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"Can I go to the LuthorCorp party in Metropolis?" he asked with as much wide-eyed innocence as he could muster. "It's in the LuthorCorp tower, with views of the whole city!"

"Well, son," Jonathan began ponderously, "I don't know if that's a good idea. People who look down from the heights usually don't pay much attention to ordinary people down below."

"But Mom's going to be there!" he protested. Jonathan's face grew more tense; evidently that wasn't a source of any pleasure to him. Who'd have known that he'd ever agree with Jonathan Kent, a man who wouldn't believe him if he said that shit smelled?

"Your mother's a grown woman," Jonathan said after a moment, with apparent reluctance. "She can handle herself around people like that."

"Dad, I'm not going to get into any trouble. I'm just a kid from Smallville, so I don't think people are going to be coming out of the woodwork to corrupt me. And Mom will be there, if you don't trust me." He let a bit of self-righteousness creep in on the last sentence.

"It's not that I don't trust you, Clark. But you're not … experienced yet. And there are people in Metropolis who won't look at you and see a kid."

There are people in Smallville like that, Lex thought. "Then this would be a good chance for me to see what Metropolis life is like. With Mom there to make sure that I don't do anything stupid."

He could sense Jonathan weakening. "And, you know, I can stick with Mom most of the time. So she's not left alone with all those people you don't like."

Jonathan's brows rose. Lex could almost see him imagining Clark as a barrier between Martha and Lionel. Reminding Lionel that Martha already had a family, and a close and loving one at that.

"Well," he said at last, "if your mother agrees. And you'll leave no later than eleven-thirty."

"Great! Can I go with Lex? I know Mom has to go in four hours early for the final party preparations, and if I went with Lex I wouldn't be in her way all that time."

Jonathan frowned again. "I don't like the idea of Lex Luthor taking you to a Metropolis party."

"Dad. It's the LuthorCorp Christmas party, not some club. Lex isn't friends with most of the people who'll be coming. And he'd just be giving me a ride." And maybe I'll give him a ride. Just to be fair, you know.

"Talk to your mother. If she's comfortable with the arrangements, and if you can leave by eleven-thirty -"

"Thanks, Dad!" Was now an appropriate time for a hug? Lex didn't think there was a force on the planet powerful enough to make him hug Jonathan Kent. He settled on a huge Clarkian smile, one with lots of sharp teeth.

"Go do your chores," Jonathan said roughly. But even Lex could hear the affection underneath.

The morning chores were even less interesting the second time around. On the plus side, after he'd tested Clark's fast-forward setting last night, he'd been confident enough to sleep until 7:15, just as Clark would.

That was one mystery solved. Not only would the Kents have no need for another farmhand with a Whiz Kid around, they'd be afraid that one would notice Clark's special skills.

If the Olympics let Smallville survivors compete, there'd be a whole new standard for the gold.

He was careful to eat everything Martha put in front of him, this time. Upon reflection, he thought Clark was probably right that the seesaw of hunger and sugar shock had impaired his judgment. Blowing Clark was straight out of his sixteen-year-old playbook, and sixteen-year-old Lex had been hellishly incapable of strategy. And had enjoyed himself immensely, but life was a series of trade-offs.

Pleading temporary insanity had worked before.

"Don't forget, you have the deliveries after school before you can go to Metropolis," Martha instructed him, and he nodded absently, still shoveling food into his mouth like a man stoking coal. There had to be a way to spin this so as not to scare Clark away.

He had to hurry, though only human-hurry, to catch the schoolbus. Yesterday had been his first time in a real yellow bus. It didn't have seatbelts, which seemed dangerous to him, especially given the accident rate in Smallville.

Not that he had to worry, in this body.

He shoved in next to Pete and Chloe, who were content to let him stare out the window while they sassed each other. Today's schedule was different than yesterday's, and he was glad Clark had it carefully noted in the front of his binder. Today was also a `flip day,' which meant that the last three periods were reversed, for some arcane reason.

History class, first period, was covering the Civil War. Lex tried to look as if he were paying attention without conveying that he'd be able to give good answers to the teacher's questions. That was harder than it looked, and he had to give Clark credit for his lurking skills.

"Could the South have won the war?" the teacher asked, her gaze sweeping over the students like a searchlight on a lighthouse, finding only empty water. Kids shifted in their seats, hoping for the agony to end.

After waiting the requisite thirty seconds, so she wouldn't seem like a complete grind, a girl with straight brown hair and wire-framed glasses raised her hand.

"Yes, Rochelle?"

"No. The North had all the industry, and it could outproduce the South."

Lex frowned automatically, rubbing his fingers up and down his pencil.

"You disagree, Clark?"

He straightened in his chair. This was not keeping his head down. He couldn't help it — the topic was important: industry didn't win wars; generals won wars, though naturally generals with bigger guns won more of them. "If Gettysburg had come out the other way, and it would have if General Warren hadn't reinforced Little Round Top on the second day, the North could have been forced to let the Union split. The British were about to recognize the South as an independent government when news of the Union victory at Gettysburg arrived, and British backing would have more than matched the North's resources. Without victory at Gettysburg, the continuation of the war would have been politically impossible, and Lincoln would have been forced to make peace."

The teacher closed her mouth. "Well," she said at last, "that's certainly a strong opinion."

Lex concentrated on keeping his expression bland, fading into the background, even though he wanted to protest. It wasn't an opinion. It was the way things were.

Near the end of class, while the teacher was putting a timeline on the chalkboard, a folded note came arrowing over his shoulder, landing perfectly between two of the rings of his binder. Lex stopped copying the timeline for Clark's future reference and opened the note.

"What is with you?" it said. Pete, he assumed. He just wasn't any good at being low-profile. It had never seemed necessary – or possible – before. And besides, was he supposed to let Rochelle get away with such a facile analysis?

Yes, actually.

Damn, but he hated being bad at anything. He crumpled the note in his fist and turned back to the timeline.

After class, he tried to put a stream of students between himself and Pete. Because he was focusing on Pete's location, he was almost on top of Lana before he realized it, and had to stumble backwards to avoid a crash.

"Hey, Clark," she said, seeing nothing unusual in his dance of awkwardness.

"Hi, Lana." She was wearing pink again. Lex occasionally toyed with the idea that she didn't really like all that pink, just had a bad habit of washing her whites with reds, but that was optimistic.

Still, the pink sweater clung to her chest as if it knew what a sweet gig it had, and the fake-pearl buttons strained just a little bit. From the right angle, one might be able to see more than Lana probably wanted to show.

He wondered what kind of underwear she was wearing, trying to trace the outlines under her clothes.

And got an eyeful of cream cotton edged with lace.

He blinked, trying to dispel the hallucination. After a few seconds, it disappeared, only to be replaced by an anatomically correct representation of her skeleton. The good news about that was that it put a damper on his body's overly enthusiastic response to the sight of girlish unmentionables.

"Clark, man!" Pete was shaking his elbow. "Clark, come back to us."

Lex closed his eyes. When I open them, he thought, I will see only in the visible spectrum.

His commands were as ineffective as those of King Canute ordering the tide not to come in. Pete's articulated skeleton, surrounded by less-dense muscles and organs, put a concerned hand on his forearm, and Lex stared in fascination at the dance of the bones. Clark's bones looked a bit heavier, but he couldn't be sure if that was just normal human variation. Suddenly, leaving biology for chemistry seemed like more of a loss.

"Sorry," he said, imagining the workings of his jaw, the obscene strength of his tongue. "I'm having a little trouble with my eyes." Indeed, the bones disappeared, replaced by what seemed to be an overhead view of the boiler room.

"Do you need some Visine?" Lana asked, drifting closer.

"No, thank you," he said. "I'll just go to the bathroom." If he could only figure out where the walls were. This wasn't just seeing beyond the visible spectrum. Somehow, Clark's vision could skip over objects to see behind them. An intelligent mind, he realized, could keep the layers separate, logic and intuition sorting what a computer couldn't hope to distinguish.

He put a hand out until he encountered the lockers lining the hallway. He was careful to move slowly, because it would be hard to explain how he'd punched a hole through the metal doors. Now, if he remembered correctly, the nearest boys' bathroom was approximately thirty feet away.

"Whoah, Clark, I've got you," Pete said, taking Lex's arm as if he were as blind as his father.

Not a good thought. Though in reality the situation was reversed, at least if he could control the channel-surfing vision. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. What's your kingdom, Clark? he wondered as Pete haltingly led him past inquisitive classmates. What are its metes and bounds?

He remembered at last to put a hand to his eyes, rubbing as if there were actually bits of sand blurring his vision. That just gave him another layer of bones to examine. His eyelids were invisible, the thinnest of veils over the rest of the world.

"Are you okay?" Pete said when they were at last in the bathroom, where Lex leaned with his back against the wall and breathed deeply, trying to nerve himself up for another attempt to get control. Pete moved closer, speaking so quietly that Lex could barely hear him. "Is this another … power?"

Lex bit down hard on his lower lip. At least his own teeth could do himself some damage. He reviewed the many reasons that Clark would have to hide from a Luthor what he'd reveal to a true friend. What exactly did Pete know? He'd be easy enough to lead into a full confession.

His father would leap at the opportunity to seduce a target's confidant into a revelation. Especially when the target had been playing him false.

"Pete, I'd rather not talk about that right now."

Pete subsided, and Lex concentrated. It had to be like focusing his eyes normally. After a few minutes, he'd managed to make his eyelids opaque, and the darkness was a tremendous relief.

His cellphone vibrated, and he retrieved it and pressed `talk' by touch alone, still waiting to try regular vision. "Yes?"


"Speaking." The tension in his voice was surely evident to Clark. But he had to wait until they were face to face before a real discussion.

"Uh, there's a guy here from the EPA? Some inspection thing?"

Lex's eyes snapped open. He found himself staring at the reflection of Clark across from him, slightly distorted by the cheap institutional mirror.

"Let him see whatever he wants. You've got nothing to hide."

"Okay." The relief in Clark's voice was both touching and disappointing. Trust. The name of the game was trust, like the childish Outward Bound game where you fell backwards as your colleagues caught you. Neither of them were doing a particularly good job of relying on one other to do the catching.

There was plenty of falling, though. He shuddered as he remembered Club Zero, and Level Three, and other incidents. So Clark was doing fine with the catching; he was flunking the being caught half of the exercise.

There had to be something Lex could do about that.

Always assuming, of course, that he figured out exactly how he wanted to catch Clark.

"Anything else?" he asked, more warmly.

"No. I better get going."

Lex stabbed the `end' button before Clark finished the last syllable. "We should get to class," he told Pete.

"Who the heck was that?" Pete asked, clearly frustrated by Lex's evasions, though just as clearly used to them.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"I dunno," Pete muttered, catching up to Lex in the hallway as they headed towards English. "I believe a lot of things even Agent Mulder would have laughed at."

Reviewing Lex's personnel files, Clark was surprised by all the details Lex had accumulated, down to the high school accomplishments of the janitorial staff. He'd bet the Department of Homeland Security would have been hard pressed to come up with more complete information. Of course, in Smallville, it was often a good idea to be aware of any grudges an employee might be holding, particularly if you were a Luthor, as Chuck Behrens had demonstrated yesterday.

He heard the tentative knock he'd come to recognize as Sherrie's. "Come in," he called, closing the employee picturebook and putting it back on its shelf.

Sherrie swung in like a parade float, wearing a green skirt and a silky shirt patterned with holly berries. She also had a big pin in the shape of a Christmas wreath, with Santa's head in the middle – why would Santa stick his head through a Christmas wreath? – and shiny red earrings in the shape of tree ornaments. Put an angel on her head and she could be her own Christmas tree.

That had better have been some left-over Lex snark, or else he was going to be in trouble when he got back to himself.

"I'm heading down to the party, Mr. Luthor," she said and smiled widely. With her red lipstick, she reminded him somehow of the Cheshire Cat.

"I'll be right behind you," Clark promised, then turned his head to hide the blush. It was bizarre how saying things in Lex's voice was the equivalent of adding `in bed' to the end of a fortune cookie fortune. The words came out coated in chocolate and sounding as if they'd been whispered into your ear, even if you were standing ten feet away.

Checking, he saw that Sherrie was gone, and rose from Lex's desk to follow. The party was down in the employee cafeteria, and he knew how to get there due to a rather unfortunate detour the day before.

The cafeteria was nearly as overdecorated as Sherrie was. At least the Christmas tree was real, though the presents underneath probably weren't. Then again, Clark could never tell when Lex was going to play lord of the manor and hand out goodies to the peasantry.

People were circulating, cups of pink punch in hand, or gathering in knots eating sugar cookies. He recognized most of them, either workers or spouses of workers, and tried to push away the part of his mind telling him who was a good produce customer and who'd given him rides after school.

The oceanic rush of sound that surrounded him suggested that the party was going well. Waiters wove through the partygoers holding trays of champagne. He heard Lex's voice telling him that champagne was for people who couldn't appreciate brandy, and waved off the smiling man who offered him a glass. Lex's body could probably tolerate a century of champagne with no effect, but Clark was taking no chances.

Instead, he went over to the long table where all the drinks were and waited in line, at least until the other people realized who was standing behind him and gave him frontsies – it wasn't grade school, but there really wasn't another way to describe it. The woman tending bar didn't blink when he asked for water, no ice, though she did freeze when he smiled and thanked her.

"Breathe," he heard one of her coworkers order, laughing, as he left.

Mr. Sullivan was on the other side of the room, holding court with his immediate subordinates. Clark supposed he ought to drop in and nod wisely, so he made for that cluster of people.

Bam! Water sloshed over Clark's wrist and sleeve as a solid hit to his stomach forced the breath out of him. He looked down and discovered that he'd been nailed by a suit-jacketed boy of about six, who was even now stepping back with a look of frustration on his face. He also discovered that the boy had been carrying a frosted cupcake, which was now a partially frosted cupcake, as a fair amount of red buttercream had been transferred to his – Lex's – tie.

"John!" Maxine Gordon, from Accounting, hurried up and grabbed the boy. "John, you have to watch where – Oh, Mr. Luthor, I'm so sorry -" She made as if to dab at his tie with the handful of already-grubby napkins she was carrying, then aborted the gesture. Her face was pale underneath her makeup, and she looked as if she were readying to take a punch.

"It's all right," he said, chuckling and hoping that Lex didn't have any really sentimental memories attached to that tie. "A waste of good frosting, but no harm done." He put what was left of the water down and reached out to pluck an intact-looking napkin from her lax hand, so that he could scrape the worst of the frosting off of the tie. It left a dark, greasy stain. Maybe he could hide the damaged tie in the back of the closet with the ties, or, better, in the back of the closet with the shoes. He wasn't sure whether frosting would eventually go bad and start to stink up the place. Maybe it would be better to leave it for the dry cleaning fairy who took care of the other clothes.

"I'm so sorry," Mrs. Gordon said again. "Let me -"

He held up his hand before she could offer to pay for the tie. Lex was never paid for; Lex did the paying. Regardless of who'd created the debt. Something twisted in his stomach, but he pushed it away. "Really, Maxine. Relax and enjoy the party. I am."

Much of the strain left her face. "Thank you. John -" She looked around, discovering that young John had better things to do than help clean up, and darted away with one last, grateful look at Clark.

If that was how the average employee looked at Lex, no wonder he was so tired at the end of the day. It must be like being surrounded by stray cats, always watching him for unexpected movement and ready to flee at the first wrong step. Was it all left over from Mr. Luthor, or had Lex shown them his temper a few times too?

Mr. Sullivan hadn't moved, though a few different managerial types had entered and escaped his orbit, so Clark began again the journey towards his corner.

This time, he was almost prepared for the body blow. "We've got to stop meeting like this," he told John Gordon, who smiled up at him, tolerating his adult weirdness. In John's wake, two other little kids followed, one an Asian-looking girl wearing a Powerpuff Girls sweatshirt and the other a dirty-blond boy in a plaid flannel shirt that Clark could have sworn he owned, about twenty sizes larger.

"Why are you bald?" John asked. In his peripheral vision, Clark could see people turning, either in apprehension or anticipation.

Clark got down on one knee so that he could look them in the eyes. The blond boy shrank behind the girl. "When I was a kid – a little older than you – rocks fell from the sky. I was very scared, and all my hair fell out."

"Rocks don't fall from the sky," John said scornfully.

"Well, that's why I was so scared," Clark pointed out. The little girl nodded thoughtfully, while the blond just stared.

"Can I touch?" John asked. In the distance, Clark could hear Mrs. Gordon pushing her way through the assembled crowd.

"Are your hands clean?" he asked sternly, and the little girl and the blond immediately held their hands out for inspection. John quickly rubbed his palms across his corduroy pants and followed suit. "All right then."

He bowed his head, thinking that there were some things about his experience that Lex was better off not knowing. Cool (and slightly sticky; he suspected John) little hands explored his scalp, fingers poking at his eyebrows and around his neck.

"John, that's enough!" Mrs. Gordon had finally arrived, pulling him away. Clark raised his head, and the other children retreated, still looking at him as if he were a baby giraffe brought in for show and tell. He would have bet that many of the adults had the same expression, but he didn't look.

"If I get too scared, will my hair fall out?" the little girl asked.

"Let's see," he said and made a scary face at her, sticking his hands up by his ears and wiggling his fingers. She shrieked as the blond buried his head against her shoulder, and then giggled. "Nope, your hair's stuck on pretty tight."

"Give me a ride," she said imperiously and held out her hands, deciding to grace him with her favor. The blond, rejected, faded back into the forest of adult legs surrounding them.

"But we haven't been introduced," he said and cut off anything further about giving rides to ladies he didn't know, because that would have sounded bad even in his regular voice. Lex saying it was likely to start a riot. "What's your name?"

"Kumiko," she said and waved her hands at him, to make him see that she was still waiting to be picked up.

"Hello, Kumiko, I'm Lex." He took one small hand and shook it vigorously. "Would you like a ride on my shoulders?"

"Yes," she said, her tone indicating that he was obviously slow-brained and that it was very difficult for her to make allowances. He picked her up, settling her on his shoulders with only a minute of wriggling. The heels of her Powerpuff Girls sneakers beat against his lapels as he smiled at the people watching them. They smiled back, nervously, the way people smile at clowns when they remember that clowns are scarier than they are funny.

Kumiko waved at someone, who pushed through the crowd and planted herself in front of Clark. He stared at her, flipping pages in his mind, until he recognized her as Jennifer Gold, the wife of one of the mechanics. "Hello, Jennifer. Are you Kumiko's mom?"

She nodded, looking a bit out of her depth.

"Kumiko's borrowed me to help her check out the party, if that's all right with you."

"Oh, uh, sure. Mr. Luthor," she added, in case he needed reminding.

"Cookies," Kumiko announced and grabbed his ears as if they were reins. Clark winced, then smoothed his face into acceptance.

"Duty calls," he said to Mrs. Gold, and turned towards the cookie table.

By this time, Mr. Sullivan had moved, and Clark was able to come up beside him as Kumiko nibbled at her candy cane-shaped cookie. "Enjoying the party, Gabe?" he asked, because Lex had told him that the person of higher rank initiates the conversation. Whether this was to put the other person at ease or to show who was in charge, Clark hadn't been quite certain, but it had worked well for the past two days.

"Oh, yes. Looks like you found some female companionship," he joked, lifting his eyebrows to indicate Kumiko.

"Much more pleasant than my usual," he said and watched Mr. Sullivan fight a smile.

"I want another cookie," Kumiko commanded, and Clark handed up one in the shape of a bell.

"Also, much less demanding," he continued.

This time, Mr. Sullivan didn't bother to conceal his grin. It was nice to know that someone else shared his opinion of Lex's taste, or shocking lack of taste, in women.

"So, how did you know who that kid from yesterday was? And his music, if you can call that stuff music?"

"I know everything, Gabe." Clark didn't have to try to smirk this time; it happened naturally.

Mr. Sullivan laughed, because Lex's voice could make even a line like that sound good. In Smallville, if someone told you not to ask questions – especially a Luthor – you didn't ask. Mr. Sullivan knew that, though he'd failed to convey it to Chloe.

"I'm done," Kumiko said, and Clark put a hand up to receive the sodden remains of the cookie.

"You're good with her," Mr. Sullivan said. "You'll be a good father."

Clark felt his smile freeze, despite his best efforts. He wasn't likely to be anyone's father, not unless his biology teacher was really, spectacularly wrong about interspecies mating. Mr. Sullivan's face fell as he realized that he'd made a mistake, though his assumptions about why it was a mistake were literally light-years off.

"Well," he said, trying to keep his tone light, "that's a ways off. Plenty of time to practice on the likes of Kumiko here." Kumiko, perhaps sensing some tension in him, patted his head comfortingly.

Mr. Sullivan gave him a grateful smile and started to talk about plant operations.

All in all, Clark might have preferred the conversation about fatherhood. At least he'd seen fatherhood in action.

Lex stared at the pile of ingredients on the table as if they were going to jump up and devour his flesh. "We're supposed to do what?"

"It's a simple pound cake, Clark," Pete said, oblivious to Lex's look of disbelief. Weren't men supposed to be manly, keep-my-woman-barefoot-and-pregnant-and-above-all-in-the-kitchen out in the heartland? He could explain the chemical reactions that converted soggy flour to tasty cake, but actualizing them was another matter.

"I can't believe you zoned on this, man," Pete continued, cutting a chunk of butter and putting it into a small bowl. Carefully, Lex imitated him. "I mean, at the end, there's food, and you're usually so happy about that."

Lex looked down, trying to do whatever Pete was doing to the butter. "I guess I'm just excited about going to this Christmas party in Metropolis with my mom."

Now Pete was mixing other things, powdery things, in another bowl. Lex's butter didn't look much like Pete's, but he didn't want to fall behind.

"Lex going to be there?" Pete asked, not looking at Lex.

"Yes," he said and swallowed any further explanation.

Pete looked dyspeptic. "That guy is trouble."

"It's a Christmas party," he said patiently, concentrating on imitating Pete's motions.

"And I bet you'll be by his side the entire night." Now Pete was adding the contents of one bowl to another. "People are starting to talk, you know."

"What people? And what talk?" Lex kept his tone innocent as he tried to pick out the shards of eggshell that had somehow ended up in his bowl. Raw eggs were unpleasantly slimy, it turned out, and those shell fragments were cagey, slippery bastards.

"People. You know." Pete lowered his voice and leaned in further. "Some of the guys on the football team were talking about him coming to pick you up in his fancy cars. And then there's Lana. Man spends a hundred thousand dollars on making a sixteen-year-old girl happy, you have to wonder."

"So which of us is he supposed to be molesting?" It wasn't a sixteen-year-old girl, dammit, but that wasn't likely to be a helpful defense. Also, Pete's accounting was off, though by an embarrassingly small margin.

Pete held his hands up. "Don't kill the messenger, my friend. I'm just saying. What do you think he sees in you, anyway? A sophomore in high school and Smallville's biggest businessman."

"Maybe he likes my fresh perspective," he said. Pete opened the oven and put his batter-filled tin inside. Lex followed, although his batter hadn't exactly been smooth like Pete's. "Maybe he likes spending time with someone who doesn't think he's Satan in training pants." Maybe he's a hopeless romantic, searching for a hopeless romance.

Now came the cleaning, and Lex was more comfortable. Cleaning up after oneself was one of the first lessons he'd learned, and one on which his parents had agreed entirely.

"Even if his motives are good, Clark, it's dangerous for you. If he found out -"

"I've been thinking about that," he said, surprised that the words came out rough and ragged.

"As much as you like him, can you really say that he wouldn't use it against you?" They put their bowls and cups away and headed back to the tables, where a worksheet involving the Mediterranean food pyramid awaited.

"No," he admitted. "No, I can't."

Pete nodded, satisfied, while Lex stared down at the stupid cartoon fruits and grains and hated him, hated the situation, and above all hated himself.

Soon enough, the smell of baking cake permeated the classroom, and he found that anticipation was enough to lift his mood. That, and doodling a surreptitious cartoon involving Pete, a vat of fertilizer and an extremely angry cow.

Mood swing, thy name is Clark Kent, he thought. Or Lex Luthor. Or, well, Lex-in-Clark had connotations that were unfortunately inaccurate. Lex/Clark? Lark? Clex?

He had too much time on his hands.

Students were heading back to the ovens now, putting tins full of golden-brown cake onto woven pot holders so ugly that they had to be remnants of an earlier class project. Pete pulled his out and handed his oven mitts to Lex, who bemusedly put them on and extracted his cake.

Extracted his baking tin and formerly foodlike substance, anyway. Glancing at the results of the other students, he was forced to conclude that, as they said on Sesame Street, one of these things was not like the others. His was darker, except for the spots where it was white from little explosions of unmixed flour. Its surface, a good inch lower than the other cakes, looked unappealingly tough and was cratered like a moonscape. The teacher was making the rounds, sticking a fork into the various cakes to see if the tines came out clean.

"Good job, Mr. Ross," she said, swinging around to them. "Mr. Kent, what happened?" She didn't bother with the fork on his. She was probably afraid the metal would bend.

He shrugged helplessly, a perfect Clark Kent moment. "I'm sorry?"

"I don't know what your mother would think! I'm afraid you're not going to do so well on this assignment."

He shrugged again, the standard exasperating teen response to bad news and motivational appeals alike. She frowned and made a note in her gradebook.

Lex felt bad for Clark. Clark would have done nearly as well on the trigonometry test as Lex had, so his net result was to decrease Clark's grades, and that was not mannerly. Also, it was humiliating.

"Sorry, man," Pete said and slapped him on the back. "At least it didn't explode. And you can have some of mine."

"Thanks, Pete," he said and turned to drown his sorrows in sugar.

The first thing Clark did when he got back to the castle was to ball the frosted tie up, frosting side in, and leave it in Lex's dressing room for some servant to explain. After that, he pulled the dress shirt out of the pants and tried to brush out the cookie crumbs that had been grating against his neck and back.

Then it was time to walk nervously back and forth. There were going to be all sorts of people at the party, people who knew Lex, at least from the Inquisitor, and he was afraid that he'd give himself away to them, or, worse, leave them thinking Lex was an idiot.

He would have gotten dressed, but he hadn't even known there were different kinds of tuxedos until he'd stumbled upon that section of Lex's wardrobe. He'd have to wait for Lex's advice. Lex, meanwhile, had fewer choices – he'd have to wear the tux Clark had worn to Lex's ill-starred wedding. Clark couldn't remember exactly why Lex had hung on to the penguin suit, but it was hanging in the formalwear closet, set off to one side among a forest of bare hangers, and it solved one problem at least. He was nervous, pacing around Lex's clothes and his bedroom, so he decided to take his pacing to the office.

The pacing might have been a bad idea; he was nearly out of his (temporary) skin by the time Lex arrived. "You're late," he observed from his position behind the couch when Lex walked smoothly into the room.

"I had to deliver some organic produce."

Oh. Oh, no. "Ah, Mrs. Harrison — ?" he began. Lex's eyes flickered, a sign of unease. "You didn't -"

"No, I didn't."

"Good. But did you -"

"No, I didn't do that either. The situation is entirely status quo ante." Lex was looking at him with what, for Lex, was amused tolerance. In another person, Clark would have labeled that expression `murderous impatience,' and because Lex currently was another person, it looked disturbing.

"So what did she -"

"Clark. I have a proposition for you. You will never mention her name to me again, and I, in return, will never mention her name to you. Are we clear?"

Clark gulped. "As glass."

Lex snorted and turned to look over his desk. "Anything require immediate attention? Otherwise you can fill me in while we're in the limo."

"Nothing. We can hit the road as soon as you change." Then Clark took a closer look. "Did you shave this morning?" It hadn't been noticeable yesterday, but two days' worth of stubble was very evident.

Lex looked surprised, and ran a hand consideringly across his jaw. "No."

"Well, you need to do that first. You look like a, a bum." He was surprised his dad hadn't lectured Lex on proper hygiene already.

"Why would razors – Never mind," Lex said and half-turned, staring out the window. He was thinking hard, and this was always risky where Clark was concerned. Thinking, maybe, about why razors could work on Clark's hair when his skin was invulnerable. "I need a shower," he said absently.

Clark broke into Lex's musings with no compunction. "And you need to shave."

"I don't know how," he admitted. His expression was slightly defiant, daring Clark to comment.

"I guess I can do it," Clark said, thinking that it wouldn't be too different than looking in a mirror. "Do you have a razor anywhere?"

Lex waved a hand negligently. "I'm sure one can be found."

But can one be found without one of the servants smirking at me? Clark wondered. Also, what with the invulnerable skin, did Lex really need someone to show him how to shave? It wasn't as if he had nicks and cuts to fear. But then, it was an excuse to get Lex all hot and steamy.

Wasn't it wrong to think of getting Lex hot and steamy while Lex was in his body? No, wait, that question went on too long. Lex was a guy, and older, and a guy, and not so popular with the Dad contingent, and a guy.

Methinks someone doth protest too much, Lex's voice whispered in his head.

And Lex did really amazing things with his mouth. With Clark's mouth. Whatever.


He tried to pay attention. "Um, can you ask someone? The people who work here intimidate me."

"You're going to have to take being waited on with good grace if you're going to be me. Or be friends with me," Lex added, too casually. As if he were waiting for Clark to reject him. It made him sad, to think that Lex saw the world as full of hands ready to slap him instead of holding him close.

"One step at a time, okay? First let's get you shaved."

Ten minutes later, with Lex showering behind frosted glass as the mirrors fogged over, Clark was still wondering whether this was a good idea. He looked down at the safety razor, brush and jar of shaving cream that had been provided, because God forbid a Luthor use Gilette foam or something plebeian like that. It was Lex's fault that he even knew the word plebeian, he thought morosely, and its derivation.

"What's taking so long?" he shouted towards the shower.

"Shampooing!" Lex shouted back. "I don't really see why you need to do it twice."

"What? What are you talking about?"

A bottle came sailing over the shower door. Clark dove for it and managed to catch it before it shattered on the marble-tiled floor. "See the instructions."

"'Lather. Rinse. Repeat,'" Clark read. "Lex, that's just – they just make that up so you'll use more shampoo! Nobody shampoos twice!"

"Are you sure?" he asked suspiciously. "Or is that some Kent cost-saving measure?"

"No!" Clark snapped. "Don't you even remember?"

There was a short pause. "Before the meteor shower, my mother used to give me my bath," Lex said in a voice barely audible over the pounding water.

Clark struggled for the right words, not maudlin but not insensitive. "Well, I bet she didn't shampoo twice."

"If you say so." Lex's voice was cheerful again; he'd been forgiven. Clark sometimes wondered what it would take for Lex not to forgive him. But then, he was pretty sure he already knew. "Do I need conditioner?"

"I don't use it."

"And your hair usually looks unkempt." That was Lex's word for `dorky.' "Never mind, I'm not supposed to make any changes in Clark Kent's image. Okay, here I come."

Clark should have expected that Lex would walk out nude. He himself would have put a towel over the shower door, maybe even a robe, but Lex was made to be looked at and knew it. He reached for a towel, all long, confident muscle, and Clark wondered if he'd ever be as comfortable in that body as Lex was after two days. Lex wore it as if seeing him was a privilege, as if his mere presence ought to be enough to improve a day. Watching him, Clark could imagine his classmates treating him better if he walked around like that. He'd been arrogant when he was wearing his class ring, but that wasn't the same. Lex was arrogant, sure, but he was also – he struggled to define it – strong, certain of the advantages his body gave him. Arrogance was part insecurity; Lex had enough confidence, at least in his ability to control people, that he could walk around like a young king whether in his own body or Clark's. It wasn't what Clark really wanted, and it wasn't anything he could afford to have, but knowing that it was possible was comforting and bittersweet.

"All right, my good man, get to work." Lex had towel-dried his hair and wrapped another towel around his waist.

"Um, why don't you get up on the counter?" he suggested, because he had no real idea how to shave another man.

This was a bad idea, in the sense that when Lex hopped up, he splayed his legs, and the towel became more a matter of highlighting what wasn't quite showing than of covering Lex's body. Um, Clark's body. And Clark was going to have to stand between those legs.

He swallowed and busied himself with trying to create a lather with the expensive-smelling stuff he'd been given. It wasn't actually that difficult, just different from using a spray can. The round wooden-handled brush felt good in his hand, and when he turned to Lex, the first stroke slid on smoothly. He could almost feel the roughness on Lex's cheek transmitted up through the brush.

It took a few minutes for him to be satisfied with the coverage on Lex's cheeks, chin and neck. He didn't want to miss any places, he told himself, ignoring the way Lex's eyes were half-shuttered and his neck tilted up like an offering at the slightest touch.

Lex smelled like a mixture of himself and Clark, shampoo and clean skin mixed with the scent of Lex's sandalwood bath gel. Clark's clothes felt too coarse against his skin.

He raised the razor and made the first stroke. Lather fell away in a line – a little like plowing, he thought in the part of his mind that was trying to tell him that nothing was going on and he was just helping out a friend – revealing skin that would never be as smooth as Lex's.

Lex trembled and then stilled. Clark heard a crunching sound and glanced down, seeing with horror that Lex's hand had clenched on the marble edge of the counter. The marble hadn't crumbled, but there were cracks along the lighter veins.

"I'd never do anything to hurt you, you know," Lex said into his ear.

If he were smart, he'd say something like `That's pretty random, Lex,' and hope Lex would let it slide. Because Lex would – he'd chosen friendship over knowledge before, though it had cost him dear, and Lex didn't like to change his mind.

Which meant that he was relying on hurting his friend, not just on keeping him in the dark.

He raised his eyes to Lex's face. "I – I know that, Lex."

Lex's eyes shone, and this near Clark could see the tears about to spill onto his lashes. Then Lex closed his eyes, hiding whatever was boiling there.

Despite his terror – because of it? – Clark's body was screaming for him to touch, to reach out and take what Lex was, had to be, offering. Lex's legs were inches from Clark's hips, his chest not much more than a deep breath away, and their faces were as close as if Clark were scrutinizing his face in a mirror. So close that it seemed impossible that they weren't touching at all. The only connection was the scrape of the razor, transmitting the feel of Lex's cheek to Clark's hand.

He didn't cross that gap. Not because of morality or any other high-minded consideration, but because he didn't know what to do. Lex had all sorts of experience, and Clark had only a few fumblings, a half-won battle with Jessie in the front seat of Lex's car, most of which was probably irrelevant to doing things with a guy.

Maybe, he thought despairingly, he could feed Lex another bag of Kit Kats and see if that made Lex take the initiative again.

Clark concentrated on providing a smooth, even shave. At least with shaving, it was clear what counted as progress and success.

Waving casually with his champagne glass full of ginger ale, Lex indicated a man about four yards away. "That's Congressman Frankel. There was a thing – his daughter, a Doberman, and forty-three pounds of Spam. He probably doesn't want to talk to you."


"Kidding. There was no Doberman, and hardly any Spam. Which reminds me, if anyone ever asks you to have sex on horseback, say no."

Clark goggled, then pulled himself together. "You're making fun of me."

"Sadly, not as much you probably think. Oh, you've got to say hello to that brunette in the corner, Terry – Therese Richart, but I call her Terry and she calls me Alex. Go up and ask her if she's using that dress. It's a private joke. She and I spent one summer -" he looked over and caught Clark's desperate expression – "Well, anyway, we were quite close not so many years back. Go on," he prodded, and Clark swallowed like a man on the way to the gallows and moved forward.

He pushed himself into the conversation Terry was having with some Junior League types with tolerable skill, Lex thought. It looked as if the dress question went well, because Terry squealed, grabbed Clark by his tie, and gave him the kind of traffic-stopping, erection-inducing kiss for which Terry was justly famous among a certain set.

Satisfied that Clark was unlikely to get into business trouble, Lex took the opportunity to wander around. As a kid of no importance, he was free to hang back, eavesdrop with his wonderfully keen hearing, and otherwise observe the businesspeople drinking and insulting both Lionel and, on occasion, Lex himself. At Lionel's funeral, there would doubtless be a score of people who'd stay the night beside the grave, stakes and axes in hand, just in case the man decided to rise from the dead and continue his reign.

Martha had been cornered by John DeCenzo, and her expression had been growing stiffer each time he circled past, so he decided to intervene.

"Hi, Mom," he said, sidling between them and incidentally forcing DeCenzo another foot away from Martha.

"Clark!" she said with even more enthusiasm than usual. "Mr. DeCenzo, this is my son Clark."

"Surely you're too young to be this young man's mother," DeCenzo said unctuously.

"Surely you're too old to be using that line," he said and put DeCenzo, who'd begun to sputter, out of his mind. "I think Mr. Luthor is looking for you." Circling her wrist in the lightest of grips, he tugged her away, towards the bulk of the party.

"That was incredibly rude of you," she tutted, pursing her mouth.

"I know," he said, swinging her around towards the bar. "How'd you like it?"

Martha put her free hand to her mouth and giggled. "Not that he didn't deserve it, but really, Clark, these are Mr. Luthor's friends."

He released her and snagged a glass of champagne, holding it out to her with a smile. "Friends? Never. I'd characterize them as minions, peons, temporary allies and deadly enemies, sometimes all at once. DeCenzo – Lex says that Mr. DeCenzo's a supplier who's about not to be a supplier anymore, so I wouldn't worry about him."

"Well, honey," she said, clearly about to forgive him, just this once, when Lionel's voice cut in.

"Martha! There you are!" Lex could feel his back stiffen, and only a nearby potted plant saved his glass from shattering in his hands.

Martha turned, like a sunflower seeking the sun, and something he'd eaten decided that it was unhappy with the experience and would be filing an immediate protest with his stomach. She smiled, just as warm as she'd smile for Clark or Jonathan, and walked towards Lionel.

Lionel's arm slipped around her shoulders as he introduced her to some of Metropolis's premier businesspeople, his fingers expertly brushing across her evening wrap and down across her bare skin.

Lex decided that he'd better leave before he decided to engage in an impromptu demonstration of applied physics, which would send Lionel through the window and down thirty floors at an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second per second. As he prowled towards a door, he calculated the approximate velocity on impact, discounting air resistance as negligible in the case of a man falling headfirst.

The hall was filled with clusters of sparkling, smiling people, and he headed for a closed door that might possibly offer him sanctuary.

The third one he tried opened into a nicely appointed library, a place to take certain special guests if private business needed to be transacted. Brandy and glasses were waiting by a large leather couch.

Something hanging from the ceiling caught his eye. Mistletoe.

That wasn't a normal feature of LuthorCorp Christmas parties, and he ought to know, given how much kissing – and other things – he'd done at various iterations thereof. The decorators wouldn't have dared to innovate without Lionel's permission, even if they believed in his blindness, so his father must know.

"Martha," he whispered, clenching his fists.

Defiler. He could feel his lips peeling back from his teeth. If Lionel tried anything, he'd die. The anger rushed through him in waves, hot, heady, more vicious with every heartbeat.

There was a pop! and the mistletoe burst into flames. Lex stared at it, dumbfounded, until the sprinklers kicked in and an alarm keened out over the sound of `Silver Bells.'

Terrified party consultants ran into the room; one hustled him out while the others fretted and pushed and otherwise made idiots of themselves. After a minute, the sprinklers went off and the guests resumed their earlier drinking and babbling, while Lex stood in the hall and thought. Thought about frequencies above and below the visible spectrum, and about just how much he could see if he looked in the right places.

Clark came rushing up. "Are you all right?" he asked, taking Lex by the shoulders.

"I just set a sprig of mistletoe on fire by staring at it," he said, after checking to ensure that no one was in listening range. "I'm damp and extremely curious, but otherwise fine."

Clark blushed and dragged a toe on the floor. "Um, that's weird? Mistletoe, hunh? Who were you thinking about?" he asked, his teasing tone designed to distract Lex.

"Your mom," he admitted, even though he hadn't meant to involve Clark in this latest Luthor outrage. Clark's face twisted in what he recognized as disgust. "I think my father had the mistletoe put up so he could seduce her," he tried to explain, which only made Clark wince harder. "I got mad, and, boom, fire."

"Mad?" Clark gasped, with an oddly relieved look. "Oh. Oh. Oh, yuck, your dad?" His head whipped around, doubtless seeking Lionel.

"Yes, and what's with you? Other than the obvious."

"Oh, um. Yeah, the heat vision. Sort of. Came up for me -" Clark blushed even darker – "when I was. Thinking about girls," he finished in a rush.

"Sex made fire shoot from your eyes?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice down. "And you thought that I was thinking -" Clark nodded sheepishly. "I may never have sex again," he finished, sounding strangled.

Clark raised his eyebrows.

"Okay, I may not have sex for the next few days," he conceded.

"I hope — Wait, focus," Clark demanded, and grabbed his wet sleeve. "Your dad is trying to seduce my mom?"

"You can't confront him about it," Lex snarled. "Don't make it a challenge, or he will use any method at his disposal to win. Don't worry. Your mom can handle herself."

He'd feel a lot better if he were sure about that. He'd never seen Lionel fail in a seduction, and that wasn't because Lionel only paraded his successes about. He'd have to figure out what to do later, and in the meantime reassure and distract Clark. Speaking of distraction, Clark had gone beyond tacit acknowledgement and had actually said something about his powers. That required sustained thought, once he had a moment.

"About the, um, fire," Clark said awkwardly. "The meteors. Must have done something. I didn't – want to end up in some institution, like Tina or Eric or. Well, you get the idea."

Lex nodded slowly. "I understand." A lot better than you think, Clark. Most meteor mutants are strong and fast, but not as strong and fast as you are. And most only got one wish out of all those falling stars, whereas you seem to have gotten Aladdin's lamp. I think you're lying. There is more, and I will know.

In an ordinary situation, he'd be certain that none of this was showing on his face, but the situation wasn't ordinary and it wasn't even his face, so he wouldn't take any bets.

"But what are we going to do about my mom?" Clark asked again. It was clear their little alliance was fragmenting into different priorities.

"Clark," he said and cupped Clark's shoulder in his hand, waiting until he made eye contact. "Sometimes you can't do anything. When he makes his move, she'll know, and she'll tell him no. You can't do that for her. And she doesn't need you to."

Clark's face was losing that terrible vulnerability, returning to a closed-off expression Lex found more appropriate.

"She trusts you, right? Because she and your dad raised you to do the right thing. You've got to trust her to do that, too."

Finally, Clark nodded, and Lex released him. "Now go back to the party. You've been gone too long."

"What about you?"

Lex grimaced. "I'm sure the staff here can find a hair dryer. I'm going to dry off a bit and then come back."

"Ah, Lex," Mr. Luthor said from behind Clark's ear as his hand clamped down on the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Clark jumped and Mr. Luthor chuckled. "Where have you been? Your little `company' could use the contacts you could be making tonight." His hand continued moving across Clark's shoulder with little squeezes every inch or so, like a very bad massage.

"I've been around," Clark managed, after a few calming breaths. Should he turn around and face Mr. Luthor? Staying like this would be insulting, which Lex might do, but would also leave his back exposed to Mr. Luthor, which Lex might not want. He had developed a sudden and complete understanding of why having your back to someone was a vulnerable position, and so he decided to turn. As a bonus, it got him out from under Mr. Luthor's hand.

Mr. Luthor's grin was unnerving. It would be easy to believe that he could still see under those dark glasses, and was just waiting to take the best advantage of that.

"You're off your game, son." Talking to Lex often involved layers of subtext, and it ran in the family. Unfortunately, Clark didn't understand a word of Mr. Luthor's subtext; as it was, he could only follow about a quarter of Lex's.

He was angry, he realized. Not just because Mr. Luthor was hitting on his mom, but because Mr. Luthor had tried to cut Lex as if he were an apple tree being trained, until all he could bear was poisoned fruit. "Maybe I'm not playing a game, Father."

Mr. Luthor laughed, loud enough that even more people turned to stare openly. "Oh, Lex, I'm so tired of hearing that. Can't you think of something more original? Or something that might be true?"

Clark was glad that he didn't have his powers. It let his surge of hatred be purer, unconcerned with restraining himself from decisive physical violence. "Maybe if you said something original, I'd get a new reply. And as for truth? You wouldn't recognize it if it came up and bit your beard off."

He turned on his heel and stalked off. He didn't know where he was going, but stalking off was definitely required.

When he saw Terry over with some other girls, he decided to go over to her. Then, he hoped, the people watching him stalk would stop. It wasn't an attitude he could pull off for very long.

"Hello again," he said, joining her and her friends.

"A second visit, Alex? You must think you're going to get lucky."

One of the unknown blondes giggled. "Not luck, right? Skill."

Clark tried to look suave, but probably just looked like he had an upset stomach. "Can't a man talk to a friend without being suspected of an ulterior motive?"

"A man, yes." Terry ran her hand from his wrist to his elbow. "Not you."

How could Lex live like this? It was exhausting, trying to keep up with the dialogue and the innuendo. At least Clark got time off at home, where he didn't have to hide.

"Ladies, if you'll excuse us," she said to the rest of the group, "I think Alex and I have some old times to remember."

Smiling as if they knew something he didn't, they dispersed, leaving just Terry and Clark standing at the side of the room.

"So, what have you been up to?" he asked, trying to keep his hands at his sides in a Lex-lounging way. He leaned up against the wall, because he'd seen Lex do it so many times, and let one hand trail along the smooth paneled wood.

Lex was a very tactile person, he realized.

Terry was smiling wickedly at him. "As if you don't know."

"Tell me your side of the story," he suggested, and her smile increased in wattage.

"Well," she said, and launched into a complicated story involving debentures, options and other things that hadn't been covered in his Home Ec class. "Am I boring you?" she asked sweetly after about five minutes, maybe noticing the glazed look in his eyes.

"Not at all," he said. "I was just thinking that LexCorp makes things. And all this – trading you were talking about, that's far away from the real making, but somewhere underneath it, there's oil, or cattle, or even fertilizer."

"Alex, you're turning into a man of the soil!" she exclaimed, trailing a hand across his chest. "All plain-spoken and *well-grounded*." From her mouth, it sounded like an insult. "It's the money that matters, in the end. You know that. Or are the rumors true and you're thinking of running for public office?"

Clark looked into her pretty face. Up close, he could see that she was wearing the same kinds of makeup Lana wore, only somehow less obvious. And when had she gotten within six inches, anyhow? He swallowed. "I'm twenty-two," he lied. "I think public service can wait a few years, until LexCorp is established."

Terry chuckled and brought her hand up to grasp his chin. "Twenty-two, and three years ago you did me in the Christmas tree in the main ballroom. What sort of mischief do you think we could get into tonight?"

Whatever he was going to say, it was cut off by her mouth. He realized quickly that what Jessie had in enthusiasm, she lacked in technique, because Terry's tongue was working his mouth with enough skill that she probably could have sucked his brain out.

Thinking about sucking was not good.

Although he hadn't done anything but lean into the kiss, Terry was now wrapped around Clark in a way suggesting that she might not have any bones, but she sure as heck had breasts. "Wanna go mess up the coats?" she whispered, ending with a lick along the curve of his ear that made him gulp and toss his head back against the wall.

Lex and Terry used to be together, so it wouldn't be out of character – but Terry thought she was with Lex, and he couldn't go with her under false pretenses. Not to mention that he was guessing that Lex knew a lot more about what to do with a naked woman than Jessie had gotten around to teaching him in one night.

"As pleasant as that would be," he ground out, trying to imitate Lex's unworried tone, "I think I should probably circulate around here. LexCorp is very young."

"So are you," she pointed out and curled her hand around his erection. "Big bad Alex, running his own company while the rest of us are all still getting our MBAs."

Lex. He was not Lex. He was supposed to play Lex. A sudden image of Lex and Terry, creamy white bodies entwined, kissing and touching, forced his eyes shut. He wanted to touch her, touch them, put his hands where Lex's had been.

"Who's your friend, Lex?"

It took him a few seconds to figure out that the question was directed to him, from Lex. He gaped as Lex moved to stand at his Terry-unoccupied side.

"I'm Terry," she said, holding her hand out across Clark's body so that her arm brushed his stomach.

"Clark," Lex said, reaching out to shake her hand with a friendly expression as he put his other hand on Clark's back, sliding up to Clark's shoulders. The sensation of being surrounded by two sexy people was not entirely pleasant, in large part because Clark was pretty sure that he was about twelve seconds away from coming in his pants. While Lex might conceivably be able to forgive him for being an alien, forgiving an embarrassment of that magnitude would probably be beyond Lex's capacity.

"How do you know Alex?" Terry asked, smiling.

"We met in Smallville." Lex smiled back, and Clark flashed on a Discovery Channel documentary he'd seen once, two panthers circling, waiting for the fight to start.

"They do grow them pretty out in the sticks," Terry said lazily, looking to Clark for some reaction. Unfortunately, his reaction was already pressing against Lex's tailored pants.

Lex, praise God, realized that Clark was out of his depth, and stepped in. "I think Lex is enjoying our little catfight a bit too much," he said and tugged Clark gently away from Terry. "And in Smallville, we don't share."

Clark did his best to call up a smirk in response.

"I might be willing to limit myself to watching," Terry said slowly, her eyes moving from Lex to Clark and back again.

"Why don't you give Lex a call when you think you can afford that, and we'll talk price?" Lex said sweetly, and they were walking away as Terry's eyes widened and her mouth worked.

Lex hustled Clark into a bathroom, glanced quickly at the stalls, and jerked his head at the attendant, who left posthaste.

"Is she going to be mad at you?" Clark asked, because he really needed to formulate a coherent sentence, just to demonstrate that it was possible.

"Terry? Nah," Lex said and looked him over. "We need to do something about that. And since I don't see a cold shower -"

Clark squeaked as Lex's clever hands dove into his pants, unbuttoning them with a speed that had nothing to do with alien powers and everything to do with obvious practice. "Oh God," he said to the ceiling as Lex pushed him back against a wall and dropped to his knees, swallowing him in whole in an eyeblink, and if the `he's were confused, so was Clark. He put his hands back against the tile and felt the cool air on his naked head, such a sharp contrast to the hot wetness of Lex's mouth. Looking down, he saw his own face, eyes shut in concentration, sucking cock.

"Oh God," he said again, because it seemed like such an accurate summary. Lex smiled and slipped a hand underneath his bobbing head, massaging Clark's balls with smooth fingertips.

The orgasm was like getting hit by lightning, only good, loosening every muscle in his body, blowing every fuse in his head.

When he could see again, Lex had already zipped and buttoned his pants. "Give me some money," Lex suggested. "That attendant deserves a big tip."

Clark fumbled for Lex's wallet and, rather than poke around in it, handed the whole thing to Lex, whose fingers paused over the cash and then settled on a hundred-dollar bill. When he looked in the mirror, the expression on his face was as close to Lex's constant self-satisfaction as he'd yet achieved. Maybe Lex looked like that because he knew he could do that – could rewrite history and make the sun go down with his mouth, and God knew what else.

Clark cleared his throat as Lex returned the wallet. "Um, do I ever get a turn?" His voice was smaller and less steady than he'd hoped.

Lex stilled entirely, not quite meeting his eyes. "Do you want a turn?"

Words weren't ever enough with Lex; the tone was always half of the message. "Yes," he said, and this time it came out firm and clear.

"After the party," Lex said and strode through the door, pressing the bill into the hand of the blank-faced attendant who'd stationed himself in front of the bathroom.

Clark followed, smiling, because Lex wasn't looking at him and that meant that Lex didn't want him to see how good Clark had made him feel. He'd be feeling a lot better later on, Clark thought and then blushed at his own innuendo.

"Lex, do you think you could take Clark home?" Martha asked. "Lionel has asked a few people to stay after the party, and I need to stay here. I know it's an imposition -"

"Of course it's not," Clark said, trying to keep smiling, because Lex would do that. "But are you sure he needs you? You'll be home so late -"

She put a hand on his shoulder. "You're sweet to worry, Lex, but I'll be fine."

Don't make it a challenge, Lex had said, and he'd seen enough of Mr. Luthor to understand that Lex was one hundred and fifty percent right about that. But he could talk to his mom, right?

"M – Martha," he said, leaning closer to her, "it's not the late hour I'm worried about. It's my father's intentions."

His mom stiffened and pulled away. "I don't think this is an appropriate conversation," she said icily, pulling her wrap more tightly around her shoulders.

"I don't think that Lionel Luthor is an appropriate man!" he said, barely managing to keep his voice low.

"I'll thank you to let me be the judge of what's appropriate for me," she said, and started to turn away.

He had to fix this. "I'm sorry!" he said hastily, and reached out, only to let his hand fall when he recognized it as the slim and manicured hand of someone who wasn't her son. "I just -"

She turned and smiled, though it was a wintry one. "I know Lionel. I know what he wants, just like I know what you want. I think you'll find that Clark and I are not as susceptible as you think. Or fear. Thank you for taking Clark home." She turned, and the set of her shoulders indicated that she had nothing more to say.

Oh God. She knew? Why didn't she just smack Mr. Luthor? And, Lex wanted? His mom knew what Lex wanted, and he didn't? She had to mean that Lex and Mr. Luthor wanted the same things. Which made recent events both more and less confusing. Also, he was increasingly certain that he was as susceptible as Lex thought. Or feared. Did that mean she could be wrong about herself?

Clark sat heavily on the nearest chair, ignoring the people pretending to talk four feet away while they stared at him.

Lex strolled up, looking completely at home among the rich and powerful. With one dismissive glance, he scattered the nearby onlookers and sat down next to Clark, propping his elbows on his knees in imitation of Clark's posture.

"Growing up sucks."

Lex grinned ruefully at him. "Beats the hell out of the alternative."

"I just talked to my mom about your dad."

Beside him, Lex winced. He should really listen to Lex when human behavior was involved, just like Lex should listen to him about right and wrong. "I take it the conversation did not go as well as you'd hoped."

"She told me to buzz off." Also, she told me that you wanted me back when I was in the alien freak's body, and is that true? "She says she's not susceptible."

Lex's hand enveloped his, and he was surprised enough to squeeze it even before he remembered that he couldn't do any damage that way. "It's hard enough to control your own behavior. Don't get started with your parents. That way madness lies."

"This isn't supposed to happen."

"I'm sorry," Lex said and looked away. Clark took a closer look at him and recognized guilt.

"What are you apologizing for?"

"If I hadn't – If I'd left Smallville when my father told me to. If I'd said no to the surgery. If I'd – if I'd let him die -"

"Don't!" Clark said and reached out with his free hand to grab Lex's chin. Lex let his face be turned back. "All those things were good decisions. You aren't responsible for the consequences."

"No, I just caused them," Lex said, and the resignation in his voice was painful to hear.

He was wrong, of course. Clark had caused all this. It was his fault, not Lex's. There was some life lesson here, something in between the pot versus the kettle and `physician, heal thyself.' Dad would probably know.

"Your father caused them," he said, and was surprised to find that he believed it. "And my mom can make the right decision. There doesn't have to be an unhappy ending."

"You sure about that?" Lex asked, looking half disbelieving and half hopeful. Clark wanted to kiss him more than he'd ever wanted to kiss anyone before. Except that the person he wanted to kiss wasn't bald and blue-eyed at present.

This, he thought, gets more disturbing by the minute.

"I've heard rumors," he said, pulling back from Lex, and was rewarded with a grin. "Come on, let's get out of here."

As they stood in front of the elevator, he realized that he might have been too hasty. "Is there anyone I should say goodbye to?"

Lex shook his head. "There's nobody here who'd be offended if I didn't."

People were still watching them. God, what if he got his name in the paper with Lex? He'd been crucified once already in high school; he'd hate for it to happen a second time.

"What's wrong?" Lex asked, watching him curiously.

"Nothing," he lied, which Lex accepted with his usual grace as the elevator arrived and they headed down to the garage.

It struck Clark, as he entered the limo and scooted over to make room for Lex, that he'd confessed his freakishness, in part, and Lex hadn't looked at him any differently. He hadn't even said, `Oh, that explains that business with Desiree' or joked about letting Clark off the hook for the fire damage to the Talon. He'd known for a while that Lex knew that he wasn't normal, at least subconsciously, but it was different to say something and not have Lex flip out the way Pete had.

Lex was a really good friend. He deserved nice things. Not expensive things, but nice things. Maybe he'd think that kissing Clark was a nice thing. Weren't limos made for decadent behavior like drinking and making out? Bow ties and cummerbunds (and wow, that word sounded obscene) were supposed to be loosened and tossed aside, giddily, while the passengers drank champagne and ate strawberries from each other's fingers. There weren't any strawberries present, he thought, but he could innovate. He tried to shift his body towards Lex, and turned in invitation.

Lex smiled at him, then looked again and frowned. Clark froze, his hand halfway to Lex's thigh. Lex leaned over, so that his lips were only inches from Clark's cheek.

"Clark," he whispered, "the driver takes a bribe from my father to report on me."

This must be what being doused in ice water felt like, to a human. He wanted to shrivel and die, and he pushed himself up against the door, as far away from Lex as he could get without actually jumping from a moving vehicle.

Lex looked distressed, but didn't say anything.

Clark stared out the window, trying to think of something other than the way Lex's eyes looked when Clark rescued him, for the rest of the way to the castle.

Changed back into civilian clothes, Lex sat at the kitchen counter, deliberately shoveling food into the empty cavern Clark called a stomach. Just three hours after the last hors d'oeuvre, and he was ravenous again. On the upside, it all tasted good. Muted sensibility was a boon when you had to consume everything edible in sight, like a very large locust. Clark sat and watched, his body twisted in such an awkward pose that Lex had to restrain himself from going over and fixing his posture. God only knew what the servants were thinking, or saying to Lionel.

When all was secure in the stomach sector, he pushed his plate away and went for a cup of coffee. Returning with the coffee and a small pewter pitcher of milk, he sat next to Clark.

"So, anything you want to tell me? About yourself?" he prodded.

"Urm," Clark said. After a few seconds, it was apparent that `urm' was Clark's final word on the subject.

Lex had a few ideas about how to get a more intelligible response.

He poured the milk into the coffee and held on to the empty pitcher. "Hey, here's a neat trick," he said and crushed the pewter in his fist. He squeezed, and the metal compressed and heated, finally beginning to run between his fingers in hot liquid drops that burned holes in his ugly flannel shirt and hissed when they hit the counter.

"Hey!" Clark protested and reached out. "Jeez! Do you know how much those shirts cost?"

Lex jerked away, putting his hand behind his back. "God, be careful! You could -" He stopped and looked at Clark, for the first time understanding so many things. "Get hurt," he finished slowly. "I could hurt you."

Clark nodded gravely. Lex, unable to look at him for the moment, went to the sink and washed the remains of the pitcher from his hand and upper arm. He had to use steel wool to get the last bits off, and he couldn't help but flinch as he started to rub, even knowing that it wouldn't hurt. Clark, he thought, wouldn't have flinched.

"So," he said, returning to where Clark sat. "It's been made apparent to me that I'm driving a non-standard model."

Clark looked down at the counter. "I don't know if that's true."

"What do you mean, you don't know if it's true?" Of all the bullshit Clark shoveled, and he'd shoveled some pretty heavy loads –

"I mean, I don't know what's standard. For my people."

Lex opened his mouth, then paused and thought about it. "We aren't talking about gypsies, are we?"

"That's not funny, Lex!" Clark banged his fist against the counter in frustration.

"Really? Because, frankly, freakish billionaire's son trading spaces with a spaceboy? That's comedy gold, Clark." He rubbed at the back of his head and was surprised anew to encounter hair.

"I'm not a boy," Clark muttered. "And you're not a freak."

The fact that Clark could add that, after all Lex's provocation, made him feel like an utter heel. He put his hand on Clark's shoulder, hyperaware that he could crush bones with a careless squeeze. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't – deal with stress the way you do. It's much easier to make light of the problem."

"I know." Clark reached out in turn, smiling a pure, open smile that looked bizarre on Lex's face. "We'll deal with it somehow."

"Okay, yeah." He paused, mind running through various possibilities. "So, where are you from?"

Clark frowned. "I don't know. My parents abandoned me, that part's true. I arrived in a – a ship. It's down in the storm cellar."

Lex felt a pang on Clark's behalf. He didn't know what he could say to counter the fact that Clark's parents (if he had parents) had gone so far in getting rid of him as to send him to an entirely different planet. He also didn't want to press too hard on the spaceship issue. Yet. The situation called for a change of subject. "You know, this could work out really well for me. Sure, I've lost a fortune, but I've also gained in privacy, irresponsibility and raw physical attractiveness."

"You're still joking, right?"

Clark's face was heartbreakingly sincere. It was as if he could see Clark himself, peeking out from underneath Lex's flesh. He brushed his knuckles down Clark's smooth cheek. "Not about the raw physical attractiveness," he said, an unexpected tenderness in his voice. Maybe Clark's heart was big enough to de-Grinch even him.

Clark's lips parted, begging to be kissed. Kissing wasn't a blowjob; with Clark at least, it would be a commitment. Lex leaned in, about to surrender, when he realized that it was late, and Jonathan was doubtless waiting up until both he and Martha returned.

"I should probably be getting to the farm," he said roughly.

"I don't want to be alone in this place," Clark confessed. "Does your dad, um, always touch you like that?"

"I don't want you to be alone here either," he dodged. "Any chance your parents will approve a sleepover?" He tried not to sound too hopeful.

Clark shook his head. "If this lasts much longer, we're going to have to tell them."

"As joyous as that prospect makes me, I'd rather put it off until I have time to incorporate this new information and maybe run a few experiments."

"Experiments." All the life drained from Clark's face.

"Not – nothing like that, Clark. I swear. Just to see how we can undo this. Nothing else. After all, I seem to have a vested interest in your body."

"And if – when we switch back?" It was amazing how expressive his face was when Clark was animating it. Hopeful and fearful all at once.

"When we switch back, I guarantee you that I will retain a vested interest in your body." Too much information, a potential tactical blunder of the highest order, but possibly the only thing Clark might believe kept him safe. If he were Clark, he wouldn't believe a Luthor's protestations of disinterested friendship. He was struggling with disbelief himself.

Clark's blush was almost as bright as his smile.

"Wait," Clark commanded as Lex turned to head for the door.


"My turn. You said I could have my turn."

Lex turned back and sighed at the eagerness on Clark's face. "Clark, this has been a trying few days. Emotions have been running high, and I've perhaps been too casual about exploring the – peculiarities of our situation."

Clark frowned, then smiled again, moving across the kitchen floor. "You're scared."

Of course I am, he thought. "You should also know that the inclinations you feel may be biologically grounded in my body. You've never hinted at any interest before -"

"How hard were you looking?" Clark asked in a tone he probably hoped was deceptively casual, and stepped closer.

"You're sixteen years old, you're responding to the fact of sexual attention -"

"You're a big fraidy cat."

How had he gotten backed against the door?

"You can make me do anything you want," Clark said, making it sound like a promise, and went to his knees.

Lex blessed the difficulties of button-fly jeans, which gave him a few extra moments to think. "I can't lose your friendship. I can't. Do you understand that?"

Clark blinked up at him through his implanted eyelashes. "You won't. And you probably should have thought of that before you sucked my dick."

"Good point," he said faintly as Clark's hands pushed his jeans and briefs down his hips. Only forwards, he thought. Then thought became exponentially more difficult as Clark's soft, tentative lips closed over his cock, pushing at the foreskin in a way that had to be a trade secret among the uncut.

While he still remembered, he clenched his hands into fists.

Apparently Lex's body memories did not include deep throating, because Clark stopped about halfway. He moved his head back and forth, and Lex realized that baldness looked very different from this angle. His cock disappeared and reappeared, and it was like watching video of himself and feeling it at the same time.

He could already feel the orgasm heading towards him like a guided missile. In a sixteen-year-old body, it was acceptable, not to mention that Clark would probably appreciate speed his first time out.

Clark slipped a tentative hand between his legs, and it was enough to push him over, into a world of light and heat and joy. His cock pulsed and he struggled to keep his hips from thrusting. Clark, of course, had no idea that swallowing was optional and continued to suck him until he pulled away. Ah, it was good to get them early, before they'd formed any bad habits.

He smiled down, brain buzzing with satisfaction and another emotion he was too superstitious to name. Clark licked his lips, tasting.

"Satisfied with your turn?" he asked, grateful that his voice didn't crack.

"Almost," Clark said and rose with a newfound grace. Reaching out, he grabbed the collar of Lex's shirt and pulled him into a kiss. For two people who'd met in a car crash and shaken hands later, it was an appropriate sequence of events, he thought and closed his eyes. He never closed his eyes when kissing; one could miss valuable information that way. But this way, he found, it was easier to concentrate on the sensations: the almost imperceptible dip of the scar on his mouth, the feel of his tongue running along his teeth, the way Clark sighed and pressed himself into Lex's embrace, the lingering taste of come in Clark's mouth.

After a while, possibly longer than the blowjob, Lex tugged himself away and fixed his clothes. "How about now?"

"Wha?" Clark was flushed, his eyes shining, and Lex hoped that if he'd ever looked that sex-stunned, he'd at least had a great time.

"Are you satisfied now?" he repeated.

Clark smiled. "Yeah. But you better figure out how to switch us back soon, `cause I'm getting some sort of complex. It can't be healthy to like kissing yourself."

Lex chuckled. "Okay, Narcissus. Starting tomorrow, I'm your full-time mad scientist. Good night." He kissed Clark quickly, because it seemed like the thing to do, and then waited expectantly.

"Good night," Clark said, his eyes luminous.

After about ten seconds, he blinked a few times at Clark. When that didn't work, he laughed again. "The leaving part works better when you give me enough room to open the door."

"Oh!" Clark jumped back, delightfully flustered. "Sorry."

Lex grinned – yes, this one would have to qualify as a grin, even though Luthors never did anything so pedestrian – and turned to open the door. "Tomorrow, Clark."

"Tomorrow," Clark repeated, his voice full of wonder.

Outside the kitchen, Lex paused once more to look up at the night sky. Which, he wondered, out of all them bright stars was Clark's? Not just superhuman, but alien, like a gift from Heaven just for Lex.

He took his opportunity to see as Clark could see, looking up at a sky suddenly glowing bright with radiation, full of stars that pulsed and throbbed like living creatures. He felt a surge of protectiveness for Clark. Other people wouldn't ask what the stars were like; they'd want to dissect Clark and gain his powers or simply kill him because he might be a threat.

Nothing's going to harm you, not while I'm around, he promised.

Then he realized that he was quoting Toby, the half-witted and murderous boy from `Sweeney Todd,' which was really not the allusion he wanted. He had barbers on the brain, that was all.

With an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, he'd protect Clark from those who'd exploit or hurt him.

That was much better.

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