Part One


Kansas gun laws enabled citizens to openly carry firearms anywhere at anytime unless otherwise prohibited by local ordinance or private businesses.  It gave the Black Rider legal means to have a tranquilizer handgun at his hip, a beanbag shotgun on his back, and a scoped tranquilizer rifle strapped to his Suzuki GSX 1300R Hayabusa.  It also meant that no one batted an eye when he rode into Smallville.


It helped that it was Halloween.


The Black Rider was the alter-ego of Lex Luthor, the twenty-one year old son of Lionel Luthor, billionaire CEO of LuthorCorp.  Hatched by Lex and Bruce Wayne, Lex's best and oldest friend from boarding school - who masqueraded as the Batman in Gotham City - the Black Rider was a vigilante crime fighter in Metropolis, Kansas.  Lex had the desire to help people and the means to do it.  Being rich meant he was able to kit himself in Kevlar-lined black motorcycle leathers, black leather motorcycle gloves, black motorcycle boots, and a custom, fitted black helmet with tinted, bulletproofed visor.  His Suzuki was the top of the line.  His firearms were Grade A, and he carried pepper spray, zip tie handcuffs, additional darts, calling cards, and small, wireless cameras on his utility belt.


The Suzuki had false plates, with the expiration tags artfully smeared with mud.  Lex collected motorcycle license plates from junkyards and rotated the ones on his bike regularly.  It was the one law he willfully broke to keep his identity a secret.  He otherwise worked within the parameters of the law to make Metropolis a safer place to live.


The Black Rider was in Smallville now, though, having been summoned by Clark Kent, a prior victim of a vicious hazing ritual whom he had rescued.  The Black Rider had sent Clark a letter with one of his calling cards, inviting Clark to call if help was needed.  Clark had called.  The Black Rider had come.


Smallville's population numbered in the 45,000-range and all of them seemed to be out on the warm streets that Saturday afternoon.  The sun shined in the clear sky, taking the fall chill out of the air.  Parents shuttled kids in costume from house to house, block to block, trick-or-treating.  A Halloween Sidewalk Sale spread along the streets of downtown, inviting throngs of shoppers to stroll along Main Street and its adjoining neighbors.  A Fun Faire had set up shop in a fallow cornfield, offering carnival games and rides for the teenage crowd.  Hayrides were going strong, and the corn maze had a continuous stream of people getting lost within it.


The Black Rider had agreed to meet Clark at Smallville High School.  Lex had gotten the message around 10:00 P.M. the night before, and a callback had resulted in an afternoon rendezvous.  Lex was more of a night owl, as that's when the Black Rider's primary hours of operation were, but he was fine with meeting people during the day and had done so in the past.  Not all criminals operated under the cover of darkness.


Smallville High School was surrounded by cornfields and woods, giving it a sense of isolation.  A single, beat up Ford hatchback was parked in the lot.  There was no football game scheduled for the weekend, and everyone was in town enjoying the Halloween activities.  Lex parked the Suzuki beside the Ford and scanned the area for Clark.


Clark came bounding outside the school building, all smiles and enthusiasm.  He was model-handsome, with sharp cheekbones, pouty lips, and perfect skin.  His broad shoulders tended to be encased beneath faded flannels or well-worn t-shirts in bold colors.  He had several inches on Lex, and his dark hair was always in need of a cut.  Personality and strength of character mattered more to Lex than physical appearance, but Lex wouldn't deny that he did find Clark attractive.


"You came!" Clark's excitement made Lex smile beneath the helmet.  The Black Rider wasn't scorned, but he also wasn't usually greeted so exuberantly. 


"I said I would," Lex said, the helmet's modulator altering his voice.  The black helmet was tricked out with technology, including a voice modulator, phone, GPS, radio transmitter, and thermal imaging.  He was tinkering with adding a voice-activated internet search engine.


"Yeah, but you're actually here," Clark said.  He appeared not to know what to do with his hands, extending one for a handshake, and then both to perhaps hug before returning to the one, and finally shoving his hands in the pockets of his faded jeans.  Lex hadn't had the time to react to any of the gestures.  "Chloe's going to be psyched."




"Chloe Sullivan.  My best friend.  She's here waiting for you, too, inside," Clark said.  A hint of embarrassment crept up his cheeks and he avoided looking at Lex.  "Um, don't be surprised if she tries to interview you.  Or takes your picture.  Or both."


Lex knew who Chloe was, though they'd never met.  Daughter of Gabe Sullivan, the plant manager at LuthorCorp Fertilizer Plant Number Three and Lex's co-worker, Chloe was a high school student and editor of the school newspaper, The Torch.  She also wrote for The Torch Online, an electronic version of the paper, which had a section dedicated to news beyond that of high school minutiae.  It primarily contained stories that involved the strange things that have happened to Smallville residents over the years, ever since the meteorite shower hit the town in 1989.  Meteorite tales, Lex's cook, Gertrude, called them.  Lex knew first hand that they were the truth.


"Is there a reason I'm meeting with her, as well?"  Lex didn't mind it.  In fact, an article would strengthen his purpose for being in Smallville, thus separating Lex from the Black Rider further.  Still, it helped to be prepared.


"She's the one who found the problem that we need your help with," Clark said.  "We told the police, but they don't seem to be doing anything about it."


"All right.  Lead the way," Lex said, motioning with a gloved hand toward the school. 


The Black Rider's motorcycle boots clumped on the scuffed tile floor of the school hallway.  Scratched and dented yellow lockers line both sides of the hall, broken by closed classroom doors.  Posters and signs advertising clubs and activities decorated the white block walls.  A banner with the words "Go Crows!" emblazoned on it hung from the ceiling.


Clark led the way to the only room with a light spilling through the window.  The glass on the door was etched with the words The Torch Office in gold letters.  Inside was a series of tables for layout, a couple of computers, a business printer and copier, and a wood door with a red light bulb above it and a sign hanging on it reading: Do Not Enter When Red Light Is On.  Photograph Development In Progress.  A stack of newspapers bearing The Torch banner sat on the table closest to the door.  The windows looked out onto the soccer field.


Chloe Sullivan was a pretty young woman with sharp blue eyes and choppy blonde hair.  She wore a crushed red velvet shirt paired with a black blazer and black cargo pants.  She leapt to her feet when Clark came into the office, followed by the Black Rider.  "Oh. My. God.  Clark wasn't lying.  It's really you!"


"Guilty as charged."  Lex put up his gloved hands in mock surrender. 


Chloe grabbed for a camera sitting on the table in front of her.  "Can I take your picture?"


"Sure."  Lex folded his arms, so he didn't appear to be awkwardly posing for the camera.  The shotgun's holster tightened around his chest with the move.  The flash of the camera blinded Lex briefly, even with the tint on his visor.


"Would you be willing to sit for an interview?" Chloe asked, already reaching for a small, handheld tape recorder.


"Perhaps a short one, after I find out why I'm here," Lex said. 


Chloe nodded, setting the camera down.  Clark took a seat on a rickety-looking metal stool and used the mouse to pull up images on the computer monitor in front of him.  He motioned the Black Rider closer and Chloe joined in as well.  The photograph on the monitor was of a woman in her late twenties, with long, dark hair, brown eyes, and a sultry smile.  The red dress she wore was skintight and low cut.  She reminded Lex of the escorts his father hired for parties.


"This is Desireé Atkins, biology bimbo - I mean, substitute teacher."  Chloe's snarky tone indicated there was no love lost between them.  "She turns guys into salivating dogs who'd do anything for her.  Except for the gay ones, like Clark."


"Chloe," Clark hissed, ducking his head in mortification.  He seemed to shrink in on himself.

Lex dated both genders, so it didn't bother him if Clark was gay.  He ignored the reveal, instead focusing on the topic at hand.  "That's not surprising.  She is very attractive."


"I meant literally.  Sort of," Chloe said.  "Not the dog part, but she can get men to do anything for her, like wash her car, or buy her lunch, or have him take all his savings out of the bank and give it to her."


Lex hadn't heard anything wrong until the last example.  "Someone gave her his savings?  Are they in a relationship?"


"No.  They only met for, like, one minute, and the next thing I know, Dad is taking all of our money out of the bank and giving it to her."  Anger, confusion, and a hint of fear colored Chloe's voice.

Lex was surprised.  He knew Gabe was socking away as much money as possible, knowing that the plant would be closing soon.  There was no way he'd give it to anyone besides Chloe.  "I'll look into it," he told her. 


Chloe looked both hopeful and relieved.  "Really?"


"Yes, really," Lex said.


"Thank you so much."  Chloe clasped his jacket-covered arm.  "No one else has believed me."


"Hey!  What about me?" Clark said.


"Except for Clark," Chloe corrected with a smile for her friend.  She looked back at Lex and squeezed his arm not with affection but with curiosity.  "What do you have under your coat?  It's so rigid."


"It's specialty made," Lex said, sidestepping the question.  He didn't need the public to know about the Kevlar, or he'd always be getting shot with armor-piercing rounds.  "Now, you wanted an interview?  Just so you're warned, I won't tell you much."

Chloe lit up with glee and dove for her tape recorder.  She pressed the record button and held the device up to her mouth.  "The Black Rider, interview one.  October 31, 2001.  With me is the Black Rider himself, and Clark.  We're in The Torch office.  So, what do I call you, Mister...?"  She thrust the recorder towards Lex.


Lex grinned beneath his helmet.  "Black Rider."  She certainly had spunk.


"Black Rider then.  Okay.  Tell me what made you decide to dress up and fight crime in Metropolis..."


Part Two


Lex rode into the loading dock of the fertilizer plant and cut the Suzuki's engine.  The plant was empty for the weekend, and isolated, and Lex planned to use it to his advantage.  With Gertrude in residence most of the weekend, the Black Rider couldn't come and go during the day.  There were no cameras at the plant, as the plant wasn't worth keeping an eye on and Lex had the place swept for bugs when he did his own house.  Lex had deposited a change of clothes at the plant last night and would hide the bike and Black Rider outfit at the plant until Sunday.  If it took longer than that to help Clark and Chloe, he'd make different arrangements.


Dressed in a boysenberry button-down shirt tucked into soot-colored trousers and matched with a buttery leather three-quarter coat in hickory, Lex locked up the plant and got into his backup vehicle, a black Ferrari Spider, parked nearby.  His Porsche was in the Black Rider's garage in Metropolis.  He glanced in the rearview mirror.  Blue eyes looked back at him, assessing.  The imprints left by the helmet were no longer in evidence on his lean face or bald head.  Worry lines creased the skin around his mouth and between his brows.


The drive home was swift, the estate and the plant separated only by landscaped woods and a pond.  Lex let himself into the mansion through the garage and mudroom.  The estate was a stone and wood monstrosity shipped over from Scotland stone-by-stone, Luthor "ancestry" bought for cheap.  It boasted over twenty-five rooms, of which Lex occupied less than ten.  The inside was decorated with a mix of modern and period pieces that blended surprisingly well together.  He took the stairs in the massive foyer two at a time, going up to his bedroom to fetch his laptop.


Lex's bedroom was the second in the row of bedrooms that lined both sides of the hall.  The dark wood and plush umber carpet made the chamber feel warm.  Lex's four poster antique bed was haphazardly made.  Matching oak night stands flanked either side of it.  A roll top desk nestled in the corner with a leather chair parked in front of it.  A massive walk-in wardrobe hid Lex's clothing.  A second door led to the en suite bathroom.


Lex opened the laptop sitting on the desk as he took a seat in the chair.  He keyed in his password.  Using the various links, hacks, and software Bruce had provided, Lex compiled a history for Miss Desireé Adkins.  There wasn't much.  She was twenty-eight, had a degree in biology and chemistry, and had obtained a substitute teaching license right out of college.  She didn't have a criminal record, had never been married, and had a near perfect credit rating.  Her address was listed as being in Metropolis and her most recent place of employment was a perfume company run by Vivian and Constance D'Aramis.


Lex knew of the perfume company.  D'Aramis had a popular line of fragrance for the rich wives set.  There were boxes of it stored at the LuthorCorp main offices, doled out to board members' spouses at Christmas.  It was known for its bottle shaped as a crimson fox.


Lex didn't see any record of Adkins being terminated from her employment at D'Aramis.  In fact, once Lex had gotten into the company's database, he learned that she'd received a paycheck last Friday.  She was still in their employ.  Then why was she substitute teaching in Smallville?


Lex decided to scour the database, to find any reports on or made by Adkins.  There were a handful of performance review letters in her personnel files, all positive.  She'd contributed to the development of five perfumes with a team of chemists.  Lex read all of the lab reports in detail, glad that he understood the science as he was a Math-Chemistry major in school, which was currently on hold while he played scapegoat for his father.  One of the perfumes had gone into production, three were declined, and the fifth was in testing stages. 


The last one drew Lex's attention, as it mentioned in the lab report that the perfume had been "irradiated with red crystalline meteorite."  Animal testing showed a vast increase in sexual exhibition.  Lex studied the chemical composition and saw nothing out of the ordinary.  The mention of the meteorite continued to bug him as he reviewed the report until he finally went searching for inventory logs. 


The meteorite came from Smallville, courtesy of Dr. Steven Hamilton.


Lex paused to consider what he knew about the Smallville meteorites; mainly, that they contributed to a twelve year news cycle of strange mutations and abilities archived by The Torch Online.  He had no scientific proof that the meteorites did anything but look pretty.  The anecdotal evidence was weighty, though, and measured by a specific period of time.  So was it possible that the meteorite irradiation had somehow mutated the perfume's chemistry?


Lex went hunting for any reference to Dr. Steven Hamilton in the D'Aramis company files.  An archived email trail provided the answer.  Dr. Hamilton wrote the head of development several times about his experiments with red meteorite and its pheromone-like effects.  His proposition to supply the company with the meteorites was denied at first, and then a small sample was purchased.  Lex noted the date was around the time of one of the company's biggest failures in production.  A larger order was placed with Dr. Hamilton a few weeks later, indicating there might have been merit in his experiment findings.


It still didn't explain why Adkins was in Smallville.  Unless... she was doing human testing on the perfume.


Lex mulled over the thought.  It was possible.  Human testing wasn't unheard of in perfume companies, but the tests usually followed strict protocols.  Lex hadn't seen any reports in the D'Aramis company records that indicated they were doing human testing.  He also wasn't sure how it fit with Gabe Sullivan's behavior.  Pheromone perfumes and colognes had been around for a long time, purporting to increase sexual attraction.  Nothing he'd read suggested it could create power over the mind.


Lex glanced at his gold Rolex.  Several hours had passed since he sat down.  He was meeting Sophie Glass at 5:00 P.M. to go on a hayride and through the corn maze.  The Goth manicurist from the salon in town had called on Friday and officially invited him on a date.  She was friendly, attractive, and not much older than Lex.  Lex had accepted without reservation.  She wasn't the type of person his father would bribe to go out with him in order to gather information on him and put bugs and cameras around the mansion.  His father had done that to Lex twice before, when he'd moved into an apartment near the Metropolis University campus.  They were such a wholesome family.


Lex punched Dr. Steven Hamilton's name into the computer.  A former professor at Metropolis University, Hamilton was a mineralogist whose employment history included working for NASA.  He had no criminal record, and currently operated Space Rocks, a meteorite museum at the outskirts of Smallville.  The shift in employment from professor to tourist attraction was an odd one, and had Lex digging through the University's personnel files.  Hamilton was dismissed for inappropriate relations with a student.  Not illegal, but conduct unbecoming for a role model in the education arena.


The museum was open until 7:00 P.M., which gave Lex plenty of time to pay Hamilton a visit.  He wanted to know more about the seemingly mystical Smallville "space rocks".


Part Three


Dr. Steven Hamilton was a black man with a craggy face lined with a life hard lived.  The stench of cigarettes clung to his skin and discolored his teeth and lab coat.  His hair was unkempt and knotted.  There was alcohol on his breath and empty bottles strewn around the museum.


"Mr. Luthor," Hamilton said, even though Lex hadn't introduced himself.  Lex's bald head had preceded him again.  Hamilton thrust out his hand in greeting.  "Did we have an appointment?  It doesn't matter.  I take it you're here because LuthorCorp has finally agreed to purchase from me."


Lex shook the man's clammy hand and went with the flow.  "Yes.  As you might know, the fertilizer plant in town had been diversifying its production.  Since you're already in Smallville, it works out well."  He made a mental note to look into LuthorCorp's files for Hamilton's letters and possibly delete them.


"Excellent.  Let me take you on the tour," Hamilton said. 


The museum was little more than a shack with rocks and meteorites on display tables.  Tiny placards indicated the names of what was on display.  A layer of dust coated everything, with enterprising children writing their names and drawing pictures in it.  The lighting was dim, making the place feel even more despondent.  A register sat beside baskets of meteorite chips for sale.  Lex found it depressing.


Hamilton led the way to a gray steel door at the back of the museum.  "The museum is for tourists.  The real work happens back here."  He keyed in a passcode and the lock disengaged.  He pushed open the door with a flourish, allowing Lex to enter first.  "Welcome to my lab."


"I'm impressed," Lex said, and it was the truth.  While the lab wasn't state of the art, it was well above grade.  Metal counters and cabinets filled the space, all stocked with quality equipment: clamps, dishes, pipes, cylinders, beakers, rods, and burners.  Mice and rats sat in cages stacked on one side of the room.  The area was clean and well lit.  A slightly outdated PC rested on the counter in the corner of the room.  Experiments were underway at various stations, and Hamilton described them to Lex.


"With this one, I'm testing the effects the blue meteorite has with regard to regeneration.  The blue has been shown to assist in healing, but only as long as it remains in contact with the specimen," Hamilton said, gesturing to a rat cage on a lab table.  The white rat inside had only one foreleg and wore a sliver of blue crystal on a collar around its neck.  "Imagine the possibilities!  I've contacted various health conglomerates, but so far no one has shown interest.


"Now, over here," Hamilton strode across the room to another lab table with a tray of soil, "is one of my green meteorite experiments.  I've ground the meteorite and mixed it in with the soil.  It results in giant, mutated plants and vegetables.  I've been trying to determine why it causes mice to devour everything in sight, even each other, when fed food grown in the soil.  Once I determine that, I can work on a modification and then no one will have to go hungry again!"

Hamilton's passion bordered on crazy.  "And here is my latest red meteorite experiment."  Hamilton moved to a counter in the rear of the room, where a tray of flowers sat beneath a red grow light in a terrarium.  "I call it the Nicodemus flower.  It's being grown beneath a red meteorite light.  Red meteorites have shown to cause mice to be overtly sexual with each other and other species, which is not very prevalent in the animal kingdom.  They also appear to be more risk-taking when under the influence of the red meteorite.  It's fascinating."


It was, indeed, fascinating.  Lex bent to look closer at the flowers and they appeared to sway towards him.  "Are all of these experiments based on the local meteorites, from the meteorite shower in 1989?"


"Yes.  You've done your homework."  Hamilton sounded pleased.  "The '89 shower included many types of meteorites that weren't made up of the usual alloys, sulfides, and silicates.  These unknown specimens are comprised of crystals in distinct shades of green, red, blue, and a yellow, and origin has never been identified.  Now, most of the meteorites have been swept up by agencies and universities in the early '90s and put on display or tossed into boxes in storage.  But you can still find meteorites in Smallville if you look, and I've seen the effects these meteorites have had on people, plants, and animals, and I want to capitalize on it."


"I would love to read your lab reports," Lex said, walking over to look at the mice and rat cages stacked by the wall.  The cages were all clean, the animals had fresh water and food, an exercise wheel, and a place to hide.  "I trust you've kept extensive ones?"


"Yes, I have," Hamilton said.  He walked over to his PC.  "They're all computerized.  I can forward them to you."


Lex provided Hamilton an email address that wasn't associated with LuthorCorp.  He'd best keep the information away from his father, especially if the reports proved fruitful.  And Lex had a feeling they would.  One of the white rats in the cages had opposable thumbs.  It was using them to turn a twist knob that held the cover closed on its food. 


Lex had visions of rat armies bearing the LuthorCorp logo.  No, Lionel definitely didn't need to know about this.




Lex's date with Sophie was fun, and the hayride and corn maze were memorable, but Lex spent most of the evening wanting to go back to the mansion and read the lab reports Hamilton was sending him.  He begged off at early, making plans to see her for lunch later in the week before heading home.


Gertrude was gone for the night, leaving Lex alone with a pumpkin pie, a glass of milk, and his laptop.  He sat in bed, pillows fluffed behind his back, shoes discarded on the floor.  Lex's inbox was filled with email after email of Zip files from Hamilton, years of work waiting to be downloaded and read. 


Lex didn't waste any time digging into the files, as well as his pie.  The lab reports were both fascinating and terrifying.  It was scientific proof that the meteorites from Smallville's 1989 meteorite shower had the ability to mutate plants and animals.  While Hamilton didn't experiment on humans, he posited in some of his reports that it was theoretically possible the mutations could occur in homo sapiens.  Lex was a walking, talking, insanely fast healing example of that theory.  So was Sasha Woodman, Jeremy Creek, Tyler Randall, and a slew of others he'd read about in The Torch Online.


Hamilton's reports were very detailed and professional.  He had done a multitude of experiments on each of the four colors of meteorite he'd found.  The color coded results slotted into categories: green meteorite created physical mutations; blue meteorite had regenerative or healing properties; red meteorite appeared to create an intoxication effect; and yellow meteorite negated the other three.   Blue and red seemed only to work with continuous or repeated exposure.  Yellow worked best on the green mutations. 


Unless Lex had a blue meteorite lodged in his body somewhere that hadn't been seen during the myriad of exams he'd gotten post-meteorite shower, he was guessing he fell into the green category.  He'd long since learned to appreciate the gift he'd been given and didn't feel dismay over the information.  It was actually nice to have an explanation as to how he'd gotten his ability.


Lex was surprised that these meteorites had slipped under the radar.  Then again, it was possible that the '89 clean up had created a stockpile somewhere that was being used by the military.  Hamilton's experiments showed that, while mutations occurred with every repeated process, the resulting mutation differed each time, making reliable outcomes impossible.  The military could very well be using some mutant humans in the field, but a large number of them was highly unlikely given the variation of results.


The pie and milk were long gone by the time Lex finished reading.  He rubbed his weary eyes and cupped his hands behind his head.  He should probably clue in the local police with some of this information so they'd be prepared.  Although, through his prior investigations in the police database, it seemed that they were already in the know.  Lex did take the time to sift through LuthorCorp files and delete the emails from Hamilton.  Lex was one billion-percent positive he didn't want his father finding out about the meteorites.


That brought his investigation back to Desireé Adkins.  Lex's earlier suspicion that she was doing human testing with the red meteorite enhanced perfume had more weight.  Doing it in Smallville gave her a buffer; people didn't know her here and wouldn't think her behavior suspicious.  It would explain the "salivating dogs" and Gabe's actions, now that Lex knew how the red meteorite worked.  He only had to find proof of her actions.


Lex looked at his watch.  It was still early by Metropolis standards for those in the club scene.  Adkins fit the profile.  A plan formulated in his mind as he scooted off the bed and went to his closet.  It was time he met Miss Adkins.


Part Four


Lex stood in the carpeted, monochrome hallway on the second floor of the apartment building where Desireé Adkins lived.  The apartment complex was in a more upscale neighborhood, housing urban professionals.  Lex had to press several buttons until someone unlocked the lobby door.  The interior and exterior were garbage and graffiti-free, and a decorative plant by the elevator had no dust.


Lex had chanced that Adkins would still be home.  He had her address from the background search, and had driven to Metropolis as soon as he'd changed into clubbing clothes.  He wore a pearl gray clingy v-neck silk shirt and charcoal trousers cinched with a charcoal leather belt.  His black John Lobb loafers had a slick shine, and he'd left his coat in the car.


Lex knocked on the door to apartment 2C.  There was a chance Adkins wouldn't be home, but Lex wasn't the most patient person and waiting wasn't his strong suit.


His luck held, though, and Desireé Adkins opened the door with a curious expression on her attractive face.  She was dressed to go clubbing, as well, wearing a slinky carmine number that showed off her long, tanned legs, bare shoulders, and an abundance of cleavage.  Her dark hair was artfully mussed, hanging loose around her shoulders.  Her makeup was subtle, accentuating her smoky eyes and lush lips.  If she weren't potentially a criminal, Lex would ask her on a date.


"Hi, I'm here for Tammy.  I'm Lex Luthor," Lex said, going with the lie he created to appear at her doorstep unannounced.  Tammy Hilsford was a thirty-three year old accountant who lived on the fourth floor of the apartment complex.  It was possible Adkins knew her neighbors and so Lex had taken the time to look up those who lived in the building to bolster his lie.


"Hello, Lex.  I'm Desireé," Adkins said, extending a manicured hand, her expression going from curious to seductive.  She'd recognized Lex's name, then.  Lex had hoped that would be the case.  It was good to be rich with a powerful name that meant something to Metropolis. 


"It's a pleasure," Lex purred, turning on the charm.  He accepted her hand, clasping it between both of his own.  "Had I known Tammy had a roommate, I would have asked for my blind date to be with you."


Adkins lapped up Lex's caddish behavior.  It didn't speak well for the type of men she normally dated.  "Tammy had an emergency and had to leave, but I'm free for the evening," she said.  Her lie was as smooth as Lex's had been, and she stepped back, opening the door in invitation.  "Would you care to come in?"


"I would love to," Lex said with a smile, and stepped inside.  He made sure to brush against her as he did so. 


The apartment had a stark black and white theme, accentuated by bold pops of color in throws, pillows, and art pieces.  A counter separated the living room from the kitchen in the open concept space.  The curtains were open on the grand windows, reflecting back the light of the apartment.  A darkened hallway disappeared farther into the apartment, leading to the bedroom and bathroom.


Lex glanced at a laptop sitting open a glass desk.  Her email program was visible, but he didn't try to read the authors or subjects.  He instead made appreciative noises as he looked around.  "You have a nice place."


"Thank you.  I like it," Adkins said.  She reached for her black purse, which was sitting on the counter.  "Please, have a seat.  Would you care for a drink?"


"I'd like that," Lex said.  He sat down on the low, white leather couch with brilliant blue, yellow, and orange throw pillows.  He surreptitiously watched her spritz herself with a small bottle of perfume and hide it back in her purse before she went into the kitchen.  She returned with two glasses of red wine.


"For you," Adkins said, holding out a glass.  Lex accepted it, and Adkins sank onto the couch right beside him.  The move caused him to lean into her, and he caught a whiff of her perfume.  His reaction was immediate.  Heat flooded his system, moving down his limbs and stirring arousal.  His head became muzzy, and his hands itched to touch her.  He'd do anything for her.  It was an intoxicating feeling.


The feeling was also gone almost as quickly as it had come on.  Lex's body kicked into gear, fighting the effects of the perfume.  His sinuses closed, preventing him from breathing through his nose.  The heat vanished, his desire deflating.  His head cleared, and Adkins was once again merely an attractive woman that he was conning.


Lex had wanted proof and he'd gotten it in the nose.  It was powerful stuff.  For that brief moment, he would've jumped out the window if she'd asked.  Obtaining money from Gabe would've been nothing. 

Now that he knew for sure that she was doing human testing, Lex didn't need to stick around pretending he was infatuated with her.  Lex faked a sneeze, followed by another and another.  "Oh, I'm sorry," he said.  It was easy to sound stuffed up, since his sinuses were closed.  "I must be allergic to something you're wearing."  He sneezed again.


Adkins' lips compressed in a thin line, and she leaned forward to set her wine glass on the black coffee table.  Her expression had gone from sultry to irritation.  Lex handed her his wine glass with another round of fake sneezes.  "May I trouble you for a tissue?"


"Sure," Adkins said, doing little to hide the displeasure in her tone.  She got up and headed for the darkened hallway. 


Lex immediately jumped to his feet and dashed to the counter separating the living room and kitchen.  He snagged Adkins' purse and grabbed the perfume from inside.  He had just enough time to take a cell phone picture of what the bottle looked like before shoving it back into the purse and hustling back to the couch.  Adkins returned with a box of tissue, dropping it on the couch beside him.


"Thanks," he said, taking a tissue and blowing his nose with a lot of noise behind his cupped hands.  Adkins made a small huff of revulsion and picked up her wine glass.  She took several long gulps.


Lex rose and gave her a purposely pathetic smile.  "I'd best be going."


"I think that's a good idea," Adkins said. 


Lex left her drinking as he let himself out of her apartment.  His sinuses cleared by the time he reached the elevators.  The tissues went into the trash.  As much as he'd wanted to take the perfume from her, it needed to remain in her possession for his plan to work.


Lex took his cell phone out of his pocket, unlocked the passcode, and scrolled through his contacts until he found the one he'd added earlier in the evening.  Despite the late hour, it was a call he had to make immediately.  He stepped out into the cool Halloween night as the line rang in his ear. 




"Vivian D'Ararmis?  This is Lex Luthor.  I'm sorry to bother you at this hour, but I ran into one of your employees, Desireé Adkins, at a club.  She was bragging about testing a new product of yours.  I'll send you a picture of the bottle she had in her purse.  Now, I'm sure your company has a confidentiality agreement like LuthorCorp, and if what she was saying about human testing is true and that she was doing it on her own, without following protocol... well, I would hate for the press to get wind of it.  It would be a PR nightmare for this 'Red Meteorite' line and your company..."


Part Five


Desireé Adkins' name appeared on the Metropolis police blotter the next morning for theft of company property.  The police report indicated the perfume bottle she'd had in her purse was confiscated as evidence.  The female officer noted her partner's erratic behavior when around Adkins in her report, but there were no further issues mentioned once Adkins was booked, searched, showered, and incarcerated.  A small blurb in the business section of The Daily Planet denounced Adkins' actions and terminated her employment with D'Aramis.  When asked about the perfume, D'Aramis indicated that it would never be put into production.  Lex knew it was lethal to connect a product with a criminal in the business world, and D'Aramis would steer clear of that negative PR.


Lex didn't have the wherewithal to return Gabe's money to him, nor did he know how many others Adkins had scammed.  He was able to determine how much had been withdrawn from Gabe's savings account and would add it to Gabe's severance when the time came.  Or maybe Lex would divide it into bonuses and provide it to Gabe for his superior managerial duties.  Either way, he'd make sure Gabe and Chloe wouldn't be left in the poorhouse when the plant closed.


The only thing left for Lex to do was to inform Chloe and Clark of the resolution to the case.  The Black Rider contacted Clark and set up a meeting.  Late that afternoon, Lex exchanged cashmere for motorcycle leather and his Ferrari for a Suzuki at the fertilizer plant, and rode out to the high school.


The beat up Ford hatchback was again the only vehicle parked in the lot.  Clark didn't come bounding outside, however, when the Black Rider arrived.  Lex assumed he'd be entering the school through the same entrance as last time.  He left the Suzuki parked beside the Ford and walked to the blue painted double door.


Two windows were set into the double door, giving Lex a clear view inside the school.  What he saw made him panic.  Clark was lying on the floor in the hallway with a teenager in a letterman's jacket straddling him.  The teenager's hands were around Clark's throat.  Clark's skin was a mottled purple color and what looked like a layer of frost covered him. 


Lex yanked the unlocked door open, reaching over his shoulder for the shotgun with his other hand.  He pumped the barrel, putting a beanbag round in the chamber, and shot the guy in the chest.  The teenager jolted with the shot, hands releasing Clark's neck, and he looked up.  Lex recognized him: Sean Kelvin, the football team's redheaded offensive lineman.


Sean's square jaw set in fury and he scrambled to his feet.  Lex shot him again in the chest, causing him to stagger back but not stop him.  With a lineman's roar, he charged at Lex.  Lex got off another ineffectual round before he was tackled and the two went crashing to the ground.  The shotgun flew off, clattering against the base of the yellow lockers.  The wind left Lex in a rush when he hit the floor, his Kevlar-lined motorcycle leathers not cushioning the tile.  Lex's helmet bounced on the floor, saving his head from damage. 


Sean got his meaty hands around Lex's neck, beneath the rim of the helmet, and attempted to choke him.  The high Kevlar-lined collar of Lex's jacket protected his throat from being crushed.  Lex scrabbled at the utility belt around his waist, trying to free the pepper spray.  Sean adjusted his grip and the sides of his fingers touched the underside of Lex's jaw.  Lex grimaced in pain.  It felt like his skin began burning where Sean's fingers touched. 

Sean smiled maniacally, and a literal chill speared down Lex's spine.  Lex's body was unexpectedly overcome with coldness, like the heat was being leeched from him.  His struggles for the pepper spray became sluggish and his teeth started chattering hard.  Ice crystals appeared before his eyes, blurring his vision.  A frozen numbness swept over his body, rendering him immobile.  He suddenly felt very sleepy, and he fought helplessly against it.


His last thought was: I hate hypothermia, before the darkness swallowed him whole.




Lex revived to find a healthy looking Clark staring down at him.  "You're alive."


"So are you," Clark said with disbelief.  He was on his knees beside Lex, holding a familiar black helmet in his hand.  "You're the Black Rider."


A scream punctured the school. 


Clark looked at the doorway, looked at Lex, worried his lower lip, and suddenly disappeared in a whoosh of air.  Lex's helmet clattered to the floor beside him.


"Huh."  Lex felt like he should be more surprised.  He should be concerned that Clark Kent knew that Lex was the Black Rider.  He wasn't.  He was on his feet by the time he heard a second scream.  He shoved his helmet on his head, grabbed his shotgun, and ran down the hall.


Lex's booted feet thundered on the scuffed tile floor.  Shadowed doorways broke the line of banged up, yellow lockers on either side of the hallway.  Classroom windows provided the sole natural light source, which was made dimmer by the tint of the Black Rider's visor. 


Lex rushed around the cross junction in the hall.  Ahead, he saw the florescent glow from the overhead lights spilling out of the open Torch office.  The office was empty, but trashed.  A couple of the tables were overturned; the stack of newspapers were strewn on the floor.  A black blazer with ruffled edges was turned inside out, laying over the threshold.


Lex heard running footsteps behind him and turned to see Chloe bolt around the corner.  Terror paled her face and widened her eyes.  The shoulder of her peach colored top was ripped.  "Help!  Sean and Clark are fighting in the gym!  Sean's going to kill him!"


The Black Rider thrust the shotgun at her when she reached him.  "Take this.  It shoots beanbags.  Go to your car, start the engine, and call the police.  If Sean comes outside, you drive away fast.  Understand?"


Chloe nodded rapidly.  "Take a left.  The gym's at the end of the hall."


Lex left her standing there and hurried back to the junction in the hallway.  He followed her direction, and could see the open doors to the gymnasium at the end of the hall.  The basketball court was empty when he arrived.  Bleachers were pushed in along both walls.  Crows jerseys and banners proclaiming championships hung overhead.  Two doors led to the locker rooms, one male and one female.  Lex shoved through the men's door.


The locker room was damp and smelled like men.  Blue painted lockers stood in long rows with benches between them.  A closed office stood around the corner from the showers.  There were two doors that led out from the locker room, one of them bearing a placard for the pool.  Lex could hear fighting coming from the other side and he didn't hesitate to rush in.


Clark and Sean were engaged in battle at the pool.  Lex caught sight of them just as Sean threw Clark into the open bleachers.  Sun streaming through the skylights illuminated the tiled room.  One of the low diving boards was broken and floating in the chlorinated water.  A head-shaped dent crumbled the wall by the locker room door.


Lex drew his pepper spray as Clark jumped to his feet, unharmed.  Clark vanished and reappeared in front of Sean.  His fist connected with Sean's face.  Sean staggered with the hit but didn't go down.  There was no blood to be seen.


Lex didn't wait for the fighting to stop to join in.  He charged, shoulder down, and body checked Sean in the back as Sean was swinging at Clark.  Sean's punch went wild as he careened into Clark and they both went into the pool with a large splash.


Behind the visor, Lex's eyes widened when the pool started icing over, centering on Sean.  Clark broke the surface and kicked free of the ice before it engulfed him.  Lex dropped to his knees and reached out a gloved hand.  He captured Clark's wrist and helped haul him out of the water.


Soaked and panting, Clark knelt on the tile beside Lex and both of them watched as the entire pool became a solid block of ice with Sean frozen in it like an iceman.  The broken diving board had frozen like a gravestone near Sean's head.


"Do you think he's dead?" Clark asked.


"Thermal on."  Lex looked at Sean through the thermal imaging display.  His body appeared green.  "Not yet.  Probably soon.  Damn."


"What's wrong?"


"We need to do something."  Lex pushed to his feet.  "Maybe I can find a jackhammer to get him out in time."  Unless Sean was like Clark and Lex, it was doubtful he'd revive.  Still, Lex wasn't going to do nothing.  "I know there's tools and acetylene torches in the garage on the east side of the school."


"But he was trying to kill us.  He did kill us," Clark said, rising as well.  "He killed his girlfriend last night.  Froze her to death.  He was going to kill Chloe, too."


"That doesn't justify letting him die," Lex said.  "I help people.  I'm not a vigilante.  If we can still save Sean, we should.  That's what heroes do."


Clark's brow furrowed and he looked at Sean frozen in the pool.  He seemed to come to a decision.  "You're right."


Lex watched as Clark strode onto the solid surface of the pool.  Kneeling down over Sean, Clark drew his fist back and slammed it into the ice.  The ice cracked loudly, spears of it shooting up into the air.  Lex stared as Clark's punches became a blur and the ice holding Sean captive disappeared. 


Sean was free in under thirty seconds, and Clark carried the frozen body out of the pool.  The thermal half of Lex's visor showed yellow seeping into Sean's body where Clark's held him.  Clark set Sean down on the lower bleacher.  "Now what?  CPR?"


"I have an idea."  Lex tugged off one of his gloves and put his hand on Sean's blue-tinted cheek.  He felt his body heat start to leech from him where he touched Sean.  The thermal imaging confirmed that Sean was getting warmer.


Lex kept his hand on Sean for as long as he could still function without keeling over from hypothermia again.  Sean took a staggered breath when the heat seeped into his lungs. 


"He's alive!" Clark exclaimed, surprised.


Lex fumbled for the zip tie handcuffs in his belt.  His teeth were chattering beneath the helmet.  "We need to secure him."

"Here, let me," Clark said.  He brushed Lex's hand aside, retrieved a cuff, and zip tied Sean's wrists together. 


Lex's palm had the purplish-black hue of frostbite and he pulled his glove on with relief.  When he got home, he was going to drown himself in a boiling Jacuzzi.  The heat would be worth the healing time.


Sean was unconscious, but breathing.  His body was an orange-yellow shade on the thermal imaging.  "Thermal off," Lex said.  "Scanner on."


The radio scanner came to life in Lex's ear.  A request was being made for a second squad car to come to the high school.  "The police are here.  Do you think you can speak to them on your own?"


"What do I tell them?" Clark said.  He stood dripping beside Lex, but seemingly not cold.


"As much truth as possible," Lex said.  "Sean can freeze things.  He went after you and Chloe.  He became unconscious when he froze the pool.  You can mention the Black Rider was here, since Chloe might have.  I trust you're not going to reveal who I really am."


"I won't.  I promise," Clark said.  "You, uh, promise not to say anything about me, too?"


Lex smiled, though Clark couldn't see it beneath the helmet.  "I promise.  Come by the mansion tonight.  We'll talk then."


"Okay."  Clark tried to stuff his hands into his pockets, but the wet denim prevented it.  He rocked awkwardly on his heels. 


Lex chuckled softly.  "I'll see you later, Clark," he said, and headed out.




Lex spent the rest of the afternoon returning the Black Rider to Metropolis and the Ferrari back into the garage from the plant.  Autumn leaves displayed riotous colors for Lex's hike through the landscaped woods separating the estate and the plant.  The ten minute walk wasn't arduous, but Lex was still cold from touching Sean and the crisp November air hadn't helped any.


Lex was grateful to be rich and have a large Jacuzzi tub in his en suite bathroom.  He disappeared into it, with a giant mug of hot chocolate and a plate of freshly baked butterscotch cookies courtesy of Gertrude. 


"You dealt with someone who could freeze things, didn't you?" Lex said, continuing the conversation he was having with Bruce Wayne.  His cell phone lay on the raised, cobalt tiled tub surround, near his arm.  The mansion had been swept again for listening devices and cameras on Friday, coming up empty.  He bit into another cookie, trying not to get crumbs into the Jacuzzi.


Bruce's low, graveled response came over the speaker.  "Mr. Freeze."


"Original," Lex said dryly. 


"And unpleasant.  It hard to move when your suit's joints are frozen."


"It's hard to move when you're frozen.  Mainly because you're dead."


"Are you trying to one up me?"


Lex grinned.  "I'm winning."


Bruce sighed good-naturedly, and Lex laughed.  "Not all of us come with special healing abilities," Bruce said.  "We have to do it the old fashioned way - by not getting killed."


"Touché," Lex said.  He glanced at his watch, sitting tub side.  "I'd better go.  Clark should be coming by soon."


"I'm not sure that I like him knowing that you're the Black Rider," Bruce said.  "Be careful."


"I don't think I'll need to worry about him," Lex said, knowing Clark appeared to have many secrets of his own.  "But I'll still be careful."


"Thank you."


Bruce disconnected, and Lex reluctantly got out of the tub.  He dressed in a wooly plum sweater and black trousers, put on his watch, and tucked his phone into his pocket.  He fetched the letter he'd printed out for Chloe from the desk and read it once more.




Desireé Adkins has been arrested for a crime relating to what occurred in Smallville.  I am sorry that I was unable to retrieve the money from her.  The legal system is not perfect, but I hope you have some semblance of relief that her actions had consequences.


The Black Rider


Satisfied, Lex folded the letter and sealed it in an envelope with her name Laserjet printed onto it.  He brought it downstairs, as well as his empty mug and cookie plate on a serving tray.  He swung by the kitchen for a refill just in time for the doorbell to ring. 


Clark stood on Lex's doorstep, wearing red flannel, faded jeans, and a smile.  "Hi," he greeted cheerfully, when Lex opened the thick, oak door.  "I'm here."


"That you are," Lex said.  It was hokey, but he went with it.  "Come in.  Welcome to the Luthor family's 'ancestral' estate.  Someone else's ancestors, to be specific.  My father bought it at an auction."


"Um, why?"  Clark stepped into mansion, and Lex closed the door behind him.


"My father is nouveau riche, pompous, and ostentatious," Lex said.  At Clark's confused look, Lex clarified.  "He needs to show off.  Probably because he has a tiny dick."


Clark snorted a laugh and immediately became embarrassed.  "Sorry."


"Don't be.  In fact, feel free to laugh at my father as much as you want," Lex said.  He picked up the serving tray he'd set on a small table by the door.  "Follow me."


Lex led Clark through the ornate, polished foyer and into his office.  Night had fallen outside, the sun setting earlier with each passing day.  Artful lights shone on the stained glass windows, illuminating them.  Modern art hung on the walls, complimentary to the period wood in the room.  A modern sculpture sat on the corner of Lex's glass topped desk, along with decorative pieces of antique office supplies.  Two swords rested on display on a wood side table behind the desk.  A set of steps led up to a balcony with a small library.  A fire burned in the massive hearth, casting a cheery orange glow on the leather sofa and matching chair situated in front of it.  Lex set the serving tray on the glass coffee table between the sofa and chair, and motioned for Clark to have a seat.


"I think you can fit half my house in just this room," Clark commented, folding his large frame onto the sofa.  "Are all your houses this big?"


"No, but there are a lot of them," Lex said, taking a seat in the chair across from Clark. 


"It must be nice to be rich," Clark said, with a wistful sigh.


"I'm not going to lie.  It is," Lex said with a grin.  "I'm not ashamed of it."


"My Dad says rich people are bastards."  Clark had the grace to appear mortified as soon as he said it.  "I'm sorry."


Lex folded his hands and looked steadily at Clark.  "I would say it was okay, but it's not.  Parroting your Dad's prejudices makes you less than a man, if you don't believe in them.  If you do believe in them, then that's your right, but I would strongly suggest deciding for yourself based on facts you learn and not the sayings of others."


Clark ducked his chin, the fringe of his dark hair hiding his lowered eyes.  He fiddled with the hem of his untucked flannel.  "I'm sorry," Clark repeated.  "I know my Dad isn't always right.  He believes that rich people think they can buy anything and don't have to work hard for what they have."


It was Lex's turn to snort.  "If there's one thing my father did that could be praised, it's that he worked damned hard to earn all his money.  It doesn't make him a saint, and I know he's bribed a lot of people, but he came from even less than what your parents have and now he's one of the richest men in Metropolis."


"What about you?" Clark seemed genuinely curious.


"I'm running a fertilizer plant instead of being in college like any other twenty-one year old, and it's not because I happen to like the smell of shit," Lex said.  "As I said, I like being rich.  It affords me the opportunity to help people.  It also lets me buy great clothes and even better cars."  He grinned.


"Rumor has it that you have a closet the size of the gym at school," Clark said, glancing up at Lex from under his long lashes, a teasing smile playing at the edges of his lush lips.  "No one's seen you wear the same outfit twice."


Lex laughed.  "Not quite, but I will admit that I'm a clotheshorse.  I hope these rumors say I look good, too."


"I think you do," Clark said.  A hint of a blush colored his cheeks and he quickly added, "So does Chloe."


"I'll take the compliment," Lex said, and inwardly preened.  He picked up the envelope from the tray.  "Speaking of Chloe, this is for her.  I didn't have the chance to tell her about Desireé Adkins this afternoon."


Clark took the envelope from Lex and shifted to tuck it into his back pocket.  "Is she in jail?" 


Lex nodded.  "She was arrested for theft of proprietary property.  It was the best I could do."


"How did she make Chloe's Dad give her all his money?" Clark said.


Since Clark knew about abilities first hand, Lex didn't skirt the full truth.  "Red meteorite imbued perfume.  Smallville's red meteorites create an intoxication-like effect when they're used in combination with light.  The research is pretty fascinating," Lex said. 


Clark swallowed.  "The meteorites did this?  The ones from the meteorite shower back in '89?"


Lex nodded.  "They're the root of the mutations and abilities in Smallville, not just the shower itself, like Chloe speculated in her articles on The Torch Online.  The green ones are what most likely gave us our abilities.  Yours and mine.  Sean's, too, and Tina Greer's, among others."


"I knew it."  Clark sounded despondent.  He looked at his hands, picking at the edge of his thumb with his forefinger.  "I mean, I wasn't sure, but now you've confirmed it."


"Confirmed what?" Lex said.  Something was going on here that he didn't understand.  He sat forward in his chair, bracing his forearms on his thighs.  "What's going on, Clark?"


"The meteorites.  I- they've hurt everyone."


"That's not true," Lex said. 


"How can you say that?  Sean just tried to kill us this afternoon!  And Miss Adkins stole Mr. Sullivan's money, and Tina robbed a bank and tried to run over my Mom, and Coach Walt almost killed Chloe, and Greg almost killed Lana and Whitney."  The words came tumbling out of Clark's mouth in a rush of anger and anguish.  "All these people became monsters because of the meteorites!"


"Clark, no, that's not true at all," Lex said.  "People are responsible for their own actions, you know that.  The meteorites have nothing to do with it.  Smallville may have unique criminals, sure, but they chose to use their abilities that way.  They took their power and abused it.  But it's like being rich: you can use the money to do good things or to do bad things.  I've chosen to use my ability and my money to help people.  There are probably all sorts of folks in Smallville who have abilities who've never even jaywalked.  In the twelve years since the shower, there's been less than a dozen people that I found who've been arrested who had abilities.  Criminality is a choice, Clark.  It's almost always a choice."


Clark was silent, studying his hands.  The fire popped and crackled.  The grandfather clock in the foyer chimed the half-hour.  Lex picked up his hot chocolate, took a sip, and waited.  Finally, Clark said, "I guess you're right."


"Of course, I'm right.  The Black Rider wouldn't steer you wrong," Lex said, lifting his mug like a toast.


A broad grin stretched Clark's face.  "I still can't believe you're the Black Rider."


"You're now only one of two people who know the truth," Lex said.  "I trust that you'll keep the secret."


"My lips are sealed," Clark said.  He leaned forward with anticipation.  "So what's it like?  What do you do?"


"I think you saw first hand earlier today," Lex said wryly.


Clark waved away the response.  "You know what I mean.  You're, like, a real crime fighting hero.  How did that happen?  How do you do it?"


"Let me show you."  Lex set his mug down, rose, and went to his desk.  He picked up the ornate envelope cutter and brought it back to the sitting area.  Taking a seat beside Clark on the sofa, he pushed up his sleeve, bared his inner arm, and dragged the sharp blade shallowly across his skin.  He felt a bite of pain as blood seeped from the wound.  It didn't last long.  He set the cutter on the tray, pulled an embroidered handkerchief from his pocket, and swiped the blood from his arm.  The wound was healed, like it had never happened.


"Wow."  Clark took Lex's arm and examined it more closely.  "There's not even a mark.  If you hadn't bled, I wouldn't think you even got hurt."

"Oh, it hurts," Lex said.  "I can feel pain.  I simply heal extraordinarily fast, and can't permanently die.  Not in a way that I've tested, that is.  I'm sure if my head was detached and not put back on, or my organs were removed, I wouldn't revive.  I can't regenerate body parts, so far as I know.  I also don't get sick.  I've been like this since I was nine."


"Because you were in the meteorite shower," Clark said.  "Here."


"Yes."  Lex dropped the soiled handkerchief on the coffee table and pushed down his sleeve.  "When I was a little older, I decided that I was going to use the ability I've been given to help people.  So I trained and studied the law, and once I turned eighteen and got a place of my own, I created the Black Rider."


Clark picked up the envelope cutter from the tray.  "Is it hard?"


"Sometimes.  I'm trying to uphold the law, not break it, so that means I have to do a lot of things like setting up cameras and convincing people to testify," Lex said.  "It doesn't always work, and the criminals get off, which can be frustrating.  I don't let it stop me, though."


"Do you... do you think I could do it?"


Lex smiled.  "I told you once before, you were a hero in the making."


Clark chewed on his lower lip.  He glanced at Lex, then looked down at the cutter he was fiddling with in his hands.  Seeming to come to a decision, Clark took the hilt of the cutter in one hand and stabbed the point into the other.  The blade squashed like an accordion.  It did nothing to Clark's hand.


Lex was astonished, but also... not.  He'd seen what Clark could do when fighting Sean.


"I, uh, might be a little more abnormal than you," Clark said with a combination of wariness and shyness.  Lex found it endearing.


"It hardly matters," Lex said, putting his hand over Clark's, the one that held the squashed cutter.  "If you want to help people, you learn as much as you can and then you do it.  Having a bit of extra oomph is just a bonus."


"Really?"  Clark looked like Lex had handed him the moon.  "You're not going to imprison me in a lab somewhere?"


"That's your father talking again, isn't it?" Lex said with a sigh.  "While I understand his caution, we're going to have to trust each other.  You won't spill my secret, I won't spill yours.  I have no desire to see you, or anyone else, hurt."


Clark's smile lit up the room.  "Me, either.  And I won't tell anyone.  Promise."


"Good."  Lex squeezed Clark's hand before letting go.  "Now, is there anything else you'd like to know?"


Clark dropped the envelope cutter into the front pocket of his flannel.  "Will you teach me to be like the Black Rider?"


The request made Lex fill with pride.  "Yes, I will."


"Can we start now?"  Clark's excitement was palpable, and he was practically vibrating in his seat.

"Follow me."  Lex rose and led the way to the small second floor library.  A marble chess table stood between two wingback reading chairs facing the dark wood balustrade.  Shelves of classic fiction and nonfiction books lined the wall behind the chairs.


"So what do I do first?" Clark said, bouncing behind Lex like an overeager puppy.  "Do I get a costume like yours?  Do I get to pick a name?"


"Even better.  You get to start learning the most important thing for being a masked crime fighter." 


"And what's that?"


Lex took a leather bound tome of Kansas Statutes from the shelf and passed it to Clark with a grin.  "The law."