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, March 2002.

Author's notes - Spoilers for Hourglass, naturally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit AU. Also, huge thanks to Barbara for beta and encouragement - and for getting me into this whole shooting match in the first place.

Fear... Sudden and almost paralysing. He can't remember the last time he felt like this. At least, not in the past twelve years. Its insidious fingers caress his outstretched palm, taunting, then trail up his arm and across his chest, coming to rest over his heart. Just one convulsive squeeze and Lex is afraid he'd fly apart. He backs away and the bouquet of white blooms - how apt for what's become such a funereal tableau - falls from his suddenly nerveless grasp.

Calling out, barely controlled panic in his voice, Lex turns and hurries out of the room that's suddenly become too close, too small for him to draw another breath in. The corridor feels only marginally safer and he crosses to the window, resting his forehead against the cool glass and trying to make sense of what's happened.

What had she seen?

Lex's classical education chooses that moment to remind him that Cassandra was the name of the ancient prophetess who had been doomed always to tell the truth, but never to be believed. Was that true of her namesake? He had been sceptical himself and yet... Clark had believed and a girl was alive because of his faith. The uncertainty was the worst of it and Lex finds himself swallowing a sudden surge of bile.

Whatever it was that she'd seen had killed her... That fact does nothing to calm Lex's nerves. What kind of monstrous vision of the future could have shocked the old woman so much that it caused her heart to stop? Does he really want to know? Lex shudders. What he does know is that his nerves are shot to hell and right now he wants to be anywhere that isn't here.

Uneasily, Lex rubs his hands down the front of his expensive jacket once again, heedless of the clammy film of sweat he's leaving behind. If he can just brush away the phantom feeling of cool, dry skin against his own... the unnerving sensation of fingers suddenly gone too still... And with the tactile sensations Lex finds himself right back in the midst of that moment of shocked realisation. God, he just needs to be able to forget!

Abruptly, Lex finds himself wondering if this is the price he has to pay for having cheated death himself. He gets to live and, in order to keep some cosmic balance, those he touches die in his place. It seems plausible enough. After all, who has he actually touched since that fateful day, isolated as he's been in that gothic nightmare he now calls home?

Bizarrely he finds himself thinking of Wilde's Dorian Gray with his secret portrait - all the corruption hidden away from public view. Is that what he is? Smallville's answer to Dorian Gray, wreaking havoc on the local populace while he continues to lead his charmed life, at least outwardly untouched?

Lex really wants to throw up, but he fights the urge. No. He needs to get out of this place first, safely away from prying eyes. Luthors don't have their breakdowns in public... not even the freakish son who remains such a disappointment to his ever-loving father. Lex clamps down on the harsh laugh that rises to his lips in the wake of that thought. There's more chance of Cassandra rising up from the dead than there is of his father ever loving him.

Damning appearances, Lex finally lets the adrenalin that's coursing through his body stir him into motion. Turning away from the window he practically runs down the long hallway and out of the building. The cool air is a relief as it fills his lungs and he takes the time to simply breathe, slow and deep. It clears his head a little and gives him the impetus to walk to the sanctuary of his car.

He climbs into the metal cocoon and slams the door shut on the outside world. The soft clasp of the leather seat is comforting and Lex simply sits for a long moment. Head bowed, forehead resting on the smooth surface of the steering wheel he tries to find the eye of the storm that's still raging inside his mind. He needs to be calm to drive. He can't afford to crash again, can he? There mustn't be any more obligations. If he needs to be saved a second time who might be next on the list to pay with their life?

Lex feels the old woman's ghost touch again and looks at his own pale hands in disgust. These hands have killed. It doesn't matter that that wasn't what he intended, the end result speaks for itself. And then he can't bear to look at them any more. He reaches out and snatches up the black leather driving gloves that are lying on the dashboard. He jams his hands into them and feels a little better. Perhaps when he gets home he'll be able to wash the taint of death off his skin and pretend that everything is normal. After all, hasn't he been doing just that for the past twelve years? It should be second nature to him now.

With that thought a sense of calm descends over him and Lex reaches down, turns the key in the ignition. The roar of the engine provides another note of normality and he slams the car into gear, spinning the wheel as he presses down on the throttle. The tyres squeal, kicking up gravel as he executes a less than smooth exit without so much as a backward glance.

As it turns out, home isn't the refuge Lex expects it to be. Perhaps he's brought his ghosts with him into the place. They seem to stir the dust in the rooms that remain unused, masquerading as pieces of furniture shrouded in white sheets.

He's never let himself notice before today just how hollow and empty the building really feels. His father may have shipped each brick and panel and pane of glass that together make up this folly - as anachronistic in the midst of Smallville as Lex himself - but whatever history and memories once breathed life into the structure did not survive that journey from Scotland. It has no heart, no soul, barely even the superficial stamp of Lex's own personality. It's all brittle artifice, in need of something vital to breathe life into it. At the moment, Lex can appreciate with unprecedented acuity just how it feels.

He has understood all along that Smallville represents exile for him; a test to prove that he is a fit heir to the great name of Luthor. His father has never been particularly subtle when dispensing life lessons to his son. But until today Lex hasn't especially felt the weight of his banishment. Now he feels his failures, his isolation keenly. If he weren't such a freak would he have been sent away? Would he ever have been driven to seek validation of his existence by asking a crazy old woman to tell him what his future might hold...?

Lex has lost count of the number of times he's washed his hands since he walked back in through the front door and stripped off his driving gloves. Not that it's done any good. He still feels that chill touch that makes his skin crawl. How far does the taint extend? Is it just his hands? Or has it spread to his face, his chest, working its way slowly but surely over his entire body. Has it penetrated through his skin, even leaving its mark on the inside?

Perhaps Cassandra's unspoken prophecy is self-fulfilling. Maybe he is already turning into whatever it was that she saw in her vision... The vision that killed her, he reminds himself unnecessarily. And if that is so, if he's already on his way to becoming the kind of person who can terrify another to death, what hope is there? No one will ever want to touch him now, not when the sickness and the wrongness must be so clear to everyone who lays eyes on him.

Lex shivers, feeling the icy shards of his fear working their way inward, trying to pierce his heart. Was Cassandra the Snow Queen, killing him inside with the cruel coldness of her dead touch? His father, at least, should be pleased if that's the case. He has always wanted to excise those few fragments of emotion, warmth and humanity that Lex has so jealously guarded, storing them up inside himself no matter how hard his father has tried to shake them out of him.

He's always done his best to convince Lex that they are a weakness. And all the while Lex has stubbornly refused to listen to him. Now, for the first time, Lex finds himself conceding that perhaps his father was right. If he had no emotions, if he felt nothing, this wouldn't be hurting him so much, would it?

The cold closes in around Lex a little more, seducing him with its siren song. It promises that it can free him from this pain he's caught up in, if he'll only let it. And it asks so little in return. All he needs to do is finally let go of that troublesome streak of humanity and become the pale reflection of his father's greatness that he was always meant to be.

It's so tempting; the insidious voice whispers of peace and rest and oblivion - everything Lex so desperately needs to exorcise the spectre of Cassandra that's taken up residence inside his head. She's so cold and implacable with her cloudy, sightless eyes and her bony fingers that reach out towards him.

Just take my hand...

And Lex will do anything, anything at all if it means he no longer has to feel those cold fingers covering his own, the life ebbing out of them, stolen by his own inherent darkness.

He can barely feel the couch underneath him, or the stark edges of the fine crystal tumbler he's clutching much too tightly in his hand. Not even the sharp burn of the scotch he's been drinking like water makes any impact on him.

And if ever Lex needed a saviour it's now; someone who will save him from the cold that's threatening to freeze the life out of him. But who would think him worth the effort? He is, after all, the monster who killed a defenceless old woman. Saving him has a way of exacting its price. Who would be willing to pay it?

Lex is still trying to find an answer to that question when the sound of firm footfalls intrudes on his isolation. His eyes are closed, though he can't remember shutting them. He supposes that he ought to open them and see who has braved the chill no man's land that surrounds him, but his lids are too heavy. He simply sits and waits, wondering if this is how the world felt to Cassandra before she died.

"Lex!"

He's so lost, fenced in by the sharp spikes of fear and self-disgust, that the urgency of the voice barely registers. Only, on some visceral level, he recognises the sound of it and places it as something both familiar and welcome. Should he make the effort and reach toward it?

"Lex, are you all right? Talk to me, Lex, please!"

The voice is insistent and, when he still fails to acknowledge it, is supplemented by a touch on his arm. It's only a light grasp, but the contact feels like an electric current playing over his skin and the sense of alarm it triggers in him is enough to shake Lex free of his frozen stasis. Here is a threat he needs to react to... though not one to himself. No one should come so close to him, not without understanding the risk.

Lex opens his eyes and looks up. He feels another shock of awareness as he finds himself himself locking gazes with his own personal saviour. Clark is leaning over him and one of his broad, suntanned hands is spread across Lex's forearm.

Almost, Lex asks Clark how he knew that, once again, he needed to be saved, but he clamps down on the words at the last second. There's something more important that needs to be said.

"Don't touch me!"

It comes out as a feral hiss. At the same time, Lex shrinks back, withdrawing instinctively. No one, least of all Clark, should touch him. Lex knows he couldn't bear it if the innocent light were to fade from those clear eyes, tainted by his darkness.

With a look of alarm, Clark pulls back.

Lex wonders if he imagines that he's trespassed in some way.

No, it isn't that, he wants to say, but the words stick in his throat. Wrenching himself away from Clark's reassuring touch seems to have stolen the last of his meagre reserves of energy.

"I'm sorry," Clark says softly.

There's hurt in those wide, guileless eyes now and, on top of everything else, Lex feels guilty. But this is what he does; he hurts people... whether he means to or not.

He doesn't want to face the evidence of the pain he's causing Clark so, instead, Lex looks down into the glass he's still holding. He focuses on the tawny liquid, concentrating on the way it moves as he tilts and swirls the exquisitely cut crystal. Absorbed in the random patterns, Lex feels himself start to shut down again.

"Lex, have you... have you taken - something?"

Despite the hurt, the concern is still there. Lex finds it strangely touching, if a little foolish on Clark's part. Honouring that, Lex forces himself to pay attention to what Clark is saying.

"Something?" he repeats stupidly, and then understands. "You mean drugs?"

Lex almost laughs. Once he would have done. Back then he'd wanted to distance himself from the world around him and he'd used any means at his disposal to do so. Now, though... The almost- laughter turns brittle. Now all he wants is to connect - to be able to touch and be touched in return. But he doesn't dare. How ironic.

Clark nods, a shade defensive. "Yes. You do seem..." He casts around for a suitable expression. "... a little out of things."

"No, no drugs," Lex assures him. "I do seem to have been drinking scotch, though," he adds. He looks at the half-empty glass in his hands again, then glances down at the even emptier bottle on the floor by the couch. "Does that mean that I'm drunk?"

Clark frowns, not understanding this out-of-character behaviour.

"Maybe, but... Why, Lex? Tell me, what's this about? Is it - is it because of what happened to Cassandra? They told me... I know you were there when she died."

"Of course I was." Lex's voice is like dust. He looks up at Clark, his eyes as cold and as blue as the purest ice. "I killed her."

"What?!" Clark recoils from the utterly emotionless statement. Lex is serious. "I don't understand. You couldn't have. You wouldn't..."

"Cassandra touched me and she died, Clark."

Clark watches the bleak landscape that Lex's face has become. As he does so, he makes an intuitive leap. Lex is afraid. Afraid for him.

"That's why you didn't want me to touch you."

"Yes."

"Lex..."

"I'd kill you too, Clark," he spits out. Real anguish colours his voice, but it vanishes as quickly as it came and he adds quietly, "And I don't want to." Lex sounds reassuringly certain on that point. "You saved me... you shouldn't have to pay the price for doing that."

"You didn't kill her, Lex." Clark is just as adamant.

"Whatever she saw in my future, it killed her." For just a moment Lex is almost animated as he tries to make Clark see what's so obvious to him. "What kind of monster does that make me? You saved me, breathed life back into me, and look what I've done. You should have let me die, Clark. It's not safe. No one can touch me. But... I don't want to be alone."

Lex retreats into the corner of the couch, curling in on himself, holding in the pain. He looks frighteningly pale, his fair skin positively bloodless against the dark fabric of his clothes.

"Lex, look at me." Clark's voice is quiet, but compelling.

After a long moment of indecision, Lex obeys. His eyes are bleak, the brief spark of animation lost.

"You can't hurt me, Lex," Clark says carefully. "You never could."

He doesn't elaborate and Lex looks at him, a question forming in his eyes.

Clark simply reaches out, resting his hand back on Lex's arm.

Lex stares down at it and tries to process what Clark has said. What exactly has he just admitted to?

A few more seconds and then Clark takes back his hand. But he holds it out in front of him, palm up, as if to prove to Lex that no harm has come to it, or the body it's attached to.

As his mind finally makes an effort to throw off the fog of darkness that's been shrouding it, Lex realises that the siren voice inside his head was lying to him. He isn't ready for oblivion yet; there are still paths he wants to walk before he takes that journey.

And there is a question he needs to ask.

"I hit you, didn't I? With my car, that day...?"

Clark looks back at him steadily. He neither confirms nor denies Lex's suspicions, but it's enough.

"I won't... If I touch you." There is a note that might almost be pleading in Lex's voice.

"I won't die, Lex." He makes it sound like a promise.

A sigh, something akin to relief, parts Lex's lips. That fact is the only one of any importance to him right now.

He unwinds his lean form from its defensive huddle. Bending down, Lex sets his glass of scotch on the floor. When he straightens he reaches for Clark, wordlessly urging him to sit beside him on the couch. When Clark complies, Lex pulls him in close. He knows he's pushing the boundaries of their unlikely friendship, but he needs the contact. It's become as necessary to him as breathing.

For all his silence, Clark doesn't seem to object.

Lex turns to look at him, meeting the clear gaze with his own, more shadowed, stare. "Touch me?" he asks on a breath.

The answering smile is like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Clark closes the remaining distance between them, and does as Lex asks.


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