The glory as I dreamed [Reference]
by Te
November 12, 2009

Disclaimers: No one and nothing here is mine.

Spoilers/Timeline: No real spoilers, takes place when Bruce is eighteen.

Summary: In which the two most obsessive people in the universe do what they do best.

Ratings Note/Warnings: Sexual content.

Author's Note: An AU 'missing scene' for ending *2* of  A way so familiar. Will not make any sense without the other.

Acknowledgments: To Jack, Pixie, and Mildred for audiencing, encouragement, and putting up with me when the story veered sideways.


Bruce does not think of this part of the world as 'flyover country.' He is in America's breadbasket -- the heart of it, even -- and he is fully aware of just how quickly Gotham would starve itself down into chaos without a connection to this place, and others like it.

He is still uncomfortable here. Very uncomfortable, if he's to be honest with himself --

(Self-delusion is weakness.)

Yes, that.

There is, however, a measure of relief to the fact that he would not be here if Lex hadn't *wanted* him to be uncomfortable. There is pleasure in being contrary-minded, for all that it tends to make Alfred burn Bruce's coffee and freeze his toast.

Alfred is not here.



At the moment, Lex is leading him through the comfortingly grim underbelly of LuthorCorp Fertilizer Plant #31. It's not a tour so much as a walk punctuated by Lex's occasional speeches. They are not extemporaneous. Bruce knows, from experience and observation, that most people would consider them to be so, however.

They are neither of them sure why Bruce is here.

They --

"Brucie, darling, where did he *go*?"


"And after that?"

"I don't know."


"Our families... do not speak."

They'd had that conversation over a year ago now, when Tom had -- gone. Lex hadn't swallowed the official story, of course. Neither had Harvey -- though Harvey had needed only to meet Bruce's eyes to stop asking entirely.


Harvey is Bruce's lover, but he is neither Bruce's brother nor his partner. There are thus a seemingly infinite number of questions Bruce can never answer in Harvey's eyes, and --

Tom had tried to tell him. Tom had *used* their time --

Too *brief* --


The Bat is quiet, cool, and calm. It has not shouted at him since the days after Dr. Fate had taken Tom. It does not need to.

Lex has stopped them at the edge of a truncated catwalk looking down on great vats full of things which could be formed into explosives without much effort whatsoever.

He will need better explosives when it's time --

"All right, Bruce. We're alone. All that noise will cover our conversation better than anything else I could come up with, and I..." Lex's laugh is more than half a sigh. He *starts* to run a hand -- broad and strong -- over his scalp, but stops before flesh touches flesh.

He is being honest. It's not a voice in Bruce's mind, but -- it still feels like Tom. Bruce listens, and meets Lex's eyes. "Do you think we're likely to be observed in other places?"

"I -- of *course* we are, Bruce. We're *us*, and this is *Smallville*."

"And your father's factory. Yes, I understand," Bruce says, and crosses his arms over his chest the way Harvey does when he wants to be both serious and *lightly* demanding. He raises an eyebrow, as well. "What do you want to ask me?"

Lex narrows his eyes and takes in Bruce's posture -- pose -- with a very *neat* glance. A suspicious one.


"I could, quite easily, think of any *number* of things to ask you, Bruce."

He truly could. Bruce smiles like Tom --

And Lex takes a very quick breath. He does not blush. "Why are you here."

"You invited me --"

"Why. Are you *here*."

Tom would... what? "Is it time for interrogation, Lex? I could ask why you invited me --"

Lex cuts him off with a gesture. "We both know the answer to that, Bruce. Don't -- pretend with me right now. Please."

Tom had... cared for Lex. Enough that he had begun thinking about staying here, and there is a part of Bruce -- vast and hurting -- which only wishes Lex had had more time to be convincing. Bruce already knows that his own efforts could never have been enough. Bruce inclines his head. "I can't give you Tom."

"He's not even in the *country*, and I -- what in God's name possessed him to travel to the Amazon?"

Lex had, of course, studied the California Waynes just that closely... and so he has been forced to believe. "I honestly couldn't say," and Bruce lets his expression be rueful. One of the curious things Bruce has learned about interpersonal relationships is that offers of emotional truth can be... distracting. "I miss him... I miss him more than I can entirely bear."

Lex blinks, rears back *slightly* -- swallows, and nods. "He told you the two of us were... involved."


"And the two of you...?"

Bruce smiles, and lets it be an honest one. A *distracting* one --

"Oh... Bruce. He let me believe that there was little more to you than what I had already seen. He was protecting you."

*Yes* -- "It's possible."

"Hm. You honestly don't believe he's coming back."

Not until I bring him back -- or give myself wholly to the unknown. Bruce closes his eyes and turns away.

"My God, I'm tempted to *comfort* you."

That -- Bruce knows that his laughs are rusty things, harsh and ill-put-together...

"Yes, yes, I won't strain myself. Answer the question, please, because... well."

Bruce turns back and raises his eyebrow again. "Do you really have to ask?"

Lex shows his teeth. Most of his usual -- lying -- smiles do a much better job of distracting from the shape of his elegant skull. "No, I don't have to ask. But I do need to hear it. Here, I'll start -- I need as much of him as I can get. Your turn."

"I need. I need as much of him as I can get," Bruce says, tilting his head back to look up --

They are, in fact, beyond the range of the only cameras.

"I asked him not to go to you."

Lex hums and crosses his own arms, rocking on his heels -- "I pretended not to care about his other conquests -- no. I pretended I didn't mind that he was lying to me daily. *Effortlessly*. He bought it about as much as you've bought *me*... since he's been gone."

Bruce nods. "He warned me about you. He never stopped believing that you were... dangerous."

"Mm. Which made his decision to take up with me that much more... yes, I think I see. All right, Bruce. What are we going to do about this?"

"We could consider enjoying our vacation together."

Another show of teeth. "Hm. There is that, I suppose. Are we going to be honest with each other?"

"I will never be more honest with anyone than I was with Tom," Bruce says, and has a moment to wonder if that is *too* honest, but --

Lex's look is measuring... and then relaxed.

He has painted himself as a romantic, rather than anything more suspicious. Let it be so.


Bruce smiles ruefully again and offers his hand.

Lex takes it --

"I'm Bruce," he says, and smiles a little more widely. "It's wonderful to meet you."

Lex's soft-looking lips part -- "The pleasure is mine, Bruce," he says, crisp and even without a hint of the louche. "Please, join me for dinner."


There is some measure of difficulty in not falling into old habits of silence and concentration once their food arrives at the table they've taken for their own in a restaurant known solely as 'Mama's.' The food isn't entirely alien to him -- he certainly recognizes the chicken and potatoes -- but the preparation is new and quite different. There's a certain temptation to give over the part of his mind which *could* be speaking with Lex to the attempt to learn the food's secrets --

"He told me he'd introduced you to Japanese food. I -- it's strange the little details that come to mind --"

"You remember everything, Lex."

Lex raises an eyebrow -- and picks up a chicken leg with his fingers. He gestures with it. "You could consider allowing me to save some measure of face."

Really. "Do you believe there's something inherently wrong with being in love?"

Lex's expression is sour, for all that he turns most of it on the chicken leg before biting into it -- neatly, but with relish.

Bruce focuses on his potatoes and... vegetables? He's honestly unsure if the chicken is truly meant as finger food or if Lex is merely making a point.

Lex swallows. "All right. You said it. I suppose I should award you some degree of credit for just... laying it *out* there like that --"

"I need none."

"Bruce..." For a moment, Lex's expression is a quiet thing.

It's possible that Bruce means 'tired.'

"Perhaps you can understand why I'd rather not be in love with someone who chose to leave the continent without leaving so much as a *note* -- and yes, that letter he sent to you did have a *very* nice message for me -- it was good of you to relay it --" Lex growls and drops the chicken leg on the plate.

It had been an interestingly horrible exercise to forge a letter from Tom, using only the words he would use, being careful with the tone --

Carefully apologetic and *fond* of *Lex* --

Bruce glares at his plate.

Lex laughs. "That... is the Bruce I know and fear. Gently fear, that is. I know you'd never hurt me."

Bruce makes a point of looking up and into Lex's eyes.

"Or... would you? Does the jealousy still sting?"

"You tell me."

A moment's febrile brightness -- "Yes, of course it does. Now... the chicken is delicious. It is, in fact, meant to be eaten with your fingers."

Bruce -- doesn't close his eyes. "Thank you."

Another suspicious look --

"You... you have always been exceedingly quick, Lex."

"But not in any of the fun ways for you, I know. Call it a measure of what happens when I choose to be honest. Eat, please."

They do, and the meal is quite good. There's something about it which speaks of care taken, *pride* taken --

Lex finishes everything on his well-heaped plate and calls for more, flirting with the waitress even as he dabs his mouth on the napkin.

Bruce calls for more, as well. The vegetables -- that certainly was some sort of corn. Beyond that he isn't sure, but it was delicious -- he can ask.

He *would* ask Harvey, and Tom --

The *ache* of it is never-ending --


He does nothing *else* -- but Bruce focuses, just the same. The expression on Lex's face is curious... and actually somewhat worried. Hm. "I suppose I had one of my more problematic facial expressions?"

Lex smiles honestly enough that Bruce can't quite keep himself from noting the musculature of his jaw, the shape of his head -- "Nothing too serious, Bruce. I'm sure the locals are used to strange weather patterns here in wind-country. Doubtless the thunderclouds massing over your side of the table are nothing new."


"Was that a laugh?"

"Something like. What are the vegetables?"

"I can't be sure -- I've never had corn and lima beans prepared this way other than here -- but I believe it's called 'succotash.'"

"I've read of this dish before. It's quite good."

"I'm not sure your valet would feel comfortable feeding you things with this little nutritional value. Certainly, he doesn't seem the type."

Bruce frowns. "But they *are* vegetables...?"

"Boiled to near-unrecognizability and seasoned with -- if I'm not mistaken -- fatback."

"Some... sort of pork?"

"Mm-hm. Delicious artery plaque or country delicacy. Take your pick," Lex says, leaning back and crossing his legs.

They're still quite lean and long-seeming for the rest of his body, but his torso has begun to fill out despite what seem to be Lex's best efforts to the contrary -- no. Tom would not have been so attracted had Lex not been inclined to working out *some*time.

Bruce has not been in the Exeter theater since Tom had left. He does his katas in his own room, and, sometimes, out in the woods. Sometimes Harvey watches him, but --

("Don't get me wrong, big guy, but you *go* somewhere when you're working out like that. Somewhere I'm not sure I want to follow.")

Harvey, as was often the case, had been absolutely right --

And he doesn't need the Bat to tell him that he is, once again, failing to observe. Lex...

Bruce smiles. "You should feel free to ask the questions I can see in your eyes, Lex."

And those eyes are shuttered at once, cold as slate -- until Lex laughs. "And if I'm not sure I want to know the answers?"

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I never knew you to fear knowledge."

A -- slightly -- exaggerated sour look. "I wouldn't call it *fear*, Bruce. There's such a thing as having a healthy sense of self-preservation."

"And what do you need to preserve from me?"

"Oh... sanity? I..." Lex shakes his head and tugs at the perfect crease of his dove-grey suit pants. "All right, fine. What do you *do* when the memories are a weight on you, your -- hm. Your soul? Is that when you turn to Harvey? Or is that when you turn to whatever has you running out to the woods and staying there in the dead of night?"

Bruce covers the moment's fear with a smile he'd practiced on Alfred until it stopped making him tense. "Is that what *you* do when the memories take you, Lex? Watch?"

An airy wave of the hand. "I don't like to be surprised. Ever. Paying attention is an excellent way to --"

"Make excuses?"

Lex's expression becomes a *moue*. "You're Bruce *Wayne*, darling. In just a few years -- less? -- your hand will be on the tiller of one of the world's great corporations --"

"That's *not* why you care."

"Do I? Care?" A *glitter* in Lex's eyes -- banked. "No, of course I care. Answer the question or don't. I find I'm looking forward to the quid pro quo."

Bruce breathes slowly and deeply -- and then leans back to allow the waitress room to leave them their seconds. If anything, the chicken is even more golden and crisp than it was before, and the potatoes creamier.

The waitress smiles at them as though she enjoys little more than watching young men prepare to eat large meals... hm. "Would you tell us your name?"

She blinks, bringing one hand to her bosom in a gesture Bruce would've sworn had been eradicated from the singular culture of American women by now -- "Goodness! I'm sorry, boys! I plain forgot that you don't know who I am the way everyone around here does," she says, and titters happily. "I'm Diane Mathers, and I actually live in that little house right the back with my husband Bill. This was his mama's place until she passed just a few years ago, you know."

Lex smiles brilliantly. "It's hard to imagine her food being any better than what we've been served, Mrs. Mathers."

"Oh, please, call me Diane," and she looks back and forth between them with an even broader smile. She is somewhat taller than what Bruce's studies have assured him is the average for American women, and heavyset. Her clothes have the look of things which have been washed many, many times, but they're clean, and her apron -- while rather excitingly floral -- is as pristine as one of Alfred's.

"Do you and your husband do all the cooking, Diane?"

"The only think I cook is *salad*, honey. Bill's the chef," she says, and pats Bruce's shoulder. "Goodness, you're a big one. Stick around town until the weekend and we'll have you hauling in the rib racks for the big barbecue."

"Oh," Lex says, and grins at Bruce. "I haven't had good barbecue in years. But are you sure a couple of out-of-towners like us would be invited?"

"Mr. *Luthor* --"

"Please, Diane, call me Lex."

Diane blushes faintly -- "Well, then, I just will! See if I don't! *Lex*, you're practically a celebrity around here! Of course you should come, and bring your friend -- I'm sorry, what's your name, honey?"

Bruce smiles. "I'm Bruce Wayne. I'm originally from Gotham."

"He's visiting me for the week before we go back to finish our last semester of high school," Lex says. "He let me pick the itinerary, and my father speaks so highly of the town that I just had to bring him."

More likely, Lex had chosen this place because the worst of Lionel Luthor's business practices -- and thus his reputation -- had not yet reached here.

"Oh, that's just *dear*. I have to say, not many of our young people stick around old Smallville once they graduate, but if you'd like I'll give you the Welcome Wagon list and you both can go visiting while you're here."

For a moment, Lex's facade of bonhomie cracks -- slightly. "I wouldn't want to impose on anyone's hospitality, Diane --"

"*Nonsense*," she says, and wags her finger at Lex. "You have to give us all a chance to put our best foot forward -- and I can think of at least six people who would just *die* if they didn't get a chance to feed you boys... which is not to say that you shouldn't come on in here *any*time you want." She winks at both of them.

Lex looks at Bruce and raises his eyebrow.

Not long from now, Bruce will be immersing himself in new experiences, new *knowledge* every day. Why not begin? Bruce smiles. "It sounds like we'll have a lot to do this week, Lex."

The smile on Lex's face is bright, charming, and false. The smile in his eyes is sharp and promising. "We'd love that list, Diane, thank you -- though you should wait until *after* we wash our hands."

Diane giggles. "Then you'd better hurry up and start getting them dirty again, Lex! You boys just holler if you need anything else," and then she pats both of them and departs.

"Lex... what's a Welcome Wagon?"

Lex laughs. "I -- imagine living in a town so small that everyone knows at least one fact about everyone else --"

"Am I allowed to find that somewhat horrifying?"

Lex shows his teeth again. Presumably, at some point he'll do that and Bruce *won't* be forced to think of Tom cupping his skull.

For now...

"*Not* in this burg, Brucie. In any event, there's not much to do at night in towns like this. Smallville doesn't even have a movie theater of its own now that the drive-in is closed. There's a whole hell of a lot to do during the day -- the fields, the cows, the work around the house most of these people wouldn't *dream* of hiring outside contractors for -- but intellectual stimulation is frankly at a minimum. Free speech is alive and well, but that doesn't mean the local libraries *have* to carry books which are controversial in any way, shape, or form."

Bruce frowns. "I'm not accustomed to placing close-minded people in the same category as friendly people, Lex."

Lex shrugs and begins to eat, holding up a hand while he focuses on the task at hand. Bruce eats, as well. He's a bit intimidated by the idea of what the succotash would be like cold, considering all the fat he now can't help but taste. Warm, of course, it is delicious, as are the chicken and potatoes.

He takes the question of how Tom would have felt about a meal like this and curls it in on itself as best he can. It will be there when next he fails to sleep.

Lex pauses halfway through his meal and dabs his mouth with the napkin. It occurs to Bruce -- belatedly -- that Lex isn't eating the way he does at school. While Tom had been abundantly clear about the fact that Lex was nearly *always* lying there...

Could this be a lie, as well?


Of course.

Lex takes a long drink of the iced tea -- very sweet, and made from a variety of tea Bruce had never tasted before -- they had been provided with and sighs. "So. I've set up the scenario in your mind. You've got a fairly clear image of the average person in a town like this, yes?"

"For the sake of argument."

Lex inclines his head. "What I've given you, more than anything else, is a recipe for boredom. *Extreme* boredom, to be frank. So, the people in the small town become more and more involved in each other's lives in the hopes of finding things which will take them at least a *little* beyond the familiar --"

"But not too far beyond?"

Lex waves a hand. "It varies, of course. We live in the *twentieth* century, after all, and, just to lay this on the table, every time I come close to making a sweeping generalization, there's a very particular jaw in my mind which *tightens* in the sort of disapproval which could reprogram an autistic child. Perhaps a busload of them."


"You're making me think the *actual* laugh you gave me before was a lie, Brucie. Careful."

"Hm, you're right. I wouldn't want to injure the deep and solid foundation of trust and good will between us."

Lex touches his tongue to his upper lip. "Be honest -- you learned *that* quality of dry from Tom."

"Alfred is --"

Lex shakes his head, slowly and more than a little triumphantly.

All right then: Romance. "There was never a moment with Tom when I wasn't learning something, Lex."

Lex closes his eyes for a moment -- and nods. "Yes, that. Well. We have our bored and increasingly incestuous -- almost certainly *not* literally in this day and age -- citizenry. Enter into the bucolic idyll a new person. Perhaps even a new family. They buy the old farmstead down by the creek which every schoolchild knows is haunted, or maybe set up shop where the general store used to be. Curiosity is at peak, as well as the curiously human hope for fresh *gossip*. Frankly, people would line *up* for the chance to pump the newcomer for information, but you *don't* want to look too eager. That sort of thing gives your neighbors things to talk about with *your* name on them. So."

"A committee?"

"Of sorts. Local businesses print up coupons, the more obsessive bakers throw in cookies, the farmers send a taste of their choicest produce -- and it's all designed to make it *necessary* for the newcomers to travel around and *offer* themselves to the rumor mill. Voila. No one looks too eager, the old hands get to feel good about themselves for being neighborly, and everyone is happy."

Bruce nods, and takes another few bites while thinking about the matter. The closest his segment of Gotham comes to that sort of thing is the simultaneous upswell of popularity of the latest wealthy scion and stories -- universally exaggerated -- about same.

Either the newcomer carves a place for him- or herself with plausibly 'delicious' stories of their own -- and parties lavish enough to satisfy even the jaded -- or they find themselves on the outs, with no one of their 'class' to socialize with. He remembers his mother's scathing diatribes about those people, and his father's unfailing sense of duty to their name.

He remembers the vicious light in Tom's eyes as he'd looked over the girls from Seneca Day. A bright predator among smaller, dimmer ones.

His love.

Bruce surprises himself with the last bite of food. He is, of course, quite full... but that doesn't change the fact that he could happily eat more.

"I think Diane would expire from joy if you asked for thirds, Bruce."

"Hm. I'd rather not encourage my digestive tract to rupture. Just the same, I believe I'm going to have to ask Alfred to prepare this for me at least once," Bruce says, and smiles at Lex from behind his eyes --

But Lex's expression is nearly dreamy, and... decidedly other-focused.

Bruce takes the rare chance to watch Lex openly *without* threat of retaliation for what it is. The man has elegant cheekbones, a nose and mouth which manage to be womanly without being quite feminine, colorless lashes and brows...

He began to understand that what he felt for Lex was uneasy attraction not long after Tom had pulled the scales from his eyes --

("Master Bruce. *Do* try not to *deify* the boy.")

But Alfred will never have power or influence over Bruce's feelings for Tom. There is a simultaneous urge to apologize to the man for that and to stand firm, stand *proud* --

And Lex is watching him again. "Tom?"

"Of course. What were you thinking?"

"You never answered my earlier question."

Ah, yes. "When the memories weigh on me, Lex, when I am lost and alone, when I ache and need, when I rage and *fear*... when I am, in short, a rather broken shell of myself --"

"You have the most remarkable gift for saying things like that and sounding *sincere*. No, go on."

"When --"

"No, wait," Lex says, sitting back and recrossing his legs -- nowhere near as dramatically as he usually does -- "It's not the sincerity that's so remarkable."


"It's the fact that I don't, actually, want to strangle you for being so obviously stoned on your own teenaged hormones. Who were you *before* you met him, Bruce?"

Well... Bruce smiles and picks up his own iced tea. "I'll let you know when I have anything resembling a succinct answer to that question."

Lex cocks his head to the side, narrowing his eyes --

"Will that be one of the mannerisms you erase from your persona as you age?"

"Almost certainly, Bruce, but... what are we doing here? Other than continuing what will no doubt prove to be a lovely vacation in all respects."

"I have no plans whatsoever, Lex --"


"Was it."

Lex's smile is bright, cheerful -- febrile again. "I wish to *God* you'd been raised in Metropolis. We could have had play-dates."

Bruce chokes on the laugh which erupts from his chest. "Lex."

If anything, the smile becomes even brighter for a moment. "Oh, I'm being absolutely serious, Bruce. You would've confused the ever-loving *shit* out of me at least twice per day, and, as we all know, confusion is the egg from which wisdom hatches," Lex says, finishing in the plummily self-satisfied tones of the headmaster.

Bruce feels perfectly sanguine about making a face. "You're even better at that than Harvey."

"Why, *thank* you --"

"I didn't mean that as a compliment."

Perhaps it was Lex's turn to have to swallow the better part of a surprising laugh. When he regains his calm, there's a light dancing behind his eyes, and they almost seem as if they don't *have* to be hard. "All right, Bruce. You've had your fun --"

"Have I?"

"Yes, you have. As we lack our magnificently educational darling, I feel it's my duty to step in and explain to you what counts as a good time."

That -- is rather breathtaking, actually --

"Too much?"

"I'm not entirely sure... though I do know I'd appreciate having Tom here to tell me."

Lex inclines his head --

"I must admit, Lex..."


"I was hoping that your idea of a good time involved eyeliner."

"*Not* in this fair hamlet, my dear companion. Now finish answering my question before I'm forced along further flights of fancy."

"And alleys of alliteration?"

"Dear Lord. If you ever showed that much life in Literature class, Sharpe would dry-hump you."


"Oh, don't *look* like that, Bruce. I *swear* it's just as much fun with the opposite sex --"

"Lie," Bruce says, and raises his eyebrow.

Lex smiles and looks down, shaking his head. The warm, golden lights of the restaurant gleam off his scalp. "I choose to believe -- for the sake of my sanity -- that I simply haven't yet encountered the same *quality* of woman," Lex says, and looks up again. "My question?"

"All this build-up... you won't be satisfied."

A wry smile. "Try me."

"The future. I think of the future, Lex."

The frown on Lex's face is briefly powerful enough to suggest a bad *smell* --

And there is, surprisingly enough, a desire to... alleviate. "I'm going to get him back," Bruce says, trusting to romance.

"You're serious."

Bruce inclines his head.

"You're going to travel down the Amazon until you pick up sixteen different infections --"

"Or worse."

"Until you're lost and utterly at the mercy of a guide you've never met --"

"Or on my own."

Lex coughs out a laugh. "You *are* crazy."

Bruce takes another sip of iced tea. "Functionally so... at the moment."

"What -- happens when he doesn't want you?"

That, of course, is the most important question for Lex. Bruce smiles. "Perhaps," he says, and drinks deep, "I'll bring you with me."


Smallville's one inn -- a bed and breakfast just off Main Street -- has the sort of decor Alfred would call hyperbolic and hysterical. There are an abundance of ceramic figurines, doilies, and, in the bedrooms themselves, stuffed animals.

Lex had insisted that they share the one double available -- he had called it a homage to their frontier-living ancestors, but Bruce is quite sure that Lex regrets his decision now.

Something else they share.

In this moment, they are side by side, staring at the canopied, bolstered, and dust-ruffled bed --

Which is several different shades of pink --

Lex laughs softly. "I don't *think* it's too late for us to get separate rooms."

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

"Of course, one of us would have to stay in this one."

"We wouldn't want to offend our hosts."

"That teddy bear..."


Lex shudders delicately. "The one in the pale coral sweater-vest."


"It's staring at us."

"So are its compatriots, Lex."

"It's clearly the leader. You can tell by the malevolent gleam of its button eyes."

Bruce opens his stance and folds his hands behind his back.

Lex sighs again. "A moment, please," he says, and begins to gather the bears -- and frogs, and cows, and chickens --

He gathers them all, and brings them to the one corner of the room where there is more than a few square feet of floor space. He then proceeds to arrange them in a circle -- with the sweater-vested bear in the center. When he's done...

"There, much better."

"You don't think that's worse?"

Lex frowns. "What do you mean? The ringleader has clearly been toppled and is now on trial for his life."



Bruce smiles. "It looks, to me, as though the ringleader is exhorting his army to war."

"You have a sick, twisted turn of mind, Bruce, and I'll thank you to keep it to yourself until I've had at least six hours of sleep."

"Noted. Shall we?"

"Let's," Lex says, and begins to strip without a word. Bruce does the same, and --

It is and isn't like school. Smallville is having a warm enough spring that the room is more comfortable than the one Bruce shares with Harvey, and, of course, he and Lex are familiar with each other's bodies from the countless showers they've taken together. However.

Lex doesn't even try to meet Bruce's eyes until he has his pajamas on, and there is a tension to him which goes beyond the myriad lifeless gazes surrounding them.

Lex hasn't shared a room with anyone since Tom.

Bruce hasn't been close to Lex... ever.

When last Lex and Tom were together, it was right after the two of them had made love --

Does Lex ever wonder about *him* and Tom? What *they* had done before Tom had left?


There is, surprisingly and terribly, a part of Bruce which honestly believes, now, that Tom is merely a continent away -- instead of so far beyond his reach as to beggar the imaginations of the finest, most brilliant physicists. And, possibly, every magic-user save for Dr. Fate.

Why had Fate sought out Tom's sensei to bring him home? Why not his Bruce or his Alfred?

Had Tom kept secrets from him other than the ones Bruce had desperately dragged out of him? Tom had been highly defensive of magic-users. Could his sensei have been one of them?

It isn't the first time those questions have come to mind and it won't be the last. Tom...

Tom had hardly hesitated, at all, before leaping through that hole in space. This means -- this *must* mean -- that Bruce had had but little to keep Tom here. That Bruce hadn't been *ready*.

He can accept that -- easily, even -- but he will not always be unprepared, and --

"The future, Bruce?"

Bruce breathes deep and looks -- Lex has taken the right side of the bed and is sitting up against the impressive and somewhat intimidating pile of frilly, sham-covered pillows. Bruce lets his smile be a rueful one. "What else?"

Lex nods thoughtfully and pats the bed beside him. "No time like the present to begin the process of forcing ourselves into something resembling restful slumber."

"Agreed," Bruce says, and begins removing the worst of the pillows until the bed becomes something reasonably close to flat.

"Brace yourself, Bruce."

Bruce does -- but still has to make a sound for the softness of the mattress.

"This would be why I have every intention of remaining seated while I sleep. Though I suppose your method is as good as my own."

Bruce offers a noncommittal grunt.

Lex laughs. "Yes, that. Sleep well, Bruce."

"And you, Lex."


Breakfast was an affair involving a cereal -- served on a plate, not in a bowl -- Lex assured him was grits, as well as bacon, sausage, eggs, and enough toast to denude an entire loaf. Lex had spoken freely of being taken to eat at 'soul food' restaurants in Metropolis -- no.

'Freely' is the wrong word for it. There had been shadows in his eyes for all that the memories themselves seemed happy enough, and Bruce had been more than a little convinced that Tom wouldn't have let them stand.

Neither will *he*... but Lex had insisted that the owners of the bed and breakfast -- a couple in their seventies -- join them. It hadn't been the time.

Though they *had* come to know that it was Jake Smart who collected the stuffed animals, while Janine Smart focused on the ceramic figurines.

Lex had complimented both warmly enough that they'd spent the half-hour after breakfast being given the tour. As it happens, none of the rooms would've been entirely comfortable. Bruce had surprised himself with the sense of relief that brought, the sense of it having been a good idea to share with Lex --

To *be* with Lex -

Right now, the two of them are dressed casually and are on their way to the curio shop where they will meet the first of the people on the Welcome Wagon list. As the shop is only a mile from the inn, they'd decided to walk --

In truth, Bruce had *felt* Harvey staring at his breakfast plate with incredulous eyes --

Felt the ghost of Tom's hand on his knee --

It will never, Bruce knows, be a *decision* to exercise ever again. It has become an imperative, if not quite a biological one, and --

"I do believe I've missed views like this one," Lex says, pausing at the top of the low hill at the intersection of Main with Applewood.

Bruce takes a more careful look around. There are relatively few cars -- all of them large and American-made -- and any number of well-used pickup trucks. The facades of the buildings are all clean enough, though it's clear that in dry weather they would be quite dusty. Additionally, the look of Main -- and of the stretch of Applewood Bruce can see -- is very... hm. Yes, it's very Rockwellian, to the point where Bruce is forced to admit that he'd never before believed that what the man was painting was real. And -- "I believe I'm uncomfortable."

Lex laughs softly. "Big sky getting to you?"

Bruce thinks about it and looks around a bit more -- "Yes. There... it feels as though space is being wasted."

Lex crosses his arms and rocks slightly on his heels. "I've been here before, you know."

"I'd assumed so. When?"

"I was five years old. My father brought me with him to tour the plant he would -- eventually -- purchase, as my mother was spending the weekend undergoing a battery of tests for her failing health."

Lex's mother had died of breast cancer when Lex was... eight. But... "You enjoyed yourself here."

"Oh, yes. At first. I've always enjoyed meeting new *kinds* of people, and, of course, Smallville is nothing like Metropolis. I remember being enchanted by the food, the trucks, the air..."

"It is very... clean."

Lex snorts and gives him a wry look. "Don't injure yourself looking for compliments. It's missing all that oppressive *green* we get at school... yes, I still like it. Even the manure smell we'll be marinating in when we visit the farms has a certain earthy sweetness."


"Yes, Bruce, *manure*. Not all of these people use those chemical-rich fertilizers they're cooking up."

Bruce nods thoughtfully. "Organic farming. I imagine there's something of a market for it here?"

Lex spreads his hands. "These people know their produce. I've yet to be able to tell the difference between the two different sorts, but I've been assured that many people can."

"What made you stop enjoying yourself here?"

Lex's expression is... very sharp. Calculating, measuring --

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "We can forget I asked."

"No, it's all right. It's sometimes difficult to remember that what happened to me simply wasn't newsworthy." A flashing -- and false -- smile. "The tribulations of ego," he says, and turns to look out over the fields of young wheat. "There was a meteor shower while we were here -- and while I was busily outrunning my father's executive assistant in my search for properly muddy soil to wallow in."

Oh. "Your hair."

"Indeed. I remember clumps of it falling out on my father's lap as we were being raced -- in a pickup truck, yet -- to the nearest hospital. Anyway."

"I'm surprised -- no, forgive me, I was about to tell a lie."

Lex's laugh, this time, is the sort of thing which should be handled with delicacy and care -- "Go on, tell it. Please."

"I was going to say that I'm surprised that you wanted to spend your recreational time here... but then I remembered who I was with."

Lex's smile is bright, wide, and staggeringly real. "I promise, Bruce, I'm only a masochist for *cause*."

"Facing your fears is an excellent cause."

"Mm, yes. And? It comes with good food and openly friendly people. Here, at least, what happened to me *was* news... in a way that guarantees that most of the people we meet will bend over backwards to avoid treating me differently."

Bruce nods. "I can understand the appeal."

"I -- no, you would understand. I imagine your valet had to hold the reporters off with a shotgun after your parents were murdered."

In Tom's world, that hadn't worked... "Yes," Bruce says, and takes a deliberately deep breath -- and coughs.

"That would be the manure."

"And you find that scent *pleasant*?"

Lex grins again and rocks on his heels. "*Very* much so. Wait until we find someone using peat moss."

"Hm. Peat *is* supposed to be an agreeable scent."

"It does *wonders* for whiskey, to be sure," Lex says, and claps one hand on Bruce's shoulder.


"You are under *no* obligation to spend the week with me, Bruce. If you'd like, I could arrange for the LuthorCorp jet to take you back to Gotham in style."

"I'm enjoying myself," Bruce says, and leaves himself open for Lex's search.

"You're withering like a hothouse flower."

Bruce narrows his eyes.

"All right, not that. God, I can't believe you managed to get even *bigger* this year. Was your mother a linebacker?"

"She actually looked... much like Tom."

Lex's eyes widen dramatically -- and then he blanks his features with what looks to be reflexive ease. "We're really going to have to work on this... this *thing* we have between us."

"You thought of him as a thing?"

An expression of distaste -- "Of course not. Still -- still. Too much power, considering the distance between us. You can't tell me you don't find it oppressive."

Bruce considers it. "Can oppression be dearly welcomed?"

"*Yes* -- by *stupid* people. You can see it all the time, Bruce," and Lex makes a sweeping gesture that seems designed to take in the whole of the countryside. "All sorts of people welcome their own degradation. Politically, emotionally, economically --"

"If you start using socialist rhetoric, Lex, I'll be duty-bound to report you to the headmaster."

"Collectivize *this*, you ass, now where was I?"

Bruce smiles somewhat helplessly. "Moments away from casting aspersions on the whole of humanity."

"The whole? No, not the whole. The most, at most," and Lex is febrile again, eyes glittering and body in motion despite the fact that Lex *isn't* pacing or anything else.

It's under the skin. "Tell me."

"Yes, I think I *will*. The most -- the lion's *share* -- of humanity is made up of people who simply and deeply dislike critical thought. They might not mind it if other people are doing it -- people who look enough like themselves to be comforting -- but for themselves? No. They choose foods that their parents chose for them. They choose entertainment that spells it all out for them --whatever 'it' might be. They choose politicians who wink and nudge and maybe tell jokes about *those* people. Those *other* people, anyway. I could go on, but I think that's enough. *They* welcome oppression. *They* wouldn't have it any other way --"

"But you're better than that?"

"Hell, yes, I am. I *believe* in 'live free or die --'"

"If you did, you would've packed your eyeliner."

"You and *eyeliner* -- Tom really did make it work. Almost as if he'd worn it before," Lex says, and the question manages to be both quiet and obvious.

"Not that I know of. Lex... I'm confused."

"By me? Just go with the fact that I'm lying most of the time, and you'll be --"

"Stop," Bruce says, and makes a point of turning to Lex, facing him, trying to look *into* him --

"And there you are. All of that natural *presence*. Bruce, I hope you realize how unfair it is that you have all this *and* size."

"And you are... trying to distract me --"

"Is it working?"

"To a certain extent," Bruce says, and takes Lex's hand off his shoulder so he can hold it between his own.

When Lex raises an eyebrow on a day this sunny, in a world this full of *browns* --

It's only visible in the changing shape of his face. And that -- "I want to see you as you age, Lex."

Lex's smile is softly incredulous. "That can be arranged. I promise to invite you to *every* birthday party... if you'll do us both a favor and only have *your* parties on your yacht or -- well. Any place other than the manor."

Bruce frowns. "You've never even seen the manor. Nor has your father --"

"Brucie. Darling. It's *infamous*. It was infamous when your parents were *alive*... and I don't think your valet will be doing any redecorating while you're keeping me company?"


That -- he already knows that. Lex's intelligence networks would be the envy of a businessman three times his age. How does he *do* that?


Yes. Yes. "All right, Lex. I promise to either redecorate or take over one of those excessively modern establishments full of steel and black trim."

A moue -- "No, no, I'll take the ancestral pile --"

"I was going to ask you something."

"I was trying to stop you. You're not actually going to let me be successful at that, are you?"

Bruce squeezes Lex's hand. Gently. "You trusted Tom with yourself."

"And I'm supposed to trust you?"

"You've known me longer --"

"I've *known* you for less than twenty-four hours. If anything, you've been lying as much as *I* have, and -- at least Tom *admitted* when he was being a mendacious little bastard --"

"Lex. What do you want from your life?"

"That's it? *That's* the question you want to ask?"

That -- "I think it might be need at this point."

Narrowed eyes -- "Why."

I need to know if I can trust you. I need -- "What made Tom choose you?"

"I don't *know* --"

"Lie," Bruce says, letting go of Lex's hand and stepping back --

And there is a moment of *something* in Lex's eyes, something -- familiar.


"I -- fine. I do know. I know *exactly* why he wanted me --"

"Needed you. Loved you --"

Lex growls and turns away, turning to face the wind, the grit -- he looks down and sighs. "I was honest with him. He refused to let me chase him away, he called my every bluff, my every *lie* -- I could see that he needed me. The person I am with -- ah, God, *exactly* no one."

"And your future?"

Lex's smile, this time, is small and tight. And more than a little rapacious. "Greatness. *True* greatness, of the sort that doesn't fall apart when you look at the fate of the... heh. The *little* people. I want the world, and sometimes I think that I *almost* don't care how I get it. Most of the time, though, I know exactly what path I'll be taking to get there, and I'm absolutely fine with everything about it save for the *time* it will take."

"And -- you want to protect those people you've characterized as closed-minded and willfully ignorant?"

Lex turns to face Bruce again. "Innocence. I still believe in it."

Something, again, and the familiarity --

It feels, more than anything else, like the sort of thing Bruce could recognize easily in the dark. To that end --

"Do you think you won't someday?"

"*That*... is a fear it'll take more than a trip to the sticks to cure, I believe. Shall we continue on our merry way?"

Bruce nods, and gestures Lex to lead them.


They manage to make it through four of the names on the list -- everyone currently available in Smallville's 'downtown' area since Myrtle Gooden is on her annual visit to Metropolis' museums and other cultural areas and her seedling shop is closed down for the week. They had been invited to dinner by all of them, but Lex had declined charmingly -- it's meatloaf night at Mama's.

Today, Bruce has learned that Lex will willingly try on -- and purchase -- work boots for himself and will happily enjoin Bruce to do the same. Bruce can't help but note how well-suited the boots are for adding a certain degree of devastating force to a kick.

There will definitely be steel in the toes of the boots he will wear.

He has also learned that nothing can make Lex try on anything plaid, that trying on plaid himself will lead to Lex speaking about his 'rugged' good looks to all who care to listen --

That the *quality* of how he talks about Bruce changes enough that no one views him strangely, despite the small towns of the Midwest not being known for their great tolerance of homosexuality.

Bruce suspects that it has more to do with the air of self-deprecation in Lex's tone than with anything else. Certainly, Lex receives a fair number of compliments on his own attractiveness each time he comments on Bruce's own.

Other lessons include a crash course on the many, many different varieties of fertilizer the plant produces, the best farms at which to acquire the best examples of various kinds of produce, the information that Myrtle Gooden hadn't been the same since her sister had passed away the year before, the information that Gotham is the 'damnedest' city in America -- according to everything assorted townspeople had read in the Daily Planet -- the information that at least five of the families on their visiting list should be visited only after dinner, when their children begin to settle down --

And so on.

At the end of the day, they are laden with shopping bags and Bruce feels as though he knows far too much about a town he will almost certainly never visit again. It's a nervous sort of feeling, a sense of his mind as something finite and *fill-able* --

There are so many other things he needs to *know* --

"You're getting better at that," Lex says, and begins to swing his shopping bags gaily.

"I'm sorry?"

"I *almost* couldn't tell you were brooding. You even managed to keep a slight smile on your face."

"Then how could you tell?"

"What will you give me if I tell you?"

It is, in fact, a valuable piece of information. "What do you want?"


"About Tom?"

"Surprisingly enough... yes. But only as it relates to you."

"That *is* surprising. Ask."

"Without getting your answer first?"

Bruce smiles somewhat more and leads them back onto Main -- and back to a darkness crowded only in comparison to the fields. The gaslights throw warm puddles of familiarity onto the sidewalk, and that, at least, is something familiar.

For all that every mayor elected in Gotham promises to replace the streetlights in the poorer parts of the city with something more modern -- and efficacious -- the gaslights remain, picturesque and deadly in their own right.

Bruce pauses beneath one just to see...

There. When Lex raises an eyebrow in *this* light, it's easy to believe that he's merely blond.

"I'd like for you to visit me in Gotham sometime."

"Done. What is it? And what about your answer?"

"I needed the light for a moment. And I'd like to make sure I can pay your price before I commit myself."

Lex blinks. "You didn't get enough bright, lemon-y sunshine today?"

Bruce suspects his smile shows too many teeth --

But Lex only looks... appreciative.

"This light is much more... comforting."

"Liar. You want the darkness to be more all-encompassing, don't you?"

"Darkness can be very warm, Lex."

"You're making me want to take you to the parts of Metropolis that *gleam*, Bruce. But... tell me what you want with your future. Tell me what you're training *yourself* for."


"That... seriously?"

"I've spent my life haunted, Lex. Does it seem so strange to want an end to that?"

"Haunted..." Lex nods thoughtfully. "All right, I can see that. What will you do to achieve peace?"

(You will make a war the like of which has never been known.)

Bruce smiles more widely. "Struggle. Fight. Work... everything I can. Every day."

"And when will you take the time to find Tom?"

"When I'm ready for him. When I've *made* myself ready."

"You don't think you already are?"

If I had been -- "If I had been, he wouldn't have left."

Lex nods again, but seems... troubled?


"You're doing a terrible job of convincing me that I'm making too much of him."

"I'm a romantic."

"You're *shameless* is what you are. And -- you made the first move?"

That night --

That beautiful, warm, *frustrating* night -- "It took so little time to fall in love with him. I... he learned of my feelings for him, and he kissed me, despite all the fears I could see in his eyes. After that... after that I would not take no for an answer, as opposed to 'not yet.'"

"And he didn't last long then."

"Long enough."

Lex's smile is both rueful and wry. "He was born for that. For *being* needed. He had no real resistance... has it ever occurred to you that he left because we exposed more of him to himself than he wanted to know?"

"Never. He had no fear of self-knowledge."

"And so it comes back to the two of us. To our *failures*."


Lex hums and breathes deep. "Failure must never be allowed to stand, Bruce."


"Let's put our haul away and get to Mama's before there's nothing left of the meatloaf but the crunchy bits."

"Meatloaf has... a crust of some sort?"

Lex pats Bruce's shoulder. "You'll see."

"Also... what sort of meat is used?"

"That would be telling," Lex says, and starts down the road.

"I can't help but feel a modicum of distrust for a meal that determinedly nonspecific."

"They're not going to *poison* us, Bruce."

"I find the choices you make as to whom you'll trust with what absolutely fascinating."

"I'm a very, very interesting young man. In *every* way."


Lex grins at him from over his shoulder. "Oh, yes. Now *faster*."

As it happens, by the time they're washed and changed for dinner, Mama's has achieved something of a lull. Only two of the other tables are full -- both with what appear to be families.

For a moment, it seems strange that Bruce doesn't recognize them, but he is more than capable of reminding himself that Smallville is not, in fact, *that* small.

Diane seats them at the same table she gave them last night and informs them that she'd been saving it for them --

"Oh, Diane, you *shouldn't* have," Lex says, and squeezes her hands gently.

"*Well*, Lex, it wasn't all just me hoping, you know."


"*I* knew that the word would get out around town about it being meatloaf night -- and our meatloaf is just about the best you can get around here now that Miss Carol has passed on."

Bruce raises both of his eyebrows. "Miss Carol?"

"Carol Kent -- Jonathan's mother. That's him with his family right over there," Diane says, pointing discreetly at the family two tables over. "They're right there on your list if you want to say hi tonight. I've heard you boys have been doing the town," and Diane beams her pride at both of them.

"We had a wonderful time shopping and exploring today," Bruce says, and smiles at Lex. "We picked up some boots that will stand us in good stead."

Lex smiles back. "I must admit, the workboots make me eager to tour the farms, Diane."

Diane coos. "You'll need them over at the Kents. They don't have one of those *big* dairy farms, but they put out the best cream in town."

"Mm. Then we'll have to pick some up... but are there any berries in season, yet?"

"Oh! Berries and cream is so *decadent*," Diane says, tittering quietly. "The Kents just happen to have some wild blueberries on their land, but I'm not sure if they're ready for picking."

Bruce hums. "We'll just have to find out, then. Shall we introduce ourselves now, Lex?"

Lex makes a show of looking over the Kents' table. A man, his wife, and a remarkably handsome teenaged boy who could be their age or older. Younger?

There's something about his eyes which suggests the latter, a certain guileless cheer as he converses with his parents...

If the boy is lying about anything -- anything at all -- Bruce thinks he could be the most dangerous being on the planet. Next to Lex, of course.

"They *do* look like they're done," Lex says, and the thoughtfulness in his voice approaches -- without quite reaching -- parody. "Let's go say hello, Bruce --"

"Oh, you *boys*. I assume you'll be wanting the meatloaf tonight?"

"And lots of it, Diane," and Lex smiles at him again. "Bruce here has never had it before."


"Oh, yes. His cook is just a *little* stuffy, if you know what I mean."

Really. "Honestly, Lex, he's really just conservative," Bruce says, and turns to Diane. "He was raised in England, you see."

"Oh, my. Well, don't you worry, Bruce. We'll feed you up *right*."

Bruce inclines his head. "I'm looking forward to just that."

Diane reaches up to pat Bruce's shoulder. "Now don't get too busy talking, boys -- dinner will be out in two shakes!"

Two shakes of what? He'll ask later. And --

The boy looks up first, looking them over with a polite smile which is noticeably false when held against what he had been giving to his parents. Bruce squeezes Lex's shoulder --

"Noted," Lex says quietly, and smiles warmly at the Kents. "Hello. I'm Lex Luthor and this is my friend Bruce Wayne. We don't want to interrupt your meal --"

"Oh, nonsense," Mrs. Kent says, "we're almost done anyway. I'm Martha, and
this is my husband Jonathan and our son Clark. What can we do for you?"

If anything, the boy -- Clark -- seems even more eager for the conversation to end. He --

He isn't looking at Lex, at all. Could he be that uncomfortable with Lex's appearance? And Lex is offering two entirely different smiles. Bruce smiles at the Kents. "Diane was telling us about your dairy products. We were wondering if there was any particular time when it would be convenient for us to visit."

Jonathan smiles proudly and warmly. "That would be our cream she was talking about, I'll bet. The cows we've had the past few years have been some of the happiest and healthiest I've ever seen, and I'm not just talking up my own."

Martha hums. "I know a certain teenager who has to be told to leave enough cream for everyone else *every* time."


"Oh, so you *can* still talk, Clark? I thought you might've forgotten how," Martha says, and nods to both Lex and him.

Clark blushes... extravagantly. "I'm sorry," he says -- mumbles -- to his plate.

"Clark, you stop that right now," and Martha seems honestly upset --

"It's really no trouble," Lex says --

Clark *looks* at his mother --

"You -- oh. My," and Martha looks to Jonathan --

"Now what's all this... fuss. Oh, I..."

Bruce has never witnessed an entire family blushing before. It's clear that Lex is the problem, but, when Bruce looks to him --

He gets only a *minute* shrug and a rueful smile before Lex turns back to the Kents. "It's quite all right. Neither of us need to bother you --"

"It's no *bother*," Martha says, and now she sounds as determined as Leslie gets when faced with a sick child. "Clark just doesn't remember the day we all took you to the hospital as well as he could."

Clark winces --

And Jonathan nods. "I don't know how well *you* remember that day, son..."

Lex blinks. "I -- not as well as *I* could. I hadn't realized you were the ones driving the pickup in question. Thank you --"

"Please, there's no need to thank us for that," Jonathan says. "You had us all pretty worried, I don't mind telling you. Here, why don't you boys sit down for a spell?"

Lex glances at Clark -- and stands straighter. "Forgive me, Mr. Kent --"

"Call me Jonathan, please --"

"I -- all right, Jonathan. I can't help but notice that I'm making your son uncomfortable, and I suspect I know why --"

"You don't," Clark says, looking up with a rueful smile...

The curious thing is that Bruce is no closer to being able to guess the boy's age. His voice isn't pitched very low, but neither does it have the cadences and timbres of a teenager. He seems *inclined* to fidget, but he's not doing anything of the kind. He's clearly embarrassed -- even troubled -- but there's a certain poise...

It bears thought, but not while Lex is very obviously fighting an urge to raise a truly devastating eyebrow. Bruce squeezes his shoulder again --

"I mean -- I'm sorry, both of you," Clark says, and the smile on his face strengthens. "Ma is right. All I really remember is being in the back of the truck with another little boy... um. You looked. You looked very *uncomfortable*, Mr. Luthor, and I think -- um. I've had nightmares."

Something in there was a lie, but teasing out what it was is, at the moment, impossible. Perhaps it's in the attempt to save face as a whole?

Lex smiles just the same, though -- a gentle one -- and offers his hand to Clark. "Shall we try the whole first meeting thing again, then...? I'm Lex."

Clark blushes again and seems as though he *wants* to look down -- and seems equally inclined toward doing nothing of the kind. He reaches to take Lex's hand and offers a smile which can only be described as brave. "I'm Clark. And I. I'd like to talk to you about... about that meteor shower sometime. If you wanted to, I mean. Or -- was that a bad question?"

Interestingly, now the elder Kents seem uncomfortable --

Lex laughs. "Yes? No? Possibly? We can talk -- Bruce and I are here all week."

Clark looks to him -- and blushes again. But he doesn't look down. "I'd. I look forward to that."

That looked less like discomfort than... attraction? Almost certainly nothing Clark would want to admit to in front of his parents, but --

(Only I will never leave you.)

At this point, Bruce doesn't need to wince. "When would be a good time for us to visit?" And Bruce makes it a question for all of the Kents --

Martha smiles. "We have a lot of work to do around the farm, but I'm sure Clark wouldn't mind the company while he's doing his chores."

"Martha, these boys are on *vacation*."

Lex laughs. "I was just thinking that I'm missing the exercise I can get at school..." He turns to Bruce. "How about it, Bruce? Up for learning new things in the interest of breaking a sweat?"

It won't be the sparring a part of him misses as much as he misses everything *else* about Tom --

(You must not *waver*!)

"It would be a shame not to use those clothes we purchased, Lex," Bruce says, and turns back to Martha. "When shall we come?"

Martha gives Clark a very *firm* clap on the shoulder. "Anytime after dawn will be just perfect, Bruce. We serve breakfast at seven. Should I set aside enough for two more?"

"That sounds wonderful, Martha," Lex says, and bows slightly. "And now I believe it's time for me to finally introduce Bruce to meatloaf --"

"It's -- um. You should try it with the mayo," Clark says, and smiles at Bruce -- before offering the smile to Lex, as well.

Lex raises his eyebrow. "Not the catsup?"

Clark's smile is shy and knowing at once, a curious blend on features which are nearly blunt with traditional masculine beauty. "Well. It's even better if you *mix* the catsup and mayo. But Ma always says that that doesn't show a lot of class."

"Oh, Clark --"

Lex grins. "Bruce has more class than anyone our age has *any* right to. Mixing his condiments will be good for him. Thank you, Clark."

"You're welcome... Lex," Clark says, and turns back to Bruce. "But you shouldn't let him make you try anything you don't want to, Bruce. That always makes the food taste much worse."

Bruce raises his own eyebrow. "The bitterness of obligation?"

Clark's smile this time is... brilliant. Breathtaking --

(Only I --)

"That's it *exactly*, Bruce. Though you can't tell me that Brussels sprouts aren't bitter just as they are."

"They're never bitter when my valet prepares them, but they often seem to be at school."

"And *that's* because they don't know all the tricks Alfred knows, Brucie," Lex says, and throws an arm around his shoulders. "Trick one? Always pick the smaller ones. They're much sweeter."

Martha blinks. "Is *that* the secret? I've been shoving them down my boys' throats for years now because they're so healthy, but I have to admit I've found them terribly unpleasant."

"*Ma*! You said you liked them!"

"I *said* that I liked what they did for me," Martha says, but she's blushing again. "We'll try one more time with the smaller ones."

"Alfred always prepares them with a butter and lemon sauce," Bruce offers.

"Mm, yes, that's always nice," Lex says. "You could also try them with ginger and honey."

"*Well*. That's it. I'll be expecting you boys bright and early tomorrow so you can share *all* your secrets," and Martha beams at them both --

"Yoo-hoo! Dinner's ready, boys!" And when Lex turns them both, Diane is setting down two heaped plates --

Bruce still isn't sure what the meatloaf is made of.

Lex turns back to the Kents for long enough to offer a cheery wave. Bruce nods.

Dinner beckons.

Lex sends Diane to bring them the catsup and mayonnaise, and Bruce decides to try the food without any but the normal complement of seasonings. The meatloaf seems to be moderately seasoned beef. The green beans are no stranger than they ever are. The potatoes -- mashed, again -- are seasoned with more garlic than they were last night. Bruce nods to himself and settles back to wait for the other condiments.

"How do you like it?"

"I can't help but wonder what this would taste like with lamb or pork. Or... would that be strange?"

Lex shrugs lightly and takes a sip of lemonade. "All sorts of people *do* make it with lamb. I've never heard of pork being used, but I imagine someone does it somewhere. The concept is the same."

Bruce nods. "You know a great deal about food."

Lex smiles distantly but not falsely. "When my mother was alive, she would collect menus from all of the local -- and not so local -- restaurants, organize them by style of food and neighborhood, and insist that we try something new at least once a week."

"That sounds wonderful."

"Oh, it was. Even when the food itself turned out to be inedible -- or simply too strange to be satisfying. If we were in a restaurant run by people who spoke languages other than English, my mother would make sure that I learned at least a few words of the new language while we ate. If she particularly liked the food, she would charm the cooks into telling her some of their secrets -- even though she was absolutely helpless in the kitchen. She loved food."

"I believe my mother loved *some* foods, but she didn't devote much time or thought to the matter, I don't think."

This smile is much more present. "The difference between having an Alfred and not, perhaps. Now. What do you think is *really* going on with young Master Clark?"

Bruce glances -- and Clark is looking at him, spoon mounded with ice cream paused on its way to his mouth. Bruce smiles --

And Clark blushes and looks back down at his bowl. Hm.

"I can't seem to decide how old he is, beyond being sure that he's *close* to our age."

"Old enough to want you."


"Oh, don't try to quell me *that* fast, Bruce. We *both* saw the way he was looking at you."

"I'm rather more concerned with the way he was looking at *you*, Lex."

"Mm. Well, let's just say that we *both* know who the only person who never looked at me strangely was and leave it at that."

"It truly didn't seem to be about that... though I must admit that I thought it was at first."

Lex takes another sip of lemonade --

And then they both smile at Diane as she brings them bowls of catsup and mayonnaise. And one empty bowl, presumably for mixing. She leaves --

"What sort of ratio should I try to achieve, Lex?"

Lex looks thoughtful for a moment... "This meatloaf is spicier than I expected -- often it can be sort of blandly savory -- so I'd have to say two parts mayo to one part catsup."


"And I think... I don't know, Bruce. This may be Clark's first and only chance to mingle with queers before he goes off to college. I'm considering making an effort to leave the two of you alone tomorrow as much as possible."

Bruce glances again while mixing the condiments -- Clark is looking at Lex and holding his spoon tightly enough... no, it can't possibly be bent. Certainly, it's not bent *now*, but --


There's something --

"I never did answer your question about your tells."

"Whatever it is, I'm doing it again. Yes?"

"Oh, yes. It's actually incredibly impressive that you can smile so vacantly while you look like you're considering setting fire to our table with your eyes."



Bruce closes his eyes for a moment and thinks only of --

(You must *observe*!)

Shouting at him. *Why*? Bruce opens his eyes and raises both eyebrows.

"You look like you've been smoking something terribly illegal, but yes, that's better," Lex says, slicing off a chunk of meatloaf and dipping it in the bowl of creamy, pink -- hm.

"That really isn't very appetizing."

"Taste it."

"I know what mayonnaise and catsup taste like, Lex."

"Trust me."

Bruce raises an eyebrow, but he gets his own chunk and dips it. The taste -- "Hm. That has an interesting tang to it."

"One that you *couldn't* find in either ingredient alone," Lex says, and gets another chunk.

"You're right. I must remember the basics of chemistry."

"Do you think it'll help your digestion?"

"No, but it might help me keep an open mind," Bruce says, and gives himself over to thinking while eating. The Bat is... agitated within him in ways that it simply hasn't been...

It's tempting to blame it on Lex -- and, more to the point, on his need to be *with* someone else who had been close to Tom in ways Harvey *hadn't* -- but... no.

There's something about this town, and something about the Kents. Clark Kent. Something about his difficult age? Something about the way he'd reacted to Lex?

Something, perhaps, about the way he almost seems to be paying attention to their conversation, despite the fact that the ambient sounds of the restaurant should be making it impossible for him to hear more than an indistinct murmur?

"Careful, Brucie."

"I might have been thinking depressing thoughts about my parents."

Lex chokes -- neatly -- on his lemonade. "Bruce."

"Lex. Are you attempting to quell me?"

"Perish the thought. *Are* you attracted to him?"

"I don't know him well enough to make that sort of decision."

Lex inclines his head. "That's fair. He seems... friendly. Giving. He offered us his nightmares."

"Do you believe in them?"

"I believe... that the young man in question hasn't taken his eyes off us for more than a few moments at a time since we left his table. His parents are starting to become suspicious."

Bruce checks -- and Clark has turned to speak to his mother. His blush is, if anything, even stronger than it was before. "I have the strangest sense that he can *hear* us, Lex."

Lex shows his teeth. "You're not alone. There are some interesting stories about Smallville if you know where to look for them."

"Interesting how?"

"Radiation-related mutations -- thanks to the meteor shower that left me the sleekly attractive marvel of male beauty you see before you today."

"When I look at you, Lex, I find it difficult not to look for what Tom saw."

Lex blinks. "You don't think that's dangerous, Bruce?"

"Are you saying you aren't doing it yourself?"

"Oh... I am. And I vastly appreciate your letting me see *some* of it. And, yes, it's incredibly dangerous. But I can handle it."

"And you think I can't?"

Lex cocks his head to the side and rolls his lemonade glass between his long, strong fingers. "Where would you have been if Tom hadn't been the paragon he was? If he was, in short, the kind of boy who *would* up and leave us in the lurch with little in the way of explanation?"

"He. I know he had his reasons --"

Lex waves a hand. "So do I, much to my chagrin. Still. He might've been a lot more like *me*, Bruce --"

"I believe you would be rather happier than you are if you were as generally useless a person as you would like most of the world to believe."

Lex closes his eyes and chuffs a soft laugh. "All right. I surrender. I'm a wonderful person --"

"And not at all prone to exaggeration as a self-defense mechanism."

Lex sets his glass of lemonade down and makes the time-out signal.

Bruce smiles benignly.

"Good Lord, that's *horrible*, Bruce. Are you trying to convince me that you're some kind of spree killer?"

Bruce laughs. "I was hoping for something closer to 'smug.'"

"Well, you made it. You just looked smug about all the hitchhikers you've littered the national parks with."

Hm. Bruce glances, once more, and Clark seems to be having some difficulty putting his jacket on. The fact that he seems to be trying to do so while coughing may be the source of the problem. "Tell me more about these... mutants."

"More food *first*, Brucie. This sort of thing goes better on a full stomach."

"As you say."

They eat in silence, then, and Bruce has to admit that he does, in fact, like the meatloaf better with the distressingly pink... sauce. He does not need Lex to tell him that Alfred would be horrified by this -- he would perhaps be *stricken* -- and so he resolves not to ask for it.

The succotash will be sufficient. Perhaps the grits.

It has been impossible not to think more about food than he had before Tom had been in his life. It was important to him, for all that he'd eaten like a bird. It had been...

He'd *enjoyed* mocking Bruce about his lack of interest, just as he'd enjoyed doing all sorts of things to *pique* Bruce's interest...

And what would Tom say about Clark? Would he have found his reactions suspicious? Would he want to study the boy in hopes of discovering a metahuman with useful powers?

Would he have liked Clark's smiles?

Bruce finishes his dinner and turns to his lemonade -- and discovers that it's almost exactly the same as Alfred's. It's somewhat sweeter, but the proportions of lemon to water --

"Yes, it *is* delicious. I swear, Bruce, you're making me want to learn how to cook just to see if I can put that expression on your face."

"You want to make me happy, Lex...?"

Lex snorts. "I may have set myself difficult goals, but I am *not* Don Quixote."

"I suppose I wouldn't make much of a Dulcinea, at that."

"Oh, on the contrary. You'd make far too *much* of a Dulcinea. Which is not to say that I never want to see you in a corset."

"I find myself relieved that Clark isn't here to listen to *this* conversation."

"Assuming he could."

"He could," Bruce says, raising an eyebrow. "And he did. Now --"

"About those mutants, yes. Well, there haven't been any photos or film, so that alone makes it all rather difficult to credit. However. The cancer rate in this town has been sky high since the meteor shower -- don't worry, the rate of new cases dropped five years ago -- and there are stories. A pond where too many kids -- and adults -- have drowned. Kids who stop attending school right around puberty and all but fall off the face of the earth. Physical strength which seems unreasonable given the individual's body type. Things like that."

"I begin to see why you were interested in coming here."

"Well... yes and no. I did want a vacation, and I wanted it to be in a place where I'd found some measure of happiness --"

"And a rather large amount of trauma."

"Bruce. You and I *both* know that that sort of thing makes the happy moments all the sweeter."

That -- Bruce inclines his head.

"But... yes. I'm curious. I don't expect to get any proof for my theories, but... what *if*, Bruce? What if we *do* stumble over some sort of mutant --"

"I believe they prefer the term 'metahuman.'"

Lex makes a face. "Might as well call them superhumans and beg them to oppress the rest of us."

"Still, if we *do* happen to meet one, I'd like to stay on his or her good side for as long as possible."

Lex sighs. "All right, you have a point. Let's get seconds."

They do, and again consume them silently. This time, Bruce doesn't bother to wait to consume his lemonade, and Diane returns to fill their glasses and to tease them gently with the prospect of tomorrow night's dinner, which will be fried catfish with cornbread and Diane's own special salad.

Dessert is vanilla pound cake with homemade strawberry ice cream, and Bruce finds himself halfway through it with very little in the way of memories of eating so much. Hm.

"What can you tell me about this cake, Lex?"

"Other than that you love it?"

"Alfred makes cakes all the time, and they're always quite good."

"You're starting to feel somewhat disloyal, aren't you?"

Bruce frowns.

Lex laughs at him. "All right, all right, I'll tell you -- there's nothing in the way of subtlety to this cake. It's made with at least half a dozen eggs -- that's why it's so dense -- and there's enough vanilla extract in it to choke a horse. And it's incredible."

Bruce sighs. "It really is. And now I'm remembering all the times Tom and Harvey have told me that I don't deserve Alfred with a new sense of understanding."

"You can always give him to me."

Bruce narrows his eyes.

Lex snickers. "Eat up. We have to get enough sleep tonight."

"What sort of work is *done* on a farm?"

"*Hard*," Lex says, and takes a shamelessly large spoonful of ice cream. "We're going to have work ourselves to the bone just to avoid humiliating ourselves."

"Do we..."


"What would you do about Clark's... attraction?"

"Are you asking for advice or for more information about me?"


Lex smiles and toasts him with his lemonade glass. "I would flirt outrageously to see just how much he *understands* about what he wants... and then I would -- gently -- shut him down. This is, after all, a company town."

"LuthorCorp has a rather extensive reach if you're allowing that to influence your romantic life, Lex. And... is that the only reason?"

"I'm sure there'll be someone in a city for me someday, Bruce. In a town like this one, where a sizeable percentage of the residents depend on my father for their very livelihoods... rather a bit too droit de seigneur, don't you think?"

"You have a point. And?"

"*And* -- Tom hadn't known me for five minutes before he knew that I wasn't nearly as gay as I pretended to be."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "He's the only male you've ever been attracted to?"

Shuttered eyes -- and a very clear decision to open them once again. "He was different, Bruce. You know that."

"I do... and yet there has always been Harvey."

"And how would *he* feel if he knew you were thinking about a lovely and corn-fed young man? For that matter, what did he say when he knew you were going to be vacationing with *me*?"

"Harvey's life will be a political one. He has been... letting go."

("You know I love you, big guy. You know that, right?")

Lex winces subtly. "I believe I understand what you're saying. And... I'm sorry."

Bruce blinks.

And Lex smiles ruefully. "I'm already sick and tired of losing love, Bruce. I suppose it speaks well of me that I'm capable of empathy in this respect, but I'm sick and tired of that, too. Let's pay."


In their bedroom, Lex arranges the stuffed animals with the sweater-vested bear against the wall and the other animals bracing it in a precise arc.

They agree that it looks like a firing squad.

They crawl into bed and sleep.


It doesn't matter that he knows it's only a dream. It never matters, because the blood soaking into the knees of his pants is warm, because his father's breathing is wet and rattling, because his mother's hand is twitching --

Over and over --

He wants it to stop, it has to stop --

And when it stops he screams, and screams --

No one comes --

No one ever *comes* --

It doesn't matter, because every time he tries to make himself go to the phone booth and dial the blood turns to something as thick and horrible as glue --

The stink of metal and cordite --

His father sounds like he's drowning --

It's all happening *again* and he can't --


Bruce gasps and sits up, panting and chasing the dream away, tearing it away from his mind like cobwebs, like --

So much *blood* --

"I'm sorry, Lex."

"You -- that was a nightmare."

"Yes. Please, I'm all right," Bruce says, and forces himself to lie back down, to breathe, to think --

The dark is surrounding him. It's not the *right* darkness, but --

He's not alone.

He's never alone in the dark --

"Ah -- hm. I have to tell you, Bruce, that sounds like a lot of bullshit in just a few words."

"Don't you ever have nightmares?"

"Rarely, since I learned lucid dreaming."

"It's real? It... helps?"

Lex rests a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "You've tried it before."

"I must -- I must have been doing it wrong."

Lex squeezes. "It doesn't work for everyone."

Oh... of course not. Bruce laughs softly. "Did I scream?"

"No. You were just... thrashing. You seemed to be trying to get free."

Bruce nods. "I'm sorry I woke you."

"It's all right --"

"It will be. Someday."

Lex strokes Bruce's shoulder and squeezes again, harder. "We can talk about it."

That -- Bruce smiles. "Were you ever eager to speak about your own nightmares?"

"Well... never. But I might have done it anyway."

"With Tom."

"Yes," Lex says, and shifts -- he's tossing away his extra pillows. When he's done, he lies down and turns on his side, facing Bruce.

Bruce can feel his breath, taste the faint sourness of sleep. "Lex..."

"Just -- have you ever spoken to anyone about your nightmares?"

"Not this one." Tom had already known this one, and that --

The *ache* of it --

"It's -- it's my parents, Lex. Again."

Lex strokes down over Bruce's chest to his abdomen. His hands are hard, well-used --

Not as hard as Tom's, but --

"I can't imagine what you went through. I -- I won't apologize, but I want you to know that I sympathize," Lex says, formal and correct and -- sincere.

"You sound very young when you say things like that, Lex."

"I like to think that it balances out with my wisdom in other respects."

Bruce... smiles. "Perhaps it does, at that."

"Bruce --"

"I'm all right. And -- there will be peace in the future."

"Sometimes... sometimes we have to make our own peace."


"Yes," Bruce says, and covers Lex's hand with his own. The warmth of it seems profound, for all that he's been feeling it on his abdomen. "I... I've never spent the night in bed with Harvey."

"Or Tom?"

"Or Tom."

"And here I am --"

"Yes. Here you are. Lex... I could take much from you."

Lex's breath catches -- evens, once more. "If I let you."

"If that, yes. And you --"

"Shall we 'comfort' each other, Bruce? Give ourselves what we think we need?"

"I believe... I believe I thought that you would know better than I what that is."

"I *don't*."

"I know that now."

Lex curls his fingers in against Bruce's abdomen, and his breath hitches again and again --

He's laughing, and it sounds like the most painful experience he could have. "Should I apologize, Lex?"

"God -- fuck if I know," Lex says, and his laughter finds a measure of ease. "Why don't we just go with the idea that it would be a bad idea. We need -- we need too much."

And that... is something he can agree with. "I have always needed too much."

"Mm. I, of course, know *nothing* about *that* sort of thing. Maybe we chased him away by being too needy."

"You're the one who pointed out that *he* needs that sort of thing."

"*Then* he did. Maybe... maybe he decided to wean himself off the codependency tit."

"Do you always curse when you're shaken?"

"What? You know I do it for effect --"

"Sometimes you do."

"I --" Lex laughs again and turns onto his back. "Serves me right for being honest with the smartest guy in school."

"*You're* the most intelligent --"

"Let's not quibble. You are *remarkably* ignorant about all sorts of things, but you're never, ever dim. Whereas I... well, sometimes I miss things that are right in front of my face, even when I shouldn't."


"Like the fact that you're just a quieter kind of habitual liar, or... no, that's not it. It's just that one of the things you're ignorant about is how to look like anything but the grief-ridden madman on the moors -- even when you're quite pleased with the world. Or... no, I'm not sure that's it, either. I'll figure it out, though."

"Because it's right in front of your face?"

"Indeed and indubitably, my dear Brucie. One of my better qualities is that I'm never dim for *long*."

"Lex... I've been attracted to you for quite some time."

Lex's laugh is easier this time. "Oh, Bruce... tell you what. When you've stopped being *disturbed* about the fact that you're attracted to me? We can revisit this conversation. For now? Why don't you dream a little dream of black-haired, blue-eyed farmboys who look nothing like our mutual *demon*, but are probably just as devastating in their own way."

"All right, Lex," Bruce says, and closes his eyes again.

But he makes a point of stroking the back of Lex's hand --

And he takes Lex's shiver for his own.


They're half a mile into the three mile walk to the Kent farm when a pickup truck pulls up beside them. An open door reveals Clark with a broad, cheerful smile on his face. His hair appears to be mussed from sleep, but his simple work-clothes are neat, and his affect speaks of perfect wakefulness --

"God in Heaven, Bruce, I think we've met a morning person."


"You'll have to forgive him, Clark -- he won't be polysyllabic for at least another hour," Lex says, and gives Bruce a push up into the cab.

Bruce is inside before he fully realizes that Lex had just forced him to take the middle -- "Lex."

"Don't even think about it, Bruce. I *never* take the middle seat."

"The middle seat is *great*, Bruce. You'll wind up knocking into both of us for the whole trip!"

Bruce frowns. "This is a good thing?"

"Well, yeah," Clark says, and starts the truck.

The engine sounds to be in good repair, despite the truck's obvious -- and impressive -- age.

"It's... well. It's companionable."

Bruce thinks about that for a moment --


There are still times when Bruce wishes he could make the Bat be *quiet*, that he could make it let him concentrate on something --

But what is there to concentrate on save the mission? And, of course, the mission behind the mission --

"Clark," Lex says in a stage-whisper, "you have to *work* to make Bruce companionable."

Bruce blinks -- he really isn't suited for this time of day, for all that he'll have to get used to it in Gotham... though he suspects that he'll find it easier when he's facing this time from the other direction.

"It. Um. You guys really didn't have to do this," Clark says, and he sounds uncomfortable again. That --

He doesn't want that. Bruce turns in the small space available and rests his hand on Clark's shoulder. "Forgive me. I believe I was hoping that the walk would wake me up."

"Well -- I. I'm sorry. I just thought -- I don't know what I thought --"

"We appreciate the ride, Clark. Or, well, *I* do. I'd like to make newer, better memories of this truck."

Clark winces, clearly taking that in the worst way possible --

"Clark," Bruce says, and squeezes his shoulder. "It's all right. I'm not very good at meeting new people, and Lex isn't very good at not being terrifying."

Lex snorts. "*Thank* you, Bruce."

"You're quite welcome."

Clark peers at them from under his lashes before turning back to the road. "So. Um. You guys have been friends for a long time?"

Bruce suspects -- knows -- that neither of them have very pleasant smiles on their faces --

"Um. Jeez. I mean -- never mind."

Lex laughs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Help me out here, Bruce. Please."

"We're getting to know each other on this trip," Bruce says, and squeezes Clark's shoulder one more time before bringing his hand back down to his lap. "We shared a mutual friend who left us both -- and left us both deeply confused about how we would deal with one another."

"*That* is an excellent way to put it," Lex says, leaning forward so he can look past Bruce to Clark. "We've each been trying to figure out what our friend -- Tom -- saw in the other."

Clark frowns. "You were... enemies?"

"Not... quite," Bruce says, and smiles ruefully. "Certainly, Tom would likely have done his best to beat us if we had characterized our relationship in that way."

"And his best was very, very good."

"Yes. He was, among other things, a wonderfully accomplished martial artist."

"Oh, wow. Like kung fu?"

"Karate," Bruce says, and thinks of bruises, scars --

"Judo," Lex says, and sounds as though he's thinking of something, too. "And, at the very least, *some* aikido. He told me that he'd started working at it when he was eleven."

That... doesn't sound...

Tom had told *him* that he and his Bruce had started when they were fourteen. Or... is that just when his Bruce had agreed to begin? The picture Tom had given him of his Bruce was really incalculably strange, but --

He can imagine being that reluctant, that inclined toward thumbing his nose at the voice in his mind --


Right now, Lex is eyeing him with a sort of fond amusement -- hm.

"Tom looked at me that way, you know."

Lex blinks and actually shrinks back somewhat --

Bruce smiles --

"Hey, what'd I miss? And was this Tom guy really big and tough? He'd almost *have* to be, right?"

Lex narrows his eyes in a *warning* fashion -- "You missed nothing save for Bruce deciding to skewer me on the fact that I share some facial expressions with our lost... friend."

Clark frowns. "You... the way you said 'friend' makes it sound like he wasn't you guys' friend, at all --"

"He was --"

"And he wasn't," Lex says, turning enough that his back is against the door of the cab. "We were both his lovers."

The truck swerves, tires grinding young wheat into the loam -- "Um!"

"Do you need help controlling the truck, Clark?"

"Maybe! I mean, no! I've got it, I've got it," and Clark takes them back onto the blacktop and starts taking deep, slow breaths.

There's something strange about the shape of the steering wheel, but the shadows in the cab are too deep to be sure about that, and --

Bruce pats Clark's knee --

"Oh, jeez!"

"Perhaps you can understand why I described Lex as terrifying," Bruce says, and sits back.

"Well, I *guess* --"

"How old are you, Clark? I'm curious," Lex says, and his teeth gleam in the dimness.

"Um. Um. I'm fifteen, sir -- I mean -- I mean Lex. And I -- I was kept back a year, so I'm only a freshman, so I probably shouldn't be driving this truck but nobody really minds because I'm careful and --"

"Clark," Bruce says, and thinks about touching him again -- he doesn't. "It's all right. You don't have to worry about either of us taking advantage of you."

"I know *that*. I -- I wasn't worried about that," and Clark swallows audibly and slows the truck down.

"Then what *were* you worried about," and Lex sounds like he'd rather be crossing his legs.

"Just. You know. My parents say there's nothing wrong with... with that kind of thing, and I *believe* them, but there are a lot of people around here who can... well, they can be *mean*."

"We do know how to be careful, Clark. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding," Lex says, and Bruce doesn't need to see him to know that his smile, this time, is for him.

"Lex has a point, Clark. We're neither of us unfamiliar with... secrets."

"And... and Tom, too?"

"Oh... him most of all," and when Lex turns to face the road, he makes something of a point of dragging his knee against the outside of Bruce's thigh.

The message is an ambiguous one, at best.

"What... does that mean?"

"It means... well. Bruce?"

Romance, perhaps? Bruce smiles. "It means that there was never a moment when Tom was fully at rest. Even when he dozed in the aftermath of lovemaking, there was always a line creased deep in his forehead, there was always at least one desperately important thought keeping him from rest. There was never a time when he wasn't playing a role with at least one small part of himself --"

"Even if that role was as benign and welcome -- and honest -- as that of trusted and trusting friend," and Lex sighs softly. "He, as the idiom goes, took me to *school* when it came to playing roles."

"But... why would you *want* to play a role?"

"Do you want all of your classmates to know everything about you, Clark?"

"Well, no, but --"

"Secrets," Bruce says, and taps lightly on Clark's knee, "are easier to keep when there is a well-fortified place within you *to* keep them in."

"Oh, bring on the battlements and boiling oil. And eyeliner."

"And a reputation for being unimaginatively grim and silent."

"You *are* grim and silent, Bruce."

Bruce smiles again. "I assure you, Lex, that my imagination is neither."

Clark turns onto a back road and frowns. "When you say Tom left you both... um."

"At the moment," Lex says, teeth gleaming, "he's traveling the depths of the Amazon."

"*Really*? Like, the jungle?"

If only -- "Yes."

"Well... you guys did describe him as being... tough."

"He is the strongest person I know."

"Yes, *that*," and Lex sighs somewhat disgustedly. "As for his looks... he's short and slight. Lean as a whip."


Clark swallows audibly. "And... both of you? Were... with him?"

"Not enough," Bruce says. "Never enough."

They ride in silence for about half a mile -- and then the road becomes dirt. As it happens, Bruce does get bounced back and forth no matter what he does to brace himself.

Lex laughs at him.

Clark seems to feel no effect whatsoever from the force of Bruce's bumps, but that could be a factor of how large he himself is. He does not have the body of a fifteen-year-old.

They reach the farm after only three minutes on the dirt road, and Clark parks in the dooryard. There are lights on in the house, but Clark leads them to the barn -- and stops once the lights are on.

"You guys... um. I really *can* do all the chores myself. Ma just doesn't like to see people our age not doing anything."

Lex grins and looks around. "A woman after my own heart. Show us what we can do to help, Clark. I wouldn't want to waste this outfit."

The outfit in question is a blue chambray work shirt and brand-new jeans.

Bruce, like Clark, is wearing plaid.

"Do tell us, Clark. We need the exercise."

"I -- are you *sure*?"

"*Absolutely* sure," Lex says. "I smell manure. Is there some place it needs to be shoveled to?"

"Well -- the cows are all milked already, but yes. We put it in the wheelbarrow and then take loads of it to the pile by the fields. I -- it can be pretty heavy --"

Bruce rests a hand on Clark's shoulder again --


What he sees are wide blue eyes which are nothing like either of theirs, a very strong jaw, parted lips --

His mouth looks very *soft* --

Bruce smiles. "He's much stronger than he looks."

"And so is Bruce," Lex says, taking a shovel off the wall and raising his eyebrows at Clark.

"Um -- yes, that's the one. You want to lift with --"

"My knees, yes. I have *no* interest in putting my back out this morning."

Clark still looks troubled, but it's much milder. "Then... um. The only other thing I have to do before the sun is up is go through all the tools and stuff and make sure they're in good condition and take down what repairs need to be made."

Bruce nods. "Lead the way?"

Clark's expression gains a measure of shyness -- and there is a blush. "Up. Up into the loft, first."

Bruce follows Clark up the ladder, and Clark dispels the darkness with a pull of a simple cord. The bulb is in a cage, and there is a near-immediate smell of toasting dust. Hm.

"That isn't a fire hazard?"

"Hunh? Oh, no, it's a low wattage bulb. It never gets *too* hot. Um," and Clark leads them to one of the back walls, where there are a series of tools separated by size and, Bruce believes, functionality.

The rest of the loft is taken up with an old couch -- covered in several folded blankets -- and several well-maintained crates containing books... and comic books. "I've never read comic books."


Bruce shakes his head. "Are they very exciting?"

"Well, *yeah*. I mean, there are stories about aliens and superheroes and mad scientists and magicians and -- well, lots of things."

"I wonder what the Justice Society thinks about them."

Clark bites his lip and takes a large pair of shears from the wall. "I've always thought. Well. It kind of makes me embarrassed to think of *actual* superheroes knowing about those books, even though they kinda *have* to. I mean, some of the characters have powers based on their own... anyway. It's not like any of those heroes come *here*," and Clark tests the edge against his fingertip and frowns. "Darn. I could've sworn I'd sharpened this just a month ago."

"Is there a whetstone up here?"

"Hunh? Yeah, sure, it's right over there by the box of library books. I have to remember to return those tomorrow."

Bruce retrieves the whetstone and takes the shears. "You read a great deal."

"I *love* reading. Um. I mean, I know that sounds really nerdy, but --"

"I love to read, as well. Do you ever enjoy science fiction? Novels, I mean."

Clark -- beams at him. "Yes! Especially the kind with inventions you can really imagine being discovered five years from now, or even *next* year. I don't really like the dark stuff, though."


Clark shakes his head and continues going through the tools. "I mean, yeah, humanity has nuclear weapons, and most Americans wouldn't know how to understand a Russian if there were one right there in front of him, and that's really dangerous and *important*, but... I don't know. I'm sure *some* people need to know what could happen if they weren't careful with the world, but I'm not one of them."

Hm. "A case could be made that every human is 'one of them.'"

Clark winces -- and turns to face the wall entirely. The tension in his shoulders is powerful, *palpable* --


"Nothing. I mean -- um." Clark looks back over his shoulder and smiles at Bruce. "I really don't want to act stupid in front of you. Or Lex! I -- that's all. I mean. Now I really *am* going to read those books with all the... the apocalypses --"

"You don't have to --"

"Well, now I really want to see what someone like you sees in them --"

"And you don't have to lie to me, Clark," Bruce says, and pauses to blow filings from the surface of the whetstone. "As I said, both Lex and I are well-acquainted with secrets."

"What. What kind of secret do you think I have? I mean. It's not really. I've never been any good at hiding crushes --"

"Really. You..." Bruce laughs and shakes his head. "You've just told me something very important, Clark."

Clark snorts. "That I think you're really good-looking? You could tell that last *night*."

"No. You've told me that you know enough about lying to understand that, often, the best way to hide an important secret is to disguise it behind another important secret. And I find you very attractive, as well."

"You. You do? I mean -- I wasn't lying --"

"It's all right, Clark. Secrets are dangerous things," Bruce says, and sights along the blades, one after the other. "These are wonderfully made."

"Um. Jeremiah Whittaker over in Heath makes them. Bruce --"

"Does anything else need sharpening?"

"The -- ah. The hoe. But it doesn't need to be as sharp as the shears --"

Bruce stands up and hands Clark the shears before cupping Clark's shoulders. "What do you want from me?"

Clark makes a soft noise and leans forward -- steps back. "What do you want from *me*?"

An excellent question, excellently turned on himself. "I'm not sure, to be honest. I have a lover at school, but, while he cares for me deeply, he doesn't want to risk his future by being caught in a homosexual relationship. I find Lex increasingly attractive now that we're here -- and away from the roles we play at school -- but he loved nearly everything about Tom. I can't approach that beauty."

"You -- no. You're very --" Clark growls softly and blushes much more loudly than that. "You're really handsome, and I. I was watching you at dinner last night. And I don't know what cologne you wear, but it makes me want to sniff you, and -- you could have anyone."

"Do you really think so? No, that was disingenuous. Women -- and teenaged girls -- often pursue me when I make social appearances. The subtext of those encounters has always been that I *could* have sex with any number of them if I wanted to do so."

"You. You don't like girls?"

"Tom told me that he was sure I'd meet a woman who excited me as much as the men in my life do someday... Tom was an optimist."

"Sometimes you talk about him like -- like he's *dead* --"

"No. I speak about him as though he's lost to me, which he is -- at the moment. I have every reason to believe that I won't see him for many years..."


Bruce nods to himself and steps closer to Clark again, this time cupping Clark's cheek --

"Oh. Bruce --"

"You're a beautiful young man. You heard every word Lex and I said at dinner last night."

"You -- were. I mean, I have pretty good hearing, and there weren't that many people there --"

"You bent your spoon when we spoke of shocking things."

Widened eyes --

"Your eyes are... is the sky that color here? Ever?"

"I don't -- pay attention to the sky, Bruce --"

"You are not yet a practiced liar. I think... I'm not sure I'll want to know you when you are."

Clark winces -- "Please."

"Please what?"

"Let me." Clark swallows audibly again -- and reaches to touch Bruce's waist with his free hand. "You're so handsome, and I really want to kiss you, and I don't -- I can't tell you --"

"You bent the steering wheel, as well, didn't you? And managed to repair it quickly and well enough that there were only a few small cracks in the plastic --"

"*Please*, Bruce --"

This moment -- "I met Dr. Fate once."

Clark blinks rapidly -- "You *did*?"

Bruce smiles ruefully. Yes. Yes, *this* moment, and perhaps Tom would call him impulsive, but Bruce has come to know him well enough to know how ruthless he could be -- with himself and with the rest of the world. Bruce knows what he would do for the *Mission*, and -- yes. "He took Tom away from me. From *us*. He's not in the Amazon, at all -- unless he decided to travel there once he returned to his own universe."

"That -- that doesn't make any --"

"Doesn't it? You know something Lex doesn't. And I know... well. Enhanced strength. Enhanced speed. Heightened senses. What are you, Clark? *Who* are you?"

And the anguish on Clark's face is enough --

It *should* be enough to make Bruce stop this, to make Bruce pull back, be *gentle* --

He must make himself ready.


He must become more than he is --


"I need help, Clark. I need... I'm only human. I have some measure of intelligence, the capacity to observe... I will not be able to reach Tom on my own, and there are other things I must do, as well. There are..." Bruce laughs quietly and presses his thumb against Clark's mouth.

Clark whimpers --

His eyes are so *wide* --

"Do you see your future, Clark?"

Clark squeezes his eyes shut -- and nods, mouth dragging against Bruce's thumb.

(Only I will never --)

Shut up or be *useful*. And --

The Bat hasn't left him -- never that -- but there is a quiet eagerness, a push within him to push *Clark*, to *use* him --

But there are things he can offer in return. Things --

There is room in war for allies, and he wants Tom to understand so *badly*. He wants to reach through time and space until he can pull Tom here to *this* moment, to show him --

Bruce has been so lonely, so *needy* --

Tom had *taught* him that need, and he can't --

He *can*. "I see my future as well, Clark. The Justice Society has paved the way for people like us, but there is still more we can do, more we can *achieve*. Do you understand?"

Wide eyes again -- and a nod.

"Have you already begun?"

"Yes," Clark says, slurred against Bruce's thumb --

Bruce lets go --

And the speed with which Clark takes his hand again --

Bruce's fingers simply *are* against Clark's mouth --

And it isn't soft, at all, anymore. It isn't --

Oh. Oh, yes --

Clark lets go of Bruce's hand... and stands still and straight and tall. He's only a little more than two inches shorter than Bruce, and there's no way to know how much more he will grow... or is there?

"The Kents... they're not your biological parents, are they?"

"I'm. I'm adopted. You should. If you touch -- um."

Bruce nods and strokes Clark's face, feeling fever-heat and a texture --

A depth of feeling --

"You're... hard."

Clark snorts. "You bet I am, Bruce. But -- yeah. That way, too."

Bruce nods again and strokes down Clark's throat --

"I really -- I want you to have better reasons to touch me that way --"

"You don't know me --"

"You -- are you trying to discourage me *now*?" And Clark is incredulous, amused -- and still somewhat panicked.

Gentle. Careful. *More* -- "Forgive me. I'm used to my lovers being, if not older than me, then wiser and more experienced."

Clark pants for a moment, another --

He stops and --

And Bruce's hand is touching Clark's mouth again. Clark has one large, broadly adolescent hand wrapped around Bruce's wrist and the other clutching -- clinging to -- Bruce's forearm.

"I want. Bruce, I --"

"Tell me."

Clark shakes his head and kisses Bruce's palm once, again, again -- he pulls back, and his smile is a pained thing, a *desperate* thing -- "I'm afraid of the future."


"I can't -- I can't mess *up*, and there are so many people who need help, so many -- and I don't even know how to *use* all of my powers, or how to *stop* using them --"

"You're gentle enough."

"That's because I've been strong since I was a -- a *toddler*. That's. That's when I got here."

Bruce narrows his eyes. "To this country?"

Clark's smile turns into something both rueful and gently beatific, and he squeezes Bruce's arm and wrist *just* lightly enough to avoid causing pain. "To this *planet*."

Oh... "The meteor shower --"


"And you -- feel guilt for what happened to Lex?"

"Wouldn't *you*? And -- all of those other people. The *mutants*. I've managed to stop a few from hurting people, and I've even helped one or two, but what happens when I can't? I just -- it all started going -- going *crazy* a little more than a year ago, and I could only ever talk to my parents, and it feels like I'm getting stronger or some other new power every *day* --

"And. It feels like I'm always this close to getting *caught*. I just -- *most* of me is relieved, Bruce. Because -- what *does* happen when I can't fix it? When one of the mutants is too strong even for me? I don't know *how* to call in the Justice Society, and I can't even keep *strangers* from looking at me and knowing the truth."

Bruce nods slowly, but the truth is that his mind is racing, his *heart* is racing -- focus. Focus on *everything*, yes, but on this moment, as well. There is no other choice, and the largest part of Bruce will always be relieved by situations like this. Choice breeds ambiguity. Necessity breeds only... will? Something greater, he thinks. Something -- "Perhaps. Perhaps there are ways I can be of assistance."

"You -- you're pretty darned smart. So is *Lex*. You -- don't get me wrong, but you guys are *scary*."

And how long, precisely, has Lex only been listening from below? What price will be paid -- no. He'll find out, and he'll pay it. *This* is right. "To an alien? Do you know where you're from?"

Clark shakes his head -- and kisses Bruce's palm again. "You're not. I mean. Does it -- is it too weird?"

Bruce smiles. "I'm still attracted to you, if that's what you mean."

"You -- your scent... changed."

"Do I smell frightened?"

Clark licks his lips. "You smell... excited. In a different way than before."

Bruce nods. "That worries you."

"Well -- yeah. I looked you *up* the other day when you got to town with Lex. You own the controlling interest in a company with government contracts. *Military* contracts. I don't -- I don't want to end up in some *lab*, Bruce."

That -- "Somehow I hadn't considered that. I'll protect you."

"You -- what? Just like that?"

"I'll protect you," Bruce says, again. "And I believe I can convince Lex to help me with that. I promise..."

(Only I will --)

Such an endlessly *contrary* thing, grasping and pushing at once -- "I promise that the only laboratories you wind up in will be the ones you choose to help you learn and understand your powers."

Clark bites his lip  -- stops.

He shuffles his feet -- stops --


"I want. I want to show you my ship. The one that brought me here."

Bruce takes a breath. "Oh... yes, I would like to see it."

"It's only. It's just that most of me only wants to do it so that I can see that this is all real, that you're not running away or -- running to *tell*."

"Somehow, I feel confident in saying that you could catch me."

"I -- please. Please don't joke about this."

And this time Bruce has to *catch* his breath, because the look in Clark's eyes is familiar. Not the darkness he shares with Lex, but the moment, the light --

"Only Tom has ever made me feel like that."

"Like... like what?" And Clark bites his lip again --

Bruce tugs it away. "The way you feel right now. What I can see in your eyes."

"You --" Clark moans again, soft and brief -- "How did he *get* here from that other universe?"

Bruce shakes his head. "He didn't know -- or he chose not to tell me. I needed him in an instant of acquaintance. I loved him after not much more. He was my brother."

"That's -- that's how you felt about him?"

Bruce smiles and cups Clark's waist with his free hand. "Perhaps it's my turn to shock you. He was my brother. My fraternal twin in the universe he was from. He knew everything about me. He loved me. He *taught* me. And when I surprised *him* with my desire..." Bruce squeezes and sighs. "I will not say he didn't falter, because he did. But he needed me in return, and when we touched...

"When we touched, he would shake and cry out, shameless and loud. He *cursed* with pleasure, and it all aroused me more, and more than that. It drove me somewhat mad when he came to care for Lex as well as me, and sometimes I wonder if I could've kept him here had I been more accepting of his needs."

Clark frowns. "But -- his whole universe was on the other side of -- of whatever it was. He *had* to go home, Bruce."

Bruce smiles. "Perhaps. But I ache for him still. And I'm never sure whether I want him to make love to the brother he was raised with or not."

"You -- you don't know if you don't want him to be lonely?"

"I know hardly anything at all. Tom taught me what I know of love... and of necessity. Harvey helped, as well, but he could never... he *will* never know the truth about *my* future."

Clark licks his lips again. "Do you... I mean. Are you going to become a vigilante?"

"Yes. Tom had begun training with his Bruce in his own universe, and so he began training me, as well. I've taught myself still more in his absence with the help of local senseis, but that's only the beginning. I've been training myself in science and technology, in psychology and criminal justice... when I graduate in May, I will begin training my body in earnest. And I will travel the world until I have made myself ready to demand that Dr. Fate take me to Tom, if only for the length of one more kiss."

"And then... fighting crime?"

Bruce nods. "One of the first lessons Tom taught me was that I did not have to be alone in my journey. Will you join me? Will you fight at my side when I am prepared?"

"Oh. Oh. Please --" And Clark pulls Bruce close -- "Please," he says, and the kiss is careful and light, *soft* --

Bruce pulls back. "No. Show me."

Clark whimpers again -- and then his hands are on either side of Bruce's head, and the kiss isn't soft, at all.

It isn't as brutal as Bruce sometimes couldn't help but give Tom, but --

Clark's lips can't be crushed against his own. Clark's tongue has the muscular force of something much greater --

Bruce hums and tries to *know* the kiss, to understand it so that he can give it *back* --

And once he begins doing so, Clark groans into his mouth and thrusts *hard* against him, *clutching* Bruce --

Stroking Bruce seemingly everywhere at once --

"Please, please, *please* --"


"Oh -- oh, God --"

And there is a kind of necessary motion in moving Clark until they reach the couch, in *pushing* him until they're seated --

Clark throws himself back and then pulls Bruce *onto* him --

And Bruce wonders if anyone had touched Clark in this way, if his loneliness had ever been greater than his need for *care*. The kiss is clumsy until Bruce shapes it otherwise, but the passion, the *need* --

*Ally* --

And Bruce doesn't know what to do with the joy in his heart, with the swell of it --

The *power* of it --

He pulls back. "Clark. We really should finish the chores."

"Oh, probably," Lex says, and the laugh under his voice is familiarly *bracing*. "But this is *damned* entertaining."

Yes. Yes. "Lex."

"Yes, Bruce?"

Bruce kneels up -- and pauses to stroke Clark's chest firmly, soothingly. It's a touch neither Tom nor Harvey had accepted from him --

("*Easy* with that, big guy. You're making me feel like I should be wearing something silk and eating bonbons or something.")

But Clark shivers and relaxes all over before sitting up and smiling ruefully. "I heard you stop shoveling. I just. Couldn't stop talking."

Lex cocks his head to the side. "Presumably you heard my heart start racing when Bruce's did."

"Um. Yes. I'm sorry --"

"Don't," Lex says, walking closer and dropping into a crouch just a few feet away. "You were... a toddler, you said? You weren't exactly piloting that ship I'm dying to see. Or were you?"

"Um. No, I wasn't. I was just a kid."

"Who *someone*, *somewhere*, shoved in a spaceship and sent hurtling toward this planet --" Lex grins and shakes his head. "Incredible. Unbelievable, really, but -- Bruce?"

"His speed is phenomenal. And, when he isn't controlling it -- somehow -- his body feels like nothing human."

"Hard, you said."

"Intensely so."

Lex licks his lips and nods again -- and then laughs somewhat explosively. "My God, I can't believe myself. I --" Another laugh.

Bruce raises an eyebrow -- and then lowers it again. "Most of you is still focused on the question of Tom."

"Well, *yes*, you -- God, you lying *bastard*. You *forged* that letter."


"And you -- he's your *brother*?"

Bruce shows his teeth. "I assure you, I was wracked with guilt and self-loathing right up until the moment Tom kissed me."

Lex snorts. "Oh -- God. He's even more of a pervert than I *thought* he was. You -- well, I always knew *you* wouldn't go about sexuality in any remotely normal way. I was just convinced that you'd wind up leaving your sizeable fortune to a very attractive goat."

"Lex. Alfred would never allow me to keep livestock in my bedroom."

Lex snorts again -- "Oh, God, stop. Even though I asked for that. Even though -- heh. Dr. Fate. You realize you've given me another reason to loathe and distrust vigilantes, don't you?"

"They do good, important *work*," Clark says, leaning forward until Bruce rests a hand on his shoulder.

"Lex. That has to end. You know everything now."

"Yes, I do. The question is what I'm supposed to *do* with it. Or did you actually mean it when you said you'd take me to retrieve Tom?"

Bruce smiles just that much wider. "I meant it with all of myself, Lex. I have no intention of giving him time to muster his doubtless logical and rational arguments against us."

"You're a *ruthless* lying bastard, and I... well, I have to say that's my *type* --" Lex shivers and turns back to Clark. "I'll protect you. But you're going to have to do a lot better at keeping secrets."

Clark frowns. "I could say the same thing about you. About *both* of you."

Lex smiles. "Shall I, Bruce? Or will you? He might like it better from between your gently swollen lips."

"What? What are you two talking about?"

Bruce squeezes Clark's shoulder. "I believe what Lex is implying is that there is all too little a teenaged boy from Smallville, Kansas -- however powerful -- can do to affect our lives. Whereas we can do very much."

The frown becomes more serious. "That's -- that's really ugly."


"Absolutely," Lex says, and spreads his hands. "But so is the world you want to spend your life saving."

And that... "Lex."

"You know, Bruce, when you say my name in that tone of voice, you sound about twenty years older. And *horrifically* amused. I strongly suggest that you *don't* use that tone with anyone you want to have thinking you're harmless."

"Noted, but --"

"Yes, yes, let me guess: you're going to say something about my ambitions and how they aren't very different from your own."

Bruce inclines his head.

"Oh! You want to be a hero, too, Lex?"

Lex's expression turns sour. "I *want* to change the world. That's not the same thing in the slightest, as I have no intention of running about with my underwear on the outside of my *pants*."

Bruce smiles. "You *could* start a new fashion --"

"*No*. Look, I... all right, I can understand what makes both of you want to do... *that*, but I maintain that there's a better way. And when I find it? You, you, and everyone else *like* you can either step out of the closets you're building for yourselves --"

"Or else?" Clark narrows his eyes.

"Or else get drowned under the *riptides* of history. I know it's frankly not possible to do away with *all* secrets -- humanity will *always* be itself -- but I just don't think it's a good idea to encourage *more*."

And Clark looks... thoughtful. "I think. I think I'd be a lot less tense overall if I could live in the sort of world you want to make, Lex."

Lex's smile is predatory. "Then help *me*, Clark. Do what you can to be transparent in your dealings with your adopted world and encourage everyone else *like* you to do the same. Including those meteor mutants you've been battling behind the scenes."

"I -- *how*?"

"I -- all right, I don't have an answer to that question, yet. But I will. Be ready for it."

"You..." Clark blushes and pushes a hand back through his hair. "I know this is a stupid question, but -- are a lot of teenagers like both of you where you're from?"

"Tom was. Bruce's lover Harvey is... to a certain extent. His dreams are smaller, but, I must admit, no less passionately *meant*."

"Lex, that was nearly charitable."

"*Don't* get used to it," and Lex's smile turns wry. "The world is full of ambitious people. The trick is finding the ones who freely admit to their humanity *while* they're doing all of those ambitious things."

Clark nods slowly. "I... um. Will you guys let me finish the chores now? Breakfast will be ready pretty soon."

"I -- heh." Lex looks Clark up and down. "I was about to once again offer my assistance... but we've really been slowing you down, haven't we?"

"Um. Yes. But I appreciate the thought!"

Bruce squeezes Clark's shoulder again. "Show us. Please."

Clark beams --

And becomes a blur on the edges of Bruce's vision --

A wind when he leaves the loft --

Bruce and Lex move to look down over the edge --

Lex crouches again. "My God, I can't even... a high-powered *rifle* bullet couldn't catch him."

"Rather a grim thought, don't you think, Lex?"

"You're clearly a terrible influence. I'm never going to sleep with you again."

"I am sorry for waking --"

"Oh, stop, Bruce. I've had my share of terrible nightmares, and you've *earned* yours. I don't mind."

"Still --"

"I don't *mind*," Lex says, standing again and glaring into Bruce's eyes. "And if -- if Tom had ever shown me *his* nightmares, I would've lost what few pathetic shreds of dignity I had left in my efforts -- my *need* -- to make it better for him, and to thank him for sharing that part of himself with me."

"I'm not Tom."

"No, you're not. But you're the closest thing I have to him -- and I'm grateful. All right?"

"Lex --"

"*Drop* it," Lex says, and smiles ruefully. "Please."

"I believe Tom would be tempted to hug you right now."

"Yes, but Tom had *excellent* control over his urges, and we really ought to strive to --"

Bruce hugs him --

"For the love of *Christ*, Bruce --"

Bruce smiles and hugs him *harder*.

Lex seems content to endure the contact rather than living within it --

But then he sighs and relaxes, wrapping his arms around Bruce and resting his head on Bruce's shoulder. "Deals with the devil are really supposed to involve rather more contract-signing and manly handshakes, Bruce."

"If you're sure."

"God, I can *feel* you laughing deep beyond the range of human senses --" Lex growls and pushes off. "We're still not fucking."

"*Gih* -- um. I." Clark blinks at both of them from the top of the ladder. His hair is mussed, and there's a scent of singed dust --  from how quickly he was moving.


"Um. I heard Ma start putting the plates on the table... um. Breakfast?"

Lex leans back against a post. "You're really not used to frank talk about sexuality, are you?"

"Well, *no*!"

"It's all right, Clark -- I wasn't used to it, either, before Tom came. It still makes me *want* to blush sometimes."

Clark bites his lip and looks at Lex --

"Oh, go on, Clark, pretend I'm not here listening to every delicious word --"


"Yes, all right, I'm sorry. I'll just go down and wash my hands in the sink. And -- it's proper to leave my shoes at the door, yes?"

"Um. Just inside, actually, and you don't have to leave --"

Lex's smile is, in fact, enough to stop Clark --

"Do you have *any* friendly smiles? *Real* ones, I mean."

Lex opens his mouth, and...

He doesn't precisely blush, but there's something in his eyes which suggests that he could be... beyond the range of human senses.

"I do, actually, Clark. I fear I'm rather miserly with them, though --"


Lex offers another of his real -- and not at all friendly -- smiles. This one speaks of an exhaustion that calls to Bruce --

That makes Bruce want to *ease* --

"That's a story -- or several dozen -- for another time," Lex says, and shoos Clark away from the ladder. "What shall I tell your parents that you're doing?"

"Oh. You can. Well, you can tell them that Bruce had never read comics before. They know I like comics a lot. And -- I *want* to show Bruce my comics --"

"And other things?"

"Lex, if you keep making me blush like this, they'll *know* something's up!"

Another unfriendly smile. "Get used to it, Clark. The world is *full* of the inconveniently intelligent. And... hm. Will I be able to shower and change?"

"Oh, yes! If you're fast, you can do it before breakfast --"

"But I'm going to be running interference for you, so... no. I'll just be leisurely *after* breakfast," Lex says, nods to both of them, and starts down the ladder. And then he starts to whistle again.

"He's really good at that," Clark says, frowning thoughtfully.


"Making me think about things I don't *want* to think about... but whistling, too. I haven't been able to whistle since that gap between my teeth closed."

"You had a gap?"

Clark smiles at him shyly and takes -- one -- step closer. "It was pretty silly-looking."

"I have my doubts that you *could* be silly-looking, Clark," and Bruce offers Clark his hand --

(Only I --)

*Ally* --

(Your path will be a solitary one --)

Bruce takes Clark's hand in his own and squeezes as hard as he can, as hard as he never would with *anyone* --

There's no give whatsoever, and the silence in Bruce's mind...

Bruce knows it's temporary, but he'll take every moment of it, *savor* --

"Bruce...? Are you -- what's wrong?"

Bruce shakes his head. "A secret I saved for my brother... and one I'll continue to save, I believe."

"Oh. Um. Okay --"

"You are beautiful."

Clark shivers and bites his lip. "You make me want to. I mean, there are words in my head, but I think I'd just feel ridiculous saying them."

Bruce raises an eyebrow --

"There. That -- you're so *sardonic*, and Lex is, too, but you... I *know* you could cut me to pieces in the time it would take me to *breathe*, and I'm -- I think I'm kinda terrified."

"I am not..." Bruce shakes his head and tugs Clark closer. "Beautiful boy --"

"I'm not -- I'm only a few years younger than you --"

"Important years, I think, but if you don't like that I won't say it," and Bruce raises a *questioning* eyebrow.

"I want. To be older. And --" Clark licks his lips. "Experienced."

"You will be. If that's what you want."

Clark moans -- and their knees are bumping together, their noses --

Clark nuzzles Bruce's cheek and kisses him there softly --

Kisses several times --

"Bruce, I want. I want to suck you -- *oh* --"

Bruce squeezes Clark's hips. "I can't hurt you. Can I?"

"You can hurt me really -- really *easily* -- oh. You mean. Um. No, you can't. Not physically."

Bruce kisses his way to Clark's ear --

"Oh -- oh, please --"

"I don't care for people who are cruel when there is no reason for it. That's one of the reasons why Lex and I never got along. I've since learned that he has reasons -- that he has *always* had reasons... I will do everything in my power to never hurt you, Clark."

"Then. Then. If. Um."

Bruce licks Clark's ear --

And Clark's knees buckle --

He's easy enough to catch, to pull closer until Bruce finds himself almost *draped* in teenaged boy --

Teenaged *alien* --

Such *power*, and if Tom were here -- he isn't, and he won't be for quite some time. But he would forgive Bruce this. He would *know* that Clark was *meant* to be an ally, and that the loneliness would end -- "Clark..."

"Please -- I'm sorry -- I just --"

"How quickly can you come?"

Clark groans and shudders, pushes closer still --

"Tell me."

"*Fast*. Really -- really *fast*, Bruce. I think I'll come if you just keep talking and letting me *smell* you."

Bruce laughs and pushes Clark back. "The couch."

"Yes, yes -- oh, but breakfast --"

"Five minutes. Possibly less."

"But -- what about *you*?"

Bruce narrows his eyes and pushes Clark until he sits down. "Perhaps you'll come with me back to the inn after your chores are complete."

Clark moans and *arches* -- "I -- in a *bed*?"

"Beautiful... yes," Bruce says, crouching between Clark's legs --

"Oh -- *oh* --!"

A simple matter to open the jeans, to *free* Clark -- who is just as sizeable as his body type had suggested --

"Oh -- oh, you're *touching* me --"

"Holding you."

"My -- my *dick* --"

"In my hand. You're -- mm. You're very warm, Clark --"

"Always -- oh, please, Bruce, don't -- I don't want to make a *mess* --"

"You're fast enough to catch it in your hand... aren't you?"

Clark groans again and nods, eyes squeezed shut --

Open and wide --

Squeezed shut again --

"Could you control your strength if I were to use my mouth?"

"*No* -- oh -- *please* --"

Bruce squeezes as hard as he can --

And there is a sudden warm blur where Clark had been -- no. Clark is on his knees several feet away, spattering the wood with his semen and coughing out moan after moan --

And Bruce isn't fast enough to reach him before Clark is wrapped around him and shaking.

"Bruce -- *Bruce* --"

"I'm here --"

"Oh, *God* --"

"It's all right," Bruce says, holding Clark close and remembering, helplessly, how he had felt the first time Tom had let him touch, the first time Tom had touched *him* --

His perfect *body* --

And Clark's own.

"Never - it was never *like* that!"

"It's always better with someone else --"

"You -- *please* let me touch you," and Clark pulls back and searches Bruce's face. The plea is all over his features, all through his body --

And it's not a surprise to feel himself twitch, but -- "Not yet --"

Clark whimpers --

"I'm not so aroused that I can't control it... and there is only so long that we can make your parents and Lex wait."

Clark squeezes his eyes shut --

Bites his lip --

He stops and nods, breathing slowly and deeply. And --

"Do you know for certain that your fluids aren't poisonous?"

Clark moans. "I -- the meteors that came down with my ship make me... make me really sick and weak. Um. I've thrown up all over the kitchen and... um. Nothing... bad happened to anyone else?"

Bruce nods thoughtfully. There *is* a part of him which wants the rest to show *care*, but --

He brushes his thumb over the head of Clark's penis --

"*Oh* --"

And the taste --

Mineral-rich and sweet, at once. Nothing at all like Tom's or Harvey's -- or his own, for that matter -- but he can't be *sure* that it's nothing like any other human's. Neither can Clark himself, and that is, perhaps, the most intimidating part of all of this.

The intimidation is... meaningless. Bruce reaches down for more --

But Clark is several feet away again.


"You. I can't watch you doing that without getting hard again. Um."

"So quickly?"

Clark blushes and nods. "I'm -- you liked it?"

Bruce smiles. "You taste entirely unfamiliar... and very, very pleasant."

Clark moans -- and then his pants are up and closed. "We should. Um. Go?"

Bruce stands. "Let's."

When they get to the house, Lex is discussing some of the agricultural products LuthorCorp is producing with the elder Kents --

And they truly are older. They're not quite old enough to be Clark's grandparents, but they're still clearly significantly older than Bruce's parents would have been. Or... hm.

It's entirely possible that a life of hard work could have aged them prematurely.

Breakfast is waffles and eggs, and each of them receive a bowl of fresh -- very fresh -- cream and wild blueberries, small and sweetly sharp.

Clark eats nearly as much as he and Lex combined, and Bruce becomes somewhat lost in questions about the boy's metabolism --

Why is it even possible for him to digest human food? Why does he *appear* so human? Bruce has always disdained those science fiction novels which postulated parallel evolution without much in the way to back the theory *up* --

Lex digs his heel in against Bruce's foot every time Bruce drifts for too long a time, which is immensely useful -- and achingly familiar.

He has gained an ally. He has *not* gained a brother --

"Well, *goodness*, Bruce, you can't still be asleep after all that work!" Martha's smile has the guileless meanness only someone truly devoid of ill-feeling can manage. Bruce remembers a children's librarian who reacted much the same way when Bruce had complained about the relatively small pictures in a book she had recommended he read.

Bruce smiles ruefully. "I'm afraid I woolgather rather more often than I should, Mrs. Kent --"

"Now, now. Anyone who works for their food here gets to use first names."

"Thank you, Martha. Breakfast was excellent. I usually wind up using much more syrup on waffles, but these were delightful plain."

Clark grins at him. "Sure, they're *good* plain, but they're way more fun with syrup. Or jam. Or powdered sugar. Or chocolate sauce --"

"Chocolate sauce? On a *waffle*?" Lex seems honestly surprised. "I think I need to try that."

Jonathan laughs. "Don't encourage him, Lex! The next thing you know he'll be getting you to eat his grape jelly and cheese sandwiches."

Lex blinks. "I... hm. Eating fruit and cheese together is a long-standing tradition, but I can honestly say that I'd never considered the two on a *sandwich* before."

Clark grins at *Lex*. "You just make sure you stay for lunch, Lex. I'll make one special for you. There's a *trick* to getting it just right," he says, and puts another waffle on Lex's empty plate --

And then that waffle simply *is* covered in chocolate sauce --

And Clark's parents look horrified.

"Oh -- uh. Whoops? It's okay, Bruce and Lex know about me. They *understand*."

"Clark, you --" Jonathan swallows with a click. "You haven't been telling those tall tales again, have you?" There's sweat beaded at his temple --

"It's *okay*, Pa. They -- Bruce *knows* superheroes."

"I've only met Dr. Fate once, and it was hardly my finest hour," Bruce says, and lays his palm down on the table. "Lex and I have vowed to protect your son's secrets with all of the power at our disposal."

"And we both have a great deal of disposable... power," Lex says, and smiles gently. "I can't imagine how horrifying this must be for both of you, but rest assured -- the *first* thing we'll be discussing with Clark is how he can better protect his secrets from the larger world."

Martha closes her eyes.

Jonathan rubs at his left arm -- hm.

"Do you have difficulties with your heart, Jonathan?"

"I do *now*. I --" Jonathan shakes himself in a canine fashion. "What do you boys want with our son? Be honest. Right now."

"Companionship," Bruce says. "We have much in common with your son -- starting with the fact that we all plan to work to help people as much as is possible. Neither Lex nor I were expecting to find such a kindred spirit when we decided to come here for our vacation, but --"

"But," Lex says, and starts cutting his waffle into bite-sized pieces, "it's entirely possible -- and even probable -- that the only reason why Clark's secret wasn't already out was because everyone here is used to Clark being... strange?"

Martha opens her eyes, breathes deeply, and nods. "*How* are you boys going to help our son?"

Jon frowns and leans in -- "Martha --"

"No, Jon. We've spent years trying to walk the line between teaching Clark to be honorable and teaching him to lie with every *breath*. We need *help*."

"And we both *want* to help," and Lex takes his first bite -- "My God, that's *wonderful*."

"I *know*, right?" Clark claps Lex on the shoulder -- carefully.

"I vastly appreciate you not slapping me through the nearest wall, Clark --"

"I *wouldn't*!"

Lex smiles and claps *Clark's* shoulder. "I know. I -- I really do know," and Lex's smile turns wondering as he dabs at his mouth with his napkin. "All right, with all of the secrets on the table... it's my turn, I think?" Lex raises his eyebrow and looks around the table.

Jonathan sighs. "You -- you just go on, son. We won't stop you."

"And that sounded a lot like 'we *can't* stop you,' Jonathan, and I... well. I can't say I don't understand. Bruce and I are staggeringly wealthy, and Bruce, at least, has had a measure of control over one of the world's largest and most powerful multinational corporations since he was *six*teen. Furthermore, we have little enough reason to care about what happens to one small family from the middle of nowhere."

Bruce shakes his head. "Lex, I think it would be a good idea to be *less* terrifying right now."

Lex pats Bruce's hand. "I appreciate the heads-up, Bruce, but really? It's time to be honest. Bruce, here, is an altruist and a shameless romantic. In another life he'd be the knight in shining armor, only with infinitely less of a tendency to rape and pillage. I, on the other hand, am a selfish, jealous-minded, predatory, hyper-ambitious, and occasionally violent son of a -- bastard. You were very careful not to mention everything you *know* of my father's business practices, and I vastly appreciate this chance to prove to you that the last name Luthor isn't synonymous with 'rapacious asshole.' However.

"I'd be lying to you if I said that there wasn't an air of that about me. Hell, I'm still lying to you, because I'm implying that I don't *use* those aspects of my personality. I do, and I will continue to do so in the future. Probably more. I *don't* want to claw my way up the way my father did, but I may not have much in the way of a choice --"

"Lex. There is *always* a choice."

Lex stops, squeezing his eyes shut and shuddering once, all over. When he opens them, he's smiling ruefully -- "We have to get him back, Bruce."


Martha looks confused -- "You have to get *who* back?"

"Our -- despite our best efforts to the contrary -- mutual ex-lover," Lex says, and turns back to his plate. "Bruce, explain that part to the elder Kents while I see if it's possible to eat an entire waffle without bothering with all of that tiresome chewing."

"As you say," Bruce says, and gives Clark's parents the basics about Tom, and everything he had meant to both of them.

When he's done, Lex has ripped the last remaining waffle into shreds and is using it to mop up stray puddles of chocolate sauce -- "So, you get the gist. Tom wasn't the *reason* why I wanted to be a better man than my father -- a *greater* man -- but there are times when I think he would've been the only one who could keep me to my goals," and Lex dabs his mouth again --

Clark brings Lex milk --

"God, I think I can still smell the cow. It's not going to be pretty when I have to drink industrialized milk again."

Clark makes a face. "*No* one should drink that stuff. But -- um. Why do you think you'll have a problem staying good? If you know what you want and what you *don't* want --"

"Ah, but that's the problem, Clark. Sometimes I know what I want, sometimes I have no real *idea* what I want, and sometimes... well, sometimes I want things that would make my useless stain of a father proud. And that's -- well, no, that's still another *lie*, because --

"Because I *want* him to be proud of me. I want him to, just once and finally, look deep into my eyes and say, 'Lex, you're the son I've always wanted. I love you.' And if that's not the most pathetic thing, the most *dangerously* pathetic thing --"

"*Stop*," Martha says, and she looks both stern and angry. "There's *nothing* wrong with wanting your father's love, and I'm of a mind to kick him somewhere unfriendly the next time he comes to town."

Lex sighs. "He won't have you shot, but he will get the bank to call in the mortgage on this farm and find a way to blacklist you both if you try to get work in Metropolis. And -- see, I might as well have just told you another lie. Now you're all thinking of me as just a sad little boy in an adult body, more to be pitied than feared. More to be *coddled* than eradicated. And that's a mistake. Because one day I *am* going to have your son in a lab --"

"*Lex* --"

"No, Bruce. Just -- no. I believe -- I *want* it to be only because it would be easier to help Clark if I know exactly what makes him *tick*, but the truth is..." Lex frowns and stares down at the table. "I want a better world. I want a *good* world, but I'm damned well *terrified* of what Clark means for humanity. He's getting more powerful every day, and who knows where it will end? Who knows what will happen if some of Clark's brothers and sisters and cousins show up and decide to use their powers to make a better world for *themselves*? What happens if *Clark* decides that he can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs?"

"*No*, Lex --"

Lex holds up a hand to Clark. "I know what you're going to say, Clark. I even know what you believe with all of your heart, because you're a good person who was raised by other good people in a town *full* of good people. I..." Lex laughs softly. "Can't you see? This is all *dangerous*. It would be *sensible* to find some way to hobble Clark for the sake of the world, to weaken or cripple him in whatever way actually worked for the sake of the *future* --"

"Over my dead body," Jonathan says, frowning and moving to stand --

Martha grips Jonathan's forearm. "No, Jon. Wait," she says, and turns to Lex. "You're afraid all of the time, aren't you, Lex?"

"Of *course* I am --"

"And fear... fear makes people do stupid things. *Terrible* things --"

"That's the nature of *humanity* --"

"But it's *also* our nature to be able to recognize those things about ourselves and cut them out before they take *root*, Lex," and Martha reaches across the table to take Lex's hand in her own. "You're afraid. Well, Jon and I have lived with fear since Clark came to us -- not just of being discovered, but of what we would do if the wrong person did the discovering. I've known for a long, long time that I would kill for my son, but, at the same time, I've known that doing such a thing would murder a large part of my own soul --"

"But you still made *plans* for that future --"

"Yes, we did. And then we set those plans aside and focused on living, on growing with our beautiful son and doing everything we could to make the most of the time we've been given. A prudent person *always* plans for the worst, Lex. But a *wise* person always *lives* for the best."

Lex rears back. "But -- that's not *enough* --"

"There's no such thing as 'enough,' Lex," Jonathan says, and his tone is low, rueful and hard at once. "If there ever could *be* enough then you wouldn't be missing your man as much as you are. Now isn't that right?"

Lex frowns. "That's irrelevant. The fate of my heart is *not* the fate of the world."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "Isn't it?"

"Christ, Bruce, even I'm not *that* egotistical --"

"Lex, you --" Clark shakes his head. "It's not egotistical if it *is* about you. *You* know my secret. *You* get to choose what you're going to do with it. You -- you're the *only* one who gets to decide who you are."

"My father --"

"You're eighteen years old," Jonathan says, and smiles. "Old enough to drink, to smoke, to vote, to go to war -- and to tell that snake to stick it where the sun don't shine."

"I need his *company* --"

"Take mine," and Bruce shows his teeth. "I'm going to have other things to do very, very soon."

Lex's jaw drops. "You're serious. You're actually *serious*. What's wrong with your *mind*?"

"I promise to give you a detailed list just as soon as we're done with our chores, Lex," Bruce says, and raises an eyebrow.

Lex opens his mouth again -- and the sound he makes is faintly reminiscent of a small animal being strangled. And then he blinks, turns back to his exceedingly clean plate, and takes a breath. "Yes, well. What *will* we be doing now that the sun is up?"

Martha smiles and pats Lex's hand.

Jonathan smiles and sips his coffee.

Clark beams -- and lifts Lex out of his seat to hug him.

"Oh, God, that's really -- there are limits to how much of this I can *take* -- wait, how much weight can you lift?"

"Um. I can lift the tractor, but it would probably be pretty hard for me to throw it."

"Panicking... panicking... no, I'm all right. I'm fine. Please put me down."

Clark puts Lex down and pats and tugs his clothes back into shape.

Lex blushes.

They do their chores.


Mostly, this involves watching Clark do the work of at least five experienced fieldhands and asking detailed questions about his speed, his strength, his incredible senses --

Lex goes back and forth between pacing frenetically and standing stock still and staring *into* Clark.

Clark answers every question to the apparent best of his ability -- no, it is the best. Clark has decided to trust them, and if that decision was based as much on exhaustion as on anything else --

Clark, it seems, stands firm in his decisions. It makes something in Bruce swell with the same pride he'd never deserved when he felt it of Tom --

It feels wonderful.

They return to the house for lunch, and Clark does indeed make a sandwich of grape jelly and American cheese. Lex insists Bruce have a bite. Bruce regrets it sincerely, but Lex finishes the whole thing, and then attempts to convince Clark to try it with brie. Clark seems skeptical, but agrees to experimentation.

The rest of lunch is made up of a strange but delicious salad with carrots and raisins and a large pile of roast beef sandwiches some with horseradish, some with mayonnaise, and some with an odd but delightful mixture of both. And after that...

"Clark, why don't you take the truck and show the boys some of the prettier spots around town? You can bring back some catfish from Mama's for dinner."

Bruce smiles at Martha. "Please, let it be our treat. We've come to enjoy Bill and Diane's cooking a great deal."

Martha protests, but Lex steps in and gently, carefully insists, eventually convincing her not by pointing out how much of their food they've eaten, but by explaining that it will be a stand-in until such time as Lex can take them all to his favorite restaurants around Metropolis.

It makes Bruce think of all the times Harvey had insisted they 'go Dutch,' and wonder how often he'd done so out of pride rather than out of a desire to make sure that nothing they did could ever be termed dating.

He misses Harvey a great deal.

Sometimes, he misses Harvey even when they're together --

Tom --

No, not that. Not either of them right now, because there *is* something companionable about being in the middle of the truck's bench seat, and something that goes beyond companionable to satisfying when, after Lex laughs at the way he's bouncing around, he can start aiming some of his bounces more deliberately.

"Ooh, *someone* feels bitchy."

Bruce makes something of a face --

And Clark's laugh is shocked and breathless. "What? What was *that*, Lex?"

"What was what, darling? I'm just being my usual *fabulous* self," Lex says, and manages to cross his legs -- at the knee -- despite the fact that a pothole sends Bruce against Lex in a crushing blow.

He may have helped the pothole do its work.

"I -- *what*? You -- people don't really act like *that*, do they?"

Lex *titters* --

And Clark's eyes are bright and wide. "I didn't think your voice *went* that high, Lex!"

"Oh, I go up, down, and *all* around, honey --"


Lex hums. "You deserve it for being the approximate size and weight of a restaurant freezer, Brucie, dear."

"Okay, that was sort of *half* in that... role? Is *that* how you keep your secrets, Lex?"

Lex smiles. "It's one of the ways. I swan my way through Exeter's hallowed halls, racking up demerits and generally making myself look very interesting in ways which don't invite beatings -- or any taunts but the ones I can deal with."

Clark frowns. "But -- doesn't it make some people *want* to hurt you?"

"Only Bruce --"


"Yes, I know. You don't want to hurt me, you just can't stand lies and liars -- which is an interesting tack to take, Mr. Vigilante-To-Be. Still, Clark, there's a difference between being effeminate and *looking* effeminate. There are also... hm. In my experience, it's the quieter boys who take the worst beatings when this sort of thing goes around. If you look enough like a victim, you *will* be a victim. Whereas if you're loud in some way, if you *carve* a place for yourself out of the living, bleeding social corpus... well."

Clark frowns. "I don't think I understand."

"What Lex is trying to say is that, at least in our horrifically rarefied social circle, I'm far more likely to be a victim of teasing and pranks than Lex is."

"But you're *huge* --"

"And he doesn't play sports, or speak in class unless he's specifically called out to do so, or socialize with the people his name and wallet would suggest he should..." Lex shrugs. "Really, the only reason why he didn't take literal and figurative beatings every *day* is that everyone is afraid of him."

"This is what I'm saying --"

"No, not my size, Clark. My *eyes*."

"Oh. Oh. Well. They are... very... um." Clark shifts slightly, but maintains control of the truck, and --

Bruce rests a hand lightly on his lower thigh --

Clark moans. "Oh, God. I mean -- I'm sorry, Lex --"

"That's *just* fine, Clark. Bruce can be *very* affecting when he wants to be."

"Yes, he *can*. Um. I -- I read about what happened to you and your parents... I. I'm very sorry, Bruce."

Formal, stiff -- and sincere. Something tells Bruce that there won't be very many times when Clark reminds him of Lex, and that he should take note when it does happen. He pats Clark's thigh. "Thank you. You can ask any questions you like."

"You -- I don't want to upset you --"

"And I don't want you to be... frustrated."

Clark swallows. "I don't think you should sound sexy when we're talking about *this*, Bruce."

Bruce smiles. "I lost my virginity to my twin brother --"

"God, that doesn't stop being *wrong* --"

"Perhaps not, Lex, but it's a wrong which hurt no one, and... well. As I was saying... I don't think we would've needed each other that way had we not shared tragedy and blood. *Death* --"

Lex sighs. "The Germans -- being near-universally deranged -- even have a word for the concept, or something like the concept. Liebestod translates roughly to love-death, but really to the whole sticky ball of lust, obsession, hunger, fear, pain, loss, etcetera that rises up in your average human when certain wires get crossed."

"Or even when they don't."

Lex frowns. "Well... I think that's what it all means. I have to admit that I only memorize things I don't believe in for long enough to get tested on them --"


"Oh -- fine, Bruce. I don't like it. I think it's *bullshit*. I will readily admit that I was shaped by the loss of my mother when I was a child --"

"Oh! Lex, I'd forgotten --"

"That's because my father paid good money to keep the news of it quiet. Everyone knows, but no one talks about it. Especially not in my father's penthouse," Lex says, and smiles sourly. "But that's neither here nor there. The point is -- I didn't lose my mind for Tom because he reminded me of my mother."

Bruce raises an eyebrow.

"Oh -- *what*, Bruce?"

"I didn't say anything."

"You *implied* -- all right, fine. There's something in the cheekbones. And my mother always tended to respond to my father's flights of grandeur with a delicately raised eyebrow and a gentle, thorough skewering. And she was unfailingly gentle and protective with me. And she tended to play a double -- or even a triple -- game with absolutely everyone else. And she was my father's conscience. And -- look, that could describe any number of people."

"Of course."

Clark bites back a laugh... badly.

"Laugh all you want, farmboy. One day you'll find a woman with eyes like Bessie the cow's and then you'll *understand*."

"Ermintrude's eyes are much nicer. More limpid," Clark says, and pulls onto another dirt road.

"Ooh, *limpid*, yet. The jokes write themselves, and thus don't need me to repeat them. Where are we going, by the way?"

"Oh -- um. It's an abandoned quarry. The water's too cold for humans to swim in, but it's really pretty. And safe now that I convinced the nixie to move to the river, instead."

Bruce blinks --

"You -- *nixie*?"

"Well, Beatrice isn't a *real* nixie. Or -- um. I have no idea if there are real nixies. Anyway. She was just lonely and bored. Her parents had kept her in the tub her whole life -- she was one of the first meteor babies -- until she got too big. They dumped her in the quarry and left town. Beatrice started trying to communicate with people, but she can only make her voice carry underwater... I don't know, it was weird. She almost drowned a couple of people before I could make her understand that she'd have better luck in a larger waterway."

Hm. "You're not afraid that she'll simply start drowning people who live and work along the river?"

"I *am*, actually. But she promised she wouldn't do anything like that until she was absolutely *sure* there wasn't an Atlantis. I don't know. Should I have taken her to... a marine biologist or something? I have no *idea* what I'm *doing* most of the time, guys --"

"I --" Lex clears his throat, blinks, takes a breath -- "All right. I *would've* taken her to a marine biologist, but only if I could find one I could trust, and he or she would also have to be someone who wasn't beholden to anyone else in any way. We can start trying to find someone like that... hm. Have you considered looking for a team of scientists you could work *with*?"

"I -- I'm no Luddite, Lex, but the idea *really* freaks me out," Clark says, pulling up to a small stand of gently twisted trees and parking. "I mean, I know that curiosity is a *good* trait in humans, but --"

"You seem to find it very easy to set yourself apart from humanity," and Lex's tone has the sort of slow care to it which speaks of exaggerated caution. He's making fun of himself for his fears... but it would be a mistake to pretend the fear is not there.

They pile out of the truck and Clark leads them to a rocky cliff grown over with soft, springy moss --

"This -- it's really comfortable here, but there's also a rock that's a whole lot like a bench --"

"This is fine, Clark," Bruce says, sitting as close to lotus as he can manage in these jeans. He's happy to be wearing denim, but he almost wishes he were wearing something thinner so he could feel this part of the world more clearly --

One day, he will be armored against everything. As close to everything as possible --

Lex takes off his boots and socks and curls his toes in against the moss before dropping into a crouch. "I'd forgotten how much I miss nature most of the time."

"You could consider spending more time outside at school --"

"No. All of that green is *oppressive*."

Clark frowns. "The moss is green --"

"It's a *different* green. And a far superior one, at that," Lex says, and turns to Clark. "You were saying?"

"Oh. Just -- I'm really *tempting*, Lex -- and I can tell that you want to say something mean and dirty, but I'm really hoping you don't --"

Lex closes his mouth.

"Thank you. Anyway. It's like... I mean, okay. Ma's cousin Jed hasn't touched alcohol in ten whole years, but it's not like any of us plan to take him to anywhere with, like, an open *bar*, you know? I want to dissect *myself* sometimes."

Bruce hums and covers Clark's hand with his own. "Please don't."

"Um. Okay," and Clark smiles and moves closer. "What would *you* have done with Beatrice?"

"Stopped her, and found a way to trap her within an environment which was both safe for her and easily transportable." Bruce thinks about it. "I would work to find her an institution where she could, hopefully, be properly socialized and receive vocational training of some sort... I would have definitely at least consulted with a marine biologist, but that's the sort of thing you won't be able to do as simply yourself."

Clark sighs. "Yeah, you're right. I -- I kind of think it's too soon for, I don't know, a cape and a mask. At least -- it feels that way. And Lex -- I try to separate myself from humanity on purpose. I mean, I don't want to lie to myself."

Lex nods slowly and peers over the edge of the cliff. "God, that water looks like something out of a commercial... I." Lex sighs. "I hate to say this, Clark. I mean, I *really* hate to say this. Words cannot express how much I hate to say this --"

"You think I *should* lie to myself?"

Lex looks pained.

Bruce squeezes Clark's hand. "Perhaps you can think about it as a matter of honoring your human heritage. You were not raised by your own species."

"Oh. I didn't think of it that way," Clark says, and smiles brightly. "Thank you. Both of you."

Lex smiles wryly. "You're welcome... and you have very much *to* honor in your parents."

Clark blushes. "I remember Ma teaching me how not to hurt people when I touched them, Pa teaching me how not to move too fast... and none of that is important compared to how they taught me to be, well, *good*."

Bruce tilts his head back in the indirect sunshine and sighs. "Alfred isn't going to be happy when he learns I won't be going to college. Perhaps I should introduce him to your parents."

"You're not going to *college*? But you're so smart!"

"I *loathe* saying this, but -- Bruce isn't going to have time for that," Lex says. "Are you?"

Bruce smiles. "Some of us can only move and think at human speeds. I'll need all my focus in order to prime my mind and body for the work."

"*When* did you decide to do this, Bruce? Was it Tom?"

"Yes and no. I still had many, many doubts when Tom came. He obliterated them. But... not long after my parents were murdered, I was wandering the grounds around my home and fell down into a vast cave," Bruce says, remembering cold and darkness.

The voice of stone.

"I... had something of a revelation. In his universe, Tom was the one who fell in. His Bruce followed. Together, they made a vow."

Lex shakes his head. "You were eight years *old*, Bruce."

Bruce turns to Lex and raises an eyebrow. "And how old were you when you made your own vow?"

"I never *did* -- not. Not formally. I -- all right, I was a child. But children are rarely *correct* about the choices they make on how they wish to spend their *lives*."

"Aren't they?"

"*No* --"

"No, Lex, I think... um." Clark blushes again and twines his fingers with Bruce's own. "I think there's such a thing as... as knowledge that takes childhood away. That makes all the distractions and minor things go away." Clark smiles ruefully. "I know I lost a great big chunk of *my* childhood when Pa showed me the ship."

Lex takes a deep breath and nods. "Just -- promise me something, Clark."

"If I can."

"Good answer. There is... there's such a thing as growing up too fast. And it's not just a matter of missing out on the joys of childhood -- though that is important, too. You can also miss out on the *lessons* of childhood when you let go of it too fast, I think. You can..." Lex laughs quietly. "I know I missed a lot of knowledge that way. A lot of *wisdom*. All because I looked at various terrible events and painful revelations and decided that I wouldn't *be* a child, anymore. There's a great deal I had to *unlearn*. And there's even more that I have to learn now."

Bruce nods. "But Lex... I believe there are some things which can only be understood in hindsight, which can only be learned once we *have* lost."

Lex smiles sharply. "Sometimes I think that I'm more invested in protecting the innocent than *you* are, Bruce."

That... "You may very well be correct, Lex. I think... I think I'd prefer to have everyone -- including myself -- understand as much as possible as soon as possible than to have the alternative."

"There's a place in this world for people who don't understand, at all."

"And you'll find it?"

"Oh... yes, I think I will," Lex says, picking up his boots and standing. "But first I'm going to explore. That path goes down to the water's edge, Clark?"

"Yes, Lex, it does -- though you want to watch out for garter snakes near the edge. It's easy to step on them."

Lex smiles. "All the more reason to keep my boots off, I think. If I may make a suggestion, Bruce?"


"The *bed* of the truck is much more appropriate for assignations than all of this lovely moss... unless, of course, you both strip down *first*."

"Oh, *jeez* --"

Bruce squeezes Clark's hand -- but Clark doesn't try to take it out of Bruce's. Bruce turns back to Lex. "You could stay."

"No, I *really* couldn't, Bruce. But thanks for the offer," Lex says, turning and walking away.

And starting to whistle.

Something about the sound makes Clark choke -- hm.

"Are you familiar with that song?"

Clark coughs into his fist. "Um. Yeah. It's about monsters taking over the world. Pretty monsters. Ma says my interest in things like that is kinda morbid."


"No, no buts. She's right," Clark says, and smiles ruefully. "I do prefer the ones where it's a good thing that they take over, though."

"Understandable... though Lex would say it was dangerous."

"Do you... do you think he's right?" 

"I'm not sure. Come closer?"

"I -- okay. How do you want me?"

Bruce smiles and lies back --

Clark moans -- "Wait. Wait. Please take -- I mean, you'll get your clothes all moss-stained."

"I don't mind --"

"*I* do. And -- it'll be really obvious when we go back home."

"Your parents --" Bruce stops and laughs. "No, you're right. They *wouldn't* think we were merely wrestling. All right." Bruce stands and strips himself naked --

"Oh. Oh, *God*, Bruce, you're so --" Clark closes the distance between them and buries his face against Bruce's throat. He's holding his body away from Bruce, his *hands* away --

"You're allowed to touch --"

"I want. I want --" Clark licks Bruce's throat --

Bruce shivers. "Clark."

"Did you. Like that?"

"Yes --"

"Would you -- should I take off my clothes?" And Clark nuzzles Bruce's throat, breathes there -- "I love the way you *smell* --"

"Take off your clothes, Clark. Show me your body --"

"It's not -- it's not like *yours* --"

"Please," Bruce says, and deliberately steps back.

Clark whimpers -- and his clothes are in a neat pile far from the edge of the cliff. His body is rangy, but in a way that suggests he'll be shaped more like Bruce as he ages. His skin is faintly golden, arms and legs dusted with dark hair. His strength shows clearly, cleanly -- hm.

"Why do you think your body is so muscular? Your strength is too prodigious to have anything to do with how you're formed."

Clark blinks at him. "I. I always thought it was the farm work... even though that makes no sense. Um. I have no idea?"

Bruce nods thoughtfully and sets the thought aside for later as he opens his arms --

"Oh -- *yes*," Clark says, pressing his body against Bruce's own in a hug that seems to require his entire body.

"Do you like the way I feel, Clark?"

Clark moans. "Yes, yes, please, let me -- you were going to lie down?"

"Is that how you want me?"

Another moan -- "I don't *know*. But. I want to see how you look that way naked, and -- no, wait, I have to feel all your *hair* more --"

"Your skin is... very smooth..."

"I don't really get calluses or -- scars or anything. Bruce, may I kiss you?"

Bruce pulls back enough to allow it, cupping Clark's face with both hands --

Clark jerks and opens wide, moaning into Bruce's mouth as soon as their lips touch, stroking Bruce's sides and back, Bruce's hips and shoulder blades --

Slow, then, but not soft. He cannot hurt Clark, and while a part of him regrets that -- Tom had taught him so *much* about pain -- the rest of him only hungers to know how much he can push, how *far* he can push --

Beautiful boy, lovely and sweet, needy, hungry --

Bruce moves one hand from Clark's face down to his hip, pulling them both into a controlled fall that ends with Bruce on his back and Clark lying on top of him --

Clark whimpers and shudders, kissing Bruce again and again and starting to rub his body along Bruce's own --

Bruce pulls out of the kiss --

"Oh -- I'm sorry --"

"No, Clark, it's only -- this is the first sexual act I ever performed --"

"F-frottage -- um. I always wondered -- and your body is so *wonderful*..."

Bruce smiles and cups Clark's shoulders, making a point of squeezing as hard as he can --

"Oh, *please* --"

"You're well-informed --"

"I -- broke into the restricted section in one of the Metropolis libraries. I can speed-read --"

"Remarkable. Slow down --"

Clark groans and does so, but he's shuddering all over and his eyes are squeezed shut --

"Your arousal is already so strong?"

"*Yes*. You -- in the car. As soon as you touched me --"

"Then let me," Bruce says, rolling them over and gripping Clark's wrists. "This way, you won't accidentally hurt me."

Clark nods frantically --

"Open your eyes."

Hunger, desire, plea... so heady, so --

*Ally* --

"We must... mm. We must always be honest with each other, Clark --"

"Yes, yes, *please* --"

"Like this," Bruce says, lining their penises up and starting to thrust --

"Oh -- oh, *God* --"

"Will you come for me?"

Clark jerks, arches -- doesn't come. "No, no, wait, not *yet* --"

"It's all right --"

Clark slams himself back down -- "More, I want more --"

"Then keep looking at me --"

"Oh -- you're so handsome, so -- from the moment I *saw* you --"

"You desired me?"

"Wanted -- I thought I just wanted to *know* you, but --"

"This is a way of knowing, Clark --"

"Your body, so -- so *hairy*, so *muscular* --"

"I do work out. The hair is... itself," Bruce says, laughing softly --

Clark groans again and starts to toss his head, penis spasming powerfully against Bruce's own --

"Perhaps you'll let me fellate you... after --"

Clark's cry is high, *loud* --

Bruce squeezes Clark's wrists and thrusts faster, grinding his hips the way Harvey does when he wants Bruce to come faster, to lose himself -- "I'm here, Clark. It's all right --"

"*Bruce* --"

And suddenly Bruce is resting on his back -- and Clark is on his knees beside him, pumping his hips at nothing and spending himself on the moss. Hm. "Clark..."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry -- *ohn* -- I don't want to *hurt* you!"

"You don't trust yourself?"

Clark looks at him then, and all the desire and hunger is still there, but now there's an air of misery and *pain*. "It's just -- sometimes I move my hips so *fast*, Bruce."

"You weren't that time."

"I -- I wasn't?"

Bruce smiles gently and beckons Clark close. "You were not. Which is not to say that I don't appreciate your continuing efforts to keep me safe."

Clark smiles ruefully and lies on his side next to Bruce, one hand playing with the hair just above Bruce's penis. "I'm sorry. I just. I know I'll have to stay close *eventually*, but -- um. The first couple of times I came... My box spring is on the floor now. It's *new*."

"You broke your bed?"

Clark nods, hair falling in his face and expression dark. "I've gotten some control since then, but I just... even in my fantasies I don't... stay close. Not for that."

Bruce frowns and strokes Clark's hair, his cheek. "We could learn control together."

"You. You really want to?"

"You're beautiful, passionate..." Bruce smiles ruefully. "A part of me has been hungry for family since my parents were murdered. Tom eased that ache, but he also made it still more powerful."

"You want to be my *family*?"

"Perhaps we should get to know each other better than that first... but some of the things I'm feeling are the same."

Clark swallows. "You... the thing you said. Um. Fellatio."


"Do you... do you enjoy it?"

"There are few things more pleasurable for me than the chance to make love to a beautiful man with my mouth. And I also enjoy having it done to me. Tom suggested that many men enjoy it a great deal."

"The kids at school talk about it a lot, but most of them have never tried anything like it. I -- I can always tell when they're lying."

Bruce nods and cups Clark's shoulder again. "Your mouth is... very warm. Hot."

Clark licks his lips. "I want to taste you. I -- I don't know how to do a good job."

"Yet," Bruce says, and smiles. "Why don't you do what you want... and let me guide you when and if it's necessary?"

Clark moans, pants --

And then Bruce's legs are spread wide and Clark is between them --

"Your *thighs*. You -- are you *sure* you don't play football?"

"The coach asked me repeatedly, but I had no interest in using my body that way. Please, Clark. I'm --"

"Hard. You're -- for *me*," and Clark grins at him before wrapping his fist around the base of Bruce's penis and leaning in. "You... making love with your mouth. That sounds so perfect, but I also -- um." And Clark drags the head of Bruce's penis along his mouth, his cheek -- "I hope I don't grow much hair on my face. I already break scissors with the stuff on my head, and I --"

*In* --

Clark hums around the head and squeezes his eyes shut, *sucks* --

"Oh -- Clark, *yes* --"

Clark nods and sucks harder, squeezing gently --

Bruce grunts and sits up on his elbows, reaching until he can stroke Clark's hair, cup the curve of his skull --

Clark moans and pushes back against Bruce's hand, and --

"Have you had this fantasy, Clark?"

If anything, Clark squeezes his eyes shut more tightly -- but he nods.

"Your mouth... mm. It *appears* to be soft, but --"

Clark softens his lips *somehow* --

"No, don't --"

Clark opens his eyes, sharing the question in them --

And Bruce knows that his smile is a sharp one. "I want to feel *you*, Clark --"

Clark grunts around him and pumps his hips against the moss once, twice --

Hard mouth, *hard* mouth -- "*Yes*, Clark --"

A smile in those eyes --

The color of the sky --

Bruce pushes his fingers into Clark's hair and pulls *hard* --

Clark whimpers and takes more, more --

Enough to reach his fist --

"*Beautiful* --"

And it sounds like Clark is trying to speak to him, trying to *offer* --

"I wish -- I wish I could understand --"


"No, *don't* stop. Take me. Take as much of me as you *can*," Bruce says, and knows that his smile must be dark, must be as hungry as this is making him feel --

Clark's eyes start to roll back --

Clark moves his hand --

And *drives* himself down, sudden and *sharp* --

There's no *give* to the back of his throat, no --

Bruce can feel Clark gagging, feel his throat *trying* to cough his penis out --

Clark won't let it happen. He --

His eyes are *narrow* now, determination written both in them and all over the rest of his face --

Bruce groans and lets his head fall back, lets himself --

He wants *more*, and often Harvey gives him a finger when -- yes.

"Pull *off*."

Clark whimpers -- "Please, I can get this --"

"I know," Bruce says, and grins. "Lick your index finger. Get it... mm. Very wet."

A moment's confusion -- but then Clark's eyes are wide again, *innocent* again --

And Bruce realizes that no matter how Lex will choose to explain his absence -- if he chooses to explain it at *all* -- part of it will have to do with the innocence. *Most* of it, perhaps --

"Yes, Clark. I want you inside me --"

Clark grunts and *slams* himself against the moss -- "Oh, *God*. I just -- um."

"That aroused you to the point of orgasm. I can't tell you how much that pleases me," Bruce says, and grips himself, squeezing and stroking --

Clark moans and follows the motion of Bruce's hand -- "Um. Uh. Oh, *wow*."

"I'd like to watch you masturbate sometime."

"I -- it really won't take *long*, and I -- right, I --" Clark shoves his index finger in his mouth and strokes Bruce's thigh with his other hand, squeezing and testing --

"You enjoy me."

Clark nods frantically.

"I don't think of myself as being beautiful... but I have immensely enjoyed the regard of my lovers. Please. Give me your finger."

Clark moans --

Bruce spreads his legs as wide as he can --

"Oh, *jeez* -- I -- I need to learn new *vocabulary*."

Bruce laughs. "Again, we can learn together. Please -- don't make me wait."

"No, I --" Clark licks his lips and pushes against Bruce's hole --

"I wish... I wish I'd used my tongue on Tom --"

"*God* -- you. Uh. You didn't mean here. Right?"

"I did."

Clark whimpers and shakes himself like a dog. "You'd really *do* that? I mean -- have you? With Harvey?"

Bruce nods. "He doesn't care for it, though. I believe it made him feel too... helpless."

Clark nods and bites his lip. "I've. Thought about it. You -- would you let me --"

"Not now. *In* me, Clark --"

"*Yes* -- oh. Oh, it's not *tight* -- I mean -- sorry --"

Bruce laughs and pulls one knee up. "Harvey is... well-endowed."

"And... and Tom?"

"Rather proportional to his size. But I was still too tight for more than his finger when he left us. Push deeper if you can -- oh. Oh, that -- mm. Have you touched yourself this way?"

"Only. Only once. It felt *weird*. And then. Then I was blushing too much to come."

"No pleasure, at all?"

"I... I couldn't think of anyone I'd want to have do that to me, and it just... the fantasies all fell apart. I -- usually make fantasies."

"Perhaps... nn. Perhaps you'll allow me to act some of them out for you."

"*Oh* -- you're going to make me hard *again* --"

"Good. Because I want you in my mouth -- *hnh* --"

"Oh, I -- I didn't mean to thrust --"

"Do it *again* --"

Clark groans, shakes --

His *finger* is shaking -- "Or. You could do that," Bruce says, laughing again and letting his head fall back. "Clark... you are wonderful."

"I'm just --"

"*Take* the compliment."

"I -- all right. And should I -- keep thrusting?"

"Yes. Yes. Faster than that --" Bruce moans --

*Clark* moans --

Faster is better. Faster is the sight of Tom with his wet hair slicked back and his eyes *hot* with focus --

The feel of Harvey pressing himself against Bruce's back and only managing to thrust four times before losing himself and crying out --

The first time, and it had seemed there would *be* no last, that they could have that forever -- no. Not that, and not now. *Now* is for the boy who looks only wondering as he gazes down at Bruce, as he follows the way Bruce is moving for every thrust, every firm *touch* --

Like this, he wouldn't necessarily be able to tell that Clark isn't human -- no. There's a stiffness which goes beyond awkward hesitation -- of which there is very little -- and a warmth that feels as though it *should* be spreading through him. Will Clark keep getting hotter? Will he find some way to regulate his temperature?

Who *are* his people, and where could they *be*?

The puzzle of it -- the *mystery* of it -- is nearly as arousing as the rest -- but this touch deserves attention, this sense of himself as being something which can be opened, loved --

He needs *love*, and the Bat will never understand that, but it's only right *sometimes*, only --

Oh, let him *have* this --

"Bruce -- Bruce, please let me suck you --"

"*Yes* --"

"-- again. Oh. Oh, *mm* --"

And Bruce has to arch for that, has to hold himself up and try to get deeper into Clark's wonderful mouth, into the heat and softness --

But what would it be like to be inside *him*? Would that even be *safe* -- no. They'll *make* it safe. If Bruce has to bring Clark to orgasm ten times -- or more -- before they try that, then --

Oh, *then* --

And Clark is gagging around him again, humming with frustration --

Shaking and *vibrating* --

"*Clark* --"

*In*, and it's almost too tight, almost --

There is a distinct moment when Bruce has to decide if it *is* pleasure, but after that --

"My -- my prostate --"

A groan deep in Clark's chest --

Heat and *light* --

Movement --

He grips Clark's head and *pulls* --

*Movement* --

He doesn't care in this moment, and this is what the Bat fears, this is the only way he can take for *himself* --

Kissed, and he --

Clark is still --

Lex growls and shoves his tongue in Bruce's mouth, pushes Bruce down on his back and straddles his chest --

Oh... yes.

Bruce smiles into the kiss and cups Lex's scalp with his free hand, sucking Lex's tongue and taking for himself, needing --

Lex growls *again* and the kiss becomes a brutal one, more of a punch than a caress -- but Bruce can take that, too. He strokes Clark firmly before letting go --

He waits for Clark to *move* --

He flips Lex, using power to -- barely -- overcome skill. Lex snarls at him --

"Lex. This doesn't have to be --"

"It *does* --"

"I'll show you --"

"*Kiss* me, you overgrown freak --"

"You're only tempting me to be irritatingly gentle."

"You --" Lex snorts and bangs his head back against the moss. "All right. All right, there's something to be said for timing, intent, fellow-feeling -- ah, God. I'm sorry, Clark."

"I'm okay! I'm -- um. Bruce came in my *mouth*."

Lex closes his eyes and shivers.


"One night. One *night* and a handjob in the morning and a damned unreadable *look* after breakfast. One *night* and I'm supposed to be able to cope with that? I'm supposed to be able to *understand* that?"

"He told me he wanted more. That he -- he told me that I couldn't ask him to choose. He told me." Bruce closes his eyes for a *moment*, because giving this is a thorn in his heart, a metal *shard* where he aches -- "He told me that he was considering staying... in part because of you."

Lex opens his mouth and shakes his head, closes it -- "No. *No*. He *left* --"

"His sensei came with Dr. Fate. They were obviously... close --"

"Was he a beautiful man?"

"Aesthetically --"

"Lean, with shoulder-length hair?"

Bruce frowns. "Tom told you about him?"

Lex smiles and twists lithely out from under Bruce, standing and beginning to pace. "He did, yes. He... hn. What did this sensei say? And no he *didn't* give me a name -- just the fact that he'd been wildly in love with the man --"


"He *tried* to tell me that the sensei was the reason why he had that hickey you gave him. That *he* was the one who'd left him too sore to sit down properly --" Lex stops pacing and glares. "There's a story here."

Bruce starts to stand -- stops and turns to Clark, who still seems somewhat stunned. He pulls Clark close and into a hug. "He told me almost nothing about the men who trained him."

Lex nods. "Because there was something he didn't want you to know about them. Something... hell, maybe it was the fact that he cared about them. There was *another* sensei he talked about, too. I'm not sure if he loved *this* one, but he flat-out told me that he would've let that man do anything he *wanted*. I *taunted* him about the older men who wouldn't let him put out... what is it. What are we *missing*?"

Clark frowns. "Maybe he just talked to Bruce about different things."

"Maybe. Or maybe not. What did the sensei *say*, Bruce?"

Bruce thinks about it. "He was... impatient. And incredulous. He told Tom that this was his only chance to get back to his home... and then I kissed Tom, and Tom kissed me goodbye. The sensei was definitely shocked by Tom's behavior with me."

"Another piece to the puzzle, but -- God, we don't even know what the final *shape* will be," and Lex paces a rough square around them, chewing his thumb -- stopping.

Pushing a hand back over his scalp -- stopping.

"I could *strangle* him."

"I'd stop you --"

"Yes, I *know* that, you pituitary freak -- wait, I already called you that. I'm sorry."

"You're allowed to insult me once?"

Lex -- grins. "Once for every kiss? It's a *good* deal... though if we go by my conversations with Tom, I owe you a *large* number of kisses."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "You can start any time."

A narrow look that *becomes* heated -- "All right. You're attractive. And you are... you have any number of pleasant qualities -- but that's not the point right now."

"If you're sure."

"*You* might be content to let our man go gallivanting around the -- the fucking *multiverse* --"

"Oh. Oh, wow. I just realized that you guys have *proof* that the multiverse is *real*! That's so cool!"

"Yes, I thought so, too. Though it is rather painful at times," Bruce says, and pulls himself into lotus. "Lex. I absolutely agree with you that we should pool our knowledge base and work to come to a solution --"

"*Without* the so-called *doctor* Fate --"

"I believe he has a degree in Eastern philosophy --"

"Like I *said* --"

"Lex. What if he's our fastest way to Tom? The *only* way?"

"Then we don't go to him until we can roll *right* over him. I want to crush him into the *dirt* --"

"He was righting what he felt to be a wrong in the fabric of space-time --"

"Stop playing devil's advocate and *help* me, you ass!"

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "He must have found your passion... irresistible."

"Nothing made him come to heel faster than me. Than me saying 'please,'" Lex says, and smiles wryly. "I had every intention of manipulating the hell out of him with it."

"He would've found a way around it eventually."

"Or sooner than that, yes. I - I think we're being terribly adolescent about all of this, Bruce."

"Do you expect to grow out of loving him?"

Lex's smile is... cold. "Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact I do. And that scares the hell out of me. Probably... oh, probably more than anything else."

Clark frowns. "You can't make someone else your conscience. No matter *how* good he is --"

"That's just it, Clark. He *wasn't* good -- not all the way through, anyway. *No* one who could lie like that... my God, he even lied with how he *moved*, sometimes. You saw that, Bruce."

"Yes. He tried to never let Alfred see how skilled he was at the martial arts. He tried to..." Bruce shakes his head. "He didn't *want* to lie, Lex."

"But he did it anyway. *Instinctively*. And that... the fact that he didn't tell *you* about the men he wanted... when you were... no. You were desperately curious about homosexuality, weren't you, Bruce? Anyone with half a brain who *looked* at you before Tom came could tell that you knew next to nothing about sex. When he decided to start a relationship with you... it would've been the perfect time to tell you about his previous crushes, but he *didn't*."

Bruce strokes Clark and pulls him slightly closer. "He told me he wanted *me*, Lex --"

"Now here's the funny thing, Bruce. The thing that, right now, is sticking in me like a sword shoved through my *brain* -- his *primary* sensei, the one who he started stretching his ass *for*... looked a lot like you do. Bigger, maybe, but the body, the *hair*..."

Bruce frowns. "Any number of men have my same basic appearance --"

"Yes, I know. But it's still -- sticking. And I don't know why, at all, but *I've* learned to trust my instincts. Haven't you?"

"I have no reason to believe that he didn't desire the Bruce from his universe, Lex."

"No, because... all of that *pillow* talk I'm so ridiculously *jealous* of --" Lex growls and starts to pace again.

"Um. I don't think it *is* ridiculous to be jealous of that, Lex. I mean, *I'm* kind of jealous of all the time you guys have spent with Tom. All the time together, I mean. Not just -- um. Not just the sex."

Bruce cups Clark's strong jaw. "We'll have time together. I promise you."

Lex sighs. "And -- and I'm sorry I interrupted. That was really -- that was beyond the pale --"

"Nah, it's okay," Clark says and grins. "That was really hot. Especially when you guys were rolling around. I could *see* how tough you both are. And -- Bruce, you came in my *mouth*."

Bruce smiles. "Should I apologize?"

"You should do it a *lot*. I mean, I can still *taste* you."

"In my experience, it's better to brush your teeth not long after doing such things. The flavor... changes."

Clark's smile turns shy. "Well. I'm gonna keep it as long as I can, anyway."

Bruce kisses Clark softly, slowly --

His own mouth feels somewhat bruised, and while it's tempting to abuse it further, he doesn't want to give Clark's parents any reason to want to keep their son away from him. He --

He needs Clark.

He will have him.

Bruce pulls back and turns to Lex, who is standing near the small stand of trees and rocking on his heels, clearly deep in thought. Bruce squeezes Clark's shoulder and goes to stand with him --

"Why do we love him, Bruce? *Why*?"

"He gave us what we needed. Effortlessly. Though that's rather more mercenary than I tend to enjoy. I have not questioned my love for Tom, only myself for having it."

"Your brother. Your *brother*... yes, I imagine you lost your shit at least a little."

"The only information I had about homosexuality at the time was that it was, at best, a psychological disorder."

Lex snorts. "When *I* rule the world... well, yes. I'm all right, Bruce. You don't have to... comfort me."

"And if I'd like to do just that?"

"Get your Daddy-kink with the fifteen-year-old, please."

Clark chokes --


"Uh -- I'm *not* that young, guys. I mean, I know I *am* young, and inexperienced, and -- I really need to read more books about love and sex, but. I have *one* father, and that's all I need."

Pride, again -- yes. "Noted, Clark."

Lex raises his hands. "I promise I wasn't casting aspersions on your maturity, Clark. As opposed to on Bruce's need for a little brother."

"Or an older one. I'm actually much better suited --"

"Bruce. When you're all grown up and you're fighting crime every night? You're allowed to spend your days in orphanages. You are *not* allowed to have sex with the ones who attach themselves to you."

Bruce raises an eyebrow. "I hadn't been planning on it, Lex --"

"Not even the ones you adopt."

"I -- all *right*, Lex. I'm not a monster."

Lex closes his eyes and breathes. "No, you're right, you're not," he says, and opens his eyes again. "You're just... rather intensely family-minded, and, no, I have not yet gotten over the fact that not even the fact that Tom was your *brother* stopped you from having sex with him."

"It didn't stop Tom, either."

Lex seems to be searching something just behind his own eyes -- "No, it didn't. And a part of me wants to believe it's because you *did* something to him - because I am, occasionally, just that juvenile. Was he jealous of Harvey? Or had that begun, yet?"

"We first made love the night of the dance --"

Lex rears back and blinks --

"But we had kissed before then... and yes, Tom was very jealous. He... he believed that once I had Harvey I would no longer need or love him."

"Tom? *Insecure*? About *you*?"

Bruce smiles ruefully. "It shocked me, as well. He had, until that point, supported and encouraged me in my love for Harvey, and in truth he never stopped. I... have reason to believe that the Bruce from his own universe had denied him and left him lonely."

"Refused him sex?"

"He believed that Bruce knew of his desires, but he had never explicitly shared them."

Lex frowns and begins to pace *again* -- "There's something *there*. I -- my gut tells me that that's still another important *piece*, but how? *Why*? And how the hell could *anyone* remotely like you stay *away* from him?"

"It's a question I've asked myself multiple times," Bruce says, and thinks of a firm hand on his arm, a lean body pressed to his own in comfort, solidarity, *brotherhood* -- "The closest thing I have to an answer is that growing up with Tom somehow made a difference for that Bruce... if not for Tom, himself."

Lex nods. "That *would* do it. That would be *enough*. But I *know* that it isn't --" Lex growls and checks his watch. "Get dressed and let's go get dinner. I haven't had catfish since I was six."

"Oh! Did you like it?" And Clark is already dressed --

Lex's eyes widen with shock, wonder, greed -- "My *God*, you --" Lex shakes his head and breathes. "Yes, I loved it. Bruce, it's something like perch, but much creamier and more firm. There's a certain tang to it, as well, especially if lemon is used, which it almost certainly will be."

"I'm sure I'll find it wonderful," Bruce says, and gathers his clothes.

They move back to the truck and from there to Mama's, where Diane insists they stay for a large amount of catfish to be fried fresh for them. The salad and cornbread is already prepared, and Diane leads them all into the kitchen to meet Bill and to choose a bottle of prepared dressing from the -- vast -- refrigerator.

There's a variety called 'ranch' which is interestingly creamy and sour, but Bruce has to admit that he prefers the 'pepper and cheese,' which is also creamy, but quite spicy and tangy as well.

Lex explains that the cheese, while technically parmigiano, has very little in common with the varieties he's familiar with. Certainly, it's much, much milder, and there's no underlying nuttiness.

He isn't at all sure if that sort would be a better choice for the dressing or not. He'll have to have Alfred prepare some and see.

When their order is ready, they leave the restaurant and return to the Kents' farm, where Martha and Jonathan have set up a picnic table just beyond the dooryard. They've used rocks to hold down the tablecloth and napkins, and Clark is embarrassed and somewhat guilty about the fact that he wasn't there to do it for them --

"*Honestly*, Clark! We're not invalids, *yet*," Martha says, and shoos them all to the table before serving the plates.

Surprisingly, the texture of the catfish is almost reminiscent of scallops -- save for the lack of essential chewiness. He's honestly unsure how he feels about it beyond finding it both disturbing and delicious, and --

"Bruce. You look like you're composing an *essay* about the fish," Lex says, and jabs at him lightly with his plastic fork.

Bruce blinks. "I'm sorry. I'm being antisocial again, aren't I?"

Jonathan smiles at him. "That's all right, son. You go on and eat your food. Martha and I *like* watching growing boys eat."

"Well. I assure you that I can do that at length... though possibly not quite as much as Clark."

Clark looks up from his fifth fillet. "What? Oh. I love catfish. I mean, sure, it's a bottom-feeder, but *whatever* is going on in its digestive tract, it's delicious. How do you like it, Bruce?"

"I'm not sure -- no. I *like* it, I'm just not sure if I should. Perhaps if it were broiled or... steamed?"

Clark makes a face at him.

Lex lets his fork graze Bruce's hand. "You're allowed to eat unhealthy foods every now and again, Bruce. Besides, fish is *always* brain-food."

"I'm reasonably sure these were fried in *lard*, Lex --"

"So was the chicken you devoured the other night."

"Well... hm. I seem to have developed some sort of food prejudice," Bruce says, and wonders at it for a moment --

"Fish is too good to be fried, Bruce? Really?" Lex... is laughing at him just under his voice. 

"It's not that. Or... is it?"

Martha laughs aloud. "Oh, Bruce. Catfish is *terrible* if you don't fry it --"

"Now, Martha, you know Jed will insist that barbecuing it works just as well."

"Hmph. Jed would barbecue his corn flakes if he could figure out *how*," she says, and turns back to Bruce. "*Some* things were meant to be fried, Bruce."

"Don't worry, Martha," Lex says, and smiles brilliantly, "I have every intention of taking Bruce for fried oysters once he comes to see me in Metropolis."

"That sounds very fatty, Lex."

"Oh, the nutritional value is pretty much *nil*... but it'll be one of the best meals you'll ever have. I promise," and Lex turns back to his cornbread, which is both fluffy and rich.

Bruce hums and turns back to his own meal, and they all eat in silence for a time, though Martha periodically pauses to look at them all with happiness and another sort of pride.

Perhaps she is one of those people who always enjoys a full home... though that would not explain why Clark is an only child. A part of Bruce wishes it were polite to ask.

Dessert turns out to be something called 'Apple Brown Betty,' which is both very sweet and quite excellent with vanilla ice cream. It seems as though there is an endless parade of foods in the world, and while Bruce had known that his palate was limited...

Alfred has prepared *hundreds* of different meals for him over the years, but the people of this town have effortlessly introduced him to still more. And then there is Lex.


Lex has not lied to the Kents since this morning. That much would be obvious by the way Lex is looser and more relaxed -- and thus quieter -- even if it weren't obvious by the way the Kents themselves are more relaxed around *him*.

Lex *does* have every intention of having Bruce come to him in Metropolis, and he'd agreed to a future visit to Gotham without hesitation.

Lex is rapidly becoming his friend, and all it had taken was an agreement to be honest with him -- no. This would not have happened without Tom. This *could* not have happened without Tom, and it's shocking to have forgotten that even for a moment. Still...

There is *something* there. There is a chance for the two of them to relate to each other, to become close to each other, to be *clear* with each other --

And that goes beyond Tom. Perhaps even frighteningly far.

(Only I --)

But he can be brave. If Lex can face his fears of losing Tom -- of losing Tom within *himself* -- then Bruce can do no less than the same.

There can be other moments of happiness and pleasure, of warmth and companionship --

Martha claps once. "*I* think it's time for Monopoly. It's better when there's at least four people."

Clark beams --

And Lex sighs. "I would love to be the banker... though none of you should trust me as far as you can throw me."

"I can throw you pretty far, Lex."

Lex smiles. "Then I suppose I'll have to be *almost* that trustworthy."


He'll find out what 'Monopoly' is soon enough.


"Oh, dear God."


"Don't just 'hm' at me, Bruce, *do* something!"

"You're much better at arranging them --"

"There are too *many* now!"

Bruce does a quick count... there are, in fact, twice as many stuffed animals in their room as there were the night before. The sweater-vested bear has... brothers. One in periwinkle, one in lilac.

"I -- God, *why*?"

Hm. They could be sisters. "I believe it might have something to do with all the compliments you gave our hosts."

"No good deed goes unpunished. None. I should *know* that by now. Just -- *augh* --"

"Perhaps if we made all of them face the wall --"

"And if they turn around in the night, Bruce? If they turn around and come to *steal our breath*?"

Bruce frowns. "I thought that was supposed to be --"

Lex picks up a stuffed tiger with an improbably anthropomorphic smile.

"-- cats."

Lex looks at him as though the animals are his fault.

Bruce crosses his arms over his chest.

Lex throws the tiger at Bruce's head and starts gathering the toys. "*Help* me."

Bruce helps --

Bruce *tries* to help, but Lex doesn't let him do more than bring the toys close before shooing him away again. What follows is the intricate arrangement of a stuffed animal pyramid with the largest and firmest forming the base while the smaller and softer ones are piled on --

And on --

And on. And that --


"I hate you."

"All right."

"What *is* it?" Lex wrings an improbably purple squirrel in his hands.

"What are you going to do if the pyramid... shifts during the night?"

"One word, Bruce. One beautiful little word."


"*Fire*. Now strip off and get into bed. We need to talk."

"And we need to do that naked?"

"*Yes*, damn it -- all right, look, maybe I'm still a little upset about landing on St. James Place three separate times --"

"Martha seemed to be quite expert at the game. And ruthless."

"Ruthlessness is the *point* of that game. It's designed to breed the corporate sharks of tomorrow and I -- well, she handed us all our own asses. And then made us eat them."

"That reminds me --"

"Do *not* finish that thought -- all right, no, I have to know."

"I --"

"Wait," Lex says, and places the squirrel at the apex of the pyramid. "If you so much as breathe too hard in that direction, I will *strangle* you. What is it?"

"Do you find rimming to be strange?"

Lex squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Take your clothes off."

"Did you want me to be vulnerable?"

"Take. Off. Your --"

"I already am, Lex. And so are you."

Lex pinches harder for a moment -- stops, sighs, and begins to take off his own clothes.

Bruce follows suit, and, when they're naked, moves close enough to cup Lex's hips, which are still quite slim despite the fact that his upper body has filled out more.

"I'm trying to have sex with you. You could consider letting me, Bruce."

"I'm trying to make love with you."

"I don't -- I don't think people with as much baggage as we have *should* try for that," and Lex's voice is tired and low.

"Look at me. Please."

Lex takes another breath and does it, tilting his head back and exposing the clean, long lines of his throat --

Tom --

Bruce squeezes with both hands. "I wonder, sometimes, if it's safe to share myself with more than one person. If it ever could be --"

"It just means that you have too many -- vulnerabilities, Bruce. That's all it *can* mean --"


"I'm not lying --"

"I didn't say you were. I'm saying that you're wrong," Bruce says, leaning and kissing Lex once. Softly, dryly -- "Your mouth is the softest thing about you."

"Mm, well. It battles with my cock for that distinction when your farmboy-toy is around."


"Stop -- scolding me. I have to be able to insult someone even if I don't mean it in the slightest."

Bruce frowns. "Why?"

"Because -- it's safer. Easier. More -- I need the distance, Bruce, and I always have --"


"I need to *like* the distance, because I'm going. It's going to be there no matter what I do," Lex says, smiling ruefully and wrapping his arms around Bruce's neck. "Tom could see that about me within, oh, hours. Possibly -- and humiliatingly -- less."

"He told me you insulted people together, sometimes."

"Oh, yes. And he even laughed when I said something cutting about you. Of course, I realize now that he was laughing at *me* for being short-sighted, blind --"

"He certainly agreed with you that I was -- am -- hopelessly strange. Ill-formed emotionally. Hopelessly romantic. Did he curse when you made love?"

"Not enough. You?"

"The first time he did, I was shocked enough to stop touching him. I often regret not pressing my advantage."

"Yes, I... you've never cursed, at all. Have you?"

"Once, to echo Tom in a moment that was..." Bruce sighs. "Our father loathed rough language. It often caused him to develop prejudices against the people who used it -- prejudices he found difficult to shake."

"And yet... and yet, Tom used it fluently enough when he was moved to. Another *piece*. I don't suppose your mother ever cursed for the hell of it? When your father pissed her off?"


"So *that* doesn't explain it."

Bruce strokes Lex's hips --

Lex shivers --

"You like that."

"Of course -- of course I do. Your hands are... very strong. Well-used."

"Like Tom's."

"He had hands like -- no, not like a laborer. Like a *weapon*."

Bruce squeezes Lex again and takes the last half-step closer --

Lex shivers. "Your hair is tickling me."

"Your skin is maddening."

"He never stopped... marking me out with his eyes. He was obvious about his attraction nearly from the beginning. His *appreciation*."

"You're beautiful --"

Lex turns away... but he doesn't let go and he doesn't *move*.

"Show me. Show me how he touched you, Lex --"

Lex snorts. "You make it sound like I should be showing you on the *doll*, Bruce."

Bruce blinks. "The... squirrel?"

Lex laughs softly and shakes his head before turning back to look at Bruce. "Never mind. And -- I can't offer you that. I can't."

"All right," and Bruce strokes up Lex's sides, cupping his obliques and testing the growing definition before moving to Lex's back, his shoulder blades --

Lex sighs and tilts his head back again --

"May I bite you?"

"I can't promise not to punch you if you do, Bruce."

"Hm. Noted."

"Stop sounding so *pleased* -- oh."

That for Bruce licking at Lex's pulse point --


Kissing there, then, carefully but wetly, softly but with *intent*. The salt of Lex's skin is new and different, strange and a kind of wonderful Bruce needs names for --

Lex *grips* the back of Bruce's neck -- "Your mouth."

"Tell me."

"You *know* --"

"Tell me," Bruce says, and scrapes his teeth *gently*, "anyway."

Lex snorts again, but it's breathless, brief -- "Christ, Bruce, you don't have to *seduce* me --"

"I disagree --"

"*You* pointed out that it isn't a good idea to be -- scattered --"

"I pointed out that I questioned the urge within myself. I... I have gained much from scattering myself," and Bruce begins to kiss again, sucking softly this time --

Lex moans -- stops. "You -- are a lucky bastard --"


"You don't know the *price* of what you've had, what you *have* --"

"Teach me --"

Lex growls and shoves him hard enough that Bruce has to step quickly to avoid losing his balance -- "On the *bed*, Bruce."

"I don't want this to be *anonymous*, Lex --"

"It *won't* be. You -- you can call my name all you'd like," Lex says, smiling ruefully and rolling his head on his neck. "I suppose I should be happy you didn't lick my *scalp*."

"I -- it's very tempting --"

"As I told him, *no* part of my scalp or face -- other than my mouth -- is sexually sensitive. Keep that in mind and we'll be fine."

That. "Will we?"

Lex seems almost to *gasp* his laugh this time -- "Jesus, Bruce. Fucking -- Christ on a *crutch*, your timing sucks, but that's all right, because, yes, we'll be fine. I have plans for us."

"So do I --"

"Separately, we get all too little of what we want. Together... well," Lex says, stepping closer and pushing Bruce more gently until Bruce is on the bed. "Together, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with."

"With Clark."

"Oh, yes," and Lex crawls onto the bed and into a straddle of Bruce's thighs. "You're ridiculously huge."

"So I've been told."

"'Big guy,' yet. Has it occurred to you that Harvey might be the most ruthless of all of us?"

Bruce frowns. "I don't know what you mean."

"*He* knows what he wants and the price of it. *He* may want to change the world but he damned well lives in this one. *He*... is using his control."

"It --doesn't make him happy."

"How often do your vows make you happy, Bruce?"

"When I'm not alone --"

"Lie," Lex says, and traces curves and loops through the hair on Bruce's chest before raising an eyebrow.

"They never make me happy. They -- I ran from them for as long as I could."

"You don't think you're still running?"

Bruce smiles and strokes the impossible smoothness of Lex's arms. "Tom taught me the art of compromise."

"He'd made the same vows you did... and yet he believed in staying of the world?"

"Powerfully. He held onto life with both hands even as he remained driven. He... took pleasure in his vows."

Lex frowns and nods. "I take pleasure in my own -- at times. But it's not the sort of pleasure I'm comfortable with."

"Tom... believed."

"Yes. Yes, he did," Lex says, and breathes deeply, sitting back and cupping his penis. "My cock seems to think you can do something for it."

Bruce smiles. "Anything is possible."

"It -- it was easier --"

"Everything was --"

"*Yes* -- I shouldn't need anything to be easy."

"Perhaps not."

"How are you doing this? What -- is it so much for you that Tom wanted me?"

"It's not for you?"

"Of course it is --"

"He loved you," Bruce says, and cups Lex's thighs. "He would've resisted you if he didn't. I need to understand --"

"*Lie* --"

"Are you sure you want the truth?"

Lex narrows his eyes, parts his lips -- "No. I'm not. Tell me anyway."

"I already understand. And so do you."

Lex bares his teeth -- "At least Tom would've made a beautiful woman."

Bruce laughs somewhat helplessly. "I would've known even less about what to do with him."

"He *liked* to teach. I..." Lex licks his lips, quick and neat, and shifts until their penises are pressed against each other --

Grips them *both* --

"Warm. You --"

"Clark is... hot," Lex says, expression turning speculative, hungry in ways that have nothing to do with sex. "His metabolism must be off the scale. I have to wonder how much fuel he burns by speeding through the chores of a dozen men --"

"No more than five or six, I think --"

"More when you consider speed, efficiency --"

"Very. Very true. Lex --"

"*Fuck*," and Lex begins to stroke them, squeezing on every downstroke, thrusting into his own fist --

Thrusting *against* Bruce --

"*Lex* --"

"Ah -- more. I want more --"

"Let me taste you --"

"You -- have a lot of experience --" Lex groans and squeezes them hard, shudders and licks his lips --

"Let go and let me --"

"Not *yet* --"

"*Lex* --"

Speed and skill -- and Lex's free hand on his scrotum, stroking and squeezing, pressing and lifting --

Bruce pants and sits up on his elbows, aware of what the position does for his abdominal muscles as more than just a function of memory -- Lex is narrowing his eyes --

Lex *claws* at Bruce's abdomen and lets go -- "I can't let you *pin* me --"

"All right --"

"You're too -- too accommodating --" Lex laughs and lets go, pauses to rub at the head of Bruce's penis with his fingertips -- "A Wayne trait?" He licks and sucks at his fingers --

"Your mouth is incredible."

Lex raises an eyebrow -- and fucks his own mouth with his fingers.

"Oh. Yes."

Lex closes his eyes and pushes *deep* -- pulls out. "You -- the number of times I've masturbated with my fingers in my mouth --"

"His taste --"

"So *clean*, so --"

"His musk was always... subtle. Too subtle," Bruce says, sitting up the rest of the way. "A kiss?"

"Yet another reason to eat terrible foods -- or at least to make *Tom* eat them --"

"I'll remember. Make love with me --"

"We can't -- we can't repeat this --"

"We can negotiate, Lex --"

"Each and every time?"

"Please," Bruce says, and cups the back of Lex's head, careful to be neither too gentle nor too firm. "I would vastly enjoy every moment of negotiation."

"You should be more *impatient* --"

"Would that arouse you?"

"*No*," Lex says, laughing and -- kissing him. He takes Bruce's lower lip between his own and sucks, he repeats with Bruce's upper lip -- and then back and forth and back again until patience becomes something tangible, something which could, eventually, become a thorn where Bruce is vulnerable.

For now, though....

For now, there is Lex's mouth, which would feel wonderful on Bruce's penis, maddening on Bruce's nipples --

Lex's mouth, and the way it's swelling for each kiss, the way --

Bruce moans and pulls back enough to refocus the kiss, to press his lips against Lex's own and coax Lex's tongue into his mouth --

Lex claws *up* Bruce's back --

Bruce jerks and pumps his hips, moving them both --

And Bruce nearly rolls them down before he remembers that Lex doesn't want to be pinned. He reaches between them and takes hold of their penises again, instead, giving Lex the first stroke Tom had shown him. It's slightly brutal and it moves between being too fast and too slow --

Lex groans and shudders --

And Bruce realizes that Tom would've taught Lex that stroke, that Lex forgets even fewer things than Bruce does -- "Should I apologize?"

"Don't -- don't stop --"


"God, I can't even -- it shouldn't be *like* this --"

"But --"

"It *is*, yes, I --" Lex laughs and looks at Bruce, *into* Bruce. The light in his eyes seems more wild than happy, but Bruce has learned that excitement is, perhaps, *better* for Lex than simple happiness --

Better for something between the two of *them* -- "Please."

Lex touches his tongue to his teeth -- "Suck my cock. Make me *feel* it. Make me --"

"Lie down --"

"Over me, I want you -- ah, *God*, Bruce --"

"We can *have* this --"

"We -- we don't have a *choice* --"

"Not a good one --"

"*Now*," Lex says, lying down and spreading his graceful, powerful legs --

Bruce pauses to lick Lex's inner thighs -- and realizes that it's better to touch him in places where hair *should* be. Bruce moves to nuzzle Lex's mound --

And Lex laughs as though he can hear every thought. Perhaps he can. Perhaps --

"It was a relief to expose myself to you --"

"You *masher* --"

"Your intellect is frightening --"

"*I'm* frightening, I --" Lex laughs again and cups the back of Bruce's head -- "Please."

Bruce shudders and licks Lex's penis from root to tip --

"Another. Another Wayne trait -- oh, God -- *Bruce* --"

Bruce hums around the head and *grips* Lex's hips, lifting him slightly --

Lex moans and sits up -- "Can't -- you feel --"

Lex leaks on Bruce's tongue, twitches in his mouth --

"Let me come in your mouth, Bruce -- oh, *fuck* --"

Bruce nods and strokes up Lex's sides, brushes his thumbs in the soft hollows of his underarms -

Lex moans for him again and drops back down, arches his hips and pants --

Laughs --

"I *have* to believe I'll find a woman who -- who *likes* this --"

Bruce makes a noncommittal noise --

"God, *nothing* like a blueblood faggot -- *ow* -- all right, I'll stop -- do that again --"

Dragging his teeth along Lex's shaft *rapidly* stops feeling like a punishment to mete out and starts feeling like another part of this, the love they're making between them, the connection they're building --

"More, take *more* --"

*Yes* --

"Oh -- *swallow* me --"

Lex *shouts* -- and covers his face with one of the pillows, pumping his hips with a steady, constant *rudeness* --

A need which doesn't require anything but itself --

Lex's cries are muffled but still audible, palpable enough that it feels like being scratched, stroked --

Bruce uses his strength to force Lex to take him faster, more *roughly* --

And Lex's hand begins to shake and spasm against the back of Bruce's head, grip becoming *sharp* enough to make Bruce's eyes water --

There is no better reason for having learned to hold his breath for this long -- oh --

Bruce pulls back enough to laugh around Lex, straining against the way Lex is pulling --

"*Please*, Bruce --"

"*Yes*," Bruce slurs, and allows himself to be pulled down, pulled *on* until his mouth is pressed to soft, bare skin, pale and *obscene* skin --

And how *would* Clark react if he were in this position? Would guilt overwhelm fascination with what he had unwittingly done? Would fascination become perversion?

What about this had aroused Tom so *much*? How much of a mistake would it be to assume it was the same things which are moving Bruce to grunt deep in his chest and suck *harder* --

A shout into the pillow which is back over Lex's face --

A full-body shudder --

Oh, yes...

Oh, *yes* --

Bruce pulls Lex into his throat and *holds* him there by the hips, swallowing repeatedly until Lex's body jack-knifes --

The pillow lands on Bruce's back --

"*Hnh* -- *nn* -- *fuck*," Lex says, scrabbling at Bruce's back even as he pumps and spills, spills and shakes --

Bruce pulls back enough to taste, and shocks himself with his own shudder -- he is tasting a stranger --

He is tasting *Lex* --

He is *with* Tom, and what if Tom had never wanted him here, like this? What if this is unforgivable? What --

No. This can *be* no crime in the world Tom had left. This --

This is Lex stroking Bruce's hair with a shaky and gentle restlessness. This moment is the feel of a softening penis in his mouth and the taste of salty semen. This is the pleasure Bruce *owns* at the sound of Lex laughing again, breathless and obviously satisfied on at least one level.

Bruce pulls off and kneels up, smiling. "Lex."

"Your hair is a *fright*, darling."

"Perhaps you would consider updating my look to suit the times."

Lex purses his lips like the arch *creature* he truly isn't -- and then he snickers. "No, I -- if you ever grow your hair that long, Bruce? Don't tell me. I want you to shock me with it, because the image will *instantly* overwhelm any evil plots or schemes I may be tempted by at the moment."

"I'm at your disposal."

"I suppose you *could* do the Zorro thing," Lex says, moving back toward the head of the bed and pulling Bruce with him. "Jaunty mask, jauntier mustache... yes?"

"That was the film my parents took me to see the night they were murdered."

"Oh -- God, I --"

"By which I mean... I've considered it," Bruce says, letting his smile be a gentle one and guiding Lex's hand to his penis.

"Bruce --"

"It's all right, Lex. You didn't send my soul scurrying into the black, as it were."

"Oh, and now you're using my speech patterns. Should I be flattered? Or should I just punish you for it?" And Lex taps the head of Bruce's penis with his thumbnail. Most of the emotional force behind the statement had more to do with Lex's willingness to change the subject than with anything else... but.

There are times when intent is worth far more than execution. Bruce covers Lex's hand with his own and forces a vicious squeeze --

Lex's eyes grow heated again. "You like pain."

"At times."

"You were frustrated with Clark...?"


"Giving or receiving?"

Bruce smiles.

Lex nods thoughtfully. "Tom let me give him three fingers. He let me -- encouraged me -- to do it hard."

Bruce shivers. "You made him love it."

"He cried out so *sweetly*... but you had given him your cock."

"I ordered him to tell me to do it harder."

*Lex* shivers -- "I don't. I don't want to be inside you --"


"Pie-eyed *optimist* --"

"Yes," Bruce says, and makes Lex squeeze him again. "But a correct one, this time."

Lex smiles ruefully. "You wouldn't care for the motivations behind my wanting to fuck you, Bruce --"

"Try me --"

"*I* don't care for my motivations. I -- Tom has done nothing to me that deserves me treating his... brother in that way."

"Lex --"

"I've spent a great deal of time thinking about bondage and domination, sadism and masochism... well. In a lot of ways I think it would suit me. The life I've lived to date has prepared me well for either being brought to heel or bringing someone else to heel with as much pain inflicted as possible. I..." Lex pushes closer and brushes Bruce's hand away before wrapping both of his own hands around Bruce's penis. "I'll do it. I'll find the right woman -- or some insanely perfect man, I suppose -- and I'll experiment, and I'll discover, once and for all, if it would truly be as shattering, as *perfect* as all of my fantasies suggest."

"We --"

"Can't, Bruce. I -- God, not yet, at least," Lex says, and his smile is rueful, young, and more than a little vulnerable. "Please."

Bruce cups Lex's cheek for a moment and nods. "I am... open."

"*You*... are entirely too articulate --"

"Do you miss the days when you could make me blush effortlessly?"

Lex lets go with one hand -- and offers that hand to Bruce. "Yes. Because my life made much more sense then."

Bruce cups Lex's wrist and licks his palm slowly, wetly --

"Rimming -- isn't strange. Not that I've done it, but I found myself considering the matter while I watched Tom's hole flex for me -- "

"Yes --"

"I don't miss those days, Bruce. My world was smaller. *Meaner*, in the mercenary sense. And I wasn't the one making you blush."

Bruce closes his eyes and makes love to Lex's palm with his mouth, lips and teeth and tongue --

Lex shudders and begins to stroke him, slow and hard -- "You were yourself. I wasn't myself. I... oh, God, Bruce, I will *end* you if this -- if you --" Lex growls and yanks his hand away before kissing Bruce bruisingly hard.

Bruce groans into Lex's mouth and wants more, always *more*. This is a weakness within him, something which can be exploited --

This is the boy he will always be. This is the darkness he *shares* with Lex, because Bruce knows precisely how much Lex fears being exploited for *this* moment, this honesty and pleasure and companionship --

To be manipulated --

Bruce groans again and smiles, cupping Lex's face and changing the kiss to something more damning for both of them, something --

Something that makes Lex shake for him and stroke faster, something that makes Bruce want to make promises into the teeth of the wind not blowing in this room, in the face of disaster and fear --

"God, *Bruce* --"

"I always knew I'd lose him --"

"Of *course* you did --"

"No. I knew that I couldn't ever have something that wonderful, someone so *right*."

And Lex breathes in sharply and rears back, shakes his head --

"*Yes*, Lex. *Know* me --"

Lex squeezes his eyes shut --

Groans --

And this time the kiss takes them both down to the bed again, leaves them messy, leaves them wet, leaves them tangled and tangling in each other until Lex is gripping Bruce's hip and is urging him to thrust against him --

So smooth and *sleek* --

So warm and willing, hungry --

And Bruce realizes that it *would* be wrong for Lex to desire Clark, as well, that between the two of them they would wind up devouring him whole --

"Too -- too much *emptiness*, Bruce --"

"Too many *screams* --"

"*Unanswered* --"

"They could always -- he could always tell when I needed --"

"*Yes*, Bruce --"

"So close, so ready -- Lex. Lex, please, I'm close --"

Lex gasps and kisses Bruce again, rolling them until Lex is on his back --

"Are you -- are you *sure* --"

"*Come* on me, just -- show me. Show me how this is supposed to *work* --"

Bruce smiles helplessly. "I *never* could --"

"*Try* --"

And Bruce gives himself leave to cup Lex's shoulders, to let his fingers slide in the sweat, to squeeze hard enough to redden pale skin --

So *pale* --

And he knows Tom had loved that, needed it --

Had he needed to mark? To besmirch? Could he ever have wanted to simply make Lex seem more *human*? In this moment, he *is*, eyes wide and penis hardening, darkening with blood even as Bruce drives against him again and again --

Faster, then, *better* --

But Bruce still can't keep himself from crying out when Lex spreads his legs and *grips* his waist with his knees, can't keep himself from *shaking* for that smile, so rueful and young, so hungry and *old*. So warm, so sweet --

For this moment they are *not* alone, and that -- *please* --

Bruce throws his head back and shouts for his pleasure, aware on a dim, distant level that he's squeezing Lex's shoulders too hard, that his semen is no hotter than blood, no more and no less *important* --

Bruce collapses on his side and pants, reflexively resting a hand on Lex's chest --

"I'm not leaving."

"One has to..." Bruce breathes as much as is possible at the moment. It's not much. "One has to be sure."

"Does one?"

Bruce grins somewhat breathlessly -- and very dimly. "Why, *Lexie*, *bubbie*, isn't it time for me to seduce you again?"

Lex chokes and narrows his eyes. "Is *that* how you plan to deflect prying eyes?"

"I don't know *what* you're talking about, Lexie. Some of us *love* to show off, ha, ha, ha."

"How has Harvey not *shot* you?"

"Hm. I strongly suspect he'll be tempted... the first time he sees this. I plan to work him up to it as gradually as possible."

"Probably for the best," Lex says, and then raises an eyebrow at his own three-quarters-risen penis. "You Philistine. You're supposed to *drop* for behavior like that."

"You don't think you've confused it to some extent over the years?"

"Luthor genitalia are made from far sterner stuff than *that*, Brucie."



"I seem to be musing on the nature of sternness."

Lex snorts. "Not *yet*, I said. And -- hm. I think I'll climb on you before you decide to get any hairier."

"Oh..." Bruce smiles again. "Please do."


It takes less than five minutes in Lionel Luthor's presence to learn everything he wants to about the man, and another ten to remind himself that that isn't all he *needs* to know.

The elder Luthor has -- at least in Bruce's presence -- a tendency to smile warmly while his eyes show only a kind of avaricious loathing. While this may have something to do with the way Bruce is behaving -- Lex had touched his arm when they arrived at the man's penthouse to find him there and had pointedly called him 'Brucie' -- he also shows no compunction about turning those looks on his son.

Lucius had called while they were still in Smallville to warn that LuthorCorp agents had been found attempting -- mostly clumsily -- to befriend WE executives. This wasn't Lionel's first try at corporate espionage, but it is the first which hadn't simply involved money.

Bruce is not surprised that his presence warrants the personal touch, nor is he surprised to discover that Lionel is a terrible parent. The *depth* of it --

He does not know and he may not ever know. He *wants* to know, if only to be able to understand Lex more completely, but it's a terrible sort of enough to look at Lex and see every ounce of tension a week in Smallville had erased come flooding back. Lex is mostly still in his father's presence, but it's not the easy stillness that had taken Lex after they'd made love, or after dinner with the Kents, or in the truck as Clark had driven them to the airport before hugging them both goodbye.

Clark had been scandalized by the prospect of a public kiss --

Lex had noted Bruce's expression, and had promised they would change the world together.

Lex, like this...

Lex is seemingly a fraction of himself in his father's presence, a creature of intellect and carefully-banked frustration. There is a kind of solidarity in being only a bare fraction of *him*self, as well.

After far too long a time, Lionel leaves them on their own, but the penthouse is oppressive enough...

"Lex --"

"You're going home early."

Bruce blinks. "I am?"

A tight smile, and Lex moves to stand in front of Bruce's chair. He offers his hand --

Bruce takes it and stands --

"He won't leave us alone now," Lex says, voice quiet. "I should've specified that you not act *too* brain-dead, because now he's convinced that there's something about you that I know and he doesn't. He won't let that stand."

"I'm more than willing --"

"I'm not. You're going to show me a few sights in Gotham, and then we'll drive up to Exeter together."

"You don't think that will make him more interested?"

"Oh, it will... and it might even distract him from some of the projects I've had running here... well. Does that work for you?"

"Alfred has a terrible opinion of you. I look forward to your changing it for the better," Bruce says, and squeezes Lex's hand. "Lex..."


"*Is* there something one could and should say in situations like this one?"

Lex's smile this time is wry, but still somewhat looser than the last. "I suspect Alfred would know better than I. For now, I'll take it as read."

Bruce nods and lets go.

"Brucie, *darling*, don't look so gloomy. The new world order starts *today*."

"I never knew a whisper could be so *arch*, Lex."

"Sweetheart, the number of things you never knew are *legion*," and the light in Lex's eyes is frenetic, *hectic* -- but not forced.

"A part of you enjoys this. Hm. I believe I meant for that to be a question."

"Lie," Lex says, and leads them through the penthouse -- presumably to Lex's bedroom or dressing room so that Lex can repack his luggage.

"Yes, I'm afraid so. *Why* do you enjoy it?"

"*Some* games of Monopoly are just fine with two people, Bruce... but that's a lie of omission. He's my father, and that is, ultimately, all which needs to be said."

"Lex. I still want to --"

"I know," Lex says, and smiles ruefully and Bruce from over his shoulder. "And it means... much. With regard to the matter at hand, however... well. I can only hope he enjoys it just as much when the tables are turned."

And Bruce knows, then, that that hope is a real one, and one which is even meant well and with love -- "I'd like to study you."

"Oh... Bruce. The more you do that -- as opposed to simply being my friend -- the more evil I'll become."

Bruce bites back a snort and hums. "I suspected as much."

"Hm. Trust your instincts?"

"But not the ones to comfort you."

"Oh -- never those," Lex says, and leads them into -- yes, a bedroom. A bedroom with no personal touches whatsoever -- not even exaggerated ones -- and the kind of anonymously perfect neatness which only servants who are *not* members of the family can provide... judging by the homes Bruce has seen while attending one horrible party or another.

It's distressing... until Bruce realizes that the only true personal touches in his own bedroom are the out-of-place armoires he'd had moved from his parents' bedroom after their murder and the handful of tangible, important items Tom had left behind -- all of which are hidden. At that point, it stops being distressing and starts being disturbingly *amusing*... "If Tom could see us, he'd be laughing uproariously, I believe."

Lex tosses fresh suitcases on the bed. "You're absolutely right, and he's a bastard for it."

"Ours, though."

"Oh, yes. Then, now, and in the -- near -- future."

Bruce smiles.

Lex smiles back -- and starts to pack.