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Quality Time

by P L Nunn


Chapter 14


It felt like his knuckles were broken. Honest to god broken, though he'd never experienced the feeling of sheer pain radiating up from his hand before to really be sure. Maybe slamming a fist into a man whose jaw glinted green/blue with the shimmer of a mixture of kryptonite and tempered railroad steel, hadn't been the smartest move Clark had ever made.

But he'd really, really felt the need to get up close and physical with the bastard who'd hurt Lex and good sense had followed on the heels and wings of the unlucky wildlife fleeing the destruction that had come calling in their little patch of woods.

Clark didn't have a lot of time to appreciate the novel pain, before a new source exploded in the area around his jaw, courtesy of the very kryptonite laced bastard. He crashed through a group of saplings and came to an abrupt stop against the trunk of a bigger tree with a splintering crack.

That hurt too. His body ached from too close exposure and really it wasn't like he was ground bound, so taking to the air and approaching this from a different angle might be a very good change of tactics. Tackling it hand to hand didn't seem t be working out so well. The fact that this man, with his psychopathic smile and his gleaming dead eyes, could toss Clark around like he was a rag doll - - or a frail human with nothing but ordinary human strengths to support him - - had had his hands on Lex - - was horrifying.

He dislodged a good-sized limb and pushed himself up and the ground went soft beneath him, like solid earth had suddenly decided to turn to quicksand. It clutched at him, trying to suck him under. Broken limbs shifted, offering no resistance to the earth but doing a good job of tangling with him.

A thunderous creaking signaled the fall of the abused tree behind him, the earth under its roots no longer offering solidity. It toppled down upon him, and he threw up hands to ward it off, the weight of it sinking him deeper into the greedy earth.

There was the jarring impact of weight hitting the tree, then the man jumped off the trunk to the mangled earth where the roots had torn free - - earth that miraculously held his weight even though the dirt a few feet away sucked at Clark with murderous intent.

Clark immediately felt the sickening presence of kryptonite. It sapped his strength and lodged as he was by dirt and wood, there was no judicious use of speed to distance himself from it.

A fist smashed into his face. Instant, debilitating pain. The tree pressed down, compacting the air out of him. That rare, curious blood taste filled his mouth.

"Told you," the man's voice echoed in-between the ringing in his ears. "Told you to just walk away and leave me to my business." The fist came down again, kryptonite-laced iron and Clark thought he heard the sickening crack of bone. His bone. Hard to tell what bone in the midst of such all-encompassing hurt. The kryptonite exposure by itself felt like a thousand rusty nails digging their way up out of his insides. But maybe his nose - - maybe it had been his nose cracking. Novel experience.

"But you just wouldn't listen." The man leaned over, the sort of smile you might expect from a mass murdering used car salesman on his wide mouth. "Now I'm just going to have to find him again and finish what I started. Maybe start from scratch, nice and slow - - peel all that pretty skin from the flesh. Start from the feet up, so he's got time to savor it."

"Son of a bitch - -" Clark growled past the pain, caught the man's fist on its way down a third time and felt the sharp edges of kryptonite slice into his palm. He screamed, acid eating into his torn flesh, the earth clinging tight to him, trying to restrain him and pull him deeper all at once.

A booming crack shattered the air and the earth loosened, suddenly inert around Clark.

The man jerked his fist out of Clark's grip and straightened, staring over the bulk of the tree to something beyond Clark's current line of vision. His face twisted in a sudden flare of rage, and he scrambled over the tangled tree roots, Clark forgotten.

Which was about as bad a mistake as a man could make, considering the red Clark was seeing around the edges of his vision. As soon as the kryptonite was out of range, he felt his strength flooding back, felt the subtle shifting of the bones in his face as they melded. He shoved the tree off and erupted out of the loosened earth, shaking off dirt like a dog shedding water.

The man was running through the swath of destruction they'd made of the wood, but slow, weighed down by iron and alien rock. Clark could see what he was heading towards clearly enough. A body at the top of the slope leading up from the gully where Clark had landed. A body lying supine, with a spreading stain of red on its chest. The boy Clark had seen earlier, who'd stayed out of range while he and the man had been going at it, but who'd had a devastating hand in ripping up the forest nonetheless.

Clark felt a pang of regret for a young life lost before another entirely unexpected figure topped the rise. Lex. Who, if the shotgun he carried under his arm was any indication, had been the author of the earlier boom and the boy leaking blood into the mulch of the forest floor.

Clark cursed under his breath, even as the man did, loud and vulgar, storming up the rise towards Lex and the boy. Lex lifted the gun and fired point blank, and buckshot shredded the man's shirt, but barely faltered his pace.

What Lex was doing there, Clark had no idea, but he cursed under his breath himself, and let loose a blast of concentrated heat vision as the man continued up the tree dotted slope towards Lex.

That did more than shake the rhythm of his steps. It staggered him when the impact of a shotgun shell hadn't. The man whirled, clothes crisping on his back and glared up. Lex did, from his stance on the rise above the body of the boy.

The man roared something, incoherent rage, and plowed ahead, still on target with Lex. And Lex wasn't doing the reasonable thing and retreating, Lex was making Clark's life difficult, cracking the shotgun open and reloading.

Clark hit the man in the back with another burst of heat vision, willing it as hot as his anger at the thought of the bastard laying hands on Lex again. The man went down to his knees, the leaves and mulch going up in flames around him from the intensity of the heat. With the dry summer heat, the whole of the woods was tender waiting to ignite and the fire spread quickly to nearby bramble.

That got Lex moving backwards a few steps as fire traveled up a dry vine of ivy and into the foliage of a tree. Damn.

"Goddamnit, Lex - - go!" Clark yelled, then had to dodge a section of root the man ripped free from the earth and hurled up at him.

"Get down here, boy!" the man screamed up at him. "So's we can talk up close and personal."

As if. Twice was the limit of Clark making the same mistake. The man hurled another, standing in the midst of fire, untouched, save for his charred clothing. His body gleamed hard and metallic underneath.

Clark caught the second projectile by one twisted root and flung it back down with enough impact to drive the man into the blackened earth. He swept past, super speed, snagged Lex who was grudgingly retreating down the opposite slope and deposited him without ceremony on the side of the road a good walk from where Clark had stopped the getaway car outside the wood. He didn't pause for polite talk, time being in rather short supply where the metal man was concerned, and zipped back, hovering in the air above the man just as he was pushing himself out of the crater in the ground. Clark wasn't entirely sure the melting point of the tempered iron the man seemed composed of, but he was willing to bet it was blast furnace hot. And blast furnace hot would incinerate anything within the immediate area.

If he'd had another choice, he'd have used it. If he could have gotten within striking distance without the absorbed kryptonite turning him into putty, he'd certainly have attempted the chore of beating the bastard into submission.

He focused his will, narrowing his eyes and letting the heat behind them build, then let loose a searing blast so fierce it incinerated mid-air the next chunk of tree the man tossed up at him. It hit the man dead center, blasting him backwards. Leaves and limbs not even in the line of it caught ablaze, the air shimmered with the heat. Clark's own clothes sizzled with it, the torn edges of his t-shirt darkening, the soles of his boots starting to send up that burnt rubber smell.

The body of the boy burned, but there was no helping it, and the boy was beyond feeling it regardless. There was no climatic explosion, no eruption of flame or molten metal, not even a garbled scream. There just ceased to be movement or the slow thud of pulse and with a shudder, Clark shut his eyes, cutting off the heat vision, eyes stinging from the intensity of it. It took a second or two for his vision to clear of the red haze, and when it did, all he saw was fire and smoke and a charred pit that could have easily fit a few of Lex's sleek little sports cars. What lay at the bottom wasn't pretty or easily recognizable as a human being.

He'd killed a man and no matter he'd had little enough choice, no matter he'd been protecting what was his, he felt a sickness inside because of it. If he'd been a little bit better, a little stronger, a little faster, a little more resistant to the effects of kryptonite, maybe he might have avoided murder. He couldn't dwell on it though, the fire demanding his attention.

Gusts of air only served to multiply the problem, dry as the timber was, so he ended up flying to the closest farm, ripping a water tower right off its stilted foundation and hauling it back, sloshing water in his wake, before dropping the whole thing down on the center of the blaze. Water flooded out and soaked dry earth, smothering ground bound flame, which made the putting out of the fire in the foliage a more manageable chore.

In the end, he managed to save a good portion of the little forested area, and certainly the fields of summer corn and wheat beyond.

He went looking for Lex after he was sure the last of the flames were out, and found him leaning against the front fender of a very familiar old red pickup. Clark's mother stood not far away, staring at the smoke hazed sky over the wood.

"Clark," she cried when he landed, storming up to him in a rush of motherly concern, while Lex refused to budge from his position by the truck. The shotgun was propped against the fender by his side.

"My god, honey, are you all right?" She wiped a smudge off his cheek and eyed the singed state of his clothing with wrinkled brows.

"I'm fine, mom,"

She frowned, not believing him, but she had enough practice not to push. He looked over her head at Lex, who had a wan, emotionless expression on his bruised face, a sure enough sign that all sorts of things were brewing under the surface.

"Are you okay?" Clark asked and Lex just shrugged as if he were indifferent to the whole matter of bodily injury.

"You shouldn't have come," Clark said, the utter fear and shock he'd felt at seeing Lex stepping into a field of battle that a normal human man couldn't have survived, coming back full force.

"We need to leave. Now," Lex ignored Clark's admonishment and pushed himself off the truck with a wince of pain.

"You could have gotten killed," Clark wasn't so willing to let it go.

"Clark, we were worried about you," his mother said, her hand on his arm, urging him towards the truck.

"Either fly home now, and be quick about it, or get in the damned truck so you and your mother are out of the area before people come that I'd rather not be aware of your presence here."

Clark stared between the two of them, then took a breath and followed Lex around to the passenger side of the truck while his mother climbed in behind the wheel. Clark slipped in beside Lex, who shifted the shotgun between his knees and didn't protest being crammed in the middle.

They rode in silence for a while, until they reached the intersection where rural route met service road and the dark oily smoke of the train wreck could still be seen in the distance.

"I killed him," Clark said softly, feeling that hollowness in his gut again. He'd killed before, but it had been accidental, a byproduct of a fight that got out of hand. This had been intentional. Purposeful.

"Oh, honey," his mother cast a sympathetic look his way. Lex stared straight ahead, jaw set, eyes cold, attention only shifting when a helicopter flew overhead in the direction of the charred forest. It was sleek and black and accompanied by a second that followed close on its tail. There were no markings on them that Clark could discern.

"Are they yours?" Clark asked softly, thinking of those shadowy black ops teams Lex employed for use in those projects that he didn't want connected outright with LexCorp.

"Yes," Lex said simply, stare not wavering from the front windshield.

"There's not much left for them to find - - the fire - -" He trailed off, swallowing back bile. Nothing but bones and not even much of them, what with the level of heat Clark had generated. Two sets of bones.

He looked at Lex's profile, at the bruises and the scrapes above the collar, and knew there were a lot more underneath borrowed clothing. Bone deep hurts that made Clark clench his fists. They'd had him for almost a day and the bruises and the burns and the insidious cuts were only the ones visible to the eye. If he let it, his imagination could go to very dark places speculating what else they'd done. And Lex kept his wounds - - most especially his emotional ones - - locked securely away. Clark could practically see the layers upon layers of protective armor falling into place.

He moved a hand over subtly, and rested it on Lex's thigh, above his knee, squeezing gently. Lex's eyes shifted down minutely, then back up to watching the road, but he didn't protest or try to brush the contact off. Which was either a good sign or simply Lex not wanting to draw attention when Clark's mom was sitting right there next to them.

The silence was thick as January ice in the truck and it would have been a relief if his mom had started hammering them with questions. Maybe she could have gotten Lex talking, because Clark had the sinking feeling that most of the cold Lex was exuding was directed towards him. It hadn't been that long ago, relatively speaking, that they'd argued. Lex had been damned pissed off at him and Lex held onto his resentments a lot longer than Clark.

He tried to work up a little of the indignation he'd felt when Chloe had told him the details that Lex had conveniently not mentioned and it just wouldn't come on the heels of his fear for Lex's life and the overwhelming relief that he was safe.

The porch lights were on when they reached the farm, a lure for nighttime flying bugs that gathered in the weak light. The sky was pale overhead, streaked with a few wispy strands of clouds, a few winking stars disappearing with the onset of dawn.

"I'll take that," his mom said, holding out a hand for the shotgun Lex still carried. Lex handed it over and stood in the dust of the yard, as if he didn't quite know what to do, deposited in the familiar dirt driveway between the looming red barn and the farmhouse. It had been a long time since he'd been here. A long time since he'd been welcome.

"Come on," Mom beckoned tiredly at the both of them. "I'll put on coffee and whip up a little early breakfast."

Lex swallowed, as if that didn't sound appealing at all, even as Clark's stomach rumbled hopefully at the thought of one of his mother's breakfasts.

Clark didn't start moving until Lex did, shadowing him through the picket fence that protected the little square of front yard with its flowerbeds from hungry chickens and curious four legged farm residents, up the walk and into the house. Lex moved stiffly, holding one arm protectively close to his body. Clark hadn't taken the time to scan for fractured bone, but he would. A trip to the ER might be necessary after all, whether Lex wanted it or not, if things needed to be set for proper healing.

"Clark," his mother said, that tone in her voice that made him stand a little straighter and cant his head attentively. "You smell like you just walked out of a forest fire. Go upstairs and shower. And leave the hot water for Lex, he needs it more than you do."

"I did just walk out of a forest fire," Clark grumbled.

"I'm fine," Lex said softly.

She narrowed her eyes at both of them and Clark started backing for the stairs.

"You're not," she said to Lex. "I'm not going to say what you smell like, and the hot shower will do you good."

Clark could have listened in on the rest of what she said to Lex, but it was easier just to shed his clothes in the bathroom hamper and step under cold water.

He finished in good order, dug around in a trunk of old clothes he hadn't taken with him to the city and found a holey pair of jeans and a threadbare t-shirt in his old room and tromped downstairs barefoot.

The smell of bacon frying filled the air and mom was busily multi-tasking in the kitchen. Lex had taken the phone into the living room and was holding a low voiced conversation. He paused when he saw Clark, a wary look crossing his face, which meant it had to do with the 33.1 escapees.

Clark pressed his lips. They were damned sure going to have a conversation about Lex's need for secrecy about his remaining pet projects. Clark was willing to accept that mutants like the Man were most certainly better off in highly secure facilities and he was willing to believe Lex when he said the treatment was as ethical as treatment could be when restraining destructive individuals - - but it was just damned annoying when Lex went to lengths to hide it from him. If Lex wanted negate suspicion of questionable activities, then Lex could damn well come clean about them.

After all Clark understood better than anyone the damage the meteor enhanced or meta humans could do when they stopped caring about the difference between right and wrong. On the other hand, he also knew better than anyone that Lex expected the worst of everyone and it took a lot of effort to alter that opinion. But, right now wasn't the time for that talk, not when Lex looked as if sitting upright was a chore and not when Lex had that defensive look on his face.

"I laid some fresh clothes out for you upstairs," Clark said neutrally. "And if you need any help - - I'm here."

"I'll contact you again when I'm back in the city," Lex said shortly into the phone, before severing the connection, then delivered Clark a dry look. "I think I can manage a shower on my own."

Clark shrugged, on to his tactics and not prepared to argue the point when Lex was obviously rooting around for conflict.

Lex stared at him a moment more, trying to get inside Clark's head, then took a breath and eased up from the couch as casually as he could, when everything he owned had to be aching. He handed Clark the phone on his way towards the stairs, and after watching to make sure Lex was stable enough to make it up them, Clark padded into the kitchen and placed it back in its cradle on the wall.

His mom gave him a look from the corner of her eye, as she was flipping the fried eggs.

"Lex just went up to shower," he said. "But I'm doubting he'll want much more than coffee."

She pursed her lips with a look that clearly said 'nonsense' and that she'd take the issue up with Lex himself when he came down.

Clark took a seat at the table and pressed his forehead against his palm, images flooding back of what he'd left in the crater in the woods.

"You did what you had to do," his mom said softly and sat a plate and a cup of coffee in front of him. "I don't doubt that for a second."

"I could have done better," he said, staring down at three eggs, over easy, unbroken yokes glistening up at him. He picked up a piece of bacon and used it to idly break one of them. "Dealing with just regular people - -that's easy - -but these guys - - They almost had me. And you were out there and Lex was - - and a lot of other innocent people. I could have done better."

She sat down across from him, a coffee cup held between her hands and waited while the lure of the food finally overcame the melancholy. He crunched into the bacon with a sigh and started into the eggs.

She watched for a while, letting him get comfortable, before she asked. "How long were you going to wait before you told me about you and Lex?"

He swallowed down a lump of fried potato and stared up at her, wide eyed. He didn't have a good answer for that. "I dunno. I just - - couldn't figure out the right way - - the right time?" Was there ever a right time to tell your mom you were gay?

"You haven't been able to hold a decent conversation with me for the last half a year." She stated a simple fact.

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Shame will do that that," Lex remarked with deceptive negligence, having succeeded in coming downstairs without Clark overhearing him. He hovered in the doorway, in a pair of overlarge sweatpants and one of Clark's plain white T's. Without the long shirtsleeves to cover them, the marks on his wrists were blaringly obvious.

"Nobody was ashamed of anything," Clark muttered. "I was just - -" Afraid? Of his 5'4 inch mom.

"Sit down, Lex," his mother directed, getting up herself to fill a plate.

"Please, no food." Lex waved the hand he wasn't favoring. "A glass of orange juice, if you have it. I could use the sugar."

"You could use some solid food," Mom contradicted, but detoured to the fridge anyway to pour a glass. Lex eased into the chair at the end of the table, eying her warily. She sat the glass of juice in front of him, as well as a dish of cubed cantaloupe and gave him an arch browed look that dared him to butt heads with her and refuse it.

But Lex did have a fresh fruit fetish, and it was likely Lex hadn't eaten since this morning - - no yesterday morning - - so he poked idly at a chunk of melon with his fork.

She sat down again, hands automatically going back around the coffee mug, an instinctive way of soothing nerves that had to be just a little frayed, considering the night she'd had thrust upon her. She had that heartfelt look on her face, like she was about to say something that was going to make him feel entirely guilty. And she did.

"I've always respected your decisions and supported them, so I just don't understand why you felt you couldn't share with me, Clark."

"I haven't shared with anybody." He admitted glumly.

She lifted a brow. "You've told Chloe."

"How do you know Chloe knows?" He looked at her in surprise. He hadn't exactly told Chloe. She'd just sort of walked in on it while it was sitting in his lap with its tongue down his throat, unannounced.

"Because every time I've seen her recently and asked about you she's clammed up and acted as if she'd swallowed something sour."

"Yes, I seem to have that effect on Clark's friends," Lex said acidly.

She cast him a narrow glance, not much for sarcasm in the middle of a family discussion. And Lex was his, which made him family, whether Lex or his mom liked the idea or not.

But his mom finally shook her head and sighed, as if she were just figuring that out and reconciling herself with the reality. "You two have been at each other's throats for years, what happened to change that?"

"There was an incident at my office - -" Lex started, and Clark's eyes went wide. The very last thing his mother needed to hear was about that particular encounter. Sure, mom the ice was broken when Lex went down on me and gave me my first taste of how good sex could really be. Because before then it had all been pretty bland. Yeah, right, that would go over really great.

"We had a very enlightening conversation," Lex said mercifully. "And eventually came to terms."

"Uh hum." She absolutely knew there was more to it, absolutely knew Clark was engaging in things that would make his dad turn over in his grave, but she didn't press.

She sipped at her cooling coffee, while Clark automatically cleaned his plate without tasting a good portion of what he ate. Lex ate a few cubes of cantaloupe but his heart wasn't in it and his hands were shaking beyond his ability to control. Lex had done really, really good to stay on his feet this long, all things considered.

"You okay?" Clark asked.

"I'm just - - tired," Lex admitted after a weary pause and shook his head as if to deny it a moment later.

"Go upstairs and lay down in Clark's old room," His mother suggested, and Clark was glad she did, because Lex might not have yielded if he'd asked. Lex might not have yielded at all, a lot of things on his mind and most of them probably having little to do with Clark, if he hadn't been sorely abused and dead on his feet.

"Feel free to talk about me when I'm gone," he said in passing. So, so on the defensive and Lex's idea of defense was a strong offense.

"He used to hide that better," Mom remarked tiredly when the stairs had stopped their soft creaking under Lex's ascent.

His innate distrust of people, she meant. Clark knew what she thought of Lex, knew a lot of the things she and dad used to discuss back when Clark had been young and enamored in ways he hadn't began to understand at the time, of the millionaire down the road. Mom had never held with dad's beliefs though, mom always had had a forgiving nature and the tendency to think the best of people even when they didn't always live up to standards. She'd always understood that Lex had reasons for the way he was - - for the things he hid under that implacable veneer of charm. Clark loved her for that.

"He's tired," Clark said, feeling a wash of weariness himself.

"I know." She reached for Clark's empty plate. "Why don't you go up and make sure he's settled while I clean up down here?"

"I can help - -"

"No. I can do the motherly thing and pester you for details later when you're not so worried and he's feeling better enough to regret being snide. You just go up now and see to Lex."

It was what he wanted to do and he nodded gratefully.

Lex had closed the door to Clark's old bedroom, and Clark loitered for a moment outside it before drawing a breath and walking in. He'd taken a lot of the furniture with him when he'd moved to the city, but the bed remained and his old desk, too small now to really accommodate the work he brought home from the Planet. Mom had taken the posters down sometime this spring to put on a fresh coat of paint and the walls looked bare without them. Clean, but bare. Clark rather liked clutter. The people he loved best liked to organize it.

Lex sat on the edge of the bed, with its country quilt, one bare foot tucked under his knee.

"Hey," Clark said, shutting the door behind him and leaning against it. Lex just stared, skin wan in the blue shadows of early morning.

"I told Lana that we were together," he said, because Lex was upset about something and since he wasn't sharing, Clark needed to reduce the list of possibilities. Lana was probably right up there at the top.

Lex took that in, expressionless. Finally he turned his head a little, gaze flickering away. "I didn't tell you about the operational 33.1 facilities for the same reason you never told your mother about us - - the fear of disapproval. It's a strong motivator to hide things from the people who matter."

"Oh," Clark moved to the bed, sat down next to Lex, turning that over in his head. Lex wasn't angry about Lana - - well, not at the moment - - Lex was tearing himself up worrying about Clark being angry with him.

"I shot the boy point-blank," Lex said, lifting his jaw as if he were preparing for an attack or waiting for Clark to condemn him for it, as if he'd been waiting for condemnation since they'd reunited on that dirt road beyond the wooded area Clark had burned down.

"I know," Clark said and gently pushed him onto his back, since Lex didn't seem inclined to let himself just lay back and relax. "I know you had good reason. "

Lex stared up, expression wavering, some of the bruising that was so obvious on the outside seeping into his eyes. "He was more dangerous than Rule and I don't believe he'd even reached full potential. And he was dead inside, no emotion, no pity, no remorse. People like that - - they inflict pain in others - - instill fear - - because they can't feel it themselves and under Rule's tutelage - - god - - "

There was an edge of desperation in Lex's voice that provoked every protective instinct Clark possessed. "What did they do to you, Lex?"

Lex swallowed, shook his head and stared up at the slanted ceiling of Clark's room. Clark didn't ask again, just settled onto the narrow bed next to Lex, shoulder pressed against shoulder, one long leg hanging off the edge and shared the view.

"Underground - - I saw him about to bury you under the earth and then he turned towards me and the ground trembled under my feet and I thought - -" Lex shut his eyes, full body shiver passing over him, breath coming fast and harsh as something deeper and emotional churned inside.

If it had been Lana or Chloe or any other woman in Clark's acquaintance he'd have instinctually drawn them into an embrace, let them share his strength when their own faltered. But women were easier to comfort than men, who had male ego to contend with and prickly pride. He'd learned that the hard way with Lex a long time ago. Lex was all fine and good with submitting when sex play was involved, but when it came to emotional baggage, he'd rather slit his own wrists than admit to simple human vulnerability.

So Clark had learned, by necessity, to be crafty with Lex in certain situations - - Offers of comfort were sure to be scorned, but letting Lex seek it out on his own or better yet, offer it to Clark and in the process allow Clark all the opening he needed to share a little of his own, tended to work out better for all involved.

"I killed a man, too," Clark said softly, and thought it horrible to play upon a man's death to ease his way into a little shared warmth, but desperate times and all that. "I didn't see another way. If it weren't for the kryptonite, I could have dealt with him without resorting to murder."

"Self-defense," Lex said with absolute absurdity. "He had more deaths to his name that you want to know and he would have kept killing if you hadn't stopped him."

"You had people coming - - maybe they could have - -"

"Unlikely," Lex cut him off. "Not with the two of them powered up - - you were the best option and you did what you had to do."

Clark shivered as Lex mirrored his mother's words. Lex shifted closer, feeling it, pressed his forehead against Clark's shoulder and that was opening enough. Clark wound an arm around him, pulled him close and Lex sank into it, relaxing against his body.

Clark shut his eyes, sighing in a relief that was oddly more profound than the one he'd felt when he'd first found Lex by the train wreck. Sweeping Lex out of danger was easy for the most part, dealing with the aftermath not always so cut and dry.

"You can't keep stuff like this from me anymore." Clark said softly. "If you think what you're doing is so horrible I'm going to hate you for it - -then that's a pretty good indication that you need to reexamine your methods, because it would take an awful lot for me not to want to take your side, get it? I could have helped with this if you'd brought me in at the get go. Hell, I could have prevented it entirely if you'd just sat down and talked with me about who was in that facility and how important it was to keep them there. I'm not saying the people who hit it confide in me all of the time, but we do have contact and I might have been able to make them understand what they were messing with."

Lex was silent, tensing just a little before he let it go and softened again in Clark's arms.

"I only trust my people so far and I don't want you on anyone's radar but mine."

"Then we're going to have to figure a way around that - - sooner or later."

"Sooner or later," Lex agreed, sounding drowsy, body loose and warm against Clark's. Clark shut his eyes and let himself relax into his pillow. He could hear his mother puttering about downstairs, leaving them the privacy of upstairs. Could hear Lex's pulse slowing, drifting into that steady rhythm of sleep. He pressed his lips to Lex's temple and shifted a little into a more comfortable position, expanded his hearing to the world outside, to the restless sounds of the horses in their stalls, waiting for their morning portion of grain. The rustle of cows in the pasture, the old rooster in the henhouse irritating the fat white hens.

Two years ago he hadn't been able to fly. It was a joy now, and he got better and faster at it the more he tested his limits. There were a lot of other things he hadn't been pushing himself to improve, a lot of abilities he'd gotten lazy with, busy with life in the big city, with a new job, with a boyfriend who was undeniably high maintenance. He hadn't been to the fortress in a long time, but he thought maybe it was time to start making the occasional foray, see what sort of deal he could wrangle with the AI about undertaking the training the ghost of his biological father so dearly wanted to give him, that didn't involve jerking him out of his life or stripping him of his humanity. If the AI wanted him badly enough, then it would damned sure learn to make compromise, because Clark wouldn't. Lex would understand a week away now and then. Hell, Lex might even be utterly fascinated by the concept.

Clark would bring it up later, maybe in a few weeks after time had begun to heal the wounds of today. It would be a good thing, after all, to strive to be the sort of man that would walk away victorious from a conflict like the one they'd been through and not leave bodies in his wake. A man that didn't come within a hair's breadth of losing the things that were most important to him because he was a little too slow, or a little too weak. He wanted to be that man and maybe someday, he would.




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