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Reciprocation

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter One

 

There was nowhere in Metropolis to take Lex but Chloe's apartment, and Clark didn't really want to do that. But he didn't have much of a choice if he wanted the time to figure out what the hell he was going to do. If there was anything that could be done to salvage this mess. Big 'if' - - monstrous, huge 'if' - - considering Lex had incontrovertibly seen him use his powers. The old nightmares kept flashing through his head. Exposure, imprisonment, experimentation, dissection . . . He felt as nauseous as if he'd come face to face with a hunk of green K.

He dug in his pocket for the spare key to Chloe's two room place, holding Lex's dead weight against his side with one arm. The door swung open on the small living room and all of Chloe's organized clutter. She was a pack rat, but she kept her refuse neatly sectioned and catalogued. The couch was free of everything but an old Daily Planet and he swiped that onto the floor before dumping Lex onto the cushions.

He spared a moment to stare. Lex's normally pale skin was flushed, his breathing a little rapid, lashes trembling minutely against his cheeks, hands twitching occasionally. The shaking would get worse, if what Chloe had gone through on the same drug was any indication. It had taken her two days to recover from the aftermath. Two days lying in the hospital with the doctors claiming they couldn't do a damn thing but let her ride it out - - all their efforts at flushing it out of her sytem failing. Until she'd simply snapped out of it and woken up with a vague craving for another taste of the toxic stuff.

Which was why he didn't feel particularly guilty not having taken Lex to the emergency room and dropping him off there. Some body else's problem. As it was, sleeping it off one place was as good an another and at least here, when he woke up and remembered - - as he was absolutely certain to - - about what he'd seen at the warehouse lab - - Clark would be there to try and do a little damage control.

There was one narrow window that looked out over an alley between this building and the next. Nothing but time stained grey out that view. Clark leaned his forehead against the glass regardless, staring miserably at nothing. He was fucked. Completely fucked because the loosely dubbed 'Snazz' didn't blur perceptions, but sharpened them. Chloe had claimed everything she'd seen while actually conscious on the drug had been so crystal clear it had been like a 4-d Technicolor Imax experience broadcasted directly into her brain. Her normally sharp recall had gone into overdrive, everything remembered, everything absorbed. She'd grudgingly admitted to actually enjoying the first part of the Snazz high. It was highly doubtful that the drug would have a reverse effect on Lex just because it would be more convenient for Clark. Which got him back to being fucked.

Maybe four or five years ago, if this had inadvertently happened, he might have held a little more optimism that Lex wouldn't sell him out. That Lex would at least have weighed the options - - Clark's well being, Clark's friendship against Lex's obsessive curiosity and maybe decided the former more valuable to him than the later. Now - - well, they hadn't been friends in a long time. Hadn't shared easy camaraderie or private jokes or the intimate conversations that Clark had never been able to have with his parents, or Chloe or Pete or even Lana. There had been a time when laying his soul bare to Lex had come so easily. He'd shared everything but what Lex had really wanted to know and that had destroyed them.

Now Lex's obsessions were all-powerful. His quest for answers mutated into something so much more dangerous than the desperate need to justify his life, when he should have died all those years ago at the bottom of a Kansas river. Clark lied to Lex. Over and over. Lex shattered Clark's faith in human nature, disappointing him time and again with the lengths his fixation took him. Mutual destruction.

Sometimes when Clark's mind wandered, and he was feeling maudlin, he mourned lost chances, lost friendships - - the loss of Lex - - down to his soul. Almost more than Lana, who had moved on, gotten on with her life and was happy.

Sometimes that scared him, thinking about Lex, when he should have been thinking of Lana moments. But then, Lana didn't have her hands into secret labs and questionable, if not downright illegal research, the sorts of things that just made Clark's blood boil.

Which tendency had directly resulted in the unfortunate situation in which Clark now wallowed. If Lex hadn't been there, hadn't been sniffing around Caster Bennet's research - - God, maybe even funding it - - then none of this would have happened.

Clark banged his head against the side of the window frame a few times, wondering if he ought to call home and beg his mother's advice. God knew she'd been figuring out how to protect his secret longer than he had. But no, he wasn't a teenager anymore and at twenty-three he ought to be old enough to deal with problems that required more than strength, speed or any of his other various alien-born abilities. He'd just freak her out, anyway. Lex had always been at the top of his parent's list of imminent dangers. He couldn't begin to count the number of times they'd sat him down and preached about the importance of keeping Lex at arm's length. Of how much more of a treat Lex Luthor was than anyone else in Smallville. They were his parents and he'd believed them to a certain degree. Not enough to fight the overwhelming allure of Lex's company though. Not enough to hate him like his father had.

That came later.

A groan came from the couch, a shifting of weight on the cushions. Lex coming out of the first stage of the Snazz.

Chloe had slept a lot longer before she'd woken up. She'd been so shaky she couldn't talk coherently, weak and dizzy and starving. Food had helped her a bit and she'd managed to tell him how disastrously bad her sniffing about the Snazz lab had gone. She hadn't been able to tell him where until she'd woken up the second time, her system free of the drug. It was just as well. He'd been so pissed at what they'd done to her, that he might have gone in and done damage that he'd have regretted later. The cool down time had kept his hands free of blood. If Lex had had anything to do with the development of that drug - - much less the test distribution - - Clark wished all the pain that Chloe and the other unwitting victims had suffered upon him. Let him wake up dizzy and nauseous and so sick he wanted to die - - that's what Chloe had gone through.

Only Clark had to seriously doubt that Lex had taken a hit of Snazz willingly. It wasn't his style. And secretive little fledgling operations like Bennet's would probably be licking the boots of the money backing them, not dosing it with an experimental and dangerous drug.

Clark relented and went to see what Chloe had in the fridge. Getting food into her had gotten her over the first hump, gotten her able to talk and as much as he dreaded it, he needed Lex capable of conversation.

There was some leftover macaroni and cheese in a bowl. The out of the box sort, not the good kind his mom baked in the oven. A few boxes of Chinese take out that had started growing fuzzy white fungi. He tossed those. American cheese. Peanut butter. Pickles. A half empty galleon of 2% milk. Lots of Soda. Chloe liked her caffeine. She needed to do some serious grocery shopping.

He pulled out the mac and cheese and stuck it in the microwave and figured out how to get Chloe's coffee maker working. It might not suit Lex's usual culinary standards, but if he woke up half as messed up as Chloe, he probably wouldn't care.

By the time the microwave pinged, there were low, guttural groans coming from the couch. Clark took a breath and walked around to see if Lex was back among the living. Barely. He'd drawn his knees up, curling in on himself a little, the whole of his body trembling. There was a faint sheen of sweat on his skin that hadn't been there before. The flush was gone and his skin looked pasty and ill.

"Lex?"

Lex's lashes flickered open. It took a moment for him to focus on Clark's legs, for his gaze to travel up and find Clark's face and there wasn't accusation there yet, just the expression of someone about to heave up their guts.

"Shit," Clark said, and ran for the little plastic trash receptacle by Chloe's desk and got back with it in time to help Lex lean over and hurl. He crouched there with a hand on Lex's shoulder until all that was left were dry heaves and tried not to look in the container when he deposited it in the bathroom. He didn't get sick, but his stomach was already aflutter enough tonight that he thought it wouldn't take much to push him over the edge and into new territory.

He brought a wet rag back with him. Lex had his face pressed into the seat cushion, still shivering badly and Clark urged him to shift enough to wipe his mouth and chin. Lex blinked at him, eyes fever bright and a little bloodshot.

"Y-you - - you - - f-fu-ck. . ." Lex couldn't get the words out past the chattering of teeth. Chloe had had similar problems until he and Lois had gotten enough food and coffee into her to replenish whatever the Snazz had burned off.

"Listen, you need to eat something. Drink something and it'll get better." He pulled Lex up to a sitting position in the corner of the couch and Lex curled there looking as miserable as Chloe had, only there was accusation behind the suffering that made Clark's stomach drop and he clenched his fists and went and got the mac and cheese and the coffee.

Clark put the plastic travel mug, the only clean thing he could find, in Lex's hands, closing his fingers around it when he shook too much to keep hold.

"Drink it, Lex. It'll help." Clark crouched there shoulder touching Lex's knee, ready to catch the mug if he couldn't hold on to it and spare him scalding via hot coffee in addition to everything else.

Lex was too fucked up to refuse out of sheer stubbornness and he got the mug to his lips and only spattered a few drops in the process. He took a swallow and another and shut his eyes, knuckles white around the mug.

Clark balanced the bowl of macaroni on the couch arm and got Lex's attention by nudging his knee. "You might wanna eat."

Lex stared at the macaroni like Clark was trying to poison him, which got Clark's back up. Clark was going out of his way to be generous when none of this was his fault and a great deal of it very well might have been Lex's.

"Don't give me grief, Lex. I'm trying to help."

He got up and left Lex to his own devices, going into the bathroom to clean out the trash container so Chloe didn't have to deal with it later. He washed his hands and splashed water on his face afterwards, staring at himself in the mottled bathroom mirror with eyes way too haunted to be his own. He didn't want to have to go back out there and wait for Lex to drop the bomb. He didn't want to admit that life as he knew it was probably about to become worlds more complicated.

Dropping Lex off in the river instead of bringing him back here would have solved a lot of problems. Clark forced a wry smile at himself in the mirror at his attempt at dark humor, but it faded when he remembered that dropping Lex into rivers, wasn't his modus operandi.

Not surprisingly Lex had relented when Clark decided to abandon the sanctuary of the bathroom. Chloe had said that, once the shakes and the nausea had started to fade, the hunger hit like the worst case of pot-induced munchies known to man. Lex had downed the mac and cheese and the coffee and looked somewhat less likely to fall off the couch if he moved to fast. Which was a good thing for Lex and a bad thing for Clark since Lex's eyes picked him up and tracked him with as much intensity as one could expect of someone suffering the aftereffects of an unstable new drug.

Clark shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shifted aimlessly in the middle of the floor, words failing him under the weight of Lex's knowledge.

"Chloe got a dose of the same stuff you did," he said, because it was easier to hit on the facts surrounding the problem, than the problem itself. "Pretty nasty stuff, and I've got to won-"

"I saw you," Lex cut him off softly, a little tremor in his voice that might have been the drug, or might have been elation, and Clark swallowed back a lump of dread in his throat and automatically came up with the beginnings of a denial.

"What did you see? There was a lot of smoke. A lot of confusion."

This was Lex's Grail and Clark hated him for his almost religious pursuit of it. He wouldn't let it drop simply because Clark tried to skirt the issue. "They shot you and you caught wall - - a concrete wall - - and tossed it aside like it was Styrofoam. I. Saw. You."

What Clark wanted to blurt out was, yeah, and if I hadn't you'd be pancake shaped now. But all that he managed was a stupid, helpless stare while he tried to hash out in his mind how to come up with a reasonable explanation. What had he said to Pete and Chloe when he'd come clean with them? He been so freaked out admitting it to Pete, it was all a blur in his memory, and Chloe had pretty much figured things out for herself before he had to open his mouth, so that wasn't much of a help. Of course Lex was so far removed from Pete and Chloe that it made the question mute. Pete and Chloe weren't xenophobic, paranoid, obsessed, backstabbing billionaires with facilities and labs specifically designed to take apart the strange and unusual. I.e. people like Clark - - only there weren't any people like Clark - even if Lex didn't know it and had to settle for varied meteor freaks and mutants to fuel his need for knowledge.

Did he just come out and say? I'm an alien. From so far away, I don't even want to think about it. And yes, I'm directly responsible for all the terrible things that happened in Smallville - - for what happened to you - - the deaths, the meteor freaks - - so much more it makes me sick sometimes to think about it. I can toss a truck over the county line, move faster than the speed of sound &endash; oh, and break the laws of gravity like they weren't even there. I can do all that and more and I'm still terrified of what you'll do if you find out.

Or he could try and find a lie that Lex would buy.

"Lex, that's ridiculous. You were drugged - - and seeing things." That was what came out of his mouth. He'd told smoother lies when he was 15 and a world more naive than he was now.

Lex stared at him. For a split second the disbelief was plain as day in his eyes and the old flicker of pain at the lies. Then the shield slammed down and all emotion drained away. A nerve twitched in Lex's jaw, one of the little tell tales that betrayed turmoil that he otherwise hid so well.

"Fuck you, Clark." Lex might have been ordering off the wine list for all the inflection in his voice. He pushed himself up with effort, limbs shaky and weak and stalked towards the door. It would have been a more dramatic attempt at storming out if he'd been able to walk a straight line.

Panic reared up, red eyed and insistent, spurred on by Lex's cold fury. Clark got a shoulder between Lex and the door, and Lex stopped, breathing harsh, eyes dilated to the point where the black of his pupils almost eclipsed the ring of color around them. He was swaying just a little, body not agreeing with his head's decision to be up and about.

They stood there, at an impasse, Clark staring at Lex and Lex staring at the doorknob just peeking out from behind Clark's hip.

"Lex, just - - you can't - - I didn't - - you don't understand." He was babbling. He knew he was babbling. It had been a long time since he'd been scared of anything.

Lex looked up from under his lashes and the anger was so raw that Clark considered taking a step away. Even when he was really, really pissed, Lex never let that much slip, never completely lost that sense of casual control that he bandied about so well. Maybe it was the drug. Maybe he'd finally gotten pushed beyond the point where he cared.

"Don't. Talk. To me. I'm so . . . tired of your lies. Get out of my way." His voice was weary and when he shouldered Clark aside, Clark let him, mind spinning about in a simplistic loop that centered on, Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Lex had the door halfway open before Clark's survival instinct kicked in and he slammed it shut with the heel of his hand, snatching the knob out of Lex's fingers. Lex looked at the door, at Clark's arm holding it shut and finally worked his way up to Clark's face. Clark could hear the frantic tempo of his heart and if his x-ray vision had been a little less literal and a little more fanciful, he might have seen gears upon gears turning inside Lex's head while he was trying to figure out what to do about this irritating quandary.

"Just wait, okay? I can't let you go without explaining." Not without some hope that Lex just wasn't going to walk out that door, make a phone call and set the massive machine at his disposal into motion with the express purpose of making Clark's life hell. They hadn't been on friendly terms for a long time and Clark seriously doubted the extent of Lex's mercy. He also seriously doubted Lex would get very far in the condition he was in at the moment. And animosity aside, he didn't want Lex passing out on the street.

"Get out of my way." Lex wasn't used to being hindered. Lex reached for the door knob and yanked, trying to dislodge Clark, which was, well, like trying to yank a hundred year old oak up from the ground with nothing but willpower and a piece of twine.

Lex ground his teeth and glared, less than rational and lacking his usual aplomb. He shoved at Clark again and this time Clark didn't budge and Lex staggered off his balance a little from the impact of shoulder to immovable object. Clark caught him by the lapel and Lex growled in protest, trying to knock the hand away.

Okay, the hell with reasoning. He lifted Lex off his feet and hauled him most of the way back to the couch before tossing him back onto it. Lex rebounded a little off the back, but managed not to sprawl off the edge. Clark put a hand on the couch arm and one on the back and leaned down to glare.

"I know what you are," Lex glowered up at him, but he looked queasy again, white around the lips. Getting manhandled across the room probably hadn't helped.

"Okay, so you've seen. You sure you want to piss me off, then?" Clark spit back. Angry utterances didn't seem any more politic than freaked out, scared ones. God knew what Lex actually had known before tonight.

"All these years of lying - - lying badly. Did you think I was stupid," Lex let out an aborted, humorless laugh. "Or so self-involved that I would fail to notice that you always manage to be in the eye of the storm? Did you just think I would turn a blind eye or hope I wouldn't ask questions because you were such a fucking good friend?"

And there was the old bone of contention, the accusations, the allegations that Lex had always been too polite, or too generous, or too something, to come right out with when Clark had been a kid and halfway in awe with him. Time and frustration changed all that, because Lex's sphinx-like patience had always been a clever front, and Clark had gotten tired of being put under a scope.

It hadn't been fair really, or pretty, but that was how friendship ended and all the other little grievances along the way, were just gravy.

"If I had had proof - -" Lex was saying and Clark squeezed the arm of the couch so hard his fingers went though the upholstery.

"And if you did, what then? Would I have ended up in a lab under a knife? What Lex?"

And because it was second nature to him to try and deflect attention from himself, and so very easy to place the blame for everything that went wrong in his life at Lex's feet, he attacked.

"Are you in the drug trade now, Lex? I knew your hands were dirty, but conspiring with drug dealers and thugs - -?"

"Are you even human?" Lex ignored the diversionary attempt, doggedly on target, even though he was wavering.

"No," Clark snapped, and as soon as he'd said it, the bluster drained out of him like air from a ruptured balloon. He sat down on the coffee table and ground his palm against his forehead.

"God - -" Lex breathed, maybe expecting any answer but the simple truth. "The ship. The meteors. I knew it- - "

Clark got up and let Lex come to all the right conclusions, because he was nothing if not quick on the uptake and he'd already put most of the pieces together long before tonight. Clark went to the window and wondered if jumping out it and running away were an option.

Living life on the run might not be so bad. Except for his mom. And his friends. And a life that was just starting to take a turn for the better with graduation finally a semester away. If he hadn't been distracted so often dealing with everyone else's problems, maybe he'd even have graduated two semesters ago, like Chloe.

Lex had rolled his head against the back of the couch, silent running now. Something about the way he looked, like gravity had doubled and Clark hadn't noticed, made Clark think he was close to crashing.

"I hit you," Lex said simply and Clark knew exactly what he was talking about even if it was 8 years past.

"Yeah." No reason not to admit it. It was a relief of sorts.

Lex shut his eyes, one corner of his mouth twitching in a faint smile. Grim satisfaction from a long sought victory.

"I'm not - - dangerous." Clark needed to clarify, whether Lex believed him or not, because Lex had experienced some unsavory things courtesy of Krypton's other refugees, not to mention the other aliens, the non-humanoid kind, from the West Virginia crash. Lex had reasons for his paranoia.

Lex didn't answer. Clark shut his eyes and wished Chloe would come home, because he needed an ally in this. Needed Chloe's sharp wit and analytical mind, because God knew he wasn't thinking straight. He looked back over at the sofa and didn't see Lex. For a moment his breath caught in his chest, before he picked up the slow rhythm of another pulse in the room, the calm beat of a heart at rest.

Lex was out again, having held on impressively longer than Chloe had during her bouts of consciousness while the drug was still in her system. But Lex had had a mission and sheer Luthor stubbornness had probably achieved what normal human endurance could not.

Lex had slumped to the side, face in profile pressed against the natty cushions of Chloe's couch. His hands were long and pale, protruding from the black cuffs of his coat. The fingers twitched a little, curling and Clark swallowed and blinked, turning away, because he'd always found Lex's hands fascinating. Clean and elegant in a way that Clark's never were. He felt oddly guilty staring at them now.

He tried Chloe's cell again and this time she actually picked up.

"Where have you been?" he demanded in lieu of hello.

"Well hello to you, too." She sounded a little breathy.

"I've been calling you."

"I've been busy."

"You just got out of the hospital, Chloe. I was worried."

"Sorry, I had a story to finish." She sounded contrite. "Then Lois and I went down in the crypts at Met U, and did a little background research on our Dr. Bennet. Crappy reception. Speaking of the good doctor - - what happened with the lab?"

What hadn't happened?

"Ahhh, we need to sort of talk face to face about that. I'm at your place."

"Well good, then that jangling you're hearing is me getting out my keys. I'm home."

He whipped his head around to stare at the door in panic, x-raying through it to make sure that Chloe was alone. The last thing this situation needed was Lois to stir things up.

But it was just Chloe, with a bag of groceries in her arm and the cell caught between her cheek and her shoulder as she unlocked the door. He didn't quite have the time to warn her about Lex passed out on her sofa before she stepped through the door and got an eyeful herself.

"Hey, Cla- -" she stopped mid-Clark and her smile grew strained. Chloe had Lex issues. "What the hell, Clark?"

"I can explain." He sounded like a broken record.

"Can you get rid of the Luthor stench that gonna be clinging to my couch?" She glared at Clark and stomped past, depositing her bag on the counter before turning to fix Clark with the Chloe look-of-death.

He winced. "He was at Bennet's warehouse. He got a dose of the Snazz. I didn't know what else to do with him."

"Leaving him there comes to mind. Hospital is another option. Dumping him in the river would have been a good one. God Clark, what were you thinking?"

"He saw me use my powers, Chloe."

That stopped her mid-rant. She swallowed, eyes darting over the sofa. "Oh, fuck," she whispered.

"Yeah." There really wasn't a more adequate word.

"How?"

He told her the story. Getting the dockside warehouse where Bennet had his little lab set up. The gunshot he'd heard before he'd even gone inside and then finding an unexpected standoff. Two guys that were obviously professional muscle with hand held automatic weapons pointed across the lab at Lex, who had a sleek, powerful looking handgun pointed right back at them. Caster Bennet had been frozen uncertainly in-between, looking as scared as any rat in a lab.

When the shots started, Bennet dove to the ground, and Lex had just stood there, half laughing, pupils blown, not even caring that he was a second away from being riddled with bullets.

It could have been Ben Laden and Clark still would have gotten between that spray of bullets and mortal human flesh. It was just the way he was made. The way his instincts kicked in to protect first and think later. The fact that it was Lex - - well sometimes dealing with Lex on the instinctual level instead of the rational one caused Clark a lot less headaches. Except this time, when he'd taken a dozen rounds in the chest before a bullet ricocheted and hit something highly flammable. The chemicals went up, half the building came down. It was either do something or let Lex and the groveling Bennet get squashed and that just wasn't an option. He didn't think the gunmen had seen him, tossed aside by the explosion. Bennet might not have. Lex couldn't take his eyes off him.

"So you can see where dropping him off at the ER might have presented a problem," Clark finished sourly.

"Clark, I got to tell you, I'm not seeing how this is going to turn out much better.."

Clark gave her an miserable stare and she threw up her hands, looking over the back of the couch at their problem. "Are you absolutely sure he- - "

"Yes."

They both stared at Lex. Chloe was biting her lip in serious thought.

"So he thinks you're a meteor freak. So what? You come from Smallville. It happens. Its not a crime to be genetically challenged."

"He knows I'm not - - y'know - - from here."

She let out a sharp, irritated breath. "Well, that's just peachy. You told him or he figured it out?"

"Both. Sorta. Maybe we can turn this around on him. The drug thing. If he was in business with Bennet he's not going to want that to get out."

"I seriously doubt he was. Luthorcorp doesn't really need to push drugs to the college crowd for that little added bit of annual profit. The Snazz was a side project for Bennet, probably a way to fund his other research. His real interest is cutting edge nanotechnology which I can totally see Lex having an interest."

"Chloe, what am I going to do?"

She paced into the kitchen and started pulling out groceries and putting them away. Her brows were furrowed in thought, so he didn't complain.

"I say ride it out, Clark," she finally declared, her back against the counter, her expression determined.

"Ride it out?" His voice broke embarrassingly.

"Clark, what's he going to do, come out and announce to the world that Clark Kent, Smallville nobody is in actuality a visitor from another planet? The Inquisitor might print it, but c'mon, he'd look like a loon. He doesn't have proof. And you're the all American boy. Football. Mom. Apple pie. The works. Granted he could come after you - - but you're not the easiest target. God, he doesn't know about - - you know - - the rocks?" She mouthed that as if she were afraid Lex might pick it up.

"No! I don't think so." Clark hoped not with a passion. "I'm not worried about me. I 'm worried about mom, and you. Lois. Lana. Anybody that could be hurt because they're close to me."

That gave Chloe pause, but she rallied. "He can be a bastard, but he's not the mob. I don't think horse heads and hit men are going to be a problem."

"Chloe you don't know - -"

She cut him off with stern look and finger against his lips. "I know enough. You making yourself sick over something neither one of us can control, is just pointless. Do what you always do. Deal with the proverbial shit when it hits the fan and try to control the spatter."

He gave her an unhappy smirk. It was not the advice, the miraculous answer to this dilemma, that Clark had been hoping for. Maybe he should have called his mom, but he somehow doubted her advice would be any more sage than Chloe's. More comforting perhaps.

They spent the next few hours rehashing things. Arguing, coming up with scenarios which did not always end pretty. Him playing Devil's advocate some of the time, Chloe taking that role more often. She was better at it.

Chloe staggered off to bed around 2. Clark sat in her rattan basket chair and brooded, watching Lex in the near dark. When he was still like this and quiet, it was hard to remember where the threat was. When his eyes were closed, the sin got washed away and it was just Lex again. His Lex, from years ago before obsession and lies got the better of him.

Clark shut his eyes and shied away from that direction. Nothing but melancholy there. And regret.

Clark's sleep requirements were minimal, when it came right down to physical need. He could survive on a few hours a week if he needed - - and had during various exam weeks. Mentally, however, he craved it. Enjoyed it like a drug and if given the opportunity would happily oversleep his alarm. His permanent high school records contained an embarrassing number of tardies because of just that.

He hadn't meant to doze off, but the quiet dark of the apartment, the steady, soft exhalation of Lex's breath, two days worth of worry over Chloe, and now over the exposure of his powers, begged for relief. He drifted off, slumped in the cradle of the chair, and dreamed of being ten and skipping rocks across Crater Lake, while Chloe and Pete egged him to throw farther and farther from the opposite bank. Lex was there, all sleek and predatory in black on black, leaning against the hood of one of his criminally expensive Italian sports cars, fondling a glass of something with his long fingers. There was a benign, faintly amused smile on his lips.

"If you break all your mother's china, won't she be upset?" Lex asked and Clark looked down to see a diminished stack of the blue and white country pattern that had adorned his mother's china press in the kitchen for as long as he could remember. He had a dessert plate in his hand, ready to fling out over the lake. Mom was going to kill him. He blinked and looked up to Lex, who shrugged, not seeming particularly concerned with Clark's impending doom.

"What the fuck, Clark?" Chloe said, suddenly on his side of the lake, small fists on thin, ten year old hips. She shoved him and leaned close - -

- - Her face melted into something older, but no less annoyed as dream faded and reality cut in. Clark blinked, sitting upright so fast that he almost clipped Chloe's chin with his head. Sleep deserted him, leaving a bad taste in his mouth.

"What happened to 'I'll stay up and watch him, Chloe? I don't need the sleep'" Chloe huffed. Panic started in.

He shuffled her aside with a hand on her hip and the bottom dropped out of his stomach. Lex was gone. Clark opened his mouth. Shut it.

Chloe gave him an exaggerated brow arch, and waved her hand towards the empty couch like she was selling yachts at a boat show. "Exhibit number one against the validity of that claim. Geeze, Clark!"

"I don't know what happened. It just - - just snuck up on me." It was a lame excuse and he hated it.

She gave him the eye, then harrumphed and went into her bedroom to look out the window overlooking the street. "Well, no S.W.A.T. or black SUV's screaming up to the curb. I guess the Men in Black aren't here to take you away. That's one thing."

"I didn't think he was gonna wake up so soon. He wasn't supposed too. You didn't." Okay he was picking up on the whine in his own voice now. It was nice of Chloe not to call him on it.

"Yeah, I guess that's Lex's own meteor freak coming out." She ran a hand through sleep tousled hair, while she looked around and took stock of the apartment. "Okay. I'm going to shower and hightail it to the Planet and see what I can sniff out there. And don't you have a class this morning?"

"Class?" Journalism 420 was the least of his worries.

"Clark, snap out of it." She caught his arms and gave him a shake, peering up at him intently. "You haven't done anything wrong. Stick your routine. Don't do anything stupid and watch your back. When you come to work we can maybe find a different angle on this in the light of day."

Easy for Chloe to say. But he was being panicky. He'd faced down worse things than this with out blinking an eye. Compared to a Phantom Zoner, Lex was downright amenable.

It was just the waiting that was going to make his life hell.


Clark had an internship at the Daily Planet. He'd won the spot thanks to the damned bugs in West Virginia. Not that he'd been able to write anything about them, what with the military claiming the site in the name of National Security and leveling all sorts of threats, treason chief among them to the parties involved in the incident. Namely him and the surviving LexCorp team and Lex, who'd wanted his hands on the remains of that crashed alien craft something awful and had gotten bullied out of it by a power greater than him. Government bureaucracy

So Clark hadn't written about the bugs or whatever the hell the freakishly resilient thing and its offspring had been. He'd written about the dirt poor West Virginian families that he'd seen while he was there, and a sort of rustic poverty that alien in and of itself to the rest of modern America.

Chloe had gotten misty-eyed editing it for him. Lois had patted him on the shoulder and told him he was sentimental and girly, but she'd had that little twinkle in her eye that hinted at approval that she'd never verbally admit.

Not only had it gotten him the internship, but it had been published in the human-interest section of the Planet. His mom had it framed.

He'd learned that weekend in the mountains, that there were stories to be told that had nothing to do with life and death and freaks and disasters and he wanted to tell them. He'd also learned how to fly.

Between school, the farm and five afternoons a week at the Planet, Clark hardly even needed the occasional spice of krypto-freaks on the rampage, unscrupulous chemists or demented psychopaths to make his life complete. It was all he could do sometimes to remember what day of the week it was.

The last thing he needed was driving himself crazy wondering when the hammer was going to fall, courtesy of Lex. But nothing noteworthy came through the vast influx of the Planet's informational pool. Nobody showed up on Clark's doorstep. He resorted to calling Oliver to see if his more specialized information network had picked up anything odd from the Luthorcorp feelers. Nothing. He gave a vague excuse when Ollie wanted to know why. He didn't tell his mother, not wanting to burden her. She tended to over worry.

Two days passed. Three. There was a cave in at one of the coalmines in the eastern part of the state. His mom pointed it out to him on the news when he came down for breakfast. They were already bringing out the bodies and 20 more men were trapped. He was out of the house before she could bemoan the sorry state of safety regulations on some of the older digs. It was good to be doing something. Anything to take his mind off his other problem. He saved 20 lives in the process, so it was win win, until he got back home, filthy from the coal dust and came down off the adrenalin high. Then he started worrying all over again.

He brooded in the shower, watching the black water sluice down the drain, that Lex was doing this on purpose. Playing a waiting game that Clark didn't have the patience for. Driving Clark nuts trying to figure out what he was planning, when the plan all along was to make him squirm in the first place. Twisted. Just like Lex.

If Lex had still lived in the mansion in Smallville, Clark would have stormed right over, full of indignation. But Lex hadn't set foot in town for eleven months, almost to the day, and Clark had no clear idea where to find him on a Sunday in Metropolis. He knew where his office was in Luthorcorp Plaza, but wasn't certain where he actually lived. Chloe could find out, but she'd chew him out over it and he wasn't in the frame of mind for a lecture today.

He took out his frustrations catching up on farm work. They had two hands that came in during the week now, but it was a lot of acreage and he could do the work of ten men in hour. His mom kept talking about renting out the land to the Peterson's, next farm over, and Clark kept talking her out of it, because it would it would have killed his dad to see the family land worked by someone else.

"Renting is better than selling outright." She would say and he knew she was right, because after graduation, they'd both decided he needed to move to the city. His mom had wanted him to go last year, urging him to leave the nest, as she called it. It depressed him, the thought of leaving her alone in the house. But the prospect of moving to the city and getting an apartment of his own, out of Smallville, away from all the mistakes of his past, kept him awake at nights planning.

When Lex decided to play his hand, he might not get that chance. At least not with the anonymity he wanted. He couldn't stand it. He had to know.

He was up with the rooster, showered, fed and finished with the chores before 6:30 rolled around.

"You're agitated. What's the matter, honey?" His mother had emotional radar that never failed. She could spot a sulk or a lie like he could pick out bone through layers of flesh and muscle. He'd been very careful not to come anywhere in the vicinity of what he'd been doing on the super powered front, or his secret or the lack thereof, during his time home.

He wiped off his hands on one of her dishtowels and turned to face her with a hesitant smile. "Calculus test. It's a big one and after dropping it last semester, I really need that credit to graduate."

"Clark, you're not failing the class?"

"No! No. I just missed a couple of classes - - because, y'know, stuff happened."

She knew. She just didn't think 'stuff' was always as important as him getting a degree.

"Well, maybe Chloe can help you study. Her GPA is exceptional. So I hear." Which meant his mom had been trading gossip with Chloe's dad. Fantastic.

"I'll ask her." He muttered, placing a kiss on her cheek before shouldering his backpack and taking off. He actually did go to class. There was a calculus quiz, so he hadn't lied to her, technically speaking. He might have even passed it with a reasonably high mark.

He ran to Metropolis afterwards, because he still wasn't entirely comfortable with the flying thing, and stashed his backpack at Chloe's before heading downtown to the shining crowns of the Metropolis business district. Luthorcorp Plaza.

Glass, steel and money that sprawled over two full city blocks. The seat of an empire that Lionel Luthor had built from nothing and Lex had taken to the next level. Lionel and Lex weren't on speaking terms. After Lionel's last bid to retake the company had failed, he'd retired to Europe to plot God knew what. Lex's paranoia was probably well founded on that count, because Lionel was a force to be reckoned with.

Clark stood on the sidewalk outside the west tower and stared up at a building that seemed to go on forever. The east tower had a vertical mall on the first few floors and housed high-rent apartments, but this one was devoted to office space and had marginally less foot traffic flowing in and out of the polished lobby doors.

He'd been here before for a variety of reasons, not all of them legitimate. He knew where Lex's office was and if he'd wanted to get in unhampered by security, he probably could have. He just didn't think that would be the wisest way to begin this encounter.

He took the elevators to the 40th floor and went to the reception desk outside the tinted glass wall that separated the lobby from the vast maze of offices beyond. He told the cover model behind the desk that he was here to see Lex Luthor. She looked up at him and took in his jeans, his t-shirt and the windbreaker that had seen better days. Her eyebrow twitched.

"Your name?" she asked, all false politeness.

"Clark Kent," he said, trying not to grind his teeth.

"I don't see an appointment." She said and didn't offer to make one or connect him with someone who would.

Clark leaned on the counter and gave her a tight smile. "Call up and let him know I'm here."

"Mr. Luthor is very busy." Her annoyance was starting to show.

"So am I. He'll see me." He'd better or Clark was going to have to take the hard way up. He was getting attention from the receptionists on either side of the one presently eyeing him like he was something she'd scraped off the bottom of her shoe. She could call security or call upstairs.

She chose the later to avoid a scene. Clark stood tapping his fingers on the marble desktop while she murmured into her headset. She looked up at him in surprise, quickly covered as she got her answer.

"Mr. Luthor will see you." She ushered him personally to the private elevator and the grey-jacketed security swiped a card and punched the top floor for him.

There was more security than he remembered. They stood outside the glass doors to Lex's office after they'd escorted Clark in, large and intimidating. Clark didn't give them a second glance. In the scheme of things they didn't matter. The man behind the desk in front of a sheer wall of blue glass was the power here. And Clark could crash through that window and take Lex with him if he wanted. And maybe Lex knew that. And let him in anyway, not giving up one iota of power, one grain of ground.

Clark stopped in front of the desk, his determination like a suit of armor that shielded him from the fear.

Lex's stare was cool, composed, vaguely disinterested, as if Clark were here trying to sell him encyclopedias. He was all conservative chic today, in a charcoal grey jacket over a crisp white shirt. Nothing hinted at disorder, everything in its place. A man in control, while Clark felt his fracturing along the edges.

"What are you playing at, Lex?" His frustration seeped out with his words, palpable.

Lex lifted a brow. Faint mockery and Clark knew it.

"I'm sorry? You barged your way here demanding to see me. Who's playing games? Or was there something you wanted to tell me?" Lex's voice hinted at impatience, like he had other things to do that took priority over the questions that had consumed his life since Clark had known him. Lex's lies had always been more exquisitely formed than Clark's but Clark could still read Lex well enough to scent them out.

"You mean you haven't got it all figured out?" Clark snapped.

Lex leaned back, steepling his fingers, some of the coolness replaced by contemplation. "I could fill in the blanks on my own, but I'd rather hear it from you. What is it they say about confession being good for the soul?"

"How would you know?" He didn't know whether this preternatural calm of Lex's was a good thing or a bad. It was driving him crazy though, when what he really wanted was a good argument.

Lex's mouth twitched, a cold hint of smile that meant nothing.

"Damnit, Lex, I want to know what you're going to do?"

"Going to do? What would you suggest I do? You seem to have an opinion on the subject. Why don't you enlighten me as to the customary method for dealing with - - what do you call yourself?"

"Clark Kent." Clark said peevishly, returning Lex's arched brow look with one considerably more heated of his own. Lex held his stare, and there was something there, in the depth of his eyes, that belied the Wall Street façade and begged answers. That needed them like he needed air and Clark felt a stab of the old guilt. The old shame at lying to Lex when he knew it hurt him. Of keeping him at arm's length when what he'd really wanted to do was welcome him in - - shield him from the huge cold of the mansion and the frigid manipulations of a callous father. He'd wanted - - things that he'd never really comprehended at sixteen and that scared him now to reminisce. And fear made him angry.

He leaned down, palms on the cool glass top of the desk. He knew very well, he could be intimidating if he tried. It was more than his size or the power. Maybe it was a Kryptonian thing, the steel in his gaze that came out when he was pissed. Lex hadn't exactly faltered under it before, but he'd been fazed. Maybe because any time Clark had been pissed enough to give him the 'look', chances were some sort of violence had followed.

Lex sat forward, not flinching from the stare, but his hand slid over to a box beside his laptop. Clark hadn't noticed it before and reflexively he tried to x-ray it - - and couldn't. Okay, his assumption that Lex didn't know about the rocks might have been premature. He let his eyes drift back up to Lex's.

"I think," Lex said slowly, fingertips stroking the inlaid edge of the box. "That you owe me more than a sentence or two of explanation when I wasn't really in the frame of mind to absorb it."

"I don't know why you think I owe you anything." It was pissy and Clark knew it, but Lex upset him so much he couldn't control the beat of his own heart, much less his tone.

Lex smiled at him, the strained one he reserved for children and country bumpkins that were fraying his last nerve.

"Why? Because I tolerated your deceit for years - - you would smile and lie and I swallowed it. I'm not the one whose whole life has been a lie. My secrets are front page, Clark. Just pick up an Inquisitor and you can read about my nefarious exploits. Nothing is sacred. But wait! You don't even need to read about my skeletons &endash; because you know them first hand. Because I fucking told you or you stuck your nose in where it didn't belong and found out yourself, like you were the only one who was virtuous enough to have secrets. Self righteous prick!"

Lex shut his mouth, pulling in a deep breath, as if he'd surprised himself. When Lex was angry, his eyes darkened. They were a deep, murky green now and no less angry than Clark's. There was something in the expression and the way he was breathing through his teeth that killed the retort on the tip of Clark's tongue. Something that had no relation to fear coiled in the pit of his gut. Something that responded to Lex's loss of control and wanted to rage against it, which was a damn good reason to straighten and break that uncomfortable eye contact and try to get his own breathing under control.

"I didn't know until I was fifteen," he said quietly. "And my dad took me to the root cellar and showed me the ship and pretty much destroyed every dream I'd ever had - - because how do you go back to normal after that? How do expect anyone to ever not see you as - - " he struggled for a word to cover all his teenaged angst. Freak was too tame. Freaks were a dime a dozen. " - - As an abomination, if they ever found out?"

"How many people did you test that theory on?" Lex asked and he sounded drained or melancholy or regretful. Clark couldn't tell which.

"None. Willingly." Clark shook his head, feeling younger than he was.

Lex half laughed, then waved a hand as if he were tired of this. "You came here worried about your secret. Worried about the people who mean something to you. Don't."

Clark swallowed. He hadn't said as much, but Lex was good at reading between the lines. Clark wished he had that ability, because he would have loved to know what Lex was thinking. He stared uncertainly, not trusting that promise at face value, but how could he knowing what Lex was capable of? It didn't stop him from wanting to badly. Lex looked down at his laptop, middle finger making little circles over the touch pad.

"I would have protected you. If you'd given me the opportunity." Lex said unexpectedly, softly, and Clark looked up from Lex's hands to meet half-lidded eyes. There was emotion there, ragged and real. Fathomless depths that Lex seldom revealed because it wasn't what the heir to the Luthor throne did. It stole Clark's breath, just like it used to, in that old unnerving, peculiar way; burning him from the inside out until he had to look away or drown, because God, he missed the empathy and the challenge. All the thousand little things that Lex could convey in a glance when he was feeling charitable enough to let someone in.

When Clark looked back up it was gone, the knife-edge coolness back in place. "I'll have someone show you out. Don't show up again unannounced. It would be problematic for both us."

 

 

 

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