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Chasing Redemption

by P L Nunn


Part three


Lex was in a dimly lit side shaft, standing in the shadow of an inmate that was at least twice his size, when Clark tracked him down. He was apparently in the midst of a conversation with the big loner they had encountered in the mess yesterday. Kraiser.

There was no threat in the big man's posture, so Clark made no special effort to rush up. He did consider briefly focusing his hearing to see what sort of topic Lex might find to discuss with a man that didn't look like he was much for small talk. But before he could weigh the moral justification - - he tried very hard nowadays not to use his powers to infringe on other people's privacy, but he'd gotten into the habit of exempting Lex from that consideration because forewarned was forearmed - - Lex glanced up and saw him loitering near the mouth of the shaft.

Lex nodded once to the big inmate, and strolled towards Clark. Kraiser watched his retreat, but Clark could no more read his expression than he could Lex's.

"What was that about?" It never hurt to simply ask.

"Just getting to know the neighbors," Lex said with a suspicious lack of offense at the question. In fact Lex's bad mood seemed to have evaporated during the walk here. He even went so far as to cant a pleasantly inquiring look Clark's way and ask.

"Feeling better?"

"Yeah," Clark answered warily, not quite certain if he ought to start watching his back, because Lex in a cheerful mood was usually a portent of Clark's life becoming very, very difficult.

"You need to spend more time in the light," Lex suggested. "Maybe go a few times a day."

Lex hadn't been concerned for his well being in a very long time, which threw Clark a little off his balance. But then again, Clark's continued good health might have a very direct effect upon Lex's own, so perhaps there was a reasonable explanation for the concern after all.

Clark glanced down now and then as they walked towards the hub, at the contours of Lex's profile. If he'd had a fortune, he would have given it to know what churned inside that pale, bald head, because God knew Lex wasn't exactly consistent. Maybe he'd never known, but he liked to think that once upon a time, he'd had a clue.

Not quite half a year ago, Lex had tried to have him killed by a death squad packing kryptonite-powered lazars. Granted it had been a week after Superman had taken down a LexCorp satellite crammed full of internationally banned, experimental orbital weaponry, so Lex had more than likely been a bit peeved. But still - - it had taken Clark six hours in the outer atmosphere basking in the unfiltered the rays of the sun to recover. And it had hurt. A lot.

So Clark felt justified in doubting the altruism of Lex's concern. Still, suspicions aside, there was a little unguarded spot of warmth at the concern that the cynical part of Clark's mind couldn't quite dissuade.

They got their equipment from the hub guards, and moved back into the mines. It was late enough that most men had already set out, but only the strongest few were rolling their carts back to the hub to collect their precious chits. Therefore the main tunnels were scarce of traffic and they pushed their carts a good ways past the more active digs without encountering other inmates on the tracks. Clark veered down a side passage, wanting to find a remote spot to work where the chances of thugs prowling for trouble were slim.

Ceiling low enough that even Lex had to haunch a little, and towards the end of the shaft the ceiling had been braced and rubble obscured the tracks. There was a stack of unused metal braces at the far end, as if they'd given up their efforts at securing the shaft and abandoned it entirely. Clark scanned the rock overhead, looking for stress points, for places likely to fracture and collapse and found none that would threaten them if they kept their distance from the rubble.

"Don't get closer to the end than here," he warned Lex, who staring skeptically at the abandoned braces and strewn rock, clenching his jaw a little as if the close confines jarred on his nerves. He shifted his gaze after a moment to the walls, whose jagged planes of brown rock showed no indication of ore deposits.

"Tell me this isn't a deathtrap waiting to happen with no payoff for the risk?"

"Two feet in," Clark said, tapping the wall between them. "A nice, big vein."

Lex snorted softly and waved a hand. "By all means then, feel free to start the process."

Lex was considerably more inclined today to benefit from the fruits of Clark's labor. Maybe one meal in four days had tempered his pride, but more than likely, Lex's mind was back in the machine room and putting in his time here was a required inconvenience for appearances sake.

Clark did the heavy lifting. Forgoing his pick ax in favor of his fist and breaking through the thick layer of plain rock to reach the ore beneath. From there on out, it was a matter of separating ore from rock, and that took a little more time.

He filled a cart and hesitated abandoning Lex to deliver it to the hub, but Lex waved him away with an irritated glance. Clark didn't dawdle and was back in a fraction of the time it had taken them to make their way to the spot at mundane speeds.

Lex made no comment about Clark's alacrity. Lex made no comment about anything, methodically chipping away, either lost in thought or simply having no desire to converse with Clark.

It bothered Clark a little, the silence. Not that silence was a problem, per say, and during recent years most of the things Lex had had to say to him had been less than pleasant and often infuriating, but still, even a snide comment now and then would have eased the quiet.

"Do you know what I'd like?" Clark said, staring at the man deep crater he'd made in the wall in search of ore.

Lex glanced askance at him, but other than that, didn't ask for clarification.

"A hamburger." Clark gave it anyway. "A big, hand patted one, with grilled onions and tomatoes and sweet pickles. And fries. With cheese sauce and chili."

Lex stopped what he was doing and gave Clark his full attention. "Your fantasy meal is a greasy hamburger and potatoes drenched with barely edible sludge?"

"Dripping with grease." Clark sighed, almost able to taste it.

"How lucky for you then, that you're invulnerable to trivial human things like high cholesterol and clogged arteries then."

"You're not?" Clark asked pleasantly, it having been long established through various attempts at poisoning, assassination and sheer bad luck that Lex's tolerance to those same human frailties was astronomically high.

Lex gave him a tight little smile and turned back to his pile of ore riddled rock. But after a moment, he admitted. "Two inch filet. Rare in the center. Roasted baby potatoes, garlic and rosemary. A Cabernet - - late eighties."

Clark grinned, lifting both brows. "Steak and potatoes? That's so plebian, Lex."

"Shut up." But Lex's mouth twitched in something close to wry humor. "I'm hungry. Talking about food makes it worse."

"We could talk about terrible food?" Clark suggested. "If you'd ever eaten Lois' cooking, the idea of not eating for a week wouldn't be such a terrible thing."

"Thank God for small favors." Lex snorted, then canted his head and gave Clark a hawkish stare. "That place - - the one outside Smallville. The little shack on the side of the road at the edge of a corn field with the demented cowboy on the placard."

"What? Jerry Joe's? Home of the best sloppy Joe's money can buy? That place?" Clark remembered it well. He still stopped on occasion to partake of the fare, even though the original owners had long retired.

"The home of food poisoning on a bun?" Lex clarified.

"Oh. That." Clark had to hide a grin. There had been an incident, back in his freshman year of high school, involving the maiden run of a brand new car - - Clark was almost sure it had been a snazzy little Austin Martin with a ridiculously huge engine - - a trip halfway to Metropolis at speeds that laughed at the posted speed limit and Clark begging to stop at his favorite little greasy spoon on the way back. And Lex relenting. Because back when they'd been on very good terms, Lex very seldom denied Clark anything that Clark was bold enough to request.

There had been puking involved afterwards, on the side of the road, and Lex bitching about bad meat when he'd been able to talk coherently again. Lex had vowed he'd have the place condemned, but he'd kept forgetting to get around to setting into motion. Clark had always been of the opinion that it had all been in Lex's head.

"It was all in your head." Clark said, just in case Lex might have forgotten, that long ago estimation.

Lex opened his mouth. Closed it and stabbed a finger at Clark. "It was bad meat. Meat by product. Meat like substance ground up and mixed with God knew what and slopped onto a bun. I'd rather eat the gruel they pass off a food in this place than even look at one of those sandwiches again."

The grin exploded forth. Clark couldn't hold it back anymore. "See. All you have to do from now on is think about Jerry Joe's during supper here and turnip stew will seem like heaven."

Lex stared at Clark for a second, mouth half open, as if whatever he'd been about to say had just dried up.

"Shut up." Lex managed after a moment, but he said it with a shake of the head and a wry little grin of his own. Honest amusement that eased the tension in his shoulders, that lightened his eyes like some emotional switch had been flicked on the inside that hadn't seen use in a good long time.

Clark kept grinning. The funny thing about the good times with Lex, sometimes they'd been so good, that it was easer to block them out and forget they'd ever happened. It hurt less that way.

"Lex, why'd you put up with me?" He asked, spur of the moment, because he recalled an awful lot of times when any other self-respecting adult would have thrown up their hands and walked away in a huff of impatience at the trails and tribulations of a insecure teenager.

Lex blinked at him, that wide-open moment of honesty lingering the span of a breath before it shifted out of his eyes as smoothly as a gear change in a fine automobile. There was nothing left in its wake but cool distance.

"Because I was a fool," Lex said, turning back to his rocks. "Don't you have another cart to turn in?"

Clark crinkled his brows, not understanding. Deflated a little at the loss of a brief something he hadn't even realized he'd missed.

He tightened his jaw, no emotional youth - - not for a long time - - to be wounded by dismissal. He tossed a last chunk of ore onto the pile in his cart and left for the hub.

The silence didn't bother him after that. Made it easier to work, a good ways down from where Lex labored. Easier to try and distract himself by wondering what Lois had made of his abrupt disappearance. Superman and Clark Kent going missing at the same time wasn't a rare occurrence, but it had been days now and it was likely to be a lot longer. The League would try and cover for him, come up with phone messages, emails and postcards that might explain Clark Kent's whereabouts. They had a system for protecting member's civilian identities that worked most of the time. His mom would add her voice to an alibi in a pinch, though he hated for her to have to lie for him.

The last time he'd been gone unexpectedly for close to a month, he'd almost lost his job. It had taken a lot of groveling and one hell of an exclusive Superman interview to talk his way back into a paycheck. Lois had been pissed about the Superman exclusive. She liked to think Superman and Superman related topics were her own private territory.

Her proprietary instincts didn't particularly bother him. It felt wrong somehow, making up interviews with himself, so he left it to her. Besides, he had his own sensitive spots - - things that were Superman's and Superman's alone to deal with. Things most of the league knew to give him a heads up about instead of rushing in and tackling themselves. Luthor related things.

He frowned, tumbling that over in his head and glanced back down the shaft at Lex, who had evolved from picking at rock to sitting cross legged on tracks, studying the undercarriage of the ore cart. For someone who could hold decades long obsessions, Lex obviously had a short attention span.

Clark smirked at his own mental witticism and delivered another cart to the hub. That made six in a little over half as many hours. He'd been holding back, wasting a lot of time. Partially not to raise too many suspicions with guards or inmates at his prowess, partially to keep an eye on his interests - - whether his interests were moody and unappreciative and wanted an eye kept on them or not.

He met Lex on the way back, pushing his full cart up the tracks towards the hub. He didn't even think about offering help with the cart, not in the mood for a scornful refusal. Lex had met his quota today in half the time it had taken the last few days, thanks to Clark and an unexpected relaxation of Lex's own pride. Even had Clark been in the frame of mind to make Lex's life easier at the moment, he doubted Lex would have accepted.

There were appearances to be met, after all, Clark thought darkly, and the tunnels feeding into the hub had begun to fill with the traffic of inmates returning with their days work. The strongest maybe returning with their second or third loads, desperately hopeful sycophants trailing in their wake.

Men stared at them still, yesterday's incident still fresh in many a mind, but some of the looks did not hold the open fear that they had after the grotto incident. A few of the weaker inmates, upon seeing Clark, even began to shadow him at a safe distance. Word of his generosity had likely started to get around and he regretted that most of the chits he'd earned today might need to be traded for things to help with the repair of the machine.

Lex stopped abruptly in front of him, and Clark, distracted by the furtive attention of the inmates that crept in his wake, came a hair's breadth from running into him with the front of his empty cart. Kryptonian reflexes saved Lex from some nasty bruising along the back of his legs.

The reason for Lex's lack of forward momentum became apparent when Clark looked up. A group of men sauntering down the tracks instead of along the paths on the side, harassing the forward progress of most the inmates pushing carts towards the hub. Sweet himself had broken from the pack, and moved to lay his big hands on the rim of Lex's cart, grinning as he leaned forward, forcing the cart and Lex back a pace, into the front edge of Clark's cart.

"Look't you, day not even done and with a full cart of ore. Guess he got tired of filling his own cart and loaded up yours for you, huh, little man?" Sweet glanced beyond Lex to Clark and leered. "So, you make him get on his knees as payment, or you gonna bend him over and take it out of his ass? "

The cart handle crumpled under Clark's fingers. Once upon a time he might have blushed at the suggestion. Today, he felt a darker expression settle upon his face.

Lex met Sweet's gaze unflinchingly, a faint disdainful smile on his lips.

"How many men have had their honest labor stolen from them today," Lex asked loudly enough that even the lurkers might hear. "That you and your band of delinquents can afford to be loitering, harassing hard working men? As if this place isn't difficult enough, without having to put up with the likes of you and your dogs."

Sweet's men had drifted down, abandoning the inmates they'd been hassling in favor of observing this little interaction. They growled a little, very much in character with Lex's descriptive terminology. Sweet pulled back his lips, agitated, and gave the cart a hard shove. Between his size and the weight of the ore, Lex would have gotten a rather nasty impact, if Clark hadn't slid forward and put a hand on the outside edge of the cart handle. It didn't move an inch and Sweet blinked in surprise.

"Leave us alone," Clark said simply. There was a man at his back, big and stupid looking, who sidled up in some effort at intimidation. Clark turned his head and gave him the Superman stare, level and deadly until it began to sink in that intimidation didn't work with him.

It didn't work with Lex either, at least not that he allowed to show, because Sweet moved around the cart, stepping in closer than Clark felt comfortable with, on Lex's other side and Lex didn't flinch.

Sweet looked over Lex's head for one brief moment at Clark, the indefatigable look of a bully who can't afford to let his reputation slip, then bent his head and spoke softly to Lex.

"He's not always gonna be there to watch your back, scut. And just so you know, I like it both ways. But I'm gonna fuck you first. Then they're gonna fuck you, until you're begging to use that smart mouth of yours to suck cock instead."

There were chuckles from those close enough to hear. Men that expected maybe, to get their piece of Sweet's threat if and when the opportunity arose. Clark had been hesitant to get into a brawl the other night at the lake, but there was a rising curl of anger now that teetered on the edge if violence. If Sweet had laid a hand on Lex it might have burst free, but the big man stepped away, a lazy, satisfied grin on his broad face.

Lex said nothing. Mouth a taut line, eyes so shuttered that no hint of emotion slipped through. He couldn't hide the tempo of his heartbeat though, even if the pace of his breathing was unaltered. Lex made an effort to get his cart moving, as the tracks ahead slowly cleared, but made no headway. He looked down at Clark's hand still on the handle, then up at Clark.

Clark loosened his grip and removed his hand. There were the indentations of finger marks on the handle of this cart as well.

Lex didn't comment on that either. Just forged on ahead, though the ranks of Sweet's lingering men.

It was a long hike up the incline towards the hub, and there were weaker men ahead that struggled with their carts, which made going slow. They turned in their carts, Lex got his chit and they silently headed towards rations.

"Do you want to see what they have at the commissary that we can use on the - - you know?" Clark asked, once they'd joined the crowd lingering around the duel mess/supply center.

Lex nodded silent agreement and moved with Clark to the very short line at the commissary window.

"Machine oil?" Lex asked and the heavy browed guard on the other side stared at him warily, trying to imagine what use an inmate might have for machine oils.

"For the cart wheels?" Clark offered helpfully and the guard crinkled his brow, not buying it, since inmates traded in carts each time they delivered loads to the hub.

"He's shy," Lex smiled coldly at the guard. "And modest. It's for sex."

That the guard got and gave Clark a knowing leer before disappearing into the storage area. Clark rolled his eyes, embarrassed and stared pointedly at the wall above the window, until the guard-clerk returned with a small plastic bottle of amber oil.

Lex also asked for some sort of wire bristled brush, but there was none available, so he settled for a stiff bristled one. He declined to explain the need for that to the guard. It cost Clark five of his six chits for the two items.

The last one he used for bread and cheese, which he portioned up and offered to the more pitiful inmates hovering in the tunnels outside the commissary. Lex used his chit for bread and cheese as well, which he declined to eat in the mess, carrying with him instead as they headed back towards the machine room.

They were trailed though, by those hoping for scrapes that Clark no longer had, and since neither he nor Lex were prepared yet to spread word of the efforts with the flywheel energy storage unit, he bent his head and suggested.

"It's probably best if we didn't get followed back. You mind if - -?"

Lex glanced over his shoulder and frowned. He released a gust of agitated breath and nodded. "Do it."

They turned a bend in the shaft, cast in shadow and out of view of other men, and Clark swept Lex up and ran.

Clark stopped outside the big door outside the machine room, which he'd spot-welded - - via heat vision - - back onto its hinges. He stood there for a second, having long ago learned that human beings needed a second or two after being swept along at inhuman speeds, to reorient. Lois tended to stagger around like a drunkard if he sat her down too quickly without support after a speedy rescue and Chloe claimed that she leaned towards a bit of nausea after being zipped from point A to point B faster than the proverbial speeding bullet.

He'd had Lex in his arms an awful lot over the years, both before and after donning the mantle of Superman, but he'd never bothered to inquire how Lex dealt with the whole super speed thing. Granted they were generally not much for civil conversation during those incidents, so it hadn't really come up, but still, what Clark had on more than one occasion noted, was that he sort of really liked the feel of Lex in his arms. He generally tended to dismiss the notion soon after as sheer inanity, because really - - arch nemesis.

"If you were planning on carrying me over the threshold - - you really ought to have opened the door first." Lex remarked dryly and Clark flinched, reaffirming the whole anything pleasant in relation to Lex being inane thing, and deposited him onto his feet.

Lex stood there, while Clark unsealed the door, little collection of bartered goods in his hands, jaw set, eyes a flat and unreadable blue. He walked in afterwards and sat the things down on one of the smaller units, remained for a moment, with his hands on the edge before turning and striding back out.

Clark stared at his exit in surprise, following a few steps.

"Where - -?"

"Water," Lex said, before Clark could finish the question. There was something to the set of Lex's posture that did not encourage company, spine ramrod straight, shoulders fairly vibrating with tension.

There was a spring, seeping out of the tunnel wall, not too far away, and Lex returned maybe a half hour later, considerably cleaner than he had been, wet over shirt draped across his arm. He was chilled though, that was apparent from the goose pimples on his bare arms, futilely trying to raise hairs that were no longer there.

The water leaking out from those little springs was icy, as might be expected of ground water untold thousands of feet under the surface. The only warm place in this whole warren of tunnels was the grotto and that was a risky venture if one wanted to avoid trouble.

But after Sweet's little declaration this evening, Clark wasn't entirely sure he wasn't willing to push it. Sometimes it took a bit of violence to make a point when nothing else worked.

"I'm willing to risk going back to the grotto," he suggested. "Wash up properly where it's warm. Rinse the dust off our clothes. Soak away the aches."

The whole of Lex's body seemed to tense. Clark could practically hear muscles bunching the moment before Lex spun, eyes narrow and deadly and snapped at Clark.

"Soak away the aches? Whose aches? God, it must make you feel big helping out the less fortunate. Feeding the hungry, looking out for the weak, knowing that just your mere presence is enough to make a man think twice about starting trouble. How fucking nice for you. It's just like being back home, isn't it? Where you can play saint Superman to an adoring world. You've already got the beginnings of faithful fans, creeping around your heels here."

Clark clenched his fists, shocked into anger, blood pounding behind his eyes at the unprovoked attack. He'd been trying to help. Trying to offer a bit of comfort in an otherwise cold, unforgiving place. But maybe Lex liked cold and unforgiving. It suited his personality to a tee.

"You're an ungrateful ass - -" Clark snapped, frustration tumbling loose over his tongue.

"Gratitude?" Lex laughed, short and cruel and stalked up to him, all predator's gait, rolling hips and glittering eyes. "You want my gratitude? On my knees or my hands and knees? I can go either way and you won't have to go into shades of denial every time someone here assumes you're fucking me in trade for protection."

He leaned in close, blue eyes full of spiteful dare, and his hand slid down, quick sure fingers grazing the length of Clark's flaccid penis through the trousers, taking firm hold and squeezing.

If Lex had pulled a death ray out of his pocket and started shooting up the place, it couldn't have surprised Clark more. He drew in a shocked breath, coherency failing him for a few precious seconds. His cock jumped to attention, suddenly very, very interested at Lex's hands on approach to winning an argument.

It was a direct contradiction to that puritanical side of Clark that Lex often accused him of harboring - - the side that demanded he distance himself from a touch that had nothing to do with intimacy and everything to do with waging war. Even if lower regions were suddenly ready to delve into the fray.

Self-preservation instincts, no less prominent here and now than they might have been faced with something considerably larger and more powerful than Lex Luthor, cut in, and Clark reacted. He shoved Lex away. More animal panic in that one movement than he'd allowed himself in quite a long time. He had the sense of mind to hold back - - a lifetime of ingrained habit - - but he still propelled Lex backwards a good ten feet. Lex flew through the air like a long-limbed rag doll and hit the big flywheel casing, crumpling and hissing out lost breath.

Clark cursed himself for the overreaction and rushed over, crouching down and hoping against hope there weren't broken bones or internal injuries. Lex batted him away, glaring up with eyes that were watering just a little - - reflexive reaction to sudden pain - - and tried to push himself up.

"Are you all right? God - - Lex - - I'm sorry." And he was. Hurting Lex was not his goal. Hurting Lex had never been his goal. It was just that stopping him sometimes got out of hand.

"Just," Lex smacked Clark's helping hand away yet again and managed his feet. "Leave me alone." His legs were somewhat unsteady, but he stubbornly walked to the unit with the circuit boards and sat down cross-legged before the open panel, very clearly ignoring Clark.

Clark shut his eyes, one hand on the side of the big flywheel unit, the other one shaking. God. He clenched the errant fist and marveled at the way his heart pounded - - like he'd been attempting to move mountains or battling invading aliens for days straight with no rest. All his vaunted self-restraint evaporating like so much mist on a hot summer morning, when Lex got under his skin.

He needed to distance himself. As much as this place would allow him. Go back into the mines and work out his frustrations earning the chits to help feed those starving men that would appreciate his efforts. And it wasn't charity, damnit. He wasn't looking for gratitude and certainly not for adoration. He did it because he could - - because he had it within his ability to help those that couldn't help themselves. Not to use that power would have eaten away at his soul. He didn't want gratitude - - he just didn't particularly appreciate having an honest attempt at help thrown back in his face with a healthy dollop of rancor as a chaser.

He stalked to the door at normal human speed, the petty part of him wanting to make sure Lex noted his departure. He was almost through the portal when low spoken words made him pause.

"I'm angry," Lex said, not turning, a circuit board on his lap. Almost Clark thought it might be the prelude to more bitching, but Lex surprised him. "And it serves no purpose to take it out on you when it's not your fault. I - - apologize."

Clark stood there, feeling his pulse accelerate again for no discernable reason. He swallowed. Again. And tried to think up something to say in response. He needed to say something. The type of dignified and magnanimous acceptance of a difficult admission that Superman might issue. Trouble was he didn't feel particularly Supermanly at the moment. He felt like a small town Kansas boy out of his depths and he hadn't felt that way in a very long time. He could still feel the imprint of Lex's hand on his cock and it made his head swim.

"Okay." Was the only thing that came to mind and that he barely got past the lump in his throat. God, but Lex's mood swings were likely to drive him mad, quiet contrition no less unsettling than venomous taunts.

He needed to retreat still and did so, conceding Lex possession of the machine room. He went into the mines, which were still active with the dregs of day shift. Got a cart and found a most unlikely spot far past the range of the tracks. Huge chunks of ore, far up within the steep recesses of a fissure, assessable only to a man either capable of flight or outfitted with copious spelunking gear.

He loosened a chunk twice the size of what a cart might bear and carried back down, breaking it into smaller pieces and loading what he could onto the cart to carry back to the hub. He returned for the remaining ore and loaded that, not caring at the moment what the guards made of his rapid turnover, as long as they registered his chits. Let them make something of it. Let the powers that be - - those faceless magistrates - - come down and make something of it if they liked. He hoped they did realize they had caged something beyond the normal capacities of their unfortunate prisoners. He'd like to get one within his grasp to debate it.

He went back to his fissure, tunneling up through rock to ore that would otherwise have gone untapped. He lost count of the carts he deposited in the hub, caught up in work that's mindless repetition insulated him from other, less settling thoughts. The surrounding warren of caves and shafts, of fissures and age-old calcite formations trembled when the fervor of his efforts culminated, whenever the memory of Lex's touch rose unbidden in his mind.

No few number of thugs, intent on thievery, rape, murder or simple intimidation in the depths of the night darkened mines found their efforts rudely interrupted. Most of them never knew what hit them and an uneasy quiet descended upon the mines. The thugs holding back, gathering in the shadows, whispering among themselves of the specter that roamed the mines, interfering in their campaign of dominance through terror.

Clark distributed armfuls of food. Finding the weak and the infirm and the old huddled in their cold, hard niches and giving them what they needed to last one more day in this place. Of course he couldn't feed them all. Here or the real world - - even Superman couldn't ever save them all, no matter how hard he tried. It was a hard lesson, a solemn one that he'd learned years ago, when he'd first returned from those long months of training under Jor-el's tutelage - - when he'd been a little drunk with the blossoming of his mature powers.

The light panels were brightening marginally, a sign that he'd worked the evening and night through and that the sun rose on the outside world, bringing in another day down here in the darkness.

He gave the last half loaf from his most recent trip to the mess, to a shivering inmate, who stared up at him with wide, distrustful eyes. Clark backed away, palms up, while the man clutched the chunk of hard bread to his chest as if it were some game and Clark might snatch it back away.

Most of them reacted much the same. Distrustful of kindness after so long without. Just like Lex. Who viewed offers of comfort or help as if they had strings attached. Who was so used to living in a world where no favor came for free, where no simple kindness came without ulterior motive, that he had no concept of how to deal with honest generosity when it was offered. He wondered, after all these years, if Lex were even capable of learning that there was another way.

He went back to the mess, not sure how many chits he had left on his bracelet. There was no one else in the long chamber in the time between night and dawn, but the guard behind the mess window had seen Clark enough during the night to yawn and eye him curiously when he came back yet again. He hesitated on his way to the mess window and headed for the commissary instead. He held his bracelet under the scanner and asked the attendant.

"Do I have enough for a blanket?"

He didn't quite. Simply luxuries such as the means for a man to keep warm in the chill depths of the mines, or lay upon something more welcoming than bare rock did not come cheap. Clark glowered at the guard behind the multiple plexi-glass and metal grate that separated them, then turned on his heel to go about acquiring those few lacking chits.

He starting to feel the lack of sun again and it was making him edgy and short tempered. He broke loose a huge chunk of ore from his rich fissure and turned in another handful of carts. Turned in one more for good measure and smiled darkly at the hub guards, who'd began poking critically through his ore rubble as it passed by on the conveyer, as if they thought he was trying to cheat them and turn in simple rock instead.

After a trip to the commissary, he went back to the machine room, the threadbare blanket tucked under his arm. The chamber was silent and apparently empty. For a moment, Clark thought Lex must have left in the early hours of morning. But then he focused his hearing and picked up on the nearby heartbeat and found Lex in the sheltered space between the flywheel unit and the chamber wall, dozing with his back to the wall, as a man might that feared to leave himself unprotected during sleep. There were parts and pieces of tech on the floor next to him, that he'd pulled out from God knew where in the machine and had apparently been in the process of cleaning before fatigue at overtaken him.

His hands, which lay lax in his lap, were filthy from rust stains and decades of dust and old lubricant. The little bottle of oil and the brush lay next to him, along with the assorted parts. Apparently Lex had been no less industrious working on this defunct machine after Clark had taken off in his sulk, than Clark had breaking ore.

Clark sighed, something about rust stained fingers on a man who was usually so meticulous easing the tension that had seeped into his neck. He draped the blanket atop Lex's slumped figure, and laid the bread and cheese he'd gotten with that extra chit atop the edge of it next to him. If Lex wanted to be stubborn he was welcome to ignore it and wait until this evening to eat after he'd returned to the mines and spent the day laboring over unforgiving rock. Clark didn't care in the least.

Clark probably wouldn't be here when he woke up to hear Lex's thoughts on the subject regardless. He had every intention of retreating to the narrow chimney of a shaft that bled up to the surface and soaking up sunlight until he felt the edge of strain leave his body.

It was weak and grey today at best though, the world overhead apparently deeply overcast. Still, weak, grey filtered light was better than no light at all and he lingered, sitting on the little ledge he'd made for himself well into the morning, taking in what scraps he was offered.

Almost he dozed, chin propped upon one knee while the other leg dangled, until the cold trickle of water roused him. It came down from above, no direct droplets of rain, but seepage running down from the mouth of the shaft from the surface. Apparently the overcast had turned into storm. A good one too, if the water sluicing down the shaft walls was any indication. Whatever weak light there had been, was all but obscured.

He descended the shaft, watching the water disappear into cracks and crevices in the cavern floor. His shirts were soaked along his back, and even though he was impervious to the cold, there were more pleasant things than the feeling of wet, clingy cloth against his skin.

He returned to the mines, settling down to a human pace, once he reached the outskirts of inmate activity. The workday had started in earnest and the mines were filled with the sounds of it. Reflexively, he searched for the distinctive beat of Lex's heart, found it amidst a thousand others, beating with a steady, calm rhythm. He headed that way, in no particular hurry this morning. He paused to help a man struggling to get a derailed cart back on the track. Helped another whose pick ax head had come off the handle with a quick spot of heat vision welding when the man's back was turned. He even got a nod of wary thanks, which lightened his mood.

When he found Lex, he was exiting a narrow crevice leading out from one of the natural shafts. There was a half filled mine cart outside on the tracks, but apparently it wasn't his, for he passed it by, in the process of wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve.

Clark drew a breath, steeling himself for whatever cutting complaint Lex might have about Clark's gesture of goodwill that morning, but stopped short, as a moment later, the big inmate, Kraiser followed Lex out of the crevice. The big man looked furtively about. His eyes fixed on Lex's retreating figure, lingering for a long moment, before he took possession of the half full mining cart and headed deeper into the mines, what might have been the caricature of a smile creasing his broad face.

Clark stepped back into the shadows, a sudden bout of lightheadedness making him reel. Images flashing through his head that were dark and dirty and made him press against the wall so hard rock groaned behind him. The image of Lex, the back of his hand ghosting across his mouth flashed behind Clark's eyes. Wiping away evidence of - - what?

He shook his head, shedding unfounded conclusions and stepped out into the hall, focusing his vision into the narrow fissure Lex and Kraiser had exited. Nothing but a shallow pocket of rock beyond, not even ore anywhere close to the surface that might make it a good place to mine. A good place to have a private moment, for men that wanted their business to go unseen and unheard. A good place for a larger man to maybe force a smaller one into against his will for a moment of the only sort of release this place offered.

Clark took a breath again, clenching his fists and berating himself for automatically thinking the worst of Lex. Ingrained habit was harder to fight than kryptonite poisoning.

He hurried and caught up, surprising Lex by his sudden appearance at his side if the startled sideways glance was any indication.

Lex arched a brow dryly at him, covering the moment, and kept walking. Clark swallowed, looking for any sign of a scuffle. Bruising, torn clothing, scrapes or blood. There was nothing but the fading marks from the attack yesterday. Lex had even taken the effort, sometime between Clark dropping off the blanket and food this morning and now, to pick the grime from under his nails.

"I take it you had a productive night," Lex commented, as if nothing untoward had happened. "From the whispers on the way here, it appears quite a bit of good fortune was spread about the mines last night."

Clark heard about every other word, focus still firmly on what might have happened in that fissure. He swallowed again - - that lump in this throat stubbornly refusing to go away - - and asked. "So, everything all right? No problems on the way in?"

"No problems at all," Lex said with the faintest air of smug satisfaction. Clark was not entirely unfamiliar with the look. It generally accompanied the successful launch of some venture or plot. Whatever had happened, Lex wasn't upset about it. If anything, he was exuding contentment.

Which meant, whatever had happened with Kraiser, it hadn't been forced. If anything had happened with Kraiser, Lex had been a willing participant. Clark's pace faltered, an incomprehensible snarl of dark weight settling behind his eyes. Anger that he couldn't even begin to define because God knew it didn't make sense to be more ticked off at the thought of Lex engaging willingly in - - in something that involved dark private places, and Lex's mouth and Lex on his knees - - than the idea of him being forced.

It wasn't like it was any of his business who Lex Luthor fucked. Lex could take on the whole mining population as far as Clark cared, if he thought it would gain him something.

"What is your problem, Clark?"

Clark blinked and glared down at Lex, who was looking at him with the hint of agitation in his whoring blue eyes.

"What?" Clark snapped.

Lex arched a brow at the tone. "If you're going to sulk about my continued lack of gratitude - - your little gifts this morning were not unappreciated. Happy?"

Lex thought he was uptight over not getting a 'thank you' for the blanket and the breakfast. It didn't occur to Lex that Clark might be on edge over anything else. But then contrition was not one of those pesky emotions that Lex tended to saddle himself with. Then again, maybe Clark was growing addle-brained from lack of proper sunlight and Lex didn't have anything to be contrite about. It could have been coincidence or something entirely harmless.

"Uh - - sure," Clark said, distractedly, garnering a more narrowed eyed look from Lex, who pursed his lips in speculation before striding off ahead through the scattered ranks of ragged men that always seemed to loiter outside the hub.

Clark followed him in, sidling through men that trailed a little way behind him hopefully, whispering things like, 'he's the one,' 'heard he kept Skinny Det from a beating last night,' or 'the ol' timers say he gave them an armful of bread and cheese way into night-shift and didn't ask for nothin' in return.'

He barely heard them, mind swirling with the possibilities of things that just made him - - angry. Over something that might not have happened outside his own obviously twisted imagination.

Regardless, almost against his will, he kept replaying the image of Lex coming out of that fissure, wiping his mouth. Kraiser coming out after with the look of a man who'd maybe gotten something that was a pleasant surprise.

Entirely harmless. When was the last time Lex Luthor had engaged in anything entirely harmless? Was he even capable of walking into a situation and not looking for advantage? Was there anything he wouldn't hesitate in doing to gain it? What was a little oral sex in a dark corner if it got him what he wanted?

Which was what, exactly? Kraiser was a big loner, not affiliated with the gangs, as far as Clark could tell. Was Lex recruiting muscle? Looking for more protection? Stimulating good will for some future gambit? It wasn't like Kraiser had done anything afterward, but retreat down a tunnel to finish filling his cart. Clark had checked. A couple of times.

Clark couldn't shake the images his mind provided to fill in the blanks, or the unreasonable resentment they engendered within him. He brooded about it for most of the morning, and though Lex cast him several speculative glances in between Clark's trips to and from the hub, he didn't attempt to initiate conversation. Maybe he had as much on his mind as Clark did on his. Maybe the two of them had stopped having anything to talk about years ago.

It wasn't until evening, after Lex had managed to fill his cart with relatively little help from Clark, who'd been busy keeping his distance, that Lex's plots grew to fruition.

It had become habit, no matter how agitated Clark was, to trail Lex when Lex was walking into potentially dangerous situations. Which covered most anywhere in the mines where inmates gathered, the dark places they didn't and most of the passages in-between.

If they'd been in the city, he'd have happily left Lex to his own devices - -as long as those devices didn't threaten the welfare of innocent people - - and the generally capable hands of LexCorp security, and gone about his own life. It was easy in the real world to ignore all but the most dangerous and illegal exploits of the man who owned half of Metropolis. It was easy to ignore the gossip rags when they gleefully speculated on the details of who Lex was sleeping with. And they speculated a lot.

Clark hadn't cared. Superman had been above it.

He'd kept reminding himself of that, throughout the day, during those times when he'd find himself just standing there, grinding his teeth and powdering rock in his clenched fists while his mind conjured up ridiculously detailed images of what he imagined had gone on in that fissure. Lex on his knees. Lex's lips stretched wide - - because if that part of Kraiser's anatomy fit with the rest of him, he'd have to be huge - - Inhumanly large hands clasped around the smooth curve of Lex's skull. The way Lex would look up, gold tipped lashes shadowing the wicked glint in eyes that would turn so dark a blue with arousal, they'd be like shadows on a clear tropic reef - - ah, God.

It was unnerving how the fertile grounds of his imagination were so good at supplying the particulars of Lex Luthor's sex life. More unnerving and mortifying that his cock would twitch in his pants during some of those moments when his mind ran away with him, as if he were sixteen instead of a man full-grown and prone to spontaneous erections at the brush of an errant wind.

Subsequently, he spent a lot of time broodingly punching holes in the walls of private dark shafts beyond Lex's or anyone else's range of vision.

By the time Lex had filled his cart and headed towards the hub, Clark was dust-covered and filthy and as tense as any man that had systematically worked himself into a silent, foul temper. If it had been Lois he'd had issue with - - though honestly, he couldn't imagine himself upset at her for having anonymous sex - - she lived by the three date rule and she dated a lot - - she'd have bitched at him until he spilled whatever was eating at him and he'd have gotten it off his chest and saved himself from having it fester inside like some malignant growth.

Lex apparently liked to save his bitching for when Clark was in a good mood. Or maybe it was a guilty conscience that had kept him silent all day. But no, a guilty conscience would by necessity require having a conscience to begin with.

Regardless, Lex had fallen into as deep a silence as Clark during the span of a day that had seemed to last forever. But, Lex was a master at reading people and it wasn't as if Clark had been making efforts to hide his mood. So Lex had gone from wary glances his way, to scowling each time Clark came back from the hub, to finally the emotionless mask he wore when he'd gotten a handle on whatever issue was ticking him off and decided on a strategy to annihilate it.

He was pretending Clark didn't exist at the moment, pushing his full cart, one laborious step at a time up the incline towards the hub. Sweat made the shirt cling to his shoulders and the thin trousers to the backs of his thighs. The pale skin on the back of his head was sheened with it, making streaks in the film of rock and ore dust that covered everything down here.

In the hub, Lex turned in his cart, held out his wrist for the guard to scan his bracelet and register his chit, then drifted off to casually speak with a few of the loitering inmates before heading out. He made some casual attempt to brush off the accumulated dirt from his sleeves as he walked and stopped at one of the natural springs leaking out of the tunnel wall to rinse his hands. He gathered a handful afterward to drink, but there were too many men nearby, lurking near this particular spring in a main tunnel, for him to do more. Clark knew him well enough to know that he was probably aching to rinse the filth away.

It wasn't until they had almost reached the mess hall/commissary chamber that Clark noticed the sounds of disturbance. If he'd been paying more attention to the outside world and less to the one that revolved around Lex Luthor in his head, he might have heard the tumult long before stumbling upon it.

Men spilled from the entrance in a panic, even as others scrambled to push their way in. It took no enhanced hearing to discern the harsh roar of men engaged in carnage and the cries of others unwillingly caught in the midst of it. Lex's step faltered, even as Clark's sped up.

He shouldered his way through exiting men, and into the mess hall. The room surged with shifting bodies, men scuffling along the edges, turning on each other like fractious dogs in their efforts to push forward to better see the central conflict.

Clark separated two men in the midst of exchanging blows, simply snatching collars and tossing them in separate directions. He was taller than most, but he still needed to force his way into the howling crowd to see the two big men embroiled in furious combat.

Sweet and Kraiser. Kraiser the larger of the two by far, but Sweet's ferocity seemed to even the odds. Or would have if the side of Sweet's shirt weren't soaked with blood. Clark caught sight of a piece of sharpened metal, hand wrought into a weapon and blood covered on the floor near an overturned bench. If Kraiser who generally kept to himself, had used that - -had come in here and delivered what might have been a killing blow - - he'd been set to the task by the hand of another.

Clark ground his teeth and surged forward, shoving the two combatants away from each other with no gentle force. The crowd on either side was bowled over from the impacts of two separate big bodies. The hand he'd used to propel Sweet was wet with warm blood and Clark felt a veil of the same colored rage seep down across his vision. He spun, seeking out the true perpetrator of this deadly little brawl and found him, just inside the commissary door.

Lex met his eyes, muscle in his jaw twitching ever so slightly, before he turned and slipped out between the clusters of men observing from the safety of the outside tunnel.

Clark clenched his fists to stop the shaking, glared at Sweet's men who half supported their bleeding leader and snapped.

"Get him out of here. Now!" he roared the last and the men nearest him flinched, backing into each other a little in their efforts to distance themselves, sensing something in their midst maybe, that was more powerful than all of them combined and mightily pissed.

The guards behind their shielded windows were staring at the lot them in interest, the monotony of their day broken. They hadn't bothered to lift a hand to stop it. That pissed Clark off, too. If it wouldn't have risked the lives of every man in the room, he'd have smashed through the walls and dragged them out to deal with the clean up.

He saw Kraiser, who was bleeding from the nose and the mouth, slowly gaining his feet. Clark's lip curled in a reflexive snarl. He knew damned well what this man had gotten in payment for plain murder. He took a step towards him, despising him for it. But not so much as he despised Lex for commissioning it.

Lex who was the author of this, who had slipped out, hands as clean of blood as hands could be in this place. Just like he always slipped out from under the weight of culpability.

Clark changed direction. Two steps. Three. And he was running. Passing through cramped, carven tunnels in a blur. Zeroing in on that one familiar heartbeat like a predator to the scent of blood.

He was on Lex two, maybe three of his own heartbeats later, snaring his arms and spinning him into the tunnel wall with little enough care for human fragility. Lex gasped out breath, face fixed in a snarl of indignity, fighting pointlessly against Clark's grasp.

"You must be damned good, if all it takes to get a man to kill another for you is you sucking his dick." It was blunt and practically roared in Lex's face, but an afternoon of churning speculation topped by breaking up a bloody murder for hire, had shriveled up Clark's diplomacy.

"You're out of your mind." Lex twisted in his grip, so Clark tightened it, lifting Lex off his feet, pressing him back against the rock. Lex fought it, using feet and knees, even though he had to have known it was a useless waste of energy.

"I saw you," Clark spat, jerking him forward enough to shake him, before slamming him back against the rock. Lex let out an involuntary sound of pain. "I saw you, Lex. Coming out of the fissure this morning - - wiping your mouth after you'd paid for his services."

Lex's eyes widened for a fraction of a second, barely perceptible surprise, before he covered it.

"Deny it!" Clark yelled. "Tell me you didn't set Kraiser to kill Sweet."

"Of course I did, you self-righteous fuck," Lex yelled back at him, jamming his knee into Clark's crotch, which didn't hurt in the least, but did send undulating fingers of sheer sensation spinning along every nerve in his body. Clark pressed forward, flattening Lex against the wall, putting a stop to flailing lower extremities.

"What did you expect, that I'd just let it go?" Lex spat. "That I'd wait for him to get to me first? Or are you more upset at the idea that I bartered sexual favors to get the job done? What does it matter to you, Clark, what coin I use?"

The rushing in his ears was likely to deafen him. He could barely hear Lex's words over it. "It matters," he hissed. "Because I knew you were a calculating snake, but I didn't peg you for a whore as well."

Lex laughed at him, humorless and cold, and cut short when he had to wheeze for the breath that Clark was pressing out of him. Clark could feel the whole of his body against his, sinewy and hot and straining to resist the force Clark levered against it.

"Oh, come on, we're all whores for one thing or another," Lex sneered between the battle for breath. "But in this particular case, it wasn't sexual favors I was trading, you judgmental prig, it was the promise of power."

Clark didn't understand, too angry to pick up on half explained excuses.

"The tracks." Lex snapped at him. "Once we're gone - - and I have no intention of staying here longer than it takes to figure out a way around the system - - someone will need to take control of the upkeep and that person will have power on his hands. Get it? I promised Kraiser that job and an easy life afterwards for that favor. The fact that if Sweet took me out of the equation before I got the machinery working only made the idea of removing him all the more attractive."

"I wouldn't do your dirty work so you con someone else into it?" Murder was murder, one way or another and Clark couldn't condone it - - couldn't make the anger/tension/heat leak out of his body. Couldn't make himself loosen his hands or back away from the heat of Lex's body. His own vibrated with tension.

Lex rolled his head, eye to eye with Clark, toes inches from the floor. "What makes you angrier, Clark? Me arranging for Sweet to get a taste of his own medicine or the idea of me letting the messenger do dirty things to me in some dark corner as payment? Or is it maybe," He pressed forward, mouth against Clark's ear, breath hot and moist against his skin. "That it wasn't you I was doing those fictional dirty deeds with? If I'd have gone down on you Clark, would you have taken care of my problem for me?"

Clark felt himself jerk, involuntary motion of his hips as heat flooded that oh, so central area between pelvis and thighs. He steeped back, breathless with fury and indignation, glaring down at Lex who managed to keep his feet when Clark dropped him. Who stared up with amusement glinting in eyes that radiated lazy sex as surely as Clark's might radiate inferno. Then the gaze drifted down Clark's torso and there was no hiding the bulge that strained against Clark's trousers.

He was hard. Had been for some while now, he thought with a rising flood of heat. He felt it like a brand of betrayal against his belly, the throbbing need that transcended all common sense or moral value. That didn't give a damn about his indignation or his anger - - that perhaps even fed off the latter. He should have been embarrassed, but all he could feel was the heat of more violent emotion.

"I'd have protected you regardless. Without taking a life," he growled - - hoped it came out more a growl than a sob - - and turned away. Wanting to flee it - - needing to flee the cause - - who leaned there, pale and flushed and - - God - - no small bit aroused himself beneath the thin material of his trousers. Almost Clark took that first step that would carry him to the ends of the mines within seconds, safely away from doing something he'd regret, when Lex drawled.

"Running away? How un-Supermanly."

Clark swung around, clenching his fists.

"Denial's a bitch, isn't it?" Lex smiled at him, all serpent charm now that he was back on his own two feet, now that he had Clark on the run. "But then you've always been so good at it."

"Shut up," Clark whispered. Lex had no idea - - no notion how far across the line he'd already driven Clark. He couldn't or he wouldn't still be pushing, would he?

"Just like you've always been so good at lying - - to yourself as much as - -"

"Shut up!" Clark roared, control just gone and he lunged. Drove Lex back against the wall, the full weight of his body cutting the remark short, the hard press of his mouth stealing the strangled remnants of that last syllable. His tongue stabbed in, penetration that had nothing to do with the gentle intimacy one associated with the concept of a kiss. All he wanted was to shut Lex up, to drive that acerbic malice into hiding by force of will.

Lex made a muffled sound, protest maybe, but Clark didn't care. He grasped the sides of Lex's head, fingers clenched around the curve of a fragile skull, crowded Lex close against the wall, erection stabbing against Lex's belly as he tried to get closer still. Lex's fingers tangled in his shirt and there was the faintest sound of tearing threads as the sleeve separated from the shoulder.

Clark couldn't breath. He couldn't think. Anger and want and need mixed up in his head, a dark concoction that wasn't half so potent as the simple texture of the moist flesh inside Lex's mouth, the thick feel of his tongue, the taste of him and the scent of him so close Clark might as well be inside him. And God, his lips were soft - - softer than anything should be when the tongue they guarded was so sharp.

Lex's hands were under his shirt, nails raking invulnerable skin, sliding down between their bodies to grasp the head of Clark's cock. It slid, slick in his hand and Clark moaned, breaking the kiss long enough to gasp against the side of Lex's mouth. Lex said something but Clark wasn't entirely sure what, all his vaunted super senses overwhelmed by the simple rush of blood. His. Lex's.

He released his hold on Lex's head in favor of running his hands down his back, grabbing his ass and dragging him up, grinding them groin to groin.

"Ah - - God - -" Lex breathed, fingers tangling in Clark's hair, yanking hard enough to have pulled out hunks by the roots on anyone not of the bulletproof persuasion. He chased Clark back down, mouth on mouth, clever, demanding tongue. Legs wrapped around Clark's hips, rocking against his cock, fast and desperate. A mimicry of fucking that just wasn't enough.

Clark wanted the real thing. Wanted to rip interfering cloth aside and just drive up into Lex, to hear the sounds he'd make, to feel the way his taut body would flex around him. To own him in this one thing, even if in everything else Lex drove him to the edge of frustration and well past.

He lifted Lex higher, back against the wall - - all it would take was a finger ripping through the seam of the trousers and he'd have the access he craved. Hard. Fast. Relentless. He could taste it like the copper of blood on his tongue.

"Wait - -" Lex gasped, hands twisted in Clark's collar, eyes that same dark blue Clark had imagined they might be in the grasp of passion. "Not here - -"

Like Lex had a say. But the edge of not so distant sound got through the rushing beat of pulse in Clark's ears. There were men creeping through the tunnels here, so close to the central part of the mine, and likely to walk up upon something Clark would rather keep private. Burning need or no, public sex was not high on his list of lifetime achievements.

He wrapped an arm around Lex's waist, pressed another against the back of his head to protect from whiplash and flew. He barely slowed at the door the machine room, just turned mid-air and kicked it in and it slammed inwards, taking part of the frame and kicking up dust.

He was past it before the keening echo of its fall had reached the far corners of the room, against one of the smaller machine units, mouth back across Lex's before Lex could do more than suck in a breath of protest. Maybe not protest, because Lex's hands were busy, tugging at Clark's clothing, trying to shove Clark's shirt back off his shoulders and lift the snug undershirt all at once. Clark let him, pulling back long enough to shrug the undershirt over his head and toss it aside. Clothing was only a hindrance. He was already half out of his trousers, the flushed tip of his cock straining past the waistband. He shucked them down, ripping the drawstring in his haste.

Lex took in his nudity, eyes zeroing in on the jutting length of Clark's erection. His breath hitched a moment before he reached out, clever fingers brushing the slick head.

Clark caught his wrists, drawing his hands away, denying himself a touch that made his skin quiver. Wanting Lex naked and feeling no shame about it. Not now, when the only thing that mattered was satisfying needs too long ignored. He had enough coherency left to strip Lex of the shirts without ripping them to shreds, because, well, it wasn't like Lex had a closet full of replacements here. The trousers, Lex pushed down himself, damned and determined to keep his portion of control. Clark couldn't bring himself to care, faced with Lex naked before him. All sleek lines and lean muscle, pale skin and pink nipples going rapidly from small flat circles to pebbly nubs in the cool air. Cock long and pink. Perfect with no pubic hair to detract from the clean curve. And Clark couldn't breath again. Couldn't think again past the urgency between his legs.

He leaned down into Lex, mouth on the smooth juncture of his neck and shoulder, hands sliding down his back, clutching his ass. Lex shuddered at the first press of Clark's bare skin. Made a sound, low in his throat, as their cocks brushed past each other that burrowed into the thinking part of Clark's brain like some insidious parasite that he might never shake loose.

Foreplay was a nicety neither of them cared to acknowledge. Desperate urgency fueled by primal need, by age-old resentment and years of power play that had gained neither of them solid ground.

This was solid ground. Lex tearing at his skin with teeth and nails that made no marks, rocking against his body, the slide of his cock searing Clark like no other physical heat was capable of.

"Stop fucking around and do it," Lex growled against his neck, teeth bearing down on his jugular. A normal man might have found himself with a gushing wound. All it did for Clark was make his balls tighten and his cock jerk between them.

Clark saw the little bottle of oil on the machine behind them. Placed neatly alongside the brush and the folded blanket and stripes of grease and rust stained cloth. Lex was nothing if not tidy. He made a grab for it. Fumbled with the cap and spilled the scant remaining liquid on his palm.

Faster than thought, he flipped Lex around, a hand between his shoulder blades pressing him down against the cold surface of the dormant machine. Lex's hands bore down on at the edges, elbows up, full body shudder, muscles in his back twitching, flexing. All the control in the world, but he couldn't control this and it was like raw meat to a growling something inside Clark.

He swiped his hand down the length of his cock, eyes fluttering a little at his own touch. Lined himself up and pushed in.

Lex's breathing went shallow and fast, eyes slamming shut on an aborted gasp, fingers curling and nails scratching against pitted metal. Clark could feel his body tensing around him, trying to contract around a fleshy intruder.

Clark eased in. One long, slow push which buried him to the hilt, surrounded by heat and tightness and Lex. He shuddered, mesmerized by the sensation, by the oddly empowering sight of his thatch of black pubes pressed against the firm curve of smooth buttocks.

He spread his big hand out, across the small of Lex's back where the flesh lay thin over the dip of his spine, satin smooth and pale against the bronze of Clark's sun kissed skin.

"Move, damn you. Move," Lex hissed, face against pitted metal, heart thudding so fast Clark could feel it fluttering beneath flesh and muscle and bone.

That command Clark was willing to obey without reservation.

Clark laid hands on his hips, holding him steady, and withdrew. Long clean stroke almost to the tip, before he thrust back in to the welcoming clasp of quivering muscle and heat. Over and over, until Lex was crying out nonsense sounds that bordered on sobs. The only intelligible word that got through was Clark's name on the tail end of a gasp.

"Clark." And he'd never said it like that before, friend or foe, and Clark wanted to hear it uttered just like that again and again. Wanted to fuck Lex into a submission he'd never offer by any other means.

He shut his eyes and rocked his hips, thrusting fast and hard. Leaned over Lex's curved back and fastened his mouth across the back of his neck. Tasted sweat and the grit of dust, the subtle intoxicating flavor of Lex.

God, he was tight. So hot and tight - - clenching around him like a velvet fist. Clark's breath caught in his chest, stalled on some invisible knot and he teetered over the edge, mind blanking at encroaching climax, instinct taking over, rutting until his balls tightened and he shuddered, spending himself into Lex's body.

He could move mountains - - had in fact - - and yet he collapsed, strengthless across Lex's back, slipping from his body still, amazingly half hard.

He couldn't quite stop trembling afterwards, or maybe that was Lex. Hard to tell, with bodies melded together. Clark slid down the side the machine, taking Lex with him. Saw dribbling wetness, thick and opaque on the metal, evidence of Lex's completion.

Lex had come and Clark hadn't even noticed. He felt a stab of guilt over that neglect, that it hadn't occurred to him in his frenzy, to take a care for Lex's satisfaction. Though Clark's affairs over the years had been few and far between, he had always been considerate of his lovers.

Then again lover was about as far from accurate as any term he might use to describe Lex. This hadn't been about love or mutual respect. It had been a battle, as sure as any conflict between them ever had. He wasn't sure who'd won it.

Maybe Lex after all, because Clark had lost something he'd always valued in himself - - self-control. Lex had always had the canny ability to find and exploit his weaknesses. Clark wondered if he regretted it this time.

He wasn't entirely sure if he did. Maybe after the sex haze faded, he'd be able to muster proper distress.

"Are you okay?" he had to ask after a while, because Lex was lax and silent against him. Slack limbs, sweat silk skin, the smell of sex like cologne clinging to him. To them both.

"It's reasonable, what I did." Lex said softly, the weight of exhaustion in his voice, the faintest plaintive edge. Strange to hear it from Lex, who always went to lengths to hide such frailties. "There's no law here. No authority that's concerned with anything other than the collection of ore. In this place, its kill or be killed and no one cares except for you."

"You should care," Clark said adamantly. "How do you get to the point where you don't care?"

He felt Lex's hand curl into a fist against his hip, felt his body tense and tremble. He made an effort to shove away and Clark loosened his arms to let him. "God," Lex hissed sprawled on the unforgiving rock of the floor. "How you can stand to live in a world that's so fucking black and white? Are you even aware that shades of grey exist?"

Clark felt his jaw tighten as Lex fumbled for his pants with shaking hands. Lex's shades of grey had turned towards the darker side of the spectrum years ago, so he had no business lecturing Clark on the virtues of delineation.

"Why are you even here?" Lex yelled at him, before Clark had the chance to gather thoughts and properly voice a response. He jerked violently at the band of metal encircling his wrist, trying to wrench it past the jutting protrusion of bones were thumb and hand began. "What the fuck do you expect me to do, Clark, just lay down and take whatever indignities this place hands out waiting for you to get fed up and leave? - - which you will eventually when the notion of the earth struggling to get along without you becomes too much to bear - - and that'll be the end of it."

Clark gaped, understanding dawning. All this time Lex had been waiting for that moment when Clark would abandon him. When Clark would take the easy way out, leave this place behind and sacrifice Lex in the process. All these years and he still didn't understand that the black and white world view he accused Clark of having like it was some shortcoming - - was the same thing that didn't allow him to pick and choose the lives he saved. He could no more abandon Lex than he could shed his own skin.

"It's not going to happen, Lex." He said quietly, earnestly, sitting naked on the floor next to the machine he'd just had sex against. All his anger, all his frustration had drained out somewhere along the way, absorbed maybe into the recesses of Lex's body. "I'm not going to leave and let you suffer the consequences. No matter how long it takes. Whether you like it or not, you've got me and you've got my protection and that's not going to change. But I won't stand by while men try to kill each other - - at your behest or on their own - - and you know that. And let's say that I get that you're not just going to take what this places throws at you - - then you have to get that about me."

Lex stood there, shirt in his hands, staring at Clark, eyes wide and dark and precariously unshuttered. His chest rose and fell with harsh breaths, upset and making no attempt to hide it. There were marks on his skin, the blossoming imprints of too strong fingers. Probably more below the trousers, on his hips and buttocks and Clark fought off the urge to look and see. Next time - - next time he'd take more time. Slower, gentler, so he could properly explore pale, perfect flesh, properly premeditate where to leave marks.

Next time? He drew a sharp breath, alarmed at the path errant thoughts had led. Like there was such a thing as next time between them. Like this had been anything more than men pushed to the breaking point and past it.

Lex pulled on his shirt, whatever had held him immobile and staring dissipating. "I'm going to the grotto. And I'm going to get supper. And I don't need your protection."

Clark stared at his back, at the faint stiffness of his gait and thought that Lex absolutely did need that protection, but maybe not so much tonight, when the prison mines were no doubt still reeling from the unexpected clash of giants. With Sweet holed up and injured, it was likely a very good night to visit the grotto and walk about unmolested.




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