вторник, 9 октября 2007 г.

danceswithgary: Fic: Zero Effects Part 1 of 2 (Complete) CLFF22 Gold Medal

Title: Zero Effects
Author: danceswithgary Email: danceswithgary@yahoo.com
Pairing: Clark/Lex
Rating: R
Warnings: None
Spoilers: Through S3 Asylum
Word Count: 12,400
Archive: Fine, just let me know
Summary: For Lex, each day is a new beginning. He has no choice. CLFF22 Gold Medal - Fiction CLFF Waves Site CLFF22 Gold Medal - Artwork

cover by dancewithgary
screencaps by acampbell and oxoniensis

Click twice for fullsize

*** Prologue *** The voice that woke him was familiar, although the face that accompanied it had changed, grown mature, hard planes replacing the smooth cheeks of boyhood. "You need to get up. Hurry." Something wasn't right. He didn't recognize his surroundings, the blindingly white walls and ceiling a stark contrast to the dark figure bent over him, shaking him awake. "Where am I? What happened?" "There was...something was done to you. That's why you don't remember. Listen, there's no time!" The last thing he could recall flooded in, and he gasped, "Please, tell me happened to the boy I hit? Is he dead? Did I kill him? Please, I need to know!" "You didn't kill anyone. I'll explain everything later. Right now, I need to get you out of here." He felt the constriction across his chest and wrists loosen, and heard the clang of metal. Sitting up, his head spun momentarily, and the walls danced an intricate waltz before settling down to their normal state. "Okay, I'm coming, but you better have a really good explanation as to why I'm here, instead of underneath ten feet of water." "It's a long story. Let's go." Standing, he looked down and then back up at the man waiting for him. "How about some shoes?" . . . "I want to go back. I waste too much time everyday reorienting myself in an unfamiliar city, or else I spend the day prowling around this mausoleum feeling trapped." "It's too dangerous." "I've been dead for years. No one is going to remember me, and besides, you've taught me a few things about hiding in plain sight, right? New name, a wig or a hat, different clothes.... I need this." "We'll need to make sure...all right. I'll get started on your security, and find you a place to live." "I already have one. Here's the information." "Is this where...why?" "There's a delicious irony in it, don't you think? After all, I start from there every morning. I'll need a new name, too. That'll work, and a first name...it could be my second. No, wait. I'll use this one." "Why?" "It appeals to me for some reason. It certainly doesn't hint of anything in my past, so why not?" "Then, you better make a note of it. We wouldn't want to have to go through this again tomorrow. After all, you might pick something truly awful like Granger or Stewart, and then I'd have to call this friendship off." . . . "It is time for you to wake up. It is time for you to wake up." The voice was familiar, its calm tones soothing in his disorientation. He blinked his eyes slowly, and looked up at the ceiling above his head, noting a digital display that changed as he watched. "Do not panic. You made this recording to remind you about what you've forgotten while you slept last night. Remain calm and listen." It was his own voice ordering him to stay calm, at the same time that his mind was raging at him and demanding that he jump out of the bed. A bed that he didn't remember going to sleep in, a room he didn't recognize. "The last thing you remember is a car accident. You crashed through a bridge railing and into a river. You think you hit a boy. You didn't. He wasn't hurt. He saved your life." He remembered that, the surprise on the face of the boy as his car hurtled toward him. He couldn't believe the dark-haired boy hadn't been hurt, that he'd managed not to have that on his conscience, compounding the guilt he still felt over destroying Amanda's life. "Look at the date on the ceiling. That is today's date. It is not a mistake. You have been severely injured, and you cannot remember anything that has happened after that accident. The condition you are suffering from is known as anterograde amnesia." When he calculated the number of years since the date of the accident, he began to understand why the voice had insisted he remain calm. Years. It had been years, and he remembered nothing about them. "You will wake up every day and listen to these instructions. You will get up, shower and get dressed and then you will go to your office down the hall to your left and read what you need to function today, and you will remember everything that happens until you sleep again." It felt wrong to accept the information he'd recorded for himself as fact, without any of his normal skepticism, but until he could come up with an alternative, he'd follow the instructions, one step at a time. "This is important. You must follow these instructions to stay alive. This isn't the life you would have chosen, but you are living it, one day at a time. Make today count." He watched the numbers on the ceiling as they marked off another minute of the waiting day. He had no other choice. He got out of bed. *** Chapter One *** The building was hauntingly familiar, the slick facade now graffiti-spattered, cracked brick. He hadn't noticed where he was heading as he pursued the second of two gun-wielding thugs, the first already occupying a handy dumpster until the police arrived. The second was quickly dispatched to join the first, and it wasn't until he returned to retrieve the dropped weapon that he noticed where he'd been led during the aborted escape attempt. Curious, he scanned the interior, expecting to see the same empty, abandoned space he'd entered years before. Instead, despite his restricted vision, due to what looked to be heavy coats of lead-based paint on the walls and ceiling, it showed clear signs of occupation, not by squatters, but by at least one person with enough money to afford a number of computers and peripherals. Frowning, he took to the air to complete his errand, and deliver the gun to the arresting officers. Nevertheless, he made a mental note to take some time, and find out who now owned the building that had once housed the defunct Club Zero. . . . The clear, cool water hides nothing as he slices through it effortlessly, the blue of the tiles beneath a counterpoint to the bright sun overhead. Reaching the end of the pool, he stands and shakes his hair back out of his face, searching for his companion. He's nowhere in sight, until a pale, lithe body crests the surface with a laugh, a joyful dolphin cast down to human. A splash entices him into play, and they dive and slide over and under each other, touch and away. Stopping for breath, he seeks once again, but this time there is no splash, no return, and no laughter. The water is murky and deep and he can't find what he's looking for, but he keeps trying. He knows he has to find it or he'll never be happy again. He keeps swimming downward, or at least he thinks it's down but can't be sure, the light is dimmer with each passing second. He sees a glimmer and it's there, his goal, and he reaches it and sees the face he's been seeking. Eyes stare blankly as the body drifts inside its metal shell. A blow and a yank, and his prize floats free and he surfaces with it held close. On the banks of the black river, he bestows the kiss of life, but it is too late and he weeps in despair. The bloated body turns its head and river-washed, blue eyes look into his as scarred lips assure him, "It doesn't matter, you know, you'd have only let them kill me later." Jerking awake, he shuddered as the last vestiges of the nightmare bled away into the dark. Knowing from experience that any chance for sleep was gone, he dressed in his bright colors to patrol the night. Always alone. . . . Moving around the unfamiliar bedroom locating clothing, he listened to his recorded voice. "You purchased this building so you would have somewhere familiar to start from every day. The computer on the desk in your office has a training program you will need to run through to understand how to use MIN, the memory interface network you've developed using the learning algorithms you came up with your first year at Met U. It will also fill in what memories you will need for today, as well as what identity you will be using." Rolling his eyes at the voice, he headed for the open door where he could see a sink and bathroom fixtures, muttering, "I suppose I left all this on a computer with no security since I wouldn't be able to remember a password..." "The password for the computer is what you saw that day." He'd never told anyone about the scarecrow, not the doctors, not his father, not his mother. He was impressed with himself. . . . "Hell, Smallville, you look like something the cat dragged in." The honey-blonde whirlwind blew into the small cubicle and plopped down on the corner of desk, leaning over to steal half of the blueberry muffin he was crumbling absent-mindedly. Frowning up at the muffin thief, he carefully moved the remainder of his mutilated breakfast out of reach. "Gee thanks, Lois. I can always count on you to make me feel better. And to steal my food." "That's what partners are for, Clark. Now spill." Turning back to his laptop, he shrugged. "I just didn't sleep well, that's all." "Normal people take time out to have a life, date, go out to dinner, Smallville. You should try it sometime." Leaning over his shoulder, Lois attempted to see the screen. "So, what are you working on?" "I'm just looking up some property records. An old building I'm curious about." Stacking empty soda cans in a pyramid on his desk, Lois prodded, "Why?" Blanking his screen, he swiveled in his seat to look up at her, green eyes wide and innocent behind the thick-rimmed glasses. "No particular reason. I just happened to run across it yesterday and I started wondering." Smiling, he changed the subject. "What's on for today?" Flipping her hair back over her shoulders, Lois grimaced. "Mayor's holding a press conference on the plans for the new stadium. Guess who gets to cover it?" Getting up, she headed out of the cubicle toward her own, a few feet away. "I'd much rather get an interview with Superman, or find some juicy dirt on Luthor any day. Who cares about a bunch of jocks and a new place for them to run around in?" "Well, Lois, all I can say is that neither Superman nor Lionel Luthor is going anywhere, so they'll still be around when you've finished this assignment." Busy grabbing her purse and stuffing her notepad and recorder into it, Lois' response was only mildly sarcastic. "Gee, Smallville, I don't know how I ever got along without your down home wisdom. However do they manage without you, down on the farm?" . . . "Correlation points 27, 34, 56." Touching three points on the screen in front of him, the man seated before the bank of monitors looked up to see the results flash across the screens. Each screen was different, one with scrolling numbers, another with a series of photographs, a third containing a reference document with relevant information highlighted. He typed in a series of commands before touching the screen and speaking again. "Correlation points 7, 19, 27." A digitized voice interrupted the data flow. "Incoming call. Mick Rogers. Hiring contact, information source. Confidence level 8." Halting the displays, the man sighed. "Accept." "Rome, it's me, Mick." Waiting for the console in front of him to validate the voice signature, the man prompted, "Yes?" "I've got a job for you." Nodding to himself at the positive that flashed on the screen, the man asked, "What is it?" "I'm sending the details, highly confidential, needed yesterday. The guy would like to meet with you." "I don't meet with anyone. You know the rules, Mick." "Rome, this is a big one. I wouldn't have brought it to you otherwise. He wants the best." "My rules or nothing. Call me tomorrow, I'll have the information for you." After the call was disconnected, he pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing. "MIN, priority max, report to Mick Rogers on completion. Compile and rank all data on receipt, alert for analysis." . . . The green baize of the table mutes the sound of the colored balls as they clack together, kissing before separation. Pointing with the cue, the pale head nods, and the strike sends the final sphere to the depths. Straightening with a laugh, the cue is handed over to be returned to the waiting rack, the smile warm as hands meet. The green poison burns through his veins as he tries to hang on. The weight on the end of his arm threatens to carry him over, the jerking struggles loosening his grip as each second passes. Straining, he heaves backwards, pulling with all of his waning strength as the weight lessens unexpectedly. A scream and a heavy thud explain the sudden ease. Metal screeches and sways before a rush of air and he is down to the concrete that runs red with spilled life. Crawling through the gore, he looks into the single, intact, blue eye that stares ahead sightlessly and the broken mouth consoles him, "It was all useless. You would have betrayed me anyway." Another night, another visit by regret and he rose from his bed to roam his small apartment in the dark. Even now, years later, something would trigger memory: a blue glass bottle, a silver-grey Porsche, the scent of scotch or river water, and the horror would return. Restless, he took to the sky, knowing he would never find what he was seeking. His single hope had died years before. . . . The recorded voice floated in the air, a digital prompt for a suspended life. "You are an information broker, a detective. You gather threads of data and knot them together into a solution. The only way for you to remain safe is to work in secrecy, in solitude. MIN will tell you whom you can trust. MIN contains every piece of information you have collected and collated since its inception." Turning away from the monitor, the man looked out of the plate glass window over the empty expanse, a story below the office he was seated in. He rubbed the back of his neck as he tried to absorb what he'd learned so far. "MIN is your memory now. Use it. Trust it." *** Chapter Two *** He'd been unable to find out the name of the real owner of the building, yet. A contact at the county offices was handling a title search and cross check on the shell company that had been listed as the purchaser. No phone number had been found either, which explained why he was standing outside of the building, getting ready to knock on the door and ask his questions in person. He knew someone was inside; he could detect their heartbeat and an occasional cryptic word or sentence. Their skeleton was just visible through the walls, but he could make out no details. Sighing, he reached out and pressed the buzzer on the intercom near the heavy, metal door. There was no response until he pressed a second time. "Yes?" "Hello, I'm Clark Kent, a reporter with the Daily Planet. I was wondering if I might have a few minutes of your time?" "What's this about?" "I'm doing a features article on restorations in the city, and someone suggested that this building might be interesting, since it used to be a club, years ago. If I could ask a few questions...?" The buzz that signaled the unlocking of the door made him jump, and he had visions of the voice inside chuckling at the ungainly sight. Opening the door, he entered the building, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the dim light after the bright sunshine he'd just left behind. Walking a few steps forward, he stopped and looked around for the occupant of the building. "Hello?" . . . The buzz of the door intercom sliced through his concentration like a knife. It was unexpected, he never had anyone visit without prior notice, and the people allowed in his presence were strictly limited and monitored. He studied the security camera display, and didn't recognize the tall, dark-haired man with glasses who stood there fidgeting as he waited for a reply. When the scanner detected no weapons, he decided to respond to the second buzz. When the visitor responded with his name, he activated MIN, expecting it to compare the name with any photos on file. It came back with a startling response, since he had scanned all of the high-confidence-level photos that morning, after he'd completed the training. "Clark Kent. Confidence level 10." It was the highest level ever assigned. There had been only one other name set at that level since he'd awakened, and this wasn't it. There was something unexpected happening. He would have to decide if the encounter was worth the risk. He had to trust MIN, or everything he'd built up to now was meaningless. He let the man in. . . . Advancing slowly into the dim light, he looked around, trying to place the quick glimpses of the past within the context of now. The cavernous space had no echoes, the acoustical tiles applied years ago still in place and absorbing random sounds. The first floor was bare of any furniture, the exception a well-equipped personal gym in one corner, including a treadmill and weight stack. The second floor, a set of suspended balconies leading out from back rooms, circled the floor in shadow, the only bright lights from flickering monitors. Turning around, he faced the section where he almost expected to see a writhing figure, bound and dangling head down, the prey in a web of deception. Instead, a dark figure lurked in the shadows, only a glimmer of pale skin revealed. Resisting temptation, he kept his vision within the normal range. "Mr. Kent." The voice was low, smooth, and teased at the edges of his memory. Lifting his chin, he directed his response upwards. "I'm afraid you have the advantage." An almost imperceptible movement brought the dark shape closer to the light. "By my choice, as you must have discovered in your unsuccessful search for the owner of this building. Secrets are my business, Mr. Kent. My name and face are better left unknown to most." Taking another step closer, he let the light overhead fall on his own face. "I can assure you, I keep my sources confidential on request. I also have a reputation to maintain." Stepping out from the shadows, the man above walked to the railing and stood leaning forward, his pale hands gripping the metal, naked skull painted with a dull sheen above his midnight clothing. He inclined his head graciously, a sovereign in the heights. "In that case, Mr. Kent, please do come up and join me. I'm Jerome Zero. You can call me Rome." Staggered by the rush of memories and mired in place by disbelief, he could only stand with his mouth open and try to remember how to breathe. He hadn't been prepared to meet a ghost from a decade ago. A single gasp signaled an attempt to return to a coherent state. "Lex..." . . . "Clark Jerome Kent. Age, twenty-seven. Adopted. Raised in Smallville, Kansas. Item: Saved Lex Luthor from drowning. Item: Saved Lex Luthor from kidnap attempt inside LuthorCorp Plant 3. Item: Saved Lex Luthor from attempted murder by first wife, marriage annulled. No contact since Lex Luthor reported dead. Graduated Metropolis University, Major: Journalism. Occupation: Reporter Daily Planet, partner Lois Lane. Author of seventeen negative articles on LuthorCorp in last six months. Personal input from..." "Halt output. Monitor." The stream of data from MIN fed through his wireless ear bud ended as he greeted his guest. It was apparent from the feed that Clark Kent was one of the good guys, and that he would have to consider revealing at least part of his condition in order to share information. The face turned up to him was wide open, concealing nothing, handsome behind a singularly unattractive pair of glasses. The body, tall and broad, immersed in an ill-fitting suit, seemed to convey subdued power in its every move. Stepping out from concealment, he stood above and introduced himself, observing the other man's reactions carefully. "In that case, Mr. Kent, please do come up and join me. I'm Jerome Zero. You can call me Rome." The gasp and the blanching of the face below revealed a much closer relationship than any of his past research of newspaper articles had identified. He watched the large body sway and wondered if he was going to be required to revive his visitor from a faint, but the man recovered and headed for the stairs, almost scrambling in his haste to mount them. He hurried forward, large hands outstretched, and only a quick step backwards prevented an uninvited contact. The visitor's face fell, and his hands dropped to his sides as he apologized. "I'm sorry, Lex. It's just...you're alive!" A hand came back up as if he couldn't control the need to confirm his presence as real and solid. "I thought...we were told..." The tears that trailed down behind fogged glasses, dampening a grin that threatened to blind him in its intensity, told a tale of past grief and newfound joy. He hated knowing he would be adding another layer of pain to the face before him. Holding up his hand to forestall another attempt to gather him into a hug, he quickly explained. "I'm sorry, Clark is it? Please forgive me, Clark, but I don't remember you. I suffered brain damage and my last memory is an accident at a bridge in Smallville. I'm afraid that the Lex Luthor you may have known is gone." Seeing the devastation that crumbled the wavering smile, he offered his hand and pitched his voice low and welcoming. "My name is Jerome Zero, Rome, now. Still, I am pleased to meet someone, perhaps even a friend, from the past. Why don't you join me in my office? You look as if you could use a drink." . . . "According to my sources, I owe you my life several times over." Pouring a generous measure of scotch into a tumbler, Lex handed it to Clark, who still looked like he was in shock. Indicating a leather armchair, Lex retreated to his own chair behind his desk and took a sip from his drink. Taking the offered seat, Clark held the tumbler on his knee, neglecting to take a taste. After several false starts, he was finally able to ask a simple question. "Why, Lex?" Lex shrugged, his mouth drawing up in a crooked smile. "Why am I alive? Why use an alias? Why keep everything a secret?" "I'll take an answer to any of those." Clark frowned in irritation at Lex's flippant reply. "Simply put, a friend rescued me from a sanatorium in Europe where my father shipped me after electroshock therapy left me with anterograde amnesia. To be honest, I've had to rely on what he was able to discover, which was limited since the doctor who performed the procedure died shortly afterward, and all my treatment records were conveniently destroyed in a fire." Lex stared down into the amber liquid as if searching for clues to his missing past. "I've found that newspaper and magazine articles are limited when it comes to filling in the blanks, but safer than attempting to speak to anyone who knew me those few years I spent in Smallville." "Why safer?" "Because my friend was convinced that my father had me silenced and removed from the public eye for a reason, a reason which could have resulted in another session of electroshock if my father thought there was any chance that I could remember." Draining the last of his drink, Lex pushed the tumbler to the center of the desk. "Unfortunately, neither my friend nor I knew what it was my father was trying to hide, so faking my death was the only way to keep him from trying again and possibly destroying what was left of my brain. Asking questions when we weren't sure who may have been working for my father was too dangerous." Setting his drink on the desk, Clark leaned forward. "Why are you telling me all this, now? Why let me in and reveal your secrets?" "You mean if I could trust you, why didn't I get in touch with you sooner?" Lex raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Excellent question, Clark. You see, until you showed up today, I didn't know I could trust you." His mouth twisted, the scar on his upper lip blanching under pressure. "I didn't even know you were important enough to be assigned a confidence level." "I don't understand." "Ironically, I make my living as an information specialist. I collect data, draw conclusions based on it and send the answers to my clients. The major difficulty I've encountered in attempting to find the answers to my past, is determining which questions to ask. I obviously didn't ask the right questions about my past, so I didn't know that I should try to find you, let you know I was alive, and find out more about my life in Smallville." A look of pain flashed across Clark's face. "I'm not sure you have enough information about me now, or what happened between us. If you did, then maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation. I..." "Incoming call. Mick Rogers. Hiring contact, information source. Confidence level 8." Holding up his hand in a silent request to wait, Lex touched his ear to indicate he was listening. He responded, "MIN, accept incoming, speaker." At the sound of the connection being made, he began speaking first, forestalling any words from the caller. "Mick, I have the information, stand by for transmission." "The client wasn't happy about your refusal to meet." Noting how his visitor stilled at the name, Lex nodded with a frown. "I don't care. If he wants to engage my services, he'll follow my rules. If he persists, take him off the list." "You're the boss, Rome." At the sound of the disconnect, Lex raised his hand again. "MIN, speaker. Detail confidence level 10 on Clark Kent." "Clark Jerome Kent. Age, twenty-seven. Adopted. Raised in Smallville, Kansas. Item: Saved Lex Luthor from drowning. Item: Saved Lex Luthor from kidnap attempt inside LuthorCorp Plant 3. Item: Saved Lex Luthor from murder attempt by first wife, marriage annulled. Item: No contact since Lex Luthor reported dead. Graduated Metropolis University, Major: Journalism. Occupation: Reporter Daily Planet, partner Lois Lane. Author of seventeen negative articles on LuthorCorp in last six months. Personal input from Bruce Wayne: Trust Clark Kent as you would me. Continue?" The sound of cracking wood split the air between the two men and Clark looked down in dismay at the arm of his chair. A dry chuckle brought his head back up. "MIN, halt output. Monitor." Leaning back in his chair, Lex rubbed a finger over his scarred lip before speaking. "I have to admit I'm finding it hard to decide which piece of that information I find the most intriguing. Is it that I managed to choose your second name as my first, or that Bruce endorses you when he trusts no one?" "You know Bruce Wayne?" "Yes, he's the friend I spoke of earlier. He's the only other person that knows I'm still alive. I wonder why he's never spoken to either of us about knowing each other in Smallville. Knowing Bruce, I suspect he was trying to keep me as far away from there as possible, thinking I'd be safer not knowing." Clark's bark of laughter startled Lex. "Bruce should have known better. The Lex Luthor I knew would have never given up asking questions until he found out the truth." "That hasn't changed. I'd like to hear anything you can tell me about Smallville and us. Do you have the time?" Pulling his cell phone out, Clark hit speed dial. "Lois, this is Clark. Look, something's come up and I won't be back to the office today. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Ending the message, Clark turned off the phone and tucked it back into his pocket. He smiled tentatively across the desk at Lex. "OK, the rest of the day is yours. Where do you want to start?" "Why don't you tell me how we met?" *** Chapter Three *** "Please list all food and drink consumed." Lex laughed at Clark's startled look when the refrigerator began to speak after he opened it to get two bottles of water. "There are voice prompts on all the cupboards and refrigerator. If I use anything, I tell MIN and it places a replacement order at the end of the day. All my laundry, including sheets and towels, is sent out using the same prompt system. I pick up any deliveries at the loading dock and put them away, telling MIN. I only have the one bathroom, one bedroom, the kitchen, and my office, so I'm capable of keeping the place clean myself. That way I don't need to worry about any security issues involved in using a cleaning service." "Do you ever leave the building?" Uncapping his bottle, Lex drank deeply before wandering out to the balcony overlooking the empty floor below. "Occasionally, but only at night. It requires a disguise, and I really don't like wearing a wig unless I absolutely have to. I do enjoy eating out sometimes, though. MIN makes sure I don't frequent the same restaurants too often." Following him out, Clark leaned against the railing a few feet away. "You must get lonely." Shrugging, Lex shook his head. "Not really, I'm too busy to think about it much." Finishing the bottle, he walked over to the wall, dropped it into a slot marked 'waste disposal' and then wandered over to the bank of monitors. "I spend most of my time here, trying to make sense of the data MIN collects for me. I have a number of search algorithms in place with filters I set. I correlate the results, and MIN stores it for later retrieval as needed." Looking over Lex's shoulder, Clark watched as Lex used the touch screen to illustrate how he worked. "That's pretty impressive, Lex. How did you come up with all of this?" "I guess it all started with some techniques I used to associate and weight study topics while I was at school. It took a while to translate it into a digital format, but once I began it was almost an organic growth, took on a life of its own. Now, MIN handles the majority of the work with some input from me on topics of interest." Lex waved his hand at the system. "MIN is monitoring everything we say, and storing it for later assessment." He raised his eyebrows and grinned. "I suppose I should have warned you that I have no secrets from MIN, and as long as you're with me, neither do you." Clark ducked his head and looked down at the ground. "I..." His head came back up and his expression was earnest. "I'll answer whatever questions you ask me, Lex, and I'll always tell you the truth. If that means I'll have no secrets, then I guess I'll just have to live with that." Nodding, Lex gestured toward his office. "In that case, let's get comfortable and you can try to explain why I decided to get married a second time after the first marriage was such a spectacular mess." . . . Lex was pacing back and forth across his office, his voice edged with pain. "So my father was drugging me because I had evidence that he and Morgan Edge killed my grandparents for insurance money? That's how I ended up in Belle Reve, where I had the electroshock? What happened to the evidence?" Seated on the sofa positioned along the back wall, Clark frowned. "Lionel managed to get a hold of it, and he most likely had it destroyed. With Morgan Edge missing, Chloe and I had no way to prove anything. When Lana was injured..." "Lana, my partner in the Talon?" "Right, she was accidentally trampled by a horse when you got upset with her. It wasn't your fault, Lex, it was the drugs, and you weren't yourself then. Anyway, after that happened, it became impossible for us to convince anyone that you were being drugged causing you to act as if you were having a psychotic break. There's something else that you need to know, Lex. Something about me and what happened before they took you away..." Halting, Lex held up his hand. "I need to take a break, Clark. This is a lot to take in at once, especially hearing about what my father did to me. It's one thing to suspect it based on what Bruce was able to find out, it's another to have it confirmed by you." Rising to his feet, Clark approached Lex with his hand outstretched. He grasped Lex's shoulder and squeezed gently. "Whatever you need, Lex. I'm here for you." Glancing at his watch, Lex grimaced. "It's late, and we haven't eaten. Why don't we go out and get some fresh air, and talk about something unimportant at a restaurant of your choice?" . . . Setting his fork down, Lex grinned across the table at Clark. "Do I have sauce on my face?" Their meal had been enjoyable, Lex amusing Clark with stories of his wild days in college, while Clark shared light-hearted adventures with his intrepid partner. There had been a great deal of laughter and shared smiles. Flushing in mild embarrassment at being caught staring, Clark shook his head. "No, it's just...you look the same as you did back then, like you never got any older." He ducked his head and murmured, "You look amazing." Cocking his head as he thought about what Clark had said, Lex's expression reflected his puzzlement. "You know, I hadn't really noticed, but you're right...it's as if my aging stopped at the same time I lost my memories. I wonder...with all the odd effects you've mentioned from the meteors...maybe..." He shrugged. "Not my field, I'm afraid. Anyway, you're one to talk. You certainly don't look like you're twenty-seven. You could be a college freshman." Clark chuckled. "Not an advantage when it comes to interviews, sometimes. It's a good thing I have Lois for the hard-hitting news. I generally handle the human interest side." "Lois Lane, right? And Chloe was your partner back in Smallville. What ever happened to her? It sounded like she'd have made an amazing reporter." Noticing they were the last customers in the restaurant, Lex signaled for the check while he waited for an answer. The sadness in Clark's eyes made him sorry he'd asked. "She...was killed in a car accident one night, right before graduation. The police thought that maybe an animal ran out in front of her car. She was by herself, and they were sure she died instantly when she hit the tree." Reaching out, Lex covered Clark's hand with his. "I'm sorry, Clark." "Thanks. It was a long time ago, but I still miss her. She was my only friend after you..." Clark blinked rapidly as he valiantly tried to smile. "She would have been happy that I stayed with journalism like we'd planned." Leaving enough cash to cover the bill and tip, Lex rose from the table. "Let's go. It's a beautiful night out there. We can enjoy the stars on the way back." Grateful for the Lex's understanding, Clark nodded and followed him out. . . . The darkness held them in comfortable silence as they walked along the deserted streets, each lost in their thoughts. On reaching the building, Clark followed Lex inside and up the stairs to his office, taking a seat on the sofa again, all without a single word. Taking his baseball cap off, Lex tossed it on the desk along with the glasses he'd donned before leaving for the restaurant. He kicked off his shoes before taking a corner of the sofa, pulling one leg up so he could see Clark more easily. Smiling, Clark did the same. Lex spoke first. "I really enjoyed dinner, Clark." "I did, too. It's been years..." Clark's smile turned bittersweet. Lex shook his head in disbelief. "Come on, you must have the ladies lining up..." At Clark's raised brow, he chuckled. "All right, then the men must be." Clark shrugged. "No, when I said Chloe was my only friend after I lost you, I meant it. I just never...it never seemed right. It's not like anyone wanted to make the effort to get to know me anyway." Lex studied Clark's face and smiled gently before sliding closer. He reached out and pulled off Clark's glasses, folding them before placing them in Clark's shirt pocket. "You don't really need those, do you?" At Clark's slow headshake, he slid even closer. "I can't help wondering what you're hiding from, Clark." When Clark didn't move away, Lex raised his hand to trace the edge of Clark's jaw. "How close were we really, Clark? Were we lovers?" Clark licked his lips, closing his eyes for just a moment before he whispered, "No." Sliding his hand upwards to run his fingers through thick, dark curls, Lex brought his face closer, his voice a low caress. "Did you want us to be?" After the briefest hesitation, Clark's answer was a sigh. "Yes." "Then I think we've both waited long enough, don't you?" The kiss started out a gentle exploration, brief touches, and a glide across, the tip of a tongue asking permission and receiving it. Breath was soon stolen, and then returned with a sigh. Heat flared, hands joined the dance, and clothing became a nuisance. Breaking away, chased by a protesting groan, Lex rose to his feet. "Come to bed with me?" Standing, gaping shirt slipping from his shoulders to the floor, Clark simply nodded and followed Lex to the room next door. Slipping out of his clothes quickly, Lex scrambled up the bed, shoving the cover sheet and blanket to the foot of the bed. Rolling to his back, he propped himself up on his elbows to watch with heavy-lidded eyes as Clark fumbled himself out of his remaining clothing. Naked at last, Clark peeked up at Lex through his lashes as he stood at the foot of the bed, suddenly shy. Lex smiled gently and beckoned with his index finger. "Come here." Never looking away, Clark climbed onto the bed and crawled slowly towards Lex, straddling his hips and ending up over him, still on his hands and knees. Lex grinned up at him. "You've never done this before, have you?" At Clark's slow headshake, he reached up to pull his head down, capturing his lips gently, nipping and then soothing with his tongue. He urged Clark to lower his body on to his, accepting the weight with a pleased groan as he felt Clark hard and eager against him. Thrusting upward, he began to teach Clark the movement and the rhythm, finding him an apt pupil. Frantic, disjointed words interrupted kisses. "Lex...Lex...I've missed you...so much." "I must have been an idiot not to have you back then," Lex groaned, his hands learning the shape and strength of the man over him. Stilling, Clark held back, his voice rough and broken. "Wait, Lex. There's...there's something I need to tell you first, something you need to know about me and what happened." Impatient, Lex shook his head and tried unsuccessfully to pull Clark's head back within reach. "Do you work for my father? Did you work for my father?" Clark stiffened in outrage. "No!" Lex searched the distressed green eyes that begged for understanding. "Do you really want this...want me?" "Yes, yes. A million times, yes." "Then, please just let me have this. I've been awake since yesterday and I've dealt with nothing but bad news and trying to make sense of my life. You're the first good thing that's happened to me, Clark. Tell me later. Let me have you now." Sighing, Clark dropped his forehead to Lex's and closed his eyes in defeat. "Anything, Lex. You can have anything and everything you want from me." Both hands buried in Clark's hair, Lex brought their lips together in a crushing kiss, growling as he worried plush lips with his teeth, "Then move, Clark. Touch me, damn it. I need to feel you, feel something." The heat that had cooled as they'd spoken flared up once again and the lost rhythm found. Both hard, smooth skin slid against hair-roughened, intimate friction quickening with breathless mouths seeking. Tongues battled in a war without a winner or loser, words escaped lacking any meaning save desire. Pleasure rose until it spilled over, echoed, shared, slowed, and rested, content. Murmuring in protest as the warm weight shifted off to his side, Lex felt his world narrow and grow dim as sleep claimed him. His final thoughts scattered, a faint chiding voice ignored as it tried to remind him in vain of something important, forgotten. He never heard the soft whisper in the dark. "Please don't hate me when you find out the rest, Lex. I can't lose you again. I...I love you." . . . The blue bottle is cool in his hands, the liquid a sparkling taste in his mouth as the other raises his to scarred lips and drank, long elegant throat working as he swallows. The grin, the conspiratorial blue wink leaves him tingling with want. The bottle empty, it is discarded and pale skin reflects stained glass sun as other refreshment is sought. Amber glitters as it pours out, splashes, overflows to pool on dark wood. A spark and flame rises, consumes as an open mouth screams in silence. Frozen, movement stolen from forgotten limbs, he watches helplessly until black ash crumbles to the floor. Dropping to his knees, his hands flake away char until the skull grins up and speaks without a tongue, "Too late. You're always too late. It's all gone, now." Reluctant to leave the warmth he'd mourned for so many lost years, he knew he would receive no surcease until he revealed the complete truth. Listening, he detected another chance for the redemption he'd sought for years, and donned the symbol he'd worn to honor a fallen champion. He would return later with his hope for long-awaited forgiveness.


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