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by P L Nunn




Two or three months, Clark had said, had promised, with that soulfully sincere look he got when he spoke from the heart and actually believed what he was saying. Two or three months and if it's longer than that I'll let you know. And Lex hadn't liked it, but he'd understood the need. Understood the benefit to everyone, to Clark personally, to the world in general, for Clark to complete that all-important training with the Kryptonian computer that housed his biological father's agenda and reach his full potential.

Lex understood sacrifice and he understood the concept of giving a little to gain a lot. Lex was willing to let Clark go because that's what Clark thought he had to do. What Clark wanted to do, and Clark's wants mattered to him.

For two or three months.

Lex's generosity and Lex's understanding had its limits. Lex's patience had never been that fine-tuned a thing and at three months and one day, he started to get antsy. Because, really, with an alien fortress under the control of what was likely the most powerful computer on the planet, at the very least Clark could have sent a text.

Of course, Clark had been known upon occasion, to be somewhat less than punctual. He tended to be easily distracted, the curse of super sensitive hearing and a Boy Scout mentality. So a few days overdue was not an earth shattering surprise.

Lex waited a whole two weeks into that third month before repositioning one of the two LexCorp satellites in orbit around the earth and trying yet one more time to get a location on Clark's icebound fortress, because something might have happened and from what Lex had gleaned of the AI that inhabited the place, Clark's wants might not take priority over the legacy of his long dead father. Clark might very well be in a situation Clark didn't want to be in and Lex's protective instincts kicked into overdrive the more his imagination kicked into play considering all the dire possibilities.

The damned thing proved elusive, though, to the most sophisticated surveillance equipment known to man and he cursed Clark for never actually giving him a pinpoint location of the fortress. He had a feeling the damn thing was cloaking itself with enviable alien tech and cursed Clark for never mentioning that, either. If Clark even knew a fraction of its capabilities. Which Clark probably didn't, Clark having a certain lack of finesse when it came to high tech.

Lex fumed. And worried. And made the drive to Smallville on a workday when he ought to be conducting LexCorp business, to talk with Martha Kent, who had more first hand experience dealing with the alien technology related disappearances of her son.

"It'll be all right, honey. You just need to calm down and trust that Clark knows what he's doing. Have a muffin." Was her advice as she bustled around the farmhouse kitchen, racks full of cooling muffins crowding her counters in preparation, she'd explained for the annual Smallville Women's Club bake sale.

Lex seethed at the muffin in question, that she'd sat before him, and at the accompanying cup of coffee and wondered if she'd ever actually met her son. Clark very seldom went into things with a profusion of foreknowledge and generally got by with luck and an over abundance of yellow sun-enhanced superpowers.

"He said three months. It's been almost four and from what I've gleaned, the Fortress AI has trampled over Clark's preferences in the past and undermined his free will."

"And Clark has always come through it, stronger than before." Martha looked more concerned with the state of the current tray of muffins she'd removed from the oven than over the possibility of her son being stripped of his humanity. "He won't forget the people he loves and that includes you now, so have a little faith."

Lex managed not to scowl in the face of her confidence. Clark would have bought that theory, hook, line and sinker, but Lex knew better. Lex knew damn well that love was a transitory ideal at best and one that might be conveniently shuffled aside in favor of more self-serving agendas. Maybe Jor-el's AI had offered Clark something he couldn't refuse. Maybe the lure of his origin had been more powerful than the one of his adopted home. Maybe that floodgate of power had been opened up and he'd discovered that simple human connections were beneath him. Power corrupted after all and well Lex knew it. Or maybe Clark had gotten distracted with whatever the hell it was he was doing, wherever the hell he was doing it and simply forgotten to call home.

Lex wasn't entirely sure which one of those scenario's irritated him more.

Another three weeks and no word from Clark and it was immerse himself into LexCorp business or lose his mind, so he did, with a passion. The ARP program was in full swing. LexCorp had gotten the government contract to supply NASA with a series of autonomous robotic exploration probes. The first one was going up in a month, heading for the moon in an off planet test run in preparation for the Mars mission. His R & D teams were already working on a larger model, a self sufficient one, that could last decades, mining and collecting samples, and self-propelling itself back into space and home where it could be retrieved once back in Earth orbit. The way things were looking for Government run space programs, LexCorp might just very well be the go to guys for American space exploration if they kept ahead of the curve. It had never been his father's vision for the future of the company, but it damn sure fit into Lex's thirst for exploring the unknown.

He went to bed at night dreaming of possibilities to keep himself from dwelling on Clark, but nothing ever really dulled the need to know, the need - - entirely. A few drinks maybe, or working himself to exhaustion might curb some of it, but inevitably, Clark seeped into his mind and lodged there, as excruciating a distraction as he'd been before he'd started actually sharing his secrets with Lex. And Lex couldn't help imagining new secrets - - alien secrets that even Clark hadn't known before. He'd agreed with this initially - - but God, he was beginning to regret it now.

Sometimes the dreams were terrible, horrific ones that left him in a cold sweat upon waking, but more often than not, he dreamed the other sort, which left him flushed, with a morning erection that only hands on interaction or a very cold shower would satisfy. Five months without sex of the sort that involved another participant, was a very long time. It made him tense and edgy and the people around him began to tread carefully.

If Clark were dead, that would be an acceptable excuse for not coming home. Lex would buy that justification and mourn appropriately. Otherwise, it was just damned rude.

Lex thought about Clark dead, beyond his reach somewhere and went for the wet bar in his office and kept at it until the liquor dulled the trembling in his hands and the sharp edge of pain/anger that had been dwelling behind his eyes for what seemed weeks. It had been a long time since he'd felt the need to seriously reduce the stock of fine spirits he kept on hand. It was creeping up on him now.

Clark's fault.

He ought to go out and get laid and relieve some of the pressure - - it wasn't like he owed Clark abstinence when Clark apparently felt no answering since of obligation to him.

He flew out to Florida the day of the ARP launch and obliged the swarm of reporters lingering outside the NASA pressroom with a few quotes before heading in to mission control to watch the launch. He kept thinking of one pretty little reporter from some tech magazine and how bright her smile had been and wondered what she'd give for an in depth, personal interview. She had a wide mouth, and full lips, like Clark, and he imagined she'd be rather clever with them.

Almost he missed the initial launch, visualizing it, her mouth or Clarks, and focused his attention back to where it belonged. The launch went off flawlessly and he stayed until the first burn off, then went out with a few NASA brass to the formal after launch press conference.

He met her eyes a few times, gauging, because he'd used to be a very good judge of women and the invitation in their eyes. He just hadn't bothered to access it since Clark, having neither the need nor the desire.

When it was his turn at the podium, he pointed to her first, and she had a question about ARP deployment in private sector use, which was a good question, but not one he was willing to speculate about right now, with all his government contracts gathered around him. He smiled and gave her a pat answer.

"Is it true that LexCorp made significant campaign contributions to Senator Crane in order for him to push the government contracts your way?"

He lifted a brow, looking towards the back of the gathering to a familiar face in the mix. Lois Lane with a press pass that had the Metropolis Daily News logo on the face. She'd made a step up in her journalistic career, sometime in the last few months, going from writing slush for the Inquisitor to being a roving reporter for the Metropolis nightly news. One of the cameramen at the back of the room was likely hers, and Lex put on a condescending smile and answered.

"I assure you, miss Lane, the ARP technology sold itself. If anyone out there had a better product, you'd be talking to them instead of me."

He denied her a follow up and went on to someone else. Turned the podium over to a veteran NASA astronaut that had graced the cover of a cereal box or two and strolled out to the tarmac that his security pass allowed him access to, but no member of the press might follow. Lois Lane annoyed him. He actually had made a contribution or two to Senator Crane, and favors were always in favor when money flowed, but he'd neither asked nor needed the man's influence in the ARP contracts and it grated that she'd insinuated it.

The hanger where the second ARP probe was housed was empty of techs, everyone out celebrating the successful liftoff. The probe crouched, like some huge, metal spider in the center of the hanger, tri-jointed legs folded under the oblong body. This was the one they were outfitting for the harsher environs of the red planet. He ran a hand across dull grey metal alloy, an amalgam that his own labs had discovered that was more heat and corrosion resistant than any previously created compound. The manufacturing process was prohibitive and God-awful expensive and would net him a fortune in proprietary rights.

The project from start to finish had been entirely above board. Started back when a great many of his projects had not been. He was damned proud of it, and God but it had felt good sharing the possibilities with Clark, who for a long time had accused him of not having any legit operations. It had felt good sharing a lot of things with Clark. Liberating.

He took a breath, clenching his fist against cold alloy plating, then let it out when footsteps echoed on the concrete floor.

"Mr. Luthor, we're due for take off in an hour." His personal assistant hovered at the open flight doors of the hanger. A prompt and efficient young man, bespectacled and hawkish.

He took another breath and made a decision. "The reporter from Scientific America, blonde, blue suit. Offer an invitation of a ride home."

Of course she took him up on it. He was Lex Luthor, after all, the man of the hour, and it was a private jet. As they were getting into the Limo to take them to the airport, Lois Lane pushed her way through the scattered few press members and NASA personal under the portico outside the admin building and called his name.

He ignored her, handing the little blonde reporter into the backseat until Lois hit a sensitive spot.

"Just give me a second, Lex. It's about Clark."

The little blonde looked around his hip when he froze at the car door, a scathing look at the competition and he ignored it and Lois did, because Clark was a trigger word with him and had been since the day he'd fished him out of a muddy Smallville river.

He gestured to his bodyguard and bent down to the little blonde. "Give me a minute."

She pouted, taking his offered hand and his help back out of the car, and glared at Lois as she took her place, settling into the back seat. Lex slipped in after and the bodyguard shut the door, sealing them into the leather bound silence of the limo.

"You've got two minutes."

She looked nervous, which gratified him somewhat.

"I think something's wrong," she blurted finally, shoulder's squared. "Trek across Europe, my ass. Who treks for six months without a call or a text?"

Lex lifted a brow, having wondered the same thing himself. He could commiserate on more than one level, having been in her shoes on the outside of the secret for too many years.

"He's young. It's his first time out in the world. There are a great many distractions to be had, when one makes the European circuit, believe me." He covered nonetheless.

"See, now that's just bull shit," she glared at him. "And how can his so called friends not be worried. You are his friend again, right? I mean you guys were hanging out an awful lot before he left, so how can you just shrug it off. And Chloe's doing the same thing and Mrs. Kent. Why aren't you worrying? He could be dead, or worse. I've heard about the things that can happen to tourists over there. I've seen Hostel."

"I'm sure he'd be touched by your concern - -"

"Well, somebody ought to be," she muttered.

"But, Clark has always proven capable of taking care for himself. Now if you don't mind, I've got a plane to catch."

"Its your plane, you think it's going to take off without you?"

She never failed to agitate, especially when she was forcing him to make up excuses that he didn't believe. Figured that the one person that agreed with him that this was neither normal nor acceptable was Lois Lane. A muscle in his jaw ticked and he indicated the door. She sniffed and opened it, scooting out.

The blonde slipped back in, looking miffed. Lex ignored her, too busy seething over Lois and Lois bringing up worries over Clark that he'd managed to push to the back of his mind. He pushed them away again with an effort, damned and determined to celebrate this particular victory with the company at hand rather than spend it brooding over Clark.

He had a bodyguard and his assistant and the one stewardess, all of which discreetly kept to the front compartment of the jet, leaving Lex to his one on one, in depth personal interview. There was champagne involved, celebratory, after the first successful launch of the ARP probe moonward and after the second glass or so, she ended up talking more about herself than interviewing Lex. Sally something from Chicago, who'd had one year at M.I. T. before she'd flunked out and decided writing about technological science was easier than studying it. She was a relatively smart girl, and she had clever hands that ended up working their way up his thigh, while she leaned in and whispered against his ear how hot the ARP probe was, and God, but rockets firing into space made her cream her panties. As sex talk went, Lex had heard worse.

Only his mind kept flitting to Clark, and how much bigger his hands were, how much firmer when Clark worked his fingers up Lex's leg. And the things he could do with them that no honest Kansas farm boy ought to know.

He caught her wrist, halting her progress, said to cover hesitation he didn't need her knowing he had, "The in-flight filet is to die for."

She wasn't so much offended as confused when the jet touched down in Metropolis and he disembarked, sending her on her way to Chicago with nothing more than a steak dinner and an aborted interview. He regretted it by the time he got home, on the long ride up the private elevator in Luthor East. Into the penthouse that had never seemed so huge and cold until this last half a year. Clark did that to him as well, made things that had been perfectly acceptable before him, seem empty when he no longer filled the space with his overlarge presence.

A quarter bottle of fine scotch put him to sleep, but he didn't dream of the magnificent flare of that rocket arcing into the skies over Cape Canaveral, but instead, of Clark, standing in the shadows, face stern and devoid of human emotion.

The imagery of that dogged him through the next workday. Easy to let himself get distracted when it was all mundane, everyday corporate business, no space launches, nothing of particular interest at all to break up the monotony. Clark had been good for that, calling him out for lunch, or appearing at the balcony doors unannounced, having arrived the unconventional way, via flight, and Lex would cancel a meeting or two and lock the office doors and the day would take a very nice turn for a half hour or so. A very nice turn.

God, he needed to get laid in the worst way, and damned if he wouldn't. A few names came to mind, women he'd dallied with in the past, that wouldn't expect more than a dinner and the prestige of being seen on his. Almost he got his assistant to get him a few numbers, but that would be predictable and he was feeling distinctly unpredictable at the moment. Feeling the need to flex muscles that hadn't been flexed in oh, over a year, since he'd started this thing with Clark.

"Tell Travis I'll be going out tonight," he told his personal assistant, Nancy on the way out, that afternoon. His security tended to be overzealous, having on past occasion, failed to prevent unfortunate incidents. They liked to be informed when he went off schedule. And with no Clark to take up the slack, and no particular need to sow oats up until this point, he'd catered to that need. Being kidnapped and or tortured was not one of his fonder pastimes.

He took the elevator down to the private access between Luthor West and East, Nancy trailing him as far as the penthouse elevator with a last few things that needed his attention. When the brass-plated doors shut her out, he closed his eyes and leaned against the back wall, enjoying the silence.

He showered, roamed his closet, contemplating wardrobe. Drifted to the bar afterwards, for a pre-evening drink, and sat on the big, plush couch he'd gotten because Clark didn't appreciate the clean, hard lines of modern furniture design. He flipped on the news and half listened to it, while the sky outside the ceiling to sky penthouse windows turned to purple.

He didn't know what he was waiting for. Metropolis was huge and vibrant and showed her true colors at night. He knew her like the back of his hand. He tossed down the last of his drink, donned his coat, black silk weave, light for the end of summer, over a charcoal shirt that fit like a tailored silk glove.

Security was patiently waiting for him for him when he reached his private garage and he breezed towards the new steel grey Mercedes with his driver and a bodyguard on his heels. Told the driver to head towards upper 24th with its array of high-end clubs and always popular nightspots. The Canal Club used to be a favorite of his, a meeting spot for the elite, membership required, but always overflowing with glittering add-ons. Things went on in the backrooms that stayed in the backrooms. A hunting ground for the movers and shakers of the city - - the world - - where they might relieve the pressures of the real world.

The wrought iron doors opened for him before he'd finished climbing the steps, and a black on black doorman inclined his head, requiring nothing of Lex upon entry. Past the relative quiet of the atrium into the restrained clamor of the main room. Beautiful people drifted in and about the obscenely wealthy, there at their whim. It smelled of expensive booze and fine cigars and Chanel. A woman in a white bustier and a thong with heels that put her at eye level drifted by, trailing her fingers across his shoulder. She had on a feather encrusted mask that accentuated her generous mouth. One of the Canal Club's hostesses.

"How may I serve you?"

He let his gaze travel down to perfect cleavage. It was a tasteful bustier.

"Scotch," he said.

She inclined her head and sashayed towards the long mahogany bar. He drifted that way himself, not in the mood to appropriate one of the alcove tables that lined the room.

"Luthor," someone said in passing, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "Saw your robot go up yesterday. Impressive job."

A false smile twitched on his lips. A competitor and one that LexCorp had soundly beaten. "Yes." He passed on, one more predator sharing a tentative peace at the watering hole. The hostess brought him his scotch and lingered at his side, her hip brushing his.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

He considered. But no. Not yet. Not here, under the subtly watchful eyes of his contemporaries. He wasn't that drunk yet, to follow her to one of those tastefully decorated back rooms. "I'll let you know."

She inclined her head, unfazed, and left him at the bar.

"Lex," an older man shifted up next to him at the bar. Old money. Old friend of his father's. "Rumor is you're sniffing around acquiring Rodan Inc. That true?"

Lex sipped his drink, looking at his reflection and the old man's in the mirror behind the bar. "Why? You have an interest, yourself?"

"Just like to keep abreast. How's your father?"

"I wouldn't know. He doesn't provide me with an itinerary. Excuse me." he finished off the scotch and moved into the crowd.

Maybe it had been a mistake coming here. If he'd wanted to talk shop, he could have stayed late at work. He headed for the door, thinking of seeking out a louder place, where the music drowned out attempts at conversation and anonymity was to be had under flashing strobe lights. Past the velvet curtains into the quiet of the atrium.

"Are you leaving already?" the hostess caught up with him, all soft curves and feathered mask.

"I find I've a taste for something different tonight."

She smiled, indicated a panel behind a drape of velvet curtain. "There's a private entrance to the conversation rooms."

He canted his head. Bold of her, but then the hostesses were paid well to retain the interest of the elite clientele and he hadn't been here in a long while. Not since Clark - -

Clark had curbed a great many of his habits. And then left him to flounder alone.

He smiled and followed her behind the curtain, down a dimly lit passage to a door with a keycard lock that she slid a card through. One could expect complete privacy here. And complete discretion. He barely had the door shut behind him before she turned on him, hand pressed against the front of his pants. She reared up to kiss him, and he obliged her for a moment, before pushing her down. He didn't want her mouth on his, he wanted it lower.

She had no issue with it, dropping down and working at the buckle of his belt, at his zipper and - - God - - she was good at it. His head hit the door and he leaned there, while she swallowed him, the feathers of her mask tickling the bare skin of his stomach. She couldn't swallow him whole, not like Clark, but she was clever with her hands and her tongue and it had been a damned long time since he'd had a mouth around his cock.

He came too quickly, embarrassingly so, but it had caught him off guard, the physical need. She looked up at him, licking her lips, and worked her way up his belly, undoing buttons as she went. He caught her arms, soft, round woman's arms, and forced her back towards the bed. She accommodated him, falling backwards, slim hands going for the fastenings of the bustier, ripe breasts spilling free. There was nothing hard about her, nothing overpowering, other than the scent of woman and it felt just damned good to know he could hold her down if he wanted, that he was the one with the power here. Clark had used to let him win their little bouts of rough sex on occasion, but he never quite forget that it was only because Clark wanted to let him win - - that Clark could turn the tables in the blink of an eye if he wanted - - pin him down and drive in - - and God he was hard again, and she was reaching for a silver tray of condoms on the bedside table, and it had been so damned long since he'd put one on that he almost fumbled the job.

She spread her legs for him, welcoming him and he put his hand on her soft white thighs and sank into her. Wet and warm submission. If she wasn't as tight as he was used to, that was okay, because she was here and willing and that was all that mattered. Almost it satiated the need. Almost filled the hole Clark had left. Almost.

She never even took off her mask and that was okay too, he wasn't looking for a connection. He left without a backwards glance or a tip, because that would be gauche and this wasn't a brothel, per say. Just a very select establishment that catered to the whims of its members. The membership fees that he'd kept up - -oh, since he was twenty-three - - covered all eventualties.

It bothered him that complete fulfillment had eluded him. Enough that he went out again, two nights later and picked up another stranger. Meaningless fuck in the elevator up to the embassador's suite in the Metropolis Meridian. Quick, dirty sex in the suite itself, before he left her asleep in the room and returned to the hovering silence of the penthouse. Woke up at four in the morning to switch on the satellite connection with the LexCorp mirror monitoring station and watch the ARP probe in its compact capsule touch down on the surface of the moon. He raised a glass of scotch to the screen, drank it down and it crossed his mind that Clark would frown at him disapprovingly for drinking so early in the morning. Clark was a prude. Well, a prude everywhere but the bedroom. Or the couch. The wall, or any other handy surface upon which to have sex.

Lex shut his eyes and laughed silently. Had to or he'd be reduced to something worse, something weaker. He could hate Clark for that. For making him weak and needy and empty.

Chloe came by the office two months later, surprising him with an impromptu request of a few minutes of his time. He sat back in his chair when she slipped into the office, the frosted glass doors closing silently behind her. He and Chloe weren't on the best of terms. She thought he was a liar and a criminal and he thought she was a snoop with a connection to industrial terrorism. Clark loved her, in the way that Clark could open his heart and welcome the most aggravating person in, so Lex tolerated her. He suspected she felt very much the same way about him.

"To what do I owe the honor?" He could work sarcasm into a bible reading if he put half a mind to it.

She tightened her lips a little and approached his desk. She clutched a huge purse over a slim little tweed jacket. He lifted a brow and she swallowed, blurting. "Okay, now I'm starting to get worried."

He stared at her silently, letting her work up to further explanation, though he had a sickening feeling in the pit of his gut that hinted at exactly what she meant.

"Something's wrong," she went on. "A few months overdue and I figured, its just Clark being Clark and letting time get away from him - - but now - - he wouldn't not let us know he was all right. Mrs. Kent's starting to get worried, too. Have you talked with her lately? Eight months. It's been eight months, Lex."

"Has it? Time flies." Cold and callous came easy, part and parcel of his trade and besides, she was late in the game in the worry department. He'd been there, done that, and segmented it away to a shuttered portion of his mind where it didn't gnaw so badly.

She opened her mouth, shut it, then got angry. "Have you even looked? Or are you too busy screwing your way through half of Metropolis?"

Of course she'd seen the gossip rags. When Lex Luthor started going out on the town again, people took notice. He smiled, his predator one, and leaned forward. "Five months ago, this didn't seem to concern you. Like it or not, Clark's where Clark wants to be, Chloe. Deal with it. Or not. It makes no difference to me."

She lifted her chin, righteous indignation filling her eyes. "Its nice to know Clark was wrong about you and I was right," she flung it at him like a weapon, turned on her heel and stomped out. He let her get in the last word, sitting there like she hadn't hit a vein. Chloe would think what she wanted to think no matter what he did, or what he'd done. Satellites, planes, icebreaking ships mapping out the artic ice flows looking for anything and finding nothing. Still finding nothing.

He brought his computer back to life and stared blankly at the screen.

Watching the ARP's video feedback as it worked its way unendingly across the moon's craggy surface was more entertaining than earthly news. He'd sit up sometimes, past dawn watching flawless imagery as the probe did what it was designed to do, explore, collect samples, gather precise data and send it back to earth. LexCorp's monitoring station lagged sixty seconds behind NASA's core feed, but they got mirrored data.

He'd fall to sleep, more often than not with the feedback still running and wake up sometimes to the ARP's camera's picking up an image of the earth, blue and hazy over the moon's curved horizon.

A picturesque way to rise. Clark would have been fascinated.

He stretched, wiping grit from his eyes, having fallen asleep on the couch again and still in the clothes he'd worn out the night before. They still smelled of the cloying perfume of the woman he'd been with. Or he did. A shower would rid him of the scent. He'd overslept, but it was a Sunday and there were no demands on his time. He glanced at the video feed and frowned at the static eating through the picture.

Not just static, but a jarring of the camera that was considerably greater than the probe's movement would account for. The probe was apparently at the top lip of a crater, and a good portion of the barren horizon was visible. The surface was shaking, rocks and debris trembling. A rare lunar seismic occurence. And as he watched, a distant ridge buckled, falling in on itself, moonscape crumbling and splintering around it. Chunks breaking off that seemed huge even from the distance the probe was from the epicenter, drifting away from the moon's weak gravity and out into space.

Amazing. A once in a millennia event and he had a live view, give or take the minutes lag time it took for the transmission to travel from probe to earth and through the NASA feed to the LexCorp monitoring station. The ARP's viewpoint changed, swinging around to follow the drifting chunks of debris, huge jagged pieces of rock silhouetted against the hazy blue of earth.

He sat down, possibilities beginning to sink in, of those drifting hunks of rock getting caught in the significant pull of the earth's gravity. Four days it had taken the capsule containing the ARP to make moon fall. These things had been hurtled into space with the force of seismic upheaval.

His started at the ringing of his cell. Picked it up without taking his eyes from the screen.

"Mr. Luthor, this is Dr. Thorpe from ARP control - - we've got a problem."

Martha Kent opened the screen door to the Kent kitchen, agitation wrinkling her brow as she stared past Lex at the helicopter flattening whatever was planted in the field left of the big red barn.

"Lex, what are you doing?" she cried, over the sound of the still thumping blades. Chickens were flapping about the yard in distress. Something in the barn was bleating.

"Mrs. Kent, you've got to come with me." Lex put a hand on the screen door, one on her shoulder, forcing her attention away from the copter and onto him.

"Why? Clark - -?"

He shook his head. "You've seen the footage of the moonquake?" If she hadn't she'd not turned on the TV or radio for the last day and a half.

She nodded warily. There was a dishtowel in her hands, the smell of something baking wafting out from the kitchen.

"Some of the debris is headed for earth. One big piece at least is going to hit damned close to here. You can't stay."

She blinked at him, not comprehending or simply stubborn. God knew she'd dealt with things in her life that would send most women over the edge.

"Are you sure?" she whispered, terror beginning to seep into her eyes. She'd survived two bombardments from space, as had he. But this one would be worse. The thing that was picking up speed, lured by the earth's gravity was bigger than anything that had hit before. At least in the last two decades. Maybe the dinosaurs had seen the like. The US mid-west hadn't and likely wouldn't survive the introduction. It they got lucky and this thing burned off enough mass on entry, it wouldn't be a planet killer, it might only take out half a continent.

"I'm sure. I need to get you out of here."

"Where?" she wiped red hair, streaked with grey out of her eyes.

"I've got a facility in Prague. It should be safe for you there."

"Prague?" She gripped his arm, the strong grip of a woman who worked a farm. "Lex, I can't - - the farm. My friends - - Are people being evacuated?"

He looked away from that. "I think the president will be making an announcement this afternoon - - they're waiting for all the calculations to come in - - waiting for the military to come up with a solution, but believe me when I tell you that our asteroid breaking technology isn't that advanced yet. Maybe in ten years - - not with four days notice. They'll tell people to evacuate, but I'm not sure how far they can get, short of the other side of the world, to escape the brunt of this."

And that wasn't even counting the after effects. Even the other side of the world might not be far enough in the long run.

She was staring skyward, but there was nothing to see, the thing bearing down on them on the other side of the earth at the moment. It would be another day before anyone not using a telescope would be able to see it with the naked eye. And not long after that before it started its atmospheric burn. They would get hit with smaller, faster moving bits before that.

"Mrs. Kent - - Martha - - your friends are on their own, but you're coming with me, right now. I told Clark I'd look out for you and whether you like it or not, I will."

She took a breath, turning her gaze back to meet his. This was a strong woman, a realistic one. She'd done the impossible and raised a child not of this world and the last thing she was prone to, was hysterics.

"Let me get a few things," she said and hurried back into the house. He followed her in, heart thudding frantically in his chest. He'd been running on nothing but sheer adrenaline since the moonquake. He was still in the same damned clothes. Two days of meetings with his astrophysicists and the NASA techs, and the military, who'd come down hard and fast on his monitoring facility trying to keep a lid on this, trying to keep the public from outright hysteria. He'd had a phone call from the head of homeland security, asking him to muzzle his people, until the government was ready to make a public statement. The video had gotten out anyway, a NASA leak, he thought, because his people hadn't let the thing out. There was already speculation running wild in the circles of the people in the know.

He rested his head back against the doorframe and breathed, thinking of other obligations he needed to fulfill. But she was the most important. Taking care of what Clark loved when he couldn't do it himself was paramount.


She startled him out of what might have been a standing doze. He caught a breath, heart up around the area of his throat and regathered reserves. He had too much to do in the short time left to let himself falter.

He looked at Mrs. Kent with an over the shoulder bag and a dog at her feet and before he could open his mouth in denial she said. "I'm not going without Shelby."

"Mrs. Kent, there's limited space - -"

"This is Clark's dog, Lex. I'm not leaving him here."

Smart woman, who knew what mattered to him and who. Who wasn't afraid to pull a power play to get her way. The dog looked up at him, wagging its blonde tail and he cursed under his breath and waved her on. Got them both on the copter and climbed in after himself. Sat making calls the forty- five-minute flight to Metropolis International, where one of the LexCorp jets was waiting for him to deliver its final passenger. It was already chocked full of vital personal he was sending ahead.

"You're not coming?" Mrs. Kent cried over the whir of the chopper blades when he handed her into the care of the LexCorp personal.

He indicated the other jet, sitting sleek and silver inside the company hanger. "I'm not finished here. I'll fly out late tonight."

She caught his arm again, leaned close. "Clark will come, I know it."

He smothered a disbelieving laugh, a desperate one, as the attendant urged her towards the jet. God, even if Clark did, even he couldn't deal with what was heading their way. Better he stayed where he was, isolated from the whole of humanity.

He turned back to the copter and told the pilot to take him to Luthor West. As they lifted off, two military choppers were sitting down, over the west end of the airport where a great deal of activity was going on. The army command post that would have its hands full trying to keep a handle on the mass evacuation once it began. They damn sure wouldn't be able to do a thing about the initial impact.

He got back to the mass of activity that his office had dissolved into as the networks were broadcasting the president's address. After that, the people that hadn't known, the office assistants and secretaries and mid-level corporate sycophants, started to fall apart. He caught his secretary's attention and she scampered over.

"Get everyone out of here we don't need. Tell them to go home to their families and start evacuation."

She nodded, white faced. She had her own family, but she'd been promised a place with them on jet out with him. It was the least he could do for her, for all the years service she had given him. "And any word from Miss Sullivan?" he called after her as she went to do his bidding.

"Not yet, sir. She still isn't returning any calls."

Goddamnit. If she were holding a grudge because of their last little meeting, it would be to her detriment when he was trying to save her life. The things Clark loved, he would damn well safeguard if only they'd stop being so fucking obstinate.

He took a breath, went for his office and the little bottle of amphetamines that had been keeping him going for the last twenty-four hours. He needed to be sharp, at least until tonight. He could sleep on the plane.

There were still personal to be moved, equipment shifted that might be crucial in the coming months. Hell, years, if worst-case scenarios panned out. He was the center of a hive of activity half the afternoon, setting things in motion, safeguarding LexCorp stability and his own powerbase the best he could, against the inevitable collapse of world markets when this thing hit.

His assistant handed him a phone in the midst of it, while his head was swimming with numbers and stratagems and dire possibilities.

"Miss Sullivan, sir."

"Why the fuck haven't you returned my calls?" His phone manners had deteriorated somewhere in the last few hours.

"If you haven't noticed," her voice was laced with static, cell towers no doubt jammed past capacity. "There's a bit of a crisis going on. Big news."

He took a breath to keep from cursing at her. "Chloe, I've got a plane ready to evacuate us tonight."

There was a long pause and he wasn't sure if he'd lost the connection, then she said. "I can't yet. I've got to cover this. We've lost half our staff and we've got to get the late edition out."

She was insane. Absolutely off her rocker.

"There's not going to be a Daily Planet in about twenty-four hours, so get your ass over here and don't give me grief about it." He severed the connection, slammed the phone down into its cradle and turned with a vengeance back to what she'd distracted him from. He'd given her a lifeline. If she chose not to take it, he wasn't to blame.

He forgot about her for a while, until his assistant quietly informed him that they needed to start their own evac. That the airport was jammed with flights trying to get out and that there might be a long wait for an open runway.

"Ms. Sullivan never showed?"

"No sir."

He nodded. "Okay, get everybody out of here, Nancy. Have the copter waiting for me when I get back and I'll meet you at the airport."

She frowned, worried. She'd put up with a lot of his eccentricities over the years and learned not to question. She nodded now and went to do his bidding.

He grabbed his jacket, long black one that he'd worn out - - what two nights ago? - - when he'd gone out on the town before the moon had decided to throw the earth a curve ball. Same pastel silk shirt. He hadn't been to the penthouse since this started.

He took the private elevator down, devoid of security that was stretched too thin to shadow him on his fool's errand, and went through the garage to reach the street.

He stepped into pandemonium. Sidewalks crowded with panicked people fleeing the multitude of uptown sky rises. The overwhelming blare of horns, as bumper to bumper vehicles clogged the street. In a city of 2 million, with everyone trying to get somewhere at once, everyone's progress was stalled. There was pile up at the intersection of 15th and Main, which was jamming things up even more. He weeded his way across stagnant traffic, ignoring the horns and the raucous cries of desperate drivers.

The Daily Planet sat catty corner to the block that the Luthor towers inhabited. There was a steady flow of people coming out of the vintage brass doors, and he had to shoulder his way through the throng. Even the lax security that the place usually presented was non-existent now. With crisis everyone was on their own. It was only after disasters hit that people generally started pooling resources and working together. The chaos dissolved into something more orderly when he finally got past the lobby and upstairs to the newsroom where Chloe worked. There were only the bare bones of a staff here, most stations abandoned by people smart enough to have evacuated long before this. Only the most idiotically dedicated remained. A few frantically working reporters, a haggard-faced city editor flitting among them, barking encouragement.

Fools. Chloe chief among them, standing and pecking at her computer keyboard, cell phone lodged between tilted head and hunched shoulder as she multi-tasked.

He stalked over, garnering a few upturned glances as he passed. Even in the midst of earth shattering crisis Lex Luthor sweeping through a city newsroom made people pause. Not for long, though, before they turned back to their work. There was bigger news than his impromptu appearance today.

"Do you have a death wish?" He stopped before her desk and she blinked up at him, green eyes wide.

She opened her mouth. Gathered her wits and said into the phone. "Is that it? Okay. I got it." She dropped the cell onto the desk and her fingers flew over the keyboard.

"I told you I had to cover this. God, what are you doing here?"

"Trying to save your life and you've got ten seconds until I stop making the effort."

She bit her lip, still typing. "Almost got it - - There."

"Ms. Sullivan!" Perry White, who'd never been one of Lex's favorite people, but had, by all accounts, done a miraculous job of raising the Planet's subscription rate by ten percent in his six months at the helm, in a day and age where printed news was generally losing readers, stomped over.

"Finished. Finished, boss," she said.

"Get out of here," he snapped and she blinked at him as if she didn't comprehend simple common sense. "If you've got a ride, get out of here." He repeated, not even glancing at Lex.

Her brow wrinkled, as she got it, him pushing her towards a salvation that he had no intention of taking himself, not with a last edition to get out. He gave her a little push away from the desk, towards Lex and she swallowed, tearing up a little.

"Mr. White - -"

"Go. Just go."

Lex caught her arm, in no mood to argue that valid point, and hauled her towards the elevators. She stood there as they waited, starting to shake a little, now that she had no driving purpose.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why do you think?"

"Because of Clark?"

He didn't feel the need to reply to that. She didn't ask for clarification the whole ride down, or even through the lobby. She resisted outside the doors though, on a dusk purpled sidewalk, where the city lights were just beginning to flicker on.

"Lois. We have to get Lois."

The fuck he did. He caught her arm, prepared to haul her bodily across the street to Luthor West if he had to. "We don't have time."

She jerked her arm out of his grip, more violence than he'd expected from her and backed away from him. "She's at the city observatory. Jimmy's with her. I'm not leaving without them. They're Clark's friends, too!"

She played that final desperate Clark card and there was a point where it just stopped having meaning for him. "No."

"Lex, it's not supposed to hit till twelve - - fourteen hours, earliest."

"It'll take that long to get through this traffic. We don't have time, Chloe."

She shook her head. "I can walk there. The observatory's only twelve blocks away." She started moving, melting into the crowd, and he stood there amidst the churning rush of people and silently cursed. He had people all over the world jumping to get his ducks in a row, and this one pig-headed little twit of girl was giving him grief. Fuck Clark and all of Clark's damned annoying friends.

He waded into the moving mass after her. Caught up with her a block away as she was weaving around the accident in the intersection at 15th. She looked up at him, wan and determined and asked.

"Mrs. Kent?"

"Had the good sense to let me evacuate her yesterday."

There was a crash of glass up the street, someone smashing the window of an upscale storefront. Looting already and people just flowed around it. They did.

"Lois was interviewing the chief astronomer there. Jimmy's was calling in notes to me - - and sort of sticking with her since she was determined to wade through this mess. We were supposed to meet back at the planet - -"

Lex didn't care. He was pissed and his heart was thudding from either the last pill he'd popped or the beginnings of a rare stress attack and he damned sure couldn't afford it now. He concentrated on breathing, long deep inhalations and forced it away.

She kept trying to get a call through, to reach them, but the overload wasn't letting her get through. He figured he'd have the same difficulty if he tried his own. They were at 27th street when Chloe broke her running silence.

"I wish Clark were here - -"

God. Another believer that Clark's brand of miracles could reach this far, when Clark couldn't even keep a simple promise.

"We don't need Clark. What we needed was a little more warning and someone with the balls to have put funding into orbital asteroid busting technology."

"You say that, but you don't believe it."

"I stopped being a dreamer a long time ago." He grabbed her arm and yanked her back from the edge of the sidewalk as a car veered half onto the curb trying to get around a stalled truck. "Realism gets you farther and reality is - - we're fucked if we can't get out of here before the initial debris starts hitting the atmosphere. Remember the second Smallville meteor shower? There's a hell of a lot more rock heading our way than what came down then and that's not even counting the big piece. Clark wasn't the solution then. He's not now."

The great domed top of the observatory loomed before them. A grand old building of granite and marble and aged green brass. The parking lot out front was most empty, save for a few cars. Chloe pointed out one battered little foreign two door as belonging to Jimmy Olsen. Which meant they were still here, and that this foray hadn't been for nothing.

"What were you planning on doing, if I hadn't called?" he had to ask as they climbed the steps, two at a time.

"Jimmy was going to drive us out. Traffic reports said south 91 was the best route." She was a little out of breath. A little deluded, if she thought any interstate leading out of Kansas, much less Metropolis was going to be anything but clogged.

The huge entrance hall was deserted, glossy marble floors reflecting the suspended model solar system above. He'd come here as a child, when his mother had been alive. Private tours and private viewings from the great telescope that resided within that dome on the upper level. He hadn't been here in fifteen years. Chloe ran for the stairs to the second level, calling Jimmy's name. Lex stalled under the slowly revolving planetary array, catching his own breath, content with letting her track down her friends.

She didn't have to go far. Jimmy Olsen came pelting down the stairs, hand held camera in his hand, another one bouncing on a strap around his neck.

"Chloe, what are doing here?"

"Getting you guys? Where's Lois."

Jimmy waved a hand and a clatter of heels on marble heralded Lois on his heels.

"We've got a ride out of here better than Jimmy's Honda," Chloe hugged both of them. Lois looked over her shoulder and spied Lex in the middle of the lobby floor and her smile shifted to something less pleasant.

"What's he doing here?"

"He's our ride, Lo. Don't complain, he's got a plane."

Lex didn't say a thing, just turned on his heel and stalked out, leaving it up to them to follow. He heard them chattering behind him. Talk about the stories they'd got and the pictures. God he hated the press.

Jimmy wanted to take his car, and Lex stood for a moment, staring at the incongruity of a Metropolis at night without all the thousand points of light. Oh the streets flashed red with the flare of headlights and brakes, but the buildings normally speckled with lights were dark, save for a few pinpricks here and there. Nobody there to turn them on, everyone out here or already beyond the city and maybe, just maybe on the way to getting enough distance between them and what was coming to survive it.

"Anyone not there when I get onto that helicopter is fending for themselves," Lex cut the Honda argument short, striding out of the parking lot and back to the sidewalk heading back uptown.

They must have made up their minds fast, because they caught up in sort of a flustered, stampede, Lois half colliding against him as she stripped herself of heels and tried to walk at the same time.

"So what are you still even doing here?" she asked. "I'd have thought you'd have cut and run early in the game."

Snide bitch. He gave her a sideways glare. "You're welcome to keep covering the story here."

"So you must be feeling pretty proud, what with the ARP filming the whole moon quake. Can I get a comment?"

"I can give you a few choice ones - -"

Chloe caught his arm before he could delve into that, pointing up east Malvern to something burning a half dozen blocks away. A gas or propane truck run afoul of some equally large city vehicle. Jimmy panned the hand held video over it as they passed.

"When did you find out?" Lois pestered. "The day it happened?"

He set his mouth, weaving around a man on his knees screaming about the apocalypse.

"The moment," he admitted. No reason to deny it. It hadn't been his call to keep the public in the dark so long. The people who had could take whatever heat came down in the aftermath.

"You saw it happen?" She latched on to his sleeve, tall woman even in bare feet. "So why did it take somebody leaking the thing to get it out to the public? Why wait two damn days to make an official announcement? The city might have been emptied by now."

"Not my decision," he said shortly. It had been made damned clear that it wasn't his decision. Pressure he hadn't appreciated had been brought to bear to impress that upon him. "Why don't you use your military connections and get some official answers?"

She tightened her mouth, and from the dark look that crossed her face, he thought maybe she'd tried. And been either slapped down or more likely had some sort of blow up with her three star general of a father.

"He tried to get you out already, didn't he? Your father. And you wouldn't go."

She gave him a sour look and he figured he'd hit the nail on the head.

"Yeah, well, if you're so smart, why are you still here when you could be half way around the world right now, sitting pretty?"

"Obligations, Ms. Lane."

"What, that include shepherding us out on your own private jet? Why?"

That was a damned good question. Being trapped on a plane with Lois Lane for twelve hours went light years beyond the sort of masochism in which he occasionally liked to indulge.

"Because he promised Clark he'd keep an eye on his friends while he was gone," Chloe answered for him. A much more diplomatic answer than the one that had been on the tip of Lex's tongue. A truth he hadn't been willing to voice, himself.

"You're running around half the city because you made a promise to Clark Kent?" Lois raised both brows in disbelief. "What, was it like a deathbed promise or something? Is there something I should know?"

He willed her to shut up. Picked up his pace so that they had to practically jog to keep up with him and hoped the lack of breath would cut the chatter. And thankfully, Luthor West loomed ahead and the muffled silence of the private garage was a blessing. Only the clap of their feet on concrete and Jimmy's whispered exclamations over the gleaming array of Lex's cars broke the silence. It hurt a little, leaving them here, knowing what would come of them.

He swiped his key card and the elevator doors slid open without delay. Soothing alacrity when everything else tonight had been difficult and unobliging.

Straight shot to the roof and the copter still sat on its pad, everyone but the pilot and one crewman long gone. The propellers started their slow churn even before they all piled in. Lex leaned forward into the pilot's space and yelled over the whir of blades.

"After you drop us at the airport, you guys get as far as you can, as fast as you can."

The man nodded once behind dark glasses, and Lex had barely settled back into his seat before they were lifting off. A dizzying curve over the rooftops and they got a bird's eye view of the streets of the city, filled with slow moving traffic. It took ten minutes to reach the airport and another ten to get permission to land from harried airport control. A military chopper hovered above them while they circled, a dark threat in the night sky, broken only by the flash of its landing lights.

"God, they're on edge," Lois complained. "What do they think, we're here to crash the party?"

"The whole airport is under military jurisdiction, " Lex told her distractedly. Flying in general strained his nerves. Flying with a nervous gunship hovering too damned close to their own propellers had his nails biting into the leather armrests.

"Why isn't the whole city? I barely saw any military presence at all." Chloe asked the reasonable question and Lex knew the answer to that one, too.

The more troops they moved in, the heavier casualties they'd take when they couldn't get them out in time. They were cutting their losses. The men that had come here, that had set up base on the airport tarmac, knew damn well they were expendable.

He allowed himself a moment of relief, when they finally sat down and were within running distance of the jet. The last of the LexCorp aircraft still here. He'd done as well by his people as he could, having started his own quiet evacuations the moment he'd gotten confirmation that the thing was going to hit and where. This was the last safe flight out, and the military wasn't letting anything else in.

Big jets were still taxing towards outbound runways, following the green lines of runway lights, but all that could be seen of them were the running lights and the faint glow of cockpits. Lex paused a moment, as the others climbed the mobile stairs to the jet, to stare at one huge dark plane lifting off, the roar of its engines as it sped by, deafening.

A different sort of sound wailed over the roar of jet engines, a high-pitched whistle that that became a screeching wail. Something whizzed past the nose of the jet liner and thudded into the tarmac with an impact that sent dirt and asphalt flying like shrapnel. He flinched, ducking as it pelted the fuselage of the jet. He looked skyward in dawning horror, seeing the faint flashes of light in the darkness. The burn of the earth's atmosphere eating up bits and pieces of the falling debris. But not enough.

He started running for the plane, even as something slammed into the ground hard enough to make the asphalt tremble. Another crashing thud, the air infested with the smell of burning ozone. The helicopter had risen, was swinging away trying to put distance between itself and the bombardment streaking out of the night sky. A little piece of debris rocketed down, pierced the hollow shell of the copter like it was butter and continued on to smash through the windows of the LexCorp hanger.

Lex saw it as it began to falter, to loose all stability of flight, wobbling in mid-air before it tipped over, falling fast, spinning blades heading for the tarmac and the jet. He threw himself the other way, curling in upon himself as the blades hit asphalt and began to shed metal. Something scrapped a gouge in the asphalt six inches from where he'd landed. He got his back against a baggage truck and stared in horror as the helicopter crashed down towards the jet.

"No!" he screamed, useless denial, as the copter exploded against the nose of the airplane. Glass shattered, metal twisted and seared - - but the plane didn't go up in a fiery explosion, just rocked on its wheels, skewed off kilter , dragging the boarding stairs with it.

If the copter had hit the engines to the back of fuselage with their full compartment of jet fuel, it would have been a different story. It still might, if the fires sparking out of the broken cockpit spread.

People appeared at the open jet door, a stunned, white-faced woman in a steward's uniform. Lex pushed himself up, ignoring the pain of a bruised hip, the odd numb ache in his arm, as people started staggering down the boarding stairs.

Something sparked in the far turbine, people scattered, hysteria driving them to what cover they could find, be it the insubstantial one of the hanger or just blind panic sending them running into the night. The world was coming down around them, so why not?

There were sirens screaming from across the vast tarmac, the monotonous blaring of alarms, that probably had nothing to do with the incident here and everything to do with the assault from the heavens. Another screaming whir of rock pelted down, slamming into the roof of the hanger, tiny rock that collapsed a good portion of corrugated tin and cratered the ground inside.

He stared at it, at the city skyline beyond and the trailing flashes of burn off as debris littered down. Of spots of fire and the distant wail of even more sirens.

Somebody grabbed his arm and jerked him into motion. "C'mon!" That was Jimmy, tugging Lex into motion as he scrambled after Chloe and Lois.

This was just the initial debris, the smallest fastest stuff, and most of it was probably not even making it past the plummet through the earth's atmosphere, but the pieces that were, not much bigger than golf balls or fists, were wrecking havoc, the mother of all hailstorms, relative mass not making much difference when it came hand in hand with that much velocity.

"There! There!" Lois was screaming and veering towards what looked like a drainage culvert running under the runways. They almost made it before something hit the tarmac behind them, a grapefruit sized rock that exploded earth like a mortar shell. He slammed into the closest body without even thinking. Lois - - taking her down as bits of asphalt and dirt spattered his back like shrapnel. It hurt like hell, but he was pretty sure, upon being able to draw breath without excruciating pain, that no life threatening injury had been taken. And Lois had made for a soft landing.

"Get off." She shoved at him, and he rolled off with a grunt, so many little burning aches that they blended into one big one across his back.

"You're fucking welcome," he growled and got an elbow in the ribs for his trouble as she scrambled awkwardly up. She glowered back down, then shoved out a hand, and he was too damned battered not to take it and her help hauling himself up. Chloe and Jimmy were beckoning, at the top of incline that led down to the culvert. Lois ran that way and Lex loped after, sliding down the grassy slope in her wake.

It was better cover than the insubstantial tin roof of an airplane hanger, the moist shadow of a huge drainage pipe. Maybe five feet of concrete between them and runway surface and still, when the debris pelted down, they felt the shudder.

He leaned against the curve of the culvert, breathing hard, trying to get his brain working again past the gibbering panic that wanted to surge. This was early damnit. The initial barrage wasn't supposed to have hit this soon. And every aircraft he owned was either in flight or up in flames on the ground. Getting out of here now was going to present a major problem.

He could blame it on Chloe, sitting huddled next to Jimmy on the bottom curve of the culvert, but it would just be a waste of vital energy. She hadn't forced him to trail after her. Guilt had, maybe. Guilt that no one made him feel but Clark, and Clark wasn't even here, damn him.

"The army's still here," Lois' voice was trembling audibly. "We could go there, try and get into contact with the General."

Lex had the feeling that ship had sailed. The chances, in the mass confusion this was likely causing, of her getting someone to patch her through to her father was unlikely. Though, Lex had his own contacts. Being a military contractor offered no small benefit.

He reached into his pocket for his cell, hoping the raining debris hadn't taken out cell towers or satellites and truly cut him off. He brought it up and noticed the blood on his hand, trailing down from under the cuff of his jacket.

"God, Lex, you're bleeding." Chloe stated the obvious.

There was a tear in the arm of his jacket, above the elbow, and now that he focused on it, a dull stinging throb. Either a jagged piece of shrapnel had gotten him or something from the helicopter when it had gone down scant yards over his head. There was nothing for it now, and he was good at ignoring pain.

"Its nothing," he muttered, holding up the phone to try and get a signal bar, as she pushed herself up and came over with the intent to pester him about it. And he wasn't sure what he'd done to garner concern from Chloe, but it was nothing but a distraction now. There was no signal. Either the cell towers were down or the thick cement over his head was blocking the signal.

He stepped towards the mouth of the culvert, and sure enough a little risk was rewarded by a few bars popping up. Something whizzed past a few dozen yards away and collided with the earth, spattering the edge of the culvert with clods of dirt and asphalt. He held his ground, determined to get a call through. Heard Lois muttering 'stupid, stupid, stupid' behind him and refrained from commenting about the stupidity of getting in that one last meaningless interview instead of being on the road hours ago, or God-forbid, taking up an offer from a father in a position of power for a faster ride out.

His Metropolis contacts were powerless, but he had people far distant from this mess, that had the time and convenience of getting through to the people that owed him favors and that could pull strings. A staticy connection was actually made, and he started placing orders, putting the negotiations into play that might get him out of here.

"I don't care what you have do, or promise, get me a place on one of those army transports." He paused, looking over his shoulder at the three scared people in this dirty culvert with him and ground his teeth. "Get me four places, if you can."

"It sounds like it's dying off," Jimmy offered tentatively, two hours later. And it was true, the thud of whistling impact had dwindled. It wasn't over though, there was more in the wake; bigger, slower pieces, until the final mountain sized one breached the atmosphere and began its fall. Lex had exhausted his contact list and used up most of the cell's remaining charge trying to arrange an exit strategy and finally gotten a callback from his east coast VP that strings had been pulled and there was a ride waiting.

He laid his head back against rough concrete, relief making his gut flutter, and listened for the tell tale sound of falling rock. The sirens had cut out a while back, knocked out or gotten under the skin of someone with enough pull to shut them down. There were still distant ones though, coming from as far the city, maybe.

"Let's go, then," Lex pushed himself up, ready to risk it, for every minute wasted was a minute less they had to distance themselves from ground zero. He'd lost a decent amount of blood and felt it in the bout of dizziness that assaulted him when he stood. A scarf out of Chloe's backpack sized purse, tied around his upper arm had stifled the flow of it.

They climbed up the incline, staring into the lightening darkness at the battleground that had been made of the field of runways. Jimmy alternated between the hand held video camera and the Cannon around his neck, trying to cover as much of it as he could. There was the smoldering wreck of a mid-sized aircraft across the field and they hadn't even heard it go down.

"God, the city's burning," Lois said softly and Lex turned that way, staring at the dull orange glow that made silhouettes out of the familiar Metropolis skyline. Forced himself not too dwell on it. Not to think about what it would look like in this time tomorrow.

They weeded their way past the craters and the potholes, and the twisted shrapnel of debris that had been flung from who knew where. The occasional rock still whizzed down, but mostly, the shower seemed diminished, only the tracery tails of burn-off dotting the purpling sky.

Sandbags and barbed wire cordoned off the military command post, and a guard with wild eyes and a ready rifle halted them at an impromptu sawhorse gate. Lex strode up, pointedly ignoring the barrel of that gun. "Lex Luthor. Colonel Deaks is expecting me."

The soldier stared at Lex, looked past him to the gaggle of press corps in his wake, and got on the radio mounted on his shoulder. He got an answer quickly enough, and lowered the gun to beckon them inside the perimeter.

They followed him past craters and overturned equipment and men desperately trying to regain order in the aftermath of something they had no ability to fight.

A haggard looking man stormed out of the command tent as they approached, snapping orders to an officer even as he snared them with flint hard eyes.

"I got a Goddamned call from the Head of Joint Chiefs because of you!" he stabbed a finger at Lex. "And neither one of us has the Goddamned time to spare to deal with your Goddamned problems."

"I appreciate the effort then, Colonel." Lex offered a wan smile and a hand, which was ignored in favor of the colonel barking past him at Jimmy.

"Put that Goddamned camera down, boy," then. "I've got two choppers down and four more doing flyovers. Troop transport isn't due in till 0600 if the Goddamned thing gets here at all, so you'll have to wait till then to hitch your ride out."

"That's cutting it close if the big rock comes down before schedule. That last storm was hours before they estimated - -"

The colonel glared at him, red faced, as if simple common sense had no place in military timing. "Take it or leave it." The man snapped, before marching off to yell orders at hovering subordinates.

He got maybe ten steps, before one of his men came stumbling out of one of the big tan special ops vehicles, crying. "Sir. Sir, we've got more incoming - -"

The Colonel cursed, turned and started sprinting back towards the truck, no more attention for them than he had for the cracked tarmac under his boots. Lex stared skyward, scanning for the tell tale burn trails. Saw a flicker of one far west, then a brighter tail, closer, coming down over the vast farmlands that surrounded the city like a sea.

"God," Chloe whispered and he stared where she was staring, at a bright flicker of something heading closer to home. They didn't hear the sound until it was well into the lower atmosphere. The whistling was deeper, the trail of smoking residue huge and ominous as the rock arced down towards the city. When it slammed through a distant skyscraper and into the neighboring one, the ground rattled even here, a mile distant. Someone made a strangled sound behind him, and a solider began a whispered prayer.

The sky was light enough to see them easily now, car sized chunks of rock that would do so much more damage than their smaller predecessors. Not the thousands of little pieces that had showered the earth before, certainly, but numbers weren't that important when one piece could take out a city block.

Another one wailed down, perversely attracted to the city and its cluster of vulnerability, hit so hard that concrete and earth and fire gysered into the air, and the ground vibrated so violently, that even here, a mile distant, it threw people off their feet.

He didn't know what bothered him more, the feeling of helplessness - - that no money or power he had could stop this - -or that he was probably going to die here, stranded at ground zero because he'd felt the need to safeguard what mattered to Clark.

Odd that the latter was a hollow dread instead of an all consuming one. Maybe he was just exhausted past the point of working up the energy to care, scrambling like a madman for the past 80 hours trying to salvage what he could. God knew he didn't want to die, but he supposed there were more ignoble ways, than to go out squashed by a chunk of falling moon. He'd met a lot of those ways, face to face over the years, and none of them had been anything but terrifying, and a good proportion he'd only avoided by the good graces of luck and Clark Kent.

He didn't seem to have much of either at the moment. And he damned well hoped that whenever Clark did decide to slink back to the world at large, he suffered immensely with the guilt of Lex's death. Petty, yes, but Lex figured, as he watched another plummeting chunk of destruction, that he was allowed a little pettiness in this particular situation.

"What the hell - -?" Lois said, seeing, even as Lex did, the blur of a meteor defying the laws of gravity and arrowing horizontally across pale morning sky. It collided head on with a plummeting chunk with a boom of impact that made the very air shake, continuing on even as it left a haze of powdered moon rock in its wake. Then it did the impossible and reversed its trajectory, turning on the proverbial dime and rocketing towards another falling star. It picked up speed too fast to follow with the naked eyes, but the echo of impact and the flare of another chunk being pulverized told where it had been.

"Jimmy, are you getting this? What the hell is that?" Lois was pointing, and Jimmy had the video camera to his eye, trying to follow as she jabbed a finger here, there.

Lex felt a warm body brush his arm, and spared a glance down at Chloe, who'd pressed up against his side, this pale, tremulous little smile on her dust grimed face. She didn't say a word but he damned well knew what she was thinking - - couldn't help thinking it himself - - and if it was true, if it was Clark - - then he was fucking late to the game.

Besides which, demolishing a bunch of forerunning meteors wasn't going to make a difference when the big one in their wake hit. He was pissed, and there were a lot of reasons fueling it and if he'd had the time, he might even bother to sort through them. Logically he knew this was just a useless gesture, because even if it was Clark up there, systematically taking out falling debris, he didn't have the sort of power to do the same with the big one. Clark had his limits. And yet - - there was this fluttering little curl of something in his stomach that very well might have been hope.

The pieces that were hitting ground now were small and insubstantial. The stuff that could only do so much damage. It - - he - - whatever it really was up there at the outer edge of the atmosphere - - was systematically taking out the bigger stuff before it could do damage. He'd taken out the low debris and was concentrating on the pieces further out, and the only thing that could be seen from the ground were the occasional flares of high impact airbursts as meteors were fragmented.

Soldiers and civilians alike, people that had been stranded in the battered terminals and had come outside with the rest of them to stand and stare in whispered awe up at the morning sky. Lex only half listened to the things they were saying, the suppositions, the supplications, the prayers of thanks as if it were really over. He didn't wonder far from the base, because that's where the surest source of accurate information would be. His cell was totally dead, but the military communications were still operable and they were picking up information as it drifted in. The entire mid-west had taken damage of one sort or another. Power outages spread the length and breadth of five states. The only lights coming from the spires of Metropolis were fire spawned.

Lois had appropriated Jimmy and was interviewing everyone she could get her hands on. Chloe was somewhere, helping patch up the wounded. And just here, there were a lot. God knew what carnage was waiting in Metropolis.

"Look! Look, there it is!" A soldier cried out, pointing skyward, and every head within hearing swiveled that way, Lex's included, as a speck descended from the heavens, too damned high to see what it was really, but not acting like a meteor as it swooped down over the darkened city, and just hovered for a second, as if getting its bearings, before it took off, with a speed that wasn't quite so blinding as before and headed in a bee line direction towards the army command post.

"My God, it's a man. It looks like a man," somebody cried and others took up the chant. And it was confirmed when he came down out of the sky, practically sedate compared to the recent show of speeds, and landed soft as a feather on the tarmac in the center of the military compound and dozen raised rifles.

It was not exactly the man Lex had expected. Granted, it took a moment for him to drag his eyes away from the spectacle of the outfit, body molding fabric of some unknown sort that predominately glared blue. A cape - - an actual cape- - that swirled gently around his legs as it settled, and a raised symbol on a very broad chest that Lex was excruciatingly familiar with. Only the face didn't match. The face was square jawed and stern and impossibly perfect, and if pressed, he might admit that yes, it did sort of look like Clark Kent, but only passingly.

He started chewing over possibilities, standing at the rear of a group of shocked, frightened, trigger happy soldiers while the man that resembled Clark, but lacked even Clark's underdeveloped sense of fashion, stared impassively at them all.

"Colonel," The caped man inclined his head at the gap-mouthed Colonel Deaks, completely ignoring all the guns pointed his way. "I believe its safe for rescue operations to begin. There are people in the city that need help."

"Who the hell are you and what the Goddamned hell just happened?" the colonel gathered a corner of his wits.

"I did what I could to destroy the big pieces, " and here that square-jawed face winced a little, as if in guilt, which sparked even more of that passing Clark resemblance. "But I couldn't get them all. I've got to go and stop the big one, now."

"Stop the big one? Is that even possible?" Lex didn't bother to move forward, just drawled the question from the back of the gathering.

For the first time, very blue eyes flicked in his direction. Wrong color. Damned wrong color. Which threw him all off his balance again. "I'm going to try and redirect it."

The gaze shifted away, like Lex was next to nothing.

"Who are you?" Lois shouldered her way through men with guns clutched nervously in white-knuckled hands. Stormed right up to him with Jimmy hovering in her wake, hand held camera whirring away. "Why are you here? What's the big S stand for?"

The sculpted face relaxed just a little, giving her an honest smile. "I'm a friend and I'm here to help. But right now, I've got a bit of a time crunch - -" he took off upwards from a straight stance, a blur of red and blue rocketing towards the outer atmosphere.

Lois stared up after him, the look on her face almost orgasmic, then turned around to face Jimmy's camera, broadcasting face back in place. "I'm Lois Lane and you heard it here, folks. I think we've been saved by - - well, he didn't say, but from what we've just witnessed and the letter on his chest, it seems a safe call to make to say we're dealing with a Superman." She paused a moment, then did a little bounce. "Did you get that? All of it?"

Jimmy patted the little hand held and grinned. "Every bit. Scoop of the century."

There wasn't a hell of a lot to see from the ground. Straining his neck and staring fruitlessly up at the hazy sky like practically every other shell-shocked person that had been close enough to hear the exchange was not going to happen. The Colonel had recovered from his shock enough to stomp off towards the mobile tech vehicle and Lex was damned and determined to get close enough to find out what they were picking up.

Chloe caught up with him before he could get there, pulling at his sleeve and looking over her shoulder to make sure nobody with the tendency to pry was close enough to overhear.

"Was that - - Clark?" she whispered the name.

"Did it look like Clark?" Lex was beginning to feel very, very uncharitable.

Chloe didn't seem to notice, brows drawn as she tumbled things around inside her head. "Well, sort of - -maybe."

He lifted a brow, and kept going. There hadn't been a lot of doubt on the face of 'the sort of maybe' Clark/possible other super strong being with Kryptonian symbols plastered on his impossibly broad chest, so Lex was actually beginning to think continued existence was a possibility. Which meant more damage control than he wanted to think about presently, when what he really wanted to delve into was the quirk of that mouth when the caped man had smiled at Lois, which, shape of lips aside had been unsettlingly familiar, and that faint wince of guilt which was Clark-like to the bone.

Was it possible, that Kryptonian training had altered Clark? Were young Kryptonians like chrysalises in cocoons, that shifted into something else when full power and maturity was achieved? Or was it some sort of alien tech disguising face and voice, because that wasn't Clark's voice. Not quite. And if any of this were true - - why had Clark waited so long to make an appearance, and why the fuck hadn't he given Lex a head's up?

He shouldered his way into the doorway of the comm. truck and no one seemed inclined to notice him, much less stop him. There was a lot of meaningless chatter, a half dozen techs taking in information from countless sources and relaying orders from the colonel and his subordinates. Lots of damage reports coming in from the units they'd deployed to the city,

"Sir, Sir, we're getting confirmation from NORAD. It's shifting course. He's doing it. He's doing it!"

"Well goddamned," the colonel muttered, while cheers went up and spread like brush fire across the compound.

It was really all Lex needed to hear.

"Where are you going?" Chloe asked, keeping at his side as he maneuvered through the jubilant crowd.

"To the city, before they get around to enforcing martial law."

"How?" she asked and he wondered why she was still dogging his trail now that the danger of extermination was over.

He scanned the tarmac outside the army perimeter and saw a haphazardly parked row of airport vehicles and started that way. Once the army got back into gear, they'd start restricting access to a darkened, battered city, until they could get a handle on the degree of damage and get control of a hysterical population. He didn't want to be trapped outside for the duration, especially if he was cut off from communications with his own people.

He found a maintenance truck with an open window and checked for handy keys under the dash. It was too cliché a hope to pan out. He checked the next one with similar results.

"Heading back to town?"

His little band of stalkers showed up, Lois beaming in the glow of her two sentence interview with their savior, Jimmy taking parting shots with the Cannon as he followed the girls.

"No," he said flatly and found a sedan with an airport logo and unlocked doors.

"Because I've got a story to get out over the air," Lois informed him.

"Fantastic. As soon as there's power you might just be able to do that."

"Lex, we all need to see what's happened," Chloe said reasonably. "I need to get back to the Planet and make sure everyone's all right."

He turned a narrow eyed look her way. "I've gone above and beyond any obligation I have to - -" almost he said 'Clark' and cut it short. "- - help you. Find your own ride."

"So how good are you at hotwiring a car?" Lois wanted to know, and didn't it just figure that Lois would have that particular talent in her skill set?

He set his jaw, drawing a long breath, before stepping aside and waving an indifferent hand at the car. "Knock yourself out."

She gave him a smirk did just that. Sat in the driver's seat afterwards grinning like the preverbal Cheshire cat. "Time's a wasting. Get in."

It was an honest wonder no one had strangled her before this. He considered the ramifications while Chloe claimed the passenger seat and Jimmy piled into the back, leaving Lex the choice of standing there in protest or getting into the backseat with Jimmy Olsen.

Lois drove like she was auditioning for NASCAR. There were a lot of cars off the side of the road, a few slow moving ones, still trying to head out, people not realizing the threat had been neutralized. He could see one of the elevated interstate exits, off to the right, still crammed with cars, most of them abandoned. They weren't going anywhere off that particular ramp, part of it collapsed, cars and rubble that had come down with it, blocking the street below.

He braced a hand on the back of the seat before him as she swerved around an overturned car without breaking, and god knew he had trouble with speed limits himself, but there was a big difference between having your foot on the gas and being dragged along for the ride. But she got them there, around abandoned cars and side streets cluttered with downed power lines and scattered wreckage. Not much traffic was moving, but there were people on the streets, dazed and wondering. He figured a good two thirds of the population had gotten out, or been in the process. The people left would have been the ones without the means to flee, the ones too stubborn or too stupid to leave, or the ones that welcomed the idea of Judgment Day.

There was a lot of facial damage, a lot of shattered windows and pot marked stone from the first barrage. Occasional gaping holes in the street where a rock had torn through to the sewers below. Major structural damage here and there, where something had taken a building down or a city block's worth of buildings. 7th and Wentworth must have taken a pretty major hit because there was nothing but a crater and the still hovering haze of dust, the closest buildings on all sides, collapsed outwards, leaning into their neighbors.

God, the cost of damages alone was going to be astronomical. There were insurance companies all over the world that would be bankrupt after this.

They ran into an impassable clog of abandoned cars half a mile from downtown and had to get out and walk themselves. It was surreal, navigating these city streets when the air was full of haze and smoke, and the people drifting through it were shell-shocked and dazed. Chloe stopped to comfort an old woman huddled in a stoop clutching a whimpering toy breed dog.

"It's okay. It's over." And the woman just stared at her, not comprehending.

There were others who weren't so complacent. The looters had been busy, they still were, men and groups of men and women padding through the wreckage with arms full of stolen goods. The few police he saw paid no heed, snared by more serious problems. He kept expecting to see the 'sort of, maybe' Clark swoop down out of the sky, and try to right these wrongs in that unique way only he was capable of. But he didn't come. Which made Lex wonder if something had gone wrong up there, out past the earth's atmosphere where he'd had to have gone to meet that slower traveling giant to budge it off it's course.

Clark needed to breathe. Lex was pretty damned certain Clark needed to breath. And if this were Clark or something like Clark, then he'd need to breathe, as well. What if he'd exhausted himself, drifted into space and simply suffocated? Grisly though. Horrifying one when Lex recalled that twitch of a smile that was so familiar, the sheen of diluted morning light on night dark hair.

He had to stop for a moment, hand on the fender of a parked car, and force down the rising panic. His heart felt as if it were trying to pound its way up his throat. If it were even Clark, he reminded himself. And if it were, and the bastard hadn't even been able to meet his eyes - - hadn't even looked at him until he forced the issue, it would serve him right.

"Lex, you okay?" Chloe asked.

"No," he snapped. Then amended on the tail of that. "Fine."

She arched a brow, jerked her chin at Lois and Jimmy half a block ahead of them, Lois walking backwards and talking while Jimmy filmed her. "She wants to do a little exploratory reporting on the way to the station. I don't want her to go alone, not with the streets like this. I'm sending Jimmy. If you're heading to Luthor Towers, we're headed in the same direction."

He took a breath. Nodded, because she had a point and he wasn't annoyed enough to leave her to fend for herself in this mess. Took another and got his breathing back under control.

"I think it was Clark," she said quietly, now that Lois and Jimmy were safely out of earshot. "I don't know how, but - - that's the vibe I got. The house of El symbol is pretty hard to mistake."

He didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to think about it, when there were more urgent issues at hand. Couldn't think about it when all it did was make his head swim. Or maybe that was simply his body trying to tell his mind, it had reached limits.

The reached 14th and Temple, and the face of the Bank of Metropolis across the street from Luthor towers was a crumbled mess. Just a matter of looking up to see the path that the rock that had demolished it had taken. Right through the upper stories of Luthor East. In fact, if he had to guess, he'd say there was a gaping hole where his penthouse used to be.


He stood there, staring up at it and at the peripheral damage Luthor West had taken beside it. A piece of rubble fell and he stared numbly at the almost slow motion fall of it sixty stories down. It hit with surprisingly little clatter, compared to the impacts he'd been dealing with since last night. Chloe abandoned him for the swarm of activity across the street outside the Planet. He dragged his gaze away, to the Daily Planet building, which seemed relatively unscathed, considering the damage its neighbors had taken. Without power though, it had to be like a tomb inside, and some ingenious soul had regrouped the remaining troops, and dragged desks and chairs and archaic typesetting tables, out onto the sidewalk, where frantic staffers were doing what they could on what battery power remained on their laptops.

There was the tinny sound of a portable radio, blaring public service sounding commentary.

There were back up generators in the towers, power to be had that could put him back in contact with people that could get balls rolling. People that could start to assess the degree of damage.

There was the reverberating boom of an explosion, distant enough not to concern him, but the flash of movement in the sky did. His gaze darted up, even as Planet Staffers across the street started pointing excitedly at a red and blue blur that appeared and zoomed in the direction of the explosion. Several of them ran that way, cameras and notepads flapping.

Lex felt something give inside, something crumble that let weakness seep through. Not dead in space, then. Not dead. Just damned busy when the likely path of destruction had been four or five states wide.

Pain he been ignoring before began to edge up on him, subtle flare of aches and bone deep bruising. He was tired and he could have downed a bottle of amphetamines and it couldn't have chased the fatigue away now. Almost four days running now and there was a point when the body just stopped cooperating. The penthouse was gone, but there was a couch in his office in Luthor West, where he could go and shut his eyes for just an hour. He crossed a street he'd never in his life seen devoid of moving traffic, headed towards the front entrance, and a disheveled man in a LexCorp security uniform ran forward from just inside the doors, hand up to stop him. Then halted, wide-eyed as he recognized Lex.

"Mr. Luthor. Mr. Luthor, I didn't expect - - you can't go in, sir."

Lex blinked, the whimsical notion occurring that 'Mr. Luthor' was his father. But no, respect was a thing to be encouraged. That and little bit of fear went a long way to garnering good work ethic in the work force. Almost he laughed, but held it back, because, God, the exhaustion really was getting to him. And had the man really told him he couldn't go into a building with his name on it?

"Why isn't back up power on?" he tried to push past and the man actually laid hand on him, to halt his progress.

"Sir! Sir, no one's here to turn it on. There's structural damage. A floor collapsed up there. It's not safe. East is worse. Until Engineers can come in - - start assessing damage - - I can't let you in, sir."

Lex could fire him on the spot, or just force his way past, but it seemed a moot point, upon consideration. It was a damned long climb to the top floor offices, and with a floor out in-between . . .

Not to mention the vaguely embarrassing fact that he didn't know precisely where the back up generators were in the warren of basement complex under the LexCorp towers. He could probably find it on a building schematic sitting in his office, with the lights on. He cursed, jerked his arm out of the haggard-faced security guard's grip and spun to leave. Stopped at the door and took a breath, gathering wits that wanted to scatter.

"What's your name?"

"Harvey Brown, sir." The man sounded as if he were afraid to say it. Afraid of the repercussions of saying 'no' to Lex Luthor. But it had been a brave thing to do. A damned brave man, or a stupid one to be here, guarding this building when everyone else had fled.

"Why didn't you get out when you had the chance?"

"I - - I don't have family, sir. Worked for you - - or your daddy, for twenty-five years now. Figured somebody needed to stay."

Lex swallowed. A man could almost be embarrassed by that simple declaration of loyalty.

"Good job." He'd see this man got a raise, a promotion.

Back out into the sunlight, the ruins of the bank across the street, and nothing for it, but to head towards the cluster of vitality outside the Planet. He saw Chloe talking a mile a minute with Perry White. Relating the story that Lois would be breaking on the air, once she got the chance.

He leaned against the side of a hastily parked delivery truck while she grabbed a laptop from somebody that White had barked at, and started attacking the keyboard. He slid down the side, sat on the curb with his back against the fender and shut his eyes, picturing that face again. Those features that held glimmers of Clark - - yet not quite. Nobody looking at Clark Kent and the man in the cape would think twice about association.

"- - Superman that saved us all." He blinked to awareness, snared by that term and Lois Lane's scratchy voice. It was coming from the radio, and the whole little potion of Planet sidewalk had gone silent, listening. The Metropolis daily had gotten on air, with a radio tower and a generator. He didn't know how long they'd had it tuned in to her report, how long he'd sat there, drifting.

"Superman." The word was repeated reverently and he shut his eyes again and laughed bleakly. It would stick like glue. As ungainly a tag as could be imagined.

"Lex." Chloe stood over him, brows wrinkled. "When's the last time you slept?"

Oh, decades ago. He squinted up at her. "That's an excellent question."

"Your towers took a lot of damage."

"Is that a euphemism?" It was almost funny. Chloe frowned at him and God, where had Chloe lost her sense of humor and he gained one in the midst of utter catastrophe?

"C'mon." She held out a hand. Lex stared at it curiously, until she wagged it and insisted. "Just come on, Lex. Do you really want to get caught napping on the sidewalk in front of half the Daily Planet staff?"

No, he really didn't. He grasped her hand, probably couldn't have gotten up without it. Not gracefully at any rate.

"Craig," she called. "Can I borrow your keys?"

The staffer in question, didn't even hesitate, just absently tossed her a key ring and went back to what he was doing.

"So, where are we going?"

She headed around to 15th, the other side of the Planet, and a beat up two door Saturn, with a Daily Planet parking pass dangling from the rear view.

"My place," she said, not missing a beat. He did a little, lifting a brow at her. A tell, really, just how off his stride he was.

"Do tell?" he glanced at his watch. "Nooner?"

She gave him another worried look over the roof of the car, before getting in. "Yeah, you're a riot, Lex. I'm thinking disaster movie drama and sleep depravation are a good fit for you. I'm not far and I need a few things and you need a place to crash that hasn't been flattened by moon rocks."

"You hope."

He half remembered the last time he'd been in Chloe Sullivan's apartment. It hadn't been a good day. Or had been the best of his life. He wasn't quite sure. He'd seen things that day and Clark had admitted things, albeit reluctantly and it had been a beginning.

Old building, crowded in amidst a street full of other old buildings with good architecture that had once been retail space that had been converted to apartments. She was right, it wasn't far from the Planet. The walk back to 14th and Temple wouldn't take long. It hadn't taken much damage, though there were a few downed power lines up the street. The walk up to the second level was total darkness, and Chloe fumbled with her keys and let them in to marginally less darkness. One window looking out at the brick façade of a neighboring building. A gaping black door that led to the bedroom.

She waved him that way, while she was stuffing things into a canvas bag. "Make yourself at home. There are candles in the cabinet there, and a lighter in the drawer by the sink. Water in the fridge." She got herself a bottle and stuffed it into the bag with the rest.

"I've got to get back and help out - - we need to get this edition out."

"What are you going to say about him?" He had to ask, because even if he wasn't 100 percent certain it was Clark, it absolutely had connection to him and tired as he was Lex was still thinking damage control. And Chloe might not be as meticulous in her management of it as he might.

She shrugged. "The truth. As far as everybody out there knows it. A mysterious stranger appears from the skies and saves the day. Maybe he'll give an interview. Lois will probably snag it."

Lex snorted. Chloe hustled to the door, loaded bag over her shoulder, then she paused, looking back at him. "I just want to let you know - - I appreciate what you tried to do for us. It counts."

There was an honest gratitude on her face that he didn't see very often. When he'd been younger, less jaded, it was the sort of look he'd have gone out of his way to garner. Before people had stopped mattering as much. It was the sort of look people gave Clark all the time.

She readjusted her bag, embarrassed maybe, and shuffled out, shutting the door behind her. He listened to her steps fade down the stairs, then went and locked it. Stood in the darkened cool of the little apartment and breathed for a moment, before going for a bottle of water and a candle. First and foremost was the bathroom, a half bottle of still cool water, then the lure of Chloe's bed. He took the time to toe off his shoes, because falling into a borrowed bed with them on would have been just rude, and collapsed atop the quilt.

It was a disconcerting sensation, being horizontal. Like lying helpless on a raft, tossed by endless waves. His head swam with it, until the relentless pull of it sucked him under.

Dreams like something born of fever assaulted him. Red sky falling. Earth cracking beneath him as it was pelted relentlessly by plummeting fire. Helpless to escape it. The world dipped and there was a face over him. Strange face in the shadows. Strange body sitting on the edge of the bed. A hand reached out, touched him, big fingers grazing his face and his body was too leaden to shrink away. He shut his eyes and sank back down.

He came awake again to a dim room, orange light from guttering candle flame making shadows on the walls. The bed was comfortable enough that even his aches seemed muted. As long as he didn't move. Morning after was always a bitch. Only, it was dark outside, not morning at all - - and had Chloe's bedroom had a window? Or a fireplace, with a familiar art deco mantel where a pair of mostly melted candles burned, in the company of a row of pictures of various Smallville natives?

He'd woken up to that mantel no few times, under far better circumstances.

Clark's bedroom, in Clark's Poppy Street apartment. Lex's breath stalled, pulse thudding in his ears. He knew panic when he felt it and pushed it away. He threw the comforter aside, a light, airy, sinfully luxurious thing he'd bought Clark to replace the homespun quilt he'd dragged with him from the farm, as well as the very large bed he'd been sprawled upon. He'd been mostly undressed somewhere between Chloe's place and here. And someone had dressed the cut on his upper arm. White gauze lay stark against the skin of his bicep.

He shuddered, faint tremor of unease. Regardless of who was doing it, Lex hated to be 'handled' when he wasn't aware enough to participate in it. And it was Clark's apartment, so it had to be Clark - - Lex firmly reminded himself of that logic. Just because it hadn't exactly looked like Clark - -

He moved out into the living room, skin pimpling a little from cool air with only boxers to guard against it. More candles scattered around. On the kitchen island, on the coffee table, where there also lay a very thin, type only issue of the Daily Planet. The headlining caption read 'MYSTEROUS SUPERMAN SAVES THE DAY'.


He bumped his shin on the lamp table next to the couch and cursed - - looked back up and he wasn't alone.

He was just there, looming in front of him, oddly familiar, oddly unfamiliar face staring down at Lex with frightening intensity. Lex's heart lodged somewhere around the area of his throat and he took a step backwards in alarm.

"Lex!" It wasn't Clark's voice speaking his name - - not Clark's mouth. He took another step away, not entirely sure he wasn't still in the grips of some nightmare.

And maybe the not quite Clark realized it, or heard the frantic beat of Lex's heart or just knew him well enough to see the beginnings of panic when he saw it because his mouth opened as if he were just getting the gist of a joke and he said.

"Oh. Sorry." And spoke another word that Lex, in all his bilingual glory, was completely ignorant of. The lines of the face shimmered, and in no more than a blink of the eye, everything had shifted into painfully familiar lines. Clark. Not a close facsimile thereof, but just Clark. In that suit, with a cape draped across his back and his visible skin smudged with dirt or ash, or moon rock powder.

Lex barely had time to register the change, before he was engulfed in Clark's arms, pulled tight against the raised emblem on Clark's chest.

"God, I thought I'd be too late. I thought even if I wasn't - - when I saw Luthor East - - " Clark was babbling on, Clark's voice, Clark's smell, Clark's cheek pressed against the side of Lex's head, his hands splayed out across Lex's naked back. And Lex's mind was whirring. It had been alien tech. And a Kryptonian word that had triggered it, or Clark's unique voice pattern. And with speed like that - - newly acquired speed that made the old speed seem sluggish, why had he been late at all? Apparently the humanity was intact, which was a relief, even if the sense of responsibility seemed to be deficit. Last minute rescues were damned cliché and damned annoying and how much property damage might have been avoided if Clark had decided to mosey on down from the artic a few days earlier? A few hours? Or let Lex know he was coming?

Lex shoved against Clark's chest. Hard. And it finally took a bit of teeth grinding and squirming for Clark to get the hint and loosen his arms enough for Lex to slip away.

"You oblivious son of a bitch! What the fuck makes you think you can just sail back here with no consequences? "

Clark blinked, wearing his baffled look and Lex waved a furious hand at the world in general, all the pain, all the fear, all the pre-mature grief coming to a head that made him see black around the edges. "You hibernate up there for a fucking year without a fucking word - - then decided to make an appearance half-way through the show?"

Clark blinked again, getting it, looking shocked, looking utterly horrified. "Lex, I didn't know - - The AI didn't tell me until everything was in motion. I got here as fast as I could."

"The AI? The AI didn't think to tell you - -? Well that's just grand. Didn't think a potentially planet killing piece of rock was worth mentioning? You said two or three months."

Even in the dark, Clark in that suit - - Lex hadn't made up his mind whether it was ridiculous, vaguely pornographic or oddly intimidating - - Clark holding up his hands, like he was trying to talk down a jumper made Lex want to pick up something and hurl it at his head.

"Lex - - Lex, I didn't know it had been this long - -"

"Stop saying my name," He ground out, went and snatched the special edition Planet that Clark must have brought off the table and shook it in Clark's face. "So you lost track of time? For seven fucking months? You see the date here, right? Vision still working fine? And what the hell are you wearing?"

"I see," Clark caught Lex's wrist and gently extracted the paper. "And I'm sorry. And if you'd let me explain - -" he trailed off, cocking his head like a dog picking up something beyond human ken. Or an alien with hypersensitive hearing.

"I've gotta go," he muttered. "Please just breathe and calm down. We'll talk when I get back."

And he was gone, fled, the Daily Planet fluttering down in his wake.

Lex stood there, fists clenched, as paper floated to the floor at his feet. If his ability to roll with the punches had been a little less defined he might have felt the need to sit down. Right then. Right there.

As it was, indignation was a far better feeling than shock. And that tremulous feeling of relief that made the whole body want to shudder - - well, that could be chased away with a healthy swig of anger. Calm down. Breathe. Clark hadn't been sitting here, for the better part of a year, worrying about someone who'd let time get away from him. Clark had had better things to do, obviously.

He snatched up a candle and stalked to the closet in Clark's bedroom. There were still clothes of his here, albeit a little musty from hanging unworn for a year. He'd kept the rent paid up, kept the place kept up once monthly, because it had been beyond him not to see to the little details.

Unlike Clark.

The hot water heater was out, but the water still worked and even cold, it was better than putting on clothes over days worth of sweat. He made it as quick as possible and pulled on clothes, that though stale, were still cleaner and fresher than what he'd been wearing for the past four days. Looked at his watch and saw it was four am. It had been just after noon when he'd let himself pass out at Chloe's apartment. He'd slept a good sixteen hours. Little wonder he had the energy to be pissed.

He took the candle with him, and navigated the back stairs leading from Clark's back deck to the little rectangle of back yard. The old woman who rented Clark the top level of her house was apparently gone, cat and all. She hadn't particularly liked Lex, nor he her - - she had the tendency to try and set Clark up with her endless supply of nieces and granddaughters - - but, he wished her well away from the city regardless. The road out front was black, the old trees lining the sidewalks blocking off any hint of pre-dawn light.

The utter silence was disconcerting. Like being in another world. He took a breath and cursed Clark for taking him from a place where the walk to civilization, or the battered remains of it, would have been a short one. Not so here out in the suburbs of Metropolis. Clark had as good as marooned him and then taken off. Again.

If it would have done anything but cramp Lex's fingers, he'd have loved to strangle him. He took a breath, and sat down on the wooden steps of the front porch. Yes, it wouldn't be a bad thing at all to have Clark under him for a bit of well-deserved violence. Peel that ridiculous suit off and deliver a little penance for all the torment he'd put Lex through. That image drifted through his head for a while, turned down a path that wasn't conducive to the indignation he'd worked to build up and he had to shut it down.

He sat a while longer, and a few hopeful crickets began to break the deathly silence. You didn't hear that in the city. It reminded him of Smallville and the tranquil peace of just sitting and looking up at stars that weren't diminished by the lights of the city in amenable company. There had been a sort of catharsis in that simple act that no amount of therapy or the relaxations the city had to offer could match. Or maybe it had just been Clark, back before Clark had started to distance himself from him, suspecting him of things that he damned well hadn't been responsible for - - until he was.

He shut his eyes again, leaned his shoulder against the wooden balustrade, and sighed, recognizing a grasp after fading ire when he experienced it. All in all, he ought to be celebrating. Twenty-four hours ago, he'd seriously feared an extinction class event. Twenty-four hours ago, he hadn't known whether Clark was alive, dead, stripped of his humanity, or had simply ascended beyond human connections and skipped out.

He shivered, memory of Clark's hands on his back, of Clark's warm breath on his skin assaulting him in a way he hadn't let it during the actual act. God, it had felt good. Clark had felt good. It would not be entirely unreasonable to take a step back and at least listen to Clark's excuses.

Of course the longer he waited, the less charitable he felt. His options to pass time were limited, with no electricity, a long dead cell phone and no car. And lacking Lois Lane's skill in car theft, he had to occupy himself in the pre-dawn murk. He found a bottle of wine under the cabinet that he'd left there ages ago, and book of Suduko puzzles that Clark had ignored long before his pilgrimage to the arctic, and went out onto the balcony to pass time.

He'd gotten through a good fifty pages of puzzles - - granted, he was unusually good at the game - - and the sky had started to lighten from soot grey to a lighter leaden smog, when a faint disturbance in the leaves of the big tree in the back yard warned of an airborne approach. Slow enough this time, for him to see the descent, and though he'd seen Clark fly no few times, Clark in that suit, with that face made his skin prickle.

Clark hovered for a moment just beyond the deck as if he were assessing a dangerous situation and it was entirely possible he was. Lex took a sip of good red wine and raised a brow.

"I can't promise there aren't neighbors still around that might question 'Superman' - - and I use that terminology lightly - - hovering outside Clark Kent's back door."

It was hard to judge Clark's expression with the facial distortion, but there was a tightening of the mouth and Clark drifted over and sat down, feather light on the wood planking of the deck.

"Lex, I'm sorry - -"

Lex tapped his own check. "As disguises go, yours is top notch - - Kryptonian tech, I assume - - but I don't want to hold a discussion with it."

"Oh. Zheot." Clark murmured and the facial distortion winked out. Even his hair was a little different, a little longer, a lot more wind ruffled. "I just started using it - -like yesterday - - I forget."

"Humm. Memory does seem to be a problem for you."

"Lex, I'm tired and I don't want to fight. Can we not fight?"

"I suppose you have been busy. It couldn't have been avoidance issues. So who's idea was the costume? Yours or your father's AI? I never pegged your for an exhibitionist."

"God," Clark muttered under his breath. "I'm gonna go get out of it."

"Don't hurry on my account," Lex called after, but Clark was already gone, disappeared inside the dark apartment. Lex wouldn't have minded watching, for a variety reasons, but he stayed put, determined to put up a casual front, since the last one had been rather less than that.

It didn't take Clark long, and that was with the sound of the shower - - Clark wouldn't mind the lack of hot water - - and then he was shuffling back out to the deck, damp hair, a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt and looking entirely, utterly Clark again.

It threw a chink in Lex's carefully erected shields.

Clark slumped down in the deck chair next to the one Lex occupied and stared at the little nub of a candle in the table between them. It was light enough to see by now anyway and hopefully Metropolis Power line crews would be out in force, trying to get power to the crucial spots first and working their way out from there.

"Its not a costume," Clark said sullenly, but Lex could pick up embarrassment on Clark a mile away and it blared bright as a beacon now. "It's a battle suit. A Kryptonian battle suit. It's supposed to be traditional."

"That would explain the fall of your civilization - -"

"That's not funny and I didn't have a lot of time to debate it with Jor-el and the facial distortion thing was built into the suit and I sort of thought I might need it if I was going to be all over the place trying to stop meteors. You're the one that always bitches about keeping a low profile when using the powers."

"That's because I'm the one that would have to come in and clean up the mess in ways you probably wouldn't approve," Lex snapped, annoyed at Clark's surly tone. Clark was not the aggrieved party here.

"Well you don't have to worry about that now." Clark said, took a breath and squared his shoulders a little like he was bracing for something he didn't want to do. Lex felt his own go a little tense, because God knew what Clark had gotten twisted around in his head while he'd been under the AI's control.

"Why, prey tell?" Lex prompted, because Clark tended to back away from inconvenient truths if given half a chance.

"Because I'm not going to just skulk around in the shadows helping people anymore. I'm gonna do it in the light of day, where I can do the most good. It's what my father - - my biological one - - hoped for me when he sent me here."

Oh good God. The hero complex had come into full bloom. He could see it in the way Clark's eyes glowed, fervent with the passion of a savior newly christened.

"It felt good," Clark was going on. "Doing what I did yesterday and not having to hide it. To actually face people instead of hiding in shadows."

"Right, except for me. Me you couldn't look in the eye?" Lex hadn't forgotten the lack of acknowledgment at the airport.

It took Clark a moment to connect the dots and he blew out a tired breath. "I came there to find you. I didn't think I could single you out with all the confusion, but its easier now and - - well, what did you want me to do, walk up and kiss you?"

Lex considered possible rejoinders to that that didn't involve a degeneration into foul language. Settled for a glower and an inclination of his head, awarding Clark the point.

"So you're going to be a hero now. You've got a moniker and everything, thanks to Lois Lane."

"That's not my fault. They even printed it in the Planet."

"It does fit with the big S on the costume."

"It's a battle suit and it's not an S."

"Why didn't you let me know you were all right? Almost a year and you never tried to contact me once."

There it was, the gist of the matter and he was damned pleased that he'd slipped it in with no more undertone than if he'd been asking about the weather. Like it was a vaguely annoying matter, but not one that had made him loose sleep, or have nightmares when he did, or go just slightly mad from all the terrible scenarios his overactive imagination had been able to dredge up.

Clark leaned forward, eyes large and focused on Lex's face, and maybe Clark could read him as well as he could read Clark, though Lex liked to think not, because when Clark answered his voice was serious and intent.

"Lex, I didn't know how much time had passed. I swear to you, I didn't know. Once I stepped into that matrix - - I dunno, it was like time had no meaning. Nothing outside did. It was like being immersed body and soul in experience and information and memory and stuff I can't even explain. I saw krypton and it was like I was there. And sometimes it seemed like it was only moments and others - - It was like I didn't even remember my own name, so much information was filling my head. And things happened to me - - like floodgates opening and if Jor-el hadn't been there to teach me - - I don't know if I could have handled it. But I never forgot you. I swear you were always there at the back of my mind."

Lex felt the pull of envy, he couldn't help it. The knowledge of a dead world had been opened up to Clark and that was a treasure Lex would have killed to possess.

"When the AI finally brought me out of it - - the rocks were already headed for earth."

"Some of them had already hit."

"Yeah, I'm sorry. I don't think the AI is much concerned with the little stuff - - And I'm gonna try and fix that. When he did tell me, I wasn't sure I could make it in time - - But I'm not the same now. Everything's enhanced - - a lot."

"How enhanced?"

Clark looked at him, steady and serious and there was something of the 'boy' Lex had known missing from his gaze. "What I was before - - what I could do - - its nothing compared to what I can now and I haven't even stretched my limits."

"Not even with the big rock?"

Clark shrugged. "That was hard. Really hard. But a lot of that had to do with, you know, no air in space. I can only hold my breath for so long."

Well, it was good to know Lex's assumption on that had been spot on. Finding out Clark didn't need to breath to survive anymore would have been disconcerting at best.

"So you're going to be Superman, now."

Clark winced little. "Not if I can help it - - at least the name part. But yeah, you know I can't have these powers and not use them. You know that, Lex. I get to do it in the open now."

"And gain the adulation of the world in the process."

"No," Clark furrowed his brows, disturbed. "That's not what - - you know me better than that."

"I know the Clark Kent who left a year ago to 'finish up the training he'd left off with'. I'm not sure I know you."

"Oh for God's sake. Are you mad about not contacting you? Is that it? Have you been stewing about it all this time?"

"I don't stew."

"The hell you don't," Clark glared at him, then took a breath, trying to gain control over a very Clark-like flare of temper. "What can I do to make this better?"

Lex considered the options. And settled for, "Go charge my phone."

He needed those contact numbers. He needed to be able to coordinate LexCorp resources.

"I can get you out of here. Someplace that wasn't hit, you've got east coast, west coast offices."

"No." Metropolis was the base of LexCorp operations and it was his city and damned it he'd abandon her because she'd gotten her ass royally kicked. It would be nice to have a base of operations that didn't have a hole ripped through its center or floors collapsing beneath one's feet, but he had other options in the city, if he could just get in contact with people on the ground.

"Your phone?" Clark asked skeptically, as if he'd been expecting so much more.

"And something to eat that's not out of a can."

Clark shrugged warily. "Okay, I can do that."

"And don't let anyone see you that might know you if you're not wearing the costume."

Clark blinked at him. "Why?"

"Because there's no reason to push your luck. Clark Kent returning home the same day that Superman appears to save the world is more coincidence than I'm comfortable with. And the facial distortion is good, but there's still the hint of you there."

"I'm not going with the Superman thing."

Lex snorted. He had the feeling it was a moot point, with the name blazoned across the front page of the Planet and already being broadcast by anyone that could get on the air here. God knew the major news outlets that hadn't been in the line of fire were probably broadcasting everything they could get in endless news cycle loops. The whole world would know the name by now.

"Lex," Clark paused in the back door. "I know what you did for my mom. For my friends. Thank you."

Then he was gone.

A good portion of the Midwest was experiencing blackout. Almost the whole of Kansas and Nebraska were black. Oklahoma and parts of Texas were patchy with spots of darkness when one looked down from the outer edges of the atmosphere.

There was so much he could be doing, had done in those long hours after he'd fallen back to earth, momentarily dazed with exhaustion and lack of air after shoving a mountain sized rock off its trajectory and sent it sailing on a new one safely shy of the earth's magnetic pull. The meteors he had missed, and there had been a lot, had wreaked havoc, and he'd done what he could, when local authorities were too scattered or too damaged themselves to gather forces and try and wade through the wreckage themselves.

They were organizing now, the country in a state of emergency, four states under martial law and national guard and army rolling in to help sift through the damage and try and maintain control of a shell-shocked, frightened populace.

And Clark stood in a Starbucks in Salt Lake City Utah, watching the coverage on CNN, in the company of two dozen other riveted coffee drinkers, while he waited for Lex's cell to charge. They were cutting back and forth from footage sent in from viewers - - no few shots of him in the battle suit swooping down to pull a car from toppling over the edge of a shattered bridge, or lifting a slab of concrete off a trapped family, drop kicking a burning gas tanker on the brink of explosion a good half mile from the crowded road it had capsized on. And Lois's report, the one Jimmy had been taping of her when he'd landed in Metropolis airport after he'd zeroed in on Lex. The only actual footage anyone had of him close up and replying to a question. He really wished she hadn't come up with the name though. Superman was being bandied about like they'd discovered a new religion and he winced a little each time he heard it said in that reverent tone of voice.

Somebody had gotten camera crews into downtown Topeka, which had taken a beating almost as severe as Metropolis and they were filming live the discovery and desperate rescue efforts of people trapped in a collapsed tenement.

Clark smiled winningly at a girl with a laptop standing at the table next to him. "Would you mind keeping an eye on my phone while I run to the bathroom?"

She half looked over her shoulder, as if she weren't sure he was speaking to her, then blushed a little and smiled back. "Sure. It's safe with me."

He'd taken the suit with him when he'd left. It compressed to barely nothing with a Kryptonian command. Decompressed with a word once he'd whipped out of his street clothes and with another the facial distortion shimmered up. That was the weirdest thing. He didn't feel it, but he'd caught his reflection in a shard of broken mirror and it was just disconcerting to see someone else staring back at him. No wonder Lex had been freaked out.

Lex, who was, if Clark were any judge and he liked to think he was, holding one heck of a grudge. And honestly, Clark could understand why he'd be miffed - - it had been a long time and he'd have been worried and there was nothing Lex hated more than being in the dark and not being able to find answers.

But it wasn't as if it had been Clark's fault. He hadn't expected to get sucked into this overwhelming vortex of sensory explosion and totally loose his grasp of time. And he had told the AI that there were time constraints and Clark had thought he'd come to an understanding with it, before he'd agreed to take up the training again, about roughshodding over his wishes.

He reached the downed tenement, and the dust streaked people gathered around gasped in collected, weary awe as he sat down. There was a fire truck and a few police, but mostly it was neighborhood folks, with shovels and bare hand trying to move jagged cement and bricks.

"Superman. You're Superman," one teenager spoke up with the fearlessness of youth. "You here to help?"

Clark nodded. "I'm here to help." He X-rayed the collapsed structure, found the pocket in the basement where people had gathered.

"There are about a dozen people in the basement. I'm going to start taking the big chunks off, but you'll need to shore it as I go, or it could collapse on their heads," he told the fireman who had approached in the wake of the teenager and the man opened his mouth, about to ask maybe, how Clark knew it, then he shut it and shook his head.

It took about thirty minutes, because it was delicate work to remove interlocking pieces and not have the whole deck of cards tumble down. And as soon as he'd cleared a path for the rescue workers to finish opening on their own, he left them to their work and took off. He got sidetracked on the way with an overturned bus on US route 70, and two critical injuries that he flew to the nearest ER that had power, which was across the Colorado state line.

A pair of air force jets trailed him as he was leaving there, and he slowed enough for them to get a look at him, drifted up to cockpit level and gave a little salute to the surprised pilot, before putting on a burst of speed that they couldn't have matched in their dreams. It was the first thing since he'd gotten back that made him grin.

The girl at the coffee shop was still at her table, pecking away at her laptop when Clark shuffled back in. So was Lex's phone, which was a relief, because all Lex needed was one more thing to hold against him.

"I thought you'd maybe gotten lost," she blushed again, and laughed nervously before managing to meet his eyes.

"Ah, sort of. I had to take a call."

She glanced down at the charging cell.

"Another phone. Ah, and it looks like this one's charged up. Thanks for keeping an eye on it." He pocketed the phone and nodded, walked far enough down the sidewalk that no one would notice when he simply disappeared. He made one more stop before flying home.

Zipped in really fast this time since it was full morning now and there were people moving around the neighborhood. There were the sounds of chainsaws ripping away at downed trees and the distant sirens of emergency vehicles. He hesitated, hands full of takeout Chinese from an authentic little shop in San Francisco that he'd gotten hooked on and that Lex really liked. First instinct was to fly out and see what help he could offer, the second, was to grind his teeth and fight the first instinct, because he couldn't be everywhere, all the time. And there were people out there trained to deal with the aftermath of disaster and they were doing their jobs. He'd seen them doing their jobs all over the mid-west. The big things, the things they couldn't manage on short notice with lives in the balance, he'd gladly take to task, but he had to let people take care of the things they could on their own. Jor-el had been pretty adamant about that and Clark saw the sense behind it, even if it was hard to ignore the distant wail of sirens.

He took a breath and sat the bags down on the table. Listened for Lex and heard him in the bathroom, along with the running tap.

"I'm back," Clark called, trying to avoid surprises that only tended to make Lex testy. He was getting plates and utensils out when Lex strolled out, an entirely neutral expression on his face, considering Clark had been gone for a lot longer than expected. Lex looked him up and down once, he hadn't bothered to change back into the suit after he'd picked up the Chinese, then held out a hand expectantly.

It took Clark a second to realize he was waiting for the phone, and God, there was nothing he loved more than Lex giving him the silent treatment. He handed it over, and gestured at the various white take out boxes on the table. "Its Feng Lo's. I got you beef and broccoli."

Lex made a sound that might have been approval, as he was checking messages, picked up a carton and a pair of chop sticks and wondered out to the deck.

"Should be still hot," Clark muttered and sat down alone at the table. He drummed his fingers a few times, not sure if he were more disappointed or irritated, it was sort of hard to tell when they were all tangled up together. The smell of food won out over both though. It had been a really, really long time since he'd smelled good food. Any food. He was pretty sure he hadn't eaten the whole time he'd been expanding his horizons in the training matrix. He hadn't realized he could go that long without solid foods, but it seemed that a steady, healthy dose of yellow sunlight was enough to sustain him. Yellow sun didn't smell nearly so nice as a steaming carton of chicken Hunan, steamed dumplings and the best fried rice this side of Asia.

He dug in with a passion, and once he'd started it was really hard to stop. The feel of food in his mouth, the taste of it, was so damned good he actually had a little stiffie in his jeans. Entirely embarrassing and thank God Lex was being snotty and eating on the deck. Clark finished the last grain of rice and had the sudden craving for barbecue.

Almost he took off without a word, because all the training in the world didn't equip him with the ability to just blithely ignore Lex in a snit, but he'd been gone a long time without a word and that was what had put Lex in a mood to begin with and it was no more Lex's fault than it was Clark's, so he could bite the bullet and be polite.

"Hey, I'm going to get some ribs. You okay with that?"

Lex had the phone to his ear with one hand, the other holding chopsticks poised over a half empty carton.

"You're asking my permission?" Lex asked with a raised brow and a skeptical tone.

Clark took a breath. "No, I was asking if you were okay with the beef and broccoli. Or did you want something else?"

Lex waved a negative hand at him and went back to his phone conversation.

Clark had talked to Chloe the day before, when he'd been tracking down Lex for the second time, after he'd spent a morning breaking rocks and helping deal with the worst of the aftermath. She'd been a lot happier to see him than Lex, once he'd assured her it was him, and told him where his mom was, and what Lex had tried to do for his friends. Clark knew what Lex was capable of, knew that given half a chance Lex would move heaven and earth to do what he believed was right, but it was nice to hear somebody say it that had written Lex off a long time ago.

He donned the suit and did a leisurely circuit over Metropolis, considering maybe finding Chloe and giving her an exclusive. Maybe setting the name thing straight - - only he hadn't given a lot of thought to what he wanted his alter ego to be known as. He'd have liked to discuss it with Lex, but delving into that discussion with Lex when Lex was in his current mood would be like kryptonite under the nails, and god knew how long it would take for him to get over it. And Clark had the feeling he didn't have a lot of time to get the name thing straightened out before it stuck.

There was a heavy army presence in the city now, keeping the looters that had been out in force last night, in check. The power crews had been working non-stop almost from the moment the word had spread that disaster had been diverted, and there were little pockets of high priority resources that were starting to get electricity back. Two of the city's four major hospitals were off emergency power and back to full function. They were jammed to overflowing though, reduced to triaging patients out in the parking lot.

They saw him from the ground, and he heard distant exclamations, then noticed a doctor in scrubs waving him down. He sat down with a flutter of cape as the man trotted up, others gathering in his wake, wary and curious and hopeful.

"We need your help," the doctor said and it wasn't like Clark had it in him to deny it.

"Tell me."

"There's a truck load of medical supplies that went off the road sixty miles south on I-80. The army's bringing in another vehicle to off load, but it could be tomorrow before they can get it into the city. We need those supplies now. Can you help?"

Clark nodded, and took off. The interstates had taken a beating, but were navagatable in most areas, there were just some really big craters here and there and the tractor-trailer in question had hit one of those, and overturned. There was an army jeep there, and two enlisted men and a disgusted and battered driver sitting on the twisted guardrail when Clark touched down. The soldiers gulped nervously, considering drawing their weapons and he held up a placating hand to calm them.

"I'm here to take these supplies to Metropolis Mercy."

"We've got a truck coming," one of the enlisted men stammered.

"They need them now. Are you injured, sir?" he asked the driver, who had taken Clark's appearance in stride and not moved from his spot on the rail.

The guy shook his head and waved a hand towards the trailer. "I seen you on the TV. Appreciate what you done. If you can move it, be my guest."

Clark gave him a smile, walked past the uncertain soldiers and lifted the trailer off the truck's hitch with a screeching grind of metal. They all backed up, wide-eyed then, even the driver, as he hefted the trailer over his head and took to the sky.

When he got back to the hospital there were more than just doctors and patients there, there was the press. Cameras and reporters from more than just the local news. CNN had gotten a man in, and there was a FOX logo on one microphone and they were all clamoring questions at him before he'd even managed to carefully lower the trailer to the ground.

Clark's first instinct was to high tail it out of there. He'd been taught all his life to avoid attention of this sort and had spent no few sleepless nights hoping that something he'd done wouldn't end up in the papers with his face attached. Only it wasn't quite his face now, and he'd made the decision to come out of the hero closet, so sooner or later he was going to have to face the media.

There were a dozen questions, all of them prefixed with 'Superman', a dozen cameras rolling in his face and then Lois was bull dozing her way through the pack with a judicious use of elbow and heels, and shoving her own microphone into his face.

"Hi, remember me? Lois Lane? Your first interview?" She smiled up at him, a little harried, a little smudged, eyes bright as diamonds in her eagerness. The intensity was a little intimidating. "You promised me a follow up, remember?"

He didn't remember promising any such thing, but then, there had been a lot going on and Lex had been standing there glaring at him, and there'd been a meteor to divert away from earth - -

"Um, okay?" Brilliant. "But we'll have to do it later, Miss Lane. There's still a lot to be done."

"I'm holding you to that," she yelled after him, one voice in a din, and he almost wished he'd gone straight for the barbeque.

He spent a couple of hours making himself useful in the way only he could be. A lot of heavy lifting that would have taken cranes and a lot of man power otherwise. A suspension bridge where a section had half collapsed, blocking major egress to a section of south Texas, that he simply lifted back into place and welded together with his heat vision. A temporary fix, but it would take a lot of pressure off crews that had their hands full with a thousand other things. He went for those ribs in West Virginia, another little local spot that he'd come to favor, discovered a few years back when he'd been fighting off alien insects.

Since changing back to Clark Kent would have meant braving the apartment and Lex's unpredictable mood, he walked up to the little roadside shack in full regalia and placed his order. There were no cars in the dirt lot, and just the little old man who ran it, who looked at Clark, shook his head as if he didn't know what the world was coming to, and went to whip up his order.

Clark took the Styrofoam container of ribs, hushpuppies, and a canned soda and sat down at one of the beat up picnic tables to the side. Spent more time eating the most succulent baby backs in the world, than he had repairing the suspension bridge. Some things were just too good to be rushed. Good food, chief among them. And sex.

He sighed, thinking it had been a long time since he'd had sex, too and would likely be longer still if Lex decided to prolong this current peeve he was indulging in. He licked barbeque sauce off his fingers and sighed, remembering how nice Lex's skin had felt under his fingers, the first up close and personal human contact he'd had since he'd left for the Fortress. He shut his eyes and recalled instances of Lex in more agreeable mode, and shifted a little awkwardly, because the suit was really tight and not meant to comfortably house burgeoning erections.

It was well into afternoon by the time he returned home. Lex wasn't there. Not even a note. But the empty food cartons had been put in the trash and the dishes washed, because Lex couldn't stand it when things weren't in their place, and the doors locked behind him, which made Clark think that he'd left in no hurry. Clark stood in the living room for a moment, taking in the silence of the old house, the comforting creaks of hardwood beneath his boots. It was nice to be home.

But he was too up to settle and he had another home, which he'd only done a brief fly by of, oh sometime yesterday, and with mom gone, he ought to go check things out at the farm. He restrained the urge to hover over the city and zero in on Lex. If Lex had wanted him to know where he was going, he'd have left a message.

He took a change of clothes this time, and reverted to plain old Clark Kent after he touched down at the farm. There were a lot of hungry, aggravated animals that mooed, bleated, squawked or whinnied at him when he made the circuit. He put the horses out to pasture along with a few bales of hay from the loft, and threw ample feed at the chickens and the pair of wondering goats. Made sure all the troughs were full of fresh water, then sat on the front porch and let muscles he hadn't realized were tense, loosen up.

He'd been so busy since the AI thrust him out of the matrix to a world on the verge of major catastrophe, that he hadn't had the time to digest, really digest the vast amount of information he'd absorbed. And he guessed absorbed was as good a term as any for what had happened to him. Absorbed, enlightened, unlocked a capacity for power he'd never suspected himself capable of. He could still picture those images of his home world, bright and cold and - - rigid. At least compared to the daily chaos of his adopted home. A nice place to visit, he thought, but he preferred this world and the people that inhabited it.

If Lex hadn't been in such an absolute snit, Clark would have loved to sit down and tell him about it. Lex would have loved hearing it - - would love hearing it, once he allowed himself to simmer down. Lex would have a thousand questions, smart ones, that would test Clark's own understanding of the experiences he'd absorbed. Clark needed that. Needed Lex.

He got up, and shuffled around in the hutch drawer for the emergency cell his mother always kept on hand. It still held a charge and he dialed a number.

"Luthor." Lex picked up after about a half dozen rings and answered in his no-nonsense business tone of voice.

"Hey," Clark opened brilliantly.

There was a pause, then, "So you do remember my number,"

"I remember your number," Clark rolled his eyes skyward. "You got a ride."

"I did."

"You're in the city?"

Another pause, as if Lex were considering whether to tell him or not, then. "The Fairmont. Lexcorp's temporary center of operations."

"There's power there?"

"I'm making due." There wasn't a lot of invitation in Lex's voice. He sounded distracted, and there were either people talking in the background or a radio. Clark sighed. It wasn't like Lex didn't have issues to deal with - - LexCorp issues. His company had a lot of holdings that had taken damage and it wasn't like either one of them had the time to just sit down and talk.

"So, I'm at the farm, right now."

"As soon as they start letting flights back in to Metropolis International, I'll see your mother gets home."

"Okay - - " he paused, waiting for something, but Lex wasn't giving and finally after too long a silence Lex said curtly. "I've got to go, I've people waiting. "

Sure, fine. Clark stared at the phone after Lex broke the connection. And yes, he felt slighted, and it wasn't entirely fair. He understood he'd been gone a lot longer than he'd promised and that the people he'd left behind had been rightfully worried for him, but it wasn't like he'd done it on purpose. He'd given the damned AI explicit instructions . No messing with his memory, no attempts to strip away pesky humanity, no overshooting his allotted schedule, because he had people back home to whom time mattered and a job that'd he'd taken a temporary leave of absence from that he'd have liked to have back. He somehow doubted Perry White would be much more forgiving than Lex when it came being that generous.

He sat for a while longer, watching one of the goats defrocking his mom's bed of geraniums. Still, Lex wouldn't be holding onto this if he hadn't been worried sick, and his mom had probably been pretty concerned too, and Clark hated hurting the people he loved. He could give Lex a little latitude and he'd work through it eventually. That was only fair.

Clark thought about lying down on the sofa and just shutting his eyes for a little bit. Habit. The older he got, the less sleep he needed, but he indulged because he enjoyed it, because it was a good way to de-stress and let the mind wander. But now - - God, he didn't know how long he could go without. A long time, he thought.

He tried, lay down on the same couch he'd grown up with, meticulously maintained by his mom, and stared at the ceiling. He couldn't relax enough to do more than shift around restlessly. No sleep then.

Nothing to do but put on the suit and burn off energy that seemed limitless. He rose into the stratosphere and hovered, eyes closed, soaking in sunlight above the level of the highest clouds. Listened to all the varied sounds below, sorted through the billion points of background chatter to zero in on important sounds. Cries of distress, of people in need - -

He plunged down through the atmosphere to make himself useful.

And hours later, when night had once more crept over North America, and plunged most of the mid-west into complete darkness, he returned to Metropolis and hovered outside the Fairmont, which did have a few spots of light, accompanied by the hum of gas powered generators. Lex was on the second floor, in the company of a good many people. LexCorp sycophants that he'd managed to gather, doing LexCorp business. So no time for Clark.

Disappointing and all the newfound power in the world didn't prevent him from feeling the beginnings of a sulk coming on. He pushed it away, and considered options. He could patrol a little more, but things seemed to have quieted down, the national guard and army presence keeping law and order mostly intact, or he could go home sit in a dark apartment - - or go someplace with power and food and try and catch up on what had been happening in the world since his unexpectedly extended absence.

He retrieved his laptop and its power cord from the apartment and flew to Boston and found a wireless Café where he could plug in and order deli sandwiches to his heart's content. With a mile high Reuben and a Coke, he sat at a table overlooking the harbor in a city that had only been scarred by the reports of the devastation that had happened a thousand miles west, instead of the actual thing.

He browsed world news for the past year, speed reading as fast as the wireless connection would allow the computer to download. Narrowed it down closer to home, the tangled mess of American politics, economic woes, tragic violence, sports happenings, celebrity shockers - -

And paused in his speed browsing, scrolling back to a picture of a popular television actress, caught in a very up close and personal moment with an all too familiar Metropolis billianaire industrialist. The picture looked as if it had been snapped outside some nightspot or another, in the thick of a crowd of expensively dressed people. Lex had his hand in the vicinity of her ass, and she was leaning way too close as if whispering something in his ear. He couldn't tell exactly where her hand was, but it didn't look good.

Clark stared, fingers frozen on the mouse, that instant little curl of jealousy that always reared its ugly head when Lex and any combination of female company was mixed, cropping up. It was an act, of course, and one that Lex was committed to, to keep the paparazzi, which had a keen eye to Lex Luthor's social life, away from Clark. So Lex went out with the occasional woman in order to divert speculation from the male friend, the company of whom he'd been keeping on a regular basis. But the last few months before Clark had left, he'd been making less and less of an effort to keep up the charade.

So that's what this was, even though the picture was pretty suggestive. Clark took a breath, chiding himself for being stupid. If he got jealous every time Lex flirted with a woman, he'd drive himself crazy, because Lex practically oozed seduction without even trying, to people he had no more interest in than the sidewalk under his feet. It was a Luthor thing, and a Lex thing in particular and he'd been doing it since the day Clark met him. So nothing to be jealous about there. Really.

He almost felt guilty Googling Lex. He hadn't planned on doing it, but Lex hadn't caught him up to date and he couldn't get that picture out of his mind, so he did it. 'Lex Luthor' got a lot of results, a lot of the recent ones having to do with the ARP program and LexCorp stuff, but there were an awful lot of recent pieces regarding the reinvigorated social life of Metropolis's most eligible bachelor. A lot of pictures, with a lot of different women. A lot of speculation and the occasional really candid shot that suggested that if this were an act, then Lex had really been giving it his all.

Clark felt sick. And numb. And betrayed in a way that made the room close in around him. But no, he wouldn't believe speculation he read in a gossip column, even it if had pictorial props. There had to be a reason, because Lex wouldn't do that to him. He'd ask Lex, calmly, rationally, but first, he'd find out a little more detail from people closer to the source. Chloe had her ear to the Metropolis beat - - but then, Chloe had been really Lex-positive last he'd talked to her and he didn't want to curtail that feeling, for what might be nothing.

Lois. Lois would have all of her old Inquisitor contacts. He'd go and see what she'd heard.

She was harder to track down than Lex. He hadn't spent the time familiarizing himself with the sound of her heartbeat, that he had with Lex or even Chloe and it took him a while, hovering in the dark sky over Metropolis, to pick her up. It was the sound of her voice that did it. Lois had a particular pitch she could reach that was unforgettable. She was on the phone in the Metropolis Daily news broadcasting station, bitching to somebody about 'some shrew from FOX news stealing a story out from under her', when he stalked into the production room.

Most of the station was dark, but they had generators running the essential equipment. A newscaster was broadcasting via radio a few rooms over.


She looked up, saw him and her jaw dropped in the middle of a sentence.

"I gotta go," she said and snapped her phone shut, stalked over and hit him square in the chest. After which she promptly hissed, and shook out the hand, which he hoped didn't have broken bones. He hadn't been in a frame of mind to anticipate violence from her, or he'd have allowed himself to give a little and spared her possible fractured knuckles.

"You dick," she hissed, glaring up at him. "I thought you were a blood spatter on the wall of some hole in the wall Slovakian hostel. I mean God, didn't your mother ever teach you the meaning of the phrase 'phone home'? Jesus, I think I broke a knuckle."

He wasn't sure what Slovakian hostels had to do with anything, but he did a quick x-ray of her hand, and everything seemed whole. "You're fine. Can I talk to you?"

"Can you talk to me?" She glared some more, then caught his arm with her unbruised hand and hauled him out of the little production room and into the dim hallway.

"How long have you been back? I didn't think they were letting people into the city. Were you here when the sky was falling? Where the hell have you been for the last year?"

"Uh, a few days and yeah, I saw it. Things were chaotic - - It was hard to track people down. Glad you're okay. Listen, I need to ask you - -"

"Did you hear my exclusive with Superman? I'm getting play on every major news channel round the world."

He lifted both brows, doubtfully. "You had an exclusive?"

She lowered hers dangerously. "Well, he hasn't talked to anyone else. And I've got a promise on tape."

God, he'd almost managed to forget that.

"Have you talked to Chloe? Your mom?"

"Um, Chloe - - Lois, listen, I need to ask you about Lex - -"

"Luthor?" she waved a hand dismissively. "Last I saw he was downtown."

He caught her by the shoulders and stopped her forward momentum and she stalled on whatever complaint had been about to come out of her mouth, maybe catching something in his eyes that got past her surface chatter.

"What do you know about all the stuff that's been in the gossip rags recently. Is it true or is it all just wishful thinking?"

She canted her head, staring at him like he was a puzzle she was trying to figure out. "So, in the aftermath of the moon cracking up and showering us with the worst meteor shower in - -oh - - a million years or so - - you want to talk about Lex Luthor's sex life? Is this just a new weird kink of yours, or is there something going on I should know about?"

He didn't know how to answer that. He felt foolish for asking at all, but he hadn't been thinking entirely rationally when he'd tracked her down.

"I just - - never mind."

"Oh, if you want the low down, I've got for you. He's been on a tear and he hasn't been particularly shy about it. His security has strong-armed at least three photographers that I know personally who got 'incriminating' shots, if you know what I mean? Like liberate them of their camera's strong arm or buy off, when that didn't work. You know, the same tactics he uses in business transferred to his personal life. Why do you care?"

He'd stopped hearing her the last dozen words or so, the rush of blood in his ears drowning out inconsequential background noise. There was a pain in his gut that was a new sensation, and maybe it directly correlated the lump in his throat. He turned on his heel with Lois in mid-sentence and walked away. She might have complained, and hurried to dog his steps, but someone hailed her from down the hall and she hesitated, turned for half an instance, and he put on a burst of speed and was gone before she turned back around.

He knew exactly where he was going this time, his vision blurred just the tiniest bit around the edges. A sudden, unprecedented reaction to wind in his eyes, surely.

The Fairmont Hotel, one of the grandest in uptown Metropolis.

It was dark, just like all the buildings around it, save for a few dim lights in some of the third floor windows. Some of them flickered, obviously candle or lantern fueled, a few the low glow of single, generator-powered light bulbs.

Lex was in one of those rooms. Clark took a moment to hover outside the window, confirming his presence, confirming he was alone, then he landed on the narrow stone balcony, stood outside a pair of French doors and drew in a deep calming breath. He would not storm in angry. He would ask Lex outright and believe that Lex wouldn't lie to him. There might be occasional omissions of truth between them, but they had gotten past the outright lies. Clark trusted that. He had to trust that. Would have had no problem, no roiling surge of uncertainty if it had been one of Lex's under the table projects in question, but this was different. This was his heart in question and Lex had a little bit of a problem believing in hearts. It wasn't his fault. His had been hurt a lot.

Clark took another breath and tapped on one of the door's glass panes.

The Fairmont was a LexCorp holding and it had taken little damage during the meteor storm, so Lex had appropriated two floors for his center of operations. A working cell phone was a miraculous thing and he'd been able to contact Nancy, who'd survived the initial pelting at the airport, and she'd been able to contact other resources still in the city and get them organized. He'd been on the phone non-stop, getting damage assessments, trying to arrange permission to get LexCorp equipment and personal in past army blockades. The army corp. of engineers was already in motion, and LexCorp had resources on site that he'd damn well barter, if he had to for official cooperation.

Every news channel known to man was broadcasting footage of the actual storm, the aftermath, and every video capture they could get their hands on of Superman. He'd been watching news feed since they'd gotten the generators operational. And Clark had been busy, Shoring up a bridge in Texas and appearing a few minutes later in Tulsa to put out a blazing fire, then showing up somewhere else. The speculation was running rampart. Everything from new messiah, to engineered super solider, to alien invader (which hit closest to the truth) and the wildly paranoid theory by one FOX personality that the meteor shower had been a sham perpetrated by the US government in order to ingratiate the populace to a government controlled secret weapon that would soon wrest liberty from all God-fearing Americans. The blogosphere was probably wild with theories Lex didn't even want to know.

The actual people Clark had saved, interviewed after the fact had a different view, one and all, awed and grateful and singing his praise.

The only time Superman had actually slowed down enough to speak on camera though, had been to Lois Lane. Twice. Her name was being bandied about the news waves as well, as if she had some special in with the 'mysterious savior'. It annoyed Lex inordinately, considering he had more important issues with which to deal.

Progress had been stalled with night though. The generators could only power so much, and there was curfew that the patrolling army was enforcing with a vengeance. The staff that he'd gathered were tired and battered, and he had people in cities that had actual power doing the things that required a bank of computers and unlimited wireless. He thought he'd accomplished a fair amount.

He had a television, a light, a phone and a computer, all powered by lines running under the door and down the hall and stairs to the generators chugging away on the first floor. There was a well-stocked mini bar, from which he'd already sampled and there would be another cold shower tonight and the same clothes he'd worn from Clark's apartment tomorrow. He regretted the loss of his wardrobe almost as much as the penthouse itself. He hadn't had anyone check on the state of his cars. It hadn't occurred to him. Tomorrow he'd have someone find out for him. The roads ought to be clear, since the army and the remaining police had spent most of the day clearing away wrecks and abandoned cars to make way for emergency vehicles and heavy equipment. They hadn't announced a total casualty count yet, for all the areas hit, though the news channels were speculating with controlled glee that it was in the thousands.

A sharp tapping interrupted the low drone of the television and it took him a moment to recognize it for what it was and that Clark - - it could only be Clark since he was three floors up - - was standing outside the suite's French doors on the street side balcony. Clark who wasn't even wearing the costume and wasn't supposed to be flying around even in a darkened, curfew-enforced city in his own skin.

"What are you doing - -?" Was as far as Lex got after snatching open the doors, before he saw the expression on Clark's face and that sixth sense he had, for shit about to hit the fan, kicked in.

He stepped back, as Clark stepped in, studying Clark's face warily. There was a hardness in those green eyes, a tension to the jaw that Lex only rarely saw now days. He'd used to see it a lot back in Smallville when their friendship had been deteriorating.

It put him on the defensive without even quite knowing why. Ingrained habit, perhaps.

"What's wrong?"

"I want you to tell me the truth," Clark said solemnly, and God, if the defenses had been edging up before, they slammed into place now with a solid vengeance.

Lex's mind started working overtime, turning over all the possibilities of things Clark might come demanding truths over. There were a few less than above board dealings he'd engaged in over the past year, a few disagreements with Clark's costumed friends over a little 'legitimate' research with entirely willing and well-compensated test subjects - - but none of those things might have spurred Clark to come demanding truths in the middle of a crisis.

Which meant it was something else and Lex felt a cold lump of apprehension curling in his gut.

"What truth is that, Clark?"

"About all the stuff they've been printing about you in the gossip columns. About all the woman - - have you just been keeping up appearances again - - or - - or is it true?"

"Would you believe me if I said no?" He asked it neutrally, expressionlessly, even though it felt as if the floor had dropped out from beneath him.

And Clark surprised him with a desperate. "Yes."

Lex laughed, short aborted burst of disbelief - - of miserable, despicable gallows humor. He looked away, had to look away from the pleading in Clark's eyes; at the ceiling, at the gently rustling drapery framing the open balcony doors. Anything but Clark, because he almost believed that Clark would take him at his word, but the realist in him knew better. That Clark would never let that sleeping dog lay. And God knew, he'd been too busy trying to kill the numbness that he hadn't been particularly circumspect. Denial would just be a slap in the face.

He looked back at Clark, unwavering. "No, you wouldn't. Old habits die too hard."

Clark shut his eyes, color flushing his cheeks, fists clenching at his sides tight enough that Lex heard the popping of knuckles.

"So that's a yes?" Clark asked softly.

"That's a yes." No use denying when there was no excuse - - no rational that Clark would buy. None that Lex really understood himself or could easily admit. He doubted saying that they had all meant less than nothing would make a difference to Clark.

A muscle in Clark's jaw ticked, and when he opened his eyes they were filled with that liquid accusation that had never failed to push Lex's buttons.

"You've been busting my balls for something I had no control over and all the while you'd been sleeping with - -with people. Lots of people." Clark's indoor voice had evaporated.

"Fucking, Clark. There was no sleeping involved. Just a few meaningless fucks." He kept his voice modulated and smooth. He never had been good at admitting fault, no matter how richly deserved, when someone was shouting in his face.

Clark stared at him, wide-eyed. Disbelieving. Hurt. And it stabbed at Lex's conscience when Lex was trying damned hard to keep his cool, and that made him stupid.

"C'mon Clark, it wasn't as if we were in a committed relationship. You were gone a year, you didn't expect me to take vows of celibacy. "

Clark's mouth snapped shut and the hurt in those big green eyes hardened to something else entirely. Scary almost, how he went from liquid grief to diamond hard fury in less than the blink of an eye. Lex had seen Clark pissed off - - a lot - - but this, this look was something new. He took one step towards Lex, body almost vibrating with contained anger, and for the briefest instant Lex feared violence - - then with a surge of speed that sent shock waves through the room and staggered Lex off his balance - - he was gone.

Lex stood there afterwards, cursing under his breath. He'd known, absolutely known as the words were leaving his mouth that he was wreaking havoc not easily mended. And hadn't been able to stop. Hadn't been able to shut down the attack once he'd engaged in battle. As if driving Clark away before Clark could decide to walk on his own would somehow make the pain less poignant.

If self-destruction were an art form, he'd be a master of the craft.

He laughed again, distant in his own ears, picked up the half empty tumbler on the little desk by the door and hurled it against the television, with its grainy video capture of Superman performing some act of heroism. It shattered, the wide screen fracturing and blinking out with a disappointing lack of sparks.

Clark flew. Just flew fast and blind and wasn't even sure how far he'd gone, how many times he might have circled the globe, before he crashed down, feet creating trenches in hard earth, someplace dark and desolated. He couldn't be around anything breakable now. Had to get as far away from Lex as he could because he'd been seeing red - - was still seeing red - - was feeling it surging through his veins like acid and it seared - - the words seared, that had spewed from Lex's mouth.

There was a wall of shale in the darkness and Clark surged forward and hit it and the cliff face crumbled. He hit it again and again, shattering rock, driving into solid earth, hurling the huge slabs that slid down around him away into the darkness.

He'd wanted truth - - but not that truth. Not that way, with Lex standing there hurling casual knives like Clark meant nothing. Like they'd meant nothing. Like Lex couldn't be expected to wait more than the allotted few months Clark had said he'd be gone, before giving up on him.

The images of the photographs flashed through Clark's head, branded there along with the graphic details that his imagination supplied. He slammed his forehead against splintered rock and sobbed. Tasted the salty wetness of tears and hated Lex for doing this to him. To them. Because it had been good. It had been the best thing in Clark's life and to Lex, it was just one more disposable thing to throw away.

Untrustworthy, lying, cheating bastard, who'd stood there and looked Clark straight in the eye and said - - those things. Not in a committed relationship. A few meaningless fucks.

Clark replayed it in his mind, imagined casual malice in the glint of Lex's eyes, in the set of his mouth. Like he'd been aiming to wound. He always did. You didn't fight with Lex unless you were willing to take casualties.

A few meaningless fucks. Like there was any such thing, when you got that close to another person. But maybe, to Lex, it just didn't matter. Maybe to Lex, a lot of things just didn't matter and Clark had been fooling himself.

He drove a fist in again and shattered more rock, wished he were vulnerable enough to feel the pain in his hand, to have his knuckles bleed. Anything to distract from the pain in his heart.

A few meaningless fucks. Lex's shirt had been half unbuttoned, the dim light of the room making interesting shadows; the long line of his throat, the subtle curve of pectorals. Skin so smooth with its utter lack of hair under that shirt, that a man might loose himself in just touching. Smooth everywhere and Lex didn't admit it, but he was sensitive about that lack, and yet it didn't stop him from getting naked with strangers. To let strangers lay their hands on what was Clark's. Inviting them in when all he'd done since Clark had gotten back was push him away. As if Clark's absence had been some spiteful thing designed to hurt him. And maybe in his convoluted mind, it had been.

A meaningless fuck. Clark ought to show him the true meaning of the phrase. One last time, hard and rough, the way Lex liked it, just to let him know what he'd thrown away. He curled his fists, hissing, his body liking that idea all too much. Fury was as good a fuel for an erection, as passion, it seemed and his was threatening to pop the zipper of his jeans.

He went from zero to mach 50 before the decision had fully formed in his mind. Arced up high in the atmosphere where the air was too thin to breathe, to get his bearings, focused on the dark swath of the Midwest United States that was in the midst of blackout, and barreled down towards the spot he knew Metropolis to be.

This time when he landed on the balcony, stone splintered under his feet and he didn't bother with tapping on the French doors. Just smashed them half off the hinges, and stalked in. Lex was sprawled in an armchair, a collection of little liquor bottles on the table next to him, a glass of something halfway to his lips. He opened his mouth in protest maybe, or question, but Clark didn't care, didn't give him time to formulate the words, before he was there, smacking the glass out of Lex's hand, and yanking him up. He slammed him against the wall, not so hard to break, just enough to hurt, held him off his feet, fingers biting into his biceps deep enough that there would be bruises come tomorrow.

"Clark - -" Lex gasped past the air he'd probably lost when back impacted wall.

Clark didn't want to hear him talk. Lex's talking would only make it worse. So he lunged in, covering Lex's mouth, a one sided, demanding kiss that had nothing to do with love and everything to do with shutting Lex up, of letting him know just exactly who was in charge here.

But Lex was never passive in anything, even when he was the decided underdog in a match of physical prowess. He met Clark's kiss, sucking in his tongue, biting in a way that would have hurt anyone else, but just made Clark crazy. Tried to get his hands on Clark's shirt, but having his arms pinned to the wall made it an awkward reach.

Clark slammed against him, full body, driving the air out of him again, grinding his jean-clad erection against him. Lex groaned into his mouth, a desperate grab for air that he was probably in short supply of now, and Clark let him have it, diverting his mouth to the juncture of Lex's shoulder, ripping the collar away to bare pale flesh. Let him slid down the wall, so Clark had hands free to destroy the rest of Lex's buttons. Ripped the shirt down the front and slid his hands up under the flaps, fingertips dragging across leanly muscled ribs, down angular hips, pressing his thumbs into the concave of hip and belly, and Lex sucked in breath and ground his hips against Clark, hands fumbling with Clark's shirt, trying to get it up and off when Clark wasn't cooperating.

But this wasn't Lex's game and he didn't get to call the plays and it annoyed Clark that he was trying. Clark spun them both, faster than human equilibrium could compensate, and tossed Lex towards the bed. Was on him before the mattress had the chance to bounce him back up, hand pressed to his back to keep him face down. He slid a hand between Lex's belly and the mattress, felt the length of the hard-on beneath his pants and wondered how many other people had been allowed to feel him up. He gave it a squeeze and Lex spasmed under him, stifling a groan against the comforter. Clark reached for the belt, mangled the buckle in his haste to get it off, mangled the seams of the slacks since he was destroying Lex's wardrobe anyway.

"Goddamnit, Clark - -" Lex complained, either fighting that forceful removal or trying to help, Clark wasn't sure which and didn't care either way if the end result was Lex naked.

He resettled, big brown hand splayed out across the smooth skin of Lex's back. There were a lot of little bruises, from faint yellow brown to deeper purple, that made him hesitate for a second, brows drawn, before Lex's fine, tight ass right there before the straining bulge in Clark's pants snagged his attention. He unzipped and his dick burst free, pink and swollen and damned frustrated at being cooped up for so long.

Clark leaned down, palms on the mattress on either side of Lex's shoulders and asked. "Any of those 'meaningless fucks' push you around how you like? Huh, Lex?"

"Better than you," Lex ground out, panting, trying to push up against Clark and failing.

Clark ground his own teeth, metaphysical blood drawn. He hissed and sat back up, pulling off his shirt, damned and determined to keep the upper hand. He shifted his hips, wedging his dick between the cheeks of Lex's ass, shut his eyes in a moment of bliss, at the sensation of warm flesh, close around him.

But not as warm and not as tight as Lex would be on the inside. It was enough to make him slick with pre-cum, and God, if the first food he'd eaten after a year in the matrix had made him a little stiff - - this, this was setting off sporadic fireworks throughout the length and breadth of his nervous system.

God, Lex felt good. He smelled good and it was damned annoying when Clark was trying to hate him. It added a little surge of desperation to his anger. He'd always been careful of Lex, even when Lex hadn't wanted him to be, but now, if he drew a little blood - - it seemed fair retaliation for what Lex had done.

He ran his fingers over the tip of his dick, slicking them with glistening pre-come, leaned over and sank his teeth into Lex's shoulder as he twisted two fingers inside. Lex hissed, pressing his face into the comforter. Clark scissored his fingers, no gentle preparation, then pulled out, pushed himself up and pressed the head of his dick where his fingers had been.

Lex shuddered under him, fingers curling in the covers, shoving his hips up and trying to force the issue. Clark clamped a hand on his hip, keeping him still and Lex cursed. Clark took his own time then, sliding in, forcing his way past contracting muscle that had no real chance at keeping him at bay. Lex writhed under him, muscles gathering, releasing, never a passive participant even when Clark was holding him down.

Once the tip was in, the rest of him slid in with little resistance, just the tight grasp of muscle around him, swallowing him and holding him. And God, it was mind-blowing, and nothing the AI's matrix had done to him quite equaled this. He started moving, hard, fast, so long deprived that all his reasoning devolved in the animal frenzy of just rutting.

He wedged himself between Lex's spread legs and drove in. Caught Lex's hands when he tried to work them down between the mattress and his hips to jerk himself off and trapped them at his sides. Lex whimpered a little at that, halting sounds that turned to gasps with the apex of each hard thrust.

Clark came too fast, but it had been a long time since he'd engaged in sexual activity. He strained there, as deep into Lex as he could get and emptied himself, spurt after spurt, thoughts tumbling into that white-hot blaze of euphoria that he always experienced upon a really good climax. He hung his head and breathed afterwards, heart pounding harder than it had when he'd been busting meteors. And still, he was hard. Still encased in Lex. Still hungry, and the compulsive need to eat he'd felt earlier had nothing on this. He felt himself swelling again, and Lex moaned under him, trying to twist his wrists free of Clark's grip.

"Goddamn you - - just let me - -"

"Shut up, Lex." Clark leaned down, mouth close to his ear and Lex grunted as the angle of Clark cock inside him changed. "So how many people did you let fuck you?"

Lex bared his teeth. There was the faint trace of wetness at the corner of the one eye his profile revealed. "Is it shut up, or is it talk, Clark?"

"You can answer my question."

"You really want me to?"

Clark pulled back and rammed in hard. The bed scraped a few inches across the floor, the headboard slamming into the wall. Lex gasped, eyes rolling back in their sockets.

"You wanna rethink that?" Clark pulled back slow, rammed back in, the headboard clunked again against the wall.

"God - - God, no one. No one fucked me, Clark." There was the faintest trace of panic in Lex's voice, the inkling maybe that Clark was close to that edge where he might stop caring if Lex broke a little. That every time Clark thought about someone else pressing Lex down and fucking him, the red around the edges of his vision turned darker and bloodier. "There were only women. They didn't matter - -"

"Everybody matters, Lex. Don't you get that?" He withdrew, slammed home again and a few little chunks of plaster dislodged from the wall.

"Please - - " Lex was panting, pressing his face against the comforter. A theft, when Clark wanted to see his expression and that burgeoning grain of realization. He pulled out fast enough to hurt and flipped Lex over, hooked his knees and loomed over, bending him double, before Lex had managed to finish his exclamation of surprise. He lined himself up, jeans down around his thighs now, uncut head of his dick prodding Lex's swollen entrance while he stared down into Lex's face.

"Please what, Lex?"

Lex stared up, cheeks flushed, eyes a little glazed, certainly not spitting the indignation they had at the beginning of this. The tip of Lex's dick was prodding Clark's belly, leaking and hot and neglected. He shut his eyes, the tip of his tongue flicking out to wet his bottom lip.

Clark denied the urge to dip down and suck that lip into mouth, shook Lex a little instead and repeated. "Please what, Lex?"

The eyes snapped back open, ocean blue in the shadow, wary and a little bit desperate.

"Just fuck me. Let me get off. Or kick my ass the old fashioned way - - I'm going to feel it tomorrow either way."

Clark almost laughed at that. He didn't think Lex had meant it to be particularly humorous. He went with the first suggestion, slid back in slow and smooth as silk and Lex's head went back, the arch of his neck just too tempting for Clark not to bend down and bite. Gentle. Teeth and lips and tongue along the big vein and Lex shuddered full body and his fingers tangled in Clark's hair, across Clark's shoulders, nails raking everywhere he could reach.

Clark picked up his rhythm, fast, hard thrusts that made the bed squeak, caused Lex to make those breathless sex noises he made when he stopped rationalizing everything and got swallowed up by the experience. Lots of little God- - Fuck - - God - - Clarks, that would have made Clark's head swell a bit at the associations his name was being clumped in with, but right now just made him angry. Because Damnit, why did Lex have to go out of his way to screw things up.

He reached between them, caught Lex's bobbing dick and Lex arched under him like he'd been tasered. He began to stroke, firm grip on slick, satin smooth skin. Lex was looking for handholds wherever he could find them, Clark's shoulders, the bed covers. Language had deteriorated completely and when he came, it ripped through his body hard enough that Clark felt it from the inside. Long pearly spurts of come that spattered both their chests. And it was indescribably hot, seeing it glistening and wet against Lex's pale skin. Hot enough to trigger his second orgasm, and this time he pulled out, and spilled across Lex's belly, a commingling of ejaculation.

He was mostly flaccid after that - - mostly. But he had his wits about him, which was more than he could say for Lex, who was a sprawl of loose limbs and ragged breath, lashes fluttering against flushed cheeks.

And Clark had had plans. He'd come here with an agenda. Give Lex his meaningless fuck, 'one more for your collection', whispered in his ear, before Clark took off, never to come back. Ever. But it was harder than he'd expected and the concept of 'ever' hurt. A lot. He ground his teeth in frustration, pushed himself off the bed and stood there, staring at the black night out beyond the shattered French doors.

Confusion welled in his head, along with an army of other disparate emotions. Hate, jealousy, pain, lust, frustration - - a dozen other sparks of feeling, and not least among them - - love. It wasn't like he could just turn it off. It wasn't like love hadn't been the thing that had made him crazy to begin with.

God knew what it had snarled up in Lex's head, who didn't believe in it, and who had gone the better part of a year thinking the worst. Because Lex always assumed the worst. Always assumed that the people closest to him were the ones most likely to stab him in the back. To betray him.

So when in doubt, naturally he struck first.

If the sky were falling - - again - - Lex wasn't sure he could have moved to avoid it. Mental synapses were sluggish coming back online, overloaded as they were by sensation. All those empty places filled to overflowing and it floored him. It always floored him, what Clark could make him feel, like he had some direct line to the core of him, that no one else could breach.

All the more terrifying that Clark could just leave - -had left - - and there would be no one that could replicate that feeling. No one that could fill that void that always flittered at the edges of him.

And Clark was gone now, the bed creaking on what was likely broken supports as he got up. The sound of his shoes on broken glass, the chill of breeze from the shattered balcony doors on sweat damp skin. Lex didn't open his eyes, didn't care to see the departure, if Clark hadn't already left, faster than the human eye could follow. Wasn't sure movement at this juncture was much of an option at all, between the soreness from yesterday's various meteor induced mishaps and the dull ache of exceptionally rough sex. But physical pain was a preferable distraction from the other sort.

Weight settling on the edge of the bed surprised him after prolonged silence from the room at large. The solid length of Clark, settling in beside him, arms snaking around him and pulling him back, firmly against Clark's hard chest. As naked now, as Lex, when he hadn't bothered to strip entirely before.

But tense. Lex could feel it in the arm circling under his ribs, in the coil of the body behind him. Still angry, and Clark angry enough to take it with him to bed, Lex decided, was a risky venture. A frightening thing, in the way that calculated risks gotten out of hand, could be.

"I had a plan," Clark's voice was a low growl against the back of his head. "I was going to do it with you and leave, so you'd know what you'd ruined."

"So, why are you still here?" Breath was hard to come by and it had nothing to do with Clark's arm pressing his ribs.

"Because I realized it would hurt me, more than it hurt you."

Well, you were wrong on that count, Lex thought, should have said, instead of the instinctive rejoinder that came out of his mouth. "So you want me, more than I want you. Interesting."

Clark hissed and the arm around him tightened enough that ribs creaked and Lex saw stars around the edges of his vision.

"God, why do you do that?"

"I don't know," Lex gasped, but it sounded like a sob through the rushing in his ears.

Clark let out a breath against the back of his neck. "Now there's honesty."

Like Clark knew the meaning. But Clark's version and Lex's were two different things. Clark's lies never had been designed to wound, even when they had, only to obscure. Lex used his like weapons, striking out when the soft underbelly of his soul was threatened. Anything to deflect from vulnerability.

"Tell me why?" Clark asked.

A simple question and Lex shut his eyes tight, simple answers eluding him.

"Do you even know?" Clark accused, voice trembling, arms steel bands that denied escape. "Were you angry at me because you thought I wasn't coming back? Were you doing it to get back at me? Did you just get bored and say what the hell? Make me understand, Lex."

"You think it was all about you?" Lex ground out.

"It wasn't?" Clark heaved himself up, planted hands on either side of Lex's head and loomed over him.

"You've got a bit of an ego going there, Clark. And you said all that public adoration wouldn't go to your head." Lex shoved at his chest, wanting him off, wanting distance from things too close to the surface for comfort.

"Damnit, Lex - - stop it." Clark caught his wrists, dragged him half way up off the mattress and slammed him back down onto it, just in case he'd forgotten who had the superpowers here.

He hissed in frustration, vision blurring, Clark's fingers biting into his wrists and it hurt and he was exhausted. Wrung dry from too many days of running himself ragged, from too many months of just not knowing and pretending it wasn't tearing him to pieces.

"What do you want to hear," he cried. "That I missed you? That it hurt and I hated it and I hated you for doing it to me? That given the choice between you being dead and you just having moved on to something better than earth - - than me, I'd choose you being dead?"

Clark stared down at him, wide-eyed, surprised maybe, by that admission.

"So you start screwing half of Metropolis to make yourself feel better?"

Lex turned his head away, hating the tremulous weakness that wanted to shake him apart. He had. Trying to find that substitute for what Clark had given him, that utter completion that he'd never in his life experienced. And money and drugs and all the casual sex in the world hadn't been able to replicate it.

"What? Were you trying to forget me?" Clark was pressing and when Clark was on the scent he was no less dogged than Lex himself.

"Did you?" Clark asked, softer voiced. "Forget me?"

"No, Goddamned you."

Lex twisted under him, trying to wrench his wrists out of Clark's iron grip, wanting free. Wanting distance from painful truths that flayed him raw.

"Stop it," Clark said sharply. "You're going to hurt yourself."

"You hurt me." Lex hissed, so much truth in that simple accusation that it surprised even him.

Clark took a breath, swallowing. "Yeah. It does hurt, doesn't it? Loving somebody and thinking they betrayed you?" Clark's hands on his wrists loosened. He dropped his head, so that all Lex saw was the dark sheen of hair. "Can't you have enough faith to believe that somebody might love you enough that they'd never abandon you? Never betray you? That they might love you enough to forgive you even, when you do your damndest to screw things up?"

"Apparently not," he swallowed back the lump of pain. It had hurt. It still did and Clark didn't make it better with his declarations of love. Love was the problem to begin with. Love or something like it had wrung him dry all that time he'd been coming up with scenarios to explain Clark's absence.

"I'm sorry, Lex. I'm sorry I left you hanging. I thought I was doing the right thing going to the fortress. I thought - -" He swallowed, rolled away from Lex, to sit on the side of the bed, shoulders slack, all the tension drained away. Clark's angers were flash flood and loud. He expressed himself, got it out of his system and was whole again.

Lex had never picked up that trick. He lay there for a moment, letting the feeling prickle its way back into his hands, staring at the broad slope of Clark's shoulders.

He pushed himself up, and everything protested the movement. Slid off the side of the bed opposite Clark and picked his way past shattered glass to the bathroom. Turned on the shower, and though warm water would have been a blessing, cold was better than nothing. He needed to wash the drying residue off his chest and belly and stood there shivering under the spray as he did. Leaned against the wall under the showerhead afterward, cool water sluicing down his back, and shuddered, weak-kneed and faintly nauseous.

He heard Clark move into the bathroom. Felt him step into the shower behind him, the subtle warmth of his body as he leaned in, pressing his palms on the wet tiles outside Lex's own. And Lex couldn't understand why he hadn't left. Lex would have. Just the thought of Clark and anyone made him coldly furious and solid proof of the actual deed would have sent him over the edge into homicidal fury. Lana Lang was rightly lucky she was still among the living.

"You understand that I love you, right?" Clark said, mouth close to the side of Lex's head.

It ought not be hard to admit. Love came easily to Clark. "Sure - -"

"Don't," Clark said, with a little snap of steel in his voice. "Mistake how I love Mom, or Chloe, or anybody else, with how I feel about you."

"All right." Numb was better than raw and he let it flood in.

"Mom, or Chloe couldn't hurt me the way you can. And it hurts, Lex. And I know I hurt you, and I regret it, but it's better than the alternative. There's nothing you could do that would make me regret you, understand? Even when I'm so angry at you I have to get half a world away - - I can't stay away."

Lex shut his eyes against the water, the feeling that he'd dodged some fatal bullet making him light headed. It baffled him. Clark with all his simple, straightforward ideals baffled him.

Clark lifted a hand, thumb grazing a sore spot on Lex's shoulder. He vaguely recalled something to do with Clark's teeth.

"I'm sorry," Clark murmured, and this time there was a little horror in his voice. "I try so hard not to hurt you - - and I did. I couldn't think - -"

"You didn't," Lex denied, though he had, a little. But Lex had egged him on, digging for that rage, wanting that clash with Clark so bad he could taste it. Because clashing with Clark was better than not having Clark at all.

"It wasn't a mistake," Lex said softly. "You going. There are millions of people alive tonight that will attest to that."

Clark was silent behind him, chin on his shoulder, cheek against the side of his head. And Lex was cold everywhere, save where his big, warm body pressed. Then, "You're the one that matters. The one I love."

There was always something in him that cringed a miniscule bit, when Clark said that. Some twisted portion of his soul that couldn't quite believe, or if it did, expected disaster to follow in the wake of such declarations. Clark had told him that before he'd left for the Artic. And Lex had remembered those words each time he'd woken from some half recalled nightmare, or engaged in nameless, forgettable sex.

Yet here Clark was - -

"I never pressed you before, I know you've got issues," Clark murmured against his skin, words vibrating in his ear, and Lex felt himself start to tense. "But I need to hear it from you. Just once."

His hands on the wet tiles, clenched. The raw seeped back in to overtake the numb and God, how hard should it have been to tell Clark what Clark wanted to hear? It would make Clark happy and sooth his wounds. He wove words on a daily basis to sway conquests and crush opposition. Save that Clark was neither and the things he said to Clark mattered, because Clark mattered.

The last person on earth he'd said 'I love you' to and meant it, really meant it, had died in a hospital room that he hadn't been allowed to visit and left him to the mercy of the bastard that had spawned him. He'd never quite forgiven her for that.

"I'd have thought you'd figured it out by now."

"Say the words." Clark leaned against him, heavy and solid.

"They're just words, Clark."

"Then why can't you say them? You're good with words?"

Lex pressed his lips.

"You told Helen, Desiree, Lana when you were dating - - how many others? You can't say it to me?"

He had. He'd almost meant it with Helen, before she used it as a weapon against him and tried to tear out his heart. And it didn't count when it was a drug-induced obsession. And Lana, well, it was easy to find mutual comfort when you both lamented over the same self-righteous, lying bastard. And it had pissed Clark off to no ends, so she'd served double duty. And all the other various flings he'd had that had lasted more than a night, well, it was easy to make poetic gestures when there was little meaning behind them. Easy to say when you knew it was a lie. Not so when the truth behind it was so real it threatened to shake him apart.

"Okay, then," Clark said softly, in the wake of Lex's silence. He pushed himself away, and took the heat of his wet skin with him. It was just cold water after that.

"Where are you going?"

"I dunno," Clark walked naked and dripping out of the bathroom, snagged his underwear and jeans and pulled them on. Looked around for his shirt and used it to sop a little water from his hair before pulling it on. "Patrol a little. I heard some gunshots from Suicide Slums earlier - - maybe I'll check it out."

It was escapism pure and simple, Clark cutting out because Lex wouldn't give him what he wanted. A childish tactic, and yes, Lex might have used it on occasion himself, because it worked damned efficiently, but it grated, aimed towards him.

Lex hissed through his teeth in frustration, back against a wall and despising it. He yanked the hotel robe off the hook on the bathroom wall and stalked out after Clark.

"So, you're running, in other words?"

Clark sighed, shirt wet and clinging to his skin in spots. "I'm not going far. I just need to - - clear my head, you know?"

"Away from me."

"Well, you sort of muck up the works - - as far as head clearing goes." Clark flashed a half-hearted smile. There was something fragile in it, like Lex had just finished dispelling his belief in some childhood myth. Lex narrowed his eyes with the vague suspicion that Clark was trying to pull some sort of subtle power play, only Clark usually sucked at the 'subtle'.

"What do you want from me?"

"Do you love me?"

"Oh for fuck's sake - - Yes. I love you. Does that fill your need for confirmation? "

Clark stood there for a moment, staring, then the corner of his mouth twitched up.

"Yeah, it sort of does. And you gushed romantic, to boot."

"Fuck off." Lex felt marginally outmaneuvered, and tired, but not particularly as if he'd signed his death warrant, or given away the keys to his happiness.

Clark grinned. Not the 'at Lex's expense' sort, but the genuinely happy, marginally goofy sort that never failed to distract Lex from whatever serious matter he ought to be attending. He took a breath. Another, and chased the anxiety down to a place where it didn't get in the way of rational interaction with other living beings. God knew, he'd done enough sabotaging of relationships for one night.

"I made a mistake," he said and Clark's smile evolved into solemn attention. "A lot of mistakes - - trying to deflect from the fact that I needed someone so badly, that it made me feel - - less than whole - - when they were gone. When you were gone. And I hated that weakness. I still do."

"But on the flip side," Clark stepped up to him, in his damp T-shirt and worn jeans, big eyes and perfect bone structure. "We get this."

He leaned in, body brushing the terrycloth of Lex's Fairmont robe, and kissed him. Brush of soft lips, whisper of warm breath on his skin, graze of Clark's big fingers against the edge of his jaw. It made him shiver from scalp to toes, made him regret it when Clark pulled back and said softly.

"And this is good."

Lex rather liked Clark's simplistic answer to what Lex considered a complex problem.

"And you're not weak, Lex. God, you're so not weak and I hate that you think that the feelings you have for me, make you something less and I think you've got it sort of all snarled up wrong in your head, because you make me stronger. Even when you're not around, I'm better because of you."

"So what do we do now?" Lex was usually on the other side of that question, but he was feeling a little vulnerable, a little uncertain of his footing and that seemed to work for Clark, so Lex was willing to go with it, if it gained him ground.

"I dunno," Clark said thoughtfully, standing close enough that if Lex leaned forward they'd be touching. "Talk, I guess."

But he didn't sound particularly enthused with the idea. Being young and male, there was only so much emotional emoting that Clark could easily endure, and though Lex was usually all for talking, when it involved heartfelt confessions on his part, he was willing to stave it off.

He leaned forward just enough that his thigh pressed Clark's. "We should. But Metropolis will still be here tomorrow. And we will - - the subject won't have evaporated."

Clark made a sound, caught the back of his neck and pulled him forward. Lex leaned there, forehead pressed into the curve of Clark's neck and let Clark support his weight.

Clark was uniquely suited for the job.



A very polite, and very persistent rapping broke into a dream that might have involved Lionel Luthor and an untimely, painful demise, but the details were fuzzy upon waking.

Lex blinked up at the ceiling, gathering sleep fogged wits. In the light of day - - light coming in from haphazardly hanging French doors - - the suite looked to be in rather bad shape. And he was alone. Which in and of itself was not as bothersome as it might have been, considering he hadn't been when he'd fallen asleep.

The soft knocking drew his attention again. It was coming from the suite door, followed this time by the hesitant voice of his secretary.

"Mr. Luthor? Sir? Are you awake?"

He threw an arm over his eyes and groaned. Then twisted his hand to look at his watch. 8:37. She wouldn't be bothering him this early if there weren't good reason.

He threw the covers off and felt it when he pushed himself up. He'd expected as much, but still muttered a curse in conjunction with Clark's name as he reached for the robe. Morning after stiffness, he could deal with, but ripping up the only set of clothes he had readily on hand was just annoying.

He belted the robe and opened the door to his somewhat harried looking personal assistant. She had a PDA in the hand she was knocking with and a cup of coffee in the other.

"The sky's not falling again?" he inquired, just a little testy at the hour and the fact that he had to stand in the doorway in a borrowed robe, to keep her from seeing the shambles he and Clark had made of the room.

"No, sir. The engineers and the damage assessment team just got in and you were specific in wanting to be notified." She craned her neck, no doubt catching a glimpse of Clark's handiwork with the French doors.

"Is that for me?" he drew her attention back to him with a jut of his chin at the coffee in her hand.

"Oh, yes sir, but I see you already have some."

He glanced over his shoulder at the desk along the wall, and the Grande sized Starbucks cup sitting there. There was a little bag next to it, likely holding some baked good item, and a clumsily folded pile of clothing.

"How did you - -?" She started.

"Thank you, Nancy. Tell them I'll be down shortly. " Lex shut the door in her face, put his back to it and silently laughed. At least he hadn't had to send her out to procure clothes. That would have been harder to explain than the room.

He took a sip of the coffee, and it was still warm, which meant Clark had been here not long before he'd woken. There was a muffin in the bag, and the clothes were more from what he'd had at Clark's apartment.

He showered and dressed and ate the muffin on the way down the stairwell to the second floor conference rooms where he'd set up LexCorp's temporary headquarters. Nancy met him at the stairwell door and started filling him in on the morning's developments.

"They've started letting flights back in. Military, Red Cross, relief workers and supplies mostly. Some commercial flights might be allowed in as early as tomorrow. They're letting people back into the city."

She kept talking, and Lex was excellent at multi-tasking and absorbed most of it, even while his mind was beginning to wander to Clark-related matters. First and foremost, what he was about.

Clark's itinerary today hadn't come up last night and despite coming to what Lex considered fair terms, he feared it would take a bit more than angry sex, heartfelt admissions, hard truths, and considerably less angry sex afterwards, for Clark to come to terms with Lex's - - in retrospect - - injudicious choice of tension relief.

Lex could be honest enough with himself to admit that had the tables been turned, there'd have been more than hate sex and hurt feelings involved. Probably kryptonite and blood, and likely a grudge to end all grudges provided Clark survived the initial blowback.

But Clark's ability to forgive never ceased to mystify him, so he wasn't entirely sure what to prepare for. Apparently Clark hadn't woken up and had a change of heart, the breakfast and the clothing attested to that. A casual call, would have been nice, but Clark forgot to charge his cell at the best of times, so the chances of him having a working phone, after being back two days from a year long pilgrimage of self-discovery were slim to none.

"Any Superman sightings this morning?" he broke into her report with the question.

She took a second to reorganize and answered. "I believe there was a report this morning of an attempt to rob a Federal Reserve in Omaha that he stopped. I can have someone check if there was other activity?"

"No." He waved a hand, then changed his mind and amended. "Go ahead. Start a file."

She nodded, adding that to her to do list.

The engineers and the architect who'd designed Luthor towers, flown in from various locales around the world, were waiting for him in the lobby. The damage assessment team had gone directly to the site, as soon as they touched down. There were a couple of SUV's waiting to take them to Luthor Towers and sporadic traffic in the streets, city maintenance crews out in force, along with national guard and private contractors, clearing debris and shoring up damaged structures. A lot of Metropolis line crews out repairing severed power lines. People that hadn't been able or willing to leave the city out patching up storefronts, lending helping hands to the city crews, or just out walking the streets, taking in the aftermath. There'd been riots, he'd heard, in the low rent side of town. A few clashes between military patrols and looters on a rampage last night. Daylight brought a modicum of sanity with it that blackout-enforced darkness leeched away.

Compared to the usual crush of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, down town was practically deserted. Temple Street was closed off from 12th to 16th, but they bypassed the barriers. There were bulldozers clearing away the rubble that had been The Bank of Metropolis, a few armored trucks and a spattering of what he assumed were federal marshals, protecting the valuables under the debris. There was a hole in the street that hadn't been there last time Lex had been here, the asphalt cracked open so that power crews could get to buried lines. They drove over quite a few snaking power cables as they pulled up to Luthor Towers.

There were crews putting up chain link fencing around the buildings and what looked to be a city inspector that had to have better things to do than wasting his time here, arguing with one of the LexCorp damage assessment team.

Lex spared a glance for the Daily Planet, because if Clark wasn't out in his 'battle suit' playing hero, then that was one of the likely places he might have gravitated to. If he still had a job, which was unlikely, considering the extended leave of absence. But his attention got snared back to legitimate business by the argument between city inspector and his assessment team leader.

"Is there a problem here, gentlemen?" He strode up to the two men, picking his way through the rubble-strewn street in front of Luthor East.

"City's trying to make us pull our crews back, Mr. Luthor," his foreman said.

"No one's allowed into grade 4 damaged structures until City inspectors can assess the level of damage."

"That's what my people are trying to," Lex explained smoothly. "And I assure you they're the best the field has to offer."

"You don't have the permits - -"

Lex's only aches had been various bodily ones, up until the point the nasal tone of the city inspector's voice started zeroing in on a spot just behind his eyes. He pulled out his phone as the man was rattling off city code at him, and put a call through to the personal line of the mayor of Metropolis.

"You think I'm your mama, Kent, that you can come crawling back after curfew and have your supper and your blankie waiting for you, all smiles and open arms?"

"Uh, no Perry,"

"Its Mr. Goddamned White to ex-copyboys who ask for a three month leave of absence and take nine extra months. You think your job wasn't filled the day you didn't show back up to work?"

"No?" Clark asked warily, not certain which answer would get him less volume. "I was a staff writer. Mr. White."

He added the last hurriedly as Perry White paused in his circuit around the bullpen, to give him the evil eye. Desks were all clumped together in little groups, computers and shared desk lamps plugged into cords running down to gas powered generators. People were tapping away at cell phones, using wireless internet connection for research. Most of them were paying no heed to Perry's running tirade. A few that Clark knew, cast him sympathetic looks when Perry wasn't looking. He was just glad Chloe was out chasing a story and wasn't here to witness it.

"You're Goddamned unemployed, is what you are. This is the real world, Kent and I don't care if you got sucked down a hole to middle earth - - unless you came back up with an exclusive with the Goddamned king of the elves - - you're fired. You were fired nine months ago."

Perry stood there glaring at him, as if he expected an answer and Clark floundered, intimidated by a craggy faced, thinning haired man who looked as if he hadn't slept in days. Perry opened his mouth, about to say more when a kid with an intern's badge ran up, out of breath and excited.

"Mr. White, a whole convoy just pulled up outside Luthor Towers. Lex Luthor himself is out there and there's some sort of row. I tried to go over and get some pictures but his security wouldn't let me through."

Perry glared at the wall the direction Luthor towers would be, as if he could see through stone. Clark could and did, picking through a line of black SUV's and a lot of men in hard hats, and schematics on the hoods of cars and some guy in a rumpled shirt and tie yelling at Lex, who was on his phone ignoring it all.

"Kent, you're all over Luthor, right?"

"What?" Clark's vision sort of stuttered out, and he blinked in a moment of disorientation as Perry's question sank in.

"You're friends with him, aren't you? Hang out? Can get past his damned security?"

Clark blinked again, warily. "Umm. Yes?"

"Then get over there and find out what they're doing about that damned skyscraper leaning over our heads. If it's coming down, I want to know about it. Get me details. "

"Does this mean I have a job?" Clark asked hopefully.

"It means you're working pro bono and if I were you I'd be damned grateful for the chance. Now go. I don't want to see your face again until you've got a quote from Luthor himself."

Like Clark needed an excuse to gravitate in Lex's general direction. Last night had been insane, and exhausting and cathartic. He'd done things that in the light of rational day, he hated. Used his strength to hurt someone he loved, even though Lex claimed no foul. Lex was all messed up in the pain pleasure department, and the things Lex liked - - the things that sometimes got Lex off - - made Clark uneasy. The fact that he'd engaged wholeheartedly last night, in anger and jealousy - - frightened him.

But afterwards, after Lex had gotten over the trauma of actually saying the dreaded 'word', it had been nice. Just them and a shattered TV that Clark was almost certain he hadn't been the one to break, and a bed, that once you threw off the top spread was big and soft and dry.

And one of the big pluses of your significant other being a guy instead of a girl, was that even after emotionally exhausting showdowns, they were perfectly content just to lie there and enjoy blessed silence. Long, leisurely kisses and wandering hands didn't need conversation to enhance the experience. And when Lex had drifted to sleep on him, Clark had been content to curl an arm around him and lie there, staring at the night out beyond the broken balcony doors.

And sure, he'd never not be jealous over Lex with anyone other than him, and if he thought about it too much - - well, he needed to not think about it too much - - but he thought he maybe understood why Lex had done it. He thought maybe he understood Lex a little bit more, and every scrap of knowledge in that complex field was to be hoarded and treasured.

The sun was out in full splendor today, and the dust that had hung around the city yesterday, had pretty much settled, thanks to an early morning shower. Clark stood on the sidewalk outside the Planet for a moment and soaked in the warm rays. The city was full of noise today, but not the usual kind. Lots of heavy equipment out, lots of construction crews that had started slowly rolling into gear today, as they worked their way back into the city. A lot of people working together that wouldn't normally, if disaster hadn't given them a common cause. He could hear it all across Metropolis and for a moment, he just opened up and let all the varied multitude of sound pour in. No sounds of impending disaster that might warrant his attention, so he started down the block towards Luthor Towers.

There were a few LexCorp security guys skulking around, but they'd seen Clark enough that they relaxed once they recognized him, nodded and let him stroll past. The city inspector he'd seen earlier was storming towards him, red faced and very, very put out, and Clark sidestepped to let the guy pass. Lex was looking pleased with himself, in amongst a group of men talking and making occasional gestures towards the buildings. Clark went over and leaned against the side of one of the SUVs next to Lex's personal secretary, who looked up from her PDA and smiled in surprise.

"Clark! I was beginning to think you weren't coming back."

"Hi, Mrs. Morgan. Yeah, time really got away from me."

"Well, shame on you for not calling. There were some people," and she shifted her eyes towards Lex. "Who were worried sick."

Clark frowned, feeling a stab of guilt. "He told you that?"

She smiled at him the way his mother did when he asked a stupid question. "You don't work for a man as long as I have and not pick up things. I'm hoping his mood will improve now that you're back?"

Clark opened his mouth, shut it, wondering what else an observant woman who knew her boss's ins and outs, had picked up?

But she was nothing if not discreet, a job qualification for being Lex's secretary. She went back to industriously working at her PDA, with no further comment. He let his gaze drift back to Lex, who was still in deep conversation with a foreman, who in turn was talking to somebody through a walkie-talkie. Clark let his attention wonder up the length of the two skyscrapers and inside. There were men in there, doing dangerous work, crawling around the exoskeleton of damaged buildings. The one was not so bad, no major fracturing of the web work of steel and concrete that supported it, but the other had taken a lot of damage, the top handful of floors pretty much demolished. There was a big, gaping hole where Lex's penthouse had been and Clark shivered, thanking God Lex hadn't been there. There were a lot of nice memories of that penthouse. A lot of discoveries made there and Clark would miss it.

He glanced back down, readjusting his vision as the conference outside the chain link fence broke up and Lex started back towards the cars. There was a miniscule lift of the brow as he noticed Clark leaning there, but otherwise he didn't miss a beat.

"Seven out of ten, Mr. Luthor," Mrs. Morgan informed him as he walked up.

"Keep trying for the rest," he nodded, continuing past, indicating with a jerk of his chin for Clark to follow. Clark stuffed his hands into his pockets and walked past the line of SUV's down the street a little between the rubble of the bank and the hole in the road surface where the power crews had pulled out all sorts of damaged line.

"Board members," Lex explained. "Trying to track them down."

"Oh." Clark gave him a critical stare. "So, you okay this morning?"

Lex lifted a brow. "Other than having to deal with bureaucratic sycophants and panicked insurance adjusters? Fine, Clark. What have you been doing?"

Clark sighed and waved a hand towards the Daily Planet. "Trying to get my job back and failing. I think. "

Lex shrugged. "I'd have fired you."

"Gee, thanks. "

Lex gave him a look, then got distracted by his phone vibrating in his pocket, looked at the number, decided to ignore it, and glanced back up to Clark. "So, what are you doing now?"

"Trying to get a quote. Perry sent me over to get the word on the towers."

"I thought you didn't have a job."

"I don't think I'm getting paid."

"God, did you take no business courses in school?"

Clark grinned, fought the urge to move right up into Lex's personal space. "I was thinking maybe, if you have time today, we could go somewhere and eat."

Lex canted his head. "I've got a lot to do."

"But you have to eat. And I was thinking Creole and there's this place in New Orleans - -"

Lex's brow went up again. "A little hole in the wall dive, I assume?"

"A hole in the wall, not a dive," Clark defended. "The food's great."

"Take out or dine in?"

Clark's grin widened. "Whichever you want."

Lex opened his mouth to reply when something crackled, then crackled louder, the dead power cables coming alive, jerking and crackling with the sudden flow of electricity. Clark kicked a ruptured line away out of reflex, and the toe of his boot singed, then grabbed Lex and put safe distance between them and live cables before the line crews around the hole could draw breath to start crying warnings at the unexpected flow of power. The traffic light down the street had blinked on, and a few sporadic windows lit inside Luthor West. The globe on top of the Daily Planet slowly started its revolution. Uptown had gotten its power back.

"Sir, we've got power back," Mrs. Morgan was picking her way towards them, not having seen the near miss with the first surge of that power.

"We noticed," Lex said dryly, then glanced up pointedly at Clark, who had his arm still curled around his back.

"Oh," Clark uncurled it and took a grudging half a step back. His boot was smoking a little and he stubbed it on the edge of the curb.

Mrs. Morgan didn't even crack a knowing smile, just nodded. "If we've got full power back, I'd like to head back to the Fairmont and get some real work done."

Lex waved a hand at her. "Call me if you need me. I believe I'll be taking an early lunch."




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