Okay, so this was started way-back-when, middle of first season, so rewind canon in your minds. Then it was abandoned. Then I picked it up again. Lots of people looked this over at various stages, but most credit to Mia, who's been there all along, including stopping me from posting when she knew I'd regret it.
It is Lex, of course, who suggests journalism.
"Uh huh," Clark says.
"Knowledge is power," Lex drawls, ensconced in a high-backed leather chair, tossing a dagger back and forth between ivory fingers. Clark is used to Lex's theatrics by now. "Knowledge is power, and there's no weapon like the power of disclosure."
"Right." Clark picks through the TV Guide. "And why would I want to be powerful?" He flips to the evening's listings.
Lex is used to Clark's own version of theatrics; sees that there's a flannel-and-corn wall around something which isn't all that well hidden. "Say you wanted to protect the good people in the world from the bad people," he says caustically, "information is the best means of defense."
Clark arches an eyebrow at him. "And of attack?"
"No. Like money, it's more useful if you haven't spent it."
Clark flips through the glossy pages to today's listing. "But like money, it's no use if you never spend it at all."
Lex tosses him the remote, and doesn't answer.
The sounds of hockey fill the room. Clark flips again, and again, and then stops on the opening credits of a movie, the action already underway as the story starts.
"You think I'd make a good journalist?" Clark says, idly.
There's a wry smile, and Lex nods. "I wouldn't suggest it if I didn't."
"Son, you're not just saying that because of Chloe, are you?"
"It's not Chloe, Dad. I want to make a difference. Tell people about what's really going on in the world. Expose all the secrets and lies."
"That's a very noble ambition, honey," his mother says, and his father claps him on the shoulder.
"If that's what you want, son," he says, and Clark is disappointed that neither of them got it.
Lex has a marble chessboard; black swirled with white, white swirled with black. The pieces are granite, flecks of black here, flecks of white there, but more or less grey.
"Chloe applied for MIT," Clark says.
"And you didn't?"
"It's a lot of money."
Lex moves his rook. "Met. U?"
"Still too much."
Sighing, Clark shakes his head. "I think it's best if I stay on the farm with Mom and Dad."
"Why?" Leaning back, Lex studies the chessboard.
Clark shrugs, moving a pawn. "You never know what might cause prices to drop, or crops to fail."
"Farming's a risky business."
"But college debts in a bad year could be devastating."
Lex toys with the Queen, but leaves it where it is. Eventually he moves his bishop to take Clark's pawn. "There's going to be a full scholarship to Met. U. School of Journalism," he says.
Clark nods again, and takes the bishop. "I thought there might be."
Lex meets him at a grimy burger place in the middle of the city. "What did you tell your friends?"
"That my best friend from Smallville was in town," Clark says, grinning. He orders a steakburger and double fries. Lex orders two lattes, and he's finished the first one by the time they've found seats at a table which isn't too sticky. "So how's Smallville?"
Lex grimaces. "Small. How's college life? The parties? The beer? The girls?"
"Going to class. Doing my homework."
"I'd tell you how to set up a meth lab in the bathroom sink, but--"
"--but there'd be no point."
"You're such a disappointment, Clark, that I'm going to have to take you out and get you wasted."
Clark smiles sunnily. "Sure."
Hours later, Lex is sliding from a black velvet couch to a black velvet carpet, staring up at the flawless face. "Metamobilism?"
"Metabolism," Clark tells him gently, picking him up and putting him back on the couch.
"Metalobism schmabolism," Lex insists. "Tequila will fix it," and Clark obediently does another shot.
The couch, Lex observes, is very slippery. And tilted on a dangerous angle. It's important to notice things like that, he's sure, things like tricky couches that look nice but tip you on the floor when you're not paying attention.
"You didn't finish telling me your story," Clark pouts, passing a shot glass to Lex. Tequila. So nice.
"You were telling me about getting kicked out of college."
Lex doesn't really think he should be talking about that, but it's Clark, and he's nice, and holding him tight so the couch can't tip him.
"Saw your byline in the Planet. Very impressive for a junior."
"I didn't think they'd accept that one," Clark admits. "The Senator had an alibi, and my evidence was shaky."
Lex shrugs. "Which is why they actually left your name on it, this time."
Clark frowns. "I wish they hadn't. It was a risky piece to publish."
"Risky?" Lex sits back, surprised for a minute, then summons his scheming face. "It's only a risk, Clark, if you stand to lose something valuable."
"Unlike some people," Clark tells him, laughing, "I value my credibility."
"Unlike some people," Lex says archly, "I value credit."
"I don't mind when I don't get bylines," Clark says, all wounded innocence. "It's the truth that matters."
"That, and all the other things."
Clark drenches his fries with ketchup and shoves three into his mouth. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Draining his coffee, Lex laughs. "You can take the boy out of Smallville--"
"But you can't take the Kent out of the boy."
"Not yet, anyway," Lex says. He doesn't seem to notice that he leaves a Luthorcorp folder on the table when he walks away.
Clark stares at it until Lex reappears. "I'll forget my own head one day." He takes the folder, smiling, and Clark doesn't smile back.
Clark writes an expose of anticompetitive behaviour by Metlin Pharmaceuticals. The FCC can't make him reveal his sources.
The connection sounds like a payphone. "Want some gossip?"
Clark munches on a cookie. "Depends what it is."
"Donald Barclay is fucking Joseph Malcone's youngest daughter."
"Lex, that's sick! She's fifteen!"
"Don't yell at me, I'm not the one fucking her."
"Fine. This interests me why?"
"Because, and I know this from experience, nobody fucks a Malcone woman unless there's something a Malcone man wants."
"You're too cynical, Lex."
"You're too naive, Clark. I'll see you later."
The club is dark and smoky, the music unforgiving. As soon as the bouncers open the door for them, Clark shakes his head and backs away.
"Trust me," Lex mouths, and takes his arm.
Lex guides him smoothly through the crowd, smiles and greetings and waves flowing off him like water. Clark feels smouldering eyes on his back as they cross the floor and climb a staircase. At the the end of another packed room is a corridor; at the end of that is an elevator. Lex swipes a card and the lift rises. They step out into room with a bouncer, and through that to another, and through that to a small, private balcony overlooking the city. Clark gapes at the city which stretches, like a glittering blanket, halfway to the horizon. Lex presses an intercom; "a couple of beers, thanks, Tony."
Lex leans on the balcony rail next to Clark. "What do you think?"
The wind is cool and fresh on Clark's face. "Amazing."
"Not of the view," Lex drawls. "Of the building."
Realisation is slow to dawn on Clark, but when it does the effect is spectacular.
"How-- what? Lex, this is worth millions."
Handing Clark a beer, Lex drinks deeply, expansive in victory. "The Senator was holding up the insurer. The insurer was underwriting the pharmaceutical. The pharmaceutical had a subsidiary. The subsidiary had some nice real estate and a vulnerable board."
Clark stares out into the night. "That's a tangled web."
Lex shrugs. "It's a nice building."
Lex's voicemail has no message, just the beep.
"I found out about the referee and the playoffs. You've got thirty-six hours to cover your ass."
Clark's voicemail has a long chirpy message with a sincere promise to call back.
"Print what you like about the team. I have nothing to do with my father's dirty work."
"Lex Luthor doesn't want the world to know how smart he is..." Lex's voice on the line is exuberant.
"You like it?" Clark yells over the Friday morning dorm noise.
"I fucking love it," Lex shouts back. "It's fucking perfect! My father's livid! The board wants to make me Research VP!" There's so much static, he must be on the freeway, trying to break the sound barrier.
"Lex, where are you?"
"About thirty minutes away. Meet me at Mancini's."
"Shut the hell up, Kent. You need a good suit."
"I don't-- Lex, I have classes."
"You're graduating with a front-page feature, you moron, and I'm back from exile. This is our finest moment yet, and we're going to celebrate."
After a day spent helping Lex furnish his new apartment, Clark leaves a folder on the floor of Lex's new company Lamborghini.
Gloves still on, Lex picks it up. The contents spill out over his lap--photographs of test subjects at a LuthorCorp lab in Brazil, covered in weeping sores. Underneath them is a report on toxic waste dumping by a LutherCorp lab in Kentucky. Underneath that are suppressed impact studies on a proposed LutherCorp nuclear research station. There's evidence of industrial espionage and faked test results and malpractice and biohazard violations and FDA bribes. It's enough dirt on LutherCorp Research to add three feet of topsoil to every farm in Kansas.
In an envelope are more photos, this time of men, women, children, families, villages. In the white margin, in Clark's handwriting, are notes: Jodie and Malcolm King-- leukaemia, Kentucky 1998. Caitlin Sorenson-- fired after Bates Commission testimony, 2001. Face after face after face stares expectantly at him through Clark's lens.
Lex slams the folder shut and sits for a long time, tapping it against the steering wheel. When he finally looks up, Clark is standing next to the car, face serene.
"You're the new VP," he says. "I thought you should know."
Lex came as close to insisting as he ever has; Clark is closer to running in terror as he ever thought he could be. Lionel Luthor sits at the head of the table and Clark has a feeling that this is what it's like to be Lex in the Kent kitchen. Lionel is staring at him like he's something he wants to scrape off his son.
Clark expects him to say something. He expects figures quoted and arguments hurled and accusations cited and recriminations thrown. He expects Lex to be torn kicking and screaming from his new position and sent to somewhere smaller than Smallville for longer than eternity. Nothing of the kind happens.
Deadly silence prevails as ghostly servants bring course after course and Lex and Lionel cut their food into tiny precise pieces and methodically chew it. Clark is starving, but he's too nervous to put anything in his mouth. Lionel's gaze never wavers -- he fixes it on Clark and leaves it there. Clark knows he shouldn't be thinking what he's thinking -- that Lionel knows who his parents are, that he might know Chloe has a baby, that he could find out where Pete works...
But Lex is by his side and a foot brushes his briefly, even though Lex's face is hard and unrelenting. Clark thinks about the damage done, the people dead, the land wasted by the hand of this man, and finds himself hardening into steel against that gaze.
When dessert is eaten, Lionel stands up and walks out. It's a victory which feels like failure. Lex turns to Clark, still hard, still unrelenting.
"You're the new enemy," he says. "I thought you should know."
Lex holds a press conference, denouncing LuthorCorp Research Division's past practice, and promising widespread reform.
Clark reports on it, hinting that Lex disclosed only a fraction of the known misdeeds, and predicting that the press will be closely watching his performance in his new role.
Clark calls to cancel baseball, and Lex demands an explanation.
"Box seats," he insists. "Private bar."
"Nicaragua," Clark replies.
That tiny, tiny pause, only detectable if the listener can speed-read three reports while it endures. "What about Nicaragua?"
"If you don't know, you're out of time to find out," Clark says, and hangs up.
Lex shows up at Clark's dorm with burgers, fries, and Frat Party III : Kegger Crisis. "You son of a bitch," he says. "I'm taking the fall for that one."
Clark's burger has cheese just melting and egg with the yolk bleeding over the lettuce. It's perfect. "Of course you are. You're great at mitigating my damage. That's why your father keeps you on."
"You could have given me more time," Lex pouts.
"You should have been ready."
Lex scrunches up his burger wrapper and throws it across the room.
"Three points," Clark announces, and then throws his own. It shoots into the bin a little too accurately, a little too forcefully.
"Be careful," Lex says, studying the wire basket, "that you don't push me too far. I'd hate to lose our friendship over something like this."
Clark smiles at him. "Lex, our friendship will never change."
The fries are crisp and hot and salty. The movie sucks, though. They sit on Clark's bed by the window and let the gritty night breeze wash over them.
After the movie, they play chess on Clark's set. It's polished wood, mahogany and ash. Clark wins, and Lex sits back and frowns at the remaining pieces. "I shouldn't have let you take my knight," he decides.
"Lex," Clark says patiently. "You threatened my queen. You made me take it."
"So I did," Lex murmurs.
LuthorCorp's stock drops twelve points after the London Times exposes half a billion dollars in undisclosed debts.
"Thanks, Clark," Lex snaps to his voicemail, in a rare display of honesty. "Now the sharks are circling and I'm getting blamed for the blood in the water."
That night, Clark gets a visit from Lionel Luthor.
"We need to talk," he says, walking in and sitting down at Clark's table. Clark closes the door, and as soon as he sits down to face him, Lionel begins.
"I think it's time we cut out the middleman, don't you?"
"I don't know what you want, but let me--"
"Yes, you do," Clark interrupts.
Lionel's eyebrows shoot up. "I beg your pardon?"
"You know what I want," Clark repeats, half-stunned by his own forwardness. Somewhere in the back of his mind he's hearing his father's voice: Son, you can't trap a snake. It's the shovel or the shotgun. "I want you to stop hurting people."
"My, my. How charmingly frank you are," Lionel tells him, leaning back in his chair. "Let me return the favour. You are a thorn in my side, and one way or another I will have you removed. My son seems to think there's a lot more to you than meets the eye, and if there is, I will find out everything he knows, and use it against you."
"Whatever Lex knows about me," Clark tells him, heart beating like a terrified rabbit, using every superpower he has to keep his voice calm and his hands steady, "it's not nearly as useful as what I know about you. Vague threats of disclosure might work for the Luthors, but I'm willing to name names."
Lionel sneers and stands up and stalks away. "I see. Well, thank you for wasting my--"
"David McCabbin at Johnson Smith and Young. Geoffrey Redburgh at Metropolis Investment Bankers. Sun Jao-Ming and the Group of Eight. The offices at 480 North William St, Washington DC."
"Interesting," Lionel says, turning slowly. "Is that all you've got?"
"Give me a minute," Clark promises, reaching for his laptop. "It might be faster if I print out the list for you."
Lionel takes a menacing step closer. "Are you blackmailing me, boy?"
"Of course not. I'm bringing some problems to your attention, so you can rectify them." Clark smiles, and finds his heart is beating normally again. The printer whirrs into action, and he gathers the papers into a neat stack. "Feel free to contact me if you require further information."
Lex shows up at Clark's apartment, and there's a little rub of finger against thumb which betrays his breezy calm. Clark introduces Lex to Katrina, a part-time model and full-time environmental activist. Lex makes polite conversation for exactly two minutes and then shuts her out.
"I need to talk to you alone," he tells Clark.
"That won't be necessary," Clark tells him, and smiles at Katrina. "I have other sources now."
"Seriously, Clark." Lex takes his arm and exerts an unsubtle pressure. "It's important." Clark smiles blandly at him and exerts an unsubtle strength to remove his hand.
"Did you hear about Chloe?" he says. "She was fired from the Inquisitor."
Lex's mouth opens a tiny fraction. "I didn't know." He grabs Clark's arm again. "Clark, I didn't know."
"I know," Clark tells him. "It's fine. I got her an interview at the Planet tomorrow."
"If there's anything she needs," Lex begins.
Clark shakes his head. "Did you hear the gossip from Smallville?" he continues. "There's a rumour that they're going to close the plant."
The absence of reaction always gives away Lex's shock. If he knew, he'd have an appropriate response planned. "Excuse me," he says. "I have to go."
The smell of Smallville is something Clark could never define, but he'd recognise it anywhere. It's there, under the new-car-leather smell and the cologne and the faint bittersweet scent that is somehow connected to Lex working out, and midday-street and sidewalk-cafe and steak and salad.
He flies home twenty minutes later, and his parents are fine. The farm is good, the second mortgage is almost cleared, his father is thinking about buying a new truck. His mother is talking about taking a holiday. The LuthorCorp holdings have been offered for sale to local families, and the plant is in negotiations with a buyer from India. Clark looks into it, of course he looks into it, but standing in a field of corn, breathing soil and dust and night air, he can't find a reason to believe that it's not what it seems.
He flies to Lex's penthouse and sits on the balcony until Lex gets home.
"You smell like Smallville," Lex says, smiling. He slings his jacket over a chair and takes a bottle of water from the fridge.
"LuthorCorp's pulling out. Why?"
Lex arches a transparent eyebrow. "You make it sound like a military manouevre."
Clark doesn't even hide his panic. "Why?"
Taking his hand, Lex leads Clark to a wallsafe, and pulls a box of yellow folders out of it. The first ones are interspersed with 4 3/4 inch floppies, then 3 1/2 inch disks, then zip discs, then CD-R's. "I just have to remember which one I used," Lex says, flipping through them idly. They're all labelled 'Lionel Luthor', with precise names, places and dates.
Clark has never seen fear on Lex's face, so he's not sure if that's even what it is. It might be need, panic, worry, guilt-- or even an elaborate act, but under the light of a waning moon it looks very much like Lex is afraid. Whatever it is, Lex won't talk until they've walked twenty blocks from the town centre, into a huge park, and waded into the middle of a fountain; until even Clark is tired of Lex's theatrics. The water is flying thirty feet into the air and then pounding down on them like stones, and the sound is like a hailstorm. Finally, Lex stops walking and waits for Clark to face him.
"Something really bad is happening," he whispers, and nobody but Clark could make out the words. "Something my father's involved in. Something that has a plague and a vaccine, something that wants a coup in Egypt, something that has connections to the CIA and a lot of money coming from drugs in Thailand. They're gathering dossiers on electoral candidates."
"I don't know much," Lex confesses, and he's half-drowning. "I can't make any sense of it and I can't get any more information and I'm under surveillance and--"
"--and Clark, they might be watching you as well."
The force of the water must be bruising his skull, and Lex's eyes are blinking furiously against the chemicals running into them.
"Everything I could find is on a laptop in my hall closet. I can't stop it, Clark, but I know you can."
Clark clutches his hand for a minute, and then leaves, noting the black van that follows him until he turns a corner and vanishes from their sight. Lex stands underneath the barrage for a moment longer, and then turns and starts the long walk back to LuthorCorp.
At a bar in the red light district, Clark is already a few drinks down by the time Lex shows up.
"Sorry," he groans, taking Clark's beer and draining it. "Meetings all day. Fucking pissants."
"Sucks to be you," Clark agrees, and waves to the bartender for two more. "I guess you already know the news."
"Apocalypse averted. Front page scoop. Dad's going to do unspeakable things to both of us."
"I didn't get any of the ringleaders," Clark confesses. "Too many lives at risk. I had to move before I could prove they were calling the shots."
"Sucks to be you." Lex sighs and drinks deeply, the lines on his pale face rewriting 'blase' as 'exhausted'. He leans back against the bar and looks around. "So where are all the hot bikini girls you promised me?"
"It was a shameful lie to lure you here." Clark grins around a mouthful of foam. "Sorry."
Lex almost manages a smile. "Clark Kent, telling a lie? I don't believe it."
"It's true. I had an ulterior motive and everything."
"Oh, good. Don't tell me what it is, or you'll spoil my fun."
"Okay," Clark says, taking the empty glass from Lex's fingers, "I won't." He insinuates himself between Lex's thighs, places his hands on Lex's cheeks, and kisses him. It's a long kiss, thorough, and deliberate, and exquisite. Lex moans, gratified, but Clark pulls away. "Lex," he says, almost pouting, "you need to kiss me back for my evil plan to work."
Lex runs his hands down Clark's back until they rest on his ass. "I'll kiss you back in the limo."
Midnight in Lex's penthouse. Clark reaches over, but he's in Lex's bed alone. There's a glass of water by the side of the bed he already thinks of as his. Clark drinks it and digs his shorts from the pile of clothes on the floor; he wanders through starlit rooms until he finds Lex in his study.
He's hunched in his favourite chair, staring at that same chessboard, the one they played for hours, in Smallville. The pieces are arranged in a precarious standoff, and Clark recognises the strategy of the two players. Black has exposed his king to bait a trap, gambling that white will avoid it. White is charging through the trap towards the vulnerability, leaving his own king undefended. From here, Clark knows, it doesn't matter who wins, because this isn't a game of chess, it's a game of Truth or Dare with both of them daring anything but the truth.
"Come back to bed," Clark says, because Lex looks tired, and even if Lex isn't, Clark is. He hasn't slept since the midnight fountain meeting, and that was six days ago. Clark can do things nobody else can do, but he has his limits.
"I'm so sick of this game," Lex says, and stands up. He reaches over and grabs the board, scattering pieces violently. "I'm sick of trying to make you tell me before you make me tell you." Standing up, he offers the board to Clark.
Clark takes the heavy marble block between his hands and crushes it.
Lex leads him into an empty bedroom and opens a wallsafe and hands him a folder. Clark doesn't bother to open it. The Chemical Composition of Extraterrestrial Substance 17B-0-0-658A. Another folder lands at his feet. The Liquid Formulation of Extraterrestrial Substance 17B-0-0-658A. Another: The Gaseous-- another: The Mass Production of-- another: The Effect on Organic Matter-- another: The Location of-- a set of keys, a box of keycards, maps, diagrams, computer discs, videocassettes, and when Clark looks up at Lex, Lex flicks a catch in the safe with a dramatic flourish. "My private research," he announces, and the rear wall slides open to reveal hundreds of small lead boxes, lined up like miniature coffins a few feet from where Clark is standing.
"I'll be driving my car off a bridge if you need me," Lex says, and walks out.
Clark lets him go; he's used to Lex's theatrics. He speed-reads his way through the reports, then drops them into an incinerator on the outskirts of town. He carts all of Lex's lead boxes to his parents' basement in Smallville. He follows the maps to three different laboratories, and two he can't go near but one he dismantles and carries into his garage, to go over later, along with the maps, the disks, and the videos. It was a large laboratory and it takes a little longer than he intended, but he makes it back in time to stop Lex in the carpark.
Lex stares at him; stares and stares and then takes a cautious step closer. "How much did you get done?"
Clark shrugs, bewildered. "Most of it. All but two of the labs."
"I'll take care of the rest. All of it." Lex moves closer again, close enough that Clark can feel his breath on his face.
Looking at Lex, into clear eyes, pale face, Clark makes his last play, demands his last piece of information. "What happened?"
"There's a bigger game being played now," Lex says, taking his hand, fingers twining cool and dry with Clark's own. "And I'm choosing your side."
Clark is naked in Lex's bed again, and almost dozing, when he feels a chin digging into his shoulder. "Mmm?" he manages, not really meaning it.
Lex's arms slide around his waist, and his fingers brush from hip to chest and back again. "Clark," he whispers. "You win."
"Mmm," Clark agrees, eyes closed. "You made me beat you."
"You made me want to lose." Lips are brushing softly against his face.
Too content to disagree, Clark hums more affirmation.
"I pity your enemies," Lex whispers, and shakes with quiet laughter.
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