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Therefore I Am

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 11

 

Clark roused up with sunshine on his face and warm weight at his side. It was a pleasant way to greet the day and he lay for a moment, luxuriating in that tremulous place between sleep and wakefulness. The last vestiges of whatever dream he'd been having drifted away, but it left the usual morning wood in its wake. The dream, he vaguely recalled, had had something to do with Lex - -

Lex.

Firmer images more rooted in reality crowed in.

Lana.

Memory flooded back with a sudden painful jolt and he snapped to full awareness. Almost he bolted out of bed, save for the fact that his arm was trapped under a body. Lex's body.

Which upon a moment's focused hearing, had a healthy heartbeat and steady rhythm of breath. Clark shut his eyes, a surge of relief clogging up his throat. He'd thought - - he'd thought for just a moment there, when Lana's fist had slammed down - - that she might have intended the unthinkable. But obviously she hadn't. Obviously she'd - - well - - Clark wasn't sure if there was an obvious answer for waking up in bed with Lex. She'd seemed a little too outraged for that to have been her ultimate plan.

He eased his arm out from under Lex, and shifted up onto an elbow, using his vision to check out the rest of the apartment. It was empty. The living room was sort of a mess, but other than that - - nothing. He was starting to feel out of the loop.

He looked down at Lex. There was a greenish yellow bruise on his cheek the size of say, the back of a small woman's hand. A cut that was neatly scabbed over and well on the way to healing at the edge of his jaw, under his ear.

Clark narrowed his eyes and looked deeper, and found the bones of Lex's shoulder back in place. There were a few ribs with hairline fractures and Clark clenched his jaw.

Anger welled, and along with it a sickening, helpless frustration. Why in the hell couldn't people just make a leap of faith and trust that he had a clue what he was doing? Why couldn't she, instead of going after Lex like he'd been holding a gun with kryptonite bullets to Clark's head? And Lex had been hurt because of it, and could have been hurt worse - - human flesh and bone not able to withstand unregulated rages from more than human strengths.

Clark had told her - -he'd told her very clearly that that much power, that quickly was no easy burden to bear. But she'd been convinced she could handle it. Convinced that a few months of training would give her power of restraint, when Clark who'd been dealing all his life, still sometimes made mistakes.

Clark had never yanked an arm out of its socket, even when he'd been so angry it clouded his vision.

He needed to talk to her. He didn't know what she'd been doing these last months that had her in a place that she attacked friends as well as perceived enemies - - that she attacked him when he didn't immediately jump to her side - - but he needed to convince her that there were better ways to deal. He needed to convince her that Lex was not the threat he had been.

Lex made a sound, shifting a little. His eyes cracked open, hazy with sleep, but sharpening as he registered Clark leaning over him.

"You okay?" Clark asked.

Lex took a moment, getting his bearings. His thigh was close and warm against Clark's, which some part of Clark's brain thought was nice.

"I could ask you the same thing?" Lex said carefully, staring up at him with just the faintest touch of wariness in his eyes.

Clark canted his head, trying to figure that out, then recalled Lana knocking him cold, oh, out in the living room and figured he'd maybe been that way for a while, since it was morning and he was in bed.

"I'm okay. What happened? You talked her out of - -" he trailed off, not sure he wanted to contemplate what Lana had had in mind.

"I didn't talk her out of anything. The cavalry comes in stiletto heels these days."

Clark blinked, lost.

"And it has a key to your apartment."

"Lois?"

Lex inclined his head. "And the little girl from across the hall. She couldn't very well cave in my head in front of witnesses."

God. And he'd been doing a pretty good job of keeping a low profile in the building.

"Lex, Lana's not a killer." Clark believed that. He had to believe that.

The corner of Lex's mouth twitched, like he wanted to argue the point, but held back.

"Crap. Lois saw you?" Clark was picking up on crucial facts a little slowly. He couldn't help it, there was a lot of new information swimming around in his head. A lot of new problems screaming for attention. Lois knew Lex was here. Lana did. Which meant Chloe probably already did as well. And Oliver - - which led to Tess - - and damn. Just damn.

"You can't be here. Everybody is gonna know you're here. Everybody probably already does. God, I've got to get you out of here. Someplace safe - -"

"Clark," Lex put a hand on Clark's arm. "I'm through with hiding."

Clark shook his head, lost again. Talking with Lana was suddenly not nearly so important as getting Lex someplace where all his varied enemies couldn't get their hands on him. The farm maybe. But no, anyone who knew him would look there first.

Lex's hand slipped down to Clark's wrist, turned his hand to look at his watch. The trail of his fingers was sort of electric - - distracting.

"God," Lex swore and sat up, then swore again and went a little pale, arm around ribs.

"Slow," Clark leaned over, laid his hand on Lex's back. "You've got fractured ribs."

Lex squinted up at him from his hunched position. "How do you know?"

Clark shrugged. "I looked."

Lex let out a little breath of a laugh, and straightened up more carefully. Clark didn't move his hand from his back. For support. If Lex noted it, he didn't comment.

"Okay, note to self, bones take more than half a day to heal."

"So I've heard," Clark said dryly.

Lex canted a look at him. "I heal - - I healed quickly. I hope I still do. I also overslept."

He gave Clark a push, evicting him from bed, then scooted out after him. Clark glanced at his watch himself as Lex headed out of the bedroom. It was quarter after eleven. Very late, considering he still kept farmer's hours. Lana's kryptonite punch must have taken more out of him than he'd thought.

"Overslept for what?" Clark asked the closed bathroom door.

Lex didn't answer until he was out, and heading towards Clark's computer. Clark's phone was there, and he picked it up as he eased into the chair and hit a number on Clark's speed dial.

"My debut," he said as the number was ringing.

Clark stood there with his mouth open while Lex got his connection and said into the phone. "Four o'clock. LuthorCorp lobby. You bring the guests, I'll provide the party favors. Yes, Ms. Lane, the deal still stands."

"What deal?" Clark sputtered, having only caught the last part of the other end of that conversation to confirm it was Lois. Lex glanced back at him, sporting the sort of smile he used to wear when he'd just managed to outmaneuver a business opponent.

"Oh, did I forget to mention that Lois is my press liaison."

"Your what? What the hell were you doing while I was unconscious?"

Lex grinned, and turned back to the computer, pulled up a site that looked like some sort of online stock trader, did a few things and commented. "I'm having a draft sent to your bank account. And yes, I know it was presumptuous of me to use your identity, but I'm technically dead."

Clark stalked across the room to peer over his shoulder. "You've been trading stocks?"

"Yes."

"And - - Jesus," Clark gaped at the amount. "Lex where'd you get all that money? You've been here for less than a week."

"I'm very good at what I do, Clark." Lex said, like Clark was just naïve for doubting.

Clark spun the chair around, leaned there with his hands on the chair arms and fixed Lex with his gaze. Lex stared back unflinchingly.

"This is legal?"

"Of course."

"And whatever you've got brewing - - that's legal? No one's going to get hurt?"

"Not by me. Me maybe. Bystanders, if Tess, or Lana, or some of your little group of cronies decide to get sloppy trying to take me out.

Clark took a breath, not liking those images. "Not if I can help it. God, Lex. Don't leave me in the dark in this. If you don't trust me with details, then I might not be able to protect you."

Lex canted his head, his smile fading, the look in his eyes turning painfully earnest. "I trust you, Clark. You may be the only person in the world at the moment, that I do. I can't stay hidden anymore, because if I do and they get me, you're the only one that knows, and without proof of my existence, what could you do? Lex Luthor is dead and buried. You even wrote an article about it."

"You read that?" Clark asked softly.

"Yeah. I understand if you were a little - - bitter. I would have been."

Lex's smiled a little wistfully, and Clark felt a rush of guilt for that op ed he'd written, so fresh off grief and rage and helpless fury over Lana's desertion and Lex's death and - - God, it had been a really bad week for him.

"I'm sorry." He'd sank to his knees and hadn't realized it, hands slid off the chair arms and onto Lex's thighs. Lean and hard under worn jeans. Just like the rest of him, angular bone and sinewy muscle incased in skin like nothing Clark had ever touched. A surge of protectiveness welled up, fierce and determined.

"So what's going on at LuthorCorp at 4?" He forced casual interest into his tone when he felt anything but casual.

"An impromptu gathering. Wouldn't want to give the powers that be the upper hand." Lex's smile went just a little predatory.

"No, we wouldn't want that. What then?"

"We play it by ear and see what sort of shit storm gets stirred up. It should be better than theater."

There was a vast divide between Lex's idea of entertainment and Clark's. Especially when it was Lex's life on the line and Lex was acting like it was an acceptable risk. "Lex, this is a bad idea."

"You're probably right. I think I'll run with it, anyway." He reached down and turned Clark's wrist, checking the time again.

"I really need to get a move on. I wouldn't ask, but I'm short on time. Can you get me to Barrett Street?"

"What's at Barrett Street?"

"My tailor."

"Your - -tailor?"

Lex gave him a dubious cant of the brow. "You don't think I'm stepping back into the public eye looking like I walked out of a thrift store?"


 

Which was how Clark ended up standing in the understated elegance of a small, exclusive men's boutique on the upper end of Barrett Street, shifting in embarrassment as the proprietor cried - - literally cried - - tears of joy upon Lex's return from the dead. There was a lot of blubbering Italian mixed in with English that Lex stoically pretended to overlook, but the gist Clark got was that Lex had spent an obscene amount of money here over the years and he'd been sorely missed.

It looked as if this were not going to be a quick stop to pick clothes off the rack, and when the tailor unfurled the measuring tape from around his neck, despite Lex having said - - Clark had distinctly heard him say he needed something whipped up quickly - - Clark decided to step outside and see what he could do about tracking down Lana.

Barrett Street was home to a lot of upscale boutiques and bistro's. It was less congested than uptown Metropolis, more people strolling down the sidewalks with shopping bags on their arms, than power walking with agenda's on their minds. There weren't a lot of shops here he could have afforded to shop. He stood under the tailor's awning, out of the path of foot traffic and called Chloe.

"Clark." It took her more than the usual amount of rings to answer and he knew her well enough to pick up that there was something just a little off about her voice.

"Is Lana there?" It made sense Lana would have gone to Chloe, who was her contact between the world she'd left and the one she'd immersed herself in. Chloe who she spoke to, Clark was certain, on a regular basis. Chloe who had her own reasons to hold grudges against anything Lex touched.

"Lana's not here, Clark." Chloe made a bad liar. She wasn't cut out for it and he could always hear the distaste in her voice when she was forced into it. She was damn sure lying now.

"Really?" He zeroed in on the sound of her breathing, of her heartbeat over the phone connection, found it amongst the millions of others crowding the city, heard another close by and funny thing, Chloe's he could almost recognize, but Lana's - - if it was Lana's - - was just a steady, unfamiliar pulse.

He glanced inside the shop, saw Lex busy with the tailor and likely to be that way for some time. It was doubtful any of the people looking for him would figure he'd decided to make a leisurely stop by his tailor, so Clark was pretty sure he'd be fine on his own for a little while.

"I have talked to her, " Chloe was saying. "She told me what happened - -"

Clark was outside the door to Isis before Chloe finished that sentence. He twisted the handle, breaking the lock, because damned if he was going to give Lana time to cut and run with a polite knock.

They both gaped at him when he stepped in, Chloe with her phone to her ear and her mouth half open, Lana across the room, and recovering from her surprise a lot faster. She rose from the little sofa and stared at him and he swallowed back the nausea and ignored as best he could the way his blood sort of felt like it was curdling just a little in his veins.

"You shouldn't have come, Clark." Lana lifted her chin with that stubborn little tilt Clark knew so well. Her eyes glittered with the fervor of firm belief.

"Why?" He threw out his hands. "You didn't hesitate to break into my apartment."

She flinched minutely at that, but her chin didn't waver. "I didn't think I needed an invitation."

"You don't," he said in frustration. "Unless you stop by to beat up my houseguests."

"Your houseguest!!" She spat and took a step forward. "That Thing?"

"Whoa. Whoa, kids." Chloe stepped between them, hands extended like a referee in the middle of a rink. "Opposite corners."

Clark took a step back, shoulders to the door, not particularly wanting to puke in front of them, even though his stomach dearly felt like it wanted to do just that. He stared past Chloe at Lana, not knowing what to do with her rage. Not understanding how it seemed as fresh for her now as it had been when she'd first discovered her capacity for it.

She'd changed clothes, put her hair up, though a few dark strands whispered down around her face. And defensive. She radiated defensive.

"Its okay," he took a breath, trying for peacemaker, because maybe she was feeling guilty. He would have been wallowing in it. "I understand why you hit me."

"You hit him?" Chloe seemed surprised by that fact.

"I don't think you do," Lana said softly, ignoring Chloe.

He spread his hands helplessly, wanting to step closer, to just grip her hand so he could maybe get through to her. "But you shouldn't have attacked him. He doesn't have powers, Lana and people without powers break. You could have killed him."

"He's just a clone, Clark. Lex's clone, with Lex's agenda."

He shook his head, not wanting to believe she could be so callous. She was still hurt, still wounded - - that was all. If she could just convince herself it was all right to heal - -

"He breaths. He thinks. He feels. Isn't that pretty much the definition of being a real person? I know you didn't really mean to hurt him - -"

Her chin went up, her mouth thinning. The sparkle in her eye turned cold and Clark wavered, a different sort of sickness spreading outwards. He remembered the look on Lex's face when he'd insisted that Lana hadn't meant to kill him. Like he'd thought differently, but knew better than to challenge Clark's faith in her.

It hurt challenging it himself, but much as he'd like to forget, he knew she'd gone to some dark places and done some dark things in her quest of vengeance against Lex. He remembered a time, drunk on power, that she might have killed him - - she would have regretted it after, Clark was sure, but - - still.

"Did you?" He asked softly.

"He deserved that and more." There was no inflection in her voice. No emotion. "I'm trying to do the right thing, Clark, since you're too blind to do it yourself."

"Right thing? What is the right thing? He hasn't done anything. You can't just go after him because you think he might!" Frustration made him stalk a few steps forward and to hell with the pain.

"Have you forgotten what he did to me?" She asked.

"He's not the same!"

"That's painfully obvious."

"No, I mean - -" Clark ground his teeth and spat it out. "I think he was broken before."

"That's sort of a no brainer, too." Chloe said warily, still hovering between them as if her frail flesh could block out Lana's kryptonite aura.

"No!" Clark shook his head sharply, gave Chloe a hard look. "I mean physical injury messing with his mind. Shot in the head, what twice? Electroshock. The black ship and Zod rearranging his circuitry to suit them? Tell me that's not enough to screw up neural pathways? Tell me he that by the time he died, he was anywhere close to the man that first came to Smallville?"

"You're grasping at straws," Lana said coolly. "He had you fooled from day one."

"He didn't!" Clark snapped and it pissed him off that people kept trying to convince him of it. It pissed him off that sometimes, he'd actually let those same people persuade him that it might have been true, when deep down he'd known it wasn't true. "I'm not an idiot and I'm tired of people treating me like I am. I know Lex and saw the changes and it was easier to pretend it was just him living up to the Luthor legacy, rather than him making bad calls because he couldn't tell the difference anymore."

"God, Clark, you think you knew him better than me? I was married to him."

There was something very like a sneer on her face. It wasn't an expression that he recalled Lana wearing often. And maybe that marriage and the subsequent courtship had been a damned big contributor to Clark's blindness. Jealousy could make a man blind to a lot of things and he'd had it so bad there were days he could barely function, thinking about Lana and Lex allied against him. Twin betrayals. And maybe even, it hadn't been entirely Lex he'd been jealous of. Maybe even he'd hated her a little for so thoroughly taking Lex away, because God knew, if not for her between them, he might have found a way to make things right between them. Maybe he could have made a difference before Lex had gone completely over the edge.

He took a breath and asked. "And it never occurred to you to question why the hell someone you obviously loved enough to agree to marry could change so fast?"

"I never loved him." She said.

Clark blinked, thrown off by that admission, because - - how could she not have? How did you sleep with someone - - how did you commit to them - - without love being involved? Granted Lionel had blackmailed her at the end, but not at first.

"I was trying to protect you." She added, as if something in his expression gave away what was running through his mind.

"I didn't need your protection."

He moved another step forward and blanched at the wave of hurt. Chloe put her hands on his chest and put all her body weight behind pushing him back. He let her after a moment, stopping with his back against the door again, with Chloe standing there her hands trembling a little, staring up at him.

"Lana, he may have a point. I've read case studies of survivors of gunshot wounds to the head recovering with altered personalities. Of severe brain trauma inhibiting the ability to make certain moral distinctions. And if anybody suffered more than his fair share of head trauma, it was Lex."

"Right," Clark jumped on Chloe's show of support. "And you said yourself that the clone would be an exact replica minus any physical scarring. That would include brain scarring, too, wouldn't it?"

Chloe bit her lip, considering. But it was her thinking expression, which meant she was reassessing opinions.

"I need to do some research," she said. "But maybe - -"

But Lana wasn't buying it. There wasn't even doubt in her eyes, just clear determination. "Chloe, you can't believe - -?"

"I don't know. I can't discount, not when he's got some valid points."

Lana turned to him, and her expression softened. "Clark. You can't seriously take his side against me?"

Her eyes were huge and vulnerable, as if his answering the wrong way would tear her heart out.

"There are no sides, Lana. This doesn't have to be a war. " It was one last desperate plea one more hope that she find it in herself to just let it go. And God, he didn't want to hurt her, and there was a time he'd have given her anything - - but not this. There was no leeway in this, no ground to give and he hadn't even been aware of when that stark certainty had crept up on him.

Her chin went up, the softness melting out of her eyes.

"Then I guess we know where we stand," she said stiffly.

"I guess we do." And it hurt in a numb sort of way saying it. Admitting it. Admitting that he and she had parted ways on some intrinsic level - - that somewhere along the line she'd become more inflexible in her beliefs - - in her grudges - - than Lex had ever been.


There was a feeling of empowerment that a good set of clothes could give a man. A confidence that was hard to shake.

A great set, well - - suffice to say, men who built empires didn't buy off the rack. Nor did they pay out of pocket when visiting merchants. Guicci would never be so gauche to ask. Lex had an account, and a reputation. If he made a point of it, any merchant in the city that catered to wealthy clientele would bend over backwards for him without asking for a cent up front.

Which was convenient, since he didn't currently have one to his name. It would take a day or two for the funds to clear Clark's bank and even then, he'd spent more in one stop at Guicci's than he'd earned playing at stocks.

But he felt like him again, with the slide of a fine silk against his skin, and Italian leather on his feet. It had taken time, but some things were worth the effort. Making the sort of impression that people didn't forget was one of those things, and it was vitally important that when he came out, no one doubted Lex Luthor's legitimacy.

The one thing he hadn't been able to get at Guicci's was a phone, and when he'd sent one of Guicci's assistants out to get Clark's, Clark had been gone. And yes, Lex had experienced a moment or two of concern, because Clark was dependable as Kansas windstorms in some respects and entirely unpredictable in others, and Lana Lang might be a trigger for either state. God knew, Lex had been no small bit surprised when Clark hadn't gone off to chase her down first thing.

He had stood there, staring blindly at multiple reflections in the mirrors, contemplating just that, and how much damage she could reap with a few soft words and a vulnerable look in her eyes. Trying to convince himself that the loss of Clark's alliance, if it came to that, could be dealt with. The loss of Clark himself - - that was a more complicated thing to dissect.

But halfway through the fitting, Clark was simply back, sitting slouched in one of the leather chairs out in the showroom floor, a glower on his face and a distant look in his eyes. And when the tailor had all the measurements he needed from Lex, Lex slipped back into the jeans, and the Italian silk shirt he'd chosen, and padded out to sit in the chair next to Clark's.

Clark glanced at him distractedly, then went back to staring at the grain in the hardwood floor. If Lana hadn't just made an appearance, Lex might have assumed he was torturing himself over their little bout of mutual masturbation yesterday evening. But, since Lana drama seemed to top all other drama in Clark's world, he suspected Clark's sulk had to do with her. It was mildly insulting.

Lex had experienced enough Lana related drama of his own, that he honestly didn't want to hear Clark's gripes, though he guessed if he asked, Clark would be willing to share. Clark never had had problems divulging his personal dilemmas to him. It had always been unexpectedly refreshing to hear them, considering that Lex's personal issues had always been considerably more sullied.

What he asked instead was to use Clark's phone. At which, Clark blinked for a moment, as if Lex were speaking a foreign language, then blinked some more as the request sank in, and reached into his pocket for the cell. When he handed it over, his fingers brushed Lex's and he started a little, eyes going very focused for a second, on Lex's hand, then up to his face, before he let a breath out between his teeth and looked away.

It was Lana. It was defiantly Lana that had Clark upset. Lex held back a hiss of irritation of his own, called her a few choice names in his head, then phoned his attorney. He proceeded to check on the progress of certain endeavors Lipscomb had his people working on for him, confirmed details and was assured that everything was on schedule. For now. They were working with no opposition at the moment, but that would change instantaneously once he went public.

An hour later, he was dressed in a fine new Guicci Lombarti original and headed towards LuthorCorp. The mode of transport this time, was a car service that Guicci called for him - - one more thing on the Luthor tab. Clark climbed into the back of the limo with him, expression finally shifting back to the here and now, in the form of a worried frown.

"Are you certain about this?" Was the first thing Clark had said since he'd returned to the tailor.

"No." Lex laughed, but he had to force it, nerves starting to set in. He'd been on a roll this morning, implementing a plan, moving towards a goal. But this close, he was starting to get that feeling of impending stage fright. It wasn't an unfamiliar sensation, he'd experienced it a lot, when he'd been shiny and new and rebelling against his father's iron grip. It had been scary as hell, going up against Lionel Luthor - - but he'd done it and he'd won. Eventually.

Fear was just nature's way of letting him know that his survival instinct was alive and well.

"I'll have your back." Clark caught his eyes, the sullenness chased away by a look of utter resolve. The intensity of it caught Lex off guard, banished whatever response he'd almost made, snared by that stare. There was nothing of the boy in that look, but of a man with a mission. And that mission was him. To say it was heartening didn't do the feeling that shivered through him justice.

"I know."

Clark nodded once. And when car pulled up in front of glittering Luthor tower, Clark gave him a warning look, got out first, stood for a moment, his hand on the door, scrutinizing the immediate area. Or maybe the not so immediate, utilizing his enhanced senses. Lex couldn't have asked for a more a more uniquely talented watchdog if he'd planned it from the start.

Apparently nothing seemed out of sorts to Clark, for he bent down and nodded, and Lex slid out, stepping onto a crowded uptown sidewalk. He stood for a second, staring up at the glass and marble façade of LuthorCorp's flagship building and this time a he got a few second looks from passerby. Hard to ignore him when he stepped out of a limo in front of a building with his name on it. Lex Luthor had been gone a year, not a decade.

He started moving, and Clark stalked next to him, making a path, an immovable object that disgruntled passerby had to change course to move around. The LuthorCorp lobby was cavernous to say the least, multiple levels of walkways and fountains, with little chic vendors offering gourmet coffee, pastries, literature and any number of other things that might appeal to the sort of person that frequented such a place. Marble and steel and glass permeated, a not so understated decree of wealth and power. His father hadn't been exactly subtle when he'd commissioned its design.

He strolled in like he owned the place, all the little details becoming blurred as his focus narrowed. Up the broad steps to the main lobby level where there were trees reaching up towards vast skylights, and grottos filled with comfortable seating. Main reception loomed at the far end, under a waterfall of chrome and glass sporting the Company logo.

He didn't get that far. The moment he topped that last stair, there was a stirring of the unusually large number of people mulling about the main lobby. Someone on the lookout for a promised scoop glanced his way, then glanced again and Lex's name was exclaimed and again, and there was a concerted movement towards him. The descent of a frenzied pack of paparazzi was not exactly un-alarming, if one weren't used to it. He was, and when he was on his game, could play them like the instruments they were.

They surged forward, screaming questions, fumbling for recorders and cameras, and Lex casually laid his fingers on Clark's sleeve when it looked as if Clark were going to take issue. Clark took a breath and backed down, shifting a little to the side, gaze scanning the level of glass-paneled walks above, where Lex was sure he'd find, if he bothered to look himself, LuthorCorp security. By this point, someone other than the press had just realized there was a situation brewing in the lobby. It would take a few more minutes for them to get that information to the top floor.

He kept walking, as if he hadn't come here for their benefit, then finally deigned to take notice as one television journalist that he knew by name, pointed out the obvious. "For the past year, the world thought you were dead, Lex."

He paused and gave her patronizing smile. "If I said reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated, would you quote me as being cliché, Megan?"

Which got him a slew of other simultaneous questions, most of which he ignored. He saw Lois Lane at the edge of the crowd, working her way around.

"Are you going to make a bid to take control of LuthorCorp back?" Someone at the back that he didn't recognize shouted and the timing couldn't have been better if he'd had someone choreographing it. The executive elevators on the level above had spewed forth its passengers and Tess Mercer, along with a handful of LuthorCorp security stood staring down from the glass paneled railing of the level above.

He displayed his most predatory smile and looked up, meeting her eyes as he answered. "I'm not sure I want it, after its been sullied by association with Star industries. But all avenues are open."

If looks could have killed, he'd have been dead on the spot. Tess jerked her chin, a terse invitation for parlay, and started for the landing between levels. He strolled that way himself, the press following like a pack of hounds on a scent, until the grey-suited LuthorCorp security stalked down to block off the bottom of the stairs. They let him pass without issue, but blocked the passage of the reporters. Lex caught, from the corner of his eye, one of them laying a hand on Clark's chest, as he followed Lex. A big man, taller than Clark, which was damned tall. Clark caught his wrist, bent the man's arm back while the guy's eyes bulged in surprise at the ease of it, and smoothly stepped past him.

"He's with me," Lex said, just to keep the others from trying their luck. He hadn't come here to provide them a story about a brawl with security. Tess was waiting halfway up on the landing. A few of her guys behind her, more still up on the next level. One or all them armed. If the lobby had been deserted and Clark hadn't been at his back, he might have feared a quick end to this gambit. She was hamstrung now though, under the eye of a dozen or more eager journalists that were at this moment, calling and texting in the news. It would be out on the AP in minutes and shortly after, the world would know.

"You bastard," she hissed, when he strolled up to meet her. She was a consummate professional, though and none of the cold fury in her voice carried through to her body language.

"And a good afternoon to you as well, Ms. Mercer. Shall we give them a show?" he asked, no less coolly poised than she.

"If you think you're going to get away with this charade, you are sorely mistaken." She had control of her voice now, though her eyes were full of diamond chips.

"Charade? No one's playing at charades here, unless it's you, who were just a little too quick to grab power when the chance presented itself. And then you betrayed me to the likes of Oliver Queen. Disappointing."

"I betrayed you?" she hissed, a barely contained whisper that hinted a more personal turmoil. She shook it off, her gaze cool and calm and collected. "If anyone was betrayed, it wasn't you."

There was a different inflection this time, aimed at the question of his legitimacy.

"Prove it, Tess," Lex said softly with an arch of the brow that dared her to try.

She lifted her chin, not a stupid woman by any stretch of the imagination. She knew damned well what he'd done today, knew damned well he'd just made her life very difficult by the simple act of announcing himself to the world. With a lobby full of reporters and Clark at his back, she wasn't about to give away her game plan, much less start leveling threats. They had to be roiling around in her head though. He'd be disappointed in her if they weren't.

She looked past him to Clark and her lip curled in disgust.

"And you. I can't believe you'd have anything to do with him."

"That seems to be the general consensus," Clark muttered.

"It's a mistake," she said.

And whether Clark got the implied threat or not, Lex caught it. She'd know just enough about Clark, from the information he'd been willing to leave her to be dangerous. Enough to make Clark's life more complicated than Lex had already made it by his mere presence.

He stepped close enough that his shoulder brushed hers and her security tensed, not knowing exactly what to do in a situation where the old boss and the new were at odds. He doubted the rank and file of them knew the dirty details of his reappearance.

He leaned in close to her ear and said very softly. "Go ahead, fuck with me to your heart's content. I can take it. I'll even play nice. Go after him and I will break you. Doubt me not, Tess."

For a moment more, he stood there, feeling the subtle tension she radiated. The subtle fury. And it was a shame, because he'd liked her. Her intelligence and her ingenuity. He wouldn't have chosen her to be the executor of his legacy otherwise.

He stepped away, turned on his heel and walked away from her. He'd gotten half a dozen steps when a young woman hailed Tess as she was stalking back up the stairs. Youth and abject prettiness were the only things, probably, that let her get as close as she did, past Tess's hovering security. "Ms. Mercer? Tess Mercer?"

"What?" Tess glanced at her, distracted and the girl handed her a folded set of documents.

"You've been served." The girl said dryly, and kept going down the stairs, passing Lex and Clark as Lex paused, watching as Tess unfolded the document.

"What's that?" Clark leaned close and asked.

Lex allowed the hint of a smile to touch him lips as he watched Tess read the papers and absorb what they were. She looked up, then swung her gaze down at him, not even bothering to hide the anger in her face this time.

"I'm suing her for breach of contract and executor mismanagement. Among other things." Lex said, then turned away from her and kept going.

Down the stairs where the wall of press still waited. They started calling out questions as soon as he approached. The expected, 'Is there going to be war between you and Tess Mercer?' to 'Was there any truth to the reports of your plane going down in the Artic?' and 'Where have you been, all this time?' to the unexpected, 'Was your disappearance spurred by another wife trying to kill you, Mr. Luthor?' At which he paused, because that was a perfectly good excuse and not to be wasted, if it killed more than one bird with a single shot.

"You know, Kenny," It was one of the Inquisitor's paparazzi that had poised the question. "That's a clever deduction. I do seem to have that problem, don't I? Why don't you read Lois Lane's piece in tomorrow's Planet and find out?"

"Lois Lane?" The cry went up. And Lois who'd settled near the top of the steps leading down from the main lobby to the street level one, smiled like a cat who'd finished the cream and had dibs on the tuna, as they turned on her.

"Why her? Is she getting an exclusive?"

"That's right," she purred, as Lex cut through the press, following the battering ram that was Clark. Lois fell into place behind him, walking backwards as they filled in the gap in their wake. "He's only talking in depth to the best. You can read 'em and weep tomorrow."

He was out the front doors with Clark leading the way. The car was waiting, the driver opening the door as they approached. He slipped into the muffled luxury of the back seat and released a long breath. Another as Clark got in beside him, and Lois crowded in after, despite not being invited, elbowing Clark to scoot over, and Clark did, close enough that his thigh pressed against Lex's.

"That was great," Lois paused her rapid-fire texting to lean forward and look at him around Clark. "Tess looked like she was about to pop a vein or two. I've got the presses waiting for me, so you've got to give me something quick to get in the late edition. Just a few teasers will be fine to whet their appetites. We can save the detail for the morning edition."

"Lois," Clark started and she gave him a narrow eyed glare.

"You can shut up. You lied to me. To my face. Dick. So Lex, where have you been all this time?"

"Relaxing in Europe. A very private retreat."

"Yeah? I was right? Okay, why'd you go underground and let the world think you were dead?"

He leaned around Clark and met her eyes. "I feared for my life. My last divorce went badly and my ex-wife had become a threat I preferred not to exacerbate. I thought with enough of a cooling down period she'd get over her - - irritation. "

"Lana?" Lois exclaimed gleefully.

Clark gave him a dark look, not in the least amused by his cover story. Lex thought it was a brilliantly ironic twist.

"Wait, didn't she fake her death, to get away from you? And frame you for it?" Lois asked.

Lex sighed. "Yes. I tend to attract women who are a tad - - fanatical."

Clark's glare turned considerably darker and Lex sat back and pretended to ignore it, while Lois tapped furiously on Blackberry.

"Sir?" The driver asked, well into uptown traffic by now and driving without a destination.

"The Metropolis Regency," Lex said. Clark's apartment, despite its perks, was no longer an option. The Regency was the best the city had to offer and had the added bonus of not being affiliated with LuthorCorp in any way. It wasn't far, nestled between the hustle of the financial sector, and the gothic architecture of the old wealth buildings that lined Centennial Park.

The limo pulled up under the sheltered portico and liveried bellmen rushed out. There were looks, but no one exclaimed as he strode through the elegant lobby towards reception. He walked up to the counter with Clark drifting in his wake and Lois stalled at the doors, trying to type out the last of her story. The desk clerk stared up at him with shock, before recovering and stammering.

"Mr. Lu-Luthor? Mr. Luthor. How may I help you?"

"I'd like a suite. The Venice, preferably, with the Park view."

The clerk swallowed. "Sir, that suite is currently occupied. We have the Cherry suite available?"

"No. The Venice. Make it so."

The clerk gulped and nodded. "I'll go speak with the manager."

He rose and fled, while the other desk clerks, and the various guests at the counter stared covertly. The clerk was back a few minutes later with the hotel manager, who took one look at Lex, before readjusting his expression to one of utter acquiescence and smiled. "Mr. Luthor. So good to see you again. The Venice will be available for you immediately. Just allow us a few minutes to prepare the suite."

Lex nodded, allowing himself an inward sigh of relief. Luck had been running his way so far today. It was a streak he hoped he could maintain.

He strolled away from reception, and into Clark's scowl. He rather wished Clark would save the glares of disapproval for a more private setting, but then Clark and tact never had been on the best of terms.

Clark caught him by the arm and urged him towards a partition of lush greenery backing a little leather upholstered sitting area. Lex went with it, pretending Clark's grip on his arm was a casual touch instead of an ungiving iron grip.

"What are you doing?" Clark whispered furiously. "Do you want the whole city to know where you are?"

Lex shrugged, idly smoothing out the wrinkle Clark had put in his jacket sleeve. "That is exactly what I'm trying to do. Subtly isn't beneficial at the moment."

Clark made an inarticulate sound, then. "For God's sake, Lex, are you trying to make my life more difficult?"

Lex arched a curious brow. "No. That wasn't my goal. I would think I've just made it easier. You've got your apartment back, minus an uncomfortable houseguest."

Clark opened his mouth. Shut it. Stared at Lex a moment, conflict in his eyes. "You weren't that uncomfortable," he finally muttered.

It sounded grudging, and Lex, if he chose, might take it a variety of ways.

"Really? Are you sure you wouldn't be more at ease without that uncomfortable challenge to your sexuality?"

Clark's cheeks colored and he glanced around hastily, worried no doubt, of someone overhearing that blatant statement. "Could you please stop saying stuff like that in public."

Lex shrugged. "Are you willing to engage in a private discussion?"

A muscle ticked in Clark's jaw, but before he could answer, Lois appeared, beaming smugly.

"When the evening edition hits the street in an hour, my name will be front and center, above the fold."

"Yes," Lex remarked, annoyed at her interruption. "You must be the story of the year."

Clark rolled his eyes, using it as an excuse to stalk a few steps away and stare at the flowering hibiscus. Lois glared at his back for a moment, then sniffed and added.

"Well, yours will be in bigger type. So how many people in the history of news get to have two separate national front-page headlines reporting they're back from the dead? You must feel just special, huh, Lex?"

"I'm blessed." He said dryly.

"You're something." She agreed. "So we are doing that extended sit down today, right?"

"If you have the time in your busy schedule, Lois," he said, half his attention fixed on the way the material of Clark's cheap pale blue button up stretched just a little tautly across the breadth of his shoulders.

"Yeah, I've got the time," Lois snorted.

The manager himself approached, a senior bellhop a step behind,

"Your suite is ready, Mr. Luthor," the manager beamed at him. "I do apologize for the wait. "Do you have luggage, sir?"

"Not yet."

"Very good." The man nodded as if it were entirely normal for his guests to check in bag free. But then Lex had, over the years, used this establishment for assignations that didn't involve overnight stays.

The suite was on the thirty-fifth floor, and was appointed with an aesthetic blend of old world luxury and modern convenience. There was a broad stone balcony that overlooked the sprawl of Metropolis and beyond that the green span of Centennial Park.

"Wow. Just the living room is like - - two of my whole apartment." Lois toured the main room, with its sunken gathering area, and its fully stocked bar, the gleaming baby grand by the floor to ceiling windows, the original antique furniture graced by fresh floral displays, a flat screen roughly the size of a football field over an electric hearth. The kitchen was luxury and fully stocked, and came with its own gourmet chef if the occupant so desired the service.

Clark moved across the room slowly, while Lois was poking her nose into the bedroom and the adjoined bathroom. He was quiet again, staring out the balcony doors. There wasn't much Lex could do to break it, even if he'd been so inclined, with Lois skulking about the suite, so he went instead to the little study off the living room on the opposite side of the bedroom to make a few calls.

Lipscomb for one, to congratulate him on the timing of the subpoena, and apprise him of Lex's new living arrangements. A few others to arrange for the delivery of the rest of the wardrobe he'd commissioned, and requests of the concierge to send up a few other necessities.

There was nothing else to do after, until things he'd already set in motion started rolling, but deal with Lois and get her out of the way, so he strolled back into the main room, where Clark was still staring stonily out over the cityscape while Lois was snooping around the back of the bar.

"Let's get this over with, Ms. Lane."

She glanced up from her inspection of the various liquid entertainments the Regency provided its high-end clientele, straightened her shoulders as if preparing for battle and nodded.

"You need to vamoose, Smallville." She gave Clark a pointed look, and Clark blinked back, confused.

"What? Why?"

"Because," she said with a narrow look. "I don't want untrustworthy competitors honing in on my scoop."

"Lois, I'm sorry - -" Clark looked guilty.

"I don't want to hear it." She snapped. "You're deep on my shit list and I'll let you know when you can start shoveling your way out. Now make scarce. Go cover a barn fire or something."

That got an offended look from Clark, and a drawing of the brows. He glanced at Lex, who shrugged and indicated the door with a jerk of his chin. "Why don't you go get something to eat, Clark? I'm sure Ms. Lane will curb any urge to bite - -"

Clack scowled, but he shuffled towards the door, regardless, casting Lois a dark look as he went. She smiled, until he was out the door, then turned on Lex and said. "Let's get down to business."

He went for the bar, and a decent glass of scotch, brought it with him to the sitting area, settled in the center of the long leather couch and said.

"You've got forty-five minutes, Lois. Don't waste it."


Clark took the elevator down. Leaned against the back wall and stared sullenly at his distorted reflection in the polished bronze while he waited for the car to make the trip down. It stopped once, about midway to let on an elderly couple, which he nodded at politely out of reflex. Manners were manners after all, and even if the world was conspiring against you, there was no reason to be rude. It sounded like something his mother might say. His mother, who was likely the only woman in his life at the moment that he hadn't alienated.

He was sure, if he made the trip home and explained the details of the situation, he could manage to add her to the list as well.

The elderly couple's stop was the second floor where the hotel's restaurants were, so Clark went ahead and got off, since he was sort of hungry, having missed breakfast and lunch between following Lex around and breaking up with Lana.

No. He shook his head, trying to clear out the cobwebs. That wasn't right. He'd already broken up with Lana, this had just been the icing on the cake. Or maybe, more accurately, she'd already broken up with him, driven by her own agenda's, and he just hadn't been willing to accept it, until today. And what made it crystal clear, painfully obvious to him now, was that her agenda's and what she was willing to do to achieve them, were distinctly different than his. Maybe even had been for a long while before they'd parted ways.

It wasn't her fault entirely, he was convinced of that. She'd been really, really screwed up after Lex - - the original Lex - - like some of his psychosis had rubbed off onto her. And maybe people could be broken from things other than bullets tearing through brain matter and she'd picked up her damage on a more emotional level and let it twist her.

It didn't mean it was right. It didn't mean you could get away with murder because someone had made your life hell. And funny thing was, he didn't think Lex had been out to hurt her, not even after she'd started attacking him. He'd just sort of let her get away with it with out retaliation that Clark had seen, so Clark had to wonder just how much abuse had gone on in that marriage. Lana had been sparse with the details, tending to get her points across in broad generalities and the reminders that she'd endured it all for him.

And he'd been okay with it, because he'd always seen her before through rose tinted glasses, everything soft and perfect. He'd gone to Isis today and seen the sharp edges. Seen the parts of the woman he'd done his damndest to ignore before. And he thought, maybe he'd done her as well as himself an injustice in that willing blindness. She'd tried to tell him she wasn't that perfect woman. It had just taken something major for him to accept it. For him to see.

Lex. Her going after Lex shouldn't have been a surprise, because in all honesty, she'd done it before, but this time - - this time it made his blood run cold. And he'd gone to that confrontation at Isis more concerned about getting her off Lex's trail than mending fences. More concerned about Lex than he'd been about Lana and he wasn't sure when that had happened. When concern for Lex wasn't just paramount, but vital. When he wasn't horrified by the contemplation of doing scandalous things with Lex, but intrigued.

He took a deep breath and leaned on the railing overlooking the Regency lobby. There were a few extra doormen, clustered near the main entrance, and what appeared to be a great deal of people outside, being denied entrance. He narrowed his eyes and looked through obstructing objects to see a scattered group of reporters. They'd tracked Lex down. Which couldn't have been hard, since Lex had been going out of his way to make an impression. The Regency staff wasn't letting them in though, a hotel of this quality very much dedicated to the protection of the privacy of its guests. And the press seemed to be respecting the boundary. Clark wondered if would be assassins would be so easily deterred?

He focused his hearing, found Lex with unerring accuracy, the singular beat of his heart, calm and collected. No threat there, save for Lois and Lois, Lex could handle. Better even than Clark, it seemed.

Reassured, he turned and surveyed the array of restaurants and bars the Regency had to offer. A quick look at a menu displayed in a glass box beside the hostess station of one and he figured there was nothing they offered within his budget. He took the escalator down to the lobby, and considered plowing through the collection of press outside, but some of them would know him from the Planet, and others would recognize him as being with Lex at LuthorCorp and avoiding recognition was an ingrained thing with him, so he asked one of the bellhops if there was a back entrance and the guy directed him to it.

One of the great things about Metropolis was that you could find a food vendor on almost every corner of uptown, and sure enough there was a hotdog cart down the block. Clark ordered two, with the works, and got a bag of chips and a canned soda. He devoured them sitting on the covered bench of a nearby bus stop. Sat there for a while afterwards, trying to figure out a plan of action. First thing to do, was call in to work and plead sickness. With the hornet's nest so expertly stirred, he wouldn't risk being halfway across town and leaving Lex vulnerable. No matter what Lex thought about Tess not making a move now that he'd made the world aware of their animosity - - Clark had different ideas on the matter. And just because Lex had implied that the current powers that be at LuthorCorp and - -God - - Lana, would be the first suspects to look at in the case of his unfortunate demise - - didn't mean someone might not throw caution to the winds and make a bid anyway.

So Clark wasn't leaving him unprotected. Which meant convincing his editor that he needed sick leave and hoping Lois didn't blow his excuse to shreds when she got back to the office.

He waited until he was back in the Regency to make the call, where he could do it without the sound of a busy Metropolis street in the background. He found a little walled garden grotto off the lobby and tested out a few fake coughs to get the hang of it, before dialing his supervisor.

He pulled it off, with an effort, though he probably could have gotten carte blanche approval to stick by Lex if he'd actually told the truth, with an expense account to boot. All conditional upon his willingness to write up the experience. Which he wasn't. Not anymore.

Write ups and op ed's concerning Lex Luthor when he'd been doing terrible things were one thing - - sharing personal information about him when he was just trying to reestablish his place in the world -- that was quite another. It would be a betrayal of trust and Clark found that he rather liked the feeling of having Lex's trust again.

The garden grotto was as nice a place as any to waste time while he was banned from Lex's suite, so he sat there, enjoying the last of the evening sun. Through the glass wall, he saw a man striding purposefully through the lobby. Oliver Queen, heading for reception and no doubt looking for confrontation.

Clark cursed under his breath and headed out after him.

"Oliver," he called, and Oliver stopped short of reaching the front desk, and turned to give Clark an accusing stare.

Clark took a breath, and stepped back into the solitude of the little garden. It didn't take long for Oliver to join him there, and as soon as the glass door swung closed, he snapped.

"You lying shit. You've been sniffing around to find out if I had information and the whole time you knew where he was."

"And if I'd shared that information, what would you have done with it? All of you are so hot to take him down because you think he's a threat, that nobody has stopped to actually find out if he still is."

"God, Clark. I thought we went over this? He went after Tess - -"

"And I told you he didn't. He's suing her, not trying to kill her. Unlike Tess, who did send an army of LuthorCorp goons out after him and that's not hearsay, I saw it myself. Heard her give the orders myself."

Oliver glared at him, digesting that. "You don't think she has good reason, when one of the last things he did was take out a room full of people trying to kill me and her?"

Clark glared back. "Not the same Lex."

"Yeah, and about that - - you're just okay with it? Just going to back him with whatever he hatches up?"

"I'm going to keep him from getting hurt. Just like I'd keep him from hurting anyone if he decided to go that route. Until that day comes, back off from him, Oliver."

For a second Oliver stared at him as if he thought Clark had dropped over the edge into lunacy, then he laughed and asked. "What are you, his bodyguard now?"

"It's a shame that he needs one, between my friends and your girlfriend."

Oliver looked away, jaw clenched, something in his eyes that was almost pained. "If - - If, she's trying to take him down the permanent way - - I don't condone that, Clark. But Lex is Lex is Lex, whatever incarnation, and you don't just shake those Luthor tendencies because you've got a brand new body and upgraded software."

"As long as he's just a shark in the boardroom, Oliver, I'm okay with that. You know me and you know I won't turn a blind eye to anything worse."

Oliver didn't call him naïve or a fool, which put him one up on Lana, but he did laugh disbelievingly a moment before he aborted it and took a deep breath. "I want to talk to him. To - - Lex."

"Not now. Not while you're looking for a fight. You calm down, you wait and see that he's not out looking for a body count, then you have that talk, if he's willing."

"So what, you his secretary as well as his bodyguard, now?"

Clark shrugged. "I'm his friend. I'm yours, too."

"That's what I thought, too," Oliver said. "I'm not so sure, now, what with the company you keep."

Which Clark didn't let faze him too badly, because Oliver was quick tempered and tended towards dramatics. He generally got over them, once he had time to think. And Oliver's reasons for hating Lex weren't nearly as strong as Oliver's reasons for hating Lionel and Clark thought that Oliver had gotten the two snarled up together along the way.

He watched Oliver leave, thankfully heading for the exit and not the front desk, and let out a pent up breath. One more friend on the outs with him. He didn't have that many more left to estrange. Maybe he could do something to really piss off Jimmy and call it a day.

He sat for a while longer, until he saw Lois step out of the elevators, that focused look on her face that said she was writing a story in her head. She headed across the lobby without ever looking in his direction and hit the waiting ambush of press outside, but then, Lois loved the attention.

Five minutes more, giving her plenty of time to rub a few noses in her exclusive and leave the premises, and he rose, ambling towards the elevators. He stood outside the door to the room - - the suite - - which was expensive enough that it warranted it own name and thought that he'd severed a lot of ties today - - at least one that was likely permanent, all for this new/old alliance that he never had been able to fully shake, even when he'd wanted to. It didn't hurt nearly as much as he'd thought it should have.

He knocked on the door and after a moment, Lex, sans jacket and with loosened tie, opened it. It took Clark a little off his guard, Lex back in his element, with tailored clothes and a luxurious backdrop and just - - Lex, like he used to be back when Clark had first fallen in like with him.

"So," Lex said, stepping back and ushering Clark into the suite. "That was unexpectedly grueling. The woman's like a hyena with a bone."

Which was an apt description for Lois on the hunt and it drew a snort of laughter from Clark, despite his dour mood. "Yeah. Tell me."

He shut the door behind him and trailed Lex into the room. The TV was on and one of the news channels was in the process of playing footage from Lex's LuthorCorp excursion. Clark saw himself looming over Lex's left shoulder, a more dangerous expression on his face than he'd thought he'd been wearing at the time, and winced. Nobody would be paying him much attention though. All they'd be talking about was Lex.

"So, you made national," Clark observed, and felt a little melancholy at the thought. It felt like he was loosing something, with Lex going public. Something that he'd only just started to realize he appreciated.

"Umm." Lex was pulling off his loosened tie, staring at Clark rather than the television. "Don't make it sound like a death knell."

Clark shrugged, not knowing what to do with himself now, in this expensive suite with just Lex. It had been nice in his apartment, comfy and familiar with Lex on the lamb and stuck relying on him. He got snagged on that thought, and replayed it more carefully. Yeah, he had liked having Lex to himself, brief as it had been.

"So, what now?" he asked.

Lex flounced down on the couch, stretching his legs out to the glass topped coffee table. "My Lawyer's trying to set up a hearing with the board of trustees overseeing my estate. Tess was making it difficult before he started proceedings. They're scattered and we're having trouble setting a date. It'll take time for a court to force the issue."

"I don't understand, if Lex Luthor goes into a bank and asks for his money, how can they keep it from him?"

Lex smiled humorlessly. "Because Lex Luthor was declared dead and there was no heir listed, just a board of trustee's and an executor to oversee the assets. Everything was put into a trust and Tess has made damned certain I'll have to jump through hoops to touch it."

"It doesn't sound fair."

"Legal technicalities seldom are. Did you eat?"

"Yeah."

Lex canted his head, as if Clark were a mystery he was trying to figure out. It was a familiar look. Finally he waved a hand towards the table at the far end of the sitting area and said. "I haven't. I'm thinking room service, if you wanted anything else."

Clark declined, because he'd seen the prices the hotel charged for food, much less room service food, but he did sort of give the description of the Regency porterhouse a longing look, and Lex picked up on everything, and ordered it without Clark asking.

"How are you paying for all this, if you don't have access to your money yet?" Clark asked, frustrated, when Lex had finished placing his order.

And Lex just shrugged a shoulder nonchalantly and said. "I don't have money now. But I will have it. And they know it and will benefit in the long run extending an indefinite tab. Speaking of which, there is the occasional need for pocket change. Those funds should hit your bank tomorrow. If you could make a withdrawal, I'd appreciate it."

Clark sighed. "Sure. Anything else?"

Lex grinned a little and indicated the couch with a jerk of his head. "Sit down. You're making me nervous with all the pacing."

The loveseat across from Lex would have been the safe choice, but Lex was looking at him with a vaguely challenging glint in his eye, so Clark shook off safe and flopped down on the couch next to Lex. The remote was lying right there, so he snagged it, and switched from news to something that required no brain cells to comprehend. Lex didn't complain. He just slouched deeper into the couch, leaned his head against the back and watched Clark channel surf until he settled on an Office rerun.

They got halfway through an episode, when a liveried staffer rapped politely at the door with the dinner cart. Lex signed the check, adding on a beyond healthy tip to the tab, and closed the door behind the beaming bellboy.

The steak was no less heavenly than the menu description had made it seem. Lex had some sort of blackened fish. They declined the formality of the dining table, and ate in the sitting area on the coffee table. Unless it was Sunday dinner at home with his mom, it was where Clark had taken up the habit of eating.

There was a lot of silence, save for the background noise of the TV. So many damned things had happened today - - Clark wasn't sure what to say. Where to start. If he even wanted to.

But he sort of did, and Lex had been accommodating in his not asking. Clark sat back against the loveseat and pretended to watch the TV while he was really watching Lex.

When Lex finished and sat back to finish off the glass of white wine he'd had with his meal, Clark blurted out. "I saw Lana, today."

"Really? And what did she have to say?" Lex was all casual interest, but Clark knew better. His swirling of the last of the wine in his glass was a cover for a great deal of interest.

"That I'm a fool and that you're playing me."

"Do you believe her?" Lex asked softly.

"No." He didn't feel a trace of hesitation in that answer. He gave Lex a hard look and repeated it. "No. But - -but she's pretty convinced. And I don't want to believe she's capable of - - we just need to be careful. You need to be careful, because I might not be able to stop her. Chloe might believe me, though. At least she's considering it."

"She's at the Isis foundation, then?" Lex asked.

"She was."

Lex nodded, stared at him without seeing him, that introspective look in his eyes that hinted he was mulling things over.

"I talked to Ollie, this evening, too."

Lex's focus snapped back to him, along with an arched brow. "I feel for you, then."

"Lex, he's not that bad. And hopefully I convinced him to back off."

Lex gave him a disdainful look. "I wish you hadn't. Him I can deal with on my own. Besides, bringing assault charges against him would be therapeutic."

"Lex, you really need to stop poking every enemy you have with sticks."

There was a knock on the door before Lex could reply, and Clark gave him a quick questioning look, before looking through the door and seeing two men not in hotel staff livery carrying an assortment of packages.

"Two guys. Lots of bags," Clark said.

"That would be a few things I'm having delivered from Harrington's. " Lex supplied, pushing himself up from the floor. Clark beat him to the door, just in case, giving the two men a closer inspection for guns under their suits. But there were no weapons of any sort and the gold print logo on the black bags did claim 'Harrington's', which Clark assumed to be another of Lex's high-end stores.

Apparently one of them was the store manager or owner or whatever, because Lex called him by name and the man subtly congratulated Lex on being alive without actually saying it. At least he didn't cry. Lex signed another bill, and sent the guys on their way. They left about a half dozen bags in their wake.

Lex snagged them and toted them into the bedroom. Clark padded in his wake, pausing at the door, because he hadn't actually seen the bedroom part of the suite before and suffice to say, it was no less richly appointed than the rest of the place. The bed was huge, and there was another set of glass doors leading out to the balcony, and other huge TV over another electric fireplace. The light to the bathroom was on, and from what Clark could see of it, that looked pretty cavernous, too.

The stuff from Harrington's ended up being a lot of necessities, underclothing, silk pajamas and a matching robe, a few more ties, a few more shirts, some other stuff. A little black box with a watch that was probably worth more than all the other stuff put together.

Lex put the stuff away in drawers, because Lex liked to organize, and Clark sat on the end of the bed and watched him.

"So do I want to know what you have planned for tomorrow?" He finally asked, while Lex was setting the watch.

"A few scheduled meetings here. My attorneys. My tailor. We'll see who else shows up."

It was that last part Clark was worried about.

"So what do you have planned?" Lex turned with his hip against the dresser and asked, casual inflection in his tone. "You have a life, and I've taken up a good deal of your time."

Clark shrugged. "I called in sick. I'm good for a few days."

Lex stated at him a good long moment. "You don't have to, you know?"

"I know." But he sort of did, have to. It wasn't in him not to stand up and protect Lex - - hell, anyone - - who didn't have the resources to protect themselves. And Lex, for all his plans and his new found front of self-assurance, didn't have those resources. Not anymore.

"How're the ribs?" he asked, because Lex staring at him with that blatantly contemplative look made his skin shiver and he needed a distraction.

"Better. Considerably."

"Hn," Clark said and looked for himself. Miraculously enough hairline fractures were a quarter shorter than they'd been that morning. At this rate, in other three or four days, they'd been gone altogether.

"Were you looking again?" Lex caught him at it, a faint curious smile on his face.

Clark shrugged, a little embarrassed.

"So what can't you see through?" Lex inquired.

"Lead," Clark said and Lex raised an eyebrow waiting for more. Clark shrugged again. "That's pretty much it."

"That's - - impressive."

"Its okay."

Lex lifted a brow at him skeptically.

"It took a while to get the hang of. For a while there at first, it sort of messed with my equilibrium, when it would kick in unexpectedly."

"You weren't born with the ability?"

"No. I don't think I got that one until I was fifteen."

"So, with maturity came more abilities?"

Clark canted his head, recognizing subtle probing when he heard it. But it wasn't like he had anything to hide anymore and he figured Lex was due a little explanation.

"Yeah. When my parents found me, I was just strong. Everything else came later. " It felt a little weird just saying it though, in casual conversation with Lex, after he'd spent so many years not saying it.

Lex fiddled with the watch, turning it on his wrist, which was his only give that it wasn't casual for him at all. If Clark honed his hearing, which he didn't, he thought Lex's heart rate would have increased dramatically.

"I didn't actually know what I was, until the day you sent over the 'thank you for saving my life' truck, you know?"

"You mean, an alien?"

"Yeah," Clark shrugged, not entirely easy with that term when he didn't think of himself that way. "It sort of forced my dad into telling me the truth. It did not go over well, let me tell you."

Lex thought that one over, really considered it, like nobody Clark had ever told about the incident ever had, then finally nodded. "No, I imagine that would have been hard to hear. Harder to share."

"Yeah."

"You know I have so many questions, I can't even begin to organize them in my head?"

Clark smiled. "I sort of figured."

"And I don't," Lex said slowly. "See any particular need to expend them all in one night."

"That would be a long night."

Lex cast him an appreciative quirk of the mouth at that wry observation.

"So let's start with just a few - -"


Lex had been very, very good about not pressing Clark. Not pouncing on him like a hungry tiger on red meat when the chance to ask questions that Clark would answer presented itself. And Clark had answered, not with evasiveness, but with honest candor and Lex was almost certain he'd had dreams about such conversations. Very possibly wet ones.

He tried to keep to the easy questions, the ones that wouldn't stir up old grudges, the simple things that he'd guessed at, formulated theories about, but never been able to back up with solid fact. Point of origin facts that Clark's eyes lit up a little talking about, as if he were no less fascinated by the whole concept of alien civilization than Lex. More so, maybe, considering it was his civilization in question.

The talk had gone from the bedroom, to the living room, out to the balcony overlooking the lights of nighttime Metropolis, and back inside again. Lex finished up almost a fifth of a bottle of Glen Mhor, which produced only slightly more of a buzz than three bottles of domestic beer. Almost disappointing, considering how much more time and effort went into the distillation of single malt scotch whisky. But then, he was lucky to get a buzz at all, considering that before the original headed off to the Arctic to confront Clark, it had taken polishing off a near bottle of the stuff to get the sort of light headed numbness that he was feeling now after a few tumblers. He was obviously back to being an alcoholic lightweight and it would take years of building back up tolerances to reach that other state.

He'd mentioned that to Clark during a lull in conversation and Clark had frowned at him disapprovingly and suggested that there were probably worthier goals to aspire. Which Lex had found amusing and endearing and laughed probably longer than he should have. Which made Clark frown all the more and get that defensive set to his shoulders, which Lex, who was a consummate observer of Clarkerisms, decided signaled the end of the night's questions into alien related matters.

There was no reason to push, after all, and he knew from experience that a pressured Clark tended to be a close-mouthed, hostile Clark. And Clark hostile was the last thing he wanted. So he took the laptop the Regency thoughtfully provided its thousand dollar a night suite guests, and idly plugged in the Isis data drive, while Clark turned the TV back on and flipped around until he found the premium movie channels, and a movie Lex had never heard of that Clark assured him had been a box office smash.

That missing year of memory was doing him no justice. But then, even had those last memories been passed on, he suspected that the original Him hadn't been paying a great deal of heed to popular culture at the time. Too busy blowing things up and wrecking lives. Not to mention trying very hard to survive devastating injury.

So Lex sat there browsing the vast array of data he'd managed to download from the Isis server, while Clark entertained himself with what looked like a rather cliché action flick starring an actor Lex had thought long retired.

If he had any notion that Lex was studying information he'd stolen from Chloe, he didn't make an issue of it. It wasn't like it was anything but dry data anyway. But data was data and Lex never passed up information.

It had been a grueling day though, and he'd planned an early start for tomorrow, so he shut the laptop, pocketed the data drive and rose.

Clark glanced askance at him, half his attention fixed on the movie, half on Lex's movement.

"Shower." Lex explained, then offered. "You're welcome to use it yourself, if you like."

He neglected to add that he'd have no issues with simultaneous usage, but he doubted Clark would take him up with it. There had been a great deal of emotional turmoil forced on Clark today, and he was still reeling from it.

Clark nodded, as Lex gathered the laptop and padded into the bedroom.

He laid the computer on the bed, put the drive in the night table drawer, then undressed, hung up his clothes, before retreating to the bathroom. Into the shower and he luxuriated under limitless hot water. He stood for a long while, head bowed while it beat down upon him, loosening muscles he hadn't realized were tight. It eased away pain he had purposefully ignored all day long. The ribs were better, but half healed still hurt. The shoulder he almost didn't notice at all. Very obviously the preternatural ability to heal had carried over.

He stepped out, dried off and looked at himself in the mirror. Naked, he didn't look any different than he had when he'd tumbled out of the hybridization chamber. Annoying thought to crop up. He glowered at himself and turned away, pulled on the pajama bottoms Harrington's had sent over and an undershirt, then padded quietly back into the bedroom.

He doubled up the pillows and leaned back against the head of the bed and switched on the Television.

After a while, Clark appeared in the doorway, the sound of the movie still in the background behind him. There was something to the way Clark held himself that hinted at a man in throes of uncertainty. Lex switched to the movie channel Clark had been watching.

"I thought," Lex commented. "That Dane Delmonico had retired years ago?"

"He's staging a comeback," Clark offered, the question giving him the impetus he needed to cross the threshold and step into the room where he could better see the TV. He edged around to the other side of the bed and sat down on the corner. It was a big enough bed that there was a body distance between them, but still Clark seemed nervous about the mere fact that it was a bed. The corner of Lex's mouth twitched in wry amusement.

But, in another five minutes, Clark had dragged a second pillow over to prop it behind his back, and toed off his shoes and had his legs stretched out, absorbed by the final big action sequence.

Another ten minutes and the credits were rolling. Lex flipped to a news channel, but they were talking politics. He let it play, figuring that he ought to catch up a bit on current political climates. Twenty minutes into that, Clark was asleep, chin on chest, black lashes fanned out against his cheeks.

Lex watched him for a while, Clark in any state, more interesting than - - well, just about anything. And Clark at rest, made him comfortable. He considered that term and concluded that yes, Clark's quiet presence made that frenetic, obsessive part of him that wanted to just be doing, calm.

He flipped the channel again, and found one of the financial talk shows that had rolled back around to his miraculous reappearance.

They'd picked up on Lois's brief article in the evening Planet and his not so subtle assertion that he'd retreated to the old country after the bitter and potentially violent aftermath of his latest divorce. They flashed a lot of shots of Lana - - the camera was excruciatingly kind to her - - and gleefully discussed all the reasons they thought she'd have to be vindictive. None of them came quite close to the truth.

And if Lana had been pissed at him before - - she'd be gnashing her teeth and sharpening her nails now. The amusement factor didn't quite balance out with the 'likely to speed in and break his neck in a fit of rage', factor, but he allowed himself to enjoy it anyway.

Somewhere between the late edition BBC world news and a rebroadcast edition of Money in Motion he drifted to sleep.

The sort of deep, dreamless sleep that gave the illusion that very little time had passed between the loss of one awareness and the awakening of another.

He stirred to weight at his back, soft breath against the back of his neck, and the warmth of a hand on his hip. He didn't shift, just lay there and absorbed the feel of Clark's presence. There was sunlight coming in through the sheer curtains of the balcony doors. The wrist with the watch was currently curled under his pillow and not in plain view, though he guessed it was still early.

Clark's hand moved, fingers flexing, bunching the slick material of Lex's pajamas. Slid slowly down his hip to his thigh, as if Clark liked the feel of the silk beneath the pads of his fingers. God knew, Lex liked the feel of Clark's hand on his thigh. It was a battle to simply lie there, feigning sleep while Clark's hand continued down his leg, fingers testing the hollow at the back of his knee, almost experimentally, then moving back up, slow migration to the bend of his hip again.

There was no stopping the shuddery exhalation of breath that betrayed his awareness and Clark's hand froze for a split second, before withdrawing. Lex caught his wrist, stalling that effort. Lay unmoving for a moment, his hand on Clark's, waiting to see if Clark were spooked enough at discovery to snatch his hand, and probably himself away, thereafter.

But Clark didn't move, frozen in place, and Lex let out a more controlled breath. Slid his fingers down from Clark's wrist to his hand, and urged it again into motion. Clark let him guide the way, down the length of his thigh again, silk sliding against his skin as Clark's palm pressed out the wrinkles he'd made on his trip upwards. Back again and the sensation was utterly tactile and teasing, as was the tempo of Clark's breath against the sensitive skin at the back of his neck.

At his waist, he guided their hands beneath the hem of his undershirt, and Clark's hand stilled, as his fingers touched bare skin. Lex stopped breathing, waiting, until Clark let out his own pent breath and splayed his fingers across Lex's stomach.

This time when he moved, it was of his own accord, palm sliding up Lex's torso, fingers skimming lightly over his ribs, thumb just barely brushing a nipple. Lex sucked in breath, pressing back against Clark, feeling the buttons of his shirt against his back, the buckle of his belt, the hard edge of his erection through his pants. God knew his own was barely contained by the thin fabric of his pajamas.

He drew Clark's hand down, and Clark went willingly enough, sliding his fingers under the drawstring waist of Lex's pajamas, hesitating cruelly at juncture between his legs where there should have been hair; where exposure to the kryptonite that had followed Clark to earth had left him bare as a ten year old boy. He didn't hold it against Clark. There was no sin imaginable he'd hold against Clark at the moment, if Clark would just move his hand a little lower.

He pressed his ass back against Clark's erection to get the point across and Clark gasped, and enfolded Lex in his big hand, squeezing tight enough to make Lex's eyes water and his balls tighten.

There was a measured rapping that Lex thought at first might have been his heart battering against his rib cage, but upon Clark's whispered, "Crap," he decided instead, was someone insistently knocking on the door of the suite.

"Fuck. No. Don't stop," he managed, some portion of his mind aware of the fact that he might have overslept and it might be his attorneys arrived for their morning meeting. But really, they could stand out in the hall for - -oh - - another half hour at least, and he wouldn't have cared less. It wasn't like they had other matters to attend, having been hired lock, stock and barrel by him.

But Clark was not cut of the sort of cloth that allowed him to carry on with what they were carrying on with, while strangers stood on the other side of a doorway. The bastard snatched his hand back and rolled away onto his back, the tent in his pants speaking volumes for the level of his own discomfort. Lex hoped he choked on it.

"Two men," Clark breathed, staring through at least one wall and a bar towards the door. "And a woman. I think."

It was his lawyers. Lex looked at his watch and saw that it was 8:45. They were early. Fuckers. He threw the arm over his eyes and concentrated on breathing.

"Think about your mom. Having sex." Clark suggested. "With your dad. That always works for me."

Lex peered out from under his arm to give Clark an appalled stare. Clark shrugged, but the tent in his pants was deflating.

"Well, not my mom and your dad," Clark clarified. "Though, God, yuck, that would work."

Lex shut his eyes, the thought of his father and anyone having sex - - and he'd seen pictures so he had accurate imagery - - did have the effect of killing the sex drive.

"God, Clark, how many surprise erections do you get during the day, that you need to employ guerrilla tactics to combat?"

"Shut up," Clark grumbled, blushing, and swung out of bed, but he met Lex's eyes without flinching away in red-faced shame over what they'd been about. And that was quite the step forward. "Do you want me to get that?"

Lex took another breath, and thought he could probably roll out of bed without injuring himself. "No. Make them wait a few minutes. They're early anyway."

He padded into the bathroom, and by the time he'd splashed water onto his face, and gargled a little mouthwash, the swelling between his legs had dissipated.

He slipped into one of the new shirts from Harrington's, the pants from yesterday, which were the only one's he presently had and figured that was enough of an effort for a pack of attorneys who had the balls to show up early and interrupt what might have been a very productive morning.

"So, Clark," he said, because Clark was hovering and looking just a little nervous. "Not that I mind, but maybe you ought to go find something to do while I have this meeting. I'd hate for them to get the wrong impression." Though, really, Lex could have cared less what impression they had, but there matters he wanted to discuss that he'd just as well Clark weren't present to overhear and take issue with. "Go get a change of clothes, get breakfast, go by the bank when it opens and make that withdrawal for me."

Clark thought that over, apparently reaching the conclusion Lex wanted him to reach, and nodded slowly. "Okay. Remember what I said about just calling, if you need me?"

"I remember."

Clark nodded again, a more decided movement this time now that he'd committed. He headed for the balcony doors and almost Lex asked him what he was doing, because he'd rather assumed Clark would just speed past the people outside the door without them being the wiser, but apparently a thirty-five story drop was no big deal for him.

He strode to the door after Clark was gone, and opened it upon three impatient looking lawyers. "You're early."

Lipscomb looked at his watch and remarked. "Not anymore."

Lex lifted a brow and stepped aside, ushering them into the suite. The second man was Lipscomb's law partner, and the woman was the pit bull from the office, a junior partner, in a pants suit that did nothing to emphasize that she had curves at all. Between that and the short, spiky hair, little wonder Clark had had trouble identifying her sex.

Lex waved them towards the sitting area and detoured to the nearest phone to call down for coffee service.

"What do you have for me?" he asked, taking the chair at the end of the little lounge while the three of them occupied the sofa.

"Still no hearing date," Lipscomb said, ruffling through papers in his battered briefcase. "Luthorcorp is clogging the works. Probably more bribes have hit city hall in the last two days than in the last year."

"No doubt."

"Do you have any personal connections that could grease the wheels?"

Lex considered. "A few. I'll put in some calls. And by the way, I've got a likely address on my ex-wife."

He jotted down the address of the Isis foundation and handed it over. Lipscomb looked at it, nodded and handed it off to his partner, who pocketed the slip of paper.

They needed his signature of a few documents, updated him on the progress of their efforts on his behalf.

Finally Lipscomb said. "Also, we've located Groll. Just outside of the city in Midvale. Wife. Two kids. Mortgage. Not presently holding a job."

Lex nodded. Midvale was a pleasant surprise. He'd have thought the man would have disappeared into the woodwork, terrified for his life. Which, probably would have been forfeit, save for the original him dying. If Tess had remained loyal, she might have set LuthorCorp forces onto him, but apparently, once she went rogue dealing with sleights against her former employer were no longer a priority.

"I want to see him. Now." Now was imperative, when he didn't have a Clark-shaped shadow.

Lipscomb nodded. "Ms. Thorne will drive you."

The pit bull eyed him with steely grey eyes. He decided her hostility wasn't aimed at him personally, but more his gender.

She was, Lipscomb had assured him, a fierce litigator, who'd put herself through law school while walking a beat, one of Metropolis' finest. She had a Gloc in her bag that he was confident she was well versed in the use of.

The house was modest, in a modest neighborhood of like houses. Ms. Thorne went up and knocked on the door, while Lex leaned against the side of the car. A child answered, a little girl, and he wasn't sure, but he thought Ms. Thorne actually smiled. A man came to the door soon after. A grey sort of man, thinning hair, non-descript features, the sort of man who wore a pocket protector in the comfort of his own home. A mind brilliant enough to perfect the Prometheus project.

He spoke to Ms. Thorne, then she stepped aside, giving him full view of the street and his eyes widened as he saw Lex. He almost got the door shut, but Ms. Thorne stopped it with her foot and said something sharp and Groll stopped, stricken.

Thorne was good. Whatever she said got him out the door and shuffling towards the car.

Lex stared at him, expressionless, trying to work up the proper emotion of betrayal, when he had no memory of the incident in question. What he did remember was years of service from the man, one of the premier minds in his employ.

Lex slid into the backseat and Thorne directed Groll to join him, shut the door and stood with her back against the door.

Inside the muffled silence of the car, Groll stared at him with wide, horrified eyes. Maybe he expected to be shot on the spot. Maybe he expected worse, outside the house where his children were.

"You - - you should be - - "

"Dead?" Lex finished for him. "Obviously not. Obviously you failed in that respect."

Groll flinched, startled, and shook his head desperately. "No! No, I never meant - -"

"Didn't you? What did you think would happen when you deprived me of my last chance at survival? Certainly my ex-wife had not illusions."

Groll shook his head, trying to come up with a denial, an excuse and Lex cut him off before he could fumble with one, opening the laptop and playing the video of Lana and Groll's little negotiation. The man stared at it like it in horror, and Lex let it play a few minutes, before hitting pause.

He lifted a brow waiting for another attempt at denial.

"She said - - She said people would die, if you had it. She said you were - - insane."

Lex shrugged. ""There was a great deal of pain involved and pain can alter a man's perceptions. It certainly seems insane now, in the light of day to undergo a process so - - radical. Willingly burning away the epidermis and replacing it with an untested substitute. I can't imagine a sane person that wasn't on the verge of a painful death agreeing to such a thing. Can you?"

He saw it the moment Groll got his point, the man's eyes flickering down the laptop screen and the frozen image of Lana.

"She said - -" Groll whispered.

"I'm sure she said a great deal. And when a beautiful woman tells you she's been abused, that she's trying to stop a monster from perpetrating terrible things - - when she looks at you with tears in those big eyes - - a man naturally wants to protect her. To help her. Why would it ever occur to you that she was any less - - unhinged than the man who commissioned the project when she offered herself up as test subject? Because isn't uber-human power and an impervious skin what every woman dreams of?"

He leaned forward and Groll flinched back against the door. "If I were that monster you and I wouldn't be having this conversation, Dr. Groll. I would have handled your betrayal a different way. But, since murder and mayhem are not methods I choose to employ, I'm dealing with you another way.

He rolled the window down enough for Thorne to slip a folded legal document in to him. He handed it to Groll.

The stared at it as if he expected it to explode in his hands, then when it didn't unfolded it with trembling fingers. He looked up at Lex in confusion.

"You're suing me for - -for industrial espionage?'

"And theft of proprietary technology. Your co-defender is of course, my ex-wife. But, considering her scarcity these last months, I imagine you'll be facing the charges alone."

"But - -"

But what? You delivered into the hands of a woman, who was in essence a competitor and a hostile one at that - - proprietary tech. My Tech. You had a contract and a non-disclosure agreement with me - -personally. Not LuthorCorp. Not LexCorp. Me. You broke those contracts. And yes, you're being sued for that as well. You'll be lucky to have a cardboard box in an alley by the time I'm through with you, though I imagine family services might take care of your children when you and your wife are destitute. And you will be destitute, if you don't serve outright prison time."

"Mr. Luthor - - please - -" There were tears trailing down the man's cheeks. Utter terror on his face. Lex almost felt sorry for him.

He canted his head thoughtfully, as if the notion had just occurred to him. "Of course, there is an alternative - -"

Groll blinked up at him, grasping at that straw. It was almost too easy. The man was a scientist, not a negotiator, not a businessman, not a master manipulator. Lana had used his empathy to play him, Lex used his fear.

 

 

 

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