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1. I've seen the future, brother; it is murder

The last time Lex had sex was late in 2001, after 3 am in the back of some Metropolis club. He couldn't remember her face, though she did have fabulous breasts. If he'd known it was going to be the last time, he would have paid more attention. Maybe even learned her name.

Not long after that, Cassandra had passed her poison gift to the meteor freak who was holding her hand as she died.

Lex had shared her vision of his future, red rain and dying flowers and all. His future killed her. He'd washed his hands until they bled, because there's a fine line between a cliche and a symbol, a line thinner than a layer of skin.

That was before he touched Richard Solkow, just a casual handshake for meeting a potential new supplier, and seen the man lying crucified in a field, surrounded by squalling pigs with fangs like long knives.

The thing about Cassandra's visions – Lex's visions – the thing that made them so intolerable was that they were truly oracular. Like the lyrics to a Tori Amos song: pregnant with meaning but indefatigably incomprehensible from outside. "When Croesus has the Halys crossed, a mighty empire will be lost." "Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him." "Fear death by water." If only Lex could get messages of like clarity; he was prepared to be cautious and not read his own hopes into the prophecies. But, no. Instead, he got pigs in fields.

Richard Solkow had a heart attack and died six months later, just after his company was taken from him and ripped apart by speculators. The knowledge wasn't helpful in the least.

By that time, Lex hadn't touched anyone in many months. Meaningful or not, the visions hurt, and made him look crazy in public.

He could have paid someone to satisfy his now highly specific requirements for sexual contact, but the blackmail potential was huge. Besides, the mighty hadn't fallen that far. His own left hand was unfailingly discreet and gave it away for free.

He wore gloves constantly. He'd rather be thought Michael Jackson-like in his germphobia than keep getting crippling headaches and visions of goldfish swimming through mercury or a blue eye turning into a seed-heavy dandelion and blowing away in the wind. He'd seen a glove in Cassandra's vision. Pretty fucking funny, Destiny, eh?

Lionel noticed Lex's latest freak habit about three months in. He dodged most of Lionel's attempts to touch him, but this only encouraged Lionel, making him think it was Lex's weakness.

Lex was studying blueprints for the reconstruction of what had been Level Three when his father's hand clamped down on his neck.

Lex, bent over a table, stripped to the waist and bleeding from the heavy whip in Lionel's hand –

No, it was Clark, the stripes on his back oozing green-black like moss –

Crudely painted figures danced around his father, their hands joined as they chanted something Lex couldn't hear in a language he knew was not of Earth –

Lionel's hair writhed and each strand began to turn into a worm. As Lionel stared in horror, the same happened to each of his fingers, his arms and legs, and finally his torso, a garland of worms, a heap of worms where a man once stood –

Lex screamed like a girl and vomited onto Lionel's shoes.

Lionel was slightly amused and mostly contemptuous. At least he didn't try that again.

Mostly, though, people accepted this new quirk from the weird bald rich guy. He wasn't one to show much of his bizarre skin, below the neck at least, so it wasn't an enormous change. His doctors always wore gloves for the twice-yearly prodding and sampling, and really sex had usually been so much a performance, a time to prove he was good, better, best, that he didn't miss it exceedingly.

Lex's bonus meteor gift, and his futile attempts to nullify it with psychoactive and skin-chemistry-altering substances, occupied him for well over a year before he turned his attention back to Clark in any systematic way. By that time, Clark's list of miraculous rescues and associated sudden deaths had gotten long enough to resemble Santa's naughty/nice list. Lex had, rather uncharitably, almost welcomed his father's growing interest in Clark as a distraction from what was happening to his own son. After he'd seen reports from Level Three, and more after he'd met the second (third? fourth?) Emily Dinsmore, he was somewhat concerned for his own continued freedom were his father to get the idea that he could see the future, even through a glass darkly.

But Clark had saved Lex's life and piqued his interest, and he wasn't prepared to let his father snatch this prize away from him.

When he stopped by the Kent farm one day, looking for Clark, Martha Kent invited him inside even though Clark and his father were in town at the hardware store. Her pregnancy was just beginning to show under her well-worn blue apron. "I'm making cookies for the high school bake sale," she said, waving him into the kitchen.

"I'm sure they'll be a great success."

"You can help," she said.

"Of course." He reached for his wallet.

"No!" She sounded distressed. "I mean, you can put the cookies on the sheet while I mix another batch."

"I don't know," Lex said, wary. "I believe in leaving production to the experts. I'm more the managerial type."

She frowned, but not as if she meant it. "It's not difficult. Look," she said and scooped a glob of chocolate chip-studded dough onto a wooden spoon. With one finger, she scraped most of the glob onto the waiting metal sheet.

"There." She laughed at his obvious dismay. "Come on, Lex. Live a little."

Lex had to admit that the idea of "living a little" as playing with raw cookie dough was charming, and much less legally questionable than his earlier definitions.

"You've sold me," he said and took the spoon from her.

"You'll have to take off your gloves," Martha chided.

Lex swallowed. He was stuck. With anyone else he would have reversed himself, but he didn't want to be rude to Martha Kent. He put the spoon back into the dough and began to remove the gloves, watching to make sure she retreated before taking up his new duties.

He was vulnerable without the gloves, almost the way he'd been when he'd first lost his hair. The feel of the dough, slightly grainy and buttery, punctuated by the smoother surfaces of the chips, was astoundingly sensual. He'd have to remember to touch nonliving objects more frequently when he had the chance. Concentrating on distributing dough and chips evenly over Martha's numerous baking sheets, he let himself relax, clearing his mind of its incessant irritating chatter.

"Lex?" Martha's voice broke through his pleasant isolation. "What are you humming?"

He blinked, surprised, then thought it over. "It used to be that a glimpse of stocking/Was looked on as something shocking -"

Her face broke into an open smile. Lex understood exactly why Jonathan Kent risked disaster to bring a Metropolis socialite home with him. "I can see why you decided not to pursue a career on the stage," she said.

He grinned back. "Now you want to leave things to the experts."

She pursed her lips in mock exasperation. "Why don't you put the cookies in the oven?"

Using oven mitts stiff with years of use, he did so, then took the nearly empty bowl of dough over to the sink. "Should I rinse the bowl?" he asked, sneaking a taste of the leftover dough.

Martha abandoned her new batch and came over to check the bowl. "Sure, once you finish snacking," she said. Then, before Lex could pull away, she stuck her hand in to collect her share, and their hands collided.

Jonathan Kent, smashing a crib with a sledgehammer, his face tight with anger –

Martha, crying in a cemetary as Clark turned away –

Martha, sewing fabric in primary colors. She picked her work up and shook it out, revealing an American flag in red, blue and yellow –

Martha, standing in a field of dying sunflowers as the sky bled, her tears clearing white streaks on her gory face –

"Lex! Lex? Can you hear me?"

He found himself huddled in a corner of the kitchen, cringing away from Martha's hand on his shoulder. She was down on one knee, trapping him.

He opend his eyes and folded his arms to hide his hands. "I'm all right," he said. "I apologize. I'm afraid you startled me."

"Startled?" she asked, wide-eyed. "The sound you made – I heard a horse cry out like that, after it broke its leg. What happened?"

With his arms wrapped around himself, he was never going to convince her to back away. "Really," he said reassuringly, relaxing his shoulders and putting his hands by his thighs, "I overreacted, that's all. I'm sorry to have caused you any concern."

"Lex -"

"Please," he said, realizing that begging might work where making light failed. "It's all right."

Still looking worried, Martha released him and stood, offering him her hand to help him up. Instead, he braced himself against the wall and rose to his feet.

The oven timer dinged. When Martha turned to get the cookies, Lex grabbed his gloves and put them on. They were more important than armor; armor protected only the body and his mind was far more vulnerable than that.

Martha busied herself pulling trays out to cool, her jerky movements indicating her continuing unease. If Lex had been alone, he would have sighed and cursed the loss of yet another safe space, but he wasn't alone. That was the problem.

How did Cassandra learn to live with this? How could she ever voluntarily touch another human being?

Maybe she just hadn't seen Lex's dark destiny, poisoning everyone he touched. Maybe her visions were nicer, at least until his killed her.

"Lex," Martha said softly, standing a few feet back. "Would you like a glass of milk?"

"Yes, thank you," he said. It was the right answer. Her face relaxed a few degrees and she smiled at him tentatively. He sat at the kitchen table in front of a plate of warm cookies and ran a fingertip over the rough cotton tablecloth. He couldn't feel a thing.

Martha put a glass of milk by his hand and sat down across from him.

"Is there anything I can do?"

Don't go setting up a second college fund, Lex thought before a wave of shame washed over him.

"Thank you," he said, raising his eyes to her clear blue ones. "But I don't think that I can be helped."

"You'll never know unless you try," she said encouragingly.

Lex picked a cookie from the top of the pile and took a bite. "These are delicious, Mrs. Kent."

She shook her head. "Martha, Lex." She looked at his hand, his black leather fingers absorbing butter from the cookie.

Compassion had always been his weakness. "You know I'm a meteor mutant."

Martha's eyes widened.

"Clark didn't tell you?" Now that Lex thought about it, that made sense. Clark tried so hard to keep secrets. "I lost my hair and my asthma in the meteor shower and gained rapid healing and an elevated white blood cell count."

Martha moved as if to reach for his hand, then thought better of it.

"Well over a year ago, I also developed – disturbing visions – whenever I touched another person."

She closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. "Cassandra," she said when she looked at him again. "You were there when she died."

He nodded, brushing cookie crumbs from his fingers. "And like an embarrassing social disease, her talent passed to me. As you can imagine, it's made touching – difficult for me."

Martha's face was a portrait of sympathy and sadness. She stared at his hands, or the contours of his hands. "If I'm careful, can I hug you?"

Lex kept his face blank. "You don't need to do that."

"What if I want to?"

It was unfair. He'd been doing so well; it wasn't as if he'd lost all that much, really. The offer shouldn't make him so desperate that he'd risk another bloodstorm in his head. "If you're sure," he said, realizing that he sounded as if he'd be doing her the favor.

Martha stood, and so did he. She stepped around the table and held out her arms.

Lex screwed his courage to the sticking point and moved forward. Hesitantly, he brought his arms up and tilted his head so that it was over Martha's shoulder, safely away from her exposed skin. He closed his eyes and breathed in her cookies-and-apricots scent. Her arms tightened around him until she was holding him upright as he held on to her like the security blanket he'd never had.

He had about thirty seconds before he seriously embarrassed himself. After a brief struggle to return his limbs to his conscious control, he released Martha and pulled back. She let him go immediately.

"Does it happen every time?"

"What?" It seemed a silly question.

"You get these … visions the first time someone touches you, but what about the second? Is it used up?"

"I don't know," he admitted. He hadn't enjoyed any oracular experience enough to deliberately risk it twice. He hadn't planned on liking anyone enough for there to be a second time, except of course for Clark who was a fantasy in any event.

Martha held out her hand. "Try it," she challenged.

He could hardly tell her he didn't want to watch her lose her child again. What was the worst that could happen? She wasn't a meteor freak, so he probably couldn't pass the visions on to her.

"All right," he said and tugged at his left glove until his wrist was exposed.

Martha's warm, work-roughened hand closed on his skin.

Lex was in the field, facing Martha, sinking to his ankles in warm red-brown mud and withered stalks –

Martha was sobbing, arms wrapped around herself because there was no one left to hold her –

Clark, alighting between them, his man-sized, white-gold wings unmarred by the dirty rain, facing Lex, furious and shouting "You!" –

The taste of blood, the smell so strong he could have touched it –

Lex wrenched himself away and leaned over the sink, panting, until the nausea passed.

Martha's hand on his back moved slowly up and down as she murmured reassuring nonsense. He was sweating and cold. He turned on the faucet and splashed cool water on his face.

"Okay," Martha said from behind him. "Maybe that wasn't such a great idea."

He laughed, rubbing at his temples. "It was a good idea with a bad outcome."

He could feel her wanting to ask what he'd seen. He hoped, uselessly, that she'd never know.

The door opened and Clark stepped in, followed by his father.

Lex turned to Clark's smile and Jonathan Kent's suspicious frown as Martha hurried back to her abandoned cookies.

"Hello, Lex," Jonathan said at the same time as Clark exclaimed, "Lex!"

"Hello, Mr. Kent. Clark. I just stopped by to say hello."

Jonathan looked at the kitchen table, where Lex's half-drunk milk and broken cookie testified to the length of his stay. "Clark has chores to finish."

Evidently Kent's lukewarm-to-cold running feelings about him were back down to ice cube level. Maybe he suspected that 'like father, like son' extended to Lex's taste in women.

"I won't keep you, then," Lex said. "Thank you for the cookies, Martha."

"I could come over later," Clark suggested, to Jonathan Kent's plain dismay.

"That's a good idea," Martha said. Kent looked at her disbelievingly, but her eyes were fixed on Lex. "I'll send more cookies with him. You could use fattening up." In other words, she was saying, he could use a friend. Especially, perhaps, one who knew he could never lead a normal life because of his differences.

"Wonderful."

Clark looked happy, but confused by the undercurrents rolling through the room.

Lex took his leave, thinking through the long-term implications of Martha's knowledge of his weakness. Her first impulse, it seemed, was to send Clark to the rescue, which was good. She might be reassured by the knowledge that he could no longer do anything about his painfully obvious attraction to Clark. He was also fairly sure that she wouldn't tell Clark about Lex's Delphic streak. She was good at compartmentalizing. Whoever in the Kent family spilled Clark's secret, it wasn't going to be Martha. Lex was overall quite pleased with his impulsive confidence in her, though it was possible he was ignoring risks because he was thrilled by the prospect of hugs.

His destiny might be to destroy Smallville and the world, but he was going to enjoy life while he could.

Clark arrived at the mansion after sundown, bearing an excessive number of cookies. Lex had him leave the cookies in the kitchen for the staff, made a mental note to send a check to the PTA, and took Clark up to play pool.

Clark's form was off. "I guess it's been a while since I played," he said sheepishly after he fluffed a kindergarten-geometry shot.

"It has," Lex agreed. "But you'll pick it up again soon enough." He missed an easy shot and shook his head at his own incompetence. "I can't even shoot straight," he murmured to himself, because he was in a good mood.

"What?" Clark's head came up, his eyes muddy with suspicion.

Lex needed to be more careful. Clark was innocent, not stupid. "Nothing. Your turn."

Clark bent again to survey the table. "What were you and Mom talking about this afternoon?" he said as he took aim.

Lex waited for Clark's shot, successful this time. "Nothing of any importance. Why do you ask, Clark?"

Clark moved until he was nearly bumping against Lex's hip. Lex shifted half a step away.

"I miss you," Clark said.

Lex was shocked by how much that mattered to him. "You see me all the time," he said carefully.

Clark shot, clipping his target ball and sending it spinning towards the side pocket, where it hovered at the edge but didn't fall. "You know it's not the same. You stayed at my house but we barely spent any time together."

"I'm sorry if I made you feel ignored," Lex said, chalking his cue. "I've been fairly busy putting LexCorp back together." His shot sent two balls to their fates.

"Lex." Clark's hand on his upper arm nearly made him jump. Deliberately, he straightened up and looked at Clark, waiting. "You look at me like you've given up." Clark was still holding him.

Lex swallowed, wondering how far he could push. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."

Clark's hand tightened, almost bruising. "You said our friendship would be the stuff of legends. So why have you locked yourself up in your castle?"

"I suppose I formed the impression that you didn't want to share very much of yourself with me." Lex wasn't good at being defensive.

"All right," Clark said, his hand falling away from Lex. "You tell me one of your secrets, and I'll tell you one of mine." His eyes were evergreen, pleading.

"I saw Cassandra's vision of my future." Twice in one day; he'd have to watch out or he'd be confessing to his father next.

Clark's face paled. "So did I," he whispered.

"But you're still touching people," Lex said, shocked. "It didn't stick?"

"You mean you're like her now?" Clark blurted, equally taken aback. "You see people's futures when you touch them?"

He nodded, thinking hard. "What did you see?"

Clark shuddered. "I was in the rain, surrounded by the gravestones of everybody I know. Except you."

We Smallville survivors are a cheery bunch, Lex thought darkly.

"What does it mean?" Clark whispered.

"I wish I knew," he confessed. "What I see – isn't good, Clark. I don't know if it can be changed."

"Do it," Clark demanded, holding out his hand.

Lex backed away, barely restraining himself from bolting. "No."

"Please, Lex. I need to know. Maybe if we see it together, we can figure out what it means." Clark's face was achingly sincere, the way it always was when he wanted something only Lex could get for him.

"It's a bad idea," he said, hearing defeat in his voice.

"Please," Clark repeated.

"All right," he said, and made himself stand still while Clark approached again, his hand outstretched as if they were meeting for the first time. But just once, he'd control the form of the gift.

Stepping quickly into Clark's personal space, he brought gloved hands to Clark's cheeks, pulling him down for a Judas kiss.

They were flying high above the clouds, Lex wrapped in Clark's arms, feeling the cold wind sink its teeth into him. Clark's face was full of fury. The clouds parted, and Lex looked down to see the symbols from the Kewatchee caves, carved into the land in lines miles long –

They were in a study not completely unlike Lex's current office, made of metal and light. While Clark watched with his arms folded, Lex and Lionel tossed a beach ball printed with a map of the globe between them – no, they were tossing a miniature version of the globe on top of the Daily Planet –

There was a replica of the castle, made entirely of ice. Clark was standing in the center of it, howling with impotent rage –

The residents of Smallville were lined up, smiling, chatting happily. At the front of the line, Lex was standing with an automatic pistol. As each one stepped up, Lex shot him or her in the head. The bodies fell into an endless gulf –

Lionel, a thousand Lionels, surrounding Clark as if he were in a hall of mirrors, laughing as Clark shook his head like a punch-drunk boxer. Lex looked in the mirror and saw his father looking out, mimicking every gesture and blink –

They were in front of a roaring fire, bodies entwined, sweating and furiously grabbing at any skin they could reach, aroused beyond thought, striving. Cold water rose around them and Lex realized that the fire was melting the ice castle, was going to drown them, but he didn't care; even as the water filled his lungs, Clark was sucking kisses down his chest and bruising his hips with hot hands –

"Lex! Come on, wake up!"

Clark's voice came from very far away, out of a deep blackness that pressed against him like velvet.

"Don't do this to me, Lex!"

Closer now, and with the voice, pain. As the light returned, Lex turned his head and spewed nonexistent water onto the Persian carpet. Blinking, he looked up into Clark's shadowed face and couldn't tell whether he was in the past or the future.

He drew in a shuddering breath as Clark reached out to touch his cheek. "No!" he tried to say, but it was too late. He gaped as nothing happened.

Clark's eyes closed in relief. Lex let his aching head sag back onto the carpet.

"What," he wheezed, "the hell just happened?" The water might have been imaginary, but his lungs were still confused.

"I think you were dying," Clark whispered. "I knew I had to stop it, and I – I don't know what I did."

Somehow, Lex thought this was true, even though Clark knew more than he was telling. "You can touch me now."

"Yes." Clark looked down at him solemnly. "What did you see?"

He felt a smile distort his mouth. "Do you believe that a man can fly?"

Clark nodded. "And the rest of it?"

"My father – the world – you, all alone in that ice palace -" He stopped, but Clark's face was determined.

"Not all alone. Not at the end."

Lex cleared his throat. "Do you think it's gone? That I can touch anyone again?"

Clark's brows lowered. Lex fancied that he looked jealous. "No. I think it's me."

Lex couldn't say he minded particularly.

He reevaluated his thoughts on jealousy when Clark bent to kiss him, an entirely different and more controversial form of rescue. Clark kissed like an insurrection, razing everything in its path. He kissed as if he were the one who'd been starving for contact, his hands pushing new bruises into Lex's arms and chest.

Eventually, Clark released him so he could take a few desperately needed, agonized breaths. "What are you?" he choked out, before he lost the last of his will.

"You know," Clark said, bending to catch his mouth.

After a longer time, Clark pulled back, half a breath away. "I want you to say it," Lex insisted. His heart was pounding like the surf in a storm.

Clark smiled, not in a way he could have managed when they met, rueful and a little angry. "Yeah, well, I want you to say it too, so I guess we're both out of luck."

Now Lex was riding that surf, hammered against the stones on the shore, fighting for breath. "Give me time, Clark."

Clark tilted his head, thinking perhaps that they already knew time to be their worst enemy. "Okay," he said.

Lex hooked his hand around Clark's neck and pulled him back down. It was just like the vision, the fire burning bright as it consumed him.

"We can beat this, Lex," Clark continued when Lex rolled them over so he could have more control.

Lex's hands, still gloved, worked at Clark's shirt buttons while he wished he had Clark's faith. He believed in fighting destiny, but he was pretty certain that destiny was the odds-on favorite in that match.

Clark groaned when he put his mouth on the edge of Clark's collarbone, licking and biting as his fingers slid down Clark's torso to the waistband of his jeans.

"You've got to stop your father from investigating any more," Clark said, raising his hands to pull Lex's sweater and shirt over his head.

"You know what you're saying," Lex panted as he thumbed open the button on Clark's jeans and paused to strip off the hateful gloves.

"Something has to change, Lex." Clark arched into Lex's hand around his cock, the skin fever-hot and smoother than talc. Lex's other hand was braced on Clark's throat, pressing into his trachea with a strength that would have killed a normal man.

"All right," Lex said. It echoed in his head as "I do."

There were troubled times ahead, especially for Clark when Martha lost the baby. Lex would stand with him, for him. Their fortunes were twined together like the snakes on Mercury's caduceus. Lex would protect Clark, wouldn't let him become an enemy. And if his father stood in the way, well, dulce et decorum est pater mori.

Lex looked into Clark's darkened eyes and saw in them a cleansing fire. If Clark could stop the visions, maybe he was strong enough to stop the future.

And if not – they'd have years to pretend.

****

2. Your faith was strong but you needed proof

Jonathan Kent's mouth was clamped in a hard grim line, and Martha tightened her hand on his shoulder before she stepped back and opened the front door. Lex carried the sleeping body in his arms up the porch steps, into the house, and up to the bedroom. On the way back down, he paused at the top of the stairs, gathering his composure. The flesh around his right eye throbbed and he thought a molar or two might have been loosened.

"What did you do, Luthor?" Kent snapped as soon as Lex was on the porch, grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing him up against the side of the house. The bruises on his back whined.

Lex deliberately raised his hands, wrapped them around Kent's wrists, and pushed back. Kent still looked furious, but he didn't attempt to keep Lex pinned. "I'm in no mood for you, Mr. Kent. Considering that I just got the crap kicked out of me by five of your daughter's new best friends for defending her increasingly dubious virtue, I think at the very least you shouldn't lay your hands on me."

Kent's shocked expression was almost worth it. Martha, hovering nearby, made a small noise. "Lex, what happened?" she asked.

"A few of the Wild Coyote's patrons were buying her beers, and she danced. I got there before anything else happened." He didn't need to give them the specifics of Mary's "dancing," which was her idea of fucking with clothes on.

The most disturbing part hadn't been the dancing, nor the way she'd wrapped herself around him when he tried to drag her out of the bar. It had been floating in her eyes, beneath the taunting that set five of Smallville's most overgrown young farmers on him.

Mary had wanted to watch Lex hurt them and get hurt. She'd been more aroused after the fight than before, and it had been a considerable test of his never-impeccable self-control not to throw her up against his car and fuck her right there, as she clearly wanted. Never mind that he was fairly certain that Mary could have drop-kicked those men, and everyone else in the bar besides, into Missouri. Never mind that her high-heeled leather boots and blood-red bustier made her look more like his usual girlfriends than he was at all comfortable with. Never mind that Mary could be cruel when she was afraid or hurting. This cruelty had been both calculating and unforced, like a beam of light shining out from beneath the blackout curtains around her truest soul.

The pathetic thing was that he was grateful she'd fallen asleep, faster than a computer shutting down, while they were driving who-knows-where.

"I'll just be going," he said, and neither of the Kents tried to stop him.

Days later, after Mary's craziness had peaked and then disappeared – Lex was fairly certain it had something to do with the red meteor rocks that had been handed out as class jewelry, because meteor rocks always seemed to factor in somehow – she came to his office.

"Hi," she said, unusually timid, but then she had reason to be.

Lex rose and went to the pool table, beginning to set up for a game. He'd need something to do with his hands. "Hello, Mary."

"I wanted to say – about the other night -" She sputtered to a halt.

Lex broke. The balls scattered across the green felt, their motions not random but controlled by forces not wholly within human measurement. He watched as the last one trembled and stopped, then stood up and turned to her.

"Mary. I'm not some high school guy you have to pretend doesn't exist after an ill-advised makeout session at someone's kegger. Just tell me why and we'll forget about it completely."

She was scarlet, staring down at the floor as if the oriental rug had an encoded message for her. He moved closer.

"I don't – I don't know why." She sounded miserable, and he would have dropped it if he couldn't remember what it was like to shudder under her hungry mouth, to feel her breasts pressed against him and her hand on his ass. If he hadn't seen in the next morning's reflection, along with the bruises from the fight, a bite mark on his neck that had taken three days to disappear, long after the bruises faded.

Lex reached out and caught her wrists. Startled, she stepped back but didn't fight when he held on and pulled her until they were only inches apart. "That's not good enough."

"It was – I didn't mean – it was just a thing, a crazy thing."

He could feel Mary's pulse pounding against his fingers. "It wasn't just anything. In case you need reminding -"

Her mouth opened to his immediately.

Her hands uncurled against his chest and he pulled their lower bodies together. He'd lied, earlier; there was no way he could have let this go. The fire had been there, banked, between them since she breathed life back into him by the river, and the only thing that would put it out now was another drowning. Mary's kisses were artless and should have reminded him that she was barely past childhood.

He pulled back, cupping her face between his hands, and rubbed his thumbs over her cheekbones.

"Please, Lex," she whispered, her eyes all pupil, only the thinnest ring of green around them like the promise of spring.

"'Please, Lex' what? Please, Lex, stop?" He let his hands drift down, hovering just above her collarbones until she arched up for his touch. "Please, Lex, let me tell you what really happened? Or," his hand curved around Mary's breast, firm and glorious under her cheap shirt, "please, Lex, do whatever you want?"

He bent his head to nuzzle at Mary's neck, his lips brushing across her skin, over the fine downy hairs along the line of her jaw, but made no further movements. Thick, glossy curls of hair whispered along his skin, smelling of oranges.

At last, Mary took a deep breath. "Please, Lex, do whatever you want."

Oh, Mary, he thought as he brought his head up to claim her mouth and watch her closed eyes.

Wrong answer.

****

3. Then my father built an altar

When Lex woke, he was alone in an unfamiliar room. IVs ran into the backs of his hands, taped in place, and he couldn't raise his arms when he tried. The lights were dim and the window showed only night.

"Hello?" he said, or tried to. It came out as a crow's call, dry and meaningless. He cleared his throat. "Hello?"

No one came.

He noticed that there was a kind of remote control-looking thing near his right hand. He was clearly in a hospital bed, and thus a hospital. He didn't remember any accidents. Had the helicopter crashed? He'd known it would.

With enormous effort, he was able to flop his hand towards the remote control, and after five tries he pushed a flat green square that said "Call Nurse" on it.

A few minutes later, when Lex was already halfway back to sleep, a black woman in a pink outfit came into the room. "Now what are you –?" she said, as if she were speaking to herself, and cut off when she saw him staring at her. "Oh Lord," she said, and rabbited back out of the room.

Lex thought that was rude. Resentment kept him awake during the very long time he waited for somebody, anybody, to return. He wanted water, but there was none on the tray by his bedside, just tissues and a tube of vaseline.

At last, the nurse returned with another woman, this one wearing a doctor's coat. She hesitated just inside the door, then walked quickly to his bedside and started checking the equipment he could hear bleeping behind his head.

"Hello?" he squeaked.

"Hello, Lex," she said as if he were a very slow child. He resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. His mother always said that good behavior was important, never more so than with one's social inferiors.

"May I please have some water?" he asked, so hoarse that he was just mouthing the words by the end of his question.

The doctor hesitated, then turned. "Lucy, would you please get Lex some water?"

By the time the nurse was back with the water, the doctor had finished looking at whatever she was looking at. When Lex tilted his head up, the machines looked strange, too small and too flat for a real hospital room. He knew; he'd seen when his mom had to stay overnight for tests.

"What's the last thing you remember, Lex?" the doctor asked when he'd finished about six sips of water, all that he really felt that he could take. Now that she was close, he could see that the name "Rawlings" was sewn onto her white coat.

He frowned. "I was with my dad. We were going to take a helicopter ride to see a plant he just bought, outside the city. Can I see my mom?"

The doctor looked over his shoulder quickly, then back. Something's wrong, his father's voice whispered in his head. She's nervous. "I've called your father, Lex, but it may take some time for him to get here."

"What happened?"

She swallowed. Lex screwed up his face in what he knew looked like a temper tantrum in the making. It worked as well as it did with any of his nannies – she started to talk. "You were caught in a freak meteor shower and, though you weren't struck directly, you went into a coma."

That was a scary thought. But, since he'd already survived it, also pretty cool. "Meteors? Really?"

"Really," Dr. Rawlings confirmed, sounding a little shaky. "Lex, there are other things. Some of which your father will tell you, but – Somehow, as a result of the meteor shower, you lost your hair."

Lex didn't understand at first. It didn't make any sense. Kids don't just lose their hair, meteors or not. But when he made his noodle-limp arm move up so he could feel his head, he found that it was true. "Is it gone forever?" Now that he knew, he could feel the air circulating over his naked head.

"We don't know." She paused, looking away from him again. "Now, this is difficult to understand, but – Oh dear. The year is 2001."

Like in A Space Odyssey? he almost asked, before he realized how stupid that was. Then he did the math. Then he looked down at his body, mostly hidden under the hospital sheets except for his right arm.

"You're joking," he said flatly.

Dr. Rawlings was twisting her hands together, almost at Lex's eye level. "I'm sorry, Lex, I'm not."

"But I should be big," he protested. He was still the same little kid, not a grown-up.

"We don't exactly understand it either, but you … didn't grow while you were in the coma. You've been this way for twelve years."

It was too much. "I want my mom," he said, his voice small and even more babyish than was usual when he was scared.

Dr. Rawlings flinched. "Your father will be here as soon as possible. In the meantime, just – try to stay calm. I'll send Lucy in with some books for you to read." Without giving him a chance to ask more questions, she hurried out of the room, leaving Lex alone with himself and twelve years of darkness.

Lucy did come back, after a while, with a bunch of books for little kids and one she said she'd read to him that he demanded for himself. It was about a boy who thought he was nothing special but turned out to be a wizard. Lex thought it was okay, though he didn't really understand what was wrong with the boy's guardians when he was so clearly marked for destiny. When he finished it, he stared out the window, where dawn was beginning to brighten the edges of the sky.

Fast, angry footsteps in the hallway alerted him that his father had arrived. The door swung open and he stalked in.

His face was different. His hair was really different, longer and more dangerous-looking. Lex struggled to keep from cringing back into the bed. Dad despised that.

"Lex?" his father said and hurried to the side of the bed. Bending, he caught Lex up into an embrace so tight Lex could barely breathe. The IV lines pulled painfully at his skin. His father was shaking, and Lex realized that it was with tears. "Son," his father said, not as if he were a disappointment for once but as if he were a blessing.

"Dad," he snuffled and hugged back.

Eventually, his dad let him go, but still stood over him, just looking down with a smile so wide that it looked like it might crack his face.

"When is Mom coming?" he asked, hopeful.

His father stopped smiling. "Lex, I have some bad news -"

"No!" he said, closing his eyes and shaking his head like a wet dog as if that would help. He'd known, he'd probably known when Dr. Rawlings kept mentioning his dad only, he'd definitely known when Dad showed up alone, but maybe if he didn't have to hear it, it wouldn't really be true.

"I'm sorry, son."

His head buzzed, feeling as if it would collapse inwards. Above him, there was a sharp crack and the smell of burnt plastic. Lex was sobbing before the doctors rushed in to check on the mysterious failure of their equipment. They didn't try to stop him from crying when they brought out their stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs and penlights to check that he was okay, and as soon as they were satisfied, his father waved them out again.

As Lex cried, his father paced back and forth in the hospital room, his hands at his hips, his long coat pushed back. Eventually, as if to drown out the sounds of Lex's sobs and hiccups, he began to talk again.

"Obviously, your return to the land of the living will require some explanation about why the son I had in 1980 is still nine years old. Probably best to put you forth as a by-blow from some years back, newly discovered. Set you up with tutors, private nurses – Smallville, yes, there's a research facility so we can continue looking into the secret of, ah, eternal youth, and plenty of privacy to keep you from attracting too much attention. It remains to be seen whether you'll start to grow again – a terrible irony if you didn't, I'd say. Eternal youth in the body of a grasshopper, that's not right. Not fit for a Luthor.

"You remember your friend Howard?" Suddenly, like a car crash, his father's attention was back on him, and it was just like being at the dinner table being quizzed about politics and history. Only Mom wasn't there.

Lex nodded, because the only thing worse than answering his father, inviting more questions and corrections, was not answering.

"Howard is just finishing up at Harvard. His father sends me updates on a regular basis. Arrogant goddamned bastard. We'll show him, won't we, Lex? Now that we're bachelors together, it's the two of us against the world. I almost feel sorry for the world."

His father smiled, like the edge of a knife. Lex knew he had to smile back – never show weakness, son, the sharks never rest if there's blood in the water – and he tried hard. He knew it for a poor effort, but it seemed to satisfy his dad.

"Well," his dad said and rubbed his hands together, "there are so many plans to make. We'll have you up out of that bed and walking in no time. I'll hire a staff and have the mansion set up within a day. I have a business meeting this afternoon, so I will see you late tonight, in Smallville.

"It's good to have you back, son."

He didn't wait for Lex to say anything back, just marched out, a swing in his step that Lex had only seen previously when his father had destroyed someone else's company.

Things kept flickering in his head. Mom. Twelve years. Howard, everyone at school, gone. Mom. He was going to be kept secret from now on, because he was a freak and a mystery. Tests, needles, to explore the mystery of "eternal youth" – Lex already knew it: like Sleeping Beauty or Rose Red, you could stay the same age forever as long as you lay there and everyone else moved and died around you.

Later, people arrived to put him in a wheelchair, then in a car, then a wheelchair again, up gray stone steps to the huge house. It hadn't been fully furnished when they came out to Smallville the other day – nine years ago, he had to remind himself.

Inside, it was full of rugs and dark furniture, like all the other houses except the ranch in Montana. Lex wished he'd asked to go there instead. His father was there, talking on the phone and giving orders to three other people. He shooed Lex upstairs, telling him to rest.

His room was like a hotel room. Nothing in it was his. There weren't even clothes for him until the next day. When the new nanny showed up, Lex asked if he could have his books and toys from Metropolis, and she looked at him curiously. That afternoon, his father dropped by the new schoolroom, with its strange small computer and its strange new maps, and warned him that he couldn't act as if he were the first Alexander J. Luthor. He was the second, so his books and toys weren't his. In fact, they'd been thrown out years ago.

Lex wet the bed that night, shamefully, horribly. When he woke and tried to turn on the light, the lamp wouldn't work. He stumbled to the bathroom, bruising his left leg on the dresser, and cleaned himself. He was too humiliated to go back to bed, so spent the rest of the night under the bright lights of the bathroom, leaning against a cabinet. Without hair, the wood felt harder against his head.

There were tests, and later, an operation to give him eyelashes and eyebrows that he was ordered not to pull at too hard. The servants stared a little less then, so he obeyed. He still wet the bed, still fumbled for the light that just wouldn't work – bad wiring made the bulbs blow, the handyman who fixed it every morning said — and spent most of the night in the bathroom, reading or just staring.

After a few weeks of this, his father called him in for a talk.

"I know you're having a difficult time, son," he said, putting a hand on Lex's shoulder. Lex's arm hurt. They took a lot of blood, and they used that arm because it was easy and his veins were good, whatever that meant.

His father smiled at him indulgently. It almost would have been better to be lectured. Lex said nothing.

"I've hired a woman to spend some time with you. Her name is Martha, Martha Kent. I've had some dealings with the Kents in the past, and I think she'll prove … reliable. But you must be on your guard, Lex. Can you stick to the story? Can you believe it so that she believes it?"

Lex swallowed. "Yes, Dad."

His father's hand squeezed, then fell from his shoulder. "Good. Some difficulty adjusting is only to be expected, if you've just been taken out of some endless series of horrible foster homes and thrust into a life of privilege. Martha will expect that. She'll be in charge of scheduling your tutors and doctors. She'll spend time with you when I'm away on business."

That, Lex knew, was most of the time. He thought, resentfully, that the doctors were allowed much freer access to him than the tutors. They treated him like a freak, whispering to each other as if he couldn't hear or, worse, just outside the range of his hearing. The thought of having someone else to obey, set over all of the other adults, didn't make him feel any better.

He was prepared to dislike Martha Kent thoroughly, which made it even stranger when she smiled broadly at him and offered him a sugar cookie. She'd brought a batch over, even though Lex couldn't imagine that her kitchen was anywhere near as impressive as the mansion's.

"Thank you," he said with polite mistrust, and watched his father pull her away for some final instructions. She sent him off to Tokyo with another sugar cookie and a tolerant smile, assuring him that she and Lex would do fine together. Lex's father grasped her hand between both of his as he said goodbye. Lex considered whether outright defiance or sullen noncompliance would get rid of her faster.

****

"Now we calibrate," Dr. Malhotra said in his jolly, accented way. "One to ten, remember."

He wasn't likely to forget, Lex thought as Dr. Malhotra turned on the machine and gave him a range-finding shock.

"Eight. Five. Four. Eight. Ten. Ten. Ten." The first time, he'd been so surprised by the pain that he'd actually jumped, and somehow broken a sensitive part of the equipment. Dr. Malhotra had cursed in rapid Hindi at the discovery, but he'd had a replacement chip by the end of the day and they'd just kept going.

"What are you doing?" Mrs. Kent asked from the door.

Dr. Malhotra rose from his crouch over the machine. Lex drew in a shuddering breath.

"We are testing the extent of nerve regeneration. It is most remarkable; the shocks would destroy sensitivity in a normal subject."

"Shocks?" she said, her eyes wide. "How long – how long have you been doing this?"

"Well over a month," Dr. Malhotra said proudly. "Preliminary results are quite provocative."

Mrs. Kent's eyes ran over Lex's body, held still because he was a Luthor and Luthors didn't show weakness.

"You're done for the day," she said abruptly.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Kent," the doctor said, raising his finger to her as if she were an errant student, "but I have at least fifteen more -"

"Lionel Luthor put me in charge in his absence, and I'm telling you that you're done for the day. You're welcome to take it up with him when he returns, or you can take it up with the security guards."

"But the tests require the subject -"

"He's not a subject! He's a little boy in pain, and his name is Lex."

Lex gaped as Dr. Melhotra began to pack up his equipment. Daringly, Lex pulled off a few of the sticky white discs used to monitor his reactions.

When the doctor was gone, he stared at Mrs. Kent, still hanging in the doorway in her yellow pastel suit, one of the three she rotated for days at the mansion. She stared back.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"Sure," he said. He wasn't sure what he ought to say. If Dad got mad and they had to start all over, it wouldn't be good. But – "Thanks," he said, dropping his eyes to his lap.

"We should find you something else to do," she said briskly.

"I have a math assignment," Lex offered and dared a look up.

Martha frowned, not at him. "That won't take you very long. Would you like to learn how to make an apple pie?"

That was how Lex found himself watching carefully as she measured, then let him measure his own ingredients. Mrs. Kent promised that no one had to see his pie if he didn't like the way it came out. She sliced all the apples, but she let him lay them in neat overlapping lines over the crust. The smell of cinnamon and baking apples made him hungry, and she made him a sandwich with roast beef left over from last night's dinner. For once, he managed to finish everything on his plate, even the annoying baby carrots that hadn't existed before his coma.

Lex had time to do his math as they waited in the kitchen for the pies to bake. He sat at the table, sneaking glances at Mrs. Kent from time to time. She was reading a paperback novel of her own and didn't seem to notice. Her hair wasn't the same color as his mother's. He found that reassuring.

The pies were done just before Mrs. Kent was supposed to leave. They both smelled good, though hers was much neater than his. Somehow, she'd found a pint of vanilla ice cream, which she promised was excellent with apple pie.

She was just setting his plate down in front of him when a tall, dark-haired teenager barged into the kitchen. "Mom?" he said. "The butler guy said you were in here -" He caught sight of Lex, whose fist had clenched around his fork. "Hey!" He smiled broadly, not a hint of 'freak!' showing in his greenish eyes.

Lex gaped at him.

"Clark," Mrs. Kent said, smiling. "This is Lex. Lex, this is my son Clark."

"Hello," Lex said tentatively.

"Hi, Lex!" Clark said. "Hey, do I smell apple pie?"

"Two," Lex corrected.

Mrs. Kent just smiled more and went to get another plate. "Lex made his own pie," she said as she poured Clark a glass of milk, which he regarded with evident happiness rather than the distrust Lex always felt for it.

"You can have some. If you want," Lex offered, feeling awkward.

Clark looked up at his mother, and something grown-up flashed between them. "That sounds great." When Clark sat down to Lex's left, Lex could see that Clark's clothes were a little loose on him, and his face had a tight look that reminded him of his mother after she came back from the hospital the first time, like she was done being sick because she insisted on it, not because she was all better.

Mrs. Kent gave Clark about a quarter of a pie and what looked like the rest of the ice cream. Clark bent over the food and started to eat.

"This is great, Lex," he bobbed up long enough to say, then returned to the serious work of inhaling the rest as Lex took much smaller bites of his own serving. Mrs. Kent was watching Clark with a mixture of pleasure and concern. Lex missed his mother so much that he had to stop eating.

"Are you all right, Lex?" Mrs. Kent asked, noticing that he'd pushed his plate away.

"Yes," he said, looking down at the runnels of melted ice cream working their way through the flakes of crust and bits of apple on his plate. He wished he had somewhere to go.

"Is there any more?" Clark asked, then flushed. "I mean, may I have another piece?"

"Sure," Lex said, forcing himself to smile, then looked at Mrs. Kent for permission. She winked at Lex and went to cut another slice.

"So mom's teaching you her baking secrets, hunh?" Clark asked, leaning over conspiratorially. "She must really like you. You know, she won't let just anyone know her recipes."

Lex's smile was a little easier this time. "She's a really good cook."

Clark grinned. Lex thought he'd never seen someone so happy. "I know it. I'm the luckiest kid in Smallville." His brow wrinkled. "Maybe not now that you're here. I mean, you get Mom and a whole castle."

Lex shrugged, having no idea what to say to that.

"When you're done, Clark," Mrs. Kent said, putting another enormous slice of pie in front of him, "why don't you ask Lex to show you around the grounds? It's a beautiful place, and it would be a nice walk for both of you."

Clark grimaced, his rolled eyes inviting Lex in on the joke. "Yes, mom, I'll get some light exercise. You know, I have been doing my regular chores for a week now. I was – sick, a couple of weeks back," he explained to Lex, who nodded.

Mrs. Kent opened her mouth as if she wanted to say more, but didn't. Clark demolished his second serving as fast as he'd put away the first as Lex watched in fascination.

"Would you like to see the grounds?" he asked as Clark chased the last bits of crust around his plate. "The garden really is neat."

"Sure," Clark said, taking his and Lex's plates over to the sink.

Leaving Mrs. Kent to her book, they went out the kitchen door and into the English garden that wound around the back of the house. "There's a folly and a topiary maze further back," Lex said stiffly. "We can go see it if you like."

"What parts do you like, Lex?" Clark asked, sounding truly interested.

Lex looked around, as if someone might be watching. "Actually," he said, softly enough that Clark had to lean down to hear him, "I really like the garage. My father keeps his collection here. There's five Porsches, a Bugatti, three Ferraris, a Lamborghini Diablo, a Stutz Bearcat -"

Clark's expression was somewhere between amused and awed. "Let's go see the garage," he agreed.

Lex led the way, looking back at Clark every few steps to make sure he was following. The garage was locked, but Lex knew the security codes, and they stepped through. The door swung closed behind them, but didn't latch; Lex ignored it to hurry past the half of the garage that was roped off with yellow construction tape to the long, gleaming line of cars revealed by the overhead lights. Clark cast a dubious look at the taped-off area with its two slightly tilted concrete pillars, cracks on the floor around them, but followed.

"Wow," Clark said as he joined Lex. His hand hovered over the silver Porsche.

"Yeah," Lex said, nodding. "Go ahead and touch it. You can drive it," he offered.

Clark looked at him suspiciously. "My mom would kill me," he said, but his hand moved along the hood with appropriate reverence.

"Kent!" An unfamiliar voice made Lex turn. Someone was standing by the door, outlined by the light of the sunset behind him.

"Greg?" Clark asked, sounding befuddled. "What are you doing here?"

"I told you to stay away from Lana."

Clark stepped away from the Porsche, holding his hands up nonthreateningly. "Greg, it's all right." Lex watched as he edged towards Greg, who slammed the door behind himself without looking back. Greg's features were now visible. He was pale, black-clad, his face set in what looked like a permanent sneer.

Suddenly, Greg was right in front of Clark. Lex blinked, wondering how he'd missed Greg's charge, as Greg drew his fist back and punched Clark.

Clark went flying back, landing on the red Porsche, denting the hood and smashing the windshield with his head. Lex gasped.

Clark slid off of the car, shaking his head as he stood. Greg stalked towards him, moving in a strange skittering gait. Lex felt as if he were secretly in a movie, since he didn't think that real people could move or hit like that. "You don't need to do this," Clark warned.

"But I want to," Greg said snottily and lashed out again, sending Clark through the yellow tape to slam against a thick pillar. Clark, and numerous chunks of concrete, fell to the floor as the roof moaned in protest. Greg smiled and held up his arms as if a crowd were watching.

Clark wasn't moving. Lex closed his eyes, gathering his courage, then bolted across the floor to where Clark lay. Close up, Lex could see that Clark's eyes were fluttering and he was breathing raggedly. "Clark!" he insisted as Greg – hopped? – towards them. "Get up!" He bent and tugged at Clark's arm.

Groaning, Clark pushed himself into a standing position. He put his body in between Lex and Greg. "There's a little kid here, Greg. Let him go and you and I can settle this."

Greg looked at Lex and sneered. "Another evolutionary dead end. He can die with you."

Faster than Lex could see, Greg moved to stand beside the other leaning pillar. With a kick that made the entire garage shudder, he broke it in half. Greg leapt backwards, out of Lex's sight, as things overhead cracked and the lights popped out.

Clark pushed Lex onto the floor of the garage, covering Lex with his body. Lex shuddered as the roof groaned like a dying whale and collapsed on them. There was shrieking, thudding, crashing and crumpling. Clark's body shook as something huge hit his back.

It was dark beneath the rubble, and it took Lex a few moments to realize that he was still breathing. Clark's weight on him was nothing like being crushed. The dust was heavy in his nose and mouth, an asthma attack for sure, pre-meteors and coma. He coughed and spat.

"Clark?"

"Lex?" Clark sounded as shocked as Lex felt.

"How come we're not dead?"

Clark paused for a while. "I'm gonna have to get back to you on that."

Then he took a deep breath and began to rise up above Lex, like Atlas. The world, or at least the building, moved with him. Bits of metal and rubble fell on Lex as the ruins shifted, and Lex pressed close to Clark's feet to shield himself.

"Come on," Clark urged. Lex clambered up the rubble. The sun had just gone below the horizon and the only real illumination was from the lights of the mansion, impossibly distant, and the half-full moon. Lex stood wobbily, feeling exposed. Clark joined him, then offered his hand as they picked their way over the remains of the garage, and probably some expensive cars, onto level ground.

"Do you think he's still around?" Lex asked, as softly as he could manage. His voice was shaking, as were his legs. He was still hanging on to Clark, his fingers hurting with the strain. Clark didn't seem to notice.

"I don't know. We've got to get you back to the house." The most direct route led through long grass, dry and silvery in the moonlight, taller than Lex. Clark hurried them into it. Lex wanted to resist, but he couldn't make himself go spaghetti-legs and he had the idea that Clark would just pick him up if he did.

Greg crashed down into the grass in front of them, hissing. His eyes were glittering black spots in his white face.

Clark dropped Lex's hand and charged forward, knocking Greg to one side and plowing a furrow through the high grass. Greg popped back up, snarling. Lex's stomach twisted and his fingers tingled. The rustling of the grass was loud in his ears, the stalks seemingly writhing with the energy of the fight.

Clark turned to Greg's new position. For the first time, his face was tight with anger. Greg looked delighted, the way Lex's father did when he'd made a CEO lose his temper.

Greg leapt, pushing Clark further away. Clark toppled. If Clark could survive a building falling down on him, surely he could fight Greg, no matter how freaky the guy was. "Pussy," Greg said contemptuously. The sound of a boot striking flesh was loud enough to carry over the agitated grass and the high whine that he almost didn't recognize as his own. The grass was like the corn before, the dark squeezing him like a fist, his skin buzzing with terror.

Greg reappeared, smashing through more grass. "Hunh," he said, staring at Lex. There was a smear of something, slick black in the moonlight, on his cheek. Lex fell back, trying to scrabble away.

Greg took a step towards Lex just as Clark appeared, surging up like a tidal wave, and hit Greg at waist height, sending them both back. There was a choked scream – whose, Lex couldn't tell – and then a distant crash. Lex stayed there, splayed and cold with fear, for what felt like forever before he made himself inch forward.

Just beyond where they'd been, the grass ended and a hole in the earth, like some kind of quarry, began. The earth at the lip was raw and broken where the fight had collapsed more soil into the chasm.

Lex looked down. The drop had to be forty feet at least, almost straight down. At the bottom, he could see Clark's white face, facing up, on top of – something he didn't want to think about. Strange green lights shone in spots around the bodies.

"Clark?" he yelled down. "Clark?"

Off to his left, the grade was slightly less steep. Lex forced himself to rise, then started down the slope, slowing his near-run with his hands, half-sliding, hitting his knee on an enormous twisted tree branch sticking out of the dirt. By the time he got to the bottom, his hands were bleeding and his pants were torn.

"Clark?"

Lex could feel his heart thumping in his chest, so big and fast it was shaking his whole body. Even his eyesight fluttered in and out to its rhythm. He moved towards Clark, stepping on something dark and squishy.

Close now, he saw, with less surprise than he would have felt an hour ago, that Clark's pale skin was crawling with blackened veins, pulsing in tune with the glowing green rocks. He picked up Clark's arm and tried to drag him away, but he wasn't strong enough.

He stared at Clark's pain-contorted face, wondering if he could make it to the mansion in time to get help.

Stupid! Lex wanted to smack himself. Instead of wasting the time, he hurried over to the biggest glowing rock and heaved it as far as he could. Again and again, until his hands were solidly dark with blood and dirt and his arms hurt. His back screamed and his shoes were soaked through with the wet stuff that was part of Greg.

Far enough away from Clark, they were just green rocks. Finally, nothing glowed but the moon and the stars.

Lex collapsed to his knees beside Clark. The black veins were already retreating from Clark's face and hands, and he looked as if he was breathing okay.

"Clark?" he tried again. "Please, wake up." Tentatively, he patted Clark's shoulder.

Clark's eyes snapped open and Lex jerked his hand away. "Greg!"

"He's -" Lex considered – "not a problem any more."

Clark struggled to his feet. His clothes were torn and he was filthy, stray bits of grass sticking to him like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

"What happened?"

"Uh, I'm not sure," he lied. "I think you got him."

Clark shook his head. "I -" He stopped, examined the blown-down grass around them, then looked carefully at Lex.

"We should get out of here," Lex said and turned towards the far side of the hole they were in. Looking up, the black earth surrounding them and blocking out the light, Lex felt as if he'd fallen into a rip in the world, not just some abandoned construction site.

At some point, Lex had twisted a muscle in his thigh. Clark didn't let him limp for more than a few steps before picking him up as if he were a baby. Lex didn't really mind; he slung an arm around Clark's neck, just in case, because Clark still looked shaken up. Clark staggered twice on the way up, grabbing at ordinary rocks to keep his balance, but carried Lex as if he were made of spun sugar.

"What were those rocks?" Lex asked when they were halfway to the main house.

Clark stopped and turned his head to stare at Lex. His eyes were wide and frightened. Lex looked back, trying not to look as scared as he felt.

"Meteor rocks," Clark said at last.

"From the meteor shower in 1989?" Lex asked. He thought he didn't sound too weird.

Clark nodded. "Lex," he said, still not moving, "sometimes, when kids hang around the meteor rocks, things – happen to them. They can – do stuff. Like Greg."

Like me and you, Lex thought, and Clark nodded again as if he could hear Lex thinking.

Lex looked over Clark's shoulder. "I thought we were going to die. I thought you were -"

Clark let him down to his feet and got down on one knee, putting his hands on Lex's shoulders. "Shh, it's all right." He paused, his eyes downcast. "You saved my life. Those rocks – they hurt me. I think they would have killed me if I'd been alone."

Clark's pose reminded him of Warrior Angel after his first rescue. He resolved to collect all the meteor rocks he could and lock them in a safe place, so that nothing like that could happen again.

Clark looked at him, measuring. "We'd better get back to the house. Mom's probably gone nuts by now."

Lex had no idea how long they'd been out, but if Mrs. Kent wasn't worried before she saw the two of them, she would be after. They were both filthy, and Lex could smell them – a combination of grass, meat, and something stomach-churningly sweet.

"What are you going to tell her?" Lex asked as Clark picked him up again.

Clark looked puzzled, as if Lex had asked whether he liked to wear pink tutus. "The truth."

Lex had his doubts about whether she'd believe; she seemed so normal. But Clark probably knew his mom, and if he thought he wouldn't get punished for lying, Lex wasn't going to argue. "You saved my life, too," Lex said, considering. "I read that if you save a person's life, you're responsible for them forever."

"I guess we'll have to look out for each other from now on," Clark said at last, smiling, his teeth gleaming white against his dirty skin.

"I guess we will," Lex said, and smiled back.

****

4. In a wounded dawn

These are the people who visit Lex:

Chuck cleans the room. Chuck is old, and nice. He sneaks Lex pieces of butterscotch candy. Lex knows he's not supposed to have candy. He likes Chuck a lot.

Mrs. Wallace was Lex's teacher. She came almost every day for a long time, but she stopped. Lex doesn't miss her much, especially when Martha comes.

Martha has red hair. For a while her hair was gray, but Lex said he missed her red hair and the next time she came it was back to red. She's very pretty. She reads to Lex and they do puzzles together. Martha always lets Lex put the last piece in. Sometimes, Lex pretends that she's his mom.

Once, a man with wild hair like a lion came up to Lex's door. He stayed there a while, going back and forth. He used a cane, but he was still fast. Lex saw him through the window and waved. But he never came in. Lex was sort of glad. The man looked exciting but also scary.

Clark's visits are the best and the worst. The best because Clark always makes Lex smile. They go out on the grass if the weather's good. Once they flew a kite together. It was colored like a rainbow and shaped like a dragon. Lex counts the days between Clark's visits, even though sometimes he loses count and has to start again. The nurses always say "Clark wouldn't like that" when Lex misbehaves, and he always stops. Well, mostly always.

Clark's visits are the worst because Clark always cries at the end and that makes Lex cry with him. Martha cries once in a while, but she hides it and Lex pretends he doesn't see. Clark always cries and he's no good at hiding.

"I'm so sorry, Lex," he says every time. He reaches out as if he's going to pat Lex on the head, but he never does. Lex knows his head's funny-looking. He doesn't have any hair. Chuck doesn't have any hair either, but Chuck's head is all round. Lex is the only one with a funny flat place from when he had his accident. It's why he always wears a hat except for during his bath.

When Clark says he's sorry, Lex says he is too. He used to say "It's all right," the way Mrs. Wallace did when he couldn't make his hand close around the ball or when he broke something. But that made Clark even more sad, so now he just says "I'm sorry" right back.

One time Clark spent forever staring into Lex's eyes. He had his hands on Lex's cheeks, squeezing Lex until it hurt. It made Lex feel weird, but he didn't say anything. "I can't, Lex," Clark said finally. "I know you wouldn't want to be like this, but I can't."

Lex wanted him to feel better. "There's a new puzzle," he said. "With a zebra." He knew that Clark didn't care as much as he did about the puzzles, but he didn't know what else he could do.

Clark smiled, even though his lip was wobbling. They went and played with the puzzle, and Clark didn't do that weird staring thing again.

Lex thinks life is pretty good. If Clark would come every day and stop crying, it would be perfect.

****

5. I'd like to pretend that my father was wrong/
but you don't want to lie, not to the young

Lex woke when the bedroom door opened, already reaching for the gun in the bedside drawer. Before Smallville, his paranoia had been limited to avoiding industrial espionage, but he knew better now.

"Lex?"

He breathed out in silent relief. "Turn on the light, Clark." He shut the drawer as, instead, Clark moved forward, a dark outline against the light bleeding in from the hall. "What's the matter?"

Clark sat heavily on the edge of the bed. Lex, clad only in boxer-briefs, grabbed his shirt from the floor where he'd tossed it and slipped it on, but didn't bother to button it. He moved so that he was sitting next to Clark, whose face was unreadable in the near darkness. Clark was breathing like a racehorse after a run.

"Clark?" he asked again, gentling his voice.

"Mom – Mom's leaving Dad," Clark said, and started to cry.

Lex put an arm around Clark's shoulders, pulling him in close, and turned the new information over in his head. Not that this hadn't been coming for a while: Martha Kent's position with LuthorCorp, and the good offices of Nell Potter, long-time friend of the Luthor family, had been driving the Kents apart nearly as long as Lex had been in Smallville.

Or, more precisely, since the Luthors had figured out what a remarkable boy Clark was. Lex petted Clark's hair, soothing without words, and was again grateful for the parental advice and assistance that had been so effective. Lex on his own was wont to push, to act over-hastily and ruin his chances. It had been hard to listen to the lectures on patience and letting people come of their own free will, but he couldn't argue with the results.

Clark half-turned, leaning further into Lex. "She said – things about Dad. And Dad didn't say anything back." He was gulping, struggling against his tears. Lex brought his other arm up so that he was hugging Clark.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered into Clark's hair, and Clark shook fiercely. "Let it out," he encouraged. "You don't need to hide how you feel, not with me."

Clark wept for a while, his face pressed between Lex's neck and shoulder, his tears soaking into Lex's skin. Periodically, Lex made small comforting noises, rubbing circles on Clark's back. Clark's nose was running, too, and Lex was bemused to discover that he didn't care. Nothing about Clark could ever push him away. Even if his shirt was a loss.

Eventually, the tears slowed and then stopped. Clark stayed pressed against Lex, his breath hot on Lex's collarbone, breathing hard.

Lex felt the change in Clark's body, the growing tension, knew what it meant before Clark did. Clark shifted his hips a fraction away, but his mouth stayed by Lex's ear. His breath stuttered. Lex moved one hand to Clark's shoulder, hot beneath the cheap cotton of his red T-shirt.

"Lex," Clark said, his voice thick and terribly lost. Then he was kissing Lex's neck, open-mouthed, scraping his teeth down Lex's skin.

Lex groaned. He'd expected this, but he hadn't expected how it would feel. "God –!"

Clark's body shook, and Lex clamped his hand down hard to keep Clark in place. He turned his head, brushing his cheek against Clark's, until their mouths met. Clark's hesitation disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, and he pushed Lex down onto the bed, their legs dangling over the side. Clark was a thrilling, crushing weight on Lex, pressing him into the sheets, hot as a brand against Lex's bare chest.

Lex pushed against the heavy body on him, to no effect. He hadn't been with anyone stronger than he was in a long time. Clark's kisses were still controlled, precise, even though he was shaking. Lex wondered how he'd taught himself that.

Clark tugged Lex's sodden shirt off his shoulders, pushing Lex back into the bed. Lex scrabbled at Clark's T-shirt, getting it only halfway up before abandoning the task for the delight of Clark's warm, marble-smooth skin, Lex's own Galatea. Lex was caged, contained, possessed. He groaned and threw his head back against the tangled sheets. Clark's hips flexed, his erection grinding into Lex's stomach, the rough denim of his jeans adding a dash of discomfort to the overwhelming pleasure.

He arched up, rubbing with his scant leverage, grabbing Clark's waist as Clark attacked his neck with sucking kisses. They rocked against one another, Clark's hands roving down Lex's body. Lex freed a hand to tear at the button of Clark's jeans, ignoring the zipper in favor of plunging his hand straight down.

Clark's cock was hot and damp, the skin softer than Lex's insanely indulgent cotton sheets. Clark gasped and released Lex, propping himself up on clenched fists. Lex swiped his thumb over the slick head of Clark's cock, over the loose ruffled foreskin. He looked up into Clark's closed-off face, almost invisible in the low light, and jacked Clark, concentrating on the feel of skin over flesh. Watching Clark's jaw clench, feeling the jackhammer pounding of Clark's heart. I did this, he thought.

With a low, choked cry, Clark came as Lex squeezed his cock viciously, triumphant, every pulse a confirmation.

At last, Lex pulled his wet hand from Clark's jeans. Clark collapsed, his head pressed agianst Lex's neck, his hair brushing Lex's jaw, half-hugging and half-limp. Lex's hips were rocking fast, completely beyond his control, and Lex urged Clark to roll over towards the center of the bed.

Gritting his teeth, Lex straddled Clark and pulled his boxer-briefs down just far enough to release his cock. Clark pushed himself up on his elbows, staring open-mouthed as Lex used his semen-slick hand to jerk himself off. With his right hand, Lex pushed Clark's rumpled T-shirt back up his chest, baring his stomach. Clark's eyes widened and he swallowed, and that was enough to bring Lex off, the orgasm like electric shock, snapping every muscle in his body.

Lex let himself fall on Clark, buoyed up by his hot solidity. Their breathing slowed and Clark resumed his slow wet kisses along Lex's neck and behind his ear, too gentle to leave any marks. Lex twisted his head until his lips met Clark's, kissing for long minutes, then moving to lick away the salt traces on Clark's cheeks.

"Are you going to be all right?" he asked, pulling his head back a few inches, keeping their lower bodies together.

Clark closed his eyes. "Not really."

"I'm sorry. If your mother hadn't taken the executive assistant job -"

Clark shook his head. Lex raised his hand to run his fingers through Clark's hair, and Clark pressed his head into the caress. "It wasn't the job. She was never really happy in Smallville."

It's amazing, Lex thought, how people rewrite their histories into coherent narratives. Martha Kent undoubtedly believed that she'd long chafed at her role, as did Clark, and maybe even Jonathan Kent accepted it, if not now then in time. Yet if the Luthors had never come to Smallville, Lex was certain that Martha would still be contentedly baking muffins as a home business on the side.

Pain wasn't pretty on Clark. Lex bent to kiss him, trying to soothe some of the distress. Lex truly regretted the necessity.

After a while, he broke the kiss and pressed his cheek to Clark's.

"Lex?" Clark's voice was small, his expression fearful in the light of the false dawn now seeping through the windows.

"Yes?"

"Mom says I'm going with her to Metropolis."

Lex closed his eyes to hide the flash of triumph. Leaving friends and half his family for the isolation of a strange, overlarge city. Martha Kent's reasons were perfectly sound – there was a good job waiting at LuthorCorp, an absence of meteor rocks (so far as she knew), and no one in Metropolis would look at her with the pity reserved for the publicly betrayed.

"You'll – you'll come visit me, right?"

Lex looked down. Clark's eyes were red and swollen. He'd sleep like a dead thing when they were done. "I'll move to Metropolis. You're the only reason I stayed in Smallville."

Clark blinked, visibly amazed and moved. "Really?"

"Really." Lex rolled off of Clark, but pulled Clark's hand so that it rested, clasped in his own, on his chest. "This is a hard thing to go through, Clark. I hope you'll lean on me whenever I can do anything to help."

Clark squeezed his hand, carefully. From the expression on his face, words had failed him. They lay in silence then; Clark was asleep within minutes.

Everything had worked just as planned. Obviously, all those amused parental lectures had been correct; Lex did have a lot to learn about human behavior. Fortunately, he had a good teacher.

With one Luthor working on Martha Kent and the other on Clark, they'd have Clark's secrets within months. Now that they'd stopped fighting each other, he could admit that they made a viciously effective team, certain to write the Luthor name into history in letters a hundred feet high.

Lex looked over at Clark's beautiful, tear-streaked face and felt himself on the road to destiny. The only person he truly needed would be by his side.

After all, a boy's best friend is his mother.

End

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