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Chasing Redemption

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 5

 

Clark went and got a cart. Took it back the fast way, flying through the tunnels with it, once he'd cleared the area of active mining. He'd stopped on the way to the hub and washed off obvious sex residue at one of the natural springs. It had been a good thing Lex had demanded he shed his clothing, otherwise he'd have had to make another trip to the grotto for clothes washing purposes.

Lex was waiting for him outside the machine room, a little damp from washing up himself and pacing impatiently. Clark grinned idiotically and sat the cart down. Lex ignored him, going for the cart. If there was tech of any sort in the undercarriage Clark had never noticed. There was a hand break that kept the carts immobile while they were being loaded and off loaded and that was it. Even x-ray vision revealed nothing more high-tech than wheels on a chassis. If the carts were indeed capable of moving under their own power, then it had to be all due to the track.

Lex squared his shoulders and released the hand break. There was the low squeal of ungreased wheels and the cart lurched slowly backwards. Lex stepped out of the way, eyes gleaming in triumph.

"I knew it," he said softly.

"It's going the wrong way." Clark observed.

"I'm aware," Lex paced the cart, no difficult task since it was crawling along at a pace a man could match with an ambling walk, and pulled the hand break. He crouched down, peering at the section of the undercarriage where the hand break emerged. There was a rusty lever about four inches long, low enough that a man might move it with his foot. It didn't budge when he tried to shift it.

He looked up at Clark and Clark squatted down next to him to wiggle the thing free of the rust that had welded it into place.

"Don't snap it off," Lex warned.

Clark gave him a look. You'd think at this point, Lex would be very well aware of just how much control Clark had with his hands.

"Touchy," Lex chided, apparently catching the offense. "With a wrench and too much pressure, I could break it."

Clark quirked a brow and with a little shower of rust, worked the lever free. He shifted it back and forth a few times to loosen it up, then put it in the left position. Lex released the hand break and the cart lurched forward, rattling down the tracks in the direction of the active mines.

They followed it, walking in its wake like a pair of parents trailing the lurching path of a toddler.

"It's a mix of high tech with non-existent tech," Lex observed. "I would guess the tracks are electro-magnetic and we could probably sit a toy wagon on the rails and they'd move it as long as the components were metal. Some of the carts will need maintenance. But that can be done on an individual basis. The repair of the tracks will need a more organized effort."

The cart rolled to a stop almost on cue at a break in the rail. Lex allowed himself a smile, so pleased with himself he practically exuded it in waves. You'd think he'd managed the takeover a rival corporation or a small country.

It was ridiculously sexy. It was baffling that he'd managed to ignore the extent of Lex's obvious attraction for - - how many years - - he did some mental math and came up with a lot. If denial was a superpower, Clark figured he'd had it in spades and never realized.

While Clark was basking in newfound appreciation, Lex was moving rubble from the damaged section of track. He stalled on a big chunk and cast a narrow glance up at Clark.

"Am I interrupting something? Because, really, if you'd rather continue on with the stroll, maybe catch a bit of breakfast before we go to work, I'm sure this can wait." There was enough poisonous sarcasm laced in that statement to deflate an elephant sized reverie.

"Oh," Clark said. And toed the big rock over the rail and off to the side. Then in a flurry of motion cleared the rest. One of the rails was fine, but the other had been twisted off the track by the force of the cave in. It was a simple matter of bending it back in place and locking the end back together with the interlocking grip of the neighboring rail.

Almost immediately the cart creaked to life again, butting up against Clark's shoulder as he knelt over the track.

He stood up and watched it trundle off with a grin. "This is really going to work." And a lot of men's lives were going to become easier.

"You doubted?" Lex asked dryly, but it was belied by the smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"Maybe a little," Clark admitted, caught Lex before he could start to trail the cart and kissed him. Celebration over success was a good enough reason. He splayed his fingers over the sides of Lex's head holding him there, while Lex stood and allowed it, opening his mouth and letting Clark in and meeting him, not entirely passive, not entirely engaged.

Clark let him go and looked down. Lex's cheeks were a little flushed, a glimmer of something that he couldn't quite cover, under an otherwise carefully neutral expression.

"Are you done?" Lex inquired and for a second Clark felt the prick the question was designed to inflict. Then higher reasoning kicked in and he recognized it for what it was - - Lex ill at ease and looking for the upper hand that would grant him the illusional comfort of being in control.

Clark was tired of battling Lex. He wasn't interested in upper hands anymore, just even footing.

"No." He kissed him again, harder this time, hands on Lex's shoulders pushing him back against the tunnel wall while the cart rolled further away down the track.

It was better this time, Lex's fingers tangled tight in Clark's shirt, Lex's body pressed up close against his. The sort of kiss that started off with the fervor of excitement and melted into something slower and explorative.

Clark liked kissing Lex. He liked the feel of Lex's body against his - - he might go so far as to say loved, adored, craved. He liked Lex when Lex wasn't arranging terrible things - - might even go so far as to say loved. Had to be love, because there had been a lot of times over the years when he hadn't liked Lex at all, but he'd never been able to shake him from his mind - - never been able to avoid the inevitable pang of disappointment when some new scheme was unfurled - - some plot hatched. And what was it they said about love and that fine line between it and hate?

They'd straddled that line an awful lot. Crossed over so many times that it was a wonder either one of them had a clue what unsullied emotion tasted like. Clark knew. Lex might have had things all twisted up in his head - - Lex probably did, considering the people he'd let get close to him over the years - - but Clark knew what it felt like to love, even if he might not have been sharp enough to realize it for what it was some of the time.

He pulled back slowly, Lex following him with soft, wet lips on his jaw, lashes at half-mast, eyes unfocused beneath. Clark smiled down. It took a moment for Lex's gaze to lose the haze and resharpen. Clark's grin widened. He hadn't realized he'd had the skill to scatter Lex's wits. It was a better power than some of his others by far.

Lex lifted a brow and shifted against him, fingers loosening in his shirt and idly smoothing out the wrinkles. "Don't you need to go take in a little sunlight?"

Clark sighed. Rationally he knew he ought to, but he'd been distracted by other needs an awful lot this morning. And there was more track to deal with that Lex couldn't fix by himself and he didn't know what might be waiting in the mines if Sweet or his gang had decided to go on a binge to make up for yesterday's embarrassment.

"I'm okay. It'll be a while yet, before I'm down to running on fumes."

"Hmm. See that you don't reach that point," Lex's suggestions tended to sound like orders. Funny how that used to annoy Clark. Now, he just sort of wanted to kiss him again.

Lex slipped out from between him and the wall before he could put want into action and started striding down the tracks after the distant cart. Clark grinned again and trailed after.

He fixed another couple of small breaks on the way in, but came up short at a very wide section of track missing entirely. He knew where stocks of rails and timber were though.

"I don't want you to repair all the breaks on your own," Lex said while Clark was sorting the pile of timbers he'd flown in to fix this one in particular. He paused to look up at Lex, who was pacing with pent up nervous energy along the tunnel wall.

"If you do all the work," Lex clarified. "There'll be no reason for the inmates to unify under a common goal. Simply reaping the benefits won't do a thing to alleviate the power men like Sweet hold over this place."

"Not that you're wrong," Clark picked up a timber in each hand and dropped them into place with twin thumps. "But I never thought you were much into the whole 'power to the people' philosophy."

Lex lifted a brow. "I'm not. I'm a strong believer that power should be in the hands of the capable few. I'm just not usually lumped in with the ignorant masses and I'm finding the role reversal tedious. So stop giving me grief. And for God's sake go get some sun after you finish this and give me the time to talk a few of the more reasonable inmates into coming up here and seeing the possibilities."

That didn't even have the veneer of a suggestion. Clark lifted a brow of his own. He wasn't particularly worried about Lex heading into the active mines on his own, because he could be there in a second if he heard the suggestion of trouble. It was just that, monumental changes of heart aside, it rankled the part of him that insisted that Lex was still Lex no matter how good in bed they were, and jumping at his orders wasn't necessarily a good precedent to set.

He nodded regardless, not entirely certain it wasn't simple stubbornness talking. Old habits were likely going to be hard to break, no matter how badly he wanted to form new ones with Lex. And the forming of those new ones was going to take effort from both sides.

"Be careful. I'll be listening out, but don't let that stop you from calling me if you get a bad feeling. We don't know what sort of trouble might be stirred up today if Sweet's back on his feet."

Lex waved a negligent hand and walked off down the shaft. Clark took a breath, mind striking up an uncomfortable resemblance between Lex and Lois. She tended to exhibit the very same lack of concern when walking blithely into possible danger. The difference was, Lois wouldn't hesitate to scream for help when the situation went beyond her ability to control. He doubted Lex would ever willingly admit a problem was beyond him, even if it were beating him senseless.

Sight was a problem down here with the density of ore in the rock, but he wouldn't let Lex out of his hearing while he in the populated section of mine.

Clark finished the repair he'd started on the missing section of track. He probably could hunt down and repair the whole of the track on this level of the mine in a few days time if he tried, but even if Lex's motives were not entirely altruistic, he did have a valid point. Getting the men involved that had to live and work down here for the possible duration of their lives would serve a greater purpose. Unity was fine and good, but giving them a hand in the bettering of their own lives and a goal to work towards would be just as useful.

He headed for the upshaft, but the world outside was still overcast and the light was minimal at best. Water still trickled down the sides of the chimney, but it wasn't a deluge like yesterday. Run off probably from the recent storm, or the result of fine showers.

But grey, filtered light was better than no light at all, so he sat on the little ledge he'd made for a long while, listening to the steady beat of Lex's heart, the rush of his pulse, the murmur of sound around him. If Clark focused, he might hear the individual words or the clink of axes or the pad of footsteps, but eavesdropping on conversations seemed more intrusive than simply listening to the rhythm of a heart, and easy as it might be, Clark tried hard to avoid the invasion of personal boundaries. But, if Lex called his name, he'd pick up on that, attuned to certain keywords from certain familiar voices.

He descended from the shaft, feeling no more energized than when he'd ascended. He felt a faint weary, strain at the back of his neck that hadn't been there before - - or he hadn't noticed, distracted by other things. Aches and pains were not a common thing with him, but he wasn't entirely unfamiliar with the sensation. Even a yellow sun enhanced Kryptonian could push himself beyond his body's limits. Or deprive himself too long of those sustaining yellow rays.

He hadn't lied to Lex when he'd said he wasn't down to running on fumes yet, but he was nowhere near full power. If it came to moving any mountains down here, he'd be hard pressed to accomplish the task.

Another few weeks though, and he might start to worry.

 


 

Lex was on his way back through the outlying tunnels when Clark found him. He wasn't alone. A group of about a half dozen inmates walked in his wake, wary eyed and sullen at having been talked away from the endless collection of ore. Keever was among them, along with several of the men Clark usually saw in his company. And head and shoulders among the rest was Kraiser. The big man sported a few new cuts and bruises on the face, and his ham sized hands were scuffed and torn around the knuckles, suggesting he'd already dealt with repercussions from the failed attempt to carry out Lex's little hit.

Apparently Lex was not above proffering payment for attempted, but unaccomplished tasks, since he'd included the big inmate in this initial presentation of the operational rail.

Clark slowed far enough down the shadowy tunnel that the men accompanying Lex wouldn't see his deceleration from super speeds and strolled up the shaft to meet them. Eyes widened regardless at his appearance from a direction that most of these men had probably never ventured. But they recognized him, and he had garnered a bit of reputation among them - - and not of the bad sort - - so that faces relaxed and tension eased somewhat at his presence. The only one who still looked less than pleased at Clark's company was Kraiser and that more than likely because the big man had gotten a personal taste of just how far beyond human - - or humanoid as the case might be - - Clark's strength really was.

"Kal-el," Keever said. "You 're in on this crazy talk?"

"I am." Clark cast a glance at Lex, but Lex's expression didn't falter. "And it's not crazy."

"As we can all see if we keep moving," Lex added and walked on past Clark.

The inmates shuffled after. Clark fell back to walk near Kraiser and the big man tensed, casting him wary looks from under his thick brow.

"Is Sweet on his feet again, or did you tangle with some of his cronies?" Clark asked.

He heard the audible sound of knuckles popping as Kraiser clenched his fists, but after a few moments of walking, the big inmate answered. "Not Sweet."

"They worse off than you?"

The edge of Kraiser's wide mouth twitched. He nodded. Clark supposed if Lex had been looking for the best choice of independent muscle to help safeguard the rail system once he and Clark were gone, he couldn't have found better than Kraiser.

Eventually they reached the last section of repaired track where the mine cart sat immobile with its hand break on. Lex walked up next to it, and turned to face the wary men. Clark could see him slipping smoothly into orator mode even before he opened his mouth to speak.

"We live a harsh life here. We kill ourselves for scraps of ore and then compound it trying to get it back to trade for a chit that barely buys food enough to sustain us.

"What of it?" someone grumbled, a man no doubt restless to get back to that back breaking work.

Lex nodded at him, ever the attentive speaker - - Clark had seen him woo crowds of hostile press with a few - - outwardly - - heartfelt declarations. He continued smoothly on. "And in addition to all that hardship, honest hardworking men then have to contend with the gangs."

A few men muttered softly, agreeing with that despite the fact that none of them yet understood why they'd been brought here.

Lex waved a hand around, at rough stone walls and low dark ceilings, at dust speckled gloom that the few working light panels barely illuminated. "The initial intention of the people who built this place was not to break the backs of the men who worked it. The current caretakers are not the originals and either they found these mines in the sorry state they're in and had no interest in repairing technology that would make our lives and our work easier, or their goal is simply our misery. I tend to lean towards the first theory. They're in the business of gathering ore for one purpose or another and hindering their workforce seems disadvantageous."

"What's your point?" Keever asked. "Doesn't change the fact that we've work to do, if we want to eat tonight."

"That's my point," Lex smiled. "There are miles of tunnels and most of you are forced to dig a good distance from the hub. It takes as long to push your ore back as it does to mine it. Some men - - the old and the weak - - are incapable of even making that trek back with a full cart on their own and are then too exhausted to eat the food their single chit gains them."

They shifted restlessly, sullen at that basic truth. Lex liked to play orator, but Clark thought if he didn't get to the nitty gritty soon he was going to loose this particular crowd.

"It doesn't have to be like that," Lex said, maybe picking up on that too, then he paused with the dramatic effect of a consummate salesman and released the cart's hand break and stood there radiating satisfaction as the thing started rolling slowly past him towards the gathered inmates.

They gaped, moving off the track and out of its way as it trundled slowly past up an obvious incline. It came to a stop ten yards down where one of the rails was dislocated from the track.

"Electro magnetic?" Kraiser asked, the first to venture towards the cart. Lex lifted a brow and inclined his head and Clark had to remind himself that like them, these men had probably been snatched out of lives that included more than the relentless grind of mindless labor.

"There are sealed power distribution rooms, scattered throughout the mine, " Lex said. "That have been left unattended and unmaintained for at the least, decades. We've gotten the one on this level operational, but the tracks themselves need a great deal of repair before the network is fully functional. That's where you come in."

Lex went on, and Clark stopped paying as much attention to what he was saying, as he did watching him say it. Even in the worst of times, when the animosity between them had been at its high point, Lex had never failed to fascinate him when he spoke. The smooth velvet of his voice, the subtle gives in body language that you had to know him - - really know him - - to decipher how he honestly felt about whatever it was he was saying. Oh, he could be talking about the proper way to peel turnips and sound engaged, or explaining just how the newest LexCorp killer technology was going to make the methods of modern day warfare obsolete and sound like the biggest philanthropist on the planet - - and nobody would ever know different if they hadn't known him before all the facades went up. All the armor that he wore so damned deftly.

Clark knew. Clark knew the little signs, the little motions of the hand or the flash in the eyes that signaled the passion was heartfelt. It was there now and it was heartening to see it in the depths of this place, engaged by a project that wouldn't just make Lex's life easier but the full population of this dreary prison.

He leaned against the wall and watched Lex direct the gathered inmates in righting the misaligned rail. As soon as it was in place the cart started moving again, and the real implications of what this might mean for them began to dawn in their eyes.

They wanted to see the energy distribution room, but Lex's trust only went so far and he was by nature protective of the things that gave him advantage. Eventually, he promised, when he was sure of their dedication to the project. They were too entranced by the prospect of live tracks to take much issue with his secrecy. Besides, Clark supposed, it was likely some of them, the ones that had been here the longest and explored the boundaries of their prison, might have come upon the sealed doorways already. It was only a matter of connecting the dots to assume those great doors hid the internal workings of the place.

Clark trailed after as Lex led his little group down the track in the wake of the steadily rolling mining cart, talking about the need for discretion where their jailors were concerned, and the wisdom of keeping men like Sweet, who benefited from the exhaustion of those weaker than them, from interfering in the attempts to revitalize the mining system.

Lex had probably already hashed out all the details in his head and doled them out in the form of subtle suggestions that these men might latch onto and take for their own.

It was long walk back to the active mine and they outpaced the cart, at a section of track obscured by the rubble of a years old ceiling collapse. A dozen more breaks were found before they'd walked a quarter of a mile and the enthusiasm began to falter.

"There's too much ground to cover," one man complained. "Miles and miles and miss one break and the whole thing might not work. "

"Then we don't miss any breaks," Lex said smoothly, that edge to his voice that brooked no arguments.

"How will we find the time to repair tracks and meet our quota both?" Keever asked.

"We work together and we organize," Lex said. "And those that can take up the slack, will. For the greater good." He cast a meaningful look at Kraiser.

By the time they reached the active mines, where the shapes of men could be seen moving through the dust filled shadows and the echo of picks striking rock made a discordant melody always at the edge of perception, Lex had managed to wrangle a loose agreement for the word to be subtly spread among other inmates.

Lex moved towards the hub, but stopped short at actually commandeering a cart. Instead, turning and walking back down a different tunnel at a steady pace. Clark walked with him, waiting for Lex to voice a purpose or a destination.

"Find out," Lex said after covering a good deal of track. "If they have anything to write on and with at the commissary."

"All right," Clark agreed. "What are you doing?"

Lex kept walking, pausing at a section of dislodged track, then moving past. "Counting steps."

"Oh." Lex was mapping out the layout of the mine in his head. A logical attempt for a man who wanted to organize the repair of miles of twisting, intersecting mine track. A daunting task to accomplish simply relying on memory.

The writing materials would come in handy, but to get them - - if they were even available - - he'd need chits. He'd need chits to get food for the both of them, because Lex showed no signs of veering from his present goal of taking stock of the state of the mine as a whole. Only problem was, Clark wasn't willing to let Lex wander the deep dark corners of the mine alone. There were too many dangers for a man preoccupied with things other than his own safety for Clark to trust to fickle good luck.

"I'll see if I can get something for you to jot all this down, but I can't do it and worry about you at the same time."

Lex frowned, stopped dead, his count clearly interrupted. He gave Clark the sort of look generally reserved for underlings who'd tempted fate and dared to inconvenience him. Clark had been on the receiving end of that look an awful lot over the years. It hadn't had the power to affect him since he'd been in his teens.

"Yeah, I know," Clark said before Lex could launch into a tirade about not wanting or needing Clark's protection for the umpteenth time. "You're all fine and dandy on your own - - but come on, even if you were home, when's the last time you even went out for a breath of fresh air without some sort of security shadowing you?"

Lex lifted a brow, silent for a beat, maybe trying to come up with an answer to that wasn't a flat out lie. "There's a difference, " he finally said airily. "Between engendering the sort of reputation that goes hand in hand with constant security details and actually being able to survive without it."

"Oh, so the body guards are just an ego thing to boost your street cred? All those kidnapping and assassination attempts and the various other violence that follows you around are no big deal?"

"Just like crossing the street." Lex said with a tight, less than amused smile. "And just so we're clear, most of my security measures had more to do with dealing with the bullshit you and the justice League flung my way than random psychos with access to high powered rifles."

"Right," Clark rolled his eyes. "Because we have nothing better to do than harass you."

"Finally, you admit it. Where are witnesses and recorders when you need them?"

Clark lifted a brow of his own. "Are you flirting with me?"

That surprised Lex into a snort of laughter. He started walking again and Clark paced after, thumbs hooked in the waist band of his trousers, feeling rather proud of himself.

"So that's what all the denunciations and evil schemes and the kryptonite powered lasers have been about - - you trying to get my attention?"

"Yes, I've been secretly pining for you all these years." Lex said dryly.

Clark's step faltered in sudden realization. It made sense in a twisted sort of way. "You have, haven't you?"

Lex opened his mouth. Shut it and there were things going on behind his eyes, but God knew what they were. "You never were any good at picking up on the subtle sarcasms, were you, Clark?"

"Yeah, and you were always really good at covering your truths in them. I'll admit it if you do - - I spent a lot of years fighting with you because it was easier than admitting what I really felt."

Lex snorted again, and kept moving, apparently not willing to admit to any such thing. But Clark knew - - Clark had that sort of gut feeling he got in the midst of crisis sometimes that edged him towards the right course of action. It very rarely failed him. And there were too many things over the years that pointed to just that. Little things - - little chances Lex let slide on those occasions when he'd had Superman at his mercy. And Clark had thought it had just been good luck on his part or bad timing on Lex's.

He grinned, feeling the distinct urge to whistle.

"Don't you have something better to do?" Lex asked. "Ore to mine? Other people's business to interfere in? The helpless and the weak to play savior to?"

"I tell you what," Clark said, Lex's derision not bothering him in the least. "Why don't you get a guide that knows the mines? Someone like Kraiser, who's probably been all over?"

"Someone like Kraiser who would make a suitable watchdog, you mean?"

"Well, yeah. Something like that."

"See and here I thought you were jealous of his intentions toward me."

Clark winced recalling the rather vivid images that had been going through his head involving just that. "Was it that obvious?"

Lex lifted a dubious brow and was generous enough not to elaborate.

"Fine," he said after a moment. "I could use someone who knows the mine layout intimately. I'd guess Kraiser's generosity will only go so far, though. It might take a load of ore or two for his time."

"That, I can do."

And he did. It cost him the promise of two servings of supper, which was little enough cost for the deterrent the big inmate might prove towards casual threat to Lex. Clark kept an ear out nonetheless and spent that day and the next few juggling the mining ore from those deep, rich veins where no normal man could reach and removing the sort of major obstructions from tracks that might take a crew of men with only pickaxes weeks to clear.

Lex began a complex schematic on the broad, flat wall across from the flywheel generator of the mine system. It started from the hub and branched out as he mapped out the terrain with little symbols for breaks in the tracks and other little symbols for areas that had been repaired. It was amazingly concise considering he was working mostly from memory, writing material being one of those items that their jailors had not thought fit to make available to the denizens of their prison.

Lex made due. Lex was amazingly adaptive. He organized a growing group of sullen men and set them to a purpose. There were incidents, of course, because the mines, as most prisons tended, had more than one faction of malcontents, and even though Sweet's gang seemed to be lying low, there were others that took offense at the fledgling solidarity of the less violent population at large. Clark stopped what altercations he could, but even Superman couldn't be everywhere at once or hear everything that happened and these men were good at silent assaults in the depths of cramped, dark spaces.

But Lex was pleased with the progress and Lex was less concerned about the everyday occurrence of prison violence than Clark. It was the nature of man, he said, when Clark complained, after finding a man half beaten to death, for the strong to dominate the weak, and simple ideology wasn't going to change the fact, no matter how passionate the belief, only an equal or greater strength. It was the sort of Lex-statement that annoyed Clark to no ends. That cold pragmatism that Lex used to justify so many of his less than legitimate projects over the years.

"What feelings?" Lex caught Clark in the midst of clinging to the vestiges irritation that the 'nature of man' comment had spawned.

It was late enough that the light panels had dimmed, and Lex's fingers were black with the charcoal he was using to sketch out his map on the wall. After almost a week it was a massive, complex thing.

"Huh?" Clark looked up from his study of the thread count in the knees of his trousers, having less constructive things to do after a long day of gathering ore and repairing track. He'd gotten fairly little light that morning and he could feel the novel taint of strain behind his eyes.

Lex wiped his hands on the hips of his own pants before canting his head questioningly at Clark.

"You said you've spent years denying what you truly felt for me. What exactly did you mean?" Lex asked it in the same tone he might have used to inquire after directions. But there was a focus to his eyes that subtly screamed bone deep interest.

Clark did some mental scrambling, trying to recall exactly what it was he'd said. He sighed, patently amazed on the one hand that Lex had held on to that close to a week before bothering to broach the subject, hardly surprised at all on the other at Lex's ability to compartmentalize so thoroughly. It was encouraging though, that it had been lingering all this time, at the back of Lex's mind - - or the front - - or who knew the hell where in the incomprehensible snarl of Lex's thought processes.

Clark shrugged, not always eloquent with words and not wanting to screw this up because the fact that Lex had asked was pretty amazing.

"If it was that cut and dry, I'd have figured it out ages ago," he admitted. "Hell, I didn't figure out that the reason I had such bad luck with women was that I liked guys until I was twenty-five, so don't accuse me as being the sharpest knife in the block when it comes to knowing what it is I want."

"I would never," Lex said dryly and Clark knew the edge of a wry insult when he heard it. He smirked and leaned back against the wall, elbows on knees and stared up at Lex.

"But you," Clark sighed, moving his eyes up to the ceiling, trying to figure out himself what it was that he was trying to relate. "One way or another, I never could get you off my mind. God, I loved you when I was a kid. I used to think it was just fascination or idol worship because I was this hick kid and you were - - well you. It was safe relegating it to that - - but chances are most normal, heterosexual kids didn't have the sort of disturbing dreams I did about their male mentors."

Lex lifted a brow. "You considered me a mentor?"

Clark grinned. "Well, for the first year or so we knew each other - - yeah. I really looked up to you, you know? You were the coolest person to ever hit Lowell County."

"Likely the stare of Kansas," Lex surmised. "You had wet dreams about me?"

It was amazing that even now, years away from that high school kid who blushed at the public mention of sex, he could still manage a bit of embarrassment talking about it. "Yeah."

"And the years after Smallville," Lex asked. "When we were having regular - - differences of opinion - - did you still have them?"

Clark let out a breath. "I think - -yeah. They weren't always - -nice."

"I imagine not. The question is, did you wake up hard? With sticky sheets?"

Hell, Clark was half hard now, with Lex just asking the question. He took another shuddery breath and nodded. "Every time."

Lex's lips curled up. He moved forward, the roll of hips, the glint of eyes drawing Clark's attention like a gravitational pull. He reached Clark, stood over him until Clark got the message and stretched out his legs, then Lex sank down, hands sliding up to clench the edges of Clark's prison issue shirt.

"So for years you've been lusting after me and just didn't want to admit it?"

It was more than lust, Clark was sure of that, but with Lex's ass grinding down against his cock, and Lex's mouth close to the edge of his own, it was hard to do more than nod.

"I can relate to that," Lex flicked a button loose of its hole one handed, the other still wrapped in cloth. He caught Clark's lower lip between his own. Clark gasped, hands hovering over Lex's back, coming to rest on his hips.

"Lust is a powerful thing." Lex drew back, hand on Clark's chest beneath the open shirt, thumbnail grazing his nipple. "More so if it only has imagination to fuel it. Fantasy is almost always more potent than reality."

"Almost always?" Clark ground up a little, fingers tightening on Lex's hips.

Lex drew in a little hissing breath, before he bared his teeth. "Almost. There are exceptions."

"Good to know."

"Did you think I was talking about you?" Lex arched a brow, twisting Clark's nipple between thumb and forefinger. It would have hurt a human man. It just sent little shivers of pleasure through Clark's nerve endings.

"You know, when I was seventeen that comment would have really stung," Clark shifted abruptly, flipping Lex onto his back upon the blankets on the floor. "Now, I know damn well how full of bullshit you are."

Lex looked up at him, head framed by Clark's elbows. A faint smile curled his lips, a dare sparkling in his blue eyes. "You're sure of yourself. Why don't you see if you can prove that point?"

Clark grinned down. Backing down from a challenge was no more in his nature than it was in Lex's.

He slid down Lex's body and proceeded to prove that point.


It was easy to lose himself in Lex when Lex felt so good under his hands, when the sounds Lex made breached the part of him so much less invulnerable than the outside shell. Easy to forget past sins when Lex gasped out his name, voice broken and hoarse and wrapped himself around him like Clark was the only corporeal thing in an incorporeal world. It was okay if the shields eased down again after the sex, because Lex had let him in long enough during the act to reveal no small portion of his own vulnerabilities.

Even this place, this terrible, dismal place, lost some of its dankness in the afterglow of really good sex. If it was this good on a cold stone floor with only a threadbare blanket for comfort, Clark wasn't sure if he'd be able to survive the experience doing it on an actual bed, with clean sheets and soft pillows.

Clark shifted onto his back and grinned up at the ceiling shadows, that delicious lethargy that came with extended orgasm seeping through his veins like dark chocolate. A good long nap seemed a very attractive thing right about now. Or a sandwich. A really thick pastrami on rye like they made at the little deli down the street from the Planet - -

"What?" Lex asked, overheated skin brushing Clark's shoulder, breathing not quite back to normal.

"I was just thinking - -"

"Never a good sign," Lex said smoothly while Clark was gathering words.

Clark smirked, remembering a time when friendly ribbing had come as easy to the two of them as breathing. And he'd let it slip away and Lex had and how many years had been lost to them because of it?

"I was just thinking," Clark continued ignoring the jibe. "That if it's this good on the floor of a cave, its going to be great on an actual mattress when we get home."

Clark turned his head when Lex refrained from comment, staring at his profile while Lex stared at the humming flywheel unit. Funny that in the midst of orgasm, the range of emotion was just there on Lex's face, as clear as words on a page for Clark to read - - and now, now it was all shut down tight, like a pretty, plastic shop front concealing the real merchandise inside.

"Is that what you think?" Lex finally asked, turning his gaze to Clark.

"Well," Clark said warily, sensing a pitfall somewhere ahead, but not clear on where it was. "Floor. Mattress. Seems an easy call."

"You realize of course once we're back you're going to think differently about this little arrangement we're currently engaging in?"

Clark blinked, not realizing anything of the sort. "Why would I?"

Lex let out a little breath that hinted at exasperation and said dryly. "Because you don't like me in the real world, Clark. Remember?"

"No," Clark pushed himself up onto an elbow and said reasonably. "I don't like the things you used to do. But you've been cleared of charges - - you've got a clean slate. You don't have to be like that anymore."

Lex stared at him the shields wavering in the face of obvious disbelief. "Let me get this straight. You think for the privilege of engaging in casual sex with you, I'm going to give up everything I believe in, everything I've worked to achieve - - change all my evil ways?"

That last was said with enough of a derisive sneer that Clark flinched and swallowed, feeling a bit of indignant ire rise himself. It was all too easy to fall back into that mindset. The Lex is the enemy one. Easier still when Lex provoked it with that look in his eyes and that tone in his voice.

But then, that's what Lex was aiming for, because Lex never had been able to take anything at face value. And Lex had to pick at the edges of the good things until he found something rotten underneath and proved right his long-standing theory on personal relationships yet again. Nothing that made him happy could ever be trusted.

Clark squared his jaw and gave Lex the Superman stare. "Evil is the operant word there, Lex. And I know for a fact that you initiated a lot of projects - - beneficial projects - - that had nothing to do with threatening life or liberty so don't act like you'd be drifting aimlessly if you stopped acting like a rampaging sociopath. Besides which, most of the bad stuff you did was because you were trying to take me down anyway, so why make the effort anymore?"

Lex pushed himself up, eyes flashing, the pulse at his throat this rapid, fluttering thing. There was a mark there, above the pulse, below the hinge of his jaw, where Clark had spent a little too much time enjoying the taste and texture of his skin.

"You egotistical ass!" Lex snapped, the cool façade all melted away by the heat of his indignation. "Most of the stuff I did was not centered around your swollen, alien head. Contrary to what you might like to think, the nights I lay awake plotting your downfall were few and far between. You're not the only threat to humanity - "

"I'm not a threat to humanity at all," Clark huffed.

"- - And not the center of this or any other universe. If you ceased to exist today, it would have very little effect on the course of my actions."

Clark stared, knowing damned well how good Lex was at using words as weapons and at manufacturing the clearest path to wounding an opponent with truth or lies, and yet still feeling the slice.

"Lex - -" he couldn't manage to make himself say more than that past the lump in his throat.

"What changes would you be prepared to make for me?" Lex asked abruptly, fixing Clark with that gimlet gaze of his.

Clark stared, not understanding. He'd do anything. He'd lay his life down for Lex, but he had dawning realization that wasn't what Lex was asking. The simple answers were never enough to satisfy Lex. The honest sacrifices were never complex enough to make him believe.

"What, you want me to stop helping people in need and start creating world wide disasters. Quit the League and start taking orders from you? Maybe help topple a few governments, install a few orbital weapons systems or set loose some killer robots just for kicks and grins?"

"See? Pipedream." Lex lifted a brow, then turned away, settling back down on the lion's share of the blanket, apparently deciding he'd won this particular debate and refusing to say more. It was as literal a shoulder as Clark had ever gotten.

Clark flopped onto his back, miffed and scowling up at the dark ceiling. Lex always had to go for the jugular. Pessimistic and vicious, even when they were lying together, naked, fresh from mutually satisfying lovemaking. It made Clark want to shake him. And then maybe hold him down and do things to him until the part of Lex's brain that was so damned determined to make life difficult just melted into complacency.

He turned his head, looking at the line of Lex's back. The sharp wings of his shoulder blades, the sweep of lean muscle, the faint indication of the ridge of his spine. More pronounced than it had been the first time Clark had seen him naked, when they'd stripped for their jailors. Poor diet and exhaustingly hard work had taken their toll on a man that had never had much in the way of excess body weight to begin with.

Clark forgot sometimes, when faced with an indomitable will, how fragile the physical parts were. He had choices here. He could get up and stalk away, holding onto the hurt that Lex so expertly dispensed, or see the ploy for what it was, a man so accustomed to seeing the worst in people, their greed, their pettiness, their weakness, their fear and their betrayal that it was second nature for him to try and ferret it out as quickly as possible and save himself the trouble of cleaning up a larger mess down the road. Lex was nothing if not proactive, after all.

He rolled over, pressing his forehead into the curve of Lex's shoulder, salty skin against his mouth, a hand on the rise of a sharp hip. "Why do you have to make things so complicated?"

Lex snorted softly, not shying away from Clark's touch. "Its called being a realist, Clark."

Clark had a few other words that sprang to mind, but he didn't say them.

"Can we agree to disagree and cross whatever bridge crops up when we reach it?" he murmured against the side of Lex's neck.

Lex shivered a little, involuntary action, but after a moment sighed settled back against Clark. "Mutual disagreement is one of our strong suits."

"Lex, please." Clark was tired of the fight. He was tired of so many fights.

Lex sighed again and nodded and though Clark wasn't entirely sure it was agreement, it was better than nothing.

Clark drifted to sleep before Lex did, front pressed against Lex's back and woke up alone on the twisted blanket. The glow of the wall panels had brightened indicating the sun had risen in the outside world. He'd slept through Lex's waking and departure. The racket of the flywheel was the only sound near the chamber, so he expanded his hearing, searching for the tell tale rhythm of Lex's heartbeat. For a moment, he couldn't find it past the clamor of hundreds of other thudding pulses, the chinks of pick against rock, the rattle of carts, the greater roar of the giant mechanism that ate the ore they mined and refined it for purposes they'd yet to decipher.

He rose, in a panic, was half way down the passages back to the active mines, before he sorted out the unimportant sounds from the vital ones. There. Strong and steady, the beat a little faster than that of a man at rest, but not thudding with the rapid patter of distress. Camouflaged because it was in close proximity with a good number of other pulses.

Clark sighed, chastising himself for the alarm. If he drove himself to distraction every time Lex was out of his line of sight, he'd end up a snarled bundle of frayed nerves. Lex was not incapable, as he'd proved time and again, of taking care for himself.

He looked down at himself and decided a few scraps of clothing might make a better impression if he were going to work today, shook his head and grinned a little at his own foolishness and zipped back to the energy distribution chamber to slip into his clothes, before heading back out to find Lex.

Clark slowed to a walk, passing men pushing empty carts down as yet, inactive track towards whatever spot they'd chosen to dig today. He ducked his head under a low beam, and slouched by necessity down a section of tunnel that barely topped six feet. He'd gather ore today, once he assured himself that Lex had surrounded himself with the growing number of inmates devoted to the purpose of revitalizing the track system.

Almost he had tracked the heartbeat to the source when the grinding reverberation of something deeper and louder obscured the sound. He heard the startled cries of men, even as the rumble of rock intensified, and broke into a run.

He rushed down one of the narrow shafts that branched off from the main track where there was a little mini hub where broken crates and dust laden, rusted track were stacked haphazardly against the wall and two smaller shafts leading branching out, leading deeper into the maze of the mine. Faster than the human eye could follow, he passed by Lex, standing with another inmate in the center of the little hub, who was only just in the midst of turning in surprise as one of the shafts beyond him collapsed.

The roar still vibrated the walls and the roll of dust and dirt had only just begun to billow out from the displacement. Men screamed, only just realizing the disaster coming down on their heads, only just beginning to react and try to run and escape the collapse of the ceiling. Clark flung two out of harm's way, and covered a third with his own body, crouched over the man as rock and support timber bounced off his shoulders and back. He shrugged it off, searching frantically for a handhold that would halt the collapse, but it was like holding up a house of cards when stability had already been compromised.

He stood at the edge of it, rock around his legs, dust in his mouth and stared frantically into the mess, looking for trapped men. The sounds of men cursing and hacking up dust was a distracting backdrop. Lex was behind him, safe, and that knowledge let him set his jaw and focus, zeroing in on the sounds of life, rather than trying to see through pockets of too dense ore.

He could hear thready heartbeats, the moans of trapped men, the sounds of weak, muffled panic. Four men. He plowed forward, grabbing a man sized hunk of rock and flinging it aside. Rock shifted, groaning.

"Clark - - wait!" Lex scrambled over rocks, catching at his elbow in panic and Clark came close to shrugging him off in his desperation to get to those hapless souls. He had felt so helpless here, stymied by the bracelets, that now when it was within his power to help, it was no easy task to back down and not plow forward with all his strength.

"You'll bring the rest of the roof down," Lex waved a hand desperately towards the ceiling and Clark followed the motion, swallowing as he realized how probable that was. There were stress fractures throughout, now that he looked deeper into rock.

"It needs to be shored up before we start moving rock," Lex continued, the finger of one hand still clutching Clark's sleeve, eyes watering from the dust that made the air hazy and dense.

Clark took a breath, nodded, turning to see stunned men beginning to take stock of themselves. Some of them were already slinking away, the survival instinct this place had hammered into them overcoming all else.

"Don't you dare," Lex snarled, stomping away from Clark, halting the escape, fixing the half dozen dusty men that had escaped the cave with the type of icy stare that made men far stronger of will than they tremble in their boots. "We need cross beams to shore up the roof and hands to move the rubble once that's done. If you leave it damned sure better be to get more men to help or you'd damn well better prey that you never find yourself in similar straits."

He turned on his heel, leaving them to turn that over, stalking back to the edge of the rubble and asking softly of Clark.

"Survivors?"

Clark nodded, hands clenching and unclenching in helplessness.

"There." Lex pointed to the roof of the tunnel just beyond the crumbled mouth of cave in. "Start the shoring there."

Clark nodded, seeing a few dusty timbers against the wall that would be enough to start. He grabbed one, eight feet long and thick as a man, not caring at the moment if these men were astonished by the show of strength. He could hold it up against the roof of the shaft, but he'd need the help of the inmates to position the side timbers under the ends to prop it up. Lex took charge of that, whipping the remaining men into action. Two men each to drag one of the heavy wooden supports out and stand it upright under the ends of the crossbeam Clark held over his head tight against the ceiling.

One more section of support and they started digging. Clark rolled the heaviest pieces out of the way while Lex and the other inmates loaded smaller ones into carts.

They found a body, crushed under the rubble and after a moment of ashen silence, the efforts redoubled. More beams were brought it, balanced atop empty carts, and the damaged tunnel was slowly shored as they made their way in.

Clark moved in the deepest, scanning the rock when he could and using narrow heat vision to weld uncertain slabs into stability. He reached a pocket of air, protected by a collapsed crossbeam and the sturdy bulk of a cart. A stunned man peered out at him from the small space. He offered a hand and dragged him out, handing him back to the others. He found the other three beyond, in similar straits and when there were no more sounds of life, he worked his way back out to join the company of exhausted men that had worked their hands bloody to free them.

Lex was no exception. He'd worked no less diligently, more perhaps, than the other inmates in the efforts. Dirt streaked and grey with exhaustion, there were bloodstains on the hip of his trousers and the side of his shirt where he'd repeatedly wiped his hands.

One casualty. Four survivors. Those weren't terrible odds. And what he valued most hadn't been among them, one way or another. Clark had to keep reminding himself of that every time he looked over at the body someone had laid off the side, against the wall. Superman didn't usually stick around to take stock of the bodies. He'd come in, save who he could, do what damage control he was able and leave the clean up to the civilian authorities. He'd slip in afterwards sometimes, as Clark Kent and get the details that the public in their lust for the morbid, needed/wanted to know, but even then - -he didn't deal with the aftermath.

"Shit," Someone said, voice tinged with amazed laughter. "Lookit' the ore. Its all over."

And sure enough it was. Scattered in chunks through the rubble, come down with the roof that had fallen down upon them.

"It looks like we'll be eating well tonight after all," Lex commented, an edge of weariness he couldn't hide in his voice.

"Somebody will." There was the thud of heavy feet, the impact of flesh on flesh as a scuffle ensued at the safe side of the little open space between shafts. A tired man who'd stuck with the excavation from step one went staggering backwards, landing hard on his back. Other tired men shied back, making way for the intrusion of a good many big bodies.

Clark heard Lex swear under his breath, then a whisper low enough that it had to be for his ears only. "Don't interfere."

"Heard there was a bit of an accident here." Sweet sauntered forward, whatever bruises he'd held long faded. He reached down and picked up a chunk of ore and grinned. "Looks like you struck a right rich vein. Why don't you drag that carcass out of here and me and the boys here will take care of it for you."

A man made a sound of protest and one of Sweet's men elbowed him into the wall. Sweet's grin widened and he turned the rock in his big fingers.

"So where were you and your - - boys - -when there were men trapped and work to be done?" Lex inquired lightly, moving forward, past the frozen figures of the other dusty inmates. Clark stayed where he was. He could be there in a fraction of a second if needed and Lex had on his game face. "Sleeping in?"

Sweet laughed at him, but there was an edge to it.

"Goddamn, but you're mouthy, Scut." Sweet and a few of his men strolled deeper into the room, Sweet stopping a few feet away from Lex, the others circling behind him.

Sweet lifted the rock, still turning it in his fingers and said. "Why don't you clear on out, before there are a few more corpses to keep that one over there company?"

"Why don't you?" Lex said coolly, ignoring the laughter, ignoring the men that were looming too damned close for Clark's comfort. Not interfering was going to be damned near impossible if one of them made the mistake of laying a hand on Lex. And he hated the way Sweet looked at Lex, hated the leering sweep of eyes like the man was ticking off points in his head of things he planned on doing to him.

He clenched his fists and took an involuntary step forward, but Lex was already moving, taking a step of his own right up in Sweet's face, saying loud enough for everyone to hear - - "Irks, doesn't it? Not have men scatter like rabbits when you bark?"

Before Sweet could open his mouth to respond, Lex swung around, turning his back on him, facing the gathered inmates who'd come to dig out their fellows. There were a dozen or more here, in the little hub, scattered about the tunnel beyond, shoved out of the way when Sweet and his crew had stomped in.

"Will we let these scavengers take what we've worked our hands bloody for? What a man that worked alongside us died for? There are six of them. Will we skulk away like dogs because they tell us to? Or will we make them realize that there are more of us than there are of them and stop letting fear rule us?"

There was a murmur of unrest around them, men shifting, glowering at Sweet and his cronies. Tired, downtrodden men who swelled with the sudden realization that perhaps they weren't powerless after all. The men scattered in the tunnel beyond, closed in and a few of Sweet's men bristled in the panic bullies usually revealed when their victims pushed back.

"You stupid fucks," Sweet growled. "You think I won't remember your faces? You think there's not gonna be some dark corner when we find your sorry asses alone?"

"I think you've had a good run," Lex said with the sort of vicious smile that made Sweet's look downright passive. "But it's over now. And you can either adjust or you can get churned under with the rest of the garbage."

Sweet glared at Lex, hatred boiling in his eyes. "You think this is over, you smug little fuck? You stir up this shit and think I won't take you apart for it? You and me - - I promise you - - when these shits are cowering in their nooks and crannies and your overgrown boyfriend ain't around - - it'll be you and me."

"I'd say give it your best shot," Lex said lightly. "But I've a feeling your best is sub-par."

Sweet clenched his fist, half raised his arm before shifting his gaze around to a room full of glowering inmates, their own hands gripped around pickaxes. He lowered his arm, forcing a casual laugh.

"You go ahead, sift through the rubble, scuts. We got better things to do." He jerked his head to his men and strolled out, shouldering past the inmates that had gathered in the tunnel behind him.

Clark let out a breath. Men looked at each other in astonishment over the victory, but Clark thought it was just as well it hadn't come down to a fight. Even outnumbered as Sweet and his bunch had been, Sweet's cronies were big, well-fed men who looked well versed in fighting. Two to one - - even three to one odds - - might not be that much of a hurdle for them.

Regardless, there were smiles here and now that probably hadn't graced the faces of these men since they'd been brought down here. And that was worth something. Lex was hugely pleased with himself, that was clear from the subtle smugness on his face, and Lex was smoothly shifting into administrator mode and assigning men tasks.

Remove the body. Assigning men to guard the accumulated rubble day and night until they could sift through and retrieve all of the precious ore. Shore up and clear the rest of the shaft so that the track could be repaired and one more section of track made live. He was in his element.

"No one travels alone," Lex warned them. "Work in groups, sleep in groups. Watch each other's backs and they'll think twice about attacking you."

Clark caught his arm, once he'd finished passing out tasks, and steered him down the tunnel. Lex tolerated it. There was the faintest tremor in his muscles, the deep down kind that hinted at overexertion. It had been a damned long morning for all of them.

"He's not going to let this go, you know?" Clark said, out of the hearing of other inmates.

"I wouldn't," Lex said.

"He's going to blame you for it."

"Of course. I am to blame."

Clark sighed. Lex was taking this far too casually.

"He's going to come after you."

Lex shrugged, looking down pointedly at Clark's fingers around his arm. Clark sighed again, with more emphasis this time, just to make sure Lex understood how much he complicated Clark's life, and removed his hand.

"Are you hungry?" Lex asked, holding his own hands out, palms up for inspection. There were dirt filled shallow gashes and dried blood. A nail torn off to the quick that Clark thought, if looks were any indication, had to be painful.

Clark blinked, and nodded warily.

"Then lets go collect some of that ore and get something to eat."

And what could he say to that very reasonable suggestion, really, but nod and head back to do just that. The problems of prison vendetta's and inmate uprisings could be dealt with after the more pressing urgency of empty stomachs.

 

 

 

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