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Therefore I Am

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 10

 

Predictably, Clark was gone when Lex woke up. Not a sign of him, save for the rumpled clothes he'd worn yesterday, in a pile at the end of his bed.

It pissed Lex off. Clark and his avoidance issues were just damned annoying. But at least he was - - metaphorically speaking - - out of Lex's hair.

So he showered and considered what to wear. His choices were dismal, but he decided on the jeans, since they actually fit - - all of Clark's pants were four inches too long - - and the dried stain on the inside was easily enough brushed away, and one of Clark's work shirts, which, tucked in with the sleeves rolled up could be considered casual chic. Dirt-cheap casual chic, but better than Lex's thrift store sweatshirt.

He checked on his portfolio once before he left, made a few trades - - ordered a few more if the price was right - - then headed out.

He put on Clark's sunglasses before he hit the street, figuring if somebody thought they recognized him - -what the hell - - it wasn't like he was planning on hiding forever. A few rumors floating around might even work to his advantage when he finally came out.

He had enough money for the metro, having raided Clark's laundry stash, and took it east, towards the Queensland Park borough. He didn't get a single curious stare the whole ride, which in and of itself was a little annoying. Really, there'd been a time, he'd not been able to walk down an uptown street and not have someone turn and stare. Of course the sort of people that took the metro on a daily basis might not be sort that regularly read Forbes, but still - -

He found the office he was looking for, on the second floor of an old converted brownstone, over a tattoo/acupuncturist studio.

'Lipscomb and Associates: Walk in's welcome', was stenciled on the door.

Lex smiled a little dryly at what he'd been reduced to, and walked in.

There was a pretty young Latino woman at a desk by the door, and a pit bull of a woman at a much more cluttered desk across the room. There were two doors leading to inner offices, one with the name Roy Lipscomb.

"Welcome to Lipscomb and Associates." The young Latino who he assumed was the receptionist smiled up at him. The pit bull across the room glowered warily and Lex figured in a fair fight, she'd probably kick his ass. He smiled back at the receptionist.

"I'm here to see Mr. Lipscomb."

"Oh. Did you have an appointment?"

Lex let his smile turn a little conspiratorial and countered. "Do I really need one?"

Her mouth quirked a little and she whispered. "No. But he likes it when I ask."

She got up and knocked once on the door with Lipscomb's name on it, before opening it and announcing. "Client to see you, Roy."

The old man behind the desk hastily shoved the magazine he'd been reading into a drawer and stood. Then, when Lex stepped into the doorway past the receptionist, his eyes widened in recognition a moment before he covered and commented. "Well, apparently you aren't as dead as your obituary claimed."

The corner of Lex's mouth quirked. He liked a man whose recovery time from surprise was zero to ninety. The picture in the law review was a least a decade old though, either that or the screws LuthorCorp had put to him after his suit had failed had aged him prematurely.

"That's too Goddamned bad." The man sat down and leaned back in his chair, glaring warily.

Grudges were to be expected. "I understand there might still be some bad blood," Lex said smoothly.

"Bad blood?" Lipscomb sneered. "It took me two years to get my license to practice in this state back."

Lex lifted a brow. "If I recall, your client perjured himself at your urging - - among other things."

"There was never proof of that. You paid off the grand jury."

"I did no such thing. It's hardly my fault you chose to run with a suit that not only had no merit, but was flat out fabrication to boot. You're lucky we didn't sue you for slander."

He hoped they hadn't. He hadn't been paying a lot of attention at the time at what Legal was doing. Courting Lana to piss off Clark and trying to discover the secrets of that second spacecraft had really eaten into his time.

Lipscomb rose, red-faced and angry and there was just the tell tale scent of cheap whisky in the room. Lex hoped the man hadn't turned into a lush. That was never good when going up against the bloodthirsty legal elite that limitless money could buy.

The receptionist was standing there aghast, and the pit bull had skulked up behind her, the both of them witnessing the exchange.

Lex ignored all the hostility in the room and strolled over to sit down in the chair across from Lipscomb. "You can choose to hold a grudge against me, of course. Or you can get over it and put that talent I know you have, to good use and go up against LuthorCorp again, this time with a client with considerably more of a legitimate claim. I guarantee you the payout will not disappoint."

Lipscomb stared at him a long moment, and there was intelligence behind those eyes. A great deal of intelligence. The man sat down, palms flat on the surface of his desk and said calmly.

"Lucinda, shut the door and hold my calls."


It was well into rush hour by the time Lex got back on the Metro and rush hour metro, he discovered was a crowded nightmare of invasion into personal space. If he never had to ride the thing again, it would be too soon.

Clark's apartment was a six block walk from the nearest station and Lex spent that time decompressing from the forty-five minute ride, the last ten of which had been spent with a grossly overweight, sweaty, unwholesomely smelling man pressed against his back. He'd almost missed his stop trying to squeeze through the press and out of the car before the doors closed.

It had been worth the effort though. Balls were rolling and he had a gut feeling that choosing Roy Lipscomb had been a good move. The old man was cagey and clever and not afraid to get his hands dirty.

The sky was just starting to purple as he reached Clark's building, Clark's spare key, which he'd found in a box of odds and ends by the door, in hand. There was an old man, sitting on the stone steps with a half smoked cigarette dangling from his mouth, as Lex walked up. He bypassed him without pausing, until the old man stopped him with a curious, "I know you."

Lex hesitated, looking over the rim of his sunglasses. "Do you?"

"Luthor. Yeah, Lionel Luthor's kid."

Fantastic. The first actual recognition he'd gotten in his time here and it was by association with his father. But he supposed when this old geezer had been a few decades closer to his prime, Lionel had been all the rage in Metropolis. He probably hadn't read a paper since.

Lex smiled coolly and let himself into the foyer past the row of beat up mailboxes, then up the stairs to Clark's apartment.

He actually got in the door before Clark pounced on him, coming from God knew where, because Lex was pretty sure he hadn't been in the living room when he'd stepped into the room. Maybe from up the hallway behind him, faster than human eye could follow. Regardless, he got jostled, rather gently considering Clark's strength against the wall, the door torn out of his hand and slammed shut and Clark was looming there, looking pissed off and crowding Lex's personal space. Which he'd had quite enough of on the metro, thank you, so he glared up and snapped.

"What the hell, Clark?"

"Where have you been?"

"None of your business. Back off." He didn't like to be grilled under the best of circumstances. Clark with that self-righteous, accusatory look in his eye, like Lex had been out performing autopsies on meteor freaks - - especially when he hadn't - -made him want to punch Clark in the face.

"What have you been doing, Lex? You've been gone all day?"

"And you were gone all night. Is there a problem?"

"Are you stupid?" Clark yelled, and God knew what the neighbors were hearing, because Clark's volume didn't seem to have a decibel control. "Do you not get that you've got a damned big target on your back? Has it slipped your mind that somebody took a shot at you yesterday? What the hell were you up to that was so damned important that you'd risk that?"

Lex yanked the business card he'd gotten from Lipscomb out of his pocket and shoved it in Clark's face. "I wasn't out hiring hitmen, you judgmental prick, I was hiring an attorney. That law abiding enough for you?"

Clark snatched the card out of his hand, glanced at it briefly before flicking it away. "It didn't occur to you to let me know? Or call?"

"You're not my secretary, I didn't think you needed my itinerary."

Lex was starting to get the feeling something was off here. Clark wasn't battering him with accusations of all the things he suspected Lex had been out doing, he was upset because he hadn't let him know he was doing them. Clark had been worried. Very worried, apparently. About him.

He got it, of a sudden, and even with Clark standing there bitching about him about not knowing how to use a phone, Lex felt an almost painful knot in his chest.

"You were worried."

"Of course I was worried, there's a small army out gunning for you." Clark huffed in exasperation. His cheeks had that flush that Lex liked so much and it made the green of his big eyes all the more vivid.

"Thank you."

Clark blinked at him, not expecting that.

"I'd almost convinced myself that there wasn't anyone out there who would, anymore. Worry about my personal safety that is, not counting paid employees and stalkers. It's touching."

Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. Swallowed almost convulsively, as if he had no earthly idea what to do with that information. Eyes boring into Lex like he was trying to see into his skull, which was entirely possible, but probably not particularly informative - - grey matter, being grey matter.

Then, Clark stepped in and kissed him. To say it was a surprise, would be an understatement of some magnitude; Clark's big hands on the sides of his face, Clark's tongue in his mouth, Clark's scent permeating everything and God, he was really beginning to love about 50 percent of these flip flops of Clark's.

But it was over too soon, Clark breaking off, standing there with his hands pressed against the wall, voice full of anguish when he said, "I don't know what I'm doing."

"I know." Lex didn't touch him. Just stood there, heart pounding, between Clark's braced arms, waiting for Clark to reach whatever conclusion Clark needed to reach. Pushing him now would be counterproductive, when Clark was already halfway there on his own.

"You went to see a lawyer?" Finally, Clark lifted his eyes, gaze bright, almost fevered. Maybe he'd just managed to register that fact. Lex suspected he hadn't been paying a great deal of attention when he'd first mentioned it.

Lex canted his head, meeting Clark's stare. "I did."

Almost, Clark seemed pained. He drew a breath.

"Lex, I - - you - -" He groaned, and leaned in again, soft mouth, warm tongue, slick teeth and Lex pressed forward, two fistfuls of Clark's lapels, and to hell with technique and calculated restraint, when instinct worked so much better.

Besides, Clark sloppily trying to devour his mouth didn't seem a thing that needed schooling so much at the moment, what with Clark's hands grasping his ass and dragging him up against his body. He wrapped an arm around Clark's neck, a leg around his thighs and engaged in a battle of who was going to suck whose tongue into their mouths.

Clark won that one, when Lex's back hit the sofa, and Clark's weight hit him, making him gasp a little from lost air. He hadn't even realized they'd been moving that direction and it was vaguely disconcerting, but he got over it when Clark ground his hips against him, simultaneously trying to crawl inside Lex's mouth and get his shirt untucked. And when his big hand splayed out across the skin of Lex's stomach, fingertips pressing in enough to make muscles jump, whatever blood hadn't already drained to his cock, rushed there in a mass exodus, leaving him light headed.

He really had planned to take charge of this, when Clark worked up the nerve to engage again - - but honestly, he was having problems forming coherent thought, much less orchestrating a seduction. It was all he could do just to get his hands on as much of Clark as he could.

He slid his hands under the waist of Clark's pants and dug his fingers into the swell of Clark's ass. Solid, hard muscle that flexed under his touch and made Clark gasp and break the kiss, then take it up again somewhere around the area where Lex's jaw met his jugular. And that was a sensitive spot. A very sensitive spot and Lex arched his neck and shuddered full body as Clark's mouth locked on and sucked.

Lex slid a hand around Clark's hip, wedged it between them. Felt the moist, burning tip of Clark's erection that had thrust up past the boundaries of his pants, pressed his palm hard against it, and Clark gasped and jerked. He pulled back, pushing himself up enough for Lex to shift his hand and encircle the uncut head.

"Lex - -" Clark stared down, sex-hazed eyes, mouth full and red and wet and so damned hot - - and there was a spark of realization - - of fear even - - of what they were about.

"Just let me, Clark - -" And if his voice shook, well, that was okay, since Clark was trembling all over. Lex stroked his thumb across the tip of Clark's cock, brushing foreskin back, and sliding across the slick glans beneath.

Clark made a helpless sound, shut his eyes. Time was his enemy. Time would allow Clark to think up reasons why he shouldn't be in this position, regardless if his body wanted to hear them. But Lex's hand sliding inside his pants, grasping the length of his cock was a sure method of banishing thought processes in general. He was deft enough to manage Clark's buckle one handed, and Clark sprung free, heavy and just damned huge. He'd suspected from the shape defined by Clark's wet boxers, by the press of it against him through various layers of clothes, but there was nothing like hands on experience to get the true measure of a man.

Clark shuddered, muscles twitching all over his body, shoulders rigid, straining at the fabric of his jacket. But his cock was full and hard in Lex's palm, leaking at the tip, throbbing with the beat of his pulse. Lex wanted to see it up close and personal, to pull back the foreskin and lick the rosy tip and hear Clark scream from it. His balls tightened at the idea alone.

He tried to pull Clark down, but Clark wasn't budging, frozen above him, thick black lashes stark against flushed cheeks, fingers gouging holes in the sofa. So he pulled himself up, one hand on the back of Clark's neck, the other clenched around his cock, stroking slow and measured.

"It's okay. This is okay," he said, close against Clark's neck, following the words with his lips, and muscles twitched in Clark's jaw. There was a thigh between his legs, pressed hard against the bulge in his own pants, and when Clark shifted, Lex groaned, digging his nails into Clark's shoulder, tightening his grip on Clark's cock that might have caused another man - - a normal man - - considerable pain. Clark just gasped, eyes wide, wrapped an arm around Lex's back, hauling him close, and thrust into his curled fist.

When Clark came it was fast and hard, warm ejaculate, slicking Lex's hand and soaking into their shirts. For a moment, he knelt there, arm tight around Lex's waist, forehead pressed into Lex's shoulder, heart beating fast enough that Lex could feel it against his own chest.

Even with his own erection throbbing untended in his pants, it was good. Like a treasured prize he'd never thought he'd win. Clark, spent and warm and smelling of sex. Or just simply - - Clark.

It couldn't last. Of course it couldn't last. He felt it the moment Clark tensed. Almost expected to be shoved away as Clark's higher brain functions kicked back in, but Clark just loosened his grip and fell back against the opposite arm of the couch, staring at Lex appalled. Or maybe that was just his imagination or ingrained expectation from too many other times when Clark had looked at him with revulsion in his eyes.

Lex leaned back against the other arm, staring unflinchingly, casually lifted the hand glistening with Clark's ejaculate to his mouth, licking the ball of his thumb.

"So? Was it good for you?"

Clark blinked, eyes fixed on Lex's mouth.

Lex let his eyes drift down, to Clark's flaccid penis, which was not entirely unimpressive even deflated. Clark followed his gaze, bit his lip and shifted a knee in an almost charmingly modest move to cover it. Then his eyes drifted to Lex, and Lex's still tented jeans - - his erection was stubbornly tight and hard inside unforgiving denim.

"Lex - -" There was something that almost sounded like guilt in his voice and Lex wouldn't have it.

"Did you want to take care of this for me?" he asked, pouring as much silk into his voice as he could, when the lower regions of his body were humming with frustration. "You know, tit for tat? No? Allow me, then."

He licked another streak of Clark's come off his hand, and reached for his zipper. His cock sprang out, thrusting up out of the slit in his borrowed boxers, and Clark's eyes were glued to it like he'd never seen a penis in his life. Almost, almost Clark's fixed attention was as satisfying as Clark's hand would have been. Now, Clark's mouth - - that would have been a different story.

He curled his fingers around his erection and stroked down, hand slick from Clark's leavings. He dropped one leg to the floor, so Clark could get an unobstructed view and jerked himself off. Leaned his head back against the arm of the couch and enjoyed it, until the couch springs creaked with Clark's movement and Clark's weight made the cushion Lex was sprawled on dip. He looked up and Clark was looming over him, intense and serious and maybe, maybe the look in his eyes had been something other than appalled.

Maybe Clark was just so damned new at this that he didn't know how to react to the first man that had ever jerked him off. Maybe a young man - -and Clark was younger at twenty-two than Lex thought he'd ever been in his life - - needed a little time to adjust to the idea that he wasn't as heterosexual as he'd hoped.

Clark's hand moved down, fingertips trailing hesitantly across Lex's own fingers and up the underside of his erection and Lex's eyes followed the movement helplessly, hand frozen. When Clark ran the ball of his thumb across the head of his cock, tentatively the first time, then again, stroking slowly, as if he were acquainting himself with the feel of a circumcised penis, Lex thought his heart skipped a few precious beats, then lodged somewhere in the area of his throat. Everything else went rather mind-blowingly white around the edges. And it was just Clark's fucking thumb.

When Clark's hand actually curled around Lex's, big and warm and softer than you'd think of a man who'd grown up on a farm, Lex's head fell back on the couch arm, heat like noise spreading out from his cock, crowding out everything else but Clark's hand tight over his, stroking the length of him.

"God - - God - -" It rushed up, orgasm slamming into him with unexpected violence. And really, the sex had been sort of ungainly, and vaguely uncomfortable fully dressed, and Clark hadn't put all that much effort into it - - and still - - just fuck.

When he could think again, see again, Clark was still leaning over him, this almost quizzical expression on his face. God knew what was going on behind his eyes, because Clark wasn't talking. Lex was having trouble coming up with casual, after mutual-masturbation small talk himself.

Clark swallowed finally, Adam's apple bobbing, and pushed himself up. He tucked himself back in and zipped up with a predictable flash of embarrassment, licked his lips, and looked around the apartment as if he weren't quite sure where he was exactly. Lex was counting the seconds until he fled, because of course that would be the next step in this dance.

"I'm hungry," he said finally, voice a little dull. Shell-shocked maybe.

"Okay." Lex agreed warily.

Clark turned around, like he was looking for something, then absently patted his pockets and discovered his wallet still in his back pocket and nodded to himself.

He headed for the door. Stopped and looked back without really meeting Lex's eyes.

"You coming?"


Clark really had no idea what had happened. Again. It was disconcerting as hell to have his hormones just kick into overdrive without warning and drive him to not entirely rational acts of - - well, of sex. Maybe it was some new power coming into play that was messing with his body chemistry? And Lex just happened to be a around when it acted up. Maybe it had nothing to do with him liking - - really, really liking the way Lex's body felt, all lean and hard under silk-smooth skin. And the way the head of his dick had been slick and taut, naked without the foreskin that Clark was used to.

And his hand on Clark's dick had been - - wow. He tried to remember a handjob Lana had given him that had been equally good, because damnit, Lana ought to hold top ranking in Clark's dismally low number of experiences of 'jobs' of any kind -- but honestly she hadn't been that into it. And she'd never looked so mesmerized by his dick in her hands as Lex had.

In fact, if he was being brutally honest, he'd really had to sort of work at it with Lana, to get her to orgasm - - but with Lex, it was like, Clark just touched him and he went over the edge, with that look on his face and his eyes all glazed and - - wow. Just wow.

Clark had never figured Lex would be that - - easy? - - because Lex liked to make things complicated and it just sort of stood to reason that he'd be all complicated in bed and want complicated things.

Not that Clark had spent a lot of time imaging Lex in bed before this. Except maybe when he'd been simmering over what he'd been doing with Lana when they were married. Or maybe when he'd been dating Helen. And okay, he'd had some pretty graphic images of Lex rolling around with Desiree, but only because Lex had been sort of on a sex high and actually shared more detail that he should have with a fifteen year old whose sex drive had just kicked into high gear. And the only reason he'd had the occasional masturbatory session imaging Lex and Victoria was because Victoria had had really great boobs - -

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and reluctantly admitted that okay, so maybe he had spent way too much time imaging Lex in bed over the years. But it wasn't like Lex didn't walk around and just sort of exude sex like some expensive cologne.

"We should probably change shirts," Lex was just pushing himself up off the couch, when he interrupted Clark's frenetic circle of thoughts, and he'd tucked himself back in - - thank God - - because Clark was pretty sure he couldn't have stopped his eyes from going down there if he hadn't. He only vaguely recalled Lex sort of warily agreeing that, yes, eating was a good idea.

He looked down at his shirt, and the big damp stains on it, and swallowed again, pretty damn glad one of them had the sense of mind to catch the little details. So he went into his room and shed jacket and work shirt, grabbed a neatly folded t-shirt out of his drawer and pulled it on.

There was the sound of running water in the bathroom, and yeah, washing his hands was a good idea too. They were still sticky from Lex's come. He took a deep breath, because that was an observation he'd never thought he'd make and then he took another, because the image flashed through his head of Lex licking Clark's come off his fingers and - - again - - wow.

He washed his hands in the kitchen sink and when Lex came out he had on the sweatshirt he'd been wearing when Clark first found him and an entirely bland expression on his face. Like they'd just finished playing crochet or something instead of jerking each other off on the couch.

They took the elevator down without saying a word, which was fine because Clark was still circling around the whole Lex gave better handjobs than Lana and what a horrible person he was to think such a thing, concept. Then it occurred to him as they were walking down the stairs at the front entrance that Lex probably swallowed, if the total lack of squeamishness he'd shown licking Clark's come off his hand was any indication, and Clark had never, ever had anybody (Lana) ever go down on him not pull away with delicate distaste if she happened to get a little splooge in her mouth.

That had him walking blindly for a bit, hardly seeing the dusk darkened sidewalk ahead of him. Until Lex reminded him that he actually had a goal by a subtle, "Were we headed anywhere in particular?"

Clark blinked and took stock of where he was. Which was actually pretty close to his planned destination. A little mom and pop diner two blocks down that had Formica countertops from the fifties and high backed booths with little wall mounted jukeboxes, some of which actually still worked, though the songs were all from another era. They made a meatloaf sandwich that put his mom's to shame, though he'd never admit it to her.

They took a booth all the way in the back, where it was dark and there were no other diners. Sat down facing each other and Clark sort of blindly reached for one of the menus stuffed behind the napkin holder, even though he pretty much always ordered the same thing. Lex reached for one of his own, going along with Clark's silence, which was really pretty considerate of him, considering how much Lex liked to probe.

The waitress came up and smiled around her gum at Clark. "Hi Sweetie. The usual?"

"Yeah, that'd be great."

She turned to Lex, who ordered a turkey on rye and a bowl of what the menu claimed to be the best chicken noodle soup in the city. Clark hadn't actually gotten past the meatloaf to test that claim.

Lex also ordered a beer and Clark had never seen Lex drink beer. Lex was never so plebian, but then beer was the only thing alcoholic they served here so he was probably willing to slum.

When the waitress brought the drinks, Lex turned the bottle with his fingers, and finally asked. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No." Clark really, really didn't.

Lex took a swallow of beer. Kept swallowing until the bottle was half empty, then sat it down and went back to staring at Clark. And Lex had really pretty eyes, even when he was trying to get inside your head, almond shaped and bright and not nearly as good at hiding things as Lex liked to think. Especially now, when he didn't have all the baggage the old him had been carrying around. Or something like that - - Clark would give himself a headache trying to sort through that on top of everything else.

"As elephants go, this is a particularly huge one," Lex commented in that soft voice people usually reserved for private conversations in public places. Clark was highly distracted, so it took him a moment to get the meaning. Of course, Lex had decided that maintaining a comfortable - - or uncomfortable silence - - for longer than a half hour was beyond him.

Clark peered down the narrow aisle to make sure the waitress wasn't anywhere near, then said in a strident whisper. "I like women."

Lex lifted a brow. "So do I. Do you like me?"

Clark huffed, not liking the straightforward, simple questions that required straightforward simple answers. He couldn't even rely on Lex to be convoluted when he needed him to be.

"I still love Lana."

Lex rolled his eyes, as if he recognized that for the desperate ploy that it was. He picked up his beer and finished it off.

"I'm sure you do. Long distance romances always work so well. Especially if only one of you realizes you're having it. So, let's be theoretical - - can you worship Lana from afar and fuck me up close and personal, at the same time? Because obviously we're on the road to exploring that strategy."

Clark opened his mouth, shut it sharply as the waitress approached the table with their food. Lex smiled up at her and asked for another Beer. Then changed his mind and asked her to bring two.

Clark waited for her to sashay away, before leaning forward and hissing. "That wasn't fucking." He whispered the last word really low.

"No, it wasn't," Lex agreed, stirring the contents of his bowl of soup, which did, when Clark caught a look at it from his peripheral vision, look really good. "We can try that next, if you like."

Clark felt himself color. And really, after what they'd been about off and on for the last few days, being embarrassed about it seemed a little redundant. He shoved a forkful of mashed potatoes and gravy into his mouth while he gathered his wits- - because part of him - - mostly the lower parts - - were really enthused about the idea.

"Can we not talk about this while we eat, please?"

Lex smiled tightly and tried a spoonful of soup overflowing with noodles and shredded chicken.

"This is good soup."

"I don't know what you expect to get out of this?" Clark asked, ignoring his own plea.

Lex canted his head, thoughtful. "I'm not sure I expect anything."

"You don't have some plan? You always have a plan - - you know, planning two steps ahead and all that tactical crap you used to go on about?"

"Oh, now that's just insulting. Crap? It was good advice. And actually no, I have no plan regarding you. Not anymore."

Clark eyed him doubtfully and Lex took another swallow of one of his new beers.

"Can we agree at least, that regardless of who we do or don't love, or have or haven't planned - - we've got some fairly amazing chemistry between us?"

Clark pursed his lips wanting to deny it out of reflex - - but it had been sort of self-evident and besides, it supported his 'something was off with his body's chemistry' theory. He shrugged. "Yeah - - okay."

"And that the sex was good."

He really wished Lex would stop just saying it outright in the restaurant like that, but he inclined his head, agreeing reluctantly.

"And its not hurting anyone."

"No." Clark was maybe beginning to see where this was going.

"Unless you think Chloe or Oliver will be disappointed in your poor moral values?"

Clark narrowed his eyes, not fifteen anymore and perfectly aware of when he was the target of reverse psychology. But still, Oliver had pissed him off today and Chloe to a lesser extent. They really did seem to think he couldn't make proper judgment calls on his own.

"Or that Lana's feeling a twinge of betrayal wherever she ran off to pine over lost chances - - perhaps a beach in Rio?

"Don't push it, Lex," Clark suggested with a warning glower.

Lex grinned at him, actually enjoying whatever it was this conversation had devolved into. There was a difference between Lex's smirks and Lex's sibilant smiles, and his honest grins. The honest grins made Clark's heart flutter and always had.

"I would never. So what's the problem, Clark, when we obviously have this thing - - with a little casual sex? No strings attached."

The problem was, Clark liked strings. He wasn't a casual sex sort of guy. Oh, he was all for having it regularly, just preferably with the same person. He sort of liked working up to a relationship. But he supposed, and he wouldn't admit this to Lex for the world, that maybe the last oh - - eight years or so - - had sort of been a twisted kind of courtship.

"I don't want casual sex from you, damnit." He wasn't sure that had come out right, wrong inflection maybe, because Lex put down his beer and gave Clark a contemplative once over.

"What kind of sex do you want, Clark?"

The waitress coming back with the check saved Clark from having to answer that. She gave them both a sort of weird, knowing smile that made Clark blush, before she walked away.

Lex leaned back against the booth and started in on his third beer, while Clark recovered from the notion that the waitress had heard that last bit of conversation.

"Are you trying to get drunk?" he asked, anything to divert from the last question and the various answers that had cropped up unbidden, in his mind.

"Hnn," Lex shrugged. "It's an experiment."

Clark looked under his brows at him.

"You know - - alcohol tolerance - - new body."

Clark frowned, not entirely sure if Lex were kidding him or not. It wasn't an experiment he approved of either way. Having grown up disappointingly immune to the powers of alcohol, he'd sort of convinced himself - - with a little help from his mom, (his dad had usually stayed well of those conversations)- - that all the kids who made it their Friday night crusade to acquire six-packs and party, were irresponsible and reckless.

"Is it working?" Clark asked dourly.

Lex smiled at him, tipped the bottle up and finished off the last bit.

Clark figured he wasn't going to answer, but after a moment - - maybe he'd been trying to figure it out himself - - Lex said. "There's a definite buzz. Do you know how many years it's been since I - -" he paused there, considering, then picked up with a definite emphasis on the 'I'. "- - Since I had a beer buzz?"

"I didn't think you drank beer at all."

Lex gave him that grin again. "I did attend high school. Not a public one, but still - - high school. God, I've never seen you with a beer - - not even when the occasion warranted. Can alcohol even affect you at all?"

"Lex." Clark cut his eyes towards the restaurant at large. The waitress overhearing them discussing sex was one thing, her hearing them discussing his alien physiology was quite another.

Lex tilted his empty bottle with a fingertip on the tabletop. "I'm just asking if your tolerance for alcohol is unusually high?"

"Unusually." Clark confirmed dryly.

"Hmm. That's a shame. I never did like the taste of beer."

"Then why did you drink three?"

Apparently beer buzzes dragged the grins out of Lex, because he threw another one at Clark. "Would you believe that the thought of having to haul this conversation out of you, dead sober was frankly frightening?"

Every once in while Lex would say something that would just clog up the works and make Clark tremble a little on the inside.

"You were scared of a conversation?" Clark laid his palms flat on the table, because otherwise, he had this odd little urge to slide them over and maybe just graze the back of his hand against Lex's.

"Conversations with you have been known to backfire on me." Lex looked away, staring at the defunct little jukebox on the wall like meeting Clark's eyes was suddenly hard for him, after he'd been spearing Clark with his gaze all evening.

"I've never been afraid of you physically - - even when I probably should have - - but emotionally, you tear me up, Clark. And that scares the hell out of me."

What did you say to that? Clark had no idea. It stole his breath, though, like somebody had stuck a fist inside his chest.

"I'm sorry," seemed lame enough, but it was habit and Lex gave him a look, then away again, like he did when he regretted maybe, letting a little too much slip.

He'd wanted to get out of the apartment and someplace the air didn't smell of sex, but now he was thinking that they needed to get back, because this conversation ought not be had in a time worn booth in the back of a local diner.

Besides which, he hadn't been thinking particularly clearly when he'd decided to drag Lex out in public. The more people saw him, the sooner chances were of him being recognized and word getting back to the very attentive people that had ears to the ground listening for him.

"We should probably get back." He pulled out a twenty and a couple of ones and left them on the table.

They didn't speak on the walk back. Clark didn't know what to say, even though there were things crowding his head that probably needed saying. Like, you scare the hell out of me, too. And why didn't you ever just 'tell' me, instead of dancing around the subject all those years. And God, why does it feel like everything's shifted? The whole world just gone off its axis and into a different place and maybe that had happened back at the apartment or maybe some indefinable time sitting in a diner booth and hell yeah, it was terrifying.

The girl across the hall was getting her mail in the foyer when they came in, and she smiled shyly, and Lex greeted her by name, which made her duck her head and blush and smile a little more. Clark was too distracted to do much more than nod, before he took the stairs up. He fumbled with his key as he hit the second floor landing, Lex trailing him up the stairwell, and it occurred to Clark that it couldn't be much past 7 and aside from claiming that he had to patrol - - it would be just the two of them, alone and simultaneously awake this time.

H glanced back at Lex, moving down the hall with that roll in his gait that looked no less pornographic in jeans than it did in thousand dollar suits - - more so, maybe - - and thought that alone with Lex, might not be so terrible a thing.

He turned the key and stepped inside, and little curl of nausea hit his stomach. Some rational portion of his mind rebelling at the idea the less rational part was seeming to warm up to, perhaps.

He took an other step and it seemed to spread out from his gut in tendrils, undeniable sickening pain that made him stop and catch his breath in panic, because it felt like nothing so much as kryptonite poisoning.

"Hello, Clark." She whispered out of the shadows near the window, shifting enough that the light from the streetlamp outside caught the curve of her cheek, the roundness of her arm. She didn't step away from the wall, knowing almost as well as he did, how much her very presence hurt him.

"Lana," he gasped her name, a different sort of panic setting in.


He stopped dead, staring at her.

Her hair was shorter than the last time he'd seen her. A straight fall of darkness to just below her jaw. She wore a black, sleeveless turtleneck, slim black pants that made her seem small and graceful. And lavender. That same scent of lavender that she'd always left drifting in her wake.

He felt like a deer in the headlights, caught off guard by her scent, by her mere presence. He'd longed for it, dreamed about for so long, that getting it had him reeling.

"I wouldn't have believed it unless I saw it for myself." There was the sharp edge of venom in her voice when she spoke, and Clark realized she wasn't looking at him at all, but beyond him, at the door.

Because Lex had walked up behind him and stood in the threshold.

"Lana. What a pleasant surprise." Lex had nothing pleasant whatsoever in his voice. He stepped inside like her appearance hadn't fazed him at all, and shut the door quietly behind him. He flipped the light switch on the wall and stood there with his back against the doorframe.

Clark felt sick. No, that was the kryptonite exposure - - or maybe it was a combination of kryptonite and the most screwed up situation karma could dredge up unfolding around him.

"Clark, how could you --?" Lana tore her gaze away from Lex and swung it towards him and for one frozen moment, he thought she knew what he'd been up to with Lex. His betrayal when he'd promised in his heart of hearts to love her forever.

"Chloe told me you were acting strange - - but my God, Clark what were you thinking? What are you doing with this - - this thing, Lex made?"

"Oh, come on, don't hold back to spare my feelings. Go ahead, say what you feel, Lana." Lex remarked with casual malice by the door.

"You shut up!" She hissed, eyes big and glistening with emotion.

Clark cast Lex a warning glare before imploring. "Lana, wait. You don't understand. He's not dangerous."

Lex snorted softly behind him. And Clark wished he'd just be quiet and non-inflammatory, so Clark could explain. Only problem was, he had no idea how to explain Lex - - not even one that he was sure of himself. Certainly not one he could say to her - - how many months since he'd seen her last. Since she'd left him with that last kiss - - painful on so many levels - - to follow her own path. Three months, 16 days - - give or take. The last few days, he'd sort of stopped keeping track.

"Clark you're deluded. He's deluded you. Don't you remember that's what he's good at? Making you believe what he wants you to believe and all the while he's plotting behind your back."

"As I recall, you were rather good at that yourself." Lex commented and Lana bristled, taking a step forward and Clark felt it.

"Stop! Just stop!" Clark clenched his fists and snapped. Lex lifted a brow and crossed his arms. Lana narrowed her eyes, staring at him as if she suspected he might be infected with some mind-altering virus. He took a breath and forced calm and reason into his voice, when he felt anything but. "Lana you've got to trust me. Please, you've got to just trust that I know what I'm doing. He's not like he was."

"Of course he's not like he was," she took another step and Clark held his ground, even though his stomach lurched. His knees felt weak, like they'd used to back in school, when he'd get too close to her when she was wearing the necklace. Only she was a good portion of a room away and it was already stronger. If she got to within a few steps, it wouldn't just weaken him, it would drop him where he stood.

"He's something Lex grew in tank. Just a meat suit they downloaded data into because Lex couldn't deal with the idea of not leaving some sort of twisted legacy. Of just dying like a normal person."

That barb hurt a little bit and it wasn't even aimed at him. He was almost afraid to look back and see Lex's expression, because Lex had enough issues with identity that it had to have hit some mark. But Lex was wearing his non-expression, not giving away much of anything, save a tiny, uncontrollable tick in his jaw.

"Lana, that's not true - -" Clark started, because he had to convince her that Lex was different - - yet intrinsically the same - - that Lex regretted, that Lex had regained something he'd lost along the way - - but Clark wasn't sure how without saying things that he didn't want to voice out loud - - even to her - - things that just seemed private.

"Oh, come on, Clark," Lex pushed off from the door and padded forward, stopping close enough that Clark felt the brush of his sleeve. "If anyone would know about feeling that need to be more than normal, it's her. How demeaning to be just a girlfriend or a wife when you can have superpowers, even if you have to steal them, right Lana? God help you, if you're not the most special girl in the room, humm?"

She took another step, fists clenched, staring daggers at Lex. "God, you're no less poisonous than he was. You may have Clark fooled, but I know what you are and I won't let you hurt him."

"I'm not the one hurting him," Lex said with a small smile, like he'd been waiting for that particular opening. "You're the one that brought kryptonite to the party."

She hissed, and if Clark's vision hadn't been blurring a little from the pain, he'd have caught her movement. As it was, he caught the heel of her hand, shoving him backwards. He hit the wall by the door just hard enough for the plaster to crack a little, and when his vision cleared, she had Lex by the throat up against the wall by the window.

"Its your fault," she was accusing, voice risen to a pitch that Lana only ever reached if she was on the verge of hysterics. "You did this to me!"

Lex was clawing at her hand, trying to pry her fingers loose and not getting anywhere.

"Lana, stop!" Clark cried, got halfway across the room before it hit him again, the utter incapacitating pain. He kept going anyway, had to because she'd had her power for a couple of months and no matter what she claimed she'd done to prepare for it, it just wasn't that easy not to break something accidentally when you'd come into something new and you weren't thinking. And it was Lex's neck she had her hand around and the fear that he was going to hear that sickening snap before he could talk her down had his vision tunneling.

He put a hand on her bare arm and it was like touching acid, if he'd been human and stupid enough to stick his hand in a vat of it.

"Lana - - just - - listen - -" He couldn't take it, the blood rebelling in his veins, his bones going rubbery and weak. His knees gave way beneath him and he sank down. Curled on the floor body wanting to knot up with the agony of the poison she was radiating, and she wasn't even looking down at him, all her attention focused on Lex.

"I don't know what his endgame was, what you're programmed to do, but I won't let it happen."

She must have loosened her grip enough that Lex could draw a breath because he managed to gasp. "Lana - - no. There's no programming - -"

"Clark may believe that, I know better. I know how twisted his mind was - -"

"Lana - -I swear I'm not trying to - -"

"Shut up!" she cried, having none of it. She had issues with Lex that she'd only begun to hint at to Clark. Maybe he hadn't wanted to know all the dirty details - - he was pretty sure he didn't now.

"Just shut up." She hissed again and flung Lex away from her, like a child hurling a remote control when a game she was playing pushed her beyond her limits of frustration. He hit Clark's rickety TV stand with enough impact to send the set and the stand crashing over.

It was hard to see if he was moving after that, from Clark's angle on the floor and then Lana was crouching over Clark, her hair falling around her face like a black veil as she looked down. All the anger was gone from her face, her eyes huge and vulnerable and brimming with unshed tears. She reached out to touch his cheek and caught herself before her fingertips touched.

"I came to see you. Chloe told me about the clone showing up. She told me she was worried about you and that she wasn't getting through, so I came - -"

His vision was graying around the edges. There was the clatter of broken glass, and he turned his head with an effort, caught movement in his blurring vision, of Lex trying to extricate himself from the clutter of Clark's ruined television.

"I saw you," Lana didn't seem concerned about Lex at the moment, but then with her speed and her power, he couldn't get far before she was on him. "I saw you with him - - going into that diner like he was some old friend instead of the legacy of the monster that destroyed us."

He lifted his head, opened his mouth, one more try at reason, and she put a hand on his lips and they burned. The back of his head hit the hardwood floor with a thump that hurt, even though it was a dull pain compared to the searing edge of kryptonite.

"He did this to me - - and I'm sorry, Clark but I'm not as forgiving as you."

"I thought I was nothing but a meat suit - -" Lex was up, mostly, supporting himself on the arm of the sofa, a little trickle of blood trailing down his jaw from a cut under his ear. "If you want to make me responsible, isn't that an admission that I'm a little more?"

Her jaw tightened and she glared. "Clark can't see it, but he has friends who do and if he can't deal with the problem, we will."

"See what?" You're the one on a tear, Lana. And don't you think you ought to step away from him? He's looking a little green - -"

"Don't - -" She cried and between that word and the next she was on Lex again, a back handed slap that drove him to the floor between couch and skewed coffee table. "- - You dare!"

She grabbed him by the arm, dragging him up, no restraint in her anger, and no restraint meant damaging breakable things. Clark heard the pop of bone dislocating from bone, heard Lex's aborted cry of shocked pain and he rolled to his side, fighting off the lessening waves of his own. He grabbed the nearest thing not nailed down, a little table against the wall that Lois had left when she'd moved out - - hurled it without even thinking, strength not even close to what it should have been. But then he hadn't been aiming to hurt her, just to divert her attention back to him and away from Lex.

It worked. She whirled to stare at Clark with the most poignant look of betrayal in her eyes, while Lex bent over his knees, clutching a shoulder that looked oddly out of place.

"See, Clark? He's got you so deluded that you take his side over the people that love you," she said, and her voice went soft and tremulous like he remembered in his dreams of her. But it didn't quite sync with the violence she'd wrought or the absolute lack of remorse in her eyes when she jerked a man's shoulder of its socket.

"I'm doing this for you own good," she whispered, and Lex lifted his head behind her, eyes widening in alarm, maybe picking up on something Clark wasn't. And then she was right there, crouched over him, and it was almost ludicrous how small her fist was and how much damage it did when she drove it down. His head hit the floor again and this time hard wood splintered under the impact of his skull driven down by her nanite enhanced strength.

He had a split moment to taste his own blood - - only ever sampled under the influence of kryptonite - - to feel the explosion of pain, before the whole of the world blacked out.


If Lex didn't know from experience that Clark was capable of surviving the most horrific injury and bouncing back unscathed, he would have been considerably more distraught than he was when Lana's fist drove the back of Clark's head through a layer of hardwood floor. Clark lay unmoving after that, and there was blood on Lana's knuckles that might have been Clark's or could have been Lex's. She'd drawn it from both of them.

Still, Lex's heart felt like it had missed a few beats, and if he'd had a weapon that could have fazed her, he'd have used it. As it was, he had a throbbing head, what felt like a few bruised, if not fractured ribs and the excruciating pain of a dislocated shoulder. He suspected with a dry sort of panic, that those weren't going to slow her down at all.

He also suspected that nothing he said, no matter how reasonable, was going to get through her righteous rage. He might have had better luck convincing Tess Mercer of his lack of ill-intent. He hadn't slept with her. And a good portion of the women Lex slept with tended to develop murderous psychosis regarding him after the fact, let alone the one's he actually wed. Maybe it was a heretofore undiscovered meteor mutation.

He did laugh a little at that notion, but it turned into a grimace.

She rose, turning towards him, and there wasn't a damned thing to do, but lean there against the couch, clutching his shoulder, and watch her come. Her face was impassive, save for the glitter in her eyes. Not the girl he'd first met back in Smallville. Not even close. And he could admit a good deal of fault in that conversion. He'd made mistakes with her that had been - - in retrospect - - frankly reprehensible. But the game had been very important back then, and she'd been an invaluable piece.

The choices she'd made afterwards - - her dogged pursuit of vengeance, and it had damned sure been vengeance that drove her rather than some moral imperative to make the world a better place (she wasn't Clark) - - well those were all on her.

"If you kill me, he won't forgive you?" It was a desperate ploy, playing the Clark card, and one that might backfire on him. He had to hope she still cared enough about how Clark saw her to hesitate. Then again, she very well might figure that whatever she did, Clark would eventually forgive anyway.

"Why not? He seems to have forgiven you, doesn't he?" she said and stopped in front of him.

Which was an uncomfortably valid point.

"You're not a murderer." God, he had to hope she hadn't decided somewhere along the line that super human powers hadn't granted her the right to make life and death decisions.

Her mouth twitched in a cold smile. "Would it really be murder and not just putting down a science project gone wrong? The real Lex Luthor is dead and buried. You're just an afterthought. No one would know or care if you just ceased to be."

"Is that what you told yourself when you killed your clone? Just an afterthought? Not human?"

"It wasn't. It was just something you made because you were obsessed with me." She hissed at him. It was laughable, it hadn't been her he'd been obsessed with. But he supposed she had a good enough reason to believe so.

"Me?" He lifted a brow at her, but it was hard to deliver a proper 'gotcha look' when he was on his knees at her feet, hunched over in pain. "See, now you're getting me confused with a real person."

"Shut up."

"Clark would know." He got back to the more important point, the one that might save his life.

She glanced back to Clark and there was something of remorse in her eyes. "Clark has a big heart. Sometimes it overpowers his head."

"And that's what you're here for, isn't it?" It was suicidal baiting her, but he couldn't seem to help it. "It's a damn good thing he has people around him willing to relieve him of those pesky ethical dilemmas. Though it must be hard standing on that moral high ground all by yourself, huh Lana. I don't even think Clark could stand those altitudes."

She made a sound very much like an angry cat, reached for him and he thought - - fuck, fuck, fuck - - a moment before the distinct click of a key turning in a lock broke through an otherwise tense moment and the door swung open.

Lois Lane stood there, with the key frozen in her hand and her face fixed in an almost comical expression of shock. The little neighbor girl hovered behind her, trying see in and God knew what the other neighbors had been able to overhear.

"Oh - -my - - God! Lex Luthor! I knew it. I fucking knew it!" Lois sucked in a lungful of air and crowed.

Then, "What the hell - -?" As she stalked into the apartment.

Lana wasn't moving, but her eyes hinted clearly at frustration - - at no small bit of uncertainty at the situation she found herself in with Clark unconscious and Lex rather bloody and battered at her feet. Witnesses made for a sticky dilemma when you were trying to quietly snuff someone out of existence.

"What the hell happened to Clark?" Lois started that way, and the neighbor girl hovered warily at the door, looking as if she might bolt any second and make a run for a phone and a 911 call.

"Clark's fine, Lois," Lana said softly, and Lois swung her gaze to her, then to Lex beyond her.

"Just a little spat between ex's that got out of hand." Lex added with as much as a smile as he could manage. Lana's shoulders tensed, but she didn't contradict him.

"Little spat? Jesus, look at the floor. My name's still on the lease and somebody other than me needs to pay for that. You're alive. I knew you were alive. Clark knew you were alive. Son of a bitch - -"

Lois was rambling, what Lana was thinking was beyond him. If the girl called the police, things were going to happen before he was prepared for them.

"Meg," he called gently, dredging up her name and she blinked at him, spooked and out of her depths. "It's okay. I apologize for the disturbance. I'm sure Clark will apologize himself once he sobers up." Better to let her think the whole thing was the result of too much drink and not enough self-control, than simply the latter with a added touch of psychotic ex-wife, ex-girlfriend thrown in for spice. The added lure of Clark actually speaking to her in the guise of an apology was just gravy.

"Oh," she said. "Are you sure - -"

"I'm sure. Go home."

She nodded, glad to retreat and disappeared across the hall. They still might get police if any of the other neighbors had heard the various crashes and done the responsible thing.

Lois was crouching by Clark, her fingers on his pulse, which from her lack of horrified expression was beating just fine. She swung her gaze towards him.

"Did you do - -" then stopped, blinking, and he blinked because before he'd turned to talk to Meg, Lana had been there, but she was gone now.

"Where'd she - -?" Lois started, then shook her head, as if she'd seen one too many crazy things to start getting freaked out about them now. "Did you do this to him?"

"Does it look like I did anything to anyone?" He tried to push himself up, failed the first time and made it on the second attempt. Things hurt. His shoulder screamed bloody murder. He made it over to Clark and dropped back down again.

"You're telling me Lana - - itty bitty Lana - -kicked both your asses?"

He didn't dignify that with an answer. He felt the back of Clark's head, just to make sure there was no leaking brain matter. There was wetness, but no source of it that Lex could feel beneath his hair.

"Then fled the scene, really damned fast," Lois was muttering, looking suspiciously at the half open door. She turned back to him. "So, where've you been for the last year or so, Lex? Do you just have a thing for reading your own obituary, because it seems to be a habit with you, the whole presumed dead thing, then popping back up like a bad penny?"

He narrowed his eyes and looked up at her. "Are you fishing for a quote?"

"Hell yeah, I'm fishing for a quote. This is going to take me national. Lex Luthor: Alive. Again. And Tess Mercer knows it, doesn't she and isn't happy about it? Why'd you go into hiding to begin with? Is there going to be a battle over control of LuthorCorp? Do you even have a chance of regaining control after the Queen industries merger?"

"Lois!" He held up his good hand to shut her up, because he needed to think and he needed to breath and he couldn't do either properly with her jibbering at him. "Just - - stop, for a minute."

"What's wrong with your shoulder? Dislocated?"

"You think? " No use denying it.

"Damn, Lana is badder ass than I'd have given her credit for. I can fix that."

He eyed her balefully, as she rose, circling behind him.

"No, really, I know how to pop a joint back into place. Used to date this football player that did it all the time."

"No, I don't think - -" Was as much as he got out before she slipped an arm under his bad arm, braced the other one across the back of his shoulders and yanked up. Hard. The ball slid back into the joint with a nasty little sound, and muscle and tendon realigned. It was almost as excruciating as when Lana had popped it out of place, only this time, the pain after the fact was dull and throbbing instead of bloody screaming red.

"See? I know my shit." She circled back around, knelt there on the other side of Clark and fixed him with her gimlet glare.

He dropped his head and breathed, waiting for the wave of dizziness to dissapate. The ribs still hurt a bit, and the shoulder ached numbly, but the pain was tolerable.

"Okay, so back to you answering my questions." She reminded him vaguely of a terrier, tenacious and single-minded. And really, he'd never appreciated a woman so much.

"Lois, I'll make a deal with you - -"

She paused, giving him a wary look. "From the way I remember it, making deals with you is sort of like making deals with the devil."

"If there was an exclusive in it for you, would you make the exception?"

The journalist in her couldn't refuse, no matter what she thought of him personally. He saw it in her eyes. "What kind of exclusive?"

Smart woman to begin negotiations.

"I talk to you and you alone."

"Not even to Clark?" She arched a brow, not happy that Clark had been lying to her. Lex knew the feeling.

"Not even to Clark."

"And you answer all my questions?"

He lifted a dubious brow. "I answer what I feel like answering. But only to you."

She chewed it over, and asked. "And you want what from me?"

"Temporary silence."

"How temporary?"

He did a fast set of calculations in his head. What was already in motion, what he could get his little team of lawyers started on tonight, after hours. Anonymity was no longer his friend. Lana knew where he was, which meant in short order all of Lana's contacts would and she'd had a point. If no one knew of his existence, then no one would miss him if he were just to disappear. No one but Clark and Clark had secrets of his own, that did not need to see the light of day. That Lex didn't want to see revealed anymore.

Which meant Lex Luthor needed very badly to step back into the public eye. And he needed press in a bad way. If attempts were made, he damned sure wanted Lois Lane and her ilk to be all over the reasons why. That would make certain parties think twice about putting him in the cross hairs.

"A day."

She thought it over, nodded finally. "What else?"

He almost laughed. There were so many things running through his head, he'd almost forgotten the important one.

"Shut the door and help me get him to bed."

She snorted, but climbed to her feet, kicked off four-inch heels and helped carry/drag Clark to the bedroom.

"He weighs a ton," she complained, but at least she wasn't working with a shoulder that felt like somebody had sprinkled sand in the joints. Clark didn't stir the whole trip and after they'd dumped him onto the bed, Lex slid down to the floor beside it, rubbing his shoulder, a few little pain stars dancing at the edges of his vision. Lois sank down beside him, getting her breathing back on track.

After a moment of silence she asked. "So, were you in hiding or something?"

"Something."

"And the first person you decided to reveal yourself to was Clark Kent? Who you've been fighting with like cats fight with dogs, for oh, the last few years at least?"

He rolled his head on the edge of the bed to look at her. "Discussing Clark is not part of our bargain, Lois."

She stared at him, digesting. "That's very - - protective of you, Lex."

He just stared until she shrugged. "Whatever. You know, we almost dated, me and Clark."

He lifted a brow. "I didn't."

"Yeah. I don't know what was running through my head - - because he annoys me all the time, and you can't count on him to be there when you need him, but I thought there was something - - then Lana shows back up and poof - - he doesn't remember I'm in the room. It pissed me off."

"I can imagine."

"It still pisses me off sometimes. He moped for months after she dumped him. That pissed me off, too."

It rather annoyed Lex as well.

She chewed the inside of her cheek, staring at him as if there were something crawling across his face.

"You know, you look good, Lex. I mean, really good. Were you hiding out at a European spa or something?"

That wasn't a bad cover, considering he was wearing a body that had considerably less wear and tear than the one that the world last remembered.

"Lois, you'll get your interview, but not tonight. Why don't you go convince your editors that you've got the story of a lifetime and save that above the fold front page space for tomorrow's late edition. I'd avoid mention of me, if you can. Tess Mercer has several billion reasons to wish me permanently out of the public eye."

"You're saying permanently, as in put a bullet in your head and bury you in a shallow grave, permanent?" Lois asked with what Lex thought was an inappropriate degree of excitement.

He gave her a look. "If that happens, she'd be at the top of my list of suspects. My ex-wife would run a close second."

"This is great." She had a vaguely fevered look in her eyes, running over imaginary headlines in the case of just such an event in her mind, maybe.

" I assume she has some dealings with the Planet?" Lex asked dryly.

"Too many," Lois blinked out of her fantasy. "You'd think running LuthorCorp would eat up enough of her time that she wouldn't need to hang around the newsroom, but no. She's like Big Sister, always snooping over your shoulder."

Lex chewed that over, considering reasons why and finding too many uncomfortable ones. Tess had taken an interest in the Daily Planet for the same reasons he had, to keep an eye on the people that were a threat. To keep an eye on Clark.

"Do what you can. I'll call you tomorrow. "

She pushed herself up, stood for a moment, staring at Clark, then said. "The only reason I'm even considering trusting you is because of him, you know? He might be a huge pain in my ass, but he's got good instincts. I trust his instincts and if he was lying to me in order to protect you for some reason - - and I intend to find out what that reason is, believe you me - - then I'm going to go with him on it. Until I find out differently - -"

She gave him a warning look at the last and it occurred to him that out of all of Clark's 'friends', this was the only one who didn't seem to think she was more equipped to make rational decisions than he was. The only one that trusted him.

"My opinion," he said, as she was heading, barefoot down the hall to the living room. She paused to hear him out. "Out of the two of you, you'd have made the better girlfriend."

She snorted, a little surprised. "Moot point," she said, and moved on.

He sat there until he heard the click of her heels on the wood floor and the soft sound of her opening and shutting the apartment door.

Then there was just silence. He sat for a moment, appreciating it, then drew a breath that was deep enough to make his ribs protest, and pushed himself up. It hurt more now that he'd been sitting for a while. Clark was still dead to the world and Lex drew his brows a little at the depth of his unconsciousness. Was this usual, after he'd endured prolonged exposure to kryptonite? He'd seen Clark heal from wounds almost instantaneously after the substance had been removed from his presence, but that had been a pretty massive blow to the head.

He laid fingertips to Clark's cheek and the skin was warm, his lips petal soft when Lex brushed a thumb across them. He shut his eyes, experiencing a little twinge of pain that had nothing to do with his Lana-induced aches. He pulled his hand back, flexing his fingers, and went to find Clark's phone. There were arrangements to be made and new orders to be issued. New priorities to be shifted ahead in the queue of his current plan of ascension/survival.

After a half hour explaining the new situation to Lipscomb, he severed the connection, got a zip lock bag and filled it with ice to hold against his shoulder, then returned to the bedroom.

Clark hadn't moved. So Lex pulled off his shoes, then toed off his own and eased himself down on the mattress next to Clark. The moment he was vertical, the room started to tilt. He shut his eyes to stop it, settled the bag of ice on his shoulder and willed his body to relax, one protesting muscle at a time. It occurred to him to wonder if this new body would have the same superior healing abilities of the old one. It ought to, if stem cells were used in the cloning process. The baldness had certainly come through, so one could only hope that the actual advantageous result of kryptonite cell mutation would carry over as well.

He'd find out in the morning. A night's sleep always made a difference and he suspected Lana wouldn't be back. Not after witnesses had seen her at the scene of the crime. She wasn't stupid. Just seriously obsessed with the notion of taking him down. The fact that she'd been willing to take Clark down, in order to do it - - surprised him a little. Pissed him off to no ends.

He wondered if Clark would shrug it off. Lana and her moods. Lana who could do no wrong. Or at least no wrong that Clark couldn't manage to convince himself to forgive. Because Lana had justifiable reasons. Like Lex had never had a solid rationale for any of the things he'd done in his own search for the truth.

Fucking hypocrite.

He rolled onto his good side and pressed his forehead against Clark's shoulder. Clark's solid warmth. Clark's familiar scent that drifted through his senses, comforting, soothing.

But Clark had forgiven him. Lana had reminded him of that. Lex wasn't entirely sure why, unless Clark considered the new him, a different entity entirely than the old. Separate from those crimes. Ironic, because Lex didn't separate himself from them.

But he wasn't sure that was the case. He wasn't sure Clark just hadn't at some point, made up his mind to simply forgive. A capacity that never ceased to amaze Lex, most especially when Clark applied it to him. It was a singular ability in the world Lex knew, not to play games and hold grudges and scheme and plot and hate behind a smile. It had taken Lana less than a year to discover all those talents after stepping into Lex's sphere, though he suspected she'd been rather good at a few of them long before he'd held an interest in her.

Clark had had his lies, but Lex understood why he'd held to them now. He'd never let them darken his soul and Lex loved him for that dogged purity. Lex loved him.

It wasn't a new concept, just a painful one to remind himself of, when Lana Lang had just stepped back into the picture. If he'd have been a pure pragmatist, he'd have looked at Clark's history with Lana and felt a certain hopelessness that he'd take any side but hers, but then if he were a pure pragmatist, he'd never have gotten as far as he had.

He'd never given up anything in his life without a fight and he wasn't about to start now.

 

 

 

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