Later.......by ten years.


His usual table was at the back of the restaurant. He always sat at the back, facing the door, both for security reasons and for the fact that he always felt the need to observe everyone who came in the door. Lex Luthor's talents of observation had saved his ass on more than on occasion.

On this particular occasion he was enjoying the view more than usual as he watched his lunch date weave through the crowd. They were in the exclusive SkyMet restaurant, high above the city, and it was packed with business executives cutting deals and making rendezvous with their lovers. It was one of Lex's favorite restaurants for that very reason, as he loved to watch the intricate politics and posturing going on around him. Of course he also always had two of his bodyguards secretly circulating the crowd and he'd gotten the upper hand over many business rivals due to this type of covert eavesdropping.

Today he was putting both his observational and his eavesdropping talents to good use in an effort to get caught up on the news and gossip. He'd just returned from a European vacation to find a huge mess on his hands. The city was in an uproar, and since Lex had his fingers into nearly everything that went on in Metropolis - legal, illegal and all the things in between - he was not pleased. Metropolis was HIS city, and leaving everything humming along nicely only to come back to chaos really irritated him. Chaos tended to cost Lex money, and threatened the iron grip he had over everything; two things very important to him. The current state of the city was not good and Lex Luthor was not happy. When Lex Luthor was not happy, bad things tended to occur.

Hence his lunch date. He'd called the one person he knew who would definitely know what was going on in the city and set up a meeting.

Late, as usual, he thought as he glanced at his watch, then returned to his observations.

Beautiful.

Raven hair and large grey eyes combined with an almost feral grace - there was nothing in the world he found more attractive. He realized, as he drank in the view, he'd been gone for much too long. That thought was confirmed as their eyes met from across the room and Lex felt a little thrill run up his spine which made him very glad he was sitting down behind a table. He knew, however, this was one individual money could not buy and who was very definitely not interested in him in the slightest. In fact, although they were quite civil - even friendly - they secretly hated each other. They were too much alike.

She eased into the chair opposite him, thunked down her purse, and crossed a pair of long lean legs made hard by athletic activity. "I heard you were back in town." Her smile was broad, and there was a definite "smart ass" glint in her eyes.

He tossed a folded up newspaper at her. "What's this? Since when is the Planet a supermarket tabloid? This ranks up there with 'Rat Boy found in Sewers' and 'I'm Having Elvis's Alien Baby'."

She casually scanned the article. "Nice bit of writing...."

"Were you on drugs when you wrote it?" His tone was scathing. "Or feeling horny? 'Superman?' Give me a fucking break Lois."

"You'd like a fuck break wouldn't you...." She laughed, threw the paper back at him. "You're just pissed because he broke up that smuggling ring you had going down on the east end."

"What does that have to do with me?"

Her eyes narrowed "Don't treat me like I'm stupid Lex. I don't have proof yet of anything you do, but you know I'll get there eventually."

Like hell you will.

"He's really got your panties in a knot doesn't he?" The smile returned. "I'll have to give him your regards next time I see him." They paused to give the waitress their orders, and then she leaned across the table at him. He attempted not to look down her blouse and failed miserably. "You getting worried Lex? Afraid he'll gradually climb up the ladder and find out who's really behind all the shit that goes on in this city?"

Lex raised an eyebrow at her. There was no picture in the paper (that idiot photographer they had at the Planet couldn't tell the difference between a zoom lens and his ass) but her description had been enlightening. "Oh sure. I'm afraid of a grown man who runs around in pajamas and carries a little red blankie."

"You should be." She said stonily.

He regarded her quietly, tapping his fingers on the table. His signet flashed in the light coming through the huge windows surrounding them and he sat back in his chair, twisting the ring in a nervous habit he'd picked up over the years. "All right. I'll bite. What's the scoop?"

"Nobody knows. He showed up, started pulling rescues and cleaning up some bad elements around town," Here she rolled one eye in Lex's direction. "and is generally just keeping an eye on things. The crime rate has plummeted in less than a week. He's making Gotham's resident costumed vigilante look like a slacker."

Ah, now there's a seriously warped individual.

Lex had run into Bruce Wayne of Gotham's Wayne Industries at a conference and asked him about "Batman" once. Typically, Bruce had treated Lex as if he'd crawled out of a sewer and had given him a patented "why are you even speaking to me?" look; and typically Lex had responded by flirting with him. Bruce was much too cold for Lex's taste, but Lex's sexual innuendos irritated him and therefore Lex had to make a pass at him every time they met. He'd had a field day upon hearing Bruce had picked up a "ward" and very nearly got Wayne ruffled enough to take a swing at him upon the suggestion of a threesome. Lex knew Bruce was extremely hetero, which made it all the more fun to tease him.

Although he'd not said it in so many words, Bruce's take on Batman was that if he resided in Metropolis instead of Gotham he would kick Lex's ass.

Now Lex had his own spandex clad problem.

Lois shrugged. "He's promised me a more in depth interview."

"I'll bet. He wants to give you a superfuck."

"Ooh, Lex you are pissed off about this! You usually aren't quite so vulgar. You're turning me on!" She picked up her waterglass, and with a smirk, made sure she ran her tongue around the rim of the glass before she took a sip. Her eyes were bright as she put the glass back down.

They were definitely too much alike.

Bitch.

"Maybe I'll let him. Jealous?"

He wanted to throttle her. Screw her first, then throttle her.

Lex refused to let his irritation with her show. She'd just use it against him. "Does he have life insurance?" he asked quietly. "He might need it with you."

"I don't know Lex, you're the one with the trail of bodies behind you."

The faintest flicker of a wince crossed her face as she spoke, and Lex smiled to himself as he realized she thought maybe she'd stepped out of line a bit. The comment illustrated she knew a little more about him than most people did, although she had no proof, and it indicated that she knew pushing him too far could lead to her becoming one of those bodies. That he still had control over her in such a manner cheered him considerably and he smirked.

"Getting brave aren't you? Think your big blue Boy Scout is going to rescue you if you get in trouble?"

She opened her mouth to respond, but was rescued from answering by the arrival of their lunch. They'd both ordered the house salad, and both commenced eating. Lex watched her out of the corner of his eye, and after a while he noticed she kept glancing out the windows.

He leaned forward and gave her a rather malicious smile. "Hoping he'll make a fly by? Come on Lois. Now I know you were on drugs when you wrote that article. Flying men plucking you out of harm's way? Not only were you high when you came up with it, but Perry must have been drunk when he let you print this story." He inclined his head towards the paper still lying on the table. "Its ludicrous."

"Are you implying that I made it up?"

"People can't fly Lois."

*** "People can't fly Lex." ***

*** "I did." ***

He nearly dropped his fork.

"Roach in your lettuce?"

Lex blinked and looked at her sharply. "What?"

"I said, is there a roach in your lettuce? You suddenly looked rather startled."

"No." he said quietly. "Just a little deja vu"

He must be stressed to have dredged up that particular bad memory.

"Ah, shit!" Lois put down her own fork as she looked at her watch. "I've got to wrap this up. I'm supposed to be meeting my partner in ten minutes." Grabbing her purse she dug around for her wallet.

"Never mind Lois. I called you, I'll pick up lunch."

She flashed him a grin. "Big spender."

He smiled back, genuinely this time. She annoyed the piss out of him, but he always found her entertaining. "Since when does the illustrious Lois Lane have a partner? You are a lone wolf from way back, Lo."

"Oh since I stupidly engaged in a bit of nepotism. My cousin Cici called in a favor and I got her ex-boyfriend a job. I figured he'd be some pathetic hack who'd end up writing classified ads. Turns out the son of a bitch has been freelancing all over Europe and Asia since college and is actually quite a kick ass reporter." Her expression screamed "green eyed monster" which made Lex chuckle.

"It will do you some good to have a little competition. You'll write better."

"I write just fine thank you very much." she sniped.

"Good looking?"

"I am, thanks." Her mood rebounded with the joke and she laughed. "He's got the sex appeal of a doorknob and so geeky he makes Dilbert look like a Chippendale model. Then there is the stutter and the fact he can't walk in a straight line without running into something."

"I've seen what I've considered some very sexy doorknobs in my time Lois." Lex raised his glass and made a mock toast in her direction.

She stood up and made a face. "Trust me Lex, definitely not your type." Picking up her bag, she shouldered it and gave one more quick glance out the windows. "I called Cici the other day and asked her where in the hell she'd found him."

"And..."

"She said 'Smallville', which reminds me, I think you may be familiar with Cici. Her dad used to work for the old LuthorCorp - Gabe Sullivan?"

Lex froze, then had to put his glass down before he dropped it from fingers suddenly gone numb. The restaurant and Lois, became very distant from his senses.

"Chloe?" he whispered.

Oh shit. No. This better not be.....

Lois winced as she pulled her hair out from under the strap of her bag. "Yeah. Chloe Caroline Sullivan, after my aunt Caroline. We're second cousins somehow - its a mess - anyway my mother always called her CiCi."

"So her ex..."

"They dated - on again, off again - in high school and college. I really don't see the appeal but Cici's a rather odd duck anyway....all right, give it up Lex. You're looking startled again. Deja vu? What's wrong with you today?"

"What's his name?" he demanded.

"Who?"

He glared at her.

"Oh! Him! Kent. Clark Kent."

Lex decided, at that point, he had to look more than startled.

He had to look terrified.

***************

Lex was in a horrible mood when he walked through the door of his office in the LuthorCorp tower. He was in a worse mood when his secretary presented him with his messages and he went off in a tirade of bad language as soon as she'd shut the door.

Several years earlier Lex had been involved in a rather devious takeover bid on one of the biggest utility companies in the state - a takeover which would have brought him millions of dollars worth of additional income yearly had it been successful. It failed when his "mole" double crossed him and with the help of another industrialist, had taken over the company himself. Lex had lost a lot of money and his temper.

As a result he set out to ruin the man he'd once called friend. In a very carefully orchestrated plan stretching out like a web within the corporate underground, Lex quietly undermined the company's financial security and his former mole's personal life. It had taken years, but finally the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and just last year the mole had put a gun to his head. With the help of a new mole, Lex had been on the verge of swooping in and taking over the utility company once again.

Until Superman showed up.

Lex had hidden his connections to the new mole by having him involved with a number of satellite companies, one of which was a clothing manufacturer. One of Lex's after lunch messages told him the clothing company had been found guilty of some rather nasty violations of child labor laws after Superman exposed an illegal sweat shop. Lex's mole had been arrested just as he'd been ready to spring the trap and allow LuthorCorp to take over the utility company, thus leaving things open for another company to slip in for the take over. Lex had lost his best mole, the utility company, years of careful planning, and even more money. Additionally he would now have to do some tricky juggling to make sure LuthorCorp's name was kept away from the child labor scandal and listen to Bruce Wayne gloat. Wayne Industries had ended up with Lex's utility company and Lex had no doubt he'd done it just to be a bastard. Lex was furious.

Deciding heads would have to roll somewhere, he got on the phone and spent the afternoon ruining the lives of anyone even remotely involved in the clothing company scandal. Among them was the new mole, whom Lex decided was a complete fool for condoning the sweat shop in the first place and being so stupid as to have it discovered. Moles were dangerous when arrested, as they had the habit of talking under pressure, and Lex arranged to have him shut up - permanently. Perhaps he'd send Clark the man's head in a box.

Fuck him.

Lex was in a slightly better mood as he sat on his penthouse balcony nursing a brandy and watching the sun go down. The weather was fantastic, and so was the view. The light glittered off the skyscrapers like it would the facets of a diamond and gave them a brilliant golden aura. Their long shadows stretched back towards the river. Lex either owned, or had investments in, the majority of the companies housed within them and he looked out over the sea of glass and steel with a sense of pride.

His city.

He took a sip of the brandy, and spoke to the presence he'd sensed arrive a few minutes earlier. "The flying bit is a new twist, but your taste in clothes still sucks Clark."

"Form follows function." Clark slowly drifted down until his feet touched the decorative tiled surface of the balcony and he stood leaning against the rail some distance from where Lex sat.

Lex did not look at him, but raised his glass in a mock salute. "All hail Condom Man."

"I'll tell my mother you like her design."

"Oh so she's behind it? Figures. How is the old bitch?"

Clark didn't answer, and Lex shot him a glance.

Big mistake.

The outfit wasn't half bad actually, possibly owing to what it clung to like a second skin. He was fully dressed, but as smooth and hard as a classic artists nude - Michaelangelo's David painted blue and sent off to walk around. Or fly around in this case. He'd filled out, no longer looking quite so leggy and coltish, with the broad shoulders and built up musculature of a middle weight prize fighter - not the over muscled look of a body builder. There wasn't an inch of fat on him anywhere, which was very clear considering one could see every curve of every muscle beneath the clinging suit. For Lex, who's memory consisted of that lanky body covered in baggy jeans and flannel shirts, seeing him thus clad was a bit of a shock. It was, to Lex anyway, horribly sexy and the Clark he remembered would have been embarrassed to be seen in public dressed in such a manner.

But then, this wasn't exactly Clark either.

He even looked different; older of course but something about his face seemed different and Lex could not quite define it. He did seem much more serene, as if quite content with the world around him, and the nearly perpetual line of worry that had creased his brow as a teenager was gone. Apparently life had been treating him well too, for faint smile lines could be seen around his eyes and mouth even at the distance between the two of them. Noticing them made Lex rather sad, as he recalled how little Clark had smiled during the time they'd known each other, and then it went on to make him angry.

"You look ridiculous."

"At least I know my clothes didn't come from the raw and bloody fingers of an underprivileged child working in a sweat shop." Clark said softly. "By the way, I moved your buddy Benson. You won't be able to find him to kill him."

Son of a bitch.

Lex ground his teeth. Even knowing it would have no effect, if he'd had a gun he would have shot him just to make himself feel better.

"So basically, " He replied, purposefully keeping his voice neutral. "You came here to yell 'nyah nyah' at me? How incredibly mature of you."

"I came here to talk to you, but you seem to be the one wanting to engage in childish insults and I don't have the time."

"Heavy schedule fighting crime and flying around looking impressively buff? Don't let me keep you."

"Fuck you."

"Been there, done that - have the scars to prove it." Lex finished rather quietly, because those scars were starting to ache a little bit. He wanted Clark to go away and leave him alone, but at the same time - he didn't - and that hurt. He didn't want to admit he still actually cared.

Clark did not move from his position along the railing, nor did his expression change, but his voice became slightly clipped, betraying a tenuous hold on his temper.

"Its so typical of you Lex to assume you're the only one left with scars. Do you think coming back to Metropolis was easy for me? Why the hell do you think I headed to Europe after I graduated from college? I couldn't stand to be on the same continent with you."

Lex lost his own temper and putting his glass down on the table beside him; he stood up in a rage. "I don't assume anything Clark, so don't put words in my mouth, and don't foist your problems off on me. I refuse to bear any blame for whatever angsty emotional bullshit you've had going on in your head for the last ten years."

"I don't blame you for anything."

"You blame me for everything you sanctimonious son of a bitch! You blame me for the affair and you blame me for Lana's death. You used me Clark. You tore me to shreds and then you left me. If anyone should be pointing fingers it should be me. You ruined me. I sold my soul for you, and damnit don't you dare come back here and start lecturing me on my business practices. Every dirty deal, every underhanded crime, every death is on your head. You made me what I am!"

"I know."

Lex started, his breath catching in his throat as he drew it to begin another tirade.

"What?"

Clark sighed, glancing down at his crossed feet. "I was sixteen years old Lex. I had no idea what was happening to me. I had no idea what I was doing, nor understood all the consequences. Blame for Lana's death belongs exclusively to neither of us. As for you...." He raised his head, and looked Lex in the eye. "Why do you think I came back?"

His temper was waning, but Lex did not want to let it show right away. "Obviously to continue making my life hell."

"No. I'll tell you why. I found out a lot about myself when I was in Europe. I came to understand what my destiny meant. I came to grips with who and what I am. Last year I heard about what was going on in Gotham, when Batman started his campaign to clean up the city. I understood then what I was supposed to do, and I started investigating methods of doing it." He paused, and for a moment his gaze swept the skyline behind him. "I decided to make Metropolis my home base. I had Chloe call her cousin and get me a job and with Lois' unwitting assistance, I started digging around into the Metropolis criminal underground. Imagine my surprise to discover you were backing ninety percent of the bad things going on in this burg."

Lex smirked. "I repeat - obviously to make my life hell."

"To fulfill a promise I have so far failed to keep." Clark whispered. "You are part of my path Lex. I came back to save you."

"Save me from what?" Lex asked softly.

"Yourself." He hesitated, and it was obvious he debated whether or not to go through with his next statement. "I also know why you were in Europe yourself recently."

They stared at each other, and abruptly Lex turned away to go into the penthouse. He knew Clark would follow him but he needed to buy some time to compose himself. He could not fathom how Clark had discovered the purpose behind the trip to France, but he knew whatever source Clark had would be accurate. Lex had, after discovering him working for the 'Planet, done some research himself. Clark was an excellent reporter, and his sources were iron clad.

He heard a footstep behind him.

"I don't need a savior Clark, and I sure as hell don't want your pity. Coming back here was a mistake. Just get out of my business and go away."

"I can't do that Lex."

He whirled, his eyes blazing. "Why not? It was easy enough for you to leave the first time."

This time Clark did lose his temper, his eyes narrowed, and in a swirl of the red cape he advanced. "It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life damnit, and look what has happened! Yes, I used you! Yes, I ruined you. Okay, I admit it, but for God's sake won't you let me make it up to you? You can't keep running your business at the price of other people's lives! Let me help you get out..."

"Why, so you can clear your own conscience?"

"My conscience will never be clean." Clark's voice was rough. "Let me do this."

The smirk returned. "So I can meet my maker having made restitution? Its too late Clark, I'm beyond saving. I'll be dead and gone to Hell and you can just wallow in guilt for the rest of your life. I don't fucking care anymore."

"I do."

Lex said nothing.

"Its the meteorite Lex. I know you still have it. It's what has caused the cancer. If Lana had lived, and continued to wear the necklace, she would be suffering the same fate. Its easy to say her death was an accident and it spared her another, more painful death later, but you took her necklace to protect yourself from me. My mistakes led you to where you are now. Your death I can never erase from my conscience, no matter how I rationalize or what I do. I will wallow in guilt for the rest of my life Lex, and I know now my life is going to last for a very very long time. If you hate me, take pleasure in that; and if you love me...." He drew a shallow breath. "Let me love you again, while there is still time."

Lex turned his head and looked beyond Clark's shoulder to the cityscape outside.

"Please."

The situation was in Lex's control. He could make it go however he wanted it to go, and Clark had done it on purpose just as he had ten years earlier when he'd given Lex another choice.

He looked down at the signet on his right hand and absently began twisting it around his finger again. He'd had it made from Lana's necklace the day after the accident that killed her and he'd not taken it off since. Why he was not sure - whether it was the fear of Clark suddenly deciding to kill him or just for a reminder of what could have been - he simply did not know. When the pain started in his hand he'd ignored it for many months before finally having a doctor look at it. He'd been shocked to discover the bones riddled with cancer, and Lex was sent to a doctor in Paris for a consultation. They wanted to amputate the hand and aggressively attack the disease in his bloodstream with drugs and radiation. The doctors too were waiting his decision.

Salvation, or death.

Lex stared into the grey eyes so intently watching him. In them he saw all the pain and guilt that had followed Clark over the ten years since their falling out. He also saw the loneliness he himself had felt. Whether either of them liked it or not, they were tied together by more than just those few months they'd shared during the affair. The ties ran far deeper than that, and their destiny together was far more complicated. Lex could see resuming their relationship could easily turn sour again despite their best efforts but he could also recall how good it had felt.

I know your heart.

He came back to me, and I need him more than ever. I can't do this alone. If its my destiny to die now, I don't want to do it alone.

Lex stared into those grey eyes, and he heard what he'd never thought he'd hear:

"I love you."

Neither of them dared even breathe.

A faint breeze came in through the open door, lifting the edge of Clark's cape, catching Lex's eye and drawing him out of the stalemate.

He made his decision.

He walked past Clark, who shuddered a little as he came too close, and back out onto the balcony. He looked out over the city, his city, once again, and moved to the edge of the railing. He still twisted the signet around his finger.

Then he stopped, and stared at it.

Lex pulled the signet ring off his finger, and the last light of day flashed off the green stone as he dropped it over the edge of the balcony.

******************

"You know. I've never slept with anyone else."

Lex started, and looked down at the head resting upon his chest. "You're lying." He ran his fingers through the dark hair and it felt cool against the warmth of his bad hand. That hand stayed inflamed and painful anymore but it would soon be over - he'd called Paris earlier.

"No. I'm not lying." Clark whispered. "I almost did, with Chloe, but I was afraid. I didn't want to hurt her - emotionally or physically. We broke it off soon afterwards."

"So much for putting your 'education' to good use. I don't know whether to be flattered or disappointed."

"Flattered."

Lex caressed the arm wrapped around him; moved his fingers back over the shoulder and down over the side. He felt the strength of Clark's muscles beneath the softness of his skin. Silk and steel. Lex had missed it. No other lover he'd ever had possessed the combination of strength and softness unique to Clark's body. He half closed his eyes and felt himself relax totally for the first time in many years within the familiar embrace. The warmth of their entwined bodies was lulling him to sleep but he did want to end the moment.

"I don't think you ever really left me Clark. You were always there in my thoughts." he whispered.

Clark raised his head, and Lex leaned in to taste his lips. Their kisses were passionate, making up for lost time and soothing the aches born of years apart.

"I have to go." Clark said finally, breaking away from the kisses before they escalated into something else. "I'm sorry."

"Duty calls?"

"Its your fault.You've made a mess of things Lex. I've got my work cut out for me."

Lex took a moment to reply. "I'm not a very nice person Clark. I can't guarantee I can break old habits."

"Try." He sat up, and his breath whispered across Lex's lips. "For me - try."

"For you," Lex replied, as their lips met, lingered, then parted again. "anything." His fingers traced the outline of those still moistened lips. "I don't want anything to come between us again Clark."

"It won't." And he scrambled backwards out of the bed. "I have really got to go. I have to meet Lois in the morning and she's a tyrant when I'm late."

"As if she weren't always late herself." Lex snorted. "She's a card. Have fun working with that one but watch your back."

Clark was dressed before Lex finished the sentence, and he favored him with the infamous wry smile. "She reminds me of you."

"Just don't fall in love with her Clark. I don't think I could forgive you twice." Lex stared at him for a moment. "She's an idiot."

The dark brows came together. "Why?"

"Superman? Jesus Clark, what a name she's stuck you with, and she's supposedly the best writer on the Planet's staff?"

The grey eyes glittered with a look of mischief Lex recognized from years past.

"Not anymore," Superman said with a laugh. "And just wait until you meet Clark Kent."

Then he stole one last kiss, and quietly slipped out the window.



FINIS 3/17/02