And They All Lived Happily Ever After

by LastScorpion

And They All Lived Happily Ever After
a.k.a. That Crazy Liona Fic
by LastScorpion

(Disclaimer & Acknowledgments: "Smallville" and all its characters are owned by DC Comics and/or the WB and/or Millar & Gough and/or Tollin & Robbins. "Superman" was invented by Shuster & Siegel. I don't own any of the characters. I'm just fooling around. Please don't sue. This goes drastically AU around the middle of season three. A million thanks to Dr. Science and the Red-Headed Firecracker for all their beta-reading help. All remaining errors and offenses against common decency are mine and mine alone.)

Disgusted, Lionel threw aside the headphones. This amplification of the Belle Reve surveillance tape was no better than the rest. He resolutely did not regret the tampering that he'd ordered on his son's mind. It was for the boy's own good, after all. If Lex hadn't forgotten about that damn tenement fire, Lionel would have been forced to kill him.

Ah, well. As he and Morgan had discovered during their so-called childhood, there was more than one way to skin a cat. Lionel could afford to indulge this little (but potentially oh-so-important) hobby of his until the next day at eleven a.m., when there was a meeting in Metropolis that would demand his personal attention. What could he do in that time to find out more about Clark Kent?

Miss Sullivan was a dry well for the moment. Lionel had ensured that Gabe's financial troubles would manifest themselves gradually, allowing the girl's discomfort and guilt to work upon her conscience. She would tell him more in time.

Martha was a source he preferred not to tap at present. Since her baby's death, she seemed to be more or less a shell of her former self. Perhaps he maintained a tendresse for the woman. In any case, he would leave her alone if there were any alternatives.

Jonathan Kent was too unimaginative and, well, stupid to approach by any but the crudest means. Lionel preferred to save actual physical force for a last resort.

Who else even lived in this hick town? Ah. Lex's lovely business partner, Nell's nubile niece, the well-regarded Miss Lang. Her coffee shop was the one part of LexCorp that Lionel had not yet restored to its rightful place as a wholly-owned subsidiary of LuthorCorp. Lex's former attorneys had done a journeyman's job of tying up the property. The idea of that contract still made his blood boil. What the hell had the boy been thinking?

She'd lived within sight of the Kents' farmhouse from an early age, as well. Visiting Lana would kill two birds with one stone.

Excellent. Lionel secured the tapes and equipment in his personal safe and twirled the dial jauntily. It wouldn't do to keep the lady waiting.

Lana hummed as she gracefully flitted through the Talon, refilling all the sugar dispensers. She liked to keep things neat and sweet!

The breakfast rush was over. Only a few customers lingered over their lattes. Lana made sure to smile brightly at them whenever they turned her way. Gotta keep the clientele happy!

Thanks to the Smallville High Work-Study Program, she had forty minutes before she had to get to class, and she wanted everything to be shipshape before Connie showed up for her shift.

The bell over the door tinkled. Lana was so happy she had made Clark install it for her! She turned towards the door with a warm smile of greeting.

Lionel's limousine was seen less frequently in Smallville now that he had gotten over his blindness and, for the most part, returned to his rightful place in Metropolis. Lionel enjoyed the slack-jawed stares of the locals. He basked in their attention, relishing the feeling of their impotent anger and loathing.

Lionel commanded his driver to wait and strode masterfully into the coffee shop. The shop's door swung closed behind him with an irritating tinkle. Lionel swept the room with his gaze. This strangely-decorated, poorly-designed cafe was the last vestige of Lex's ill-fated little business rebellion. He would decide how best to crush it after getting to know the proprietress, and pumping her for all that she could give him on Clark Kent.

Ah, the proprietress: Lionel identified the young lady holding a sugar canister as Lana Lang. She turned big, brown eyes up to him at the sound of the door's bell, smiling and wrinkling her nose appealingly.

Lionel instantly lost his train of thought. Suddenly, for no good reason, he wanted this attractive young creature for his own -- to the devil with young Mr. Kent, and to the devil with the Talon!

After the wedding, it would belong to him anyway.

"You're what?" Chloe exclaimed, spewing milk across the lunchroom.

"I'm engaged!" Lana confided. Her eyes sparkled, and she nodded a couple of times.

"To Lionel Luthor?" Chloe squawked in disbelief.

Lana's face crumpled, and she looked at Chloe reproachfully. Chloe knew that look. In about five minutes, maybe less, Lana would start getting really, really pissy. "I thought you'd be happy for me!" Lana began.

Chloe knew that her only hope was to say something like, "Lana, I'm really happy and excited that you're going to drop out of high school and marry Lionel Luthor, who is not, in any way, the devil. Please, tell me all about your color scheme and what theme you want me to plan for the shower." She tried, opening and closing her mouth silently once or twice, but just couldn't bring herself to do it. Chloe abandoned her lunch and fled.

"She's what?" Clark exclaimed, sinking into a chair. It creaked alarmingly.

"Engaged to Lionel Luthor!" Chloe repeated, walking agitatedly around the Talon office. "She just now told me in the lunchroom!"

Clark shook his head. "That can't be right. There must be some sort of explanation. Maybe he's using mind control, or some sort of kryp-- I mean, meteor rock derivative on her."

Chloe gave him a disgusted look, and he shrank in his chair. Ever since their little conversation, Chloe had basically agreed to accept rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty about his origins. He really could use the word 'kryptonite' around her, and tell her that was the real name for the meteor rocks. He trusted her not to push, because she'd said she wouldn't. It was still hard though, and he appreciated the fact that she satisfied her understandable anger with looks, instead of whacking him with a big kryptonite bat. He knew that, somehow, he'd have to convey that appreciation to her. Preferably soon.

She stopped glaring at him and resumed pacing around the room, looking genuinely worried about Lana. "Lana's always been the Virgin Queen of Smallville High, but if you look at her family, this really isn't that out of the question. You know what people always said about Nell, and ever since it turned out that Henry Small was Lana's biological dad, it's been pretty plain that Laura Lang wasn't all that different."

"Her Great Aunt Louise, too," Clark added, remembering the rush his father had felt, and the fatal love quadrangle there.

"How do you know all this obscure Smallville history?" Chloe asked in an exasperated voice.

Clark panicked a little and shouted, "Hey look! A hummingbird!"

"What? Where?" Chloe asked automatically. Her blonde hair fluffed as she whipped her head around to look out the window, then she fixed him in another tight-lipped look of mercifully short-lived rage.

"Um. It's gone now. I'm an obscure Smallville guy? I mean, my dad's family's lived here forever, and...."

"Okay." Clark felt relieved when Chloe decided that was good enough. Dang! He really had to tell her. She'd kept the secret of where he was all summer, and that really, really wasn't going to be the convincing argument when Dad flipped out about her knowing everything.

"Anyway," Chloe went on, "Lana's female relatives seem to have a demonstrated streak of slut and/or gold-digger, so I guess this shouldn't be a surprise. She's seventeen, and we're all dumb at seventeen."

"I thought that was 'grand at seventeen.' Sorry." Clark ducked his head to hide from Chloe's angry glare. He was a little surprised it didn't set anything on fire.

"Well, you can't deny that it's dumb to get involved with Lionel Luthor! Even if he is the richest man in Kansas, and one of the richest in the country!"

"You really think Lana wants him for his money?"

Chloe gave him another look, one that made him understand that he was a small-time hick with no idea of how the world worked. How could she say so much without actually saying anything?

Chloe resumed pacing. "Which would be fine, I mean to each her own and everything, but this is Lionel Luthor we're talking about!"

"And he's the devil." It was nice when Chloe and he were completely in agreement about something.

"Exactly. So what are we going to do?" Chloe sat down. They both thought for a while in silence.

"Do you suppose Lex knows yet?"

"You look nice, Dad. What's the occasion?"

"Ah, Lex! Just in time. Help me with my tie."

Lex did up his father's bow tie for him, carefully staying to one side so Lionel could continue to study his reflection in the full-length hall mirror. "I repeat, Dad, what's the occasion?"

"I'm going out."

"So I deduced from the tux. I didn't know there were any big charity do's tonight."

"No, no," the older man said, critically studying the final necktie effect in the mirror. "This is a personal outing."

Lex smirked. "Anyone I know?"

"As a matter of fact, yes." Lex had just time enough to realize that that was his father's triumphant smile, and he would have been better off not to ask, before Lionel crowed, "Your business partner, Miss Lang."

Lex was genuinely startled, and didn't manage to hide it. "You're going out with Lana? You haven't even spoken to her since she was ten! When the hell did this happen?"

Lionel's smirk trumped Lex's every time. "This morning, in what shall soon be my coffee shop. Such a charming girl. I've asked her to marry me."

Lex had thought he was startled before, but that was nothing compared to this. "You're marrying Lana Lang? She's only seventeen! You dated her Aunt Nell, for God's sake! This is...." Words failed him.

"Now, Lex, calm yourself." Lionel patted Lex on the cheek in an offensive manner. "You really need to lighten up, son."

Lionel grabbed his walking stick and swept magnificently out to the limo.

Lex's head hurt. He went into his office and lay down on the sofa.

Say what you like about Clark (Big. Dumb. Freaky. Terrible fashion sense.) Chloe thought, pulling up to the mansion's gravel driveway. He sure knew how to act once action was indicated. He was not a guy to just shilly-shally around. As soon as it occurred to Super Farm Boy that Lex might not know about Lionel and Lana (Chloe suppressed a shiver) he headed on over, barely pausing long enough for Chloe to grab her jacket and keys.

Clark didn't even knock. "Lex!" he bellowed, charging into the mansion's entryway. No servants bothered to try to stop him. Chloe wondered exactly how much time Clark spent here, anyway. Clark hesitated for a moment at the stairs, then continued straight on to the office. "Lex!" he called again. Chloe noticed that he said it like he'd seen the Luthor heir, even though it was before he pushed open the door.

Sure enough, Lex was there, lying on the heavy leather couch, looking pale and interesting, with his hand over his eyes. Chloe couldn't help feeling a little sorry for him, even though she still officially hated him for firing her dad.

"Lex!" Clark exclaimed again. He rushed to the sofa and knelt beside it. His voice sounded absurdly tender and concerned as he said, "Are you okay?"

Hmmm, Chloe thought.

Lex dragged his hand away from his eyes. "Clark. I'm fine. It's just a headache. I've been talking with my father." He let Clark help him up to a sitting position.

Hmmm, Chloe thought again.

"So you know. That he's engaged to Lana." Clark let his big hand linger on Lex's shoulder even after Lex was fully upright.

Hmmm, Chloe thought for the third time. So that's how it is. Well, he is kind of gorgeous, even though I still have to hate him.

"So that's real," Lex mused softly.

"Huh?" Clark asked.

"Oh. It just, um, it seemed so unlikely that I thought maybe I hadn't heard Dad correctly."

Chloe plopped down onto the sofa beside him. "Well, if you heard him wrong, then so did Lana. She told me at lunch that she's engaged to Lionel Luthor."

"This can't be good," Clark added.

"I can't believe I'm going to have a stepmother younger than my b-- I mean a stepmother who's younger than I am."

Clark was looking at Lex with big cow's eyes. Jeez, Chloe thought.

"The question is," she said, "what are we going to do about it?"

"That really is the question, isn't it?" Lex responded, running his hand over his bare scalp. It was a nervous gesture, an obvious tell; he really had to stop doing that.

"We can't just let Lana marry him," Clark said. He hauled himself up and sat on the couch next to Lex, opposite Chloe. It was nice to have him near. If Chloe hadn't been there, Lex would have laid his aching head down on Clark's broad shoulder.

"Technically, you know, she's old enough to marry whoever she wants." Chloe sounded like she was trying hard to grant people the benefit of the doubt.

"Whomever," Lex corrected absently. "What does he want with Lana?" he wondered out loud. "He said they met at the Talon -- what was he doing there, anyway?"

"Well," Chloe said thoughtfully, "he could've...." Suddenly Chloe broke off. "You know what? I don't know why I should tell you anything. You're the guy who fired my dad! C'mon, Clark." She stomped to the doorway, looking meaningfully at her classmate.

"What? Chloe!" Clark exclaimed, looking anxiously from Lex to Chloe and back again.

Chloe continued glaring at him. She was making some subtle little fluttering, beckoning motions with her hands, held close to her sides.

Clark obviously didn't notice them.

"She's right, Clark," Lex said, hoping he understood Chloe's subtext. "You guys should leave." Lex stood and hauled on Clark's arm a little. Clark, of course, didn't budge. He continued to gape at Lex and Chloe, confused. Chloe rolled her eyes and looked exasperated. Lex looked into Clark's big, baffled eyes and smiled. Never in a million years would he have guessed he'd fall so hard for anyone so dumb. "I'll walk you two to your car. Outside."

A light dawned on Clark's face. "Oh!" he said.

Out near Chloe's car, probably clear of Lionel's possible listening devices, Chloe said, "We so need to talk. Where?"

"I guess the Talon's out these days," Lex said quietly. He wished it didn't hurt when he lost things to his father. He tried to tell himself he'd never liked the Talon much anyway.

"There's the Farmer's Market in a couple of days," Clark suggested.

"Too long to wait. Fordman's, in two hours," Chloe decided. "I need a new sweater anyhow, and there's no way he'd have bugged Fordman's."

"Yeah," Clark agreed.

"I'll see you there," Lex promised. He went back into the mansion to put a cold cloth on his head and lie down for twenty minutes.

Lana was so keyed up that she practically effervesced. For the first time ever, she appreciated all the time and effort her Aunt Nell had put into teaching her how to dress and make herself up for formal occasions. Lana owned more long gowns than anyone else at Smallville High, and it had always seemed like such a waste that there were so few occasions for wearing them. Even when she'd been Whitney's girl, there hadn't been that many dances and awards ceremonies to attend.

This was what that was all for, she thought. Poor dear Whitney, upper-classman, football hero -- he was just practice, and her short-lived relationship with solidly lower-middle-class Clark Kent had really been some weird detour.

Lana remembered in ninth-grade English, the class had read a nineteenth-century novel in which the heroine "vowed to sell her honor dear." It turned out in the classroom discussion that everybody else thought that meant she was planning to use the jeweled dagger mentioned in the previous chapter to try to fight off the villain when he came to rape her. Lana had been happy that she hadn't mentioned her interpretation, that the girl was going to make sure that she got as many presents and things from the man as possible before she gave herself to him.

Lionel Luthor was the real thing -- rich, worldly, distinguished, and undeniably a little dangerous. He was damn near irresistible, and he'd already proposed. If she didn't mess this up, she might make a very good thing out of it -- better than Nell had ever managed.

The doorbell rang downstairs.

Lana studied her reflection and rearranged one last lock of hair. With a knowing chuckle, that she'd never used before, she vowed to sell her honor dear.

By the time Clark finished a few chores back at the farm and made it over to Fordman's, Chloe already had three items folded over her arm.

"Hey, Clark," she greeted him, displaying the top sweater from the pile. "What do you think of this one?"

"It's nice," Clark answered without giving it much thought. "Is Lex here yet?"

"Not yet." Chloe didn't get all huffy with him for his lackadaisical sweater-appraising performance like Lana always did. He hated being around Lana when she was shopping.

Lex sauntered in. Clark was glad to see he was looking a little bit better.

"Not the green," Lex said to Chloe.

Chloe didn't look at him, but she did put the green sweater back. "I really am mad at you about my dad," she said.

"His performance reviews were terrible."

"Bullshit!" Chloe spat out, turning on him. "Dad ran that plant while you were gone, and he did a great job! He kept LexCorp from falling apart!"

Lex swallowed. "That's what I...." he whispered, then swallowed again.

"So," Clark said, feeling obscurely compelled to rescue Lex from an obviously uncomfortable subject (Too bad you didn't rescue him from getting his brain fried! Clark berated himself), "What are we going to do about Lana and your dad?"

Fordman's considerately supplied chairs scattered throughout the women's clothing section for husbands, boyfriends, and kids to sit in while their associated females shopped. Lex sank into a chair and ran his hand over his head. "Well, we can warn her, I guess."

"Bullshit!" Chloe cut him off again. (That seemed to be her new favorite word.) "Lana already knows what everybody knows about Lionel Luthor -- probably even more, because of her aunt. And even if you were willing to share some of his not-for-publication shenanigans," Chloe shot Lex a steely glare, and Clark winced for him "she probably wouldn't believe you!"

"She's not the only one who doesn't take it well, being warned off a guy," Clark put in diffidently, not sure if referring to Ian and Justin would get his head bitten off or not.

"Exactly." Whew. "So warning her is obviously pointless." Chloe stood directly in front of Lex, blocking him from leaving his chair. She stared down at him with something that didn't look exactly like hostility. "I was serious about my dad, Lex. It is a complete load of crap to say that he didn't do a good job, and if his performance reviews said that, then they're...."

"Forged, altered after the fact," Lex concluded for her. "I thought I remembered...." He let the sentence dwindle away again, and looked pale and unhappy.

"Remembered what?" Chloe prompted.

Lex swallowed, closed his eyes, and swallowed again. Finally he opened his eyes and said, "Off the record, Chloe."

She looked at him for a long moment without blinking, and finally nodded. "Okay."

"I...." Lex started, and then he stopped again. Clark put a hand on his shoulder, even though Lex always said they shouldn't touch each other in Smallville in public. Lex leaned his head gratefully against Clark's arm for a second, and Clark knew that Lex was in bad shape.

"You know what?" Chloe said suddenly. "I'm gonna go try these on. You pull yourself together and get your story straight, and I'll be back in ten minutes. Maybe fifteen."

It turned out to be more like twenty, but Chloe found a really nice brown cowl-neck sweater with a very understated burnt sienna sort of a pattern to it that she liked a lot and was on sale. When she was done trying things on and had paid for the cowl-neck, she found Clark and Lex again. They were sitting on Fordman's one sofa, between the women's clothing section and the shoe section. Lex was leaning his head on his hands, and Clark was looking at him just exactly like a worried boyfriend.

How come everybody doesn't know they're an item? Chloe wondered.

"I'm back!" she said, plopping down between the two boys with her shopping bag in her lap. "What's the story?"

"I'm not sure this is the time or the place..." Lex began.

"Bullshit," Chloe retorted cheerfully. "They'll be closed in twenty minutes, and it's a school night. There is nobody here right now except for the bored kid who needs to close up. He's on the cell to his girlfriend and will not come round here right now. Spill."

Lex lifted his head. "It's vitally important that none of what I tell you...."

"I'll take your secrets to my frickin' grave. I swear."

"Okay." Lex was silent again for almost long enough for Chloe to get mad at him again, but then he began.

"There's a lot that I don't remember very well -- a lot of things which I'm not sure whether they ever happened or not."

"I thought you said you only lost seven weeks!" Clark put in miserably.

"I lost seven weeks completely, but there are -- everything else has holes, fuzzy places, and there are some things that didn't happen, that never happened, can't have, that I remember quite clearly." Lex swallowed again, and went on in a quieter voice. "I really am insane, or really was. It's just as well that Dad put me in ... there."

"What do you mean, you remember things that never happened?" Chloe asked. Clark just looked at Lex with a stricken expression on his face.

"When I was stuck on that damn island, marooned. I was alone; I know I was alone, and if I concentrate, I think I can remember it that way. But if I just think, if I just remember without trying so hard, it's -- well, it's different."

"Different how?" Chloe persisted. Clark was looking like he'd just run over a puppy, but Chloe wanted to get Lex's story out of the way before she started worrying about what Clark's problem was.

Lex looked down and took a deep breath. "It's like I wasn't alone."

Chloe was about to demand some more clarification when suddenly the intercom spoke. "We'll be closing in five minutes. Please make your purchases now."

When Lex looked up again, he had his professional, grown-up, business face firmly back in place. Chloe hadn't realized 'til then how broken open he'd become over the course of the afternoon. Now, although Clark still looked on the verge of something, Lex looked completely in-control again.

Before Lex could say anything, Chloe jumped to her feet. "Okay, guys, this isn't over."

"It's a school night," Clark interrupted weakly, but she quelled him with a glance.

"Oh, please. Like anybody expects you to stick to a curfew after last summer!"

Clark looked suitably abashed.

"On the other hand, my dad seems to feel all insecure since you fired him," Chloe went on, glaring at Lex, "and I'll have to sneak out. I'll meet you two at Riley's field at 3 a.m."

"Riley's field?" Clark asked nervously.

"Is that where I got you down from that cross thing, when I first came to Smallville?" Lex asked.

Chloe was surprised. "You were the scarecrow? How come I didn't know this before?" Clark hung his head and blushed. "Whatever, secret-keeping-boy. I'll see you two at three." She turned to go.

"Chloe!" Lex called after her. She stopped and let him catch up with her. "I'm sorry about your dad. I'd like to hire him back, but I'm afraid that would probably be dangerous, for all of us. If somebody...."

"Probably your dad," Chloe interrupted.

Lex nodded. Chloe realized that he knew his father was evil, and felt sorry for him again. "Here," Lex said. "It's a gift. That way there's no record-keeping or anything else for my dad to track down. I'm almost sure that my petty cash requirements don't trigger any reports until they exceed five thousand." Lex handed her a neatly-rolled handful of cash. It looked like several thousand dollars.

"Lex!" Chloe was startled again. "I can't!"

"Please take it. I need someone to help me figure this out, and Clark's not exactly. Um. Well, I think it would be very helpful to have both of you, if I can. Plus, we can figure out how to help Lana. Maybe."

Urgently, in an almost-whisper to avoid being heard by the clerk, who was coming to shoo them out of the store, Chloe said, "You realize that Electro-Convulsive Therapy is only actually indicated for intractable severe depression, not hallucinations, right? I mean, even if you really were crazy, which it could have just been the isolation, ECT was not the thing to do to help you."

Lex smiled sadly at her. He knew. "I'll see you at three."

Lionel had planned to stay in Metropolis, sending Miss Lang home to Smallville alone in the limo after the opera. Tomorrow's business meeting was important to LuthorCorp, and he wanted to make sure he'd be at his best.

But Lana had been so adorable at the opera, and at supper afterwards. She clearly hadn't the slightest notion of Italian, and Lionel was willing to bet that Smallville High's fine arts curriculum wasn't much, but her face had revealed such pleasure in the music, even as she read along the translation. He could see that she had a real feeling for what the composer and the performers were attempting to convey.

Lex had never appreciated opera, for all Lionel's teaching. Of course, Lionel himself had come to it late, without any of the educational advantages Lex had enjoyed. Perhaps it was better that way.

She'd enjoyed the supper, too -- chicken and champagne at the Fullerton. It was a favorite supper-spot among the Opera Circle crowd, and Lionel enjoyed the envious glances of his contemporaries as much as he enjoyed the vivacious prettiness of his young fiancee. She fit in there admirably well -- naive, but not too naive, well-enough-dressed, but not overdone. As seventeen-year-old women to take to the opera went, she was perfect. Maybe he should have had a daughter at some point, Lionel thought, and was corrupt enough to find that thought amusing rather than deeply, deeply disturbing.

"I've had the best time, Lionel," Lana sparkled at him.

"I'm glad."

Lana laughed a little, lightly, and looked down. "I can't believe I have school tomorrow."

"We'd better get you home then. It's getting late." Lionel helped her with her wrap, and she smiled up at him endearingly. It was then that Lionel knew he'd be taking the helicopter back into the city in the morning. He couldn't give up three more hours in her presence, not if he didn't have to.

On the way back to Smallville, Lana sat close beside him, instead of across from him as she had on the way out. The delicate curve of her neck and the warm scent of her perfume beguiled the silence. She smelled of roses, and it took him back to his distant youth.

Morgan had always coveted the flash girls, fast and sharp-tongued, and he'd gotten them by the dozens once he and Lionel had begun to make their fortunes. Nell had tried to be that kind of woman, but her Smallville background made her simultaneously less appealing to Morgan and more attractive to Lionel.

When he was young, Lionel had longed for the nice girls, the sweet and simple girls he'd watched but not really known at school. They'd been too high for him to aspire to before he'd begun his climb, too low for him to pay attention to once he'd achieved anything worth having. (Mistresses were neither here nor there.)

Lillian was the closest he'd ever come to what he'd always wanted; she had been a jewel, but she'd never worn rosewater.

Lionel only became aware that Lana had been humming a theme from the opera when she stopped and asked, "What are you thinking?"

"I like your perfume."

She smiled at him. "It's rosewater."

Lex had a strong desire, possibly not irrational, to be out of the mansion when Lionel got back.

Upon returning from Fordman's, he'd found out from the servants that the limo had been ordered for the Metropolis Opera House. That gave him an estimate of how long his father's absence might last. The opera would finish no earlier than ten; no one could drive a limousine from Metropolis to Smallville in less than two hours; he should be safe until at least midnight.

Lex was desperately tired. He decided to try again to get some sleep. Lately he had sometimes had the feeling that Lionel was coming into his bedroom at night and watching him. He always tried to pretend he was asleep when it happened. Sometimes the unseen presence left; sometimes he couldn't keep from opening his eyes eventually, and there was no one there. It was very disturbing. Perhaps if he tried to sleep while Dad couldn't possibly be there, it wouldn't happen.

Probably Dad would be gone until one or two a.m.; he might even choose to stay over in the city for tomorrow's meeting -- another meeting that Lex had not been invited to attend.

Sometimes he pressed the issue with his father, or just showed up; sometimes he couldn't seem to care enough to bother; sometimes he just wanted to stay as far away from Lionel as possible, and the hell with the business. LexCorp was gone anyway, and everything he'd put into it, even what he'd inherited from his mom, had become Lionel's property when Lex had been declared legally dead. It was all going to be straightened out, allegedly.

Lex had been declared legally alive enough to have his driver's license back, and the property was all supposed to be just a matter of time, legal formalities, etc. Lex had his own lawyers working on it, but they seemed to lack a certain zeal, and the judge was in no discernable hurry at all. Was it paranoia to think that Lionel had them all in his pocket, or was it just reasonable?

The alarm went off. Midnight already, and he hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. Lex took a ragged breath and got ready to go meet Clark and Chloe, in the place where the sky had fallen on him the first time.

Clark slept like a log until 2 a.m., woke instantly and completely (a Gift of sorts, though he never bothered to consult with his parents about it), and sped through all the chores he could think of.

Ever since Dad's heart attack, Clark had made a point of carrying more of the day-to-day load of the farm's work. If he tried to do too much or too many or too fast during the day, Mom or Dad would tell him to stop, or wait, or they'd want to help him. By waking up in the middle of the night and just plain doing stuff, Clark could avoid arguments and present his folks with a fait accompli. The only hard part then was to avoid blushing too hard when they made cracks about how "The Good Fairy's been here."

It was funny how they'd tell him not to do stuff, or to do it differently, if he asked or they saw him doing it, but if it was already a done-deal they'd just snark a little. Clark had noticed most people seemed to be like that. It was probably where that old saying came from, about it being better to ask forgiveness later instead of asking permission in advance.

Another good thing about the middle of the night was that there was no chance in heck that anybody would see him running too fast. Before Clark really had time to feel uneasy about going to Riley's Field, he was there.

The field was flat and empty, that dang scarecrow pole standing tall and obvious above a sea of fresh-plowed dirt. From the talk in town, Clark thought that all the big corn farmers were getting set to plant this week -- there wouldn't be any tender shoots to worry about trampling yet.

No one was there by the pole (Clark virtuously did not kick it over in passing) but a moment's look-round revealed a sharp European car parked off the edge of the road nearby. Lex.

Clark jogged over at Earth-normal speed to say hi. To his surprise, he found that Lex had the seat tilted back, and he was asleep.

Clark had only seen Lex sleeping once since he'd failed him so badly at Belle Reve. It happened right after Clark had been struck blind, and then miraculously recovered his sight. He'd been so upset and relieved, that he'd pressed Lex far beyond the level of intimacy he seemed comfortable with since the electroshock. Clark had never been the aggressor with Lex before (or since), but he'd remembered how to do it from his Red-Kryptonite summer in Metropolis, and he was darn near crazy with worry and relief and (apparently) unrequited lust.

When they were finished, Lex had sighed, and said, "Oh. So that was real after all." Clark hadn't paid that much attention to Lex's words at the time, but now looking back he realized that Lex had thought their love affair might have been all in his head. It was really sad, and another thing to feel guilty about. Lex had fallen asleep in Clark's arms that night, for the first time (probably the last, too, the way things were going.)

Clark had carried him to the sofa without using any super-strength -- Lex had lost more weight in a month at Belle Reve than in a whole summer on a deserted island, and he didn't seem to be gaining it back, either. Lex had been so heavily asleep that Clark had worried he might have hit his head on the wall or something. He x-ray-visioned it, and the sight of Lex's poor battered brain was like a blast of cold water, driving all the happy lingering feelings out of Clark and sending them far, far away.

There was some swelling, and some bruised-looking places, and even a few little spots of blood. The worst was a twisted path of tissue that looked almost cooked -- scalded, anyway -- leading from one temple to the other, inside Lex's head. The hurt places weren't fresh; he hadn't given Lex a concussion by molesting him that night. They were the injuries from the electroshock treatment that Clark could have stopped if he hadn't been such an idiot.

Clark had sat indecisively there next to Lex that night, watching Lex sleep and checking his brain out over and over again. After about an hour of heavy, stunned-seeming sleep, Lex had started to twitch a little. That lasted almost five minutes, with Clark not knowing whether to touch him or not, to let him sleep or wake him up. Then he'd awakened spontaneously with a raging migraine. Lex had tried repeatedly to reassure Clark that it wasn't his fault, that it had nothing to do with what they'd done, but Clark had had to drive Lex home, and Lex had never let Clark drive him home before. Clark had decided not to do anything to Lex that Lex didn't start, ever again. To his dismay, that had meant nothing but fully-clothed hugs and kisses, and a certain amount of cuddling.

That had been weeks ago, and Clark hadn't seen Lex sleeping since, not even when he went by the mansion and watched him through the walls. He was kind of glad to see Lex was getting any sleep at all, although in his car by the side of a road in the middle of the night didn't really seem like the best place for it.

Clark let himself look inside Lex's skull again, and was comforted to see that it looked considerably better than it had all those weeks ago. Of course, Lex was a meteor mutant. Healing from stuff was his Gift. He shouldn't have to heal from stuff like this, though, Clark thought mournfully as he let his vision go back to normal. Clark should have protected him.

Clark was so entranced by watching Lex sleep that he didn't notice Chloe driving up until she honked the little squeaky horn of her Volkswagen. Lex shot upright like a startled rabbit, and Clark looked at Chloe reproachfully. She didn't seem to notice.

"Hey, guys!" she shouted at them as Lex got out of his car and set the alarm. "I brought a blanket!"

"C'mon," Chloe said, throwing the old rolled-up blanket over her shoulder. Lex followed, looking extra cool and collected, like a cat does after you startle it or it does something foolish-looking. Clark tagged along behind.

Chloe spread the blanket on the flat bare ground next to the scarecrow pole. "This should be far enough from the cars, in case Mr. Luthor has them bugged, too. Here we'll stay until it all comes out, or until sun-up, whichever comes first. You boys might as well make yourselves comfortable."

Clark promptly sprawled over about half the available blanket. Lex folded himself neatly into an elegant reclining position, and Chloe plopped down cross-legged next to them. "I've been thinking," she began. "We could talk to Lana 'til we're blue in the face without convincing her of anything. And there's no point at all in trying to talk to Mr. Luthor."

"We need something to use against him. Knowledge is our only possible weapon," Lex said.

"Exactly!" Chloe agreed.

"Unfortunately, he's disarmed me."

"You must have known something, found something out that was a threat to him, and that's why he locked you up and got your memory zapped."

"You don't think that my persistent hallucinations would have been sufficient? I had an imaginary friend on that damn island, and I murdered him with a knife."

"Well," Clark put in, "he can't have known about that, or else he wouldn't have had to have your security guard drug your whiskey to make you crazy."

"What?" the other two yelped.

"Didn't I tell you about that? Huh. Yeah, Darius was drugging your liquor. He didn't know who was hiring him to do it, he said, but it had to be either your dad or Morgan Edge, or both."

"Morgan Edge had already been dead for months by then, Clark," Chloe pointed out.

"No, he hadn't," Clark argued. "Lex and I both...." Suddenly Clark quit talking. He sat bolt upright, with much the same expression as a hound that has suddenly noticed a rabbit. "I'll be back," Clark said, and vanished.

Upon arriving back in Smallville, Lionel dismissed the chauffeur. "You can put the car away in the morning, Geoffrey. I'll take Miss Lang home myself."

"Yes, sir," Geoffrey said, and they were completely alone together, for the first time.

Lana didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave the limo. She laid her head back against the leather and turned her gaze upon him. She was beautiful.

"Oh, Mr. Luthor," she began, stretching languid hands out to him.

"Lionel!" he corrected indignantly, and knew by her mischievous smile that she'd done it on purpose. Minx.

"Lionel," she purred.

He caught her hands and kissed them.

"Mmmm. I had the nicest evening. Thank you."

"It was my pleasure," Lionel replied, raising his eyes to meet hers. The heat he saw there nearly matched his own. Lana smiled at him, slow and knowing.

Suddenly there was the most ungodly shrieking noise as the door and most of the roof on Lana's side of the car were torn away. Something huge and black filled the resulting empty space. Lionel tried to pull Lana away, but it grabbed her too, and pulled back. Lana's eyes were big and shocked -- she seemed to be paralyzed with fear.

"Goddammit, no!" Lionel cried as the thing pulled Lana half out of the car. He tightened his grip -- Damnation! His heavy walking stick was just a few feet away, but he'd have to let go with one hand to get it, and he'd never be able to keep hold of the girl with just one. He could see now that Lana's mysterious assailant had feathers, and glowing green eyes.

It was a giant mutant crow.

The crow let go for a second, and squawked in rage. Lionel was able to pull Lana a foot or so back into the ruined automobile, but then the monster struck again, getting a better grip. This time there was blood, and Lana finally screamed.

He wouldn't be able to keep her this way; he had to get a weapon. "Lana, hold onto me," Lionel commanded. "Don't let go!" Her arms convulsively tightened around his shoulders; he freed one hand and lurched backward for his cane. Got it!

Lionel got in a couple of awkward blows before Lana was nearly pulled away from him again; he had to drop the damn stick and use both hands to keep his hold. If this monster flew away with her, he knew she'd be lost to him forever!

The creature let go again; Lionel pulled Lana back to him with all his might. The crow's harsh angry screech rang out, but it didn't attack. Lionel retrieved his cane and surged out of the car, protectively between the monster and his Lana.

The crow had taken to the air. It was flying raggedly away, squawking as it went and struggling with what looked like a man in blue jeans and red plaid flannel.

Clark Kent.

Of course.

Lionel turned again to Lana, and flinched back at the sight of her wounds. God damn his squeamishness. Morgan used to laugh at him. Lex would seemingly never forgive him for the revulsion that had paralyzed him so badly after the meteor storm. Lana's eyes were closed though; she couldn't see his reaction. Her lower lip was caught tight between those perfect pearly little teeth. She was being brave. Lionel could do no less. He took a deep breath and picked her up. She gasped but didn't cry out again. Lionel ignored the warm, sticky blood with all his might.

Lex's Porsche was closest, and faster than Lionel's Mercedes if that -- thing -- got away from the Kent boy and decided to come back. Lionel had the windowpane popped and the car hot-wired in less than a minute. Just like riding a bicycle. Morgan had taught him how to do that, too.

"Hold on, sweetheart," he told the girl as he strapped her in. "Stay with me."

"Mm hmm," Lana whimpered, eyes still screwed tight shut.

Lionel sped them towards the Smallville Medical Center.

High in the air, slaughtering the giant crow, Clark noticed the car zooming away. He was glad that Lionel and Lana were gone, so he wouldn't have to worry about them getting hurt during the fight.

It was actually kind of refreshing, fighting a monster that wasn't also a person. He'd already discovered that the thing's head was all kryptonite-y, so he couldn't wring its neck like a giant chicken. It was sure to die soon if he just kept battering it, though, even if he did have to keep his distance from its head.

There you go! Dead giant crow!

Then he realized he was about five hundred feet above the ground.


Clark plummeted like a cartoon coyote.

Clark had just disappeared. Into thin air. That couldn't be right, could it?

"Wow," Chloe said, green eyes round with astonishment. "I've never seen him do that before. Heh. I guess usually he waits 'til I turn my back."

Okay, Chloe saw it, too. Good. Lex licked his lips, tried to sound casual. "So. He vanishes like that a lot?"

"Usually it's a 'turn around and he's gone' thing, but yeah."

There was silence for a moment before Chloe spoke again. "Since we're off the record here and all, how long have you two been together?"

Lex tried to remember, and couldn't. It hurt quite a bit, and he probably didn't do a very good job of keeping that out of his voice. "I don't remember," he admitted.

The quick shocked look of sympathy on Chloe's face was almost enough to make him get up and leave right then, but Clark wasn't back yet, and he needed the girl's help too much to insult her. It was terribly cold.

Chloe must have noticed him starting to shiver -- she twitched a corner of the old blanket over his shoulder even as she put on a businesslike face and started thinking out loud again. Lex quashed his embarrassment at being mothered by a high school girl, and forced himself to pay attention. Dammit, he used to be good at planning.

"Okay. Let's assume you found something out that Lionel didn't want known. He got you put into the mental institution -- Clark says by having you drugged -- which would discredit you, but apparently that wasn't enough. I did a little research at home while I was waiting for Dad to fall asleep, and I found out that ECT is very effective at inducing amnesia and making patients more compliant. Even some of its strongest proponents seem to think that it works mainly by destroying 'unneeded' or 'bad' brain cells."

"Compliant," Lex muttered. "I'm surprised he didn't use it on me before."

"Another argument in favor of the theory that you found something out about him that he needed forgotten. That day at the Kents', when Clark did that whole 'deny his father and no longer be a Capulet' thing, and took off with you, you were saying that you'd found evidence linking your dad and Morgan Edge, and some crime which you didn't specify."

Lex was confused by Chloe's rapid-fire explanation. "What?" he asked. "Capulets? What are you talking about?"

"You were raving, and you were at the Kent Farm, and Mr. Kent was telling Clark to turn you over to the authorities, and you were insisting that he had to choose, and he chose you."

Lex could hardly believe it. "I wish I could remember that."

Chloe flashed him a grin, sympathetic yet somehow not irritating. "It was pretty damn impressive, I'll give him that. I don't know why everybody doesn't know about you two."

Lex swallowed. He didn't want to mess up Clark's life like that if he could help it. "We should be more careful, I guess."

"Don't tell me; tell Clark. Anyhow, you were also singing lullabies to an old horse blanket that day, so I pretty much dismissed the whole thing, but there's no real reason why that couldn't be the fact you'd discovered. Some unsavory connection between Metropolis's biggest businessman and Metropolis's biggest crime boss would be big, and something Lionel would want hidden, and not unlikely at all."

There was a sudden whooshing sound, and Clark was back. He looked rather disheveled.

"Where have you been?" Chloe demanded, moving over to make room for Clark on the blanket again. Lex admired her aplomb -- she was taking Clark's suddenly obvious extranormal abilities very casually.

"I heard -- hey, can I be off the record too? You're not going to write up everything I tell you on the Wall of Weird, or put it in the paper?"

Chloe whapped Clark lightly on the kneecap. Clark didn't even blink. "Of course not, doofus! I'm your friend; all you ever had to do was ask! Besides, who kept your location secret all damn summer?"

Clark ducked his head and looked imploringly at Chloe. Lex knew he'd be mollified by that expression; apparently it worked just as well on her. "Sorry," Clark said. "And thanks. I really want to tell you guys everything. Just please don't let my folks know I told you, and don't tell anyone else."

"Done," Chloe promised.

Clark turned the big puppy eyes on Lex, and he felt himself nodding without even intending to. "You know I'd do anything for you, Clark."

"I don't know if you'll be able to forgive me, Lex. Once you said you wouldn't, but then it seemed like maybe you did forgive me later. I'm just going to tell it all, and hope for the best. You know I'm sorry, and you know I love you, and I hope that'll be enough."

Lex nodded again. He didn't know what to say.

"Oh!" Chloe exclaimed. "Before you get started -- which I'm dying to hear all about it -- but Lex and I think that he must have found out something connecting Lionel to Morgan Edge and some crime. He kept saying that he had evidence about the two of them, and that was just before Lionel got Lex's memory, um, damaged."

"Morgan Edge was a real bad guy," Clark said as he settled down between Lex and Chloe. He radiated heat like a stove. Lex wanted to cuddle into him to keep warm. After a minute he decided he might as well -- there didn't seem to be much point trying to keep things secret from Chloe tonight, and no one else was around. "I think that Perry White knew something about Lionel and Edge, in the olden days."

"That's a place to start then," Chloe said resolutely. She looked cold, too. Lex bit back his jealousy when Clark matter-of-factly put an arm around each of them. He was just keeping her warm. He loved Lex. He'd just said so.

"Okay. I trust you guys. You've both kept my secrets sometimes when it would've been a lot easier not to, even if you don't remember it. I'm gonna start at the beginning, and end with tonight." Clark was silent for a long moment. Then he began, in a deep calm voice that Lex wasn't sure he'd ever heard him use before.

"In 1989, the worst meteor storm in human memory rained down death from a clear blue sky. Kansas wasn't the only place that people died. Dozens died here, but millions died on a far-off planet that its people called Krypton. There was only one survivor...."

Lana woke up in an all-too-familiar hospital bed, with an all-too-familiar IV in her arm, and an all-too-familiar feeling that she'd be in a lot of pain as soon as the drugs wore off a little.

Lionel Luthor, sitting at her bedside lost in gloomy thought, was unfamiliar and new.

"Hey," she greeted him softly.

His head snapped up, startled. The most wonderful delighted smile spread over his face. Lana decided she wanted to see that smile a lot.

"Hey yourself," he rasped. Despite the smile, he looked tired. "How do you feel?"

"It's a little hard to tell," she confided. "What does the doctor say?"

"Flesh wounds." Lionel cleared his throat and blinked a couple of times, visibly pulling himself together, and then he looked better. "You had to have quite a few stitches, I'm afraid, but no bones broken, and no tendon damage. You'll be fine."

Lana gave him a smile too. She was glad the painkillers enabled her to not have her face all scrunched up while he was here looking at her. "Thank you."

He ventured a gentle hand to stroke her hair. "I don't know what I would have done if..." he began. Lana didn't want him to dwell on that, so she cut him off.

"Was that a giant mutant crow?" she asked, as indignantly as she could.

It worked. Lionel didn't look so worried. "Yes, it was. Only in Smallville." His rueful little snort of scornful laughter was very endearing.

"I should tell Chloe. She can put it up on her Wall of Weird. That reminds me, what time is it? Do I need to call school?"

"I'll have someone from the hospital call them for you."

"Thank you," she said again, sincerely. "I'm so glad you're here."

At that, he looked a little upset again. Lana waited for him to say whatever it was he wanted to say, leaning her head into his absently stroking hand like a cat. Finally he spoke. "I have a business meeting in the city this morning, but I'd be glad to cancel it...."

"No! Don't. Please go to your meeting. I'll be fine." Lana nodded at him earnestly. "I think I just want to sleep most of the day anyway." She smiled cutely and wrinkled up her nose.

"Are you sure? I don't want to leave you by yourself when you...."

"I'll be fine," she repeated reassuringly. "Lionel, it means so much to me that you were here when I woke up. But I don't want to mess up your whole business day!" She smiled up at him and made her eyes big. "You'll be back tonight, won't you?"

He smiled again, more widely this time. It was almost a grin. That's how he smiled when he was young, Lana realized. "Nothing could keep me away," he promised.

"Good. Travel safely," she told him.

Lionel bent to kiss her gently on the forehead, but she reached up and got a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him down to meet her lips.

It was their first kiss.

Before Clark had let Chloe and Lex back into their cars at Riley's Field, he'd checked them over carefully and pinch-crushed the listening devices he'd located. Lex still found the whole truth hard to believe, although he supposed it made as much sense as anything else did in this place. Watching Clark look through solid objects and destroy metal and silicon with his bare fingers really brought it home to him how weird this all was.

He hoped it was really happening.

Chloe seemed to be handling this whole, well, everything, better than he was. Lex wondered how much she'd already known. He knew he'd had evidence before, though he didn't know where it all was nowadays, that Clark was extraordinarily gifted in more than the obvious ways. He'd never really dreamed the boy might be an alien, though.

Clark had caught him staring absentmindedly at his car, long moments after Chloe had already left for home, and insisted, with a worried expression, that Lex had to come home with him to the Kents'. Lex didn't argue. He even walked around to the passenger side, making Clark drive. That's when Clark had started looking really worried.

Lex didn't want to crash the car, if it turned out that all this really wasn't happening. If he couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't, he might easily hit something or drive off a bridge.


At the cheery yellow farmhouse, Clark took his arm and literally steered him inside. It was nice, except that Clark looked so upset. He got Lex onto the couch in the front room, and took his shoes off for him. Lex just watched.

"Lex? Lex. Lex!"


"How long is it since you've gotten a whole night's sleep?"

"What month is it?" he wondered, but he didn't think he said it aloud. Lex shook his head and cleared his throat. "A few days, I guess. Just a few days."

"You have to sleep, Lex. C'mon." Clark gently pushed at him (very gently, considering what he'd seen those same big hands do just minutes ago -- had he seen that?) until he was lying on the couch, and threw an old quilt over him. "Okay, now. I'm gonna go do a few chores. My folks'll be up in an hour or so. You just sleep, all right? Don't worry about Mom and Dad, or anything. Just sleep."

Lex lay there and shivered for a while, but he must have fallen asleep because when he woke up there were people in the kitchen, and there was a little light outside the windows. He sat up and put his shoes back on, then folded the quilt neatly and draped it over the back of the sofa.

"Lex?" Mrs. Kent came out of the kitchen and looked at him. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Mrs. Kent...."

"Martha," she corrected him.

"Martha," he repeated, and tried out a smile. It seemed to work; she looked at him again, more friendly and less worried.

"I found him sleeping in his car by the side of the road," Clark boomed cheerfully from the doorway. He was wiping his feet. "So I brought him home. Stock's all taken care of, Dad."

Mr. Kent came out of the kitchen, too, holding a mug of coffee. "Clark, you know...." Lex saw him literally bite his tongue in order to avoid the whole superspeed/alien conversation in front of a stranger, a Luthor, him. "Guess bringing home strays must run in the family," Mr. Kent said instead, putting an arm around his wife and shaking his head ruefully at Clark.

They're all much better liars than I've always thought, Lex decided. He'd always known there was something, but he'd never have guessed it was this. If it really was.

His head was starting to hurt again.

"You were sleeping in your car?" Mrs. Kent was looking worried at him again. "Come have some breakfast, Lex."

"Yes, ma'am." Lex got up. He didn't need Clark to help him. By the time he got to the kitchen table, there was a plate and cutlery there, and a cup of coffee already poured. "Um. I couldn't sleep last night, so I went for a drive. But then I realized I was sleepy after all, so I pulled over. So I wouldn't get in an accident, or anything," he finished weakly.

"Well, that was good thinking, I guess, Lex. It's good you pulled over." Mrs. Kent, Martha, put some scrambled eggs on his plate and gave him a muffin. He thanked her and started to pick at them.

They all ate for a while.

"So. Who's running the plant now that you fired Gabe Sullivan?" Jonathan asked suddenly.

Lex tried to remember. He couldn't. Maybe he'd never known. "I'm not sure. My father owns it again, now. He will have appointed somebody."

"Thought he appointed you."

"Dad," Clark said urgently.

"Just making conversation, Clark. I thought you were still responsible for Fertilizer Plant Number Three, Lex. After all, you are the one who had to fire Gabe Sullivan, aren't you?"

"I guess I am," Lex said, considering.

"How are things there these days?" At Lex's continued silence, Jonathan went on. "Have you even been to check on them recently? When's the last time you went into work?" The voice didn't go with the words. Jonathan should be sounding scornful, not -- whatever it was he was sounding. Lex lifted his head and met the farmer's eyes. He looked at him like Clark did, sometimes, lately. He wasn't attacking him; he was just prodding, pushing him to do something. Clark himself was looking ferociously worried and protective off to the side of the table (Chloe was right about that, he thought -- I do need to ask Clark to cool it a little) but sometimes when he was trying to encourage him, he looked just like that.

"Considering your age and everything, the boys at the plant used to say you did a pretty good job of managing there, back before last summer," Jonathan continued.

"I should go into work today. Check on the plant," Lex mused.


It took Lionel an entire thermos of Mrs. Digman's excellent coffee, twice the recommended dosage of his meds, and most of the hour-long helicopter ride to prepare himself for the morning's meeting. It wasn't so much the sleepless night and the monster attack that had shattered his concentration. It was the kiss. Lillian used to pull him into a kiss in just the same way when she lay ill -- when she lay dying, ten years before. There was no way Lana could have known about it. There was no way she could have echoed that painful, perfect gesture on purpose.

Dwelling on memories of his dead wife wasn't going to get him through this meeting successfully.

At least Lex wouldn't be there.

Mr. Farquhar and his flunkies were just late enough to be insolent. They obviously didn't fully realize with whom they were dealing. Lionel didn't mind. He had plenty to occupy his thoughts, and Farquhar would regret his actions soon enough.

"Ah, Mr. Farquhar," Lionel greeted him at last. "Sit down, won't you?"

"Mr. Luthor," Farquhar acknowledged, taking the indicated chair and gesturing his entourage to their seats. "I must admit, I'm puzzled by your offer."

"Ah, right to business, then," Lionel purred. "I admire that in a man."

Farquhar seemed to be thrown a little off by Lionel's non-response. Lionel enjoyed his discomfiture.

Farquhar apparently decided to begin again. "As I said, I'm puzzled by your offer. If it weren't for the Luthor reputation, I'd think it was a joke. The Panama assets are worth more than twice what you've bid. What is the meaning of this?"

Farquhar's attempt at anger failed to completely mask his underlying fear. Luthor reputation indeed. Lionel spent an enjoyable moment wondering how many other dirty little secrets the man was trying to hide. Then he murmured, "Oh, surely not twice as much," and delicately slid an ordinary brown pasteboard portfolio over to Farquhar's place at the conference table, using only two fingers. "I'm sure that, upon further reflection, you'll find that my offer is more than fair."

Farquhar glared impotently at him for a moment before untying the tapes. If looks could kill, Lionel thought, chuckling to himself.

Farquhar turned pale, then red. He shielded the photos from his associates' view, then decided to brazen it out, just as Lionel had known he would. God, he was going to miss this. Life was still so much fun, despite everything!

"Blackmail, Lionel? I'm surprised that you, of all people, would think this would work. These pictures don't change anything. There's nothing illegal here -- my wife knows exactly what sort of a man she married, and my board aren't prudes. Why would you even think that..."

Lionel cut Farquhar's diatribe off short. "Oh, I know the charming Mrs. Farquhar quite well," he leered. "You're right, of course; she wouldn't turn a hair. However, she doesn't control thirty percent of the voting stock of Farquhar Industries."

Farquhar's look of shocked comprehension was instant. Lionel could've stopped right there, but he went on. "It must be so nice to have daughters -- sweet, biddable girls, educated at the finest Swiss boarding schools, carefully brought-up by nuns, who can be absolutely relied upon to vote Grandfather's stock the way Daddy tells them to."

The man was pale again. He really should get his blood pressure checked. "Better than that insane degenerate son of yours," he spat out.

"Tsk, tsk. We're civilized businessmen, Farquhar, not fishwives. Are you going to sign this thing or not? Oh, by the way -- those girls in the third photo? Are exactly the same ages as your daughters. To the day." Lionel smirked, and made a mental note to release the photos to the Inquisitor anyhow, in a few months. Damn. Maybe he'd have to put that in his will.

"Come, come. Some of us have other things to do today." He was suddenly a little tired of Farquhar. Oh, well. Besides, he wanted to hurry back to Smallville to check on Lana.

Farquhar signed, of course. The assets would be nice, but the game had been nicer. Lionel left with a spring in his step.

The duty nurse at Smallville Med Center told him that Miss Sullivan had taken Lana home at lunchtime. He was relieved to hear she was well enough for that, and he refused to let the idea of Chloe make him uneasy.

The Sullivans' street was deserted, in the way that residential streets are in the middle of the day -- adults at work, children at school or day-care. Gabe's car was gone; he must be out job-hunting.

Lionel knocked quietly on the door. There was no answer. Chloe must have gone back to school; Lana was probably asleep.

He really wanted to see her.

Lionel's hair was a point of pride for him. Not only did he like the way it looked and felt; it also had been the first way he'd rebelled against his own devil of a father, and it provided an unexpected place to carry things. Lionel looked up and down the street. It was still completely empty.

He took his lockpicks out of his hair and opened the front door. It took less than a minute.

His couple of hours' sleep and farmer's breakfast seemed to have done Lex good.

He was able to drive; he found the crap factory with no problem; he even located his former office.

The secretary looked up from the phone with a harried expression. "Mr. Luthor!" she exclaimed, quickly correcting herself, "Lex! Oh, thank goodness you're here!"

Well, that surely wasn't the reaction he was expecting. It took a moment longer than it should have to dredge the woman's name up from his memory, but he could be smooth. "Carol. What's the problem? What can I do for you?"

"Where shall I start?" Carol had always struck him as a competent, steady-minded sort of a person. This desperate flustered state seemed unlike her. Lex watched her pull herself together and put her thoughts in order. In less than five minutes, she seemed much more like the woman he'd known. "Okay." Carol took one more deep breath. "I know you've been ill." The look she shot him had only a little bit of sympathy in it, and Lex found he could stand it quite well. "Your name is still on the signature lists, though, and Mr. Blodgett --" Carol gestured scornfully at the office door "-- is never in! The Wilkinson potash shipment didn't come through, and there's no one to authorize an emergency re-order, and I've had the production guys after me for days, and we're going to miss the monthly target! Gonzalez is talking about going out and hijacking a truckful somewhere! He's not serious, of course, I think, but you can just...."

Lex expertly cut her off. "Carol, it's okay. Show me the paperwork, and we'll get the materials in."

Lex handled that, got Wilkinson on the phone and threatened him, placed a stopgap order with Parkers (who were a little more expensive but much more reliable) and authorized the overtime that would be necessary to make up for the ordering snafu.

It was easy. It felt good.

While Carol was speaking to the production foreman, telling him that Receiving would have potash within the hour and OT was authorized, Lex picked up a contentious note in the buzzing that was the foreman's voice heard dimly through Carol's handset. He took the phone from her, and spoke to the foreman (what was his name?) himself.

"This is Lex Luthor. How can I help you today?"

There was stunned silence for a moment on the other end of the line, but the man's fury seemed sufficient to kick him back into action after only a moment. "You gotta do something about the Plant Safety Officer, sir. He's shutting us down at every turn, and he don't know shit! Excuse me. But he don't."

Lex racked his brain. Plant Safety -- Dick Richardson? "Come now. Richardson has twelve years' experience in that job."

"But this new guy's a pup. Sir. Richardson took early retirement when you booted poor --- when Sullivan left, sir. Same with Arques and Murphy -- QC ain't worth a shit no more, and...."

Lex cut him off, too. "It's okay, Walters." That was the name -- Walters. "I'll have a chat with him. You just get that potash in, and the line moving again." Lex hung up and turned to Carol. "Who's the new Safety guy?"

"Bill Tompkins. He's only been here two years, but he had the seniority when Richardson left."

"Get him for me," Lex commanded casually, and went into the office.

Blodgett kept a messy desk. Lex rummaged through it for a while, and gained a new appreciation for his father's technique. Getting Lex to fire Gabe (and then keeping Lex in Metropolis 'sharpening pencils' afterward) had been an elegant way of dooming Plant Number Three, and getting revenge on all the fools who'd backed Lex two years before. Gabe's patently unfair termination had triggered a large number of early retirements and flat-out resignations from their best employees. Things were falling to pieces without them, and Blodgett, a LuthorCorp drone of the worst kind, was just the icing on the cake. The place would be bankrupt within the year.

But he knew he could fix it.

"Mr. Luthor?" inquired a nervous voice from the open doorway.

"Lex, please," he corrected. "Mr. Luthor is my father."

Bill Tompkins turned out to be a weedy young man with a thin beard and a thick sheaf of papers attached to a clipboard. Lex surreptitiously double-checked the file he'd found on the man, making him wait. The file showed Tompkins as twenty-three -- the same age as Lex. Why did he look so young?

Presently Lex noticed that Tompkins was shifting from foot to foot, becoming even more nervous. This is how Dad would handle this, he realized. Suddenly he knew he wanted to do it differently. He closed the file and stood up.

"Mr. Tompkins, I understand you're the new Plant Safety Officer. I'm pleased to meet you." Lex stuck his hand out for the kid to shake.

The kid took it, with a panicky-sounding laugh. "Uh. If I'm calling you Lex, don't you think you better call me Bill?"

Lex smiled at him. "Okay, Bill. I've been gone a long while. How about you show me how the plant's doing. Let's take a walk."

Tompkins nodded nervously. "Sure. Yessir. Sure."

Lex certainly wasn't a trained Safety Engineer, but he'd blown up plenty of stuff in college. He'd also gotten a little obsessive about Plant Number Three's methane-control systems after poor old Earl Jenkins almost killed him, so he figured he had a fair idea of what the safety guy should be checking.

Tompkins, unfortunately, kept his eyes mostly glued to his paperwork. He had a long checklist of things to go over at each work station, always starting with the question of whether the logbook was filled out properly. He was actually arguing with a guy about whether some entry in the book was a one or a seven, when Lex noticed a nearby temperature gage had just crept into the red.

"Bill," he interrupted, gesturing at the gage.

"Crap!" Bill squeaked, dropping his clipboard and the station logbook with a clatter. In a high-pitched, urgent, but somehow no-longer-panicky voice, he explained, directed, and helped the operators fix the problem. It was a long and involved process, taking almost fifteen minutes before the vat temperature stabilized and started inching back down into the green, but Tompkins didn't refer to the documentation once. There could be no doubt that he knew the equipment, and the procedures. Lex was favorably impressed.

When the crisis was over, and normal operations were resumed, Bill looked at the scattered pile of papers he'd dropped, and his face crumpled. "Crap," he repeated softly. He glanced up at Lex, and then straight down at the floor again. "I'm sorry, sir," he began.

"It's okay, Bill," Lex cut him off. "Sorry for what? You headed that off well before it could get dangerous. From here, it looked like you knew exactly what you were doing."

"I know I shouldn't have just, you know, charged in like that. I realize I'm required to generate an Incident Report before taking any action, and I'm not really allowed to order the operators around like that. Or touch the equipment. He could file a grievance! Mr. Blodgett says...."

"Blodgett's an idiot, and so's that guy if he files a grievance on you. I don't think he really can anyway -- it was a safety issue, and you are the Plant Safety Officer."

Tompkins was still staring disconsolately at the heap of papers on the ground. He started to gather them up, searching for something as he went. "Incident Report," he muttered.

Lex put the station logbook back together while Tompkins struggled to fill out the Incident Report form. The badly-written 'one' or 'seven' was forgotten. The operator had recovered from the earlier real scare, and started looking truculent as Bill slowly wrote up the offense. Lex looked over Bill's shoulder. The pre-printed categories of incident all sounded pretty dire -- Bill was wavering between 'Dereliction of Duty' and 'Gross Negligence', obviously rather unwilling to mark either, but unsure of what to do instead.

"Just check 'Other'," Lex suggested. "Write in the margin what happened, and how you guys fixed it. You sign as Safety." Lex checked the operator's badge. "Connor here will sign as Production, and I'll sign as Approved By. Then you can just put the pink copy in the back of the logbook, and file the white in the Safety Office, and it's done. The yellow copy doesn't have to go to Human Resources unless somebody really is being Derelict of Duty or Grossly Negligent."

"I could use 'Other' almost all the time," Tompkins realized. Then his face fell. "I don't think Blodgett would sign off on them, though."

"I would. Just leave them with Carol, and ask her to give them to me when I come in. I'll probably be in a lot more, now." Now that I'm getting better, Lex thought.

Tompkins and Connor both looked pleased. "Let's finish our tour of the plant," Lex decided. As they walked on, he added, "You know, Bill, you don't have to write people up for illegible handwriting."

"Oh, I know. Richardson never used to. But Mr. Blodgett says..."

"Ignore him. I'm here now."

"Finally!" Chloe exclaimed when Clark drifted into school a few minutes late. She shouldered her bag, keys already in her hand. "Let's go!"

"Huh?" Clark asked.

Chloe circled him restlessly. "We need to go to Metropolis today. Now, in fact!"


"I'll explain in the car!" Chloe exploded.

Clark noticed her eyes looked suspiciously bright. Something was wrong. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Aargh!" She actually let out a little scream of frustration, but she also stood still and started to explain. Clark felt vindicated.

"My dad caught me sneaking back in this morning! I'm grounded! Can't go anywhere but school! That's why we need to hurry!"

"To Metropolis?"

"Yes! I've been researching links between Lionel Luthor and Morgan Edge. All the computer records will tell me is that they were both born in Suicide Slum, two years apart. Everything else has been -- it looks like it's all been tampered with! I can't even find out where Edge went to school! Or if he ever did! And Mr. Luthor's records are uniformly too perfect to be true!"

"That fits right in with what Lex said about your dad's Performance Evaluations, at the plant."


"But why do we need to go to Metropolis?"

"Oh! I so don't have time for this! We need to get there and find what we need and return before Dad thinks I should be back from school!"

"Won't you get in even more trouble for cutting school?"

"This is important, Clark! This is Lana's life! And it's news! And it's our only chance of protecting ourselves from Lionel Luthor! It doesn't matter if I get in trouble!"

"I still don't understand why we have to go to Metropolis."

Chloe dodged around Clark's bulk and headed for the front door. Clark stopped her very, very gently. "Chloe, please." He used his best puppy-expression on her. "Just explain it to me?"

"Fine." Chloe heaved a big sigh and dragged Clark into the Torch office. She carefully closed the door behind them.

"In 1970 Metropolis became one of the first cities in the U.S. to completely digitize all its public records. Ever since then, everything's been kept on computer, available by printout at City Hall, or these days over the web."

Clark nodded. "Everybody knows that."

"What everybody doesn't know," Chloe continued, rolling her eyes at him, "is that the Metropolis City Registrar from 1969 through 1994, Carl Kearns, didn't believe in ever throwing anything away. The city allotted money to destroy the old paper records once they'd been transferred over, but Kearns never spent it. Eventually it got folded back into the City General Fund. The old files are all still there, in the sub-basement of the Hall of Records."

"How do you know all this arcane Metropolis history?"

"I'm an arcane Metropolis girl!" she sniped, but then she smiled and took the sting out. "Seriously, Clark, I spent the last two summers working at the Daily Planet, while you were down on the farm picking corn. You know me. I found out all I could. The place is huge, cavernous really, and in no particular order, but it's pretty much our only hope. If Lionel Luthor and Morgan Edge were crime-buddies before 1970, and if they only got around to record-cleanup after the big computerization, and if they never bothered with the old leftover paperwork, we might find something. I know it's a long-shot...."

"No! I think it's a good plan! Really!" Clark knew the look that got him. That was the Clark-You're-Dumb-Maybe-This-Isn't-a-Good-Plan look. He charged ahead anyhow. "But if we leave now, and miss the whole day, you'll get in more trouble with your dad...."

"It's a three-hour drive to Metropolis!" Chloe interrupted. "Even if we go right away, and come back as fast as we can, we'll still have barely any time to search!"

Clark continued unperturbed. "Remember last night? I'm fast. Here's what we'll do...."

Chloe cut him off again. "How fast?" she demanded.

"Very fast," Clark assured her. At her dubious look, he elaborated. "Five minutes to Metropolis, maybe less. And I can carry you easily." Wow. He'd surprised Chloe into wide-eyed silence. Cool. He hurried to take advantage of it. "So here's what I think the plan should be. You go to Home Room. I go to Home Room. We're both late, but I'm always late so it doesn't matter, and your eyes are all red. If you just look real upset and stuff, they probably won't bother you much. You turn in your assignments, and go to First Period, and then in about forty minutes you look even more upset and go to the restroom. I'll meet you outside the door...."

"What are you doing while I'm looking upset and teary?" Chloe asked indignantly.

"Moping," Clark replied promptly. "Moping in Home Room for five minutes with my head down, then saying I have a stomach ache and asking Mrs. Merck if I can call my mom and go lie down. She'll let me because I'm useless when I'm moping, and I ran away last summer, and my test scores are always good. After a while I'll just disappear from the office couch, and they'll think Mom came and got me. The story that we're pretending to be hiding can be that you and I had a big fight -- maybe even a bad breakup. That fits in with you being caught sneaking in this morning, too. It's our lie-behind-the-lie."

"This is awfully intricate," Chloe said dubiously.

"Not really. I'll meet you at the Girls' Room door, and run you to Metropolis. We'll find the information."

Just then, Chloe's cell phone rang.

"Darn!" Chloe ejaculated, after a short conversation. "I have to go pick Lana up from the hospital at lunch."

"Actually, that works great. You show me what to look for in Metropolis, and then I'll run you back. Go to class, or hang out here, or whatever, but make sure lots of people see you head over to Smallville Med to get her at noontime. You'll have tons of witness that you were at school today."

"You're smarter than you look! No offense."

Clark laughed. "It totally comes and goes. Some things are really easy, and some things are really, really hard."

"'Cause you're an alien. Jeez," Chloe whispered. She looked like it might finally be really hitting her. What with getting caught out by Gabe last night, and worrying about Lana, and this morning's Luthor-Metropolis panic, his big revelation might not have had time to soak in for Chloe yet.

He didn't want to watch it happen.

"Go on," he said, giving her a tiny, gentle shove. "Go to class. Look upset. I'll meet you outside the bathroom in this building in forty minutes!"

Being picked up by a big, good-looking guy was new and weird enough -- Chloe felt like the heroine of one of Lana's stupid romance novels. Then Clark took off, and it was like nothing on Earth. Literally, she realized with a tiny shiver. Nothing on Earth.

Five minutes isn't long to travel a hundred and fifty miles, but it's plenty of time to think when the wind keeps your eyes tight shut, and you have nothing to do with your hands but hold on. It hadn't sunk in before. Clark Kent, Chloe's sidekick and sometimes-crush since eighth grade, had been born on another planet. He wasn't even as close to her, biologically, as a cat or a dog. He didn't know what he was doing here, but he said Dr. Swann thought all the rest of his people were dead. That was another spooky thought.

Lex and Clark together -- that was kind of spooky, too. She supposed she should have seen it before, but Clark was always such a goddam mystery ('cause he's NOT FROM THIS PLANET) and Lex always had that smooth, smooth shell, at least before the medically-incorrect Electro-Convulsive Therapy. God, Lionel Luthor did that to his own son, to cover up some crime. She couldn't let Lana just marry the guy, not when she knew how incredibly evil he was. They had to find a weapon to use against him. They just had to.

All the whooshing suddenly stopped. "We're here," Clark said, setting her on her feet.

Chloe recognized the place -- they were in an underground parking area behind the Metropolis City Hall. No one was around.

She knew her way from here. "Come on, I'll show you the way and introduce you to the check-in guy. Do you have money for the copy machines?"

"Um." Clark looked embarrassed.

Chloe gave him twenty bucks and grabbed his arm. "C'mon," she repeated, "let's get this show on the road. I want to make sure you know what you're doing before you take me back to pick up Lana."

Clark in Metropolis moved like a smaller, shyer guy. Chloe supposed he was remembering the stuff he'd done over the summer. She was sure she hadn't heard about all of it, but she'd heard enough. If it had been her, she'd be cringing too.

There was no problem getting into the archives. They were even more of a mess than she remembered. Since the city had no official interest in them anymore, and maintained them in an unheated, un-air-conditioned, otherwise useless basement room, people (mainly historians, reporters, and novelists) could rummage through them unsupervised. Some of them were apparently slobs.

"Okay. This is the place. We're looking for anything about Lionel Luthor, Morgan Edge...."

"Lachlan Luthor, explosions and/or fires in Suicide Slum, arson in general...."

"Whoa, Clark. Don't cast too wide a net, here. We've got to be quick and move on; there isn't time to look for absolutely everything."

"How 'bout I do Lachlan Luthor first?"

"Huh?" Chloe asked, but there was already a whirlwind going on. Papers were flying, but not randomly. Clark was literally going too fast to see, but the effects of his actions were visible in the fluttering, and the noise was like a windstorm, punctuated by the slams of file drawers. Less than five minutes later, he was back at her side, with a stack of papers. The room looked a lot neater, too.

"Here," he said, handing them to her. "It's everything with that name on it."

"Wow." Chloe stared at him, feeling a little stunned. C'mon, Chloe, it's the same old Clark. He's always been an alien; you just didn't know it before.

He was still looking at her, expectant and a little worried now.

Suddenly Chloe laughed. "Actually, this is very cool, Clark. You know what? With the way you spun that yarn last night, and the light-speed-human-search-engine thing you can do? You would make a hell of a reporter."

Clark blinked at her. "I always thought that the lunch menus were more my speed, and I'm not exactly a human search engine," he mumbled.

She grinned at him. "Work with me, Kent. I'll have you winning Pulitzers in no time." He stopped looking worried and grinned back. Everything was going to be okay. Still the same old Clark. "Come with me; I'll show you the copy room. We're not allowed to take anything out of the building...."

"We might want to hide what we find in here, then," Clark interrupted. "Is there anyplace?"

"That radiator doesn't work. Can you...." She was talking to empty air, and then Clark was back in a flash.

"Plenty of room. There's no water in it anymore; I can bend it a little if I have to, and put stuff down behind."

"Great! We don't want anybody Lionel might set after us to find anything we find."

In the copy room, Chloe showed Clark how to work the machines, and they copied all he'd found. "I'll search out whatever seems reasonable, and bring the copies to you this evening," Clark proposed.

"Since I'm still grounded, I guess that's how it'll have to be. If I think of something better, I'll call you." They stashed Lachlan's records, and Clark ran Chloe back to school.

Lana felt eyes on her and woke up immediately. "Who's there?" she called, heart pounding despite the muzziness of sleep and pain-pills. It wasn't fair to have another darn stalker the very next day after being mauled by a giant mutant crow! She was disoriented by lying on her tummy and by being home in bed in the middle of the day; she looked every direction but the right one. Her stitches tugged painfully as she whipped her head around to see what had disturbed her....

"It's me. It's all right." The voice was familiar.

She felt a tentative hand touch her hair, and finally located him. "Lionel," she sighed, sinking her head back down to rest her cheek on her hand. "Oh. You startled me."

"How do you feel?" he asked gently, still touching her hair. He sat down on the edge of her bed.

"Mmmm. That's nice," she encouraged. Lana meant to look up at him and wrinkle her nose cutely, then say "Better" and bob her head. This hair-stroking thing was entrancing, though. Or maybe that was the drugs. Whichever, it was nice. She rubbed her head against his hand a little and forgot the question.

Some time passed -- maybe a minute, maybe an hour. Lionel spoke a little, sometimes, not always in English. He didn't seem to expect any answers from her. Sweet nothings, Lana thought, and smiled. Presently, though, he asked her an actual question. Lana knew it must be important, because he asked it twice.

"Lana, sweetheart, do you think you'll be well enough to get married a week from Saturday?"

"Oh, yes," she replied dreamily. "They said I could get up tomorrow, and go to school or work the day after. Why are we in such a hurry?"

The stroking stopped, and Lionel didn't answer right away. Uh oh.

Lana awkwardly lifted her head and looked at him. He was staring absently into the middle distance. Then he smiled and looked down at her, met her eyes with a twinkle. "Surely it's not surprising, that I want to make you mine as soon as possible?"

Lana knew there was more. She didn't say anything, just gazed imploringly up into his eyes, willing him to trust her with the whole truth. She could see he didn't want to tell her, and she could see it when he changed his mind. He touched her cheek with one finger, and his smile faltered. He looked away.

They always say that people can't lie while they're looking you in the eyes, Lana thought. Lionel apparently couldn't tell the truth that way. Lana stored the information away; it would be something useful to know, later, as his wife.

Lionel let out a chuckle, a short, nervous breath of a sound. His voice was rough and uncharacteristically unsure. "I'm in a hurry to marry you because, well, of course, all the usual reasons, because you're beautiful and I love you and...." He seemed to realize he was just prolonging the pain; stopped himself and took a deep breath. "I have liver cancer, Lana. The doctors give me four months."

She couldn't believe her ears. For a moment, she literally didn't understand what he'd said. It was too horrible. Finally, she gasped, "What?"

He still wasn't looking at her. "I'm dying," he confided in a low voice. Then he met her eyes again, smiled again. "I'm sure they're overreacting. Four months is undoubtedly a conservative estimate, so I'll be grateful to the useless quacks when I make it six months or a year. I'm sure that...."

"What!" Lana interrupted him. She surged up to her knees on the bed, heedless of the stitches tearing and the wounds opening up again. She grabbed him by the shoulders, the same way she had the night before when he was fighting that monster, keeping it from carrying her away. "You can't!" she cried.

Lionel stared up at her. He looked almost afraid.

"You can't! I just found you!" She could feel the blood running down her back, but that wasn't what was making her cry. "Lionel, you can't die! You can't leave me!"

He took her hands from off his shoulders, gathered them together in his big well-manicured ones. He bent his head over them and kissed her fingers. His long hair hid his face from her.

"I don't want to," Lionel said quietly. "There's nothing I want less than to die, especially now." He glanced up at her, and Lana could see that he did love her, even though she was bloody and teary and her nose was running. She sat down beside him and sniffed. He smiled at her and bowed his head again.

"I... I've tried a number of things, that aren't exactly... orthodox." Lionel was silent then for a while, and Lana started pulling herself together. He didn't let go of her hands. "I can't believe I'm telling you this," he finally muttered. "Adam. You remember?" Lana nodded, even though he couldn't see her. "He was, how shall I put this? An unsuccessful experiment -- there were several; he was the only.... Well. He died of this same thing that's killing me, months before you met him."

Lana gasped; she couldn't help it. "Chloe was right?"

Lionel looked up at her with a tight little smile. "Miss Sullivan is definitely smart enough to be dangerous. If she told you Adam was a...." He bit his lip for a second, and closed his eyes before going on, "a re-animated corpse, then she was correct. As he deteriorated, he went mad, and killed my researchers. The most promising of the experimental formulae was destroyed; it was based on a blood sample that Dr. Bryce brought me from Smallville. She was a willful, vicious girl; she refused to tell me where she got it! I have reason to believe your friend Mr. Kent must have been the original source." Lionel's voice was getting stronger; he sounded more like himself, and was able to look at her again.

As a Smallville girl, Lana also found the story about killer zombies easier to take than the news of her fiance's fatal disease. Poor Adam, she thought, but that was nothing to the grief she felt about Lionel. Anyway, he was dead already before she ever knew him.

"Wait. Why do you think it was Clark's blood?" she asked.

"Well, he's obviously quite an extraordinary specimen, and there's the process of elimination. I've been able to get blood samples from nearly everyone else in town, as well as all those unfortunate former Smallville residents who have found themselves incarcerated in various state or county institutions. No one matches."

"It must be one of the mutants," Lana considered. At Lionel's look of surprise, she gave him a tiny glare. "I'm not dumb, no matter what people say. I've lived here all my life, too. Chloe says that it's the meteors, and that they give people weird powers and also some sorts of mental instability -- one from column A and two from column B, you know? Like Amy Palmer's brother got invisibility and an obsessive hatred of Lex, or Tina Grier got shapeshifting and mass-murder and a compulsion to be me. I think Clark got superhuman strength and speed, along with paranoia and maybe pathological lying. I don't see how that would make his blood what you're after, though. He's scared to death of needles -- Helen probably couldn't have gotten his blood. It's not like he never gets sick or hurt, either, because I've seen him both. Have you tried Tina's blood? Shapeshifting should be like healing, shouldn't it?"

Lionel was grinning at her. He'd expected her to be really freaked out, Lana realized. She smiled back at him. It would take a lot more than unconventional medical research to make her think badly of him. Besides, he was just trying to save his own life, and Adam had been dead already before they'd experimented on him.

"Miss Grier is certainly another possibility. Unfortunately, she died before I could compare her blood with Dr. Bryce's original sample."

"Darn," Lana swore. Now that her first mad, passionate denial was spent, she was filled with a creeping sadness, and her back hurt. She leaned her head against Lionel's shoulder. He turned his face away and started gently stroking her hair again without looking at her.

Suddenly Lana had an idea.

"Lionel!" she gasped. He turned and met her excited gaze. "I know a guy!"

Lex stayed at the plant until Carol, purse and keys in hand, literally chased him out the door. He'd managed to stick around long enough to touch base with the swing shift foremen and QC coverage guys (Blodgett never did show up) and make sure everybody had his cell number. He even considered writing it on the Men's Room wall, but chickened out (or alternatively, came to his senses) at the last minute.

As Lex drove along the quiet Kansas roads, he felt competent and like himself again. He could do this; he was in control of his own actions, and he knew how to run the factory. He knew how to do other things, too, lots of things. Business theory was an open book to him. He was the pilot of his own craft, steering between the shoals of malice and the maelstrom of madness on a path that would lead him inevitably to....

Huh. How did he end up parked in the lane outside Kent Organic Farm?

He sat in the car for a little while. He felt tired, but not with the heavy, numb exhaustion he'd endured for so many weeks. It had been a good day, as far as he could tell. He wasn't absolutely sure he remembered what good days were like, but he thought this had been one. It was warm in the car. The glass converts the higher-frequencies of light into infra-red, into heat, he thought randomly.

There was a rapping at the window. Lex sat up suddenly and opened his eyes wide. It was Jonathan Kent. "You okay?" the farmer asked. He stepped back and made room for Lex to open the door.

Lex felt flustered. He got out. "I'm fine, Mr. Kent. I was just..."

"Sleepin' in your car again. I saw. And call me Jonathan. You might as well come on in, Lex. Clark isn't home yet, but he shouldn't be long now. You want something to eat?"

Lex suddenly realized he hadn't had lunch, and that he was actually hungry. "Thanks. That would be great."

Jonathan was wiping his hands on a rag as they walked, and he stuck it in the back pocket of his jeans to free his hands for the screen door. "Martha's in town, doin' somethin' or other. Muffins to the Talon, I think." Mr. Kent opened the refrigerator and peered inside. "Did you know a man who's had a heart attack isn't allowed to eat pie? Between Martha and Clark and that doctor, the list of stuff I can't do is gettin' pretty dang irritating," he grumbled, pulling the remains of a roasted chicken from the fridge and putting it on the counter. He reached in again and added a head of home-grown lettuce to the plate. "The bread-box is behind you, Lex," he said. "Not a speck of mayonnaise in the place, of course. We'll just have to do without."

Lex handed over the partial loaf of homemade whole wheat bread he'd found, and watched (a little enviously) as the old farmer deftly wielded a huge serrated knife, quickly putting together a couple of sandwiches. Jonathan gave the plates to Lex and gestured towards the kitchen table with his chin. Lex set them out and took a seat, while Jonathan brought over two cups and a pitcher of cold milk.

"Skim," he griped. "Why, when I was a boy, we fed the skim milk to the hogs." He bit discontentedly into his sandwich and made a face. "No salt, of course. What a world. How are things at the plant? You went in today?"

Lex chewed slowly to give himself a moment to think. The chicken was good, he thought -- marinated in something with a lot of herbs in it. Why was Mr. Kent so uncharacteristically chatty and, well, whiney today? "I went in. It was a good thing, too. There were a number of problems that were getting seriously out of hand. If you hadn't suggested I face my responsibilities this morning, they could only have gotten worse. Thank you."

The other man just grunted. He looked unhappy, and his face was drawn. Lex knew what kind of a response the question 'Are you all right?' would get, so he didn't ask. His mom had gotten touchy and irritable when she'd been ill, more and more so over the years it had taken her between her diagnosis and her death. Facing one's own mortality was difficult.

Lex put the sandwich down and took a deep breath. "They just want to keep you as long as they can. Clark, and Mrs. Kent, and, um, everyone. They'll miss you when you," Lex broke off and swallowed hard, then continued, "go, and they want to put it off as long as, as possible." His eyes fell; he studied the sandwich on its plate, somehow not hungry anymore.

The sound of Jonathan's amused snort brought his head up again. "Well, hell, Lex, I'm all right. And I know full well that's what they're doin'. If I could've kept my dad one extra day by getting up in the middle of the night to do his chores for him, and makin' sure he never got one more tasty meal, and nagging him to stay the hell off the roof, I'd have done it, for sure. Doesn't mean I have to like it. But I apologize for taking it out on you."

"You didn't!" Lex said, stung. "You honestly weren't taking it out on me -- I know what that's like. You just seemed upset, and...."

Jonathan's laughter cut him off again. At least he'd cheered the man up, although ordinarily he hated people laughing at him. "Eat up, Lex, and then come on out to the barn with me. They won't let me put the tractor up on blocks by myself anymore, and you might as well make yourself useful 'til Clark gets back." Jonathan washed the cups and went out. Lex finished his sandwich in a hurry and followed, feeling oddly better still about the weirdly good day he was having.

Lana was fast asleep when Chloe got home from school. She didn't want to hear anything about how great Lionel Luthor was, so she tiptoed past the open door of the other upstairs bedroom, gathered her laptop and books, and headed downstairs to actually work on her homework. If she was grounded long enough, she might even pull off an A in Trig.

Dad might not have freaked so badly about the sneaking in if he hadn't also been freaking about the $3950 he'd found in her room while he was searching for paper clips. Chloe had started by saying she had the money legally, and she wasn't going to say where it had come from. She'd stuck to that, throughout the whole painful two-hour scene, that ended only when it was time for her to get ready for school. It was a good thing that the argument hadn't gone on for another ten minutes; Chloe had been about to indignantly declare that she'd been streetwalking in Grandville for years.

Now there was this mutual cold silence thing going on between the two of them. Chloe was almost getting nostalgic for the fighting.

She didn't like keeping secrets from her dad -- it almost never happened that way.

Jeez, Clark's life must be hell.

Speak of the devil -- okay, think of the alien -- there was a knock at the door. She was rising to answer it, but Gabe tossed aside the Classifieds, glared her back into her chair (when did he learn how to do that?) and went to the door himself.

"Clark," he said, in a cold, suspicious voice she'd never heard him use before.

"Mr. Sullivan," Clark bleated in his nervous, innocent-sounding tenor. "Um. Is Chloe here? I said I'd bring her some papers...." There was the sound of a stack of papers falling on the concrete porch. Chloe got up and lurked behind her dad, watching Clark nervously gather things up.

"Clark," she said.

The glance he turned up to her was nervous and imploring and shy. He's doing that lie-behind-the-lie thing he was talking about this morning, she realized. He's acting like we had a bad break-up or something last night.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded, trying to make her voice quavery, and look mad. She remembered how she'd felt after he ran off during the Spring Dance freshman year, and used that -- the thought of it made her chin go up and her chest heave automatically.

Clark looked embarrassed and distressed. God, he was good at this. Well, sure, Chloe realized. He's been living a series of overlapping lies his whole damn life. He'd gathered all the documents to his chest, and stood there with his head bowed.

Gabe was looking from Clark to Chloe and back again, and visibly drawing conclusions. "Clark," he said, and Chloe had to struggle to keep the relief she felt from showing on her face. He sounded like her Dad again. "What do you know about four thousand dollars that I found in Chloe's room this morning?"

Clark looked up at Gabe with absolute puppy-dog eyes, and then quickly looked down again. "I... Lex gave it to me, sir. I know you're, um, Lex never would have fired you, sir!"

Clark looked up again, just as imploring as before. "The personnel records at the plant were all messed up, and he doesn't remember, because of the electroshock! It's all a mistake, I know it is! He'd want you to." Clark dropped his eyes again. "I asked him for the money, for a friend, and he gave it to me, and I gave it to Chloe. He'd want you guys to have it; when he remembers, when this is all straightened out...." Clark dwindled off into nothing.

"I can't have Chloe accepting that kind of money."

The puppy-dog eyes were back. "Please, Mr. Sullivan! I can't take it back! I can't keep it, and I can't give it back to Lex, he'd, he'd never understand, not until he remembers, if he ever does." The last four words were in a stricken whisper that Chloe couldn't admire enough. She saw Gabe wince in sympathy for the man who'd fired him and ruined his career. Wow.

Clark raised his eyes one more time and blasted the Kent charm at her poor defenseless dad, full-power. "Please, Mr. Sullivan?"

"I can't believe that worked! Is that some sort of alien ability or something? Making puppy-dog eyes at my dad never works for me! And you made him feel sorry for Lex! The guy who fired him!"

"But it wasn't Lex's fault!" Clark pointed out loyally.

"You really believe that, don't you?"

"Well, it's true. Hey, look! He's here!" Somehow, the sight of a Porsche always made Clark's heart beat a little faster. Even that summer in Metropolis, when Porsches weren't as scarce as hen's teeth, and Lex was married and gone, and Clark (as he kept repeating inside his head) really wasn't himself, they had the same effect.

Chloe parked her little red Bug behind Lex's Porsche on the side of the lane. "Do your folks know? About you and Lex?"

Shoot. He hadn't even thought of that secret having the chance to get out. "Please don't tell them," he begged.

"Jeez, Clark. When are you going to figure out that you can trust me?" She slammed the car door in exasperation.

"I'm sorry. And I do!" Clark rushed to hold the kitchen screen door open for her.

"Well, act like it, then!" she fumed. "Hi, Mrs. Kent."

"Chloe! It's nice to see you again, dear. You haven't been around in an age!" They hugged. Clark didn't really think about it much, but Chloe had no mom at all. It was nice that she could get hugs from his sometimes. He should have her over to the farm more often.

"What brings you out to the boondocks?" Mom asked Chloe. "Research project?" She must have noticed the huge-ish amount of documents they were carrying.

"That's right, Mrs. Kent. Clark and I were doing some history-from-original-sources, based on old Metropolis civil records."

"Goodness. That sounds like quite an undertaking! Sweetie, Dad's taking a little nap before supper, so why don't you kids go work on your research project out in the loft? Lex is already out there -- he was helping Jonathan with the tractor when I got home."

Clark thought he probably did a pretty good job concealing his surprise at that. Chloe, on the other hand, was audibly snorting with laughter. Mom gave them a plateful of cookies, and they headed out to the barn.

Lex was asleep, too, as it turned out. He looked so small, curled up in the corner of the old, beat-up couch in Clark's loft -- more like Chloe's size than his actual six-foot. Clark resolved, for the hundredth time since Lex had gotten back from Belle Reve, to never let him get hurt again. Darn that Lionel Luthor! Well, they'd fix him. Hopefully, all this stuff he'd brought back from the city would help.

"What are we looking for?" he asked Chloe, as they spread the papers out and settled onto the floor. He put the plate of Mom's cookies where Chloe could reach them easily.

"Anything suspicious," she answered, perusing the first paper from her pile. "Anyway, shouldn't you know? You looked at all of this stuff already."

"I was just looking for specific individual words. I didn't really read them," Clark explained.

"Huh." Clark didn't understand the look Chloe gave him. Was this another freaky alien thing he did, without even knowing? "Well, look for suspicious stuff. You wanna wake Lex up? He could help."

"I kinda want to let him sleep, as long as he can. He's been awful tired, for a long time."

"Okay." They researched companionably for a while without finding anything particularly incriminating on Lionel Luthor. Lachlan had been quite the thug, but they knew that already. There was a paper trail on Morgan Edge's early life and crimes, which was completely missing from the computer version of Metropolis's Public Record. Chloe got pretty indignant about that, and her vociferous complaints eventually woke Lex.

"Hi," Lex said, in a sleepy voice that melted Clark's heart and brain, and didn't melt certain other organs. "What's going on?"

Chloe started explaining their plan, and the state of municipal record-keeping in Metropolis, and possibly a few other things, but Clark lost the thread of her argument almost immediately, because Lex waking up and stretching was a very distracting sight. He hoped he'd be able to see it a lot, some day.

"Sounds great," Lex said. "I'm in. Give me some files."

Clark grabbed a stack from the not-looked-at-yet pile and zipped over to hand it to Lex before he could get up from the couch. Lex thanked him with a smile, and Clark grinned back like a moonstruck idiot, which, okay, he pretty much was. He settled himself and his own handful of papers on the floor next to the sofa, where Lex could reach out and pet his hair if he wanted.

"Huh," said Lex, some time later. "Where's the rest of this one?"

Clark turned his head and looked. "What?"

Lex showed him. "This is just the first page of this."

Chloe came over. "Huh. You're right. Look -- you can see the xerox of the staple-holes in the corner. Medical Examiner's Report on Lachlan and Liza Luthor -- they were the only ones who died in that tenement explosion, you know, which is kind of suspicious as well. I downloaded the -- here." Chloe fetched her laptop over to the sofa, and Lex sat up to make room for her, and Clark hauled himself up to sit on the couch as well.

Chloe brought up the newspaper story on the fire that had killed Lex's grandparents. "See? It was a page seven story in the Planet."

The bald head and the blonde head leaned together, reading the story on Chloe's small laptop screen. Clark loomed over Lex's shoulder, but he was more interested in how Lex felt against him than in the account of the decades-old fire -- Lex and Chloe would figure it all out.

"This says the Luthors were the only two casualties. No one else was even injured."

"Yeah! Suspicious, huh? Somebody spread a story around the tenement that there was a free meat distribution at the new supermarket a half-mile away -- everyone but the Luthors heard about it, and the place didn't blow until all the other units were empty."

"This calls it a gas leak, but the story says that the police were investigating the possibility of arson. Did they ever say what the results of that investigation were?"

"The Daily Planet didn't mention it again. I'm guessing that means they didn't find anything."

"Seems reasonable. The only anomaly we've come across so far, though, is the partially-missing Medical Examiner's Report from that incident."

"So that counts as our first find. We'll put it aside, and keep plowing through the rest of this stuff," Chloe decided.

The three separated again, and continued their investigations. Chloe could do this for hours without losing concentration, but Clark eventually got bored and a little silly. Reading at top speed was okay for searching for some particular word or phrase, but he couldn't read for comprehension any faster than normal people, and they'd been at it already for a long time.

Lex had stretched out on the sofa again, once the other two had gone back to their original places, and his ear was in easy reach. Chloe was totally engrossed in the mystery; she wouldn't notice anything. Even if she did, she already knew about him and Lex. For the first time, there was no secret holding him back from engaging in a PDA.

Clark surreptitiously blew into Lex's tempting ear. Lex didn't seem to notice at first; Clark refined his aim and did it again. Lex turned to give him a Look, and Clark looked back, ostentatiously innocent. Lex went back to his reading. Hmm. Clark went back to his, too, for a couple of minutes, and then somebody blew into his ear.

Grinning like a fool, Clark grabbed Lex and carefully swept him down into his lap. Lex squeaked, which was funny and adorable, and then Lex grabbed Clark's face and kissed him hard, right on the lips. Oh.

Chloe rolled her eyes at them, but as the kiss went on (Lex was one hell of a kisser) Clark caught her looking more and more interested. Well, she could look all she wanted as long as she didn't touch; Lex was his and he didn't share. Then his seventeen-year-old brain went to the sharing place, and, okay, that was a hot idea. Lex chuckled into his mouth, obviously noticing the sudden change in Clark's lap. Clark closed his eyes and closed off the thought of sharing, too. Lex was all his, forever.

"Ahem." Oh, Jeez. It was Dad, standing at the top of the stairs to the loft.

Clark froze. Lex scrambled off his lap and stood before his father. "Mr. Kent, I can explain," he began.

Oh, no, no, no. Not this time. Lex wasn't going to have to be the one to take the brunt of this, whatever it turned out to be. Clark surged to his feet and got between his dad and his boyfriend. (Wow. Boyfriend.) There had to be a way through this situation that didn't involve anyone getting shot or having a heart attack.

Dad's face was tight and pale. His chin was sticking out, and his eyes were narrowed at Lex. Lex was getting that cold, aloof, superior expression he got whenever things were going really badly for him, and he was going to have to tough it out somehow. Things were getting out of hand already, and nobody'd even done anything yet!

Clark crossed his arms and made himself as big as possible. "Chloe," he said, in a calm, deep voice. "Go down and see if Mom needs any help in the kitchen."

Please don't argue; please don't argue; please don't argue....

Apparently Chloe didn't want to be here for this conversation; she left without a word. Clark x-rayed to make sure she didn't lurk on the stairs and eavesdrop. She headed straight for the kitchen, no hesitation. Clark realized that his friends totally had a point, with the complaining that he didn't really ever trust them, but he didn't have time to angst about that now.

"Why don't you explain, Lex," Dad said in a low, venomous voice.

"I'll explain, Dad." Clark wanted to keep this calm baritone as long as he could; if everybody could just stay calm, this might not end up a train wreck. He hoped.

The fact that Dad wouldn't look at him was not a good sign for train-wreck-avoidance.

"Lex and I are in love."

Dad sneered, still looking at Lex. "And how long have you been toying with my son, Luthor?" he spat out.

Lex's superior expression just crumbled away. He swallowed hard. "I don't remember," he said, closed his eyes and turned away.

Dad stepped closer; Clark got in the way. Dad must be really furious; Lex's quiet, miserable admission would've melted a heart of stone. No time to melt.

"Please. Just look at me. Lex and I are in love. I've had a crush on him for a long time, probably since the beginning, since I saved him from the river." Now Dad was meeting Clark's eyes, and yeah, he was really furious, but at least he was listening.

Clark had a quick look at his father's heart and decided it was safe to proceed. "It wasn't Lex's fault. I didn't know I loved him until we both came back to Smallville last fall; he hugged me, and I knew I didn't want him to marry anybody else ever again. Not just because they kept trying to kill him, but because I was jealous of those women, Victoria and Desiree and Helen, and all the rest. I wanted him for myself. And Lex didn't know he loved me until I went to the mansion that night and broke in and kissed him."

Clark heard rather than saw Lex sit back down on the couch. "I knew," Lex said very quietly. "I knew before. I've always known I loved you."

Clark's heart was singing at that, but he had to keep going, keep this situation from exploding into a world of bad. Dad was looking past Clark to Lex; his face had lost most of its fury. Clark risked a look back over his shoulder. Lex was sitting hunched over on the sofa with his head in his hands. His eyes were covered; he looked small again.

"Please, Dad." The deep, calm voice was gone. Maybe he didn't need it anymore.

Jonathan heaved a sigh. "All right, son."

"Um. And I told him. You know, everything. Chloe, too."


Well, that went considerably better than I ever thought it would, Lex thought, restlessly thumping his pillow for the fortieth time that night. Mr. Kent didn't shoot me; Clark didn't actually spontaneously combust at any time; okay, awkward dinner, but I've certainly attended worse. That was a nice pumpkin custard.

He settled back against the exquisite linens and tried to sleep. Again.

Jeez! He'd done all kinds of work today! He was tired! Why the hell couldn't he just fall asleep?

He could sleep in his car. He could sleep on the Kents' living room sofa, and even on Clark's old beat-up monstrosity of a couch (despite its unexpected springs and the pervasive aroma of cat.)

Oh, this was ridiculous.

There was a Motel 6 out on the highway. Lex got up, dressed, packed a bag, and went.

It was a nice night, Clark thought, as he put the cultivator away. He hadn't bothered with the tractor -- too noisy in the middle of the night, and it was just as easy to pull things himself. The field would be all right to plant in sweet corn, whenever Dad thought it was time -- probably this week.

Clark squinted up at the stars, letting them shift in color and brightness through all the spectra. It was good practice, though he wasn't sure what exactly it was good practice for, and it looked really cool besides. Hey! Now he could tell Lex and Chloe about it, if he wanted -- Pete didn't seem to care much about astronomy.

Clark couldn't think of anything else that needed doing in the fields, and it was still too early to bother the cows. He headed back to the house to nap for a couple of hours, idly tuning his hearing up and down, to count the cars out on Route 8 and the crickets under the porch. He caught the sound of his parents quietly talking, and froze.

"You awake, Martha?"


"He's doing it again."


"Clark. He's up and out in the fields."

"Oh, Jonathan. It's okay. He's just trying to help."

"Yeah." They were quiet then for a little while. Clark breathed again, and was just about to sneak back in through the kitchen door (although there wasn't much point in sneaking if they already knew he was up and what he was doing) when they started talking again.

"He's a good boy," Dad said. "I'm proud of him."

"He is a good boy," Mom agreed.

"I just wish..." Dad said, then sighed. "It could be worse," he finally continued.



"Oh, Jonathan."

"I know, I know." Dad sighed again. "Maybe they didn't have any womenfolk on Krypton."

Mom actually laughed. "You darling idiot," she said.

Clark quit listening then, cheeks blazing, and went on up to bed.

Lionel didn't want to admit, even to himself, how much he hated heading back to Belle Reve.

It would have been easier if he hadn't been having one of his bad mornings. Unfortunately, he suspected that they'd become more and more the norm as, as time went on.

It had started at half past three, when the twisting stab in his side had pulled him from his heavy, sedative-assisted sleep. Too early to get up, too late to get back to sleep -- he'd stayed abed, hoping to drift off again, for as long as he could bear, then arisen, showered, dressed, and it still wasn't five a.m.

There was no one in the kitchen; he wasn't hungry anyway. He took his morning dose, although it was three hours early. It helped a little, but not enough. He could breathe without much pain, but it still hurt to move. Wandering restlessly about his mansion (such a damnably un-home-like building, just like ever place he'd ever owned) Lionel succumbed to the temptation to slip into Lex's room and check on his son.

Lex was gone.

The boy was twenty-three, an adult. He didn't have a damn curfew. Even when he'd had one, he'd never adhered to it. Lex had always managed, pretty much, to take care of himself. He was a Luthor, after all.

Of course, when he'd spent his nights carousing, the only brain damage he'd had to contend with had been voluntary, pharmaceutically-induced, and thankfully temporary.

Hell. Just because Lex hadn't ended up a vegetable (Lionel knew any son of his would be too tough for that) didn't necessarily mean that he was fully as capable as he'd been before.

It wasn't as if Lionel were getting any sleep anyway.

By the time Lionel had confirmed that Lex, for no known reason, had checked into the Motel 6 on Route 8 just after midnight, Lex had already left. One of those sudden insights that had so often enabled Lionel to nip Lex's little schemes in the bud told him to check the fertilizer plant. Sure enough, Security informed him that Lex Luthor had entered Plant Number Three at 6:45 a.m. What was he up to now?

At this late date, did it really matter?

Well, at least the whole minor debacle had provided a distraction. He'd made it all the way to sun-up without getting out his gun.

He was so tired.

Lana wasn't going to school today, but she was going out. Moving as fast as she could, she still wasn't ready until long after Chloe had headed out for school, and Gabe had left for his new temp job down at the quarry.

After her injuries and the previous day's big weepy dramatic scene, Lana felt wrung-out and crusty. She hated it. Showering was prohibited until the stitches came out, so she had to make do with a sponge bath and the last of her Tylenol-with-Codeine tablets. She dressed in a fluttery, blue-and-yellow summer dress that she'd found at the back of her closet when she moved from Nell's house. She didn't like the color, and it was really too light for this early in the year, but it was loose and easy to put on. She double-checked that she had a bottle of regular Tylenol in her purse and headed downstairs.

Lana settled stiffly at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the morning's Ledger to wait for Lionel.

The previous night, it had taken him no time at all to find out where Cyrus was being kept. He'd been so masterful, stalking about the little pink bedroom, long hair and jacket flaring around him dramatically. Lana had been captivated, even as she lay on her side in the bloody bed and sniffled. Lionel got a doctor, too, to re-do her stitches, and his housekeeper from the castle came and changed the bed.

He took care of everything, even though he was the one who was really sick.

God, she loved him.

There was a knock at the door. Lana was thankful that she'd had time for the medicine to kick in, so her beau wouldn't see her moving around like Frankenstein.

"Geoffrey," she greeted Lionel's chauffeur in surprise.

"Good morning, miss. Mr. Luthor is waiting for you in the car."

"Oh, of course." Lana nodded and smiled prettily at the man. Geoffrey helped her with her coat, and held the door for her at the limo.

Lionel was hunched in the corner of the front-facing rear seat, studying his hands. He looked up at Lana and smiled, but she started worrying about him immediately. His hair was a little messier than usual, and his face was drawn and yellowish; it seemed like it was hurting him to move this morning, too.

"Good morning," Lana greeted him tenderly, and moved in to kiss him, very gently. When she pulled back and looked at him again, she was glad to see he was at least smiling.

"Better than OxyContin," he complimented.

Lana frowned at that, but smoothed the expression away immediately. She knew it would give her wrinkles. "Does it hurt very much?" she asked sympathetically.

"No, no," Lionel said, shaking his head a little and patting her hand reassuringly. He was looking right at her. He was lying.

"It'll be okay," Lana assured him, snuggling close. She sure hoped it would.

Lionel rested his chin on top of her head and just breathed. "It already is."

Clark was late to Journalism, as usual. Chloe didn't even bother to get mad at him about it anymore. Actually, finding out that he was with Lex had made her life a lot simpler in a couple of ways. Finding out that he was an alien with serious superhero tendencies had helped, too. She'd never imagined that giving up on the idea of a Sullivan/Kent romance would be so relatively painless.

It didn't mean she couldn't give him a hard time, though, just for fun. "You're late."

He did the puppy thing again. Man, that was cute. "I'm sorry. I got busy with the...."

"That's fine," she interrupted. "Remember that document that Lex found? The medical examiner's report? I found the woman who wrote it."

"Wow. She's still around?"

"Retired to Grandville. Got the address right here. If she remembers anything..."

"An exploded building's gotta be pretty memorable, even for Metropolis."

"So. After school? Think you can get your boyfriend to drive?"

Clark didn't say anything. Chloe turned away from typing up her latest editorial for the Torch (Does Shop Class Cause Sexual Harassment?) and looked at him. He had a big stupid smile on his face. Then he shook his head and finally answered her.

"I'll ask him," Clark said happily.

Cyrus Krup was housed in a ward with the other catatonic patients. The stillness of the contorted, wasted forms was eerie, made even more sinister by the contrast with the muffled chaotic noise of the lunatics' common room adjacent.

When Lionel had been dealing with Lex's dangerous knowledge, and madness, and their aftermath, he hadn't even known this room was here.

There were a dozen beds in the room, but only one chair. These people didn't get many visitors.

Privately, Lionel entertained no hopes of this expedition. Mr. Krup's blood had been fruitlessly tested with all the rest. If he had to be conscious and concentrating in order to heal, as Lana's story about some horse of hers had suggested, then the boy's persistent unconscious state would be quite the barrier to any success.

Lana blinked imploringly at the orderly who was their guide, and he obligingly moved the chair to Cyrus's bedside. "When you're ready to leave, just call," he said, indicating the house phone on the wall by the door.

"Thank you," Lana fluttered at him. Then she perched delicately on the chair.

"Ma'am," the orderly nodded.

Lionel studied him through narrowed eyes as the man left, locking the door behind him, still looking back at Lana and smiling as he went.

Lionel might not mind at all if the fellow perished in a fiery car-crash.

Lana's nervous voice interrupted his thoughts of bloody vengeance. "I've never done this on purpose before," she whispered. "I'm not sure there's even a this to do! I'm basing my whole plan on a thing that Chloe said one time when she was mad at me!"

Lionel moved to her side and put a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him and smiled gratefully. Her eyes were full of tears.

"When the meteors fell, I was right there. I saw my parents," Here Lana paused to sniff delicately. "Crushed before my very eyes! The meteors were falling all around." She stopped again, and blinked the tears back. She took a deep breath and nodded a little to get hold of herself. "One day when Chloe was mad at me, I don't remember why, she said that I'm a mutant, too! She said that my mutant ability is that I make other mutants fall in love with me, and that my insanity is that I'm narcissistic!" Lana turned her big brown eyes imploringly up to Lionel. "She apologized later and took it all back, of course, but.... Do you think I'm a narcissist?"

Lionel chuckled and held her close, being careful of her bandages. She was adorable. "I know a hundred women in Metropolis who are vainer than you, my dear, and none of them has one-half your reason to be."

"Oh, Lionel! You always know just what to say!" She turned her attention back to the pale, still figure in the bed, took a deep breath, and nodded to herself a couple of times. "If this works, it might not really be fair to Cyrus. But I'm going to do it anyway."

That's my girl, Lionel thought fondly, and stepped back a little.

Lana leaned down earnestly to the thin, pale, awkward-looking form in the white institutional bed. "Cyrus," she called. Lana gathered the unconscious boy's hands into hers, and her voice vibrated with something Lionel couldn't identify. "Cyrus. I need you. Please, Cyrus, please wake up."

Incredibly, the boy moved. His head rolled against the pillow, and a frown corrugated the formerly rigid brow. Cyrus's breathing, barely perceptible before, became deep and ragged.

"That's it, Cyrus!" Lana urged. "Please, you've got to help me! Wake up!"

With a gasp, Cyrus opened his eyes. He stared wildly all about the room, then tried to lift his head and found that he couldn't. A year's inactivity had taken its toll. His gaze found Lana's, and locked onto her.

"Where am.... You're hurt," Cyrus whispered. He closed his eyes again, but now the pale, thin hands twisted to hold Lana's, and a dim golden light shone briefly where they met. The boy sagged, hands limp again, and Lionel feared that young Mr. Krup had shot his wad, but then Cyrus opened his eyes again.

"What's going on?" he begged of Lana.

She smiled beatifically at him. "Oh, Cyrus, thank you! I feel so much better! But, please, what I really needed you to do," here Lana blinked soulfully and nodded, gesturing for Lionel to approach.

That indefinable thrumming was back in her voice. Lionel knew then that, no matter how long or how short their life together might be, he would never be able to deny her anything. Oddly, the thought didn't bother him. He made his way stiffly back to Cyrus's bedside.

"Cyrus," Lana explained to the boy, who was still staring raptly at her, "this is Lionel Luthor. He's -- I need you to heal him. Please!" Lana joined Cyrus's hands to Lionel's.

Cyrus gazed into Lana's eyes a moment longer, breathing hard. Then he closed his eyes, and that dim golden light shone forth again from his hands.

It was the most extraordinary feeling -- as if a warm re-organizing energy spread from Cyrus's hands into his, travelling outward cell by cell, rectifying all the ills that flesh was heir to. His headache went away; the long-accustomed grate in his collarbone, broken by Lachlan's hand forty-five years before and never set properly, vanished; the ordinary stiffness of back and shoulders and knees melted away; and, best of all, that horrible twisting stab that had been growing more and more insistent over the last two years was gone, gone, gone! Lionel felt like a kid again. At the slightest instigation, he could've gone straight out and knocked over a liquor store. A silly grin broke out on his face -- he couldn't stop it, didn't even want to stop it.

"Lionel?" Lana asked.

He scooped her up in his arms and swung her around. She squealed with surprise, and he kissed her.

When he finally let her breathe again, her eyes were huge and dark. "I love you," he told her, "and I owe you my life."

"I plan to collect on that debt," she murmured, and kissed him in return.

When that one drew to its end, Lionel turned his attention back to Cyrus. The boy looked shaky and heartbroken, on top of the generally debilitated appearance one would expect in a person who'd been in a catatonic trance for more than a year. Lionel took the seat next to Cyrus's bed and addressed him seriously.

"You've saved my life here today, boy, and I'm grateful. You'll find the gratitude of Lionel Luthor is something worth having."

Here, Lana put her hands possessively on Lionel's shoulders. God, she was perfect. At Lana's gesture, Cyrus's eyes betrayed a wounded understanding.

"I'll have you out of this institution and into an apartment of your own, with a private nurse and a housekeeper, before close of business today, and I'll have a trust fund set up for you by the end of the week." Now Lionel put his hand on top of one of Lana's, and let his voice get hard. He held Cyrus's eyes with his, and saw the wounded self-pity there transform into a healthy sense of fear. "Just as my gratitude is worth having, my enmity is something to avoid. Remember that what's mine is mine, and we'll get along perfectly."

Cyrus closed his eyes again, resigned, and Lionel stood and got his lawyers on the phone, to set up the boy's pay-off.

He'd not only saved Lionel's life; he'd also loved and lost Lana Lang -- Lionel had seen it on his face. Cyrus had earned whatever Lionel could give him.

Lex was happy to drive the Smallville High Torch's two finest investigative journalists out to Grandville that afternoon. The Motel 6, completely free as it was of partial memories and dubious watchers, had granted him six solid hours of blessed sleep, and it had been another surprisingly good day at the plant. He'd spent most of it with the Quality Control people, and he was confident the plant would meet the monthly quota. He'd even remembered to eat lunch -- well, actually Carol had instructed Bill Tompkins to take him to lunch, but the point was that he'd eaten. He felt better than he'd felt for a long time.

Even the crappy mobile home park that turned out to be their destination wasn't enough to dampen his mood.

Natasha Lamb was an elderly woman with unrealistically red hair and a cigarette sticking out of her mouth. She invited Clark, Chloe and Lex into her trailer home as if they were the most interesting thing she'd seen in years.

"Come in, come in! What can I do for you young people? Would anyone like some tea?" Cats twined around Lex's feet as he stepped over the threshold. He was glad he didn't have asthma anymore. After a couple of rounds of polite denials and counter-offers of various refreshments, Chloe pulled out her photocopy of the first page of the medical report.

"Ms. Lamb," she began, laying the paper down on the coffee table in front of their hostess, "forty years ago, a tenement building in Metropolis exploded. You wrote the medical examiner's report on the bodies of Lachlan and Liza Luthor. Does any of this ring a bell?"

"Oh, yes. I remember. You don't forget a thing like that!" the old woman cackled. She picked the paper up and donned the spectacles that hung from a chain around her neck. "Where's the rest?"

Lex was amused when Chloe assumed her Confidential Reporter Voice. "That's just it! Nowhere! It's not in the old Basement Archive, and it's not stored in the Metropolis Municipal Database, either! Isn't that odd?"

"Can you tell us anything about it?" Clark pleaded.

"We'd appreciate any information at all," Lex added quietly.

Shrewd old eyes squinted at him over heavy black eyeglass frames. "You're Lex Luthor, aren't you?"

Lex swallowed. "Yes, ma'am." Was this going to be another day he'd rue his name?

"I met your father that day. He was just a punk kid -- younger than you lot." The old woman snorted with laughter. "I may be the only person still living who's had the Great Lionel Luthor ralph on their shoes!" The chuckles subsided into wheezing, and she told them all she knew:

I'd been on that job almost five years by then, and I'd learned Lesson Number One of the Metropolis Civil Service, which is nobody gives a good goddam about what happens in Suicide Slum. Still, a whole building doesn't explode every day, and there had to be an investigation.

It didn't have to be a very good investigation -- we were always pressed for time and money. To be honest, it would be best if the report just said "Gas Leak" and we could all get on with our lives (see Lesson Number One), but there had to be a report. I drew the short straw. Well, that's not really true. My boss at the time wanted me outta there -- said the Coroner's Office was no place for a lady. I always said I weren't no lady, but he seemed to think that just made it worse. Anyhow, the grossest corpses and the stupidest reports always seemed to come to me. I got used to it.

There were only two bodies found in the cleanup operation -- remarkable thing, considering how jam-packed those old rat-traps were -- all the occupants were accounted for except for the Luthors and three men with active arrest warrants. Since one of the bodies was female, I was thinking Luthors.

Mandatory Public Schooling is a wonderful thing -- only took us two days to pull in the son for an I.D.

So that's how I met the future Captain of Industry. He was a real hippie in those days, though. Long, messy hair, tight jeans, beads -- the whole deal. He sauntered into the morgue like he thought he was Mick Jagger or something. He pinched my butt, too, coming in. Pissed the hell out of me. Don't look so shocked -- it was pretty damn common in those days, and I was a good-lookin' broad in my time.

The father's body was more crushed than burned. Kid looked it over with this semi-concealed glee that raised my hackles. Sure, Luthor was a crook -- he'd been arrested a hundred times, and even convicted a few -- but a man's got a right to not have his son gloat over his corpse, if you ask me. Plus Lionel had this winking and bobbing thing going on -- he could have been nervous, I suppose, but personally I thought he was high.

So by this point I was pretty much fed up to the back teeth with young Lionel Luthor, and I wasn't as considerate of his feelings as I'd been trained to be with the general public.

Liza Luthor's body had been blown to pieces. The left arm was pretty much intact, and it had a butterfly tattoo just above the wrist. Left hand had a ring, too. It was plenty for an I.D. While the kid was still standing over the body of his old man, smirking, I brought the tray out of the cooler. I should've just uncovered that one arm, leaving the illusion that there might be the rest of a woman's body there under the cloth, instead of just a bunch of bits, but I was fed up, so I just took the sheet off, picked up the arm, and showed it to him.

"Can you I.D. your mother from this, too, kid?" I asked.

He turned around and saw what I had, and the arrogance just drained out of him. He went pale, and he suddenly looked his age, which was only fifteen or sixteen, like I said. That's when he hurled on my shoes, which I guess I deserved. I covered everything back up, and my training kicked back in, and I got him into a seat with his head down between his knees.

"How? How?" he kept asking. So much for an easy I.D.

So then without any warning this big bruiser bust into the morgue. Blond, burly kid, a couple years older than young Luthor. "Lie!" he called, and he stopped short in the doorway when he saw Lionel crunched over in the chair, and the mess on the floor. "What did you do" he started at me, but I don't scare easy, never did, and there would've been a confrontation, except Lionel Luthor sat up then, and the look on his face could've broken your heart.

"Morg," he said to the thug. "I can't. She... He said she left! You...." He turned back to me. "Please. Let him identify her," he said, and put his head back down in his lap. I think he was crying, which was a lot more human response than I would have expected from him when he first came in.

Okay, I thought. I'm a goddam professional. So I took the big guy's name, which was Morgan Edge -- yes, that Morgan Edge, the crime boss. I met two future Metropolis legends that day. He identified the female body from the tattoo and the ring, which he said he'd recognize anywhere. It was Mrs. Luthor's wedding ring, he said, and it was stuck and wouldn't come off. She'd tried to pawn it for liquor a hundred times, he said. I could ask any of the neighbors; they all would have heard her complain that she couldn't get the damn thing off.

So I thanked him, and filled out the paperwork, and Edge took Lionel outta there, practically carrying him. One thing that didn't make it into my report -- on the way out Edge kept telling Lionel, "Close it off, man, close it off. It's worth it, man. Besides, she's better off now anyway, you know it."

Another thing didn't make it into my report (no point in complicating things) is that I think, to this day, the woman had been dead for some time before the explosion -- at least a week or two. Nobody in the office wanted to hear it; they all said I had no basis, but I'd been dealing with the worst of the worst of what came through the morgue for five years, and I was too damn tough to use mentholatum or wintergreen to mask the smell. In my professional opinion, Liza Luthor's body was about two weeks riper than Lachlan's when they brought them both in, four days after the explosion. Heh. Not that it mattered. Nobody gives a good goddam what happens in Suicide Slum.

Grandville back to Smallville was only a forty-minute drive, twenty-five the way Lex usually drove.

Nobody said anything for the first fifteen.

"Well," Clark finally ventured, knowing that anything he came up with was probably too obvious for either of the other two to mention, but desperate to break the silence. "We know now that Lionel knew Morgan Edge."

"Who the hell took that document out of the Basement Archive?" Chloe wondered. "If it had been Edge, wouldn't he have taken all his criminal records, too?"

"Why would my father have taken it?" Lex wondered aloud. "According to Ms. Lamb, it didn't prove anything against him. And I hate to think Dad would've been careless enough to leave the cover-sheet behind."

"She didn't seem to think that report would've provided any real information to anybody. Just a formality," Chloe mused. "Whoever took it didn't get in touch with her, like we did. They didn't hear about Liza being dead weeks earlier; Ms. Lamb didn't put it in."

"Well, that report did have both your dad's and Morgan Edge's names in it. Wouldn't that be information for somebody? A lead, like," Clark suggested.

Chloe leaned over the back of his seat and stared at him. He wished she'd put her seat belt back on and sit back properly, especially since Lex was looking at him now, too, instead of at the road. "That could be it," Chloe said thoughtfully. "I heard about that place from a reporter; reporters do use it."

"Perry White seemed to have had a big story about your dad at one point. You said he pestered you about it when you were at school. And he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd just obey that 'Do Not Remove Documents from this Building' sign," Clark suggested.

"Perry White," Lex spat.

"Do you remember anything specific about what he was after?" Chloe asked.

Lex was silent for a little while. Clark was glad to see that he was paying attention to the road. Finally, when they were almost home, he said, "No. I don't remember. But if Dad made him drop it somehow, I bet there isn't much evidence left for us to find, whatever it was."

"So we can't use it," Chloe said. "Damn!" She sat back in her seat with a thump.

Clark watched Lex drive and think. He wouldn't give up so easily.

"We could try to find out more about your grandparents. I mean, we've leafed through all Lachlan's Metropolis criminal records, but he did stuff other places, too. Um. He murdered Lana's Great-Aunt Louise. The mayor hired him to do it -- well, he hired him to kill the Drifter, who turned out to actually be that jerk Jor-El, and the mayor was only a sheriff's deputy at the time...." Clark trailed off in confusion.

"Obscure Smallville guy from outer space," Chloe snarked.

"Heh. With occasional visions," Clark admitted, ducking his head.

"Here we are," Lex said, pulling up at the Kents' farmhouse. As he drove away towards the Sullivans', Clark noted uneasily that Lex looked like he was planning something.

That almost never went well.

The firelight gleamed against Lionel's brandy snifter. This really was the most pleasant room in the mansion. He shouldn't let bad memories of Ethan shooting him off the balcony like a duck prevent him from enjoying his own damn room.

Lionel sighed and sipped his brandy. He stretched out on the dark leather sofa, dignity and shoes be damned.

It was late. He'd taken Lana home hours ago. He'd never seen anyone as happy as she'd been at the Lowell County Courthouse, getting that marriage license. Lionel himself had never felt so light, so energetic, as he had that afternoon.

Cyrus was a remarkable boy, another of a series of remarkable boys this sorry little town produced.

Should he count Lex in that number?

Should he count himself?

You gotta look at things head-on, Morgan always used to say. Lionel hadn't agreed, though even in his youth he'd known better than to directly contradict Morgan on anything. He snorted. Always sliding around the edges -- no wonder his dad had called him a sneak.

Last one left wins, old man.

Last one left wins, indeed. Lionel swirled the brandy against the crystal and contemplated the way it clung. Perhaps he was granting too much weight to a passing comment from an angry high-school girl. No, he'd seen it with his own eyes. Cyrus hadn't awakened just then by chance. Hell, Lionel had felt it himself.


It was a term he'd only consciously applied to the local dangerous lunatics -- that damn werewolf-boy came immediately to mind. Byron, hadn't his name been Byron? He'd been in love with Lana, too, or at least obsessed with her. He wasn't the only one; there was information on several more in Lionel's files. Even Clark Kent, the pick of the litter where Smallville freaks were concerned, had been hopelessly devoted to the girl before taking up with Lex. Perhaps he still was. Lionel chuckled at the thought of how twisted a situation that might turn out to be.

Blunt old Morgan, looking at things head-on, had carved out an underground empire based on fists and guns. Lionel, sliding around the edges, had built a tower of commerce, visible for miles, visible in the sunlight, but based on the same foundation of crime and death that Morgan's was. And yet, Lionel had not had to sully his hands with murder more than a scant handful of times over the years. Nearly all of them were in the early days. Morgan used to joke about it (he used to joke about so many things.) Luckiest bastard that ever lived, Lie, they get on your wrong side, and then they crash their fucking cars before you can think of them twice.

Morgan was a smart man, too, as well as a ruthless one. What did he do when Lionel finally, ultimately, with an invalid's hard-to-kindle rage, really wanted him dead on that Metropolis dock? He went over the edge, into the water. Lionel took another drink. Water blocks radiation, doesn't it? If there were some influence, some connection, between Lionel's mind and the lives of his enemies....

Insane. Ridiculous. He'd had too much to drink.

He never liked to think of that damned October day, so far in the past, so far the other side of death and loss -- Lex lying there, broken and bloody and bald beneath the corn. There was no point in picking him up; he couldn't take the child into town on foot. He needed to flag down a car, or a truck, or a goddam horse or something.

The meteorites kept falling, intermittently, for almost an hour. Three vehicles passed by in that time. None of them stopped. Lionel distracted his mind from the horrifying thought of his only legitimate son dying in the dirt of a ruined field a million miles from nowhere by planning those drivers' painful deaths.

Finally the Kents had stopped, gathered Lex up (he'd nearly forgotten how afraid he'd been that pieces would fall off when the boy was lifted from the ground) and taken them into town.

Lex had lived through that. Lex had lived through an unrealistically large number of life-threatening situations, including several car crashes.

Morgan died in a car crash, too. To this day there was no explanation of what that car had crashed into, but the DNA evidence proved that, despite all appearances, it was Morgan's body inside.

When Lionel had re-appropriated Chloe Sullivan's computers, he'd gained access to all her crack-brained theories about the meteors. He'd obtained everything Dr. Hamilton had left behind, as well, and of course the records from the Level Three experiments had always been his.

Fine. Lex was a mutant, difficult to kill. Lionel was a mutant, able to hate people into crashing their automobiles. Neither of those was necessarily a deleterious mutation.

Smallville was full of mutants. They all, to one degree or another, were in love with Lana Lang.

There's nothing as seductive as adoration.

He had to get Lana out of Smallville.

Lex had done some research of his own after dropping off Clark and Chloe. The facts they'd dug up in Metropolis and Grandville had given him foundation for some wild guesswork of his own.

The assumption that Lex himself had possessed proof of Lionel's crimes before being drugged, incarcerated, and elecroshocked led to the notion that Lex might have hidden something at some point.

Lex had been checking old stashes (those he remembered) all evening. Clark could've done it in no time, he knew now, but somehow he just couldn't bring himself to give up the locations to anyone, not even Clark.

Most of the places were empty. Two were much cleaner than he would've left them (Lex made a mental note to only conceal things there that he wanted Lionel to know about in future.) Finally, behind a loose cinder-block partly covered with ivy at the far edge of the employee parking lot at LuthorCorp Plant Number Three, Lex found something.

There was a blurry copy of an old personnel record from the WorldWide Fertilizer Company. The employee's name was Leo Lechter, but the handwriting was Dad's. He'd been dismissed for pilfering. There was also a police complaint from the same week, on behalf of the Metropolis Heating and Fuel Oil Company against a Michael Edgemont, who had apparently taken a job with them, stolen a tanker of fuel oil, and disappeared. Lex didn't know Morgan Edge's handwriting offhand, but he was morally certain that it would match when he checked it.

Lachlan's apartment building had blown sky-high the following week.

It was evidence, rather than proof. He'd undoubtedly had proof before, but there was no way it was still around. These had been leads; he'd probably hidden them here early on in his investigation, and that's why they'd survived.

Lex put the papers back in their plastic bag and stashed them again. If they'd remained intact there through all this, he didn't think he'd be able to come up with a safer place.

It was late and cold. The plant was still humming, running overtime to make up for that materials foul-up, but there was no one in the parking lot, and he didn't really want to talk to anyone anyway. He had to think, and to think he had to get some sleep. Motel 6 was holding the room for him all week, but he was out of clean clothes. Lex sighed heavily as he opened the door of the Porsche. He'd have to stop back at the mansion to pick up a few things.

How'd the snifter get empty again already?

Lionel got up and found he had to take two steps where he should have only needed one. He wasn't drunk, just a little out of practice. Any sensible person would have cut back on the booze, with a diagnosis of liver trouble.

For a moment, Lionel thought the pale figure, standing so still in the doorway, was a ghost.

"Drinking alone, Dad?"

Lionel chuckled, poured brandy, and raised his glass to his son. "Family tradition, I'm afraid."

"So I've heard." Lex slunk into the room.

The boy always moved like he was ready to dodge a blow. It was irritating. Men didn't move like that; girls moved like that. And how the hell did Lex pick that up, anyway? Lionel had never -- well, hardly ever -- laid a hand on the boy. Old Lachlan would've broken Lex's neck a dozen times over.

Lex probably would've survived it.

"I'm surprised to see you here, son. I thought you'd found other lodgings. The Motel 6 out on Route 8? Or are you bunking with your friend, Clark Kent, now?

Lex drifted to a stop, just out of arm's reach.

"Some associates and I have been investigating. You."

Lionel threw his head back and laughed. Lex didn't even look aggrieved -- just tired, and still, and pale.

"And what have you and your little pals discovered?" Lionel stretched out on the couch again and sipped from his drink.

Damn his curiosity anyway. Why did he have to investigate that firelight? He should have taken his bag and left, but instead he'd looked through a doorway and been seen, and now he was stuck.

This was the moment; Lex had to take it on the volley, even though he wasn't ready for this yet. He had to make sure that didn't show, though. He didn't swallow. He didn't run his hand over his head.

It looked like Lionel had been drinking heavily; that might or might not help.

Lex wished he could see a way to do this that didn't feel so much like betraying his friends.

Lex perched on the edge of the dark wooden armchair across the fire from Lionel's sofa. He took just a second to compose himself, and looked directly into his dad's mocking eyes.

Start with what the old man didn't know. "You didn't kill your mother."

Was that a microscopic flinch? "Of course, I didn't, Lex. I've never killed anybody."

Lex smiled. "It's a matter of public record that you shot a man in the back in your office in Metropolis two years ago. The police report called it completely justifiable, and said you probably saved Martha Kent's life. Did I ever thank you for that?"

Lionel waved his brandy snifter in a negligent manner. "No, no. I mean other than that."

"You and Morgan Edge were close in the early sixties. He had a police record even then; you seemed to keep a lower profile. You worked together on the fuel-oil-and-fertilizer bomb. You cleared the tenement, first, except for Lachlan and Liza Luthor."

There was a tiny tremor visible on the surface of the liquid in Lionel's glass. Lex lowered his voice and leaned in. "You didn't kill your mother, Dad. Lachlan did. He'd murdered women before, and Liza had been dead for more than a week by the time the building blew, and her body was found."

Lionel closed his eyes and stayed perfectly still. Score! It was regrettable that the only way Lex could see to keep himself and his friends safe involved letting Lana marry Dad. There simply wasn't enough time or information left to do it the right way -- give the old bastard up to the cops or something. This would have to do. Clark and Chloe would agree; at the very least they'd be alive to flay him about it. He had to keep going with this. If he left it where it was, he'd be dead. Clark would be dead. Chloe would be dead.

Hell. Lex decided he'd just pay the best divorce lawyer in Metropolis a yearly retainer on Lana's behalf, to salve his stupid conscience. Chloe had actually said that Lana had a right to marry whomever she wanted, and Clark would get over it. Eventually.

"Look, Dad. I can prove you blew that building." This was a lie. "But some of my associates are compassionate people. They feel that if your father murdered your mother, then you had some justification for your actions." This was a lie as well. "I don't agree with them, but I'm not prepared to go against their sentiments in this instance. Just yet."

With his eyes still closed, Lionel said, "You can't prove anything. I have never committed a crime."

The mansion was undoubtedly lousy with listening devices. "You conspired with Morgan Edge to commit arson. The owner of the building paid you from the insurance money. You deliberately got everyone out of the building except your low-life, murdering father. I may not be able to prove it, or any of your other crimes, beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, but I don't need to." Lex couldn't stop himself from swallowing nervously, but Lionel didn't see. "I only have to be able to prove it to Lana."

Lionel's eyes snapped open, and he surged up from the couch. Lex quickly stood and got clear of his chair, giving himself room to maneuver. Lionel glared at him silently. Lex desperately tried to hold onto his cool.

"I am not the only person with this information. For once, I have people on my side, and not only the ones you think you know about. If you threaten my friends or hurt them, or if you hurt me, the evidence all goes straight to Lana. You can fire me, or disinherit me, or both. That's not important. But if you lock me up again, or if I unexpectedly die in a goddam car crash, your wedded bliss goes up in smoke."

Lex made it to the door, keeping his eyes on his father the whole way. He grabbed the bag he'd left on the floor there, and fled.

"You're in for a windfall," Chloe told Lex as she came up the steps to Clark's loft.

"How's that?" Lex asked, idly stroking Clark's hair. Lex had his laptop out, but he wasn't really working on LuthorCorp business. He hadn't been fired yet, but he thought it was probably coming any minute, and didn't see much point in putting in a lot of effort. Besides, how could he, when Clark was sitting on the floor with his back to the sofa and his head at Lex's knee, sticking his tongue out in concentration as he worked on an American History essay, and looking so adorable?

Chloe dumped her huge bag onto Clark's desk, and took a seat. "Lana told your dad that she hates the very idea of a pre-nup -- It's just like planning the divorce in advance! -- but that she understands if he feels he has to provide for the children he already has."

Lex was impressed by Chloe's spot-on Lana impersonation, complete with earnest head-bob.

"The lawyers are setting up Lucas's trust fund today, and you're getting twenty million outright, and Plant Number Three."

Lex snorted. "Yeah, that'll be the day."

There was the sound of someone coming up the stairs. Clark got up and stood between Lex and the entry to the loft. A man with a shoulder-bag and a clipboard came in.

"Is there an Alexander J. Luthor here?" the man asked.

Lex got up from the couch and went to stand next to Clark. "I'm Lex Luthor."

"Not an easy man to find. Delivery for ya. Can I see some ID?"

Lex showed him a driver's license and signed for a thick manila envelope. He waited until the man had gone before opening it. "Jeez," he breathed.

"Toldja!" Chloe crowed.

"They don't look like any money I ever saw," Clark put in.

"Bearer bonds. And the deed to the plant. Wow." Lex sank down onto the sofa again and examined the papers more closely. Thirty million and Plant Number Three -- he needed to hire Gabe back. "What, is he dying?"

"That's just what I said! Lana said not, definitely not, and from the look on her face when she told me, I think they Did It."

Ew. "Lana and my dad. I don't want to think about that."

"Oh, no!" Clark cried, sitting down next to Lex (the couch quaked under his weight -- maybe that was why he usually sat on the floor) and putting his head in his hands. "Now they have to get married!"

Chloe and Lex traded identical looks of fond disbelief over Clark's bowed head.

"Some wedding, huh?"

"That's some dress."

"It's a hideous color."

"I wasn't talkin' about the color. More the, you know...." Pete gestured with both hands. Luckily Chloe didn't see him.

"She picked it 'cause it reminded her of her parents. Meteor-rock green."

Chloe and Pete, seated on a sofa in the Talon, both took another drink. The leftover champagne was the big reason they'd volunteered to clean up after the reception.

"I sure wish I could've talked her out of it."

"Huh?" Pete said, dragging his gaze up from the upper edge of the green dress. Fortunately, Chloe was pouring champagne, and it took most of her attention.

"Lana. Married the devil today. Poor Lana." Chloe had another drink.

Pete snorted champagne out his nose. There was a short interval in the conversation.

When he could speak again, Pete said, "I've known Lana since we were babies. If anybody can handle Old Bastard Luthor, it's her. And how weird is it that she made Clark give her away? Henry Small lives right here in town."

"How weird is it that Lex was his dad's Best Man?"

"What does it say about a ceremony..."

"A solemn, civil, ceremony -- your Mom did a great job..."

"Yeah, that Clark and Lex waltzing..."

"In matching tuxedoes," Chloe put in.

"That Clark and Lex, waltzing, in matching tuxedoes, at the reception is only, like, the third weirdest thing about it?"

"Maybe fourth."

"Or even fifth."

They drank some more.

"What do you suppose -- Do you suppose it means anything, that Clark was leading?" Chloe wondered.

"I don't want to think about it."

"Good idea."

They had another drink, looked at the mess, and drank some more. The Talon wasn't going to re-open until Monday anyhow.

"You know," Pete said, "I always kinda figured I'd end up with Lana."

"Huh. I always figured I'd end up with Clark."

"Damn those Luthors."


They clinked glasses, then had another drink.

"You wanna make out?"

"Yeah, okay."



Lionel and Lana were very happy together. He took her with him all over the world, and they never went back to Smallville. She gave him four daughters in six years. The girls were the joy of his life and the bane of his existence. Each and every one of them could twist him around her little finger with a look. Lionel had thought that Lex's teenage years had been bad (and they had!) but that was nothing compared to the year that Laci, Lena, Letitia and Lenore were nineteen, seventeen, fifteen and thirteen respectively. It was a wonder he survived, but he did, and a few years after that they started giving him grandchildren, which made absolutely everything worthwhile.

Lex and Clark got married right after Clark's graduation from Met U. (After all, they had to.) Clark Kent became a mild-mannered reporter for the Boston Globe, and Lex concentrated on LexCorp International for a few years before diving into East Coast politics. By the time Superman had saved the world four times, Lex was Governor of Massachusetts, and Clark and his driven high-strung partner, Rory Gilmore, had won a Pulitzer.

Chloe got one of those, too, unexpectedly, when she and her cousin Lois, working for different papers and from completely different angles, combined to uncover an actual alien plot to take over the world. Superman saved them, and saved the world (his second time, although nobody really knew about the first one), and the Sullivan-Lane team shared the prize.

Pete went back to Smallville after college, worked for the town government in various capacities, and ended up becoming Mayor. Eventually he went on to the Kansas State Legislature, and then after a while he ran for Governor of Kansas and won. During the huge catastrophe involved in Superman's saving the world for the fourth time, he met up with Lex and Chloe again, for the first time in years. Once all the panic died down (and Clark showed up again, glasses and aw-shucks mannerisms firmly back in place), the Smallville four realized they were still friends. Lex and Pete decided that if either of them ever decided to run for President, the other could be Vice. Pete and Chloe decided they should see a lot more of each other, since they both officially still lived in Kansas. Eventually they got married, too.

And they all lived happily ever after.

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