by C.M. Decarnin
He was on the way home from his project when he heard the shots.
They said you never hear the one that gets you but he heard them both and felt the impact and was on his knees. He felt the meteor sickness, and then the hard smack of the road against his face.
After a time he heard an approaching truck along the blacktop. He couldn't move out of the road. The truck drove up and stopped. By that time he was in so much pain he only wanted to scream, but he couldn't get any breath. I can't die, he thought. I can't.
They cut Lex out of the line returning from the exercise yard and told him he was being sent to the Warden's office. It would be only the second or third time he had laid eyes on the man in all the weeks he had been here. It couldn't be about his case, that news would come through his lawyers. Maybe they wanted him to drop his charges against the inmates who had assaulted him. That couldn't look good for the prison. Lex felt his face set immovably. He might not have any of the power he was used to, but this one power of the law would still be his.
His appeal would probably not be heard for another year.
If the decision wasn't reversed he was going to be here for essentially the rest of his life. He had worked out several careful means of suicide, to give himself at least the sense of choice.
He had refused to P.C. Protective custody basically meant solitary confinement and he really didn't think he could endure the extra loneliness.
Besides, getting himself killed by another inmate was number five on his list of suicide options. Closing off options was not part of his strategy.
He wondered how you could tell for sure if you were losing your mind.
They wouldn't let him write to Clark.
He tried not to write the letters in his head.
He dreamed of him about once a week.
No one else visited.
In the strangest dream Clark moved into his cell and busily went about setting up housekeeping. "As long as we both shall live, Lex," Clark had reminded him in some surprise when he asked how this could happen. "No one can interfere with that." Lex had remembered how, in court, they had been wed, their names forever joined in public record, on an official valentine. They would be together all his life, even if it was in a jail cell. Never had Lex felt such happiness.
Pain hadn't been something Clark had known much of, and he still always had a hard time thinking of it as real, a thing to be avoided. The longest stretch of illness he had known was that time staked out in the cornfield, weak and hurting deep around his heart from the tiny stone hanging over it.
Lex had come and rescued him. The pain had gone.
This was different.
The pain coruscated in him. His fingers, his insteps, the hinges of his jaw and along under his teeth, everything hurt as much as the wounds where bullets had entered him and surgeons had gone in probing for the scattered pieces. Internal organs he had never felt before were now outlined in pain. The weakness such that he could hardly move. It had only been a day, they told him. In and out of consciousness at first, realizing something terrible had happened to him, his parents would never bring him to a hospital. But there they were, when his eyes would flutter open, his Mom or his Dad, anxious, before he sank away again. Finally the consciousness that lingered, and gave him time enough to understand.
To see despair in his father's red-rimmed eyes. To notice a conference outside his door, where he couldn't hear it. Partly, just to feel what his body told him.
His parents were letting doctors and nurses see how different he was. They must have had no choice.
And then he caught sight of his hand against the sheet.
The skin was green.
Not bright, or glowing. But a dull, wan color. Like something gone really bad in the back of the fridge.
They had him lying on his side because he kept vomiting and drooling. The nasogastric tube had kept gagging him, to the point that they had taken it out. He looked up from his hand to his mother sitting by his bed. She tried to smile at him. The failure of that smile finished telling him. "Mom?" It was so hard to make a word come out right.
"I'm here, Clark." She took his hand, but let it go quickly when he flinched from pain.
"Mom?" He pushed his voice, and tried to sort the words. "Will I die?"
Her face stayed smooth, but he could see the anguish.
"I have to know," he whispered. "Important. Important."
She started to reach again for his hand, but stopped herself. "You were shot, Clark. The bullets had meteor rock in them. They -- it's like lead poisoning, they think. Dust and molecular meteor material have spread all through your system."
Explaining simply and clearly; so much his Mom. He had been so lucky, all his life, to have them, everything so successfully moving him through the last of his tricky childhood, until he had done the one thing they most would not want him to do, with the one person they'd most wanted him to leave alone. And ruined everything.
"Mom. I need to talk to someone... legal. Now. Please. Please."
"What do you mean, Clark? What -- what kind of person?"
"Please." He could see his mother's fingers closing into fists, to keep her from embracing him. "I need to make a... confession. A deposition." It was what they called what he had done to Lex. "Please." His voice came out an awkward whimper. But it got his Mom to pick up the room phone.
"Mr. Luthor." The Warden stood up when he walked in. Okay something not right here.
He was an almost military-looking man, giving an impression of being watchfully impervious to sentiment. "Please sit down." He gestured to the chair and when Lex took it, sat down again himself. "Mr. Luthor, please prepare yourself for some good news." He paused as if really expecting Lex to fasten some mental seatbelt. Could the higher court have agreed to hear his appeal so soon? His lawyers had said it was impossible, but his father's money -- "The witness in your case recanted. He has admitted that he lied, that you were completely innocent of any -- impropriety. A judge has declared that you are to be released immediately." He kept talking and Lex didn't hear a single word.
He was glad the man had made him sit down. The horrible thought occurred to him that he was dreaming. He had had at least a dozen dreams of getting out. Waking from them almost crushed him. This one didn't make much sense. He interrupted a flow of words like "regrettable" and "apology", keeping his game face on with effort.
"I'm curious as to why they would take his word for this now. Given they implicitly believed his other story...?"
"They might not have, in the ordinary course of things. Not without much more investigation. But the court tends to view certain circumstances as lending great weight..." He looked at Lex searchingly. "Mr. Luthor, I'm sorry to have to say, the Kent boy's statement is a deathbed confession."
Lex could feel the Warden's eyes looking for his reaction, but it was no challenge to sit without a sign. He didn't think he could have moved if he had tried.
"It seems to have been a hunting accident. He was found shot by a long-range rifle."
Hunting season for what, Lex thought. He had lived in the country long enough to know some varmints were thought of as fair game at any time. But you didn't hunt them at long range.
He should go.
But his body wouldn't move. The Warden was handing an envelope across the desk. Alarmingly, Lex couldn't lift his arm...
"The family has made an urgent request that you receive this at your release. A car is waiting at the gate." When Lex still didn't move, he asked hesitantly, "Would you like me to open it?" And Lex realized that something must be showing in his face after all, but what it could be he didn't know. Because he didn't feel a thing. Like the time someone shouldering a two-by-six had turned too fast, at a construction site, and the next thing he knew he was on the ground, still conscious but his mind a complete blank, like blue sky he was looking up at. Before the pain hit.
"No!" he said convulsively. And then, "No. I --" And because it was easier than talking, raised an arm and took the envelope. He stood up jerkily. "I need to go."
The Warden stood up too. He said things.
Lex walked woodenly.
No. He wasn't going to think or feel this here.
The Warden walked him all the way through the out-processing. Dimly, Lex recalled that Lionel was very rich. It seemed eternity before the man would let him be. At last Lex slid into the back seat of the car, after something unintelligible the driver said. It wasn't a stretch limo, just an ordinary one. Maybe his father didn't want to draw attention...
He opened the envelope, lifting and easing at the flap instead of tearing, as if what was inside could have been injured.
Two sheets of paper.
The top one handwritten.
Please when you get this come to Smallville Medical Center right away. There may not be much time.
The words there were uneven, and traced back over to make them legible. Lex raced through the rest:
Clark says he must talk to you, he has something to tell you that he says you have to act upon at once, today if possible, before the news of your release is widely known. He will only tell you, not us.
Please, Lex, I know you may not want to come but he says it is vital to your case. Also it may be his final wish. We have sent a car and hired a plane to bring you here. We all beg you to come.
Lex read the note over and over. There were places where he kept losing the thread.
Suddenly he knew. At least -- it would only be prudent --
He used the back seat car phone and issued orders.
He sat back in the seat and read the note again. It finally occurred to him to read the second sheet.
His heart squeezed when he saw it.
It was only four words, big weak letters painfully inscribed.
Lex gasped for breath, and realized he had been holding it against something terrible that seemed to attack from within and without at the same time, twisting his face and his insides, bending him.
When he opened his eyes again she was still there. As he pulled memories back together slowly, he looked over at her, wide-eyed.
"They're coming, Clark. I called our lawyer. He's taking care of it."
He relaxed a little. Long slivers of pain shot up the bones of his legs, shaking his whole body. "Mom!" He couldn't keep from crying out, then tried to bite his lips together.
"Oh Clark," his mother whispered. "Oh sweetheart."
He knew how terrible it was to see someone in pain. To watch them die. One more torture his existence would end up bringing them. The only thing he could do right, he might not have the time left to complete.
"Mom." He wished his Dad was there too, he should tell him. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Tears overflowed out of his eyes and down into his pillow.
"Honey." She came so close, but didn't dare to touch him.
"You and Dad... you worked so hard... and I ruined your life." Everyone's life.
"Oh Clark no." He could feel the warmth from his mother's skin, she was so close. "Darling you are the light of our lives. You have always given us so much happiness, don't you know that? Don't you know how much we love and treasure you? We wanted a child, but we got so much more than just any child, we got you. The sweetest, most loving and wonderful child either of us had ever seen."
Maybe his existence hadn't been the complete waste it seemed to him. He knew they loved him, but it hadn't ever occurred to him that he made his parents... happy.
He certainly hadn't made them happy lately. The only way he could see out of the mess was this, to leave them all to heal, maybe forget -- More tears welled slowly out, unstoppable. But his death would never fix the horrible days he had put them through, the horrible things they still had to face because of him, the pain of searing scandal that would never let them be the same again in others' eyes.
"Clark." His mother leaning closer still. "Please, don't ever doubt that you are a gift and a blessing to your father and me beyond anything we could have ever wished for. I didn't even know how to imagine the kind of happiness you brought into my life. Even now, I'm afraid I can't express it so you'll understand."
Her words were comforting, replacing some of the self-loathing that weighed like a pool of heavy poison around his heart. If he could believe that he had given them something back, to make up for part of the disaster he had brought on them... Oh god, everything hurt, but it would have been nothing if not for the torment of what he had done, to them, to Lex, to everyone. They had to know... most of the truth.
"Mom... Detective Phelan said he was going to put me in jail. I knew they would... find out... about me... if I went to prison... so I had to testify."
"Why didn't you tell us, Clark?"
The waves of self-hatred rose as blood hot to his cheeks. Tell them? What he had done with Lex? What he had been going to do to Lex, to protect them?
"I was... afraid." The future mattered now, not this. "Mom... I have to get Lex out of jail."
She stared at him, silently.
He could see so much in her eyes. How she, moment by moment, realized and understood.
"I love him. He loves me."
He saw her lips set.
He whispered, "Mom, you don't know. Please. It's just a mess. I don't have... time." He meant the strength, and knew she heard it in his voice. "I can't explain... now. I think... it's like that happiness you were talking about. But... it isn't legal." He tried to smile, but he wasn't sure if it got through. "Please. Trust me." His eyes were closing despite himself. "Tell Dad." Don't let me die. Don't let me die...
The driver had called ahead and the plane was warmed up. Lex looked at it. Could this thing actually go faster than a car? It was a flying field, not even a "real" airport, and the little single-engine Beech -- if he had known, maybe he could have got a private jet -- but there'd be nowhere to land a jet in Smallville anyway.
The pilot stepped forward, and his eyes were curious, doubtful, and reserved -- a look Lex was getting used to. But he held out his hand. "Mr. Luthor. I'm Jerry Mullins. Jonathan Kent asked me to pick you up."
Lex controlled his expression. If Jonathan was fetching Luthors there really must be no hope left.
The plane was really loud. He didn't mind that it discouraged conversation, but when he used the plane's sat phone it made it hard to hear, in the intervals when the satellite connection functioned. Calling and getting what he wanted. Two things he knew how to do.
"Clark. Honey. They're here." Slowly Clark blinked awake. Into pain. The color green. Everything looked a little sickly. He had to orient to where he was. He saw a man in a suit -- the lawyer. And a court reporter. A policewoman. His Dad. His Mom. A video camera.
His body jerked as he remembered.
He had to hurry.
But speed wasn't a gift he still possessed.
He swore that what he was about to say would be the truth. At the lawyer's question, he said that he believed he was going to die. He shivered with pain. Everyone waited. It was up to him to find the words.
"I confess... that I lied... in my testimony... against Lex Luthor. I made it up." Clark hunched his shoulders convulsively and threw up into a bowl his mother quickly got in place. She wiped his mouth and he could tell from the shocked looks the others suddenly knew they were in the close presence of death. No one was used to seeing puke that color.
"I lied. Lex Luthor never... had sex with me. He never suggested it... or said anything about it. Lex is innocent. He didn't do anything at all."
He turned his eyes to try to see them all. The lawyer. "What else... should I say?"
The man said quietly, "Why did you do it, Clark?"
This one he hadn't been able to think clearly enough about, he knew. He didn't want attention on Detective Phelan, that was for sure. Phelan would get off scot free, but that was nothing compared to saving Lex. His only hope was that the detective would not find out -- until too late.
"I used to... think about him all the... time. I thought about... doing things... with him." Thank you, Mr. Lund.
The lawyer interrupted softly. "You mean sexual things?"
"Yes... I tried to... make it come true... but Lex wasn't interested... he said... no. He... had a girlfriend. I was... jealous. I couldn't... stop thinking about him. I thought... he belonged to me. I think I went... partly crazy. If I... couldn't have him... I didn't want... him to have anyone else. I wanted... everyone to think... he was my lover.
"It was like... someone had died. I was... acting out of... so much emotion.
"Now I can see... it was wrong. I have to... tell the truth." Not even now. Not even when I'm dying.
But please let it work... He didn't know if he could say any more. His throat hurt, his tongue felt stiff, and the hospital towel over his pillow was wet with the drool he couldn't keep from leaking out of the corner of his mouth. He was so tired...
The lawyer was leaning over him.
"Clark, we're going to have your statement typed and ask you to sign it. Then I'll take it to a judge. Do you have anything else you want to say?"
He got breath into his lungs, and managed to say, "Hurry."
"We will, Clark."
Don't let me die...
The room they took him to wasn't Clark's.
It was an office no one was using, they said. Inside, Jonathan Kent looked up and stared at him.
It was a look he'd never seen before.
It stopped him cold.
It was very, very seldom that he found himself tongue-tied. There was always an appropriate phrase.
What phrase exactly covered "I sodomized your child, he loved it, he's probably been murdered by associates of mine, what did you say his room number was again?"
Because it was crystal clear whatever Clark had recanted publicly, his father looked at Lex and saw a loathsome rapist. The one who had laid defiling hands upon his son.
Well, only one thing really mattered.
"Clark wants to see me?"
Thank god it came out humble and not arrogant.
Suddenly he saw the fuel behind the blazing eyes was grief, as much as rage. Of course. The man's voice started harshly, as if getting certain gears in motion. "I will give Clark anything he wants right now."
It couldn't have been a more complete statement of hatred.
"When did it happen?"
"About sixty hours ago."
Lex said, "I've sent for my personal physician. He's studied meteor-related conditions. He should be here within thirty minutes."
Kent looked as if it were irrelevant.
"He can bring experts --"
"There are no experts." Kent looked away. "Clark has a rare --" Then he stopped, as if it were pointless. "You can't touch him. It causes pain. You can't stay more than a few minutes. He gets exhausted." He gave Lex another leaden stare. When this was over, it said, Jonathan Kent's business with Lex Luthor would only be beginning. He started past Lex toward the door. "This way."
Lex stepped into the hospital room. Martha Kent looked up from beside Clark's bed, and rose.
She didn't speak to him, but her complex expression didn't have the malevolence of her husband's enmity. She stepped away, and Lex had no more attention for anything but Clark. He felt himself walking closer.
Clark was lying on his side. The arm and hand against the coverlet... it couldn't be... so thin, that color --
How could this have happened in two and half days...
Clark's face was thin and sunken as some famine victim's, but with smooth -- green -- skin. He smelled sharply of sweat. There was a PICC line in his arm, couldn't they keep him hydrated, couldn't they -- do something -- Someone -- He looked around wildly, but there was only the Kents.
"Why isn't he in the I.C.U.?"
Martha said, "He was, but he's stable and... there's nothing they can do."
Nothing they -- Lex turned away, to look back at Clark. There were stained cloths lying there, near his face...
He had to get his people here, find out what this was, how to --
Clark needed to tell him something. Something he thought was urgent.
Clark's eyes slowly opened. The beautiful jewel-green irises with flecks of brown and gold. His eyes looked enormous in his wasted face. They focussed on him, and then filled with joy. And suffering. "Lex!"
So strange to hear Clark's voice coming out of this unfamiliar face.
Clark looked toward where his parents stood. Jonathan said, "We'll be right outside, Clark." They left, and shut the door, and it was clearly one of the hardest things Jonathan Kent had ever forced himself to do. Leaving his helpless son alone with the Luthor spawn. Lex turned his eyes back to Clark ironically.
But Clark only had thought for more important things. "Lex. Phelan. Has a tape. Of us. A video. You have to stop him."
Good. His instincts hadn't failed him. "I already called and put a team on him. And some on a few other people just in case. If he picks anything up it will be taken from him. If he has a backup it will be found and disposed of."
Clark looked at him with that look of boundless love he remembered, and some of the tension in his pain-wracked body slipped away. "So... smart." A smile ghosting his lips. Then he looked down. "He hates you, Lex."
"Yes, we do have some history. Don't worry about it, Clark, it's taken care of." Clark looking at him suddenly so anxiously. "A little truth serum, the most effective way. Much as I'd like to fold, spindle and mutilate him, I know you wouldn't approve."
"Promise," Clark said strongly.
"I promise." More softly: "I promise you. Except for illegal search and seizure, the son of a bitch is safe from me."
Clark sighed and shut his eyes. "I don't want... you to go... back to jail."
"I'm with you there."
Clark's eyes opened again. Green saliva was drooling out the side of his mouth and Lex realized what the cloths were for. He picked one up and gently wiped Clark's chin clean. When he looked back up Clark's eyes were filled with tears.
God. Clark would rather die than cry in front of another guy. He didn't know how to look at him without showing the distress he felt for him, so he dropped his eyes. It probably showed anyway.
"Lex." He looked up again and Clark's gaze was so full of pain. "I'm so... sorry." Oh god, the tears were falling, running sideways down his cheek into the pillow. "They never let me... have a chance... to tell you."
Lex wanted to strain him to his heart, feel him once more in his arms, but it would hurt to touch him, Kent had said; the way Clark looked all the reminder Lex could need of that. "Tell me what happened," he murmurred.
"I'm from another planet," Clark said in a small voice. "I came with the meteors."
Lex sat completely still.
He felt his mouth opening. But not a word suggested itself.
Clark, looking at him, giggled weakly through the tears.
Everything came together like a 3-D puzzle of the world converging at super-speed into a whole.
The meteor-storm. The baby in the truck. Clark being adopted. His car hitting Clark. Clark where he couldn't be. Clark saving lives.
"Does Phelan know?" he burst out.
"No." Clark's fingers moved, as if he would make a soothing gesture. "No. He threatened... to have me put... in jail."
"If you didn't testify." Lex's mind raced. "They'd find out." He looked at Clark's tainted skin. "That you're... different."
"I thought they'd... take me away... I wouldn't... let you go to prison, Lex. But I think they'd... take my mother... and father. Maybe... hurt them... to control me."
The first alien being on the planet?
Clark and his parents would never have seen the light of day again.
Even if only for their own protection, their normal lives would all be over.
The tears were falling again, his poor thin body jerked with sobs. "I didn't know what to do." His face was crumpled up with pain.
"Shh, shh! Clark, Clark, it's all right. I understand, I do. Shh, Clark, don't cry --"
"I wasn't going to let you... stay in there. But I couldn't... find the tape." Lex could barely understand the words for the crying. "I went to... get you, but... I couldn't get through... all the... locks... and alarms."
"You were in the prison? How --"
"So I... started to make... a tunnel. But it... took a long... time. Reinforcing... and I had to... start it far... away." Clark stopped sobbing on a deep, hard breath. "Then I got... shot."
"You..." Lex was sitting stupefied. "You were digging a tunnel?"
Clark's weepy eyes were rimmed with dark green instead of red. It gave them an eerie, eye-linered appearance. "Yes."
Lex felt a smile starting deep inside.
"You were digging a tunnel... to break me out of jail?"
The smile was breaking through onto his face.
He saw Clark's eyes glimmer too.
Clark... angel... my cell was three floors up...
He didn't say it but it almost, sweetly, broke his heart. His sweetheart had been coming for him. Staging a jailbreak for Lex Luthor, one of the most high-profile young punks of his generation. It was too funny and heartbreaking for words.
"What did you plan to do with me?"
"I found... another storm cellar."
And Lex laughed out loud.
He saw Clark breathe in a deep breath, and breathe it out, as if letting go of something, and look back at Lex adoringly. "Now," he whispered contentedly, "it's okay."
Lex leaned closer. "Don't even think that, Clark. I'm not letting you." Desperate, he said, "You can't let go, Clark. I'm -- I'm forbidding it. You will hang on, and you will be there every time I want you."
The glimmer again in Clark's eyes. His lips visibly made an air-kiss, and Lex felt his own eyes stinging. Oh god. Oh Clark.
But he had work to do.
"I have to go, Clark. I have some people coming to try to help you."
Clark reached both hands weakly forward and cupped them over Lex's fingers on the bed. His eyes were imploring.
"I'll come back soon. You need to rest." He stood up, leaning over, and carefully kissed Clark's hair. Despite himself, Clark's eyes were closing, and his face slackened into something like peace.
The door opened. The Kents, bringing in his doctor from Metropolis. "Don't wake him," Lex warned in a low voice. "He's just dropped off."
Dr. Petersen took in Clark's appearance with obvious surprise. Despite the chart in his hands, the physical reality was clearly beyond anything he had expected. Lex led them all out into the hall. "We can call in some experts on heavy metal poisoning," the doctor said doubtfully, "but we'd need lab space, our own people..."
"Call them," Lex said. "Offer whatever you think will get them here tonight. If that doesn't work, double it, and keep doubling it until you get the people you need. There is no upper limit. Tell them it's a unique opportunity, but," he looked at the Kents, "highly confidential. I'll get you space to work, samples of meteor rock, whatever you need. Give me a list."
He had already arranged an office space in the hospital by sat phone, and the doctor set off to find it.
"Lex..." Martha Kent said hesitatingly. "The doctors here say there's nothing they can do."
"Mrs. Kent, I don't want to raise false hopes. But if there is anything that can be done in time --" He swallowed. "I have to try." He looked at them both, with sinking hope. "Anything you know..."
He saw them look at one another, and his hopes sank further. "Anything you can tell the doctors and technicians, when they get here." Deliberately leaving himself out of the loop.
Martha said, "We don't want another media frenzy. Clark had enough of that."
"Yes." Lex could imagine. "I..." He looked from Martha's anxious, anguished eyes to Jonathan Kent's stony stare. "I know about Clark. He told me everything. Just now. If I had known how vulnerable he is to exposure..." Well, could he honestly say he would have resisted Clark's transparent wiles? His eyes closed at the memories. "But any detail -- anything you've noticed in the past, or since the shooting. Anything. We can't know what might help."
"What exactly did Clark tell you?" Jonathan's voice was sharp and suspicious.
Evenly, Lex answered, looking around to make sure no one was in earshot, "He said he came here from another world, the day the meteors hit."
Jonathan's hand went up to cover his eyes.
"Mr. Kent... Clark believes he is dying and he wanted me to understand why he did... what he did. And he wanted my forgiveness."
Kent's hand whipped down and he was glaring at Lex with quickening breath. "Your forgiveness," he said flatly.
"Clark feels that he betrayed me. That he had to make a choice that tore him apart. He needed me to understand why he did it, now that he thinks that reason will no longer exist. But what if it does? Mr. Kent -- Mrs. Kent -- we need to be thinking about containment. If Clark survives, it can't be just to be snatched away into some secret research facility. I know this must be the hardest time you have ever had to face. But you are the ones with years of experience at this. I hope you'll be able to give some thought to this problem, while I work with the research team. I want to protect him but my priority right now has to be his survival."
Jonathan stared at him as if he were speaking Arabic. Martha stepped forward.
"If there's any hope..." But she couldn't go on.
Lex said strongly, "We can only act as though there is. I'll be back as often as I can. He wants me there and --" It was Lex's turn to be unable to finish a sentence. "I'll be back." He strode away in pursuit of Dr. Petersen.
By the end of the day they had commitments and a lab. People all over the country were buying red-eye tickets.
He said it as almost a whisper, so that if he were too deeply exhausted the boy would not wake up.
But Clark opened his eyes, slowly focussing, understanding. The stretch of his lips might have been a smile. "Lex."
Lex sat down in the chair by the bed and leaned his forearms on the edge of the mattress. "Hi."
There was uncertainty behind Clark's eyes. "Did I... tell you...?"
"You told me everything, angel. Clark, I just need you... to hang on." It was so hard to say. "We're working to find out how to help you."
"I should have told you. But I've always been alone." His eyes closed exhaustedly. "I didn't even think... that maybe together..."
It was the question he could never answer to himself. "Clark..." Lex looked at the damp cheeks and throat. They couldn't keep the moisture in him... "I know it wasn't for long, but... we were lovers... Why didn't you tell me?"
The dark eyelashes parted and showed a glint of green. But it was a long moment before Clark answered.
"I wanted to. Sometimes. But I didn't know... if..."
"If you could trust me? Clark, you trusted me with -- my god, everything, your body, your safety, your first sex -- you let me top you."
"I didn't know... if you could... if... if you would..."
A terrible thought dawned on Lex from the way Clark kept getting stuck on the words, the waver in his voice --
"Did you think I wouldn't love you?" His tone was incredulous.
Lex felt at a loss.
Clark looked up at him. "I was always... different. Always... hiding..."
Lex looked at him a long time. "That can make you feel like there's something wrong with you."
Clark let out a long sigh. He didn't try to speak, but it felt as if they had understood things that had long needed to be explained.
Lex bent his head and kissed Clark's knuckles softly. "I have to go. Hold on till I get back." He looked down at the somewhat childlike, blunt-ended fingers. "I love you." He raised his eyes, open and clear and let Clark see how plainly and simply he meant it. "I may not have known what you were, but I always knew who you were. That can't ever change, Clark."
Lex had been helping in the lab, with basic tasks he knew how to do, and keeping notes, data entry and computer security, whatever needed doing. It kept him on top of the whole project, seeing that all levels of detail were being taken care of with no delays. He had just started the centrifuge when the lab door opened somewhat slowly, hesitantly. Lex turned his head after double-checking the timer.
It was Jonathan Kent.
Lex's heart stopped.
He couldn't speak.
Kent looked at him, and said, "I came to see if Dr. Petersen had any news for us."
Lex closed his eyes, washed with the painful sense of a short reprieve. When he opened them again Kent was looking at him gimlet-eyed, but didn't say anything.
"He's with the specialists," Lex said. "They're hoping to find a painkiller that might work. The pain is wearing down Clark's resistance. And they're thinking of trying a kind of dialysis, if they can find anything that will bond in a safe way with the meteor rock." He didn't want to say out loud how precariously speculative all of it was, how many years this kind of research should normally require. Studies of the meteor rock had been many and ongoing for over a decade, to the point that just digesting the information was a huge undertaking. They had sent for mineralogists.
What they didn't know anything about was Clark.
He had become used to the looks from puzzlement to excitement on the faces of the lab techs.
"Martha and I were thinking we could say Clark was different because he was exposed to the meteor rock at close range at such a young age. Would that be possible?"
"I think they'll believe anything rather than the idea that Clark is from outer space. Everything about his appearance is identical to us, that can't be coincidence. They have to be related to us. But meanwhile, it makes the notion that he's not human seem preposterous. It works to our advantage -- at least with scientists. People who aren't scientifically trained wouldn't necessarily make that assumption. Though hopefully they'll never hear about Clark at all.
"Mr. Kent, do you have any idea who shot him? Those bullets were filled and coated with meteor rock. Someone knows Clark's vulnerability."
"Nobody. But," with a bitter look at Lex, "we don't know everything Clark does or everyone he talks to. I can't believe he would tell anyone this, but --" He looked Lex up and down, as if to say that anything was possible now.
"Is there any other way they might know? Any kind of police or medical reports in the past? If you think of anything... I'm concerned that this person might strike again."
"You don't think it could be an accident?"
Lex marveled that such naivete existed. "Firing specially made bullets at the one person who couldn't be hurt any other way? What are the odds, Mr. Kent?"
"It's just -- out here -- I've known old geezers who made their own bullets."
"Not for this kind of gun. It was a modern, high-powered rifle. These weren't just reloads. Someone melted the actual lead together with meteor dust and jacketed it with metal with a meteor dust coated point."
"Well," Jonathan pointed out, "someone made them."
"They did. But it had to be a machinist with a lot of expertise, a precision metal lathe set-up and special high-pressure swaging equipment. Not some guy melting lead in a mold over the kitchen stove. Even a grain or two off in weight and these bullets could blow up your gun barrel -- at the very least it would be impossible to aim true." Metal tearing through the chest and belly he had touched so lovingly... Killing sweet Clark -- Lex turned away. "I'd better get back to work."
But when Jonathan had gone, Lex sat down and put his face in his hands.
Clark. They had only had each other such a short time before they had been torn apart. But it had been as if Lex's whole life had been transformed -- as if everything he was or would ever be had been... lifted, into a whole other plane of significance, all his vision of himself turned inside out. If he couldn't live with Clark... if he couldn't live for Clark... what would become of him? Hollow victories over his father would never again be enough. If Clark died... the whole world could be nothing but hateful to him forevermore. He would take his revenge on whoever had done this, but that would be all he ever had.
Why should he care what happened, to a world without Clark in it...
Clark would be horrified.
Lex had to smile, internally, at that. Clark thought so well of him. Thought he was wonderful.
No one else did. Ever had. He'd been obliged to try and think it of himself, to keep on going.
Now beautiful, luminous Clark saw beauty in him. Saw everything in him. Loved. Loved him.
Without that... What would the world be worth to him?
Clark would say...
He didn't know what Clark would say. Some awkward stumbling platitude of his father's rising from the subconscious to his lips? Be brave, Lex. Be strong when I'm not there to help you.
Lex laughed with tears wetting his eyes. How had Chloe shouldered her way into his internal conversation?
They had all come to see Clark, Lex knew, in the brief visits that were allowed. His high school friends. Others from the town. Everyone liked him, his parents had the town's respect.
No one had come to see Lex in prison at all.
A lifetime to make that difference. Too late now.
It's never too late.
Shut up, Clark.
Lex took his hands from in front of his face. He breathed deep. A "cleansing breath".
And still felt filthy. Clark blamed himself, but Lex knew well enough who had brought this ruin and destruction into such a decent, innocent life.
And now the shadow of death.
He could only think of two people with the contacts and resources to have hired this kind of hit on Clark. And Lex had brought them both into Clark's world.
Both were on Lex's list of things to do if Clark should die.
Jonathan knew Martha felt it too. This craving to take his son in his arms. Comfort him. Hold him back, from that terrible brink, with all his strength.
He gazed at Clark's sleeping face. So thin. The skin damp and discolored, the eyelids looking sunken. He had never been able to talk about his child as other fathers did, brag carelessly about his exploits, never been able to encourage his boy to push his limits, go for it -- it had always been cautioning, holding him back, teaching him to control what he was, keep in bounds, pretend, hide -- Sometimes he had worried that he had done too much of it, when he saw how shy Clark was, how he drew back from initiating things with girls. Martha always said it was normal, but Jonathan hadn't been like that. The first time he'd noticed how pretty Martha was, he'd walked right up to her and... He smiled, remembering those times. All the happiness. Gradual touch of heartache when Martha couldn't have kids. Then Clark had brought so many smiles back to her face.
The first time Jonathan had ever seen him, Clark had smiled at him. In the midst of everything. And it had always been like that. He'd heard legends about the "terrible twos", but little Clark had just run around smiling everywhere, watching him, learning, his baby-talk turning into English quickly... He had never been cross, never thrown one tantrum -- it had been the grown-ups who had sometimes felt like flinging themselves to the floor, screaming, and drumming their heels, because they couldn't hold him back, if he really wanted anything. (Like he wanted Lex...) They'd had to be careful, persistent teachers, Clark had been their life, there for a while. They couldn't take him off the farm, they'd put off all visitors with a hundred excuses... But Clark learned fast, always loved so much to please them... They'd supervised him closely with other kids and taught him to be gentle, gentle, gentle... And finally he had flown out on his own from their safe nest to school, solemn with all that responsibility.
A good boy.
Jonathan could still look down and see that bright-eyed smile, those little fingers reaching up to him...
Sometimes Clark still wanted things he couldn't have, like being a football star for Lana Lang, but he always did the right thing once he understood...
Until Lex Luthor came to town.
How that slimy, smarmy little pervert had ever fooled Clark into thinking a Luthor could be a decent human being -- all you had to do was look at him, to know he was a snake. Those deferential manners -- Mrs. Kent this and Mr. Kent that -- those silk shirts and sport jackets, driving gloves for God's sake, just everything about him alien and unnatural. Even physically, looking like some kind of Martian.
Jonathan stared at his dying child.
He's not like you, son. He's nothing like you at all!
The first two nights Lex had slept, like the techs and some of the M.D.s, in empty beds around the hospital. Tonight, the Medical Center had too many patients to spare them beds. Lex booked rooms at the Inn, but still ended up ferrying two of the lab techs home with him. The servants were already asleep. He got the techs squared away in the downstairs suite near the kitchen, showed them where everything was, and gave them the keys to the Suburban -- figuring it was one vehicle they wouldn't need special instructions to be able to drive. He'd be long gone by the time they woke up.
Being away from Clark made his stomach hurt. But he would be no use without some sleep, and a hot bath would probably do him a lot of good too. He was already pulling his shirt off as he walked into his bedroom, and flung it toward an armchair without looking.
There was a sound of surprised expelled breath.
His father held the garment out to the side at arm's length and dropped it on the floor.
"'Dad.'" He always said it in quotes, part of the wary distance he automatically retreated to at sight of Lionel.
It was the first time he had seen him since his arrest. Lionel had said it would do neither of them any good to underscore in the public mind just how much money the accused child molester came from.
"Lex." Lionel was setting his book aside. "Apparently it was too much to expect that you would come to see your father upon your unexpected release."
"I've been busy."
"So I'm informed. This interest in the Kent boy's welfare could be -- misinterpreted."
"He's very sick."
"One way or the other, he certainly is."
Lex turned away to get a drink. He was going to need it to sleep, after this visitation, and he would not, would not show how incandescently furious he was.
"Son, if he recovers he could just as easily change his testimony again. Sometimes it's best to let nature take its course."
Pouring, Lex increased the Glenfiddich to a double. He capped the bottle with a controlled twirl of his fingertips and turned, glass in hand. "But Dad, think of the publicity if a Luthor saved his accuser's life. It could be just what the doctor ordered to restore the family name."
"From what I hear, there's little hope that he'll recover. If you're near the scene when he dies, Lex, there could be ugly speculation."
Lex shrugged fractionally. "I'm already involved."
"I could cut off your funds."
"If you wanted it on the front page of the Planet," Lex agreed silkenly. Waited the instant it would take that to set. "Will you be staying over, or do you have to get back to Metropolis?"
Lionel stood up in one of the fakest-looking huffs it had been Lex's privilege to witness. "They probably don't get all the newspapers in prison, so you were no doubt mercifully spared the barrage of interviews with figures out of your colorful past. I'll send you the clippings. Suffice it to say, Lex, nothing you ever do or attempt to do will erase that image from the public mind. The Luthor name was a joke on late night talk shows."
"Hardly a first." Whiskey had made a hot bundle at the bottom of his esophagus. Lionel turned, an all but genuine offense in his expression. God the guy had aged, Lex realized suddenly. Lionel hadn't settled to marriage till late in life -- Lex at least came by his sexual insatiability honestly -- and now he was showing what long years of guile and ruthlessness looked like. Save me from that, said something deep in Lex's soul. Or maybe it was just the whiskey on top of an eighteen-hour day. But he never wanted Clark to turn to him and see those hateful lines, that venomous eye. "Good night, Dad."
As he looked straight into Lionel's eyes, he let show the complete inexorability of his intentions once he found out who was behind Clark's shooting. Caveat actor.
Whether he knew what it was about or not, Lionel picked up on the steel chill. Never a man to misread the bottom line.
With an elegant gesture, he turned to pick up his book. "One day you'll learn to listen to your father, Lex. It would certainly have saved us and the Kents from much regret."
"Are you saying Clark was shot because of the trial?" Be careful how you answer me, old man.
"I'm saying no one would have ever heard of this insignificant farmboy in his entire life, if not for his connection with Lex Luthor. Think about that."
Lex did, while he listened to his father's footsteps descending the stairs and the slam of the front door. Then he started to smile, then started to laugh. He ended up biting his lips to keep the laugh from morphing into tears, but all the same, it was pretty funny. And not that often did anyone get to laugh at Lionel's mistakes.
Checking in to light a hot monetary fire under the Pain Research Group, Lex asked them how the anesthetist had managed to put Clark out for surgery.
The M.D.s glanced at each other. Petersen interpreted, "It was pretty harrowing. They basically just kept increasing the doses of the various agents slowly till he finally went out. It amounted to several times what would be safe on anyone else. Even then, they aren't sure but what it was mostly the paralytic that allowed them to operate."
Lex shuddered. He had tried reading up to see if the idea of using general anesthesia would be foolish to suggest, but it quickly became evident that not only were the risks depressingly complex, but the mechanics by which anesthesia worked were not fully understood even in -- humans. When he got to the part about malignant hyperthermia he closed the book, unable to read through the tears that swam in his eyes.
The Pain Group was way ahead of him anyway. They had tried various locals, regional blocks, an epidural and even topical anesthetics without success, and were sending away for little-used and many outmoded agents like ether, on the off-chance.
An even more crucial concern had been infection control, but whether or not antibiotics could work through Clark's system remained thankfully moot. No wound infections had developed, and what was happening to his internal organs seemed to have no septic component. Lex had worried that the meteor rock would reduce Clark's immune response, but that didn't seem to be happening. Yet. If Clark's body even worked that way.
When Lex peeked in the door they were bathing Clark, so he went on to the lab. Clark didn't like him to see how much touch hurt him, and Lex was glad to comply, as he really couldn't stand to watch.
It was much later than he had planned when he finally had to stop and take a phone call on the line he had established for urgencies. They were far enough away from patient floors that his throwaway cell phone could be kept on, but he stepped out into the hall so as not to distract the lab techs and specialists. And found evening falling, outside the windows.
The news was good, if sobering.
"We've got the tape. He had two copies stashed in different places. We have them all."
"Good." Lex looked out into the pale Smallville gloaming. "I want them in my hands within the hour."
"Instructions unchanged on the subject?"
Lex was silent. Phelan would be better off dead. Safer... "Unchanged." They would do all they could to drug away Phelan's memories of their presence, and then release him with a high blood alcohol in an area of very sleazy bars. The police had, oddly, come up utterly blank on sexual DNA evidence from the abandoned storm cellar. Clark had never been careless, and Lex was now beginning to understand some of the unique capabilities the boy had as a cleaner. He smiled with a twinge of pain, remembering how the sheets had always been crisp and fresh. Lex had started caching his leather there, when he discovered how much fun it was to have Clark help him on with it, but it too had evidently come up without a particle of incriminating bodily fluid, to Lex's surprise. Phelan had apparently been unable to suborn that kind of evidence, and the State had had to make its case without it. After the trial Clark had dismantled and then torched the storm cellar. There would, literally, be no evidence left that they had ever made love anywhere. And never would they again, Lex vowed, anywhere in the State of Kansas.
Lex found himself almost running to Clark's room.
But the atmosphere inside slowed him, as it always did. There was a hush kept around Clark, his door always shut, unlike the other patient rooms; everyone taking pains not to hurt or startle him. Lex had seen to it that he was cocooned in extra care. Including undercover guards near his door. No visitor was allowed in without being cleared by the Kents first. One guard always went in with every nurse, doctor, or orderly.
Martha looked up. Her half-smile upset Lex's interior guarding with its conflicting signals: welcome, wariness, underlying sorrow, questioning hope.
"How is he?"
"He's mostly been sleeping."
"They say that's the best thing for him." Little enough for them to cling to. Clark's skin was damp and even standing Lex caught the sharp, medicinal smell that wafted off him now, making Lex long for the normal scent of boy and sweat and fresh air that had always come with him before. He was lying on his right side, clean cloths near his pillow, the light sheet all that covered him. Getting even hospital gowns on and off was so painful that they had stopped using them. "I'd like to stay with him a while, if you need to take a break."
Martha glanced at the bedside clock they had brought in for Clark. "I should get something to eat."
Lex knew the feeling. Remembering to throw food to the body to keep it going, in case there was some way, any way, you might be called on to help. "I'll be here."
When she'd gone, Lex pulled the chair closer to the bed. Clark looked worse. The green cast of his skin was almost greyish in places, and the knobs of his bones were prominent at his wrists. Oh Clark...
He's leaving us. Slipping through my hands.
He remembered the only time he had ever truly seen his father look helpless. His mother's bedside. Lionel looked up at him, around, with that desperate vagueness. Lex had understood that till then, Lionel had not seriously believed anything he wanted to keep could leave him.
When he raised his eyes from looking at his own clasped hands, Clark was watching him.
Lex smiled. "Hi."
"Hey." Clark's voice was soft but not too tired.
"Your Mom'll be back in a while. I looked in this morning but you were getting your bath." Pain aside, Clark preferred his nursing care to be done by professionals, with friends and parents out of the room for any embarrassing parts. Lex was surprised at how passionately he respected any wish of Clark's, as if letting him have his own way were somehow essential to his recovery. "Then I got tied up at the lab."
Clark smiled faintly, his eyes kind. "Will you stay with me?"
"As long as you want."
Clark's eyelids shut for a moment. "I want you to stay tonight. Mom and Dad... need to go home... sleep."
"They have been here a lot. Neighbors have been helping with the animals. Everything's taken care of on the farm."
"I know. They just... need rest. And I... want you."
The heat that flamed through Lex's body was entirely nonsexual. It was a happy yet almost deathly embarrassment. His skin felt as if it blanched white and then flamed hot red. The way Clark might react if someone stripped him naked in public -- with a hard-on. He knew Clark didn't mean sex, and that was what had caught him off-guard, the bare, unshielded need for him as a person.
Clark's eyes were bright, watching his reaction. Lex blushed even redder, but now the emotion was almost all happiness, seeing the corners of Clark's mouth turn up, and knowing the love he could see in his face was all for him. Then it struck across his thoughts like a knife, that he could lose this, that Clark could be lost to the world, to him, so soon.
There must be so much more that he could be doing --
He realized he had been glancing toward the door, and brought his eyes back hastily to Clark.
"Clark, of course. I promise you I'll stay."
"I know... it's hard." Barely a smile. "You can use the... room phone if you... start feeling... cell withdrawal..." He was carefully keeping his breath even, between words.
Lex's smile was only in the tone of the word. "Okay."
"Prison must have been... hard that way."
"Actually, from that perspective at least, it was rather relaxing. No responsibilities, no demands." No Lionel. "It gives you a surprising amount of time to think."
"You. Us. One-size-fits-all laws. Hawaii."
"Ow. It... hurts when I laugh. I'm... picturing... you in a grass skirt -- ow." The pain was clearly not bad enough to take the laugh out of Clark's eyes.
"Mm. I wish you hadn't said that, Clark. Because now I'm picturing you in ways that can only get me in trouble." Clark with flowers wound in his dark hair. Backgrounds of big tropical leaves that matched his eyes, rippling water on sand, brown and white and black printed cloth, leis, tanned skin...
His voice came out as ghostly grief. "What will I do if you aren't here, Clark?" Oh god, he hadn't meant to say that. "You're the only thing that keeps me..." He couldn't think of a word encompassing the gulf between having Clark and not having Clark. "I don't think I can even know what... good is, without you."
Clark's fingers touched Lex's on the edge of the bed.
"Just ask yourself... 'What would Lionel do?'... and then don't."
Lex looked and Clark's eyes were teasing but sympathetic.
His throat closing, Lex blurted, "You're all I care about!" Jesus, it felt like he was being torn into pieces --
He took a deep breath and pulled himself together. "Sorry. You don't need me falling apart on you like this."
"It's nice... to know... I'll be missed."
"Oh god --"
The thin greenish fingertips touched him again. "Lex. Don't... freak out on me. I'm freaked out... enough."
Lex met his eyes. No -- it was unfair -- he was just a boy -- not old enough to vote -- barely old enough to drive -- "Are you afraid?"
"You don't show it."
"I never do."
"I wish... I could help..." To make the fear go away --
"I don't... like to think about it... It seems... worse if I... admit it."
Fear is the mind-killer. "What is it you're afraid of?"
"Dying." A hint of asperity? Understandably. But then Clark looked a little anxious, a little apologetic, and Lex nodded. "And..." For the first time, Lex really saw fear in the green eyes. "Sometimes..." Lex's fingers ached to clasp Clark's hand, at least, but he couldn't. He could only watch. "What if... I can't die? Sometimes... it hurts so much... What if... it just... goes on... like this... forever?" Pleading, pain, fear, everything utterly naked in his face for once. "It's only... five days... and sometimes... already, I wish... it was over. What if... five years? Fifty?"
"Clark." Lex made a tent of his hands over Clark's, not touching, but sheltering. He looked deep into his eyes. "I will never allow that to happen." He waited for understanding to start to replace some of the fear. "You decide on a number of consecutive days when you'll tell me you need it to end -- however you want to do it --"
Hope and dread in Clark's face against the pillow. "I think... killing me... may be illegal in... Kansas..."
Lex burst out laughing, completely taken unawares. He saw Clark wheeze a couple of times, eyes happy for a moment. Pain came back quickly enough.
"I promise you. No one will ever know. And besides, this is just -- so you know there's one thing you don't have to fear, ever. We're going to get you well." Privately, he realized Clark had a number of courageous friends who would probably undertake ending his torture for him, if he pleaded; but no one else, Lex thought, who could likely do it without spending the rest of their days in prison.
Could he really let Clark go?
It was not, he made the thought steamroller over everything else, ever going to come up. They were going to make Clark well, and -- and then --
One thing at a time.
"Anything else you're afraid of?"
"Oh -- what I came here for in the first place. We have the tapes. All the copies. If Phelan opens his mouth now I'm going to hurt him in ways he doesn't even know how to spell. And I think he knows me well enough to know that."
"Wow... Lex... I just set 'em up and... you knock 'em down."
"Any other fears I can dispense with?"
The smile slowly faded from Clark's eyes. Suddenly another look, of alarm, and his lips pursed tight. Lex reached for the plastic bowl and got it under Clark's chin before he vomited. Standing, he tried to help him stay more upright but it wasn't a good position to get a one-handed grip, and he didn't want to hurt him. He let him puke. Not much, dark green and thick, like nothing that had ever greeted Lex after a night of mind alteration. Even the smell was unfamiliar.
They'd use it as a sample. Lex set it in the bathroom, got water, got out a clean dish, and let him rinse his mouth into it. He'd learned the drill.
Clark shut his eyes exhaustedly. But he wasn't falling asleep. He said, "It's not a fear... exactly... but... Lex... The thought of leaving you... hurts so much. And everything I did to you. I don't understand... how you can... forgive me."
"Hey, I thought we settled this. Put yourself in my place, Clark. If it were me having to choose between my mother's life and your freedom and happiness -- don't you think it would just about kill me to make that choice? Would you forgive me?"
He saw all the expressions passing over the surface of Clark's face like shadows of clouds. When the green eyes blinked open, they were shiny with tears. Lex said, "Be kind to yourself. Just like you would be to someone else."
Clark's ghost smile tried to belie the weakness of his eyes. "Okay." His emotion pulled at Lex's heart. "And... you... too..."
"Before... what you said about... if I'm not here... and knowing what... good is... If it's so important... then... don't forget it. Remember... I... loved you."
Lex's heart almost sundered.
"Nothing can... change that."
Clark was running out of breath and consciousness, and Lex let him slide into sleep. But he sat without being able to move for a very, very long time, his hands on the edge of the bed, even though Clark was no longer there with him.
It had a tarp over it.
The storm cellar hadn't even been locked.
You didn't really want to be wondering where you last put the key, while a tornado bore down on you.
Rural security for the single most valuable object on the planet.
A delighted smile tried to break out on his lips. There were ironies here too delicious for words. When Clark had told him, in the long slow conversations of last night, about it being in the back of the pickup while Lionel rode in the front seat, he had laughed, joyous and unfettered. The day of the meteors had been tragic. And yet -- his father, bitching about the weight three feet behind him. And actually probably touching, on Martha's lap, the little child... The thought of space baby Clark within his father's reach had stopped Lex's laugh. Thank god, thank god for the Kents...
There were rapid steps on the wooden stairs.
"What the hell do you think you're doing down here?"
Jonathan, open hostility. Check.
"Clark told me about the ship. We should examine it. There might be some clue --"
"Clark told you?" He looked as if it hurt.
"Mr. Kent, I know what you think of me, but Clark trusts me."
"Clark has a lot to learn about the world."
"What was it my father did to make you hate Luthors so much?"
"Your father? You think I need Lionel Luthor's example to see what you are? You don't think perverting my son is enough?"
"Clark is not perverted! He is what he is! And I did nothing to change him, I wouldn't even if I could."
"He trusted you and you exploited him! He never -- He would never have --" Jonathan's voice closed off, his thoughts clearly too volatile for speech.
"He was growing up. He was finding out who he is --"
"And you used that! You knew what you were doing!"
Lex said hotly, "It didn't happen because I was trying to exploit him! It happened because I fell in love with him, and he fell in love with me! I don't have an explanation for that other than pure fate and the fact that Clark is --" The heat drained out of his voice and the final word came out just on momentum. "...perfect." And he was staring at Jonathan with as much despair as anything, the anger broken and useless.
"He was a minor!"
"Yes, he was. But you know better than I do that Clark is -- special." A realization broke through Lex like something splintering. He needed Jonathan Kent on his side. And he had no idea how to get him there. All he could do was tell the truth. "Everything he said in court was true. He came on to me. I turned him down. Then he tricked me into it, and yes, I know that if I had seriously told him to stop he would have, but... I don't have a lot of practice at saying no to things I want."
"You took advantage of him!"
"No. He knew his mind, Mr. Kent. And I will say this, a Luthor or a Kent hellbent on something is a force to be reckoned with."
Jonathan looked bitter. "We don't use the same methods."
"No." It was a quiet acknowledgment. After a moment he said, "Don't think I don't know what an incredible gift and privilege it is just to be Clark's friend. I would have been satisfied with that. The rest -- all the other gifts I was given -- I doubt if you could think I was less worthy of them than I do myself."
"Humility? In a Luthor?" The sarcasm was thick.
Lex looked back steadily. "That was one of the gifts."
He added, "Luthors aren't modest, Mr. Kent. Just very, very realistic."
He saw a chink of doubt in the hard gaze, but rather than try to follow it up, Lex turned to the tiny spacecraft. "I need to see it."
There was silence behind him. Then Jonathan passed him, and pulled the front of the tarp back. Lex stepped forward and gripped the other side. Slowly they hauled the covering off from over a pointed, domed machine.
Lex gazed down. It was dull silver.
This thing had been in space. Not just space, but unimaginable distance, unimaginable loneliness -- carrying inside it the child who would become Clark Kent.
It didn't look big enough.
"How do we open it?"
Jonathan shook his head. "It closed after it brought Clark here, and hasn't opened since." He hesitated. "I took something out of it first. It's in the house." Lex studied the impervious surface. It was undecorated, except --
He put the tips of his fingers into an indentation. Eight-sided, almost the size of his palm. On one side of the craft only. Like a gas tank or --
"It looks like there's a piece missing. Where did the ship land?"
"On the road into town. It skidded off into a cornfield."
"It was fourteen years ago. Everything has changed -- been plowed over and over --"
"I know." Lex sucked his teeth intently an instant. "But do you still know the spot?"
"Clark hasn't searched there?"
"No. It's full of meteor rock."
"I'll put a team on it." Lex forestalled Jonathan. "I won't tell them about the ship. Just to bring me anything they find."
Jonathan looked back at the little ship. "When I saw inside it... there was nothing really there."
"It might lead nowhere. But it's an avenue. It should be pursued. As a last resort, someone who knows more than we do should examine the ship. And we're getting down to last resorts very fast." He was afraid desperation was showing in his voice. But perhaps it was what was needed. Jonathan, still looking at the toy-like craft, pursed his lips together.
He looked over at Lex.
"I'll show you on the way into town."
Lex got out his cell phone.
This business of in-laws was going to get complicated, he could see that finally. Before, it had been a matter of hiding it, then of conflict, but suddenly his brain had clicked on and he realized it was all for the long haul. He couldn't take Clark away from his parents. The great and powerful Oz was helpless before that bond. He couldn't even want to destroy something that had made Clark what he was. And secretly, deep down inside, he wanted to observe it. To try and understand what was, to him, by far the most alien thing about Clark. But to somehow become a part of that, to have his own place adjacent to such an intimate relationship, be more than just an observer -- it was hard to envision.
Something to be dealt with in the future.
The future he had to keep believing in, when everything he knew told him his science would be too slow to save the love of his life.
That night, he stayed again with Clark.
He insisted on getting the Kents a room at the Inn, so they could rest without the long drive out to the farm and the stress of being so far from their son if anything -- changed. Lex knew what that felt like; he was adamant, and at a word from Clark his parents' resistance had crumbled. In the morning one of them could drive out to the farm to do maintenance chores and the other could be with Clark without having to bum a ride on the schoolbus or from friends.
He came in with his cell virtuously turned to the "off" position, and found Clark asleep.
He looked down, tracing the worn features. Visible cheekbone line, eyelids looking translucent, hollows where they shouldn't be.
Carefully, he lifted the sheet and folded it back off of Clark's upper body.
The beautiful musculature had changed to gauntness. A curve in under the ribs that was just -- so wrong. Collarbones surrounded with more deep hollows.
All of it green shades, nipples almost olive.
Not the body he had made love to.
Still the body he longed to touch, embrace, to connect so closely with the soul in it.
The great and powerful Oz.
Clark was afraid and Lex couldn't even hold his hand.
He felt his face contract, painful stinging fill his eyes. His shoulders involuntarily hunched and he turned to one side and then the other, before his knees collapsed slowly, bringing him down to clutch the edge of the bed with his fingertips.
Clark -- Deep, hot tears flooded from his eyes, his chest and belly contracted in a sob. Panic swept through liquid pain -- what was happening to him? He never cried -- never -- he was in control! If he wasn't in control now, Clark could die!
He cried harder. Clark could die no matter what he felt. No matter what he did, or what he wanted, needed, couldn't live without. Clark who had merely touched Lex's life and been destroyed by it -- Clark who was torn by what he had done to Lex, so deeply wounded he almost didn't want to survive. Who loved Lex.
His sobs were shaking the bed. He let go of it. He folded forward slowly until his forehead almost touched the floor. Holding himself, his long black coat open around him, he rocked forward and back, crying as quietly as he could, teeth bared, cheeks dripping tears, pain wanting to scream from him. Breathing open-mouthed, he thought the convulsions were done, when an image of Clark, sleepily reaching for him, in their bed in the storm cellar, flooded him again with horrible sorrow. He couldn't let him go, he couldn't, he couldn't. Gasping wetly, after a long time he started to straighten -- and heard a faint click. He whirled toward the door.
It was shut.
Someone had been there.
He shrank back. If he ran out into the hall he could see who it was. Or ask the guard.
If he ran out... his face red, and wet with tears for everyone to see.
And did what?
He didn't want to know.
It had probably just been a nurse. They were used to... seeing grief.
He let out a long breath.
Clark. Clark couldn't see him like this.
He got himself into the bathroom and shut the door. A cold wet washcloth against his face didn't do as much to repair the redness as he had hoped.
Weren't you supposed to feel better after you cried?
He felt as if he had seen the gates of Hell opening for him.
He was failing. They had nothing. Not even a start. Except repeated doubts about how such a small amount of meteor dust could continue to affect Clark for so long had triggered the thought in Lex that it almost looked as if Clark's body was manufacturing meteor matter, and now they were pretty sure that was true -- that the presence of meteor rock deranged some pathway into a cycle of reproducing itself instead of normal metabolic end-products, replacing things Clark's body needed with more of the very molecule that was killing him. He sweated and puked and drooled green, but couldn't unload the replicating poison.
In the past, the Kents had told Lex, removing meteor rock from proximity had cured Clark. That indicated that a critical limit had to be reached to maintain the deadly cascade; that Clark's body could quickly flush a few self-produced molecules and be no worse for the temporary illness. But they had no way of getting him down below that limit. The first dialysis trial on a blood sample had removed every toxin but the meteor rock.
If he thought about the unfairness too much he was going to end up a screaming ruin somewhere with chicken-wire embedded in the windows. Clark was innocent, innocent...
Biochemistry did not care.
It was one reason Lex had loved science. Science so serene, impervious to power, wealth, manipulation... impervious to Lionel. Purity. The beauty of that took his breath away.
Now he would give anything to be able to bribe or intimidate a molecular reaction. Skills he had learned at his father's knee; all he was really good at. No use to him now.
Okay, could he trawl any deeper in the ocean of self-pity? He looked at himself in the mirror. Clark needed this wrecked being. On every level. Clark would have everything Lex could give.
Coming back out into the room, he shrugged out of his long coat and hung it up. Here for the night. He would sleep on the carpet for a few hours on and off, with a couple of cotton hospital blankets and a pillow. The hard floor strangely relaxing when you were really tired.
The grief having broken through, he felt his fear hovering ready to grasp him. He'd made it his habit to take action whenever he felt fear, and it worked. Organizing the research for Clark's cure, he had staved off the dark waves of terror he sensed waiting for him. He was not a fearful person and he knew he could handle whatever came, but looking at Clark hurt. He could not avoid thoughts of the future.
That Clark should have to face such fear was so painful. He decided to hire a counselor -- tomorrow -- the best he could find in the field -- if they held out hope of easing that fear. Maybe the pain was a disguised blessing -- if it made Clark fear death less.
Stay with me. Looking down at Clark's body again the anguish overwhelmed him. Oh god, even if you can't be with me, live -- be in the world, well and happy.
The prayer sank into the void. Whether inside himself or somewhere beyond was moot. Lex did not believe. If there were some force that could save Clark, Lex would have sold all that he had and bought it, but the Higher Power, even if one believed in it, seemed to pretty much stick to its own game plan, plowing a very straight furrow through human hopes and dreams. So what was the point.
Only Lex Luthor stood between Clark and death.
He could see the inroads his rival made in spite of him. Daring intimacies with his lover Lex himself no longer dared.
He felt the rising spines of the territoriality that had ruled his life.
He's mine, Death.
He heard a slight breath sound, and looked. Clark was watching him.
"Planning... a hostile... takeover?"
The sound of his voice was so sweet it melted Lex in an instant. He could feel the smile playing around his eyes and mouth as he answered lightly, "Define 'hostile'."
Clark's eyes widened a little. He glanced at the door. Lex smiled outright. "No one is coming to rescue you. It's the middle of the night." Clark met his gaze with darkening eyes. "How does it feel when someone touches you?"
Clark's look became deeper. "Touch... is okay. Any pressure... hurts."
"Hm. So ...if I do this..." He ran his fingertips lightly down the side of Clark's neck. Clark's eyes closed and his head arched back a fraction. "Or this..." He spoke directly onto Clark's lips, barely touching, but letting his hot breath spill between them as they opened to him. The rhythm of Clark's breathing got rocky. "...that wouldn't hurt."
Clark's breath was his only answer.
Quickly Lex moved lower and let his eyelashes butterfly kiss around Clark's left nipple. It wrinkled erect, and Lex's tongue dragged flat across his aureole.
Lex looked up slowly. "Did that hurt?"
Clark's eyelashes fluttered wildly. "Unh --" He gasped, and then the breath ratcheted out of him. "Lex --!" He laughed shortly and with closed eyes said, "No..." He sucked in another breath. "But --" His eyes opened part way and looked down at Lex looking up at him. There was a glint of fun in the green. "-- a hard-on... hurts."
Lex let his eyelids slide half-closed and lazily raised his eyebrows. He purred, "Does it." Moving up closer to Clark's mouth. Letting his breath touch Clark's face. "How many hard-ons have you had in here?"
"Just the one," Clark answered dryly.
Lex breathed, "Want me to make it worth the pain?"
Little breaths of laughter. "If anyone... could..." The loving light in Clark's eyes mesmerized him. "Lex..." It was so soft you almost couldn't hear it, but velvety with love. Lex found himself touching lips to lips, drawn by the sound. Softly, more breath than kiss. "I... missed... you..."
"I'll come more often."
"I meant... while you were... in jail. Touching... you..."
"Clark." Those months... Lex moaned, "I missed you like I missed my freedom. You are my freedom." He let his breath slide up Clark's cheek. "Before I knew you my life was a prison, every dollar I had nothing but another steel bar. You made me a free man, Clark. I realized when I was locked up... the only thing I really needed..." The warmth of his breath radiated back to him from the warm well of Clark's ear. "-- was my lover. My whole life was about wanting things. But compared to you, there's nothing in the world I want at all." Clark touched his lips against Lex's cheek.
His voice was so low it was like feeling the very vibrations of the air. "You made... me feel... like I could fly."
Lex's eyes closed.
Clark had used the past tense.
But he meant because their lovemaking had all been in the past. Lex said, "You did always look as if you should have big white wings when you were coming."
"Not... quite... But... if there's a... heaven for aliens... I'll always watch... over you... Lex..."
Lex's heart lurched painfully. "I prefer my angels here on earth. Preferably in my bed. Preferably in deep orgasm."
Clark smiled against Lex's ear. "If that's true... how come... you always... made me... wait so... long... to come?"
"That's where the word 'deep' comes in."
Laugh-breaths touching his neck. "Love... you... so... much..."
"You're getting tired out. You need to sleep."
"I won't, I'll stay right here. Close your eyes." Lex lifted the sheet and laid it gently back onto the sensitive skin.
Martha slowed the truck. There was some kind of work crew at the road edge, in the field, cars parked, a truck -- Lex's silver Porsche. In this spot.
She signaled and pulled off the road.
Walking back along the shoulder she saw that they were actually uprooting the corn a stalk at a time, carefully knocking the dirt off and piling the stalks in wagons to be hauled away. Dirt was being sifted as if at an archeological dig. Back among stalks still standing she spotted a sleek bald head.
Lex was issuing instructions to new arrivals. "Unless it's a rock or a weed, I want to see it. I want to see it if you're not sure if it's a rock or a weed." He noticed her. "Mrs. Kent." He dismissed the hunters and came toward her.
"What did you do, Lex, buy the crop?"
"I bought the field."
Her eyes opened wide. "Since yesterday?"
"Farmers get up early. So do I. It worked out."
"Jonathan told me you were going to search here, but..." She looked around. Every minute made a wider circle of open dirt around them. "There must be thirty or forty people here."
"By tonight there'll be a hundred. There may be nothing to find. But we'll go a foot deep on the first pass, on either side of the road. The soil will be tested in case it can tell us anything."
"What did you tell them?"
"That they're making twenty dollars an hour with a daily bonus for speed and thoroughness and a thousand to anyone who finds something we can use to trace a child who was lost here fourteen years ago. Profit and virtue are both strong motivators. Together I'm hoping they'll move a lot of dirt."
Martha glanced around furtively. "That's... awfully close to the truth."
Lex's blue eyes continued to meet hers when she looked back at him, in that disconcertingly forthright way he had of dealing with people. "I know. I'm also hoping it may draw out the person who shot Clark. He can't leave protection until we end this threat."
"But if you bring someone to court..."
"Whoever it is, he can't expose Clark without admitting to attempted murder. But I'm hoping it won't come to court."
Martha felt her brow wrinkle.
"Mrs. Kent, justice isn't the main issue here."
No, it wasn't. And she realized she didn't want to know which direction Lex's thoughts were leading him. Not now. If he could make Clark safe, in her heart of hearts she just wanted him to do it.
She nodded and started to turn away. Then she looked back into Lex's gaze. "Don't say that to Jonathan."
He studied her levelly. "I understand."
As the disturbed earth was harder to walk on, and to better keep out of the way of the searchers, she decided to walk down a couple of dozen rows before turning to follow the hard-baked furrow back to the road. Without letting herself think too deeply about what Lex's exact intentions might be, she could only hope they would be effective. Could Clark even walk safely out of the hospital? At least there Lex's hired guards protected him.
It had never occurred to her she might someday have a son-in-law.
Never mind a being as peculiar, as unfathomable as Lex Luthor. That Clark was too young was probably the case, but... all parents thought their children were too young. What she had heard in court had been horrifying. But what she had seen was Clark's anguish and shame, which she would have shielded him from as she would have shielded him from death with her own body if she could. There had been that one moment when he had looked at Lex, and though she hadn't understood the expression in his eyes, it had been so mysterious and adult -- so much just between the two of them -- that it had haunted her. After that day Clark had simply hidden. In the loft, in the fields, doing his chores at night, tormented if they even caught sight of him. Then the day of Lex's sentencing, and she had seen Clark broken again. He had suddenly just appeared in the living-room during the evening news, and stood there silent as the announcer in her professional, uncaring voice disclosed the thirty-four-year sentence over a few seconds of footage of Lex in handcuffs. Clark's face had crumpled with disbelief, and a moment later he had vanished again.
Jonathan had tried to talk to him -- speaking quietly in the barn and hoping Clark was listening. Trying to heal the terrible wound that had torn him from them and left him alone, unreachable. When his friends came to see him he simply wasn't there.
She had thought that nothing could be worse than seeing her son so tortured.
Till they had called her from the hospital.
At first they had been sure it must be some mistake. Then they looked at each other, thinking of the last few months, thinking of his one vulnerability that only they -- and Clark -- knew about.
They had talked with the doctors by cell phone all the way into town, trying to prepare them for the inexplicable without giving away too much, in case it did turn out to be someone else's child after all. They had said he was allergic to meteor rock -- not, it turned out, an unfamiliar concept to Smallville doctors.
But when they got there, and found him unconscious, about to go into surgery, there was nothing more they could say, except to forbid transfusion when the surgeon told them the lab had been weirdly unable to type and cross Clark's blood. Even the next day, when the deputy had spoken to them about the bullet fragments, neither of them was able to be sure Clark hadn't attempted suicide. They knew he could have aimed a rifle at a given spot and beaten the bullets there to take his own life. And he had been found in the road in front of Lex's mansion. But talking it over they'd decided Clark would never do that, never leave someone else to possibly take the blame; but just the thought that he could destroy himself if he chose had left her with a terrible fear for him.
Then Clark had confessed to her his love for Lex.
More mystified than ever, she and Jonathan had tried to comprehend it, but neither of them could imagine Clark letting this happen to anyone merely to protect his secret, let alone to someone he said he loved. He still just mumbled something about having been "very mixed up" when she'd tried to ask him about it. But Clark -- one thing Clark had never really been, whatever other traits of youth he might have, was mixed up. Always that quiet certainty. Or sometimes not so quiet. And Lex -- Lex had forgiven him with an untroubled instantaneity that told her he knew something she didn't.
Clark would tell Lex things he wouldn't tell her?
Never the pleasantest part of seeing your child grow up.
But she would give anything, anything, to see him live to grow apart from her, now.
She remembered how she'd felt about Jonathan when she was not much older than Clark...
But... Lex Luthor?
Suddenly she realized she had gone further than she intended, turned left into the furrow too fast, tripped and fell flat on her face and found the octagon.
She knew what it was immediately. How many hours had they stared at that ship. Jonathan tinkering experimentally trying to open it to no avail.
Eight-sided, that shiny metal. Sticking up out of a clod. Dirt not clinging to it. No spot of rust or patina.
She got to her knees and picked it up.
It had symbols on it, like the thing Jonathan had taken from the ship. It was impossibly light.
She looked back toward the sounds of excavation. Then down at the metal that seemed to weigh nothing in her hands.
Clark trusted him.
Martha got to her feet and shoved the octagon into her slacks pocket.
With Clark's life at stake there was no margin for error.
Jonathan had brought a tall paper cup of iced tea back to the room from the cafeteria. From time to time Clark liked to be alone during his intervals of consciousness, and his father could understand that. Time to think. But he would have fallen asleep again by now.
Sure enough, the greenish eyelids were closed, black sweeps of lashes shutting everything out but the dreams Clark said were vivid and strange.
He set down his cup and turned toward the bathroom, and suddenly there was bright light. Even as he glanced at the ceiling he knew it wasn't the room lights and whirled to see Clark engulfed in a beam of brightness that seemed to come straight in through the closed door. Jonathan reached for him. Clark's body straightened, almost seemed to lift slightly into the air, and Jonathan -- felt -- the light wash over him as well, through him -- and back into Clark, brightening and pulsing once or twice into a blazing cloud around him.
Then it was gone.
Jonathan's hands made contact. Clark was still breathing. The guard at the door burst in, took in the scene and had his security radio to his ear. Clark felt... normal... temperature, breathing -- his skin.
His skin wasn't green.
Jonathan looked up and saw Clark's eyes open. He snatched his hands away.
But Clark hadn't winced in pain. His eyes found Jonathan's and he moved -- cautiously. Then a little more.
He rolled over on his back; and then he sat up.
The sheet had fallen to his lap. He was so thin -- but moving with less and less hesitation. He looked down at himself, at the plastic tube in his arm, around the room, at the guard, at Jonathan.
"What happened?" Clark held up his hand, looking at it, following up his arm with his pleased but questioning eyes, across his torso, down his other arm, before he looked up again. "Dad, I feel... better! I feel... great!"
"There was a light -- Something came -- through the door. A beam of light --"
A nurse came in hurriedly, followed by another. Someone must have paged the attending doctor, as he showed up a few moments later, among a small crowd of staff that the guard had hastily decided to keep out in the corridor. The doctor looked Clark over, made a phone call, and examined him some more. Soon the team of specialists started homing in on the room, and even the lab techs, until the place buzzed with amazed and more or less delighted exclamations and congratulations. Jonathan barely heard. Clark kept glancing at him, between answering questions, and his look of happiness, his freedom from pain, wrung a broad smile in response every time. Martha -- but she'd be driving, better to let her get here first, not hit her with so much sudden joy while she was behind the wheel.
The phone rang, and he picked it up.
"Martha, are you --"
"Jonathan, the ship!" And instantly it burst over him what must have happened. In some way -- "I found the piece that fit in the side! The ship flew out of the storm cellar and hovered and then this -- beam --"
"It cured Clark." He looked around at the throng. "I can't talk now, there are a lot of people here looking at him, but he's well, he's --" His throat closed up and his eyes prickled. "He looks -- he's sitting up, and --" He saw Clark looking at him. "I'll put him on." He handed the phone to Clark. "It's your mother."
And Clark took the handset with both hands, a look of even more hope and happiness on his face, and raised it to speak into.
The crowd had been politely herded out. Clark had wanted to leave immediately, but it had come to Jonathan at once that this was the time Lex had spoken of. Outside that door, anyone might wait again, with the same wicked ammunition and even more lethal aim. Besides... how could they be sure this cure would last? Clark had made a call to Lex, and now, free of the PICC line, dressed in his own clothes, paced the room, bright-eyed, occasionally blurring into super-speed with excitement, despite the Rules. "Dad, I feel so..." and he would invisibly pop up in front of Jonathan, smiling -- and turn and be gone again. Even when Clark remembered to carefully move at normal speed, he had a focussed vibrancy that made his father think of the hummingbirds that came to the sugar-feeder out back of the kitchen window. It was as if all the meteor dust in his system had been converted to pure energy. Which, for all they knew, it had been.
"Drive slow," Clark had said to Lex on the phone, but when the door opened fast Jonathan wasn't surprised to already see Lex Luthor, stopped, one hand on the doorknob, the other a little out to the side, eyes wide. He was in shirt-sleeves, probably his idea of appropriate field wear. He was looking at Clark. And Clark had almost started to blur moving toward him. But they both stopped, and just looked.
It was a look intense enough to set off all Jonathan's parental alarms, but today he felt carried on a strong current of gratitude just to have a son alive to do things he disapproved of. And Lex... at least Lex had genuine feelings, unlike his father.
Lex had forbidden him to leave the hospital room.
Ordinarily, he liked Lex forbidding him to do things.
But this edict, backed up by his parents, made him realize how much, over the summer, he had grown in independence. No one had been able to make him do anything when they couldn't see him. The pain he had been in, then, had kept him from feeling any advantage to such a state of things, but now, he suddenly realized he had become unaccustomed to obedience.
If there were only a window. But the room had been selected specifically because it didn't have one. And they would just have told him not to stand in front of it anyway. Intellectually he knew they were right.
He blurred around the room in frustration.
When he got the alert, Lex drove home like a bullet.
He strode into his study flinging on the brightest overhead lights, pinning Lionel with his stare. He actually saw him start.
"'Dad'." He didn't take his eyes off him. "Good news. We were able to find a cure for Clark's condition."
"Well, son, congratulations." The wintry stretch of cheek muscles was among the most perfunctory of Lionel's many variants. His father set aside his drink, and rose.
"I've also been able to prevent any recurrence."
Eyebrow raised. "How so?"
"By telling the man responsible that if any further harm comes to Clark, he'll be brought to account before the day is over."
The other eyebrow. "If you know who he is, why don't you have him arrested now, instead of waiting?"
"I said 'brought to account'." He waited out the silence, letting it sink in.
"Wouldn't this person then simply be inclined to remove you first?"
"No, Dad. The contract is already out. If Clark is killed or disappears, the orders are activated without recall."
Lionel did not look pleased. "Rather rough justice, son."
"Not justice, Dad. Prevention. My justice would be much, much less merciful."
Lionel turned away to pick up his drink. "I can't say I approve of this vigilantism, Lex. That sort of thing could land you back in prison."
"It won't." And Lex knew his father heard the certainty. But he turned to not quite face Lex, swirling his whiskey loftily.
"Very well. Ignore your father."
"Oh no, Dad. I've always known better than to do that." Lionel's eyebrows were getting a real workout today. "You will always have my closest attention."
Lionel set his drink down with a clack. "Your infatuation for this boy is going to be the ruin of you."
"Have you forgotten, Dad? Clark and I are just good friends. But maybe even that is too much for you. The thought that I might have an ally you can't influence."
Lionel snorted. "I taught you better than that, son. Everyone can be influenced."
Lex let undisguised venom show. "Not any more." He went on implacably, "I've never understood what you think I am. Just another extension of your grasp? Or why you're so obsessed with having me in your control, when you can have a hundred thousand other lackeys to do whatever you want."
Lionel's eyebrows reached their apex at Lex's passion. "Hmp." It was a small sound of faint surprise.
"But it's over. I'm not part of you, and I'm not going to be a part of what you represent. Take this as a warning."
Lionel sighed elaborately. "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child. Someday you'll appreciate all I've done for you."
"A warning. Don't disregard it."
He was still trembling with anger a quarter of an hour after his father shrugged and departed.
And was disturbed by that even a week later, letting himself into his Chicago hotel room. The door gave a little whoosh of air as if vacuum-sealed when he opened it. How many years had it been since he had let his father's sociopathic responses churn him up to this depth? Admittedly this was different. This was Clark. This was life and death, not just happiness or disappointment.
The fact that Lionel would die if Lex lost Clark did not feel anywhere near safe enough. There had to be other safeguards...
His meetings had gone as well as could be expected. No one was going to be overjoyed to accept someone with his scaldingly recent notoriety as a CEO, but he had been twiddling with this deal even while he was imprisoned, on the off chance his appeal might be heard in time, and it was a step out from under Lionel's thumb if he could pull it off. And he had to get out of Kansas, financially. Clark hadn't been happy. Hadn't wanted him out of his sight, in fact, and had been unusually persistent about it. But there was no chance Lex was even going to ask Clark's parents if he could take their son away on a weekend jaunt.
The years it was going to take to make any of this workable...
Sighing, he looked up, and Clark was sitting on his bed.
Looking happy, guilty, and loving.
Green eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed with happiness, raven-black hair and red flannel...
None of the standard exclamations seemed adequate.
"I needed to be with you."
The voice, too, loving; excited; hopeful.
Warily, Lex said, "I don't suppose the words "Mann Act" hold any particular meaning for your generation."
"Nobody could see me, Lex."
Ah yes: faster than the human eye could follow.
Though he didn't see how that was possible without wearing out a lot of -- he looked down.
Clark's feet were bare.
Lex's tongue came out and carefully licked his lips.
"Are you mad?" Clark was looking up at him anxiously, then with a pleading look.
Lex turned and made sure the door was bolted and put the safety lock on. "No." His heart had started beating hard enough to notice and a strange fountain of joy was playing in him, each individual droplet of happiness shooting up to tease his lips into smiling, then falling back to tickle him inside. He turned toward Clark again and walked to him with a dreamlike unreality and put his hands on both sides of the boy's beautiful face. Without stopping he leaned down and kissed lips warm as morning coffee, leaned further and pushed Clark back on the bed without even trying to stop himself, stretching out on his welcoming hard/soft body and feeling strong arms come around him. For the first time it shot through him that Clark was strong enough to take anything Lex Luthor could do to him, even strong enough that those arms were not just holding him, but were protecting him, from any and every thing that might attack. Strong. At last he had someone as strong as he was.
He hadn't even known he'd been craving it.
He wondered how much Clark had craved it. The warm body under his was moving, and Clark was making little sounds into his mouth, while the strong arms roamed up and down the back of his shirt, warm enough to make him feel naked. "Lex," Clark whispered, and Lex felt the charm of the hard-on through his trousers and Clark's jeans, and knew Clark could in turn feel his full-grown desire.
"Clark, oh god --" Lex realized he was talking, onto Clark's throat, the nape of his neck, his cheek, his mouth again. "God, oh... Clark..." and he realized Clark's big hands were soothing him, gentling down his back while Clark kissed him again and again, face, neck and shoulders, collarbone, throat, and the corners of his lips as Lex babbled endless gratitude. The touch of him brought flooding the scents and textures and closeness of their too-brief moments of incandescent beauty together. He realized he had not taken the time then, distracted by tender greed, to know, inch by inch, the precious body so warm against him. The back, as broad and strong as the Kansas earth, rear as gently rounded as the farmland's hillocks, muscles in the arms that had tightened around him flowing like its rivers and streams. Clark's breath soft-scented as the heat that lifted off the clover in a fallow field.
"Get up," he murmurred, and Clark made a protesting sound. "Undress." He rolled off Clark and stood. The boy lay looking up at him lovingly. Then, before he could even move to take off his jacket, Clark was gone. There was a whoosh of air around him, a sensation like a caress across his backside, and Clark reappeared in the center of the bed among turned-back bedclothes, leaning up on one hand, without a stitch on. He was smiling a little shyly at having shown Lex his abilities for the first time.
It took his breath away. Ruddy-gold to pale against the white sheets; rose-flushed erection curving over a little toward the bed from an ebony surround of soft thick pubic hair, to prove desire; and Clark, looking him up and down artlessly, awaiting developments.
Smiling slightly, Lex slipped his suit-jacket down off of only one shoulder. He stood there long enough to see Clark's eyes widen, then, holding his gaze, slid the other shoulder off. After a moment he dropped one sleeve, held the jacket away and let it go. Slowly, he undid his belt buckle. He towed the belt out through its loops, doubled it in his hands, looking down at it, and then let it fall onto the bed in a snaky S-curve.
Clark's eyes were the size of saucers.
Lex loosened his tie almost down to his navel, and stared at Clark's cock as he took the loop off over his head and threw it on the bed also.
Heeling off his shoes, he unbuttoned his trousers, and then, arching outward just perceptibly, slowly unzipped, watching Clark as the green eyes, rapt, followed his thumbnail down the front of his groin. Letting his fly gap wide, he lifted one knee onto the bed, arched back, and rolled the sock off his foot; then did the other. Starting at the collar, he released one button, then another, then another, taking a small step back with each one, till the thin, thin cotton hung open. Pushing the shirttails back out of the way, he slid his palms down inside his pants. His erection begged for it and he caressed himself, a long slide up glittering anticipation, before hooking the waistband and loosing the trousers down his legs and stepping out of them. Taking hold of the shirt two-handed he peeled it down off his shoulders, and turned his back. He let it fall.
He had on white silk underwear. He slipped the waistband down slowly, till it hooked under the rounds of his butt, and shifted his weight; he heard a sound between a caught breath and a moan from the bed. Finally he let the weightless silkiness fall loose around his ankles and stepped out, legs slightly spread. He turned and sauntered to the bed and knelt onto it.
Clark's mouth was open. He sounded almost humbled. "I can't believe you did that for me."
"What, get undressed? I'd take my clothes off for you anytime." He accompanied the evasion with a hand skating Clark's chest. Touches on a nipple made Clark shy back skittishly.
"Lex! That was a strip-tease!"
Lex shook his head, pulling him closer. "No, Clark. Because I wasn't teasing." He let hunger show in his touch. "I wasn't showing you anything that isn't yours for the taking." And at his words Clark arched against him in open passion. Almost more than nature could resist. "But." And Lex unglued himself, pushing Clark back to his position on the bed. He had to give him one last chance to be sure of what was right. "There is still the matter of your being here at all."
Clark's face glowed dark with desire. "You can't send me home." Half plea, half almost a statement of daring fact.
"But do you know why you're here, and what it means?"
"I just needed to be sure you know how much I love you." The anxiety was back in Clark's eyes. He was saying it bravely, without adolescent embarrassment, but looking at Lex as though convinced that Lex did not, in fact, know that he was loved. "I know you thought I'd be safer at home..."
"It's not just that."
"I know. I'm putting you in danger being here. But I swear no one saw me, and no one will see me leave."
"Clark," he said gently, "the fact that we both risk our lives is one thing. But there is a moral issue here."
Clark lowered his eyes. "You mean lying to my parents."
"You may think they're wrong --"
The eyes lifted, passionate. "I know they are, Lex. Sometimes I feel like the fate of the world depends on how well I love you."
Lex had to smile at that.
"If I do it wrong, I might... change you... I was so afraid I had already done that, when I betrayed you..."
Lex ran his fingers down Clark's unruly hair, then threaded them back through it possessively. "Maybe I get a say in this. Maybe some of it depends on me?" Smiling slightly, he went on, "You already have changed me, Clark. If I truly felt you'd betrayed me, maybe I'd stop believing in anything. Maybe I'd take it out on everything around me. But I know you, Clark. And that in itself has changed me... so profoundly. Just knowing that there is a love and an honesty that's that real... You've taken that for granted, you probably can't understand how just knowing such a thing exists can change the whole realm of possibilities available to me. My father..." Lex paused. "Clark, I told him to leave you alone or I would have him killed."
He saw pain break through Clark's expression. "You think it was him?"
"Yes. I don't know why he would do it, but he has the resources and I'm beginning to think he has the knowledge about you."
"Was it because of what I did to you?"
"I don't know, Clark. I've come to realize he's obsessed with me, with controlling me, but I don't know why. It's not as if he ever cared." And he heard a naked blade like the flame-edge of lightning in his voice, shocked at how deeply it showed he felt it. "I told him I can't understand what he wants with me, he can buy anyone else in the world he wants."
Clark's hand came up, and the fingertips, somewhat shyly, brushed along Lex's cheek. "You don't understand? You really don't?"
"No." He felt a cold wave wash through him, almost like fear.
"I do. He sees what's in you, Lex. What I keep trying to tell you. What he can't get from anyone else. That... brilliance, that... perfection..." Clark paused. "You don't know what I'm talking about, do you."
"No." The coldness replaced by a hot thin ripple like embarrassment, but without recognition to explain it.
"You know you're good at what you do."
"Of course." Was that all? "But he can buy --"
"No. He can't." Clark kneeled up almost touching him, all down his front. "He can't, Lex. There is no one like you. I've known it all along. Your father knows it too. You're like... the perfect samurai blade. He wants to own it. Knows how he can use it. To cut through anything. What he doesn't see... is that in there... you're alive. He doesn't see the soul in all that glimmering steel.
"But I do." His cheek touched Lex's. "I do." His lips found Lex's mouth, warmly claiming. "I see you."
He felt as if embarrassment became a point of light, a distant lamp he hoped that Clark would always see, across the darkness. To bring Clark home, to him.
"I love you," he said, in uttermost surrender.
"Yes," Clark said, and nakedness to nakedness there was no hiding, nothing worth concealing any longer when the truth enveloped both of them in so much bliss.
Lex's touch, gentle as moth wings, made Clark squirm and shiver under his hands, reacting to the lovingness with a helpless sexuality. Much as Clark needed, Lex needed more to learn him, memorize his teenage body that felt so like a man's except in its openness, the inexperience with which it responded to all that was new -- and everything was new. But to Lex, too, Clark was the unknown, the muscles on the backs of his shoulders exotic, as his fingertips trailed over them, the flexing of Clark's ribcage with his urgent breath, the smoothness of the small of his back, the delicacy of the skin over the front of his hip-bones, and under it all, that strength... How had he never noticed it before, when he could feel it now, everywhere, a reined power in every muscle beneath this satin skin, beginning to tremble with arousal unindulged, and in the hands that imitated his gentleness on his own body, touching his buttocks with a shyness that made him arch and shut his eyes, feeling up his flanks, his own ribs, with touches so careful, so aware. Clark's breathing against him was coming in gasping in-breaths, followed by urgent out-breaths that were turning into moans, yet Clark submitted entirely to his pace, his lack of force, his lips torturing slowly across the silky chest until his tongue came out to taste a nipple that peaked as if to push itself into his mouth. He curled his tongue around and sucked, and closed his teeth till Clark cried inward and his cock pressed piteously toward Lex's retreated groin. Lex toppled him to the sheet.
Hand cupped behind the thigh, he gently pulled Clark's leg up onto him. "Go ahead if you want," he murmurred.
Clark straightened the rest of his body in a long, sexual stretch. But, "No," he gasped, "I trust you --" and as Lex slid his hand down the muscular calf, Clark pulled the knee higher so Lex could reach. The heel rounded to his palm, a stroke under the instep that jerked the whole body taut, and when he repeated it, undulated him side to side like a cobra in Lex's arms, an "Ahngh!" caught deep in his throat, then he pushed in at chest, then stomach, then groin. Clark's lips caught at his flesh frantically, panting damply at his throat, onto his shoulder, then the hollow of his collarbone as he turned his face in to Lex's shoulder desperately, his arms caught round Lex's neck.
"I don't want you to suffer," Lex whispered.
"No --" Clark managed as Lex's hand rode back up to his thigh. Another stretch and gasp, and tremulous sigh. "Not," he got out at last. A pang of sweetness transpierced Lex, a smile that kept breaking down trying to take his lips. Clark, who had so recently lain in real suffering, he supposed could be trusted to know the difference, and the ecstatic anguish of arousal was something most people would willingly, eagerly, endure. The taut muscles flinched with sensitivity under his hand as it gentled along Clark's flank. He tucked the hand down along the crevice between them, under the bent thigh, through the groove by the groin and dragged fingertips across the perineum. He hadn't provided himself with any slick and Clark would never dare to buy supplies now; Lex only teased and stroked at the opening, Clark going still at the touch, head back, eyes closed, breath held. Reminder of past transports, intimacies, delirium between them. Instead, finally, he drew the heel of his hand forward onto the soft-tight rounds, cuddling them against his thumb as his fingers touched again below, arcs of nails brushing back across the perineum. "Lex..." It was a whisper. "Lex." A breath. "Lex... Lex... Lex..." A hypnotic chant chaining his name to Clark's tongue beyond his full awareness, a statement of the name and source of all pleasure, that slowly, slowly became a prayer for finality that Lex understood it was his time to answer. He had only just begun that definitive exploration of his lover he had thought of, but already he comprehended that there was far too much of Clark, and all of it was far too perfect, for him ever to be able to ultimately define, that it was a research that could blissfully consume the whole remainder of his life. What mattered now was only Clark, his need, his readiness, the shivering profundity of his saturated lust, so deep it was tugging Lex's own in its undertow.
He moved his hand up onto a handful of Clark's cock.
And Clark started moving rhythmically, mindless bliss bringing muffled
ecstasy from his throat as his body pushed harder into Lex's hand. Hoarser,
deeper sounds in his throat coupled with harder, needy thrusting cued Lex
to change his grip and start pumping, matching Clark's moves, gently moving
his thumb onto a spot that took Clark's voice away; he felt the hips swerve,
and subtly broke the rhythm to a rougher variant. The heaving body wrenched
against him, the breath took on steam-engine quickness, and when Lex used
his other hand to push in against Clark's buttocks he felt him come, wetness
and stillness and little jerks, growing into writhing side-to-side to milk
sensation harder, stretching backward in a soundless agony, and suddenly,
to Lex's shock, in the very height of it Clark's hand, groping and gentle,
found his cock, and began a clasping stroke that flooded Lex's brain with
bliss, knocking out awareness of everything but his own body, where it
kicked and bucked and bumped against Clark's, where it swelled among the
gentle fingers and thrust along their tunnel, feeling Clark's loving offering
through every atom of his being, out into a realm of space he couldn't
physically occupy, but that still seemed part and parcel of his ecstasy,
a-tingle without nerves, aglow without electrons, a steady-state of rapture
in his universe. He reached for Clark, found himself already gripping him
intimately, felt the slide tight around his orgasmic cock and was in dazzling
space again, calling out like an infant from the deepest place, a primal
word that was nothing but his voice, but that shook Clark's grip around
him and brought him back into Clark's bliss-drenched embrace. His lover,
this hot body, rocking in pleasure still, sweating and cum-scented, panting
and his, to love, to treasure, to cradle, to protect, to have and to hold,
oh fuck, oh fuck, oh please, oh
This time when he came back he was done, drained, gently unloosing Clark's hand to show he couldn't survive another iota of pleasure.
Clark could tire too, apparently, when pushed by his own body. His arm dragged up and draped Lex hotly.
He felt like falling asleep. But Clark was here. It might not be to waste the precious moments, to sleep angelically in his arms, but he couldn't bear to relinquish consciousness of him.
"So..." he murmurred drowsily, "...you... weren't ever really chained..."
Clark's muscles tightened just perceptibly and his eyes opened but didn't meet Lex's.
"How could you control it?"
Teenage boy shyness and Clark Kent honesty. "I've always had to pretend I couldn't do things. And... I couldn't, break free, I mean, not without... admitting everything."
Lex's eyebrows lifted, teasingly. "Ingenious. Reality within unreality. I had you in my power after all."
Clark gave him one of those straight, shy looks. He said, "Always." And let Lex chill and shiver from it.
"You said it's always just the fantasy, Lex. I could say a safeword and make it stop. Just like breaking chains."
"Yes. But having to hold back... not able to really feel restrained..."
"I've always had to hold back. I'm so used to it, I hardly notice. And..." Clark's face started blushing, a tinge that turned to almost scarlet under Lex's fascinated gaze. "...well... it's you, Lex. I mean you... you make me feel... um..."
Slowly a grin tried to push its way up to Lex's lips. "Mm," he finally said, having mercy on Clark's struggle, "so I've been told." He made a good top, he could feel it, sometimes, like a form of genius, carrying him, beyond constraint, to a realm where there were no mistakes, just certainty in dark freedom, taking the currents as some Hawaiian ocean god would, to ride the waves; suddenly he dimly connected that to what Clark had said, about his father... but wasn't sure why. He certainly had no delusions about himself as a god upon the tricky surf of commerce. However he might look to a naive boy.
"Anyway," Clark said, sinking from scalding heat to gloom, "we probably won't be able to... it won't be safe. I can't even come over to your house now."
Carefully Lex explained the business deal he was trying to work out, and the effects it would have on his independence, both from Lionel and the State of Kansas. "But that's only the financial end. In the meantime we'll be working other angles. You'll get counseling. You'll marvel to your therapist at how much more interesting the real Lex is than your fantasy Lex --"
"I don't know," Clark said doubtfully. "My fantasy Lex was pretty true-to-life."
"Your therapy," Lex plowed on, "will be remarkably successful. I, meanwhile, will have moved from sympathy for your pain to admiration for your courage and your genuine repentance, and from there to scientific interest in your condition, after which true love was inevitable."
"We'll work on that part," Clark said with exaggerated diplomacy. "How long will it have to take?"
"A long time," Lex admitted. "Months. Probably a year. Maybe till you get out of high school, to be safe. We'll both have to study up on obsessional delusion, stalker-type behavior, so you can 'change'."
Clark was very quiet. Lex looked inquiringly.
"Maybe..." like it was being dragged out of him against his will, "...we should just not have any sex till then."
"You're afraid for me."
Clark raised his eyes. "This is how I started it. Not waiting." His eyes filled with pain. "Two years?" His lower lip caught in his teeth. "If I have to," he said finally. "But oh Lex --" There was such despair in his voice.
"We'll work things out. I won't have you suffer. I won't allow it."
"I just need to tell you every day how much I love you." The desperate warm body clasped closer around him. "I need you to know. I need to be with you."
He kissed Clark's hair, his cheek, his mouth. "I know. I know." He felt as if his arms could shelter Clark from anything. "There will be solutions. We'll find them. I promise you, Clark. I promise you." In so many ways Clark needed no protection of his, but in other ways, he was so vulnerable.
"I want to be with you forever."
"You may need to think of that sometimes. When it's hard, if there are times we just can't be together. Think of it like getting through high school so you can have the relative freedom of college." Something Lex knew a bit about, from his restrictive boarding school years.
Clark looked aside, and Lex remembered he'd refused to ever return to Smallville High.
"Still hard to think about?" he inquired gently. A nod. "This is something you really can work on with your therapist, Clark. I promise you I'll get the best."
"I thought that could only work if you were honest."
Lex studied his somewhat resistant expression. "No one is ever completely honest about every single thing in therapy. If they were, they probably wouldn't need it. But facing your friends and teachers isn't a hurdle you'd need to lie about. I know how you must feel. Believe me, I'm learning the difference between degrees of being out, myself. But if you can't, we'll have to set up home schooling. You're not going to throw away your education."
"I've been thinking about that, and --"
"End of discussion," Lex said.
"But all I'll be --"
"Clark, what if you lose these -- super-powers -- tomorrow? Or if you decide to put them to good use, without revealing yourself, what will you live on?" Clark had shyly shared with Lex his thoughts of secretly preventing crimes and disasters.
"I don't need --"
"You may think you can make it in some low-paid job, but think about it. Jobs for kids who never finished high-school tend to be labor-intensive. You work long hours just to get enough to survive on. How much time would that leave you for your real work? And frankly, the same is true if you don't go to college."
"I could be a prospector and discover a lot of gold or diamonds."
Lex pulled back a little to look at him. "You can do that?"
"Um. Maybe. I never tried."
"Look, money aside, you need the intellectual --"
"Lex, most of the greatest people in history never went to college. Or high school."
"Most of the great thinkers in history had the equivalent, the best education they could get at the time. And, ethical or not, you've got to have the degree before most professions here and now are open to you. Clark --" He hadn't really thought about it till now -- "You could be anything. You could --"
"No. Lex. I couldn't." He said it quietly, looking up into Lex's eyes. "A doctor? I'd always need to be skipping out on classes, never mind on patients. A lawyer? I wouldn't have time for anything like that, Lex. I've seen how Pete's Mom and Dad work. I've seen how you work. Speaking of labor-intensive."
Lex hadn't expected such considered resistance. Some of his sudden visions dropped away. "We'll talk about it. With your parents. If you're not even sure what you'd like to do, yet -- I just want to keep your options open. Okay?"
Clark looked away, tipping his head to the side in a sort of semi-acquiescence. Lex hadn't come close to winning this one, to Lex's intense surprise.
"Is it just because of having to face other people?" When Clark didn't answer, he said softly, "I know it must be so hard. For someone like you, so insecure and shy, and especially now that you're taking all the blame. If it's any help, I went back and read all the newspaper stories, and they didn't report that much detail... Mostly they just said things like 'He testified to having lurid sex encounters with the heir to the Luthor billions' -- no verbatim quotes. What you had to go through in court -- most people won't have any idea what that was like, or what was actually said. Kids your age, a lot of them probably don't even read the newspaper."
"I couldn't read it," Clark confessed, in a small voice. "I kept setting the paper on fire, I was so embarrassed. I didn't want to read the stories, I just wanted to see what they were saying about you."
God. It was going to take time, to get this out of the front of their minds.
"You can't live the rest of your life as a recluse, Clark."
The way Clark laid his head against Lex's shoulder was like saying "Why not?"
Lex sighed, and laid his hand on Clark's soft hair.
Clark said, "If I went to college, I might come out just another cookie-cutter graduate. Thinking the same things everybody else does."
Lex asked wryly, his quarter-smile wavering on the edge of something else, "Is that how you see me?"
Clark jerked back. "No! Of course not!" In alarm he put his hand behind Lex's neck. "Lex!"
"So it's possible to come through the academic mill with personality intact?"
"Maybe I wouldn't be as hard to influence as you."
"I'm beginning to wonder."
And Clark blushed, looked down, and then smiled a little up at him, in his eyes a shy delight at being found out. "It's true I kind of... keep my own opinions. Even if I stop arguing for them."
Lex's grin, slight as before, was all real now. "I had suspected it."
Clark hugged him and after a moment, said happily, "Mom and Dad really like you now."
"I don't know why, I didn't find the cure."
"You tried. And if you hadn't thought to search the field I landed in, I'd probably be dead now. Besides... I heard my Dad tell my Mom... how that last night at the hospital, he opened the door of my room, and saw you crying. Really crying, he said. For me."
Oh god. "That was him?"
"It made him realize you really did have feelings. That you were grieving, and scared, like they were." Clark petted the back of his head and neck, as if to soothe past grief.
"Hm. Good thing he didn't walk in fifteen minutes later."
Clark remembered. "Oh. Yeah."
"And that he doesn't know where you are right now." Less comfortably, Clark remained silent. Lex could feel the ache in his touch. "We'll work it out," he said quietly.
"When I thought I was going to die... being embarrassed didn't seem as important any more." He laughed shortly. "Maybe because it wasn't going to last very long. And I'm glad I talked to Mom and Dad... but even now, sometimes I stop outside a room they're in. I have to make myself go in. And my friends all came to see me in the hospital, and I knew they only wanted the best for me, and I really needed to see them and say goodbye... But now..." He shrugged in Lex's arms. "It all comes back over me and it's like..." He couldn't find a word.
Calvary, Lex thought. God I wish I could protect him.
"Have you ever wondered," he said, "what it would be like to have a secret identity?"
Clark smiled against his chest. "We kind of had that when no one knew about us."
"Looking back, I think what we had was severe sleep deprivation, which is probably why Phelan was able to sneak up on us."
"You know, he could do it again. He wouldn't have to see me, all he'd have to do is follow you."
"You want to check this room for bugs?"
"I already did," Clark mumbled sleepily.
Lex felt a wave, again, of the preciousness of the body he held in his arms, the soul that breathed inside his sheltering embrace.
"There is a way," he repeated into the soft hair, his own eyes closing. "There is a way, and we'll find it." And took as his answer the soft steady breath warm against his breast.