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"Hate this," Lois muttered, dropping her stack of files onto the desk. Clark glanced up at her, over the tops of his glasses. "Bastards." She dropped into her chair at her desk, pushed up against Clark's desk.

"I know," Clark said, idly tapping his pen against the interview he was editing. The VP of Green Planet Renewal Incorporated, an upstart chemical recycling company, claimed that his company had been paying a reputable firm to dispose of its hazardous waste for the past couple of years.

"Makes me sick," Lois murmured, grabbing the interview off Clark's desk. "No, no, of course Peterman has no idea how this methyl-ethyl shit could possibly have ended up at the Buchanan St. site," she said, smacking the back of her hand against the paper. "And, you know, the dozen or so kids in the hospital aren't his problem, because we can't prove it!"

Clark reached across and took the print-out back, setting it down next to his hand-written notes. "You're making it his problem, Lois," he said, glancing up at her. "Peterman's in the public eye now. Even if the EPA can't connect his company to the Buchanan St. site, he's going to have to clean up his own messes from now on."

"Or learn to cover his tracks better," Lois said. She swiveled her chair towards her computer monitor, nails clicking as she typed in her password to the Daily Planet intranet. Her nails were shaded, the newest trend; Lois had chosen a deep mahogany at the base, with sparkles of bright red at the tips. They gave her a vaguely bloodthirsty air. Clark could empathize.

"We've done what we can," he said, and Lois sighed, hitting her 'enter' key.

"So you're going to go home and put your feet up and watch Mr. Ed reruns on Classic TV?"

"Actually, I'm more of an I Love Lucy guy," Clark said, absently taking a sip from a cup of coffee he'd bought at lunchtime from the Starbucks in the lobby. It was cold, of course, and he grimaced, then glanced covertly at Lois. She wasn't looking, so he shifted in front of his own computer and warmed up the coffee with a quick burst of heat-vision.

"Don't you ever wish you were Superman?" Lois said, and Clark choked on a mouthful of hot coffee.

"Um, why?"

"Just so you could do something," Lois said, still typing, eyes flickering back and forth across her screen. "About all the shit that goes on. Like this."

"We are doing something," Clark said. "And, you know, I'm not the one who interviewed the guy, but--"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, non-interference in human affairs." Lois smiled wryly. "I couldn't do that... Guess you're all lucky I'm not him."

"Yeah, lucky." Clark stood up, grabbing his jacket. "Look, I can finish this at home. I think I'm gonna head out."

Lois didn't look up. "Say hi to Lucy and Ethel for me."

Clark smiled. "Have a good night, Lois."

Faster than anything in the world could follow, between the ticks of the clock, Clark left his suit in a duffel bag stashed on the roof of the Planet, tucked his briefcase under his arm and zipped into the sky. Above the city, above the clouds, above the flight paths of airplanes. The brisk night air felt good against his face.

"I can't, Lois!" he said softly. The words were weak in the thin air, and Clark gritted his teeth and slammed through the sky, finding himself at the Fortress in a blink.

A blast of icy snowflakes sanded his face as he descended, rustling through the folds in his cape and spiralling out into the night in his wake. His boots crunched in the snow as he touched down lightly. Clark gazed across the apparently empty glacier, feeling a faint tingle in his bones as the security system scanned his DNA, or whatever it did. When he'd asked the AI about the exact procedure, it had started at retina-prints and gone on for almost ten minutes. He'd told it to stop talking when it got to quantum levels and the gist seemed to be that even a Clark Kent from another universe couldn't get into the Fortress of Solitude.

Reassuring. Or maybe not.

Clark didn't visit the Fortress much. He wanted to feel comfortable there. Heck, that was why he'd started calling it the Fortress. Like Mom and Dad said, God knew he needed a retreat now and then. Someplace to let his guard down. And, well, hidden away near the North Pole, all its Kryptonian defenses constantly at full alert, the new Fortress of Solitude earned its name a hell of a lot better than Clark's old loft up in the barn ever did.

It was quiet inside. Quieter than anyplace on Earth. For Clark, anyway. The white walls that arched high above him were made of some alloy that blocked out all sound, even from his Kryptonian hearing.

"Welcome, Kal-El."

"Hey, computer." Clark knew that calling the Fortress' artificial intelligence 'computer' was about as innaccurate as calling a human being an amoeba. But he'd asked once, and it said it didn't mind.

Good enough.

He stripped off his cape and tossed it over the back of a chair, crossing to the huge computer station along one wall. The billboard-sized monitor was dark, and he caught sight of his reflection in the glossy blackness, blinking a little. It still startled him to see Superman in the mirror and not Clark Kent.

Superman had pure blue eyes. A broader jaw and a narrower mouth, and a slightly less classic nose. Dark hair, but less curly, and cut shorter. He looked older, too-- Clark had figured it would make him seem more responsible, more trustworthy. He'd meant to look different enough so that he could have a real life, while still staying close to his actual looks; that way, wearing a different face didn't feel like... Well, like lying.

It took Mom to point out who Superman looked like, but by then it was too late to change... After all these years, Mom had said. There's finally a family resemblance. It was more ironic than really funny. Clark's human parents-- they'd made Superman. Made Superman a choice he couldn't not choose. But it was the Kryptonian technology from his spaceship that gave Clark the chance to live a normal human life.

Clark thought of it as a hard-light hologram, even though he knew that once again, he was vastly underestimating the Kryptonian technology. It fooled cameras, and every other kind of observing equipment, so far. Add the distraction of the costume, and no one had ever connected Clark and Superman. Yet.

Hopefully, no one ever would.

He brushed frost from his briefcase and opened it, sorting out the papers and placing them on top of the computer's light-sensitive panels in some sort of order. The first few times he'd let the computer analyze files Clark Kent was supposed to be reading, it had felt like crossing the line. But it wasn't, not really. Working on his own, as Clark Kent, Clark could make all the same connections as the computer could. It would just take longer. So it wasn't really cheating to let Superman's technology do Clark's work, and it freed up his time. For other things.

Clark waved a hand over a different set of controls, and the huge black screen lit up with a map of the world.

Four hours later, the wind was whispering in Clark's ears as he patrolled, air currents tugging gently at his cape as he soared over the city. He'd learned to focus and filter his hearing, to zero in on certain sounds-- alarms, sirens, gunshots. The city was quiet tonight, though. Just voices and music and planes landing at Metropolis International. Trains running, car engines and horns, construction. Dogs barking, children playing, joggers' footsteps, the gentle lapping of the river.

People, going about their lives.

A short, pained scream.

He was cutting through the air before it died away, a primary-colored blur battering at the limits of his own speed. East side. A little girl in patent-leather shoes, ankle caught in the groove of a streetcar track. He scanned quickly with his x-ray vision, but it wasn't broken, or even twisted. There was a boy who looked to be her older brother bending over her, slowly trying to untie her shoe. There weren't any cars coming. No imminent danger.

Clark paused in the air, closed his eyes for one moment. Not a job for Superman, really... He sighed, and reached out to tap the little girl's brother on the shoulder. Smiled when he saw both their eyes widen. "Superman!"

"Hi," he said, kneeling down in front of the little girl. "You're all right, aren't you? What's your name?"

"Tisha," she said, voice wobbly with tears. "I'm stuck!" She gasped as Clark reached into the groove and pushed the sides of the track apart a little.

"There you go," he said, and nudged the metal back into place when her foot was out. "Maybe we won't say anything about this," he said, looking up at Tisha and her brother. "Kinda sets a bad example. Me, uh, bending city property."

"Sure!" said the boy, gathering his sister up, "sure, Superman--"

Clark sighed as he lifted into the air. Ten to one Lois would be interviewing Tisha and her brother tomorrow. Or worse, she'd send him to do it.

He hovered indecisively for a moment, high above the city, then headed for Buchanan Street.

The trouble with flight was that it got you places faster than you could rethink your decision to go. Clark zipped into the heart of the condemned building without disturbing the high, locked fences and strands of police tape which were only now keeping the neighborhood children from making it their playground. Too late. He did a quick scan of the building with his x-ray vision, just in case, but the building was empty and he was alone.

There was nothing Superman could do to help the eleven children in the hospital who were suffering from various levels of exposure to the dumped chemical waste. There was nothing he could do for the three who had already died. He had to accept that; he had to accept the fact that he couldn't save everyone, that he couldn't make the world's problems his problems.

Except for this once, Clark thought. Just-- maybe just this once. Maybe he wouldn't find anything that would help, anyway.

But at least he'd be able to watch I Love Lucy with a clear conscience, dammit. And then suddenly he heard footsteps, somewhere close. Clark froze, then turned slowly, knowing that with his hearing, he'd be able to detect and locate any other intruders far sooner than any human would be able to hear him. He scanned with his x-ray vision, through walls, crates and fences, and saw a slim shape crossing the street towards the east side of the building. The figure was dressed in black, with a black backpack slung over its shoulder, and a black ski-mask covering its face.

Clark frowned, and scanned the backpack with his x-ray vision. It had... scientific equipment in it? Glass slides and airtight sample containers and various other kinds of small, easily transportable testing equipment. Clark had watched the men and women from the EPA using the same kinds of equipment to measure the threat level of this very site less than a week ago, when he'd been here with Lois and Jimmy.

He frowned, wrinkling his brow. Why would someone be sneaking into the site in the middle of the night to investigate the...

Right. Because who would do a thing like that?

Never mind... Clark shook his head. He hovered a foot or so above the creaky, splintered wooden floor, and headed silently towards the east side of the building. He waited just inside, watching through the wall. The masked figure, which he could see now was definitely masculine, was digging in his pockets for something-- a set of keys. Interesting. Clark watched as he unlocked the gate and stepped through. He obviously wasn't meant to be here, hence the mask. But why the scientific equipment, and how had he gotten the keys to a police lock?

He tilted his head curiously, and scanned under the mask, not expecting to recognize the face beneath. Certainly not expecting to recognize the face that he did see.

"Lex?" he said out loud, and then covered his mouth, although there was still a pretty solid wall between them. What was Lex doing here?

He watched as Lex picked his way across the dark yard, moving slowly and carefully in his black outfit. God. Lex Luthor. Clark saw his name in the newspaper every now and then. Sometimes in the society pages, at a charity function on the arm of some eligible bachelorette. Sometimes as a junior vice president at LuthorCorp. He didn't fool himself that knowing these things about Lex meant anything at all. He hadn't spoken to Lex in... god, five or six years.

He'd tried to keep in contact with Lex after his father had pulled him out of Smallville, just a couple of months after the takeover of Hardwick Industries. But somehow the three hours between Smallville and Metropolis had separated them more efficiently than any of the other dozen or so good reasons they shouldn't have ever been friends in the first place.

They'd just drifted apart. He remembered that Lex had sent him a watch when he'd graduated from college. It was a heavy silver thing that Clark never wore; he looked ridiculous, like a kid wearing his dad's Rolex, not to mention that it put any suit Clark owned to shame in comparison. Still, he'd... Clark had been moved by the gesture. And he'd written Lex a thank you note, but kept it impersonal. It just seemed like the safe thing to do. After eight straight years of getting stronger and stronger, developing new powers like the heat vision and the flight--

It wasn't really a very good excuse, but everything had been so complicated. And as much as Clark had enjoyed Lex's friendship, truly liked him... when had Lex ever done anything but make Clark's life more complex?

He supposed it shouldn't be too surprising that Lex was staying true to form, even now.

Lex had reached the entrance to the building. Slowly, he pushed open the back door, nudging it with his shoulder when it stuck slightly in the frame. He stepped inside, soft-soled shoes making no noise, and shut the door behind him, leaving the room utterly dark. Clark could still see, of course, and he slowly moved into position as Lex dug in the pocket of his black jacket with his left hand, and pulled out a slim black flashlight.

"What are you doing here?" Clark asked as Lex flicked on the light.

"Oh fuck," Lex shouted, jerking back against the door, then pressed a hand to his heart. He kept the flashlight up, aimed squarely at the 'S' on Clark's chest, then flashed it up a little into his eyes. Clark didn't blink.

"Lex Luthor?" Clark said casually, and Lex's eyes got even wider, framed by the eyeholes in his black ski-mask. "I can, um, see through the mask. You're Lionel Luthor's son, aren't you." He almost hated to throw that last bit in, but it was just the kind of thing that someone who didn't know Lex would say.

"I... yes." Lex said, then licked his lips quickly. "I can explain."

"I'm listening--" Clark said, and then blinked, turning to look over his shoulder.

"What?" Lex moved the flashlight to look past him, but of course he couldn't see what Clark was seeing.

"The police are outside," Clark said, looking through walls and fences. He frowned as two squad cars, lights off and sirens silenced, pulled up outside the building. "Someone must've seen you coming in."

"I'm so screwed," Lex said thoughtfully, swinging his flashlight down to the floor. Clark swallowed, once, in the dark. And since he was still hovering a few inches above the ground, it was so easy to just move towards Lex and put his arm around his waist-- he was slimmer than Clark had remembered-- and push the door open and fly them both out into the night, moving faster than any human eye could see.

He landed them ten blocks away, on a stretch of dying grass at the edge of the East River. The Metropolis skyline gleamed, reflected in the dark water, and the river lapped slowly at the wooden pilings of the dock. Lex staggered back as Clark let go of him, sucking in a startled breath.

He stared around at the trees and park benches, then lifted a hand and pulled off the black ski mask. He tucked it away in the pocket of his heavy jacket, then rubbed his hand back over his bare head in a terribly familiar gesture. Just watching made Clark feel awkward, young and unsure. He crossed his arms over his chest instead of looking away.

"You could've just left me there," Lex said after a moment. Clark just looked at him. "No, who'd have believed me? 'Oh, Superman was just here. Really.'"

"What were you doing there?" Clark stepped forward, putting his hand on Lex's chest as Lex turned away. "I want an answer."

Lex stopped, and turned just slightly into Clark's touch, his smile changing into something knowing, insinuating. Suddenly Clark wanted to move away, but he stayed where he was, frowning and staring Lex down.

"There's no need to be hostile... Superman." Lex smiled, looking him slowly up and down. "We were there for the same reason. Investigating the chemical dumping." He tilted his head. "Maybe we can help each other."

Clark waited one more moment, deliberately, then pulled his hand back and crossed his arms over his chest again. "I don't work for your company, Mr. Luthor."

"Call me Lex," Lex said easily. "And I know-- you're probably the one person in the world my father can't buy, push around, or ignore. I like that in a person."

"What does LuthorCorp have to do with Green Earth Renewal Hauling?" Clark asked, and Lex looked around.

"Are we anywhere near Richards & Fifth?" He stepped close and slung a friendly arm around Clark's neck. "Take me there, and I'll show you why I was at the dump site tonight."

Clark looked down at him, jaw set, but Lex just smiled.

The building on the corner of Richards & Fifth was a decrepit-looking warehouse that'd been converted into a garage. Lex took a deep, delighted breath as Clark landed them on the corner, stepping away and steadying himself against the huge corrugated-metal door. "Your x-ray vision," Lex said, "how good is it? Look through there and tell me what you see."

Clark frowned, but he looked. "Vans. Green Earth Renewal Hauling-- but they're all empty."

"Look under the paint."

Clark glanced at Lex, startled, then looked back through the wall again. At first he looked right through the side of the van parked closest to the wall, and then he pulled back a little, and saw the green and yellow logo of Planet Renewal Hauling melt away. The white paint beneath almost glowed, surrounding a very familiar, angular logo in black and purple. He turned, aiming a glare at Lex. "What's going on here?"

Lex looked away. "I have my suspicions." He sighed, pulling off his backpack and letting it rest on the ground. "I had no idea there was a connection between the two companies. I still haven't been able to find any physical proof."

"You think the chemicals that were dumped in that building came from LuthorCorp?"

Lex hefted the backpack by its strap, then let it sink back to the sidewalk again. "That's why I was there. I thought if I could do a trace analysis on the chemical residue left there, I might be able to prove a connection." He frowned. "If I know my-- superiors at LuthorCorp, the site's going to be secured after this."

"It was secured before," Clark said. He moved into the shadow of a telephone booth as a car moved slowly down the street. Lex ducked his head, casually raising a hand to hide his face.

He shrugged at Clark as the car turned a corner up the block. "Not the way I'd have done it," he said. "Didn't stop us."

"I could probably still get in," Clark said, taking a short breath.

"I thought you didn't interfere in--" Lex said curiously, and Clark looked away.

"Metropolis is my home," he said. "Those kids were my neighbors."

Lex looked at him for a long moment, then nodded once. "You'll have to wait to do it," he said. "Not tonight, or tomorrow..." He pulled his backpack into his arms, dug through it and pulled out a sealable sample container. "The day after. Get a sample and bring it to me. You can find me?" he asked, and Clark nodded. "Good. Then I guess I'm just wondering one more thing," he said, his eyes flickering up and down. "What's with the, uh, briefs?"

Clark gaped for a second, then stuck his tongue in his cheek. "Don't you read the Daily Planet?" he asked. "I'll tell you the same thing I told Lois Lane. The costume is modeled on the traditional clothing of my people."

"Ah, yes," Lex said. "The Kryptonians."

"Although, really?" Clark continued. "It just makes me feel pretty."

Lex spluttered with laughter, which made Clark feel like a slightly less infinite dork. "I'd stick with the Last Son of Krypton schtick, if I were you," he finally said. "'It makes me feel pretty' isn't something most people want to hear from their superheroes."

Clark snorted, eyeing Lex deliberately. "This from the guy doing covert ops in satin lavender boxer-briefs."

Lex's laugh was startling and real, and Clark just had to disappear, blurring away through the air and not stopping till he was high above the city.

The cool night air did nothing to kill his blush.

The next day, Clark spent his lunch hour in front of his computer at the Planet. He started at the beginning and went back over all the paperwork he and Lois had collected, trying to find a connection, however evanescent, to LuthorCorp. There wasn't anything, of course. He hadn't thought it would be that easy.

Generators of hazardous waste were supposed to report it to the EPA. Theoretically, the EPA should've been able to trace it from production to its transport to an approved disposal facility. And as he went back over the research he'd done with Lois, Clark could see why Lex had been suspicious. There was nothing overt, nothing really specific. But so many records had just disappeared, and so many people who should have known something just weren't saying anything, or were passing the buck to people who had some very slick, smooth convincing things to say.

Even to someone who'd had as little experience with them as Clark had... Lex was right, there wasn't any proof. But the whole thing just felt like LuthorCorp.

"Donut?" Lois' voice cut into his train of thought, and Clark glanced up just in time to catch the jelly-filled donut sailing towards him before it conked him in the face.

"Lois!" he said, sucking a smear of jam off the side of his hand. She just smiled at him, and he rolled his eyes and grinned at her. "Thanks."

"Gotta eat, Kent," she said, then waved a hand, grabbing her mini-recorder off her desk and beckoning him to follow. "C'mon. I managed to track down Frederick Salter."

"You're kidding," Clark said through a mouthful of jelly donut.

"I don't kid," Lois said. "Apparently he has an office at some little freelance consulting company called Horner & Ulrich, so get your sweet little ass in gear, Smallville. I just gotta talk to the Chief and then we're heading out."

Clark watched her stride over to Perry's office door. He smiled to himself, stuffed the rest of the donut in his mouth and grabbed his coat.

"Mr. Salter?" The office manager at Horner & Ulrich was blonde, fresh-faced and entirely unhelpful. "No, I'm sorry, he's not in today," she chirped.

"When will he be in?" Lois asked, head cocked like a crow.

"Oh, I really couldn't say," said the office manager, her smile unwavering. "He works from home most days. Health reasons. Would you like to leave a message?"

"Sure," Lois said, rolling her eyes. She dropped a card on the desk. "Tell him Lois Lane called, and it's really in his best interests to talk to me." She glanced over at Clark, who spoke up suddenly.

"What kind of health problems?"

The office manager blinked at him for a bare moment, then recovered admirably. "I... ah. He has a bad back."

"Oh, that's too bad. So did my uncle Trevor." Clark said. He could feel Lois giving him an odd look, but he ignored her and kept talking, focusing his x-ray vision, looking straight through the office manager and the wall behind her. "There was this one time, we were loading pumpkins into the truck for Halloween..." He kept talking, quickly scanning the cabinets in the office beyond. It took him a moment to find the exact information he needed, but what he did find was surprising enough to startle him out of his rehearsed patter.

He blinked at the blonde and offered her a goofy grin. "But... I'm just rambling, huh. Well. I'll let you get back to work."

"I'll see that your message gets to Mr. Salter," she said, and behind her smile, she was looking at him oddly too.

He waited for it in the elevator, and in the lobby, but Lois didn't say a word until they were walking down the front steps of the building, onto the sidewalk. "Um, Smallville?"


"What the hell was that?" Lois said. She raised a hand to shade her eyes from the suddenly bright sunlight, glaring at him from beneath it.

"I was trying to read her appointment book upside down on the desk?" Clark tried.

"Why?" Lois demanded. "I can read upside down! You know that!"

"Yeah, well," Clark glanced sideways at her, smiling innocently. "What'd you say, that first day we were partners?"

"Aw, god," Lois said, but she'd actually looked abashed for a millisecond. "You're going to throw that in my face forever, aren't you. Get over it, Kent!"

"'Me-- intelligence, connections, experience,'" Clark quoted, looking up into the clear blue sky. "'You-- goofy farmboy smile, ability to lift heavy things, and some small amount of raw potential."

"I didn't know you then," Lois said, swinging her arms as she walked. "If I had..."

"What?" Clark blinked.

"Well, I wouldn't have said the part about heavy things." Lois said, and grinned at him, flashing white teeth.

"Yeah, okay, see if I ever help you move again. So did you actually see anything?"

"In the appointment book? Nah, nothing." Lois shook her head. "Another dead end." She frowned, cracking her knuckles absently, and Clark poked her arm.

"That's bad for you," he said.

"Thanks, Mom." Lois said, then blinked at him as they reached the corner and Clark turned in the wrong direction. "Where are you going?"

"I have a thing. Cover for me, I'll see you later."

"A thing?" Lois said, raising her eyebrows.

"Meeting with a source. Maybe." Clark said. "You're not the only one with connections." He darted across the street as the light turned green.

"Just tell me it's not your pumpkin-trucking uncle Trevor!" Lois shouted after him.

"Luthor," he said, and Lex jumped, startled, pressing his boxing-glove clad fists into the heavy bag. Sweat had soaked through his black t-shirt at his neck and down the middle of his back, and his face was drawn with effort as he stared across the glossy, empty gymnasium at Clark.

"Superman," he panted. He aimed one final punch at the bag as Clark walked closer, and it swung wildly. "What are you--" He stopped and swallowed roughly. "You found something?"

Clark walked over and put one bare hand against the heavy bag, steadying it. Lex nodded in acknowledgement and started punching again, eyes focused straight ahead.

"Lois Lane found out today that Frederick Salter works for a company called Horner & Ulrich," Clark said, feeling the reverbations in the palm of his hand as Lex struck at the bag, over and over. "His signature was on all the contracts, all the paperwork that I could see at their offices. But Frederick Salter only owns fifty-one percent of Horner & Ulrich."

Lex stopped, leaning heavily against the bag for a moment. "Who owns the other forty-nine?"

"A subsidiary of another paper company, but I managed to trace it," Clark said. "Follow the money, and eventually you find out that forty-nine percent of Horner & Ulrich is effectively owned by one Dominic Lattrell."

"And LuthorCorp owns him." Lex snorted. He turned away, stripping off his boxing gloves and letting them fall to the blue gymnastics mat at his feet. "Good old Dominic."

"You know him?" Clark followed as Lex walked over to the wall, grabbing a plastic bottle of water and drinking deeply.

A small trickle of water traced its way down Lex's face to his chin, and Lex wiped it away with the back of his hand, grimacing. "He's one of my Dad's drones." Lex said, his tone derisive. "I guess this means that Salter's a kept man." He shrugged a little, flapping his t-shirt in front to get some cool air. "Draws an extremely generous monthly salary for doing absolutely jack shit except occasionally putting his signature on a few contracts."

"It's a payoff for taking the heat," Clark said.

Lex nodded. "Convenient." He leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms. "I've managed to discover that Green Earth Renewal is... well, basically a subsidiary of LuthorCorp in all but name. It started out as a pretty simple scam. LuthorCorp rents trucks and equipment to Green Earth Hauling-- to itself, basically-- except for exorbitant prices. Which get passed on to the government, when Salter bills them for hauling its waste."

"And LuthorCorp siphons the profits right off the top."

"And the best part, the best part is," Lex said mockingly as he pushed away from the wall, "is that no one ever would have caught on if Dad hadn't decided to use Salter's company as a cover to dispose of his poison. He got greedy. And stupid. That's it."

It was the first time either of them had mentioned Lex's father specifically, and Clark nodded. "But we know."

"Yeah we do," Lex said, pacing to the edge of the room and back. He put an arm on the wall, then looked up at Clark, a curious gleam in his eye. "You don't box, do you?"

"I... can't really," Clark said, and Lex nodded, raising his hand to his lips. The white scar stood out lividly against his flushed, wet mouth.

"You know how I got this?"

"No," Clark said, interested despite himself.

"My father," Lex said matter-of-factly. "Gave me the back of his hand after an-- episode of adolescent rebellion that ended somewhat unfortunately."

Clark's eyes went wide, and he looked away.

"It wasn't meant to hurt. Just to show me my place," Lex continued, his voice still light and cool. "But there was a stone in his ring, and an edge caught me the wrong way." He stroked his fingers over his lips again, then dropped his hand. "Sixteen years old, and bloodied by a grown man-- you're pretty much automatically in possession of the moral high ground. So I did what he'd always taught me to do, and took advantage of my tactical position. Used the opportunity to call him a lot of nasty but technically accurate names."

"He... let you?"

"He took it." Lex stared across the gym, into the mirror that lined one wall. "He kind of had to. But I could see it in his eyes. He wanted to hit me again. And in that moment, I thought I'd won. Because I'd made him feel something. Something he couldn't deal with and something he couldn't deny."

Clark didn't say anything for a long moment, and Lex sighed. "That's what sucks about the moral high ground. It's oddly addictive." He looked up at Clark and laughed. "God, who am I lecturing?"

"No, I--" Clark began.

"We need proof," Lex said, bending and picking up a towel from the bench against the wall. "Hard proof, not just suppositions."

"I know," Clark said. "Can you get it?"

Lex looked thoughtful for a moment, dabbing the towel against his face and neck. "I think so."


Lex glanced at him, then shook his head. "No," he said, slinging the towel around his neck. "At this point, if I want it done right, I'm going to have to do it myself."

"So he says, do you mind if I take a shower first. I thought it was considerate." Lois said, leaning across her desk. Clark nodded, smiling to himself as he typed. "So I said sure, and then we. Move to the bedroom," Lois said, making an odd, wiggly hand gesture, which Clark then imitated.

"'Move to the bedroom?' What are you, salmon?"

"Shut up," Lois said. "Do you want to hear my horrible story or not?"

Clark took a moment to think. "Well, Lois, I don't mind that you're heterosexual, but do you really have to shove it in my face?"

"You should be so lucky," Lois said. She lowered her voice again. "So we move to the bedroom..."

"Uh-huh," Clark said, giving up the pretense of typing and leaning over the desk towards her.

"And just as we're, you know, getting into it, he just kind of gets up and--"



"What?" Lois frowned, annoyed.

"I should, I have to--" Clark stammered and stood up, almost knocking his chair over. There was something wrong-- he didn't usually feel this intense sense of panic when his hearing picked up on things like this, not any more, but. Just. Something was very wrong.

"What's the matter with you?" Lois was staring, but Clark couldn't think of any of the thousand excuses he usually had on occasions like this.

"I gotta go." He dashed for the stairs, slamming up through the stairwell before the door had even shut entirely behind him. He was on the roof, changing into the Superman uniform that he kept stashed there before his hearing focused in on the source of the shots, the heartbeat and the breathing and the voice--



He flew.

A hallway, no lights on, and he hadn't even stopped to see where he was, or what building. Lex's eyes were wide and white in the dark, and Clark stared down the hallway at the security guard dressed in black. Slowly making his way towards Lex, gun still held at the ready. Clark had just enough time to see the LuthorCorp logo neatly embroidered just above the breast pocket before he reached out almost reflexively, ripping the nearest door off its hinges and tossing it down the hall, knocking the guard down and out.

"Lex," he said, pressing his hand over the wound. His x-ray vision was flickering in and out, showing him the blood in Lex's lungs, the broken ribs, the blood everywhere, the rupture in Lex's heart that was killing him with every heartbeat. "Lex, don't."

Lex stared up at him, then back at the office Clark had just ripped the door away from. He grimaced as he breathed in, bloody foam spotting the corners of his mouth. Aortic rupture, Clark's memory told him, the words appearing in black and white just as they'd appeared in one of the dozens of medical textbooks he'd skimmed through, years ago. The patient had a ninety percent chance of dying within minutes, and the odds wouldn't be any better even if Clark could get him to a hospital. "Files-- proof," Lex gasped shallowly, "transferred to my computer--"

"No," Clark said, "no, not now, not yet--" He ripped his cape from his shoulders, wrapping it around Lex, clutched him close to his chest and flew. Faster than he'd ever flown before. Every muscle in his body screamed, his lungs on fire as he cut through the air as mindlessly as a bullet, desperately straining for the Fortress.

The wind blasted him, snowflakes skating across his face like knives. He bent his head, burying it in Lex's shoulder as Lex convulsed, coughing.

The Fortress AI spoke to him as he rocketed towards the gate. "Kal-El--"

"He needs help!" Clark stood in the entry, eyes stinging, snow still in his hair. Bloody foam coated Lex's lips, and two of the Fortress' robotic drones hovered silently to his side, taking Lex from him with their careful, spidery arms. Clark staggered back as they bore Lex away, still wrapped in Clark's cape. A section of the wall slid back. They carried Lex through it, placing him onto a sterile white bed, medical implements Clark had never seen before already materializing and hovering over him.

The wall slid shut again, and the Fortess' unearthly quietness fell over Clark. He swallowed, looking up helplessly. "Can you help him?"

There was a short pause. "The damage is severe, but repairable. He will live."

"Oh, God," Clark said, and collapsed, his legs going out from under him. He wrapped his arms around himself and shuddered. There was icy blood caked on his hands, on his arms, smeared across the S on his chest.

Another drone hovered to his side, its shadow falling over him, and he looked up. It was holding a clean uniform, including cape, neatly pressed and folded. Clark nodded, and stood. First, he needed a shower.

First, he needed... he... Clark walked to the monitor, reaching out for one of the buttons, then scrubbed at a clean portion of his sleeve until his hand wasn't sticky any more. He hit the button and leaned against the wall, trying to breathe.

He listened to the phone ring and scrubbed his hand over his jaw, coppery scent of blood and sweat strong in the air. The new satellite technology that had come out a few years ago meant Mom and Dad didn't have to have fiberoptic cable running to the farm in order to have a videophone. But Clark had never been more glad that they still hadn't gotten around to getting one installed. The phone rang three more times, and Clark had just realized with a shock of guilt how late it was back in Kansas when his mother picked up.


"Hey, Mom." He stopped, swallowing hard. It felt like his throat was closing up. He tried to breathe through his mouth.

"Clark? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said, and closed his eyes. It was true, after all. Lex would be fine, the Fortress would fix him. Nothing was wrong. "I just, um... I wanted to see how you were. I... I'm sorry I haven't called much."

"We know you're busy," his father said, and Clark could hear them both breathing on the other end of the line, could hear their heartbeats if he listened. "Still, it's good to hear your voice."

"We need a videophone, Jonathan." Clark picked up on his mother's compelling whisper without really trying, and a helpless smile spread across his face. "Ask him--"

"How about coming down this weekend, son?"

"I don't know, Dad... there's a couple of things, and you know, work..."

"Ah, well, sure," his father said agreeably, and Mom cut in.

"It's not that far to drive, Clark. You have time to stop by for a glass of milk and a piece of pie, if nothing else. Saturday, at eight-thirty?"

"Okay, Mom." Clark said, smiling despite the lump in his throat. "Listen, I just wanted to, um. I should go. Things to do. You know."

"Sure, Clark."

"Take care, son."

"Love you guys. Bye." He hung up, then jumped as one of the drones loomed over his shoulder. "Don't do-- How's Lex?"

"Sedated. Resting," the drone said.

"I want to see him."

Lex was lying still on the smooth white table in the middle of the plain white room, his bare chest pale and smooth and unmarked. There were almost imperceptible spatters of what might have been blood on his black jeans, but nowhere else in the room; no dramatic splatters of gore, no shredded bloody rags of Lex's shirt. The surgical drones had all retreated back against the walls, presumably after neatening everything up. Clark hadn't thought the AI would be so considerate of his sensibilities.

It wasn't as though Clark had never seen blood before. He couldn't be fast enough all the time. He'd seen more different kinds of dead bodies than anyone should ever have to see, and the only thing that made it anything like okay was knowing exactly how many people weren't dead, because of him. That he'd saved everyone he could save.

Clark found that his hand was resting on Lex's breastbone. Lex was warm, and breathing shallowly. He blinked, and thought about moving away, but instead just lifted his hand slightly, holding it above Lex's skin. Just close enough to feel Lex's chest rise when he breathed in.

He stood next to the surgical bed and watched Lex's face, relaxed in sleep. Lex hadn't changed that much since Smallville, really. When he'd encountered Lex again last week, he'd thought that Lex had looked older. But now, like this, he looked so young. Dark circles under his eyes, and pale lips... He looked more like the guy Clark had pulled out of the river, all those years ago, than like a junior vice president of LuthorCorp.

Clark's mouth quirked a little as he remembered. God, how he'd looked up to Lex, back then. Thought he was the smartest guy in the world, the smoothest, the coolest. He'd thought Lex had all the answers, and felt betrayed and resentful on those rare occasions when he... hadn't.

I'm older now than he was then, Clark realized, and felt something like pain in his chest. Had Lex felt this helpless? At fifteen, Clark wouldn't have believed that anyone with Lex's kind of power could ever feel like this. So powerless in all the ways that really mattered. So unsure of himself. Clark sighed, and moved his hand to Lex's face, stroking his thumb over Lex's cheekbone. Lex's lips parted a little, his head turning slightly towards Clark's hand. Clark jerked his hand back, guilt stabbing at him. He fought the urge to look over his shoulder, and shook his head, hard.

He really needed to take a shower. He stepped back from the bed. "Call me if he starts to wake up. Or if he-- Just keep me informed."

Usually Clark lingered in the shower at the Fortress, turning the water up hot enough to give any human third-degree burns and letting the fire-hose force pound the tension from his back and shoulders. Today, though, he used his speed to strip off his suit and scrub his body free of sweat and blood as quickly as possible. The whole time, he was listening with one ear for the Fortress to alert him of some change in Lex's condition.

He felt a little better with a clean uniform on, including the cape. He ran his hands through his hair and shook his head hard to get rid of most of the water, then sped back to Lex's side. "When will he wake up?"

"I can bring him out of sedation now," the Fortress said. "Or will you return him to Metropolis before he wakes?"

"What?" Clark glanced up, then sighed. He'd never brought a visitor to the Fortress before. He probably should've figured that the Fortress would be a little... fussy. His birth parents had programmed it to look out for him as a baby. And it wasn't the Fortress' fault that Clark's rocket had been damaged in re-entry, so that Clark hadn't figured out how to activate the AI until he was seventeen. So, it got a little protective sometimes, but Clark couldn't really bring himself to mind. "No," he said patiently, "wake him up now. Please."

The Fortress didn't say anything, and Clark rolled his eyes. The lights lifted a little in the room, brightening to a comfortable human level, and Lex's breathing shifted.

"Lex?" Clark said softly, bending over him.

Lex inhaled, then blinked and opened his eyes. "Wha' happened?" he mumbled, looking sleepily at Clark. He brushed his hand across his chest, then sat up suddenly, fingers pressing into the healthy, unscarred skin where he'd been shot. "What-- what the hell happened to me?"

"Pulmonary contusion." said the Fortress. "Multiple rib fractures. Haemothorax. Aortic rupture--"

Lex's breathing got a little more ragged, and Clark frowned. "Hey! Enough," he told the AI, and put his hand on Lex's chest, pushing him back down to the bed again. "Sorry," he said to Lex. "It doesn't have much of a bedside manner." He kept his hand on Lex's chest for a moment, though Lex wasn't trying to sit up again. "Um. The... your ribs are okay now, and your heart, but your lung tissue is-- it's still kind of bruised. Try to relax."

There was a silvery-looking oxygen mask attached to a small tank next to the bed, and Clark reached for it, holding the mouthpiece up to Lex's face. After a moment Lex took it from his hand and breathed in. "Relax? I was shot. I should be dead," Lex said after a moment, his voice muffled slightly by the mask. "I should be--"

"You're going to be fine." Clark said, putting a hand on his shoulder reassuringly.

"Where the hell are we?" Lex demanded. He sat up again, staring around at the Fortress. "What was that voice?"

"It's the--" Clark stopped just before he said 'Fortress of Solitude.' He didn't think he'd ever revealed that particular bit of dorkiness to Lex, but that didn't mean no one ever had. "This is... well, it's my secret hideout," he said, gesturing. "The voice is an AI. It kind of... is this place."

Lex stared around the room, at the monitors and the silently hovering surgical drones, his fingers splayed over the newly healed gunshot wounds on his chest. "This technology..."

"It's Kryptonian," Clark explained, and blinked when Lex burst into sudden, startled laughter.

"Oh, god. Ow," Lex said, pressing his hand to his chest, then hid his face behind the oxygen mask, taking a few quick, deep breaths.

"Careful!" Clark said, gripping his shoulder. "Jeez, are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, just-- christ," Lex said, still wheezing. "You... you really are an alien, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Clark said quietly.

"No, but I mean, really." Lex was staring with something almost like wondering delight. "You're really not human."

"Um, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive..." Clark shifted, frowning. "I dunno, I thought it was kind of obvious."

"Yeah, but-- I'm from Smallville. I've seen a lot of-- I thought--" Lex cut himself off, slumping back against the bed again, shaking his head slowly.

"Why would I lie about being an alien?" Clark said defensively.

"How do I know? Maybe you wouldn't tell Lois Lane your secrets, and she figured a little sob story about the Last Son of Krypton would sell more papers," Lex said. "I always thought it sounded like something made up by someone who watched too much Sailor Moon as a little girl."

"But I-- that's just-- Lois wouldn't--" Clark sputtered, then stopped talking and crossed his arms over his chest.

Lex grew serious, suddenly, staring up at him. "It's really all true, then. Your planet..."

Clark shrugged a little. "I don't remember it or anything."

Lex nodded, his eyes going somewhere faraway. After a few moments, he shivered, shifting his hands to rub up and down his arms. "Fuck, it's freezing in here," he said. "You have a shirt or something I can borrow?"

"Oh," Clark said, and looked around. "Sure-- hang on." He zipped away, pulling a spare white T-shirt from the stash of civilian clothes that he kept at the Fortress, just in case. Lex looked at it oddly when Clark handed it to him, rubbing his hands over the plain cotton fabric for a moment. "What?"

"Nothing," Lex said. He pulled it over his head, tugging it down over his stomach. His eyes were sparkling when they met Clark's, a smile playing on his lips. "It's just funny to think of Superman wearing normal clothes."

"Well, I..." Clark looked away. "We'd better get you back to Metropolis." He held out his hand and Lex took it, leaning his weight on Clark's arm as Clark helped him slide off the table. He wasn't really wobbly enough to justify Clark hanging on to him, but instead of moving away, Clark moved closer, putting a hand gently on Lex's waist. "Here, uh. Put your arms around my neck."

Lex looked up at him, lips slightly parted. "We're going to-- fly back?"

"Unless you want to walk."

Lex looked as though he were about to say something, but just shifted closer instead, wrapping his arms around Clark's neck and smirking at him. "I-- Did I mention I can't stand heights?"

"I haven't dropped anyone yet," Clark said. He tightened the arm around Lex's waist, drawing him close, and put his other hand on the back of Lex's head, tucking it into his shoulder. "Deep breath," Clark advised, "and try to stay close... windburn," he added quickly. He felt more than heard Lex's breath of amusement against his bare skin, above the collar of the suit. He shuddered as Lex snuggled in, masking the involuntary motion by lifting off in the same moment.

Clark zipped out of the surgical room, out into the main hall of the Fortress and straight up towards the skylight. Snow was swirling and drifting around the circle of black glass. It opened like an iris for an instant, just long enough for Clark to fly through, then closed again. Lex was clinging to him, tight but not panicked, his hands locked around Clark's waist underneath the cape. Clark could feel him trying to turn his head, despite Clark's hand and the pressure of the wind. But there was nothing to see below them except snow, and Clark took one breath and went to top speed.

The world blurred around them.

He landed them on the rooftop garden of the Cornell Building, Lex hanging on for one long, shuddering moment before Clark pulled his hands away and stepped back. "God," Lex said, rubbing the back of his hand over his nose and mouth, "god, that was fucking amazing."

Clark shrugged a little, and Lex turned around, still slightly wobbly, taking in the trees and bushes and the lights of Metropolis that surrounded them. He cocked his head at Clark. "Should I ask how you know where I live?"

Clark crossed his arms over his chest. Not blushing. "I'm Superman. I know everything."

"Well." Lex rubbed his hands over his bare arms. "Thank you... for the rescue. I'd... I'd invite you in for drinks if I thought you'd accept, but as it is... It's been kind of a long day." He spread his hands and turned away, heading for the door that led inside the penthouse.

Clark frowned suddenly, following Lex through the darkened garden for a few steps. "Luthor."

Lex glanced over his shoulder. "Yeah?"

"You said something about files," Clark said slowly. "Earlier. When you were..."

Lex raised an eyebrow, his calm seemingly imperturbable. But there was just the faintest flicker in his eyes, something Clark might not even have noticed if he didn't know Lex the way he did. If Lex hadn't offered him so much raw honesty, all those years ago in Smallville.

"It's nothing," Lex said. "More dead ends, I'm pretty sure. I just thought-- well. Considering the night's events, it might be... ill-advised to keep pushing our investigation. At least for now."

"You're lying to me." It stung. But so did using his knowledge of Lex against him. To Clark it felt like cheating, it felt like this whole night and how all the lines he'd drawn so carefully were just blurring away. Like everything else on this earth, there was nothing strong enough to stand up to Clark, to hold him in.

"You're right, I am." Lex said. "So why don't you just walk in there, grab my laptop right off my desk, and turn it over to the cops."

He stared at Clark, eyebrows raised, and Clark set his jaw. "I'm..."

"'I'm not here to advance any particular ideology.'" Lex quoted helpfully. "'I don't want to run people's lives for them, and I'm not here to regulate human affairs. I just have these gifts, and when I see people in danger, people who need help, I'm going to help them.'" He leaned towards Clark. "See, I do read the Daily Planet."

Clark just glared, then turned and took a few long strides towards the door that led inside, to Lex's apartment. He waited for Lex to stop him, or at least to say something-- "Damn it!" He spun back, cape flaring, a wash of red. "I didn't do this to give you another bargaining chip in whatever game you're playing with your father. You're better than this, Lex--"

"Oh, go to hell--" Lex said, rolling his eyes.

"You're better than him," Clark insisted. "What did you find? Give me the evidence."

"Why? So you can turn it over to your girlfriend, and she can win another Pulitzer?"

"She's not my-- Don't change the subject!" Clark caught Lex's arm as he turned to leave again. "We both know it's the right thing to do. This has to stop, Lex! People died--"

"And I can make it stop," Lex said slowly, as if he were speaking to a small child. He put a hand on Clark's chest and pushed, hard.

But Clark tightened his grip on Lex's arm and refused to move. "So I don't get to play God with people's lives, but you do? Someone needs to be held accountable, and if this just gets swept under the rug you can't make sure it never happens again--"

"Fuck. Off." Lex hissed, and Clark finally let go. "You're not my conscience. You're not even my friend. Jesus," he said, rubbing at his arm where Clark had grabbed him.

"I could've been," Clark said, before he could stop himself. He was leaving so much unsaid-- there was so much more he absolutely couldn't say. Could never say. Especially not now. He didn't look at Lex's face, just turned and left him behind in a rush of cool wind.

Clark landed a few blocks west of his apartment building. He changed back into his regular clothes, and walked the rest of the way home.

Hobs' Bay wasn't the greatest neighborhood in Metropolis, but Clark had never really minded living there. Better he should live there, his logic went, than someone who might not feel safe walking the streets after dark. Or someone who had a sex life and might actually mind the paper-thin walls, or the fact that the nearby trainyards made it impossible to get more than two consecutive hours of sleep a night.

It wasn't that bad, it really wasn't. Not for Clark anyway. And there were some nice people in his building, and if he climbed out on the fire escape and looked through about three buildings and an overpass, he even had a pretty good view of the river. Most nights, Clark ate dinner out on the fire escape, snacking on pizza or Chinese food while he watched the tugboats and barges, the little sailboats and the fancy yachts strung with garlands of colored lights.

He looked around his apartment, frowning. It felt claustrophobic, but then, most buildings felt that way after you'd been to the stratosphere. Clark Kent, he told himself firmly. He was Clark Jerome Kent, and this was his apartment. This was his life. The rest was just-- the job, and he was off the clock now. He didn't have to think about it.

Wasn't going to think about it.

He thought about ordering take-out, but nothing he could think of really sounded good. Instead he climbed out onto the fire escape, frowning as he caught sight of the potted geranium Mom had given him on his last trip down to Smallville. It always looked kind of sickly, no matter what he did to it. But then, it wasn't dead yet either.

He brushed the bright red flowers with the tips of his fingers, and then settled back into his usual perch. He could see the Buchanan St. dump site from where he was sitting. He didn't even have to strain his vision, really.

He closed his eyes.

It was raining the next morning, so Clark walked to work. He could've flown between the raindrops, could've zipped there in under a second, but that wasn't a goddamn job for Superman, so he just unfurled his umbrella and walked the twenty blocks.

He wasn't really cold, but he was miserable. He kept his head down, staring at the hard wet pavement the entire way there.

"Hey, Clark," Jimmy Olsen said as he entered the bullpen. The younger man's hair was bright orange today instead of bright red, and Clark managed to muster up a smile.

"Hey, Jimmy, nice hair."

"Thanks." Jimmy said, running a black-nailed hand back through the rowdy spikes. "You seen the press conference yet?"

"What press conference?"

"Oh, wow," Jimmy blinked. "You should have seen Lois when it first came over the wire. She's out of 'drop and give me twenty' mode for the first time all month, man. Gotta go--" He ducked into the elevator just as it closed, and Clark blinked, heading over to his desk.

"Smallville! Finally! I've been trying to page you-- Jesus, get a car!" Lois waved him over, vibrating with excitement, and Jimmy had been right. It really had been a while since Clark had seen her smile like that.

"What's going--"

"Shh, just look!" Lois said, and tilted her flatscreen so that Clark could see the video.

"What--" he said, face falling as he stared at Lex's image on the monitor.

"Just watch! This is the good part." Lois poked him in the arm as Lex stepped up to the podium. Lois needed to check the settings on her monitor, Clark thought. Lex looked washed-out, pale. It wasn't a good look for him.

Lex looked down for a moment, though he didn't have any notes to read from. Placing his hands flat on the podium, he frowned, then lifted his eyes, looking directly into the camera as he spoke. "In early November of 2008, in my position as a major shareholder in LuthorCorp, I discovered certain irregularities in the bookkeeping of the LuthorCorp Transport and Disposal division."

"When I investigated these irregularities, I discovered to my shock and dismay that large amounts of toxic chemicals were not being processed by the proper disposal facilities. For many years, LuthorCorp profited because its board of directors intentionally cut corners in order to avoid the regulations set up by the EPA for the protection of human life and the environment."

Lex paused, and the cameras flashed even more rapidly. The staticky voices of the crowd of reporters clamored and rose. "When I addressed my concerns to LuthorCorp CEO Lionel Luthor, I was put on administrative leave, and officially reprimanded in rather severe terms." He cleared his throat. "For the next few weeks, I continued to investigate. Yesterday, when I had collected enough evidence to support my claims, I presented it to the FBI, the EPA and the environmental crimes department of the Metropolis D.A.'s office."

"Mr. Luthor! Mr. Luthor--"

"Any inquiries about the ongoing criminal investigation should be addressed to Agent Petrillo and Deputy D.A. Walker," Lex said. He glanced sideways at the representatives of law and order who were waiting, stolidly, for their turn at the podium. "If there are no more--"

Lois punched a button and the video cut off. "So, Smallville. This Luthor Junior guy-- you used to know him, didn't you."

Clark blinked at her, startled. But then, this was Lois. After watching the press conference the first time around, she'd probably dug up every article on Lex that had ever been published anywhere. Even the Smallville Ledger. And Lois was very, very good at reading between the lines.

"Yeah. Well, you know, not really," he said. "Everyone kinda knows everyone in a town like Smallville. He used to order produce from my parents."

"And you saved his life, right?" Lois leaned forward in her chair.

"No comment."

"C'mon, Kent-- Clark--"

Clark stood up, glancing around the newsroom as he pulled his chair back to his side of the desk. "I know what you're going to say, Lane, and forget it. I'm not taking advantage of the fact that I was in the right place at the right time, seven years ago, just to get a story. Lex gave his statement. Let it be."

"Oh, come on. He has to talk to someone," Lois argued. "Why not someone that used to be a friend?"

"I know Lex Luthor well enough to know this," Clark said firmly. "If I called him up now, after seven years? Even if I didn't ask for an interview, he'd see it as me trying to use him. Not only would I not get the interview, I'd piss him off, too. I'm really sure he doesn't need that right now, and I'm not going to do it." He frowned and slumped into his chair, having managed to thoroughly depress himself.

"Whatever," Lois said, and angled her monitor back to its original position. "Free tip, Smallville? You're never going to get anywhere, as a reporter or otherwise, if you don't take a few risks."

Patrol that night was brutal. Four-alarm fire in Queens. Flash flood in Tennessee, and Clark thought about stopping by to see Mom and Dad while he was in the neighborhood. Seven hundred miles was just a blink for Superman, after all. But then the Fortress AI alerted him to a capsized ferry boat in northern India and Clark spent an hour and a half pulling survivors from the water. And after that there were hostages in a bank holdup in Paris and by then it was past midnight in Kansas. Poachers were shooting up a camp of environmentalists in South Africa. There was an avalanche in the Zamora River valley in Ecuador. By the time the night was over, Clark was tired.

He hadn't ever used to get so tired, but then, he hadn't ever done so much. It was a good feeling, especially after a night like this. It meant it was over, it meant that Clark had done all he could for now. Meant he could stop for a while. He headed back to the Fortress at half speed, feeling the snowflakes tumble against his face.

At the Fortress, he decided to check his e-mail before he went back to Metropolis. As he'd expected, he had e-mail from Lois. Although the file was awfully large, for a message that was just going to ask him to reconsider calling up Lex. Clark blinked and punched a button to open the message. An icon indicating a file transfer appeared in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and Clark hit another button to accept it, watching as several pages of documents began to appear in a line, dense with rows of files and figures. Lois popped up in a little movie screen in the corner, the sparkle in her eyes defying the dark shadows underneath them. Her hair was caught up in a messy bun, fastened with a pencil, and Clark smiled in spite of himself.

"After Luthor Junior's press conference, LuthorCorp's stock crashed and burned faster than my last blind date." Lois announced, poking a finger at her side of the screen. "So, guess who moved in faster than a speeding bullet? A little-known scientific research and development firm called Letician R&D, specializing in geologic research," she said, answering her own question, and Clark leaned forward. "They're not in the hostile takeover biz, nobody's ever even heard of these guys. The CEO on paper is Stephen Hamilton, a geologist who used to work with NASA analyzing moon rocks. Though he seems to drop completely out of sight between then and now-- I couldn't find much on him at all. So, guess who owns, outright, forty percent of Letician R&D's publically traded shares?"

"Lex," Clark said softly, and Lois' recorded voice cut him off triumphantly.

"Lex Luthor! Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss. Look, it's, uh, two-thirty-- damn. But call me back anyway, as soon as you get this. I know you don't want to chat the guy up. But like you said, small town, right? So I'm thinking you must know someone who has an in with Luthor Junior, and if you play your cards right, there might be a front page in it for you. Kent! Call me!"

Clark closed his eyes. It would be dawn in Metropolis, soon.

He landed in the rooftop garden. Lex looked up from his toast and orange juice and Wall Street Journal. He was wearing a black t-shirt and dark blue jeans, and he looked calmer, more content, perhaps, than Clark had ever seen him. "Superman," he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Congratulations, Luthor."

Lex tossed the folded paper aside and stood. "For what?"

"You won," Clark said, following Lex as he walked over to the edge of the roof. "Your interest in LuthorCorp is pretty much worthless now. But combined with your shares of Letician R&D, you're sitting pretty."

Lex fastened his hands tightly around the railing as he looked out over Metropolis in the dawn. "I didn't do this to win." he said. "I'm not playing my father's game any more. I think I proved that when I turned him over to the police."

Clark looked down for a moment at his boots.

"I kind of wonder what he's thinking right now, actually," Lex mused, looking out over the city. "I'm... almost sure he still doesn't give a damn about those kids that got sick."

Clark looked at him for a long moment. "But you do."

A funny smile twisted at Lex's mouth. "You know, I just realized who you remind me of."

"Oh?" Clark said, his face a mask of bemusement and curiosity.

"He was an idealist-- well, he was a kid," Lex said. "We're all idealists when we're kids."

Clark nodded, turning away. "I should probably go."

"You know," Lex said, and raised his hand, brushing his upper lip with one finger. "I never finished this story."

"Yes, you did."

Lex shook his head. "I'd been kicked out of boarding school, and my father sent me to Metropolis University. We didn't see each other that much, but one day, during one of his surprise visits, I noticed he wasn't wearing any rings. When I thought about it, I realized he hadn't been for quite some time."

He stopped, looking steadily, expectantly at Clark. "I don't..."

"It was a precaution." Lex said. "He wasn't going to give me any more chances to play the martyr. What he hadn't done was decide that physical reprimands were unacceptable. The scar was unfortunate, a misstep on his part, but nothing to really get upset over... The moral of the story is that Dad was never, ever going to deal with me on my own terms. Do you know how frustrating that is?"

"Yeah." Clark met his eyes. "I have some idea." He stared at Lex, then looked away. "I guess I'll see you around."

"No." Lex pushed away from the railing, coming closer. "You know, you're right, actually. This is a good day for me. And I owe quite a bit of it to you. We should mark the occasion somehow," he said, mouth moving into something like a smile. "Do you eat?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

Lex shrugged one shoulder. "A reasonable one? Given how you're not exactly..." He waved a hand. "From around here."

"Yeah, I eat."

"Eight o'clock, then." Lex gave him a slow once-over. "I'd say dress casual, but..." He smiled and turned away, picking up his glass of orange juice and drinking deeply.

Clark stared at his back for a moment, then lifted off, into the sky, wondering what the hell had just happened. There must have been a moment when he could have said no. He sighed, and wondered how he'd managed to miss it. Really, he should have said no. Nothing personal. It was just that Superman didn't fraternize. Superman had acquaintances, but he wasn't a real person. He didn't have friends. Or need them, or want them, for that matter. So he really should have said something, made some excuse. Mudslide in Bolivia, kitten up a tree in Vermont, this looks like a job for you know who.

Except... Superman wasn't actually separate from Clark Kent. And Clark Kent knew exactly what it was like, for a guy to watch his father handcuffed and led away by the police.

And to be responsible, to be the reason why it had happened...

Yeah. He remembered that too.

He landed on the balcony, wincing a little as the shockwave of his landing rattled the French doors in their frame. Lex stood at the wet bar at the end of the long room, pouring himself a glass of Scotch.

"Hi," Clark said, standing in the doorway. "The... dramatic entrance wasn't intentional."

Lex nodded, lifting the crystal decanter. "Can I...?"

"It doesn't affect me."

"So enjoy the taste."

"Okay," Clark said, and finally stepped inside, closing the doors and latching them behind him. "Sure."

Smiling, Lex handed him a drink. Clark reached for it, his fingers stroking the outside of Lex's where they gripped the glass, then taking it in his own hand. Lex cleared his throat softly. "Thank you for coming."

Clark shrugged, glancing around. There were words carved above the fireplace, in flowing script. 'Our castle's strength will laugh a siege to scorn.'

Dinner was deeply quiet. Lex didn't bother making small talk, and Clark probably would have felt even more uncomfortable if he had. Neither one of them mentioned LuthorCorp, or Lex's father.

After dinner Lex poured two glasses of Scotch. He gave one to Clark, then tossed his own back and slumped back on the couch. Blinked slowly, seemingly just drunk enough to be... fascinated. To tilt his head and ask carefully non-invasive questions, to nod slowly and seem really, really interested in Clark's answers. He looked so comfortable, though the couch was dark wood and upholstered in a slippery brocade, shot with threads of gold and slightly rough to the touch. Lex couldn't possibly have been as close to falling asleep as he looked.

Clark perched awkwardly across from him, elbows on his knees, feeling totally ridiculous in the spandex. Lex was somewhere far back behind his eyes. Maybe that was the trick to being so easy about everything, so wryly amused. The distance.

He wondered what it was like. Clark had seen the Earth from space, floated there for hours in the quiet and cold. But he'd never felt as faraway as Lex looked, as cut off from everything as Lex must feel now. Almost the opposite, actually. Looking down at the Earth, just a little blue marble, he'd felt his heart stutter with something huge, and scary. Too scary to call love. Connection, maybe. And that had always been what mattered, what it all came down to.

Clark had never felt as alone-- as alien as, theoretically, he should have.

As alien as Lex felt, maybe. Even now.

Lex exhaled slowly and leaned forward. Lifting the decanter, he spilled a little more Scotch into his glass. The crystal rang as it was tapped, and Clark tensed at the slight sound, suddenly alert for no reason at all.

How long had he just been sitting here? He'd lost track. Lex's eyes flickered up to his, and he gestured with the decanter, a gesture more expansive than it really had to be. "More?"

Clark reached forward to cover the top of his glass. "No. Thanks."

Lex set the decanter down, but didn't lean back. "Can I ask a personal question? No," he corrected himself. "Can I kiss you?"

"What--" Clark looked up, and Lex crossed the space between them and slid into his lap, curling his arms gently around Clark's neck. Bending his head, Lex dragged his mouth lightly over Clark's, catching his lower lip and then drawing away. He steadied himself against Clark's shoulders, then raised both hands, framing his face and measuring it.

Clark's arms went around him reflexively, and Lex was right up against him, body to body, kissing his cheek softly, affectionately. So warm, and touching him so easily. There was no trepidation, no fear. Lex wasn't clutching at him for rescue, or at least not in the way that most people usually did. Just close and closer and kissing him thoroughly, mouth hot and sharp with Scotch.

Clark turned, bracing a hand on the back of the couch. He laid Lex down on the couch and then stopped. He held himself above Lex for a moment, staring into his wide, dark eyes.

Lex stared up at him, chest heaving, and Clark's hand slipped a little on the brocade. Lex's couch wasn't really made for making out on. He dipped his head to kiss Lex once, deeply, then shoved the whole couch back with one hand and rolled them down onto the floor, onto the lush carpeting in front of the fireplace.

Lex pulled him close, running his fingers over Clark's stomach. "This comes off, right?"

"Yeah. It comes off." Clark knelt up over him, stripped off the cape and tossed it over a chair.

Lex looked at him. Just... looking. The red briefs didn't really hide much. Blushing, Clark ran a hand along the hidden seam at his belt, peeling off the uniform top and tossing it aside. He bent back down and reached for the buttons of Lex's shirt. Lex let him, tipping his head back and laughing a little. Shaking with it.

Clark bent his head to kiss Lex's chest, and it was just like every terrible anonymous fantasy he'd ever had when he was sixteen. Not even a jerk-off fantasy, not entirely anyway. Just-- exactly this. Being anonymous, being no one, and therefore safe, able to touch Lex and kiss him and do whatever Lex wanted. Do things for him that no one else would do. No hesitation, no fear, no shame.

And maybe it was... something like a lie. To want this, to have it with Lex when Lex wouldn't necessarily want it from Clark. Selfish, to have everything Clark ever wanted, without betraying anything of himself.

But he couldn't make himself feel guilty about it, and he couldn't stop. Lex needed it, wanted it. And it would be crueler to leave now. Clark had seen Lex at his worst. Watched him betray his own father, and... it would have been more of a lie to get up and put the costume back on. To pretend the want wasn't equal on both sides. The need.

He wasn't hurting anyone. He could show Lex. Someone cared. Even after what Lex had done, even though Clark had been there and seen it all.

He could make Lex feel better. Even if it was just for tonight. He closed his eyes, kissing all of it into Lex's chest, mouthing all the words he couldn't say. Lex breathed noisily underneath him, stroking up and down his arms. "Oh, god. God, Superman--" And suddenly he was laughing and Clark rolled away, flushing red. Lex grabbed him by the arms and pulled him back. "No, no, don't. It's just. I can't. Call a lover. 'Superman--'"

"Lois," Clark muttered.

Lex grinned, delighted. "You want me to call you Lois?"

"No," Clark said firmly, trying not to smile. "Lois Lane made up that name."

Lex squinted at him. "You don't like it?"

"Well," Clark sighed. "I wouldn't have picked Superman. 'Hi, I read way too much Nietzsche as a teenager. Please, look up to me as your ubermensch ideal.'"

"'Suck my cock, I'm Superman.'" Lex imitated Superman's commanding tone so well that it was hardly even funny, and Clark took him by the shoulder and hauled him up to his feet. A weirdly giddy prickle ran up and down his spine as the realization broke over him-- he didn't have to hide his strength. For the first time ever, with a lover-- he still had to be careful, but he didn't have to pretend.

He glanced around the penthouse apartment helplessly. "Bedroom?"

Lex pointed to an archway that led out into a hallway. He looked incredibly smug, almost as if he knew (even though it was impossible for him to know) that Clark never could quite focus enough to use the x-ray vision when he was hard.

Which had been an incredible disappointment, as a teenager. One more proof that the universe wasn't fair. Lex stripped off his shirt as he headed for the hallway, firelight flickering off his shoulderblades and spine, and Clark decided he might have to reconsider that.

He was getting everything he deserved, now, everything and more. God, the things he wanted to do to Lex. Things he'd never even imagined doing, when he was a kid back in Smallville.

And all of a sudden being Superman didn't seem like a lie. Because here, now. Both of them naked on Lex's big, soft bed. Superman could be real in a way Clark never had been. Superman didn't have to hiss when Lex scratched. Didn't have to ever stop kissing to breathe.

No, this was... someone different. Someone without Clark's caution and lies, Superman's caution and distance. He was naked, he was... real. Clark slid down the bed and licked at Lex's thighs, fingers stroking the soft underside of Lex's knees as he pulled his legs apart.

So good. Lex under him, all pure, pale curves and angles. Maybe a little harder and more angular than he'd been before. His old scars were more faded, almost disappearing into that skin, paler than milk. Lex hissed, arching into the sucking kisses, running his bare foot roughly up and down Clark's side.

There was still some tension in him, though. Something tight and dark behind his eyes, even when Clark took his cock in his mouth. Sucked and grunted once and took it all the way, his nose pressed to Lex's skin. Showing off a little, or maybe just being honest, and Lex moaned and cursed, desperate, angry-sounding cries. Hand in his hair, pulling hard and Clark could just close his eyes and let him. Taste him, throat stretched and mouth full. Salt and sharply clean and bitter. Tasted like Lex.

"Fuck you fuck you fuck you--" Lex gasped, reaching back to clutch at the dark, ornately carved headboard with his other hand. He used the leverage to fuck himself further, harder down Clark's throat, and Clark made an encouraging noise. He could take it, and he wanted to. Knew how vicious Lex could be, and wanted to take that, too. Take everything Lex could do to him and... stay, afterward, just stay. Just always have this, and show Lex that he could have it, too.

He swallowed hard, working his throat purposefully. Following Lex's movements as his hips jerked more raggedly, as he started to thrash and lose it. He wasn't going to let Lex get away. He wanted to pull back enough to taste, and he wanted to stay right here like this-- locked together, Lex's hand white-knuckled in his hair-- forever. Clark couldn't have everything, but he could have this moment, Lex coming hard in his mouth, pulsing straight down his throat.

He only pulled off Lex's cock when Lex started to twitch. Crawled up next to him and collapsed. Lex was still gasping, blinking hard, and Clark snuggled down into the sheets. The silk felt good against his cock. He smiled into the cool fabric, and Lex's gasps turned into brief, rattling laughter.

"Jesus, you're not even breathing hard."

"Do you want me to?"

Lex shook his head, and grinned. Not the same grin that used to piss off just about everybody in Smallville. But the same kind. "I kind of like you the way you are."

Clark had always liked to see Lex smile, no matter the reason. A thought struck him, and he stared at Lex, frowning a little. Lex looked back, curiously. "Um... Kal," he murmured, and Lex was suddenly very still next to him. "That's the name my birth parents gave me. It's... you can call me that, if you want to. I mean, instead of. Y'know."

Lex pushed him over on his back and rolled on top of him, not carefully. His knee knocked into Clark's hip, hand pressing down maybe a little too hard. "Kal," he said, studying Clark's face intently, and Clark stared up at him. "I... I like it. I mean, it suits you."

"Uhm," Clark nodded, losing what he meant to say as Lex reached down and gripped his cock. Hard. "God, yeah," he gritted out, reaching back for the headboard. Don't break it, he told himself, don't break it-- oh what the hell, Lex could afford another bed.

"Like that, Kal?"

"Oh, Lex, just keep doing that--" He wished his throat felt sore. Wished he knew what it was like to struggle and moan and fight for breath like other people. Like Lex, jerking him off, scratching at him with the other hand, tearing viciously at the hollow of Clark's hip with his short, neat nails. He wasn't even looking at the marks he wasn't leaving.

He was just watching Clark's face.

He scraped down Clark's belly, up again, caught Clark's nipple between thumb and forefinger. Teased him with the lightest touch, pad of thumb caressing the hard little nub, then twisted savagely, making Clark's breath catch on a whine. He heard oak crack and splinter as his own fingers dug into the carved headboard.

"Kiss me," he moaned, "bite me," when Lex did, and Lex indulged him, beautifully. Mauled him, clamping down on the underside of Clark's jaw, worrying at every sensitive spot on his throat. Lex was practically chewing Clark's shoulder, biting down hard enough, Clark imagined, to make his jaw ache.

God. The thought of Lex being inside him, fucking him fiercely, just like this, was enough to make him come. He slumped back against the sheets, one leg dangling off the bed. Stared at Lex in disbelief, and maybe Lex was breathing hard enough for the both of them.

"God, Kal..." Lex collapsed, happily. Clark caught him, then stretched his arms over the edge of the bed and brushed the splinters out from under his nails, letting them fall onto the nightstand. Lex turned his head, smirking. "You do know this bed's a priceless antique."

"Take it out of my hide." Clark said lazily, and Lex sunk his teeth into his shoulder again with a contented hum. "Mmm. I want you to fuck me," he clarified, wrapping his arms around Lex. He tilted his head, trying to see Lex's face. "I mean, if you think-- if your lungs are--"

"What? They're fine. And I'd love to have you." Lex said against his chest, voice low and sleepy. "Just give me a minute. We're not all super here."

"Yeah-- oh, yeah," Clark stammered, before it sank in that Lex was teasing. He poked Lex in the ribs and subsided, resting his head against Lex's shoulder.

"You know, I've never fucked an alien," Lex murmured after several minutes of silence, and Clark glanced over. Lex's eyes were closed, and a funny smile was playing around the edges of his mouth.

"Do you... is it different?" Clark asked softly, and Lex snorted aloud, then opened his eyes and looked over at Clark. His expression softened, and he scooted up to kiss Clark's temple.

"No." he said, and then thought it over. "Well. Yes and no." He rested his arm on Clark's chest, stroking his bicep gently with the tips of his fingers. "You're just so beautiful," he murmured, nuzzling Clark's ear. "You... Kal. You're amazing."

Clark shivered a little, blinking at the ceiling. "I've... I've never slept with a billionaire."

"You have now." Lex whispered, breath tickling against his ear. "But you haven't been fucked by one."

"No," Clark said voicelessly as Lex reached down, brushing his hand over Clark's chest, his abdomen. Caressing the inside of Clark's thigh, rubbing down his leg with his thumb. "Come on," he said, shifting his thighs apart reflexively. He spread his legs further as Lex turned away. Lex scrabbled in the nightstand for a little tube of lube, then moved between Clark's legs and slid two fingers inside him, fast and slick and rough. Clark gasped and arched, clutching down hard. So good, but not even close to enough. "You don't have to... you can just... Lex, I can take it..."

"Oh, I know," Lex said, his long strong fingers twisting inside, teasing, and Clark bit his lip. "But as long as you're here," he added, bending over him and whispering into Clark's ear, "you're going to get the whole ride." Clark gasped, arching again, and Lex licked at his throat, then leaned back again. "How long has it been? Since you've been fucked?" he asked, his fingers moving slowly, winding Clark up from the inside like a toy.

"Too long," Clark gasped. "Oh. Way too long."

Lex laughed suddenly. "You know I've never really been in a position to say this to anyone else," he said, "but, Kal, you work too hard."

"I know." Clark said, sweating. He bit down on a shameless moan, baring his teeth as he grimaced. "Come on," he gritted out, "Lex, just do it."

"Yeah, yes," Lex said, and reached for the condom, fumbling and finding it among the rumpled bedsheets.

"Lex." Clark caught at his hand before he could open it. "I'm clean-- I can't give you anything," he said. "And I don't get sick." Lex stared at him for a long minute, then glanced down at the condom in his hand. "Please. I want to feel you," Clark said, "please," and Lex bit his bottom lip savagely, squeezed his eyes shut and tossed the condom away.

Eyes burning, Lex reached out and just flipped Clark over onto his stomach without further ado. "Hands and knees," he said roughly and Clark went eagerly, spreading his knees as far apart as he could and bracing himself. God, he was so hard, he wanted it so much. Lex's hand landed on his ass, harder than a caress, less than a slap. "You want it..."

"Please, please, just like that--" Clark bit his tongue hard. God, he didn't even know what he was saying any more.

"Want you so much--" Lex put a hand on the back of his neck, holding him down and covering him and drove in, hard. "Oh fuck--"

"Oh, God, Lex!" Clark hissed, and slammed a fist straight through the headboard. Splinters flew and the crack sounded like a gunshot. Clark tried to breathe, eyes squeezed shut. His hands shook as he tried to grip the mattress without ripping it to shreds. He'd-- oh god he'd even dented the wall and he didn't fucking care, because Lex was balls-deep inside him, growling, shoving his hips forward roughly like he could split Clark in half. Just fucking the hell out of him.

"Harder," he managed to gasp, "Do it hard, I need--"

"Shh, I know," Lex's voice was strained but soothing. "C'mon, baby, up again, up..." He pulled at Clark's shoulder and Clark straightened his arms again, pushing back against Lex. Lex's short sharp nails were digging into his hips, holding him still as Lex pulled out slowly and slammed in again. And again.

"Harder--" Clark snarled, shuddering, and he was shredding the sheets, and then Lex leaned forward, covering him and holding him down, a hand on each wrist. Fragile human bones just holding him, caging him like nothing else ever could.

Clark moaned. Fucked by Lex... it was like dying, terrifying like nothing else, and Lex was biting him again. His teeth scraped across Clark's shoulderblade and sank into his shoulder as Lex fucked him, growling things into Clark's skin. Something that sounded like "Kal, Kal," and something like "always so beautiful."

"Please--" he moaned, squeezing his eyes shut so tight tears prickled on his lashes, and Lex shoved his hands together, wrapping one hand around both Clark's wrists, holding them down against the bed. "Yes-- oh Lex--" Clark shouted as Lex wrapped his hand around Clark's cock and fisted it, jerking him brutally, hot and hard and yes, yes, vicious as hell. Clark let his jaw hang open, gasping happily, writhing like a slut as Lex fucked him. "Yes, yes, fuck me-- oh God yes--"

"Come, I want you to come for me..."

"Lex--" Clark tossed his head back and came hard, his ears ringing with it, and Lex fucked him through it, every jolt, every shudder. Clark was shaking, weak with it, taking it, every joint in his body going loose as he shook and sobbed and tried to breathe. "Oh... oh..."

He slumped forward as Lex pulled out, sweaty hands sliding over his shoulders, grabbing at him, turning him over again. Clark twisted and turned, and Lex crawled up awkwardly over him, cock in his left hand, the other reaching up to tremblingly touch Clark's face and slide into his hair. Lex was biting his lip so hard it was white as he jerked himself off, staring into Clark's eyes.

"Tell me," Lex said, and Clark flinched back, unable to turn his gaze away.

"Lex," he said, slipping his hand down to wrap around Lex's, and Lex shuddered and jerked against him, body slamming against his one final time. He came all over Clark, reaching up with his right hand before he'd even stopped coming, smearing it into Clark's glistening chest. Clark could only watch and moan, still helpless and boneless and shocked underneath him.

Lex shuddered, slipping down Clark's arms, his head resting in the crook of his shoulder. Clark held him, stroking his back, almost lost in Lex's rough breaths. He could hear their hearts, both pounding and slowing, but he wasn't sure which was his and which was Lex's.

Clark woke slowly as dawn broke across the bed, and sat up suddenly as he realized where he was. He hadn't gone home. He'd slept in Lex's bed all night. God, he really hadn't meant to. He'd hardly ever... it had been such a long time. He glanced down guiltily at Lex as Lex shifted.

Lex smiled as he woke up, blinking at Clark. "Morning."

Clark wished he could smile. He eyed the destroyed headboard, the ruined sheets, the dent in the wall just above Lex's head. "I have to go."

"I know." Lex said, and covered his mouth as he yawned, and followed his gaze. "Oh, really. Don't worry about the--"

"I'm not." Clark said quickly, then hung his head, staring down at his hands. "Don't--" He sighed and started over. "It has to, I have to be Superman. In public, I mean."

Lex tucked his hands behind his head and smiled. "You know," he said, "surprising as it may sound, I can actually understand the necessity of a certain amount of discretion."

"We can't do this again." Clark made himself look at Lex while he said it. Lex's expression never wavered. "You were right. We're not friends. We... I can't have friends."

"I understand." Lex stretched luxuriously, and Clark dragged his eyes away, making himself walk out of the room. He zipped into the living room, where the coffee table was still shoved halfway across the room, and his cape and the other parts of his uniform were scattered all over the place. He blushed, thinking of Lex's cleaning staff, and got dressed fast. He was straightening his cape when he heard Lex's footsteps padding down the hallway. "Oh, Kal..."

Clark looked up, blinked and swallowed hard. Lex was lounging in the doorway, still gloriously naked, faint bruises spotting his body here and there, his body creamy and pale in the morning light.

"Um." He zipped to Lex's side, appearing instantly. Lex jumped, clutching at Clark's arms, then tilted his head up, lips slightly parted, and Clark had to kiss him, slow and soft. "I have to go," he said, pulling away.

Lex nodded tolerantly, leaning back against the doorframe. "Metropolis is a big city, but it's not that big." he said. "Somehow I think we'll see each other again."

"Maybe." Clark backed up towards the window. Lex waved at him, lips slightly quirked into a smile. Clark bumped into a bookcase, then reached sideways and fumbled at the latch of the French doors. "Bye."

"Fly by anytime, Kal," Lex called after him as he took off.

Anytime. Clark fought the air currents, blasting up through them as fast and hard as he could fly.

Anytime? God, he'd never do anything else.

He got up through a couple of layers of cloud and atmosphere till the air was thin enough to actually give him pause, the chill enough for him to feel it.

Sun so bright, liquid gold, soaking into his skin. He did a couple of wide loops, rocketing down the curves and pulling out of his dives at the last minute.

Thought about skywriting. Hey World. Superman Got Laid.

He took a few deep breaths in the thin, almost oxygen-free atmosphere... had to work at it a little, and it was enough to calm him down some. Cloud-condensation clinging to him, enough to chill him. A couple of good, full-body shivers, toes pointed as he hung in the air.

He grinned, and zipped towards the clouds again, down towards Metropolis. As he flew, he hummed the little fanfare that MSNBC used when they did stories about Superman. Some patrol before he went to work... three car accidents, a mugging, a kitten up a tree, a dispute between neighbors over property lines that he wouldn't normally have intervened in, except that one of the guys had a chainsaw.

Clark really couldn't take it very seriously, though. He crossed his arms and tapped his foot and they settled down quickly enough. Clark thought they might have been more abashed by the smile that kept threatening to break through his disapproving facade, than anything else.

Two hours later, Superman occupied a phone booth for a few moments and emerged in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. Clark Kent again. It was a nice day. He'd walk the rest of the way home, then shower and ride the elevated train to work. He caught a glimpse of a headline out of the corner of his eye as he crossed onto Larkin Street, and paused. Swiped his debit card through the reader on the front of the newspaper box. It spat out a copy of the Daily Planet, and he leaned against the lamppost, shaking it open and studying the front page.

Another front-page byline for Lois. He checked to see where Perry had put his sidebar, and was gratified to see it on A3. Not bad at all. He flipped back to the front page. "Luthor's Son Takes Helm' read the headline; 'Whistleblower Vows Reform' was the subhead. He frowned a little, rubbing his thumb over the newsprint. Lex looked determined, to be sure, but it was still an awful picture of him. Lex looked tired, washed-out, his eyes dark cracks in the facade. Clark sighed, and folded the newspaper up, sticking it under his arm. He'd read it on the train.

As he walked, Clark wondered if Lex was right. If they'd see each other again. If the city's greatest hero would encounter its new favorite son, and how soon, if he just... left it up to chance.

Well, he kind of had to, he thought, walking into his apartment building and jogging up the stairs to the fifth floor. Clark was Clark, and Superman was the job. God, that was the whole point, or it had been, anyway. Clark had a life. Superman didn't.

Helplessly, Clark tried to imagine juggling a life that was him, and Superman, and Kal. Reporter, superhero, Lex Luthor's lover.

As he reached his door, Clark closed his eyes, digging in his pockets for his apartment key. Lex... he'd understand if Clark explained it that way. If there were some alternate universe where he actually could explain. Lex would understand that Superman couldn't... be that. Have that.

He glanced up as his next-door neighbor came out of her apartment, locking the door behind her. "Hey, Clark."

"Hey, Lisa," Clark smiled at her, hurriedly pulling his keys from the pocket of his jeans. She tipped her head, a knowing look spreading across her face.

"Late night, or early morning?" Lisa teased, and Clark laughed as he unlocked the door.

"No comment."

She grinned and clicked her tongue at him. "Gotcha."

Clark paused for a moment and smiled after Lisa as she walked to the elevator and punched the button. He didn't have visible hickeys, and he wasn't wearing yesterday's clothes, but still, she could tell. Clark liked the idea that there was something visibly changed about him. Maybe just a vibe, or a mussed air that would disappear as soon as he hopped in the shower, but still. Some kind of sign that it had actually happened. It was nice.

The elevator dinged as it arrived for Lisa, and Clark shook his head and snapped out of his reverie, pushing the door open. Taking the paper out from under his arm, he was about to throw it on the counter, except. There wasn't any counter space. It was full of roses.

Dozens and-- hundreds of long-stemmed red roses. Crystal vases on Clark's bachelor card-table that he had set up in the breakfast nook, and loose plastic-wrapped bunches in the sink, and huge ten-gallon buckets stuffed with two or three bouquets each lined up in front of the dishwasher, and a few loose petals scattered here and there.

There was a card on the table in a pale lavender envelope, propped just so against a crystal vase. Clark blinked hard, then stared, scanning it with his x-ray vision.

Inside the unmarked envelope, a phrase in the neat handwriting of some anonymous florist was neatly centered on a plain sheet of purple cardstock.

By any other name.

Clark stood still for a minute, heart thudding and skipping in his chest. Finally he breathed in, jerkily, his lungs filling with the soft powdery scent of the roses.

He stepped into his apartment, and shut the door carefully behind him.