Sorrow And Bliss
by VampyrAlex


Pairing: Clark/Lex
Category: Drama/Romance, Futurefic, First Time
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.

Author's notes: First published in the zine Blue, by Vision Quest Press. Winner of the 2005 SCREWZ Award for Best Smallville novella. Thanks to Sherri, Chris, Hannie for beta'ing this story.

Summary: When Lionel tries to kill him, Clark goes to Lex for help.

I can't go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
~Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


Clark wondered briefly what the hell he was doing, wandering around the streets of Metropolis at three in the morning. But at least during the night the city was virtually deserted, easing some of his claustrophobia.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get used to the crowded streets, the tall buildings, the constant noise and pollution. Six months into his first year at Met U studying journalism, and he had never felt so homesick. Apparently once a farmboy, always a farmboy.

Of their own volition, his eyes settled on the LexCorp towers. He hardly saw Lex these days; the other man was always too busy, running his own company and trying to stay ahead of Lionel's power-hungry games. Father and son had severed all ties after a nasty falling out over a business deal, and nothing had been the same since. The clashes between them were brutal and spectacular, and it was rare the week - or day - when one or the other didn't make an appearance in the media.

Clark had kept his eye on both men, glad to see that while Lex often walked a thin line, he never actually crossed it. Lionel, on the other hand, had no problem doing everything and anything to get his way, and Clark had been forced to use his powers on numerous occasions to stop some of his more deranged schemes.

About to go back to his dorm to try to get some sleep, Clark suddenly picked up on angry, raised voices. They seemed to be coming from close by, from an alley just ahead. Allowing his hearing to adjust to the sound, he listened to the conversation, trying to decide if he should interfere or if it was nothing more than friends arguing some harmless topic.

"Come on, sweetheart," a man's voice reached him, tone taunting. "You know you want it, so why fight it? You're ready to party with me and my buddies, aren't you, lovely? I bet you'll be begging for it in no time."

"You bums touch me, and I'll snap every bone in your bodies!" A woman this time, sounding both furious and scared. "I'm warning you, you assholes, don't come any closer!"

"Now, don't be like that, princess," another man purred with feigned gentleness. "Be a good little girl and put out for us, and we'll make sure you enjoy this too."

Clark had heard more than enough. Racing to the entrance of the alley, he saw an African-American woman backed up against a wall, six men forming a semicircle around her and closing in menacingly.

He drew nearer, silently, until he was standing right behind the men. "This is hardly fair, six against one," he stated softly, startling the men who rapidly swung around to face him.

"Stay out of this, kid," one of the men ordered, after looking him over and obviously finding him lacking in the brains department. "Go back inside and find your own plaything," he added, gesturing towards the back door of a nightclub, which lead to the alley. "This one's ours."

Clark gave him a lopsided smile. "I don't think so. Why don't you guys just go home and sleep it off, huh?"

What happened next was the predictable result to his condescending question. Within seconds he was engaged in a fistfight, just barely remembering to keep his strength in check. He resisted the urge to laugh as he watched the men's would-be victim holding her own against two of her attackers. In fact, she was finished with beating the crap out of them and going for the third.

Minutes later all six men were lying on the filthy ground, either unconscious or writhing and moaning weakly as a consequence of countless scrapes and bruises.

"Thank you."

The woman's soft voice had him looking into a pair of warm almond eyes, and he found himself smiling at her. Now that the danger was over, Clark could see that she was beautiful, possessing a statuesque figure and long, flowing dreadlocks. Almost as tall as he was, you could almost feel the strength and stamina hidden underneath the tight black dress she was wearing.

"You're welcome," he said, holding up a hand for her to shake. "I was just lucky to be at the right place, at the right time. Clark Kent."

Her grip was firm and sure as she accepted the handshake. "Hope Taya. I -"

Her next words were cut off as the nightclub's door swung open with a loud bang, a woman exiting in a rush and looking wildly around. Seeing the wounded men on the asphalt, she frowned.

"What the hell happened here?"

"I was getting some air when these morons attacked me," Hope explained. "It's okay; Clark here and I took care of them." She turned to Clark. "This is my best friend, Mercy Graves. Mercy, Clark Kent."

Clark shook hands with Mercy, once again impressed. Mercy's height was also above-average for a woman, and as with Hope he could almost feel her energy reaching out to him. But the similarities between both women ended there; where Hope was dark, Mercy was light. Blonde hair, smooth, pale skin, gray eyes. Only the fierceness in her gaze revealed the truth behind her almost angelic appearance.

"We should get out of here," he suggested. "Someone might've heard the fight and called the cops."

The women followed him out of the alley, before moving to flank him on either side as they walked away from the club. When he felt they were far enough away, Clark stopped.

"I have to go, I have classes early in the morning." Giving Hope a gentle smile, he asked, "You okay?"

She grinned. "Yeah. Thanks again for your help. I'm good in a fight, but the odds weren't exactly even."

He nodded once and turned to leave, only to stop as Mercy's voice called out to him, "Hey, Kent." When he looked back at her, she said, "I won't forget this. One day I'll repay you for what you did tonight. I have a feeling our paths will cross again one day."

He fought the impulse to tell her there was no need to repay him; somehow he doubted she would listen. Instead, he nodded again and disappeared into Metropolis' back streets. A brand new day was dawning when he reached the university dorms.

Four years later

Clark walked into his apartment, locking the door and blocking the world outside. He took off his jacket, threw it into a chair and, after changing into a pair of jeans and a sweater, sat on the couch with a sigh. Job hunting had to be one of the most frustrating things about being a human.

In the past months he must have been interviewed by every magazine, newspaper and publishing company in Metropolis. If he had to hear one more time about how his curriculum vitae was too good, how he didn't have enough experience or how someone wasn't hiring at the moment, he might just lose it and set something on fire.

Closing his eyes and leaning his head against the back of the couch, he took a deep breath, releasing some of the day's tension and irritation, his body loosening the further he relaxed.

There was one newspaper he hadn't tried yet; the Daily Planet. Of which - and surprisingly - Perry White was now editor. But the man knew too much about him and his past as it was, and Clark was wary to contact him. That Perry had offered to help him out all those years back in Smallville didn't change things. It was still a risk, one he wasn't sure he was willing to take.

A knock on the door brought him back to the present. Using x-ray vision to see who his visitor might be, he recognized two forms, both female. Alien memory supplied the names; Hope Taya and Mercy Graves.

What the hell were they doing here? He shook his head, his imagination getting the better of him and leaving him wondering if Mercy hadn't spent the last years searching for him just so she could repay him for helping Hope. Somehow that seemed like the sort of thing the other woman would do.

Rising from the couch, he opened the door, faking a puzzled expression. "Hello," he greeted, slowly. "Hmm... Can I help you?" Thinking enough time had passed to allow recognition, he broke into a wide smile. "Hey! Hope and Mercy, right? I never forget a face! What are you doing here? Don't tell me you spent all this time looking for me!"

Mercy cleared her throat, seeming somewhat stunned. "Huh, no. I... Can we come in?"

"Oh, sorry. Of course, please, come in." Clark moved aside to let the women in, closing the door behind them. "Can I get you anything? Coffee? A drink?"

"No, that's okay," Hope replied, glancing sideways at her friend. "We... have something for you."

He cocked his head. "For me?"

"Yeah." Mercy rummaged around in her purse, taking out a square box.

Before Clark could even register that it was made of lead, she was opening it, the effects of the kryptonite inside hitting him almost immediately. His knees buckled and he crumbled to the floor, struggling faintly to get away as Mercy stuck the large meteor rock in his jeans' pocket.

"Mercy, please," he moaned, feeling his blood reacting to the kryptonite's proximity, leaving him helpless.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, carding her fingers through his damp locks. "We didn't know it would be you. Mr. Luthor only told us there would be a man here and what to do."

"Mr. Luthor?" he rasped, the pain inside increasing, for a moment having nothing to do with the meteor fragment. The thought that Lex might be behind this...

"Lionel Luthor," Hope told him. "He hired us to bring you to him, said only that rock would work." Then as an afterthought and sounding somewhat ashamed, she added, "We don't exactly keep to the side of the law. We never killed anyone, but we've done stuff that isn't exactly legal."

"This rock..." Clark fought to speak, feeling weaker with every passing second. "It can kill me. And if it doesn't... Lionel will." He looked up at Mercy beseechingly. "You can't... do this to me."

She shook her head, looking grim. "I don't want to, Clark. But there wouldn't be any place on earth where we could hide if we failed to take you to Mr. Luthor. And I value my life very much."

He wanted to tell her that there was someone that could protect her, them, all three of them. Lex. Lex would help him; Clark had to believe that. But even as his lips parted to say the words, consciousness slipped away, leaving him numb and only half-cognizant of what was happening.

He felt both women lift him up, carrying him out of the apartment and into the street. The cold air helped clear his mind, but the kryptonite had done enough damage and there was no way he was going to escape on his own. He was shoved inside the back of an old van, the darkness of night covering his kidnappers' movements.

Knowing there was nothing he could do at the moment, he allowed oblivion to take over, giving him some respite from the fierce pain caused by the rock slowly draining the life out of him. He wasn't even aware of the van driving away from his apartment building with a screech of tires.

When he came to, Clark felt certain he was minutes away from dying. His whole body felt like it was on fire, he was covered in sweat and it took everything in him to simply keep breathing. Opening heavy lids, he realized he was in a state of the art laboratory, in the middle of a huge array of equipment. He was strapped cross-eagle to a stainless steel slab, very much like those used in autopsies.

"I see you're finally awake," a man commented calmly, his voice one Clark had no trouble recognizing, even after so many years without laying eyes on its owner.

Turning his head feebly towards the sound, he was not surprised to see Lionel Luthor smirking down at him. "Mr. Luthor," he croaked.

"Clark. It's been a long time since we last saw each other."

"Not... long enough," Clark whispered between labored breaths.

Lionel laughed. "You never did like me, did you? No matter. I'm certain you're wondering why I had you brought to me?" When Clark remained silent, he shrugged. "Suit yourself. Let me spell it out for you; in the last years, between your meddling in my affairs and Lex's scheming, I've lost billions of dollars, as well as most of my fortune. You and my son are responsible for virtually destroying in a handful of years the empire I spent a lifetime building. I can't do much to stop Lex... yet. But you, you are a whole different matter." He lifted an eyebrow. "Still nothing to add?"

"I'm... guessing you're planning on killing me?" Clark said in a thin tone, trying to go for flippant, but knowing he was failing miserably.

Lionel nodded. "Exactly. I know much about you, Clark, information I spent years gathering. I don't know as much as I wished, mind you, but enough to know how to get rid of you. And as you have slowly been chipping away at my business, so will your demise be slow and agonizing."

Clark curbed the impetus to tell the man to cut the dramatics, but it would be too much of an effort in his debilitated condition. Instead, he watched uneasily as Lionel reached for a syringe filled with a greenish substance.

"What's that?" Hope asked, and Clark noticed her for the first time, standing with Mercy by the door, both looking stiff and uncomfortable.

"Your basic, harmless flu virus," Lionel replied. "Harmless to us, of course. To Clark here, quite lethal. You see, my dear, he's... er, allergic to those green rocks you used to bring him here. So I had one of my scientists mix some dust from the rocks in with the virus. It should take Clark a very long time to die, perhaps even days. And how ironic that it should be from a disease as common and effortless to cure as the flu." Injecting the fluid into Clark's pliant veins, he leaned down and whispered into his ear, "Don't worry, my boy. When the scientists working for me get through slicing and dicing your body, there won't be any secrets left. I will have the final piece in the puzzle that was Clark Kent."

Clark gritted his teeth, using his last remaining strength to look up at the madman hovering over him. "Lex will... destroy you for this."

"He would have to find out what happened to you first. And that will definitely not come about. Besides, how long has it been since you have last seen him? You sincerely think he would still care what happened to you?" Lionel said, taking the kryptonite from Clark's pocket, hand lingering longer than strictly necessary. "We don't need this anymore, the virus will begin to act soon enough." He turned to Hope and Mercy. "Watch him. I have an important business meeting and can't stay. I will be back in the morning; I want to be here when he exhales his final breath."

With that he departed, taking the piece of kryptonite with him, and leaving Clark with his jailers. Feeling better now that the meteor fragment was gone, and not yet experiencing any effects from the virus, he regarded the two women.

"Help me," he pleaded, knowing he was still far too weak to break his bonds.

Hope moved closer to the slab holding him prisoner. "Clark, I want nothing more than to help you, but..." She licked her lips nervously. "Mr. Luthor would find us."

"Lex will help us, Hope. He can protect you and Mercy. You heard Lionel; Lex is winning the war between them, he has more resources." He closed his eyes with a weary sigh. "I don't want to die either," he confessed softly.

The words were barely out of his mouth when he felt the steel bands around his wrists give. Glancing around, he saw Mercy standing by a panel filled with buttons, finger still pressing one. Not wasting time, he lowered his arms and sat up slowly, feeling dizzy and sickly. He tried standing and would have fallen on his face if not for Hope and Mercy, who rushed to support him.

"The virus?" Hope asked.

Clark shook his head. "Not yet. I was exposed to the kryptonite for too long, it'll be a while before I get better."

"Kryptonite?" Mercy echoed, eyes narrowing in comprehension. "The green rock?"

"Yes. You're going to help me?"

Her lips curled up slightly. "I owe you one, Kent. I did say I'd repay you for helping Hope. So, let's get out of here and find Lex Luthor. You better be right about him, though, or I'll be the one doing some serious damage to that buff body of yours."

The laboratory was deserted. Of course it was nighttime, and Lionel had probably counted on him being too weak to escape, and for the two Amazons half-carrying him to watch over him. They climbed into the van, all three in the front seat, with Clark in the middle.

"You know Junior's phone number?" Hope asked as she drove.

"No. He changed numbers recently and forgot to give me the new ones," Clark replied, a bitter edge to his voice. Not wanting to dwell on the thought that Lex might not have forgotten, but actually done it on purpose, he continued, "But I know he has a penthouse in the LexCorp towers. He should be there now."

"And of course he will just let us walk up there and invite us all for tea," Mercy muttered sarcastically. "Don't know what the hell I was thinking."

"The towers have a porter. Tell him to call the penthouse, say it's a matter of life or death regarding Clark Kent."

He could feel both women's dubious looks, but thankfully they refrained from commenting on his plan. The laboratory wasn't that far from LexCorp, and fifteen minutes later Clark was sitting with Hope, watching Mercy argue with the porter through the building's glass walls. Eventually the man surrendered and reached for the internal phone.

Clark allowed his hearing to reach out, so he could hear the conversation.

"Mr. Luthor," the porter began when Lex answered. "I have a woman here -"

Mercy snatched the phone from his hand. "Give me that. Luthor, I have a life or death situation in my hands and it has to do with your pal, Clark Kent. You gonna tell this moron to let us pass or what?"

Lex snorted. "You must be joking. I don't know who you are or what you want, but that has got to be one of the worst opening lines I have ever heard."

Ignoring the pounding of his heart at the mere sound of Lex's voice, Clark opened the van's door. "I don't think it's working," he said as a way of explanation. "I better try."

Glad he was again steady on his legs, although he was beginning to feel unnaturally hot, Clark walked into the building and over to Mercy, with Hope right on his heels.

"Give me the phone," he told her. She handed it to him without protest. "Lex?" he whispered, words failing him now that he was actually talking with the other man.

"Clark?" Lex sounded surprised to hear his voice, but his next words were clipped and hard. "Your friend told me this was a life or death situation. You don't sound like you're dying, Clark."

"I am," he blurted softly.

There was silence on the other end, then in a hushed tone, "What?"

"Your father, he did something to me. Lex, please, can we come up? I need your help. I'm sorry I'm always doing this, but -"

Lex forestalled his apology. "Give the phone back to the porter and go to the elevator. Press for the last floor, I will be waiting for you."

"Thanks, Lex. I mean it."

Clark handed the phone back to the startled man behind the counter and motioned for Hope and Mercy to follow him. They stepped into the elevator car and soon were on their way up. When the doors opened, Clark found himself face to face with Lex, who looked much as he did back in Smallville. Only his eyes showed the change, a haunted misery lurking within the blue-gray eyes.

Emotion caught up with Clark then, and without caring how it might sound, or how Lex might react, he stumbled forward, hugging Lex to him, and squeezing as hard as he dared without hurting his friend.

"Lex, Lex, Lex," he whispered over and over again, nearly sobbing with relief when he felt hesitant arms embracing him in return.

"Clark," Lex's voice sounded bleak, something Clark knew was pure self-defense.

"Missed you, Lex. God, missed you," he mumbled desperately, taking in the other man's scent, smooth skin, strong presence.

Slowly he felt Lex relax against him, a sigh caressing Clark's neck. "I missed you too, farmboy." Lex backed away, his gaze going from him to the two women standing behind him and back again. "Now, what is this all about?"

Feeling his strength waning again, Clark beckoned Mercy. "You mind telling Lex about what's been going on? I don't think I -" he paused suddenly, as the world began to spin at an alarming rate.


Lex's frightened shout was the last thing he heard before he crumbled into Hope and Mercy's waiting arms.

Lex looked out the window of his bedroom, into the moonlit sky, pondering about life's surprises. The last thing he had expected tonight was to hear Clark's shaky voice on the phone, to see his beautiful face - no matter how pale - or to find himself with an armful of affectionate, clinging Clark, professing to have missed him and whispering his name in near desperation.

Nearly five years without any direct contact with Clark and already all the feelings he had thought buried and gone were returning. And to think all he had done, all he had surrendered and sacrificed, had been in vain.

He turned around, focusing on the man twitching and moaning softly on the bed, the obvious effect of whatever feverish dreams Clark's mind was conjuring. As the sounds grew louder and more panicked, Lex walked over to his friend, sitting on the bed, and touching a hand gently.

"Shhh," he whispered. "It's okay, Clark, you're safe."

But Clark didn't seem to hear him, now thoroughly caught in the throes of a nightmare. "No! No!" he shouted helplessly. "Lex!" Green eyes flew open and glanced around frantically, until they finally settled on Lex. "You're here," he rasped, his tone caught between awe and relief.

Lex smiled. "I'm here." He helped Clark sit up against a mound of soft pillows, then held a glass of cool water to his friend's lips. "Drink. It will help with the fever."

Clark downed the liquid with evident relish, his flushed features darkening further as he looked bashfully at Lex. "I'm sorry. I'm usually not this needy." He frowned. "I think. It's just..."

"Just?" Lex prompted.

"I dreamed this wasn't real. That... I wasn't really here." He glanced at his surroundings. "Hope and Mercy?"

"After hearing their story, I sent them back to the lab to search for an antidote. It's past two in the morning, so I don't expect them to run into any trouble."

Clark blinked. "That reminds me, your father said something about having a business meeting tonight. I can't be sure what time it was, but it must've been pretty late. Who the hell has business meetings in the middle of the night?"

"Crime lords," Lex said, knowing there was no longer any need to keep information from Clark. "I've been keeping tabs on him. He's planning on acquiring two major construction companies and for that he needs capital."

"Which, according to him, he doesn't have enough of right now," Clark commented.

Lex chuckled. "Exactly. So he contacted some old friends of Morgan Edge and made some very dangerous and risky deals."

Clark shook his head slowly. "He's nuts. If he loses those companies -"

"Which he will," Lex interrupted smugly. "He will be in deep trouble."

"How can you be sure he'll lose them?"

Lex cocked his head and regarded his friend seriously. "I thought you knew me better than that, Clark. I simply made the CEO's and shareholders of both companies a better offer. They're mine already, only my father doesn't know it yet."

He watched bemusedly as Clark looked down at his hands. "I thought I did. Know you, that is." Green irises, dull with pain, pierced Lex to the soul. "I thought that... During the graduation party... I thought we were on the same wavelength."

Lex refrained from sighing. Sick or not, he should have known that Clark would bring that particular subject up. The day after Clark's high school graduation, Lex had organized a huge bash at the mansion, fully expecting Clark to pass the time celebrating with Lana, Chloe and Pete. Instead, Clark had spent most of the night by his side, and as the evening progressed a strange mood had settled over them, culminating in a drunken, but heated kiss right before everyone had gone home.

The next morning Lex had packed his bags and moved back to Metropolis, telling Clark he'd had a falling out with his father and that he was planning on unleashing LexCorp on the world, turning it into one of the most powerful companies in the world.

He hadn't lied exactly; he'd had one of the worst fights ever with his father. But over Clark, not business. His father's demands to know what was so special about Clark had left him frozen inside. So he had evaded the questions, ran away from Smallville, and declared war on LuthorCorp in hopes of diverting his father's all-too seeing eyes from the Kents.

In that following year he had seen Clark exactly twice, after the younger man had started classes at Met U, but had managed to keep his distance. First, making excuses by saying he was too busy to meet with Clark, and later on, by ordering the porters at the newly built LexCorp towers to bar Clark's entrance and changing all his phone numbers when Clark insisted on leaving him constant messages begging him to call or meet with him.

"We were on the same wavelength, Clark," he said. "I had... an epiphany that night. Two, in fact. Sometime during the party I noticed how close we were standing, private space virtually non-existent, so very touchy-feely with each other, our heads leaning forward as we talked... I never allowed that from anyone, but I found I didn't mind it with you. More, I craved it. And I suddenly realized I'd been deluding myself, that I didn't just like you as a best friend anymore. When we kissed and I understood you felt the same way..." He shook his head ruefully. "Should have known it was too good to be true."

"So one of the epiphanies was that you loved me. And the other? What was so bad that had you running back to Metropolis the way you did, and basically breaking up our friendship?" Clark asked evenly, and Lex was relieved to see only inquisitiveness, not anger in his expression.

"My father stayed behind after everyone had left. Apparently, he had noticed how close we were getting, even witnessed the kiss." Lex sighed. "I could see the burning curiosity in his eyes, knew he was as obsessed about you as I had been. But while I wanted only to protect you, I knew he had no such thing in mind. And I knew no matter what I did or said, if we'd gotten together, he would have made finding everything about you his top priority, if nothing else, to rattle me."

"So you decided to protect me anyway, and left," Clark surmised. "It should've been my call, Lex."

"Clark, my father is a dangerous man, you saw that today. He had no qualms about using Chloe to spy on you, and let's not forget all the problems he caused in Smallville, Adam Knight being just one of those. I couldn't risk him finding out about you."

"About me?" Clark repeated, although the fear Lex was used to witnessing in his eyes wasn't there now.

"I know mostly all there is to know about you, Clark. Dr. Garner helped me remember those seven weeks I lost at Belle Reve. I remember everything that happened before they sent me there, what you did at Morgan Edge's hideout."

Clark blinked at him. "Dr. Garner? From the Summerholt Neurological Institute?"

"Yes. And before you ask, no, he doesn't know anything about you."

"And are you okay with what you know?" Clark asked hesitantly.

Lex laughed quietly. "More than okay." He shrugged. "Now that my father has insisted on making a nuisance of himself no matter what I do... I know we can't go back to the way things were, we have both changed too much for that, but maybe we could pick up where we left off? Or make a new start of things?" he half-asked, strengthening himself for the possible pain to come.

To his surprise, Clark gave him a sweet smile. "I'd like that, but..." He grew serious. "If there's no antidote... I can feel it inside, Lex, the virus. It's spreading like a cancer. Right now it's not too bad; I have a fever, sore throat, a headache... But it's starting to get worse."

"If there's no antidote, we'll find a cure. I took a blood sample while you were unconscious and already have one of my top scientists working on it. He's very reliable, and anything he will learn, he will keep to himself. It would help if I knew more about this kryptonite Mercy told me about, though," he cajoled gently.

Clark nodded faintly, obviously fatigued. "We call it kryptonite, after Krypton, the planet I'm from. I think it exploded right after my real parents sent me to Earth on a spaceship, and that some pieces of the planet were dragged along."

"The meteor shower," Lex observed.

"Yes. For some reason I have a nasty reaction to the green kryptonite. It makes me weak and I lose all my powers. And, as your father guessed, if I'm exposed to it for too long, or if it's injected into my bloodstream, it can kill me."

"Green kryptonite? You make it sound like there's another kind."

"There is, red. As far as I know, it's only been found in Hobbes Pond, back in Smallville. Green kryptonite seems to affect me physically, the red..." Clark swallowed thickly. "It affects me on an emotional level. I turn into a whole different person, and not in a good way. Remember when I turned up at the mansion one day asking to borrow your Ferrari, saying that when I'd showed the world all I could do, I'd have everything I wanted? When we almost took off to Metropolis together?"

Lex nodded. Remembering was an understatement. He still recalled the thrill of watching Clark acting so boldly, of seeing those oh so fitting new clothes, of hearing a sex-charged voice saying, Clark Kent and Lex Luthor. I like the sound of that. Lex had liked it too, far too much in fact. He should have known that he was sublimating even back then.

"I take it you were under the influence of the red kryptonite?" he asked.

"Yeah. And again, when I ran away to Metropolis after mom lost her baby, about the time you were getting married to Helen." Clark shook his head sadly. "I turned into a monster."

Lex smiled wryly. "I highly doubt that, Clark."

"You didn't see the stuff that I did back then," Clark insisted, agitated.

"You can tell me later. But we may have something to work with here. Maybe injecting you with some of the red kryptonite, or perhaps mixing the two types of meteor is what we need to do. If we can get the red to neutralize the green particles somehow... If we could manage that, your body would be able to fight the flu easily. I'll have someone fly over to Smallville and bring back a sample of both fragments," Lex decided, already rising from the bed.

A hand on his wrist stopped him and he looked down at Clark. "Lex, I... If I..." Clark nibbled on his lower lip worriedly. "I love you."

Lex leaned down, fingers brushing over burning skin, and kissed him gently. "I love you too. Everything will be all right, Clark, I promise. You..." He cleared his throat painfully. "Want me to call your parents? Maybe they should be here -"

"No," Clark interrupted hoarsely. "Not yet. Maybe... if you can't find the antidote?"

Lex nodded his assent, waiting until Clark closed his eyes wearily, too exhausted to keep fighting the infection ravaging his system, before leaving the room. He only hoped he could hold true to his promise to make everything all right. For both of their sakes.

Counting the marble tiles on the floor, or pacing his study didn't really accomplish anything, but Lex couldn't seem to prevent himself from doing either. He already knew by heart how many square tiles composed the floor, as well as how many feet it took to traverse the room from wall to wall.

It was either keep on doing that or check on Clark - again - while he waited for Hope and Mercy to make it back from his father's lab, or for his man to arrive from Smallville with the kryptonite.

He almost rushed to the door when he heard the sound of someone activating the access code to the penthouse, as well as the key card necessary to make it inside. He was a Luthor first and foremost, and Luthors didn't do rush.

When Mercy and Hope walked in the room, he was calmly sitting behind his desk, the picture of imperturbability. Only inside did the storm rage, a whirlpool of anguish and fear and desperation.

Taking strength in the impenetrable facade that had served him so well throughout his solitary life, he focused his gaze on the women before him.

"Well?" he asked, making sure his voice didn't bear a trace of weakness.

Hope shook her head, clearly distraught. "We didn't find anything that remotely resembled an antidote. We did bring all the papers and files we could find," she said, placing a considerable pile on the desk. "And we downloaded all the computer files to CDs."

He nodded approvingly. "You did good. I'll check everything, maybe there's something in here that will tells us how to cure Clark."

"By the way, just as we were driving away we saw your father arrive with two of his security men," Mercy remarked sarcastically.

Lex cocked his head at her. "Yes, he would want to check on Clark's condition first thing in the morning, maybe even do an estimate on how long it would take Clark to die. He wouldn't want to miss out on all the fun, simply because he had business to oversee," Lex bit out in anger, and then grinned evilly. "He's in for a surprise."

"What about us?" Mercy asked roughly, making him look up from the papers he was already scrutinizing.

"The guest room is right next door to mine. I suggest you get some rest," he said, leaning back in his chair and stapling his fingers, knowing perfectly well that wasn't what she was asking.

On cue, the blonde frowned. "That's not what I mean. What's going to happen to us? Can you really protect us from your father?"

He stood up and walked over to the window, half-surprised to see it was already dawning. Doing his best to ignore the sorrow in his heart, he whispered loud enough for them to hear, "My father won't be a problem for much longer."

"What do you mean?" Hope asked curiously.

Lex sighed, feeling every single one of his years weighing in on him. "I already discussed this with Clark, but I don't think he fully grasped the... repercussions. My father intends on buying two construction companies this morning. As he didn't have enough capital to do so, he met with at least three men of... let's call it dubious character and backgrounds, and borrowed a substantial amount of money from each of them." He turned to his listeners. "I bought those companies yesterday from under him, as I'm sure he will learn in an hour or so."

Hope seemed confused. "So he won't buy the companies. He can always return the money, can't he?"

"Perhaps to one, even two of those gentlemen," Lex acknowledged. "But these deals always come with high rate interests, and my sources told me that my father promised those men stocks in both businesses, enough to make them shareholders. I believe this is what truly appealed to them, as both enterprises are doing extremely well and the profits this year alone will be in the billions of dollars."

"And when these men find out that your father can't keep his promise..." Hope gasped. "They'll kill him!"

Lex nodded. "Or make him wish they had."

The anguish returned a thousandfold and he cursed himself for a fool. After everything his father had done, a part of him still cared, still wished for a small sign that he was loved. And in spite of knowing that to be a lie, in spite of knowing how his father wouldn't hesitate to hurt him to get his way... Even then, his heart was telling him to do something to prevent what was about to happen.

But he wouldn't, not this time.

Because he hadn't lied to Clark all those years back when he had stated that he would do anything to protect his friends. And Clark was so much more than that. He was as necessary to Lex as breathing. Even apart, just knowing Clark had been out there, in Metropolis, had helped him balance his emotions and think twice whenever he was on the verge of doing something less... ethical.

He had been fully prepared to come to his father's rescue when things got rough. But that was before his father had tried to kill Clark. So, no more. Lionel Luthor was on his own.

"I finally crossed the line," he whispered sadly to himself.

He wondered if Clark would be able to understand and forgive him for his sin. One of them would have to, because he would certainly never be able to forgive himself; he would forever live with the guilt of turning his back on his own flesh and blood.

"Mr. Luthor?"

Mercy's voice prevented him from drowning further into the darkness edging closer.

"Lex, please," he said somewhat hoarsely, forcing himself to attend to matters at hand. "I did some checking on you," he admitted, gesturing towards his laptop. "Nothing too thorough, but I did like what I learned. Army training, both spent the last three years deep into the study of different styles of martial arts, and you have extensive knowledge of weapons and alternative fighting techniques. And let's not forget what you do for a living; bodyguards to those in the need - and with enough money, of course - some roughing up of poor, harmless smucks who got indebted and now can't afford to pay, some industrial espionage, and a few very imaginative robberies."

"How do you know all this?" Mercy challenged. "We never got caught, there's no record of any of that."

Lex smiled slightly. "I have my sources. How would you like to work for me?"

Mercy frowned suspiciously. "In what capacity?"

"Bodyguards. The more successful you become, the more enemies you garner. And I have more than collected my share. Well?"

He watched both women exchange a glance, communicating without a word being said. He had realized the truth during his first conversation with them, even as they told him of his father's scheming. Hope Taya and Mercy Graves were lovers, had been for probably some time, judging by the easy way they fit together, two pieces of the same puzzle.

Two Valkyrien women who were as different physically as emotionally. Mercy was sarcastic, suspicious and guarded, probably hot tempered as well. Hope was more trusting and relaxed, and definitely more expressive when it came to letting her feelings show.

And it was Hope who nodded. "We accept."

"Good. We can discuss terms later, once this whole mess is over. Now, the offer for the guest room still stands."

Hope bit her lip. "What about Clark?"

"There's nothing you can do for now, Hope," he told her gently. "I have to go through all the information you brought back, and without the fragments of kryptonite to experiment on, we can't try to find a cure. I promise I will send for you if there's any change."

They were about to leave the study when Mercy turned to him, her expression surprisingly soft. "I know it must hurt, but for what it's worth, I think you're doing the right thing with your father," she said, before disappearing with Hope behind her.

Lex stood rooted to the floor as the words hit him, eyes gazing into space for a long time. Then, doing his best to ignore the heartache gnawing at him, he gave his full attention to the papers on his desk, searching for a way to save Clark's life.

It was past one in the afternoon when Lex finished reviewing all the paperwork and the computer disks that his newest employees had fetched for him. There was nothing in them concerning the virus injected into Clark; not that Lex had been expecting it to be that easy. Nothing ever was when it came to his father.

He stood up stiffly and stretched, releasing some of the tension from his body. He had already called his assistant, warning her that he wouldn't be going to work for the next few days, to cancel all business meetings, and handle all pressing matters herself. He knew she was more than capable of dealing with any unforeseen emergencies; after all he had chosen her himself, out of hundreds of candidates. It was also why he paid her an obscene amount of money.

Exhaling a shaky breath, he decided to check in on Clark before going down to the lab to harass his scientist for results. They already had the samples of the green and red kryptonite and attempts to find the antidote were underway.

He opened the door to his room silently, not wanting to disturb Clark, should he be sleeping. The wheezing breaths coming from the man on the bed made his heart beat faster. They were running out of time.

Green eyes smiled up at him as he grew nearer. "Hi," Clark whispered, his voice shaky and almost gone.

Lex swallowed thickly. "Hi."

Clark lifted a trembling hand from the bed. "Come here?" he begged softly.

Unable to refuse him anything, Lex climbed on the bed, cuddling up to the furnace that was Clark's body, head resting on the younger man's shoulder. He felt fingers running soothingly over his scalp and closed his eyes.

"I understand, you know?" was breathed into his ear.

Lex looked up at Clark. "Understand what?"

"About your... father. About what... can happen to him," Clark replied with effort.

"And are you okay with that?" Lex asked, bringing his biggest fear to light.

Clark nodded feebly. "Yeah. Dad... once told me that in the world things aren't always... black and white. That sometimes... you end up wandering into the gray areas. And when that happens... you have to do what you... think is best. What's right. I... trust you to do what's right."

"And if I choose not to do anything?" Lex insisted, wondering briefly why he seemed determined to shock and alienate Clark.

A hand cuffed him faintly on the side of the head. "Stop... that," Clark huffed, sounding exasperated. "No matter what... you do, I'll still be here. Your father... is one huge gray area... by himself. The truth is... part of me would be glad to have him out... of our lives. He's hurt you... so much, and he won't stop... this thing between you until one of you is... defeated." Fierce eyes glared at Lex defiantly. "Morally right... or not, I want you to... be the one left standing."

Lex nodded, unable to look Clark in the eye, lest his farmboy catch the pitiful gratitude in his gaze. He hadn't expected this easy acceptance, this second chance at life. All he needed now was to cure Clark, and maybe he would get to have a shot at the happily ever after that romantic fools all over the world gushed about.

He cleared his throat. "I have to go down to the lab. There was nothing in the papers your two protectors confiscated from my father's lab, so we need to find an antidote, a cure for the virus. It's the only way."

"Make sure you eat... something and rest," Clark rasped.

Lex rose from the bed, giving him a fond smile. Only Clark would worry about Lex's well-being while battling a deadly virus himself.

"I will, I promise."

"Good. 'Cause if you don't... I'll sic Mercy on you," Clark quipped, even as his eyes slid closed.

Lex brushed his lips over Clark's forehead. "I love you," he breathed against sweat dampened skin.

"I love... you too," he heard whispered just before he left the room.

In the corridor Lex leaned against the wall, and closed his eyes tiredly, wishing his conscience would stop nagging at him. Did his father deserve to pay for what he was putting Clark through? Definitely. Did his father deserve to pay for his thoughtless cruelty to others? Most definitely. Did his father deserve to pay for making Lex feel unworthy and unloved for most of his life? Oh, yes.

But did he want to be his father's instrument of destruction? The one that stood silent and did nothing? Could he live with himself, with the guilt? And most importantly, Clark might stand by him now, but that could change in time. Because the choice made would always be there, something ugly between them, possibly festering until one day Clark realized he couldn't love a man that had left his own father to die at the hands of others.

With a sigh, Lex snatched his cell phone from his jacket and dialed a number.

When there was an answer, he said, "It's me. I want my father watched 24/7. I want to know if or when he pays his debts to the men he got involved with. And if... he gets in trouble, I want to know immediately, including how, when, where and who. If that should happen, I want you to contact the gentlemen or gentleman in question to propose a deal. If they agree to deliver my father to me, alive and unharmed, I will make it worth their while."

"You'll have to be more specific than that," a voice replied from the other end.

"Two million in cash each and my stocks from LuthorCorp."

"I didn't know you still had stocks in your father's company," the man said with amusement.

"Neither does my father. You have heard of aliases?" Lex drawled sarcastically.

"Yep. I thought you weren't going to do anything to get him out of this mess."

"Changing one's mind isn't only a woman's prerogative, Fisher."

"Fine. I'll keep an eye on things and butt in if he gets into trouble. I hope you know what you're doing," Fisher remarked, before hanging up.

"So do I," Lex confided to the deserted corridor.

But as he walked to the elevator on his way to the lab, his steps were lighter and his heart freer. He may live to regret it yet, but for the moment he felt at peace. Because he had done the right thing... and it felt liberating.

Lex emerged into the lab to see his scientist, Dr. Macer, looking through the microscope and muttering softly to himself.

"Anything?" he asked, trying to keep the anxiety from his voice.

Macer straightened up and shook his head at him, his face bemused. "I've never seen anything like this in my whole life," he exclaimed. "I added a few drops from the blood sample with dust from the green rock and the reaction was simply amazing. The blood seemed to virtually boil!"

"But do you have anything?" Lex insisted.

Macer sighed. "You have to understand most of what I'm about to tell you is pure speculation. If I had access to your friend -"

"Not going to happen," Lex interjected, harsher than he had intended.

Macer gave him a sympathetic smile. "I understand, Lex. I was just trying to explain that I'm sort of flying blind here."

Lex grimaced; he was too edgy. "I'm sorry. You were saying?"

"I managed to isolate the virus and it's definitely the flu, plus a very small amount of the green meteor. I have good news and bad news on that front. The good news is that the virus mutated once it was unleashed inside your friend, and it seems to have absorbed some of the effect of the rock. By all laws of physics, and considering the way his blood reacts to the green stuff, your friend should've been dead within hours of being infected."

"So what you're saying is that the virus is preventing the meteor from achieving its fullest effect," Lex translated, running a tired hand over his head. "And the bad news?"

"The bad news is that there's still enough meteor in him to have completely destroyed his immune system. His body is probably trying to rebuild his defenses, which might also explain why he's still alive, but as long as there are traces of the green rock... The flu will turn into pneumonia and he will eventually die. Within the next twelve to twenty-four hours at most. However, I do agree with your theory that the meteor fragments will lead us to an antidote."

"How so?"

"When I mixed the two types of fragments with your friend's blood, the boiling effect was minimal. We're definitely on the right track."

Lex nodded, already removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. "In that case, let's get to it, shall we?"

Over six hours later, without so much as a pause to rest or grab a bite to eat, and after countless failures, and irate outbursts on Lex's part, they finally had something.

"I think this is it," Macer gushed out as he looked into the microscope, his tone excited.

Lex filled a syringe with the liquid kryptonite, a lump in his throat. "I don't know, Macer. Maybe we should run some more tests, make sure we got it right. We can't afford to make a mistake, or we could be the ones causing his death."

Macer shook his his head, interrupting. "Lex, we've tried everything we could. We ran all possible tests; we even tried it on the blood sample. We've got it. Now, go save your friend."

Just as Lex was about to leave the lab, the doors opened and Hope rushed in, eyes brimming with tears. "Lex, come quick," she gasped. "Clark..."

"What?" he asked urgently.

"We were with him... He stopped breathing!"

"Oh, God, no," Lex whispered brokenly.

He started a mad dash for the penthouse, syringe in hand, his mind chanting, Hold on, Clark, hold on, oh, please, hold on, all the while. The front door was ajar and he stumbled inside, never breaking stride. He staggered into the bedroom to see Mercy performing CPR on Clark.

His own heart about to stop from the pain inside, Lex looked from Clark's motionless form to the syringe in his hand. What if they were wrong? What if what he was about to inject into Clark wasn't the antidote, but more poison? What if Clark died by his hand?

Vision blurring, he realized no further choice remained. If he didn't give Clark the antidote, the younger man would most certainly die, and if he did and it didn't work... They had nothing left to lose.

Preventing his hand from trembling took some doing, but his grip was firm as he injected the contents of the syringe into Clark's vein. That done, he took a step back, eyes hardly daring to blink as they focused on Clark, panic and anguish clawing brutally at him as seconds trickled by and nothing happened.

Then he saw it; a faint rise of Clark's chest. Again. Once more. And suddenly Clark was taking in a huge gulp of air, like a drowning man breaking through to the surface, his breath loud, and ragged, and oh, so beautiful.

"It worked!" Hope croaked, tears running down her face. "It worked!"

Lex looked from her to Mercy, knowing his face was showing all the relief and love and gratitude he was feeling at that moment, but for once not caring that someone else besides Clark got to see behind the mask.

"Thank you," he whispered. "For being here."

His eyes returned to Clark, seemingly unable to stray for too long, and that's when he noticed the weak twitch of fingers. Thinking that Clark was about to wake up, he leaned forward, only to rear back in horror as Clark began to convulse violently, thrashing on the bed, helpless cries leaving parted lips even as his legs kicked viciously under the covers.

Snapping out of his daze, Lex rushed to him, holding him down, even as the sheets and blankets sailed past him. A hand connected painfully with his chest and he was flying across the room, hitting the wall with a groan and sliding to the floor. Ignoring his aches, and thankful that while Clark's strength had obviously returned, he still wasn't healthy enough to cause real damage, Lex jumped up and again used his body to immobilize Clark.

"Help me!" he shouted to the two women, fighting to keep his hold.

They joined him on the bed and between the three, they withstood Clark's terrible thrashing, avoiding the flaying hands and the kicking feet as best as they could, for what felt to Lex like forever. Then, as rapidly as it had begun, the seizure ended, and only their harsh breaths could be heard in the otherwise silent room.

Having waited a moment to make sure the attack was really over, Lex finally allowed himself to move away, slumping in a chair with a moan. Elbows resting on his legs, he covered his face with his hands.

"What now?" Hope's voice reached him as if from far away.

"We wait," he mumbled, not looking up.

He wasn't going to think about how he may have failed, about how Clark's fit may have been caused by the antidote, how he may have just borrowed the younger man some extra hours. And he definitely wasn't going to think about possible side effects, about the wrecking that the red kryptonite might cause on the vibrant personality that was Clark, should the dosage given be wrong.

No, he wasn't going to think at all.

Lex woke up to find himself lying down, Clark's warm body snuggled up behind him. Since he had no memory of actually going to bed, he assumed Hope and Mercy had taken it upon themselves to do it for him. For a moment it rattled him that someone else had made that decision without consulting him, and even more humiliating, they had obviously carried and tucked him in like a child.

Common sense reasserted itself, and he realized he had to have been beyond exhausted, not only to fall sleep on the chair, but to be moved without waking up. Glancing at the alarm clock on the nightstand he saw that it was after noon, which meant he had been down for the count for almost twelve hours. A plate filled with sandwiches and a glass of orange juice caught his attention, and against his will his lips curled up at the note beside them: Eat or else!

It was a good thing he had taken an instant liking to those two Amazon mother-hens, or they would be in deep trouble. Or maybe he was the one in trouble; if within less than forty-eight hours of meeting him, they were already trying to boss him around, he could only guess what would happen when they had been in his service for a few years.

Sighing as he realized he was avoiding reality, he slowly turned around to face Clark, his heart skipping a beat as he found himself looking into amused green eyes.

After clearing his throat twice in a vain attempt to clear the lump lodged there, he finally croaked, "Clark?" The half sweet, half mischievous smile he got told him everything he needed to know, but he still had to ask, "Hmm... Are you okay? How are you feeling?"

Gentle lips brushed over his in a too fleeting caress. "I'm fine, Lex," Clark whispered against his mouth. "Thanks to you."

Lex leaned back enough to see Clark's face. "The virus is gone? Are you feeling okay? No side effects? Your powers... are they back?"

Clark nodded. "Yes, yes, no, and yes, in that order. I'm completely healed, my powers are back, and I don't feel anything wrong inside, if that makes any sense, so no side-effects. Whatever you injected me with worked."

Lex slumped on the bed and closed his eyes. "Thank God," he said. "I wasn't sure. And then you had that seizure..."

"Mercy told me. It was probably the antidote destroying the virus. I have this vague memory of feeling like my whole body was on fire, and thrashing about," Clark said. He touched the bruise at the back of Lex's head. "I hurt you. I'm sorry."

Lex scowled at him. "It wasn't your fault, Clark, you weren't exactly conscious. And what do you mean, Mercy told you?"

"I woke up hours ago. After using the bathroom, I decided to raid your kitchen for something to eat. Hope and Mercy were having breakfast and filled me in on everything that happened." Clark paused, then, "Lex?"

Hearing the almost hesitant tone in Clark's voice, Lex narrowed his eyes, "Yes?"

"Do you have to work this afternoon?"

Lex shook his head. "Not really. Why?"

"Huh, well, you see, my powers, they sort of come from the sun. It's like I draw energy from it. I do feel okay, honest, but I'd really like to be out in the open for a while."

"To recharge your batteries?" Lex quipped.

Clark chuckled. "Yeah, something like that. Think we could maybe, take a walk around Metropolis?"

Lex brows rose in surprise. "Walk? As in walking? As in moving along on foot, as in advancing by steps?"

Clark's lips twitched, the laughter Lex could see in his eyes battling to escape. "Hm, yeah?"

Lex sighed. "The things I do for you, farmboy. Fine, we'll go for a walk. And why do I suddenly feel like a dog being taken to the park?" he muttered, ignoring Clark's chuckles. "Go take a shower while I eat something and take a shower myself. I guess I could also use a day off."

Clark grimaced. "I don't have anything clean to wear."

"Yes, you do. I had your clothes washed and pressed; they're in my closet. Now, hurry up."

Two hours later, they were strolling through the streets of Metropolis, Mercy and Hope walking discreetly behind them. Lex could almost see Clark soaking up strength from the sun, his face flushed and shining with health and contentment, a very different picture from the day before.

Feeling it was time they had another serious talk, Lex said, "You should go see Perry."

Clark looked at him, startled. "What?"

"My father isn't the only person I've been keeping tabs on. You've been searching for a job for a long time now, Clark, and to be honest, I'm having some difficulty understanding why you haven't gone to the Planet yet. I've read some of the articles you wrote for the university's paper, and they were nothing short of amazing. You should be a reporter for the Daily Planet, if nothing else because you're that good."

"Perry knows too much about me," Clark mumbled.

Lex stopped, and touched his arm. "And so do I. Yet neither of us has spoken a word to anyone." He glared at the younger man for effect. "Go see him." They resumed their walk, and Lex went for the kill, "Besides, if you insist on rescuing people without any regard for your own safety, you're going to need some protection and having a boss that knows will help."

This time it was Clark that froze, gaping at Lex. "What?" he repeated.

"Clark, there have been hundreds of reports in the past years about this unknown man that has been saving people from the most various - and usually deadly - situations. Most have been calling him angel, but we both know his real name, don't we? Perry White is a bright man, and I have no doubt that he's also been keeping an eye on you. I'm sure it didn't escape his attention that those daring rescues started almost the day you came to Metropolis. And another thing..."


"If someone were to recognize you, you could become a target for every madman in this country. You should wear some kind of disguise, something that allows you to keep your identity a secret."

Clark gave him a cheeky grin. "You mean, something la Warrior Angel?"

Lex scowled. "I'm serious, Clark. And no, I mean like Batman in Gotham. Well?"

Clark sighed. "Fine, I'll think about it. But I'm having a hard time imagining myself in spandex."

Lex leered. "I'm not. In fact, I think I could very well develop a spandex fetish."

Clark chuckled. "Kinky."

"You know what I feel like doing now?" Lex asked suddenly, feeling energized himself.

"What?" Clark's voice sounded decisively suspicious.

"Shopping. Come on."

During the rest of the afternoon Lex basically dragged Clark, Hope and Mercy to every store he had ever been in, buying them all new clothes and the necessary accessories. After all, the two women were now working for him and had to look the part. And as for Clark... Not that Lex would ever admit it aloud, but he got to sneak a peek inside the dressing room whenever Clark tried something on. It didn't get much better than that.

They had just arrived at the penthouse to unload all the shopping bags and were arguing over where to go for dinner when Lex's cellular rang, forestalling any further discussion. Knowing he shouldn't be listening in, but guessing from Lex's grim expression that it had to be something serious, Clark took full advantage of super-hearing to eavesdrop on the phone call.

"Luthor," Lex snapped as he answered.

"It's Fisher. Your father's in some serious trouble."

Lex moved away to stand by the window. "Talk to me."

"He visited both Davis and Wilson this afternoon. Word on the street is that he not only returned the money he'd borrowed, with interest, but also offered them stocks from LuthorCorp; sounds like he was thinking along the same lines as you. That seems to have settled things on that end. However, he went to see Gureli about an hour ago. When he didn't come out again I went in, as your spokesman, so to speak."


"Gureli basically told me where you could stick your money and stocks and threw me out. He says your father offered him the same deal, but that's not what he wants. Apparently, your father had promised him almost fifty percent of the stocks in one of the construction companies, which would've made him the major shareholder, and he isn't about to settle for five percent of LuthorCorp. Lex, this guy is a fucking psycho. Even the cops are afraid to meddle too much into his affairs. The way he probably sees it, your father didn't deliver the right merchandise, and if he doesn't make an example out of Lionel, he'll lose face. You better hurry up and bring some serious backup, or your father's dead, man."

Clark watched worriedly as Lex ran a hand over his head, his face anguished. "Where are they?"

"In the skid row district; 103 Anderson Street. I'll be waiting for you."

Lex ended the call and Clark walked over to him. "Want us to go?"

Lex gazed up at him. "You heard?"

"Yeah," Clark replied, refusing to feel ashamed. "It's up to you, Lex. I'll stand by you no matter what you decide."

The look Lex gave him made Clark want to go out and gut someone, preferably Lionel, for putting them all in this situation in the first place. It also spoke of the turmoil within Lex's heart.

"I can't let him die, Clark," Lex whispered dejectedly. "No matter how much he deserves it."

Clark nodded, hands framing Lex's face and kissing him lightly, a caress meant to soothe, not arouse. "Then we won't. We'll go out instead and kick some butt."

"You'd do that?" Lex asked, sounding surprised.

"For you, yes. And..." Clark sighed, recognizing the truth in Lex's decision. "I guess you're right, we can't just let him die."

Lex's stare burned into his for a moment, as if judging his sincerity, then a slight smile grazed his face. Blue-gray eyes turned to Mercy and Hope, determination and fierceness exuding from his very posture.

"Go down to the garage and search for a dark green SUV," Lex ordered. "You'll find the keys in a small cupboard on the wall. Start it up and wait for us. Do you have any weapons on you?"

Hope nodded. "Yes, we're covered. But we're pretty deadly ourselves," she added with a grin. "What's up?"

"We're about to embark on a rescue mission, I'll explain on the way." Once the two women were gone, Lex turned to Clark. "I assume you won't be needing any weapons?" he drawled sarcastically.

Clark shook his head, watching silently as Lex opened his safe, taking out a gun. "Lex -"

"For protection only," Lex promised, obviously understanding what Clark had been about to say. "I'll let you and those two handle anything more... strenuous. But I'm not about to run for cover at the first hint of violence, Clark. I can handle myself, I've been doing it practically since the cradle."

Clark couldn't help fidgeting under the glare aimed his way. "I know, I'm sorry. It's just..."

When he hesitated, Lex finished it for him, "It's in your nature to protect. I may not like it, but I understand, Clark. Now, come on. We're wasting time."

"Huh, Lex, shouldn't we call the police, or something?" Clark asked as they took the elevator to the garage.

"Can't risk it. Gureli's one of the most powerful crime lords in Metropolis; he probably has the cops eating out of his hand. Besides, I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to kill my father at the first hint of sirens."

Neither mentioned the fact that it was quite possible that Lionel Luthor was already dead.

Fisher was a man in his forties, tall and lithe of frame, and surprisingly affable. Clark stuck to Lex like glue from the moment the other man got out of the truck to meet with his informant, knowing that Lex would probably give him hell later for his hovering, but unable to help himself.

"Fisher," Lex said, shaking hands with the man. "You did good. I'll make sure there's a bonus in with this month's pay for you and your men."

Fisher grinned. "Always a pleasure doing business with you, Lex." His expression turned serious. "They're still inside. Your father, Gureli and three of his henchmen. You know this isn't Gureli's headquarters, right? He only agreed to meet with your father here. Perfect place for it too; in this neighborhood no one will so much as bat a lash at the sound of gunfire or some such, especially at night."

Clark glanced around, looking for the number 103. Finding the building in question, he frowned. He could see how the place wouldn't be Gureli's hideout; they would be lucky if the whole structure didn't fall on them. It was a two-story house, completely rundown and falling apart, graffiti decorating the facade.

Using his x-ray vision, Clark began to scan the upper level, finding it deserted. He came upon what - or rather who - he was looking for in a division at the back of the house. The sight of Lionel lying motionless on the floor, heartbeat weak, had him whirling around to face Fisher.

"Call an ambulance!" he shouted, already rushing to the building.

He heard Lex confirm his demand and tell Fisher to leave, before he ran up to join Clark, Mercy and Hope right behind them. Clark didn't waste any time explaining; he knew Lex would understand by his urgency that there was something wrong.

Knowing that no one was paying any attention to them, and that both Mercy and Hope already knew too much about him as it was, Clark knocked the front door down with a simple nudge of his hand. The four stepped into the main hall, only to be greeted by the sight of one of Gureli's goons advancing menacingly towards them, no doubt alerted to their presence by their noisy entrance.

"Allow me," Mercy drawled.

Almost faster than even Clark could see, she had pulled the oaf to her by his shirt, kneed him in the groin, and punched him so hard that the man was thrown against a wall, slumping unconscious to the dusty floor. With a brief nod to her, Clark kept going, knowing the others would follow.

When they emerged into the back room, Clark had no problem knowing which of the strange faces belonged to Gureli. A middle-aged man in a business suit, the criminal was leaning against the furthest wall, arms crossed, looking at them from cold, disregardful eyes.

His two remaining thugs were standing by Lionel's prone body, guns aimed at the newcomers. As for Lionel himself, Clark could see the blood still dripping from his forehead, the split lip, the broken nose, the swollen eyes. One leg was bent at an unnatural angle, and x-ray vision found signs of a serious concussion, two fractures in the left arm and several broken and cracked ribs. He had taken one hell of a beating.

He tried to feel some pity or sympathy in himself for the other man, but couldn't muster any. Not after everything Lionel had put him and Lex through. And the truth was that Lionel had brought this upon himself.

Before either he or Lex could say a word, though, Hope smiled seductively, hips swaying gently as she approached the armed men. Dismissing them for a moment, she crouched down and touched her fingers to Lionel's neck, searching for a pulse.

"He's alive, but his heartbeat's pretty faint," she told Lex, before straightening. "You're not really going to use that big, nasty gun on little ole me, are you?" she purred at the man closest to her.

Clark began to feel distinctly like a third wheel as Hope's hand shoot out, hitting the man on the wrist and forcing him to let go of the gun. He watched, enthralled, as she leapt up and spun in the air, her shoe connecting with the man's chin, and snapping his head to the side with a splutter of blood. She landed perfectly on her feet, barely out of breath, eyes shining with adrenaline.

Clark winced as he realized the man had a broken jaw, then shrugged; hazards of the trade. He focused his attention on the last goon, seeing him hesitate.

"Boss?" the man called out, clearly asking for instructions.

"Kill them," Gureli ordered calmly.

Again Mercy was faster; a dagger flew out of her hand as if by magic, plunging into the gorilla's shoulder. The man cried out, his gun clattering to the floor as he reached for his wound, removed the blade and tried to staunch the flow of blood. Mercy kicked the weapon away and turned to Lex.

"Your move."

Lex gave her a curt nod, steel eyes locking with Gureli's. "Well, Gureli? The ball's in your court. What's it going to be?"

"What do you want?" Gureli asked in return, still looking unruffled.

"I want you to let us go, to forget you ever heard the name Luthor," Lex said. "You already set an example for the other poor suckers who owe you money." He gestured to his father's broken body.

Gureli shook his head. "Not good enough. Your father reneged on our deal and that just won't do. I have no choice but to allow you to leave, but sooner or later, I will see that he pays for screwing with me."

Clark figured it was finally his turn. He sauntered over to the man, a wide grin on his face, and without giving him a chance to step away, closed a hand around Gureli's throat, lifting up him up effortlessly, feet dangling off the floor.

"Seems to me," he whispered, "that you're being quite unreasonable, Mr. Gureli. You see, I could kill you right here, right now, and this would all be over. It's a testament to Mr. Luthor's kind nature that he hasn't asked me to." He squeezed harder, and Gureli's eyes bulged, his hands frantically trying to dislodge Clark's. "Now, I think it would be in your best interests to go along with Mr. Luthor's wishes, don't you? What do you say?"

He loosened his grip and Gureli crumbled to the floor, gasping desperately for air, hands massaging his bruised throat. "You... son of a bitch," he croaked. "I could have you killed for this."

"But you won't. I'm not that easy to kill, Mr. Gureli. And if your thugs were to miss... Let's just say you wouldn't live another day. You really want to take that chance?" Clark's hearing picked up the sirens from the ambulance and knew it had to be close. "Forget about the Luthors, if you know what's good for you. Or you will find me in your bedroom one night waiting for you. If that's all, I suggest you wake your men up and get out of here."

Gureli shot him a look of pure hatred, but Clark could also see the fear lurking in his eyes and knew the man would stay away from them, at least for a while. And if he knew Lex, Gureli's every move would be carefully monitored from now on. If the racketeer tried anything, they would have enough warning.

It took Gureli some time to get his three men into any shape to stand, let alone walk out of the house, but they left through the back door just as the paramedics stumbled through the front. Five minutes later Lex was riding in the ambulance with his father, while Clark and the two women followed in the truck.

They spent most of the night at the hospital, waiting for news on Lionel's condition. They were allowed to stay in the doctor's office, as Lex would have attracted too much unwanted attention in the waiting room.

Hope and Mercy alternated between watching over them and providing coffee and sandwiches, while Clark paced worriedly, eyes barely straying from Lex's still form. The other man hadn't spoken a word since arriving at the hospital. He merely stood by the window, gaze lost outside, thoughts turned inward. And it was driving Clark crazy, because no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get Lex to open up to him.

He was about ready to go over to the other man and shake him until his teeth fell out, just to get some kind of reaction, when Lex finally sighed.

"Clark," he called out softly.

Clark didn't waste any time joining him by the window. "Yeah?"

"You said there were no side effects, that there wasn't anything wrong with you."

Clark frowned at the apparent non sequitur. "That's because there isn't. I'm fine."

Lex finally looked at him, eyes weary. "The way you handled Gureli... I've never seen you act like that before."

"Ah." Clark nodded in understanding. "And you think it's the red kryptonite you used in the antidote." He sat on the windowsill, facing Lex. "It wasn't the kryptonite, Lex. And it wasn't the first time I did something like that either."

Lex cocked his head. "Oh?"

Clark exhaled slowly. "Back in Smallville, when I got to fight all those mutants, I always felt sort of ashamed and guilty because a part of me liked it, got off on the adrenaline rush. One day I finally figured it out, why I felt the way I did. My parents - my Dad especially - worried almost to the point of paranoia about someone finding out about me. So I never got to play with the other kids when I was little, I could only use my abilities around the farm where it was safe, I couldn't play any sports or do anything that would get people to notice me. It was like spending your life in a straitjacket, unable to make a move."

"Must have been difficult," Lex murmured, his expression sympathetic.

"It was. I understood why they didn't let me do all that stuff, but it still hurt. Even when I finally got to make friends, I still had to hide what and who I was; I could never be me, not really. But when I fought those mutants, I didn't have to hide my powers, I could just let go; I didn't have to hold back. And it felt great."

"Not many mutants, here in Metropolis," Lex commented wryly.

Clark chuckled. "No, not many. But I'd faced my share of humans in Smallville as well; bad guys are everywhere. Fighting humans meant having to do some adjusting, but I still got to use my powers and help those in need and it's been enough. We all have darkness inside, Lex. Knowing it's there and when it's safe to let it come out to play is something I've learned to do very well in the last years. I dealt with Gureli the only way he'd understand. He might've been impressed with Hope and Mercy, but asking him to forget about us wouldn't have been enough. So I made him fear us, me. It won't keep him down for long, but it'll get him off our backs for a while. I'd have Fisher watching him, though."

Lex nodded. "I agree. We made a powerful enemy tonight."

"How are you doing?" Clark asked gently, changing the subject.

Lex gave him a lopsided grin. "This might sound heartless, but my main worry was for you. I was afraid the antidote had done something to you. My father..." He shrugged faintly. "I always knew something like this would eventually happen, I have been waiting for it for a long time. He's too reckless, never measures his actions until it's too late."

Clark's next words were cut off as the door to the office opened and a man in a white coat walked in, a file in his hand.

"Good evening. I'm Doctor Rothery. I'm sorry to keep you all waiting for so long, but your father's examination took longer than expected." He shook hands with everyone, then sat behind his desk. "Please, Mr. Luthor, won't you sit down?" he offered, gesturing towards the chair in front of him.

"What can you tell me, doctor?" Lex asked as he sat.

"I won't lie to you, Mr. Luthor, your father's condition is extremely serious. His nose is broken, as is his right leg, and left arm. Several ribs are fractured or cracked, and he has numerous lacerations all over his body and face. However, those will all heal in time." The doctor leaned forward. "Our main concern is the traumatic brain injury. He suffered a severe blow to the skull, resulting in what we call a cerebral contusion. The tests we performed so far show multiple bruises in the brain. These bruises are called hemorrhagic contusions and considering their size, location and number, there's no doubt in my mind that there will be repercussions."

"What's the worst case scenario?"

"Short term amnesia for starters. Your father most likely won't recall from a few hours to several days prior to the attack. There's also a possibility of brain damage, personality disorder, speech difficulties, reading and writing problems, or weakness of the arms and legs. All would require months or even years of treatment." Rothery shrugged. "Then again, and considering all we don't know about the brain, his recovery may be spontaneous and complete." He gave Lex a sympathetic smile. "He's in a coma right now, Mr. Luthor. He may wake up within the next ten minutes, or it might take weeks, months or years."

"Can I see him?" Lex asked calmly.

The doctor nodded. "He's in ICU at the moment. I can give you five minutes alone with him, but no more. My advice is for you to go home; there's nothing you can do for him now. We have your contact number and will let you know if there's any change in his condition." He rose from his chair. "Come with me, I will take you to see him. Your friends can wait here."

Clark touched Lex's shoulder lightly in support, knowing that in spite of his bold words, Lex had to be heartbroken over his father's ailment. Lex gave him a slight smile, then left with the doctor, leaving Clark and the two women to wait some more.

Clark sighed in relief as he felt the pounding spray of water washing away the last of the night's frustrations, his body finally beginning to relax. He turned his face into the spray, letting the droplets massage his temples gently, then bowed his head so that the water could cascade over his shoulders. There was nothing quite as soothing as a hot shower to relieve tension and erase all traces of the hospital scent clinging to his every cell.

The soft sound of the bathroom door opening had him looking up. Lex was staring at him through the glass, hands in his pockets, eyes so intense that Clark was certain the other man was seeing into his very heart.

Clark slid the door open. "Lex?"

"I need you," Lex said, voice even and collected.

But Clark thought he understood; Lex needed some human touch, needed to connect with someone, to feel loved.

"Join me?" Clark half-asked, unable to help flushing slightly.

He watched rapaciously as Lex slowly took off his clothes - revealing all that smooth, milky skin that Clark had fantasized about so often - and joined him under the warm spray. Hands rested on his shoulders as Lex looked up at him.

"You ever been with a man before, Clark?" he asked, tone hushed.

Clark shook his head. "No. It would've felt like a betrayal to you, somehow." He shrugged, embarrassed. "Maybe my people mated for life or something."

It was obviously the right thing to say, for Lex's expression softened. He breathed softly across a nipple, and Clark gasped, shuddering as Lex's hands traveled down the expanse of his chest, fingers trailing over every muscle as if mapping unfamiliar territory.

Clark pressed his erection against the body driving him crazy with arousal and captured Lex's lips in a soul shattering kiss, feeling surprisingly strong arms surrounding him, one hand roughly grabbing hold of his hair, the other kneading his buttocks possessively, bringing their frames impossibly closer.

He whimpered into Lex's mouth as the other man rubbed sensually against him, before breaking the kiss. They locked gazes again, and Clark watched entranced as the warm water ran down his lover's face, highlighting the long damp lashes, fierce blue irises more enticing than ever.

Clark bit his lip as Lex slid wantonly down his body, leaving a trail of light kisses down his throat, stopping to nibble and lick an earlobe, running his tongue teasingly over Clark's nipples until they stood firm. He kissed, nipped and nibbled every bit of flesh within reach, leaving Clark trembling with need, unable to do more than moan and beg for mercy.

"Oh, please, Lex, more, please..."

Once Lex was on his knees, the insides of Clark's thighs were kissed hungrily, while hands massaged his ass gently. Leaning his upper body against the shower wall for support, Clark allowed his hands to caress his lover's scalp, guiding talented lips to where they were most needed.

Lex chuckled and looked up at him. "Impatient, are we?"

But he obviously relented, rubbing his cheek lightly across the weeping cock, and Clark moaned at the unusual sensation. His head arched back as he writhed under his lover's expert touch, the feeling nearly overwhelming him. His erection was engulfed by a warm, moist mouth, and Clark drew in a deep ragged breath. He resisted the impulse to claw at the shower wall as his balls were massaged, Lex alternating between sucking and licking on his hard shaft, keeping him guessing as to what he would do next.

Clark closed his eyes as Lex's hands moved to his butt once more, a finger skimming between his clenched cheeks to tease the tight ring of muscle. Water helped the penetration as Lex pushed the digit into his opening, followed by a second finger, and of its own volition Clark was moving back onto the digits and into Lex's mouth in a steady rhythm.

His thrusts increasing in speed, Clark knew it wouldn't be long before he lost all control. When Lex deep-throated him suddenly, the contractions of his lover's throat had him groaning loudly, even as one of Lex's fingers touched something inside. It was all it took; Clark came explosively, his whole body convulsing, emptying himself down his lover's throat, shouting Lex's name.

Lex held him safely against the wall, licking his now softening cock in catlike fashion, giving it a last tender kiss before finally moving away.

"Wow," Clark whispered, sliding down the wall to sit with Lex.

Lex kissed him lightly, grinning smugly. "Good, was it?"

Clark chuckled. "Any better and I'd be dead!" Then, seeing Lex's grim face, he cringed. "Sorry, I didn't mean it like that." He touched Lex's cheek lovingly, a way of apologizing that he knew Lex would understand. "Come on, mastermind," he quipped. "Let's get out of here. The water's getting cold."

They stood up, stepped out of the cooling water and grabbed a towel each. Clark couldn't help noticing that his lover was still hard.

"What about you?" he asked almost bashfully.

"Want to help me take care of it?" Lex asked with a leer.

Clark laughed. "Duh, Lex, duh."

"Good. Come with me."

Lex dragged him to his king-size bed, both lying down slowly on the covers. They smiled at each other, Clark seeing his feelings mirrored back at him in Lex's eyes. The older man crawled on top of him, straddling him and lacing their fingers together. He pinned Clark's hands above his head.

"Don't move," Lex ordered.

Clark closed his hands around the headboard's steel bars, eyes falling shut as he felt Lex's mouth at the junction of his throat and shoulder. His flesh was nipped and suckled gently, and for a moment he regretted his invulnerability. Lex would never leave a mark on his body; he would never know what it felt like to wake up with a love bite.

"It's okay," Lex whispered, and Clark looked up at him, seeing understanding in his gaze. "You're still mine, Clark Kent. Nothing will change that."

Lex's hands began caressing his body faintly, finding all his sensitive spots easily, using fingers, tongue and lips to torture him with pleasure, until Clark was moaning and trembling beneath him.

"Please, Lex..." Clark breathed, nearly out of his mind with arousal. He watched his lover reach over to grab the lube from the nightstand. "You don't really need that. You can't hurt me."

Lex smiled. "I know. But I want to, Clark. Foreplay is half the fun."

Clark nodded, and stood still as Lex popped open the top of the lube and poured some of it onto his fingers. Spreading his legs, he let Lex settle between them, lubed digits touching the entrance to his body. He was prepared for penetration gently, writhing and moaning at the sensations coursing through him, hooded eyes locking with his aroused lover.

The sight of Lex so obviously on edge was a powerful turn on. He was moaning weakly as he stretched Clark, sweat covered skin flushed pink, eyes unguarded, lips swollen and ripe from their kisses. This was the Lex Luthor that no one else was allowed to see, holding nothing back, no defenses, no shields, and no reserve. He was giving everything he was to Clark, and Clark vowed never to betray that trust.

Wanting to taste his lover's sweet lips, Clark lifted his head and claimed the alluring mouth in a hungry kiss, tasting the moist haven, stealing Lex's breath away and replacing it with his own. Parting reluctantly from the pliant mouth, he licked Lex's lips one more time, hips bucking into the fingers thrusting into his opening.

Little whimpers escaped Clark as he looked directly at his lover, undulating sensually, teasing Lex, arousing him further, provoking him to the point of madness.

"Go on," he groaned, arching off of the bed, petitioning for more with his body. "Lex..."

"Fuck," Lex hissed in a breath. "If you keep that up I won't last five seconds."

Clark moaned in protest as the fingers left his body, waiting impatiently as Lex grabbed the lube again, emptying more into his palm and coating his hard cock thoroughly. He sighed contentedly when he felt Lex's shaft nudge his anus, and then they were moving together, Clark impaling himself slowly until he took all of his lover's cock inside himself, causing Lex to moan softly.

They remained still for a moment, just enjoying the intimate embrace, savoring the feeling of being joined. Then Lex began to thrust his hips slowly, Clark meeting him stroke for stroke, both groaning as their bodies moved as one in an ancient dance. Clark cried out as one of Lex's hands began to pump his renewed erection, stroking it time with their movements.

Soon it wasn't enough and their thrusts grew harder, faster, until finally Clark's body stiffened, and he came a second time, muscles straining, his come covering Lex's hand and both their stomachs as it spurted freely from his shaft. Two more powerful thrusts, and Lex was orgasming as well, body arching with a deep whimper he released his seed inside Clark, before collapsing feebly on top of him.

Time passed drowsily as they lay entwined, nuzzling and touching constantly, and Clark felt as close to complete and utter happiness as he had ever been in his whole life.

As if reading his thoughts, Lex whispered in his ear, "We're going to be okay."

And Clark smiled then, lips brushing over Lex's smooth head. "Yeah, we are," he confirmed.


Six months later

Lex walked in the padded cell, to the sight of his father huddled in a corner, looking frail and lost. Even after three months of weekly visits to the sanitarium, seeing the older man like this still made something inside of him hurt. The man before him - barefoot, dressed in immaculate hospital clothes and a straitjacket - was a far cry from what Lex had grown used to seeing all of his life.

The Lionel Luthor he had both loved and hated had been an impressive man, powerful, fearless, seemingly taller than most men. Logically, Lex knew that most of it had been smoke and mirrors, just his father projecting what he wanted other people to perceive. It didn't make the difference less shocking.

Shocking, yet revealing.

The past months had disclosed a truth that Lex had refused to acknowledge for far too long; that his father was just like everyone else on the planet. Not perfect, not all powerful. Just a man. A flawed, heartless, petty man at that.

"And the truth shall set you free," Lex muttered wryly to himself, sitting cross-legged in front of his father.

He no longer needed his father's love or approval, something he had sought for most of his life. Some part of him would always regret the way things were between them, but he no longer blamed himself for any of it. More importantly, now he had the family he had always secretly wished for.

Clark had moved in with him and, after much cajoling, arguing, and pouting on their son's part, Martha and Jonathan Kent had had no choice but to accept their relationship. Thinking about Jonathan's constantly sour disposition at their monthly dinners still made Lex smirk gleefully. He delighted in giving the other man hell, something he knew was childish, but was unable to control.

As far as he was concerned, it was payback for years of veiled - and not so veiled - insults, not to mention the holier-than-thou attitude that Jonathan had always carried around when Lex was within range. The fact that Clark just sat by with his mother, looking at them in silent amusement, only made it better.

Thinking about his lover made Lex smile. Clark was becoming quite the reporter for the Daily Planet, even if he had to be partners with that she-devil, Lois Lane. And of course, now there was Superman in their lives as well, something Lex still wasn't quite sure how to handle. Yes, it had been his idea, but it was still frightening to have Clark out there, exposing his true self for all the world to see.

Putting such thoughts aside, Lex focused his attention back on his father. "I wish you could be happy for me," he whispered. "But if you weren't in here, you'd probably be trying to make us miserable with your scheming." He shook his head with a self-derogatory smile. "Maybe I should regret that you suffered brain damage from that blow to the head, but the truth is I'm not sorry. I'm free from your domination, free to be myself instead of a younger version of Lionel Luthor. Never again, Dad. Never again."

Rising from the floor, he gave his father one last sorrowful look, then left the cell, joining Mercy and Hope in the corridor. It was time to go home and leave the Belle Reve Sanitarium and all its unpleasant memories behind. He had better things to look forward to, like dinner at the Kents tonight.