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Seven Days in Smallville

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Day One - Monday:

"So this is where we're from?" Clark asked, looking around the downtown area with bemusement.

"Yup," Dad confirmed, smiling happily. "Smallville. I was born and raised here. If it hadn't been for the meteor shower, you would have been raised here, too."

"It's…small," Clark said, laughing at his parents' eye rolls. "Well, it is small! After Metropolis, New York, and London, this is…tiny."

"It's a nice town," Mom assured him cheerfully as she hugged Jonathan. "I was happy here, despite my father's warnings. It's a pity you couldn't grow up here, Clark, but we had to leave because of the meteor shower's effect on your health, so …"

They all left the rest unsaid, wandering down the one street that was downtown Smallville. They'd left because the meteors made Clark sick. The meteors had destroyed the Kent farm utterly, flattening every building, and killing most of the crops, and 90% of the livestock. There had been no home to raise Clark in after they had found him. The very land itself made Clark ill, according to his parents. The meteors' radiation was harmful to Clark, and the meteors covered the Kent farmland completely.

"How long are we going to be here?" Clark asked, wondering if there was anything to do in this town besides grow crops. It didn't look like there was.

"Just for my high school reunion," Dad reminded him, chuckling. "We'll be heading home next week, Clark. Don't worry—you won't die of boredom in a week."

Clark wasn't as sure about that as his parents seemed to be. He was used to spending time at college (having graduated from high school two years early), studying, working on inventions, working with the AI, and socializing. He wouldn't be back to school for a week, and his homework was already done. He had nothing extracurricular to study, since he'd finished that on the flight here. His latest inventions were being tested, and his ideas for the next ones were still forming up. The AI wasn't available away from the spaceship, so he couldn't learn anything new about Krypton, or practice with his abilities. And who was there to socialize with? He didn't know anyone here, and if he met anyone new, he wasn't likely to see him or her again once they left town on Sunday. One solid week of complete and utter boredom was looking him square in the face. Clark didn't like the look of it at all.

They wandered up the street, his parents comparing notes about what had changed, and what hadn't. It took about 15 minutes to see Smallville's downtown. They turned around, and spent another half hour walking back, shopping in the little stores. Eventually, Mom and Dad decided that it was time to go to the reunion proper, so they piled into their rented Hummer to drive over.

"I still feel strange driving this thing in Smallville," Jonathan said, sighing.

"You're not showing up to your high school reunion in a battered pickup truck," Martha told him. "We have to keep up appearances, no matter how uncomfortable this makes you. Besides, you normally drive a Hummer."

"But not in Smallville," Jonathan protested, making Clark and Martha exchange amused glances. "I guess I'll deal with it. Just wish that I could drive that old pickup they had at the rental place."

"We wouldn't have all fit in it." Martha laughed, rolling her eyes. "You and your pickup trucks!"

The rest of Smallville was just as small as the downtown. It only took about ten minutes of slow, nostalgic driving to get to the high school. They were massively early—at least two hours before the reunion was supposed to start. Clark sighed as they got out to head inside. This was going to be such a drag!

+++++

Lex sighed from the back of the van. Nell and Lana were giggling, excited about the high school reunion, but Lex thought that it was just that much more work for him to do alone. Nell would give them their directions, and then go off to talk with her friends. Lana would carry one box of centerpieces, and then disappear, as always. That would leave Lex to finish the job of setting up the floral decorations.

It was probably for the best. The last time Lana had gotten it into her head to do it, they'd lost nearly half the flowers, and nearly lost the client. Bouquets she excelled at, but large-scale decorations eluded her at the best of times. With this sort of occasion, she was guaranteed to be distracted, so it was just as well to have her wander off.

"Make sure you get the centerpieces on all of the seating tables," Nell ordered as they arrived at the high school, "and put the swag up along the podium. Oh, look! There's a Hummer! Jonathan and Martha must have come, after all."

"Who?" Lana craned her neck to peer at the Hummer. Lex ignored it in favor of keeping the centerpieces from toppling in their boxes as Nell parked the van. She ended up parked crosswise at an angle over two parking spaces because she wasn't paying attention.

"You know, the Kents," Nell said. "The rich inventors I told you about. Their son Clark is just your age, and he's supposed to be gorgeous. He's quite available."

"Ooo!" Lana shared a grin with Nell.

Lex immediately felt sorry for Clark Kent. Once Lana set her sights on a boy, she always got him. She was privileged in a way that Lex had never been, even when he was younger, and someone else. When Lex was nine years old, his real father had brought him to Smallville as a 'test.' He'd always pushed, and verbally abused Lex; he'd claimed it was to make Lex stronger, but Lex still thought that his father had wanted to destroy him. Nell tended to agree with him, without ever saying it outright.

On that day, his father's abuse had ended—along with his father's life—and the identity of Alexander 'Lex' Luthor ended with it. Meteors had struck Smallville, destroying much of the town, killing Lana's parents and Lionel Luthor. Lex had wandered out into a cornfield before the meteor shower. He'd nearly died out there, as well. He'd lost all of his hair, and lain there unconscious for hours before finally waking and wandering, dazed and confused, out to the road. He was convinced that only Nell's finding him on the road, hours later, had kept him from joining his father in death. She'd taken Lex home with her, along with her niece Lana, and given him a home, a new name, and a new identity to protect him.

She told him every day—at least twice a day—how lucky he was that she had taken him in. She'd known Lionel Luthor, and she knew that Lex was better off in Smallville than he'd ever have been back with his real family. They were tainted by the Luthor legacy, and not to be trusted. Given his mother Lillian's often-reported mental instability, Lex tended to agree with Nell. Even if, in his heart, he sometimes doubted late at night.

"Ah, that must be Clark Kent," Nell said appraisingly as they entered the cafeteria, which was being transformed for the reunion.

The comment pulled Lex out of his looping thoughts. He peered around his box full of flowers, two buckets full of flowered swags, and a clipboard with the decoration plan. Across the room, a crowd had gathered around three people. Two of them were older—a man and a woman—both very well dressed. The third was a young man in very nice navy blue slacks, and a bright red button-down shirt. Lex thought that he looked bored out of his mind, standing behind his parents like a large, brightly colored shadow. He was a perfect opposite to Lex, clothed in his ratty jeans, old tennis shoes, loose grey sweatshirt, and a black baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.

"He's cute!" Lana exclaimed.

"While Lex brings the flowers in," Nell said, "why don't I introduce you? I used to know Jonathan before he married Martha. It will be good to talk to him again."

Nell deposited her box of centerpieces on the podium next to Lana's requisite one box of flowers, and they disappeared, heading for the scent of money. The thought brought a touch of bitterness, but not much. Lex had gotten used to being the ugly stepchild to Lana's perfection. He rarely thought about the fortune that would have been his, and he certainly never missed Excelsior, or the huge, empty mansion that had been his home before his father died. Lex pulled his baseball cap lower over his eyes, and set to work on the decorations, ignoring everyone else. He worked better when they didn't notice him, and he'd more or less perfected the ability to be invisible at will. Just another worker, Lex thought, bringing his second load of centerpieces in.

"Puh-lease let me help you," a man's voice said unexpectedly, and entirely too close to Lex.

"Um, I'm fine," Lex said, glancing up. He was startled to find the ever-so-desirable Clark Kent looking down at him. The young man was even more gorgeous up close than he'd been at a distance, and Lex's heart lurched. He told himself it was because he was worried about Nell and Lana being angry with him, but knew that he was lying to himself.

"Great!" Clark enthused, grabbing a box off of Lex's stack as if Lex hadn't said anything. "Always glad to help out. Especially if it gets me away from the brainless 'bobble-heads' over there."

He muttered the last sentence to Lex, rolling his eyes with his head turned so that no one else could see his expression. Lex glanced over, and saw that it was Lana's crowd Clark was fleeing. He had to swallow a laugh. 'Bobble-heads' was a pretty good description of them. Most of them hadn't had an original thought in years.

"You are so saving my life," Clark said as they started putting up the swag. "You have no idea how tedious it is listening to people agree enthusiastically when you tell them that a gadget works better when you hook the Klystron monitor into the flange valve, and add a bercamph widget for oomph. I swear they don't listen to a word I say!"

Lex bit back another laugh, grinning out from under his hat at Clark. Not at all what he'd been expecting.

"Well, those Klystron monitors are pretty fragile, you know," Lex offered slyly. "Might work better with a dilithium crystal or two instead."

"I'll have to use that next time," Clark laughed. "I'm Clark."

"Lex," Lex said, lips twitching. "You do that to people a lot?"

"Only when I want to see if their brains have dribbled out of their ears," Clark admitted. "There's something about being known as being very smart, a successful inventor at a young age, and very rich that makes people's brains dissolve into mush. Being two of the three appears to be fine. You can be very smart and an inventor, and everyone's fine with that. They go together. Being a successful inventor and very rich works, too. Very smart and very rich, fine again. But as soon as you put the three together in one person, people seem to check their brains at the door, and assume they can't possibly keep up with you in conversation. So they start blindly agreeing with you when you talk about devices being destroyed because someone let the magic smoke out."

Lex laughed outright at that one. Clark beamed at him. They finished putting out all of the centerpieces that Lex had brought in, and headed out for the last several boxes.

"Lana actually believes in the magic smoke," Lex snickeried. "Kind of sad."

"Short, sort of Asian, very touchy-feely?"

"That's her," Lex confirmed, sighing.

"Yuck," Clark said, making Lex stare. "No, seriously. She's a nice enough girl, and very pretty, but could she and her aunt be any more obvious about being money-grubbers? It's kind of embarrassing to watch them. And the grabby thing bugs me to no end. It's like she's trying to lay claim to me, and she's got no right or reason to."

Lex wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so he just got the last of the centerpieces, and they headed in to put them out. Lex was never sure what to say to people anymore, so generally he didn't talk. His father had tried endlessly to teach Lex how to take control of a conversation to get what he wanted out of people, but that didn't work for normal chitchat. Nell tried to keep him from talking to anyone, so he'd never learned how to hold up his end of a conversation without sounding weird. Clark carried on chatting, telling Lex about his college courses, and the projects he and his father were working on, continuing to try to make Lex laugh with thoroughly amusing comments about some people's technological ignorance or stupidity.

"Um, did I offend you or something?" Clark finally asked as they carried the empty boxes out of the cafeteria. "I didn't mean to, if I did."

"No, I just don't talk much," Lex said, ducking his head to hide behind the brim of his baseball cap. "You didn't offend me. I was just working."

"Hmm." Clark studied Lex much too intently.

They both started as Clark's father called to him from the door, but Lex couldn't help breathing a quiet sigh of relief. He truly hated it when people paid attention to him. He was always afraid that they'd see something to reveal him as a Luthor. The thought of going back to that life horrified him. Most of his many nightmares revolved around his father's legacy tainting his new life, and destroying it.

"Clark!" Jonathan joined them by the van with a small device in his hand. "I was wondering where you had wandered off to. Helping out?"

"Yup," Clark said, smiling warmly at his father. Lex couldn't help but be a little jealous of the warmth; he'd never had a fraction of that kind of affection from his dad. "Did you break it again?"

"Yeah," Jonathan sighed, giving the device to Clark, "and I needed to get away from your mother and Nell. It was getting a little…scary in there."

Clark pulled a mini tool kit out of his pocket, and sat down on the back hatch of the van. Lex watched, fascinated as Clark popped open the case of the device to check it out. Lex had always loved seeing the inner workings of machines, even if his favorite areas of science were chemistry and biology. This device seemed far more complicated than a simple phone or PDA, based on what he could see inside of it.

"Hmm, what happened?" Clark asked, checking connections.

"Dropped it." Jonathan sighed. "Your mother was saying something bitingly sweet to Nell, and Nell was looking like she was going to kill her with her eyes. I got a call, and fumbled opening it."

"Probably knocked the kerfwee connector loose," Clark said, utterly seriously.

"That's what I thought," Jonathan agreed, nodding, "but your mother made me leave my tools at the hotel, so I brought it to you."

"Kerfwee connector?" Lex repeated, lips twitching again. "What's that?"

"One of our best-selling products, actually," Jonathan told him proudly as he ruffled Clark's hair. "Clark came up with it when he was 12."

"I got to name it," Clark added, grinning. "It's a springy little connector that's made of some very special and proprietary alloys. Works like wires in moving parts, but doesn't succumb to metal fatigue. Well, it does eventually, but it takes something like 400 times as long. Problem with them is that they're so springy that when you're trying to connect them, they're liable to spring loose, and go kerfwee into the void, never to be seen again. Thus the name. I came up with the alloys and coating process, and Dad figured out how to machine it into various sizes of connectors."

Clark balanced the device on his knee, and soon had a screwdriver in one hand, a tiny wrench in the other, and a little stylus in his mouth. Jonathan was watching the door nervously, as if expecting Nell to show up at any moment. Lex offered a hand, and Clark grinned, giving him the stylus. They worked sitting side by side, Lex holding the device still, and keeping various pieces from moving as Clark worked. Lex was surprised when Clark kept up a running commentary, explaining what he was looking for, and how everything worked. It was a level of trust that Lex wouldn't have expected from an inventor, or from someone so rich. It took some serious maneuvering to get all the parts back together, including a little U-shaped clip that Clark identified as the kerfwee connector. Eventually Clark grunted, nodded, and closed the case.

"Let's see if that worked," Clark said, setting his tools aside to turn the device on. "Yup, it was the kerfwee connector, Dad. Three missed calls, all from work."

"It's just a phone?" Lex was surprised. He'd gotten the impression that it did a lot more than that.

"Phone, PDA, mini computer, diagnostic tool, and a couple of other functions we're working on building in," Clark said, giving it back to his dad. "Dad and I are the preliminary test group for all our new devices. We make a prototype, use it for a few months, and break it a few dozen times. By the time we're done tweaking it, and breaking and repairing it, it's generally ready for full-scale production."

"Nice that you make them fixable," Lex said. "I don't know how many things I've worked on that cannot be repaired."

"I know!" Jonathan said firmly. "It's one of the worst things about Western Civilization!"

"Soapbox alert," Clark muttered to Lex with a quick grin. "Nod and agree, and he'll go away faster."

Lex had to swallow a laugh yet again. Clark seemed to be very good at getting Lex to laugh. Jonathan did indeed get on his soapbox, ranting about how the disposable culture had resulted in appalling waste, and the destruction of the environment. Clark smiled, nodded, and made appropriately agreeing noises whenever his father paused for breath. Lex pressed his lips tightly together as he fought laughter. It wasn't that he disagreed with Jonathan. He didn't. He agreed utterly. It was that Clark was entirely too good at getting Lex to react.

"That's why all of our devices are made to be repaired, not thrown away," Jonathan eventually declared. "Nothing we make is disposable. It's all designed to last for decades, be upgraded and improved, and repaired as needed. I won't countenance a poorly made device."

"Alexis!" Nell said sharply from the doorway, making Jonathan flinch, and Clark sigh. Feeling himself go pale, Lex stood, his gaze fixed on Nell's shoes rather than on her face. "Good heavens, I can't believe you're not getting everything done. You know we're on a timeline."

"It is done," Lex assured her, pointing to the back of the van. "I just have to collapse the boxes."

"Well, I trust that you'll get that done on time, too," Nell said, turning a decidedly predatory smile on both Jonathan and Clark. "I'm sorry. Alexis is usually so good about getting work done. I hope he wasn't annoying you."

"Nonsense," Clark said firmly. "I helped him with the flowers because I was bored to tears. Then he helped me fix Dad's prototype PDA. It's nice to have someone intelligent to talk to."

"I should head back inside," Jonathan said, edging away from Nell. "I'm sure Martha is wondering where I am."

"Thank you so much for helping Alexis," Nell murmured, her eyes a little too bright, and far too calculating as Jonathan fled inside. She laid a familiar hand on Clark's arm, licking her lips seductively. "I truly do appreciate it. You must let me make it up to you."

"No, that's fine," Clark said hastily, getting a wild look in his eyes. "I should head back, too. Mom must be worried that I've been gone for so long. Nice talking to you, Alexis."

"Lex," Lex said sharply, getting a fierce look from Nell. He continued in a far milder tone of voice, "I prefer 'Lex'."

"Oh, okay," Clark said. He frowned faintly before beaming at Lex. "I hope I see you later, Lex. Bye!"

Nell waited until Clark and Jonathan had both disappeared inside before turning to Lex with a glare. Fortunately for Lex, the parking lot was now empty, aside from the two of them. He hated it when she gave him lectures in front of other people; in a town as small as Smallville, juicy gossip flew, and soon everyone would know he'd been browbeaten yet again. But even that didn't make it worth standing up to her.

"Do not mess this up for Lana, Lex," Nell growled furiously. "She's made for something better, and this is the perfect chance. I don't want anything to interfere, do you understand me?"

"I understand," Lex said tonelessly. "I need to collapse the boxes, Nell."

"Good." Nell was still glaring at him. "We're going to be here a while. Once you're done, drive the van back to the shop, and head home. There's no need for you to wait. We can catch a ride with someone else."

"Of course," Lex said, sighing faintly.

Nell watched him work for a minute longer. Once she was satisfied that he was doing as he was supposed to, she headed back inside, clearly stalking the Kent money tree. Lex shook his head, and finished his work. Back to being invisible and a nuisance, he thought, making sure that everything on the list had been completed. He drove back to the shop, set the security system for the night, and then drove home in the van. He left Nell's car there so she and Lana could get home later. The house was quiet, empty, and dark when he got there. Lex didn't bother turning lights on, other than on the front porch. He went to the kitchen, and made himself a cold sandwich before heading to his room, and shutting the heavy steel door that Nell had installed three years ago after his attempt to run away.

"Nice meeting you, Clark," Lex whispered, staring at the ceiling of his stark room. "Sorry you're about to become one of Lana's toys. You seemed like a really nice guy."

He fell asleep long before Nell and Lana came home. Nell checked to be certain that he was there, and put a breakfast tray on the bedside table. She left a little note saying that they'd be gone all day, and that he was to stay home. Then she turned off his alarm clock, ensuring that Lex wouldn't wake up in time to interfere.

+++++

Clark sighed, collapsing into the recliner in their hotel suite. He hadn't expected the first day of the reunion to be this 'exciting.' It was like those stupid parties he had to go to where all the other guests kept trying to match him up with various matrimonial candidates.

Except that this time there was only one candidate, and Lana Lang was it. Clark frowned, puzzling over it. He'd met a few people his own age today. There was Chloe, the reporter for the school paper, the Torch. She'd been there with Pete, her boyfriend, reporting on the reunion. Whitney was another young person at the reunion. He appeared to have been Lana's boyfriend, but wasn't anymore. He'd been the DJ for the dance. Lana's friends had been there, too, following her around like her own little horde of minions.

Clark ran through them in his mind while Mom and Dad chatted about who they'd seen, excluding Nell by unspoken agreement in order to avoid a fight. Chloe had gone on endlessly about how cute Clark would be with Lana, saying that they'd be a perfect couple. Pete had claimed it was a match made in heaven. Clark suspected that he was pushing the issue because he didn't want Chloe to look at Clark. Clark couldn't blame him for that; Chloe was pretty, smart, and funny—much better than Lana, in Clark's opinion. Whitney, whom Clark would have expected to be grouchy and bitter, had been gung-ho about the idea. The anticipatory edge to his grin made Clark wonder just how Lana and Whitney had broken up; Whitney seemed to be looking for revenge, rather than to make Lana happy. Clark had ditched Lana after that, trying to escape her. Every person that Clark had talked to while dodging Lana the Perfect had expressed the opinion that she and Clark were made for each other. It was more than odd. It was downright freaky.

"So did you have a good time, sweetie?" Mom asked, startling Clark out of his speculation on how Lana had adjusted everyone's minds, and what chemical compounds would be required to do so on such a large scale. Or whether she was just so popular that everyone kowtowed to her desires.

"Mostly," Clark said, making a face, "other than the endless Clark-and-Lana parade."

"What?" Dad had already started laughing.

"You didn't notice?" Clark rolled his eyes. "Every single person there seemed to think that I'm a perfect match for Lana Lang. And I do mean every single person."

"She is…sweet, I guess," Mom said, clearly unhappy with the thought of Lana and Clark as a couple.

"She's creepy," Clark retorted, shuddering. "Always touching and clinging. I want to think that she was using some kind of mind control on everyone, but I don't know for sure if she was. I can't decide if she's actually meteor-affected, or just the town princess."

"Hmm." Dad looked thoughtful, even as he pulled Mom into a hug that made her smile. "Well, if Lana is meteor-affected, Nell clearly doesn't have the same power. She was doing the same 'touching' thing, but all it did is make me want to run away. I think I spent the whole evening running away from her."

"I did the same thing," Clark laughed, before getting serious and shuddering, "both from Lana, and from Nell. They're hell-bent on my marrying Lana, I think. The only sane person that I found all day was Lex. Only smart one, too. About Lex—I did some investigation—"

"Clark!" Mom said sternly, giving him 'the look.' "I can't believe you did that. You can't go around randomly investigating people, no matter how curious you are."

"Mom, it's important," Clark insisted, trying to get her to listen. "You two told me that Lana is Nell's only family, but Lana said that Lex is Nell's second cousin on her father's side."

"She doesn't have anyone on her father's side," Jonathan said, surprised.

"That's my point," Clark said. "So I did some investigation, and there was no such person as Alexis Potter until three days after the meteor shower hit. You know that Lionel and Lex Luthor died in Smallville. This guy was really insistent on being called 'Lex,' not 'Alexis.' That's what made me curious."

"Honey, you can't believe that Lex is Lillian's Alexander," Mom protested, sitting on the sofa, and looking both worried and hopeful.

"I don't know," Clark admitted, "but I was hoping to spend some more time with him over the week, and see what I could find out. If he is, it'd be great. She's had so many people coming forward pretending to be Alexander that I don't want to call her yet, but he's the first person I've met that I'd say could be the real thing."

Mom and Dad looked at each other, doing the married people reading-each-other's-minds thing. Eventually, they turned back to Clark.

"All right," Mom told him, "you can do a bit more investigation, but I want you to be very discreet about it. He may just be very shy, you know. Or he might have a completely different reason for using a fake name."

"Can I take the Hummer for getting around tomorrow?" Clark asked hopefully. "I'll drop you guys off, and then pick you up whenever you want. I'll learn a lot more out and about than I will at the reunion activities."

"That should be fine," Dad said, nodding approval. "Better than having you fly around. We don't want people finding out about your abilities."

"Thanks, Mom and Dad!" Clark beamed at them, bounced up and gave them both hugs. At least now he wouldn't be stuck at the reunion with no one to talk to, and nothing to do.

Day Two - Tuesday:

Lex woke to the sun beating on his face through the iron grills on his bedroom window. He mumbled, rolled over, and stared at the clock. 7:21 a.m. Lex blinked, looked again, and then erupted from the bed. He paused as he caught sight of the breakfast tray, his stomach sinking.

"I should have known." Lex sighed, reading the little note. "As if I'd interfere after being warned."

He checked to be sure that Nell and Lana were gone before going to the bathroom, showering, and changing into his most battered jeans, and oldest T-shirt. If he was stuck at home, he might as well get some yard work, and long over-due maintenance done. The breakfast Nell had left consisted of a cold breakfast sandwich, warm juice, and dry toast, but it let Nell say that she'd left him breakfast, so she would have considered it more than sufficient. Lex didn't care. It was food, and he was hungry. At least he hadn't had to listen to the two of them giggling about Clark Kent, and making premature wedding plans.

Once the breakfast tray had been cleaned up and put away, Lex pulled on his baseball cap, and headed outside to get to work. The lawn needed mowing, the barn roof had a couple of leaks, and now that he'd gotten the parts he needed from town, he hoped he could finally get the other car working again. Maybe he wouldn't be stranded, and could go get more groceries after everything else was done.

+++++

Clark sighed, now outside of town as he searched for Lex's house. Lana and Nell had been a complete waste of time when he'd stopped at the flower shop. Lana had spent all of her time flirting, and Nell had looked like she was going to rip Clark's guts out when he'd asked about Lex. It had taken nearly two hours to escape the shop. They'd had more creative ways to keep him from leaving than anyone else he'd ever met. Another hour had been spent at the courthouse, checking records on the meteor shower. The clerk had apparently bought the excuse that Clark was doing a paper on his home town for school.

"Now where are you?" Clark murmured, passing the half-fallen gate that led to what would have been his family home.

Nothing had been rebuilt. The skeletal remains of the burned-out buildings were just barely visible from the road. Trees had started growing in the basement. The fences were falling down along the perimeter. An old, very battered sign proclaimed the land for sale. Clark drove past with no interest in exploring. He knew kryptonite littered the property, and he didn't want to risk an encounter with it. The few encounters he remembered had been excruciating, and he had no desire to experience it again.

"Ah! That must be it!" Clark beamed as he pulled into the next driveway.

It was a bright, well-kept house with a perfectly mowed lawn. There was a barn in the back, and a horse was eating grass out in one field. Clark realized that, back when the Kent barn had still been standing, he probably would have been able to see this house from there. He wondered what it would have been like to look down on the house where Lex and Lana lived. He wondered if he would have fallen for her if he'd lived here all his life. He certainly couldn't stand her now.

"Lex?" Clark called as he got out of the Hummer.

There was no answer. He could hear banging and muttered grumbles somewhere, so Clark used his X-ray vision to scan the place. He frowned at seeing one bedroom with iron bars on the windows and a heavy steel door, but refocused to find someone working on an old car in the barn.

"Damn stupid way of attaching a part," Lex was grumbling as Clark walked up.

He was underneath a car up on blocks, only his feet—in truly battered sneakers—sticking out. The hems of his pants looked like they might dissolve if they were put in the wash. Clark peered at Lex's feet, and cleared his throat. Lex didn't appear to notice, grunting as he wrestled with something on the car. Clark scuffed his feet, and coughed more loudly, but still got no response.

"Um, hello?" Clark ventured at last, feeling a little silly, but unsure what else to do. "Lex?"

"Shit!" Lex squawked as a bang-crunch came from under the car.

Lex scooted out, glaring up at Clark. His face was covered with dirt and smudges of oil and grease, as was his head. He'd taken off the baseball cap, which let Clark see his eyes for the first time. They were a very frosty blue, full of anger. Clark swallowed hard. This wasn't the reception he'd been expecting.

"What are you doing here?" Lex growled, sitting up. He wiped his hands on his battered jeans, leaving grease streaks along his thighs, but Lex didn't seem to notice the marks.

"Um, well," Clark said, "I'm avoiding the reunion, and Lana and Nell, so this seemed like the logical place to come. They'd never look for me out here. Besides, I wanted to talk to you again. You're the only intelligent person in Smallville."

Lex bit his lip, visibly fighting to hold onto his anger. He shook his head after a second, surrendering the battle. The frosty blue of his eyes became something a lot warmer. He was clearly very wary of Clark, watching him like a dangerous animal that he wasn't sure how to escape. Clark wondered what in his life had made Lex so afraid of people. But when he considered that this man might be Lex Luthor, he didn't wonder at the wariness anymore. It made sense.

"I'm afraid I'm busy right now," Lex said, lying down with the obvious intention of scooting back under the car. "So I don't have time to talk."

"That's fine." Clark smiled hopefully. "Can I help?"

"You'll ruin your clothes," Lex objected, eyes getting a little wild before he disappeared under the car again.

"So?" Clark knelt to look at the underside of the car. "I'm rich. I'll buy more. I'd rather be doing something useful than sitting around listening to my parents gossip about stuff that happened 20 years ago."

"There's not much for you to do," Lex said, grunting as he tried to pry a nut loose. "This is a one-man job."

"I can pass you parts and tools," Clark offered hopefully. "I like fixing cars. Dad and I restored an old pickup truck a couple of years ago. Are you restoring this one?"

"No, I just want to get it to run," Lex growled, pitting his strength against the nut, and failing. "Damn thing's stuck."

As Lex fished around in the tools by his side, Clark risked a really quick burst of heat vision on the nut, hoping that heating it would help loosen it a touch. Heat vision had worked before on other nuts, bolts and screws. Lex found the bottle of lubricant he'd been looking for. He squirted the nut, wiped off the excess lube, and then tried again to loosen the stubborn nut. This time it finally moved.

"Ha!" Lex grinned triumphantly as he quickly worked the part free. "Finally. Well, since you refuse to go away, take this, and hand me its replacement."

"Sure!" Clark said, delighted.

+++++

"Told you that you'd destroy your clothes," Lex said, lips twitching as he looked at the grease, oil, and dirt streaking Clark's pants and shirt. He had grease and grime all the way up to his elbows, and his face was covered with smudges.

"Well worth it!" Clark grinned. "It runs now! I should go wash all this off. The Hummer's a rental, and I think they'd object to me getting it dirty."

"Might as well come in," Lex said, shrugging and leading the way. "We can use the sink in the laundry room to get clean."

Lex heard Clark draw in a sharp breath, though he hadn't a clue what set off the accompanying blush, or what made him avert his gaze. Lex raised a quizzical eyebrow, but ignored Clark's embarrassment in favor of washing up. It took forever for the two of them to get clean, especially Lex. He had far more grime under his nails than Clark did. The oil and grease seemed to come right off of Clark, which made Lex grumble a little.

"Hey, what can I say?" Clark grinned as he watched Lex scrubbing the oil off of his head. "Dirt doesn't like me."

"I'm jealous," Lex said, checking his reflection, and then scrubbing some more. "It loves me."

Clark muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "I can't blame it," but when Lex looked, Clark was examining his shirt and pants to make sure he could sit down in the Hummer without destroying the seat. Lex swallowed hard. He didn't want his heart to be singing. He didn't want his stomach to flip at the thought that Clark might like him. He really didn't want to face Nell and have to say that Clark had made advances on him.

"So what are you going to do now?" Lex asked, carefully keeping his voice level. "It's getting pretty late."

"Mmm, I still have an hour or so before I have to be back at the hotel," Clark said, checking his watch as he strapped it back on. "It doesn't take too long to drive into town."

"You could come see your family's old farm," Lex suggested. He wasn't going to let Clark suggest that they go talk in Lex's room; the contrast between Nell's warm, welcoming house, and Lex's bleak little bedroom was far too painful for him to let an outsider see. "I go over there a lot for walks. It's actually quite pretty."

"I wouldn't want to trespass," Clark said, getting wild-eyed, and shaking his head no.

"Trespass?" Lex echoed, laughing quietly. "It's hardly trespassing. The land's more or less abandoned, and no one cares what happens there. That's why I go there for walks. It's very quiet. Serene."

"No, that's fine," Clark said, looking entirely too nervous about the idea. "I don't need to see it."

"You have no curiosity about the place where you would have grown up if things had happened differently?" Lex asked, raising an eyebrow at Clark. "That's weird."

Clark flinched, and then sighed. He looked almost sick to his stomach. Lex's curiosity clawed at him, wanting to know why Clark was so hesitant, why he wouldn't want to go over there. If Lex had been in Clark's place, he'd have gone there, not come here to see someone he barely knew. The thought that Clark might be more interested in Lex than his past made Lex's stomach do unwanted flips of joy again.

"Well, maybe for just a few minutes," Clark conceded reluctantly, "but I really shouldn't stay too long."

"Great," Lex said, grinning as he turned towards the door. Clark made that little squeaking gasp again, and Lex cocked his head, staring back at him. "Why do you keep making that noise?"

"Sorry!" Clark said, going beet red. "Let's just go, okay?"

"Fine." Lex gave it up for now. "Whatever."

They headed out the back door, down the stairs, as Lex led the way towards the back pasture. He nearly jumped to the moon when Clark's fingers somehow brushed his bare skin in an unmistakable pinch to Lex's ass.

"Clark!" Lex yelped, whirling to glare at him, both hands protecting his backside.

"You asked why I was making that noise." Clark grinned, despite his embarrassed blush. "That's why. You should turn those jeans into cut-off's Lex. They're already halfway there."

"You've been looking at my ass?" Lex spluttered. He could feel himself blushing violently.

"You've been showing it off!" Clark protested. "What was I supposed to do?"

Lex felt the back of his jeans and groaned. He hadn't realized that the small tear under the back pocket had gotten that wide. It had been an inch or so when he'd put the jeans on this morning, but now it was wide enough to easily let Lex's hand in. Clark's bigger hand had slipped through the rip easily, too.

"Darn it, these are my favorite work-around-the-house jeans," Lex complained, craning to see just how much skin he'd been flashing Clark. It was a lot, way more than he'd ever have shown if he'd known.

"I think it's time to retire them." Clark laughed, clearly amused despite his blushes. "Turn them into rags or something. Or at least patch the heck out of that spot."

"The patches would last longer than the jeans," Lex muttered, still blushing. He debated going back and changing, but Clark might follow him inside, see Lex's room, and he still didn't want to deal with the questions which would come after that. Instead, he took a deep breath, and headed towards the gate to the back pasture.

"True," Clark admitted, now walking beside Lex rather than behind him, "but if you kept patching them, pretty soon you'd have jeans made of patches."

They exchanged glances, and started laughing. It took only a few minutes to reach the break in the fence that Lex always took to get to the old Kent farm. He led Clark along the trail he'd made, pointing out various spots of interest. There was the old natural salt lick where Lex had put out a new salt block so the deer would visit. There was the old dry well, dug by Clark's great-grandfather. There was where Lex had seen the mother deer with her newborn babies last spring. Clark got continually paler as they headed towards the ruined house and barn; Lex wasn't sure why, but he kept an eye on Clark all the same.

"So," Lex asked casually as they came over a small hill, and the gaping hole that marked the house's ruins came into sight, "are you gay or what?"

"Eep!" Clark went bright red and stumbled, nearly falling. "Um, well, no. Not gay."

"Bi?" Lex asked. "A straight guy wouldn't have squeaked, or pinched my ass, no matter how torn my jeans were."

Clark laughed, his voice shaky. He'd started sweating, and was very pale once the blush had drained away. Lex frowned with sudden concern, angling a little closer to him. Something seemed to be very wrong, but Lex had no idea what it was. It didn't seem related to the conversation.

"Yeah, I'm bi," Clark admitted quietly. "Does that bother you?"

"No." Lex shrugged a little. "It makes no difference to me. I'm pretty bi myself. Not that I've had much in the way of opportunities out here."

"We…we should go back," Clark said, stopping abruptly, and swaying in place. "I don't…feel very good."

"You don't look very good." Lex put a hand on Clark's elbow. "What's wrong?"

"I just…don't feel…" Clark moaned, taking a step away from Lex.

Clark collapsed, curling into a ball as if he was cramping over his whole body. Lex stepped quickly to his side, kneeling to try to figure out what was wrong. He saw something green glowing just over Clark's shoulder, and stared in amazement. As Clark whimpered, Lex reached over him to pick up the hunk of meteor rock. Clark's groans turned into sharp cries of pain, and the green glow increased as the rock got closer to Clark's body.

"Please!" Clark gasped. "Hurts!"

Lex flung the meteor rock as hard as he could, straight into the basement well of the old farmhouse. He hauled at Clark's shoulder, and levered him up onto his feet.

"Let's go," Lex said, helping Clark walk back towards Nell's house.

It was a very quiet walk back to Nell's house. Clark was able to walk by himself after they got away from the area around the old Kent farmhouse, but he was still shaky and pale until they were nearly to the Potter barn. They stopped by the barn door, Lex studying Clark with a worried frown.

"Are you going to be all right now?" Lex asked, one hand still on Clark's elbow.

"Yeah, I'll be fine," Clark mumbled, looking miserable. "Sorry I ruined your walk."

"I'm sorry that you got hurt like that," Lex said, feeling terrible about it. "Why did you react that way? I've never seen the meteor rocks cause anyone physical pain. And normal humans don't react to them at all. What makes you so different?"

Clark's face went completely still, his eyes nearly opaque as he studied Lex. Lex managed not to flinch from the gaze, but it wasn't easy. He pulled his baseball cap down instead, trying to hide behind its brim. Clark looked away for a moment, and then sighed heavily.

"What's your real name?" Clark asked, very seriously.

Lex felt like his heart had stopped cold in his chest. Clark couldn't know. He couldn't! Lex hadn't said anything, and no one else besides Nell and Lana knew. They would have killed themselves rather than reveal Lex's true identity. They wanted him to stay in Smallville forever.

"It's the same sort of personal question," Clark said quietly. "We both have secrets, Lex—secrets that could destroy our lives, and our families' lives. My reaction to the meteor rocks is one of my secrets. Your real identity is one of yours. I barely know you. I mean, I like you a lot, and you're really smart, and you're fun to be around—better than anyone else here—but I still only just met you. I can't just…tell you something like that. Not yet."

"You haven't said anything about your…suspicions, have you?" Lex was trembling.

"No," Clark told him, shaking his head. "It's not my place to do that, Lex. I could be wrong, and I could do terrible things to your life. I don't want to do that."

"Thank you," Lex said quietly. "Whoever you think I am, I don't want people to know who I really was before Nell took me in. There are…reasons for it."

"If you want to talk about it sometime," Clark offered, "I'd be glad to listen."

They both looked up as Nell's car drove up the lane, and came to park in the back of the house. Lana got out, beaming to see Clark there. Nell got out looking blackly furious. The glare she directed at Lex made him flinch. He was in for a screaming lecture as soon as Clark left, and Lana made herself scarce.

"Clark!" Lana exclaimed, bouncing over to smile at him. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, I wanted to see my family's old farm," Clark said, "and Lex agreed to show me after I helped him get his car running. It was fun, but I need to get back to town. I have to change before the party tonight."

"Oh," Lana said, looking disappointed. "You're leaving?"

"Yup." Clark shrugged. "I've got to go. Anyway, thanks for showing me around the farm, Lex. I appreciate everything you did for me."

"Glad to help out," Lex said quietly and—he hoped—distantly enough to satisfy Nell. "Have fun at the party."

"Eh." Clark shrugged, looking distinctly unenthused. "I'll just plot out new inventions while I'm there. I hate going to parties. I'd much rather play mad scientist in the lab than socialize with people."

"Do you make steampunk stuff?" Lex asked, grinning at the thought of Clark in a lab coat and mad scientist glasses with a welding torch in hand, and brass fittings all around.

"Ooo, now that's a great idea!" Clark's eyes widened almost comically. "I'm going to have to do that!"

They were clearly talking over Lana's head; she looked quizzical, her hands behind her back, her head cocked to the side as she studied Clark and Lex. Clark didn't notice her 'tell me – I'm curious' pose at all. Nell noticed. Nell shot Lex a dark look, wordlessly telling him to let Lana work her magic on Clark. Lex stiffened a little, swallowed hard, and pulled his cap a little lower over his eyes.

"Have fun geeking out, then," Lex offered, shaking his head in mock-dismay. "I have things to do."

"I will now that I have some new ideas to work on at the party," Clark assured him, nodding distantly to Nell and Lana, and beaming at Lex. "I'll let you know what I come up with. Bye!"

He bounced off to his Hummer, making vague gestures with his hands as he walked. Lana sighed, disappointed, watching him go with dark eyes that held more curiosity than genuine interest, in Lex's opinion. Lex waited until Clark had driven off before returning to the house, where Nell was still waiting. Lana took one look at Nell's face, and headed straight for her horse. Lex knew she wouldn't be back until after dark.

"Inside," Nell snapped, scowling at Lex.

"Yes, ma'am," Lex said, trembling a little. This was not going to be good.

Day Three - Wednesday:

The square of glass had come from a purchased picture frame; Clark hummed as he used his powers to reshape it into the base lenses for the steampunk glasses/digital camera he was making. The bits of brass and metal had come from an antique clock he'd bought in the little antique store in downtown Smallville. The bright, shiny new digital camera—which he'd gutted and reworked into something utterly unlike its original sleek state—had come from the mall. The leather had come from some work gloves, and the glasses frames were from cheap corrective glasses that he'd bought at the general/hardware store in downtown Smallville. That last stop had taken nearly two hours, just because of all the cool things the store held. Now he knew why Mom hadn't let Dad go into the store on their tour on Monday.

"Clark," Mom said, her voice a distant thing compared to the creation blooming under his hands.

"Mmm-hmm," Clark murmured, melting bits of brass with his heat vision, and reshaping them by hand around the new lenses. A blast of breath cooled the metal, making perfect little monocles to attach to the glasses.

"Clark!" Mom repeated, louder and more insistently.

"Hmm?" Clark was carefully attaching the monocles to the arms that would let the wearer flip them down as though the monocles were magnifying what the wearer was seeing. Given that the glass in the monocles was from the corrective lenses, they actually would, which tickled Clark. It had absolutely nothing to do with the functioning of the camera, but it looked cool, in a very geeky way.

"Clark!"

"What?" Clark asked, finally looking up from his work.

"Honey, I know you're having fun, but you can't work on whatever that is all day," Mom told him, hands on her hips. "You've been working on it since you got back from shopping, and that was nearly three hours ago. I want you to get out of the hotel, and do something else. At the very least, I want you to eat! You know you need to eat."

"I will, Mom," Clark said, giving her his very best puppy eyes, "but it's almost done."

She sighed, looking at him with the expression that said she'd heard that line about ten million times too many. She probably had. He and Dad used it all the time. Dad often said that his definition of 'almost done' was completely different from Mom's. Her definition was under five minutes. Dad's definition was sometime within three hours, or so. Clark's was somewhere in between, which threw both of them off.

"How long?" Mom tone was stern. "In objective time, please."

"Um, maybe…an hour," Clark answered thoughtfully. "I have to finish adding the monocles, adjust the focus on the camera, and fix the head strap so that it's comfortable to wear, but after that it'll be done."

"What is it?" Dad asked, leaning against the door and studying the thing curiously. "That's not the sort of invention you normally make. Normally, your things are very sleek, and that thing is…."

He waved a hand at the glass-and-brass monstrosity. It lurked on the desk like something out of a bad SF movie from the 50's. It almost looked like it could get up, and walk away on its own, which—to Clark—meant that he'd done a pretty good job making the thing.

"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" Clark couldn't help grinning. "It's deliberately like this. It's an Instantaneous Stereooptical Image Recording Device."

They both stared at him as though he'd gone mad. Clark laughed, delighted. He loved getting dumbfounded looks from people over the things he'd created, especially when the people in question were his parents. Most of the time he couldn't surprise them; they'd seen too many of his inventions over the years.

"There are these people who make things that work like modern devices, but look like they come from the Victorian era," Clark explained. "They call it 'steampunk.' This is a digital camera that I reworked to look like it came from a mad scientist from the Victorian era."

Mom sighed, covering her face with a raised hand. She shook her head as though she couldn't believe what she was hearing. Dad simply rolled his eyes at Clark and his latest toy. Dad understood the fun of creating something, but he'd never understood the esthetics side. For him, as long as it functioned, that was enough. It didn't need to be fancy, and it certainly didn't need all the stuff that Clark had done to this creation.

"Why in the world would you make something like that?" Mom shook her head, dismayed.

"Well, Lex sort of gave me the idea, and planning it out let me ignore Lana and Nell at the party last night," Clark said, "so I figured that I'd make it for Lex, and see if I could make him laugh. Fair payment for escaping Lana-chatter and Nell-flirting."

"That woman had better not be flirting with you!" Mom bristled like an offended porcupine.

"Um, a little?" Clark admitted hesitantly. "I think she's trying to push me at Lana, and that's her method of making me think Lana's worth the time of day."

"That…!" She bit back the rest of the epithet, but her face was flushed and her hands were balled into fists.

"Now, Martha," Dad soothed, coming to Mom's side, and taking her by the arms. "You know perfectly well that Clark's got more sense than that. It will be all right. We'll keep her away from Clark, and go home in a few days. It's not a big deal."

"Doesn't matter," Mom growled, showing her redhead's temper. "I'm going to put an end to this! That woman has no right to be flirting with my husband, much less with my child!"

Mom and Dad headed out of the hotel suite to join the group heading to the reunion, leaving Clark alone to finish his latest invention. It took about 45 minutes to get it all done, and he spent another 25 minutes building the USB cable into the head strap so that the camera could be plugged into the computer, and downloaded while still wearing it. Once Clark was completely done, he used the full-length mirror in their suite to take a series of photos of himself wearing the device, laughing at how very much like a stereotypical mad scientist it made him look. Then he carefully boxed it up, wanting it to be a proper surprise for Lex. It was nearly 3:30 p.m., so he headed to the florist shop first. When he scanned, only Lana was there, looking bored, so Clark headed out of town towards Nell's house, thinking that was the next most likely place where Lex would be. He just hoped that Nell wasn't out there, too.

+++++

Lex sighed, gratefully getting out of his newly repaired car, and heading inside with arms full of groceries. Nell had been furious last night. Nothing Lex had said had mattered. According to her, Lex was trying to destroy Lana's life, just as Lionel had destroyed Nell's life, and Nell wouldn't have it. She'd taken Lex in, given him a home, an education, and a job, and look what he was doing, stabbing her in the back just when things might get better for them all. Lex had stood, and stared at his shoes as Nell yelled at him. He'd quickly realized that–as usual–nothing he could say would be the right answer. Nothing he could say ever was. It had taken years before he'd learned not to fight her when she got like this. His father, after all, had trained him very well to fight every time someone tried to push him around.

Once she'd run out of steam, Nell had given him the longest list of chores and errands that he'd ever gotten. He'd run all over the county today, buying so many things, and driving so far that he was surprised that his car hadn't broken down again. At least he was done with the running around for now. He could settle down to fix all the things that she'd put on the list for home. He wasn't looking forward to fixing the fence line, but it did need to be done. That it would make it more difficult for him to go on his rambles on the Kent property didn't escape his notice.

"Oh, well," Lex sighed, putting away the month's worth of groceries Nell had sent him to buy.

He could still remember the feeling of Clark's hand slipping inside his jeans to touch his bare skin. It was odd how that sensation had branded itself on his brain, along with the look of glee in Clark's eyes whenever he got Lex to laugh. And the fullness of his lips. And the curls in his hair around his ears and the nape of his neck. And those hands that looked too big to do anything delicate, but which could do things of incredible delicacy and gentleness, nonetheless. Lex caught himself smiling dreamily, and growled.

"Stop it, you idiot!" Lex snapped at himself, slamming the cabinet door. "He's not yours. He's never going to be yours. He's rich, important, and smart, and you're nothing but a farm boy from Kansas who can fix things!"

He'd once been destined to move in the same circles as Clark. It didn't matter. He was Alexis Potter now. He worked at a florist shop, and fixed things for people on the side. He would never go to college. He would never leave Smallville. He'd probably never marry, because who'd want a bald nobody who would never be anything? Besides, he was pretty sure that there was no one in Smallville or the surrounding area who'd take him. Lana's gossip, and snarking during school had ensured that no one his own age liked Lex. Most of the town wouldn't give him the time of day unless he was buying something, or fixing something. Clark Kent was destined for great things, and Lex wasn't. That's all there was to it.

Lex changed out of his running-around clothes into his other set of work clothes. He did check to be sure that nothing had tears or holes before putting it on. He didn't want to risk seeing Clark, and tempting fate. As much as he'd like to explore…more…with Clark, he desperately wanted to avoid upsetting Nell. It wasn't worth the pain. Clark was leaving on Sunday, and Lex had to live with Nell for the rest of his life. The thought made his stomach churn. When the doorbell rang unexpectedly, Lex fought down a moment of panic, telling himself that it couldn't be the person who'd immediately sprung to mind. That reassurance lasted only as long as it took him to reach the door.

"Clark?" Lex stared up at him in shock. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, I just finished my latest creation," Clark said with a huge grin, "and I wanted to share it with you. You gave me the idea, and I think you're probably the only person in town who'd get it. Want to see?"

Clark was bouncing with enthusiasm, acting more like a junior high school student than a college student. Lex sighed, leaning against the door. He was not letting Clark in. Nell had been very clear about not letting Clark into the house unless she and Lana were there. Excessively clear, at the top of her lungs, Lex thought sourly.

"I have a lot of stuff I need to get done, Clark," Lex said, wishing he'd put his hat back on before answering the door. If he had, he wouldn't have had to meet Clark's eyes as he turned him down. "Maybe some other time."

"But it's a present for you," Clark pouted, looking as hurt as a puppy who'd just been whacked with a newspaper, and told he was a bad dog. "Please? It won't take long, and I know you'll like it. It'll just take a minute."

Make that a desperately hopeful puppy that was madly in love, and had just been whacked with a newspaper, Lex thought, heart singing while his stomach sank. Why did he always have to fall for the puppies? Why couldn't he fall for who could actually protect him, instead of someone who needed to be protected when Lex couldn't even protect himself? Lex sighed, stepping aside. He would just have to get Clark out of the house as quickly as possible once he was done showing off whatever it was he'd made.

"Just for a minute," Lex warned him. "I've got way too much to do to talk to you for too long."

"Darn." Clark was visibly trying to keep a straight face.

"Sorry, just too many things need fixing—" Lex had started to say when Clark interrupted him by laughing.

"No, not the 'too much to do'," Clark drawled with an utterly wicked grin. "I understand that. Heck, most of the time I barely have the time to think, because I have so much to do."

"What, then?" Lex asked, confused.

"You're wearing different jeans," Clark observed, eyeing Lex's clothes with just a hint of smirk.

"Stop that!" Lex snapped, going bright red. "What's in the box? I need to get back to work!"

Clark laughed, carefully setting it down on the kitchen table and opening the top. He pulled out some wadded-up newspaper, setting it aside. The…thing…that he pulled out next defeated Lex's ability to comprehend. It had lenses like a pair of glasses, but also huge straps that apparently went over and around the wearer's head. Monocles on arms were draped over the lens, and a third 'eye' sat right in the middle of the forehead, looked outward like some deformed and demented sea creature. Clark grinned, and put it on, flipping a lens down to turn and look at Lex through it.

"It's…" Lex began, struggling not to laugh.

Clark had clearly spent ages working on the thing. Lex shouldn't laugh. Even though Clark looked absurd, was grinning like an idiot and the thing looked like a brass-and-glass insect infesting his head. Lex's mouth worked as he tried to come up with something to say that wouldn't involve collapsing in gales of laughter. Nothing came to mind, and only random 'umm' noises managed to escape his mouth.

"It's an Instantaneous Stereographic Image Recording Device," Clark said with complete and utter pride. "Isn't it the greatest thing ever?"

Lex lost it. He collapsed into the chair next to him, laughing. He'd never seen anything so absurd in his entire life. It looked ludicrous, and the name only made it more so. He laughed until he couldn't see for the tears running down his cheeks. Lex started coughing because he couldn't breathe for laughing so hard. The whole time, Clark grinned at him, and kept clicking a little lever on the right side of the monstrosity.

"Oh, god," Lex gasped, wiping his tears away with his sleeve, "it's awful! What is it supposed to do?"

"It's a digital camera," Clark said, taking it off and ruffling his hair to remove the 'helmet head' he'd developed while wearing it. "That's what the 'third eye' is, the lens. This lever takes the pictures. And the USB cable is built into the head strap so you never have to look for your connector cable. You can download your pictures while you're wearing it."

"Oh god!" Lex whimpered, wheezing. "I can't believe you made something like that!"

"And it's all yours," Clark declared, proudly offering it to Lex. "You gave me the idea, and I can use the plans to make a few more. I'll improve them, do things differently next time, but this prototype is a fully functional digital camera that I guarantee Nell and Lana will never borrow. Plus it has pictures of me wearing it on the memory stick already."

"I am never going to wear that thing," Lex said grinning as he tried to push it away.

"Doesn't matter." Clark set the camera down in front of Lex. "You can put it in a box, and shove it in the barn, if you want. It's still yours to do with whatever you want."

Lex sighed, ribs aching from the laughter, and heart hurting from the hope that Clark was offering. Lex knew it wasn't real, but he so wanted to take it, anyway. He flipped a monocle down, shaking his head in dismay. The thing was so ugly that it was beautiful, in its own demented sort of way.

"Thank you," Lex said, honestly touched. "But you should go. I have work to do, and I don't want to get in trouble with Nell."

"Lex, does she abuse you or something?" Clark asked, dropping into a chair, and leaning on the table to study him. "Why do you put up with the way she treats you?"

"Nowhere else to go." Lex shrugged. "And, no, she doesn't abuse me. She yells occasionally, but she doesn't abuse me."

"I hope she wasn't yelling about me being out here yesterday." Clark now looked desperately worried.

"A little," Lex admitted, unable to meet Clark's eyes. He played with the device's monocles instead. "But it's okay. She's just…very serious about taking care of Lana and me."

"If her plans include me marrying Lana," Clark said grimly, "then she'd better reformulate them. There is no way I'm ever going to marry Lana. The thought makes me ill."

Lex sighed, meeting Clark's eyes again. He was dead serious, green eyes intent on Lex's face. Lex wanted to wince, but didn't. That Nell would blame Lex for Clark's failure to love Lana wasn't something that Clark needed to know. It wasn't something that Lex wanted him to know.

"Would you have fallen for her if you hadn't met me?" Lex asked, heart fluttering a little. Asking the question was getting entirely too close to admitting his feelings, which he couldn't do.

"Nope," Clark said. "She's sweet, pretty, and nice enough, I guess, but she's very much not my type. I prefer smart, vivacious blonds and redheads, both males and females. Lana's too much the Perfect Princess for me to want to play Prince for her. I much prefer to play Conquering Hero or Mad Scientist."

"You'd make a great Prince Charming," Lex remarked, amused.

"Bleh." Clark made a face. "You do realize that all of those princes exist solely to give their princesses happy endings. Not a one of them has a brain, personality or any balls. I'm sure as heck never going to be a Prince Charming."

"Please stop trying to make me laugh," Lex groaned, holding his sides as he tried not to loose it again. "You're going to kill me!"

Clark grinned, looking delighted. Lex sighed, and shook his head. He needed to cut this off. As much as he wanted to spend more time with Clark, Lex had his own life to live, and Clark wasn't going to be a part of it. Clark didn't seem to be aware of that, but Lex certainly was.

"I need to get to work," Lex said firmly, standing. "It's fun talking with you, Clark, but I need to get to work. And no offering to help out. You've got to get back to town. I know there's another party tonight, and I'm sure your parents want you to actually attend this one."

"There was one more thing I wanted to do before I left." Now Clark looked a bit nervous. "But I need some coal first."

Lex blinked, staring at him in confusion. Clark was completely serious, watching Lex with those beautiful green eyes. He might seem nervous and hesitant, but he was clearly quite serious.

"Okay." It didn't take Lex long to fetch a bucket of coal from the shed out back. There was an old coal furnace there that Nell wanted him to get running again, and she'd already laid in a supply of coal. She had some idea that the furnace would help in the winters to reduce the cost of electric heat at the store. "Here you go."

"Thank you," Clark said, taking a handful of the coal.

He took a deep breath, and squeezed the coal in his hands, rubbing slightly as if trying to generate heat. Lex watched, utterly puzzled. A minute or so later, Clark opened his hands, and the coal was gone. All there was in the palm of his left hand was a small gem.

"How'd you palm the coal?" Lex asked, reaching over to pick up the uncut gem. He squawked, dropping it back into Clark's hand. "It's hot!"

"I didn't palm the coal," Clark said seriously. "I compressed it until it fused into that."

"Why isn't it burning you?" Lex barely got the words out. He could feel himself shaking. "It should be burning you. It burned me."

The little gem that couldn't possibly exist seemed to tremble on Clark's palm. It took Lex a second to realize that Clark was the one trembling. He looked terrified for a long moment as he studied Lex's face. Eventually he calmed, and nodded slightly to himself, licked his lips, and rolled the hot little gem between his forefinger and thumb, watching Lex's face.

"I'm invulnerable," Clark said as Lex stared at him. "You asked me why the meteor rock hurts me, but doesn't hurt anyone else. This is part of it. I'm different from everyone else, Lex. I'm stronger, faster than a speeding bullet, and invulnerable to everything but the meteor rock. I heal almost instantly from any wounds, have X-ray vision and heat vision. I can hear things no one else can, see at the microscopic level and I can fly."

"No human can do that," Lex said quietly.

"No, no human can," Clark admitted, looking his age for once. "But I'm not human. The meteor rocks affect me because they're all that's left of my homeworld. They give off radiation that hurts me. I arrived on Earth the same day the meteor shower destroyed my parents' home."

"Why are you telling me this?" Lex whispered, suddenly afraid. He felt like his heart had stopped again, this time from sheer shock. This whole thing was way outside of Lex's ability to control. He didn't have much left. His clothes weren't really his. The car wasn't his. His home, and job, and life weren't his. They all belonged to Nell. The only things Lex had left that were his, and only his, were his heart and his mind. Clark was stealing them away, making him hope, and pine, and sigh like a teenage girl, while making him think and telling him things that he should never have known. It was terrifying—far more terrifying than being discovered as a Luthor.

"Because I like you," Clark said, blushing, "and because I trust you. You're the first person I've ever met that I've felt this way about, Lex. There was an instant connection, at least on my side. You can freak out and tell me to leave. I won't be surprised. The few people I've ever told were pretty freaked at first. No matter what Nell and Lana want, you're the only person I've met that I'd ever think of…well, being with. I feel a connection to you and I've learned to trust my instincts on things like this. I think we're made for each other. This is too important to keep secret from you."

Lex's breath caught so badly that he thought he might pass out. He wanted Clark so badly, but he couldn't accept this. He couldn't. Clark was obviously special, and Lex was nobody. He couldn't do this. He couldn't ruin Clark's life by letting him get closer to Lex, only to find out what Lex had been, who his father had been. Lex shook his head, trying to clear it. He needed…he wasn't sure what he needed, and that bothered him intensely.

"Please go," Lex said, voice shaking. "Please. I have a lot to do and…please. Just go. I won't tell anyone, but I can't…please."

"All right," Clark said, looking crushed. "Sorry."

Lex thought that watching Clark walk away was the hardest thing he'd ever done. He bit through his lip to keep from calling to Clark, asking him to stay. His short nails managed to cut through his palms from the fists he'd made. Once Clark was gone, Lex sat in the chair Clark had used and cried. Clark deserved so much better than Lex. No matter what Clark felt, he clearly had a destiny that was far removed from Lex and Smallville, Kansas. Smallville, Kansas was all that Lex would ever have.

Day Four - Thursday:

The Luthor manor in Metropolis was a beautiful place, serene, quiet, full of classical music, and fresh cut flowers. Clark had been coming here since he was about 8 years old, when his mother met Lillian, and became her best friend. He adored Julian who was almost like a little brother to Clark. So after yesterday's crushing rejection by Lex, and the party with Lana following him around triumphantly last night, he'd slipped away to fly to see the woman he considered his other mother. It had only taken a minute and a half before the whole story spilled out. Lillian had always had the ability to make him tell her what was wrong.

"You think it's him?" Lillian said, her hand trembling in Clark's hand as she stared at Clark. "You think he's really my Alexander?"

"Yes," Clark sighed. "I do. But he's terrified, Lillian. He's so afraid. It's like he's convinced that everything will be destroyed if anyone learns anything about him."

She stilled and looked at Clark, studying his face, looking into his eyes. After a long moment she smiled, that same beautiful smile that had made Clark curl into her side when he was 8 years old. No one could resist Lillian when she smiled that way.

"Oh, Clark." Lillian squeezed his hand. "You're in love with him, aren't you?"

Clark blushed violently. Lillian laughed, and pulled him into a hug. Clark sighed, the sound almost a whimper. As much as he wanted Lillian to make it all better, he didn't think it was going to happen this time. This wasn't one of his minor frights or worries. The person Clark was sure he was destined to spend his life with had rejected him utterly.

"If he's afraid," Lillian said gently, "then of course he'd send you away, Clark. Lex was treated so badly by Lionel. He was trained from birth to be suspicious of everyone, and to never, ever trust. I tried to counteract his father's influence, but I don't know if anything could eliminate it entirely. On top of that, Lex was a timid boy, always afraid of everything. His instinctive response to anything new was to push it away, and study it until he was sure that it was safe. Once he was sure it was safe, he would cling to it, and never let it go, no matter what."

"Then…maybe he just needs a little time?" Clark said hopefully.

"I'm sure that he will calm down, and be all right in a day or two," Lillian said. "That is if he's really my Alexander. If he's someone else, I can't be sure, but that was how Alexander always reacted. And Clark, you should know that the more he wants something the harder he pushes it away at first. Don't give up."

"Thank you!" Clark said, hugging her as she laughed.

"You're welcome," Lillian said. "Thank you for telling me about him. I'm going to do some research on him, and on this Nell Potter. If it seems likely, then I'll bring Julian out to Smallville, and see if I can meet him without scaring him out of his mind. We do have a house out there that Lionel had brought from Scotland years ago. It would be good to go see it, and make sure that it's okay."

+++++

Lex rubbed the bruise on his chin absently as caught his breath. He was only a quarter done setting the new fence posts on the north line, and Nell had demanded that they be finished today. It was impossible, and they both knew it. Lex's automatic protest is what had earned him the bruise. This was getting as bad as three years ago when he'd finally gotten fed up, and tried to run away from Nell and Lana. That had gone so badly that Lex knew he wouldn't do it again, no matter what happened.

"God, this is going to take all day and all night," Lex groaned, stretching before picking up the latest post, and putting it in the hole he'd just dug.

There was a whoosh and a series of very fast thuds. Lex looked behind himself, heart beating faster. Nothing. He stood, looking around warily, and nearly fell down from shock. The entire fence line had new posts in place, each perfectly in line, and at just the right depth.

"What the hell?" Lex said, staring. When he reached out trembling fingers to touch one of the posts, it was really there. The fence line was done in a matter of seconds. "How in the world?!"

Lex shoveled the dirt around his pole, tamping it down while his mind spun around what could have caused the miracle to occur. He couldn't come up with anything to explain it, which just made him more nervous, and severely uncomfortable. It wasn't until he was carrying his shovel and pick back to the barn that he thought of Clark's words before he left yesterday.

"No way," Lex whispered, turning to look at the fence. He blushed, biting his lip. "Well, he does like to help out…."

Lex put the tools away, and as he was hanging up the shovel he sighed.

"Now to put all the barb wire up," Lex said loudly enough that anyone could hear him, much less someone who claimed to have super hearing. "Where did I put those leather gloves?"

Lex heard a whoosh while he rummaged around in his tool chest for the gloves. When he came out of the barn with them, wire cutters, and pliers, the barb wire had already been attached, three perfect rows of it. Lex laughed breathlessly, staring at the fence line while joy was singing in his heart.

"This is weird," Lex said, not letting his joy show. He wasn't going to give Clark that much control over him. "All right, since you're not supposed to be here anyway, and I can't see you, I'll just have to say stop helping, Fairy Godfather. I'm perfectly capable of doing my own work!"

Lex could have sworn he heard someone laugh, but couldn't locate the sound to save his life. Lex put away the wire cutters and pliers, turning to the next job instead. He didn't even make it to the barn before he saw that Clark had already mucked out the stables. Lana's horse had fresh hay. Its stall had been cleaned. All the riding tack had been polished to within an inch of its life. The minor repairs that her saddle needed were done. The barn's broken boards had been fixed without a single hammer being raised.

When Lex headed to work on the garden he discovered that it had already been weeded. The squash had been picked, the peas shelled, the tomatoes plucked, and washed. The roses and other flowers had been trimmed back perfectly. The creaky gate had been fixed, and the latch had been replaced. Lex stared around in awe, eyes drawn to the stack of vegetables in baskets on the porch. A small bouquet of sweet peas and wild flowers rested on top of the vegetables.

"I'm not bloody Cinderella!" Lex snapped at the air, smiling in spite of himself. "Next thing I know you'll be giving me a gown to wear to the ball. I swear if you do I'll hit you!"

This time he knew he heard laughter, possibly from the treetops, but he wasn't sure. Lex rolled his eyes, and carried the vegetables in, chuckling at Clark. Prince Charming, indeed. He came back out of the kitchen after a few minutes of dealing with the vegetables, and started cursing. A brand new pair of charcoal slacks in Lex's size with a pale lavender long sleeve button-down shirt sat on the table. Brand new shoes in his size sat next to them, with new socks, and a deep purple tie curled between them.

"That's not funny!" Lex yelled. "Do you have any idea how mad Nell's going to be if she sees this? How am I supposed to explain this? This is not a fucking fairy tale, Clark!"

Lex grumbled, and found an old battered cardboard box. He very carefully packed the clothes and shoes in it, and then tucked it on the shelf in his closet, way in the back where Nell and Lana would have to stand on a stool to reach it. He knew he should throw them out, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. He might be required to discourage Clark, but that didn't mean he was ungrateful.

"Enough already," Lex said to Clark, trusting that he could hear it, "I know you mean well, and you must be having fun, but let it go. You're not meant to be with me, and we both know it!"

Lex set to work making dinner. He'd learned to cook out of necessity. Lana couldn't cook to save her life, and Nell had always been busy working to support the two of them. He decided that since everything else was done he might as well make a good dinner. The party didn't include dinner tonight so he'd have someone to eat with. There was no point to cooking just for himself. Several hours later, Lex was taking the rolls out of the over when he heard Nell's car drive up.

"You made dinner!" Lana said, delighted as she came in. "Thank you so much, Lex!"

"I got a lot of vegetables from the garden so I decided to use a few of them," Lex said, shrugging. "It's not much. Just spaghetti, vegetable stir fry, and some rolls. Seems to taste okay."

Nell wasn't looking half as delighted as she shut the door. She was visibly cataloging all the things that Lex had done, and coming to the conclusion that he'd had help. Lex didn't let his fear show. He wouldn't. She could take everything else away, but he'd keep his pride. With Clark taking his work away, and Nell taking everything else, his pride was all he had left.

"Hey, did you manage to fix my saddle?" Lana asked, taking a taste of the spaghetti sauce and beaming. "This is really good!"

"Yes, I did," Lex said, starting to wash the dishes he'd dirtied making dinner. "Should be fine for a ride tonight."

"Great!" Lana said, giving him a hug. "Thanks so much. I'm going out to see him. I'll be back in a few minutes."

She left, her instinct for when to leave Nell alone with Lex infallible as always. Lex sighed, swallowing hard against the fear trying to claw itself up his throat. Just once it would be nice if she'd stay to defend him, Lex thought, but he knew it was unfair. Lana was who she was. She wouldn't defend Lex, not against Nell.

+++++

Clark hovered in the trees opposite Lex's house, frowning. He'd thought that he'd been doing a good thing when he'd helped Lex get all his chores done. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But now, listening to Nelly screaming at Lex about how he was ruining Lana's life by seducing Clark he wasn't so sure.

"I can't believe you would do this!" Nell screamed, slapping Lex hard where he'd had that mysterious bruise on his chin. "After everything we've done for you, you betray us this way! What did you do, get down on your knees the instant you saw him? God, Lex I thought you were over being a slut!"

Lex didn't say anything. He didn't react to the slap, didn't react to her words. It was like he was a robot that had been turned off. Clark shuddered. Lex's definition of abuse clearly needed to be changed because this was abuse no matter what Lex thought. Clark could see Lana wince from time to time when a particularly loud shout carried out to the barn. She looked frightened as she petted her horse.

He frowned, and decided he had to act somehow. He couldn't sweep in to carry Lex off. Lex wasn't in physical danger, and Clark knew it would destroy his pride to be treated that way. He couldn't do that to Lex. He settled for trying to get Lana to act instead.

"Why don't you help him?" Clark asked, appearing at the door to the barn in a whoosh.

"Who?" Lana whirled to stare at him. "Clark? How did you get here?"

"Why don't you help him?" Clark repeated. "You're all but his sister, and you leave him alone to face Nell's anger. Why don't you help him defend himself?"

Lana winced, turning back to her horse. Clark didn't understand her. Lex was being hurt, maybe not physically though that bruise and slap troubled Clark, but still hurt. Lana was Lex's sister in everything but name. Everything in Clark told him that if he had a brother or sister, and they were being hurt this way, he'd be in there helping, fighting for them, doing something to try and make it better. But Lana was out here with her horse doing nothing. It didn't make sense.

"It's not something I can do," Lana said quietly. "You don't understand, Clark. Nell's pinned all her hopes for the future on me, and I can't disappoint her. Lex…Lex has always been…second for Nell."

"Well, you're going to disappoint her," Clark said grimly, "because there's no way I'm ever going to ask you to marry me. You're a pretty girl, but I'm gay, all right? Girls don't do anything for me. There's no way we're going to be together, no matter how much you flirt, or how much Nell pushes."

It wasn't much of a lie given that he'd only been attracted to two girls in his whole life. He hated lying, was horrible at it, but this time he was pretty sure he was convincing. Clark knew he would never be able to look at a bald man without comparing him to Lex. Honestly, everyone in the world was going to be compared to Lex from now on. Lana looked at him, eyes far too calm for what he'd just said.

"I'm willing to accept that, Clark," Lana said, going slowly to his side. "It wouldn't matter to me if you had lovers as long as you married me, and treated me well in public. If you want, Lex could be your lover. I think he'd probably welcome that. It would be better for him to be kept by you than by Nell. She doesn't treat him very well."

Clark stepped back, horrified.

"You can't be serious," Clark squawked, shuddering as he realized that she was serious. "That's horrible! He's not a pet, Lana! I won't live a lie, especially on something this important. Marriage is a sacrament, not a joke!"

"You can't marry Lex anyway." Lana shrugged. "So what difference does it make? You can marry me. I can give you children, by artificial insemination if you prefer. And I truly wouldn't mind if you had Lex, too."

"It makes a difference because I'm in love with him and not with you!" Clark declared. "I will never marry you, Lana. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to accept that."

"You will eventually," Lana said, turning back to her horse. "You just don't realize it yet. We'll convince you one way, or the other."

Clark shuddered, and flew away as soon as her back was turned. He headed straight for the hotel, grim faced. He had to get Lex out of that house, away from those people. Even if Lex never accepted Clark's advances, he had to be rescued from that house, and given a chance to make his own life. Now he just had to convince his parents of the urgency.

Day Five - Friday:

Clark grumbled as he drove the Hummer up to Nell's house. It had taken all of last night, and most of today to convince his parents that he should rescue Lex from Nell's house. In the end, it was repeating Lana's words verbatim did it. His mother had to hear it three times before she could accept that what Lana had said was a threat to Lex's safety. The final straw had been Lillian calling to say that she had checked the medical records on Alexis Potter, and compared them to Alexander Luthor's records. According to Lillian, there was no doubt that Lex was her Alexander.

Mom and Dad had stayed in town, working to set up a safe house for Lex where he could start his life over again, just in case he didn't want to be reunited with his family. Clark headed for Nell's house, not willing to call the sheriff. Lex would be embarrassed enough by Clark saving him.

"Where are you this time?" Clark muttered, scanning the house and barn.

A skeleton that had to be Lex was pacing in the bedroom with the iron bars, and steel door. Clark frowned, and headed inside. The front door was locked, which it hadn't been the past several days. He broke the lock with a hard twist of the knob, and headed back to Lex's room. Clark's stomach sank as he looked at the door. It locked on the outside, and Nell had padlocked it.

"Not good enough today," Clark growled, breaking the lock easily. "Lex, are you OK?"

He opened the door, and Lex shot right past him.

"Just a minute," Lex said, heading straight to the bathroom.

"Sure," Clark said faintly.

Clark had underestimated Nell. Yesterday, Lex had one bruise on his chin. Today he had a black eye, a split lip, and long scratch on his cheek. Oddly, they looked days old, not like they'd happened last night. The bruise on his chin was gone. Clark couldn't help chuckling as he heard the toilet flush. That explained why he'd been pacing so urgently in his room, and why Lex had been in such a rush to get past Clark. Clark looked back at Lex's room, and went stock-still.

It wasn't a bedroom. It was a prison cell. Yesterday he hadn't been paying attention to how bleak Lex's room was, or he would have carried Lex off before Nell and Lana came home. There was a bed, bolted to the floor. A bedside table stood next to it. It had no drawers, and was also bolted to the floor. The clock was glued to the bedside table, and the only light came from an overhead fixture that was recessed into the ceiling. Other than the closet, that's all there was in Lex's room. No curtains, no rug, no chair, no color, no warmth, nothing. Lex sighed behind Clark, looking annoyed.

"Why do you put up with this?" Clark demanded.

"I get night terrors," Lex said, shaking his head at Clark's outrage, and looking away. "They're a thousand times worse than a nightmare, Clark. I'm sleepwalking and acting out my nightmare. I put my arm though the window once, and nearly killed myself. If the door isn't locked on the outside, I'll get up, walk out, and run off, all while I'm asleep, and completely terrified. It happens at least once a month. I'd rather not let anyone be hurt. It's better that my room is this way. I can't hurt myself, or anyone else, if there's nothing in my room."

"Bull," Clark said, taking Lex's chin, and lifting it so he had to look Clark in the eye. "If you try to tell me that those injuries are from a night terror, I'm going to call you a liar to your face!"

Lex opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He shut his eyes, shaking his head. Clark pulled him into a hug, almost moaning at how good Lex felt next to him. They seemed to fit perfectly together, Lex's head at just the right place for Clark to caress and kiss, his arms hitting just the right spot as they wrapped around Clark's chest. They fit together like they'd been made for each other.

"You should go," Lex murmured eventually.

"Not without you," Clark declared. "I am not leaving you here. You're coming with me, and you're never coming back to this house."

"I don't need to be rescued," Lex complained, trying to push his way free from Clark's arms.

"Yes, you do," Clark said, not letting him go, even when Lex got frantic in his efforts. "You need to be rescued more than anyone I've ever met, Alexander Joseph Luthor. I will not leave you here to Nell's vengeance. You don't deserve to pay for your father's crimes. He's dead. You're a different person who has every right to live a different life."

"That's not my name!" Lex yelled, trying to kick and hit Clark.

"It's your name," Clark said, holding Lex easily despite his struggles. "Whether you want to use it or not, that's your name. It's a good name, Lex. Your mother is a good woman. I know her. I've known her since I was 8 years old. She's my mother's best friend. I go over to the mansion at least twice a week to see her, and play video games with Julian, your little brother."

Lex stopped fighting as soon as Clark said he knew Lillian. He didn't look at Clark, but he did stop struggling, resting his forehead against Clark's chest. He was breathing hard, and trembling violently. Lex lifted his head to stare at Clark when he said that he played games with Julian.

"Little…brother?" Lex asked, heartbeat so fast that Clark would swear his heart was going to explode.

"Yeah, Lillian was 1 month pregnant when you guys came to Smallville," Clark said, smiling at Lex's awe. "He's the sweetest boy I've ever known, bright, cheerful, loving. Lionel never touched him, Lex. He's completely Lillian's son. He's the official heir to the Luthor fortune since you disappeared so long ago. Lillian was convinced you were alive, but the lawyers had you declared dead. She wants to meet you."

"You told her about me?" Lex swallowed hard.

"I told her I'd fallen in love with this bald guy in Smallville, Kansas who was smart, funny, stubborn, and so terrified of people seeing him that he could hide in plain sight," Clark said, grinning, "and I told her that you're the first person I'd met that I'd peg as Lex Luthor."

"I'm not Lex Luthor." Lex shook his head, clinging to Clark. "He's dead. I'm not Lex Luthor!"

"You can be whoever you want," Clark whispered, kissing the bald head buried in his chest, "as long as you come with me. Whatever name, or identity you want, we'll get you. I'm serious, though. You're not staying here. What happened to the camera, and the clothes I got you?"

Lex flinched, rubbing Clark's back as if trying to explore every inch of it through Clark's shirt. He didn't look up. They stood that way for a long while, Clark patiently waiting for Lex to speak. He was prepared to wait a good long time for Lex. Lex was worth the wait.

"Nell destroyed them," Lex said eventually, breath gusting hot against Clark's neck. "She smashed the camera, burned the clothes, and took a pick ax to the engine of the car. Sorry."

"Because I told Lana I'm gay, right?" Clark said, sighing. "I knew I should have swept in, and saved you last night."

"You were listening?" Lex said, looking up at Clark. His face was blindingly red. Clark would almost have quailed from the anger on his face if it weren't for the desperate expression in his eyes. He didn't look desperately embarrassed, only desperate to be saved. Clark smiled, and leaned down to rub his nose against Lex's. Lex laughed silently, raising an eyebrow questioningly.

"I only listened until Lana said that she'd be happy to let you be my lover as long as I had a sham marriage to her." Clark shuddered. "The scary thing is she was quite serious about it. She thinks I ought to 'keep' you."

Lex's mouth quirked in a smile that wasn't really a smile. Clark didn't like that smile at all. He loved the real smiles, the belly laughs that he had set off with his Instantaneous Stereooptical Image Recording Device. He loved Lex's smirks, and his knowing looks. He loved the embarrassed expression Lex had made when he'd realized his pants were torn. He loved Lex's care for Clark when he was hurting from the Kryptonite. He wanted to make sure that Lex never had to smile that not-smile again, and knew then that he was head over heels for Lex.

"Might be better," Lex said. "Isn't that what you're going to do anyway?"

"Nope," Clark said, gently cupping Lex's face in his hands. "I'm going to rescue you just like Prince Charming, give you a palace of your own, and let you choose what you want to do with your life. I hope that you'll choose to spend your life with me, but if you say no to go your own way, I'll be happy that you're free, and try and be your friend. You're not going to be 'kept' Lex. You're going to be taken somewhere safe, and set free. All you have to do is come with me now. Is there anything you want to take along?"

Lex looked at his bleak room, then around the warm, welcoming house that Nell and Lana shared. He had a bewildered expression on his face, as if he couldn't quite figure out what to make of it all. After a long moment he squared his shoulders, and turned back to Clark.

"No," Lex said, suddenly much stronger than he'd been since Clark met him five days ago, "There's nothing for me here. Let's go."

"You are so gorgeous!" Clark said, beaming at him. "I'll never be half as strong as you are."

"Quit gabbing!" Lex snapped, his eyes smiling at Clark. "They should be home soon."

"Yes, sir!" Clark said, heading for the door. He grabbed Lex's hand along the way, beaming at him. "You know, I bet you'd make a really good CEO. Mom's been looking for someone to train to take over after her. Think you'd like a job working in the family business?"

"Are you serious?" Lex asked shocked. "That's impossible! I don't have the education, training, or experience to run a company!"

"So what?" Clark said, laughing. "My dad had no experience inventing things, and look where we are now. Besides, I thought I was your Fairy Godfather. It's my job to make impossible things happen for you."

"I'll 'Godfather' you, you fairy!" Lex said indignantly.

"Ooo, please do!" Clark said, grinning at him as they got in the Hummer to drive away.

+++++

Lex collapsed onto the bed of his hotel room, gingerly rubbing his injured face. So much stuff had happened in the last five days that he was having a hard time dealing with it all. Clark Kent had come into his life, and everything had changed. It was like being hit by a tornado, except that everything was better afterwards instead of worse. Martha and Jonathan seemed perfectly willing to accept Clark's affection for Lex, even if they chose to make their relationship public. They had no problem with him being Alexis Potter, or Lex Luthor. Martha had nearly exploded when she'd seen Lex's injuries.

"I knew that woman was a monster!" Martha declared, giving Lex a fierce hug.

"Then why did you fight so hard against me going to save him?" Clark asked, hands on his hips as he huffed at his mother.

"Because I wanted you to be sure you were doing the right thing," Martha said, smiling at him. "You do have a tendency to rush off, and follow your first impulse without thinking, sweetie."

Lex couldn't help but laugh at Clark's rolled eyes, and his father's knowing grin. He'd been a bit wide-eyed at the teasing, but he could see that they'd been teasing each other. It was so strange to see the love in their family. It was even stranger to realize that they'd included him in it.

"So now what do I do?" Lex whispered, staring at the ceiling.

He wasn't sure. He knew he wanted Clark, badly. He wanted to make Clark his, for them to spend their lives together at each other's sides. He wanted to go to college, earn a degree in Chemistry and Biology. He liked the thought of taking over Kent Industries after Martha. He wouldn't mind going into politics someday, but that wasn't as important to him as making his own money, money he'd earned with his own work, and his own mind.

But his mother and unknown little brother would be arriving tomorrow to meet him. Lana and Nell were still out there, determined to take Clark away from Lex. Nell was determined to make Lex pay for Lionel's 'crimes' whatever they had been. The whole town of Smallville would stand behind Nell and Lana, blaming Lex for everything. It was hard to imagine facing their censure, even if he was going to leave. He knew he'd make the attempt to leave, now that Clark was at his side.

Lex drifted to sleep without realizing it. His worries turned into dreams. The dreams quickly shifted to nightmares, as they always did for Lex. He went from being a successful businessman with Clark at his side in mad scientist goggles; to loosing Clark to a woman and some costumed superhero in red and blue. His scientist's overcoat switched to a white business suit, and he was in the Oval Office, smiling as he pushed the button that sent the world nuclear. Lex smiled as he did it, at peace with destroying all life. He walked into a field of sunflowers, as the rain of bombs became a rain of blood, staining him red.

"Lex!"

Lex gasped, trembling as someone or something held him, keeping him from running, keeping him from breaking anything else. His hand was stabbing him with pain, and blood was dripping down to stain the rug. Lex shuddered and bucked, trying to get away.

"Lex, it's me, Clark," Clark said gently, "You're safe. I have you. Wake up, Lex. It's all right. You broke the mirror. Let me see your hand."

"C-Clark?" Lex asked, shaking violently.

He turned, and found himself in Clark's arms. Clark was smiling, but there were tears on his cheeks. Lex groaned, letting Clark see his hand. He was shaking so hard from the night terror that he could barely move. He normally was after that one. The terrors with his father left him raging for hours, but that one always left him a complete mess emotionally. The one and only time he'd told Nell about it she'd teased him, and laughed at the very idea that Lex could become President.

"Tch," Clark said, "Nasty cut on your knuckles, but other than that you seem all right. No fractured bones, no dislocations, no obvious strains. You just punched through the mirror, and cut your knuckles on the glass."

"You can tell this how?" Lex asked, flinching as Clark put pressure on the cut.

"X-ray vision," Clark said, grinning at Lex's start of surprise. He sobered looking at the blood. "So what happened?"

"Night terror," Lex said, sighing. "I told you that I got them. It's not safe for me to sleep in a room with breakable, movable things."

"Hmm, well, I suppose I can sit with you," Clark said. "Hold still for a second."

Clark let go of Lex. There was a whoosh, he was gone, and then a whoosh, and he was back with a first aid kit. Lex blinked, staring at the kit. He looked at the door, trying to remember if there'd been a kit like that out there when they came in. He couldn't remember. He'd been too nervous to pay attention to that sort of thing when they'd arrived. Clark didn't seem to notice his confusion. He was busy opening up the kit.

"Did you go in the next room for that?" Lex asked.

"Hmm?" Clark said, digging around for gauze, bandages and ointment. "Oh, no. We didn't bring a first aid kit with us. I went down to the hotel office, and borrowed their kit. It's a nice complete set. I'll take it back once I'm done bandaging your hand. I doubt they'll even notice it was gone."

Lex laughed, shaking his head in amazement.

"I had no idea you were that fast," Lex said, letting Clark bandage up the cut, clean off the blood, and help Lex back to bed.

"Oh, that's nothing," Clark said, shrugging. He disappeared and reappeared, this time bringing a clean shirt and pair of pajama pants for Lex to wear. "I'm a lot faster than that. Do you want me to sit with you for a while? Maybe it would help to have someone here while you fall asleep. At the very least, I can keep you from hurting yourself, or breaking anything else."

"Let me get changed," Lex said, sighing. "Clark, I do have a question. Sometimes you seem like you're 16 and other times you seem like you're 22. How old are you?"

"I'm 18," Clark said, laughing. "And before you ask, since everyone always does, I graduated from high school early because I was bored to tears. I've been in college for two years now. How old are you?"

"Nearly 25," Lex said, a bit disappointed. He would be robbing the cradle with Clark.

"Good thing I like older men," Clark said, pulling Lex close. "That's not too bad. I think I'm glad we met now. I'd have hated being underage when I met you. It would suck meeting the person you're destined to be with, and being unable to do anything about it."

Lex rolled his eyes, and pulled free to go change. The pajama pants were flannel, warm and very comfortable. The shirt was way too big; making Lex think it was one of Clark's. Lex made sure all the blood was washed off, brushed his teeth, went to the bathroom, and then had to admit that he couldn't put off going back out to face Clark any longer.

"You're afraid of me, aren't you?" Clark said sadly once Lex left the bathroom.

He didn't look at all upset about it. If anything he looked resigned, and even accepting. It made Lex's heart hurt to think that someone in Clark's past had made him believe that he couldn't be accepted, just because he was different from everyone else. Lex was in no way aware of the irony in his anger and upset at that person. He just knew that Clark was special, and deserved to be loved while Lex's differences made him unlovable and unacceptable.

"I'm afraid of me," Lex said, sitting on the bed next to Clark. "I'm afraid that I'll get so attached to you that it will destroy me when you leave."

"I'm never leaving," Clark said, wrapping his arms around Lex. "You're stuck with me in one form or another from now on, Lex. I…I love you, and I'll always be here for you, whether you accept the love or not."

He was warm, strong, and protective. Lex leaned into his side, his heart beating faster at the thought of someone who wouldn't hate him, wouldn't leave him, wasn't afraid of the Luthor curse, and who loved him. He wanted to believe that Clark really would stay, but the fear was hard to conquer.

"Promise?" Lex whispered, good hand fisting in Clark's shirt.

"I promise," Clark said, putting his hand over Lex's.

Lex wasn't sure who initiated the kiss. He knew he wanted to, but Clark's lips were meeting his even as he formed the intention to capture Clark's lips. They both moaned. It went from chaste, to hot and demanding, to tender and more intimate than anything Lex had ever experienced in a matter of seconds. Lex whimpered, his hands making fists in Clark's hair even, as Clark's hands traced erotic little circles over Lex's scalp.

"Never let you go," Lex whispered, tasting tears on his lips. He wasn't sure whose they were. "Mine! Never going to be without you again!"

"Never going to have the opportunity," Clark whispered back, kissing Lex's cheeks so maybe they were Lex's tears.

It didn't matter whose tears they were as Clark recaptured Lex's lips. It felt right. It felt good. Clark seemed just as needy as Lex felt. Maybe, just maybe it would work out, and Lex wouldn't be left alone again. They didn't go past kissing, rather to Lex's disappointment. With Clark's parents in the next room, Lex could understand Clark's reluctance. Eventually they curled under the covers, and Clark held Lex in his arms as Lex fell asleep. For the first time in Lex's memory he slept peacefully, and had no dreams at all.

Day Six - Saturday:

Waking the next morning wasn't anywhere near as peaceful.

"What do you mean 'arrested'?!" Martha's bellow of outrage echoed through the hotel walls, waking both Lex and Clark. It probably woke most of the hotel's residents.

"What?" Clark said, blinking and confused. He was barely awake, looking like he'd been dead to the world.

"No idea," Lex said, far more awake than Clark was from sheer terror. "I'd say that it has to be Nell pulling something."

They quickly got up, and headed into the connecting room. Clark went first, rubbing his eyes, and looking like a 16-year-old again. Lex was far more wary, hanging back. Sheriff Ethan Miller was there, looking glum and disgusted to be facing Jonathan and Martha. Lex glimpsed Nell and Lana outside the door, hanging back. Lana looked desperately worried. Nell looked grimly determined. She was clutching a folder full of papers, which made Lex's stomach sink. He should have known she wouldn't let him go.

"Ethan," Jonathan was saying, "You can't seriously intend to arrest Clark for kidnapping. Lex is a grown man. If he wants to leave Nell's house, then it's his choice."

"There was a fair amount of damage," Ethan said, sighing. "Nell says that Clark's responsible for it. I'm sorry, but I have to do my job. Between the damage, and Lex's disappearance, it looks bad."

"Where were you when she was beating him, and locking him in his room with no access to the toilet?" Clark demanded, instantly outraged. "Your job is to protect the people in Smallville, not help keep someone trapped in an abusive home!"

"There's never been any proof of anything like that," Ethan said, uncomfortably offended. "Not a mark on the boy, and he's never complained."

"Not since I ran away, and was humiliated for wanting to live my own life," Lex said quietly from the bedroom door. "You know perfectly well how fast I heal, Ethan. A broken bone today is healed a week later. A bruise is gone in a day. Scratches and cuts in two or three days. You have to photograph the injury the instant it happens for there to be a record."

Lex stepped out from behind Clark's protection, facing Ethan. His scratch was still there, as was the remnants of the black eye. The split lip still showed, but felt like it was nearly healed. Ethan flinched, reading the signs, and knowing that he'd had to have been beaten badly for this much to show.

"I don't have any proof of that," Ethan said uncomfortably. "People don't heal like that, and the doctors have no proof that you're different that way, Lex."

"You don't need it." Lex shrugged. "I don't want to live in Nell's house anymore. The Kent's have offered me a job working for their company, with education included. I'm accepting the offer. It's that simple. Clark helped me leave. Any damage other than to the lock on the front door—"

"And the padlock on the outside of your bedroom door!" Clark interjected furiously.

"Has nothing to do with Clark," Lex continued as if Clark hadn't interrupted. "Nell was…upset yesterday and a few things were damaged as she…worked out her anger. Clark only damaged the front door and lock to get to me. Considering that I asked for help, that's entirely justified, and quite commendable."

"You really offering Lex a job?" Ethan asked Jonathan.

"Absolutely." Jonathan nodded. "He's bright, talented, and shows a lot of promise. He's planning on going into Chemistry and Biology, which we're just getting into. Martha's thinking of opening a Biotech lab in Smallville sometime in the next few years. Lex would be a natural for taking it over once he's done with school."

Ethan stared, astonished. Lex couldn't blame him. This was the first he'd heard of it. Martha and Jonathan seemed to move quickly when it came to protecting people. He supposed Clark's protective instincts had been well trained if this was their normal mode of operation.

"After all his troubles?" Ethan asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Doesn't matter to me," Jonathan said firmly.

"Or me," Martha said, glaring straight at Nell who was bristling outside the hotel room. "Lex is a good boy who has been abused by his caretaker. It's not going to continue."

"You can't just take him!" Nell snarled from the hallway. "He's my responsibility, and I have proof he's not what you think he is!"

"Nell," Ethan said, trying to shush her.

Nell pushed her way past him into the room, brandishing the folder of papers. Lex bit back a moan. Here came all the things that he'd done in the past, twisted to fit Nell's agenda. He'd had plenty of trouble growing up in Smallville. Before Nell had trained him to mind his own business, Lex had meddled in everything, trying to make friends, and to make this small corner of the world a better place. He'd only gotten in trouble, and had alienated people by doing it. Lana's endless gossip hadn't helped things. Every good thing he'd ever done was twisted to become something bad between Nell's agenda, and Lana's gossip.

"He has severe mental issues with delusions," Nell said defiantly. "He can't be trusted to live on his own without supervision."

Martha snatched the folder out of her hand, nodding as she flipped through it, reading rapidly. She snorted, handing it back to Nell as if it was trash. Clark was vibrating with anger that Nell had called Lex delusional. Lex put a hand on his arm, trying to quietly calm him. Clark's shoulders slowly lowered, and he gave Lex a lightning quick smile of thanks.

"As if we didn't already know all that," Martha said, disgusted, "His belief that he's Lex Luthor isn't a delusion, Nell. He's been genetically matched as the true Lex Luthor."

"How did you do that?" Lex asked, astonished. "When did you do that?"

"Your mother Lillian did it," Martha said, shrugging. "We took some of the blood from your cut last night, and had one of the LuthorCorp labs do a comparison against a sample of your hair from when you were a child. It's come back, and it's confirmed. You're Lex Luthor, the long-lost heir. They're sending it out for another confirmation to an outside lab. That should be back by this afternoon. She did say that a third more detailed test, with an uninvolved doctor supervised by several law officials would be required to overturn your being declared dead, but that's up to you. You don't have to go back to being Lex Luthor if you don't want to."

"You can't believe that!" Nell said, looking very wild-eyed.

"Of course I do," Martha said, raising an eyebrow at her. "Lex is Alexander Luthor. The scientists have already proved it."

"You knew about this?" Ethan asked Nell, shocked.

"It's nonsense!" Nell said, glaring defiantly at them all. "Alexis is my nephew. Everyone knows that."

"From your father's brother?" Jonathan drawled, raising an eyebrow at her. "You don't have anyone on your father's side, Nell. You don't have anyone on your mother's side, either. He's no relative of yours, and punishing the boy for his father's dumping you years ago is plain cruel."

Nell glared at him, going violently red. Ethan started at the mention of Lionel Luthor, and then narrowed his eyes at Nell as if he'd suddenly started thinking. Lana bit her lip from the doorway, looking terrified. Lex couldn't blame her. Her family was self-destructing before her eyes.

"He's no saint," Nell snarled, glaring at Jonathan, "He's always been trouble. You're taking a viper into your house, and I'm trying to protect you."

"Better Lex than your niece!" Martha declared glaring at Nell just as fiercely as Nell was glaring at Jonathan. "I don't know what sort of relationship you have with Lana, but my son tells me what happens to him. He repeated her words, and they are beyond inappropriate. You will never marry that girl to my son! I will go to my grave fighting to keep her, and you, out of our family!"

"But you'll take that whore into your family, will you!" Nell yelled, flinging a hand in Lex's direction.

"I was never a whore!" Lex yelled, going white, then red with anger. "They were my friends! They helped me escape, and you just made it out that I was working as a prostitute to make yourself look better when you kidnapped me back here!"

"Wait, when did this happen?" Ethan asked, confused. "You were kidnapped?"

"Three years ago," Lex said, furious. "I turned 21, and decided to move out, live on my own instead of in Nell's house. I went to Metropolis, and made some friends. They were gay. They let me stay with them while I searched for a job. I'd just gotten a good job, a REAL job where I actually earned a wage instead of just room and board, and Nell arrived with some thugs. They beat the others up, and kidnapped me, bringing me back to the farm."

"You were sleeping with them, all four men," Nell said scornfully. "You were whoring yourself for a place to stay, no matter what you call it.

"No, I wasn't!" Lex insisted, infuriated. "They were established couples who had no interest in a kid like me. For god's sake, they were 35 to 50 years old, Nell. They took me in, and never touched me! You're the one who saw sex everywhere, not me! They wanted to help someone in need, unlike you. All you've ever wanted was to control my life, and keep me under your thumb!"

"Enough!" Clark said, getting between them before Nell could whack Lex again. "Lex doesn't want to live with you. He's an adult. He's free to do whatever he wants, and you have no say in it."

"Have to say that I agree with the boy," Ethan admitted reluctantly. "Lex's a man. He gets to go where he wants now, Nell. Hard on you to find someone to replace him at the shop, but its his choice."

"Ethan!" Nell exclaimed, shocked.

"I'm sorry, Nell," Ethan said, "but things are more complicated than you made them out to be when I came out to the farm. If Clark was seen going out to the farm anytime near when the damage occurred, it might be different."

"I know he helped Lex do his chores!" Nell yelled, glaring at Clark and Lex. "There's no way that Lex could have done all that by himself."

"I do work hard, you know," Lex said, glaring at her. "Clark wasn't at the farm on Thursday. I never saw him."

"I saw him," Lana offered quietly from the doorway.

"That was late in the evening," Clark said glaring at her, "When I came to make sure that Lex was OK. I heard Nell yelling at Lex from outside and saw you heading to the barn. So I asked you why you weren't helping protect him. If I'd known he'd end up beaten, I'd have barged in right then to save him. I can't believe you had the gall to suggest that I marry you for show, and keep Lex as my lover!"

"What chores?" Ethan asked, holding up his hands to silence everyone.

"Fix the north fence line," Lex said, ticking the items off on his fingers, "and put up barbed wire, fix the broken boards in the barn, repair Lana's saddle, muck the stall, feed and water her horse. Harvest the ripe vegetables, dead-head the flowers, repair the front gate and fence."

"That's a lot of work to get done by yourself," Ethan said, frowning, "Especially the fence line."

"I work hard," Lex said, shrugging, "and I don't get tired easily. It's the healing thing. Besides, I knew Nell was upset, so I wanted to do my best so she wouldn't get any more upset. Worked backwards. I got so much done she got even more angry."

Nell made a wordless gesture at Lex and Clark as if to say that they were obviously lying. Clark bristled and seemed about 10" taller. Martha looked like she was about to rip Nell's eyes out while Jonathan looked like he wanted to either run away from Nell, or collapse on the sofa to watch the show. Lana had nearly disappeared around the doorframe, watching them all while biting her lip. Ethan sighed, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else but here, trying to ride herd on all of them. Worse still, the other people on their floor of the hotel had started watching from the hallway to see what was going on. This whole confrontation would be all over Smallville in minutes.

"I say that Lex has the right to live anywhere he wants," Ethan said, "but that I need some sort of proof that Clark wasn't at the farm. If you can prove that he was here, or with you on Friday, then I won't arrest him for the damage. Otherwise, I'll have to take him in.

"Do you have a single fingerprint from the damage that matches my son?" Martha demanded. "I know you don't, Ethan. Clark wasn't there, and there's not one shred of proof to arrest him other than that woman's word, and she's determined to destroy Lex's life."

"We'll have to fight you, Ethan," Jonathan said sadly. "Our lawyers are already on their way. If you try to arrest Clark for this damage you know we'll make a public show out of it, and you're not going to come off well. Small town sheriff arresting rich inventor's son on no grounds? Think of the damage to your career, if not of the law."

Ethan flinched and glared at Jonathan who met the glare solidly. Lex had to wonder what history there was between the two of them. The look that passed between them said that something in Smallville's ancient history hadn't been forgotten between them.

"I stand by what I said," Ethan said. "Give me a shred of proof, and I won't arrest the boy. And yes, we'll be dusting for prints on the farm to see who touched what out there. Now come on, Nell. Leave these people in peace, and let the law work."

"Ethan!" Nell squawked, horrified. "You can't support this!"

"OUT!" Martha roared at Nell, making everyone jump. "I WANT YOU OUT OF MY ROOM!"

Ethan grabbed Nell's arm, and hustled her out of the hotel room, lips twitching a little. Lex waited until Martha had slammed the door before turning to Clark.

"What if they do find your fingerprints?" Lex asked, frowning.

"Not going to happen," Clark said with a grin. He held out his hands and let Lex look. "I don't have fingerprints. Some whirls and things, but nothing distinct enough to take a print off of."

"Whoa," Lex said, studying Clark's fingertips with interest. "That's different."

"We use retina prints for security purposes because of Clark's oddity," Jonathan said with a tired chuckle. "We claim that they were worn off by the acids that Clark uses in his inventions."

"But how do we prove that you were here?" Lex asked, not resisting as Clark pulled him into his arms.

"Easy," Clark said with a wicked grin. "I flew out there on Thursday. I went at super speed, so no cameras picked up my image leaving or arriving. As far as anyone can tell, I was here all Thursday and Friday, without leaving my room until I went to pick you up. I do that on a fairly frequent basis, so there's nothing odd about me deciding that reunions are boring, and that I'd rather stay in my room to invent, or think, or sleep."

"But no one saw you," Lex said, worried. "No one saw you here."

"Did too," Clark said, grinning. "I didn't leave until after I'd supervised the housekeeping staff cleaning our rooms. They know I was here, and the front desk never saw me leave. The security cameras will support that. Also, Mom and Dad had the Hummer so how was I supposed to get all the way outside of town? People would have seen me walking, or I'd have to have stolen a car. After all, people can't fly, now can they?"

Lex laughed, wishing his fears could be calmed by what Clark was saying. It didn't seem like it would be that easy, no matter what Clark said.

+++++

Clark was practically vibrating with excitement later in the day as they drove out to the Luthor mansion on the edge of town. According to Dad, it had been there for years, more or less abandoned other than some caretakers that he'd known in school, and their kids. But now the Luthor family was there. People had pointed as they drove through town, talking excitedly about Lex and Clark. Clark could hear them, along with all the comments they were making. He'd never dream of repeating most of the comments to Lex. They were too hurtful to repeat. He couldn't believe how many of people believed that Lex had seduced Clark for his money. A few were talking about Nell though, and the 'rumor' that Lex Potter was actually Lex Luthor. That whispered rumor was quickly sweeping across town, and as soon as people heard that one they seemed to change their tune on Lex and Clark.

"You seem more distracted than I am," Lex commented to Clark, capturing his attention.

"Just listening to the gossip," Clark said, shrugging. He sighed at Mom's stern look. "It's not like I can help it, Mom! My ears are too good."

"I know, sweetie, but there's no need to repeat it," Mom said.

"I wasn't," Clark said, offended. "You raised me better than that. Besides, most of it doesn't bear repeating."

Lex made that microsecond smile that wasn't a smile, his eyes sad.

"I'm sure I could tell you exactly what they're saying," Lex said, sighing.

"Don't bother," Mom said firmly, "because what they say and think doesn't matter. You boys just live your lives, and don't listen to what anyone else thinks."

"I still don't understand how you can be so accepting of this," Lex said, shaking his head in amazement.

"It was hard for me at first," Jonathan commented as they turned up the long driveway to the mansion. "I'd been raised in Kansas, and things like guys together just wasn't done. But Clark's special, and well, he's not human. His body may look like a human body, but it isn't. He feels like a human, but he's not. Things were very different on his homeworld biologically and socially. I've come to accept that though it took a quite a while."

"But…" Lex said, clearly puzzled, "how do you know what things were like on Clark's homeworld?"

Clark grinned at Lex while his parents exchanged laughs and smiles. Lex looked even more puzzled.

"We have the spaceship that Clark came in," Jonathan said, looking at Lex in the rearview mirror. "How do you think a farmer from Kansas came up with so many innovative inventions? It was designed to teach Clark how to use his powers, and all about his homeworld. We convinced it that we needed a way to earn a living so he wouldn't end up in state care, and it helped me make my first invention. It's been an…interesting relationship ever since. Clark works with it more than I do anymore. I don't need its help now."

Clark laughed in delight at Lex's dumbfounded expression. Lex was the second person they'd told about the spaceship, Lillian being the first. He'd missed seeing Lillian's shock as a child so it was a treat to get to see Lex's.

"It's…alive?" Lex asked.

"Sort of," Clark said, grinning, "It's an AI based on my birth father's personality. He was a scientist so I guess its no surprise I ended up interested in science and technology, too."

"You are so telling me more after this is over," Lex said as Jonathan pulled up in front of the mansion.

"You can meet it if you want," Clark said. "I'd like you to."

They headed inside, Lex nodding dumbly at the offer. His mind was clearly on the meeting that was about to take place, not on what they had been discussing. The Mansion was huge, a typical Lionel Luthor sort of place, Clark thought. Lex's father had apparently been a bit pompous; needing to show everyone how rich and powerful he was on a regular basis. Clark was glad that Lex hadn't grown up under the man's thumb. Nell was bad, but Lionel had apparently been a horror.

The inside of the mansion was as impressive as the outside, but Lillian's influence could be seen. There were flowers everywhere. Light, airy furnishings and drapes had replaced the dark heavy ones that Lionel had favored. A cream-and-green rug covered the cold marble of the floor, cushioning their feet as they walked into the library the servant indicated.

"But when is he going to get here?" Julian was whining, draped over the back of an overstuffed tan couch, and staring out the stained glass windows. "I want to see Clark, and I want to meet my big brother!"

He was in his normal designer jeans and expensive T-shirt, auburn hair rumpled. Lillian was sitting on the couch next to him, and her eyes were laughing as they walked in. Her eyes locked on Lex, and he froze, going white. She didn't say a word. Lillian just gazed at him as though there was nothing else in the world, and she'd never seen anything so beautiful in her life. Julian was oblivious, kicking his feet against the couch.

"Pay attention, pipsqueak!" Clark said, grinning. "We're already here."

"Clark!" Julian exclaimed and whirled to face him, delight written across his face. His eyes immediately locked onto Lex. "Wow, he's bald. I didn't know Alexander was bald."

He looked so much like Lex that it was astonishing. The only difference was the lack of hair, plus Julian's eyes were more hazel than blue. Clark beamed, especially when Jonathan chuckled, and patted his shoulder. This made the whole trip worth it to Clark, getting the Luthor family back together.

"Be polite, sweetie," Martha said, offering her arms for a hug.

Julian made a face, but let her hug him, looking at Lex over her shoulder with big eyes. Fifteen-year-olds didn't hug, even with the women they considered to be their second mothers. Clark couldn't help bouncing with excitement as Lillian stood, slowly going to Lex's side. She moved so gently that Clark knew that she was worried that she'd frighten him off. Lex was so pale that she might be right.

"My Alexander," Lillian said, breath hitching a little as she suppressed a sob. "I'm so glad we finally found you!"

"I…didn't want to be found," Lex admitted, trembling as she took his hands. "Nell convinced me I'd be safer here than with you."

"I may have to do something about that woman." Lillian sighed and shook her head. "I've left her alone all these years, but finding out that she's treated you so poorly may make me break the live-and-let-live vow I made after Lionel died."

"I've got first dibs!" Martha declared. "That woman tried to seduce my husband while I was standing right there. And she flirted with Clark, for heaven's sake. You can have your chance at her after I'm done."

"I doubt there'll be anything left," Lillian laughed. "You do have much more of a temper than I ever did, Martha."

"You're really friends," Lex said, pulling their attention back to him.

"We have been since Clark was a child," Lillian said, nodding.

"He's like my adopted big brother," Julian said, lightly punching Clark in the arm. He knew better than to punch Clark all out. "Since I didn't have my real big brother around. You are going to be around, aren't you? You're not going to disappear?"

Lex hesitated, looking frightened, insecure, and almost angry. Clark went to his side, and pulled him into his arms. Lex stiffened for a second, and then clung to Clark.

"Oh," Julian said, sounding completely unsurprised, "Okay, you'll be around."

"What?" Lex said, surprised. He looked at Julian and Lillian from Clark's arms.

"You're with Clark," Julian said calmly, "so you'll be around. That's great! Clark's needed someone for ages, and now I can tell all the girls that ask me for introductions to him that he's not available, but I am!"

He grinned, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the flirting potential. Lillian sighed, wrapping an arm around Julian's shoulders. Julian squeaked, turned red and grinned sheepishly at her.

"You're 15, and you're not seducing the 18 to 25 year old women who want to be introduced to Clark," Lillian said firmly.

"Aw, Mom," Julian pouted. "Come on, at least a little flirting?"

"No," Lillian said, tapping his nose, and getting a grumble from Julian.

"They're…nice," Lex whispered to Clark. His eyes were full of conflict. "They're nice, normal people."

"Yup," Clark said, smiling, and kissing Lex in front of everyone, "and they love you, and have missed you ever since you disappeared. Now do you see why I wanted you to meet them?"

Lex laughed breathlessly, shaking his head in amazement. Clark kissed him again, and guided him to one of the big couches. Things were finally going to go right for Lex. Clark was determined to make it happen. Maybe he wasn't Prince Charming, and he sure as heck wasn't a fairy godfather, no matter how Lex teased him, but he wanted to be there for Lex, to give him the things he'd never had growing up, especially love, happiness, and safety.

+++++

They were still at the mansion that afternoon when Ethan arrived, looking for Clark, Jonathan, Martha and most especially Lex. Lex stiffened automatically. His interactions with Ethan had never been good, even when he'd been a boy. Ethan had always taken Nell's side, and had overlooked the many signs that she was mistreating him. He'd overlooked Lex's ribs being broken so badly that he was hospitalized when he was 12, Lex thought grimly. How anyone could have overlooked that, especially with Lana telling everyone loudly that Nell had hit Lex with a board, Lex never knew.

"Sorry to intrude," Ethan said, clearly not sorry at all as he stared around the room in fascination, "but I needed to talk to Lex and the Kents."

"I hope you're not going to say that you're here to arrest Clark," Martha said, a warning gleam in her eyes.

"No," Ethan said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, "I can't say that I am. Your evidence was pretty ironclad, and the few partial prints that we found on the farm don't match Clark's prints that you supplied. I figure they're from one of Nell's old boyfriends."

"Then why are you intruding in my home, Sheriff?" Lillian asked, her voice so gentle that it made it clear he was very unwelcome.

"I …" Ethan hesitated, eyes flicking to Lex.

Lex's flinched, knowing that whatever it was had to be bad to make Ethan pause that way. Only one thing came to mind, and it was confirmed as Ethan continued.

"I talked to Lana," Ethan said, "and she made some um, disturbing allegations regarding Lex and Nell. I needed to come out, and talk to Lex about them."

"What allegations?" Julian said, puffing up in anger. "Lex didn't do anything! He told us so."

"Hush, Julian," Lillian said, patting his thigh.

Julian grumbled, but settled back against the couch. Clark wrapped an arm around Lex, gently squeezing his shoulders. Lex leaned into Clark's side, wrapping his arms around his churning stomach. If he'd talked to Lana, and she made 'allegations' then it could only mean one thing. Lex hoped everyone believed him when he answered Ethan.

"Lana claims that Nell's been molesting Lex," Ethan said, looking ill. "That she used him like he was her boyfriend or lover since he was 15. I don't want to believe it, but I had to come and confirm it."

"It's not true," Lex said firmly. "I know Lana believes it—we've talked about it in the past—but it's not true. Nell's never touched me that way, and if she had, trust me, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Things would have been very different. I'd probably be in jail for murdering her."

"Why would she say that?" Martha asked, horrified. "What's wrong with the girl?"

"Nothing," Lex said, shrugging minimally. "Lana just misinterpreted things that happened between Nell and me."

"What things?" Ethan asked, frowning at Lex.

"Nell started treating me as a surrogate husband when I was 15," Lex admitted, rolling his eyes at everyone's expressions. "No, no sex! She just expected me to take care of the house, figure out the money, do the taxes, that sort of thing. I had all the responsibilities, and none of the 'perks'. I was more than happy to accept it, because it meant that she'd stopped treating me like an unwanted 2-year-old. I liked being treated like an adult, or what I thought of as being treated like an adult. Lana saw it, and thought that if I was acting like a husband in those ways, then I was being treated like a husband in every way. Not true."

"Are you sure you want first whack at Nell?" Lillian said, eyes very bright as she looked at Martha.

"I might be convinced to let you share that first whack," Martha said, grimly furious.

"So Nell never molested you?" Ethan asked, ignoring Martha and Lillian, though he looked a little wild-eyed at their comments.

"No, she never touched me in any sexual fashion," Lex said, shrugging. "She hates bald men; finds baldness quite repulsive, actually."

"I want first whack on her," Clark growled, holding Lex closer. "Bald is NOT repulsive!"

"Can I claim dibs?" Julian asked, groaning as everyone glared at him. "Come on, I never get to do anything fun!"

"You're 15, and you probably shouldn't be included in this conversation in the first place," Lillian said, patting his leg.

Ethan chuckled at Julian's outrage, shaking his head as if to clear it.

"All right," Ethan said. "If you're willing to swear to that, Lex, I'll let it go. Lana was very certain she was right, but you're the supposed victim. If you want me to let it go, I will."

"Ethan," Lex said sadly, "Nell never molested me. She belittled me. She treated me like an idiot. She did everything in her power to cripple my soul. She beat me. She starved me on occasion. She locked me in closets when I was young, and in my room when I was older. She made me work for nothing in her shop and farm. She begrudged me the most basic of comforts. She kidnapped me when I'd finally found freedom, and she beat my friends half to death. She did her best to destroy me, all for being Lionel Luthor's son. I don't want to press charges that she molested me. I want to press charges on the kidnapping and beating three years ago. Honestly, the abuse happened for so long and everyone in town knew, so I doubt that you could get a jury to convict her of the abuse. The kidnapping was documented in Metropolis, and that could stick. Either way, I want to press charges, and I will make them public."

"And he is leaving Smallville," Clark said firmly. "He's not staying here anymore."

"So be it," Ethan sighed. "I'll send one of the deputies around to take your deposition this evening, Lex. Good luck in your new life."

"It's my old life," Lex said, smiling, "the one that Nell took away from me. Clark gave it back to me."

"Good luck," Ethan repeated and left.

Lex sighed, laying his head on Clark's shoulder.

"Did you actually tell the truth?" Julian asked, sticking his tongue out at Lillian when she poked his arm for asking.

"I did," Lex said, smiling at him. "Nell truly can't stand bald men. She used to make me wear a cap all the time as a kid because she thought my baldness was so ugly. She just decided that I was grown up enough to take care of the stuff she didn't want to do. Lana's not that bright, and she misinterpreted it. Nothing ever happened."

They seemed to accept it, though Clark showed no signs of letting go of Lex. The talk changed to discussion of LuthorCorp, Kent Industries, and a big party that they were holding in a few weeks to support the Metropolis Opera. Julian turned out to love opera, and begged to be allowed to attend the party, much to Lillian, Martha, and Jonathan's amusement.

"It wouldn't change my feelings about you if it was true," Clark whispered in Lex's ear. "I'd still love you and want to spend my life with you."

"Thank you," Lex whispered back, blushing. "Truly, nothing happened. Thank goodness!"

Day Seven - Sunday:

"I still can't believe we're doing this," Lex said as they waited for room service to deliver their lunches.

"Hey, I'm rich," Clark laughed, grinning at Lex. "Spending a little extra money to have food delivered to us is a heck of a lot better than going down to the restaurant, and dealing with all the stares and whispers."

"Got that right," Lex grumbled. Breakfast had been a fiasco, with people staring at them, pointing, and whispering nonstop. It had been uncomfortable enough that Clark and Lex had decided to forgo the closing of the reunion, staying in the hotel suite instead.

Lex had pressed charges against Nell, even though Ethan's deputy made it perfectly clear that he expected the investigation to go nowhere. Lex had no idea who the guys who'd attacked him were. He had no names, no evidence, and it had all happened three years ago, leaving very little trail to be followed. It didn't matter. For Lex, the point was pressing charges, whether anything ever came of them or not. He needed to prove to himself—not to anyone else—that he wasn't Nell's slave anymore. Lex started at the knock on the door. He'd been lost in his thoughts again, cuddled companionably against Clark's side. Clark looked up, grinned, and stood.

"There's our lunch," Clark said.

The man who pushed in the cart with their food looked vaguely familiar to Lex, but it wasn't until he got closer that Lex realized he knew the man.

"Move, and your boyfriend dies," the fake servant said, pulling a gun to put against Clark's head. Clark didn't fight, eyes almost amused. Three other men rushed into the room, all of them far too familiar to Lex.

"You're the ones who kidnapped me before," Lex growled, glaring at them.

"And we're doing it again, Lexi," the one holding Clark at gunpoint said with an evil grin. "You do what we want, or your boyfriend here is the one who pays for it. You learned your lesson last time, didn't you? Your friends are the ones who pay when you disobey."

"Oh, please," Clark drawled, rolling his eyes. "You really think you're going to get away with this? Lex, duck."

Lex blinked, and then hit the deck as Clark moved. He couldn't even see Clark, he was moving so fast. There were four very fast, very meaty thuds, and then all four of Nell's thugs were falling to the ground. Clark chuckled, helping Lex to his feet.

"I can't tell you how many people have tried to kidnap me." Clark snorted. "It's absurd. One of those things that goes along with being rich, I guess, but it gets old really quick. Officially, I know martial arts, which is how I dealt with these idiots. Unofficially, having powers helps make this sort of thing a joke."

He gave Lex a hug, and then went to the phone, calling 911. Sheriff Ethan was there in under five minutes, about the time the thugs were starting to stir. Clark had long since tied them up, setting them off to the side where they'd be out of the way. When Ethan arrived, he and Lex were calmly eating lunch.

"What the hell happened?" Ethan demanded, hand on his gun as he came into the suite.

"Tried to kidnap Lex," Clark said with a shrug. "I know martial arts, because people try to kidnap me on a regular basis, so I took them down."

"Ethan," Lex said grimly, "these are the same guys that kidnapped me three years ago. Your case just got a lot stronger, if you can get them to talk."

Ethan stared first at Lex, and then at the thugs, who glared back.

"Damn. She really doesn't want to let you go, does she?" Ethan commented sadly. "All right, we'll take them in. You two stay here. I'm going to go arrest Nell. I know all four of them. They're Nell's former lovers."

+++++

Clark spent the next several hours listening with his super hearing to Nell's downfall, relating it to Lex as it happened. Ethan had taken the men in, counseling them that if they cooperated the charges would be a lot less severe. Three of them refused, but one agreed, telling Ethan everything he wanted to know.

Nell had put them up to both attacks, using money, secrets she knew about them, and sex to get them to do what she wanted. The things that he'd reported Nell saying about Lex, Lionel, and Lillian weren't anything that Clark would ever repeat, not to Lex, not to his parents, and certainly not to Lillian and Julian. She truly had a vendetta against the Luthor family, in particular Lillian. Nell had kept—and tried to cripple Lex emotionally—to get back at Lillian, not to get back at Lionel. Lillian had stolen 'her' Lionel, thus Nell has stolen her son.

Nell's arrest came at the peak of the closing ceremonies for the reunion. Clark chuckled as he told Lex about it. She'd been publicly humiliated, screaming in anger at Ethan until he advised her that every word she said was going to be used against her. Then she'd gone silent. The gossip after she was driven away was more than worth repeating. Nell had apparently made a lot more enemies in town than Lex had ever realized.

"You really hear everything, don't you?" Lex asked eventually.

"Yeah," Clark said, shrugging. "It's tiring, actually. It's getting stronger as I get older. I think eventually I'll be able to hear anything anywhere in the world. I'll be able to hear every scream for help, every gunshot, everything."

It wasn't something that he liked. Of all of the powers he'd been gifted with, Clark would give up his hearing first. To have to hear so much, to be unable to screen it out, to always know where bad things were happening, was a huge burden that he hated. It would be so much easier if he didn't hear it all.

"Then you'll just have to use your powers to help the people you hear," Lex declared, smiling at Clark. "I'm sure that you're more than capable of saving the world, Clark. Your powers are incredible, almost as incredible as you."

+++++

"Any regrets?" Clark asked Lex as their luggage was loaded into his parent's private jet.

Lex looked out at the Kansas plain, back towards Smallville. So much of his life had been spent here, in this little town with its meteor freaks, ancient histories and long-forgotten but still acted on agendas. He'd lived here most of his life but he'd never been a part of the town, not really. He'd been held apart, kept away from being around people, and always prevented from being accepted.

There had been bad things certainly, Lex thought: Nell and her mistreatment, the many brushes with death because of meteor freaks or other accidents. But there were good things, too: the quiet evenings when he rambled the farm, or explored the old Kent farm; watching the deer in the back field, so close he could almost touch because they were so used to him; the satisfaction of making the old car run, or fixing an appliance, or repairing something that had been broken; seeing the sun set, and knowing he'd worked hard, accomplished a lot, and things were better because he'd been in the world.

"Lex?" Clark asked, putting a warm hand on Lex's shoulder. He looked concerned when Lex turned to look at him.

"No, no regrets," Lex said, smiling. "Let's go."

"Together," Clark said, smiling that smile that lit up the whole world. "Forever."