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by P L Nunn


Chapter Ten


Three days, the FBI had been putting him off. Three days of Lex's considerable influence being acknowledged and if not so much ignored, then hedged around with all the red tape of government bureaucracy to back the lack of action on his request.

Which was why he hated dealing with the government, fucking sluggish beast that it was.

Local authorities could be bought or awed into compliance with the promise of public contributions or private donations, or hell, even simple blackmail if the right city official were on the hook. When you got federal, especially federal law enforcement, the intimidation massive wealth could provide proved less of an incentive.

Agents tended to be a little too cocksure about the extent of their influences. And even if you were lucky enough to find one willing to play, loyalties to outside sources were fickle at best, and they were as likely to turn and bite the hand that fed them as not. His father had found that out the hard way. Lex had.

It was easier to work down the food chain than up, and he'd been pressuring his Washington contacts to in turn pressure the Bureau aristocracy to get the people at Organized Crime to set up a meeting. But Organized Crime was a sprawling operation and often worked in tight-knit, independent cells in various hotspot cities, Gotham being chief among them. They didn't like to share.

Three days and they finally agreed to send a man down from Gotham to the Metropolis field office to meet with Lex. It was a grudging agreement at best, and Lex knew from inside sources of his own that they'd been digging into his business while they'd been considering his requests, not trusting LuthorCorp's interest in the inner working of an established criminal organization. Never a comfortable feeling, to be under the Justice Department's magnifying glass, but he was good at covering his tracks and the sorts of things they might be interested in were buried deep.

All that trouble and irritation and he left the meeting knowing not a great deal more than he had going in. Frederick Solomon wasn't in the drug trade- - everything else was fair game, but the old man had his standards. His sons weren't so picky, and it was common knowledge that the elder Solomon wasn't long for this world, crippled by a recent stroke and health fading fast. The hyenas were circling and vying for power and apparently the Gotham crime world was holding its collective breath to see who'd end up on top. The two older sons were the strong favorites - - the younger one was the wild card. But then younger sons tended to be, when inheritance was on the line. If there was a Solomon hand in drug development in Metropolis, it had to be one of the younger brood. And why, the Feds wanted very badly to know, would the Solomon's see LuthorCorp and Lex in particular as a hindrance to that cause? And of course, Lex had an answer for that, having known without a doubt that the question would come up.

If Lex hadn't had distractions, he'd have been a coiled knot of indignant wrath by the time he did get that meeting. And a frustrated one after. But Clark disrupted everything from his schedule to the flow of his thoughts, and purpose that had seemed vitally important a week ago tended to get shuffled back to minor significance in the face of - - well, Clark.

Lex was having a considerable amount of trouble recalling how he'd ever possessed the will not to lay hands on Clark back in the Smallville days, when all it really took now to throw his mind off track was a look from those eyes, the hint of a smile, the smooth ripple of muscle under skin when Clark reached for a can of soda or ran his fingers through his hair.

He was entirely distracting. Entirely fascinating, unraveling puzzles that had plagued Lex in the past. Answering questions, that before this détente they'd established, had only speculation as resolution and never legitimate facts.

Clark satisfied some of Lex's curiosity, when he asked for clarification on certain incidents. Evaded some queries, as if the answers weren't entirely his to share or maybe he just didn't trust Lex enough to spill all his secrets. And Lex could understand that, having enough of his own that he had no inclination to share.

And though it was a minor relief to get him out of the penthouse and off to school or home or work so that Lex could actually concentrate, invariably his mind would drift in the middle of something and he'd wonder what Clark was doing or where or with whom, and he'd have to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call.

It brushed at the edge of annoyance. He hadn't been so infatuated with a lover since - - well, Desiree and that didn't count because he'd been riding the sex-high of meteor-enhanced pheromones. If he recalled though, he hadn't been able to get a decent day's work done then either.

He needed to change his tactics. Getting out of the penthouse and back to the office was imperative. The place smelled of Clark and he couldn't walk into the bedroom without thinking about Clark on his knees sucking him off, or Clark spread out naked on the bed. The den wasn't much better, because there had been a 'discussion' the evening before involving comfort verses decorative functionality in regards to the couch. Which Clark had won, demonstration proving more convincing that theory. There were some victories that Lex didn't mind handing out, if the spoils of defeat were so rewarding.

He needed to get his hands - -or hand - - the cast was an agitation that couldn't go away soon enough- - into something more interesting than mundane corporate business. He had an army of underlings who could deal with that, and more than legitimate reason to cancel meetings and avoid face to faces. Most people, with the injuries he'd incurred, would have still been lying in a hospital bed.

His bruises were almost gone and all but the one deep cut on his shoulder, healed. The ribs still hurt, bone taking longer than flesh to knit, but he was optimistic that within a week, he'd stop noticing the ache. The wrist would be a problem, only because it was a public hurt, and people had seen the cast and even if the bones melded in a few weeks time, if he got rid of it too soon, it would raise questions. That was the one drawback to meteor - - or Kryptonite - - enhanced healing, having to come up with explanations or deceptions to cover the fact that he was a bit of a freak himself.

That used to bother him a lot, knowing he was one of them. Mutated by something beyond his control. Used to make him feel a twinge of hypocrisy when he'd walk through the halls of a facility expressly created to explore the possibilities of the meteor-infected. But then his alterations were latent, never manifesting outside his own body, never a threat to the rest of the world.

A minority in the majority, but he'd always been in the minority by grace of massive wealth and the power that came with it.

The 33.1 labs were sparse now, partly due to the indefatigable efforts of the costumed vigilante's that he knew Clark associated with on occasion. And partly due to the fact that most of the violent meteor freaks, the one's that had been driven half-mad from the onslaught of their abilities, had either been apprehended - - one way or another - - or had gotten smart enough to go underground. Frightening thought, that the only ones out there were the slyest and most powerful of the lot.

There were other projects now that overshadowed his interest in the biogenetic labs. His current pet was ARP, an autonomous robotic probe, designed with a NASA contract in mind, that might net LexCorp billions, if the technology panned out.

There was a test run today of ARP's terrain navigation abilities, in the enormous research facility on the outskirts of the city that housed the project. Lex dearly wanted to be there.

He'd spent the morning after the meeting with the Feds, directing his people to subtly look into various Gotham holdings in which the Solomon's might have interest, no particular goal in mind yet, just the need to have his bases covered. At noon, when he couldn't stand it any longer and knew Clark was between classes and his internship at the Planet, he called. The phone rang six times before it was picked up, not by Clark, but by Martha Kent.

Lex literally froze for a breath or two, fighting with the urge to simply hang up and avoid the explanation of why he was calling Clark when she knew very well they hadn't exactly been on speaking terms. The federal Government he could deal with, heads of international conglomerates he could out maneuver. Considering what he'd been doing with her son - - Martha Kent stymied him.

"Hello?" she repeated.

Lex took a breath, determined not sever the connection like the proverbial 'other man' and said smoothly. "Mrs. Kent. Lex Luthor. I was calling for Clark."

There was a pause, pregnant with God knew what running through her head.

"Lex?" She said his name a little slowly, a little questioningly, as if it might have been some other Lex Luthor calling her son. She recovered quickly, having nineteen years experience covering tracks and diverting attention. "Clark is outside, catching up on work. The last few days of bad weather have - - well, farmer's schedule, you understand. I could call him in?"

"No. I was just getting around to returning a call." The best lies were the ones that didn't go into detail and possibly tread on what she might already know. Let her fill in the blanks herself.

"Oh. I heard on the news about the explosion. I'm sure he was concerned. Are you all right?" Martha Kent never failed to sound gracious and if the concern in her voice was a lie, then she was better at it than Lex and that was quite the feat.

"I'm getting there. Let him know I called."

"Of course." She sounded like she wanted to say more, but didn't and thus ended that little moment of discomfort.

It was a disappointment, and he sat for a moment considering the implications of that - - that fifteen hours without - - and he was sulking over a failed call. He needed to get his priorities in order.

He had lunch sent up to his office while he was looking over the most recent ARP project stats and the projections for today's test run. He dabbled with it, picking through spinach leaves to spear marinated shrimp and roasted red peppers, while he read. Eventually impatience got the better of him and notified Nancy that he was leaving early.

Security wasn't taking chances. He hadn't been outside the LuthorCorp Towers once - - other than the impromptu outing with Clark - - without security swarming around him. It was an inconvenience not being able to just take a car and drive out himself. There was no place in the world that he could think so clearly as behind the wheel of a car, aimlessly driving while he worked out problems and created solutions. It was hard to do when there were two stone-faced bodyguards and a driver, riding with him.

He was met outside the sprawling facility by white-coated research sycophants, who eagerly shadowed him to the onsite obstacle course.

There was an arena the size of a softball field set up to resemble the hostile terrain of a theoretical alien landscape. If this test was a success they would take it on site to Zacaton Mexico to test its abilities in the deepest sinkholes on earth.

The ARP itself, was the size of a mini-van and had an uncanny resemblance to a great, crouching spider, six multi-jointed legs supporting an oblong body that could be equipped with the most sophisticated of information gathering devices or in case of another scenario, devastating weaponry.

Lex stood in the control booth perched above the testing arena amidst a flurry of some of the most brilliant minds the field had to offer. He'd poached some of these scientists from NASA itself, from Lochheed Martin, from Aichi and IBM and paid through the nose to get them. It would be worth it to see ARP on the next Mars project and LexCorp stock would soar along with it.

He leaned forward as the ARP moved out into the field, its titanium exoskeleton gleaming, the red eye of its AI blinking as it took in the course. It was a thinking machine. It was given a goal and it would figure out its own path to achieving it. It reminded him vaguely, uneasily of the alien insect in West Virginia. The big one that had perched in its cave with its cold, hungry, non-human intelligence.

Unsettling that in their quest to come up with a body that could thrive in harsh alien terrain, they'd created something so similar to a creature spawned in those same environments.

It skittered over a sheer thirty-foot cliff face, and demolished a jumble of boulders blocking its path with the swipe of one mechanized arm. It tore its way through the course with a purpose and he smiled, while the researchers and technicians cheered and congratulated themselves. He was already planning out the calls he needed to make, the people that needed to be made aware of the projects initial success and be brought in to observe the field tests in Mexico.

It was a good day after all, despite an aggravating start. He made a call to Nancy in the car, to get the ball rolling, to set up appointments and calls. LexCorp had created an exceptional product, now it was a matter of securing contracts and promises to take it to the next step.

"Detour, sir." The drive alerted him mildly, and Lex glanced up at a city works truck and orange cones blocking off a section of street repair. He turned his attention back to his phone, scrolling down to the number of his director of R&D, then he scrolled further down to Clark's number. He'd be at work now. Hopefully with his cell on his person instead of lying about unguarded on counters for anyone to pick up, and Lex felt the need to share his good mood with someone who wasn't in his employ. He wondered what it would take to get Clark someplace where the stuffing wasn't poking out of vinyl seat covers, and the shrieking of unsupervised children didn't scour nerve endings raw?

The jarring screech of impact knocked the phone out of his hand, slammed him against the door with Jenkins sprawled against him. For a terrible moment, he had a flashback to the explosion, to impact and pain and body parts, but he shook himself out of it, seeing the smoking grill of a truck tangled with the rumpled driver's side doors of the Mercedes. His driver was unconscious or dead, slumped against the steering wheel. Jenkins was yelling at the other bodyguard in the front, and reaching around Lex trying to get the door open. It took Lex a moment to get his body working in conjunction with his brain. He wasn't hurt, other than initial shock. Jenkins and the other bodyguard seemed fine.

They staggered out, Lex turning to see the damage from a new vantage. It was a garbage truck. He caught a glimpse of the hydraulics, a waft of the stench before one of his two men was bodily shoving him towards the back of the car, the other one drawing his weapon and firing. The impact of gunfire rattled the car, and Lex hissed and ducked, while Jenkins was trying to cover him, backing away and shooting.

"Go. Go!" Jenkins yelled at him and Lex rose from his crouch and saw the other bodyguard on the ground and men approaching from the cover of a car parked across the street. And then there was the pop of a shot and the strangely muffled thud of an impact too close for comfort and wetness splattered the side of Lex's face.

Jenkins lurched forward, the side of his head blown away.

Lex wasn't a professional at this. He brainstormed projects, he negotiated deals, he hired people to do his dirty work. His hair trigger instincts tended towards conversational, not gun fight etiquette. He froze that integral moment, warm blood on his skin, a dead man crumpling next to him, maybe two seconds of indecisiveness before survival instinct kicked in and he snatched at the gun. Maybe twenty seconds since they'd stumbled out of the car.

He had to get his bearings, had to find a direction to retreat where there was better cover than the car. It was a semi-residential street, with brownstones and street level storefronts. Where the fuck were the people? The only life he saw was shooting at him, and they were padding across the street with fucking semi-automatic pistols in their hands and he had a Gloc that had already gone through - - how many rounds? It was run or shoot and he didn't particularly care to take a bullet in the back, so he fired at the approaching men and they scattered.

He swung around and caught movement in his peripheral vision. Too close, rushing up from the shadow of the truck. He swung around, back against the trunk, but there was a gun pointed at his forehead before he could bring his own weapon up. The face behind it impassive, eyes the brittle sort of cold of a man who killed for a living.

"Wait - -" Lex started, but a foot lashed out, smashing into the hand that held the gun and it clattered onto blood soaked pavement. A rawboned fist swung down, clenched around the grip of the gun, and slammed into Lex's temple with the brief blossoming of color-coded pain. Then the light went away and grey flooded to black.

He fought his way back out of the murk, trying to make sense of the quiet vibration that leeched into his bones, the subtle, invasive sway that might have been dizziness, or might simply be the surface he lay upon. His head hurt, but it had hurt worse a few days ago, and he didn't feel the nausea indicative of concussion - - so perhaps it wasn't so much dizziness as - -

"He's awake."

Hands latched onto him, roughly hauling him up before he was quite ready to be vertical and vision did sway a little, but he got that under control via an adrenalin laced rush of indignation.

"Get your fucking hands off." He hissed, digging in when they tried to force him forward, two shadow faced men in a small, shadow filled room that smelled of rust and mildew, with the hint of more unsavory odors. They weren't paying attention to either his request or his resistance and dragged him forward, slammed him down into a hard backed chair and slammed him back again when he lurched up. The second time stole his breath, and he sat there, trying to catch it while they made sure he stayed put with hands on his shoulders.

There was the screech of a heavy door opening behind him, the tap of feet across the metal floor. Another man circled to stand in front of him, a fourth standing at his back, the one that had pistol-whipped him at the site of the accident.

Accident. Right.

Two dead men, maybe three left on the street and Lex felt more rage than fear looking up into the small eyes of the man responsible. Black eyes, black hair. Maybe Lex's age or a little younger, it was hard to tell in this light. Black silk shirt undone three or four buttons down, sleeves rolled up. Tan chinos that were a shade too tight, probably on purpose, showcasing a not that impressive package. Expensive Italian loafers. Rolex. Big ring with lots of stones on his index finger.

This was a man who thought he was something special and felt the need to show it off. A man who thought he was dangerous and probably was in the crowd he ran.

"Which son are you?" Lex asked, as the guy was about to open his mouth and deliver some opening threat. "I would assume the youngest - - Anton? - - from just the sheer stupidity you've exhibited so far."

He got hit for that. Saw it coming when Anton Solomon's eyes swelled with flashflood rage and he drew back his hand. There was nothing really to do, but take it, the hands on his shoulders damn sure not prepared to let him twist away.

His cheek stung, warm blood rising where the ring had caught him. There was blood in his mouth. He swallowed it, sucked it off his bottom lip and looked up under his lashes, uncowed. He almost got hit again, because of the look that was probably in his eyes. Contempt.

But Solomon pulled out a gun instead and shoved the muzzle under Lex's jaw, forcing his head back against the belt buckle of one of the men behind him.

"Do you even realize you're dead?" the man sneered at him.

"Do you?" Lex countered, pushing past the screaming voice in his gut that said there's a fucking gun to your head and a man that's probably buried more bodies than you want to think about, so be fucking polite. But the voice in his head, the one that knew the politics of human nature, said that polite would get him dead, that fear would set them on him like dogs and they'd get what they wanted if they were persistent enough and he'd get that bullet in the head regardless.

"Where's my fucking chemist?"

Chemist? Did this idiot even know what he'd had? Did he even realize he'd been financing what could have been not only the break out drug of the century, but a miracle in modern medicine? Or had he stumbled upon a brilliant, eccentric addict, desperate for funds to research a revolutionary idea that he couldn't comprehend the limet of? The means for a younger son to branch out on his own, separating himself from Family values. Lex could empathize with the sentiment- - to a point.

"Are you asking about Dr. Bennet or some hack cooking crack in a basement tenement on the bad side of town?"

The gun cracked up against his ear and he would have gone out of the chair if not for the hands. He lolled a moment, while the ringing in his head reduced to tolerable levels and he could see again without the dancing lights.

"You step on my toes, you fuck with my interests and you want to give me grief? You think all the money in the world's gonna make a difference when I put a slug between your eyes? Where's the fucking squint chemist?"

"Does your daddy know you're dabbling in drugs? He will."

Solomon drew in a breath, face red and twisted. "I'll blow off your fucking kneecap."

He pressed the gun against Lex's knee and Lex lunged up with panic fueled strength. The two thugs behind him scrambled to keep their grips, got control of him, pressing him back down, arms twisted behind him in positions that bone and muscle just didn't want to go.

"S&B Convenience. Warsaw Salvage. The Scapegoat lounge." Lex hissed. The names of various Solomon interests that the Feds had caught Anton Solomon visiting rather too frequently to be on his father's business. It was a guess, a wild assumption that if the younger son was branching out, he'd try to gather resources on the outskirts of the Families notice.

Maybe one of the names actually hit the mark, because Solomon hesitated, eyes narrowing in wary suspicion.

"What the fuck do you know?"

"You think I pulled your name out of a hat?" It was hard to achieve the cool voice of negotiation with his arms trying to pop out of their sockets. "I was on to you the day your people were stupid enough to shoot at me in Bennet's lab. I've got more dirt on you than you realize you have, and it can either go to the Justice Department or to your own forgiving Family. You kill me and my people will take you down."

It wasn't entirely a bluff. Even if his body never turned up, his people would figure it out - - hell, his father would happily wreak a little vengeance after he'd settled himself back in control of the company. Clark might - - and though Lex wasn't sure he wanted blood on Clark's hands - - oh, what the hell, who was he kidding? - - he'd be fine with the taint on Clark's soul, if it meant avenging his murder.

But Solomon was thinking, Lex could see it in the furrow of his brow, the way his hand was flexing on the grip of the gun. Lex sucked in a breath, composed his face, muscle by muscle until he was boardroom calm.

"You're not thinking big enough, Anton. You want to branch out, do it on a big scale. Sure, if Bennet perfects the drug then you'll have an instant fan base - - a permanent one. But it won't last, because once you start hooking sons and daughters of influence, and you will, because people will try anything once - - the Federal Government will shut you down."

"Yeah, like they make a dent in the distribution of every other fun drug on the market."

"There's no profit in this for them. Just drawbacks. The money's in medicine. Program the nanodes to say - - perk up the sex drive or kill the need for nicotine and you've got the corner of the market over Viagra and NicoDerm right there. Billions in clean money. Wouldn't that be a nice change?"

Solomon stared at him, snagged by the word 'billions', but interest evaporated past that, because he couldn't fathom the processes it would take to follow those paths. His father might have - - might have been willing to bargain for a chunk of that return in terms Lex might have been willing to hear, fair trade for his life. But this was a young man who wasn't interested so much in the big picture, as he was in following the easy path to money the only ways he knew how.

God, if he'd been dealing with a thug with a little more ambition and a lot more intelligence, he could have talked his way out of this.

"No thanks," Solomon leaned in, the gun still pressed against Lex's leg. "I want Bennet."

"Then you're an idiot," Lex said neutrally. "Because the formula was incomplete. Why do you think he ran? If he can fix it, it's not going to be in a warehouse lab stocked with inferior equipment. I could provide what he needs so he could alter the formula. Amp up the high and curb the downside and you might get something that won't raise as may red flags."

Solomon canted his head, a nerve in his jaw twitching. The gun ran up Lex's leg to his belly, digging in. "What? You want to go into business?"

"You're not doing very well on your own."

Solomon thought about it. Lex could see the hesitation, the consideration. "You've got me at a disadvantage and I've got resources you can't begin to imagine. I'm worth nothing to you dead. Alive there are any number of possibilities."

"Tell you what, Mr. Luthor. You produce the doctor and we'll talk business. A sign of trust."

Fuck. The man wasn't entirely stupid.

"I'll make a call." Lex didn't miss a beat.

"No. You give me a location."

"He's not in the country. Do you have international influences? I make a call and he's on a plane to Metropolis or Gotham, today. Your choice."

Solomon stood back, tapping the gun against his leg thoughtfully. "I think you're a fucking virtuoso when it comes to bullshit. I think I'm going to let Frank and Donny here talk to you a while and see if maybe when they're finished, you're more agreeable to my terms."

He got yanked up out of the chair and started to protest, had to come up with something rational that this man would accept - - only maybe there wasn't a way out with a desperate younger son who'd made a bid for power that his father would most certainly not approve and failed. A fist caught him in the gut, then in the side when he struggled and his ribs screamed bloody murder. He gasped, pain blind for a few moments, legs watery while they dragged him out into a narrow hall to a room where the sound of rumbling engines was deafening. A long, cramped space crawling with overhead pipes and crowded gauges and valves.

He got his legs under him and tried to jam an elbow into the one on his right while they were maneuvering him through the door. A ship, he thought, he was on a ship with that hatch-like door. He hit the guy in the kidney and got a grunt and a moment when his right side was free, but the other one slammed a fist into the side of his face and swung him around into the wall and his sight went again and he was sliding down the wall in a sprawl of limbs. The one he'd elbowed kicked him solidly, and the blow glanced off Lex's hip with bright, white pain. Then the one was pulling the coat off of him while the other flung a length of rope over a thick pipe.

Now would be a good time to figure a way out of this. Before they strung him up and took away his options. The cast was giving them problems. They couldn't figure out how to tie his wrists with it on.

"Break it." One of them suggested and went for a wrench to shatter it open. Lex went very still, very limp against the wall while the other one crouched over him, jacket gaping open, the grip of a gun visible under his armpit.

He lunged for the gun, squeezing off a shot before he'd really cleared the shoulder holster, that probably didn't do more than graze flesh the angle it was fired at, but the man fell backwards anyway, out of reflex. Lex fired a slug into his chest, the biggest target available, then turned the gun on the second man, who was running back with his wrench, which was the wrong damned weapon to be brandishing, all things considered. Lex fired repeatedly, the first shot going wild, the second catching the man high in the shoulder and the third somewhere low abdomen.

He knelt for a second, breath ragged, trying to steady his gun hand with the casted one. He listened for the sounds of feet running down the hall to this room to discover what all the shooting was about. Heard nothing but the roar of the engines. Maybe, the din had drowned out the gunshots as they'd have likely drowned out his screams if the two bodies littering the floor had had their way.

He laid the gun down between his knees and reached for the cell phone hooked on the belt of the closest man. His hand was shaking. Badly. The blood kept flowing in his mouth, from the torn inside of his cheek and he kept swallowing the coppery stuff down.

He could call his own security - - fucking good they were - - or the police, but really only one person had never failed him.

He dialed Clark's number and preyed there was nothing down here to interfere with the signal.

One ring and Clark picked up.


"Hey. I've got a bit of a problem."

"God. Lex, where are you?" There was relief in Clark's tone that hinted at more than simple pleasure in hearing Lex's voice.

"That - - that's a very good question." He almost laughed. An actual location for the cavalry to arrive would have been a nice thing to have.

"They found your car. Your people - -" Clark was saying. "I've been looking - -"

Lex got to his feet and it was a little harder than anticipated. Transferred the cell to his casted hand and picked up the gun with the other. He edged the door open a few inches with his shoulder and looked out. The corridor was empty. About halfway down were steps leading up. Clark was talking in his ear about going back to the bar where he'd found the bombers and tearing into the place looking for answers and Lex had to take the phone away from his ear so he could listen for the sounds of life up above.

Sunlight dappled the top of the stairs, coming in through a round window on the door. He turned the latch with the gun hand and slipped out onto a narrow walk with a rusty rail overlooking - - water.

Brown water and a distant shoreline that might have been the other side of the Kansas River from Metropolis because he wasn't seeing the city or the outlying structures from this view. He backed up against the rail to take in the structure of the boat/ship whatever he was on, and saw a long, broad deck towards the prow, crowded with crates of cargo.


He heard Clark's tinny voice coming up from the phone at his side and lifted it back to his ear. "I'm on a river barge who the fuck knows where. I don't see the city."

"Hey!" Someone yelled at him from down the walk at the stern end of the bargehouse, running towards him and pulling out a gun. Then there were several someone's and Lex cursed and took off towards the stairs leading down to the front of the barge with its tons of secured crates and boxes and cargo containers.

A bullet clipped something close to his head and he skidded into the side of a canvas-covered stack of equipment trying to avoid it. The phone slid across the deck and he didn't have time to go after it. Barely had time to avoid the shots that tore into the canvas.

"Mother Fucker." Anton Solomon was screaming at him, and Lex turned with the gun extended, boxed in on one side by the row of cargo and the other by the rail that separated him from the slow moving river. Two others were approaching from behind Solomon and Lex didn't lower his arm, didn't take his eyes off the man in the lead.

If he went down, he was taking the son of a bitch with him. If he could hit target. He was a good shot with his dominant hand, but the weak one was proving inferior and he could only assume that Anton was damningly accurate, considering the requirements of his occupation.

Lex squeezed the trigger. Maybe Solomon did simultaneously. Hard to gauge because Clark was just there, between them, facing Lex and taking his bullet square in the chest, and the one's coming from behind in the back. He didn't flinch, even though Lex's heart tried to lurch up his throat at the initial impact of bullet against flesh. Hard not to when it was his bullet. Clark just stood there a heartbeat, piercing gaze and focused green eyes. Angry almost.

Solomon didn't have the time to swear in shock, or Lex the time to blink, before Clark was gone and it took Lex's brain a moment to catch up and realize he was gone too, an arm like fucking iron around his waist, movement so fast he might have whiplashed from the rush if Clark didn't have a stabilizing hand against his head.

And then there was ground under his feet and the subtle solidity of land threw off a body grown used to the underlying sway of the barge. He staggered and Clark's hand clamped down on his arm, not exactly the sweetest of grips. The river was nowhere in sight, and Lex didn't even recall seeing the water flash under them. It had been that damned fast. It was hard to wrap his mind around in reality what he'd accepted as fact in theory. But maybe that wasn't his fault, considering his afternoon.

"Clark?" he said and pried at the fingers biting into his bicep. Clark took a breath. Looked down and released his grip.

"Just stay here."

"What?" Here was apparently somewhere in the Metropolis warehouse district, close enough that the smell of the river still wafted in to flavor the air.

"Why? What are - -" was about as far as he got before Clark took off with a backlash of contained power and was a speck in the air.

Son of a bitch. Lex stood there, the gun he still had possession of loose in his hand. A vagrant curled in the ruins of a packing crate against the side of a warehouse, blinked up at him owlishly. Lex cursed again, more creatively and started walking.

Sit and stay were just not commands he felt inclined to follow at the moment. He hoped Clark had the good sense to either kill the bastards or not let them get more of a look at him than they already had. But then again, it really didn't matter, because one way or another, he was taking them down.




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