It wasn’t until Clark got to his front door that he remembered how he’d left Chloe and Pete there the night before.
When he opened the door, he knew one of three things would happen. Option A was that he’d get an eyeful of Chloe and Pete doing unspeakable things on *his* couch, which was pretty much *way* too traumatic for him to contemplate, so he relegated Option A to a very dark, very remote corner of his mind that he planned to visit *never*.
Option B was that he would find Pete playing Super Smashbros in monosyllabic mode and that Chloe would be locked in Clark’s bedroom, crying herself sick.
And Option C? Option C involved a lot of snark and yelling because Clark had pretty much disappeared for about ten hours.
The only way to deal with Option A was swift and total repression, he reasoned, frowning at the door. Option B would require some flexing of the friendship muscles to coax Chloe and Pete back into something faintly resembling discussion, where he’d make damned well sure that both of them told the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God. But Option C? Pretty much the only thing he could do was take it, because…well, he deserved it.
Clark was seized by a desire to run because, really? None of those options sounded terribly appealing. He wanted to just go somewhere and sit, and think about...God, *everything* that had happened in the past day – saving Lex, the weirdly-deep-relationship type feelings he was having for Lex, the mind-bendingly hot sex he’d had with Lex, the not-quite fight they’d had before he left the penthouse…
Okay, so maybe he just pretty much wanted to think about Lex. But, he figured that after the past twenty-four hours, that was a really *valid* desire.
He eyed the staircase longingly, but, *dammit* it was *his* apartment. And he needed clean clothes, at least. So he sighed deeply, and turned the doorknob, opening the door slowly.
“Hey Clark, way to not come home last night,” Chloe called from beside Pete on the couch when he walked in.
“Or call to tell us,” Pete chimed in. “You suck at being a host, Kent.”
Damn. Option C. Clark *hated* Option C.
But, hey, silver lining: Pete’s arm was around Chloe’s shoulders, and both of them looked really happy, so that was good. That was *really* good, even if said happy was allowing them to focus on his transgression.
“Guilty as charged,” he said, with a sheepish smile. “Sorry.”
“So where *were* you?” Chloe asked, raising both brows. “I mean, you have to have stayed *somewhere*.”
His face was hot, and he knew, just *knew* that he was lobster-red, especially when Pete snickered.
“Clark, Clark, Clark, I didn’t think you had it in you. Okay, so what’s her name, and why haven’t I heard about her if you’re at the staying over point already?” Pete asked, grinning widely.
Chloe’s eyes got big, and she mouthed, ‘Lex?’
Clark blushed harder, looking down at his feet, shuffling them and really wishing it had been either Option A or Option B when he’d walked in. “Well, I just…you know….”
“Dude, what’s her *name*?” Pete repeated, smacking Clark’s arm as he sat down in the chair. “What’s she like? C’mon!”
“Pete…” Chloe said, putting a hand on his arm, and biting her lower lip with dismay.
“It’s okay, Chlo’,” Clark said with a reassuring smile. “I was at Lex’s last night. He needed someone to stay over. He…had a rough night.”
“Lex? Like, Lex Luthor?” Pete asked, with a puzzled frown. “You stayed over there? And didn’t call?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I just zonked out on the couch, man,” Clark said, with a small shrug, ignoring Chloe’s accusatory stare. “Got tired, and didn’t think to call. I’m sorry.”
Pete considered for a moment, a thoughtful look on his face. “Clark, do I look stupid today?”
Clark sighed, resisting the urge to put his head in his hands, but only just barely. *This* was why he didn’t lie to Pete, he remembered. Because Pete *always* knew, like…*always*.
“You *know* better, Kent. So what’s goin’ on? For real this time, because you know if you lie again, there are gonna be some consequences,” Pete warned.
“Pete,” Clark began, wincing. “I don’t think –”
With a grin and a roll of his eyes, Pete cut Clark off. “I know, man, but we love you anyway. So spill.”
Clark sought Chloe’s gaze, but she stared at him like a challenge and crossed her arms, eyebrows tilted at an accusatory angle and *yeah* he got it already. ‘Be honest with your friends, Clark.’ And he could do that. He totally could.
“Any minute now, Clark,” Pete prompted. “Seriously.”
“I really *was* at Lex’s,” he began, taking a deep breath. “And he really *did* have a hard night. Someone tried to kill him.”
“Is he okay?” Chloe asked.
“Yeah, he’s fine,” Clark told her with a tight smile. “I mean, he’s shaken up, but okay otherwise. I just didn’t think he needed to be alone last night.”
“I didn’t realize you guys were that close,” Pete said thoughtfully.
Chloe gave Clark the eye again, and he blew out a breath slowly. “Lex and I are *really* close, Pete. Well, maybe not *really* close… we’ve only known each other for a little while, but…last night? When someone shot at him? We were on a date.”
“A date?” Pete asked, face wrinkled with non-comprehension. “Like, a *date* date? With Lex Luthor?”
“Yeah,” Clark said. “A *date* date. With Lex.”
“Who’s not only a *Luthor*, but a *guy*,” Pete said, eyes narrow. “I just want to be sure that I’m understanding you,” he went on, when Clark’s face hardened.
And maybe *that* was the sound of best friends breaking up, Clark thought, pushing up from his chair so that he could pace around the kitchen. “Yeah, well, you understand perfectly, Pete.”
“So does this mean you’re gay, then?” Pete asked, voice sharp.
So maybe Clark hadn’t expected Pete to whip out a rainbow printed bandana and join the Pride parade, but he *definitely* hadn’t expected *this*, and surprise and anger turned his voice into something almost completely unrecognizable. “And if it does?”
“Then maybe you could try *talking* to me about it!” Pete yelled, standing up. Chloe’s eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to say something, but Pete continued, cutting her off.
“Aren’t I supposed to be your best friend? Don’t you think this is the kind of thing that best friends should *tell* one another? Don’t you think you could have *maybe* worked it into conversation? What did you think would happen? Did you think I wouldn’t want to be your friend anymore? That I’d flip out because you liked guys or something?”
Clark’s mouth was moving, but no sound was coming out. “I – ” he began, making unconsciously supplicating gestures with his hands.
“You did, didn’t you?” Pete said quietly. “You really thought I’d flip. God *damn*, Clark.”
“Pete, I – ” he tried again, voice breaking. “I’m sorry. I just --”
“Don’t give him the credit he deserves,” Chloe interrupted smoothly. “It’s a habit you have when it comes to the people who are supposed to be your friends,” she continued pointedly.
Her words hung in the air, and Clark *wanted* to refute that. Wanted to tell Chloe that she was dead wrong and that he *did* give them credit, but he couldn’t say it, because she was right and he didn’t really like that about himself. At all. But – could he really be blamed? His secrets weren’t garden variety secrets. He was from *another planet* and…Pete knew that. And had taken it in stride – kind of – and Clark still hadn’t trusted him enough to talk to him about a sexuality crisis.
Chloe was completely correct. And it *sucked*. And *he* sucked and they were all just standing there, not saying anything, and looking upset in the middle of Clark’s apartment in the middle of one of the world’s most uncomfortable silences.
The day had started out *so well*, dammit.
“You’re right,” he finally managed, voice thick. “And I’m sorry…I…don’t mean to. I –”
“We know,” Pete said steadily. “It’s okay. Just…we’ve been through a lot together. Don’t you think that if things were going to be too much or too weird we’d have bailed by now?”
Clark nodded, trying on a shaky smile. “Yeah, I guess so. But, you have to know, Pete...I’m not *gay*, really. I don’t think. Or…maybe I am. I mean…I like girls. I was with Lana for a long time, and all, but I think I like guys, too. I *know* I like Lex, anyway.” He paused for breath, looking down at his hands. “It’s…very confusing, and this is a kinda…recent development? I’m still sorting it out in my own head.”
Pete nodded, thinking, before he turned and gave Chloe a look. “Did you know?”
Her eyes sought out Clark’s, and she gave a three cornered smile. “It wasn’t my secret to tell, Pete. You know how that is.”
Wow, Chloe, way to be subtle, Clark thought, with a trace of bitterness. Yes, he’d promised to tell her soon, and yes, she was right, he didn’t give his friends enough credit, but couldn’t she let him *breathe* for a second before needling him again?
“But I think that we’re forgetting something very important here,” Chloe continued, sitting back down and tangling her fingers with Pete’s in order to pull him down next to her. “And *that* is that Clark, after going out on a first date with Lex Luthor, spent the night with him, at his *penthouse*.” Her eyes sparked with mischief. “I didn’t know you were that kind of guy, Clark.”
“Second date,” he mumbled, dropping again into the chair and thinking of the fundraiser, eyes riveted to the floor. “And Lex *didn’t* need to be alone last night.”
“He *is* okay, right?” Chloe asked, brows drawing together. “You said someone shot at him?”
“Yeah, when we were in the parking garage by the comic book store,” Clark told her. “This woman on a motorcycle – I didn’t get a good look at her, or the license plate.”
“She shot at Lex *while* she was driving the motorcycle?” Pete asked, letting out a low whistle. “That takes *skills*.”
“So, I’ve got a question, Clark,” Chloe said, and the tone of her voice was more than enough clue that what was coming next was *not* going to be a comfortable question. “How come Lex didn’t get hurt? Was it because she didn’t actually have the skills to pull off the assassination attempt? Or was it because ‘Superman’ saved Lex Luthor’s life?”
Pete stared, like Chloe had grown another head.
“Jesus *Christ*, Chloe!” Clark snapped, glaring. “I asked you not to push me, and *this* is what you do? Yes! Fine! Clark Kent is Superman, news at eleven! Happy?”
“Are you a meteor mutant?” she asked, leaning forward, eyes intent.
“No! I’m even *more* of a freak than that,” he bit off angrily. “I’m an alien. I can set things on fire with my eyes. I run faster than the human eye can see, and I can lift pretty much anything. Sometimes I can hear things really far away, and I can fly. There’s a spaceship in the storm cellar underneath my parent’s house. My birth parents sent me to this planet to conquer it, which is why I ran away from home before junior year. Oh, and all those things you thought I’d done in high school? I did them, okay? You were right, almost every time. Anything else?”
Pete cleared his throat. “You forgot about how nothing can hurt you. Except for the meteor rocks.”
Clark glared at him.
“I’m just trying to help,” he said, holding his hands up.
“So now that I’ve been outed in the traditional sense *and* as an alien, is there *anything else* you guys would like to know about me?” Clark invited pissily. “Don’t hold back or anything. Really.”
Chloe pressed her lips together, sitting back. “I didn’t mean to –”
“Yeah, you did,” Clark said shortly, before taking a deep breath and forcing himself to calm down. “You just don’t know when to stop sometimes, Chloe.”
“If I did stop, then you wouldn’t have told me. Ever,” she said, holding his eyes. “So I won’t say I’m sorry, because I’m not.”
Clark nodded once, looking down again. “So. Now that you know?”
“Now that I know, I’m curious; what do the meteor rocks do to you? And why? Also, what happened to your birth parents? Do you know?” Chloe asked, one question blending into the next one as she fired them off.
Pete laughed, squeezing her hand. “Whoa, uhm, Chlo’? Slow down there. I think what Clark wanted to know was more what you thought about *him*. As Clark.”
She frowned, confused. “What do I think about him as Clark? Isn’t he still pretty much…Clark? The same guy he was ten minutes ago?”
“It doesn’t freak you out or anything?” Clark asked, looking up. “That I’m kind of…not from here?”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Clark, unless telling me has caused you to undergo a severe personality change, then I think we’re okay. Besides, I was willing to believe you were a human being who was mutated by meteor rocks and not freak out, and that’s *pretty out there*. This is just…the next step into left field. So do you remember your home world? What *is* your home world?”
Clark laughed with relief, and Pete hid his grin by kissing the top of Chloe’s head.
“What? I want to know. I mean, really, this is a very, very unique opportunity,” she protested.
“I don’t remember anything before the Kents,” Clark told Chloe. “And my home is Earth, Chloe, but I come from a planet that called itself Krypton before it burst apart into the meteors that are all over Smallville.”
“Wow,” she breathed, face lighting up. “That’s so cool. But –”
Fending off the next barrage of questions, Clark held up a hand. “Chloe, we can talk about this…more or less whenever, now that you know. What *I* want to know is whether the hand holding that’s going on right now means what I think it does?”
He pointed at their clasped hands and raised an eyebrow.
Chloe turned pink, and Pete ducked his head, his grin wider and impossible to hide. “If you’re asking whether or not Chloe Sullivan is spoken for, then yeah, it does,” he said.
Both Chloe’s brows went up. “And that’s not a chauvinist statement or anything.”
“Hey, I’m just saying that if Kent over there has any designs on you, that I’ll take him out, alien strength or not,” Pete told her, laughing when she poked him between the ribs with her free hand.
“Yeah, like I said. Not a chauvinist statement or anything.”
Pete shrugged. “I guess when it comes to you, I’m a pig.”
She rolled her eyes, failing miserably to hide her smile. “That’s so romantic I might swoon.”
“Guys?” Clark interjected. “If this gets any sweeter, then I might just go into sugar shock.”
They smiled guiltily, and Chloe leaned her head on Pete’s shoulder, before it shot up again. “Do you get that? I mean, sugar shock? Does sugar affect you differently than it does us? I mean it’s a complicated chemical compound and – ”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Clark laughed because that was *just* like Chloe. Tell her that the earth was flat, and she’d want to know exactly *how* flat and how you knew and by what definition of flat you were operating. “Chloe, I have *no* idea. Being an alien doesn’t make me an expert in anatomy and physiology or chemistry all of a sudden.”
She shrugged, sheepish. “Sorry.”
“I’m glad things got…sorted out, last night,” Clark said, trying very hard to avoid any traumatic visuals of said ‘sorting’.
“Me too,” Pete said, eyes locked with Chloe’s. “Me too.”
“So yeah, going to have to repeat that sugar shock warning,” Clark declared. “Because we’re backsliding into the ‘way too cute for public consumption’ mode again here.”
“Right,” Chloe said, turning to Clark again, a wicked grin on her face. “So. Last night. How did that go? For you, I mean?”
“It went well,” he answered, and yeah, so he was blushing and avoiding her –eyes -- which was a dead give away and he knew it. But how else was he supposed to respond when he thought about sleeping next to Lex…and then the way he’d woken up.
Chloe laughed. “*That* well? Wow.”
He threw a pillow at her, lightly, even as his lips began to twitch. “Shut up, Chlo’.”
“Yeah, Pete?” Clark responded, looking up. “What?”
“Are you…are you sure it’s a good idea? I mean, you and Lex?” Pete asked, rubbing his lower lip, deep in thought.
A frown furrowed Clark’s forehead. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“He’s, you know, a lot older, and, well, he’s…even if *half* the stories aren’t true, he’s still not one of the white hats, if you get what I’m saying?” Honest dark eyes held Clark’s. “Lex is…he’s a Luthor, man.” And he said it like that meant everything.
“He’s also Lex,” Clark said calmly. “There’s more to him than his father.”
“I know that,” Pete replied, matching Clark’s even tone. “But I also know that Lex Luthor *himself* is no angel.”
“From headlines, Pete?” Clark challenged, losing his cool. “You don’t know him. I do.”
Pete stood his ground. “Do you really? How well?”
“Well enough to know that he’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” Clark shot back. “Please, you’ve *never met* the guy. Just…trust me, okay?”
“I trust *you* plenty,” Pete said. “But you’re my friend, and I don’t want to see you get hurt, so it’s going to take a lot for me to trust Lex. And it would be the same way if his last name was Fordman,” he added, when Clark opened his mouth to protest.
“But the fact that Lex is being brought in for questioning in the matter of Sam Phelan’s death for the second time this afternoon doesn’t really help make him a candidate for ‘most trustworthy boyfriend material’,” Chloe interjected.
Pete shook his head slowly, still watching Clark. “No, it doesn’t help at all.”
“What are you *talking* about?” Clark asked, voice rising with concern. “I was with Lex until around one this afternoon, and he didn’t mention *anything* like that…oh,” he breathed, stopping as realization swept over him. “*Oh*…the phone call…Chloe, are you absolutely sure that he’s going in for questioning this afternoon?”
“Yeah, I heard it on the police frequency on my radio,” she confirmed. “What?” she asked when Clark stared. “It was a Christmas present. Anyway, he’s going to be escorted to the police station for questioning after his press conference. Which is going on…nowish, actually.”
“He’s a suspected murderer,” Pete stated, matter of fact. “The only person they’ve brought back in for questioning more than once. Don’t you think that says something? You know, about his character?”
“No, but it definitely says something about the Metropolis PD,” Clark said heatedly. “It says that they’re not looking hard enough for the real killer.”
Pete made a derisive noise, low in his throat. “Clark, get *real*, man. The last person to use that argument was OJ.”
“What do they have on Lex anyway, huh?” Clark demanded. “Lack of alibi? He was with *me* that night, okay?”
“You’ve already admitted that he wasn’t with you all night,” Chloe pointed out. “You fell asleep early on, you said. Any time after that he could have left his apartment.”
“You’ve already got your minds made up, don’t you?” Clark looked from Pete to Chloe, incredulous. “Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt? Or at least, give *me* the benefit of the doubt when I tell you that he could *not* have done this?”
The two exchanged glances before Chloe leaned toward Clark again, expression gentle. “Because it makes *sense*. He had motive, Clark. Lots of it. Phelan was spilling Lex’s secrets all over the newspapers.”
“Yeah? So, according to that logic half of the city had reason to kill Phelan,” Clark insisted. “And do you know if *they* have alibis?” When neither Pete nor Chloe responded, Clark nodded. “That’s what I thought.”
“Fine, if Lex didn’t kill Phelan, who did?” Pete asked, doggedly.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to figure it out,” Clark said simply, standing and running a hand through his hair.
Chloe sputtered. “You can’t do that on your own. You don’t have any training or contacts or – ”
“So help me,” he pleaded. “Help me figure it out.”
“And if it *is* Lex?” she asked slowly. “What then?”
“I don’t know,” Clark told her, honestly. “But it won’t be. I’m sure of it.”
“You really care about him, don’t you?” Pete asked in an undertone.
“Yeah,” Clark admitted. “I think I do.”
Pete nodded. “And Lana?”
“We’ve been broken up for three and half months, Pete,” Clark answered, surprised. Lana was the *last* thing on his mind. “The only person still nursing any hope that we might get back together was you.”
“Lana was, or I mean, ‘is’,” Chloe informed him. “I know, I know, you haven’t spoken in weeks. She’s got a weakness for lost causes.”
“There’s nothing I can do about that. I’ve moved on. I’ll always love Lana, in a way I guess…but Lex? Like you said, Pete. He means a lot to me.” Clark paced across the living room. “I’m not sure how much, yet…but, *a lot*. I can tell you that.”
“Last night must have been hard on you, too, then,” Chloe observed. “You know, the shooting and everything.”
Clark nodded, looking out the window, watching people as they scuttled along the sidewalks below. “She’s still out there -- the shooter -- and Lex didn’t want me with him at the press conference.”
“Probably a smart move,” Pete allowed. “I mean, politics-wise.”
“Yeah, except for the whole ‘me being there could save his life’ factor,” he muttered. “They don’t know who did it. The police even suggested that it might have been a random drive-by shooting.”
“You don’t buy that,” Chloe guessed.
He turned, an eyebrow raised. “Do you?”
“*I* don’t even buy it,” Pete said. “And I’m less paranoid than you are, Clark, and way less suspicious than you, Chlo’.”
“So, question,” Chloe said, frowning. “When *exactly* did we become Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys? Because, I definitely missed that memo.”
Pete laughed. “The Case of the Motorcycle Murderer?”
“*Attempted*,” Clark stressed. “*Attempted*.”
They both nodded. “Right, attempted,” Chloe echoed. “So where do you want to start looking?” she asked, brightly.
“The police station,” Clark said firmly after a long moment. “I want to make sure Lex is okay.”
“And offer him an alibi?” Chloe asked, knowingly. “Even though it might be false?”
“He *didn’t do it*,” Clark persisted. “I know it.”
“How is it that you can be so sure?” Pete inquired. “You haven’t even known him for a month, Kent.”
“I just am, okay?” Clark answered. “Will you guys be here when I get back?”
Chloe blushed, and Pete shifted uncomfortably. “Actually…we…well, while you were gone we got to talking, and we decided to stay for a while and we were thinking about…getting a hotel room.”
“So, you know, we’re not all cramped and everything,” Chloe said in a rush. “And…”
“Yeah,” Clark agreed immediately. “Definitely.”
It should have been an easy walk to the police station from Clark's apartment. After all, it wasn't far, and it wasn't terribly dangerous or difficult. In fact, it should probably have taken Clark under a half hour to get from point a to point b.
What that didn't factor in, though, was the huge burning hunk of twisted scrap metal that had, until recently, been two cars that Clark found at the intersection of Hudson and McPhee.
He hadn't heard it happening, and even as he ripped the passenger side door off the car closest to him and tossed it aside, that fact gnawed at him. He hadn't heard *anything* until the cars had already collided, and the only survivor of the accident started to call for help. By the time Clark got there, she was unconscious, and didn't see him as he pulled her from the wreckage.
Instinct led him through the required motions to perform CPR, not any rational form of thought. Clark couldn't think, because if he thought? He would notice that there were dead bodies in the cars across from him, still bleeding out - onto the asphalt. He would notice that the woman beneath his hands could only have been the mother of the teenage driver behind the wheel. If he thought, he would go crazy.
The woman coughed, and began to breathe again, and Clark sat back, noticing for the first time the flashing lights that drew near, as an ambulance pulled up to the side of the road and EMTs barreled out the back. They pushed him aside, and he sat back, on the sidewalk, staring blindly at the steaming wreck in front of him.
He lost track of the amount of time he spent there, but people in uniform passed before him and around him, radios crackling. Someone handed him a Styrofoam cup filled with water, but he didn't notice whom. No one spoke to him, other than once, to ask if he was all right, and so he sat, eyes trained on the stained road, the ruined cars - even long after the people he'd failed to save were taken away in body bags.
"Hey there, you! How the *hell* did this happen?" a man’s voice asked him, gruff, jarring Clark back into reality.
"I don't know. I didn't see the crash," he answered without looking up.
"That's not what I'm talking about. I mean *this*, the door - it's completely ripped off its hinges. Was that way before the ambulance got here," the man said. "No one could have done that."
A stab of panic penetrated the numb fog of shock that surrounded Clark, and he turned, looking at the man who was questioning him, and staring. He hadn't realized how far he'd thrown the door, and it lay on its side fifty feet down the road - in front of the Daily Planet building. Or, even more precisely, directly in front of Perry White and Lois Lane.
"How'd it get here?" White asked again. "No way it could have been because of the crash - laws of physics don't work that way. So how'd it get here?"
"Superman," Clark blurted, without really thinking it through. "He threw it there."
At his response, Perry White rose, abandoning the door on the sidewalk, walking toward Clark with Lois right on his heels.
Her dark brown eyes widened. "Superman? *My* Superman? He was here? You saw him? What did he look like?"
"I…he wasn't here for very long. Just…ripped the door off, pulled the woman out, and asked me to save her before...flying away," Clark said quickly, mentally cursing himself for responding at *all*.
"You *talked* to him?" Perry White asked, narrowing his pale eyes. "You talked to *Superman*? And he can *fly*?"
"Uhm, yeah, he can definitely fly, sir," Clark mumbled.
"Could you describe him for a sketch artist?" Lois Lane asked, pushing long dark hair behind her ear, big brown eyes intent on Clark, and the panic he'd been feeling erupted into full-fledged fear.
He shook his head. "No, it happened really fast. I mean, he just…he moved too fast for me to see."
"That's him, then," Lois said authoritatively, pulling out a small notebook and pen from her purse. Clark wondered semi-hysterically if other men in Metropolis were going around performing nearly impossible physical feats and saving people, and if so, when the support group met. "What's your name?"
Perry White's eyes played over Clark's features, and before Clark could respond to Lois' question, White was speaking. "I recognize you, son. You're Kent…Clark Kent, I believe. Took my lecture series over at Metropolis University, didn't you?"
"Yes, yes sir, I did," Clark answered automatically.
"Journalism student - a good one. I remember that you were an idealist, Mr. Kent. Took on the whole class one day, and made a good argument, too, about innocent until proven guilty in the court of *law* rather than public opinion," White recalled. "Impressed me."
"Thanks," he said, knowing that his confusion showed when White chuckled.
"You saw this Superman save that woman?" White asked, suddenly sharp, focused.
Clark nodded, unhappily. "Up close and personal, sir."
"But not close enough to see Superman's face," Lois pointed out with asperity. "So how up close and personal could it have been?"
Perry White ignored her, speaking directly to Clark. "Here's what I want you to do, son. I want you to write up exactly what happened today and give it Lois here by ten, tomorrow morning. She'll read it over, edit it, help shape it. Both your names'll be on the byline."
"I -" Clark began, astonished.
"What?" Lois asked, appalled. "But he's still in college, Perry! Are you kidding me?"
White turned a quelling gaze on her. "Superman might've dragged that woman out of the car, but Clark Kent saved her life. Least we can do at the Daily Planet is let the boy tell his side of the story."
"In our very own exclusive," Lois said, a slow smile spreading across her face. "Okay, I get it."
"I see that you do," White said with a half smile before clapping Clark on the shoulder. "You did a good thing, Clark. A very good thing."
He shrugged, and returned the smile dully. "Thanks." Looking down, he listened as the sound of footsteps receded and let out a shaky breath.
"I recognize you, too," Lois said from behind him, and his head shot up.
"What do you mean?" Clark asked, whirling around. "You recognize me?"
Her smile grew, showing teeth in a fascinatingly terrifying way -- like when an animal bared its fangs as a display of dominance. "From the fundraiser. You're Lex Luthor's boyfriend."
With that she turned on her heel, and walked back into the Daily Planet offices, calling over her shoulder, "By ten o'clock tomorrow, Kent, there better be a write-up on my desk that is both shiny and beautiful in the extreme, okay? My extension's 7778. Call only in event of an emergency."
And Clark pulled his knees to his chest, and wondered what the *hell* he'd gotten himself into.
It was as though his world was wrapped in a thick blanket, and he could feel nothing but fuzzy confusion - gray numbness. Clark didn't remember walking back to his apartment. He didn't remember unlocking the door or taking down the note that Chloe and Pete had left stuck to the refrigerator, and he didn't even really remember sitting down in front of his computer. He was aware that he must have been there for a long time, but only peripherally, and when there was a knock on his door he realized he was staring at a blinking cursor on the blank screen.
"Coming," he called dully, walking over to open the door.
Lex stood in the hallway, hands in the pockets of his black slacks, brows raised and lips curling slightly into the beginnings of one his trademark smirks, but when he caught sight of Clark's face, the blue in his eyes flashed with real concern. "Are you all right?" he asked immediately.
Clark nodded, trying to smile, but the muscles in his face wouldn't comply so it probably looked more like a wince. Giving up on schooling his expression, he ducked his head and waved Lex in.
"You didn't come over for dinner, and when I called you didn't pick up," Lex said, studying Clark closely.
"Oh, I'm sorry about dinner, I forgot," he said, looking up quickly. "I just…got carried away and lost track of time. I'm really sorry. I…you called? I didn't hear the phone ring. That's strange."
Lex's eyes were big, and his face was drawn with shock. "Clark - there's blood all over your hands."
He blinked, and looked down to see dark splotches, dried and crusted over his palms. "I…didn't notice that," he murmured.
Lex reached out and turned his hands over, looking for damage. Clark wanted to laugh, tell Lex not to worry because Clark was the *last* person who could get hurt, but instead he just watched, interested.
"Where are you hurt?" Lex demanded, running hands up Clark's arms, over his back. "What happened, Clark?"
"There was a car accident," he told Lex, and it was strange how his voice didn't quaver at all. "There were six people in the station wagon, and two in the red car."
"Clark, I want you to focus," Lex said, urgently. "Tell me where you're hurt."
"I'm not hurt. But they died. All of them. Except for one woman. I couldn't save them, Lex," he admitted, looking down again. "It was…I was two blocks away when it happened and I pulled her out. But I couldn't save anyone else; it was too late. I didn't get there fast enough, I should have been able to do *more*."
Lex's eyes were sharp when he looked up, pausing in his anxious attempts to find an injury. "You're not hurt?"
Clark just shook his head.
Lex blew out a long breath, and took Clark's hands in his own. "Come on," he whispered. "Let's wash these, okay?" He stood, and Clark followed, Lex's fingers tugging him into the kitchen.
The water was cold over his hands, and the soap didn't smell anything like lemon, no matter what the bottle promised. Lex said nothing, just washed, rubbing at the stains on Clark's skin until they began to fade away, turning the rush of water red. His fingers were gentle, and as the caked blood began to rinse away, Clark could see the worry in Lex's expression.
It wasn't plain or blatant, but it was there - in the crinkle at the corner of his lips, the pinching of his nostrils. Clark wondered if Lex worried about many people, and decided that he probably didn't waste the energy on it.
He cleared his throat, and Lex looked up immediately. "I'm okay," he said, hoping he sounded steadier than he felt. "Just…shaken up."
Lex's eyes searched Clark's for a moment and he nodded slowly. "That's understandable." Turning back to the sink, Lex turned off the faucet and reached for a dishtowel. Slowly, carefully, he dried Clark off, before looking up again.
"What happened?" he asked, voice even, calming.
Clark looked down, twining his fingers with Lex's. "I was walking…to see you, actually, and I heard a woman, calling for help. I was a few blocks away, and I ran as fast as I could. They…five of the people died on impact. When I got there the only one that was still alive was the woman I heard…I gave her CPR before the ambulance came."
"You saved a life, Clark," Lex told him softly. "Twice in two days - it's becoming a habit."
He snorted, a tight smile on his face. "Yeah, but I missed five others."
Gentle fingers on Clark's chin turned his head up, and Lex met his gaze. "How the *hell* do you think you could have saved those other people, Clark? You said yourself they died on impact - there was nothing you could do. Nothing *anyone* could do, okay?"
"Superman could have stopped it," Clark muttered, letting his eyes skitter away from the Lex's.
"Yeah, if he even *exists*," Lex retorted, squeezing Clark's fingers.
"He exists. He was there," Clark said, turning away. "Pulled off the door of the car so the woman could get out."
"But, Clark, *you* saved her life," Lex repeated. "Not him."
He closed his eyes, and was silent and behind him, Lex shifted, his expensive shoes making small squealing noises against the linoleum of Clark's kitchen floor, and suddenly Clark was there again - the smell of burning steel, the sound of wheels spinning in air, the way the blood was dark where it pooled against the road.
He sat heavily on the couch, putting his head in his hands. "I've never seen…death like that before," he said into the quiet room. "It was…"
"I know," Lex said sitting next to him, resting a tentative hand on Clark's shoulder. "You don't have to relive it. It's over. Let it go."
"Is that what you would do?" Clark asked sharply, turning to look at Lex.
A small smile curved the elegant line of Lex's mouth. "Probably not, no."
"I can't either," Clark told him, turning to stare out the window. He rubbed a hand over his eyes. "I'm so tired, Lex."
A gentle push on his shoulder encouraged Clark to lie down, and he put his head in Lex's lap. "Then go to sleep," Lex said, running a hand through his hair, and Clark leaned into the touch.
"I don't…I'll close my eyes and see it again."
"You won't have bad dreams," Lex promised, confidently.
Clark looked up at him, eyebrows cocked in question. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Lex confirmed, nodding. "I won't let that happen."
"How will you stop it?" he asked, curious, even as he felt a shaky smile beginning to form.
"Are you questioning my resolve, Clark?" Lex teased. "I'm a Luthor. I'll find a way."
A huge yawn cracked Clark's jaw, and he nestled closer to Lex. "Oh, in that case," he mumbled, letting his eyes drift closed, "will you stay the whole night?"
"I can't, but I'll stay for a while," Lex told him. "I've got to get ready for a meeting tomorrow."
Clark nodded, too tired to be disappointed. "'Kay," he said on another yawn. He let himself relax, sleep stealing slowly over him, and just as he began to float into dreams, he felt Lex's lips brush over his temple and he felt safe.