Lex was startled out of his sleep by the sensation that something was deeply out of place. He blinked once to clear the fuzz from his vision and propped himself up on his elbows so that he could look around the dark room. Panes of shifting light illuminated the pale carpet. The entire west wall of his bedroom was mirrored glass, so that you could see out but not in, and he rarely drew the curtains; unpresence of his kingdom unnerved him.

Everything seemed in order. Lex glanced at his clock. It was a few minutes after midnight. He hadn't even been asleep for an hour.

Strange.

He was about to lie back down when Clark entered the room, drinking something from a dark glassy bottle. It could have been beer, or it might have been one of the blue Ty Nant bottles made black by night. The play and shift of Clark's throat as he swallowed was made enigmatic and shadowy by the city lights outside, transforming an ordinary act into something otherworldly.

"Oh good, you're up," said Clark, wiping the back of his mouth with a blurry hand. "I was going to wake you."

Clark was wearing a tight black t-shirt that outlined his perfect chest and emphasized his arms and very tight pants that might or might not have been made of leather. He was standing in Lex's bedroom. He looked like a sex fantasy. Clearly, Lex was not actually awake.

"What are you doing here?" Lex asked.

"I thought I'd come see you," Clark said. "Since I'm in town." He came up next to the bed and placed the bottle on the bedside table; condensation ran down the neck. It would form a ring and damage the wood. Lex could see, now that he was up close, that it was water after all.

"Shouldn't you be in Smallville?" Lex didn't know why he kept asking. Clark smelled like something spicy and exotic, and he was here. Why question?

Clark shrugged. "I've left Smallville behind. Decided to see what the big city was all about." His teeth were unnaturally white in the dark.

There was something wrong. This wasn't a dream. And Clark wasn't himself; the grin had too many teeth in it, and Clark moved with the confident swagger reserved for those who owned the world, or at least thought they did. They hadn't seen each other in nearly a year, but he didn't think Clark had changed that much, not from the circumspect, diffident emails he received.

"Is something wrong?" Lex asked.

"Why do you ask that?" Clark was still smiling. It was still wrong.

"It's midnight, for one," said Lex. He didn't bother to ask how Clark had gotten in; Clark wouldn't answer.

Clark shrugged again, still fluid and graceful and acting like he didn't have to answer to anyone, least of all Lex. It was as jarring as a glass pyramid in the desert. "I should ask that about you," he said. "What're you still doing in bed on a Friday night?"

"I run a multibillion dollar corporation," Lex replied. "I prize my sleep."

"That doesn't mean you can't have any fun." Clark leaned in so close that Lex could see a strange ring of fire around Clark's irises. "It's a Friday night. We should go out and party. Or," he seemed to reconsider, "if you want. . . we can stay in." He leaned in even closer, so that Lex could feel his breath against his face, and traced one finger along the line of Lex's collarbone. It was stupid how arousing that one simple gesture was, how it made him shiver. Clearly time and distance hadn't diluted his feelings at all.

This was all wrong. Clark was straight, Clark was a beloved friend, Clark was in love with Lana Lang, Clark was clearly out of his mind, maybe on drugs or something--Lex pulled away and tried to get slow his breathing. The room was too silent; for once, he cursed the impeccable soundproofing of his penthouse. He needed the hum of traffic, the low buzz of a train, to let him know that this was real and that he was in control. But there was only him and Clark alone and Metropolis staring in the window, shading the black into watercolored monochrome.

Lex swallowed. "We can go out," he said, trying to muster the enthusiasm he'd once possessed for Metropolis nightlife. He'd tried it a few times after his triumphant return to the city and discovered, much to his chagrin, that he was now more enamored with game theory than the latest drugs. "The best parties don't get started until after midnight." He slid out of bed and felt ridiculously vulnerable in his pajama pants; he'd never been shy about his body after he lost his hair, but Clark's red-orange gaze made him self-conscious. "What did you have in mind?"

"Some dancing." Clark pulled Lex close so that they were pressed chest to chest, one arm curled possessively around Lex's waist. "Some fucking." He licked Lex's ear. "And then, we can take over the world."

It was nothing like the brief, confused kisses Lex remembered from his sojourn in Smallville; Clark was hot and greedy, using just enough tongue and teeth to make Lex think he ought to be taking notes. An unexpected wave of want rushed through him, and he had to make himself back away mentally and remember that this wasn't Clark. Clark didn't want this. Not really.

"Take over the world?" Lex breathed when they slipped apart. His lips felt swollen and bruised. He was disturbed to find that he liked it. "You mean that literally, don't you?" He gave a stuttered little laugh.

"Clark Kent and Lex Luthor." Clark's smile was sharp enough to cut. "Don't you like the sound of that?"

"I do," Lex said. "Why don't you stay here then, and let me get ready? We'll get to the dancing," he tilted his face up to nibble at the edge of Clark's jaw, "the fucking," he brushed his fingers lightly down the fly of Clark's pants, making him growl appreciatively, "and the world-conquering all in one night."

"We don't have to do it in that order," Clark murmured, words edged with laughter and more than a little lust.

Lex chuckled and gave Clark a light shove. "Take it easy," he told him. "We have to build up to the climax, don't we?" He sauntered out of the bedroom with a flirtatious look over one shoulder; Clark watched him go hungrily.

Lex padded into his study on bare feet. His desk was silhouetted against the Metropolis skyline, the phone a pale mushroom against the dark wood. He dialed the number by heart. It answered after four rings.

"Hello?" said Jonathan Kent, voice still dusty with sleep.

"Mr. Kent," Lex said. "I'm sorry to bother you so late--"

"Lex? Is that you? What is it?" He sounded a little more alert now; surely he knew that Lex Luthor wouldn't call in the middle of the night for no reason.

"It's about your son," Lex began.

Lex heard of the creak of a plastic phone in a suddenly-tightened grip. "Clark? What--where--have you seen him?"

"He's here now," Lex said, trying to sound as soothing as possible. "He's acting a little strange. Is something the matter?"

"He's." Mr. Kent paused. "He's not himself right now," he said carefully. "And he--he might be dangerous. Be careful, Lex."

"Is there anything I can do?" asked Lex.

"Just--just be careful, and--and tell him we love him and we want him to come home."

What happened? Lex wondered. What sins, real or perceived, had Clark committed? What made him flee his beautiful family for the cold embrace of Metropolis? Oh, the city made you think she loved you, but she didn't care if you lived or died; she had a hundred thousand other lovers.

Lex saw Clark prowl into the study out of the corner of his eye. "I have to go," he said abruptly. "I'll be in touch." He hung up the phone.

"Who was that?" Clark asked, coming up next to him. He radiated heat like a star.

"No one important," Lex replied.

"You're not dressed." Clark ran a hand across Lex's ribs, leaving a trail of gooseflesh in its wake. "You could go out like this, I guess."

Lex tried to laugh, but it came out weak and airy. "The damage to my reputation would be irreparable."

"You don't need your reputation," Clark said, closing in. Lex realized he was backed against the desk. "You have me."

Lex swallowed. He had sudden visions of being fucked against the desk, hands clutching at the smooth, expensive wood, Clark's unfamiliar face poised above his like a conqueror's. Had this Clark always been there, asleep or hiding?

"Clark," Lex tried to warn him, amazed and proud that his voice didn't shake, "you're not yourself."

Clark laughed. "I'm more myself than I've ever been."

Lex's questing fingers finally found the cold, irregular surface of the box and flipped it open.

There was no reason for Lex to take his work home with him. Not when it pertained to the meteor rock, anyway; he had some of the best--and some of the most unconventional--scientific minds in the nation studying it, trying to unlock its properties. But he kept a small rock on his desk all the same, enclosed within a lead box that was supposedly made out of St. George's armor. It focused his thoughts.

It was appropriate, he thought, as Clark reeled backward, his face twisted in agony and eyes angry with betrayal. St. George, the slayer of dragons, patron saint of boy scouts.

Clark staggered several steps away, hissing in pain and clawing at his shirt. Confused, Lex palmed the rock but didn't move any closer. Clark fell to his knees and tore his shirt apart; buttons bounced into the carpet as the fine fabric shredded underneath his suddenly-clumsy fingers. It was hard to tell in the scattered cityscape light, but the scarring on his chest looked like the kind you got from an ugly burn, save that it was far too symmetrical: an unequal pentagon with the sign of infinity looping in the center. It stood out dark and livid on skin paled by midnight and throbbed sickly even as Clark's fingers tangled together, breathing harsh and labored and veins standing out on his skin.

"The ring," Clark whimpered. "The ring, the ring."

Clark was wearing a ring. It looked like an ordinary class ring with a red stone set in it, probably with SMALLVILLE HIGH CLASS OF 2005 engraved in blocky letters on the band. Clark's hands shook; his fingers skidded and skated.

The meteor rock was Lex's only weapon; once he put it down, he was at Clark's mercy. Clark would be able fling him through the window, crush him with his bare hands, or who knew what. But Clark wasn't in any condition to fight, and he was clearly desperate, his face twisted in frustration and agony--and Lex had to believe that his friend, even like this, wouldn't hurt him. He dropped the meteor rock, which rolled under the desk, and seized Clark by the wrist, pulling off the ring with his other hand in one quick motion. Clark slumped against Lex like all his bones had melted. Lex barely managed to swipe the meteor rock from under the desk and slam it back into its case. Clark started breathing easier almost immediately.

Lex shook Clark gently by the shoulders. "Clark," he said urgently. Clark opened his eyes and stared blearily at Lex. The glow around his irises was gone.

"Lex." Clark's voice cracked. "Oh God, Lex." He buried his face in Lex's chest. "Oh God, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."

Clark wouldn't stop his endless litany of apologies even after Lex assured him repeatedly that it was all right, everything was going to be okay, nothing had happened, everyone was fine. Clark just clung and apologized, tears wet on Lex's skin. It was a long time before Lex could coax Clark back into the bedroom, even longer before Clark fell into an exhausted sleep, still hugging Lex around the ribs, Lex sitting with his back against the headboard.

Lex stared out the windows and absently petted Clark's hair. He read news from at least three sources every day, and despite himself paid special attention to items that might have anything to do with Smallville (and still read the Ledger with some regularity). He recalled an explosion that had happened on the Kent property earlier that week; it'd been attributed to a gas leak, and Mrs. Kent, at least, had been injured. Lex had sent flowers to Mrs. Kent at the hospital and to Clark a worried email, followed up with a phone call, neither of which had been answered. He thought the silence had been due to the strain the accident had placed on the family.

"Your parents love you," Lex told the prone figure. "They want you to come home."

He was woken in the morning by the jangle of his alarm clock. He flicked the button to "off" mainly by reflex and stretched. Metropolis had assumed its daytime wear of stone and steel and glass reaching into untouchable blue. Lex realized he was lying in his bed with the covers pulled up and tucked around his shoulders. Clark was gone.

The ring was still there, though, sitting on the bedside table next to an empty blue bottle.


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