Consume Me
Written by: Arian

Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me; I'm just borrowing them for a little while. I do not profit from their use and make no claim on their ownership.

Chapter links : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15

~ 1 ~

"Hello? Anyone home?" Chloe pulled open the screen door leading into the Kent's kitchen, listening for sounds of Clark nearby. The smell struck her after a moment. The windows were open, and she might not have noticed if the wind hadn't changed course and blown the stench of rotting food towards her.

Chloe frowned at the bowl of apples gone bad on the centre island, at the dinner plate left sitting on the counter by the sink, food nearly untouched and half hidden by a crumpled paper napkin. Stepping closer showed her the fork lying forgotten on the floor, the knife sticking out at a tilt from the drain where it had slid down and gotten stuck tip first. A dirty pot with new-grown mold coating the leftovers inside also took up space in the sink.


She climbed the stairs slowly, ears picking up on the almost unnatural quiet of the house. She could almost hear the phantom sounds of Mrs. Kent baking at the bottom of the stairs and the clump of Clark and his father's boots on the porch as Martha called out laughing orders to not trek mud onto her clean floors. She paused a moment, smiling sadly, missing Mr. Kent and wondering how Mrs. Kent was faring in Washington.

Resuming her climb, she made her way to Clark's bedroom, tapping softly on the almost-closed door before pushing it open and taking in the room. Clark's bed was unmade, dirty laundry was stacked in the corner by the desk, waiting to be washed. Some of his dresser drawers were open, and Chloe moved inside to inspect their contents. It was hard to tell if things were missing.

Running a hand over Clark's desk, her fingers paused on his father's watch; something she hadn't seen him without since the day he first put it on. She turned swiftly and looked closer at the room. Something was off, wrong, and she couldn't quite place it.

Chloe pulled out her cell phone and tried Clark's number for what felt like the hundredth time in the week since she'd seen him last. She jumped slightly when a ringing emanated from the mess of sheets and blanket on Clark's bed. She reached forward, spread her hands along the material until she found the device. It only took a moment to flip through the call history and realize that Clark hadn't answered his phone in six days, that he hadn't made any outgoing calls in that time either.

Tossing the phone back onto the bed, Chloe moved to turn away when a flash of rusty brown caught her eyes, standing out against the pale blue sheets like a beacon. Sitting down, she reached out and scratched lightly at the stain before leaning down and inhaling the scent of Clark from the bed and the underlying metallic tint of blood. Dried blood in Clark's bed.

Just a small spot, she told herself, trying to calm the panic that attempted to take over her rationality. It worked until she pulled the sheets back and found a much larger, darker stain. Running a foot across and almost twice as long. Chloe felt her heart jump into her throat.

"Clark." Her cell phone was back in her hand and her fingers pressing the speed dial for Lana's number before she stopped and shook her head. Couldn't call Lana; Lana was dead. Her fingers stuttered and she tried again before a sob choked her. Can't call Lex, she told her fingers. Can't call Lex, because Lex is in jail. "Oh, God."

Finally she fumbled her way through her address book and stood to pace nervously beside Clark's bed - his bloodstained bed, her mind whispered – while the phone rang on the other end.


"Oh, God, oh thank God."


"Clark's missing. There's blood in his bed."

Silence on the other end of the line gave Chloe a chance to wonder how her voice seemed so steady.

"I'm in Mexico. I'll be there as soon as possible. Get out of the house, find somewhere safe, somewhere public."

"I don't think there's anyone here. I think it's been days since anyone's been here." Whisper soft and now there was a tremble in her voice.

"Doesn't matter. Go somewhere safe, somewhere public. Wait for me there."

"The Talon. I'll be at the Talon."

"Good." The line disconnected and Chloe stared at Clark's bed a moment longer before forcing herself to her feet, struggling against the threat of tears rising in her eyes and knowing that if she started crying now, she'd be a wreck when help arrived.

Chloe moved through the hallway to the stairs, taking the front door this time to avoid the smell in the kitchen. Suddenly all the signs she'd ignored when she drove up were there. Mrs. Kent's failing garden, slightly overgrown grass in the normally pristine yard, the disarray of windblown hay resting just inside the barn doors, and a forgotten blanket crumpled over a nearby fence.

She climbed into her car and drove towards the Talon. She ordered coffee and sat at a table by the stairs up to the apartment. She could go up, she knew, but he'd said stay somewhere public. Down here was public.

She would nurse her coffee and others after it until help came. She would make herself not think about the rusty stains in Clark's bed, or the rotten food and neglected property. Chloe would sit and wait for help where normally she would jump into action almost without thinking first. This was different, though. This was Clark.

~ 2 ~

"Oliver, thank you. I didn't know who else to call."

Oliver nodded and slid into the chair across from her. Brown eyes made a sweep of the Talon before they settled on Chloe. "When did you hear from him last?"

"Seven days ago. He came by the Planet on my first day back." She brushed her hair behind her ear with one hand, twisting her other around the coffee mug on the table before her.

Oliver paused. "How have you been?"

"Alright. Getting better. It's been nearly two months since it happened, five weeks since I woke up." She watched Oliver's eyes cut to the apartment door above their heads. "She's at work; she won't be home for another hour or so. Lois is fine. It's like she was never stabbed at all."

Oliver cleared his throat and let his head slip down in a half nod. "We should head to the farm. A.C. and Victor are there now checking things out." He pushed his chair back, the sound of the legs grinding against the floor almost lost amongst the chatter of mid-morning customers.


"This isn't something we should talk about here, Chloe."

"I know. I just. Thanks for coming."

"Did you think I wouldn’t?"


He flashed a quick grin at her. "Let's go before your cousin walks in and decides to rip me a new one."

Chloe laughed quietly. "I'm pretty sure that's not all she'd do."

"Which is why running would be good."

* * *

The farm told them very little. Dead and dying animals. No signs of anything missing. No sign of an actual struggle either; just the blood in Clark's bed and no clues as to where he'd gone.

"There's got to be something here," Chloe said, dropping onto the steps leading up to the porch. The breeze tugged at her hair, pulling it up and back from her face.

Victor shook his head and leaned back against the post beside her. "Chloe, we've been over the whole place. There's nothing."

"Do we even know if it's Clark's blood?" A.C. asked as he took a seat next to Chloe.

"I'm having that checked as we speak." Oliver didn't break stride as he paced across the length of the porch, hands clasped behind his back.

Chloe turned sharply, rising from the steps and throwing a hand up to stop Oliver's movements. "Who is checking?" she demanded.

"Someone we trust."

"That's not a good enough answer."

"It's the only one I have for you right now." His phone beeped as he spoke. Glancing down at the screen he nodded to himself and looked back at the others grimly. "It's his."

"So what's our next move?" A.C. asked.

"We contact Senator Kent." Oliver was off the porch and dialing a number before he finished his sentence. A few quiet words later, he pocketed the device and turned back to the others. "Our plane leaves for Washington in thirty minutes. Bart will be meeting us there. Let's go."

* * *

"Oliver, it's so nice to see you again! Come in." Martha Kent ushered Oliver into her office, taking a seat in an armchair opposite a matching black couch. Oliver moved to sit across from her.

"Thank you, Senator. I appreciate you making the time to see me today."

"Of course. You said it was urgent."

Oliver nodded, folding his hands across his knees and leaning forward, navy shirt pulling taught across his chest as he shifted. "It's about Clark. He's missing."

"He hasn't answered his phone in a week. I've been worried, but Clark knows how to take care of himself."

"Senator, Chloe found blood in his bed early this morning. It had been there a while. I've had it analyzed. It belongs to Clark." Oliver paused to let his news sink in, watching as Martha's face paled and she slumped back into the chair.

"Blood," she finally whispered as her eyes moved up to meet Oliver's steady gaze.

"We can help find him. But we need to know what you want to do. Whether or not you want to alert the authorities, which will probably lead to the press finding out."

"No, no authorities." She cast a puzzled glance at him. "We?"

Oliver gestured towards the door. "May I?" He stood when Martha nodded and opened the door to allow Bart, A.C., Chloe, and Victor, to enter.

Martha stood, mouth opening and closing once before Oliver spoke. "Senator, these are associates of mine. Victor Stone and Arthur Curry. You already know Bart, of course."

"Mrs. K, you've got the best of the best standing in front of you, if I do say so myself." Bart flashed a grin at her. "If anyone's going to figure out what happened to the Boy Scout, it'll be us."

"Boy Scout?"

"Clark's code name." Bart looked appropriately sheepish for a moment before grinning again. "He didn't get to pick it."

"Code name." Martha was looking at the group of them expectantly with her eyebrows raised in question.

"It's kind of a long story," Oliver said, feeling like a little kid under Martha's scrutiny.

"I cleared my afternoon for your visit." She took a seat in the chair again, gesturing for the others to follow suit. "Take all the time you need."

The story came out in bits and pieces, each jumping in to offer information where the other lacked it. Martha sat in relative silence, asking questions only occasionally. If Martha was shocked to learn Lex had cloned a human being using blood from an alien source, she hardly showed it; just a slight jerk of her head and an almost imperceptible intake of breath.

"You asked Clark for his help, but he said no?" she asked when they'd finished.

"He said he had another problem to take care of."

"The Zoners," Chloe offered. Seeing the confused look on Oliver's face, she continued. "Escaped criminals from the Phantom Zone. It's a Kryptonian prison created by Clark's biological father. He got trapped there for a while, and when he escaped, so did some of the others. The Zoners were Lex's source of blood."

Oliver pursed his lips and nodded thoughtfully. "Well, that's one question out of the way. Are there any more of them left?"

"No. Bizzaro was the last one. Clark destroyed him."

"Senator Kent, we'll find him." Oliver rose and headed for the door with the others in tow. "We won't stop looking."

* * *

It was dark when he opened his eyes. For a moment there was nothing. No thought, no sound, no sensation. He noticed the silence first. The farm was never silent. He could always hear the cows in the field, the sound of hooves on hard packed earth in the barn, the whisper of leaves as the wind moved through the trees and his mother's garden.

Then he noticed the feeling of disassociation with the rest of his body. It was there, he could feel it, but he couldn't feel it. It was like his limbs had fallen asleep en masse and left a heavy numbness in place of sensation.

Clark struggled to lift his head and found his movements hindered by a strap fitted firmly against his forehead. His eyes were adjusting to the darkness, but he could see nothing but blank walls and the ceiling of the space he was in. He could feel a lumpy padding at his back and beneath that an uncomfortable bar poking into his spine. A cot, his mind whispered. He tried to raise a hand and again the movement was restricted by another strap. Strapped to a cot in the dark.


You should never have trusted him, the voice in his head hissed back at him; his own voice.

~ 3 ~

Martha sat at the dining room table and stared blankly into the kitchen. This was the first time she'd been here in the month since Clark had vanished without a trace. Outside, she could hear the bustle of the men Oliver had hired for her to work the farm in Clark's absence. When she'd tried to protest, saying it wasn't necessary as she could make arrangements for the farm herself, he had insisted. "One last thing for you to worry about," he'd said.

A knock at the screen door and a quiet call of her name startled her from her thoughts and back into the present.

"Lionel, come in. I didn't know you were in Smallville."

Lionel Luthor stepped inside and gestured for her to stay sitting as he moved to sit across from her. "It was an impromptu trip. I heard you were here." He rested his hands on the table, leaning forward slightly. "Have you heard from Clark?"

"Not recently, no."

"Perhaps he's somewhere without a means to call home. Where did you say he was now?"

"Helsinki," she said, letting the lie fall from her lips without hesitation. "He'll be heading to Denmark next. I'm sure he'll call once he's there."

"I'm sure he will."

Martha let her eyes wander from his face for a moment, looking towards the stairs and then upwards to where her son's room lay empty and waiting for his return. Lionel watched her carefully as she turned back and smiled unconvincingly at him.

"I have a confession to make, Martha. I came here with an ulterior motive. I was hoping you would do me the honour of attending the Annual Gotham City Charity Event this coming Friday evening."

"Gotham City?"

"LuthorCorp has several business holdings there. I've always tried to make a point of attending. This year in particular I feel my presence is required to placate the local stockholders, what with the mess my son has gotten himself into."

"You don't seem too upset that Lex is being held under suspicion of Lana's murder."

"I know my son is innocent, Martha. Time and evidence will prove that; I have every confidence."

"Have you told Lex that?"

"My son knows where I stand on this matter."

"Are you sure, Lionel? Lex may have many talents, but mind reading isn't one of them." He had been on the news just two nights before, and Martha couldn't ever remember giving seen him look so lost. It was a face he'd never let the public see before. The tabloids had splashed the image all over their front pages and latched onto the idea that it was as good as an admission of guilt.

"Perhaps it could stand to be said aloud," Lionel conceded. "Now, will you allow me to show you off to the good people of Gotham?"

Despite her first guilt-ridden instinct to say no, Martha found herself smiling. "I'd be happy to."

* * *

Clark had tried screaming for answers at first, until the gas came and he woke up with a gag in his mouth. Struggling against the straps had also proved useless. They crossed his body at wrists and ankles, thighs, hips, chest, neck, and head. He'd pulled uselessly at them until his body ached down to his bones. They were leather on the outside, as far as Clark could tell, and reinforced with something solid on the inside. He couldn't be sure. Sensation was muted for him, and the room stayed dark whenever he was awake.

Most of Clark's time was spent unconscious. The green-tinted gas would filter into the room through vents in the ceiling, and when the kryptonite mixture reached his lungs, it burned until the darkness would creep in on him. Coming to an indeterminate amount of time later, Clark always tried in vain to catalogue his body, looking for changes. Instead of something new, he always felt only the same presence of numbed limbs that he felt when he first woke up in his prison.

It was hard to judge just how long he'd been there. The only way he marked the passage of time was by the gas sinking him into oblivion. There was no pattern he could discern; he didn't know if it came after a set length of time, and he didn't know how long it kept him under for.

He wasn't sure what was worse: not knowing how long he'd been held captive here, or not knowing what was being done to him while he slept.

He'd given up trying to figure out who had taken him. Somewhere in his head, his voice was screaming at him, telling him he knew and that he just had to remember. Clark spent a lot of his time trying to silence the voice; if he let himself think about it too long, he started to feel queasy.

For a while, he thought he had everything figured out. The people who held him captive (you know who they are! his mind screamed) had no apparent need to ask questions about who he was and where he came from. Which meant they already knew.

In fact, they didn't seem to need to ask questions at all, and now that he'd let that thought enter his mind, a whole new level of paranoia was opening itself up before him.

Squeezing his eyes shut against the barrage of questions now flooding him, Clark tried to turn his fragmented thoughts to something more bearable. He tried to think of how Chloe would be looking for him, and he wondered if she had called Oliver for help.

That led to panicked thoughts of whether or not Oliver would even help her given that he'd turned down the man's request to join his team.

Clark's mind was steadily turning into a dark and frightening place. Events he'd recalled with perfect clarity before were now horribly mutated. Lana's acceptance of his secret became a disgusted look hidden beneath a false expression of love. Digging the microchip out of Chloe's shoulder with his abilities twisted from saving her life to inflicting torture on his best friend against her will. His mother's use of kryptonite to stop the effects of Red K soon became a plot to hurt him, prevent him from being able to use his abilities ever again.

Tears were leaking silently from the corner of his eyes as the vents slid open overhead and the gas filled the room again. Clark sighed with relief when everything started to go foggy around him.

He didn't know if anyone was coming for him. He could only hope.

* * *

The orders came early Friday morning, brief and to the point. "Take off the gag."

~ 4 ~

He was suspicious when he woke and the gag was gone. It could be a trap, he thought, but for what? They already had him at their mercy. The only physical pain he'd been dealt (the only pain you can remember), was the effects of the kryptonite gas. He stayed quiet, stretching his jaw to work the stiffness out of the joints and waiting to see what would happen next.

Several of the gas cycles passed without change until he came back to consciousness and found a young, dark-haired man in a white lab coat over a dress shirt and black pants standing beside him. He held a clipboard in his one hand and was scribbling notes quickly with the other. Clark's startled intake of breath drew his attention, and he let the hand holding the clipboard drop to his side.

"Hello, Clark."

Clark said nothing, watching him carefully.

The man chuckled. "My name is Doctor Jergens. How are you feeling?"

Clark was torn between ignoring him and facing the possible consequences, or playing along with an answer. The doctor was looking at him expectantly.

"You have permission to speak, Clark."

Permission, Clark thought. Permission? Anger flooded him, bringing bright spots of colour to otherwise pale cheeks. "Let me go," he growled, his voice coming out rough from disuse. The doctor chuckled and smiled.

"I'm afraid you're still needed here."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Your body is providing something our team currently requires. When we no longer have need of it, you will be released."

"You kidnapped me and you plan to let me go. Why should I believe you?"

"Your memory will be modified, of course. The boss doesn't want any pesky memories of your time here floating around and spurring you into action. But yes, you will be released as soon as we have achieved our goals."

A fleeting thought tugged at the edges of Clark's mind. The boss. He knew who that was. Didn't he?

"I'm sure you've noticed that we've already altered a small portion of your memory. To hide the knowledge of where you are and how you got here. I assure you there will be no undesirable side effects from the process. The technique has improved by leaps and bounds since Lawrence Grady first developed it."

That was something else he felt he should know; that name and the technique Dr. Jergens was talking about. Faint wisps of memories lurked just beyond his reach, and it was infuriating.

"We'll need you again in a few hours, Clark. Best you get some rest, try to relax before then. I'll see that you're brought some food and drink before we begin."

Clark glared at the man's back as he left, the short interaction having drained him of too much energy to do much else. Sighing, he closed his eyes and brought to mind the sounds of his mother's laugh and the feel of his father's hand on his shoulder, trying to centre himself. Eventually he drifted into sleep and woke only when a cart rattled into the room, pushed by a woman in dark red scrubs and smelling like home.

* * *

Lex paced the length of his cell waiting for his lawyer to arrive. He had lost weight, and the dark circles beneath his eyes made his skin look even pale. He hadn't been sleeping. He'd barely been eating.

Other inmates had learned to leave him alone after a man twice Lex's size had spent two nights in the infirmary after less than half a dozen blows from Lex's hands had been the response to the inmates opening shove. Lex had spent those same two nights in solitary confinement. He didn't mind. It was the only chance he'd been given to grieve.

There was a change on the horizon if his lawyer was to be believed. The man had sent word that morning about a development in his favour and a promise to bring him up to speed in the afternoon. Lex had been restless ever since. It was nearly the end of visiting hours, and he wasn't sure he had it in him to wait another day.

Just when he was ready to ream his lawyer a new one, a guard appeared at his cell door and called his name gruffly.

"Visitor, Luthor. Let's go. You got ten minutes."

* * *
Two Months Later

"Watchtower, what's our status?"

"You've got three heat signatures making their way to the east doors now and two more headed for the north ones."

"How close are they?"

"Nearly out," Chloe's voice crackled across the earpiece followed a few seconds later by an all clear message for both exits. "Do your thing and get out of there, guys."

Oliver's electronically enhanced voice delivered rapid-fire orders. "Impulse, set your charges and meet Cyborg at the rendezvous point when I give you the go ahead. Cyborg, hope you've got that door open by now." Victor responded affirmatively. "Aquaman, are you ready for detonation?"

"Give me 30 seconds and I will be."

"Watchtower, how are we doing for time?"

"Authorities should arrive in approximately nine minutes, ten at the outside."

A.C.'s voice came across the headsets. "I'm ready to detonate on your signal, Green Arrow."

"Aquaman, you are clear for detonation on my count. Three, two-"



"There's a room under Cyborg and Impulse's rendezvous point."

"Not according to the schematics," Victor said.

"We don't have time for this, Watchtower."

Chloe ignored Oliver. "Cyborg, look at the area surrounding it. There are rooms on three sides and the edge of the building is in line with a potential outside wall on the fourth. It forms a perfect square. LuthorCorp's Plant #3 in Smallville was set up in a similar way. The space appeared empty but was actually housing level 3."

"If Luthor's done it before, there's a chance he's done it again here. There could be something there. We should check it out."

"Cyborg, we have a limited amount of time, here. I don't know about you guys, but I'd prefer not to have to come back and do this again."

"Give us three minutes."


"Impulse, let's go."

The hidden control panel on and otherwise blank expanse of wall was their first indication that something was off. Victor bypassed the security and let Bart inside just as Oliver's voice reminded them that they were at the one minute mark and had better be heading back to their positions soon.

"Looks like a lab. Or what used to be a lab. Everything's been swept clean by the look of it." Bart did a quick search of the room while Victor spoke.

"Nothing left but some equipment. No papers or electronic data in the joint," Bart added as he came to a stop. "Let's get outta here, man. I'd like to get home before this place blows."

"I've got a few pictures, Watchtower."

"Let's play show and tell later, kids." Oliver turned his attention to the steadily declining window of opportunity at hand. "Charges set in sixty seconds, so get a move on you two."

"Already in place, amigo."

"In position now," came Victor's response.

"Aquaman, you are go to detonate now."

"Done and on the move, Green Arrow."

"Cyborg, in three, two, one, set!"


"Impulse, ready in two, one, go."

Bart appeared at Victor's side moments later. "Good to go and already at the rendezvous point."

"Aquaman, are you clear?" Receiving an affirmative, he set his own charges and then Oliver was moving swiftly towards the doors that would lead him to the back of the LuthorCorp building. "Final charges are set. Evacuate and meet at the docks in two minutes, team."

By the time fire crews arrived at the building, the four were already en route to Oliver's penthouse. Behind them the building burned, taking with it any evidence that the hidden lab had been a prison to Clark Kent for the last three months.

~ 5 ~

She knew these streets, recognized the landmarks, and understood the rapidly spoken language surrounding her. She had memories of a pretty blonde man on a motorcycle with an easy drawl and a smile that lit up his whole face. She remembered lunches in the cafe down the street from where she was staying now, and afternoons spent walking through the city on cobblestone roadways that were hundreds of years old.

What she didn't remember was how she'd gotten here when the last thing she could recall with any degree of clarity was the day of her high school graduation when the sky had fallen on Smallville once again. There were scraps of memories of the time in between, floating along her mind as if they were caught in the ocean's currents. She'd reach for them only to have them slip through her fingers.

From time to time a crystal clear image would form. Clark smiling at her as they raced along a path she couldn't see. Chloe's pre-coffee face in the mornings as sunlight spilled through dorm room windows and made her blonde hair gleam. The sound of Lex's voice in her ear and the way he would make her shiver when his hands skated across her bare skin. Her aunts face as they looked through the window of a shop in this city and saw the perfect... something. She didn't know what.

Every day that passed brought with it a new piece of the puzzle. If she was patient, maybe the right piece would come along and everything else would just fall into place.

* * *

When he opened his eyes to blue sky instead of a dark, vented ceiling, he was confused. Clark blinked a few times and wondered if they had moved on to a new form of torture. He flexed his fingers, feeling real grass and dirt under his fingers, and when he turned his head to the left and right he could see tall trees growing on the outskirts of the little clearing he'd woken up in. There were foreign birds nearby – he could hear their songs, melodies he had never heard outside of a discovery channel special – and small animals crunching lightly through the underbrush.

The next realization he came to was that his abilities had returned. He could hear a plane soaring high overhead, hidden by the tree line, and when he focused, he could see past the trees. All he could see in any direction was trees. No roads, no people; nothing to indicate a link to civilization. Clark shuddered and picked himself up off the forest floor. Brushing dirt from his jeans, he started walking. It didn't matter where; there wasn't anywhere to go.

He didn't know how long he'd been gone, but it had to of been long enough that someone would've come looking for him. Clark knew people powerful enough to have found him; if he was even findable. What if he'd been too well hidden? What if everyone thought he was dead?

Until a tree fell when he plowed through it, Clark didn't realize that he had slipped into a blind run through the jungle. And it was definitely a jungle, he could see that now. He stopped, breathing in the thick air so heavy with heat that it felt almost solid. He could hear wild animals hidden by more shades of green than Smallville ever had to offer and large cats prowling restlessly nearby, startled by his presence.

Something roared in the distance, and Clark started moving again. He didn’t know where he'd go. Home wasn't an option. There was a half-formed thought tugging at the back of his mind, telling him that home wasn't safe and for now he planned to listen to it.

* * *

"Who." Lex sat placidly before his fidgeting lawyer, arms crossed over his chest, his orange coveralls stretching tightly across his biceps.

"We don't know yet, Mr. Luthor."

Lex uncrossed his arms and folded his hands on the table, leaning forward. "When will you know."

The man struggled visibly to bring his nervous twitching under control. He straightened in his seat and met Lex's eyes. "I've authorized a third team. It could be any day. Or," he hesitated, breaking eye contact just long enough to let his eyes flick over Lex's shoulder before returning to his face. "It could be weeks. Months, even."

"I don't think I need to explain why that answer isn't satisfactory, do I." Lex arched an eyebrow and sat back in his chair, looking like the powerful businessman he had been – still was – before orange coveralls had taken the place of Versace suits.

"Mr. Luthor–"

"Don't offer me inane explanations, Mr. Tullson, just do it. Find the person responsible for putting me here. I expect an update in no more than 48 hours. I sincerely hope that it will be good news." Lex stood, indicated to the guard that he was finished, and left without looking back.

* * *

For weeks Clark wandered without aim during the day. At night he dreamt of a spreading pool of blood soaking into wash-worn sheets and a shadowy figure in the doorway telling him his sacrifice would better the world for humankind. On waking the word humankind would echo through his mind as he tried desperately to claw through fractured memories in search of the shadow's identity. It wouldn't come to him. Instead he would pant for breath and long for the home that used to be a safe haven.

The morning he woke in a back alley in Rome after a particularly bad nightmare, Clark understood he needed to do something before he let anymore of himself slip away.

* * *

They were small things at first; a brief mention in the world news section of the Daily Planet about a family of three saved by a dark-haired stranger who didn't stick around for a thank you. They claimed he appeared from nowhere and disappeared in an instant.

Chloe didn't notice them until a family in Britain was saved from their burning country home in the middle of the night. By the time fire crews arrived forty minutes later, the fire had already been extinguished "in the blink of an eye" according to the father.

Once she started paying attention, she began finding one or two mentions a week of mysterious rescues around the world all through the holiday season. Clark had been missing since late August, and these were the first signs she'd seen of him since then.

Oliver cautioned her that there was no proof, but she was sure it was him. The media hadn't caught on to anything unusual – the rescues were too far apart in distance and too close in time to form any sort of pattern. An article would show up in a Brazilian newspaper one day, and the next day would bring reports from Greenland. Oliver tried to look into the events, but he made no headway. Everyone said the same thing; they didn't get a good look at their rescuer, and he was always gone before anyone could speak to him.

When she tried to create a pattern out of the events, even going back in time to dig through what she might have missed, she came up with nothing. It appeared to be a completely random series of events. So she did the only thing she could do. She watched and she waited for Clark to reveal himself.

* * *

The anonymous rescues were the only thing that made him feel human anymore. He didn't stick around afterwards for fear of being discovered and locked away again, but that fear didn't stop him from trying to help people anyway. When he'd found out how many weeks had passed while he was held captive, Clark had taken his frustration out on a small forest in a valet between two mountains.

He'd been angry at his inability to remember how he'd been taken and ready to scream because locked inside his head somewhere was the knowledge of who had held him captive for more than two months.

When he finally stopped moving, when he was too tired to keep up the frantic pace he'd been holding, Clark found himself in Paris. It had been almost nine months since he'd woken up free, and he still had no answers. His memory would offer bits of experiences, flashes of sensation, haunting echoes of emotion, but none of it made any sense to him. His dreams were always the same. They teased at the edges of what he had forgotten. Bloody sheets, a figure in the doorway, that same figure leaning over him as he lay strapped to a cold steel table and a voice telling him once again that his sacrifices were for the greater good, and he should be thankful they made him forget what they did.

Clark had been in Paris for almost two weeks when he woke from another dream gasping a name and clutching his head against the phantom pain from a wound he couldn't remember sustaining. The name was gone from memory bas soon as it left his lips as his whole body focused on the ache in his skull.

When the pain had faded, he pulled himself from the bed of a rundown motel room that he'd taken when sleeping on the streets or in the woods became too depressing and he yearned for the comfort of a real bed. Getting dressed, Clark picked up what little money he had left from hauling boxes for a week of nights when he'd first arrive in the city. It was still early, and he decided to get breakfast form the cafe down the street.

Clark was wholly unprepared for the sight that greeted him there. Sitting in a seat by the window, Lana lifted a steaming mug and pursed her lips to blow cool air over the liquid. She took a small sip as she flipped through the pages of a magazine. Clark stared, disbelief written across his features. When Lana put her mug down, her eyes lifted to look out the window. Her gaze fell on Clark and for a moment she just stared at him, frozen in place. Then she was up and running out the doors, crossing the street, and throwing herself into his arms.

"Lana," he whispered, pulling her in tight against him. "You're alive."

It took her a moment to process his words, and she pulled back to look up at him. "Why wouldn't I be alive, Clark?"

"Your car... Lionel saw your car blow up. Lex is waiting for his trial to start. Lana, he's being charged with you murder. Everyone thinks your dead."

"Why would Lex have tried to kill me?"

Clark drew back until just his hands rested on her shoulders. "Because you knew the truth behind what he was doing. Because you..." He trailed off at her expression. "Lana?"

"What do you mean I knew the truth about what he was doing? How? What could possibly have been bad enough for him to want me dead?"

"You’re his wife, Lana. You had access to things that no one else did. After the cave in, after you found his plans for Project Ares, you told him you were leaving him."

"I don't..."

"You don't remember, do you?"


"We have to go home. Lex is – we need to..." He couldn't seem to complete a thought.

"Clark, I don't understand what's going on."

He looked down at her and said softly, "Neither do I."

~ 6 ~

Lana Luthor's return from the dead sent the media into a frenzy of activity. Lex's lawyers were all over the news demanding his release and had already swarmed Lana, forbidding her from making a public statement until they'd spoken with her. Lana did as she was told. She could remember only flashes of her life with Lex, but what she could recall felt safe, warm, like coming home.

She remembered the beginning of their relationship, dancing at a costume ball, flashes of a beautiful ivory gown, purple flowers and Lex smiling in a tux. She remembered just enough to make her push her way through the crowds outside the precinct and wrap her arms tightly around him, letting him lift her off her feet, kiss her, and whisper in her ear how much he loved her, missed her, mourned her.

She held tighter at the words and buried her face against his neck, whispering his name over and over again.

Clark's homecoming was quieter. He arrived at the farm in the middle of the night and slowly climbed the steps to the front door, trying to ignore the feeling that it wasn't safe. The house was quiet, dark, but even still he could see that it and the surrounding land were well-maintained. He paused long enough to scan the interior only to find it void of any human presence. Even Shelby was gone.

Popping the lock, Clark entered slowly, shoulders stooped, eyes downcast. He turned and shut the door behind him, leaning forward to rest his forehead against the cool grain.

His bedroom looked just as he'd last seen it. He stopped in the doorway and took in all the things he'd chosen to surround himself with. Warm wood, posters on the walls, the comfort of his plaid bedspread and beneath it the warmth of soft – blood stained – blue sheets. Clark started at the image called up in his mind, blood dripping from his forearm and pooling on the bed sheets. He strode forward swiftly and tanked the covers back to reveal nothing but blue. He even pulled the sheets off the mattress and ran his hand over the surface. It was clean. He stepped back and looked again. It was new.

He stayed inside the house when the workers arrived the next morning and didn't leave until long after they'd gone for the day. He made his way through the dark towards the barn, heading up the stairs until he reached the loft. He paused at the top and looked over the space the same way he'd done with his bedroom. The loft felt like a foreign place to him now. Like a shirt that was just a bit too tight across the shoulders, pulling when you moved and reminding you that it is no longer fits what you've become. He left without moving further inside.

Clark bypassed the house and started walking down towards the road, no particular destination in mind. Sometime later he stopped in front of the gates to the mansion. The building looked dark and imposing against the moonlit sky. He switched almost unconsciously into x-ray vision, searching until he found Lana asleep in a bedroom and Lex pacing the length of his office, skirting the pool table and leather furniture in a large figure eight; a glass of Scotch in one hand and the other tucked into his pockets.

Clark had to force himself to move on. Eventually he broke into a run, crossing aimlessly from one end of Smallville to the other and back again several times before he stopped outside the Talon and looked up at the darkened windows of the apartment Chloe and Lois shared. He could see Chloe in bed, Jimmy at her side, lying on her back with her eyes open and staring at the ceiling. She shifted, turning to face the window he stood beneath.

He watched her for a few minutes as she shifted several times and finally pushed herself up and headed to the kitchen. He waited until she had poured a glass of water, taken a sip, and set the glass back down before he lifted himself to tap gently on the window she stood beside.

* * *

Chloe jumped at the noise and nearly shrieked at the sight of Clark outside her window. His hair had grown longer, she saw, and he was wearing a few days stubble on his jaw. She flipped the lock on the window and pilled it open, whispering his name once.

"Clark," she said again, relief and worry warring for dominance in her voice. "Don't you dare scare me like that again!" Clark's nod let her know he understood that she was speaking about more than just floating in mid-air outside her window.

Holding out his hand to her, he said, "Come with me?"

She nodded, grabbing a sweater to pull over her thing tank top before slipping into her shoes and grabbing her keys. "I'll meet you downstairs," she whispered.

He shook his head. "This way." He offered both hands this time. "I promise not to drop you."

Chloe didn't hesitate. She stepped forward and pulled herself up into the window frame, letting Clark grasp her waist in both hands and lift her out before pulling her close to his chest. Chloe wrapped her arms around his neck as he floated down to land lightly on the pavement. Chloe didn't let go, and she didn't say anything for a long time as they held onto each other.

"Where have you been?" she asked, looking up at him. Tired eyes met her and a small smile tugged at the corner of his lips for just a moment before disappearing behind a mask of feigned casualness.

"Around. Seeing the world." He shrugged, knowing she wasn't buying it.

"Clark, you disappeared without a word. I found blood in your bed." She felt the tremor that ran through is body.

"The blood was real?" he whispered, more to himself than to her.

"Clark?" Worry was winning now.

"I've been having dreams. Of that. I thought, hoped that they were just dreams. But when I went home..."

"There was no trace of blood and a new mattress. Oliver took the old one and burned it."

"Why didn't they clean it up?"

"Who is 'They'?"

"I can't remember who. Chloe, they did something. To my head. I don't really know what happened to me."

"Start from the beginning. You're confusing me."

"I was... they –" Clark's body trembled again as a faint flash of memory came back to him; lying flat on a table, naked save for a pair of boxers that were not his own, bags of blood hanging from metal poles above his head and two men in white coats bent over him as they extracted skin samples from his inner thigh and arm.

"They took me. Took things from me. Blood. Skin. I don't really remember. There was a room with a bed – a table actually – and vents where the gas came out of. I remember that mostly, but there are other things." Chloe's brow scrunched at his mention of a vented ceiling, but whatever thought she'd been verging on disappeared as Clark continued.

"They're faint, just echoes of memories that they took from me." Clark's eyes were fixed somewhere above her head, his hands still at Chloe's waist while hers still hung around her neck.

"I woke up in the jungle one day. Months ago. I wandered, and I started helping people. It made me feel human again after weeks of feeling like a lab rat."

"I've been tracking you. We've been tracking you, really. But every time Oliver made it to where it seemed you had been, you were long gone."

"You looked for me?"

"Of course we looked for you, Clark."

"I thought. I mean, when no one came –"

"We never stopped looking."

He hands shifted and he pulled her in close again, hugging her tightly and burying his face in her hair. "I found Lana in Paris," he continued. "Her memory has been modified, too. Whoever took me is behind it, I'm sure of it. They have to be."

Chloe looked at him, finally stepping out of his embrace. He appeared worn and tired. Thinner but still muscular. His hair was swept across his forehead and the ends brushing the middle of his ears. Bright eyes were now dim and haunted looking.

"We'll figure it out, Clark, somehow. I promise."

He nodded absently, casting his eyes around their surroundings, looking at the brick wall of the Talon over her shoulder, at the asphalt below their feet. Anywhere but at her.

She put a hand on his arm, grounding him, offering reassurance silently in the simple touch. "Come inside and I'll make up the couch for you. You don't need to be alone tonight."

"What about tomorrow night? And the night after that? Chloe, I'm always going to be alone." He shook his head. "I'm going to head back to the farm."

"I'll come with you. I can't promise forever, but I can promise tonight. You won't be alone tonight."

"It's okay. I'll be okay."

"I know."

"Go back to bed, Chloe. I'm sorry for dragging you out here."

"I can sleep at the farm just as easily as I can sleep here." She laughed dryly. "Probably better."

"I don't need a babysitter," he said softly.

"I don't want to let you go."


"Clark, you've been gone almost a year. Don't make me say goodbye to you tonight."

He looked at her quietly before nodding. "You should leave a note." Pulling her back into his arms, he lifted her back to the window, waiting while she grabbed a few things and scribbled a quick note for Jimmy and Lois.

Returning to the window, she let herself be lifted into Clark's arms again, turning long enough to slide the window shut behind her.

"So," she said. "This is new." She leaned over to look at the ground ten feet below them.

He smiled. "I learned a couple new tricks."

"You'll have to tell me about them." She yawned, turning her head to the side. "In the morning."

Clark laughed slightly and tightened his embrace before carrying them back home.

Chloe hadn't been to the farm for months. Not since the last time Martha had returned with Lionel on her arm. That was one piece of information she withheld from Clark when he asked how his mother was.

They'd settled on the couch, side by side in front of the cold fireplace, a mug full of coffee in her hands and the worn edges of a blanket being worried between his. Clark was nervous, she could see it; uncomfortable in his own skin.

When they headed upstairs to sleep, she watched him hesitate in front of his bedroom.

"Clark" she asked, her voice seeming loud in the quiet of the house. "Do you think I could share a bed with you tonight?"

He looked relieved when he faced her and nodded yes. He entered the room and she watched without a word as he shed his boots and jeans, leaving only his boxers and a t-shirt in place. She could see his hands tremble slightly as he pulled back the covers and climbed in, holding them open for her to slip beneath.

Chloe kicked off her own shoes and tossed her sweater over the back of his desk chair before sliding in next to him, curling her body around his without hesitation. Clark's chest hitched as he drew in a stuttered breath.

"Thank you," he said, slipping his arm beneath her head and letting his other hand find hers on top of his stomach. Time seemed to move slowly in the darkened room, but finally he fell into sleep. Chloe let her own eyes close and relaxed until she drifted to sleep as well.

* * *

It wasn't that Lex was worried his father would retaliate, because he wasn't. It wasn't that he was scared of what Lionel would do, because it didn't matter. It was that Lex didn't want to tip his hand yet. When his lawyer had told him Lionel orchestrated Lana's death he had been furious. But he'd held back, letting the anger cool until it simmered in the background. Revenge was coming, but until the moment was upon him, it wouldn’t do to let his father know he knew.

When Lana returned he'd been scared for the first time in a long time. His lawyers told him of the gaps in her memory. It had been a week before he was released from prison. During that time, Lana had undergone medical exams regarding the loss and police questioning until authorities believed he'd had nothing to do with her faked death.

It wasn't until Lana pushed her way toward him through a crowd of police, reporters, and the curious public and he'd been able to wrap his arms around her that he really believed she was alive. The memory loss should have surprised him, but it didn't. He knew his father had a hand in the memory modification procedures being developed at Summerholt; he had underestimated the scope of his father's involvement. That wasn't a mistake he would make again.

Lex understood he was at a turning point. He could come clean with Lana about everything and leave it to her to decide if she wanted to stay or go, or he could lie to her, take her far away, and leave the mess behind them. In the end he knew that if he wanted to keep her, he would have to tell the truth.

When the time came Lana sat silently through his admissions. She didn't flinch, not even when he admitted to tampering with the pregnancy. Lana watched him pace the length of the room, eyes tracking his movements as he told her about project Ares, and confessed to the death of her doctor on their wedding day, after admitting to the tests of her loyalty. He told her how she had gone to Clark on their wedding day and told him that she didn't want to marry him. He expected her to leave, to run as far from him as she could get.

After he was done, she stood and moved into his path, stopping his movements. She put a hand on each of his biceps. "If you want me to stay, Lex, you need to change your professional and personal life. You need to be the man I know you can be. Tell me you'll do that, and I'll stay. It's your choice, Lex. What's it going to be?"

"Lana, I love you." She watched him expectantly. "I'll do whatever it takes. Please. Just stay."

~ 7 ~

"Why are you staying with him?"

Lana looked up at Clark, hazel eyes sad and fingers twisting nervously in the hem of her shirt – pale pink, like she used to wear before Paris and Jason and other events changed her.

"Because I love him. It really is that simple," she added at the look he gave her. "Clark, he could have lied to me about the past, about our history together, and I wouldn't have known the difference. But he didn't."

"How do you know?"

"You've told me yourself, Clark. Chloe filled me in as well. I don't think Chloe would lie to me, not about something so important." Clark flinched at what was left unsaid.


"I love you, Clark. On some level I think I'm always going to. But I'm married to Lex. That's my future. If you care, you'll make an effort. Lex isn't a bad person. I'm asking you to try. Please?"

"I –" he began. "I can't promise to suddenly let everything go and pretend there's no rift between us. Not overnight, Lana, and maybe never. He's dangerous, whether you see it or not."

"He'll clean up his act."

Clark barked a short and humourless laugh.

"Do you trust me?" She waited for his nod. "Then believe me when I say he won't be the same man."

* * *

Clark went to see his mother. He arrived at the building full of sleek, new condos, and stood outside for a few minutes. It was late, but he could see her moving around the top floor. The contrast bothered him; the Martha Kent he'd grown up with lived with both feet planted firmly on the ground. She grew organic produce and made the most amazing baked goods he'd ever tasted. She was a farmer's wife. Now she lived twenty stories above the ground surrounded by glass and steel.

He shook his head and launched himself upward, coming to land on the balcony of the penthouse. He tapped on the sliding glass door.

"Clark!" The door was flung open and she was pulling him into his arms and hugging him tightly. He returned the embrace, drinking in the warmth of her body and her familiar scent. Martha's arms tightened around him briefly before she pushed him back and cupped her hands against his cheeks.

"Hey Mom."

"Clark, sweetheart, are you alright? Are you hurt? Where have you been? I've been so worried." She pulled him back to her again.

"I'm okay. I've –" He stopped talking when the door opened and a male voice called out through the condo.

"Martha? I'm sorry I'm so late. The board meeting ran longer than anticipated. Now that Lex is back and –" Lionel Luthor stopped talking as he entered the room. "Clark, this is a surprise. Martha didn't say you were coming home."

"He surprised me, too, Lionel." She looked up at Clark meaningfully. "I thought he was still in Scotland."

Clark didn't look at his mother as he answered, "I got homesick."

Lionel stepped forward and clapped a hand to his shoulder, resting the other against the small of Martha's back. "It's good to have you home, son. Are you heading back to Smallville, or will you be staying in town for a while?"

Clark tried to ignore the feeling of distrust running through him. Lionel wasn't entirely trust worthy, but it didn't warrant the feeling he had. "I'm not sure yet."

"You're welcome to stay, of course. As long as you like."

Clark finally looked at his mother, struggling not to spill a dozen different questions from his mouth. Lionel let go of his shoulder and moved towards the wet bar.

"Can I fix either of you a drink?"

"Thank you, no." Martha said. "I'm going to get Clark set up in the guest room. He's spent a long time traveling, and I'm sure he's tired." She looked up to him, trying to communicate without words that they'd talk about all of this soon enough. She smiled in relief when he nodded.

"Good night, Clark." Lionel raised his glass as the two left.

Clark waited until they reached the guest room before he stopped his mother with a hand on her arm.

"Tomorrow, sweetheart. I promise we'll talk tomorrow." Martha's voice held a note of resigned sadness that matched the look in her weary, blue eyes.

In the living room, Lionel refilled his glass and gave a silent toast to himself.

* * *

He was angry. His mother had moved in with Lionel Luthor while he was lost. Looking back, Clark had been seeing signs, hints that this might happen someday, for years. His mother's defense of Lionel despite her own admissions that he couldn't be trusted, his presence at their dinner table on Thanksgiving, the months she had spent working as his assistant even when her own life was endangered; it was all there waiting for him to piece together. But Lionel knew about his abilities. So he tried to ignore the recent churnings in his gut that told him maybe the man was getting too close to his mother for comfort.

Now, though, now he paid attention. He got angry. He listened to the feeling in his gut that something with Lionel was off. Wrong. He tried to convince his mother of this over lunch the next day.

"Clark," she said as they sat in the penthouse eating a lunch that once Martha Kent would have made herself before she had a staff to make it for her. "He's a good man. He's changed, even more than he already had. There was a time when I wouldn't have trusted him any further than I could throw him, but not anymore. He's proven himself time and again while you've been – gone." Missing, she thought.

"He's still a Luthor."

"You sound like your father."

"Maybe dad had it right."


He didn't apologize, but he did shrug and let it go for the time being.

* * *

Awkward would have been an understatement for the scene Chloe found when she arrived at the Italian restaurant Lana had chosen for lunch. Martha, Lionel, Lex, Lana and Clark sat at a large, circular booth in the back corner. Chloe slid in on the end next to Clark, settling back against the plush, berry red seat. Clark looked like he wanted to sink into the floor, or at least run far away as quickly as possible. Lex looked like he wouldn't mind doing the same.

Martha kept darting glances between her son and Lionel, looking as if she expected them to come to blows any second. With what Clark had been telling her, that might be a real possibility. He hadn't been able to explain his sudden distrust of the man. Chloe had pushed and pulled, trying to help him pinpoint the moment he'd gone from inviting the man to stay for his mom's chicken pot pie, to a deep-seated feeling that Lionel was hiding something. All it got him was a frustrated Clark hanging up the phone in Washington and entering the basement of the Planet a few seconds later.

"Chloe, I can't explain it," he'd said, slumping against the side of her desk. "They messed with my memories." The last part had been quiet, nearly under his breath.


"Not now, Chloe."

She was pulled back into the present by a server appearing with menus and a wine list. The dinner had been Lionel's idea – a celebration of "the children's return" he'd said. Now they sat in an upscale Metropolis restaurant, sipping expensive wine, and making awkward small talk. The line of Clark's body screamed with tension as he took another drink of wine that would have no effect on him.

Until it did.

At first Chloe credited the flush in his cheeks to anger, but when he snapped his salad fork in half, Chloe knew something was up.

"Wow, you'd think in a place like this the silverware would be of a little better quality than that." Chloe laughed, doing her best to downplay it while Clark was still staring at the jagged end of each half of the fork.

"Perhaps Clark is simply stronger than he thought."

Martha looked at Lionel, surprise and something that might have been anger written across her face. Lex and Lana watched the exchange with interest as Clark stumbled to his feet, mumbling something about the washroom and tripping over Chloe as he tried to walk away.

"Or perhaps the wine went to his head." Lionel watched Clark's retreating back with a smirk, bringing his own glass up to his lips and taking a sip.

Chloe stood. "I'm going to go check on him." Making her way across the restaurant, Chloe turned Lionel's words around in her mind. Had he done something to Clark's drink? He knew his weakness, and that combined with Clark's unexplainable reaction to the man set warning bells ringing in her head.

She stood outside the men's room, waiting for Clark to reappear. When several minutes had passed and he didn't, she cautiously pushed the door open.

"Clark?" The sound of retching met her ears. Stepping further inside, she let the door swing shut behind her and scanned the bottom of the stalls for Clark's feet. She spotted his legs in the furthest stall from the door of the otherwise empty washroom.

"Hey, Clark, what's wrong?"

Clark coughed and cleared his throat before croaking out, "Not sure."

She was standing outside his stall now and winced as he retched once more and started to dry heave. "Can I get you anything? Water?"

Behind them the door opened and Lex appeared. "Lana suggested I see if everything was alright." He didn't flinch at the sounds coming out of Clark's stall.

"I'm going to take Clark home. Dinner didn't agree with him."

"The penthouse is nearby if you think the drive back to Smallville would be too much for his stomach. It's empty at the moment."

"No driving," Clark groaned, sounding like the idea itself would be enough to upend his stomach again.

"I guess we're going to the penthouse." Chloe's dislike of Lex took a backseat to a puking alien. They'd stay until Clark felt well enough to go back to Smallville where she could grill him about what was going on without having to worry about Lex listening in.

"I'll tell my father and Ms. Kent we're leaving." Lex turned away.

"You're coming with us?"

Lex didn't look back. "You may be Lana's best friend, but you're still a reporter, Chloe. Do you think I'd let you loose in my home without supervision?" Chloe could hear him chuckling as the door swung shut behind him.

"You'd think he forgot he threatened me not too many months ago," she muttered as Clark flushed the toilet and struggled to his feet and unlocked the door.

"What'd you say?"

Chloe shook her hear, taking in his pale face and green-tinted skin. "Never mind. You're looking a little green there, Clark." She stepped close enough for Clark to fall unsteadily back against the wall. "Literally. Clark, you're sweating green."

"What?" He pushed off the wall and moved to the mirror to look for himself. "Chloe."

"The wine. It must have been spiked."

Clark ran the water and dipped his hands under the stream before bringing them up to his face. "Lex or Lionel?"

"My money is on Lionel. You heard him back there."

"Maybe we should skip the penthouse and head straight back to Smallville. I don't trust either of them any further than I could throw them."

"I don't know, Clark. I get the impression you can throw pretty far." Lex's voice startled them, and Clark visibly jumped.


"Would I be correct in assuming you think your wine was tampered with?"

"In the mood to confess?" Chloe arched an eyebrow at him.

"I'm not the one you need to worry about. My father, on the other hand, well." He let the thought dangle.

"Just the same, I think we'll attempt the drive to Smallville." Clark paled at her words but said nothing.

"I'm not sure Clark would make it out of the parking lot, let alone out of the city." Lex was watching Clark as he spoke.

"Chloe, I'll be fine. Just drive slowly." He didn't even sound convincing to himself.

She sighed. "Lex is right. And I don't really feel like getting my car detailed tonight."

"It's a short walk. Five blocks."

Clark knew he was being overruled. "Let's go."

Lex led them out the back entrance, the kitchen staff not even stopping to look at them, effectively avoiding Lionel. Lana met them outside and pulled Chloe aside.

"Come back in the car with me."

"No offence, Lana, but there's not much of a chance I'm leaving Clark alone with Lex. Especially when he's sick."

"Chloe, please. Just trust me."


"It's alright, Chloe. It's cold out here tonight; go back in the car." The look she gave him screamed that she wasn't happy with the arrangement, but she nodded and slid into the backseat of the waiting vehicle behind Lana.

Clark and Lex started walking slowly in silence. They'd gone two blocks before Clark spoke. "Why the sudden urge to get me alone?"

"I made a promise to my wife."


"Making an effort." Lex slid his hands into his pockets. "With you, among other things." Clark glanced over at him, waiting. "I know you don't think she should stay with me. After the things I've done, I'd be inclined to agree with you." Lex fell quiet as they continued, and Clark didn't push; he knew Lex would speak in his own time. They were a block from their destination when Lex stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"I've done things I'm not proud of, Clark. And I've done things I will not regret no matter how wrong they seem in the eyes of others. But I've got a second chance to make things right with Lana, and I'll do whatever it takes to prove to her I can be the man she thinks I can. She wants me to clean up my business. I can do that. She wants me to fix things with you. I'm not sure if that's possible, but for her sake – for mine – I need to try. It's a two way street, though. I can make all the effort in the world, but it's useless unless you're willing to try, too."

Lex didn't wait for an answer before continuing on their way. Behind him Clark was left standing on the sidewalk, the light breeze lifting his hair and cooling his too-warm skin. When he caught up with Lex, he pushed his own hands into his pockets and resisted the long-forgotten urge to pull Lex into a hug or lay a hand on his shoulder. Instead he fell into step next to him and said only one word.


~ 8 ~

It was a slow process. Friendship didn't blossom overnight, and it took time to rebuild a trust that had always stood on somewhat shaky ground. Clark received admittance to Met U's school of Journalism. He took day and night classes and studied through summer semesters to make up for lost time. Lex would search him out in the university library once or twice a week and drag him away from his books in favour of a meal at one of the campus cafeterias or in some off-the-beaten-path diner that one or the other had discovered.

As their relationship strengthened that of Martha and Lionel weakened, pulled apart at the seams by doubt and dishonesty. Martha wasn't stupid. By the time Clark graduated after two years of fast tracking through his studies, she had left Lionel and was in the midst of her last year as a State Senator. Life over the last few years had left her feeling a little bit smarter, a little bit stronger, and a lot happier with the choices she had made than she ever thought she would be.

Clark made it to the basement of the Daily Planet and within a few months had worked his way to page six. The editor – at Lois's urging, he suspected – claimed that his "pretty face" would have the rich and famous eating out of the palm of his hand. Clark had raised his eyebrows incredulously at the man's back as he'd headed back upstairs and tried not to take the comment as an insult to his abilities as a reporter. He was a couple months into his new position before Lex showed up at his desk.

"You've got that look."

Clark startled at his voice.

"Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you."

Clark flashed a smile at him. "Hey, Lex."

Lex pulled a chair up opposite him and settled with his legs extended and feet brushing against Clark's under he desk. "Is something wrong, Clark?"

"Just didn't sleep that well. Nightmares."

"About what happened?"

Clark nodded. "I keep seeing the things they –" he stopped when he noticed the looks he was getting from his co-workers. Lowering his voice, he went on. "I see things in my dreams, and I don't know if it's just my imagination, or if it really happened."

"It's been over three years," Lex said, leaning forward. "And you're still having these dreams."

"They're always different, Lex. Same place, same voices I can't really recognize, but always something different being done to me." His voice ended in a whisper.

"I know you asked me not to, but if you'd let me look into it –"

"No, Lex. No." He shook his head for emphasis. "It's a cold trail, anyway."

"Not if you're a Luthor."

Clark laughed. "You and Oliver both have egos the size of Antarctica, you know that right?"

Lex smirked in return. "Well, I can't vouch for Oliver…" he arched on eyebrow and let the smirk slide into a grin for a briefmoment. "I'm serious, Clark," Lex continued. "Let me look into it. I can help."

"I don't want to drag all this into the light again."

"If you're having these dreams still, then I'd say it's never left the light."

Clark watched him for a few seconds. The old Lex would not have asked. He would have gone ahead and done what he wanted without care of regard for Clark. He wondered briefly if this was an act, if Lex was already digging, but even Lex knew his boundaries these days. Lana had been right when she'd said he would change.

"Alright. Just... don’t make a big deal out of it. Okay? No devoting teams to it or creating facilities to hold all your research." Lex made as if to protest, but Clark help up a hand. I'm serious, Lex. Keep this quiet."

Lex flashed a half-smile before he nodded. "Low key. I can do low key."

Clark couldn't keep his laughter under wraps. "No you can't, but it's enough that you'll try." Clark stood up. "Now come on, let's get out of here before they attack." Lex glanced up to find that the reporters he'd been ignoring since he walked through the door were eyeing him like a piece of meat as they inched their way closer.

"Lunch is on me," he said, rising smoothly and slipping the Luthor Mask, as Clark called it, back into place.

* * *

Clark had been expecting Oliver's arrival at his desk for at least three days before the man actually appeared. He dropped casually onto the edge of the desk, legs crossed at the ankles and hands spread flat on the wood at his sides. Clark ignored the second round of looks he was getting from his co-workers.

"Something you want to tell me?"

Clark glanced up from his article long enough to shrug and say, "He asked nicely."

"He asked nicely," Oliver repeated. "And you said okay. Just like that."

Clark nodded, fingers moving quickly over the keys as he typed.

"After three years. The last two of which you've spent telling me not to look any further into it."


"Clark, I know you two have mended the fence or whatever euphemism you want to attach to it, but you know better than anyone that he can't be trusted."

"I trust him."

"With your life?"

Clark stopped what he was doing and looked over at Oliver. "Yes."

"Oliver. You're the last person I expected to see here."

Oliver's mouth snapped shut on his response to Clark and turned upwards in a smile that was strained at the edges as Lois circled around to stand in front of him.

"I was in town."

"So you thought you'd stop by to see Smallville. Were you planning to say hello to me, too?"

"I wasn't sure you'd want me to." Oliver pulled himself up to his full height and resisted the urge to cross his arms or shove his hands in his pockets.

"Well, now that you're here, you ca take me out to lunch." Clark sat in his chair between the two pretending to work and ignore the conversation going on above his head.

"Actually I –"

"Meet me out front in ten minutes. You're driving." She dropped a large envelope on Clark's desk. "I'm not your messenger, Smallville, next time pick up your assignment yourself." She was gone a second later.

"I – well. Okay then." Oliver stared after her.

Clark looked at the light brown envelope on his desk. "I didn't ask her to –" he stopped and shook his head.

"What just happened?" Oliver asked.

"Welcome to "Reporter Lois" – she's much pushier than the original version," Clark deadpanned.

"Do I have a lunch date?"

"You'd better go. Ten minutes in Lois's head really means five."

Oliver finally turned his eyes back to Clark. "We're not done talking."

"Don’t make her wait. I'll never hear the end of it."

Oliver shook his head and walked away with half the department's eyes on him and the other half pretending they weren't watching. Once he was gone, those eyes turned to Clark who shrugged and went back to work.

Twenty minutes later, article complete and submitted, he pulled the envelope toward him and dumped the contents on his blotter. A plane ticket to Gotham, a colourful brochure, and a gilt-edged invitation fell out alongside a note from his editor. Clark tried not to snort as he read the message. Go, schmooze, and eavesdrop once every one is too drunk to remember you're a reporter. Don't come back without a story.

He flipped open the brochure and read out loud. "22nd Annual Gotham City Charity Event. Black tie required. Great."

"Two boy billionaire visits in a week and a free ride to one of the most prestigious charity events of the year? Seriously, Clark, what's your secret? I can't even manage to get a quote from Luthor about who he wore to the second Warrior Angel movie premiere, much less an in-office visit from the man. And Oliver Queen? He never talks to the press. Never! C'mon, C.K., spill it."

He grinned up at her at Leigh, the newest staff writer for the entertainment. "Uh, luck?" He stood and tucked everything back into the envelope, then shoved it and a few other papers into his bag. "Sorry, Leigh, I've gotta go. Work to do."

"Sure, C.K.," she said, tucking short, auburn hair back behind her ears. "Just try not to run into anymore pretty rich men this week; you're making the rest of us look bad!" Her dark blue eyes shone with laughter while she mock-glared at him. Clark grinned again before heading out the door.

* * *

Clark slipped into the elegantly decorated ballroom and took in the sight of a few hundred of Gotham's most powerful and prominent socializing. Tables surrounded the perimeter of the huge room six deep, broken only by the bar. Behind the tables on the far wall, a string quartet provided music for the couples swirling around the dance floor. Dinner was over and the tables were bare save for rich, purple cloths and centre pieces composed of green foliage and two bright orange Birds of Paradise nestled in the middle.

He made his way over to the bar, avoiding Lionel's line of sight, and raising a hand to Lana on the other side of the room before taking a seat on a mahogany stool and ordering a drink. Over this right shoulder he could hear Lionel greeting someone with his usual air of self importance.

"Lionel," a deep voice responded. "No escort this year?"

"Bruce, which Bunny is gracing your arm this evening?" Clark could practically hear the capital "B" on bunny. The other person didn't miss a beat.

"I'm here with an old friend actually. I'd introduce you, but my guess is you don't actually care."

"Now Bruce, any friend of yours is, I'm sure, well worth meeting."

"Enjoy the rest of your evening, Lionel."

"I do hope that we can set up a meeting the next time I'm in town. I have a business venture that might be of interest to you."

"I'll save you the trouble of a meeting; whatever it is, I'm not interested."

Lionel chuckled under his breath. "Good night, Bruce." He stepped up to the bar and ordered a drink before turning to Clark, who was hiding a smirk behind his drink.

"Clark, I wasn't expecting to se you here, son. Tell me, how is Martha these days?"

"Better than ever since she dumped you." The words were out of his mouth before he realized it. Lionel cocked an eyebrow at him before nodding good-bye and walking away.

It wasn't long before the seat next to him was filled by a tall, dark-haired, broad-shouldered man. "Looks like there's no affection lost there," said the voice he'd heard speaking with Lionel.

Clark turned to meet appraising brown eyes set in a rugged face. "He's definitely not one of my favourite people."

"I'll be happy to see the day when that man is held responsible to his actions."

Clark turned to face him, an eyebrow arched as if urging him on. "No affection lost there, either."

"Lionel Luthor is –" he stopped. "Clark Kent, right?" Clark nodded. "Reporter for the Daily Planet. Sorry, Clark, but I don't talk to the press." He moved smoothly off the stool, sent a cocky grin in Clark's direction, and walked away. Clark stared after him.

Across the room, Lex watched the interaction between the two men, his expression unreadable to all expect his wife. Lana knew that look; she'd seen it often enough over the last couple years. It was an offshoot of the way he looked at her in public; desire and love masked by the look of casual indifference he wore while surrounded by strangers.

She glanced across the room to where Clark was still looking in the direction Bruce Wayne had disappeared. Turning back to Lex, she smiled and placed a hand on his arm. He looked down at her and smiled back, forgetting the crowds of people around them as he drew her into his arms and led her out onto the dance floor while she laughed and tightened their embrace.

~ 9 ~

As his investigation progressed, Lex found himself adding more and more reasons to the mental list of why he hated his father. Capturing and torturing his best friend was the latest addition, and it sat right beneath faking his wife's death and modifying her memory while leaving him to take the blame. Discovering Lionel's involvement hadn't taken much digging if you already knew where to look. Lex had yet to find the tangible proof he needed – wanted – but he'd found bits and pieces of a trail Lionel had worked very hard to cover. He'd been successful for the most part. Lex's evidence was largely conjecture and broken stories from scientists who couldn't remember the two months they spent working in a LuthorCorp lab three years prior.

He didn’t need hard proof though. He knew his father better than the man gave him credit for. This offence would be added to a long list of others Lionel had committed, and when the time was right Lex would see that Lionel was taught a lesson he would never forget.

* * *

Clark woke from the nightmare gasping for breath and fighting the sheets that had wrapped around his limbs. With a ripping noise that sounded impossibly loud in the silence of the farm house, Clark freed himself and landed face first on the floor beside his bed.

He lay there for a few seconds as he tried to get his breathing under control. Closing his eyes, Clark attempted to call up the images from his dream. He'd seen a face. He'd seen the face. But like every other dream, it was gone within moments of waking.

With a frustrated groan, Clark pushed himself back up onto the bed and kicked the torn sheets to the end. He lay flat on his back with his arms crossed above his head and drew in several slow, deep breaths. It was the nightmares that had prompted him to let Lex investigate his disappearance, and a part of him held out hope that just knowing Lex was looking would be enough to let him sleep. It wasn't, however, and Lex hadn't come up with any information yet.

Clark sighed and flipped onto his side, glaring at his alarm clock as the numbers slid from 2:59 to 3:00. There was no way he'd be falling back asleep anytime soon. He pushed himself upright and dropped his feet to the floor. A few minutes later he was dressed and walking down a Metropolis street to the 24 hour diner three blocks away from the Planet. At any given time of the day or night it was likely there would be at least one Daily Planet reporter hunched over a laptop or a cup of coffee, and that night wasn't much different. Clark nodded to three guys he recognized from Archives seated at a corner booth and lodging complaints with each other about how boring their department was. They waved back and returned to their conversation as Clark took a seat at the counter and ordered a coffee.

He'd been sitting there for about twenty minutes when he heard the scream. His head shot up and he looked around the diner; no one else had heard. The scream came again and Clark flipped into x-ray vision as he tossed a few dollar bills on the counter and made his way outside. Once out of sight, Clark sped up and covered in seconds the four blocks between the diner and a back alley where two men were attacking a woman.

"Hey!" he shouted, moving forward to grab the one who was trying to slip a hand beneath the woman's skirt. He pulled and the man went flying backwards into a nearby dumpster. The other guy looked from the dumpster to Clark and back before taking off at a run. Clark caught up easily and sent him to the ground with a tap to the back of his head.

Clark went back to the woman, who had crumpled to the ground in tears. "Are you alright?" he asked, approaching slowly with his hands held up in front of him chest, palms facing out. "Did they hurt you?"

She looked up at him through tear-blurred eyes. "You – are they-? Thank you." Her voice hitched on a sob. "Thank you."

"Anna?" a voice called from the street.


A tall, thin man appeared framed by the brick walls of the buildings surrounding the alley. "Oh thank god. What happened? Are you hurt?"

"No, he stopped them." She gestured to where Clark had been standing, but he was gone. "Where did he go? He was right –"

Jamie reached her and pulled her against his chest. "C'mon, let's get you out of here before these guys wake up."

Clark watched from down the street as they climbed into a nearby car and headed around the corner in the direction of the local precinct.

* * *

"What's with you lately, Smallville?" Lois sat down in the empty chair across the kitchen island. "You've been brooding."

"I haven't been brooding."

"I hate to agree with Lois, but you have been." Chloe sat down next to him. She'd seen the write ups in the Planet over the last four or five months; mysterious rescues and random acts of kindness by an anonymous "Good Samaritan." She knew what he was doing, and she knew he wasn't taking care of himself while he did it.

"I'm fine. Everything's fine."

"Wait, why do you hate to agree with me?"

"It's just an expression, Lo."

Lois arched an eyebrow at her cousin before turning back to Clark. "Come on Smallville, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, I just haven't been getting a lot of sleep."

"There's a difference between being tired and being broody, but whatever, we're not going to sit around and force share time. Now let's go, we've got a press conference this afternoon in Metropolis."

"I write the celebrity 'news'. I don't see the logic in sending me to this thing, too."

"Because Bruce Wayne is a celebrity. Get a move on, I don't want to get stuck in the back."

* * *

"Ladies and gentlemen, let's skip the preliminaries, shall we? As of noon today, Wayne enterprise has become the new owner of The Daily Planet." Bruce Wayne paused long enough to allow the immediate buzz of questions to die down before continuing to talk. "The Daily Planet is one of Metropolis's oldest and finest news sources, and it is an honour for Wayne Enterprise to be a part of its development going forward. There will be some changes taking place, but I can assure you that the paper will only rise to new heights because of them.

"The first of these changes is a new face at the helm. As some of you may already know, The Daily Planet is losing its Editor in Chief to the New York Times at the end of this month, and his replacement has yet to be named. Stepping in to take his place will be Perry White. Mr. White is a legend in this business, and I am confident that he will do many great things with and for this paper.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time. Unfortunately I have to return to Gotham City for another engagement and will be unable to answer your questions at this time. Thank you." Bruce stepped back from the podium and disappeared behind a swarm of people.

In the audience, Lois turned to Clark. "Isn't Perry White the guy who almost dropped you off a hundred foot cliff when you were a kid?"

Clark said nothing for a second and shook his head at her. "Something like that."

"Well, maybe he'll feel bad enough for nearly killing you and give you a promotion." She patted his arm and brushed past him.

Clark was about to follow when the sound of a gun cocking reached his ears. He narrowed down the sound to the area outside and behind the stage and began making his way through the crowds of reporters around him. Bruce Wayne's voice reached his ears a second later.

"You really don't want to do this."

"I'm getting paid enough to never have to work another day for the rest of my life for taking you out. So keep your mouth shut and get in the car like a good little billionaire."

Clark heard Bruce laugh humourlessly followed by the sound of his feet moving slowly over the pavement. Clark was free of the crowd finally and speeding towards the gunman. He arrived just in time to snatch the gun from the man's hand as he moved to follow Bruce into the waiting black sedan.

"I don't think so," he growled, shoving the assailant back against the wall hard enough to hear his head crack against the bricks before he slid to the ground unconscious.

"I had it under control, you know."

"You were getting into a car at gun point." Clark turned to face Bruce. "How is that under control?"

"Appearances can be deceiving, Mr. Kent." Bruce shifted the cuff of his jacket and dress shirt to reveal a slim, sharp-looking blade strapped to his inner forearm.

"I wouldn't have pegged you for a concealed weapon kind of guy."

"I'm generally not; the blade is for show. I was anticipating the possibility of this attack. There are a few people who aren't very happy with some of my more recent acquisitions and business transactions." He stepped closer to Clark and leaned in, dropping his voice to just above a whisper. "When you allow your attacker expect one thing, he will lose sight of another. That's when you make your move."

"And what were you going to do, distract him with something shiny?"

"Yes." Bruce's eyes gleamed with laughter, and Clark grinned back at him.

"Next time maybe try a body guard."

"Are you interested in the position?"

"That depends."


Whether or not you plan to fire me."

Bruce laughed and the sound was deep and low, genuine. "No, Mr. Kent. I can assure that your job is safe. In fact, I think you'll like some of the changes I plan to instigate."

"Clark, where are you? I've got a dinner date with Oliver to get ready for, and if you make me late I'm going to have to kick your ass."

Clark glanced in the direction of Lois's voice. "I should go before she finds us out here. What happens to him?" he asked, nodding towards the still unconscious attacker.

"I'll see to it that he's taken care of. I'd prefer it if this didn't make the news, Mr. Kent. I'd be happy to make up the missed story to you in some other way. Perhaps an interview one day."

"I thought you didn't talk to reporters."

"That may be true, but I do talk to people who save my life. Even if it wasn't necessary."

Clark laughed and spoke as he walked backwards away from Bruce. "Lunch is on you the next time you're in Metropolis. Sound fair?"

"Almost too fair."

"Don't worry I'll pick someplace really expensive."

"Clark, are you out there?" Lois was closer this time, almost at the door just behind him.

"I'm coming, Lois," he called, turning his head towards her voice. When he looked back, Bruce was gone.

~ 10 ~

"You're a thousand miles away today." Chloe sat across from him at the small booth in back corner of the restaurant. They were waiting for Lex and Lana to arrive. "When was the last time you slept?"

"A couple nights ago maybe."

"Maybe? What day Clark?"

He paused, thinking. "Sunday."

"Clark, it's Thursday." He shrugged. "Even you need to sleep some time."

"That's the thing, Chloe, I don't think I do. Not like every one else needs to."

"Well that doesn't mean you should go all –"

"Hey guys, sorry we're late. Lex had a conference call run long." Lana slid into the booth next to Chloe. "He's just parking the car."

"You have perfect timing," Clark said, deliberately ignoring the 'we're not done talking' look Chloe was giving him.

Lana glanced back and forth between the two of them. "Did I interrupt something?" She pushed her hair back behind one ear and arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow at them.

"No," Chloe answered. "Just Clark being –"

Lana laughed when Chloe stopped shot Clark an exasperated look. "Clark like?" she volunteered.


Lex slid into the booth next to Clark just then. "Did I miss anything?"

Lana and Chloe opened their mouths to answer, but Clark cut them off. "No, nothing." He glanced at Chloe. "Nothing at all."

"So I missed a Chloe lecture then. What was it about this time?"

"Nothing," Clark muttered as the girls looked at each other and laughed. "Can we order? I'm starving."

Lex reached over to drop his hand on Clark's shoulder, letting it linger for a moment or two longer than necessary before he raised his other hand to signal their server.

Halfway through the meal Lex leaned closer to Clark and dropped his voice so only the two of them could hear. "We'll talk later," was all he said. Clark nodded slightly and went back to his food.

* * *

"Did you find something?" Clark and Lex were sitting in Lex's office, Lex with a drink in his hand and Clark's fingers tapping a nervous beat against his knee.

"The facility where I believe you were held has been destroyed." He hurried to continue at the look on Clark's face. "Not by me. It was gone long before I got there. Fire." It was the truth to a degree.

"Clark, there were traces of meteor rock found in the facility." Lex let his words hang between them for a moment. "I'm not asking you to tell me things that you aren't comfortable telling me, but anything you're willing to share may help find what or who we’re looking for."

Clark was quiet, his attention focused on the buildings across the street, watching as people moved through hallways, talked on phones and sat behind computers or in boardrooms. Finally he turned back to Lex and opened his mouth to speak.

Lex held up a hand to stop him. "Wait. I'm not asking for your secrets, Clark."

"I know."

"And I'm not going to give you a speech about how I'm not the same person I was before."

"I already know you've changed, Lex."

"I just –"

"I'm not other people." Lex stopped talking. "The meteor rocks make me sick. They –" Clark paused and drew in a deep, shaking breath. "They could kill me. That's how they kept me captive."

"Whoever did this would have had to know that. It'll help narrow the field a little. Who knows, Clark?"

"Chloe and Pete. Before her memory was modified, Lana discovered what I can do." He kept his eyes down and his voice lowered. "Morgan Edge, and your father." He lifted his eyes to gauge Lex's reaction. "You knew. Once. Before Lionel – when you were in Belle Reve."

Lex nodded thoughtfully, hands folded on the table top as he leaned forward. "Clark, whoever's behind this will pay. I promise you that." They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"I'm strong." Lex's eyes met Clark's, but he didn't say anything. "I think you already knew that, though. I'm also fast."

"And bullet proof."

Clark nodded.

"I don't need your secrets to be your friend. Not anymore."

"That's why I want to give them to you."

"The cave in – there were meteor rocks down there. That's why you got hurt. And in the barn when I stabbed you and the chisel crumpled; that was because your skin can't be penetrated?"

"Chloe calls me the man of steel."

Lex laughed and leaned back in his chair. "Fitting. So you really did pull the roof off my Porsche."

"I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry for."

"I didn't trust you when I should have."

"You were right not to trust me then."

"Was I right to trust you now?"

Lex regarded him for a long moment as his expression turned serious. He stood and came around his desk to stand in front of Clark. "I trust you with my life, Clark. And now you've trusted me with yours. That's a trust that I will never break."

Clark stood and took the hand Lex was extending to him, using it to pull him into an embrace. He moved back a few seconds later. "Come on, let's go get dinner."

"We just had lunch."

"Four hours ago."

"You're a bottomless pit."

"And you're still too skinny."

* * *

"Kent! My office. Now." There was a click in his ear as Perry hung up the phone. Clark's lips lifted in a quick smile as he saved what he was working on and pushed back from his desk. He arrived in Perry's office less than two minutes later.

"What took you so long, kid?" Perry didn't wait for an answer. "Shut the door and sit down. How old are you, Kent?"


"How long have I known you?"

"About seven years I think."

"And I told you seven years ago that if you stopped messing around with the lunch menu, you'd get somewhere in this business, right?" Perry plowed over Clark's response. "Well, kid. I'm not the only one who thinks you've got talent. The man himself suggested it might be time to get you out of the society pages and let you loose somewhere else. Congratulations, Kent. You're being moved to the business section. Hand in whatever you're working on today; you start your new beat tomorrow."

"Thank you Mr. White."

"Cut the Mr. White crap, Kent, you're not a seventeen anymore. It's Perry."

Clark grinned. "Thanks Perry."

"Now get out of my office and don't make me regret this."

Clark was heading back downstairs when he ran into Chloe, Jimmy and Lois on their way to get him for lunch.

"You're in a good mood," Chloe greeted him.

"I just had a meeting with Perry."

"And you're still smiling?" Lois said.

"Lois, not even you can ruin my mood right now. I just got moved to business."

"Alright C.K., you ditched the gossip for some real news." Jimmy aimed a friendly punch at his shoulder.

"In that case, a celebratory lunch is definitely in order. Anywhere you want, Clark, it's our treat."

"Try not to eat like a horse, okay Smallville? I need to buy a new dress for a dinner with Oliver next week."

Clark laughed, already heading for the elevators. "I'll try not to eat like I was raised on a farm."

"And didn't I tell you he'd feel guilty enough to promote you? Ow! Chloe, what was that for?" She rubbed her side where Chloe's elbow had connected. "I was just saying."

* * *

"I thought I was done with this sort of thing," Clark grumbled as he adjusted his tie.

"This event is attended by a multitude of influential business people, Clark. And you," Chloe said, reaching up to tug the lapels of his jacket into place. "You cover the business news."

"It wasn't an assignment until Perry found out I had an invitation."

"That's what you get for talking to Lois. You know her voice carries."

"Up ten floors?"

"It is Lois. But hey, look at the bright side! You get me for company all night." She let go of his suit and stepped back, eyes skimming him up and down. "There, you look great."

"Thanks, Chloe. So do you."

Chloe grinned and did a little half-twirl before shaking her head. "I feel like I've been playing dress up."

Clark took her hand and lifted it, urging her to spin slowly once so that the soft sage material of her gown floated out around her legs. "I'm serious, Chloe. You look beautiful."

"Thanks, Clark." She smiled up at him before glancing at the clock on the hotel room wall. "We should go or we'll miss dinner." Twenty minutes later they were climbing out of a cab in front of the hotel where the Gotham City Charity Event was being held.

"Whoah," Chloe whispered, eyes growing wide at the sight of the red and gold ballroom. "Clark, this place is beautiful!"

They were greeted by an usher who led them to a table where Lana and Lex were already seated. Lex stood when they arrived and clapped a hand to Clark's shoulder and pressed a chaste kiss to Chloe's cheek.

"What was that for?" Chloe asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.

Lex bowed slightly at the waist. "Your beauty overcame me," he said. He managed to keep the grin off his face until Lana swatted his arm and Clark burst out laughing. Chloe mock-glared at him as he pulled her chair out for her.

"That better be your way of saying I look good tonight."

Lex leaned in and murmured in her ear. "You do look amazing. And I just wanted to see how you'd react." Chloe rolled her eyes and let him push the chair in as she sat.

Dinner had been cleared and Chloe had dragged Clark onto the dance floor twice before he caught sight of Bruce for the first time that evening. He was at the bar with a drink in hand and his back to the polished wood.

"Go on, try and get your story," Chloe said as the song ended, smiling up at him. He leaned down to kiss her cheek before making his way to the other side of the lavish room.

"I was wondering when you'd show up."

"Thought I'd come by and see about that lunch you still owe me."

"You didn't come by in hopes of a quote for your editor?"

Clark leaned in and dropped his voice so that only Bruce could hear. "I figured I could get a quote when we have lunch."

"There's always that possibility." Bruce shifted so that he was facing Clark with one elbow up on the bar. "And there's always the possibility you'll be too distracted to worry about a quote."

Clark's eyebrows rose. "I don't know, Mr. Wayne. I've got a pretty long attention span, and I'm not easily distracted."

Bruce smiled and tipped his drink up to his lips. "I'll be in Metropolis next week for a press conference regarding a new business venture. One that I hope will create a wealth of jobs for both Gotham and Metropolis along with a healthy economic boost for both cities." He set his drink down on the bar and met Clark's eyes. "You can quote me on that, Mr. Kent." Bruce was already walking away when Clark called out to him.

"Don't forget that lunch."

Bruce's lips quirked up into a smile before settling almost immediately back into the expression of casual boredom he'd been wearing all night. "I won't."

* * *

"It was good to see you relax tonight. Smile even. It's been a while since that's happened."

"I smile all the time, Chloe."

"But it never reaches your eyes." He shot a quick glance at her before going back to pulling off his tie. "Clark, we still have a conversation to finish. You've been running yourself to the edge of exhaustion for months, and you're not hiding it very well anymore. When was the last time you actually took care of yourself?" Chloe was seated on one of the queen-sized beds in her pajamas, make-up gone and hair still pulled up into the mass of curls she's worn it in for the evening.

"I have my abilities for a reason. I want to put them to good use."

"Clark, I understand that you want to help people, but you've got to look after yourself as well. And you can't keep doing what you're doing. Every time someone sees your face the description in the news gets a little more accurate."

"I can't just stop." Clark had stripped off his suit and pulled on loose flannel sleep pants and a white t-shirt.

"I'm not saying stop, I'm just saying be smart about it. Disguise yourself. Protect yourself. Clark, I don't want to lose you if someone finds out who you are."

He sat down beside her, sinking slightly into the soft bed. "What do you want me to do, wear a mask?"

"Why not? It works for other people. The Batman, for example. Oliver wears a hood and glasses. So does Bart. You need a costume."

"I hate costumes."

"Clark, just promise me you'll be more careful from now on."

He looked at her, her eyes wide and brow crinkled with worry. "I promise."

~ 11 ~

"What happened to expensive?"

"This place makes the best pasta in town; way better than the more exclusive restaurants around here. Trust me you've never tasked fettuccine alfredo until you've tasted theirs."

Clark and Bruce were seated in an out-of-the-way mom & pop Italian restaurant called Bella's Kitchen; Clark dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, Bruce in a full suit and tie. Bruce looked around at the bustling wait staff and tables full of families and couples and friends even in mid-afternoon and then looked down at his suit. He shrugged off his jacket and tugged his tie loose before shoving it in the jacket pocket. His cuff links followed next and he rolled his sleeves up to his elbows and undid the top two buttons of his shirt. Clark didn't realize he was staring until Bruce turned to the server who had appeared at their side.

"Two orders of the fettuccine alfredo and two glasses of your house red, please."

"Garden or Ceasar salad?"

"Surprise us." The guy shot Bruce a confused look.


"Seriously." Eyebrows still high on his forehead, their server nodded and walked away.

"So, am I the girl today?"

Bruce leaned forward. "That depends. Is this a date?"

"If it were a date, Mr. Wayne, I would have pulled your chair out for you."

"Call me Bruce. And we're sitting in a booth."

Clark grinned. "Then I guess it's a mystery."

"Well Mr. Kent –"


"Clark. I guess the only thing to do is wait and see if you open the car door for me later." Clark's answering laugh was bright and rich, full of things he hadn't let himself feel in months.

"So tell me, Clark, what made you bypass the family farm to become a reporter?"

Clark sat back against the padded cushion of the booth. "You've done your homework."

"I like to know what I'm up against."

Clark regarded him thoughtfully for a moment before speaking. "I wanted more than what the farm could offer me. After my dad died I dropped out of school to run it. I didn't want to let that piece of him go."

"But eventually the lure of the world got the better of you. You traveled for some time, didn't you?"

"I was away from home for a long time, yes."

"That sounds vague and ominous." Bruce paused as their drinks arrived. "You discovered life outside the farm and then what?"

"Things happened, and I realized my dad would have wanted more for me. What about you? You don't need to work, but you do. Why?"

"On or of the record?"

Clark shifted forward and offered a quick smirk. "That depends on whether or not this is a date." He picked up his wineglass and brought it to his lips.

"Things happened, and I knew my father would have wanted more for me."

Clark smiled at him, a small intimate twitch of his lips. "That still leaves the mystery unsolved."

Bruce took a sip of his own wine. "Sometimes those are the best kind."

* * *

They were walking back to the Daily Planet two hours later, a companionable silence between them, when a voice stopped Clark cold.

"Look, the only way to know if the drug works on humans is to test on humans. Do you think in a million years that they'd ever get permission to do that? No. Trust me, it's easier this way. They're bums, Ray, no one misses them, and if someone did, no one else would care. Besides, they get a warm bed and three square meals, and we get paid enough not to ask questions."

"Clark?" Bruce had stopped a few feet ahead and turned back to look for him. "Are you alright?"

"I still don't like it."

"You're not being paid to like it. You're being paid to do what they say. Now shut up and grab his legs."

Clark took off down an alley between two large apartment buildings, leaving Bruce to stare after him before following at a run a few seconds later. Clark could see two men at the midway point of the alley awkwardly hauling something large into the back of a white cargo van with mud-covered license plates.

"Hey! Put him down!"

Clark barreled towards the men as they dropped the body and ran around the side of the van, slamming the door shut and revving the engine when Clark was still fifteen feet away. Clark heard Bruce come to a stop behind him as he dropped to his knees beside the prone body of a man dressed in an old winter hat, dirty overcoat and torn jeans. He searched for a pulse, letting out a relieved breath when he found it strong and steady beneath his fingertips.

"What just happened?"

Clark glanced up briefly as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. "I heard them when we passed by." His attention went back to the phone at his ear while he spoke to the operator. He stayed on the line until the ambulance pulled up at the mouth of the alley several minutes later.

After the man had been taken away and Clark had spoken to the police, he turned to find Bruce still standing a few feet away.

"You must have exceptional hearing, Clark."

"You're still here."

Bruce pushed himself off the wall where he'd been leaning, jacket slung over one arm with his tie peeking out of its pocket. "Where else would I be. They say if he would be alright?"

"The paramedics said his vitals were strong. That's a good sign." Clark went quiet for a moment. "There was a puncture mark on his neck," he finally said, voice lowered to just above a whisper.

"You think he was drugged?"

"Maybe. I heard them say something about how no one would miss him. Them. No one would miss them." Clark looked up to see Bruce watching him intently.

"I was right behind you and I didn't hear any of that."

"Good hearing, like you said. You probably have things to do, and I should get back to work. Wouldn't want to make the boss mad."

Bruce arched an eyebrow at him. "Trying to get rid of me, Kent?"

"Just offering an out in case you want one."

"I've got a meeting with Perry and a few others in..." He glanced at his watch and shrugged. "Twenty minutes ago."

"I guess we'd better get back then." They started in the direction of the Planet, walking in silence.

"Are lunches with you always this interesting?"

Clark glanced at Bruce out of the corner of his eye. "Not usually, no." They were outside the doors of the Daily Planet.

"It was a pleasure, Clark." Bruce said, entering and walking across the lobby toward the bank of elevators while still facing Clark. He disappeared into an elevator and left Clark standing alone in the lobby.

* * *

Three weeks later

The first time Superman appeared in public it was to break up a drug company's illegal testing on humans. The headline in the Daily Planet the next morning screamed the name Lois had penned for Metropolis's new hero. Meanwhile the front page of the business section boasted Clark's byline above a story exposing the details of the operation, naming names, and quoting horrific facts and statements – gathered by an anonymous source – about the things that had gone on.

Clark found himself with a promotion and a partner. The trade off of Lois for Investigative Reporter as a job title was, he felt, entirely worth having to deal with Lois up close and personal on a daily basis.
"Congratulations on your new position. How are you making out on your first day?" Clark looked up from his computer screen, happy to hear the familiar voice. It had been almost two months since the last time he'd seen Bruce.

"Good. Even if I am stuck with Lois."

"I'm told she takes a certain... finesse to handle."

"That's putting it nicely. I feel like she's living in my house all over again."

"You lived with Lois?"

"She stayed with my family when I was a teenager."

"I'm so sorry to hear that."

"She's not so bad," Clark shrugged with a laugh. "Just don't tell her I said that."

"Don't tell who you said what?" Lois appeared at his side as if on cue. "Never mind, it doesn't matter. Come on, Smallville, we've got a tip to follow up on." She grabbed Clark's coat off the back of his chair and tossed it into his lap, already heading for the elevators. "Mr. Wayne," she said, nodding as she walked by him.

Clark stood. "She'll start yelling if I don't get over there."

"Wouldn't want that, would we."

"It was good to see you again." Clark let his arm brush against Bruce's as he passed. "Maybe next time it'll be for longer than two minutes."

Bruce nodded in response, turning to watch as Clark caught up with Lois and disappeared into a waiting elevator. He just caught the slight lift of Clark's hand in his direction as the doors slid shut between them.

* * *

When Clark met Lex for dinner a few nights later, their exchange on the subject was brief:


"It's a family thing."


They'd moved on to Clark's promotion and how far the Metropolis Sharks were likely to go during a rebuilding season.

Chloe's reaction was only slightly different:

"Are you planning to blind people into forgetting your face, Clark?"

"It's my something shiny."


"Long story. Just chalk it up to a family thing."


Oliver's e-mail simply read, If you wanted to change Boy Scout for something else, all you had to do was say so. Clark chose not to respond to that one.

* * *

If the Justice League had sent someone other than Diana the first few times they asked him to join, he would have said yes a lot sooner. But if you didn't know Wonder Woman, she could come off a bit hardnosed - aloof. It wasn't the sort of attitude that attracted Clark. He was surprised when they seemed to give up asking after a while. Even Oliver had stopped dropping cloaked remarks every time they spoke, and Clark appreciated that his friend had protected his identity even while the League was intensely interested in finding out who he was. Then they started sending the Batman.

Clark was seated on the roof of the Daily Planet, red cape whipping behind him whenever the wind whistled past the building. He'd been there for about an hour just listening to the unusual quiet of the city below. He heard the sound of booted footfalls as someone approached him from the doorway in the centre of the roof, just below the slowly spinning globe.

"You're a hard man to track down." The voice was rough and deep, and Clark twisted his head slightly as the footsteps came to a stop about ten feet back and to his left.

"I thought you'd given up asking."

"I don't give up easily."

"Seventh time is the charm?"


"I said no the last six times you showed up. And every time Wonder Woman asked before that." Clark stood and faced Batman. "What is it you really want? My help, or the ability to control me if you don't like what I do?"

Batman said nothing as he regarded Clark, eyes dark in the midst of his black cowl. He nodded his head slightly before speaking. "Both. If what the media says is true – if what you say is true – you are virtually unstoppable, Superman. What happens if you become corrupt? What happens to the world at large if you are forced to use your abilities against it? The Justice League would be powerless to stop you. If you were on our side –"

"No one said I wasn't on your side."

"If you were on our team, we'd have the ability to do more good than we could have ever imagined."

"By exploiting me."

"By working together. Right now, you hold all the cards."

"And what, exactly, do you think you can do to control me?"

"We're hoping you'll be able to tell us that."

Clark stepped closer, laughing dryly and crossing his arms over the crest on his chest. "I don't know you. Any of you. What makes you think I would hand you a means to destroy me if you decide you don't like something I'm doing?"

Bruce resisted the urge to move forward, to intimidate. "There is a way, then?"

"I'm invulnerable." Batman's lips quirked upwards so quickly Clark thought he might have imagined it.

"Except when it comes to?" Clark didn't speak, just met Batman's stare and held it through the holes in his mask.

"You know," Batman began, finally moving closer. "We don't generally share our identities with perfect strangers. But in this case." Clark watched as the man paused and reached for his mask.

"In this case, I'm willing to make an exception," Bruce said as he lifted the mask free and looked Superman in the eye. "I can’t expect you to trust me without offering you the same."

"Bruce Wayne." Clark did his best to keep the shock from both his voice and his expression.

"In the flesh."

"Alright," Clark said, swallowing down the desire to greet the man as a familiar. "I'll join your league." Clark found himself returning the smile Bruce shot at him before slipping his cowl back into place.

"Come on," he said. "I'll introduce you to the others." He moved towards the door.

"Batman?" Clark called after him.

Bruce didn't turn, just flicked a glance back over his shoulder as he walked. "Yes?"

"Your secret is safe with me."

With his back to Clark and face hidden by shadow, Bruce smiled. "I know."

~ 12 ~

Clark wasn't surprised when Bruce led him to Oliver's apartment. Still in costume, they entered through a back entrance and went up in an elevator Clark hadn't know was there. They emerged in a room in the back of the apartment and made their way silently toward the sound of voices. The others were gathered in the living room. He could see Oliver's back as he slid his gear back into place. Victor, A.C. and Bart were sprawled across the furniture talking about sports, and J'Onn and Diana were standing by the desk deep in conversation.

Bart was the first to notice them just as Bruce was pulling off his gloves and cowl. "Bats, took you long enough amigo." He ignored Bruce's glare in response to the nickname. "Hey stretch. Took you long enough, too. Were you waiting for an engraved invitation or something, man?" Bart didn’t rise from where he sat with one leg kicked up on the coffee table and an arm thrown across the back of the couch.

J'Onn looked up long enough to greet him with a nod and a quietly murmured, "Clark."

In front of him, Clark could see Bruce's shoulders tense as all the pieces fell into place. The man turned to him, eyes cold and expression blank. Nothing remained of the playful expression of almost intimacy that he usually sent Clark's way. "Clark," he said so softly that they were the only two to hear it. Clark's eyes dropped for an instant before he brought them back up to meet Bruce's, nodding.

Diana moved forward. "It seems we are the only ones who have not been formally introduced. Diana."

"Clark Kent." She offered her hand and Clark took it. He could feel the strength in her grip and smiled with the knowledge that he had made the right decision even as Bruce strode silently away.

* * *

"Kent! My office, now!" Clark glanced up from his article to see Perry stalking past his desk with Lois in tow. He saved his work and stood, reaching Lois's side a few seconds later. Perry was waiting impatiently inside the elevator with his finger pressed against the open button.

"What's going on?"

"Lionel Luthor's been practicing his evil scientist routine again."

Clark stumbled slightly as he stepped over the threshold into the elevator. "What?"

"It turns out daddy Luthor had a hand in funding the human testing at Rainer Labs. Completely unconnected to LuthorCorp; he was using his personal cash flow so Lex is in the clear, but –"

"But we'll continue this in my office," Perry cut in. He didn't say anything else until they were seated opposite him. "You two are my best team, but I can't put you on this story."

"What! Why not?" Lois was up and on her feet, planting her hands flat on Perry's cherrywood desk.

"Lois," Clark said quietly, putting a hand out to pull her back into her seat. "Think about it for a second. It's a conflict of interest."

"For you, maybe, but –"

"No buts, Lois. It is what it is."

Lois glanced at Clark. "Look, Perry," she started in the tone Clark liked to think of as her inner-negotiator. "Conflict of interest or not, we can handle this story. This is huge! This is Pulitzer Prize huge!"

"I'm sorry, Lois. There's no room for negotiation here."

"Not even if I step back and leave this to her?"

"One person doesn't make a team, Kent."

"But –"



"I don't want to see you anywhere near this story. Do you understand me?"


"Kent, you're in charge of making sure she continues to understand."

"I don't need a baby-sitter!" Lois said at the same time Clark protested with, "I'm not a baby-sitter."

"He isn't your baby-sitter. Now get out of my office and go do some work."

Lois grumbled the entire way back to their desks. Lex was perched on the edge of Clark's when they arrived, ignoring the reporters eyeing him like fresh meat.

"Hey Lex."

"Clark, Lois. I take it you've heard by now."

"Perry just banned us from the story." Lois glowered at Clark.

"I'm sorry, but it's probably for the best that way. My father is a dangerous man when cornered, Clark. I wouldn't want you getting caught in the cross fire."

"You don't need to worry about me."

"I thought that's what friends did."

Lois rolled her eyes. "Spare me the hallmark moment, please."

"Looks like I got here just in time then." Oliver spoke up from behind her. He leaned down as she turned and pressed a kiss to her lips. "Hey."

"Hey yourself."

Oliver nodded toward Lex politely and fixed his eyes on Clark. "You got a minute?" he asked.


"When I come back," he said to Lois, effectively cutting off what she was about to say. "Do you have time for lunch?"

She smiled up at him. "As long as there are martinis involved."

"If you promise to keep them off my clothes."

"Then how will I get you naked?"

"Oliver, you wanted to talk to me?" Clark interrupted, shooting a slightly horrified look in Lex's direction.

"Clark, come by later tonight." Lex nodded to Lois and Oliver as he left.

Oliver kissed Lois again before leading Clark to an empty conference room.

"What's up?"

"You need to stay out of this one."

"Why does everyone keep telling me that?"

"I'm pretty sure Lionel will have put two and two together. If Superman gets involved in this and Lionel goes down, what's stopping him from going public?"

"I'm not going to back down from Lionel for the rest of his life, Oliver."

"Chloe and I have already talked about this, and we –"

"Hold on a minute, you and Chloe have been talking about this? When? The news just broke."

The door behind them opened and Chloe slipped into the room. "Sorry I'm late," she said. "Clark, listen to him. You know he's right. Just promise you'll back off this one. Please."

Clark sighed. "Alright. I promise. But this won't be permanent. Lionel may be a threat, but this isn't going to be the norm. Got it?" He waited for a nod from each of them. "How did you know about this already?"

Chloe sighed and moved to stand in front of him. "I got an off-the-record heads up from a contact at the crime lab when the story first came out; there's an unidentifiable organic component in the drugs they were testing."

"Unidentifiable. As in alien."


"You think Lionel may have gotten his hands on something Lex was working on back at 33.1?"

"That's my theory."

"The League is looking into a few more possibilities as well," Oliver added.

"Has anyone talked to Lex about his research from back then?"

"We've got someone on the way to take care of that."

Clark turned wary eyes on Oliver. "Tell me you didn't send Bruce."

"He volunteered."

"Oliver, Bruce and Lex are going to mix about as well as you and Lex. Especially when Bruce goes all Dark Knight on him – and you know he will. Chloe or I could have taken care of this."

"Relax, I'm sure it'll be fine. Bruce will be waiting for him by the time Lex gets back to his office."

"His office is in the building right next to us. I say we expect a call in T-minus 30 seconds," Chloe deadpanned. As if on cue, Clark's cell phone rang.

"Hey Lex."

"Clark, why is there a giant bat in my office?"

Clark could hear what he referred to as Bruce's "bat voice" in the background. "Mr. Luthor, I assure you that –"

Lex spoke over top of him. "He's asking for information on 33.1. How does he know about –"

"Lex, stop. If you can help, please help."

"I don't make a habit of giving classified information to strangers."

"You asked me to stay out of it, Lex. Now I'm asking you for this. Call it a trade."

Lex let out a breath that wasn't quite a sigh. "Fine." He disconnected the call.

Slipping his cell phone back into his pocket, Clark looked over at Chloe and Oliver. "Keep me informed at least."

"Of course," Chloe said. She moved forward to rest her hand on his arm. "We just don't want to see anything happen to you."

"You can't protect me from everything, Chloe," he said gently, his irritation draining out of him.

"I know."

Oliver pushed off the edge of the conference table. "I better go meet Lois before she comes looking for us." He nodded good-bye as he left.

* * *

Clark was unlocking the door to his apartment later when he heard a familiar voice call his name quietly. He looked over to find Bruce just coming out of the stairwell. It was the first time he'd seen the man outside of League related activities since the day he'd agreed to join; that had been a month ago.

"Do you have a few minutes?" he asked, coming to stand next to Clark.

"Come on in." Clark pushed the door open and stepped back to let Bruce enter before him. "Do you want something to drink? Coffee?"

"No thank you," came the brisk reply. Clark frowned at Bruce's back.

"Have a seat," he called over his shoulder, gesturing towards the living room. "I'm just going to change." Clark returned to find Bruce sitting stiffly in the chair he'd brought from the farm after moving to Metropolis when he started at the Planet. It had sat in the living room for years, and the only person who ever used it had been his father and the occasional guest. Clark smiled tightly, trying to overlook Bruce's obvious discomfort.

"I obtained a significant amount of information from Lex," Bruce began as Clark took a seat on the couch opposite him. "His research from 33.1 along with data from some of Lionel's past projects. I've had a chance to go through just a small portion of it, but I came across something interesting when looking into Lionel's research regarding his failing liver. The serum he developed contained platelet's that looked familiar to me. I compared that to the report Chloe was able to obtain from her contact; the drug being tested also contained similarities.

"I'd only seen something similar once before, Clark. Just over three years ago, Oliver asked me to analyze a blood sample he had acquired. I later discovered the blood, which was unlike anything I'd ever seen before, belonged to a friend who had gone missing. Right around the time you would have been traveling the world."


Bruce leaned forward, holding up a hand for Clark to wait. "Was it your blood?" He waited for Clark's confirmation. "Then we have more to worry about than we thought. Starting with how Lionel Luthor got his hands on your blood."

"I got sick when I was a teenager. A doctor was able to draw blood, and Lionel ended up with it. He didn't know the origins of it."

"One vial?"


"That wouldn't have been enough to account for the quantity required for the drugs. What else."

Clark hesitated and drew in a deep breath. "I'm missing two months of my life. I was kidnapped, and my memory was modified; I have almost no recollection of that time. I get nightmares every now and then, not as often as I used to, and I know I can see who took me in them. The face is gone when I wake up though. Some of the things I think I remember..." he stopped talking and let his mind float back to the sight of half a dozen bags of blood hanging over him and a shadow leaning down to tell him they were nearly done, that he'd forget soon and it would be over.

"Clark?" Bruce's voice broke through his thoughts and reminded him that he'd been speaking.


"You think the events are connected?"

Clark nodded absently. That would mean Lionel had been behind his disappearance, wouldn't it? He shook his head as if to dispel the thoughts. "I have to go," he said to Bruce. He needed to talk to Lex.

"Of course. There's just one last thing I wanted to discuss with you before I leave." He didn't give Clark a chance to object. "This thing," he began, oddly hesitant. "Between us. It can' go anywhere. Not when we work together like this. There are too many risks involved, too many chances to get in too deep and lose sight of what is important. I felt that it needed to be said, and I'm sure you'll agree with me."

Clark watched as Bruce stared at his nose instead of looking him in the eye. He felt his stomach twist with regret as he nodded affirmatively when he really wanted to say no.

"Good," Bruce said, pulling his eyes from Clark's face and striding toward the door. "I've got a lot of information to sort through, so I should be heading back to Gotham. If you need anything – if the league needs me – I can be reached through the comm link." He was out the door a second later, leaving Clark to stare at the place his back had been just moments before.

He let himself consider what might have just walked out the door before forcing himself to pick up his keys and head out.

* * *

"It was Lionel, wasn't it." Clark stood in the doorway to Lex's office at the mansion.

"Clark, come in." Lex rose from behind the desk and moved to a leather armchair. He gestured for Clark to follow suit.

"My disappearance. It was Lionel. Am I right?" He moved to stand in front of Lex.

"I was protecting you.'

Clark recoiled as if he'd been struck, backing up several feet. "Protecting me? How, Lex, by lying to me?" He struggled to keep his voice from rising to a shout.

"What do you think my father would have done if he had discovered you knew he was behind it? Patted you on the back and said 'there, there, son, I was only trying to help mankind' – come on, Clark. He would have killed you then, and he'd expose you now." Lex kept his voice calm as he maintained eye contact.

It was Clark who broke and looked away, stalking toward the unlit fireplace and scrubbing a hand across his face in an uncharacteristic display of nerves. "I don't know what to say to that, Lex." He kept his back to Lex, hands now slack at his sides.

Lex stood and moved to place a hand on Clark's shoulder. "I did what I thought was best. Trust me when I say that when the time is right my father will pay for what he's done." He could feel the sudden tension in Clark's shoulder.

"What are you going to do, kill him?"

"I'm not that person anymore. I thought you knew that." He let his hand fall and crossed back to his desk, bringing up his walls in the seconds it took him to sit down behind the desk and fold his hands in his lap.

Clark remained in place endless minutes, thoughts churning faster than he could process them. Final he turned to face Lex, ready to tell him he understood even if he disagreed. The words died on his lips when he saw Lex. Defenses he hadn't seen from Lex in a long time; cool, aloof eyes and a confidently relaxed posture. Lex had shut himself off, and Clark found himself facing a version of his friend he'd hoped to never see again.

"Lex, I –"

Lana entered and taking in the scene before her, she stopped in the doorway. "I'm sorry, I'm interrupting. I'll come back later."

"It's okay, Lana." Clark cast one last glance in Lex's direction and saw no change in his countenance. "I was just leaving." He moved slowly from the room, hoping Lex would tell him to wait. He nodded sadly at Lana as he slipped by her while Lex remained stubbornly silent.

Lana watched him go before turning to her husband. "What was that about?"

Lex shifted forward, reaching to flip his laptop open. "Nothing. Just a disagreement. Did you want something?" It came out harsher than he intended, and he tried to soften the words with a smile.

"It's not important." She moved around his desk to place a chaste kiss on his forehead.

Lex sighed and let his eyes close while the knowledge that he had seriously screwed things up bounced around his head. He reached up and pulled Lana onto his lap, wrapping his arms snugly around her waist.

"I love you," he whispered.

To Lana, it sounded as if her trying to convince himself.

~ 13 ~

His father had more than just a financial role in the Rainer Labs project, and everything he needed to prove it was right there in front of him, waiting for him to either take Lionel down for good or let him walk away from the whole mess unscathed. If he helped Lionel get away, he would bring his own judgment down on the man. If he allowed the authorities to put Lionel in jail, he would lose the opportunity to extract revenge for what was done to Clark. The question was did he risk his involvement in clearing Lionel causing further damage to his relationship with Clark. He'd been truthful when he told Clark he was protecting him. He wanted to make sure Lionel would no longer be in a position to harm Clark, and to do that he had to strike a balance between crippling his father financially and leaving him just enough that retaliation would hurt him more than it would hurt Lex or Clark.

"Everything alright?"

Lex looked up to find Lana standing before him. He hadn't heard her come in. "Fine," he said, forcing a smile. "Everything is fine."

She nodded and he knew she didn't believe him. But she didn't press things and he was grateful for that. "Are you coming to bed?"

Still, he almost said no. He wanted to say no for reasons he wasn't even sure of, but he didn't. He smiled and stood instead, coming around his desk to wrap an arm across her shoulders and pull her in close to his side. He flicked the lights off on their way out of the room. He'd sleep on it. In the morning, he'd decide.

* * *

"They got Al Capone on tax evasion, you know." Lex watched the doors slide closed behind Lionel.

"Did you interrupt my meeting for a history lesson, Lex, or was it just for the fun of disrupting my day." Lionel came to a stop on the opposite side of the desk, hands in the pocket of his suit jacket.

Lex leaned back in his chair, the light shining in through the plate glass windows behind him dampened slightly by a grey, mesh blind drawn halfway down. Below them the streets of Metropolis were bustling with activity.

"I have no intention of letting this be your own personal tax evasion. When you fall – and you will – it will be quiet. Private. A family affair." He held his father's eyes for a beat before straightening.

"Idle threats don't become you, son."

"Exactly how were you planning to get out of this one, dad?"

"There's nothing to get out of. A company I chose to invest some of my personal income in turned out to be an unwise business move."

"I doubt it's that simple."

"I made an unsound investment. Their decision on what to do with the money from that investment has no connection to me. One thing has nothing to do with the other, son."

"One thing has everything to do with the other, dad. Especially when my company takes a hit because of it."

Lionel chuckles as he made his way over to the bar. "Your company? Lex, I think you're getting ahead of yourself."

"I'm not so sure about that. Your involvement with LuthorCorp's day-to-day running has been largely for show as of late. Perhaps it's time you started to think about retirement."

"I am every bit in charge of this company as I always have been," Lionel said dismissively as he faced Lex, drink in hand.

Lex's fingers formed a steeple beneath his chin as he leaned forward and said "Whatever you say." He stood smoothly and moved to the door. "Think about it, dad. Maybe it's time you took up golf. I hear Florida is the place to be this time of year." He left Lionel standing at the bar with a mask of forced indifference on his face.

* * *

The next morning's headlines screamed Lionel Luthor's name. The more respectable news establishments reported on evidence brought to light the evening before that police claimed cleared the man of any illegal activities. Less respectable media outlets like The Inquisitor claimed there was a conspiracy at work and demanded that the public had a right to know exactly what the "alleged evidence" was. Police, LuthorCorp representatives, and Lionel all refused to comment.

Later that same day a thick, manila envelope arrived on Lionel's desk when he stepped away for a late lunch. It contained both electronic and paper evidence that would be enough to firmly link Lionel to the human testing and much more. Things the police hadn't even uncovered. It was followed soon after by papers from Lex that, when signed, would transfer enough of Lionel's shares into his son's name to give him a majority hold.

He almost didn't sign them.

* * *

"Just once," Bruce growled, pacing the length of Oliver's living room. "Just one time I would like something to actually stick to that man."

"We still have options," Oliver said. He moved over to his desk and picked up the thick file folder lying there. "We have more dirt on Lionel than –"

"We have potential dirt on Lionel," Bruce said as he spun in a tight half circle to head in the other direction. "What do we really have? A bunch of pictures of facilities you've since blown up or otherwise destroyed? Purchase orders and payroll reports? Some old research Lex gave us? None of it is any good without something to seal the deal." He jerked around to go back the opposite way, hands clasped so tightly behind his back that Clark could see his fingers turning white from where he sat on the couch. "This was going to be what brought down all the cards, and he still managed to squirm his way out of it."

"Bruce, it's not over yet." Clark stood and crossed to take the file from Oliver.

Bruce stopped pacing and whirled to face him. "You of all people should be furious right now, Clark. Look what he did to you! He would have paid for that."

"Whoa, whoa, what am I missing here?" Oliver looked back and forth between the two men. Clark sighed while Bruce resumed his angry movements.

"Lionel kidnapped me." He turned his eyes to the file in his hands, flipping it open and glancing blindly through the first few pages and photos.

"The – back when – that was him?" Clark nodded. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"We only figured it out yesterday." Clark gestured in Bruce's direction.

"He had help." Bruce had stopped pacing and was standing at the bottom of the stairs, hands gripping the metal rail tightly.



"Lex wouldn't help his father."

"You went to see him yesterday didn’t you. He knew what his father did to you and didn't tell you, right? He tried to convince you he was protecting you, didn't he? I know how they work."

"Lex is a friend, and I trust him."

"You're a fool."

"And who are you to make that judgment? You don't know me." Clark's voice was calm and steady. Oliver stood off to the side, watching the both of them with raised eyebrows and arms crossed over his chest.

"No denial, Clark? He knew and he kept it from you." Bruce advanced on him.

Clark stepped forward as well. "My relationship with Lex is none of your business, Bruce. I'd appreciate it if you stayed out of my personal life."

Bruce's retort was cut off when Oliver stepped between them and stretched his arms out, able to press a palm to either man's chest. "Hold on there kiddies. It's not going to do anyone any good if you two start throwing punches. Especially you, Clark. I don't feel like having to replace furniture when Bruce crash lands on something." He reached for the folder and rescued it from Clark's slowly tightening grip, several photos falling free as he moved it.

Clark bent angrily to pick them up, glancing briefly at them as he opened his mouth to speak. His jaw snapped shut as he took a second look, still crouched on the floor. It was a photo of a mid-sized room containing a steel table and bright florescent lights around it' perimeter. On the ceiling, only just visible with the camera angle, was a series of vents.

"Where's this from?" he asked, standing and struggling to keep his voice from betraying him. His fingers felt numb as Oliver took the photo from him and flipped it over.

"A LuthorCorp lab on the outskirts of Metropolis. We destroyed it a few years ago. Why?"

Bruce was watching Clark intently now, breaking his gaze only long enough to glance at the picture. "Are you alright?" he asked gruffly.

"I think... I think this is where I was."

"We searched that place from top to bottom, Clark, and there was nothing there but some abandoned equipment."

"These vents. It's where the gas –" He looked up to see Oliver flipping rapidly through the file. Bruce was watching him intently. "I have to go."

"Clark, wait."

Clark shook off Bruce's hand and headed for the elevator. "I'll see you guys later."


"You're not my friend, Bruce, so don't pretend to be worried about me." Clark stepped into the elevator without looking back at Bruce and Oliver and pulled the grate into place. Bruce watched as the elevator disappeared from sight.

"What was that all about?"

Bruce glanced at Oliver before shrugging without a word and reaching for the file. "What else do you have on this facility?"

"A bunch of purchase orders and payroll reports," Oliver deadpanned. He didn't flinch at the glare Bruce fixed on him. "Everything I have is in there. I've got to go. Stay if you want."

Bruce wasn't paying attention anymore. He settled himself at Oliver's desk and started poring over the file in front of him. Oliver shook his head and grabbed his jacket before heading out without another word.

~ 14 ~

"You don't have any proof, Bruce! You can't just charge into Lionel's office and accuse him of harvesting Clark's blood," Oliver said. He and the others were on screen in the bat cave watching through the video link as Bruce's anger took a physical outlet when the man picked up his cowl and hurled it across the space. Diana arched an eyebrow when they heard it smash against a rock in the darkness off screen.

"That man deserves to be behind bars; someone must have covered his tracks. The things he did are unacceptable! What's stopping him from doing worse?"

"We are," Clark spoke up from Oliver's left.

"You planning to stare him into submission, Kent? Turn those cold blue eyes on him and wait for him to cower before you? He knows who you are! He knows how to hurt you! And the rest of you are telling me we're just going to sit back and watch him go free."

Clark disappeared from the monitor and reappeared at Bruce's side soon after. "Bruce," he said, reaching out to try and touch the man's arm. Bruce grabbed his wrist and pushed his hand away.

"Don't touch me." He stormed away, climbed into the elevator and slammed the gate shut, leaving Clark and the others to stare in awkward silence.

"Well," Bart said. "I guess we know where he stands on the subject." Clark turned to stare at the screen. "What? Just pointing out facts, Stretch. So what's our next move?"

Clark caught sight of Alfred picking up the pieces of Bruce's cowl. He hadn't realized the man was even there. "I'll be back in a few minutes," he said, stepping over to shut down the video link and turn off the monitors.

He walked over to Alfred and bent to help clean up the mess. "Got any insight you'd be willing to share?" he asked.

Alfred glanced up at him before looking back at what he was doing. "What you must understand, Master Clark, is that Master Bruce is and always will be looking for the one that got away."

Clark straightened. "What do you mean?"

"His parents' murderer was never caught. When people like Lionel Luthor get away, it might as well be akin to reliving their death and the following injustice all over again. Especially when someone he cares for is hurt in the process. Directly or indirectly." Alfred moved to throw the broken shards away. "It was good to see you again, Master Clark."

Clark stared after him as he walked away, effectively ending their conversation. Alone again, he shook his head as if to clear it. "Cares for," he muttered. "Not what I'd call it." He was on his way back to Metropolis a few seconds later.

* * *

Lionel wasn't backing down. Signing over a portion of his LuthorCorp shares had not been an admission of weakness. It had been a power play. Reducing his involvement in the company would cover his sudden increased activities regarding another project, one that had been on the backburner since the unfortunate outcome of the Emily Dinsmore experiments.

He stood in the empty space that would soon become the new laboratory space for Rainer Labs; under a different name, of course, and the connection to him buried so deep in paperwork it would take even Lex years to follow the trail back to its source. In his pocket, his cell phone began to ring.

"Luthor," he said shortly. Listening for a few moments as he glanced around the large, sterile, white-walled room, Lionel let a slow smirk form across his lips. "I expect the project to be underway within 72 hours. As soon as the equipment is installed, your team will be able to commence work. You'll find the necessary samples waiting for you on your arrival." He disconnected the call and walked out of the room, up the two flights of curved, metal stairs, and back to his waiting vehicle.

Lex may have thought he'd won, but in time he would show him that no one – not even his own flesh and blood – could cross Lionel Luthor without repercussion. He would not attack Lex directly. Victory would be far sweeter when he destroyed what Lex truly loved; not his wife, though he was sure his son did care deeply for her. No, Clark Kent would be the eventual target of this operation.

* * *

"Hey, Lex." Clark stood a few feet inside the doors to his office, the dim light casting a bluish tint on his skin. He moved almost hesitantly across the carpeted space spanning the feet between him and Lex, who was seated behind his desk going over a stack of papers.

"Clark, I have to say I wasn't expecting to see you here any time soon." Lex set his work down and stood, walking to meet Clark halfway.

"I need to talk to you. About your father."

Lex pursed his lips unconsciously and gestured for Clark to sit down. He moved to sit opposite him. "What about him?"

"I trust you. Do you know that? When people tell me I'm a fool for doing it, I still trust you." He fell silent, looking down at his hands. Lex waited for him to continue in his own time. Clark rubbed his hands nervously against his jeans and looked back up at Lex. "Did you have anything to do with Lionel being cleared in the human testing case?"

"No." Lex replied without hesitation, and it shocked even him the ease with which the falsehood slipped from his lips. "I didn't tell you about knowing he orchestrated your capture because I was trying to protect you, Clark, but letting my father walk away scott free is not part of that attempt." Clark watched him without a word as if waiting for Lex to say something more, to give away the truth in a movement, a blink of the eye, something. Finally he nodded and stood. Lex followed suit.

"Lex, I..." Clark stopped, not sure what to say. Lex nodded and didn't say anything as Clark walked out the door.

When the doors had closed behind his friend, Lex moved to the window and looked down on streets still full of people even though the hour was late. He rested his head against the cool glass and sighed.

"I'm sorry, Clark."

* * *

Four weeks after Clark walked out of Lex's office, winter was wreaking havoc on Kansas. Smallville was in the midst of a December snow storm worse than any it had seen in a decade. Clark was at the farm with his mother, Chloe, Lois, Oliver and Jimmy. Dinner had just been put on the table when Clark and Oliver's cell phones began to ring almost simultaneously.

"Clark Kent, dinner is already on the table," his mother said.

Clark glanced at the display, at Oliver, then back at his mother. "I’m sorry, but I have to take this." Oliver slipped away while he spoke, murmuring his own apologies. Understanding filled Martha's expression and she nodded, shooing him away. Chloe's cell phone started beeping with a text message as Clark disappeared upstairs. Watchtower needed, was all it said.

At Martha's raised eyebrows, Chloe smiled apologetically. "A story doesn't wait for the weather to clear up or dinner to be finished. I'm sorry, Mrs. Kent, but I have to go."

"Is everything alright?" Jimmy asked.

She leaned down to kiss his cheek. "Everything's fine, but I've got a contact who wants to talk now of all times. I've been trying to get him to open up for a while. This could be what I've been waiting for."

Lois waved a hand at her. "Go, but drive safely. It's cold out and the roads are awful, so take blankets and food in case you go off the road and have to wait for a tow."

Chloe grinned. "Thanks for the words of wisdom, Lo." She was heading through to the front hall a few seconds, meeting up with Oliver as he stepped out of the little-used room opposite the living room, and Clark as he came down the front stairs.

"Meteor infected," Clark said quietly. "In the middle of town and using some sort of mind control to hurt and make people hurt each other. One dead and two more badly injured. Paramedics and police can't get anywhere near her to stop her."

"Let's get a move on." Oliver was already pulling on his coat as he spoke.

"Not telling Lois?" Chloe asked, smiling.

"We'll never get out of here if I tell her I've got to go. And she'll lecture me if I tell her it's a business thing."

Clark shook his head and pulled the front door open. "You can deal with Lois later." He raised his voice. "We'll be back as soon as we can, Mom," he called, shutting the door behind them before anyone could question why they were all going.

The street outside the Talon was full of gusting snowflakes washed in red and blue by the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulances. In the middle of the street a young woman stood over the prone body of a man, the lone fatality, her mouth open in a long, drawn-out wail.

Clark landed next to the Sheriff. "What's going on?" he asked, voice slipping into the tone he used only when he was in costume.

"She killed the guy at her feet, claimed he'd been hurting her. When we tried to approach, she ... I don't know what she did, but suddenly two of my officers were turning on the others, forcing them back at gunpoint." He jerked his chin to the left, indicating a man and a woman posed in a shooters stance, keeping the onlookers at bay. "Johnson's already shot another officer and a paramedic. That's them behind Sarah," he said as he pointed to two huddled lumps sitting about eight feet behind the female officer and at least fifteen feet in front of the woman and the body.

The Sheriff turned to face Clark. "We need to get to them and stop her before she hurts anyone else, Superman."

Clark nodded grimly and raised a hand to the communicator at his ear. "Watchtower, what have you got?"

Chloe's voice filled his ear. "Rebecca Dourney, 22 years old, caught in the last meteor shower, hospitalized for two weeks and comatose for one of those. She landed in the psych ward for evaluation a month later when she claimed she could control people with her mind. They diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress and sent her on her way. The dead guy is her boyfriend, Alex Davies. I don't have anything on him."

"Anyone else on their way?"

"Batman and Wonder Woman are en route with supplies for Green Arrow." Clark nodded. Oliver would need his costume before he could help.

"What's the deal here, Supes?" Clark glanced to his right as Bart stopped at his side.

"Thought you were overseas."

Bart grinned. "You know water's not an issue for me, man. Picked up the broadcast on the comm link, thought I'd come down and help." He spoke into his comm next. "Impulse is on scene, Watchtower."

Clark slipped into x-ray vision, examining the two injured men. "Can you get in there to carry the paramedic out? He's injured more severely than the other guy."

"Sure thing, Stretch, I got it covered." Bart got as far as lifting the man off the ground before he dropped down to his knees and laid him back down. With slow, jerking movements he walked back over to where Clark was speaking urgently to the Sheriff.

"Make everyone go away." His voice was stilted and forced, just like his movements.

Clark glanced at the Sheriff and nodded. The man walked away and started issuing orders. It took ten minutes, and by then the paramedic was shivering and half conscious as shock set it, but the man was able to move all of his team and any onlookers inside the Talon. He reappeared at Clark's side when they were done.

"What next?"

Bart shook his head rapidly, bringing a hand up to press fingers into his eyes. "She – wow that was not fun man."

"You okay?"

Bart glanced up at Clark and nodded. "Fine, man. What are we going to do about her though?" In their ears, Chloe told them Bruce and Diana were only twenty minutes out.

"We distract her until there're more of us. Stay back here and try to head her off if she tries anything."

Clark moved slowly towards the young woman, hands held out in a show of peace. "Rebecca, we're here to help you. But you need to let us get to those men before they die. We can't help you if we can't help them." He stopped about ten feet to the right of the injured men, parallel to them. Even in the early evening light he could see tears streaking silently down her face. "Rebecca, do you understand me?"

She let out an aborted sob and nodded, whispering, "Go on."

Clark nodded to Bart, who moved in swiftly with paramedics in tow to help them. He faced Rebecca again. At her feet he could see a small pistol, black as night against the white snow. She followed his gaze and leaned down to pick it up. She examined it carefully, fingers tracing over the cold metal.

"You're faster than a speeding bullet, aren't you?" Clark strained to hear her over the whistling of the wind whipping past them.

"Rebecca, please put the gun down. Tell me what happened." Behind him Bart was watching as the paramedics loaded their charges onto stretchers while keeping one eye focused on Clark and the girl.

"He cheated on me. And when I found out and said I was breaking up with him, he started to hit me. He broke my wrist." She was still staring at the gun. Looking past her coat, Clark could see the plaster cast surrounding the spiral break on her wrist. Finger-shaped bruises still dotted the skin, fading and yellowing now with age.

"He said I was a freak."

Clark took another step forward.

"He told me no one could ever love me because I was a freak, so I should just shut up and put up with it." She looked up. "Don't come any closer," she whispered.

"Rebecca, he's dead. He can't hurt you anymore. Now you need to let me help you."

"He hurt me and told me I was an abomination, and then he told me I deserved to die." She turned tear-filled eyes on him. "STOP MOVING!" she screamed. Clark froze in place.

"Let me help you," he said quietly.

"You can't help me. No one can help me." She stepped over the body and started moving towards him. Clark gestured for Bart to stay where he was when he saw his friend start forward. As she advanced, the realization that she had been clutching a small piece of meteor rock in one hand struck Clark in the form of a sharp, all-encompassing pain flooding through him, intensifying as she drew closer.

"If you give me a chance –" he started, straining to keep his voice steady and his body still.

"No." Behind him Clark heard the sound of the safety clicking off and a gun cocking. He turned his head to see the Sheriff pointing his weapon at him, expression blank. In front of him, Rebecca raised her own gun to her head.

Without thought for himself, Clark started forward, shouting her name. He was brought up short by the sound of a gunshot and a burning pain forcing a path through his chest. Rebecca let out one final sob before pulling the trigger of her own gun and dropping silently to the ground just five feet away from him. The kryptonite in her hand dropped into the snow, the weight of it sinking into the three inches that had accumulated.

Clark fell to his knees as Bart appeared at his side. "Stretch? Hey, man, what the hell happened?" His hand was a warm weight on Clark's back as he tipped forward to his hands and his knees. Blood dripped to the snow, staining it pink as it spread beneath him. Bruce appeared at his side a second later while Diana stopped long enough to gently take the gun out of the stunned, numb fingers of the Sheriff.

"Hey," he said gruffly. "What happened to being invulnerable?"

Clark choked on a laugh, blood slipping from between his lips to join the already growing stain on the ground. "Get me out of here," he groaned when he got his breath back. Bruce slid an arm under his shoulders and with Diana's help, they lifted Clark to his feet, ignoring his half-stifled cry of pain, and started moving him away. They headed towards the opposite side of the road, away from the people flooding out of the Talon and other shops on the street. The further away they got, the easier it became for Clark to breath.

Oliver appeared next to them in an unfamiliar black SUV with tinted windows. Chloe was already in the front passenger seat. Bruce helped situate an already healing Clark in the back seat before shutting the door behind him. Chloe rolled down her window.

"We'll stay here to deal with the authorities," Diana said, nodding to Bart where he stood next to her. Oliver threw the car into gear and turned the vehicle in the direction of the farm.

"When did you become a car thief," Clark asked, still panting slightly.

"When you went and got yourself shot. What the hell happened there, by the way?"

Clark sighed quietly and closed his eyes. "I think she needed to hold onto a piece of meteor rock in order for her ability to work."

"Your weakness," Bruce said quietly.

"They're fragments from my home planet." He met Oliver's eyes in the review mirror, silently thanking the man for having kept that information to himself until Clark revealed it. Oliver nodded almost imperceptibly at him.

Bruce had pulled Clark's uniform down enough to look at the now-healed wound that had been high on the right side of his chest. "Not a mark," he said.

"I heal when I'm not around it anymore."

"It can kill you?" Clark met Bruce's eyes.

"Yes." No one in the car spoke until Oliver pulled to a stop in front of the house.

"We're here," He said to break the silence.

"I'll go take care of Jimmy and Lois. I'll let you know when it's clear to come in, Clark." She unbuckled her seat belt and slipped out of the vehicle. A few minutes later her voice came over the comm link with the all clear.

"You up to speeding in there and changing?" Oliver asked.

"Yeah, I'll be fine."

"Right, Bruce and I will be in shortly."

"We will?"

Oliver grinned. "If I tell Lois I went to pick you up then she won't yell at me." Clark disappeared from the SUV before Oliver finished speaking. "Your change of clothes is in the bag back there. Promise I won't peak." Bruce's glare was lost on Oliver as the man turned his attention out the driver's side window. Two minutes later found Oliver and Bruce entering through the front door.

Lois was on her way from the kitchen to the living room, steaming mug of coffee in hand, when the two stepped into the room. "Well, you're just about the last person I ever expected to see in Smallville."

"Ms. Lane," Bruce said.

Martha entered on her heels. "Mr. Wayne, hello. This is a surprise."

"Mrs. Kent, my apologies for the intrusion. I was nearby on business and I'm afraid I'm stranded. Oliver was kind enough to pick me up, but wouldn't hear of taking me to a hotel."

"Well he was right, a hotel is no place to be in weather like this. Come in and make yourself comfortable. Would you like some coffee?"

"Coffee would be wonderful, thank you Mrs. Kent."

"Please, call me Martha." She glanced out the window. "It looks like the weather's getting worse. We might all be here a while." She disappeared back into the kitchen. The front door opened then and Clark entered looking wind tousled and still slightly pale.

"Hey Smallville, where'd you disappear to?"

"Dave Wilkins called, needed a hand getting his tractor out of a snow bank."

"And he needed to do this in the middle of a snow storm?" Lois asked.

"It's an expensive piece of machinery, Lois. In weather like this, it could have gotten damaged –"

"Spare me the farm boy lecture," she interrupted, lifting her mug to her lips and missing the flicker of a glare Bruce focused on her.

"I'll be back down in a few minutes. Bruce, I'm glad Oliver got you here safely." He disappeared up the stairs.

Bruce waited a few minutes before excusing himself in search of the washroom. Climbing the stairs, he headed for the partially closed door behind which he could see Clark moving. He tapped on the frame lightly and pushed the door open. Clark glanced over his shoulder at him.

"Come on in."

Bruce entered and closed the door behind him. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. I told you I heal once I'm away from it."

"I really was starting to think you were invulnerable." Something in Bruce's tone brought Clark's head up from folding his costume into his old backpack.

"Sorry if I scared you," he said in a low voice.

"I owe you an apology."

"For what?"

"The way I've been treating you." Clark shook his head and started to object, but Bruce stopped him. "No, Clark. My decision to refrain from pursuing... something personal with you came across harsher than I'd intended. I don't do relationships, and we have to work together. It would have ended eventually, and I didn't want to risk jeopardizing the safety of the public or the other members of the League."

"I understood that, Bruce."

"But I can't get you out of my head. When I saw you were hurt and bleeding, everything else sort of fell to the wayside. I realized I've been an absolute ass to you."

"Yeah, you have been."

"You've been an ass to me as well."

"Yeah, I have."

"No more?"

"What about us?"

"We have to work together."

"People date their co-workers all the time, Bruce."

"And when the relationship ends they have the option to move to another position, another job, if things are messy. We don't."

Clark smiled sadly. "We're both adults."

"Who are depended on by thousands of people every moment of every day."

Clark gave him an all too familiar look, the one that made Bruce feel like he was being examined inside and out, before speaking. "Truce?"

"Truce." Bruce left the room without another word.

~ 15 ~

The conversation flowed easily as the storm became steadily worse the later the evening got. Martha wouldn’t let anyone drive anywhere, even as far as the Talon, through the heavy blanket of snow. Clark offered his bed to Lois and Chloe; Chloe at least put up a token protest. Martha tried to offer her own room, but no one would hear of it. She smiled warmly as she went to bed shortly after ten, placing a kiss on her son's forehead as he sat in the Jonathan's chair in the living room with a mug of coffee in hand. Jimmy won the couch in a coin toss, and the others were left with sleeping bags and blankets on the living room floor.

It was around two in the morning when Bruce, the only one still awake, watched as Clark bolted upright with a gasp, chest heaving in a bid for air he could easily have gone without. He stayed silent as the younger man scrubbed a hand across his face and sighed before he climbed to his feet. Clark slipped into the kitchen where he put on his boots and disappeared through the kitchen door. A small burst of cold air filtered through the room as the door swung shut behind him. Bruce felt the goose bumps break out across his arms as he climbed to his feet in his borrow t-shirt and cotton sleep pants to grab his own shoes and coat.

Sometime after they'd gone to bed, the snow had stopped. The white-covered ground reflected the light of the moon, providing enough light for Bruce follow Clark's foot prints through the calf-deep snow out to the barn. Once inside, he paused to look through the shadows and up to the loft where a soft light clicked on. If Clark heard him coming up the steps, he didn't acknowledge it. Bruce reached the top step to see Clark standing at the opening opposite, looking out over the fields.

"Nightmare?" Bruce stepped closer, stopping half a dozen feet from Clark and pulling his coat tighter around him against the chill wind coming in through the open window.

Clark nodded absently, his attention still focused outside. "I get them every now and then." Bruce had to strain to hear him.

"What was it about?"

Silhouetted against the night sky and lit by the dim light of a single lamp on the desk, he could see Clark's shoulders lift in a shrug. "We call a truce and suddenly you care?" It wasn't said maliciously.

"Does it matter?" He let the silence hang between them.

"Not remembering makes it harder to deal with the dreams. I can't tell if what I see is real, if it's just a figment of my subconscious."

"How often is 'from time to time,' Clark?"

"Once or twice a month. I used to have them every time I fell asleep. Sometimes I would go for weeks without sleeping."

"Are they always about the same thing?"

"Different scenarios, but yes." Bruce moved closer to Clark, waiting for him to go on. "I hate not knowing."

"You should get used to it." He was at Clark's side now, and he could see the man turn his head to look at him out of the peripheral of his vision. He kept his eyes trained on a fence post buried under inches of snow. "It's never going to change, right? Your memories are gone. So why cling to something that's going to eat away at you until there's nothing left but a shell?"

Clark turned his body to face him, hands loose at his side. "It's not that simple."

"Yes, it is." Bruce shifted and leaned his hip against the cold, rough wood. You just need to let it go."

"Just like that."

Bruce shook his head no. "I'm not telling you it will be easy, Clark. Just that it is possible. Think about it." He shivered against a rush of wind that blew down the neck of his jacket.

"You should go back inside. It's cold out here," Clark said, the words coming out harsher that he had intended.

"No matter what you might feel, it's not your fault. Think about what I said, Clark." Bruce turned to go.

"Wait." He looked back as Clark closed the distance between them.

"I'm not the only one, you know."

"Only one what?"

"Blaming myself for something I had no control over. Holding on to the past so tightly that it consumes me." Bruce looked back at him, expression hidden by the shadows in the barn. "This obsession you have with finding the one that got away, Bruce; it's not healthy, and it won't bring them back."

For a moment the only sound was Bruce's footsteps as he moved back to stand in front of Clark, so close their chests nearly touched with each inhalation of breath.

"It's not about that," he finally said.

"Then what is it about? I've seen you when the bad guy goes free, Bruce, and it's like you becomes an entirely different person. It can be scary."

Bruce ignored him. "You run yourself ragged, Clark. Between being Superman and being Clark Kent, do you ever stop to breath? When was the last time you took a break? Tell me, do you do what you do because it's what you want, or because you're scared to take even just a second to really think about what happened to you? Is this how you keep your demons at bay?"

"I do what I do because it's right. I have abilities that can help people, and I've already spent too much of my life hiding and trying to fit into a world I don't belong in, when I could have been making a difference!" Clark's voice had risen to almost a shout.

"You were growing up, not hiding."

"I listened when my parents told me to keep my abilities a secret because if people knew, they would take me away, and look what happened. So I made the choice to stop hiding and start helping." When Bruce didn't say anything, Clark went back to the window.

"Clark." Bruce's voice was low and intense when he finally did speak. "You're more human that most people I know. It doesn't matter that you weren't born here, it matters that every moment of every day you strive toward making this place, this planet, your home, a better place."

"That's not what this is about."

Bruce's lips quirked in a half smile at Clark's back. "I think it is."

"How would you know?"

"You're like an open book, Clark."

"Everyone else I know would disagree with you."

"Maybe they aren't paying enough attention."

Clark faced him, arms crossed over his broad chest and legs spread shoulder width apart. He looked ready to close himself off and shut Bruce out completely. "And you are?"

"More than most, I think."


"You fascinate me."

Clark shook his head. "Me, or Superman?"

"You." Bruce walked forward until he was just a couple feet away from Clark. "It's been a long time since I've met someone I find as intriguing as you."

"I'm not that interesting."

Bruce smirked. "I don't often compliment people honestly, Clark." A gust of wind brought with it a fresh burst of the once-again falling snow. Bruce couldn't hide the shudder that wracked his body. Clark's hand on his shoulder was a welcome burst of warmth even through his coat.

"You should go in," he said more gently this time.

"You should come in with me."

"I think I'll stay out here for a while."

"That whole impervious to the cold thing has its perks, doesn't it?"

Clark flashed a small grin in his direction. "Yeah, it's great for brooding outside in the middle of winter."

The laugh startled Bruce as it came out in a puff of warm air that turned to condensation as if left his mouth. He raised a bare hand to Clark's shoulder and squeezed lightly for just a moment. "Don't brood too long," he said.

"This from the brooding Dark Knight himself."

Bruce smiled and started back towards the warmth of the Kent house.

"Hey Bruce? Is there any chance you'll reconsider your stance on not dating a co-worker?"

Bruce paused with one foot on the second step and the other settled firmly on the third. He looked back at Clark, dressed only in boots, plaid pajama pants, and a white cotton t-shirt. He had sleep-tousled hair and a day of growth on his jaw as he stood framed against a backdrop of softly falling snow.

Bruce knew without much thought exactly what his answer would be. Wordlessly he stepped back up into the loft and advanced on Clark swiftly. He didn't stop until their chests crashed together, forcing Clark back against the side of the barn as he brought his hands up to tangle in ebony curls and settled his mouth over Clark's. His pulse began to race when Clark let out a surprised grunt followed soon after by a half-stifled whimper before letting his hands gripped Bruce's hips firmly. They broke apart breathlessly what felt like an eternity later.

"Was that a yes?" Clark asked with an expression of mock innocence.

Bruce let out a quick burst of laughter before leaning in to lay a kiss at the juncture where Clark's jaw ended, just below his earlobe. "Yeah Clark, that was definitely a yes."

"Good. Otherwise I'd have to be worried about the next time Bart asks if he can call you Bats for short. No offence, but I'd kinda prefer it if you didn't tell Bart no with a ki –"

Bruce stifled the words with another kiss, pulling back after just a few seconds to look at Clark. "You're going to make my life interesting, aren't you?"

Clark said nothing at first, grinning brightly as he nudged Bruce back towards the couch and grabbed the blanket off the back of it. He draped it over Bruce's shoulders before pushing him backwards and down onto the cushions.

"Depends on whether or not interesting is good." He dropped onto the couch next to him and leaned forward, snaking a hand into his hair and around the back of his neck, pulling Bruce against his mouth.

"Yeah," Bruce muttered between kisses. "It is."

- end -

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