Prophet of Eden
A Smallville story
by
Destina Fortunato
Notes: Spoilers for Kinetic, Zero and Hourglass. Please note the story does move both backward and forward in time. The dates are your signposts. Special thanks to elynross for beta, support, and tremendous patience; she wrestled this story into shape with her bare hands. Thanks also to LaT for early suggestions and to Killa for insight and support.



October 4

Fighting with his father was not at the top of Clark's list of favorite things. Especially when it resulted in him sleeping in the loft out of principle, rather than returning to the warmth of the kitchen and trying to make amends. Of course, his mother knew where to find him. Both his parents knew right where he would be. In the morning, his father would come out to the barn for a heart-to-heart about Clark's choice of friends, and things would be better. Not resolved, but better.

It was comforting to know that his father wouldn't let any hurts linger between them for more than one chilly night.

In the meantime, Clark snuggled down into blankets on the couch and tried to count the number of times he and his father had discussed Lex Luthor - discussed, wrangled, argued, or otherwise wrestled with the concept that Clark was going to hang onto that friendship come hell or high water. His father thought he was loyal to a fault; Clark couldn't see how loyalty could be a fault.

Counting discussions was better than counting sheep, and more efficient, and Clark had drifted into the gray-sleep place in no time at all.

It might have been the chill in the barn, or the wind blowing hard in the eaves, but something jolted Clark awake. Bolt upright on the couch, he twisted in the direction his instincts led him and saw-- Lex, sitting on the floor.

"I'd forgotten how beautiful you were," Lex said, in a strange tone of voice.

A shiver traveled down Clark's spine. "Lex. What're you doing here?"

"I needed to talk with you, Clark." Clark started to swing his legs off the couch, but Lex scooted backward suddenly and said, "Don't get up. Please."

Clark frowned. "You sound weird. Are you all right?"

"Perfectly fine. At least, I will be soon, I hope."

As sleep drifted away from Clark, it registered: Lex just said I'm beautiful.

That made him blush, and he was glad to know Lex couldn't see too much in the dim light. It also made him grin, and that Lex responded to right away.

"What's so funny?" Lex asked, with more than a hint of knowing amusement in his tone.

"Nothing." Clark fidgeted for a moment until he found a comfortable position. "Watching me sleep isn't very interesting."

"I don't know about that." Lex's voice was soft. "In fact, I think it might be one of my favorite things to do. I love the look of you, like this."

Clark stared. There was heat spreading though his body, and that tone of voice was the source of the fire. He couldn't believe his ears; he must be imagining things.

"Maybe I should explain why I'm here," Lex said, and now there really was laughter beneath the words.

"Yeah. Maybe you should," Clark replied, and his grin reasserted itself.

"Clark, do you trust me?"

"Yes."

Lex sighed. "Don't you even want to think about it?"

"What, you think if I think about it I'll give you a different answer?" Clark shrugged one shoulder. "I trust you."

"Would you trust me enough to believe that I would never hurt you?"

"I don't know. People hurt each other all the time when they don't mean to. You've hurt me already. I've hurt you." Clark scooped up a pillow and caught it to him, and scooted up the couch so he was reclining slightly against the arm. "But I don't think you mean to do it."

"What if I told you that you're too trusting? That you shouldn't believe anything I say?"

"I'd say that's an old logic problem - you know, everything I say is the truth, everything I say is a lie - whatever. And I'd say I'm too tired to figure out what you're trying to tell me."

"It's complicated."

"Use small words."

Now Lex did laugh, and Clark laughed too, because he liked hearing Lex laugh.

"Fine." The laughing tone disappeared, and something much colder seeped in. "I'm a lying bastard, Clark, and pretty soon, I'm going to start trying to seduce you. Probably tomorrow, probably after you have a fight with your father. And the worst part is, after I've had you for a while, I'm going to forget all about how much I love you, and I'm going to start playing with your mind."

Nervous laughter bubbled up inside Clark, but he stuffed it back, because this really wasn't funny. Lex seemed so calm, so sincere, but there was an edge to his voice, something Clark had never heard before. "You've lost it. You have really gone over the bend. You're--"

"No. I'm trying to tell you something. Pay attention. Please." Lex wiped a hand across his eyes and went on in that strangely dispassionate tone. "I'm going to do things to you that you can't even imagine, and it's all going to start out innocently enough. In fact, I'm going to be so incredibly self-deluded that I'm going to think I have nothing but good intentions myself. Christ," Lex said, and gave a short bark of a laugh, "how I ever could have thought that, I don't know. I'm a Luthor."

"So?" It came out like a challenge. "You're sitting here mapping out things that haven't happened yet. Things that won't happen. You're not like that. And I'm not stupid. I wouldn't let you hurt me, if I thought you were doing it on purpose."

"This is so far beyond that, Clark. You just have no idea what I'm capable of."

"Stop it." Clark swung his feet down and sat up. "If you're doing this to warn me off - if this is your way of pushing me away, or testing our friendship - don't do it. You wanted to know if I truust you. I do. And I know you want me." Once the words were said, Clark was amazed that he'd said them, and amazed at the way they sounded on his tongue - sexy, deliberate.

"That much is certainly true," Lex said wistfully, but roughly, like raw glass scraped across tender skin. "I do want you. Even more now than I did when I could still have you."

Clark took a deep breath, because there it was - Lex did want him, and this was...crazy. "What do you mean, when you could still have me?"

"Something very bad is going to happen, Clark. Or maybe now that I've told you the future, this timeline is contaminated, and things could change. But I came here because I don't want to see you destroyed - or dead - because of me."

"What?" Clark tried to focus, but things were slipping toward the surreal. Lex was talking about Clark's death - his death - which of course was impossible. Lex just didn't know, couldn't know, how impossible it was. "I don't understand what you mean. You can't know the future, and your saying it doesn't make it so."

Lex tilted his head, and he seemed to be thinking about something intently. "I remember what it was like, having that mouth of yours on me," he said, dark, low. "What it was like to feel it on my cock, to taste myself on you, in you. What it was like to be inside you, to feel as though you were the only person in the universe who mattered. I don't want you dead, Clark. I want you to live, to be alive. That can only happen if you don't get involved with me."

Clark couldn't speak; his whole body had gone rigid, and his thoughts had jumbled up into a mass of impulses. "That's no way to get me to stop thinking about you. It just makes me want to...want you," he said finally, and it sounded lame, but he couldn't find any other words, none at all, so he looked away. His face burned with frustration, and with something far less easily controlled.

"Clark." Lex got to his feet. "Look at me. Really look."

"Then come over into the light. I can't see you very--"

"You don't need the light. I know it, you know it. Look at me."

Clark's head shot up; that sounded like.... *You don't need the light.* A wave of sickening certainty washed through him.

Lex was the same, and yet not the same. His face seemed.... There were lines around his eyes, his neck. He looked-

"What's happened to you?" Clark whispered.

"Life happened to me. A couple decades of struggling with things I can't begin to describe to you."

"This isn't real."

"Of course it is. And even if it isn't, dreams are portents of the future. You should pay attention." Lex folded his hands in front of him, and suddenly seemed two feet taller. That Luthor charisma had grown, and Clark could feel it filling the room. "You're smart, Clark. Brilliant. There are things you understand, and will understand, that very few people on this planet will ever be able to grasp. So grasp this. I'm your future, and it's a future you don't want to step into. Turn me away when I come to you."

Clark stared. And as he stared, speechless, Lex uttered a deep sigh, one that sounded resigned, and a little lost. "I loved you, you know," he said. "I had to try."

He vanished.

Clark blinked. And blinked again.

Lex still wasn't there.

With a startled sound, Clark scrambled from the couch and over to the space Lex had been in milliseconds before, then to the stairs, and down, and into the cool night air.

No Lex. He couldn't have gotten away so fast. No one was faster than Clark, really.

He fled to the house, to the living room; his mother and father were asleep, so extra quiet was required as he made his way through the house. He picked up the phone and dialed Lex's number, and started counting rings. One, two....

"Hello?" Lex. Sleepy, and not a little bit grumpy.

"I am so glad you answered the phone," Clark said fervently.

"Clark?" Now Lex sounded wary. "Is something wrong? It's after three in the morning."

"You're going to think I'm insane, but. Just a minute ago, you were here, in the barn, talking to me."

"Really." Lex's tone was dry. "Now that I've perfected the art of being in two places at once, I can send one of me to meetings with my father. That'll work out well."

"Seriously, Lex!" Clark shook his head. "That whole thing.... If I wasn't so sure I was awake, I'd think it had to have been a dream."

"Well, what did dream-me say?" Lex asked.

Clark was silent for a moment as words formed and fled. "I guess it had to have been a dream," he said finally, thoughtfully.

"Didn't it sound like me? Was I dressed well, at least?"

"Couldn't tell. It was dark."

"Can I go back to sleep now, if you're not going to enlighten me about my deep thoughts?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm sorry."

Lex snorted. "No need to be. But could you tell me about your dreams when I'm awake next time?" Lex's voice dropped low. "Actually, I'd really like to hear about your dreams, Clark."

There was that flushed, hot feeling again. Clark grinned. "Okay."

"Good night."

"Night."

He hung up the phone, and thought about dreams, and their significance. And about how his father seemed to manifest in words Lex would never say. It was more fun to think about the other parts of that dream. Like, for instance, the parts about his mouth on Lex's....

He was going to have to tell Lex about that part, eventually. Or maybe show him.


October 3
One day earlier

Jonathan Kent squinted up at the walls of his barn and sighed at the cracks and splitting beams overhead. Serious repairs were in order, but there simply weren't enough hours in the day to get it all done.

More than once he'd wondered about the wisdom of allowing Clark to have his little nest in there, a private retreat in which to contemplate life, girls...whatever he thought about. Jonathan thought he might have a bit of a handle on what turned Clark's head; that Lana Lang was a lovely girl, and if he were 16 again, he'd find a place to get her alone, barn or no barn.

Clark didn't seem to be in a big hurry - it was one of the differences between father and son. At Clark's age, Jonathan had been in constant motion, always looking for the next good thing to come along. He'd been arrogant. He liked to think the years had taken the edge off that arrogance, made him more temperate and less like a lightning storm. Martha had disagreed with him more than once on that subject. Arrogant, and judgmental. Unforgiving, and yet entirely loving.

Especially where his son was concerned. His son, whom he saw less and less of these days. A thousand distractions were tempting his son to leave the confines of the Kent farm, and Jonathan knew it. He had been that boy, once, easily sent into orbit by the thought of hanging out with friends. His friends, however, had been the kind his father more or less approved of. There had been no one like Lex Luthor in his life.

Jonathan and Martha had talked about it at breakfast that morning while Clark was doing chores. Lana was going to break Clark's heart, get him ready for the world that awaited him beyond her shiny smile. Jonathan was secretly a little glad about that. It would toughen Clark up and make the coming heartbreaks all the more manageable.

But Lex.... Clark seemed more and more enamored of that slick bastard, and Jonathan was growing more and more disgusted. It took all his willpower not to try to detach Clark from that friendship. He would have already done it, if it weren't for his promises to his son to allow him to choose his own destiny, his own friends. Clark was loyal to a fault. Even to people who were not deserving of it.

With shoves and grunts, Jonathan lined up a tall stack of flat rectangular crates against the wall and tried to remember what it had been like to be sixteen; he'd had no trouble back then finding trivial things to do to fill up his evenings. It was tough to remember back to the days when he hadn't had a farm, a mortgage, a crop, and a family to worry about, when his days had been about the pursuit of pleasure and about doing nothing. He supposed he should be grateful he had a son who didn't hate him and didn't try to avoid the few things he was required to do.

Of course, it was easy for Clark in ways it had never been easy for him. Ways it would never be easy for anyone else on earth.

"Mr. Kent."

The voice behind him took Jonathan by surprise. He turned, squinting at the visitor who stood silhouetted in the doorway, and his head jerked back with recognition. Not the person he had hoped to see there; not a person he would ever invite in. Still, he would try, for Clark's sake, for the sake of the man his son was becoming. "Hello, Lex. Clark's not here; he's gone into town with Chloe and Pete."

"I know." Lex moved into the barn, into the shadows that lurked along the wall just inside the wide door. "I came to speak with you."

Jonathan looked hard at Lex. He seemed...different. In the dim light, he could make out the suit Lex was wearing; it looked damned expensive, immaculate. Something was strange, though. Off. Lex's posture was straighter than Jonathan had seen before; he looked tired, and a bit worn.

"Well, what can I do for you?" Jonathan asked, putting aside his work gloves.

"You can pay more attention to what's going on with Clark."

"Excuse me?" Anger rose within Jonathan like bile. "If you came here to lecture me about how I should raise my son, don't bother. I don't need tips from you. Especially not you."

From the pseudo-darkness, a bitter chuckle rose up. It unnerved Jonathan, and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "I seem to have picked up a few things about Clark you haven't noticed just yet. It might be wise of you to listen. "

"You know nothing about my son that I don't know. In fact, I think I see a couple things very clearly. One of them is your influence over Clark." Jonathan snorted. "My son always ends up in some sort of danger when you're in the picture."

"You have no idea what kind of danger he's in," Lex said softly. "If you did, you'd panic in ways you can't even imagine."

Jonathan frowned; Lex's tone of voice was peculiarly tolerant, even amused. It rankled, and the words themselves set loose a symphony of alarms within him. "I don't panic, and if I did, it wouldn't be because of you."

"You know nothing about me." The sharp words were tinged with warning. "And you were wrong about me. At least, you were once. That's really the irony of it." Luthor folded his hands in front of him and tilted his head to the side slightly. "I didn't come here to talk about myself. I came to talk about Clark."

"What about him?"

"Your son is special. But of course, you know that. What you don't know is his origin, and that will come, in time."

Anger went away, and cold fear began to crackle inside Jonathan. His voice came out flat, alarmed. "What are you talking about?"

"I can call you Jonathan, can't I? After all, we've known each other for such a long time." Another small chuckle, like the liquid searing of acid across metal. "Your son is alien. Not in the small-town sense - in the other-world sense."

All the worlds Jonathan Kent knew were collapsing around him, and they were taking the air he breathed with them. Clark would never be so foolish as to tell anyone. Especially someone he'd only known a short while. He was certain of it. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Of course you do."

"Get off my farm." The words came almost involuntarily, cold and flat, pressed tight by fear.

"That won't help things at all, Jonathan. I know the truth. I know all of it. About that spaceship you've got hidden - which will be mine, in a few years, when I take this farm away from you. I know about Clark's powers. I know things even you don't know. Yet."

So it would be undone, after all. All their hard work to keep that boy safe, and now.... Jonathan looked at Lex, seeing an immovable enemy. "You've had him under surveillance."

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

At last, the condescension in that soft, dark voice overwhelmed Jonathan, sent his temper boiling over, hot and dismayed. "What the hell do you want, Luthor?"

"I'm telling you this so you will listen to what I have to say. I don't want anything from you; I don't intend to hold any of this over your head. But it will come to that in a few years, after Clark and I are lovers."

"After...." Jonathan could only stare, because the words seemed so far out of the realm of possibility that he simply couldn't address them. "That's what you want? My blessing on...."

"No, no." Lex seemed frustrated. "You're missing my point - or I'm not being clear. I've already had what I want, actually." Lex raised his arm, twisted his wrist with a flourish to raise his sleeve, and looked at his watch. "I'm fucking your son, Jonathan. At least, if I'm not now, I will be. Soon."

Jonathan knew his mouth was open, and closed it with difficulty. Then he opened it to say, "You son of a bitch."

"Spare me the vitriol, Jonathan. Do you think I would have told you if I didn't want you to do something about it?"

Jonathan's chest was tight, unbearably so, and his jaw felt like it had been clenched for hours. The words he gritted out came in a rush of sudden, fierce hatred. "I don't believe he would do...that. With you."

Lex nodded his head, as if he were entirely sympathetic to that point of view. "Well, he would, Jonathan. He's going to offer himself to me in the most decadent and filthy ways imaginable. He's going to sleep with me because it's what he wants more than anything this world can offer him. And best of all, it's not about what I can take from him - it's about what he can give to me." Lex sighed. "Hard to remember what that was like, really."

"You-" Jonathan lunged forward, shoved Lex. He took a momentary thrill away from that, the feel of that slender body giving way beneath his power.

Lex went sprawling, and made no move to get up as Jonathan hovered over him. Instead, he threw out a hand to stop him - as if that could possibly stop Jonathan from beating him to a bloody pulp - and said, "If you assault me, you'll cement the inevitable. Is that what you want?"

"You're threatening me?" Jonathan said incredulously. "What kind of a game is this?"

Lex rose from the ground swiftly, straightened his suit, adjusted his tie. He moved then, stealthy and completely self-assured. He stepped closer, just at the edge of the light, and Jonathan frowned. There was a maturity about Lex he had never really noticed, a hint of something very dangerous. He seemed much more like his father than Jonathan remembered.

And his eyes.... His eyes were dark, and shadowed beneath. They gave nothing away, and reflected nothing.

"No game. Not now, at any rate. If you want to stop this, the power to do so is in your hands. I'd suggest a direct, simple approach; that always worked best with Clark." Lex stepped closer once again, and the faint scent of his cologne swirled around him. "Tell him I came to you. Tell him - calmly - that I threatened to expose his secrets. Because I did. Do. Will." Lex smiled ever so slightly. "I will destroy him, Jonathan."

"I don't need you to tell me that. You know I never wanted my boy near you." Jonathan's anger was fading, and an odd sense of foreboding was taking its place. "But I don't believe for one second that your motives in this are selfless. That's crap. I want to know what's in it for you. Why you told me what you know about...about my son."

"I told you because it's important that you believe me. Because I loved...love your son. If you don't stop him from becoming involved with me, things will end badly." Lex said the words without inflection, but at last, something flared in his eyes, too quickly for Jonathan to pin down. "You can stop this from happening, but if you aren't careful, this will end your relationship with your son."

"Is that it? Is that what you're hoping for?" Jonathan grabbed Lex by the collar of his very expensive shirt. "Your tactics won't work."

"That's what I'm afraid of." Lex simply looked at him, and Jonathan looked back. With a start, he realized Lex didn't seem at all the same in the light. He seemed older, as though he'd aged twenty years in a day.

He released Lex with a forceful shove. "Get off my property."

"Aren't you going to tell me to keep my hands off your son?" Lex laughed out loud, then. "I've missed that so."

"Clark will figure this out on his own. All he needs is some guidance. Away from you. He'll find the path on his own. I won't let you ruin his life."

"You sound very sure." Lex seemed almost hopeful. Crazy, Jonathan thought, this is crazy, it makes no sense, but Lex was still speaking, and he tried to hear the words. "For his sake, I hope that's true. But you know, Jonathan, last time you didn't really begin to figure into this until Clark was completely mine." Lex tilted his head, regarding Jonathan thoughtfully. "I wondered if you had it in you to take matters into your own hands, to end things by getting rid of the threat, but you're too decent for that. Pity."

Jonathan didn't speak; his chest constricted, tighter and tighter, and words wouldn't come. None of it made sense. He dropped his head, closed his eyes, and tried to calm himself so he could speak.

Into his own hands. Not possible. He could never do it.

He tried to sort it out. No reason for Lex to reveal what he knew, nothing of value for him to gain by it. He had nothing Lex could possibly want-

--except Clark. Whatever agenda Lex had, it was a jumbled mess, or at least that was what Jonathan had heard.

He lifted his head to give Lex one more chance to explain, to say something that made sense.

Lex wasn't there.

Jonathan charged forward into the space Lex had inhabited. The faint scent of his cologne still lingered there in the night air, proving that Jonathan wasn't insane, that he hadn't imagined it. Lex had been there, and this was real.

Too real. The cowardly bastard hadn't even given Jonathan a chance to catch up before he dropped the shoe and ran.

Clark and Lex. Clark and...Lex.

The thought of it made his skin crawl. This was not what he'd raised his son to be, not what he had planned for him. Not at all.

He walked to the doorway and rested his hand against the wall, looking for support, for something solid to lean on. Something sure. A light fog had settled across the fields, obscuring anything beyond the lights of the house and the beginnings of the road.

Clark. And Lex.

Images, implications, decisions - they mingled together and swirled around inside Jonathan's head like the fog in the fields, thick and complicated, shifting constantly.

How was it possible he could have missed this about his own son?

But of course, the answer to that was obvious. Clark wasn't really his son, was he?

As soon as the thought entered his head, he cringed with shame. Clark was as much his son as any son of his flesh and blood could have been. He loved Clark no differently, cared about his future no less.

Still, maybe there were things about Clark he couldn't have known, or understood. He and Martha had talked about it, once - but the 'what if' of their son's sexuality had seemed so far away then. He still had trouble thinking of Clark as a man, and not a boy. A boy who was confused, and had chosen unwisely where his friends were concerned.

He glanced up toward the house. The lights were on in the kitchen; Martha was making stew, and waiting for Clark. He wondered, briefly, if she suspected, if when she laid eyes on her son, she would see a man who loved another man, and if she would be repulsed by it.

Like I am.

Luthor. Jonathan shuddered as Lex's face floated before him in the darkness. No way to know if anything he'd said was remotely true. And yet he had seemed so direct about it all.

*I'm fucking your son, Jonathan.*

Jonathan turned, hesitant, and stepped back into the barn. He stood for a moment, then sank onto a bale of hay, and dropped his head.

Nothing to do now but wait.

It didn't take long. Clark made it back by midnight, as they had always agreed he would. He rarely disobeyed. Jonathan watched him as he sauntered into the barn, cheerful, surprised to see his father.

"Hey, Dad!"

"Clark." Jonathan stood slowly. He felt a thousand years old.

"What's up? I'd've thought you and Mom-"

"Where have you been, Clark?" Jonathan cut him off quietly.

Clark blinked. "At Chloe's. You know that. I told Mom-"

"And if I call Chloe's mother, she'll confirm this?"

"Sure she will." Clark frowned. "Dad, what's going on?"

"I had a visit tonight. From Lex. He had some interesting things to say. Things you and I should talk about."

"Wow," Clark said, but after a moment, a light came into his eyes. "He's really a good-"

"Don't." The admonition came out too harsh; Jonathan knew it as soon as he said it, but he pressed on. "Don't tell me what a good guy he is, Clark. He's not. I don't know what his intentions were, although he presents himself as though he cares about you...but if any of what he said is true, then he doesn't. Not at all."

"What did he say?"

Jonathan sighed. "To be crude, he said he was fucking you, Clark. That you two are sleeping together."

"He wouldn't say that." Instantaneous denial. Jonathan stared at Clark, saw fury in his eyes. "Lex would never say that. It's not true, anyway."

"Isn't it? You've been spending a lot of time with Lex. There's no shame in admitting that you've made some serious errors in judgment, but now you need to admit the truth to me, Clark, and then you'll need to stop seeing him."

"I did tell you the truth. And I'm not going to stop seeing him. He's my friend."

"Your loyalty is misplaced. He knows about your gifts, Clark. And he intends to hurt you. Destroy you."

"If he wanted to hurt me, why would he warn you about it? Come on, Dad." Clark's voice was rising.

Jonathan stepped forward and grabbed him by the arms. "You can't take this road with this man, Clark. He's older than you; it's wrong. It's contrary to everything I've taught you to be."

"I haven't taken any road!" Clark shook his father off, and Jonathan spared a moment to be amazed at the ease with which he did it. "You don't know what you're talking about!"

"I know what Lex said."

"I don't believe you. Why would he come here? Why would he?"

"This relationship between the two of you is over," Jonathan said sternly, and knew as soon as he said it that it was a mistake.

"No," Clark said, and then retreated a few steps. "You don't have the right to tell me who my friends should be."

"The right? I'm your father." Jonathan tried to rein in his anger, but it was spiraling out of control. "You may think you're old enough to handle every decision that's thrown your way, but you still have a lot of growing up to do. And you need to learn some lessons about trust."

"That's funny, coming from you," Clark shot back. "You didn't like Lex from day one, even when he was being gracious, or trying to help you. You never gave him a fair shot. And now I'm supposed to believe he came here to you to tell you I'm...sleeping with him - and that you believe? Now you want to believe him?"

"If it's true, it has to stop."

"If it was true, I wouldn't want to stop," Clark said quietly, and Jonathan felt the impact of it on his heart, like heavy irons, pressing until he was hot and bleeding.

And then Clark was gone. The breeze created by his leaving stirred the straw on the floor into a tiny whirlwind. Jonathan stared at it, at the open space where his son had been, and found that he could not think of where he might go, or where to start looking.

Because if he found Clark in the places he feared, he would lose him forever.

He turned slowly and began the short walk back to the house, to where Martha waited, where Martha would tell him he had handled this badly. Tears stung the corners of his eyes.

He was going to lose his son.


Even the deepest sleep could not withstand the ringing of the telephone. Lex had chosen a phone with a ringer that was more like a purr, since no one but him answered the personal line in his bedroom. Only a chosen few had that number.

He reached for it, eyes still closed though he was more or less alert, and hooked the receiver off the base. "Hello?"

"My dad says you came to see him tonight," Clark said, and he sounded frantic. "He says you told him we were...that you were....Did you?"

"Clark?" Lex sat straight up in bed. "Did I what?"

"Did you tell him you were.... Jesus. You wouldn't have."

Lex leaned forward, as if he could communicate his urgency, his calm, to Clark through the line. "Clark, wait. I don't understand. Start at the beginning."

Clark's voice was filled with pain. "My dad. He says you were at the farm tonight. He said you told him you knew things about me. That you were...."

"What?" Lex said, and his voice lifted a notch in frustration.

"That you were fucking me."

"He...said...." For a moment, Lex was speechless.

It wasn't like the possibility of fucking Clark hadn't occurred to him, but he'd never done more than invade Clark's space a little to prove his point. And it wasn't like he didn't want Clark...just the suggestion of it made him hard, even in the midst of vast confusion. But the last - the very last - thing he would do to make that happen was to go psycho on Pa Kent. That was one sure way to end that aspect of their relationship before it began.

He didn't say any of that. Instead, he said, "Clark. I have no idea what your father said, but I can assure you, I was nowhere near the farm, and I didn't speak to your father about anything." Definitely not about you, he thought. "I was out at the plant most of the evening."

"Lex." The word was a whisper. "He says you told him you were sleeping with me. That you were going to destroy me."

"Jesus Christ."

For a moment, silence filled the connection. Lex didn't trust himself to speak. Too many thoughts were circling in his mind. Who had been talking to Jonathan Kent? And what was their motive? Why lie about something as trivial as his relationship with Clark?

Finally, he said, "I don't expect you to believe me, but it wasn't me. I wasn't there, Clark. Please-"

"I know." Clark sounded devastated. "I know, I just....My dad...he wouldn't lie. I don't understand." His anguish was clear.

"Where are you right now?" Lex said, and as he said it, he was gathering up clothes, getting ready.

"At a payphone in town. I ran from him. From my own father."

"We'll sort this out. Where, exactly, are you?"

"On the corner across from the Beanery."

"I'll be there to pick you up in ten minutes," Lex said.

"Don't," Clark said, and it translated as: I'm lost. "My dad, he told me I have to drop you." His voice broke, and Lex's hand tightened so hard around the receiver that his fingers cramped. "He said you know things about me. About who I am."

Lex stopped in the act of yanking on a pair of trousers. Now everything had completely stopped making sense. And there was only one thing to ask. "Clark. Don't tell me anything else about things I didn't say. Just tell me where you want to be right now."

A long, torturous silence followed; Lex could almost hear Clark's indecision. And then, at last: "There. I feel like...I have to see you."

"I'm on my way." Lex hung up the phone with a crash and tossed a shirt on; he secured buttons with one hand while he grabbed the keys to the Ferrari, and then he was running down the stairs.

It was ridiculous. Crazy, in fact, and it made zero sense to him that Jonathan Kent would make up that kind of story to try and end his friendship with Clark. As he broke the speed limit on the way to town, he thought of the pain in Clark's voice, and thought, that pain is for me. Pain that came because of his family.

Now, there was a switch.

Of course Jonathan Kent hadn't made that up. He wasn't that creative. He also wasn't stupid; he would have seen through impersonation, seen through-

Lex gripped the wheel, hard, and the car swerved to the right. He braked just as hard and steered off the road, to sit at the side of the rural route, hands shaking, mouth dry.

It had worked.

Somewhere down the road, it had worked, the particle accelerator was online, and the research was valid, had proven the theories. The R&D people had made it work. Somewhere in the future, he would be able to...was able to...travel in time. And for some reason, his future self had come to Smallville to shake things up, and he had started with Clark Kent. That was it. That had to be it. There was no other explanation.

"Lex, you son of a bitch," he murmured, and grinned. "You filthy son of a bitch."

The next spate of thoughts weren't so pleasant; Lex sat forward with his forearms against the steering wheel and rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes. He was picturing all sorts of things that might have come to pass between now and whenever he decided to take a little jaunt back to 2002. All kinds of reasons he might be interfering; none of them were good. And there was no way to know if he should follow his own lead - because who knew what kind of man he turned out to be? - or if he should stay the course, and be true to what he thought, what he knew, was right.

Why would he want to turn his past self away from Clark?

A stabbing headache began over his right eye. He thought of Clark, standing alone on the street corner, waiting for him.

There wasn't much to decide, there.

He sighed heavily and set his indecision aside, and pulled back onto the road. For the remainder of the drive, all the possibilities cycled through his mind, like endless loops of film. One thought kept nagging at him:

You can never really know the future.

Tires screeched as he pulled up alongside the curb, and he got out of the car as Clark jogged his direction. The streets were empty. Smallville was a farm town, and the sidewalks rolled up of their own accord between 9:00 and 10:00 each night. He watched Clark in motion, and thought, this is not for me. It's for him.

"Lex."

"Clark. Where do you want to go?" Lex walked around the car, laid a hand on Clark's arm, warm and reassuring. When he looked into those eyes, and saw what was there for him, he caught his breath.

"Don't care. Anywhere. With you."

"Get in," Lex said, although he could barely breathe.

Neither of them moved.

"Clark," Lex said, and he didn't like the low, strangled way that name left his lips.

"Lex." Clark just looked at him. "If I'm going to be accused...."

"Don't." Lex put a hand up, touched the side of Clark's face, brushed his fingertips over those lips. "Not here. I can't have this conversation here. Get in. Please."

Clark looked steadily at him for a moment longer, and then he caught Lex's hand in his own and nodded.

They got in the car, and Lex looked at Clark, and thought of what they were going to be doing in an hour. He knew it was going to end badly, but strangely, he couldn't seem to care.


October 2
One day earlier

The cavern was huge - over two miles long and at least a mile wide. Lex felt dwarfed by the enormous space, by the echoes and darkness that surrounded him. It was his creation, this darkness; the laboratory that would soon fill this place would be his baby, and the scientists to staff it would be the best and brightest young minds in the world.

Progress on the space for the particle accelerator had been slow the past few months. Initially the tunneling had gone quickly, but there had been bedrock beneath the swaying Kansas grasses, and chipping through that without disrupting wells, crops, or grazing cows had been a bit more difficult.

Still, it seemed that the project might actually be on track. He had enough money to fund construction through the end of the year; that was when things might get a bit dicey. His father wouldn't appreciate being bilked out of millions in spare change, so Lex would have to be very careful about how, and from where, he diverted the money.

Cutting edge research in quantum mechanics had fired his imagination. There actually was theory to support the idea of time travel, and someday there might be proof positive, thanks to the accelerator he was going to build. It seemed more likely in the long run that travel into the future would be possible, but travel into the past...that was a bit more tricky. Lex wanted that tricky problem solved for himself, and he had an eye on the bottom line - what he could get when he sold the technology, and how he could use it.

Hell, there might even be a tourism component to all of this.

The thought of tourists lining up in the bowels of Smallville to take a ride through the space-time continuum made him laugh, and when he regained his composure, he thought of his father. Wouldn't Daddy be proud to know his son had done such outstanding work in the scientific field?

Right.

Lex reached out a hand to the huge power switches, and was about to throw them into the 'off' position when it happened.

"You'll have to excuse me for dropping in like this."

Later, Lex wasn't even sure if he'd stood there with his hand outstretched like an idiot, or if it had fallen right away. All he could remember was staring at himself - or some version of himself - like a hungry man deprived of food.

There he was, in some sort of future glory, Lex Luthor, man of the ages. He looked at himself, dressed in a beautiful dark blue suit, with a dark gray tie and a crisp white shirt. His doppelganger looked cool, corporate - utterly in line with his vision of his future.

Immediately, some tiny area of his brain knew what this meant, but he couldn't vocalize the sentiment. The apparition did it for him.

"It's strange, isn't it? To think that I'm you, and you're me." Future Lex moved closer, and Lex felt a crazy grin starting to bloom. "You seem more innocent than I remember being at your age."

"At my age...." Lex could feel his normal state of calm unraveling at an alarming rate. "Not innocent. Not at all. I suppose you should know that, shouldn't you?"

Future Lex looked keenly at him, and Lex took the opportunity to take a little survey of his own. Apparently, in the future, he would still be rich, because the clothes he was wearing were going to be incredibly expensive. In fact, he was pretty sure that kind of fabric hadn't been invented yet, since LuthorCorp was working on a similar type in present-day.

No wedding ring. In fact, no jewelry of any kind. That much had remained fairly true to form.

He had aged well; his skin was smooth and almost entirely free of blemishes. There were a few lines around the eyes - Oh. The eyes.

His counterpart had been waiting for him to notice, he supposed, because those eyes were cold, without a hint of kindness. Sharp, like scalpels, waiting to flay the skin off anyone they landed on - including him.

Aside from those few tiny wrinkles, there was a scar, just below his chin.

Ruefully, his counterpart reached up and rubbed at the scar. "Clark gave me this. Lucky punch. Knocked me down against some Kr...meteor rocks."

"Why would Clark have hit you in the first place?"

"You." Lex must have looked completely puzzled, because Future Lex added, "He was provoked to hit you. Not me. Remember, I'm you. Everything that has happened to me will happen to you."

"Maybe," Lex said, more than a little wary. "Maybe you're not what you appear to be."

"Not a believer?" Future Lex stepped closer to him, laid a hand warmly on his shoulder. "How about if I tell you some tales about yourself? Things no one else knows."

"Be my guest." This would have to be good.

The hand dropped away and his counterpart stepped back, sliding his hands into the pockets of his slacks. The gesture felt eerily familiar, and with a start, Lex realized that he was standing the same way. He yanked his hands out and they hovered, indecisive, in midair, until he folded them in front of him.

If Future Lex noticed, he ignored it. "You believe you're going to follow in your father's footsteps, and you hate the idea of it, but you don't see your way clear to doing anything else."

"Anyone who knows me - even a little - knows that. Try harder." Lex's heart was hammering beneath his pale lavender shirt.

"You fear being alone, so you push everyone away before they have a chance to abandon you. You have no idea how to make someone like you without buying them off. You're a lousy friend and an incredible liar."

"Go on," Lex said, and forced himself to relax his jaw, to unclench his teeth.

"You're the protege your father always wanted, only better. Already the temptation is within you, isn't it? Just get rid of him and take what's rightfully yours." His counterpart's voice became low, sweet with promise. "It's already easy to look the other way, isn't it? To cut corners and shave funds and divert investments. You don't have much conscience to speak of; it's eroding around the edges. Soon, there won't be anything left." His voice dropped one more notch, to a near-whisper, as he said, "Not much of a stretch, is it, to think of killing off the old man?"

"That's enough," Lex said sharply, because he didn't want to hear it, didn't need to hear it. Either it was a hallucination, or he was going to be one cold son of a bitch in twenty years, and either way, he didn't need it thrown in his face. Shame rose in him, unexpected and searing, and he recalled the murderous thoughts he'd aimed at his father.

But he never would have done anything about it...would he?

He allowed himself to believe, then, and stared at the face of his future.

"Just one more thing," that future said. "You want to fuck Clark Kent."

Lex opened his mouth to issue the automatic denial, but snapped it closed again when he realized - why bother? It was like talking to a mirror. Pointless. Reflective.

"More than that," Future Lex went on, "you want to control him. To make him like you."

"He's my friend."

"I think - yes, I'm fairly certain - that I already knew that, Lex."

Oh, the dark, sarcastic condescension. Lex wondered - did he sound like that? "You know, of course, that I'm more curious than I am alarmed. So - why are you here? There must be some reason - some important reason - since I don't think you'd risk a change in your own history just for a few minutes of stimulating conversation with your younger self."

"You're absolutely right - as you almost always are." Future Lex turned and walked a few paces down the long, hollow corridor. "When this thing is built - and you know, you're not going to be able to divert that money as fast as you think, so it'll take longer than anticipated - it's pretty damned impressive. One of the most satisfying things I ever accomplished."

"How much longer?"

"An additional four years. Work slowed down on the last stages." Future Lex pivoted. "I hired the best scientists, used the best minds in the world to get me here today."

"Where else have you traveled in time?" Curiosity was burning Lex up, eating him from the inside out.

"Mmm. Can't really go into details there, Lex. Too much information, and you'll mess things up by second-guessing yourself for the rest of your life. Too little, and I can't get my point across. There are things you're going to discover, but you'll have to learn them for yourself."

"Well, that seems entirely self-defeating. Don't you think?"

"No." Future Lex was still for a moment. "So. You asked why I was here. I'm here because of Clark Kent."

Lex waited.

"I envy you all the moments you're going to have with him, all those firsts. First kiss. First time he goes down on you...first time he looks up at you while he's on his knees. First time you fuck him." Future Lex smiled, a smile that should have been charming, but instead, bordered on a twisted smirk. "First time he fucks you."

Lex couldn't speak, now; his throat was dry, and hearing his own thoughts given voice - in his own voice - was too surreal to even contemplate.

"In bed, he's the purest kind of sexual animal. Enough power and control issues to satisfy any man. Even you." Future Lex chuckled. "I think of it sometimes. The way he felt, tasted...how beautiful he was when he was young, even before he became...." He paused, then said, "I try never to forget those things."

A strange, ridiculous jealousy rumbled through Lex. The ways he had yet to know Clark, the things that were waiting for him - it seemed insane to be jealous of himself and a Clark he had never known. "You said it yourself - by telling me, who knows what you've caused to occur? You're assuming that all that will still take place, when we haven't even-"

"Not yet. But soon. Within a day or two." His counterpart fell silent. "Last time, it was a fight with his father that sent him running to you. My fault, I suspect. I...well, some version of me...made a critical error in judgment about Jonathan Kent. There's no reasoning with that man. Must've tried to get him to pull his son away from you. At any rate, it didn't work."

"So now you're here with me, hoping that this time you can make something different?"

"You're a wise man, Lex Luthor."

Lex frowned. "But why? Why would you care? If your relationship with Clark is everything you say...."

"In the future you're headed for, Clark Kent is dead." Future Lex said it with such dispassionate calm that for a moment, the full impact didn't register.

Clark. Dead.

"But I thought.... I mean...."

"You think he might very well be indestructible. I know." Future Lex sighed. "You'll have to follow up on those things yourself, if you want to know the truth. For now, rest assured - he can be harmed. Killed. I know, because there will be a direct causal relationship between this moment and the moment you cause his death."

"Me?" Lex was sitting on the ground - had sat down, hard - before he realized his legs had given out. "That's not possible."

"Oh, yes. It is. You're going to make his life a living hell for twenty years, and then you're going to end it. Painfully. He's going to suffer enormously at your hands."

Lurching waves of nausea overcame Lex, and he fought them back. "I wouldn't harm Clark," he said, and the words sounded incredibly nave in his own ears. "I don't understand."

"You don't need to. This," and here Future Lex waved his arm at the cavern, "is what starts it all. The secrecy. The lying. The attempts to convince Clark you are sincere. Maybe you will be. Maybe I was, once. But the lying will tear everything apart, and you'll be enemies before you're finished fucking one another. Think of all the damage you can do to an enemy who is closer to you than your own heart."

"Christ. Oh, Christ," Lex whispered. Whimpered, actually, if he were honest about it.

"I want to go back into a future where he's still alive," Future Lex said. "So you have to pay attention. Heed the warning, as it were."

"This is what killed her," Lex said.

"Who?"

"Cassandra."

"Oh, her. Good Lord, I haven't thought of her in years." He sounded amused, and somewhat dismissive; it churned up the nausea in Lex all over again. "She was old. She died. It's typically self-centered of you to think it had anything to do with you. Whatever she saw...that timeline is long gone, Lex. Pay attention. Every word I'm saying is changing what's coming next."

"In that future...if he's still alive...you'll just kill him again. Christ. Why should I-- " Lex's head was swimming with the things he understood completely, and also with the things he couldn't possibly comprehend, distortions of time and timeline that were wavering around him like mirages.

"Depends. When I get back there, he might be alive. And I might be a different person altogether. Depends on what becomes of you. If he's still my enemy - well, better a live enemy than a dead Clark. You get my point."

"I do." Lex braced himself and stood up. "It would be smarter for me to end things with Clark."

"Infinitely smarter, yes."

"But for all I know, that could change his path - his...timeline."

"Absolutely." Future Lex looked at him hard. "I think it's about the man you're going to be. Either you're going to be me, or you're not. Try telling him the truth. Try being honest with yourself. Try...I don't know." His counterpart shrugged, frustrated. "Try being good."

It sounded unbelievably absurd. "Are you going to tell me anything else about the future?" Lex demanded.

"No. That's it. Guess we'll see where it leads." Future Lex smiled. "And if this doesn't work - remember next time that you're one stubborn bastard when you're twenty-one, will you?"

One minute he was there, the next - gone.

"Fuck." Lex had been holding his breath for several seconds; he released it slowly, and said, for good measure, "Fuck!"

That didn't change the facts. He had the power to impact lives. Impact the future.

Impact Clark's destiny.

He put his hand out, flailing for anything to hold on to; the wall presented itself, and he rested his palm there on the cool stone. Whatever he had thought his future might hold, this wasn't it. Meeting himself in a cave beneath Smallville, staring his own demons in the eye....

Fuck.

Lex felt like there just wasn't enough space for him and all the things he'd learned in that cavern, like he had to ascend into the open air in order to contain all of it in a single space. His whole body was trembling. He could handle it. He knew he could. He was stronger, tougher than anyone he'd ever known. Pure steel beneath a porcelain exterior. It should still hold up. Should still be him, no matter what he'd heard, or learned.

The elevator took him up, depositing him inside a silo built to hide the entrance. Lex barely made it to the door. One arm bracing him at the entrance, he leaned over and emptied his stomach, and then rode out the dry heaves. It went on and on, until finally his body gave in and released him. He slumped to the ground without a sound.

Clark at his mercy. Clark, his willing lover.

Clark, in a grave Lex had dug with his own hands.

He leaned over, pressed his forehead into the dirt where it belonged. He couldn't be that man. Wouldn't be. It wasn't possible that he would do harm to Clark, or any of them. Any of the people who populated this place of exile.

Christ, no. Not that.

Lex tried to process the various pieces of information he'd learned. For once, things didn't fall into neat compartments in his mind. Everything was overridden by a single desire - to see Clark, to touch him, to talk to him, to set things right. Maybe that wasn't possible, but....

Dammit, he wasn't going to let this go without trying. Maybe there was someone he was supposed to be. Maybe that had nothing to do with Clark, but...then again, maybe it did.

And his gut was telling him...find Clark. Find him.

He struggled for the car keys, dug them out of his pocket. The Kent place wasn't far; Clark would be asleep, but he could remedy that.

When he tried to explain it, much later, he wasn't able to remember driving to the farm, or getting out of the car. He did remember that he stood in the open air for a very long time, crying silently.

And he remembered Clark bending over him, concerned, quiet, speaking to him in that soft voice that made him shudder with longing and need, picking him up off the ground and leading him inside. Into the barn, where there was shelter, and where he could regain his balance.

"Lex." Clark had probably said more than just his name, though Lex wasn't really aware of individual words. The capacity to take in even one more bit of raw information had vanished along with his illusions about his future. Now there was simply the disconnected blur of sound, battering at him.

Clark said his name once more, so quietly, and Lex looked up at Clark through the eyes of knowledge, saw the unconcealed concern in Clark's eyes. He couldn't face it. Once he turned his face away, Clark stilled at his side. His calm translated itself to Lex, made sense in ways his urgent worry did not, so that Lex was finally able to hear again, to understand.

"I'm all right," he said, and winced at the hoarse sound of his voice.

"No, you're not. Let me help."

Oh, and how that ached, to hear it offered so freely, with no strings attached.

Clark cared. He loved.

That was what it was, wasn't it? Love had caused all the trouble to begin with; he remembered that much, at least. He wasn't a man who could sustain love. It would wither and die in his keeping. Taking and taking and taking - he was going to become his father, incapable of giving a damn about anyone else.

"Clark." He was ragged; he was worn thin. "Clark, please. Go in the house. Go to bed. Let me...stay here. For a while."

"Oh, sure," Clark said, completely reasonable, and that soothing touch was back on his skin, comfort conveyed by fingertips. "I'm supposed to go to bed, while you hang out in the barn. It's cold out here, Lex. Come inside with me."

"No. Please. Go inside." Lex was amazed that he could sound so needy, like a beggar on his knees before fate.

"Forget it." Clark wouldn't budge. "You're stuck with me until I know you're all right."

Lex sank down on the couch and buried his face in his hands. Everything was on fire - his conscience, his imagination, his body. He couldn't think. But Clark's hands.... He needed them. The presence of Clark's hands on him was making sense out of things that had no logic to them. Was that what he had come for, what he'd hoped for? Some sense of alarm began to well up deep in his heart.

"Tell me what's going on," Clark urged.

"Can't." He didn't dare look up again, for fear of what he would see in Clark's expression. "You wouldn't believe it."

"Maybe I would."

"Trust me. You-" Lex flinched. He began to retreat within, away from all the omens surrounding him in every innocent action. Clark placed a warm hand across the back of his neck. Lex thought he would fly apart any moment. He would simply fracture into pieces and become harmless, and Clark would be safe.

Lex lifted his head and stared directly into Clark's anxious gaze. In those large, trusting eyes there was patience, and much more - windows were opening into a world Lex had only begun to imagine. For a moment, he had the strange sensation of being underwater, of being covered by a flood, because Clark's face shimmered before him. The steady calm of Clark's face dissolved into a blur.

He started to turn away again, but Clark caught him. No fleeing this trap. And Clark touched his face, took tears away with his touch.

I can be careful, Lex thought. Careful enough to complete the circle of simple faith Clark had drawn, if only he dared try. Perhaps he could be gentle with Clark's heart, with his life.

He placed his hand on the side of Clark's face, and caught his breath when Clark leaned into it. Lex knew he would do something crazy if he didn't go right away, if he didn't get up and take his hand off of Clark, right now. He soaked in the heat of Clark's skin, and thought of futures yet unwritten and the rushing streams of time. Was it so wrong to want, or to expect that he could be wanted in return?

But it was more than simple desire, this feeling - it was an awakening of desperation. Lex looked at Clark and saw desire; lust awakened a hunger in him, a greed that was almost beyond his control.

This is what it will be like. This is how it starts.

A beast unchained, stalking the heart that was bared to him, defenseless.

"No," he said softly.

"Lex," Clark said, and his voice was warm, an invitation to touch, to take.

Lex felt the straining of conflicting desires, and the strongest of them was stronger than he was, at the core - too strong to resist. He knew then that this was the person he had been warned he would be; he was already that man. Too late now. He would never be strong enough for - this. Never sure that what he was doing would keep Clark alive.

Pain seared through him at the thought of Clark, lifeless, limp; the warmth of skin beneath his hand shifted as Clark turned, reached for him. He would draw Lex in, and they would both be lost.

Lex ran. He scrambled away from Clark - who called to him, but Lex kept moving away, burning with furious horror. Without looking back, he stumbled down the stairs and prayed that Clark wouldn't follow.


October 4
Two days later

Metropolis was smaller than Lex remembered. Its vast expanse below his office window seemed different than it had just a few months before.

That was upside-down to him, since after Smallville, any city should have felt enormous. Metropolis seemed to have shrunk down into itself, and now it was a cold ball of lights; the twinkling of the night skyline was business-like, impersonal-

--just what he needed. Impersonal, and away from farms, and open plains, and fences and barns and cows and boys with compassionate eyes, and caverns where dark things lived, where futures were overthrown.

If there was one thing he could do - had done - it was to ensure that the capability to change the future would never belong to him alone.

It had taken only two phone calls to undo what had been done. Financing for the project had been iffy at best, and once funds were withdrawn, there was nothing else for the contractor to cling to. It had been good while it lasted, so they weren't likely to raise much of a fuss. Future contracts with LuthorCorp were on the line, after all. More would come their way; Lex made sure that much was understood.

Those few specialty companies who were building the component parts of the particle accelerator were disappointed, but they understood, at least in principle. Lex fully intended to fund the research, eventually, but it would be at a major university, and completely out of his control.

When winter arrived in earnest, he would have crews set to work filling in that cavern.

Someday, he would explain it all to Clark, when he was sure things were going to be all right, and as they were always meant to be, but not just yet. In fact, he was doing an impressive job of completely avoiding Clark.

It wasn't hard; he'd been out of Smallville less than twenty minutes after leaving the farm. After leaving Clark. He'd hit the road without taking so much as a toothbrush with him. Lex didn't want to think about what he was leaving behind, because the memory of Clark offering him comfort was like an open wound, and it was developing into a thick, twisting scar.

He suspected he might think about his abandoned pet project, in some of his darker moments. At least he knew he wouldn't have much of a chance to make mischief, but if he should decide, somewhere down the line, that life was boring.... He didn't even want to think about that possibility. He didn't want to consider the thought that he might be tempted - even for a moment - to reverse what had been done.

No chance of that, this time around. Although that didn't mean his father's money was safe in its multiple accounts. He was already looking for new projects, new applications for the funds he'd set aside.

There would be other opportunities.

"Do you always spend this much time daydreaming, Lex? No wonder the operations at the Smallville facility have suffered. Your inattention to daily functions has resulted in a loss of productivity."

Lex smiled out the huge window. Just like his father to be in the building at nearly midnight. He swiveled around in his chair and stood behind his desk with a smile. "Not daydreaming - planning."

"I don't see the difference where you're concerned, son. Neither one accomplishes much, it seems."

Lex struggled to keep the smile in place. "Don't be too sure about that. I have a few ideas for increasing efficiency at the facility."

Lionel was giving him a dubious look. "You'll forgive me, Lex, but I'm a businessman first and foremost-"

*even before I'm your father*, Lex heard, and lifted his head a bit.

"-and I'm spectacularly unimpressed by the vagueness of your presentation."

"I'll have it worked up for you and present it in your office in the morning."

"Mmm." Lionel poured himself a drink from the bar and took a seat on the couch. "I'm not certain I like you being here in Metropolis. It's difficult for you to remain in touch with your areas of responsibility if you're not in the immediate area. Your managers will lie to you. Your people will run wild with the idea that they're not accountable. If, in fact, they are accountable now. Which is debatable."

"What would you know about accountability, Dad?" Lex said softly. He was vaguely gratified by the scowl on his father's face.

"More than you, it seems. I sent you there for a reason, and yet here you are. Again. Planning to waste several more years of your life playing in the clubs on the seedy side of the city?" Lionel took a sip of his drink. "I won't support that lifestyle."

"You won't have to. I don't intend to let my responsibilities in Smallville get away from me. And no, I'm not interested in going back to being a playboy." Lex went to the bar and poured himself a scotch.

"What are you ducking, Lex? What are you running from?" Never subtle, but always perceptive. "What could there possibly be in Smallville to send you back here to me?"

Lex sat down at the conference table. "Boredom," he said, and drained his glass. "Sheer boredom. Do you know what that town is like? Did you ever stay there more than ten minutes, Dad? It's nothing. Nowhere. I needed a change."

Lionel studied him; Lex kept his face still and returned the gaze with his best impersonation of Lionel Luthor. It was as close as he ever wanted to come to being his father in any way.

After a time, his father asked, "Boredom is good for you, Lex. You seem sharper, more focused."

"I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. Here."

Lionel considered that. "If I allow this, it's contingent upon the operations at the plant remaining at peak efficiency, Lex."

"I'm ready to take on more responsibilities."

"We'll see how ready you are."

They sat in silence, staring at one another, for a very long time.


October 16

Lex supposed that he could be alone.

He had done it most of his life. He had been that boy no one wanted to cuddle, the kid other kids' parents looked at with dubious tolerance. Being a Luthor had opened many doors, but it hadn't given him access to hearts and friendships - unless they were the kind attached to greedy women or sycophants.

Maybe being alone was preferable to - whatever he would do if he were not alone.

Definitely he was getting used to the feeling, the hollow emptiness of unimagined solitude. Alone by choice was something he could grow accustomed to, with enough practice. He'd been lonely as a kid, but that was different. Alone, lonely. Maybe he was both now. It was still too soon to say.

He lay on the couch in the middle of his new penthouse - a gift from his father, who had been inordinately pleased by the ten or so business proposals Lex had thrown his way the past two weeks - and stared at the ceiling.

He was fixed and constant, a dying sun, and worlds were unthreading around him in the darkness.

Every now and then, the phone would ring; he let his voice mail do the dirty work for him. He'd stopped answering the cell phone as well, for fear it would be Clark, and that was one sound he just couldn't bear to hear.

He'd answered the phone on his first day in exile - funny, that now he thought of this as exile, because anywhere he was that Clark wasn't seemed like the wrong place to be. Or maybe the right place. He wasn't as clear on that as he should be. He'd said his name, and then Clark had spoken, and everything had fallen apart inside his orderly delusion.

"Luthor."

"Are you all right? What's up? Why'd you leave like that last night?" Clark's questions had been squashed together, a rapid-fire volley of worry.

"Because...I couldn't stay," Lex had said, aware it was an answer without an ounce of information. He knew how to deflect.

"I wanted you to stay," Clark said, and Lex's heart had imploded, had become a black hole.

"You don't know what you're doing, Clark."

"I know I'm your friend. Please let me help you. Be honest with me."

"Remember what I told you? You can't save the world. Don't make me your project."

Silence. Then, "I don't want to save the world. And you're worth saving."

Lex had lifted the cordless receiver, pressed it against the pain throbbing in his temple. "Oh, Clark," he'd said, softly. He had hung up the phone and set it down on the desk, closing off communication.

And then he'd gotten completely, totally, fuck-the-next-thing-that-walks-by drunk. It was a lost evening, that night, one big blur of drinking and fucking and hurting blindly. In the morning, he hadn't even been able to remember what his trick looked like. Didn't matter. Wasn't Clark.

Maybe he couldn't love. Maybe his love was poison, and anything he touched would wither. He had touched Clark, but it was such a fleeting touch. No damage done. Easy to undo with no permanent scars.

His brain was like a machine, churning out the rationale and spitting back edges trimmed of faulty logic. Except that it wasn't. Not this time. Oh, he was trying hard to fit everything together neatly, but things kept spinning away from him.

He was going to destroy Clark. His actions were going to cost him the only friend he had, the only person he had ever valued. The only person for whom he had ever held even the tiniest portion of love, aside from his mother.

Perhaps he really could be alone. He could live without anyone's love. He could do without compassion.

That dark thought sent Lex into an endless tailspin.

There were seedlings of envy there, small shoots that would grow into towering trees one day. He'd felt that before, too. Every school he'd been to, where parents sent their children cards and gifts and care packages, where they came to see them and took them home for the holidays.

Lex had never been quite so fortunate. For him, there had only been expensive gifts, withheld from him as rewards in the quest for perfection. He knew how to be perfect, but he'd neglected to be human. He wanted that, with Clark. Wanted Clark, and his humanity.

Clark was everything he wanted - Clark had everything he wanted. It couldn't be so simple, could it? That the sum of his desires should be so neatly packaged into the one person whose soul was his for the taking?

Lex sighed and pressed his face into the cushions, and thought about pathways, and wondered how he could know if he ever got it right until it was too late.

He felt so weary, but he forced himself to stand, to move, to get into the shower. So tired.

Work had consumed him since his return to the city. It was too much like becoming an extension of his father. Business generally bored him in ways Smallville couldn't dream of being boring; he was smarter than nearly everyone he dealt with, and he knew he had talents that were wasted in the corporate arena.

When he wasn't working, he was thinking. Going over and over what his future self had said, replaying it a thousand times a day and looking for loopholes, for clues, anything to help him understand what was ahead for him. He thought about Clark most of all, and wondered how many of those loopholes he could be tempted to drag Clark through in the hopes that things would be different on the other side.

He sometimes thought he was just a few short steps away from the abyss of madness. He also thought that its endless freefall might be a relief.

By the time he'd finished showering, and dressed, the phone had stopped ringing. The silence created a profound emptiness in Lex. Trite phrases drifted through his mind, about lives lived without love. All of it was bullshit, of course. Weak romantic tripe cooked up by sore losers who wanted to gloss over the ugly parts with pretty words.

Maybe he could love. Maybe he could be careful. Honest. Good.

He smiled slightly to himself. If he'd even thought he was capable of it, his weakness in the barn had set him straight. Hadn't it? The pieces were cemented by practicality. He was weak when he looked at Clark, when Clark touched him, when he thought about anything having to do with Clark. Even Clark's voice could unravel him like a cat toying with a ball of string. As a practical matter, he didn't seem to have any will where Clark was concerned.

Which wasn't what his future self had implied.

Lex pushed open the wide glass doors and stood barefoot on the balcony. Distant city noises drifted up from below. Horns blaring as traffic rushed by mingled with the static of people brushing together as they moved through their lives. He listened to the rough music of life, and wondered how it could come to pass that he would do the things his future self had done.

He wondered who he was becoming, who that future self was now...or would be, in twenty years.

Be honest with me.

From nowhere, he heard an echo of Clark's words, his plea. A tiny voice began to nag at Lex, one that sounded like his conscience, if the image of himself from the future could be called that.

Try telling him the truth. Try being honest with yourself.

A thought was beginning. It was just a small thought, but he was careful with it, and let it take on size and shape. Maybe this was how it began - pulling away, mistrust, dishonesty. An inability to share, breeding contempt where there should be love.

Breeding the future he wanted desperately to avoid. The one where Clark was not there for him to push away.

Maybe this life, this future without Clark - with bleak loneliness and sadness - was what he should avoid. Maybe it wasn't all about Clark; maybe it was about making more than one choice.

Could be that it wasn't as clear as it had seemed, on the road out of Smallville.

The thought twined itself into his mind, insinuated itself there among all the doubts and fears, and began to blossom. He let it climb into all the gray areas - because he had nothing to go by, really. Just instinct.

Try telling him the truth.

A long, heavy breath, and Lex spun back over all the things he'd been sifting through the past two weeks.

Perhaps it was time to take a cautious step toward truth. There really was only one place to start.


October 17

Clouds were gathering overhead, filled with the promise of inclement weather, and Jonathan was starting to suspect he might not get the north pasture fence repaired before the storm dropped - especially since he was low on nails. Clark hadn't been doing his usual thorough job of checking and stocking the supplies. He'd been meaning to talk to Clark about it, but the past week - well, it just wasn't like Clark at all to be so preoccupied.

Jonathan was pretty sure he knew exactly what was at the center of it. Even without the details, or confirmation from his son, it probably had something to do with Lex. Two weeks now since Lex had left town, and Clark had been moping around with a worried look on his face the entire time. Jonathan had lost count of the number of quiet calls Clark had made from the kitchen, calls where Clark always left a message for a friend that cut him off.

It had been primed to fail, that friendship. Jonathan knew he should be relieved, but instead he was more troubled than before. Something about Clark's demeanor was nagging at him. He knew he should talk to the boy, or maybe Martha could give it a try. One of them had to get through. Suspicions were forming in Jonathan's mind about the nature of their friendship, but no use letting them turn to unease just yet.

With a quick count of the remaining nails - ten in all - and a glance back up at the sky, Jonathan decided to give it up for the day and finish in the morning. As he lifted his tools into the truck bed, a pale storm of dust rose on the road, and the sound of an approaching car made him turn.

A silver Porsche pulled up slowly, parked. Lex Luthor emerged, hands in pockets, walking slowly across the field toward him.

Jonathan watched Lex with a wary eye as he finished loading the rest of the materials. The Luthor swagger had vanished - or maybe it was hidden by the slow gait. Lex looked pensive, and maybe a little tired. Whatever was bothering Clark was obviously taking its toll on Lex as well, and Jonathan wasn't quite sure if he should be comforted by that, or more worried than before.

"Hello, Mr. Kent." Lex stopped beside the fence and fixed Jonathan with that familiar direct gaze.

"Afternoon, Lex." Jonathan pulled off his work gloves and dropped them into the tool barrel. "What brings you out to the farm?"

"Your wife said I could find you here. I'd like to talk with you a little, if you have a moment."

"Sure do," Jonathan said. He perched on the edge of the truck bed. "My son has been worried about you. He seems to think you've left town and don't plan to come back."

Lex nodded, but was quiet for a moment before answering, "A week ago, that was probably true."

"How does your father feel, you leaving this plant without someone at the helm?" Jonathan asked.

Lex smiled a peculiar little smile. "He had fewer problems with it than you might think. The plant can be run from anywhere, Mr. Kent. But...I didn't want to leave Smallville that way. It's not fair to the community to put things back into my father's control."

"Some here don't see a difference." Jonathan knew it was a harsh thing to say, but it needed saying.

"That's why I came back."

"That the only reason?"

"No." Lex seemed to be looking for words, but he wasn't nervous. Just...thoughtful.

"You come here to talk to me about something in particular, Lex?" Jonathan gave the prompt, since it seemed like Lex might not get going again without it.

"Yes, sir. I came because...I wanted to speak to you about Clark."

"What about him?"

"Mr. Kent, I know you don't think very much of me." The open, direct eye contact had returned, but the slick facade had slipped away. In its place was the face of a young man, hopeful, almost earnest. Jonathan had a hard time mastering his surprise. Lex continued, "I know I've done things that put my credibility into question, but one thing I have never done is deliberately hurt Clark. I've tried to be a good friend to him, and to help him when I can."

"You call cutting out on him without a word being a good friend?" Anger flared; Jonathan banked it down.

"No, I don't. I call it a shitty thing to do, but I did it so I wouldn't hurt him."

Jonathan frowned. "Care to explain that?"

"Well. I...care about your son, Mr. Kent. He's the first real friend I've had. For a little while, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep his friendship, but that's because I didn't understand what kind of person he is. I didn't understand...what kind of person I am." Lex paused. "I'd rather leave here than hurt him, Mr. Kent."

"You're not making much sense."

"I know." Lex sighed.

Jonathan watched him. "My son is a good judge of character, but he's too trusting."

"I've said that to him myself," Lex said. "Recently."

"Is that what has him so upset? Did something happen-"

"Not the way you think."

Jonathan cleared his throat impatiently. "I think you're too careless, Lex. And if you were worried you were going to hurt Clark, I'd be damned curious to know what happened between you."

Lex's body tensed. Jonathan thought he might turn and run, because the question seemed to have him tied in a knot. Eventually, he said, "Clark means a great deal to me, and I think...I think I mean something to him."

That knot transferred itself to Jonathan. "What are you trying to say?"

"I think I've said it," Lex answered.

Jonathan was sure there were numerous things he should say, ought to say, but only part of his mind was focused on speaking. The rest was thinking things over, and the first thought that presented itself was a question.

"Why are you here, Lex? Why come to me, instead of Clark?"

"Your opinion of me matters, Mr. Kent."

"Because it matters to Clark?"

"Yes, but it's more than that. It matters to me as well. I'd like to try to earn your respect, and the only way I know to do that is to be honest with you. There's really no other way, is there?"

"That's part of it, I suppose," Jonathan said. He watched Lex for a long moment, then said, "You're back now. Planning to stay?"

Lex returned Jonathan's stare with a kind of quiet confidence. "Yes."

"So you must have decided you aren't going to hurt him. I'd say that's a step in the right direction, Lex. But let me tell you something I see." Jonathan folded his arms across his chest. "You're a smart young man. You've got everything going for you. It would be easy for you to fool yourself into thinking you can have everything you want without working for any of it. That includes a friendship with my son."

"I've thought a great deal about that," Lex said. He leaned back against the fence and looked off into the distance, as though he could see something in the rumbling storm. "I know how much work it will be." He looked back at Jonathan, and the storm had migrated into his eyes. "He's worth it, Mr. Kent. I'm not sure I am, but I can try to be."

Jonathan felt his chest tighten, and a strange sadness came over him, along with a certainty that Lex wasn't just talking about friendship. It wasn't as though he and Martha hadn't talked it over, but...he wasn't ready to ask those questions just yet.

"It's not just about Clark, Lex - I don't care for your father, but I don't hold that against you. Much." Jonathan squinted up at the sun as it flickered in and out behind swiftly moving clouds. "What I do take issue with is the way he brought you up. You think everything can be fixed or bought with money. It can't."

"I understand that, Mr. Kent. I know I've been less than sensitive to what people here have needed, but I've worked on making changes."

"Yes, you have. I realize that. I just think it's going to take more than a few token company picnics to make things better for families here." Jonathan waited until Lex nodded, and since Lex said nothing, he went on. "There's something else. You don't seem to have any grasp of the consequences of your actions. It's almost as though you think people can't be hurt if you don't mean to hurt them."

Lex bowed his head for a moment; Jonathan couldn't see his expression. "Mr. Kent, you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that I'm becoming very aware of the possible consequences of everything I do."

"Actions speak louder than words. You're the same man who offered me money to replace my herd, when it wasn't about money. It was about responsibility. I know we've moved past that, Lex, and I don't blame you for what happened. But you strike me as a spoiled young man who grew up spoiled, and who had no sense of ownership of his actions. Am I wrong?"

"No." Lex met his eyes again, and Jonathan could see regret in his eyes. His respect for Lex increased just a shade when Lex said nothing more, and didn't try to explain it away.

The air had grown heavy with moisture; the storm was close. Jonathan could almost feel the thrumming of electricity in the clouds. It mirrored the hum of his own thoughts, the buzz of understanding that had come over him.

"You know I don't approve," he said, and felt it to be inadequate, since nothing had been said that required approval. Lex seemed to understand anyway, because he answered the thought, rather than the words.

"I think Clark can make his own choices, Mr. Kent. I think he already has, and whether or not I'm a part of that is really the point."

Jonathan felt sick at heart. "Since we're being honest here, I'll be blunt. I'm wondering how much of this honesty of yours is part of a plan to win my son over. And I'm wondering if maybe I just shouldn't stop you from seeing him altogether."

Lex nodded again, and his voice was calm, but his eyes were bleak. "If that's how you feel, I won't see him again."

It rang true. As much as Jonathan wanted to hear a lie in the words, he believed Lex, and he hated that, hated the knowledge that he was going to be an unwilling ally in something he couldn't condone.

"I'm not going to insist on that," he said slowly. "But I'm warning you. You owe my son respect. No games. And we're not finished talking about this."

Lex stuck out his hand, level, steady.

Jonathan took it.


October 18

The mansion was cold and empty. Since Lex had transferred most of the help to the penthouse, that was logical, but annoying. The place was too damn big for him to be running around in it, doing all his own...house stuff.

Still, he wasn't ready to transfer the staff back. Not yet.

He hadn't slept a wink. Instead, he'd been sitting in the study and staring at the fire, thinking about what he should say to Clark.

There was so much, and he didn't feel as though he would ever capture what needed to be said with mere words.

Try telling him the truth.

Same thread, over and over, winding in and out of every conscious moment. He was going to try. As soon as he could figure out how.

The doorbell rang. Lex didn't move; he didn't have anyone to answer the door for him, and he wasn't in the mood for company.

"I let myself in," said a voice behind him, and Lex smiled. Trust Clark to never let a little thing like a closed door get in his way.

Lex twisted around in the chair to see Clark in the doorway, looking a little disheveled. "My dad told me you were in town," Clark said. "I'm glad you're back." With that sentiment came a small rumpled grin.

Lex could appreciate that look of being undone. In fact, he was starting to think he appreciated it a bit too much. Clark looked completely vulnerable, and it made Lex's throat close up. Words became difficult.

"You sounded freaky on the phone last week," Clark said, looking worried.

"Sit down. Please," Lex said, feeling oddly like a tour guide on the road to hell. He gestured to the chair opposite his and sat down himself.

Clark sat, and said, "Lex. You've been acting so weird."

"Probably," Lex said. He smiled at Clark without saying anything else, and after a moment, Clark smiled back.

Lex turned his face to the fire; his smile faded away. This wasn't going to be easy. "So, your father told you I was back?"

"He said you came to see him. That you wanted to talk to him man-to-man." Clark's eyebrows climbed a notch. "He seemed kind of glad you went to him."

"He did?" Now Lex could feel his own eyebrows climbing.

"Don't get me wrong. I think he still has some doubts about you, but it's better now." Clark's eyes narrowed just a bit. "What did you talk about?"

"I told him I hoped to earn his respect, and that I care about you." Lex waited for that to sink in, and then he added, "I also told him I wouldn't see you again if that's what he thought was best."

Hurt. All over Clark's expression, and in his eyes - powerful, raw hurt. "Why did you tell him that? He's never liked you, and you've known that since the day you and I became friends, but it's never been about what he wants."

"Because I don't want to come between you and your family, Clark."

"Would you really have done it?"

"Yes. For your sake. I would still have been your friend, but I wouldn't have been a presence in your life any longer."

"Obviously you and I have a different idea of friendship," Clark said, and his jaw set with determination.

"Maybe so. I think I'm starting to get it right, though." Lex sighed. "Nothing can be changed by pretending everything is fine."

Clark snorted. "I never thought I'd see the day when you and my dad were having heart-to-hearts."

"Neither did I." Lex leaned forward, grabbed the poker, and stoked the fire. "I would have called you later today. I was still thinking a few things through."

"Like what?"

"Like how I really want to have the same kind of conversation with you that I had with your dad. Straightforward and honest. No holding back."

"Okay." Clark had that bring-it-on look, the unflappable cool that seemed eerily beyond his years.

"First thing: whenever you are here, you tell your parents you're with me. No sneaking around, no lying. Not because of me. Okay?"

"What's up with you?" For the first time, Clark sounded scared. Not a good sign.

"We need to talk about a few things, but I don't know where to start." He stopped, mildly surprised at himself. He hadn't thought that through, either, but it felt right. A little dangerous, maybe even stupid. Insane, to be so prepared for rejection. But at this point, anything would seem kind compared to the nothingness he had promised himself just a few days ago.

"Do you think maybe now you could explain what happened that night at the barn?"

"Which part of it?" A bit more coy than he intended, but it made Clark smile, and Lex smiled back.

"The part where you collapsed outside my house in the middle of the night."

"I came face to face with the fact that I'm...not the person I should be. Could be." With you, Lex thought silently. "It didn't set well with me."

"I noticed." Clark's expression had that same wonderfully open concern in it again. "What do you mean, you're not the person you should be?"

"I've told you there are many things in my past that I'm not proud of. Some of them are worse than others."

Clark picked at a button on his flannel shirt. Always flannel with Clark, in never-ending shades of red and blue. "Have you broken any laws?"

"Yes. But I've never deliberately set out to hurt someone who didn't deserve it."

Clark paled. "That's a pretty judgmental thing to say. What gives you the right to decide who deserves it?"

What to say. Lex couldn't think of a thing. "Sometimes, if a man doesn't take things into his own hands-"

"Spoken just like a Luthor." Now Lex could feel the blood leaving his face as Clark said, "Like Lionel Luthor. Lex, you're not him. You don't have to be him."

"You've said that before, Clark. I'm remembering that phrase coming out of your mouth about, oh, a hundred times. That doesn't make it any more true this time than it was then."

"It'll only be true if you want it to be. Sometimes I don't think you do."

Lex took a deep breath. "That's...perceptive." Damn him. "I've spent a large portion of my life trying to be what my father wanted me to be. I don't think that's much different than you, Clark. Don't you want your father's approval?"

"I have it. And I'll have it regardless of whether I'm like him, or not."

"Really," Lex said, and simply looked at Clark, who actually had the good grace to squirm. "Do you think he's going to be okay with the fact that your best friend is a liar and a thief who's sought private justice for people who've wronged him?"

"He'll take that better than he'll take...." Clark stopped. A small muscle in his jaw caught, twitched. "He won't like it, no."

"I didn't think so."

"But he'll still love me."

A long moment passed as they looked at one another. Finally Lex said, "You're very lucky."

"I know," Clark said softly. "And I know you aren't your father."

"You don't know me as well as you think you do."

"Then fill me in." Clark looked at him expectantly.

Lex tilted his head back until it touched the chair and stared up at the ceiling for a long moment. The answers weren't written there, either, but it gave him time to compose himself. Make or break, he thought.

"I've been siphoning off money from my father's business enterprises to fund projects of my own." He stopped there, unsure of what to say next.

"Go on."

"I diverted capital into accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands and I hired some contractors to build a laboratory for me underground, just outside of Smallville city limits."

"Are you going to make me drag this out of you a sentence at a time?" Clark sounded weird. That was a switch, Lex thought.

Time to take the medicine and move on. He dragged his eyes away from the endlessly fascinating ceiling, but he still couldn't look at Clark, so he looked at the fire instead. "My plan was to build a particle accelerator and fund substantial private research into relativity. I had an idea that if the research could be stepped up, there might be a breakthrough in time-travel theory, and it might actually be possible for someone to travel in time."

"'Someone' meaning you."

Now Lex did finally look at Clark, and found his gaze steady, and still expectant. "Yes."

"Why?"

"Why. Well." Lex paused. "I'm not really sure."

"You mean to tell me you funded a project to travel in time and you didn't have a reason?" Finally there was a hint of disbelief in Clark's tone. "You just thought it'd be cool?"

"Well, it would be. Wouldn't it?" Lex found himself grinning, and amazingly, Clark was smiling as well.

"Yeah, but I know that's not it."

Tell him the truth, the little voice said. Lex swallowed hard. "I thought there would be profit in it, someday. I hadn't really thought through the implications. I just believed I would either sell it, or use it to further my own profits." He rubbed a hand across the knotted muscles at the base of his neck. "I canceled the project two weeks ago. I won't fund it for private use."

This time, Clark just looked at him, and the unspoken why echoed around the room like the roar of a freight train.

"I don't trust myself not to use the technology for the wrong reasons."

Clark nodded thoughtfully. Then he zeroed that direct gaze in on Lex's heart. "So you made a choice to get rid of it rather than risk using it in the wrong way."

"It was the right choice. But I think...it's only the beginning. I don't trust myself to be able to do the right thing, Clark. This was too easy. Too convenient. And I wanted to hang on to it. I didn't want to give it up."

"You did, though." Clark sat forward, and a light came into his eyes. "You're afraid, aren't you? That you're going to be your father, or that you're going to hurt people like he has, and not care."

Now Lex couldn't speak. He could only look, and let his eyes speak for him, and hope they were articulate enough.

"That's it, isn't it?" Clark asked softly.

"I'm afraid I'll hurt you," Lex answered, just as softly, "but I don't want to give you up - and I think maybe I should."

Clark sat back in the chair and blew out a breath, slow and easy. "Why me in particular?"

Lex silently tried to find a way to say it, to make it seem less enormous than it felt, but no words presented themselves. "I've always been able to have anything I wanted. I don't want you to have to pay the price for my selfishness."

"You...want me?" Something shimmered in the air between them, some unfolding of the truth that was laced tight with meaning, and Lex shivered at the way Clark's eyes on him made him feel exposed down to his soul.

"I do." Lex nodded and let his gaze meet Clark's, match it, become trapped in it. He could barely breathe for wanting Clark, and time seemed suspended for just that moment.

Until Clark asked, "So you shut me out, rather than fight temptation?"

The question tore straight through Lex's heart. "It's much more than that. I won't risk hurting you."

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe not hurting someone is a choice you make every day?" Now it was Clark's turn to stare into the fire, to avoid Lex's eyes. "It's the kind of choice you have to make because there is no other choice. You don't get to push people away because it's too hard."

"There's such a thing as wanting someone too much."

"How can that be true?" Clark asked, and then their eyes met again, and Lex felt dizzy with the need to explain, to talk until he was blue in the face and tell him everything from birth to this moment, complete with pain and truth and every fucking mistake and indiscretion.

Instead he said, "What if I'm destined to go down the same road as my father? Become the kind of person I hate? What if I'm not strong enough to be who I want to be, if that's not what I really am?"

"You have me to set you straight," Clark said simply, and the blind faith in that statement broke Lex into tiny pieces. "Don't push me away anymore, Lex. I can help you be who you want to be."

Lex turned his face away, toward the shadows in the corner, where sun and fire couldn't quite reach. He needed a moment of respite from the brilliant hope in Clark's voice.

He had been sixteen once, not so long ago, but he'd been a different kind of kid - the kind that was already hard and brittle, and scheming about the next corner of the world to conquer. How simple it had seemed then to take anything he'd wanted, and how little he'd understood about the transitory nature of desire. Things that were wanted at sixteen had seemed so important, and now were fleeting ghosts of his youth, cast aside.

Clark's sixteen was not the same. He was still filled with hope, without that cynicism that had ruled Lex's choices for as long as he'd been old enough to choose. How could Clark really know what he wanted? And how could Lex ever know it would not be this moment, this choice, that would shape the future into a parody of trust, an endless road filled with anguish? So young...and Clark would want to be his conscience, but Lex didn't need an external voice; he couldn't trap Clark in that shallow box.

Lex drew in a sharp breath; words had deserted him. He couldn't master his own desire. Clark's faith in him could never be realized. He put his hands in his lap and looked at them. He was paralyzed, shut down by the inadequacy of words, by the hollow ache of foreboding that kept truth at hand.

Clark moved out of the chair, and then Clark's hands were on his shoulders, warm and reassuring, and his soft, deep voice was in Lex's ear. "Don't push me away. Let me in."

He turned his face into the side of Clark's neck and breathed in the scent of clean skin. Clark was right - how could there be any other choice?

Clark gasped softly when Lex touched his lips to that skin. He wanted Clark's fresh-salt-earth-air taste, craved it, and his tongue flickered out, licking gently. His teeth scraped the spot, making invisible marks, and he breathed out in a rush. Clark shuddered against him.

He could do this, Lex thought, and if he got lost, Clark was here to find him.

He reached up, cupped the back of Clark's neck and drew him in, and found Clark's lips against his, tentative at first, but not for long. Clark kissed like someone who was new to it, and Lex taught him by example, by seeking out the heat inside Clark's mouth with his tongue, gentle and hungry by turns. Clark smiled into the kiss, and it made Lex crazy with the need to taste him, to have more of him. He took Clark's mouth with his own until Clark was gasping against him.

Lex pulled back and looked for some sign that Clark didn't want this, but Clark's eyes were on him, burning through him with a pure, curious kind of lust. Lex thought absurdly that Clark didn't really need to be shown much of anything - anyone who looked like that wasn't in neeed of lessons. "You look at me like that for long, and this'll be over before it starts," he warned, and took another kiss, one that was hot and wet and slick everywhere, and one that made Clark moan.

Clark made sounds, Lex found, and they were the kind of sounds for which any man would sell his soul - low, rich sounds. He coaxed Clark into making more by stroking his tongue across Clark's tongue. He licked at Clark's lips until Clark's breathing was ragged and uneven, until Lex's wandering hands found his hard erection straining against his jeans.

There was no hesitation in Clark, no selfishness; he deftly stripped Lex of his shirt, then pulled him up from the chair, seeking a kiss, needing more contact. Lex leaned in close, closer, skin to skin, aching everywhere Clark touched him. He opened his eyes and watched the dizzying rush of desire as it darkened Clark's eyes, and then took Clark's mouth again, searching for an answering heat. Every touch made Lex's choice seem more certain, made the future seem clearer.

The shirt Clark was wearing came open beneath his fingers, and then came apart, shredding when buttons refused to cooperate. Clark was helping; his hands covered Lex's, compensating for the shaking with steady need. Lex drew his hands down Clark's chest, slow and deliberate, and followed touch with kisses.

Clark tore open his fly, reached for him and drew him out. Clark's fingers around him sparked like bliss, made him feel fragile and human and all the things he had wondered if he could ever be, and he pushed into that uncertain grasp.

And once again, suddenly, fear overtook Lex...because it took so little to keep the future from disintegrating, and he had nothing but what was in his hands, and what he felt, to sustain them both.

"I'm not what you deserve," he whispered, mouth hot against Clark's lips. He moved his body against Clark's, and they strained together like two halves of the same circle. "I..." Words left him completely, and he began to pull away, but the strength that held him was stubborn.

Clark's lips were against his neck, and then against his ear, and warm breath pushed the words as Clark said, "You're what I want. I have choices, too."

"Christ," Lex said, and the rest of what he might have said was swallowed up in another kiss, and Clark was getting better at that, because Lex couldn't breathe at all.

He had never wanted anything so much, and deserved it so little. But he wanted it to work; he wanted Clark to lay claim to him, to make his choices and put his marks there in places Lex could feel them, in ways others would never know about. He wanted to be anchored, held, accountable to nothing more than the feeling of freedom to choose to be right, to be honest, to be Clark's.

He could do many things, for Clark.

Clark murmured something against his lips. It took Lex a moment to engage enough brain-power to comprehend the words: touch me. It was like being underwater; everything was in slow motion. He put his hands back on Clark's skin; he couldn't imagine why he had stopped, and now he was back on track, the same track Clark was on with his hand curled around Lex's cock and his mouth moving over Lex's rhythmically.

He ripped through buttons and reached past denim to find Clark hard in his hand, hard and ready, and pushed him back toward the chair. Clark went willingly and dropped back on the leather.

Lex wasted no time skinning off the jeans. He had what he needed in his hand, hard and perfect. He closed his eyes and willed himself not to come on the spot.

He bent his head and took Clark in his mouth, deep, and with one long draw of his tongue up the length, he could tell Clark was close, so close.... Clark was still making those sounds, the kind that made it difficult to concentrate.

Clark froze with a soft cry of astonishment as his cock pulsed in Lex's mouth. He arched, hands curled against Lex's shoulders, and he came.

Lex finally lifted his head, and laid his face against Clark's thigh. He couldn't look up. Too many realities were crashing in on him. This would be the end of them both, or the beginning. No way to know which was which, anymore; everything was changed, and this might be the catalyst, but it might not, and he could be good, he could be honest....

Lex looked up, and Clark was beautiful, sated and scared and a thousand different kinds of happy.

And Lex believed.


Epilogue
October, 2023

Lex never tired of the view from the penthouse balcony. Metropolis was a beautiful city - especially at night, when the lights of lives sparkled below like so many stars in the sky. He still loved the night, with its concealing quiet and its veil of mystery.

Not so many mysteries in the world anymore. Not when he knew the biggest secret in the history of the world - of several worlds, actually, and a few dimensions.

He leaned out just a little more - far enough that the wind caught his shirt and ruffled it. Cool silk shimmered against his skin. He lifted his glass and took a sip of scotch to counter the chill of the air. Warm inside, in all the right places.

At 43, he was still youthful. He was often told that he seemed half his age. He'd never really been prone to wicked excess - well, at least not since his early twenties - but he'd taken a few chances here and there, and he'd expected them to show on the surface far more than they did.

He was a billionaire twice over, now. His father was long dead, and he didn't spare much thought for that. All that lovely money had come in quite handy for doing a remarkable variety of things; he owned the largest and most effective crime laboratory in the world, one that operated completely out of the public eye. That much secrecy was expensive, and difficult to maintain.

Research had taken a large chunk of change, as well. Experiments with invisibility, space travel, stasis, and various and sundry other bits of folly had held his interest in his spare time. He tinkered. It was what he did, what he loved. Sort of the scientific version of puttering.

There had been a few experiments that had gone awry. The invisibility thing, for one. He'd made himself into a human guinea pig, but a few hours of it had made him itchy and irritable, and getting the antidote together had taken another three weeks. It had felt like the world's worst case of poison oak. Typical of him to dive in without the cure handy.

Second prize was taken by the matter transference beam. That had shown promise, but unfortunately, a lab worker's finger had been caught and transferred right off his hand. So much for the value of research. Lex had ended that project rather quickly and paid off the family with quiet cash.

It wasn't like he'd never been tempted to do something evil. Or worse yet, something foolish. For the sake of science, he often went to foolish places, but the side of him that leaned toward darkest temptations was a bit more difficult to control. He suspected he held the record for the most evil thoughts set aside. His priorities wouldn't allow much room for exploration of said evil thoughts.

Still, a man could dream from time to time.

At one time, he'd thought he might even run for President - but that avenue was closed to him early on. Too much risk of exposure of things that were precious to him, things he intended to protect as fiercely as he could. He'd spent his whole life doing so. No reason to step back now.

He took one more sip of his drink and gave an amused grimace to the night sky. His corporation was on the verge of a major discovery; it was cause to celebrate - or should have been, anyway.

LuthorCorp had just broken through a myth of stunning proportions - the myth that time travel could never be achieved. If the general public knew, it would raise the hair on the neck of every human being in the world. But that technology was going to be destroyed, and in just a few hours, the entire scientific community would lose a miracle it had never known was found.

Otherwise, there would be madmen trying to take advantage of the most dangerous discovery ever made -courtesy of a few broken laws of physics, laws that hadn't really stood up to the closest scrutiny.

It was ironic, really, that the only thing that had ever come out of time travel had been of personal benefit to him. So determined was he to keep his advantage that he knew he could never share those secrets with anyone else.

Well, maybe one person.

"Careful. Wouldn't want you to fall."

Lex clasped his glass between two hands and raised his eyes to the visitor who hovered in mid-air about a foot away from the balcony. The same breeze that caught his shirt billowed the red cape, and where it caught the light, it looked ridiculously like a flag.

With a chuckle, Lex said, "Not worried. You'll catch me."

"Well, what if I didn't? What if I wasn't here?" A black eyebrow climbed expectantly. "You're not back to that whole 'invincible Lex' thing, are you? That stuff you took to make you impervious to heat and cold put you in the hospital for a week."

"It's not my fault that it didn't work. It would have come in handy. Bruce had Dick, you could have had me."

"I have had you. I like having you. That's the point. Now stop leaning out so far."

"Yes, mother." Lex turned his body slightly, so that his elbows rested on the railing and his back was to the city below. "You going to take off those tights and stay a while?"

"No time." Strong arms slid around Lex, wrapped him tightly from behind. "Have to bury a few secrets at the Sea of Tranquillity. After that, maybe I'll take a couple laps around the moon, circle the earth a few times, listen for stray cats stuck in trees..." A warm mouth rested against Lex's ear, and the heat from it made Lex shiver. "I'll be home early."

"Still think we ought to destroy those research journals for good, so nothing else can be built from them," Lex said, a little grumbly, but his words slurred together into a moan before he finished. There was a hand sliding beneath the waistband of his slacks, and teeth were scraping the back of his neck.

"Might need them later. Too risky to destroy something that could come in handy."

"You're talking to me about risk?" Lex gasped as the hand moved lower, stroking slowly against his cock. "That's rich."

"You're rich. I'm just a workin' man who's good at what I do."

At that point, Lex would not have disagreed, even if he were able to speak.

Slowly, the hands and mouth were withdrawn, and Lex drew in a deep breath. "If you make me wait for you one second past the time you put that damn paper to bed-"

"Promise, I'll be home on time."

"Better be," Lex muttered darkly, but he knew he was talking to air. That was fine by him, because the sooner Superman made his rounds, the sooner Clark Kent could get his ass home and park it in bed, by the fire. Where they would talk about ordinary things - like tax shelters and acquisitions, and what price Jonathan Kent had gotten for the crop this year, and how to persuade Clark's parents to stop working that damn farm, and what to do with all the Kryptonite ore they were mining out of that field in Smallville.

And maybe Clark would fuck him hard, and then hold him for a while, before he let his restless messiah complex overtake him once again. Lex had grown fond of that whole saving-the-world thing. Not every man could have the urge to save the world and actually do it. A thousand or so times.

All things considered, time had been good to Lex. He owed the universe a favor, since it had given him Clark, so he tried not to begrudge it the attention of Superman.

With a drop of the wrist, he deposited the glass on the bar, and then pushed the balcony doors closed. One item at a time, he shed his clothes on the way to the bedroom, leaving an unmistakable trail. By the time he crawled onto the bed, he was hard and aching and ready, really ready for something to take that edge off.

He touched himself, one eye on the door, and waited - but not for long. Soon enough there was a blur of motion in the room, and in the center of the whirlwind, tights and cape and indestructible super-suit (custom made by Luthor Labs, Inc.) hit the floor. And then Clark was standing there, all dark eyes and want and need and his, all his.

Clark slid into bed and put his arms around Lex, who grinned into that broad shoulder. "Honey, I'm home," Clark whispered, and Lex snorted into his chest, a sound half between a laugh and a moan of need.

Midnight in Metropolis, and all was right with the world.

End


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