I decided to post this in as a single story rather than individual chapters. For those who have not seen it before, it's a story using a common theme in fanfiction. I simply wanted to put my own spin on the subject. One of the fun challenges of writing is to do just that - take a common theme and try to make it different from what has come before. For those who have seen this fic before, and read parts if not all of it, I have made significant revisions and additions. In my opinion it reads much better. Everyone has their own opinions, however, and I'd like to hear them. Please comment! Thanks!

It was a week long agriculture conference in Wichita, and for the past three years Jonathan had bypassed attending. There had always been some sort of crisis going on every year whenever it was time for him to leave. Clark got a new ability, Clark ran away, Clark blew up the storm cellar...

This year Clark was busy with football, his studies, and other extra-curricular activities which did not (thank God) include anything alien or Lex Luthor. The farm was doing better financially thanks to Martha's Talon income, and Clark was also quite adept at all aspects of running the farm now. He'd done it all while Jonathan had been ill.

This year Martha and Clark packed Jonathan's bags, handed him the car keys, and told him he was going to the conference, like it or not.

"Go," Martha said. "Have fun for a change. It will do you good!"

"But..." Jonathan half turned, only to find Clark's big hand on his shoulder, propelling him toward the door.

"Bye Dad. We've got it covered. Don't worry."

Thus, despite the nagging feeling that something weird was going to happen, Jonathan went to Wichita, and he did have a good time. He stopped in to see Abby and Pete while he was there, he met some old friends from college, and he learned about all sorts of advancements in farming while at the conference. There was also an incident with too much beer and a half naked girl in a cake. Jonathan's memory was vague regarding said incident, so he decided that was something he would definitely not share with the family upon his return.

In a nutshell, Jonathan Kent partied hearty and was very glad he did.

He was whistling when he came in the kitchen door at eight in the morning and dumped his duffle bag on the floor. He was whistling despite the fact that the cattle were all jumbled up at the gate waiting for their breakfast and the lawn needed mowing. On the way in he'd noted many chores left undone, but in his very elevated mood he decided it was simply because Clark had been slacking off in his absence. Nothing, he told himself sternly, was wrong.


Jonathan's shout for Clark cut off abruptly. He blinked rapidly, having an uncomfortable flashback to the girl in the cake as he met the eyes of the girl in his refrigerator.

Well, he thought as his head attempted to make sense of things, she wasn't exactly in the refrigerator. She was standing in front of the fridge. The door was open and she was holding a bottle of milk in one hand; a bottle from which she had been drinking as evidenced by the milk mustache gracing her upper lip. Her eyes were very green in the early morning light, and her skin was very pale, but flawless and smooth. Jonathan could see that it was very flawless and smooth because he could see a lot of it. Long, shapely legs stuck out from beneath the hem of one of Clark's flannel shirts. It wasn't buttoned up all the way either, and had slipped down one shoulder to reveal part of her back. It barely hid the curve of her breasts, at which Jonathan tried desperately not to look. Instead he kept his eyes on her eyes as she peered out at him from beneath a shock of short, curly bangs.

His first thought was: Another one! I'll kill him.

His second thought was completely obliterated when the girl opened her mouth and in a deliciously raspy voice ala Demi Moore blurted:


"WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL ME?" Jonathan roared.

Clark winced. Martha's hands tightened on his shoulders. If it was supposed to be reassuring, he thought, it wasn't helping. He could feel her shaking.

"Jonathan, calm down."

"Calm down? Martha!" He gestured at Clark, who had sensibly put on something less revealing. "We can hide the abilities. We can explain the odd personality quirks..."

Well, that's hardly fair, Clark thought with a scowl.

"But THIS? How in the HELL are we going to explain an overnight sex change?"

"Maybe it's just temporary, Jonathan," Martha said soothingly. "A...a right of passage sort of thing..."

"I certainly hope so," Clark muttered, squirming. "Or else I'm going to have to go shopping for a bra that fits better."

Jonathan looked horrified.

"Sorry." Clark shrank down in his chair. He resented the fact that Jonathan was so bent out of shape about this - THING - that had happened. It was Clark who had to deal with several days of physical torment when it was actually happening, and then the final realization that it HAD happened and he was going to have to deal with it.

A girl? Great. What had he done to deserve this? He felt like a character in a really bad piece of science fiction. Alien. Science fiction. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised that on top of all the other crap he'd had to deal with in seventeen years of living that a gender switch would be included. If he'd grown another head and some tentacles he would have been even less surprised.

"Or laid an egg."

"What?" Martha leaned over toward him.

"Nothing," Clark sighed. He slumped further down into the chair and put his head on the table. "I'm sorry."

"Stop yelling, Jonathan." Martha let go of Clark's shoulders and moved away to confront her husband. "We'll figure something out, just like we always do. It will be okay."

Clark heard the chair across from him squeak across the floor. Jonathan sat down in it and the two of them looked at each other. Jonathan was pale, and his expression was one of pain and betrayal. He also looked very tired.

"Are you okay, Clark?" he asked finally. "Besides the obvious?"

"Yeah." Clark sat up and rested his chin on his hand. "Powers are still there. I'm having trouble getting used to being a foot shorter though, and I have no idea what I'm going to do about the football scholarship." He cocked his head and grinned. "Do they let girls play football?"

Jonathan shook his head. "I don't know, s...Clark. I guess we'll have to figure that out."

Chloe chewed on her lip as she paced up and down behind her desk. "So what you're telling me is that you ran over a pocket of meteor rock while harrowing the back forty, there was a flash of bright light, and when you came to your senses you were...transformed?"


She stopped, and stared hard at the girl sitting at Clark's desk, fingering Clark's computer keyboard, and making a scowly-face very similar to Clark's scowly-face. If "Constance" hadn't looked exactly like a female version of Clark, Chloe wouldn't have believed a word she said. She also sounded like Clark, if Clark had a higher pitched kind of gravelly voice. Even her weird little quirks were Clark's weird little quirks. Chloe had called her on it and with reluctance, she'd come clean and confessed.

Cousins my ass Chloe thought. I was right. This is Clark. Her eyes narrowed. Although I don't believe the meteor rock thing in the slightest.

"Is it permanent?"

There was a moment of hope, a brief flickering of excitement on Connie's face, and then it faded abruptly. Her shoulders slumped and she sighed.

"It's been nearly two months, Chlo. I'm beginning to think it is permanent."

Chloe noted the blush and chuckled. "Two months, huh. I take it you had a visit from Mother Nature."

"The bitch," Connie growled, and for a moment her voice fell into Clark's old range, which made Chloe shudder.

She was also more than a little jealous. Trust Clark to have a gender flip and turn out looking like a fucking swimsuit model. Why couldn't he have been ugly? The very day Connie Clark had walked in through the doors of Smallville High school every male in the place had turned into drooling puddles of goo. Well, Chloe amended, except those who had actually had crushes on the original version.

Clark Kent, they were told, had switched schools. And in his absence his second cousin, from Martha's side of the family, had come to stay with the Kents. Oddly enough it had been Chloe who'd immediately taken Connie under her wing, primarily because the girl obviously needed fashion advice. Chloe got rid of the "cowgirl" type jeans and baggy sweaters and slapped her in hip huggers and some fitted tops. Her short, dark,hair now sported some cute butterfly clips. A little blush, a little lip gloss and viola! The boys stopped whispering about Lana Lang and started whispering about Connie Clark.

Reason number two that Chloe had taken Connie on as a protege is because Chloe had never believed the cousin story for a second. Now she was justified in that disbelief, but also quite a bit creeped out because Clark made a really good girl. It made Chloe wonder if he'd ever really been in love with Lana, or if that had just been a front. She didn't dare ask.

"Who else knows?"

"My parents."

"That's obvious." Chloe sat down and put her feet up on her desk. "Anybody else?"

"No, and don't you dare tell. I'll never live it down. Man, if Pete were here..." Connie paused, and then grinned. "That would actually be kind of funny."

Chloe poked a hand into her desk drawer and pulled out a sucker. She pointed with it as she spoke. "He'd hit on you."

"Not if he knew."

"I dunno. Pete can be a horndog." She laughed and lowered her voice to imitate Pete. "Clark, man, you're a babe! Ya gotta just go with it!"

Giggling, Connie shook her head. "No he wouldn't. You know Pete's crush is on you." She paused, blushing. "Sorry. Didn't mean to bring that up again."

Chloe shrugged. "Old news. I think we worked through it before he left. So what are you going to do, Clark? This is a pretty significant mutation here, a real life changing event. You are a babe, and you've got every guy here having wet dreams about you."

"Gee, thanks for the visual, Chlo."

"It's the truth. Let's face it Clark, you have two choices. You can be a guy trapped in a woman's body, or you can be a woman. Which one are you?"

There was a long pause.

"I don't know."

Martha watched Clark out of the corner of her eye from behind the Talon's coffee bar. She (for Martha was forcing herself to think of him as "Connie" now) was sitting in her usual spot doing her homework, waiting for the end of Martha's shift. If anyone was suspicious of Connie following the same habits Clark had, nobody commented on it. It had been Clark's habit to go home from school (or football practice) help Jonathan with the chores, and then come to the Talon to do homework until it was closing time. Martha had thought it sweet of him to stay and help her close. Connie did the same thing.

It was odd, Martha thought, that although it was still Clark, the physical change had brought on some differences. Connie tended to think a little more before acting, thus improving upon one of Clark's shortcomings. Martha wondered if it weren't due to a shortage of testosterone, or the alien equivalent. Connie was less aggressive (if Clark had ever been THAT aggressive) and one thing that Martha found quite amusing was the fact that Connie was a bit vain. Just that morning she had been in the bathroom ruing the fact that her hair didn't grow faster. It had gained a little length during the initial transformation, but was still not past her chin. Clark's hair had never really grown all that much anyway, which was a relief since Martha had no idea how she would have ever cut it. After the age of twelve it had been nearly impossible to get a pair of scissors through one strand.

Martha sighed, and smiled a little. As she sat with her legs curled under her in one of the big armchairs dotting the Talon's landscape Connie was twirling a lock of her hair around one finger as if trying to force it to grow. Martha raised an eyebrow at said finger. It was sporting a French manicure. Obviously since she couldn't have long hair, and her nails grew as slowly as her hair, Connie had decided to do a little cheating. If she had raided the college fund to afford those fingernails, Martha was going to have to have a little talk with her. Without the football scholarship college was now going to be iffy, but that was no excuse to dip into the fund for a manicure.

And what is she wearing? I don't remember buying that!

Connie was wearing low rider jeans and a short sweater - an outfit that plainly showed off a flat, hard belly, the sharp jut of shapely hips, and...

"Cleavage?" Martha scowled. She suspected Chloe's handiwork.

Her scowl deepened, and not because Chloe was lending Connie her own fashion sense.

Through the crowd came a face that had not graced the Talon for nearly a year, although the man owned the place. Martha was certainly surprised to see Lex. He had been spending more and more time in Metropolis since his father had been sent to prison, and when he was in Smallville he rarely left the mansion. To see him breeze through the front doors was quite a shock.

To see him making a beeline for Connie was cause for alarm. Martha started out from behind the bar on an intercept course, but was intercepted herself when the phone rang.


Connie wasn't actually reading her history, at least, not any further than the first line of the page. She was, in fact, lost in her own jumbled up, messed up thoughts trying to sort them out into some sort of logical order. That her state of mind had been in chaos for the past three months was an understatement. She'd only just started thinking of herself as herself. Waking up in the morning was still a shocker. At least a dozen times she'd staggered sleepily into the bathroom and groped for an appendage that wasn't there.

It was also hard to admit to oneself that finding oneself liking "girly" things wasn't necessarily a stigma. If Clark had gone bananas over a ribboned headband and a pair of cute shoes, people would have looked at him funny. Connie found things catching her eye that wouldn't normally (or, rather, previously) have even shadowed her consciousness. Or his consciousness. Or whatever. The fact that the way she'd previously thought about this or that was fading out of her memory concerned her. Her condition, apparently, was going to be permanent.

She grew very still for a moment.

I'm not sure I am regretting it.

The truth was that she felt more normal than she'd ever felt in her life. Sure, the powers were still there, and the worries that came with them, but somehow she felt as if there were fewer demands on her. Maybe she'd just fallen into thinking in gender stereotypes. Men were traditionally the hero, girls played the part of the damsel in distress. Women were supposed to be mysterious. She wouldn't have to explain herself to a man. All women had secrets, and in her experience most men didn't seem to care all that much. Clark hadn't thought twice whether or not Lana had been hiding something from him, but Clark's secrets had certainly bothered Lana.

And what about Lana? Connie glanced quickly over her shoulder to where Lana was chatting with friends over coffee.

Nothing, she felt nothing, only a fleeting admiration and nothing more. The obsession that had plagued Clark for so long was gone, and that in itself had lifted a large burden from Connie's shoulders. It had not been replaced either, which in a way, disturbed her. Was she a boy trapped in a woman's body, or...what? There were no feelings for Lana, nor Chloe, but neither was there anything stirring when she looked at some of the boys she encountered. Certainly she got a little thrill when they paid attention to her, but it wasn't sexual.

Connie scowled down at her book. How would she even know? She had no idea what a girl was supposed to think, or to feel, when it came to the opposite sex. She'd not really had a firm grip on any of that when she'd been male!

"You must be Connie."

Lex quirked an eyebrow as he saw Connie sitting in Clark's usual spot. Martha would have been surprised Lex knew that was Clark's usual spot, just as she would have been surprised to learn he had survelliance cameras set up in several key locations all over the Talon. He'd not been there in body, but he made a point of looking in on things on a regular basis.

When Connie first surfaced Lex had been completely perplexed. Where was Clark? Who was this? Immediately he had sent out feelers to find out, and when it came back to him that Clark had been transferred to another school - in Europe no less - and his "cousin" had come to stay, Lex had laughed out loud. Further research, conducted personally, revealed gaping holes in the story. Clark was not enrolled at any school in Europe, he'd never even left the country. He had no passport. Not only that, but Martha Kent had no living family other than her parents and a bachelor uncle. Constance Clark simply didn't exist.

Yet, she did, and she had an uncanny resemblance to Clark, had Clark been a girl. Lex sent a photograph of Clark and a photograph of Connie to Cadmus for analysis, and just that morning he'd received the results of that analysis.

Iris mapping was as unquestionable as fingerprinting. Connie was Clark.

And Lex wasn't quite sure how he felt about that.

"You," he said quietly. "Must be Connie."

She flinched like a startled deer, nearly dropping her book as she jerked her head upward to stare at him with a pair of luminous green-gray eyes that were, according to several scientists, Clark's eyes. Now that he saw her in person Lex confirmed it without the benefit of electronic iris mapping and computer analysis. The hard, masculine lines of Clark's face were decidedly softer, more delicate, but those large eyes with their long, dark eyelashes were exactly the same. Lips, tinged a pale pink blush, parted slightly and Lex suddenly felt as if he'd been punched in the gut.

Her voice was a low, sultry alto with a hint of hoarseness, the type of voice a sex-line would pay good money to have on staff. All she said was his name, but that was enough.

Jesus, Clark. What the hell did you do?

Truth be told, Lex had harbored a bit of a crush on Clark since the day they'd met, but decorum, and Lex's own sense of denial, had shoved those feelings back into the very depths of his mind where he locked them up and threw away the key. Lex refused to add sexuality issues to the long list of issues he already had, and managed, through sheer willpower, to convince himself that his obsession with Clark was perfectly platonic in nature.

Clark, as a woman...no denial, no guilt, no issues.

Girl, Lex reminded himself, sternly. Underaged girl.

Ah, but not for much longer. Clark's birthday is coming up soon.

He pulled up another chair. "Do you mind if I join you?"

"Nuh-no," she said, and slid her legs down from her chair, unfolding so that Lex could judge her height. She was shorter, much shorter. That must have hurt.

"But I'm...kind of in the middle of homework." She gestured with her book and blushed a little. "History. There's a test tomorrow."

"I won't keep you long." Lex sat back in the chair, making himself comfortable. "So obviously you know who I am?"

"Everybody knows who you are," Connie murmured. "My aunt told me."

"Mrs. Kent?"

She nodded, but Lex noted she did not meet his eye. That he'd expected. Clark had never looked directly at him when fabricating a lie. Some things had obviously not changed. He smiled at her when she did look at him again.

"And how are you finding life here in Smallville," he asked quietly. "It must be very different from life in Chicago."

"Yeah, it is. It's - slower."

"Funny, Clark never mentioned a cousin from Chicago."

"I'm a second cousin, or something. Mmm...Mrs. Kent could tell you exactly how it works out." Connie fidgeted, toying uneasily with the corner of her book and turning her feet inward so her toes touched. She also chewed her lip in a familiar manner.

Lex leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. "It's also unusual that you look very like Clark, who, in case you were unaware, was adopted." He smiled slightly. "Only," he added. "I have to say, you're much more attractive."

Connie's cheeks went scarlet. "I...uh..."


He started, turned, and recovered quickly. Standing, he smiled warmly at Martha Kent. "Hello Mrs. Kent!"

"It's so nice to see you! Connie, sweetie, can you go fetch Mr. Luthor a cup of coffee for me please?"

"Yes, Aunt Martha."

Lex glanced over his shoulder as Connie scrambled to dump her books into her bookbag. She made a hasty departure, leaving him alone with her "aunt" who was flitting about as if Lex were her long lost best friend. His eyes narrowed.

Nice save, Martha. Nice save.

Chloe Sullivan was known not only for her gung-ho reporting, but also her quick wit. If she hadn't been quick witted having a steaming hot cup of coffee shoved into her hands with the hastily whispered, "Table six, Lex," would have confused her utterly. She'd walked into the Talon for a mocha and instead found herself running interference between Connie and Smallville's resident Daddy Warbucks impersonator. While Chloe chatted with Lex and Martha, Connie ducked out the back.

It was nearly closing before Chloe could escape. She'd been drawn (reluctantly) into a card game with Lana and some of her ex-cheerleader buddies. The evening was both tortuous and educational; the girls thought Connie was stuck up, and Lana was harboring a bit of the green eyed monster.

Very interesting. Chloe filed these facts away in the vast store house of informational tidbits that was her mind, and high-tailed it out to the Kent Farm. There she found Connie holed up in the loft listening to music with her nose buried in the latest issue of Astronomy magazine. At home she tended to revert back to Clark-garb and was wearing a pair of sweats and an all-too-familiar red checked shirt. The only incongruous part of the scene were the fuzzy pink slippers.

"You SO owe me, Clark."

A pair of eyes peeked over the top of the magazine. "Yeah, I know."

"Oh, not just for the Lex diversion, but for getting me stuck playing hearts with a bunch of fluff chicks for nearly two hours." Chloe plopped down on the battered sofa as Connie moved away to make room. "Did you know that Marie Spinzetti doesn't even know the name of the current president?"

"Class president?"

"President of the United States!"

"Are you serious?" Connie put down the magazine and stared.

"Dead serious."

"Okay, that's...pretty bad."

Chloe grinned, and tossed her head. With some unease she realized the gesture was one she'd frequently reserved only for Clark. It was a bit of flirt; a grin and a toss of her head that made her hair bounce and her barrettes sparkle. The costume was different, and maybe one or two things had changed, but Clark was still in there. Realizing that the last time they'd sat together on this sofa was when Chloe had tried to seduce him, made her blush hard and look down at her hands.

Connie ducked her head in a very Clark-like manner. "What's wrong?"

Shaking her head, Chloe waved a hand. "Nothing really. I guess it just hit me that those - feelings that you never had for me - the odds of you getting them, are even slimmer now."

"Oh, Chlo." Connie said softly. She reached out a hand, and rubbed Chloe's shoulder. "Hey..."

"Just," Chloe wiped at her eyes. "Never mind. I'm just being silly." She laughed a little. "I mean they could develop, I guess."

With a sigh, Connie withdrew her hand and sat back on the couch. "You never know. I'm not sure where my head is anymore, and the heart part is just as muddled." A sly grin crept over her face. "But," she said. "I do know that you are my best friend, no matter what gender either of us might be, and I'm glad you're here to help me through this."

Their eyes met, and with a newfound joy, Chloe embraced her friend. "You're still my Clark."

"Just shaped a little differently," Connie hugged back, and then squirmed free. "Hey, I really do owe you big time for tonight. Lex was getting suspicious."

"I'm sure he was, and I have a suspicion of my own."

Wide-eyed and innocent, Connie cocked her head to the side like a lost puppy; another one of Clark's infamous expressions. "What?"

"You've snared yourself a Luthor."

"I've..." Connie blinked. "What? You don't think..."

Chloe shrugged. "All I know is that the Luthors, both of them, have reputations with women."

"Oh come on, Chloe! I'm in high school."

"I hate to break it to you, Clark, but I've seen Lex look at Lana rather suspiciously too." She ignored the immediate surge of anger in Connie's expression and moved on. "I'm not saying that Lex would break any laws, but you are getting very close to being legal and you are very attractive."

The anger faded. Color rose in Connie's cheeks. "I am?"

"Hello? Earth to Clark, you used to have male hormones, can't you tell?"

"Yeah, but...Lex? I mean...I...but I'm me."

Chloe looked her right in the eye. "Yes, but he doesn't know that, and you are in a different package. A different package that comes with different hormones." She sighed. "All I'm saying is that you need to be careful with Lex, okay?"

Because I know all too well how dangerous playing with a Luthor can be.

Connie nodded. "You don't have to tell me that."

Another month and a half, and still no change.

Jonathan didn't know why he thought there would be - none of the other changes Clark had gone through went away. The abilities Clark had since childhood, and the ones he'd gained in puberty, were still there, lurking beneath the surface of a body no longer shaped quite the same. The change had brought about one thing, however; Jonathan felt the distance between them growing. "Connie" turned more and more toward Martha for advice and support. Jonathan missed his son, despite the fact Connie was just as involved in running the farm as before. The strength and the speed and the desire to help remained.

It was a warm day, the first hint of Spring was in the air, and on his way toward the barn, Jonathan stopped as he heard the familiar sound of a basketball rebounding off a wooden backboard. He turned toward the corner of the barn, where, just in view around said corner, Connie chased a basketball around in the dirt. Her books and a purse had been dumped on a nearby haybale. Rings flashed on her fingers as she flipped the basketball into a neat arc from the "free-throw" line. In a nano-second she was under the hoop, collecting the rebound, and leaping into the air for a slam-dunk that a girl her height should not have been able to accomplish.

Upon landing she danced on her toes and caught the ball again, twirling it around in her hand and under one leg.

"I thought you'd given up sports for academics," Jonathan said wryly.

Connie started. The ball stilled in her hand, and she looked up at him - sheepish. "Dad. I was, uh...I didn't hear you."

"Maybe because you were having fun?"

"Yeah," she smiled, and rolled the ball away toward the barn. "But maybe too much fun. I'm going to be late." Turning away, she gathered up her books, and the purse, which she slung over her shoulder as if she'd always carried it. She quickly ran her fingers through her hair, and pulled a headband from a back pocket to tame it.

The brief glimpse Jonathan had of his son, was gone.

"Clark," he said softly, and noted the hesitation when Connie turned.


"Don't...don't give up the things that you enjoy doing just to fit some preconceived stereotype. Girls," he added. "Girls play sports too. Girls do a lot of the same things boys do."

There was a note of wistfulness in her smile. "I know. It's just..."

"Just what?"

"It doesn't always feel right anymore. I know that sounds really stupid, and it's not a gender thing." Her voice lowered, and she sighed. "It's a me thing. I remember how it used to feel to throw a football, or shoot hoops. It doesn't feel the same way, and I just can't get used to it."

Jonathan put his hands in his pockets and walked toward her. He frowned slightly, pained by the look of sadness in her eyes. It was hard for him to talk to her. No matter how hard he tried, it was difficult for him to reconcile the fact that she was Clark. Accustomed parenting strategies went right out the window.

But he knew the best way to drive away a blue note.

"I know what you mean," he said gently, turning his frown into a quirk of a smile. "I'm not used to looking down at you."

Connie stared at him for a moment, and then laughed. The sadness vanished immediately. "I can still slam-dunk, though, and I'll take you on any day of the week."

"Oh?" Raising a brow, Jonathan's grin broadened. "Is that so? Well then, I guess I'll see you right here after school."

"You're on! And there's Chloe. Gotta go!"

Connie raced quickly (but not too quickly) off down the driveway to meet Chloe's Beetle, which rolled up with the top down and the music blaring. Jonathan folded his arms across his chest as the two girls exchanged greetings. They were both grinning, and as Connie got into the car, he heard her laugh. Chloe honked and waved as she drove away. Slowly, Jonathan raised a hand to wave back. The last he saw of Connie was her smiling face as she stood up in the car and blew him a kiss.

My God. Can it be that he's happy like this?

"You," Lex said. "Are avoiding me."

Connie neatly sidestepped him and continued on her way down the sidewalk toward the Talon. Lex, she noted, had to jog a little to catch up with her. It gave her a somewhat grim satisfaction. She had been avoiding him, and he had been pursuing her. Though she'd expected it via long association with the younger Luthor, she had not anticipated his dogged determination to get her cornered and he was starting to wear her down.

He's starting to make me lose my temper is what he's doing. She glanced over at him out of the corner of her eye. Does he know it's me in here?

Or whatever. Connie wasn't sure where Clark left off and Connie began any more. At first there had seemed to be a distinct dividing line and she had felt as if she were the same as she'd always been, just wearing a different suit. Now, after five months, she'd gotten used to the suit. The physical changes were one thing, but admitting that her mind wasn't working the same way it used to, bugged her. She still had her memories, but her perceptions were altered. It was like switching from normal vision to X-ray vision. She could still "see" but things looked a little bit different.

Okay, a lot different because I never noticed how good Lex smells before.

"I'm not avoiding you." Connie shrugged, and put her hands in her coat pockets as she walked along. It was a comforting habit because it was an old habit. Some things hadn't changed.

"You won't return my calls."

"I have nothing to say. When I think of something, I'll call you."

"Oh I'm sure you can come up with something. You're a beautiful, intelligent young woman."

Connie stopped walking. Lex continued a stride or two, momentarily caught off guard by the abrupt cessation of forward motion, before turning around to face her. Their eyes met and Connie gave him a shrewd look.

"I know how you work, Lex."

He smiled. "So it's Lex now, not Mr. Luthor?"

She ignored him. "I'm in high school..."

"Yes, and?"

"Don't you think I'm a little young for you?"

Lex shrugged elaborately. Lex did everything elaborately. The way he spoke, the way he dressed, the way he moved all screamed of breeding. Connie found that ironic considering what she had learned about Lionel Luthor over the past year or two. The Luthors were in reality, nothing but mongrels. It made them less frightening.

And she could not forget the friendship they'd once held in such high regard. It's walls were crumbling, but the foundations still seemed solid enough. She had to admit to herself that she missed him.

"You turned eighteen last month according to your student records."

Connie scowled. "You read my student records?"

Ah, see. Just because you've changed Clark, doesn't mean he has.

"You," Lex said succinctly. "Were avoiding me."

"And you, have no right to pry into my personal life. You don't even know me!" Turning on her heel, Connie reversed direction and headed back down the sidewalk toward the Kents' truck. A lot of her irritation was feigned. Again, she knew Lex. His snooping did not surprise her.

A hand caught her elbow and turned her around in mid stride. Connie could have broken every bone in his hand had she resisted, but she didn't. She allowed herself to be moved into his grasp and stood there looking at him as he held her by her arms.

"I'd like to get to know you." He lowered his eyes, and laughed a little, affecting a small, sweet smile that Connie had seen only once or twice before. "Do you want to know the truth, Connie?" He asked softly.

Hesitantly Connie bit her lip. A quick cast around the immediate vicinity revealed no one around to curtail this situation. Lex had her where he'd been trying to get her - cornered and alone.

"The truth?" she whispered. "About what?"

"About why I want to talk to you."

"You told me already."

"That you're beautiful?"

His eyes came up, and Connie swallowed heavily as she nodded. Lex shook his head, and looked into her eyes with an expression of sadness that melted away all her reservations.

"Honestly, Connie. You remind me of Clark, and I miss him."

She managed to choke out a laugh. "So you thought Clark was beautiful?"

Lex's gaze didn't waver. He raised a hand, and gently brushed the backs of his fingers across her cheek, leaving a warm blush behind them. His lips twitched into a pale reflection of his cocky smirk, only this time there was a definite feeling of melancholy. Connie stood very still but she wondered if he could see how fast her pulse was beating at her throat. She could certainly feel it. Knowing how he worked hadn't saved her from being disarmed.

"Yes," he said. "I do."

Connie blinked. "Ya...you...you did?"

"Does that bother you?"

"Uh...yea...no. No. I guess not but..."

Lex studied her for a moment. His expression was unreadable as she let go of her and stepped back a pace. "Past tense."

Unnerved, it took Connie a moment to recover her wits. Even then she couldn't recover them enough to puzzle out his elliptical statement. "I don't understand."


"What about Clark?"

"I said I do think he's beautiful, but you spoke of him in past tense." His brow creased into a look of concern. "Is there something going on with Clark, Connie? He is my friend. If there's anything I can do to help..."

"No! No. I mean, nothing's wrong with Clark. I meant before, before he left, you thought he was...attractive," Connie stammered, halted, and started walking again. Lex followed. "I wouldn't have guessed that you..."

"I collect art, Connie. I appreciate beautiful things. You, and your cousin, are both works of art."

Connie laughed. "That's cheesy, Lex."

"What, you're expecting the bisexual confession? You won't get it."

"I think I already have." Connie stopped in mid stride. They were within feet of the truck now, and she noted that he had parked directly across the street. He'd been waiting for her. She supposed she should be worried about that, but wasn't. "Have you told Clark?"

"That I think he's attractive? I think he knows. I believe the feeling is mutual."

Raising an eyebrow, Connie drawled: "Do you?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "What makes you say that? I've only ever heard Clark talk about Lana Lang. Your name rarely comes up."

"Sometimes actions speak louder than words."

Laughing uneasily, Connie dug around in her purse for her keys. It was time to make an escape. The conversation had slid sideways into territories she didn't want to explore. She fumbled them out of the side pocket of the handbag and Lex reached out to catch her hand. His long, strong fingers closed around hers, folding them gently around the leather tab of her keychain, and she raised her head to find a pair of intensely blue eyes staring into her own.

Connie finished her thought. "So...what? Did he kiss you or something?"

"No," Lex whispered. "I can see it in his eyes."

She couldn't find any words of denial because at that moment she did find him attractive, while the rest of her struggled to remember how Clark had felt. Had she been attracted to him in that way before? Was that what had caused this change? Had her alien body altered itself physically to accommodate those feelings, adapting by changing genders?

"I don't know..." she murmured.

"Don't know what?"

Connie jerked her hand free. "I have to go."


Panic rose like the clear note of a trumpet sounding out high above the rest of the orchestra. It blared a warning in her mind she could not resist. It was time to get away. NOW!

"I have to go," she repeated, and unlocked the door to the truck. As she sped away she looked back in the rear-view mirror and saw him watching her, standing there with his hands in his coat pockets and a frown on his face. Idly he raised a hand to wave. Connie nearly drove off the road as her mind frantically tried to comprehend what had just happened.

A thin wisp of steam rolled out from under the bathroom door. Martha paused outside for a moment, listening to the muffled strains of music coming from behind said door, before raising a hand to knock. "Connie?"

There was a faint splashing sound and then Connie's voice came through the door. "Yeah?"

"I've brought you up some clothes, and a fresh towel. Can I come in?"

Martha actually had ulterior motives. Connie had been in the tub for hours, something she did when she was particularly bothered by something. That hadn't changed. Clark had sometimes vanished into the bathroom with some music and/or a book and would not come out for over an hour. Martha never asked what he was doing. It was something she really didn't want to know.

This time Connie had taken advantage of Jonathan being in Grandville (thus having fewer chores) to take an especially long bath, and Martha was worried. With skin resistant to "pruning" and heat vision to keep the water warm, there was no telling how long the siege might last. Mother's intuition told Martha something was wrong and she needed to get to the bottom of it.


"Yeah, you can come in."

The door opened easily, releasing a cloud of steam into the hallway. Martha chuckled softly. It was as warm and damp as a sauna inside. Moisture glistened upon the tiles and ran down the foggy mirror. In the center of it all sat the big claw-footed tub. It was full to brimming with bubbles. Connie's dark head rested along one edge. A book lay upside down on the floor.

Martha set her burden down on the vanity and put down the lid to the toilet. She then perched herself next to the tub and looked down at her child. Son or daughter, it mattered very little to her. Her affection wasn't bound by gender.

"What's wrong?"

Connie didn't look at her. "Nothing."

"Uh-huh. I know the signs of a sulk."

"I kinda like being shorter. I fit in the tub better." Connie raised a leg, poking her toes out from the cover of bubbles.

"Clark," Martha said sharply.

The foot fell with a "sploot" back into the water. Martha waited as Connie chewed on her lip and stalled. Patience was something Martha had in abundance.

"Mom," Connie said finally, turning to look at Martha with eyes glittering bright with what might have been tears. "If...if this is permanent, then liking - boys - is okay, right?"

Closing her eyes, Martha let out the breath she had not been aware of holding. Of all the things Connie could have said, this was lower on the scale of things a parent does not want to hear; at least it was for Martha, who had gone through Clark's childhood wondering if one morning the boy wouldn't wake up having sprouted a tail overnight. Having her son turn into a daughter had been a trauma which left little else able to stun her.

But how do I handle this?

"I believe," Martha said quietly. "That there's a special someone out there for you. I have always believed it, and continue to believe it. I don't care if that someone is male or female, as long as you are safe and happy." She smiled a little. "Is there someone in particular, Connie?"

The bubbles were suddenly very interesting. Connie turned away to run her hands over the soft fluffly foam surrounding her. "There have been a couple who have expressed - interest. The prom is coming up. I don't want to go," she added hastily.

"Why not?" Martha asked, stunned, but nearly laughing as Connie gave her a look of sheer horror.



Dark brows knitted. "I know some things are necessary when it comes to being a girl, and..." Her cheeks flushed pink. "I actually kinda like some of them, but..." Connies expression shifted from a look of embarrassment to that of disgust. "A dress?"

"You'd look perfectly lovely."


They both started to laugh until finally, Connie grew quiet and sighed.

"It's silly, isn't it? But it would just make me feel - weird?"

"Like finding yourself interested in boys?" Martha said soothingly. She noted the sudden rush of color as it returned to the girl's cheeks.

"Yeah. Not that I don't already feel wrong but...but it's getting easier. And I don't know if I want it to be easy, or not. I don't want to be a boy in a girls body. I want to be whatever I'm meant to be." This time tears did fall, and it made Martha's heart ache to see. "But I'm scared. I can't let go of what I was."

"Connie," Martha leaned forward, and took one of Connie's hands between her own. "We've been through this so many times before. I'm at a loss as what to advise you. This is out of my scope. But I know you'll learn to live with these changes, just as you have every thing else that's happened to you."

"I don't want to."

"I know, honey. Just...let nature take its course. Just like before. You'll be all right. We'll be all right."

Connie looked up at her. "Let nature take its course?" she asked softly, and after a moment, she nodded. "Maybe I should."

Lex leaned over the pool table and let fly. The cue ball spun from the tip of his stick and sailed down the table to hit its target with a resounding "CRACK!" Balls careened across the table, and none found their way into any pockets. It didn't really matter anyway. He was playing himself.

"Stripes," he murmured, and lined up to sink his first.

"It was a nice break."

His hand jerked at the sound of her voice and he rose fluidly, disguising the fact that she'd cost him the shot. Had he seen her before she spoke he would have lost the shot anyway, and perhaps fallen all over himself in the process.


"I borrowed it from mmm...my aunt." Connie said quietly.

She ran her hands uneasily over the short black dress she wore. It embraced her like a sheath, highlighting every curve Lex knew shouldn't have been there but damn the iris mapping to hell. Pale white shoulders, full, curving breasts, and long, lean legs - whatever magic was at work surely had erased all signs of masculinity. Clark who? He'd found Clark attractive. Connie was irresistible.

"And the makeup?"


"I daresay neither of them know you're here." Lex leaned on the cue stick, still staring, but unable to tear his gaze away.

She blushed. Long, dark lashes brushed her cheeks as she lowered her eyes demurely. She'd curled the black waves of her hair too, brightening it with rhinestone barrettes. Those were the only jewelry she wore. Her ears were unpierced.

She's lying about the make-up. Chloe would never wear that shade of lipstick. Hooker-red. Fuck, what is she up to?

"I want to go out."

Lex raised an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

Connie raised her chin, chasing away the coyness. Lex saw a flash of arrogance there he recognized. Idly he let his gaze linger over her again, this time looking for any hint of red other than lipstick...he was no fool. But no ring graced her finger other than a simple band of silver around one thumb.

"I want to go out, to Metropolis. I want you to take me. I'm tired of cornfields and cow shit. Take me out."

Lying the cue aside, Lex walked over to where she stood, circled appraisingly, and came to a stop in front of her. "Why the change of heart? Two days ago you would have chewed off a limb to escape from me. Now here you are throwing yourself down upon on my threshold, begging for attention." He fingered the low-cut neckline of the dress and cocked his head sideways at her. "That's what this is, of course, something to attract my attention."

Connie caught his hand before he could move it any lower. Her grip was exceptionally strong. "It worked."


Green eyes narrowed, and she pressed herself close to him, making him feel the shape of her as she leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

Lex shivered. She let go of his hand. He stepped back and moved away toward the bar, fumbling for something to give him a little support. Whiskey.

"Clark teach you that?"

"You can say that."

"What else did he tell you?"

Connie shrugged. "Clark is very..."

"Secretive?" Lex downed a shot, and poured a second. "That's an understatement."

"He said you were always wanting to know those secrets." Crossing the room, Connie helped herself to a chair. Out of the corner of his eye Lex noted her awkwardness with some humor. Apparently she'd thought the way she looked in heels was worth the sacrifice of her normal grace.

"I had only benign intentions, but he didn't believe me."

"You didn't trust him."

"He didn't trust me."

"Maybe he thought you'd be in danger if you knew the truth."

Lex snapped his head around. "I can take care of myself!"

It was some trick of the light maybe, or maybe not, when Lex caught her eye and saw Clark there looking back at him. For some reason it made him mad. He started to say something else, something scathing, rude, and hurtful, but Connie's words made him bite his tongue.

"Or maybe he thought you'd shun him. Having you hate him for lying might have been better than having you look at him with revulsion. Ask yourself why you never told him you found him attractive, Lex, and maybe you'll understand."

His hands shook a little as he poured himself a third shot. "I don't want to talk about Clark."

Connie's eyes burned bright green (another trick of the light?) before she lowered them to her hands. "Sure, but maybe you should make that your last drink. I don't want you to drive me to Metropolis if you're going to be drunk."

Lex stared at her. "You're serious."

She frowned. "Of course I am. I wouldn't be wearing this get-up if I wasn't serious."

After a minute, Lex started laughing.

Connie tugged at the hem of her dress, wondering if she hadn't erred in borrowing the shortest of Martha's dresses. It was made shorter by the fact that although Connie was just as slim, if not slimmer than Martha, she was taller. Her legs seemed to go on forever. She felt like a stork.

On stilts. Why did I buy high heels again?

Lex certainly appreciated the look, and so did every other man they encountered on their way across the nightclub's dance floor. It was a new club, called Echo. Techno music blared from every corner, and lights flickered and jumped all around like the men and women gyrating on the dance floor. Connie flinched as she felt a hand caress her hip. Lex turned to give the violator a glare and wrapped his own arm around her waist protectively. Unnerved, Connie pressed herself closer to Lex as if she couldn't have sent the groper sprawling with a flick of her finger.

They mounted a set of stairs. A waitress met them at the top and led them to a table near the balcony's edge, behind a partition of what had to be sound barrier glass. It was certainly quieter there, yet they could still hear the music and watch the dancers below.

Lex ordered scotch. For Connie he ordered a white wine spritzer. When the waitress looked at him slightly askew, he said, "I'll vouch for her," and handed the girl a folded bill.

"You could be arrested for that," Connie said. "I'm not twenty-one."

"She doesn't know that."

"And you're not going to tell her?"

"Is one glass of wine going to get you drunk?" Lex asked archly.

Connie shrugged. Forty glasses of wine wouldn't get her drunk. She didn't get drunk. "Probably not, so I guess that's not your game."

Leaning forward across the table, Lex gave her a wry smile. "If anyone is being seduced tonight, it's me. You showed up at my door dressed like a big girl and looking like you stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Don't play coy with me Connie, you knew what you were doing."

"You've been pursuing me."

"I have," he admitted. "And you've been avoiding me, until now, when you practically throw yourself at my feet.You never did answer my question earlier. Why are we here again?"

She looked away toward the dancers. The waitress came back with their drinks, allowing Connie time to come up with a suitable response. She wasn't really sure herself. Maybe she just wanted to figure out Lex's real motivations.

Maybe she wanted to test her new powers.

"Do you really think I'm beautiful or are you feeding me a line?" she asked finally.

"Have you looked in the mirror recently?" Lex inhaled deeply. "You are...beyond beautiful."

The sincerity was hard to miss. It was in his voice, and in his eyes. Whether he knew the truth about her or not, he was telling the truth now.

"That I look like my cousin has nothing to do with it?"

Lex scowled. "I thought we weren't going to talk about Clark."

"I don't want to be a stand-in."

He leaned back in his chair. "You aren't. You won't. If I wanted Clark, I would have had him."

"Oh, really," Connie drawled. "Since you've given me the impression you did want him, what held you back?" She watched his reaction carefully.

There was a small, wistful snort. Lex's eyes grew somewhat distant. His fingers toyed with the napkin under his drink. When he looked up, Connie melted beneath his gaze.

"Respect," he said.

Connie blinked. "Respect?"

Lex shrugged. "Whatever Clark may have felt about me - I couldn't take it as more than a crush. I couldn't be sure if he..."

"Is like you?"

"Whatever that may be."

"Still avoiding the confession?" Connie asked softly.

He raised his drink, sipped, and looked off toward the dance floor. "Always."

"Makes me doubt you aren't seeing Clark in me."

Abruptly he turned his head, capturing her gaze again. "Would that be a bad thing, Connie, honestly?"

She bit her lip. "No," she whispered. "It wouldn't."

Lex leaned forward again, and this time he reached out to take her hand. "I see a beautiful young woman, who I would like to get to know better, and having her remind me of a cherished friend is only a supplemental attraction."

"Is that the truth, Lex?"

"That is the truth, Connie."

Smiling, she let him kiss her hand.

Chloe stared at the picture, rubbed at her eyes, and stared at it some more. Her eyes were not playing tricks on her. There, in the glossy pages of her magazine, was a photograph of Lex exiting a Metropolis club. It wasn't unusual for Lex to have his picture in the society pages among the other rich and famous; he was considered one of the world's most eligible bachelors. Young, rich, and if you didn't mind the bald pate, very handsome. Often he had a woman on his arm in these photographs. This one was no exception. She was young, pretty, and utterly familiar.

"Are you out of your mind?" Chloe flung the magazine across the Torch office just as Connie entered.

"Technically speaking I'm out of my body." Stooping, Connie picked up the magazine and frowned at Chloe's expression. "What? That was a joke."

"It's not funny." Chloe stood up. Her chest hurt. Fear? Jealousy? She shook her head. "You went out with Lex!"

The guilt was unmistakable, so was the expression of defiance that quickly followed. Connie dumped her belongings on her desk and sat down. "I'm eighteen..."

"That's not what I'm talking about! Why did you go out with Lex? You've been trying to keep him at arms length, and now...I don't understand!" Chloe paced. "Clark..."

"Chloe..." Connie glanced around the room and shot her a warning look. "I don't know," she said finally. "I just want to find out how much he really suspects."

"Suspects? About what, this?" Chloe waved a hand at Connie's body. "Or is there more? Huh? What else have you been hiding? Don't lie to me and say nothing. There's more isn't there?"

Connie got up from her chair. With her back to Chloe she started rummaging through the files as if looking for a photo or an article. Chloe was familiar with the avoidance tactic. She'd just been shut out.

With a deep breath she calmed herself. "If there is more, I don't think throwing yourself into the fire is a good idea. You're not thinking straight."

"Actually, I believe I am." Turning, Connie met Chloe's gaze. "Lionel's in jail. Lex is in charge of Luthor Corp. He has money, and power, and he doesn't need my secrets anymore. I don't think he even cares."

"He's brainwashed you!" Chloe accused.

"He loves me."

Chloe's mouth hung open. All her wit escaped her. Her words abandoned her. Lana could have pointed it outright away having been Clark's victim many times before. Chloe eventually figured it out on her own.

"You're running away again," she said.

Connie shut the file cabinet with a bang. Her head bent over the file she'd removed as she flipped through its contents. "What if I am? There are worse things to be than the trophy wife of a rich man."

"Like what? You know, I've never understood why you do this, Clark." Angry, she emphasized the name and took satisfaction in the way it made Connie wince. "What are you running away from? What is worse than giving yourself up to a Luthor?"

The file went flying. Papers and photographs from inside it fluttered all around the room as Connie whirled on Chloe with such an outpouring of grief and fury that Chloe actually took a step backward.

"Being a freak! Lying to the people I care about! Being alone for the rest of my life! I'm tired of it, Chloe! I can't do it anymore. This," Connie struck her chest with a fist. "Was the last straw."

"I don't under..."

"And you can't!"

Grabbing her things, Connie stormed out of the room. The door slammed, and Chloe slumped into a chair.

But I want to understand. Oh, Clark, what have you done?

Jonathan winced into the phone. "No, everything's fine, Pete. Oh, Clark's just been...busy. I'm sure he'll call when he can." He glanced up as he saw Connie storm into the kitchen. Books, purse and backpack were dumped unceremoniously beside the door as she made her way directly to the refrigerator for a soda. "Yes, yes, I'll tell him."

Connie peeked into the pot bubbling on the stove as Jonathan hung up the phone.

"You didn't tell Pete?"

"No," she said, putting the lid back down and turning to face Jonathan. She looked - haggard. "I haven't figured out how to tell him."

"He's concerned. He thinks we're hiding something from him."

"Dad, Pete left because knowing about me put him in danger," Connie snapped. "He doesn't need to know any more than he does already."

Jonathan backed off, going to the fridge for a beverage of his own. Connie didn't budge from where she stood leaning against the counter. Male or female, the body language was the same.

"What's wrong," he asked gently.

Connie looked down at her feet. "What isn't wrong?" she murmured. Jonathan waited, and she added: "I had a fight with Chloe."

"Oh." Jonathan sipped his drink, wishing now that he'd grabbed a beer instead of a soda. Martha had told him about her last conversation with Connie, and he'd been both afraid and disgusted. Martha chided him for his prejudices. He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Over...a boy?"

"Yes. I went out with someone she doesn't approve of."

Jonathan choked. The last thing he'd expected was an affirmative, despite what Martha had told him. "What? When?"

"Last weekend." The look in Connie's eyes was somewhat defiant, as if she were challenging Jonathan to object, which, of course, Jonathan did.

"Without telling us?" he demanded. He put the can of soda down on the table. "I understand you're over eighteen now, but you still live under this roof and there are rules..."

"I'm aware of the rules, Dad. I did all my chores, and I was back before curfew. If I had been out saving someone from a meteor mutant, you wouldn't have any objections. What's wrong with at least pretending to be normal sometimes?"

"We've had this conversation before, Clark."

"Don't call me that!" Connie shrieked. "Can't you see that's not who I am anymore?"

Jonathan recoiled, but only for a moment. "Who was it?" he asked, although a growing suspicion was making his heart pound. He snatched hold of Connie's wrist, jerking her toward him. A little voice in the back of his head told him to back off and he ignored it. "Who was it?"

She pulled away from him, easily breaking his grasp. "Lex."

It was no surprise. Jonathan could feel his blood pressure rising. He forced his voice to be steady, but it came out low and dangerous. "You will not..."

Connie interrupted. "I will not what?"

"You will not associate with Lex Luthor!" Jonathan exploded. "No. Never again! It was bad enough having you hanging around him before, but now..."

"Because I'm female?" Connie asked archly, angrily.

"Yes because you're female, damnit! You know how Luthors use women!"

"I'm no ordinary woman."

They stared at each other. Jonathan ground his teeth, but his anger was quickly giving away to fear. Altered yes, but Connie was still the alien child they had found so long ago. Jonathan knew Clark's temper, and knew his stubbornness. It had only been a matter of time before they manifested themselves in Connie. But why on earth did it have to be Lex...

Jonathan also knew that he couldn't push the issue. He tried it anyway, taking a step toward Connie and gesturing with a chopping motion . "I forbid it. As long as you're living under this roof you will abide by my rules. You will not see Lex Luthor again."

Connie was shorter. It did not stop her from standing up to him. Her eyes flashed dangerously and in them Jonathan could see Kal-El. It made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, a a poignant reminder that no matter what the outer wrapper looked like, this alien child could still easily break him in half if she so desired. The stalemate did not last long. Connie's abruptly turned away from him.

"It's understood," she said, and moved away toward the door. "I'll be gone by morning."

Jonathan stood there helplessly. He was losing her. "Connie," he called. "Wait..."

The only answer he received was the door slamming.

Chloe was told to wait, and he made her wait too. It was nearly fifteen minutes later that Lex strolled into his office and by that time Chloe was frantically pacing the floor, twisting her hands together nervously. Her greatest fear was that Lionel would have walked in unexpectedly. She'd heard he was staying at the guest house, and Chloe did not believe in the slightest that he'd turned over a new leaf.

"I take it you're here about Connie," Lex said casually. He sat down and flipped open his laptop. He bade Chloe to sit, which she did, reluctantly. While she talked, he checked his e-mail. Chloe was somewhat insulted.

Taking a deep breath, she said, "She left home."

"I know. She's here."

Chloe nodded. She'd suspected as much. "Lex you have to back off. You really don't want to get involved with Connie. She's got...issues."

"Issues seem to run in the family." He smiled at Chloe from around the computer. "I can handle Connie's issues, Chloe. I've experience with Clark's issues after all."

"I was under the impression you and Clark weren't getting along very well lately."

"We don't always agree on everything, but we're friends nonetheless." Leaning back in his chair, Lex shrugged. His smile was small, and to Chloe, unnerving. "But Clark isn't here. He's in Europe, so I've been told. Funny, not even a postcard. That's very unlike him."

"Actually it is like him, but you're right. The problem isn't Clark, it's Connie. I'm asking you to leave her alone. I don't want her to get hurt."

"Neither do I."

"Then leave her alone!"

Lex gave her a long, hard stare. "Chloe," he said finally. "You seem awfully - passionate - about this. I'd venture to say you sound almost...jealous?"

Chloe blushed. It had been hard for her to reconcile her affections for Clark with his new form. The feelings she held for him had always confused her. Now she was more confused than ever, for Connie was still essentially Clark, and Chloe did still love him with all her heart. Connie had brought them closer than they'd ever been before. Chloe wasn't sure she wanted to give that up, no matter what it meant.

"Your father," she said softly. "Once asked me to spy on Clark, to tell him what I found. I gave him nothing, because I learned nothing."

"And he tried to kill you."

"You protected me. I'm grateful for that Lex. For that, and for your promise to stop pursuing Connie, I'm willing to offer you something." Chloe bit her lip. "Something I know, that you might find interesting."

Lex leaned forward. He laced his fingers together and studied her carefully once more. "About Clark?"

"Yes, and Connie too."

"All right. I'm interested."

"Promise me you'll send her home."

"Of course. In exchange for your information, and to clear the debt between us, I promise I'll send Connie back to the loving arms of her aunt and uncle." Smiling, Lex waved a hand. "Let's hear it."

Chloe stood up, she paced a couple of times before turning to face him. "Clark and Connie are the same person."

There was an eerie silence. Lex looked at her dispassionately, showing no sign of shock or horror or any sort of surprise at all. That should have set off warning bells, and maybe it did, but Chloe missed them. Instead she prompted:


Lex turned back to his computer. His fingers tapped a key here, a key there, and lightly moved the mouse with his index finger. "I'm afraid," he said. "I cannot abide by this agreement."

"But you promised!"

"So I did. I promised on the basis of the information you had to give." He tapped the mouse. There was a beep, and he turned the laptop around to face her.

On the screen were two pictures side by side. One was Clark's yearbook photo. The other was a picture of Connie Chloe herself had taken for a Torch article, "New Faces at Smallville High." At the bottom of the screen were small sections of the photographs which had been magnified. Both had zoomed in on the subjects' eyes.

"Have you ever heard of iris mapping Chloe?"

Chloe blinked. She stared at the pictures in shock. "Iris mapping. I...yes."

"You haven't given me any information I don't already know," Lex said quietly. "Therefore, I cannot honor my end of our agreement. Connie stays, and..." He leaned forward over his desk. "I want your word you will say nothing of this to her."

Trembling, Chloe sat down slowly in the chair she'd vacated. "You know?"

"I've known." His fingers laced."I don't suppose you know how it happened do you?"

Chloe fumbled, but knew he'd gain nothing from her there; she didn't know herself. She shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe something to do with the meteorites. You know how this town operates, Lex." She was on the verge of tears. "Anything goes."

She avoided his gaze, save for catching it out of the corner of her eye as she bit her lip and struggled for a way out. He watched her dispassionately.

"I'm curious, Chloe," he said. "What did you think your betrayal would get you?"

"You wouldn't...I thought you wouldn't...because Connie is...or was...Clark." Chloe finished lamely.

Lex's smile was ice cold, but his voice was soft and pleasant as if he were exchanging civilities with her over tea. It reminded her so much of his father she had to shudder.

"Chloe. I think you and I are on the same page when it comes to Clark Kent. You had your chance. Let me have mine."


His blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "And I know you understand the terms of this agreement. Miss. Sullivan."

Chloe cocked her head. Was he threatening her? He was!

The realization was shocking, and yet, upon reflection, she wondered why she hadn't seen it before. It wasn't entirely Clark's secretive nature that had led to Lex's obsession with all things Kent. It had been Clark himself.

"You really do love her," she stood slowly, backing away. "You always have."

Lex closed the laptop. "I trust, then, that I have your silence?" He picked up the phone. "Perhaps I should mention, also, that there is a job opening now available at Luthor Corp. The pay scale is comparable to that of a plant foreman."

Swallowing heavily, Chloe closed her fingers tightly around her purse. Tears filled her eyes.

But if this is what Clark wants...

"I won't say anything," she whispered.

"See that you don't, Chloe. If our mutual friend ever finds out that I know her secret..." He smiled again, that chilling, sharklike, smile. "Not only will your father be on the welfare line again, but I'll make sure Connie knows just who let the cat out of the bag."

I can't believe I've done this.

Connie stood at the window of her room, looking out across the vast formal gardens stretching out across the Luthor estate. From the drive, only the imposing bulk of the house could be seen, its gray stone edifice with its turrets and battlements giving it a militaristic air. Behind the house the locals called the Castle, were green lawns, flower gardens, and a beautiful reflecting pond surrounded by weeping willow trees. It was like something out of a fairy tale.

"I'm living in a fairy tale," Connie murmured. "But a dark one. An original Grimm story, not some Disneyfied version."

"I'm hoping for a happy ending nonetheless."

She turned away from the window. "Hey," she said softly.

Lex moved into the room and lingered beside the bedpost. It was a lovely antique bed, with tall posts and a high velvet canopy. The room was not one she'd ever been in before, and she'd been in most of them. This room was in the private wing of the Luthor home. Next door was Lex's bedroom suite, and the fact that there was a connecting door between the two rooms was not lost on Connie. He'd put her there on purpose.

"I was at the Talon earlier today."


"Your aunt is worried about you."

Connie chewed on her lip and hung her head. She'd been stupid, and she knew it. Her mother was upset, her father was beside himself, and Chloe was being evasive and chilly. She couldn't explain why she'd made the choice to leave them for Lex, especially after only one night with him. They'd not even done anything but have dinner and listen to some music. He'd asked her to dance and she'd declined. He attempted to kiss her good-night and she'd held him back. "Not yet," she'd said.

The power she held over him made her fear fade away. She'd always thought she could deal with him as Clark, after all, she had all her abilities. As Connie she'd found a new kind of power

Lana has it. She bewitches every male who sees her. I was no exception. She certainly led me around, and Whitney too. He would have died for her. He DID die for her.

Lana's words came back to him, words she'd spoken in regards to her relationship with Whitney.

"He makes me feel safe."

Maybe this isn't so stupid after all. Maybe there is something to that "keep your enemies closer" thing.

"What did you tell her?" Connie asked.

"That you're fine. That I haven't laid a finger on you. Oddly, she believed me. Your uncle wouldn't have."

"Martha trusts me."

Lex's mouth twitched in a faint smile. "But she doesn't trust me, no one does. Clark didn't. You don't."

Connie shook her head. "Clark couldn't." She smiled slowly. "I think I can."

He moved toward her. This time Connie stood her ground and did not push him away. He came in close to her, so close she could smell his cologne and feel the warmth of his body. His fingers were cool against the skin of her neck as he brushed her hair away from her cheeks. She wished it were longer. He might have liked that. It suddenly mattered to her what Lex would and would not like about her.

"Why?" he whispered. "Because I tell you you're beautiful and take you out dancing?"

"We never danced."

"But we could have." Lex's eyes were bright. "One date, and you've moved yourself into my home. Are you a gold-digger Constance Clark?"

"No. I don't want your money, Lex." Connie turned her head as he came even closer. His breath warmed her cheeks. One hand still toyed with her hair. The other rested upon her hip. "Lex..."

He kissed her cheek, near her ear. "What do you want, then?"

"Protection," she breathed.

"From what?"


Lex stiffened, and drew back. What he sought in her eyes she could not tell, nor could she see any sign of deception in his as he spoke. All she saw was affection and maybe she was blind, maybe she was deluded, but she couldn't help it. This was what Clark had always sought. He'd failed to find it in Lana. He had rejected it from Chloe. It had been here, all along, in Lex's eyes, in Lex's heart, but neither had been strong enough to acknowledge it.

He won't hurt me. Not now. Connie has no secrets. He can't use me. Why would he? The only thing he ever wanted was to get out from under Lionel and he has that now.

"Connie, I..."

She slipped into his arms, forcing him to return her embrace as she pressed her cheek close to his heart and breathed deep of his scent. The cologne was familiar. The warmth was comforting. She could feel the strength of him when he wrapped his arms around her and held her. A human woman might have been in awe of it. Connie was not, yet she recognized immediately what he hid from casual observers. He was both stronger and more insecure than he appeared. Lex's lean, muscular body belied his soft, graceful appearance. The rapid beat of his heart revealed what lay beneath the outward air of confidence.

"I like it here," Connie murmured. "I'm not afraid."

Lex held her tighter and kissed her hair.

Lex felt his grip was tenuous, and his feelings were clouding his vision.


She stood on the balcony of their hotel suite, looking out across the city where ancient wonders stood side by side with bastions of modern architecture. A breeze lifted her hair from her face, and stirred the folds of her dress. She looked very retro, very stylish, in the red polka dot dress with its full skirt and low cut neckline. A red leather headband matched her shoes. He'd gifted her with the diamond earrings only a week before. They sparkled like the bubbles in the champagne they'd sipped on the plane. Lex couldn't tell if it was the champagne or the view that made her cheeks flush and her eyes grow bright.. Her smile was huge when she turned to look at him.

"Did you see this? Wow."

The statement was so very Clark, that it gave Lex pause.

Connie is the key to unlocking the secret. If you let affection get in the way...

He gave her his most charming smile. "I've seen it before. I'm glad you like it."

She left the balcony and came into the room, making a beeline straight for Lex. Something stopped her just short of reaching out for him. Instead she stood before him, studying his face, suddenly suspicious. Lex again got a reminder that Connie was not a different person, but only Clark in a different wrapper. He lifted a hand to caress her face with the back of his fingers.

"I want you to know, I'm serious," he whispered.


"About us," Lex breathed, and he moved closer. "I want to show you."

He felt her tense as he kissed her. Her hands rose to his chest, but she did not push him away. She stood very still beneath his kisses to her mouth, her throat, and the gentle curve of one full breast at the top of her dress. He found her thigh with his hand and followed its long, lean length up beneath her skirt. It was only then that she squirmed away, backing up out of Lex's arms with a sharp intake of breath.

They stood there looking at each other for a long time.

"I've never..." Connie began quietly, and then blurted: "I'm not on the Pill."

Lex smiled gently, and without a word, produced a foil wrapped condom from his coat pocket. He held it up, caught between two fingers.

Her chest was heaving. Mind battled body in a clash of wills. Clark battled Connie. Lex could see it all in the quicksilver emotions that flashed across her face.

"I promise, I won't hurt you," he said.

"That's not..." Her voice trailed off. Her brows rose. "No?"

"No," Lex replied gently. It was safe to approach once again, and he did. "And I have done this before." He leaned in, letting his breath tease her ear. "I can make you feel things you've never felt before, never thought you could."

"I have no doubt of that," Connie rumbled, and sounded so much like Clark that Lex jerked his head back.

But it was Connie who turned her eyes to meet his startled gaze. Her blush was pretty, her smile demure. Her manicured fingers rose to touch his lips and she made her decision quite perfectly clear.

"All right, Mr. Luthor." she said softly. "Show me."

Connie looked up at the elegantly gilded ceiling of the bedroom, letting her body relax into the silk clad mattress beneath her. Her nails curled into the soft bedding, piercing it like claws, because she dared not touch the man hovering over her. She longed to though. A pleasurable ache filled her body as she resisted the temptation. Her nails would slip through his flesh easier than they had the bed, and the last thing she wanted to do was distract him from what he was doing.

She also resisted the temptation to laugh.

I think I like Lex's tongue better when it's not spouting Greek poetry.

Fingers and tongue first drove away her tension and fear, and then they'd set her on fire.

Oh, he's good. Oh, God, he's really good.

His body shifted against her. His mouth covered hers as his hands strayed from breasts to thighs to buttocks. He raised her hips from the bed with just a touch but would give her no more. Instead he turned his attention back to her breasts. She was glad of it, for they had been aching since he had left them. Lips soothed their ache, and then, maliciously, his tongue awoke it again. She tipped back her head and moaned. Desire shifted from her breasts elsewhere.

Touch me there again. Touch me, touch me...


"Not yet."

Connie bit her lip. One hand disentangled itself from the sheets. She caressed his side as he rose up to kiss her throat again. Her hand slipped between their bodies, seeking, and finding...

Lex hissed and pulled back. Connie grinned up at him.

"Ticklish?" she inquired. There were advantages to having a thorough knowledge of the male anatomy. His startled expression was priceless.

"I've never had a woman...go for those particular parts before."


"No," Lex closed his eyes. "Ah, God." He shoved her hand away, fumbling a little as he shifted himself down and...


"Uhhm." Connie flinched. Apparently her virginity wasn't invulnerable. "Ow."

Lex kissed her apologetically. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"I'm okay," she said. She studied his eyes, and saw only honest concern. Her expression softened, she sought to soothe him. "It's okay," she said quietly.



He smiled gently, and his hands did much to soothe her. Gradually she found herself relaxing again, His fingers slipped between her legs, to the tenuous join between them, and her body responded. She yielded to him, melting beneath him until need overrode the pain. Her legs parted, her hips rose to meet him, and he sank deep inside her.

Connie closed her eyes. She kissed his neck. As he began to move against her she moved her hands down his sides and over the undulating curve of his hips as her mouth sought his. He was deaf, dumb and blind save for finding the rhythm that would bring him to completion. Her senses were on high alert and a painful understanding made her heart clench as her body moved in time to his thrusts.

Could I do this, as a man? Could I control my strength enough not to hurt my partner? I can barely hold back now. I could crush him, kill him...

Tears sprang to her eyes as the pace quickened. Lex's fingers dug into her sides. His focus was no longer on her pleasure but his own. Yet her body responded, quivering, poised on the edge of climax. Lex smothered her outcry with one of his own and her body arced upward beneath him as the last vestiges of what she had been, withered and died.

The phone rang. Chloe, engrossed in the story she was working on, answered absently. "Hello?"


Chloe stopped in the act of pushing "save" and sat back in her chair. "Connie! Are you okay?"

There was a faint laugh. "I'm fine."

"Where are you? When you didn't come to graduation every one got worried."

"I'm in Rome."

A feeling of dread rose up in Chloe's chest. She switched ears and stood up, pacing back and forth at the foot of her bed. "Rome?"

Only Lex would have the resources to take Connie to Italy, and Chloe had a horrible feeling she knew what his intentions were in going there too.

"Graduation present. Look, Chlo. I just want to apologize. I'm sorry I blew up at you."

"I'm only concerned for your welfare, Con."

"I know. It's okay. We're okay, Lex and me. I think this is going to work out."

Chloe abruptly stopped pacing. Closing her eyes, her fingers tightened around the phone. "You slept with him didn't you."


"Didn't you?"

The lengthy pause before Connie replied told Chloe everything she needed to know before she heard the confirmation.

"Yes. Chloe I can't explain it, but it's better this way. Believe me. Everything is so much better. Please don't be mad."

Tears sprang to her eyes as Chloe sat down heavily on her bed. "I'm not mad," she whispered.

I'm scared.

"Be careful Connie. Lex is more than he seems."

Connie only laughed, and Chloe felt a chill run up her spine at her words. Lex had snared her but good, and no amount of warning could steer her from the path she was on. Clark's blind obsession he'd always had for Lana, had been transferred to Lex, and Chloe knew from experience how stubborn Clark could be regarding that subject. Lex knew Clark too, and he knew women. Connie was his.

"He's much more, Chloe," Connie said with a chuckle. "You can trust me on that."

Chloe couldn't help but shudder.

Connie lay sprawled across the bed, her slim, pale body shimmering with a faint sheen of sweat. One arm was curled up over her head. The other rested across her belly, the fingers trailing close to the dark triangle of curls at her center.

Lex felt his body stir with desire again. He could not get enough of her. After the first round, they'd cleaned up, and went for a walk in the city, winding up at a little cafe not far from the hotel. Connie had been bright, and bubbly and in every way a different person from the brooding teen Lex had known. It had made him want her again, badly. They'd begun in the elevator where Lex had a disturbing flashback to a vision that had plagued him since the day he'd met Clark.

Close my eyes and it's not Connie kneeling there. God, if Clark were to tell me he'd never thought about doing that to me before, I'd call him a liar. She'd enjoyed it too much.

He ignored the temptation to wake her for more. Instead he turned away and padded quietly into the bathroom. The door shut with only the slightest "snick" of the latch, but Lex paused anyway, listening for any sound of Connie stirring from the next room. His reflection greeted him from the mirror over the sink.

Now what?

Now that he had her, he needed to keep her. She'd never accept a marriage proposal, not now anyway. Perhaps in the future...

I need an insurance policy and I need...

Answers. He needed answers, regarding Clark, and all the things he suspected of Clark. Wasn't that what this was all about?

He'd been lying to himself. Seducing Connie hadn't been about finding those answers. It had been about scratching an itch he'd suffered with for yearsThere had never been any guarantee that Connie would be any less reticent as Clark about divulging his/her secrets. He could make her love him. He could love her, marry her, and she still could reveal nothing.

Marry her? Am I serious?

That thought turned to another and after a moment of careful contemplation his eye fell upon the complimentary sewing kit the hotel provided its guests.

Would it be possible?

Lex chewed his lip. He turned to a suitcase propped up against the toilet. Cologne, toothpaste, other toiletries, he neatly arranged on the bathroom counter as he withdrew them one by one. Eventually he found what he was looking for, and held it in his hand.

He stared at the box of condoms, and then looked at himself in the mirror once again.

Maybe there's another way.

Martha heard the door and looked up from her work. It was after hours, a good deal past closing in fact; Martha was doing her monthly financial reports for Lex. Only five other people had keys to the Talon, and of those five Martha suspected it was Lana coming home for the evening. The girl sometimes stayed out late with Jason and didn't like going through the back door to the alley entrance to her apartment. It was not as well lit as the front of the old theater. Martha encouraged safety and didn't mind. Lana was no longer part of the Talon's management, but she was always willing to lend Martha a hand. It was much appreciated.

The dark haired girl who glided through the darkened room toward Martha's office wasn't Lana, however, it was Connie. Martha's breath fluttered in her throat. Connie had been drifting in and out of the Kents' lives for months since the fight she'd had with Jonathan. Martha missed her.

She looked good. Her hair had grown a little more, now curling past her chin in fluffy dark waves. She'd pinned it back at the sides with a pair of silver combs. Somehow, and Martha wasn't sure she wanted to contemplate the details, she'd gotten her ears pierced. Martha also didn't want to know where the diamond studs came from, although the answer was obvious.

"I heard about Jim Frickle," Martha said, setting down her pen as Connie came to stand in the doorway. "Is Chloe okay?"

Connie nodded. "Just a little miffed that she hadn't guessed he was a meteor kid sooner. You know Chloe."

"She didn't ah..."

"See me toss the guy into Crater Lake? No." Connie smiled slightly. "I'm careful, Mom. I'm very careful. More now than ever."

Martha looked away for a moment. "I suppose you have to be," she said.

There was a pause, and a sigh. "I thought I could stop, you know, but I can't."

"You've got a good heart, Connie."

"I'm not as selfish as you might want to believe."

Raising her head, Martha shot the girl a glare. "I didn't deserve that," she snapped. "Nor does your father." She softened her tone as Connie blushed. "We love you, honey, we do. We're just concerned."

"I know. I'm sorry." Connie entered the room, and sat down on an overturned milk crate. "I'm careful," she reassured. "Lex doesn't know anything. He's fine Mom. He's more relaxed than I've ever seen him before, even with the burden of running Luthor Corp. by himself. He doesn't talk about Clark. No secrets. No prying. We're just - us."

Martha recognized the tone. She'd heard it in her own voice once, when she'd run across a handsome young football player with a brilliant smile and bright blue eyes. He stole her heart, and had never let go.

"It's weird," Connie continued. Her voice was soft, full of awe, as if she were stunned by her own feelings. "I thought I knew him. But I never really knew him at all until now."

"Are you happy? Tell me you're happy."

There were tears in Martha's eyes. She didn't hide them as Connie stood up to hug her.

"Yes, Mom. I'm very happy."

Martha held her tightly, noting, not for the first time, that the hug was still the same careful squeeze as it had always been. When they parted, Martha held Connie's face between her hands and smiled at her.

"That is what I have always hoped for," she laughed, then turned the laugh into a mock frown. "How did you pierce your ears?"

Connie grinned. "That, believe it or not, is the handiwork of one Peter Ross."

"Pete!" Martha threw up her hands. "So you told him?"

"I made a trip out to Wichita a few months ago and we talked. I put him through the ringer, and I'm so sorry for it." Connie sighed, and frowned. "We argued, made up, argued again. Finally he chose to find the humor in things and we sat around making some off-color jokes."

Martha examined the diamonds. They were at least a carat each. "Kryptonite?"

"Yeah. That wasn't fun, but it worked."

"And the earrings," Martha ventured cautiously.

A pretty, glowing blush appeared on Connie's cheeks. "A graduation present from Lex."

"Chloe told me you didn't go to the prom."

"No. I didn't think I would feel comfortable. Lex had something else planned. He...took me to Rome."

Rome? Martha felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She didn't know why she hadn't thought of it before, since Connie had been cohabitating with Lex for nearly four months. Perhaps she simply trusted Connie's good sense and strict upbringing, but then Martha had to ask herself what she would have done in the same situation. Martha had been in a similar situation. Jonathan Kent had not been her first.

She met Connie's gaze, and apparently the question she wanted to ask was clearly evident in her expression.

"Yes," Connie said quietly.

Martha's stomach rolled queasily. How was she going to break this news to Jonathan?

Lex woke to the scent of coffee and baking - bread?

He squeezed his eyes shut more tightly and inhaled. No. Blueberry muffins. How very Kent.

"Breakfast?" he mumbled.

The bed dipped and a warm body hovered over his shoulder. He felt the press of breasts against his back, and the slide of a hand down his flank. It made him smile, among other things. He rolled over and caught the culprit up in his arms and pulled her down into the bed with him. Her short shriek of laughter made him smile.

He got her pinned, straddling her midsection as he slowly unbuttoned the silk pajama top (his) that was all she wore.

"Hey," she struggled a little. "They'll burn."

"I'll be quick."

Connie frowned. "Where's the fun in that?"

Lex grinned as she swatted at his hands. He knew that should she really want to escape him, all she would have to do is shove him off of her.

And I'd probably go through the wall.

He kept his thought to himself, shoving it away just as he tossed the pajama top over the side of the bed. Connie was, and yet was not Clark. Right here and now he did not want to think of what he suspected Clark could do, nor how he'd come to be able to do it. Right now was all he wanted to think about; the small corner of their world that was devoted only to each other, this single moment wherein all that existed were Lex and Connie and the connection that lay between them.

Lex sought to make it a more physical connection. He buried his face into her neck, kissing and nipping all the way down her shoulder. His hands cupped the soft swells of her breasts, thumbs stroking hard against slowly rising nipples as he worked his way down toward them with lips and tongue. Her fingers tightened around his shoulders as he suckled first one and then the other. He slipped a hand between her legs. A carefully executed touch made her hiss.

"Wait..." Connie grabbed his wrist, stopping any further tactile exploration. "Burned breakfast."

He growled as she squirmed out of his grasp and rolled off the bed.

They were in Metropolis, at Lex's penthouse apartment at the top of the Luthor Corp. tower where the light streamed in from all sides and Connie flitted like a pale butterfly across the broad expanse of the living room into the kitchen to turn off the stove. Lex watched her and in his minds eye made a swift comparison.

She was Clark. If Lex had ever doubted it he surely didn't now. Despite the feminization of the body its language was still the same. Connie moved with the same weird combination of awkwardness and grace Clark had always exhibited. She held herself the same way, coming across as rigidly self contained yet ready for anything, as if coiled up like a spring. Her shy smile, her quiet laugh, her hand gestures and voice patterns - they all belonged to Clark. It intrigued Lex, and filled him with and even more intense desire. Here was the best of both worlds.

Lex realized he was staring when she came back to the bed with a shy expression. "You're making me self conscious," she said. Her eyes were bright, however, as she fished around in the bedside table for a condom.

"You have nothing to be self conscious about." Lex plucked the foil wrapped condom out of the air as she tossed it to him. "You're beautiful."

"Smooth talker..." She sidled back into the bed, drawing him down among the tangled sheets. "Mr. Luthor. I know how you are."

Her smile was breathtaking, especially when it touched her eyes. In their depths Lex saw something he wasn't used to seeing there, or, truth be told, in anyone else's eyes. He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, and she wrapped her fingers around it, pressing his knuckles to her lips.

"You do love me," he murmured.

"You sound surprised."

"Do I?" Lex shrugged, and a moment later laughed as she knocked him back to the bed and straddled him.

"I love being with you," she said cheerfully. "I love the fun we have. I love the way you look at me. I love the way you touch me."

He stared up at her admiringly. Impossibly young, impossibly beautiful, impossibly...impossible.

"I'm dreaming," he muttered.

"Hmm, nope," Connie chuckled. She stared down at him, and her expression slowly sobered. "Is something wrong?"

Closing his eyes, Lex tightened his fist around the condom packet.


He rolled over, pulling her down with him into the bed. His only reply was to kiss her mouth. There he lingered, inhaling her breath, savoring the sweetness of her mouth, before returning his attention to the lushness of her flesh. It was soft, and warm. It beckoned for his touch. Like a flower she bloomed beneath him. Her worried expression turned mischievous as she pried the condom from his fingers.

When her legs drew upward along his sides in a long, slow stroke, urging him to enter, he readily accepted the invitation.

Chloe tapped her foot impatiently as she waited outside the women's restroom in the Met. U. Student Union. She was beginning to feel sorry that she'd invited Connie along on her Metropolis University tour. Connie was still undecided about college, which bothered Chloe to no end, whereas Chloe wanted Met U. but was developing a nervous tick whenever the word "tuition" reared its ugly head. On top of her college financing woes she was concerned about Connie and all that mess.

Connie, however, was making it difficult for Chloe to find any sympathy for her. She'd made Chloe late by insisting on stopping at every rest stop between Smallville and Metropolis, and now she was delaying their departure by hitting the bathroom yet again. Clark had never been sick very often, but when he was, it was always a doozie.

Like when he got that fever and I made an idiot out of myself with the letter...

She turned and barged into the bathroom. "Connie, come on!" Her voice echoed in the room as she strode down nine stalls to the last one. "Con?"

"Chlo, I'm sorry."

Connie sat on the floor of the stall. Her pale face was streaked with tears and her hands were shaking as she wiped almost angrily at her cheeks. She looked disheveled, very tired, and obviously very sick. Chloe mentally cursed herself for not noticing earlier.

"Are you sick?" Chloe crouched down beside her, putting out a hand to check for a fever. There was none. "Strike that, stupid question. You're sick."

There was a nod. "I had to sit down. I was getting dizzy."

"You okay? It must be some sort of flu. What have you been eating..." She broke off as Connie started crying harder - disconcerting for Chloe who still tended to think of her as Clark. "Con?"

"I know what it is," Connie sobbed. "Oh, Chloe. What am I going to do?"

Chloe was at a loss. She shook her head, clutching at Connie's hand. "Can you stand? It'll be all right. I'll take you home. Shhh, don't cry." Her smile was a little weak. "Don't be a girl," she joked.

Connie looked at her in horror.

"Okay Clark, you're freaking me out." Chloe slumped down to the floor and took Connie by the shoulders. "What is it? What's wrong?"

There was a long pause before Connie choked out two words that made Chloe feel like throwing up herself.

"I'm pregnant!"

They hit her like a sucker punch, making her mouth pop open in shock as she stared first at Connie's face, and then at her midsection as if it would suddenly become obvious. Obviously it was too early, for Connie's stomach was quite flat.

"You...you what?" Chloe blinked. "That's impossible."

"Oh, believe me, it's possible," Connie said gruffly. She struggled to her feet and burst out of the stall. Chloe scrambled to follow. "It's a very thorough mutation."

Chloe stood by, still in shock, while Connie splashed water on her face in the sink. The two girls looked at each other in the mirror, Chloe hovering at Connie's shoulder. They were both pale and looked somewhat shell-shocked.

"I guess asking who the father is would be redundant," Chloe muttered. "It's Lex."


"You know, the idea of you two having sex is still somehow abhorrent."

Connie scowled. "Oh, thanks Chloe. That's really what I needed to hear right now."

Chloe didn't elaborate, couldn't elaborate, not when her father was finally getting back on his feet with the help of his new position at Luthor Corp. It pained her to keep silent. She felt Connie needed to know about Lex's little secret.

Then again, would it make much difference at this point?

"Didn't you use protection?"


"Not the Pill?"

"No. Chloe, I can't go to a doctor! What if there's something - weird - left behind? What would I tell them? Oh yeah, by the way, I used to be a guy." Turning away from the mirror, and nearly knocking Chloe down, Connie began pacing the bathroom floor. "We thought it would be enough."

Chloe crossed her arms over her chest. She was suspicious of Lex, and it was bothering her that he hadn't insisted on more than just a condom between himself and a potential bastard. Some sort of meteor mutant fluid exchange wasn't anything to sneeze at either in Chloe's book. If she were Lex she wasn't sure she'd want to have sex with a mutant - if that definition fit Clark. Of course, technically speaking, Lex was also a meteor mutant, the details were just a little vague there too.

"I so want out of that freaky town," she murmured.


"Nothing," Chloe bit her lip. "Con, I have to ask you something, and you have to promise not to get mad at me for it."

Or ask too many questions afterward.

Connie stopped pacing and stared at her. "What is it?"

"Promise me."

There was only a slight hesitation. "I promise."

Chloe leaned against the sink, letting the cool porcelain beneath her hand soothe her jangled nerves. It was going to be a long, difficult drive home.

"Is it possible," she asked quietly. "That Lex wanted you to get pregnant?"

She nearly tore the bedside table to shreds in her haste to get the drawer open, forgetting her own phenomenal strength as she dumped the drawer's contents out onto the bed. Her breath came in short pants - she had ditched Chloe and run home despite the churning of her stomach and the pounding headache behind her eyes. Desperation made her fingers shake as she gathered up the foil packets and carried them into the bathroom.

One by one she opened them and one by one she saw a repeat of what she'd found in the Metropolis apartment.

Every single condom she tested, leaked.

"Oh God!" Connie threw the last test subject into the sink with the others and collapsed to the floor.

A straight pin. All he would have had to have done was push a straight pin through the foil packet to sabotage the condoms effectiveness. It was ridiculously easy. She would have never noticed.

But even had they had no protection what-so-ever, Connie wouldn't have thought it possible. She wasn't human. How could she get pregnant?

She put her hands over her face. The sickness had tipped her off, followed by the understanding of what a missed period meant. She'd blown it off until she missed a second period, and the sickness worsened. A pregnancy test purchased at the Grandville PharmCo. was inconclusive; the stick avoided both pink and blue when she peed on it, choosing a weird shade of green instead. Was so really pregnant, or - and the thought was just as frightening - was she changing back? At a loss, she'd pondered the possibility of calling Lex's odd doctor friend Toby, before she realized she was overlooking her own abilities.

What she'd seen upon turning her X-ray vision on herself had scared her witless.

"What do I do?"

It was no longer just herself at risk of discovery. She carried a half alien child, and Lex was not going to allow her to have the baby without regular doctor visits. He would discover her secrets - all of them.

Abort it.

"I can't," Connie curled her knees up to her chest and buried her face in her arms. "I can't."

Now that she knew it was there, she could feel it, like another extension of her body such as an arm, or a leg. More than that, she could feel its life - a tiny spark deep inside her. It felt the same way her heat vision did, just before she released it, when it burned behind her eyes with a power of its own. She could no more snuff that fire than she could take her own life.

And yet, to keep it, would doom it to the same fate as she herself faced if anyone found out what she was, where she came from, and what she could do. Even if somehow, beyond all hope, she managed to keep her secret safe, the child would still grow up like her - different - alone - forever.

But you aren't alone. You have Lex...

Her stomach churned. She thought she would be sick again, but this time not as a result of the pregnancy. Putting her head into her arms she sobbed bitterly. Ugly, wrenching sobs from deep inside poured out of her.

He betrayed me. It was all a lie. All of it. How could I ever have trusted him?

The distant slam of a door made her jerk her head up and listen more carefully. She heard the soft scrape of a shoe upon the stair. Lex was home from Metropolis. His voice echoed through the hall. Connie scrambled to her feet as he drew closer.

"Connie? Are you in there?"

He was met with a handful of dripping condoms and twisted foil wrappers as he stepped around the corner into the bathroom. Connie flung them at him as hard as she could, taking pleasure in the way he threw up his arm to ward off the blow. Confusion warred with disgust as he stared at her.

"Connie, what the..."

"You want to explain that?" she shouted. "The fact that our 'protection' was full of pin holes? Every last one, Lex."

Without missing a beat Lex returned with a trite explanation. "It must have been a bad box."

"I checked the ones at the penthouse too and found the same thing!"

He shook his head, and held out a hand. "Connie, calm down. Be logical. Why on Earth would I want to risk getting you pregnant?"

Outwardly he was calm, with a soothing tone to his voice and no tremor in his hand. It was the beating of his heart that betrayed him. Connie could hear it, and she could see its rapid pace at the base of his throat without resorting to using her X-ray vision. He was guilty. He was afraid. He was lying.

The reason why suddenly became obvious.

"You know," she whispered. Her eyes widened with horror. "You've known all along haven't you?"

"Connie," Lex licked his lips. "Listen. I swear..."

She advanced on him with a growl, grabbing his throat with one hand and forcing him back into the bathroom door with a loud bang. His hands grabbed her wrist and had he truly struggled he could have freed himself. She kept just enough pressure on him to keep him still and his eyes fixed on hers.

"HAVEN'T YOU?" she roared, and when he didn't answer right away, her fingers tightened. His eyes bulged.

Finally his voice squeaked past her grip in a hoarse gasp.


Connie sucked in a sharp breath. Lex's eyes widened with horror, and most likely not because he was afraid she would kill him, but because he'd let the truth slip. She had her answer, whether he intended it or not. Her grip loosened. Stepping back, she watched dispassionately as he clutched at his throat and coughed.

"How could you?" she asked coldly.

"Connie, don't..."

"I trusted you." Her voice faded to a breathy whisper. An ache far worse than anything Kryptonite could do to her tightened her chest. "I loved you." Her face twisted, her voice lowered back down to a growl. "I let you fuck me, and you knew!"

Lex's face twisted with grief at her words. "Let me explain."

"No," she said. "I'm tired of listening to you. All that talk about respect - you've never respected me, Lex. I'm just a game to you!"

"Connie, just let me..." He made a grab for her arm but she jerked away. "Connie!"

Storming out of the room, she did not wait to hear any more.

The bag by the door made Jonathan pause as he came into the house for lunch. Martha was still out in her greenhouse, so she hadn't put it there.

"Cuh...Connie?" he called.

There was no reply. It was Connie's suitcase, or rather, Clark's. It had his initials embroidered onto one side. Jonathan couldn't help a small, malicious grin as he considered the phrase, "run home to mother." Connie and Lex must have had a fight.


He frowned as he made his way toward the stairs. It was there that something caught his eye - a spot on one of the stair treads, and another on the tread just above it. Reaching out a finger he touched the scarlet circle. At first he thought it was paint. He rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger.

It wasn't paint. It was blood.

"Oh my God. Connie!" He ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time. "Connie!"

Upstairs he followed the trail to Clark's bedroom. The door was half closed. Jonathan shoved it open and nearly fell over the prone body lying sprawled on the floor. Bloody finger prints were smeared all over the edge of the door, the floor and a blanket that had been pulled off the bed. Jonathan turned his head as he lifted Connie into his arms. She was unconscious and her face was deathly pale.


At the sound of his voice, Connie stirred, moaning. Her head lolled limply against his chest as Jonathan held her more tightly. His fingers shook as he brushed her hair from her face. As her eyes fluttered open he tried to smile at her, trying to reassure her.

"Dad," she breathed.

"I'm here. You're going to be okay."

Her eyes closed. Lips parted once again and Jonathan heard her breathe words that sent a chill rushing through him.

"My baby?"

The closeness of the house drove her outside; that and the pall of grief hanging over everything. Outside there was a stirring of breeze, the first hint of fall in the air, as the summer sun gave way to darkness. Crickets sang from beneath the broad leaves of pumpkins growing in Martha's garden. Their chirping seemed not as bright this night, but took on the tone of a lament. They sang of loss; of the light, of the summer, and of life.

I don't believe in Karma. I don't believe in a vengeful God. Martha thought.

She leaned on the porch railing and bowed her head. As a young girl she had smoked. The habit was long dead, but she longed now for a cigarette to soothe her jangled nerves. Her eyes burned not from smoke, but from tears.

"I wouldn't have had this happen," she whispered. Her eyes found the stars, and whether she spoke to God or perhaps the spirit of Jor-El of Krypton, she didn't know. "It wasn't his fault."

Her hand strayed to her belly. She remembered her own pain. Connie's words to her that evening had brought it all home to her again, when - stricken with horror and grief - the girl had turned to her and said: "I felt it die!"

Martha sagged onto the porch swing. Despite her words to Clark upon his return from that summer in Metropolis, she had blamed him for the loss of her child. It had been her child, of her own blood, and that of the man she loved with all her heart. It would have been a normal child, and one to replace the alien being she had felt slipping away from her more and more each day. She loved Clark, but when she'd lost the baby she'd found herself hating him, and she hadn't understood how the two feelings could exist in the same place.

A sob caught in her throat. "My baby," she murmured.

Connie had fallen to sleep crying, and not just for the loss of her own child, but the one inadvertently killed by a bad decision. Apologies choked out within anguished sobbing - "I'm sorry, I'm sorry...Mom..." - would haunt Martha for the rest of her life. Memories invoked by the loss of Connie's baby had cut both of them to the quick, and ironically, strengthened the bond between them. Connie had allowed Clark to understand exactly what Martha had gone through. The depth of Clark's guilt had finally been revealed.

But at what cost?

She let her breath out in a long sigh as she heard the car pull up in the driveway. The purr of its engine told her it was Lex in one of his pricey sportscars. His arrival wasn't unexpected, and as he exited the car, Martha was there to meet him.

"She won't see you."

He looked pained, but he nodded. His eyes found Martha's grim expression and his voice softened. "I wanted to explain."

"I don't think anything you have to say will change this, Lex," Martha said coolly. "The damage is done."

"I made a mistake."

"Damn right you did!" Advancing, Martha stepped right up to him. "Do you realize what you could have had? The opportunity to escape the curse that has haunted you all your life, to step out of Lionel's shadow. It was yours for the taking, and you let it slip through your fingers. For what? To satisfy some sick curiosity? Why couldn't you just have accepted what was given you?"

"Mrs. Kent, I can't even begin to..."

"Then don't!" Martha shouted.

He was cowed, turning his head away from her as he looked off into the night. Martha felt a surge of compassion, but it was quickly overwhelmed by the memory of Connie's agonized tears.

"It was a sad, ill-fated thing you did, Lex," she said, reaching out a hand to lean heavily against the gate post. "Connie lost the baby."

Slowly, very slowly, Lex raised his head. In the moonlight his face was pale, but his blue eyes were strangely luminous. It made him look younger, and the anguished expression he bore spoke of an innocence Martha would not have assigned him. That his plan had worked obviously had not occurred to him.

"Baby?" he whispered.

"Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Yes, but...no." With a deep, shaking exhale, he reached out to rest his hand atop hers. "Martha. Ultimately I only wanted Connie. You have to believe me." He bit his lip, withdrawing his hand as she remained silent. "Is she okay?"

"She's grieving."

"Can I just..."

Martha raised her chin defiantly. In her mind's eye she remembered Jonathan's pain upon learning about the death of their child. It had not been the first either. There had been others; other miscarriages, other failed attempts to conceive. He had not felt the life die inside her, but he saw a little of her wither away each time it happened.

It was cruel, and she knew it. The look on his face when she uttered her words was the same as if she had slapped him.

"No, Lex. I think you should just leave now."

Jonathan leaned in the doorway to Clark's room. Connie lay sleeping, her face bathed in the light streaming through the open window. Above Clark's desk the evening breeze caught the mobile hanging from the ceiling and the planets began a slow, leisurely orbit around the sun. He listened to the voices outside the window. He heard Martha send Lex away. As the sound of Lex's car faded, he heard the sound of her tears.

He sighed.


Forcing a smile, Jonathan entered the room, and sat gingerly down on the edge of the bed. "Hey," he said. "You should go back to sleep." He brushed Connie's bangs back from her forehead. She was groggy, and still in pain. "Rest."

"Can't,"she murmured. Her eyes glistened. "I'm sorry. You tried to warn me. I wouldn't listen."

Jonathan hated being right. Clark had proven him wrong many times, and made him proud in the process. Maybe Jonathan had been right this time to mistrust Lex, but there was no pride here. He could not find peace in knowing his fears had been justified, not when there was so much pain involved.

"I wish it hadn't come to this," he admitted. "I wish..." He couldn't complete the thought. Others could find it in them to forgive Lex Luthor, to wish him a better man, a stronger man. Jonathan couldn't.

Gingerly he took Connie's hand in his own. The silence threatened to drown him. "Remember," he said finally. "When you were little and were afraid of the closet monster?"

There was a small flicker of a smile. "Yeah."

Jonathan nodded. "You rest," he said quietly. "I'll sit right here as long as I have to."

He felt her give his hand a squeeze. "Thanks, Dad."

"You still owe me a basketball game."

"I haven't forgotten," Connie said quietly. Her eyes closed. "I haven't forgotten."

The soft rise and fall of her breath indicated she slept again, but the crease in her brow told of uneasy dreams. Jonathan soothed her forehead with his fingertips. He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

"Daddy's here," he whispered.

Chloe stood at the screen door, her hand poised to knock. She stood there for a full minute before she aborted the gesture and let herself in, as she'd always done in the past. The Kents truck was gone from the yard. She knew Connie was there alone.

She stepped into the living room where Connie sat curled on the sofa. She was huddled beneath a red blanket. The brilliance of the hue sucked away what little color Connie might have had in her cheeks. Her face was pale beneath the tangle of her hair, and her eyes were ringed with dark circles of fatigue.

"Hi," Chloe said quietly. "I called yesterday. Your Mom told me."

Connie lowered her gaze to the floor.

"I'm sorry," Chloe added. "I shouldn't have said anything..."

"I needed to know, Chloe. It's not your fault."

Chloe started. Connie's voice had always been low, but it had deepened overnight. She sounded, once again, like Clark. For a moment Chloe suffered from a type of strange double vision, as if she were looking at a painting that had been applied over another. The top layer of paint was peeling back, exposing what lie beneath - two paintings within one frame.


"He knew," Connie twisted the edge of the blanket in her hands. "The whole time," she whispered. "He knew the whole time." Her eyes were filled with pain as she looked up at Chloe beseechingly. "I should have seen it, Chloe, but I just didn't want to. I've been so stupid."

"Connie..." Chloe hesitated, guilt warring with fear as she spun her tale. "I found out his source. Cadmus Labs. Scientists there recently published their findings regarding iris mapping. A photo of you as Connie, and one of Clark, would have been all it took to see it."

She held her breath for the moment it took for Connie to respond, and let it out slowly as there came a nod.

"For him, it was probably as obvious as it was for you. He didn't need a lab to tell him the truth. He could see it." Connie's voice faltered. "I wish I could have seen so clearly."

The words were bittersweet. Chloe's guilt faded beneath a wave of grief. For a short time Clark had been happier than Chloe had ever seen him before. Maybe it had all been farce, but she couldn't help but regret its loss, for his sake.

"You're changing back," she whispered. "Aren't you?"

Connie seemed to shrink back into the sofa, ducking her chin down into the folds of the blanket as if she wanted nothing more than to curl up and hide beneath it. Her eyes flickered toward Chloe, and she nodded.

Chloe nodded back, and turned toward the kitchen. From the freezer she retrieved a container of ice cream. From the drawer - two spoons. When she came back into the living room she climbed onto the couch and sat cross-legged there beside her friend. The ice cream balanced precariously on her knee as she offered Connie one of the spoons.

"One last girly moment," Chloe said. "Because I think you need it, and if you're warping back into the testosterone zone, you won't have to worry about it going to your hips."

Connie looked at her doubtfully at first. Chloe poked the spoon at her with a gentle smile.

"Come on."

"What flavor?" Connie asked. Slowly, ever so slowly, she unfolded herself from under the blanket. A flannel clad arm emerged and reached for the spoon.

Chloe tipped up the container so she could read the label. "Vanilla," she laughed. "That is SO Clark Kent."

Amused, Connie shook her head. "Just shut up and hand it over, Sullivan."

With a grin, Chloe obeyed.

Lex stared down at his computer, reading and re-reading the same lines over and over again. His mind wasn't on his work. It hadn't been for nearly a week. Everything he did was colored by the words haunting his thoughts.

"Isn't that what you wanted?"

Wasn't it?

There were times in his life Lex allowed the darkness in, letting it taint his every move. It was like an addiction. In the past few years his addiction had been Clark. He had needed to know the answers to questions he long harbored. Of course he knew what Clark could do, he wasn't so stupid he couldn't piece the clues together, but knowing that wasn't enough. The need to know how, and why, consumed him. What was this boy? Had he been mutated by the meteorites, or was he something entirely different?

And lurking beneath those desires, lay another that had proven itself to be far more dangerous.

Lex ground his teeth. Damn Lionel. He had warned Lex about letting his emotions get in the way of his logic, and repeatedly Lex had ignored him. This situation had been no exception. He cursed himself for allowing himself to fall victim to his baser instincts.

And yet...there existed...remorse...

What have I done?

He had failed on all counts. No questions had been answered. Connie had discovered the pregnancy, and suspected the worst right away. What agonized Lex was that she'd been right. The baby could have answered Lex's questions, or at least kept Connie well within his grasp. He hadn't calculated in just how much he did care for her, nor how she would come to reciprocate those feelings. Nor did he take into consideration that the transformation had left more of Clark behind than he'd thought. Clark was suspicious, wary, and well versed in Lex's dark side.

The other things, beyond the answers he sought, that life with Connie could offer, had escaped Lex entirely, until it was too late. Not until Martha told him the baby was gone, did he realize the full scope of what he'd lost.

A family. A real family.

A quiet footstep drew his attention. It was a familiar stride - heavy boots shuffling upon the parquet - awkward and graceful at the same time. A familiar shadow filled the doorway, and a familiar face turned Lex's way. The sight made him swallow a cry of something akin to relief. His voice was hoarse.


Rising, Lex moved around the desk to meet him, and then stopped abruptly. Clark's eyes were cold, his expression steely. In his outstretched palm were the earrings Lex had given Connie as a graduation gift.

He flash-backed to a sun streaked room where dust motes swirled around in air stirred by the swift stroke of a sword, where Clark had stood looking lost and bewildered with a pair of keys in his hand.

"Keep them," Lex whispered.

Without a word Clark walked past him and put the earrings down on the desk. His back was rigid, but as the diamonds fell from his hand, Lex noted the tremor in his fingertips. Before he could leave the room Lex reached out to grab an arm. Clark shook him off and turned on him.

"Don't you touch me!"

Clark's eyes burned with hurt and a barely suppressed fury so intense Lex took a step backward. He did not, however, back down entirely.

"I'm sorry, Clark," he said quickly. "Even if I thought you'd allow it, I can't explain my actions. I can only say that in the end, there were no ulterior motives."

Clark drew in a breath. His lips parted slightly as if he were going to speak, but he remained silent. He turned away again and began walking toward the door. He stopped when Lex's words rang out behind him.

"Nothing has changed."

Lex stared at Clark's back. Clark did not turn around. When he spoke his voice was low and gravelly.

"Everything has changed."

"That's not what I meant."

The sharp lines of Clark's profile came into view as he turned his head to glance at Lex over his shoulder. A note of inquiry rang out in the arch of a brow and the turn of his lip.

Gathering himself, Lex spoke very softly. "I do love you." He took a deep breath before adding: "I always have. I always will."

The tension left Clark's shoulders. They slumped slowly as if deflating, as if the strength were running from him. His gaze turned downcast. The anger faded from his eyes.

Pressing his advantage, Lex took a step forward. "All I ever wanted was for you to trust me, Clark. When you didn't give me that trust..."

"You thought you'd take it," Clark said quietly, chillingly. His expression twisted with grief. "You know what people call that, Lex? They call it rape."

Lex flinched. The words stabbed him to the heart, and the knife twisted, releasing an amalgam of hurt and anger that he normally reserved for confrontations with his father. He swallowed down an angry retort. Hurting Clark more that he already had would do neither of them any good. Instead he looked toward the light, and avoided the darkness. He spoke the truth.

"I would have loved the child, our child, " Lex whispered. "I need you to believe that if nothing else."

Clark did not look back again. He did not speak. He simply straightened his shoulders, pushed through the doors, and left Lex standing there alone.

It's like having a light switched on in a darkened room.

Clark punctuated the thought with a glance toward a row of candles sitting upon a table across the room. They flickered into life and the loft was filled with light. It illuminated the loft, but not the darkness he felt inside. Knowledge and understanding enlightened him. Grief, and loneliness still had him in their dark grasp.

Lana. She wasn't an obsession so much as she was a habit.

It was Lex all along. It had to have been. Wasn't it? Would I be hurting this badly if there hadn't been something there from the beginning?

"I don't know!"

He buried his face in his hands, his fists tightening in his hair. Confused frustration tied him up in knots.

The last look upon Lex's face as Clark turned his back on him was haunting. He couldn't have faked the grief in his expression, and the pain in his voice, but believing him - again - was something Clark couldn't risk. Lex already knew too much and Lex, like Clark himself, gave in to temptation much too easily.

Rising, Clark moved to the window. His fingers closed around the fabric of his shirt, clutching the place where just days before he'd felt such horrible loss. This body didn't know that pain, but it was clear enough in his mind. It would never go away, nor would the feelings that had been awakened in him. The temptation to run back to Lex was strong.

Connie had made things easier, enabling him to run away from his responsibilities again, allowing him to succumb to desires he had never before allowed to enter his consciousness.

I gave up the fight. I looked for an excuse to be with him, and found it. I was wrong. It's better this way. We're better - apart. I'm the one who brings out the darkness in him. I can't let that happen.

The stars glistened in the night sky. Not for the first time Clark felt their call, but now he knew their voices were those of ghosts. He was alone. He would always be alone.

A car turned up into the driveway. Clark listened carefully and his heart lifted slightly at the distinctive sound of a VW engine as the car puttered up into the barnyard. He sighed deeply.

No, not totally alone.

Candlelight flickered through the cracks in the floorboards of the loft. Chloe followed the ruddy orange glow up the stairs to the topmost step, where she paused for a moment.

Clark stood at the open window, looking out into the darkness. The candles he'd placed here and there around the room were the only light beyond that of the stars framed by the window opening. Their light illuminated Clark's profile. Its masculine lines were just as beautiful as the softer, more refined features of Connie, but there was something - darker - in them. Where Connie had been like an orchid, cupped into the delicate curve of a tree branch, Clark was like the guardian tree itself; tall, broad, and strong.

"Hey," she said finally.

He replied softly, letting out a long sigh before favoring her with a smile that was barely shy of being forced. "Hey, Chloe."

She stepped up into the loft, twisting her hands together nervously as she gave him a wavering smile of her own. "I, uh, wanted to thank you for the clothes." It felt lame. It probably was lame, but it was the best opening she had. "I guess they probably don't fit anymore," she added weakly, and winced.

Clark's smile, however, became more genuine.

"No, not anymore. I think I miss that green sweater though."

The ice cracked. Chloe might have laughed save for the expression in his eyes. She gazed at him soberly. She knew he'd been to see Lex.

Her voice softened. "I wish it could have been what you were looking for, Clark. I truly do."

He shook his head slightly as he sank down into the sofa. Chloe joined him, perching on the edge. She waited while he gathered his thoughts, and she supposed he had quite a few to gather. She had done quite a lot of thinking herself. At the forefront of these thoughts had been the fact that meteor mutants didn't un mutate.

What is he?

It had surprised her, just as it had when Clark had become Connie, to realize that it didn't matter.

"I forgave him," Clark whispered finally. He looked up at Chloe and she saw the tears glistening in his eyes. "He genuinely loves me, and that makes things harder, because we can't...I can't..." His voice became distant, as if he were looking at something far away. It was also hesitant and stammering, and filled with longing. "I miss him, Chloe, even now. What's wrong with me?"

Chloe felt herself tearing up as well, but she battered it back down, raising her chin as she looked at him gravely. "I don't know," she said. "But I think it's contagious." After a pause she added. "Love doesn't always follow the rules."

They regarded each other for a long, silent moment before Clark opened his arms and Chloe edged into them. She rested her head on his chest. His arms tightened around her shoulders. She felt his cheek upon her hair.

"I wish love wasn't so complicated," he murmured.

Chloe closed her eyes and sighed deeply. "Me too, Clark, me too."