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, July 2003.

Author's notes - This ficlet is for Lady Angel. She wanted Lex being protective of Clark in front of a crowd. I hope this idea works.

The after school rush was in full swing when Clark stopped by for a coffee on his way home. He was diverted from his path to the counter when he noticed Lex sitting alone at a nearby table. Clark hadn't seen Lex for a few days so he walked over to him, sliding his backpack off his shoulder as he came to a halt by the table.

"Hey, Lex," he said.

Lex looked up from the business section of the Daily Planet and smiled at him. "Hey, Clark, you haven't been by the mansion in a few days. Is everything okay?"

"I had a couple of papers to hand in this week," Clark replied with a sigh. "I've been spending all my spare time in the library."

"Well, seeing as how you obviously have time off for good behaviour, would you care to join me?" Lex invited. "Actually, I've left Gabe in charge of a routine inspection at the plant so that I could escape for a while. We can enjoy our freedom together."

Clark grinned. "Sure, I'll just go get myself a coffee and I'll be back." He dropped his backpack onto the nearest chair before heading up to get his drink.

The pain hit him when he was just a couple of feet from the counter. Clark doubled up instantly as the familiar sensations caused by the meteor rocks roiled through him. For a second he thought that Lana had taken to wearing her necklace again, but that couldn't be it. Quite apart from the fact that she wasn't here, Clark knew that the ship had neutralised that piece of the meteors, leaching every trace of power from it along with its green colour.

Which left him with three questions. Who had brought some of the rock into the Talon and where was it? And, more importantly, had whoever it was known that he would be affected?

Clark turned, trying to get away from the spot where he'd first felt the effects, but his legs were weakening and he couldn't seem to move. Clark could see the green veins bulging under his skin. God, people were starting to notice his reaction. He could see curious faces turning his way, a few people getting out of their seats to approach him. How the hell was he going to explain this away?

Suddenly, there were strong hands supporting him, easing him down into the nearest chair before he simply collapsed onto the floor. Even when he was sitting the supportive touch remained, a firm grip on his arms that anchored him. Clark found he was intensely grateful for those hands.

"Clark, can you hear me? Can you tell me what's wrong?" The voice was calm, but Clark could detect the faint note of anxiety.

With an effort he looked up. Lex's face swam in his field of vision, a barrier between Clark and the speculative stares of the other patrons of the Talon.

"I - I need to get out of here," Clark gasped.

"I don't think you should try and move yet, Clark," Lex insisted, pressing him back into his seat when he tried to get to his feet.

Clark shook his head weakly. "No, you don't understand."

The blue gaze sharpened. "Then explain it to me." Lex leaned in closer and his voice was low and urgent. "I've never seen you sick like this before. If you know what's causing it, tell me."

Clark knew that he had to persuade Lex to get him out of the Talon, and soon. "There - there is something in here doing this," he conceded.

People were starting to crowd in around them now and Clark was starting to feel distinctly claustrophobic, not to mention exposed. He tugged his sleeves down to hide the state of his hands and averted his face, though he knew Lex had seen the way his skin was distorted.

"Lex, please, help me," he begged.

"I will, Clark," Lex promised. His hand squeezed Clark's shoulder in reassurance.

Lex straightened up and set about taking control of the situation. "Please, will everyone just keep back," he instructed firmly. "Crowding Clark like this really isn't helping."

"He should be taken to the hospital," someone said. "Why haven't you called 911?" There were answering murmurs of assent and, after a brief hesitation, Lex pulled his cellphone out of his jacket pocket.

"No!" Clark mumbled, clutching at Lex's sleeve. "I can't go to the hospital. Please, just get me out of here and I - I'll be fine."

"Are you sure? If anything were to happen to you..." Lex frowned, clearly uncertain.

"It won't."

"You're positive you know what's causing this?"

Clark nodded miserably. He was out of options. He was going to have to tell Lex a part of the truth at least. "It's the green meteor rocks. I - they make me sick. I can't see where, but I know there's some in here. If you get me away from them I'll be okay."

He felt Lex tense and wondered if he was doing the right thing. He'd heard his father's dire warnings so many times, but Lex was his best friend. He trusted him. Clark turned pain filled eyes on Lex and saw him nod slowly in acceptance.

"Can you walk?" Lex asked.

"Yes, if you support me," Clark replied tiredly. "My strength will come back the further away from the rocks I get."

"All right, let's do this then."

Lex leaned down, sliding an arm around Clark's waist as he helped him to his feet. Clark stumbled, throwing his own arm around Lex's shoulders for balance. He leaned heavily against Lex as he took a few hesitant steps.

There was a chorus of shocked gasps and whispers as people were able to get a good look at Clark's face. If he looked half as bad as he felt, Clark wasn't really surprised.

"Oh my God, look at him," a girl's voice wailed. "It's horrible! Is it catching?"

Clark felt sick to the stomach. Who had done this to him? He was certain now that this had been meant to expose him. He was aware of the way that Lex did his best to keep between him and the horrified onlookers and he'd never been more grateful for his friend's calm presence at his side.

"Don't listen to them, Clark," Lex murmured encouragingly in his ear. "Everything is going to be fine."

Someone handed Clark's backpack to Lex as he passed and he slung it over his other shoulder before continuing to guide Clark towards the door.

Clark was already starting to feel better as he got further away from the Talon's counter. The nausea and dizziness were beginning to abate as his blood started to flow normally through his veins again. Clark was aware of the sideways glance Lex threw him as he pushed the door open and led him outside. He started to pull away from Lex, but was halted by a quick shake of the head.

"Keep leaning on me," Lex said in a low voice. "It's better if people don't realise just how quickly you've recovered."

"Oh..." Clark's breath hitched, but he obeyed without question.

He let his shoulders slump again, continuing to cling to Lex until the door of the Talon swung shut behind them. Even then, Lex kept his arm around him, apparently supporting him as they made their way down the street to Lex's car.

Neither of them said anything more as they walked, but once they were safely seated inside, away from prying eyes, Lex looked across at him pointedly.

"Thank you, Lex," Clark said quietly, ducking his head to avoid the questions in Lex's eyes. "I - I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't been there."

"I've told you before, Clark, I'll do anything to protect my friends." Silence fell between them for a long moment before Lex added, "I'll have some of my security people check out the Talon later. They'll find the meteor rocks, wherever they are."

"They must be somewhere near the counter," Clark said, finally meeting Lex's gaze. "The closer I am to them..."

"And you weren't affected until you went to get your coffee." Lex nodded, processing the information. "I'll make sure they concentrate their search in that area."

"Lex..." Clark hesitated, uncertain what he really wanted to say.

"It's all right, Clark." Lex smiled at him a little sadly. "I'm not going to press for any more of your secrets. I know how hard it was for you to trust me with this much. Though, I must admit that I'm intrigued by what happened."

Clark's face twisted, his expression clearly showing his unhappiness with the situation. "I wish I could tell you, Lex, but..." His hands tightened on the straps of his backpack. "I'm really sorry."

The whispered, "So am I," was barely audible.

Turning away, Clark said," I - I need to get home. Someone will probably have rung my parents by now. They'll be worrying."

"Of course, let me give you a ride," Lex offered, but Clark was out of the car before he'd even finished the sentence.

Clark ducked his head back inside for a second. "I really am grateful, Lex. I mean it, and if I could tell you, I would." He smiled awkwardly. "Maybe I'll see you around."

"Sure, Clark," Lex agreed, his face expressionless.

Clark pulled back, shutting the car door with a little more force than was perhaps wise. Then he began to jog down the street before he could change his mind, climb back into the car and confess everything to Lex.

He hated having to lie to him, hated the hurt look it put in Lex's eyes every time that he did. Clark was afraid that, if he kept on lying, one day Lex would grow tired of being kept in the dark and he'd lose him as a friend.

Clark didn't want that to happen. He was still holding out for 'the stuff of legend'.

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