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First Day of Christmas
*************************

It was Christmas Eve, and it was snowing in Metropolis. The city was quiet, muffled by the falling snow. As he flew on his patrols, Superman felt like a figure in a snow globe.

The quiet seemed to have seeped into the city's inhabitants, as well. He'd broken up a few brawls, caught someone stealing a car once or twice, but otherwise....

Otherwise, Superman was beginning to feel like a superfluous figure in a snow globe. A red and blue blur, flying over the heads of the peaceful skating teddy bears on the rink below. It seemed that tonight, for the most part, the denizens of Metropolis were all at home in their beds, dreaming of sugar plums. Maybe he should just go home?

And then he saw it. The roof of LexCorp Towers was all lit up with Christmas lights. And strangest of all, Lex Luthor was standing there, in a white suit, at midnight, gazing at a tree. It was not, however, a Christmas Tree. This was suspicious, thought Superman, as he planed down to investigate. He landed on the roof, and Luthor looked up and smiled.

'What is that, Luthor?' asked Superman.

'It's quite harmless, I assure you,' said Lex Luthor. 'If you've dropped in so unannounced to destroy it, you'll be embarrassed when it simply shatters into a million defenceless pieces.'

'What is it?' asked Superman, rather more firmly than the first time.

'What does it look like?' asked Luthor. 'No, really, humour me, Superman. What does it look like to you? I thought the artist had done a good job of reproducing my designs, but clearly I was wrong, if you can stand there and....'

'It looks like a pear tree,' said Superman.

'Wow!' said Lex Luthor. 'Got it in one. I'll give the artist a Christmas bonus.'

'And I suppose the bird in the tree is a partridge?'

'Not a real partridge,' said Lex Luthor, in a confiding tone of voice. 'Real partridges are messy, and tend to fly away when startled. If it had been a real partridge, it would be long gone by now. One look at you....'

'Why?'

Luthor didn't pretend to misunderstand him. 'It's Christmas,' he said. 'Christmas Day now, to be precise. The first day of Christmas, as of five minutes ago.'

'A Partridge in a Pear Tree,' said Superman.

'Yes. You've heard the song, even if you are from a distant planet that blew up. The tree is actually a real pear tree. The pears, however, are artificial, because pear trees don't bear fruit in the dead of winter.'

'Why?' asked Superman.

'Why, why, why! Are you two years old?' asked Lex Luthor. 'That would explain a lot, come to think of it. Pear trees don't bear fruit in winter because it's too cold.'

'No, I mean why the pear tree and the partridge? What are you up to, Luthor?'

'I'm up to celebrating Christmas, Superman. Is that so hard to understand?'

'When it's you, Luthor....'

'Call me Lex.'

'I think you're up to something more than putting up a few Christmas decorations,' Superman finished. He scanned the partridge and pear tree carefully, but could see nothing dangerous. The rest of the LexCorp rooftop seemed innocuous, as well. And there stood Lex Luthor, smiling benignly.

'I'll be watching you, Luthor,' Superman boomed, in his best Superman voice. He rose up from the rooftop, his red cape flowing behind him.

'Goodbye, Superman,' Luthor called out after him.

Then he seemed to murmur, 'My love,' but he must have been speaking to someone else, or perhaps Superman's hearing was impaired by all the falling snow.

 

 

Second Day of Christmas
*****************************

'I tell you, Kent,' said Police Sergeant Ramona Marksman. 'This city is boring, today. Too few robberies and holdups. Not enough slashings and assaults and batteries.'

'Yesterday was Christmas Day,' Clark Kent pointed out.

'I know that,' said Ramona. 'But this is the day after. Things should be back to normal.'

'Everyone is blissed out on turkey and eggnog. Even the criminal element. They're all too lazy to hold up banks and slash their rivals in organized crime. Wait until tomorrow. Things will be back to normal then, I'm sure.'

'I hope so, Kent, or I'll be out of a job. And you should be worried too, that you won't have any crimes to report.'

Clark Kent zipped into an alley, and changed into Superman. He didn't trust that the calming effects of turkey and eggnog would last much longer. But some hours later, he was forced to admit that the Sergeant was right: Metropolis had indeed become boring. He had rescued a cat from a tree, and talked someone out of jumping off a bridge. He caught a gang of teenage girls stealing hubcaps. Other than that, nothing was happening in the city -- except the falling snow. Superman could almost hear the tinkly, jingly music playing in his ears.

I'm not a Superhero any longer, he thought. I'm just a Super Snow Globe figurine. He checked around one last time for kittens stuck in trees, and then headed for LexCorp Tower. Perhaps Luthor was up to something nefarious? It was almost midnight.

The roof of the tower was lit up, just like the night before. The Partridge in a Pear Tree was still there, and still innocuous. The partridge had been moved to another branch on the pear tree, though, and Superman wondered why.

Just then, the door to the rooftop opened, and Mercy Graves stepped out. She nodded to Superman, then lifted her gun and pointed it at him. 'It's loaded with Kryptonite bullets,' she said. 'Behave yourself.'

'Mercy, Mercy. It's Christmas time. The second day of Christmas, to be exact.' Lex Luthor left the elevator, and stood beside his bodyguard. He was wearing a white suit, with a long black coat draped over his shoulders. 'Superman is just here to admire our display. Right, Superman?'

'The partridge has been moved,' Superman pointed out.

'Amazing powers of observation you have,' said Luthor. 'Kryptonians must be the greatest detectives in the universe.'

Mercy sneered.

'I thought moving the partridge around gave it a certain air of verisimilitude,' Luthor went on. 'Real partridges don't sit in the same spot all the time. Could you move over a few feet, Superman? You're standing right where I planned to put the next element in the display. Thanks. You can come out now, people.'

Several of Luthor's minions wheeled out a large cage. It was gilded with gold -- real gold, Superman's quick scan revealed to him -- and draped with red velvet. 'Just put it there,' said Luthor. His minions wheeled the cage and placed it beside the pear tree. 'Thank you, people, and you can go now. You too, Mercy.'

'But, Boss!'

'No, no. I'll be fine. Superman has no reason to attack me, and he never attacks without reason. Do you, Superman?'

'Certainly not,' said Superman.

'Unless there's Red Kryptonite around,' sneered Mercy. 'Or he's in a bad mood.'

'That will be all, Mercy,' said Lex Luthor. 'You can go now.'

Mercy gave Superman one last long, cold stare, then headed for the elevator. 'Touch him, and you're dead,' she tossed over her shoulder. 'Superman or not.'

'Well,' said Luthor. 'What do you think?'

'Nice cage,' said Superman. 'What's inside it?'

'Like you didn't scan it already,' said Luthor.

'Humour me,' said Superman.

Luthor pulled back the velvet draperies to reveal the inhabitants of the cage. 'Two Turtledoves,' he announced. 'And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.'

'Those are real doves,' said Superman.

'Yes, but it's a large cage, and they're quite happy in it. They're not suffering, I assure you. No live animals will be harmed, in this production.'

Superman scanned the roof one last time. Everything still seemed... innocuous. 'Well, I'll still be keeping an eye on you, Luthor,' he boomed, and rose from the rooftop, his cape flowing behind him.

'Goodbye, Superman,' Lex Luthor called after him. 'My dear.' And this time, Superman was sure those were Luthor's very words, and that was strange and annoying.

 

 

Third Day of Christmas
**************************

 

'You know something, CK?'

'One or two things, Jimmy.'

'Then maybe you know why things are so cool in the city these last few days? It's like... a whole different place. I mean, the crime rate is really down.'

'Some people seem to think it's a worse place,' said Clark.

'A worse place? What! You don't subscribe to that theory, do you?'

'No. No, of course not.' said Clark.

'Good. Things are so peaceful here, now. The emergency wards in the hospitals are no longer death traps, because the staff has the time to deal with everyone. The jails aren't overcrowded to bursting. Old people aren't scared to go out of doors at night. Which is good, because Lex Luthor is giving a big party in LexCorp Square tonight. Free admission to everyone. Party favours. Free food. A big free Christmas concert. Are you going?'

'I... I don't know, Jimmy. I hadn't heard about this. Guess I've been too busy.'

'Well, I'm going,' said Jimmy. 'Perry wants me to take pictures for the paper, but I was going anyway. You should go, too.'

'Maybe I should,' said Clark. 'What's Luthor up to now?' he muttered, as Jimmy walked away.

'Giving a party for Metropolis,' said Lois Lane, coming up behind Clark. 'Hadn't you heard?'

'Yeah, Jimmy just told me all about it,' said Clark.

'Well, I'm going,' said Lois. 'Perry wants me to cover it for the paper.'

'What? Since when are you the society reporter?'

'Oh, he's got Cat covering the story, too. But he wants me to write up the party from a different angle. From a sociological viewpoint. You should come, too.'

'Why didn't Perry tell me to cover it for the paper?' asked Clark, as Lois walked away.

'Because you hate Lex Luthor,' said Perry White, coming up behind Clark. 'Your story would just be negative, and this is the Christmas Season. We need happy stories to cheer people up, with the economy the way it is.'

'I don't hate Lex Luthor,' said Clark. 'I just know what he really is.'

'And what's that?' asked Perry.

'Well, he's a liar, for a start, and he....'

'Do you have evidence to back that statement?' asked Perry. 'Evidence that would hold up in a court of law?'

'Well....'

'Because I don't want the Daily Planet to face libel charges. Got that?'

'Yes, sir,' said Clark. 'I was just stating an opinion.'

'And that's fine. We're all entitled to our opinions, son. But, as journalists, we have to back up our opinions with hard facts. Lex Luthor has done a lot for this city. We may question his motives. We may question the long-term affects of his benevolence. But to call him names, like "liar", without hard evidence to support that, is unacceptable. We all tell lies on occasion. Can you claim you have never lied? Can you?'

'No, sir.'

'Well, how would you feel if someone called you a liar? A liar is someone who lies constantly, to everyone. A liar is someone who misrepresents themselves constantly to the world, to protect their own interests, or for other reasons of their own.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Why don't you attend Luthor's party tonight? I'm not giving you an assignment, but maybe an idea for a free-lance story might come to you.'

'Yes, sir.'

'That's what I like to hear, Kent. Optimism. Positive thinking. Keep it up.'

'Yes, sir.'

*******************

Lexcorp Square was filled to bursting, and the party had moved out to the surrounding streets, by the time Lois, Jimmy and Clark arrived.

'I want my party favour,' said Jimmy, like a little kid at a birthday party. 'There! They're handing them out over there. Come on, guys.'

'Okay,' said Lois. 'What's the sociological significance of party favours? Clark? Jimmy?'

'Luthor thinks of himself as a lord of the manor,' said Clark. 'It's all about noblesse oblige.. Or he's trying to buy the love of the people.'

'Or maybe he just likes giving people presents,' said Jimmy. 'I'm going to get my share, even if it is just a tinsel party hat.'

They all got in line, at one of the favour tables. Clark wondered how many favours could be left by this time, but as they moved up the line, he could see that everyone was still receiving a present, and the parcels weren't the tiny, cheap-looking ones he'd imagined. Trust Lex, he thought, to overdo everything.

'Here you are, sir,' said the LexCorp minion behind the table, as he handed Clark a small, square box, wrapped in red paper. 'Enjoy the party.'

'Thanks,' said Clark, automatically.

'Oh, wow! Look! I got a small digital camera,' said Jimmy. 'A miniature one.'

'It probably doesn't work,' said Clark. 'It's just for show.'

'No. No, it works,' said Jimmy. 'There's a manual, and everything. Cool.'

'I got a fountain pen,' said Lois. 'It works. Comes with a bottle of ink, too. What about you, Clark? Open yours. Come on. Open it.'

Clark peeled off the wrapping paper, just to shut Lois up, though he already knew what was inside.

'It's a snow globe,' said Lois. 'It's beautiful. Look. There's a miniature city scape inside. Wow! That's a work of art you have there, Kent.'

'Yeah,' said Clark. 'A work of art.'

***************

The roof of LexCorp Tower was lit up. Midnight struck. The elevator door opened, and Mercy stalked out, hand on her holster.

'I'm over here,' said Superman. 'You can all come out, now.'

'Welcome, Superman,' said Luthor, leaving the elevator, and joining Clark and Mercy on the roof. He turned and waved to his staff to join them. Several of his minions wheeled out a very large cage. This cage was not as ornate as the one the turtledoves were currently occupying. It resembled a hen house.

'Three French Hens,' said Luthor. 'Two Turtledoves. And a Partridge in a Pear Tree.' He smiled at everyone, benevolently.

'Yes,' said Superman. 'I'll be going now. See you tomorrow night.'

'It's a date,' said Luthor. 'Goodbye, Superman,' he called out, as Superman rose from the rooftop. 'My sweet.'

'Gah!' said Superman, as he flew out of sight.

'Merry Christmas to you, too,' Luthor called after him.

 

Fourth Day of Christmas
***************************

 

'I understand why you're upset, dear,' said Martha Kent.

'I'm not upset, Mom. I just can't figure out what Lex is up to. If I knew why he's doing this....'

'It's something that worried your father and me. It worried us a lot, that Lex would lure you into that lifestyle. We were relieved when he married... whatever her name was.'

'Desiree?' asked Clark, with loathing in his voice.

'Yes. And then she tried to kill him -- but at least she was a woman. And then he married Helen.'

'And then she tried to kill him. But at least she was a woman.'

'And then you got together with Lana, but you broke up, and we worried again. But then Lex married Lana. And she tried to kill him and stole his money, but he deserved it, after all. But at least she was a woman. And then you got together with Lana, again, and broke up, again.'

'Mom? Where are we going with this conversation?'

'You should stay away from Lex, dear. Why are you back to watching him? Don't you have better things to do? He's dangerous. I mean, look at his lifestyle. All those evil women who try to kill him. Why do you want to get involved with that kind of thing?'

'I don't. I don't want to kill him. I did want to kill him in the past, but I don't any more.'

'Of course you don't want to kill him, dear. You're not gay. You just haven't met the right woman, yet. Why don't you give Lana a call?'

'Lana? Lana's busy,' said Clark.

'I'm sure she'd make time for you,' said Martha.

'And what?' said Clark. 'Give me a pity... um, sorry, save me from the dreaded gay lifestyle?'

'You're not gay, dear. Lex is trying to confuse you, that's all.'

'I just haven't met the right woman, yet,' said Clark.

'Why don't you give Chloe a call?'

'Chloe hasn't spoken to me, in years,' said Clark. And I don't blame her, he thought.

'How about Lois?'

'Mom. I gotta go, okay? Talk to you later. Bye.'

************

It was after two in the morning before Superman let himself fly over LexCorp Tower. The rooftop was dark, but not quite deserted. As Clark landed gently on the roof, a bullet whizzed by his head.

'I missed on purpose,' said Mercy Graves. 'And I didn't waste a Kryptonite bullet on that. Mister Luthor forbade me to kill you.'

'I see,' said Superman.

'He waited here almost two hours for you.'

'I didn't know it was that important to him,' said Superman.

'I'd kill any man who stood me up like that,' Mercy went on, as if Superman hadn't spoken. 'But Mister Luthor forgives you, every time you hurt him. He must really love you. Unless it's weakness -- but I've never known him to show weakness, so it must be love. It's hard to tell them apart.'

'I was busy,' said Superman.

'Busy doing what? There's no crime in the city. There were no big disasters in the world, at midnight. I checked.'

'Someone was stuck in an elevator,' said Superman. 'Really. I'm not making that up.'

'Mister Luthor will believe you,' said Mercy, in a condemnatory tone of voice, after a long silence that spoke volumes.

'Luthor is coming up on the elevator,' said Superman.

'I know,' said Mercy. 'Other people have good hearing, too. You should leave.'

'No. I should talk to him.'

'What makes you think he wants to talk to you?'

The elevator door opened, and Lex stepped out. He was wearing a dark gray Armani suit, with a lavender silk shirt, and a red tie. 'Mercy? You still up here? Who are you talking.... Oh, hello, Superman.'

'I'm sorry I was late. I was busy.'

'Were you late? I didn't notice. Are you coming in, Mercy? There's something I want you to do for me.'

'Sure, Boss.'

'Luthor? Did you set up the four calling birds, yet?' Superman hadn't scanned the rooftop this time, not wanting to spoil the surprise. But there was a new cage beside the hen house. The occupants seemed to be asleep.

'Yes, they're here,' said Luthor. 'It's late, though, and I think they've gone to sleep. I'm going to sleep soon, too. Night, Superman.'

'Luthor? Lex....' But the elevator door had closed, and Lex didn't seem to hear him.

 

Fifth Day of Christmas
**************************

 

It was the dead of winter, and Clark had to wake up long before dawn, in order to make it to work on time. Darkness always depleted his energy, and he told himself that was why he felt a bit down this morning.

It was still snowing, and his clunky old car got caught in snow drifts twice. It was frustrating not to be able to use his powers to fly to work, or even just to speed up the process of clearing the roads. He did melt some of the snow around his tires, once or twice, and that helped a little, but Metropolis was one big slushy this morning. He told himself that's why he was feeling a bit impatient.

He couldn't deal with crowded elevators at the Daily Planet, so he speeded up the stairs instead, and got to his desk a few minutes early. He took the small red box out of his coat pocket, and opened it. Then he sat and studied the snow globe, really looking at it for the first time. It was, he now saw, a true miniature city, and he recognized the city scape. He held in his hands a tiny version of Metropolis.

Metropolis was dark, and deserted, and looked sad, he thought. He shook the globe, and the city came alive. Snow danced everywhere, and tiny people danced in the snow.

'Kent! Kent? Wake up.'

'Hi, Lois. I'm awake. What's up?'

'Not you, obviously. You're just sitting there playing with your Christmas presents.'

'No, no. I've only been doing it for... ten minutes? Ten minutes! Sorry. But it's fascinating. The way the little people....'

'You're nuts, Kent. But I already knew that. Now, let's get to work, partner, before Perry finds out he hired a certifiable lunatic.'

'Sure, Lois,' said Clark Kent.

****************

'May I speak to Clark Kent, please? Oh! Hi, Clark. I didn't recognize your voice. You sound different at work. Your mom called me. Said you were all upset about Lex Luthor. Listen, Clark. We know what he is, okay? Don't let him fool you. He does that. He does nice things for people. Appears suddenly out of nowhere, offering help. But it's all a scam. He's really out for himself. We decided that, remember? He was always doing nice things for me, and look what it got me?'

'Ten million dollars?'

'Well, yes, but I earned it. Remember that time you dumped me? I went to Lex, and he was all nice and supportive, and he let me talk and said we should wait until I was sure, and he let me make the first move. It was all a plot. I know that now. I told him that at least he was more honest than you, so I'd settle for him, and he jumped at the chance. See? That was in his mind all along. Then I thought I was pregnant, and he asked me to marry him, but that was a trick. It was horrible what he did to me. I earned that ten million dollars.'

'Okay.'

'And then I found out what you really were, and I was going to dump Lex, and run off with you, but Lionel stopped me. He made me realize what a chance I had, to spy on Lex. To protect you. I did it all for you, Clark. All my sufferings were for you. Where would you be now, if I hadn't spied on Lex for you?'

'I don't know.'

'There. See? Just remember all these things, if Lex starts tempting you with his wealth and power. I was tempted, and I fell, but I picked myself up again, and moved on. And Clark? If you feel lonely later, you can drop by. Clark? Clark? Where'd you go? Clark?'

*****************

At 11:30 PM, Superman walked through the front door of LexCorp Tower, and asked to speak to Lex Luthor.

Lex was supervising the preparations for the Fifth Day of Christmas. 'Five Gold Rings,' he said.

'Five rather large gold rings,' said Superman.

'I know. They're a bit cheesy looking, don't you think? But five real gold rings wouldn't show up very well, and they'd be easy to rip off. So, I settled for these.'

"These" were five gold plated, interlocking Olympic rings.

'Be careful,' said Clark. 'The International Olympic Committee might sue you.'

'I'd like to see them try,' said Lex.

'Would you like me to give you a hand setting them up?'

'I'd be honoured,' said Lex.

The snow swirled around the rooftop of LexCorp Tower, and far below in the streets, tiny people danced.

 

Sixth Day of Christmas
*************************

 

When Clark got home from work the next day, there was someone waiting for him. Lounging on his couch, shoes off, shirt unbuttoned....

'What are you doing here?' asked Clark.

'A child could pick that lock,' his visitor answered.

'That's not what I asked.'

'Clark, Clark. Lana told me all about it I knew there was a reason you wouldn't let me kill Lex. You've got a thing for him, don't you?'

'A thing?'

'If you want a sugar daddy, I'm nearly as rich as he is.'

'No thanks,' said Clark.

'What's he got that I don't have? Not much, that I can see. I'm smarter, and better looking, and I'm trying to save the world. And I've got hair, too.'

'You're not my type.'

'What is your type? Psychopathic murderers?'

'If that were the case, you'd certainly qualify,' said Clark.

'So what are you waiting for?' His visitor flung his arms wide, giving Clark a big grin, as if Clark had been joking.

'I told you, you're not my type,' said Clark. 'I'm not interested.'

'You've never forgiven me for trying to kill him, have you? But I did it for you. I was protecting you. If you'd let me kill him for good, we'd be free of him, now.'

'No,' said Clark. 'If you'd killed him, I'd never be free of him. He'd haunt me forever, and I'd hate you for that. So, consider yourself lucky that was a mannequin you shot in the back of the head, and don't bang the door on your way out.'

'You're making a big mistake. How many people have to warn you about Lex Luthor, before you take them seriously?'

'Oh, I take them seriously,' said Clark. 'I've just started to wonder about their motives.'

'What does it matter what their motives are? If everyone tells you Lex Luthor is dangerous, it must be true. He's dangerous. And he knows your secret. Even if he hasn't acted on that knowledge, he still possesses it.'

'Everyone used to say the Earth was flat,' said Clark. 'But it's not. All those people weren't lying, they just lacked knowledge of the whole picture. I already know Lex is dangerous, but I'm the strongest being on this planet. I can handle him.'

'Well,' said his visitor. 'It's your funeral.'

 

************

'It's getting a bit crowded up here on the roof,' said Superman.

'And a bit noisy,' said Lex. 'If the geese really were laying, it would soon be even noisier and even more crowded.'

'Lana called me on the phone, yesterday,' said Superman.

'That's nice,' said Lex. 'I haven't spoken to her for a while.'

'And Oliver Queen came to see me today.'

'I haven't seen Oliver for a while.... There! That's the last goose settled. Six Geese A-laying. Hope they behave.'

'Did you ever see that cartoon? The goose looking for her lost egg, called Ralph Pierre?'

'Can't say that I have,' said Lex.

'Didn't you watch Saturday morning cartoons when you were a kid.'

'Undoubtedly I had a deprived childhood.'

'There's this mother goose, you see. And she's counting off her babies... her goslings... as they march to the nest. And the smallest one is missing. Ralph Pierre. He's only half-hatched, too. So, she goes looking for him. Searching through the wilderness, through all kinds of weather,.endlessly calling, "Ralph Pierre! Ralph Pierre!" Until she finds him.'

Lex stared at him in silence for a long moment. Then he said, 'Clark. Your parents would have searched for you if you'd gone missing. You were the most important thing in all the world, to them. To all of them. You're not a little lost gosling. You never were.'

'Is that what you think... Did I act that way, sometimes? But I learned that I didn't belong here. That I never had, and never would. I'm different from everyone.'

'Lots of people feel that way, Clark. I did. I still do. It's one reason we became friends, because we shared that feeling of being alone. But you mostly took, and rarely gave.'

'Let's not argue, Lex. It's the Holidays.'

'I'm not arguing,' said Lex. 'I'm explaining. It's a human characteristic.'

Clark was about to argue back, but one of the geese started to honk, and then another and another. The calling birds -- all four of them, began to call. The French hens screamed. Even the turtledoves got into the act.

Only the partridge was silent, sitting on her pear tree.

 

Seventh Day of Christmas
*****************************

 

Clark awoke from dreams of miniature cities preserved in bottles, of geese dancing down snowy streets, of Green Arrow shooting him in the ass. Of Lex Luthor giving him a gold ring for his left hand.... But that last part was crazy, thought Clark as his internal alarm told him it was time to rise and shine.

************

'Lois? Did you go through my desk drawers?'

'Why would I do that?' asked Lois. 'And why would you care? You keep your Playboy magazines in there?'

'No. I don't read Playboy.'

'Hustler?'

'Nope.'

'Playgirl?'

'Lois, if you didn't go through my desk, who did? I don't keep porn in it, but I still don't like people rifling through my things.'

'Maybe it was your little friend who dropped by,' said Cat Grant, the society reporter. 'Whats'ername. You know. Lois's cousin....'

'Chloe? She was here?' asked Lois.

'Yes. She said she was looking for you, and I said you'd be back soon, but then a few minutes later, she was gone.'

'Why would she go through Clark's desk?'

'Maybe she just wants inside his drawers?' said Cat, with a leer.

'That's a terrible joke,' said Lois.

'It's not a joke at all,' said Cat.

'Actually,.she hates me,' said Clark. 'Has for years.'

'Sure she does,' said Cat. 'Bye bye.' And she vamped off down the room, her long hair flowing behind her.

************

There was someone waiting for him at home again, but this one wasn't sprawled on his couch. She was going through his kitchen drawers. Most of his books had been tossed on the floor.

'Chloe? What are you doing here?'

'Where is it!' Chloe demanded. 'Where is it, Clark?'

'Where is what? Chloe, what are you doing?'

Chloe put her hand in her pocket, and drew out a lead box. She opened it before Clark could react, and he felt the first painful waves of Kryptonite poisoning.

'Chloe! Put that away. What are you doing?'

'Luthor has you under his control. Lana and Oliver told me all about it. You went to his party, and were given a red box with a snow globe inside. I bet the globe is a mind control device. Where is it?'

'Nowhere. I threw it out.'

'You're lying,' said Chloe. Her face was cold and hard. She moved closer to him, and Clark couldn't help crying out with the pain.

The door burst open and a tall Black woman leapt in. She grabbed Chloe and tossed her across the room. She bent and picked up the Kryptonite and put it back in the box. She put the box in her pocket. 'Mister Luthor collects this stuff,' she explained.

'I knew it,' said Chloe, picking herself up off the floor. 'I knew Luthor was controlling Clark.'

'He's not controlling me,' said Clark. 'The snow globe is just a snow globe. But he seems to be spying on me. What are you doing here, Hope?'

'Mister Luthor is neither controlling you, nor is he spying on you. He couldn't care less what you eat for breakfast, how many dirty dishes you have in the sink, or what porn you jerk off to. But he was concerned about the call from Lana Lang, and the visit from Oliver Queen. So he had me keep an eye on you, from a distance. I saw Ms. Sullivan enter your apartment in your absence. I waited to see what you would do. Then, I heard you call out. Do you have more Kryptonite upon your person, Ms. Sullivan?'

'Hey! Take your hands off me, you bitch.'

'Hope. Leave her alone. She's an old friend of mine.'

'No, I'm not. I'm an old enemy, Clark Kent. When you raped my mind, our friendship ended.'

'Chloe, I'm sorry. I wish I'd done things differently.'

'Well, you didn't. And we're not friends, got that? But that doesn't mean I'm going to let Lex Luthor control you, because that's dangerous.'

'Ms. Sullivan, Mister Luthor is not controlling Mister Kent. Since you don't have more Kryptonite, I'll leave you to argue that out in private. Good Evening.'

And she left them staring at each other in the darkened room.

*************

'It's getting a bit crowded on your rooftop,' said Clark. 'Where are you going to keep seven swimming swans?'

'Well, I'm not,' said Lex. 'I wanted to, but swans are too big and too wild. But I did find a pair of swans that were injured and can't fly. I'm borrowing them from the Wildlife Rescue Institute, just for a few days. And I had a large cage built, with a pond for them to swim in.'

'Whew! That's a relief,' said Clark. 'Won't the geese be jealous, though?'

'They'll just have to deal,' said Lex. 'Do you have any lore about swans, garnered from Saturday morning cartoons?'

'Not that I can remember,' said Clark. 'But there are fairy tales, of course.'

'The Ugly Duckling,' said Lex. A couple of his staff members wheeled in the big swan cage, and Clark helped them push it to the elevator. 'We can take it from here,' Lex told them. 'Hope told me what happened,' he went on, once they were alone in the elevator. 'I didn't expect you to show up, tonight.'

'Why not?' asked Clark. 'That wasn't your fault. And I don't blame Chloe for being angry at me. I was wrong, but I wish she'd forgive me.'

'Forgiveness is a difficult thing,' said Lex. 'Not all of us find it as easy as the Ugly Duckling did. He was abused all through his childhood, and he didn't hate anyone back, and he grew up to be beautiful and pure. But some of us don't. Someone attacked these swans, you know. That's how they were hurt. Someone took a knife to them. How could anyone do that?'

The elevator door opened and Clark pushed the cage over to the new pool. 'You had this built today?' he asked.

'My staff is very efficient,' said Lex. He opened the cage door. 'Here you go,' he said. 'Your new home.'

The swans looked at him with their amazing eyes. One of them bowed his long, graceful neck, and stepped out into the new enclosure. The other followed. A few moments later, they were swimming, under the midnight stars.

 

Eighth Day of Christmas
***************************

The party was in full swing in LexCorp Square. Both Clark Kent and Superman had received invitations to Lex's private pavilion, which created a problem in logistics. Clark had shown up as Clark. Lex asked, 'Are you wearing your Superman costume under the suit?' and at Clark's affirmative reply, he had smiled and looked away, but Clark caught a glint in his eye that made him wonder if his dreams of late were so crazy after all.

'Hope and Mercy know your secret identity,' Lex had told him the other day. 'They're sworn to secrecy, and I trust them implicitly, but they had to know. You were trying to kill me.'

'I would never have killed you,' Clark had told him, and Lex had raised a disbelieving eyebrow. 'I'm not trying to kill you now,' Clark had amended, and Lex had smiled.

Lex's private pavilion was not much bigger or more elaborate than the others which decorated the Square, but security was tighter here. 'Mercy thinks someone is trying to kill me,' said Lex. 'But she always thinks someone is trying to kill me. I tell her that we have to live life as if we're going to live forever -- and as if someone will kill us tonight.'

'That's a very Luthor way of thinking,' said Clark.

'I am a Luthor,' said Lex Luthor. 'I stopped being ashamed of it long ago.'

'One minute to midnight!' someone announced.

'Let's go outside,' said Lex. Lex was bubbling with excitement tonight, thought Clark. He hadn't seen this boyishness in his old friend for a long time. He wondered if he'd had something to do with that -- but what was the point of going back over ancient history.

Except that it was New Year's Eve.

'30, 29, 28, 27....'

'We should get nearer the stage,' said Lex.

'Don't get lost in the crowd,' said Mercy. 'I can't keep an eye on you there.'

'Clark is with me,' said Lex. Then he turned to Clark. 'You are, aren't you?' he asked, suddenly unsure of himself. 'With me, I mean?'

That uncertainty hurt Clark, as he had never expected it to do. At first he had admired Lex's self-assurance, believing in it implicitly. Then he had resented it. Then hated it. When Lex's assurance was shaken, and his behaviour became erratic, he hated Lex even more.

But lately, Lex was different. More mature, and sure of himself in seemingly unshakable ways. Clark found he liked this new Lex Luthor, and wanted to preserve him.

'I'm with you,' he said. 'Don't worry.'

They ventured closer to the Main Stage.

'Ten seconds to Midnight,' the Announcer said. 'Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four...'

'Three. Two. ONE!' The crowd screamed along. 'Happy New Year!'

'Happy New Year, Clark,' said Lex.

'Happy New Year, Lex,' said Clark.

They both stared straight ahead, while almost everyone around them was hugging and kissing. The band on the Main Stage struck up a tune. The tenor, who had been singing arias from various operas all evening, and who possessed a wonderful operatic voice, according to Lex, started in:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne?

Everyone joined in the chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

The tenor went on singing in broad Scots:

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine ;
But we've wander'd mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.

Lex was singing along, too, and Clark thought he had a good voice. Clark himself ventured to join in the chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

Yes, many a sea between us, thought Clark, since old long since.

And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right gude-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.

Clark noticed that Lex's hand was venturing closer and closer to his own. Clark reached out, and took it, holding it tightly as they sang the final chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Fireworks were going off all over LexCorp Square, and whirling crazily up and down the Tower. People were still kissing and hugging and shouting Happy New Year. The band was playing the Auld Lang Syne chorus over and over. It was only through sheer luck that Clark noticed the pistol pointed at them -- at Lex. It had a silencer, he noticed. Mercy had seen it too, and her security team was moving in. But one bullet escaped the barrel of the gun before the team overcame the would-be-assassin and hustled him off. Clark turned to Lex, in that crucial instant, putting his back in the path of the bullet.

Lex was still happily singing Auld Lang Syne, clinging to Clark's hand. Clark sped him out of the crowd, and into the deserted pavilion.

'What's wrong?' asked Lex.

'Nothing,' Clark growled. He bent his head, and pressed his mouth against Lex's. For a moment, he thought Lex was going to resist. Then Lex pulled him closer, fiercely, possessively, lustfully. Lex's tongue was exploring Clark's mouth, and they were kissing and kissing....

'Boss? Are you okay?'

'Uh? Mercy? Yes, I'm fine. Why?'

Mercy was standing in the entrance to the pavilion. Clark shook his head at her over Lex's head. 'No!' he mouthed. 'We're fine,' he said out loud. Mercy looked rebellious, but gave in.

'Okay,' she said. 'I was worried when you disappeared.'

'Let's get back to the party,' said Lex. 'It's almost over.'

The band was playing something new. It sounded vaguely operatic. The chorus on stage was singing.

Ohè, là, le guardie!... Aprite!... Ohè, là!
Quelli di Gentilly!... Siam gli spazzini!...
Fiocca la neve... Ohè, là!... Qui s'agghiaccia!

'It's the opening of the third act of La Boheme,' said Lex.

'Why?' asked Clark.

'You'll see,' said Lex.

Eight young women dressed as milk maids were wending their way through the crowd. They had big milk pails slung over their shoulders, and kept reaching in to pull out handfuls of candy to toss to the children.

'Hopplà! Hopplà!' they sang.

'They're members of the Metropolis Opera Company chorus,' said Lex. 'I'm a patron.'

Hopplà! Hopplà!

The chorus on stage went on singing from La Boheme, but then the music segued into something else.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me: Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtledoves. And a partridge in a pear tree.

'The party will be going on as long as people want to stay,' said Lex. 'Do you want to stay? Clark?'

'No,' said Clark. 'Let's find someplace quieter.'

 

Ninth Day of Christmas
**************************

 

'Is this quiet enough for you?' asked Lex, sweeping out an arm to indicate the solitude of his penthouse at midnight.

'Later,' said Clark. 'Let's go up on the roof, for a moment.'

'You call that quiet? Last I heard, you were complaining about the noise, and said it rivalled that of the Metropolis Zoo. That you could hear it all the way to your apartment'

'It does,' said Clark. 'And I can. But I want to show you something.'

'Your wish is my command,' said Lex.

They took the elevator to the roof, and stepped out into the middle of Lex's aviary. 'They're only here for a few more days,' said Lex. 'Enjoy.'

'Thanks,' said Clark. 'I like the swans.'

'I like the turtledoves,' said Lex. 'Why are we here, again?'

'Do you see that star there? No, that one. That's my star. My planet circled that star. But my planet is dead and gone. I went back a couple of years ago, and it was a burnt out shell.'

'I remember,' said Lex. 'Superman disappeared, and the world held its breath, wondering what this event portended. So, that was where you went?'

'Did you miss me?' asked Clark.

Lex was silent for a long moment, staring at the star. Then he said, 'Not at first. At first I, too, wondered what your absence portended. I thought perhaps at last you had gone to join some sort of alien invasion, and would return, allies in tow, to conquer Earth. Tell me, Clark, on your journeying through space, did you see many habitable planets?'

'I wasn't looking for them,' said Clark. 'I was looking for my home. But this is the only home I have, now, and I would never help anyone to conquer it. I wouldn't rule it myself, either. I only want to live here, and protect it.'

'As do I. After a time, I realized that you weren't returning, and I thought you had found another home, or had died on the journey. And then I began to realize that I missed you.'

'I missed you long before then. I thought you were lost to me, long before then. I thought you would never accept me, once you knew what I was. I thought you would be afraid of me. And you were.'

'Afraid of you?' Lex considered this concept for a time. 'When I first suspected you might be from another planet, I was fascinated. I wanted to learn all about you. To study you.... Not... not on a lab table, Clark. What a concept! To take a unique being from another world, and to cut it open to see what makes it tick? I wanted to study you, like an Anthropologist might study another culture. I wanted to be your friend. But you didn't trust me. You hid yourself from me, and that made me fear you.'

'You needed to know me,' said Clark. 'You needed to understand me. Like I needed to know what had happened to my home world, no matter how dangerous the journey. I understand that, now. You were looking for your true home.'

'My true home?' Lex turned to Clark, and his face held its most supercilious expression. Clark wasn't impressed.

'My home is here,' said Clark, touching Lex's chest, over his heart. 'And this is your home.' He took Lex's hand, and held it over his own heart.

'But seas between us braid hae roar'd, sin auld lang syne,' Lex quoted. He drew back his hand from Clark's clasp, and stroked Clark's face gently, as if he could hurt it.

'Let's go inside,' said Clark.

'Yes,' said Lex.

******

'When I came back to Earth, I was surprised at the reputation you had built,' said Clark.

'Your friends don't believe in it,' said Lex.

'My friends think you're trying to control me. Chloe thinks the snow globe is a mind control device.'

'Snow globe?' asked Lex, blankly.

'When I went to your Christmas party, I got a snow globe as a party favour.'

'I don't remember giving out snow globes,' said Lex.

'I have it here in my pocket,' said Clark.

'Ah. That's what's in your pocket. And here I thought.... Oh. That's beautiful. But no, it's not from me. If it is a mind control device, it seems a bit random.'

'Where did it come from, then?' asked Clark.

'I don't care,' said Lex. 'Come here.'

Lex was wearing one of his beautiful Armani suits. Under the jacket he wore a deep lavender silk shirt. Under that, his skin was softer than the silk. His body was smooth and hairless. Clark's hands slid over the skin, searching for the depths and hollows where he could bury himself and feel safe. Searching for the peaks where he could rise and survey his domain and challenge the stars that had denied him his home.

'This is your home, now,' said Lex. 'Remember?'

************

'Well, you look like you had a good New Year's Eve, Smallville,' Lois Lane observed. 'Are you ready for the challenges of the year ahead?'

'Mmmm.' said Clark.

'Perry wants us to write a story about the lack of crime in the city. That's what we've descended to.'

'Oh, come on, Lois. I'm sure if we look hard enough we can find a crime to report. There must be something.'

'This morning, on my way to work....'

'Yes?'

'I saw a boyscout. He didn't help a little old lady cross the street.'

'No!'

'Yes! Let's get busy, Smallville. There must be a story there, somewhere.'

**************

Superman flew his rounds, in the falling snow. He rescued someone caught in a snowdrift. He pulled someone else from a burning house, and put out the fire. There were no kittens stuck in trees, as they were all safe and warm inside their homes.

Superman landed on the LexCorp rooftop at midnight. 'Where are the nine dancing ladies?' he asked.

'And good evening to you, too,' said Lex. 'All the good dancers in the city are tired, hungover, or otherwise engaged. We'll have to use our imaginations, I'm afraid.'

'Aww. That's too bad. I'm so impressed with how you've arranged things so far. I didn't think you could fail.'

'Fail?' Lex lifted his head proudly. 'I didn't fail. The dancers failed. But to be fair to them, it is the end of the holiday season, and they're partied out. It's such a beautiful evening.'

Superman looked down on the city, at the white streets below. He remembered his dream of the dancing geese, and laughed.

'What's funny?' asked Lex.

'I've been having weird dreams lately,' said Clark. 'One night, I dreamt of dancing geese.' Then he blushed, remembering his dream of Lex, and the gold ring.
'I think it's this snow globe,' he went on. He took it out of the pocket in his cape.

'You carry that with you?' asked Lex. 'Maybe it is a mind control device.'

'No,' said Superman. 'It's just a snow globe, but it makes me dream.'

'Let's see it again. Does it play music?'

'I don't know. I didn't try. There isn't a key on the bottom.'

Lex turned the globe around and around, pushing on it here and there, until something clicked, and music played. The LexCorp rooftop disappeared, and they were standing on the street below. It was snowing, but the snow was soft and almost warm on their faces. Music filled the air all around them. It sounded familiar to Clark, but he couldn't quite....

'It's from Swan Lake,' said Lex. 'And look! Over there.'

Clark turned, and there they were. Nine ballerinas, dressed as swans from Swan Lake. They danced down the street toward them, almost floating off the ground with their grace and beauty. They circled and dipped and rose on the points of their toes. Their soft dresses sparkled in the falling snow. They finished their dance, bowed in acknowledgement of the applause they received, and then danced on down the street.

'What now?' said Superman, and then they were back on the roof, and Lex was handing him the snow globe.

'See?' he said. 'It plays music. You just have to touch it in the right places.'

 

Tenth Day of Christmas
***************************

'I don't know what's going on, Smallville. No one will talk to us. None of my contacts know anything. They're all totally in the dark -- or so they say. Do you believe it?'

Clark gazed off toward LexCorp Tower. 'I'm beginning to see a tiny glimmer of light,' he murmured to himself.

'What's that, Smallville?' Lois demanded.

'I said no, I don't believe it. I think they're all hiding something.'

'That's pretty obvious,' said Lois. 'But how do we shake the information out of them?'

For a moment, Clark thought of Superman literally shaking the information out of one of Metropolis's former criminals. But would that be a good idea? Why was it a bad thing that so few crimes were happening in the city these days? It was a good thing, surely?

'Perhaps we could disguise ourselves, and kidnap one of them, and torture the information out of them?' said Lois. Then, 'I'm joking, you idiot. Joking.'

'Okay, but... hold on, Lois. That sounds like an altercation of some sort.'

'Yay! A crime, at last.'

Lois and Clark rushed into the adjacent alleyway, and found one armed bandit robbing a hapless victim, whilst another argued with him over his actions.

'We'll get caught, Martins. It's not worth it.'

'You see any cops around? They spend all their time at the local bars, these days.'

'Not the cops. You know who I mean. He has eyes everywhere.'

'Who does?' asked Lois, rushing in where angels might fear to tread. 'Who has you all too afraid to carry on your regular business?'

'Omigod! We've been seen,' said one of the bandits.

The other turned his gun on them, and Clark pushed Lois behind a dumpster just in time. Lois was calling him every name in the book, but Clark could hear one of the bandits doing the same to the other. 'Now we're done for,' he was shouting, as they ran off. 'All for a few measly dollars.'

'I was close to breaking the story,' said Lois to Clark.

'You were close to dying,' said Clark to Lois.

'They were shooting at us,' Lois admitted. 'But someone has them really afraid. I wonder who....Maybe it's Lex Luthor. He owns half the city already. Maybe he's bought out the criminal element, as well?'

'Why would he do that?' said Clark. But Lois's theory had occurred to him, as well.

************

'Yes, I took over the criminal population of Metropolis,' said Lex, as casually as he might admit to buying out a rival fertilizer plant.

'But... but, Lex. Why would you... What were you thinking of?'

'I don't see what the problem is,' said Lex. 'Are you here for the night, or are you going out patrolling until midnight, as usual?'

'I'm... I haven't decided yet. Can you just answer my question?'

'What was your question, exactly, Clark? What was I thinking of? I was thinking of watching a video, or listening to some music. If you're going out patrolling, I might go back to the office for a while.'

'What is the point of my going out patrolling?' asked Clark. 'Nothing much is happening in Metropolis.'

'Nothing much of a criminal nature, you mean. And why does that offend you?'

'It doesn't offend me, exactly. I don't understand the reasons for it.'

'I took over all the organized crime syndicates in Metropolis,' said Lex. 'The mob works for me, now. And I ordered them not to engage in any criminal activities until I give them the word. Do you want me to give them the word? Would that please you?'

'You...you what? Of course not! But, Lex...you can't do that. Take over organized crime in Metropolis, I mean.'

'Why not?'

'It's... it's dangerous,' said Clark.

'Indeed?' asked Lex. 'Dangerous for whom? For the former mob bosses? They lost big time, so yes, it was dangerous for them. To any criminals in this city who make a move without my permission? You can believe it will be dangerous for them.'

'You... you're crazy, Lex.'

'So I've heard,' said Lex. 'Why is it that only you and your Justice League buddies can do anything about crime in this world? Explain that to me.'

'We... we know what we're doing,' said Clark.

'Indeed?' said Lex, again. 'There is scarcely a criminal in this city who dares to do anything without asking me first. Can you say the same?'

'No, but....'

'You are never going to stop crime, Clark. You can cut down on it, but the thing is, most criminals don't fear the law, or respect it. They both fear me and respect me. I told them I wanted a peaceful Christmas, and they complied. What is your problem with that?'

'When I said it was dangerous, I meant for you, Lex. What if the law comes after you?'

'They'll have no way of knowing about my involvement,' said Lex. 'I cover my tracks most efficiently. Unless you betray my confidence, of course.'

'I won't do that, Lex. But what if a rival crime boss wants to take over?'

'There is no one left in Metropolis,' said Lex. 'I saw to that. And anyone from outside would have a Hell of a time moving in.'

'I'm worried about you being involved in illegal activities. I thought you'd stopped all that.'

'I'm not personally involved,' said Lex. 'I merely own all the territories. In a few days, I'll pass the word along that the subsidiary syndicates can return to their normal activities. I'll keep an eye on things, so they don't get out of hand. That's all. I don't profit from their business.'

'What? They don't send you a cut?'

'They send my cut to a special bank account, and the money goes to charity. I swear, Clark.'

'But... but why?'

'I don't need the money. Clark, do you want to spend your life catching petty crooks? Don't you have better things to do with your gifts?'

'Who are you to lecture me?' Clark burst out. 'I know you've broken many laws.'

'Do you?' asked Lex, softly.

'I know... I know you murdered your father.'

'My father committed suicide,' said Lex.

'That's not true. Lex, I know.'

'You know nothing, Clark. Nothing. My father was in the process of corrupting you before he killed himself in despair. He was defiling you with his evil, twisted mind. Do you understand? I think you should go out patrolling, now. Evil has a way of finding its own level, and seeping underground, like water. I'm going to my office for a while. See you at midnight?'

'Yes, Lex,' said Clark, gently. 'I'll see you then.'

************

Snowflakes were falling all about him, like tiny falling stars. Superman wondered at the creative largesse of a universe that could make each one unique.

He rescued a woman from an attempted rape, and stopped a mugging. Lex's perfect control of the city was slipping, but then Lex had probably expected this to happen, and had made plans to deal with it and move on.

At midnight, Superman landed on the rooftop. Lex was waiting.

'I couldn't find any lords willing to leap for us,' said Lex.

'I have the snow globe,' said Superman. 'Do your magic, and see what tune it plays.'

Lex raised an eyebrow, but he took the globe, and fiddled with the base....

And they were in a vast hall, that looked almost medieval. Stone pillars and great woven hangings. Men dressed in blue livery held burning torches, and at the end of the hall, a huge fire blazed.

Bugles rang out. Drums beat a steady rhythm. Ten richly dressed men stepped out into the middle of the room, and demonstrated a grand, leaping dance. They leapt amid the pillars and over the tables and wove among the torch-bearing servants. Then they leapt out the doorway, into the night.

'They certainly looked like lords to me,' said Lex.

 

Eleventh Day of Christmas
******************************

 

'You can't sleep, Clark.'

'Did I wake you?'

'Your thoughts woke me,' said Lex. 'That's what happens when you're not used to thinking much. The little wheels in your brain get rusty, and they creak.' Lex turned on the light on the bedside table. 'What's wrong?' he asked.

'I've just been thinking about all that you said. About Lionel. What did you mean when you said he was corrupting me?'

'I could see it, Clark. With half an eye. I kept at least half an eye on you at all times, and I could see you becoming darker and darker, the closer my father got to you. He belonged to an organization....'

'Veritas.'

'Yes. You knew about them?'

'They were set up to welcome me,' said Clark.

'Welcome you? Yes. And to use you. They would have used you to recreate the world in their own image.'

'Veritas wasn't like that,' said Clark. 'They had only good motives -- at least at the beginning.'

'Clark, my father belonged to it. What do you think... my father never joined an organization in possession of pure motives in his entire life. They may have presented themselves to you as having pure motives, but that was whitewashing. Why do you think they warned you against me? Because I could see through them, through and through them. I knew my father, you see. And I know you. You trust people who pamper you and praise you. You lost your trust in me when I began to question you. As soon as my father started warning you against me, you trusted him more, because your instincts for self-preservation kicked in. Anyone who warned you against me must be good. Like Oliver Queen.'

'Like Milton Fine,' said Clark to himself.

'My father was corrupting you with every word that came out of his mouth,' said Lex, as he turned out the light. 'Go to sleep, Clark. Or go home to your own bed. I have a busy day tomorrow.'

'Yes, sir,' said Clark. He turned over, and punched his pillow. Was he really so innocent and easily corrupted? And, God, Lex was bossy.

'This is my house and my bed,' said Lex. 'So, I'm entitled to be bossy in it.'

**************

Clark woke up to bright sunshine. Oh, yes. It was Sunday, and he had the day off. So why wasn't Lex in bed with him? Oh, yes. Lex had a busy day today.

Lex was busy arguing with Mercy.

'Hi,' said Clark, wandering out dressed only in his jeans. 'What's up?'

'Mercy and I are having a discussion about the creep who tried to kill me the other day. And, yes. I knew about it then. But Mercy had it under control and I had better things to think about, so I forgive you for lying to me.'

'Oh, yes,' said Clark. 'The guy who tried to kill you. What have the police discovered?'

'The police?' said Mercy. 'We didn't need the police involved in this.'

'But....'

'Mercy has been questioning him,' said Lex, and Clark shuddered. 'He's not harmed,' Lex went on. 'Much. More shaken than stirred.'

'Where is he?' Clark demanded.

'He's being re-educated,' said Lex. 'Put your mind at rest, Clark. I'm not about to destroy a useful tool like that. Someone brave enough to try to kill me? Only, he wasn't trying to kill me, exactly, from what I can gather.'

'I still think he was trying to kill you, Boss,' said Mercy. 'But he did say he was ordered not to shoot unless Kent was there.'

'That suggests to me that he was supposed to out Clark in some way,' Lex pointed out.

'Make me reveal my powers, while disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter and Lex's new boy-toy?'

'Something like that,' said Lex. 'But, whoever it was that hired him -- the tool says he doesn't know, and Mercy can be very persuasive -- whoever it was, knows your secret identity. That's why I am no longer pursuing my own paths of inquiry. I'm leaving it to you, Clark. So, go down the list of people who know, and the suspect is among them. What you do, Clark, with the person or persons unknown, is up to you. Leave the tool to me.'

************

'It wasn't me,' said Oliver Queen. 'When I kill Lex, I'll do it myself, not hire a tool. And I won't try to out you, either. I'm glad you weren't outed, but it's a shame Luthor is still alive.'

'It wasn't me,' said Lana. 'When I kill Lex, I'll do it in person. And I wouldn't ever endanger your secret, Clark. It's too bad he's still alive. He deserves to die, for corrupting you.'

That's two people crossed off, thought Clark.

'That's quite a list,' said Lex, reading over his shoulder. 'And every one of these people who knows your identity hates me, and is prepared to kill me? Impressive. Perhaps you should have told fewer people. Or people with more sense, or something?'

'I don't think all these people would kill you,' said Clark. 'I'm sure my mother wouldn't commit murder, for example.'

'That's a relief,' said Lex. 'What about Ms. Sullivan? You got her on the phone, yet?'

'No. I'm working down the list in order. Eliminating the easy suspects first. And I believe Lana and Oliver, because they were totally upfront about wanting to kill you, just not that way.'

'How honest of them,' said Lex. 'I appreciate that. But Chloe is more complicated, isn't she? She hates you, too.'

'Chloe would never commit murder,' said Clark, angrily. 'And she doesn't really hate me. She just doesn't understand.'

'What? That you wiped her memory with the best of intentions? Don't get angry at me, Clark. Don't blame me for Chloe's behaviour. It's not my fault. Of course, you never let that stop you before.'

Clark took a deep breath. 'Lex....' he began.

'I'm not one of your fanboys,' said Lex. 'And I'm certainly not a fangirl. I love you, Clark. I'll forgive you your faults. But I'm not going to sit back and take everything you dish out. Not any longer.'

Clark took another deep breath. He reminded himself that shouting at Lex accomplished nothing. Pushing Lex away accomplished nothing. It was better when they talked. Better when Lex was close. It had always been better when Lex was close, and they were talking. He could keep an eye on Lex, that way, he thought.

'That's fair,' said Clark, evenly. 'But I feel the same about you. I'll forgive you, but I won't just condone everything you do.'

Lex stared at him, hard, with his intense gray eyes. Even with all his powers, Clark found it difficult not to flinch away, but he stood there and let Lex X-ray his brain -- or whatever he was doing.

'Good,' said Lex, at last. 'It's a deal. I'll leave you to get on with it. When you find the perp, if you like, Mercy can....'

'No!' said Clark. 'I can handle it.'

'Okay,' said Lex, laughing. 'But be careful.'

Clark watched Lex walk away, feeling as if the other man was taking part of his heart with him. And that was so odd, because when had Lex claimed his heart? Or had that happened years ago, way back at the beginning, and Clark had just never realized it?

He called another number. 'Hello? Mom?' he began.

***************

'Still no luck?' asked Lex, at midnight on the roof.

'No,' said Superman. 'And I still haven't found Chloe. But I'm sure it isn't her, anyway.'

'What if it is?' asked Lex. 'What are you going to do? Mindwipe her again?'

'Lex!'

'Well, it's something you have to think about,' said Lex. 'Have you ever had to deal with the possibility that someone you love and believe in might be out to get you?'

'Yes,' said Superman.

'Other than me, I mean,' said Lex. 'It was easy for you to....'

'No. It wasn't,' Superman interrupted. 'I never wanted to believe in your villainy.'

'That's good,' said Lex. 'Hold that thought. Because I was never out to get you, Clark. I was trying to make sense of you. Nevermind. It's midnight, by the way. The Eleventh Day of Christmas. Do you have the snow globe? Let's try that again. Did you think that was real, or just a dream?'

'I don't know,' Superman admitted. 'You remembered what happened last night, and we shared the same memory. So, it's some kind of magic, I think. It's a spell. But who is doing it?'

'Maybe no one,' said Lex. 'I think it's just random, like I said. It's all an accident. A happy accident.'

'Okay,' said Superman. 'But...'

'Give me the globe,' said Lex, and Superman complied....

...and they were out in the heather, on a hillside in Scotland, and bagpipes were wailing.

'Pipers!' said Lex.

A long line of pipers came over the rise, playing a wild, hypnotic tune.

'The Ceol Mor,' said Lex. 'The Great Music. They're playing a Brosnachadh. A call to battle. I wonder what the war is.'

They watched as the line of pipers went by, and the expression on Lex's face was one of yearning.

 

Twelfth Day of Christmas
****************************

'I hear that Lex Luthor is giving another big party in LexCorp Square,' said Lois Lane.

'Yup,' said Clark. 'It's a Twelfth Night party, to mark the end of Christmas.'

'Are you going?' asked Lois.

'Yup,' said Clark.

'You are very forthcoming,' said Lois.

'What is this?' asked Clark. 'An interview?'

'You're in a bad mood this morning.'

'Sorry, Lois. I'm not in a bad mood. I'm worried about something. Listen, what would you do if you suspected someone you cared about was trying to kill someone else you cared about?'

'Lock them in a room and let them fight it out.'

'Ha ha. No, I'm serious. I'm talking about attempted murder. And I can't let it happen, for so many reasons.'

'Who are we talking about, here?'

'I can't tell you... no, I just can't. And I'm not sure who the would-be-murderer is. I have a short list of suspects....'

'Am I on it?'

'No.'

'Whew! Had me scared there for a moment. Who is on it?'

'Lois!'

'Well, can't blame me for trying. Who are they trying to kill?'

'Lois, is this an interview? Is it going to wind up in the next edition? Because this is my life we're talking about. Am I your friend and your partner, or just a story?'

'Jesus, Clark. You are serious, aren't you? Okay, I swear, no story until you give the word. My lips are sealed, and I can sit on a story if I have to. You know that.'

'This isn't a story, Lois. It's my life. Someone I know and care about it trying to murder someone I love, and I'm not sure which friend it is that wants to kill Lex.'

'Lex? As in Lex Luthor, billionaire? That Lex?'

'Is there another Lex?' asked Clark. 'Isn't one enough?'

'Wait. Wait a moment. You love Lex Luthor? Since when?'

'Since forever,' said Clark. 'I tried to deny it, but I can't any longer.'

'He's.... Listen, Clark. I know he's your friend and all, but he's a bit of a bastard, isn't he?'

'Oh, yes,' said Clark. 'I know.'

'Okay. As long as you know. If you know, and you love him, then it must be real.'

'It's real,' said Clark.

'Did you tell Luthor? That someone is trying to kill him, I mean?'

'Oh, yes.'

'Then, what's the problem? Lex Luthor can take care of himself. You should warn your friend to get out of town.'

'No. Lex won't do anything, because it's a friend of mine. He left it up to me.'

Lois stared at him for a moment, her mouth open. 'God,' she said, reverently. 'It must be love.'

**************

'So you just assumed it was me trying to kill Lex?'

'No, Chloe. I've checked out everyone else on my list of possibilities. Unless our theory is wrong, you're the only one left.'

'So, I'm last on your list, as usual,' said Chloe,

'What? I had trouble finding you,' said Superman. 'Why is all this important? Tell me you aren't trying to kill Lex and expose me.'

'You come here, accusing me of murder, demanding I explain myself. Who do you think you are? No, it's Lex corrupting you, like I said.'

'Lex left it all up to me, and he's the one who's in danger. Just tell me if you're the one. If you are, we'll work something out. I'll explain. I'll give you the chance to talk to Lex and tell him your concerns.'

'You think that will be enough?' said a voice behind him.

Clark whirled around, and confronted... 'Helen? Helen Bryce? What are you doing here?'

'Helping me,' said Chloe. When I had nightmares and couldn't sleep because I hated you so much, she helped. She explained that it was really Lex who was to blame.'

'Lex had nothing to do with the mistakes I made,' said Clark. 'He was missing, hiding away somewhere....'

'Like the coward he is,' said Helen.

'No, because he was damaged.... Why am I explaining these things to you?'

'Because I have a gun on you,' said Helen. 'And it's full of Kryptonite bullets. Go on with your explanations.'

'Why do you hate Lex so much?' asked Clark.

'I don't, really,' said Helen. 'Lionel Luthor hired me to kill him the first time, and I didn't finish the job. That's all, But Ms. Sullivan has reason to hate him. So, you see, we have plenty of motive. And she hates you, and wants to expose you in public. Just telling the world what you are wouldn't be enough. Maybe people wouldn't believe her.'

'But also, I'm trying to show you what a danger Lex is to you, Clark,' said Chloe. 'He's the one who made you this way. He's the one who made you think you could run people's lives.'

'That's funny,' said Clark. 'Lex thinks it was Lionel.'

'Lionel was trying to protect you,' said Chloe.

'Exactly,' said Clark. 'He was trying to protect me and to kill his own son. What does that say about him?'

'I don't know,' said Helen, 'And I don't care. Now that you've discovered our fiendish plot, what are we going to do?'

'You could shoot him and we'll strip him naked and leave him in LexCorp Square,' said Chloe. 'We'll say that Lex did it. That will solve all our problems.'

'That's brilliant,' said Helen. And she raised her gun to fire.

There was a gunshot, but it was Helen who fell dead, and suddenly the room was filled with black-clad LexCorp employees.

'Don't shoot!' said Superman. 'Don't kill Chloe.'

'We have orders not to kill Ms. Sullivan,' said Hope. 'We had no orders about Dr. Bryce as her presence was unknown, and she held a gun to you. Kryptonite bullets, I assume?'

'Chloe? Please? Please forgive me?' Clark begged, but Chloe's face was still and cold.

'I'll never forgive you, Superman,' she said, and she turned to run for the window, as if to jump out, but Hope caught her in time. Chloe screamed and screamed, but they dragged her back from the window.

'I don't want to be mindwiped,' she screamed. 'I'd rather die.'

'I won't,' said Clark. 'We won't.'

'Get away from me,' Chloe screamed. 'Get away.'

'Perhaps you should leave, Superman,' said Hope.

************

'She'll have the best of care,' said Lex. 'I promise, and she won't know it's me paying for it.'

'She'll figure it out,' said Superman, bitterly. 'And she'll just hate you more for it.'

'Yes, well, it will give her an outlet for her hate, and a new mission in life. A reason to live, and a reason to get well. So she can come back and try again.'

'That's a very Luthor way of looking at it,' said Superman.

'I am a Luthor,' said Lex Luthor. 'I stopped being ashamed of it years ago.'

'I'm a bit ashamed of who I am,' said Superman.

'Don't be,' said Lex. 'It's midnight. It's the Twelfth Day of Christmas. You have the globe? Good. Why don't you try it this last time? Just press here, and herre....

...and they were back in the heather, on the Scottish hillside, and this time they heard the sound of drums, off in the distance, coming closer and closer. Twelve drummers, coming over the ridge. Small drums with a hide-pitched sound, and medium drums with a deeper timbre, and a big, bass drum. In the lead was a drum major, with his staff, and he wore a leopard skin for a cloak. They marched toward Lex and Superman, and the drum major gave his staff a twirl, and then they were off, into the heather, toward the clamour of the war.

'I wish we could stay and fight,' said Lex.

'We have our own batttles,' said Superman.

 

Twelfth Night Masque
**************************

Clark sat down across from Lex, and put the snow globe on the breakfast table, equidistant between them. 'I've been thinking,' he said. And then he said, 'Don't look so shocked. I can and do think, Lex.'

Lex put his morning paper down. 'When I first knew you, you did a lot of thinking. Then I guess the hormones kicked in, and took their time settling down. You decided to eschew thinking as unmanly. You took up beating your chest and proclaiming your manhood. Not only your manhood, but your Supermanhood.'

'Are you finished?' asked Clark.

'Not at all,' said Lex, taking a leisurely sip of coffee.

'Well, I've been thinking, and a few thoughts occurred to me, Superman or not. Chloe told me this was a mind-control device. Where did she get that idea? She knew I'd picked it up at your party. How did she know that?'

Lex put down his coffee. 'Good thinking,' he said. 'Maybe you're not as stupid as you look.'

'You said you weren't giving out snow globes as favours?'

'No. The gifts did come in similar boxes, though. I'm going to question my staff.'

'I'm going to try to talk to Chloe,' said Clark. 'Even if she's angry at me.'

'People often speak the truth when they're angry,' said Lex. 'In the meantime, let me look into this.' He picked up the snow globe.

Clark half stood up, half reached for the toy, half protested. 'Lex? What are you doing with that? Be careful.'

'Clark,' said Lex, leaning across the table, so that their faces were inches apart. 'I've had your cock in my mouth.' Clark felt a twinge of remembered pleasure. Extreme pleasure. He barely heard the next few words. 'What's even more to the point, Superman,' Lex went on. 'I've let you suck my cock. And you won't let me touch your snow globe?'

'Of course you can touch it. It's just... what are you going to do with it?'

'I'm going to look at it,' said Lex. 'But I've grown beyond taking something apart to see how it works. It will still be here when you get home. And still snowing.'

*****************

'I knew you'd break in here,' said Chloe. 'The rules don't apply to you, do they?'

'They didn't apply to us in the past,' said Clark. 'Now you're unhappy with that?'

'I can scream, and guards will come rushing in here. They can't physically throw you out, but your face will be on the front pages tomorrow, and on TV. Superman Breaks Into Mental Hospital to Abuse Patient.'

'This is a rest home, not a mental hospital. You're suffering from physical exhaustion from overwork. No one will ever hear anything different, unless you make it public.'

'A louse by any other name,' said Chloe. 'Lex is paying for this, isn't he? Now the bills are coming in.'

'I only want to ask you a question,' said Clark. 'How did you know about the snow globe?'

'That's all? Then I can go home? No, wait. I'm locked up here. You can leave any time.'

Clark sighed. 'You're only here because you tried to kill yourself. Chloe, you have your whole life ahead of you. Once you're feeling better....'

'I'll never feel better. Parts of my brain are missing.'

'Just some memories....'

'Huge chunks of my memories, for years of my life. There are all these dark, blank spaces in my mind, and nothing makes sense. I don't know who to trust -- certainly not you.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Oh, you're sorry. That makes it okay? All is forgiven?'

'What would make it okay, Chloe? The AI could.....'

'No! Never. That... that thing is never touching me again. Why should I trust it? I'm getting out of here as soon as possible, and I'm not looking back this time.'

'That's good,' said Clark. 'I'll leave, too, if you just tell me....'

'Helen told me about the snow globe. She heard about it from Oliver Queen. I don't know how he heard about it. Is that good enough for you?'

'Yes,' said Clark. 'Thanks, Chloe. Goodbye.'

'Same old story,' said Chloe.

****************

When Clark got back to the penthouse, Lex was deeply in conversation with an elderly, white haired gentleman. They were studying the snow globe together, and for some reason, Clark felt a stab of jealousy.

Lex looked up. 'Ah. Clark,' he said. He stood up. 'Milash, I'd like you to meet my friend, Clark Kent. Clark, this is Donnelly Milash, an old friend. He's an antiquities dealer, and an expert in ancient magical devices.'

'Magical?' asked Clark. 'So you do think it's magical?'

Milash looked at Lex, questioningly. Lex nodded. 'This is a Mind Field,' said Milash. 'A magical artifact designed to receive suggestions from the mind, and to respond.'

'Respond how?' asked Lex, leaning in close to Mr. Milash. There was an easy trust between them, Clark could see.

'That would depend on how the Mind Field was programmed,' Milash went on, in his deep, calm voice. 'If you could tell me how it seemed to respond to you, that might give us some clues.'

'Clark? You've had it longer than I did. What do you think?'

'I... It didn't seem to respond to me at all,' said Clark. 'Not really. I had dreams, yes. But they were vague. Until I showed it to Lex, and it played music.'

Milash turned to Lex. 'It seems to me,' he said. 'That this Mind Field was designed for you, and your friend got it by accident.'

'Designed for me?' asked Lex. He leaned closer to Milash. 'Not designed by you, was it?' His voice was shaking, just a little.

'No,' said Milash, quite simply.

Just "no". No drama in his voice, no anger, or even surprise. Just "no". Lex stared into the other man's eyes, with his intense, deep gray ones. Milash returned his look calmly. Lex relaxed, and smiled again. His whole being radiated trust. Lex never looked at me like that, thought Clark. Not even in bed.

'No,' Lex agreed. 'But someone did. Do we have any clues as to whom?'

Milash studied the globe again. 'This was constructed from several elements of differing ages,' he said. 'The base is Victorian, but the globe is newer. It's still made of glass, though, so it's not modern. The interior... the cityscape is contemporary, except for one detail. The building in the centre. Look!' Milash handed Lex a magnifying glass. 'Do you recognize the building?' he asked. 'No? That's because it doesn't exist in Metropolis. Not yet, at least, but perhaps it will exist in the future.'

'Why?' asked Lex. 'What does it mean?'

'This Mind Field affects the past, the present and the future. Whoever designed it was leaving nothing to chance.'

'But... but they did,' said Clark. 'The globe was given to me. Why give it to me, if it was meant for Lex?'

'Let's reconstruct the passage of events,' said Lex. 'You came to the party in LexCorp Square.'

'No,' said Clark. 'It all started that night on the roof. Christmas Eve. At midnight. Remember?'

'Ah, yes,' said Lex. 'We met then, and the next night, and the next.'

'It was snowing,' Clark went on. 'And for some reason, I was thinking of snow globes. The whole world felt unreal. I saw you on the roof, and wondered what you were up to.'

'Something evil with a partridge,' said Lex.

'Then I went to the party in LexCorp Square. But I wasn't planning to go, so no one could have known I would be there. It was Lois and Jimmy who convinced me to go. They said everyone in the city was going. And how could anyone possibly know I would go to that gift table to collect a favour?'

'Anyone who could construct this Mind Field would be perfectly capable of waiting his or her best chance,' said Milash. 'They saw you heading for that table, and put the snow globe in your hands using magic. That would take a very small spell, compared to the magic they used on this.'

'But why give it to me to begin with, if it was meant for Lex?'

'I would be very suspicious of such a thing showing up in my hands,' said Lex. 'I only trusted it because you showed it to me.'

Clark almost burst out with a protest that he wasn't to blame for whatever spell the mind thing might have put on Lex. Then he remembered Milash's calm response to Lex's question, and Lex's reaction. He wanted Lex to trust him that way, he thought.

'So,' said Clark, as calmly as he could. 'Someone is using me to get to you.'

'It would seem so,' said Lex. 'The only question is, which among my many enemies did this?'

'Oliver Queen told Helen that I had the globe. Helen told Chloe. Chloe told me. Chloe swears she only heard about it from Helen, and she was certainly angry, so I believe her. Helen is dead. That leaves Oliver Queen.'

'I doubt Oliver is knowledgeable enough to create a Mind Field,' said Lex. 'But he's rich enough to hire someone to do it for him. Milash?'

'This level of expertise is rare,' said the antiquities dealer. 'Allow me to make some enquiries?'

'Of course,' said Lex. 'I'd prefer it if you stayed here while you're investigating, for your safety. If they figure out you're working with me on this....'

'That's not a problem,' said Milash. 'I've learned to trust your expertise on such matters.'

'There's a big party tonight,' Lex went on. 'It's safer for you inside, rather than out in the Square, but the entertainment is just as good.'

'I'm looking forward to that,' said Milash. 'But I'll be doing some research in the meantime. If I can figure out where the base and the globe came from, that might give us a clue.'

**********

The party was in full swing by the time Clark arrived.

'I can't find Oliver,' he told Lex.

Lex made a slow, graceful gesture with the hand not holding his whisky glass, which seemed to indicate acceptance, and Clark decided to take it as such. 'Have a drink,' said Lex, downing the entire contents of his glass in one gulp.

Clark tried to rest a comforting hand on Lex's back, but the man moved away, restlessly. There were too many people around, thought Clark. Most of them were in costume, and wearing masks, and that was unsettling. Certainly Clark could see under the masks -- and the costumes if he so wished -- but he didn't like to do so on a regular basis, just to see who was standing next to him. Clark took Lex's arm firmly, and steered him into a private alcove, far away from the madding crowd.

'Don't worry...' Clark began to say, but Lex turned and skewered him with those icy gray eyes that saw too much. Lex's eyes had always seen too much, and maybe that was why...

'I'm not worried,' said Lex. 'Someone is out to get me, but that's nothing new. Clark, Clark. This is my everyday life. This is business as usual. I'm not worried, per se. I'm planning. I want to be ready. Stop trying to distract me.'

'I'll protect you,' said Clark.

'Don't be ridiculous,' said Lex. 'You think that whoever is out to get me -- and we don't know it's Robin Hood -- doesn't know all about you and your abilities? You think they don't know you'll try to protect me? That's probably part of the plan. Stay the hell out of whatever happens. I'm giving you fair warning, Clark. If you end up being part of the collateral damage, don't come whining to me afterwards.'

Clark started to protest that he wouldn't do that, then remembered that he had, indeed, done just that in the past. 'I won't blame you, Lex,' he said, calmly. 'I consider myself warned. But I'm also not going to stand by and watch you get hurt. Any collateral damage is on the head of whoever causes it. Is that clear?'

Lex looked him up and down appraisingly. 'You have grown up a bit, Kryptonian,' he said, softly.

For some reason, Lex's casual approval affected Clark more than all the adulation of the world had ever done. It made no sense, considering that only a few years ago they had been at each other's throats -- or maybe that was why. Maybe making friends with an enemy was one of the greatest achievements any being could hope for. And being more than friends? Clark leaned forward and touched his lips to Lex's gently. Just for a moment. It was like a benediction, he thought, and nothing to do with the lust between them.

'I love you, Lex,' he said. 'I always have.'

Lex shook a little in his arms. He didn't speak for a long moment, and then whispered, 'I love you, too, Clark,' he said. 'But I have a party to host. We should get back to it, or we'll be on the cover of the National Inquirer tomorrow morning.'

'You're right,' said Clark. 'But I'm not leaving your side.'

Lex's major domo arrived to announce dinner, and they all filed into the large dining hall. Lex took the central seat at the head table, but Clark found himself sitting not next to him, but several chairs further down. Lex had told him something about married couples not being seated next to each other at large, formal dinner parties, and Clark chose to see it that way, rather than as a demotion. At least he was sitting at the same table, he thought. It probably wouldn't do to make a scene.

And why was he so nervous? As if something were about to happen? Of course something was about to happen, and Lex was prepared. But not being able to find Oliver Queen had troubled him. Oliver was -- always had been -- a wild card. Much more than Lex had ever been, Clark realized. Finally accepted. Yes, Lex had been unstable, and probably still was. But under all that, there was a quality Oliver lacked: Lex could forgive.

Lex could put aside his personal feelings, and just forget that someone had injured him. He didn't always do it, but he could. Clark suspected that Oliver couldn't.

In all the years Clark had known Lex, he had never heard the man say he hated someone because of what that man's father had done to him.

A servant took away the full plate that had sat in front of Clark for some minutes, and put another full plate in front of him. Clark was no more interested in eating whatever was on that plate than he had been through the first course. He realized he'd been sitting next to a woman he was supposed to be conversing with, but had been ignoring her. Was she sitting to his left, or his right? He should have paid more attention to all that kind advice Lex had given him over the years, instead of scoffing at so much of it. Clark decided that he had a fifty percent chance of being right, and turned to his left. 'Nice weather we've been having,' he said.

'Yes, indeed,' said the woman, smiling brightly. She turned to the man at her left, and resumed their conversation.

Clark suspected he should have been addressing his comments to the lady on his right, and was about to comment on the plans for the upcoming Inauguration, when an uproar in the hall outside the dining room interrupted him. It sounded like a horse coming down the hall toward the door, he thought, and yes! His X-Ray vision revealed a horseman, riding down the hall, outraged servants following him.

The big double doors to the dining hall slammed open. A masked rider on horseback pranced in. The rider wore green -- no! The rider was green. Green from head to foot. He was masked, but even what the mask didn't cover was green, and Clark felt queasy as the horse and rider drew parallel to him.

The rider was covered in Kryptonite paint! The rider was headed down the table toward Lex, and Clark had a queasy feeling that had nothing to do with the proximity of Kryptonite. The rider pulled up his horse right in front of Lex, and turned to face him. He drew his sword....

'Lex Luthor?' asked the rider.

'Yes?' drawled Lex. 'I am he. Were you invited to this party?'

'As a matter of fact, I was,' said the rider.

'Who invited you?' asked Lex. 'And I may have issued you an invitation by mistake, but I don't remember inviting your horse.'

'You issued an invitation to combat,' said the rider. 'I have come to accept your challenge.'

'Very well,' said Lex. 'I accept in my turn.'

'Lex!' Clark managed to gasp.

'Stay out of this, Clark!' Lex commanded. And it was a command. Lex's tone of voice brooked no argument. He hadn't taken his eyes off the Green Rider for one moment. Now he addressed his adversary again. 'When do you want to fight?' he asked.

'Now is as good a time as any,' said the Green Rider. The man dismounted from his horse, in one easy motion. He strode forward, and flipped his sword so that the blade faced Lex. 'Take the sword,' said the Green Rider. 'I challenge you to behead me, here and now. Do you have the courage?'

************

'Behead you!' said Lex. He backed up, slowly, somehow managing to keep one eye on the sword hilt, and the other on the green, masked face of his adversary. 'Behead you? Have we met before? Because that's a rather intimate request to make of a total stranger. Why would I want to behead you? And by the way, what's in it for you?'

'You issued a challenge,' said the Green Rider.

'Which I don't remember,' said Lex. 'Any more than I remember inviting you to this party.' Lex was circling, moving further down the table, away from Clark.

'Are you running away?' asked the Rider. 'I guess you are a coward, after all.'

Lex, as if in answer, leapt over the table, to join the Rider in the middle of the dining hall. 'Not at all,' he said. 'I need more room to move, if I'm going to behead you. The other guests don't want your blood all over their dinner.'

'The sword is still waiting. Will you accept the challenge, or not?'

Lex reached for the sword, still keeping his eye on the Green Rider. His long, supple fingers grasped the hilt, and pulled the sword from the gauntleted hand. He raised the sword in a high guard position, and regarded the man before him, calmly. 'I accept your challenge,' he said. 'But, before I behead you, do you mind answering my questions?'

The entire room of diners was watching this scene with avid interest. Clark listened to their murmured conversations for a moment. Most people seemed to think it was part of the evening's entertainment. No one was paying any attention to him. He backed up, slowly, and carefully, until he was in the shadows, and then sped into one of the anterooms, off the hall. In an instant, he had turned into Superman, and sped back into the hall. He thought he heard a door close somewhere in the background, but there was no time to investigate.

Lex and the Green Rider were still circling each other, warily. 'If I am to accede to your wishes,' Lex was saying. 'The least you can do is accede to one of mine.'

'You stood upon a hillside, in my lands, and issued a challenge,' said the Rider. 'You said you wished to join battle. But then you left, in an instant, and did not return. I followed you, here, to this strange time and place. Your hesitation surprises me. It is not what I have heard about you, Luthor.'

'Perhaps you have another Luthor in mind. My father would not have hesitated, but I am not my father.'

'And where might I find your father?'

'Try Hell,' Lex snarled. 'First door to the right.'

Time to interfere, thought Clark, if the conversation was veering into Lionel territory. He was about to step through the doors, as Superman, but a hand upon his arm stopped him.

'Do you know what you're dealing with, here?' asked Donnelly Milash. 'This is powerful magic. Are you immune to magic, or does it affect you as seriously as Kryptonite?' His old, faded eyes looked up at Superman, completely unsurprised to see him standing there, in the hall. Superman wondered if he'd seen Clark slip into the anteroom, and Superman come out.

'What do you know about any of this?' asked Superman.

'A little more than I did this morning,' said Milash. 'I've been studying the globe, and now that the spell is actually working, I am learning more. It has transported a magician from the past to our time. I told you the mind field affects the past, present and future. Whatever Lex does now, in response to the magician's challenge, could change the course of history.'

'Why would Oliver want to do that?' Superman started to ask himself. Several answers popped into his mind almost immediately, and that was troubling.

'Oliver Queen, you mean?' asked Milash. 'This may not be his doing.'

Superman opened the hall door just wide enough for Milash to peek through. 'The Green Rider,' he said. 'He's covered in Kryptonite paint. Someone from our time is involved. Someone who wants to stop me from interfering.'

Someone who wants to stop me from helping Lex, he thought. Someone who hates Lex, and wants to separate us. Someone like Oliver Queen.

'You can't see beneath the paint, then?' asked Milash.

'No,' said Superman.

'One moment,' said Milash. He put his hand into the cavernous pocket of his big, loose jacket, and pulled out the snow globe. It was no longer a snow globe, though. The surface had gone cloudy, and Superman could not see past the clouds.

Lex and the Green Rider were still circling, but the Rider's taunts were growing more serious and Lex was getting angry. Lionel's name came up again, and the ice in Lex's voice could have sunk the Titanic. Superman put his hand on the door again, to push it open.

'Wait!' Milash commanded. He was gazing down into the snow globe, as if it were a crystal ball. 'The Green Rider is not human. Beheading him would not kill him. It would bind Lex Luthor to his will.'

'Would it bind me?' asked Superman.

'No,' said Milash.

Superman pushed through the door, and sped to Lex's side. The sword was about to fall upon the neck of the Green Rider, but Superman caught it in time.

Lex looked at him, almost speechless with rage, but as their eyes met, Superman could see him regain control of his temper. 'Superman,' Lex drawled. 'To what do I owe this pleasure? Two uninvited guests in one night.'

'My friend Clark Kent called me,' Superman replied, in his booming voice. 'He was concerned.' The Kryptonite in the paint was making him queasy again, but it wasn't enough to make him truly ill. Low grade Kryptonite, he thought. Just enough concentration to keep him at a distance, not enough to harm him. He fought the effects, and held steady.

'This is no concern of Clark's,' said Lex. 'Nor of yours.'

'Clark thought you shouldn't have to deal with such a violent uninvited guest on your own,' said Superman. 'He asked me to be your champion.' He plucked the sword from Lex's hand, and sent the blade spinning gracefully and lethally through the neck of the Green Rider. The green head flew off the green shoulders, and landed on the floor. Green blood spouted from the empty neck.

The guests screamed in horror and started to run for the doors, but the head that lay upon the floor only laughed. The headless body stomped over and picked it up, as casually as anyone else might have picked up his hat.

'You have taken on your friend's doom,' said the Green Rider.

'No,' said Superman. 'The spell has no effect on me.'

The green head gazed at him for a long moment, then said, 'You are right. I do not own your soul. But since you took up the challenge, you owe me something. In one year to this day, I will return, and claim my payment. I lay a geas upon you. Await my arrival, or your honour will be damaged beyond healing.' With those words, the Green Rider whistled to his horse, mounted and rode out of the hall, his head still tucked under his arm.

****************

The little bell on the door to Milash Antiques tinkled cheerily. Donnelly Milash looked up at Clark, standing in the doorway, and smiled. 'Come in,' he said. 'I'm just opening a crate of new acquisitions.'

'Lex does that all the time,' said Clark. 'But they don't actually come in crates. Lex's acquisitions, I mean. They come in portfolios.'

'You're missing him,' said Milash. 'Just be patient. He'll get over it.'

'Yeah,' said Clark. 'He'll forgive me for saving his soul, one of these days.'

'He doesn't look at it that way. That you saved his soul, I mean.'

'No kidding,' said Clark.

Lex had been scathing on the subject. 'You think I can't handle the Jolly Green Giant? You really think a vegetable could steal my soul? I could have sliced and diced him and fried him up in a little olive oil and we could have had him for the third course at dinner. But no. Superman had to save the day.'

'Lex is... complicated,' said Clark.

'Only Lex?'

'Look... Mister Milash... whatever you think you saw....'

'I saw what I saw.'

'Lex is... he likes to control things. His environment, I mean.'

'And what do you like?' asked Milash.

'I think that's a rather personal question.'

'I'm not asking about your sex life,' said Milash. 'At my age, I've stopped caring about what other people do in bed. But I care about Lex Luthor.'

'I noticed,' said Clark. 'Why do you care so much?'

'You think he's not worth it?'

'Worth it? Yes. But... like I said, he's complicated. He's done things. Not very nice things. Really bad things. I can't prove it, but... I know it. Here. Inside. I know.'

Milash was silent for a long moment, digging down inside the crate of plastic popcorn stuff, and pulling out an old vase. 'See this?' he asked, holding up the vase.

'Yes,' said Clark. 'It's beautiful.'

'Beautiful, yes. And very old. And see? When I turn it this way, you can see it's been broken, and fixed.'

'Yes. I can see that now,' said Clark.

'Maybe I should throw it out?'

'What? Why? It's beautiful.'

'It's been damaged,' said Milash. 'Broken.'

'I... I don't think it's the same thing,' said Clark.

'No,' said Milash. 'This is just a vase. Lex Luthor is a human being.'

'The vase is innocent. Lex was....'

'Innocent when he was broken. What if you could prove he'd committed crimes? What would you do? Go to the police?'

'I don't know,' Clark admitted.

'And if you did, what would happen?'

Lex's empire would crumble, Clark knew. Other people would gain control, and not for the better. Lex was unstable, but he was not cold and hard and unforgiving, like so many of his rivals. And Lex loved him, whatever he was saying at this moment. Lex could be influenced for good.

'Keep the vase,' said Clark. 'It's still beautiful.'

************

Superman landed on the roof of LexCorp Towers. The aviary had been carted up and taken back to the zoo, or wherever it had come from. The pear tree was still there, though. The partridge still on guard over its fantasy territory.

Superman picked up the tree and the partridge and carried them down to Lex's office. Lex pretended not to notice as he put the tree down on the floor by the window. 'There!' said Superman. 'It's kind of cold outside. The partridge will be warmer in here.'

'It's a stuffed partridge,' said Lex, curtly.

'I never knew you were so bigotted,' said Clark. 'The partridge can't help being stuffed. It had no choice in the matter. Does that mean it should be stuck up on the roof, all alone?'

'Clark, I'm busy. I have new acquisitions to look over.'

'So did Milash. I dropped in to see him. He was lonely.'

'Good. The pair of you should get used to that.'

'Milash loves you too, you know.'

'He's a little old for me,' said Lex. 'And besides, I don't think he swings that way.'

'You never know,' said Superman.

'Don't be ridiculous. And if he's so lonely, maybe the two of you should get together.'

'Okay,' said Clark. 'He can be my new sugar daddy.'

'Your new sugar daddy? Who was the old one?'

'You,' said Clark.

'What? I was nothing of the kind. That's not the kind of relationship we had. You... you should go.'

'Not until I say what I came to say. Lex, I'm sorry.'

'Sorry for what?'

'For... for impugning your manhood, or whatever it's called. For slicing and dicing the Jolly Green Giant for you. You could have taken care of it yourself, but I had to be the hero. Is that what you wanted to hear?'

'You were doing well, until you got all sarcastic at the end,' said Lex.

'Well, I tried,' said Clark. 'But I don't think I did anything wrong.'

'Of course not. You never do.'

'There was a spell. Milash says so. You trusted him, didn't you? The Green Rider would have gained control of your soul.'

'According to your friends, I don't have one. And it would have been a hell of a lot more dangerous if he'd gained control of you, Superman. How could you be so stupid?'

'Milash didn't think....'

'Milash didn't think -- and neither did you. And now this creep will be back next year. And we don't even know who set the spell.'

'We've got a year to find out,' said Clark. 'We should work together. Stick close together. Work with Milash, too. Then, when the Green Rider returns, we'll know all about him and what to do, and present a united front. What do you say?'

'I don't think I should have bought United Savings and Loans,' said Lex. 'From their portfolio, they have too few savings, and too many loans.'

'But maybe they're worth keeping,' said Clark. 'Even if they're damaged.'

'Maybe,' said Lex.

'What about me?' asked Clark. 'I'm a bit stupid, but maybe I'm worth keeping.' He bent and kissed Lex's mouth. Lex's mouth tasted of whisky and hunger. It tasted of too many nights by the fire all alone looking at portfolios. It tasted of innocence and damage and loneliness. Most of all, it tasted of love.

'We should stick together,' said Lex. 'You need someone to take care of you.'

***The End.... For Now***