Author: iammiffyneko ([info]balinesenoneko)

Summary: You're so cold, but you feel alive / Lay your hand on me one last time

Author's notes: Thanks go to Miri, my patient beta with her sticky notes of DOOM. I know you don't want to read this again, but . . . . waves Hihi! Thank you, Miri-chan! ^^ Thanks also go to my parents (who, dear God, I pray never read this), who let me off the hook regarding washing dishes to let me write this . . . . *toes the ground guiltily* Even when I was just checking my email. To my sister, who patiently didn't remind me (much) that the Smallville fandom was a closed and confusing book to her when I needed to talk out plot points. And did I mention Miri? I know you likely never want to read this again, but, yeah . . . . Thank you! Brownies are even now being baked for you. Or, er, will be. ^^'


So Cold by iammiffyneko



The first thing he was conscious of was his heartbeat. It was steady, which felt . . . wrong to him, although he could not say why.

"—o sign of how these, these invaders came to Earth, NASA officials say—"

He knew he was moving, but it was like moving through water; a lot of effort for very little gain. He briefly considered trying to swim, but then he registered the branches pushing back against him and the snow showering down onto him as he disturbed them.

"—ow sure are you that you know where they're going? Because they're faster than you and stronger than you and, if our intelligence reports are accurate, they outnumber you three to one! And all this for Su—"

His 'eyes' registered light, grainy and defiantly grey. He shook his head to try to clear them, but all it did was make him lean up against a tree until the spinning stopped. His hand came up to rub, not his eyes but his temples, first one, then the other. The movement sparked pain he hadn't noticed before and he cradled his arm against his chest.

"Sir, if the other superheroes are retreating, are you sure this is a wise idea? They've taken Wonder Woman out of commission; the Flash was last seen nearby before her body disappeared."

He didn't bother to answer and finished his preparations before raising his head and turning it to face her. "Keep me updated on the situation, Mercy."

"Sir. Should I then practice shooting the kneecaps off my enemies?"

A brief twist of his lips passed for a smile. "Fine, I'll try not to tell you how to do your job." He began the startup sequence. "Get someone to keep an eye on my position and be prepared to come after me. In fact, if I haven't moved from one position in over five hours, prepare for a pickup anyway."

"Sir?"

He sighed. "Just do it, Mercy. And make sure no one comes after me until I call them or those five hours have passed." He closed the craft and keyed on the radio, setting the bud in his ear. "Tower, this is the LeXwing, requesting permission to lift off." There was some static, with a background of angry voices, before it cleared.

"No, it damn well isn't granted. Lex, what the hell do you think you're doing? You can't do a rescue run in your condition!"

"And what condition is that, Hope?" he asked calmly, checking one last time the output from the sensors. "Surely I have a clean bill of health."

"Dammit, Lex, not for this! Why aren't you taking someone else with you?"

Because everyone else was either needed or didn't have the necessary—highest—security clearances. "Because," he replied unhelpfully. "Now, if you don't mind . . . ." He began easing his craft into the air. After all, it was his private airfield and if he wanted to take off without permission, then he damn well would.

"Lex? Lex! I'm gonna take this out of your hide when you get back, damn you!"

He ignored her. "Mercy, report," he said, and smiled faintly as he heard the manhandling that got Hope away from the headset she'd purloined.

"Sir. Any resistance is being met with deadly force. Abilities used include heat vision, ice breath, superstrength, superspeed, and superbreath. The aggressors are assimilating our language rapidly, but don't seem to be using it for much." A pause. "They don't seem to be aware of your presence, sir."

And all he had to do was keep it like that. The LeXwing—the original prototype, with all the goodies no one else was going to get to see—was quiet, he knew that, but there was a difference between what human ears could hear and human instrumentation could detect and what Kryptonians, glutted on sunlight, could. He steadied his craft, using bare touches to change its direction until he and his target were aligned. He eased forward, changing from outright hovering to forward motion. He guided his craft above Metropolis, heading north. Once he was clear of the city, he shot both forward and upward, taking himself dangerously high.

"Change frequency: top," he murmured and Mercy's voice was joined by the most trusted of his lieutenants, all giving reports on the invaders' actions. It was somewhat taxing to follow each voice and keep on a straight course, but it was necessary to gain a fuller picture of what was happening. He trusted his own intellect to put together what was happening faster than anyone else could and, in this situation, that could be invaluable.

"Sir, three Kryptonian signatures are on the move."

He changed the frequency again. "And the fourth?"

"No sign, sir."

"Which direction?"

"They're—they've changed course, sir, heading directly towards you!"

"How long?"

"Five minutes at their present speed, sir."

"How close am I?"

"I—probably not close enough, sir."

He swore. He had just enough warning to see them coming and not nearly enough to do anything about it. His LeXwing wouldn't make it, but he'd planned and over-planned when he'd designed it and maybe
he would.

The proximity alarm blared its useless warning and he finished keying in the last commands. They wouldn't matter if the LeXwing was ripped apart, but he had to count on them having had their fun. His last thoughts were a calm acceptance of the death tearing at his wings and the knowledge that at least in this, he wouldn't be alone for long.

He stumbled and stretched out his arms, hoping to fall against a tree to avoid the struggle to stand again. His prayer went unanswered and his outstretched hands sunk into slush with a jarring shock. He squinted, trying to make out what was happening. He was . . . in a clearing. A clearing that should not have been there, one that was clearly not natural. He breathed in and smelled wet earth, damp ashes. And blood.

He forced himself to his feet again and stumble-walked further into the clearing. It was hard to see in the darkness, harder with the damage he had obviously sustained, and he didn't recognize the lump in the center as his goal until his third sweep. A few more steps and he fell rather than knelt. Hands that didn't feel like anything, least of all like they belonged to him, gripped and pulled at the cloth. Torn cloth, torn skin, but . . . alive?

The wind was blowing, a constant distraction and the skin was so cold. His fingers didn't work properly and he didn't know if there was no pulse for them to feel or if they were just shaking so badly, he couldn't feel it. He leaned forward, exhausted and despairing, and rested his head on the once-proud crest, fighting back exhausted tears. So far, only to fail. It wasn't something he wanted to accept, wasn't something he could accept. He pounded weakly on the bloodied torso, cursing silently.

thu-thumpthump

thu-thump

He raised his head at the faint sound, hope lighting in him. He laid his head back down and strained to hear more.

thump thu-thumpthump


Not a human's heartbeat, no, but the man he was looking at was not human.

Lex reached for his link to the rest of the world and keyed in the code for a pickup. Then he laboriously dragged the alien around until Lex could huddle over him, trying to keep that precious heartbeat in his ear.


Lex stared at the lump on the bed. It only vaguely resembled the alien he'd rescued. It was hard to see the form; the best sunlamps available were trained on the bed and the resultant glare off the white sheets, pale skin, and, of course, the bandages—because the alien had so obviously been left for dead and that leaves a certain amount of evidence, even on a supposedly invulnerable body—was enough to make his eyes hurt.

He heard the door open behind him, but refused to look. The odds of someone bothering him if he didn't acknowledge them were gratifyingly low.

The person behind him tsked and he held back a sigh, knowing that, despite the odds, he was about to be bothered. "Lex, you should be resting your eyes," a woman's voice murmured, concerned. One might say . . . professionally concerned. She seemed to think it gave her special rights to boss him around and he, well, he'd never got around to telling her any different. "Lex, are you listening to me?" she asked, annoyance bleeding into the concern. "We won't know how much damage you took until I can get you hooked up and scanned and, since you're being a broody bedside nurse with Supertwit, I haven't been able to do that." A pause where he was obviously supposed to fall to his knees and apologize abjectly to her. He did nothing. "Lex, rest your eyes," she commanded.

He sighed, aggravated, and rubbed just behind his left ear, closing his eyes as he did. "There," he said. "Are you happy?"

"No, because it took me three tries," she replied immediately. "Haven't you learned yet it's just easier to listen to me the first time around?"

"But where's the fun in that?" he asked, putting some of his charming nature to work.

"The fun," she said, stressing the word, "is not to give me an ulcer. I can tell you, Lex, that me with an ulcer would not be pretty." Of course, charm didn't work on Hope; what had he been thinking to hire her? "And you hired me because I'm tough, I'm pretty, and have a willingness to learn whatever my job needs me to learn," she added. "Hence the motherhenning."

He scowled. She knew him disturbingly well. Such a pity he didn't like going to bed with women he knew could kill him in half a heartbeat. "I don't need a motherhen," he muttered.

She patted his head. "Of course you do, Lex," she said soothingly. "Now, why don't you let Mercy babysit Superass so I can get you checked out and take care of your migraine."

"Mercy is taking care of the reports coming in," he said shortly.

"Too bad. Find someone to take over for her and get her in here."

"She's needed where she is."

Hope breathed in deeply. "Who else can be trusted to be in the same room as him?" she asked, her patience clearly going the way of several extinct species.

"You," Lex replied. "Me."

"Well, I obviously can't do the scan in the other room if I'm stuck in here," she said. She waited for a comment from Lex but, typically, he was silent. "And how long will you be sitting here, then?" she asked pointedly.

He shrugged, finding a certain sneaking amusement in being contrary, even in the face of what could be considered a betrayal of his own values.

"Fine, I'll just go get my heavy and unwieldy equipment in here and get you checked out. The fact that you still have a headache concerns me." She came closer and he just knew she was glaring at him. "Be prepared to suffer mightily for my amusement."

 


The first thing he was conscious of was heat, all over his body. He tried to stretch into the soporific warmth, giving him a second thing to be conscious of: pain. He couldn't even hear the sound he made through the sudden rush of blood in his ears

"Hey, guess who's back in the land of the living," someone said. Funny how he could hear that better than his own voice, but such were the trials of having superpowers, he supposed. And speaking of superpowers, where the hell were his? Wasn't he supposed to be, say, invulnerable? "You so lost the bet, Lex. In fact, you lost it when he took longer than four hours to wake up."

Lex? He knew that name, right? Oh, wait, yeah, he did. It was the name of the former friend-turned-enemy from Smallville. Maybe Lex had done this to him? He dimly remembered a yelling match about how one shouldn't try to create black holes, of all things, in one's own backyard, along with stern admonitions that luck had played a significant part in collapsing the black hole before it had a chance to suck in much more than the property it had been created on and not to count on it in future endeavours. Lex, of course, had had no idea what was going on, et cetera, even though he had obviously gone to the facility to inspect something. Luck had truly been on his side, the black hole having conveniently erased any documentation on what had been at that lab, along with the lab itself.

"And how is Sleeping Beauty today, hmmm?" someone said just before his eyelid was pried up and his eyeball was skewered with light. He yelped and whoever was torturing him tsked disapprovingly. "Don't be a big baby," the sadist said. "It's not like I didn't turn off all the sunlamps before I checked how you were focusing." The fingers holding his eyelid up twitched. "Hmmm, not at all, as it stands. Well, not surprising, really, considering you're only just now awake, but we'll have to keep you awake for the rest of your time with us to make sure the concussion you surely have isn't going to kill you."

"Hope, I doubt he's in any condition to appreciate your witty repartee," someone else said. After a moment, he recognized the second person as Lex. "And I'm sure whatever concussion he had has been healed by his little power nap."

The person holding his eyelid hostage sniffed and let go of it. That stung. "Sure, go ahead and ruin my fun, why don't you," the person accused. Female, he thought, unless his brain had been mashed by the concussion they were talking about. Still couldn't place it, but she was probably up to no good if Lex was around. Hope . . . . God, he was dead wasn't he. Hope was one of the two women who acted as bodyguard to Lex. She was the what the phrase "hard as nails" meant.

"Just finish your check up so we can get some fluids into him," Lex said with a trace of impatience. "I'm not happy you couldn't get an IV to stay in his arm. You can torture him afterwards."

"You know as well as I do Superdumbass's skin was at fault for that," Hope said as she bumped into whatever he was lying on with enough force to jostle him and that created little shivers of pain from his head to his toes. Surely the baby black hole hadn't done that much damage to him. Then again, there had probably been kryptonite involved and who knew what it would have done with all the energy of a black hole available to it? There was a click and he felt the upper portion of his body slowly rising as the bed was adjusted. As he shifted and more weight was applied to places previously concerned only with supporting their own, there was a dull increase of pain in those regions. What had he done, gone one on one with a kryptonite-powered mecha? "It's not as if we couldn't get it through the skin, you know. It was that it would pop back out after a few hours. Don't think we didn't try."

"What's got your panties in a twist?" Lex asked mildly.

"Nothing, really," Hope admitted. "But it's a lot of fun to act like they are."

"Don't push your luck," Lex warned.

"Phhh," she said dismissively. "As if. Lex, be a dear and get me some of your horribly expensive carbonated water."

Lex sounded almost horrified. "Ty Nant is not to be wasted on the comatose," he protested. "And it's hardly mere 'carbonated water', as you said. It's the finest Welsh—"

"—spring water, blah, blah, superior craftsmanship—do you realize they're talking about the bottles, Lex, and not the water?—blah to end all blahs, blah. Hurry it up, Lex, or your patient will fall asleep again and then you'll be left to worry about him being dehydrated again."

Actually, that was a good idea. He had no clue if he was thirsty or not—he thought he probably should be, but so far the assorted aches and (mostly) pains were hogging the complaint line to his brain—but apparently groaning and passively feeling pain really took it out of a person.

He had a second to marvel as his own seemingly flippant manner before the dark waters of unconsciousness pulled him under again.

 


"Ha, told you," Hope said with a tiny hint of triumph in her voice as Lex re-entered the room, carrying a martyred expression and a blue bottle of hideously expensive water. She turned and watched Lex stop short and shoot her an annoyed look. She held up her hands. "Hey, not my fault you took so long!" She turned back to her once again out-of-it patient and asked, "Why do you care so much if he's dehydrated anyway?"

"Really, Hope," Lex said condescendingly. "Five self-proclaimed Kryptonians appear on Earth, make a spirited attempt at beating our own resident Kryptonian to death, and try to take over our world. I'm not about to allow competitors, especially those who try to come into the race so late."

"So why not just finish them off right away then?" she asked, tucking away a little mental reminder to do something nasty to Lex at the first possible opportunity for the condescension. "It's not that hard to put Kryptonite into bullets and Mercy and I are dying to see if they have enough Kryptonite to actually kill a Kryptonian. You always spoil our fun when we go after Superwimp." She narrowed her eyes at him. "And don't think we don't know who tampered with our sights last time."

"I had nothing to do with it," he proclaimed, the very picture of injured innocence.

She eyed him askance. "Uh huh, you just keep telling yourself that." She thought it probably had something to do with his ridiculous notions of friendship and his poorly hidden history with Supergoodygoodytwoshoes. Anything for his friends, her ass. She could hardly believe either of them wanted this, although maybe it wasn't such a stretch for Supermonochromatic to think it was what he wanted. Both of them were seriously fucked up and if only her PhD were in psychology, she would help them get over themselves, each other, and then with each other. Only a blind man couldn't see what they were to each other, even if they managed to hide it from each other. However, the closest thing to psychology she had in her transcripts was psychiatry and she didn't think dosing them with drugs would do any real, long term good.

Might make for some interesting blackmail, though.

"Here, make yourself useful and pour some of that water down his throat," she commanded. "His reflexes should take care of the swallowing and if they don't, well, at least we won't have to worry about him anymore."

Lex moved to the side of Supersleepy's bed with a poorly concealed smirk. "Has anyone told you your bedside manner needs work?" he asked as he twisted the cap off the bottle. "And why, exactly, are we using my, as you put it, 'horribly expensive carbonated water'? Shouldn't we be using something a bit more . . . fortified?"

"No alcohol for my patients, Lex, you know that," she admonished. "And we're using your water because I said so."

"I didn't mean alcohol," the bald man said, his focus on the unconscious man before him. "I meant fortified with . . . vitamins, electrolytes, stuff like that."

"Sorry, I'm fresh out of Pedialyte. God, you're an old granny with that bottle. It won't kill him, you know. Probably," she added as an afterthought as she headed for the door. "It's not like we have a specimen to experiment on. Hey, wait! We do!"

He glared at her. "Less critique from the peanut gallery, if you please. And how is it you're bossing me around? I hired you, remember?"

"Sorry," she said, sticking her head back into the room. "Shoulda read the fine print in my contract. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have medical . . . things to do. Try not to kill each other!"

Yeah, there was nothing quite as much fun as pushing around the single most ruthless business man in the world, she reflected with a grin.

 


The next time he woke up, Clark felt remarkably better. Almost . . . human. Which struck his mind as odd. Pain was not something he should be feeling and he carefully searched his memory for what could have done so much damage to him that he was still healing from it. He immediately dismissed from consideration Lex's little black hole. A disruption in the space-time continuum was hardly responsible for the white hot pain in his leg and the way his arms felt like even gravity was too much to bear. Besides, he remembered the lecture he'd given Lex after—again, you'd think the man had incompetent bodyguards with all the trouble he managed to find, not that he'd say that anywhere Mercy or Hope could hear him—and then going home to make up an excuse for his cellphone ringing its jaunty little ringtone in an empty pair of pants.

The sound of a door closing brought his attention to his surroundings and he examined them as carefully as he had his memories. With great effort and pain that had him gritting his teeth, he discovered he had bandages engulfing his fingers. On both hands, as he tried with the other, but the sheets he was resting on didn't snag and catch at those bandages.

He let his eyes fall closed again, exhausted by the pain and effort of moving. He idly wondered who had been in his room with him. He supposed he should be worried about whose hands he was in, but the care he had received while he was unconscious from . . . whatever happened was definitely a cut above the best. Obviously, one of the members of the League had found him and was hiding him until he could heal. He laid bets with himself that it was Bruce, despite the colour scheme of the room he was in. There was nothing overt about it, but something in his surroundings fairly screamed the best money could buy and Bruce would be the only one to slip out instead of greeting him. He'd probably be back shortly with a nourishing broth and unhelpful grunts and that looming, broody thing he did.

What he really wanted to know, though, was why his powers seemed to have gone the way of the dodo. He was pretty sure there hadn't been any electricity and glowing green rocks involved in anything he'd been up against recently and, well, gold kryptonite tended to sneak up on him and give him papercuts, not beat him half to death. Besides, the only sample of the latter was in the Fortress.

Theoretically, a long enough exposure to regular kryptonite would sap away his powers and leaving him feeling human for however long it took for him to recharge—assuming the fine line between 'powerless' and 'death' had not been crossed—but . . . it was only supposed to be temporary. And that was pure conjecture from the Fortress, too. It wasn't like Clark had ever been masochistic enough to expose himself to Kryptonite for any longer than he absolutely had to and he definitely had not been willing to test out the AI's theory, no matter how often it told him knowledge was power and it could come in useful at any time.

Useful. Sure, maybe if Lex ever captured me and wanted to see how long I could hold out. Unlikely. Given what he knew of Lex, should he ever 'enjoy' Lex's hospitality again, it would actually be the hospitality of one of his labs and he'd get excruciatingly intimate knowledge of how long he could survive with kryptonite in close proximity to him.

The door opened and he shifted his head enough to give him a blinding headache and a good shot of seeing whoever came through it. Well, their head, at least.

"Welcome back to the land of the living, Clark," Lex said as he walked through the door. He gave Clark a quick, almost impersonal smile. "I know these accommodations are not quite what you're used to; please forgive me. You should be well enough soon to do without the sunlamps in a day or so." A short gesture to the side brought Clark's attention to the room's extra lighting, that he had somehow missed on his first scan of the room. He brought his attention back to Lex hastily, having learned the hard way that to take his attention off of the bald man was akin to ignoring a very big, very dangerous, and very intelligent problem; it just didn't pay, or rather, it paid far too much.

He opened his mouth to demand to know what Lex had done to him, but ended up groaning instead. The skin on his face felt tight and it hurt when it was stretched. In fact, now that he'd aggravated it, it hurt, period.

Lex didn't advance far into the room, instead staying just shy of the door. He stood there with his arms crossed and that damnable smirk on his face. All he really needed was a unearthly green glow about him to truly make him the stuff of Clark's nightmares.

"And how's the Man of Steel doing today?" the bald man asked with false solicitousness. And, yeah, Clark had kinda known that Lex couldn't be dumb enough to miss all the clues that pointed to his secret identity, but still, to hear him confirm that knowledge, especially when he was, effectively, helpless, sent a shiver through him. "Are we cold? Let me take care of that for you." With that, Lex walked forward, prompting Clark to tense in painful anticipation of what havoc he would wreak. However, his former friend stopped beside one of the sunlamps and touched something on it.

The glow was barely noticeable at first, but rapidly gained in strength until Clark was squinting into it. He heard Lex moving and the light increased again. And again. And again. Clark shifted feebly, wishing with all his heart he could lift an arm to protect his eyes.

"Is that better?" Lex asked, the edge of maliciousness almost concealed under another layering of false concern. "We wouldn't want you to catch a chill now, would we?" His voice kept moving around and Clark wondered what new torture he was being prepared for.

"Lex, why are you torturing my patient?" a new voice asked. Female, exasperated. And familiar, although Clark couldn't say from where exactly.

"He was cold," was Lex's bland reply. "I thought it would warm him up."

Something touched his face and he started violently. "Oh, stop that," the new voice told him as a hand slipped under his head and lifted it slightly. Something slid around his head and settled over his eyes, cutting the light shining into them almost to nothing, something Clark confirmed when he cautiously opened his eyes. "And getting him an extra blanket was too much work?"

"I have minions for that, yes."

"I don't want him blinded, Lex," the voice continued as if Lex hadn't spoken. "There's a reason for the blindfold and it's not to keep him from seeing things he shouldn't."

"He's been blinded before," Lex pointed out unfeelingly. "He survived that and he would have survived this."

The woman snorted. "Two completely different scenarios," she retorted. "There's no guarantee he would be able to heal permanent damage even after he's been recharged."

"And why are you here, Hope?" Lex asked, nettled. "Shouldn't you be getting your beauty sleep?"

"Ha! Lucky for you, Mercy takes a very loose interpretation of orders like 'Don't tell Hope he's awake just yet, I want to take out some frustrations on him first'."

"I wasn't going to hurt him," Lex said vaguely.

"Yeah, sure. Look, doctor-patient confidentiality decrees that I kick you out of this room while I treat my patient."

"It does not."

"Well, it does now," Hope replied. "So get before I kick you out. And don't count on Mercy to protect you this time. She's taken off for some beauty sleep of her own and it's just you and me right now. And Supergutless, of course, but he doesn't count. Don't forget I can wipe the floor with you whenever I want."

"You?" The disdain was thick in Lex's voice.

"Yes, me. Please to remember why, exactly, you hired me."

"Why, I needed a tough, pretty girl with a willingness to learn whatever her job needed, of course."

"Uh-huh. Keep telling yourself whatever you like, as long as you get out of the room. And, Lex? No more Clark-Lex time for you without a third party present. Superdweeb is here for a reason and that reason is not so you can blame him for your twisted little crush."

There was no answer from Lex but the slamming of the door.

"Ha. Got him out of here, at least," Hope muttered. Clark heard her moving away and, one by one, the lights started turning off. "Gimme a sec and I'll get you another blanket," she added as the loss of heat generated by the sunlamps registered with Clark. A few moments later, he felt the increased weight on him and heard rustling as she arranged the new covering to her satisfaction. Then the hand was under his head again and the blindfold was coming off.

He blinked, adjusting his sight to the new level of light, and turned his head slightly to look at her. Dark skin, dark hair done up in innumerable, tiny braids . . . . He'd hoped he was wrong, that he wasn't in the clutches of Lex Luthor and his infamous bodyguards, but it looked like he was doomed to be disappointed. Brown eyes watched him shrewdly, cataloguing his examination of her. She didn't much look like a doctor, lacking the cliche white lab coat and stethoscope, but, judging from her conversation with Lex, she was his, at least for the time being.

"And how are we doing today?" she asked, echoing Lex, right down to the faint hint of condescension. She reached forward and tucked her fingers under his jawbone, checking his pulse. "Hmmm, temperature normal, heart rate normal," she muttered. "For a Kryptonian, at least. Hard-headed species, aren't you? Anyone else would be dead from the equivalent of what happened to you."

Which was what, he wanted to ask. He still didn't know what had happened to rob him of his powers, nor what had found him afterwards and beat him to a pulp.

Finally, she stood back from the bed and regarded him. "Okay, the good news and the bad news," she said. "The good news is: you're going to be all right. Eventually. The bad news is, the guys who did this to you are still at large and liable to remain so. I would advise retiring your primary colour obsession for a while." As if he'd be stupid enough to go out as Superman without his powers. "And about your powers . . . . It's not as if we've ever had a similar incident in the past, but I'm cautiously optimistic they'll make a reappearance as soon as your body's healed and recharged." She gestured at the lamps. "Hence the sunlamps Lex tried to blind you with. Now, I'm sure you're full of questions, but I'm making an executive decision as your doctor to leave them until you can actually use your voice to pester me. And I wouldn't try it," she added. "There's some rather pressing evidence that your attackers tried to strangle you at one point." There was the sound of something being poured. "Damn, I chased your nursemaid away, didn't I? I guess I'll have to do this myself, then. Up we get!" He felt the bed rising behind him, pushing him into an upright—and painful—position. He could see much more of the room now, not that there was a lot to see. Minimalist, it appeared, was a good look to Lex's way of thinking. "Be glad I found the time to do some shopping," she continued as her hands deftly shifted him into a more comfortable position, "or you'd be drinking more of Lex's pricey water." She reached for a glass full of clear red liquid. "It's not Gatorade, but it should be much better for you."

Clark tried to match his mouth and the movements of the glass—Hope hadn't stopped gesturing with it—to no avail. He ended up with some up his nose, some on his chest, and most of the rest down the wrong tube. And, damn, did coughing hurt. He was barely aware of hands holding him steady, supporting him through the convulsions. He heard, dimly over the sound of his choking, two voices, one low and furious and the other high and indignant.

"Give me that," he heard as he lay back, exhausted, after the coughing fit had ended. He opened his eyes to slits and watched Lex snatch the glass away from Hope. "For a doctor, your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. Where did you get your degree from, the School of Incompetence?"

To Clark's amazement, Lex was far gentler than his tirade suggested as he helped Clark back into a position suitable for drinking. The bald man didn't play around with the glass either, as Clark had assumed he might. After all, to be holding power over the Man of Steel, temporary or no, wasn't something Lex was likely to pass up.

"You know, I think you have it under control," Hope said, amusement colouring her voice. "I'll leave Superdeathwish to your tender mercies."

Lex and Clark looked at her, alarm plain on their faces. "Hope, you said you wouldn't leave me alone with him!" Lex protested as he held Clark through another coughing fit.

Hope posed thoughtfully, one finger tapping at her lips. "Yes, I did say that, didn't I?" she said musingly, and shrugged. "I'll just be going to the comm room; I can keep an eye on you from there just as easily as here, plus I'll be able to get more work done. You should thank me, Lex, for how efficient I'm being. I make your life so much easier, don't I?" She smiled winningly at him.

Lex gave her a dirty look. "Yes," he bit out. "Thank you so much."

"No problem," she said breezily as she headed out the door. "Catch you later!"

Clark turned his head and raised his eyebrows at Lex. Lex, catching the movement, transferred his glare from the now-closed door to him. Clark's head thumped back against his pillow as Lex removed it, not half as gently as he had treated Clark before.

"Now I turn those lights on again and leave you to hope Hope will be able to monitor you from where she is while I do some of my work," Lex snapped, answering Clark's unspoken question, his movements sharp as he snapped the eye mask over Clark's eyes again. Clark heard the lights being turned on again and felt the warmth on his exposed skin. He heard Lex moving towards the door and sighed. He was going to have a very boring time unless and until he fell asleep again. On the other hand, boredom was highly preferable to torture, so maybe he should just count his blessings.

 


Lex stared into the darkness surrounding him, thinking and rethinking all he knew about the situation at hand. Five Kryptonians appearing out of thin air. One Kryptonian currently at his mercy, thanks to three of the newcomers. He propelled himself out of his chair restlessly.

He sighed and turned towards the bed upon which his nemesis lay. He couldn't keep his thoughts off him and, to complicate things, nearly a decade of doing just that was making it very hard for him to follow any train of thought, much less one he could use as a plan. A plan for the Kryptonians out there, a plan for the Kryptonian in here. He glared in the direction of the bed. A plan to bleach Hope's hair to match her partner's.

"Sir?" Mercy's voice. He made a curt gesture. "We've managed to get a ghost on the inside; Hope's working on the translation."

A routine report, then, although he hated to think it might ever actually be normal. "Let me know if there's anything significant in that," he ordered curtly. He heard the door close quietly behind her.

He resumed his pacing. He didn't need a plan for everything, he just needed a plan for something.

 


The next time Clark woke, it was to find Hope doing something painful to him. At his yelp, she told him to stop being such a big baby, she was just checking to see how his burns were healing.

"And that requires you to poke and prod at my cheek?" he croaked out.

"It does when they were second degree burns when you were brought in," she said tartly. "And I was checking your nose, too, since someone broke it for you. You'll be happy to know it's healing straight." She paused. "Hell, I'm happy to know it's healing straight; I'm not going to have to listen to you moan and bitch about breaking it again so I can set it properly. Now don't get your panties in a twist, I'm not going to start groping you." While he was struggling to figure out what she meant, she twitched the sheet covering him to one side and started groping his chest. She ignored his whimpers and groans when she pressed a little harder than he would have liked. "Hmmm, seems it isn't only your burns that are healing fast," she said absently. "You should be bruised for weeks here and instead they're almost all clear."

"Then why does it hurt so much?" he asked through gritted teeth as she poked and prodded some more.

"God, you really are a big baby. Dumb, too," she said. "Did you think you could go up against three of your fellow countrymen and get out again without at least some broken ribs? You're just lucky they left you for dead instead of actually ripping your head off to make sure. Here," she said, shoving a glass at him, "drink this, it'll rehydrate you enough to talk without ripping your throat any shreddier than it is."

Unsurprisingly, he choked. "Wait, what?" he got out between harsh coughs.

"I thought I told you, Hope, if I can't kill him, you certainly can't," Lex's voice drawled from beside him as the bald man once again supported him through his coughing. Either Lex had been in the room all along and Clark just hadn't noticed or he had some weird teleportation thing going on.

Hope heaved a big sigh. "Fine, you party pooper," she muttered. She reached for a clipboard—Clark's chart, obviously—and cleared her throat. "You were in bad shape when we brought you in," she told Clark. "As in, without medical attention, you certainly would have died. Even after plying you with the best sunlamps Lex's money could buy, you still have a broken arm, leg, most of your fingers, ribs, and your right cheekbone. So don't talk a lot and don't move, 'cause I'm not looking forward to having to re-break and reset all those bones. Any light bruising you had is gone and, given the rate you're healing at, I predict you'll be technicolor for maybe another day and a half. You have burns and frostbite, mostly on your face and right side, but, again, those are healing fast enough that scar tissue will not be an issue. You took a hard knock to the head, but since your nanny won't let me scan your thick head, I'm going out on a limb here when I say it should be healed by tomorrow. Oh, and your right arm's not the only one out of commission; it looks like someone tried to yank you around a fair bit with your left arm and you definitely have some pulled muscles there. That and the bones should maybe keep you down for three more days and even after that, I'd advise against using them for at least another day." She ran her finger down the chart. "Oh! Knew I was forgetting something! Your powers should come seeping back as you recharge, although, of course, I place no guarantees on this as it's not like you ever had the shit beaten out of you before. I mean, while you had your powers and everything." She cocked a hand on her hip. "Any questions?"

"Are you really a doctor?" Clark asked skeptically.

She glared at him. "Of course I'm a doctor!" she snapped. "D'you think Lex would hire anything but the best?"

"So, what happened to me?" Clark asked. He was just a little confused with everything that was happening and he really, really wanted to know why he was in Lex's presence without, say, being horribly in pain, especially if he had lost his powers.

Hope snapped her fingers. "Damn, that's right, I said I wouldn't tell you until you had your voice back to pester me." She glanced at her watch theatrically. "Wow, lookit the time! I have a previous engagement, so I'll have to run, but I'm sure Lex wouldn't mind filling you in on everything that's happened," she said as she backed towards the door. "Besides, he's much better at all the medical lingo than I am."

"Hope . . . ," Lex said threateningly.

"No, really, you do yourself an injustice," she said from around the doorjamb. "Byyyye!"

"Is it just me or does she do that a lot?" Clark asked finally.

"She does that a lot," Lex conceded through gritted teeth. "The bitch."

"Well, I wouldn't say she was a bitch, exactly, just very annoying."

"Trust me, Clark, she's a bitch."

 


"How are they doing?" Hope asked as she closed the door behind her.

"They had a moment of solidarity against you and then all hell broke lose," Mercy said dryly. "Both of them seemed to remember at the same time they were supposed to be bitter enemies and then Lex started with the sniping."

Hope blew a braid out of her face. "Men," she muttered. "Can't trust them to do anything. And Supersassy?"

"Obviously doesn't know it's a fear-based response, so he responded in kind. The good news is, it's not longer fear-based," the blonde said. "The bad news is, it's anger."

"Gee, why don't they muck up my plans, I only put in the effort to plan them," Hope said through gritted teeth. "Maybe armchair psychology isn't the greatest idea."

"Nah, you know I back you on this," Mercy said easily. "Lex needs this like he needs roadkill pie right now, but it's the best chance we have of getting them to quit fooling around with each other without snapping some gold kryptonite on Superjerk's wrist and making them do the Blanket Scenario."

Hope smothered a laugh. "I thought the point was to get them fooling around with each other." She clapped her hands together. "Okay, I have another idea. Lemme know when you're done here and we'll do some more brainstorming, 'kay?"

 


"Shouldn't we be doing something more productive?" Mercy asked dryly as Hope dropped onto 'her' chair. "Such as trying to rid our world of our newest alien oppressors?"

"Trust me," Hope said just as dryly, "this is productive. Or, wait, lemme put it this way: Which way do you think is more productive? Making Lex and Supernutso kiss and make up or trying to make plans with the two of them glaring daggers at each other?"

There was a pause. "You have a point," Mercy conceded. "You said you had a plan; what is it?"

"Obviously, they're not going to talk to each other nicely," Hope began.

"Obviously isn't the word for it," Mercy muttered and they shared a smirk.

"Yes, well, you can't be more obvious than obviously. But back to my brilliant idea. We get them together in a room, through whatever subterfuge works, and make them work through their issues."

"Good enough in general, but how about specifics?" Mercy said after a moment of thought.

"Oh, I just come up with the ideas," Hope said airily. "It's up to you to refine them and put them into action." She tried to get up and leave, but had to stop short lest her braids be pulled out by the immovable object, ie, Mercy.

"Nuh-uh. This is a team effort, remember?" Mercy said pointedly. "So sit down and help me plan."

Hope sat back down with a huff. "Fine," she muttered. "So . . . any ideas?"

"Just how extensive is your music collection?" Mercy asked thoughtfully. She shook her head at Hope's look and grinned. "I just . . . remembered something I read once. Songs to say what they wanted to say."

"I categorically refuse to participate in karaoke," Hope said flatly. "Lex isn't too bad, but have you heard Supertuneless sing? He can't carry a tune in a bucket!"

"It wouldn't be karaoke," Mercy assured her. "Just . . . listen for a minute, will you? I promise, this'll be worth it."

"Wait, before we do this, we should talk about something even more important," Hope said, snapping her fingers.

Mercy raised an eyebrow. "Like?"

"Like Lex," was the prompt reply. "You know he has something to hide and I know he has something to hide, but Superclueless doesn't."

Mercy tapped her finger against her chin. "You're right, I hadn't thought of that," she admitted. "So, any ideas on this?"

"Uh, no, that's why I brought it up in the first place."

Mercy frowned at her. "One day, your smart mouth is going to get you into trouble," she muttered.

"But not anything I can't talk my way out of," Hope replied cheekily. "C'mon, ideas!"

"Fine, then I vote we let Superfuzz find out."

"Uh, okay, and how did you get to that conclusion?" Hope asked, nonplussed.

Mercy shrugged. "It's not like it's going to make him think of Lex any differently," she offered.

"I beg to differ, but are we talking about the same Big Blue Boyscout here?" Hope had to ask. "I mean, the one who rescues kittens from trees?"

"I still don't think he'd treat Lex any differently," Mercy insisted. "Besides, how can we, as you said, get them to kiss and make up if there's this big secret between them?"

Hope sighed grumpily. "Fine, you have a point. And how are we going to do this?" she asked, before pointing a finger at Mercy. "And no sneaking away until you give up your little idea, too, girl. I want this thing in the bag before Supercondomman is healed up."

 


"Why do you want to talk to me in the media room, of all places?" Lex complained as he followed Hope.

"Because I wanted to update you on Supernumbskull's condition and I didn't want him to hear it," she said.

"What happened to patient confidentiality?" Lex asked, amused. "Also, what was wrong with stopping just outside his door? It's not like his superhearing's back in action."

"Sorry, as Superlint's doctor, I reserve the right to break confidentiality when and how I choose to," she said, tossing her head. "Thus, the media room."

"Wait a minute, 'Superlint'? How did you come up with that one?"

Hope heaved the sigh of the put-upon. "Because," she tried to explain, "he's like lint! Little balls of fluff that attack your clothes and hang on with lintish powers of doom!"

" . . . Right. So, his prognosis?"

"Are we in the room yet? I think not!"

Lex sighed. "Hope, I'm losing what little patience I have."

"And yet your complaining is not making me speed up. Why is that? Maybe it's because we're not in the room yet!"

"Hope!"

"And, voila! Your media room, sir!" She made a production of bowing him into the room before following him and shutting the door behind them. She headed straight for the media center and started fiddling with it.

"Hope," Lex prompted. "Our resident superhero?"

"Just a minute," she replied absently. "I want some music going, to set the mood."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "The mood?" he questioned. "Hope, I know you know I think you're a very attractive woman, but I've given up sleeping with women liable to try to kill me."

"Ha. Ha. I just about died laughing," Hope said. "No, I'm setting the mood for something else entirely."

Lex snorted. "As if the litany of broken bones is going to sound better to, say, Mozart," he muttered.

"Oh, hush, do you have no faith in my musical tastes?" She ignored the muttered 'no' and cocked her head, listening. "And that should be the party right now!" she exclaimed, springing up. She herded a bemused Lex to a chair and pushed at him until he sat down.

"Hope, I've told you about the no-party rule and the don't-push-me-around rule, haven't I?" Lex asked, smoothing the creases from his clothes.

"Many times, but I haven't listened yet," she shot over her shoulder as she opened the door. "Welcome, welcome to Entertainment Chez Luthor!" she cried as she ushered whoever was outside in. "Pay no attention to the bear in the chair, he's just been told everyone ignores him."

"How is this supposed to help my recovery?" one of the new arrivals asked grumpily. Hope saw Lex sit up straight as he recognised the voice. "This is not exactly a sunroom."

"Geez, Superduper, you'd think you were rich, the way you were complaining," she shot back, taking over wheelchair duties from Mercy. She suddenly interposed the wheelchair between Lex and his route to the door, ignoring the startled "Hey!" from its occupant. "Ah, ah, Lex! There's no escape for you now!"

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Lex bit out, his face white with fury.

"I think we're all going to need to work together to get through this," she snapped back. "I think we don't need a contest over who can be a bigger ass, you or him. I think this little shared tantrum of yours has gone on quite long enough. I think, in fact, you two are going to stay in here until you work through this, even if it takes so long we get tired of waiting and resort to turning up the air conditioning to force you to enact the Blanket Scenario." She noticed, as Lex's face grew progressively stiffer, Superturkey's smirk first appeared, then grew. "And don't think the boss doesn't have a few legitimate beefs with you, Supermule," she added, tapping the back of his head with more force than was strictly necessary.

"Ow! Then what do you suggest we do about it?" Superpansy asked, sounding annoyed.

Hope posed theatrically. "Well, that is a question and no mistake," she said in mock-surprise. "And a tough one, too. After all, we already know you two can't argue worth a damn without a Super Death Ray of Doom. Fisticuffs is, sadly, out of the question, thanks to Superbreakaleg having broken, well, a leg, among other things. Pistols at dawn . . . no. Pointless when it won't actually kill either of you long enough to think it over." She clapped her hands. "Since you can't argue using words or violence, well, then I guess you'll have to use song to get your points across!" She gestured to the media center. "Voila! Have at ye!"

That seemed to break Lex from whatever was holding him immobile. He didn't say anything, just strode for the door, his face black as thunder. Unfortunately for him, Mercy, who was guarding the door, had faced down worse than thunder in the execution of her duties, was unimpressed. "Move," he snapped.

Mercy considered that. "How about 'no'," she returned firmly. Only someone who knew her well would have been able to see the smirk threatening to break loose.

Hope came up behind him. "Yeah, Lex, how about no," she said as she took his arm, avoiding the elbow he tried sending her way, and tried to pull him back into the room. When he refused to move, she simply adjusted her grip and dragged him behind her. Very sensibly, he allowed her to do so, instead of making him look like a caveman who had been out on the mountain until dawn. She pushed him down into the chair again and glared at him. "You're stuck here until you do as I say," she told him. "And if you take too long, we'll take off all your clothes and leave you and Superspaceheater with one small blanket between you."

"And I suppose that would be where the air conditioning would come in?" he asked coolly with a raised eyebrow.

She clapped her hands. "How did you guess?" Then she turned serious again. "You two are going to have an argument," she said. "You can use any song in this selection I have carefully prepared for you and you can't speak directly to each other. You'll tell me what song you want and I'll cue it up for you. Understood?" Lex, still tight-lipped, nodded. She was pleased to see even he knew when it as the time to be reasonable. She turned and fixed a look on the other part of the problem. "Any objections from you?" she asked sweetly.

Supersmart's eyes widened and he shook his head carefully.

She harrumphed. "Good. Now, let's get started. Lex, you take a look at the music first. Then I'll let Supertasteless have a look and then we'll have our songument." She glared at the both of them. "Won't that be fun?"

Superweakling shrank as far back in his wheelchair as he could, while Lex pretended she hadn't just intimidated him into doing something he'd wanted no part of. It didn't really matter to her how they rationalised it, as long as she got her way.

"'Superman is Gay'?" Lex asked, amused, as he looked up from the display. "I don't recall hearing this song, although it seems particularly . . . apt."

"Hey!" Supersensitive said, outraged. "Do I cast aspersions on your masculinity?"

Lex looked up, thinking. "Let's see . . . ," he murmured. "'Is that a Death Ray on your balcony, Luthor, or are you just really happy to see me?'" He looked at Superhypocrite. "Sound familiar?"

Superpissed flushed and Hope stepped in before it could escalate. "If you have something to say to each other, you're going to say it with song and feeling!" she said, pointing a righteous finger at Lex. "Finish looking over the songs so we can get on with this!" She sniffed. "And for your information, a friend sent that song to me and it shouldn't even be in the list, so just ignore it and get on with it, okay?"

Lex rolled his eyes and bent over again. "Really, Hope, did you get stuck at the turn of the century or something?" he complained. "Most of this stuff is more than ten years old!" He stabbed a finger at the screen. "Except for this one, which is much more recent and, of course, highly ironic."

"Which one?" Superignorant asked, sounding slightly interested.

Hope leaned over Lex's shoulder and grinned. "Oh, yeah. That one." She faced Supernosy. "I'm sure you know it," she said innocently. "It's the song where they go on and on about kryptonite, as if it's the best thing since sliced bread." She smirked. "Tragic that it's Superallergic's weakness, hmmm? Makes it much easier for us to plot evil world domination when we can say stuff like 'It's so kryptonite!' and people think we're just paying tribute to our resident Kryptonian. It's a pity the band just thought it meant good things from Krypton."

Superannoyed scowled. "I know the song, dammit," he muttered. "Stupid Lois keeps on playing it because of her stupid crush on me."

Hope nodded wisely. "Yeah, I thought you'd know it. Done?" she asked Lex when he stepped away from the screen. He nodded and she took hold of Superhelpless' wheelchair again and maneuvered him in front of the screen. It didn't take long for Superspeedreader to finish, even if he was no longer reading at quite the speed he was used to.

Hope positioned both of them carefully. By necessity alone, Superdependent was beside her, as he would not be able to do anything if he said something to make Lex come after him like some sort of homicidal criminal mastermind. What am I saying, 'if'? she asked herself. Better to say 'when'! Lex was on the far side of the room, under strict orders to obey her orders and stay there. She was less than confident on how long he would do so.

"Lex, why don't you start?" she suggested when no one seemed about to break the silence.

Her boss gave her a quick look and Supereyesore an even quicker look before telling the wall he was stationed in front of, "Papa Roach, Blood."

Hope nodded approvingly and flexed her fingers, ready to input it into a playlist.

But Superpremature had other thoughts. "Yeah?" he said, his face darkening. "Breaking Benjamin, Simple Design!"

Hope turned on him, outraged. "You're supposed to wai—"

"Finger Eleven, Stay in Shadow."

"Breaking Benjamin, Forget It."

"Linkin Park, Runaway."

"Linkin Park, Don't Stay."

"Linkin Park, Forgotten."

"Evanescence, Where Will You Go."

Hope winced. At least Superinsensitive had broken the Linkin Park trend, but the song he'd chosen . . . . She shook her head.

"Breaking Benjamin, Home." Lex had turned away from the wall and was staring steadily at Clark. As she'd feared, Lex was pulling out all the stops now.

As if to make up for the insult he'd cast Lex, Superfumblefooted chose a less antagonistic song. "Breaking Benjamin, Sooner or Later." Too bad using it now was like trying to douse a fire with oil.

"Breaking Benjamin, Away." Ooo, that one had to hurt. Lex really knew his Breaking Benjamin, suspiciously well. She had to admit, though, Lex had a point. Hell, her boss had a lot of points. The only thing was, would Superselfrighteous see them?

Superthinskin was now returning Lex's stare and she was glad the superpowers hadn't returned yet because, with Superalien, looks could kill. "Breaking Benjamin, Break My Fall." Ooookay, so maybe he'd seen them, maybe not. Judging by his expression . . . not.

"Breaking Benjamin, Follow." Dammit, why were they stuck following an artist again? It wasn't that the songs didn't say what they wanted to say to each other, but it wasn't going to make a very pretty playlist when they were done.

She started tapping her fingers when Supermolasses took his time choosing his next rebuttal. Looked like he was thinking about it for once, but the waiting was getting boring.

"Well?" she asked, giving him a sharp look. "We don't have all day, you know. Alien overlords, plans to overthrow them . . . ." She paused. "Stuff like that."

Superlostinthought shook himself. "Linkin Park, Easier to Run," he said quietly, looking away from Lex.

Hope nodded. Some questionable material, but at least the blame was being taken wholly on Superwannabeblameless. It could be just the thing to end the argument. She glanced sidelong at Lex.

Lex was still looking steadily at Supersorry, but his look had definitely softened. Maybe not that much, but still noticeable. "Breaking Benjamin," he murmured. "Break My Fall."

"Hey, no re-using songs!" Hope protested.

"It's okay," Supertolerant said, looking down. A soft smile played about his mouth. "I know what he means. Trapt, Echo."

Hope reflected that, sometimes, given all the gaffs Superman made, it was hard to remember just how intelligent he really was. Just listening to the songument showed that. He and Lex—who was no slouch in the intelligence department himself—seemed to be accurately taking what their opponent wanted to say out of the sometimes childish lyrics, even to the point of taking two different meanings out of the same song. Context, clearly, was everything.

"Breaking Benjamin," Lex said at last. "So Cold."

Well, Hope thought as she pushed herself away from the media center. That should put an end to it quite nicely. "Well done, boys," she said quietly as she stood up. She gave them both half a smile. "We seem to have three hours with nothing in them. Why don't the two of you start talking to each other?"

Superkeener frowned up at her. "I wasn't finished!" he protested. "Santana with Chad Kroe—"

She clapped a hand over his mouth and frowned ferociously. "You are done," she told him. "It was getting mushy enough in here already without you adding in that song."

He pulled his head away. "Then why did you have it in there?" he asked innocently.

"Unlike some people who claim to be," she said, with slight emphasis, "I am not omniscient. I can make mistakes." She swept out of the room before either of them could needle her any further.

Once out of the Mush Room, she dragged her partner to the comm room and hastily brought the Mush Room's camera feeds up on the screens.

"So? What're they doing?" Mercy asked, trying to see around Hope.

Hope sighed. "Everything we wanted them to," she said with satisfaction.

Mercy brightened and unceremoniously shoved Hope to the side. "Really? So soon?" she asked. "Do you have this recording?" Then she processed what the cameras were showing. "Hey! They're not having sex!"

Hope rolled her eyes and pushed back so she could shut down the feeds. "Superblackandblue still can't move very well," she said "I highly doubt they're going to get down and dirty when there's plaster in the mix."

"You never know," Mercy said wistfully. "Supersexy might be kinky."

Supersexy? Well, okay, so he was a well-built alien of a man and, yeah, his suit left nothing to the imagination, but Supersexy? Clearly, Mercy was projecting. "Yeah, well, however kinky he is," she replied, "Lex is far too solicitous of him to start something. Besides," she said, turning to face Mercy, "they're not exactly up to the point of professing true love to each other. Give it some time."

"And if they take too long?" the blonde said, her eyes pleading.

Hope nodded decisively. "Then it's time for Cupid to put on her wings again."

 


Lex shot Clark a glance from the corner of his eye as Hope left the room, taking Mercy with her. "What song were you going to use?" he asked.

"Santana with Chad Kroeger," Clark replied. "The song was Why Don't You and I." He grinned at Lex. "I think we'd do a good job of it, don't you?"

"I thought the whole thing between us was to stop the other from taking over the world," Lex remarked to the floor. It was a nice floor, with thick carpeting and geometric patterns in complementary colours to the furnishings. He listened critically to Clark's breathing for a long moment. He was getting better, he decided. His ribs were healing quickly and, in turn, reducing the pain he would normally be subject to for much longer.

"I was . . . young when we first met," Clark said at last, before cracking a smile. "Well, still young the second time, I guess. I didn't have any idea I wasn't human until I met you and I'm pretty sure my parents weren't planning to tell me for at least a year more. It scared me, Lex, a lot. Suddenly I went from loser Kent with some neat speed tricks and a knack for heavy lifting to secret-alien-on-earth Kent with superspeed, superstrength, and superskin, plus an allergy to little green rocks. And that's only the physical side of things; emotionally, I had to choose too many times between having Lana or Chloe and trying to keep them safe, fear of being found out, fear of the reactions of my friends if they found out . . . . And then there was the whole alien heritage thing and, well, if I was the only surviving Kryptonian, there were a lot of wannabes." He sighed. "And, Lex, not to put too fine a point it, there was you. You were this cool older guy who didn't see loser Kent. I really looked up to you, Lex. And it scared me, a lot, when you didn't leave me be whenever I did something a bit too strange. I know, now, the reason you did was because my lying was, how do you say it . . . ."

"Bad?" Lex suggested with a barely visible smirk. "Execrable?"

Clark glared at him. "Yeah, yeah, I sucked at lying," he muttered. "You laugh now, but you didn't then."

"I thought you were different," Lex admitted. "From everyone else I knew, because you didn't keep that truck. But then you lied to me and you still didn't want anything from me. It was . . . curious."

"And we all know you're just one big pussy-cat," Clark said grumpily. He sighed again. "So. I looked up to you. But it got to the point that every time I turned around, you were investigating me, or the kryptonite, or kryptomutants. Or even stuff that was connected to me, but didn't look like it." He grimaced. "I think I thought you should know, automatically, which things to steer clear of. I mean, Russian manuscripts? I never thought I'd be able to speak Russian. Egyptian treasures? De Nile may be a river in Egypt, but I still didn't think it had anything to do with me." He shifted slightly. "But, obviously, some of my people had." He fell silent for a long moment. "I guess what I'm trying to say—badly, mind—is I spent a lot of time being scared for my secrets. I had to start looking for your secrets because, more often than not, they were linked to me in ways I didn't want you to know about. And then I felt all your secrets were fair game, as if being a lying, nosy alien entitled me to police you."

"Then why didn't you stop?" Lex asked. "When you realised that?"

Clark shrugged, or tried to. "By then, most of your secrets really were dangerous, Lex," he said. "Or had the potential to be and you never seemed to care if your employees' past histories made it likely they would use it unscrupulously as long as they were the best of the best and could get the job done."

"Excuse me for trying to let people turn over a new leaf," Lex muttered.

"A hint, Lex, because I'm your friend. Just because someone tells you they're turning over a new leaf to get into your shiny labs doesn't mean they really will."

Lex glared at him, but it had no power to back it up. "And this new leaf?" he asked with large amounts of sarcasm.

Clark's eyes widened slightly and then he had the grace to look sheepish. "But I don't want in your shiny labs," he pointed out. "I just want to be your friend again."

Lex smirked as he pushed away from the wall and sauntered over to stand beside Clark. "Just my friend?" he asked. He watched Clark swallow.

"I thought," Clark said carefully, "friendship was all that was being offered."

Lex shrugged as he stepped behind Clark and placed his hands on the handles. "We're both men in the eyes of the world," he said, as he started them moving. "But we're also in a . . . unique situation. Now, let's get you to that sunroom Mercy promised."

"Lex," Clark said slowly, "what are you saying?" Then, "Lex? Lex!" when Lex declined to answer.

 


Lex surveyed his kingdom from his position as head chef—"Have you ever tasted Mercy's cooking, Clark? No? Trust me, don't. You are physically unable to cook and Hope always pulls a gun on me when I suggest she do it."—and found it good. Hope was, once again, teasing Clark. It was no secret she had a bit of a soft spot for him, so he wasn't going to do a white knight, no matter how trapped Clark was looking. Mercy was participating gleefully in the teasing of Clark as he seemed to have disappointed her in some way. Lex didn't care to speculate on how that had happened, not when he and Clark had passed the two of them coming of the comm room, giggling, earlier. He really had to do something about their tendency to try to manage his life; as self-proclaimed cupids, they made wonderful geologists. Then again, where was he likely to find bodyguards who, incidentally, gave him everything he'd ever wanted, wrapped in white ribbon? Well, wrapped in beige bandages, anyway.

"Lex, is the food ready?" Hope shouted, apparently growing bored of seeing how many times she could make Clark pretend to not know her. "Hungry women are here, you know!"

"Feel free to come help," he called back over his shoulder.

"I'll come!" Clark volunteered eagerly.

Hope scoffed. "As if! You're practically a mummy, Superbandaid! What're you going to do to help? Trip Lex so we have to order in?"

He rather thought Clark was strongly wishing for some telekinesis of his own. Enough to be able to move his wheelchair around, at least, something he wouldn't be able to do until his fingers healed. Given his accelerated rate, that should be in another two and a half days. Pain was a harsh mistress, especially for those unaccustomed to her.

His thoughts turned to the situation that had caused his bodyguards' meddling to come to light. Zod. And four of his friends, none of which he could remember seeing in that chaotic time he preferred to think as little of as possible. And Zod wasn't possessing anyone this time around, either. No, this was the real thing, freed from whatever it was that had kept his body imprisoned and his mind unfettered the last time. This time, there would be no haggard Clark fighting him—Zod—to a standstill and stealing him away to a fortress of ice to force Zod from his body. This time, it would have to be all or nothing.

"Lex!" Hope yelled again. "We wanna eat! Eat, eat, eat, eat!" Each repetition was punctuated with the dull thud of her fist on the table. Mercy joined her and they chorused, "Eat, eat, eat, eat!" until everything on the table was rattling and the table itself was making ominous noises.

"All right, already," he snapped, turning off the burners hastily. "Tell me, who signs your paycheck?"

"No one," Hope said cheekily. "They've always been directly deposited into the bank account of our choice. It's the wave of the future!"

"Get the plates, if you're so hungry," he said as he poured the food into serving bowls.

"Here, lemme take that, boss," Hope said, veering his way with a stack of plates. "Mmmm, tasty as ever," as she licked the finger she had boldly stolen a taste with.

He smacked her hand with a serving spoon. "Hands to yourself." He ignored her yelp. "Only those who helped make the meal are allowed to taste it before it's served." He headed for the table, knowing she'd follow him meekly—well, meekly for Hope—and began arranging the food on the table.

"Hey, how am I going to eat?" Clark asked, suddenly realising the problems his mummified self posed.

"Your nursemaid will hand-feed you exotic fruits and help you wash it down with," and here Hope leered, "a delicately flavoured beverage for the discerning customer."

"He's hardly in any shape to give me a blowjob," Lex said calmly, far too used to her comments to be able to feel embarrassed on Clark's behalf. "But thank you for volunteering to feed him."

Both Hope and Clark responded immediately.

"The last time she tried to help me with something, she choked me!" Clark protested, still red from the blowjob thing.

"Yeah, what he said!" Hope chimed in. "You don't want me to kill him by accident, do you? And you said if you weren't allowed to, then neither was I and yet you put this big opportunity, right in front of me, and expect me not to take advantage of it?" She shook her head. "You put far too much faith in my self-restraint."

He sighed. "Hope, could you please just do what I ask, once? Without creating a fuss?"

She grinned and shook her head. "Nope. Much more fun to do it my way."

"Fine, you've made your fuss, will you please help Clark with his food? Without killing him?"

She took a long moment to think it over. "Can I drive your red Ferrari?" she asked.

"You have one of your own," he reminded her.

"Yeah, but it's more fun to drive one that won't cost me money if I accidentally get involved in a firefight."

Lex made an aggrieved face at that. "Will you never stop mentioning that?" he asked, exasperated. "I bought you a new one, didn't I?"

"But I had to buy all the pretties that went inside it!"

"The one I bought you was fully loaded!"

"But it didn't have my lucky charms!"

Meanwhile, Mercy had shifted to the chair beside Clark's. "They'll be at it for a while," she murmured as she tucked a napkin in under his chin. "I think it's better to eat while the food's hot, don't you?"

 


Clark woke up in darkness and heat, aware, even if he couldn't hear them, he was not alone.

"It's me." Lex's floated out of the darkness and Clark turned his head to find its source. Apparently, Lex hadn't got over his tendency to hover over Clark, no matter what strides they'd made that day. He heard Lex step closer to his bed. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay," Clark said, shifting and wincing. While he could feel the heat from the sunlamps playing over his skin, he wasn't sure he actually felt appreciably better as of yet. Hope kept on reassuring him he was healing, and that definitely faster than the average bear—her words, not his—but he wasn't quite so sure. "I can nap through tomorrow's 'strategic planning' session." He grinned. "If it's anything like today's."

Lex sighed and he could hear fond exasperation within it. "I apologise for Hope," the bald man said. "She is convinced I need to loosen up."

"We did hash through some pretty big issues yesterday," Clark offered after a moment. "Maybe she thought it was best to wait for another day?"

"This is kind of a life and death situation," Lex said. Clark just knew he was scowling. "Taking another day is not like taking a sick day from work when you just don't want to go in."

"Yeah, I hear the life-threatening thing. But . . . you can't say it isn't odd, Lex. Ten years of being enemies won't vanish in the course of an afternoon."

"And they'll vanish overnight, then?" Lex asked pointedly.

Clark half-smiled. "Okay, so you have a point," he conceded. "What would you suggest?"

"Truth," Lex said at last.

Clark frowned. He thought he had told the truth. Except about the matter of how, exactly, he felt about Lex himself, but since Lex had refused to talk about it after that 'songument' thing, he didn't think it was what the other man was talking about.

"I haven't exactly been truthful with you about something," Lex clarified. That confused Clark even more; what did Lex have to hide. Well, aside from all the criminal mastermind stuff and, wow, there was another thing they had to talk about. He didn't think their truce would last past all this if he started breaking into Lex's labs again.

"About what?" Clark asked cautiously, as befitted the man who had suddenly remembered the difference ten years could make. Another thing to berate himself about. If he hadn't been so stupid—he was pretty sure his bad handling of anything that involved a face-to-face with Lex back then had mostly been the result of not knowing what his own damn feelings were—well, a lot of things would never have happened. Even being a teenager was not enough reason for some of the things he had put Lex through. And, yeah, maybe some of them would have happened anyway, but he could have been with Lex, helping him, instead of implying it was all Lex's fault, simply for being Lex.

Lex was silent for a long time, long enough for Clark to think maybe he wasn't going to answer. "It happened a long time ago," Lex said, breaking the silence between them. "The hows and whys don't really matter. We've never been able to determine exactly how it did happen anyway." Clark heard him shift and the silence grew between them again.

"What happened?" Clark asked cautiously.

Another sudden shift of cloth on cloth; Lex trying not to pace, to reveal how unsettled this confession made him. "I'm blind," he said abruptly.

"Wha—?" Clark was flabbergasted and not totally sure he wasn't dreaming.

Lex gave a short, ugly laugh. "I'm sure you're wondering why I told you this," he said. "I'm sure you're wondering if I told you the truth. Trust me, it is. I haven't been able to see out of my own eyes for almost ten years now."

There was a sinking feeling in Clark's stomach.

He is human, Kal-El. There may be side-effects.

Will it kill him?

No.

Then just do it.

"I won't be pitied," the bald man snapped, showing an eerie ability to follow his thoughts, and, yeah, that was so like Lex. And that, right there, was why he'd never known Lex had suffered some of those side-effects. Of course Lex wasn't going to announce to the world he was weak and helpless. Of course he would arrange for it to never get out. Of course he would force himself to learn as quickly as possible how to hide it. Clark had tried to keep an eye on him, looking for those side-effects his mother's simulacrum had listed for him in horrifying detail after Zod had been forced out, but it had been hard to get close enough to Lex for long enough to check him out. Perhaps understandably, Lex had surrounded himself with kryptonite in a variety of forms and newer, tougher bodyguards. It was too much for him to handle on top of Lex's business practices, on top of his messed up excuse of a social life, on top of college, on top of everything.

"I know," Clark said softly, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry anyway. It was . . . Zod, wasn't it? No, not Zod, what I did to get him out of you." He jumped at the hand on his shoulder. It squeezed once, gently, and was left there.

"It was worth it," Lex said with a soft intensity, his breath hitting Clark's ear. "Don't you blame yourself for this, Clark, God knows I did enough of that when it happened. But even then I knew it was worth it to be master of myself again." The hand left his shoulder and he could feel Lex's withdrawal like a cold breeze. "I've managed well enough since then, you can't deny that. I even have sight, after a a fashion."

Clark gaped. "I—What?"

"They're still working out the bugs, but LexCorp is expanding on the work done to me, to connect nanocams in my eyes to implanted receptors and to connect those to my brain in such a way my brain can translate the data they send into 'sight'. It's still rather rudimentary and there's no colour as of yet, but rest assured I am not helpless."

Clark blinked. Wow. That was . . . good. Fantastic, even. The scientific implications alone . . . . Then he shook his head. "But, Lex, it is my fault," he insisted. "The AI, she . . . . The procedure it used, it said there could be side-effects, that I was to watch for them and bring you back if there was any evidence they were taking hold." He managed to push the sheets off of him and groaned his way to a seated position. "We, we have to take you back there, it said it could fix it, but only after it had shown . . . . Lex!" Because Lex was holding a hand to his chest and pushing him flat again.

"I'm going to assume that ridiculous idea was a combination of your injuries, my waking you up, and the . . . strange day we had today. Besides, we have other things to worry about," Lex said firmly. "You're in no condition to go zooming around at the speed of light and what makes you think Zod won't have his greedy little hands all over that Fortress of yours? Clark, I can see well enough for now, so let's concentrate on kicking Zod's ass to hell and back before we do anything else, okay?"

Clark hesitated a moment before nodding reluctantly. Lex was right, they had a fight on their hands. As well, it was logical that Zod would put a priority on finding the last bastion of Kryptonian knowledge on this world, if he hadn't already. And most Kryptonians, it seemed, were logical. "So," Clark said, trying to find a halfway neutral topic, "how do your new eyes work?" Then he winced. He was thirty years old, capable of cajoling stories out of the most reticent of people, so how was it he was so verbally awkward around Lex? Probably because the last time the two of them had civil words was when he was a teenager, with none of the subtlety age had brought.

Lex, however, laughed, a low sound that . . . tried to bring to attention certain parts of him that didn't see much attention at all. All that stood between him and embarrassment was his Kryptonian physiology and he was very happy for that. "Do you mind if I share your bed?" the bald man asked, making those certain parts of it give it the old college try again.

"The light won't bother you?" Clark asked, resolutely ignoring his body.

Lex laughed again and Clark felt the bed shift beneath him. "That's the great thing about my new 'eyes'," Lex said. "I can turn them off whenever I want to."

 


Hope poked her head into Supercrybaby's room the next morning and only just barely held back from going, "Awwwwwwwww" at the cute picture he and Lex made. True, they weren't even touching—a hand on Supermummy's shoulder didn't count—but they were asleep and Lex was so close they were almost touching and it was so cute.

In fact, it was so cute, she had to run and get a camera and Mercy, in case photographic proof wasn't enough to convince her partner their evil plan of luuuuurve was working.

click clickclick

Superdeadtotheworld, of course, keep sleeping like the log he was, but Lex, with the finely tuned instincts of one who made a point of never letting anyone take his picture without his knowledge, woke up and glared at them. Hope and Mercy giggled.

"You've had your fun, now go away," he said coldly.

"Awww, did li'l Lexie-poo not get his beauty sleep?" Hope cooed.

"Maybe he should have a nap-nap wif his li'l friend," Mercy added.

"Go away," he growled. Giggling again, Hope and Mercy left, shutting the door behind them. Lex sighed and laid his head back down on the pillow. A touch to his temple and his eyesight flickered on, automatically compensating for the high level of light the sun lamps put out. Hope had managed to fix whatever it was that had been reducing the definition of what he'd been looking at, so he could see Clark's face, so innocent in sleep. Only a pillow away and yet, so far. Hesitantly, he raised his hand again, letting it hover for a long moment before ghosting it over the contours of Clark's face. When Clark shifted, he slowly removed his hand and tucked it under his head.

"Lex?" Clark asked, his voice sleep-roughened.

"It's all right, Clark, go back to sleep," he murmured. He was regretful, but not surprised, when Clark's breathing sped up and he tried to sit upright. "It's all right," he said again, watching Clark fall back down with a groan.

"Geez, warn a guy when you're going to sleep with him, Lex," Clark muttered, working to calm his breathing. "You just about scared me half to death." He raised his left hand and tried to push the eyemask off of his face. His attempt didn't work too well, between the pain and his immobilized fingers. Amused, Lex watch him fumble at it a while longer. "Um, help?"

Lex chuckled and turned over to slide out of bed. His fingers found the switches for the lamps mostly by touch and memory—for why should he grow dependant on an approximation of a sense he'd already lost?—and, one by one, turned them off. When he turned back towards the bed, he could only see soft outlines. He lifted Clark's head just enough to slip the mask off.

Clark's hand, rough with bandages, moved, unnoticed by Lex, and rested on his neck and brought him closer to the man lying supine on the bed.

"Clark?" Lex started to ask, but he was interrupted when Clark pulled him just close enough to brush lips with him.

"Mmmm," Clark said with his eyes still closed. "Now that is how you should wake me up."

Lex relaxed infinitesimally and rested his forehead against Clark's. "As a general wake up call?" he asked. "Or is it—?"

"Just you," Clark replied, answering the unfinished question.

"And what makes you think I want to experience your morning breath first thing?" Lex asked, amused.

"Oh, not much," Clark said, opening his eyes. "But if you didn't, you'd hardly be making me cross-eyed in an attempt to find out what the hell kind of drugs Hope put me on."

Lex considered that for a moment and then straightened. "This is not necessarily the right time," he told Clark.

Clark essayed a shrug. "If not now, then when?" he asked. "From what Hope said, this is what happens when I mess with three Kryptonians, not all five."

"Yes, well, your plans leave a lot to be desired," Lex said, turning a mild glare on him. "Trust me when I say physical force is the last thing we'll use."

"If you say so," Clark said, far too cheerfully for a man still in bed from a near-fatal beating. He made a jerky beckoning motion with one hand. "C'mon, Lex, convince me some more."

Lex opened his mouth, ready to do battle once more, when the creak of the door opening turned him around. He held up a hand to Clark and both of them watched, fascinated, as a dark hand bearing a camera crept stealthily through the barely open door. The flash startled them as it took a picture.

"We're not kissing anymore, Hope," Lex said calmly. The camera started guiltily, then fell in sadness. Then it perked up a little, suggestively. "And we're not going to do it again just so you have photographic proof." The camera withdrew and the door eased closed again.

"If you're gonna be that way about it, fine!" Hope's voice was muffled by the door.

"We'll talk about this later, Clark, " he said, turning back to face the bed and its occupant. He smiled at the view this afforded him of a sleep-mussed Clark. Damaged, yes, but not irreparably, and apparently more than willing to follow their long-forgotten mutual attraction to see where it led.

"Later when?" Clark asked.

"Later when I don't feel like I'm in Egypt anymore," Lex said repressively.

"When you're not in denial?" Clark wanted to know.

Lex stilled. Such a question deserved the very best in the way of revenge, Lex told himself. Which was why he was going to be sending in Clark's other nursemaids. That way, he killed two birds with one stone, what with the giggling he'd been subjected to this morning. "You know, that wasn't the first time Hope's camera got some use today," he said conversationally. "She also caught us in an . . . unusual position this morning. I heard her and Mercy giggling about it earlier." He stood up. "You know, I should probably get Hope in here so I can get breakfast started," he said with studied nonchalance.

Clark squeaked in a most satisfying fashion. "Lex!" he exclaimed. "You wouldn't!"

But Lex only waved his fingers over his shoulder as he sauntered out the door.

 


"What do we know about them?" Lex asked. He, Clark, Hope, and Mercy had gathered in the media room to discuss Earth's latest guests.

"There's five of them, they're Kryptonian, and there's no trace of how they got here, whether it was under their own power or by a ship of some kind," Mercy answered. "They messed around with Metropolis, presumably to gain Supernaive's attention, because three of them left off what they were doing to follow him when he tried to lure them out of the city so they could pummel him to bits."

"Hey!" Superunjokeable objected.

"I say it like it is, Supergripe," she told him with a completely straight face. Hope snickered. "Word is, there's the usual take over our country to take over the world thing coming—"

"Gee, no wonder no one likes the States," Hope muttered.

"—which makes sense, seeing as they've taken over the White House," Mercy continued. "You may want to lay low after this is over, Supervisible, or you may have the military on your case about being Kryptonian and not having any way to combat you and your kind."

Superpouty scowled and said, "It's not like there's supposed to be more of my kind. Last Son of Krypton and all that."

"Be that as it may, Clark," Lex said, "this isn't the first time a Kryptonian has come to Earth since your planet exploded. All of these visits have been unanticipated and, for all we know, there could still be other Kryptonians wandering the universe, waiting until they come upon our planet to wreak havoc and destruction."

"That's a very pessimistic view of life," Supersucker said, frowning. "And kinda paranoid."

"Nevertheless, it's a view that has served me well and has not yet been proved wrong."

"We have a positive ID on one of them, the one who calls himself Dru Zod," Mercy continued. "We've heard the other's names but, as of yet, have been unable to attach them to the Kryptonians they belong to."

Superpontificator looked thoughtful. "I know there was one woman," he said and winced. "She packed a mean punch. What were the names? Maybe I can help with that."

Mercy gave him a glance but only sighed when Lex nodded at her. "We've heard Quex-Ul, Faora Hu-Ul, Jax-Ur, and Vakox," she said.

Supercenterofattention nodded once. "Faora is the woman," he said. "Whoever Quex-Ul is related to her, but definitely not her father or her husband."

"How did you get that from the names?" Hope asked curiously.

He shrugged as much as he was able to—more than he had been the first time he'd been allowed out of his bed, but still not with the full range of movement. "Girls take their father's full name as their surname," he explained. "Once they marry, they replace that with their husband's name. Like . . . Lara Lor-Van, my mother. Lor-Van was her father and, technically, after she married, she should have been called Lara Jor-El." He half-shrugged again. "But they hadn't been married long before Krypton exploded, so I guess she never really got to change it."

"But if they hadn't been married long, how could you have been born?" Mercy asked, her eyebrow raised.

Supercilious smirked. "Kryptonians had created and perfected the artificial womb long before their—our—planet exploded. Anyway, their customs dictate that a wedding takes only when there is a viable child."

"Must be hell for the gay Kryptonians," Lex said dryly.

Superknowitall shook his head. "They'd also perfected the science of splicing the sperm or eggs of two partners of the same gender together."

"Could they carry them to term?" Hope asked, fascinated.

He grinned at her. "Sorry, but there's that artificial womb again."

"That means no assbabies for you," Mercy whispered to Hope as she sat back with a disappointed huff. She looked at Superantiassbaby. "What about naming conventions for same-sex couples?"

Superencyclopedia hesitated. "Actually, I don't know," he said sheepishly. "I know marriages were definitely not about physical compatibility or emotions or anything but, uh . . . I'm not sure, actually. Maybe rank? Genetic compatibility? Intelligence?"

"Gee, what a straitlaced lot you guys were," Hope muttered. "No assbabies, no emotions . . . . no fun!"

"It's so nice to know where your priorities lie," Lex murmured.

"I wouldn't talk," she said, turning on him. "I certainly wasn't the one with the oh-so-casual comment about gay Kryptonians and their total lack of assbabies."

Lex blinked at her. "Tell me, why are you fixated on," he winced slightly, but rallied, "assbabies?"

She turned back to Superlibrarian. "So, anything else you can tell us about them?" she asked brightly.

Superbadactor poorly concealed his smile. "Actually, yeah," he said, sobering up. "I did some research into Zod about ten years ago." There was no need to ask why. "'Dru' means general in Kryptonian. He was stripped of his rank and his family name by the High Council when he tried to take over the world." He grimaced. "Trite, but true. It was . . . illogical, I think the AI put it, for one man to assume responsibility for the entire world. And then, of course, there was the emotional involvement, which was taboo."

"Gee, you'd think your people had watched Star Trek or something," Hope muttered. Then she brightened. "Do you suffer from Pon Farr?"

Superkilljoy looked at her strangely. "Uh, no."

Hope slumped at the dashing of her hopes yet again. Today was not going her way at all. The only good thing about it was the almost cuddling pictures she had taken. And witnessing their first kiss. "Then get on with it," she said sulkily.

"Uh, sure. Zod kept the general part, out of arrogance, but if his family didn't want to be associated with him, he didn't want to be associated with them." Superloquacious paused for a moment, obviously wracking what brains he had. "Ummmm . . . I think I've read about Jax-Ur. No, wait, I know I did. He's the scientist who accidentally blew away one of Krypton's moon. And the colony on it." He winced. "Well, accidentally as in it got in his way when he was demonstrating his new weapon. He was sent into the Phantom Zone about fifty years before I was born. Vakox . . . he invented a super evolutionary serum and dumped it in a lake so he could observe the effects it had. He was also stripped of his name and sent into the Zone." There was silence as he thought some more. Then he shrugged. "Sorry, I have no clue about the other two. The Uls were a prestigious family, according to the AI, and shared ancestors with mine, but there's nothing else I can think of relating to them."

"Well," Lex said quietly. "It gives us more information than we had."

"A mad scientist, a rabid biologist, an egotistical general, and two unknowns potentially related to our Big Blue Boyscout," Mercy said, summing it up. She looked around the table, ignoring Superscout's wince at one of his more common nicknames. "So. Any ideas?"

Hope brought out her gun and laid it on the table with a hopeful expression. When Supermoralist frowned, however, she sighed and put it away. "I don't see why we can't shoot them," she grumbled. "Quick, easy, and, with the kryptonite, they're not gonna come back again." And that was what came of associating with superheroes. Damn, had she really wanted to get the two of them together? Their relationship couldn't be that far along, it surely wouldn't take much to break them apart again.

But while she was lost in her fantasies, the two boys were doing her work for her. She came out of her thoughts when Mercy surreptiously poked her, only to find Lex and Superalllifeispreciouseventhatofmineenemy glaring and throwing biting words at each other. She could only stare at them in disbelief as they carefully dismantled bridges they had built together, burnt the pieces, wrecked whole olive trees, and, more importantly, mucked up her plans again. Why did she even bother?!

"Why am I here, then?!" Superfrustrated shouted. "You have to know how I feel about killing people!"

"I know exactly how high you hold other people's lives in regard," Lex returned. He had a surface calm floating about him, but Hope—and anyone who had half a brain and could see his eyes—knew better. "I'm sure the good people of Smallville appreciated your rigid moralistic upbringing that brought so much death to their sons and daughters at your hands. I know I certainly appreciated your generous advice on how to run my own company and your stalwart examples of friendship? How did I ever live without knowing what true friendship consisted of?"

Supertemper gaped, incredulous. "That was ten years ago, Lex!" he said. "Did you ever stop to think that maybe I changed, maybe there's a reason I don't kill? I was fifteen years old when everything started, Lex. I'm sure you made just as many bad choices as I did when you were fifteen!"

"Ah, but that was different." It barely showed, but Hope knew Lex was just a bit shaken.

"Why is it different? Because you were Metropolis' bad boy who didn't know any better because his father wasn't much of a role model?" Superpompous paused for breath. "Well, my father was and look how badly I did!"

Hope stood up abruptly. "Enough!" she shouted. She glared at both Lex and Supersheepish in turn. "This is not helping us plan. I'm calling a half-day's recess to allow the two of you to work it off. You," pointing to Lex, "try to realise this isn't about how bad both of you fucked up in the past. Trust me, Mercy and I know. You," swinging her finger to Supermeek, "if you don't care for killing, try to come up with a plan that, a, involves no killing and, b, will actually work!" With that, she moved away from the table and started herding Lex towards the door. Mercy, in tune, as always, with her thoughts, headed for Superimmobile and his wheelchair.

"I thought we were supposed to work it out," Lex protested as she pushed him along. "Also, the no-pushing rule!"

"You can work it out from afar," she said unfeelingly. "And if you're going to revert to being twelve, so will I. And I was a bigger bully than you were, so we'll just pretend you didn't say that and I won't have to steal your lunch money."

 


It was dark in his room. When he'd asked Mercy why she wasn't turning the sunlamps on, she'd said it wouldn't do to overburden his system with too much sunlight. Well, sunlight substitute, anyway. But he couldn't quite disagree with her explanation; he remembered far too well how it had felt for his powers to be out of control when the sunspots had supercharged him. It was unlikely that he'd throw his pillow through the door if something like that happened here, but why take chances? Given what he had been able to put together about this place, he was pretty sure this was another of Lex's top-secret bunker-cum-labs, fully equipped with the latest and greatest in anti-Superman technology. He had no doubts they would have enough advanced warning to get the hell outta Dodge should any of the Kryptonians think to look . . . whichever way this was. He didn't even have to think hard about why Lex would be here, with—apparently—only Hope and Mercy to guard him. Zod may or may not remember the human he had briefly possessed, but why, again, take the chance?

He shifted slightly. Lex's words in the media room had certainly taken him back. It was odd how much of a difference ten years made. He knew what had happened in Smallville but, for the most part, it was as if it had happened to someone else. He couldn't always recognise the person he'd been there as himself.

But by the same token, would the Lex he knew now be the same Lex he had known in Smallville? Maybe, maybe not. The parts of himself he could recognise were, by and large, the same parts he could see in himself now. If he took the time to look, really look, he knew he would find parts of the same Lex he had known in Smallville.

In fact, wasn't that what he had done? Taken what little information Lex had given him since he'd first woken up here and, as with his speculations of where they were, made educated guesses. He grimaced. Well, once that 'songument' had woken him up from the arrogance he had thought he had left behind in Smallville, that is. But once it had been torn away, he could see how Lex's actions did not precisely agree with his words and, knowing what he did of the bald man, it had not been very hard to come to the conclusions he had. Even the kiss he had initiated had had observations and theories behind it. Not as much, maybe, as everything else, but enough to leave him mostly convinced it was a good idea to go forward with.

The door to his room opened slowly, the whisper of sound breaking him from his thoughts. He squinted at the figure in the doorway, backlit from the light outside the room. Then he relaxed. It had to be Lex. Hope would have already blinded him with the lights and made some sort of smart comment—he was dying to know when she'd developed such a smart mouth to her; she hadn't been nearly so verbose whenever he had squared off against her and Mercy in the past—and Mercy, well, she had a full head of hair she had taken to leaving loose.

"Come to keep me company?" he asked when Lex hesitated, half in and half out. The other man seemed to make up his mind at that and moved all the way inside, shutting the door behind him and leaving them in a soft darkness.

"Hope and Mercy left you in the dark?" Lex asked instead of answering his question. Although, in a way, he had already been answered, because Lex was, manifestly, there.

"I asked her to," Clark replied, which was nothing more than the truth. Well, the truth after she'd answered his question about the seemingly hap-hazard use of the pseudo sunlight. "So, is it time to arm up again?"

Lex frowned at him. "I came by to see how you were," he said, once again evading the question.

"And now you've seen. Why don't you come a little closer so you can see better?" Clark asked, waggling his eyebrows. And then he wanted to hit himself. It was testament to how good an actor Lex was that Clark had trouble remembering.

Lex came closer, almost hesitantly, if such a word could be applied to Lex Luthor. "That was a slightly disturbing look," he said.

Clark blinked, then rolled his eyes at himself. Lex had also told him he had a semblance of sight he could switch on and off as needed, duh. "Why would you say it's disturbing?" he asked as he clumsily patted the area beside him.

Lex took his invitation and sat down, but much further away than Clark would have liked. "It's disturbing because it's a look the Man of Steel should never wear," he replied.

"Ah, but I'm not the Man of Steel at the moment," Clark said wryly, lifting up his plaster-encased arm in illustration. "And the Man of Steel was raised and happens to think of himself as human."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "Human?"

"Well, human with perks," Clark qualified, then grinned.

"You hit the jackpot on perks, then," Lex muttered.

"That I did," Clark agreed. He paused. "Now that we've got the small talk out of the way, let's talk about why you're really here."

Lex withdrew subtly. "And what would that reason be?" he asked coolly.

Clark spread his arms out as far as his bindings—and his body, hurt as it was—would let him. "Why, to make out, of course!"

Lex's eyes widened. "Make out?" he asked, a smile hiding in the corner of his mouth. "Is that so?"

Clark widened his own eyes in mock disbelief. "You mean it isn't?"

"You are still recovering," Lex demurred.

Clark widened his eyes some more. "But I get my walking cast tomorrow!"

The smile broke out full-fledged over Lex's face. "But I still feel like I'm in Egypt," he said teasingly.

Clark grinned but didn't mention the whole Nile thing again. "But we should get some practice in," he said as seriously as he could. "After all, it wouldn't do to be bad at making out, now would it?"

That got a laugh out of Lex and, sure enough, the other man grew more serious after. "Clark . . . ."

Clark raised his eyebrows enquiringly. "Lex . . . ?"

Lex shook his head. "How can you do this?" he asked. "How can we be yelling at each other one minute and flirting the next? How can that make any sort of sense to you?"

Clark snorted. "Yeah, because we've never flirted and yelled with each other before," he said with a heavy layer of sarcasm.

The bald man shook his head again. "Not like this."

Clark sighed. "You're right, we seem to be missing the Weapon of Mass Destruction," he said and cracked a smile before he, too, grew serious. "The thing is . . . ." He paused for a moment. "The thing is, Lex, there's parts of you and parts of me that'll never change. And those are the important parts." He shrugged. "Everything else adds . . . spice to it."

Lex did not look overly enlightened. "Could you run that by me again?" he asked. "I think I got lost at the 'parts' thing. Are you saying we both have dicks and that's why we need whips and chains?"

Clark winced. "Okay, so I didn't explain it too well. What I meant was, I know you and you know me. The you I remember from Smallville is not exactly the you I know right now, but . . . the parts of you that attracted me in Smallville are still there."

There was a moment of silence. Then, "So you liked my dick in Smallville?"

Clark tried to kick Lex, but, once again, was foiled by his bandages. "And now you're being a jerk."

"And we haven't even fucked yet," Lex continued thoughtfully. "Are you sure we should leave vanilla behind so soon?"

This time Clark mustered enough strength and determination to shove Lex off the bed. "Jerk!" He peered as far over the edge as he could without help and swallowed at the sight of Lex sprawled out and laughing. "Get your butt back up here," he demanded. If Lex was going to look that good, then, by damn, he was going to look that good where Clark could reach him.

Lex grinned up at him. "I don't know if I should, Clark," he said. "After all, you never answered my question."

Clark sighed. "Yes, I like your dick," he said, with just a hint of exasperation, "and if you weren't all the way on the floor, I might show you my appreciation for it via your mouth."

Lex's forehead wrinkled. "Via my . . . . Ahh."

"That's right, kissing," Clark clarified. He waited. "Are you going to get up here or do I have to fall on you?"

Lex got up slowly. "Aren't you supposed to have learnt some patience by now?" he asked.

"Not about the important things," Clark replied. "So hurry up and get up here."

 


Hope grumbled and stuck her head further under her pillow. She had taken advantage of her arbitrarily declared hiatus to catch up on some much-needed sleep. But she was finding it hard find Morpheus, much less embrace him, with the sighs and giggles coming out of the comm room. She contemplated throwing her pillow at Mercy, but decided it was better served where it was, preserving her hearing as much as possible.

And then Mercy was beside her, shaking her shoulder. "Wake up. You'll want to see this."

"'cord i'," Hope mumbled. "'ll b'l've you, pr'm'se." But that just spurred Mercy to shake her shoulder some more. Hope contemplated leaving live grenades in her partner's bed, but then she'd have to train a whole new girl—a new guy would be unthinkable; everyone knew girls were better than boys, that's how she and Mercy beat Superchivalrous all the time—in the delicate art of being a Luthor cupid.

"Wake up!" Mercy insisted.

Okay, makeshift earplug be damned, Mercy was gonna get a pillow right where it hurt. "Whaaaaaat?" she dragged out even as she dragged her head out from under the pillow. She directed a one-eyed glare at Mercy. Mercy just made excited little beckoning motions at her. "They'd better be having sex, hot, fast, and furious," she complained as she slid out of bed and stumbled along behind the blonde. "I need my sleep, dammit, and Lex and Superprude dancing around the topic of sex and yet, not having any, is not a good substitute." She took one glance at the screen and turned to give Mercy the full force of a two-eyed glare. "That," pointing an accusing finger at the screen, "is not sex. That is something that can barely be called making out."

"Oh, hush," Mercy said, seating herself. She called up the feed from about five minutes ago and set it to play. "That is Superdimbulb confusing our boss."

Hope stared at it for a moment. "Okay," she said grudgingly. "Maybe it was worth it to see Lex so confused. But let me sleep now." With that, she turned around, determined to head back to her nice, soft bed. She stopped at the door and twisted around. "And, for your sake, you'd better still be recording what's going on right now." Her threat made, Hope left the com room, secure in the knowledge that her future entertainment was assured.

 


They had reconvened later in the afternoon than the recess had originally been called for, due to Hope missing her wake-up call, which was, in turn, due to Mercy being entirely too caught up in what was happening on her screens. The giggles Lex had received when he'd asked about it went far towards convincing him he absolutely didn't want to know. He liked to have some illusions and one of them was that he had some modicum of privacy left.

"So, what's your bright idea, Supersmart?" Hope asked when they were all sitting down again.

Clark looked blank for a moment before embarrassment took over. "Uh . . . ."

Hope looked at him incredulously. "You mean you spent all that time making out?" she asked in disbelief. Clark blushed. "You know, we kinda have a fate-of-the-world-on-our-shoulders type situation here!"

Lex frowned at her. Even if it was the case, it wouldn't have come about if she hadn't stuck her meddling nose in it. "I wouldn't say we came up with nothing," he said. He ignored the incredulous look Clark sent him.

Hope made an impatient gesture. "Then spill!"

"It's obvious the Phantom Zone was compromised when the gravity instabilitator became unstable," Lex began.

"Is that what that blackhole thing was?" Clark asked, curious. He sent Lex a Look. "Gee, I'm somehow not surprised a gravity instabilitator became unstable."

"Leave the carping for later, Superfish," Hope said, flapping a hand at him. "Also," she added, sending him a narrow look, "my belief that this was not, say, a spur of the moment idea thought up by Lex in order to save your sorry ass is being strenuously challenged by the whole lack of knowledge on your part."

Clark swallowed nervously. "Uh, right. Gravity instabilitator. Phantom Zone." He faked a laugh. "So obvious."

Lex glared at everyone impartially. "If I may continue?" he asked acidly. When no further smart comments were made, he nodded. "As I was saying, the Phantom Zone was compromised by the instabilitator going critical; obviously, something in its very instability was able to connect the Zone with our reality. If we rebuild it, we may be able to trap them in the Zone again."

"You just want to fix your toy," Clark grumbled. Lex kicked him sharply. "Ow!" He looked up and saw the meaningful Look Lex was returning to him. "Ahhh, like I told you before! Yes! When we were mak—er, discussing it!"

"You're fooling no one, Superhack," Hope muttered.

Mercy tapped her finger on the table. "And how could we guarantee they couldn't get out again?" she asked. "After all, they got out this time through chance alone."

"It would be only a temporary holding measure," Lex said smoothly, "while we come up with something more . . . permanent."

"The Phantom Zone actually replaced a much more effective deterrent on Krypton," Clark said thoughtfully. "Criminals used to be sent out to orbit the planet for a hundred years in stasis pods. While they were in those pods, they had a, a jewel of some kind placed on their foreheads. And when they returned to Krypton, they were law-abiding citizens once more."

"So why was this procedure stopped?" Lex asked.

Clark shrugged helplessly. "It was cheaper to send them into the Phantom Zone."

They all nodded. Once again, short-term budgetary considerations overruled long-term benefits.

"Would it be possible to make those stones?" Lex asked, interested.

Clark shrugged. "It was part of a history lesson, so I don't know," he replied. "My AI would probably know . . . ."

"Which means it's out of the question until we get Zod and his little gang of minions put away," Lex said firmly.

Clark nodded reluctantly. "The AI would almost certainly have plans for the Phantom Zone projector," he volunteered wistfully. "My father invented it."

"Don't be such a big baby," Hope said dismissively. "Even if it was safe to go, you'd be almost healed by the time we got there." Clark sighed forlornly, but didn't mention it again.

"So," Lex said, leaning forward. "Anyone have any other ideas?" He ignored the muttering from Hope; it wasn't like he was going to turn into a teary-eyed do-gooder for trying for the contain-vs-destroy route once. "Then it's decided. Mercy, find the back-ups that holds the plans for the instabilitator and whatever we've gleaned regarding the Phantom Zone. Hope, be a dear and find a physics lab we can borrow." The black woman grinned at that.

"And what should I do?" Clark asked.

"Do you really need to ask?" Lex drawled, giving him the sexy eye up and down. Clark blushed.

 


"Well, you're healing nicely," Hope said, managing to sound aggrieved rather than pleased. Clark figured it had something to do with . . . actually, he didn't know why she would be like that. Unless it was because she'd no longer get entertainment practically on demand from him and Lex when he was healed. "I'd advise against using either arm for anything more strenuous than a glass of water or a slice of bread for at least another day. Also, don't walk on your leg too much; it's not completely healed and I'd hate to have you here at my mercy again." Yeah, sure, he believed that. "But feel free to engage in as much gay sex as you like! It relaxes the body, produces helpful endorphins, and makes me a very happy camper." She covered her mouth with her hand and tried to look guilty. "Oops, did I say that last out loud?"

"So I'm good to go?" he asked hopefully as he sat up. He carefully swung his left leg over the edge of the bed, straining to lower it slowly enough to not get a nasty shock of pain when it met the floor. He succeeded and slid his right after it. He grabbed the cane that had been conveniently there when he'd arrived and tried standing up. The rush of blood from his head had him swaying back and forth for a moment before he fell back down with a thump. "Owww." The fall had jarred the injuries that weren't quite healed and had given a painful reminder of the past three days spent doing nothing much at all.

"Don't be such a big crybaby," Hope said unfeelingly as she put her instruments of torture away. She turned and faced him, hands on her hips. "Here's some incentive to get you moving: Your boyfriend's three doors down on the right. He's thinking too much—again, as if that's any surprise—so do me a favour and distract him before I have to trank him. That should be about how far you can move without a nice rest between and it's further than I told Lex you could go."

He grabbed the cane with a sigh. "Why are you still setting us up?" he asked. "We're together now."

She looked him up and down speculatively. "Uh-huh," she said, unconvinced. "And this is a closed environment containing four strong-willed people and virtually no contact with the outside world. I don't want him thinking it was just the unusual situation and I want you to keep focused on how sexy his ass is so you don't start thinking it's just the situation, too, and maybe start remembering the stuff he's done."

He blinked. "You know, I never thought of that."

She sighed, exasperated. "Now I have to worry about the two of you!" she exclaimed as she headed out the door. "Do me a favour and forget we talked about this, okay?"

He grinned and made another attempt at standing up. His equilibrium was undecided for another long moment before deciding—reluctantly—he belonged upright. He looked at the door, then at the cane in his hand. He rested his weight on it hesitantly and winced. Okay, so he could probably limp his way to the room Lex was in, but only by using both arms, as both were in roughly the same—unhealed—shape. He looked at the door again. Well, no time like the present.

Once he was out in the hall, he found the door Lex was hopefully behind—he couldn't wait to get his x-ray vision back—and hobbled off. He took it slowly, with frequent changes of the hand holding the cane, but he managed to get to the door. Nudging it open, he took a peek inside. Ah, he'd gone the right way after all. Lex was sunk into an armchair, obviously too deep in thought to hear Clark entering and closing the door firmly behind him.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Clark asked, leaning back and using the door to help keep him upright. Sure, he'd made it, but Hope had neglected to tell him just how tiring it would be.

Lex started at Clark's question and slowly turned his head towards him. "I see Hope once again was conservative in her prognosis," he remarked.

Clark took that as an invitation to sit down and he hobbled to the couch sitting corner to corner with Lex's chair. With a sigh, he eased himself down onto it. "So, what've you been doing with yourself while I was getting a cast sawed off my leg?" he asked cheerfully. He'd hoped he could get Lex to hold his hand, but he also hadn't thought the bald man would willingly do such a thing in front of a witness.

There was a mostly comfortable pause before Lex responded. "Working out some timelines."

"Oh?" Clark asked. "What sort of timelines?"

Lex shifted restlessly. "How long it took Zod and his little posse to receive their sun-gifted powers," he answered. "How long it took them to learn about it and us. How long it's going to take before they start really taking over the country."

"And your suppositions so far?"

"The instabilitator brought them out of the Phantom Zone—"

"Theoretically," Clark put in.

Lex glared at him. "Fine. Theoretically, the instabilitator broke them out of the Zone eight days before they showed themselves in Metropolis. I believe it took five days for their bodies to be charged enough for their powers to show and then the next three days, they would have spent practicing and refining those powers. And then, of course, they went after you."

"Wait, they had to hear about me first, right?" Clark asked, his brow furrowed. "And make even a crappy sort of plan."

Lex shrugged. "I hypothesize they did that while they were adjusting to the super-powered life," he said.

There was another period of mostly comfortable silence. "Okay," Clark said at last, "if this is the same Zod that we . . . met in Smallville, why doesn't he remember Kal-El is Clark Kent?" He paled suddenly. "Or did he and that's why we're hiding?! Lex, is my mo—"

"Your mother's fine," Lex broke in, attempting to reassure him. The bald man coughed. "I may have had some of my people pick her up," he hedged. "I made it look like she won a contest, but . . . Zod didn't do anything to make me think he was going to go after her. There's two security teams standing by to make sure it stays that way." He shifted again. "Zod also hasn't been anywhere near Smallville, as far as I can tell," he continued. "It could be that possessing a human mind, no matter how Fine 'prepared' me, was not the good idea he thought it was. However, I doubt we'll know for sure unless we meet him face to face."

Clark nodded, a bit weak-kneed with his relief over his mother's safety. "Which would be a bad idea."

"Duh."

Clark grinned for a moment before it faded. He figured now was as good a time to bring it up as ever. "You know, Hope told me something," he said as casually as he could.

"Oh?" Lex asked. "And haven't you learnt better than to take Hope's words without a truckload of salt?"

Clark nodded and said, "But it kinda made sense to me. You know, seeing as how I know you so well and all."

Lex snorted. "I could see that in the sixteen years we've known each other," he muttered.

"She said," Clark continued determinedly, "you thought it was maybe just the situation."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "Of course I think it's the situation," he responded. "I highly doubt I would have had to put two security teams on your mother without this situation."

Clark scowled. "And now you're deliberately being dense," he accused.

Lex spread his hands. "By all means, Clark, enlighten me as to what I'm being dense about."

"Us."

There was a moment of silence. "Of course I don't think we're kissing just because of the situation," Lex said. "I certainly don't believe you will fly off as soon as you're fully healed and we'll gradually fall back onto habit in our dealings with each other. I most defini—"

Clark rolled his eyes and poked Lex's leg with his cane. "Yeah, that's what she didn't say."

"Poke me again, Clark, and it will be just the situation." Lex's voice was cold and yet, not scaring him in the slightest.

Clark leered. "You mean you don't want me to . . . poke you?" he asked, doing his best to drip suggestiveness from his voice. He let out a big sigh. "You shouldn't lie to people like that, Lex," he admonished. "I was really looking forward to . . . poking you."

Lex leaned forward and grabbed the cane away from him before returning the favour and poking him. "Shut up. You're missing the point."

"No, actually, Lex, I think you are," Clark said, choosing seriousness over humour. "You see—"

"No, you see, Kent," Lex said, suddenly vicious. "This is a one-time happening, okay? And it ends as soon as you're healed up enough to go."

Clark was serene. "And is that because it's the way you want it?" He'd already known he was right when Lex had interrupted him, but the lack of answer after his latest question sweetened the victory. "Lex, I could give you some mumbo-jumbo about Kryptonian bonds and mating and such, but, really, my people had been kinda repressed enough for centuries before Krypton's destruction for that sort of thing to have been bred out." He took a deep breath. "So I'll be truthful. Lex, I love you. I loved you in Smallville, when we were hating each other, and I loved you in Metropolis when we were one-upping each other. What makes you think I'm going to stop loving you now?"

"But you kept on opposing me."

Okay, as a comeback, that sucked. Nice to know he could blow Lex's mind out of the water consistently. "Lex, I was kinda labouring under a set of serious misapprehensions," Clark said gently. He ticked them off as he identified them. "One, I thought for the longest time you didn't know what I was. Don't ask me why I thought that, because it's kinda obvious in hindsight you did, but that's one. Two, I really was full of myself in Smallville. I was so sure I knew everything, that I had an instinctual knowledge of right and wrong." He laughed softly. "Yeah, hindsight is far too clear for that, too. Three, Lex, how was I supposed to think anything else when you went out of your way to keep me convinced you were bad?" He held up his hand when it looked like Lex might respond. "Don't even try to deny it, Lex, I got a few too many 'convenient' leads from some of your key people to believe anything you say on that matter." He sighed. "And four, why didn't I put it together sooner? Honestly, I never stopped to think about it. Kinda goes with the whole 'there's right and wrong and the difference isn't hard to see at all and I have 20/20' thing I had going." He paused for a moment. "I guess I need to take a step back from our relationship so we could actually have a relationship. Ironic, huh?"

There was another long period of silence. Obviously, he'd gotten through to Lex but, just as obviously, the bald man didn't know what to do next. It was kind of a new thing for Lex to be doing, being in love and a relationship with the same person.

"Leeeeex," he said when it became obvious the other man wasn't going to do anything to break the silence between them. He patted the cushion beside him. "Come gimme a kiss." That got him a grin, at least. And it got Lex to move beside him. Bonus!

"How could we have done this to each other," Lex said in a low voice as he placed his hand on Clark's thigh—the right one, thank God, and not the left; he'd hate to think Lex's hand was so close to his bits and he couldn't feel it—and applied pressure until Clark got the hint and shifted to face him more fully.

"Well, I gave my reasons," Clark started to say, only to be interrupted by Lex's lips caressing his. Talking was for the celibate, anyway, and he'd been celibate far too long.

"You know, I have this theory," Lex whispered in his ear. He shuddered; the hot breath and the hand moving sloooowly towards his crotch were more arousing than anything he'd been on the receiving side of to date. "It concerns your come and how it might contain an agent to bind whoever tastes it to you."

Gee, I hope not, Clark thought hazily. Lana's kinda married now and this is better than full-blown sex with her ever was. He thought he knew what Lex was offering, but the hand still creeping closer was doing nothing for his thought processes. "Maybe," he panted, "maybe you should test it?"

"That's just what I was thinking," Lex growled in his ear and, God, he thought the whispering had been hot? Not even close to the reaction the growl spurred within him. He opened his eyes—they must have closed involuntarily, because he wouldn't have missed Lex sliding to the floor between his legs if he'd had any say about it—and matched Lex stare for stare. Except . . . something was trying to get his attention. What was it again? Oh, yeah. Cameras and hope. He had to hope the cameras were on? Hope that Hope had a camera handy? No, wait, Hope and cameras equaled bad!

"Lex," he gasped, although one of Lex's hands was on his waist and the other was tracing the seam of his pants and he wasn't anxious for either of them to leave.

"Did you say something, Clark?" Clark ground his teeth. Lex liked to act all innocent, but he'd be singing a different tune once Clark got around to reciprocating. He had been celibate for a long time, true, but that didn't mean he hadn't used his imagination a fair amount.

"Hope . . . cameras . . . ." And if that didn't work, Clark was fully prepared to make a sacrifice to the voyeuristic goddesses that had made this possible and not care until he'd had his blowjob.

And then the hands left. Clark was unhappy with that turn of events and opened his eyes—darn things had fallen closed again, what good were they for if they wouldn't watch Lex—in preparation to complaining in a loud and clear voice until he got what he wanted, namely, Lex on his knees before him again.

Lex, however, was out of reach and at the door. Clark opened his mouth, already formulating the level of noise his annoyance would take if Lex left, but Lex, thankfully for the eardrums of everyone involved, didn't actually leave. He played with something at the door and pointed a slim black . . . thing at each of the four corners of the room before turning around and heading right back to Clark. Clark feasted his eyes on the man he'd been lucky enough to seduce—or have seduce him; great sex was going to be involved, did it really matter who seduced whom?—as Lex returned to his knees before Clark.

"Now," the bald man murmured. "Where were we?" Both hands bracketed Clark's cock, although they weren't quite touching. "That's right, we were doing some . . . testing, weren't we?"

Clark moaned when Lex actually moved one of his hands to cover his cock. The other headed for the waistband and the zipper that was . . . all right, not quite all that stood between him and Lex's hungry eyes, but it was still a fairly significant barrier. Then the hand that was covering him started moving, massaging and Clark sighed, pushing up into it.

And then, once again, both were gone. Clark's eye popped open too see Lex standing several feet away from him, with a strange, cold expression on his face.

" . . . Lex?"

"You don't have to humour me, Clark," Lex bit out. "If you're not interested in me, it poses no great problem. Rest assured that you'll still have my help in overcoming this most recent alien menace—" Clark flinched, because wasn't that what Lex had called Superman when he first appeared? "—as we don't need to be fucking to work together."

Clark tried to gather his wits about him. 'Twas a pity his wits were stuck in his dick. "But what if I want us to?" he asked.

Lex sneered. "Please. Your body says differently."

Clark looked at Lex and then at his crotch and then back to Lex again. Everything seemed to be working fine. And then it came to him. Everything was working fine for a Kryptonian. "Lex," he said, trying to figure out just how to say this, "I'm an alien." How to say it without starting laughing, that is, because then Lex might think he was laughing at him and leave and Clark wasn't sure he could catch him without his superpowers.

"A remarkably human one," Lex snapped.

And then Clark did laugh. Well, snort. "On the outside," Clark agreed. He saw Lex look away, obviously calculating the fastest way to get out of the laughing alien's room. "Oh, sit down, Lex, I wasn't laughing at you." Lex maintained a frigid silence, but he did sit down. On the chair, worse luck, but at least he was still in the room. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you this," he said, "but it honestly slipped my mind, which may be understandable because you were about to give me a blowjob." He shifted, getting himself as comfortable as he could, given his legs were spread and he was aching for Lex to be back between them. "I . . . . When Kryptonians—" He breathed out a big gust of air. "Kryptonians didn't use their penises for sex for so long, they kinda don't become erect until just before ejaculation," he said in a rush, his face red. He hid his face in his hands. Suave, he was not.

He peeked through his fingers to see Lex's reaction to his highly unscientific explanation. It looked promising. While not yet welcoming, Lex's demeanor had definitely warmed. He wondered if he'd have to make yet another corny comment to get Lex back in front of him.

In the true give-and-take way of relationships, however, Lex moved himself from his chosen Fortress of Chairitude to standing right in front of Clark. Who found himself holding his breath. Yes, he loved Lex and, no, he didn't object to all the hours they had frittered away cuddling—in fact, he looked forward to many more so spent in the future—but, damn, he was tired of all these interruptions and, really, was wondering, in true sex-crazed-celibate-alien fashion, when he was going to get his blowjob.

It was good he had thought that thought before Lex dropped to his knees again, because once he had, anything remotely complicated fled from Clark's brain.

"I think there's something I have to make up to you for," Lex told Clark's crotch as he reached forward and pulled Clark's limp cock out of his boxers. Clark tried not to fidget, but it was hard—ha, he wished—to hold still when Lex was busy learning him through touch. And then Lex leaned forward and started the learning again, but this time with his tongue.

Clark was so the luckiest man on earth. Alien on earth. Whatever. He was lucky and getting luckier.

And then Lex lifted him, supported him with his fingertips and slowly—obscenely—swallowed him down. A groan tore out of Clark and he could feel himself getting supersensitive. The heightened sensations were the first true step on the way to orgasm—everything else was classified as foreplay and would remain so classified until he had proof they could actively work towards an orgasm; he had a feeling the longer he was with Lex, the shorter the foreplay list would be—and he felt himself twitch, deep in Lex's throat. Lex had to have noticed it but he just kept on drawing Clark's cock out of his mouth and sucking it back in.

And then there was that agile tongue, rubbing firmly just under the head, and his cock stiffened almost embarrassingly fast and he tried to warn Lex, but either he wasn't making sense or Lex wasn't listening, because when he came, he was so far down Lex's throat, he could feel Lex breathe.

He didn't so much sag as let his body do whatever the hell it wanted as long as it wanted to do nothing at all. Yeah, that was sex. And that was why people had sex. And he'd just had sex. Courtesy of Lex, who was sex on a stick. He couldn't wait to have sex again. Except that would mean he'd have to move and he wanted to enjoy the after sex part a bit longer.

He took it as a sign from on high that his thoughts were still sex-oriented after an orgasm from Lex; obviously, he and Lex were meant to be together, forever, because otherwise the sex would not have been that good.

He gradually became aware that Lex had shifted upwards quite a bit, with the other man straddling his lap and—thankfully—putting no weight on his left leg, as he didn't think the after sex good feelings would last as long with pain working to cut them short.

"How goes the experiment?" he managed to ask. Lex lifted his head and let it fall against the back of the couch. Then, in lieu of a verbal answer, started kissing him again. Clark wasn't up to much participation quite yet, but he was happy for the attention. And for the hot length pressed against his stomach, reassuring him that Lex was definitely a human male. If he could only move his hands, he could maybe open Lex's pants, reach inside, and return the favour of the good feelings.

Yeah, like that, as Lex shuddered in his hands, clumsy though they were. A twist on the upstroke and a few determined rubs at that sensitive spot that had made him come not even minutes before and Lex was jerking in his hands and making muffled sounds against his shoulder and, yeah, he'd definitely need to change his shirt. Preferably before Hope or Mercy saw him, but he didn't think his luck was that good.

While he waited for Lex to stop panting against his shoulder, he occupied himself with running his hand—the one that had escaped most of the mess Lex had made, as he didn't think Lex wanted to have his come smeared everywhere—over Lex's skin, everything he could reach. It was when he had wedged a hand behind Lex's ass, occupied with the heft and feel of it—unsurprisingly, it felt good—that Lex lifted his head.

"So, how are you?" Clark asked. Lex leaned back to give him an are-you-stupid look, but Clark was feeling far too good to let Lex ruin his fun.

"How do you think I am?" Lex asked dryly.

Clark considered the man straddling his lap. "I think . . . you just got a handjob," he said and raised his eyebrows. "Am I right?"

Lex gave an amused snort and dropped his forehead to Clark's shoulder for a moment. "I think you're right," he allowed.

"Soooooo . . . ." Clark cast around for an appropriate subject. Hey, it wasn't as if he'd had much practice at the after-sex small talk thing. "How did your experiment go? Will I now be able to influence you and your actions with only the power of my mind?"

"What mind?" Lex wanted to know. He made a surprised sound when Clark slapped his ass. "Hey, don't bruise it if you want to use it!"

Clark nodded solemnly. Obviously, it was already working. He'd never imagined Lex saying such a silly thing after sex without some serious mind-power influencing going on. "Hey, do you think it would work the other way if I tasted your come?" he asked, managing to get it all out without spontaneously combusting.

Lex lifted his head to look him in the eye and, man, with that look, if he'd been human, there would've been no doubt about the using of Lex's ass. As it was, he was kinda looking forward for his own ass to be used. But possibly not on the couch and, knowing Lex, not until all his casts and bandages were off, so Lex could stop thinking he had his very own mummy. "Why don't you try it and find out?"

"Gee, I don't know. I've heard it tastes better straight from the source."

Lex gave him a look and lifted up his come-smeared hand, drawing it close enough to his mouth so he could lick it.

"Geez, Lex," Clark breathed out, his attention caught by that tongue running over and between his fingers. He leaned forward and Lex shifted until they were kissing again, this time sharing the taste of Lex's seed. He was getting sensitive again, which normally would not happen and which he chalked up to Lex being the sexiest thing on Earth. And off of it. He'd never, ever come in his pants but it looked like it was going to be another "never" stricken from the books, along with the "never kissed Lex" and "never got a blowjob from Lex". And he was fine with that.

 


"So, what happened with Lana?"

Clark groaned and shifted his grip enough to palm Lex's ass again. They had moved from whatever room they had been in—a reading room? A lounge? Why Lex would have one in his supah sekrit base was beyond him—to Clark's room and had indulged in some serious third-basing. "You're ruining the afterglow," he complained. "And how I had sex with Lana is not exactly necessary information."

"Come on, you can't blame me for being curious," Lex said, dismissing his complaint.

"Sure I can," Clark countered. He heaved a sigh. "She and I were both virgins, so it's not like she knew how long a man was supposed to be hard for. And I had so much foreplay with her, I'm lucky my fingers still worked afterwards. Frankly, I'm kinda surprised I got it up at all. Losing my powers probably should have affected my, um, performance, but I guess long-time crushes taking you into their beds trumps earth-type strength."

"You didn't have your powers then?" Lex asked, surprised. "I guess that explains . . . ."

Clark scowled. "I was a jerk," he allowed, "but you kinda got carried away, too. But, hey, how's this for punishment? It was the fight with you that got me pity-sex."

"And Lana was a virgin after all," Lex mused, obviously on a different tangent than he was. "I feel sorry for Jason, then, following her all the way from Paris just for kisses."

"And how sorry should you feel for yourself?" Clark asked, nettled. "I mean, you've only been lusting after me since day one."

"Don't be ridiculous," Lex said crisply. "On day one, I was nine years old and in no condition to lust after anything."

Clark rolled his eyes. "I meant day one from the banks," he said.

"Well, that day one, I suppose you could be right."

A comfortable silence fell between them and Clark took advantage of the opportunity to run his hands over what he could reach of Lex's body again. The smooth skin, the absolutely stunning lack of hair, he didn't know if he could ever get enough of it. Judging from the way Lex's hands were stroking over him, apparently Lex found even his battered body hot.

"So, what are we going to be doing after this?" he asked at last, breaking the silence.

"We are going to be researching the possibilities inherent in the number sixty-nine," Lex said

Clark's mouth went dry. What could be better than getting a blowjob from Lex than getting one at the same time as giving one? Nothing in his limited repertoire, but, as Lex had said earlier, they had barely scratched the surface of vanilla. "Not that," he forced himself to say. "I meant . . . after."

Lex thought it over. "You're healed enough to go home tomorrow, so you'll be there unless Zod remembers one Clark Kent had powers—how did you get them back anyway?" Clark opened his mouth to explain how his birth father had been confusing and threatening through that whole period—well, he still was, whenever Clark tried to talk to his persofil in his Fortress, which is why he relied on the core AI more often than not—but Lex was still talking. "While you soak up enough sun to finish healing and get your powers back, Mercy and I will be rebuilding and modifying the instabilitator into something that can reach into the Phantom Zone with, hopefully, less property damage while Hope gets more in-depth information than what we've been getting here. The instabilitator will, of course, work on the first go and we'll arrange a trap to get all the other Kryptonians exposed to it and sucked right back into the Zone. Once the world is safe once more, you and I will go to your Fortress and see about those mind-sucking stones."

"And your eyes," Clark added, determined to fix the damage he, in part, had caused.

Lex gave him a quick smile. "Yes, yes." Then he was silent for a moment. "And then we come back and have hot, gay, alien sex?"

Clark laughed. "And what do you call this?" he asked.

"The mere tip of the iceberg," Lex said firmly, "and you'll think so, too, once I'm through with you."

Clark couldn't contain a shiver at the thoughts provoked by Lex's comment. Celibate, he may have been, but totally without knowledge, he was not. There was a lot of stuff he and Lex could do.

"So," he said, walking his fingers up Lex's back, "will you be there tomorrow when I get my cast off? To hold my hand?"

"Are we in elementary school?" Lex asked dryly.

Clark's fingers meandered along Lex's shoulder. "Hope scares me," he said in his best little kid voice.

"Hope scares everyone," Lex told him. Clark let his fingers make their way to Lex's ear, where they had all sorts of fun, brushing it, bending it, and generally making nuisances of themselves. Lex tried to escape them, but they were relentless. "Fine, fine! I'll hold your hand and protect you from the big, bad Hope!" he exclaimed when he couldn't stand it anymore. Immediately, the fingers left his ear alone and Clark beamed. Who needed mind-controlling semen when being annoying was just as effective?

 


Clark paused just before the house's front porch and looked around. It was useless, of course, because his superpowers were playing hide-and-seek with him at the moment, but the need to make sure his mother was safe was paramount. Lex could hire all the security he wanted, but sometimes, as with the scientists he hired, his mind was on matters other than their loyalty to their boss. He counted it firmly as good luck that Lex had managed to find Hope and Mercy; the two women were dedicated to his safety in a way Clark had never seen elsewhere.

Maybe that should have been my first clue Lex wasn't the vicious criminal mastermind I'd painted him as, he thought wryly, with not a little pain over how he'd made Lex into a monster. Pointing a righteous finger has always been easier than actually doing something constructive. Maybe what he'd told Lex, about thinking of himself as more human than anything, maybe it went a little further than he'd previously thought.

He was brought out of his introspection abruptly when the door in front of him opened and the person going through it failed to see him. Reflexively, he dropped his cane and tried to catch the woman. The woman, unfortunately for him, took it as an attack and ducked under his arms before grabbing one and throwing him over her hip.

"Oh! Clark?!"

The sky was a pretty shade of blue today. Pity the air quality had not improved enough to keep him from gasping his lungs out. "Yeah, Mom?"

Martha Kent knelt beside him and checked him over hurriedly. "Clark, are you alright? Did I hurt you?" And then it evidently dawned on her that he was sporting signs of previous injuries. She also clearly connected those with the complete non-appearance of Superman since the curiously underreported conflict in downtown Metropolis.

He held up a hand and that kept her quiet for the moment. "Mom," he said, wincing slightly, "can it wait until we get inside?"

She looked down the walkway. "I was going to go get some milk," she said, "but, under the circumstances, I think that can wait until later." She helped him to sit up. "Yes," she said, looking over him with a mother's practiced eye, "the shopping can definitely wait. Up you get, Clark."

 


She'd taken advantage of the need to refresh their drinks to get a moment to take everything in. Her hands shook slightly as she poured the heated milk into the mugs and she carefully laid the pot down and pressed her hands flat on the counter to still them. Her son was alive. Not only that, he was alive and almost completely healed. He hadn't said who had found him and hidden him and taken care of him, but it wasn't hard to guess, not with "LEX LUTHOR MISSING" screaming from every newspaper she saw. The boys had stopped their fighting, it seemed, in favour of teaming up against a common enemy.

She wondered if maybe Clark was an abnormality among his people, that he should do so much good without even trying and that all the others she had met could bring only pain and suffering,

"Mom?" Clark's voice, echoing through her empty house in a way she had missed without even knowing she was missing it. They had been sitting in the living room, although she knew he would not stay there long if he thought something was wrong with her. "Mom, do you need any help?"

She made herself move again, stirring both mugs briskly before picking them up and bringing them with her. She handed one to Clark and sat down with the other.

Clark said nothing for a long moment, although he accepted the mug from her. His scrutinization made her uncomfortable, but she raised her chin and let him. This small family of theirs had tried to never let comfort get in the way of truth, not amongst themselves, and she wasn't about to let it start now.

"Yes, Clark?" she asked.

He shook his head and sipped his cocoa. "I know how it looks," he said, addressing his statements to his cane. "I can't say even I'm not having second thoughts about this. Everything's happened very fast, but we can't give them time to settle in."

It dawned on her that Clark was afraid. Not of her, but of her opinion. It may no longer be her responsibility to give her stamp of approval to his chosen companions, but she knew he looked for it just the same. Her mother's instinct was to comfort him straight away, but she needed a moment still to figure out just what her opinion was.

In the end, though, her opinion didn't matter as much as the well-being of her child. There were things Clark wasn't telling her, of course, but she'd be a poor mother indeed the day she couldn't sniff out his secrets.

"Whatever Lex has done," she said at last, "and I know he's done a lot, he's never, ever betrayed your secret, Clark. And I agree with you; I think he's known for a very long." She saw him look up cautiously. "I've never quite thought of Lex as a bad man," she admitted. "That was always more your father than me, although I don't deny he had good reason to be wary of Luthors. I've always thought, though, that Lex has made bad decisions." She smiled at her son, who hesitantly smiled back. "Maybe, now that all your secrets are out of the way, you can help each other make some good decisions for a change."

"Mom—" He stood up awkwardly and moved to sit beside her before engulfing her in his arms. "Thanks," he said into her hair."

She smiled and rubbed his back as the hug held for a long moment. "Now," she said in a business-like voice, "how are you going to be explaining your absence to people not in this family?" She noticed his eyes were shining strangely, but his smile was strengthening, most likely at her implied inclusion of Lex into her definition of "family".

"Smallville!"

Clark winced at the all too familiar shout echoing down the hall. Yeah, so much for Lex's "top secret, need-to-know-only-and-no-one-needs-to-know" protection. He honestly didn't think anything could be kept a secret from Lois for long, not once she put her mind to it. Well, except the thing about him being Superman, of course, but Lois had classified him as a dork when they'd first met—a naked dork, to be sure, but still well entrenched in his dorkitude—and, as much as he hated it, he had to admit it worked in his favour.

"Hey, Lois, how are you?" he said, turning awkwardly to greet her. Yeah, he was heaps better than he had been even the night before but he was by no means fully healed. Plus, he had the terrifying spectre of Hope to make sure he didn't inadvertently hurt himself before his powers returned. He shuddered. One stint of Nursemaid Hope had been more than enough, 'kay, thanks.

The brunette almost skidded to a halt when she got a face-on look at him. "Wow, Smallville, guess you weren't kidding about falling down those stairs, huh?" she asked and Clark held back a sigh. Lex, meddling again. The meddling may have saved him his job, but that didn't mean he had to like it. "Didja get the landlord to fix the elevator after that?" He could only imagine the headlines running through her head right now. GREEDY LANDLORD REMORELESS AFTER ACCIDENT or something similar, no doubt. Of course, since Lex, technically, was his landlord—yeah, he hadn't seen that one coming and yet, in retrospect, he totally should have; Lex wasn't one to let his enemies have a safe haven if he could help it—the 'greedy' appellation somehow didn't fit well, at least not as the landlord of a slightly seedy apartment building. Bloodthirsty business mogul, yes, lazy landlord, no.

"No, Lois, because the elevator was working when I took a slip," he said, correcting her gently.

She stared at him aghast. "You took the stairs on purpose?" she asked. "What are you, mental?" She looked him up and down consideringly. "And why aren't you in better shape if you do? You're always falling behind when we run after the bad guys."

"Uh, maybe that's because the bad guys usually have guns," he pointed out as he turned again and took the few steps necessary to his door.

"Wimp," she muttered. After watching him fumble with his keys—not entirely feigned, as they were still stiff—she took them from him and shouldered him out of the way. He pressed his hand against his side, wincing. "There."

"Thanks, Lois," he muttered, following her into his apartment.

"No problem," she said breezily as she flicked lights on randomly as she wandered. "Huh, you have a maid to clean up after you, Smallville? This place is almost . . . tidy."

Clark suppressed another sigh. Lex's meddling again, no doubt. It wasn't as if five days of him not being home would have turned his place into a certified landfill.

"I'm afraid that's my fault, Ms Lane," a slightly accented voice.

Clark stiffened and squinted through his apartment to find out who his intruder was. Or tried to, at least. His x-ray vision was still sporadic at best, although Hope had said it probably wouldn't take too much longer to recharge his body back up to full-strength, now that he was mostly healed. "Who's there?" he called warily. He moved closer to Lois, although he wasn't quite sure if it was to protect her or whoever had invaded his home. He'd seen what she could to do to people who . . . displeased her. Such as those who tried to take her hostage. Or her purse. Or by surprise. Jimmy still winced a little every time he saw her.

"My apologies, Mr Kent." The voice was apparently coming from his kitchen. "I know it was . . . rude of me to invade your home as I have, but I was most desirous of meeting the man who claimed friendship with one of the fortunate few to escape my planet's destruction."

Ooookay, and that was? He wracked his brain for people like him, saved when their planet was destroyed. It was a depressing list, all the more so when he realized, for all the talk of staying in touch, he really, really hadn't. He sucked as a penpal. "I'm not sure I know what you mean," he said cautiously.

"Oh? You have hidden depths, then, Mr Kent. I thought it would have been obvious to whom I was referring." Whoever was in the kitchen moved, probably heading towards the door. "I am, of course, referring to the late Kal-El. The one you knew as Superman."

Clark stiffened as his unwelcome visitor came out of the kitchen. Zod stood before him, smiling stiffly

"I do hope I haven't caught you at a bad time, Mr Kent," Zod said after a moment. "I heard your colleague mention you had a mishap; no doubt the reason you have not been home for several days."

Clark had to force himself to relax and unobtrusively tried to position his cane in front of Lois, for her inevitable stupid idea. Apparently, Zod really had no idea he was Superman or he would already be dead. "What can I do for you? Sir," he forced himself to add.

"I just wished to make sure there were no, as you humans say, 'hard feelings' between us due to your unhealthy friendship with my former enemy. I understand he was your . . . friend, but I am willing to be 'friendly' with you in view of the wonderful portrayal you have managed for him. No," Zod said, raising a hand, "do not answer me now. I understand you may have . . . reservations and am willing to wait. For a short time, of course, but time does fly here on your Earth. As well as other things."

Something in his speech broke Lois from her paralysis and she rushed forward with a yell, almost absently avoiding the cane Clark tried to snap up fast enough. Zod, of course, was in no danger from her, and caught her with a hand around her neck. He was still smiling that damnable smile.

"I'll forgive you this once, Ms Lane, for your inexcusable outburst," he told her as he lifted her just a little. Clark gulped as he saw the fire dance in his eyes. "I understand you had . . . feelings for my dead enemy, that you, as humans say, 'loved' him. Please, in the future, remember that he was an oddity among Kryptonians."

"You bastard!" she hissed, clawing uselessly at his hand with her nails. "He's not dead. He's alive and he'll make you pa—" She ended with a choked sound as he tightened his grip.

"I don't think so, Ms Lane," Zod told her. He looked beyond her to Clark and nodded faintly at him. "Mr Kent." And then Lois was flying through the air, landing with a thud against a wall. Clark's eyes followed her. When he looked back, Zod was gone.

He made his way to Lois as fast as his leg would let him and knelt awkwardly beside her. His right arm wasn't up to much in the way of lifting weights, but it was more than adequate to the task of checking for a pulse. He breathed a sigh of relief when he felt her human heartbeat pulsing reassuringly against his fingers. His x-ray vision flickered into being unexpectedly and he scanned her quickly while he could. No broken bones and it didn't look like she'd hit her head any harder than necessary to daze her a bit. "Dammit, Lois, why don't you ever keep your mouth shut?" he sighed, easing himself to the floor beside her. With his left arm freed from supporting himself on his cane, he could pull her into a more comfortable position.

"Mus' be m' sparklin' pers'n'lity," she muttered into his shoulder before pushing herself up. "Whoa," she said, steadying herself against his shoulder as she swayed dizzily. He winced at her grip; strong enough to bend iron, or so his nerves informed him. "So, tell me, Smallville . . . ."

"What?" he asked warily.

"Was it just me or did the new leader of our country just proposition you?"

 


After the little visit from Zod, Lois had explained why she had been stalking his apartment. Apparently, a little bird had told her he was getting out of the "hospital" that day and she had taken it upon herself to explain the new reality of things.

Zod and his gang hadn't, overall, made much of a splash. Mostly, Lois had told him, that was because they had held a very special press conference three days ago. Only reporters had been invited and certainly not all the ones in the country. They had been told a publishing ban was in effect about them, about Superman. It had led to, of course, one of the reporters present saying something about the truth and that you couldn't stop the presses. That had led to a potent demonstration of how this administration was different from all the others. It hadn't been pretty, Lois had told him, even if she had gotten the news word of mouth—the only "publication" the aliens would allow and only to reporters who had not been there—and it had been amply demonstrated when a local tabloid in Gotham had tried to publish news about their "visitors". The fire had been reported, but nothing about the cause, although it was plain to see, both from the video that had appeared on the news only a few times and the fact that every newspaper in the country seemed to cover the story, just what—who—had been behind it.

"We've jumped back eight years," Lois was complaining. He was listening to her with one ear and doing his best to keep his attention on his work. "We stopped doing the spin doctor and the unpaid publicist years ago and they're making us do it again!"

"What about the internet?" he asked. "Has it been compromised?"

She sighed heavily. "You'd think we were China if you saw how censored the stuff we get is," she said scornfully. "Go on, try to look up alien assbabies and see how much blank stuff you'll get. Once upon a time, and I'm definitely not admitting to anything, so keep your sordid grin to yourself, you couldn't plug that sort of thing into a search engine without spawning twelve pages of sites."

"Ah, but were all of them about," he paused, winced, then bravely continued, "alien assbabies?"

"Well, no," she allowed, "they were mostly really pathetic sex sites concerned only minimally with ass and certainly not with babies or aliens. And you can wipe that smirk off your face, Smallville, don't think I don't see it," she added. She leaned over her desk, trying to see what was on his angled screen. "What're you working on, anyway?" she asked. "Isn't the death of journalistic integrity important enough for you?"

"It is," he said, "which is why I'm writing this."

"Are you crazy, Clark?" she hissed, her eyes wide. "Didn't I just finish telling you what happened in Gotham?"

"Three times, actually." With varying levels of volume until she was assured his hearing hadn't suffered when he'd "fallen". "This isn't about our wonderfully benevolent alien oppressors, Lois, so I think you can stop worrying about it."

"What's it about, then?" she asked insistently.

It was about a cover for the research he was trying to do. It wasn't that he didn't trust Lex—well, okay, maybe it was because it was so new that he and Lex weren't sworn enemies anymore and it was hard to trust in that—but he'd feel better if he could guess just what lab Lex would be "borrowing" for his gravity instabilitator. He snorted. Lex was a genius in business and a genius in science and definitely not a genius in naming his creations. Electrothanesia ray, anyone?

His phone rang and he reached for it. "Kent," he said absently, his concentration almost solely on trying to remember how to type when his fingers were not as fast as his mind was used to them being.

"What are you wearing?" The voice on the other end was low, smokey, and definitely not one he was expecting. Clark just about fell off his chair

"L-le—uh, I mean, Sandra?" he squeaked, remembering at the last moment that exclaiming the name of Lex Luthor in the Daily Planet newsroom was not exactly the best idea in the world. "Why are you calling me? At work?" Sounding like that?

Lex laughed at him and the sound tugged at something inside Clark. And outside as well, much to his overwhelming embarrassment. Kryptonians did not go around sporting wood! Forget about the dignity and the inherent superiority Jor-El had loftily told him of, it was almost a physical impossibility!

"Am I making you all hot and bothered?" Lex asked. The words were meant to be innocent, but the voice was anything but.

"Sandra," Clark grated.

"I'm sorry, are there people around you?" Lex asked, affecting surprise.

"I don't exactly have a private office!" he hissed, turning away from Lois and her all-too-interested ear. "What do you want?"

"I can't worry about you?" Lex all but purred. "I can't miss you?" His voice lowered even more. "I can't miss having you at my mercy?"

He turned even further from Lois, ignoring first her questioning look and, even worse, her knowing look.

He took a deep breath. "Sandra, was there anything you wanted to talk to me about?" he asked, trying to ignore the expressions on Lois's face. They ran the gamut from gleeful to knowing and he could really do without them and the questioning he would surely be under when his phone call ended.

Lex sighed again. "You never let me have any fun," he mourned.

"Sandra."

"Fine, fine." Lex sounded aggrieved and Clark wasn't sure he much liked this new, playful side to him. "Just wanted to let you know where we'll be having our barn-raising party tonight."

Clark blinked. Barn raising? Had he agreed to something in the heat of the moment? "Le-Sandra, what are you taking about?" he asked carefully.

Lex sniffed. "I was trying to help your cover," he said reproachfully.

Clark sighed in exasperation. "You're not the one in the middle of a newsroom," he reminded the other man.

"Fine, ruin my fun." If he didn't know better, he would have thought Lex was pouting. But since he did . . . . "There's been a slight change of plans, due to our esteemed general's interest in you and Hope having trouble deciding which playground she wants to play in most. She'll have made a decision by the time you leave work and we'll pick you up on our way to our playground."

Clark blinked. Okay, so he knew it wasn't a good idea to let the other Kryptonians get settled in, he just thought it would take longer than that for their plan to be put into motion. "And what about the blueprints?" he asked. "Were you able to figure out how it happened?"

"Possibly. I'll tell you more when we've picked you up." Clark rolled his eyes. Okay, understandable, his phone line was hardly secured, but it was annoying just the same. "So, what time do you think you can skive off at?"

Clark weighed the positives and negatives. Pos, he'd be with Lex. Pos, he wouldn't have to live with a wheedling Lois as she tried to find out just what he and his mysterious caller had been talking about. Neg, he'd only just come back to work; to take the rest of the day off would be wrong if he was only going to go to work of a different kind. Pos, he did kinda ache, so he had a ready-made excuse and it would be a shame not to use a bona fide excuse when he'd had to cobble together some many makeshift ones. Pos, Lex would be close enough to distract the way Lex had tried to distract him with the voice and the mental images and, and . . . .

Yeah, the positives had it.

"Gimme an hour to finish the article I'm working on," he said, tucking the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he started shoveling things into the desk drawer. He didn't think it would keep Lois from snooping through it, but there was the look of the thing to consider. "What should I look for?" Because if Lex drove up in one of his wildly customized cars, he, Clark, would withhold nookie until Lex realised how dangerous it would be to be so recognisable when one was trying to be in hiding at the same time.

"There's angels in the outfield," Lex said cryptically. And cornily, because, dear God, even Clark wouldn't make such a bad reference. "One hour. Don't be late." And then there was the click of the line disconnecting and he was alone on the line.

"You were working on that Halgo thing?" Lois asked. He nodded and she frowned at him. "Stop showing off for whoever was on the phone, Clark, that thing's nowhere near the writing stage and you know it. But, uh, I'll do some of that research for you," she added with transparent intent. "So you can make your appointment with . . . ?"

He grinned at her; now he had time to pick up a snack. Hmmm, pick up something to eat or try to beat Hope at the guess-the-lab game. "Nice try, Lois, but thanks for finishing for me anyway," he said, leaving off the paper-shoveling and hitting the power button on his computer. He had nothing open that needed saving, anyway, and it kept what there was on it out of sight of Lois' prying eyes. He winced when he smashed his finger against the desk when he tried to grab his cane, but managed to snag it on the second try.

"Ha ha," Lois said grumpily. "Hey, how long do you have to use that cane?"

"Concern, Lois?" he asked, slinging his coat over his shoulder. "From you? Tell me, are you feeling all right?"

She nodded sharply. "Concern for me," she said. "I want to know how long I have to keep dodging your 'accidental' swipes with it and don't think I don't know that's what they are."

"Whatever you say," he said, waving at her over his shoulder as he made good his escape.

Once outside and on the way to this neat little deli he'd found, he had time to wonder just how Lex was going to pick him up inconspicuously. If Lex even knew how to do inconspicuous.

 


"Yo! Kent!"

Startled, he looked up. No sleek sports car, no cunningly disguised Hope or Mercy, just a trio of bikers, Hell's Angels at that. One of them was waving at him.

"Kent! Get your ass over here!" The biker who had been waving at was apparently the person shouting at him as his—her?—waving redoubled when he looked. The biker in question lifted her visor and winked at him; he suppressed a sigh as he recognised Hope and walked over to them. "You ride with Red," she told, jerking her thumb over her shoulder at one of the other bikers. This one had long, curly red hair and he looked at her curiously. He didn't remember a redhead so high in Lex's employ. And then "Red" lifted her visor and Lex's blue eyes grinned at him. Mascara'd and eyeshadowed to a fare-thee-well, but undoubtedly Lex. His own eyes widened and he grinned back, moving to sling his leg over the back of Lex's bike.

"Nice hair!" he shouted over the roar of the engine as he tried to figure out how to carry his cane so it wouldn't threaten to clothesline anyone too close to them when they got going. He got a probably-not-accidental elbow in his side when Lex took the cane from his hand and slid it into a sort of scabbard thing. "So, we going the whole way like this?"

Lex either didn't hear him or didn't feel like answering, as he revved the engine and swerved away from the curb and into the street. Hope and, presumably, Mercy followed and Clark tried to loosen his grip from "death" to merely "secure". After almost a week of no invulnerability, he was none too keen to spend more time recuperating, which is what his body told him he would be doing if Lex didn't stop driving so damned recklessly.

This is another part of Lex from Smallville, he told himself. Maybe not a part you fell in love with, but you definitely recognise it and, oh, God, I wish he would slow down around corners!

 


Luckily for Clark's peace of mind, the bikes only lasted until they came upon another of Lex's supah sekrit hideouts. Clark knew he should be trying to remember how they'd made it there, but he was too busy being thankful he could, a, sit in a car and, b, sit in the backseat of the car with Lex and have someone other than Lex drive. Lex called him a spoilsport and a meanie, but shut up at the threat of revoked making-out privileges.

"I've never made out in the back seat of a car," Lex said, eyeing the space they had available to them with a view to how much they could do. Clark made a disbelieving sort of noise and Lex spared him a glance. "It's true," he insisted. "Limo, no question, but any other car, I was in the front seat, in the driver's seat," he stressed, "and we never even looked at the back."

"Probably because your cars all had nonexistent back seats," Clark muttered. He stretched out with a sigh. The car, although plebeian and unlovely to Lex's spoiled eyes, was spacious enough for even him to be comfortable in. "Did I ever tell you how cramped your cars in Smallville made me?"

Lex looked at him appraisingly. "I don't know," he said "Are you going to go on about parts again if I say yes?"

Clark sighed, exasperated. "Are you never going to let me live that down?" he demanded.

"Maybe, maybe not," Lex answered. "Are you going to make it worth my while?"

Clark made another exasperated noise before reaching across the space between them and pulling Lex closer. It helped that Lex let him; he knew he still had some sun soaking to do before he was fully powered. Lex let his body be arranged to Clark's satisfaction. They ended up with Lex sitting between Clark's legs and Clark's hands wandering over Lex's front. "How's this?" Clark asked, mildly sarcastic.

"Not quite right," Lex replied. While Clark gaped, he started the rearranging again, this time ending up pressed into a corner and Clark with his head in his lap.

"Is this a hint I should be taking?" Clark asked, amused. His smile widened as Lex scowled at him.

"Get some rest," the bald man commanded. "You've had a long day and we won't get there anytime soon."

Although he mumbled about motherhens and how corporate cutthroats weren't allowed to act like one, Clark got himself comfortable with his Lex-pillow and let himself relax into sleep.

 


Lex contemplated the dark head using his lap as a pillow. So trusting and, really, that was a quality he had often thought Clark had in too small a quantity. He ran his fingers through Clark's hair and didn't even get a shift. He didn't know if the wonder in that would ever fade. He didn't know if he would ever truly believe Clark loved him, as he had said. He was more than enough of a student at human nature to know that could cause problems down the road, if he allowed his—his lips twisted—insecurity to suggest "tests" of Clark's love, tests that would drive Clark away from him, love or no love.

It was strange that something as small and insignificant as a bunch of songs could have such a huge impact on their relationship. If you could apply that name to what they had shared before. Stranger still that Clark was so at ease with it, so . . . lacking suspicion. It would be a good time for any respectable criminal mastermind to put into motion several nefarious plots.

Lex sighed as he sat back. Obviously, he was going to have to return his doctorate in the discipline of nefariousness. A lack of belief was no reason to throw away everything he had dreamed could be in Smallville.

It was only when they were actually inside the building that housed their destination that he woke Clark. He hoped any lingering sleepiness would delay inconvenient questions and, more importantly, recognition as long as possible.

Clark woke so beautifully. He moved into Lex's caress and somehow turned that movement into a full-body stretch. That stretch ended with his hands reaching around Lex's head and bringing it down for a sleepy kiss. Captivating. It was a pity crime waited for no man.

He pulled away gently and watched with amusement the pout take shape on Clark's face.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to make faces or your face would freeze like that?" he murmured.

Clark stretched again, leaving him loose and warm and still sprawled over the car's seat and Lex. "Yeah," he answered, "but I figure being invulnerable has to count for something."

"Need I remind you you're not quite invulnerable at the moment?" Lex asked.

Clark considered this. "Nope, 'cause I'm not tied in knots from sleeping like this?"

Lex tried to sound affronted, but, really, there was only so much he could do to combat Clark's charm. "I hope you're not suggesting any of my cars, even such a deplorable one such as this, would ever be uncomfortable."

Clark smiled up at him and opened his eyes. "Are we there yet?" he asked impishly.

Lex frowned at him. "Would I be waking you if we weren't?"

"I dunno," Clark said. "I seem to remember someone saying something about me having to make something worth someone's while."

The door was opened forcefully, letting in a draft of significantly cooler air. "If the lovebirds are finished their little tete-a-tete, maybe we could all exit the vehicle so Mercy can hide it," Hope said, sugar and sweetness practically dripping from her voice.

"Sarcasm suits you," Lex said approvingly as Clark lifted his head from his legs and sat up. The bald man exited the backseat smoothly, despite the stiffness that came with a superhero napping and trying to cut off circulation. Clark was less smooth in his exit, although, since it ended up with him plastered against Lex's back, Lex wasn't sure if the stumble had been genuine or deliberate.

"So where's this lab we're usurping?" Clark asked, his voice echoing in the cavernous room.

"Just over there," he said, pointing.

"And we'll be able to just walk in without whoever's it is not noticing?" Clark asked skeptically.

Lex snorted. "Fine time to bring that up," he muttered. "And of course we will. Just because it's the best lab for the purpose doesn't mean it's the lab with the best security." And it didn't mean it wasn't, either, but Hope and Mercy lived for challenges like these. "Let Hope and Mercy go first."

Clark turned his head so their eyes could meet. "I thought you said it didn't have the best security," he said seriously.

"I did not," Lex said evenly, breaking away and heading towards the door he had pointed to. Hope was already there, doing what she did best.

Clark caught up to him and grabbed his arm, pulling him around. "Lex? Whose lab is this?" It wasn't quite a demand or accusation, but it was clear Clark wouldn't be put off.

"You've been here before, I presume," Lex said coolly, tugging his arm free, although he made no move to continue on to Hope. He kept his eyes focused just past Clark's ear, enough to see any movements the man made, but not enough to be able to register any emotions but the most powerful

"I have?" Clark asked, puzzled. He stared at the ceiling for a moment. "You know, it does feel familiar." He took in the whole of the room slowly while Lex contemplated the effects of sleep on a Kryptonian's perfect memory. Clark turned perplexed eyes on Lex. "Lex? Are we in the Bat Cave?"

"He should have called it the Chiropteran Cave," he muttered. A quick glance at Clark's face showed, staggeringly, a grin forming.

"You just like alliteration," Clark teased. "But, Lex . . . really? We're in the Bat Cave?" A single nod was enough for Clark to start bouncing—as if he were eight years old!—with excitement. "This is so cool. Bruce never lets me play with his toys!"

It was with relief, tinged with no small confusion about Clark's bewildering behaviour, that Lex said dryly, "And we're not letting you play with them, either."

Clark turned pleading eyes on him, his mouth turned down in a pout again. "Aw, c'mon, Lex. Please? I promise I won't break anything!" He looked around again. "Hey, d'you think he would mind if I took the Batmobile out for a test drive?"

Lex took Clark by the elbow and started steering him towards the door Hope had just opened. "I'm sure he would mind immensely."

Clark sighed. "Spoilsport!" he accused. "How about his Batsuit? D'you think I'd look good in black?"

"Your shoulders are too wide to fit," Lex said unkindly. "And, no, you can't play on his computers, either."

"Then what am I supposed to do while you guys have all the fun?"

Lex ignored the puppy dog eyes. "There are other ways you can be useful," he said. Clark's elbow in his hand was replaced with Clark's hand and fingers which drew . . . interesting patterns on his hand. Lex ignored that, too.

"I'm sure I could think of a few ways I can be useful," Clark said, his voice gone throaty and low. That was harder to ignore, but Lex went at it with a will.

"You'll be helping us," he told Clark. He narrowed his eyes. "And not with blowjobs or handjobs or any other type of sexual activity, so stop flinging innuendoes around."

The sigh Clark heaved this time was clearly fake. "But how can I help you?" he asked. "After all, I'm just a pretty face without a speck of grey matter between my ears." He paused, then added, "Unless it's rock."

Lex pivoted himself behind Clark and pushed him through the door. "Status?" he asked Hope as they passed her.

"Everything's okey-dokey, bossman," she said cheerfully, ignoring his quelling look. He didn't need Clark's whimsicalisms infecting everyone. "Mercy's on her way and, by all reports, Mouseman is busy playing the debauched playboy tonight with Puss-in-Leather." She leered. "They're playing hide-and-seek," she added brightly.

He wondered again why he had hired her. Right, because she and Mercy came as a package deal nowadays and she hadn't had that smart mouth before the package deal thing had happened. A nod was all the answer he gave her as he hustled Clark down the bare hall. He wondered if it would really hurt all that much to let Clark loose with a bucket of paint and an infantile sense of humour; he decided to leave the decision until he could see how much the owner of the facilities would overreact to a little harmless corporate espionage. In the event of a truly bad reaction, he ran over the formulas for some long-lasting paints; glow-in-the-dark, possibly, to better show up against the unrelieved black.

"We'll be working in here," he said, pushing a door on the left open and directing Clark inside. Clark, of course, stopped short.

"Do you think he's compensating for something?" Clark asked unexpectedly. The room was, once again, larger than it probably had to be, the walls undecorated only with various pieces of technology, most of which Lex recognised with a glance. The ones he didn't, he more than looked forward to getting acquainted with them.

"He's claustrophobic," Lex replied absently. "No doubt from whatever childhood accident left him with the deep and sincere psychosis about bats."

"But why would he have it all black?" Clark asked. "It only makes it all seem . . . smaller."

Lex shrugged. "It probably has something to do with his elemental dislike of any weakness," he said. He left Clark at the door and headed for the imaging table with barely suppressed excitement. As he thought, it was far more advanced than the one AR Labs had obtained and he yearned to be able to open it up and see what modifications it had. However, it was need in one piece more than he needed to satisfy his curiousity.

"I think I might be jealous," Clark remarked at his side, where he had appeared, unnoticed by Lex. "My mom said the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, but I think I'm going to have to use a different approach with you, Lex."

"I don't ask for much," Lex said, quickly bringing the table online and preparing four consoles around it for use; it was obvious the extra consoles had been added after installation, but he couldn't see any reason to think they would not work just as well as the original one.

Clark sidled closer to him. "I have a healing matrix," he breathed into Lex's ear. "You'll see it, when we go there. And I have a komshon, a matter generator. You could feast on the food of Krypton or you could find out what a true sunfire looked like."

The litany of technological marvels Clark was reciting was almost as distracting as the hot breath in his ear. Lex tried to ignore him, but that only made Clark bring his hands into play.

"Hey, Superstud! Leave off with your seduction thing and let us get to work!" It was with relief he heard Hope berating a suddenly sheepish Clark and he completed his preparations as she and Mercy joined them.

"The plans?" Lex asked. Mercy flipped the discs to him and he loaded them one by one. Once everyone was seated—Clark's hands, for once, behaving—Lex brought up the latest design schematics of the gravity instabilitator. "This is the problem," he said, looking around the imaging table. "This device was supposed to nullify gravity; instead, it created a short-lived intense gravitational field not unlike that of a black hole and, presumably, connected to the so-called Phantom Zone and released five Kryptonians without harm."

Mercy tapped the edge of the table. "Do we know they weren't harmed in their release?" she asked.

Lex turned to look at Clark, who was frowning. "It's possible," he allowed, "but it's more probable that it didn't, for some reason. After all, they hardly could have been invulnerable when they arrived here; there's no sunlight in the Phantom Zone."

"Are we sure of that?" Lex asked.

Clark tipped a hand back and forth. "The Kryptonians of my time were hardly poets," he said. "Whatever they saw, that's what it was. The very name of the Zone suggests that, if there was sunlight, it would be dim, a phantom or ghost, if you will, of its normal self."

Hope raised her hand. "Bubble-popping time!" she said. "Do we know the GI caused this?"

Mercy shook her head. "No," she said, "but all intelligence points to it being caused by somewhere in North America and AR Labs was the only one doing even halfway competent work with gravity."

"You have such a high opinion of my hiring standards," Lex said dryly. "Also," to Hope, "so far, this is the only lead we have."

"I have to admit, I did feel the GI's effects," Clark said. "Not enough to slow me to a standstill, but enough to make itself felt."

"And if we open a blackhole, mini or not, in the middle of the White House, how is it going to help if we're only slowing them down?" Hope asked.

Clark shook his head. "I didn't go into the GI's field of effect," he said. "I'm not sure I would have been able to escape its event horizon if I had."

"That's assuming it was actually a blackhole," Mercy put in, "and not just a very strong gravitational force."

"Whatever it was, it ate a hole in the ground and left not a trace of anything that had been part of that hole before," Clark said.

"Okay. Elementary physics," Lex said. "The space-time continuum is malleable." He ignored the "Elementary, my sweet aunt Fanny" from Clark. "I am, of course, dumbing this down for those of us who slept through physics in high school." He also ignored the indignant "Hey!" from the resident super alien. "Whatever dimension the Phantom Zone is, it's possible the GI connected it to ours when it went critical." He looked around the table. "Good enough to actually start working?" he asked pointedly. With the affirmatives from the others, they started.

"This resonator," Clark said after a while, bringing the relevant part into greater detail. "Is it supposed to be generating so much magnetic activity?" He pushed away from the imaging table a bit. "Geez, I'm surprised cars weren't trying to go through the walls to get to it!"

Mercy brought up another portion and set it beside the resonator. "This is supposed to be dampening it," she said.

Clark squinted at the relationship between the two. "But it won't," he said, faintly surprised. "See? Here. And here. These need to be connected if it's going to do any good."

"And nothing else was supposed to dampen it?" Lex asked. Mercy shook her head. He thought on it, frowning. "Run it through a simulation," he ordered. "I want to see how much magnetic activity it will produce."

Hope raised an eyebrow and drawled, "Shouldn't they have done that before they tried it out?"

Clark hid a grin. "I think this is the place we bash Lex's hiring practices again," he suggested.

Lex scowled at him. "Simulation," he reminded Clark. "I want to see what sort of interferences that will throw out.

Clark, his grin still barely hidden, obediently run it.

"Again."

It was on the third run-through that Lex found something worth looking at. "Again," he said, "but focus on the interaction between the resonator and its dampener."

Hope blinked. "Uh, there kinda isn't one," she told him.

She got a quick grin in reply. "That remains to be seen," he said. "Simulation?" Clark sighed, but started the simulation again.

Mercy saw it first. "There," she said, stabbing the image triumphantly. "Somehow, there is a relationship between them, but instead of dampening the magnetic field, it looks like it's increasing it."

Clark frowned. "But there was no significant magnetic field when I got there," he protested. "Trust me," he added, "I'd know."

"Next project," Lex announced. "Finding out what's re-directing it and where it's being redirected to."

 


"Smallville." He twitched away from the pokey thing that was poking him. "Smallville!" Maybe if he didn't respond, the predator would think he was dead and leave him alone. It sounded like the predator who would prefer fresh blood over scavenging. "Smallville! Wake up!"

He jerked awake, sending pens clattering and papers fluttering. A frightening sight greeted him and he tried to scramble away from it, managing to tip his chair over, dump himself on the floor, and kick his waste bucket. Crash bang boom.

He blinked. The frightening sight laughed at him and retreated, resolving into Lois' face. A flash of light tried to blind him and he saw Jimmy over Lois' shoulder.

"Wha—?"

"Done kicking the bucket?" Lois asked, amused.

Clark scowled at her after he stood up. He wanted to ask her how awake she'd be is she'd spent the night before trying to decipher bad engineering after a full day's work and then going in for another day, but instead righted his chair and seated himself again.

"What do you want, Lois?" he groused. An inconspicuous movement beaned Jimmy right in the forehead with a chunk of eraser. He made of point of keeping eviscerated erasers around just for that sort of thing.

"I thought you might like to know whoever 382-5968 is has been calling every five minutes for the last half hour." She paused, then said solemnly, "That's not a very nice number, Clark. I find it offensive."

He sighed and reached a hand for his phone. As he'd expected, no voicemail, but Lois had said every five minutes, so he had at most that long to wait to hear what Lex wanted. "You're just offended you don't have it," he said as he picked up what he could off the floor. He laid his forehead on his desk for a moment and sighed. His fall hadn't hurt him, not really, and he had hoped it meant his powers were finally back, but, since he'd just given himself a papercut, it didn't seem likely.

"Where's the story on Halgo?" she asked, changing the subject. Not because she was embarrassed to be found wanting a phone number that would say to all and sundry a resounding "fuck you", but because she couldn't be bothered to deny it.

Halgo, darn. He gestured at the floor. "You're looking at it," he said.

She tsked and bent down to help him pick up the papers. "Do you have everything here?" she demanded.

He widened his eyes and made a grab for the papers. "Lois, no," he said, trying to be firm. "You are not going to kindly and considerately type up my story for me." The last time she'd done that, he hadn't been able to find it in the paper. She had gone in a totally different direction and, somehow, had managed to turn it into yet another piece about Superman, but, for a fluff piece—all Perry had wanted, as demeaning as it was—it had failed. He'd had to endure a talk from Perry about how he shouldn't let Lois bully him and he hadn't even been able to say, "Well, sorry, sir, I was trying to keep an earthquake from happening for long enough for people to get out". He'd only been able to look serious and earnest and nod and swallow down any protests he might have had.

"I'm trying to be nice here," she protested, holding the papers out of his reach. She tried a hurt look on him. "I wouldn't want my beloved partner, so recently injured, to be short of the sleep he so desperately needs," she said, almost sincere enough to fool him. "Admit it, Smallville, you fell in love at first sight at the hospital and the guy followed you home for some hot and heavy sex."

"Uh, still injured here," he said, nudging at his cane. It, of course, fell over and he repressed a sigh. This had not been his day from the moment he'd accidentally crushed his alarm clock with a burst of superstrength. Yeah, he could control his powers, but it was hard to judge what kind of effort he'd need to do practically anything when he didn't know between one moment and the next if he would be as meek as a human or as outrageously strong as a sun-hyped Kryptonian. He didn't even want to think about using superspeed until his powers decided to stop playing hide-and-seek; he still remembered the little gouges and dips in concrete before he learned how to push off lightly as a child.

He looked up to find her watching him. "What?" he asked, He felt at his face; nope, his glasses were still there. His shoulders and chest were clear of any fallen food or weird ink splotches. She was still looking at him. "What?!"

"Go home," she said. He clutched the mess of his notes to his chest and she rolled her eyes, snatching them from his regrettably human grasp and shuffling them into the handful she already had. "I promise I won't touch your precious story," she snapped, "but it's as obvious as the glasses on your face that you need sleep and, for some incredibly kinky reason I, of course, don't want to know about, you haven't been getting it. Sleep," she lectured, "is what you need to heal." No, sunlight was, but he'd had a surfeit of and, well, maybe what he needed after all was time. Lois frowned at him. "Go. Home," she said, enunciating each word carefully. "You have sick days left over, Lord knows how, and Halgo can wait another day; he's not exactly going to go anywhere. Get some sleep and come back to work tomorrow, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed." She dumped the papers on his desk and moved around it to her own. "And tell your nursemaid boyfriend to let you sleep," she ordered, stabbing a finger at him. "Constant sex is not a cure-all, no matter what he told you."

His eyes were the ones rolling this time. "For your information, it wasn't love at first sight in the hospital," he said with dignity as he rose and left. It wasn't exactly a lie, as it hadn't been in any fictitious hospital that he'd fallen in love with Lex. He wasn't quite sure about the "at first sight" part—if he had, he'd spent a number of years being willfully blind—but at least what he had said hadn't been a lie.

 


"What're we doing tonight?" Clark asked, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They had commandeered the Bat Cave and its exceptionally well-equipped equipment for their work and Lex, having taken offense at Clark's cheerfulness, was wondering if some of the exceptional equipment could be used towards discovering a way to shut annoying aliens up.

"We're considering how best to dissect that bloody attitude out of you," Hope told him, glaring.

Clark looked confused. "What attitude? I thought I was being nice!"

"Yeah, well, some of us didn't have nice co-workers who let us skive off work to take a nap," she grumbled.

"It's not my fault Lois sometimes remembers she has a heart," he protested, hiding a grin.

"You just keep your cheer to yourself or I'll tell Lois you said that," she threatened.

Lex rapped his fist on the edge of the imaging table and glared pointedly at both of them. "Are we both finished?" he asked acidly. "Because we have a serious situation here."

"I'm done," Clark said immediately, sitting up straight and looking angelically innocent. Far too innocent for the types of things he'd done to Lex while they, once again, made their way from Metropolis to Gotham, which was yet another black mark against him.

Hope looked like she wished she could use her gun on Clark or, at least, that she had some paper she could make into spitballs. "I'm ready, I'm ready."

"Where did we leave off last time?" Lex asked as he brought up the schematics for the gravity instabilitator.

"Something happen to your memory?" Clark asked, solicitous. "Is boredom dulling poor Lexie-wexie's brain?"

"Maybe I should ask the same of your brain," Lex returned evenly, "since you trying to match wits with me is like an ant trying to stand up to a nuke." Mercy and Hope applauded politely while Clark gaped. "I was trying to be discreet in bringing you up to speed. Mercy, if you would be so kind?"

"We found the component the magnetic field was being dumped into," the blonde told Clark. Lex brought up the three components of the GI identified so far as anomalous. "The CPU took the load; somehow, the combination of its original configuration and the warping power of the supercharged magnetic field created . . . something?"

Clark stared at the three-dimensional image for a moment. "Wow. Wait, something?"

Lex shrugged. "Something," he confirmed. "We think it interacted with the forcefield generator that was to create the anti-gravity field in such a way as to reverse its purpose and create a well of gravity."

Clark gave a low whistle in appreciation of the work that had been done while he'd been pretending to have a normal life. "Anything else?" he asked.

"We were going to see what happened when we took away everything but the resonator, the dampener, and the CPU," Lex said, "but, unfortunately, we had to break for a nap under threat of Hope throwing a tantrum."

Clark slanted a glance at Hope and his lips quirked, but nary a sound passed them.

"And that's right, Superclown, keep your opinions on what you find funny to yourself," the black woman snapped.

"I wouldn't dream of saying anything," he assured her earnestly. He wasn't able to duck the hand Hope sent flying towards him. He turned plaintive eyes on Lex. "Lex! She hit me!"

"I won't tell you again not to tease Hope," Lex told him. "And you got even less than what you deserved, so don't go looking for sympathy from me." He gestured to the components on the imaging table. "Shall we?" When everyone carefully kept their mouths shut, he started the simulation.

"Well," Clark said after the simulation had ended, "that was an interesting explosion."

"No comments from the peanut gallery," Hope said absently as she checked the data the simulation had provided. "Although that is not to say, wow, interesting boom."

"I like it when things go boom," Mercy Graves, demolitions expert, volunteered. It netted her a dirty look or three.

"So, where do we go from here?" Clark asked. He poked at the imaging table. Somehow, from the fierceness of the simulated explosion, he had expected it to be in smoking ruins, not perfect condition.

"We start with everything again and systematically take one piece out until it stops blowing out," Lex decreed.

"Oh, you mean like we should have been doing until someone decided we should skip ahead?" Clark asked,

"Sometimes, in order to advances, sacrifices must be made," Lex said loftily. "As time is the thing we have least of, I sacrificed some of the unimportant steps in order to give us more."

Clark stared meaningfully at the still-smoking simulation. "I dunno, Lex," he said. "They kinda look like pretty important steps to me."

Lex shut down the simulation with a few quick keystrokes and brought up the GI's schematic again. "What shall we cut first?" he asked, ignoring Clark.

 


Clark looked around his apartment, eyes narrowed. Lex had called him earlier, at work, something about a change of plans, but that all would be explained when they met. At his apartment. Which was empty.

He checked the time again. Nope, he wasn't significantly earlier than he normally would be—an eagerness to see Lex was the only reason he was "early" at all—and Lex made a point of being on time unless there was something to be gained by being late. Truthfully, from what the other man had said over the phone, Clark had half-expected to see a naked Lex behind the door, just waiting to pounce on him, and had done a pre-emptive scan of the apartment before he'd even entered the building. Nothing and it wasn't his powers—fully returned just this morning—on the fritz again, as his apartment was just as empty when he had made a physical walkthrough. He tugged at his tie, wandering a little forlornly through the rooms.

He'd tried the number on his call display already—382-5968 and he still had to grin at Lois' reaction when she'd seen it—but the phone-lady only said, "I'm sorry, this number is not in service. Please hang up and try your call again."

And then he stopped dead and gave his head a smack. Duh! He had superpowers! Almost every conceivable one, including superhearing! It wasn't easy to open up his hearing to search for one particular sound and it was never pleasant, but he had done it before and it would let him know where Lex was. Maybe he had misunderstood Lex's message and they were supposed to meet somewhere else.

First, the sounds of his block; he had never really had the knack of narrowing his "field" of hearing more than that. Swiftly, he increased the "field", letting his hearing range out over the whole of Metropolis. No Lex-sound there, which was a bit puzzling, but he wouldn't put it past the man to already know his powers had returned and arrange to meet somewhere less suspicious. Increase again. The whole of Kansas reverberated inside his head; laughter, shouts, screams. Cars, planes, crickets, and cats. Increase again. The Midwest was his to hear and he wasn't hearing what he wanted to. Again. Most of the states, some of Canada, and finally, finally, Lex's voice.

"—ink you're seriously mistaken if you think I won't be missed." Lex using his bad-ass, "don't dare to bother me or I'll ruin you, your friends, your friends' neighbours, and your friends' neighbours' friends" voice. Clark was glad he could freely admit it kinda made him . . . hot to hear it. He worked on narrowing his focus, hearing Lex and whoever was near him, using that and a thousand other things to tell him where Lex was.

"I think you're mistaken in the amount of influence one human can have." Cruel voice, dark, and he'd heard it before. The self-styled Dru Zod. "Come now, Lex Lu-Thor"—with the almost unnoticeable inflection that implied, well, considering his family name, not very nice things—"all you need do is swear you won't act against me as you did Kal-El and I will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams." His clothes almost removed themselves before Superman took to the air again. They were in DC somewhere, which almost made sense. A few hours behind, which was the damn curse of superhearing that couldn't compensate for the speed of sound, but Lex was still alive. He had to still be alive.

Lex had the audacity to laugh. "Clearly you have no idea who you're talking to," he replied, more than confident he would come out, as always, on top. "My wildest dreams were surpassed almost a week ago, despite your meddling, and there is nothing you can offer me."

"I can offer you your life." Said a with a quiet lethality that made Clark put on a burst of speed. The words came faster the closer he got, hours compressed into minutes, seconds, and he heard flesh connecting to flesh interspersed, but Lex was still alive and he could only hope he would stay that way as the lag between what was said there and what he heard here decreased ever more dramatically. And then he was there, almost absently curving around guards and dodging figures that almost seemed slow to him. A breathless moment as he stopped long enough to gather a kneeling Lex into his arms and then it was a three-sixty out of there. He couldn't move as fast, of course, with Lex in his arms, but, for some reason, the pursuit behind them wasn't much of one.

And there was only one safe place to go, one place he knew would have kryptonite, knew hadn't been compromised by an alien presence, and he took them there.

"My—Clark?" Lex sounded startled and with good reason. One minute, he had been facing down Zod and the next, the gloom of the Bat Cave was surrounding him.

"Are you all right?" Clark asked him, checking him over with x-ray, first bone, then muscles, with the additional concentration needed to see layers of flesh and not just bone.

"Clark, what are you doing here?" Lex asked, pushing him away just a little. Clark let him and the bald man started straightening his clothes as he looked around. "Correction: What are we doing here?"

"I was worried when you didn't show," Clark said, checking him again. No stiffness in his movements, no catches; Zod had obviously considered him important enough to keep stop his underlings from getting overly enthusiastic with the physical "encouragement" he had heard. He gave Lex a stern look. "I'm pretty sure you would have told me what you were planning if you had planned to go head-to-head with Zod."

"I'm pretty sure you're right," Lex said, grinning up at him. "His flunkies caught up with me and took me to see him."

"What did he want?" Clark demanded, late-rising fear trying to choke him.

"He wanted—" Lex broke off and looked around them. "Actually, this probably isn't the best place for this. I need to make a call and you need to find some clothes." He looked at Clark with a loooong look up and down, more than sufficient to make him blush even if he'd been wearing the most unrevealing potato sack. With his uniform, however . . . . "I didn't think rescues were done in the nude," Lex added with a wicked look in his eyes, "but I haven't had to be rescued for some time, so I suppose things could have changed."

Clark looked down and promptly went scarlet. He was too used to wearing his uniform under his clothes, that much was certain. He hadn't been wearing it since he had returned to his apartment, due to the whole lack of powers thing and also to Lex unapologetically confiscating them "only while Zod and his flunkies are here, Clark, I promise". He tugged at Lex's jacket while Lex was busy on his phone. Lex obviously didn't connect his state of nakedness with the tugging of the coat and obligingly let Clark take it off of him. If he had, Clark was sure he would refuse him the security of the coat, just on principle.

It didn't really do much, Clark found out as he did up the buttons for a scant shield between the world and his dangly bits, even though the suit jacket had lengthened a fair amount since the last time he'd worn a good one. He ran his hands over his butt, trying to make sure everything was covered.

"Bossie Team, this is Bossie Bull," Lex was saying briskly into his phone, no trace of embarrassment at what he was saying. "The Prod is alert; commence Operation: Cowgirl."

"What sort of thing have you just put into motion?" Clark asked as Lex hung up, more curious than anything. "Bossie? Prod? They don't sound very evil mastermind-ish."

"That only shows how much you know," Lex told him, grinning. Then he sobered. "It was to get your mother to safety, Clark," he said. "They found me in your apartment, but it was obvious they came there for you. I don't know," he added swiftly as Clark tensed, "if they came for Clark Kent or for Superman."

"I should go there," Clark said, looking towards the Bat Cave's exit. Lex's hand on his arm stopped him.

"My people have it in hand," Lex told him. "And, from what Zod was saying, he doesn't remember when he possessed my body. And if he doesn't remember that, why should he remember Clark Kent has the same powers as Kal-El?" Clark was still visibly conflicted. "Trust me. Please?"

Clark relaxed minutely. "I do," he said, turning to Lex again. "Trust you."

Lex relaxed as well. "God knows why," he muttered.

Clark swung an arm over Lex's shoulder. "What can I say?" he asked breezily. "It took the power of song to make me see things in a different light! Oof!" He pretended to be hurt when Lex elbowed him. "Lex . . . ?" His voice was hesitant again. "My mom will be all right. Won't she?"

"She will," Lex said firmly. "It's just a precaution and the team I have with her has instructions to treat her as they would me."

"Gee, that reassures me," Clark muttered. "Your security tends to, a, turn on you or, b, be totally ineffectual at keeping you away from serious situations."

"That's only because I'm a genius and they're not," Lex returned sharply. "And I haven't had loyalty problems since I left Smallville."

"Yeah, uh-huh, sure." Clark looked around. "Say, where're Mercy and Hope? Shouldn't they be putting me down about now?"

Lex let out a beleaguered sigh and shrugged off Clark's arm. "That's why I wanted to meet you," he said pointedly. "Something came up—besides Zod and his merry little band," he added sharply. "We had to change location."

"Why? What's wrong with this—"

"What the hell?!"

"—one?"

Lex glared at Clark. "That," he said, pointing to the barely visible figure, high up on the Bat Cave's wall. "The rodent infestation."

 


"Let me get this straight," Bruce Wayne said slowly. "Superman isn't dead, but he, you were beaten to within an inch of your life. Luthor rescued you and nursed you back to life. And now you think you have a way to get the other Kryptonians out of the way without Luthor putting a glowing green bullet in their brain." He sat back and steepled his hands in front of his face. "And just where did the sex come in?"

"Sex?" Clark exclaimed unconvincingly. "Who said anything about sex?"

Lex winced and muttered, "Thank you for confirming his suspicions, Clark." To Bruce, he said, "I compliment you on your taste, Wayne. You have a truly prodigious range of scotch."

"You know how it is," Bruce replied, elaborately casual. "Scotch is the must-have drink of the criminal mastermind and I hate to disappoint."

"Touche."

"Tell me, Clark," Bruce began, "did anyone ever tell you about the no fraternization with enemies rule?"

Lex snorted quietly into his scotch. "Yes," he replied for Clark, "but when the person doing the telling is also doing the disregarding, it's hard for it to stick."

"I didn't ask you," Bruce snapped. He scrubbed a hand over his face. "Just . . . Clark, what are you thinking this is going to do? Sure, he'll help get rid of Zod and his friends, but what's to stop him from doing the same to you after?"

"I'm still here, you know!" Lex protested, then held up a hand when Bruce opened his mouth again. "I know, I know, you weren't talking to me."

Clark waited until the two of them had finished their posturing. "You won't like this, Bruce," he said seriously, "but, the fact of the matter is, I know him. Probably better than anyone else could. I've been his friend, I've been his enemy . . . . Neither of them really worked out, you see?"

"And that's a reason to invite him into your bed?"

"You know, I'd think you weren't getting any," Clark said, letting a touch of sternness creep into his voice, "with all the complaining you've been doing. Besides, what business is it of yours? I don't ask you when you got the cat that's been clawing at you, do I?"

Bruce didn't blush, but that was more because it was Bruce than anything else. "It became my business when you broke into my Cave and made free with my equipment."

Clark rolled his eyes. "And you've never broken into my Fortress, huh? Sorry to tell you this, Bruce, but alien technology doesn't quite react the way human would; I still have those pesky clips of you inside."

"That's different," Bruce said crisply. "I had to make sure you weren't planning to annihilate Earth and remake it into your image."

"What's different," Lex said, re-entering the conversation suddenly and overriding the protest Clark was about to make, "is that we were making use of the best of the available resources in a bad situation, rather than indulging in a fit of paranoia and doing a bit of a peeping tom."

"And what was wrong with using some other hero's stronghold?" Bruce asked, gesturing at Clark.

Lex stared at him. "Tell me you did not say that," he said at last. "I should use alien technology, when the aliens who built it are in power? Somehow, that doesn't seem like a good idea to me."

Bruce nodded slightly, conceding the point. "What is your plan?" he asked at last.

Clark opened his mouth, but Lex beat him to it. "Why should we welcome the inclusion of a caped crusader?" he asked, sneering slightly.

"You already have one," Bruce said in a reasoning manner. "And more heads are better." He paused, then added casually, "I might be persuaded to allow you to use my . . . facilities."

"We'll need to discuss this," Lex said at last, coldly. "If you will excuse us?"

Bruce waved a hand, hiding a small smile. "Just close the door on the way out."

"I have half a mind to leave it open and unlocked," Lex grumbled when he and Clark were outside.

"You're the one who said it was the best lab to use," Clark reminded him.

"No, I didn't," Lex corrected haughtily. "Hope did; every other lab just happened to have something inconvenient about it."

"Just admit it, Lex, you wanted to yank his chain," Clark teased, turning the other man to face him. "Here, step on my toes."

"I will admit nothing of the kind," Lex retorted, allowing Clark to manhandle him and stepping forward when directed. He looped his arms around Clark's neck and didn't clutch too much harder when Clark rose into the air. "I guess this means your powers have returned," he said, his long-standing dislike of heights showing only in the slightly tightened grip around Clark's neck.

"Yeah, woke up this morning floating over my bed," Clark replied easily as he lifted them higher. "That gave me kinda a hint." So had the calling of the faithful to prayer—from the other side of the world.

"Dreaming of me?"

Clark nuzzled forward, breathing in Lex's scent. "Better believe it. Hold on, I need to speed up."

 


"If we're going to do this," Lex said without preamble, "we're going to do it my way."

Bruce leaned back in his chair. "Oh?" he asked. "And how does using my equipment, in my home, give you all the power?"

"I know how Zod and his wannabe bullies came to Earth," Lex said, "and I know how to get rid of them."

"So you don't need my equipment after all?"

"Theoretically," Lex qualified. Reluctantly, Bruce thought. "Dammit, Wayne, stop yanking my chain. If you won't help, that's fine, but don't dangle your 'superior' technology in front of me like a carrot."

Bruce sat up straight. Now they were getting down the business. "And how can I help you?" he asked with exaggerated politeness.

Lex made a rude noise. "Remember what I just said about yanking my chain?" he asked acidly. Bruce made a sound of assent. "Then stop it. Geez, anyone who says Batman doesn't have a sense of humour has no perception at all."

Bruce sat up straight. "This isn't a secured line," he bit out.

"Oh, of course it is, Wayne," Lex said disdainfully. "Did you think I was going to call you without taking appropriate precautions? Now, about my way . . . ."

Bruce made himself relax again. "Who do you need?"

"Yourself and the Flash," Lex replied. "I will, of course, be bringing Clark and two others. Feel free to add another member or two of your playgroup to balance out all the 'evil' in your lair."

Faintly, he heard Clark say, "Hey, the Justice League is hardly a daycare!" Lex, of course, ignored the interruption. Bruce wondered that Clark had thought it would do any good.

"You're sure about the Flash?" Bruce asked. "He's not the most . . . steadfast of people."

"You okayed his admission to the playground," Lex said, "and I'll have need of him."

"Tonight, then," Bruce said to the dial tone when Lex hung up on him without, of course, waiting for acknowledgement. Bruce hung up on his end and regarded the phone for a moment. Lex would play his games, of course. At least he would be there to watch over them this time.

 


"So," Wally said, nudging Clark in the side, "what'm I here for?"

Clark shrugged and grinned. "No clue," he admitted. "Whatever Lex has planned, he's keeping it close to his chest."

Wally shook his head. "Man, who woulda thought we'd be teaming up with Luthor, huh? And against Kryptonians? Kinda blows your mind, doesn't it?"

"Lex isn't that bad," Clark protested.

"Yeah, when he's getting regular nookie. Say, do billionaires do it, y'know, differently?"

"Yeah," Clark replied dryly. "The leather and feathers and exotic oils were a bit of a surprise at first, but now I just about take them in my stride."

Wally gaped at him, momentarily still. "Really?"

Clark laughed at him. "No, not really," he told Wally. "What do you think we're doing all day? Trying to think up ways to defeat Zod or having kinky sex?"

Wally sidled closer. "I gotta tell you this," he confided. "The Bat thinks maybe Luthor could be brainwashing you or something, 'cause you guys've spent so much time tryin' to stop each other."

Clark nodded. He'd expected something of the kind. He even found himself wondering about it, sometimes, how everything had changed so swiftly. It was all well and good to attribute it to the power of song, but it was altogether something else to actually believe it. "I'm pretty sure he's not brainwashing me," was all he could say. "I can see how it would look, two enemies suddenly cooperating in the face of a greater threat, but, honestly, there's no way any of us can know until Zod is taken care of and we can see what happens when things return to normal. For what it's worth, though, I don't think he has."

"Yeah, like Bats will accept that," Wally sighed, tapping his fingers on his thigh.

"Sorry?"

Wally shook his head. "Nah, I understand," he reassured Clark. "Besides, who's not to say you two haven't found true love after all? I mean, it's such a small, thin line between love and hate, right? And who was it who said the course of love never did run smooth?"

"That would be Shakespeare," Clark said dryly. "And one could argue he was writing what his audience wanted to hear when he said that."

"Yeah, whatever you say, Big Blue."

Before Clark could ask Wally again not to call him that, Lex caught his attention.

"If you're done gossiping about our sex life, we need you over here," the bald man called.

Clark made a what-can-you-do face at Wally, but went. "What's needed, pearl of my heart?" he asked.

"If that's a comment on my lack of hair, it lacks imagination," Lex said evenly. "If it's a comment on all the irritation we've caused each other, be sure that your 'pearl' is much, much larger than mine. And now that we're done being flowerful and just-so-in-love-with-each-other, I wasn't kidding when I said we need you."

Clark sighed. "Fine, fine, no more hyperbole. What d'you need?"

"Advice. Research. Knowledge. Kryptonians, for some strange reason, are not well known. What makes them tick? How can they be slowed down once they've drunk of the yellow sun? Tips, tricks, and brazen in-your-face tactics are needed."

Clark frowned. "And you haven't uncovered anything useful in all the years we've been opposed?" he asked.

"Of course I have," Lex said disdainfully. "I just want to know what else I can incapacitate you with."

"Ha, ha, so funny I forgot to laugh." Clark took a moment to think. "Do you have anything of Victor Fries here?" he asked Bruce. Or, rather, Batman, as Bruce Wayne had obviously felt unequal to the task and had dressed up. He was, sadly, the only one. Everyone else had come in street clothes.

"Some," Batman replied cautiously. "What are you thinking of?"

Clark looked at Lex. "You should remember this," he told the bald man. "First year you were in Smallville, the first time you tried to get my parents to let you refinance the farm. Sean Kalvin, the boy who made, however briefly, a skating pond out of your lake."

"Heat-sucker," Lex said thoughtfully. "Ice. Are you saying he slowed you down?"

Clark ran his fingers through his hair and grinned wryly. "There was a reason I left Lana to go to the concert alone," he half-answered. "Anyway, Sean got to me and, well, froze me solid. Said I had enough heat to keep him going for a while." He shuddered. "I think I'd rather be toasted than frozen," he said. "I'm just glad I didn't fall over and shatter."

"About how long do you think you were immobile?" Lex asked, watching him thoughtfully.

"Mmmm, maybe five, ten minutes," Clark replied.

"And how long did it take for Sean to drain you?"

Clark shrugged. "Maybe . . . a minute? Two or three? It took him longer, I gather, than it would have if I had been a normal person."

Lex looked over to Batman. "If we had a few pieces of Victor Fries' technology," he said, "we may be able to hold them still long enough to trap them."

Batman considered it before inclining his head to the side. He and Lex walked off to a seemingly blank wall. Clark x-rayed it and saw an exhibit of sorts behind the wall Batman was now taking Lex behind. He thought about making a mock threat about no nookie, but reconsidered that, as both Lex and Batman had access to kryptonite and a variety of ways to make his life a living hell.

"Hey, d'you think Bats will let us play with the freeze guns?" When Clark looked around, he found Hope beside him, staring with undisguised fascination at the door her boss had gone into.

He shrugged. "Anything's possible," he answered. "Hey, if you're bothering me, does that mean you're at a standstill again?"

She smirked at him. "Nope, so 'scuse me if I puncture your huge alien ego. We have, as of three minutes ago exactly . . . ," she paused for effect, "a fully functional Phantom Zone projector!"

He raised an eyebrow. "And you've built it, too?" he asked skeptically.

She brushed away his question as unimportant. "Details, details," she said airily. "The simulation says it will work, so of course it'll work!"

"Uh-huh," he said, unconvinced. "Which is conceivably why we had the incident with that thing in the first place."

"I think you're forgetting who you're dealing with, Supernit," she said severely. "We are not your common, garden-variety geniuses at work here. We are certified—"

"And certifiable," he interrupted, ducking the attempt she made to swat him with ease. Yes, another reason to love his powers. He was no longer subject to Hope's little attempts to school him to what she considered proper behaviour.

"We," she continued determinedly, "are certified geniuses, each honed against each other and each complementing each other in ways you are not yet bright enough to understand."

He widened his eyes. "But I might understand someday?" he asked, infusing his voice with as much eagerness as he could without letting his laughter get away from him.

"If you apply yourself properly," she said austerely, "and keep the proper sort of company." Then she glanced sidelong at him and they both grinned.

"Hey," Wally said, appearing beside them in a move so fast even Clark barely caught sight of it, "is this a private comedy club or can anyone join in?"

 


"So tomorrow for sure," Clark asked again, hugging Lex to himself. He might have felt needy about his, well, need to have the other man so close to him except that Lex's grip on the arms around his waist was strong enough to make him doubt he could easily remove them.

"Tomorrow," Lex affirmed, his hands tightening almost imperceptibly. He angled his head until he could look at Clark. "Where will you . . . ?"

Clark bent forward and nuzzled the space where neck and shoulder flowed into each other. "Here," he said in a low voice. "I want to be here."

Lex smiled. "Here, specifically?" he teased gently. "Or here, in my nice, big bed, in a nice, warm room."

"Here wherever you are," Clark told him, utterly serious.

Lex's smile died and let his gaze fall upon Metropolis again. His city, although Clark may try to disagree with him about that. His city he supposed he would have to learn how to share. Not with just anyone, of course, but the Last Son of Krypton—Zod and his little wanna-be dictators could hardly be counted as proper Kryptonians, for all they had been born and had lived on Krypton—was hardly just anyone.

"I can feel you getting insecure from here," Clark said, his voice slightly muffled. "I know it can't be about your plan, because you have nothing but confidence in them, even when they go awry. Pretty sure it isn't about the team we're working with. We've never exactly worked together, but we know exactly what everyone can do. Even if, in Hope's case, it's to be a smartass." He lifted his head and Lex shivered as the February air brushed away the warmth from Clark's breath. "I'd make even more of a game out of this," Clark said, "but I think both you and I know what we're dancing around again. Or still, rather."

"Can you blame me for not believing it?" Lex challenged softly. "All my dreams, handed to me on a platter. How long will the platter last?"

"And do you think I always believe it?" Clark asked in return. "It's not like I don't wonder when the rug'll be swept out from under me and that platter you mentioned will go flying."

"What can we do to nail the rug down then?" He felt the shrug Clark gave.

"Can it even be done?" the dark-haired man asked. "How about this," he said before Lex could answer. "The rug will be swept out from under us. This is life, something like that is practically written in stone." Lex nodded silent agreement. "About the only thing we can control is our grip on the platter," Clark continued. "Our sense of . . . balance, which is nicely symbolic."

"So we hold onto the platter with both hands?" Lex asked.

"Both hands, our teeth, and the glaring of our eyes to just dare any of those dreams to try to fall off," Clark said firmly. "And we make like a, a, well, like someone who needs a lot of balance."

"Can't think of any examples?" Lex asked, amused.

Clark shook his head and grinned wryly. "Too many," he admitted. "One of the dangers of memorizing a thesaurus or two, for all that it annoys Lois when I can present her with the word she's looking for."

"So. How do we seal this bargain?" Lex asked after a time. "Spit on our palms and shake?"

Clark bent his head again and let his chuff of laughter warm Lex's neck. "I can think of a much better use for spit," he informed Lex.

Lex chuckled. "Sex fiend," he said fondly. "I thought Kryptonians didn't use their dicks."

Clark growled and disentangled his arms from Lex's hands swiftly so he could palm Lex's cock. It twitched and grew as he handled it firmly. "They were hung up on the ideals of their supposedly perfect society," he said. "I, however, grew up on Earth, where it's acknowledged, nay, even expected that men like their dicks and the wonderful, wonderful things that can be done with them. Forgive me if I go with nurture over nature on this one."

Lex pushed forward slightly. "I think I can find it in myself to forgive you," he said. They stood like that for a while. Clark apparently enjoying the taste of Lex's neck and Lex definitely enjoying Clark's still-moving hand. "Why don't we take this inside?" he suggested finally when a gust of wind reminded him just how cold a Kansas winter could be.

"Can't take the cold?" Clark taunted.

Lex laughed and broke free of Clark's embrace. "Thinking of my nice, soft bed," he corrected, grabbing one of Clark's hands and leading him inside. It was a novel feeling to hold someone's hand. His father had decried the practice as weak, sentimental and he, himself, had never really seen how it could be anything but . . awkward, childish. Holding Clark's hand, even after they reached his bed, seemed almost right, somehow, and definitely not awkward. When they had to separate to remove their clothes, he reclaimed Clark's hand as soon as he could, separating again only to climb into bed.

Once they were under the covers, they lay there for a few long moments, their hands once again clasped and held between them.

"Any particular reason you're here tonight?" Lex asked, voicing the question that had plucked at his mind, almost begging to be asked.

"I thought . . . ," Clark said, drawing Lex's hand close enough to brush a kiss onto. "I thought," he resumed, "since we're going to go into battle tomorrow, it would be a good idea to get me some lovin' beforehand." He ignored Lex's snort of amusement as he widened his eyes artfully. "Well-fucked soldiers do better in battle, you know. Not as much tension, stress, that sort of thing."

"And have you ever been fucked before?" Lex asked, still smiling.

Now, of course, Clark squirmed, embarrassed. "Well, with Lana . . . ," he began, then trailed off.

"Somehow, I can't see you on your hands and knees with Lana fucking you with a strap-on," Lex said dryly, "so don't even try that. I assume you've already figured this out, being such a wise and worldly person as yourself, but doing the fucking and being fucked are two entirely different things."

"Then my answer would be no." The answer was firm, despite the ferocious blush. Lex thought it made him look more like the boy he had known in Smallville. While that boy had given him no end of pain, he had also given him pleasure, even if said pleasure was absurdly innocent by anything he had ever measured it by.

"I would be remiss in my duties as a friend and lover, then, if I didn't start your education," Lex murmured. "But, before we get started, do you have any questions? Restrictions you'd like to make?" His eyes glinted mischievously. "Special requests?"

Clark grinned back at him, although his blush had hardly abated. "I think," the brunet said, "I can take anything you chose to dish out."

"I'd offer you to retract that challenge," he said in a low, rough voice, "but I think I'll be having a lot more fun if I don't." He tugged the cover down, revealing Clark's wonderfully golden skin. "Remember," he half-warned, "this was your idea."

"Small chance I have of forgetting with you mentioning it with every other breath," Clark grumbled. He affected a sigh and draped his arms over his head, arranging himself in a state of repose. "And with each moment you remind me, I lie languishing."

Lex laughed softly. "Maybe you should leave the purple prose to me," he suggested. "You seem better suited to frankness and honesty."

Clark glared at him, but if his glares hadn't intimidated Lex when they were enemies, they distinctly lacked any power now that they had kissed and made up. "Why don't you make me?" he asked, throwing another challenge Lex's way.

His second task, now that the covers lay at the foot of the bed, Lex decided would be to keep Clark from practically daring him to do his worst. For his own good, of course, and, because Lex never did anything without a benefit to himself, for the sheer pleasure of seeing Clark out of his mind with pleasure. That, of course, would only come later, but it was important to build up a strong base, lest Clark be swept away by all those lovely feelings Lex was going to show him. It was with that thought in his mind that Lex leaned forward and started this step in their reforged relationship with a kiss. Soft, gentle, although Clark, being younger and, more importantly, more impatient than Lex, kept trying to speed it—and the ones that followed it—up.

"Be patient," he chided as he left Clark's lips to investigate his neck. This slow exploration wouldn't last, he knew, but it would definitely make more Clark impatient and impatience, tempered with experience in the other partner, was better for a first time, even for a supposedly invulnerable being.

Clark sighed when he dragged his tongue over the dip in his collarbone and Lex let his hand slide to a nipple. He passed his fingers over it, lightly at first, and then teasing around it until it tightened into a little nub of skin. Sensitive skin, he noted as he scraped a nail over it. Perhaps it was a good thing Superman was usually impervious to cold, judging from the reaction even such a small stimulus wrought. He pinched it and pulled his hand up. Clark's eyes widened most satisfactorily as he arched his back.

Lex leaned down, still twisting and occasionally pulling on the nipple, and licked a slow circle around the other one. That one peaked immediately, as he saw when he drew back, in anticipation. He leaned forward again, flattening his tongue over it for a moment before withdrawing just far enough to blow cool air over it, producing a delightful squirm. Whatever tolerance Clark held towards cold, it seemed it didn't inhibit his enjoyment of such a move. Lex drew the nipple into his mouth, holding it delicately between his teeth and pulling his head up. It, of course, popped free and he did it again.

"Leeeeex," Clark dragged out.

Lex lifted his head. "Did you want something Clark?" he asked, his face far more innocent than the fingers still teasing the far nipple.

Clark groaned. "Will you stop doing that?" he ground out. "I can't think."

Lex pretended to consider that. "No," he said at last, with a particular vicious twist that had Clark arching up again, "I don't think I will. Besides, Clark, I think I would take it as an insult if you could think while I was doing this." A squeeze, this time with nails. Clark yelped and Lex checked quickly to see if there was any sign of pain, but the nipple seemed unhurt and, really, if Clark was hurting, he was showing it with a decidedly sensual writhing motion. "Maybe you're right," he mused, returning to just brushing his fingers lightly over the nipple. "Playing only with your nipples might make other parts of your body jealous. But first . . . ." He bent forward to take the neglected nipple into his mouth, alternating biting and sucking as his hand groped for Clark's. Clark was clearly too distracted by the sensations Lex was creating to notice, although that ended, judging from his groan of disappointment, when Lex switched his mouth from nipple to fingers.

Lex licked the fingers in front of him, bathing them in large swathes. Then he took Clark's index finger into his mouth, running his tongue over it as he had—and would still—Clark's cock. "How do you want me to fuck you?" he whispered after slowing drawing the finger out of his mouth. "Gently? Softly? We could fuck for hours, Clark." He illustrated it as he took Clark's finger in his mouth again, taking it in slowly and pulling back just as slowly. Soft, steady, and as inexorable as a glacier, implacable force disguised by its lack of speed. Clark knew he could do it, he saw it in his eyes. Knew he was imagining it, being fucked so slowly, kept to a steady rhythm, no matter what. Repetition as torture. "How about rough, Clark?" he asked, drawing back only enough for the finger to be drawn from his mouth. His words gusted over the wet finger and he saw Clark's barely perceptible shudder. "Do you want me to take you hard and fast? See how many times I can shove my cock into your virgin ass before you come? Fuck you without mercy, knowing I can't hurt you." Clark's breathed quickened at the thought and his mouth fell open. "Show me," he whispered. "Take my mouth as you want me to take your body. Own me." He swallowed the finger again and stayed still until Clark's brain, just a little overwhelmed by all Lex had been subjecting Clark's body to, realised Lex was holding still for a reason. Haltingly, the finger in his mouth moved. Lex kept his half-lidded eyes on Clark and moaned. In, out, once. And then again. And then Clark found a rhythm, fucking Lex's mouth with his finger.

Lex, certain Clark's attention was on his mouth, moved the hand not clasping Clark's arm under his pillow. Like the boyscout everyone named Superman, Lex found it paid to always be prepared. The gel was cold on his fingers and he rubbed them together to warm it up. As he prepared for the next step in the night's activities, he kept Clark's attention on his mouth as he sucked Clark's finger in as deep as it would go, then let it be drawn back out with a light, very light scraping of teeth. It was awkward, but Clark bent his knee out to the side when Lex nudged it with the back of his hand, showing that, however fixated Clark seemed to be on his mouth, he had enough attention to spare for the rest of Lex.

Clark's rhythm had started out slow, his imagination clearly caught by thought of having Lex do just that to him. But then impatience won out, quickening his movements until Lex let out another groan, this one in anticipation of just what it would feel like to fuck Clark like that. By then, though, Lex was properly positioned and he slid his fingers under Clark's still soft cock and ghosted them over the wrinkled ring of skin he would soon be fucking as Clark fucked his mouth. Clark's finger slowed and he looked at Lex questioningly. In reply, Lex nipped the finger still resting just inside his mouth, gently at first, then harder when Clark didn't take the hint. As it slid into his mouth again, he slid his own finger into Clark's ass. Clark stiffened at the intrusion, which was only to be expected, but relaxed when Lex's finger didn't move. His own twitched in Lex's mouth and Lex allowed his to twitch, just barely inside. Clark, of course, caught on fast and soon, every thrust Clark made in Lex's mouth, Lex echoed with a thrust inside Clark's ass, going deeper each time.

The next time he paused, Clark didn't quite notice at first, thrusting his finger a few more times before realising Lex wasn't moving. Lex dragged his finger out of Clark's ass and pressed two of them against the ring with a questioning look at Clark. Clark swallowed and nodded, resting another finger on Lex's lips. Together, they pushed inside, Lex's mouth stretching as Clark's ass did. The only sounds were Clark's panting and the obscenely wet sounds of fingerfucking.

The next finger, Clark initiated, pushing a third finger between Lex's lips. Lex was startled only for a moment before quickly applying more gel to his fingers and easing three fingers into Clark's ass. He let Clark get used to it, to the stretch and the fullness before twisting his fingers, exploring Clark's ass until he founded the bump he was fairly sure—given how closely Kryptonian biology matched human—was Clark's prostate. He brushed it, gauging Clark's reaction, before ruthlessly abandoning the rhythm Clark had set and driving his fingers into Clark faster and harder, aiming for the prostate with every thrust. Clark, not expecting the sudden surge in sensation, gasped and writhed on the bed, fucking himself back onto Lex's fingers.

"Are you ready, Clark?" Lex asked, kneeling up even as he kept up the pace of his fingers. He didn't think Clark even knew he had spoken from the way he was crying out and snapping his hips up to meet Lex's hand. Lex positioned himself between Clark's legs quickly before pulling a pillow down beside Clark. On the next thrust, he pushed his fingers in as deep as they would go, urging Clark's ass to stay in the air for the moment it took for him to position the pillow underneath. Clark moaned, a broken, yearning sound. He leaned forward to mouth Clark's cock and felt it twitch. Satisfied, he pulled his fingers out slowly, ignoring the pleading cry Clark gave. "I'm going to fuck you now," he told the panting man, so far removed from the blushing almost virgin he had started the night with. "I'm going to fuck you hard and fast and then, when I'm done, you're going to fuck me slow. Does that sound good to you?"

"C-can't," Clark panted. "C-Cock won't stay—" He groaned as Lex, not waiting to hear the rest, slid inside Clark's ass as he promised, hard and fast. Lex had to stay still for a moment, trying to adjust to the trembling of Clark's body and the spectacular heat inside him. And then he moved.

The pace he set was brutal and, unlike with his fingers, he didn't aim specifically for the prostate. Clark didn't seem to mind, although Lex acknowledged distantly that he wasn't exactly giving Clark any reprieve of sensation to be able to answer. He brought his hand forward to Clark's cock, feeling it harden rapidly as he stroked within and without. He had to be quick or the promise he'd just made to Clark wouldn't be fulfilled. He groped for the tube of lube, found it, and passed it by. Beneath his pillow again, searching, finding, and bringing. He brought his hand back to Clark's cock, clutching what he had brought out. Just in time, as Clark's cock had fully hardened. He fumbled with it, wrapping it securely and fastening it before he pulled out of Clark's ass, much to the other man's vocal dismay. A few moments was all it took before he was straddling Clark's hips and reaching behind him for Clark's cock, positioning it with a hand still slick from applying the lube both to Clark's cock and his own ass.

"Clark," he said. "Clark, look at me." Clark opened his eyes slowly, only a thin edge of colour between the dilated pupil and the white. "I want you to fuck me, Clark," he told the other man. "I want you to fuck me slow, strong. I want to feel it. Do you understand me, Clark?" He grasped Clark's chin and shook it gently. "Do you understand?" As if he was drugged, Clark nodded.

Lex didn't know if Clark actually had understood, but the nod was enough for him. Slowly, keeping Clark's eyes trapped with his, he sank down, feeling the stretch of Clark's cock in him. Clark's eyes, half-closed in his pleasure-wrought stupor, widened as he experienced what Lex had when he had first sunk into Clark. Lex let his head hang back as he sat all the way down, seating Clark fully within him.

"Slow," he said, his breath coming a little quicker at the full feeling. "Slow." He raised himself up and let himself sink down again. A strangled cry and a buck that drove Clark even further into him brought his eyes forward as Clark's eyes rolled back into his head and his cock discharged the first shot of heat into Lex. But the cockring Lex had fastened around him kept him from softening and Lex waited until Clark's muscles relaxed before shifting up again, slowly. He held it as Clark opened his eyes and met his gaze, astonishment bright within them, and deliberately sat back down again. He squeezed the cock within him and Clark's eyes rolled up again. Hands fumbled at his waist and Lex let himself be lifted and lowered on Clark's still-hard cock.

Lex leaned forward and braced himself on Clark's chest. The change in angle rubbed the head of Clark's cock against his prostate on the downstroke and he shuddered at the exquisite sensitivity, knowing he wasn't far from orgasm, not with the cock in him and the beautiful, beautiful sight below him. He dragged a hand forward, his fingers catching over a nipple. Clark shivered beneath him and he dragged his fingers over it again before pinching it. He felt the cock in his ass twitch and the fingers on his hips spasm. Even more sensitive after an orgasm, he noted. He scraped a nail over the nipple and drew in a breath at the involuntary buck.

"It won't be slow if you keep doing that," Clark told him breathlessly.

Lex laughed on an exhale. "Changed my mind," he said. "Slow is for the birds."

Instantly, the hands on him shifted. One rested on his thigh, where hip met leg. The other grasped his cock and rubbed just beneath the crown. It was almost too much and Lex groaned. And then again when Clark's hips rose, pressing Clark's bound cock into him deeper as his body was lifted. He twisted his body, trying to get the cock inside of him to rub up against his prostate; it was so maddening to be so close and not yet close enough. The hand on his cock shifted and the other hand joined it. Lex had to buck up into the two-handed grip on his cock, ruthlessly pulling at Clark's nipples in an effort to distract his body from the too-slow build-up. And then his cock was abandoned and hands lifted him up again, sparking more pleasure. Tickling whispers of movement against his ass and he heard something hit the wall. He twisted a nipple and pulled at the other one, as hard as he could; his mouth gaped open silently when the hands holding him up dropped him, seating the cock fully within him with a jarring abruptness. He convulsed, coming with a shout, feeling an answering heat deep within him.

 


Clark didn't know how long they'd laid in a tangled mess before he felt any inclination towards moving and, frankly, after two orgasms—one of them completely unexpected—he wondered that he could feel like moving sometime in this century. At first, the movement wasn't even all that pronounced: a gentle running up and down Lex's spine with his fingers. When Lex made no complaint and, indeed, failed to move except for his breathing, Clark became concerned enough to attempt some more complicated maneuvers. Craning his head and, finally, resorting to x-ray vision, he let himself collapse back onto the bed at the revelation of why Lex was not complaining about being sticky.

Lex Luthor, criminal mastermind and paranoid extraordinaire, had fallen asleep. That, more than anything, told Clark just how much Lex had invested into their still very new relationship. It wasn't as if he needed more reasons to love Lex, but it was nice to have confirmation that Lex felt generally the same way about him.

Unfortunately, world-shifting revelations did not do much to decrease the stickiness that was the regrettable side-effect of having two glorious, glorious orgasms. Clark grimaced. He wasn't fastidious, exactly, but he'd be able to join Lex in sleep easier if they were cleaned up. He half-wished for some sort of telekinesis, to bring a damp towel over to them, but reluctantly decided it would be just as much work to convince his mind to stay on target long enough to bring the towel to him. That is, if he could lift things with the power of his mind alone.

He heaved a sigh. He'd have to get up, then. He noted, as he tried to escape Lex's clinging arms—the only part of him that showed signs of life—not even that woke Lex up. Truly, the man must be tired. He, Hope, and Mercy were the ones doing most of the work; Clark, at least, got to go into the Daily Planet and do something else for part of the day.

Finally free of Lex's octopus arms, he walked, mostly steady, to the ensuite bathroom, returning with a damp and steaming washcloth. Pausing at the side of the bed, he checked the temperature against his own skin before waving it in the air a bit to cool it down. Then he leaned over and started wiping at Lex's skin. That, of course, made Lex stretch and brought the octopus arms into play again, but Clark managed to fend them off until he could finish Lex's front and roll his comatose boyfriend over to do his back. It was, of course, slightly embarrassing to wipe up the stuff starting to seep out of Lex's ass, but also, deep down, satisfying to know he was the one to have put it there in the first place.

But not satisfying enough to keep me from doing it fast, he reflected, amused at himself. He patiently untangled himself from Lex again, who had snuck a grip around his leg when he wasn't looking, and scooted off the bed. He went over to the wall he had thrown the cockring at, found it, and picked it up. It lay on his palm, looking almost innocent despite the lube and dribbles of come on it. Eventually, he shook his head and wiped it off with the cloth he still held. After returning to the bathroom to dispose of the cloth, he headed for the bed again, placing the cockring on the table beside it before climbing in again and letting Lex grab and arrange him to his liking.

As he allowed sleep to claim him as it had Lex, he couldn't stop himself from reviewing the two orgasms he had been treated to. While Lex might have a shaky grasp on morals, he definitely knew how to show a guy a good time. Perhaps he shouldn't feel jealous of all the people Lex had learned on, although thoughts of that sort didn't really help.

Then again, he's all mine now. His days of longing from afar were over; anyone who touched his Lex may well draw back a bloody stump.

 


Hope glared at her boss as he went about the business of preparing a hearty breakfast. Sadly, he didn't notice, whether through the turning off of his eyes or because he really was that besotted with Supersexgod, she didn't know. She didn't want to know. Well, no, she did, but not when he was so cheerful and she was so grumpy and nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary. Her life sucked.

"Lighten up," Mercy muttered as the blonde sat beside her. Hope transferred her glare to Mercy and endured the elbow in the side she got for her pains. "You want to ruin their afterglow after all the trouble we went to?"

Hope opened her mouth, ready to dispute the implication that afterglow lasted through six hours of sleep, but got another elbow in her side.

"Breakfast is served," Lex said, breaking off his irritating humming and setting plates on the table. He finally noticed the dirty look Hope was giving him. "What's wrong?" he asked, patting his front. "Am I wearing my food well?"

"She's just a bit tired," Mercy intervened hastily. Hope looked away, sulking. Now she couldn't even answer for herself? Life was so not fair

Lex frowned. "Why would she be?" he asked, conveniently forgetting that Hope was still right there and perfectly able to answer for herself, thank you, if only Mercy kept her pointy elbows away from her sides. "As I recall, you two went to bed earlier than Clark and I."

"We were celebrating," Hope said through clenched teeth.

Lex looked . . . surprised. "What were you celebrating?" he asked. He quite obviously did a quick bit of thinking. "I didn't miss your birthdays again, did I?" He looked panicked and so he should. The last time he had forgotten Mercy's birthday, she and Hope had repainted his bedroom in Supereyestrain's signature colours.

"We were celebrating the successful conclusion of this period of instability," Mercy said smoothly and blocked the elbow Hope aimed at her side.

Lex didn't look completely convinced. "It's not over yet," he said, taking his place.

"But we have full confidence in the company we'll be working with," Mercy returned.

Yeah, full confidence that if there was a way to fuck it up, the so-called "good guys" would, through some sort of misguided moral code.

Lex gave her an uncertain look, but was prevented from saying anything by the big, gay alien who swooped in and stole a good morning kiss.

"Good morning," Superpeteandrepeat said softly, grinning down into Lex's face like another kind of besotted fool.

"Good morning," Lex responded. His expression was much more restrained, of course, but the tiny curl at the corner of his mouth spoke volumes.

Hope sunk down even further into her chair. This was definitely not her day.

 


"I don't know, Lex," Clark said dubiously, looking at himself in the three full-length mirrors Lex had thoughtfully provided. "Black—it really isn't me."

"I hate to tell you this," Lex said dryly, "but neither are the primary colours you insist are those of your house. If I didn't know better, I'd think the trip to Earth had addled your brains sufficiently to keep you in the three-year old state of mind."

"Huh. That's a funny thing, Lex," Clark told the reflection standing behind his. "According to the AI, I was actually four amzeto—Kryptonian years—when I arrived on Earth. By the strange sort of coincidence that always seems to happen around Smallville, my parents chose the equivalent day of my birth on Krypton."

"But not the age," Lex stated, eyebrow raised. "I seem to recall you being somewhat younger than seventeen when we first met.

Clark sighed. "Do you know everything?" he asked pointedly, only half in jest.

Lex was unperturbed. "Not yet," he replied, "but I'm working on it. Come out and join us when you're finished preening."

Clark's mouth opened and closed a few times before he could find his voice. "Preening?!" But by then it was too late; Lex had already shut the door behind him. Clark sighed and took another dubious look at the mirrors. He agreed with Lex that a cape was almost asking for someone to grab it and jerk him around, but he didn't see what was wrong with the colours he'd chosen. Sure, they were loud, but that was almost the point.

Then again, Lex had a bit of a point, too. He knew, firsthand, second-hand, and all-around-hand, just how grateful people could be and how quickly such gratitude could turn to resentment and anger. After the truth came out about Zod—and it would; he couldn't even conceive of trying to keep Lois away from such a story—it was highly unlikely any Kryptonian would be welcome. And to add Lex into that mix, well, he was sure there were going to be people wondering if Zod and his group had been the good guys and maybe Lex Luthor and Superman had teamed up against them, with Superman enlisting Luthor's help with promises of non-interference in projects he would normally interfere mightily in.

Either way, did it really matter that the blue and red he was wearing was darker than normal? Most likely not.

He took one last look at himself before heading out of the room to join up with everyone. He hesitated just outside the room, then advanced slowly.

"Yo, Supes! Glad you could make it!" Wally was as loud as ever, waving cheerily from the chair he was currently fidgeting in. "Whoa, get some new threads?"

Clark nodded, then asked voiced the concern that had been bothering him. "Does it make me look . . . big?" Everyone stared at him and he blushed. "It's just . . . I'm pretty sure my, um, well, I'm not that . . . big," he stammered.

"Of course it doesn't make you look big," Lex said soothingly, rising from the table he had been sharing with Bruce—Batman again; did the guy never take a day off? Oh, wait, that would be no, because he was Batman—and moving towards Clark. "However, some parts of it are padded; you may be invulnerable, but I'd rather not take the chance with some of your key appendages."

Key . . . appendages. Clark knew he was no longer blushing, because one could only blush so much before one's face caught fire.

"I'm going to go change," he mumbled, retreating.

 


"Geez, what's his problem?" Wally asked as everyone watched Superman ran out of the room.

"I think he's embarrassed by the suit," Kyle offered.

Wally examined this and found it still confusing. "Why? It's not like his other suit wasn't skin-tight, right? In fact, isn't it, like, part of the superhero creed that thou must wear a skin-tight suit that shows everything, whether you want it to or not?"

"Okay, then," Kyle said, making himself comfortable in the chair beside him. "Then what about Batman? Should he be thrown out because he has too much padding?"

Wally made a rude noise. "He's allowed," he said dismissively. "He doesn't have superpowers to let him zip out of the way. Sensible precautions are allowed on the part of normal humans." He paused. "Not that Batman is normal in any way, shape, or form for a human."

"What d'you think the plan'll end up being?" Kyle asked after a while.

Wally tipped his hand back and forth. "Haven't been listening," he admitted. "Want my best guess anyway?"

"Sure, why not?" was the genial response.

"Okay," Wally hunkered forward and Kyle did the same. "Five Kryptonians appear out of nowhere and go on a rampage, blah, blah, blah."

"Don't we already know this?" Kyle asked, his eyebrow raised. "I mean, I'm pretty sure we were all there when the ass-kicking started. I kinda remember getting mine handed to me on a platter.

Wally waved away his objection. "Yeah, yeah, background," he said. "The point is, where did they come from? Phantom Zone. Krypton's interdimensional jailhouse. See, Supes and Luthor, they think they know how they got out and they've managed to make a device-doohicky that'll shove them back in. The plan, obviously, is to get these Kryptonians in the range of said device-doohicky long enough for the doohickey to work. It is, of course, preferable to get 'em all on the first go so they don't try the whole kill the device and avenge our comrades-in-arms thing. Which is where we come in. Well, and Supes, too. He'll be the bait for the trap and some of the backup for the peeps making the doohicky do its thing. But he couldn't really hold his own against three of them before, which is, my friend, where we come in."

"I dunno," Kyle said. "Superspeed? Superstrength? Not exactly something we have."

"Hey, speak for yourself!" Wally said, affronted. "I happen to have more superspeed than Superman. And it's not just speed, okay? I imagine I'll be whizzing around, having a blast. You, on the other hand, will be providing a shield for the doohicky and the people on it. Not my forte, obviously, but a good job for the man with the green ring."

Kyle nodded slowly. "So what's with all the talking they're doing, then?"

Wally shrugged and let himself fall back into his chair. "Who knows?" he told the shadowed ceiling. "Probably telling Bats he can't play. That should take a few more hours."

 


"This is your last chance," Lex said quietly to his chosen team. "In five minutes, I'll be explaining the plan and then we'll be on our way. Do what you need to until then." With that, he turned and made his way out of the room, heading for the Batcave's entrance.

Clark tagged along behind him. "Soooo, any chance I can interest you in a quicky?" he asked, grinning.

Lex smiled back at him, still distracted by the situation. "Five minutes, Clark," he said, "not really enough time for a good quickie."

"Hey, they're supposed to be good?" Clark wrinkled his forehead. "I thought they were just supposed to be quick."

"Sex with me is never anything less than good," Lex said with immense dignity.

Clark laughed at him. "Oooookay, no nookie. So, how about some dedicated kissing?"

Lex stopped abruptly and Clark ran into his back. "It isn't a very good plan," he said.

"Is it liable to improve with five minutes of worrying?" Clark asked.

Lex sighed. "Not with the resources at hand," the bald man admitted.

"So what's to keep us from stopping the worry for, oh, say, five minutes and kissing?"

Lex's lips quirked up on one side. "Nothing, I suppose," he allowed.

"Great!" Clark scooped up Lex and flew them closer to the ceiling before alighting on a wall and arranging Lex to lie supported on him. He admired Lex, so close and with that half-breathless look in his eye. "How's this?"

"Like I'm going to fall," Lex said, gritting his teeth. "There was nowhere else you could have taken us?"

"Nope, not with just five minutes," Clark said cheerfully. "It's not so bad, is it, Lex?"

Lex relaxed slowly against him. "I suppose not," he said, starting to smile. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Clark's in a chaste kiss. "Was that what you had in mind?"

"No," Clark said after taking a moment to consider the kiss, "I had something more like this in mind." And he leaned up to show Lex just what he had meant. Lex, of course, had to make sure he had it right this time and then Clark had to show him again.

It hadn't felt like five minutes when Clark heard Hope's voice behi—below them. "My, look at the time," she was saying, her voice echoing through the cave. "Five minutes have passed. Our glorious leader is, even now, presenting unto us the plan. And yet, here I stand, doing nothing."

Lex laughed, breathlessly . "Go inside, Hope," he ordered. "We'll be in shortly." He held his head up when Clark tried for one last kiss. "Take us down, Clark," he said, ignoring the pout directed at him. "We have work to do." Clark heaved a sigh and floated them down and upright.

The work, they all learned, consisted of moving the newly built Phantom Zone . . . something (Hope had declined to call it a projector, as Clark had suggested, as it was in no way, shape, or form related to any sort of movie equipment) into a good location, calling the Kryptonians out, tagging them with little electronic buttons—the only way the projector would work—and then sitting back and letting the projector do its work.

"It's not a projector, dammit!"

"Then come up with a better name for it than 'the thingy that rips open dimensional holes for Kryptonian criminals'," Lex said, unmoved. Hope sulked.

Green Lantern would be shielding the projector while Superman and the Flash were doing the tagging. Hope, Mercy, and Lex would be equipped with some of Dr Fries' inventions, should the Kryptonians manage to get by the shield before everything was set up. And then it would need only a flick of a switch and the Kryptonians would fade out of this dimension.

"Right," Hope said decisively. "Anything else?" Lex shook his head. "Then let's move out!"

 


The plan had been shot almost before it had been put into action. One of Zod's flunkies—Quex-Ul, Clark had identified absently—had discovered them while they were still moving into position and had raised the alarm before heading into an attack. It was only that he was still unused to his superpowers that allowed Mercy to blast him with one of the freeze guns. He was tagged hastily and set aside until the projector was set up.

Unfortunately, the alarm Quex-Ul had raised brought in three others—Jax-Ur, Vakox, and Faora Hu-Ul—into the situation. It was only because Lex had kept the plan simple that they were able to hold their own against the other Kryptonians. Even with that, Clark and the Flash were trying to be in three places at once and Green Lantern was keeping his shield up around the projector until it was operational with some difficulty.

Out of the corner of his eye, Clark noticed a new blur join the fray. Not Zod, as he had feared, but Quex-Ul, freed from his prison of ice, whether through the efforts of his comrades-in-arms or his own, joining the fight again.

Wally was the first casualty. His ability was speed and, while he was definitely faster than the Kryptonians, he was still only human. A lucky punch by Faora had knocked him out and into a wall. Without any backup, it didn't take long for Clark to be knocked down and held, forced to watch as systemic attacks on Green Lantern's barrier visibly weakened it.

It was only then, of course, that Zod made his appearance, strolling casually through the rubble and floating over the occasional crater as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. He watched Quex-Ul and Faora for a long moment before turning his attention to the Kryptonian forced into a kneeling position.

"And so we meet again, Kal-El," Zod said, his tone genial. "Or rather, Clark Kent. I admit, your . . . disguise had fooled even I, for who could have guessed a Kryptonian would let his obvious superiority languish in obscurity? A costume for each name; isn't it tiring, Kal-El? Wouldn't you rather show these ungrateful humans what it truly means to be Kryptonian?"

Clark swallowed a laugh and let himself hang from the arms of his captors. The offer to join the cause; what good villain would pass by an opportunity to make their most dangerous adversary their flunky? "I think neither you nor I are properly equipped to show anything," he told Zod. The back of his head was thunked solidly and he swallowed a curse.

Zod sighed and nodded agreeably. "I thought you might feel that way. In a way," he continued, "it is for the best. It would be a pity to have to kill another Kryptonian who had allied himself with me."

Clark just gritted his teeth and kept silent. He was thunked again and he twisted around to glare at one of his captors. "Hit me when I talk, hit me when I don't talk . . . make up your mind!" That, of course, got him another thunking.

"I'd advise you to be silent," Zod said genially. "None of us here have any reason to love an El and we are all most . . . anxious to partake in suitable chastisement."

"Tanth." The woman, Faora, stood respectfully behind Zod, waiting for him to acknowledge her. A wave of his hand and she continued, "The barrier has broken, tanth."

"Bring the insurgents to me," Zod ordered, never taking his eyes off Clark. After all, what could he have to fear from humans?

There was, curiously enough, no sounds aside from the occasional stumble from the group that had been working under Green Lantern's shield. Clark couldn't keep himself from searching out Lex, making sure he was all right. Aside from Green Lantern, who was being supported grimly by both Hope and Mercy, no one seemed to be hurt. That would not be a situation that would last for long, he knew, but it was something he took comfort in nonetheless.

A quiet order separated Lex from the rest, bringing him to just before Zod. Quex-Ul had his hand on Lex's shoulder, obviously getting ready to make him kneel—as he had been not even two days ago. A gesture of negation from Zod left Lex standing.

"Lex Luthor," Zod said at last. "I am hoping this appearance of yours means you have accepted my proposal." Lex said nothing, keeping his gaze just over Zod's shoulder. Zod sighed. "I see not. It's a pity I will be forced to extinguish your life, Lex Luthor. One of your intelligence would be an asset to anyone who could control it."

"I'm sorry," Lex said, speaking at last, "I don't believe in working for others." The tone was dismissive, obviously calculated to provoke Zod.

Zod, of course, saw through that. "Your petty attempts at insults are unworthy of you," he chided. "Now, tell me, how did you escape two nights ago? A matter transmitter? Some proprietary piece of technology?" He toed the Flash's foot disdainfully. "Or did another of these so-called heroes assist you?"

Clark stared at Zod, astounded, before dropping his gaze to the ground again. They didn't know it was him that had rescued Lex? But why not? They had superspeed, they should have seen him. His eyes fell on the Flash's bright red uniform. He and Wally had raced before, testing their speed against each other. He'd had to admit defeat, although not after a good, long try. His body may have been able to keep up to Wally, but it hadn't been conditioned to keep up such an intense burst of speed. He examined the recent fight with new interest. The other Kryptonians hadn't been able to catch Wally, had apparently only been able to see him as a red blur. Maybe Clark had an edge after all. Or, rather, maybe he'd had one all along, before he'd been caught.

Zod was laughing, a sound that did not come naturally to him. "You cannot think such a puny weapon will harm me?"

Clark looked up quickly. Lex had taken a gun from wherever he had secreted it and was checking it over, making sure it was in perfect working condition. Checking the ammunition, cocking it. And then pointing it unerringly at Zod. Clark tried to jerk forward, but the hands holding him jerked him right back.

"Lex!" He knew Lex didn't have kryptonite bullets in the gun, a quick x-ray had shown him that.

Lex turned only enough to face him. "Clark, I want you to do something for me," he said, his voice as steady as if he were instead asking Clark to pass the salt at dinner. "My love for you is not instable and even if I die here, it won't be in vain." Instable? Unstable, surely, and even then a cumbersome way to say . . . . Clark was stunned at the message Lex had given him, enough so that he could only watch as Lex looked back at Zod. "You're not welcome here," he said and fired.

With a raw cry, Clark wrenched himself free of his captors and pushed himself as he had never pushed before. Zod was only beginning to move, rage suffusing his face, when Clark passed him. Faster, faster, demanding more from his body than he ever had before.

And then he was there and all he had to do was reach . . . .

Still in superspeed, he executed an impossible turn and headed back towards Zod. Zod, whose hands were almost touching Lex.

Zod whose hands were passing though Lex.

 


The aftermath of the short-lived alien occupation was surprisingly quiet for Superman.

"You broke your arm again?" Hope asked. She sounded more than a little put out by that. Quiet, that is, in the lack of Secret Service types staring at him and muttering into their earpieces a la Matrix.

As if I'd done it on purpose, Clark thought and grinned. "It's not like I thought, Gee, this is a good day to break my arm, you know," he pointed out.

"Y'know, I just got you patched up from your last fight," she complained. "Haven't you ever heard of leaving the bullies alone?"

"He left you alone, didn't he?" Lex's voice came, sounding amused.

Clark twisted until he could see Lex ducking into the tent Hope had peremptorily commandeered. "How's it going out there?" he asked.

Lex came to a stop beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's going," Lex said dryly. "Don't worry, I have Mercy taping it all for you."

Clark sighed a little at the missed opportunity. "I'll probably have to give it to Lois," he said mournfully. "I can't exactly type like this and this story really does need to get out as soon as possible. People should know the truth."

"Ahhh." Lex rocked back on his heels. "As opposed to the story the President's people will put out? Surely they will tell nothing but the truth."

"Yeah," Clark said, speaking as dryly as Lex had a moment before. "Our government always tells us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Lex widened his eyes. "So disillusioned already? My, it's a shame when superheroes lose their innocence."

"Yes, well, if you two lovebirds are done," Hope cut in, slipping the sling for Clark's cast over his head, "I'm going to get out of here before I need some insulin."

Clark and Lex grinned at each other. "Was it something we said?" Clark asked impishly.

"Maybe it was something she ate?" Lex suggested and they laughed.

"So, how are you?" Clark asked, reaching out his unbroken arm and hauling Lex closer. "Really?"

"Glad it's over," Lex said finally. He shook his head. "So many things went wrong . . . ."

"How's Wally? And Kyle?"

"Batman picked them up," Lex said. "Predictably enough, without anyone the wiser until they were gone." He coughed. "Except me, of course."

"Of course," Clark echoed. "And why didn't I get to ride in the Batplane?"

"Because you were getting your arm looked after, of course," Lex replied artlessly. "Besides, what sort of date would I be if I made you find your own way home?"

Clark shook his head and smiled. "Now, really," he said. "How are you?"

Lex sighed. "Like a dog with a bone, you are," he muttered.

Clark just smiled and tugged at the hand he was holding. Obedient to his wishes, Lex straddled his lap and sat down.

"The adrenaline hasn't quite worn off yet, probably because of the fast-talking some of the idiots out there tried to do," Lex told Clark's shoulder. It was a nice shoulder, maybe a little bony, but warm enough to make up for that failing. "Also, whatever Quex-Ul did to break Green Lantern's shield caused my eyes to fritz out again."

Clark froze. "You shot blind?" he asked through lips that felt stiff.

Lex snorted. "I've been doing most things 'blind', as you say, more almost ten years now," he replied sharply. "Do me the courtesy of not thinking I haven't learnt how to aim without the use of my eyes."

"Yeah, well, as soon as this arm's healed up, we're heading to the Fortress," Clark said just as firmly. He held up a hand. "I know, I know, you've learned how to compensate admirably, but the truth of the matter is, it was still my fault in the first place and I have to make it right."

Lex gave an aggrieved sort of sigh and nestled in close again. "God, what was I thinking when I took up with a superhero?"

 


"So, if your arm was going to heal up within six hours, why did I just have Mercy drop off the tapes she made?" Lex asked. He stood still while Clark fussed over him and made sure his coat was done up and he had a hat and a scarf and gloves and mittens . . . . If he kept it up for much longer, Lex knew where there was kryptonite and he was starting to think it might be worth it to get some.

"Because," Clark said, tugging the hood of Lex's jacket up over his hat, "there's a lot of research that still needs to be done and, honestly? For this type of thing, she has more contacts than I do." He paused and looked Lex over. "Okay, I think that's it."

"I don't know, did you check and make sure my boots were laced properly?" Lex asked snidely.

Clark took a quick look down and squinted. "Yep, they're done up," he said cheerfully. "Come on, come on, step onto my boots, Lex. Time's a-wastin'!"

Lex glared at him as he followed the order, perhaps a little more firmly than was, strictly, nice. It was a wasted effort, however, because Clark didn't even notice.

"Please keep all arms and legs right where they are at all times," Clark started rattling off as he lifted them into the air, "otherwise the captain will be unable to vouch for their safety during the flight. Do not attempt to use your seat as an in-flight tray or your food will, regrettably, fly off, never to be see—"

"Clark," Lex interrupted, "just fly."

Clark shut his mouth with a grin and just flew. Considerately, he lingered over Metropolis long enough for Lex to see his fill before firmly tucking Lex's head against his chest and gaining both height and speed.

"Are we there yet?" Lex asked, his voice muffled. He felt the vibrations of Clark's laughter, but couldn't hear anything thanks to the rushing wind. He was almost glad Clark had bothered so much with his clothing. Knowing, intellectually, that it would be a cold flight was one thing. Feeling the wind tugging forcefully at your clothes and trying to sneak down your neck was entirely something else. "How 'bout now? How 'bout now? Clark? Are you even listening to me?"

Their forward motion slowed considerably and he felt Clark level them out. "Yes, we're here," he heard Clark say as he let Lex move his head away. "And, yes, I was listening to you. When did you turn five anyway?"

Lex sniffed haughtily and pretended not to hear the question as he turned his eyes back on. They'd been turned off for most of the flight as Lex had decided that, while Clark was very nice to look at close-up, his clothes, on the other hand, were not so much. Instead he looked around, first with mild interest and then with undisguised curiousity. Walls of ice, or maybe crystal, flawlessly reaching to a ceiling so high it made him dizzy just to think about it. Soft lighting with no apparent source cast virtually no shadow, a fact he checked against where their shadows should be on the floor. The floor . . . unknown material, but almost certainly the same as the frosted-looking walls. He knelt down and ran his gloved and mittened hand over it; it was smooth and yet, obviously, slip-resistant, a theory born out when he pressed down harder and tried to slide his hand again.

"You can take off your coat, you know," Clark told him, amused. Lex looked up sharply. Clark, of course, hadn't removed anything, but since he had worn very little in the way of protective gear in the first place, that didn't necessarily mean anything. The air on his exposed skin—not that there was much of it—was still cool, but not cold. He stripped the mitten and glove off of one hand and held it in the air for a moment. Not warm, no, but pleasant enough. He put his bare hand back on the floor, feeling it again as he tugged the mitten and glove off of his other hand.

"Kal Lex-Luthor, how may I serve you?"

The voice was as disembodied as the lights were. "AI?" he asked, trying to find some indication of speakers.

Clark was frowning when he looked at him, which was surprising enough to drag Lex's attention back to him. "Yeah, but . . . . AI, why did you call me Kal Lex-Luthor?"

"Maybe you're mistaken," Lex suggested. "Maybe it was just greeting me along with you."

Clark shook his head slowly. "I've never been able to get it to greet me with something other than my full Kryptonian name," he disagreed.

"That is your Kryptonian name," the AI said. "As Lex-Luthor is of higher rank than you, it is only right that you take his name."

Lex started grinning. "Higher rank, huh? Guess this computer knows quality when it sees it."

Now Clark was frowning at him. "Ha ha, Lex, I almost forgot to laugh." He looked up again. "AI, Lex and I have no children together. We have not been married in any fashion."

"Some cultures regard what we do in bed as pretty hefty evidence of marriage," Lex said under his breath. It got him a gentle boot from Clark, but it was worth it to push the alien's buttons.

"I apologise, Kal-El," the AI said at last. "My conclusion was erroneous."

Clark was still eyeing the walls strangely. "Right." He reached down and hauled Lex up into a standing position. Lex sighed, but figured he wouldn't have been able to learn much more about the floor from his fingertips anyway. "Lex is blind, from what we did to get rid of Zod ten years ago."

"I would not be able to help an average human after ten years," the AI said and Lex felt a peculiar let-down. For all his protestations that he was fine with his sight the way it was—after all, when Lionel had been alive, all it had taken was a touch to his temples to shut out the sight of his face. That had been immensely satisfying—he had still believed in Clark, that Clark really could do anything. "You are fortunate, Lex-Luthor, that you are not average. What I learned from you earlier suggests there may yet be time. Please proceed to the regeneration chamber."

Lex blinked. "Earlier?" he asked Clark, leaning over a bit. It was easier to focus on small surprises than big ones.

"Ten years ago," Clark replied, taking him by his shoulders and turning him. He gave Lex a slight push. "The regeneration chamber is that way."

Lex took a few steps, then looked back. "You're not coming with me?" he asked, manufacturing a wide-eyed forlorn look.

Clark grinned at him, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "Does Lexie-Wexie need someone to hold his hand?" he asked solicitously. His answer was an uplifted hand and one finger.

Lex heard him laughing behind him, but, as the laughter was getting closer, he figured this was another "this once" he could forgive Clark for. He watched the previously featureless wall lose its frosted look as they drew closer. It opened, without any signal from them, onto an equally featureless hall.

It wasn't that he wanted to have someone hold his hand throughout the procedure, he rationalised. It was simply . . . unnerving to think that Clark might leave him at large within a fortress full of alien technology, that was all. Who knew what he could do with it?

He noted they still weren't there yet. "Can't you get us there any faster?" he complained to Clark.

"Getting lazy in your old age?" Clark asked. "Keep your pants on, Lex, we're almost there."

"How can you tell?" Lex grumbled quietly. Also, there was another thought to ponder. Stripping as a method to speed Clark up. After careful consideration, however, he sadly concluded it was only liable to make Clark speed up provided their destination was a bed.

"How can I tell? Excuse me, Lex, but whose secret hideout is this?"

"That was a rhetorical question," Lex said primly, "meant to show my annoyance at your insistence at taking the slow way instead of sweeping me off my feet and carrying me off somewhere to ravish me."

Clark shot him an amused look. "Maybe later," he said. "I never knew you were so partial to the damsel in distress thing."

Once again, the only thing that could be done was to ignore Clark and Lex did so with a will. That, however, abruptly failed when Clark took hold of his arm again and tugged him to one side. For a moment, he thought they were going to walk into the corridor's wall before the same clearing of the material and subsequent smooth opening revealed another room, presumably the one they had been headed for.

"All you have to do is lie down on the bench and the AI will take care of you," Clark said, pointing to said bench.

Lex pulled back, conscious only now of the enormity of what would be happening to him. "How will it fix my eyes?" he asked abruptly. He ignored the faint tug on his arm as Clark tried to urge him forward and waited for an answer.

Clark sighed. "AI, please answer Lex's questions," he said to the room at large.

"Acknowledged, Kal-El."

Clark touched Lex lightly on his shoulder and Lex turned his attention to the other man, as he had not before with the heavier grip. "I need to do some research into those crystals we talked about before everything," he said. "Will you be okay alone in here? Or do you want me to stay with you?"

Okay, now that Clark was asking if he needed someone to hold his hand . . . . Lex shook his head. "I should be all right," he said dryly. He raised an eyebrow. "Unless your AI harbours ill will towards me."

Clark laughed softly. "You should be okay, then," he said. "The AI's told me it has no emotion subroutines."

Lex raised his other eyebrow; there was definitely a story in that, but, judging from the kiss Clark dropped on his forehead before he left, it was one that would have to wait. He watched Clark leave, then, with a more serious expression, turned to face the room. Unsure where to direct his question, he looked around for a clue. Finding none, he settled on the center of the room as a point to focus on and asked, "What factors contributed to my blindness and how were they related to removing Zod's consciousness from my body?"

It took longer, he thought, than Clark might have expected, judging from the way he wandered in and out of the room from time to time, but the AI's procedures had already caused Lex's blindness and he wasn't going to let it fix it until he knew no other sense would suddenly be found inoperational. It involved a lot of painstaking—and tedious—going back and making the AI explained a term a Kryptonian might have known—Koi-Tus' procedure may have been wildly successful and hailed as a medical miracle, but that didn't mean Earth had ever heard of it—but finally, Lex was satisfied with what he had learned and willing to put himself under the AI's metaphorical knife.

"This will not hurt," the AI assured him as he settled himself on the bench, which was not exactly a bench, with its concave surface, nor quite soft enough to be a bed, although it was not the hard crystalline structure it looked.

Lex withheld his opinion on that piece of supposed comfort. For all its study of humanity, very little of it was actual close-up and personal, as Clark didn't really seem to be the type to bring work home with him. The only reason he was even going through with it was because Clark wanted him to. Well, and because he thought it would be nice to look at Clark again with real eyes. The ones he was using were miles better than nothing, but they still lacked some things. Like colour. And the ability to not short out unexpectedly.

"I am administering the soporific." A Kryptonian compound that, thankfully, worked on him. He wasn't sure if any Earth-made anaesthetics held the capacity to knock him out for as long as the AI had said the procedure would take.

He wished for a fleeting moment for Clark to be there as he was eased into unconsciousness, but he had refused to ask the AI to call Clark away from what he was doing. It was bad enough that he'd succumbed to the temptation of getting his eyesight back without completely losing his balls in the process.

And then the AI was talking again. "—ocedure was a success, Lex-Luthor. Nevertheless, refrain from straining your eyes."

Lex opened his eyes and blinked. For a moment, he wondered what the hell the AI was talking about. Done? But he hadn't even been put to sleep yet! And then he blinked again and cautiously raised one hand. He looked at it wonderingly. Pink skin, not pale grey. He sat up and looked around, seeing the colours in the crystalline walls he hadn't been able to before.

He didn't know how much longer he was lost in the miracle of properly working eyes before a sudden desire to see Clark as he should be seen came over him. "Where's Clark?" he asked peremptorily.

"Kal-El is in Punzore Getsp." Lex detected a modicum of coolness in the AI's synthesized voice. It sounded like the AI may have lied about having no emotion subroutines. He longed to get his hands inside its programming and structure.

However, such longing did not tell him where Clark was, much as the AI's response had done. Or, rather, not done. "What is Punzore Getsp?" he asked levelly. Getting angry at a sentient inanimate object was not quite the same as introducing a set of golf clubs to a pristine windshield; the AI could, quite possibly, smack back.

"Punzore Getsp," not that you're worthy to know, the AI managed to imply, "is the accumulated knowledge of this entity and comprises the sum of Kryptonian civilization."

Lex digested that for a moment. "So, are we talking about a library or have you created an exact copy of Krypton in your system?" he asked.

"Punzore Getsp is forty-three z'gefo from your position." And that was all the AI would say. It may have been enough for Clark, who had x-ray vision and could presumably see through the whatever-material-they-were walls, but it left Lex contemplating seeing if he could find a set of golf clubs. Just in case. "One z'gef equals two point seven eight meters," it added.

He gave up that idea regretfully and took a peek out in the corridor. Metric, of course, not that it was hard to convert. Just over one hundred thirty yards, then. He stretched out his arms and legs, testing them for stiffness. None at all, which could mean that Kryptonian medicine, like their surgery techniques, were so far beyond Earth's it wasn't funny, or it could mean that he hadn't been under for that long. And then he stopped short. Duh, Clark was Superman. Why go through all the trouble of searching for him when he was literally just a call away?

"Clark, can I see you?" he asked calmly, already anticipating the bad joke Clark would make upon his arrival about the seeing thing. He frowned when there was no response. "Clark?" he called a little louder. "AI, are you sure Kal-El is still within this place?" he asked. After all, Clark had always had an inconvenient habit of bad timing when it came to rushing off to rescue completely unknown people. Who was to say he wasn't even now rescuing someone in his birthday suit? Lex allowed himself a smug smile. Unless he had a spare suit at the Fortress.

"Kal-El is in Punzore Getsp," the AI replied, grudgingly if he wasn't mistaken. Yes, he'd have to talk to Clark about that. Definite signs of personality there.

"AI," he said firmly, "Kal-El directed you to answer my questions. Will you direct me to Punzore Getsp?"

"Follow the yzaga." That, too, was grudgingly said and Lex was about to ask what a "yzaga" was when a ball of crystal somehow pulled away from the wall. Fascinated, Lex watched it float over to the entrance of the room and past him. It was only when it flashed briefly—impatience, if he was any judge—that he stopped imagining just what he could do with the delightful thing and started following it.

It moved quickly and Lex followed, thanking Hope and Mercy silently for the training regime they coerced him into staying with. Not that he'd ever tell them to their face, of course. It was bad enough they regarded themselves as nannies, for God's sake, without encouraging them. He frowned as the yzaga passed the point that should have been where Punzore Getsp was, according to the AI, but uneasily shrugged it off. After all, he may have to go around in a maze of alien architecture before finding the—

He almost ran into the yzaga. Only a flaring of the light somehow within it warned him and gave him enough time to stop. He frowned; he couldn't be sure without doing some measuring, but he was pretty sure the distance between the room he'd been in and this place was not one hundred thirty yards. He was beginning to think the AI didn't like him, although there'd been no indication of it when it had calmly informed Clark that, since Lex was of higher rank—and wouldn't he die to know how that had been calculated. Net worth? Combined holdings? Prestige, even? Although probably not the last; Lex wasn't self-absorbed enough to think he was more popular than the Man of Steel—he, Clark, would be taking on the Luthor name.

He glanced into the alien library, relieved to see a distinct lack of ghostly Kryptonians. Clark was in there, his back to the entrance, something that relieved Lex to no end. The past two weeks had been spent mostly in a state of high tension and he'd had strange and far-fetched ideas about what could have been happening—a sleeper program in the AI from Zod, although Clark had said he'd checked it out thoroughly before bringing Lex there, or a hitherto unknown Kryptonian, lying in wait for Superman on Zod's orders—because, as he'd told Clark, there was no point in not being prepared and, with all the really weird shit that had started in Smallville, the stranger the idea was, the more likely it was to happen.

"Clark, didn't you hear me?" he asked, coming into the room. Clark, of course, didn't move and Lex remembered in Smallville how easy it could be to sneak up on Clark when he was engrossed in reading. Although . . . . He peered at the screen Clark was apparently looking at. There was nothing on it, although, really, that meant there was nothing on it he could see. "AI, what is Clark reading? Can you slow it down so I can see?" It may have been easier to just wave his hand between Clark's eyes and the screen, but Lex considered his action more capable of conveying his annoyance at having worried needlessly over Clark.

"Kal-El is not reading," was the surprising reply.

"Then what's he doing?" he asked, startled. He tried the waving hand thing, but it had no response. He considered trying to pinch Clark, but was pretty sure it wouldn't make any impression.

"He is practicing Torquasm-Vao."

Lex sighed. "AI," he said, more than a little irritated, "please assume I have no previous knowledge of Kryptonian culture and expand your responses appropriately. What is Clark doing?" He had to wait long enough to wonder if he was going to have to phrase everything in questions format before he got his answer.

"Torquasm-Vao is an ancient meditation technique," was the eventual response. "It frees the mind from the constraints of the body and allows it to move into the Theta State. The Theta State is comparable to your culture's 'astral plane', although—" as always, it implied, "—there are significant differences between the reality and your culture's conceptions of it. They are as follo—"

"Good enough," Lex interrupted. "Thanks," he added. "How can I bring him out of it?"

"There is no known way to bring a person out of the Theta State," the AI said. "They are in complete control of their functions and thus cannot be poked, prodded, or startled out of their meditation."

Lex stepped back for a moment and regarded Clark. Yet another instance where he could feel as helpless as a newborn babe. More, actually, because newborns were allowed to wail their little lungs out and he'd have to be half-dead and drugged to the gills to boot before he resorted to such behaviour. But the question remained. Why would Clark feel the need to practice his meditation when he was supposed to be researching alternate methods of incarceration for Zod and his friends?

A faint sound caught his attention and he returned his gaze to Clark. He straightened and began studying Clark more carefully. Small twitches of the facial muscles, barely audible sounds . . . something told him someone's body was not totally under his control. "How good is Clark's control in this Torquasm-Vao?" Lex asked thoughtfully.

"Kal-El's control is as it should be."

"Which is?" Lex prodded.

"Perfect."

Lex gritted his teeth. "Scan him," he ordered. "If his control is as perfect as you think it is, then he shouldn't be twitching as he is. I want to know what's wrong with him."

A pale blue light obediently shone over Clark's body and Lex stepped back to allow it to do its work. Another light, this one pinkish in tone, played over Clark's body, followed by one tinted in yellow. All three, he noted, were the colours of Clark's family.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Processing."

Maybe he didn't want an alien AI after all. How much processing power did it have to have, anyway, to analyse a body scan? He was going to be terribly disappointed if the answer turned out to be a lot.

"Kal-El is not in Theta State." The answer came without warning.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"The tests were run multiple times." Now the AI was sounding imperturbable, but that didn't really help Lex much. "It appears," it volunteered, "that something has withdrawn Kal-El's consciousness from his body."

"Search for intruders," Lex ordered instantly. "If you find none, search for a process that's taking enough memory to be a Kryptonian consciousness in your system." He gnawed on his thumb. It was unlikely there was anyone else in the Fortress other than them, but he had a horrible sinking feeling that Zod had managed to find time in the busy days of a world conqueror to visit his nemesis' home and make a few . . . improvements.

"I have found Kal-El," the AI announced.

"Can you bring him back?"

"I . . . cannot." The AI sounded almost as surprised as Lex felt.

"Where's he being kept, then?" Lex demanded, agitated.

Although it didn't know how or when it had come about—Lex had his own suspicions, of course, but he held his tongue while the AI explained—the AI had found a "pocket" of memory, hidden within its recesses. It was the approximate size needed for a personality imprint, such as was made when someone was about to die, and there was definite activity within it. However, the protections on it were such that, if the AI were to try to reach into it itself, it could quite possibly damage Clark's brain. Also, there was apparently some difficulty involved in looking inside of part of itself that had been so barred and blocked away.

"It is comparable to you looking at your anus," the AI told him.

Lex grimaced. "What a charming example," he murmured before speaking up again. "AI, you can't get in there. But can you get me in there?"

The answer was a long time coming. "Theoretically possible," the AI said at last. "Lex-Luthor, understand that all my equipment is primarily calibrated for Kryptonians; it may damage you while you are in its power. It may not calibrate properly to your brain waves and make it impossible for you to return."

"But can you get me in there?" Lex asked. He nodded grimly at the clearly reluctant affirmative. "Then bring up the relevant information on one of these screens and start getting everything set up." He took a seat beside Clark and reached for what appeared to be the controls, familiarizing himself with them. "I don't know what's wrong with me," he muttered to himself. "I have a wonderfully working, natural pair of eyes again and what's the first thing I do with them? Exchange them for computer eyes again."

 


Clark was paralysed. He didn't know why, whether it was from the sheer immensity of destruction or if his enemy had done something to keep him from interfering. He couldn't even take his eyes off of the smirking face before him.

"Why?!" he demanded brokenly. "H-how could you do such a thing, Lex?" To his shame, he heard his voice break, but he held his head up high and refused to give his enemy satisfaction.

Lex laughed at him, genuine and disbelieving. "How can you ask such a thing, Clark?" he asked, his voice caressing in a way that made him sick. "Because I could! Is there any other reason?"

"I-I thought, I believed . . . ."

Lex lifted an eyebrow. "What, that I was 'reformed'? That all those attempts to kill you over the years were a form of playful flirting?" The bald man shook his head. "Please, Clark, don't make me laugh! If I want some ass, even some as delectable as your own, do you seriously think I'd have the patience to sit and nurse a crush on you in the faintest of hopes that you'd someday return my feelings? Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer a more . . . immediate return on my efforts."

"How could you do such a thing?" Clark whispered, begging Lex to make him understand.

"Please try to keep up, Clark, you already asked that question." Lex surveyed the devastation surrounding them and nodded. "Besides, this is nothing on what I'm going to do. The whole world . . . . Won't it be beautiful, Clark? Just the two of us, together forever." Lex gave a short laugh. "Well, together until I get tired of you, of course."

"I'll stop you," Clark told him, disregarding whatever it was that kept him kneeling before Lex. "I've done it before."

"But not on this scale," Lex returned with a shark's grin. "I have it all set up, Clark, so beautifully. So many bombs, so many hiding places . . . . And all of them look nothing like their purpose. That's the beauty of it, Clark. Keep you running around after things that look like real bombs and then detonating the ones you just . . . couldn't . . . find." Lex shivered and smiled a slow, sated smile. "That will be . . . good, so good to watch. All the people dying and Clarkie-Warkie unable to stop it." He sighed and turned around, walking away from where Clark was still frozen. "Some days, it pays to be a genius. Wait, what am I saying? It always pays!" He rubbed two fingers together in the time-honoured gesture for money. "One way or another, anyway. See you on the other side of the apocalypse, Clark!"

And then whatever was holding him fell away and Clark could move again. And move he did, racing across the distance separating them and snapping Lex's neck before he could go through with his version of the apocalypse. He cried out as he did so, his voice blending with Lex's, pain, surprise bleeding together.

"Nice try," Lex told him with a ghost of his voice and a sliver of a smirk. "But no cigar, Clarkie-Warkie. You're too late. Can't you hear them? All you've done now is condemn yourself to a lonely existence as the last man on Earth." Lex gave a short, breathless laugh. "But you're not a man, are you, Clark? And you want to fit in so bad, too, don't you? No chance of that now, with all the little children screaming helplessly for Superman. Superman who won't be able to save them because you're too la—"

Clark reached forward with a despairing cry, hearing the dull thud of far away explosions, and gripped Lex's neck and squeezed. He wept as he did so, crying for himself and the world and the person he had never let Lex be. The person he believed with all his heart Lex had not wanted to be.

And the ground thundered and the sky rumbled and it was the end. And all Clark wanted was for it to take him, too.

"Wow, I really did a number on this place, didn't I?" Lex's voice, even though his hand was still around Lex's throat. A gentle touch on his shoulder spurred his hand to grab the limb that had touched him and roughly snap the person it belonged to in front of him. "Clark, are you all right?" Lex asked, concern in his eyes, not dull and lifeless, but warm with worry.

"I killed you," Clark snarled in a thick voice. "And you've killed the world. Leave me alone."

 


Lex took in a breath. Okay. Hallucinations. Not something he was unfamiliar with, although usually he was the one with them. He looked around. Pretty realistic hallucination, though. But, hey, it was housed within the AI itself and must have access to an astonishing amount of memory to play around with.

He reached for Clark's shoulder again, to try to shake him out of whatever fugue he was in. He overbalanced when his hand went right through Clark's shoulder and only narrowly kept himself from staggering into—or, considering what had just happened, through—Clark. He eyed Clark narrowly and cautiously stuck his hand through Clark's head and waved it back and forth.

"Great," he muttered to himself. "I'm a ghost. AI, why can I wave my hand through Clark's head when I could touch him before?"

There was a pause and then the AI said, "Kal-El has rejected you from his reality and, in doing so, has partially pushed you out of the malignant pocket."

He chuckled. "Malignant pocket; I like that. So, is this a good or bad thing?" he asked.

"If he pushes you out any further, I do not know if I will be able to reinsert you," the AI said. "However, the method he used to push you has yielded, upon investigation, more information about the malignant pocket."

"Good and bad, then," Lex interpreted. "Also, don't poke the alien or he'll kick me out." He sighed. "And that leaves me with how many options?" He studied Clark, ruthlessly pushing back a desire to utterly destroy the cause of Clark's grief. It was a desire he was all too used to suppressing; usually, he was the source of Clark's grief and this time, well, it was kinda hard to destroy death, even if it was an illusion.

There was nothing for it, he finally decided. He would have to take his chances on being kicked out and try poking Clark again.

"Clark," he said. There was no indication he had been heard. "Clark, I know you can hear me. You're the one who tried to kick me out of this wonderful construct. You have to remember how you got here. You can't, though, can you? I bet you can only remember this field, this . . . devastation." He paused. "Except maybe it wasn't devastation," he said softly, his mind constantly coming up with—and discarding—potential causes and their resulting effects. "I'd bet this was a beautiful place, all lush and growing. And, obviously, I was here," because there I am, he completed sardonically to himself. "I bet you thought this was a paradise. And then I started talking." He kicked the foot of the other "him". As he'd half expected, there was no resistance. "Or rather, this shell did. And his words . . . all the sneering I did over the years, right? Combined with all those fears of yours that helped keep us at loggerheads throughout the years. And then he turned your paradise into dust and laughed at you and blamed you." Not outright accusations, though; he knew more than enough of Clark to know the other man took outright accusations as the blatant attacks they were. No, insinuations would do the job, allusions to how Clark had helped him, guided him, even. "How did he survive that?" he asked persuasively. "To turn this much paradise into dust and rubble, well, you'd survive it, but I doubt I would, even with my wonderful power of healing. Ground zero of an explosion of this magnitude can do that a person, I guess. But he stood unscathed, didn't he? And then he did the same thing to the rest of the world and you couldn't stop him, could you? I bet that was his plan all along, Clark. And then you killed him." And wasn't that the most chilling part of it. Clark loved him, he knew—intellectually, at least; emotionally was catching up slowly—and he still killed the image of Lex, an image he believed to be real. Lex made a note to stay away from temptation. Not that he really needed it with his nannies gently, but firmly, intimidating him until he was at least mostly respectable. He assumed it was part of their whole "Get Supershmuck and the Boss to Kiss and Make Up and Have Sex For Our Entertainment" plan." He saw Clark shift slightly and hoped it was because he was listening to Lex and not, say, contemplating throwing Lex all the way out of this pseudo reality.

And then his eyes narrowed. It wasn't Clark's shifting that had caught his attention, was it. The not-Lex was slowly, so slowly melting into . . . what? He knew it, remembered seeing it once before . . . .

"AI," he said abruptly. "Ten years ago, what was downloaded into me? What did you cleanse from my body?"

"ZOD," was the instant reply. "Zryng Ovbitupni Dinfun. In your words . . . Metal Biological Poison, perhaps. An entity created as an AI, a weapon in the systems of Krypton. Quex-Ul was convicted of releasing it from the Machine King's ruins in the abandoned city of Xan and using it with intent to disrupt. The one known as 'Fine' on Earth was a small part of it, programmed to keep ZOD from danger and, if necessary, find it a suitable host. Able to temporarily survive in a pure biological host, although an amalgamation of biology and technology is required for best performance. Has the ability to learn, adapt, and improve itself. Seeks control and purity at all costs."

"And you were able to purge it from my body," Lex interrupted, still watching the infinitesimally growing puddle of metallic black. He smiled without humour. "Were you able to purge it from your own systems?"

The silence was gratifying. Or rather, it was, before the puddle expanded rapidly as the body of not-Lex vanished into it. Lex took a step back as it seemed to gather himself, not counting on his supposed intangibility to keep him safe from the menace in whose space, after all, he was in.

And then Clark was shielding him. His clothes had changed from the bright colours of his original Superman uniform to the muted colours of the plaid Lex remembered from Smallville.

"Clark—?" he asked cautiously. If there was an answer, Lex didn't hear it because Clark was gone again, only visible now and again as he and the animate black liquid metal attempted to grapple with each other. "AI, do you know how to purge it?"

There was a moment of silence before the AI answered. "Yes," it said. "Having examined the data of ZOD-on-Krypton and compared it to the data of ZOD-in-Lex, it is possible to purge ZOD-in-Fortress. However, you must remove yourself and Kal-El from ZOD's space before I do so; if you remain, you will be purged as well."

"And where is our exit?" Lex asked tensely, tracking the flickers that were Clark and ZOD fighting.

"Kal-El must free both you and himself," was the discouraging answer. "Kal-El's interference with your insertion has made it impossible for you to be retrieved by another's power. He must complete your ejection and follow."

Lex tried not to grind his teeth and considered their options. First, Clark had at least partial control of this space; he had proved it by shoving Lex out. ZOD must have been playing on Clark's fears when he had created the scene and, to do that, it appeared he had to have given Clark the ability to shape the surroundings. Clever, because all details would match exactly with Clark's memory, but Lex would be a poor genius indeed the day he couldn't take an opponent's advantage and reverse it.

"Clark! Use the power of your mind!" Although he winced immediately after he said it, he had to—reluctantly—admit it was nothing but the truth. Clark's mind pitted against the malignant AI would be the only real way to battle. All the visible fighting that was going on, it was nothing more than a distraction at most and a cover for another, more insidious attack at worst.

Clark was suddenly visible again, obviously having heard Lex's shouted words. The puddle of ZOD rose to strike at him, but the tentacle whipping forward rebounded off an unseen obstacle. An obstacle that surrounded Clark, Lex saw when ZOD crept forward and attempted to surround Clark. It rose up over him, crawling over the shield Clark had crept, but was unable to penetrate it. And then, Lex somehow felt its attention shift to him.

His mouth dry, he moved away from the blackness flowing towards him, until he backed into something far too solid for a supposedly intangible body. He turned his head to see what it was and swallowed a gasp at the stiff black wall stopping his retreat. And then the wall softened and flowed over him. He tried to turn his head, to see Clark one last time, but that was denied him as ZOD brought its will to bear on him. His last sight before the black covered him completely was of the dust of a lost paradise.

 


He was alone.

Cold.

Distant.

There was something he was supposed to know, but the suffocating black prevented thought, leaving him too numb to think but not numb enough to not know he was missing . . . .

Something.

There was a sort of horror in him, but the distance shielded him somewhat from it. He tried to feel gratitude towards it, but the distance shielded him from that. A faint voice too far inside to hear clearly tried to tell him it was wrong to feel gratitude towards the distance, the distance wasn't doing him any favours.

But the voice was swallowed by the emptiness.

He wanted to shiver, but there was nothing to move and he wondered momentarily why he thought he should shiver. Shivering produced heat, but heat was of no use to him.

Something at the edge of his vision sparkled. Light. Sluggishly, he turned his attention to it, if only because it was the only point of reference in the blackness.

A star. It was like a star. But, somehow, not. Stars didn't move like that, dancing through all the colours of the rainbow—he could see them all now, no longer limited to the small portion of the spectrum visible to humans—not unless they were planes or helicopters.

Whatever those were.

The rippling light came closer to him and he heard that voice inside him shout that if he must feel gratitude, he should feel it towards the light. Which was silly, because light didn't have a personality and assigning one to something inanimate like that was to abandon logic and logic was the cornerstone of existence. Without logic there was no existence.

Funny you should say that, the voice said. Because existence is life and life, almost by definition is illogical.

The voice was clearly insane. Existence was pure, as it should be, and uncomplicated by the disorder life brought.

And then the rainbow was upon him, brushing away the slow-moving fear that had appeared as it had with an ease and speed that made his head spin.

Only . . . it wasn't the speed that made his head spin. The light filled him, sweeping through him. A red wave engulfed him, drowning him in air and water, before a flashfire of yellow sparked and cushioned a fall he hadn't even felt with petal softness. A great blue shower rained over him, cleansing his mind and healing his body.

And then he was free.

 


"Is he all right?" he heard Clark ask anxiously. "There'll be no side-effects?"

"He is waking as we speak, Kal-El." A woman's voice, unknown. "I have studied his qan extensively and have adjusted the treatment accordingly. There should be no detrimental side-effects, but should any manifest, please bring him back." There was a pause. "Before ten years have passed this time, Kal-El."

"Yes, Lara," Clark replied, sounding abashed. "I'll keep a close eye on him this time, I promise."

Lara . . . . He cast about for a face to attach to the name, but couldn't find one. It was familiar, though, even if he couldn't figure out why. It felt . . . like approval.

"Lex, open your eyes?" Clark's voice, closer to him. Pleading, anxious. Clark shouldn't sound like that, he decided. Clark was meant to be happy, smiling. Kissing.

He forced open eyes that felt lead-heavy to see a pink blur over him. "Clark." His voice was rough and caught in all the wrong places. He felt around his mouth with a tongue that felt like it weighed a continent or more and tried again. "Clark, I can't see."

The pink blur was gone immediately and he heard Clark say accusingly, "I thought you said there were no side-effects!"

"I suspect Lex-Luthor meant he could not see with your face so close to his," the woman—Lara—said tranquilly. "His physical condition is within acceptable parameters."

The pink blur appeared again, but this time far enough away for him to see Clark's face and be able to distinguish it as such. "Lex, are you all right?" Clark asked him, his breath brushing over Lex's face.

Lex took stock before he answered. His body was reporting in as stiff, but serviceable. "Fine, with a hot bath," he said finally, making his voice behave mostly by concentrating his will on it. Will . . . . His thoughts took that and ran off on a tangent. Willpower alone to defeat an enemy? "What happened?"

"ZOD tried to take you again," Clark told him, sitting beside him on whatever he was laid out on. "I—It wasn't easy to find you, Lex, and I had to get it out of you before we could get out of its space and the AI could sterilize it." He made a face. "Electronically, that is." Then he brightened. "But I did it and the AI purged it and the purging released the personality processes ZOD had managed to lock up and look, Lex, it's my mom!"

Lex looked obediently and blinked. A woman was standing in the room with them, covered from head to toe in an all-enveloping robe. Blue, red, and yellow patterns chased each other over a black background. He squinted; he could see the wall behind her.

"Hello, Lex-Luthor," she said and smiled. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am the persofil of Lara Lor-Van Jor-El, a program containing the personality of a person, whether living or dead. I function as the AI of this place." She bowed her head. "Please forgive my abruptness at our second meeting; the processes ZOD had disabled had made it difficult for me to accept . . . changes."

"Lex?" Clark asked anxiously.

Lex looked back at him and managed a smile. And then, exhaustion weighing on him, his eyes fell closed again.

"Lex?!"

"He needs to replenish his energy, Kal-El. Let him sleep."

 


Clark passed his hand over the screen and the capsule closed smoothly. "That's the last of them," he said with a sigh, looking at the supine figures in their translucent prisons. Each of the five Kryptonians had a glowing jewel positioned on their foreheads—luckily, the jewels hadn't needed much in the way of exotic components to be made—and each were in suspended animation. The only part of the procedure Clark had changed was that he refused to send them into orbit. Gravity, or the lack thereof, didn't interfere with the treatment and he wasn't going to take the chance of the US government "accidentally" knocking them out of the sky. He thought they would be much safer hidden with the Fortress, with Lara watching over them.

"Is it finished?"

Clark turned around and smiled at Lex. Although obviously still tired, the bald man had nevertheless convinced Lara to let him out in search of Clark. "It is," he replied. "Lara says, based on their crimes, it should be at least fifteen years before the first one wakes up. What excuse did you try this time?"

"Told her I couldn't sleep," Lex said, stifling a yawn. He shivered. "Might as well be true, the amount of sleep I'm getting."

Clark grinned. "Don't tell me you think my come's the culprit," he said. "Didn't we agree the alien bonding thing was unlikely?"

Lex nodded, but said, "It's the table, the bed, the whatever it is your AI is telling me is a sleeping surface." He grimaced. "It's not soft enough." He followed Clark out of the room, watching him add layer upon layer of security to it.

"Awww, is the poor spoiled millionaire wanting an alien mattress?" Clark cooed.

Lex took a swipe at Clark, but the brunet ducked out of the way. "Move it, mattress," he commanded. "Some of us need to sleep if others of us want to be protected from Hope and Mercy."

Clark stopped, his expression of dismay almost comical. "Lex?" he called, hurrying after the bald man. "Lex, you'll protect me, won't you?"

 


Clark peeked into the closet and immediately withdrew his head, blushing brightly.

"Hey, Supermodel, get your ass back in here!" Hope called out. "It's the least you can do to make up for kidnapping our illustrious leader!"

Clark cautiously looked in again, more relieved than he could say to find all parties modestly covered again. He averted his eyes from Hope's outfit. Make that mostly modestly covered.

"Thank God," Lex said with feeling. "Clark, she's been abusing my eyes to help her organize her clothes. She trapped me in here! With her wardrobe!"

Clark came all the way in and made his way to stand behind Lex. Wrapping his arms around Lex's waist, he shook his head at Hope. "You know I don't like it when you show Lex something you won't show me," he chided.

Hope sniffed and pulled a top—burnt orange with variations rippling through it as it moved—before answering him. "Please," she said disdainfully. "You have less fashion sense than a rock. I hereby rescind my invitation in light of your appalling bad fashion sense."

"Take me with you," Lex pleaded. "I don't want to help any woman with her wardrobe! Anything I say will be taken out of context and used against me in fiendishly evil ways!"

"I don't know, Lex," Clark said thoughtfully. "I seem to remember someone, can't remember his name just now, almost laughing himself sick when someone, her name will come to me momentarily, I'm sure, decided magic marker was the new male thong and tried to get me to model it."

"I'm sorry, I'll never do it again!"

He hemmed and hawed, but finally grinned at Hope. "Sorry to break apart this lovely couple-thing you have going," he said solemnly, "but my boyfriend and I have a date to get to."

Hope pouted at him. "Party pooper!" she accused. "Skinflint!" she said, raising her voice as he pulled Lex backwards out of the closet. "You'd better let us tape it this time or you'll be sorry! And I really mean it!"

"So, where are we going?" Clark murmured in Lex's ear, enjoying the shudder that wracked the other man as they moved towards the balcony doors. "I mean, this is our first real date."

"Chez Joey's?" Lex suggested, naming what was quite possibly the most prestigious restaurant in Metropolis. The bald man continued with studied unconcern, "I happen to know Joey personally and he's promised to—"

But he was cut off my Clark's mouth devouring his as if Lex were the meal. "You're sure?" Clark asked when he broke the kiss. "You mean it?"

"I, of all people, would hardly have made the reservations without knowing what it would mean," Lex said, gently reproving.

Clark was grinning now. "Are you saying I would?" he asked.

Lex smiled back at him. "Not you, but my two . . . guardian angels," the bald man said.

Clark laughed at that. "Hope's been making a pest of herself again?" he asked. A muffled thump suggested Hope had heard, and objected, to Clark's question. He and Lex shared another grin. And then Clark hesitated, halfway to arranging Lex for a comfortable flight. "Lex—did you want to drive?" he asked. "Since it's, you know, such a high-profile place?"

Lex stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Clark's neck as he stepped onto Clark's feet. "I think I'd rather fly, if you don't mind," he said, stealing another kiss. "And then, after supper, maybe your mother's? For dessert?"

Clark hugged him close and lifted them into the air. "Gee, Lex, you must think it's serious," he said mock-seriously. "Going to meet my mom and everything." The soft kiss he initiated gave voice to the gratitude and awe he felt at the enormous risk Lex was taking.

"Stuff of legends, Clark," Lex said, smiling. "I intend to make good on my promise."

END




Stories/Gallery/Index/Credits