"I know Metropolis inside and out," was the drawling reply. Lex shifted his fingers again, stretching them out. The silicone glove felt like real skin, textured and painted exquisitely -- except that it was cool to the touch. "I used to think I did before, but now... I truly know it inside and out."

Clark raised an eyebrow at him. "That sounds like it has a few stories attached to it," he commented eventually lifting his hand away from Lex's. "I could remind you that I'm not uh... 16 any more if that helps?"

"Are you trying to imply my remark was censored for your ears?" Lex raised an eyebrow slightly, but his mouth was still curling. "It's just that I've learned how to really work the social circles, and how to pry brilliant hermit-scientists out of their lairs. It's sort of like the trick where you tie a 100 to a string and pull it along."

"You enjoy that?" Clark asked curiously, "It's just that you haven't been really socializing for a while. Well, not obviously."

The edge of Lex's mouth tugged down for a flicker of a second -- so Clark had been trying to contact him, and watching him? It didn't seem... good just then. And Clark had never been easy to throw off the trail of something. "Not the big events, no. They've never really interested me."

"You used to hate them." Clark observed even as he sipped his coffee. "With a passion."

"When you're trying to make a new business contact, you'll do just about anything," Lex drawled, "Including going to a social event, hate or no. I used to hate heights, too, but I got over it."

"Yeah, me too," Clark replied absently. "So am I safe then, Lex? You've been giving me that assessing look."

"Have I?" Lex half-saluted Clark with his coffee cup before he took another slow, slight sip of it. "I suppose that I have. It's been years, Clark. I'm amazed to see what has and hasn't changed. You're smarter than you ever let on in Smallville."

"I was distracted, not stupid Lex. So what has changed? And is it for the better or worse?"

"For the better, I think. You're not... distracted. You've certainly matured." Lex's mouth quirked upwards. "I don't have to remind myself any more that you're just a teenager."

"I think you probably wanted to put in the word 'naive' in there Lex," Clark replied amused. "College years were an eye opener. You can hear city life described all you want but until you get here.." He shrugged, "Steep learning curve."

"I'd warned you about that, didn't I?" Lex sat back in the chair, relaxing finally. "You didn't fuck up the way I did, did you?"

"And screw up the scholarship and Mom and Dad's investment?" Clark shook his head. "Alcohol does nothing for me really, or drugs and Chloe was all the trouble I could handle on that front. Well, aside from a bit of reactionary uh.. flings after it messed up. "

His experimentation phase, if only a light dabbling on the wild side of things. Interesting, but he'd never found anything 'genuine' in the experiences. "Came out with good results and a job offer."

More than just 'good results', but he hadn't quite lost his inherent self-effacement.

"Working for one of the most 'reformed' editors in the city, in the most prestigious paper," Lex agreed. "How is Perry White?"

"Still obsessed with Elvis," Clark replied smiling. "I call him 'Chief'- - I think he likes it. Got a few others doing it now too." His smile wavered a little, as he recalled their conversation of the afternoon. He could end up being thrown off of the story completely or enmeshed in the heart of it. He hated that sort of dilemma.

"That's good to hear." Despite that Lex had almost choked Perry to death in the mansion when they'd clashed, despite that Lex had loathed the man in Smallville. "Does he still have it out for the Luthor name? No, don't answer that -- conflict of interest. I'd rather be ignorant."

Clark shifted uncomfortably, his expression still sometimes painfully easy to read as he wrestled with an internal decision. "I... may fall foul of that conflict of interest thing myself," he said slowly, glancing up at Lex guiltily.

"Fall foul of it?" Lex cocked his head, eyes suddenly sharply focused on Clark. Did he know?

"Yeah. Uh, shit. Maybe this isn't the place to talk about this," Clark said, rubbing the back of his neck, their comfortable atmosphere dispelled in a moment by that incautious phrase.

"Maybe not," Lex agreed. "Why don't we go someplace more private? We could go to a restaurant I own, or the Penthouse, or my office, or..."

"The Penthouse maybe?" Clark suggested. It was the most private place out of the entire selection. "If that's okay. "

"Sure. It's not far. Do you have a car, or would you rather walk?" Lex acquiesced easily, just as easily as he would have taken the suggestion of going back to the mansion in Smallville.

"Walking will be fine," Clark replied, not liking to admit he didn't bother with cars in Metropolis. "It's not that far - shall we go?"

Lex took his coffee cup with him when he stood, apparently not finished. Then he set it down on the table, and took a moment to button his short coat up with some effort. "You're going to have to pardon the transitory state the place is in."

"I'll cope," Clark replied with a faint smile, but the worry still marked him. "My place is no palace."

"Just where are you living?" Lex finished up with his coat, and picked up the coffee again. His right hand was tucked away into his pocket, and with the 3/4 length coat it was hard to even see that he was limping somewhat, that his gait was of.

"Run down apartment building. Nice big place. I've been doing it up," Clark replied as he kept pace, and made sure he opened the door for Lex as they stepped outside into the night. He hadn't realized they had been talking that long.

It hadn't felt that long, which was a good sign for them both. Lex let Clark open the door, expression gracious for a fleeting moment. "Doing it up as what?"

"Somewhere livable?" Clark smiled slightly, "Without leaks or collapsing joists or floors."

"You weren't kidding when you called it run-down," Lex chuckled. "Reporter's salary that good to you?"

"Living the high life Lex," Clark replied dryly, "Reporters who aren't big names don't get big wages. And I'm not a big name -- yet. Lois is further up the ladder than I am."

"She's been at it longer," Lex pointed out as they paused, waiting to cross the street towards the daily planet. Then a left towards the LuthorCorp building, and Luthor towers were just one more block down. "My father called her bloodthirsty."

"Vampires would probably second the motion," Clark replied, with a sort of affection and hint of horrified respect people in his line of work adopted when talking about Lois Lane, "She's very good at what she does and has had to fight hard all the way. There are times when her eagerness to get a story is terrifying."

"As her partner, I'm sure you're well aware of that." Lex wasn't looking at Clark as they crossed the street, but instead looking at the timer that was beside the walk signal.

"Mmm hmm. I'm the anchor to slow her down some," Clark answered even as the light changed.

"Has it worked any?"

"Sometimes," Clark replied, smiling. "It's partly related to what I need to talk to you about."

"So I guessed," Lex said without smiling at all. "I don't even want to know how she plans to justify any article about me..." They took the turn towards LuthorCorp then, Lex's gait turning more unsteady but also more determined. It would be something they could deal with openly once they got to the penthouse.

Clark was about to help him, and then stopped realizing how patronizing that might seem. "It's not too bad on your leg is it?" he asked belatedly.

"It's holding up fine." Lex finished off his coffee, and paused only once they'd crossed the street to discard the cup in a trash can. "And it's not much farther."

"Uh huh. Good." Clark paced along side him, noticing the looks of people around them on the street. Lex was a recognizable figure after all.

Famous, or possibly infamous. Lex slipped his other hand into his pocket, and his gait noticeably pulled back together as he concentrated on it. It hurt like a knife to not limp, but the feeling of eyes on his back was palpable. "Do you remember the penthouse?"

"It was a long time ago," Clark answered. "You've probably changed it since then."

"Not me." Lex shrugged his shoulders as they neared the tall glass and metal doors of the Luthor Towers. "There are some newer things. I'll have to see if you still have security clearance." Probably not.

"Uh, I doubt it Lex," Clark said, thinking of all the times his attempts at contact had been rebuffed "Considering."

A grimace flashed over Lex's face. "I know. Given circumstances, probably not."

"Don't worry about it Lex. We'll deal with it," Clark replied as it was Lex this time that dealt with the doors.

He swiped a key card first, then headed towards an elevator towards the back of the lobby. "Stay close," Lex admonished, "Or you'll set off an alarm."

"I'm close, I'm close." Clark grinned and he was close enough to feel the warmth of his body. "I don't want to cause a ruckus."

Lex didn't react badly to that, but then again, he'd always allowed Clark into his bubble of personal space. "Mercy and Hope could very well snap your neck," was the mused answer, "So it wouldn't be much of a ruckus at all. They live one floor below the penthouse. It's always good to keep your security close."

"Gee, thanks for making me feel at home," Clark replied smiling, but also reassessing what Lex might know. He had to be careful here. Either there was something different about Mercy and Hope, or Lex hadn't made the connection between him and Superman.

"It's a fair warning. I don't want you... overestimating yourself should something happen," Lex drawled as he paused in front of the elevator, and tapped a sequence into a keypad. That didn't open the doors, though, no -- a hole opened, and like something out of the movies Lex had always had a soft spot for, a retinal scan started.

"Do we get to raid the vault as well?" Clark joked a little, though he understood the reasons why Lex had this here.

"Wrong building," Lex drawled, only half a joke. The doors opened, and Lex straightened up to step into the elevator. "But you knew that, right?"

"Ahhhh yes." Clark smiled, stepping in with him as they were smoothly whisked upwards. "That's in the offices."

"Edge told me about your breaking in skills," Lex murmured as he leaned back against the elevator wall. "Back during your 'wild' days."

Clark winced a little at that. "Oh yeah? And what else did he tell you?"

"Roughly everything he knew about you." Lex shrugged his shoulders again. "I dislike the man, but he was my father's closest friend." A closest friend whom he argued with often, and had occasionally tried to kill. This was deemed something like familial affection in the Luthor world view. It had almost made the man an honorary uncle.

"I can't say I'm overly fond of him myself," Clark replied. Lex couldn't know that it had been Edge that had drugging him. Surely he'd feel more than dislike if he did, or they would have found Morgan Edge floating in the Metropolis docks. "What did he know?"

"The properties of your blood." Lex paused when the elevator doors stopped, and stepped outside of them and into a rather decorative hallway. It seemed very... Lex, actually. Dark wood and a historical feel. "Other things."

It definitely made Clark uncomfortable, much like one of those anxiety dreams where you suddenly realize you are walking around naked. "Don't torture me Lex, please... just tell me what you know. Please?"

"I know you're Superman," Lex said easily. "I know what can hurt you." But he hadn't, and he was sure Lionel hadn't either because it benefited the city. It was for the best. "Edge never figured that part out."

Clark hadn't realized how tense he had been holding himself until that moment and the way he exhaled. "You know, I thought that was part of the reason you never spoke to me after that last time.

"Where the car bent around you? It was fascinating," Lex told him as he walked through the hallway, starting to unbutton his coat as he walked. "No, I didn't contact you again because... I crippled your mother. And what you told me when it happened..."

Clark shook his head, having never considered that as a factor, "Wait, what did I tell you?" He was wracking his brains for the answer, looking through his memories. He had been upset it was true, but they hadn't known then if she was even going to survive to start with. The fact he hadn't lashed out physically spoke volumes for his connection with Lex, but he had verbally. "I... remember being a bit upset."

"With reason," Lex murmured as he paused at what looked like a normal front door. He pulled the pass card out again, and keys. Very safety conscious, the Luthors. "You told me... a lot of truths that I didn't want to hear. And you also told me to go away and leave your family alone. I went. And then when I was heading towards Edge's, looking for him, and that car tried to run me down, I thought it was happenstance that you stopped it. I thought you only did it because you wanted revenge yourself."

Clark grimaced a little. Stupid, it was difficult to see how others perceived past actions. Good intentions didn't always appear that way to others. They appeared cloaked by the fears of others.

"I'm sorry Lex, I... was a scared stupid kid. I panicked over Mom and then when that crisis was over I panicked over you. I was already there, confronting him, but he beat the crap out of me and left to go after you and I managed to pull myself together in time. He had a rosary of kryptonite beads and... look, there's no good way to tell you this, seeming as you still know him. Uh, what do you recall about why you had the mental disturbance?"

"I recall... being very paranoid. Psychotically paranoid." Lex finished opening the door, and let himself and Clark in to the entryway. "Here, let me take your coat."

For a place in a 'transitory state', the Penthouse seemed quite settled, quite lived in. Perhaps more lived in than Clark could remember it having been when he'd visited with Lex for a weekend that one summer. Everything looked more used, from the sofas to the tables, to the door handles. Lex opened the closet door to hang up his coat, and there were six other coats, four of them clearly a different size, made for a taller man with a different build.

"What if I told you that you had reason to feel that way?" Clark replied cautiously.

Lex put both coats away, and then closed the closet door. "It's been eight years, Clark."

"This is important Lex. It's where it went wrong." Clark insisted, "I panicked about you, because... because we discovered that you were being drugged. The whole thing happened because you were being drugged. By Morgan Edge. That's why I was there. That's why I managed to push you out of the way of the car. He said something about you... knowing too much, I don't know what, but something important. You had something on him but I wasn't really thinking about anything aside from the moment then."

No, there was no way that Edge could have done anything to him without Lionel's consent, and that... that was just impossible to consider. Lex's jaw tightened as he looked at Clark, watching his expression. "I think I convinced you of my delusions, Clark. There's no way that he'd do anything to me without Lionel having known, and there is simply -- it's unthinkable for me."

Clark just looked at him, hating himself for doing this but not able to keep his promise to be truthful without it. "Your bodyguard told me, and Edge told me as well," he said simply. "He said something about your father not wanting you killed but he had no such qualms over it. I should have known you didn't remember that. "

Arguing, denying what Clark was saying was so much easier than actually thinking about it. "No," Lex bit out as he brushed past Clark, away from the wall that he'd half been using as support. "No, you're lying -- That's not true! I should have known you'd only contact me if you wanted to stir up trouble! Fuck. I've left you and your family and friends alone, haven't I? Hasn't that been enough for you?!"

"Lex, Lex, please stop, you don't want to hurt yourself," Clark said anxiously, worried that the truth had been too much, too painful to absorb. "I promised I wouldn't lie, I'm sorry, but it's the truth. I don't want to hurt you... but something happened to you then. Maybe I'm selfish, because not all my friends were left alone then. I lost you and I didn't know why!"

"You didn't know why?" Lex didn't turn back to look at Clark, just headed out of the room and away from Clark. His study, he'd be fine in the study, and there was a bar in the study, which was an added benefit. "You 'lost' me because you didn't come to see me in the fucking nuthouse," Lex called over his shoulder as he stormed off. "And by the time I got out there was nothing left for me in Smallville!"

"And I couldn't get there to see you because I was fucking sixteen, my mother was semi-paralyzed, my father tore strips out of me when I did try, and every time I disobeyed and went there I was told you were in isolation and then all of a sudden you just weren't there any more!" Clark responded with some heat. "I tried Lex. Short of breaking in and tearing you out of there, which believe me, I nearly did, I didn't know what else to do!"

"You broke Ryan out." Lex was hunched over the bar by the time Clark caught up with him, fumbling open a decanter of vodka. Fuck the nice stuff, he didn't need nice stuff, medications or no, even as his emotion twisted from anger into self-recrimination. "But I know. It's my fault, I... I was sick, I hurt your mother, I've suffered the consequences, I'm sorry."

"Ryan I could find. You were so buried in there." Clark swallowed, seeking desperately for a way to breech that defensive taking of responsibility. "Lex, listen to me, I never wanted revenge, I never wanted to make you suffer, neither did my Mom! If you'd received her letter, you'd know that. It wasn't your fault, she knew that; I knew that. I was out of line to say otherwise but, hell, I felt guilty enough about it myself. You were drugged Lex, Mom's accident was just that... an accident, okay? I was stupid and idiotic and I lashed out when I should have held on to my anger at myself. I'm sorry, really sorry."

Lex took a sharp swig as he suddenly straightened up. It burned his mouth and made him want to choke, but he took a few swallows before setting the decanter back down. "I'm sorry, too. It doesn't change anything. I... I've been happy. I was happy before the accident, everything was fine..."

"Was it Lex?" Clark challenged, watching him carefully. "Really?"

"I know what you're thinking," Lex declared shakily, still not... quite looking at Clark. He didn't have to look at him to know what his facial expression was, to see the careful judging eyes. "Well, you should know what I'm thinking. Who the hell are you to show up out of the blue and question the way I've been living?! At least it was something, which is more than the whole god-forsaken town of Smallville ever gave me!"

"Lex..." Clark swallowed a moment, astonished by the flood of guilt and shame he felt for himself in that moment, not against Lex. Guilt for letting Lex vanish from his life when he could have put aside his own hurt and forced his way into his life again. He could have done it, but he'd allowed the rejection to cripple him. "I hoped it wasn't true, for your sake. But I'll tell you who I am -- I'm your friend. And that sometimes means being the one to tell you things you don't want to hear. I have no reason to lie to you, no matter what you think. "

"You're a reporter," Lex bit out as he finally turned to look at Clark. He could only hope he didn't look as hurt as he felt. It was as if Clark had found his one weak point, then slid a butcher knife into it, and was currently jiggling it around for shits and giggles. "This is for your story, isn't it? For Lois' story. My 'unusually' close relationship with my father -- great topic, isn't it? You don't want to hear about the sex, Clark. You're still to young to hear about that."

"Will you just stop a moment?" Clark begged, stepping closer, taking the hits and anger, "Why do you think I asked to come here to talk in private? I'm risking my fucking job to WARN you Lex. Yes, there is a story, and despite my best efforts, it looks like they have enough to run with it! I've never backed away from the truth in a story before, but though I still believe it should come out, I don't think it should be to the public. I can't... I don't want you hurt like that! That's all I wanted, to drop you a hint, a warning word to tell you that the Planet will be moving in on this story no matter WHAT I come up with. I don't want it!"

It pushed Lex into shaky silence as he leaned back against the Bar, almost resting there. "Well. Fuck." So many things had been 'dropped' by Clark. The idea that Lionel and Edge had worked together to get him to that... point, to where he was just then. That he had tried to contact him, and now...

Lex swallowed, straightened himself up and tried to pull together. "Would you like a drink?"

"For all the good it will do, I think yes," Clark replied, equally worn around the edges from the unexpected emotional purging. "Shit. This wasn't my idea of how to broach the subject. I think I've regressed about a decade in tact."

"We both have." Lex twisted, picked up two glasses with his right hand, and lined them up side by side before he splashed a healthy amount of brandy into both with the bottle he grabbed in his left. "Well, it was nice having a career while it lasted. Long live freedom of the press, hmn?"

"It's not like you to give up on something," Clark replied looking more worried now than he ever had before. "Lex?"

The older man twisted, and offered Clark his glass with his right hand. "In the past two, almost three weeks, I have lost my mentor, lover and father in a gruesome accident, my right hand, and the ability to walk properly. I don't consider what went on behind closed doors to be anyone's business, but I'm sure once that simple revelation is made, the other pieces about... things I've done will fall into place. Oh, and you arrive back in my life out of the blue to tell me that I didn't really go crazy, I was manipulated there by the person I've trusted the most for almost a decade now."

He kicked the drink back the moment Clark took the glass from his right hand. "I'm not giving up. I'm in shock."

"I know. I'm sorry. Really." Clark felt terrible about being the one to break all those sets of news in such quick succession. He was terrified he might have accomplished what he had set out to stop. He might have shattered Lex to pieces with the truth, and the least of it was HIS secret, in a rather bitter irony after all these years. "Sit down Lex, and lets try and think of a way around this."

Despite his earlier snarl about Clark telling him what to do, Lex listened, and moved to sit down in one of the engulfing study chairs. They were very much like the ones that had been in the mansion's library, and Lex slumped in contemplation of his glass. "The Daily Planet will print it. Even if I can find a way to discredit whoever the source is, there..."

"They won't print it unless there is physical evidence to back up their word, not matter what Lois wants. We're not the Inquirer," Clark said with a hint of pride.

"That would require me complying to some sort of physical examination. Which I wouldn't do even if I were innocent," Lex bit out.

"But if they had one of their reporters words for it..," Clark said slowly, a rather radical idea prickling in his thoughts.

"Edge could come out." Lex didn't seem to catch Clark's implication, or if he did he didn't' want too. He looked worn and ragged, staring into his glass so intently.

"Then there needs to be no evidence. If you knew what it was that you got him with before you could stop him," Clark replied. Morgan Edge was a complication he did not want to deal with.

"Clark. I've... done things for my father. Things that kept covered by mere threat of his existence."

There was a long pause of silence, the words holding the weight of a confession that encompassed a crime that would horrify and ostracize. A curl of dread and tension stretched outwards from Lex to Clark, daring him to try and accept this part of him as well.

"Tell me?" Clark asked softly even as he gulped back the alcohol himself, and took hold of that thread of the connection between them.

Lex toyed with his empty glass, twisted it in his fingers as he let his eyes close. "It's been a day of revelations, hasn't it? Might as well finish it all off. I... did things when he asked me to. To, with other people. Friends of his, businessmen he wanted swayed. He was always there, whispering, goading me on..."

The tragedy was that Clark should have been shocked by this revelation, but he wasn't. It was all too Lionel a thing to do. All the revelation brought was no amazement, or shock but just a deep and overwhelming sorrow.

"He used you Lex. I'm sure he loved you in his... own way, but he used you." Clark murmured almost sadly. "He did something to you when you were locked away. You hated him before then, right up to that moment I saw you and then when you came out you were everything he wanted you to be. Can you see that? Knowing that you wanted me to be there, knowing that I tried and failed and was lead to believe that it was your choice that I was being pushed away... someone didn't want your old life interfering." There was no judgment for what he had done in Clark's voice, just a thread of that painful sorrow that it had happened at all.

Lex rubbed at his temple, leaving the glass tottering on the chair's arm. "Christ. I... I need to think on this. It's too much."

"I'd leave you to think but, I don't think we have enough time." Clark pointed out.

"So... lie. Go back to your office and say I'm fine, say whatever you think would work." He kept his eyes closed, trying to think of how to head off the OTHER avenues. The businessmen would be silent, since it would hurt them as much as him. But Edge...

"I can't lie," Clark replied shaking his head, "You may recall how bad I am at it. Lex, do you trust me?"

The silence that followed that question wasn't a good answer. Finally Lex shifted up from the depths of the pillowy chair, and heaved a sigh. "I might as well."

Clark supposed he deserved that. It hurt, but he deserved it. He could have saved him back then and he hadn't, so what right did he have to expect trust? Even a grudging trust was a gift he didn't feel he deserved. "You're right, I owe you a lot to pay back for what I said and not being around. No matter the reasons, facts are facts. " He swallowed against emotion. "Lex, even Superman has secrets. I could get you healed so there is no trace of injury. "

"I... is that even possible?" Clark hadn't seen the injury; hell, Lex didn't even like to look at it, because that would involve inflicting more pain on himself than the ever present dull ache.

Clark nodded. There had been occasion to test it, and he knew what he could see with x-ray vision could be fixed with comparative ease. "You might as well know all my secrets. I could heal that injury, it's up to you about the others right now, but I'm pretty sure it maybe be able to grow back the hand, though I don't know how long that will take. Then it won't be a lie. I'll just have to say that I saw you naked to Perry and there wasn't a mark on your genitals." He gave a hesitant smile.

"A veritable fountain of youth," Lex murmured. "Unfortunately, how would I explain my hand? Your partner knows about it, and to be truthful, it absolves me of... suspicion of murder."

"Then we leave the hand," Clark replied shrugging, "For now. Would that work?"

"I believe so." Lex levered himself out of the chair, slowly. "How should we do this?"

"Well, lets just say, I'm glad you've gotten over your fear of flying," Clark said with smile, relieved at the agreement. "You might like to put on something warm, though I understand that it stays warm close to me. I'm not sure why. We're going to take a quick trip."

"Will I be blindfolded?" Lex asked seriously, as he moved to the edge of the library. It was clear that it wasn't just Lex who had been living there. There was a pair of reading glasses lying on the shelf nearest to Clark, narrow and gold-rimmed.

"No, but I doubt you'll see much of the journey," Clark replied, noting that and other details. "We'll be moving fast, okay? Won't take long, I promise."

Lex wanted, momentarily, to ask how fast, and where, but... he was going to a Fortress. The Quintessential Superhero Lair. So he shook his head a little to himself as he moved to the closet again, to dig his coat up once more, and Clark's as an afterthought. "All right."

"I think I'll dispense with the costume performance for once," Clark said, taking the coat, "Unless you really want it." He looked around to the balcony. This was not what he intended, but he owed Lex. In his own mind, he failed him then and 8 years of guilt was a hell of a debt to pay off.

"You'll have to pardon me if I want to pass," Lex murmured as he pulled his coat on. "There's a balcony off of the bedroom."

"Okay." Clark was trying to sound calm but he wasn't really. The Fortress was somewhere where he could let go, and was intensely private to him. But then, in their mutual blurting out of secrets which seemed to have been abscessing all that time apart, and then disgorged in a mess of festering emotions, there was no one else who knew the secrets in the same way as they now did about each other. Perhaps Lex would hate him, but if there was something Clark was determined to see happen, it was the chance for Lex to be his own man and make his own choices, free of anyone's hold.

It was down the long hall and at the end, so Clark had quite a walk before he actually reached it, and Lex... was taking his time. Nervousness probably.

The bedroom itself was something that would have fit in at the mansion, perhaps a touch more modern in nature. The bed had been hastily made; Lex's pajama's were folded neatly atop one pillow, a dressing robe hung off the back of the far door, beside yet another robe. Lionel's things were easy to spot: a hairbrush on the dresser-top, a few different kinds of cologne, a shirt over the back of one chair, an abandoned pc laptop on the corner desk, a notebook and landline phone beside it.

It wasn't as if he hadn't known that Lex would, could and did sleep with men. For all his apparent innocence he hadn't been completely clueless. Occasionally jealous, but not clueless.

But his father....

'Love is love' his mom had said after he spoke to her during his college years about his own experimentations. And perhaps he could have accepted what happened between Lex and Lionel if he was sure the whole thing had been about love. But he was afraid, afraid for Lex's sake that it hadn't been. Not really. It was hard to believe it could have been; particularly after Lex's halting, sighed admittance to 'doing things' for his father, with other people, with Lionel goading him on. The vague description couldn't possibly give credit to whatever the reality of it was, and Clark wasn't sure he'd want to know the gory details.

"I haven't gotten around to cleaning," Lex murmured as he strode into the room. "If you move the curtains there, the balcony is pretty simple to unlock."

Clark nodded and did so, fiddling with the lock a moment until the French window doors swung open, and the chill of the night air swept in to disturb the air in the room. It was beautiful out there. The lights glittered like stars skimming over surfaces of metal and glass all around them as the city hummed with life. "You ready?"

Lex finished buttoning up his coat, and stepped up beside Clark with tenseness in his back. "I'm ready, Clark."

Clark stood and rather self-consciously opened his arms. "You're going to have to, uh hold on. Well, I'll be holding you, actually."

Lex's mouth twitched a little as he stepped closer to Clark. "You say that as if I'll have a problem with it."

"Well." Clark flushed a little at that. "I... uh..." Great. There went that 8 years experience again.

A moment's more pause, before Lex stepped up against Clark and slid arms around his neck. "Let's leave?"

Clark nodded just a little, not trusting himself to speak just then. That was the real reason for not going as Superman. He could hide nothing in that costume. Just then he certainly had something to hide. He wrapped his arms around Lex carefully, as if he was fragile and willed them right up into the sky, punching up through the cloud cover and pausing a moment to orientate himself. The scene was of unearthly beauty, a fantasy made real in sculptures of clouds, diamond dust stars sparkling on a velvet night and the moon sharp and clear. "You okay?" he asked softly.

"Can't... hard to... breathe," Lex admitted after a moment, as he looked out at the scene. Extremely hard to breathe, as if he'd stepped out of an airplane at 20000 feet. Chokingly thin air, but what a price to pay for such a beautiful sight.

"We won't be up here long. Brace yourself," Clark replied looking at the stars for his bearing. "Here we go."
And it was a blur. He'd never tried the limits of his speed. There was a point where it got difficult and he'd never breeched that barrier. For all he knew it could be like someone getting into his stride but he wasn't going to risk Lex with experimentation.

The boom behind them as they passed the speed of sound was always satisfying and he was glad that whatever it was about him that seemed to protect him from the g-forces extended to people or things he held close.

They accelerated, a streak of motion unseen in the night, the dim shape of land vanishing away from them and ocean spreading out even as he pulled Lex closer unconsciously, as his thought considered the crashes he had endured into deep water.

Flickers of white appeared beneath them, solidifying into the vast expanse of ice and snow that was Antarctica. He dropped low then, beneath any possible scanning equipment and swerved and careered through the crevasses, around glaciers, the call of the Fortress starting to pulse in his awareness.


A structure of ice and glittering crystal within ice. His sanctuary, his equivalent of the only place where he could be his own true self, no masks, nothing but who he really was.

He landed and the Fortress opened to him and his passenger.

Within was as impressive as without, a combination of smooth crystal and ice, high vaulted ceilings and metal structures holding it together.

Lex stared as he took it all in.

Clark released his hold on him. "Welcome to my Fortress of Solitude," he said with the slightly self-depreciating smile he had when he used to try and play something down. "Needed something bigger than the loft at home. Ran out of bookshelves."

"You certainly went all out," Lex murmured as he took a step away from Clark, walking away and deeper into the first of what had to be many rooms. "So this is what the technology of Krypton could do.

"And a whole lot more," Clark replied with a hint of surprise, "It just sort of happened. Whatever else their technology could do, matter manipulation and transformation seems to be right up there with one of their favorites."

"As we saw in Smallville." Lex's hands were slid into his coat pockets. "I've love to explore this place, but I don't think you'd let me. It has to break some superhero code of ethics."

"Just bringing you here does that," Clark half joked. "This place sort of reacts to me though. I couldn't guarantee you'd be seeing the same thing each time. In a strange way it is like someone exploring a part of myself. It's weird." He shrugged and then added quietly even as he walked down a slope. "But you are welcome to do so."

Lex merely stayed close to Clark, following him down the slope. "I believe it could wait, couldn't it? I'd like to see this... technology that would repair me."

"Over here." Clark gestured to a seemingly pure crystal wall, which on closer inspection could be seen to be engraved with glyphs. Some of them seemed like sharper, clear versions of markings in the Caves near Smallville and Clark just placed his hand on the wall and it became a crystalline spiral swirling away, leaving it open.
Inside, there was a gentle warm light emanating from the walls, devices, things that looked actually like tables or chairs of a sort and a voice, soft and definitely female spoke to them.

"Welcome back Kal-El, you have brought company I see."

Clark nodded. "Yes, this is my friend Lex."

"The Lex you have spoken of?" There was a sense of attention upon Lex even as Clark nodded. "I welcome you Lex to Kal-El's Fortress of Solitude."

"Astonishing," Lex murmured as he looked up to the ceiling, eyes a little wide and very searching. The warmth was appreciated for his reddened and cold face and head. "I should have expected this place to have some sort of artificial intelligence."

There was actually a mild laugh from the area around them. "I would not regard my intelligence as artificial. I am a construct formed from the fusion of a Kryptonian personality infusion of Kal-El's biological mother Lara, and the pinnacle of what you would call quantum computing. I am more her offspring than Lara herself, but it pleases Kal-El to called me by that name."

Lex continued to look around him, then shook his head slightly as he edged closer to Clark and what looked like a tanning bed. A very deep, yellow tinted tanning bed. "Amazing. I can see why you hid your fortress so out of the way."

"It would have been a bit obvious in Metropolis," Clark replied with a hint of irony. "Lara, Lex has been injured and we need to do some quite specific treatment for him. Could you prepare the healing centre please?"

Lex prided himself in not startling when the 'tanning bed' thing started to hum and the tint turned a glow. "Healing matrix activated, Kal-El. Which of Lex-Luthor's injuries are to be treated?"

"Well Lex? That's up to you." Clark looked at him "You said not the hand as yet, but.. The leg maybe as well as your uh... groin."

And maybe other things. Like hair? No. Lex smiled a little at Clark, and murmured, "Maybe a touch of work on the leg. There's a series of metal implants in it right now to shore up the bone that isn't there. And of course the, uh... 'groin' area."

"Okay, well if you just lie down Lara will sort if out for you," Clark replied, nodding to the 'healing matrix', "I should warn you, it's a bit like being in a capsule once it activates. Can be a bit surprising."

"Should I..." Lex gestured to his coat and clothes in general. "Undress?"

"It is preferred that you should Lex-Luthor," the voice of Lara the A.I issued from the walls.

"Would you like me to leave?" Clark offered.

"No. You might as well stay here. It's your fortress after all." Lex started to unbutton his coat, slipped it off and after a pause just laid it on the floor. Then he started on his shirt buttons, lifting his chin calmly as he did so. "I had probably best remove my hand, too?"

"If you would place the prosthetic device here," and an area lit up to the side of him, "I will endeavor to make some adjustments using existing Earth levels of technology, to improve your comfort level." the A.I told him.

Clark nodded, agreeing with the A.I's initiative. "Thanks Lara."

"That's very considerate," Lex murmured as he toed off his shoes and socks too with a little effort. They were left beside his coat, and atop his coat he dropped his shirt. It left only his pants to deal with, which once he unbuckled his belt came off easily.

Two weeks and a couple of days had made little difference in the severity of injuries. Lex's body was still covered in bursts of bruises, with the odd sprouting of stitches on his torso that looked as if they could be taken out soon. When he shimmied out of pants and underwear, it was obvious that hi--

It was something Clark morbidly had to look at. Lex's cock had stitches on it, his groin itself, the inside of his left thigh, welts and more stitches marring the leg that gave Lex such trouble. It was only a hint of what laid beneath the skin. Lex paused to disconnect the silicone covered prosthetic from his arm, and carried it in his left hand as he walked towards the device.

Clark was staring, he knew it. But even the mental consideration of such pain was enough to shock. And seeing Lex's arm just end at the wrist was very disturbing. It was like a thought tumbling over a precipice every time his eye flicked across that damaged areas.

He mentally damned the secrecy and pressure that made that maiming a necessity to keep intact when it could be fixed. He would find a way to give that back to Lex some day, if his friend decided to maintain contact after this evening. He was not proud of himself -- a small guilty part of him knew that this visit and revelation was a bribe of sorts to try and make him stay.

And it might very well work. Lex laid the prosthetic down where the A.I. had instructed, then got into the 'bed' with a certain injured grace. It snapped shut once he was lying down, enclosing him so that Clark couldn't even see his startled expression.

"Healing Matrix activated. Do you wish superficial damage to be corrected also?" Lara asked in her soft voice,

Clark nodded. "Please, I'm not sure how he's been managing to walk around like that. I'd appreciate it, if you talk to him in there? He doesn't like to be out of control of things, and he could use his mind being taken off of what is going on."

And he had been out of control for some time. Eight years or so if Clark really had to guess.

"As you wish Kal-El. This will take a little time," the A.I replied smoothly.

Inside the healing matrix, the soft voice suddenly emerged again. "Please relax Lex-Luthor; if you feel any discomfort please tell me, and I will modify the process. The initial scan is taking place." There was a warm rather intimate tingling sweeping over his body.

Relaxing was easy for it to say; the thing that was talking to him hadn't had a flash of some horror movie about being fed to a machine, had it? No. "All right." The intimacy of it was startling -- it felt like fingers, only there was no distinctness to the sensation. Just a sweep of contact over his skin, his leg, his dick, Jesus that felt good.

"Kal-El has stated that it his wish that your soft tissue damage be healed as well. I believe he is concerned that you are in a fair amount of pain." Lara the A.I spoke softly in his ear with her soothing voice. "Would you like that repaired also?"

"Nothing above the neck," Lex told it. He couldn't quite manage to close his eyes, staring at the 'roof' of the thing instead. He'd never felt claustrophobic until that moment, and Lex decided he didn't like the feeling. "The rest, please."

"You respiration and vital signs are showing signs of anxiety Lex-Luthor. Would some distraction be of use to you?" Lara's said softly. There was a curiously liquid warmth that seemed to slide across various parts of his body, seeking his aches and pains and covering them with a glowing sensation.

The glowing sensation gave way to a feeling of being better, remarkably better. "No, I think I'm distracted enough."

There was a faint laugh. "That most likely will continue as the procedures do. We did not like the few medical procedures that Kryptonians underwent to be unpleasant. They were designed to feel good at the least. " There was a slight prickling sensation that impinged through the warm glow. "I am removing your stitches Lex-Luthor. The scans are also picking up some residual effects of Kryptonite radiation in your DNA. Were you aware of this?"

"Yes; it's served me well over the years. Please leave it," Lex told the voice. Served him well was an understatement, given how many near death experiences he'd had.

"Ah, I see." The voice paused a moment, "I can see how it would have beneficial effects on human physiology. It would also, rather interestingly, nullify the dangerous components of Kryptonian physiology." For an A.I., Lara certainly sounded like she was heavily hinting at something.

"Such as?" He wasn't up to hinting, or games, particularly not from an A.I.

"Various bodily fluids," Lara replied blithely. "That might otherwise cause an allergic reaction, suppression of immediate cellular defense as well. Part of the genetic modification has resulted in an immune system reaction that can tolerate intimate contact. For example, in sexual intercourse it would not be necessary for either of you to wear any impediments."

Lex finally closed his eyes, and drawled, "Well, that's great to know. Thank you."

"I thought it might be pertinent," Lara replied with a smile in her warm voice. There was a sudden jolt of sensation in his groin as warmth engulfed him.

It didn't feel entirely sexual, though there was a hint of it. More like an easing of pain, of hurt that he'd just been going on with for two weeks like it wasn't there, because how could he act like it was there? "Because my life has apparently degraded to sex, sex and sex to the point that computers can tell. Be careful down there..."

"This was not the implication I was trying to make Lex-Luthor," Lara replied, sounding contrite. "It was my thought to plant the thought of Kal-El's interest in you subtly, as he is too versed in the sexual mores of this world to act on his own emotions. In this respect his Earth upbringing has failed him."

He kept his eyes closed, and sincerely hoped that Clark couldn't hear the conversation he was having with the AI. "I think it's served him well." After all, Lex could still feel the painful ache of seeing the look on Lionel's face when -- yes, it was too soon for anything. Too soon to contemplate anything that had or would happen.

"Please do not tell him of this," the AI replied reading that as a rejection, "He would most likely be mortified at my interference. My apologies if I have made you uncomfortable in any way. I have not interacted with many humans."

"You're unaware of the circumstances. I very recently lost my f... lover." If it had been love for Lionel. There was no way he could ask now, no way he could ever find out what Lionel's true intent had been. There was just the knowing that Clark said one thing, and there had been things that seemed to agree with it, and things Lionel had made him do that he hadn't wanted to.

But the prodding. And he never protested much, nos becoming yeses with such ease... Lex concentrated on not breathing too fast, on not thinking.

"Then I have been inappropriate." The voice of the A.I sounded regretful. "You must grieve for him greatly, and Kal-El would not wish to hurt you in anyway. My apologies and condolences Lex-Luthor. It is hard to lose someone so close to you."

Harder still to have Clark pulling at the nearly perfect image of him that Lex had created. "Yes... It is. Of course, you're dead, aren't you?"

"Yes. And yet I remember having to let go of my son. Children were very rare and unusual to Kryptonians. Kal-El was the first in a long time and young enough that he could be unbound from the planet, where we could not. I remember that loss, Lex-Luthor, and the ties between parent and child are complex and full of need. Myself and Jor-El had many hopes and dreams for our son, and we both selfishly wanted him to fulfill the lost destiny of our people."

"That sounds almost nice," Lex murmured to the AI. It was like talking to Mercy and Hope; creations tended to not judge, even in the hollow recesses of their eyes. "My own father was all about destiny." There was a tingling again, still on his groin, and spreading to the depths of his leg.

"You were named after a great historical leader were you not?" Lara said soothingly. "It will not be long now Lex-Luthor."

"Yes. Alexander the Great." Alexander the shadow of his more important father Luthor. Alexander desperate for stability Luthor. He was rather glad it wasn't going to be long since he wasn't sure he could take much more time. At least it wasn't silence.

"My records show that he accomplished great things," the A.I replied. "The process is finishing, and you may feel a pleasant sensation as the final deep tissue effect takes place."

There was a slight hum and a flood of pleasant endorphins shot into his bloodstream as if he had momentarily mainlined hard drugs. The sensation reminded him both that he hadn't done any in some time, and how good it had been to do so. To be awash in a lack of thought and that refreshed feeling of being able to take over the fucking world again. "Mm."

The canopy area unpopped and lifted away. "The process is complete Lex-Luthor, as is my work on the prosthetic. I hope it this has not been too arduous an experience."

"No, not at all," Lex murmured as he shifted to sit up and then move out of the device, using his hand to pull himself out.

Clark looked around from where he had been studying some sort of screen and read out, "Hey, hope Lara was gentle with you?" He asked. Lex's clothes had been folded up on the side carefully, next to the altered prosthetic hand.

"Quite." Lex perched on the edge for a moment, slightly disoriented as he glanced at Clark, then looked down.

"What? Something wrong?" Clark couldn't help but follow his gaze with a worried expression.

Lex almost started to laugh. "Well, she patched me up in the entirety. Maybe a little above and beyond the call of duty."

Clark looked at him quizzically and then down again and then realization dawned "Oh. Oh, God were you... uh..."

"Cut," Lex told Clark dryly, still looking at it. It almost looked foreign, and he wasn't quite sure what to do with it other than wait to properly investigate it once he was alone. "Ah well. I'm lucky I didn't end up with hair. Could you hand me my hand?"

"Your... uh, yeah." Clark was teetering on the edge of a blush and that request just made things weird. Even so, he managed to do it without dropping it, which would have somehow been very crass. "Here."

Lex took it left handed, and expertly fitted it down over his stub. The whole thing wasn't done yet -- there were plans to make it more permanent when he'd had time to heal, of inserting a metal ring into his arm that it could attach to properly. "Thank you. For all of this."

Clark shrugged to try and make it was nothing, "It's okay Lex. It's not much to make up for eight years is it?"
He watched as Lex's prosthetic hand seemed to mould itself seamlessly to the stump, with a peculiar pop of a vacuum settling into place and then other metal extensions filamented out across the join.

"That's new." Lex's eyebrows raised a little as he watched it, even while he got to his feet. Clark's awkwardness would no doubt ease away once he was dressed, which was his next goal. "How long did that take?"

"About an hour all told," Clark replied, clearing his throat a little awkwardly. "Here." He handed over the pile of clothes. "You do feel better right?"

"Astonishingly better. Which is why I appreciate you having done this for me." Lex slid on his dark grey briefs, and then picked up his shirt. "And... for agreeing to help me this way."

"This probably won't stop everything, Lex, but you might want your medical records shifted to reflect this change. I just hope Perry will back down. Lois will probably crucify me," Clark said a little despondently. He still had no idea what was prompting him to do this. He was making a useful truth to cover a bigger truth but he couldn't help but feel that it was wrong.

"Would you like a little credit added to what you're going to tell them?" Lex asked as he buttoned up his shirt and then picked up and shook out his pants. "I could pick you up for dinner tomorrow, if you'd like."

"You... don't have to," Clark replied automatically, but glanced at Lex with his guileless green eyes, "But, it would be useful and there is still the problem of others to deal with."

Others. Others like Edge, and the presidents of six or seven companies, a few public officials, a few lawyers. Lex closed his eyes for a moment as he meticulously buckled up his belt, and made sure his shirt was firmly tucked in. "The more I think about it, the more of a problem it seems to be."

"Out of the ones there which of them are likely to try anything?" Clark said practically. "Sure, they might join in, but who might tip the balance?"

"Edge. Davies from Associated Farming is likely to try to... continue the arrangement under threat of dropping the contract we have with them. Milne I'm not sure of." Lex paused to pull his socks on, then slipped his shoes on. "There have been a... lot of them."

"You had something on Edge," Clark replied, narrowing his eyes as he tried to recall if Lex had ever given him a hint of what it was about. "You discovered something important Lex, that's what triggered the whole thing back then. I could... I could research that? You neutralize Morgan Edge and I think the others will back off. Or you can get something on them. "

"It's two way blackmail, Clark." Lex re-fastened his tie without having to look, though the gesture was slow due to having one dexterous hand and one less so. It felt different than it had before. So Lex could only hope that when he had time to experiment, he'd find the changes to have been for the better. "You realize what I did, don't you, Clark?"

"I could be making assumptions," Clark replied hesitantly.

"Assumptions such as?"

"That you slept with your father, and he asked you to sleep with others, do things for others, sexually?" Clark replied, looking at him with clear green eyes even as he said the words that could not have been taken back.

"The phrase you're probably not looking for is 'corporate whore'." Lex straightened his tie, and then moved to pick up his coat. Despite the warmth of the place, his coat made him comfortable in there. "But I wanted to make him happy..."

Clark felt the words to knock Lex back rise to his lips. To tell him how he'd been used and exploited over again by his father. And when he'd said that before it had nearly crushed Lex, and he just couldn't do that again. Lex had loved his father and probably always would, maybe even at the same time as hating him. Loving him had been a way to survive, he could see that. "I know Lex. Were... were you happy?"

The other man shrugged into his coat, expression grim. "It felt like happiness. Retrospectively, I..." He faltered, both in voice and in motion, pausing in settling into his coat. "I don't know. You've cut through my... illusion of happiness. It doesn't matter if I was or I wasn't. I believed I was, and belief is enough for most men."

"I'm sorry Lex." The miserable sound to Clarks voice was not feigned. "I wouldn't want to hurt you with even the truth, for all my ethics. I was only thinking of proving myself, proving that I hadn't abandoned you willingly."
And the reason why that seemed so important to him that he would wrangle a different form of truth to cover a more dangerous one, allow someone to enter his inner sanctum and risk his career and everything he had built in those missing 8 years went unspoken. Repression was a marvelous thing.

"It's all right. I just need time to think about it." Eight years of his life to look at and mentally demand of himself if it was worth it. Or why he did this and that, or... "Why don't we go back to Metropolis, Clark? I feel like I'm invading your territory."

Clark looked at him a moment and then nodded. "Sure, I'll take you home. Then I'll give you some time and --yeah," he said, a hint of a protective emotional mask settling into place.

"Goodbye Lex-Luthor. I hope that I will have the pleasure of conversing with you again." The A.I. spoke up even as Clark turned to the crystal Iris door.

Lips quirking, Lex told the AI, "I hope so, too," before he followed Clark. "I plan to hold you to your agreement to have dinner with me."

Clark smiled losing the edge of his rather somber mood. "You think I'm going to pass that one up?" he replied. "I'll look forward to it." He walked up the slope to where they had come in and stood there with his arm out, as if preparing for a hug. "Time to go Lex."

"Right." Lex stepped near, but didn't quite embrace Clark again; instead he found himself looking at him, studying him. Just another one of the kindly useless faces in the crowd, but... but Clark was trying to do something for him. Not entirely one of the number of cruel observers who patted themselves on the back for merely attending a memorial service. "I truly appreciate this, Clark. All of this. From helping me fend off Lois to... suggesting some truth for me to think about."

The hesitant smile was worth him saying the words. "I'll be here Lex. I promise, this time I'll be here," Clark said simply, "If you want me as your friend, then I'll try not to let you down again."

"I think last time was a mutual letting down." Lex slipped his arms around Clark's neck, perhaps letting a hint of something more seep into the gesture.

There was only the barest hesitation that might have indicated surprise as Clark pulled him close, but he said nothing but nodded and even as he looked directly at his older friend, they were gone from that sanctuary in a blur of unimaginable speed.

Clark hadn't slept and it showed. Of course he didn't need to sleep, but most people didn't need to have a cup of coffee in the morning, but it certainly helped. After he had dropped Lex back, and left by the prosaic route of the executive elevator, he had gone home to think about what the hell he was doing. He was meant to be for 'Truth' and yet here he was, seeming to assist in the cover up. A night of thinking had revealed to him that though he believed in the Truth, sometimes is could be tarnished by over exposure. The press did not have the right to destroy the truth.

Besides what he was about to do would be a different truth, but a truth none the less.

He walked into the main office looking very worried. "Lois, is Perry in yet?" he asked, by way of a greeting.

"Mmm, I think he ducked out to walk with the layout department," Lois murmured as she glanced up at Clark. "Hey, you look wiped. Had a long night, Kent?"

"Yeah kinda." Clark sat down heavily, flicking on his computer. "What're you working on?"

"The big story we started on yesterday," she informed him, while she leaned back from her computer to let him look. "I trolled, and apparently there's a few people in a couple of companies who are willing to attest that their executives had a complete change of mind about dealing with LuthorCorp after having dinner at 'The Gold House' with the Luthors."

Problem. Big problem. Bloodhound Lois and her unerring sense for a juicy rotting scandal hidden in the closet with all the other skeletons.

"Lois. There's a problem with that story." Clark interjected awkwardly.

"No there isn't," she smirked at him. "In fact, it's really really solid. If I can just get a couple of Gold House employees to say what happened, why..."

"No, Lois our contact yesterday, the paramedic guy?" Clark looked away a moment as he tried to work up the nerve to say what he was intending to say. "He was wrong," he said, not having to feign the tinge of embarrassment.

"Wrong?" Now Clark had the entirety of Lois' attention, as she spun her chair around to properly look at him. "Okay, explain this. What sources do YOU have?"

"Uh. Impeccable ones." Clark smiled quickly and hesitantly. "I'd prefer to tell Perry first though. Uh.."

"You found his medical records?" Her eyes just lit up -- the absolute treasure trove of information that she considered that to be. "I can wait. I just want to be there when you tell Perry."

"Well, if he says so, sure," Clark replied, relieved at being spared a private barbequing on Lois' infamous reporters grill. "So tell me about the Gold House?"

"It's an establishment owned by the dead Lionel Luthor -- so now it's Lex Luthor's. The place prides itself in providing sound proofed private rooms for dining and business meetings," she drawled. "It's been around for a decade. About three years into its history, the police actually had a vice bust on the place. Didn't find anything, but there had to have been a tip-off."

Clark frowned a little. "You looked up all the details? I just have a feeling I've heard the name before, in connection with someone else?"

Had he been there maybe, when under the influence of the Red? It might have been one of the places run by Morgan Edge's people, in which case Lois might have tipped their hand. In which case Lois and Lex could be in danger. Why did he never know anyone who had a quiet, boring life?

"Due to the exceeding privacy that Mr. Luthor promised," she drawled happily, "it's still a suspected meeting place for crime bosses. Some of whom Mr. Luthor had sketchy ties to. Of course, he took most of that information to the grave with him, unless he took his son into his confidence as well as his bed."

Clark had his suspicions about the Gold House and Lionel. It was not something that he had mentioned to Lex, but he was pretty sure that Lionel was the type to accumulate blackmail material. He would have records somewhere, he would have something somewhere. Lex was a victim in this, he could tell that, but Morgan Edge and Lionel had been predators, and with Lionel gone? Morgan Edge would try and take over once and for all.

"Sounds interesting. Mind if I help on that one?"

The real trouble was going to be in keeping Edge from being a predator with Lex once more a victim. A victim of Edge, or the papers.

"Happily," she told him. "Have you ever seen the place? It's like a huge townhouse down in the almost seedy part of town."

"I'm sure I have at some point," Clark replied, "Must have been a while ago though. You actually get in there?"

"Once, into the 'open' dining room. It's a lush place, very... very twenties in feeling. You know what I mean?"

"Oh yes -- a sort of Al Capone thing," Clark smiled wryly. It would have appealed to Lionel's 'inner thug'. "How long before they threw you out?"

"Actually, they didn't. I was very well behaved," she scoffed. "I was also on a date with the youngest Luthor, Lucas. He'd promised me a story, and it turned out to be an excuse to try to grope me under the table."

"Lucas? That would be a while ago then," Clark replied, "Considering."

"Biking accident," she shuddered. "Not too long after that 'date' actually. That always struck me as suspicious."

"Mmm.." Clark nodded. "Survival in the Luthor clan has always seemed a tough job."

"Which reminds me -- I was trolling the archives, Kent. You were buddy buddy with Luthor before he cracked. Did he really hate his father, or was it just an act?"

"He hated him. He wanted recognition from him, but he hated him," Clark said definitely "Lionel Luthor -- he let Lex exchange himself to a madman for hostages on a lie he knew about but Lex didn't. He left him kidnapped with a lunatic woman with an axe, making a public statement that he would not negotiate for his son's release, knowing she was unbalanced and irrational. He screwed up his sons life everywhere he turned Lois."

"So what brought about..." Lois wiggled her eyebrows. "You know. What brought that about?"

"Lois, I'm not so sure that there is a that to talk about," Clark replied with a hint of discomfort, "That's the thing."

"Just give me a hint?" Lois' attention twitched away as the door to the large open office opened and Perry finally came in. "Here we go."

"Chief? Chief can I have a word?" Clark looked around. "It's important?"

"Is it, Kent?" Perry glared at him for just a moment, even as he stormed past Clark and beckoned him to follow. "C'mon, I don't have all day."

Clark glanced to Lois and got up to follow, knowing she would too as he entered the office. "Chief, it's about the uh... Luthor story. I think we've been given some bad information on it," he said, waiting for Lois to shut the door.

There was a moment of curious pause, and then Lois did close the door behind her as he talked.

"Bad information like what? Did you get into his medical records?"

"Slightly better than that, Chief." He couldn't believe he was going to say this so he hedged around it. "An eyewitness report from an impeccable source that indicates that there is no damage to the... pertinent region."

"One of his secretaries? Kent, I thought I'd taught you better than to take the word of people who were easily swayed." Perry sighed, glancing at him with disappointment assuming the worst.

"Uh, no." Clark flushed a little and then looked up, steeling himself for the confession. "It was me. I am the eyewitness."


"What...?" Lois put a hand on his shoulder and jerked him a little.

Clark glanced at her apologetically, the embarrassment factor incredibly high now. "Like I told both you and Lois, I used to know him quite a while ago -- that was the conflict of interest thing, and when Lois floated this idea, well I know how tricky it is dealing with the Luthors, so I was a bit suspicious of how easily we got a witness just like that, willing to testify to it. Lex had phoned me briefly the night before, since I gave him my card at the memorial and, well I used that as a vantage point to arrange to meet him."

He cleared his throat nervously. "I don't think I need to go into all the detail, but lets just say I can assert that there was not a mark on his... genitals, thought there was plenty of bruising elsewhere. Certainly not the mangled mass we were told about by the paramedic."

Perry winced as he listened to Clark's story. "I'd always guessed there was something weird between you and Luthor, Kent. Don't say anything more."

"You... you slept with the story?!" Lois sounded horrified.

"Oh come on Lois I've seen you flirt your way through a lead," Clark replied, though he practically burned with embarrassment.

"But you slept with him? Jesus, Kent, even if that one lead had been wrong, there's so many others that point at the same thing, and the thing with the Gold House....!"

"Am I going to have to pull you from this story?" Perry asked calmly.

"No. Not in that way," Clark replied, "It's possible he may not want to see me again. I don't know."

That was true enough. He'd mentioned dinner but that might have just been words. "I felt that you needed to know Chief. There's no physical evidence to back up anything on that front, even if it did happen. If we went ahead on the word of the paramedic, then we would be heading for disaster. And no I didn't sleep with him for the story Lois, I'm not that type of person. The story is... incidental."

"Lucky incidental," Lois scoffed as she leaned back against the door.

Perry just kept eyeing Clark, eyes keen. "Okay. This is going to be crass, but if you didn't sleep with him, just how did you end up seeing... that."

"We met up and went back to the Penthouse to talk. He uh, had to change and obviously isn't used to company there. Lets just say I got an eyeful before I backed away," Clark replied adapting the real events into something plausible, "It was very embarrassing."

Lois snorted, "Oh, I'm sure he's used to company... Jesus, Clark."

"Well." Perry was peering at Clark, studying his face. "We can't run that story, then, if Kent here says he didn't see what your source said was there. Just find a different angle, Lane."

"I get the impression Chief, they there are a lot of people that Lionel Luthor upset one way or another who are ganging up to take down his son before he can find his feet. It seemed very convenient that all of a sudden there are people volunteering to speak up when before you couldn't find anyone for love nor money," Clark said earnestly, totally open in the face of his boss's regard. What he had said was the truth, just not necessarily connected the way it was implied. Lex wasn't used to company up in the Penthouse. He HAD had to get changed, and Clark had caught an eyeful. Just the circumstances around it were blurred out. "Lionel Luthor had some rather underworld contacts. I'm wondering if this might be a part of takeover of sorts."

"Which could also certainly make for a story," White told him, with a curt nod. "Kent, Lois, I want you to look at all angles of this, not just the tabloid ready ones. All right?"

"Yes, chief," Lois sighed, as she started to open the door. "C'mon, Kent. Let's go back to file-digging for a bit and compile a list of names."

Clark got up a little clumsily. "Sorry about that Chief," he said over his shoulder, as he went after her.

Perry just waved him off as he settled behind his desk. Maybe he knew Clark was lying, but he hadn't called Clark out on it. It was a relief to him, and the editor's reprieve also granted him a chance to legitimately spend work time trying to figure out what was going on.

And with Lex still seemingly in a partial state of shock, he had a feeling that the investigation was going to be needed after all.

He wished Clark hadn't told him.

There was a bliss to ignorance, and a stabbing pain to hindsight. At the time, all had seemed fine, but when faced with discrepancies and told to go look, Lex found himself wondering why he missed his father so gravely. Why he felt such a hollow ache.

Because it seemed that even the fondest of memories were retrospectively tainted and unbearable to Lex. They weren't all right anymore because Lionel wasn't soothing him into the idea of it, wasn't there and a presence anymore. Except in his mind, the whisper of an ever present shadow that he half-wished was still there.

Clark's words had cast Lex's mind wandering while he tried to better contemplate the numbers that his laptop was showing him during the lunch-hour.

"It's good to see you busy Lex." A familiar voice interrupted his digital reverie. "I let myself in."

Morgan Edge strolled over as if he owned the place, with even more arrogance than he had when Lionel had been alive. "I knew you'd want to see me."

"Really? And what brought you to that conclusion?" Lex glanced up from the screen, and put the laptop to sleep with a stuttered gesture of his right hand. It worked better than it had before, but the delicate things still were hard. "I don't recall calling you, Morgan."

"Lets just say that Edge Conveyance Corporation is concerned about the stability of LuthorCorp." Morgan Edge gave a rather insincere and predatory smile. "I thought it prudent to come and discuss matters again before that lack of confidence spread."

"LuthorCorp stock has gone up in the past few days," Lex drawled as he half-politely gestured to a chair so Edge would sit down. "That's far from a sign of 'lack of confidence'."

Edge took a seat. "A good businessman Lex, looks to the future. And I foresee a backlash for LuthorCorp." The threat was done with a smile and he looked over Lex in a familiar way, his eyes nearly half-lidding for a moment like a lazy buzzard watching a juicy morsel staked out in a desert.

It made Lex's stomach twist as he looked back at Edge. "Really? What kind of backlash?"

"Bad publicity has a way of holding on. Lionel made enemies and they've been robbed of the game." Edge smiled thinly. For all his tailored suit, he still looked like a thug. "Who do you think they might go after now Lex, hmm?"

"Robbed of the game?" Lex's mouth twitched as he looked back at Edge; calm exterior, cold, scared interior. It was easy to do. "Why would they go after me?"

"Because you've lost your protection Lex, why else?" Morgan said spreading his hands as if it were self-evident. "Because you are weak and vulnerable and all alone. Do they really need another reason?"

"But of course I could help you ."

Ah, just the offer he'd hoped he'd never have to hear. "I can protect myself, Morgan, but thank you for your... considerate offer," Lex declined as he leaned forwards towards Morgan. "LuthorCorp is heading in a new direction under my guidance."

"I don't think so Lex." Morgan Edge leaned forward, his dark eyes glittering. "You do not have the respect of the business community."

No, of course he didn't. Once, once he had, once he hadn't fucked or sucked most of them, once... Once he'd been an upstanding, incorruptible businessman based out of Smallville, desperate to prove himself but he'd also had something to prove. "Of certain sectors of it," Lex countered. "You simply want to step in where my father left off, don't you?"

"Well, Lex we are practically family now aren't we?" Edge replied, "What type of honorary 'uncle' would I be if I didn't take care of my best friends only surviving son?" He gave some of the words peculiar emphasis, and his half smile was disturbing.

Surviving in particular. It reminded Lex to re-write his will, perhaps that very afternoon, before he went to meet Clark. "That would depend on your definition of 'care'," Lex drawled as he looked back at Edge.

"I think the previous arrangements with your father were satisfactory, don't you?" The other man smiled "And of course you will sell the voting share of LuthorCorp to Edge Corporation. I will of course permit you to remain as titular head -- in a 'the King is dead, long live the King' type of way. There is a certain ...charm to such a succession isn't there?"

"Edge, next time you come up to my office, I suggest you refrain from shooting up until after you leave. Not before -- it's really poor manners to inflict such insanity on your business associates," Lex said coldly as he started to stand up from the desk chair.

"I take it you are not impressed with my generous offer?" Morgan Edge looked unconcerned. "I really think you should reconsider Lex. It would be so easy to break you."

The slightly amused voice was all the more chilling for the fact that he wasn't taking Lex's protestations seriously, "There's an event at the Gold House tonight. I expect you to be there."

"An 'event'?" Lex's eyebrows twitched a little. "Can I assume there would be no event if I failed to attend? You should have told me sooner, since I've already made dinner plans."

More chilling still was that he was even talking to Edge.

"Oh really? How very convenient. Perhaps you should bring your dinner companion along? Hmm, show them who you really are? Or would you like me to inform them to save you the embarrassment?" Morgan stood up smoothly. "You know, this would be so much easier if I could threaten someone you cared for or cared for you. " He shook his head ruefully. "You make my job very hard Lex. It's so difficult not to find anyone willing to take a bite out of a Luthor in Metropolis. Daddy wasn't the best at clearing up his enemies was he?"

"Apparently not," Lex murmured as he moved around the desk's side. There were tickles of thought in his mind, wheels turning as he looked at Edge. "I... when should I be there?"

"Oh, around nine would probably be acceptable." Morgan Edge smiled triumphantly. Lionel had been right; his son was so malleable after the 'treatment'. To think he'd been worried that the effects would wear off some day, but Lionel had been right. He'd been well and truly broken.

"Ah, then I won't have to change my dinner plans after all." Lex glanced at his watch, nodding to himself as he moved to open the door. "I... will be there. You and I will discuss the rest at a later time."

"Don't be late Lex." Morgan Edge sauntered out of the office, looking around with a propriety air as he left. He'd have LuthorCorp as his in a week or so. He could guarantee it.

It was almost 1 pm. Lex closed the door, locked it, and moved back behind his desk. He had a busy few hours ahead of him.


Clark glanced across at Lois and automatically asked, "Did we do something wrong?"

"Hell if I know," Lois grimaced as she got to her feet quickly, and rushed across the floor towards White's office -- not waiting for Clark, or to hear his answer to her words.

Perry was seated at his desk, pointing stoically to the screen of the TV that was on in the corner. CNN was showing one of their talking heads declaring that 'One of the largest chemical companies has declared that it will be selling off assets in the coming weeks, gearing up for the restructuring that Lex Luthor announced in a hurried board meeting just hours ago. LuthorCorp, which began as a fertilizer company and expanded under the guidance of Lionel Luthor to a variety of chemicals, will become LeXCorp, shedding the fertilizer and some of the chemical angles of the business in favor of a more modern, high tech stance. Companies are already lining up to buy the discarded sectors..."

He muted it then, and twisted to look at them. "One of you two explain this to me."

Clark's eyes widened as he rapidly tried to assess the move. Was this Lex's version of moving forward, making his own mark, or was he under pressure to sell? Shit. "I'm not sure Chief. He didn't give any indication about it when we talked. This might be a sudden development."

"Really sudden," White scoffed. "Only a Luthor could have a board meeting at the snap of his fingers. I want both of you to find out the why behind this."

Clark glanced at Lois. "We're on it Chief," he promised, genuinely wanting to know the reason why Lex had done this.

"Right, get to it -- one of you call his office and get the official why, the other..." He didn't need to finish his sentence, because Lois was already grinning and nodding.

"Sure thing. C'mon, Smallville. Let's get to it."

Clark glanced at his watch and grimaced. "Lois, you want to chase down the official story?" he asked warily.

Lois led the way out of the office, glancing over his shoulder. "Why, what're you going to do?"

"Well let's just say I might be in a position to look at the other side of things in the not to distant future," Clark replied a little evasively.

"Yeah?" That caught her attention, maybe in a not so good way as she looked at him before they got to their desks. "Are you sure you're not sleeping with him?"

"Lois!" Clark still managed to look embarrassed. "I told you, we haven't spoken for nearly eight years. It takes a while to catch up again. And I guess he needs someone around to talk to."

"Still..." Still, Lois didn't think whatever it was was either normal, or Kosher, just from the way she was looking at him. "Fine. I'll call for the official spiel."

"I'll see if he'll spill -- if he'll talk about the restructure a little," Clark replied amending his language slightly, now totally self-conscious about everything.

"Yeah, good luck," Lois murmured as she dialed up the LuthorCorp offices. She was on the phone on pause for a few moments, introduced herself and was halfway through her question when she was given the answer. Then she listened to words so perfectly said that it was either a recording, or a perfectly brainwashed employee. Lois scribbled down the words in notes, sighing here and there.

"Okay, thank you for your time."

"What did you get?" Clark even as he grabbed his coat.

"Pat statement about a government contract, and resources needing to be reorganized to follow it up, leading to a better, brighter yadda yadda," she huffed.

"Hmmm... part of that might be true. " Clark remembered the LeXWing portion of their conversation rather belatedly.

"Yeah? How do you know that, Golden boy?"

"Something he mentioned in passing last night," Clark replied. "That the Government was interested in a prototype of his, but that was about it. I'll see if he'll give me any details."

"You weren't even interviewing him," Lois sighed, "and you found this stuff out. Why couldn't he have dropped that hint to me?"

And out of seemingly no-where, some few feet into the large office -- and drawing the eyes of the other people working there on their articles, as he strode in with only a fractional limp, hands tucked into his jacket pockets, was Lex Luthor. "Because you didn't ask the right questions, Miss Lane. Clark asked me what I've been personally doing the past few years, and I gave him an honest and forthright answer." Lex tossed Clark a smile. "Are you off work yet, or did I arrive early?"

"Oh, I'm ready," Clark replied hastily, "Though I'll probably have to hit you with some reporter type questions or Lois and Perry may never forgive me." You weren't meant to warn the target of your intentions but Clark liked to be in the open about it with Lex. He was serious about his promises.

Lex's expression looked strangely content compared to how he'd looked the day before. His posture was easy, like there was a weight gone from his shoulders, and there was an almost smile twitching his lips up. "That's all right. I can guess what they're about," he drawled as he turned to lead the way. "C'mon. I'm driving and we don't really have much time. There's a meeting I have to be at by 9 and I'll have to head home and change first."

"See you Lois. If there's any copy, I'll send it in by email okay?" Clark replied with a smile and turned to go after Lex, straightening unconsciously as he did so. "If it's not convenient Lex, we can postpone?" he asked.

"I... I'd rather not, actually. Even if we just have something quick -- at least let me drive you back to your place," Lex drawled as he started to head to the door, knowing Clark was following.

"Oh, no I want to, I just didn't want to inconvenience you," Clark replied. "Dinner's good, or whatever."

"Great." The smile was still there as Lex led the way out of the main office, and down the hall towards the elevators. "How's your day been?"

"Embarrassing," Clark replied with a slight grimace. "I confessed I had seen you naked," he said in a low voice. "Though I made it clear it hadn't been an intimate situation, Lois has been poking at me all day about it." He rolled his eyes a little and smiled, "How about you? You look a bit more relaxed?"

"I made a great number of decisions I should have made some time ago." He felt more relaxed, even if it was out of grim determination, a steadfastness of task that had brought him to that point. "After tomorrow, I see my future as being much less... cluttered."

"Okay, I have to ask about this later." Clark didn't know whether to be relieved or concerned.

"Once we get in the car," he was promised as they stepped onto the elevator. "Actually I had a very busy afternoon. And there were a couple of issues with Hope to deal with before the meeting."

"Oh yes?" Clark asked as casually as he could, "Nothing wrong I hope?"

"Nothing that wasn't easy to tidy up." Lex fell a little quiet as he watched the floors be marked off as they traveled down. "Where do you want to go for dinner?"

"Your choice," Clark replied shrugging as the elevator stopped and let them out and they made their way outside. "My usual haunts are takeaways." He gave a wry grin.

"That might work, actually. Would you mind that?" Lex shot Clark a sideways glance as he followed his once best friend outside towards the un-mistakable black Ferrari that was Lex's.

"Not at all. If that's easier," Clark replied, "Might be easier to talk, too. You want me to... uh, get it?"

"Get it?" Lex glanced at Clark as he walked into the street, crossing in front of his car and daring traffic to get in the driver's seat.

"When I go out for takeaway, I frequently go WAY out," Clark replied smiling. "A perk I guess."

Lex laughed quietly. "If you want to do that, I don't have a problem with it. Just buckle up while I drive over to the penthouse. Should I leave a window open?"

"No, it's fine," Clark replied as he got into his side and settled in. "So you going to tell me what's going on?"

"Most of it," Lex laughed. "I got the contract -- you might have noticed. I didn't expect it so soon, but..."

"The LeXWing? Am I allowed to mention that or couch it in generalities?" Clark replied smiling a little. "That's really good news Lex."

"I'll have a proper press conference tomorrow, so you can spill it if you want to go back to the planet tonight," Lex drawled. "My LeXWing. It's just a pity I wasn't there to fly the prototype. I'll reserve that right for the first finished product off the line, I suppose. Oh, and the Smallville Plant? Is going to be producing the plastics LeXCorp will need. I already gave them the order to complete the last orders of fertilizer, and start the switchover."

"That's really good news Lex, but I think it's shocked a few people. The selling off part. I wondered if you'd been put under pressure at all?" Clark asked looking at Lex as they drove the short distance to Luthor Towers.

"Some," Lex admitted as he took the last turn and peeled into the Luthor Towers Garage. "And what I did was snub my nose at them."

"What a... 'it's my toy and I'll play with it how I want to' thing?" Clark asked

"You could say that." Lex braked, and flung his door open. "So will I meet you upstairs, or...?"

"I'll see you up there. Any preferences?" Clark asked as he got out.

"Italian?" Lex closed his door, and locked the car before Clark could even close his door. "If it's no trouble."

"No trouble at all," Clark replied and walked over to the shadows as if he was about to enter and then left so swiftly that he appeared to vanish.

Lex watched for a moment in wonderment, then headed for the elevator. Clark would probably appreciate his decision on some level, once he found out the next day what the rest of it was. Until then he had a comfortable dinner to look forwards to, companionship, maybe a few easy questions... something to keep him wound down before the 'meeting'.

By the time he got upstairs, and through his systems and finally in side there was a knock at the balcony window. "Pizza boy!"

"That was fast," Lex called through the window as he pulled the windows inwards to let Clark in. "Pizza boy, huh? Where'd you park your car?"

"On top of the building. Skid marks on the LuthorCorp logo I'm afraid." Clark came inside, the night breeze around him. "Actually I lied, It's not just pizza, there's this little place and it does a fantastic angel hair pasta dish, with this sauce that tastes like, well.. I thought you might like to try it. It's good. I got plenty."

The smile on Lex's face spread as he reached to take Clark's hand and half-way pull him in. "That's great. I was hoping it was pasta. Will you need to microwave it, or...?"

"A microwave? A microwave? Who needs that when you have me?" Clark was enjoying himself. "I don't often get a chance to show off. Got some plates and things?"

"Sure. The kitchen is this way..." Lex started to walk away, leading Clark back into the hallway down towards the main area, the living room and kitchen area that was near the front.

And that was just the first floor. Clark hadn't even seen the other two floors yet, had he? No. "Got enough room Lex?" Clark smiled as he teased lightly. "I think my entire place would fit in your bathroom."

"It might," he grinned over his shoulder. "It felt less empty... before. Just like the Mansion did, if that makes sense to you."

"Oh yes. The Castle never felt empty," Clark replied, considering his memories of the place.

"You know why? I had other people there with me." Lex took a right into the large modern kitchen area, and opened a cupboard to get plates down.

"Not here?" Clark listened, "Hmm, no one at all."

"Mercy and Hope live on the floor below," Lex murmured as he turned to hand Clark the plates. There was a tiny gleam in his eyes as he went on, "But can you hear their heartbeats, either?"


Clark looked up at him, that fact only just dawning on him, "You did it, didn't you? You made a... no, two functioning android A.I's?" He grinned at Lex, not even having to guess that it would have been Lex behind them. "Or am I totally wrong?"

"You're totally correct," Lex murmured as he watched what Clark was doing. "It's time LuthorCorp moved in a new direction. I always did hate the fact that we made our money dealing with shit."

Clark put out the plate and then arranged the containers he had out in front of him. "Mind yourself Lex, just going to toast them up a little." He removed his glasses and concentrated just enough to heat the food again, to a nice steaming temperature. "There we go. Yes, it always did seem a little unimaginative for you," Clark replied as he took off the lids. "Don't let it get cold."

"Since it's not moving through the air at the speed of a jet-liner, I think it'll make the trip to the dining room table, Clark," Lex drawled as he moved to help carry it.

Clark grinned. "So, I can redeem myself with the exclusive over the LeXWing can I? Anything else? I'm assuming Hope and Mercy are off limits?" He picked up the piping hot containers easily.

"Completely off limits," Lex murmured as he led the way to the dining room. There were only two chairs at a rather undersized -- for what one expected of Luthors -- table. But there was a third chair off to the side, so occasionally he and Lionel had had company. "They're too human to 'release' to the public."

"Ah. " Clark nodded. "So no other breaking news? You should have heard Lois when she thought I slept with the 'Story'. Kinda says it all. I still think of people as people -- Lois has them down as walking talking stories. Makes her good at what she does, though."

Good, but blind to parts of reality. Lex pulled out a chair, shaking his head. "Dehumanizing the enemy is a well-used political tactic used by various factions throughout time. I hadn't realized reporters had finally picked up on it."

"The reporting game is ruthless Lex. As ruthless as any other business and it is a sort of war zone in general," Clark replied and sighed a little. "I don't think I can be like that."

"Then how have you managed?" Lex looked askew at Clark in curiosity.

"I don't know Lex. I guess I just let it hit me each time," Clark said with a shrug. "I don't seem to get the knack of getting a thick skin. Never have."

"Huh. I thought you'd need a thick skin in any business field that you entered," Lex murmured as he gestured for Clark to sit down, and moved pasta onto the plates. It was the seat at the 'head' of the table.

"Yeah," Clark replied. "So I guess I'm doomed not to be successful." He shrugged and rather awkwardly took the seat, conscious of whose place he was taking.

Physically and... and who knew how else. Lex was smiling at him as he handed him his plate, and then got up suddenly. "What kind of drink do you want?"

"A soda maybe, or something," Clark replied helping himself to food.

Lex returned a few moments later with two clear glass bottles, with tops that he screwed off. "Bottled root beer. It looks less plebeian in a bottle than in a can. Not quite the wine that would go best with this meal, but..."

"But if you have a meeting to go to later, I guess you don't want to be drinking this early," Clark said. "Thanks."

"I'll need my wits about me," Lex agreed as he handed Clark his and settled down into his chair again, taking a sip. "Meeting at the Gold House. I haven't had to attend a meeting there in a while. The memories alone are enough to make me want to arrive as sober as possible. You probably remember that I'm not the most upbeat of drunks."

"No, you tended to start quoting obscure philosophical tracts and Nietzsche when you'd had too much to drink. You do realize that my other identity is partly due to that?" Clark smiled, though he was calculating rapidly in his head. "What sort of meeting Lex?"

"A 'thank you for your loyalty to LuthorCorp, Goodbye' party for suppliers and shippers," Lex murmured while picking up his fork.

Clark looked at him closely. "Oh yes?" he said a little blandly.

But all Lex gave for answer was a pleased-sounding, "Oh, yes."

"Okay, I've got all sorts of alarm bells going off in my head about this," Clark said, looking a touch concerned, "At the Gold House? Lex, what are you planning?"

"Isn't one scoop enough for you, Clark?" It should have been, the way Lex saw it. "You'll find out tomorrow, I promise."

"I'm not worried about a scoop Lex, I'm worried about you," Clark replied pausing after a mouthful. "I thought we both agreed that the odds were pretty stacked on this."

"Stacked on what?" Lex savored as he took bites from his fork, pausing long enough to take a sip of his drink.

"Against how to control this. Or is this a plan? What about Morgan Edge?" Clark felt the touch of worry creep over him again. He was sure Lex was underestimating what Morgan Edge would do.

"He'll be dealt with." It was all part of the grand plan, all part of his surprisingly simple grand plan. Which explained why Lex's stomach was giving the occasional nervous twist as he ate until he was full, leaving some on his plate. "Clark, it's all under my control."

"This is a hell of a turn around from 24 hours ago Lex," Clark replied still sounding worried. "I don't want you hurt again or anything."

"I know what I'm doing." Lex took another swig from the bottle, and then twisted a little to look at Clark. "What brought this up?"

"Brought what up?" Clark was momentarily confused.

"This. You telling me that the odds are stacked against me," Lex told him, and gave a brief glance to the wristwatch he wore.

"It's what you said yesterday," Clark replied. "It's also something that Lois was putting out feelers for -- and the Gold House. She thinks she had people ready to talk. I'm... worried Lex, really worried."

Worried. It felt almost... no, very good to hear concern in Clark's voice, though it was hard to tell what sort of concern it was, or how well it was meant. "I appreciate that, Clark. I really do, but... how about we finish this talk tomorrow? I need to get ready, find a change of clothes." He started to scoot his chair back; meeting at nine, cutting off his talk with Clark at seven thirty. It probably seemed suspicious, didn't it? "Make a few phone calls. There'll be something in your mailbox at work tomorrow, Clark."

Clark looked at him, knowing a dismissal when her heard one. Even so, he couldn't shake the bad feeling. "I'm not doing this for stories Lex."

The worried expression made his eyes deep green, even as he stood, taking his cue.

"I know." Lex stood there, still and watching Clark for a moment before he edged towards his chair. "But if I drop something in your lap that happens to be a story, Clark, would you refuse it?"

"Depends on the cost, Lex." It was evident that he wasn't referring to the cost to himself. Clark had the distinct feeling that something very strange and, well, Luthor was going to happen, and he didn't like it. Those sorts of things never ended up well.

"Relatively free." Lex continued to look down at Clark, leaning one hand onto the table. Then a slight motion forwards, leaning down to close the space between them. He had to try, to at least try to kiss Clark; after all, there were no guarantees that the night would be as bearable as he was hoping.

Clark shifted forward on instinct, a subconscious movement rehearsed time and time again in dreams over many years; his body reacting before his mind could start flagging up shock or surprise.

It felt good to be controlling the motion, good to be the one leaning down and pressing the kiss against Clark's lips, crossing the awkward space between almost kissing and actually kissing. Clark's mouth was warm, his lips were soft, and Lex almost wanted to press the kiss further, see if he could get Clark to open his mouth. But that could have been too far too fast, so he pulled back after a moment.

Clark's eyes were wide with surprise and he seemed to try and follow those retreating lips back for a moment before he blinked and swallowed, just speechless, as tongue-tied and innocent as a teenager with his first kiss on a date.

Lex's lips were twitching, edging towards a smile as he straightened up. "I've wanted to do that for years."

Clark had to steady himself on a chair. "You... you have?" he said in a rather faint voice and no, the note of pleasure at that thought was not imagined. "I didn't think you..."

"You were jailbait in Smallville," Lex murmured. "It didn't matter then. Now... it might be workable now. But I really do have to make a few calls and ready myself. Can you find the elevator?"

"Right now I'm not sure I can find anything," Clark replied with a sudden rather shy smile. "I can find a window. Flying won't be a problem, but coming down to earth might be."

It was almost poetic. "I'll give you a call tomorrow," Lex told him as he offered Clark his hand to haul him out of the chair. "Do you have my pager or cell number?"

"I stored it when you called me about lunch." Clark accepted that, having been almost but completely distracted from his concern. "Lex, you know if anything happens you can just CALL right? I'll find you. I swear it, I've gotten much better at that."

"I'll be fine," he was assured vaguely as he headed for the bedroom again, where there was a balcony that Clark could launch himself from. "But if it will soothe you, I'll keep that in mind."

"It would. Thank you," Clark replied with a hint of relief. He followed to the balcony. "Take care Lex. I'll look forward to discussing this in more detail another time." And he smiled the full dazzling Clark Kent smile, shorn of the veneer of experience and world-weariness that accumulated with age.

"Great. Thanks for bringing dinner -- maybe we can do someplace painfully upscale next time," Lex suggested as he paused to fumble open the locks to let Clark out. "My treat."

Clark nodded, "I'll look forward to it." And he stepped out into the night air and looked back over his shoulder and smiled at Lex and then blurred away into the night.

Amusingly, almost sweetly starry eyed. Lex watched Clark for a moment with the glass doors open, despite the cold it was letting in, then closed them.

Where he was in the world was a good position to be in. On the cusp of so many things, all of them equally impossible and possible. And Lex had nothing to lose; everything that could have been lost was already lost, snatched from him by a simple accident.

That evening was going to be a loss and a regaining of control for him. And there were phone calls to be made, still...

The Gold House seemingly hadn't changed in all the time it had been an open venture servicing the needs of the Metropolis elite. The outside was nothing to look at. Seedy, disreputable, an undistinguished building in the middle of clusters of other undistinguished buildings. Stepping inside was like stepping into a classic movie, of the type where men of power discussed things in a gentleman's club. Upholstered leather armchairs in rich beguiling burgundy and a decor in a pale gold, cream and burgundy gave the impression of opulence and class even before the other rather baroque touches were noted. Discrete bar services, the minor, slightly advertised soundproof facilities. Dining rooms, conference rooms, other rooms suitable for less business like activities all packaged along with guaranteed discretion.

It was a favorite haunt for the wealthy of Metropolis, staffed by the best for all it's exterior.

As Lex entered the doors of the Gold House, the main hostess of the night greeted him smoothly, "Good evening Mr. Luthor, may I take you coat?"


A favorite haunt because Lionel Luthor had owned it and sanctioned personally the way the building the run. It was almost like an unofficial court where those in favor and in power associated and Lionel had created a society where unofficially all members of the business community strove to be part of the club he had founded and maintained.

Lex slipped his coat off as smoothly as he could, and handed it to the woman. The interior was warm enough that he didn't suffer a chill from doing so close to the doors, and took off his under jacket, too. It was one less layer that could suffer harm in the 'meeting', and he'd always been fond of it. "Morgan Edge is here tonight. Which room?"

"The Sovereign Room, Mr. Luthor," she replied with a smile, taking the coat. It was a conceit of the Gold House that all the rooms had some connection to gold in some form, "Can I bring you anything to drink?"

"My father's favorite -- the Delamain Tres Venerable," Lex told her as he moved towards the narrow staircase that curved upwards behind the hostess. What was her name? Oh yes -- how could he forget. "Thank you, Lily. Have a pleasant evening."

The brandy would be brought to him unobtrusively as ever, along with a selection of exquisite appetizers but that was taken as part of the service. A glance to follow Lily after she nodded and took his coat caught a glimpse of a room filled with the garments. Edge had invited a big crowd it would seem.

Or perhaps they had invited themselves after his little announcement.

Lex's stomach twisted again, and he clutched perhaps a little too much to the handrail as he walked up the steps, pausing at the top of the stairs before he headed towards the glossy-painted door that was the sovereign room. It was certainly large enough to house so many people...

With uncanny timing Morgan Edge opened the door from the inside. "Well, well. On time as ever Lex." The man was smoking an expensive cigar because that was the thing that people apparently did in a "gentlemen's club." It looked tacky on him, but he never cared. "Your reputation precedes you."

With the door partially open, the sound of a lot of people was obvious.

His parents would have been proud of him for not grimacing as he stepped into the room, brushing past Edge. "Does it? I'm surprised. You said I was needed here this evening?"

"Oh yes." Edge smirked just a little, his eye bright with ambition and confidence. "Lest just say there have been requests to reaffirm business ties with LuthorCorp and establish its place once again in the business hierarchy. " He very nearly laughed, "I'm sure you can find it in you to suck some cock in the name of economic stability, can't you Lex?"

Lex paused for a moment, and pushed the door closed behind him. "No, I can't. Lionel isn't here anymore to force me into that, and if you had watched the news tonight you would know that LuthorCorp is no more."

Morgan Edge's smile became brittle, "A move that just puts your holdings on the market for us. Lionel may not be here Lex, but I am... and your old man was a soft touch compared to me. We can ruin you, LuthorCorp or not, so I think you should reconsider your last answer."

"Should I?" Lex smiled sharply at Edge as he glanced over the -- oh, Christ, a short headcount said there were twenty people there -- 'attendees', and moved further into the room. "And just how could your ruin me? Because my father treated me like a commodity that could be traded to all of you? Because I previously had no choice?"

"Don't fool yourself that you have a choice now," the other man practically hissed at him in a low voice. "There are reporters sniffing out the story on what you and your father were doing when he was killed. It would be VERY easy to point them in the right direction."

Lex licked his bottom lip, looking at the men whose conversations were drifting away in favor of listening to he and Morgan. "I... It's blackmail. I refuse to..."

"I'm not a patient man like your father was. I don't cajole or persuade." The man's eyes were merciless and afire with the pleasure of dominating him. "I order, or I break anyone who stands against me. These kind gentlemen have decided to give you the honor of fucking you over in the most literal fashion possible. And you will stand there and take it. I don't give a fuck about your choices, just like your father didn't. The difference being, boy, is that I've always been more honest than he was."

There was a moment of silence from Lex, and the room around them before he turned back to face Edge, aiming to perhaps move past him. "This 'meeting' is adjourned. I... I'm leaving."

"You'll do no such thing, Luthor! I paid your father in stock options for this right!"

Fuck, fuck, that mafia-like shipping magnate that Lex could never bring himself to stand lunged forwards and grabbed Lex's right arm. Over the overlap of stub and prosthetic, where the skin was most tender and still ached. Even the technology of the fortress hadn't gotten rid of the ache.

"Oh, fuck -- that's my bad arm, Christ, take your hands off of me!"

It didn't seem to matter, not this time. There were hands all over him clawing at what he was wearing, seeking the anonymity of the mob in the way they converged. It wasn't so much the lust that drove them, though there was a certain edge of it in the atmosphere -- it was the sort of adrenalin charged primal frenzy seen after a bloody battle, where a power was toppled and what it was protecting was free to be marked.

Lionel had given those civilized men a means to tap that triumphant pillaging of the spoils, and Morgan Edge was laughing even as the rip of clothing showed Lex was still struggling there somewhere.

Lex was hardly sure himself that he was struggling. He was sure he was suffocating, snarling expletives until a hand clapped over his mouth, and someone twisted his left arm behind his back. They were starting to organize, because pinning him so efficiently made it easier to disrobe him, even through it didn't turn any less rough. His sweater tore into ragged clots of expensive yarn, his shoes... somewhere, his underwear yanked painfully until it broke, his hand...

There was almost a moment of pause as they saw the gleam of metal where it over-lapped his skin, before someone pulled at it. "Morgan, what should we do with this?"

Leave it alone, Lex almost screamed, but it was against one heavy palm.

"Leave it on," Edge replied. "Seeing a bloody stump is not something I need." He looked faintly repulsed at the idea that Lex was not whole, drawing back in a way that Clark had never shown. "It's not his hands I'm interested in tonight. He seems a little rebellious, so perhaps trusting him to perform his usual specialties is unwise. But he has a sweet ass. Get him over the table."

Little rebellious didn't quite sum it up, since Lex struggled worse at that suggestion, even as the man behind him walked him forwards towards the temporarily barren dining table.

"Since I'm holding him, can I have first shot at his ass?" The man -- Spitzer, the banking fellow? -- behind him called out. Fleetingly, Lex desperately hoped that the hostess did not bring his liquor up. This had not been part of the plan.

There didn't seem to be any chance of that happening as the door was being watched. "I'm feeling generous." Morgan Edge drawled, as if he had the right to dictate this sort of thing. He was alive with the power of controlling this event and it showed. "Phearson, Milne, take his arms so Spitzer can have a clear run at things. In your own time, Spitzer."

It meant that Spitzer had to let go of Lex's mouth, even as they took Lex's arms, holding him down to the table while the other man stroked fingers along Lex's spine. "Get your fucking hands off of me, you rotten fucking bastards -- I'll make you regret this!"

"Oh yes?" Morgan Edge was amused. "We were perfectly ready to be reasonable Lex, to allow things to go on as your father had set up. You're going to get a sharp, swift, and somewhat enjoyable lesson from where we are standing in where you really are in the grand scheme of things. You shouldn't have rejected my kind offer, and selling of bits of LuthorCorp, well you just did that to annoy me didn't you?"

Edge leaned forward. "You are NOTHING Alexander. Nothing at all. You whore well, and fooled yourself it was a choice. Well THIS is the reality, and THIS is who and what you are!"

Lex really couldn't find an answer to that. There were words, but none of them were coming to his lips. He jerked his arms, and then slumped against the table he was pinned to.

There were fingers prying at his asscheeks, a thumb pressing against the wrinkle of an entrance. "Have we got anything to... ease the way?"

"I knew I forgot something. Details, details." Morgan Edge shrugged. "Stuff something in his mouth to keep him quiet and get to it. There's people waiting."

"No, oh Christ, I can't do that -- Morgan, you can't do this to me, it--" And then there was something being shoved into his mouth. Part of his sweater, maybe the sleeve, and that was all right since the fingers at his ass stopped probing at the edge and pushed in dry.

The muffled cries or screams -- who could tell behind that choking material? -- did nothing to stop the insistent push inwards and rather perfunctory attempt to prepare him. It was more a means of testing him; Spitzer at least was getting off on the fact that this was unwilling and withdrew his fingers after relishing the squirms and gagged sounds he could hear. He was also enjoying the fact that he was doing whatever he wanted and in front of others.

There were jokes, remarks given about what they'd 'paid' for the right, and Spitzer took his time in making a show of it. Press, press, and then he forged deep into Lex, action matched to a teeth gnashing sound that Lex wasn't sure came from his throat.

At the back of the group though, there was one man who was looking a little pale and seemed to be edging away.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Fisher?" Peterson, the CEO of the major fuel distributor in Metropolis rounded on the other man.

Fisher shook his head. "This isn't right, not this," he said quietly. "Whoring is one thing, blow jobs is... just... harmless. This.."

"You've got a weak stomach and a short memory? LuthorCorp screwed you over the Jefferson contract and you're passing up an opportunity to screw him over... literally?" Peterson was obviously incredulous.

"He said no." Fisher stepped away. "He said no, and I don't need to prove anything about myself by forcing anyone. And I don't screw for revenge."

He turned and walked away, leaving the room and the scene behind him.

"Well Fuck you too, you sanctimonious prick," Peterson muttered and ignored him. It would be his turn soon enough.

Soon enough for everyone in that room, it would be their turn. But not soon enough for Lex, who was bearing it. Who whined and cried out during the first few, and struggled during the handful after that, and stayed still during the last ones, except when they manipulated him. Moved a leg one way over the other, made him kneel on the table, ass up for a brief, laughed fingerfuck before bringing him back down to the right height to drill into. They mulled, they drank, they smoked; one man decided that liquor made a fine lubricant, and splashed some over his dick before fucking Lex.

As if he wasn't burning enough. But then they were done, most disbursing in clots of two or three people. Even the people who'd been holding his arms down had gotten a shot, and he'd hardly protested when they'd done him.

That left only the last and the worse. Morgan Edge had never been the easiest one to please but now, secure in his new role as Lionel's replacement as the de facto head of Metropolis big business with this little stunt, he was practically purring. He waved off the men holding Lex and leaned over him himself, tugging out the cloth in his mouth. "Such a good boy," he murmured in a mocking impersonation of Lionel. "Daddy's good little boy.. maybe that would have made it easier if I'd said that, hey, Lex?"

A rough, calloused hand ran over his bared skin. "You were so fucking easy to control; I have to admit Lionel called it good on that one. I just wanted to kill you. Think of all the good free sex I would have missed if I'd done that."

Something in Lex's mind, tired and worn down, felt like it was giving way. He didn't like the feeling, didn't like the way that Edge was petting him. He drew one arm up under himself, and coughed, gasping in air with the gag gone. "M-morgan, just... let me go..."

"I'm never letting you go Lex. Not when you are such an asset." Morgan Edge smiled and it was just as well Lex couldn't see the expression. "Thanks to you, my position as being in control is secured. A little less subtle than the way Lionel used you perhaps, but just as effective. The corporate fat cats of the city are fucked into contentment. Aren't you proud of a job well done?"

It was a grotesque parody of the sorts of things Lionel used to say to him. I'm proud of you son, you did a good job. There was a sudden hard thrust into him, whether he willed it or not. Lex grunted, eyes closed tightly. He could almost feel Lionel leaning over him, the way his father's hair would slide against his scalp and press against his cheek. It almost made it bearable, even if he was hallucinating that sensation. "I..." Another thrust, and it shattered Lex's words.

It was just as well. He wasn't sure that he could find any answer coherent enough for Edge. Wasn't sure he could concentrate on anything but the clutch of fingers on his hips.

The thrusts were almost easy to deal with compared to the whispering words, compared to the fact that Morgan Edge's eyes gleamed as he took his cigar and drew on it before touching it to Lex's mauled skin, to make him flinch and move while he was in him.

"It doesn't have to be like this, unless you want it. And by the time I finish with you Lex, a few private sessions you might enjoy this. Your father would tell me what you let him do to you... I'll say this; he had a good, if twisted, imagination. Made me hard as fuck sometimes listening to how he had you spread-eagled and how you would willingly do things you couldn't pay a whore to do. Remember that? Sure you do. If you can do it for him, you can do that for me and at least I won't pretend to love you."

Pretend. He'd had his doubts when Clark had talked to him, doubted his father's morals, his own morals, but... "That... made it bearable..." Lex clawed at the table a moment, trying to rise up despite that Edge was thrust, thrust thrusting into him. His fingers couldn't find traction, and that pounding seemed like it would never end.

Morgan Edge laughed, "Maybe he cared in whatever part of him that could, but he was a bastard Lex, through and through. You knew that before. Bright kid you were. And then you forgot. Just like that. Fucking amazing what you can do with drugs and stuff nowadays."

It seemed he didn't just want Lex broken physically, he wanted him broken mentally. Every single thing torn apart in his life. It shouldn't have been hard, there should have only been his memories of Lionel left to despoil along with his body.

"Shut up," he gritted out, strained, and tried to rise up to twist away from Edge. "Shut, shut up..."

He was rather roughly slammed back against the table. "Truth hurts Lex, and this, here and now is the truth of what you are going to be. You've just got yourself another corporate pimp, Lex and you WILL do everything I want you to, in business and physically. You were raised as Lionel's heir, you were raised as his catamite -- someone he could slake his desires on without having to worry about consequences. You're alone, no one gives a fuck about you and the vast majority of the business elite has just screwed you over. You listening to me boy? You fucking listening?!"

"I..." Lex lowered his head to the table's surface. The thrusts were getting faster, probably because Edge was getting off on his domination; there was no question that he was doing just that. "I, I'm listening...I..."

"You're my whore now, LuthorCorp is mine, everything you say and do, you answer to me for," Edge grated out in between sharp thrusts. "Should be something you're used to. The difference is I'll give you one freedom.. you don't even have to pretend you care. You just have to do. Understood?" A calloused hand was over the back of his neck, then mashing his face down suddenly and exerting pressure as if to emphasize his point.

He was going to be a mess of bruises, if he wasn't already. "U-understood..." Just to get Edge off of him, all he had to do was ride it out.

Hah. Ride.

That acquiescence seemed to be what the crime lord businessman was waiting for because it was only a few strokes later that Edge stiffened in climax and relaxed with an exhalation of pleasure. He withdrew and took his hands away from Lex and looked at him a moment, before chuckling. "We'll sort out the details tomorrow Lex, won't we?"

"Y-yes..." Lex nodded tiredly, as he shakingly started to push himself up from the tabletop. His legs were going to give out from under him, and he had to find his pants somewhere in there. At least his underwear.

"Good. Clean yourself up boy, you're a mess." Morgan Edge looked at him a moment and then walked away. "Gentlemen, now the entertainment is over I suggest we move to the Bullion Room to discuss business."

He was going to be allowed to leave. After all, his part in the 'meeting' was done with. Lex pushed up for a moment, and then slipped off of the table to slump for a moment. He could feel semen leaking out of him, hopefully only but so much blood, and...

Lex watched them file out, watched in detachment as those who had remained left the room. His pants were over in the corner; he'd fetch them and stagger into the washroom in a minute, once he'd had a few minutes alone.

Morgan Edge didn't even spare him a backwards look as he left him there, alone in a room that now stank of sweat and sex. As far as he was concerned, his brutal plan had gone off perfectly, leaving the only other who could have taken control of Metropolis business a broken vassal behind him.

And for the moment, it felt like it could work. It took Lex longer than it should have to rise to his feet again, using a linen napkin to mop sweat from his face as he collected what could be collected of his clothes. Fuck, the employees were going to need to break out the biohazard equipment to clean the Sovereign room up.

They could do with a bonus, if everything went well. Lex halfway thought of pulling his briefs on, but instead used them to mop the excess-- He wasn't thinking about it, it wasn't semen from who knew how many businessmen. Wasn't. Once he was passably clean, he pulled his pants loosely up. That hurt, and the fly and buttons were ripped out, but his belt held it up.

He wasn't sure if he could walk, but he was going to try. The staff would know what to do. What samples to take. Distancing himself from the nightmare that had just happened was proving more difficult than he had imagined. The things Edge had said. Were they true or was it all just lies to cause him pain? Right now the line between delusion and reality was wavering.

He had to get the cd of what had happened in the Sovereign room, and had to make sure that the Bullion room was being streamed into his account on the S.T.A.R.R labs network. And... and he had to get to his car with it, and then drive to the Daily Planet.

Ambitious goals were going to kill Lex one day, he knew it.

But he still had his wristwatch, which was a nice touch, he decided as he half-staggered towards the door. Ten thirty. Only ten thirty. He could be to the planet by eleven. The stream... yes. It would work.

He was met discretely by Lily who had the brandy but had been prevented from bringing it inside, and who used it as a means to get the freshly burnt CD unobtrusively to him in case they were interrupted. She nodded in acknowledgement to his questions and even spoke soft concerns about what had happened. He brushed them off. Sympathy might undo him where pain and humiliation had not.

He looked at the CD for a moment. Such an ordinary thing to hold so much potential. Power, pain, destruction, freedom, revelation...

All on one thin manufactured disc, a host of futures in his hand.

He was too tired to smile as he limped out of the Gold House, and into the waiting night.

Working late was a habit that Lois somehow let herself get into over the years and it was a rare week that did not see her staying a least a couple of nights late into the evening.

Kent had copied her in on the exclusive about the Government contract and what it was for, which she had to admit had pulled his ass out of the fire with Perry quite neatly, and made up for undermining her prime story.
But there was the problem. Her prime story was gone and she was clutching at straws to get something concrete together on the Gold House.

What she could tell was that it was hard to get into, the hiring was done exclusively, and all of the staff had been approved by one of the Luthors at one time or another.

And that it would have been easier to get specs on Fort Knox than find out what sorts of things went on at Gold House.

There was no advertising for it anywhere, but one could assume it did a fine business. Lex Luthor also owned a coffee shop in Smallville, and all of the information on that was equally hard to find.

It was so damn frustrating. It would have been such a good scandal to break and Kent's do-gooding and slightly dubious connection to the Luthors had cut it dead. Perhaps she could get into the Gold House. Did the Luthors interview waitresses? Even dishwashers?

For Gods sake! All she needed was one break. You were only as good as your last story, and that better have been recent, as the memory of the public was a fickle thing.

But it was nearly, shit... it was past eleven and she had nothing. Time to call it a day.

She was just logging out of her computer when some forty feet away, on the other side of the open office, the door opened.

Lex Luthor looked like he'd been run over by a truck, then dragged along for a few miles under the underside. And he tripped the moment he was in the door, but he also made bleary eye contact with Lois and started towards her. If he'd driven himself, there was every chance that he'd parked his car in a bush.

"Mr. Luthor." Lois turned and got up "If you're looking for Clark he's uh.." Wait a moment, he and Clark had left together and now Lex Luthor had turned up looking like road kill and... "What happened? You look like shit Mr. Luthor, you should sit down."

Tact had never been her strong point.

"You wanted your story, Lane. You... you've got it now." He fumbled for a moment, reaching into his coat pocket with his left hand to give her the cd case that was enclosing that precious piece of information. She'd use it, he could trust that. "You can break half of Met... Metropolis with this. Take it." His voice sounded like sandpaper, which went well with how the rest of him looked.

"What...What's this?" Lois looked at the CD in her hand as if it was going to explode. This wasn't the way it was done. She chased stories down, not had them throw themselves into her hands. "What story is this? And what the hell happened to you?"

"That happened to me," Lex said as he lurched forwards a little. That stumble was one he hardly could have stopped if he hadn't latched onto the edge of her desk. "My staff are.... streaming what's going on in the bullion room to my network. You, you'll need to see that, too..."

Lois hastily logged back into her computer and put the cd in, impatient with its clunking and whirring. What she saw nearly made her lose her professional cool. She couldn't even find a swear word big enough to encompass it. "This, this is real?" she asked mesmerized by the images and the all too clear audio stream. She recognized virtually all of those people. "But you went out with Clark!"

"Just dinner." Lex moved past her, towards the wall behind her so he could lean against it for support. It was just the beginning, his arguing with them, the words he'd exchanged with Edge. Any more, and he wouldn't be able to stand it. "Don't... watch it all while I'm here. Let me just... just get your into the network for the stream. It's corporate corruption at its worst..."

"You've got the details? Give me the details and I'll connect," Lois demanded, rude with excitement as she noted the people there. Peterson, Milne, Spitzer, Edge, Phearson... shit.

"Turn that off first." Lex could feel his voice falling rougher, going sharper, but he wasn't going to snap. Wasn't. She was just a nosy bitch who asked too many questions, just the sort who'd put that out. "ftp; user: 1ex1uthor02 password: porch"

She wasn't going to risk jeopardizing this story; there was no Smallville to rein her in or Perry to stamp her down. "Okay, okay." It took time over the network, but, there, she had a connection. "Got it, got it," she said hastily.

A dummy account, set up just for the purpose of that file, since that was the only thing in it. "It's being streamed. Don't close the connection; I'm sure it'll go on for hours. Just save the file." He pushed himself away from the wall, moving too close past Lois. "Have a nice night, Miss Lane."

"Wait, wait..." She quickly clicked the commands to save and then tried to grab hold of him to stop him leaving. "Mr. Luthor, you look terrible, this is... Why? Why are you giving this to me and not Clark?"

He didn't want to be touched just then. It was a small thing, a simple want, and he was willing to do nearly anything to get it. "Because Clark wouldn't print it." A bare growl of words, as he jerked his arm back. Maybe with a little too much force, because it made him stumble again. Stumble and fall, tripped by his own feet. Some of the night staff were staring.

"You want this printed?" Lois practically stared, there was no way anything was normal when Lex Luthor walked in and GAVE her a story. "And you look like you need to get some rest or see a doctor or something." That was as maternal as she knew how to get and perhaps her motivation wasn't that pure, but shit! This was big; this was big enough to have the hairs up on the back of her neck.

"You have no idea." He almost smiled as he sat there on the tiles, wrapped up in his long winter coat, and then tried to shift to get up. It wasn't going to happen, not without help, not after he'd somehow managed to drive there with relative skill. "I want that printed. Particularly what they're dis, discussing in the Bullion Room. My father milked their corruption, and I will not be blackmailed, I..."

Lois nodded, "Okay. Okay Mr. Luthor, We'll get it out on the front page, I swear it. Look, can I call anyone for you?" Lois was painfully aware she wasn't good at 'helping'; that was the part she left to Clark but she tried awkwardly. She tried to help him up.

He felt like dead weight, and the fingers of his left hand were shaking when he grasped her hand. "Thanks, I..." He glanced towards the computer, where the meeting in progress was coming onto her hard-drive. Good. Grand. "On the cd. Pay attention to what Gage -- gage shipping corp. -- says about... about stock options. I... fuck, if you need more verification, my father kept track on his hard-drive."

"This is evidence enough. If the police get involved, I'll leave it to you." She was alarmed by the fact that the man seemed to be getting paler in front of her. She didn't want her next exclusive to be 'Luthor billionaire expires at feet of Reporter'.

"Mr. Luthor -- Lex, I'm calling a doctor or something," She said decisively. "You look like you're going to pass out."

He let go of her fingers then, seeming to decide the floor was an all right place to be. "I have... have every right to pass out right now. I went through h-hell to get that..."

"Shit, look I'll get an ambulance," Lois replied, out of her depth. He really did look like he was going to pass out. "Fuck." She leaned back over to her desk to grab her cell and heard the laughter on the stream. "...take everyone like that. Fucking a Luthor is a lot better than being fucked over by one...."

More laughter, tinny and distant.

"Sorry you missed it, Fisher?" a voice goaded. "Not man enough to join in the fun."

"I don't need to force someone for sex," came the gritty response. "If you aren't talking business then I'm leaving."

Lois had heard enough. She was sure she had paled as well as he punched the numbers in the phone.

Lex seemed oblivious to it, seated far away enough that he couldn't hear, pulling himself into a position that held some semblance of dignity. It was over. Sure his stock would hit a low for a while. And there would be whispers, but there had always been whispers of things he never could stand to hear. And...

And it was over, even though it was just starting. That was how things always went, never quite over. Not for Luthors, at least. The day was young, and there was still work to be done.

"Yes, The Daily Planet building, yes that's right. A rape victim." She glanced around. If he got any whiter they would be using him for washing detergent adverts. "A male rape victim. That's right. No, I don't know how long ago -- recent I think. Couple of minutes? Good, thanks."

He was being perfectly unobtrusive, and perfectly obtrusive at the same time -- just sitting on the floor, one leg drawn up, his arm looped over it with his chin resting atop. He'd closed his eyes. Maybe the pale-ness seemed worse because he didn't have any hair to hide it.

Just then, he didn't care. He probably needed to see a doctor. He probably should have just called Clark, but Clark would try to stop Lois from printing the story, wouldn't he? Would he be angry if Lex hadn't called him?

Lois was at a loss. "Got the paramedics coming Mr. Luthor, just sit tight," she said helplessly. She put her finger over the speed dial to Clark's cell phone and paused.

Clark couldn't deal with this, Lex had been right. Not now. Later when Lex was out of here. Then she'd call.

It was with a certain measure of relief in seeing the paramedics turn up. She was good at reporting disasters and not so good at dealing with them. She left that sort of thing to Superman.

Of course, that was why she was a reporter, and not a superhero.

The paramedics were quick, and got the almost passed out Luthor onto a gurney in record time. One stopped to have a word with her, but then he was gone, too. All that was left was a flurry of conversation in the office, a cd, and a streaming file to prove that the whole event had even occurred.

It was only after she had watched the contents of the CD and sat for a moment in stunned silence that she picked up her phone and called Perry White.

Lex Luthor raped by the cities finest. A corporate gang-bang; people caught on tape practically saying the man had been auctioned off. Stock options, concessions.

The police would be all over this, would have to be all over this like a rash.

It was her best scoop ever, and all she'd had to do was stand up from her desk and reach out her hand. Somehow, it hardly felt like a triumph.


Even when time had passed and the paper had been hurried to presses -- never mind that it was still later than usual -- that feeling of triumph still hadn't set in.

Perry offered Lois another cup of coffee, and murmured, "You know, we should send someone over to Metropolis General later this afternoon to see how Luthor's doing. He looked like he was in rough shape." On the CD, of course, because Perry hadn't seen Luthor when he'd come in, almost desperate that the information he had be printed, and going on about points for her to pay attention to. "Maybe we can send Kent over. He'll be fresh."

"Shit!" Lois' language deteriorated without sleep. "I forgot to let him know what happened, I meant to phone him just after you. He'll want to go over anyway Perry."

"Conflict of interest, yeah," Perry drawled as he rubbed at one eye. "Call him up, and apologize if you wake him up. I'll be in my office double-brewing my coffee."

Lois nodded. "Make mine a triple," she said with a tight smile, as she picked up her phone to call her partner. It was pretty early. Metropolis would be barely stirring, and in for a hell of a shock.
She waited as the phone rang, waited for the familiar answer.

"Clark Kent." His voice did sound a bit bleary.

He'd probably been dead asleep. "Hey, Clark," she tried to greet in a warm, easy voice. The tone probably gave her away entirely, but it was too late to take it back. "We had a story hit our presses late last... this morning, actually. I meant to call you then about it, but once I'd called Perry, it'd slipped my mind."

"Uh-huh." Clark could be heard sitting up rapidly. Lois trying to be nice was a bad thing, and it always unnerved him. "Something big?"

"Huge scandal." She leaned back in her office chair a little, trying to imagine what he was doing just then. Other than sitting up and looking goofy and sleepy. "Business in Metropolis will never be the same, particularly after the arrests finish. They've probably already started. It... It's Lex Luthor. He came in here late last night with a CD, and a file that was being streamed from the Gold House. It's huge, Clark."

There was a long pause "Lex? What happened, Lois?" His tone was harder than she'd ever heard before, all trace of sleepiness vanished immediately. "What CD? What happened at the Gold House?"

"It... it's not good news on that front, Clark," Lois murmured, voice falling a touch softer. "It looked like a gang rape. They were talking about commodities they'd given Lionel Luthor in exchange for what they were doing. I... it was pretty clear that Lionel was abusing his son. Who knows for how long, and there were other people in on it. It took guts to do what he did, coming forwards with all of that information."

There was silence on the other end of the phone. It might have been easier if he'd exclaimed in horror, or given the sort of shocked platitudes that many others had as the word leaked out. Instead there was a terrifying silence for a long time.

"Where is he?" his voice was rough suddenly, and shocking after the pause

"Metropolis General, unless he's had himself taken elsewhere. He looked like he was going to pass out, so I called 911."

"I'll find him," Clark replied in the same tone, "I'm going there now. I'll call later. Thanks for telling me, Lois." In another person the last phrase might have been sarcastic, bitter but not from Clark. It was a genuine enough thanks that he hadn't looked at the paper and discovered it there.

"You're welcome, Clark. Call me back to let me know how things are, all right?" She could have dragged it out, but it would just hurt them both. Easier to just hang up with a simple click.

It was a miracle that Clark's phone wasn't powdered dust by then. He just sat for a moment staring at it, as if disbelieving what he had just heard. He had patrolled last night and not heard anything, not cries for help, nothing but...

Fucking soundproof rooms.

He was so STUPID. So damn stupid.

Clark darted out of his apartment and only slowed to a jog when he was around the corner from Metropolis General, practically bursting in and striding up to their admissions desk to accost the nearest person.

"Excuse me? I understand you had a Mr. Luthor admitted last night? Could you tell me if he is still here?" he said anxiously, listening hard to the myriad noises of the hospital.

"I'm sorry, but that information is private," the nurse smiled at him.

"Please, I'm a close friend of his, I need to see him." Clark was unaware that he was doing his best wounded puppy impersonation. "Maybe he's put down my name as a contact?"

Maybe not considering they had only started speaking after eight years of silence a bare two days ago. Which was more likely? "My name's Clark Kent? Could you look, please? I'd very much appreciate it."

"I'm sorry, but only family and a select list of people, who you are not--"

"Kent?" The woman who seemed to have come out of no-where was Amazonian in proportion, with creamy black skin and long dreaded hair, a crisp business suit and skirt to her knees conflicting oddly with her wicked facial expression. "He's been asking for you, Mr. Kent. Nurse Farns, add 'Clark Kent' to the list."

"Can I see him? Please?" Clark asked, unaware of quite how frantic he appeared. "Thank you," he said gratefully to the woman and then realized that he wasn't hearing anything from her in the way of a heartbeat. Hope or Mercy then, he didn't know which one.

"Of course," the woman said as she folded her hands in front of her, and glared at the nurse before she could say anything. "Follow me, Mr. Kent. My name is Hope."

An oddly apt name at this point in time. "Good to meet you Hope," Clark responded automatically, "Can you tell me how is he? I've only just found out what's happened, I came immediately so I don't know any details."

"Mr. Luthor has been in surgery most of the morning, but has been occasionally conscious this morning. Mercy pointed out to me that he wanted very badly to 'call Clark', however I seriously doubt that he could manage a cell phone in his current state."

"How uh, how bad is he?" Clark queried, worried by that comment a great deal. Lex not able to use a cell phone? That was not good.

"It is a relative thing. In terms of recovery, the doctors are optimistic for his prognosis. At the moment, he's on the best painkillers in existence." Hope smiled a little at Clark as she paused in front of the elevators and pushed the 'up' button.

They stepped in together when the doors finally opened. "So he's woozy," Clark said using his full range of medical terminology to the full.

"Unbelievably so," she agreed. "Perhaps even 'high'."

"Okay, I'll bear that in mind," Clark replied, nodding as they reached their floor and exited the elevator.

Hope led the way, down the long hall and towards the more private of the private rooms. At the end of one hallway was a blond woman standing guard outside of the door; she glanced their way, and nodded to Hope, who nodded back. "Mr. Kent, that's Mercy."

Clark smiled pleasantly, not sure how he should be treating the androids but deciding that being polite was a good start. "Good to meet you too Mercy, is Lex awake?"

"I believe so," the woman said as she leaned towards the door and pushed it open so he could head in.

He smiled and entered hesitantly, a little uncertain. Part of him felt incredibly guilty for not having prevented this from happening. He'd wanted to protect Lex, to stop bad things from happening to him and the very day after they had met... this happened.

"Hey, Lex," he spoke softly as he walked to the bed, worried about disturbing him if he were resting.

There were IVs seemingly everywhere, and Lex looked weak and lost laying there in the hospital bed's sheets. There were bruises on his arms, his hand, his stub, a scrape on one cheek and bruises on the side of his head. Probably the back of his head, and who knew where else.

His head lolled a little, and he mumbled an incoherent noise.

Clark sat down quietly, taking his friend's good hand in his own, with a gentle movement that couldn't be interpreted as anything less than tenderness. "Lex, it's Clark. I came as soon as I knew."

"Clar?" His head lolled a little more, and Lex's eyes opened a little to almost look at Clark. "Hy."

"Hey." Clark gave him a smile. "How are you doing?" he asked, with the traditional stupid inquiry to be made at a hospital bedside. He looked terrible -- it should have been obvious.

"Okay." Lex almost smiled at him, and the hand that Clark was holding -- IV or no -- twitched a little to clutch back. "G... good drugs."

"Very good drugs by the look of it." He 'looked' and his usually goofy innocent expression became stern. He could see where Lex had had surgery; he could see what they had done in a way no one else could. "I'm staying with you okay? Staying with you now, I promise. Wish I could have kept you safe Lex," he apologized softly.

"I... won." The odd, triumphant curl of Lex's mouth said it all -- or at least said what he thought of the thing he'd done.

"You won?" Clark repeated the statement. "You... wanted this to happen?"

"'t this way, but..." His fingers twitched to try to clutch at Clark's hand. "'s over."

"God Lex. You realize what you've done? What this means?" Clark automatically smoothed the back of the hand with his thumb, to try and settle him. "They're... being arrested right now, all of them."

Lex winced a little at the almost touch of thumb near IV. "Why... don' you tell me?" He closed his eyes, that off kilter smile still curling his lips in something near to delight.

"It means Lex, that everything about your father an you will probably come out," Clark replied "Admittedly, the odds are now it will look like abuse... but..."

"You... Edge was right. I 'n't always like my father, I h'd reasons." That he was in no shape to try to elaborate. "Over with. No skelet'ns in my closet now. That feels... good."

"But..." Clark hesitated. This was not the time to remonstrate him. "It's going to be okay, Lex, I'll be here."

"Yeah, 's good." He clutched at Clark's hand again, and shifted downwards a little with a slight groan. "Glad we're talking 'gain."

"Mmm. Good timing?" Clark said as lightly as he could manage. "How do you feel?"

"Like shit," he laughed a little.

"Hurt much?" Clark asked softly, "Do you remember much?"

"..'bout?" His thumb was roving over the back of Clark's hand, circling one knuckle over and over.

"What happened at the Gold House?" Clark asked, oblivious to what Lex was doing. "Was it Morgan Edge that arranged it?" That was whom he suspected but Lois hadn't given him any details.

"Yeah," he murmured. "'member it all. All 'f it."

Clark couldn't even use the excuse that he was brushing hair away from Lex's forehead for the fact that he instinctively stroked across there as his mother would do to comfort him when he was young. "God Lex," he exhaled. "You need to rest. " He wanted desperately to offer to take him to the Fortress again, just to see the pain fade from his eyes, and face. He wanted it, but he knew immediately that this had been a public attack, and had to remain normal. "I wish I could take you to back to where we went before." Clark murmured, "I hate to see you hurt like this."

"Me too," was the wry remark. He didn't protest that light, stroking touch, didn't move away from it or try to get Clark to stop. "Meant to call you, 't... thought you'd stop the story."

Clark hesitated and nodded slowly. "I would have liked to have stopped THIS," he replied. There was the faintest stir of anger and upset there, which he kept well hidden. "Is that why you went to Lois?"

"Yeah." He pressed Clark's hand a little. "Sorry."

"It's okay, we'll talk about it when you are feeling better," Clark said, squeezing back just a little. "Plenty of time, right now you have to get better. You want me to stay?"

"'f you can..." Lex seemed more than willing to go back to sleeping again, as if Clark's presence made the want all the easier to give in to weariness.

"I'll stay," Clark replied, "I may have to phone in a verbal story about this, but... I'll stay." He smiled a little. "Is that okay?"

"Yeah." That was just a sleepy murmur; Clark probably could've asked Lex if he could go crash his car into a wall and Lex would have agreed.

Clark looked at his friend a long time, as it was evident that Lex had just drifted asleep. His emotions were banging and crashing around inside of him, all mixed up and murky.

Fuck, it hurt.

Seeing someone you cared for hurt was worse than any pain he had ever experienced even with his history with dangerous encounters. He knew somewhere he was angry, he just wasn't sure what he was angry about; he was even a little scared, but not sure why. Guilt permeated everything, bonding the whole mess together - guilt that he hadn't been there, guilt that this had happened, guilt that he could stop the pain and yet had to sit here and watch Lex suffer. Guilt that in some way this was his fault because he had been the one to shatter Lex's contentment, and then his life by proxy.

Perhaps if he had left things as it were, Lex would have been fine, and though grieving, he would not be hurt or ruined, or ripped apart both figuratively and literally.

Perhaps when it came down to it, Clark Kent was a selfish son-of-a-bitch because he wanted something that perhaps Lex didn't want to give.

And now this.

Lex had seemed content with his life, even if it hadn't been normal. He'd had to get that one last dig in to the dead Lionel Luthor, hadn't he? And everything had unraveled to what it was now; Lex hurt, broken and his life collapsing around him.

But Lex seemed more than content now. He seemed happy, even as he lay there on the hospital bed drugged up. It was funny how things worked...

Funnier still to try to figure out what he was going to tell White when he called in to the office.

There were occasions where Clark got thrown out of the hospital room, despite the fact that normal visitor times did not seem to apply Lex Luthor. He wanted Clark there, so Clark got to stay, aside from the point when the patient was being treated or disappeared for additional scans and examination. It was in these times that Clark managed to make it outside to try and catch up with what was going on. And if you wanted to know the cutting edge rumor and speculation, you phoned Lois Lane.

He stood overlooking the hospital car park as he called.

One ring, two rings, a third ring. He was starting to hate waiting, and tempted to make a run for it and ask in person. But that would involve leaving the hospital. Leaving Lex, even if Lex wasn't there just then.

A fourth ring, and he heard Lois' answering machine click on -- before she cut in herself, picking up at last. "Hello, Lois Lane," she declared breathlessly.

"Sorry Lois," he said automatically. "You were probably sleeping, I didn't think about that," Clark said abruptly remembering she'd been up all night getting the story out. And a hell of a story at that; he'd grabbed a copy on one of his coffee breaks. Awards were probably lining up somewhere for her.

"I've been trying to sleep, but Perry keeps calling with updates," she yawned into the phone. "So that's okay."

"What's the latest?" Clark asked hopefully, "I've got the paper, but there's no TV or news here at the moment."

"The 'organizer' of it is still on the run. They've got a warrant and think he might surrender himself in the next couple of hours. But it's gone really smoothly other than that, Clark. I'm really impressed. The official investigation into unlawful business practices has already started."

"With evidence like that, there's not much that they can weasel out of," Clark agreed. "Is it as bad as you describe in the article?" Lois' report had been chilling with its recitation of events and he'd been asked several times when he was reading it at the hospital if he felt okay.

"A little worse." A pause, and then she added, "Look, I'm sorry, Clark. I know he's your friend, but he brought me the story and demanded that it be printed. That means all of it, all the details the public needs."

"I... I know Lois," Clark admitted. "I'm just finding it hard to deal with the fact that I saw him last night and then this happened. I can't help thinking that if I'd just stopped him.. But then, this wouldn't have been exposed."

"Yes. So how is he? I mean, is he okay in the head?" It wasn't very tactful of her, but it sounded sincere.

"Honestly? He's woken up and talked a few times -- I've been allowed in with him, but he's so pumped full of painkillers that I'm not sure if the real impact has hit him yet. He knows what happened, but I think he's like in fluff at the moment. He was in surgery for a fair while. I'll write something up and get it couriered over, or get my laptop and email it. He's asked me to stay."

"He has?" She sounded a little surprised, but didn't press further. "Well, do you want me to run by your place and maybe get your laptop for you?"

"I..." He didn't want to leave really. "That would be kind of you. I've got to do some research on this Morgan Edge guy. I've heard rumors about him. " And he didn't like the thought that the police hadn't caught up with him. That was definitely bad news.

"Great. So, what room are you in?" Ah, there was the slyness -- she wanted a peek at Lex's condition personally.

"He in room 207, "Clark replied aware of her likely plans, "But you may not make it past his secretary bodyguards. Sorry, Lois I can't guarantee a peek at him." He gave a slight smile. She was predictable sometimes.

Really predictable, in a funny way. "Well, I have to try," Lois decided. Clark could hear shifting noises, something being knocked off a shelf. "I'll be over there soon. Half an hour or so, okay?"

"That'll be great. Might allow me to get enough done that Perry doesn't fire me," Clark replied wryly, staring out over the car park. "I appreciate this Lois, I really do."

"Perry isn't going to fire you," Lois soothed. "As long as you show up to work tomorrow, that is."

"Yeah, well that depends," Clark replied a little awkwardly. "I may have to take my vacation time. He's my friend Lois."

"Still, if he's delirious, Clark..."

"Then at least I'm here now, rather than not being around when I should have been," Clark said a little sharply and then was immediately apologetic. "Sorry, Lois, I ... Look, he hasn't got anyone else, and it's something. If it ends up taking my vacation time then so be it."

And if Perry fired him, he'd survive. There were something you never got a second chance at and forgiveness was one of them.

"Well." Lois was quiet for a moment, except that shifting noise. Sounded like she was pulling her shoes on. "Well. It might be a good idea, considering that once he realizes what he's done..."

"And had done to him." Clark felt he should point out. "Yeah. Yeah, it's not a time he should be alone."

"Right. So stay there and I'll bring your laptop over," Lois declared before she hung up.

Clark hung up, glancing at his watch. They should be done with Lex now; he ought to get back. And maybe Hope and Mercy would just take the laptop from Lois, unless it had been a part of the plan that Lois Lane gets to know the entire story. He sighed and went back inside - he should be at work, but there were plenty of clichs and sayings to tell him he was doing the right thing.

When he got back to the room, Lex was definitely back. He looked a little worse for wear, but he was conscious and looking balefully at a rubix cube that was clutched in both hands.

Clark smiled as he regarded him from the doorway. "A rubix cube?" he asked, as he came in to take his seat again.

"Don't think I could handle 'nything more complicated." He was still on drugs, after all, but he didn't seem to be hurting so much just then. And Lex was glaring at the cube; he probably couldn't quite handle that just then, either.

"I'm not that good at them myself," Clark replied. "Lois may try and push her way in to drop off my laptop soon -- it's up to you if you have Hope and Mercy intercept her," he said cautiously.

"Up to you. I d'n work with her," Lex shrugged as he carefully lined up a row of blue.

"You know what she's like Lex, she'll want to try and see you. What I guess I'm saying is that if you don't want that then I'll deal with it."

Lex closed his eyes for a moment, and twisted the cube in a different direction. "Just you. 're all I want to see."

"I'll intercept her then," Clark replied, looking at him carefully. "You okay?" It was probably the hundredth time he asked it, but he couldn't seem to help himself.

"Clark..." Lex opened his eyes and shifted to set the cube down in his lap. "'m here. No, 't really, but I will be."

"You do know that I'm not going to let you do this alone?" Clark replied lightly, as if he was proposing that they have coffee together rather than the enormous commitment that the both of them knew it would be.

Well, or that Lex would have known to be if he were coherent. As it was, he gave a 'huh', and looked sideways at Clark. "No?"

"You don't? Maybe you're not the genius I thought Lex. You need me. I'm here. Screwed that part of things once before by being young and stupid. Hopefully I've learnt something along the line."

Lex snorted a little, and closed his eyes driftily again. "Well. Won't argue. 'n I'm glad that... you are here. Staying here."

Clark smiled again. "You just sleep Lex, I think I can hear Lois anyway, so I'll just intercept her okay?"

"Yes." Lex laid a hand over the rubix, but kept his eyes closed. It wouldn't take much encouragement for him to sleep again, because after all -- the trauma still hadn't happened very long ago. Not even twenty-four hours.

Clark got up quietly and managed to step into the corridor just in time to stop Lois getting shrill with Hope - which he had to admit would be a spectacularly bad idea.

"Look Miss, I'm doing a favor here for my friend Clark Kent, and I've got a limited schedule so if you would step aside, I'll give him this and go, okay?"

Hope just smiled like a starving panther, and had probably been about to rip into Lois when she saw Clark. "I'm sorry, but the only visitor Mr. Luthor is seeing right now is Mr. Kent."

"You want Mr. Kent to lose his job because he's here and can't work? You don't get much lee-way in our trade." Her voice was loud enough to be heard up and down the corridor. She caught sight of Clark and relaxed. "Hi Clark, I'm here... as you asked, doing you a favor.."

"And I'm very grateful Lois," Clark replied in a conciliatory tone. Last thing he wanted was having to listen to Lois telling him for years to come how doing him a favor had been so difficult.

She sighed, and looked at him a little balefully. "Well. Will you at least run and get a coffee downstairs with me so we can talk?"

Clark looked back a moment to the room behind him. Lex was asleep but it still made him feel awkward to leave for any real length of time. "Hope, can you let him know where I am if he wakes up? I won't be long."

"Of course, Mr. Kent." She inclined her head a little, looking more pointedly at Lois than at him. "If he wakes up in the interim. You could use a rest as much as he needs it."

Clark smiled and shrugged that one off at least. "Thanks, I'll be downstairs having a quick coffee with Lois if something comes up. C'mon Lois. It's not particularly good coffee but it works."

"And how much have you had?" she asked as she fell in step with him.

"More than I should," Clark replied ruefully with another part smile. "I keep getting sent out when they are doing medical stuff."

"Squeamish?" Lois patted his arm gently as they reached the elevator.

Clark looked at her and nodded a little, "It's... Christ Lois, you wouldn't believe it. You just... you can't."

"I wouldn't believe what? You can tell me, Clark -- this is all off record."

"What he looks like now," Clark replied looking a little sick at the thought of it. "The bruises. You can see handprints like someone dipped their hands in dark purple black paint and put them everywhere. And inside, from what the doctors said, he was ripped to pieces. He had bad internal bleeding. If you hadn't have called the paramedics when you did..." He trailed off, unaware of how much fear showed in his expression

"Jesus." She paused a moment as the elevator doors opened, and let their passengers off, then she and Clark stepped on. "He drove from the Gold House to the Planet, you know? I don't know how he did that."

"Neither do the doctors. But people don't give him much credit." Clark turned and pressed the floor button "He survived for three months on a desert island after a plane crash, he's tougher than people think physically."

"Really?" Lois quirked her mouth a little as the elevator started downward. "I always thought he was a cushy sort of business man until I saw that tape."

Clark shook his head, smiling slightly. "No. No, cushy doesn't suit a Luthor. When I knew him his life was like being tossed to the lions in some elaborate game of his fathers'. Some of the shitty things that Lionel pulled on him... you wouldn't wonder why I thought it strange about their perfect relationship."

"Seems like it just stayed the same course as before," Lois remarked. "Since Lionel was whoring his son out to CEOs."

"I don't know if he did that before. It wasn't until he came to Smallville that Lionel really started to put corporate pressure on him and he fought him tooth and nail." Clark clarified, "It wasn't until the psychotic break that things seemed to change. He had something then, something on his father, I just don't know what. And it involved Morgan Edge, Lois."

"Who is currently free." She paused when the elevator stopped, and stepped out right away. "Well, that doesn't sound good."

Clark nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly with that sentiment. "He doesn't remember that part of it. He doesn't remember any of the things people did to help him then." He led them to the coffee and automatically got Lois what she liked from a habit of long association. "His father arranged for any attempts at communication with him from people like me, or my Mom even, to be intercepted. He was convinced I hated and despised him because of what happened with my Mom, and all our letters and messages just... vanished."

"I bet Lionel shredded them. Or he's got a hoard of them somewhere." And Lois automatically was happy to stand by and watch him make the coffee.

It was a comforting habit in some ways. It was like being normal even just for a moment. They could be back in the office of the Daily Planet talking over a story.

"Maybe." Clark admitted picking the coffee up, "The more I find out the more I worry, and the more I am concerned that Lex might not have made it out alive last night."

"There were so many witnesses, Clark," Lois murmured. "They couldn't have stood by and let a murder happen."

"Yeah? What about the one of them, Fisher, who disagreed and still let them do it?" Clark had a slight flash of anger in his eyes. "He may not have done anything but he didn't call the police, he said nothing."

"Maybe he'll turn evidence," Lois shrugged. "They're not exactly normal-thinking people."

"Did they get everyone except Morgan Edge?" Clark asked passing the coffee to her as she sat at a convenient table.

"This morning -- hours ago. Some were booked and released for their arraignment, others aren't being allowed bail, depending on what they did in the two rooms."

"What's the reaction out there?" Clark asked, his reporter training coming to the fore even as he sipped the rather unremarkable coffee. "The official statements or not so official responses?"

"Business world paused and took notice. Lots of stocks fell, a couple went up. Hedge betting, you know. The police will probably want to talk with Lex when he's better, a couple of days. They could press charges against him if they wanted, but I think that's unlikely. Court of public opinion and all." She took a sip of her coffee, and gestured for Clark to sit down off to one side of her.

"What is the public opinion on him?" Clark settled and looked at her, "And your opinion?"

"Torn. He's obviously cunning, but... it's a weird cunning to have even gotten into that situation in the first place. Stock didn't drop any." Lois shrugged as she sat down.

"Well he'll be pleased about that at least." Clark sighed a little, thinking it a measure of how warped the whole situation was that Lex would indeed be immeasurably cheered by that bit of news. "And you? What do you think?" Lois was a pretty good indicator of the extremes to which the public could swing.

"I think... that he's a pretty messed up guy," she admitted. "And brave. Brave in the way abused wives are when they finally realize that hey, this is stupid and I don't have to take it."

Clark relaxed a little. If Lex had impressed Lois, then there was hope. And that was a sympathetic sounding viewpoint, at least from Lois Lane who was not known for sympathy of any kind. "I think you've summed it up there," he replied. "God knows how he's going to deal with this on a personal level."

"I don't know how he dealt with that on a personal level. I mean, whored out to CEOs, but apparently still in... love with his father despite it?"

Clark shook his head, not sure if he could explain even the glimpses he'd had of the truth. "Lois, it's complicated. Lex, I guess, always craved affection because he just didn't get any. Most of his life was spent never really being sure if his father liked him or wanted him dead, or knowing what he wanted. In a way, I can see why any sort of approval was acceptable and a substitute for love."

"But you have to admit. It's not normal." Lois narrowed her eyes a little. "I still want to know -- was he really 'okay' down there, Clark, or were you just trying to protect him?"

Clark looked up and met her assessing gaze. The one he would never have been able to lie to, so he was glad he had a truth to fall back on.

"He really is 'okay' down there Lois." He could say that without being a liar. "His leg was a mess though, and his hand, of course. But I wouldn't lie to Perry or you, not even to protect a friend. I might refuse to comment, but I wouldn't lie."

"I should have known," Lois sighed, mouth quirking a little. "Okay. No more asking you about that, then."

"Sorry to disappoint Lois. And I wasn't lying about the other side of it either," Clark replied. "It's only been... three days since I saw him at the memorial."

"Doesn't seem like it, does it?"

"Seems like those eight years wedged into that time."

Lois' mouth twitched as she took a sip of her coffee. "I bet it does. You two must have had a hell of a friendship to have re-bonded so quickly."

"More insinuations Lois?" Clark replied, tilting his head slightly at her, recognizing her style of questioning. "I can very truthfully say that nothing ever happened between us."

He paused for a long moment before looking down into his coffee cup and murmuring, "And in retrospect that was probably the biggest regret I've ever had."

"There you go," Lois whispered. "Unrequited love?"

"Possibly?" Clark shrugged a little .A neat clich to encapsulate the turmoil his abandonment had thrust him into. Misery, depression, a pain so deep inside he'd been sure everyone could see it. He'd called it hatred or betrayal, but Lois as usual had a way with words. "I've never put a name to it before now, it was just... important in my life. Lex has always been important."

"Things have a funny way of working out, don't they?" She reached her hand across the table to him, some strange Lois Lane sort of understanding in her eyes. "I'll back off a little for you, Clark. Particularly since Lex Luthor has perfect bruisers for secretaries."

He took her hand, the strange circle of synchronicity forming in his mind. Unrequited love, like Lois had for Superman, but had never once demonstrated for Clark Kent. Lois loved an ideal; Lex on the other hand had been friends with the 'stupid kid'.

"Thanks Lois, I appreciate it."

"You're welcome." She patted his hand a little, smiling at him. "Why don't we talk about something else for a while? You look like you could use a break."

"Sure. Sounds a good idea," Clark replied relaxing some more. "Fill me in on the other gossip."

And she did. She told him about the mayor's wife's affair, and the bank robbery on twelfth and Lincoln, and how Perry had staggered out of his office earlier, yelled for attention, and forgotten what he was getting everyone's attention for because he hadn't slept. She told him tidbits of news that was probably already in print but had been skimmed over without really reading. Little things, amusing things, and the sort of public interest stories he usually liked to do.

It gave him a rest. After all, he wasn't going to be any good to anyone if he fell to tired pieces himself.

It had been a long week. Long for Lex and possibly even longer for Clark. Lex had spent a lot of his time drifting into sleep and back to consciousness again with such regularity that the doctors were a little confused and concerned. However, as the actual damage seemed to be healing rapidly, surprisingly quickly. One of them gave a finger in the air diagnoses that Lex was merely using his time to heal, and sleeping to recoup his energy.

Clark had been there all of the times he hadn't been thrown out by the doctors. He actually couldn't remember sleeping since the start of the week, as one way or another when he hadn't been talking to Lex, he was desperately trying to keep his job intact through the wonders of email. He got grudging admittance from Perry that he was writing good articles which he considered to be a miracle, and he was certainly helping Lois do a lot of background research for her supplementary features.

The media sensation was still raging. There had been a few rebuffs at the door of over-enthusiastic reporters and cameramen trying to sneak a peak of Lex as he recovered. It was times like this that Clark appreciated how much people could hate newsies of any type and how much abuse there was of that infamous phrase, "The public has a right to know."

The day that Lex was considered fit enough to be discharged, he had agreed to do a police interview. Clark had argued strongly against it, but Lex had over ruled him and in the end it was Lex's decision. It didn't stop Clark being paranoid however, and as Morgan Edge was proving elusive and dangerous, he insisted of going with him.

Clark stood and stretched as Lex finished getting dressed. "It's not too late to put them off you know," he said as a token effort to try and change his friends mind.

"That won't do me much good," Lex reminded him firmly. And then he pulled his turtleneck down over his head, which was a good excuse for him to not have to give more of an answer for a few moments. There was fabric to adjust, and Lex still moved slowly and halting at times. "I am the case, aren't I, Clark? They could press charges against me for knowing what my father was doing and not stopping him -- I'd rather cooperate."

"I guess, but you could wait a little longer?" Clark replied hopefully.

"Charges need to be pressed," Lex answered, "And, you're coming with me, aren't you?" He paused to slip his shoes on, and reached for his winter coat. It wasn't the same coat he'd worn slightly over a week ago, but another one that was more casual, which Clark had found in the penthouse for him.

"Of course." They hadn't talked about what was going to happen after the police interview, but Clark had already decided that if Lex didn't want him in the Penthouse then he would just patrol around it. "I'm not going anywhere, certainly not until they've caught up with Morgan Edge."

"So..." Lex glanced sideways at Clark as he halfway fastened up his jacket. "I hope that doesn't imply that you'll be disappearing once Edge is caught."

"I don't intend to, but I might let you out of my sight once in a while Lex." Clark smiled back at him. "I would have thought you'd be sick of the sight of me by then."

"You've been around every day this week, and I'm not sick of seeing you yet," Lex pointed out. He picked up his laptop case, which he'd had for the past couple of days even if the use had been sporadic. And there was the hard-drive tucked away in it. "C'mon. I've already signed all of the papers."

"I think Hope and Mercy are terrorizing the media circus downstairs," he said as he picked up his own computer. He nearly offered to carry Lex's laptop for him as well but he didn't want to offend him. "They've got a limo out the front, but your Jag is out the back?"

"The limo is always the decoy for me. My father loved limos and being driven. If I'm going to die in a car crash, I want it to have been in my own car, with me in driver's seat. I'd ask if you want to drive, but the controls have been tampered with slightly." Lex opened the door, and peered outside cautiously.

"I'll leave it to you." Clark answered, stepping forward and leading the way. "Come on, we'll sneak out the back. We may come across a couple of them, but we should avoid the masses."

Lex stayed beside Clark, close beside in a way that guy friends just didn't do. There was no question that Lex was slightly different, coping differently than he had before he'd broke the story. "That's all I care about. Does this glove look realistic?" Normal finger-warming gloves, black leather, but the silicone cover for Lex's hand had gotten torn at some point and he was going to need a new one manufactured for him. The huge gaping gash in the palm just broke the realism of it and Lex wasn't going to let it be seen.

"It looks fine," Clark reassured as they made their way quickly down the corridor, alert for anyone. He would have taken the stairs but that would have put strain on Lex, so instead he took them to a service elevator. "This comes out near the back entrance."

"Good." Lex relaxed as he stood beside Clark in the elevator, waiting for the elevator to go down and down fast enough.

Unconsciously, as the doors opened at the bottom, Clark leaned closer to Lex, and as they exited and made it outside and there were a few slightly more intelligent reporters there, he succumbed to the urge to put his arm around his friend to shield him from the press. The irony of the situation was not lost on him.

"Mr. Luthor, Mr. Luthor, do you have any comment on your assault?"

"Mr. Luthor, were you aware that Morgan Edge is still loose in Metropolis?"

"Mr. Luthor...Mr. Luthor...." They clamored like a murder of crows settling around them

Press as shield from press. Lex let himself be kept close as he headed stalwartly towards his car. "No comment at this time. I have no comment to give."

Clark rather effortlessly barged through the crowd, being the equivalent of a bodyguard as he gave them space around the car door, and stood like a sea wall holding back the tide as Lex opened the door. People tended to forget how tall and built Clark actually was because he never really let people view that on a daily basis. If people tried to describe Clark Kent of the Daily Planet the estimates were usually about 4 or 5 inches short of his real height and muscles did not come into it. "Out of the way please, Mr. Luthor has an important appointment," he said calmly.

"Kent, this is no way to keep an exclusive!" A reporter he knew from the Metropolis Star spoke up. "Mr. Luthor, how do you feel about having your hardship publicis--"

"I have no comment," Lex bit out as he closed the door behind him.

"He'll hold a press conference when he is ready." Clark stated firmly as he moved around the other side of the car knowing he was probably going to become a story in and of himself. "And you might note, Jake, that I haven't been doing the Daily Planet lead articles on this."

Let them make of that what they will. He gave them a brief look before getting in and closing the door. "I think you better try out that modified steering and driving of yours," he said as he settled.

Lex pushed the key in, twisted it, and gunned the engine to scare them back to get enough space to pull out. "They're probably already staked out at the police station."

"More than likely. I'll just risk some more comments from my peers and barge them out of the way." Clark gave a low chuckle.

"Great. Do you think I'll get points if I run them over?" Lex asked as he turned around in the back lot to head for the exit. There were a few reporters following, and they'd have to drive past the limo decoy.

"Trust me, most on the ground reporters have developed the ability to move quickly out of the way of the cars. It's a survival of the fittest thing."

"Like squirrels?" Lex gunned the gas with a step -- differently modified than the version that had taken into account Lex's crippled leg, but still modified. Then he turned into traffic and sped past the limo.

Clark grinned as he saw the startled face of Jimmy turn after them as they left the milling crowd behind them. "Lois will be at the station I bet you," he said, "I'm going to get hell off of Jimmy for not telling him."

"For not telling him what?" Lex drove like a cautious demon, as fast as he'd ever driven in Smallville. Only on a busy city street.

"Where we were coning out." Clark couldn't help but steel himself, for all the fact he wouldn't be hurt if they did crash. "Most of my peers think I'm holding on to you for an exclusive."

"Good for them," Lex shrugged, slowing as they neared a red light. "Let them think what they want, because you and I know the truth."

Clark nodded. He'd already decided that the conflict of interest label was most definitely appropriate. Besides, it was Lois' story. He chose his friend over headlines. "True. You think they'll let me in the interview room with you?" he asked as the car paused and then leapt from the line the moment the red light disappeared.

"They might. Even if they don't, you'll be nearby. You could stand outside and pace threateningly or something." Lex's mouth twisted into a thin smile. "I never thought I'd be talking to the police without ten million lawyers present."

"You changed your mind about that? Would it be better if you got a lawyer there or something?" Clark just couldn't help himself, he was jumpy and nervous about this and he didn't know if it were lack of sleep, though technically that shouldn't matter, or justifiable paranoia.

"My attorneys say no to everything," Lex told him as he eased around another corner. "They'd rather I said nothing. But that would make everything I did moot."

"Pretty much." Clark grimaced as the entrance to the police station came into view. It looked like a feeding frenzy. "Oh... great." There was no discrete place for them to pull in; the only spot not filled with camera vans and cars was right in front of the steps in the heart of the mob. Clark sighed a little. "I'll get out first okay?"

And shit, there was Lois expertly positioned near the top of the steps, not falling into the trap of mobbing the base of the steps. Little things like that could get the quote or comment where others failed. She'd taught him that.

Lex parked, and turned the car off. He could already hear the questions being shouted at him through he windows of his vehicle. "Fuck -- yes, get out first."

Clark opened the door, and the noise was incredible, the camera flashes distracting as he got out pushing his way through as they clamored around him

"...Mr. Luthor, Mr. Luthor, what are you going to say in your statement to the police?"

"Mr. Luthor, can you confirm that you are brings accusations of rape again prominent members of the business community?"

Clark pushed his way around the car and then went into human shield mode as he opened the driver's door.

"Mr. Luthor, did you have sexual relations with your father?"

"Mr. Luthor, what do you say to the accusations that you are not a legitimate businessman, merely a corporate whore?"

"Mr. Luthor..."

It was hard for Lex to leave those questions unanswered. As he got out of the car, closed the door behind him and locked it, he called back to them. "There will be a press conference at a still undecided time, and I will answer those questions then. But I AM a businessman, and looking at my track record will prove as much."

Clark ushered him up the steps, arm half around him, as Lex's comments produced a clamor of additional questions and Lois stepped out at just the right point to intercept their progress.

"Mr. Luthor, would you care to comment on the abusive relationship that your father manipulated you into?"

Lois was good, good enough to make Lex stare for a moment before he answered, "No."

Perhaps it was the fact that Lex had stopped to answer Lois, or the fact that Clark turned to look at her with a warning glance for that question that he heard the distinctive click of a weapon and then the crack as a bullet seemed to be traveling in slow motion, followed hastily by another. The world around him slowed and as he refocused in this different time-frame, he could see that the first would most likely hit Lois, standing in the line of sight as she was, and the second would hit Lex in the head a fraction of a second afterwards. His eyes widened a moment, and to Lois' outrage, he shoved her so she fell up the steps rather than down. Then Clark dove at Lex, feeling that second bullet go right in his left ear and splash there like water, even as he carried him to the ground as the sound of shots reached the crowd.

Pandemonium followed in the seconds after that as people ducked down and scattered, and the police who'd been outside trying to keep the door clear, drew their guns, looking for the shooter. Lex clutched onto Clark in startlement, even when someone grabbed Clark's arm to haul him up and hurry them all inside.

"Top storey window in the middle! Saw a flash of light from there. Stay down Lois, he's still there!" Clark improvised wildly as he was dragged inside and another shot zinged off of the steps behind them. The shooter must have been desperate to keep trying like that. Ordinarily, Clark would have been sufficiently lost in the melee to vanish and reappear as Superman, but his involvement in the heart of attention took that option away from him.

"You okay, Lex?" he murmured, still holding him as they were ushered inside hastily.

Breathing hard, startled, but not scared. Lex didn't seem scared by it, because he was looking over his shoulder as the police started to deal with it. Dissipated the scene, gathered together their men. There were a few more shots, and Lois muttered, "And Superman is on a coffee break..."

"I'm fine. Clark, you..." Took a bullet, only he hadn't taken it. For a moment, wild-eyed, Lex had to have seen. There was knowing, knowing for sure and knowing and seeing.

"Damn thing's wedged in my ear." Clark whispered in response, "I hate it when that happens." He tried to make it light and made a smile. "Hope Lois is okay, I shoved her pretty hard too." He left his arm around Lex, even as they got in to comparative safety.

"You might want to take that out," Lex muttered in quiet seriousness as he let Clark keep that close, as they walked towards the area they'd been directed to wait in for safety's sake. Lois trudged along, neither listening nor talking to them.

Clark tried to unobtrusively poke around in his ear, wincing slightly. It didn't hurt, but having anything in there was a little unpleasant. He managed to drag it out and looked at it briefly in his hand.

"Something wrong, Kent?" Lois asked, glancing for a moment over at him.

He closed his hand around the bullet. "Oh, I think the bullet must have gone near my ear or something. It's ringing a little." It was a classic Clark obfuscation. "You okay? I shoved you a bit harder than I thought?"

"Like I was just a sack of potatoes," she scowled, and glanced over at Lex. There was the break room, and there weren't any officers in it for the moment. Lex pulled away from Clark a little, glad to see that there were no windows before he sat down.

"I'm sorry." Clark automatically apologized, "I guess I panicked a bit, I just caught sight of something high up, like light on metal and uh, reacted."

Lois was usually as gracious about her rescues when he was Clark, not Superman, as Lana or Chloe had been back in Smallville. It was funny that the costume somehow seemed to entitle him to special thanks where being normally heroic usually got him grouched at. So much so that the apology was habit now and it was best just to assume that was what she wanted.

"Well." Lex was doing something with his right hand, twisting it and wincing a little. "I'm glad you knocked me, down, Clark. That's... the second time you've stopped me from being shot?"

Clark smiled thinking back to the incident with Van. "I'd nearly forgotten about that," he admitted. He hadn't forgotten about being shot with a kryptonite bullet though. That wasn't the sort of experience he was likely to forget, and right now it wasn't the time to think about it or bring it up. He noticed Lois looking at him expectantly.

"Vigilante type back at Smallville," Clark said by way of explanation.

"So I read in back articles." Lois straightened her suit's dress, and sat down across from Lex. "It's no wonder Superman likes you."

"I managed to not forget about it," Lex drawled. "Lane, you're aware that you won't be hanging around in here once what's going on has cleared up."

"Well now that you've pointed it out." Lois smiled sweetly, "So, how about a comment in the meantime?"

Clark groaned and put his head in his hands. "Lois...."

"I gave you your answer. No." Weren't the CDs enough of an answer? Lex gave his right wrist a twist, and grimaced as his hand settled into the proper position.

"Not even about who was taking pot shots at you?" Lois asked again, "I've got the 'no comment 'point on the other one, but how about this? "

"Somehow I'm not surprised someone was trying to kill me. I was used to it for a while." Lex looked sideways at Clark. "Smallville was always an adventure."

"So I'm given to understand." Lois looked at the pair of them. "How about you Clark? Got any statement?"

Clark sighed a little not sure what he could say, "Just that I'm glad that you, Lex and I and everyone else got away unharmed. That good enough?"

"Scarcely headliner material Clark." Lois tsked even as she unconsciously clenched and unclenched her fingers. She wasn't that immune to near death experiences that she could just write them off without some reaction, however well practiced she was at the art.

Clark got up a moment and looked out into the corridor, asking where he could get coffee for them all, even as the police were bringing in the shooter. He stared a moment, recognizing the man even as he got the drinks and retreated into the waiting area. "Thought you could use a drink.," he said to them both. "Looks like they got the shooter. I recognize him. One of Spitzer's associates."

"Fucking great," Lex murmured when he took the cup from Clark's hand, clutching to the small styrofoam thing. "I'd call for Mercy and Hope, but they're at the Penthouse securing it."

"Best to get that dealt with," Clark replied. "It was that guy from the exposes we did on the smuggling about 9 months ago Lois? Remember him?"

"Oh, how could I forget him," Lois snorted. "Isn't he out on bail?"

"Mmmhmm and dabbling in a little work on the side. That seriously has to tie him to Spitzer once and for all." It didn't take much for Clark to realize that without Lex, the case would fall apart. The motive was clear.

No Lex, no case. Because there was information Lex had, that he hadn't given over yet. It was probably in his laptop case, which even then was still at his side, the strap on one shoulder and across his chest so it certainly wouldn't go anywhere. "I'm not surprised," Lex murmured as he took a sip of coffee, and looked sideways at Lois, only then noticing that they were all being observed.

A figure in the doorway looked over all of them. "Good afternoon, I'm Detective Hawker." The middle-aged man standing there introduced himself, his eyes quick and intelligent. "Now that the shooter is apprehended we thought it best to get Mr. Luthor's interview process underway as soon as possible. My colleague Detective Simson here wants to interview Ms Lane and Mr. Kent about the shooting incident." He gave a pleasant smile to all of them, and Clark was reminded a little of how he behaved to through people off the fact that he was smarter than he looked. "Does anyone need medical attention before we commence with the interviews?"

"I'm fine," Lois shrugged. Maybe a little bruised, but that was negligible.

"I don't." Lex, as he threw back his coffee and started to stand up, his gloved right hand resting on his laptop case. "Let's get this started."

"Would it be okay if I join Lex after my interview is done?" Clark asked hopefully.

That gave Detective Hawker pause for thought. "I don't think having an outsider in the interview process would be... useful. You're not his attorney are you?"

"No, just a friend."

"Then I am afraid Mr. Kent you will have to wait outside when you are done," Detective Hawker replied with authority. "Mr. Luthor, if you would like to follow me?"

"Of course."

Lex moved to follow him smoothly, but paused for a moment to tap Clark's shoulder with his free hand as he passed, even if he was holding an empty coffee cup. "It's okay. I'll see you later, Clark."

Clark nodded, though he had that worried look again as if the moment he left his line of sight anything could happen to him. "Good Luck Lex," he said quietly, even as Lex moved past him and towards another ordeal in the making.

Lex felt grim as he followed after the officer, hand still firm on the laptop case. "A great deal of the hard evidence beyond my own testimony is on my father's hard-drive," he told the officer. Detective Hawker. He hoped Detective Hawker wasn't going to be a dickhead.

"We guessed as much. That's being looked at Mr. Luthor," Detective Hawker replied in a level voice. "Your own laptop contains relevant evidence?"

"Yes, and his backup drive, both of which I have. Are your men working with my security in combing the penthouse for evidence?" It wasn't quite what he'd told Clark, but lies of omittance were sometimes comforting things.

"Yes, Detective Connor is heading up the team there, having liaised with your uh... secretary Mercy yesterday to arrange matters. Your cooperation has been appreciated Mr. Luthor." And obviously surprising from his tone.

"I'm glad." Lex paused as they reached an interview room -- interrogation room, more like -- and then walked to sit down in the chair the Detective gestured him towards. "I'm sure our respective people are working well together." Or Hope would make them work well.

A second officer followed them in, to stand by the door, even as Detective Hawker settled down and reached for the recorder. "Statement from Mr. Luthor, session one. Officers attending, Detective Hawker and Officer Martins observing. " He sat back a moment. "Mr. Luthor, you have agreed to give a statement regarding the events of Thursday the 7th of October at the Gold House Metropolis, and the nature of the evidence you presented to the authorities and the Daily Planet. Please could you describe in your own words the events leading up to that incident, and what prompted your action?"

"Leading up to the incident of the gold house, or going to the daily planet?" Lex prodded -- wanting to start in the right place. He settled a little, his laptop case resting on his lap.

"How the incident at the Gold House came to take place?" Detective Hawker asked easily enough even as he got up to get a drink of water for them both, obviously anticipating it would be a long recitation.

"Morgan Edge came to my office and... essentially told me that he was going to take my father's place, and that I would give him my voting share of LuthorCorp, and re-evaluate some contracts that LuthorCorp has with his shipping company. I argued and finally told him I'd think about it. He informed me that there was a 'meeting' at the Gold House, at 9 pm, and that I was expected to be there. The threat to my person was palpable. I finalized the plans to transform LuthorCorp into LeXCorp, and released them to the media after checking up with some of the board members. Then I... went over to the Daily Planet to pick my friend Clark up for dinner. We went back to the Penthouse, had Italian, and he went home when I told him I had a meeting to get ready for." Lex paused, pulled his glove off of his left hand, and picked up his glass of water to have a sip. "I called my staff at the Gold house, and told them I wanted the filming system fired up for any rooms that Edge's group went into, and that I wanted video and sound. When I went in I didn't know what was going to happen. But I... suspected it was possible."

"You deliberately went into that situation knowing there might be an assault on your person?" Detective Hawker leaned forward. "Would it not have been more sensible to stay away?"

"He would have ruined me, released all of the information he had about my... relationship with my father." Lex kept his voice level, emotionless because it was easier. "Or he would have come to my Penthouse. He knew how to get in. Staying away would have only made it worse."

Detective Hawker noted the admission about his father but continued. "So you believed yourself to be in a situation where going to the Gold House was the lesser threat?"

"Yes. I expected that since it was a public venue that I own, I would be considerably more safe. The likelihood of Edge cutting my throat and being done with me was much less."

"Mr. Luthor, what gave you cause to believe that Morgan Edge might do that to you in another setting?" the detective looked at him not showing any sort of reaction to his words.

"Previous experience with him. He came to the Penthouse often at my father's request -- he was my father's oldest friend. He's also a criminal human being, and knowing what he would do to other people to get what he wanted from them. I had and have every reason to fear him."

"Do you have details of any of these incidences?" Hawker asked him. "For supporting evidence?"

"He had an office in the slums for his side businesses. It's 48 Willow. Any evidence would be there. I did a little research on him some time ago. But as for recent... I don't have any evidence myself." Other than how he acted towards Lex, how Lionel acted towards him.

The man nodded and made a note. "Back to that evening Mr. Luthor, if you could take us through exactly what you recall of arriving at the Gold House and the events there?" He was treading carefully here, as rape victims recollections could sometimes be patchy and erratic.

"When I arrived, I took my coat off, then my suit jacket, and had, ah... I can't remember her name right now. I'm usually better about names than this." But he could remember her face clearly. "She asked if I wanted a drink, and I told her to get the best brandy the house had. Then I asked where Edge was, and she told me the Sovereign room. So I headed up. What happened after that is... crystal clear and well recorded."

"We have viewed a copy of the CD Mr. Luthor." Detective Hawker paused. "Do you recall one of the people there stated he had 'paid in stock options for this privilege? Could you explain what he meant by that?"

"Yes, I can." Lex took another sip of water, then sat back in his chair. "My father... would take commodities from those men, stock options, contracts, shares, prototypes... in exchange for the privilege of having something of his for a short time. Me."

"Prior to this time you had had sexual relations with the men in that room?" Detective Hawker asked, his expression sharper somehow. "And you consented?"

Lex didn't like that sharpness of expression. "If you call extreme coercion consent, yes. I didn't have a choice in the matter -- I didn't have anything but my father. So I did what I was told. He was always present during these... exchanges."

"Who was doing the coercing, the businessmen in that room or your father?" Hawker queried. "Prior to that night of course."

"My father." He closed his mouth tightly after giving that answer, and clenched his jaw a little. "If I hesitated, he was there to make me continue. I'm sure some of those businessmen enjoyed my reluctance."

"And why did you obey your father?" came the awkward question.

"Detective Hawker, before I came back to Metropolis, I spent three months stranded on an island. Not too long later, I had a very understandable psychotic break, and was hospitalized for a few months. When I was released, there wasn't a single person who would talk to me. My father helped me put my life back together, and what he put together he could take apart. I... obeyed him out of desperation." There were admittances left out, but it was a quick summation of a series of events that Lex couldn't quite piece together.

"So your statement would be that he took advantage of you in a vulnerable state?" Agent Hawker asked.

"Yes, it's an accurate statement." Lex licked his upper lip, over the scar, and then took another drink of the water. "Apparently my friends at the time made efforts to contact me that my father blocked efficiently, to make me easier to... control."

"And we can get collaboration of this?" Detective Hawker was watching him closely. "From those friends at the time?"

"The Kent family. I've only recently gotten back in touch with them." Lex didn't like that scrutiny, either. Who knew what the man thought of him, how he was being judged as he spoke.

"As in Clark Kent, your impromptu bodyguard? Could he be called an unbiased witness?" The man asked probing deeper.

"It depends on what he's being a witness for," Lex admitted. "We were old friends from back when I ran the LuthorCorp Plant in Smallville. Until my break with reality, his family tended to treat me like one of their own."

"And after?" the detective quizzed him.

"Once I was institutionalized, my father blocked them from making any contact with me." Lex shrugged his shoulders a little. "Which left me to think that I had been abandoned by them. It worked very... tidily for my father."

The man nodded. "How would you have described your relationship with your father after that time?" he asked, drinking his own water.

"He acted like a mentor towards me, for the first time in my life. Then he... changed the dynamic a little. A lot. It became sexual."

"You were aware that incest is a criminal offence?" Detective Hawker asked. "Mr. Luthor, I have to be frank, the defense in any proceedings will try to get the case tried not on a basis of rape and abuse but in terms of prostitution."

"There is also the matter of corporate fraud to be dealt with, and the harm these men perpetuated on their companies and the business system." Lex twisted his drinking glass slightly. "I... if you looked at my psychiatric papers when I was released, it wasn't because I was deemed better. It was because I didn't want to be locked away any longer. So I was released into my father's custody, where I remained for two years. Doing that to someone in your custody is abuse." There were other things, things Lex didn't want to bring in. It was easier to talk about himself as an example, a slightly removed third person.

"To do that Mr. Luthor, you will have to be willing to give examples of abuse within that time frame. The law is, however, clear. You stated you did not wish sexual relations with them repeatedly and attempted to leave. That defines their subsequent actions as rape in the eyes of the law. I don't think you have any problems with that, but you have to be prepared for what they will throw against you Mr. Luthor. And they will try to paint a picture of you as a whore and your father as a pimp, with the pair of you making corporate corruption into an art form."

"I'm sure if it had've been, I would have enjoyed it more," Lex sneered. "I'm willing to give examples as far back in time as you would like."

"Good." Detective Hawker seemed unfazed by his frustration. "You would have no issue with formally identifying the men at the Gold House?"


"Were you aware that one of the men there refused to participate in what happened?" the detective asked.

"No." Lex picked his glass up again, and kept his right hand on the laptop. "I was otherwise occupied."

"David Fisher of Corus Industries made an audible statement that he believed that what was occurring was wrong, and that he was not participating. When did you last see Mr. Fisher, Mr. Luthor?"

"When he left the Sovereign room with the rest of those involved to go to the Bullion room."

"Before that Mr. Luthor, prior to the events in the Gold House." Detective Hawker probed cautiously

"My father's funeral mass."

"Did you speak to him personally Mr. Luthor?"

"Yes." Lex shifted slightly in his seat. "He expressed his condolences for my father's death."

"You did not have any other type of meaningful communication?" Detective Hawker queried

"No." Lex lifted an eyebrow slightly. "Were we supposed to have?"

"Just covering the possibilities Mr. Luthor. Mr. Fisher's statement is a pivotal point. By declaring that the act was wrong in front of all of the people there and departing, they cannot claim to have been swept along by mob mentality. The lawyers representing these men will try and prove that there was collusion between you and Mr. Fisher, to form an argument that the whole set up was a form of entrapment," the Detective explained patiently. It was becoming rapidly obvious that there were lots of twists and turns to the event, and the case, that they were trying to shore up one by one.

Lex was willing to cooperate. He had little other choice than to work along with the police and offer his help as best as he could. "To be honest, I've never even liked Fisher." Because he wasn't the most hygienically tidy of people, but Lex didn't offer that information as he shifted his legs to stretch.

"As long as there is nothing that can be picked up on. Now, after the multiple assault, can you describe what happened next and your reasoning?"

"I... put myself back together as best as I could. It took a while for me to stand and start moving once they left. The... staff member I'd spoken to earlier was waiting at the door with the CD I had wanted. She helped me downstairs, helped me get my coat on. My right hand had disengaged somewhat when I struggled. She offered to call 911, but I told her no. To let them have their meeting in the Bullion room, and make sure the video streamed to my Starlabs account. I believe that's where you'll find the most incriminating evidence of their corporate crimes."

He took a slow breath, looking down to his gloved right hand and the laptop case still on his lap. "I got to my car somehow, and drove to the Daily Planet. I think I parked it in some bushes. Got inside, to the elevator, and up to the floor where Lois Lane works."

"Mr. Luthor, I have to ask you this, but why the Daily Planet? Why not bring that evidence to the police straight away?" the detective questioned.

"I..." He hesitated. Why the Daily Planet and not just the police? He lifted his left hand up to rub at his temple for a moment. "Instinct. Play to the court of public opinion before the legal system."

"What did you hope to gain from that?" his interrogator pushed again. "Was it planned from the start?"

"Yes and no. I had planned on publicly outing Edge and the business men there as corrupt, and show what they were doing with the resources of their respective companies. I expected to be dragged into the blackmail conversations, the threats.... etc. I didn't expect what happened."

The man nodded, as if perceiving the rationale. "Would it be accurate to say that going to the press was a last resort and initially meant to expose corruption rather than details of your private life, or result in sexual assault?"

"Very accurate. I... there was no way I could have expected that." Lex lifted his head a little, just a notch of motion. "What happened and was discussed in the Bullion room was what I expected to have happen when I was in the Sovereign room. I only had that one plan of events in my mind, and with the change it was the only thing I could think of to do. I gave Miss Lane the CD, and gave her my password and username to download the stream from the Bullion room. It was all I could think of to do."

"Considering that LuthorCorp owns the Inquirer, why the Daily Planet and Lois Lane?" Hawker asked

"Because she's a hardhearted bitch, and the paper has never been flattering of Luthors. A story from them could never be anything but truth. Using my own newspaper would be, ah... A conflict of interest." Just like it would have been if Clark had been the one to do the stories.

"Would you like another drink? I want to go back over the details," the man said, "Looking at some of the examples we discussed."

"Sure." He wanted an opportunity to get up and stretch his legs a little, because there was every sign that it was going to go on for long, painful hours.

Lex didn't want to note to himself that what they'd just gone through was the easy part.

There were times where he considered how much easier it would have been to have just gone along with things. Let Edge puppet him, let LuthorCorp die from lack of guidance, stop caring and just give up.

But then he wouldn't have been a Luthor. Even if his tactics were different than his father's, he was still a Luthor, still tenacious and willing to risk it all if he had to. That wasn't soothing to his ego, which was tattered shreds by the time the 'kind' detective was done with him.

He was apparently 'lucky' that he'd had such a checkered history with his father, lucky that he'd mistaken abuse for love? Not just in one section of his life, but three or four. The detective, while they were winding things down, had even ventured the idea that maybe his friends the Kent's weren't so kosher, either...

After all, Lex's judgment in such matters was clearly flawed.

"I'll be in touch, Mr. Luthor."

"Yes, thank you. Call my cell..." Lex moved out of the door -- he had to find Clark, and call home to Hope.

Clark was waiting outside, looking very concerned. He'd been listening. He'd been trying not to, but it was one of those things his attention just seemed to drift back to and in the end he had just sat there, trying to keep his expression neutral as the details were pulled remorselessly from his friend. He stood immediately, walking close "Lex, you okay? It's been... hours."

"Yeah." Lex sounded a little hoarse as he waved a vague goodbye to the detective and kept walking, albeit close to Clark. "I'm all right. I just... need to make a couple of phone calls before we go anywhere. He said we can head to the break room if I need a minute to regroup." Which, despite the presence of police officers taking a moment to regroup themselves, would be relatively peaceful.

At least when compared to the past few hours.

"They should have taken it easier, you've only just left the hospital," Clark said, leading him to that room. "Lois and I were done some time ago."

"I'm sure you were," Lex drawled. "How did that go?"

"Simple enough. There's only so many ways you can say that you caught a glimpse of light on metal and felt a bullet whistle past your ear," Clark responded with a shrug. "We need to get you home."

"I know." There were a couple of chairs over in the corner of the break room, and Lex gave a tight smile to the officers they walked past to get there. "They're combing the penthouse for evidence. I need to call ahead to see if they're done."

"Done?" One of the men looked askance at Lex as he moved to sit. "I doubt it. They just rotated out a shift over there."

Clark grimaced, "So are you saying that Lex can't go back there?" he asked trying to think where Lex could go. The options were limited if they wanted to stay safe.

"It's being regarded as a crime scene, you can't sleep in a crime scene." The man replied patiently, "How about a hotel?"

Clark was looking horrified. "Are you kidding me? A hotel after someone tried to kill him on the steps of the police station?"

"Great." Lex shrugged his shoulders a little, and didn't yet bother pulling his phone out. "So much for going home, huh, Clark?"

"They've probably got my place staked out as well," Clark replied frowning. If people hadn't realized before then they would after the attempted shooting. His face and connection with Lex would be all over the news by now. But Lex needed time out, quiet and rest... and he knew where he went when he was feeling burned out. "Lex, can I borrow your phone a moment?"

"Sure." He shifted carefully to pull it out of his pocket and handed it over to Clark almost listlessly. He had to keep going, because Lex knew that as soon as he stopped going then he'd crash and burn. "Hit the blue button to send."

Clark dialed the very familiar number of what he still thought of as 'home' even after living in Metropolis all this time. He looked at Lex as he listened to the ring, sincerely hoping they were in.

One ring, two rings, a third... shit, then a forth, before he heard his father's gruff voice greet, "Kent Farm."

"Hi Dad, it's Clark," he said easily enough. It would have been easier if it had been his Mom, but he might as well face the problem, full on. "How're you?"

"Pretty good, Clark. I just got back in from feeding the cows -- how're you doing, son? It's been a few days since you last called us. Your mother, well, you know how she gets. Worried."

"I've been kinda caught up in things here." Clark felt that obscure pang of guilt that was usual when it came to contacting parents more often. "With Lex's situation, which is sort of why I've rung dad..."

"We've seen it on the news, son. I... can't really say I'm surprised."

Clark sighed a little and turned away from Lex a moment as if he was just pacing with the phone. "Maybe not. Dad, look, we've been with the police all day and they are still going over the Penthouse. I'd like to ask if we can come and stay for a couple of days, but seriously... Dad, if there is going to be a problem with it, I'd rather know now. He's too hurt to take any more hits right now."

"You're welcome to come home, Clark, any time you want to, but if he is falling apart... the last time he did that, he almost killed your mother. I didn't think he was even talking to you, Clark?"

"It's complicated Dad, but yes we are talking again. Turns out that Lionel had a hand in that as well, and I don't think there will be any problems this time. I won't be leaving him alone. Mom has told me before that she'd like to have the opportunity to speak to him." Clark paused. "Can we come and stay Dad?"

He could almost see his father scowling at him through the phone line. "Yes, and at the first sign of trouble, he leaves."

"He's my friend Dad, I'll make sure everything is okay. We'll be there in a couple of hours or so." He was going to fly, but he couldn't really break the news to his Dad that Lex knew about him, and that might leave more mysteries than it was worth back in Metropolis. "Thanks Dad, I really appreciate it. I may even owe you a complete paint job on the barn."

"Don't make offers like that if you don't mean to keep them." Jonathan sighed and he could imagine him shaking his head. "I'll go tell your mother, son. We'll be waiting."

"I'll keep them Dad. " Clark grinned. "Thanks, see you later." He hung up and turned round to Lex. "Got a place to stay Lex, you want to get out of here?"

Lex had been sitting in silence, listening to what he could hear -- which was Clark's half of the conversation, and the buzzing words of the officers in the room. It was hard to quite look at Clark when he grinned and turned back to Lex, though the other man stood up and gave Clark a nod. "Sure. What car do you want to take?"

"How modified is the Jag? You think I could cope?" Clark asked. Lex was not going to be able to drive, as he was, not after the grueling session he'd had.

"Shift's been moved to the left." Lex walked towards him, heading to leave the break room. "So, we're going back to Smallville?"

"If that's okay with you?" Clark asked. "Safer than a hotel, better than my apartment. Be a while before the press catches up with us and by then the Penthouse should be fine?"

"Sounds great." Lex's mouth twitched. "By the time we get to Smallville, you'll have learned how to shift left-handed."

"I'm a quick learner," Clark replied and smiled. "Let's get you out of here, you look totally wiped out."

"That's a great way to put it." Lex kept close to Clark as they ventured towards the exit again, and he tensed some -- there may or may not be another shooter, but there was probably a clot of media people there.

Once again Clark moved in close, arm around Lex's back as they headed down the steps not stopping for anyone.

A camera flash provided Jimmy Olsen with a picture that would sway the public opinion of those who doubted Lex's motives. Fragile as a angel in the flash light, that picture caught a glimpse of a man with desperately tired, wounded eyes, glancing to a taller friend as if amazed that there was someone in the world not trying to hurt him. The sense that he had been betrayed shone out of that image in a way that cut through the suspicions of even the most cynical, but at the time, Lex and Clark were too busy running the gauntlet and getting in the Jag hastily to realize what emotion had been captured in the camera lens.

Lex in the passenger side, clutching at his laptop -- even if it was sans the backup drives -- and Clark getting into the driver's side, once Lex had thrust the keys at him. The low-slung seats were perfect for slouching into, and when Clark brought the engine to life it warned off all but the most daring of reporters.

"You weren't joking about the car," Clark said as he navigated the unfamiliar controls. They pulled away. "I'll try not to wreck it."

"Thanks. I'm fond of it." Lex closed his eyes, boneless and trusting of Clark to drive all right. "I guess we can go past the Penthouse and I can try to grab a suitcase. Only they probably won't let me. Actually, we might as well just hit the road."

"We've got some things at home that you can wear, don't worry," Clark replied. "They might be a bit big on you, but it will be something." He took the turns to head out of town. "Just relax now Lex. Thank god that's over."

"You have no idea." Lex swallowed on nothing at all, and kept his eyes closed. He could feel the acceleration and slowing Clark was doing, feel him trying to get a handle of the gears. "Thank you, Clark. For coming with me."

"Well I didn't exactly do much Lex," Clark replied absently. "But I do a mean sitting outside of a closed room."

"You were listening, weren't you?"

"I... tried not to." Clark sounded a little ashamed of himself. "But it's sometimes hard to shut it off, when it's so important."

"What did you think?" Lex asked, his voice that detached thing Clark disliked hearing from his friend. Almost idle, definitely tired.

There was a long pause as Clark obviously considered what to say. "I... don't really know Lex." He admitted. "You're my friend, and hearing what had happened made me feel guilty I guess. That this was happening to you and somehow I should have known and I should have found a way to help you."

"There's no way you could have known, Clark. Don't play that game with yourself. My family has always been fucked up." Lex shifted, and then pushed his coat and sleeve up to remove his right hand. The limb was hurting, so maybe a little air could make it better. "You did a lot for me."

"I wish I'd done more. Broken you out of that place or something," Clark said. lost in his own thoughts. "You going to let me take you back to Lara some time after this?"

Lex shifted the laptop case to lie at his feet, and put his hand in his lap. Then he closed his eyes again, and slouched again. "What do you mean?"

"When this has died down, we could give you back your hand?" Clark suggested. "Or ease the internal damage. I hate seeing you in pain Lex." And he'd seen a lot of that in the past week, sitting with him, being with him, and soothing him.

"I can never have my hand back, Clark -- it's been publicized. But if it would make you happy, Clark... we can go back there and see about internal damage. I've been told that phantom pain is normal."

"I would appreciate that. And let Lara build you a prosthetic then?" Clark asked, "One where you wouldn't know the difference." It wasn't about him being repulsed by the loss, it was about helping, and Clark was aware that he couldn't no more turn off that part of him than stop breathing.

Only Lex couldn't be sure of that. Quite. He had his hopes, but... "Sure. But let's not talk about that right now. The detective made enough comments about it."

"I know. He shouldn't have... they were very close to the line at several points Lex, pushing you too hard." He paused a moment. "You didn't think of us, Mom and Dad like they described, did you?"

"No." Lex wasn't just saying that to assure Clark, or because it was Clark who was asking. "I... I thought you didn't want anything to do with me, but that was because of what I did, to your mother when I was... less than well. I never, would never think, that your family tried to take advantage of me."

"You know what Dad is like. Defiantly independent. I guess, you might have gathered that Dad hasn't been your greatest fan?" There was no point hiding that from Lex, he would have worked it out from the conversation.

"Clark, I think your father genuinely smiled at me three times. Ever. Once was when I spent three days shoveling out the barn, and then left; the other time was when I married Helen, because he probably thought I'd never come back and bother you after that; and the other time was when I bought out the farm's deed. So I know he doesn't like me, Clark."

"It's a little more complicated than that Lex," Clark answered. "I guess it was your father he hated, and you by association. He saved your life on the day of the meteors and accepted your father's favor to make me legitimate - remember the adoption business? And your father used that to blackmail him into persuading his friends to sign over to LuthorCorp."

"The sins of the father..." Lex shook his head a little. "I think I'll always be paying for the sins of my father."

"He'll be okay with it. Really."

"He didn't sound okay. He sounded like you were pleading," Lex pointed out. "Though it's heartening that you'd beg for my sake."

"Lex, he's a good man. He just find it hard to cope with situations where people he loves get hurt." Clark explained even as he cleared the city limits, getting the hang of the strange controls.

"I know. I understand that." Lex trailed off, and brought a hand up over his eyes. "Are you going to be okay driving there?"

Clark glanced across, seeing the tiredness etched into his face. "Yeah, I'll be fine. You sleep Lex?" he offered.

"I think I could use just a short rest." The left hand over his eyes rubbed for a moment to try to ease off tension. "The detective was digging up things I haven't thought about for years."

"I know Lex. If you want to talk about stuff, we can do that whenever you want," he offered still looking ahead at the road. "You know I'll listen."

"I don't want your pity, Clark." Lex drew one slow, deep breath, and exhaled it just as slowly. "Wake me when we get there."

Clark nodded and let silence fall between them even as he drove out towards the distant speck of light in the wide darkness that was Smallville. It wasn't pity that he wanted to give Lex. It had never been pity.

Martha looked at her husband with a slightly exasperated air. She'd set up the guest bedroom, she'd put everything out, made sure Clark's bed was done, cooked something in case they were hungry and Jonathan was still pacing backwards and forwards like he was wearing a track in the carpet. "Jonathan, sweetheart, if this is going to bother you so much you should have said."

"It's not bothering me. It's just the circumstances. I mean, Martha! Look at the paper! We haven't seen him in years, and then out of the blue -- this, and Clark wanting to come visit us with him."

Martha fluffed up a cushion a moment and then turned to face him. "You trust Clark don't you? He'll have his reasons. You know he's always blamed himself for what happened."

Jonathan let out a slow sigh of air, and just nodded his head. "I know, Martha. I just... have my fears about this. Clark said Lex isn't doing so well, and if he's cracking up again..." He was worried. About her, about Clark.

"It was an accident, honey, you know that. And if Clark can find it in him to risk reaching out to him again can we do any less?" Martha smoothed her hands down his arms as if she could brush the tension from him. "If half of what the news says is true, Lex is hurt, and now more than ever needs some sort of support. You'd give that to a stranger Jonathan, let alone someone who you once practically called family. And there was a time when that young man won your respect."

"Back when he tried hard and actually was his own man," Jonathan agreed, albeit grudgingly. "Had his own company, was marrying... I thought 'Lex Luthor really isn't going to become a sick, sad son of a bitch like his father.'" He glanced down to Martha, mouth a little tight at the edges as he tried to not frown too much. "I wish I had've been right."

"And look at what he's done Jonathan. Look at what he has done in this last week. Broken free of everything of his father's that held him, and nearly destroyed himself in the process. That takes a lot of courage, especially from someone who thinks he's totally alone." Martha was persuasive with her soft vehemence, "Give him a chance Jonathan. He's always respected you; your opinion of him was always very important. "

There wasn't much for him to say to that; nothing that wouldn't be rebuking works he knew held weight. "Martha... I just don't know. We'll see, and I'll try -- that's the best I can promise."

"That's all I ask love." She kissed him as a thank you even as the sound of a car pulling up outside alerted them that their guests had arrived. "That's probably them now." There was the sound of a car door closing, then another. And then a knock and the door opening to reveal Clark in the doorway.

He looked tired himself. For all he could do without sleep it had been a long week for him, but he was still smiling. "Mom, Dad, sorry we're so late. I wasn't that good at driving the Jag."

"Jag?" Jonathan tried to not stare, as he heard Lex coming up the steps behind Clark, watched him linger there almost nervously. "That's all right, son -- why don't you come in? It's much warmer in here, and god knows I'd drive a thing like that slowly with the winds we've had. There's been a threat of snow, you know..."

"The radio said as much," Lex agreed as he stepped in after Clark. "Mr. Kent, Mrs. Kent -- It's been a long time."

Martha smiled and went over to greet him, "Too long Lex, I'm glad you've decided to come and stay. Do you have any luggage?"

Clark shook his head as he gently ushered Lex in and pulled the door closed. "There was so much media attention and after this morning, I wouldn't trust anywhere in Metropolis," he explained. "We just got in the car and drove."

"Particularly since my home is being searched as a crime scene." Lex looked at Martha awkwardly for a moment before he loosely hugged her. "I'm sorry I never received the... letter Clark said you sent."

Martha gave him a bit more of a solid hug back, stroking down his back comfortingly, "That's okay Lex, I just wanted you to know that we knew it was an accident. In the light of everything, it's probably obvious what happened to it. And Clark's letters. But that's okay sweetheart. You're welcome here."

"Thank you, Mrs. Kent. I promise to be unobtrusive while I'm here." he pulled back a little, almost able to palpably feel Jonathan Kent looming with his right hand out-stretched to shake.

Rather haltingly, Lex offered his gloved right hand to grasp Jonathan's, shaking awkwardly. "Mr. Kent."

There was the barest hesitation before Jonathan reached out and took the proffered hand. It was also painfully obvious that he fought off a moment of shock when he realized it was not real. "Lex," he said and cleared his throat. "You're welcome to stay son."

It was obviously hard for him not to add a 'but' onto that statement but he managed it. "You both look tired out." He looked at his son. "When was the last time you slept Clark?"

Clark shrugged his shoulders. "About a week ago?" he said casually. It was as good a way as any to get all the surprises out of the way.

Jonathan laughed nervously, while Lex simply shrugged a little. "I'm not surprised -- Hope told me as much. Why don't you go and sleep, Clark?" Because he had some apologizing to do, and perhaps some explaining to do.

"You're the one that needs the rest Lex," Clark said, not realizing how fiercely protective he appeared. He hesitated a moment seeming to catch the implicit meaning belatedly. "I'll...go have a shower or something." He smiled at his Mom who was still looking shocked and hugged her, gave her a kiss and then briefly hugged his dad, too, before deliberately disappearing in a flash of super speed.

Lex had a tight smile on his mouth, then tried to quip, "It makes getting take-out really simple when he does that."

Martha inhaled slowly and then purposefully exhaled. "You know then? He told you?" she asked trying not to sound as panicky as she felt.

"I've known for years." He wasn't up to having that argument just then, or having an argument at all with the Kents. "I watched a car wrap itself around him before I was institutionalized. Don't worry -- I've kept his secret."

Jonathan stopped his tension, which had translated to him appearing like he was going to grab his shotgun and halted. "You... you've known? for 8 years? "

"Lex I think we better just sit down a moment. Would you like a drink? I know I need one." Martha gestured to the couch and living room.

Clark was probably showering and listening, Lex knew, but that was... all right. Lex nodded, and murmured, "Thank you, I could use something to drink" as he moved towards the living room. Giving Jonathan wide berth.

"Coffee okay?" Martha asked, as if she hadn't just been told the most important secret in the world wasn't in the hands of someone who they viewed as somewhat unstable.

It took a lot to shake Jonathan Kent but this was managing it. He came to sit down opposite Lex. "You've know for 8 years?" he repeated. "And you didn't say anything? Why?"

"Because what would it have done to say anything?" Lex's mouth twitched up at the corners a little as he set his laptop bag down at his feet, still a little stiff from the ride. "I could see three outcomes from sharing what I knew with anyone -- being permanently locked up, having my father blackmail you, Martha and Clark, or having my father kill all of you. So I didn't say anything."

Because it was easier to grasp than, say, he'd always considered Clark his friend. Easier for Jonathan to believe than the possibility that Lex had held out a tiny hope that one day, Clark would come back and take back what he'd said.

Jonathan rubbed across the back of his neck, looking oddly discomfited as if he had spent most of his life preparing for a disaster and all it had done was the metaphorical equivalent of rattle the furniture and upset a few glasses. "Well..." he was somewhat speechless. He had all these warning phrases worked out in his mind, dark hints and suspicious looks and now he couldn't use any of them.

He cleared his throat. "Thank you for that Lex."

"You're welcome." Lex's lips twitched a little; after all, he knew what Jonathan Kent expected of him. "Really... I'm not my father, and I'm sorry if you're discomfited that Clark brought me here."

"Only in that I was concerned for the safety of my family," Jonathan said with frank honesty.

"Jonathan!" Martha said even as she brought over the drinks, obviously still recalling how Lex liked his coffee even now as she put it down. "Sometimes my husband can be a little unforgiving, even when there's no need."

"Only in that I was concerned for the safety of my family!"

"Jonathan!" Martha protested as she brought over the drinks. Clearly she still recalled how Lex liked his coffee even now as she put it down. "Sometimes my husband can be a little unforgiving even when there's no need."

Jonathan shook his head. "No, hear me out. As long as we're baring all here, then let's do it properly. Willingly or not Lex, you hurt my wife and my son. It's my job to protect them. It may be old fashioned, but that's who I am. For a long time I thought my fears were justified after you left; I thought you had turned into your father, become his shadow and pretty much thought that despite everything, we had been lucky because Martha recovered, and Clark got through and they seemed to be safe." He exhaled slowly. "And now I discover that it was because you knew, and didn't tell. Perhaps... Perhaps I was wrong."

"About some of it," Lex agreed. There were parts of what he'd said that had stung with truth, about being his shadow. Things that Jonathan, that no one, could or would properly understand. "I'm sorry I hurt Martha -- it was an accident, and Clark... Clark told me to leave all of you alone. I did."

"Lex, sweetheart." Martha patted his arm, and sat next to him as if trying to prove in actions what could not necessarily be said in words. "Clark regretted those words almost immediately. And I knew and still know you wouldn't deliberately harm any of us. You knowing about Clark has taken us a little by surprise, but I guess it confirms one thing. You're part of the family."

Jonathan nodded. "I would have to agree with that," he admitted reluctantly. "That was the only thing you ever really asked us for and in some ways, I should have held to that promise."

It left Lex feeling a little strained, a little... No, not suspicious, but wary. There was just too much to think about, too much to dwell on. He could add the Kent's tentative acceptance of him to that list. "I... Thank you for saying that. How..." It was almost simple to shift conversation away from him, just like he'd done with Clark at first. Push back and get some metaphorical space. "How has the farm been doing? And both of you?"

"The farm's been doing well, and we're both fine. A little greyer around the edges." Martha smiled. "You don't have to be polite Lex, I think the most important thing is for you to get some rest and recuperation. We can finish talking all this out when you haven't just spent the whole day dredging up the past. Now, you probably have a shower or something and... are you feeling hungry at all?"

"A little," he admitted, "But it's late, and I hate to think that we're keeping you up."

"Well, there's something ready for you and Clark, it won't take long to heat up," Martha said, taking over now that Jonathan had admitted that Lex could be considered one of them. "Why don't you go have a shower or a bath, I'll find you something clean to wear in bed, something loose and I'll bring some dinner up for you?"

"I'd appreciate that." Lex stood up tiredly, smiling tentatively like he was waiting for Jonathan to go for the shotgun at any moment. He left the laptop bag there, because it would just be a distraction for himself if he took it upstairs. "Mr. Kent, do you still have the camp-bed I used last time I was here? I'll help get that out."

"It's all ready Lex. We have a proper guest bed now," Jonathan replied. "There wasn't any doubt that you were going to stay. Here, let me help you upstairs. See if Clark has finished hiding from us all."

There wasn't any doubt that he was going to stay? Lex cocked an eyebrow, but moved from the living room towards the half-familiar stairs. He could relax, just a little. After so long in the hospital, and everything that had happened before... he could relax a little.

"He probably wasn't kidding that he hasn't slept in a week."

Martha tsked behind them. "I've told him about that before, it's not good for him. I know he can do it, but that doesn't mean that it's right. Clark Kent! You and I will be having words later!"

There was a pause and then a voice drifted down stairs. "Yes Mom."

Jonathan smiled and shook his head. "She can still do that to me, Lex. You might want to reconsider the staying thing unless you want to be mothered to within an inch of your life."

The edges of Lex's mouth twitched almost a little bitterly as he started up the stairs, holding onto the banister with his left hand. "I'll consider it a novel experience."

Clark was looking down at them from the top of the stairs, his hair still wet. He looked younger somehow because he had obviously grabbed some of his old clothes, jeans and a t-shirt, though he was still padding around barefoot.

"Hi, um... sorry about that," he said looking sheepish. There had been reasons that he had left Lex to face the music that way, the main one being that he knew his Mom and Dad would never truly threaten a guest, but they might well get very angry at him. Which was fine and he would face that, but if it was done in front of Lex the damage could have been irretrievable. Lex might forgive him if he got chance to explain. "I left enough hot water."

"Thanks." It was off-handed, and when they reached the top of the stairs, Lex reached his left hand into his right sleeve to pull off his prosthetic. "I won't take long -- just enough to get clean again."

Which was a state that Lex thought he'd ever properly reach again. So it might very well take quite a while, and fair was only fair that he abandon Clark to his own parents for a few minutes. Particularly since Jonathan Kent was staring.

"Call if you need help, Lex," Clark said quietly, even as he turned to face his father. It was hard not to reflexively wince from that look before he started on the excuses. "Sorry Dad, it seemed easier to show you than try and get the words out."

Lex had no reply for Clark as he slipped into the bathroom, closing the door behind him and once he was gone, Jonathan launched in at his son

"You just about gave us both heart-attacks, Clark!"

Clark looked somewhat repentant, "Sorry Dad. It seemed like the quickest way to tell you. I couldn't over the phone."

"No, but..." Jonathan started back down the stairs, waiting for Clark to follow him. "Your mother made some coffee, but Lu-- Lex didn't hang around enough to drink any."

"I'll come down and have mine then," Clark replied, accepting the invitation to come like a lamb to the slaughter. "He's wiped out, Dad. They've been questioning him since earlier on today, this morning, even after someone took a shot at him. It's a miracle he's awake let alone coherent."

"Questioning him about... what was in the papers?" Jonathan hedged a little. He hadn't really read it very in depth, but Martha might've. The headline had been enough for him, before he turned to the business news and the farming insert.

"Yes." Clark exhaled a little. "Dad, I think... look I need to explain a few things about this, but downstairs okay? You'll hear me out?"

"I'll try." Jonathan clomped down the last few steps, and headed for the kitchen. Martha was there already, and he veered a little to kiss her temple before ducking into the fridge to get milk.

"I saw Lex at the memorial just over a week ago. Lois was trying to shark in on him, just after he'd made the eulogy," Clark said, picking up his coffee and sipping it. "He looked lost and hurt. And for the first time there was no barrier to communication. I wondered why I bothered then, but he needed someone. Desperately needed someone and that's pretty much who I am, I guess. I gave him my number. I'd done all I could and at least I would have tried, you know? I didn't expect him to call, just like before."

Clark stirred his coffee with his finger. "But he did. Long and short of it, we met up, we talked. We discovered that both of us thought we had been abandoned or betrayed by the other because Lionel was making sure none of our attempts to communicate worked. He thought we despised him, for what happened with you, Mom and... they did things to him in that institution and released him to the custody of his father." His eyes darkened. "I know you respect people who are strong and stand up for themselves, but when they've been broken into pieces and someone takes advantage, do they have any choice?

Jonathan added a little milk to his coffee, and gave a glance over to Martha. Martha, who had the most to think about and take in out of all of them. After all, she'd been the one to struggle through recovery, who'd endured pain and suffering because of what Lex had done.

"There's always a choice," Jonathan said stubbornly.

"Really?" Clark looked around, "Dad, don't make me pull examples out of how you did things you couldn't help. Or when you or I found ourselves in situations where we had no choice. "

"He's had years, Clark -- and as far as I've ever seen, he was his father's shadow. Right there, side by side and grinning with him in every underhanded deal LuthorCorp did." Jonathan picked up his own coffee and took a deep sip of it. "I don't know what to think."

"Because he didn't think there was anyone else there for him," Clark said persuasively. "He had no option and in some ways he did it to punish himself. But look at what he's done now, dad. He broke the cycle, he offered up everything as a sacrifice to break that influence. You have no idea how bad it's been. Hasn't he shown that he can be trusted? He's know who I was all along and didn't say... doesn't that count for something?"

"It counts for something." Jonathan just didn't seem sure of what, and paced away a little, watching Martha more than Clark.

"Son... I'm glad that he's made changes now that he's had the opportunity. And I'm glad that you started to talk to him again. I remember how close you two were" -- despite everything and despite Jonathan -- "when he was in Smallville."

Clark nodded, knowing that was a warning of sorts as well. "I... know you had to deal with everything afterwards Dad, but I promise I've thought about this. I can't not do this. I'd regret it for the rest of my life."

Jonathan just sighed, and if it hadn't been pitch dark out and so very cold, he might have pled himself off by claiming a chore that had to be done. Immediately. "It's not that I've had to deal with everything, Clark -- but your mother spent years trying to recover..."

Martha finished folding a towel and turned to face them both with an unusually serious expression on her face. "Which makes this my decision," she interrupted, walking over to stand midway between them. "You both seem to be forgetting that fact."

Clark looked immediately abashed. "Mom I'm sorry. I thought you were okay with this and..."

Martha looked at him until he petered out, his adult assurance fading a little.

"I was the one who was hurt Clark and no matter how much guilt you and your father took on over it, and still cling on to, it was me that was living it." She paused a moment, assessing the impact of those words. Both of them looked as if she had landed a rather solid punch.

"And because I know and love both of you, you both very very rarely saw a hint of how scared and hurt I really was." She glanced at Jonathan. "Not even you Jonathan, because you were already hurting in your own way. But my point is that I let go of any resentment when I sent that letter. It was only hurting me more. And if I can do it, I expect both of you to get over it as well."

Jonathan was quiet, except for taking another sip of his coffee. There was something in his eyes that told Clark it wasn't over. It wasn't that simple, it just wasn't over yet. But he nodded to Martha. "All right. It's your decision, Martha, I'll respect it."

Martha was equally aware enough of her husbands way of thinking to know it wasn't completely over as well, but there were times that just letting things happen worked better. "Thank you love," she said, moving close to him.

Clark was still looking worried and a little upset. "I seriously didn't mean to upset either of you. I'm really sorry. I should have thought more about it before asking. I could have found somewhere to take Lex... but this is home..."

"I know, son," Jonathan sighed, and walked around the table to Clark. "Why don't you head upstairs and get some sleep? I want to talk with your mother for a moment, and Lex told us that you haven't slept in a week? You're not supposed to do that son."

Clark nodded slowly, still looking a bit mortified. "I'll... be upstairs. Thanks Dad." He gave his father a hug a moment and then Martha as well and walked slowly and somewhat thoughtfully upstairs.

Jonathan looked quietly after Clark for a moment, and then murmured to Martha. "What're we going to do, Martha?"

"About?" Martha asked as she leaned in to him a moment.

"This. I mean..." He glanced over towards where they kept newspapers before putting them in compost. "Is there something we should do, or...?"

"The strange thing is Jonathan, you and Clark are both right this time. Lex is near the edge, he has to be and yes, a wounded... broken Luthor could be a terrifying thing. But Lex is also hurt, and the only thing that could stop him being this way is support from people who care for him. Makes what we should do pretty easy. We help. Clark's going to anyway. It's a redemption of sorts for him, if not more."

"A hurt Luthor is still about as dangerous as a hurt mountain lion," Jonathan muttered. "I can't imagine any man doing that to themselves."

"Doing what? Being raped?" Martha replied, somewhat unsubtly.

"He had it on tape, so it had to have been planned. Everything a Luthor does is planned, somehow." Jonathan picked up his mug, and picked up Clark's, too.

"So you still believe he has planned all of this to get at Clark somehow?" Martha asked softly, sounding concerned. Though from the way she looked at her husband it was Jonathan that warranted that concern, not Lex.

"Might've." Jonathan shrugged his shoulders. "I'll keep an eye on him. But right now, honey -- let's go to bed."

"I'll just take the dinner up for Lex," Martha replied and then smiled at her husband. "And then I'm all yours -at least until whatever ridiculous hour of the morning you wake me up."

That finally got a smile from Jonathan, and he nodded. "Clark's probably already asleep, if the boy has any sense." Because even at twenty-five, Clark was still a boy to them.

"I'll wave some food under his nose too, just to make sure he's really resting," Martha agreed, as she reached for the tray and plates. "I haven't seen him get that emotional about something for years -- he must be tired. Or his equivalent."

"A three hour drive in a sports car, in bad weather, with a Luthor would leave me an emotional wreck," her husband quipped as he moved into the living room to turn things off. "Go on up, Martha. I'll be up in a few minutes."

Martha took the tray full of a variety of hot and cold items, depending on whether Lex was awake or not to eat them, up the stairs an into the spare room to find Lex.

The scene was an interesting one for Martha to see. Clark dead asleep in the spare room's chair, Lex standing nearby, tugging an old sweatshirt of Clark's down over his head, half-twisting to look towards Martha.

It wasn't as if there was anything to be embarrassed about. He'd already put on a pair of Clark's old jeans -- just a bit too baggy for him, a bit too long -- so it wasn't as if she'd seen anything other than the last vestiges of bruises. The hand that lay on the bedside table was more embarrassing, along with the way his right sleeve just hung with nothing to cling to at the wrist. "Hello, Martha," he greeted quietly.

"Lex, I brought your food up." She glanced over at Clark. "He fall asleep on you?"

"I guess he brought clothes in here for me while I was still in the shower." Not that Lex minded, because there was something soothing and familiar in having another person near when he slept. Helen had spoiled him with that, and his father... He could still tangibly recall the nearness of his father in bed. The way Lionel's hair had tickled Lex's scalp, the prickle of his beard against his neck.

Even with everything that had happened, it still seemed like the best lie he'd ever lived, or one of them. "Thank you -- I was hungry, and all I had at the station were a couple of donuts and a lot of coffee."

"Well considering how long you were there Lex, you need something. Wasn't sure what you might like so I brought a little of everything, cold and some hot," Martha said, putting it down on the side. "And if Clark didn't smell it and wake then we're not going to be able to move him. You mind him being here?"

He shook his head as he sat down on the bed and looked over the tray. "I'm not actually used to being alone anymore. The quiet in the penthouse almost drove me cr-- up a wall, after the accident." Lex finally picked up a roll, determined to start simple and see if that would get rid of the queasy feeling that lack of food had given him.

Martha smoothed the hair back from Clark's forehead, and then fetched a blanket to drape over her son. "He's been with you?" she asked as pulled it over him. It was an unnecessary thing to do in reality, but something she wanted to do that made her feel better and Clark cared for.

"He stayed with me when I was in the hospital this last time." Because he'd asked Clark to, but he had a feeling that even if he'd told Clark not to, he would have stayed close. Or maybe it was just a hope that Clark would have stayed close.

"Ah, that explains the not sleeping," Martha replied nodding. "You okay with his things?" She couldn't help the way her eyes lingered on the place where a hand should be. It was as much shock as anything.

"They're fine." He finished his biscuit, chewing slowly before he reached for the glass of what looked like water on the tray. "If it bothers you, I'll be sure to wear the hand as much as possible." Lex would have been wearing it then, but it was hurting, too many hours of wearing it and too much fidgeting. Even having not worn it for the entirety of the car ride hadn't helped as much as it should have.

"It doesn't bother me Lex, it's just difficult to get used to seeing." Martha looked away from his truncated arm, to his face. "I'm sorry if I was staring -- I know what its like. I just wanted to tell you, if you need anything to either get one of us or help yourself... and to sleep yourself out."

"Thank you, Martha." He reached for what looked like a bowl of soup, ready to balance it on his knees as he ate. That would suit him fine; Clark would wake up with time, and probably polish off the rest of the tray. "I appreciate you letting me stay here, after what happened... the last time you extended your hospitality to me."

"Lex, are you going to be apologizing about that forever?" Martha asked, looking at him directly and speaking gently. "You don't have to."

"I wish I had have been here after it happened, that I had have had myself together enough to be of some help to you in the aftermath." But he hadn't been. Hadn't even tried to reach out to them again because he'd been so scared.

Martha watched him, glimpsing some of that fear for all his calm words. "Lex, it would be very easy for me to say it's all forgiven and forget it, because in some ways it is. But that's too easy an answer isn't it? You can't believe that sort of forgiveness can you?

"I'd believe it if that sort of forgiveness existed."

Martha smiled, shaking her head a little at the admission of disbelief. No free gifts, no easy rides, everyone is out to get you. That was the Luthor credo. At least that hadn't changed; Lex wanted a penance, as if eight years of abuse had not been enough. "Then you want to pay for the wrong you did me?" she asked quite seriously. "I'll give you the toughest job on the planet."

He ate a couple of spoonfuls of the soup, holding it stable with the side of his right arm. "And what's that?"

"A part share in looking after Clark." She was deadly serious as she glanced over to her sleeping son. "He needs protecting too. Who's there for him when he's finished being there for the rest of the world? For someone practically invulnerable, he's had a lot of close shaves. You want a penance Lex? This isn't a job for the faint hearted."

As if Lex could be considered faint hearted in any circumstances, even before he'd lived with his father for as long as he had. "Certainly sounds like a challenge," he half-replied and half-quipped.

"You'd be amazed." Martha gave a slight low laugh. "Now you get to bed Lex, we'll talk some more when you've had chance to sleep."

"Thank you." He ate a little more soup, and then set the bowl back onto the tray. Plenty of food left for Clark if, when, he woke up. "I'll see you in the morning, Martha."

"Sleep well Lex," she said as she left the room, smiling as she pulled the door shut slowly behind her. She paused a moment, seeing very clearly something she had seen the first time she had seen Clark and Lex together and nodded slowly to herself.

"Welcome to the family."

There was something disconcerting about waking up in what was unquestionably the wrong bed, and being able to hear another person breathing, but not having them near. It left Lex lying tense and confused in bed while he tried to work out where he was and what was going on.

The Kent farm. With Clark probably still in the chair.

Opening an eye proved that to be a correct hypothesis and indirectly a hint of Clark's peculiarities. No normal person could possibly sleep in a chair in such a fashion and be comfortable. There were long limbs draped everywhere, tangled up in the blanket with a bare foot dangling out over the arm of the chair and a tousled head trying to use the frame of the chair as a pillow. It was a minor miracle he wasn't snoring.

Aliens probably didn't snore.

Lex pushed himself up to his elbows, almost right away wondering what the news said, and how Mercy and Hope were faring. Clark appreciated and had a lot of faith in them, but in the end, Lex had a creator's worry towards the both of them -- because he'd made them, and he was deeply flawed himself, so...

So it was too early to really seriously consider anything. He groaned, and gave a tired stretch.

A groan was sufficient reason for Clark to rouse himself. There was an almost comical start as he surfaced and tried to work out what he was doing. "Wha.. whoa!"

It was perhaps inevitable that the man who could fly around Metropolis with immense precision could still manage to fall out of a chair given the right circumstance.

"Well... fuck."

"You looked cute until you did that flailing bit," Lex yawned, before ducking his head down to bury it against the pillow momentarily. He didn't even want to try to guess at the time. And he was sure that he was never going to fall asleep wearing jeans again as long as he lived.

"Thanks a lot," Clark said ruefully. "Shit, I must have fallen asleep waiting for you. Sorry about that." He yawned as much out of habit as any real need. He picked himself up and then sat on the end of the bed and flopped backwards. "Good sleep?"

Over the back of Lex's legs. "Hey, you're a little heavy. Yes, I slept well," Lex murmured, rolling his neck a little to try to pop any kinks out. He wasn't quite ready to get up yet, or do more than stay propped up on his elbows, head hanging down.

Clark looked up and back at Lex with a smile. "Good. About last night, sorry about leaving you to face Mom and Dad like that. It was the best way to handle things, really."

"I believe it was easier that way," Lex murmured in response. "What time is it?

Clark looked at his watch. "Nearly 11!"

"Mm." Lex wasn't surprised, though he did shift himself a little, pushing himself up with his left hand. "Time to get up, then."

"You don't have to," Clark said patting at the nearest leg under the covers without much thought.

"I'll feel particularly lazy if I don't make some effort to." That felt nice, felt good in a familiar way. It was good to have someone who was familiar enough with him to do that, to touch him so very off handedly.

"We could trade. You could take the bed, I could take the chair. There's food on the tray, but your mother probably made breakfast. Or lunch." Still, it seemed bad to let things go to waste.

"She'll call us for lunch," Clark said decisively. "And you stay there. I can sleep floating if necessary. Besides, I've slept now. I should ask Mom later what color they want the house and barn painted." His thoughts were jumping all over the place.

"You people paint things in winter? Clark..." Lex shifted, twisted around carefully despite that Clark was so very close. "It's supposed to snow, isn't it?"

"The advantage of having someone who can paint the house in a minute and then blow it dry in another," he said gesturing to himself. "If it snows, you do realize I'll have to make sure snowballs are thrown. It's traditional."

"You'll have an advantage over me," Lex murmured as he leaned to the side a little to pick up his hand off of the bedside table. "Well, quite a few advantages."

"We could gang up on Mom and Dad," Clark replied. He wasn't going to let Lex use that as an excuse. "Maybe just a walk then. We don't get enough snow in the city."

"Now, a walk I'm up to. You're right -- and when we do get snow, it's salted and gritted away." Civilized. Metropolis even did its best to civilize the snow.

"Good. Uh, you want to get some proper things in town or make do?" Clark propped himself up on an elbow half pinning him in and resting on him

"We could always go into town," Lex murmured, watching Clark as he adjusted his arm. "I can make do. But I would like to see how the town is doing. See the Talon again. I've seen the numbers from the Talon and the plant, but numbers don't show things as clearly as seeing." It could ground him, or help to ground him. The Talon was his, never touched by LuthorCorp. LuthorCorp that was no more. And the plant should have been starting on the transition.

"After lunch then. An unexpected inspection. You can scare the living daylights out of your employees."

"I like the way you think, Clark," Lex drawled as he reached a hand to slip it through Clark's sleep tousled hair.

Clarks smile shifted slightly to a sort of hesitant shy wonderment, even as a voice called upstairs.
"Boys! Are you getting up this side of noon?"

Martha had a surprisingly loud voice when she yelled.

"I'm very tempted to answer 'no'," Lex drawled, bending forwards even as he tried to draw Clark upright more.

Clark twisted around to face him even as he called. "Down in a minute Mom!"

Lex slid his hand around to the back of Clark's neck, pulled him just that touch closer, and then caught his mouth in a kiss. It was different than kissing Lionel, no scratch of beard, gentler at the root of it, but not lacking in passion. Clark's lips were soft and damp, felt so good...

Clark was less shocked this time and actually kissed back, mouth parting instinctively as he fed that moment of intimacy with his own hopes. The last time, Lex had fear and anticipation of the horror to come that had kept him from letting the gesture linger. Then... then he should have had the sense to not press it too far. But it felt good, and maybe he was hitting some unconscious pattern in his mind. Whatever it was, he wrapped his arms sensually around Clark, and pressed the kiss more -- waiting to see what role he should continue in.

It was so easy, and it felt so good.

Kissing was something Clark enjoyed, but he pulled back when it reached the point where he wanted to go further. "Not now Lex," he whispered kissing again. "Not until everything is sorted. I'm sorry, I want to but it wouldn't be fair on you."

"Wouldn't be fair? Jesus, Clark, I want to." Lex pressed it a little, tried to kiss Clark again while sliding his left hand up into Clark's shirt.

It was ill timing that the door opened then, Mr. Kent holding two cups of coffee. "Martha sent me up with these so -- What the HELL is going on?!"

Clark looked around startled. "Dad! Nothing's going on. I was just..." He hesitated, but he just didn't lie to his parents.

"Uh. Kissing Lex."

It seemed he was the only one who had any animation to him. Lex's cool fingers were still pressing against Clark's stomach, and he was still leaning close to the man, on the verge of pushing him backwards in the bed. Jonathan merely stood there with his two coffee cups, staring. "You... just..."

"We weren't going to do anything Dad. We haven't done anything." Clark protested and then his damning honesty made him add, "...yet."

"Yet," Jonathan repeated. The word moved Lex into action, drawing back cautiously from Clark and pulling his shirt down as he did so.

"Mr. Kent... I..."

"Get downstairs NOW." And he turned, taking his coffee cups with him.

Clark grimaced a little. "Oops," he said under his breath, giving his father time to actually get downstairs.

"My fault," Lex murmured as he sat back, and finally did move to stand. It only figured and now he had half an erection and a thrumming buzz in the back of his head, an urge to do.

"I was here too. I don't regret it, but we shouldn't now. You're not ready. And I guess I'm not either. It's pretty new to me. But he can't be too surprised, he knows I looked at both sides of the fence in college."

"If I had big tits, and a tiny waist, but still had the name 'Luthor' I think your father would have had the same reaction." Lex paused, looking at his shoes -- nice semi-boots, well polished business shoes meant for colder weather -- and the jeans he was wearing, the sweatshirt. Not quite matching, particularly after he'd slept in the jeans and wrinkled them to hell. "What do you mean when you say I'm not ready?"

"After what happened, and everything that's been stirred up," Clark said, trying to be tactful, "It wouldn't be fair to take advantage. Why do you think I didn't do or say anything at the hospital? It wouldn't be right."

"I'm glad you're being particularly considerate of me, Clark, but I am not, and am not going to be broken or fall apart." Lex picked his tidily folded clothes from the day before, and his shoes. "I'll be in the bathroom, and down shortly."

"And I intend to see that... that's the case. Let him shout at me for a bit, Lex. He needs to shout," Clark decided.

Then he zipped downstairs at super speed, appearing in the kitchen where his parents were waiting. He was determined to be unrepentant about the fact of the matter. "You might as well start shouting," he said directly to his father.

But Jonathan was merely tight jawed and glaring at some point that even Clark couldn't focus on. Some electrons in a tiny air molecule. "I'm not going to shout," he gritted out, "since your mother won't let me."

Martha shrugged as if there hadn't been a short, sharp exchange of words. "Like I promised I wouldn't say I told you so."

It was Clark's turn to gape. "But how did you know? When did you know?"

"Just one of your mother's eerie hunches." He looked sideways at her, then almost scowled, "Except she was wrong about Lana and Chloe ever working out. Son, I don't even want to know what in the hell possessed you..."

"Wait." Clark blinked, half recovering from his shock. "Dad, is it the fact that I'm interested in another man or that it's Lex?" he asked outright. "Because you know I've looked around both male and female."

"I know." He took a swig of his coffee like it was fortified with liquor, and then started to stand. "But I've never known what to think of Lex, and today's newspaper, last week's, all of it makes me more confused. I'll be out in the barn."

"Dad, come on, please. If you've got something to say about it, please just say it! I'm not a kid anymore and about sex, well, I can't even call it same sex relationships can I? As far as the human species goes I'm pretty much an 'it'. I don't need any reminder of how different I am! But I don't want to upset you."

He didn't get an answer, but he did get a slammed door, and Martha staring at it with a touch of tiredness in her eyes. "He just needs time to think, honey. Why don't you sit down and eat lunch?"

Clark just looked frustrated. "I hate this. I hate upsetting him like this, but there's nothing I can do Mom. This isn't a rash impetuous thing. I just... I'm going out after him. Lex'll be down in a moment. I just want to show him I don't want to hurt him, you know? I'm not doing this to hurt him." And if that mean an hour of them not talking and tinkering with the truck together, then so be it.

Which would leave Lex with Martha, but it wasn't quite like leaving Lex with his father, who had even looked at Lex with suspicion when he'd given him the deed to the farm. "I know, Clark. Take a sandwich with you? You didn't eat last night, and there's food going to waste..."

Clark nodded and grabbed a couple of sandwiches from the plate. "Thanks Mom," he said gratefully, marveling again at how lucky he was with both his parents. "Back... soon I hope." And with that he was outside and gone into the barn.

It left Martha alone in the house, but she was used to that. There were always things to take care of, baking for the shops that she sold to, finances to keep track of. Whenever there was a little extra time, she worked charity.

Dealing with a frayed Luthor was a little like charity.

He came down the steps a few minutes later, dressed in the clothes he'd worn the day before; they were impeccably clean, and he could probably get away with that for the couple of days that he stayed there, if he pushed it.

"Lex, do you want some sandwiches?" Martha asked, as if there hadn't just been a big argument there, minutes before. "Take a seat."

"Thank you. I see you've been deserted here, Martha," Lex murmured as he pulled out the chair that had an untouched coffee cup in front of it. "Who's out by the barn burying whom?"

"I get deserted on a frequent basis," Martha replied before addressing the more pertinent part of the question, "I think there's a world record bridge building attempt going on out there. Of course, with Clark it might just succeed."

"I see. I... I'm sorry I keep bringing forward new disruptions," Lex murmured. "I really wanted to come here for a little peace."

"It's okay Lex. You'll get the peace and quiet. Jonathan... well, it takes him a while to accept certain things. Though ten years is probably a bit slow even for him," she said, pushing the sandwiches across. "They're long over due for this talk, really. Of course the 'talk' will probably involve complicated metaphors involving 'pass me the motor oil' and things like that, but on the whole, Jonathan's a reasonable man and he knows what makes Clark happy can't be a bad thing."

Lex took one a little tentatively as he smiled at her. "It seems like a healthy father-son relationship in that, at least. I... I'm sure they'll work it out."

"To be honest Lex, I don't know how that part of it works, it just does." Martha poured coffee, wafting the aroma towards him. "Massive argument, world coming to an end and then an hour or two out there with the truck and somehow it gets sorted. That looks like an hour and a half session to me, so we have plenty of time." She pushed over a batch of muffins as well.

"Sometimes things just fall into place that way." Silent things -- the way he and Lionel could agree on something in a boardroom with a few shared glances. No nods, nothing overt, but it was there.

He missed it. It was always easier to remember the good times than it was to think of the painful things, always easier to remember the gentler times. Like the skiing lodge, the great fun that had been even when Lionel had mugged him to hold still for that photo op.

"You know," Lex remarked as he picked up a muffin and laid it beside his plate, "Your food definitely is something to be enjoyed after eating jello at the hospital for a week."

Martha smiled again. "For that gratuitous compliment, you get to chose what you would like for dinner tonight." She was looking at him carefully still, searching him for signs of... something.

"Martha, if you're the one making it, I know I can eat it and enjoy," he murmured, as he paused to take a bite or two of his sandwich. If she was looking for something, she could probably find it.

"Mmm." Martha took a bite, herself. "How long have you been in love with Clark, Lex?"

"I..." He glanced up at her, quiet for a moment. "Excuse me?"

"How long have you been in love with Clark?" Martha repeated as if the question followed on naturally from the discussion about dinner. "I can tell you how long he's been in love with you, but perhaps both of you are as bad as one another for not realizing it." She gave a slight shrug and a smile as she sipped her drink.

Only a Kent could be so damningly blunt about things. "It doesn't really matter, does it?"

"I think it might. It has a lot to do with how devastated you were when it all went wrong. And how vulnerable you were. Clark probably fell in love the first time he met you. The second time when you rescued him was the clincher. No one had ever been able to do that for him before. Parents don't count." She gave a smile. "But he never really realized what was going on. Probably doesn't even now. There are times when he can be amazingly insightful about some things and people, and incredibly dense about others. Like Lana and Chloe."

"It's a pity about Chloe. She's quite the asset at the Inquisitor." Lex picked up his coffee cup, right-handed and careful, and took a sip. "Most people are blind to things in relationships."

"Mm, and you are doing a good job of evading thinking about them," Martha pointed out. "I only said to Jonathan that I hoped things would work out with Chloe or Lana, because it was after you left...and Clark needed someone." She shrugged again. "Much like you did with your father."

She didn't know. It hadn't hit the papers yet -- though he was sure it would in time -- and had Clark told her? Lex's eyebrows went up a little, but he took another sip and set the cup down. "It's a matter of degrees. Vastly different degrees."

"Want to talk about it?" Martha offered casually, "I make a good listener."

Lex gave a smile that could have passed for a grimace. "There aren't words."

"Maybe that's the problem Lex. You've got to get it out so you can look at it." Martha said in her best 'mother' tone. "Words help. Why do you think I wrote a letter I was pretty sure you wouldn't read?"

"I wish I had've read it," Lex drawled, mouth tugging wryly. "I'm sure my father enjoyed shredding it."

"He might have kept them," Martha replied giving a slight shrug, "But it was obvious he didn't want you to know you even had a chance of forgiveness."

"I'm not sure if it was even that." It seemed to be... seemed to be that Lionel hadn't wanted him to know that there was anyone else to turn to when he desperately needed someone.

"What do you think it was?" Martha asked still sipping her coffee. All she had to do was to get the ball rolling. She knew Lex, he over analyzed, rationalized things, made things work in his head one way or another. All she needed was to get him to tweak one or two vital threads, and get realization to unravel.

"Probably an attempt to keep me from moving outside of his circle of influence." Circumspect, Lex could talk his way around things.

"Uh-huh. So he got what he wanted then after so many years of trying." Martha replied. "He must have been happy with that."

Lex finished his sandwich, and pushed the plate a little away as he put coffee cup and muffin side by side to contemplate it. "I was a good son at last," he shrugged, deflecting the semi-obvious once more.

"And what about you Lex? How did it feel to be...the good son?"

"It wasn't bad. Really." Of course, Martha had been witness to how Lionel had acted when he'd been 'blind'. The way he'd used it as an excuse to touch and touch... and touch. It felt an eternity ago, though. "He taught me a great deal about the business in the past few years."

"Mmhmm." Martha was treading reasonably carefully. "But how did it feel?"

He almost smirked a little. "Martha, I appreciate you talking with me, but there is such a thing as too much information."

"And you think I'm going to be put off by that?" Martha looked directly at him. "I used to work with your father Lex, I wasn't blind, but then neither was he, thinking about it."

"No, he actually was -- for about two weeks," Lex murmured, toying with his coffee mug a little. "He was a good actor."

"Very good." Martha agreed. Another tweak at the threads. "I was convinced for a long time that he really needed me there. I felt so stupid when I realized that I'd been duped, also ashamed of myself for falling in with his ploy."

"I would have been more ashamed to have bought his 'miracle recovery' story," Lex murmured.

"Mmm, well we knew about that." She sighed a little. "Would you like to hear a theory Lex? I'm pretty sure your father loved you, but that doesn't make what happened right, in any shape or form. He sometimes told me about his parents, and the abuse and cruelty he suffered at their hands, and how he despised them... and yet in some ways, that may have been the only family dynamic he understood. Control, obedience, strength, cunning, and what you could get with it all."

Lex's eyes dropped slightly, just for a moment. "Knowing what I know, I'm not surprised to hear that. I'm sure if three generations of the Luthors had ever sat at a table together, we could have given Norman Rockwell a heart-attack."

"Oh he told you about the grandparents?" Martha queried sidling around the issue slightly

"And the tenement building," Lex drawled. "Yes. He told me everything."

"About how it burned down and his parents were killed?" Martha replied, watching Lex nod to her words. "But it gave him the strength and determination and the start up capital to go into business?"

"Mm. Quite conveniently, it gave him the capital to go into business." Lex exhaled slowly, and finished his coffee. "And in the wake of his death, I've turned LuthorCorp into LeXCorp, and have moved it into a new direction. I suppose it's a Luthor trait."

"There's always been a big difference between you and your father Lex. You've always tried to do things the right way," Martha replied firmly. "Wasn't your father friends with Morgan Edge from back then?"

Lex's jaw clenched a little as he unwrapped the muffin. "They'd been friends for a very, very long time."

"It's hard to imagine, considering. Well, I expect you know about Clark's encounters with him, don't you?" Martha said, noting the sign of tension. "You've never liked him, have you?"

"I've known mobsters who're more likable," Lex drawled as he carefully pulled the muffin apart, holding it still with his right hand, and peeling off the wrapper with his left. "I knew about his encounters with Clark."

"We were always surprised he didn't try anything else after you were drugged Lex." Martha said, easing onto that topic. She wondered if he knew about what had really been happening over the past eight years on that front. That his father and Edge had used their knowledge repeatedly. It was the source of a lot of Jonathan's reservations, for all her arguments that she was sure it wasn't at Lex's instigation. "He knew Clarks weakness to meteor rock and he'd come after all of us before for his blood.

"At my father's behest," Lex pointed out. "He didn't have the uses or the resources to find uses that Lionel did. Without financial motive, it lost interest to him."

"Ah." So he didn't know. There hadn't even been a flicker of guilt and Martha knew she would have spotted recognition or guilt in a moment. "And why did your father lose interest in him Lex?" She asked curiously

"Because I kept him busy." He popped a little muffin into his mouth, and went on. "We filled holes in each other's lives for a time. My father wasn't... evil, just..."

Martha gestured with her hand for him to go on as she managed to have a mouthful of cake at that point in time.

"Off." Lex didn't quite look at Martha when he said that. "My time with him was probably the happiest my life was, if you discount the... what's all over the papers right now."

"That's a pretty big thing to discount Lex." Martha considered she finally could see the problem. Lex loved and hated his father at the same time, but the love had to dominate, or he would have fallen to pieces trying to cope with the demands made on him. "That was abuse. In any relationship that would be abuse."

"I know." Lex ate a little more muffin, then stopped. It felt good to be full, to not be hungry or on edge even despite what they were talking about. It was good to not be in the hospital. "But it wasn't very often and... The rest of it was good. I have a lot of good memories."

"And that's good Lex. You shouldn't forget those, but neither can you hide from what was done to you," Martha said gently. "It's possible to love and hate someone at the same time."

Lex's mouth twisted a little. "I know. But it doesn't matter, because he's dead."

"And that's exactly when all the emotions start churning around. Even without what happened to you in Metropolis." Martha emphasized her point by leaning forward. "It matters Lex. It matters to Clark, to me, to Jonathan -- yes he does care for all he doesn't understand -- and it should most of all matter to you. "

"Well." Lex lifted his chin a little, looking at Martha. "I'm glad to know that you care. I know... knew that Clark does. But it isn't something that will resolve itself right away."

"No it's not," Martha agreed. "I won't pressure you on it any more Lex. I just wanted you to know that we're here -- I'm here to talk to if you want to." She patted his arm gently, ironically the same move that Clark used in their first coffee meeting. "I don't know whether it's good news or bad news to you, but you seem to have acquired a family."

"It has to be a step up from my last one," he offered back sincerely.

Martha smiled, then gave a glance out of the window. "Well, they surprise me. Jonathan must have been less shocked about it than I thought. Just under the hour."

It might have been an argument, aside from the fact that when the outer door opened Clark could be heard saying, "Dad, it's not the head gasket, I told you, there's no cracks in that."

"That leak is coming from somewhere Clark," Jonathon replied wiping his hands on an oily rag which he dropped on the side, much to Martha's horror. "And it's not the coolant either. Or the radiator."

"How about the brake fluid?" Clark suggested thoughtfully.

What color is the leak? Lex almost asked. But he didn't, because it wasn't his conversation. He merely looked up at them when they came in, and moved his chair slightly so he could stand quickly if immediate escape was needed.

"Wash your hands the pair of you," Martha said automatically, "Before you eat."

She had been right. It was as if the incident upstairs had not happened. Clark and Jonathan jostled each other by the sink.

"I didn't check the brake lines," Jonathan mused even as he sat opposite Lex, just accepting his presence at the table as a fact, in a way that seemed alien. It made Lex wonder what Clark had said to him out there in amongst the mechanics.

Of course, he hadn't said anything to Jonathan or Clark yet. Maybe as long as he didn't speak, peace would hold over the room.

Not that denial had ever worked for Lex before. "Martha, would you like some help cleaning up?"

"With these two about to get started?" Martha laughed. "I think I might need it. Sure, that would be great Lex. What are you and Clark going to get up to this afternoon?"

"Go for a walk? Maybe go into town." Lex stood, picking his plate and cup up with some amount of care. "And drop in at the plant."

"We're going to scare the shit out of Chloe's dad," Clark contributed, with his mouth full. Jonathan chuckled a little at that beside him

"Gabe needs a bit of a stir. But you think that's wise? Won't people find out where you are?"

"They'll assume I'm up at the mansion." Lex laid the cup and plate down in the sink, and pulled his glove off so he could help Martha wash. The silicone's strange gaping gash still left enough to protect the mechanics beneath it, so he didn't have any worries. "I think a few people trailed us far enough to know we came to Smallville."

"Hey, maybe we could get your clothes from the mansion, mix a bit of truth into those rumors." Clark suggested in between mouthfuls. "Though I do want to go into town. Dad wants the Barn painted before the snow hits tonight, so we'll have to get some paint in. Mom do you want the house redone?"

"Sure. It could use a freshen up."

"Great," Lex murmured as he turned on the water. "We'll head out once you've eaten."

Clark nodded, and Jonathan started talking about some extra bits they could get if they were going in after paint and making a list. And then Martha added to the list and Clark complained that they only liked him being back so he could be a packhorse for them.

That earned him identical looks from Martha and Jonathan and exactly the same smile, as Clark picked up the lists anyway, and gave in.

A simple trip into town was going to be an interesting shopping trip after all.

Chapter Text

Lex was glad that they'd dropped past the mansion, because even clothes that were wrapped in plastic were nice to change into. Warmer clothes, boots that were more for function than style, which with the snow forecast was something he needed. It was interesting to wander the halls of the mansion with Clark, talking sometimes. Other times a simple, easy silence settled between them, and that was good, too.

Everything with Clark was good. And the more Lex thought about it, the more he knew that he could... do it. Be with Clark without fear of being hurt. Clark could give him what he wanted, and he could give Clark what Clark wanted. Everyone won.

The scavenger hunt that had been errand shopping had gone relatively well. It had been nearly relaxing to wander the local small department store, looking for paint and other bits and bobs, and then Martha's groceries list.

Clark dumped the bags in the back of the truck. "So you want to check out how your Smallville investments are doing? Have a coffee or something?" He tilted his head over towards the Talon up the street from them.

"It's close enough to be tempting," Lex drawled as he walked over to the side of the truck Clark was on, traffic side, and looked over across the street. "We can just walk there. What do you think the chances are of running into Lana today?"

"Pretty high," Clark replied with a shrug. "Last I heard she was getting serious with some guy called Mark. But that was Chloe that told me that. Come on, we'll see if they worked out how to work that coffee machine yet."

"Cappuccino," Lex corrected as he started across the street, pausing to let a car pass before hurrying forwards again. He kept close to Clark's side. "It's not hard to learn."

"Unless you're me. That had to be my shortest term of employment ever," Clark said, catching up and managing to open the door first. "I think I was barely employed for a day."

"The way you always had to run off, I could understand it." After all, he'd understood it well at the time. Lex had always tried to be understanding of Clark's... in-congruencies. He let Clark open the door, and slipped into the Talon. The decorum had changed, but it certainly seemed to be for the better, and Lex stood there a moment taking the place in.

"Brings back some memories," Clark replied, even as people turned to look curiously at who the newcomers were. "You want to get somewhere to sit, I'll go and get the cappuccinos. Oh, hey that's Lana up there. She's cut her hair. I don't think I've ever seen her with short hair. Back in a moment Lex."

And Clark disappeared up towards the counter.

Where he was going to reminisce with Lana, Lex guessed. He'd talk to her later, on the way out, and thank her for having done a good job with the Talon and apologize for having been such a silent silent partner.

Lex twisted a little to look for a couple of seats. He wanted to be able to see out the window but not exactly be seen, and wanted to not see Clark flirt with his old flame, because it was inevitable. Clark and Lana had always flirted. So he sat down over to one side, in the corner, in a chair that looked to the side of the shop and the window rather than the front.

There was a newspaper left on the table from a previous customer and though it was folded, the half picture he could see was most definitely of him. It was a tabloid trash paper and even the few columns he could see were spewing a regurgitated morality that was sickening.

~Gang Rape or Perverted masochistic desires? An exclusive interview with one of the participants!~

~How Lex Luthor bribed me into a sexual scenario! Read the truth about the Gold House and what that Gold really paid for!~

There were a lot of exclamation marks. Surely the sign of hack reporting.

Lex could feel his stomach twist as he reached for that paper and balled it up. He didn't want to know what the contents were, what claims were being made. He didn't want to know, because it was nothing but lies. And lies weren't something that was known, they simply were.

They existed, and Lex hated to think that someone was trying to capitalize from his pain.

Ironically , the only other paper around was the Daily Planet, with the haunting picture of himself fleeing the police station with Clark the day before. A glance over showed that though the picture headlined, most of the story about the attempted shooting was on page two and the rest of the front page had a different story.

~Jailed Doctor admits to Luthor brainwashing~

He almost wanted to crumple it up, but it, or maybe it was the picture beside it, made Lex unfold the paper to read it, even as he let go of the crumpled remains of that tabloid trash. Jailed Doctor -- his doctor, his physician -- admitting to experimental procedures and unapproved techniques to break...

Break him. He remembered the electroshock, the metal bed, the cage over the bed, the whispers from his father, promises to get him out if he behaved, so many promises, and treatment that had seemed so hurtful compared to the promise his father had held out.

The story was a catalogue of horror, stark and unavoidable in the brutal fact of newsprint. Descriptions of the drugs that had been used to make him pliant and impressionable, expert medical opinions that what had happened had been brainwashing, pure and simple. Processes relayed that spoke of the implanting of subliminal commands and phrases that would get him to obey. That if it had been revealed it would have been considered the worst form of torture because in a variety of expert's professional opinions, it had gone on for those long eight years, not just during the stay in the asylum...

Lex read it once, and then read it again before setting the article down. He... it... It... His father... There was a difference between taking advantage of someone and doing that. It left everything in question, everything he'd felt and done in the past few years.

Surely it left his competence in everything open to question by those cold, detached 'experts' in the field.
Christ. Had he really even enjoyed the things he remembered, so vividly, as having enjoyed?

Or had he been conditioned to believe he had enjoyed it? Morgan Edge's taunts and cruelty had new depth and meaning to them now. Had he been really lying to hurt him or had he, as he'd said, been stating the truth? Was there anything real about him anymore?

He looked at his right hand a moment. That was it. That was what he was. He had been like a prosthetic son. Crafted and fashioned in the image of the real thing.

And functioning. But... not.

Inside, what was he? Was there anything inside, aside from perhaps the few whims he knew he had. His hobbies, Mercy and Hope, and the LeXWing, and... Work, because everything else was a lie, no, worse than a lie -- a carefully made artifice.

Of all the well-meaning support given by everyone, or the attacks and interrogations that had taken place since his father's death, it was now that he started to fall apart? In a coffee shop and alone?

He was shaking. When had he started shaking? What did he do? Get out of here so now one could see? Seemed ridiculous considering the whole world now knew more about him that he did about himself!

Blind. People were always blind to things in relationships, hadn't he said so that morning?

Fuck Clark. He'd just leave, wait out in the truck. Hell, start walking. Something. Lex started to stand, spine tight and prickling as he turned to head for the door. It suddenly felt like everyone was staring at him.

He got nearly there before a voice that jarred at him, that made him want to flinch just by mentioning his name, tried to capture him again

"Hey Lex, I thought you had a table picked out." Clark was hurrying back with two cappuccinos.

'I had a table, and I was tired of waiting' or 'I thought I saw someone outside that I knew' or... or any one of a hundred other things was what Lex should have said. Instead he just stared at the two cappuccinos, and then turned to head back to the table.

The newspaper was still there, and so was the crumpled up rag, and he wasn't falling apart. He could calm himself -- quickly -- and go back to... being. Whatever he was that was left of what had been Lex Luthor, before Lionel had gotten to him. "I was just, ah, getting up to see if you were ever coming back."

"Are you okay, Lex?" he asked, looking concerned. His friend had gone very pale, and there were beads of moisture on his face.

Lex ran his real hand back over his scalp as he sat down, shifting his chair so it was against the wall more. "Yeah. I'm fine." Except he sounded stilted, and there was the newspaper in all of it's glory for Clark to see.

Clark glanced over the paper seeing the picture of himself there and then pulled it around to read hastily. "You've read this?" he asked, hoping the answer would be no.

"Yeah," Lex muttered as he picked up the cup of coffee. It was something to concentrate on. A heavy, slightly funky mug, warm liquid trapped within, a stirring stick and a dollop of froth on top.

There was a muttered dose of swear words under Clarks breath. "Maybe we should go home?" he suggested. "It's obviously shaken you up."

"It's amazing what the media will print. Talking heads." Lex swallowed, and then lifted the mug to his lips to swallow. "I, fuck, why didn't anyone tell me this."

"I told you what I suspected -- it looks like Lois took it and chased down the contacts and information I was digging up last week," Clark murmured. "I didn't know she'd got a witness for it. I didn't know Lex, you know I would have told you if I had known."

"No, you didn't tell me that my fucking psychiatrist was in jail, you didn't tell me that there was enough information that this... this could even be printed," Lex bit out. He was clutching tighter on the cup, and his right hand was already balled into a fist that rested on the table. "You didn't... fuck."

"Lex, it took me an age to even find that she was still alive!" Clark tried to defend himself a little. "Stories come together rapidly. I didn't know it was going to move so fast. I know you're angry but.."

"Angry doesn't even start to cover it." Scared did, lost and really starting to fall apart, but he couldn't articulate any of it. None of it would come to his lips, so he just took another drink. Let Clark try to defend himself.

"I haven't deliberately tried to hide anything from you Lex, I wouldn't do that." Clark leaned forward again. "I told you what I thought -- you didn't want to believe me, which I understand. I'm sorry Lex, really, there was so much else going on for you."

Lex closed his eyes so he couldn't see Clark's sympathy, took yet another sip of coffee. "It doesn't fucking stop," he whispered. "I wonder what new facet of myself I'll learn in tomorrow's edition."

"I'm sorry," Clark said helplessly. "I'm really sorry Lex." He felt like he had to apologize for all reporter-kind. "It's important news though. For you."

Lex clenched his teeth, eyes still closed. "I know that."

"Lets get out of here," Clark said abruptly, making the decision. "You want to shout and you're only not doing it because we're in public."

He wasn't quite aware that the anger over the article was only the surface of the emotions threatening to escape. He could just see, where Lex could not, the effort that seemed to be going into Lex not picking up the nearest heavy object and throwing it at him.

"I don't want to shout," Lex bit out, still holding himself still, and taking slow sips. He did want to shout, but more than that... more than that, he wanted to just sit there and shake. And as long as he kept his eyes closed, he wouldn't know he was doing that.

He could feel Clark's tentative touch to his hand. "You really want to stay?"

"I'd planned on talking with my partner." And going to the plant. But he wasn't sure he could.

"Not today Lex. We can do that tomorrow? You look..." Clark searched for the right words. "Not so good."

"Fine." It felt like everyone was staring, which was all the more reason for Lex to not open his eyes and find out if he was right or not.

Clark stood up, his hand still touching him. "Let's get out of here," he murmured. They were attracting attention. "Just lean into me."

Lex put his mug down with a little effort, and started to stand again. Fuck. Fuck, fuck. He'd done so well at the eulogy, and he'd had pain to deal with then. He'd hardly showed emotion at all, he'd been so perfectly in control and he wanted that, desperately, back.

"Can you make it to the truck?" Clark asked softly, as he tried to help him.

"Sure." It was just walking. He didn't have an excuse to not walk, except for the shaking.

What did it matter? His father was dead. His father was dead and every precious, good memory he'd been clutching desperately at was a falsehood.

If he'd been looking he would have seen Clark's expression getting more and more concerned as he made each step, out of the Talon and over the road. The urge to hold him and protect him was getting stronger by the moment. "Nearly there Lex, it'll be okay, we're nearly there."

"I wish you'd told me. Or that I'd never known." Lex murmured that when they stopped near the truck, and he tried to pull away to move around to the passenger side. He could do that on his own. There had to be something he could do on his own, for fucks sake.

Clark let him after a instinctive move to help. "I'm sorry Lex, I told you what I knew and I couldn't tell you what I didn't," he tried to explain again.

"I know," Lex murmured as he pulled away, a hand on the truck to keep himself steady. He looked up and muttered, "Just... fuck."

Because coming down the sidewalk was someone with a hurrying gait -- headed right for him.

"Mr. Luthor! Mr. Luthor a moment of your time."

Some local reporter by the looks of it. Clark groaned, opening the doors to the truck rapidly, but not quick enough.

"Mr. Luthor, I wonder if you can give a comment about the news broken in the Daily Planet today?" The irritating man pushed right up into Lex's personal space. "Why haven't you come forward about this before, if it is true?"

"Look back off!" Clark warned. "This is not a good time."

"Excuse me, I think I was addressing Mr. Luthor." Others were following the reporter, turning up out of nowhere.

"You want a statement?!" Lex snapped, turning on the reporter like he wanted to reach out and grab him. "I'll give you a fucking statement -- I didn't come forwards before, because I hadn't thought it was possible! I didn't KNOW! Now get the fuck out of my face!"

Clark was just... there, an arm wedged out to stop him punching the reporter. "Mr. Luthor is under a lot of strain and you are not helping," he said to the man and the other reporters as calmly as he could. "We're leaving now."

The reporter wasn't taking no for an answer. "You didn't KNOW? Are you disputing the reports? Has the Daily Planet published lies? Or are the horror stories accurate?"

"The last eight years of my fucking life have been a horror story -- and you god-damned reporters, printing sensationalist shit. No-one needs to know this, I didn't need to know he'd done that!" Lex made himself twist away, hand on Clark's arm as if to keep his shield close. "L-let's get out of here."

Clark ignored the barrage of sensationalist questions and almost scooped Lex into the truck and pushed his way around to the other side, getting in. "Lets get the fuck out of here." He'd let them follow the truck to the Castle, and then he would fly them home. Let them stake out the empty place.

Lex was leaning down on the lock of the door as if that would help keep them out now that the door was closed, and looking straight ahead. That had to be on par with the meter maid incident, didn't it?

Clark revved the truck and eased off slowly. They soon got out of the way. "You... okay, Lex?"

Stupid question.

"No." Lex said it calmly, eyes drifting out the side window at the scenery they passed. "It was easier... when I could pretend he loved me. I thought I loved him. I thought... I don't know if anything I've thought in years are my own thoughts."

Clark looked across at him worriedly. "Your own thoughts have been in there Lex, I know that. And I also understand that finding out something that you've always believed to be completely true is no longer the case is very unsettling. If not terrifying."

"This is different than finding out that you're an alien, Clark. It didn't... didn't negate the few things you were holding onto to function."

"What do you need to function?" Clark asked, almost desperately. He wasn't sure what was most needed. He just wanted to get Lex away and, maybe just hold him. As plans to deal with a meltdown in progress, it left a lot to be desired.

It was a quiet meltdown. Lex wasn't snarling -- unless he counted the snapping at the reporter -- and he was hardly moving at all. "I had memories, happy moments with my father that I was holding onto. The Ski lodge, some meetings, some..." Things that would have been too much information. "Now they feel foreign, and I'm suddenly realizing that the things that made it something I could deal with, something I could... I could do, handle, weren't real. I never felt that, or if I did, it wasn't... wasn't me."

What was him?

Clark was breaking speed limits to get to the Castle. "I'm sorry Lex. I wish I was better at helping you," he said. "You are real, we are real here and now. Not everything is gone."

"Just a good portion of my life. Spent doing things I was always reluctant to do, wouldn't have done if it weren't for that silver lining. Now that's gone. And what comes after this? The continuing public humiliation. I... I don't know why I did it. There's no reward for me going public with what they did."

"Yes there is Lex, yes there is. You get your life back," Clark replied urgently, sensing the descent into despair. "You did it so you could finally win. That's what you said, that you won. And you were right. You didn't just beat the businessmen; you beat all the cages in your mind and defied everything. You took the hard way out... and the one good thing about the hard way is that its the only real way."

Long-term payoff, with a short-term hell.

And he could handle a short-term hell, couldn't he? He'd done a long-term one, longer than he liked to think about. "Yes. I did win."

"Focus on that Lex. You won. You broke free, and you're not alone. Never alone," Clark said fervently.

"I'm not?" Lex still wouldn't look Clark's way, but there was something in his voice. Because he was alone sometimes, the times that the silence wanted to eat him whole...

Clark slowed the truck outside the Castle and stopped the truck. "Never alone," he said looking forward a moment. He turned to look at his friend and reached for him to touch and get him to turn and look at him. "I... I love you Lex. I wouldn't leave you."

"I don't have any choice but to believe you, Clark." The alternative was having nothing to believe in. Too cold a world for Lex to face. Too cold. He twisted a little, looking at Clark with aching, strained eyes. "Let's get inside before they catch up."

"We're going home. They just won't know that," Clark replied and gently touched Lex's cheek for a moment. "Or somewhere away from anyone just for a moment, whichever you prefer?"

It felt good, and Lex leaned in to the tickle of Clark's fingers. "Yeah. Anywhere, I just... I need time to... think."

"Lets get out and I'll take us somewhere where no one can find us. Just for a bit?" Clark said gently

"Yes." He shifted to his feet, pulled away from Clark and pushed his door open. He could have slid out across the seat, but it was easier for Lex to use his own door. At least his boots had traction on the snow. "'s long as it's not a deserted island."

"Just the woods," Clark replied with a worried look. "I know some completely inaccessible places. You can shout, do whatever you want up there, or we could just sit if you prefer." He got out of the truck and beckoned Lex over to a slightly more discrete area. "Ready to hold on?"

Clark was going to fly. Clark was going to fly and hopefully it wouldn't be so bitterly cold as it had been the last time. He moved over to Clark, willing to wrap his arms around his friend. "Ready."

Clark took hold of him and they shot through the air again, lower and much shorter than their previous trip. Lex barely got chance to exhale before Clark slowed and they drifted gently down to clearing that overlooked Smallville. The gentle warmth of slanting winter sunlight touched them both as they floated down the last descent like an errant autumn leaf.

"No one can reach here by foot," Clark murmured as they landed. "It's a good place to hide out."

"I imagine you spent a lot of time here," Lex quipped, still holding onto Clark even when they touched down. The rush had cleared his head a little, taken away a little panic -- and replaced it with cold ears and a chill nose.

"Sometimes." Clark acknowledged, "It's good at night. You can see all the stars, but also the lights of Metropolis and home. Here, I'll make you a fire, you'll get cold. Then we can talk or just sit."

And with Clark, making a fire, a sizeable warming fire was not the work of an hour. It was literally ten seconds before there was a blaze and he had returned to wrap his arms around Lex very gently, to keep him warm.

"Let's clear a spot and just... sit." Because the fire was actually nice, and Clark was warm against his back.

Clark turned away and gave a sharp puff and sent everything from leaves and twigs to small logs rolling away. "Your clear spot," he said wryly. "Occasionally I'm useful to have around."

He showed no signs of letting go however, as if by doing so Lex would be doomed to fly apart. Instead he managed to sit on the ground, still holding his friend, his legs stretching out towards the fire.

Lex leaned back against Clark, slumped a little and with his own legs stretched out towards the fire. Clark Kent, chaise lounge. It was good to sit there in quiet, to feel the contrast of cold and warm, and...

He wasn't thinking at all. Maybe that was the best part, that he wasn't thinking at all.

Clark didn't seem to mind, didn't seem to get impatient that he wasn't saying anything. He gave the impression that he was perfectly willing to sit in silence, and just be there with him as long as Lex wished to be there. The only evidence of him even being alive was the little shifts and touches, the warmth from his body.

Eventually Lex drew his legs up, trying to get a little warmer. But it was only after long, long minutes of sitting there had passed. "If I had've known that... I wouldn't have told the detective half of what I did."

"Why, Lex?" Clarks voice was soft and murmured. "You told the truth."

"I was trying hard to justify myself." He swallowed, watching the fire chew away at the wood Clark had snagged and piled up. "It was just... I accepted it. And it wasn't good enough of a reason."

"Lex." Clark paused a moment trying to find words. "Lex, you were a victim, but you did what you always have done and tried to find a way that you weren't a victim. That's part of being human -- you made it your decision and responsibility that you were there, so you could believe you were in control. It's not so different than the way I coped with finding out about the meteors and who I was. Who can judge you without experiencing the same thing? Who can say what was right or wrong without really understanding?"

Lex gave a tired shrug. "I still said things that just... didn't need to be said. That I don't want brought up in court." A little burst of silence, then, "You know what I'm talking about, since you were listening."

"Lex, the fact that Lionel did that to you then is important." Clark did know what he was talking about. The fact that Lex had confirmed that he had been abused since his mother died. "I only did psychology as a minor, and even I could tell you that the fact that he abused you then was a symptom of a mental problem. If Dad had known that, he would never have given you back to him the day he rescued you from the cornfield. A parent's love for their child is meant to be unconditional, and that's where your father had problem. He couldn't do that. He... I don't know, maybe he didn't understand it. Ever since I've known you... it was always a case of 'Do this Lex and I will love you'. What child doesn't desperately need the love of a parent?"

To think they needed it. Lex nodded hollowly to Clark. "It was always that. I remember how he used to say things... rather like that when we..."

"Tell me Lex," Clark encouraged, just listening rather than judging. "What did he say?"

"If I loved him, and wanted to be a..." Lex's voice shook a little. "A good boy, I'd do it..."

A soft kiss of reassurance. "It's okay Lex. You didn't have a choice. You needed to love. No one can survive without it."

Lex closed his eyes, leaned into Clark. "It sounds fucking pathetic."

"It's not. Do you have any idea how strong you must be? To have managed to be here now, to have done what you've done?"

"It's just what I do. Have always done," he excused. "It... is. Like everything." There were quotes, remarks that wanted to come to his lips, but they felt like they were all choked down by the weight of everything else.

"Give yourself credit Lex," Clark said. "You have more courage than others; they have no right to judge."

"They still do," Lex murmured. "And... fuck them. I just... need to hang in and wait for this to end. That's all."

"You can do it. I'll be here, helping however I can. I don't know if I'm doing it right Lex, but I'll do my best. You were right, you've won. But winning can be pretty hard."

"Yes." Lex turned his head a little, wincing. "Let's go back to the farm. We left the paint and things your mother wanted in the truck back at the castle..."

"I can get it." Clark replied. "Are you sure you want to go back? "

"Yes. I think my ears and scalp are going to freeze off," Lex murmured, trying to smile as he lifted his head a little to look up at Clark. It wasn't really a smile, but it was passable.

"I should have made the fire bigger." Clark commented as they floated up to an upright position. "One day I'll take you flying properly. Instead of this flitting backwards and forwards."

As a normal person would blow out a candle, Clark did the same with their fire. "Mom will have something nice for dinner, something to warm us both up."

"I'm not used to eating this much," Lex murmured as he turned to face Clark again, burrowed against his cold coat as if trying to find warmth. "And it had been such a good day until that..."

"Well you need it. After the injuries and the... rapes." It was hard to say the word aloud. "You need food and rest and a bit of support." He smiled a little. "It started off pretty well, all told."

"Do you think your father has calmed down? If he wants to talk to me about this... I'm open. I can try to explain it." Lex laid his head on Clark's shoulder, bent against him despite that Clark's coat was chilly.

"HE was pretty good when we left. We... talked. He doesn't quite understand it all, I think, but he promised he'd try," Clark replied, wrapping arms around him. "Maybe this news article might provide the link in his mind that he needs to understand what's been happening to you."

"Or excuse it." It felt like an excuse, a convenient excuse... Lex leaned in more. "Let's go."

Clark nodded and there was that abrupt rush once again, and sensation of speed and they were landing suddenly in a little spot near the back of the barn -- it obviously served as a hidden landing area for Clark.
"Why don't you go and get a hot a drink? Warm up a little," Clark said "I'll go and get the groceries and paints and do the house before the snow reaches us tonight. I'll be with you in about fifteen minutes."

The edge of Lex's mouth twitched a little as he put his hands into his pockets and pulled away. "I'll be waiting."

And he would; it was easier to be in the Kent's house if Clark was there, and no doubt they'd be concerned that Lex had returned without Clark.

Clark smiled and then in a rush of air he was gone.

Which left Lex to trudge forwards, staidly and stoically walking towards the house. When he reached the front steps, he was sure to stomp the snow off of his boots before he rang the doorbell.

Martha opened the door. "Lex, why on earth are you ringing? I would have thought you would just come in." She looked around to see the truck and then frowned a little. "Where's Clark?"

"The mansion," Lex murmured as he stepped in and past her. "There was some media in town, and we had to shake them off." He could be calm and cool; somewhere while in the middle of the woods with Clark, he'd finally stopped shaking.

"Ah." Martha stopped looking. "You look a bit cold, come and get warm. I'm surprised the media found you here."

He paused not in the hallway, but in the kitchen, holding his hands over his ears for a moment to make them warmer. "Everything was fine until then."

Something in his voice must have alerted Martha, because she paused a moment. "What happened Lex?"

"The Daily Planet unearthed something that I should have been told about before it hit press," Lex murmured as he paused to take his coat off. He could hang it on the rack, and he'd be warmer without it.

"I haven't seen the paper yet." Martha admitted. "It... was bad?" Outside the window there was the rather strange sight of the barn seemingly turning a different color without the aid of human intervention.

Lex stared for a moment, and kept looking as he answered Martha. God knew where Jonathan was. It sounded like he was just in the living room? "You could say that. There are people willing to testify that I was brainwashed."

That did surprise Martha. "Oh..." It looked like she was searching for a word suitable to express her shock and failed. "That must have been very upsetting to discover like that Lex. You weren't aware of the information?"

"No. I... it really changes the way I have to look at things." He kept watching Clark, watching the barn change from one faded shade of red to a more brilliant, fiery shade of it. Then Clark would probably have to, what, super-dry it? Somehow.

"Coffee or hot chocolate?" Martha offered absently. "It sounds like it would. You should sit down, it sounds like you've had a terrible shock."

"Hot chocolate, please. I... Still don't know what to do."

"Well, you don't have to decide right away Lex," Martha said moving over to make enough for all of them. "You should take your time over things. Especially this important."

The side of the barn seemed done and then there were noises outside of the house windows and the occasional blur back and forth.

"There just... aren't many options." Except that he was, at least in his mind, clearly appreciative of the fact that he wasn't in Metropolis. Because even if it was his city, just then he needed the breathing space.

Sometimes being smothered was the best sort of breathing space there was.

"Here." Martha handed it over. "Go and sit down Lex... Take this in for Jonathan?" She handed over a pair of mugs.

"Sure, where..." Living room, which from his point of view looked akin to invading Jonathan's personal lair.

"He's been watching the TV and ah, reading the paper," Martha said by way of cautioning him. "Put your feet up before dinner."

"Thank you, Martha." He was still cold, so Lex knew he could definitely sink down on the sofa and clutch his mug of hot cocoa. He stepped over to the living room, a little uncertain as he faced the lion in his lair.

"Jonathan," Lex murmured as he offered him his mug.

Jonathan looked up, his expression considerably less hostile than it had been earlier on that day. "Thanks," he said, accepting it a little awkwardly. He was looking at Lex as if seeing him for the first time. "Why don't you sit down, son?"

Lex almost preferred hostility to awkward and no doubt misplaced sympathy. Or pity. Or whatever the word of the day was for that particular, peculiar emotion. "Thanks." He sat in the corner of the sofa he'd already half-staked out, that his laptop was lying near, still untouched from the night before.

Jonathan was still watching him, and obviously trying not to. "Lex." He cleared his throat. "Lex, I believe I owe you an apology."

"No, sir, you don't," Lex murmured as he took a sip of his drink.

Jonathan folded the paper and put it down carefully. "I made a judgment without knowing the full story. I think I will be having words with my son when he gets in about what part of 'tell me everything' he didn't understand." His blue eyes darkened slightly. "That means an apology is the least you're due."

The least he was due. Lex leaned forwards a little, resting his elbows on his knees. "He didn't know for sure. He told me that he suspected. I didn't know."

"That's no excuse," Jonathan replied, the terseness at himself for making assumptions, however well intentioned, showing through. "Son. I... I'm not good at dealing with this sort of thing, I never have been. God knows when I get a grudge, I hold onto it as if my life depended on it. My father taught me to try and not do anything I regretted so I wouldn't have to apologize. But if it came down to it, and I was wrong and knew it, to give that apology like a man." He proffered his hand. "I hope you will accept my apology."

"I..." Lex reached his right hand forwards, already acknowledging the awkwardness when he shook Jonathan's hand with a firm, slightly stiff and still-gloved grasp. "Thank you, Mr. Kent."

"Call me Jonathan," the older man replied, giving him the smile that demonstrated exactly how much warmth had been lacking in his previous efforts.

He could smile, smile well and warmly when he wanted to. Lex smiled back at him, pulling his hand away slowly. "All right. I... I'm sorry there's been so many misunderstandings between us over the years."

"Not your fault son. Martha reminds me every now and then how unreasonable I can be. You don't have to tell her that I know she's right. I've never made it easy for you, even after you kept showing me different. I have pretty fixed ideas about things sometimes."

"Most of us do," Lex excused. "It's just... I'm also sorry about this morning."

Jonathan looked a bit awkward then. "I've always known that Clark has looked around at both sides of the fence. And Martha called that one right as well. Smitten is... hell, it's a word that I was brought up to think a man should never use, and especially about another man. This morning? I'll be frank, it was like seeing Clark do the equivalent of deliberately sticking his hand in a barrel of kryptonite or something, because I just wasn't sure what was going on. Didn't know where you were coming from. Now I think I do."

Lex let his mouth twitch a little. "Now if only I knew where I was coming from. But I appreciate your vote of confidence."

"I mean it, though old habits die hard," Jonathan said. "Not sure even with Clark as a test of my adaptability I can knock down decades of resentment."

That sounded something like a warning, and it made Lex draw back as he took another sip of his drink. "I'm sorry I've managed to inspire decades of resentment."

"Not you Lex. I didn't mean you," Jonathan reassured. "Your father, and then you by association. Clark told that your father blackmailed me into helping him get a grip on Smallville? After I helped to save you? Don't get me wrong son, this is not having a go at you or making things worse, it's just trying to explain where my hostility to the Luthor name came from. Lot of my friends, their families, everyone... just when they were down and hurting from the meteors, got kicked again, and I was used to do it. I've never forgiven myself for being trapped like that because I'd helped out and had it turned back on me. So every time I saw Clark rush off to help you, or save you I wondered when the other shoe was going to drop."

"I understand. My father was not a trustworthy man, in any sense of the word." And Clark hadn't saved him. Not from the big problem, not when it would have counted most, he hadn't saved him. But... Lex had already gone there with his mind, many times.

Clark was helping him then and there. It counted for a lot. For everything.

Jonathan was about to answer, when they were interrupted by a clatter coming into the kitchen and Martha saying loudly, "Clark! Don't put the paint brush on the side!"

There was a pause and a sheepish. "Sorry Mom."

Lex's attention was almost immediately away from Jonathan, even if it was subtly -- his eyes sliding towards the kitchen, sitting up a little to see Clark.

"You done already son?" Jonathan called out. "Both coats?"

"Yep," Clark said as Martha claimed the errant brush. "Painted and dried and painted again." And done well enough to satisfy his fathers exacting standards. It had taken a couple of extra minutes but it would be worth it.

"For that you get a hot chocolate," Martha replied. "Here, Lex is in with your father. Take the jacket off and go sit down." Clark came in and rather unsubtly sat down next to Lex, sipping his hot chocolate gratefully.

"You know," Lex murmured as Clark sat down," I almost didn't believe you when you said you could paint quite that fast."

"I'm never really sure how fast I can go," Clark replied with a shrug. "I've never really pushed myself hard on that front. I'm usually where I want to be before I hit my stride."

Lex shifted, stretching his legs out as he glanced first to Jonathan, then to Clark -- caught in the middle, it seemed. "That's a great way to be. Did you have any trouble at the mansion?"

"No, but they're camped out there already. Your staff is keeping them at bay," Clark said. "I appeared to walk out of the Castle, get the groceries and walk back in. Let the rumors fly." He didn't sound that worried about that, but he was looking at Lex and his Dad, feeling some shift in their dynamic but not knowing the source.

It was probably better that he didn't know the source, as such. Lex took another long sip of his cocoa. "I don't see how the rumors could be any worse than the reality."

"Well, actually I was referring to rumors about me staying up there with you, but I can understand how that might be terrible," Clark said dryly, trying to keep things light. "You feeling any better?"

"Some, yes." He still felt sucked dry and lost, but he was warm, and... safe. In a way. Sheltered might have been a better word for the feeling that the Kent home gave him

"Good." He patted Lex's leg without thinking and then caught himself glancing up at his Dad.

Jonathan's expression was a little tight, but he didn't seem as if he were going to yell. It was an improvement. "So, Son... how long will you be staying here?"

"Uh, well as long as Lex needs time out of the spot light?" Clark said tentatively. "At least a few more days if you don't mind."

His father laughed a little, and gestured with the newspaper. "As long as you'll be willing to help out while you're here, son. And, uh, tell me if there's anything else I should know?" And then he tossed Clark the section of the Daily Planet he'd been reading.

"I'm more than willing to help out," Lex offered, ignoring the newspaper remark.

Clark grimaced a little looking up at his father. "You'll be sorry you offered." He tried to evade the hint of the paper. "There's nothing else to tell Dad." There wasn't before, just suspicions and intuitions which seemed to have damned him. "I'm going to have to have words with Lois about this anyway."

"And maybe you should, son," Jonathan murmured as he half-watched Lex, who had gone still beside Clark on the sofa. The other man was quiet, almost not breathing for a moment, and then he moved to get to his feet.

"I think I'll just lay down for a few minutes. Until dinner."

Clark nearly got to his feet beside him, and could be seen to visibly stop himself as if realizing perhaps he was being too present and Lex needed a little time alone. "You... If you need anything just call?" he said.

"I will." Lex smiled, and then started to walk towards the stairs.

It had just been a little off-handed remark. Nothing to get himself worked up over, right? Clark had just been alluding to Lex's shit-shoveling duties of yore, not... Not anything else.

Clark watched him, noticing the body language shift. He knew something was wrong, but he didn't have a clue what it was this time. He felt like he was doing this blind. Clark had no idea if what he was doing was helping at all, or making the problem worse. He was beginning to believe the latter. Lex was angry with him, his dad was angry with him, maybe his mom was too. He was trying to make things right but it didn't seem to be working. He'd taken Lex to the Fortress, and all that had done was put Lex in a situation that made things worse. He'd tried to help by researching his friend's past, and that had nearly tipped him over the edge. He'd brought him here to recover and headlong into arguments and hostility... and...

He watched him go upstairs and put his head in his hands for a moment, just trying to think.

"Son?" Jonathan's voice, so calm and stable, reaching out to him as Jonathan reached out to put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Clark nodded swallowing a moment. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine Dad. Nothing wrong with me... I'm just hanging around."

"All right. You just seem... tense."

Clark looked up, his eyes troubled. "I don't know what I'm doing Dad," he confessed quietly. "I'm trying to help and maybe I'm making things worse. I just don't know."

"Son..." Jonathan sighed, trying to gather himself somewhat; it wasn't his specialty, after all. "You're doing a good job. But you... he's bound to hit potholes, you know?"

"He blames me. I can see it," Clark replied and there was the real hurt. "Now he knows what happened to him and that he knows who I am. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been there and know what I could do and I didn't come? I don't think there is anything I can do to make up for that." He looked away, the shame written in the way he sat.

"No, Clark. Clark, listen to me, son," Jonathan said, commanded, gruffly. "I don't think you've got it right. Because he... I don't think he's blaming you for anything, son. There's nothing to blame you for."

"Yes there is Dad," Clark said getting up. "There always was, if there are no lies to hide behind. I'm just going outside to check... the paint."

"Clark. Go upstairs and see how he is," Jonathan almost growled. "You don't run away."

Clark stopped as if struck by a blow. The thought that he might be running away like he had at the original confrontation where this all began horrified him. Was that what he was doing? His Dad was right though. He'd made a promise, and Lex didn't want to be alone, he'd made that clear. His thoughts that it was for Lex's benefit had been himself lying to himself. Not for Lex's greater good, but so he could avoid the problem. That was not going to happen, not anymore. He nodded silently and veered off towards the stairs.

He could hear Lex breathing, a little erratically, panicky, but it sounded like he was lying down. Clark couldn't hear feet on the floorboards, just the faint shifting of the bed.

And Lex was, laying down fully dressed atop the comforter and sheets, still tucked in and tidy, with his eyes closed tight. The moment Clark opened the door, he went a little tense, and opened his eyes.


"Hey," Clark replied, hovering there a little uncertainly. "Did... did I upset you down there?" he asked walking closer.

"No. I just..." Lex started to sit up, moving slowly. He'd just needed a moment to get away from that spark of a thought that had sent him up there. Only there had been silence, and silence... gnawed at him. Pecked at his brains and left him hurting. It was a phoenix all on its own, in a way, because just when he'd thought he'd killed it, up it rose, up and up.

"It was something I thought."

Clark came over and sat on the bed near him. "What was that?" he asked pushing himself back so he was able to turn and look at his friend.

"Just..." Lex closed his eyes laconically, more so he wouldn't have to have his eyes caught when he tried to explain, "I can't even remember. You said I might regret offering to help. Or something. And I just..." Just what? Just had wanted a father who wouldn't fuck him, literally and philosophically? "I'd been thinking of how much I'd considered your parents... parental figures. Do you remember the rehearsal dinner, for the wedding?" What Clark had attended, anyway.

"Yes," Clark admitted, his weight on the bed close enough to shift Lex's balance. "Before I had to go."

"You parents took the place of where my parents would have been. If I had them, as such. I'd always thought of your father as... admirable." Lex opened his eyes, and looked at Clark from the corner of them. "I made a... sick mental leap down there. And just... had to leave. It's nothing you said."

Clark looked at him a little confused. "You able to tell me what it was?"

"I... something just triggered. I really respect your father, Clark. I'd rather not do something that would embarrass all of us." Lex shared that haltingly, hesitatingly, waiting for Clark to have the angry outburst.

Clark just shifted closer, as he tried to work out what Lex might have been embarrassed about. "I'm not following you Lex?" he said finally. "What might have embarrassed us all?"

"Clark, I love you, but..." Lex sighed, shifting to sit up entirely so he could look at Clark better. "Christ. I don't want to risk that... that triggering feeling when I'm around your father."

Clark frowned a little as if processing alien thoughts. "You want my Dad?" he asked finally and somewhat tentatively.

"No, I don't. I really don't. But I could. It's there. It... It's fucked up," Lex almost laughed, pressing the fingers of his left hand over one eye, rubbing.

"Ah." Clark nearly laughed too, and just slid his arm around Lex. "I guess I can see that. I'm just thinking of Dad's reaction." He tried not to smile with little success.

"I think he'd try to kill me with the olive branch he was holding out earlier." Lex finally did laugh, leaning into Clark. "Christ. Beating this is harder than it should be."

"Lex, you expect too much of yourself," Clark replied. "You thought you were going to spend a night here and everything would just fine?" He paused a moment and said very solemnly. "You'd need at least three. "

That made Lex lean into Clark more, and release a puff of sighed breath. "Three, huh? Three sounds like it could be enjoyable. And it's supposed to really snow hard soon, isn't it?"

"Snowed in." Clark nodded, pulling Lex up to rest on him. He rather liked that feeling of closeness it gave him, something that he craved with his own quiet personal desperation. "Three at the least Lex." He paused a bit. "You know it would be Mom you would have to worry about beating you with the olive branch. You should have seen her when Nell flirted with him once."

"I remember when he tried to take my head off with a rifle because of Desiree," Lex chuckled. "But I can imagine. Your mother is a force to be reckoned with."

Clark shrugged a little. "Yeah. Just as well I melted the bullets. " He replied with a sigh. "Mom... Mom, constantly surprises me. So does Dad. He kicked the shit out of me once. That was a big surprise."

"Really?" Lex showed a little interest at that concept, lifted his head somewhat.

"Mmm. I've never had opportunity to tell you about what happened around your wedding to Helen. Not properly," Clark said. "It's all to do with that, and my... biological father Jor-El. It got messy. That whole rebel time in Metropolis. The highlights of the story are that a personality projection of Jor-El demanded that I leave Smallville on the day of your wedding or terrible things would happen to everyone around me. He branded me with a Kryptonian mark. Hurt like hell, all over my chest to compel me, but I refused. I didn't want to leave. I thought if I destroyed the Ship -- yes, there was a ship -- he couldn't make me so I did. I stayed way from the wedding because I was sure that you'd all be far away enough to be safe. Only, the explosion of the ship got Mom and Dad and... Mom lost the baby. It seemed what he'd said was true."

Clark went quiet a moment, and it was evident that he still blamed himself for that, no matter what had been worked out. "I ran away. I used Red Kryptonite -- it removes inhibitions, it's like mainlining hard drugs -- to get the courage to run. And I did."

He was silent a moment, obviously not happy even with the memories of that time.

"When they tracked me down finally, Dad made a deal with Jor-El -- in the Cave this time and got temporary powers. He found me at LuthorCorp breaking into your vault. I shoved him and he came right back at me. And we wrecked your building fighting. I nearly killed him."

"You didn't." Lex didn't remark on the building being wrecked or not -- it didn't matter to him, since it was almost always undergoing renovations.

"No, I punched the wall instead and smashed the ring," Clark admitted. "The brand burned off. That was presumably what I had to do, the Rite of Passage passed. It still hurt Dad, though. Having to do that. And facing Mom... god, Lex, that was hard."

"They forgive," Lex murmured as he shifted back a little and rubbed fingers of his left hand at the back of Clark's neck.

"I thought you had died as part of that too. I was going to leave again until you came back," Clark admitted. "I couldn't really accept that everything could be okay again, until I turned around and there you were." He smiled a little at the memory.

"It was good to see you," Lex reminisced mutedly. "I think I almost tackled you."

"You were lucky I didn't get carried away and crack ribs or something." Clark settled next to him. "The amount of times I just wanted to TELL you. But at least then I could tell you how good it was to see you, and not get funny looks from Chloe or Pete or something."

"I'd fucked up enough in my life that the thought of running off to Metropolis couldn't phase me." And he was still fucking up, wasn't he? In his own, special, over-zealous Luthor way.

Clark smoothed his hand down Lex's back. "You were braver than me in a lot of ways Lex. That's different to fucking up."

"We must be thinking of different things," Lex scoffed quietly.

"I don't think so. You always did things," Clark replied, "Took action. That hasn't changed."

"Not the action I'm thinking of. I meant when I was younger. Before I got to Smallville. I know how fucking up goes."

"Club Zero?" Clark asked softly, liking their simple closeness.

"And other things. I had an active social life then." It was easy to just be there. Talking about things that danced around his huge issue, just... talking. Being. Being calm, coincidentally.

"Should I be jealous?" Clark replied, smiling again. As if he had the right to be; he nearly laughed at himself for the assumption.

"Nah. Most of them have either grown up, or been jailed." Lex shifted, and ducked his head down against Clark's neck. "I'm glad you came up here."

"I wasn't sure if you wanted time to think," Clark replied. "I don't want to... you know, not give you the space you need. But you said earlier you hated being alone at the moment, so I thought you could just send me away."

"I was very used to not being alone. The silence..." He shifted away from Clark a little. "I don't know what to do with it."

"Sometimes I want silence," Clark replied, "Superhearing isn't all its cracked up to be. Which is why the Fortress of Solitude is in Antarctica. I need that sometimes. But then I miss everything, after a while." He became aware he was rambling. "What I'm trying to say is that if you want me with you, I'll stay. But if you ever really want time to think, just tell me."

"I will." Lex finally stood, offering Clark his hand. "Let's go back downstairs? And help your mother set the table?"

Clark smiled back at him accepting the hand up. "We better. Otherwise no dessert," he said.

He let Lex lead him out of the room and towards food. He had a faint smile and a faint regret. Asking for Lex's forgiveness for leaving him in the Asylum that did this to him just couldn't be done without hurting him even more. The part of Clark that needed absolution or forgiveness was going to have to wait, still turned in on itself gnawing away on the hidden bones of his guilt.

He was fully aware that it might have to wait forever.

The Kent farm could quickly become something like home again, Lex had decided over dinner. He'd also decided that they needed some farm hands and that maybe if he offered a little investment help the next day or so -- just so they could upgrade the systems a little -- it might not actually be taken badly.

Lex mulled over all of that while he brushed his teeth.

Clark on the other hand could be heard wandering up and down the landing and it was hard to tell what he was doing exactly. Or where he had ended up.

Probably in his bedroom, which was where he belonged. Particularly since they were under the roof of Clark's parents, who were being very gracious hosts to them both.

Even if Lex still doubted on a few levels that he deserved it. But if they were willing to be there and let he and Clark stay, then he was grateful and would respect their rules. And not think about anything that could send him to pieces. No, he was going to keep things together, and just avoid the news. And public. And...

Go to bed. Lex sighed, and rinsed off his toothbrush, before heading to the guest room.

Rather surprisingly Clark was there, though he had brought in the other bed and wedged it in somewhere. Even so, he was sitting on Lex's bed looking up at him. "I thought you might want company," he suggested a little uncertainly.

Company. Clark was right, he did want company, just... "Platonically?" Lex asked cautiously as he closed the door behind him and shut out the extra light from the hall.

Clark nodded. "It wouldn't be fair on you otherwise," he said quietly. "And I'd feel like I was taking advantage or something."

"You're not taking advantage of me, but if it makes you feel better..." Lex shrugged his shoulders as he adjusted the pajama top he'd grabbed from the castle. "Are you tired yet?"

"That's a relative thing. Sleeping in a bed will be a bit of a novelty though," Clark replied. "You definitely want to share?"

"Yes." Lex's mouth twitched a little as he looked at the other bed. "But you could leave that there, since you went to the trouble to bring it in."

"I didn't want to assume anything." Clark looked at it. He twitched back the covers of the bed and sat there.

"You're not assuming anything," Lex murmured, gesturing for Clark to lie down. "It was a pity that you'd fallen asleep in the chair last night."

Clark did so, watching him. "I did sort of need the sleep," he admitted. "I can go without it, but it's like trying to make do without coffee or something."

"I think I'd die if I tried," Lex drawled, shifting to kneel on the mattress. A moment of pause was taken for him to remove his hand, which Lex carefully laid on the bedside table before he actually got into bed. He shifted to get comfortable, half turning his back to Clark even though he was close to him.

Clark didn't need much more of an invitation to scoop in behind him, loosely draping an arm over him. "This okay?" he asked, still sound a little bit uncertain.

Lex shifted, lying on his left side, and brought his right arm up to rest his terminated joint over Clark's hand. With his eyes closed, it felt particularly good. Comfortable, and something he could relax into.

"Much better than Lionel," Lex purred.

This was probably a compliment though it seemed strange. Clark chuckled a little. "Another one of my many talents. I'm comfortable. How am I different?"

"You shave," Lex drawled, the obvious answer as he shifted his shoulders back somewhat, almost relishing in the closeness of Clark. "It feels somewhat sexual, but in a 'I don't have to do anything about it' way. Once in a while, it's good to just... feel, Clark. I'm sure you've been there."

Or maybe not. Not many people had been where Lex was.

"Just to have someone there." Clark agreed. "You don't have to do anything about. I can wait as long as you want me too. I want it to be right."

"Maybe you're right. Could be... I don't know. One minute I feel fucking fine, the next I can't stop shaking. It's probably not 'right' yet, at least in your definition of the word." He rubbed Clark's arm for a moment, caressing as best as one could without a hand.

"My definition of the word is when you feel ready and.." Clark explained awkwardly, "In control of it. You should tell me when and what and that it's a choice. I just feel that's the right way. It may be stupid, but until then, platonic it is. With the occasional ogling session."

"Ogling?" Lex chuckled sleepily. "That sounds sort of dirty, Clark Kent. What would your mother say about that?"

"She'd say, 'mmm, Clark you're right he's a good looking man'" Clark drawled into Lex's back. "And I know that because she's already said it before."

It was simple, cheesy flattery. By definition, Lex shouldn't have smiled to himself at the remark, or murmured, "I almost hope you're joking."

"Sadly I'm not. It was her way of telling me she knew I was attracted to you when she caught me ogling your ass as you left here one day. Mom's subtle way of telling me she knew I was bi at the least."

Lex turned his head into the pillow a little, eyes closed comfortably. "Sounds like a nice way for someone to tell you that they know. Really nice."

"Mmm." Clark shifted a little and in a rather absent intimate gesture he caressed over the freshly healed tissue of Lex's truncated wrist, in a natural unselfconscious way.

It tingled. It felt fucking strange. But Clark was touching it -- easily, rather absently touching that. Lex gave a slow sigh of breath, already drifting towards sleep, but mumbled, "'s good."

There was a faint warm press of lips to his neck. "Go to sleep Lex."

He half-sighed 'Good night' at Clark, but it probably didn't sound quite like that. Not that it mattered, because Lex was asleep, comfortably so, shortly after that.

Things HAD been going well. Right up until the moment where they reached a point Clark knew would go wrong, and Lex refused to compromise about returning to Metropolis so soon. The days at the Kent Farm had seemed to soothe a healing balm over Lex, with him growing noticeably stronger and together even as they reverted to childish games of snowball fights when they were meant to getting hay out to the livestock.

Lex might joke about the Norman Rockwellian theme to Clark's home, but he could feel the benefits.

And there lay the problem. He believed he had a miracle cure. Because he felt so well there, so much more in control he insisted on returning to Metropolis four days later. The pre-trial would be starting on the Friday and he had started to fret about LeXCorp and how there was only so much he could do from a laptop and...

Next thing he knew, they were back in Metropolis against Clark's rather strenuous protests.

"Lex, it's late, there will be no-one IN the building. WHY can't this wait until tomorrow?" he tried again

"That's exactly why I want to go in," Lex murmured as he eased the Aston Martin into his executive parking space. "I want to see what's happened while I was gone. That way I can 'come back' tomorrow without seeing any nasty surprises."

"Lex, you shouldn't be going to work at all so soon." Clark tried again, "It hasn't been that long since everything."

"I've already promised you I'm going to work short days," Lex murmured as he put the parking brake on. "Sitting in the penthouse is more likely to drive me up a wall than being in the office, Clark."

"I know that but..." Clark was getting frustrated because he couldn't seem to communicate his concern in a way that Lex would accept. "It's not safe. Morgan Edge is still out there Lex and you think the others aren't going to follow in Spitzer's example? No job is worth risking that!"

"What do you expect me to do, Clark? Hide, constantly, for the years it's going to take to work this all out? This is just the pre-trial hearing on Friday, Clark. PRE Trial. It'll be months before the trials actually start, and then years of appeals processes. I can't live like that." He pulled the keys out of the ignition, pausing for a moment.

"The evidence is clear cut Lex, they can argue all they want but when it comes down to it you got them in the most incriminating fashion possible," Clark said persuasively. "It's just...dangerous. "

He just knew it was, in a way that Smallville hadn't been. Perhaps it was a reporter thing, or just a Clark thing but he was very edgy about this. "You're not going anywhere without me," he said firmly.

"Which will do wonders for your career," Lex scoffed as he popped open the car door. "Fine. Let's get going."

"There are some things more important than a job Lex," Clark said getting out. Even if it were a job he loved and a career he had his own ambitions for. "Living is at the top of the list."

Perhaps he was being over dramatic, but Lex just didn't seem to be listening; he had to make a big deal of it just to get through Lex's 'the world will behave as I decide' mental armor.

"Not quite, Clark," Lex countered, pausing to lock the car and set the alarm. Old habits, but old habits had let him survive Metropolis in his youth. "Understand that my job is my pride and joy; I just want to make sure there wasn't any backsliding in my absence. This is a rough transition for a company that made fertilizer and chemicals."

"I do understand that Lex, but you're not going to be much use to your company if you're not here are you?" Clark asked, nevertheless following him and half jogging over. Lex might appear relaxed but he was a nervous wreck and had been since they crossed the borders of the Metropolis City Limits. Morgan Edge had connections everywhere. He was bound to know the moment that Lex set foot back in his territory.

"I'm not completely helpless, Clark," Lex assured as he slowed, just a touch, for Clark to catch up with him as they walked towards the entrance to the building. The night shift security would see him, and his pass card would get him into the building.

"I don't mean to imply that you are," Clark replied hurriedly, "I'm... just worried for you, okay?"

He'd written enough stories on this sort of thing to know that the easiest way for the accused to get rid of the charges was to get rid of the principle witness. And Morgan Edge held a grudge. He remembered that from eight years ago and all he had done was try and warn him off.

"I know, Clark. But I told you, I can't live in hiding." Lex reached left-handed into his back pocket to pull out his pass card when they neared the door. "There aren't any other alternatives."

"Just stay home for a couple more days, maybe?" Clark suggested, his protest making no difference to their progress inside. There was an electronic sound of recognition from the door as it processed Lex's pass card and the door opened automatically for him.

"I'll be able to comfortably stay home for a couple of days once I've verified for myself that things are where they should be," Lex countered. He was arguing, but he was also acquiescing to Clark's whims; it was easy to grind him down, as long as he wheedled the right way, easier than it had been in past years. "Let me just check the systems, all right? And I'll stay home for a couple of days."

"Okay." Clark gave a slightly audible exhalation. Compromise. What was it Mom said? The secret of every relationship could be found in compromise. "And not too late tonight. I'll go out and get us something, maybe later?"

It was a gesture of thank you for Lex's concession when he knew he was standing in the way of what he really wanted to do.

"Would it make you feel better to do that?" Lex asked as he led Clark across the marble-floored lobby, giving a wave to one of his familiar security people. "We shouldn't be here long enough to need food."

"You really think we'll be that quick?" Clark said with surprise, startled. He was convinced that once Lex made it here they would be in for the duration. "What do you have to actually check?"

"Updates from managers, statements, the contractor quotes..." Lex viewed it as something quick -- while quite rightfully, Clark saw it as at least a couple of hours of boredom.

"We'll need food," Clark stated, resigned to the fact as they made it to the elevator.

"I told you, it won't take that long," Lex murmured, pressing the open button. The elevator was there, so there was no delay in the doors opening for them.

"I've heard that before. 'I'll just be a couple of minutes checking CNN Clark'," he mimicked.

"CNN doesn't always have what I want right in front of me," Lex defended as he hit the button that would carry them up to his office. It was like coming home again. The elevator moved smoothly upwards. "I only fired up my laptop once while we were at the farm."

"And left it on for the remaining three days." Clark was teasing out some of pushiness he felt he had displayed in coercing a promise for more rest out of Lex.

It garnered him somewhat of a glare, but nothing full of fire. "It wasn't my fault your father had me looking for old country music songs for him."

"I warned you about that. Just be glad we left when we did. " Clark joked, "Him and Mom will be forming a country duet right about now, I think." The elevator stopped, opened and Clark stepped out, leaving Lex to follow him.

It was obviously a protective motion, and the little gestures would've worn on Lex if Clark didn't seem sincere in his need to give them. "If that's a euphemism for something else, don't tell me."

Clark flashed him a brilliant smile. "Well, there goes that idea then. So, which one is your office?"

"It's my father's old office. Which I'm sure you remember the location of," Lex smirked a little, "considering how many times you broke into it."

"You make it sound like a made a habit of it Lex," Clark replied nevertheless leading the way. "I haven't been anywhere near here for years."

"I know." Lex tried to give Clark a disarming smile, but Clark wasn't looking so it wasn't doing much good on his face. "But some things don't change."

Clark opened the door and gestured for Lex to enter, preparing to settle in for the required 'short' period of time.

It was the sort of office that Clark remembered Lionel as having; beautiful, heavy looking desk, leather furniture, cold lines of metal and blue glass, a touch of paint here and there, blue on blue amongst the glass pieces and ambient lighting.

"You could play games on my laptop while you wait, if you'd like," Lex suggested, teasing him back as he strode in.

"Gee thanks Lex." He followed, looking for another place to sit while Lex did his business thing. "I might just check my email or something." He stole Lex's laptop and put it down on a table near the wall as he grabbed a chair. Abruptly his vision blurred. He wobbled a little and steadied himself on the back of the chair. "Whoa."

He didn't notice the faint shimmer in the wall near him.

Lex had been setting his laptop down on the desk, but abruptly went to grab Clark's arm. "Clark? Hey, are you all right?"

"I just felt a bit dizzy." Clark blinked and rubbed at his temples, gingerly aware suddenly of a characteristic feeling of nausea. He looked around, not aware that his usual healthy color had drained out of his face, partly from shock at what was happening. "I only feel like this if there is kryptonite somewhere."

Lex clutched at Clark with his right hand, twisting to scan the furniture. "Maybe we should just leave," Lex suggested. "It could be in a drawer or something." Damn his father, he didn't even think he might have been that paranoid. He'd always seemed to accept Superman's presence in Metropolis with a degree of disdain or annoyance.

The wall shimmered with a green glow as Clark moved away. "I'll just go outside a moment. It's okay, should have guessed Lionel would do something like...this..."

He was feeling rather embarrassingly sick and he was not doing that in front of Lex.

"No, Clark -- I didn't know and I'll have this taken care of immediately. That shit is toxic and I don't want it anywhere that I am." He moved away from Clark to pick up his laptop case. It looked like it was going to work out tidily for Clark, because Lex wasn't going to hang around and do any late night work. Every cloud had a silver lining, or a executive office a kryptonite paint job.

Clark's abilities were muted and he was so distracted by the way things were threatening to spin and make him vomit, that he didn't hear the footfall outside the door, and definitely wasn't expecting it to be kicked open.

The whole reason for him accompanying Lex suddenly seemed a complete farce. He saw a glimpse of a determined hate twisted face even as he yelled "Get down!" to Lex and then had to throw himself away over the other side of the bank of desks, as Morgan Edge opened fire on the room.

Bullets, bullets everywhere and not a super ability in sight...

"You had to fucking think you were so clever, Lex, didn't you?" Morgan Edge snapped out, challenging both of them as they dove in different directions. He knew who he was really after. The one who had somehow managed to use his own breaking and humiliation as a weapon. It took a Luthor to be so calculating to make their own sacrifice into a means of defeating their enemies. Well, he was here to make sure the balance was corrected. "Stand still you little bastard!"

When the door was kicked down, Lex let go of his laptop and fell automatically to the floor, trying to crawl to the other side of his desk even as he reached back to his hip, where his freshly dusted off and re-holstered glock was meant to be, snug by his side. He wasn't going to go down in a gunfight without fighting back.

Unfortunately, the glock had snagged on the edge of the desk as he had thrown himself away and was somewhat tantalizingly lying just beyond where he had crawled through. Only Morgan Edge was there, and Clark was on the other side of the room and likely not in any sort of position to help.

"Come out you little fucker," the man snarled. "I owe you." He spotted the gun and smiled ferally. "It's not like you have any defense Luthor."

"Fuck you, Edge!" Lex bit out from the little shelter he had beneath the desk's heavy top. His father had always been a paranoid son of a bitch. Maybe the desk was bullet proof?

It seemed he was out of luck, or that Edge was using heavier duty bullets because showers of splinters rained down where the shots drove him towards the open.

"Get up Lex. There's a good boy. Get up and I might let you live," he growled out.

Lex was rapidly running out of shelter, and the crazed man kicked the Glock well out of the way... ironically over toward where Clark was trying to crawl closer to maybe jump or... something.

And there was a twinge, a twitch of urge that made his stomach leap as he paused for a moment before scrabbling out from the desk's slight shelter. "Don't fucking shoot! We can work something out!"

The smile on Edge's face was predatory. "Well, well. Did you have something in mind Lex?" he asked, the gun leveled at him at his intended victim. It was that same look he'd had when he had been getting off on dominating him at the Gold House. All that could be seen of Clark was a shadow slowly moving around the base of the office wall and he seemed to be well aware of where he was and not at all concerned.

Lex had his hands held halfway up, shaking clearly as he turned slowly to face Edge. "What do you want?"

Morgan Edge seemed to think about that a moment. "You know, I expect you are thinking I want some deal or perhaps to fuck you, but you know? That was always the problem with your father. He could never see the pure pleasure involved in a good messy revenge. I want you to die Lex. I want you to die like the worthless bastard that you are and bleed your life out knowing that there is no-one who will give a fuck about the fact that I've killed you."

He glanced over toward where Clark seemed to have stopped and then pulled out a second gun. "I suppose I should prove that, shouldn't I? And how convenient that Kal should be here -- don't get any idea's Kent! Try anything and he's dead." He turned back to Lex, swapping weapons. "You recognize this gun don't you Lex. I doubt you've told you fuck-buddy there about it have you?"

It was a modified gun, Lex could tell that at first glance, and half-familiar, in the way something was when you haven't laid eyes on it in a while. And then he looked at it, and took a half step towards Edge. "I... I recognize it."

"You should. Your fathers gun." Edge smiled at him "With very special bullets, just in case your old friend Clark Kent reappeared on the scene. Much like the paint job in this office. Paranoid, but clever son-of-a bitch. Care to place a bet Lex? Ten seconds and I'll empty this gun into you. Of course, I may prefer a different target if he comes out of hiding. I'll swap my revenge on you for one on him -- got that...Kal? But I'm betting he'll let you die."

Clark nearly froze, the meaning obvious, and a solution evading him. He had to think!


"Ready? 10....9.....8...."

Lex didn't dare move, half-frozen and following the countdown. He could wait. Wait until two and then tuck and roll, or... something, anything.

If he didn't do something, he was going to die. Clark wouldn't, couldn't hardly move, let alone to take a barrel full of death. The expression on his face was etched in fear and isolation, and the certainty that what Edge had said was nothing but the truth.

There was something about not having abilities that meant Clark actually HAD to think for a change, to come up with a solution that did not rely on him having powers. His thoughts moving quickly, he found the only solution he could come up with in 5 seconds. It wasn't perfect but it might give Lex a chance. He snagged the Glock, knowing that the slightest apparently hostile movement would cut short that countdown before he could reach Lex, and pulled out his plaid flannel shirt from his waist band so it hung loose and stuffed the gun in the back so it was hidden by the material.

"... 6... no one's coming Lex, what a shame but no great surprise you piece of shit ...5... 4..."

"Wait!" Clark stood abruptly with his hands up. "Don't shoot him!" he stepped forward carefully.

"... 3... I'm going to shoot someone Kent when I get to zero . It all depends on you who it is going to be." Edge taunted them both. "My choice."

"Maybe not," Clark replied shakily, knowing that he would be allowed to move to play out Edge's sick drama if he moved slowly and with his hands up.

He deliberately walked over to stand in front of Lex, making Morgan pause a moment in his countdown in surprise.

"Only one choice now."

Morgan Edge smiled with a feral hunger; one now, one just after. Even better. Lex would get to see his friend die. "Goodbye Kal," he murmured and squeezed the trigger.

"Bastard!" Lex snarled, trying to push Clark aside, down, whatever he could in that second. Hands at Clark's hip level, though, he felt the gun and grabbed for it more than he could push Clark aside, and fired off awkward rounds at Edge once his 'shield' had fallen from his line of sight.

All sound was gunfire, and he couldn't tell if Edge had hit Clark when he had fired.

Morgan Edge's expression had turned from a manic gloating happiness to shock as he had pulled the trigger on his countdown and then bullets had suddenly started flying back at him out of nowhere.

"You fucking ba-"

His head snapped back, one of Lex's shots hitting him in the face, a fountain of blood marking his death as he toppled immediately.

Clark mirrored his collapse to the other side of Lex.

If Clark hadn't been a collapsed puddle, Lex would have gloated. Laughed. Hit a crest of fucking hysteria and ridden it, but he couldn't because Clark needed him.

Fleetingly, Lex thought that Clark had better not be dead. He couldn't be dead, like Lionel couldn't have died. Didn't people know when they were pillars in another person's life?

"Clark?" Lex knelt fast, turning him over gently. "Fuck, Clark?"

He wasn't dead, but he looked like he wanted to be. If there could be visual definitions of words, Clark's expression then would have fitted the term agony. Blood, so strange to see from him, bloomed from over his stomach and his right shoulder and he seemed to be desperately trying to breath or speak or.. .something.

Lex didn't know what to do. He laid a hand on Clark's stomach for a moment, trying to find where the wound was. He could... he couldn't dig a bullet out of skin! He wasn't a doctor; he was a businessman, a scientist.

Doctor, yes, he could call his private doctor in, demand his help... And drag Clark out into the hallway. At least away from the paint, even if it didn't get the bullet out of him. He hesitated a moment and the moved to take hold of Clark's legs. Damn, but he was a solid mass like this.

A sound of pain rewarded his efforts. "...sorry..." Clark managed apologizing for something that wasn't immediately evident.

"Don't be -- you saved my life," Lex muttered, frowning as he took a firmer grip on Clark's legs. He'd just have to drag him out by them.

Clark was dimly aware of a slow painful journey along the carpet out of the door, past another lifeless body. If he hadn't have grown stronger in the time since he'd come to Metropolis he might have died already. He could feel himself fading fast and for all his attempts to be stoic, he was aware he was still whimpering in pain. Blood boiling in his veins, his tissues trying to tie themselves in knots. He'd never survive long enough for Lex to get help, not normal help. Lex might not know that. That was something important he had to say and he struggled to raise his head to say it.

"Lex... s'poisoning fast. Out... bullet out.."

"I, I can't get it out, Clark," Lex countered, stammered, as he pulled out his cell phone. "I need to call someone -- I can't get it out!"

Clark gritted his teeth and focused again, sweat damping his face. "Cut open. Will heal when gone." He cried out again as something shifted and then shuddered. "Mercy...Hope.."

Lex was already calling them, dialing fast, and snarled out instructions for them to get there. Then he dropped the phone to the floor, and rushed to the desk, almost tripping over Edge's body.

A letter opener would have to do.

Clark felt that it shouldn't be possible to be able to feel kryptonite seeping into his blood stream; it was probably a rather over active and pain distorted imagination. He didn't remember it hurting this much the last time he took a kryptonite bullet, but then he had passed out relatively swiftly. That seemed to be denied him this time, as did any form of movement. He concentrated on words then, hoping that he could stay conscious enough to... what? Say sorry again? Ask for forgiveness for leaving Lex behind? A chill made him shudder and he felt peculiarly distant for a moment


"Shhh," Lex chided as he came back, the letter opener wielded in his left hand. "Just lay still and I'll try to dig it out of your shoulder."

Lying still was not going to be the problem, at least not right now. There was something about surgery with a letter opener that was somehow inherently funny and if he'd had the strength he would have laughed. Instead he tried again, because he felt incredibly wrong inside. Just in case he didn't make it. Just in case.

"..'m sorry.."

"Nothing to be sorry for." Of all the times to start apologizing randomly, Clark would choose then. Not over coffee, not while getting ready for bed, or while discussing something computer-related, no, it had to be while Lex laid a hand on Clark's chest, his right hand, and put down enough weight to make himself wince, while he quested into the wound for the bullet with his finger-tips.

Stoic, he was meant to be the Man of Steel or whatever term Lois had managed to coin for his alter ego. She'd change her mind if she saw him now. There was no way on earth that he could stop from crying out as Lex poked around. The skin around the wound was grotesquely swollen with tortured veins writhing, spreading visibly further and further with each passing moment. It was starting to become hard to breathe on that side as his right lung felt the spreading effects. Maybe that had been the difference...the last bullet had hit the left side and it was closer to the heart and..

He was rambling, he had to stay together. He tried to open his eyes properly and focus on Lex.

Lex shifted, his right hand picking up the letter opener to lever up the slippery, battered chunk of Kryptonite. At least Lex hoped that was what he was prying up, and not Clark's bones. If it wasn't the Kryptonite...

If it wasn't the kryptonite then Clark was going to be in serious trouble. He was breathing like a man in the last stages of pneumonia and his vision was graying out, along with his ability to even gasp out with pain. The panicky feeling even drowned out the hurt pressing on him from all sides. He'd moved mountains, diverted meteors and none of that had required as much effort as taking the next breath.

And the next breath, and the next breath, and-- And the pain eased a little because Lex pried it free, cutting some more things in the process. But the meteor-rock bullet was flung across the hallway violently. The bullet in Clark's abdomen, now...

Clark coughed, breathing a little more clearly, blinking away the wetness that had started from his eyes from the pain. He glanced at the shoulder wound, it wasn't vanishing, but it wasn't getting worse.

But the pain in his gut definitely was and he wasn't looking forward to that at all. He groaned just a little to himself, even as he heard someone come in.

"Mr. Luthor." Hope or Mercy, he wasn't sure from this angle. God, he hoped they could help.

"Mercy, I need you to remove a bullet from Clark's stomach," Lex commanded as he started to stand, stumbling back for a moment to clear his head of the sick smell of blood.

"Of course Mr. Luthor." Mercy said looking down at the blood-spattered area. "I will need your knife Lex, and Hope to hold him down. I expect the procedure to be... unpleasant." She reached for the knife and Clark looked abruptly terrified. Lex was one thing, but Mercy about to hack into him with a letter opener was the stuff of nightmares.

Or it would be if he survived. Lex handed it over immediately, pacing away a little and them back again towards Clark as his two assistants settled their positions. Hope pinned Clark down as best she could, holding his upper arms down to the floor; it was a virtue that she had to lean over his head to do so, temporarily blocking out his vision.

It was just as well, because it meant that Clark didn't see the rather forceful and clinical incision. But he felt it. This time there were raw, full screams somewhat muffled by Hopes presence, but unable to be stopped as Mercy ruthlessly pursued her goal.

Lex could only stand back, breathing hard and trying, trying to not listen to Clark scream. There wasn't anything he could do. It wasn't like he could take Clark to a hospital. He couldn't even call the police yet. Clark just had to be all right. He just... had to.

It didn't bode well, when, after an eternity of that terrible noise it stopped suddenly, lapsing into a more terrible silence. Mercy didn't seem to let that stop her from methodically hunting through Clark's internal organs for the lost bullet.

Eventually she pulled the glowing bullet free and tossed it clear. "Is he breathing?" She asked her fellow android.
Hope looked down, pulling away from the deathly white face. "It's hard to tell."

The wounds were still intact, but the bleeding had slowed.

Lex clenched and unclenched his left hand, edging back towards the three of them. "Check his pulse, Hope..."

She did so obediently. There was a long pause. "There is a pulse -- erratic but gaining in strength." She glanced down. With gathering speed the veins were shrinking back and the wounds started to seal back together, as eager as Lex was to pretend this never happened.

His office, like his penthouse, was a sanctuary. One of the few left, and the number seemed to be dwindling by the moment. And Clark... Lex shifted, and Hope moved aside for him as he knelt down beside Clark, reaching out his fingers to feel that pulse point.

The beat of life was solidly reassuringly there again, bringing a flush of color back to Clark's skin to sweep away the trauma and shock. There was no sign of him waking though; the ordeal had obviously taxed even Superman's fabled strength.

"Both of you, get him back to the Penthouse," Lex murmured. He had to make a decision, even if the decision was going to leave him alone with Morgan Edge's body. "I... I'll call the police."

Mercy nodded. "Shall we return afterwards?" she asked, even as they lifted him easily between them.

"No. Stay with Clark, and make sure the penthouse is secure." He could cope with a corpse and the police. It wouldn't be the first time in his life, Lex knew, and he could only hope that it was the last.

"Yes, Lex." Hope nodded and the pair of them carried Clark out of the room as if he weighed nothing, leaving Lex to face the consequences of the sudden explosion of events.

And what were the consequences? Self defense. And though Edge would now serve no jail time he wasn't free. He was dead.

Edge was dead, which was as close as he'd ever come to being able to close that chapter of his life. That long, painful chapter that only grew worse the more he thought about it. He picked up his cell phone was he watched them take Clark off, and dialed 911.

Woozy was a good word, Clark considered as he drifted back towards consciousness. Woozy. It had a sound to it that gave the impression that things were slightly out of tune. It rather aptly the feeling he got with a 'Kryptonite hangover' as he called it; like recovering from something like flu, he guessed for most people. He could force himself to function after an exposure, but he often felt as if he had been pummeled inside and out depending on how much, or how he had been exposed.

This one was not a good one. He groaned a little and twitched, feeling the comforting presence of sheets around him.

Well that was a novelty.

He squinted his eyes a moment and blinked them open. Where the hell was he?

It was half-familiar in the 'I've walked through here before' sort of way, not the way it was when he was disoriented, but waking up in his own bed. The shift beside him, the slight mirroring groan from the figure sleeping atop the sheets and dressed in good crisp clothes, helped key Clark into his whereabouts. After all, anywhere that Lex would sleep would have to be a safe place.

The Penthouse. Lex's bed. Not exactly the way he had envisioned getting into Lex's bed, but every cloud had a silver lining and in this instance there was no kryptonite paint job. He shied away from that thought; he was very deliberately not thinking about what had happened in too much detail. There was the rather crippling embarrassment of screaming himself into unconsciousness that lingered longer than the pain for him. Pain was temporary but..

Okay, not so temporary that it couldn't make him feel a bit lousy. And Lex lying next to him -- what he must have gone through, confronting the man who had orchestrated his group rape, who had threatened him, and having to deal with everything alone? He really wasn't that good at being around when he was needed after all best intentions aside.

He stroked Lex's skin that he could touch without moving much, with a warm thankful gesture.

Lex gave a twitch of movement, and twisted a little to groggily peer at Clark. "Hey," he whispered, "are you there?"

"Mmmhmm." Clark turned his head to look at him. "You okay? Sorry I kinda crapped out just when you needed me around," he said softly.

"You were shot." Lex shifted a little, almost moving to get up. "You were shot, Clark -- you almost fucking died on me."

"I wouldn't do a thing like that," Clark replied, making light of the situation. "Yeah, but I'm okay now -- so, it was worth it."

He firmly reined his thoughts away from lying on the carpet in the LuthorCorp offices, bleeding his life out. He was desperately trying to ignore the panicked unsettled feeling inside. Superman did not get the jitters.

No, he left that to Clark Kent to do on his behalf.

"You almost died, and you're 'okay'." Lex sighed, shifting to reach a tentative touch to Clark's bared chest. Right handed, or more like right hand-less. Of course, Lex had already told him that he didn't get any sensory feedback from the hand but pressure. Skin to skin was more reassuring than pressure from a prosthetic, and Lex didn't sleep with it on, even if he had slept with his clothes on.

"I'm trying to be okay," he amended, finding it hard now to lie to Lex where he could usually make that lie work even to himself. "Physically I'll be fine. I'm just a bit woozy. Kryptonite hangover."

"Perry actually came here to see that you were still alive," Lex half-smiled, as he laid back down, looking and feeling tired. Tired but relieved, so it was the best kind of tired to be. "I'm glad I had Mercy and Hope redecorating and reorganizing while we were in Smallville."

"Oh god." Clark groaned moving close to Lex. "Shit, what did you tell him? And the police. How did you get around everything? There was blood everywhere one way or another."

"A great deal of fast talking," Lex told him, as if it were really as simple as fast-talking. Fast lying, sure. Yes. But not just talking. "Perry's given you a couple of days of hazard leave, so you can recover from the injury you have. You're going to have to forgive me for saying you got shot in the hip."

"I shall make a point of limping when I go back in. Or maybe I could have a walking stick and use it to trip up Lois." He smiled wryly, "So I get to be a public semi-hero?"

"Actually, yes." Lex stretched his arm out across Clark's body despite the sheets. "When I got in this morning, WMKR was going on about a star Daily Planet reporter saving Lex Luthor's life, from... etc, etc."

Clark nearly laughed. "Lex Luthor did a good job of saving his own life. Any reason why you're not in this bed right now?"

"Because I was only intending to lay down for a moment. That was..." Lex shifted to lean past Clark, looking at the digital clock on the other side of the bed. He was a warm, gentle pressure against Clark as he peered at the numbers. "Four hours ago."

"What's the time?" Clark asked, relishing that contact. "How long have I been out of it?"

"Since last night. It's around nine am, now. You probably needed the sleep." Lex stretched a little, then pulled back to roll himself to his feet and start to undress. At least he'd had the presence of mind to take his shoes off, even if he'd slept atop the sheets in blood-smeared pants, and a spattered shirt.

"Yeah, that's longer than the last time. But that was only one bullet." He frowned a little, then shuddered slightly. "You've only slept four hours?"

"The police took their time at the station, then I had to deal with your colleagues." Lex shrugged out of his shirt, struggling a little. "I thought dealing with your parents would be hard. I should have guessed that I was wrong about that."

"This probably isn't the time to tell you that I made a pretty substantial habit of nearly dying back in Smallville is it? They're surprisingly unshakable about the messes I get into." Clark watched him carefully. Lex look tired and worn and in worse shape than he was now. "You and Mom and Dad can trade tips on the best ways to dig a bullet out of me. What did they say?"

Lex tugged open his belt one-handed, and let his pants slide down, pushed his boxers down awkwardly as he stepped out of the pants. "Lois, or Perry?"

"Any?" Clark blinked, trying not to stare. So much for his iron control. Of all the times for him to not control his reactions properly, he 'chose' then. Maybe he could blame the view.

"Lois was angry that you'd 'lied' to her. Perry was more suspicious of me. I suspect that he expected me to knife you to death the moment he turned his back to me." Lex left his clothes laying on the floor, then pulled back the blankets and sheets so he could crawl in beside Clark.

"Fuck, I can't do anything right," Clark murmured. "How did I lie to her? And... I guess that's Perry's protective side coming out. He's another that thinks I'm young and naive."

"Maybe you are. Maybe I'm taking advantage of you somehow." Lex shrugged his shoulders as he lay close to Clark, almost close enough to touch. "Lois leapt to the conclusion that we've been sleeping together since you contacted me again. Frankly, at four am, I didn't have the spirit left to really forcefully argue against the idea."

"There's sleeping... and sleeping," Clark replied, all too keenly aware of the gap. He shifted over so he could hold onto Lex, as much for his own comfort as Lex's. "It's probably because I sort of confessed I've had a... thing for you for years."

"A thing, huh?" Lex shifted, sliding his left hand down over Clark's back. "You know, when people shoot you, it'd just be easier if they used a gun with more force. Wouldn't it be better if it went in and then right out?"

Clark chuckled at Lex's analytical turn of mind, even when he was obviously so tired. "If I have to be shot at all, yes. I'd heal pretty quickly." The touching was good and it manifested in a solid warmth against Lex's leg, but Clark still showed no signs of doing anything else.

Or even mentioning it. Lex shifted his leg a little, rubbing in a momentary gesture against Clark's erection as if checking that it was there. "You seem pretty... awake."

"Near death experience." Clark snorted just a little to play the whole thing down. "There's a reason I rush away from my heroic moments. My costume covers jack shit."

Even if that wasn't quite the reason, Lex was going to take the excuse Clark offered. He shifted, relaxing against Clark as he closed his eyes. "You could always wear a cup," Lex offered. "Night. Morning. Whatever the fuck it is. You could use the sleep, too."

"I won't argue. I can stand some more sleep, especially with you here."

"Good to hear." That was a sleepy murmur as Lex half-concentrated on the feeling of Clark touching him, the warmth of the sheets, the...

Clark smiled as his friend dropped out of consciousness, and into sleep, between one moment and the next. He was amazed at how well Lex stood up to the events the world hurled at him. Confronting Morgan Edge would have been a nightmare come true, and Clark had seen his expression. Lex hadn't expected anyone to come and help him. He'd stared down the barrel of that gun, thinking that it held his death. The surprise when Clark emerged hadn't been feigned.

They would have to talk about that some day -- when there was the distance of time to protect them from the rawness of the experience.

There was a problem with having hazard leave when in reality he had healed almost instantaneously. It meant that Clark got restless, and became aware it was more than past time for Superman to patrol Metropolis again. The pressing feeling of danger had faded somewhat with the death of Morgan Edge, so he no longer felt he had to practically live in touching distance of Lex; not that Lex would have allowed it, since he was busy re-establishing his credibility.

Which left him restless and pacing -- for the first time since he had gotten involved with Lex, his own priorities were starting to surface. Which Lex would have congratulated Clark for, if Clark hadn't been pacing in his office. He had steps like a metronome, pacing pacing pacing while Lex tried to answer a few pieces of email that had followed him from work to home.

Home, where Clark had all but moved into. Which was fine for Lex, since Clark filled the hole in the penthouse, the need the place had to have more than one person living there at a time.

"Clark... You're going to wear a hole in the carpet," Lex noted distractedly.

"Sorry. I'm just..." He wasn't exactly sure what he was 'just' when he came to think of it. "If I wasn't pretending to be half dead for Perry, I'd be doing work and..." Clark sighed and looked out of the window and then went back to pacing.

"Mmm. If I were a sadist, I'd make you suffer along with me since you're making me 'take it easy'." And that was a relative term, since Lex was making public appearances both for the public and for his workers, and doing actual non-P.R. work at the penthouse. "But you can leave the Penthouse, Clark. I'll still be here when you get back. I know you... haven't been 'doing' much because of me. What you usually do." Superman things, he meant, but didn't say it.

Clark looked hesitant. It was the first time he hadn't downright refused the hint. "What if... I'm not sure. I mean I ought to, but I won't if you need me here?"

"Clark, I need you, but I don't need to stop you from being you," Lex pointed out patiently, leaning back in his chair and away from the laptop, to try to look Clark in the eye. "You don't have to be here every waking second."

"I have to admit, my smothering instinct has lessened since Morgan Edge died." He looked out of the window again, out over the lights of Metropolis. "You really wouldn't mind if I went out? You know if you call that I'll hear. I know I've said that before but I'm so... keyed into you now."

Lex twisted a little to look over his shoulder to the broad window behind him. "Go on, Clark -- I'll even leave it cracked a little for you."

"I'll come back later, I promise," Clark said as he walked over to the window. "I want to be with you Lex, but I think I'll drive you nuts more than help at the moment. " He rested his hand on Lex's shoulder and bent down to kiss him, as a promise sealed in his words.

"I wouldn't mind if you drove me nuts," Lex drawled against Clark's lips. He pulled him down for a moment more, to kiss him back properly, and then went on, "But not by having you pace in my office."

"I better go before I change my mind. I've got to face them sometime, I guess."

"Face them?" Lex lifted an eyebrow, and shook his head a little. "And I thought my 'friends' were bad -- go on. I'll still be here whenever you get back."

"I'm afraid my fellow superheroes still regard me as a bit of a kid. I expect lecturing on responsibility when they catch up with me." He opened the window. "Back soon, Lex. Promise." And then, in a blur, he was gone.

Lex watched Clark leave, then he got up to partially close the window, just so it was barely cracked; it was cold outside, after all, and the winds up that high were strong.

It was funny for Lex to think of Clark as a kid. He hadn't really thought of Clark as a kid when... he'd been a kid. Which had unquestionably led to some of their problems at the time; ten years of time had made the gap between their ages negligible, but a twenty one year old who wanted to hang out with a fifteen year was eyebrow raising.

"Clark, just a kid. Hmh." Lex shook his head as he sat back down in his desk chair, settling in to finish his mail, and goof around on the internet. Or... No, with the silence he couldn't sit comfortably still. Best to turn on the radio or the TV for background noise before he got comfortable.

The sound of the radio filled the need for sound, but not the presence. There was something terrifying, and at the same time, a little relieving in having some time alone. Even the best meaning support could get a little stifling after a while, and with Clark confined to the Penthouse, the only time he had been getting alone had been during his public appearances.

Which didn't count. Lex took a moment to settle into his chair again, leaning back in an easy slouch.

There was a faint gust of air behind him and a sudden sensation that he was being watched.

Just paranoia. JUST paranoia. The wind had picked up a little and cracked the window open a little more, that was all that had happened. He'd sworn before, after Lionel's death, that he'd been being watched, and there had been no such thing happening.

It didn't stop Lex from stiffening a little, and moving one hand casually to his left-hand desk drawer for his gun.

"I don't think that will be necessary, Mr. Luthor." A soft, nearly menacing tone spoke from the shadows. "I'm sure we can manage a conversation without unpleasantness."

The implication was, of course, that the situation could change at any moment.

The voice was familiar, but it could have just been the tone that was familiar to Lex. That same threatening, knowing tone that Edge had used, that his own father had used. That people knew he wasn't going to fight with any chance of winning.

But it still made Lex's hand hesitate on the drawer, still for a moment before he jerked it open and grabbed his gun, turning around fast.

Rather surprisingly, the dark cloaked and masked figure standing there made no move to stop him. Just gave the impression of wry amusement that implied he didn't stand a chance if he really tried anything.

"Nice gun," the man commented, folding his arms casually. "By all means hold it if it makes you feel better." The tone was just shy of insulting.

"Get out," Lex snarled, as he backed up against his desk, and then moved to walk around it trying to get behind it and put space between himself and the creature at the window. He'd seen it somewhere, but fuck if he could remember where. A super hero, or a super villain? They were so alike some days, and there were so many of them it was hard to keep straight who was who...

"Get the fuck out of h-here."

"Now, now, Luthor, I haven't given you any reason to be so hostile have I?" The Batman watched him, not approaching. "Considering how hospitable you've been to one of my colleagues, I considered you might not react too adversely to a brief visit."

Colleagues. Lex let out a tense breath, but didn't lower his gun. "Aren't you supposed to be in Gotham, beating up muggers?"

"I'm moonlighting," the dark knight replied, shifting. "Imagine my surprise when Clark Kent, who seemed to drop off the face of the Earth for the best part of the last week -- which in his case could be perhaps a little more literal an expression than it is for others -- suddenly launches himself out of your window. Just when I had a nice conspiracy theory brewing about what you were doing to him in here."

"He's allowed to have a life of his own, isn't he?" The gun didn't fall a fraction of an inch, and Lex only felt a little comfortable when he was behind his desk. It didn't matter that he'd left his laptop on and open to his mail account. There wasn't anything important there except the tentative plans for the LeXWing's first flight.

Batman leaned forward. "Do you understand who and what he is? Do you have any idea what sort of responsibility he has? You don't just drop out of sight in this circle without rumors of capture, imprisonment, torture or worse. What hold do you have over him? What are you planning?"

"I'm not planning a damned thing!" He finally started to lower the gun, but kept a tight hold of it in his left hand as he faced the creature. Man. Whatever the grimly dressed fucker was. "I'm an old friend of his. Who the hell are you to break into my god-damned home, and make demands?!"

"I'm the man who's had to pick up his slack while he's been out of the loop," the tall figure stated. "Someone who looks out for him. Powerful he might be, but he isn't experienced. You'll pardon me if I don't automatically accept the explanation of 'old friends', considering the Luthor reputation."

"A reputation that was my father's, not mine," Lex gritted out. "I think I've proved that well enough in the last few weeks. Clark was the best man at both of my weddings -- if you need newspaper verification that I've known Clark for years, it's there for the taking."

"I know that." The man, whoever he was, was complacent. "But considering recent revelations, how do I know? You're going to tell me that you have not been aware of how many of your father's schemes we've had to thwart over the years? How many times your 'old friend' has faced death and not even a flicker of concern on your part? The missile shipment 3 years ago? The genetic mutagenic reagents from Cadmus that could have spelled catastrophe? The clichd death ray that really worked... any of these stir a hint of recognition?"

Nothing. Maybe Clark's 'comrades' were perfectly insane. "What are you going on about?"

There was an air of incredulity to the figure. "You don't know? None of it? Your father Lex -- corporate corruption has been the tip of the iceberg. Clark... Superman has been nearly killed by his schemes more often than any other. Your father used his weakness against him time and time again, and you wonder why I'm amazed at this sudden turn around in his behavior? Would you believe it to be trust?"

Would he? No, in most people he'd believe it to be revenge, hell, in himself he could see it as the coming of revenge. And maybe it was, but it, Clark, was all that he had for himself. Clark and LeXCorp; Clark was his rock, and LeXCorp was his hope, and that was all there was. "Yes."

"Then perhaps you are friends after all." That last was said with heavy sarcasm. "Perhaps it is time to get to get to my main point. What are your intentions as regards Clark Kent?" It might have been amusing in a Victorian melodrama, but with the tone of dark steel behind it, it was deadly serious.

"My intentions?" Lex shifted his fingers on the gun, and let out another slow sigh of air. "Am I supposed to have intentions?"

"I think it's pretty clear that there are some," Batman replied. "Are you going to remain 'old friends 'or are you going to fuck him and then throw him out? Or you want a pet superhero? Is that it?"

He could have given the Batman a straightforward answer, but Lex's hackles were still up and feeling defiant. "What does it matter to you?"

"It matters in what you could do to him. It matters in that despite all our talents, there are things we need him for and we can't afford to have him turned against us."

"There goes my plan to conquer the world," Lex sneered as he gestured vaguely with his gun. "Get out. I don't have to justify my personal life to an idiot in spandex, and I don't have to justify Clark's personal life, either."

The tall figure inclined his head. "Let it not be said that I don't know when I've outstayed my welcome," he drawled, moving over to the window. "I'll leave, but I might just send you some information. Perhaps this conversation might make more sense when seen in perspective. Good night, Luthor."

"Next time you want to talk to me, try the door," Lex bit out as he edged around the desk. Information -- did it matter, in the end? It wouldn't change how he treated Clark, what he thought of him. "I don't doubt that my father did those things you mentioned, but I'm not him, and I've had enough to deal with without digging for more to try to sort out."

"Superhero vigilante uses door?" The thing laughed, and in that laugh was more of that familiarity. "I can't possibly allow that to get around. If it did, I might have to kill the person who spread the rumor."

There was a dark chuckle and a swift maneuver and the slight 'thwip' sound of a line shooting through the air. "Good night Mr. Luthor, I do hope that you are what you seem. For your sake."

And with that, he swung out into the darkness.

Lex waited to make sure that he was well and truly gone, before he closed the window. Clark would just have to knock, because Lex needed to get his feeling of safety back. Even if that bastard had laughed, it was no comfort for Lex. There was nothing quite like being threatened in his own home to remove all traces of a tattered hope that* somewhere* might be safe for him.

It had been satisfying to go out on patrol again, something about flying at night that filled him with a sort of freedom. However, Clark didn't know if he should've been relieved or annoyed that the city hadn't seemed to miss him that much. A few muggings thwarted, an accident dealt with, a burglar deposited at the police station and all was quiet in Metropolis. Quiet enough that he perched up on the Daily Planet building, listening and watching once the first circuit was done.

There was a peace to be found that far up, a peace so pervasive that it made him wonder he'd ever been afraid of heights.

A faint rush of air startled him a little from his reverie, and he found himself looking, in the darkness, at a pair of shapely woman's legs, and the faint glow of Wonder Woman's power bands. "It's been a while, hasn't it?" she smiled.

"Diana, hi!" Abruptly he felt guilty all over again and hope it didn't look too obvious. "I guess it has." He couldn't really deny it and it was all he could do not to automatically apologize.

"Mind if I sit down?" she asked, gesturing to the globe that Clark was perched atop.

"Pull up a continent," Clark said, shifting over. Oh god, he was in for it now. He could tell.

"We were all sort of worried about you, Clark," she greeted as she perched beside him and looked out over the city's lights. A gust of wind came up, and stirred neither of them. "All right, we were all very concerned about you. Would you mind telling us what happened?"

"It was... personal," Clark replied with a slight shrug. "And important. To me. I just needed to devote my attention to it."

"Alexander J. Luthor, you mean." She still wasn't looking at him, but she was trying to pry the words from his mouth. "I actually checked your apartment first, but it was almost barren. So you're in the process of moving?"

"I've just been away, " Clark admitted, looking down. "I don't know if I'm moving or not, I've just been staying that's all."

"Mmmhm." She was silent for a moment as she watched the city's nighttime motions. "It's quiet for Metropolis. It's been very quiet since Edge died, and Lionel Luthor died. Have you noticed that?"

Clark sighed a little. "Yes, though I was preoccupied, particularly after Edge." He paused, sensing a deeper concern. "You're worried that Lex is going to carry on the tradition?"

"Not particularly," Diana told him, folding her arms over her knees comfortably. "It's possible, but it's possible in every person to some degree or another. Plus, I have high hopes that if you stay his friend, Clark..."

"I hope that it might be more Diana," he said, not looking at her for fear of seeing disappointment or judgment in her eyes. "But that's up to him."

"I'd guessed that. You know, we were all waiting for you to marry Lois Lane, and then you throw us this curveball," she teased a little.

"Lois is in love with Superman, not me." Clark shrugged, gesturing to his costume before he said, "Lex is probably the only person who knows Clark. Not even Clark Kent reporter, but just me. I made a mistake, a bad mistake 8 years ago Diana, and you've seen what that resulted in for him. So. Uhm. How... pissed is everyone that I dropped out of action?"

"Varying degrees of annoyed," she smiled. "Myself, Green Lantern, and J'onn are the least annoyed, while Flash, and Batman in particular seem to be the most irritated. Really Batman in particular. Everyone else fell somewhere in the middle."

Clark groaned. "I should have known, I'm so in for it. I'll have a speech about responsibility and then I'll get chewed out over making personal stuff first -- like both of them haven't done that more times than I can count. If it helps, I can tell you that the reason I haven't come straight back after the demise of Morgan Edge is because I managed to get shot in the process of helping Lex bring him down. That counts for something, right?"

"A little." She turned to him, still smiling. "You know, it sounds like you're whining, Superman. I'm torn as to if I should be appalled, or amused."

"That's because you've never had to endure one of Batman's lectures on being a dumb stupid kid - it's not exactly inspiring. But, you're right. I'm whining. I'm sorry Diana. It just feels like I've committed some major crime because a friend needed me to be there for him, and I put my life on hold to do that. I feel guilty, but I resent it."

"Would it help if you knew that you've got at least myself, the Green Lantern, and J'onn on your side?" She was still smiling, trying to get him to warm up a little. When he'd first met her, Clark had immediately thought that she had a crush on him, but as time passed he'd realized that Diana was simply very sisterly towards him. Right down to the teasing. "I think Bruce was more upset that your reason for forgetting about us for a little while was a Luthor than the fact that you were off doing your own thing."

"Lex is different from his father -- you have no idea what he's been through," Clark replied, though he softened his defensive stance a little. "I do appreciate it Diana, really. It helps to know that someone is supportive. And to be honest, personal feelings aside in this instance, personal is the same as important. Though, even if it wasn't, I would do the same... its who I am."

"I know." She smiled at him again, and then reached out a hand to pat his shoulder lightly for a moment. "Don't worry about Batman. He'll just be growly about it, until he satisfies his need to know what's going on. Particularly since the Wayne and Luthor families have business ties."

"Then he should know Lex better than to think that he knew what was going on," Clark said firmly. "I should have done something Diana, there were so many things I could have done. He knew who I was all along, ever since Smallville and I just assumed... You ever do that Diana? Let someone really close to you down in a way you're not sure can be forgiven?"

For a moment, she looked wistful, and merely nodded -- no explanation, just understanding. "If they love you, they'll forgive."

Clark nodded slowly, making a note to talk to Diana about that some day. Sometimes they really did have no one else but each other. "I want to give him that choice. It's the only thing I can do. Give him the choices he's been denied by everyone, even if that means losing him or letting him go. Because that's how it should be."

"Hmn, and here I'd thought you'd already resolved that issue with him. Since you've all but moved into whatever it is that he lives in, in Luthor Towers."

Clark laughed. "You'd be amazed at how many people are assuming that. Nothing concrete's been decided. I stay with him. I hold him when he needs holding."

When he went on, it was nearly a whisper. "Platonic is a word that has a lot to answer for."

"Why, do you now have something personally against the word?" She smirked a little. "Or is it getting to you?"

"You just want scandal to tantalize the others with," Clark half laughed. "Yes, I admit it, okay? I want there to be more and he knows that. It's just what he can handle. It's a miracle he's even coherent, after everything."

"After the shooting at the police station -- yes, I read up on your paper because sometimes, that's the only way to get a hold of you -- there was a little speculation that maybe he was a Kryptonian, too." She winked at him, and went on. "It's all right to take personal time, you know. Just let us know what you're doing. We worry."

"Really? I always got the impression that most of the League think of me as a kid or a portable battering ram or shield. Not in a nasty way, but you know..."

"Actually, if you weren't such a nice guy, most of the League would be scared of you," she confided, voice still warming to his ears. "You're powerful, and smart, Clark -- maybe not cunning, but smart -- and if someone captured and hurt you..."

"I've been hurt before," Clark replied, "I embarrassed myself stupid a couple of nights ago screaming my lungs out when Lex and his body guards were rooting around for bullets in me... or is this a 'if someone learned how to control me' thing? Is that what they're worried about?"

"Both. If someone could kill you, we've just lost a friend and an asset of protection. If someone could control you... then we've lost a friend, and gained a death sentence." The remark about the bullets caught her, though, and she murmured, "We need to work on our inter-communication more. Make it easier for each of us to find the others if something comes up. I don't want to have to shake down the state of Kansas to find you the next time there's an emergency."

"Strangely, you know I think it would be Lex who'd be most likely to be able to come up with something. He's... better than Bruce, with technology." He shrugged, his cloak twitching idly in the breeze. "I agree. I thought I hadn't been that successful in disappearing, but I accept I probably wasn't thinking clearly about what I should have done."

"Sometimes things happen. But still -- if you couldn't have an excuse to not tell us..." She smirked a little. "If all else fails, steal a cell phone and call Batman."

"And there you have it Diana, the exact reason why I didn't call this time. 'Oh hi Bruce. I'm taking time out to help the Luthors... yes, the Luthors who have been trying to orchestrate our communal deaths for the last decade or so. No really Lex is different, really, Bruce. I'm just a dumb farm kid, but I promise its true!' "

He laughed. "When I say it that way even I don't believe it!"

"I hope you wouldn't call him up and say that," she laughed, "or at least not that way. If you had, he would have rushed off to Smallville to get you."

"Bit off the beaten track for our dark knight. Where is he, anyway? I'll have to face him sometime."

"Actually," Diana finally admitted, "I saw him over near the Towers."

Clark looked at her sharply. "He's been watching me... us? You don't think he... would he?"

"That depends what you're asking."

"Drop in on Lex. Shit, if he was watching he would have seen me leave." Clark stood up hastily. It was exactly the sort of thing Bruce would do. "I better get back Diana, if Bruce did... You have no idea how insecure Lex has been feeling. His Penthouse has been like a sanctuary. If Bruce broke in --"

"I'll take up your patrol while you see to it," she told him as she started to stand up. "Find me later and tell me how things are. Good luck, Superman!"

"Thanks Diana -- I appreciate the talk, and the support," he said as he floated out. "See you later!"

With that, he darted back to the Penthouse.

Finding the window shut was not the best sign, and he was already mentally wincing at the thought of what Bruce might have said or done. Fuck, if he'd threatened Lex, or hurt him, the Batman was going to get his ears well and truly bent. He knocked hopefully, floating outside.

There wasn't even a Lex in sight, though a second knock brought him coming around the corner. Gun in hand, which wasn't a good sign, either, from the way he edged into sight before relaxing and moving to open the large window for Clark.

"You're done so soon?"

Clark looked at the gun as he came in. "He broke in, didn't he? I swear, I'm going to tie those pointy ears of his in a knot. I was talking with Wonder Woman, and she said Batman had been around the Towers. I just knew he'd try something -- are you okay?"

"The window was open, so he didn't have to break anything to get in," Lex admitted as he laid the gun on his empty desk. It looked like he'd even taken his laptop into another room with him, wherever he'd gone. "I'm fine."

"You're so fine that you're prowling around with a gun," Clark pointed out. "I'm so sorry Lex, I sort of underestimated his reaction. And those of the League. They all thought you were having a wicked villain type of way with me in here."

"So I've been told." Lex leaned against the desk's edge, eyes scanning over Clark with something akin to amusement. "You know, you do look rather different in that get-up."

"Primary colors. They give the impression of directness and integrity on the human mind. Did that in my psych minor. Plus, I hate to say it Lex, but heroes aren't know for their fashion sense, or sewing ability. And it was the only cloth I had to work with of Kryptonian origin."

"Good excuse," Lex said as he picked up the gun to put it back in his desk drawer. "Are you going back out again?"

"Only to tell Wonder Woman that everything is okay," Clark replied, looking at him. "She wasn't too hard on me, but I did get a 'next time let us know what you're doing' talk. Batman is pissed at me, apparently." He found himself standing with his arms folded over his chest, a rather defensive gesture he had never needed around Lex.

"Did he threaten you or anything?" he asked again, since Lex had skillfully evaded the questions

"Just a vague 'your intentions had better be good' speech." Lex closed the drawer slowly, and turned to look at Clark, and his defensive gesture. It left him a little unsure about things, and a little surer that he wanted to go back to the slight sanctuary of the library. "When you get back, try the library's balcony doors. I'll be in there."

Clark frowned a little at that. "He... did what? The man barely tolerates me and then he harasses you?" There was sternness in his expression that never seemed to make it to Clark Kent's feature. "If I catch up with him I'll get this straightened out, I promise. I won't be long and then we can call it a night?"

"Sure." Non-committal, non-argumentative to the idea. "I don't want to make things hard for you, Clark, with your colleagues."

"You're not, Lex. They've gotten used to me having no life," Clark replied. "I haven't missed anything since I came to Metropolis and I guess this goes to show, they started to take me for granted. Working with the League can be great Lex, but you need a peculiar sense of ego to dress up in a costume and leap out of the nearest window to save the world. And a part of that is assuming that they're always right."

"And a particular sense of ego to break into someone's house with a sense of righteousness?" Lex asked a little archly, and then he sighed. "I bet he's a bastard in real life."

"I'd tell you, but that's part of the deal -- not telling identities," Clark replied, "We'll talk about this when I get back?"

"Yes." There was a certain lack of comfort in Lex's eyes, and he turned away before Clark could leave. "I'll be waiting in the library."

Clark nearly decided there and then to shove patrolling and being responsible, but he wanted to talk with Batman immediately. "Back in a few Lex."

And he would be.

Telling Diana was only a matter of moments, but Clark found himself unable to let go of the hurt that Lex had let slip about what had happened. He could find Batman if he wanted to, especially if he was in Metropolis and he wanted a few words. Terse angry words, with his adopted share of the famous Kent temper showing through.

Focusing his hearing, he eventually picked up on Batman's voice and he homed in on him without any further delay.

The Caped Crusader had just finished scaring off someone who'd been hanging on a street corner waiting for a dealer to show up. A harmless junkie, who was gone by the time that Superman landed behind Batman.

"I was wondering when you'd show up," Batman declared as Superman touched down.

"I've already had the lecture." Clark cut in swiftly, "Though I can appreciate some of the points, I don't appreciate you breaking into the Penthouse like that." He folded his arms again.

"The window was open." He turned slowly, and faced Superman's stern visage. "I'm not discussing this at ground level."

"Want a lift?" Clark replied, eager to get it talked out if only so he could get back to Lex

"Just to speed this up."

Clark took hold of him by the hand, rather than the more intimate embrace he used with Lex, and took them upwards onto the top of a nearby skyscraper, where he settled them gently down. And waited. "I hear that you're not happy with me?"

"You're observant." Bruce scanned the rooftop with a scathing gaze, making sure that there wasn't anyone nearby or listening to them. "Your disappearing act was less than appreciated."

"Personal business," Clark said flatly. "Important personal business."

"Risky personal business," he was countered sharply. "Do you know what you've just tossed your hat in with?"

"You know Bruce, I was going to say you sound just like my father but even my father has managed to come to an understanding about this." Clark sighed, "You should know, you saw him most."

"I know." Bruce kept his back to Clark, looking down over Metropolis. It was such a different city from Gotham, Superman knew that. Bright and spiraling, the sharp lights hiding the darker edges. "And given his mental state, if he ever senses or thinks that you've betrayed him, he now has the means with which to kill you."

"Bruce, he always did," Clark pointed out. "And I have betrayed him and he did nothing. His father was the one using the knowledge and even he didn't deliberately hunt me down. Though admittedly he took the precautions that Morgan Edge used against me. But Lex hasn't. He's known who and what I am for a long time."

"So he claims." Batman turned his head a little, looking fearlessly over his shoulder at Clark while standing on with a foot on the ledge. "Is that why you've told him who you are?"

"He knew, Bruce." Clark tried to explain again, "It was hard to hide strangeness in Smallville. The fact he hit me with a car the first time we met, probably set the tone. Ironic, that the proof came through him seeing me hit by Morgan Edge's car when I saved him again. I didn't assume Bruce, he definitely knew. And he had more reason that Lionel did to come after me but he didn't. I know you live suspecting everything while I tend to trust, but it's not always me that gets trapped by assumptions. "

"I'm simply warning you, Superman. You aren't invulnerable to everything, and you don't deal with those vulnerabilities with any sense of responsibility."

"What am I meant to do? Not trust anyone ever again?" Clark asked, spreading his hands and shrugging. "Be alone forever?"

"Prepare for the eventual fall that you've set yourself up for." Batman finally turned to face Clark, but it was hard to read his expression with the mask on. No matter what, he seemed to be grimacing.

"Is this a general statement about humanity in general or Lex in particular?" Clark asked, finding it hard not to frown.

"People like Mr. Luthor. It could be humanity in general. What do you expect to be for him, Kent? An equal? You could end up with a shadow of your own."

Clark shook his head. "You don't understand, Bruce. I'm not sure I do either but it's not about power or control. It never has been between us, and that is the whole point. Lex is different, I'm different. You only know the edges of what that feels like Bruce. You know about the loneliness that comes from being a rich powerful man, hurt in many ways, the isolation that comes with it. You, thank God, will never know what it feels like to know that you are the last of your race, your species. I can see a reflection of what you feel in him. In many ways you're very similar."

He snorted, "I'll take that as a compliment and not the insult I feel it to be. The man has blind faith in you, and I'm sure you're just filling his father's shoes for him."

"Then if that's the case then he'll grow away from me. I'll take my chances," Clark replied. "Look, Bruce, I understand that what I did was irresponsible, and maybe we need to look at communication issues for the future. To be honest, I underestimated everyone's reaction to me being out of action. I've never... been given the impression that my contribution has been considered vital in any way. The post-mission dissection of what I did wrong became a standard from one or other of you all."

"Because you're still learning. It wasn't that you were out of action, it was that you disappeared. All of us go out of action but we tell each other when we're doing it!"

"I wasn't out of communication THAT long, and some of that was unavoidable."

"We didn't hear a peep out of you from the time that Luthor broke the story to the Planet, to right now, tonight. How much of that was 'unavoidable'?"

"I was still working for all of that week, I was visible when we went to the station. We went back to Smallville for a few days and kept a low profile. The night we came back was when Morgan Edge jumped us in the offices," Clark replied. "Yes, I could have called, but I was busy. Day and night for that time."

"Busy with what?"

"Lex," Clark replied knowing what sort of reaction that would get. "Being a friend when he most needed someone. Needs someone."

"A human crutch, then." Or close enough. Batman moved away a little, circling Superman.

"Alien. Needing someone is not a crime Bruce." And that was what it boiled down to in the end. Clark accepted and felt that to be worth the risk, Bruce did not.

"A Luthor could consider it a crime. Keep that in mind, Clark. Are we done having a discussion now? I'd like to go back to my own city."

"I'll take the risk, Bruce. And please. Don't let yourself into the Penthouse any more," Clark replied forcefully.

"I'll knock next time," the Batman seemed to laugh as he moved to the edge of the ledge. "Wouldn't want to give your friend a heart attack."

"I'd appreciate that," Clark replied and then gave as a concession, "And I'll stay in closer contact."

"You do that." And rudely, the conversation was over. Batman flung out a line to the nearest building, and swung down.

Clark sighed. Well, that had gone about as well as he had anticipated. And he still felt like he had played truant or something, when he had every right to his own life and priorities. He respected Bruce, but he was different from him. And that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

He looked out at Metropolis, and in the blink of an eye sped back to Luthor Towers and the Library window to try and mend some damage caused by Batman's interference there.

Lex was slouched down in his chair, but sat up straight when Clark knocked, and put his book aside to open the door for him. "That didn't take too long."

Clark wasn't looking too happy as he stepped in. "It was predictable, to be honest. Let me just get this damn thing off. I can't talk properly when I'm wearing it. I feel I should be spouting off thunderous one-liners or something."

Lex didn't even have chance to answer before there was a blur. Clark was back in his jeans and eponymous flannel. Almost visibly, that peculiar distance seemed to melt away from him.

"Much better."

Even if it was a little shocking for Lex, who took it in stride as he reached past Clark to draw the curtains. "I hope this is the last wave of people I have to answer to about you, Clark."

"I'm really sorry Lex, seriously. He won't do it again, none of them will," Clark replied apologetically. "He just thinks that he's always going to be right because he believes the worst case scenario about everyone." He reached to put a hand around Lex's waist hopefully.

It seemed to be enough to draw Lex in, to make him stop walking past or reaching past Clark. Never mind that Clark could feel that Lex's muscles were tense beneath his fingers. Lex let out a slow breath, and slipped his own arms around Clark for a moment, taking in the closeness. "I've known people like that."

"Mmmhmm," Clark replied, leaning into him carefully -- as if he could transfer some of that lost assurance through mere contact. "I told him I preferred risks to being alone."

And maybe Clark could, or Lex just felt that he could. It was hard for Clark to not notice that there seemed to be a radio on in every room, turned on low so there was just a mumble of sound. The volume was only turned up loud enough to understand in the library. "I'm glad that you prefer the risks," Lex said. "You have to risk to get a payoff."

Clark nodded. "You didn't really want to be alone did you?" he asked softly.

"Not really, but I need to learn to cope with it." Lex pulled back a little, but tugged Clark with him. "You look tired."

"Just irritated. I don't know whether to be flattered or annoyed at all the fuss." Clark allowed himself to be led. "I've got some serious confidence issues when it comes to dealing with the League sometimes. But this time, they were wrong."

"Working with people like Batman, I can understand why. He tried to suggest that you were just waiting to revenge the things my father had done to you." Lex hesitated as he sat back down on the couch, looking at Clark. "You'll have to tell me about all of this, Clark. Fill in what he never told me."

Clark grimaced slightly and sat down with him. "My weakness is a secret very few people know. You may not have said anything Lex, but Lionel knew, Morgan Edge knew and if we crossed them, they used that knowledge." He hesitated, unwilling to add any guilt even by proxy to his friend. "The thing with the bullets was bad, but there's been worse. Admittedly, he never did go out of his way to hunt me down, but he certainly seemed to enjoy any opportunities that came up to test my limits. I don't really know where to begin."

"So it only makes sense that they'd be suspicious of... this." Whatever it was, Lex almost said as he continued to watch Clark. "I'm sorry I didn't know and find a way to stop him."

"It's never been your fault. Remember, I'm the one person who knows that you have never been your father," Clark reassured. "Just because it makes sense, doesn't mean it's right."

"But I'm no saint, Clark." Lex looked over to the radio, which was playing some piece of classical. "You've known that, too."

"You're you, Lex." Clark just looked at him, waiting for his eyes to return. "That's all you ever needed to be to me. That's what the others can't understand. Hell, I don't understand it, but it's true. There's a part of me that sees you and knows you, not what you've done, not what you have, not what's happened, just you..."

"'Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within'." James Baldwin, Lex noted to himself, and proceeded to relish that there were moments that eight years of hell hadn't deadened his literary mind. "You know I do nothing, Clark, without my full intent behind it. I'll do anything for you, and I've always been willing to."

"I don't want you to do it for me Lex," Clark replied softly, "I want you to do it for yourself. God, it sounds clichd, but it's true. I've already told you how I feel about you, and I don't think that's going to change any time soon -- it survived a long eight years of no hope, and needed only a few words to spring to life. I love you Lex. I love you enough to risk letting you go again even now, so if you come back it will be a choice. "

"I left. A few times, if you noticed. I'm back now..." Lex twisted to look at Clark, expression tense but so full of twinges of hope. "I'm not going to go anywhere. I'm telling you something you already know. That I'd do anything for you, like I always had."

Clark looked at him and things... suddenly, strangely, clicked into place. That was what Lex needed; he needed his gifts -- emotional, literal or metaphorical -- to be accepted, what he was giving and could give to be valued. Wanted.

And all that time, out of some strange pride, he had misinterpreted that gesture, colored by his father's opinion that Lex was trying to find shortcuts to genuine emotion. Lionel had manipulated that successfully and in trying to not emulate the man, had Clark been denying Lex some fundamental emotional anchor? "I appreciate that," he said softly, "I want that, and for you to know I'd do the same... like I always have."

Or tried to, and Lex understood what it was like to try and fail, the same way he understood doing things for people. Hearing Clark say it was... golden for Lex, and he leaned in towards Clark. "Then everything else should work itself out with time."

Clark gave a slow, brilliant smile. "We've got plenty of that," he murmured and kissed him gently.

"Yes." Agreement made between kisses, and then Lex murmured slyly, "I suppose you'll still refuse if I try to get you to do more than sleep in bed?"

"Not if it's you asking, showing and doing." He looked down a moment. "I don't have a huge amount of experience, Lex."

"We'll go slow," Lex assured him as he leaned in to press the next kiss to Clark's neck. "Experience has been vastly over-rated."

Clark chuckled. "Enthusiasm will just have to be my contribution." Did this mean they were going to do it? Right then? He could feel his heart pounding at the mere thought.

"I have a soft spot for Enthusiasm," Lex murmured, as he shifted to kneel over Clark on the sofa. It was strange how he'd done the same thing with Lionel often enough, and yet it didn't feel the same.

"As long as it doesn't stay soft," Clark joked a little nervously.

Lex groaned a little, and leaned his head forwards to rest against Clark's forehead. "That's a bad joke..."

"I make bad jokes when I'm nervous," Clark admitted even as he shifted to make their positioning easier.

"The simple solution to that is to not be nervous." Lex kissed him back, and his hands slid to Clark's chest to work at the buttons, so he could touch bare skin with his good hand. "We'll take things slowly. Tonight I just want to feel you."

Clark exhaled. "You don't have to be careful, Lex." That touch, knowing that he didn't have to restrain himself this time, was enough to send dramatic messages to the rest of his body. He was rather embarrassed to think that Lex might just want to feel, and there his body was, revving up completely. "I'm only nervous because I want it to be right, to be memorable."

Memorable? He wanted it to be the best thing Lex had ever had or done, so he'd always come back for more.

"I can't think of a time that you haven't been entirely memorable, Clark," Lex confided as he leaned in to kiss Clark's neck while he unbuttoned the flannel shirt. It was a slightly awkward position for Lex, but it was easy to relax into.

"So, there were lustful looks in my direction and not the juvenile fantasies of an over-sexed teenage alien?"

"I never thought you'd noticed." That was a murmur against his skin, and Lex kissed down to Clark's collarbone. He finally got Clark's shirt unbuttoned, and pulled at it to try to get Clark out of it.

"Are you kidding me?" Clark moved obligingly. "Big repression thing going on, but when you looked at me like you were the one with the heat ray vision, I'd swear you were scorching my skin. " The shirt pulled free and slid off the couch the moment that Lex let go of it. "I was sort of scared by it, but uh, totally turned on to."

"Retrospectively, I wish I hadn't spent so much time trying to set you up with Lana." Lex's hands moved over Clark's chest once his shirt was gone, right hand on his waist, left hand exploring. "You know, you can move, too."

Clark captured his lips again, holding that kiss for a long time, before he began his own explorations of skin and clothes. "I could say the same, but I know what you were trying to do and I thank you for it..."

It was nice to have his hard work acknowledged. Lex closed his eyes a little as he shifted his straddling position forwards. And down a little, so he could press against Clark when he kissed at his shoulder, pressing his hips against Clark's stomach; it surprised Clark how comfortable Lex seemed bent like that. "Mmm."

The interesting thing was the way that Clark didn't show any form of discomfort at the shift of weight. His eyes were bright as he smiled. "You keep doing that and I'm going to have to get my hands in your pants just to steady myself."

"That's a hollow threat," Lex decided as he twisted a little, mouth traveling up to just below Clark's ear. "Like threatening to blackmail someone with pictures of them grocery shopping."

"Some grocery shopping can be embarrassing." Clark grinned and did exactly as he threatened. He smiled in delight as fingers explored against smooth skin down there. "There's something to be said for this. Just feeling."

Lex went a little still, and then Clark could feel a smile against his neck. "Fuck... yes. You feel so sleek, Clark. When did you get these muscles?"

"Started getting them back in Smallville. They've bulked out along with my abilities," Clark admitted, loving that feeling. A smile tingling against his skin. It was that sort of feeling that made him want to turn his talents to really bad poetry; the world was spared the hyperbole, as he continued the delicate investigation of smoothness lurking beneath Lex's pants. "So smooth Lex... all of it."

"You know, my clothes come off," Lex murmured as he leaned back, not coincidentally leaning into Clark's hands.

"What an amazing thing," Clark replied, feigning wide-eye innocence as he looked up at Lex. "You know I think mine do too... I bet you if you snapped your fingers they'd fly off of their own accord."

"Of their own accord?" Lex pressed his left hand down over the fly of Clark's jeans. "There's something to be said for doing it by... hand."

"You want me to rip these jeans?" Clark replied, even as he very gently started to ease Lex's pants down. He didn't want to rouse unpleasant memories, which was why the banter was keeping their tentative reaching to each other light. He couldn't afford to fall into the boiling arousal just like that, but with every passing moment he wanted more. "I've got a super-speed all of my own down there sometimes."

"Now, that sounds inconvenient," Lex offered as he shifted some, rising up a little more as Clark got his pants off of his ass, and caught around his thighs. The briefs that Lex wore didn't leave anything to Clark's imagination, because he could clearly see the outline of Lex's cock through the stretchy black material. "I think I should move... hold on."

Clark waited and helped him where he could, but was very distracted by that barely concealed package in front of him. So much so that part of his resolve to let Lex be the instigator wavered and Lex discovered midway through his shifting that Clark was nuzzling in towards his groin, mouthing at skin and material with an eagerness that showed just how restrained he was being up until that point.

Lex decided he liked Clark unrestrained, particularly since he stepped out of his trousers and shrugged off his shirt, to find Clark leaning in to kiss and mouth against him. "Oh, fuck yes..." Not quite what Lex had been expecting, but it took a little thought to recall the last time that he'd felt something that pleasantly erotic. And Clark had beautiful thick hair that he could...

Run his fingers through, his prosthetic right hand dropping to the back of Clark's neck instinctively. He wasn't thinking of the car accident. At all. No.

Clark could practically taste the quiver of indecision and slowed down, having to reign in his own hungry breathing. He paused there a moment, looking up. "Can I?" he murmured, mentally begging for a yes. He didn't know why it was important to ask, just that it wouldn't feel right if he didn't. But he wanted it in a way that he hadn't wanted sex in a long time. It was something he'd done before -- and been good at, from the response of those he'd been with - and he wanted Lex to enjoy, but if it was going to bring up bad associations...

"Please, Clark. I want to..." Lex stroked his left hand through Clark's hair, tipping Clark's head up. "I want you to suck me. You have such a beautiful mouth."

"Get comfortable Lex, I intend to take my time. I've been thinking too long about this not to." The underwear was grasped and torn like gossamer from him, even as Clark settled himself. He cupped Lex's cock in his hands as if he was going to raise it up in some sort of offering to a pagan god, before bowing his head over that newly repaired skin to kiss gently at first.

Back before, Lex had had a lot of fantasies involving Clark sitting on the couch in the loft, leaning forwards just like that to touch him. Just him. They bubbled up happily, seeming to rejoice in the fact that Clark was there, doing that, giving pleasure to skin that he only had due to a mistake of the AI's doing. He groaned a little, and let his right hand drop to his side.

There were veins that needed to be explored and followed with the tip of the tongue, there were ridges and folds of skin that needed the softness of lips to move, there was the ever fascinating way that blood and muscles under the skin danced in immediate response to a lick or a kiss. There were heavy sacs to mouth and suck at. Clark treated it like he was exploring some sort of strange new world, the sensation of revelation and genuine amazement palpable in his tongue and lips.

Lex let his head drop forwards, halfway watching as Clark did that. It was different than Lionel, better. Lionel had been about speed and making Lex suggestible and willing to reciprocate. "Just like that," Lex whispered, watching with heavy-lidded eyes the way that Clark's mouth moved.

Like that and more. Clark slipped his mouth over the head of Lex's cock and held himself there as his tongue swirled, and investigated every crevice of that sensitive area. Not having to breath made it an intense, lengthy session, even as he cupped Lex's balls in the warmth of his hands.

Lex drew sharp breaths, trying to slow the urge to pant, trying to not thrust his hips forwards for more. He had said going slow, hadn't he? "This is going to kill me," Lex murmured, a teasing pant of air. "Hell of a way to die. Christ..."

Clark released him a moment and huffed warm air over the moist organ. "Then I'll have to bring you back to life." He dropped down again, engulfed him with his mouth once more, deeper this time.

Mouth to cock resuscitation. CCR? It didn't matter even if Lex was sure he was going to need it, because Clark's mouth was like a wet inferno around Lex's dick. Lex let himself rock his hips forwards a little, savoring the feeling.

It seemed an eternity before Clark slid down further applying pressure and suction, and moving gently up and down just a little. It seemed there were distinct advantages to being indestructible because it meant that, inch-by-inch, he worked his way down until he had completely taken Lex in.

And there he paused, swallowing around him getting used to that feeling.

Heavenly. Lex's hand rubbed, twitched, tried to massage through Clark's hair as he swayed a little. That was the best way, the best feeling in the world, to savor. "Uhnn, god, Clark. Not going to... last much..."

Clark's response was a shift in position, through some judicious floating, and hand reaching around to brace him so he could very easily thrust deep and hard, and fuck Clarks mouth while lost in his own feelings. Clark's eyes looked up at him and then closed in their own blissful experience as none of the negative points of a blowjob seemed to affect him.

Like breathing.

Lex didn't thrust hard and deep, though; he didn't have to. He just rocked back and forth, slow shifts of motion before his hips started to turn them into stabbing gestures, his cock caressing itself against Clark's throat and tongue as he finally gave into the urge to fuck. "So good, so good..." Mumbled praise as he Lex gave one last jut of motion forwards and came.

A brief surge and backwash of the taste and Clark swallowed until the softened member was clean and done. Then and only then did he pull back and look up at Lex hopefully

Lex felt, looked blissful as he looked down at Clark, stroking the other man's temple with his thumb. "Clark... god." He couldn't help but smile a little as words failed him. Words were allowed to fail him, because he felt sated. That extra skin was something he'd never get used to, in a good way. Lex slipped down to his knees so it would bring him on a level with Clark, and tipped his head to kiss him.

Clark tasted of Lex's own salty semen, mingled with that unique taste of Clark. Clark leaned into his lover, responding, communicating his pleasure as well. "I'll take it, that was okay?" he murmured, breaking the kiss for a moment and smiling.

"'Okay' understates how good it felt," Lex replied, as he dropped his left hand to Clark's groin again, squeezing him through the jeans. "Let me return the favor."

"I don't think I can last as long as you did," Clark replied, "Not now -- just so you know." He smiled and nudged against that hand. "I would love that. A lot."

"Super-speed," Lex chuckled as he leaned back to unbuckle Clark's belt. It wasn't a smooth motion, but Lex was learning to use his hand better, and the belt gave way with little trouble. The top button was easy to pop, too, and Lex leaned in to lick just above the band of Clark's underwear when he unzipped the zipper.

"God Lex, if you do that I'm never going to feel your mouth on my cock before I come." Clark felt like he was on a hair trigger. "I could have come just sucking you."

"I'd think that if you have super everything else, you'd have a super refractory period," Lex remarked dryly. He slipped a hand into the front of Clark's boxers to work him free, settling more comfortably on his knees between Clark's legs once Clark was up on the sofa again.

"I just... you look so good when I'm doing that. I... ah..." Clarks throat seemed to dry up as Lex touched him, but his eyes widened.

"You looked good, then, too." Lex stroked Clark's cock upright, looking at its size and shape, feeling the texture in his hand. Hard as a rock wasn't an understatement, and it didn't surprise Lex that Clark's skin felt ever so slightly... different. Something he couldn't place, just a shift of texture. "You look good now."

"Been told I taste difference," Clark replied, eyes falling half lidded at that movement. "Lex, you feel fantastic." It was his hands now that roamed over Lex's back in encouragement, smoothing here and there gently. It was a little hard to believe that after everything that had happened, Lex still felt strong and whole, no marks, and no contortions of muscle.

"A different taste? I'll have to investigate that." He leaned forwards, and pressed his mouth over the tip, sliding his tongue between the head of Clark's cock and the tightening foreskin.

Clark's hands went still as he inhaled sharply. "Fuck... fuck, that's good." He was too ready, much too ready, but he was determined not to let go immediately. He wasn't a teenager any more, fantasizing that Lex had coaxed him somewhere in the Castle and...

He sternly ordered his body to behave and wait for decency's sake.

Lex pulled back, and looked up at Clark with a lazy gleam in his eyes. "I can try to coax two from you, since you seem so on edge. Something tells me that wrapping my hand around you and squeezing wouldn't do much good."

"You could try." Clark suggested, "What can I say? I find you very... very... arousing."

"That's complimentary, and not a good excuse," Lex murmured as he lowered his head once more to close his lips around Clark's cock. It was easy to be careful; he'd given enough blowjobs in the last few years that the motions came second nature to Lex.

"I'll exert my superhuman abilities to... ahh. God, Lex what are you doing?" Clark nearly started floating. He didn't remember any of his college experimentations being like that. How could a simple touch be so much like fire? He anchored himself by holding onto Lex, trying to remember to be gentle. If it went on like this he'd need his small piece of kryptonite after all to protect Lex from him losing control.

Clark didn't get an answer to his question; instead he got Lex lowering his head a fraction before pulling back and tonguing against the slit, tongue squirming against him. Then Lex stopped, and pressed his tongue along the underside vein.

"No fair. I can't... hold..." Clark could feel the contraction and breathed. "Lex!" as he lost it and climaxed with a cry of protest at his own lack of restraint.

Lex swallowed, head still bowed down as he pulled back to nurse at the softening tip. His left hand crept up to the edge of Clark's jeans, and pushed them down a little as he pulled back. "Let's get you undressed," Lex breathed, "Before round two."

"Round two?" Clark floated up a little making the jeans easy to pull off. "I thought you were joking."

"No," was the drawled reply as he tugged at Clark's jeans and his boxers, and pulled his shoes off. Everything ended up on the floor, which seemed to be a great place to put things. "I think it's only fair..."

"How so? You only came once." Clark pointed out still floating a little. He wasn't arguing too hard, just teasing.

"I didn't finish the race the moment it started," Lex reminded as he moved both hands to Clark's hips to put him properly onto the sofa, or try to put him there, anyway. A gleam of metal caught Clark's eyes when he made that motion, where the silicone glove failed to cover the prosthetic.

Clark flushed, a little amused and embarrassed by that. "Impatience of youth?"

"Celibacy?" Lex counter-offered as he leaned in to kiss Clark's stomach again. "I've wanted to do this for a very long time."

"I've wanted it even longer." Clark sighed. That spot just there sent little sparks of sensation everywhere. "And yeah, I haven't had anything for a long time. Years even. Now that's heroic restraint." Lex was kissing over the spot where the bullet had pierced into him, and Clark shivered as the feelings delved in deep.

"I certainly can't say that, myself." Lex leaned into Clark, his upper arms on Clark's legs, and his left hand once more stroking Clark's dick.

"Mmm," Clark replied, looking down at Lex trying to apologize without words for all the times it should have been them together and hadn't been.

But Lex wasn't looking at him. He was leaning into him again, lifting his head as he kissed at Clark's chest, moving up and over to a nipple while he tried to stroke Clark up to hardness.

Clark's hands moved over slick skin, traveled on up to caress Lex's neck and the smoothness of his head even as he arched at the contact. That got a reaction, a jolt of activity moving to his groin swifter than he would have believed.

The slowly hardening flesh in his hand made Lex smile somewhat as he mouthed Clark's nipple, sucking for a moment before he very gently tested to see if nipping would leave his teeth chipped. It was a strange sensation, the harder he bit down, the more resistance there was, like some strange material that reacted to what was being done to it. Possibly he would chip his teeth if he bit down hard, but nipping slowly seemed to work. And it was certainly working for Clark who gasped and came to a very abrupt full attention. "That's...that's new..."

"New?" Lex pulled back long enough to ask that, and looked up to Clark's face for a moment.

"I feel that all the way down... Thought I would need kryptonite to take the edge off," Clark replied, still writhing a little with eagerness.

"Your AI... mentioned that I wouldn't have any trouble," Lex offered as he ducked his head down to nip again. He was almost thankful that the pointy-eared bastard had broken in and given him a scare, or else Clark could very well have still been out on patrol.

"Lara? She... How the hell did that come up in conversation?" Clark said, practically aglow at that extra stimulation. "God, I can feel everything you do!" It was a point of sheer wonder to him.

"It was while she was over-repairing my groin," Lex remarked as he leaned a little to give the same sort of attention to the other nipple, squeezing occasionally at Clark's cock to keep him from getting too far along.

"And the subject of us having sex just came up?" He arched back a little his smile beatific. " I'm not used to so much sensation."

"What's it been like before?" Lex brought his right hand up at last, stroking over Clark's ribs and the muscles that covered them. Slightly cool silicone was a different texture than Lex's skin, almost closer to Clark's.

"Muted," Clark replied, looking at the prosthetic hand. "The harder anyone has tried the more... resistance. Felt good but it was just touch, nothing more, not like this."

"Very interesting to know," Lex murmured. He gave Clark's cock a stroke and slipped his thumb over the slippery head, then started to haltingly kiss his way down. "We should test that."

"Frequently," Clark agreed, arching again. "This is good. Maybe you can, you know... fuck me without me having to wear a bit of meteor rock."

"We'll get to that stage in time," Lex promised as he paused at Clark's hip, kissing there for a moment before he tongued his head to tongue Clark's cock. His left hand slid down to Clark's balls, and he savored the feel of them in his hand, the prickling of curls of hair.

"Soon. I want to know what its like. I've... never... ahh, Lex, please!"

'Not tonight' Lex wanted to say. He'd rather do it up as... something, make it something special for Clark, particularly if he'd never experienced it before. The night so far had been too full of ups and downs. Lex sucked briefly up the underside, and then pulled back for a moment, licking his lips before he lowered his head with full intent of engulfing Clark.

That brought a surprised cry from Clark, as if indeed it was totally new to him. Perhaps in a way with this new sensation it was like discovering sex all over again and he certainly liked the new Lex-upgraded version. He had to move, he had to. Rocking against that mouth was as inevitable as the sun coming up.

And Lex didn't mind, or react much to the motion, because he was used to doing that. He lowered his head down, down until his nose nudged against Clark's skin, and a swallow squeezed around Clark's cock.

"Gonna... oh god, I'm gonna come again Lex!" He wouldn't have believed it possible if it hadn't just been proven. He limited his thrusts carefully, reveling in that feeling, letting it overload him until he lost track of himself and he cried out again and climaxed once more.

And again, Lex nursed at him until he was soft, until it was almost too-much sensation for Clark, and he sat back on his heels smiling at up Clark. "Well."

Clark drifted down from his high and focused his eyes. "Unbelievable... I thought I could live without sex, but I didn't know what it could be like. Thank you Lex... my God." Revelation and wonder were genuine in his voice and he reached to warm Lex with the heat of his own embrace.

"You're very flattering," Lex murmured, as he half-returned the embrace. It was warm, after all, and Clark was sincere and good. Very good. "Let's go to bed, Clark, hmn?"

Clark nodded, his eyes bright and expression warm, a million miles adrift of the stern visage he had worn when he had entered as Superman. He hadn't been disappointed; their first time had exceeded his expectations and then some, and he just hoped it had been the same for Lex

Lex grasped Clark's nearest hand with his, still warm and no small amount sticky, and pulled at him. "Just leave everything here. We can get to it in the morning..." Except turning off the radios, and the low hum of noise that they'd been providing.

"I just want to be with you..." Clark murmured, followed. "I think I'm addicted."

"Addicted?" Lex's mouth curled into the easy, twist of a crooked smile that Clark had been so used to in the past. "We'll see about that. Could you get the radios?

Clark grinned and it was barely possible to see him move he was so fast in turning them off. "Yes?"

It made Lex pause for a moment, and then he went back to leading Clark towards the bedroom. "That must be very convenient."

"Helps cram everything into a day," Clark replied. He'd pick Lex up and carry him if he didn't think it might wound his dignity. Maybe another time, when they had learnt more of each other. When he knew for sure whether or not any dignity would be wounded.

Lex laughed a little, and opened the bedroom door a touch cautiously. "I'll remember that."

Clark stepped up close behind him "It's safe you know, I promise its safe here now."

"I know. But it's habit." Lex put his hand back to reach for Clark, pleased when his fingers brushed bare skin. Then he strode over to the bed, and all but crawled in between the sheets. They could shower -- and take their time doing it -- in the morning.

It was particularly pleasing to Clark to be able to do likewise and settle in comfortably behind him, his taller frame able to curl around Lex. There was a brief pause as they got comfortable, before Clark said in a soft murmur, "I do love you Lex." Then with a contented sigh, twined a leg over Lex's.

The room was quiet for a moment, before Lex murmured. "I know. But it's good to hear it."

And it was, it was good to hear it -- because Lionel had never quite said the words. He'd just implied it, and Lex had eagerly assumed, and built up a lie that had made him happy. It was different when there were two builders, and it wasn't a lie, but an existence.

Lex relaxed his head onto the pillow, and shifted a little so he'd be sure to cause Clark a morning hard-on. "Love you, too."

If he'd been facing Clark then, he might have been blinded by the smile at those words, but as it was all evidence there was of Clark's joy at finally hearing those words was the gentle, tender touches that bid him to rest easy in his lover's arms.

There were days that Lex questioned how he managed to do what he did on a daily basis. Not just the feats of business, no, but the simple things. It was nice to have a new wonderment about such simple things, the appreciation of... living.

It was hard for Lex to remember when he'd last marveled in life so much. Did normal people do that? He'd only felt that after low points of his life: after the island, after the asylum, even after he'd gone over the bridge. High and low and high again. High enough to let him forget the pain and struggle that had come before.

LeXCorp was helping him do it again. LeXCorp and Clark, both built on old, strong bones and foundations. A company and friendship raised and revitalized.

Lex shifted, leaning back in his chair as he let his eyes focus off of the multiple computer screens he'd been monitoring. It felt good to be happy again, it felt good to sit back with his fingers barely on the keyboard and feel the triumph of his work. Everything was going to work. No Lionel to ruin his plans, to fuck up his life. No Edge to come out of left field.

No reason to not try and share that happiness, either. Lex glanced over at his clock, and then set an alarm so he'd leave the office a little before six. Clark could use a chance to relax and enjoy, too.

It was easy to get into a 'spring a surprise' mood when the urge struck Lex. To get to a place in his head where he found himself striding through the Daily Planet's lobby, walking up to the elevators. Clark was probably getting ready to wrap up for the day, so his timing was golden.

When he reached the still humming offices upstairs, Clark was there talking, still wearing the unnecessary leg brace and discussing something with Jimmy as he waved the cane Lex had ordered for him around in emphasis. But from the fact he had his coat over one arm he was obviously considering leaving even if he hadn't yet managed it.

Lex stepping into the main office was probably a great reason to leave, Lex hoped. He paused in the doorway for a moment, feeling the remembrance of having stumbled through that same door in desperation. Then Lex shrugged it off and headed towards Clark's desk.

Jimmy's expression was the thing that gave it away and Clark looked over his shoulder and smiled. "Lex! I thought you were working late. Testing day coming up and all that."

"There's still a couple of weeks to go," Lex drawled as he paused beside Clark's desk. "I wasn't going to let you walk home..."

Jimmy was still giving them a look, which he presumably thought was subtle and knowing. Clark was busy ignoring it. "And here I was looking forward sliding around with this thing in the chill winter air," he replied waving the cane around. "Thank you Lex."

Jimmy grinned, "He's a walking public health hazard with that thing Mr. Luthor. "

"The brace, or the cane?" Lex reached his gloved right hand out to take Clark's coat from his arm, as if that would coax Clark to get up and start moving. A man could hope. "Or both?"

"The cane." Jimmy supplied ducking back as Clark took a mock swing at him and grinning.

Clark got up stiffly, genuinely so from the hassle of having the damn leg practically immobile all day. Except for his Superman moments. "Well at least I get to take it off soon. Can't be soon enough. I'll see you tomorrow Jimmy, if you see Lois later tell her I finished the Tallridge article for her after all."

"Will do, CK." Jimmy nodded and stared as Clark chose to get up by hauling himself up using Lex's shoulder.

"Lets get out of here," he said smiling as he did so.

"I was wondering if you felt up to going out tonight." Lex offered that tentatively as he helped Clark into his coat.

Clark looked at him. "Sure, if you want to?" They hadn't really been out together since it all happened and Clark was not surprised at the lean towards being antisocial. It worked out pretty well from a staying in and making out point of view.

Lex lifted the coat shoulders a little, and straightened it for Clark before grabbing Clark's briefcase. It had been a little fun for Lex to play up that Clark needed his help, and he did it a little smugly. "The reservations are already made -- was that a bit presumptuous of me?"

"Presume away," Clark said easily, raising his eyebrows a little at having such attention in front of his workmates. "I think I enjoy being surprised."

"I hope you do," Lex drawled as he gave Clark a twitch of a smile and started to the door. "Reservations are for seven, so we have some time..."

"Do I get to know any of the plan?" Clark asked, as he was whisked away, slightly bemused but very appreciative of this turn about in attention.

"We're heading back to my office, where I've got a change of clothes for you -- the restaurant is rather upscale -- and..." Lex was smiling as he held the office door open for Clark. "Just dinner."

"Just dinner?" Clark smiled back "Why do I think that might be one of those statements like the Empire State building is "just a building'?"

"It is just a building." Lex let the office door close behind him as they started down the hallway, knowing that Clark's office now had a good serving of gossip to run off of for a few days.

"You did that on purpose didn't you? " he said in a lower voice. "You do realize what I'm going to get in there, tomorrow morning?

"Did what on purpose?" Lex asked in mock innocence as he hit the elevator door open for Clark.

"Come in, sweep me away, assisting me so closely," Clark replied. He didn't look that unhappy about it, and seemed to be trying not to smile too obviously.

"You did take a bullet for me," Lex pointed out as he let Clark get into the elevator first. The old slyness felt like it was back, the dry humor that Clark remembered when Lex was in control and happy with a situation.

"Two technically, but who's counting?" Clark replied, walking awkwardly with the cane and brace.

"You are." Lex held the door for Clark to get in, and then slipped in easily himself, hitting the lobby button. "We can't go back to the Penthouse. Mercy is... busy there."

"Oh?" Clark looked at him "My curiosity prickles. Anything you'd care to share?"

"You said you liked being surprised, Clark." Lex slipped his hand into his pocket, still holding onto Clark's briefcase. "So it's going to stay a surprise."

"Lex..." Clark tried to wheedle. But he was smiling as they reached the lobby and left the building. "I see you got the LexCorp sign up there now." He nodded as they stepped outside in the chill air.

"It needed to be up," Lex murmured as he looked up and over to his building for a moment. "It makes it feel real at last."

Public or not, Clarks free arm slipped around Lex's waist at that. "It is real, you've made it real," he replied seriously.

Lex had given up on caring about those little motions of Clark's. He and his father had spent eight years being painfully circumspect -- that Clark wasn't that way gave a sense of validation to Lex's decision about Clark. About trusting Clark. "With your help. Come on -- we need to get back up to my office."

"I'll hobble with suitable drama," Clark replied managing a fair turn of speed. "I'll keep up if I can lean on you." He gave his small half smile even as they began walking.

"When did the 'doctor' say you could take that off?" Lex fell into easy pace with Clark, and with the blustery bite of wind it was easy to enjoy the closeness.

"Couple of days," Clark grinned. "I wouldn't dare disobey Dr Hope's orders."

"I would." Lex nodded to the meaty security guard at the entrance to the LeXCorp building. "In fact, I did, and will continue to do so often. If the thought of you like this wasn't amusing, I'd heavily advise the same."

"Amusing?" Clark looked deliberately mournful. "You like seeing me staggering around weakly?"

"No, just... the cane's a bit much. I thought I did things over the top." Lex let Clark keep close as they entered the posh lobby, striding over marble floors with familiarity.

"The cane has been the most fun of the whole thing." Clark quirked a smile, "Even Lois has been nice to me."

"Maybe you can keep it another couple of days, then." Lex was quirking a smile, too, as he headed for the executive elevator, and gave a vague wave to another security guard. "It'll keep you from having to cover press conferences for a few more days, won't it?"

"I'm taking it along to my first one. I'm not above using it to exploit my need to get back in the game. Besides, if in the event of terminal boredom I could try to trip up Jacobs of the Star." He hadn't forgiven him for the tabloid crap he had churned out about Lex.

That made Lex's mouth twitch with new humor. "If I was allowed, I'd buy that paper, too. And make sure I had the security camera tapes for when that declaration was made in the Star's office. The cost would be worth their facial expressions..."

"You should set it up as an April fool -- but not actually do it," Clark replied. "Leak the story in the right place, arrange lunch with the right people and instant erroneous conclusion."

"April is a long way off." And he didn't like to fuck with his business contacts that way. Still, a media leak... Was more than acceptable.

"Christmas first." They entered the office and he stepped around the spot where he had been lying on the floor undergoing surgery with the letter opener. He never said anything, but he had dreamed about it to the extent that Lex knew it bother him, too, for all he didn't talk about it directly. He just avoided the topic, much as he found a way to walk around that patch of carpet.

Never mind that the carpet had been replaced, and that there weren't any signs left of what had happened. Lex's own recollection of Edge's body on the floor was much more pleasant, and when he walked around his desk he imagined stepping on Edge's skull.

"Mm. I'm glad it's not quite the holiday season yet -- I'm not sure what direction new traditions would go in."

"Mom will want to feed us," Clark replied. "Repeatedly. We could go there? At least some of the time?" It was a tentative query, as Clark knew he was making an assumption about whether Lex would want to be with him then or not.

"Only if I'll be able to contribute something," Lex countered. The office had been visibly repainted to a Lex-ian shade of purple, and the glass sculptured walls that Lionel had loved so well were gone, chrome and creamy wood accenting it instead.

"We'll find something," Clark replied. "I usually make sure I get some food in for the next couple of days, so Mom has a break. We could arrange something." He grinned. "Where's this change of clothes?"

"The storage closet over there," Lex said absently, and he pointed towards it. "I have a change of clothes in there, too. Have you ever been to The Grange?"

Clark's expression was touched with amazement. "Are you kidding me? Like they'd let a reporter in there... The Grange?"

"Well, someone you were interviewing inviting you there was always a possibility." Lex trailed off as he leaned against the edge of his desk, watching Clark get near the closet.

Clark opened the closet and looked around at Lex holding up the 'large portion of his salary' suit, raising his eyebrows. "Sadly, no. Ironically, that's usually people like Lois who get those interviews."

"Maybe the usual patrons of the Grange enjoy suffering in their free time more than they enjoy sharing civil company." Lex glanced at that suit, smiling. "Did I grab the wrong one?"

"Just as well no one I know will be there. They're not used to my well-fitted look," Clark replied. He took off his jacket thoughtfully. He could have super-speeded into it, but he chose not to. He started unbuttoning his shirt slowly.

Lex watched him for a moment, and then pushed away from the table to retrieve his own extra suit. "I'm fond of your well-fitted look. Not the spandex, but... this is definitely something that highlights your assets."

"I have assets?" Clark asked as he took his shirt off and glanced over at Lex. "I hope they're good ones."

"You're shameless, Clark. I spent almost an hour last night kissing some of them." Lex pulled his suit out, zipping it out of the suit bag, and walked back to his desk and the chair there so he could lay it on something while he undressed.

"Ah, those assets," Clark replied smirking just a little. "Come on, I don't get many compliments aside from yours." Down came the pants and a total lack of self consciousness and trust in Lex's office to now be secure enabled him to sidle over to Lex a moment to 'help'.

Or, more aptly, not help. But Lex had planned for that and they had a little time before they were supposed to be there. Seven. Just a little time, even if Clark's hands were doing more petting than helping Lex get his coat, his suit jacket, and shirt off.

"Yes, those assets."

"You know, you've got a fine set of assets yourself," Clark said nuzzling into the back of his neck comfortably. "Mmm, you smell good."

"I finally found my old cologne again." What he'd worn in Smallville, what he'd forgotten he'd even owned once Lionel had impressed on him that he wasn't to bother wearing any. It was odd how things like that surfaced when he made himself change and move forwards. "Fuck, Clark -- don't start here, or we won't be having dinner."

"Ordinarily I would say ditch the dinner, but..." Clark eased back just a little. "Not when you've put so much effort into surprising me." He inhaled. "You have no idea what that smell brings back..." Talking and leaning near him at the Castle, fantasies, forbidden thoughts, the way he smelled when he held him close after a rescue that could never be acknowledged, just like the pounding of his own heart.

"I probably have some idea." Lex twisted around carefully; it had the added benefit of getting his coat and jacket off, though his shirt was caught in limbo. "It reminded me of you."

Clark looked at him as he helped to remove the jacket and then started assisting with the shirt by reaching around and undoing the buttons one by one. "In what way?"

"The last time I wore it was when I still lived in Smallville. There's a lot of memory in scent." And in Clark, but Clark's smell didn't bring up anything sharper than simple and to the point arousal.

"I used to smell it in the times when I rescued you and held you close, even just for a moment. " Clark murmured. "Just a few moments in time, but enough. It would cling to me and..." he shrugged a little. "Many a daydream went into that smell."

Lex turned his head back to looking forwards, but leaned back to Clark a little even as he shifted to get out of his shirt, simultaneously trying to open up his pants. "If I had have known then."

"Or me. I... let what I thought I should be doing interfere with what I knew I wanted." Clark managed to get his shirt off, and then decided keeping Lex warm was important. He had been like it since they had shifted their relationship to a physical basis. He wanted to touch and be in contact where he could.

Either making up for lost time, or trying to still convince Lex that he wasn't Lionel. It didn't matter since Lex leaned into him even as he shifted his hands to the waistband of his trousers and hooked his thumbs in to push them down. "I know. The 'What if' game is hard to play, and I would much rather appreciate that the outcome we have now worked."

Clark wanted to say something about it being too high a price, but he just couldn't deny this moment. Instead he softly kissed the back of Lex's scalp and embraced him close for the long moments it took for Lex to be completely undressed.

"You should really get dressed, Clark," Lex suggested as he stepped out of his slacks, and back against Clark's bare skin. "Before I take advantage of this convenience..."

"I can get dressed in a moment." Clark just savored the moment of standing there skin to skin with his lover.

And Lex was definitely his lover. Unashamed of it, also, to the point of being willing to offer Clark more and more -- of himself, his time, his private space. Lex made himself exhale slowly, head lolling back against Clark's muscled shoulder. Clark wasn't really much taller than he was. A couple of inches at the most, but all of that muscle made a difference.

"Thank god my staff knows a closed door is a locked door."

"Mm. I have to admit, I never imagined this," Clark replied, looking around. They were so close to the point where Lex was held at gunpoint.

Right behind his desk, which had been replaced with something not quite as foreboding as Lionel's desk. Lex was undisturbed, or simply didn't notice, and slid his left hand back to Clark's hip, rubbing over his hipbone. "Imagined what?"

"That I would one day be standing practically naked in your office with you. I missed that one in my over active imagination."

"You didn't fantasize about my office in the mansion?" Something to note down, as he let his hand stray to Clark's half-hard cock. "So, you planning on going commando to dinner?"

"I could," Clark replied assessing Lex's movements. "Though it could be dangerous to the suit."

The shift Lex gave, pressing back against him for a moment before he pulled gently away, told Clark that if he were, the idea was well received. "I'll have to be careful with you, then, won't I?"

"Very careful." Clark could take a hint. "I better change now?"

"Yes. It's a short drive, but you know traffic at this hour in Metropolis."

Clotted like old blood, until seven rolled around and everyone realized that they had places that they should have been. Lex moved to the chair, sorting out his suit; he, of course, had been mindful enough to have underwear and an undershirt that went with the suit.

That didn't seem to worry Clark in the slightest. There was a sudden whirl of motion and a blur of speed and there he was suddenly, dressed up, smoothed out and eminently presentable.

"Show off." Much more mundanely, Lex just pulled his clothes on, careful and tedious in making sure everything was tucked perfectly where it belonged. But when he finished, he just stepped into his shoes, and everything was perfect.

"Multi-talented," Clark agreed. "I'll leave the brace off but take the cane. Just in case. " He looked over Lex admiringly. "There are times I would swear you were born in a suit. It always looks right."

"Years of wearing them. My school uniforms when I was younger were like suits in a way." Lex adjusted his gloves, smiling at Clark as he turned towards him. "Do you want to leave your briefcase here? Hope will take it all back to the Penthouse."

"Yes." he grinned. "You're enjoying whisking me away aren't you?" He widened his eyes as something occurred to him. "Does this count as our first official date?"

"I think it could." It was hard for him to not smile as he moved around his desk and towards Clark. "At least the first date that we knew we were going on a date."

"It's like being back at school all over again. " Clark said moving to meet him. "Only with better clothes and the shotgun's a couple of hours drive away."

"Even when the shotgun was a few seconds away, he didn't use it. I'm pleased about that..." Lex stroked his hands down Clark's lapels, looking up at him. "So let's go. It's about time Clark Kent went inside the Grange."

Sometimes being a billionaire meant that you were expected to do certain things. Behave a certain way, spend a certain amount, talk to the press, wine and dine. Sometimes if you were exceptionally lucky you could combine some of the tedious task and try and meant the best of them.

Bruce Wayne (who was getting to the point he was thinking of copyrighting the phrase Billionaire Bruce Wayne, and adopting it as his legal name to save everyone the trouble) had given in to the necessary evil of an interview with the press. After his negative confrontation with Clark Kent, Lois Lane had been the lucky recipient of his dinner invitation to the Grange.

Besides, she was attractive in her own way, sharp and witty and he could get as much information from her as she was getting from him.

The food was, of course, exquisite, and he sat amused as he listened to Lois talking. At him, with him, it was hard to tell. She was familiar with the Grange, and showed none of the immature wonderment at such a plush and overly decorated place. Not at the embroidered bench seating, the elegant, large tables, the live music, none of it.

And she was flirting, just a little, as she talked.

"So what inspired you to put down business roots in Metropolis?"

"Metropolis has opportunities for expansion," Bruce replied. "Particularly those that have opened up recently. Wayne Enterprises has made some useful acquisitions in the past month." The lobster bisque was indeed excellent as advertised. It almost made him regret not ordering it as a main course.

"Acquisitions from whom?" Ms. Lane smiled like a cat with a mouthful of parakeet, just for a moment, and leaned forwards towards him across the table. "We all know that in the past month the business territory in Metropolis has undergone several changes."

"And Wayne Enterprises has benefited from the fallout from that situation across the board," Bruce replied. He glanced at his watch. "Here is your scoop Ms. Lane: as of seven this evening, Wayne Enterprises have acquired the Corus Corporation. "

"Mmm. and that means a great monetary gain for you. Are you eyeing any of the subsidiaries of the old LuthorCorp for purchase?" She took a slow drink of her red wine, waiting.

Bruce gave a business smile "Those I am interested in, I have acted upon. Truth be told, the new entity LexCorp corresponds more closely with my interest than LuthorCorp ever did. Perhaps there might be closer links there in the future, who knows?"

She seemed to note that, smiling at him. "So if it falters, what are the chances that you'll scoop it up?"

"I'd have to consider that very carefully," Bruce replied evasively. "For if it did falter, then the odds would be there was a good reason in the economic environment, rather than an issue of mismanagement."

"So you believe that your competitor is a competent CEO? Doesn't that put Wayne Industries in a perilous position, if he is competent? With the Luthor track record of crushing competition, and LeXCorp moving into your part of the technology field." Lois leaned a little less, and went still for a moment, watching something over Bruce's shoulder.

"I'm sure he will be, but currently we are dealing with diverging customer bases and..." Bruce paused. "I appear to have lost your attention Miss Lane. Should I be offended that I have finally managed to bore you rigid?"

"No, it's just that I spoke of the devil and he's just walked in the door." She peered a little more, and then seemed to make herself look at her notepad as Lex walked by their booth. With Clark Kent beside him, cane in hand and in use.

"And I believe one of your colleagues with him?" Bruce commented. "I've had interviews with him... Kent?"

"He's my partner, actually -- we work in teams at the Daily Planet." Or at least she did, but everyone knew that Lois Lane needed to have her leash held, tightly. "What a coincidence. Uh, back to the maneuvering in the business world."

And they were being put into the booth just behind Lois and Bruce's. When they sat down, Bruce could see Lex's face and a look of recognition as he was sitting down. Bruce nodded back. "Perhaps it would be politic to exchange a few words with him -- I haven't had opportunity to speak to him in person since all this occurred," he said speculatively. "If you would excuse me a moment Ms Lane."

He got up and walked the few steps to the booth behind them, approaching with some caution. "Lex, it's been a while. I apologize for communicating only through letters and emails. I've been intending to try and arrange something so we could talk."

Lex was giving him a look, just for a moment, that rather clearly declared that he thought Bruce was an opportunistic shark. Or maybe it was just annoyance at having his dinner interrupted. "Well, it's good to see you, Bruce. I wasn't expecting to run into any business acquaintances tonight." Since most of them were in jail or out on bail and nursing wounds. He cast Clark an apologetic looking glance.

"Bruce, this is my... friend, Clark Kent -- Clark, this is an old acquaintance of mine, Bruce Wayne."

Clark looked up at Bruce and shook his hand. "We've met once or twice," he said with a rather bland tone. "Good to see you again Mr. Wayne."

"You too, Mr. Kent. I have the pleasure of your colleagues company tonight." He gave a slight smile. "She is busy leaving no stone unturned."

Clark nearly groaned. "Lois?"

Bruce nodded almost looking amused at his reaction before looking back to Lex. "I am glad to see you looking so well Lex."

Sure he was. Once upon a time, they'd been good friends, but boyhood friends meant nothing once a person joined the thrashing bloody oceans of the business world. And the last few weeks had proven to Lex that most people were liars at the head of things; Lex just hadn't had time to decide if Bruce was among those ranks, or if he was one of those unhelpful kind faces.

"Thanks. It's probably been a while since I've felt so good. How have you been?"

"Busy." Bruce looked at him as if weighing up the distrust. "At some point -- at your convenience, of course - I'd like to discuss the possibility of a joint venture between LeXCorp and Wayne Enterprises."

Clark's eyes widened a moment. Casual dinner conversation was turning into money all around him. Was this how the really big business was done?

"We could discuss it now, briefly -- unless your own dinner companion is as attention-catching as my own," Lex answered, calm and easy with the notion even as he complimented Clark in the same breath.

Clark could hear Lois going very still in the booth behind them, and then scribbling something hastily. He looked up a little, clearing his throat. "Do you want me to... um... leave you to talk a moment?" he offered. He wasn't there in a reporter capacity and he didn't want to stand in the way of something that could be major for Lex.

"That would be Mr. Wayne's decision," Lex deferred. The Grange wasn't the Gold House, after all; privacy was not promised, only that the waiters wouldn't gossip. People went to the Grange to be seen, after all.

Bruce looked at Clark, the merest twitch of a smile showing. "In my experience, reporters have keen hearing. I suspect we might as well ask Ms Lane to join us for a brief moment. This is not a discussion I will be making with anyone else, so it doesn't matter if it makes it to press."

"I'm glad to hear that I've been included in this little sortie," Lois declared as she stood up and quickly rounded to stand near Bruce.

"You're faster than the waiter is in bringing the wine back, Miss Lane," Lex mock-complimented Lois. "Please, sit down. You too, Bruce."

Clark moved round until he was sitting close to Lex even as Bruce and Lois sat down opposite them. He was confused. Considering what Bruce had been like when he had dropped in on them as Batman, this friendly persona threw him.

"I have a contract for Wayne Enterprises which you may have heard of -- LuthorCorp refused to bid on it as at that time, it was a direction divorced from its business interests." Bruce said in his soft voice. "Wayne Industries secured the contract for the Pinocchio project -- the development of a multi-environmental based android workers -- specifically for future use in terraforming projects."

Clark could practically feel Lex's eyes light up, even if he wasn't looking at him. But past his eyes, the expression Lex wore was muted. "LeXCorp is working on a flight project at this immediate moment, manufacturing planes. Why makes you think that LeXCorp would now be fit for the Pinocchio project?"

"The body prototype is a work in progress, but some of the brightest minds in the field of functional robotics and practical artificial intelligence have been carefully brought under the banner of S.T.A.RR Labs. That leaves me with two options. Poach them away from you Lex, or consider a joint project. There is also a significant disadvantage to the first option in that one of the principle contributors of value to the Pinocchio project is to all intents and purposes, unbribable."

"And that would be...?" Lex would coax everything he needed to know out of Bruce before he replied.

"You, Lex." Bruce answered simply.

Clark was trying hard not to stare at Bruce, on the basis that if his amazement kept up he might end up frying the man accidentally. In those two simple words, Bruce had done more to secure Lex's positions than all the marketing propaganda that Lex could throw at the business world. Wayne Enterprises wanted the personal involvement of the CEO of LeXCorp on a high-level government project? It was an exceptional vote of confidence and even if Lex turned it down, his glance over at Lois showed it would be in the papers.

If only he had a clue what Bruce was doing!

Lex paused, before looking at Bruce suspiciously. "I'm a pilot and a bit of an engineer, Bruce -- why would you consider me for anything in the robotics field?" Clark knew about Hope and Mercy, and Lionel had known and humored Lex, but no one else was supposed to. They were Lex's secret. As long as no one knew, there were no morality issues to deal with.

"Some time ago there was a paper published under a pseudonym about algorhythmic intelligence mechanisms and programming processes. A brilliant piece of work, and over looked as it never hit the major scientific journals," Bruce replied calmly. "Imagine my surprise when I traced it back to you. You must have written that nearly five years ago. I can only speculate what you might have managed in the meantime."

Lois seemed ready to almost fidget in her seat as she watched Lex sit back a little, looking at Bruce. And looking at him. "It's hard to publish to the large journals under a pseudonym. I would enjoy the opportunity to have a... wider field test for my theories," he finally answered carefully.

"The ultimate goal for the Pinocchio project is intended to be space colonization Lex." Bruce dropped that bombshell into the conversation. "It doesn't get much wider a playing field than that."

"No, it doesn't. What would cooperation between our two companies entail, exactly. What will your people be doing?"

"Physical structure, self mending machines. We have the minds to produce some interesting leaps forward there, but there is complex programming and the "brain centre" I would propose become a LeXCorp project. I have the authority to contract as necessary. We can discuss the details at length another time perhaps, but that is the essence."

"Then in essence, I accept." Lex offered his hand towards Bruce, his silicone covered prosthetic because shaking on an agreement was almost expected. "The only hurdle I foresee is melding the brain center... prototype I have to a Wayne industries 'body'."

Bruce shook that hand. "A hurdle no doubt we can surmount together. I'll make an appointment to bring you all the pertinent information Lex, so you can take a detailed look before we get down to contractual issues, and I won't interrupt your evening out any further. I believe the business world will be shaken enough by what has just happened without us getting in any deeper for now. My apologies for disturbing your meal Lex, Clark... Ms Lane? Perhaps we should return for our main course?"

"Oh... oh, yes..." Lois started to stand up with a smile, and spied the waiter who was hovering away at some distance with an ice bucket with a wine bottle and two glasses. She stood up and moved out of the booth, flashing Clark a 'My scoop' grin.

"Please, feel free to leave that appointment time with either of my assistants," Lex said as he put a hand on Clark' s knee.

"I'll do that." Bruce Wayne nodded cordially, and sweeping Lois away with only one backward glance, he left them in peace. Clark with a stunned feeling as if he had been at the epicenter of some severe and amazing economic earthquake.

He shifted around to the other side of the table again. "Wow. Why do I feel like I've been present a significant moment in history?"

Lex gave an insouciant shrug, wanting to regain the relaxed feel of the evening, "There's no guarantees it'll go through."

Clark shook his head as he reached automatically for Lex's hand, to reestablish the physical contact between them. "He wants you. He rates you as a designer. It's just a shame that your work has been hidden under an alias all this time."

Lex took the offered hand, clutching it idly in his left hand. "Think about that, Clark. I'm known as a businessman. If I had tried to publish it, no-one would have taken it seriously at all."

"It seems a shame that you get categorized like that. So it was something you did in your spare time?" Clark asked settling with the contact, ignoring the fact that Lois was still close by and possibly listening.

"Just like the LeXWing," Lex agreed with a nod as he smiled at Clark. "A man can do a lot in his spare time."

"No kidding," Clark replied with some wry amusement at the understatement. "When's the inaugural flight as it were?"

"Two weeks from today, Clark -- I'd appreciate it if you were there, in official capacity or not." Lex picked up his wineglass in his right hand, because Clark was monopolizing his left.

"I'll be there Lex." Clark confirmed with a nod. "Wouldn't miss it. I'll pitch for the assignment and I'm sure Lois will want it."

"I'm sure Lois is eavesdropping as we speak. It's the cocktail party effect." Lex looked at his wineglass, as yet untouched. "Any suggestions for a toast, Clark?"

Clark considered this lifting his glass, wanting to declare something but wanting to shield the depth of it from public scrutiny. "I have this terrible urge to think of poetry when people ask me things like that. Okay, how about a toast to the sentiment of "Are we here together alone?" though I know your tastes run more to the classics."

"Whitman could have been Greek." Lex tipped his glass, a flourish-less motion of toasting. To double meanings, yes, and double lives, and somewhere in there, happiness.

Clark clinked his glass gently against Lex's, hearing the ring of high quality crystal. "I should have known you would know the origin. You always had a quote for the occasion."

"I've lost the touch a little, but I still remember everything. The classics, the romanticists, the great political leaders, and bad action flicks." Lex paused for a moment to take a tasting sip, and set the glass down.

"Yes, I remember the profound pearls of wisdom gleaned from the Die Hard trilogy."

"There are times in a board room where 'Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker' has a place," Lex smirked as he sat back a little, and finally let go of Clark's hand. He wouldn't lose contact with Clark for long, though. "Though I've always wanted to tell a reporter when they ask for a few words on something: 'You can have two -- Fuck and You. No pictures, you pinko bitch.' But I never quite have the guts or state of mind."

Clark chuckled, "I have no idea who you might be aiming that comment at," he said innocently. "We should watch those again. I remember spilling the popcorn when I watch it up at the Castle."

"Full surround sound can do that. Gunshots sounded more real than they do in reality."

Clark nodded as their food was brought over and placed in front of them, the unmistakable smell of truffles steaming up freshly, a fortune cooked and baked into an omelet. "Jumped out of my skin the first time," he agreed.

"They're much less melodramatic in reality." More shock and horror than the sound and noise that the movies made it. Lex smiled at the waiter as he set down the squab, which was thankfully cut and steeped in a stew-like broth.

Clark began to eat once Lex had his food, enjoying the new taste. "A little more tricky to deal with though," he replied. He was already thinking about them being alone, where they could just talk without having to weigh each word. And he'd be damned if he would restrain his physical attraction and contact with Lex now. Let the world know.

One more sip of his drink, and Lex set it down with a slow sigh as if mirroring the direction of his thoughts. "Yes. I'm sorry. I should have thought to go somewhere that business wouldn't have found me, Clark. It's sort of thrown me."

"Lex, it was an important conversation, I understand that." Clark smiled at him reassuringly. "Why, what did you envision for this evening?"

"A little mood-setting for a proposal I'd like to put forth." Beneath the table, Lex stretched a leg forward the short distance it took to press against the side of Clark's leg. The cozy narrowness of the booths was something to appreciate even if their plates and glasses were almost touching.

"Oh yes?" Clark smiled again appreciating the turn of this conversation. "What sort of proposal?"

"I want you to move into the Penthouse. Really move in, Clark, not this extended over-night stay you've been doing. I want you to make it into a home with me." It almost made his nerves twitch, because the last person he'd extended that offer to had thought she'd killed him.

Clark looked down a moment and then looked back up with a slow smile. "Are you really sure Lex?"

"Very sure. I've had time to think about this, Clark -- I already know we can work around and with each other, cohabiting. That's no hurdle." And he wanted Clark there. When the inevitable happened and they fought over something, he didn't want Clark to have an apartment to run off to and maybe never come back from.

Clark considered. He'd already thought over the options, the downside of a loss of independence, but that seem ridiculous in a Penthouse big enough to get lost in. If he wanted to be alone he could. And he already knew. He wanted to be with Lex. That was the long and the short of it. So what if it was Lex's place and not his own?

"None at all," Clark agreed. He looked directly at Lex. "I don't even have to give it thought. I want to be with you Lex."

Lex pressed his leg casually against Clark's, and didn't bother to turn down the smile that was tugging crookedly at his lips. "That's good, because if you had've said 'no', plan B would have involved a PowerPoint presentation on my palmtop about why you should rethink. And I accidentally left that back at the office."

Clark nearly burst out laughing at that. "You know, I'd think that was a joke if I didn't know you better. Care to summarize the points?"

"Proximity to the Daily Planet, the convenience of living downtown, better... safety, a nice view, me, and you can take any room you like for your own. I know you don't have a real work-space in your current apartment."

"Very practical. I can't help but notice that you buried the bit about you in there pretty deeply. After a nice view. I want to know what sort of perks I get with you as my landlord and co-habiter." He was trying to sound serious but it wasn't really happening. He had been hoping so long this might happen, dreading the awkwardness that it might not.

The unsurity. But Lex didn't like being unsure of anything himself, so... so it was good for both of them that it had happened. Lex ate a piece of the squab, swallowed, and then answered, "Well, I've been told I'm easy to get along with, and that the sex is pretty good. I'm also rather clean and organized, but if you're not, that's all right. That's why there's a maid service."

Clark smiled again, "And what contributions do you require from your proposed new roommate?"

"Well, since the place is owned outright, there's no rent to pay. I suppose just companionship."

"Just... companionship?" Clark questioned, looking at him urging him to admit that he wanted and needed him there.

"Company," Lex amended, until he caught on that he wasn't quite phrasing it the way he meant it. It could have been the little furrow in Clark's brow, and it did unsettle Lex for a tick of a moment. "You, specifically."

"It's nice to be wanted," Clark replied. "Well, despite all these terrible conditions," -- and he grinned so Lex would know he was joking -- " I am going to face the challenge and enjoy every single moment of it."

Lex paused to take another bite, smiling at Clark even with his head tipped slightly down. "I'm glad to hear that, Clark. I think this marks the beginning of something new and great."

"Legendary even." Clark's smile was about to set down roots, it was so set and permanent. "Has Mercy been uh... arranging things while we were out?"

"You'll see when we get home," Lex promised, a pleased promise because they would be going home, he and Clark. "Let's just enjoy supper -- don't worry about it, Clark."

"I won't," Clark replied, "I won't at all."

But as superb as the food was, and the glamour he knew the real highlight of the evening would be returning back to the Penthouse and for the first time knowing he officially belonged there and wasn't just a rather intimate guest. That it might possibly be a home.

"I'll be very unhappy if you cheat and look through the blindfold," Lex threatened as he led Clark into the bedroom that was as much a surprise for Lex as it was for Clark. He'd left Mercy with vague instructions, and had trusted in the sensitivities she was aware of to guide her the rest of the way.

There was a smell to the room, the incense that Lex had picked up on a business trip some years ago, letting out a thin tendril of scented smoke from the holder it stood in. That only set the mood for the rest of the room, which had been given a coat of paint that day, and re-arranged entirely. Re-done entirely. There wasn't a single mark of Lionel in the room.

Clark smiled again, "I won't peek, but I can smell...what's that? Incense? You've turned the Penthouse into a harem?"

"It covers the fresh-paint smell," Lex murmured, as he took in the metal and wood combinations, the rich violet and dark blue. The new bed, the crisp sheets, the... everything. "Stand still." Lex's fingers moved to take Clark's tie off and his suit jacket, too.

"Mmm. See now this is interesting." Clark stood obediently still. "I'm getting fond of this blindfold."

"We'll try it sometime with a blindfold that you really can't see through. Lead-lined," Lex half-suggested and half threatened as he dropped Clark's tie and jacket to the floor, and opened Clark's belt left-handed.

"It's probably very wrong of me to like the sound of that idea," Clark replied, "If only because I'm trying to imagine how you would explain making such a thing. This must be the first new house rule. Compulsorary nakidity."

"Nakidity?" Lex's voice edged on incredulous as he pushed Clark's pants down. No underwear, and as the night had progressed Clark had definitely gotten hard a few times. He was hard then, and Lex caressed fingers briefly over it before he moved to get Clark's shirt unbuttoned. "And you're a writer. You should be ashamed to make up words like that."

"Surely the whole point of having a degree is so you can make up words. Shakespeare made up nearly ten percent of his words. Like... hint and majestic"

"I'll argue over this with you later, Clark," Lex promised as he leaned up to kiss Clark's mouth as his fingers continued their upward trek.

"God, Lex. Have you any idea what you feel like?" Clark savored the kiss, licking his lips afterwards. He was definitely hard now, and he shivered at the touch.

"No idea at all, Clark." He pressed another kiss, and then murmured, "Do you know what I want to do to you?"

"Why don't you tell me?" Clark reached to touch him gently, seeking him with his fingertips.

He was easy to find, even if Clark's fingertips had to falter because Lex was pulling Clark's shirt off, sleeves down over his hands. "I want to fuck you, Clark," Lex purred. "Make love to you, and get inside of you."

The shiver then was all to do with arousal. "I want that," Clark replied with a suddenly dry mouth.. "I've always wanted that but I've never tried that with anyone." It was half a statement looking for reassurance, and half an offer.

"That's all right," Lex promised. He settled his hands on Clark's hips, and leaned close, the fabric of his clothes pressing against Clark's skin. "I'll make this good for you, Clark. I don't want you to have any regrets or bad feelings about this."

"I won't. I won't, Lex. You know you can't hurt me. Used to dream about it, over the pool table or your desk... hard... and.." He swallowed again. "You need the kryptonite?"

"Why would I?" Lex's hands kept moving, stroking idly and sensually over Clark's lower body, skirting the erogenous zones. "I'm not trying to put a second hole in you."

"I don't know. In case the muscle reflexes are too strong?" Clark had his eyes closed even under the blindfold because of that touch. "I don't know how it will be... if you're happy with it?"

"Why are you asking if I'd be happy with it?" Lex asked as he moved away from Clark a little, circled around him to urge him forwards and towards the bed.

"Because I'm not completely normal Lex, as you may have noticed," Clark said stepping forward. He smiled a little. "Do you want me to keep this on still?" he said gesturing to the blindfold even as he moved.

"Just a minute more. I want you to be on the bed when you finally look," Lex insisted. He was going to insist about everything, or try to; Clark wasn't going to worry Lex out of a decision.

Clark smiled again. He had to relax, he could relax. All this time he'd wanted Lex to take control of things again, and there he was panicking about it. He almost visibly willed himself to let the tension drain from him, to just trust in Lex and what he wanted. "Then lead me there," he said in a softer voice.

And Clark was led, carefully and slowly prodded over to the bed. Lex's hands on his shoulders guided him to sit down, and then Lex tenderly removed the blindfold from Clark's head. And hoped that Clark hadn't peeked. "Now, open your eyes."

Clark blinked and looked around in something like amazement. "Lex..." Words failed him a moment. "It's so...different, I love the colors -- how..." He was literally speechless as he looked around. So much changed in so quick a time. It was like somewhere new and fresh. Only the shape of the room and the familiar size seemed to connect it to the place he'd left that morning.

"They started just after we left." Lex started to undress himself, a sparse and fast effort. "I thought... it was time to move beyond the past."

"It's fantastic Lex," Clark said seriously. "Just right, like a new place."

"I thought we might need a place of our own. There's plenty of room, you can see..." Because it was waiting for Clark to make his mark, bring things in and leave them there. Lex stepped out of his pants, right hand fumbling for a moment with the edge of his underwear.

Clark smiled, "So you weren't worried that I wouldn't agree then?" he ask leaning on one elbow a moment

"Both you and your dick look smug right now, Clark," Lex tsked as he finally got himself naked. "I prefer to be prepared for the optimistic outcome."

"It was pretty much a sure thing Lex, come on, admit it." He looked over Lex admiringly. "Like I could even think about giving you up."

"There was always the possibility that I was over-estimating what you thought of me." Lex moved towards the bed, leaning down to kiss Clark and coax him to lay back. "But I'm glad I didn't."

Clark obliged happily. "Perhaps I should make it a bit more obvious how much I love you," he replied, "You shouldn't have any doubt." Not considering the way he had proven it in action, but perhaps more words were needed.

"It's natural to worry, isn't it?" Lex pressed a kiss to Clark's mouth, moving to crawl over Clark as he pushed him backwards on the bed.

Clark reached to stroke him gently, with a tenderness reserved for reassurance. "That's something you'll never have to worry about Lex. Me wanting you. It's inevitable." He kissed back teasing at the lips above him.

"Oh yes?" Lex laughed that quietly, a hand on Clark's side as they finally settled in the middle of the large bed. "Hold still while I get something."

Clark settled waiting with a curious mixture of anticipation and arousal. "The first thing I did when I saw you was kiss you," he replied. "Should have gone with my first instincts."

Lex just moved to the bedside dresser, and opened the second drawer. A tube of lubricant that Lex was breaking the seal off as he responded to Clark. "I thought that was resuscitation."

"Kiss of life sounds better," Clark answered, watching him with interest. "More descriptive."

"I remember dying that day." Lex's voice was serious as he turned back to Clark with that tube in hand. Lex usually took his prosthetic off when they had sex because it was sometimes a little hard to predict, but he was keeping it on that time.

"You said something about flying." Clark looked up at him with an apology in his eyes for any hurt from that memory. "I remember the irony of saying I didn't think a man could fly for some time after."

"You couldn't at the time. And I did mean it in a more... philosophical sense." Lex crawled back onto the bed, and leaned over Clark to kiss him again. Slow kisses, idle motions of lip and tongue against Clark's.

"I don't know what I would have done if..." Clark was unprepared for the rush of emotion that suddenly swept over him, and it showed. He was almost embarrassed that the mere thought of it made his vision blur with telltale strong feelings, and blinked the moisture away before he could make things worse.

"No what ifs tonight, Clark," Lex said firmly. "Just what is and what will be. Which is you and me, here... just like this."

Clark nodded but the thought of it made him want Lex closer still and he leaned up to kiss again, to take away the bittersweet taste of that memory with the intoxication of Lex's presence now. Kisses could honestly threaten to overwhelm that twinge of memory, and more physically satisfying was the hand that slipped down to encircle his cock.

"No, I just want you to enjoy what I do."

"I always do Lex, everything you do." He moved slightly against that hand, comfortable and familiar now with that grip.

Left-handed grip, which always struck Clark was a little unique. Novel. It was novel that Lex was stroking him, too, and that hadn't worn off yet. "If something bothers you... tell me," Lex suggested as he started to slide down Clark's body, kissing at his chest.

"I will -- but it won't." Clark arched a little as Lex moved against him, pressing for close contact..

Skin to skin, Lex kept it a sensual slide even as he kept stroking Clark's cock. "You're that sure? You've given it before, then?"

"No, but it's you Lex," Clark said with blind trust. It hadn't been for him that he had been worried, it had been for Lex. "Oh, God, Lex... yes, that's good!"

"So you don't know how good it can feel to be in another person?" Lex pressed hungry kisses to the bottom edge of Clark's ribcage, eyes closed as he stroked with a little more force.

"No... ah..."Clark swallowed and had to remind himself not to float "Didn't trust myself to feel if it was wrong."

"That's almost a shame. It's a feeling that I don't have words for," Lex whispered against Clark's stomach. "When it's good, it's... magnificent."

"You can teach me." Clark breathed, "And in the meantime you... can be feeling magnificent."

"It'll feel magnificent for you, too," Lex promised as he shifted down, half-kneeling between Clark's legs as he stroked Clark's cock upright. A blowjob seemed like a nice way to start things off. "Taking the edge off makes it feel better."

Clark wasn't going to argue; he couldn't think of anyone that would argue, if they knew the sort of pleasure Lex could bring them. "Not gonna argue with that."

"I didn't think you would." Lex breathed against the head of his dick, though he paused for a moment and removed his hand. He still had the tube of lubricant in his right hand, and the left received a generous glob.

Clark made a small sound of need without even thinking, propping himself up to watch. The thought that would be used on him was just... strange.

Then Lex set the tube aside, and settled on his elbows between Clark's long legs, enjoying the sheer size of his beds as he always did. So useful, so comfortable. "You taste so good, Clark." Lex shifted his head a fraction to slip his mouth over Clark's cock, while his left hand fingers slid behind Clark.

"Oh, God." Clark dropped back at the heat around his cock, and then gasped again at the coolness of the lubricant touching skin, sensitive skin behind. He thought he had an idea what it would be like, but he was wrong, he'd never imagined... there... being so responsive.

A tickle of sensation, and Lex's fingers started to circle, massaging the slickness into his crack and the hole that Lex was half-fingering as he idly sucked.

The first time a finger went in, he thrust upwards instinctively, not able to help himself. "Jesus!" Were Kryptonians particularly sensitive there or was that normal? If it was normal, why weren't all men bi-sexual? He was nearly ready to come just from that. Of course the sucking might have something to do with that, but he was panting hungrily, needing something more than what he was getting.

Lex rumbled a laugh, and it vibrated against Clark's cock as he pulled that finger out and slowly worked it further in, back and forth, fucking him gently with the one digit.

The thing that surprised Clark the most was how good it felt. He'd read the books, and from all the comments, he'd been expecting discomfort or... something. There was none of that but, it was strange in a good way, and his cock react to the fingering by failing him in terms of restraint. He thrust again and climaxed abruptly without much warning, overwhelmed with the novelty of the feelings.

Taking the edge off, just like Lex had promised. He had to have been expecting it, because he swallowed it all, and his finger kept making slight motions while Clark spasmed and clenched around him for a moment. "Mmh."

"Ohhhh God... Lex, it's... so much." And he wanted more. He couldn't explain it, he wanted more and surely that wasn't normal to want it so much. "I want you, want you in me."

Maybe it was Kryptonian. Maybe it didn't matter as long as it didn't stop. Lex pulled back, licking his lips as he looked at Clark. "Not yet. You're so tight, Clark, there's no way I could get into you yet. It takes time."

"Push in, it won't hurt!" Clark begged a little rashly, "Please Lex, please... feels..." Incredible, amazing, indescribable. Where was a fucking thesaurus when he needed one?

"What does it feel like?" Lex started to inch a second finger in, lips curling as he looked up Clark along the line of his body.

"Fire, need. An aching." Clark managed shifting a little more. "Fuck! Lex, I wasn't expecting this."

"What were you expecting?" Lex pressed a light kiss to the inside of Clark's leg, and slipped that second finger in further.

"More difficulty, maybe a little difficult to get used to... not to feel so... good." Pre-conceptions about 'bottoming' were flying out of the window. He arched again as jolts of fire and pleasure radiate from every motion of those fingers. "This can't be normal."

"I've almost always liked it," Lex murmured against Clark's skin, slowly fucking Clark with both fingers at once. It was just as well that his whole left hand was slippery. "It's a strange good."

"I thought I would but..." The impression had been from his father that if he was going to have a gay relationship then it was best to be the one fucking rather than being fucked and it had settled a little unconsciously in his mind. And yet, part of his lusting for Lex was those fantasies where Lex would have him, as opposed to the other way around.

"But?" Lex leaned down, mouthing against Clark's balls as if that would either tease or stall the answer while he continued to fingerfuck him.

Coherence was starting to vanish, which was just as well as confessing he was a little concerned about the roles in a relationship would have been inappropriate, and right now a down right lie. At this point in time he would happily lie back and be fucked as long and as often as Lex would give it to him.

"But right now I want more!"

"Greedy," Lex scoffed gently. He kept working his fingers in and out, even as he started to sit up, pulling himself closer to Clark.

"Yes." Clark shifted "Please Lex, do it. I need you, please..."

"Easy, Clark," Lex whispered, urging him to calm down and focus. "Just relax. This is good if you're slow..."

It took a good few breaths to do that but Clark tried, even restraining his tendency to float and his urge to push on Lex hard. He had no idea where that came from, but it was there

"Better," Lex praised as he laid fingers on Clark's stomach, stroking just above his dick. "I think you should turn over."

"Mmm." Clark looked at him and very carefully started shifting over onto his front. "Like this?"

Lex kept careful hands on him, stroking his hips with comfortable ease. "Yes. You can slump down in your elbows and it'll feel very... very good."

"If it's anything like what you've been doing I can believe that." Clark settled onto his forearms and instinctively parted his legs a little even as he relished the touch over his hips. He was a little clearer now, though his body buzzed inside wanting more.

There was a shift behind Clark, Lex moving backwards. Idle kisses pressed against the small of his back, those fingers smearing another cool glob against him. "Mmm."

"Any time you're... ready," Clark said a little breathlessly.

"No floating or flying," Lex reminded, and straightened up. It was easy to close the gap between their bodies, and for a moment his dick slipped along the crack of Clark's ass, sliding slickly.

"I'll try. Oh, god, Lex." Clark buried his head down a moment as if that would somehow help.

"I think you could get off just on this," Lex decided. He pulled back and slid along Clark's crack again, savoring the sensation. "I could. God, I've missed sex."

"I'm... thinking I never knew what it was." Clark shifted against him encouraging that movement

"Playing around is better when you're close to someone." Lex leaned down to kiss the back of Clark's neck, pressing his chest against Clark's broad back while he canted his hips backwards to position himself. "When you love someone."

Clark stilled a moment and said softly, "I don't think you've ever said that before, not that hasn't been in response to something I've said." He hadn't realized he been waiting to hear it said. That Lex should choose to say that rather that offer it back.

"I'm sorry. I do... love you. You're important even when you piss me off." Lex slid a hand back along Clark's ass, fingering him for a brief moment before he lined his cock head up. "Are you ready?"

"I'm ready, more than ready," Clark replied, tensing a little at the warning.

Still bent over him, Lex kissed at his back as he pressed the slicked head of his cock against Clark's hole, pulsing his hips gently forwards to tease his way in. "Good."

For all he said he was ready, Clark was still surprised and moaned with mild amazement. "How... big are you again?"

"Slightly better than average," he murmured as he pushed forwards with another pulse of motion that pressed his cock head almost entirely into Clark. Everyone liked to think they were slightly better than average, but Lex was, just a little. A little thicker, a little longer, but not too much. "Oh, god... Never going to get used to being intact."

It was all Clark to do to hold still; he wanted to do...something, he didn't know what but he wanted it. "Feels good, feel... huge," he mumbled into the bedspread. No pain for him though, just the burn of that penetration translating to sensation.

Lex groaned as he snapped his hips forwards, and buried the first two inches of himself in Clark. "Uhhh."

"Fuck!" Clark nearly went through the bed in surprise. Even two inches could seem enormous to someone as inexperienced as him

That groan kept on, tapering to a hum of noise as Lex stayed still, rocking gently. "So good, Clark." A tight warm heaven as he clutched his fingers onto Clark's hips.

"Need more!" Clark gasped. He wanted to push back, but it seemed too much.

"Soon," he promised, rocking gently into Clark. A little more, slowly in and out. "Fuck, yes... You're so tight, Clark."

"Not too tight?" Even now Clark found cause to worry, though he was starting to have suspicion that he might not survive if Lex decided to stop now.

Nothing short of a vise-grip was too tight for Lex's cock. "No, not too tight at all," Lex insisted as he pushed forwards more. He had to forge deeper into Clark, get all the way in before he actually started to move the way he wanted to.

"Ahhhh... ah-Lex..." Clark wasn't sure why he was crying out -- it wasn't pain, but it was an intensity of sensation he was not used to experiencing and unbearable in its promise stop himself. He pushed back as hard as he dared.

Lex gave a grunt of noise, and he leaned back, hips canting forwards as he started to just move. "Please... keep moving..."

"Was just going to say the same," Clark replied shifting a little, trying to find the best movement and sensation. "Please Lex, harder, need to feel more."

Clark could feel Lex shift his legs, crowding closer against Clark as he started to shift backwards. The pullout was slow, the push back in fast to satisfy sensation. "Yes..." Lex moved a hand off of Clark's hips, slipped it forwards and around to stroke off Clark's dick.

That caused another buck and Clark literally rammed himself onto Lex. There was time to learn patience and it was becoming evident that this was not going to be that time. Uninhibited by the need for caution, Clark had no limits to push against, save that which his lover could provide.

"Lean back," Lex coaxed, rocking in starts and stops as he stroked Clark, and pulled him to move back onto his knees. "Fuck yourself back on me, Clark. Feels so good..." Dazed, Clark allowed himself to move and with the greater ability to move, he did just that, his head leaning back and eyes closed in a blissful concentration.

More tugging, until Clark was up on hands and knees and Lex was really moving. Sawing in and out of him, moaning and giving out little gasps as he tugged at Clark's hard cock to make the sensations particularly good.

There was a point where Clark nearly froze and gave a whole body shudder along with a strangled cry, and then it was like he couldn't get enough. It was obvious that he wanted it hard then, with any form of restraint discarded.
"Please...please..." he begged in between his own wild movements.

Sex the way it should have been, sweaty and a little frenzied because it felt good, and Lex hadn't had good sex, real sex, since before the accident, before Lionel had died. And Clark... Clark was perfect. Clark's ass clutched at him, he moaned beautifully with almost every stroke and thrust.

There was usually the possibility that one of them could get tired -- with Clark, that didn't apply. He just kept moving, and needing and calling out Lex's name, finally finding the exact combination that matched him perfectly with what Lex was doing, shivering every now and then as Lex hit something inside that seemed to fill him with a lightning stroke of pleasure that practically paralyzed him with intensity. In all his imaginings he had never considered it could be like this. And Lex, moaning behind him, in him was as heady an encouragement as ever he needed. So he encouraged him to let go, really let go, that he wasn't fragile, he wouldn't break, that Lex could fuck him harder than anything he could imagine and he wanted it.

It took Lex some motion encouragement to really start doing that. Habit, he would have explained to Clark if he'd been coherent. If he was with Lionel and doing that, there had damn well better not be marks. But Lex couldn't mark Clark, not by just moving hard and fast, pistoning towards his own orgasm and aided by Clark.

Encouragement he got on every level Clark could give him, and in the end Clark felt the moment when his lover really let go almost as acutely as if some long-standing barrier had been tumbled down. It carried him with it to climax and a release so intense, he came the closest he ever had to passing out from sheer overload. There were a few last motions, but Lex found himself in the tight clutch of Clark and gave in to the sensation that had been building. He lost a moment of coherency, because it was easier to slump against Clark's back, holding on and catching his breath, than it was to move, or wipe his semen-sticky left hand.

It really was a wonder that the pair of them had not slipped the bonds of gravity together, because it was a while before Clark, who had dropped back down to lying after the end of it, refocused on the here and now. There was a muffled "...fuck..." from the bedclothes.

"We did," Lex confirmed a little muzzily against the skin between Clark's shoulder blades. "And I can't feel my good hand."

"Sorry." Clark shifted slightly so the worst of his weight would be off of Lex's hand. He was in no hurry to get Lex off of him, or out of him. That feeling was incredible.

Lex shifted his hand free, and wiped it on the top of the blanket they were atop to. It was just as well that they weren't actually under the sheets. "Memorable."

"Definitely. Magnificent even?"

"Which isn't any more made up than the word 'the'. But yes." Lex shifted a leg to get closer to Clark, and let out a slow sigh.

Clark turned his head to the side, "You are okay?" Sighing could be good, sometimes could be bad. He just had a need to check.

"Very okay." Lex shifted, pulled out of Clark slowly, and then laid to one side of him, a leg still over his legs. "Thank you for this very... magnificent evening, Clark Kent."

"I think I should be thanking you," Clark said softly as he turned on his side to look at Lex, appreciating for the first time the new level of intimacy that came with letting someone actually into his body. "That was... so far beyond anything I imagined." He kissed Lex tenderly, trusting in that instinct that he could and should show him his real emotions now.

"Usually it's the other way around," Lex murmured against Clark's mouth. But he slid his arms around him, and then shifted away a little to try and get the covers down. It was good to be mellow about sex, even if he had his skittish moments about other things.

"Mmm." Clark agreed. "A perfect way to break in the new bed though," he said smiling even as he kissed him again. "I've decided that doing it this way is a very good thing. For all I know this might be how Kryptonians are meant to have sex. It can't be normal to feel that much pleasure unless you are meant to be doing that."

"The other way is just as good." Not that he, Lex was ready for that, no. There was time to make wounds something that could be coped with, but there was the time needed to really heal. Some days it felt like Lex had never had enough time. He pulled the sheets back, and shifted the get under them, leaving plenty of room for Clark to join him.

"We'll do that sometime."

Clark followed, settling in and understanding what that meant for Lex to say that, "It's okay if we don't for a long time at least," he offered, smiling as he reached to stroke around Lex's face and neck.

"Mmm. Let me assure you that you won't get bored of what we'll do in the meantime." Lex pulled Clark closer, initiating full body contact for a moment before he groaned. "Hold on. Let me take this off. I've worn it too long today already."

Clark watched as Lex removed the prosthetic hand and looked up. "You know what you are getting for Christmas from me? Or before Christmas if you'll agree... a trip to the South Pole."

"It had better be for the scenic view of penguins, Clark. I already told you that since it's known that my hand is gone, I couldn't let your wonderful AI give me a new one. Of course, I'd be willing to learn how it restored my foreskin."

Clark smiled. "You'll have to ask Lara. No, not for the re-growing, though I would love to, but for a Kryptonian generated, removable prosthetic that will have no discomfort, and all of the sensory feedback of a normal hand. Of course you could always look at the penguins if you want too."

Lex slipped what was left of his right arm around Clark, clutching loosely to him. "We'll talk about this later, Clark."

"Sleep sounds good. First night in a new home," he smiled even, as he half closed his eyes.

"With you."

And that was all that mattered to either of them.

Keyed up was the wrong word for Lex. And so was 'enthusiastic', 'excited' and, 'agitated'.

Clark Kent was faced with the dilemma of a Lex Luthor whose manic mood was requiring a new word invented just to encompass the sheer... excited mania.

Some days, Clark wondered how he was a writer.

"I'm going to have to get you a sedative, that plane isn't going anywhere," he half-joked. Luthorized...that might work. No, no -- e-lexified. Lex was elexified.

Clark started grinning to himself. Lex would kill him if he ever mentioned the word.

"No -- if it doesn't go anywhere, I'm going to need to be treated for cardiac arrest." Lex tugged at his flight gear, checking everything for the twelfth time. Maybe more. His co-pilot had passed an insanely rigorous background check, and Lex could safely say the man was so mundane that he probably bored goldfish in his spare time.

He was a damn good pilot, though.

"Lex, it's been checked so many times, so many different ways that if it's not functional I'll eat Perry's Elvis collection," Clark replied soothingly. "What's the plan again? I've got to go over and stand on the sidelines like a good little reporter in a moment."

"I give my speech. I go up in the air, fly around a bit, jump through the military's hoops, awe you reporters, and land safely. That's the plan, start to finish." And maybe Clark shouldn't have let Lex have that cup of espresso that morning. Lex just hadn't needed it.

"Presumably you are taking the plane with you," Clark said wryly. "Though the way you are now I think you could go under your own power." He glanced around. "Kiss for luck before you go?"

"What happened to 'good little reporter'?" Lex half-demanded. He didn't bother to look around because it was his damn business and he didn't hide anything.

"Uhhh... Lois corrupted me?" Clark replied leaning forward and taking that kiss slowly. "Good Luck," he murmured, even as he leaned back again.

"I suspect I'll need it." Lex pulled back, and moved to the rack where his helmet was waiting. "Go on. I'll be out to say my piece soon enough."

"It'll be fine," Clark replied, "I'll see you out there and look very impressed." He grinned and giving a wave walked briskly out to the waiting reporter melee.

Melee was a good word for it, and Lois stood at the front of it, the very thick of it, chatting with people occasionally while she waited for Clark. The moment he got near her, there was eye contact and no hope of escape.

"So, Kent, how's your boyfriend holding up?"

"Lex is doing fine," Clark replied, refusing not to be bated. "Just about ready I would have thought -- finished all the pre-flight checks." He tried to make it sound normal, even as he shrugged.

"Mmhmm, which is why you had to duck into the hanger before they'd even brought the..." Lois trailed off a little as the wide hanger doors opened, and the LeXWing rolled steadily out into daylight. It was sleek, black and something that looked like it should have been in a sci-fi movie.

Clark grinned at the reaction around him, sharing a little in the pride of Lex's accomplishment. "Looks good doesn't it?" Sleek, sexy and powerful. And there was the plane too.

"Mmm, now if it actually flies..." It rolled to a smooth stop beside the podium, and there was motion in the cockpit for a moment before it opened and Lex got out, taking his helmet off. The reporters had been briefed that Lex would make a statement, so they paused, pens, recorders at the ready as the billionaire inventor got out.

Lex, in a tailored flight suit, ascended the podium steps and with perfect poise he launched into a quick, well crafted speech, obviously well practiced.

"Thank you all for attending today, to witness the start of a new era in defensive technology. The LeXWing, a stealth craft that will enhance the military's capability for gathering information to protect our military forces, is the culmination of a great deal of time and effort on behalf of the LeXCorp team. Some of the best talents in the world have contributed to this extraordinary project and their hard work will be tested and I am sure, pass any assessment criteria today with flying colors.

"It is a landmark achievement, and testimony to the drive and ambition of the LeXCorp development team that such a new independent company has been selected for such a major contract. The success of the LeXWing will carve out the future of LeXCorp and ensure that it is one of the contenders for future government contracts. As a company, and as a team, LeXCorp is on the right path, and is proof that talent will be recognized even against the background of pre-existing business.

"I have full confidence in the LeXCorp product, to the extent that I will be piloting it myself in a live missile test -- that should give the world an indication of my personal commitment and involvement in my company and confidence in the future.

"I have no doubt that this test flight of the LeXWing will be a success, and will pave the way for the development of a greater working relationship with the Government and this industry. Thank you."

There was polite applause after Lex's speech and then the reporters figuratively lunged forward with questions. "Mr. Luthor! Mr. Luthor... Can you clarify why you have decided to make the first flight of the LeXWing with yourself as pilot?" Lois had a way of pitching her questions so they could be heard over the hubbub of others.

"Because it's easy for a CEO to say that he trusts the integrity and performance of his product when he's standing fifty feet back," Lex quipped easily.

"Mr. Luthor, do you trust your expertise rather than that of a qualified test pilot?" Clark called out following in off of Lois' lead. Just because he was with Lex, didn't mean he compromised on asking the relevant questions, and Lex knew that.

"There is a qualified test pilot as my co-pilot should something happen to me. But having flown jets before, I'm confident that my expertise is more than adequate."

"Mr. Luthor." A reporter from one of the local TV stations trained their camera on him. "Are you confident there will be no issues with this prototype that could imperil your contract with the U.S Government?"

"Perfectly confident. The LeXWing is flawless in design, speed, and maneuverability." Lex was beaming as he spoke, almost glowing; the last time Clark had seen Lex look that happy was when he'd bought the Smallville Plant from his father rather than have to close down.

"There would be those who would say no prototype can be flawless Mr. Luthor." A sallow faced man, Henson, of the Inquirer commented

"You're right, there are." Lex flashed the man a smile. "I believe perfection can and does exist."

"In your plane?" came the query from the group.

"In my plane, yes. This is the culmination of years of behind the scenes research and designing. This is the first time that this final version has been flown, but not the first time a prototype for the LeXWing has been flown."

That produced a flurry of more technical questions, which were fielded easily until the co pilot cleared his throat pointedly. They had to make a flyby over a military observation point at a certain time, demonstrating the various features of the stealth function, and also the ability of the LeXWing to project a radar image of differing types of plane on request. It wouldn't do to be late.

"We'll see all of you when we land," Lex declared as he nodded to them. For a second he caught Clark's eyes, and then he turned away to head back into the cockpit. Still 'elexified', and still sure that everything was going to go perfectly.

All their clamoring for that final question was to no avail, even as they watched the LeXWing fire up and rather majestically -- and Clark had to stop himself from laughing as he jotted that note down -- take to the skies. The speed it could go, it was out of sight in moments and they relaxed a little, knowing it would be a minimum of thirty minutes before Lex returned.

"Your boyfriend has an ego bigger than this planet, Kent," Lois quipped to herself as she watched the streak of smoke that trailed behind it.

"Not usually, but he's confident on this one," Clark replied, unable to not feel some anxiety.

"We noticed." Lois rested her hands on her hips, and shifted her feet. "Think he'll do a fly-over after the military bit?"

"He has to, they want to take readings, and he'll want to make an entrance here," Clark replied as he kept looking up at the sky, feeling twitchy. "I might go and see if there's some coffee around here or something, while we're waiting. Want some?"

"Yeah, sure," she told him, looking a little absent about the idea.

Clark wandered off casually and once he was out of sight he was changed and in the air in the blur of speed, accelerating to track down the LeXWing. He had to admit, it was fast.. .but not as fast as he was.

And when he caught up with it, the co-pilot waved slightly; and for just a moment, Lex looked over at him and waved, too. Clark grinned and scooped up a little out of sight as if he had checked out what they were doing and realized they were okay, listening in on the conversation in the cockpit.

"Coming up on the test zone T-minus 2 minutes."

"Roger. You remember everything I told you the military was going to throw at us?"

"Several sets of missiles while in stealth mode to see if they register the craft, the radar ghosting and the route and targeting exercises," his co-pilot replied. "Piece of cake."

"Indeed it is," Lex agreed to the co-pilot as he cruised to the proper altitude over the testing sight.

"...LeXWing1, this is Command Post Alpha. The instrumentation shows no tracking of any kind except through the dedicated location equipment, which shows you are in the test zone. Please confirm your position and readiness for us to send live missiles into your proximity zone... Over." The radio came through crystal clear.

Lex paged back to the command post with their coordinates, shifting his hands on the controls. More, much more than ready.

"Confirmed LeXWing1. Missile Launch now. First barrage... launched... second barrage... Confirmed launch. Third barrage..." There was hesitation. "Failed Launch, switching to back up. Third barrage, confirmed Launch from secondary centre. The missiles will be within targeting range in the next minute. Good Luck..."

"Over." Good luck. He didn't need good luck and neither did the LeXWing; good luck meant that something could go wrong.

The missiles, six of them of a variety of types were starting to enter the distance between them and the LeXWing where they should detect and lock onto the plane. However, the LeXWing might as well have been a wisp of cloud for all the attention it drew. Nerve wracking though it was, the practical proof of the success of Lex's hobby lay in the way the missiles shot past them as if they were not even there.

He heard the exhalation of relief from his co-pilot. "Missiles evaded sir."

"Which can be noted because we're not dead." Lex laughed a little as he called back to the Command Post. "Command Post Alpha, this is LeXWing1; missiles evaded, awaiting orders for next sequence."

"Congratulations LeXWing1. Proceed to run through your mask settings holding for a minimum of 25 seconds on each, so our detection equipment can get a good reading." Came the radio instructions

"Double back, or keep forwards? We're going to run out of compound soon, Command Post Alpha."

"Double back LeXWing1, head back towards your point of origin." came the instruction. "We will have sufficient time to collect the data, and you can make one more pass running the low altitude hazards of Rangewood Canyon before returning to base."

"I copy," Lex declared as he eased into a looping turn. "Everything's smooth."

His co-pilot was busily punching in the commands to rotate the mask sequence. "Cloak function off sir. Starting the mask sequence rolling now sir." He pressed the button and set it going. To the ground, a remarkable variety of fighters, bombers passenger aircraft were now transversing the sky instead of a stealth fighter.

Lex loved that part. Even an un-identified passenger aircraft would get a pause before being shot at, enough of a pause to cloak. And the Media, no media, knew about that function. Top top secret... And he loved the idea of flying his top-secret creation so successfully.

Everything was going exceptionally well; his hard work had paid off. Everything was going well. Perhaps he should have known nothing was that easy for him.

The sudden urgent sound of a missile approaching shattered the calm.

"What the..." The co-pilot looked at his readouts "Two missiles inbound, they are locking us sir!"

"LexWing1! Evade, failed missiles have pick up your scan. A priority in their programming has caused them to launch, overriding their stand down. Evade or eject."

It was going to be over in a matter ten seconds. There was the scream of sound that filled the cockpit. "They have tone... they have lock..." reported his co-pilot urgently.

Lex started to pull up sharply, then rolled it to the side. Either they were going to hit, or he was going to crash, but he was not going to eject. It was his chance, his one chance to prove that he wasn't a failure and a fuckup for everything, a chance to prove that he was worth trusting with money and investments. If this happened, the pure humiliation of it...
The missiles were doggedly gaining, despite the acrobatics. "The canyon, drop in the canyon," his co-pilot urged, frantically helping to stabilize things.

"I'd always imagined getting last rites before I died," Lex muttered to himself as he dropped down, dove down, and prepared to pull up at the last minute. Or crash into one of the canyon's sharp walls. Not much of a canyon...

One of the missiles over shot the canyon, the other followed them down and even as Lex pulled up, it shot past exploding on the canyon wall. The pulling up however, even as the co-pilot babbled it frantically, brought them right up into the returning arc of the other missile at practically point blank range.

Only there was something out there between them and it. A sudden blue and red blur on an intercept course. The missile exploded close enough for them to be rocked badly by the concussive force, and there was a brief glimpse of something hurtling past them falling down to the canyon.

Lex hoped it was a fucking big bird. Only it was blue and red and big enough to see falling down, but Lex had to veer back around and away from the Canyon. "Command Post Alpha, missiles dealt with." Lex knew he sounded shaky and breathless, and he was damn well allowed to. "You wouldn't want LeXCorp to take a look at making a missile system that works at the right time, would you?"

"The brass might consider that a possibility LeXWing1..." The voice on the other end sounded a little shaky as well. "Congratulations on some fine flying. In view of that we are skipping the other test as... anticlimactic. Return to base LeXWing 1, we will debrief you there."

There was a click and silence, and the shouting and recriminations could only be imagined.

There was some harsh breathing behind him from his co-pilot. "I thought the second missile had us. Why didn't it hit us?"

"I think I saw Superman," Lex replied, huffing his oxygen for a moment to either clear or flood his head. No matter what it was doing, he felt better. A little high could be all right.

"Christ. Superman? Can he... survive that sort of thing?" The co-pilot was looking down as if that would help.

"Let's hope so." Lex's voice fell in level as he piloted forwards, checking their correlation to the landing strip. The debrief would come, and then more media to deal with, and fuck. Clark. It had better have been just a big red and blue bird and not Clark. He'd been planning to buzz the reporters and pull something fancy, but he'd had enough fancy for one day.

Landing seemed prosaic; the debriefing full of guarded apologies and questions and confirmation that LeXCorp had secured the contract and had impressed them greatly. All good news, but not quite enough to take his mind completely off of what had happened. If it had been Clark then, how much of a hit could he take? Kryptonite was one thing but... Hadn't he said that he used to get bruises from shotguns, or being hit by a car or something? A missile was a lot worse.
And the scenarios kept stacking up in his head until he nearly wanted to go out there to the media and see if Clark was there.

The reporters had been told and shown footage of the event -- there was no point denying it when the LeXWing had been so successful in evading the missiles and they were in a near frenzy by the time he got there.

Shouting questions the moment he got back to the podium. He'd had time to get something to drink to steady himself, and time to try to calm down, but it wasn't the same as actually being calm or all right. "All right, I'll take questions now," Lex said the moment he reached the podium. There'd been another little speech ready, but fuck if he could recall it. His eyes scanned the crowd, looking for a familiar face.

He should have been in the front row, there with Lois, but he wasn't. He wasn't there.

"Mr. Luthor, what exactly happened up there? Were there really two unexpected live missiles thrown at you? How did you evade them?"

It could be his imagination but there was a tinge more respect there. He'd done something undeniably brave and inherently overflowing with machismo. Maybe it would do away with those last vestiges of 'Lex Luthor, Corporate slut!' "Yes, there really were two unexpected live missiles thrown at us; one was evaded through quick thinking, and the other... Narrowly missed us, due to interference from Superman, I believe. Or a very large blue and red bird. We can only hope that he's all right..."

The reaction from Lois was immediate. "You are saying that Superman was struck head on by a missile?"
For someone who was as hardboiled as she was, her question was saturated with emotion, and the implicit '...For YOU?' was heard by everyone there, even if she did not say it aloud

"I... believe so." And there was no Clark to be seen. He had to be okay, because if he wasn't... Lex wasn't sure. He just had to be all right.

She actually looked pale when he said that and that started another flurry of question until the listened for familiar voice said from the back. "Mr. Luthor, did the Defense command confirm whether it was an accident or sabotage that further imperiled your life?"

He was there, at the back looking... fine. He looked ridiculously fine.

If Lex hadn't felt so relieved, he would have throttled him then and there. He was fine! "Missile barrage three failed, so they switched to backup. The failure was only temporary, so on the fly-over of that area again, the third barrage launched when the stealth function was not in operation."

"Will you be making remonstrations for their negligence?" Clark said, something in his question making it clear that he was not happy with the 'accidental' nature of the near death experience of his lover.

Which was more than enough to make Lex suspicious. "I will be making sure that there is a thorough investigation done on the matter. But this proves to me that the military needs to be stepped up into the real world -- which acknowledges that the military equipment of the cold war isn't sufficient."

That sparked a different set of questions that kept Lex busy about was he going to link to the military, the government, was the contract and LeXCorp's future now secure, and how did he feel about his triumph? All of which required only the stock answers he had prepared earlier and little in the way of imagination. And at the end of the conference, Lex stepped down and away from the podium, trying to catch Clark's eyes. It didn't matter that there were still people there. He wasn't going to answer one damned question.

Clark pushed his way through to meet him, looking at him anxiously. "You okay?" he asked in a low voice as he caught up with him at the edge of the crowd. "Lets get away from the crowd a moment."

Lex wasn't going to crack or do anything he'd regret in public. But he did embrace Clark, not caring that he was still wearing his flight gear. "I told you everything would work..."

"Oof, careful," Clark replied with a smile even as he returned the embrace. "I'm just a little sore." Not sore enough to stop him holding Lex close. "Congratulations, it's just as well you are as good as advertised hmm?"

"You fucking scared me," Lex muttered, sotto voce, as he pulled away from Clark, an arm still around him.

"Are you kidding me?" Clark replied softly in amazement. "Do you have any idea what it is like to be nearly back here and then hear two missiles lock on the love of your life? " He cleared his throat. "I'm just glad you're safe. Really glad. Heroic, intrepid test pilot Lex Luthor."

"I think my co-pilot pissed himself," Lex joked a little. "Let's go back into the hanger -- you up to coffee and sedatives, Clark?"

"I think they might be a definite requirement," Clark replied and smiled, " You never do anything easy, do you Lex?"

"I'd be bored." Lex let out a slow exhalation as he pulled at Clark and walked off to the hanger with him. His security closed off the media that were daring enough to try and follow.

Clark laughed as they got inside. "Why do I have the feeling that life with you will never be boring?" The moment they were out of sight he pulled him close into a fervent kiss.

Not that Lex had needed to get out of sight to kiss Clark. That was Clark's personal thing, and Lex halfway respected it even when he struggled a little in the kiss for superiority.

Perhaps it was being Superman, but knowing that he had nothing to prove on some levels meant that Clark was quite comfortable giving up dominance to someone he trusted. He was foreseeing some particular 'we're alive!' sex as well, and he gave in to Lex's moment of rampant adrenalin boosted need to be in control.

Lex finally broke the kiss, and let out a huff of breath. "C'mon, Clark. I need to thank my co-pilot and get a shower."

"Would it be wrong of me to offer to join you?" Clark replied smiling again. He was distracting him, and he knew it. He had turned playing down what he did into an art form so most people didn't really think about what it meant to have someone who had been merely winded by a point blank missile strike.

And Lex didn't want to think that the missile had almost taken him and his creation out, or that it had hit Clark.

It was easier to just pretend that he'd panicked because Clark wasn't there, because Clark could have been dead, and move on to other things.

Things like thanking his staff, and taking a shower with his lover.

They were things he could afford to do, because as the picture that graced the front of the Daily Planet the following day aptly illustrated with its powerful symbolism of the LeXWing swooping upwards through the roiling clouds of fire, he had made himself a phoenix in every visible area of his life.

There were times in relationships, when things seemed to spiral out of control for no apparent obvious reason. Clark was aware that the blissfully happy stage of the relationship where everything was easy, and the novelty of being together had glossed over some of the important things they knew they had to face, had slipped past into a newer and more painful stage of intimacy.

That was fine; that he loved Lex was not in doubt. That he always would again was something that never crossed his mind to question.

But understanding him was sometimes difficult, especially now.

The 'high' had lasted through Christmas and into the new year, Lex receiving his new improved false hand as a gift, the family dinner going surprisingly well. Lex was buoyed up for months by the excitement of LeXCorp, the breaking news of a Wayne enterprises and LeXCorp collaboration sweeping him into a success all of his own making.

That had been before the trials started.

At first it had been things that Lex had not been involved in, and he stayed away, but deep into the heart of the process, he started getting called in as a witness and it became the equivalent of watching him stand there and being beaten down, over and over...

There was no doubt that they were hoping to make him crack because without him, the case would fail and the terrifying thing was, Clark was beginning to wonder if they hadn't already succeeded. Lex had handed over the information Lionel had had on the accused, and what they'd done to their companies. But it hinged on him, and the media had taken a revised interest in the case as it hit trial at last. Even Lex had been faced with some questions, unexpected -- trying to get answers into the seedier side of the case where Lex wouldn't reply.

Lex had taken to working late hours under the veil of catching up on things he missed while he was in court. It meant that Metropolis was well patrolled right now, but it also meant that Clark often had the terrible, panicky feeling that Lionel Luthor was reaching out from the grave to try and drag his son in after him. Ever so slowly, he could perceive the shifts in Lex's behavior. Slipping backwards... the wounded betrayed look that hurt so much when Lex turned on Clark with a subtle hint to his body language that said it could only be a matter of time before Clark did this to him, too.

How could he fight that sort of thing?

And the answer was the same as it was for villains, for disasters -- any way he could. And sometimes that meant confrontation, sometimes comfort... sometimes everything. Sometimes going to the offices late at night and dragging him home. He walked in and leaned in the doorway a moment, waiting to be noticed.

There were two desktops and a laptop running in Lex's office, and Lex was simultaneously checking things on all three. It took him a moment to look up at Clark, and he gave him two glances before he put one of the desktops to screensaver mode. "Clark, I didn't expect you so soon. What time is it?"

"Nearly two in the morning," Clark replied, noting the fact that Lex had chosen to hide something from him. That was a peculiar pain all of its own, considering all his secrets had been given to Lex. "I was thinking, it was probably time you came home. You had a rough day today. I saw the coverage."

"The coverage blew it out of proportion," Lex said with a gesture to the screen he'd put on screensaver. Maybe it was just that he didn't want to be caught watching it.

"They had no place starting to bring those issues into the corporate corruption cases." Clark looked at him. "Why did you, you know, shut it off when I came in?"

There was a moment of hesitation, before Lex brought the screen back up. "I was just watching a replay of some of the talking heads on one of the twenty four hours news channels. I know you'd prefer I didn't watch it..."

There it was again, that strange, almost wary look as if he'd done something wrong. "Only because I know how much it can hurt you Lex. But, you know that's your decision." He shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about it. "You can watch what you like." He just didn't have to like it that much.

"I..." Lex shifted, and started to close files carefully after saving them. "Wasn't aware it was so late. Do you want to do something tomorrow... today, or do you have to work?" It was a Saturday, after all, and there wouldn't be any more court to deal with until Monday.

"I want to be with you," Clark replied, coming over to the desk and resting a hand on his lover's shoulder. "That pretty much sums up my expectations." He tried a tentative smile. Lex was so grim at the moment.

Lex finally shut down the feed, and unplugged a pair of headphones from that computer's speakers. "Sounds like a plan. How's your day been?" he asked, as he folded those up, too.

"Same old, same old," Clark replied watching him with concern, "A story here, a story there. The occasional bit of scandal. Superman doing his thing." He paused a moment. "Lex, are you okay?"

There was a moment of weighing his response, a moment that Clark didn't like much. "Yeah. Just feeling a little over-worked for once."

"Would you like to get away from it all this weekend?" Clark offered what he could. "Anywhere, just away from all of this?" Why was he doing this? Since when had Lex become 'careful' around him? Had he done something to start this?

"Do you want to?" Lex put a couple of CDs into his laptop case, and started to put his laptop away. "We could."

"We could." Clark agreed slowly, beginning to figure out where some of the wrongness was coming from. Answers like that to his questions. Answers that seemed to be agreements, but weren't actually indications that Lex wanted anything for himself. How long had he been slipping into that trap? "But we could easily stay at home if you would prefer. Whatever would be best for you."

Lex was ever so slightly on edge at that line of talk. Already unsteady and unsure, and his own way of being sure was being taken from him. "I don't know." He started to stand, checking with his eyes that everything was shut down. The work with Wayne Industries was going well, too well. The trial was reminding him that there was always another shoe to drop.

"Maybe you can think about it tomorrow morning or something," Clark said, feeling his way through the conversation, "We can do whatever, it's not a problem. After you've had a rest."

Which he needed, because man couldn't live on coffee alone even if he was trying. "Sure. Did you walk over here?" Lex leaned in towards Clark and brushed a kiss to his mouth.

"Yes, I came the long way." Clark smiled and kissed him back. Maybe Lex would want sex tonight -- that had been lacking a bit recently too. On the other hand, maybe he was trying to make him happy. When had it become so complicated?

"A whole block." Which at two am in metropolis could indeed be harrowing. Lex pulled away a little, and moved to leave, but he kept up conversation despite tiredness. For Clark. "What stories have you been covering? I'm sorry, Clark -- I know I've been... slightly out of things."

"Mmm we can... take a short trip home," Clark offered. "I've been covering the developments in the elections. It's getting pretty murky in the run up."

"Always does." Lex paused in the hallway, waiting for Clark to pass him so he could lock the door. "Mayor's being challenged again."

"When isn't he? Hartley is claiming to have cast iron proof of fraudulent expense claims." Clark rattled on, "And Munro is disputing everything, of course, while the public seems to be getting bored of that and throwing themselves behind Fleischer -- the crowd pleaser."

"Just what Metropolis needs. Another populist," Lex scoffed as he locked and then turned to look at Clark. It wasn't as if they were talking about anything of importance, after all.

Clark looked back, tilting his head slightly in question, feeling a bit unsettled himself. "So, uh...nearest window?" he suggested

Lex shifted the strap of his laptop case so it went over his chest, and made sure it was secure. "Might as well put the Penthouse's balconies to use."

Clark nodded and led the way, opening the office 'balcony' windows and looking out. "It's a beautiful night Lex," he murmured reaching out to hold him for the short lift to Luthor towers.

"Usually is." Lex shifted, an arm around Clark making him feel more secure with the trick as they moved to that little side window where his secretary usually was.

Clark made sure everything was secure and then lifted them rapidly over to their own balcony. Clark had called the security pad on the outside "the Catflap" when Lex had it put in, but in reality it was very useful and isolated from any other part of the system. He punched in the code and opened the French windows. "Home sweet home. You want a drink or anything? I can get you something to eat? Have you had anything today?"

"Dinner time? Mercy brought something in," Lex said as he stepped through, and turned looking at Clark. "I was busy, but I vaguely recall eating it." Poor attempt at a joke.

"You need to eat something Lex." Clark looked a little worried and frowned. "What if I made you something now? An omelet or something? Won't take a moment... or anything you want?"

Lex was already setting his laptop aside, taking off his coat. "An omelet would be good, Clark. Thanks... You know Lois has been assigned to the trial, don't you?"

Clark nodded slowly. "You've seen her there?" He zipped into the kitchen and had the omelet ready to cook in the blink of an eye, though there was no way to hurry the cooking part of it. Unless he'd used his eyes, and Lex on one of his normal days had complained that it tasted really too crispy that way. Burnt on the outside and soggy in the middle, and for Clark to just stick to toasting bread with his eyes.

"Going into court and coming out."

"She get questions in?" Clark asked, as there was a light sizzling as he made the omelet a nice, light, fluffy cheese one. Damn Lois, what had she said?

"Yeah. Brought up the rape charges, which... we already covered. Most of them copped a plea on that because the evidence was there. We already had moved past that." Or he'd tried to. "And my father. Two for one day at the Metropolis city court."

"Shit... she didn't?" Clark was torn between abandoning the omelet and finishing up. "Dammit, where was the news in that? That's been done and done..."

"No-one's going to be fucking happy until I write an autobiography describing everything. It's that morbid human fascination with the forbidden and painful -- the same sort that got the Roman Empire through its last few decadent decades." Lex slouched against the doorway that led into the kitchen, shirt unbuttoned a little for comfort.

"Is it that then?" Clark asked carefully, as he folded the omelet out onto a plate "You've been a bit... distant recently." He passed over the freshly cooked food. "Eat it before it gets cold."

Lex reached for a fork, waiting for Clark as he stepped away from the doorway a little. "I'm sorry. It's been rough."

"I know Lex, I just want to help you," Clark replied, grabbing a drink and following him. "But... it feels weird, you know? Like something's changed."

Not a good discussion, Lex decided as he moved to the living room to sit down on the sofa. "Like what?"

"Like..." Clark hesitated no wanted it say anything, but having to. "Like you don't trust me or something, or... you're expecting me to do something." He felt foolish saying it, but it had been bugging him and getting.

"I trust you, Clark," Lex replied automatically. "I just... You have enough to deal with right now."

"Nothing that's more important than you Lex," Clark said, leaning forward a little. "I'd rather deal with what is bothering you. I mean, I just get the feeling you're doing things because you feel I want it that way. That we have sex because you think it's something I want... or we do things for the same reason and I realized that I wasn't exactly sure if most of the things we've done recently have been because you genuinely wanted to do them or not..."

"I do, I just..." Lex started to cut into the omelet with his fork, eating it carefully. "I don't know."

Clark looked at him, getting frustrated. "What don't you know Lex?"

"I want to make sure you're happy. I know you've been getting hassled about me. This case. I don't want you to have to put up with that..."

"Lex. Lex, look." Clark moved to sit next to him. "I love you, I can cope with it. The only thing that could make me happier was if you felt comfortable enough with me to let me help you. You're not alone, not this time."

"Clark, there's nothing to *hel...." He trailed off, and ate a forkful of his omelet. "How?"

"Just talk to me. Tell me what you really feel, if I'm doing things wrong, tell me. I can't shake the feeling I... am," Clark confessed. "And I don't know how. I really don't want to screw this up Lex."

There was a stretch of silence, while Lex ate and came up with a reply. "You're not screwing anything up." Which wouldn't be enough for Clark, Lex knew. "You're fine, you're... making sure I come home at night and keeping me from tripping. That's all I need."

"It's not all you need. I can see that. If it was all you needed you wouldn't look so hurt," Clark said, frankly hoping that would work.

"I'm not hurt. I just... I'm sick of reliving things." Lex was looking over towards the blank TV screen as he ate. "I manage all of these great accomplishments, and this comes along. And then it's questions from the reporters if I still continue doing what I did before, if you..."

Clark froze a moment. He thought he'd stopped that line of question. "Oh, God, no. No Lex, they haven't." A horrible thought struck him. How big a mental step would it be for Lex to wonder if that might not happen sometime? Was that why he seemed to be acting in the same sort of way that he had to his father?

"You think that I would? In some way?" he asked in a rather faint tone.

"No!" Lex snapped that, twisting a little to look at Clark -- but there was a flicker of something on Lex's face, more than just anger at the suggestion. "No, Clark. I know you wouldn't do that."

"Then why are you behaving like I might?" Clark was oddly heartened at that flash of even anger. It was the first genuine emotion he'd seen for some time. Anger and what? Guilt? Fear? What?

"I'm not -- am I? What do I need to do to convince you that I'm not?"

"Be honest with me, tell me what you really feel," Clark said. "I mean just now, you're angry with me, and something else. I can see that Lex, I may not understand it, but I can see what is there. So fine, get angry, shout at me, and say what you want to say. What are you afraid of? That I might leave?!"

Lex's silence was the most damming answer he could have given. He finished his omelet, jaw tense, and set the plate down.

Clark paused, absolutely stunned. "Fuck. That's it isn't it? You're afraid I'm going to leave you. More than that. You pretty much expect me to!"

"And now you're angry with me," Lex observed blandly, still looking away from Clark.

"Only that you could seriously think such a thing," Clark replied, moderating his tone a little. "I told you Lex, you'd never be alone again. I meant it. I still do. Please, Lex, look at me."

He twitched his head a little, and finally looked towards Clark with clear hesitance. "I keep waiting for it to drop."

Clark leaned forward, reaching for him gently, "It won't, not with me. I promise that. You can trust me. You can shout at me Lex, you can disagree with me, and you can tell me I'm a damn idiot -- because pretty often it's true. I may stomp off, I may sulk a little, but I will never, ever leave you."

"Of course." Still that horrible, too easy agreement, but Lex sank into Clark's embrace with a bone deep weariness.

Clark stroked him gently. Something radical was required, and he could only think of something ludicrous. "So, how about we spend tomorrow painting the Porsche in bright blue and red. You know like Superman's colors?"

"Which Porsche?" Lex asked with a little hesitance. The suggestion had made him twitch, at least.

"Oh you know, the silver one," Clark said, begging for Lex to see he wasn't serious, testing how deep this uncertainty ran.

"I don't think so," Lex finally told him, and he lifted his head with his mouth twitching. "Isn't it too late at night to try to fuck with my head, Clark?"

"I'm just thanking God right now that you realized I wasn't serious. There is hope." Clark smiled back at him, caressing the back of his head and neck. "Don't say yes if you feel no, Lex. You're too important to me for things not to be real between us."

"I'll try not to." Lex dropped his head forwards, and then suggested, "So, do you think your parents would appreciate some help on the farm for a couple of days?"

"I'm sure they would," Clark replied with a smile. "Haymaking you know. There's a lot to be done in haymaking." Clark hesitated a moment, sensing Lex's need for reassurance. What could he give him that would show that he meant it? "Stay there, just getting something."

He blurred and returned immediately. "I have something to give you. It's, well, symbolic I guess."

"I have a weak spot for symbolism," Lex murmured as he sat back on the sofa, eyes keenly watching Clark. Maybe a short trip to Smallville would help, after all.

Clark held the item tightly enclosed in his hand. In some ways this was the most dangerous thing he could ever do if he listened to Bruce, or his Dad or a thousand and one other people who thought they knew the Luthors, because they had experienced Lionel. "I guess a lot of this is about trust isn't it? And I know it's probably not conscious, but you might think I could just... go, because of who I am. So, okay, I know there are other ways around this if you wanted to do it, and I know that for my sake you have gotten rid of any possibility of it... but maybe that will make this more symbolic. In the giving of it, the choosing to give it to you and no one else I'm trusting you with my weakness."

He very carefully dropped the small lead locket, where he had kept the small pure kryptonite crystal all those years, into Lex's hand. "It's yours. I want you to keep it for me. And for you."

"Why?" It wasn't lost on Lex -- he knew right away what it was, from the heft of the small container.

"Because, Lex, it's the only physical assurance I can give you that you can see and touch that I trust you completely," Clark said softly. "That you could if you needed to, stop me just walking away. To give you the choice. If you never use it, just so it's there and with it the knowledge that you do have some control over me. Do you understand?"

"I do..." He needed that control, or at least the illusion of it. The lead stayed closed around the stone, because Lex believed what was in it; he didn't have to check. If the moment came that he needed to use it and it wasn't there in the locket... Then Clark had been lying to him and wasn't worth keeping there. "I understand very well what it means, Clark."

"Good." Clark smiled as if it had been easy to do such a thing, instead of terrifying and strange. "I'm sorry I didn't think of it before... but, no big deal right?" But he hadn't really understood then how scared Lex was that he would leave. Or how much his own anxiety trapped him.

"No big deal," Lex agreed softly. "I'd offer you a vulnerability of my own, but the whole world has them..."

It was enough to make Clark hold him tight. "We're going to make it through this Lex. Both of us, together. I'll be there for you when I can at the trials, I'll come and fetch you at night, and I'll hold you when you tell me how it hurt, and if it upsets you. I'll listen if you need to talk, and if you don't tell me, then you start finding your cars to be different colors." he finished lightly.

"That's just a step too far for my tastes." He halfway yawned, muffling it before he even really started, and murmured, "Let's go to bed. We can talk it out tomorrow...?"

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Clark said standing and helping Lex up. "Got a long day of shifting bales tomorrow and eating vast quantities of food if I know Mom and Dad." He smiled. "It'll be good."


Lex clutched at Clark's hand even when he didn't need Clark's help to stand steadily, and pocketed the pendant in the same motion. As long as Clark was there, it would be good. He could make it through the trials; of all of the media coverage wasn't going to drive him off. He... he could make it through most anything. As long as he was sure of one thing. The other shoe wasn't going to drop, because he'd just put it into his pocket.

Sometimes continuous feed CNN was a blessing and a curse. Right now Lex wasn't exactly sure which was which.

"...The creature, which we believe is genetically modified as well as cybernetic, was sighted coming into Metropolis an hour ago and since then efforts to repel it or destroy it have been unsuccessful. This of course is the monstrous creation that has so far been working its way inexorably through the cities in its path since its emergence, causing wide scale destruction. The Justice League have been attempting to destroy the creature in a pitched battle in down town Metropolis, but it would appear that they are having little success..."

The images zoomed in of what seemed to be gnats trying to attack a massive, rather ugly looking humanoid and metal figure. It would have been ludicrously like a B-movie if he didn't recognize one of the multicolored specks trying to bring the creature down. It wasn't looking good. The thing seemed to have a defense, or a counterattack for every one of their specialties.

Superman. His Clark.

Lex hated sitting there, watching the feed. He recognized the buildings where the creature was. Suicide slums, which was where something like that least needed to be, wrecking havoc on the already wrecked. He had employees who lived there... of course, LeXCorp was currently sheltering all shifts of employees. The centre of the city was safest, after all, and the buildings weren't without protection.

That didn't keep Lex from watching Clark being battered around like a bug.

It was getting worrying. Clark could stand being hit away, even if the thing had a punch like a missile, but one by one the Justice League members around him were starting to struggle.

"The DNA destabilizer didn't work," he yelled to Batman. who was trying to get up. "I thought you said it should be shutting down now?" He had a horrible feeling it was going to come down to brute strength again, which had been a growing trend over the last year. And brute strength usually meant him.

"It should have done, that creature must have had self correcting programs in the cybernetic side that stabilized it -- we need the equivalent in technology..." Batman ducked as Wonder Woman cracked into the road beside him and didn't move. "Wonder Woman and The Flash are out of action, we've got injuries on virtually everyone. We need to regroup."
Batman looked around and Clark could practically predict what was going to happen next.

"Keep it occupied Superman, we'll be back as soon as possible with a computer virus destabilizer. Remember, it seems to know our weaknesses, so be careful." He signaled to the others to help their battered comrades away and with remarkable rapidity, they vanished leaving Superman there alone.


"...And it would appear that the Justice League are retreating.. .no, not completely. Superman is still there, presumably to cover their retreat. This could be a disaster for Metropolis." The CNN feed showed the pictures of the retreat in all its ignominy.

More than just a disaster for Metropolis, which Lex already considered it to be. He tapped his intercom, and paged in to Mercy, "I want the security systems brought up in full, and defensives. Immediately."

"Understood Mr. Luthor." Mercy replied, and all across the computer system, the lights and ready signs began to activate showing exactly how state of the art the LeXCorp buildings had become.

Clark was finding that being left alone with a super fast, super strong monstrosity was not going well. To start with, he tried delaying tactics, as he was confident that it could not take THAT long to get a virus generated. They had exceptional minds on the team, it shouldn't be too hard. Should it?

Only it seemed it was that hard. He was barely delaying the creature, and it seemed to be heading in a straight line into the heart of the city, and a worried look over his shoulder told him what he thought was there...was indeed there. Luthor Towers, LeXCorp. A myriad of other businesses and apartment buildings. If they didn't come back soon, he was going to have to try and defeat the creature, somehow.

Matters weren't helped when a CNN chopper circled too close to it, and suddenly gained the creature's attention in a vague 'must crush' way.

Superheroes weren't meant to swear, but a certain Caped Crusaders long pointy ears would have burning if he'd been around, and all stupid CNN reporters too, if anyone had been close enough to hear his muttered oaths. Clark shot up between the creature and the CNN helicopter and momentarily turned his back on the creature to try and protect the helicopter. Hell, he even knew the people in there from the various reporter melees and crushes they attended at all manner of events and disasters. That seemed to be something it was waiting for and a rain of tiny needle like filaments shot out at him, as if the creature knew he wouldn't dart away because of the people he was protecting.

They hit him, and much to his horror, he felt the sting as they went in, and the tinge of kryptonite. He wobbled a bit, but it was not enough for him to lose power. They must have had only the smallest amount...but it was enough to weaken his body that when the monster hit him it hurt like hell.

He bought just enough time for the helicopter to get away, at least to a safe distance. Not that he'd get a 'thank you for saving us' note, no.

Not as long as he was left alone in dealing with the creature as it pummeled him. Better him than the city.

Things were getting progressively worse; no sign of the others returning, no sign of any help on the horizon and it was becoming obvious from the slightly shaky footage that Superman was actually bleeding. Something was evidently wrong and the coverage was becoming frantic as the complacent attitude of the people of Metropolis suddenly began to wonder if this was something that could not be defeated.

If Superman couldn't beat it, hell. There wasn't any hope for the city as the creature beat Superman back again, and started to amble out of the slums. Bereft of his complete strength and hindered by growing pain, Clark started to think, which was a hard thing to do as he was being thumped from building to building for every blow he managed to land on the creature.

The cybernetic side had to have a weakness, and if what Batman said was true then if he could interrupt or destroy the power source or control unit the DNA destabilizer would work. Otherwise in five minutes this damn thing would be scaling Luthor Towers in an impression of King Kong. Unless it just decided to level the place first. There seemed no logical reason why it was doing this. Maybe it was a project that had gone out of control? Whatever it was it had to die, and now, because he could see people fleeing from the houses around them and a stream of citizens running towards safety if they could find it.

He flew in close, risking another burst of the creatures super-speed that had been the downfall of The Flash, trying to concentrate enough to X-ray in the metallic side of the beast, looking for the heart of the thing. He could see the metal, dense and protecting and there... the flare of energy. A potent power source ironically where a human heart should be. That was why hits to the head had done little, this thing 'thought' with its heart!

All he had to do was get in through that metal panel and punch through to that energy source.

He'd stayed still too long and a vast hand closed around him, squeezing until he felt things crack and could summon the strength to throw the grip off and get out of there, wobbling a little as he did so. He had a plan though, based on too many evenings listening to Lex talking temperature stress analysis on metals for the LeXWing.

He just had to hope he could pull it off.

The CNN commentary was relentless, packed full of the adrenalin of the moment-by-moment drama of broadcasting live everywhere.

"...And that looked to be a close one for Superman as the creature actually caught hold of him for a moment or two. The incredible forces involved we can only speculate upon. Superman is now free and he seems to be darting in close to the creature -- that's got to be dangerous -- and oh... near miss there, and he seems to be attacking the metal on the left side with his heat ray eyes. You can actually see the metal start to glow red and oh, god that was not a good hit, he shouldn't have stayed still so long. Straight into that building... and... He's back again, aiming for the same spot... and this time he's super cooling the area. Again, he's staying still too long... you can tell from how deep Superman has impacted there how much sheer power this... monster has got. Nothing seems to be able to stop it, and Superman was slow to recover from that last hit. Back at that same point -- we can only assume he has a plan because he seems very focused on it, despite the danger involved. We can only hope he does, because right now if this Creature runs loose, then there could be massive loss of life..."

Lex turned the volume down a little on his stream, grimacing as he logged into the security system to check the inventory. Missiles, a couple of rooftop snipers if need be, the un-tested laser project that could be useful if he had to try it.

Not that it soothed the thought that the creature out there was going to kill Clark, and the rest of the so called 'Justice League' had abandoned him.

Superman finished another risky heat and chill cycle and drew back. He was nearly there. He could see the stress fractures. No sign of the others. He couldn't wait any longer; his body was getting worse, not better with the tinge of Kryptonite on those filament needles. He circled out, hoping that everyone who could be was out of the area, praying that he might get through this to see Lex and hoping that this most basic knowledge of physics and brute force would succeed where all the Justice Leagues complex plans had failed.

Taking a deep breath and focusing he circled around until he was opposite that still frosted plate and he shot in with all the superspeed he could muster, bunching his fists ahead of him. The plate shattered on contact where all other attempts before had failed, the heating and cooling making it brittle as Superman punched through into darkness...

And then an explosion of light.

"Jesus! Did you see that?" The CNN reporters voice was strained as the flare of bright white explosion escaped. In its terminal collapse, the creature flailed and tore down a building next to it, that tumbled down on top of it. All of a sudden there was the image of the visible organic tissue melting like wax before the whole thing was covered by concrete blocks. Everyone watching settled into an uneasy silence, to see if that had been it.

Had it stopped? And, Clark...?

Lex stared for a moment at the camera's picture, squinting as if that would make the bastard zoom in properly. A tap to intercom, "Mercy, defense systems temporarily to standby..."

"Standing by Mr. Luthor." The status of the alerts dropped on his system as the camera's move in closer, looking for signs of life, hunting for movement.

The coverage was anxious and repetitious, circling the site, trying to get close, zooming in on random destruction as smoke and dust reduce visibility.

"It's been five minutes now since the defeat of the creature, and no sign of the Justice League or Superman. As far as we are aware, Superman is still under there somewhere, in what state we do not know. There is still organic residue seeping out from the decay of the genetically engineered creature and the collapsed building is not stable so rescue teams have been forbidden from starting the recovery process, though they are keen to try. One has to consider why the Justice League have not returned, and whether the creature caused more damage to them than was anticipated -- a theory borne out by the non-appearance of Superman from what had to have been his toughest battle to date. Perhaps, though we hesitate to say it, his final battle."

The CNN reporter adopted solemn tones as if the conclusion was foregone.

"Mercy, I want LeXCorp bio teams from R&D offered to the city for the clean-up efforts." She was probably getting tired of his curt orders, in choppy streams, but it was all that he could do for the moment. Offer the city help.

And wait.

God help the Justice League if Clark wasn't all right.

"Understood, Mr. Luthor." And he was sure that she probably did. He words were interrupted by an excited burst of monologue from the CNN channel.

"Wait a moment, wait...I see there's some excitement down there. Yes, there appears to be movement." There was the impression of running and the camera pictures refocused to see a large chunk of masonry tumble away. Bloodied and battered, Superman crawled out of the debris and then with considerable effort floated himself upright, looking around. He didn't seem to notice the reporters or rescuers, he just saw...

No one. Absolutely no one. Not even now. They just weren't there. The expression of pain wasn't really a reflection of his injuries, though it could be taken that way and was by most of the camera crews that caught it. It was one of those brief and startling painful moments where Clark let slip the masks that concealed how he felt about being alone. Really alone. Last of his kind alone.

"Superman. Superman... are you okay?"

He blinked as if he barely heard it and turned, wiping a smear of blood from a scalp wound.

"I'm fine," he said a little weakly, trying to give that impression though it was obvious that he wasn't. He looked up and scanned the skies once more, as if giving it one last chance and then took off without another word, erratically but with enough speed that he could not be tracked.

And then the notification on Lex's computer flashed a warning that someone was using the Penthouse window lock rather haphazardly.

"Mercy, if you need me, I'll be at the penthouse." Thank God for paranoia, and for having all of the systems at LeXCorp building and the penthouse brought up, then lowered, but still monitoring... Lex shut things down quickly, grabbed his briefcase, and headed down to leave the building.

It wasn't as if he didn't have a cell phone, or that any work would be accomplished that day.

Clark nearly collapsed when he got inside. He was a little in shock, relieved to be home. There were parts of him about to give up completely. His body just couldn't quite heal itself with the Kryptonite particles in him, but neither was it getting worse. Well, aside from his back. He just had to get those needles out and he'd be fine -- all the cuts and bruises would go, maybe the bones that felt cracked too and whatever else he'd done to himself.

A shower was conducted unsteadily and he came out looking at amazement at injuries that failed to disappear and made himself feel sick looking at his back in the mirror. It was a mass of swollen green tinged tissue, each needle a tiny silvery heart to a spreading mass of violently reacting blood and flesh.

He couldn't get needles out of his back by himself! Not as delicate as they were, unless... Maybe Lex had a magnet somewhere? He had a workshop in part of the second floor of the penthouse, there had to be a magnet up there.

Only, he wasn't sure if he could do it alone. But...

He closed his eyes a moment. He had to, that was something today had taught him. When it came to things like this he was on his own. He had to find a way, make it happen himself. Why the hell wasn't his knee and leg working properly? Fuck the damn thing. And his arm. Was there any part of him that was going to cooperate?

He floated himself, still dripping, grabbed a robe and made unsteady progress upwards towards the lab.

Unsteady and slow progress. Not only had they apparently fled the scene, but also they hadn't even bothered to make sure that he was all right. He was just a handy powerhouse for them, that was all...

"Clark? Clark, are you up here?" Lex, coming up the stairs and pausing to listen for noise.

"I'm nearly to the lab," he called down trying to sound steady and together. It was only partially successful. The relief that someone was there was nearly overwhelming.

"Fuck -- let me help you." Lex was there shortly, after a quick run, reaching for Clark's arm to help support him. "What did it do to you?"

"Kryptonite dusted fucking needle filaments," Clark answered, nearly refusing the help and then reminding himself not to be an idiot. " Waited until I couldn't move and shot me to shit."

"I thought it was something like that." Lex didn't seem to mind that he was getting blood on himself as he helped Clark those last few feet to his lab. "Just lay still on the table for me, and I'll try to get them out. Where'd the Justice League go?"

"Batman pulled them out to make a computer virus thing. They were meant to be back in a few minutes and it would shut down whatever was stopping the organic compound from working," Clark said, looking away. He shrugged and then winced at the pain of the movement. "I... was... I don't know..."

"Shh. Lay down and we'll talk later." And he'd fucking kill them. Or make them wish they were dead; the plan would shape up more when he was coherent. Lex helped Clark up to lie on the table, and he walked over to his desk looking for something that could get filaments out. Magnet? Too unpredictable. Electro magnet? Much better. "Hold on a second."

"I forget sometimes," he said softly, more to himself that to Lex, while he laid down. "I should know better."

"Than to what?" Lex asked, almost a little absently as he hooked up the battery and briefly tested it on his own arm. Good sticking power...

"Than to think I'm part of the team. Not really." His head pillowed into his arm, his dark hair ruffled enough to cover some of his expression. "I'm... too something, I don't know. I don't know what I am. " There was a pause. "They didn't come back even after I left, did they?"

"I stopped watching, Clark," Lex told him honestly, as he came back to the table with the magnet held carefully in his left hand. He held it over Clark's back, close enough to hopefully draw out the filaments. "I wanted to make sure you were all right, more than I wanted to see what happened."

"Thanks." Clark winced a little as there was definite movement to the magnets by the filaments of metal. "I think I can say I've been better. That thing took me to pieces."

"I saw," Lex murmured. "I wish I could have helped somehow..." Lex did a quick run-over, then carried the magnet over to a bin to dump that tiny amount of kryptonite; with all of the radioactive things Lex worked with, a lead bin wasn't something to question in his lab.

"You did." Clark smiled a little. "I was thinking, oh god, I can't let it get Luthor Towers. Lex just redecorated the living room." It was rather a strained attempt at humor, and he hissed under his breath at the level of discomfort, "How much is there? Much more?"

"A little more," Lex tried to soothe as he came back to Clark and did a closer, slower pass-over. "I had the defenses we just finished online, Clark. It would've been a great attempt to test them out..."

"I suppose I could have let it get a bit closer." he paused, distracted again by thoughts of why they had left him like that. He'd thought they were his friends! "Maybe something happened to them? Or... Wonder Woman. I mean, she was unconscious when they bugged out, maybe something's seriously wrong with them?"

"It's very possible." And it damn well better have been. Lex let Clark grasp onto that far-reaching hope, smiling tightly as he watched the swelling of Clark's skin go down as he finally got the last of them out. The lack of angry red flecks and bubbling veins was proof that Clark would heal now, though he was worried about what might have gotten into his bloodstream in the time they had been in there. "Let me get you up to bed, Clark. You look like a giant monster just beat the shit out of you."

"That's a hell of a coincidence Lex." Clark got up unsteadily. "I think I'm going to flake out for a while. Can you tell Perry something happened to me? Maybe I got clonked with some masonry or something? I'm going to have a hell of a Kryptonite hangover from this."

Lex reached for Clark's arm, more than willing to support him forwards. "I'll call Perry and smooth talk him. Say you were in the Slums investigating something when it happened. I swear that we need to either close or monitor that fucking harbor some days..." Anything, anything to keep Clark from thinking about being abandoned by his comrades.

"I should be helping or something." Clark was definitely woozy as he sat up. "I've got some of this damn stuff in my blood. Shit, that means I'll be out of it for a few days."

"Rest," Lex insisted as he tugged at him. "Can you make it back downstairs to the bedroom, Clark?"

"Yeah, yeah I can do that... leap tall buildings with a single bound... stagger down a flight of stairs. Yeah." Clark followed, glazed over, just putting himself entirely in Lex's hands and grateful there was someone he could do that with.

Lex was there for him, helping him to do just that -- stagger carefully down the steps towards their shared bedroom. "Do you want something to drink, Clark? Something to eat?"

"Just want to sleep." He just wanted it to go away, and pretend what he had a dark suspicion had happened -- that he was hung out to dry by his 'friends' - hadn't happened. They weren't here. It might be petty and pathetic but they judged him for being with 'a Luthor' and if he took personal time he received lectures about being there when the world needed him and yet... none of them had been there when he needed him. "I... don't really have much of an appetite right now."

And wouldn't for days.

And then they would call as if nothing had happened and it would be the same thing all over again... and. He really wasn't feeling well.

"All right." It was worrying to be supporting Clark so much, and Lex kicked open the door gently rather than try to free a hand to do it. "I'll make a couple of calls, and stay with you. Just in case you do get hungry when you wake up. How's your back?"

"'s'okay," he mumbled. This wasn't the way it usually worked. There would be people having proverbial kittens if they saw Lex Luthor 'taking care' of him. Showed what little they knew, Lex always took care of him and he needed it more than he could even admit to himself. "Don't have to stay. I'll just sleep, you know I will."

"I'll feel better if I can see you." Lex slipped an arm down to tighten around Clark's waist, prosthetic fingers gripping tight as he pulled back the familiar sheets. "You're not entirely invulnerable, Clark. Just close. Today was too close a call to just let you be here alone. The city can live without us for a day or two."

"Hope so, I should ask someone to cover my..." Clark stopped. "Never mind." He flopped into the bed, making sure Lex could see his expression just then. "Never mind, I'm sure it's under control."

"Cover your what?"

"Patrols." Clark rolled over off of his back, which still stung like hell. He closed his eyes. "Thanks Lex. It means a lot to me that you came and helped me out."

Lex sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, and moved to run a hand through Clark's hair. "I love you, and wouldn't do otherwise."

It was enough to bring a small private smile to Clark's lips that erased some of his pained expression. "Then it was a good thing I stopped it. For you. Only need one reason to do it." He drifted off still faintly smiling, looking as young as he actually was, rather than the impression he tried to give.

Still just a kid when they got down to it. Still a kid that trusted Lex against reason, that loved him... Lex sat there for a moment, stroking Clark's hair with gentle possessiveness until he was sure that Clark was asleep. Then he stood up, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone.

Finding the number for the Dailey Planet wasn't difficult, but getting a free line was. It took him nearly 10 minutes even with liberal use of Luthor name-dropping to get through to Perry White.

"Perry White?" The man was curt, implying that, Luthor name or not, this was a Newsday and he had News to print.

"Good afternoon to you, Mr. White. I just wanted to call and let you know where one of your reporters was. Clark was hit by some debris in Suicide slums while... fuck if I know what he was doing there today. Probably working on one of your fascinating stories. I'm afraid he won't be coming to work for a few days."

"Kent has been hurt?" That caught Perry's attention. "How? How badly is he hurt? Is he in the hospital?"

Hospital. Hah. "I assure you that he's getting the best on premises care. Apparently a chunk of debris fell on his back. Nothing that won't heal in a few days."

"Well that's good to hear." Perry's voice became less tense. "We could use him back here. He seems to know how to get hold of Superman and the city is going nuts trying to find out what's happened to him. Tell him to take it easy and phone in when he's ready?"

Lex had to bite his tongue with remarks he wanted to say, and just replied, "Of course. I'll pass that message on."

"Good, thank you for letting us know Mr. Luthor, we appreciate it," Perry said, more business-like now.

"And I'll mention the concern about Superman. I'm sure he would appreciate having that passed on to him, since the Justice League skipped out. Good day, Mr. White."

And Lex hung up.

If there was one irony to this situation it was that he was willing to bet that he and Lois Lane would end up on the same side over this issue. She managed, quite frequently, to Clarks rather embarrassed chagrin, to make pointed comments about the Justice League exploiting Metropolis' own Superman and something like this would send her into a frenzy of accusation.

Lex hoped it would, and that the run-aways would find themselves well smeared on the Daily Planet cover. After all, how long had passed? All right, if they'd had to retreat, fine. But...

They hadn't come back. Not even when it was too late, not even to make sure that Clark was all right. He could be dead, dead from their neglect, and then what would they do? He half-wanted to contact them himself.

He settled for heading back up to the laboratory, and trying to bring Clark's communicator up without letting them know he was listening. He managed to get the encrypted frequency, coming in on part of the conversation "...Batman and Green Lantern returned yet? Wonder Woman is only just regaining consciousness and J'onn is looking less than healthy. What's happening out there?" It was a young voice from someone who had obviously been left behind to take care of their injured.

"It's already over," Green Arrow could be heard saying. "And Superman already took his ass off the premises."

"So you and Atom got the cybervirus to him in time? Batman told me he left it running before he and Green Lantern went after the controller of that thing." Dick Grayson -- 'Robin's' voice was sounding distinctly concerned now, as if tumbling to the fact that something was not quite right.

"Superman took it out himself," Green Arrow remarked. "Made a mess doing it, too -- and left the clean-up to us."

"Wait... wait, Batman told me he asked the rest of you to back Supes up as soon as you were regrouped," Dick replied accusingly. "That's why he told me to stay behind with Wonder Woman, J'onn and the Flash. I'm close quarter stuff."

"He was done before we'd regrouped," came the bit-out reply. "And then he left!"

"Well has anyone spoken to him?" Dick asked pushing again. "I mean, not all of you could be out for the count...were you?"

"I'm close-quarters just like you," Green Arrow countered. "Who knows where he went? Batman didn't come back with the damned virus we needed."

"The virus downloaded to the computers at the regrouping point." Dick said getting angry then, "You guys were meant to download it and transmit it using one of the lasers for Christ's sake. He told Atom before they went off to shut down the black Ops running this thing, before their signal cut out and they lost it.... Even I know that!"

"We had a malfunction."

"A malfunction?! A fucking malfunction?! You saw how powerful that thing was, and you left Superman out there on his own? He was only meant to be delaying it! Wonder Woman and J'onn are meant to be pretty invulnerable too and it knew how to hit them and hard!"

"Yeah, well, he took himself off. I don't know where the hell he goes, and I can't get his communicator to respond."

Dick seemed to settle, accepting the fact that the communicator had been tried without question, because he was told it was. "I guess if Batman is in a fit state when he gets back, he'll check up on him, I'll let him know if he comes up here first... or I guess he'll chew him out for bugging out, I don't know."

"I'm not surprised he disappeared. Always leaves us with the cleanups..."

"Plenty to clean-up on this one." Another voice entered into the conversation. "That part of Metropolis is a write off. If he'd known how to kill the thing why did he wait until most of the team was injured to do it?" It sounded bitter. "Makes you wonder if you can trust him... really..."

There was a pause. "I'll excuse that on the basis you had a thump to the head Flash," Dick replied with a tone that implied he might get another. "You better lie down... guys, I'll be down to help with clean up as soon as I can."

"Great. But we won't wait around. After all..."

Lex cut his listening in. He'd heard all he'd needed to hear; all he'd needed to hear to further solidify his view of those fools.

It seemed all too hypocritical after the times they had lectured Clark, or used him spouting off the importance of being one of the team and maintaining communication, to hear them essentially applying one standard to him, and a different set to themselves. Clark had mentioned sometimes he felt like they treated him with suspicion despite everything he did, and it was tragic to say, that he was right.

Lex moved out of the lab and sealed it up behind himself, as was his habit, before making his way back to the bedroom to join Clark in bed. There would be no interruption because no one would come to see how Clark was.

For the first time Lex began to actually perceive that Clark might actually need him. Not just want him, or even love him, which were still things he was struggling to come to terms with in his own way. An actual need, much as he needed Clark in a way that scared him. It was easy to think of Clark as being as invulnerable as his physical form, but he had come to know that when it came to emotions Clark laid himself open for the world to take shots at.

And it did. Freely and often.

Lex worked his way out of his clothes for that day, noting that he probably needed to take a shower in the morning. Cold sweats of fear weren't a pleasant fragrance. Not that Clark would mind, given that he needed to wash up far more than Lex did. But he also needed to be watched over.

If Clark's so-called 'friends' wouldn't help him, Lex would.

Bruce Wayne's office was as reclusive and hard to get entrance to as Wayne Manor, but with the highly successful partnership with Wayne Enterprises and LeXCorp, Lex was one of the few people who could get access to the man with comparatively little trouble.

Clark had accepted Lex's excuse of a business trip to Gotham; he was pretty much accepting anything right then. In the twists and turns of conversation, Lex could see Clark making excuses for his' friends' and starting to believe, in some way, he had done something wrong. If one of them had turned up and said the sort of things he had overheard on the communicator on that day, right now he was so low, ill and depressed that he probably would have agreed.

It was just wrong to see him like that, utterly wrong.

That wasn't Clark, and there was no reason that Clark had to be making excuses for them. To make matters worse, Lex had been right; none of them, not a one, had checked to see that Clark was right, or spoken with him since.

By the time Lex returned to the penthouse that night, he was damn well going to have given at least one of them a piece of his mind.

Bruce Wayne looked up from his paperwork as Lex was shown in. "Good morning Lex, I was not aware that we had grounds for a rapidly arranged meeting?"

"There are grounds," Lex replied flatly, coldly, once the person who had led him in had closed the door behind him. "Turn off your monitoring devices."

"I need a good reason to do that Lex," Bruce insisted, sitting up with less than his usual grace, his tone harder.

"I want to talk to you about something you don't want on record," Lex said cryptically. If need be, he'd drop a hint.

"Off the record it is, then," Bruce replied flicking some hidden switches and demonstrating that they were now secure, by gesturing to a status monitor. "So. Talk."

"Wonderful." Lex took a slight breath, and approached Bruce. "What the fuck were you and your merry band of spandex wearing idiots thinking last week?!"

"Excuse me?" Bruce looked at him sharply. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm not up to the denial game today, 'Batman'." Lex paused in front of Bruce's desk, and set both hands on it, leaning in to look down at him. "I just want a rational excuse, because so far Clark hasn't been able to come up with one."

"Batman? What the hell are you talking about Lex?" Bruce held his ground; it was clear he was thinking that Clark, being young and nave, had indulged in pillow talk.

The edges of Lex's mouth curled in a crooked, wicked smile. "I put two and two together, and you damn well know what I'm talking about. Clark doesn't know yet that I've figured this out, Bruce -- and there's no need to play fucking innocent with me. 'Dark Knight'."

"You've got no proof for this wild accusation," Bruce replied tersely, sincerely hoping it was true.

"No proof that I'll hand over to you," Lex said curtly. "But that isn't why I'm here, Wayne. Or weren't you listening?"

Bruce seemed to come to a decision, accepting that it was entirely possible that Lex might have put 2 and 2 together considering. "No, please continue entertaining me with your speculation."

Lex could feel his jaw twitch at that patronizing murmur. Not that Clark wouldn't do the same, to some degree, but... "I'm glad I'm entertaining you, Wayne. Will you still be so entertained when Superman gets sick of the shit you and your 'compatriots' pull on him?"

"Explain?" Bruce gestured, taking on board the fact that Lex seemed sure enough of what he was saying to practically reveal Clark's identity to him. It implied he was more than just 'suspecting' his identity

"Do I have to? Or is your conscience that well settled over the events of this past Friday?"

Bruce sighed. "Very well, as you appear so well informed as to my alter ego." He grimaced with distaste over that. "What is it that you believe is the case?" His tone was very much that he didn't have a clue what he was interfering with.

"You left him to deal with that creature -- this isn't the first time that you've left him to cover your tracks or to simply deal with a problem by himself. He's also the first person you call when there's a problem beyond your own scopes. This time it nearly killed him with kryptonite, and none of you gave even as much as a 'are you all right'?"

Bruce paused a moment stilling a moment. "No one said anything about kryptonite being involved or him being hurt," he said in a quiet tone. "What happened? Why hasn't he called in?"

"Why should he? So you'll know he's on duty and ready to be put through a ringer again?" Lex kept leaning on the desk, not reacting to Bruce's quiet tones.

"This is important Lex, we need to know if he has been compromised. He's meant to call in and tell us these things."

"He could be DEAD right now, and none of you would apparently have noticed," Lex snarled. "You let him to fend off this thing himself, there's CNN footage of him wobbling away from the scene after a building fell in on him, and sudden the burden is on HIM to god-damned check in?"

"The report I had when I got back is that he chose to deal with the monster himself instead of waiting, and then left the scene without contacting anyone, and attempts to hail his communicator got nowhere." Bruce replied. "Unfortunately I was not in a position to check on him personally or else I would have done so."

"And unfortunately the rest of his assumed 'friends' were equally busy, and have remained so. If he didn't deal with it, people would have died. The city would have been lost -- you know he won't let people die if he can do anything about it. All of you were exploiting his weak spot."

"He should have waited for the... virus we were constructing. For back up. I asked him to delay only," Bruce replied with more heat. "Until the others returned. We only had one shot to shut down the creators of that monstrosity."

"And I watched him delay -- but the thing was killing him. There comes a time that you can't 'delay' any further. But... Tidy excuse. That still doesn't explain why you failed to return. Or contact him."

Bruce went quiet a moment and straightened up. "I was not in a position to do so myself to start with. Nor for a few days after." He cleared his throat. "I was also disappointed in his conduct based on the reports I was given, I believe that I would get too angry with him to have a constructive discussion."

In his absence, the internal theorizing, and disappointment by Diana when she awoke that he had not even inquired after her, and J'onn, too, had spread. By some strange alchemy Superman, by not being there to defend himself had become the scapegoat for their wounded pride and egos. And as Clark has tried to explain once before there was a lot of ego in a bunch of superheroes to go around.

"Disappointed in his conduct. Do you forget how young he is compared to the rest of you? How much he looks up to all of you for mentorship? And you're doing to him just what my father did to me. It's always his fault. He saves the day where you fail, he's mortally wounded, and it's still his fault. He won, and he still loses. I can't wait until the day all of this catches up to him and he just gives up."

Bruce looked at him faintly troubled. "Perhaps I am not in possession of all the facts regarding this incident, but you have to remember this is not just... private business, this is about saving the world. When it comes to that as a priority every single one of us is expendable. It's not a game, its not about personal glory, its about protection and every single one of goes out there know that this battle might be the last. That's the point Lex."

"It sounds good from the moral high ground, doesn't it? The 'I'm unwaveringly right' ground. But at the end of the day, you're a league, and you're supposed to work together. In this case, you left the battle before it was your 'last', before you were expended, and left a single member of your number to face that fate. I know you had some grand plan. Something about a second team lasering the virus to the beast? They didn't bother, because they saw that Superman was taking care of it. Just like none of you bothered to contact him. I know you said you tried to contact him." Lex turned away from Bruce's desk, unable to look at the man's face without wanting to strangle him. "I created the communications devices, remember? I can monitor them. Green Arrow said he'd tried to contact Clark with no luck -- while I was sitting with Clark's in hand, waiting for one of you to bother."

"You are saying that no-one actually did?" For once Bruce seemed -- not shaken, as Bruce was an expert at appearing calm -- but perturbed at the very least.

"Yes, Bruce, that's exactly what I've been trying to say since I got in here -- Clark could be dead for all that you know."

Bruce went silent, and very grim. "I apologize. It would seem...that there has been a significant break down of communication." He even looked a tinge pale, as if he was shocked.

"That's quite a change in tune from 'I was disappointed in his conduct based on the reports I was given' and your moral high grounds speech," Lex muttered as he turned around slightly. "When all of your arrogance towards him catches up to you, all of you, I hope you remember how you've acted towards an innocent young man."

"Wait. Lex, please, I would appreciate your version of events. " Bruce asked looking at him, "...please."

"My version?" Lex smiled at Bruce. "Why? What does it matter?"

"It matters." Bruce replied. "It matters because I accept I can be wrong, and that I can and will do something to correct the mistakes I have made. You are correct, I have made an assumption, a series of assumptions and I need to challenge those assumptions with information.""

"I've given you the information I had," Lex shrugged his shoulders. "CNN's videos tell the story well."

"There was no mention of kryptonite in any reports, or real injuries?" Bruce asked again.

"It isn't something you publicize. The thing shot kryptonite coated metal filaments into his back. There must have been hundreds of them."

Bruce's knuckles seemed very white then. "This was before he destroyed it?"

"Yes." Lex gave a glance to the white knuckles, but didn't let his eyes linger on them as he paced past Bruce's desk once more. "When it was batting him around like a toy."

"And he was prompted into desperate action by knowledge of his own growing weakness?" Bruce asked carefully.

"Of course. It's hard to 'delay' when you're dying," Lex snorted. Bruce could be as careful as he wanted; he wasn't going to get himself back on Lex's good side without work.

"I believe I underestimated the seriousness of his situation," Bruce replied. "The television reports had footage of him as coherent, and saying he was fine, with little evident injury."

"Did you see your own retreat?" Lex asked archly. "All of you looked fine."

It was a telling point and Bruce acknowledged it with a nod. "I believe we have done Superman a disservice. How is he now?"

"Demoralized," Lex said succinctly. "Still a little wounded and ill, but mostly it's a lack of faith in the so-called good-will all of you have towards him. Frankly, I can't see how he deceived himself for so long. He's not very well trusted among your number."

Bruce frowned, "What do you mean, not well trusted?" he asked shifting himself forward a little.

"Just what I said. One of your guys was questioning why Superman waited until most of the team was injured to kill the creature."

"What?" Bruce paused, "You are serious about this?"

"Flash said it," Lex told him in a very serious tone of voice. "I told you -- I built your damn communicators, I can monitor them. We're all lucky Clark was passed out when I heard that."

Bruce pinched across the bridge of his nose a moment. "All right. I think I need to talk to a few of the others, Lex, get this sorted out. You think Clark will be up for a few visitors shortly?"

"He might be," Lex shrugged as he paused and looked at Bruce for a moment. "He's had visitors -- People from work, his editor."

"I mean from some of us?" Bruce asked. After all the fact that Superman might be pissed off at them was a reason for caution.

"I'm sure he'd appreciate you coming to see him. And apologizing." Lex smiled that twisted smile again. "You see, if you're not coming to apologize to him. You're not getting in."

The Batman apologizing? It was like expecting the sun to rise in the west, but even so there was a grim smile. "Understood." Which was possibly as close as he could get to a yes. "I shall make that clear."

"And remember -- if you continue to treat him the way you have been, don't be surprised when it comes back on your head. Is there anything else you'd like to discuss?"

"No, I believe that is sufficient. I have some... work to do regarding this," Bruce replied, looking at him. "I appreciate the effort you have made to clear up my misconception Lex."

"It's for Clark's sake, not any of yours. If he turned to me today and said that that was it, he was going to conquer the planet, I'd help him. But god knows why, working with all of you is what he wants to do. Good day to you, Wayne."

"Good day to you Mr. Luthor, I appreciate your visit." Bruce stood up to see him out even as he moved.

Lex had nothing more to say to him as he left Bruce's office, eager to get out of the Wayne Industries building and back on his plane. The sooner he was home the better, because his business there was done.

Bruce watched him go, relaxing a little painfully. It was a long time since he had felt ashamed of something he had or hadn't done and yet, Lex had managed to find that well hidden switch and trigger it. It was a revelation of sorts, and the unpleasant sort where you believe firmly that you are in the right and then discover in an instant that you are not only not in the right but you are guilty.

Guilt he was used to, but if he could repair this damage, he would. The Justice League did not want Superman for an enemy, not at all.

In some ways being shot with kryptonite bullets, while being more painful and dangerous in the short term, had been less debilitating than the aftermath of the creature and it's damn dusted filaments. At least once the bullets were out, it was gone. Clark's problems at the moment came from the fact that once kryptonite particles were in his blood stream they were not easy to get out. Every day he excreted a little more by one means or another -- and was really beginning to loathe being... 'Ill'. Not terribly ill, and nearly well and able to use his abilities erratically, but every now and then, not being quite right. Superman suddenly being affected by stomach cramps and throwing up a little speck of kryptonite was not good for the image.

In the mean time, he was trying not to feel sorry for himself. He was 'fine'. Normal people had this sort of thing all the time. They got they flu, and they had food poisoning which was what Lex likened his experience to ALL the time. Complaining was not going to help.

Moping wouldn't either.

Just because it didn't help didn't stop him from doing it.

Lex had tried to help, but Lex had work to do; Clark could even tell that he was cutting out of work early to come back and be with him sooner, taking things from the office home with him. His business trip to Gotham was probably over, and he'd be rolling into the Penthouse any minute now.

He appreciated it. More and more, he realized that Lex was a lifeline to him as much as he had been to Lex. The past eighteen months or so had been rough on them both, and he'd had to put a lot of energy into helping Lex, supporting him, taking the shots from other reporters about it all, but this was the proof, if he ever needed it that this was not going to ever be a one-sided relationship. His Mom and Dad were important to him, and they'd come to visit and his Mom had allowed him to be emotional over what had happened, but they didn't protect him any more. And Lex at least tried even with all his other pressures and commitments.

That could bring a smile to his face if nothing else.

He settled down on the couch near the window to catch the sun, laptop there, big glass of water and hope that Lex was right that the last of this stuff would be gone in a couple of days.

Lex was usually right about things.

And, he'd be home soon. So soon, in fact, that Clark could almost feel him when he heard the door unlocking. At the same time that there was a rap at the window.

Clark looked around, looking to the window, and then to Lex and his look of astonishment was not feigned. Not just a visitor, but a delegation. Immediately his felt a pang of guilty dread. He must have broken some strange unknown superhero rule, and that was why they hadn't come back. And now this was it, they were chucking him out.

Lex smiled in a queer way that hinted he knew what was up, and closed the door behind him. Keys ended up tossed onto the table just inside the door, and Lex sauntered over towards him with his eyes on the window. "I have great timing," he decided.

Clark got up slowly. "I guess I better let them in," he said, sounding a bit apprehensive even to himself. He went over and keyed the window open. "Uh, hi... come in, I...Wasn't expecting anyone, sorry."

Lex watched them come in -- Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and J'onn -- and shifted his fingers on the strap of his laptop case. "Would you prefer if I left, Clark?"

Clark hesitated, torn at that. He wanted the support, but he really didn't want Lex to have the memory of him dressed down as a failure. It would make it easier to pretend it wasn't a big deal later. "Would... would you mind Lex? I think they've come to tell me something. " He didn't like the way they all seemed to be looking at him, measuring him up somehow. So, it was obvious he wasn't making the grade. He looked like shit, and he knew it.

"I hope they've come to apologize." Lex looked them over, but headed for the hallway. "I'll be in the library, Clark. All right?"

Clark nodded, nearly wincing at the unlikelihood of that. "Would you like to sit down?" he said a bit nervously to the five most powerful members of the Justice League. "I can get you drinks if you want?"

"No," Batman declined, before he cleared his throat. "We're here because..."

"Because we want to apologize," Wonder Woman cut in as she moved away from the window and past Batman.

Clark looked positively startled as he blinked and looked at them. "You're joking right?" he asked leaning on the edge of the couch a moment. Superheroes never apologized, because theoretically they should never have done anything to apologize for. It would have been comedic if Clark hadn't been so genuinely amazed.

"No. It was... brought to our intentions that we had made some incorrect assumptions," Batman said carefully; from what Clark could see of his mouth, he looked somewhat apologetic.

"We didn't know you'd been hurt," Flash offered.

Clark shrugged a little. Not knowing what to say, and a little part of him urged him to stand up for himself. "Well, yeah, I guess you wouldn't have known that." He couldn't quite bring himself to hurl the accusations out at them. He wanted to, but he couldn't quite. "You were busy."

"We... thought you were fine," Wonder Woman murmured, not quite a plausible excuse. "After all, you left after fighting that creature and didn't come to see how all of us were... We just didn't think that..."

"I was sort of expecting someone to come back," Clark replied a little stiffly. "And I haven't been able to go very far at the moment. That's why I'm still here, I sort of fold up every now and then."

"And we didn't come back. There were reasons why we were so delayed in coming back, but..." The Batman was silent for a moment. "None of them excuse what we did. I believe I can speak for the whole League when I say that I'm sorry for our actions."

Clark looked down. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry if I did something wrong, but I really don't know what it was, and I tried my best to do what you all asked me to do...."

A week of depression wasn't that easily brushed aside, even by an awkward apology.

Diana edged towards him, mouth a thin line. "No, you didn't do anything wrong, Superman. It was us, expecting too much. Again."

Clark looked up, shaking his head, still mistaking their attitude for anger or annoyance for all the apologies. "What? What do you mean expecting too much? Was I meant to defeat the thing straight away or something? I didn't know how to! Not until Batman told me that it must be regulated from the metal side, but then you all bugged out. And half of you were hurt. I'm sorry, I should have called, I know, but I came back here and flaked out completely, and that thing beat the crap out of me.

"No," Green Lantern finally spoke up, at almost the same time as J'onn. He almost said more, but deferred to J'onn.

"Kal-El, you are powerful, but you are not all powerful. We forget that more than we should."

Clark frowned. "But you know that I'm not," he said puzzled, "I've never pretended to be all-powerful, and I've always deferred to your experience."

"Compared to us," the Flash told him, "You are. You're faster than me some days, stronger than Wonder Woman, able to take hits better than Green Lantern, more powerful than J'onn, and occasionally smarter than Batman."

Clark paused, "So I'm...too dangerous? Or what? I can't change that part of me, you know that. I've tried to do everything you want me to and help and... this is why I've been having a hard time?"

"We over-estimate and under appreciate your strength," Batman said off-handed.

"Oh." Clark was silent a moment rubbing the back of his neck. "So, no one coming to back me up was unintentional?"

"Very," Green Lantern assured. "We didn't see that you had been wounded, and it was just... assumed that you'd left."

"But I was buried under that building for quite a while, and no-one tried to get hold of me." Clark pointed out, "I could have used the help then... you helped everyone else..."
And that was the crux of it. He'd tried to steer away from it, not be emotional about this but it came down to the fact that they hadn't come back for him, they hadn't checked on him, but they HAD for everyone else.

"An action that we hadn't even realized we'd done," Batman said.

"Some of us were wounded, but..." Wonder Woman paced slightly, past Clark. "Not everyone was. There's no excuse. Someone... brought it to our attention that we were too focused on the 'any one of us could die any moment' factor of what the league does and..." Her mouth twisted wryly, "Not focused enough on the watching each other's back part of it. Which is the important part."

Clark paused, a suspicion dawning. "Who brought it to your attention?"

"I don't think that matters," Green Lantern said carefully. "Only that all of us weren't realizing how we were acting."

Clark hesitated, suddenly knowing without having to ask exactly who had said something, but choosing to conceal that. "I have to ask though, is there a reason why me? Because I'm too strong? Or you all hate my guts or something. Seriously, I'd rather know. I'll just leave if that would cause less problem for everyone, because if no-one actually trusts me then it will only be a matter of time before something really bad happens."

"It isn't that we don't trust you," Diana said as she paused in front of him. "It's just that we don't know what to... how to help train you. We all taught ourselves, and apparently none of us are good at helping to teach you. I know Batman isn't the most sympathetic of people..."

"I want to apologize if I've been too rough on you," he offered. "We do trust you, Kent."

Clark let some of the tension drain from him. "Thanks. Thanks, that means a lot," he said quietly. "I'm sorry I didn't call in, but by the time I woke up... and no one had been around, I was convinced I'd done something really wrong. And I didn't want it to be over."

"At that point, it was not your responsibility to call us, but ours to call you." J'onn inclined his head slightly. "We're sorry. We need to work further on communication."

"I agree with that," Clark replied feeling a tinge of nausea, whether from relief or from a shifting kryptonite particle he wasn't sure. "I should be okay in a couple of days, at least well enough to get to the Fortress and get any damage purged, so if you want me to, I can be back and active then."

"Don't rush yourself," Batman said firmly. "We'll still be here when you've recovered."

Clark nodded, "I appreciate you all coming, and the apology. Is everyone else fully recovered?"

"Entirely," the Flash told him. "We were just sent for a loop for a couple of days."

"That thing had a hell of a punch." Clark agreed, "Did you get the guys behind it then?"

"Yes." That was the Batman, in the fore of the group even through he looked like he was trying to stay in the shadow that late afternoon could afford. Unfortunately, the window was on the west side of the building and that was making it difficult.

"That's good. That's okay, so no more of those... things then," Clark replied, relieved. "Guess it all worked out okay then."

"And you?" Diana asked. "I mean... how did you get the kryptonite out?"

"Lex used a magnet to pull the needle filaments out of my back, but some of it's in my blood. I uh... throw it up, mainly," he said a little embarrassed. "It's not much, I mean I can still do bursts of power at the moment if there was an emergency. Just flying a distance might be tricky until I can get a bit more out."

"That's all right," Diana insisted, waving her hand slightly. "Don't worry about it, Clark. We know how badly Kryptonite hurts you."

No, they didn't. They didn't have a clue what it was like and as there was no way to explain the feeling of your own blood literally boiling in your veins, destroyed and desperately trying to regenerate. "Yeah. Uh, could you, do patrol for me? I've listened out for anything serious but..." Lex had shouted. Loudly, and with some eloquence on the one occasion he had darted out, and came back shaking.

"I can cover it," Batman offered. They could all probably guess why Clark hadn't been doing patrols, and his name started with an L.

"Thanks," Clark replied again. "Are you sure I can't get you all something?" He needed to sit down but it wasn't polite to do so with them all standing there.

"No, we're fine. In fact, we should probably be leaving," Diana suggested. "Is there anything else we can do for you?"

"No, no I'm fine, it's just good to see you all," Clark smiled at them all genuinely, still not entirely sure that he hadn't dreamt it.

"It's good to see that you're okay, Clark." Since she was closest to him, Diana reached forwards to hug him briefly.

That brought a brief, genuine smile, born from surprise as Clark responded, "You too Diana, and thanks." He let go and stood politely as they moved out towards the window again. Clark was convinced his knees were going to give way but that might have been the shock.

Shock more than sickness, though there was a part of Clark that hoped that if he were going to get sick, they'd leave before it happened. The apology had really been enough for him. "Get better, all right?" She smiled to him, and then moved to leave through the window.

"And don't worry about your patrols." And then Batman was gone, too, probably scaling his way down the height of Luthor Towers. Or maybe Diana was carrying him down.

Clark watched as Green Lantern said a quiet farewell and helped to fly the Flash away, nodding and saying thanks. He really was feeling nauseous now and steadied himself, praying for some time to lie down and talk to Lex.

"I'm sorry, Kal-El," J'onn apologized. "You are more human than the most human of us. This is something to be proud of, and we will all remember this well in the future. Good bye, Kal-El." And then he headed for the window, and closed it behind himself.

Clark blinked a moment and then made it to the couch, shaking a little -- much to his amazement. What had just happened? Apologies? Compliments? J'onn seeming to see part of his deepest fears about himself?

There was no Lex dropping out of no-where to check up on him, so apparently he hadn't been eavesdropping on the conversation.

Even if he apparently had put them up to it.

He didn't know whether to be mortified or grateful at the interference, but he wanted to thank him none the less. Unsteadily, he took a gulp of his water and then headed over to the library, pushing the door open. "Hey. Visitors gone," he said quietly.

"How're you feeling?" Lex hadn't set up his laptop; he had instead started to leaf through one of his many classics. There was a glint in his eyes as he looked over to Clark, expression one of anticipation.

"Pretty wrung out, but better." Clark gave him what had to be his first real smile in a week. "Seems someone took the Justice League to task...?"

"Oh, yes?" Lex didn't bother to feign much innocence as he put the book down on his chair. Then he walked over to Clark. "Here, tell me what happened and I'll get you into bed."

"Well it seemed that they owed me an apology," he said twitching a smile. "I don't think I've heard any one of them apologize in my life. Let alone all 5 at once."

"All five of them?" Lex slid an arm under Clark's shoulders, helping him forwards and back out of the library.

"Yes... some with more grovelling that others but... Yeah." Clark leaned on him. "I really thought they were coming to chuck me out."

"Why would they do that?"

"Because I'm an idiot?" Clark half-laughed. "I don't know, I just convinced myself that I had broken some rule, which is why they didn't come back, or check up on me. You know, one of those vast invisible rules that everyone else seems to know about and... I might not, because I'm not human."

"Clark, you've been here since you were three," Lex said patiently. "And you were raised by good, conscientious parents. I don't think you missed out on any of the invisible rules."

"How would I know? They're invisible. Look, it's just one of those things I worry about Lex, like how I used to worry that my next power that manifested would be me going all Kafka all over the place and changing into a giant beetle thing. This is not a point where you should be laughing, I'm serious!"

But it was hard to not laugh. Even though he was holding Clark steady as he walked with him towards their bedroom. "Sure, Clark... I'm glad you didn't turn into a giant beetle."

"I would have been a lot harder to have sex with. And I can't imagine you standing there admiring my chitin as obviously as you stare at my ass." Clark's rather quirky sense of humor had returned along with his good spirits. He flopped on the bed dramatically. "So, who did you sort out...?"

"Me? What makes you think I did anything..." Lex didn't quite shudder at the idea of Clark with chitin, but he came close; that didn't stop him from sitting beside Clark and starting to undress him.

"There's... pretty much no one else who would speak up for me Lex," Clark said a little more seriously. He rolled a little towards him. "Have I told you recently how lucky I am to be with you?"

Lex leaned down, and kissed the edge of Clark's jaw for a moment. "It cuts both ways, Clark."

"Yes it does, both ways. I sometimes wonder if you realize how much I rely and need you Lex," he said seriously, kissing Lex back. "Or whether you think I don't need anyone, like they all do."

"I knew you when you came to me with advice on how to pick up girls, Clark," Lex reminded him as he pulled at Clark's shirt gently. "You've always needed someone. Most of us do. Bruce was a little surprised to get told that."

"I have to know... how did you know it was him?" Clark asked, "That's why you went to Gotham yes?"

"I guessed," Lex said easily. "You only ever ran into Batman when Bruce was in town for business. There were too many coincidences for me to think it was all coincidence."

Clark grimaced as he laid down on the mattress. "Most people assume Bruce is too laid back to be Batman. Not that I've dealt with the laid back Bruce."

Lex shifted his hands down to Clark's belt, and started to undo it. "I think his public persona is a perfect facade for his Batman scheme."

"He's been doing it longer than most of us." Clark murmured, "Though if you count my do-gooding in Smallville..." He was perfectly capable of undoing that belt or getting changed by himself, but Clark was enjoying the attention Lex gave him. "Did I really make a fool of myself over all this?" he asked suddenly looking up at Lex. "I feel like maybe I've made a fuss over nothing."

"In my opinion, Clark, they were walking all over you." Something Lex knew well -- being used and mistreated in the name of supposedly helping for the greater whatever. It was all shit when it came down to it.

His lover frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked finally and rather deliberately. He needed someone to give voice to the feeling he had never been able to admit himself.

"I mean that they were using you, Clark. I hope it was accidentally, but you've been a convenient and eager workhorse for what they do." Lex tugged Clark's pants down, and his boxers, working them slowly off.

"They weren't using me... I offered to help," Clark protested a little weakly, leaning up so the pants and underwear would come off, sneaking quick kisses as Lex moved close.

"And I offered to work with my father," Lex reminded as he pushed Clark back down once he was naked. "They depend too much on you. If they can't handle something, they shouldn't expect YOU to do it yourself."

Clark wrapped his arms around him and looked at him. "But what would have happened if I hadn't?" he replied. "What if I had just let it come on in, how many would have died? Would... you have been in danger? It's like that every time."

"I know. But the heart of the matter is that you can't always be the backup plan." He pressed a kiss to Clark's mouth. "Why don't you try getting under the sheets, Clark? It's easier that way..."

Clark grinned. "Does that mean I have to be good?" he said rhetorically. "I know, I know -- when I'm better. When I'm better I'm going to make it my personal ambition to appreciate you over a long period of time."

"When you're not sick," Lex agreed as he pulled sheets down as Clark moved for him. "I wish you'd seen the look on Bruce's face when I asked him what he thought he was doing."

"I wish I had too. You going back to work now?"

"I was thinking of retrieving my laptop and coming back. I want to make sure you rest." And Clark could see it in Lex's eyes, the want to protect and help him as best he could. Lex might've been (mostly) human, but he was at least as skilful in manipulating things when the situation was right.

"That would be good," Clark decided, "I'd like that."

It was a feeling he thought he'd lost with the innocence of youth and his Kryptonian Rite of Passage. The feeling that someone would protect him, look over him as he had tried to do for everyone he cared for and failed one after another. Lex had given that back to him, and more besides. It was easy to say he fought for Truth and Justice, but in reality what motivated him was the fact he loved and was loved in return.

Not just Lex. But friends, family, the people at the Planet, sometimes the whole city. Metropolis was their home, and he could fight to protect the place where they had come together and started making a difference.

He hadn't meant to avoid that spot for so long; it had taken some thought for him to even realize he'd been avoiding it. Too much of the media spotlight, painting him this way or that way, forgetting or ignoring once more that there was a man behind the symbols. He hadn't needed to be painted as a grieving son, because he had already suffered through his grief.

His mother had been mourned once, and quietly in his heart every time he saw Martha Kent; she didn't know how much she seemed like Lillian, and Lex didn't want to tell her. It was enough that she was kind to him, understanding of he and Clark.

His father had been mourned twice -- once for the man Lex had hoped he was, and once for the man he truly had been.

There was solace for Lex to find in the fact that he hadn't discovered Lionel's perfidy until he was dead and buried. If Lionel had been alive, what would Lex have done? Would there have been anything to do?


Nothing that wouldn't have rendered him truly ruined. It was better for the phoenix in Lex's heart that the decision had been taken from him.

It was finally over, the trials, the final frenzy of Metropolis for the salacious gossip from the Gold House Scandal and the far-reaching corporate corruption it had rooted out. And it seemed strangely fitting that this be the day to come back and face these strange cold stone monuments that stood waiting for him while a heady stream of life carried him away.
The reasons why he was here were nebulous and half formed. Part of the reason for setting foot on the manicured grass was to see if the thoughts and feeling could crystallize into something defined and recognizable now that he could deal with and control. Instead of colds mists of memory and emotion were made opaque by pain and betrayal.

The only thing that seemed to crystallize for Lex was that he could lay eyes on his father's headstone without his stomach twisting. Lionel had lived the life he'd wanted to live -- and so had his mother. And now so was he.

Everything in his life wasn't admirable, no. There were things Lex knew that society in general would frown about; but he knew that his parents would be proud of him. Even Lionel, in his strange, backhanded way. The coup at the Gold House had been very Luthoresque in nature, even if Lionel had never approved of Lex's habit of taking a short-term personal hit in exchange for long-term gains.

Yes, that was a crystal sharp knowledge to Lex as he knelt down in front of the monument. "It's been a long time, mother. I hope you're still happy up there and that I've continued to make you proud."

It felt like there should have been an answer from heaven, but the sun still shone and the breeze twitched the single stem purple lilies he had placed in the holder. It was peaceful, not the dark angry clouds that had marked his last public appearance here.

Yes, it had been too long. But he'd been falling apart, even if he'd fooled himself into thinking it was the other way around. "I still catch myself missing both of you... you and father, at the moments that I least expect it. If you were still alive..."

Everything would have been different. 'If' was still a dangerous game. "LeXCorp goes well, better than LuthorCorp. I think all sons owe it to their fathers to outshine them. Maybe some day, when we've had time past this, Clark and I will... adopt. He'd make you proud, mom. Not afraid to threaten me when I need to be."

That was something she had always talked about, how the great fell because of their own hubris and she would smile and joke even then that without her, Lionel would have to find someone else or he would fall again. There was a bitter irony to even such a frivolous prophecy. What type of father might he have had if his mother lived? Not one who sculpted a 'perfect son' out of the fragments he created of his own desire and needs.

But that was 'if' again, and some day Lex would learn to let go of if. Someday. "I wouldn't go so far as to say that he completes me. You both taught me well enough that if you can't do that on your own, no other human being could make it better. He tempers me. Even after all of the... work both of you did for me... to me... I still need that." Lex leaned forwards, to halfway touch the lines of his mother's name. "I won't create my own downfall. That alone should make you both proud."

He liked to think it would. That was one part of himself he could not redefine -- that need for approval, their love, the positive regard of even their departed spirits and memories. And he had honored them by not trying to change that part of himself, but instead changing what it applied to. He chose to believe that his father would have approved of the success of the trials, rather than dwelling on their content. He chose to believe that his mother would have approved of Clark and the fact that he was happy. Things weren't perfect, and he still had his moments. He shouted sometimes. He stretched too far and he got shouted back at in return or held back or caught if he fell. And Clark did much the same. If he had to be reborn from the pain and disillusionment, he'd chosen a good incarnation of himself to return as.

It wasn't perfect, it wasn't the pinnacle of humanity, but it was a pinnacle for Lex. It worked; Lex didn't want to even bother conceiving of a world where he and Clark weren't there to prop each other up and guide the other in times of pain. Clark would have been the truth and justice for all carpet, and Lex... God didn't know what Lex would have been, and Lex didn't know.

It didn't matter, because he could kneel before his parent's grave and feel, for the first time in a long time, a sense of peace associated with the plot. There was no turmoil left in him, and no tension between he and the dead.

He guessed that he was lucky that it had only taken a little over two years to find that equilibrium. There were people who carried the burden of a life gripped by ghosts all through their days. That could have been him. Could very easily have been him. Eaten day to day by hungry ghosts, a banquet rotting once the guests had departed. If not for the moment when Clark, who had always felt too much, too strongly, and never let go of the slimmest hope, had offered that hope to him, expecting to see it crushed in a moment, but doing it anyway.

Having a stubborn friend had never made Lex so proud. Clark hadn't let himself be rebuked, hadn't let Lex scare him off with hurt and anger.

A shift proved that his knees hurt, stiff and needing to be moved; he'd been there long enough. "I'll see you both again -- I love you, mother. Father. But I can't spend all day here. There's a life to be lived before I join you."

There were footfalls behind him, as there had been all that time ago. Not hesitant this time, not wary, but confident and eager for all they stopped respectfully, waiting for him to finish his personal time with his memories.

Lex reached out one last time to straighten the lily. Then he rose, and turned smoothly to face the man who owned those footsteps. "Hey."

Clark smiled at him. "Thought you wouldn't mind me dropping by once you were done," he said quietly, his own mind filled with the memory of the start of this full circle. "Word's out in public now about the verdicts. "

"Is the reaction good, as I predicted?" Lex asked as he paced towards Clark. No limp, but that was Clark's doing. Clark's doing, too, that he had a hand that was almost as good as real.

"Yes. Justice is perceived to have been done, the Luthor name now represents a way of demonstrating triumph in adversity and against long and impossible odds," Clark replied, looking at him carefully seeking signs of upset or pain.

But it wasn't there to seek out, even for Clark's finely attuned eyes. Lex was calm as he reached his good hand to grasp Clark's fingers. "Perfect. Why don't we head back to the penthouse for a quiet night at home? Mercy just dropped me off, so I hope that you drove..."

"Mmhm... in a manner of speaking," Clark replied, twining his fingers with Lexes and drawing him suddenly very close. "You're okay Lex?" he asked softly. "Really okay?"

Was he okay? There was a path of pain and jagged edges behind them, and an unknown, but hope-filled future ahead of them.

Lex squeezed Clark's fingers, and leaned in. His answer was a bare whisper of breath, filled with promise for their 'quiet night at home'.

"I'm great."