Summary: A line is crossed, and Clark makes an irrevocable decision regarding his life in Smallville.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators--it's just time to take Clark on a tour of the Dark Side.

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: "Asylum", up to the point of Clark and Chloe meeting with Lex's doctor, then AU thereafter (spoilers for season three up to that point)!

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me ( to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


Dr. Foster's shoulders relaxed, and she bowed her head as she whispered, "You're right--I can't let this happen. You two go on back to Smallville-- I'll call ahead to order that nothing be done until I can arrive, then cancel the procedure in person when I do."

Chloe brightened, but Clark frowned--Lionel Luthor was completely ruthless, and he had a lot invested in scrambling Lex's memories. He turned to Chloe and said quietly, "Chloe--go back to Smallville and let my folks know what's going on. I'm going to go with Dr. Foster to make sure that she gets to the asylum safely."

Chloe paled, and walked over to Clark before whispering urgently, "Clark-- if you're thinking that Mr. Luthor is going to take a shot at her, what exactly is you being in the car with her going to do to stop it?"

Clark smiled coldly, and Chloe shivered at the sight of it as her good friend replied, "Chloe--where would you be if I had that attitude when it was *your* butt on the line?"

Chloe flushed angrily. This was a new aspect of Clark's personality--and very interesting in the same way the old Chinese curse intended it. "Fine. Try not to get yourself killed--I--I don't want to have to explain it to Lana and Pete." She turned and stalked out of the room, and only the slight break in her voice as she spoke and the stiffness of her posture as she exited betrayed her actual emotions.

Dr. Foster hadn't missed the exchange. "Clark--your friend is right. I've got a professional and moral obligation to do this. If Lionel Luthor is enough of a monster to try to kill me to stop me from doing my duty, there's no point in endangering you as well." She wondered at the calm expression on the teenager's face, and asked quietly, "Clark--do you really think that he'll try to stop me from reaching the hospital?"

Clark blinked, then locked eyes with Dr. Foster--who was startled by the determination there. The young man smiled and replied, "Dr. Foster--I hope not, but we need to be ready for anything, and depending on the decency of Lionel Luthor is not a safe bet." He slumped--as if a great weight had been placed on his shoulders--and Dr. Foster was about to speak again when Clark seemed to shake it off and said simply, "Let's go."

* * * * *

The assassin carefully prepared his weapon--a small submachine gun designed to fire hollow point ammunition at an appallingly high rate at close range. The plan was simple, and he and his driver would be paid handsomely for it: follow the doctor until she reached a relatively dangerous, curvy section of road--pull alongside--open up with the SMG and drive off, letting the unfortunate doctor skid off the road and vanish into eternity in a ball of flames. Not a bad way to earn fifty grand in cash.

They had been carefully following the doctor, drifting in and out of traffic--even pulling ahead for a while and stopping before slipping back behind her as she drove along in her Ford Escort. She wasn't alone--a dark- haired teenage boy was sitting in the passenger seat. The assassin noted that the boy looked bored--he was looking around aimlessly and fiddling with something in his hands. He had considered calling his client to ask if the presence of the boy would be cause for terminating the job, but he decided against it--if the client objected after the fact for some reason, he could always claim that he hadn't seen the boy until it was too late: the condition of the bodies would make contradicting the story rather difficult.

The assassin looked ahead and saw a sign that announced that the road ahead would be winding and steep. * Showtime * He nodded to the driver and the car began to accelerate. The assassin checked his weapon one last time, then pulled it into his lap--ready to lift it and fire through his open window when they had pulled even with the Escort. They pulled over into the left hand lane, and gradually gained. . .twenty feet. . .fifteen feet.

Abruptly, the assassin noticed that the boy was staring right at him, and he was close enough to see the icy stare that was being directed his way. * He knows who we are, and what we're doing * An irrational chill of fear went down the assassin's spine, and he took a second to calm himself. * Good. There's more to him than I thought--he's earned the right to see death coming. * He smiled coldly at the boy, nodded as a salute, and raised the SMG as they pulled even with--

The assassin had no time to process what happened. The blur of motion from the boy--the angry hiss that went by him in an instant--the sound of bone crunching and the screech of the wheels as his driver convulsively yanked the wheel to the left, sending the sedan crashing through the guard rail and into the sixty foot deep gorge, where it quickly burst into flames. The only image that the assassin registered before the searing flames mercifully caused him to lose consciousness was the glimmer of anger in the blue eyes of the boy who had just killed him.

* * * * *

Dr. Foster screamed as the sedan next to her car swerved off the road and into the gorge, tumbling down and exploding loudly as they sped off. She started to brake and pull over, only to have Clark say quietly, "Don't. Keep driving."

"Clark--those people could be dying! I've got a duty to help them--" Dr. Foster was outraged, and appalled at the cold expression on the young man's face.

"Do you have a duty to commit suicide, Doctor? The guy in the passenger seat was about to shoot you dead--if he's still alive, he's probably kind of inclined to finish the job." Clark's tone was matter of fact, and only the slightest quiver in his voice betrayed that he was talking about anything more significant than the weather. "Still want to stop? It's your call."

"How--?" Dr. Foster paused, then remembered that Clark had been carefully looking around during the whole trip, and had been fiddling with a couple of small ball bearings-- "What did you do to that driver, Clark?"

Clark looked at her with a poker face, and Dr. Foster decided that, no, she most certainly did *not* want to know how Clark had just saved their lives. With a shudder, she accelerated, and left the burning pyre of Lionel Luthor's hired assassins in the distance.

* * * * *

Ten minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of the asylum. They got out, and Clark turned to Dr. Foster. "Once Mr. Luthor discovers that you're alive and that you've stopped the procedure, he'll try to replace you and get it done that way. Stall as long as you can, but if someone threatens you with bodily harm, don't push the issue--get out and drive to my parents' farm in Smallville. They'll take you in whether I'm there or not."

Dr. Foster paled, but nodded. "What are you going to do?"

"End this once and for all." Clark replied, looking off in the direction of downtown Metropolis. He turned back to Dr. Foster and requested, "If anyone asks, I got a ride back to Smallville. The story will check out if anyone decides to be thorough."

Dr. Foster shuddered, then nodded and turned away, walking towards the main entrance of the hospital. When she glanced back over her shoulder, Clark Kent had vanished. She turned back and entered the building, with only one more thought crossing her consciousness before it focused on stopping the procedure on Lex:

* Godspeed, Clark *

* * * * *

Lionel Luthor frowned--the cell phone that was currently vibrating at his hip was only for dire emergencies, and only three people had the number. He pulled out the phone--noting that the number on it was for a pay phone-- and said bluntly: "Who are you and why are you calling this number?"

"I thought that you'd want to know, Mr. Luthor--Dr. Foster is alive and is about to stop you from melting Lex's brains. You really need to hire a better class of assassin--the two you got are kindling at the bottom of a canyon ten miles away from the hospital." Lionel needed a moment to place Clark Kent's voice--the language was so out of context from what he had heard from the boy before that it threw him. "Oh, and I'm about to drive over to Galaxy Communications and offer them the exclusive of a lifetime-- 'Lionel Luthor--Murderer of His Parents and Torturer of His Son.' Might be a springboard for a best-seller, don't you think?"

Lionel's expression went crimson, and he snarled, "You little brat. . .I will END you if you--"

"Threats are cheap, Lionel--I've got the cards here. Meet me outside the front doors of your building in ten minutes, or start considering the finer points of the cuisine in Metropolis State Prison." The connection broke, and Lionel swore under his breath before reaching into his desk and pulling out a glowing green object that was about the size and shape of a cigarette pack. He didn't know all there was to know about Clark Kent--though he had some pretty strong hunches--but all of the circumstantial evidence pointed to the boy having a strong dislike for Smallville meteor rocks. He pressed the intercom button: "Order the security guards to clear out of the ground floor and from outside the front door--tell them to assemble in the security monitoring station on the second floor. Disable the microphones outside the front doors, and put signs up telling visitors that the front entrance will be closed for twenty minutes." Lionel waited for the orders to be acknowledged and sighed. * They're as loyal as money can buy--but I'm not going to give them information that will tempt them to blackmail me * He smirked. Kent just needed a reminder of how dangerous it was to cross him, and he was quite capable of handling the job himself. He waited five minutes, then headed for the elevator.

It was a quick trip down, and he was pleased to see that the ground floor was vacant and the signs had been posted. He walked out the front door and stood in front of the building, looking around for the dark-haired teenager. No one approached him, and he looked at his watch. * Three, two, one. . .ten minutes. Where are you, Kent? * Lionel scowled--perhaps the boy had just wanted him out of touch for a few minutes while he made sure the procedure was stopped. Foolish--a day's delay would not stop him from doing what needed to be done with Lex. After thirty more seconds, he was about to give up and head back to his office when he realized that he was starting to feel warm. He loosened his collar, but the sense of heat seemed to increase. He began sweating profusely, and a wave of dizziness almost made him fall. He looked for an obvious cause for the phenomenon, but could see nothing obvious--until he saw the lone figure standing atop a stairway fifty yards away. It was Kent, and he was staring directly at Lionel with a grim expression.

Lionel stared in disbelief, and in that moment he *knew* just how thoroughly he had underestimated the young man. He began staggering towards Clark, reaching into his coat and pulling out the glowing green object, but Clark shook his head ever so slightly and his eyes seemed to flare red. Lionel felt a brief burst of agonizing pain, and he felt the meteor rock fall from his nerveless fingers and drop to the ground before everything went blessedly and permanently dark.

* * * * *

Lex blinked and turned at the sound of the door opening. Dr. Foster walked in and over to stand next to Lex--she was holding the key to the device constraining him. Lex curled his lip and snapped, "Are you sure you want to be in here with me, Doctor? I'm dangerously insane, you know."

Dr. Foster looked down at Lex: her expression was strangely muted, as if she had recently suffered a severe shock and the only way she could deal with it was to avoid strong emotions of any kind. She sighed and said, "Lex--I'm here to tell you that your therapy has been cancelled and that my report will state that your recent violent episodes were due to transitory stress rather than any lasting mental conditions. I'm recommending that you check into a hospital for a few days to recover from your remaining injuries and exhaustion, but you're otherwise free to go." Lex stared in complete shock, and Dr. Foster quirked a small smile and added, "On the other hand, if you attack me and try to fight your way out through the orderlies again, I'm going to be inclined to change my recommendations." Lex nodded numbly, and Dr. Foster unlocked the restraints and helped Lex to sit up as she concluded, "Take a minute before you stand up--you've had to take in a lot in the last few minutes."

"You have a gift for understatement, Dr. Foster." Lex squeezed his eyes closed for a moment and shook his head briefly as if to shake off cobwebs, then turned back to Dr. Foster and said, "Doctor, you are clearly going against the wishes of my father--I appreciate your efforts on my behalf, but he must have other operatives on the staff here. You should come with me when I leave--"

"Oh, he did--and I was one of them until your friends Clark and Chloe reminded me that some lines should never be crossed." Lex scowled, and Dr. Foster nodded and continued, "When I cancelled the therapy, I was threatened with firing, stripping of my medical license, and several other bits of nastiness by people I've worked with for years. Somehow, surviving an attempt against my life by your father's hired thugs on the way here put things in perspective regarding such enticements. Fortunately, a phone call from LuthorCorp put a rather abrupt stop to things before things got violent."

Lex felt a sudden chill. "What happened?"

Dr. Foster blinked, and her expression was visibly ambivalent when she said quietly, "Your father is dead, Lex. He collapsed while standing in front of the LuthorCorp building, and by the time that his security people reached him, he was gone. He's been taken to Metropolis General for an autopsy--though things are being put on hold for the moment until they hear from you. When the individuals who were harassing me discovered that their protector was not going to be around any more, they became very receptive to my suggestion that they pack up and leave without the customary severance package." She smiled coldly and added, "Of course, how you choose to deal with them is none of my business."

Lex was silent for a moment--he could certainly identify with Dr. Foster's ambivalence; however, he still needed more information. "He was out in front of the building alone? Does anyone know why?"

Dr. Foster shook her head. "No one knows--he had security clear out and shut off the area. He wanted privacy." She frowned, puzzled, and added: "They said that a green, glowing object was lying on the ground next to him. No one I spoke to knew what significance it might have had--they've taken it for analysis to see if it might have triggered some kind of odd allergic reaction."

"If I'm not mistaken, I'll be able to recommend an expert on unusual reactions to that particular substance, Dr. Foster," Lex commented, experiencing a moment of amusement in spite of himself. He frowned, remembering that he hadn't asked about his friends yet. "Dr. Foster, where are Clark and Chloe?"

"Chloe drove straight back to Smallville--Clark insisted on accompanying me here before getting a ride back to Smallville. They should both be home by now." Dr. Foster's tone was flat, as if she had rehearsed the explanation.

Lex nodded and pressed: "Clark was in the car with you when you were attacked? What happened?"

Dr. Foster hesitated before replying: "Clark spotted the gunman in the other car, grabbed the steering wheel and swerved the car hard left. The other driver braked hard to avoid us--the gunman must have been startled and pulled the trigger accidentally. The car went off the road and into a gorge--it blew on impact. Clark suggested that going back to save people who had been about to kill us might be counterproductive, and I reluctantly agreed."

Lex stared hard at Dr. Foster, who began to look distinctly uncomfortable. After a moment, Lex commented, "The frightening thing about that story is that it sounds far more plausible than what I suspect actually happened. Are you going to stick to that version, Doctor?"

Dr. Foster hesitated again for a long moment, then nodded once. Lex looked at her for a few seconds, then smiled at her. "Yeah--I wouldn't sell out someone who had just saved my life, either. Which is why I'm going to let bygones be bygones regarding any past unethical conduct in my case on your part, Doctor--I need allies with proven loyalty and predictable ethics, and you qualify in both cases. Which reminds me--" He paused for a moment, then added, "There are a substantial number of patients here who are from Smallville, and who owe their presence here to Clark Kent's sense of civil responsibility." He ticked off a list of names from memory--starting with the uninvited visitor he had received earlier that day--and continued, "You might want to consider reviewing their files with a bit less skepticism than would ordinarily be appropriate, and also segregating them from each other. The first guy I named tried to recruit me this morning to aid in a breakout, and I'm sure they won't stop trying just because I'm no longer here." Dr. Foster nodded in agreement, and Lex stood up and stretched. "Excellent. Now let's get me the hell out of here, shall we?"

* * * * *

The funeral had been a national event, of course. Lionel Luthor was a major player on the international financial scene, and his circle of acquaintances was wide and deep. Attendance was increased, naturally, by those attending to make sure that he was actually dead--Lex thoughtfully accommodated that demographic by arranging an open-casket ceremony. A small amount of makeup was adequate to conceal the odd burns on Lionel's forehead, and his expression was composed.

Lionel Luthor was eulogized by a former Governor who had been one of his early business partners, and for an hour, some of the most famous people in the country walked up to the podium and spoke of their memories of him-- which inevitably included words such as "dedicated," "visionary," and "larger than life." When the last of them had stepped down, the pastor looked down to where Lex was sitting--the young man shook his head quietly. The pastor nodded and brought matters to a close, not noticing Lex as he glanced to his right. Chloe--looking distinctly uncomfortable in her black suit--and Lana had accompanied him, but the seat he had reserved for Clark remained empty.

Lex went through the formalities of greeting the guests and accepting their condolences for two hours--first stopping to thank Chloe and Lana for attending and sending them home in the limo. After he was done, and the cathedral had gone dark, he got into his Porsche and drove to Smallville.

Two hours later, he drove into the driveway of the Kent's farm. He got out of his car and looked at the barn. A light was on, and he started toward it. He paused and looked over his shoulder: the Kents were standing inside the kitchen door--they were too far away for Lex to read their expressions. He waved to them, then turned and entered the barn.

He walked up the stairs, and Clark was sitting on the couch--watching Lex as he reached the top of the stairs, nodded to Clark, and sat in a chair across from the couch. They were both silent for a moment, and Lex coughed self-consciously before breaking the impasse: "I'm sorry you weren't able to come, Clark."

Clark looked at him for a moment before replying, "You know why I wasn't there, Lex. I've got some lies on my conscience, but I'm not ready to be a hypocrite to quite *that* degree."

Lex nodded, and watched Clark as he said, "I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell me *how* you did it, would you? The coroner was baffled: the files Chloe gave him about the meteor rocks had him scrambling to call it a 'spontaneous chemical reaction'--and no one was inclined to kick up a fuss about it. I certainly wasn't." Lex smiled at him to reassure Clark that he really, really wasn't pissed off about the untimely death of Lionel Luthor--except that he hadn't had the opportunity to come up with a clever way to do it himself. * Water under the bridge, and all that * He looked at Clark--who was displaying a poker face--and sighed before commenting, "Clark--we've got a lot to talk about."

Clark looked over at Lex, and the blue eyes seemed to look into Lex's soul as he replied, "Yes, we do."

Lex set his jaw, somewhat nettled by the tone in Clark's voice. He took a moment to compose himself before asking, "Clark--why didn't you tell me before? I've got full access to my father's files now--he was seriously interested in you from early childhood. I could have protected you--"

"Lex, we've known each other for over two years now. In that time, people I care about have been attacked, kidnapped, and otherwise made uncomfortable on many, many occasions--usually because someone either found out about my special abilities, or because I used those abilities to stop someone warped by the meteor rocks from doing something destructive." Clark paused and took a deep breath before adding, "That includes you, Lex. You found out about my abilities a couple of times before--short-term amnesia is pretty much a standard hazard here in Smallville. You were furious with me both times you found out--I've had nightmares about you finding out and swearing eternal vengeance on me--"

Lex laughed involuntarily. "You're pissed off at me because I went after you * in a dream *, Clark? That's a bit harsh, don't you think? As for the other times--I remember those episodes of amnesia, and I wasn't exactly myself, was I? I was delirious, or under mind control--"

Clark relaxed slightly, then nodded. "Yeah, I know--but the emotions are real, Lex. You view secret-keeping as a betrayal. After what's happened to you in the last year and a half, it's hard to blame you. But Lex. . .*my* secrets aren't just my own. When people find out what I'm about, people I care about--hell, people who just happen to be * near * me--become targets. Sometimes they die. I swore a long time ago that no one would die to protect my secrets, and I've tried to live by that."

Lex saw Clark shudder and turn pale, and Lex felt a pang of sympathy as he asked quietly, "What changed, Clark? Why did my father have to die?"

Clark closed his eyes for a moment and sighed before looking back at Lex and saying quietly, "I knew Dr. Foster was in danger, and came along to protect her. I knew that I might have to use deadly force to keep her alive--there have been deaths in Smallville that I couldn't prevent, even though I never actually wanted to kill anyone. When I saw the gunman spot me looking at him, I realized that he didn't give a damn--that he would have killed five people, or ten, or a hundred to stop Dr. Foster--and the will behind that indifference was your father. If I couldn't even stop him from doing terrible things to you, Lex--what hope did I have of protecting my family or other friends? People with far less in resources had gotten to them before, and I was lucky to get them out alive. I thought about it-- and I just couldn't see any way out. You would be crippled, and I would end up dead or as Lionel's puppet--with all of the danger to the rest of the world that would imply. Lionel had to die--and I would have to pay the price."

Clark's last words caused Lex to shiver without understanding the cause. He frowned and asked: "Clark--you're not thinking about turning yourself in and confessing to the murder, are you? That would be--"

"--a very bad idea." Clark concluded, shaking his head. Lex relaxed slightly, and listened as Clark added, "That would require a detailed explanation of * how * I did it--and that explanation would be front page news on every newspaper in the world within the next seventy-two hours, without even getting into what the TV and cable news would do with it." He looked away, then back at Lex as he said softly, "Although what I'm actually going to have to do might end up making life in prison seem rather attractive."

"All right, then: what have you decided to do, Clark?" Lex was concerned, and tired of Clark's cryptic hints.

Clark looked at him in silence for a few moments before appearing to change the subject: "Lex--you inherited control of LuthorCorp from your father, right?"

Lex scowled at the apparent dodge, but shrugged and replied, "Between the stock I already had and what I inherited, I'll be in control--the clean bill of health that Dr. Foster gave me will get rid of the last obstacle there."

Clark nodded. "So you're in control of the corporation that's been pretty much my most dangerous enemy for at least three years--maybe longer depending on what your father's files say when you go through them."

Lex felt a chill. "Clark--I know we've had our rough patches, but you have to know that I'd never hurt--"

Clark stood up and extended his hand. Lex grasped and shook it, and saw the genuine gratitude in Clark's eyes as the younger man whispered, "I know, Lex--at least not intentionally." He released Lex's hand and sat down, burying his face in his hands for a moment before looking up and adding, "But there are two things that worry me, Lex. One is that even with much more limited resources than you will have now, you were pretty heavily invested into finding out what was strange about me: can you look at me in the eye and tell me that you never endangered me, my family, or my friends--including yourself--with those efforts or in other plans you were involved in?"

Lex swallowed hard, and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Clark."

Clark shrugged. "Water under the bridge, Lex--you've done far more to help people I care about than to endanger them, though I'd probably feel differently if someone had died or been permanently crippled." Lex's expression darkened, and Clark added, "Lana's going to be fine--and that wasn't your fault." Lex relaxed, and Clark smiled slightly before sobering and continuing, "But things are going to be changing, Lex. You're not evil- -but you've got a dark side, and you just inherited a whole lot of power to tempt that side of you. You're smarter than your father, and more ambitious, and you're not one to let petty cruelty get in the way of what you want. I can see a day not so far in the future where I might be in your way--and you know enough about me to make that a worrisome situation for me."

Lex swallowed hard. "So is this where you tell me that I have to go, Clark?"

"Lex, if I'd wanted you dead, you wouldn't have made it up those stairs alive. If I had just wanted to make you harmless, I would have let Dr. Foster melt your brain and killed your father without letting anyone know I was doing it--then manipulated you without you knowing what I was or what I could do." Lex paled, and Clark sighed and added, "Of course, that would have meant more throwing up and guilt, but I think I'm getting the hang of dealing with that. . .no, Lex. I'm a little afraid of you, but the fact is that I * need * you. Even if you weren't a friend, that would be enough reason not to kill you."

"Need me for what, Clark?" Lex was somewhat relieved that Clark wasn't going to be dumping him in the river, but he was curious as to what he meant. "If it's money you need, I certainly can--"

Clark shook his head, and his expression looked conflicted before he visibly calmed and said, "Lex. . .while you were gone, I had my own battles with darkness. Morgan Edge was involved--that's where he knew me from. I took my power and abused it. . .and I enjoyed it. I was under the influence of a different kind of meteor rocks--the same stuff that had me going over the edge not long after you got that first marriage annulled." Lex scowled--he really didn't like being reminded of that incident, but his eyes widened as he remembered Clark's behavior not long afterward. Clark saw the reaction and nodded, "The sick part of it was--the thing that drove me to it was my attempts to keep from being forced into what I saw as abusing my powers. Lex--I'm an alien. I was sent here by my real father to rule, and I decided that I would rather die than be forced to do that. The safety of my parents was threatened, and I tried to remove the threat-- with the result that my mom was hurt and she lost the baby she was carrying. I lost it, Lex--and I went on a three month escape from reality trying to keep from having to deal with it."

"God, Clark. . .and I thought I had a hellish summer." The revelations were bouncing around in Lex's head like fireworks, but he forced the fascination down--his best friend was in agony. Clark saw the expression on Lex's face and smiled appreciatively, and Lex nodded back before frowning and saying, "Clark--I still don't get what you're saying. You wouldn't be so cryptic if emotional support was all you needed."

"I'm dangerous, Lex. I did a lot of damage over the summer, but nothing that couldn't be fixed--and I didn't kill anyone." Clark hesitated, then added, "Even when I was all screwed up by the meteor rocks, something basic kept me from crossing that line. I can't say that any more. I killed three people, intentionally and without hesitation. Sure, it made me sick to my stomach when I did it--but I can't say I'm sorry they're dead, and that terrifies me, Lex. Less than a year ago, I risked my life and caused great misery to the people I love because I was desperate to *not* cross the line that I just crossed. What's going to happen when I get pushed a little too far and I decide that the only way to go is to become Clark Kent: Mild-Mannered Bug-Eyed Alien Conqueror?" Lex almost laughed, but refrained when he saw the deadly serious expression on Clark's face. Clark nodded and concluded, "Lex--someone has to be there to stop me if I'm going down that road. You're the only one who can do it."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "Let me get this straight: you just gave me a speech about how you're worried that my ambition and lust for power is going to make me a threat to you, but you want me to keep * you * from going nuts and taking over the world? I think the phrase running around in my head right now is 'cognitive dissonance.'"

Clark chuckled involuntarily, and Lex was startled at the genuine good humor visible in his expression as the younger man replied, "I know--but hear me out. Lex--I can do amazing things with my powers, and they're growing by the month. Smallville's got a lot of problems, but a lot of it would go away if the meteor rocks were located and removed. Sooner or later, I'm going to want to leave and help people in Metropolis--maybe all over the world. You're going to be running one of the richest and most powerful corporations in the world--and you have enough ambition and ability to increase that power and wealth exponentially. Problem is-- either or both of us might go off track and become a danger to the world, Lex. I propose that we work together to accomplish great things--and to act as a check on each other. It means we both will have to accept limitations on what we can do--in the name of reaching out for the best within us." Lex stared at him, and Clark looked embarrassed as he concluded, "I know it sounds out there, Lex--but we'll have time to work on methods and boundaries. I need to finish school, and you'll need to finish the transition at LuthorCorp. We can do this, Lex--I'd rather try to come up with a way to make this work for us, rather than just ignore it and find ourselves at each other's throats in five years."

Lex shook his head in disbelief. * He really was listening when I tried to tell him about going after what he wanted, wasn't he? * He laughed suddenly, and Clark blinked and waited until Lex sighed and commented, "I guess there are certain risks involved in deciding to be best friends with a local hero who turns out to be an alien--"

Clark snickered. "Yeah--just like when I ignored my father and everyone else in town about the dangers of being friends with the wild Heir of Luthor. We both assumed a lot of risk, Lex." He stood and extended his hand again. "Why don't we make the best of it and prove them all wrong?"

Lex took the offered hand and shook it firmly. "Sounds like a plan--are you going to tell the others about this?"

Clark frowned, then nodded. "It's time. Pete knows already, but Lana and Chloe don't. I trust them to keep the secret even if they don't want to be around me any more."

Lex smiled reassuringly. "They might be a bit pissed off at first, but they'll get over it. I'll be able to recommend some gym space for the purpose." Clark looked at him and raised an eyebrow, and Lex scowled at him: "Hey--I'm mature, but you * did * keep secrets from me--there's a heavy bag in my workout room that's going to have your face pasted on it for a while, Clark."

Clark blinked, then shrugged. "I guess I can live with that." He walked for the stairs and called out, "Come on--let's tell my folks. They're not going to be thrilled with this."

Lex nodded and followed. * No kidding * Life had just gotten seriously complicated, but he was not going to step away from a challenge like this one. Not when life had just improved in so many ways for him. He left the loft, heading for a confrontation with his future.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.