Authors: [info]perryvic and [info]zaganthi

Summary: Clark Kent had tried to be an ordinary guy -- for a space alien living in a farming town. He was always afraid that one day, someone would learn about what he could do and turn him over to the government. He'd never considered the possibility that a private citizen could take control of his life and his friend's lives more thoroughly than the government ever could, using threats and drugs to keep him under control.

These Red Deeds

There were mornings where waking up took more effort than it was worth. Mornings when the pain at the base of his neck was an unbearable, wrenched twist, when the dull ache behind his eyes made it seem like his brain was trying to crawl out of his eye sockets. Maybe mornings like that would've been bearable if he had a reason for them.

If he had a hangover to excuse the dry, sticky feeling in his mouth, the way he clung to his pillow a little sweatily when he first sat up. But he couldn't claim hangover. It was just the old cocktail for a bad night's sleep that was served to businessmen world wide.

Overwork and bad dreams.

It didn't make sense for him to have such vivid nightmares. They weren't conscience-ridden nightmares like he should've been haunted with. Everything that he did on a daily basis didn't even dent his psyche -- guilt free, no moral agonizing, and not even a subconscious manifestation of what he should have felt.

No, he dreamed about the blue Kansas sky raining down on him in fire and stalks of corn slapping against his face as he ran through them. He dreamed about fire, about kisses that sucked air from his lungs and left him on fire. Literally, that one time. He dreamed about his past, mostly, those horrifying sharp memories that had lodged themselves deep into his brain.

They made him want to bury his head in his pillow and hide there until clarity had chased away the image snatches. But he didn't have the time to; his alarm clock was going off, and he needed to report in for work sharply.

Lex Luthor was a prompt man, one of the many things attributable to him. Promptness, fastidiousness, a sharp, dry wit, coldness in business. He was a cut-throat of the highest degree, and he'd learned it from a master. A master, who would, in the great tradition of dictators passing the torch, be ousted by his successor before his time.

If Lex could ever find the perfect foothold of opportunity to do it from.

That was an arousing enough thought to make him lever himself out from the clinging sheets to turn off the alarm clock. By the time that he'd done some exercises, showered, dressed, and had breakfast, Lex Luthor was ready to face another day as an under-executive of LuthorCorp.

Being a Vice President of Corporate Relations was an important job to hold; it was also somewhat misnamed. Lex preferred to think of his job as Vice CEO.

Specializing in manipulation, blackmail, disposal, seduction, whatever needed to be done. There seemed to be no line that he wouldn't cross in the name of 'corporate relations'. Setting a man up for a drug bust and the following embarrassing media blitz? Half a morning's work. Bribing employees and encouraging espionage? Lunch break material.

Lex was good at making sure that all of LuthorCorp's various vices went off smoothly, from illegal experimentations of scientific advances, to getting information out of a pretty heiress through pillow talk.

Being CEO of Vice garnered Lex a rather nice parking spot for his sleek new Spyder, one of the many upsides that brightened his days. When he rolled through the lobby, he was greeted with welcoming expressions, the 'Can I smile any wider for you, sir?' expression that he was used to. The elevator ride up to his office was lonely and quiet, because most of the staff showed up a little early to work; Lex preferred to stride into his office and greet his secretary promptly at 8am.

It came as something of a surprise to discover his secretary looking very edgy with that certain wary look she managed to get when his father was around. Great, an early morning visit from Lionel was just the start to the day he needed.

"Your father is waiting for you sir, he...and his guest let themselves into your office," she said apologetically.

This of course meant that Lionel had discovered his personal access codes again, not that he was stupid enough to leave anything obvious lying around but even so it was irritating.

Lionel always managed to out-do him. Somehow. "Thank you," Lex told her a little sharply. "Have they already requested coffee for themselves, Melissa?"

"I took the liberty of providing some sir and for yourself as you were expected momentarily. I do not recognize the other man with your father, though he was wearing a LuthorCorp I.D." Melissa provided the information in a low voice glancing over at office door. "Your father seemed in good humor."

"I'm sure that he is." Lex smiled at her blandly -- the information was appreciated, but sometimes his staff liked to get too involved in the family intrigues. Not that he could blame them. There was a little bit of investigative, nosy detective in every human being. But that wasn't an excuse to let it run free and potentially risk their lives senselessly, which was exactly what his overly helpful secretary was risking with her overt interest.

God knew that Lex had learned that lesson time and time again. Had taught that lesson to others. Close your eyes. Shut your mouth. Smile. Pretend you saw and heard nothing. Admit nothing. Act on nothing.

"Thank you -- please bring my coffee in when it's ready." Lex turned his head a little, cracking his neck, before he moved to the unlocked doors of his inner sanctum.

His father was sitting in his chair, behind his desk perfectly at ease, while a tall, rather young looking man leaned against the desk. Young good looking man. Distractingly good looking even if his eyes were cold and hard, vivid as emeralds but filled with an icy appraisal as he looked at him.

"Ah, Lex. Nothing like a good sleep in is there?" Lionel hailed him even as he sipped his coffee.

The man was probably Lionel's new body-guard. He wasn't in the usual black suit and earpiece that Lex was used to seeing in bodyguards, but it wouldn't surprise him if Lionel decided to give up on the 'usual' for once. Lex let his eyes flick over to his digital clock, which only flipped to 8 in that moment. "No, I'm right on time. So what brings me the pleasure of your presence, father?"

There was no doubt about it; Lionel was exuding the Luthor-patented essence of smug which was never a good sign. "Well I thought it would be courteous to introduce you to LuthorCorp's latest corporate executive trainee. Clark Kent... Clark, meet my son Alexander or Lex as he likes to be called."

The newest corporate addition to LuthorCorp put out a hand and gave a business smile. "Good to meet you... Lex."

"Good to meet you, Clark. Have you had much experience in the field?" He reached out his hand and gave the newcomer a firm shake. A new trainee -- it didn't happen very often, unless Lionel's plan was to drop the kid in as a manager at one of the plants. Some of those managers could have used replacing. Most of their qualifications appeared to be in the science of ass-covering.

"A little, but I'm not long out of college," Clark replied releasing his hand. He didn't seem to be looking at him as most awed trainees did. In fact his opinion seemed to be less than impressed, even if his grip had been firm and a twitch warm.

Lionel smiled at them both. "Good, good I can see you are both going to get on like a house on fire..." People running screaming, fleeing for safety - exactly like a house on fire.

"...which is good because Lex, Clark is going to be your responsibility to train to a suitable standard for an executive of LuthorCorp."

The urge to ask Lionel to repeat that, in case he'd misspoken, was an unbearable one. Lex simply looked at his father for a moment, and then glanced towards the door. "Can I have a word with you alone, Lionel?"

Lionel seemed to be expecting that. "Clark would you mind going out and introducing yourself to Melissa, Lex's delightful personal secretary? As you will be working with her closely as my son does?" Clark nodded a little curtly and left the room obviously used to that sort of request.

"Well?" Lionel steepled his fingers still looking at him with that infuriating smile.

"Are you going to bother explaining this to me? I don't have time to train anyone," he bit out, striding towards his desk. How... how dare his father be sitting in his chair like that? "Do you trust him to do what I do? He could run to the cops like that." A snap of his fingers went with his words emphasizing the seriousness of the situation.

"Lex, Lex, Lex." Lionel sounded disappointed. "Really son, do you really think I would inflict someone on you if I was not completely sure of their allegiances? Clark Kent is a rather...special young man, I'm sure you won't have to waste time teaching. He is perfectly capable of absorbing the basics through observation and participation. Most certainly I trust him with the sort of sensitive work that you do, you don't have to have any concerns about that."

Until the kid managed to get himself killed, Lex noted, his life was going to be a living hell. He straightened up, even as he moved behind his desk to better face his father, mouth a flat tight line. Most certainly, Lionel would inflict an incompetent on him! He'd done it before. Lex always had to be on his toes in all matters that directly stemmed with his father; there was usually a trap involved that Lionel knew, but never warned Lex about.

"The sort of sensitive work I do doesn't go over well if there are two of us," Lex reminded him.

"Yes I seem to recall you using that excuse before," Lionel said dismissively. "I would be very perturbed if anything untoward should happen to Mr. Kent. He has the potential to be an exceptional asset to LuthorCorp. He's a little rough around the edges but, that is exactly the sort of thing I want you to deal with. It's such a minor task really...but if you feel you can't cope, that plant in Smallville still needs someone to go there. I never did get around doing anything about that...."

A low blow to take, and Lex shouldn't have expected anything else from his father. Once upon a time, Lex had been given the choice of Smallville's plant, or starting on the path he was now on -- managing LuthorCorp's then-new European assets. It hadn't been a hard choice for him to make. To threaten to toss him into a shit hole of a town, the same shit-hole that had first thrown a roadblock into his life or into Europe with the possibility of making a name for himself...

"I can cope," Lex assured him flatly. "The question is, can he? But if you think he can... I'll give him my best shot."

Lionel grinned at him standing up. "Excellent son, excellent. He does have the occasional attitude issue, but his aptitude is...startling. I will of course ask him over for regular updates."

Attitude issues. Christ. That was the whole reason that Lex loved to work by himself as much as possible. Attitude issues. The kid could have a bad day and fuck up months of work with an 'attitude issue'. "Of course. Do you want me to keep notes on his strengths and weaknesses?"

"Whatever suits you Lex. I think he might surprise you. I find his inability to toe the line for the sake of toeing the line somewhat... refreshing." He stepped towards the door and turned slightly. "It's worth the shock for the benefits of an honest opinion."

Not that Lionel ever appreciated it when Lex gave him a damned honest opinion. Which he did frequently, and... there was nothing as frustrating as deaf ears. Lex tried to not let anger rise up into his facial expression as he tracked Lionel with his eyes. "All right. Have a good day, dad. I'll get to know my... trainee."

Lionel smiled as if it was all some big, deadly practical joke. "You do that son, I'm sure, as they say the teacher learns as much as the pupil. I'm sure we'll speak at some point during the day." He stepped out to where Clark was chatting amiably with Melissa showing a way of charming people with a natural ease that had taken Lex years to perfect.

"Make the most of your opportunity Clark, thank you for the coffee Melissa, delicious as ever..." Lionel said even as he strode out in his customary flurry of attention grabbing movement.

It left the three of them alone, for a moment. Lex smiled at Melissa, and reached for his coffee as soon as she finished putting raw sugar in it. "Thank you, Melissa. Please hold my calls for the morning?" More suggestion than order as he moved away from her desk.

"Let's get to know each other, Clark. I want to know your expectations for working within LuthorCorp."

"I find it best to not have specific expectations," Clark replied looked at him with an assessing gaze and none of the automatic deference and fear that Lex had risen in credibility to command over the years. "They're ...limiting. Who knows where I could be tomorrow?" It sounded challenging and there was enough of a twist in the tone to give it a meaning that was not immediately obvious.

Lex paused to hold his office door open for Clark, half-way to herding him into the room. He would've put a hand on Clark's shoulder to move him along, if he hadn't had a cup of coffee in his hand. Since when had Lionel started to allow trainees into the building without a tie on? "You'll be here tomorrow, Clark. It's only Monday."

"A lot of things can happen in a day," Clark answered glancing at him. If Lex was not pleased to have him there, it appeared that the feeling was mutual. This Clark Kent was looking at him as if he already loathed the sight of him. Strange, it usually took people at least a few hours of quality time with him to reach that level of hatred.

He hadn't even done anything particularly offensive yet. Clearly, Lionel hadn't been exaggerating when he'd mentioned the young man's 'attitude problem'. "All right." What ever the fuck floated the guy's boat. "Why don't you sit down, and we'll talk."

He did seem to be able to take direction at least because he sat down, looking at him with that cool emerald gaze that seemed to judge him and find him wanting. "Talk away," he said in a tone that seemed diffident.

Lex took a sip of his coffee, and moved to sit down in his chair. Still warm, which he didn't want to think about. "Tell me about yourself. This is a delicate line of work -- I want to know who you are."

"You want to know if I will sell you out," Clark said easily looking directly at him in an understated challenge. "Let's just say your father was first introduced to me a fair time ago, most notably through a...business associate called Morgan Edge. I believe you are familiar with him?"

How could he not be? The man was one of Lionel's greatest assets and his greatest doom. Lex just inclined his head slightly. "Then if you know Morgan Edge, you have more than college level experience in this field."

Clark gave a nonchalant shrug. "You also know that it is not in my interests to be... caught out. Believe me, I am no more eager for that to happen than you are."

"I don't want to work with someone who's going to be reluctant." It was hard for Lex to sound easy when he told the other man that, leaning back in his chair a little to assess him. "I need to be able to trust you. And you need to try to enjoy what we'll be doing."

"Like you do?" That was said as if it didn't surprise the other man at all.

A trap -- one way or another, the mere question was a trap. The kid had a lot to learn -- you always tried to give people an out, a verbal out, even if taking the out gave them away. It put people at ease to have that way to verbally slip free. If he said yes, it would only incriminate him further in Clark's already tainted eyes; if he said no, word would get back to his father, and there was that opening at the Smallville plant. "I put my emphasis on try, Kent. You'll find that there are thrilling moments and depressing ones in what we do."

His new trainee just nodded at that. "Understood. What else do you want to know?"

"Tell me who you are. What school you went to. How old you are. Where you live...? Do you already have your company ID and security pass?"

"My name is Clark Kent, I'm from Smallville, adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent when I was about four." Clark rattled off the details by rote. "Things were relatively normal until I ...caused an accident that led to my mother miscarrying her first child. Considering she was diagnosed infertile this was a serious problem and had a devastating impact. So at the age of 16 I ran away from home and ended up in Metropolis. And had to find a way to survive. I have certain rough talents that caught the eye of Morgan Edge and he took me under his wing, and there to the attention of your father. I went to college to study journalism at MetU and that contact was maintained. After graduation your father was convinced that some of my rough edges could be more tightly controlled and honed in his company. I live in a small apartment in Luthor Towers at the behest of your father. I have had a company ID for some time."

How much that synopsis missed out... Clark couldn't believe he was sitting here talking to another Luthor with even a hint of civility. But then Lionel had made it clear he was to at least attempt to cooperate or the same old threats applied.

Do as I say Clark or your family and friends will die. Unpleasantly.

Do as I say Clark or you won't get any more of the red meteor rock treated dose and that makes it easier doesn't it?

Do as I say Clark, give me your blood or...

He couldn't go on like this. Not forever. And six years was as close to forever as he was likely to ever want to be.

There was no sympathy in Lex's eyes. He didn't have any to spare as he listened to the words. It was just how things went in Metropolis. When you caught Lionel Luthor's attention. "I hate being out of the loop like this." Lex let a little smile crawl over his face as he started to set up his laptop to jot all of that down into. "So you're a journalist by training, if not profession?"

"So far, yes. You can pull my grades I'm sure," Clark replied with a hint of a drawl. "It was a good a course as any and something I was good at."

"Would you like to get into journalism some day?" Maybe there was an out for the guy. He didn't want to be there. Lex didn't want him to be there. Not an immediate out, but maybe an eventual out.

"That would depend on what opportunities arise here," Clark replied.

Like getting out, getting away without anyone getting hurt. He could get through the withdrawal from the RedK if he knew everyone would be safe in that period time when he would be incapacitated. That was always the problem though. Until he did there was always going to be a period of time when he was helpless and everyone was totally vulnerable to whatever revenge Lionel planned. And now whatever refinements his son wanted to add on to that process too.

"Like I said, I do have certain skills that might be of use."

"Then let's start there, Clark. What do you consider to be your skills?" Since Lionel had likely already filled in for Clark what the job would entail, particularly if he came from Edge's people. "You'll find that we have a more careful touch in LuthorCorp than Morgan Edge can really comprehend."

"I can get in and out of anywhere unseen," Clark replied quietly and without a hint of arrogance. "I have a certain amount of natural strength. I can play the hick farm boy role very convincingly. I ...get on with people. I can use the written word more effectively than most and I am well versed in means of investigation and research. I am an unknown quantity to the business world however."

"And it's hard to trust an unknown quantity." Lex gestured to Clark with a loose movement of his fingers as he typed in the password to his computer. "Why don't you open your shirt for me. I like to check that you aren't tapped."

Clark gave him a look and unbuttoned his shirt without a query. "You sure you don't want to check the pants too?"

At least as long as Kent seemed to have a sense of humor, Lex could try to work with him. Lex smirked a little as he watched Clark's fingers move to pop each button of the shiny crimson shirt. "You mean the ladies at the security checkpoint didn't already do that?"

"They did seem a little thorough in doing their duty it's true," Clark replied with a slight flicker of a smile. He shrugged it off completely, not disrobing in half measures as he tossed it over to Lex's desk. "Just in case you want to check the seams or something."

Lex caught it, clenched it in his fist, and then tossed it back. "I didn't hear anything crinkle. Your willingness to do what I asked is nice to see, though. I believe that we'll be able to manage working together."

Like he had any other choice. Clark gave him another cynical look.

"Generally things are agreeable on that basis yes," Clark replied a little dryly. Same old story with just a slight veneer of politeness. Do as I ask and we'll get on fine. Yeah. Not a million miles from 'do as you are told.'

"Do you have a laptop, and a network account yet?" Lex prodded as he opened up a word document to start typing down his initial thoughts of the young man sitting across from him.

"I have a network account, but no laptop as yet," Clark replied calmly. "Well, not a company one at least."

"We'll go get you one today. Pick something you want, we'll pay. Once I check my mail, I might as well take you down to R&D. Have you been in there yet?" As long as he kept talking, he could concentrate on his 'task'. Training someone to do the same job he did. Maybe Lionel just didn't think he was capable of doing it alone anymore, or maybe he thought the company needed two, or...

There was choice three, training his own replacement, which Lex simply didn't like the thought of at all, but with his father, a distinct possibility. He'd nearly been disinherited before and he wouldn't put it past Lionel to have Luthor heirs in the woodwork somewhere. He certainly slept around enough. Usually with people Lex liked.

"I know R&D," Clark replied nodding. He knew it all too well. And he was familiar enough to feel the threads of the sort of games that Lionel liked to play with people and though it wouldn't do him any favors, he could muddy the waters a little more by not allowing everything to go Lionel's way. "It occurs to me Lex, having to introduce me as a corporate trainee will do nothing for the credibility of your work don't you think?"

"It's unwise to put all of your eggs into one basket," Lex countered smoothly. But it wasn't a thought that settled easily into his own head, despite the sense that it made when it left his lips. "And in our line of work, no-one is a trainee."

"Perhaps not, but..." Clark put his shirt back on. "What did you assume I was when you first saw me?"

"I'd assumed that my father had hired a new, casual bodyguard." Lex looked up, half-watching Clark's motions. He'd probably do better with pretty little rich girls than Lex did, too. Fuck. "What did you assume when you first saw me?"

"That you were very much the Luthor," Clark replied with a slight cold smile. "Perhaps then I should appear to be your bodyguard. I can perform that duty easily enough. I would then be in a position to learn and yet not undermine your authority."

"Then we'll do that until you learn the ropes and names around here." Lex glanced from the 'new trainee' to his screen, and scanned for any interesting messages. Only one piece of correspondence that was worth his time, so he opened it and started to reply. "We're going to have a working lunch today, Clark. A meeting with someone from the FDA."

"A general meeting or regarding something specific?" Clark had a disturbing habit of looking right at him as if he could see into him somehow. It was his eyes. They were a peculiar shade of green and hints of blue and clear as some unbelievable idyllic tropical bay. Lex had to look away a moment, to keep from being distracted.

"Specific. We aren't there to bribe the official -- we'll be going to blackmail him." Lex lifted his eyes again, watching Clark for any expression of disgust or distaste. It would've been normal. Once upon a time, he would've felt more than the current stirring of unease at what they were going to do.

There was no sign of anything in those cold clear emerald eyes at all. His new trainee appeared all too familiar with the process. He nodded slowly. "We have the material already?" He seemed to be all too familiar with the concept of Luthor's and blackmail without having the intricacies explained.

A shift and Lex reached into his pocket to pull out his desk keys. Once upon a time he'd preferred clear-topped desks -- but sometimes a man needed drawers to hide things away in.

He unlocked the top one, and pulled away a false bottom, to pull out an envelope. "Look."

Clark opened the envelope and looked at the pictures, his expression going cold and grim as he did so. "Pedophile."

"Not recently," Lex pointed out, starting to shut his laptop down. It looked like it was going to be an uneventful day; his father had probably arranged it to be so, for maximum time with his 'trainee'. So Clark could start to grate on his nerves. "But those photographs are a well kept secret of his. Or, they were."

"He's likely to react badly," Clark commented, his expression betraying a little of his feelings but only the barest minimum. And if he were doing the job he wanted to do, the pedophile would be brought to justice immediately. He hated this. The shades of gray in the Luthor world smothered him like a shroud.

"If he reacts too badly, then they'll be delivered to the Metropolis PD." Lex started to stand, and reached for the envelope. "We'll go down to R&D first."

Clark nodded and wondered a moment. Lionel really had things set up easily for himself. He had Lex as a human shield, tackling the people likely to try and come after him. Lex would be the one to get the death threats, he could see that now. And Lionel wouldn't be in any hurry to lose that protection. He wondered what Luthor senior's game was this time.

It was going to be a hell of a long day. Lex gave his 'trainee' a look up and down, and decided to stop wondering if it would be all right to push him onto a subway track and make him ride that third rail all the way to a pretty, early grave. He could just go out of his way to dump him deep in it on the first day. It would bind the young man deeper into LuthorCorp than whatever Lionel had already done with him. But…

If Lex Luthor was going to have a shit of a day, Clark Kent was going to have one, too.

He flashed his new shadower a brilliant smile. "Finish your coffee. We have a long day ahead of us."

It was funny, in a way, how Clark had spent most of the time down in R&D looking perfectly green. It hadn't even been as bad as Lex had hoped it would be; they were only vivisecting a freak of scientific nature. Just a mutated cat.

Just a mutated cat. It was nothing, compared to some of the things Lex had taken part in. Watched. Cleaned up after. There was a reason why he never wanted to go near Smallville, and it wasn't just a lack of cable internet. And the pretty boy came from there. It was funny how things worked out -- he probably thought Metropolis was worse than that place.

Lex supposed that Heaven and Hell were subjective that way.

"Nice sunglasses, Kent. Very... CHiPS."

"It fits the image," Clark replied his stomach still roiling from the vivisection. Too many memories and fears centered on those rooms and ones that he wondered if Lex even knew about anything connected with him. He didn't think so but it was difficult to get a feel for the father-son dynamic. It was nothing like what he had with his Mom and Dad. On the rare occasions he was allowed to speak to them. "You do a lot of work in there?"

"Occasionally. Once upon a time, I was going to be a scientist. Now I just keep things in tight running order." What he knew, at least. Kent didn't seem to mind the fast way that Lex was guiding his Spyder through the turns; the lack of height to the car, and the low roof seemed to bother the tall man worse than the breakneck speed.

"You like to study things then?" Clark had to slide down a little to stop from punching the roof out with every sharp move.

"Sometimes." He wasn't going to show his new trainee all facets of himself that soon -- or probably ever. It was easier to smile casually and half answer. Evade.

"I guess this job is more challenging than doing scientists work," Clark seemed to muse aloud. "Human shield for LuthorCorp. That's a tall order for anyone to cope with."

"I'm afraid I didn't hear that." Lex shot Clark a quick sideways glance, as they idled towards a red light. "Say that again?"

"You, being your father's human shield for LuthorCorp. Pretty tall order for anyone to take on," Clark obliged him by saying again, his expression hidden behind the shades.

What fucking audacity! Lex laughed, leaned back in his seat as his foot idled over the gas pedal. "Christ. You're a piece of work, aren't you? I'm no human shield."

"Really? Sorry but that's what it looks like. You get to do the dangerous out on the limb stuff where people are most likely to make personal grudges and come after you, leaving your fathers hands comparatively clean. And him safe. " Clark was unrepentant. "Have I got that wrong?"

Lex took the right turn, when the light finally turned green, a little sharply. Not when he worded it so simply, no, he didn't have it wrong. "I do a very necessary job, a job that prepares me to one day succeed my father. I'm not a human shield."

"Yeah well, the way I see it, dirt sticks. The more you do this, the less likely you will be to succeed him." It was said in a very bland tone, but it made a sharp point. "From a purely business point of view as well as the increasing level of threat to your person. That's the bodyguard part of me talking there."

"You aren't even a real bodyguard," Lex bit out. "Look, I've already caught on that you're a smart-ass. But do you follow the idea that I'm training you, hopefully, to some day do my job so I no-longer have to?"

"I somehow doubt that will be an option," Clark said. It would sound different to what he meant but the compound of RedK in his blood made him not care. He didn't know what Lionel was up to, but there was no way he would allow him to genuinely take the position. He was a pawn in their games at the most, not a real contender.

Lex wasn't going to make any angry noises. Or take the steering wheel off and beat the 'trainee' with it. No, he was going to be calm, collected, and... calm. Deep breaths, lay off the gas... "Let's concentrate on our job."

Clark nodded and said in an overly professional fashion, "As you say Mr. Luthor. All business it is."

"Is pushing buttons one of your many talents, Mr. Kent?" Lex bit as he did slow -- for a purpose, that time, so he could pull into the parking lot of the restaurant where they were going to meet the official.

Surprisingly that got a flash of a grin. "One I've worked on many years Mr. Luthor." He unbuckled his seat strap as they reached a halt. "Irritating I might be, but I am probably the best bodyguard you'll have whether official or not. Excuse me, I best make this look good."

He got out of the car first giving a little smile to himself. The ability of a Kent to get under the skin of the Luthor family appeared to be a family trait after all. It was entirely possible that the son hated him almost as much as he hated Luthors in general.

Hard to believe but... possible

Once Clark had gotten out of his car, Lex took his time unbuckling his seatbelt and getting out, briefcase in hand. No, clearly the day hadn't been miserable enough for Clark Kent, for him to be smirking that way. "I want you to be quiet, and just watch once we're in there," Lex told him, one last instruction.

"Yes Mr. Luthor." It was a tone just a shade mocking, but he did seem to know what he was doing in terms of security. College kid or not, when it came to security he knew the moves which was enough to make Lex wonder what the gloss over gaps in Clark Kent's life really held.

Scanning the area, before he fell into step just a little behind Lex, like real security. Once upon a time, it had bothered Lex to be followed by security, and it still irked him a little. He didn't need a bodyguard. All he needed, occasionally, was back-up.

A man tended to not need backup for lunch.

It appeared that their business associate had already arrived and was waiting for them both. Mr. Richard Parsons was as anal retentive an executive as Lex had ever met. His appearance was all business and conservative to the point of being extreme. He didn't even grace them with a business smile, just a thin lipped twitch of a movement of his lips that look more like an involuntary spasm than an expression.

Lex waited for the Maitre'd to finish giving his words of advice about what to order, asked for a cup of coffee and the house soup; Mr. Parsons looked like he'd already started on wine with whatever he'd ordered that wasn't there yet.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Parsons. How are you today?"

"Tolerable Mr. Luthor," the FDA representative replied. "I hope you do not mind me going ahead and ordering, but I have another appointment at 2.30 and I am conscious of the time."

"Of course. I understand all too well that you're a busy, busy man." Lex settled into his chair, paying Clark no mind. By not acknowledging his presence in any way, he acknowledged that Clark was there to protect him. "So I'll save you time. I want to know what you plan to do about LuthorCorp's latest testing scenario."

Clark positioned himself discretely with the apparent disinterested alert air that security adopted even as the waiter brought over the man's order, hastily followed by Lex's. "You are talking about the trials on the LC-379 Mr. Luthor? The same procedure as ever."

Lex was quiet as his coffee and soup arrived, and started to add fake sugar to the coffee. "Ah. You see, the CEO was under the impression that we were being given a little more lee-way..."

"Mr. Luthor senior is more than aware of the standard procedure for FDA testing Mr. Luthor," Parsons commented eating his light meal in as precise a fashion as he spoke. "I can't imagine why he considered there might be any differences in the existing protocols."

"I think he considered it because he's a reasonable man, and we're an advanced company," Lex said simply. "We don't need the same time that other groups need to produce a harmless, helpful chemical."

"And the manufacturing pressure to get this product into the market place has nothing to do with it Mr. Luthor?" Parsons looked up at him with that same twist of a smile. "Rules are rules Mr. Luthor. Just think of it as a means of preventing costly lawsuits."

"And here I am, thinking of it as an unnecessary impediment to helping humanity." Lex's smile was a cutting one, as he took a sip of his coffee. The cutting smile was half-way a warning to Parsons that he wasn't getting anywhere, and he wouldn't be getting there fast. "I'd like to strike a deal with you."

"I'm sure you would Mr. Luthor, but no matter rumors to the contrary, the FDA do not permit shortcuts or 'deals' to be struck." Parson barely stopped eating to speak.

"What do you think your wife would do if she knew of your little 'hobby', Mr. Parsons?" Lex asked, clearing his throat a little as he picked up his spoon.

There was a silence a moment. "Excuse me?"

"I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that you were hard of hearing." Lex swallowed a spoonful of the rather pleasant potato soup, then leaned forwards. "What do you think your wife would do if she knew about your 'hobby', Mr. Parsons?"

"Well she gets a little irritated that I play golf so frequently but I can't see how that is any of your business and at all relevant to this discussion Mr. Luthor," Parsons replied and narrowed his eyes. "I would have to warn you that the FDA looks very unkindly upon personal issues being dragged into business."

"My question for you, Mr. Parsons, is how would you look upon spending the rest of your life with a cell mate?" It was the best part of the job, if he had to think of it in those terms. The reveal, where people learned that their dirty little secrets weren't so secret. Dragging out the moment where they started to squirm in their chairs. Dodging and exchanging vagueness until fear started to overtake them. "How is your niece, anyway?"

The way Parsons froze showed him he had hit the nail on the head. "I don't know what you are talking about," he blustered even as the color drained from his face.

"Of course you don't. God knows that if I had that on my conscience, I'd say the same thing. How does she look at you at family reunions? Eyes full of hate, I'd bet. Your wife, no doubt, would take on the same expression. Was it worth setting your life up for ruin, Mr. Parsons?"

"I don't have to listen to this..." Parsons fumbled around for his brief case only to be stopped from rising by a very gentle but completely immovable hand on his shoulder. How Clark had managed to get there was a mystery but he was.

"Mr. Luthor hasn't finished his discussion Mr. Parsons," he said quietly. "And you haven't finished your meal. Drawing attention to yourself might not be in your best interests."

It was a nice touch.

"If you leave," Lex said softly, dipping his spoon into the bowl. "We'll notify the authorities."

"You have no proof, there is no proof.." Parsons hissed back at him, hatred animating his face in a way but he was still cautious enough to keep his voice low.

"In my briefcase," Lex said simply. "But I'd like to finish lunch first. They're pretty nauseating to look at."

The man seemed practically apoplectic, vibrating with muscle tension. "Is this how the Luthors do business?"

"This isn't business. Consider it an exchange of favors." It was wonderful to see the way his target had gone tight with fury -- it seemed that at least he wasn't the sort that they'd lose to suicide.

"An exchange of..."

Clark was watching carefully and he could practically hear the moment when the man's control snapped - and to a certain extent sympathize with the man's overpowering urge to punch the infuriatingly calm blackmailer opposite him in the face. For a brief moment he considered letting the blinding fast and furious punch connect and then sighed mentally as he realized that Lionel would certainly know it had been a deliberate act of negligence even if Lex did not.

The smack of a fist again flesh came from the impact of him catching the fist barely millimeters from Lex's face. He wasn't above giving the older man a bit of a scare.

He gripped and held the punch and twisted enough to force the man back into his seat, his body obscuring the view to other diners.

"Sit. Down."

Lex's calm broke for the first time in the meeting, a sharp intake of air proving that he was startled as he sat back, far back in his chair. "Is that what you want, Mr. Parsons? We can call these negotiations closed, if that's how you feel about it."

The man seemed to have no option but to sit though Clark seemed to be exerting little or no effort. At least he could justify in his mind that the bastard deserved it. He deserved more and Clark was momentarily glad that he wasn't in the zone around his dosing of Red K because he might well have succumb to the spontaneous urge to ensure that the man wasn't capable of doing such a thing ever again.

Parson quailed a little from them both not having expected such a dual attack. "No...no...I...apologize."

Even if it was done through gritted teeth.

Time to reel the man in, then, Lex decided. "It's too late. Clearly you think there's no proof, am I right? So we might as well call off this meeting of hypotheticals and go home. Well, and for you, your 2:30 appointment with the Metropolis PD."

"No, Mr. Luthor, please," Parson's hands were shaking. "I believe you. What will it take for that proof to be... eliminated?"

One more sip of his coffee, and he started to stand up, reaching into his pocket to pull out his card. "Call my office tomorrow morning, when you've had time to think about what it would take for LuthorCorp to qualify for fast-track testing, and calm down, Mr. Parsons."

Clark nearly smiled. Pretty damn cruel making the man sweat like that overnight.

Mr. Parsons took the card with a trembling hand and looked at him. "You really are a Luthor aren't you?" he said in a quiet venomous tone.

It wasn't something Lex could take as a compliment. "No matter how this turns out, Mr. Parsons, I'll be doing society a favor. Don't worry. I'll get the check."

Clark stepped back allowing Parsons the escape route he needed and he took it. At a rather undignified speed, nearly forgetting his briefcase even as Clark watched him, following all the way out to his car with his sight and vision.

He was not a happy man.

"Why don't you sit down, Clark," Lex said, gesturing to the now empty chair. "You look hungry, and it is our lunch break."

"Thank you." Clark sat in the recently vacated seat and looked at him. "Pleasant guy."

"He puts up a nice front," Lex smiled blandly. "Thanks for catching his fist. You're fast."

"One of those talents I mentioned," Clark replied sitting back. "I wasn't sure if he was going to try it or not, for all he was the wound up type."

Lex checked that his briefcase was right where he'd set it when he'd come in -- just behind one heel, and in front of the other foot, wedged carefully -- and nodded to Clark's words. "I'll hail the waiter down -- order what you want."

"So tomorrow you take him to the cleaners?" Clark asked even as he glanced over the menu and gave his order the moment the waiter came over.

Lex just ate a little more soup, then waited patiently for the man to leave them alone again. "Now, why do you say it that way?"

"Because it's the truth," Clark sat back and looked at him again. "There's no point trying to dress it up as anything else."

"Tomorrow, we find out if he was a suicide risk." Spoon was traded for coffee mug, and Lex threw Clark a smile. "Twenty four hours is worth waiting for."

"He's more likely to try and kill you," Clark said calmly. "After all he punched at you. That's the sign of someone who believes everything is someone else's fault. Just as what he did will be his nieces fault."

"In the grand scheme of things, a suicide risk takes more corporate time than a would-be murderer."

"Oh yes?" Clark queried. "How so?"

"I'll explain the theories to you in the car -- right now, you'll have to take my word." His word alone, it seemed, would never be enough -- and a restaurant, no matter how private, wasn't the place to discuss theories of war on other companies.

Clark raised an eyebrow and took off his shades as his food arrived in remarkably swift time. There was obviously something about sitting with a Luthor that encouraged haste. "Then we best turn to safer topics of conversation," Clark said even as he started eating.

"Why don't you tell me about some of your friends from back home," Lex invited. He didn't like knowing next to nothing about his new trainee. The man who moved too fast to be normal, or at least, to not be heavily trained.

"I...don't have any, any more," Clark answered and cursed himself for letting some emotion seep through his carefully constructed image of hardcore business shark. "Different colleges, that sort of thing. That whole thing of moving away. I sort of lost touch."

"I'm sure that if you got back in touch with them, they'd be your friends..." Lex let that dangle suggestively.

"They have their own lives now," Clark answered. And the only reason they had lives at all was because he had let them go. "Last I heard, Lana and Pete had gotten together. We lost touch after she went to study Art in Paris and ...Pete, he moved away from Smallville when his parents spilt up... and Chloe went out of state to study."

"Sounds like you know what they're up to, even if you're 'not in touch'." Lex tilted his head just a little, watching the way that Clark's facial expression slipped towards morose as he spoke. "I know how that goes."

"Do you keep in touch with anyone?" Clark asked not meaning for it to sound insulting.

"I keep out of touch with certain people," he replied. The answer implied a lot, and Lex knew it -- he'd hoped it would. Sometimes it was easier to look at good friends from afar, knowing that they were safe and happy.

Clark paused a moment and nodded feeling a pang of sympathy against his own best intentions. He shouldn't be feeling anything but contempt for the other man no matter the seeming common ground. He was still a Luthor.

He was getting too close his next stint as 'Clark Kent alien blood donor and dialysis machine' for him to hold on to the 'bastard edge'. It was just the slow steady withdrawal in the run up to the next dose. Nothing real.

"You've been doing this for a while?"

"Since college. I was your age when I started. I... believe that I'm probably only eight or nine years older than you. I taught myself how to do what I'll be teaching you, and I've already made the costly mistakes that you won't have to."

"Hmm. Maybe not even eight. How old are you Lex?" Clark asked, eating without pause. He certainly had a healthy appetite.

"Twenty eight, shy of twenty nine. You?"

"Twenty two," Clark replied looking at him steadily for a moment as if reassessing some assumptions he had made. "I got an early growth spurt, so I looked a bit older than I was.

"And here I was, underestimating your age. We'll have to exchange tales of near-miss field accidents sometime, so I can get a better feel for how much experience you have." Lex flashed another partial smile. Damn damn Kent for having such an easy to talk to persona. That was part of what he did, and the whole thing was probably just to get under his skin for Lionel.

"My dramatic secret life as a ... farmer?" Clark suggested. "I can tell you about the best way to muck out a stall if you want."

"I suppose that would have its applications." Lex closed his eyes for a moment, and leaned back in the comfortable chair. "I meant, while working for Edge."

"Whole different type of mess to clear up there Lex," Clark swallowed down a mouthful of food. There was the rush of doing, being everything he had never been and the sick shame of knowing he was doing things that wasn't him. But he'd never killed. Never. And Lionel never pushed that boundary because that was the only thing keeping him trapped. Because if he could kill...well...

It would've been easy for him to turn against Lionel.

Not that Lex knew that.

"I know. He and my father go... way, way back. You must've come highly recommended."

"Some sort of deal between them," Clark answered. "Your father has a tendency not to share information."

The urge to say 'I hadn't noticed' was almost as overwhelming as bleach fumes. "Mmhm. So the deal went like one football team trading a player for another? Or, a player for a draft pick?"

"Pretty much. Lionel liked what he saw I assume," Clark replied with a twist of a smile on his lips. "I'm sure you can look all this up at LuthorCorp though."

"Company files, I know. Believe me, I know. But would you prefer to talk about the table grain?" Lex raised an eyebrow at Clark when he finally opened his eyes to look at him. At least he was sure that Clark wasn't out to kill him -- in the time he'd had his eyes closed, Clark would've had time to load a black-powder musket if he'd wanted to. "You still have a lot to learn about feigning diplomacy."

"I can be diplomatic, when I choose to be." Clark finished his dinner, tidying his plate and cutlery automatically. "But only when the occasion dictates."

"And you've chosen that with me, it doesn't dictate?" How the hell did his father expect him to deal with someone else's attitude problem?

"I choose to be honest with you," Clark said looking directly at him. "I understand it must be a bit of a shock to the system."

He laughed once, and let his smile grow broad. "No, far from it. It's just that I think you're only being honest for the supposed shock value."

"Comparatively, I thought I was being diplomatic," Clark said. "You can ask your father if you wish. I'm afraid this is a polite as I get with ... Luthors."

"You know, when people don't like me, I at least prefer the satisfaction of knowing that I've personally done something to them, and thus deserve it." He set his empty coffee mug down, and kept watching Clark's expression. "And you don't even look passingly familiar to me, so I doubt I've personally offended you."

"It's nothing personal," Clark reassured him. "Let's just call it authority issues okay?"

Big authority issues and being Lex's enemy so overtly was not healthy for anyone. He had no idea why he was just telling him this.

"At least you're honest." He started to stand up. Damn, Lex found himself almost appreciating that sort of candor. "At least I won't be facing invitations to go drinking after work from you, huh? Come on. Let's go."

The glasses went on again and Clark was back into mock security mode. "As you wish Mr. Luthor."

"We're heading back to the office," Lex informed him as he paused to push in his chair, then walked to head for the door. There was just one shipment to check on once they got back to the office, and then Clark would be sitting there watching Lex work out long-term planning.

"Right," Clark moved to usher him out the door just in case Parsons returned to do anything rash.

"Do you still want to hear about business theories when we get back on the road?" Lex asked curiously, turning his head just a fraction.

"Anything you want to tell me, I would appreciate it," Clark answered with a hint of genuine interest.

Lex gave him a slight nod of his head, and then gave the same gesture to the maitre'd as they passed. The company had an account there, and the bill would end up on it. "Once we're in the car."

Clark nodded again and escorted him safely to the car, did a cursory check to make sure it had not been tampered with in their absence and only then allowed Lex to move past him to get in to the drivers seat, even as he went around to the other side and got in and closed the door.

"Refresh my memory," Lex half-asked, sliding the key into the ignition, "but you'd asked about why it's better to have a murderer than a suicide?"

"Yes... I would have thought that either would have removed them from your... sphere of influence," Clark replied as the engine thrummed into life.

"Technically, it does. But a suicide -- and often, a suicide note -- would lead quite clearly to the fact that they were being blackmailed. I learned to give a waiting period, too -- because if you hurry onwards with a person, you could be weeks into the deal before they kill themselves. Simply because they didn't have the time to stop and realize what was going on. That's... very hard to clean up after." Lex glanced sideways at Clark for a moment, before he backed the car up to pull out. It was amusing to see the way that Clark's head still brushed the roof.

"I see. Does this happen often?" Clark asked feeling that part of him that remembered a normal life stir and protest fruitlessly.

"Not anymore. I only had it happen once. You learn after that to wait." Unless Clark was asking 'do people often kill themselves'. In which case, it was a harder answer for him to give.

"I have issues with... loss of life," Clark said after a moments pause as if that explained his attitude.

"Sometimes, people kill themselves, Clark." Lex pulled into traffic, and started leisurely down the road. "They look into themselves after finding out that someone knows their deep, sick secrets, and they have to decide for themselves if it's worth getting up the next day."

"Yeah." Clark answered after a long pause and looked out of the passenger window a moment. And when even that route was denied to you what was left? The sort of existence he had now. A trained dog on a leash, tugging at a choke chain collar. Clark seemed to realize he had been too quiet and serious in his answer. "Suicide or murder as part of business deals strike me as... a failure of imagination," he said finally.

"A failure of imagination, hmn? Tell me why you think that," Lex half-demanded.

"There is always a way to achieve what has to be achieved without loss of life. And lost of life is a waste. Always a waste," Clark replied with a conviction that was rock solid. "There are no impossible situations, just a solution that has yet to be discovered." Which was the hope that had kept him going all this time. Somewhere there was a solution to his problem if he could force himself to wait to find it. No one said it had to be a realistic hope or even a remotely possibly solution, but it was all he had.

Lex snorted, and shot him half a glance as he turned left. "Remind me to keep you out of those inspirational leadership books. It isn't my fault if a child molester decides to off himself. And it's certainly not part of the grand scheme we'd prefer. But I'm talking about being prepared for eventualities."

"I'm just saying that an eventuality where there is no connection between yourself and a death much be preferable to otherwise.

"Of course it is. Which is why I'd prefer someone murderous to a suicide. A suicide is a victim, where a would-be murderer is clearly the perpetrator." Even if he was a provoked one. "If there isn't a lack of a connection, the more distance you have the better you are."

"You say that as if you have a great deal of attempts made on your life," Clark said by way of an answer.

"A great deal?" A great deal. For some reason, that made it seem less serious. Made it seem less real. "Quite a few. It's part of the job."

"Anyone ever get close?" Clark asked glancing at him to watch his expression from behind his cheap shades.

"Yes." Lex's fingers shifted on the steering wheel, and he cracked a few knuckles. There just wasn't any point in elaborating that the most interesting murder attempts came from his personal life rather than business.

Clark just shook his head almost unconsciously. Whether he was disapproving of Lex in general, the attempts on his life or the fact they had failed was hard to say.

Probably a bit of column A and a bit of column C. Lex fell quiet, then leaned to turn on the radio. They'd already done enough talking for one unfriendly day.

There were downsides to living in the same building as one's less-welcome relatives.

There were downsides to living anywhere, to being alive, but the particular downsides of living in Luthor Towers, in one building while Lionel was at the top of the other, were irritating ones. A feeling of privacy, of home, of being able to be comfortable. No, not a feeling, so much as the illusion of it all.

It was late on a Friday, Lex was tired, and when he strode into his study, loosening his tie so he could whip it at something, there was his father.

"Ah, Lex." It was strange how he managed to make it sound like Lex was late for a pre-arranged meeting. "I just thought I would drop in and see how you and your trainee are getting along."

"You could do that any day of the week. My office is one floor below yours, dad." Lex did take off his tie, and started to wind it around his hand. That way, if he ended up punching anything, he wouldn't split a knuckle. "So why're you really here?"

Lionel affected innocence. "I told you son. I just wanted to make sure you hadn't experienced any real problems with young Mr. Kent. Those attitude issues."

"The one where he comes in surly and ready to bite my head off on Monday, and is mellow and calm by Friday? No, it's not a real problem," Lex sighed. Watching his father feign innocence was like watching Hitler, pre-1939, try it. No evidence of wrong-doing, but you just knew it was coming.

Lionel raised a speculative eyebrow. "Yes, well my sources indicate that Mr. Kent might have a few... issues of his own. Such a noticeable mood change don't you think? But competent none the less."

"He's proven himself competent, if one is willing to disregard that. You hired him on, well aware of it, so..." Lex leaned a hand against his desk's top. "I figured that you were willing to disregard that."

Lionel flicked a hand dismissing that subtle rebuff. "Oh yes, I am just saying that bearing in mind your own past Lex, you shouldn't consider anything more than a business level of acquaintance."

More than a business level of acquaintance? Lex lifted an eyebrow at Lionel, and shifted to lean a hip against his desk. "Why would you assume that I would consider more than a business relationship with him?"

"Because I know that the young Mr. Kent will probably try to extend your connection into a more social type of relationship," Lionel replied steepling his fingers. "Considering the sort of activities he no doubt gets up to at the weekends Lex, I am strongly advising you to avoid him during that time. For your own sake and reputation."

"And here I was under the impression that my reputation was bullet proof." It was hard to imagine that he could harm Lex's reputation, given that Lex was known for womanizing, the occasional bout of man-izing, and partying in style when he decided to do it.

" No man is bulletproof Lex," Lionel answered giving the second word a peculiar emphasis. "You seem to be succeeding well together and I know how intense working relationships can get. And I'm sure that Mr. Kent is more devious than he lets on. " He twitched a smiled. "I do believe he thinks he can outfox the Luthors at their own game someday. Remember that Lex."

Lionel probably thought that Lex was thinking of himself as some sort of bullet proof vest. He was optimistic about his social life, not stupid. "Of course. Unfortunately -- because I hate to disappoint you -- but I've been very straight forwards with him. Consider it a reward to him for his own grating brand of honesty."

Lionel looked disappointed in him. "Really? And I would have laid odds you had learnt the error of giving too much of yourself away."

"It's easier to keep it simple. He hardly knows me, I hardly know him. We work... somewhat amiably. And successfully." He could never just win with Lionel. Not once did he ever, apparently, do something well enough to not warrant a scolding of some sort.

"I cannot dispute that. The FDA capitulated nicely I see. And that was elegant timing on leaking that article about Kern Plastics. Hit the stock at just the right time. Their CEO was practically frothing at the mouth I hear." Lionel chuckled to himself.

"I'll get pictures next time. He had it coming, the way he was disposing of his company's waste," Lex tsked. "And, with a little creative writing. it sounded like he was all but slathering the crud on baby ducks by hand. That gentle twist was mostly Kent. He does bring a new angle to it."

"And a certain skill with writing," Lionel mused. "He does have great potential I believe."

Great potential. But was it potential to succeed Lex? To entirely replace him? Lex didn't know. "He wanted to be a journalist," Lex drawled. "And given his occasional reluctance, I'd have to guess that he's only here because you have something on him."

"Really Lex," Lionel replied easily, getting up to leave. "I'm sure I'm not attributable for every young executive's pangs of conscience."

"I know, but he doesn't seem the usual type you hook in. Is he protecting... what? Family, friends?" At least Lionel was getting the hell out of his chair. Not out of his life, no, never that, but it would be nice to at least have the chair back.

Lionel laughed again. "Now Lex, you really are reading to much into him. Which is precisely my point. Don't let your curiosity lead you astray son."

Dammit. "Don't worry -- if you hadn't come here to discuss him, I wouldn't have spared a thought for him all weekend."

"Well in that case son, I won't distract you with further comments. Besides, I have an opera to attend in...oh, about thirty minutes. Wagner...I love the epic scale of his work." Lionel stepped towards the door. "Do let me know if he gives you any problems Lex. I'll find someone else to cope with him."

"I'm doing fine with you. Enjoy the show, dad." And somehow, the words rang a little more ominous -- in Lex's head, at least -- than he'd wanted them to. The show. He and Kent, when they eventually clashed, perhaps?

"I'm sure I will son," Lionel answered and with another chuckle to himself he left Lex to it having successfully accomplished whatever devious design he had in his mind.

Probably merely putting thoughts of Clark Kent into Lex's mind was enough for Lionel. Lex started to let go of his tie, and moved to sit down in the now vacant chair.

Lionel was up to something. Clearly, clearly up to something. And he wanted Lex to know. No, he wanted Lex to find out.

Or was that in itself the trap and his words the bait? What was he hoping to achieve?

Lionel's motives were a maze and he always managed to find a way to change the pathways to suit his own ends so it seemed whatever the outcome it had been his intention all along. His father could rewrite reality to justify anything. Business practices, relationships, emotional tests. Everything had a convoluted rationale.

And this business with Clark Kent was just another piece in the mystery of unraveling his father. It was highly unusual for his father to pay a personal interest, unless he was trying to drive off anyone he was serious about, and Clark's words had betrayed some familiarity with his father and his idiosyncrasies. More than familiarity. And then this deliberate stirring of the mix.

Bait for a trap.

And the trick became to trip the trap so the bait could be taken without any harm. That was the game. Their grand game.

It did make him wonder if the prize was going to be worth the playing.

What was the point, and was there any way for him to just pass on that round? He was tired of playing when there wasn't anything to win. If Lex Luthor was going to play, he liked there to be more of a prize than being allowed to move on to round ten of the same damn thing he'd been doing all of his life.

Lex sighed, leaned back in his chair, and finally just put his feet up on the edge of the desk. It wasn't how he'd envisioned starting his weekend.

Usually after a board meeting dissolved, Lex was content to mingle, associate with his colleagues, and enjoy the complimentary coffee that had probably been spit in by the caterers. After all, if he were a caterer, a gathering of people like the LuthorCorp board of directors was the perfect place to taint the food. Taste a little off? Call it Gourmet, and they'd just smile and go 'oh', before going back to pretending to be civilized human beings.

That veneer of civilization didn't fool Lex in the least, and he was a little grateful to have a reason to make his excuses and duck out. Not that he told Clark what was going on. He didn't need more advance warning than what Lex wanted to give him.

Still, Lex had the courtesy to hold the elevator door until Clark caught up with him. "Come on. I have some things to get from R&D before I leave today."

"We're working tonight?" Clark asked joining him. He didn't want the weekend to start. Weekends were not good things. He was enough himself to be feeling the worry and concern about what he might do once he had made his once weekly visit with Lionel on the following day.

"I am." Lex jabbed the 'close door' button. "We still need to verify if my father considers it necessary for you to join me tonight. Your presence would make my job awkward."

"If necessary I can just... fade into the background," Clark offered. "I can duck out. Your father is in R& D or are you calling him?"

"Unless my father has a brimstone elevator that I haven't found yet, he's still back in the boardroom where we left him." Lex flashed Clark a somewhat sharp smile as he pulled his cell phone out. It was easier to talk about that particular type of job on the phone -- face to face was just too uncomfortable for them both.

After all. Lex liked to pretend that he'd sprung whole from his mother's skull, and that there had been no sex involved. Likewise, he could assume that Lionel didn't want to hear about his sex life. Just what it gained the company.

Clark fell silent even as the call was made, able to hear every word even if Lex didn't know that.

"Lex, I wondered when you would call me." His father's voice sounded very relaxed.

Because the meeting had gone very well, and he probably had a glass of scotch in hand. There was no reason for Lionel to not feel relaxed. "And I was wondering if you were expecting Kent to shadow me tonight to the foundation benefit."

"For your 'meeting' with the overly ambitious Mr. Garner?" Lionel drawled. "Well I think it would be very educational for him, don't you?"

Lex looked sideways at Clark, and then leaned back somewhat against the wall of the elevator. "I just don't think that's the kind of education that he needs."

"On the contrary Lex, I think it is precisely the sort of education he needs. The full corporate experience, " Lionel contradicted him. "Of course it is not necessary for him to observe everything. Not unless Garner particularly wants a virgin ass."

Lex grimaced, and tipped his head into the phone a little more as if that would protect Clark from hearing what Lionel was saying. "I see the sense of him attending the foundation event, but I think his night's work can end there. He won't miss anything that I could give him instruction in."

There was a low chuckle. "No perhaps not. Don't underestimate him Lex, I've told you that before. Don't let that innocent farm boy act get you. You know better than that."

"This isn't a matter of underestimating him -- I'd simply prefer to do this with as much privacy as we can afford." The way that Lionel chuckled and told him to know better made Lex's skin want to crawl. It was that same irritating feeling he'd felt when he'd dug up those photographs of Victoria and Lionel in bed together.

It was just one more part of the game.

"I understand son. But he does need to see an expert hook and reel a target in. That's not something that words can describe is it?" Lionel commented. "Considering your... disadvantages your prowess in this area is down to artful presentation and charisma. He needs to see that."

The elevator came to a stop down in the bowels of the R&D department, and Lex pulled out his wallet one handed to get his pass card to swipe before the door would open. "When you put it that way, I suppose that I can't say no."

Disadvantages. If he hadn't been working to reign in one of his 'disadvantages' -- a sharp temper, and too much reliance on emotions -- he would've thrown his cell phone at the reinforced doors of the elevator.

Except that it was a bitch to re-program his address book.

"I have full confidence in your abilities Lex. I shall expect your report tomorrow." Even if it was a weekend.

"I'll leave a transcription on your desk," Lex sneered a little as he hung up with a press of his thumb, "Here, Clark -- swipe my card."

Clark did the honors, clearing them both to enter R&D. He would be down here soon enough himself and his dislike of the area showed. "I take it I'm going?" he asked even as he tried not to look around too much.

Once he had his cell phone pocketed, Lex slipped his pass card away into his wallet. "You're going. But look on the bright side -- I'm the only one who has to wear a tap. You're just an observer tonight. I hope you have a suit pressed and ready to wear."

"I have one yes," Clark smiled a little. "You are going to be wearing a wire?"

"Have you seen what we use for 'wires' at LuthorCorp?" Lex led the way, walking casually and comfortably through the cold, sterile working environment. He liked the environment down there, and liked it a little more than ever before just since Clark Kent didn't seem to like it.

"We use bone conduction for our 'wires', and everything recorded will be transmitted back here; I'll come back here early tomorrow to pick up a copy of the recording and transcribe any actual useful information out of it that I might've missed." Lex stepped purposefully away from Clark, and went on., "Maybe you can search the building while I keep Dr. Garner busy. If something doesn't go wrong."

"If something goes wrong we'll be out of there. As soon as possible," Clark said immediately looking curiously at box that a technician brought over for his perusal. The 'wires' were more like very thin protein discs that were in some sort of inert solution.

"Where would you like it Mr. Luthor sir?" The technician fished one out of the liquid. "It will start transmitting the moment it dries to your skin and is powered by your kinetic and electromagnetic field."

Lex walked over towards a chair, and started to take off his jacket. "Where can it be put and assured to not come off?" He knew, but he wanted Clark to know. To learn the steps through listening to the explanations -- and hopefully the R&D staff would have the sense to oblige.

If they didn't, he'd start to preface questions with the phrase 'For the benefit of my shadow'.

"Are you likely to be becoming intimate tonight Mr. Luthor?" The technician asked, studying Lex like a side of meat.

"Yes." Lex started to pull at his tie as he sat down, half-way prepared to be told to strip.

"Well in that case sir, I suggest the skin near the armpit. That is not a usual place for intense stimulation, " the technician said gesturing to the area.

"The things you'll learn working here, Kent." Lex gestured with his eyes to the scientist, set his tie on his lap, and started to unbutton his shirt. "Right put it on the right side, it gets less use."

"Yes sir." The technician waited and Clark watched as Lex shrugged off his shirt revealing a surprisingly well defined torso. The protein disc was laid carefully on Lex's skin and then... as it dried it appeared to vanish.

"Managed not to wrinkle it sir," the technician said cheerfully. "Think we'll get a good signal from this one for at least 12 hours maybe more before it flakes off."

Which meant when he got home he'd have to scrape it off in the shower. That was always a joy -- wondering if he was still being listened to. Paranoidly wondering if the floor of his bedroom and bathroom wasn't littered with still functioning flakes of the 'wire'. It wasn't possible, of course not, but the thought still haunted him.

It was a hell of a reason to have the maid service come in twice a week.

"Good. You won't get much for the next couple of hours -- I wouldn't start recording, if I were you, until 8."

"Understood Mr. Luthor. Have a good evening." The technician glanced at Clark and turned away to hide a smirk at the other man.

Clark rubbed the back of his neck. Of course they all knew about him and he recognized some of them from his sessions. A few better than others.

They knew they'd see him again just the very next day. But Lex wasn't in on it, as he stood up, and started to pull his shirt back on. "Thank you. You can go."

He was obeyed as a matter of course and Clark seemed just as eager to leave. "So, uh, should I meet you somewhere when I am dressed up?" Clark asked awkwardly.

"What Luthor Towers building are you in? North or south?" Lex asked, voice slipping a little too curious as he started to button his shirt up again. "I can pick you up."

"North, "Clark replied realizing he was staring just a little and looking away with a faint flush of embarrassment of the sort he never cared about when the RedK was in his bloodstream. Then he would have practically pounced the other man for the privilege of running hands over that smooth skin.

"What a coincidence. What's your apartment number again?" Lex slipped his tie back on, watching the odd flush on Clark's cheeks.

" Number 9," Clark said feeling uncomfortable divulging that information for some reason. His apartment was a place no one else went. Where his shame was kept under lock and key, and hidden away from the world.

It wasn't as if Lex couldn't find out. "I'll be there at seven thirty -- you have the rest of the afternoon to yourself, Clark. Make the most of it. Do you know what we're doing tonight?"

"I have gathered some information but... I don't want to make assumptions," Clark said hesitantly turning to look at him again.

"Make one," Lex demanded. "Make a wild guess, a massive assumption. Go on. In this field you can't always hesitate and wait until you're sure."

"You are intending to...uh, seduce information from Dr Garner," Clark said as if he was the one admitting a dirty secret.

"The seduction and trust gaining come first," Lex clarified as he shrugged his long, obscuring jacket back on, settling into his clothes for a moment. "The information... is something that simply comes. The opportunity to gain information. But you understand why I thought it would be wise for me to work alone tonight."

That brought another blush. "Yeah, I can see that. I won't cramp your style," he gave a half laugh. "I could be the ditched date. That's got to be a fair confidence builder for you and him."

Wouldn't his father love that little rumor? Even as part of the game, he could see Lionel coming to warn him off for that one. "Unfortunately, my father wanted you to... observe techniques."

Clark knew a rebuff when he had one. "Okay. I'll just blend. Wallflower, whatever."

"Bodyguard," Lex shrugged, a mild correction as he headed for the door. "It'll give you an excuse to hang around. Well. Have a good afternoon. I'll meet you at seven thirty."

Clark looked a little reluctant but he finally smiled. "Right, I'll see you then Lex." He took the next opportunity to take a different route to his apartment that didn't parallel Lex's movements.

Lex decided, as he left, that he simply wasn't going to think about what was going to happen. He was good, he was in good standing with Garner, he'd previously shown interest, and the man as opportunistic as Lex was. He collected smart people, told them what they wanted or needed to hear, wrapped his fingers around them.

As long as he thought of it that way, it was going to be like a matched game of chess.

Clark Kent hates Luthors. Clark Kent hates Luthors...

He hated putting on a tie as well, but mostly he hated Luthors.

Clark paused and looked at himself in the mirror. There were times he was amazed at his own ability to appear normal despite everything that had happened to him and continued to happen to him. He hated Lionel Luthor and had just reason to do so. He was practically enslaved by the man, chained by the threats and blackmail. It was natural that he should hate his son as well.

Because his son was closer and easier to help...

And the closest thing he'd had to a friend in around six years.

Not that that was saying much, but even so. Clark twitched at the tie again, looking at himself. Wearing clothes Lionel had arranged for him to have when he had played the bodyguard game with him when Lex had been in Europe. No one had been there to take the flak for him then. No handy son to screw over and set up as a scapegoat...

He'd done the society scene before; stood by, truly protecting Lionel Luthor, through probably a hundred various types of fundraisers, charity auctions, and society gatherings. If someone could name it, he'd been there. They were pretty hellishly boring, full of self-obsessed people, or just plain obsessed people.

So why was he acting as if he were nervous? He just didn't understand himself anymore. He began to worry that he had forgotten who his real self was and that was enough to send a jolt of fear through him. Something was wrong with him. Maybe they were trying new experiments on him because if he was brutally honest with himself he was finding himself more and more aware of Lex Luthor, heir to the Empire.

Which was impossible.

Lex was a Luthor. He was the epitome of what the Luthor name was supposed to mean. At least, what it meant to Clark. From what he'd seen of Lex Luthor, Lex was a man out of touch with the concepts of right and wrong, willing to justify whatever cut-throat technique he was teaching Clark.

And he was brilliantly smart. But strangely blind to some of his surroundings.

He couldn't seem to see what his father was doing. Lex didn't seem to feel it inside of him like he did. That sense of rightness had been the only thing holding him in check and preserving his sanity for years now. But perhaps this was the beginning of the end for him. Maybe despite everything, his vigilance, his determination not to give in to make things easier, to make Lionel fight and push for every bit of his obedience, he was being corrupted. How else could he explain this anomalous thread of ...something going on? Before his hatred had been bright and pure and it was still there but...

But there was a but.

There hadn't ever previously been a 'but'. There was no reason for him to have a 'but' anywhere in the way that he thought of the Luthors. Particularly when it came to a Luthor who was so set on doing the things Clark loathed the most.

7:28. He had just a couple of minutes until his work started all over again.

He smoothed his hair back and then paced around his luxury apartment. Personal slaves of the Luthor family were not stinted in anything except freedom, control and basic human rights. He sighed a little to himself, wondering when exactly Lex had learned all this sort of thing was acceptable. Had he ever had a chance to learn otherwise? With his father around. Great, now he was making excuses for the next person in line to hold his leash.

It was probably all a game to let Lex get to know his secrets. That way when the torch was passed, Lex would have him firmly by the balls, so to speak. An alien was a powerful resource in the world. An alien with useful blood...

The doorbell rang.

Looking around and making sure there was nothing too incriminating lying around like piles of underwear or empty take out carton, Clark peered through the door -literally- and then opened it to Lex. "Right on time Lex," he said by way of a greeting.

"It isn't like I had far to go," Lex grinned a little, slipping his hands into his pockets and ruffling his jacket as he did so. "Just a short elevator ride. Are you ready?"

Clark nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be. Hopefully I won't stick out like a sore thumb there or anything."

"You look fine," Lex told him, after briefly glancing him up and then down. "Seriously. Just don't call attention to yourself with sunglasses, and you'll blend in."

"Good. I'll lurk," Clark said. "Where is this function anyway?"

"It's being held in the Metropolis Air and Space museum, across town. Lex didn't invite himself in there; instead he took a backwards step, waiting for Clark to follow him out.

He obliged, glad to be busy at least. He'd made his phone call home that he was permitted and that always made him morose if he didn't do something to distract himself further. This would do if nothing out. It was as close to going out with friends as he was going to get. "I like that museum," he murmured.

"Great. We'll have a little time to mingle. I don't expect this to be a very hard evening. Just pay attention and stay sharp in case something goes wrong." Lex was still hanging back, waiting for Clark to lock his apartment door. "It's funny. I hadn't realized that we lived in the same building until today. I'm surprised I'd never seen you around before now."

"You're in North as well? Which apartment? Or Penthouse? "Clark asked as he closed up, evading the reasons why he wasn't seen around.

"The Penthouse right at the top. Like I told you, it was just an elevator ride down." He lifted his eyebrows a little, and leaned against the decorative molding that was roughly at hip height.

"Convenient. Especially for LuthorCorp. Must be difficult to stop working," Clark speculated, making conversation.

It was make conversation, or stare at Lex Luthor's well-shined shoes for lack of anything else to do. "With the corporate building just two blocks down? Oh, very convenient. There's no excuse to show up late to work when you live that close."

"Is that a hint?" Clark smiled at him. "So what do you do when you're not working?"

He gave a casual shrug as he started for the elevator that would take them to the parking garage. "If you want me to say that I sleep in a casket or something, I'm sorry to disappoint you."

"Nah, that's just your father," Clark quipped with a hint of sharpness and then was a little horrified he'd said that aloud "I meant what do you do to enjoy yourself, to relax."

He didn't get a bad reaction from Lex, at least. A smirk, a quiet laugh, and a light gesture with his left hand to his right side. The wire, which wasn't supposed to come on until eight, but could be on. Could. There didn't seem to be any way to tell. "Normal things. I practice fencing techniques. I watch movies. Play some things."

"I hate to tell you Lex, but fencing techniques isn't exactly normal," Clark pointed out with another smiled. "Now the movies, yeah, I do that. Usually watch DVD's... and… yeah. I suppose it's a bit late to go out by the time we finish work."

"Not always, but we don't consistently have our Friday nights free, do we? There are enough charity events and fundraises to keep young executives off the streets and out of trouble during most of the year."

"Yeah, I guess." Clark looked thoughtful. "I guess I don't enjoy them like I should."

"I think that maybe you're looking at them the wrong way." Lex's voice had a casual, gently instructional tone -- like he really wanted to help Clark understand. "It becomes less painfully dull when you embrace the fact that it's going to be a bad time."

"But surely it shouldn't be, I mean... why? Why do it if it is going to be bad?" Clark said plaintively.

"Some people really enjoy nights spent elbow to elbow with a room-full of rich egotists. There are a few exceptions to every rule... and when you're one of those exceptions, you have to pretend to have fun. I have to socialize with these people," Lex insisted as the elevator doors opened for them.

"And you don't enjoy it." Clark clarified.

"Not usually. Sometimes you can find another like mind and spend the rest of the evening quietly joking people. Dr. Garner isn't actually a bad guy to have as a target for the night. He'll only be there in the hopes of getting some attention for Summerholt."

"Have you met him before?" Clark asked as the elevator took them down to the garage.

"A few times. They've worked peripherally with LuthorCorp for other projects in the past, but never very closely." Lex gave Clark a sideways glance as the elevator stopped, and the doors to the garage opened. "Does it make you uncomfortable?"

"What?" Clark glanced at him. Pretty much everything made him uncomfortable at the moment or would until tomorrow. He made himself uncomfortable let along anything or anyone else.

"What we're doing this evening," Lex clarified simply. "You seem a little more unsettled than usual."

Great, so he was looked upon in degrees of how unsettled he was.

"Well, yeah a bit I guess. I just didn't think you would, you know. That you'd have to be the one. I mean I know it happens, but.." Clark shrugged. "I don't know what I thought really. You shouldn't have to do it."

Lex's mouth twisted a little as he moves towards a desert-sand colored Audi. "Tell me who you think would do it, if not myself?"

"I don't know," Clark admitted. "But that's not the way things should work. I mean, you should be able to say you don't want to do this."

"I always have the option." Lex gave a shrug of his shoulders as he pulled his car keys out. "But this wasn't one of the times that I cared to exercise my freedom of choice."

"So you do want to do this.. with Dr Garner?" Clark asked a little confused by Lex's attitude.

"Sure. He's an attractive man. It's not love, but it's not objectionable, either." And maybe that was what Clark was missing out on. The idea that you could do that with a person and not love them, but... not mind it, either.

"But... did you do this when you were in love?" Clark asked struggling to get his head around the concept. "It's not that I don't get that sex can just sometimes be just sex but you're making this seem like part of what the business process is and... just, normal."

"It's not 'normal', and it's not something most people are comfortable with. But I've found love to be more personally harmful than one night stands with a little work on the side." Lex's mouth was a twist of a smile, wry and jaded, as he pulled open the door of his car. "Go on. It's unlocked now."

Clark got in without saying another word obviously deep in thought. He hadn't missed the disastrous Luthor love-life. Not with it smeared over all the newspapers and the media. But he hadn't realized that Lex had really felt something for each of those women. "You do have kinda a bad track record with women," he commented.

"And men." Lex buckled his seatbelt, and settled back as he slipped the key into the ignition. "On the whole, the men have been less... violent than the women I've dated."

"You mean they haven't tried to kill you?" Clark said bluntly.

"You cut to the chase, don't you?" Lex looked at Clark with a smirk curling his mouth as he twisted back a little so he could back out of the parking space. "Yes. There's a certain pain when you fall deeply in love with someone and then they try to kill you."

"Yeah, I guess," Clark replied with a little sigh. At least Lex had fallen in love before. Enough to be sure, to be convinced of what he was doing.

"You guess?"

"Falling in love, being in love has to count for something though," Clark answered even as they drew out into the streets of Metropolis at Lex's customary breakneck speed.

"Until she throws a glass of brandy at your chest and sets you on fire, sure. It counts for a lot. It also makes it harder to reconcile than the average murder attempt."

"Most people don't experience enough murder attempts to categorized them into average and above average Lex," Clark tried not to smile. "You can have below average murder attempts? Remedial murder?"

"Not quite. But... consider it on a scale of personal violation. I'd place a mugger who fires a warning bullet at my shoulder far lower on the scale than where I'd place what Desiree did to me." Considering the topic they were on, Lex was surprisingly free of agitation. "But not all of my relationships have ended in violence. There was a beautiful girl in Paris a few years ago for whom I was the rebound guy. She was hung up on her ex who was still back in the states. And there was a man in Paris... who left me for the girl I just mentioned. That's as close to the normal sorts of romantic tragedies as I can get."

"That's not one that made the papers," Clark commented. "Sounds messy."

"She was a little young. I can shield people from the media if I want to. She... was a nice girl. I just came in at the wrong time. The other guy broke her heart. And then she broke mine. And then her next boyfriend broke my heart again." Lex gave a careless shrug of his shoulders. "But that's Paris for you."

Clark was just starting to get a prickle along the back of his neck. It was stupid, really stupid and the odds were astronomical but there was a seed of doubt there that was unfurling in his gut. "What was her name?" he asked as if he were just generally curious.

"Lana Lang." Lex shifted in his seat, leaning his head back against the headrest for a moment. "She was the type of girl you could bring home to your parents. And smart enough to handle being involved with a Luthor."

"Oh." Clark momentarily lost the coherence of speech as one of the last threads of hope unraveled completely. He hadn't really expected that she would wait, that she would do any thing. But she said she had loved him. And he had been sure he had loved her. Loving her had been one of the main reasons he had left and walked straight into the cage that had formed his life since then. "Sounds a shame that you couldn't make a go of it."

"Like I said, she was still very hung up on the ex boyfriend that she'd left in the states. I somehow doubt that Jason had any more of a chance than I did."

That probably should have made him feel better somehow, but it didn't. He just felt guilty for indirectly screwing things up for her, even if it hadn't been his choice. "Probably not. I expect she moved on again.." Clark said looking out the window.

To Pete. And she was happy with Pete, his parents had told him that much. It was just that he hoped that it was just a casual thing born of familiarity but if she had been through all that, passed up Lex and whoever Jason was to settle with Pete, then... she really was over him. He really wished now that he wasn't going anywhere tonight at all.

"Probably," Lex agreed mutedly. "How about you?"

"I didn't know when I had what I really wanted and screwed it up. Twice in fact," Clark replied. "I was too young to trust my feelings, and... lost the best thing to happen to me. "

He shrugged as if it were a lifetime away, which in a way it was. It really was. The burn was years old.

"When you find something good, you need to latch onto it. And don't let go." Lex took a turn smoothly, merging onto the clover-leaf that skirted the city to save him time. "Unless it tries to set you on fire. Or shoot you in the balls."

"That would pretty much give you the hint that it wasn't the real thing." Clark looked back at him and dredged up a smile. "I promise if Dr Garner tries that tonight I'll stop him."

It was strange, sick humor, and it made Lex predictably laugh. "Thanks, Clark. I'm pretty fond of my balls."

"I can understand that, I'm pretty attached to my own," he answered trying to hide from that revelation with a veneer of humor.

Another smirked laugh from Lex. "Literally."

"God I hope so. Hate to have them pickled in a jar or something," Clark quipped.

"That's a creative stretch. If you ever go crazy on me, I'll brace myself for the worst."

"Luthor testicles in brine." Clark was smirking to himself as they settled in for the short journey. "Now thems good eating!"

And he really couldn't help it if there was a subtext there because he really didn't care. It was better to try and laugh than give in to the depression threatening him.

It was always easier to laugh, and just then, Clark needed that laugh.

Lex was fast becoming afraid that the whole night was going to be a bust. He'd been there for twenty minutes, and there'd been no sight of Dr. Garner. He'd had a chance to associate with quite a few of Metropolis's brighter suck-ups, a few other scientific minds, some important socialites, but... That wasn't his goal.

Lex picked up another glass of champagne from the circling waiter, and hoped that he was just going to be fashionably late.

Clark was lurking just as he had said he was going to, though every now and then he would feel that undeniable sense that he was being watched and turn to see him regarding him from some corner. Still, that was the point.

Turning away from him once more he finally spotted his target, just being offered his first drink and looking cool and suave as he glanced around the room.

Lex didn't make eye contact initially. He let himself be pulled into a conversation with an older woman. Couldn't seem too desperate. Wait for it to be casual, ease into it. That was what he had to do to have it work.

Whether it was coincidental or not but about 15 minutes later Dr Garner's casual conversations brought him into Lex's orbit. Close enough for contact to be made without it being too obviously that had been the intention.

It was almost too coincidentally perfect, and for a moment Lex had the itching feeling that he could be prey for a plan similar to his own. But he turned away, half in search of another drink, when Garner caught his eyes. Eye contact was as good an excuse as any for Lex to smile in acknowledgement, and extend a hand to the man. "Dr. Garner. It's good to see you again."

"Mr. Luthor, a pleasure," Dr Garner turn his attention on to him smoothly with a half smile of greeting. "I should have known you would have been a patron of this cause."

"Keeping a museum free for the public is a worthy cause, if it can inspire some young kids to become our future scientists." Lex shook Garner's hand firmly, and let the touch linger a little before he moved on casually, "Please, call me Lex."

Obviously Dr Garner knew enough of Lex's reputation that he was aware that handshaking was not something Lex did normally. "Call me Nick, Lex, and you are absolutely right. Science is crucial in a way that most people don't understand," he said and paused giving a him a smile. "I understand you have a scientific background yourself?"

"Less conventional than your own, but yes. I have half of graduate school in Biochem finished at Yale. Hopefully, some day I can finish that."

"It would be a shame not to," Nick Garner widened his smile. "Virtually anyone can make money but not everyone can make a real difference. And scientific discoveries last forever don't you think?"

"Oh, they do. Unfortunately... scientific discoveries take money and resources. I may not have finished my degree, but I have the supplies to dabble in new ideas whenever I want to." Lex glanced not at Nick, but around the room. "Money, as today's gathering shows, can benefit all sorts of things."

"There is that. I'd be lying if I said my attendance here was purely out of altruism. " Again he smiled he was smiling a lot at Lex as if he was trying hard to keep his attention. "Great minds and great idea's rarely work for peanuts."

"But somehow, Nick... somehow, you manage to have gathered some of the brightest minds in the world at Summerholt." Lex looked back to him, catching his eyes. "I've always been curious about that. I know your group is small."

"But frankly elitist," Nick replied easily holding that gaze. "And specializing in mind research. Even understanding a fraction of the mind, a small portion can bring about huge dividends. We are very close to perfecting a reliable memory disinhibitor for example. Practical, verifiable results that can bring back lost, repressed, broken memories. The process could theoretically be adapted to do the equivalent of reboot a stable mental state.... but that's something I've yet to research thoroughly. The ...capacities of the human mind and body astonish me..."

"Have you started to research it yet?" Very profitable, and simply intriguing for Lex to think of. If such a thing were possible, and were honed to reliability, it could surpass the lie detector -- except in the reverse direction, making repressed memories acceptable in court in a way they still weren't.

"Tentatively. I am trying to create a viable bio-visual interface first on the existing research. If I can find a way to translate memories to data, I think... the possibilities are endless. " That Nick was trying to reel in Lex was obvious., and in his efforts he was falling right into Lex's tactics. He had ended up being the one to try and engage Lex's interest.

Sometimes it was easier to be the prey than the hunter. There was just the question of why Nick Garner wanted him to know such truly precious information. "You're right. I can think of two or three applications that would immediately have a demand. If you could find a way to... say, make a recording of memories. After all, the secret of memory is one of the greatest keys to the mind itself. From there would come research on how to repair people with 'broken' minds, due to brain damage..."

"Exactly...only of course such things don't come cheap, and I have the opportunity to secure the services of... well, a very talented scientist and money constraints may force me to set things back," Nick said reluctantly. "He is convinced he has found a substance that will deal allow us to skip the fumbling around blindly in the dark for years."

"What is it? Lsd?" Lex joked lightly, as he took a sip of wine.

"A form of unusual tektite. Bright green, having crystalline, metallic and polymorphic capabilities. That's what we need, have always needed. An inorganic substance that can multitask in the same way organic." Nick had leaned closer in his enthusiasm to make his case. "If I don't get him, someone else will."

"And you want my help?" Lex asked, equally quiet. "This sounds like a very serious offer, Nick."

"Who else can?" Nick asked rhetorically. "Short of scrabbling for government contracts..."

"Which are typically less than kind towards human testing," Lex noted, a touch sympathetically. It was better than he could've imagined the evening going -- the man was coming to him. It was almost too good to be true. Which made Lex's hackles rise just a little. "I'd like to know more about this scientist that you're hoping to secure."

Nick shook his head a moment and chuckled. "And why would you need me then?" he asked. "I may be wanting help Lex, but permit me some secrets. At least to start with."

Lex raised his hands a little, a sign of surrender. "All right, all right. I understand corporate secrets, Nick. But if I am going to throw money into your ring, I'd like to know it's not going to go to waste."

"Believe me it wouldn't be. Besides, it's him who has insisted on anonymity to start with," Nick replied relaxing a little at having interested Lex. Lex didn't answer right away; instead he took a sip of his drink, nodding as he looked at Garner. Such an easy night,. Too easy. He could stop there if he wanted to. "Of course. I can understand that, too. "

He smiled again. "Sometimes I wonder whether I have to spend too much time being a businessman instead of a scientist," Nick complained light-heartedly. "I've probably broken all sorts of conventions just coming out and asking you?"

The edges of Lex's mouth curled a little and he looked at Dr. Garner through half-closed eyes. "Just a few. We should probably continue this line of conversation... somewhere more private."

"That will break the hearts of every other dignitary in the room Lex," Nick replied even as he put a hand on the other mans arm just momentarily to signal his own interest while his smile edged into the realms of smugness. "And some of the... little people too. You have more eyes on you than anyone else."

It was almost surreal to find that he was the bait in the game, for once. Lex allowed the contact, which spoke volumes just as the handshake had. "One of them is my bodyguard. I can't think of what excuse anyone else has."

"Oh yes? I don't remember seeing anyone who looked particularly like a bodyguard," Nick said glancing around. "Is he likely to want to stick close. Really close?"

"Moderately close. But if I can have a word with him..." Lex let the offer hang, his intent clear. Ditch the bodyguard, ditch the event, and go where-ever Nick wanted to go. A very risky thing for a billionaire of Lex's status to do, but Lex was known for his risk-taking.

"I'd make it worth your while," Dr Garner was in full charm mode and more smooth and sophisticated in his movements and methods than most. "We've shown our faces here at least and you'll be safe with me.." The conversation began the subtle transition from implicit to overt innuendo.

Lex's smile grew a little more, and he inclined his head as he ditched his wine glass onto the tray of the circulating waiter. "Then I'll be back in a minute. I'll need to assure my bodyguard that I'm all right. When your company takes an insurance policy out on your life, and hires a bodyguard, you know they mean business."

"I'll wait here," Nick replied nodding. "I'm not important enough to rate that sort of consideration."

Lex strode away with an easy stride, more relaxed than usual. He let his hips sway, his posture go easy as he neared Clark, and gestured with his eyes to head to a corner. It was going too well, and for that reason alone, he wanted Clark there. Nothing ever went that easily.

"You've got him wrapped around your little finger," Clark murmured quietly, the look in his eyes filled with a dark emotion that Lex hadn't seen before. "Things going well?"

It was strange, too, to see any murky expression at all in Clark's eyes. "Too well," Lex replied, back to the wall as he moved so Clark would corner him and block out sight and sound. "He implied that he'd like you to not follow... Which means I want you to follow."

"I can do that," Clark replied agreeing. "I can make sure I'm not seen, you won't know I am there."

"Good, because I want you to be there. Just..." Lex kept his eyes on Clark's, watching them. "Step in if you're sure something is going wrong. I don't want you responding to a false alarm, but I do want to know that you've got my back."

"I've got it," Clark replied with a nod. "All night if necessary."

"Good." Lex pulled back, side-stepped Clark a little, and clapped a hand to his shoulder. "Good night." And then he started to walk back to Dr. Garner. It was going too well, and that meant that Clark's loyalty was going to get a real test. If he was going to get past his personality problem, that's the time to find out.

Clark watched him go, his expression impassive as conflicting emotions flickered behind his eyes.

God, the urge was there. To just hang him out to dry. There was a part of him, a large part of him that wanted to revenge himself on the Luthors for what they had done to him.

There was another large part of him who had watched Lex that night and seen him move with so much grace he didn't seem real. There was a part of him that recognized that small laugh and smile he gave with him when he had made some sort of quip was real and not the sort of smile he had used tonight for all its impact on everyone around him. And... if he let himself do this now, then he would be no better than them. That was the point. He had given his word.

Nick Garner smiled broadly when he saw Lex approach him alone, "Ditched the chaperone?" he asked with a hint of humor.

"I gave him the night off. He'll probably enjoy the gathering here for a little while longer before he does... whatever bodyguards do for fun." Lex shrugged, smiling at Nick as he touched his arm. "Shall we go?"

"I think so... I have my own penthouse at the Summerholt buildings. Perhaps we could... have the discussion there? And if you want to look around you can?"

"Business and pleasure in one night?" There, the most obvious he'd made it all evening, while taking a step back towards the door. Playing right into whatever Garner wanted. "Sounds like a perfect evening. I'd love to have a look around your facility."

Nick raised his eyebrows at that comment. "I'll give you a lift if you want or you can follow me there?"

Fuck. If he drove, he'd strand Clark there. If he didn't drive... then he essentially stranded himself there. And there was still every chance that Clark had been waiting for a moment like that to get the Luthors. "My bodyguard will need the car if he'd like to get back to the building this year. I can get a taxi back home, later."

"He could always get a taxi himself, " Nick replied. "I'm sure bodyguards are trained that way. But that's up to you."

"No, that would be a fine arrangement," Lex remarked. They were already heading for the door; he was careful to let Nick lead just a little. "You see, he's new. I'd like to see if he's trustworthy."

"So if he hightails it out of the country with your incredibly expensive car then he's not?" Nick replied smiling as he guided him out of the room of the rich and powerful. "That's a risk... especially with one of your cars."

"It's better to find out with a car than some day where my life hinges in the balance," Lex reasoned. "Cars I can replace. Body parts are a bit harder."

"Wise." Nick picked up his coat and keys from the attendants and stepped forward. "I'll just the car brought round while you get your coat. Won't be a moment." He stepped outside, allowing Lex a few moments there alone.

Long enough to realize there was absolutely no sign of Clark at all.

He scanned for him. Either he really was good at hiding in plain sight, was already waiting in the garage to follow, or... Or. He'd ditched Lex already. Lex's mouth tugged down into a frown as he got his coat, and shrugged it on.

Nick looked back in around the door. "Ready? It's not that far... car's out front."

"Ready," Lex said, shrugging his coat on just a little better as he started forwards. He'd just have to not think about the fact that it seemed Clark had ditched him. No looking for his bodyguard. He was alone, he was going to act like he was alone, and forget that he wasn't supposed to really be alone.

Even as Dr Garner walked him to his apartment through the plush new building that now made up Summerholt's new headquarters, Lex was a little disturbed by the total lack of evidence that his bodyguard was actually doing any body guarding at all. No sign of his car trailing them, no hints that he was anything more than just as he pretended to be. On his own.

Although Nick Garner was turning out to be as interested in him as he had pretended to be interested in him. The moment he had stepped out of the public eye he touched him more, subtly but undeniably preparing for more.

"And here is my apartment.. Nothing too special of course - but you should see my lab..." he was saying and the warmth of his hand was on the small of Lex's back.

See my lab. That was right up there with 'Just wait until you see my etchings', except the geek version of it. Lex smiled, though. He did want to see Garner's lab, although post coitus would probably be the best time to see it. People tended to be freer with secrets after sex. Lex twisted a little, mouth nigh on frozen into a smile. "I do want to see your lab. But I can think of some other things I'd like to see just as much..." He leaned in, voice low as he neared Nick's ear.

"I was hoping you would say that, "Nick replied and turned in towards him, close enough to brush lips and flicker a taste and an invitation to more.

"Then why don't we put the lab at the end of the to-do list." Lex turned into him, hands sliding around Nick's waist as he kissed him again. It didn't matter that they were hardly within the door -- why delay and let a situation get awkward?

For someone who should have been the archetypal nerd scientist, Dr Nick Garner kissed with the expertise that bespoke significant practice. He was at least not going to test his acting skills too much to feign enthusiasm.

Just like he'd told Clark -- you could have a one night stand for business purpose and have it be very good. It still didn't explain why Lex was almost always able to pull it off. It was probably the money, since he didn't have much when it came to looks. Or bragging rights. Or... Lex eased into the kiss, letting Nick take the lead for a moment. The kiss was already turning hot, open-mouthed and eager.

Nick moved in against him, pulling him close and hot, their warmth growing even between the layers of designer suits and silk. He tasted of the champagne at the reception, an undistinguished vintage but not cheap swill by any means.

Lex broke the kiss after a long moment of tasting second hand champagne, breathing a little hard. Hard, yeah, that was a great way to be -- hard and probably drooling against silk briefs. "Yeah..."

"God, I heard you were hot but..." Nick took a deep breath, his dark eyes deep with arousal. "I want you... Lex, I want you."

"I'm here," Lex breathed, kissing the edge of Nick's mouth as he drew a slower, but still eager, breath. "You have me..." However it ended up being. Lex shifted his hands back, trying to push the man's jacket off. It was time to find out what sort of physique those nice clothes hid.

It wasn't bad... not bad at all. Not as defined as some, say... Clark when he had taken his shirt of on their first day of meeting but then his fake bodyguard wasn't a businessman or scientist that ignored his body. Smooth muscles moved even as Nick slipped off the jacket and shirt without a second of reluctance. His taste was a deep earthy musk with just a hint of sharpness under the his kiss as his lips touched skin and the other mans fingers slid under his shirt and began disrobing him with a barely restrained impatience.

Lex had a lot of clothes to get rid of, after all -- a heavy outer coat, his dress jacket, tie, shirt... He wasn't the most co-operative person to strip off, either, not when he was pre-occupied with kissing the edge of Nick's collarbone, fingers working to undo his belt. Nick Garner wasn't a perfect human specimen, but he was clean, supple, felt good.

Clean. SHIT. He'd forgot to put a condom in his wallet.

Somewhere in their fumbling kissing and undressing, which was never as dignified or easy as countless TV or movie scenes described, they had managed to make it nearly to the bedroom. They also nearly made it to the coffee table but even a passion filled libido learned to steer clear after barking their shin against a sharp edge. "Oh yeah...yeah I'm going to fuck you Lex, so...hot..."

Lex had his hands inside of Nick's expensive slacks, fingers cupping his ass through the material of his underwear. Fuck him, huh? "Tell me you have a condom," Lex groaned, tipping his head down to bite at the muscles that spanned between Nick's neck and his shoulder. "Please. I don't have any, and I want this so fucking bad."

He could feel the smiled against his bare scalp. "Yeah, yeah I've got some... in here." Nick, for all his need for Lex's finances. was obviously used to being in control of things and was making some rather radical assumptions about what Lex would permit him to do. It made him wonder who he had been speaking to about him...

Even when the night was over, Lex knew there was a lot of research for him to do. It was a pretty big step to just assume that someone would let themselves be fucked. It would've been easier for Lex to be offended if he'd actually had a problem with it. He breathed a sigh of relief against the muscles he'd been toying with, and dragged a hand to the front of Nick's slacks, squeezing his hard cock through soft cotton briefs. "Great. Why don't you let me finish undressing you..."

"On the bed," Nick agreed. "I want to watch you..."

It was easy to back up, kneeling on the mattress despite being still half-dressed himself. His shoes, and one sock, had slipped off his feet somewhere in the vicinity of the living room, but pants and underwear were harder to get off than shirts and shoes. There was always the ritual of stopping and half-hopping, half tripping out of them, if it was while moving.

Lex smiled at Nick, kissing down his chest and backing up to his elbows and knees while he pulled Nicks' slacks down so he could better see the hard cock caught in tight underwear.

"Oh yeah, you look so fucking gorgeous..." Nick said aloud and his arousal was not feigned from the reasonable sized cock that pressed at the material, straining for fingers to touch to flesh.

"Tell me what you want to do," Lex demanded in a soft breath. "Tell me." He let the slacks bunch up low on Nick's thighs, and they almost lost his attention while he leaned in to press an open-mouthed kiss over the outline of Nick's cockhead. Doing that was a thousand times more interesting than seeing to it that the man's pants got down to his ankles. But when Lex shifted forwards on his knees, fingers latching onto Nick's hips to steady himself, it was just easier to nudge them that little bit down and out of his way.

"I want you. I want to be buried in you, I want to make you come so hard you forget your fucking name.." Nick murmured to him. "Is that what you want Lex? Tell me.."

"Oh, fuck yes. I want you to fuck me so hard..." Lex groaned that, fingers hesitating at Nick's hips as his gave his cockhead a suck through the wet fabric.

It was the only nod to asking permission that Nick made in the entire experience because after that he seemed to know exactly what he wanted Lex to do for him and was not shy in any ways about he demanded it. "Blow me Lex, then I'm going to give you everything you want and more..."

"More, huh?" Lex laughed a little, looking up along the line of Nick's body as he slipped his thumbs into the waistband of Nick's underwear and started to pull them down. He got onto his knees a little more, so he didn't lose his balance. "That's a lot to promise..."

"I always deliver, " Nick replied shifting to assist him. "Always... oh yeah, man just like that."

Lex let the elastic band catch the head of Nick's cock while he dragged it down. When his cock bobbed back up, underwear out of the way, Lex locked his lips onto the tip, starting with a slow suck. He could tease Nick to death, or let him go wild -- whatever the other man seemed to want.

His moan seemed to indicate he like that a great deal. "Yeah, yeah like that...suck me...yeah...uhn.."

It was easy, and Lex started to really relax, really let go; he could control the situation marginally, by just going with it. Enjoying it. He closed his eyes, and started to suck a little more, pausing and sliding down to take more of Nick into his mouth. Lex shifted again, sitting on his feet as he concentrated on sucking.

"Oh yeah, Lex, god yeah..." It was practically a purr of thrumming contentment from the other man. "God you're good, Damn-fuck you are... just like that."

Just taking him in deeper, sucking, letting his tongue tease the underside. Lex had him almost all the way in, and started to back up, bobbing up and down on the other man's cock. He smelled really good, really appealing. Concentrated sex, because he wanted Lex just that badly.

"Oh god..." Nick arched back and then reached down to smooth hands over his scalp and then struggling to draw back from the siren call of pleasure he stopped Lex before he could come. "Enough...enough..."

Lex gave one last, softer suck, breathing a little raggedly. "Enough?"

"Or I will be spent before... Your turn." Nick kept the contact and gently pushed at him to lie down.

He was still half-dressed, and Lex was curious to see how Nick dealt with that. So he lay back compliantly, shifting to stretch out on the other man's bed. Garner was really a handsome looking man. Holistically. Short dark hair, an alluring face, decent body... and he knew what he wanted.

He shifted over him up over his torso so he was a presence covering and encapsulating him, even as he dipped down to taste him here and there. On the lips, on the throat and neck, on the chest. Hard hungry kisses that threatened to mark him through the skin as he moved his tongue everywhere around sculpted muscles. All the while, he touched and teased off Lex's pant, finger slipping under the waistband as the man exhaled in surprise at finding him hairless.

Lex had a mental stockpile of those reactions, but it never quite managed to get old for him. He grinned slyly, spreading his legs and going loose under the sensations to make it easier for Nick. "I hope that doesn't bother you..."

"No... it was just unexpected," Nick replied and moved Lex a little to pull down the obstructing garments. "Natural?"

His hands stroked over the area gentle but firm.

There wasn't even a hint of stubble under his exploring fingers. The stroking made Lex's dick harder than ever, though, so getting him to move was easy. "As natural as my head." Which wasn't, but... was. Irreversible was the better way to phrase it.

"Fascinating.." Nick said in a tone of voice that reminded Lex rather bizarrely of Spock on Star Trek reruns. The surreality of that thought was soon supplanted as Nick began to get serious about exploring lower and lower with his mouth and hands.

The pants were pulled down, and then the pants revealing his pale skin.

Bare, stretched out on someone else's bed... yeah, life was good. Lex let his hands slide down, reaching to stroke through Nick's hair. "Yeah. Mm, don't stop."

Nick continued mouthing at him, licking all the way down to his cock, with less skill than Lex himself had displayed but it still felt good. Even when he paused and reached for the bedside drawer. "Ah...got it..." Lex wasn't entirely sure what he had fished out until the coolness of slick fingers touched him behind the balls.

The good part, as Lex thought of it. He twitched one leg a little, dropping his underwear to the floor, and shifted for Nick, lifting his hips a little. "Please, that feels so fucking good. I want to feel you touching in me..."

"Patience... Patience...." Nick huffed over the warm wet of where his mouth had been. "Got to get you...loose first..." And he followed up that with the first teasing touches and pressure of a finger into him.

It was a sensation that, when done even slightly right, was arousing. As long as it was lubricated and careful, Lex's cock would only get harder, and start to weep. He shifted up a little, onto his elbows so he could watch. "I'm as patient as I can be..."

"All good things..." Nick said and glanced up at him with that half smile as he pushed deeper, moving his finger carefully.

"Oh yeah." Lex bore down on him, squeezing the finger that was in him. "That feels good. Take all the time you want to..."

"I will." Nick bent his head again to add more sucking and licking to the feeling of pressure in him, working his way slowly to two fingers, sliding them carefully even as he made good on his promise.

A nice slow run-up to the main event. Lex loved the feeling of someone sucking him, and as long as it was eager it didn't matter how expert it was. Wet hot kisses against his dick, two fingers up his ass... He groaned, putting a foot on the mattress to get a little leverage. "Uhn, fuck yes, yes, that's..."

Was Nick merely getting warmed up. He engulfed Lex's cock and sucked hard even as he scissored his fingers and teased his lover loose and needy.

It didn't take him long to have Lex really begging for it, fingers tight in the other man's hair as he arched up as much as he dared. "If you...." Coherency was hard when he was catching his breath between pants. "If you keep doing that, I'll come..."

Nick pulled free. "Not yet you won't," he said in a tone that was at least half a command. "I'm going to fuck you until you come...It's going to be good Lex, very good." HE leaned back over to the drawer even as he gently removed his fingers and there was the crackles of a wrapper being undone. "Front or back Lex?"

"I'll take it either way," Lex promised. "However you'd like to do it..." Either was good, if the other person knew what they were doing.

"Turn over then," Nick helped with that movement a little impatiently. "God you've got a hell of an ass. And you damn well know it too from the way you walk..."

Lex stretched like a lazy cat, knowing what it did to his muscles, then settled loosely onto his elbows. "Here I thought that it way I walk made it so nice."

"Your ass, both a wave and a particle." Nick sounded amused but there was a warmth over him then, the feeling of him there, nudging close at him, pressing in carefully.

Thick, hard, covered in latex, and waiting to get in. Lex closed his eyes, and swayed back a little. "And you're about to get in. Fuck, yes -- push harder."

He was obliged. At first slowly and carefully, and then with less restraint. Nick was eager and the groan that came from him was one of need as he began to move.

There was something releasing about the feeling of being ploughed into. Something about the way that a cockhead forged the way for the rest of a man's dick, claiming him. Making him feel pleasures that were worth the effort of seeking out. Lex swayed, then started to move back against Nick, humping himself onto him a little as he groaned.

It didn't take long for them to find a rhythm, Nick plunging in hard with gradually increasing abandon. Faster, deeper and pushing in without cease as they moved together, his breath coming in gasps.

"Fuck, fuck yes, fuck yes..." Lex struggled with how he could get more, how he could match the rhythm perfectly, but it was easier to take it on his knees and elbows. "Harder, hard... Yes!" Nick's cock started to hit his prostate, adding a new spark of sensation to the feeling of being piston-fucked.

He got what he asked for and more as Nick cut loose, his body damped with sweat and his dark hair mussed and tousled as he finally pushed to a frenzied climax. "Come for me Lex, come. Now Lex...Now!"

'Now' was hard to get, but with Nick pistoning like that into him, Lex just had to reach between his own legs and tug a couple of times to get that extra stimulation. The cock in his ass carried him the rest of the way. He went stiff, a moan caught in his throat as he stroked a couple more times, spurting down onto the sheets beneath him.

The natural clench that came with that was the last thing that was need to milk Nick's own orgasm and he cried out deep into him and then let himself rest on top of him, sprawled over Lex's back and skin even as he regained his breath.

"Oh god that was good."

The drifting haze was good, too. Lex sighed into the mattress, and mumbled, "Fuck yeah."

Nick showed no particular inclination to move off of him, at least not to begin with. "So damn sexy," he murmured as he eventually shifted off to the side.

Pulled out, too, and Lex half noted that the condom had survived. He didn't make any move to move, other than a stretch of his legs. "You, or me?"

Nick laughed a little and looked at him. "How about we take equal credit?"

"Equal credit sounds... great." Lex sighed luxuriously, face down in the mattress still. Eventually, he'd turn his head and look at Nick. "You're a great fuck."

"You're not so bad yourself," Nick responded as his hand smoothed over Lex's damp skin, his tone wry and amused. "If I'd known I wouldn't have waited as long as I did."

Lex finally twisted, mouth curling into a smile as he moved to kiss Nick. "I'm sorry I waited so long to get fucked that good."

"I won't be forgetting that in a hurry.." Nick responded to the kiss and then pulled away. "And I haven't even gotten around to showing you my work yet - and I thought that would be the highlight of this evening. I hadn't counted on... your passionate nature."

Lex kept his eyes on Nick's, his own expression mellow and warm before he smiled. It was an easy smile to give, one of the smiles that drew people in to him. "You underestimated your attractiveness." He lifted a hand to slip it into the other man's hair, a thumb toying at his temple.

The smile was returned. "Mm flattery. I take mine straight up with a liberal dash of exaggeration. You know..." He paused a moment. "I was just going to give you the ordinary tour but that was...special. I want to do something special for you... I'm a bit further a long than I made out in my research.."

"Mm-hm?" Lex didn't have to feign being distracted by having a hot body close to his own. He kept stroking the other man, and finally settled to sliding an arm over him.

"Mmm. I've... tried it out myself. Recovered a lost memory, recovered may. God Lex, it's beautiful. And I can record it, visual and data on a small prototype module I built. It's limited, but... I can give you that. A lost memory, a cherished memory preserved. " He didn't say any more, but it was evident his plans were not going to stop there. If he had been pretending he had not developed that, what was it he really wanted to develop?

Lex went still, sincerely thoughtful as he turned that idea over in his mind. "Why did you say you hadn't developed it yet?"

"Because officially it isn't. This is...damn, it happened so fast, it just clicked Lex. We need more of that tektite element and for that... we need you. If we get enough of it, in the right form, there's a possibility, a strong possibility that we can download an ENTIRE mind intact and store the data. You think we want that to get out?" Nick stroked at him gently, persuasively.

Gentle, easing touches. Lex drew in a slow breath, eyes slitting closed. "LuthorCorp would be interesting in sponsoring this venture, Nick. Very, very interested, if its capabilities are half of what you've said."

"I thought they might be. I'll give you some proof okay? After we've rested up here." Nick suggested

Lex's smile slipped a little towards feral, and he laid his head back. "That sounds great. If you can convince me..."

"You just select the memories either you want to unblock, or to record," Nick kissed at him again, smiling easily. "Then my machine will do the rest... with my help."

"If I want to unblock a memory, how do I remember that it's there to unblock?" Lex asked a little archly. But he did kiss Nick back. His mood was swinging towards business once more, and that meant his attention was sharpening on Nick

Nick laughed. "Times that you want to remember then, or things that have puzzled you."

"We could be here all day," Lex drawled. "I'll try it. Once... mmm, I think I can move again."

"No rush, we have all night," Nick encouraged. "I have plenty here to entertain my while you regroup." To prove his point he sucked on Lex's nearest nipple and then smiled at him.

Lex groaned a little, but his smile stayed in place. It really did feel good, and foreplay was good even after the fact. He laughed, and shifted to pull Nick back over top of him. "We could entertain each other for a little while longer..."

"Why don't we do that?" Nick replied bending over him again. "There's going to be plenty of time for everything Lex. Plenty of time."

"I like the way you think..."

Clark was trying to work out if he could claim for hazard pay for a work related blue-balls incident. He'd followed Lex as he promised but on foot because someone had stupidly blocked in Lex's car and the damn valet was behind him so he couldn't just lift the offending vehicle out of the way. He didn't want to lose him, no matter the fact he had a good excuse. Getting into the building had been easy and getting to a place where he could watch Lex and Nick had been child's play for him.

The trouble had started when he remembered he was pretty much obligated to watch.

Everything.

So he was cramped up in this damn air duct watching Lex, watching him moan and writhe in the throes of passion and he had an erection that was threatening to punch his way out of that confined space and demand attention.

Which was ridiculous because Lex was a Luthor and he hated Luthors and they were all evil, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and ...

Oh god the way the light caught him, gleaming and wonderful. He was the most beautiful erotic thing he had ever seen.

He tried to mentally talk himself out of what he considered a traitorous response by his body with his own brand of self-chastisement that was only moderately successful.

What type of sick individual started to lust after a member of the family that oppressed him, abused him, blackmailed him and all his friends. Robbed him of every dignity, of choice, enforced his obedience through threats and drugs. Robbed him of himself for fucks sake. Luthor's were not in the business of doing anything except using and manipulating people. That Lex was here doing this now was proof of that.

He tried to ignore the part of him that sent in votes from various parts of his body that they were more than willing to be manipulated by Lex. To be in that bed with Lex he would roll on his back and offer himself up and that was a thought that made his face burn with shame.

And just when the sex stopped, it started again. Yeah, it was pretty easy to see why Lex said he didn't mind doing that. There was no way someone could fake a good time that well. Lex was on his back that time, and there was some mumbled words about a condom. Again. It was enough to make Clark forget that the topic had ever shifted to business for a few moments.

He had to be careful because it was enough to make him hot, literally. He hadn't lost control of his eyes over sex in a long time but there was just something about the sound of Lex, the smell of him that made him want to touch him, taste him himself.

If it had been a Saturday evening he knew he wouldn't have the restraint to stop himself from being there right now. It was all he could do to watch and thank god for the handkerchiefs that seemed to come with suits.

Damn, it beat any of his own experiences hands down. Did Lex know he was watching, when he threw his head back like that? Did he have any thoughts in his head other than the movement inside him?

He had to know, had to feel something other than the pounding he was taking. Or... maybe no. Lex was groaning, goading Dr. Garner on. If Clark looked at it the way his father would've, it was watching two evil men have sex. After what Dr. Garner had done to Ryan...

Perhaps Lex craved as much of that flare of warmth as he did. Something even if it was just for a moment but it couldn't last if it were just them using each other. And they were, he was sure of that. Garner was a user of people, in a different way to Lex. Lex manipulated, Garner used. He'd use them up and spit them out and he found himself worried that Lex had underestimated the man.

The type of doctor who could experiment on a kid with a terminal brain tumor and make it worse was not someone to be dismissed lightly.

He didn't think Lex would do that.

Lionel might, but he didn't think Lex would. Which meant that he might be sucked into a trap. This seemed too easy. Garner had seduced Lex, and told him everything so easily. Why? Why give that information out when he wasn't sure of the return?

Except that Lex had all but promised that Garner would get his money. Business deals were never so amiable and straight forwards. It was so deceivingly transparent, and that was the worrying part. Lex had something up his sleeve, but so did Garner. Hell if he knew what would come after the sex.

So, he watched, and tried not to embarrass himself to much, and to be ready in the event that their libido's actually calmed down long enough to move forward with this night because he damn well knew he wasn't getting any time off in lieu for this, and to try not to even look at the fact that he was obviously attracted to his boss and the Luthor heir-in-waiting.

It was hard to not be. Eventually, they parted, and Lex stood up a little unsteadily. He said something about feeling it for days, and stretched very unselfconsciously. Like he was putting on a show for Nick. Hell, maybe it was for Clark, too.

As long as tomorrows session with Lionel didn't involve too much trouble and whatever special little experiments they wanted to run this time, he was SO getting laid tomorrow once he was remotely safe for company. As frequently and as hard as he could.

He watched them clean up, slip on some clothes and then they were on the move. He listened as he followed out of sight, tracking them with hearing and x-ray vision and blurring through security.

"...isn't the main lab, I have another one on the bottom level with the second phase tank in it. The computer system is linked up there," Nick was saying even as their elevator took them way down to the depths of the building.

"And we're heading for that one?" Lex was still settling into his dress shirt, from the way he was shifting his shoulders. "I want to look over the system before we try anything. You understand, of course...?"

"Of course. Here we are." The elevator doors opened and Clark zipped down to that level still loitering out of sight.

"Now that is the suspension fluid tank. It's filled with an isotope solution of the material I was talking about - our only supply at the moment. And it's hook up to this neural interface here, and brainwave enhancer in a dynamic feedback to the computer system. Here is the recording module here... see? Not even the size of a laptop yet and this is the master system here. Take a look."

"Mmm-hmm. I'm looking. My question is, how does the recording device work? If you can access the memory... what keeps you from accessing everything?" Lex was looking at Garner with a full flare of curiosity in his eyes.

Garner smiled, "Oh in theory I guess you could eventually. But it's hard enough to attune to a particular memory engram without going any further. You'd need something spectacular to process that sort of information."

"Something like an unknown mineral?" Lex smiled, looking over to the vat. "I know you keep talking about it cryptically, Nick, but LuthorCorp works with this material... often."

"I am aware of that," Nick turned around. "LuthorCorp has the biggest stockpile of this substance on the face of the planet, and land rights to the majority of the area where it can be found.. Do you use it for anything like this?"

"Not this," Lex said with a gesture to the vat. "But we have many research uses for it. I'm aware of its... extreme capabilities. And since you're already lied to me about this lab, I'm a little reluctant to get into the solution myself."

"Surely you understand my caution Lex. I thought the Luthors were past masters of never fully revealing their hand until the moment was right?" Nick looked at him gesturing expansively. "This isn't exactly ethical, not even the self testing I have done. I'm taking a risk showing you at all!"

Lex was quiet for a moment, looking up to the ceiling, looking over every inch of the place. "All right. I'll do it."

Nick relaxed. "You won't regret it."

Outside Clark stifled a groan. Who was he kidding? Of course he would regret it. Was Lex a complete idiot when it came to his personal safety? He'd only been with him a few weeks and he'd already noticed a distinct tendency to a death wish.

Don't do it, don't do it... he chanted mentally, not sure how effective he was going to be in a room that had a big tank of kryptonite in it.

"If you lie on that gurney there, it will do the rest. Have you thought what memory you want to recall?" Nick asked and Clark could see him palm something, into his hand. He wasn't sure what it was exactly but he did creep in closer, into the room itself, in the dark shadowy corner.

Lex started to take his dress shirt off. "I have, actually."

"Yeah? I'll be asking you to try and recall it when you get into the solution," Nick said. "That helps focus the area and then we can begin the stimulation process. What's it about?"

"When I was a kid..." He stepped out of his trousers, still sensual but clearly not trying to tease anyone. His leaves his underwear on, apparently willing to sacrifice that to the solution. "I remember heading up stairs one night, with a tray. A late night snack for my mother and myself. And then... the next thing I remember from that night is my father yelling, and Julian... my little brother was found dead. If I could recall that better..."

There was silence a moment and Nick nodded. "I can understand that."

Clark could too. He could hear what he thought was a genuine need in Lex's voice. A quiet life defining need that stopped him from stepping forward there and then and stopping this before it started. Perhaps Dr Garner would do the process and then try something, or maybe he wouldn't need to. The moment he saw something happen with whatever he had in his hand he would move. Lex deserved a chance at unraveling a mystery if it could be done.

"Okay, lie down Lex, I'm going to activate the solution now."

"All right." Lex laid down into the gurney that was in front of the vat, and settled quickly. As if he were anxious to start, despite his misgivings. It... it was foolish for him to take a risk like that, but Clark knew Lex and his love of taking risks.

Clark shook his head in the corner. Stupid, stupid, stupid... dammit he hoped that he could stop this if Dr Garner turned out to be the same as he had been all those years ago.

The gurney hoisted up, and the tank began to bubble through with a green luminosity as Lex was ceremoniously lowered into it, until he was partially submerged. It was a little disconcerting when the sides closed over him trapping him still. "That's only in case you get agitated Lex, it can happen. I fell off the gurney and sank into the vat the first time I recalled an unpleasant memory. It's safer this way. Now look up , that's the enhanced above you there... I want you to start reaching back to that point. What you can remember. A fragment... anything... call up what you can..."

It looked like he was doing just that. Looking up, face sad but determined. Clark couldn't see what was going through Lex's mind, but maybe... Dr. Garner could.

There was the hum of machinery and a flicker of power as the device lowered. "That's it, that's it concentrate, enter the memory." Beside him the smaller module flickered into life with vague images to start with and then as Dr Garner fine tuned the process they clarified into detailed pictures and sound. Details of a rich opulent looking home, and a tray in hands with tea on it, walking upstairs.

"Got it..."

And then the machine started to thrum in earnest as Clark watched the screen fascinated despite himself.

It was as Lex had seen it. Looking down at the tray, walking up the stairs; there was the sound of a baby crying, crying and crying. It stopped when Lex was in the hallway, stopped sharply. The tray was set aside, and he ran for the baby's room. There was a woman in a nightgown, with her back to the door that Lex opened.

"Mom..."

She turned, lifting a pillow up out of the crib she'd been leaning over. "Mom, what'd you do?"

"Shhh. Don't wake the baby. He's sleeping..." The woman was so close, face sad and teary as she moved towards him. He dodged, and then the memory was staring down into the crib. a little red-headed boy lay still and un-moving, looked at for only a second before the memory's vision whirled around.

"What about dad?" Even as he spoke, she leaned in and kissed his forehead, held him close for a brief moment.

"Shhh, it's nothing to worry about sweetheart. Julian's happy now."

Clark tried not to make a noise even as he heard Nick whisper 'Jesus' under his breath. The memory whirled and flowed through a dizzying rapid flash of images before settling on him holding on to the body of his dead brother, looking down at his face. It was an image that made Clark shiver. Like a doll, a fragile porcelain white doll with no flush of life in him, and a bluish tinge to lips that were parted just a little as if he had been stopped mid wail he lay in those arms as glassy eyes, smoky blue stared up and through him.

"Hello, son. What're you boys up to?" In a flash, Lex laid him down, twisting to look at his father. Lionel looked happy, the only time Clark had ever seen such a joyous expression. "Lex..."

"He wouldn't stop crying. I tried to rock him, and then... uh." Lionel's face started to fall, while they listened to Lex's tearful younger voice. "You have to believe me."

"What've you done, Lex...? Wha..." Lionel hovered over the crib for a moment. "What've you done? Wha... what... wuh..." Stammered, staggered, choked noises from Lionel Luthor, a look on his face that Clark could never imagine seeing. Sorrow, then his breath turned to a hissing noise. "What have you done? What have you done?!"

Then the hand coming towards his head, and nothing.

It was that moment that Nick obviously decided Lex would be so distracted by the trauma and intensity that he tried to slip in the small data disc into the system. Clark saw enough to see a flash up on the computer screen of "Brainwave v. 6.01 - select function. Behavioral programming, memory download, memory wipe, customized program?"

He moved fast, his speed giving out before Nick had a chance to click anything, but the momentum enough to carry them both over the edge of the computer consoles and down near the vat. Immediately it started to react to Clarks presence and he to it.

The Kryptonite started to bubble, with Lex still in it, lying nigh on catatonic. Eyes open, staring up, unmoving in the now bubbling substance.

"What the fuck are you doing?" A howl from Garner, as he pushed at Clark.

"Get him OUT of there!" Clark demanded as he staggered against the vat. "Take that damn program out and get him OUT!"

"You..." Garner looked at him for a moment, swaying as he tried to get his bearing. "You. I recognize you..."

"And I recognize you. You and your sick experiments. " Clark lunged at him gritting his teeth against the kryptonite burn that made his knees weak and tried to bluff his strength. " Now, get him out now.."

"If I take him out without shutting the program down, I don't know what will happen." Garner lifted his hands a little, and barely managed to dodge Clark's motion. "If you didn't break the machine...:

"Don't give me that shit. You go up there, I'll take out that fucking disc and you shut this down or I'll chance it," Clark snarled at him pushing himself away from the tank and trying to head back to the main computer console.

Garner headed for the console, walking faster than Clark. "All right. Let me just shut the program down... I've never seen it bubble like that."

Clark struggled to stay ahead of him and reached for the computer and the disc determined to get that shut down. Shit, if he had harmed Lex...

But there wasn't an option; It just read what it had read before. There was no shutdown option -- just functions to inflict on Lex.

"Dammit! How do you turn this thing OFF?" Clark said shaking just a little and trying to ignore it. "You have to run one of these options? What were you going to do?"

From the hard set of Garner's mouth, he wasn't going to give Clark a true answer. "Download Lex's memory for him. How the hell did you get in here?" He pressed a key on his command board. Delete.

"What did you just do?" Clark queried ignoring the question. "Tell me, unless you want to regret it."

He snorted, then reached under the console to pull a plug out sharply. "There. It's off now."

"I'm warning you, he better be unharmed." Clark looked over at Lex, still in the tank.

Garner moved back to the controlled that moved the gurney, and started it back out of the tank and towards the floor. Lex was still un-moving, eyes open. "He would have been fine if you hadn't come out of fucking no-where."

"Yeah, right. And the memory download had nothing to do with it," Clark replied nonetheless feeling guilty. Perhaps it had been him. Perhaps...no. No he had been like that BEFORE he moved.

He was sure of it, and had to keep assuring himself of that, while Garner moved towards the gurney to unsecure Lex. "Lex... Lex, come on, get up..."

Clark paused only to take the recording media out of the module with Lex's memory on it and then he approached as well, staying a little behind him so he didn't make the solution reacted. "Come on Lex, "Nick encourage as the gurney was sluiced down with water and the side unclamped. "Come on, come back to me, come on Lex..." He actually started sounding worried.

Finally, there was a noise from him, a sound in an exhalation, and Lex groaned. "The fuck... happened?"

"The solution had a strange reaction, "Nick lied smoothly, "It's never done that before ...and your ...bodyguard? he gatecrashed thinking I was threatening you."

Lex sat up shakily, and dragged a hand over his scalp. "Kent's here? Fuck my head hurts."

"You remember your name? Mine? You seem to remember your bodyguard so that's a good sign," Garner said smoothly. "Maybe we should get you upstairs and.."

"He's not staying here with you," Clark said in a hostile tone. "I'll take him back to Luthor Towers."

"Lex? You okay?" Clark crouched down next to him. "You hurt?"

"No, just... my head... help me up." It was imperious, and sounded normal for Lex -- asking that when he was already reaching an unsteady hand to Clark's shoulder to use him if necessary

He lifted him carefully and snatch over the discarded clothes, helping him slip them on even as Nick watched them impassively.

"You might have a few memory gaps Lex, sorry to say. If Kent here hadn't interfered I'm sure there wouldn't have been a problem. Odds are they will come back, but you can't really tell when."

Lex was standing a little unsteadily, letting Clark dress him and helping as best as his coordination could manage. "I remember... the memory I was looking for."

"Uh-huh, well let's get you back to the Penthouse and resting okay?" Clark said wanting to get out of that room. "Can you walk?"

"I can..." Lex took a step forwards, unsteady but able to. "Yeah. My coat's still up there, Nick..."

"I'll fetch it for you," Nick was being polite and looking at Clark warily. "as your bodyguards seems to know where to go in this place, he can get you to the lobby."

Clark gave him a look that lingered a moment even as he slipped an arm under Lex's shoulders. "C'mon Lex, I've got you."

Lionel was going to...god. Tomorrow was not going to be a good day. Fuck, it wouldn't matter the reasons why or what had been found out though that might help a little, he would still end up paying for this. But there was no point worrying about that now.

"That's... amazing technology." Lex's voice was halting as he took steps forwards, letting Clark guide him towards the elevator. "Here's to hoping that shit didn't contaminate me?"

"You can have another shower when you get home. You've still... you've probably still got some on you," Clark pointed out, glaring at Dr Garner.

"Don't worry, it's not harmful," the scientist assured and Clark snorted under his breath. More lies.

"Coat. Lobby." he bit out as he took Lex into the elevator. "If you're not there in a couple of minutes we're leaving anyway."

"Nick. Expect a call from the company." Lex nodded once at Garner, while they got into the elevator.

Dr Garner nodded smirking a little at Clark whose expression had transformed with amazed horror as the elevator doors closed. "You... you're going to SPEAK to him again?"

"I'll explain in the car. You do have my car...?"

"Uh... no. It was blocked in and I couldn't lose you so... um..." Clark floundered a little, feeling very unsettled. "Lex, you feeling okay? Really?"

"No." Lex was shaking a little, and leaned into Clark. "But we'll get home."

"I'll call a taxi when we get up to the foyer okay?" It was too easy and instinctive to pull him in closer as he supported him and reached for his cell with his other hand already dialing a number as the elevator doors opened and he got a signal. "Yeah, a taxi please? Immediately. Outside the Summerholt building... Look, I'll pay fifty bucks extra if you have one out there in the next two minutes okay? Right, right thank you." If there was one thing Clark had learned from the Luthors it was how useful the judicious application of money to a situation could be in smoothing things over.

"Great." Lex stumbled a little coming out of the elevator, holding tight to Clark. The lobby was glossy, but silent and still as death at that hour of the night. Except for one guard, who was watching them from the corner of his eyes as he lurked in the shadows.

"You want to wait for your coat?" Clark asked, "If you're cold you can have mine if you just want to get out of here?" It wasn't like he needed after all so it wasn't even that big a gesture - at least that was what he kept telling himself. He was just doing normal things, normal supportive things anyone would do.

"My phone's in my coat. Thanks for the offer... but I'd rather not leave it with him for the day." Lex leaned into him a little more, then seemed to fold into himself, slipping to the floor.

"Shit, shit... Lex, c'mon.." Clark sounded a far cry from the sharp young executive who spent most of his time snarking at his boss and irritating the living daylights out of him. In fact he was starting to wish he had had dose of the Red K compound because he was more decisive than he was right now. "You still with me here?"

"They didn't come... no-one came..." Quiet words, that didn't connect to anything that Clark has just asked his boss.

"No one...what?" Clark asked softly, leaning so he could get a grip to actually just pick Lex up. If he had been unconscious he would have just run for it.

Lex made a sound that was suspiciously close to a sob, and then trailed into stillness again -- just as Dr. Garner come towards them from the other side of the lobby, a suit jacket and Lex's long coat folded over his arm.

"Lex's coat and jacket," He looked at Clark a moment. "Do you need help with him?"

Clark took the garments from him, "No, I think we'll be fine. I'm sure LuthorCorp will be in touch Dr Garner. One way or another." Not caring about Lex's dignity, he just lifted him up into his arms and walked away.

It was... really a moment that some part of Clark wanted photographed. A still but breathing Lex Luthor in his arms, and the man's coat and jacket laid over him like he was a businessman-cum-coat rack while Clark headed towards the headlights that were pulling into the Summerholt turnaround.

It was when he was halfway there that he realized that this was no taxi - no taxi service had cars quite that expensive. It was even more of a shock when he realized that Lionel was driving said car and his insides knotted up. Fear, unfortunately, was a long ingrained response to Lionel Luthor for all his bravado and defiance. He stopped where he was and let the car come to him, steeling himself. He was not letting go of Lex.

It wasn't often that he saw Lionel Luthor at 3am. Three am Lionel was a far cry from the 8 am one that he was supposed to be meeting that... morning. Just a few hours away. Despite being dressed in a suit, Lionel looked like he'd been hit by a train before he'd gotten into his car. The passenger side window rolled down, and Lionel leaned a little to give Clark a sharp order.

"Lay him in the back. Then get in."

"I'd rather hold on to him, he's cold." Clark said with a hint of defiance.

"Then get in the back." The words sounded so close to the way Lionel had spoken in the... memory thing. Clenched jaw, an almost hiss of noise.

Clark did so, shifting Lex so he was right against him and settled comfortably. He was in so much trouble. Really really bad trouble. Not only had he committed the cardinal sin of allowing the Luthor heir to be ... damaged, but he had inadvertently become enmeshed in deep Luthor family secrets.

People suffered when they knew too much about the skeletons in the Luthor closet. It was bad enough that Clark was already beholden to them, to Lionel. Now... Now he knew and had seen something that no-one had ever known.

It shouldn't have surprised him that as soon as he was in the back and had closed the car door, Lionel sped off.

Clark took a moment to check Lex's pulse with gentle fingers; still strong if a little erratic which was good. He tried to work out what Lex's final words had been about. What did he mean no one had come? What he back in his childhood or was he talking about Clark not being there in time?

"Somehow, despite all odds, the wire is still transmitting. Take it off of him," was the cold order from the driver's seat.

The wire. Of course, that was how Lionel had known. Clark very carefully unbuttoned the top of Lex's shirt and slipped a warm hand inside. "Lex? I'm just getting the wire, if you can hear me? Okay?"

No response. His eyes were open, he was breathing, but... there was nothing. Disconcertingly nothing.

"I want you to start describing Garner's lab once you've crossed the wire's disc."

His finger tips had to run over the area several times to e sure he had found a slightly different texture and he scraped at it carefully feeling it flake off around his fingers.

"It was primarily a computer console bank - a fair amount of computing power there and then a tank. A bit like a sensory deprivation tank.." Which he wasn't going to think about again. "Full of a kryptonite based solution. And the neurological enhancer was suspended over it and lowered down."

"And from there it was able to.... broadcast these sounds from a memory. Was there an image involved?"

Clark remembered the disc in his pocket and hesitated, "Yes, there was a small module...with a screen."

"What was the quality of these images?" Lionel was driving fast, like Lex usually did when he was having a fit of temper over something.

"TV quality at least," Clark said quietly, looking down at Lex. He was pale, and he looked.. He looked like the image on the screen of he's dead brother lying in his young arms. It was enough to make Clark shiver and touch his face softly as if willing warmth and some degree of life back into him. Lex drew a shudder of a breath, and twisted the fitful way people did when they were sleepy. "Didn't... mean to. Did..."

"Try to rouse him." Clark cupped his hand around Lex's face and then smoothed over his forehead. "Lex, it's okay, we're taking you home," he said softly. "You can wake up now, you're safe now." Lionel was surprisingly tight lipped as he did that, and let him try to wake Lex up. It took a moment, but Lex finally blinked his eyes, breathing hard like he's surfaced from being underwater. "Jesus..." "You awake?" Clark rather belatedly removed his hand. "Really awake this time?" Lex groaned, and looked around for a moment before answering. "I think so. What happened? Where are we and why am I..." Sitting in your lap. He didn't have to say it for the idea to be visible in his eyes.

"You're in the back of my car, Lex. We're heading back to LuthorCorp so we can make sure that you're all right.

"What do you remember?" Clark asked shifting him just a little but not showing signs of actually letting him go.

"I..." Maybe it was just that Lex's usual closed off frame mind had started to return to him, or it was Lionel's presence in the car, driving the car, but his next answer was tight-lipped. "Everything, I think."

"What do you recall son?" Lionel asked, Clark just blanked out of the equation now Lex was awake. "The wire was still functioning even with the risk you were taking."

"Which is how you came to be on the scene." Lex moved, and probably would have gotten off of Clark's lap of there'd been somewhere to actually move to. "I'd rather not talk about it."

"We will talk about it son," Lionel said grimly. "Privately."

If it was a threat, it didn't go over well with Lex. "Yes," he replied, still closed off. "Summerholt is worth taking."

"I heard reports that they had started this research several years ago, if not before. I was not aware they had made such progress in a short space of time," Lionel said in an even voice even as Luthor towers came into sight. "Dr Garner is going to want to protect his interests."

"He needs kryptonite to continue." Lex shifted, and gave Clark an apologetic glance as he pulled his jacket on, then his coat. Rumpled, but at least fully dressed. "Clark did a good job tonight."

Lionel glanced around at them both for just a second and the gratitude and hope that Clark felt at that defense withered and died.

"I shall be discussing his actions with him at length later today. If you had plans Clark, I suggest you cancel them. This is far more important "

Oh God. It was enough to make his heart race even if he sounded perfectly calm and relaxed.

"Of course Mr. Luthor."

There was a silence in the car, and Lex twisted a fraction to glance at Clark. "I'd like to be present, so my trainee doesn't get an undeserved dressing down."

There was a pause. "Lex, you need to rest. I am capable of dealing with your trainee and you have more important things to deal with," Lionel said. "I promise you, that I will take into account his level of expertise and capabilities in our...discussion."

"I can make the time to drop in on a meeting," Lex insisted, tone sharper and firmer. He wasn't going to back down, which was surprising. Clark hadn't expected any sort of strong defense. "It's a... a... fuck, Thursday? No."

"Lex, it's Saturday morning, and that just proves my point. You need to take some time out to rest and recuperate. Mr. Kent here can fill me in on the details and then we can talk later, " Lionel pulled them in to Luthor Towers.

Lex shifted to get to his feet before the door opened, rubbing at his temple. "Saturday. But what did I do Thursday?"

"We went over the reports on the preliminary drug trials and then went to publicity shoot at Westhill Pharmaceutical?" Clark supplied. "Does that sound familiar?"

"No..." Lex blinked, looking dazed for a moment as he settled right beside Clark on the back seat, staying there despite that Lionel had parked the car.

Lionel looked at him a moment and then Clark. "Mr. Kent, if you would be so kind as to help my son out of the car and up to his Penthouse? I'm sure that some sleep would him immensely. I'll be calling out some discrete medical assistance in to check him over. Clark nodded putting his arm around Lex again to help him out of car.

"And Mr. Kent. Once the doctor has arrived, we'll have our meeting now instead of the normal time. I'll meet you over there. We have some things to discuss." Lionel said as he got out of the car reaching for his phone.

Clark took a deep breath and turned to Lex. "You want me to carry you? No one will see." "I'm going to get Garner," Lex said, the only steadfast thing he'd said since it'd started. "Sure. Fine. Just so I can get up there quickly."

Clark lifted him with deceptive ease and moved them out of the way, out of sight of Lionel if only for a short period of time. "I'm... really sorry Lex, I should have interrupted sooner," he said as he let them into the executive elevator.

Lex was silent as they neared the elevator, and only spoke to answer Clark's question. "No. I needed to know that."

"You remember it?" The disc in his pocket could be a source of power over Lex, over Lionel but... But it was Lex's private memories. And he couldn't put a finger on it but it just felt wrong to exploit someone pain. He knew how it felt to do that and right now he was as close to his old self as he could be. If he did that then he would be worse than them because he did know better.

"Yes..." Lex seemed wary, and just the topic made him willing to shift to unsteady feet. Now that they were in the elevator, he didn't need to be carried.

He could just pretend that he didn't have it. Lex knew anyway and...

He sighed. "Here, I took this from the machine. Your father doesn't know I have it, "he said quietly as he passed the disc over to Lex.

"You..." He looked speechless as he moved a hand to take the disk. "Thanks. I..."

Clark shrugged a little. "They're your memories, " he said by way of explanation. "They don't belong to anyone else."

For a moment, Lex looked at the disk, before he unsteadily tucked it into the inside of his jacket. "You saw, didn't you? I'd thought that you'd bailed on me."

"I saw. And if you thought I bailed what were you doing going into that situation?" Clark rebuked him.

"Trying to answer a personal question." Lex leaned against the side of the elevator doors, eyes fixed on Clark's face. "It would be best if you forgot you saw anything. This is between my father and myself."

"He knows I know," Clark replied, looking up at him for a moment with a hint of emotion his eyes that Lex was too distracted to read. "He's not happy."

"The... events that my father saw weren't the whole story. I..." Lex looked shaky. Scared? Or some emotion that ran in that range. "They were simply accepted to have happened one way, when... it wasn't that."

"You took the blame didn't you?" Clark said wondering how someone as young as Lex had been had been able to make that sort of decision. "If... if you forgot that memory... have you believed that all this time Lex?"

"I wasn't the only one." Lex gave a shrug, and twisted towards the door when the elevator finally stopped at the penthouse floor. He leaned forwards, and tapped in a security sequence that made the doors open. "Have a good night, Clark. You did a good job. I'll be fine from here."

"You sure? I've..."

Got to go over to the R&D lab and await whatever Lionel has in store for me...

He shuddered a little, unconsciously. "I don't want you collapsing again."

Lex moved carefully into the hallway. "I'm fine. I... just need time to think. Good night, Clark."

"Night Lex. See you... Monday," Clark replied and let the elevator door close. Things just couldn't get worse.

At least not until he reported to R&D.

Even when he'd been given medicine to make him sleep, it hadn't been able to stop his mind from whirring. Playing that memory over and over again behind his eyes, fitting thoughts that were unthinkable in with events that had happened, in with... so much. When he finally woke up, the light that crept in past closed blinds was the reddish shade of a setting sun. Lex watched the colors, laying there unmoving for the longest time.

He almost wished that he'd never recovered that memory at all.

The door to his room opened quietly and someone glanced in and then moments later his father came into the room, back to his usual unruffled self. "Lex, son... finally you're awake. How are you feeling?"

"Better." Lex started to sit up, not wanting to have a conversation with his father while he was prone. "I'd say it's a surprise to see you like this, but it's not."

"You think I would desert you when you need my support?" Lionel asked as he approached the bed. "Of course not son, of course not. I wanted to see for myself that you had taken no lasting hurt from the experience."

No lasting hurt except the knowledge that what he'd thought had happened, that what Lionel had held over his head for years and years... hadn't been him. Hadn't been him at all. It had been desperate and stupid, but he'd loved his mother... "I remember what happened to Julian."

Lionel went silent a long moment. "I... I could scarcely believe the transcript of the wire.. Why Lex? Why...?"

Lex planted his hands on the mattress, and dress up as straight as he could. His skull was throbbing as he looked at his father. "Because I know what you would have done to her if you had known. With Julian dead, you wouldn't kill me..."

Lionel had the grace to look horrified. "Lex, I wouldn't have... I loved your mother, she was ill and... post-natal depression they told me afterwards. If only I had known, If I had known it wasn't you..." He trailed off, for once at a loss for words.

If. Horrified because whatever words were going to come after the 'if 'were probably shocking ones. Words Lex didn't want to hear. "You what? You would have done what?"

"Things could have been so different between us." Lionel looked at him reaching to touch his hand as if that would make things right somehow.

"Because an accident is such an unforgivable thing, isn't it?" Lex hissed, jerking away so Lionel couldn't touch him. "Which is why I don't believe that you would have forgiven mom."

"Son, if I had known the truth I would have... reacted differently," Lionel withdrew his hand reluctantly. "You have to believe that. Your mother wasn't well. She was... unbalanced at that point of time. Clinically unstable."

He didn't, couldn't believe Lionel's words. The idea that he, he'd suffered, because he'd taken the blame for it, as an accident... and that Lionel wouldn't have done that to his mother, was unbelievable. "I don't believe that you would have acted any better towards her if you'd known. She would have been the sacrifice for your anger, instead of me."

Lionel was hard pushed to say anything positive to that at all and instead adopted another tact. "What's important Lex is how we move on from this... together. This changes a lot of things, a great many things." His son has, at that age, at the age of twelve calculated a vast range of possibilities and manipulated them all so successfully they had never known. Damn but he was a Luthor born and bred! There was pride in his expression for that realization.

"How?" It was hard for Lex to not look at his father with anger, and tight sad suspicion. The accident had apparently been unforgivable, and he was getting proof... that Lionel had never forgotten. Had always held it against him.'

"However we can," Lionel replied seeming to sense that now was not the time to push for intense revelations. "You are my son Lex, and everything I do is to help you, to make you strong, to allow you to survive in this cut-throat world. That's what I am interested in."

"If that's the case, then why does this change anything? I'd think change is something called for only if you've been treating me like shit because you thought I'd murdered my baby brother," Lex snarled. "Just say it. I let you think I killed him, I let myself think it, and you've been punishing me for it since."

"That... hasn't been my intention and I'm sorry that you think that is the case Lex," Lionel said, stepping back. "You are obviously still overwrought, strained from the trauma of what you experienced. Perhaps now is not the best time to get into past actions."

"I think it's the best time. If you had known it wasn't me, you would have... what? Loved me? Given me a chance instead of a job as your human shield?" Lex shifted, moving to get out of bed. It made his head throb worse than ever, but he snagged his dressing down from the chair beside his bed.

"Where did you get that idea from?" Lionel narrowed his eyes as he tried to place the phrase. "Kent I assume?"

Fast on his feet, Lex replied, "One of your R&D managers, actually. I'm apparently known in the company as your personal bullet proof vest. If people aim at me, it certainly won't hit your chest."

"Lex, you knew what was involved in the role when you took it. You preferred it to taking over the Smallville plant as I recall," Lionel replied. "And for the last 6 years or more I haven't hear any complaints. You seem to relish your role. Or is it that you don't feel you can cope with the pressure any more?"

Of course, turning it into a question of adequacy was the best way to get to Lex, and Lionel knew it. He never quit, never admitted defeat. "I can handle it," he insisted, still looking at Lionel distastefully. "I can handle anything. I just wanted to know if that was why I was given the position."

"You were given the position to see if you could deal with the challenge," Lionel replied smoothly. "I am your father Lex, and I owe it to you to give you the best preparation I can. There is no point in showing you theory and controlled situation. You need to know, have always needed to know how to survive. Because you are a Luthor, and Luthors always survive."

Except when they didn't. "Then how does knowing what happened to Julian change anything?"

"It changes my perception of your capabilities, your instincts," Lionel soothed. "My god, son... you made such a clinical, business like decision then in such a way that it seemed instinctive. And I thought - I'll admit it son, I thought your mother had stripped the Luthor iron out of you."

It was horrifying that they were having that conversation, but thank god the sickened part of him was tired and detached enough that it didn't show. "So... you're proud of me?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Lionel seemed totally oblivious of the horror of what he was condoning with his approval. "You made that decision and you assessed all the possibilities - admittedly not on completely accurate supposition but the fact remains - you saw the opportunity and you made the decision and acted on it. You made yourself seem in a position of weakness when in fact it was a position of strength."

It was twice as disgusting that Lex... wanted that praise. Felt himself warming a little. "I... think I'm going to go back to sleep now. So I'm better by Monday."

"You do that son," Lionel smiled at him brushing back his own long hair. "I'll leave you to rest."

Lex shifted, a stilted motion, and lay down so he wouldn't have to watch Lionel leave the room. He... would think more about what had been revealed the next day. And the next day.

The only thing he was sure about was that he'd finally had it with his father.

The pattern of Clark's Monday to Friday personality cycle had been so obvious that any alteration to the pattern came as a bit of a shock. Instead of the surly, smart-mouthed upstart who usually plagued Lex into distraction even before he managed to drink his first coffee, Clark was very different after that weekend. He was...quiet. To say he was a little subdued was like saying the Sahara was a little dry. He didn't even snark about the special coffee that Lex had in especially that no one else was allowed to touch, like he usually did. He just made it, and fetched and carried and produced reports as required while barely saying a word.

As much as Lex internally griped about the mood swings and wondered at the cause, he would've appreciated it that Monday. Maybe he even needed it, needed someone to play off of and work his frustrations out on. It served a purpose, even if it did grind him down. That silence, though...

Lex just wasn't going to stand for it for long. When Clark came back with a file from R&D, the transcription of Friday night's events, Lex watched him. He didn't seem to be limping. No signs of physical pain... "So how bad was it when my father dressed you down?"

Clark looked at him and shrugged with an expressive movement that mimicked one of Lex's mannerisms. "I didn't get fired," he said with a hint of his normal Monday edginess in his voice.

"Yeah, I sort of noticed that when you came in, hung up your coat, and then got my coffee for me. But what happened?"

Clark looked at him a moment, as if he was searching for a delicate way to put a rather unpleasant subject. "We discussed how I could better look after your wellbeing," he said finally.

Ah. So Lionel hadn't bothered to take Lex's word when he'd said that Clark had done a good job?

"I see. And this discussion... went badly?"

"How do discussions usually go with your father?" Clark replied rhetorically. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. No... lasting harm done though."

"Uh-huh." Lex lifted his eyebrows at Clark as he leaned back in his chair. "Which is why you're acting like he's been killing puppies in front of you."

Clark widened his eyes in mock horror. "Cruella De Luthor? There's a mental image I could live without Lex."

He was trying to distract himself as much as Lex but it was hard this time. Lionel's version of fairness belonged to the simple and practical basis that what happened to his son would be happen to him. The proverbial eye for an eye. Or in this case, kryptonite bath. He'd felt his blood fizzing and burning under his skin as he spent the immersion conscious and in muscle spasms and convulsions. It was a new twist to his weekly ordeals and not one he ever wanted to repeat.

Then the tests, extra of course as punishment, even if technically the test didn't have anything to do with his behavior - a lie - and then as his actual punishment for behavior or insubordination, the deliberate delay of his RedK dose so he would feel and remember how bad it really was. It was always bad, even when he got the dose in time. But they held him until the addiction raged and it made him feel that everything was unbearable, the pain, the craving, the complete and utter need for the drug that held him in thrall. Lionel liked to remind him every now and then. Tug on his collar, draw tight the choke chain of control in case he forgot he was vulnerable.

For his own good of course.

As weekends went, he'd had better ones and he hadn't been able to allow himself out after the RedK because the anger and hurt made him so aggressive. He could have leveled buildings or done something stupid. He'd had to be over cautious when he made himself 'safe' this time.

"We have to keep ourselves entertained around here," Lex grinned a little. "I do have good news. Tomorrow we'll be heading to your hometown."

"Smallville?" Clark couldn't help the incredulous tone in his voice.

"Yes. We're going to be looking into the head of a pesticide company who's recently declared his intentions to set up a plant in Smallville." Lex glanced at Clark, watching his facial expressions. "Are you up to it?"

"Yes!" Clark blurted out. "I mean, yeah... sure. Um, does your father know about us going there?"

"This job is an order from on high." Lex gave Clark a slight smile that almost settled behind his eyes. "Two weeks. If... the situation is successful, if it's completed before the two weeks are ever, then we have a little time to relax."

"Relax? I don't know if I know the meaning of the word," Clark replied. "So, what's the deal with this guy that he needs you to go in after him?"

The set-up. Lex had to make the job seem... not too impossible. But there wasn't anything to be gained by lying and saying it was a cake-walk. "He's perfectly successful."

"Perfectly successful? Like...100% never put a foot wrong?" Clark asked frowning.

"Exactly. Come over here and I'll show you what we have on him. There hasn't been a messy cover-up for anything. Or a good cover-up. But... It's like every time fate shuffles a hand of cards for him, he ends up with all four aces." Lex gestured for Clark to come around the desk and look at the laptop screen. "Meet Bob Rickman of Rickman industries."

Clark leaned over his shoulder scanning carefully. "Luck isn't the word," he commented and frowned. "Has he always been like this?"

"From the moment that he hit the business world's radar. Before that, he was an ace farm equipment salesman." Lex turned his head, and almost immediately regretted it because it had him looking at the side of Clark's face and a profile that would have made Michelangelo weep and reach for the nearest hammer and chisel.

Clark seemed not to notice though he shifted slightly. "So when was the turn around?"

"Late eighties. His record suddenly flipped from shit to grand, and he didn't hit a down-swing since then." Lex leaned back, letting Clark have space.

Clark narrowed his eyes. "Hmm. Lucky break or... have we got a specific time zone? "

"Late 89, early 90. Why?" It was almost like he could see the cogs and gears turning in Clark's head as he asked that question.

"Got access to newspaper archives from then? Just a hunch but I think if you put in his name and Smallville and Meteor something will come up," Clark said slowly.

"You think so?" Lex shifted forwards in his chair again, and spared Clark a glance as he pulled up his internet browser.

"Trust me. I lived there. Smallville is the centre of weird," Clark replied with a hint of his normal Monday arrogance.

The edge of Lex's lips twitched. "I remember it was a shit hole. Corn and..." Fire. People screaming for help. Long hospital stays. "More corn, as far as the eye could see."

"That's pretty much it, yeah, " Clark replied nodding. "No major changes except for rather odd things happening."

"You mean that it gets better than meteors coming down from the sky?" If it did, then the story was going to be a good one. Lex settled back, coffee in hand. "Sit down. It has to be uncomfortable looming like that."

"Looming is my role in life," Clark said dryly and sat down. "The stuff Garner was after, the meteor rock. It does strange things to people. Really strange."

"Kryptonite," Lex clarified. "It's a pure element, in particular. We utilize it down in R&D occasionally."

"Mmm." Clark made a noncommittal noise that spoke volumes about his knowledge of the element in question. "Anyway... I had a friend, we were doing the High School paper together. She had what she called The Wall of Weird - clippings and reports of all strange phenomena in Smallville. A businessman who never failed would be nothing compared to some of the things we uprooted there."

Interesting. It did explain why Lionel had always had a particular interest in Smallville. It wasn't as if it had any sentimental value for him, but if there was an exploitative value... "Well. We can look into that when we get to Smallville. Anything else I should know about your hometown?"

"It's as small town as it gets." Clark hesitate and then asked. "Would it be appropriate to visit my parents while we are there? I mean, they know everything that is going on there at least, they'll have the latest news?"

"I have no problem with tapping into small-town gossip," Lex drawled. "We have two weeks."

"We won't be staying there for two weeks though," Clark stated as if it were an incontrovertible fact.

"Oh really? Why do you say that?" There was the imperious, annoying as hell Monday morning Clark that he'd been missing. The Clark that made Lex want to ask just where he was getting off.

"We'll have to be back for next Saturday, " Clark answered even as he leaned back. Still, a week in Smallville. A week when he was lucky to be allowed to see his parents on holiday times and only then when it didn't coincide with a weekend.

"Oh, will we? Why's that? Do you have a hot date or something?"

The smile and look that Clark gave him then was so cold and bitter it was like looking at a completely different person. Or perhaps in the mirror.

"Something like that," he drawled.

"Since we'll still have the two weeks, there's no reason why you couldn't go back after Saturday," Lex insisted. "Particularly since we leave tomorrow, and may not be finished by Saturday."

"We may be done by then," Clark replied equally insistent. He didn't want Lex to see him on a Saturday. He didn't know why, but he didn't want him to see there was even worse to him than how he was right now.

"You know, it'd be easier to get along with you if you were forthright about something for once. If you don't want to visit your hometown for a couple of weeks, we can rush this job and just fuck the time off." It was hard for Lex to not let Clark get on his nerves with that attitude.

Clark sat in silence a moment, trying to think of a way to answer that that didn't involve breaking one of the 'Rules'. "If it were up to me I'd stay there was long as I could," he said knowing that was too far and enough to get him into trouble.

Fuck it, like his life hadn't been that way already. Why the hell shouldn't Lex? Why did he have to be some sort of exam for the Luthor heir set by Lionel?

Luthor rules. Cheat if it wins the game no matter the cost.

"Then what the hell is your problem this time?" Lex was looking at him with eyes that he knew were surveying, flat and more than a little pissed off.

"I can't say," Clark replied meeting his eyes and challenging him to find out. Though whether Lex would be any better a master than his father remained to be seen, but if he was worse then it wouldn't take much to push him too far and then it would be over.

"You can't say." Some days he felt like he was making a breakthrough, and other days Lex felt like he was back to zero again. "All right. We'll play that game, then."

Clark looked down a little disappointed the topic hadn't been pursued and then stretched a little. "When do we leave?"

"Seven am tomorrow morning. We need to review his most recent business activities first. So we're in for a boring afternoon. You might want to get yourself a cup of coffee."

"Yeah. You want another one of your ground out of weird Columbian beetles to enhance the flavor stuff? Or are we sticking to the double digested by alpacas or something?"

Lex gave a rough laugh, and finished the cup that he already had. "Alpaca. I'm feeling like taking a risk today."

"Alpaca it is..." Clark replied standing up, "And here's something to go with it." Out of a pocket he pulled a small jar with two floating wrinkled spherical objects in liquid - which on closer inspection turn out to be pickled walnuts, but instead they were labeled 'Lionel Luthors Nuts'. He put the jar down in front of Lex with what could only be described as a wicked smile and turned to make the coffee.

"Hey, thanks -- I was looking for these," Lex called after him as he picked up the small jar. Clark was lucky it hadn't leaked was Lex's first thought, and his second was that one weekend, he'd have to follow Clark and see what made his early week mood so damned volatile.

After all, it couldn't all be down to that Monday morning feeling.

The three-hour long car-ride would've been easier to bear if Clark had have been less... or maybe more moody. Something other than the quiet, muted morose that Lex wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with.

Mostly, Lex was content to crank the music up loud, and just drive like hell. Driving was a great time to think, and Lex didn't want to think just then. He was allowed to not want to think then or maybe ever again.

At least Clark never seemed to worry about how fast he was driving, or even flinch at his choice of music either. He still wasn't entirely sure how to go about tracking down what the deal was with his trainee, but his curiosity was engaged to the point where he was using that as a means of distracting himself from the revelations about his brother's death and his father's behavior. And the fact he had spent the majority of his life trying to redeem himself for an accident, a crime he had never committed.

It was easier to wonder about Clark and his strange behavior, his presence and what that might mean and why it was that his father had told him too categorically not let him out of his sight when they were in Smallville.

Answers tended to start with a person's family. After all, people could take one look at Lionel Luthor, and explain, right or wrong, why Lex was the way he was. Lex wasn't one to make such broad generalizations, but he could certainly understand that Clark's parents, his home, would be useful in learning more about the mystery that was his trainee.

Which was why Lex drove past the castle rather than stopping at it. "I guessed that you'd want to see your parents first, Clark," Lex said, reaching for the volume knob on the stereo. "So you'd better tell me where to drive."

Clark suddenly became alert from whatever trance he had sunk in to, his eyes brightening. "It's not far, just ..a few minutes. Keep going along this road and take a left at turn."

"Huh. So the mansion's only spitting distance from your house?" Lex asked with obvious interest.

"At the speed you drive, yeah." Clark flashed a genuine smile at him looking suddenly younger. "It's up that road a ways though."

"Still, pretty nice. Did you like living outside of town?"

"Yeah, it's not that far out but far enough to be quiet. We have a fair size farm," Clark replied "Left here Lex."

"Dirt road," Lex noted as he pulled into the turn. "I haven't seen one of these since the last time I came here."

"Didn't know you'd ever been here?" Clark asked, turning to glance at him again, his morose expression turning to smiles and an excitement so palpable it seemed like Lex should be able to touch it.

He probably could, if he reached out to touch Clark's cheek. "To Smallville? I was here the day of the meteor shower."

Clark gave a slight frown as a farm building came into sight with the sign Kent farm still nailed up making it obvious where to go. "Really? I didn't know that?"

"Dad was buying up the land that would become his plant here," Lex said simply, slowing his speed so he wouldn't accidentally hit any animals that might've been roaming around freely. "What, you thought that I've always been bald?"

"Well I didn't connect it with anything specific," Clark replied. He shrugged. "It happened then?" There was the merest hint of guilt in his tone when he asked that.

Something for Lex to file away into his head. There wasn't any logical reason for Clark to feel guilty, not in the least. Not any logical reason, but people were never logical for long, were they? "They speculated that it was radiation poisoning... so I had a reason when I chose going to Europe over staying here. At least, I like to think it's a good reason. Should I park over there?"

"Sure," Clark could scarcely wait for the car to pull to a halt before he flung open the door. "Mom will be watching," he said even as he twisted to get out even before the car properly came to a halt.

"Well, I'm sure they heard us coming..." Lex parked, and put the brake on before he pulled the keys from the ignition. He'd hang back for a while, until Clark had a chance to see his parents

Clark was already out of the car and as a much shorter, red haired woman appeared at the door he broke into a half jog.

"Clark?" She started coming down the steps and Clark seemed not to care that he was abandoning all credibility as an up and coming executive in front of his boss.

"Mom!" He practically scooped her up into a hug.

It was hard to understand. It seemed so...over the top for someone who lived only three hours away, who surely could come back and visit or didn't have to be in Metropolis if he was so attached to his family.

It wasn't like Clark was LuthorCorp property. Lex tried to not frown as he popped open the door of his car, and drew himself up to a standing position. There was definitely more going on with Clark than he'd let on, more than Lex knew.

He was damn well going to find out before they went back to Metropolis.

"Oh Clark, sweetheart! What a wonderful surprise - we didn't know you were being allowed back for a visit? How long do we have?" the woman was saying. "I'll get your father in... he won't want to miss anything."

Clark smiled. "Actually I'm... I'm here on business. With Lex, but he said I could come and see you guys first."

He glanced back across at the car behind him and nodded to Lex for him to come over.

When he saw the nod, Lex started forwards, offering Clark's mother a polite hand. "Mrs. Kent, it's a pleasure to meet you."

She looked just for a moment uncertain and glanced at Clark before smiling at him. "Mr. Luthor, thank you. We don't get to see our son that often so the surprise is doubly welcome."

Well, they knew who he was, at least. Clark had probably told them. That or they watched the news. One or the other. "I'm actually surprised that you don't see him more often. It wasn't that harrowing a drive..." Lex shook her hand for a bare moment, smiling.

Again there was a glance at Clark and a slight shift in Martha's attitude as something seemed to become clear. "Oh. Oh well you know, pressures of work. LuthorCorp keeps him busy... I understand that you are going to be working here on something? If you have time would you and Clark like to come to dinner?"

"I'm sure that Clark wants to, and I know I'd enjoy it, Mrs. Kent. If it's not an imposition..." The shift was interesting -- things just weren't adding up. There was something else going on, and Lex wasn't used to not knowing what was going on.

"Call me Martha, and of course it's not an imposition." Martha said and looked around beckoning over to Jonathan who was driving the tractor back in.

"Martha? Have we got company...?" Jonathan stopped the tractor, and shit it down before he called anything else out to her. "Clark...?"

"Dad!" Clark let go of his mother long enough to bound over to his father and hug him as well.

So. It wasn't his father either.

"Dad, we're here on business and Lex said we could drop in, and Mom has asked if we want to come to dinner..." Clark said speaking rapidly, "And Lex has agreed so we'll be here later as well."

Lex inclined his head to Jonathan Kent, mouth a bare smile. Clark's parents seemed fine, but Clark kept emphasizing that they were there to work. It was really just strange. Did it need to be said more than once? No.

"Clark, it's good to see you, son." Jonathan hugged him tightly. "If you b... two have business, maybe you should see about it?"

"Yeah, well I thought we might start here?" Clark looked at them both hopefully. "Have you heard anything about someone coming in trying to buy up land in Smallville?"

"Buying up land... no, no we haven't." Jonathan had the sense to not tack the unspoken 'why?' onto his sentence. "Martha? Have you heard anything about it?"

"Hmm, well Lana mentioned something about the Petersens having some discussions with someone, but I can't imagine Gillian wanting to sell up any more than your father," Martha commented. "Lana does tend hear most things through the Talon." She looked apologetically at Clark who's smile had become a little strained at the mention of the name.

"Lana?" Lex asked that, and looked over to Clark with a sharply lifted eyebrow. "Don't tell me..."

Clark nodded slowly and sighed. "Yeah. Didn't think it was worth bringing up considering it was... over."

Martha looked at them both. "Didn't you get my message Clark? She and Pete got married a few months back. They, well I guess you could say they eloped."

Clark looked absolutely stunned and then a very shuttered and familiar expression crept over his face. "Great. I'm sure they will be very happy together. Nice to see they've both moved on."

Somehow, it didn't really surprise Lex. But it still stung, the way... a lot of things stung. And he half-anticipated the answer to his next question, but he asked it anyway.

Sometimes it was better to get stuck with the knife quickly, than it was to wonder when it was going to hit. "So... who was the guy she was pining for in this place?"

"Wait, you know Lana?" Jonathan asked, looking more than a little confused. "H--"

"Paris."

"I doubt it was me although… it could have been," Clark admitted slowly. "Lex knew her coincidentally in Paris when he was doing European relations for LuthorCorp."

Martha rested a hand on Clark's arm gently. "Sorry sweetheart, I thought you know. The message must have been... lost."

Lost? Lex looked from Martha to Jonathan, then back to Clark. "Do you mind if we go inside and talk about this there? I'd like to know if you've seen anything suspicious in town since Rickman Industries set up camp."

"Of course not, where are my manners?" Martha smiled at them both. "Come on in and let me get us all a coffee or a drink." She led the way, though Jonathan looked a little discomfited for some reason. Clark was still wearing that mask which now seemed to be his equivalent of saying that he was feeling no pain. Really.

It didn't work, though. Lex could see it as a mask, and it just didn't make sense. Unless he was still hung up on the ex-girlfriend. "Thank you. Mrs. Kent.," Lex replied sincerely, following her. He half suspected Clark was going to hang back and mope.

Well, let him.

"I have a nice vanilla roast if you would prefer that to ordinary Mr. Luthor," Martha said even as Clark hung back just a little as predicted to be spoken to quietly by his father. "If I knew you were coming I would have had a fresh bake, but as it is I still have some left from yesterday. Cookies that is. I'll make a pie for later. Clark is very fond of that. Anything you don't like?"

Hospitality was a strange, warm feeling. Maybe the Kent's were semi-religious, a modern day Abraham and Sara and their baffling open door policy that had worked out very well indeed for them, "I'll eat anything, Mrs. Ke-- Martha. Particularly if it's home cooked. Whatever roast you have already brewed is fine."

"I usually have to brew separate for myself. Jonathan would drink mud if I put it in the percolator," she said conspiratorially. "Well, it will be chicken and I'll cook for a hearty appetite so be sure you bring one. Have a seat Mr. Luthor. Do you take milk and sugar?" Martha was doing a very skilled job of obscuring whatever conversation Clark was having with his father outside but it didn't sound like she was doing it deliberately.

Even if she was. Whatever the strange, fucked up dynamic was in Clark's family, Lex... could eavesdrop later. "Yes, please," he replied, pulling out a chair to sit down.

Martha efficiently poured and passed over the mug and then put some cookies onto a plate and put them on the side even as Clark and Jonathan came in making no explanation for their loitering outside a moment though some of Jonathan's confused expression had faded.

"Don't eat all the cookies sweetheart," Martha said tolerantly as Clark immediately dived in right next to Lex to get hold of one.

"Are you kidding me?" Clark asked. "These are your cookies. Lex, you gotta try these. Go on, try one."

"I..." Didn't usually indulge in sweets too often, but he still reached for one. "Cookies and coffee go well together, right?" Coffee and liquor sure as hell did.

"Cookies go with everything" Clark endorsed while trying to eat one and speak at the same time even as Martha smiled at him.

Lex took a bite, knowing he was being watched, and readied himself to fake... nothing at all. It was actually a nice flavor. Sweet and soft, and full of chocolate chips. "Mmm. These are good."

"Best fresh." Martha added. "So what is this about Rickman Industries and Smallville?"

Lex took another bite, tasted the coffee, and then started to offer the information that was public domain. "Rickman Industries is planning on moving into Smallville. They want to open a plant somewhere around the city. Their pollution record is... it's insane that they've gotten away with it for so long. We don't' want to se Smallville become another victim of Rickman Industries's pesticides plants."

"Seriously bad news," Clark confirmed stealing another cookie. "Hoping we can find out what is going on and get him to stop."

"Or just run him out of town on a rail -- the old fashioned way." Lex smiled, and sat back, sipping more at his coffee. It was nice to relax after driving for so long. "If you do hear anything, let us know. If he offers to buy your land, or any of your friend's land..."

"You can be sure he won't have any of our land," Jonathan said firmly. "This farm has been in my family for generations. That's not the sort of thing I can just hand over for money."

"This man could, if you'll forgive me the cliché, sell ice to Eskimos, and an expensive outdoors refrigerator to keep it cold. He's a smooth operator, so... I'd suggest simply not talking to him if he does approach you." Lex took another bite of the cookie. "You have a nice house. I'd hate to see someone like that tear it down for a factory."

"We'll bear that in mind." Martha nodded and smiled. "Where are you going to be staying while you are here?"

"Up at the mansion," Lex replied. "As far as I know, there's staff airing the place out right now."

"It hasn't been used for a long time. I dare say it will do it some good to have someone in there," Martha replied "But should it turn out to be infested with rats or terminally damp, you are quite welcome to stay here. Clark's always has his old bed made up here and we have a guest bedroom as well... Consider it an open invitation."

He wasn't surprised that Jonathan shifted, looking very uncomfortable. "If the mansion needs to be condemned," Lex assured, "We'll take you up on the offer."

Martha glanced at Clark, Lex's statement making it very obvious that she wasn't going to have her son staying under her roof during their visit. "Well in that case I'll just have to lure you both here with my cooking," she said graciously. "I wish I could tell you where Mr. Rickman was staying but you might want to try Lana even if it is difficult, Clark. The Talon really is one of the hotspots in town now. Lana really did do a good job of transforming the Beanery when they made her a manager there."

The edges of Lex's lips twitched, and he leaned back in the chair. "A coffee shop?"

"She is doing freelance art as well, but paying the bills is always a necessity," Martha replied "Especially with your first house."

She looked apologetically at Clark as she said that and Clark just shrugged. "Good for her, she always wanted to start a coffee shop, but never had the finances to do it. Looks like she found another way after all."

Smalltown life; as interesting as Lex found it, he didn't fit into the equation. He listened as Martha told Clark that, as Jonathan pitched in, "Since Pete is editing the local paper now... maybe you could drop in on them and see what they know?"

"It's probably the best place to start," Clark nodded. "I didn't know he was the editor now. Guess hanging around with Chloe and I sparked an interest after all. Lex? You think we should start with them?"

"Absolutely." And there was the off chance that just driving through town would yield them information.

"Okay then." Clark stood up straight from where he had been leaning on the side. "We'll be back for dinner Mom, Dad."

Martha nodded. "Take care sweetheart. Both of you."

Lex finished taking a sip of his coffee, and sat the mug down. "Thank you," he told them both. "I appreciate your help."

"That's quite all right Lex," Martha nodded. "We look forward to seeing you later." She at least sounded genuine. Jonathan Kent on the other hand seemed to be struggling a little with the concept.

Lex smiled at Martha, then offered a hand to Mr. Kent. "Thank you. You know, if we manage to wrap this up early, Clark will have some time off on his hands. So I appreciate the help."

"Now that would be something to look forward to," Martha said and her smile was dazzling in its sincerity and Jonathan agreed even as he shook Lex's hand with a firm strong grip.

"We always like to see more of our son," he commented though he was looking directly at Lex as he did so as if he was trying to tell him something.

He didn't have to say much at all. The mere fact that they hardly lived any distance away at all, but they never saw Clark at all was enough to raise questions. "I understand. Have a good afternoon, Mr Kent," Lex bade as he drew back.

Jonathan nodded and patted his son briefly on the shoulder in an unconscious display of affection as they prepared to leave.

Clark gave his mother a quick hug and then led Lex out of the house some of that mercurial good mood returning in the sunshine as they approached the car. "Thanks Lex."

"For what?" Lex asked as he pulled out his car keys,

"For this. For agreeing to dinner," Clark replied still smiling. "It wasn't exactly a professional request I made or anything."

"It's nothing," Lex dismissed easily. "I can't imagine what it's like to actually miss your family when you're away from them."

"You didn't when you were in Europe?" Clark asked him, pausing at the door of the car.

Lex unlocked it, and pulled the door open a little roughly. "No. Would you miss my father?"

"You do have a point," Clark replied dryly. That was a sad truth. Lex, the son of his enemy, was possibly the only one who could understand. He'd had to deal with Lionel Luthor all his life with the added complication that he actually was meant to love him.

Wanted to. Maybe did, but... Taking into account what had happened with Julian only made him feel chill. "Yeah." What a point to have.

"I didn't think it would help to tell you about Lana. I was a bit shocked when you told me to be honest," Clark said as well.

"That's all right. I can understand it. Because if you were her ex... well, I'm sure it wasn't comfortable to find out what she was doing in Europe." Breaking hearts -- no, maybe that was comforting for Clark.

"I'm not even sure if you could properly call me an ex. Whitney was more an ex than I was. They were engaged, but he joined the forces and was killed. Looking back on it I couldn't work out why things were so hot and cold with us but in retrospect it's possible I was a rebound guy as well," Clark said. "Or maybe that's just me saying that because I don't want to feel guilty about her messing the next guy around. Or that she's ended up with Pete. Jesus. Pete and Lana, married."

"Still hasn't sunk in for you, has it?" Lex revved up the engine, waiting for Clark to buckle his seat-belt. "I hate to tell you, but a taste of their likely domestic bliss will only make it hurt more."

"Pete... Pete was my best friend." Clark said as he settled in. "He can make her happy better than I ever could. He's everything I'm not and what she wanted. I can see that now."

"What is he that you aren't?"

"Stable. Secure. Safe," Clark replied. "Give me time and I'll think of other words beginning with S to describe him."

"I guess 'shit head' isn't going to be one of them," Lex sighed, and pulled his car onto the main road. "So, you weren't her type. Staid. Stagnant. It doesn't mean that that's the end of your world."

"If things had been different I could have become her type," Clark replied. "But I didn't ever get the chance to find out."

"You're really hung up on the might have beens and didn't happens of life, aren't you?" Lex glanced sideways at Clark for a moment. It was something he never wasted much time with, gnawing on old wounds like a dog would.

At least, he hadn't wasted much time on it until Dr. Garner had fucked with his head.

"Just be grateful I don't start singing Sinatra at you," Clark replied with a hint of his normal sharpness. "It's not pretty."

"Sinatra, or your singing voice?"

"My singing voice," Clark replied and then smiled as he gave an impromptu warble. "Regrets.....I've had a few....."

"I'm going to turn the radio back on if you keep that up." Lex shifted his hands on the steering wheel. "Tell me where to go, when to turn, all right?"

"I will, "Clark smiled even as he settled down again. "It's not far."

"Small towns. Nothing is ever far away enough." It was easy for Lex to note that as he drove, half his attention on the road and half on Clark. "So tell me about Pete."

"What do you want to know? He was my best friend. Before Metropolis," Clark replied. "His Mom is a Judge. High up now, really."

"Do you ever talk to him? We're not going to set foot in their coffee shop and have them call the cops, are we?"

"No," Clark smiled. "I haven't talked to him in sometime. Or Lana."

Which was a sore point. Out of all of them, all his friends, Pete was the only one that knew why Clark was in the situation he was. The only one that could have worked on things for him, but hadn't. Who might have taken a risk knowing the consequences, unlike Chloe who had paid for her attempt to get back into his life. Not that he had encouraged Pete to but after everything they had been through it was hard to be forgotten and written off by a best friend.

"Then being seen in my presence shouldn't lower your social status around here by much more," Lex offered with a twitch of a smile.

"I expect I don't have a social status any more," Clark replied shrugging. "Take a left here Lex, head into town."

"No? So they won't be looking on you as the boy who went into the city and came back as a big shot?" Lex asked, looking sideways at him. "Because you are. You have a status and a position in LuthorCorp that doesn't get handed out to bums on the streets, you know. It means that you're a bundle of potential."

"Yeah, well I hate to say it, but LuthorCorp is pretty much like being in league with the devil in Smallville," Clark said. "Not the sort of cachet it has in Metropolis."

"And the rest of the world," Lex added.

"Smallville is a world unto itself," Clark said "Take a right here and then the second left up past the store."

"And I'll be looking for...?"

"Should be a building here somewhere on the right...there, that's it. That's the paper." Clark pointed out.

"Your friend Pete's paper? Does it have a name?" Lex prodded as he eased off the gas. Learning more about Clark was going to be the mental and verbal equivalent of pulling teeth from a crocodile.

"Well it always used to be the Smallville Ledger," Clark replied shrugging. "I always preferred the name of our High School paper we worked on. The Torch. Pete might have changed it for all I know."

"Torch, Talon... The alliteration in this place is going to be the death of me," Lex chuckled as he started to look for the left, and eased off of the gas.

"Hey, the Talon used to be called the Beanery," Clark supplied looking around. "Sheer coincidence."

"There is never a 'sheer' coincidence," Lex scoffed. "Things happen for a reason, and if you choose to ignore that there was a reason..."

Clark just half laughed. "Yeah, there's a reason for everything." A reason for his life being such a mess - his own stupidity. He'd never make mistakes like that now.

"And for that reason, I don't want seeing... Lana again to send you into any sort of mood. I'm sure it's better for the both of you that you didn't get together." He was glad, for more than just a moment, that his father wasn't there to listen to him pep-talking his 'trainee' like that.

"Me? Get moody?" Clark asked in mock horror. "I don't know what you mean." That might have been convincing if it hadn't been said in tones of sarcasm that had a distinct edge. "Don't worry Lex, I know that's all over. A good six years or so over."

"Doesn't make it hurt any less." Lex shrugged his shoulders, but let a smile touch his mouth. "So, are we there yet? I'll be on my best behavior."

"Just here," Clark replied gesturing. "Paper first?"

"If you're comfortable with that," Lex agreed, easing into the first available parking spot. It wasn't hard to get one; it didn't look like the downtown got particularly busy that early in the afternoon on a weekday.

"It has to be done," Clark said. "Let's get it over with."

"Over with?" Lex lifted an eyebrow, but moved to pop open his door. "All right. I'll quietly follow your lead right now..."

Clark gave him a look, but took him at his word as he got out of the car and headed up the steps that lead to the paper's main office. He wondered if Pete would even be there, how he might have changed. It had been some time since they had seen each other face to face.

And it wasn't a social call at all, no. It was... business. All Clark could ever think about when it came to Pete was business. And how Pete knew, and hadn't ever... done anything.

Business and betrayal through silence. Or whatever it was that had happened.

Still, he knew how to smile and play nice and maybe it was for the best. His once best friends silence and inactivity had kept him, Chloe and Lana safe after all so perhaps it was just as well. He could cope with giving him that reason. It made everything meaningful somehow. He pushed open the door and headed inside, scanning for any familiar face.

There wasn't one right away -- in fact, there was a secretary with a computer in the closed off and tiny lobby. "Hello, can I help you...?"

"Is Pete Ross in please?" he asked politely, surreptitiously looking through the walls to see if she was lying to him when she answered. That too had become second nature.

Clark was half-aware, as he scanned, of Lex standing behind him, close and comfortably casual. Too close... Ah, and there was Pete, at a desk one floor up, off of the newsroom. It was cramped, but everything in the building seemed cramped.

"Yes he is, can I help you, Mr...?"

"Kent," Lex pitched in. "Clark Kent, and Lex Luthor. We'd like a moment of your employer's time."

"I'm sure he'll have time to speak to us," Clark added. "WE can show ourselves up if you'd like, I know the way. If you just call up and let him know we are on our way, I'm sure he won't mind."

It was either the sheer nerve that it took to do something like that, or the mention 'Luthor', but she nodded, while reaching fingers for the intercom. "The elevator is just over there..."

"Thank you," Clark nodded and headed over to the elevator with a slight smile, making sure Lex was with him. This should be interesting. Billionaire visiting small town paper. That was a front page in itself.

Billionaire sets foot inside small town was probably a second pager in and of itself. Lex was right behind him, and turned to look out of the elevator doors as he jammed the '2' button, then the door close button. "Well."

"You're probably the most newsworthy thing to happen in Smallville for a long time. No editor is going to turn down a story walking into his office," Clark said half explaining. "If he does, Chloe taught him nothing." It came as a bit of a pang to realize he probably couldn't even compare himself to Pete who had been doing the practical journalism while he had been otherwise occupied.

"I guess we'll find out, won't we." Lex shifted his shoulders a few times, trying to get himself into a relaxed pose, turning on the smooth when Clark's mood was just leaving him a little on edge.

The doors opened and Clark turned in an unhurried movement and stepped out into the office. God he looked different. A lot different to how he remembered. "Hey, Pete."

Pete had always seemed... young. Kid-like. But since Clark had last seen him Pete had gotten taller, matured. He was even wearing a suit. And looked a hell of a lot like a young version of his dad.

"Clar--" His voice cut out when he saw Lex standing behind Clark.

"Mr. Ross."

Clark tried his smile again wanting to ask why, but a sense of self preservation stopped him. "We're in Smallville on business Pete, and we could use a bit of help - and of course I couldn't miss the opportunity to drop in and see how you were doing."

His eyebrows crawled up, and it was clear that Pete was eyeing Lex like he was a plague rat. "Uhh, sure, Clark. I'm doing fine -- haven't seen you in a while."

"No. No I guess not." He gave a slight smile and said, "You know how it is, Metropolis tends to get its claws into you somehow and you look round one day and wonder where all the time went. And you must be really busy now you're running the paper. Congratulations on that by the way. And on getting married as well. Mom mentioned it when we dropped by."

Pete was still Pete, from the way that he looked nervous suddenly. "Yeah. We sent you an invitation, but when you didn't RSVP, well... you were probably busy."

"You know I would have been there if I was able," Clark replied still smiling though it had hints of the sincerity and flexibility of rigor mortis about his expression. "Congratulations on that, man. You're a lucky guy. " His face felt like it was going to break. "We'll tell Lana how lucky she is to have you when we drop by in a bit. Anyway, Lex - Mr. Luthor and I taking a look at the activities of Rickman Industries? I was wondering if you'd heard anything?"

All the while, Lex stood at Clark's back like a looming piece of stone. He was going to be good, and he was going to see how well Clark could deal with his past -- a thing that he seemed so very caught up in.

"Rickman... Bob Rickman? He's bought a store-front over by the Talon. It's across the street from it, actually. He has signs plastered up all over it. Why?"

"Rumors have it that he's wanting to set up a plant in Smallville, and technically he and his company are under investigation for a really bad EPA record. The water table around each of his other plants has been severely contaminated but somehow he keeps getting away with it." Clark leaned against the desk. "No rumors going around then?"

"Nothing... too weird." Pete looked at Clark, the way he used to when the topic was the usual Smallville freakiness. "There was a report about some of his men who were inspecting possible land sites running out of the woods..."

"Running from what?"

"There's not much up in those woods, unless things have changed," Clark replied. "There used to be a guy up there who made sculptures? Is he still around?"

"Still making bad metal sculptures," Pete confirmed. "Some things never change."

Lex stayed quiet, but moved away from Clark a little, scanning Pete's office with his eyes. "So you've seen nothing suspicious about Rickman's store-front operation?"

"Or has he made a move on anyone's land that you know of?" Clark added. "I don't want him doing that sort of shit in Smallville."

"Nothing we've heard anything about. If he does have any concrete plans... he hasn't told anyone about them. These things have to be done out in the open, after all." Pete's eyes turned to Lex. "I mean, that's what legitimate businesses do."

"Sell their decrepit plants to bigger companies for a profit and then turn bitter about it. Yes, Mr. Ross, I think we all know that. But unlike LuthorCorp, Rickman industries leaves a wasteland in its wake."

"Plus, there is the added factor that Rickman seems to be able to charm the birds out of the air. And there are records of him being around Smallville before. Any chance of us looking in the papers archives?" Clark asked hopefully.

"How far back do you need?" Pete was still giving Lex the look of death, but it seemed to ease as Clark ignored the remarks.

"I'm willing to place a bet on Meteor shower and after," Clark replied wanting to ask what the evil eye was about but unable to do so. It was painful, tragic in a way to see a friendship like theirs had been reduced to this.

"Meteor shower and after... All right." Pete nodded his head as he answered that. "Can you come back in a couple of hours? I'll have them pulled for you by then. It's a little busy in here right now..."

"Sure." Clark smiled. "Maybe you'll have a bit more time then yeah? It would be good to catch up sometime. We'll see if Lana's heard anything over at the Talon. Maybe have a word with Rickman himself if he's around."

"Sure. I'd like the chance to catch up with you, Clark. Just you and me." Clark could hear Lex shift as Pete said that, moving back towards the elevator.

"We appreciate the help, Mr. Ross," Lex offered.

"I'll quote you on that, Mr. Luthor," Pete replied still looking distinctly uncomfortable even as Clark said as casually as he could, "See you around," and followed Lex out of the office.

"Have a good afternoon, Mr. Ross. We'll be back later." Lex slipped his hands into his pockets as he moved towards the elevator. There was nothing like blind seething hatred directed towards him to make any sense of guilt click right off.

Once they were in and safely moving down to the lobby again, Clark leaned against the side looking very thoughtful.

Was that still just the hatred Pete had always had or was there something more? Did it now encompass him by default? Or was it something to do with Lex and Lana's past history. Or even his own?

Pete couldn't be worried about that surely? He 'got the girl' as it were, signed sealed and blessed in holy matrimony. It didn't get much more obvious aside from...something like a tattoo or branding which frankly was enough to set his damn mood swing off to the ridiculous once again.

The image of 'property of Pete' branded to Lana's ass was surprisingly hard to shake.

"That went as well as one could suspect," Lex drawled, looking and feeling surprisingly tight lipped as he waited for the elevator doors to open.

"Pretty much, "Clark agreed. "We caught him a bit off guard there a bit I think. That was Pete's unsettled look."

"Hadn't guessed," Lex snorted. "I should have stayed in the car -- he would've reacted better to you by yourself. Shitty little small town..." But when the elevator doors opened, Lex was smiling, and stepped out, a smile given to the secretary. "Thank you, ma'am. We'll be coming back later."

She smiled at them both and nodded as Clark stepped out onto the street with Lex. "Give most Smallville folk a shotgun, one bullet and a Luthor on one side and a rabid dog on the other and I'll give you a guess what they would do."

"You say that as if it's supposed to be some revelation to me," Lex bit back a little. "It's not. Smallville is an ungrateful pit of a city that I still believe my father should have let lay in decay under the shadow of... the Ross family's creamed corn factory. We've brought jobs; we've revitalized the town's economy..." Lex walked, a little fast and angry towards his car. "We're still protecting this place."

"Yeah, well it was how it was done that was the problem okay?" Clark replied uneasily.

"How it was done. We're heading up on almost twenty years after the fact, and it's still a 'matter of how it was done'. It was done the same way any successful business deal is done -- intelligently, and quickly. They were paid twice the value of the land, and the equipment in the plant, which my father never used. It was decrepit and needed to be scrapped." Lex shoved the key into the lock, unlocked his car, and yanked the door open.

There wasn't much more he disliked in the world than the justification of blind hatred.

"I know...I...shit, look Lex, if I tell you this don't tell your father I told you okay?" Clark said still looking wary.

"Get in, close the door." Lex closed his own door, and pulled at his seatbelt.

Clark did so, glancing at him. "I know I can't tell you what to do Lex, but... please? If that's all you know about what happened with the Smallville take over, then that's probably what you father wants and... I don't particularly want another ... dressing down."

"I don't share all of my information with Lionel," Lex promised, despite his tense jaw.

Clark sighed a little and then twisted in his seat to look at Lex. "Look, Lex pretty much everything dates back to that time and the meteor shower. Before that, negotiations weren't going anywhere. The landowners around here are a stubborn lot and the Ross plant was putting together a sort of cooperative proposition to bail them out. Only it was hard and people kept pulling out for ... well, you can guess why can't you? Anyway, they were still determined not to sell. Which was why your father was here on the Day of the Meteors and you were too. My parents - well, they were just returning from Metropolis having picked me up. And I was... an illegal adoption. No one would approve them for adopting a baby because the finances were so close to the edge and tied up in the farm... bear with me, this is relevant."

He took a deep breath unconsciously telling the story as rapidly as any report he had been asked for. "The Meteors struck, one of the main strikes just in front of the truck, tossing them all. At the same time, they demolished half of Smallville and... impacted near you. See we know that because as my parents were making their way back, your father lurched out in front of them in a panic. My father went with him, rescued you and then we rushed you back to hospital as you were nearly dying from shock. In his...gratitude your father arranged for my adoption to have a legitimate angle. Only the gratitude didn't stop there. A couple of weeks later your father used that as a means to blackmail my father into persuading the other landowners to sell. They did. His word is good around here. And then the strange things started happening, and...well, people blame the LuthorCorp plant."

Lex took the story in silence, and didn't have an immediate answer. He'd never heard anything about a daring rescue from an outside source, but it wasn't the sort of thing that Lionel would have told him. That his mother would have told him, even if she'd known. "It' a convenient angle for them to look at things."

"And most likely wrong," Clark admitted. "It's the kryptonite, I know that at least but most people find it easier to scapegoat people who are not around to fight back. But...my dad, well. He's a good guy, but he doesn't have any reason to like the Luthor name. Especially your father. I'm just warning you okay? He saved Lionel's... you, and had that turned into a tool to hurt his friends. He's never forgotten that."

"Should I be wary of poisoned food?" It would've been easier to ask if he'd been joking, but... Lex wasn't. Couldn't joke just then.

"No, Mom has invited you and both Dad and I would do anything for her," Clark smiled a little. "She has a way to seeing in to people, believing the best in them."

Lex still wasn't smiling, though. Couldn't quite find it in himself to bother just then. "So I take it she'd shoot the rabid dog instead of me."

"Yeah," Clark replied quietly. "Yeah, she would."

And that was even more confusing because he did put a lot by his Mom's opinions and instincts and they seemed to lend weight to the conflict inside of him. He should hate Luthors. All Luthors. But he liked Lex. He shouldn't but he did. A lot.

Which was inconceivable.

Lex took his car out of park. "Tell me where Lana's coffee shop is. I could use something with a lot of caffeine right about now."

"I'm sorry..." Clark said to him sympathetically. "I just thought you needed to know."

"That my last name puts me in pretty deep shit with people I haven't even had the pleasure to legitimately piss off? No, Clark, I already knew that one."

"It shouldn't be that way," Clark said realizing he was actually telling the truth. It shouldn't. Lex wasn't his father, he was different. He could feel it. But what worried him, terrified him was that he might turn out to be more dangerous to him because of that empathy he felt. "C'mon, the Talon's just up here on the main street."

"Mm." Lex drove a bit faster than he should have, but it was nothing new. There was a parking spot near the sign to the Talon, and...

Flashing red and blue lights. "Yeah, I know why I chose Europe over this place..."

"We didn't run any lights or anything - that can't be for us can it?" Clark asked Lex looking around.

Lex glanced in the rearview, put one hand up in a vague gesture, and pulled into the parking space that was out of the way of traffic. "It..." He trailed off when the cop car pulled up behind them. "It's us."

Clark waited as the cop came around to the driver window, ticket book at the ready. Lex's high performance vehicles did tend to have an in built objection to going at the speed limit.

"Good afternoon sir, were you aware you were speeding?" the officer asked automatically.

"Not at all," Lex replied blithely, cranking up his smile as he finished rolling down his window. "I thought I was going the speed limit..."

"Nevertheless sir you were doing nearly 50 in a thirty-five. This can be a busy street so that sort of speed could be very dangerous to pedestrians and other road users. I am afraid I'm going to have to write this up and..." The radio in the vehicle behind him crackled.

All units, suspected attempted suicide. Rickman Industries. Jumper non-local. Believed to be an EPA official visiting the area. All units, respond immediately...

Lex craned his head a little, looking up at the policeman. "Look, my car's still going to be here whenever you get back here. Why don't you just tuck it under the windshield and take care of some real emergencies."

"I... uh... yeah." The professional facade slipped a moment, and the cop turned away. "Thank you for your cooperation."

Clark looked bemused as the cop hastily left. "Suicide at Rickman's - an EPA guy? Weren't the EPA meant to be putting a halt on their trade and acquisitions?"

Lex leaned back, letting out a slow stream of air as he rolled his window back up with a button push. "It's funny how things work for Rickman? If I'm right... it's just up the street a little way, over on the other side? See it? We'll go over there when the scene has cooled some. I hate being on a fresh crime scene."

"You sure? I could go round there while you went into the Talon?" Clark asked.

"I'll get a coffee for you," Lex murmured. "It might work better that way, than giving Lana a two for one punch."

Clark nodded. "I'll do a scout around, won't be long. I promise. Don't worry about the car; I can cut through an alley up here. Meet you back here in maybe thirty minutes?"

"I'll keep a seat for you," Lex half promised as he popped open the door of his car. It would work better that way; as an actual team, particularly in Clark's territory, they were awkward. Clark learned fast, but Lex himself wasn't as fast learning how to handle a 'partner'.

Clark nodded and didn't pause as he jogged away up the street, covering the distance quite handily until he was out of sight. Expressly what Lionel had forbidden but... still.

Lex trusted him. He wasn't sure why, but he did trust him. So the thought didn't pang him for too long, as he locked his car's door and then walked towards the Talon's doors.

It was gaudy inside with exactly the sort of imitation opulence that he could see would appeal to the sort of crowd that thought themselves that little bit different from the norm. There was some faint nod to an Egyptian theme that was not too overstated and plenty of cozy nooks of tables and chairs for people to sit and spend a lot of time there. It seemed to be working.

No immediate sign of Lana in among those serving the coffees but...

Ah, there she was.

The big counter at that back. Maybe she wouldn't recognize him... or it might take her a minute. The chances of not being recognized, even after almost six years, were pretty unlikely. Lex kept his motions low key, and moved to sit at a stool attached to that big counter.

She looked like she was supervising more than serving and she spent time looking around getting an overview of the place - and was almost comically startled when her gaze drew back and practically stumbled over him. "Lex! I... what a surprise!"

He smiled up at her, basking for a moment in the fact that she seemed to have grown up by leaps and bounds since he'd last seen her. "It's good to see you again, Lana."

"It's good to see you too Lex, it's been a long time." She stared at him a moment and then abruptly seemed to remember what she was doing. "Are you being served at all? Do you want something to drink?"

"Espresso con Panne?" he asked smoothly. "I have an associate of mine coming here... eventually. How've you been since Paris?"

"I've been... good." Lana said still looking at him. "I eventually came back to Smallville as you can see and I do some freelance work in Art and design, and manage the Talon." She smiled at him sweetly. "It's been a long time Lex, how've you been?"

"Working, mostly in Metropolis now." Lex smiled at her, watching the subtle lines on his face move and shift as they talked. Still alluring. Pete Ross was a lucky man. "Marriage seems to suit you well."

"You've heard about that?" Lana asked. "Yes, I'm Mrs. Lana Ross now. I've known Pete a long time and he's... a wonderful man."

"I'm sure he is, for him to have ended up with you." Wonderful was the word one used as a substitute for the less flattering 'dependable'; and that was probably what Lana needed most in life. An anchor she could trust. It wasn't a bad thing, but... Clark didn't seem the type. Lex knew he sure as hell wasn't.

"You still have that same flattering way Lex," Lana smiled "What brings you and your missing associate to Smallville?"

"Business, I'm afraid. We're looking into a new... business that's trying to move in."

"Oh yes?" She appeared to think a moment. "I only know of Rickman Industries that is new in town."

"I'd like to know why he's chosen Smallville. That's all." Lex smiled more, going on," After all, LuthorCorp has had a good environmental record in Smallville. We like the place nice and clean."

"Mr. Rickman seems like a very pleasant person though," Lana said. "He came in not long ago, had a coffee." She passed Lex his.

"Nice smiles can hide a lot, Lana," Lex murmured as he closed his fingers around the heavy, sturdy mug. "It's his EPA record I'm more interested in."

"So a purely altruistic motivation is it?" Lana asked her dark eyes a little less naive than they had been back in Paris.

"No, it's business," Lex drawled, still smiling at her after a sip. "I like to know that the people who work for us aren't going to drop dead from pollution."

"That bad?" Lana asked leaning forward just a little.

"The EPA record is horrible," Lex insisted. "If you'd like, I'll print out a copy of what our people have found, and bring it back to you tomorrow. I think citizens have a right to bring formal protest to your town council about this."

"People do tend to feel strongly about this sort of thing," Lana agreed. "Thank you Lex, I appreciate the concern. How have you been in yourself? Since...Paris?"

"I've... been," Lex answered. "A lot of work, a lot of investing back into Metropolis. For the exciting life I lead, it's surprisingly Status Quo, isn't it?"

"I thought you would be the first out of us to get married," She smiled at him a little hesitantly. "You always seemed to know exactly what you wanted."

"Oh, I've married. But it never... went well, you could say." He paused, and took a sip of his drink before he smiled at her. "I guess I haven't found the right person for myself yet. There are a lot of close calls in the world, but a close call isn't the same as finding that perfect person."

"I understand what you are saying." Lana looked a little concerned. "You did know it wasn't about you in Paris don't you? That it was about me. I... I wasn't very good about explaining at the time, I understand that now. I was swept away by the passion and excitement before I really thought about it, and then I was in deep."

It was easy for Lex's smile to grow broader. "Lana, that was about Paris, and you. There's something about the city that inspires whirlwinds of passion... at least in Americans. I know that you had something back home that was unfinished." But she'd just had to take his consolation prize from him, too, hadn't she?

Not that he was the 'one', if there was such a thing, but he had had a nice tight ass.

"I had something at home that had never started," Lana corrected. "And that never had a chance. He was out of the picture before Paris. Literally."

"Yeah?" Lex let curiosity slip onto his face, honest curiosity. "Is he the one that got away?"

She paused, and evidently decided it wouldn't harm now. "Clark, Clark was complicated. He was wonderful, sweet, kind but... I could never be sure that he quite trusted me. That he would ever open up fully. Or be there. Which was stupid, because he always was, but... there was something about him that I just couldn't reach. And then.... that was an insurmountable problem. Love didn't mean secrets."

"Sometimes, love means tolerating secrets," Lex half-suggested. "Only sometimes. I've already met Pete, actually -- he seems like a really nice guy. I think you made the best choice for yourself."

"You've...you've met Pete?" Lana did seem surprised at that. "At the paper?"

"Doing a little research about Mr. Rickman to see if he has had any local ties, previous investments..." Lex let that trail off like it was going to be boring for her. "You have a nice paper in town."

"I'm surprised you knew to go there. And..." She frowned a moment. "I don't remember saying that it was Pete I married?"

The edges of Lex's mouth curled up almost wickedly as he took another sip of his coffee. "All right, Lana. I'll be honest. I learned a lot talking to Mrs. Kent."

"Mrs... Mrs Kent? Clark's mother?" Lana looked anxious. "Why were you talking to her?

It was funny -- why would she look anxious? "Because Clark wanted to see her. He's my associate, you see."

"Clark? Clark works for you?" Lana looked astonished and unaccountably flustered. "And he's in Smallville?"

"Mmhm. He's investigating something at the moment. He's... my trainee, you could say. An upcoming junior executive." Lex gave Lana another smile. "Not what you expected, was it?"

"No. No, it wasn't," Lana admitted chew her lip absently. "Clark as an executive? That just seems...I don't know. Wrong I guess."

"It's not particularly a passion for him, but a job is a job..."

"He must have changed. But then I haven't seen him since... Well, since leaving for Paris," Lana replied. "I hope he's doing well. Is he... is he with anyone do you know?"

"No-one. If he was, I'd probably know." Which signaled, aside from Clark's reaction, that he was still just a shade hung up on Lana.

"You work together closely then I take it," Lana sounded a touch wistful. "Did Pete see him? They were best friends - he was a little disappointed that Clark didn't come to the wedding." And so was she by the looks of it though for what reason it was difficult to tell. And it was also difficult to tell that there was any awkwardness between herself and Lex as she seemed to get over the shock and bask in the warmth of his attention.

Lex didn't mind, though; it was nice to see that she didn't have any lingering emotion and he... didn't either. Curiosity was all. The strangeness of small towns was starting to feel overwhelming. "Strangely enough, Clark never seemed to have received an invitation. Pete seemed happy to see Clark... not me of course, but I expected that."

"Oh. I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it," Lana sprang to her husband's defense. "It's just a little difficult to shake off his parents feelings about the takeover - like it was for me about the meteor shower and my parents. You helped me a lot with that when we were together."

"I'm glad, Lana. And I understand your husband's reaction -- it's perfectly understandable..." He toyed with his mug a little, watching her face. "I truly am glad to know that I helped you. Even if it was just a little..."

"More than a little. You helped me out of a really bad space Lex. I was still hung up on what was never going to happen with Clark and you helped me see I didn't need to be that person any more. I am really grateful for that. I just felt really bad for ...well, it felt like using you and I couldn't do that to you. I respected you too much for that." Lana said in that same earnest way he remembered. "I'm really glad I've had a chance to tell you that."

And Lex was more than a little glad to hear it. Her attitude towards him hadn't been poisoned by the town, or by her husband... "Thank you for telling me. I... We were good for each other at the time. Not long-term. You helped me in ways I can't quite articulate; I'm glad to know I helped you."

She smiled back at him and then glanced up, the smile growing if anything.

Clark entered the Talon, finding his way over to them both easily. The atmosphere between them was practically humming as Clark saw more of Lex's natural charisma at work.

A thread of jealousy touched him, and he nearly hesitated in confusion. He was confused because to his shock, he wasn't actually sure who he was jealous of, Lex or Lana.

"Hey," he said a little awkwardly. "Hi Lana, it's been a while..."

Lex looked at Clark appraisingly for just a moment, then shifted somewhat so Clark could have all the room that he wanted at the bar. It was for the best that Clark had interrupted their conversation, before it had turned too misty and full of memory.

"Clark. It has been a long time hasn't it?" Lana replied a little hesitantly. "I've missed seeing you around Smallville."

Clark looked a little unsettled. "Yeah, you know how it is. Sometimes the time just gets away from you. It's good to see you again - you look good. And I understand congratulations are in order for you and Pete. I'm sorry I missed it - the invitation must have gone astray."

Lana smiled and nodded. "I understand, that's okay Clark. Pete said that something must have happened like that."

"Did it go well?" Lex asked to push things forwards a little more. Maybe she was over him, but Lana didn't seem to be entirely past Clark.

"Oh yes," Lana nodded. "Pete was so nervous I thought he was going to pass out at the service. I thought that was meant to be the bride who was so nervous. Chloe agreed to be bridesmaid. I haven't seen her for sometime either and it was good to have us all there together."

The smile Clark gave her seemed sincere, but there was look in his eyes that for a mere fraction of a second as raw and hurt as anything Lex had ever seen. A blink later and there was cool emerald once more.

He'd have to ask about that later; it wasn't a fluke. Clark seemed deeply hurt by the line of conversation, and there had to be a simple, logical reason for that pain. "You'll have to show Clark the pictures some time."

Clark shrugged as if it didn't matter and turned the conversation away with him. "No hurry," he said and then cleared his throat. "I took a look around over at Rickman's. The guy who jumped isn't dead, and I heard them say that there was no reason for him to do anything like that. The police were interviewing the receptionist and she said he had seemed absolutely fine, happy even as he was going up to meet with Mr. Rickman. And then, five minutes later he's jumped out of a window and the papers he took in with him are gone."

"So, wait -- he isn't dead? Then maybe when he's had a chance in the hospital to come around, we can talk to him..." Lex twisted a little to better look at Clark.

"I think it's going to be some time before he is able see people, but I could be wrong," Clark replied. "But I did get a look in Rickman's office. There are three area's marked off. One up near the wood, one encompassing Lana's old house and part of my parent's property, and one on the grounds of the Manor."

"He had surveyors in the woods and they came out of there as if...well, wolves were after them or something," Lana said. "He can't be after where my house used to be or your farm Clark. You know your father would never sell that place."

"There are other ways to get what you want aside from buying someone out Lana," Clark replied.

Lex lifted his eyebrows at Lana, still smiling a little. "Clark's learned the business rather quickly. He's right -- if Rickman wants one of those three properties, he'll go out of his way to get them. and since fate seems to walk in this man's footsteps... Well, even I'm going to be cautious of him."

"He could really do this you think?" Lana sounded alarmed. "In Smallville?"

"Particularly in Smallville," Lex insisted firmly.

"I do hope you can stop it," Lana said hopefully. "This is what you are intending to do isn't it?"

"Yes. We don't want him... turning Smallville into an environmental write-off on par with Chernobyl."

Lana shuddered. "We certainly don't need anything like that no. The meteors were bad enough. Are you both going to be in Smallville long?"

Clark shrugged. "That would depend on my boss here," he replied with a smile.

"And mine," Lex drawled. "We have a certain amount of vacation time on our hands if we deal with this quickly. I'm sure Clark would like to spend some time in his home town, and I have a reading list to catch up on."

"Well, that would be great. I shall hope you will get this dealt with quickly and then maybe we can all get together again," Lana said and smiled.

"That would be good," Clark agreed. "I haven't had a vacation for a long time."

"As a junior executive, you do get vacation time," Lex reminded. Except he hadn't taken it, and nothing, fucking nothing, was making sense to him just then. There were too many un-answered questions, and so few of them related to the actual job at hand.

Clark just made a sign of assent even as impatient customers lining up from the afternoon rush piled in and Lana stood up from leaning on the counter. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to get to work, I'm covering for one of the staff who called in sick at the last moment otherwise I'm usually in the office upstairs. So I better... do some of that covering." She smiled at them both. "It really has been wonderful to speak to you both again. I hope we'll get chance to catch up more when you have some more time."

"Of course. I hope to see you around again, Lana, in good circumstances..." Lex shifted, and moved away from Clark a little to give him a private goodbye to Lana.

Not that it seemed that he particularly wanted it for all his hesitation. "Bye Lana. If you hear anything will you let us know?"

"Of course Clark," she replied still waiting, as if expecting more.

For a moment it seemed like there would be, and then in one smooth casual movement Clark turned away and quickly stepped up to follow Lex out of the shop.

Lex wove his way through the people casually, and moved towards his car as he got a little away from the door before he turned to see if Clark had... damn, he had. "I hadn't expected you to be right there."

"I followed you right out," Clark replied with a half smile for Lex's surprised look.

"Yeah, I noticed. I'd expected you to hang around in there. It seems there's still... some unfinished business."

"Not really," Clark replied. "Though, I appreciate the gesture. There's nothing there that I'm going to ever be in a position to do anything about, and it's probably easier for them both if there's not messy past brought up again."

"All right. We'll consider that field well plowed, and I won't go out of my way to leave doors open for you about the topic. Now, let's see what type of speeding ticket I got."

"I doubt if he remembered to..." Clark's comment was interrupted by a man's voice.

"Mr. Luthor, what brings you to Smallville? Finally coming to close one of LuthorCorp's least profitable assets?"

"Far from it," Lex smiled sharply. It was easy for him to turn around and catch a glimpse of the man he knew to be Bob Rickman -- too smooth, dark hair, tall, mid to late thirties. It was an easy categorizing, because Rickman wasn't physically anything spectacular in the business world. Except maybe he used a little less hairspray than the usual type. "What's this I've heard about you expanding?"

"Well, you know, can't let the grass grow under your feet in this game..." Bob Rickman said with a toothy grin.

Clark was not impressed as he folded his arms over his chest. "Literally, with your track record," he muttered.

"Excuse me?" Bob looked at him. "Do I know you?"

Clark smiled a business smile back at him. "Let's just say I am Mr. Luthor's Personal Assistant. But I have a personal interest as Smallville is my home town. I wouldn't want you to waste you time approaching people who are never going to sell, like my parents the Kent's."

Bob Rickman gave a hearty fake laugh. "Well you know what they say Mr. Kent, never say never."

"But you see, around here, the word 'no' still holds its original meaning: a denial. My assistant and I are going to see to it that you leave Smallville unsatisfied," Lex said firmly, while he slipped his hands into his coat pockets.

"Mr. Luthor, I'm a perfectly legitimate business man - can I help it if I am good at what I do?" Bob protested. "If people sell, people sell. I have several sites I am looking at anyway... so I'm sure one won't bother you."

"They all bother me, Rickman." Lex turned his back to the man, glancing at his windshield. It was a shame that Clark had been wrong, and he had been ticketed.

"Any reason why? It's not like the Luthor's have done much with Smallville?" Rickman asked. "Where as I have a sort of sentimental attraction to the place. It's where my fortunes finally turned around. Let's just say I'd like to give something back."

It was nice of Rickman to save them time doubting what they were going to research, by saying outright that he had old ties to the place. "Pollution -- the gift that keeps on giving?"

"The EPA hasn't shut me down have they?" Bob smiled at them both.

"Yet," Clark frowned at him. "Although why they haven't is a complete mystery."

"But believe me, Rickman -- it won't be a mystery for long." Lex pocketed the ticket, and then walked to the far side of his car. "Goodbye."

"Well goodbye Mr. Luthor, I'm sure we'll meet again soon," he narrowed his eyes a little and then smiled at Clark proffering his hand. "Goodbye Mr. Kent."

Clark automatically responded to the gesture and shook his hand, wondering why Bob Rickman looked surprised when he withdrew it and stepped away. "Goodbye, Mr. Rickman. I do hope you don't waste too much time in Smallville."

"Oh I won't..." the man replied, looking at his hand."No I won't waste time at all." Damn, the Kent's must be resistant to his ability. Maybe it was just him, or maybe it was the whole family. That narrowed down his targets to... the woods, and crossing paths with Kyle, or getting to Lex Luthor. That was a project to consider. With another smile, he turned and walked away down the street even as Clark got into the car.

"Slimy bastard," Clark muttered under his breath.

"Of a high level. My father considers him a slimy bastard," Lex murmured as he pulled the car door closed behind himself, and reached for his seatbelt. "Christ. Let's get back to Pete and see if he's found anything yet..."

Bob Rickman could possibly win against the might of LuthorCorp. Not unless there was something really wrong with the world.

Family dinners were as foreign to Lex as breathing air was to most types of fish. Oh, there were a few who could, and Lex supposed that he could adapt... given time and some sort of gene manipulation. Because when it was all said and done, and the Kent's had gone out to the porch, Lex still wasn't sure if it had gone well.

After all, it seemed that he'd driven all three of them to smoke. One of them was smoking, from the thin wisps of blue-grey that drifted past the door, until Clark had shut it behind him. And Jonathan had gone to check on the cows. Or slash Lex's tires. Or fetch a shotgun.

Sure, he'd been amiable during dinner. But it wasn't a genuine sort of amiable.

Still, Martha had seemed more welcoming, and had even invited him to help himself to more coffee if he wanted it from the kitchen and there was little else to do save take up that offer until Clark came back in at the least.

It just seemed eerie that everyone had departed at once, but not before suggesting he get coffee. It was probably to keep him from snooping around too much while they set up whatever incendiary device they were planning to kill him with.

As he approached the kitchen he found he could actually smell a tinge of cigarette smoke from outside and hear a murmur of voices. He could actually hear Clark's voice talking and Martha's replying as he got closer. The closed door hadn't clicked on the latch and had opened a little behind them. Enough to allow sound to travel at least.

"...shouldn't smoke Mom." Clark was saying softly. "It's not good for you."

"I only have one to steady my nerves," Martha replied. "And they are a little over stressed tonight. With our guest."

"Mm." He could just imagine Clark's shrug, the way that wide shoulders would lift and then drop down abruptly again.

"Why don't you tell me about him, Clark? Why you... you're working with him."

"I...Lionel forced me to Mom," Clark sounded depressed and quiet. "It's some sort of weird test for Lex, and I... I went in there ready to hate him. Like I do his father. He's a Luthor, and god, I hate the name Luthor. Hate everything it stands for...but..."

"But you seem to get along with him." A pause, and Lex as hardly remembering to breathe as he poured his cup of coffee. A weird test for himself?

"But I like him. I like Lex. Not the Luthor heir, but …Lex." Clark sounded even more depressed by that fact. "It's so confusing Mom, how can I hate him and ...like him at the same time. I can't like him, that's got to be impossible considering what his father's done to us. To me. But I really like him."

"Well, Clark... is he a bad person?"

There was a long silence and then a "No, I don't think so."

It was practically sacrilege for a Kent to say such words

Martha was silent, too, so Lex was quiet as he lifted the lid from the sugar bowl. The words were strangely anticlimactic, to hear someone, anyone, say that he wasn't a bad person. Maybe he was a bad person, because it didn't bring up much of a reaction in him. Bad and jaded.

"You seem to... feel for him, Clark."

"I don't know what's going on in my head at the moment," Clark admitted sounding tired and confused and weary beyond endurance. "I just want... I just want it all to be over. Everything."

There was nothing to be heard again, and then a quieter murmur, "Honey..."

"I came back and... Pete and Lana are safe. Chloe is safe. I'm not a best friend anymore." Clark's voice sounded a bit ragged as if there were a press of unbearable emotion constricting his voice. "Pete knows, Pete knows and he... Do friends really stand aside and watch others give up their lives when they know? There's no-one left. "

"They don't... I don't think that they understand. It's... not the best thing he could have done, but I think that Pete panicked and decided not acting was the safest thing to do."

"Lex would understand, not that I am allowed to say anything," Clark said. "Strange isn't it? The flesh and blood of the man I have to remind myself not to ...attack every time I see him, and he is the one I have the most in common with. He's lived with Lionel all his life. People hate and despise him because of his father and... judge him. He could be so different if he were free of him. So could I."

"One day you'll find a way to get free of him. If you... think that Lex is trustworthy, maybe you could work together..." She let that trail off, and for a moment Lex was suspicious that they knew he was there.

"The only way to be rid of him forever is if he is dead and ...I can't kill him Mom, I have to remind myself of that a lot," Clark said. "I...I don't know. He's using me as a test, so maybe... I just pass from one handler to another. I don't know. I just don't know. Everything I can say or do is controlled or forbidden. If he thinks I am planning anything, he'll take action. If he thinks I've broken any part of whatever rules he has set up he'll take action and I... I can't stop him. I won't have him prove it again. Not like he did with you and dad."

"We weren't looking out for it then. It was unexpected, Clark. We... your father and I wouldn't be caught off guard a second time. If you need to do something, Clark, if you want to... your father and I want you to be happy."

There was an audible sigh. "I can't Mom, you know that. All he has to do is leave off the RedK and I'm out of action. Totally helpless for at least a few days and that more than enough time for him to get to you guys even if you are careful and have a head start. " Clark's voice said regretfully.

Martha sighed audibly. "Clark. The red Kryptonite... it..."

"It's addictive, it makes me so I don't know who I am any more," Clark replied, the timbre of his voice changing slightly as if he was leaning away from her. "I'll have to go back for Saturday morning. I'll have to stay for at least the weekend. I... can't have you seeing what it does to me."

"Clark, no matter what it... does to you, you're still our son. It doesn't matter." A pause, but Lex kept listening intently to their talking. Saturday morning, Lionel Luthor, and Red Kryptonite. He was going to have a lot to think about that night.

"It does matter. You don't know what it is like. I don't know who I am any more," Clark said softly. "I'm afraid, Mom. I'm afraid he's going to... finally find a way to completely control me. So I don't care what I do. I... can't let that happen. I'll need you and Dad to make sure that never happens."

"Oh..." Martha sounded horrified by the idea of her son being like that, but Lex had to wonder. Wonder how his father would do it, or why he hadn't done it already if he had the capacity. And what exactly made Clark worth leaning so heavily on. "We'll try, sweetie. We'll try. But maybe if you... trust someone to help you..."

"The only person even remotely possible is Lex and I've only known him a short time. Little over a month and his Father's had me for six years. My instincts say yes, but my experience with everything Luthor makes it hard. I've seen both of them do this to other people to get what they want," Clark sounded uncertain. "I guess, I guess what I am saying is that I'm not sure if I can trust myself now. That's what I mean Mom. I like Lex, I feel it, I trust him but...I have no idea if that's a real instinct. Or the RedK, or… hell, whether I'm finally starting to crack up and give in to them."

"I know that it's not the last one. You're stronger than that. You're much... much stronger than that."

There was a long silence, as if Clark was trying to find an answer to that. "Yeah," he said finally. "I'm stronger. I've survived this long. You're right; I don't want you and Dad worrying about it. There's always hope right?"

"There's always hope. Your father and I are always going to worry about you because there is... always, always hope. You'll come out on top, Clark..."

"Well maybe I'll get to actually see you after the weekend if we finish up with this Rickman thing this week. For more that the couple of days around Christmas and Holiday. When they don't clash with Saturdays," Clark replied obviously trying to sound more positive. "Though I can be a pain in the ass on Monday's. " He actually laughed a little. "Lex often looks like he wants to throttle me, but I can't help it. Well. Most of the time."

"Mm-hmm. So what do you do to get him to want to throttle you?" Martha sounded like she was smiling, trying to lighten the mood. Somehow.

" I'm damn annoying. Constantly poking fun and being sarcastic," Clark replied. "He thinks I'm after his job or something, and I can't help myself - I wind him up about that sometimes even though Lionel's no more likely to do that than he'd give the position to any other dog on a leash. But he actually looks at me as if I am more than… just something to be used. I guess...I guess I've missed that."

"Not everyone looks at you that way."

"You don't, Dad doesn't but... I don't really see anyone else any more," Clark replied. "Aside from Lionel and his helpers so..."

Martha sighed again, and there was more silence. Lex half imagined that that was the point in an emotional conversation where one participant embraced the other. He wouldn't quite know, other than that his own conversations like that never went so well. "You're more than a tool, Clark. And one day you'll win against Lionel..."

"Yeah, yeah Mom, you're right." The voice did sound a little muffled. "Dad still doing the cows? We better go in. Lex'll wonder where we've been."

"We're probably out of coffee by now, too." Shifting, steps on the porch, and Lex quietly tracked his way into the living room, coffee cup in hand.

The Clark that came back into the living room to find Lex looked and sounded nothing like the depressed voice he'd heard outside. "Hey Lex, sorry about that. Mom and I were just talking gossip and, well I got distracted."

"It's all right. I was just looking through your family photos on the wall there..." And eavesdropping, and trying to think of what eh fuck was going on with Clark and Lionel.

"I grew tall early," Clark nodded at them. "Like the dinner? "

"It was great." Easy for Lex to say honestly and it was easy for him to smile when he said it. "There really is nothing quite as good as a home-cooked meal."

"Mom cooks the best, and her pies are famous. At least in Smallville." Clark sat down comfortably opposite him. "So, what did you think of the article Pete showed us? I can head up into the woods tomorrow and try and track down this Kyle Tippet guy."

He let his eyes drift, touching on nick-knacks and Martha in the background, tidying away dishes that they'd already cleaned. "I'd like to go with you when you do it. It's a fascinating coincidence that they were in Smallville with the meteors crashed."

"Mmmm not that much of a coincidence," Clark replied. "We've seen some weird shit here."

"So you keep telling me, but I haven't seen any of it in person yet. I'll have to fall back on the stories that you and my father imply when you talk about Smallville."

Clark shrugged. "Smallville? Reads like a bad edition of the Inquirer. Seriously. Mutations a plenty. Like I said, some people blame the plant, but if you look into it, it's the kryptonite. "

Green kryptonite; Lex had neither seen nor heard of a red variety, not in all of his time down in R&D. "Well, we do run tests with it in R&D..."

"Yeah. I know," Clark said a little uncomfortably. "And Garner used it too. I've seen people use it for all sorts of crazy things around here. Like for a tattoo ink. Seemed to do weird things to the people tattoo so they could phase through walls and stuff."

Tattoo ink that let people phase through walls? "That doesn't make any logical sense."

"Told you. Inquirer type stuff," Clark said with another shrug. "All I know is that a lot of the weird changes that have happened have a lot to do with either their state of mind, or their situation when they are exposed. I guess now you know why your father is interested in it."

Lex took a slow sip of his coffee, and then rubbed his hand over his scalp. "It's certainly enough to make one wonder. If the substance is so unsafe..." Then what had he really been risking when he'd allowed Garner to submerge him?

"But it does seem to confer amazing abilities. Only... a fair few of the people who've had exposure go off the rails," Clark replied. He was taking a risk, and he knew it but his Mom had been right. There wasn't any other chance aside from Lex and he could at least provide him with some of the pieces. "Some don't though. What I'm thinking though is that Kyle and Bob being trapped in the same car during that time. Odds are they were affected. How I don't know, but I'm thinking Kyle might have a clue."

"And since they were there at the same time, getting the same exposure, do you think that they'd have a similar... mutation?" He toyed with his mug a little, watching Clark's expression. The Kryptonite, clearly, was a huge part of Clark's 'secret'.

"It's possible," Clark answered. "Though they've reacted very differently. One making a huge improbable success of himself and the other becoming a hermit."

"Tell me about this Hermit. Does he ever show up in town?"

"Yeah, he used to. Still comes in for groceries every now and then and to sell his sculptures, or send them to buyers," Clark said. "Think Pete said he had a trailer up there."

"Mm." It was something Lex would have to sleep on to mull through properly. There was a thought, an idea, that was just out of his reach. Rest could maybe bring him closer to it. Maybe. "Then we'll have to explore the woods tomorrow."

"Yeah. You look pretty tired," Clark observed in a way he would never do in front of people in Metropolis. Sleep being for the weak and all that in the business world. "Want me to drive you back to the Castle?"

"I suppose that it's time to trust you driving my car," Lex sighed, mock reluctance as he started to stand up.

"I'll try not to wreck it. Of course now is not the time to mention how many times I totaled the family truck when I was younger is it?" Clark said sound amused. "Mom, we're going to head back up to the Castle. Hopefully we'll try and come around tomorrow again?"

"Mrs. Kent, thank you for a wonderful meal. I've appreciated the hospitality you've extended tonight." Lex set the coffee cup down on a coaster, smiling a little as Martha came around the corner.

"I'm glad you liked it," she smiled, looking at them both for a moment. "You boys be careful, okay? Drive safely."

"Say bye to Dad from us. Hopefully I'll get a chance to speak to him tomorrow," Clark said hugging his Mom gently. "The food was great Mom."

She hugged him back, while Lex moved to grab their coats. "You'd better leave before I make you take something with you for the drive."

"Yeah, even though it's only a few minutes up the road," Clark said and broke away reluctantly. "Okay, I get to play chauffeur now. Another valuable skill for my resume."

Lex's lips twitched as he shrugged his coat on. "I don't want to know what that says about my resume, since I've been driving you around Metropolis for weeks."

"I think your style of driving entitles you to put 'experienced Race car driver' on your resume," Clark answered taking his coat. See you tomorrow Mom. C'mon Lex, your high speed chariot awaits."

"Don't forget to hug the turns..." Lex moved towards the door, pulling it open. He paused just long enough to give Mrs. Kent one last smile, then slipped out into the darkness.

Martha watched the sleek car reverse and turn and speed away up the track, taking her son away from her. It was obvious, for all of Clark's confusion. She'd seen the way he acted in his presence. Despite everything, despite common sense and logic, and his own tormented situation her son was falling in love. It was like a tragedy waiting to happen, or a triumph. She hoped to God she hadn't been lying earlier. Hope, there was always hope.

There was a hard-cover book lodged against his side, and his finger-tips were dusting the keyboard of his iBook. It had to rank among the least comfortable and most embarrassing ways that Lex had ever woken up. Still dressed in yesterday's clothes, rumpled and groggy after having dozed off in the mansion's gloomy library. He'd been doing research, which was the best excuse a man could have for waking up in a stupid way.

'It was for work! I swear!'

Christ, he probably had lines on his head from sleeping like that.

"Uh-huh. So the 'Yeah I'm going up in 5 more minutes' was a complete lie then?" Clark replied even as he stole the iBook, the ordinary book and put it on the side. "I fetched coffee and breakfast - have some then have a shower or something. What was it that was so enthralling?"

Lex would've had some snappy retort for Clark, if he hadn't been closing his eyes and making a groggy noise as he swung his feet off of the couch. "Phone numbers."

"You cracked into Rickman's phone records?" Clark grinned. "Lex Luthor, computer hacker... find anything?"

"Looking at phone numbers for two hours is really boring," Lex yawned, covering his mouth. Morning breath was horrible and twice as bad when he thought that about his own. "Just look over them -- there's a pattern. I'm going to... mmmn, wash up and then come back." He started to stand, and cracked his back a little too easily.

"Okay, go ahead," Clark sat down, coffee in his hand already staring at the screen. "I'll see what I can find out."

"You do that..."

It was a measure of how far he could trust Clark that he'd expressly disobeyed his father's command to not let Clark out of his sight, not once, but multiple times, and nothing ill had come of it. He'd let Clark run off to investigate the jumper, he'd let him go on the front porch with his mother, he'd let him have the run of the mansion all night...

And lightning hadn't struck either of them down yet. Lex would've called his father to sneer at him, but the mere act of calling Lionel would've taken some of the joy out of his day.

Still, he hadn't come to any firm conclusion regarding what he had over heard, though the pieces were coming together. What he couldn't work out was why his father seemed to have such a grip on Clark, to the extent of taking over his life.

There was just no-longer any question about why Clark seemed reluctant at times. Because he was. Because Lionel Luthor had taken over his life. His father had his claws into Clark, somehow, and he didn't seem inclined to let him free any time soon.

If Lex was lucky, some sort of revelation would strike him while he was under the shower.

Once Lex was out of the room and he heard the shower turn on - and tried very hard not to think of what that actually meant, Clark shifted into full speed. Lex was a quick reader, but nothing compared to him when he got going. Pages of records that he flicked through, each one sinking indelibly into his memory and stirring a flicker of recognition.

He browsed through lazily, halting as he reached the previous few weeks and started trying to connect why a certain mobile number looked familiar. And a sprinkle of other numbers as well. He sat frozen in place, letting his mind search back using the memory that had developed over the years to fullest advantage. He had almost perfect recall and he had seen those numbers before, some time recently.

It was taking him much longer to search his memory than it was to have read the entire contents. His attention focused on the mobile. It made him think of sex for some reason - and he knew damn well that wasn't him. He hadn't been laid in a long time even with the RedK. The closest he had been to sex recently had been the voyeurism when he had been watching Lex and Nick Garner... And there it was, the answer. A perfect sense memory of seeing Garners mobile on the cabinet of the bed, with those numbers showing. Garner contacting Rickman?

Wasn't that an unpleasant idea? The two of them in cahoots? Maybe even mind-controlling cahoots. Maybe that's where Rickman got his skill from, from Garner. Maybe...

A lot of maybe and looking at it, a spate of calls had occurred between them the previous evening. After Rickman had seen them in town. Quite the cozy pair. It might explain Rickman's abilities only... Garner wasn't that old and Rickman's turn around had occurred not that long after the meteor shower. Hell, Garner would have still been a teenager then. Maybe it had been Rickman as the mentor and Garner the protégé or...something.

He frowned again staring sightlessly into the air as he thought it through.

Would that have worked? He needed to do more research about Garner to see if that were possible, and Garner wasn't the issue at hand. It was Rickman. Except Clark had already learned to always look at every possibility.

His first intuition had been about Kyle Tippet and he was going to go with that but if Garner and Rickman were planning something together it couldn't be good. Perhaps Lex might know more background.

Speaking of Lex...

He tilted his head listening to see if he had finished in the shower.

Water had stopped, but there wasn't much in the moving around department to be spoken of. Maybe he could try peeking through the floor to see...

It was wrong, but he felt a small peek wouldn't harm. He looked through the walls, seeking for Lex's location.

The view wasn't straight up, but it was a rather explicit one. Lex was standing naked in his bathroom, rubbing lotion into his scalp. And Clark's eyes focused firstly on his bare ass.

That should technically have been his cue to retract his sight with a hasty blush. He was blushing a little but he didn't retract his sight. His mom had picked up that he had feelings for Lex, but perhaps she wasn't quite ready to hear how obsessed he was becoming with him.

Yeah, obsessed, he could admit it, even if it was to himself. The way he moved, the pitch of his voice, the scent of him when he was close. The look in his eye, the way he half smiled, or laughed while not laughing. That scar on his lip that he wanted desperately to touch or taste with a fascination that constantly surprise him.

Stalker obsessed Clark Kent. What a sorry piece of existence he was.

Lex was... something else. A-moral, but not in the spiting, evil way that his father was. He did enjoy their work, but it seemed like there were only certain types of it. Only... yeah. He wasn't as easy to classify as 'bad' as his father was. Lex was something else, something complicated, something...

Fucking sexy when he started to spread lotion all... all over his body.

Was his skin that sensitive? There was a thought. Thank god it wasn't a Saturday; he'd be there, with him in a moment throwing himself on him, abandoning any pride he ever had just for a touch or a taste or... Did he know he was being watched and was doing that deliberately?

No. There was no way that Lex could even suspect that he was being watched. That Clark could look through floors. He couldn't, didn't know.

Even though he put a foot on the toilet and bent a little to rub lotion into his ankle, giving Clark a full view of his assets. Unwitting, surely.

Oh, god he wanted that. It had been a long time since he had gotten laid with a man. He wanted him. Wanted him badly, his body totally ignoring his minds protests about Luthor's and did he want to be their slave for life?

Right then he didn't care.

There was sex, sex on fucking legs, standing up there touching himself. Not even sexually. Just watching Lex touch himself was arousing, just like he'd gotten hard enough to hammer nails through steel with his dick when Lex had seduced Garner.

And he could have him. Lex liked him, teased him... Clark knew he could do it.

But maybe a post-RedK Clark would want just the sex, he couldn't do that. And he knew from watching Lex, there had been moments of hesitance. Body to body was one thing, and yeah he could have, he was sure but there was this part of him that wanted more. The lonely part of him. And that would never happen.

Maybe. Unless...

He could trust Lex to help him. Maybe not even then. They'd hardly known each other. And who was he to assume that he had a chance?

Reluctantly he dragged his eyesight away and tried to quell the evidence of his voyeurism by drinking some more coffee and eating a croissant.

This Saturday, he was not going to spend the time locked away. Lionel had nothing big to punish him for, and he would be as horny as hell once he was 'allowed' out. He made a mental vow to take himself to the most depraved club he knew and just....try and get it out of his system.

It would help, a little. Getting laid would take stress off, and getting laid would be even better if he knew he wouldn't have anything else to do for the rest of the week. If they really did get that vacation time...

Eventually, Lex came back down, dressed and ready to face the day.

Clark looked up. "Hey, I managed not to eat most of the croissants," he announced. "And I've been looking over these numbers. You're right, there is something weird here."

"Good. Glad to see that we agree," Lex drawled, reaching to pick up a croissant while he sat down beside Clark. "This is a suspicious pattern of people to have been in contact with."

"This number," Clark said as he had to move close to share the screen. "I remember this number. It's Garner's personal mobile."

Lex chewed a bite of croissant while he read it. "Mmm, it looks familiar to me. How did you recognize that, though, Clark?"

"Snooped around his room when I was following you. Saw it on his cabinet - wasn't locked and the number was showing," Clark replied easily. "And I have a good memory. The interesting thing is there were several calls between Rickman and that number last night. Something's up."

"Very recently up," Lex murmured. "I need to look into this. And track down some of these other numbers..."

"Look, why don't I find this Kyle guy on my own? If they are planning something we can cover more ground working independently," Clark said. "I can check him out and then hopefully by then you will have gotten a handle on what Rickman and Garner are up to?"

Lex looked at Clark from the corner of his eyes, and leaned to move through the phone-number listening a little. It didn't matter if he leaned into Clark to do it. "All right. I'll try to track down the rest of these numbers, too. I trust you to find Kyle and get back in one piece, all right?"

"Gotcha boss." Clark grinned. "I'll check in as soon as I have something okay?" He waited a moment and then reluctantly got up, checking he had his mobile. "Won't be more than a couple of hours I reckon. I see you then."

And with that he turned and walked with a strange amount of care out of the room. His attempts to distract himself had been only partially successful.

Lex had stayed on the sofa after Clark's departure, but he'd started into his own coffee and breakfast, and was still drinking his second cup of coffee by the time that he'd started to hit really major revelations about Rickman's allies. If he didn't know better -- and he didn't, not for sure -- Lex would've been tempted to say that it was a trap. Rickman had a lot of contact with people who had serious grudges against the Luthors. And so had Garner.

The fact that activity had been increasing steadily over the past few weeks between all of them was also highly suspicious. There were groups, who on the surface had nothing to do with one another and who had done a halfway decent job of covering their tracks. Not good enough to get past him, but good none the less.

Very, very good. Lex paused in his research, and rubbed a hand over his eyes. Sleeping on the sofa hadn't been good enough for him, apparently. And he'd let Garner reel him in, too. Fuck with his head, and sometimes... Sometimes Lex had to wonder what had been done to him. What he'd lost and why he still remembered things in trickles, here and there.

He was somewhat startled from his contemplations to hear a slight knock at the door and then out of nowhere, Bob Rickman walked in. He should not have been able to get anywhere near him! Let alone walk in on him. "Kind of you to see me Lex, your security Darius said it would be fine to come straight up after we had a little talk. I do hope this is convenient?"

"Well, the bad news is that you're wrong," Lex replied, looking up at Rickman while he powered down his laptop. "So why don't you turn around and escort yourself out again?"

"I only wanted a brief word with you that's all," Rick said genially as he approached. "I want to build a plant in Smallville and frankly Lex - I hope you don't mind me calling you that - frankly you are my only hope of doing so. You have the best site on your estate and I'd be willing to pay over the odds to secure it."

"I mind you calling me anything at all," was his smiled response as he leaned back in his chair like a king. "Do you really think that my family needs money?"

"They say once you have a taste for it, you can never get enough," Rickman rested on the desk. "I'm sure we can strike a deal Lex. What's to lose for you? A few acres of useless land, that's all. You get a nice profit, I get the land and we're all happy."

Lex turned his head a little to peer out the window. "I've got a nice view right now. I think I'll keep it. That seems worth any money I might gain in dealing with you."

"Lex, Lex, Lex...where's that Luthor business instinct that is the scourge of Metropolis?" Rickman shifted just a little closer. Even if he could get his hand he just needed to be close to lunge and make skin contact

Lex sat up a little straighter, and took another sip of his coffee, watching Rickman's face. "It seems like it's being the scourge of your life, Rickman."

"Surely we can come to some sort of amicable agreement?" Rickman asked smiling pleasantly. If he couldn't get him to shake hands he would just try for his neck or face - that would work

"No, we can't." Rickman just didn't seem to be able to handle a man telling him 'no'. "I'm not selling anything to you."

"Well you can't blame a man for trying can you?" Bob Rickman was still smiling as he proffered his hand. "No hard feelings heh?"

He didn't trust that. Couldn't trust the man. Lex pointedly didn't raise a hand to shake Rickman's. "No, I think there are hard feelings. I'd like you to get off of my property."

Bob shrugged lower his hand slowly watching Lex follow that hand. "Well that is a shame..." he began even as he swung around with his other hand to reach and grip around Lex's face and neck. He had no time for finesse. The profit in this deal depended on doing this today; otherwise he would have maneuvered him a little more carefully.

It wasn't easy that way, because it wasn't as if people didn't fight back when he had to do that. Lex kicked out sharply, catching Bob in the groin as he threw his hot coffee at Bob's face.

"Damn you fucking..." Bob only just managed to keep contact long enough to feel that rush of connection, the glow and then the feeling of complete control. "I should make you pour that fucking coffee over yourself you bastard!"

Lex made a non-committal noise, even under Bob's control. He'd been a hard one to get where Bob wanted him, but finally...

He held him a little while longer just to be sure. "Lex, you are a stubborn one, it's true - but who can blame you? Enemies on every side. Is there anyone you can trust except me? There isn't is there? That's okay, I'm here to help you now... to make all these problem disappear. Now just wait a moment while I make a call and then we'll go about putting the world to rights hmm?"

He withdrew his hand and then took his phone out dialing Garner's number and waiting impatiently for the pick up. "I have him," he said by way of a greeting. "Our deal is as good as done. I just want the details."

"Did you manage to get the body guard as well?" Garner said sharply. " He would make the ideal fall guy."

"No, I tried but he seems to be naturally immune." Rickman reported watching the still figure of Lex carefully.

"I thought no one was immune?" Garner asked.

"Yeah, well so did I until then," Rickman was non-committal. "So, what do you and your...clients want? I want that fee and I still get the deal for the meteor rock on that site as well right?"

"Yes, yes... Okay, the bodyguard is a problem - a loose end. He might be able to link this back to us so we have to get rid of him as well. Turn Luthor loose on him, make him believe that he was an agent of his father or something and once he has killed him, send him after his father and then have him commit suicide. Tie up all the loose ends."

"Right, I'll call back when it is done." Rickman hung up and looked at Lex. "Lex, I want you to listen very carefully. Clark Kent, your bodyguard. He's really an assassin sent by you father to kill you. To worm his way close to you and then strike... you understand that?"

For a moment, Lex looked uncomfortable with the insinuation; but then he nodded, slowly. "Yes..."

"In fact, the reason I came here was to tell you that he has been told he must kill you today. He's out there preparing it right now. You can't have that can you? You have to defend yourself Lex, you have a right to do that," Rickman touched him again. He really did have a natural resistance to persuasion but he could put him right in it. "And what's the best defense Lex?"

"Getting in the first hit." Lex lifted his head a little, looking at Rickman, like he was waiting for more.

"Precisely. Now, where did Kent go?" Bob asked.

"He went to see Kyle Tippet. In the woods."

A disaster or an opportunity there. A way to tidy up his own loose ends and be paid for it. Lex Luthor, on a rampage with some heavy weaponry. Even if he didn't get through Lionel Luthors security to kill him, he would be effectively 'dead' in reputation and with any luck, as long as he wasn't shocked out of it, dead by his own hand. "Lex, Kyle is in on it too. A co-conspirator," he informed his subject. "I want you to call Kent, and get him to bring Kyle to a deserted garage on the edge of town. Say you've found out that Kyle is in danger and you want to meet and get him to safety. We'll try and make it look like an accident first but we'll have back up. When you've done that, you will be so enraged at your father, you will head directly to Metropolis and kill him. When you have done that you will realize you were wrong, and be so overwhelmed with remorse that you will kill yourself. Understand?"

A nod, even though the man's eyes didn't look as clear as they had been previously. "Yes. I understand..."

"Call him. Everything will be normal except you know in reality what they are up to and you will conceal your plan from them," Rickman responded. "And before we go, you will sign this contract, signing over the Luthor land to Rickman Industries."

"Yes..." Lex shifted in his chair, willing and able to do whatever Rickman wanted him to do.

Lex was leaning against the side of his car, waiting, looking for sight of either Clark of the 'Kyle' person. Just like he'd told Clark he'd be.

"See, I told you, you could trust him," Clark reassured the older man. "If he says there is a problem with Rickman coming after you, he means it."

Kyle still looked wary. "I told you what Bob can do, what I can do. Clark, you can't underestimate how powerful this ability is. Too powerful."

"Well Lex is there, he's on his own, and we're on the very edge of town. If you don't like what he has to say, you can take off again okay?" Clark replied. It had taken some pretty persuading on his part to even get this far. It had only taken him minutes to find Kyle after all.

"I'll hold you to that," Kyle answered and got out of the truck as did Clark.

"Lex, I brought him here as you said," Clark said. "What's the deal with Rickman?"

"Kyle there knows about his past," Lex said, moving away from his car. "And Rickman is scared of that. He wants anyone who knows about his past to die -- and that includes us, Clark. I think we need to head back to the castle, regroup, and form a plan of attack."

"Is he watching the Castle or something?" Clark asked believing everything Lex said, completely.

"Wouldn't surprise me. He's been watching the woods since he started looking around here. He knows I'm here." Kyle said. "What sort of thing do you have in mind?"

Lex shifted a little, hands in his pocket. "Tell the truth, I don't have a plan yet. I was hoping that you'd be able to tell me more about Rickman so I can see the broader picture. There isn't much time to waste, though. I... He talked me into signing over the castle. I'm not sure how he did it, but..."

"He got to you already?" Kyle asked. "Damn, he's not wasting time. You were lucky to get out when you did - he'll probably have your entire staff turned against you by now. Maybe we shouldn't go back there."

"That's a good point Lex," Clark said. "Maybe we should go somewhere... like, either Metropolis or home to our farm."

"I don't want your parents getting involved in this," Lex murmured. "But Metropolis might be a good idea. Or even driving around town until I can think of something to do. Why don't you two get in?"

Clark nodded even as he opened the passenger door for Kyle and the man got in. He paid only the barest attention when he got in to Lex moving around to the other side of the car. There was nothing unusual about that. Lex was going to drive, that was all.

"If Rickman already got to your friend, Clark, then we don't know who else he'd gotten to. If..." Kyle trailed off. There was something liquid running over the windows on all sides, viscous and clear.

"What the hell?" Clark twisted to look round at Lex. "Shit, I think he's still under the influence. I just assume that...the Castle was the thing. Get out, get out Kyle!"

"Get out? He locked us in..." Kyle fumbled with the lock to pull it up, but panic was clearly getting to him.

While Lex emptied the can, tossed it aside, and then flipped a match at his car.

Flames roared up and Clark decided discretion was not an option. "Hold on, I'll get us out." He pushed at the door and it popped open as the catch broke and he stepped out into fire. Ignoring it, he yanked the entire passenger door off and grabbed Kyle and almost threw him out over the fire. "Run, get inside the building!"

It didn't take long for Kyle to run into the building ahead of Clark. "Jesus, Rickman's been getting better at that..."

"What do I do to stop him? How can I stop him?" Clark asked desperately as he blurred in behind him. "Can he be snapped out of it?"

"Sometimes," Kyle panted. "Sometimes. If you can bring yourself to hurt him, you might be able to snap him out of it. Physical shock usually breaks it -- otherwise, I'd bet that he has a string of orders from Rickman and we're just one on a list."

"Crap," Clark said succinctly looking for somewhere to hide Kyle. Could he hurt Lex? And what was that going to do to him when Lionel found out. He could think about that now.

Outside, Rickman drew up in his truck and got out. "You better get after them Lex," he said in a warning tone. "Some friends leant us some heavy weaponry. Machine gun, armor piercing explosive shells. That should make sure it done right?" He wiped his fingerprints off and passed it over to Lex.

It would also make Lex look irrationally violent.

Nothing screamed 'psychopath on the rampage' like an Uzi.

"I'll get it done right," Lex promised, stalking slowly towards the garage. Once he'd slipped inside, it was easy for him to spot the two he was seeking, peering around abandoned car bodies and old stacks of tires. "C'mon out, Clark. It's about time that we had a heart to heart talk, huh?"

"Lex, you don't want to do this. It's Rickman! Try and shake it off!" Clark called out, trying to sneak Kyle around a half gutted car and back out. "Try and get to your truck"

"My father hired you to kill me. Wasn't that the plan? Kill me, get my job, and take my life from me?" Lex fired a couple of shots, quick and unaimed.

"Shit!" Clark ducked down. "No, Lex. I'm here to protect you!"

They were pinned down, and there was clear space between them and the side exit. He turned urgently to Kyle. "On my mark, run for the exit, I'll cover you."

Kyle looked incredulous. "But you don't have a weapon! How the hell can you cover me?"

"Trust me. You worry about getting out, I'll worry about Lex," Clark said. "Ready? Go!"

"Protect me from what? What CAN you protect me from? Your own damned secrets?"

Kyle was practically shoved out and Clark put himself in between Lex and him, turning to see where he was. He had to work a way of snapping him out of it without hurting him too much. "Stop this Lex! I am on YOUR side!"

"There's only one person on my side, and that's me." And then Lex pulled the trigger, spraying bullets at Clark.

He heard Kyle yelp behind him, even as the first bullet hit. Ordinary bullets bounced off him now, but these which exploded on impact, hard enough to pierce through any body amour thumped into him jolting him off balance. Damn, they were going to sting! So much for standing up. Even as Kyle made it out the door, he went down, twisting as he fell to take the brunt of it on his back.

Lex stopped shooting when Clark fell, lowering the gun a little. "There's just me on my side."

"No..." Clark coughed a little and tried to push himself up. "There isn't Lex. I won't turn on you...please, just... put down the gun."

"I can't. You have to die." It didn't sound like Lex, not exactly. He started to fire again, aiming to shoot at Clark's shoulders.

Okay, he could do this, he could get up and walk through this firestorm and stop Lex. "Lex..." Bullets exploded and splashed against him, tearing his clothes to shreds, making him flinch. He was used to pain, too used to it. "Lex, stop this. This isn't you; I know...it's not you..." He reached for the gun, to take it from him.

It was easy for Clark to succeed, too. It wasn't as if Lex had super strength to go with the mind-washing; once Clark got the gun, he made a desperate noise and tried to get it. "You can't, you can't, you and father and me need to die..."

"No, you don't," Clark said in a gentle tone. "Lex, I'm... really sorry I have to do this but..." He jabbed the butt of the gun back at Lex's ribs, to make him let go, and then used the gun to swing around to catch the side of Lex's head on the principle it was probably less dangerous than hitting him with a punch. "I'm really sorry."

The blow to the head dropped Lex like a stone. Hopefully whenever he woke up, he'd be all right. That just left the problem of Rickman and making sure Kyle was okay...

Clark turned, about to blur into speed when he heard the gunshot. He was outside in a moment and hesitated as he heard Kyle mutter, "I always was the better salesman Bob."

"He...you turned it around on him?" Clark asked as he stepped closer.

Kyle took a step back from Rickman's body and the pool of blood that was growing. "He had to be stopped."

There might have been a time when Clark would have flinched from that but not now. "Right. Kyle, you better get out of here. I'll deal with Lex and this. Fuck, I'm going to be in trouble for hitting him."

"You saved his life, Clark," Kyle pointed out. But he did start to walk to his truck. "I was glad I could help you. And help myself."

"You don't have to be afraid of what you can do Kyle, not any more," Clark replied. "You've proven you can control it. Just... look, I'd offer financial help, but if you know what's good for you, you'll stay away from LuthorCorp. And I know you can."

"I appreciate the offer, but I'll be fine on my own," Kyle smiled, the expression tired and lopsided. "I know how to steer clear of people to stay safe. Have a good life, Clark Kent..." He moved towards the truck, and then got in.

"Yeah. A good life." Clark sighed a moment and got out his phone to start making calls for a LuthorCorp style clean up. And then he was taking his unconscious boss home.

Where hopefully they could piece things together between themselves. Lex was going to be pissed about his car.

He just hoped what Kyle had told him was true; that Lex wouldn't remember anything because though Lex was going to be pissed about the car, Lionel was going to be even worse about Lex. He just hoped he could postpone the evil day at least another week.

Knowing that he could establish an alibi for Lex and himself back at the castle that would theoretically make it impossible for them to have been anywhere near there, Clark opted to carry Lex home and left an additional note for the half destroyed car to vanish completely as well. By the time Lex woke up, he would be back at the castle, Rickman would be out of the picture and found somewhere less connected with them and all evidence of this meeting covered up or destroyed. He'd use a simple cover story that Lex had had a simple car accident and that would explain the bruising, and the absence of the car. With that he collected Lex and taking a deep breath, turned towards the Castle and...ran.

Waking up with aches like that meant one of two things. Either really rough sex, or he'd been beat up. Lex was in a comfortable bed, which was a good sign, but he was alone, which was a bad sign. A shift proved the comfort of the mattress and the ache in his ribs to match his throbbing skull.

Lex really hoped that he hadn't been kidnapped.

"Hey." That voice at least sounded familiar even as the door opened. "Good timing, I was coming in to check on you. Brought you some painkillers and a drink." Clark approached the bed carefully, pulling up a chair. "How you feeling?"

Lex started to sit up, grimacing at the way his ribcage hurt. "Sore. What happened?"

"Take your painkillers first," Clark said pushing them over with the glass of water. "You've got some painful bruises there. Sorry about that. Mom sent up some of her patented ointment. It's good stuff, but I haven't put it on you yet."

Lex reached for and took the two pills into his hand, but didn't take them. "I'd still like to know what happened," he half-demanded, looking at the numbers on the pills. Familiar, at least, so he popped them.

"I just wanted to make sure you were with it," Clark sounded apologetic. "Uh, well as far as I can figure, Rickman got to you. What is the last thing you remember?"

"He..." Lex's eyebrows furrowed for a moment, as he dug back in time to try to remember what was the last thing he'd done. "He... grabbed my head with one hand and I threw my coffee on him. And then..." He gestured loosely to the space around them. "This."

"Okay, well I found Kyle and he told me that both he and Bob had come out of that meteor experience with the ability to persuade people of anything as long as they could touch them. " Clark began. "So he must have gotten to you because the next thing I knew is that you called me, told me to bring Kyle to a small garage on the edge of town because Rickman was after him. We got there, we talked a bit about regrouping and we got in the car...and you tried to torch it with us in it."

Lex knew he had to be staring at Clark as he explained that. It seemed so damned far-fetched, even for... Smallville. Mind control through touch? Except that Rickman had kept trying to shake his hand, and then he'd gone for Lex's head. It... was possible. "Go on."

"I managed to force the lock and get Kyle and me out and we ran for the garage. You came after us with an Uzi provided by Rickman," Clark glossed over some of the details. "We played cat and mouse a bit in there, and Kyle told me that I had to knock you out to break the persuasion so I went after you, and he made it outside. I'm really sorry Lex, I managed to get the gun off of you by jabbing your ribs and hitting you around the head. That's my handiwork."

"That's fine -- go on. Then what? What happened after you knocked me out?" It was a blimp in the grand scheme of things, and for the moment, Lex didn't seem to care that it had even happened. "Where's Rickman now?"

"Dead. I went outside to find that Kyle had turned out to be a stronger persuader. Rickman had shot himself." Clark grimaced. "That was his plan for you. You told me you had to kill me, Kyle your father and then yourself."

"It would've made the situation clean, wouldn't it?" Lex exhaled, and drank a few sips of water. "So I missed the exciting part again. This is starting to get very disappointing, Clark."

"Sorry," Clark smiled a little. "He made you sign a contract - I destroyed it. I called in a clean up team, got you back here. Officially, you had a minor car accident okay? In case anyone notices the absence of the car - which is toast, and the bruises. Kyle has...gone. "

"Left of his own free will, I hope?" Lex watched Clark's facial expression. Or, Lionel Luthor had swooped down on the man and claimed him as a prize.

"Yes. Away clean," Clark agreed. "That's about it. I asked Mom if she thought I should get some medical help for you, but she couldn't see a sign of a bad concussion so she said you would be stiff and sore but okay. But to keep an eye on you and you're not to do much for at least 24 hours."

"Your mother must have a lot of experience with impromptu injuries," Lex smiled somewhat. "I owe you a thanks, Clark. I'm still probably going to rip your official report to shreds for details, but, thanks."

"Sure, I'd expect nothing less," Clark replied easily. "But I'm just glad you're not going to kick my butt over me nearly giving you a concussion."

He hesitated a moment. "You seemed to think I was an assassin put there by your father to kill you, and take your place."

"Maybe that was what Rickman told me to get me to go after you." Except for the 'take his place' part, which was wholly from the fabric of Lex's mind. Clark was good. Twice out of the last two big jobs he'd been rendered helpless or unconscious, and Clark had saved the day. It was making his previously spotless track record look like shit, and him look like the biggest slouch to ever work for LuthorCorp.

"Yeah, well that seemed like the only bit of it that you believed. That and the stuff about being alone," Clark replied. "I just wanted to check you knew there's not chance of any of that. I'm not after your job. And I don't want you dead..."

And in each of the last two big jobs, Clark had apparently gotten a chance to pry deeper into Lex's psyche than Lex liked. "Clark, did my father happen to hire you because you also have some mind-reading capability?"

Clark laughed. "No Lex. That's something I'm usually really bad at."

He offered the empty water glass back to Clark, but kept his eyes on the other man's face. "You keep saying that, but you've managed to find out more about me than most people can do in years."

"Maybe they haven't really been looking at you," Clark said even as he broke the eye contact and put the glass down. "You want some of this ointment stuff on?"

"Am I going to end up smelling like a horse?"

Maybe they haven't really been looking at him. People looked at him all the time. And Clark hadn't ever seemed to be much different from the rest in that respect. He had clear distaste for Lex half of he time, the rest... it was fuzzy. Unclear.

"More like a cow," Clark grinned as he got out the salve. "But that's okay, this is Smallville. People are very fond of cows here."

"Well, that's a small mercy. I guess I'll have to cope with the cow smell." Lex moved to take off his pajamas shirt.

"It draws the bruise out quickly," Clark said as he helped Lex as if every trainee executive did this sort of duty. "Dad hates doctors, so Mom has found ways over the years of dealing with the sort of stupid stuff men can do to themselves on the farm. In self defense. Tractor fell on dad's leg once and broke it - he was unbearable as a patient."

"I hope he got it set at the hospital." Just thinking about having a broken leg, untended to at least some degree. "Even the best healing people need someone to put it in the right place, after all."

"Yeah, we took him. And then he insisted on being discharged as soon as possible and making havoc all around the farm." Clark took a generous swipe of the cream and then very very carefully started to smooth it on. "We checked to see if you had a cracked rib or anything but you were okay. Sorry about the poking and prodding at least."

Lex leaned back and closed his eyes. "I guess it's better than shooting myself in the head, hmn? You know, I think you're taking the bodyguard 'cover' too seriously."

"Hey, I prefer that part of the role," Clark replied. "Your wellbeing is pretty important to me."

He didn't open his eyes when he pressed the question, "But, why?"

Clark went quiet for a moment. "I don't know. Just is." He shrugged and then added half heartedly. "I would definitely be persona non grata if I let you get killed wouldn't I?"

"Possibly." Lex opened his eyes a little, trying to not think about strong fingers rubbing their way over his chest. "I know that you don't want to be at LuthorCorp."

Clark went silent a moment. "Really?" he said in a level voice.

"Mmhm. You don't have to deny it. I'm pretty sure that my father already knows what he's doing -- it isn't as if I'm going to tell him, Clark. But given that you don't want to be there... you do a lot of good things."

Clark exhaled slowly. "When it comes to saving a life it's not exactly a tough call Lex,"

"You'd be surprised to hear how many people do find it a tough call. But it shouldn't be, should it?" Lex closed his eyes. "You're a good person. I think you need to hear more people tell you that."

"Depends how much you value the opinion," Clark said sound a little surprised. "But, thanks. Here, let me just do your face here, and I'll let you rest."

"I'm hardly tired," Lex murmured. "But... what time is it?" The thick curtains were pulled tightly shut, so it was hard to gauge looking out towards them.

"Coming up to midnight," Clark said. "I'll admit I was getting worried but your body seemed to want the rest. Mom thought you might not have been sleeping well recently."

The edges of Lex's mouth twitched a little. "Did the sofa tip you off this morning? So, it's still Wednesday?"

"Just. No wait...no. Thursday." Clark said looking at his watch as it ticked past midnight. "Looks like we might just get a bit of a vacation after all."

"Shy of two weeks, but not bad." Lex closed his eyes as Clark stopped rubbing the not too bad smelling ointment into his skin. "Go home to your family, Clark."

"No Lex, I can't leave you alone here." Clark replied firmly. "That's not an option."

"Why not?"

"Because you are in danger. End of story. The only way I go home, is if you come with me," Clark replied.

"But I'm not in danger," Lex countered. "Rickman is dead, and I'm physically fine."

"But Garner isn't dead and there is every reason to suspect Rickman was a front man. I'm staying with you and when I have to go back to Metropolis for the weekend you should have increased security," Clark said seriously.

"Mmhm. Because my security did a damn good job fending off Rickman." Lex closed his eyes again. "Why are you going back this weekend, anyway?"

Clark looked uncomfortable. "A ... meeting," he said finally.

"Gambling debts?" Lex asked off the top of his head. "You don't have to tell me. But even after the weekend, Clark, you'll still have a full week of vacation to yourself. Your parents aren't getting any younger, and you should spend time with them."

"I... don't really get vacations. I'll be assigned to be with you I expect," Clark said. "If it were up to me Lex, I'd tell you but I can't okay?"

"Okay. So you'd be all right if I took my vacation time here in Smallville?" Which wasn't exactly his first choice of places to blow a week, but. Clark had saved his life a couple of times and it was the least that he owed the man. Plus, time spent with him might bring him closer to seeing what was going on with Clark.

Clark looked so surprised it was almost comical. "You'd... you'd do that?"

"Sure. I told you that I wanted to catch up on my reading," Lex dismissed blithely.

"Well, sure. That would be great if you don't mind?" Clark asked, studying him carefully.

"I suggested it, didn't I?" Lex opened one eye a little. "I'm all right, Clark. You can go get your rest."

"...Thanks. If you need something, just yell or something," Clark said getting up. "And take it easy."

""Hey, after a car accident, a man knows to rest," Lex winked, a little sleepily.

That got a grin that settled into an almost shy smile even as Clark left the room. He was sending out so many mixed signals it was impossible to work out what he was genuinely thinking and feeling.

There was how Clark actually acted, and then there was... what he'd said to his mother. Lex shifted a little, and buttoned up his pajama shirt before slumping down in the pillows. Well, two men could play at keeping secrets; when Lex woke up in the morning, there'd hardly be a mark on him.

They'd returned to Metropolis after two languid days on the Kent farm -- Clark with his parents, Lex in a corner with his laptop, cell phone, coffee, food, and a couple of books. It had been a little awkward, but if Lex had to admit it, it had probably been the most relaxing vacation that he'd ever taken.

Of course, all that time with Clark, and having no sexual outlet had left him with one major plan for the weekend.

He was going to slip off his substitute bodyguards and put on his club gear and head for the deepest darkest heart of the Metropolis Club scene. To Clubs where practically setting foot in the door was the equivalent of announcing that a good fuck was the order of the day - the wilder the better.

The sort of sex that you felt for days later, the sort of fuck that made your muscles hurt in a good way. Some men there played themselves up with leather and gaudy clothes, but Lex had given that up back when he was a teen; it just wasn't a good look for him. It wasn't who he was. He wasn't physically menacing, and he wasn't a leather-wrapped cockslut.

There were times when he appreciated that look on others and he was on the hunt tonight for something...satisfying. Something he hadn't found at the first two clubs at least for all their pounding music and flesh under flickering lights. There should have been something there to tempt him, but they were all fighting a collection of fantasies in his head. Metropolis was full of beautiful people out for a good time, but he moved through the crowds finding only the barest of distractions.

One last Club. If he couldn't find someone here...

Well. He was going to find someone there, whether it was what he was looking for or not. Something to fuck or be fucked by, with a certain look. A certain... tall, dark-haired, strong look. If he could just find someone with a hint of that look about them, Lex would've been satisfied. If just the jawbone was right, or the sharp cheeks, or... something. Something to make the coming week easier to get through without dropping too many embarrassing hints.

There was someone over in the dark flickering corners of the club, surrounded by a knot of people. Tall, with fine dark hair. That was a start.

Perhaps he was with someone. Not that he would worry about that.

It wouldn't be the first time that the lure of Lex Luthor had gotten a man to ditch his date for the evening. And if it didn't, then the guy wasn't worth his time in having, was he? No. So Lex let himself relax as he walked to slip through the crowd of people, feeling the music throbbing in his pulse.

He was more than half way there when the man turned as if realizing someone's attention was fixed on him. Dark green eyes locked on his suddenly and there was a strange wild look in them that he hadn't seen before even as he stepped forward into his path.

It shouldn't be him. It was hard to believe it was him.

Dressed like that.

Dressed like... Lex might've, when he was a kid. Leather and chains, a purposefully ragged black shirt, little strips of red here and there. Even with the clothes, it was definitely Clark, even if he looked different in the eyes. "Hey..."

"Hey Lex," Clark moved closer and he was most definitely prowling closer, even as the flashing light glinted off the chains. "I thought your standards were higher than this?"

"Then I guess we're both in for a surprise today -- I thought your standards were women." Lex didn't take another step backwards, but instead glanced around the men who'd been looking at Clark, trying to get his attention. They were outclassed, worse because Clark knew Lex. Everything would be smooth if Clark decided to not be psychotic and if all of Clark's admirers just backed off.

Clark smirked, looking him over stepping closer again. "I'm open to all possibilities... Do you like what you see Lex? Hmm?"

He liked what he saw, liked the heat that he could feel coming off of the other man's skin. "I see an opportunist, Clark -- and you know how much I like opportunity."

Except. It wasn't quite the Clark he'd spent the last few days with. It was Monday morning Clark. Maybe Clark had a weekend drug habit? He'd hinted as much to his mother.

"I know all about Luthor's and opportunity," Clark replied in a near growl, tension twisting him and then just as swiftly flooding back into naked desire. "Have you been watching me? Wanting me? How many times have you looked at me and wanted to do more than just tell me to shut up?"

"Daily. More than that..." Lex breeched the space between them, stepping forwards and hooking a hand into one of the rather decorative chains that was serving as a belt.

"I watch you.. .I watched you with Garner. I could see...you played it well but that not what you want is it? Do you ever do what you want Lex?" Clark's voice was low and he moved, and swayed just a little so the chain tugged and slid a little in Lex's hand. "Do you ever find someone you trust enough to do what you want? Who would do that and anything you asked?"

Maybe Clark could read minds. Lex tugged at the chain, pulling him closer. "And you think that's you?" He could have him, have him and... then what? It was always easier to watch someone from afar than it was to have a one night stand and then never go anywhere past that. It took the taste of hope from his mouth when things went that way.

But once was better than nothing.

"It could be." There was a heat pouring off of his skin. "Might as well make it all official right? You're dangerous to me. Dangerous and...I...like that."

His emerald eyes glinted again. "I'd give in to you where I had fought passionately to stop this happening elsewhere. But you are different.... I'll gamble everything on you being different because otherwise I'm making this..."

And he moved one of Lex's hands up, covered by his own to the chain that linked to the decorative collar around his neck, "I've made this into the real thing. And you know something? Right now... Right now I don't care."

A chain. He was... Lex couldn't let his hormones run roughshod over some spur of the moment symbolism in their conversation. Clark was 'giving' Lex his chain, which after the talk that he'd eavesdropped on at the Kent house could very much have been real. He pulled at the chain a little, but didn't bring his hand free of Clark's. "Let's get out of here."

Clark smiled, a hungry smile holding him there a moment longer, "Your place?" he breathed.

Lex almost offered 'or yours', but. That was how he always did things. Take someone to their own territory and then shake them down. Maybe he was going to get played the other way. With Clark's convoluted ideas about possession and attraction, there was no question that he was hitting all of Lex's buttons. Hard. "My place."

He was Luthor enough to want to own someone, to have them tied to him utterly so he could be sure of never being alone again.

Clark looked very smugly satisfied as he noted the way Lex's hands were lingering at the metal adornments to his waist and off of his throat. "You like the idea don't you?" he very nearly purred as he turned a little to face the club exit.

Lex turned, too, and used the decorative chains to pull Clark forwards a little. "Yes. I've been watching you since I found you in my office..."

"It'll be good," Clark murmured. "The way I'm feeling it'll be fucking spectacular. Just as well there is a week's worth of vacation time coming. Yeah, Mmm... the beds in the Castle are big. You think you can do it for a week? Might disrupt the reading. I'm going to need that long just to take the edge off." He didn't interfere with the grip around the collar but slipped his nearside arm around Lex's back, smoothing around to the hip before resting there.

If he was falling into a trap, it was the best trap that any man had ever fallen into. Clark was right, danger was intoxicating. "I know I can," Lex replied, voice low as he leaned up to Clark, stopping in their walk across the floor. He had to kiss him, right there, and see what the other man's lips tasted like. HAD to.

Clark allowed himself to be tugged down. It would be so easy to break that fragile hold like a cobweb, but he was enjoying seeing the desire in Lex's eye and how it tapped into the dark RedK fueled drives he would fight to deny at any other time. It was dangerous; it was entirely possible Lex's effect on him was what Lionel planned all along. That Lex would seduce him and tame him to be a willing Luthor slave rather than one constantly fighting to get free.

The RedK didn't give a rat's ass for all the convoluted reasoning. He wanted Lex. He wanted it with a primal unreasoning instinct that was evident the moment his lips touched Lex's. He was burning hot and sweet as he forgot totally about everything aside from that lip to lip contact.

It wasn't soft friction -- it was desperate between them, boiling down through Lex's veins as he leaned into Clark and opened his mouth, kissing Clark like he was trying to send the message 'I want sex now'. Whatever drugs Clark was on, he was without inhibitions -- and maybe when his inhibitions rose up again, Lex could use that night, whatever happened, as a foot in the door. A pass card to get back to him again.

They were going to be lucky to get out of the club at this rate. Clark was kissing him as if he was starving for any form of contact and his hands were everywhere, and he seemed to be in no hurry to break the kiss at all.

By the time that they really started to touch, by the time that Lex felt Clark's hips against his own, having sex on a table-top seemed pretty good. Except... no. Not Clark. He didn't want Clark to be seen that way. He wanted Clark as his, not something to be shared with the rest of the place.

Jealousy more than anything else made Lex break the kiss, and pull back. "We're leaving now..."

"Right... Right..." He looked a little dazed and willing to be led. "You drive here?"

"Yeah." From there it was easy to lead Clark out of the place -- the lost over-charge didn't matter just then. It was worth it to have found Clark, of all people, there.

There were a few people watching them leave, some enviously, some with interest. Clark kept trying to kiss at Lex as they walked, not really concentrating on where they were going or anything else except the taste of him, and the feel of him.

And Lex was letting him. Face turned in towards Clark, a hand around Clark's waist, half-kissing him back. The car ride back to Lex's place was going to be a hell of a long one, even with Lex speeding the way that he tended to do. Somehow, he managed to get Clark to turn into the alley that took them back behind the building, to the secondary parking lot. It didn't help his libido that Clark's hand was wandering, touching...

"I'm going to make this the best night you've ever had," Lex murmured a whisper of a promise as he leaned into Clark, jostling their bodies together.

They were too distracted to notice the couple that had come up the alley towards them, and Lex was turning his face into Clark when they both hit him. There was a pain in his face, and a sharper one at the back of his left thigh.

"Lex?! LEX!" Clark's shout was one of panic and then anger and he whirled around to face their attackers, a disturbing flash of red in his eyes. Lex was snatched away from danger abruptly. "Bastards!"

They lunged at Clark, even while Lex sunk down against the wall. He wanted to get to his feet properly and help Clark, but the endorphin rush just wasn't going it well enough.

Clark's movement was a blur, as a knife clanged on the floor, in a bizarre pretzel like state, and he hurled the attackers both back sending them literally flying through the air.

"It's not worth it you stupid fucks!" Clark snarled at them, thinking they were opportunist muggers and seeking only to drive them off.

No reply, no panic, very little shock -- it wasn't what Lex would've done if he'd been on that side of the fight. One of them pulled a gun, aimed, and started to fire not at Clark but at Lex. He saw the muzzle flash, then--

There was a heavy weight on top of him, even as he heard the gun fire several times, and the body on top of him twitched in conjunction with that noise.

"They should both be dead now..."

Lex lay still under the heavy weight, while one of the attackers stood up again, moving towards him... him and Clark?

He was very still on top of him. He couldn't feel him breathing against him even as the footsteps got closer. "Yeah, well. We won't get paid unless we can say for sure. Garner's crowd don't like not being sure. Though four bullets dead on should have it. The armor piercers will have gone through them both."

Maybe they had fucking shit aim. Lex felt dizzy, and the back of his thigh hurt like hell, but he was alive still. But Clark...

"Put a bullet through the Luthor's head, and let's get out of here. Someone will have heard," said one of the voices anxiously.

"Okay, okay..." There was a click and the sensation of someone close and it was then that Clark moved. One moment he was covering Lex, and the next he was standing face to face with their would be assassin, his hand closing over the barrel of the gun, his eyes almost literally blazing as RedK enhanced anger resulted in a surged of heat vision to melt the gun in the other mans hand.

"Oh, Fuck!" The one whose gun Clark had melted dropped the metal, and turned to run, while the first one tried to fire into Clark's hand.

And nothing happened while Lex blearily stared. No burst of bone and blood. Nothing.

"Bad idea. Who sent you?" Clark glared, the glimmer of heat in his eyes. "What was your goal?" He squeezed the gun like soft dough, his inhibitions and caution not functioning.

"We, we, wuh..." Shocked stammers were the only answer. "Kill you, k-kill you both, but..."

"Who sent you?" That hand was very suddenly around his throat not quite squeezing. "Give me an excuse. Give it to me. There's plenty of reasons I should just squeeze. Not the least being you have just REALLY ruined my chances of getting laid. I get irritable when I'm frustrated!"

"Oh, Jesus..." Most paid men turned to cowards in the face of their deaths, and that man wasn't much different from the rest of his type. "Garner. Dr. Garner, it was supposed to be easy..."

"When you wake up, you tell Garner we'll deal with him," Clark growled fighting every instinct he had to just squeeze. Instead with a muffled noise of irritation he flexed his muscles and hurled him against the wall, to let him collapse unconscious.

Then he was just there, back with Lex, looking at him. "I need to get you to a hospital," he said, fingertips touching the sticky blood on his face and then looking down to find his thigh.

"Too much hassle," Lex protested, voice hardly a gasp as he laid there, looking at Clark. "Back to the penthouse... I use a... private doctor..."

"How much have you seen?" Clark asked even as he lifted Lex up. "What have you seen?"

That was Clark's big secret, wasn't it? He was... one of them. The type of person that only seemed to happen in Smallville. But a Kyle Tippet instead of a Bob Rickman. "Everything..."

"In that case, fuck the damn car. Hold on," Clark said getting his bearings. And just like that, they were moving so fast that it was hard to see, or breath or anything, right up to the point where they were inside just outside of his Penthouse door. Seconds. They had got there in seconds.

Clark must've taken the stairs up. Or something. Lex started to breath again, voice caught in his throat for the moment. "You... weren't.... bragging when you said you were fast." Lex closed his eyes, and tried to move a hand to get his keys out of his pocket.

"No, I wasn't," Clark said shifting him so he could take the keys. "I'm beginning to think there is some vast conspiracy against me getting laid."

He opened the door and took him inside. Another blur and Lex was lying on the sofa, towels underneath him. "Name and number of this doctor on call?"

"Sorry that I'm... leaking the wrong bodily fluid," Lex joked fuzzily. "Toby. Four on speed dial in the kitchen..."

"Right." Clark moved into the kitchen and could be heard speaking in short clipped tones before he reentered with some hot water and some clothes. "Might well clean you up a bit as we are waiting," he said sitting down on the sofa with him to pad around the stab wound to Lex's thigh. "Missed the artery thank god."

"I think he was trying to stab me in the ass," Lex said hazily, the leg bent so Clark could get to it through his previously spotless black slacks.

"Bastard," Clark murmured. "That would have been very bad." He ripped at the trousers, then wiped at him with the cloth carefully, his finger lingering despite the seriousness of the situation.

As far as sensuality went, the gesture was a lost cause to a man in pain. "Glad we both think that."

"You feeling okay there?" Clark looked at him, trying to rein in his instinctive need. There was an almost magnetic pull tugging him to taste and touch, kiss and stroke. "I'm sorry, I should have spotted them."

"It's all right. I was distracting you...." Lex laid there with his eyes loosely closed, trying to not feel the indistinct throb of where his face had been slashed -- thankfully missing anything vital, but…

"I was distracting both of us," Clark murmured, soaking a clean cloth and dabbing around the wound on his face now. "How far does this guy have to come?"

"Ten minutes. It was a good distraction..." He tried to talk with as little movement as possible while Clark cleaned up the blood.

"I'm still as horny as hell. Story of my life around you," Clark said almost conversationally. "Hold still."

Holding still, as Lex saw it, meant lying there very still as Clark cleaned; it also meant not giving an answer to words that were meant to bait him. It seemed like Clark had seriously wanted more than what he'd gotten.

Clark remained silent even as he continued. Even after the wiping had stopped his fingers kept caressing around Lex's face almost absently.

Lex finally opened his eyes, looking up at the face that was so close to his own. "I didn't expect to see you there tonight."

"I didn't expect to see you," Clark admitted. "Especially not there."

"Any reason why... especially not there?"

"Because it's a club that is down in the gutter as regards tastes," Clark replied. "You could have anyone."

"I was looking... for someone like you. Didn't think you'd be there or all places." Lex eyed him dubiously, too. "You didn't belong there... anymore than I did."

"Tonight I needed something dangerous," Clark answered, glancing at him. "I got it."

"Shot at." Lex grimaced a little, and found even that to be painful to do. "It's not quite as good as sex. You're... all right?"

"Yes. Fucking armor piercing bullets sting a little," Clark replied blandly, "But only for a little while. A few bruises."

"Get Toby to look at you... whenever he gets up here," Lex sighed. "Tired."

"Stay awake, don't want you going into shock on me," Clark said urgently. "C'mon Lex, stay awake."

His leg slipped a little towards stretching out in front of him. "Trying."

Clark felt his pulse, and went back to soothing him gently. "I'll be here okay? I'll stay with you." Like a moth to a flame. He couldn't stay away. The rush of RedK in his bloodstream made him want to burn with need as his arousal escalated.

There was a knock at the door that surprised him. Lex hadn't been kidding about the ten minutes. "Think he's here. Just stay awake a little longer okay?"

"Yeah." Lex opened his eyes, looking up at Clark. He'd make himself stay conscious if he had to.

Clark moved carefully and went over to the door to let this 'Toby' in. He was a rather unsavory character but Clark considered he was not that much to talk dressed as he was.

And covered in blood, Lex's blood. Toby stepped back from Clark for a minute. "Whoa, you're a sight, too. Where's Lex laid ou-- ah, there we are. Lex! How're you?"

"Bleeding," was the mumbled reply.

"He was stabbed in the thigh, deep but not hitting anything vital, and cut across the face. I've cleaned him up some," Clark said. "He's tired."

"Get some ice from the fridge, and some fresh hot water," Toby instructed as he sat down beside the sofa, and opened up his black bag. "He sleeps through injuries."

"Right. Well as long as he is okay," Clark replied finally stepping away from Lex's side. "I didn't want him going into shock or something."

"Antiseptic'll wake him up," Toby grinned a little as he pulled a cotton ball out of a bag and quickly soaked it with rubbing alcohol.

"Don't hurt him," Clark growled even as he went to get the water and ice in the other room. A flare of possessiveness was boiling just under the surface and he was in no mood to be crossed.

Toby seemed to know what he was doing, as he swabbed around the cut on Lex's face, and then pulled out gauze and tape and some sort of ointment to treat it quickly.

Ice was found, water boiled practically instantaneously and Clark found a small point of his mind practically gibbering in panic. Lex knew. He knew. Lionel had been very explicit. He was not to give himself away to Lex. He was not to let Lex get hurt.

His record on both was ridiculous. This was going to be a lot worse than the kryptonite bath, but right now he didn't care.

He brought the supplies back and passed them over.

Once Toby had taped down the spot over Lex's cheek and temple, he twisted to gesture to Clark. "Get an ice-cube under his tongue; it'll wake him up a little more. Then help me turn him over."

Clark managed that, without too much distraction aside from his lust insisting there could be more to the warm and heat in Lex's mouth. There wasn't anything he could see, touch or do that didn't bring a multitude of sexual images to mind. Still he ignored it long enough to do as he was asked and what was needed.

Toby looked surprised to see the wound at the back of Lex's leg. "Worse than I thought it was... Here, I need the hot water to sop the blood up -- hey, you did a good job in the interim."

"Good. Is there anything else we can do for him?" Clark asked as he passed over the water. "He wouldn't allow me to take him to the hospital."

"Surprise, surprise," Toby murmured. "Sometimes you want to keep something low profile. Lex here... he's a healthy guy. He'd be healed up from whatever injury by the time that the press was done peeling the gauntlets off."

"How quickly?" Clark asked quietly, having sudden thoughts about the amazing missing bruises from earlier in the week.

"Not sure, exactly," Toby said, casting Clark a probing look. "He just does."

"He's going to be okay then?" Clark asked. "I should just let him sleep." He noticed that Toby wasn't stitching the wounds, just using a lot of steri-strips. It wasn't like they shouldn't need it. Perhaps Lex's lack of reaction to his differences was due to some of his own.

"He'll be okay. Only one serious wound in his life, this boy -- got knifed real deep back in... well. Quite a few years ago." Toby was tidy, concentrating on cleanliness. "You wanna check the fridge for food?"

"Why?" Clark asked a little warily even as he watched. "Hungry?"

"Nah. He wakes up hungry, and it's usually a good idea to have food on hand when you've been injured. Just... you know. Things they take care of at a hospital, usually."

"Right. I'll make sure there is food around." Clark was even more suspicious about that. Lex did seem to eat heartily and he didn't have a weight problem at all. Perhaps he had a souped up metabolism or something. "Anything else I should know?"

"Nothing else comes to mind. I'll be around in a couple of days to get my payment. He'll wake up when he wants to." Toby was already starting to tidy his supplies back into a bag; it just didn't seem like normal treatment for a stabbing injury.

"Right." Clark was at a little bit of a loss. Toby didn't seem at all worried about his presences, his outfit or the fact Lex had lost a lot of blood. It momentarily distracted himself from sex at least for a moment. "Thanks. I appreciate you coming out so late."

"Hey, no problem. It's not like I do it for free." Toby winked at Clark, and stood, looking at Lex for a moment. It was sort of strange to see Lex sprawled like that, on his stomach, undignified. "You have a good night."

"Yeah. Thanks," Clark replied belatedly seeing him to the door. "I'll let you know if there are any more problems."

"I'm sure Lex'd appreciate that." Toby moved into the hallway. "I'll see myself the rest of the way out."

Clark let him go and then returned to the room. He was still as horny as hell, and he felt like he would burn up if he didn't get some release. Lex lying on the couch like that was not helping. He just wanted to move against him, on him breathing in his scent, touching him softly…

But a loud and definite portion of his brain over ruled that lust much to his annoyance so instead he settled for carrying him into his bedroom and then putting him to bed carefully.

And then he tried to distract himself by checking the food, clearing up and stripping off his clothes and putting them to wash.

Domesticity could only carry him so far, especially when he was walking around the Luthor Penthouse naked.

Just a... little. A little something. A little anything, even if it was just jacking off over him. He'd planned to get sex, hoped for good sex, and had gotten... not much. A hell of a shitty night.

He prowled around. He had a shower and jerked off to the memory of hot lips against his own and the tug of a collar, desperate to lessen the need. All the time his mind returned to the smooth pale skin, that taste...

If he hadn't have kissed him before, maybe he would have been able to leave.

If he hadn't tugged on that collar and looked at him that way maybe he could have walked away.

Instead he was watching him sleep.

It wasn't what he normally did. He would... should have just left and gone back out to find prey that wasn't lying prone on a mattress. On his stomach, still, vulnerable and tempting.

He had to touch him. That wouldn't be so wrong would it? Just...touching him?

He moved closer, hypnotized and entranced by the sight of him. Touching would be fine.

Lex seemed like he was sleeping like a log. He'd slept like that after the hit to the head, too. Like the dead, except he was much much warmer.

The touch was electrifying to him, wonderful in a way that should have been impossible. His morals, usually well submerged under the influence of RedK were desperately trying to get his attention as he bent to kiss that skin, to taste him again.

The back of Lex's head tasted good to him, the back of his neck even better. Just a little like sweat, a hint like cologne. And that Lex taste that Clark had decided must exist, since he'd only tasted it when he'd kissed Lex.

Before he knew it he was in the bed, with Lex, absorbed in kissing and tasting that skin, exploring it in a way that would have felt very good had Lex actually been awake to feel it.

Clark didn't consciously do anything. Just try and pull him closer, to get his arms around him to hold him where he could breathe in the scent, to where he could nestle him in against his own body and the pressure between them...

There was part of a sheet between them, after all. But even that didn't stop Clark from settling his cock against Lex's ass, pressing against firm warmth. Lex's sleeping body fit well against Clark's, even if he wasn't moving more than breathing.

How easy it would be to just press in and get some relief, but he seemed reluctant to let that want rule him. Perhaps it was the fact that he had envisioned it happening other ways, that he had bought into a less dominant role in their encounter, but there was a part of him that refused that.

Moving and kissing was allowable. Fucking was not, though he wanted it.

He consoled the images and feelings in his mind that sometimes having to wait was part of a good sex scene. Maybe this was like that.

Maybe there was something to be said for a little restraint. Putting off the best of the pleasure for later. When Lex was conscious to enjoy it -- and until then, he could lay there, touching and feeling and smelling.

It would be all the sweeter when he woke and if he was right about the healing, maybe he would be fit enough to give him what he was promised after all.

Lex was being smothered in his sleep. As far as waking up went, it was pretty novel. He didn't usually come to with the feeling of being wrapped up like a package, his backside nice and warmed, and... arms.

Around him. Lex cracked open his eyes a little, and sucked in a slow breath of air. He wasn't much of a 'spend the night lazing in bed after sex' sort of a person. More of a fuck and run, unless it was work that required more of him than that. And the night before... definitely hadn't been work. Hell, he hadn't even gotten sex.

Still, there seemed to be a body in the bed with him, and those arms were definitely muscular and there was a tickle of hair on his skin that started to prod at his memory.

Clark had dragged him there after he'd been... stabbed. Yes. Clark had gotten him home, and he'd called Toby. Lex knew it wasn't Toby behind him, so by logic's mark, it had to be Clark.

A Clark who was curled into him and by the feel of it was ...naked.

That idea made it hard for Lex to not make a yawned mumble of noise as he tried to turn over to see Clark.

That was enough to make him stir as well, opening his green eyes. "Awake?" he murmured softly.

"Mostly. Did we... do anything that I don't remember?"

"I wish..." Clark said softly. "Not yet. I just needed to touch you or I would have gone crazy. You're not going to freak out at me are you?"

"No." Lex muffled a yawn by keeping closed mouthed, half-twisted towards Clark as he looked at the ceiling. For the moment, at least. "Are you running a fever?"

"No. That's a normal weekend temperature. How's the leg?" Clark touched the dressing on his cheek. "This looks healed up already."

"Thanks for sparing me the embarrassment of telling you that you're hot." Lex's mouth twitched as he lay still while Clark touched his cheek. Yeah, that wasn't exactly how he liked to wake up in bed with someone. Completely naked, but without any of the fun parts that came with getting naked. "It was a light cut. Facial wounds... always look more serious than they are."

"I know how serious it was Lex," Clark murmured seemingly unable to stop himself from trailing fingers over his cheek and neck. "I also know you heal fast. In the same way as I have a bit of natural strength and I'm 'fast'."

"You certainly are fast. I don't even remember taking your clothes off..." Lex pressed into the touch a little, looking at Clark's face finally. "Neither of us have an advantage over the other, you know."

"I meant what I said last night," Clark replied "I must have meant it because normally I would have gone to find anyone to fuck with. But I couldn't. I wanted you, even if it meant waiting. Even if it mean being next to you, having to restrain myself to just kissing you while you slept... somehow, waiting was better."

Which left some very creepy implications hanging in the air between them. Sleep was a vulnerable state, but most people didn't have to keep themselves from... keeping it to 'just' kissing while someone else slept. Lex went with it, though. Had to, if he wanted to keep things going. "Waiting was better," he assured. "I'm a little fuzzy on last night -- I remember you giving me your chain, and... it seems I gave you part of mine, too?"

"The secrets? Yeah. I'm not meant to let anyone know, but I had no choice," Clark replied. "If I'm going to belong to someone, I'd at least prefer it to be someone I like, I at least... respect. And someone who is so damn hot, I feel like I'm living a wet dream all the time."

The compliments didn't feel fake to Lex. Maybe it was a test by his father, but... But. Lex couldn't quite bring himself to stop the thing short without learning more, getting answers if there were any to be had. "I don't want to... Whatever it is that my father does to keep you in line? I don't want to do that. I don't do things his way. I like you a lot, just you."

There was a moment of silence. "Thank you, but I doubt that it's going to be possible. I may want you, but I've come to realize I generally don't get what I want. I want a lot of things. I want to tell you everything, I want to hope that you can help me - but I can't. The only hope I have a chance with my desperate hope that you might be well enough to have sex. Sex that you want, not... business."

Lex shifted, grimacing for a flicker of a moment as he moved his sore leg so he could twist around. "I want you, Clark. This isn't exactly the best way to start something off, but I do want you."

"I want you more than I can really understand, "Clark noted the pain. "I...I think you understand don't you? Why I should hate you? But...I can't. I wanted to because that would have made it simple. But, I know maybe better than you do... you're not your father. It doesn't matter what anyone says, you are not him."

Lex didn't quite accept that, but he smiled somewhat anyway. "I know I'm not him. You wouldn't choose to spend the night with him, after all."

"Don't even joke." Clark shuddered. "Toby said you might be hungry when you woke."

"A little." He was famished, actually, and his stomach was past growling to signal that fact. "Give me a minute and I'll get up."

"I can get you something?" Clark suggested shifting slightly. "Should I get dressed?"

"No-one's around. I'm not into having any more staff around than necessary. Cook comes in once a week to make a lot of meals in Tupperware containers for me." Lex settled achingly into his back at last, and leaned to kiss Clark. "You've been in my bed all night and I haven't gotten to enjoy that. At least let me kiss you before you run off."

Clark smiled and leaned forward to take that kiss, and just like that he was back to the point in the club where he was desperately hungry and needy for more to moment lips touched to lips. The RedK should have been wearing off a little but this reaction seemed to be pure gut visceral response.

It didn't help that Lex didn't just kiss him, but latched on. Grasped onto Clark's shoulder and pulled him close, whether he wanted to be that close or not. There was a soft soft hum in Lex's throat, a pleased noise as he pulled back slowly.

"Still...still want food?" Clark asked unsteadily.

"I want you..." Lex wavered for a moment, though, between pulling Clark down to the mattress and letting him slip off. "Except food might be best done first..."

"What do you want? I can get his here in seconds so not much time will be wasted," Clark offered eagerly.

"There should be some... breakfast things in the fridge?" Lex half suggested, trying to push himself so he could sit upright. Sitting on the wound point was a little uncomfortable, but the pressure made it feel better.

"I'll get them." There was a blur and Clark was gone and a few very limited sounds in the kitchen before he returned in a breathtakingly short space of time he walked back in with a tray full of food, including hot toast, bacon, scrambled eggs coffee amongst other things. "I've learned not to move fast with trays of things. Mom would shout at me for decorating the walls when I stopped."

"Your parents are good people," Lex murmured, shifting the other pillows to make the bed into something like a sofa against the headboard. "I take it your parents know what you can do."

"Yes. I grew up like this. After they adopted me," Clark said putting the tray next to him and stealing a slice of toast as he returned to his side of the bed.

Lex went for the bacon first, crunching it with a good semblance of manners. "We're still going back to Smallville for this coming week, you know. You have vacation time, and as surprised as my father seems to be that we finished the job so quickly, he can't backstep on this."

"He won't like that, " Clark warned Lex even as he munched the toast surprisingly comfortable for an underling in bed with his boss. "I guess you've read between the lines about stuff huh?"

"I... actually accidentally eavesdropped a little. I was getting sugar for my coffee, and I heard you telling your mother about how my father has you over a hurdle. I'd figured that you didn't want to work here -- after all, you went to school for journalism." Lex ate a little more bacon, and sipped at his coffee.

"Mm. He let me go to college at MetU and study what I wanted," Clark replied having another bit of toast. "What did you hear?"

"Enough to know that I was intruding. Enough to know that you think you can't get free of him." Lex set the cup down, and picked up a fork to eat some of the scrambled eggs.

"I've tried. And failed." Clark sounded grim as he said it. "I've been trying since I was 16. I've tried every way I can think of."

"Maybe you're thinking about it wrong?" Lex suggested that carefully, while he ate a few quick forkfuls of the egg.

"I can always hope," Clark replied. "Lex, there is more too it and I can't tell you. I can't give you the information that has been made very clear. You have an idea of the sorts of things that your father can do to dissuade rebellion? Or do you?"

"He has his ways of getting people to do what he wants." Lex fell still for a telling moment, and then went back to eating, as if telling Clark that hadn't strained him.

"Yeah well... imagine them all okay? There's only one thing he can't and he won't force me to do. And that's kill." Clark finished his toast. "And that's because he knows damn well if I cross that line, he has a life expectancy of about a second. But I won't. I won't cross that line. I won't."

"It makes a little sick sense," Lex murmured after a moment, toying with his mug while he stabbed a piece of toast with his fork. "Since he has me to do things that you wouldn't."

"He has you do...killings?" Clark asked in a subdued tone.

"Hasn't since he assigned me to you. It's not a frequent thing, after all -- you can usually drive people -- like our FDA associate -- to kill themselves if things go sour."

"He uses you as much as me," Clark murmured. "Why do you stay Lex?"

"That's a funny question. I don't have any loved ones to protect. I don't have any friends to speak of that he can go after." Lex chewed on the toast, sitting back a little. The blankets served well enough as clothing, and he certainly didn't mind looking at Clark's body. "Self preservation, I suppose."

"You think he'd go after you if you tried to make a break for it?" Clark asked warming up a bit of bacon with a slight squint of his eyes before putting it in some bread as an impromptu sandwich.

"It's very possible." Lex caught sight of the red shimmer, and couldn't help but stare a little. "Fire?"

"Heat vision. You saw that last night." Clark said. "That developed later... Bit embarrassing. I started thinking about sex and setting fire to things."

Lex took another sip of coffee to wash down the last of his toast. "Sounds like you had one hell of a puberty. I'd assume... that my father knows about that."

"Unfortunately, yes." Clark ate the bacon thoughtfully and then smiled. "Just as well I got a handle on it otherwise I would have been toasting you lightly for about a month."

That was a smooth move from a grim topic towards a more sensual one. "Then I'm sorry that our original plan for last night was disrupted," Lex answered as he lazily stretched forwards to set his mug on the tray.

"Are you feeling better for the food?" Clark asked hopefully, trying not to put pressure on him, but desperately wanting some sort of physical contact. His own sleep had been filled with RedK inflamed sexual fantasies of a very explicit nature. Lex really was lucky he thought as much of him as he did.

"Much better. You'd hardly know that I was knifed. Maybe a snack later, but... Why don't we clear the bed, mm?" He shifted his wounded leg, testing it. The pain was comparatively slight, like a bad muscle pull instead of the wound it had been.

"You wish is my command," Clark replied as he grinned mischievously and the bedroom was duly clear up in a dazzling blur and Clark was back there next to him, having reacquired his leather collar and a chain and put it back on. "Perhaps we can recapture the mood?"

Lex shifted, getting sheets off of him as he reached for the chain. "I think we can. Why don't you tell me where you got this, hmn?"

"Business trip with your father in Tokyo. In a rebellious moment I thought I ought to at least look the part of what he was making of me so I bought the outfit," Clark grinned. "He hated it, so of course I kept it."

"Of course. You'll have to tell me about that trip... later." Lex gave the chain a firm pull, and shifted closer to Clark, looking into his eyes. "Your eyes don't know what color they want to be. Green one minute, a little blue the next..."

"My mood, my age..." Clark murmured as he responded to that pull, and kneeled up to lean over him.

"I've wanted to do this since the first time you pissed me off," Lex whispered, staring up at Clark's eyes as he pulled him in, down, and with that chain and a hand on Clark's shoulder. "I know I like how you kiss."

"I love the way you taste," Clark murmured looking back and then tilting his head slightly so he could kiss him again.

Perfect. Clark knew what he was doing, and so did Lex -- neither one would have to face the pressure of seducing the other. Which meant that maybe they could both enjoy things. It was easy for Lex to lean up a tiny bit and kiss Clark back. Just a close pull in, and he had Clark hovering over him, under his control but... not, while Lex kissed him.

That rush of contact they had experienced each time they kissed flooded back, and Clark leaned in hungrily, the heat of his skin increasing in contrast to the coolness of the metal. His mood was definitely back and had brought a load of reinforcements in the guise of rampaging hormones.

"This feels so much better when you're naked," Lex breathed, breaking the kiss. He still half-held onto the chain as he slid his arms over Clark's shoulders, pulling him down. "Let me feel you."

"My ...pleasure," Clark replied as he dropped to his elbows so he was practically lying on him, and bending to lick and taste any bit of skin available.

Except for the patch of skin on Lex's cheek, and the wound behind his leg, there was a lot of free skin for Clark to kiss and taste. Lex's eyes closed, and he groaned quietly, still clutching at Clark. "Fuck that's good."

"It can be so much better," Clark murmured. "You like this? You want this....?" The chain jingled slightly as he moved with the smoothness and grace of a cat seeming to know where would feel good.

"I want you, however you want it," Lex replied. Not with the sickly slick way he'd said it to Garner, but with real desire. His cock was jutting, and he could've sworn it was bouncing in time with his pulse.

Clark gave a low laugh, right against the skin. "Just once Lex, just once....follow what you want. Complete...carte blanche. I want you, I want you give you the things no one else has ever tried to before. Look at me, feel what you want...remember what you have wanted to do, rough, or slow or anything... I'm not allowed to give you secrets, but I can give you myself."

"I'd rather have you than a secret I might get anyway," Lex murmured. "Kiss me again and I'll show you just what I enjoy."

Clark didn't hesitate in obeying and he leaned in to the kiss, more than willing to give Lex free rein as he concentrated on what he was doing. The whole of him filled with sensation even as he touched lips to lips once again.

They were slow, idle openmouthed kisses that reveled in the slow play and slide of tongues against each other. Lex really got off on it, hands roaming around the surface of Clark's back as he kissed him. When he broke, breathing heavily, it was to murmur, "Turn over."

Clark had to force himself to stop kissing long enough to obey. Even his long night of wanting hadn't imagined it to feel this good. Not by a long shot, and he was more than ready for more. He couldn't see any reservation in Lex's eyes, none of that almost undetectable tension and hesitance he had seen when he had been with Garner. That was enough to make him smile as he shifted into position.

Below Lex, with Lex half-kneeling over him as he started to kiss Clark's jaw. "Mmm, fuck you taste good. Face like this, you could have anyone..." There was no reservation, not plotting hesitance because Lex wasn't playing it as a game. He wanted, and he knew what he wanted from Clark.

"I don't want just anyone," Clark answered watching him with a slightly amazed look on his face. It was finally really happening! "They weren't enough, they weren't what I needed and I knew it even then..."

"I wonder what I've done to be 'enough'." Lex looked down at Clark for a moment, then shifted back to kiss under his chin. He could feel the faint shift in Clark's throat with every breath.

Clark stretched his neck back, closing his eyes and smiling. Yeah, this was more than he had imagined, and he had an impressive imagination. "You haven't had to do anything," he murmured.

"Mmm." Lex settled his hands on Clark's shoulders, 'holding' him down as he kissed down more. Back and forth, back and forth, Lex took his time nipping and licking over solid muscles. It was nice to be more than just a piece of ass to fuck, just once. It was arousing to have someone else laying submissive, knowing they were enjoying it.

The fact that Clark evidently was enjoying himself was obvious from the soft noises he started to make even as the ministrations continued. Almost as if he was a little embarrassed of what he was feeling and was trying to hold the reaction in. He wasn't completely passive, his hands moved where they could without breaking Lex's grip, he flexed and arched where he could to encourage him, sending the ornamental chain jingling whenever he did so.

"You don't mind drawn out foreplay, do you?" Lex half-laughed as he lifted his head from where he'd been placing teasing kisses around one nipple.

"You mean...last night wasn't enough?" Clark half gasped out. "It's worth the waiting..."

"There's something erotic about really getting to know another person's body." Lex shifted backwards a little more, and leaned down to nip Clark's nipple.

Clark almost literally jumped. "Ahh...god! Lex...do that again, please..." It had jolted all the way through him. It wasn't like he hadn't had it done before but it had never felt like that.

Lex knew what he was doing, all right. And Clark had been waiting for hours, so maybe that had helped to speed things along. Heighten want. "Like this?"

"Ah! Yes!" Clark had to gulp for breath after that one, arching underneath him.

Lex's fingers pressed to Clark's stomach, and he moved his head to nip at the other nipple, sucking t it in turns. He made little humming noises, letting himself respond the ways that came naturally, hoping to goaded Clark on.

Clark writhed. He'd never appreciated the word before but right now with his muscles flexing and moving almost without his own volition, and that incredible need for movement, any movement making him twist beneath that simulation he felt he understood it now from the inside out.

He actually began to sweat with the effort of trying to stop himself from bucking violently, from moving. It was ridiculous. He could be thrown into a furnace and not sweat and yet the simplest teasing of a hot wet mouth and sharp teeth could make him tremble.

"I didn't expect you to like this so much," Lex murmured as he pulled back, shifting down again. "If I give you a blowjob, will you explode?"

"Most likely," Clark answered a little weakly, taking a moment to breathe "But that's not going to ruin anything. Lex, you feel...fantastic. Really, really good."

The oddest smile crept onto Lex's lips. "You, too. Now keep making those noises and I'll see if you'll explode." It ached a little to be kneeling like that, but Lex didn't care as he started to tease his way down Clark's stomach. He slipped his tongue into the tight dip of Clark's belly button, and then kissed over to the hard jut of his hipbone, letting the hard jut of Clark's erection rub against him.

"Please... Lex, Oh... yeah, touch me there..." Clark arched again. "Fuck... I've been hard all night for you, oh god... please!"

The feeling of a hard cock jutting up against your neck was one that always got Lex going. Getting in there, getting personal with someone else, was always... fun. If it was the right person, at least. "All night, huh?"

"All night, all night since I turned and saw you there in the club," Clark's hands bunched in the sheets of the bed ripping at them. "When you took the... chain I nearly came there and then...do you usually torment your lovers like this?"

"Just the ones I find worth the time." Lex shifted back just a little more, letting Clark's cock drool against his skin until he'd pulled back far enough to slip his lips around the swollen head.

The sound Clark made then was totally lacking in all coherency. The expensive bed sheets ripped again and Clark managed not to thrust up hard, by swapping that action for wantonly spreading his legs and hitching his knees up.

"Fuck, fuck... oh my god, your mouth...."

Lex ducked his head down a little more, and found himself staring at Clark's stomach as he slurped slowly along Clark's shaft. When they were done, whenever that was, he was going to have to ask Clark how long it had been since the last time.

He had discipline, he had control... he just couldn't quite remember where he had put them right now. He had to move a little, he had to quell the burning need from moment to moment that demanded he just let go. "Lex! Please...I need to..."

Lex laid a palm firmly on Clark's stomach, pushing him down while he took in most of Clark, sucking now and again, tonguing the underside. Clark had a distinctly odd taste, not quite the usual salty taste he was used to.

"Let...Let...me....please..." What exactly Clark was asking for was not exactly clear. He was completely lost in sensation now, the slip and movement of heat and suction around his cock almost unbearable.

Lex only gave Clark a hum of vibration against his cock. It wasn't as if he could ask 'please, what?' without stopping the ministrations that Clark was begging for. There was just something about having a dick in his mouth, knowing he was bringing someone else to pleasure and enjoying it just as much himself. Except that the bed sheets and Clark's leg was a lot less stimulating than his own mouth had to be.

Wild with the pent up needs of over a months worth of RedK influence with no relief Clark was amazed he had lasted this long. He had no idea how long that actually was as time was warping and stretching in his head so he felt at once like this had been going on forever, and not long enough. Lex was doing things that no one had done before and he couldn't hold back any longer. He was practically panting by the time he gasped out, "Gonna...gonna come Lex!"

Leaning on his elbows, Lex had slid a hand between Clark's legs and started to massage his balls while he sucked. That was probably the sensation that threw Clark over the edge. Or pushed, or whatever. As long as he was making those noises while Lex slipped his tongue along the throbbing underside of Clark's dick, it didn't really matter.

Clark eventually let out a gasping cry as he couldn't hold on any longer. The sheets were shredded like tissue in his hands and he allowed himself to flex like a bow to climax. "Fuck! Lex!"

It was a deep shove, deeper than Lex had been expecting; he didn't even really get to taste Clark, because it was a matter of swallow or choke on the cock in his mouth. It wasn't a hard choice, and Lex swallowed, breathing hard as he pulled back finally, giving little licks here and there to clean Clark up.

"Oh my God," Clark still seemed dazed and breathless. "That was definitely worth waiting for!"

Lex shifted, holding Clark's cock upright with one hand for just a moment more, and slipped his tongue around the swollen head one last time. "I think so."

Clark reached down to touch him gently, almost with a hint of awe. "Thank you. Really... thank you. I hope you have something in mind for me to pay you back."

Lex's mouth twitched a little as he shifted his hips, brushing his cock against Clark's shin. "Oh, I have something in mind. If it won't bother you..."

"Nothing you want would bother me at all," Clark replied still smiling happily. Moments of pleasure and happiness were so rare for him that he treasured each one.

With a slow and somewhat aching shift, Lex started to sit up, fingers drifting to stroke at Clark's hips. "I'd like to fuck you."

Clark pushed himself up on one elbow and smiled a definitely lascivious smile. "Would you really?" he teased. "Why would you want to do that?"

"Because following you around Smallville was a wonderful sort of hell. Your suits are very well cut..." Lex settled back a little, but stroked a hand around Clark's hip, slipping to squeeze his ass even if it did leave his hand pinned between Clark and the mattress.

"Mmm," Clark's eyes were amused and bright. Happy. It was strange to see that in his expression and it made all his other smile's pale in comparison. "Right now Lex, I'd let you fuck me with anything. So you mean I haven't been imagining the possibility that you wanted to throw me over your desk when I was being particularly annoying?"

"No, you weren't imagining that. Here, let me get a condom, and some lube, and hopefully I'm not out of practice..." Lex winked then, and leaned forwards -- before he made any escapist type motions -- to kiss Clark.

Clark smiled even as he kissed and drew back. "You don't have to you know...I'm most definitely safe, believe me, there's files and files on how safe I am"

"Files and files, huh?" Lex pulled back a little, smiling at him. "It's okay. Makes for easier cleaning up."

"Ah... practicalities," Clark murmured. "How would you like me? Front, back, hands and knees up against the wall, over the desk, dangling midair?"

He grinned as he made the suggestions, stroking at Lex's arm and hands.

"Midair, hmn? Some other time for that," Lex promised him. And up against the wall would be for some other time, too, because both appealed to Lex on a visceral level. "I want to see your face."

Clark smiled. "Well then, that's easy enough to arrange. I really am pretty flexible," he said, glancing down at Lex's cock. "Hope it doesn't go too quick for you."

"We have all... day, right?" Lex shifted off the bed, to reach into the top drawer of the nearest dresser. Condoms and lube both had a discreet hiding place beneath his boxers.

"Heh, now there's a thought. All week..." Clark's voice was nearly purring at the thought. "Can you read in between bouts of sex and home-cooking?"

"If I have the energy to turn a page." Lex turned around, what he needed to do the act clutched in one hand. But what he needed was laying in his bed like some cast off roman god, looking sexy. Emanating the urge for Lex just get in bed with him and fuck fuck fuck until his brain stopped working. Until both their brains stopped working. "I left a message on your machine about us leaving later this afternoon."

"Well, we can always phone and say we might be late if we need more time," Clark said as he stretched languidly, fully aware of how he might look then with his hair ruffled and mussed and his body that exact golden tan that was just enough and not too much.

"That might give away the game." Lex moved back towards the bed with less of a sense of hesitance and more of a stalking motion. "We'll have to manage with a few spare hours."

"Lex on the prowl," Clark grinned at him. "Don't strain your leg."

"You'd hardly know that I was knifed yesterday," Lex smiled back at him as he crawled back onto the bed, moving up from the foot end of the mattress towards Clark's lean body.

"Thank God," Clark replied fervently, automatically parting his legs. "I shouldn't have let them do that."

Lex laid the lube and condoms beside Clark, mouth still smiling. "You didn't let them. You stopped it from being more serious than it was. Now. Let's concentrate on enjoying things?"

"I'm with you on that," Clark agreed happily, not looking the least bit concerned, unhappy or more to the point, manipulative. That was pretty rare in Lex's sexual encounters.

It wasn't sex for a purpose, it was... sex. Sex for sex, which was pretty damn novel. Lex shifted one of Clark's legs, pulling it up onto his shoulder. The other man even had nice knees, notably clean. And muscles that just needed to be stroked. "Any spots you don't like having touched?"

"Not so I've noticed," Clark shifted himself on his shoulder a little. "Touch everything Lex. Touch what you want."

"This is why I'm glad I have time," Lex drawled, kissing the inside of Clark's knee. "You're gorgeous. Do you know how good you taste?" His fingers wandered, playing over the muscled lines of that thigh.

"I know I taste... different," Clark admitted, letting that muscle quiver. "People have told me that. Mmm. You have perfect hands."

"It isn't a bad different. I just don't have words to describe the difference." Lex shifted forwards, and then leaned to the side, picking up the lube.

Clark seemed perfectly comfortable even in that position. "Your skin tastes beautiful. Did you know that? Like fine silk and deep and rich at the same time like wine. I could kiss you all day and night."

"I don't think too much about kissing myself." Lex popped the cap smoothly, and left a slick blob of the stuff on his fingers. "So it's a good tradeoff that we each like the other, isn't it?"

"Definitely. Mmm. More than like," Clark said without thinking and then looked a little startled at his own words.

It wasn't something Lex wanted to think very hard on, so he kissed the inside of Clark's leg again, and then murmured, "Lift your hips a little."

Clark shifted, supporting himself, and taking some of the weight off of Lex's shoulders using his strength.

"You won't kill me if you relax," Lex half-reminded as he stroked one slick finger just behind Clark's balls.

"I was...trying not to tire...uh..." Clark's expression melted into one of bliss. "Yeah. C'mon Lex, you won't hurt me..."

"So are you saying I shouldn't have a chance to make you squirm first?" Lex scoffed. "You're gorgeous. Let me appreciate you..." He slipped that finger slowly back, teasing just at the edge of Clark's hole.

"Patience is not one of my strengths," Clark managed and then nearly half lidded like a contented cat. "I...don't suppose you'll let my hands in on the action with you?"

"In on the action doing what?" Lex smirked as he started to press that one finger in.

"You...uh...Lex!" Clark clamped on him a little and then released. "You need to lube yourself don't you?"

"Do you want to do it for me?" Lex shifted his finger, then started to simply squirm it.

"If...if you don't mind?" Clark looked up at him hopefully.

Another twitch of his finger, and Lex shifted his own hips forwards a little. "Do it."

It wasn't the easiest of maneuvers but Clark didn't seem to worry so much about positions that would make others collapse from aching muscles. It was blatantly obvious that really all he wanted was an excuse to touch, and stroke Lex's cock. There was no real excuse for lubed hands before the condom, and Clark wasn't in a hurry for that condom to go on. For someone with such strength, he was amazingly tender and delicate with his touch and feel. Almost maddeningly so.

It made Lex lean into his leg, sighing out a noise that sounded like a moan. "Oh, fuck yeah... I thought that you... wanted to last?" Almost in revenge, Lex twisted his finger, and pulled out to try to slip another one in.

"Ah! Lex...." His own fingers slipped and caressed around the long shaft, squeezing just a little. "Maybe...I should put on the next layer huh?"

Clark fumbled uncertainly and blindly for the condoms with one hand, even as his other explored every change in texture.

Hard muscle, and skin that moved when he stroked. Lex was cut, so there wasn't as much excess skin to play with as there was with Clark's own cock. But it was better than touching himself, since Lex groaned when he was touched, reacted an arched against him. "Maybe, yeah..."

It could have been done quickly, but Clark chose to be careful and deliberate about it, making the act itself something of an exercise in eroticism. He didn't hurry as he put the latex item on, and then smoothed more lube over Lex's covered erection.

For whatever reason, Lex just didn't stop smiling as he sucked in one more breath and finally pulled his fingers out. "Clark... you win for now."

"I win?" Clark smiled up at him even as he moaned at the loss of that pressure inside. "Great! What do I win?"

Lex shifted his hand to drag Clark's other long leg up onto his shoulder. "I'll have to think of a prize for you."

"Is it a big prize?" Clark tried to ask innocently, but that really wasn't working with him with both his legs up over Lex's shoulders. "I think I better brace myself for the excitement." He grinned as he reached his arms up over his head to grip the headboard.

Lex shifted his hips and his potion just a little, enough to get one hand between their bodies so he could position himself right against Clark's hole. "I promise that it won't be a bumpy ride."

"Lex, don't hold back on my account," Clark murmured looking directly at him even as he was nudged. "I'll feel it but it won't hurt. I promise."

Still pressing forwards, not quite ready to breech Clark, Lex shook his head a little. "Some time, I'll make sure that you feel it. But you said I could have what I wanted. What I want is you, looking sexy and beautiful beneath me, for a very slow, long fuck."

"That a pretty damn good prize," Clark conceded with a smile. "I'll try and do my best for the looking sexy part of it. I'm all yours Lex..."

Lex pressed forwards, with just a little hardness behind the move of his hips, while reaching for the end of the chain that was still attached to Clark's neck. "You don't even have to try."

"Uhhn..." Clark reacted to that pressure even as he twitched a little making the chain jingle and draw taut. It wouldn't actually hold him, he'd need kryptonite for that, but it did hold a thrill in itself. He hadn't ever really let anyone this close who had any real power over him and it was nearly dizzying. He started to understand why people did it, and why it hadn't worked before aside from providing an amusing range of experiences. It needed that element in there. Or perhaps it was just Lex.

Lex, with ten minutes of applied thought, could probably break Clark. Break him worse than Lionel had ever tried. Lex had training in how to peel a person to the core with his words, his thoughts and more to the point, Clark knew he would roll on his back for him any time.

"You're all mine. I li... like you a lot, Clark. You're interesting company; you look out for me, and... uhn!" His pressure finally let him slip forwards, just a little ways into Clark's tight clutch. "Oh, fuck yeah."

The feeling burned in him. A sensation of wonder and hunger began in his stomach and grew unquelled as he stared up transfixed by Lex's expression, and by the feeling inside of him. This was dangerous; this was terrifying and excitingly dangerous and at the same time, the tug on the collar held strange undertones of safety. He was letting himself feel something more than just physical pleasure.

Lex's face was alive, his expressions fluid as he shifted his hips forwards, and leaned into Clark, into Clark's leg, pushing in. "Mmm. This is going to be so much more than a one night stand, Clark. We could be so... so good for each other."

"Yeah... yeah we could," Clark arched just a little into that, feeling Lex play with the length of chain. He was falling for him. It was never more so obvious than the way hope, a rare and almost mythical concept to him surged up like a phoenix with those words.

"More... talk later. For now..." Lex trailed off, and pushed in more, not stopping until his balls were against Clark's ass. "Tell me how that feels."

"It feels..." He was going to said good, but it wasn't that. It was a different feeling. The feeling of the right key in the right lock, comfortable and expectant. "...right. I can feel your heart beating through me, deep in me. God, it's fantastic... "

"I'll show you fantastic," Lex promised, and finally let Clark's leg slip down from his shoulder so he could lean forwards to kiss Clark's chest.

"Oh god, kissing as well..." Clark breathed as he hooked that leg a little behind Lex. "You're enjoying this...really enjoying it aren't you?"

The smile that Lex was wearing gave Clark the best answer he could get. "Savoring it," he whispered, and leaned down to lick between Clark's pectorals. He gave the chain a jangle, too.

Clark let go with one hand so he could smooth over Lex's head and back even as he was being kissed. It shouldn't have been as easy and comfortable a position as it evidently was. Clark explored him tactilely and replied. "That's a bit of a turn on you know..."

Lex placed one more kiss between them, and faintly shifted his hips against Clark, still buried in him. He wanted badly to just move, but he could hang on and savor the feeling of being clutched. "Which?"

"Both," Clark murmured. "You enjoying it, you and... the chain." He blushed at that which was a remarkable thing considering he was there with Lex buried deep inside him. It was a little late to be blushing.

Except that his mother might've been a little proud of him for having some sense of... humility or whatever it was that made him turn that shade. "It looks good on you," Lex murmured, already leaning down to press more kisses, "Better than a necktie."

"You suggest that I should wear it at work?" Clark chuckled a little, sending sensation rippling through them both, and he instinctively moved a little on that penetrating cock.

"Only if you want to bother the other executives." Lex sat up a little, drawing a wet lick line along Clarks' body before he settled on his haunches properly. It let him move, finally, a slow grinding rocking against Clark's body. "Feel good?"

"Yeah, oh god...yeah...." Clark breathed, even as he clenched a little tighter and then released and played a little with his muscle control. "Yeah, that feels great Lex..."

"Nice and slow," Lex sighed. His hands stroked down to Clark's ass, rubbing there and at his hips in time with the small thrusts that Lex was making.

"Mmm." Clark's leg behind Lex pulled him in close and provided some measure of support even as he reached back again and made small writhing movement in response to each thrust. Nothing unrestrained but more a means of making things interesting.

It wasn't panicked moaning grunting and groaning, but it felt just as good. Sighs, groans, slow moans started to fill the room as they learned to respond to each other. The slow pulse of motion couldn't last forever, not when they both wanted to come, but it was a fucking that was taking time to build into something wild and rough.

Somewhere in among the endless movement, Clark's legs ended up wrapping around Lex in a way that should have been impossible to hold but apparently wasn't. His arms braced him as they moved sometimes together and sometimes deliberately against each other to force things deeper. Awareness started to narrow with the quickening of breath, drawing inwards until the both of them were the entire world of possible sensation.

It was the best thing in the world, too, that Clark was flexible and couldn't be hurt, because Lex leaned forwards to kiss parts of him, anything he could as long as it didn't disrupt the steady motion of his hips and cock against and into Clark's ass.

It was reaching a point where Clark was starting to think Lex had super abilities of his own. Inhuman control for one, stamina... He became a little more creative in testing to see if he could get Lex to break his steady movement that teased him over the edge of want and spiraling into the depths of passion. He would grip and hold him with his muscles inside or, twist and tease, or arch and moan and plead with Lex to fuck him harder.

It was the pleadings that finally made Lex start to pant, that finally broke the smooth slow build into one full of peaks and plateaus. He started to piston into Clark, skin slapping against skin at last. Somewhere in there, the condom gave way, but Lex was past concern.

"Yes! Yeah... Like that! Fuck..." Clark groaned and began a serious amount of pushing hard back against him. It burned in him, every moment a compulsive need to move even more. "Fuck me Lex! C'mon... yeah...hard. Harder!"

"Just... just, almost..." Lex started to add a twist to his hips, the motion desperate and hard. It was almost like watching Lex with Garner -- it couldn't be that much of a strain to come, not when Lex seemed to want it so much. "Yes, yes, fuck, yeah, Clark..."

He relaxed into it, each twist drawing a cry from him until he was panting with the need to come again, even after his first experience. How Lex had lasted this long, he had no idea. In the end he just molded himself to every movement, to every shift and thrust.

Lex slipped an unsteady hand around Clark's cock and started to tug at it between them, even as he came in Clark, going stiff with convulsions for just a moment.

It would have been too much to hope for a complete synchronicity in climax, though the spill of warmth in him from the split condom was an indescribable sensation. It took only a few more tugs to tip him over the edge with a sound of approval that wasn't quite Lex's name.

Even a slurred noise was a good noise to Lex's somewhat hazed ears as he leaned forwards, breathing hard as he kept tugging a little. "Clark..."

Clark came in warm spurts over his hand, and then released the headboard to draw Lex in and onto him. "God...Lex....never...never like that."

Lex had to shift, pulling out of Clark so he could lie against him. "So good. You felt so good, Clark, feel so good..."

Clark's arms wrapped around him gently, pulling him up to somewhere more comfortable. "We can do what you want any time. That was... Jesus, Lex...that was incredible."

Lex shifted, tipping his head to kiss Clark's mouth. "Yes. You were incredible."

"You have some sort of enhanced talent to fuck forever or something?" Clark murmured even as he tasted those lips again. Even now, they were perfect, even after the rough desires the RedK caused had been satiated. He felt no reduction in attraction, just a need to hold him, to hold him close.

Which seemed to be a good need, as that was what Lex was doing in turn to Clark. "I'm just that good," Lex smiled a little, mouth twitching.

Clark smiled. "Sex God," he teased, kissing him again. "Do you worshippers get perks?"

"I have worshippers?" Lex lifted his head a little to catch Clark's eyes for a moment between kisses. "I hadn't thought of a comprehensive worshipper plan yet..."

"Mmm how about a tailored individual plan for a chosen acolyte," Clark looked at him.

"Oh, I don't think I'd ask much of my acolyte. A little faith and companionship. No sacrifices of small animals needed." Lex's smile was a wicked twist of his mouth by then, but his eyes were sated and warming as he looked back at Clark, settled body to body against him.

"Random libations and grape peeling?" Clark felt... alive for the first time in a long time. "I peel a good grape."

"You'll have to prove it to me at the castle," Lex decided softly. He shifted a hand, the one that wasn't sticky with semen, and stroked hair from Clarks' forehead. "Do you feel like a shower, or a nap first?"

"Hmmm, a shower would be good, but....you feel so good lying on me there I don't want to move," Clark said indecisively.

"The shower can wait," Lex agreed. He pressed another kiss to Clark's mouth, and shifted somewhat to Clark's jaw. "I'm glad that you stayed."

"It was worth the wait," Clark smiled back and twitched up a part of the bed sheet that wasn't completely shredded. "It's going to be a really good week Lex."

Laying there together in the sated aftermath of the best sex that he had gotten in a long time, Lex could only agree.

"I told you we'd work well together."

The week of vacation time had been far from the dull experience Lex had expected. Clark seemed to have no intention of leaving him alone, although he did spend some time with his family, and there were regular visits for dinner. The rest of the time Clark seemed to delight in exploring the various offers he had made or surprising Lex when he could.

Lying on the couch reading was a surefire way of ending up, often out of nowhere with Clark half lying over his lap and nuzzling at his crotch in a prelude to a blow job.

They spent a lot of time together, trying out practically everything they had suggested; Lex even got his chance at against the wall and dangling midair much to his and Clark's mutual pleasure and his 'trainee' blossomed into someone warmer.

As the week drew on, Clark's attentions were most definitely colored by deeper emotions, but as the weekend drew closer, as they lay in bed together, rather unexpectedly he had lost some of that carefree joy he had been radiating. Instead he was quiet and almost clingy as he curled into Lex.

The aftermath of sex was the time that most people got clingy and quiet, but Clark had never been that way. Not that Lex minded the time and opportunity that it gave him for stroking and holding the other man. But that didn't keep a nagging sensation of concern from lessening the pleasure.

"Clark..."

"Mm?" Clark had his head on Lex's chest, seemingly listening intently to Lex's heart beat as if memorizing it.

Lex shifted a hand, tickling his fingers through the hairs at the back of Clark's neck. "You're quiet tonight."

"Sorry," Clark replied kissing his chest a little. "I...well, I don't want to leave you. Going to miss you over the weekend."

"Where are you going?" Lex's fingers stilled a little as he watched Clark, mostly in reaction to the distracting soft kisses.

"Where I went last weekend," Clark said managing to avoid looking at him. Perhaps if they hadn't spend the week diving deeply into learning each others bodies, the tension in his muscles would have gone unnoticed.

"And you don't want to tell me where that was," Lex guessed.

"It's not a case of want," Clark replied with an exhalation of breath. "It's a question of... not being allowed." He had mentioned that before but Lex had been stabbed at the time and possibly not thinking.

"Who doesn't allow you?" As if he even has to ask, after having eavesdropped on the conversation that he had.

There was a long silence as if Clark was weighing up what he could say or not.

"Your... your father," he said very quietly, and the muscles stiffened again as if expecting some immediate form of retribution.

Nothing, though. Nothing short of a quiet noise and Lex's fingers resuming their motion. "He has his claws in you."

"Yes." Clark gave a huff of a strained laugh. "Like you wouldn't believe." He seemed to settle a little under those fingers. "I have to go, I have no choice."

"Go where? Why? Tell me... something, Clark. I trust you enough to know that you're not going to betray me, but... I am curious." After all, Lex knew Clark's friends. His family. His body.

"Metropolis...LuthorCorp." That was as much of a breach of confidentiality as he could warrant and even that was probably too much. "Don't say anything Lex, please. It's not just about me, though that is part of the reason I have to go. You think your father would let me run around as I am without some means of control?"

No. Of course not. "Your parents," Lex guessed, shifting his hand down a little, resting it between Clark's strong shoulder blades.

Clark nodded against his chest just a little. "Among other people and things...he has a more direct hold on me though." His voice had dropped very low as if he was afraid they would be overheard.

"It's a predictable tactic for him." Lex held Clark tight, just for a moment. "No-one has ever said that predictable wasn't effective. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault Lex, I know that," Clark said. "I wanted it to be partly be your fault so I could hate you too, but...I couldn't. I can't hate you. I..." He trailed off and substituted a kiss for words.

Kisses. Hesitance. Forgiveness. "Maybe even love? It's been fast, I know..." But Lex liked to seize the moment, liked to live when he had the opportunity. There was no question that he felt a great deal for Clark, more than any one night stand, more than any of his failed relationships.

Clark looked at him. "It's dangerous for me to love you. Dangerous for us both but..." He took a deep breath, "If this isn't love, I don't know what it is. You've made me happy. I haven't been happy for over six years. It's a big deal for me. It's dangerous, because I know you could break me... you know that too don't you?"

"I don't break friends." It didn't matter if Clark believed him or not; most people, the few friends Lex had had, knew to what lengths he'd go.

"I believe you. I know you... I know how much of yourself you put into things. No one can withstand your passion Lex." Clark smiled a little. "I wish I had known you back then when I was so young and stupid. Making mistakes and drawing attention because I was trying to protect people. Funny... there was no one to protect me. Mom and Dad tried and it nearly got them killed. There was no one and I didn't stand a chance."

"Then let me protect you. Protection doesn't have to be strength and speed, Clark..." Brains protected just as well, and that was all Lex had to offer Clark.

"I wish... I wish you could, but I think it's too late," Clark replied. "I won't have you pit against your father over me. It's not worth it. I'm not worth it. There's been one good part of this job recently and that has been being your bodyguard and assistant even if I've been a pain in the ass. I am not going to endanger you if I can help it. No, tomorrow I will go again to meet with your father at LuthorCorp, as I have done every weekend for six years. And it's best if I don't see you after."

"Why not?" Lex's fingers started to rub idly, as if coaxing touch would mingle with sly words to get him the outcome that he wanted.

Again there was a pause. "Your father has a direct means of control as well as blackmail. A drug of sorts. I have to have it once a week, then," Clark said in a low tone. "It affects me badly sometimes particularly after it has just happened. I can go...like I was last week or I can go dangerous and just afterwards I can't be around people. I don't want to be like that around you Lex."

"And he gives it to you on the weekend." Damn. Lex knew how drugs went. It wasn't as easy as just stopping. Not if it was some designer drug Lionel had whipped up just to control someone like Clark.

"Yes." It wasn't the full story but Lex had seen enough of this part of the story that Clark was sure he knew even if it was just because he hadn't said anything. He didn't need to ask because he knew. "I'm generally out of control one way or the other. Though you coped with me better than anyone. But I was relatively mellow comparatively."

"That was mellow, huh?" Lex kept touching Clark, kept coaxing him with contact. "That's okay. Maybe I'll seek you out just in case."

"No Lex. No... Please don't," Clark asked him seriously. "You don't know what I can be like. It's not good."

"I won't let you keep me at arms length," Lex warned gently.

Clark looked at him steadily twisting a little to do so. Telling Lex what he couldn't do was an exercise in folly. "Mm. If you won't then at least take precautions. I'm not always in complete control and I would never forgive myself if I hurt you." He took a deep breath. "Green Kryptonite. You'll need that."

"Why?" Lex's eyebrows furrowed a little as he lifted his head to look at Clark.

"It's the only thing that can stop me," Clark replied. "It weakens me, causes me pain if I get too close to a big enough bit of it." Another understatement but he knew Lex wouldn't use it if it sounded too dramatic.

"I wonder why..." Lex trailed off into quiet, and then pulled at Clark. "Come up here. I'll remember that, Clark."

Clark shifted up, distracting Lex with a few gentle kisses on the way. "Good. That makes me feel better." He didn't even sound worried that he had just completely wiped out any advantage that he might have had over Lex. If they had been competing in any way Clark had just doomed himself to failure.

Except that they weren't. Maybe they'd been competing those first few days, but time spent together had washed the urge away. Lex understood the situation a little better, grasped that it wasn't about his job. It was another game and games... he understood very well.

He had been playing those games since the day he had been born a Luthor and probably would until... he had been thinking, until the day he died, but that seemed to have changed somehow. Playing the game wasn't as consuming as it had been, and that wasn't because it had become less dangerous. It was more about priorities rearranging and differing factors entering the equation. His father.

"Some day, Clark... I'll come up with a way to put a stop to this," Lex mused aloud, a little sleepy sounding but still full of conviction.

"If anyone could, it would be you," Clark murmured, wrapping his arms around him. "But it's okay if you don't. Just don't give me back will you?"

"You're not a thing to be passed around," Lex scolded a little sharper than he needed to.

Clark just smiled and looked at him before settling down. "One reason I love you right there," he murmured. "Lex, I've been a 'thing' for a good many years."

Maybe Lex thought he was exaggerating. It didn't matter. Lionel was very clear on the fact that human rights did not apply to aliens for the mere fact that they were aliens. He also had some deluded opinion that in enslaving Clark he was practically saving the world. There were times that Clark hated Dr Swann for that translation.

"There's no reason for you to be. I don't think of you that way. You're no more a thing than I am..." Something Lex obviously didn't consider himself to be. He wasn't the sort of person to live with that idea.

Clark just smiled. "Thank you," he said simply. "If I'm gone in the morning don't worry okay?" Even though he was going to spend the night worrying about the whole thing. This was going to be a bad 'meeting'. Lionel would know about a lot of things by now and his week's grace would be over.

"I'll try not to. Do you want me to swing by your parents on the way out of town tomorrow?"

"They know where I'll be," Clark replied. "I said goodbye after dinner. I've seen them a lot more then I have in the last couple of years put together Lex. I'm grateful for that."

"It shouldn't be that way." Lex's voice was quiet in the darkened bedroom that they were sharing, hardly seeming to echo at all.

"A lot of things happen that shouldn't," Clark replied softly. "I used to think that I could fix everything by just trying hard enough, by giving up enough. I should know better than to start feeling anything beyond that. But God help me, I do. I don't learn. I'll die before I learn how not to care."

"Sounds like a better fate than not caring anymore." Lex turned his head, gave Clark one lazy kiss, then relaxed. "Good night, Clark."

"Sleep well," Clark murmured curling into him. He hoped at least one of them would as it was going to be a long night of fear and apprehension for him. But at least he wasn't alone to face it. Not this time.

The ritual was always the same. Every Saturday without fail he had to present himself at the R&D labs at eight in the morning. Every Saturday, he would be escorted into the hidden labs by technician who would not meet his eyes and every Saturday he would refuse to cooperate until Lionel turned up and threatened him. It was a necessary ritual for him because sometimes...sometimes after whatever tests or entertainments Lionel had planned for him to go through, it would be all too easy to forget WHY he wasn't meant to kill anyone.

This Saturday was no different. He steadfastly refused to lie down so he could be prepared to be the equivalent of a dialysis and transfusion for the billionaire. It was a gesture, but one he clung to none the less.

"Clark. I've been told that you've had a... wonderful vacation this past week. Why be so uncooperative?" Lionel had a way of slipping into a room when he didn't want too much attention or just didn't need eyes on him, stance casual; voice almost something like a normal human's.

"I'm not a morning person?" Clark replied sharply, folding his arms across his torso. That immediately answered all his fears. Lionel did know what had been happening.

"Oh, I believe you when you say that," he laughed, that knowing chuckle that made Clark feel ill. "You're more of a... night owl. Now lay back."

"Why should I?" Clark's attempt at defiance sounded weak even to himself.

"Because you're good at it," Lionel snapped. "Now do it!"

"No." Clark refused again. "No. I won't. This is wrong."

"Wrong. You're serving a purpose, Mr. Kent. A very admirable one -- you should be pleased that I've let you live as long as I have." The words were a growl as Lionel leaned in towards him.

"Feel free to kill me. Oh yes, I forgot you need me don't you?" It was a familiar pattern. One that he could predict perfectly. Lionel's temper would pass irritation and he would issue the threat.

"And so do a lot of other people Mr. Kent," Lionel pointed out. "In fact, your trip to Smallville refreshed my memory about your fondness for the whole town..."

Ah. There it was. "And you'd do what?" Clark asked daring him.

"I'd destroy them all," he smiled. "Slowly. Maybe even Lex, too, since you're so wrapped up in him."

"No!" Clark was surprised enough by that addition for his protest to have genuine force. "You wouldn't, he's your son!"

"No son of mine is stupid enough to let himself be seduced by a very, very sneaky creature like you." Lionel stepped away, and gestured to the staff to strap Clark down.

He had no choice then but to let them, and to feel the surge of nausea and pain that came with the application of kryptonite, as they upped the dose until they could get the needles into him. A glance over saw Lionel settling down much more comfortably and being connected to the same complex apparatus he was. He was not entirely sure how it worked but they essentially threaded a tube, a small tube through his liver and allow the majority of Lionel's blood to be pumped through him even as they took some of his blood and filtered some for platelets and it performed the equivalent of emergency repairs on Lionel's ever deteriorating liver.

It was, needless to say, rather unpleasant and uncomfortable.

It couldn't have been comfortable for Lionel; he sat there in a comfortable chair, but was no less helpless than Clark was. He needed the treatment to be hale and healthy all week long, needed Clark's blood and body to keep him in that state.

"You're going to suffer for what you let happen and what you made happen..."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Clark bluffed looking straight up at the ceiling.

"I was unaware, Mr. Kent, of a link between sex and memory loss," Lionel tsked. "Don't play stupid."

"I have done what you required. I have protected Lex," Clark replied closing his eyes just a little. His liver pulsed pain as the blood pushed through it. "Sex has nothing to do with that."

"You failed to protect him. You made sure that he was weakened after your little scene with him, and then coaxed your way into his trust."

Clark would have twisted to face the other man if he had been able, but instead he twisted his head. "No! I...I was on the RedK, you know what that does to me. I tried to protect him. I would never deliberately hurt him!"

"Deliberately, perhaps not. But subconsciously...? You and I both know what your subconscious tells you to do, Clark. Well my son is not going to be stop one on the world conquest express!" Lionel turned his head just a little, but it was so he could look at Clark through superior gleaming eyes.

"How many times do I have to tell you that I have no idea what that was about. I was… what, somewhere around four when I crashed here. I don't remember anything about ANYTHING except being found and..." He remembered Lex. Suddenly he remembered Lex from years ago and reaching to touch him. "…and that stupid prophecy or message or whatever is NOT my choice. I destroyed the ship to avoid it! You know that!"

"Or to cover the evidence," Lionel noted darkly. "To protect yourself and your family from any wrath that might come for your misdeeds."

"You are one paranoid bastard, you know that?" Clark said wearily. "You've already decided it's my fault haven't you?"

"Partially your fault," Lionel corrected, as if it made such a difference in the end.

"Oh and who else's fault is it? Lex's? What possible justification do you have for that?" Clark challenged.

"He's clearly not as strong as I thought he was, if you managed to seduce him," Lionel sighed, a tired angry sort of noise.

Clark nearly laughed at that. "You think I have any... any power over him? You really have the wrong end of the stick." He shook his head still half laughing.

"Of course you'd say that," Lionel bit out quietly at him. He never believed half of what Clark said -- in Lionel's mind, Clark was a lying alien creature, even if Lionel was the one who acted like he was from a distant galaxy.

"Of course. Fuck, Lionel am I responsible for everything? Original Sin included?" Clark snapped back irritably, the tubes pulling painfully. "Don't you have me enough under your thumb that you can just stop with the paranoia?"

"I don't believe you specifically because you'd like to get out from under my thumb. I can see you insinuating yourself in with my son, hoping he'll... what, be gentler with you?"

Clark fell silent at that. It was true enough, but that wasn't the way it had happened. "I am not trying to use Lex. And you are an ungrateful bastard - he's out there on the firing line for you and you have the gall to talk about him being 'weak'."

Lionel laughed, the sound tired. The process was probably taking a toll on him, too. It always seemed to. "Ah, one man gets into another man's bed, and he thinks he knows everything about a person. I never thought that you'd let infatuation cloud your brain, Clark."

"I am not infatuated."

Liar. Liar, he was. He loved him. One week and he was hopelessly in love, and it was 'hopelessly' because of all of this. "Simple facts. You underestimate him. I never thought you would let jealousy cloud your brain."

It was getting on his nerves to hear that superior, knowing chuckle. Lionel's laugh had a habit of crawling into his ears and squirming around. "There is no reason for me to be jealous of him."

"Yeah? I think you are. He is smarter than you, people like him better, he is fearless in going after deals..." Clark shot back as he tried to stop the dizziness. "You keep telling me I'm a test for him. A test of what?"

"A test of strength. Will he fall to your wiles and tricks, or... show his better skills in manipulating people. You're right. He is good, Clark. Very good. So good you wouldn't even notice that he's doing it."

"What are you trying to say?" Clark replied. "A minute ago, I was subverting him and now...you change your mind?"

"I want you to try to subvert him," Lex's father smiled, sharply. "I just hadn't expected such a... fast move."

"So I am doing what you wanted somehow but mysteriously this is the wrong thing and the right thing at the same time. And I'm in deep trouble over it?" He tried to sound scornful, but he was afraid and the monitors on them both betrayed a little of that reaction.

"You're in deep trouble for allowing him to be hurt." Lionel waved one spidery hand in the air for a moment. "Understand that. I won't allow you to muddy the issue."

"I wasn't even meant to be at work." Clark retorted trying to sound certain. A Luthor technique. "I was on RedK, in a zone of um... arousal. You should be lucky that I wanted to save him with my system so out of whack. But that doesn't matter does it? You don't really care about that, you just want to push me down even further."

"Whatever soothes your conscience," Lionel smiled. He was already rising past letting himself being baited. It wasn't fair.

"I'm surprised you even know what a conscience is," Clark muttered under his breath even as he closed his eyes a moment in discomfort. He was all bluff and he knew it, and what was worse so did Lionel. "So what's the punishment this time? Another dip in the kryptonite bath?"

"You suggest it so readily that I'd almost suspect that you enjoyed it," Lionel mused. "No. There are better ideas."

Better ideas? Clark was not glad to hear that. He thought that had been a new refinement on the punishments he had to go to. Not the worst. Lionel had saved that for the times where he had tried somehow to escape him and then promised to put every one he loved through the same treatment or worse. "Oh yeah, of course I enjoy my blood coming to a slow boil," he muttered. The technicians were checking his tubing and color. They must be nearly done.

"Who knows." Lionel gave an almost carefree shrug, before he settled in the chair for a moment longer. "You'll experience it soon enough."

"You know, there are laws against this sort of thing," Clark replied even as he winced as the flow between them was shut down and the tube tugged from his abdomen.

"Animal experimentation?"

Clark gritted his teeth a little. He knew Lionel knew just how to twist the knife in all ways to make it worse and making him less than nothing was his usual means of doing it. "There are Laws against that too."

"Something tells me that even those laws wouldn't extend to you, Mr. Kent." Lionel looked at his men, and jerked his head in an order to them. "Go fetch it."

Clark tried to twist enough to see what the men were fetching even as they disappeared, but he couldn't get around that far. In the mean time he was being stuck with the sensors that Lionel usually insisted upon to maintain the guise that it was experimentation rather than blatant torture. "What... what are they getting?"

"A device that will allow us to extract sperm. Though I'm sure that you've wasted a good deal in the past week, I'd like to exam what's remaining."

"To extract... I thought you had samples?" Clark protested, starting to struggle to get out of where he was. "I know you have samples! No... no, don't do this..."

"Why not?" Lionel sat up a little as they carried the device over -- it wasn't refined by any means. A pump that would make Clark hard, then milk him. It was demeaning, degrading -- and that way on purpose.

"You don't need to, you're just doing this for your own sick satisfaction," Clark spat back and tugged hard at the straps holding him. Hard enough that even with the weakening from the bands one of them ripped them a little. Heartened by this, before they made it over to him he tried again.

"It's a punishment, Kent," Lionel smiled slyly as one of the technicians warily unbuttoned and unzipped Clark's pants.

"Get... OFF me!" Clark yelled at them trying to kick his leg free even as he felt fingers there that he didn't want. "Get the fuck away from me!"

"Mr. Luthor, maybe--"

"I pay you to know what a good idea is and isn't. Just get it in place, and he'll stop fighting!"

Like hell he would. He wasn't going to stop fighting. He wasn't going to let this happen meekly. "Bastards, you fucking bastard Lionel!"

All he needed was a good rip with one of his legs and he could kick them away. He was weaker but not that weak. He continued struggling even as he felt a hand around his cock and the press of something against it.

Something hard that came down over his cock, and brought pain with it. Pain like someone was pressing a meteor rock right against his dick, tight against his skin. "You only get what comes to you, Clark."

Just like that helplessness took him. He was shocked into a pale shaking cry of pain, the impact of it robbing him of breath and voice.

He never got used to it. He always hoped that he would somehow learn to tolerate, or work around kryptonite pain but it had never happened and to have it there...He was teetering on the edge of a scream with each moment that passed.

Lionel was grinning just slightly to himself as he watched, lips curled up in wicked amusement. "Turn it on," he instructed the technician softly. With a press of a switch, the machine whirred to life, and the suction started to make Clark hard despite the pain, mixing signals in the way that Lionel seemed to like to do to him. As if that completely made him irredeemable.

"No... no..." It hurt more than he could imagine and at the same time, his body was reacting as if it were like the pleasurable act blending very confusing messages in his body. He did find himself moaning and shuddering even as the heat and pain blurred together after an immeasurable period of time. "You're a real slut, aren't you?" Lionel sighed, seemingly disappointed as he leaned forwards a little, watching Clark's face.

"GET...this... OFF me.." Clark gritted out. He felt he had gone a clammy and pale with the pain of it and his eyes barely focused. "'m not...not a slut."

"Of course you are. You're enjoying that, aren't you? And it's just a simple scientific procedure."

"It...hurts...fuck...it hurts!" Clark gasped out. They had no idea how much it did. He felt sick and dizzy with the pain of it and yet still somehow his body was betraying him even as its regenerative properties fought the damage being caused. He shouldn't be becoming hard from this. He shouldn't be feeling himself swell into a greater agony with each pulse and yet feel a shameful physical response there.

"And you like it that way? I'll put a memo on my son's desk to that implication. What do you think he'd say to that?"

"Fuck...you..." Clark struggled feebly. It had to end. It had to end and then it would be over. He could get through it. Thinking about Lex doing this was a bad idea as it did very strange things to his head and body. If Lionel was trying to screw him up completely he was succeeding admirably.

"To you, you're right. I've slept with most of his lovers. Not his work, but his lovers. I'm sure he'd be infuriated by a statement like that, to the point of... ruining your plan to corrupt him? Breaking you thoroughly to keep it from happening again? It makes you think, doesn't it?" That was Lionel Luthor, getting his kicks. He was still languid, but his blood was clean and healthy again, pumping with life as he watched Clark struggle and moan.

"...wouldn't...." Clark could feel the beads of perspiration trickling down. "Wouldn't...he..."

"Finish your sentence or finish your orgasm -- you clearly can't do both at once."

Clark turned away, shaking even as against his will he did climax and he did scream with the burst of agony that came with it. He nearly succumbed to the urge to sob afterwards but was determined not to give him the satisfaction.

It sucked at him for a moment more, but they turned it off, and one rubber-gloved hand slowly removed his puffy cock from it.

"There, that wasn't so bad. You can go back to your room, and you'll get your RedK now."

He turned away from him, still in shock from what had happened. The experience had been enough to overwhelm the precursors to RedK withdrawal and that was saying something. Clark couldn't tell if the shaking was from this new 'experiment' or from the start of withdrawal.

Lionel levered himself up out of the chair, and smiled at Clark. "Oh, one last thing. Simmons, hand me that scalpel." It was a deft motion from the man who was zipping up Clark's pants that brought Lionel the scalpel. "Clark. This is for not watching Lex carefully enough."

Clark blinked a little and then cried out again, his voice rough with the aftermath of his screaming as the scalpel stabbed deep into his hip, mirroring the wound that Lex had received through his 'inattention'. Lionel seemed to derive great satisfaction from pushing it in deeply before stepping back and leaving it there.

"Good afternoon, Clark," Lionel smiled, then turned to leave. "Don't forget today's lesson."

He couldn't even answer. Was this what his life was going to be? Forever? Six years was long enough, long enough for anyone to have the right to just...give up. Why couldn't he just give up? Why couldn't he just end all of this?

Even though the straps being removed meant that his strength technically returned, and the scalpel healed in tight to his leg, the onset of RedK withdrawal kept him from lunging after the businessman. He must have been here longer than he thought, because he was going to be lucky to get back to his room before he collapsed .

If he got that far.

Clark made it back to his room - just. The desperation and shakes that came with the need for the RedK far overwhelmed the minor problem of a scalpel buried in his hip. He knew why they did it this way. It was so there would be no one near him when he took the drug and wrecked everything around him if he didn't take steps to control himself.

There it was, gleaming on the side that he needed like he needed to breathe. It was horribly compellingly addictive to mind and body, and he hated the fact that every second without it was a torture to his habituation mind and body. God, he hated himself for this. Hated everything as the wanting throbbed through him..

He nearly forgot to lock the door behind him as he stumbled to the table reaching with a trembling hand for the syringe.

In a couple of minutes, he'd feel like he was walking on air. Like he could rule the world, like he could have everything he wanted. The pleasure would wash everything out, and he'd even be able to pull the scalpel out. He knew what he should do first but he was too deep in withdrawal to focus.

All it took was a pinprick.

His hands were shaking even as his skin reacted to the proximity of the kryptonite needle. Yeah... yeah, there was a vein. He'd go off his head for a little while but...he'd feel so much better and if he didn't take it they would die. All of them. Lionel had warned him with practical demonstrations when he'd tried not to take it.

There... oh God, yeah.... Yeah...

The flood of the substance was like a raging fire hitting his veins and the tumult of hurt and anger he had had to repress burst forth in an incoherent sound of rage.

Free. Just for a little while, he was free of normal constraints and mental reminders. The first thing to go was the scalpel. It ripped out easily, despite that it hurt for a moment. He healed quickly, quicker when he had RedK in his body as his metabolism went into overdrive. Everything felt good.

Emotions flickered back and forth. Anger rose up and that felt good, pain felt good. Letting go and destroying what came to hand felt good. He felt like he could tear down the building with his bear hands, that he could do more than rip and crush everything around him. He wanted something more. He was aflame and he want to throw himself into the sky and tear that apart too. He headed for the window, impulse driven and uninhibited, too late to control himself like he usually did.

"Don't!" It didn't quite matter that they were only on a first floor room, or that Clark was impervious to pain. It was still a gut reaction that made Lex leap out of his hiding spot behind the cracked open bathroom door.

Clark froze where he was and turned. His eyes were almost flickering red as if his heat vision was being suppressed moment by moment from blazing into life and turning his apartment into an inferno. "Oh you really shouldn't be here Lex..." he said in a low voice stepping towards him. "You really shouldn't be..."

"I needed to make sure you were okay," Lex insisted. He took a step towards Clark in foolish bravery, and reached a hand out. "Don't jump out the window, Clark. Please. Why don't you sit down."

"I don't want to sit down. I want to break things." Clark looked at Lex with that wildly unsettling regard that was common to someone totally high and out of control. "Do you want to help me?"

"Break your stuff?" Lex shook his head, and reached for Clark's shoulders. "Nah, You'll miss it when you come out of this. Let's do something else."

Clark looked at, the anger still in even as he gripped Lex's right arm as if preparing to throw him. "Breaking is good. You want your bones broken? It's painful but the RedK makes it feel so good. They haven't done that for a while... you want to do that? I could set fire to ... I could set fire to Garner's building! You'd like that wouldn't you Lex? Bastard... bastard... yeah... Let's do it! Come on, we could really run this place!"

"We could," Lex agreed. There wasn't any time to hesitate or waver, not with Clark looking so wild. "How about we fuck instead?" Something to take Clark's mind from it. He'd rather have Clark go wild that way than run around like a werewolf.

Clark hesitated, moving in closer drawn there by those words. "He said...he said you'd break me. He said that... it would feel good. Breaking is good..."

It was all muddled in his head, all twisted with the words of Lionel, his experience and now the heady dark rush of the confusion of imagining Lex there doing all that to him amplified a thousand fold. "Yeah..." He breathed in and could smell him, filling him with the rawness of a different type of need. Lex meant everything he needed all in one bundle; sex, danger, security. Someone who could save him or destroy him…and that might very well be one and the same thing if there was any truth to what Lionel said. When he looked back on these moments it was his greatest shame that he could believe it. He would never admit it, but there was the doubt there having been so wild and needing so much darkness and lusting for destruction that he was the monster Lionel described. And that kept him as emotionally crippled and tied as the drugs and blackmail.

"I'll make you feel so good," Lex promised as he pulled Clark closer, as close as the other man would let him get. "I promise, your head will spin."

"Yes... yes you do that to me..." Clark said absently, his eyes focusing on Lex instead of darting wildly. "I don't want to have to think... you'll do that to me? I want you to do... stuff. Wild stuff. Yeah." He craved the raw and intense, the furnace instead of warm comfort. It was good he had memories that Lex could do that and had that dangerous edge or Lex would have been flung to one side immediately in search of someone who could fulfill those confused RedK inflames needs.

"Wild stuff," Lex promised again, lowering his voice to a husk of invitation. "You want to really get fucked, don't you? You want to fuck me, too? I'll make it good for you..." He took a back step, and pulled Clark with him, intent on getting Clark away from the window.

"I..." There was something nagging at him about that offer. Something dangerous, something wrong. The whole thing was dangerous. "Can't be in control of you. Can't be. Hurts in a bad way." The session had made enough of an impression to make an impact on even his drugged state, a testament to the horror of the experience. Lionel didn't want his test to be too successful, even if Clark hadn't wanted it to be this way.

"Why does it hurt?" Lex pulled, heading for what he hoped was Clarks' bedroom.

"It's wrong. It's wrong okay? Would mean hurt. " Clark followed him eagerly. "He says you wouldn't like it if you knew I liked hurt...I don't think I do but I would from you because it's you and that would be good but from him it would be bad and not being right with you would be hurt with him."

Clark was babbling, only semi-coherent as they made it into his room. At least Lex had made the right guess about what room it was. Just as nice as the rest of the apartment, the standard decorating job that the building came stocked with. "You're right with me, Clark. I don't think you could be wrong with me."

"I want to know...you've got to make me yours, not his..." It was an urgent plea even as Clark tried to hungrily kiss Lex, and not wasting any opportunity. "You... can do anything. Please Lex."

Lex let him kiss, encouraged it. It was better than Clark on a rampage. He needed to control Clark, calm him down or help him soothe through the first hits of the drug in his system. He'd start coming down... what, by the evening, or by Monday?

Hell. It was great to have a confirmed reason for Clark's mood swings, but he still wished there was a way to counteract it.

It was almost too desperate what Clark was doing, too needy and in a strange way it would feel like taking advantage of him even though he was sure Clark would say yes to anything he wanted in his right mind. Right now though, his mind was not talking to his body at all and his body was in definite charge from the way he was tasting and touching him. It made him wonder how Clark controlled himself while he was alone. This couldn't have been the first time that Lionel pushed him to the limit and beyond. And he probably would have noticed if there had been reports of Clark on a rampage in Metropolis before now.

King Kong would've had nothing on Clark Kent hanging from a sky scraper. "Clark, lay down." He had to get a hand between their bodies; since Clark had already insisted that Lex take control, fine. Lex could take control. But with something. Clark had told him what, hadn't he?

Kryptonite. Green Kryptonite.

He dragged himself away, willing to give way on the principle that he was expecting much more any moment. He looked up at Lex, reaching drag him towards him. "Now Lex!"

"Hold on. You told me before that I needed... Kryptonite. I'll have to leave to get some. Would you..." Hell, could he stay there?

Clark growled a little, the hint of a red glow still in his eyes. "Wardrobe. Box. Things I use, I need." He could wait for the box, his lust growing at the thought. In his current state any thought was inherently sexy.

In the wardrobe, then. Lex pulled away and moved to the wardrobe. All he had to do was pull the door open, and look for a box that glowed green. Or something.

There was a heavy looking metal box there. When Lex tried to move it was obvious that it was at the least lined with lead. It was only latched down, and the contents were a bit of an eye opener. Clark had invested in things to keep himself under control after the first rush of the Red Kryptonite, and most of it was adapted from adult equipment. Lex was willing to bet that Clark usually managed to get himself in the restraints before he took the shot. There were ingenious timing mechanisms evident on some of the locks that were obviously designed to release after a sufficient length of time and keep him helpless but safe up until then.

It left Lex wondering, as he looked at the restraints, just how to best apply the cuffs and thread-like chains to Clark. Every here and there, there was a small gleam of green flickering as he brought it closer, where the kryptonite gleamed. It probably looked more complicated than it was, after all Clark had to put it on himself so he had to be able to slip it on somehow.

The growl had turned to a near purr as Clark saw Lex coming closer. "Oh yeah. Oh yeah, Lex, that'll be good."

"You'll have to tell me how to use it," Lex apologized as he knelt on the mattress beside Clark. He held it out and could see Clark's skin start to crawl as the green specks on the restraints fluoresced and reacted to his presence, even as his skin reacted.

"It's...cuffs. Put them on me, then I'll be weak. You can clip them or pull the chains through however you want," Clark was impatient wanting sex, and the other man's touch breaking him apart right here, right now. The prospect seemed intoxicating and compulsive. "The timer shields the lead and then I can snap the chains."

Cuffs. "You do this by yourself?" Lex moved to sit on top of Clark, putting one cuff on Clark's left wrist. Dominated. Broken. Clark wanted to be dominated and broken by Lex, and Lex would do the least damage possible because he couldn't let that happen to him. Control him and wait.

"Have to, could do something ... if I got angry. Mmm." He didn't seem to mind the pain involved, not under the influence as he was. "Need you."

"Soon. You're too strong for me to hurt, Clark. You need..." He locked the second cuff into place, and contemplated what to tie Clark to.

Clark was smiling up at him with an almost feral hunger. "I can feel it. You want me like this... Don't you?"

Tied down with the world safe from havoc and destruction? Oh hell yes. "I want you, Clark," Lex agreed, leaning down to kiss the edge of Clark's jaw. He could loop the rope through -- was that an eye hook?"

It made sense that Clark would have put in something to attach himself to and stop his frustration freeing him before he was ready. It was quite a sobering thought, imagining Clark here, alone in his room going through what must be a weekly ritual of making sure he was 'safe'. No wonder he had such strange idea's about them being together. If this meant safety, being chained and controlled then it explained a lot about his embarrassed confessions about enjoying that side of things. Perhaps it was the only way he felt he could let go.

Clark was desperately trying to kiss him again but did not resist being moved around to accommodate Lex's requirements. Either he thought it was some sexual game or he knew that it was part of the habit, either way he didn't fight what Lex was doing.

It was surprisingly easy for Lex to move off of Clark, sliding down to his feet with the extra cuffs. There was another eyehook just under the bed. He could imagine Clark doing that for himself, securing his feet first, his arms last. "I'll have to cut your clothes off."

"I like the sound of that." Clark was watching his every move avidly. He was definitely going to be disappointed if nothing happened at all. His body was radiating heat as the RedK accelerated his metabolism and all his states of arousal.

"Tell me why." Lex moved away from the bed. He'd probably have to backtrack to the kitchen for a knife.

The look Clark gave him was a far cry from the softer, gentler expression he had shown him when they had been in bed together not even 24 hours before. "Could be... dangerous. You are dangerous and I like that. I want that."

"Tell me, Clark, why I'm a danger to you." He wasn't going to go as far as the kitchen. Maybe Clark had a razor blade in his bathroom or a pair of scissors Lex could use.

"Because I love you." The look was sly and coy at the same time from beneath thick lashes. "And that means you could get me to do all the things your father never could. And that could be the plan all along. A different way to break me."

"What if I just wanted you. Unbroken, but mine?" Clark had a desk that looked pretty un-used, but there was a pair of scissors in the middle drawer. The more he looked around the place, the more Clark's apartment had the feel of a hotel room.

"Is that a Luthor's style?" Clark challenged twisting to watch him. "Do you know any other way than to break and take?"

"Yes. If something is there for the taking, then what's there to break? No chains. No resistance..." He fell into a pace, and it felt like the sort of things he was supposed to say in that situation. He knew what he was doing when he reached for Clark's shirt and started to cut up the side.

It was enough to make Clark shiver. "Your father doesn't know that way. But he thinks I am dangerous. He could be right. He thinks he's saving the world."

"Listen to what you're saying, and think about what my father has done to you. Do you really think he's capable of saving the world?" Lex cut carefully, slicing the material with artful neatness.

"I don't know, I'm an alien with powers and technology and apparent programming to take over the world," Clark replied arching a little as cool metal slid over hot skin. "Perhaps he is right that I need a keeper."

"Programming to take over the world? I hadn't noticed that part." Now that Clark was restrained and lying on the bed, it was easier to calmly joke the way they did at work.

"Oh yeah. I think my biological father could match yours," Clark murmured, waiting expectantly for more touching and more exposure.

One more cut, and Lex lifted the top of Clark's shirt off of him like a top layer of a sandwich. "In terms of cunning?"

"In terms of testing and mapping the lives of their sons," Clark replied, tugging at the cuffs instinctively as cool hands touched over his chest for a moment and then withdrew. "You're making me wait Lex."

"I am. I'm thinking of what's best to do with you. And how to cut your pants off."

"Mm. Close. Cut it close..." He pulled a little, his impatience growing. "I need you, I need touching and more."

"Touching what? How?" Delay, delay. Lex unbuttoned Clark's pants, and then just started to pull them down.

Clark growled a little again. "Everything Lex. My cock, my skin... anything!"

Anything. A caress of fingers over hip first, until he got Clark's jeans down to his knees and could really start to stroke hands over his ass and legs. "You want to be fucked. " "Fuck yes..." Clark breathed, his pupils dilated and swallowed the green blue of his eyes part with the drugs and the rest with arousal. "Mm. By you. You feel good Lex, so good."

"And you can't touch me right now, can you? Didn't get enough of me on our vacation?" It was easy for him to slide fingers behind Clark's balls, teasing as his perineum.

"Never get enough of you." He moved some more, gasping then at the touch he couldn't stop or control. It was a heady feeling and his breath was ragged as he tried to move.. "I want you, please Lex! I need..." His fingers were driving him mad.

Finger fucking. He could do that with Clark and not, not really be taking advantage of his drugged out state. Stretch it out, get Clark all worked up and distracted. He knew how to keep someone's sexual attention. Hints and promises that tantalized, touches that constantly promised more and never quite delivered - part of his job skills put to good use for once. "I'll take my time."

"No! I want it now Lex!" It was as much a plea as a demand. Clark might be weakened by the kryptonite, but he was still strong enough to pull at the tethers and strain them.

Pull, but maybe not break them. Lex could hope, and he teased one finger dry against the wrinkle of Clark's asshole. "What do you do to yourself when I'm not here?"

"I can't do anything once I'm like this. I... have to think, imagine." Clark inhaled sharply. "Think of...wrong things, but I need it."

"What kind of wrong things?" A bare pressure, teasing the muscle.

"It makes me want to... bleed, to let go, to hurt and be hurt," Clark replied exhaling with a shuddering breath. "I want to be helpless and safe beneath you. I want to take everything you give me until there's nothing dangerous left. He's right, oh god, he's right...I'm a slut. I want everything."

Lex leaned down to press a kiss against Clark's stomach, finger still moving. "Who?"

"Mmm. Your father...he... he.. likes to mix me up like that. Experiments..." Clark moaned then, the links of chains jangling as he arched up. "Years of them. Fucking.. years."

"You're not a slut." Lex kept up with that teasing touch. "You don't have lubricant in plain sight -- so you can't be a slut."

"Who said I needed it?" He was painfully hard now and desperate with hope that there would be more. There had to be more, now he was like this with the object of weeks worth of illicit fantasies there with him and touching him this way. He could imagine him pulling his knees up and apart and tying him there and then, oh god, yes doing what he wanted and he could do nothing. That was an image that burned in him inflamed by RedK and his own desire for the other man.

"You don't? I think I do." Lex shifted, hunching back a little to kiss just above Clark's belly button. His lips were cool and soothing against burning skin and his breath cooled him further with prickles of sensation.

"Please Lex," Clark whispered as he watched him, burning for more of him, anywhere and everywhere his one terror now that he would be left alone with nothing but his thoughts as he had for so many years. Where he came in frustration and shame unable to touch himself, imagining lovers rough and gentle to bring him some measure of release. "You are going to aren't you?"

"My dick'll never recover if I do this without lube," Lex excused as he started to slide his finger into Clark. Maybe two, three, and sucking him off would help.

From the expression on Clark's face, that touch seemed to be the equivalent of manna from heaven. He looked more and more like he was on drugs, with his blissed out expression and closed eyes. "Better... than ... I imagined."

Not that Clark hadn't actually taken drugs. It made Lex want to laugh, but it was easier to slide down Clark's body, pushing that finger in as deep as he could. "Do you want to be sucked?"

"Yes! Oh fuck..."Clark writhed, tugging and pulling at the restraints hard. Sucked while like this? It was enough to make him want to shake and beg and he had to bite his lip to stop the latter.

He wasn't going to get free, or at least Lex hoped so. It was easy for him to slide down the rest of the way, taking the head of Clark's dick into his mouth while he pulled his hand back so he could slide another finger in.

The sounds that Clark made in response to that were incoherent and wild. He wasn't going to last long at all, and his cock felt literally hot in his mouth, burning with the influence of the red meteor rock in his blood.

Lex really hoped it wasn't going to poison him. It was easy to let Clark do what he wanted, easy to let him fuck Lex's face if he wanted.

He wanted that all right. He thrust and moved as much as the restraints would allow, desperate for fulfillment. The fact that it took little more than that to send him to his first climax was an indicator of how keyed up his body really was. He made a gasping sound, as he regained his hardness practically without a pause.

Lex swallowed, and curled his fingers up against Clark's prostate. It was just his luck that he'd get himself a willing sex slave that could come multiple times when hyped up on drugs. And it was just his luck that he'd feel guilty about really putting that to use. Somehow it didn't seem right to completely exploit him, when Clark was so obviously out of control. No, he would use his natural talents and what came to hand to give Clark enough of what he needed without taking everything.

That first experience was just the tip of the iceberg. There were times where Lex started to be grateful for the restraints Clark was in as he got quite violent in his reactions. If he had been challenging in the club the week before, this showed how much he had come down from the high to barely controllable before he set himself loose on the world.

Lex couldn't imagine what it would be like to be that sexually wound up or angry that control wasn't even an option. It would be like a betrayal by yourself all the time. No wonder Clark didn't want a more dominant role; seeing him like this made it obvious that there would have been no other options open to him than rape in the RedK state and he knew Clark. That would have destroyed him, whereas the alternative made him 'safe'. He damned his father for infecting Clark with such deep doubt in himself that he had warped himself around his lies and did his fathers work form him in his self imposed torment.

Lex also thanked god for the additional things in the box that helped to entertain Clark in some ways in that time without letting him compromise his reluctance to take advantage. Obviously, Clark was not averse to helping himself out with dildo's and other toys, a lot of which had automatic functions which had been run. Lex knew how to be creative with them and with his voice. He could talk sex under the skin of a person, and crawl around their body from the inside out and there was the tug there to fuck him wildly, to do everything Clark challenged and begged from him and more that only his darkest imagination could supply. Not that under other circumstances what he was allowing himself to do might have been enjoyable and he might have wanted to take full advantage but he seemed to have been effected by some bizarre sense of morality, broken out in a rash of morals.

Maybe freak sense was the better word. Freak sense. Lex slept with people for his work. He blackmailed child molesters. He blackmailed all types of people, and it never bothered him.

But taking advantage of Clark bothered him. Maybe it was because of their week, or what he'd overheard Clark saying to his mother or... one of a hundred things including deep clear green-blue eyes that had looked at him and not given in to a prejudice when everything should have made him do so. A cynic in him might have commented that Clark had to protect him, had to do all of that, but then he would find things that called that very Luthor judgment into doubt. The re-gift of his memories that could have benefited him if he chose to blackmail him. The way Lex had shot him and he hadn't said - he knew that now. He'd accessed the clean up tapes. That wasn't about protecting his secret. The secret was out and he hadn't used it. A thousand and one ways he just smiled at him in the day, joked, irritated him, and seemed to care enough to not let him get away with anything.

Either way, he didn't feel comfortable doing more than teasing Clark to an inch beyond his endurance with his hands, his mouth and the variety of objects to hand. He felt a certain sense of pride that he could make any situation sexy and erotic and Clark's reaction which had extended to begging, shouting and demands indicated he was more than successful. He also came a truly phenomenal amount of times. If Lex had any doubt that Clark wasn't human that alone would have convinced him.

Towards the evening, Clark was less wild and more coherent and he lay there recovering from Lex's attentions.

Lex took a moment to rest, reclining back tiredly on the mattress. His hands hurt, his mouth hurt, and he was weary. Keeping that sort of scene going for the best part of a day was emotionally exhausting.

"Clark. How do you feel?"

"Better." Clark looked at him, looking tired and mussed himself as the effects of the normal kryptonite took more effect as the RedK faded a little.

Maybe it was time to pack some of the excess toys away into that lead box. Except Lex didn't want to move. Not yet. "More in control?"

Clark nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'm...sorry." He was aware of himself enough to blush at his own behavior and look thoroughly ashamed.

Which meant a leap forwards in Clark's general world awareness. Lex sat up, leaning on one arm. "Why apologize?" Other than that Clark had scared him, and then he'd threatened to set things on fire... He'd fended that off with the might of a vibrator. This was not an achievement of world-saving he could imagine reciting to anyone.

"You should have just left me tied. You didn't need to stay with me," Clark replied quietly in a subdued tone. "Or help me."

"Uh-huh." Lex took the time to shift to lean over Clark, movements tired and lazy. "Clark. I care about you. That was why I came here in the first place."

"I never wanted you to see me like this. This is why Mom and Dad don't know," Clark admitted, the shame obvious.

"I've seen you on red kryptonite before," Lex reminded him. "Except I'd been stabbed. This time I just... chose to stay."

Clark shifted slightly. "I won't be as bad as before, because you've helped me now," he said looking up at him.

"Explain that to me." Lex put a hand on Clark's chest, stroking over the too-warm skin. He had to stop it. Had to get Clark off of that shit and out of his father's clutches

"I don't know. It strips out my inhibitions. It's times like this I can believe it that I could be the monster your father thinks I am. When I just stay here for most of the day, I still have the need at the end of it. To destroy or to fuck. If I wait until now I can usually manage to direct my anger at one of the scrap yards or a rock or a condemned building, or my lust to a club." Clark admitted again. "It's been the same every weekend for...years."

Years. "How many? How long now, Clark?" Years. He'd been under his father's thumb for years, but never so tightly controlled as he now knew Clark was.

"Six years," Clark answered looking away, his disappointment in himself for it being that long easy to read. "I can run so fast, and I'm so strong but I can't out run or protect against your father's money."

"Too pervasive." Lex spread his hand, fingers splayed against Clark's skin. "We need to work together."

"It's my parents, my friends." An expression of pain passed over his face. "Well, not so much friends any more, but I guess he knows even if they don't really consider me their friend now, I will still be held by threats to them. If anything happens to your father, if he is killed my parents die. That's the long and the short of it. A dead mans switch arrangement I believe."

"How?"

"I'm not sure, he changes the method every now and then." Clark swallowed, trying to get the helplessness out of his voice. "He tested it once, and once was all he needed, all my parents could stand. Told me to try and get there in time. I couldn't. If I try and come off the Red K I am helpless for at least a day and that's more than enough time to enact retribution." He shivered a little. "I've tested the bars of my cage Lex and they're very real."

"No. They're just built by my father." He kept his eyes on Clark's face, trying to reassure Clark with his own calmness. "Listen to me. We'll find a way. That's what our job is, Clark -- to figure out how people do things."

"But what do you stand to gain Lex?" Clark asked. The mark of Lionel Luthor's company showed in that immediate question. "If you face off against your father it would be dangerous, to you personally."

"Is there any question that we'd both gain if he were dead or otherwise impaired and unable to do the things he does?"

"I can't kill him. I've been close, but if I cross that line, that's it. It's crossed forever," Clark replied. "He knows that. He pushes me over and over to see if that will break. But I made a choice and.." Clark shook his head, his expression vulnerable. "I don't want you to be a murderer Lex."

If it got much worse, Lex was more willing to cross that line than Clark would ever want to know. But for the moment he nodded, and relaxed against Clark, stroking him absently and soothingly as he considered that information, looking for the flaw to exploit in his father's precautions. "We'll find a way. Do you want me to unchain you?"

"Please. If I get a little... needy with you again, I have enough control to stop now," Clark answered trying to sound like everything was fine. It wasn't; someone he cared about had seen him at his worst and his pride was in tatters and his self-esteem had taken a near fatal blow. Things were probably never going to be 'fine' again.

Lex reached up for the latch to unfasten the cuffs. "Who says you have to stop?"

"You look like you've had enough," Clark replied, unable to stop the relief showing as the cuffs dropped away. He smiled a little. "Unless you let me tend to you."

"Let me get your legs undone," Lex suggested as he levered himself up sitting, "and these put away. Then we'll see."

"Thank you." He closed his eyes a moment and then seemed to consider. "You know so much already, Lex but... there is another reason your father wants me on hand aside from my strength and speed." This was the thing he was absolutely not allowed to say, and here he was breaking that. Risking everything. But it was the least Lex deserved.

"Something with R&D." It was easy for Lex to release Clark's legs, and he took his time wrapping up the ropes. Might as well pack everything neatly away, so it'd be easy to get out next Saturday.

"Your father has a terminal liver condition. He has had a terminal liver condition for six years, when they gave him two months to live," Clark said softly as if afraid of the words and the consequences they could bring. "My blood... is useful to him. My tissues, living tissues."

"You..." He bent for a moment to place the things away in the box, and needed to use the floor to steady himself anyway. Fuck. Two months instead of six years? "Now it makes sense."

"They take my blood and give him a transfusion and then put a tube into my liver and let his blood be filtered and detoxified by the living tissue. It's... pretty uncomfortable." Clark sat up looking at him awkwardly as the lurid marks faded like magic. "He needs it every week without fail. We do that, then he conducts whatever experiment he has designed for that time and then... he waits until I am on the verge of withdrawal and makes sure I don't wreck the lab by having the dose put in my room. Usually I have enough time to prepare myself before taking it, but he let me go a long way this time. I could have done anything if you hadn't have been here."

"Every Saturday?" Lex turned his back to Clark for a moment, long enough to put the chest back into the wardrobe and to close the doors. Clark could've still been under the influence beyond his control, and just lying, but... But Clark had trusted Lex with his family, his friends, with him.

He could trust Clark in turn.

"Every Saturday," Clark replied, watching him move avidly. "I... uh. Shall I shower? Then I could, I don't know maybe get you something to eat or... whatever you want."

"You shower, and I'll dig through your kitchen and start something. This has to wear you out," Lex suggested, in a tone that said that if Clark wasn't warn out, it was better to just not tell Lex that.

"Okay," Clark said hesitantly taking an automatic couple of steps towards Lex, before almost visibly having to force himself to veer to the bathroom. His control did seem that much better but the attraction and need was definitely there.

Lex watched him for a moment, until he was sure Clark was heading into the bathroom, and then turned his back to Clark, the bedroom, all of it. Just for a moment. Fiddling through the kitchen would help him get his bearings.

Everything was falling apart, and strangely, he couldn't find himself having been happier in the past few years.

The revelations about his father's illness certainly put the rather overkill methods of security into perspective. Not just drugs, but blackmail, brain washing of a sort and hostages with the equivalent of dead man's switch in the event of his death. If Clark didn't care about other people then the threat would be useless. But if he didn't care then Lionel Luthor probably would be dead.

Years ago. But, Clark did care. And for all the suggestion that he was a threat to humanity, Lex knew Clark wasn't capable of it. It was part of the bad boy image Clark had been cultivating at Lionel and Morgan Edge's behest. Six years of subtle and not so subtle reinforcement and propaganda and Lex was pretty sure that a normal human being would have killed their tormenter, and felt it a righteous killing.

Lex wondered what LuthorCorp's most recent junior executive bad boy wanted for food.

Opening the refrigerator found it rather generously stocked with food from Martha Kent, a legacy of their trip to Smallville. The freezer compartment had neatly packaged meals as if somehow by doing that they could give him something tangible of the thoughts they had for him. It made his job easy at the least on the practical level, but harder on another.

He wondered exactly how much Clark's parents actually knew.

Did they know what Clark did, or did he keep it a secret from them? Had Clark told them company secrets? Did it matter to Lex? He was on the right side for once.

Lex almost wanted to laugh as he pulled the lid off of one Tupperware covered container. He was on the right side of things for once, contemplating offing his father.

It was a strange almost heady sensation. Lex Luthor on the side of the angels. There would be those who would say that was a sign of the end of the world.

Hmm. Some sort of chicken casserole. That looked good enough. Easy enough to heat up.

The question remained about how he could do this. He needed to find out what the failsafe contracts on the Kent's or others actually were and how they were triggered. His father wanted him to play the game and had no idea of Lex's capabilities when he really wanted to win.

He'd spent years training Lex to be capable enough to root out problems like what Lionel had inflicted on the Kent's. The Kents and Clark's friends. If he could solve that... it would be a start to making amends for everything that he'd ever done.

That he was capable he did not doubt. What was really throwing him was the fact he wanted to do this at all. He hadn't known Clark for that long and even if he was something special that had never been enough in the past to sway him after being burnt once or twice.

Literally, that one time. Clark had done a lot to try to gain his trust, oddly. And accidentally. The mere fact that he was doing what he was doing, re-heating food for him and Clark, was proof positive.

And once they were both free of Lionel's grasp... then the world was an open book for them both.

He put the casserole in the microwave to heat up, vegetables and all, sure that would be enough for them both. The fact remained, what would Clark do if he was free? Would he go without a backwards look?

Probably. And who could blame him if he cut out of there faster than a Ferrari. After all, if Lex had a chance to get out of there himself, to cut away the Luthor name? If he could do it, he would.

There was the pad of bare feet on the tiling of the kitchen floor behind him. "You found my stash then," Clark said behind him. He was still naked bar a towel around his waist.

It was enough to make Lex's heart stall a little as he looked at Clark. A little wild-eyed, but more a sort of Monday morning wild eyed. Lex could handle that for hours in a relaxed, almost intimate setting.

"A stash of home-cooked food? One hell of a stash, Clark."

"A secret vice. You had Mom's cooking so you understand," Clark replied and smiled as he walked closer as if drawn to Lex irresistibly.

"It's not so secret anymore, is it?" Lex smirked a little as he leaned against the counter. "Where's your plate?"

Clark reached to a cupboard. "Here. You going to join me?" he asked.

"I was wondering if I could. Figured it might be nicer than spending the weekend getting a head start on our next project." Lex turned to the microwave, eyeing how much time was left. "My brain feels like it needs the time off."

"I think I can find a few things to do that will be more pleasant for us both than what has just happened," Clark said smiling at him as he moved in really close. "Mm." He inhaled as he moved in behind Lex to slip arms around him comfortably. God, he smelt good.

Freshly washed, like heat and shampoo and aftershave. "Fuck. I think you've sudden penned yourself into my schedule for the rest of the evening..."

"I have a talent that way. Perks of the job." Clark murmured in his ear. "Access to the highest levels of management day and night." He was interrupted by the beeping of the microwave, even though he didn't removed his loose embrace.

Lex just turned, and reached an arm past Clarks' side to pop open the door. It didn't help that it brought Lex face to face, crotch to crotch with the other man. "Right up to the top."

It was enough to encourage Clark to lean in and kiss him, with soft gentle lips "Personal assistant... all this under that 'any other duties as required' clause."

"I prefer this to having you possibly hide bodies for me." Glib, sure, but Lex felt like bantering, playing, relaxing. His mind could finish processing everything in the background. For now, he had Clark Kent, in control of his senses, and chicken casserole.

"Having hot sex with the sexiest man in Metropolis? It's a tough job but.." Clark smiled. "Let's eat Lex, and then we can see about making things a little more satisfying for you."

"More satisfying than your mother's cooking?" Lex pulled back. "You'll have to prove it to me."

"Well we better eat so we can compare and contrast but... yeah. " Clark stroked down his back as he smiled.

"We'll make this work, Clark," Lex insisted as he reached for the Tupperware.

"I trust you Lex," Clark murmured in his ear before stepping back. "I know you'll do whatever you can." And if it wasn't enough, he wouldn't be worse off than he was now. "Let's eat."

Lex Luthor was proving remarkably difficult to kill, and a good evening entertainment though he had been, he really needed to be sure that the exact knowledge of how far along his projects were and what he could do disappeared before he entered serious negotiations. Dr Garner grimaced slightly. Logically, persistence should pay off, he knew that. There was no logical way that Lex Luthor could keep avoiding the various attempts he kept throwing at him. He had been sure that Bob Rickman had been a foolproof way to the other man and to Lionel Luthor but even that had failed with the loss of Rickman somehow. For over a week he had been throwing people at the executive and they failed.

The common factor in all the thwarting seemed to be the 'bodyguard'. No bodyguard was that good, but he knew a little something about Clark Kent. And he was ready to use it.

He waited impatiently as the person coordinating his 'clean-up' made yet another excuse for the latest failure.

"I swear to god, I didn't miss the shot, he just... He's not human. The bullet dropped to the ground in front of him." Worse, Van had been part of Lionel's clean-up team at one point, and he still wasn't managing to do it.

"I thought you were a professional," Nick Garner replied, absently fondling the small vial he had in his pocket. "I expected you to discover his weakness and exploit it. No problem you said, you could get through any security, in and out job done."

"And I did! I got in, bam, fired my shot, and it fucking bounced right off of him! Luthor's kid isn't HUMAN!"

"Or he's just from your home town Van," Garner supplied in a cool tone. "Now, I've done some work on this. He does have a recorded weakness. I had to look hard but I have something...if you can guarantee to kill Luthor with Kent incapacitated."

"Kent..." Van nodded to himself. "Of course. Freak protecting a freak. Got it. Yeah, if the bodyguard goes, I'm sure I can get him."

"I've met Kent once or twice before," Garner replied. "And if Luthorcorp hadn't have sifted every inch of Smallville for meteor rocks and impounded them the easy solution would have been to make kryptonite bullets and kill him that way. I'm sure you would have enjoyed that." The vial was put on the table. "But, as you know... the lack of kryptonite, that is pretty much the whole reason for all of this, so we have to resort to something more subtle. This."

"When Lex is dead, how's that gunna help you get the materials you need?" Van had to ask it, even as he leaned forwards to deftly pick up the vial.

"His father could be persuaded to negotiate." Using the methods he had attempted with Lex. He could get to see him at least and use force if necessary. He'd learn from his mistakes even if sex couldn't be the lure. "Don't open that and do not inhale it. I managed to acquire a sample from Smallville medical centre of Martha Kent's blood from several years back - it's been in storage for research. She was infected by a mutated spore to the point that she died and was resuscitated. There is a note in her file from a Dr Helen Bryce that her son was also displaying similar symptoms but there is no medical file for Clark Kent in there. At the very least, this spore will weaken Kent to incapacity. In this concentration, it will probably do more. I had it cultivated."

Using some of his precious kryptonite as an investment on the prospect of getting more.

Van looked at the sample, and nodded in approval for a moment. "Okay. Yeah. But how do I get it to him? How do you infect a guy that won't hold still?"

"You want me to do that too?" Nick Garner looked surprised. "Wear a mask, hit him airborne. The spore has an airborne life of only around ten seconds. How about a hollow nose bullet? If it hits there will be spore release."

"Hey, I didn't know how contagious this stuff is or not. Didn't wanna start... Something like Outbreak, you know?" Van was still looking at the vial, nodding to himself. "Hollow nose bullet right to the chest."

"Chest, face whatever. It may take a day to get into his system, but..." Nick Garner smirked a little. "Safe enough for you to do your thing at least."

"Once it's in. You think a through and through at the temple could take Luthor out?" Van was grinning, starting to revel in what he could be achieving. Taking out one more freak.

"I'll leave it to you. Sounds good enough." Garner smiled slow and easy. People were easy manipulate. "Whatever gets the job done."

Van stood up, pocketing the vial. "I'll get your job done. Trust me."

"I don't need to trust you, Van, I just need to withhold the paycheck until the job is done." Nick replied. "Now... don't let me hold you up. Time is money."

"Sooner I get it done, the sooner I get my money. I got you." Van left then, quickly, leaving Garner to contemplate what he'd do once Lex was dead. It wouldn't be long now.

Then he could achieve anything he wanted. With enough kryptonite he could expand the capability of the memory modification and could not just remove but implant memories. One he could do that, there would be no opposition to anything. And the death of one Alexander J. Luthor was like paying pocket change for a Picasso if it got him access to the kryptonite. Brains and intelligence would win every time over brute strength, he was sure of that.

Some days, work was just slow. Some days, he and Clark didn't get fun work to do, or even work that stretched his brains.

It was a 'planning' day -- he had a target, no blackmail on the guy, nothing, and an afternoon at his computer to get himself some dirt on or an angle to work with. Start online, and then work out to the real world, that was always the best way. Basic information, email accounts, anything was useful to start looking for dirty secrets.

The intense concentration of assassination attempts of the last couple of weeks had disrupted his efforts. Garner was persistent and obviously wanting to silence him, or take him out of the loop somehow. Or potentially it was his father playing games again. It wasn't impossible. He knew that Clark would be able to thwart each attempt. Perhaps it was a dual test for the both of them.

Clark was working across the room. Since the spate of attempts on his life he liked to be close, day and night. He was doing the day to day work of Lex's position - he was happy enough to trust him with that and since the revelations about Clark's abilities, his trainee was able to cover astonishing amounts of work in short periods of time as he no longer had to conceal them from Lex.

Clark could handle the small stuff, and Lex could try to keep ahead on major assignments. Clark was supposed to be his assistant, after all. No questions asked.

Still. Lex hated doing the tedious part of starting research.

"Clark. Are you bored over there?"

"Not particularly. But I take it from the question that you are Lex." He looked up and grinned at his boss. "Something you want?"

"I was thinking we could go out for dinner, after work." Just something to look forwards to after slogging through one CEO's boring web log.

"Having dinner with the help? Are you sure that is appropriate?" Clark teased again.

"Very sure. If anyone asks... business dinner." Lex leaned back, then stretched his arms out in front of him. "I could go for brandy cake."

"The decadence of it all. But if it's just the cake I could get it for you?" Clark offered standing to get Lex a refill on his coffee. He had that look about him. He spared a glance out of the window at what seemed to be a news helicopter coming in from the east side of the city.

"Probably a car crash they want for the Five o'clock news. Like we don't have real news in this city." Lex leaned forwards, watching Clark watch the window more than he watched it himself.

"I used to be good at stopping car crashes," Clark commented looking back at him for a moment as the helicopter went by. "Even if I crashed a -"

It was at that moment he heard the split second crack of velocity fire. Bullets powerful enough punch through the bullet proof glass. The first exploded, shattering the window even as Clark moved to shield Lex and face the salvo of other bullets.

They never learned. The other bullets exploded against his chest and he shot back a blast of heat vision, to mark the helicopter at least. "Fucking bastards!" he yelled at them, coughing slightly as dust and debris swirled around him as the cold sharp winds at that height swirled into the room..

It was strange how a calm moment could break into a sudden reenactment of Dante's inferno, with little to no warning. Lex sheltered himself behind Clark, dropping down as much as he could. Bullets didn't bounce off of his own chest.

"They never learn. They don't fucking learn." Clark watched the helicopter drift away trailing smoke. Calm returned. "Bullets. Useless. You okay?"

"Fine..." Pulse rate through the roof, and... fuck. His computer was suddenly 'off' and he just knew it'd taken a bullet. Bastards. "Shit. Was that thing marked?"

"The helicopter? It is now. Nice big burn mark all over it." Clark brushed off his top. "I hate to tell you Lex but there's another hole in your building."

"Other than that one there?" Lex leaned against Clark, eyeing the ex-window that was letting whipping wind into the room

"This is enough. You and I are going somewhere safe. No doubt your father will be along shortly." Clark looked down a moment, his spike of fear obvious in his expression. "Looks like another fun weekend coming up."

"He can't punish you for that," Lex cut in sternly. "You saved my life again... Dammit, there's no logic to any of this."

"He doesn't need logic," Clark replied morosely even as he got close and gently brushed glass from him, stopping it cutting and injuring. "He won't see it that way. It'll be some conspiracy of mine to test you with and he'll…" He throat tightened a moment with fear and he cleared it unsteadily.

"Security'll be here in about thirty seconds." Which was ten minutes too soon for Lex to have to pulled his nerves back together. He was tired of shit exploding, firing at him or catching fire. It wore on the nerves after a while, even with the fringe benefits of rescue.

If he'd gone out for brandy cake, the place probably would've ended up shot up.

"Then we'll be in your Penthouse in ten." Clark reached for him. "We have got to do something about this guy."

"Who IS this guy? No-one's talking about it, Clark, and--"

There went the door and immediately Clark was in his professional stance.

"Mr. Luthor I think we should get you to a more secure location," Clark said formally. "If you will step this way. Security.... I want clean up in here, replacement with the highest quality protective glass on the market. This way please Mr. Luthor..."

Cool, calm, efficient. A far cry from his Red Kryptonite side or the gentle innocence of the farm boy from Smallville. He sounded like a LuthorCorp Executive and behaved that way.

Lex wasn't sure if it was a game, a mask, or a way of coping. But he'd roll with it, and dealing with Clark was easier than dealing with security.

"Thank you. I'm coming. Take that hard-drive to R&D and recover the data."

Clark ushered him away as the LuthorCorp machine sprang into action. The moment they were out of sight of security, Clark took hold of Lex and in a rush of speed they were there, up at the Penthouse.

"Sit, let me get you something to settle you." Clark said softly. "This scares me....this determination to kill you. What if I'm not here?"

"I'll get to see how many bullets I can take and still live?" Lex suggested. He was disoriented from the movement, spinning from the speed Clark had moved them with.

"You better believe that you'll have to live," Clark nearly growled under his breath. "I don't want you to be hurt. This can't be your father can it? I mean, he'd avoid damaging Luthor towers. Garner still?"

"Or someone entirely new." Lex's mouth twitched. It was a sad life you led when the only reason you had to prove that it wasn't your father gunning you down was the knowledge that he loved his buildings too much to put holes in them.

"How many people want you dead?" Clark asked rhetorically as he went to the kitchen area. "You get a hot chocolate. Not anything caffeinated. You need the sugar."

"I'm not in shock," Lex denied as he leaned against the counter.

"Humor me. Besides I make a good one and I need one at the thought of what your father is going to try on me in a couple of days time," Clark said without any real rancor directed at Lex. "You should always have company with this sort of thing." He moved swiftly and carefully, the penthouse kitchen available to him. "Say it is Garner, what can you do about it?"

"Kill him." The suggestion came too quickly to Lex's lips. "Or get into contact with him and threaten him. Or..."

"Don't kill him Lex, please. Never when there is another option." Clark looked at him as he pushed over the mug of sweet chocolate. "For your sake, not his."

"But he won't stop, Clark. Until I'm dead." Lex took the mug, held it, but didn't drink.

"Then we uh...put him in that memory modifier of his and take away the memory he had you knowing him. Like he did with your memory. What he doesn't know won't get him hiring contractors right?" Clark suggested.

Now Lex took a sip, nodding. "I wonder if that's possible. It's worth a try... Great idea."

"Failure of imagination, like I said." Clark grinned at him as he pulled up the rather pompous phrase he had used in their first day together. He coughed a little, having to put down his drink. "Must have swallowed the wrong way or something."

"Or too sweet." Not that he thought there was such a thing as too sweet when it came to Clark's tastes. Lex kept his eyes on Clark. "You're right about the failure of imagination. Maybe I am shocky."

"Maybe you need a rest?" Clark glanced towards the bedroom. Or maybe..."

He was interrupted by the bleeping of the intercom. "Place your bets? Does your father have superspeed?" Clark asked as he moved to press the button.

"Oh, it's him," Lex sighed as he took a sip of the cocoa Clark had made for him. Just milk and powder, but it was good. "Just hit it on."

The button was pressed. "Lex, I'm on my way up son. I heard about the attack."

Of course he had. Clark rolled his eyes. They hadn't had such a response on the previous attempts.

"I'm fine. The building is less than fine," Lex deadpanned as he walked over towards the intercom.

"So I - and most of Metropolis - has noticed. Open the door Lex, I'll be there any moment."

"Shall I?" Clark asked politely.

Lex reached, sliding Clark's hand off of the intercom button so it turned off. "Please. And don't leave? Anything he wants to say, you can hear."

Clark nodded and went to open the door. Lionel barely acknowledged his existence as he brushed past him.

"Son, are you unhurt? I had reports that your office exploded!"

"Didn't I just say that I was fine?" Lex stepped away from the counter, and got out of the kitchen before Lionel joined him in the space.

"You would say you were fine son, if you were on fire and the hired help was using you to toast marshmallows." Lionel glanced at Clark who followed him in to stand next to Lex, leaning on the chair.

"Does it look like the hired help is making smores off of me? No. I didn't even get skimmed by a bullet. It's hard to aim from a helicopter."

"Even so... I am... concerned Lex," Lionel said glaring a little a Clark. "That things have been allowed to escalate to this point. I know you made your trainee responsible for your personal security but he really is doing a lamentable job. I may have to take issue with him about that."

Clark managed not to flinch as Lionel continued.

"In fact it hasn't escaped my notice that you have had many more personal injuries since Mr. Kent here became your 'bodyguard'."

Lex rolled his eyes as he took another sip from his mug. "You're looking at the timing wrong. I've had many more personal injuries since I started working with Dr. Garner."

Lionel sat down, making himself at home. "Then your... aha... your 'security' should have taken steps to eliminate the threat before there was more damage to your person and to LuthorCorp property." Lionel pointed out.

"Are you suggesting murder, dad?" Lex asked, voice dropping low as he remained standing.

"Don't be crass son. You know the tools of our trade. Perhaps Mr. Kent is... deficient in application hmm?" Lionel was watching him, wearing his characteristic smile that bordered on condescension. "Mr. Kent, you and I will have a lengthy discussion about this at our weekly review meeting."

Saturday. Lex's lips went blandly flat, and he shook his head. "That's not going to accomplish anything."

"Oh, I'm sure Clark benefits greatly from our little... chats." Lionel was testing to see if Lex was emotionally involved and if he knew about Clark's abilities, that much was obvious. "I've been lenient on him so far. It's probably time for that to change don't you think?"

He seemed amused that Clark's color had drained from his face.

"Did you come up here to make sure I was okay, or to harass my co-worker?"

"I like to multi-task." Lionel smoothed the sleeve of his shirt. "Perhaps I should relieve you of the burden of Mr. Kent's company, hmm?"

"Mr. Luthor I - " Clark seemed to catch himself from reacting instinctively and stupidly. "I believe that as I have more familiarity with the current situation it is better that I don't be removed as Lex's aide."

"He's saved my life numerous times -- today being just one of them," Lex cut it. "Do you want me dead until I deal with Garner?"

"Oh yes? And how exactly did he save your life today?" Lionel turned his attention to Lex. "I thought the saving grace was the bad aim of incompetent assassins?"

"It... He pushed me out of the way, all right? He saw the helicopter before I did." That was all he could say. He couldn't admit to Clark catching bullets without tipping their hand and ruining everything.

"Of course he did son." Lionel gave a small chuckle of a laugh.

It was obvious that he doubted that Lex was telling the truth. It was an implicit challenge.

"He did. If Clark hadn't been there, I'd be in an emergency room right now, if not dead." Probably not dead. As long as he didn't take a shot to his head...

"Well, well. If you say so son. I recommend you take steps about the Garner situation." Lionel said getting up. "Don't be blinded by... surface appearances Lex. You know better than that."

Knew better and wasn't going to confess how much he knew. Did Lionel expect him to just blurt out that he knew the secret Clark had? "Of course. I already have a plan of action."

"I expect nothing less." Lionel turned to leave. "Mr. Kent. Saturday morning. Don't be late."

Clark nodded slowly, still not speaking.

"Good. Update me on your progress son. I'm sure you'll have some soon." With that he swept out of the penthouse as flamboyantly as he came in.

It was like watching a tornado touch down. There for just long enough to wreck havoc. Lex was still standing, and once the door had closed, he walked over to Clark.

"You should sit down, you look pale..."

"I shouldn't let him get to me like that but.." Clark grimaced as he allowed himself to guided to a seat. "But there's just something about him... It just makes me sort of clench up with fear."

"The fact that he's held you hostage for six years, or that he thinks you're a living breathing dialysis machine?" Lex had his hands on Clark's shoulder to guide him down. "I think you need the cocoa more than me."

Clark sat and smiled up at him. "Yeah... thanks. I'd do anything to miss that meeting... but I can't."

"I understand. But we will figure out how to take him out. Maybe I can convince Garner somehow to go after my father instead. Two birds, one stone, right?"

"Not until my parents and friends are safe somehow," Clark replied brushing his hair back. "Guess I know what we're working on for the rest of today and tomorrow right?"

"If you guessed 'erasing Dr. Garner's memory', you guessed correctly." Lex shifted, and then moved to sit down beside Clark on the sofa. "You look tired."

"Worry I guess. You know I don't get tired." Clark protested. "Awake enough to work though."

"We'll work from here, then. Have dinner and settle in for a long night," Lex declared decisively, standing up. The cocoa left in his mug sloshed against the sides, but didn't spill.

"We'll get the laptops in. Crack a few codes, bust a few firewalls..." Clark smiled and then yawned, looking comically surprised at the gesture.

Lex smirked a little as he walked backwards away from Clark. "Yeah, this is definitely a good night to stay in. I'll get the laptops, too."

Clark nodded, covering up his mild concern at the fact that he yawned. He didn't do that, ever.

It was probably just concern and anxiety. It wore on the nerves.

Lying in bed that night, Clark was awake as he held on to Lex, watching over him as he slept. Wave after wave of dizziness swept through him, his throat and lungs tightening as he looked at the moonlight that silvered them both in shades of midnight blue and dazzling white.

Lex was beautiful touched by light that way. He had a purity and a grace just in existing and breathing that made Clark feel ashamed for touching him. People said it of the Luthors but he was the real monster, and that was the worst secret of all. He believed Lionel was right about what he could do, about the danger he was deep down. How could he not believe it when he could rape or destroy anything and everything and tear down half the city? He'd nearly done it the first time. They had shot him with kryptonite darts and he had spent days recovering and terrified of the carnage and destruction he had nearly unleashed.

He wasn't the Clark Kent his Mom and Dad had raised and that was something that made him lie there night after night staring at the ceiling as loss ate him alive. Loss for who he had been, for friends he would have given his life for, and had, only to find that sacrifice was tragically one sided. He'd exchanged himself for their safety and they had pocketed the change and gone on without him. He had been alone for six years, paying all the time for his naivety when he thought a few tricks could outsmart money. He'd been terribly, desperately wrong and it wasn't just him that paid for his mistakes.

And now it had all come to this. His last few days; he knew what the cough and the dizziness was. He remembered this feeling and how it crept through him spreading its terrifying weakness. He wasn't going to forget that and yet…

Even a month or so ago he would have embraced a means of dying that could not implicate his friends or parents. He would have run at it and thrown himself into the process, because no one knew how hard it was to be so alone and know every mistake could condemn people to pain or death. To face the same ordeals every week and be less than an object in the eyes of people around him. No, he could ever only think of one way out and that was to die.

And now he had that wish, and he was trying not to be afraid. He was only afraid because he had been given a sliver of hope, as fragile and clear as a new moon and a taste of love that accepted him at his very worst, with all his monstrous traits showing. He could die and free Lex by just not saying anything to him or Lionel about him genuinely being ill. It would kill a human, the dose he had, very quickly. It would kill him fast enough and it wasn't fair because he had had a glimmer of happiness and love and now it was being taken from him...

But one thing life had taught him was that fair rarely applied and he had to try and not be what Lionel said, if only for his own conscience. He didn't kill, and that meant even through inaction.

He kissed Lex softly on the smooth marble pure cheek and held him close even as he worried about what Lex might become without someone to believe in him and give him what he needed.

Without him. Perhaps there would be one person that might not be better off with him dying.

He didn't notice when the soft light glittered on his cheek, or spilled onto Lex's sleeping face, because if there were tears, they had to be of happiness that he had finally got his wish.

Irony was a bitch. And then he'd die.

The only god-send to it all was that Lex was going to get to spend his Friday workday in his home office. It wasn't as if he didn't have all of the equipment -- printers, phone lines, high-speed network connections -- that he had in the LuthorCorp office.

It was just more comfortable to work from home.

The pair of them had been very industrious, even if Clark had had a slow start that morning. In all the time they had been staying together Clark had usually been the one up at the crack of dawn.

But that morning, he looked like either he hadn't slept or had a hang over, though he seemed fine enough once he finally got up. Even if Lex had had time to shower and get coffee going before Clark finally popped out into the hallway. He was in the living room, using the connection there because Lex was already using both connections that were in that room. Wireless was a little too 'shifty' for what they were doing just then, so networked internet was the best way.

They worked well together, but today Clark was abnormally quiet. Lex put it down to anxiety. If he thought he was going to have an appointment with torture the following day there was a good chance that he might be a little subdued as well. Privately he was trying to think of a way to get around that, but he wasn't sure that he was ready. Not enough time, too much risk with people's lives.

So he didn't push Clark too much, even as they made progress.

Right up to the point where he heard a solid thud on the floor and the clatter of a falling laptop.

That was enough to get Lex to his feet, and heading quickly towards the living room. "Clark?!"

Clark was sprawled out on the carpet, the laptop lying next to him. He moved just a little and coughed, a deep rumble of a cough, and settled as if he was planning to sleep.

"Clark?" The open laptop that was laying on it's side was something for Lex to stop over, unimportant debris in the grand scheme. He knelt, touched Clark's shoulder. "Clark?"

"Mm. Tired." It was barely a mumble but Clark was conscious at least, if barely.

"It's only past three." Lex pulled at Clark's shoulder, forced him upright when he probably didn't want to be.

When Clark turned unsteadily he was completely drained of healthy color. "I... don't feel so good Lex."

Rather oddly he looked guilty at the same time.

"You look like you have the flu." Lex got Clark upright, back against the sofa and his legs sprawled out ungainly in front of him. "I wondered why you were sleeping so long."

"I wasn't sure... I... thought...." Clark tilted against him, unable to keep balanced and his face twisted in an awkward decision. "Aw fuck Lex...." He looked distraught as he looked up at the older man.

"If you're going to throw up, warn me." Lex shifted in the balls of his feet, ready to bolt and get Clark a bowl or something in case he was going to throw up.

Clark shook his head. "I'll just sleep... until it's over."

"It's Friday." Lex stayed where he was, tense, hands on Clark's shoulders "I guess I need to drag you to bed."

"Give me a moment and I'll probably be able to get up. For now..." Clark closed his eyes a moment obviously making a decision. "Lex..."

His voice cracked a little, and when his eyes opened again they were bright with moisture. "I...I've had this before. I'm probably not going to make it this time."

He did managed to sound almost calm when he said it.

That didn't make sense.

"Clark, it's... just a flu." Not going to make it? Was it something Lionel had engineered as revenge on Clark? His father has the resources, there was no question about that.

"I don't get sick Lex. It feels the same as...back in Smallville. Mom and I...it's a kryptonite spore. We were dying. Mom...actually died. But I had the Ship then and it saved us. I don't have that any more." Clark looked down a moment. "I should be happy that it's all going to be over and I would have been if not for... my parents and..." He took a wheezy breath. "You. Just my luck huh?"

No.

"You're joking?" He didn't look like he was joking, and he didn't have the red kryptonite edge to him anymore. His tan skin was pale, and when Lex moved a hand from Clark's shoulder to touch his face, he felt damp, over-heated. "You have to be joking. C'mon. You can't die, there has to be something."

Clark shook his head, knowing what he was giving away with this and praying that Lex could do what he had never been able to do. "I don't know Lex. I was younger then...or there might be something at the caves but... I need to tell you this. Don't let your father take my blood tomorrow. It'll kill him. It killed Mom and she was healthy. He...He'll think it's a trick or something so please. One favor, for all the saving of lives. Please find a way to protect my family and friends?"

Too much too fast -- it felt like he'd just barely been shot at the day before, and here he was kneeling in front of Clark, hearing confessions of... doom. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Doesn't feel real does it?" Clark smiled at him with that same strained look in his eyes that told Lex more surely than anything that he was at the end of his tether and pushed to his limits. "I remember coughing after being hit with the bullets. They knew. Garner knew me from before. Kid I helped get away from him. There was a time this would have made me deliriously happy you know. About... a month or so ago maybe?"

"Don't talk like that. You're not going to die, and your friends and family will be fine." And he was pulling Clark to his feet unsteadily. The laptop fell over and righted itself in the process, still on.

"I believe you," Clark said simply. "I believe you Lex. No matter what your father says, I chose you. I need you to protect me against the things that aren't explosions, bullets and natural disaster. I didn't have that then and brains, money and experience wins over alien superpowers every time."

He staggered a little sounding a little delirious with his next words. "Even if you never let me go, I'd wear your collar and enjoy it.."

Lex's heart clenched in his chest. So much for casual verging on something more. "You're going to be okay. Do you have any information about the...spore?"

"Only that it was what lead your father to me. The sample of blood taken by Dr Helen Bryce. He had the original sample. Morgan Edge hired me to steal it from them when I ran away," Clark murmured. "But the pair of them were using it as a lure to get me. It was a trap. And that was when it started. They may still have it in R & D."

"I'm not going to let you die," Lex uttered stubbornly, pushing a hand through Clark's hair. He felt too warm, warmer than usual. "C'mon. Let's get you up. I need... names. Addresses if you remember them. If you're fine... then no big deal, right? There's no harm in being cautious."

"I can give you the information. I've always had that, I just could never act on it." Clark replied. "He'll come tomorrow, and fetch me. He has before when I've tried...to oppose him. The game will be ...over." He leaned against the hand. "Why couldn't I have found you six years ago?"

Why couldn't he have? Life would've been so much better for both of them. It was funny that it took a threat to his job, an obnoxious, reluctant young junior executive to kick him in the ass and look at what he was missing in the world. Friends for a start, love and comfort for a second, someone he could trust even if just on the basis of shared enemies and shared goals.

And he'd started to believe that it might be a little bit more, only to face having it ripped away from him like every good thing in his life. He wasn't going to let that happen. He'd find someway to do it, even if it meant he would have to move very fast today to get things done. Clark's life was in his hands and he knew he didn't expect to be saved. No one had been able to do that in the last six years; there was no reason to expect that to change.

It had been years since he'd had a storm-trooper like attack on his penthouse. An attack from within, of course, because that was the only way someone could get in and get to him like that, that was the only way that his privacy, his home could be breached like that. The sort of inside job that only his father could guide the motions of and take Clark from him.

And while Lex hadn't been able to stop them from frog marching Clark out of his apartment, he was able to follow, railing against the insanity of what they were doing every foot of the way.

"God-dammit, he's sick!"

That much should have been evident from the way that Clark was being more than half dragged in their grip. "Mr. Luthor's orders were clear sir," one of the security men said.

"My father's orders are clearly insane in this case. Why drag a sick man down to R&D? So he can infect all of you?"

They were moving fast through the building. "That will not be an issue sir."

Clark managed to stumble as they reached the elevator so there was no way they could block Lex from entering it with them.

He moved with arrogant grace, slipping into it to join them. "Then I'm coming with you."

The man considered. They couldn't handle a possibly dangerous alien, and a definitely pissy Luthor at the same time. And laying hands on the son and heir was a bad career move no matter what. The head of the security detail wisely decided to not argue and let the family discussion deal with itself. "I'm sure your father will welcome your presence," he replied even as Clark coughed and sagged against them.

"He's sick -- you can't use a sick man for what my father wants to use him for," Lex bit out, reaching a hand to touch Clark.

It was more believable now, what Clark had said even though he had mentally tried to dismiss it because he didn't want it to be true. No human could be at that temperature and live. He was surprised that the security men could actually hold him, but they seemed to have gloves on or maybe they just didn't care.

The elevator dropped rapidly, straight down to the R & D level that should be deserted at this time on a Saturday morning. When they reached their destination, there was at least one lab that was a hive of activity.

Strange, suspicious, and yet. And yet, Lex knew why it was that way. They were there for what Lionel was there for -- to torture and use Clark as a breathing dialysis machine. One that would kill Lionel.

Wouldn't that solve a part of their problems? If he just let him do it?

"You have him?" Lionel's voice sounded terse and not happy at all. "Prep him immediately."

It was then he noticed Lex and stood up straighter. "Son, what are you doing here?"

"I'm here to stop you from killing yourself." God knows why, either, but Lex didn't say it. He just thought it, and put his hands into his pockets. "Clark's sick. Something from the attack yesterday infected him."

"So how long have you known son?" Lionel dismissed the statement that Clark was a danger. "About Kent?" He looked oddly speculative and proud as he asked the question.

"Long enough." Long enough to learn more than probably even Lionel knew. But honey caught flies better than vinegar, and that was all Lionel had. Not even that. Acid and threats and... Lex's head hurt, but he stepped towards his father. "He's sick, and if you use his blood, you'll get it, too."

"And on the one hand I you make me proud and on the other, you disappoint me Lex," Lionel replied. "The... creature lies as if it was born to duplicity. A pleasing so-human looking exterior masking his alien origins. He's lying Lex. He's done it before. Faked a debilitating condition to avoid punishment."

"It's a spore that Garner infected him with," Lex hissed. "He's had it before, you can check his medical files. Don't do this!"

"Lex... Lex..." Lionel shook his head as he watched Clark struggling weakly. "I don't deny that your approach was successful. Seducing an alien... only you son, only you. But do you really think you know this creature better than I do?"

"Yes." He paused, then shook his head as he looked over to Clark. "Fine. Don't believe me. Die."

"Is that what you want son?" Lionel looked at him with a half twisted smile. "It sounds remarkably like it."

"I want you to not use him today," Lex insisted. "Just give him the RedK and maybe he'll recover if it accelerates his metabolic rates and immune system with it. Maybe. I don't know."

"Not to 'use' him? You make it sound so sordid son, like some guilty porn flick. I most certainly don't think of him in those terms. That is one Luthor trait that is not hereditary." Lionel smiled at him. "Perhaps you have let him get too close Lex. I wonder at your real motives. You can't be so foolish as to become emotionally attached can you? That is weakness. More weakness than the creature is feigning."

"You're not going to listen to me, are you?" Lex asked flatly, looking over at Clark who was completely overwhelmed by his guard, but talking to Lionel.

"You haven't yet given me a valid reason. Last time Clark here was 'ill', went so far as to poison himself with tiny slivers of kryptonite to try and convince me to stop the procedure on the grounds of illness. No doubt this is something similar designed to elicit sympathy or perhaps something more." Lionel gave his son a look as he moved over to lie down as Clark was strapped into place.

"Lex..." Clark voice was weak and he could hear the plea in it.

"These poisoned spores have almost killed him before, and have killed his mother," Lex offered desperately.

"But, miraculously, he is still alive, and the last time I checked, so was Mrs. Kent." Lionel looked at Clark. "A situation that might change if this foolishness persist. I believe the proof son. And the fact is that Kent did survive, as did his mother."

"Because... of something he doesn't have access to anymore. But fine, like I said. Don't listen."

"I have things under control," Lionel settled back as Clark pulled again at the straps with the little strength he had.

"Lex…" It was a rasp and a hint of panic as the needles were pushed into him.

"See? It is nothing but fear." Lionel said complacently. "My greatest achievement. Teaching the would be conqueror fear."

Lex's jaw went tight as he watched Clark. "Give me the RedK. I'll administer it when you're done. I'll be staying to watch."

"Want to play games with your pet? He does beg for it effectively," Lionel smiled at Lex again. "We've tested those limitations. I am sure you will find the data we've collected rather interesting. The force required to raise a bruise without kryptonite exposure is quite phenomenal. Breaking his bones requires a reasonable exposure of the mineral."

Clark was looking at Lex desperately, his eyes dark and dilated with the effects of the spore and the kryptonite laced straps.

Lex closed his eyes for a long moment. "One last warning, father. If you do this, it'll kill you. You're not strong enough to survive infection."

Lionel just laughed. "Hook me up Richards, I think I'm more likely to die from my collapsing liver than I am of this... so-say infection."

The moment that the needle went in, Clark tried with what seemed to be his last moments of strength to twist the needles out somehow. This just resulted in additional restraints and that accelerated his condition and he was nigh on incapacitated in moments.

Lex moved, circled around Clark to lean against the wall nearest to him. "I'll still take the RedK with me."

"Fine. Take it. Play with the pet alien," Lionel leaned back as Clark rasped a weak cough beside him. "Spare me the melodramatics Kent."

Clark's eyes fluttered a little and then closed, the tension vanishing from his body as he drifted away from consciousness.

Lex leaned forwards, and put fingers against the top of Clark's head. "I will."

"That's more like it son," Lionel smiled at him. "It's fascinating. Apparently he was sent as a baby with an alien mission to rule the world. Frankly, I couldn't abide the thought of that. It is a minor but poignant regret I have that the world will not know their savior. But perhaps...if you can break him Lex, well all our plans will come to fruition."

"I'm going to handle him as I see fit," Lex murmured quietly. "I'm not lying. I told you, and you're not listening to me. This is going to kill you."

"So this is my death watch?" Lionel asked smiling at him with a feral half-grin. "The old traditions find their place in modern society after all. How terribly... Victorian of you Lex. I hate to disappoint you but this patriarch is not going to die."

He paused a moment. "If fate were going to strike me down, most assuredly it would have been then."

"When? The moment you said you weren't going to die?" Lex kept stroking Clark's soft hair, watching his father with tense eyes. "Too much like a movie."

"Life is not like the movies Lex. Neither is love. Only the ties of blood are real in the end. Father and son. I've waited a long time for you to show yourself as a Luthor." Lionel cleared his throat a little as if it were a bit dry. "You hadn't made any attempt to deal with Garner, and I really couldn't tolerate the collateral damage that was going on. Consider it a gift in recognition of your step forward. You rose to my challenge..."

He cleared his throat again, swallowing awkwardly.

"Consider what a gift?" Lex swallowed, watching and knowing that Clark had been right. Really right. He'd already hired a professional to watch over Chloe Sullivan. He just needed to get to Smallville before Lionel died. Lex reached for his cell phone, ready to text a request to ready the helicopter.

"Oh I don't think we'll have any more problems from Dr Garner. He was approaching me for a kryptonite deal laying the ground for when the route was clear. I was invited to inspect his projects personally. I hear there was a dangerous accident in his lab, and strangely he is in a coma. Such a terrible thing," Lionel smiled and frowned as he coughed again. And then again.

His expression was suddenly sharp and accusing at Lex as he raised a hand to his throat. "L..Lex? What...have...you done... to me?"

It was a sudden wheezing breath, as if the asthma that Lionel had bullied him through as a child had sprung out of the past and knelt on his father lungs and choked at his throat with vicious glee.

"I told you to not do it. I told you Garner had infected him. You didn't listen." Lex's eyes were surprisingly to him, damp. "I told you he was sick."

"Lex..." Lionel was reaching for him, a drowning man being suffocated by his own body reaching for straws. He looked startled, amazed as he heaved for breath, causing wide spread panic in the lab as the monitors went wild.

It was odd, but there was a hint of moisture in Lionel's eyes as he turned towards him, and an odd light, that could have been...pride, or a twisted form of happiness.

"The truth... was... the one thing... I... never expected... from.... you...."

His voice whittled down to a whisper as a bluish tinge started to spread over his lips as he struggled for his last words.

"Well played... son."

Played. Lex swallowed, ripping his eyes off of Lionel as he looked to the techs. "Unhook Clark NOW. You, get the Red Kryptonite. NOW."

There was a moment of hesitation as the assistants were torn between trying to force life into the old Luthor, and obeying the possible new power in LuthorCorp.

Half of them seemed to obey Lex and the other half struggled to intubate a throat sealed shut through mutated spores as Lionel Luthor slipped away from them, the death knell of his passing sounding in the equipment that monitored his vital signs.

One of the technicians brought Lex the syringe. Another hoping to curry favor had brought him the original rock.

Lex took the syringe, and headed back to Clark to look for the injection spot he used. If it didn't do something for Clark, he's use the stone. "Here -- inject him." He needed to make a cell call.

They responded a little hesitantly, but they did respond. If Lex was expecting a miraculous recovery he was disappointed as Clark just stirred a little in response to the injection.

Lex watched and dialed. "This is Lex Luthor -- I need the helicopter ready. We're headed for Smallville."

They would have it ready. It was more than their jobs were worth to do otherwise.

"Mr.Luthor... your father? I'm afraid we were unable to... I mean..." The medical technician looked terrified of telling him the news. His father had bred a legacy of fear among his staff.

"I don't want to hear it," Lex cut in as he reached for Clark's arms. "Help me get him out of here."

Clark seemed to vaguely rise to a level of consciousness where he could be upright with a lot of support. He still looked bad, but somehow he didn't look worse. But when he opened his eyes and focused on Lex, not only was there a hint of a red glimmer about them, but fear as well.

"Lex..." It was half an apology and half a plea.

"We're taking a flight to Smallville," Lex promised as he took a step backwards. the two men who'd taken Clark from him in the first place were amusingly enough the ones to step up now to help. "None of you communicate what happened for three hours. Do you understand?"

"Understood Mr. Luthor," came the reply as Clark was escorted, or dragged to join him. They seemed to assume Lex wanted him with him.

Which was fine, because that was what Lex wanted. He wanted Clark with him on that helicopter. Safe, even if he was dying. "Let's get a move on."

One way or another, he had to get to Clark's parents and friends before the assassins reached them. Because he knew his father would not have hired anyone inefficient.

The adrenaline rush was never going to end.

Lex had been trained for that, though. Going from moment to moment to moment of stress and coping and rolling with it. It was like a job gone wrong, an investment opportunity that his father had told him he had to hands-down save. There was no such thing as failure, even as he coped for the possibly fallout of that failure.

"Give me their contact numbers. I know you're his secretary, and yes, it's a Saturday, but you're my employee now and I need to know these people's contact numbers."

"I'm sorry sir, I don't have access to that information." The secretary protested again, barely audible above the rotor blades. "Mr. Luthor has that information himself."

"Mr. Luthor is dead," Lex snapped. Jesus, he had to think like Lionel. What was the most important thing in the world to Lionel? Control. He'd been proud that Lex had... known about the RedK. Been willing to administer it to Clark because he assumed it was about playing games.

So, he was proud of him controlling Clark. "I need the failsafes."

There was a pause. "You will need to discuss that with the contractor. There will be questions sir. They have already been dispatched. I have permission to send a rerouted page to alert them to your negotiation. You will be contacted shortly."

Negotiation. Negotiation, and control. Lex kept his eyes closed -- they'd be setting down in a few minutes. Clark had had to be strapped into his seat to keep him from falling out. "Fine. I'll be waiting."

"Good luck sir."

There was a click and his father's once personal assistant left them to weather the impending attack with only the thin possibility of intervention. Hopefully by now, the Kent's and Lana and Pete would be at the Castle, whether they wanted to be there or not. Chloe, Chloe would have to make do with the bodyguard he had put on her and hope she wasn't the first to be targeted.

They landed at the Castle, Clark seeming a little more alert from the exposure to the early morning sunlight on their trip from the city.

His phone was holstered onto his belt, and that left Lex's hands free during the somewhat rocky landing, un-seat belting himself so he could get Clark out of his seat fast. "We're back at the castle, Clark. Your parents should be here..."

The other man look like death warmed up but he managed to at least move as if he was having a stronger moment. "Thank you..." he managed as he showed willing in pushing himself to get out of the helicopter. Through sheer determination, he was going to see his parents again, and see them safe before it was all over.

"Everything's going to work out," Lex reiterated as he got an arm around Clark's waist. It was probably the tenth time he'd told Clark that, and maybe if he said it enough times, he'd believe it himself.

All he had to do was to face down a group of professional assassins, find a way to save Clark from a fatal disease, and deal with his father's death. Piece of cake.

Clark was still hot and shivering slightly, but he leaned into him without a hint of hesitation. "Do... whatever you need to do to save them Lex," Clark said as they made an unsteady way inside.

"Actually, I already have. Your parents didn't require kidnapping. Pete and Lana... are apparently another story," he tried to joke. His adrenaline wasn't allowed to run out, not for a long while. It was hard to hear Clark and hard to talk as he walked away from the landing pad, ducking both their heads from the wind.

"I hope... they're not hurt," Clark replied in a rasping voice. He was heavy leaning against him as they entered the mansion. He couldn't imagine the sort of concentration it was requiring for Clark to keep one foot going in front the other.

"They're here. Corralled safely in a room that technically doesn't exist. I think you need to lay down, Clark." If only because Lex couldn't drag him much further. The door closed behind him, though, and thankfully shut out the whirring chopper blades.

"What's... going to happen?" His voice was going rasp soft and he was breathing heavily. "I need to..."

"Rest, and stay calm. I'm going to put you in the library, all right, and get your parents up here. The security staff are my hires, my people. As long as we all stay calm, everything is going to be okay."

Was that the eleventh time now?

The eleventh time to go with the eleventh hour turn around he was working on.

Clark nodded allowing himself to be steered towards the library, everything fading in and out as he struggled to stay awake and useful. By the time they got there, he wasn't sure if he was going to last long enough see his parents. His entire body seemed to be burning like fire from the inside out. He didn't remember this from before, but then perhaps the spores had not made it this far along.

Maybe it was what dying felt like.

"Lay down... and I'll be right back." Lex took a moment to help Clark lay down, took a moment to get his feet up, before he turned to head towards his 'secret' room. Hopefully the people he was trying to help hadn't been busily plotting against him.

Rather surprisingly it was not Jonathan Kent who was being the most vocal when he reached the room, it was Pete closely followed by his wife.

"Luthor, what the f- hell is all this about? I should have known you'd be behind this. kidnapping my wife, me...the Kent's.." Pete strode over to him the moment the door opened. "You are going on the front page... every single sordid detail of this!"

Lex hadn't actually entered the room -- it was safer to keep a hand on the door and one on the doorjam, blocking the exit. "I hope you're a better journalist than your paper implies, because I doubt you'd be able to uncover everything that's happening right now. My father has died, and previously unknown to me, the circumstances of his death triggered a series of hits namely on all of you."

"You expect us to believe that?" Pete still sounded furious even as Jonathan tried to calm him down.

"Pete, calm down. It's not so unbelievable..." he said, trying to pull him back.

"But we haven't had anything to do with Mr. Luthor!" Lana said looking around at all of them. "Not for years. We were just kids then. Why would there be hits on us?"

"There aren't Lana, trust me." Pete glared at Lex but backed off a little at Jonathan's intervention.

"Because my father wanted to keep Clark in his employment. If Clark failed to do something for Lionel, you all were going to die." Lex explained it slowly, eyeing Pete in particular. "It really has nothing to do with any of you. You've been a means through which my father kept a hostage. Except that it was a very real threat, and now Clark has... failed my father. So the hired hits were activated. Chloe Sullivan was also a target -- I sent her a bodyguard. Best I could do."

"Clark?" Lana looked around at all of them taking in the absolute horror on Martha's face. "Mrs. Kent?"

"Lex, is he...?" Martha ignored her question looking directly at Lex with her voice cracking. "Is he... what happened?"

"It's easier to see than it is to explain. But Clark's fallen ill. I think you've had the illness yourself, Martha. If you and Jonathan would like to see him..."

"Clark's ill?" Pete looked disbelieving. "Now that's got to be a lie."

Martha nodded silently, ignoring Pete again. "I think we should if it is the same as before." She drew herself up and walked over to Jonathan who looked as stricken as he had that night the first time it had happened.

"Mrs. Kent, you can't believe that he's telling the truth.."

"Pete, I wish I could say you don't know what you are talking about," Martha said turning to him speaking sharply. "But you do. You always have. You've known all along. Don't make me say some of the things I am thinking Pete. All you need to know is that you are alive because Clark valued his friends and family over his own wellbeing and happiness, and because he can see the good in a person even when he has more reason than anyone not to. If he can, I can at least believe in Clark's judgment. You should too."

There wasn't any need for Lex to say anything. He just moved back a little. "I'm afraid you and your wife will be staying here a little while longer, until I can renegotiate the contracts against you. I'm sure that if you were wandering out and about, it would be very hard to keep you both living. Martha, Jonathan..."

"We're coming," Jonathan said and Martha nodded in agreement. "Lead on."

If Lex had been a better person, he wouldn't have taken such pleasure in loudly closing the false door, or in locking it so the tumblers fell into place with just as much noise.

Lex figured, as he pocketed the keys, that he wasn't a better person. "He's laying down in the library," he told them quickly before he started to lead the way.

"How did it happen?" Jonathan asked. "And what happened to your father?"

"We were attacked by someone linked to a Dr. Garner. Clark guessed that was when he was infected with the spores. My father has been using Clark as a dialysis machine, and thought I was lying when I warned him Clark was sick." He still hadn't coped with that. His father was dead and it all felt like a hollow victory.

"Dear Lord," Martha replied as they made their way upstairs. She hesitated a moment. "Did you hear something?"

Somewhere in the mansion there was gunfire being exchanged which did not bode well for the negotiations.

"I have to wait for a call back," Lex muttered as he hurried to the library. He wouldn't even be bringing them out of that room if he hadn't thought that Clark was dying. "If they stop firing long enough..."

Martha was close behind him, eager to push forward into the library, right up to the point where she noticed that the door was open. Then she hesitated, looking at Lex for reassurance.

Lex stepped in first. "Clark...?" Asleep, maybe. Not dead, he couldn't die until Lex said he could. If he was going to own him or control him he would start and finish with that order.

"Mr. Luthor," an unfamiliar voice greeted him. "I believe you want to negotiate?"

The man looked like any other businessman, except for the gun he was holding casually. "Please, make yourself comfortable - my employees Hope and Mercy will be with us shortly."

So that was what the shooting had been about. Lex put his hands up slightly, showing that he was unarmed as he stepped into the library. "I want to negotiate."

"I'm sure you do. Let me make myself clear Mr. Luthor, my reputation is impeccable in the field of fulfilling contracts. My reputation is everything. I am the best of the best and I use only the best and my record is 100%." He seemed very relaxed as he talked, glancing at Clark and then Lex. "I was hired to do a job and I will do it, but you have secured a chance to... put your case forward. Your fathers instructions were very explicit."

"My father forgot that in the event of his death, I still need the means through which to control certain people. Blackmail doesn't work well if it's not breathing." Lex stepped closer, still slow.

"Oh he didn't forget." The man smirked at him as the Kents were suddenly crowded in behind him. "Hope, Mercy, please secure the Kents for the time being."

"He needed assurances that his...acquisition was in safe hands."

"I see."

"Tell me why you want the contract lifted... in detail." The man watched him as the Kents were ushered to one side by two female assassins. "One hint of doubt and this negotiation is over."

Lex relaxed a little at that, and slipped his hands into his pants pockets and prepared to lie as he had been trained to do, rather ironically on his father's behalf. "That's easy. I want to continue to be able to control Mr. Kent. You can't hold someone's loyalty when they hold you responsible for the deaths of their loved ones -- it's easier when they know that the deaths would be their fault. These five lives are all the blackmail material I have on him."

"I see. And what do you plan to do with him?" It sounded like casual conversation but there was just the barest hint of a vibe that tipped Lex off that this was an important question.

Lex smiled, teeth showing like he was baring them at the man. The Luthor presence was palpable in his arrogant stance and self-confident tone. "Rule the world."

"We won't let you do that!" Jonathan interjected angrily. "You can't do that to him!"

"Hope?"

There was a solid crack of a fist hitting flesh, and Jonathan looked amazed at the pent up strength in the backhanded blow delivered so casually.

Years of his trade saw Lex in a good position. That was a test too, to see what he would do.

Lex winced a little at the sound of flesh hitting flesh, but in that carefully disdainful way of people who didn't like to get dirty in physical violence. "Try to not kill them -- I need them alive if I want to utilize their son."

That obviously got him to a certain level although the nod was barely perceptible. "Mr. Luthor, your father gave me three criteria that you had to fulfill. First was your intent, the second is your knowledge which you evidently have...and the third is most important... your level of control. Do you know how to control him?"

"Sex and that designer drug my father concocted." Lex shot a look back over to Clark, sprawled out on the sofa. If Clark was listening the way the Kent's were, he'd probably never believe that it was a feint. If he lived. "It makes him reliably pliable."

"Prove it." The man narrowed his eyes at him. "Command him. I need to witness evidence, and then the contract can be... renegotiated. I need an act that he would not choose, of course."

"He's ill," Lex warned as he moved over to the sofa. "I'm not even sure he's going to survive the night. Still, if he does... Do you mind if I leave the room for a moment? I need to get something out of the bags that were left in the hallway."

"Please go ahead. If you don't return, we will just kill them," the man replied smiling and calm.

Calm. Lex stayed calm as he walked out of the library, taking a left turn to the hastily packed bags that he'd had the technicians throw together -- more RedK, Kryptonite manacles if he needed them, a few simpler medical things.

Lex was back to the library with the Red Kryptonite syringe in less than a minute.

Martha's expression did not bode well for him if he did get them through this alive, but on the other hand he had very little choice. He hadn't wanted to give Clark more than one shot of the RedK, because he had been so wild and self destructive on just one, but he had said to do... anything. God he hope that Clark meant that.

If he didn't, he supposed he could survive the fallout. Even if Clark died, he would've saved his family. And his ungrateful friends.

Lex stooped by the couch that Clark was lolling on, and started to inject him at the inside of his elbow.

Within moments Clark's eyes had snapped open, proving to Lex at least he hadn't been as weak as he had pretended. That red glimmer was back and the heat and that look in his eye that Lex had seen first of all in the club. Hungry, craving, addicted...to him.

"Welcome to the land of the living," Lex deadpanned as he laid the syringe down and sat back on his heels for a moment to survey Clark. "Feeling any better?"

"Not dead...at least," Clark replied sparing a moment to glance around at the room. "Mom...Dad...?"

Lex moved to look Clark in the eyes, starting to stand up. "I want you to do something for me, Clark. And you're going to be good and do it." Please let him understand. Please.

"Am I?" Clark's tone held a hint of defiance, though the movement of his eyes over towards the watching assassin showed he was aware of something.

"You are," Lex reiterated, voice hard. "Sit up for me, Clark. I'd like you to suck me off."

He could see the hint of very real humiliation on Clark's eyes that was strong enough to reach through the haze of RedK and illness. In front of his parents; it was most definitely something no one wanted to have to do... to be watched by their parents giving a blow job to another man.

But nothing of that showed anywhere else except in that look up at him, before Clark moved to sit, with a feline deliberate grace that came with the RedK. "This is a new kink for you Lex..."

"Humor my perversions." Lex stood firmly, and put one hand on his hip, the other on the top of Clark's head, cheating his bodily position out a little so it was clear he wanted it to be seen. "Go on."

There was very little hesitation; either because Clark knew that being anything less than compliant would get them all killed, or that he was so high on a double dose of RedK that he didn't really care, but either way he set about his task as if it didn't matter that there were other people in the room.

The fact it was his parents and people wanting to kill them seemed irrelevant but Lex knew it wasn't.

There would be repercussions, but they wouldn't keep Clark's from reaching for Lex's fly. He kept a hand in Clark's hair, letting him do all the work.

The heat of his mouth even coming close to him was phenomenal, and his fingers were gentle as he teased him out of his pants and bent over him to suck him.

Lex groaned quietly, then turned his head to flash an arrogant smile at the man he was 'negotiating' with. "Good, Clark. Just like that."

The man was looking at them with a grim smile. Martha rather strangely wasn't looking at Clark but was looking at Lex and Jonathan was just staring forward into the air as Clark slid his lips around Lex's cock.

If looks could kill.

"Go on, Clark. Take your time. Take it... oh yeah. Take it all." Lex pushed his hips forward, feeling Clark's nose press against his skin.

Regardless of the words, Clark didn't waste time in swallowing him down and moving with the expertise and lack of inhibition that being on Red kryptonite gave him. The fact he felt ashamed was well and truly buried as his lips and tongue worked at Lex, then his throat as he took everything in. The only noises were the wet slick sounds of oral sex as everyone in the room appeared to be holding their breath.

Lex closed his eyes, tilted his head back as he half-guided Clark's head. He could do it. Shit like that was his job, he could do it. Just relax and let it hit.

He'd deal with the consequences when they were alive to have them. Right now any of his own considerations were put to one side as he played a part so impeccably it looked real. There was an irony in him using his fathers training to beat his last test.

And Clark had the lips and mouth of an angel. There was not reason to delay the need or the climax or hold back. The sooner this was done, the better.

It wasn't about pleasure, it was about surviving. Lex's fingers curled tight into Clark's hair, clutched and squeezed before his hips shoved forwards. "Yeah, suck, just like that, just..."

There were a few convulsive movements as Clark deep throated him right to the last, swallowing hard as Lex climaxed. He made a soft, quiet noise deep in his throat as he slowly withdrew, cleaning Lex off as he did so. He couldn't move far with Lex's hand gripping his hair and he leaned against Lex's leg.

Lex petted fingers through Clark's hair while he tucked himself into his pants. "Well."

"I believe that constitutes sufficient proof." The anonymous leader replied still looking calm and unruffled. "And certainly it fulfils Lionel Luthors additional request to ensure reconciliation with the Kent's would be very unlikely. Hope, Mercy, release Mr. and Mrs. Kent."

He pulled out a plain sheaf of documents. "These are yours now. Any additional services will have to be renegotiated afresh."

"I sincerely doubt that I'll be in need for additional services," Lex uttered as he gave Clark's head a pat, and then pulled back. "But if the need arises, I'll know to hire you for your... thoroughness."

He received a nod and gestured to his fellow assassins. "Time to go."

As calmly as if he were leaving a business meeting the unnamed man and the pair he had called Hope and Mercy, which had to be pseudonyms left the room and took the double-edged sword that had plagued Lex's and Clark's lives with them. Even if it hadn't been what it seemed, it had been convincing enough to save them all, even if some of the expressions in the world made him wonder if it was worth it.

The problem was that no one seemed to have the words to crack that terrible silence.

Lex started to look over the paperwork, and then headed over toward the wet bar. "Anyone need a drink?"

"...a drink? How can you even think we would have a drink with..."

"Dad, please..." Clark sounded tired and he just turned and lay back down on the couch.

"You cannot be serious Clark... he made you..."

Martha had been watching Lex in the mean time and appeared to come to her own decision. "Strongest you've got in there Lex, please. For both of us."

"Great." Lex meandered past them all, and took a moment to pick up two glasses. "Clark, how're you doing?"

"It hurts like fire everywhere. And I want you, but it doesn't feel like before." Clark answered just not even looking at anyone in the room at all.

"Clark..." Martha stepped forward.

"No Mom, just...stay back. Please," Clark asked quietly. "You're safe now. Everyone is, and I'm just... so tired."

Tired. Lex understood tired, but he kept his eyes on Clark, trying to gauge how he looked. "You're not going to fall over dead?"

"That would be something to hope for," Clark replied closing his eyes as if that would make the problems go away. Truthfully with his bones feeling like they were seething with red fire and restless tides of his tainted blood, he wasn't sure if he could ever rest.

"Are you sure it's the spore?" Jonathan cleared his throat and asked. "Clark?"

"It's the spore Dad."

"He was dying just a few hours ago. Ironically the RedK drug appears to help him fight it. At least temporarily." Lex poured the drinks quickly, motions restrained as he walked over to Martha and offered her a whiskey.

She took it, and he could see her hands shaking as she took it and took a gulp. What was surprising was the fact that she didn't cough or gasp at the jolt of strong alcohol. "Thank you."

Jonathan was looking at all of them with an air of bewilderment as if he couldn't believe that they were all being so calm.

"Let me get this straight... Clark was dying, we've just seen you publicly acknowledge that you want to carry on where your father left off, and we've just seen you force our son to..." He couldn't even find the words. "....to...to...."

"Perform oral sex," Martha supplied gripping the glass tightly.

"...in front of us both and now we are just standing around having a convivial drink?!"

Lex tossed back a fingers worth of liquor, and swallowed it. The burn was nice, and so was the way that his breath froze the inside of his mouth after it. "I did what I had to."

"Are you sure it wasn't what you wanted to do?" Jonathan pressed. "It was too damn convincing! Our son, what have you done to our son?!"

"Jonathan, sweetheart, it was convincing, but I think he's telling the truth," Martha interrupted. "And this is not the time. Clark is still in danger."

"Every moment he is with a Luthor he is in danger," the other man shot back. "We should get him out of here." He moved to approach Clark, only to have his son open his eyes and push himself awkwardly away from him.

"Lex...I can't... touch anyone..." Except him. He didn't want to hurt or fuck anyone else in the room. Lex was the only option because he knew how to deal with him, with a muddled part of his brain remembering what had been said, under his rational mind. If he survived...

"Too much Red K, right?" Lex downed the rest of his drink, grimacing. "I'm sorry about that. It was the only way I could think of. I'll get you up to your room..."

Clark nodded shivering with the burning tension in him. It was not going to be pleasant. He had been at death's door and he could still return there as he could feel the weariness underlying the pounding buzz in his body. Craving and need warred with exhaustion and left him feeling shaky. He had heard the things Lex had said and they had hurt, the whole experience had hurt, but it never occurred to him that Lex was not acting in his best interest.

"Lex... Lex has saved your lives... all of them." he said quietly. "Please... don't freak on me. You don't know everything that's happened to me, that's been happening." He shivered again. Lex, Lex looked desirable, wonderful, he needed him... If his legs wouldn't carry him then he would crawl.

Mmm. A hot idea in itself.

After carelessly setting his glass on the first surface that he passed, Lex bent in towards Clark. "Here. Get your arms around me. I think we can make it up the stairs."

He recognized that look in Clark's eye. At least the Kent's could pretend it was coerced as long as they didn't see their son begging like he had before. Clark reached for him clinging hungrily to him, with enough strength to give him hope that RedK had been the drug to fast forward through the lifecycle of the spore before it killed him.

Maybe it would cure Clark, somehow. Alien physiology was a mystery to him, a puzzle he couldn't solve on his own. Maybe it had just made things worse. Maybe it was just buying Clark a little more time.

At least he'd saved Clark's friends, his parents. "Easy..."

"Do you need help Lex?" Martha asked, desperate to be there for her son somehow. She noted the quiet desperation that marked the way Clark clung to the other man and the familiarity with which he curled into him. They were not difficult to miss. It wasn't that she hadn't suspected it, but she had envisioned there to be a slightly awkward conversation not a public display of oral sex.

"No, I can get him upstairs fine. He sometimes gets violent on these drugs." But they probably already knew that. And Jonathan wasn't offering help, no.

He was probably in shock. Lex had probably stolen one of the man's worst nightmares and played it out in real time for him. He knew from the visits that he had been tolerated because of the fact he had let Clark come home to visit even just a little.

It didn't help that Clark was nuzzling at him absently, probably not even aware he was doing so.

It was the drugs, Lex decided as he walked, elbowing open the library doors. "Would the two of you like to let Lana and Pete out?"

"We'll do that," Martha said managing to speak up before Jonathan could say anything more. They both had a lot of adjustment to do and it was best that it didn't upset Clark. "When... when things have calmed down, we'd both like to see Clark."

"Sure. I'll let you know." He turned in the other direction down the hallway, happy to leave then in his wake. If Clark lived, then he could crash and start to cope with things on his own.

But not yet.

The sharpness of the RedK high faded after he managed to get Clark into bed. It happened so quickly - he'd just been out of the room in the bathroom for a few minutes trying to pull himself together and Clark had crashed back towards the semi-comatose state that had been so terrifying before. And there was nothing more he could do about it. He was sure that another dose of Red would finish him completely.

He'd let Martha and Jonathan and Pete and Lana come and see Clark. They sat for hours waiting for something, anything awkwardly not saying much to each other. Pete seemed to be wrestling with a guilty conscience the size of Kansas, and that wasn't helping.

In the end, when it seemed Clark was content to hover between life and death no matter what they did, Lex cordially directed the Kent's to one of the rooms next door and Pete and Lana to another of the other rooms so he could watch the vigil without distractions.

Only he was tired himself, his adrenaline rollercoaster about to jump the tracks.

He just needed to sleep. He wanted to sleep in his room, wanted to just lay down beside Clark. But Lana and Pete and Jonathan and Martha were hovering, circling him like the threat he apparently was.

He found it hard to blame them. They had hardly seen him, knew much about him and the freshest memory would be that the horror was going to continue. It took all his skills of persuasion to actually get them to go out, and then he could lie down with Clark as he wanted. He stroked at his hair gently, feeling the twist of emotion as he looked at the pale face and settled next to him, taking the risk if Clark should wake in a RedK mood. It would be worth it.

If Clark woke it would be worth it. RedK mood or not, if Clark woke...

He'd probably hate him forever. And Lex couldn't really bring himself to care. He just needed to close his eyes, and... sleep. Laying on his side, watching Clark, waiting.

Somewhere, he drifted asleep. He didn't even know when and it wasn't conscious. He had intended to stay awake and watch but it was dark when he woke, feeling a warm stickiness under his fingers.

Tacky, almost dry at the edges. Lex pushed himself up sitting and tried to focus his eyes on Clark. "Hey..."

There was blood everywhere. All over Clark's face, his body, all over him. As if a particularly brutal murder had taken place next to him and he hadn't even noticed.

It made Lex jerk upright, staring down at the blood, at his fingers that were sticky from it. "Oh, fuck..." Apparently Clark's species didn't shit themselves like humans did when they died -- they bled out, everywhere, and for a moment Lex was torn between getting off of the bed, crying, and throwing up.

Maybe he could multitask.

Tiny little green flashes of luminescence glittered in the sticky red substance. Ironic. All his father had wanted Clark for had been his blood and now it was... everywhere.

The fear of touching Clark and finding him cold and empty made him shake. He couldn't do it. He couldn't. His father was dead, Clark was dead, and he'd made fresh enemies for no reason at all... Just another fuckup in the day to day life of Lex Luthor.

Just when something started to go really well, something seemed like it might work, he woke up beside a body covered in blood. It didn't matter that eventually he'd have to move and get help.

But, then Clark would be taken from him and for a short time, he'd believed that Clark actually meant what he was saying. He felt cold and empty inside, so shocked that the burning in his eyes didn't know how to become tears.

And then Clark gave a very quiet and a little bit of a disgustingly bubbly snore.

"... Clark?"

He had to touch him then, to fight that certainty that Clark had hemorrhaged and died while he had slept. He was warm but not hot, and more of the green flecks gleamed out from the blood flow.

Fingers on Clark's shoulders, Lex couldn't resist giving him a gentle shake. "Clark?" Warm. Warm, and breathing, and snoring.

"Mmm." Clark grunted and opened his eyes. "Wha'? Lex...urgh..." He seemed quite groggily startled to find his mouth and face tainted with blood. "Wha' happened?"

"I was going to ask you. I thought you were dead." Lex leaned back, and wiped his hands on the bedspread. It was a lost cause already.

Clark wiped at his nose, and mouth. "Well I feel...okay. Kinda woozy but okay." He looked up sounding surprised at his own diagnosis. "I don't get it. I was really sick. I mean, I thought..." He looked at Lex, the pair of them still a mess.

Lex sitting there just as bloody as Clark. "So did I. You're... sure you're okay?"

"Well..." He frowned. "I think so. I feel a bit tired, but I don't even feel like I've got too much RedK in me." He looked at Lex a minute. "You think... shit, you think it's over?"

"... all over the bed and probably soaked into the mattress," Lex joked weakly as he made himself shift to his feet. Keep moving again. Maybe he needed to keep moving because he didn't know what he'd think if he ever stopped.

"You... probably could benefit from a long shower."

"You too. You look wiped Lex. Under all the alien goo and blood." Clark stood a little unsteadily but more like himself than he had been for days.

"Yeah, well. It's been a long day." Lex steadied himself against the mattress, watching Clark.

"You okay?" Clark glanced at him as he wiped the worst on the bed clothes. "I'm sorry, I wasn't much support to you."

Support?

What kind of support had Clark hoped to be? "Hey. All of the problems in my life have resolved themselves in the most... final way possible. Don't apologize."

"Lex, your Dad died. I never wanted that to be the cost of my freedom. Because I know you - it will hurt you." Clark replied. His perception had returned with his health. "I'm going to shower... won't be long."

"Sure." Lex almost started to follow, but made himself hang back. He might as well start when he was still numb with too much happening too fast. Let Clark pull away, because why wouldn't he want to, after six years of being a Luthor Hostage?

Clark paused at the bathroom door looking a bit puzzled at him not following him. "Lex?"

"I'm going to let you go, Clark."

Clark stared at him, a picture of blood and gore. "What... what are you talking about Lex?"

"You.... can leave. Luthorcorp. Go back to living your life. It's all over. There're no hits against your family. Well, there is, but I have to personally activate them and I'm not going to. It was just the only way the contract could be renegotiated." Lex shifted, wiping a hand on his already bloody shirt.

"You're saying...I'm 'fired'?" It sounded so trivial when he put it like that. A prosaic ending for years of near slavery.

But that was okay. Lex had gotten a prosaic ending to his father's life and an anticlimactic ending to Garner, and everything else. Closure didn't necessarily feel good. "If that's what you want."

Clark looked a little shaken. "I can't... I can't think about this like this. I need to get clean, I need to... think about things." He was frowning and he glanced up at Lex. "You want me to go?"

Lex looked down at himself, then back at Clark. Say yes. Say yes, and don't be a greedy bastard for once in your life. That was all he had to do. Just... three letters.

"I... need to think. I want you to have choices again. And... It's been a long couple of days."

"Then don't make these decision in such a hurry Lex," Clark replied as he turned to go into the bathroom. "I've waited this long. I can wait longer."

He was a little disturbed to find himself scared by the prospect of being totally cut loose. He never believed it could ever happen so there had been no plans for the future, even the half daydreams taken from him by the fading of hope. He was totally unprepared and the difference now, to all those years ago, was that he knew it.

But Lex's offer was sincere, even if it was hasty. He hung back for a moment more, and then started towards Clark and the bathroom. "Okay. Let's... get this shit off."

Clark smiled. That he was comfortable with, and needed. In some ways, he knew he couldn't just walk away and pretend everything hadn't happened. But he'd lost his pride a long time ago, and humiliation was something he was accustomed to so it wasn't that which worried him the most, though before the thought of his parents knowing had tormented him. He had been confident that he was going to die and thought he wouldn't have to live the consequences, but his alien physiology decided otherwise. He could survive that, but he was pretty sure he could not survive it alone.

And once he got Lex past his knee-jerk reaction to bail everything. Clark wasn't quite sure what had to be going through Lex's head. His father had died, Garner had been taken care of, he'd spent hours and hours working to save Clark's friends and family, and Clark was sure all he'd gotten for it was snarled at.

Once they showered, Lex probably needed to sleep more, and that was all right. As long as the world slowed down for a few hours.

"Martha. Do you hear water running?"

He'd been like that all night -- every slight noise, every creak the castle gave, and Jonathan Kent went tight with tension.

"Settle down Jonathan," Martha said sitting up in the large bed. She was no less anxious to see Clark than her husband but she was maintaining a semblance of calm. "Lex told us if there was a change he would get us."

"Or he's killed him and he's washing away evidence," Jonathan muttered as he leaned back against the headboard and stared at the wall. Maybe if he stared long enough, he could see through it.

"Jonathan..." Martha looked at him again. "Sweetheart, it's over... and somehow I don't think that Lex would kill Clark."

"No, Lex is just going to use him the same way that his father did." Jonathan barely suppressed his urge to cross his arms over his chest and glare through the wall.

"I don't think so Jonathan," Martha put an arm over him gently. "I know what he said and ...what happened, but there were things that didn't add up."

"It all added up for me," Jonathan growled as he turned towards her, fighting against the Duvet for a moment -- mostly because he could. "That boy is just as bad as his father."

"Care to tell me how you reached that conclusion?" Martha asked calmly. They'd had all too many times in their marriage where she had to take the brunt of Jonathan's frustration.

"I think we can start and end with him making our son into a sex slave."

Well, that was a particularly sordid way to put it. Martha very nearly sighed. "So the fact that Clark has had sex with him bothers you?"

"No, it's... not just that. It's that he. Dammit, Martha! You saw what he made Clark do! Right in front of us!"

"Yes, I saw. And I was actually watching unlike some people who were busy staring into space," Martha replied tartly. " And I saw... an act. That was not the young man who came with Clark to dinner a few weeks back. That was a performance. There was no pleasure in it for him. Besides, if that were the case, why keep us here? "

"So we're under his thumb for a little while longer?" Jonathan muttered. "It's a play. It's so we'll trust him."

"I do trust him. I didn't want to, you know that. I had a smoke to calm my nerves when he came, and you know I don't do that, but has it occurred to you that perhaps he has been in a similar situation to Clark?"

"How?" Jonathan didn't like that comparison at all

"I can't see Lionel Luthor spoiling his son and heir. Don't get offended but he was like your father in that he was always testing, and like mine in being inflexible and in the belief that his way was the only way." Martha paused a moment looking at her long fingers as she plucked at the covers. "Too much like my father. Testing all the time in the name of love. Pushing me to achieve at the expense of happiness. Now imagine that with a large amoral sociopathic and megalomaniacal streak - would you think his life was easy? He looked at all of us with hungry eyes when he came to dinner. Not for the food but for... something he hadn't seen before."

Jonathan stared as Martha for a moment, then looked past her and sighed. Soon, arms slipped around her shoulders and he leaned into her. "He's a liar, Martha. I don't know what to believe, just... that I want Clark safe. Is that too much to ask?"

"Of course not love." Martha stroked her finger through her hair. "You might as well call Clark a liar as well, because he certainly hasn't been telling us everything. It would be nice to think that somehow it's going to be magically fine now that Lionel's gone. But it won't be. Clark... Clark is not going to just shake off everything. Neither are we. We've lived with fear so long..."

"So long that what? Clark thinks its okay to move over to another... captor? He's just passing from one person to another. So you're right, nothing's going to be magically fine now that Lionel's gone."

"I'm not saying that Jonathan," Martha said patiently. "I think that Lex genuinely cares for Clark. And to be honest? We don't have much of a choice. Clark...is sick. Very sick."

"If... he gets better, then what?"

"Then we see what type of a man Lex Luthor really is," Martha said. "And how badly hurt out son has been. I want him back Jonathan. I want him back." She couldn't help the slight welling of tears in her eyes. Shock had stopped them earlier, but they threatened all the time now it was over. "And I'm not going to risk the only thing that might help him."

"Lex Luthor?" He shook his head even as he moved to hug Martha tightly. "God."

"Clark did that to save us Jonathan. Not because he has been brainwashed," Martha said turning to her husband for comfort. "He was aware of himself to know he was a danger to us, he knew what was happening. I don't think... I don't think he thought he would have to face us... afterwards...."

Saying that really did choke her up to the point where it was easier to hide her emotion by hiding in that embrace.

Jonathan let her, because it was easier than dragging more words out of her when she wasn't in much shape for talking. "It's okay, Martha. He's hung in this long. Maybe he'll make it after all."

"I keep thinking that maybe we could have done...something," Martha managed, swallowing back emotion. "I know I said I would wait but I want to see him just as much as you do. Just in case."

"Now?" He rubbed at her back, gently.

She'd started off cautioning him with patience, which seemed hypocritical now, but... She nodded just a little, ashamed that she wasn't as strong as she tried to make out.

He patted her back a moment longer, and then started to pull back. "Okay." He wanted to go check on Clark anyway, so why would he want to disagree?

"Just... Just a quick look," Martha said already getting out of the bed to slip on a robe.

"Uh-huh. Luthor's still going to be in there, I bet..." Jonathan was wearing pajamas that had been procured out of no-where for him.

"I don't care," Martha said. It wasn't like they had seen the worst. "Come on sweetheart. Just a look."

"To make sure he hasn't killed Clark," Jonathan agreed as he moved to follow her. The whole bedroom they were sharing to stay close to Clark was too ostentatious for his taste. Fake elegance.

Martha led the way, trying not to make the door creak on the way out. This was a Luthor manor, and even though it had not been used in years, every hinge was oiled to perfection. A few steps down the hallway and her hand settled on the handle of the other door. She waited for Jonathan to be close, before steeling her courage and turning it slowly.

Please let him be alive, please. Please. Anything but dead.

It wasn't locked, which was a small blessing. The room itself had an odd coppery smell, but that was all she could see was amiss. Clark and Lex were asleep, curled up in bed. Together.

She could see even from the door that from the way her sons hair was in loose curls, it was still damp from being washed, and the two men seemed very comfortable and natural with each other. And there was a faint real smile on Clark's lips that she could just see, that made her raise her own hand to her mouth to stifle any sort of cry aloud she was tempted to make. A smile. A real smile. It was like something unimaginably rare and priceless nestled on that pillow.

"Martha?" Jonathan pushed against her from behind, and then gave a quiet catch of breath. "Oh, Jesus..."

"Shh Jonathan," Martha murmured having to swallow down her own emotion to be able to speak. "Just look at them. Really look at them."

"God, Martha..." His hand crept up over her shoulder, clutching gently. "He doesn't look as pale..."

"No..." It was a whisper, soft in the dim light of the room. "And he's smiling."

"He's high, Martha," Jonathan muttered, resting his chin against the top of her head. "I don't know."

"He smiles differently when he's high."

That she could say something like that and mean it appalled her, but even so she stepped forward a little taking in the details of his companion as well.

Lex looked loose-boned, relaxed as he lay entangled with their son. One of his hands was in Clark's damp curls, the other laid on the bed half-curled. It was the closest to unguarded that either of them had seen him.

He looked younger than Martha pictured him in her memories of the smooth LuthorCorp executive that had allowed Clark home. His face and mask of calm implacable expression had been stripped away revealing someone curiously vulnerable. She knew in the way she always knew things. With the rush of certainty and knowing that spoke to every part of her being. Lex Luthor was no threat to Clark's physical safety, only to his heart.

"We'll come back," Jonathan murmured, pulling at her a little. "I... think Clark's gunna be all right?"

She had to be tugged at twice before she actually moved. "Yes. I think one way or another he will be," she replied as they turned to leave. Her son was going to live, and be free again. For that, this seemed a small price to pay.

One distasteful thing that her husband could and would cope with because he loved their son just as much as she did. If he was alive and safe...

"Okay."

It would just have to be all right.

If he never took another moment for himself, all would be well.

Lex had already decided that he could keep plugging onwards as long as he needed to, as long as he could deal with one more argument, spend one more moment pretending he didn't care. Didn't know how to care. Clark was sleeping, and he needed to keep sleeping to seal his miraculous recovery.

While his unwelcome guests glared at him over French toast and grapefruit.

Pete looked like he was ready to slip something deadly into his coffee and Lana was looking confused. Jonathan Kent looked distinctly uncomfortable and it was only Martha Kent who seemed to be treating him normally. Which, when he thought about it was the most worrying thing of all.

"How are you feeling this morning Lex?" she asked politely as she passed the toast to her husband.

He worked the scalloped edge of his spoon into his grapefruit halve, the motion careful. Lana was eyeing him like he was digging it into someone's neck, and he couldn't quite see how she could suddenly see him that way. He didn't want to know what mental math had led her to that. "I'm fine."

"I take it Clark is still sleeping?" she asked again. It seemed a little odd; the previous night the last they knew what Clark was potentially dying. Jonathan and Martha Kent were not the type to calmly take that sort of news.

Jonathan seemed to particularly quiet, eyeing him like he wanted to do to Lex what Lex was doing to his grapefruit. Or something like that. "He's shaken it off, but it's left him exhausted."

"Well, that is good news!" she said with genuine enthusiasm but no actual real surprise. "Isn't it Jonathan?"

She might as well have elbowed him in the ribs to get him to talk.

Jonathan lifted his head a little, then nodded to her words. "Yeah. Yeah, I... Can we see him when he wakes up?"

Like Lex was his jailer. "You can do whatever you want," Lex informed him. "Come, go, leave, stay. Make sure that he's all right or not."

Lana was looking between all of them. "Look, I appear to be the only one here who doesn't have a clue what is going on here. Can someone tell me what all of use being kidnapped and then ...not killed has to do with Clark? We haven't seen Clark for years! Not until a few weeks ago."

"Lana, it... it's hard to explain," Pete tried awkwardly.

"Because of your guilty conscience?" Lex popped a chunk of grapefruit into his mouth, watching Pete's fork mop French toast through syrup. "My father saw Clark for the very... resourceful, intelligent person that he is, and conscripted him into his service. You can't blackmail someone unless you hold something over their heads. This... something was your life, Lana, Pete's life, Chloe Sullivan's life, and his parents' lives. If he left Luthorcorp or strayed from my father's agenda, or accidentally led to my father's death, you all were to be killed.. He gave up six years of his life for all of you."

Lana looked dumbstruck. "But he pushed us all away. I mean, I tried to see him and he was.." She glanced across at Martha and Jonathan. "Not himself. Vicious."

"I was best that you stayed away from him Lana," Pete reassured her. "Don't blame this on us Luthor, this was your father's doing and now you are carrying on the same tradition. So what's it going to be Mr. Luthor? We go through life with a similar threat over our heads? Hmm?"

Lex lifted an eyebrow at Pete, and leaned his elbow on the table. "Would you feel the least bit remorseful for pretending to not understand why Clark acted the way he did, if I did that to you, Pete Ross?"

"What was I meant to do? You father made his threat all too real. I had other people to think of!" Pete replied angrily. "Clark was ...always good at taking care of himself. " He looked at Lana for confirmation. "He was the one getting us out of problems all the time. I thought after a while he wanted to be where he was. He'd changed from the Clark I knew."

"If I were Clark, I would have let you die." Lex said it, and paused to let the thought digest. "You took, and took and took. And you took his shelter, his protection, for six years. I didn't see you so much as mouth a 'thanks' to him when we all thought he was dying. Friends like that... hell, who needs an enemy?"

"We only had your word for it that he was!" Pete protested. "We only have your word for any of this Luthor. Do you have any idea what your father did to the Kent's? And you wonder why I encouraged Lana and I to stay clear... What could I do... could any of us do? Do you know that Chloe nearly died because she was investigating what happened. She was in the hospital for months! I couldn't let that happen to Lana!"

"Of course not. Because she's your wife, and the two of you are all that matters in this world. You protect what's yours. I understand the concept." He was saying too much, and needed to draw back, put up the shields before he snapped and snarled at all four of them.

"I suppose you could do very little -- except be grateful now."

"We've always been grateful Lex," Martha said in a soft voice that made Pete look more uncomfortable. "I'm afraid it human nature to find someone to blame." She glanced at Jonathan who cleared his throat.

"Knowing how much of an asset Clark was to your father, we find it hard to believe that you would let him go Lex."

He didn't need a human dialysis machine. He needed a confidant, someone he could think with and work with and god help him, trust. "The reasons I would like to keep Clark in my employ... are not reasons that go hand in hand with maintaining blackmail. What happens next is his choice."

"You say that but..." Pete was about to launch into another tirade but was interrupted.

"But it's true." Clark spoke up from the door way before he entered the room slowly.

That was enough to get Martha out of her chair and moving at surprising speed to greet him. "Clark!"

Lana stood up, too, and Jonathan turned in his chair. Lex was just glad to have all eyes off of him, to not be fighting four against one anymore. Clark was wearing the spare clothes he had there, leftover from their 'vacation', the clean lines of a tailored shirt and tailored pants. He looked good. He looked... healthy, which he hadn't really seen since Clark had fallen over off of the sofa on Friday.

Clark smiled, hugging his Mom as best he could. "Easy Mom, I'm still a little shaky," he said looking happy and years younger. "Hey, sorry I'm late."

He was finding it very difficult to look directly at his father, the humiliation of what his father had witnessed him do, still fresh. "Good to see everyone is okay."

He moved automatically to stand by Lex, a move not lost on the others. "When I came round last night, Lex suggested that he fire me from Luthorcorp. I asked him to reconsider that."

"And then you went back to sleep -- feeling up to breakfast now?" Lex asked as he leaned a little to pull out the empty chair that was at his right hand side. He liked the symbolism, and didn't think too much that the chair to his immediate left was empty too.

"I am feeling a bit hungry, yes," Clark said as he sat down. "So what theories have I missed?"

"I'm not sure." Lex shot Pete a heavy glance, and smiled tightly as he started to stand up. "Your friend Pete would probably be more than willing to catch you up on them. I'll be back in a moment."

"Don't be long Lex," Clark said, catching his hand a moment in an overtly intimate gesture that was not lost on the others in the room, before he turned to face everyone there with as much composure as he could muster. "So. Got something you want to ask me?"

The silence that Lex heard before he closed the door behind him was... particularly satisfying.

Lana cleared her throat, and started. Clark should've seen that coming. "We didn't know, Clark, what was going on..."

He shrugged a little. "I know. I admit, there were times that that didn't feel like enough but all that matters is that all of you are safe now, and it's over."

"Is it?" Jonathan pressed. "Clark, how can you trust him?"

"How can I not Dad?" Clark replied firmly. "When I became sick, I asked him to promise me one thing; to make sure all of you were safe. He did that. His father died yesterday and yet he immediately moved to save all of you. People who he had not reason to have anything to do with save my request."

"So... Lionel Luthor is really finally dead?" Pete started. "It's not some... hoax?"

"Lionel Luthor had a rare liver disease. The reason why he targeted me is because through some fluke of a chance I had a compatible tissue type. He was using me like a living dialysis unit." Clark edited the facts slightly for the benefit of Lana but it was still the truth. "I have been acting as Lex's bodyguard and in the last attempt on his life I became infected with some sort of disease. We tried to stop Lionel from the procedure, Lex tried to, but he didn't believe his own son and I was too ill to resist. It killed him in his weakened state. He is well and truly dead Pete."

The words still didn't sound real to him. Lionel Luthor had twisted his life up for years and he could still feel the ghost of that grip.

It just... wasn't supposed to have happened. Even if he'd wanted to be free of Lionel, it wasn't supposed to have been so 'easy' to be free of him.

"Oh. So... what're you going to do now, Clark?"

Clark took a deep breath looking at all of them. "I want to get to know my friends and family again. You're all right, I am... different. I don't know if I can talk about everything that happened but I need to say this now. Because if you are not comfortable with it, I am no worse off than I was yesterday before all this happened. I'm not going to leave Lex. I don't know exactly how I am going to be involved and whether I'll be working for him, but you all need to know that I will be pursuing a relationship with him. It's complicated and simple at the same time."

It was a bold and dangerous thing he was doing. It would kill him to be rejected now, but there was no better time. If they couldn't deal with it, the loss of the last six years would blend seamlessly into a lifetime.

Just another loss of time. At least if he was rejected he'd know to stop wasting time and energy on them so much.

"Your mother and I already guessed that," Jonathan said as he fiddled with his fork. "And if that's what you want to do, Clark... that's okay."

Clark almost jerked with surprise that that comment from his dad. He'd been steeling himself for an attack and that had shocked him. "You...you're sure Dad?"

He didn't even glance at Martha to reassure himself on his own answer. "I'm sure. And your mother's sure. It's... other people have been making your decisions for too long."

Martha nodded in agreement, obviously proud of Jonathan speaking out on the subject that troubled him the most. "We want you to visit home as much as possible. Stay. That invitation applies to Lex as well."

That was enough to nearly choke Clark up completely. He gave his parents a dazzling smiles. "Thanks Dad, Mom... Pete? Lana? Are you okay with this?"

"We..." Pete looked sideways at Lana, waiting for her to talk first.

"It's a bit of a shock Clark," Lana said uncertainly. "If that's what you want to do, then of course... I just feel guilty that I haven't done more for you. "

"I think we all do Lana," Martha interjected.

"There just wasn't anything We... I could do to help," Pete added, looking embarrassed.

And then before Pete could get out anything else, Lex was striding into the room with a covered platter and a container of blueberry syrup. "Clark -- the cook made her pancakes just for you."

"Pancakes!" Clark grinned. "Not as good as Mom's but pretty good none the less. " He practically lit up when Lex came close, the contrast obvious. He stole a small stack before continuing. "Like I said, it's okay. It's not something I want to go through again, but it's over. Everything's safe now Lex right?"

"Right. No hit contract will be used, Clark's free to do what he wants, and all of you are safe." And whether they believed him or not was up to them. Lex set the platter down beside Clark's plate, and settled back into his own chair.

"Are you going to come home after breakfast sweetheart?" Martha asked watching her son carefully.

Clark shook his head. "Maybe a bit later on? Lex.. Lex could use someone around. He's just lost his father." He glanced at the other man, seeing what Lex was doing a great job of concealing. Sooner or later there would be emotional fulfillment.

Lex shrugged a little, looking embarrassed that Clark had said it that way. "It's not a tragedy, Clark."

"It is Lex, one way or another." Clark looked at him again. "Regardless of anything else, I never wanted anyone to die."

That if nothing else, proved to Martha that their son was still the Clark they knew and loved. No matter what else had happened and how many issue he might have to work through he was still their son. She squeezed Jonathans hand gently, exchanging a brief glance with him that convinced her that he realized it too and little by little he was relaxing.

"It would have happened sooner or later. And..." Lex picked up his cup of coffee, oblivious to the silent exchange. "He honestly brought it on himself."

"Even so," Clark replied and glanced at Lex again. "I never wanted anyone to die to regain my freedom."

If he had, there would have been no doubt his incarceration would have been much shorter. He looked down at his own mug. "I can't say things are going to go back to normal, because I don't know what that is any more, but... we'll work on it."

Lex wanted to offer something he wasn't quite comfortable suggesting in front of Pete and Lana. But he said it anyway. "If you want to take time..."

"No. No, it's okay. We'll talk about it later Lex," Clark replied and looked up again. He smiled a little at the others. "You probably won't see a lot of me for a while. I've got... well, withdrawal to go through. I was also being controlled with drugs as well as blackmail."

He had no pride left. Save for his secret, there was no point in hiding everything. It was an explanation of sorts for his strange moody behavior that had driven them away and convinced Pete so thoroughly that he had changed into a corporate monster.

"Clark..." Lana's voice crawled out before her thoughts, and Lex watched her find words to follow Clark's name. "Is there... anything we can do to help?"

"No. No, I'll be okay. I'd rather no one really saw me like that," Clark answered flicking a glance at Pete and her before he looked down again, still obviously finding it difficult to talk about the subject. "I'll bet anything Chloe will turn up shortly, so if you want to do something? Try and keep her under control."

That reminded Lex to call his contact and make sure she was all right. "I'll... leave you all. Enjoy breakfast. I need to make some phone calls."

"I'll be through later," Clark murmured to him, before turning back to the others. "It is okay for them to leave when they want now right?"

"Right." Lex picked up his coffee cup as he stood up and stepped around his chair. "The contracts have been redone, everyone's lives are back to safe."

Clark smiled. "So, everyone is free to go whenever they want. But you might want to be a little cautious about what you put in the Ledgers front page." he said to Pete. "You could have the exclusive on Lionel Luthor being dead though. I doubt it's been announced yet."

"Really? How..." Pete craned his head while Lex dodged to leave the room. Of course. Lex was keeping it quiet -- and he didn't speak against Pete getting the exclusive.

He just let the door close behind him.

What with everything going on, Pete and Lana finally leaving and then Clark having an even more harrowing discussion with his parents that left him feeling shaken but faintly relieved, Clark and Lex didn't see much more of each other until that evening.

Lex had been consulting heavily with people in Metropolis arranging how his father's death would be reported, and that, when it come to it, had taken a great deal of time. LuthorCorp was having financial palpitations under the surface and that needed some soothing as well. Pete would have to hurry to get his exclusive because the news was like a storm about to break over Metropolis.

He hadn't gotten the rest he'd wanted. Lex had had an empire fall into his lap, and even being prepared wasn't the same as being ready. He hadn't been ready and waiting for that to happen to him, and there wasn't time to process one trauma before another hit and another and another.

It shouldn't have surprised Clark to find Lex drinking in the library, laptop on his lap as he sat slouched into a thick leather chair.

"Hey," Clark greeted him as he approached him carefully. "I kinda lost track of you for a while Lex. How're you doing?"

"I'm doing." He swished the ice in his liquor empty glass, and swallowed a little of the melted water and scotch residue. "You look good."

"Better than half dead you mean?" Clark prowled over near him, feeling the familiar pull that the residuals of RedK could leave behind. Attraction, need and that indefinable something that was Lex, delved into him. It didn't matter that it was technically all over. He still wanted to belong to Lex in the same way he had before. Lex made him 'safe' somehow and with all his doubts and fears that was a miracle in itself without the fact he loved him. He sat himself on the arm of the chair. "I missed you."

Lex was browsing through the LuthorCorp intranet, looking at his mail, and made no attempt to hide anything or click anything closed. "Why?"

"Because I do?" Clark leaned closer, almost hesitantly. Lex seemed to be creating a distance around himself since that morning and he wasn't sure what he had done to make that happen. Maybe Lex was having second thoughts about who and what he was.. "I...have I done something wrong?"

No answer, when there should have been one right away. Lex closed his laptop with his elbow, then leaned away to set his glass down. "No. I... have you decided what you want to do?"

"Well, I was kinda thinking about doing all the things I did under the influence with you all over again, just to see how they compare," Clark teased as lightly as he could, while being so nervous and anxious for Lex's acceptance. He wanted to touch him, to kiss him, taste him... and he was pretty sure it wasn't all due to the RedK.

But Lex just looked at him for the longest time, weighing what Clark had offered before he slipped the laptop onto the floor and out of harm's way. "Here, you can sit down."

He slid off the arm of the chair on to Lex, almost immediately leaning into him to smell his scent and very nearly rumbled a purr of satisfaction as some of the weariness of explaining things to his parents and facing his dad's disapproval lifted. "What's wrong Lex? Did I say something stupid before? Did I ask too much?" he murmured. Who needed RedK? This close to Lex, he was lost to him.

Lex moved his arms around Clark, slowly, winding close around him. "No. I want this... I want you. I want to know why you want that."

"I'm pretty sure I love you Lex," Clark said quite pragmatically. "I'm...I'm fucked up, I know that. But that's doesn't change what I feel. I don't think anyone else can understand, but I need you. It's not as harsh as with the drugs but maybe they just peeled back to expose what was already there. I want you, I need you. "

"You piss me off," Lex sighed, leaning into Clark. Clark on his lap made his legs hurt, but he was a very solid weight to be sharing that chair with, a very real and alive weight. "We're both fucked up. We should run with it."

"I piss you off?" Clark looked worried at that and pulled away a little. "Lex...I'm sorry about your Dad. Really I am."

"He didn't believe me." Lex reiterated that as the cause for perhaps the fifth time by then, and tightened his arms around Clark. "You piss me off, and that's good. You're... not a yes man."

"Except when you make me beg," Clark murmured and smiled as he kissed at Lex. "I'm not going to leave you. You may want to send me away, but I'm not going to leave you. You wanted to fire me because you wanted me to be free right? All that means is that I will write up my CV and then try and seduce my way back to your side Lex. One way or another...I don't think there's anyone who can understand what I need anyone who makes me…safe."

"Then I guess I shouldn't bother firing you...?" Lex asked as he leaned into that kiss, took control of it and made the sensation of lip against lip a lingering one.

"Mmm...oh God," Clark murmured. "Don't make me go Lex? I won't leave you. You need help right?"

He needed help and help, yeah, and that made Lex laugh a little. "Oh yeah. I need help."

Clark shifted so he wasn't pressing on him so hard. "Maybe I'll do some free lance journalism. You know I could run through every bit of business on your desk and have it done in ten minutes. But..."

"You could do it all, Clark," Lex agreed. "But. I'm going to have to change how things work, to start."

"You don't need to do it the way your father did Lex," Clark reassured him almost eagerly. "People don't have to fear you. You... people will love you."

He spared Clark a look of doubt before he pulled him closer. "We'll figure it out. Just... stay here for now."

"I mean it. Your father spent six years trying to break me with fear and intimidation," Clark leaned forward. "And you... almost immediately, I was yours. I still feel like I did at that club. That's not something I feel comfortable with talking about with my parents but I am more than comfortable with feeling that way about you."

"And what's that?" Lex asked as he tried to help settle Clark better into his lap, his arms. "Mine?"

"Yes. The urge to... belong to someone. Maybe it's a part of me trying to find somewhere to belong, a place and security. Maybe the drugs have twisted me so I need a hint of that, I don't know." Clark nuzzled at Lex's neck. "But I can't stop feeling that way and it's more than just lust and want."

Lips at his neck, a nose nudging against the line of a muscle. Lex shifted, stretched back faintly. "You make it hard to say no... When you say it like that."

"Do you really want to say no?" Clark asked pressing soft lips to the other mans smooth neck, tasting him between words. "You've thought about it... about letting go. I could see it in you."

"I don't want to," Lex sighed. He let his hands meander down to rest low on Clark's back. "I know that I should, but I don't want to."

"There's plenty of things I've been told that I should do," Clark answered relishing the touch there. "But I haven't. I know you want to, I know you feel you should so I can be free. And I am, or I will be when I go through the withdrawal. But I for all my strength, my powers and abilities I need... a protector. My family and friends need that too. I walked straight into it when I was younger because there was no one there to help me. That's the business reason. The other reason is my reason. I love you... need you. You can set me free and like a tame hawk I'll come winging right back." He smiled at him.

Would he, though. "I'm not going to monitor you. You can come and go as you please. You..." Lex laid his head against the back of the chair, looking up at Clark slightly. "You can do whatever you want."

"I was going to say the same thing," Clark raised up a little so he could kiss Lex. "Mm. You are wasted just running a business. Your mind... beautiful. Just like you."

Clark could feel Lex smile against his mouth. "Flatterer. I have to run a business, so I can keep you employed."

"There is that. Or I could just be your sex-slave. They seemed to think I might not mind that as a career. They are probably right." Clark kissed him again.

"But you do do more. So much more..." Lex pulled his head back, bare skull pressing against the padded leather. "I feel like I'm holding you down. Back."

Clark smirked at him a little. "Mm. You won't. And perhaps I need reining in. You know something? There are some caves in Smallville that hold a prophecy about me and someone else. Closer than a brother. One part that would betray me, the other that would form the balance to my power. If I have to have a destiny I choose you as the balance and your father was the betrayer. No one said you couldn't choose a destiny."

"So, you've chosen me." Lex peered back at Green eyes, fingers twitching to stroke. "I'll have to make it worth your while."

"Want to make it an early night?" Clark asked hopefully looking at him with a guileless gaze. "Even if it just to be together?"

He nodded, and shifted in the hope that Clark would stand up. "I'm not... up to much. I've just been waiting for things to stop."

It was enough of a hint to get him moving. "Then I'll be happy just to hold you, and be with you. That's the difference Lex." Clark smiled at him.

"From what?" He waited until Clark was to his feet, and then levered himself upright.

"From the RedK. Physical is good, but other things are more important," he said as he reached a hand to pull Lex up. "It hasn't really sunk in for me either you know?"

Lex let himself be hauled up, almost the reverse of him pulling Clark up days before.

Only days, but it felt like a lifetime. "I know."

"I'll try not to freak out," Clark promised as Lex was drawn into his arms briefly. "And...you know, you're going to have to talk sometime. About it."

"About...?" Lex offered that like a challenge, as he stayed in Clark's arms.

"About everything. About your father. About what he did to you at the end. I could see and hear some. Most." Clark touched him as if he was fragile and had suffer more than he had.

"He told me that he dealt with Garner. That's one thing we don't have to worry about, as I've confirmed it and have made a move to buy the lab," Lex sighed.

"Kryptonite is dangerous Lex, not just to me. A vast majority of the meteor mutants I encountered had become mentally unstable with their powers. Only a handful didn't. Like you." Clark slipped an arm around him. "Your father was proud of you."

With his dying breath. "Because I told the truth and he didn't expect it." He leaned on Clark, letting the other man's weight hold his upright. "How fucked up is that, Clark?"

"Very," Clark said frankly. "But he died proud of you, and in the firm belief his legacy would live on. And in a way it will. Great than he could imagine because... you accomplished what he hoped. You tamed the 'alien beast', made sure I won't be off conquering the world." He gave a hesitant smile at that. "Just because it wasn't exactly what he expected, doesn't make it any different."

"I should be disgusted to want to make him happy," Lex sighed. "I... wish I could have changed him. But I didn't try. Now..."

"When all is said and done, he was your Dad Lex. Everyone wants their Dad to be proud of them." He stroked down his arm a little. "Look at me - super powered alien but if my Dad or Mom looks at me in a certain way, I'm a wreck."

"I've noticed." Lex pulled back. "Let's go upstairs now. To sleep. I'll... think more about my father and what we'll do next tomorrow."

Clark nodded in agreement. The fact that it was his first night of apparent freedom and he was consciously choosing to spend it with Lex was significant. In some ways it signaled his interest and intent more clearly than any words.

Clark could do anything. He could probably run directly to France. He could run anywhere that he wanted. But he wanted to sleep with Lex. Just sleep. It made Lex smile tiredly as he pulled back and moved to leave the library, laptop abandoned on the floor.

Perhaps an empire wasn't the only thing he had gained during the past couple of days.

Whether it was because he had bled out a lot of the Red Kryptonite along with the deadly spore, but Clark went into full blown RedK withdrawal a lot early than anyone was expecting. The ridiculous thing was that it happened when he was at home visiting and he just disappeared as if he had taken off somewhere.

A couple of fraught hours later, his Mom and Dad had found him curled up at the back of the loft, trying to silently deal with the full agony of the drug burning out of his system and his desperate craving for more without bothering anyone. He just wasn't used to having anyone else around to be bothered and his natural instinct was to hole up and try not to hurt anyone else.

The next 24 hours had been as harrowing a nightmare for his parents and Lex as they could have imagined. Clark had always been so flippant and certain about the fact that he could live through the withdrawal and get through it, that none of them had been prepared for the ferocity of the experience. It became obvious why Lionel Luthor had felt secure in the choke chain hold of the drug on Clark. It was the sort of hell that they were sure no human could have lived through and Clark seemed to be only barely surviving. Six years of drug dependency did not loosen its grip without leaving scars even if they were on the memory not the body.

They had occasion in that time to be grateful that the kryptonite manacles had come with Lex from Metropolis, though Jonathan looked like someone had carved him from granite the moment Lex had produced them. Matters didn't improve even after he had described exactly how he came to be in possession of such items, but Jonathan did have to agree that they were necessary and begrudgingly admit that he could see why they had to be used.

They did at least put a stop to Clark's irritating habit of trying to hide from all of them while it was going on as if he couldn't bear them to see him like that. It became painfully obvious he was chronically ashamed of the wreck he was at that moment and found sympathy and care almost too much to bear. That didn't mean he got a choice in the matter; not with his parents and Lex hovering over him for those critical 48 hours.

But the worst passed, and a couple of days later Clark convalesced on the couch, with the help of Lex, who was hiding from the media at the Kent Farm. No one could even dream that the new head of LuthorCorp would be there.

He was a city-boy, and if he was anywhere in Smallville he would've been found holed up in his mansion, not some farm that was off of the beaten track. Of course, it wasn't the farm that was why he was there.

He was there so he could grow accustomed to the oddity that his new-life was becoming. It had hit the news, of course, that Lionel Luthor was dead -- Lex had said a few words about that at a very tightly scripted speech in Metropolis, and after assuring the board that things would be handled smoothly, he'd helicoptered to Smallville.

No-one had said that he couldn't handle his business smoothly for a couple of weeks from his laptop and his cell phone, while sitting with Clark.

At least Clark was getting to the point where he was coherent and occasionally able to contribute to conversations before he fell asleep again between the bouts of shakes. They were getting less and less frequent, much to everyone's relief.

Clark kept waking and just staring at him with a faintly goofy smile on his face as if he couldn't believe he was actually still there, and he accepted his mother's cosseting and his fathers comfort as well. It was like he was shedding years as well as a drug dependency.

The change, Lex had to admit, was good on Clark. Maybe when he shook it off entirely he'd change his mind about what he'd said. Even if he did... it was good while it'd lasted, and Lex felt oddly buoyed to have Clark climbing towards health. Clark looked good sitting there with a mug of hot chocolate.

"Are you sure you don't want one?" he asked as he looked into the sweetly frothy drink. "Mom froths it up like a cappuccino. And there's real chocolate."

"I just had coffee," Lex excused as he shifted, leaning back a little while he stretched his legs out in front of it. "But thanks."

Clark smiled a little, pulling the blanket closer. "Need any help now I've stopped being a quivering wreck for a moment? Seize your opportunity, it may be gone soon."

"I'm just going through my father's company files, trying to sort out who needs to be fired and who needs to be fired and quieted."

"I could give you a list of lab technician names," Clark said in a low voice. "There were a few of them that went into the experimentation with far too much enthusiasm." He was still wary of letting his parents know too much detail about the experiments. They were upset enough about the drugs and extortion without knowing the graphic details.

"Actually..." Lex opened up a word document, fingers settled waiting over the keys. "Can you remember any right now? I can get them down. I'll have to cross-reference it with reasons to fire them, but it won't take long to find that. The whole place needs to be cleaned out."

"Well lets see... Garret was on of the worst," Clark drew in on himself at the mere thought of the name. "James Garret...Lionel may have given him orders but... you shouldn't laugh when you break someone's bones you know? There was another guy, they called him Chez or something. I think his name was Chester - he did the dissections..."

Clark reeled off a lengthy list of names, drifting off every now and then into memories, before he finally dried up.

Lex tapped ctrl-s, closed the file, and then shut his laptop. "I think that's enough for one day, Clark. Do you want something on the TV, or...?"

"Wouldn't mind you sitting cl-" He paused tilting his head. "I hear a car. Not one I recognize. Something fast and sporty."

"Isn't that illegal in this town?" Lex tipped his head a little, and reached for the laptop bag so he could put it away.

"Well strangely they never got around to passing a law making trucks compulsorary..." Clark grinned. He frowned a little and then groaned. "Chloe. My God Lex, I haven't seen her in... I... what do I do? "

He sounded a bit flustered and anxious, as if there was a good chance he was going to just hide under the blanket and stay there.

"Ask her if she's here as a friend of yours, or as a New York Times reporter, first." He paused for a moment, and then pulled the tiny master-lock out of the laptop bag so he could lock the zipper closed.

"She tried to find me Lex, she spent time in hospital over it." Clark looked at him. "Lionel made sure I saw that." He looked over towards the door obviously hearing her approach and knowing they would be lucky to get a knock before she let herself in.

Lex got the lock in place, and then moved towards the front door to beat her to it. "I'm sure he did."

Clark stopped trying to lever himself up, and then lay back half appalled by the irony of a billionaire answering the door in the Kent household. Sure enough there was a brisk knock even as Lex reached there.

He took his time turning the handle and pulling the door open. "Can I help you?"

Chloe paused with a very undignified look of shock on her face even as her eyes lit up. "I may not have been back in Smallville for a while, but somehow I don't think the Kent's have changed so much that they look like missing billionaires. Lex Luthor I presume?"

"Who isn't actually missing. And you are?"

"Chloe Sullivan. Friend of the Kents whose door you are minding." She looked at him flashing a brilliant smile. "But I find it hard to believe that you don't know who I am considering a guy with 'hired by Lex Luthor' stamped on his pretty fine butt, turned up out of nowhere, saved my life and I've just dropped him up at the Castle."

She paused a moment. "Okay I wrote that on his butt, but he didn't object and that was the point."

He smiled a little in return, and took a step backwards. "This is a warmer reaction than Clark's other friends, whose lives are also still theirs. Why don't you come in?"

"You know? That's a good question." Chloe walked forward. "I came looking for Clark, his parents and potentially you. So, Pete still playing brass monkeys huh? Hear no evil, see no evil?"

"That's one way to say it." Lex waited until she was in, then closed and locked the door behind her. "Clark, should I make myself scarce?"

Clark looked at him. "Not unless you want to," he said quietly. "Hey, Chloe."

After all those years, he felt ashamed that was all he could offer her. Just... hey.

Lex moved to sit across from Clark, in a chair, leaving the sofa open.

"Hey yourself. You going to tell me just what the hell's been going on?"

Clark moved over a little bit, leaving the space open. There was guilt associated with Chloe that hadn't existed with Pete and Lana. Chloe had tried at least to find out what had happened to him and gotten too close and paid the price."Um. How about you tell me what you worked out and I'll fill in the gaps?" Clark asked hopefully.

"Well, that someone wanted me dead, first of all. You know, I was pretty pissed off about this guy who wouldn't go away and followed me out to my car, until the shooting started. Then he told me who'd hired him, and well. I figured it was a little internal business war?"

"It was to do with me," Clark said simply. "Lionel Luthor's insurance policy to control me. In the event of his death or my misbehavior my family and friends were automatic targets. Mom, Dad, you, Pete and Lana."

"Oh." She crossed her legs, then looked over to Lex for a second. "And for some reason his son decided to make sure the targeting didn't happen after his dad died?"

"Hey, 'the son' is sitting right here," Lex drawled.

"I asked him if he could," Clark replied and gave a hesitant smile. "I guess he felt sorry for me, I was apparently dying at the time."

"Which you are apparently not doing now," Chloe pointed out. "Even if you are looking a bit peaky - but then I haven't seen you for years Clark, and that's a bit odd considering how fast you always seemed to recover…?"

Clark nodded to the half probing question. Chloe had proven herself and the least he owed her was his trust. "If you really want to know about all those years Chloe, and understand things, then I guess you have to know that everything you suspect when we were in school was ... true."

"I'd always figured you'd tell me when the time was right," Chloe smiled brilliantly. "I've always guessed. From things about school, to... that being while Lionel had an interest in you. I mean, you attract attention but billionaires need a bit more than just a knack for being in the right place at the right time to pique their focus." She grinned at Lex a little and then looked back at Clark.

It was strange, he felt able to tell her now because he had Lex. A protector. Someone who had proven he would do everything he could to help him when there was nothing in it for him. He could have just let him die, and his friends and family. He could have helped him survive and then collared him again as his father had hoped. But he had done neither.

On a purely practical basis, Lex could stop a story going to press, but it was more to do with the confidence that not being rejected by him had given Clark. For those six years, he had been immersed in Lionel Luthor's perception that he was worse than a freak. Sub-human, property, devoid of all rights and a danger to humanity. Lex had altered that perception.

"I wanted to tell you the truth, but... well... I might as well have done because what I was afraid of happened anyway." Clark shrugged a little apologetically, looking at her for forgiveness. It had nearly killed him to be taken to see her lying comatose in a hospital bed and have Lionel have those injuries mimicked on him at his next weekend meeting and say ' This is what she feels like, what she will feel like for weeks and months because of you, because you encouraged her. Next time will be worse. Who knows if she would survive it?' He imagined that to be unforgiveable.

Chloe leaned suddenly to hug him. "It's okay, Clark. Stop being sorry. You... gave up yourself to protect us."

It was a like huge relief inside of him. No one had really acknowledged that since it was over. His parents kept telling him he 'shouldn't have' and didn't seem to realize that in a strange way that made things worse. That everything had been for nothing. That every time he lay there on a Friday night wondering how he was going to have strength to go through it all over again, he was being told somehow he shouldn't have bothered as if he'd really had a choice. Pete had just been defensive and angry and Lana was still in another world.

He hugged back, clinging to a part of his old life as well as a re-discovered friend, shaking half with emotion and half with withdrawal as he did so.

"It's okay, Clark." Chloe hugged him tighter. "God. I'm just glad that you're alive and in one piece. Everything's going to be good from now on for you."

"I'll make sure of that." Lex sounded tight, arms still crossed over his chest as he watched the two of them hug.

Clark smiled at him, oblivious to the fact that Lex might be bothered by what he was doing because it didn't even cross his mind.

"Yeah. That's one more thing you should know Chlo... Lex and I are... together."

"Oh?" She pulled back, hands still on Clark's shoulders, and then looked back to Clark after glancing at Lex. "Oh. I get it. Oh. Huh. Never would've guessed, actually, but it explains a lot."

"Sorry," Clark said again a bit sheepishly, but unable to resist smiling over at Lex happily. "I really didn't mean to mess either of you around. You or Lana. And I do love you, you know that right? But not like that."

"I kind of reconciled myself to that when I lost to miss pink." Chloe sat back a little, looking almost smug. "It's good to know that it wasn't me, it was just... biology. Clearly, I had the wrong parts." She peeked a glance over at Lex again. "So, congratulations? It kind of explains why you're both in such good moods."

"Lex thinks I'm going to run off and leave him," Clark said with a faint teasing tone. "I can't understand why."

"It's just that in light of everything that happened..." Lex started to stand up. "Do you want more cocoa? I think I could go with more coffee."

"See?" Clark said softly to Chloe. "That would be good Lex. Coffee would be good." He looked back to Chloe. "I think I'm going to have to propose or something before he believes me."

Lex snorted, but kept heading into the kitchen.

"It's kind of cute, and really unexpected. So, he wasn't entirely selfless in saving everyone, huh? A good boyfriend knows that he needs in-laws and best friends to share embarrassing stories about you."

"....embarrassing stories?" Clark suddenly didn't sound so sure saving Chloe's life had been well thought out.

"Sure! There was the time with the cow shit, and..." She grinned, and then leaned in to hug him again. "God. I'm going to keep doing that until I'm sure you're not going to disappear."

Clark beamed again happily. "I want to know what you've been doing too you know. I didn't dare watch too closely."

"Well, I'm crawling my way up from page A7 towards the front page. Slowly. I've dated, angsted, dated again, sworn off men, sworn back onto them... Up and down, but generally... I've had an okay life. In general."

Lex was moving about in the kitchen, getting coffee. Martha was down at the coffee shop, delivering her cakes and pastries. He and Clark had the run of the place for another hour or so, at least.

"Well, once in a while. I kind of was charged for Breaking and Entering this one time..."

"That I can believe." Clark's voice sounded amused. "Considering how much of that we did one way or another." There was a pause and a bit of a strange noise from Clark half like a gasp. "L... Lex...?"

Probably more shakes. They had been striking him on and off out of nowhere.

"Clark?" Chloe didn't pull back, but leaned in to him. "What's wrong?"

Lex stepped out of the kitchen, coffee scoop still in hand. "Clark?"

It wasn't the shakes. It was an entirely different feeling, like something crushed and compressed suddenly unfolding inside of him. It brought a sudden craving, a necessity for something, as if he was starving or dying of thirst but it was for something else entirely. "Sun... "

He tried to move, scratching at his clothes to get them off. They felt unbearable against his skin, covering him and blocking what he needed so desperately.

Lex dropped the coffee scoop, and jogged over to Clark. "What? Sun? Here, Chloe, help me get him up..."

Years of development that had been suppressed and dampened by the continuous doses of Red Kryptonite were starting to explode all at once now his body had just purged the last of it away while they had been talking. His hearing was going crazy, his eyes were burning and he felt his heart accelerating.

Lex started to the front door with Clark, panicking inside and forcing himself to stay calm inside. It was hard to tell if Clark was having an allergic reaction to the sun, or he wanted to be out in the sun. And since the living room was fairly dark, Lex guessed it was the other.

Chloe was helping, as Clark was a bit of a dead weight like that and awkward as he tried to pull his shirt open instead of moving

The sunlight touching his bare skin was like a surge of power at once intoxicating, and irresistible. He lost some of his desperation and relaxed a little. It felt good. Not like the RedK.

"Is that better?" Lex gestured for Chloe to lower Clark onto the porch, where he could stretch out in the sun and not get dirty.

"Mm... much better." He pulled at his shirt taking it off completely. He smiled; it felt clear and pure. Right somehow where the Red Kryptonite had felt good in a tainted dark way. "Help... Help me with my pants?"

"Whoa, uhm, why?" Chloe glanced over at Lex, who simply bent over Clark and started to unbuckle his belt.

Clark huffed a bit of a laugh. "There was a time you would have jumped at the chance," he commented, his voice growing stronger. "I need the sun on my skin. Something's happening."

"I'm leaving your underwear on," Lex drawled as he shimmied the jeans down a little. "So, no-one gets an eyeful."

"That could be the vital part that needs sunlight!" Clark protested still grinning. The depression and angst of his discussion with Chloe seemed much less important as he could almost imagine himself saturated in golden light, liquid gold, warm and bright and a sunrise of its own in his body. He felt like he was going to burst out of his skin somehow, that he had suddenly outgrown himself instead of easing in to it over six years. All that time he'd been pushing, struggling with all his strength to be free until he didn't realize how hard he had been trying and what odds he had been fighting against.

"It gets out enough," Lex told him glibly, pulling back to get Clark's boots off. "I'm tempted to run back inside to grab a jacket, but here you are almost naked on the front porch."

"I did not need to know that," Chloe commented as she helped with the other boot. "But at least I can tell my co-workers that I spent my time off stripping a guy naked in public." She grinned at Lex. "You can handle your boyfriends eccentricities."

"I thought they were called testicles," Clark replied and then snorted to himself.

"Clark Kent, have you been drinking?" Chloe replied in mock amazement.

"Withdrawal has a number of amazingly weird symptoms. Once, I crawled up naked on the roof when I was trying to kick everything." Lex pulled Clark's jeans off, then stood there for a minute to fold them while he watched Clark. "I'm fairly sure it was snowing, but that could have been a hallucination."

"You two are killing me you know that? Now I'm imagining the both of you naked." Chloe didn't sound too unhappy about it as they stood and watched Clark stretch like a cat in the sunlight, even though the breeze was a little sharp. "So this is some sort of weird hallucination? Withdrawal? Clark's equivalent of skittery roaches over his skin?"

"Probably." Lex settled down beside Clark on the porch, legs crossed loosely. "He chased chickens around yesterday."

Chloe fold her arms looking down at Clark. "He used to do that when he was a kid too. He wanted to catch the eggs before they hit the ground and smashed. Like, a serious mission in life he had. He used to get chicken separation anxiety when we were at kindergarten and had to run home to make sure they didn't break any without him there."

"I'll remember this Chloe." Clark muttered with his eyes closed.

"Sure you will." Lex reached to put fingers through Clark's hair, rubbing at his scalp. "So, have any other embarrassing stories?"

"How much time do you have?" Chloe smirked. "Clark used to have a thing for falling in ponds. Everywhere we went he'd fall in water."

"You'd push me, that's why," Clark smiled, happy with that touch from Lex. It seemed everything about him was growing, including his feelings, his mind and strength. After so long metaphorically caged he was feeling the heady and scary feeling of being free and powerful. It pulsed in him, a tinge of a golden glow sliding over the curves of his muscles as the sun touched him.

"I bet the local fish loved that. Did you guys ever have fish walk out of the water? I saw this great bad movie in college with fish people that could only be combated with Sodium..." Lex's fingers kept moving slowly as he looked over at Chloe for the moment before he looked down to Clark. "Hey."

"Mmm." Clark was feeling a restlessness building, similar to the sensation of needing to stretch a muscle that has been long unused, but it was a whole body thing. He opened his eyes, and they were brilliant and vivid and glittering blue. "I feel a little strange."

"You look it too," Chloe pointed out.

"You're glowing," Lex mused as he looked down at Clark upside down.

"If you've got him pregnant, I hope you are going to do the honorable thing," Chloe said a little nervously.

"Don't even joke about it." Clark said and flexed his muscles hoping that cramp feeling would go, but that achieved nothing. "I need to... I feel cramped, like I've got to let something free. Help me up?"

"I could take that in so many wrong ways," Lex sighed as he got up, hands under Clark's shoulders.

Chloe assisted the other side and between them they got Clark standing. "You have a cramp, and know you have to stretch to get it to stop? That's what it feels like. Only..."

Only he was scared to do it. Just in case something Lionel had said was true. That it could be something world destroying in him. "What if I shouldn't?"

"Why shouldn't you?" Lex leaned into Clark so Clark could brace himself against Lex. "Go on. We know you're abnormal. Go for it."

"It's not like I don't know that you are fast and strong," Chloe added. "I mean, duh, Clark. One minute you're with me and the next minute your picking Lana off the side of the road after the twisters? All the way out on the route to the bus station? Just try not to sprout anything extra. Tentacles or anything."

Clark looked at Lex with a half worried smile. "Will you still want me if I do sprout tentacles?"

"I think you'd sprout wings first," Lex offered. "And I've read enough comics to work out how to deal with that. I'd get you a big jacket." They started to guide him down the stairs. "C'mon. Can you stretch now?"

"Stand back a little, just in case?" Clark said looking at them both as he stepped forward. He had to do it. Years of putting up with the cravings of RedK had allowed him the discipline of keeping it under control for a decent length of time, but he didn't want to walk around forever with the equivalent of a full body cramp.

"Here we go," he said taking a deep breath, and unclenched his will, allowing it to bloom unseen. Just like that he shot up into the sky with a yell of surprise that quickly became a whoop of amazement as he realize how natural it felt to him. He looked down, seeing the house, Lex and Chloe far below him as he hovered mid air free as a bird.

"Oh, god..." Lex trailed off, and Clark could hear it as he soared. "I was right."

The sound was one of amazement, not fear, and Lex wandered out to keep his eyes on Clark.

Chloe was speechless and Clark could hear the rush of her heartbeat as his hearing came on line, sharper and more acute than ever. He found that he just thought where he wanted to go and he went, effortlessly. Laughing, he swooped and soared lazily before dropping down to float in front of Lex. He couldn't think of anything to say because he wanted to laugh and smile so much so he just extended his hand in an offer to the other man.

"You had that in you all of this time? Clark... God, how could you ever think you were a monster?" He took the offered hand, smiling keenly back at Clark. "Can you... take me?"

"Oh yeah, Lex." He glanced apologetically at Chloe who was smiling as well.

"If you guys are starting the mile-high club alfresco, I'm going inside," she said.

"Later Chloe, I promise." Clark said effortlessly drawing Lex up into the air.

"You better believe it Kent," his friend replied watching them with a hint of envy, but Clark was too busy lazily spiraling upwards with Lex, feeling that strange ability spread through him to encompass his passenger.

It hadn't at all been what he'd signed up for, or had thought he'd been signing up for when he'd walked into Lex's office with Lionel. He'd thought it was all another game, a game to make him ready for whatever inevitable doom Lionel had in store for him. That Lex would be a carbon copy clone of his father, or maybe worse.

Except that Lex was laughing, beautiful in his relaxed delight as Clark soared upwards.

It struck him then, that Lex trusted him. Implicitly. He had accepted his hand and been guided into the sky without a second thought. He felt somehow he should be blazing with the emotion he felt then, as he drew Lex in close to kiss him.

"This is being free," he murmured.

Laughing, nodding, Lex grinned at Clark. "See? Everything's going to work out!"

Against all the odds. Things would settle down and there'd be arguments and he'd piss Lex off and Lex's piss him off, but things would still work out. Lex had faith in him -- for no real reason -- and had already proved through action that he meant it. He'd tried to get Clark to fly away, to force him to freedom.

And in the most literal sense it had worked and yet...

And yet the first thing he had done when faced with the newly awoken power and a world open to him, was to return and take Lex by the hand and bring him into that wonder with him.

He'd left a friend behind, whose return obviously meant the world to him and had chosen him, over and over again. It wasn't like the choices he had had for the past six years, between two evils, but one that exemplified the saying 'freedom of choice'. No one could know how precious it was until they had lived without it, and Clark had used his first moments of being truly free to reaffirm what he had said before. He wanted Lex with him, he needed him, he danced in the sky with him soaring in the blue but of everything it was Lex's smile he saw, his heartbeat he felt, his laughter he heard and the blue of his eyes that touched him most of all.

"This is beautiful..." Lex held tight to him, clearly torn between looking at Clark and looking out over the amazing view of Smallville, the fallow fields and weeded over. "Thank you."

"You gave this to me Lex," Clark replied, still looking at him. "You had no reason to trust me when I walked into your office. I was rude, judgmental and a drugged up mood-swinger wrapped up with a chip on my shoulder the size of Kansas. You had faith where I thought such a thing couldn't exist. You matched me with everything I needed, good or bad. I should be thanking you."

"We're both free." Lex turned his head, pressing his forehead against Clark's temple. "Both of us, together. We can do a lot with that."

"More than your father could ever have imagined Lex," Clark held him against his sun-touched body. "You don't have to conquer a world to save it... just free it." He smiled again and pressed warm lips to Lex's cheek.

"But that's something for tomorrow. "

The world stretched out beneath them, familiar and unknown, the sky a promise of impossibilities already achieved like freedom and love and emergence from shadow.

Clark smiled to him as he let Lex drift out from the side of him, hand in hand so he would feel like he was soaring, as free as Clark himself.

"Today? Today... Let's fly."



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