DISCLAIMER - Not mine, I couldn't afford the motor and household insurance bills. I promise I'll scrub them down and give them back to DC comics, the WB and anyone else who does own a slice of them when I'm done with them. Story, such as it is, copyright Karen Colohan, October 2003.

Author's notes - This was written for the Contre la Montre identical dialogue challenge in 65 minutes. Yep, I blew it by five minutes. Contains some spoilery stuff for Exile and Phoenix.



Helen

Helen turned, the firelight casting shadows on her face as she looked up at her husband. "I still can't believe this is real, that you're alive, Lex."

Lex inclined his head slightly, regarding her with a faint smile. "It's real. I survived." He glanced down at the glass he was turning between his fingers, its contents still untouched. "There were moments when I doubted, but in the end all my father's tests and challenges saw me through. I never thought I'd say this, but when it came down to it, everything he's taught me over the years was what made me strong enough to do what I needed to, to live. In a very real sense he saved my life. I won't dismiss his lessons so lightly in future."

"I thought you always said that you didn't want to be like him," Helen said, the flatness of her tone making Lex raise his eyebrows.

He laughed softly. "I had three months alone to contemplate the futility of fighting my destiny. I'm a Luthor, for better or for worse. It's in my blood." Lex met Helen's eyes again, a hard look of determination darkening into his own. "And Luthors survive, no matter the cost."

There was a trace of unease on Helen's face as she considered this. Then she found a smile, her teeth flashing white. She took the few steps needed to bring her to Lex's side.

"I'm just so glad you're back." She stretched out her hand to touch Lex's sunburnt cheek, feeling the unnatural heat against her fingertips. "You know, I missed you."

Reaching up, Lex covered her hand with his own before drawing it away from his face.

"And I missed you," he said softly, bringing their joined hands to his lips and kissing her fingers.

She shivered a little at the touch.

"Maybe I didn't realise quite how much until now," Lex added, his voice dropping even lower.

"I want things between us to work out," Helen said dreamily, enjoying Lex's attentions. "Whatever happened before, I want to put that behind us. Can we do that?"

Lex's gaze was dark in the wavering light from the fire. "I'm not the same person who got on that plane three months ago," he warned.

"Maybe I'm not exactly who I was three months ago either." There was the hint of a challenge in Helen's eyes.

"Care to elaborate on that?" Lex asked easily, but there was an edge to his smile that hadn't been there before.

Helen looked away, the uneasiness returning for a second. "Not - not now, Lex, please, I just want..."

"Shhh, I know." He reached out and stroked her hair gently. "So do I."

Leaning in, Lex kissed Helen's lips. There was nothing of passion in the kiss, though there was an unmistakable air of possessiveness about it. It went on for a long time before they drew apart.

"Lex..." Helen began, but Lex silenced her with a shake of his head.

"I'm tired now," he said suddenly. "I could use some rest."

At once, Helen stepped back out of his reach, standing tall. Whatever disappointment she might have felt was carefully masked. "Of course, I understand. I'm sorry, what was I thinking? I'll go, let you get some sleep."

"That wasn't what I meant." Lex closed the distance between them again.

"Then, what?" she asked, looking up at him, her eyes wide.

"Stay... please," Lex's expression was oddly unreadable. "I think I've spent too long alone." He held out his hand and Helen took it. "Everything else can wait until morning."

The look in his eyes compelled her and Helen nodded her agreement, following as Lex slowly drew her towards the door.

Clark

Clark followed Lex down the hallway and into his office. He took a moment to look around, unable to shake the feeling that it had been far longer than three months since he'd last been in this room with Lex. Perhaps it was just that he felt as if his own journey through the past summer had aged him a lot more than that.

Once they had both settled themselves comfortably on the couch, Clark looked across at Lex. "I still can't believe this is real, that you're alive, Lex," he said softly, his eyes shining with the relief he still felt at seeing Lex in the flesh and, more or less, whole.

Lex's answering smile was warm. "It's real. I survived." His expression became more serious as he continued, "There were moments when I doubted, but in the end all my father's tests and challenges saw me through. I never thought I'd say this, but when it came down to it, everything he's taught me over the years was what made me strong enough to do what I needed to, to live. In a very real sense he saved my life. I won't dismiss his lessons so lightly in future."

Clark looked troubled at Lex's words. "I thought you always said that you didn't want to be like him."

Tilting his head against the back of the couch, Lex directed a rueful stare up at the shadowed ceiling above him. "I had three months alone to contemplate the futility of fighting my destiny. I'm a Luthor, for better or for worse. It's in my blood." His gaze dropped back to Clark, focusing on him as Lex added, "And Luthors survive, no matter the cost."

Twisting his hands in his lap, Clark resisted the urge to reach out to his friend. Lex's physical injuries were readily apparent, but Clark could sense the deeper, less obvious hurts in him and he wanted nothing more than to help soothe them. After everything that had happened, though, he wasn't sure if Lex would welcome such an approach.

Finally, he settled for telling Lex, "I'm just so glad you're back. You know, I missed you."

His words won him one of Lex's genuine smiles: the kind that made his insides twist and his skin flush.

"And I missed you." Lex paused before adding, "Maybe I didn't realise quite how much until now."

Clark swallowed. He turned until he was facing Lex, their knees almost touching. "I want things between us to work out. Whatever happened before, I want to put that behind us. Can we do that?"

Sitting up, Lex slid forward until he was perched on the edge of the seat. He rested his arms across his thighs, his hands dangling loosely between them. He stared down at the floor as he said, "I'm not the same person who got on that plane three months ago."

"Maybe I'm not exactly who I was three months ago either," Clark replied, his voice quiet, the words a little awkward.

Lex turned, his gaze suddenly sharp. "Care to elaborate on that?"

Clark shook his head, his mouth twisting in a grimace. The last thing he wanted to talk about was what he'd become while he was in Metropolis. "Not - not now, Lex, please, I just want..."

Before he could go on, Lex was on his knees on the floor in front of Clark. His hands were warm as they clasped Clark's forearms, rubbing for a moment before slipping down to catch hold of Clark's hands, twining their fingers together.

"Shhh, I know. So do I," Lex said softly, before leaning in to brush a chaste kiss across Clark's lips.

Clark's eyes were wide and startled when he drew back.

"Lex..." Clark's voice broke and trailed off into silence.

Sitting back on his heels, Lex's expression was intense as he looked up at Clark. When he got no further response from him, Lex said, simply, "I'm tired now. I could use some rest."

Immediately, Clark was contrite. "Of course, I understand. I'm sorry, what was I thinking? I'll go, let you get some sleep."

Lex's thumb rubbed gently across the back of Clark's hand. "That wasn't what I meant."

Frowning, Clark asked, "Then, what?"

"Stay... please." Lex's eyes were open and unguarded. "I think I've spent too long alone." He drew Clark's hand to his mouth, kissing each finger slowly and thoroughly. "Everything else can wait until morning."

Breathing hard, Clark nodded. This wasn't what he'd planned, but it felt right nonetheless. When Lex pulled him to his feet and headed towards the door, Clark followed without hesitation.


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