Looking back, Clark recalled the guy showing up at three rescues before Clark consciously noted him. Photographic memory was nice; it would have been nicer if he could tell what was important in the pictures. In any event, he noticed the man in the cap and long jacket while he was waiting for the police to pick up a handful of bank robbers from the hotel rooftop to which they'd inexplicably fled. The man was pale, the black of his outfit heightening his pallor, blue-eyed, and—yes, X-ray confirmed—bald beneath the cap.
He was watching Clark from the roof of the next building.
Clark was getting used to excited stares, horrified stares, terrified, awe-filled, worshipful, grateful, outraged.
This was different. Intense yet distant, stillness combined with a sense that the man could disappear in an instant, if he wanted to. It was a little like the way Lois looked at Superman, without her desire to write headlines.
Clark didn't give him a chance to disappear. He zipped over to the man, glancing back to make sure the robbers' bonds were secure, then placing himself beside this recurring stranger.
"Excuse me," he said, oddly pleased by the surprise evident on the man's face as he turned. Clark heard his heart rate speed up, though it was still quite low for an ordinary person.
"Hello, Superman," the man said, eyes wide. He had a scar on his lip that drew the eye. "How can I help you?"
"You can tell me who you are and why you're following me around."
The man smiled. "I'm Lex Luthor. As for following you around, how do you supose I would do that, given your unparalleled speed and flight capacity?"
It was a valid point, except—"I've seen you. At the Bank of Metropolis heist, the attempted kidnapping at the Museum of Natural History, and now here."
"Yes," Luthor said equably.
"If you're not following me, how—?"
"Maybe I'm just lucky."
Like that, Clark knew. "You—you set all this up." A quick scan revealed that Luthor was carrying a wide variety of complex electronics, several in unusual places. Not to mention the two guns, three knives and some sort of sharp wire in the lining of his cap.
"Wait, Lex Luthor. Related to Lionel Luthor?" Clark was trying to remember what he knew about Lionel's personal life. It had never seemed important compared to what he tried to do to Smallville.
Luthor frowned. "Unfortunately. But try not to hate me on his account. I much prefer to be hated on my own merits. And I'm not working for my father."
"Then who are you working for?" Clark ought to have been frightened. He was going to be outraged that Luthor had been setting up tests for him. But right now, he felt himself getting into the rhythm of an interview.
Luthor looked at him directly for the first time. His eyes were the blue of the sea ice Clark saw near the Fortress. "I work for the government."
"Which government?" Clark snapped back.
Luthor smiled and leaned forward, too close to Clark, but Clark had no reason to back away. "Good question. You'll be a hero yet."
Before Clark's outrage could erupt, he continued, "I'm a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July."
Clark drew in a deep breath, then decided he didn't much want to calm down. "Listen," he said, bringing a finger up to poke at Luthor's chest, "I don't know what you guys want from me, but I am not going to get drafted into secret military missions or whatever you have in mind. I'm doing good things for America right here and I have every intention of continuing to do so without any—Yankee Doodle dandies."
Luthor's mouth formed a moue of reluctant admiration as Clark rolled on.
"You get no points from me for putting innocent people in danger."
"I knew you wouldn't let any harm come to an innocent," Luthor disagreed. "Nor would I." One of the guns appeared in his hand, almost as fast as a meteor mutant could have moved. "No one would have been hurt, even if you hadn't shown up. No innocent, that is. They aren't actors, they're legitimate bad guys who could have chosen not to do anything wrong."
"Yeah, and your plans always work out? Never any random variables?" Clark was angrier than usual—angrier than he ever got with Lionel Luthor's machinations, though Lionel was equally likely to claim that he was just acting for the greater good. Lionel had never learned Smallville's greatest lesson, which was that controlling circumstances was a pipe dream in a universe chaotic enough to include an exploding planet whose fragments somehow possessed the power to mutate humans in bizarre ways and threaten the life of the alien with whom they arrived.
Not that he could explain any of that, but he had to try. "Anything could have happened."
"To the contrary. The robbers could neither have flapped their wings and flown away, nor could they have been eaten by wolves. Random variables exist, Superman, but I haven't been much plagued by them since—since I broke my father's leash.
"Here," Luthor said, taking Clark's still-outstretched hand and folding it around a stiff rectangular card. "I believe you aren't about to let yourself be drafted. But it is my job to keep an eye on you, and I think you'll find it's easier to work from knowledge than ignorance. Call me when you want to set up a meeting. Your country expects great things from you, Superman." On his lips, the silly epithet sounded different. Like a promise of some sort.
With that, Lex Luthor was gone, slipping away down stairs Clark hadn't noticed, a heavy metal door clanging shut behind him. Not that Clark couldn't have followed—but it would have been kind of rough on the building's owners, and anyway Clark didn't have a reason to follow him.
The next time he met Lex Luthor, it was as Clark Kent. He and Lois were covering the opening of yet another Luthor wing of a public building, this time at the Metropolis Museum of Modern Art. There were some amazing fluorescent sculptures, cunningly arranged so that the light was like a physical presence inside silver metal frames, and Clark was enjoying the art, as well as the hors d'oeuvres, immensely until he saw the younger Luthor. The man was standing outside the flow of the crowd, slim and elegant but clearly not looking for conversation, sipping occasionally at a glass of champagne.
His tuxedo accented the clean lines of his body, making Clark in his rented suit feel like a Neanderthal wearing a freshly skinned animal. His eyes scanned the crowd watchfully, with no hesitation when they flashed over Clark like a lighthouse beam. Of course not—Superman looked different enough, thanks to Kryptonian technology, that there was no way to connect him with Clark Kent. But Clark felt dissatisfied nonetheless.
Putting down his empty plate on a convenient table, he straightened his jacket—a useless gesture since he always looked rumpled, but it was worth a try—and meandered through the crowd towards Luthor, who managed to look decent even in the greenish glow from the sculpture by his side.
By the time he got across the room, Luthor was looking away, watching to see who was coming into the room. Looking for someone important like Superman, Clark figured.
As he stepped next to Luthor, a wave of pain and nausea hit him. It was all he could do to stand there without puking.
Apparently fluorescent gas wasn't the only component of these sculptures.
Luthor had turned, maybe because Clark had made a soft distressed sound, and saw Clark staring at the curved, spaghettilike sculpture in horror. "This one's scheduled to go back to the foyer of LuthorCorp next Monday," he commented. "What do you think?"
Clark choked and took a step back. Luthor, following, nodded with satisfaction. "I'd say my father had lost his grasp on good taste, but it's never been that firm to begin with."
After a near-stagger to get further away, the Kryptonite wasn't incapacitating. There must have been only trace amounts in the thing, maybe not even enough to trigger mutations, though Clark would have to keep an eye on the LuthorCorp receptionists. He didn't know how Lionel had figured out that Kryptonite would keep Superman away, but this was clearly a further step in their undeclared war over the soul of Metropolis.
Luthor gave him a deliberate once-over, and smiled politely, as if to indicate the conversation was over.
"Clark Kent, I'm with the Daily Planet," he said, holding out his hand.
Luthor, who was holding his drink in his left hand, didn't raise his right in return. "Lex Luthor, Food and Drug Administration."
"What?" Clark sputtered, drawing not a few glances.
"Which part didn't you understand?" The smile was still polite, but the eyes were chromed steel.
Clark grabbed Luthor's upper arm; he looked at Clark's hand as if it were a rotting fish—a zombie rotting fish that had taken it upon itself to climb out of the ocean and attach itself to his body—but he said nothing as Clark dragged him to a side room whose red lighting combined with the Freud-like pictures on the walls to make it look like Hell's waiting room. Standing in front of a painting of a dead dog, they were far enough away from others that Clark could whisper more freely.
"Superman told me," he said in Luthor's ear. "He told me you're a spy."
Luthor jerked his arm free of Clark's grasp. "Well, I'm not."
"I don't believe you. How many FDA scientists walk around armed and hooked up to a GPS?" Clark was talking about their first meeting, but come to think of it—yes, the armanent was slightly different but no less impressive.
"Probably as many as have a history of suffering violent, unprovoked assaults—" Luthor gave a pointed look at his arm and tugged on his sleeve to straighten his tuxedo jacket—"and enough money to pay for new toys on a regular basis. Perhaps Superman was confused. I'm with the FDA. See, it says so on my card." With that, he repeated the same maneuver he'd performed at their first meeting, sliding his hand over Clark's and leaving a business card behind. His eyes never left Clark's face.
When Clark managed to look down, he saw that this card did indeed have a title and a seal on it, unlike the first one, which had been blank except for a ten-digit phone number.
"So Superman ... told you I was a spy?" His tone was moving from condescending to actively mocking. "I can assure you, Mr. Kent, I am a scientist with the FDA. I can bring home the bacon and tell you exactly what it's doing to your arteries. Well," he paused and flicked his eyes over Clark's body, "maybe not your arteries. I have a master's from Princeton and a Ph.D from Yale, I have articles in good medical journals, and my paycheck says 'FDA' on it. While I have no association with LuthorCorp, I do have enough money from my mother's estate that the Daily Planet ought to hesitate to print any unfounded accusations."
"Okay," Clark said, swallowing. "I don't know what your game is—"
"Then how do you know you don't want to play?" He asked the question as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world. Clark wanted to smack him, standing there so casually with that smooth shining skin that had never seen a hard day's work in the fields, that suit that could have paid the farm's mortgage for the year.
Clark scowled. "Superman isn't interested. And threats notwithstanding, from what I remember from journalism school, being accused of being a spy isn't slanderous, so your lawyers can come get laughed at by our lawyers any time. If you keep harassing Superman, you'd better hope you've got a real job at the FDA, because you'll be useless as a government agent."
Fortunately, right after the threat and before Clark could do anything lame to screw it up, Lois found them.
"Clark, what are you doing, hiding—oh."
However, Clark wasn't fond of that "oh." It was a bit too pleased for his taste.
Luthor gave Lois the same close look he'd given Clark. She did more to deserve it, though. She was wearing a black dress with a low-cut bodice and what she confidently told Clark was a handkerchief hem, though he couldn't imagine how ballistic she'd go if anyone tried to blow his nose on it. She looked terrific, her hair swept up and her heels as long and pointed as icepicks.
"Lex Luthor," she said, not as a question. "Back in town at last. What prompted you to end your exile?"
A faint flash of—discomfort, pain?—crossed his face. Clark didn't want to do him any favors, but Lois had only come over because of Clark.
"Lex Luthor, this is Lois Lane, also of the Daily Planet."
For Lois, Clark noted sourly, Luthor held out his hand. Indeed, he held on to hers past the time needed for a handshake. "A pleasure, Ms. Lane. The museum named a wing for my mother. I'm here in her memory."
"So this isn't a permanent move?"
Luthor's expression was both pleasant and hard, like a doll's face, making clear that Lois was getting nothing further from him. "I haven't made any decisions yet. You might see me around."
With that, he turned, snake-fast, and leaned into Clark to whisper in his ear. "By the way, Mr. Kent, slander is spoken. Libel is written. So maybe J-school didn't cover all the angles. I'll be seeing you."
And he was gone, leaving Clark with Lois. Even in the reddish light, he could tell how beautiful she was. Also, how intrigued.
"What did he say to you, Kent? And how'd you get him talking in the first place? The Little Prince of Metropolis hasn't said a printable word to the press since he lost his hair."
"Lost his hair?"
Lois sighed dramatically. "Don't you know anything? Answer my questions, then I'll tell you all about the rebellious and depraved Luthor boy—who by the way has certainly grown into a fine-looking man."
"He thought you were attractive," Clark said, hating the lie as soon as it fell from his mouth. "What do you know about him?"
Clark hadn't wanted to know that his arrival had been responsible for Lex Luthor's distinctive appearance. Not to mention, if Lois were to be believed, for his estrangement from a father disappointed in his meteor-mangled son. Given what he knew of Lionel Luthor, he couldn't say that Lex had been deprived of a good father, but as he knew the condemnation of a father was never easy to take regardless of whether the man deserved any respect. The knowledge that he was already part of Lex's life convinced him that evading the man until he aged out of the spy business was cowardly as well as inefficient. So he called the number on the card Lex had given him—at their first meeting, not their second—and left him a message saying they could meet at a nondescript Starbucks in the business district.
It took a bit of fiddling to get the image enhancer to give him Superman's face on top of a business suit—the tie ended up bright red and bearing little copies of the mark of the House of El in raised thread. Also, there were blue suspenders, but at least they were hidden by the jacket. Clark had to wonder at the necessity of the image enhancer when the barista didn't give him a first look, much less a second, as she delivered his double espresso. He took the cardboard cup holding the drink and a Rice Krispy treat over to a corner, one shunned by the other denizens because there were no power outlets nearby, and sat down. He picked up a discarded copy of the Inquisitor while he waited.
"Checking out the competition?" a voice asked, making him jump and sweep his arm across the table, knocking his cup off the edge—
Where it was caught in Lex Luthor's hand. He raised an eyebrow at Clark as he proffered the cup.
"Hunh?" Clark asked, staring at Lex's face, which was close to his because Lex had bent his knees to catch the falling coffee. Automatically, he took the cup back from Lex.
Lex waved his hand at the Inquisitor. "I asked if you were checking out the competition."
"I don't—what do you mean?"
Lex smiled and tapped his finger on the headline of the page Clark was reading. "Batman? Dark Knight of Gotham? Getting a lot of your press these days?" He slithered around the table and sat across from Clark.
"Oh," Clark said, breathing out his relief. "Oh, uh, I don't mind. He seems like—he's a little creepy, but he means well. And he's got some pretty cool toys."
Lex nodded fervently. "That car—I keep asking for a car like that." His eyes were unfocused, contemplating the beauty of the Batmobile.
He was quite striking, what with the baldness and the intense eyes, Clark decided. Shouldn't a spy be more nondescript?
"What do you want?" he asked.
Lex snapped back to the present, leaning forward, one forearm on the table. "My superiors—" he said the word as if it didn't really mean what the dictionary said—"would be thrilled if you'd put on star-spangled tights and go around the world serving American interests. Myself, I think the last thing we need is another instance of self-righteous propaganda. America's government lags behind America herself in international respect and affection, and that's a terrible thing, but it's not one that your recruitment would change."
Clark tried to decide whether he'd just been insulted or complimented, then gave up. Luthor was still watching him expectantly, fine brows raised as if waiting for some equal eloquence from him.
"Do your superiors know you're undermining their agenda?" Belligerence wasn't quite what he was going for, but he had to do something to dislodge that easy confidence that kept reminding him of Lionel Luthor.
Luthor shrugged. "If they didn't expect me to use my own judgment about how to achieve the mission objective, they shouldn't have given me this job. And if you don't trust me, you're welcome to request another—unofficial liaison." He made it sound just about as dirty as Clark could imagine. Clark was pretty sure that blushing would be inappropriate, and by some miracle he didn't.
"What agency did you say you worked for, again?"
Luthor smiled. "I don't think I did." He paused, as if waiting for Clark to object, then continued. "As you may know, after 9/11, efforts were made to increase interagency cooperation and decrease the separation between domestic and foreign intelligence. Consider me a product of those efforts."
Clark had been thinking about this on and off since they'd met. "I believe in the government. But nothing good ever comes from bad methods. I'm willing to consider helping out when there are things I can do without hurting or killing anyone, but I'm not taking orders or keeping secrets that ought to be told."
Luthor nodded, not in agreement but with the air of a man who'd expected no better. "That's what I told the higher-ups you'd say. They weren't pleased. But there's nothing they know how to do to control you that wouldn't be more dangerous than letting you make your own decisions."
Clark puzzled at this for a bit, concluding that Luthor was telling him that the government had considered holding total strangers hostage for his compliance. This spy stuff was no fun at all.
Luthor must have seen something on his (simulated) face. "Yes. So I have here a signalling device which looks like an ordinary cellphone. When I have a mission that won't upset your delicate sensibilities, I'll give you a call."
"I won't be—"
"I don't expect you to drop your kittens and come running every time. I just want the opportunity to ask for your help, like every other Metropolis resident, only I'd prefer not to have to scream state secrets at the top of my lungs." Luthor pulled a small black square out of his pocket; it looked like it belonged on a keychain for use with an expensive car.
Clark considered for a moment. The idea seemed reasonable enough. "If this is a tracking device, you understand, I'm going to be extremely upset."
"It's a coded, untraceable signal. You don't need to worry about us tracking your movements through a cellphone."
He nodded. "Before I agree to do anything, I want to meet a recognizable government official, in an official building, who'll verify what you've told me."
Luthor smiled again, this one close to a real grin. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd never even seen Alias. Of course, I'll set it up—can you be at the Pentagon tomorrow at six AM? And I assume a four-star general will suffice?"
Clark let out a breath. "Uh, sure." When he'd imagined going public, he'd seen himself lauded by mayors, governors, maybe even the President. He hadn't given much thought to what the mayors etc. would want from him in return. Already, there'd been a problem with the unions when Clark had rebuilt a collapsed building in under an hour (that was mostly spent helping the cement dry with a bit of heat vision). This hero gig was a lot more complicated than Mighty Mouse made it look.
Luthor was watching him, nakedly curious. It reminded Clark too much of Lionel's quest to discover Smallville's secrets. One time Lionel had even come to the farm to ask if he could look for meteor rocks. Dad had kicked him out pretty quick, but not before Clark had spent too much time in a room with the elder Luthor, who looked at everything like he wanted to devour it. Lex Luthor's face had the same intensity, though it was more detached. Lionel wanted to dissect Clark like a frog and sell his parts, whereas Lex would have been perfectly happy to dissect him like a frog and record the results for posterity.
Luthor seem to notice that Clark was uncomfortable with his scrutiny. "So why don't you take over the world?" he asked, leaning forward and smirking as if he knew a secret about everyone in the room.
Clark blinked. "... I lack ambition?"
Luthor's smile widened. "I find that hard to believe." He reached over and took a drink of Clark's cooling coffee.
"I don't want to rule the world. What would I do with it? I'm already busier than a one-armed milkmaid, I don't like yelling at people, and I believe in democracy and the American way."
Luthor raised his fair brows and curled his fingers together loosely. "A real Boy Scout."
Clark shrugged. "My parents never let me go scouting."
"My father wouldn't allow something so bourgeois. It might have built character, and he always preferred destruction to building." Luthor said this with such nonchalance that Clark was unsure whether or not he wanted to be believed.
"Why aren't you working for him?" Clark asked, unable to suppress the question. He'd heard Lois's stories, but he found it hard to believe that Lionel would completely abandon his own son.
Luthor's eyes hooded, turned inwards. "I can't pretend the Luthor blood isn't strong in me. When I was younger, and still trying to get his approval, I did things—things I'm not proud of. But I realized that my dark side could serve the greater good, not just corporate profit. Now the compromises I make are the kind that keep people like these—" he gestured at the oblivious workers around them—"safe."
Clark could see it, a child raised by Lionel Luthor's twisted moral standards, trying to find his own way. He remembered his own struggles with his father—both his fathers. He'd had a hard enough time with unconditional love and support; that Lex Luthor had managed to cast himself into the impersonal arms of his mother country was proof of great strength, at least.
They were both trying to do right, taking a dangerous legacy and wrestling it into submission.
He realized that his earlier talk about methods probably sounded like criticism of Lex himself. "I do admire your motives. I just—"
Lex looked at him carefully, as if he were trying to see through the projected image. His gaze was like a lashing of summer sun on Clark's skin; it made Clark feel restless, filled to the brim with power. "You don't need to apologize. For someone as powerful as you, constraints are even more important. I'm actually reassured."
After another sip from Clark's cup, Lex leaned back, nodded at him, and rose to go. "I'll be seeing you around—by the way, is there a name you'd like me to call you? That—epithet—of yours seems so brash, and you're a surprisingly modest individual."
He struggled fruitlessly not to blush. "Thanks—I think. You can call me Kal." He didn't much like the idea of returning to the name he'd used that ill-fated, red Kryptonite-saturated summer, but it was the best he could do on short notice.
After that, he couldn't get Lex Luthor out of his head. If he tried, he could hear Lex's heartbeat, anywhere in the city, like a metronome. He tracked it because he could, because he couldn't not. He listened to Lex work out and type and go to clubs. When Lex started making extensive efforts on behalf of one Miss Yelena Petrova, he tried to tune it out, but his powers had slipped out of control just like he was a teenager again.
And when he heard gunshots go off right by Lex, he stood up without a word to Lois and rushed out.
By the time he arrived on the scene, Lex was hurrying down a poorly-lit street in the Russian section of town. Clark zipped out, grabbed him, and pulled him into an alleyway.
Lex stank of perfume and sex. Clark couldn't bear to look at him—but then he couldn't bear to look away, so his gaze jounced around as if he were watching a tennis match visible only in X-ray.
Lex looked back at him coolly, even though his pants weren't fastened. Somehow he'd managed to get down the side of the building—his hands were scraped raw and the front of his pants were gray with dirt. Now he was waiting, Clark could only assume, for some explanation of why Clark had been standing there.
Up in the penthouse half a block away, Mr. Petrov was shouting at his tearful daughter. Apparently Lex had left her asleep on her bed, broke into her father's study, downloaded the hard drive there—Clark scanned, and found a device concealed in Lex's cufflinks—and exited via the exterior walls when the father unexpectedly returned home.
After a few deep breaths, Lex shook his shoulders like a horse dislodging a pesky fly. "Is there something you need, Kal?"
Not an unreasonable question.
"And is there any way we could discuss whatever it is elsewhere?" Yes, Petrov was calling on his henchgoons; they'd probably be pouring out of the building any second now. Clark sighed, picked Lex up and zipped them both back to Lex's apartment. Up close, the smell was worse, an enforced intimacy Clark hated.
When Lex was on his feet again, Clark stepped back and tried to keep his senses from overwhelming him. "We should do something for your hands," he said, because he didn't want Lex to play the sympathy card.
"No need," Lex said, holding them up for inspection: they were still dirty, but the scrapes were gone.
"I'm a meteor mutant," he said easily. "It's a not inconsiderable advantage in my job, though a bullet will still ruin my day."
Clark stared at him.
"And no, my father doesn't know, which is the only reason I'm not locked up in one of his labs. So maybe I had other reasons than altruism to seek out a powerful institution that could offer me some protection from him. I hope that you're not too disappointed in me."
Clark should have known that the baldness wasn't the end of it. Meteor mutation explained a lot, explained too much: from the apparently casual amorality (a flash on one of Chloe's graphs correlating meteor exposure with sociopathic tendences) to the powerful attraction (Lana, Desiree, poor lost Alicia).
He needed to know just what Lex was. "Is there anything you won't do for a mission?"
He watched as Lex consulted his inner moral compass, which Clark would have sworn spun as freely as if it were sitting on a magnet.
"I wouldn't have anything to do with my father," Lex said at last. "But that's just because it would inevitably go bad and fail to accomplish the mission objective. You might not think that counts."
For some reason, Lex's considered response infuriated Clark. He wasn't sure what he'd hoped to hear, but he knew he hadn't liked the answer.
"So you'd kill."
Lex nodded slowly. "I have."
Lex's mouth twitched. "Not by my standards. Probably not even by yours."
"You'd lie, you'd steal, you'd betray a trust—"
"What is this about, Kal?" Lex looked up at him through fair lashes, a scrim hiding the truth from him.
"You'd seduce—that girl, she's not responsible for what her father does—"
"I really don't think fucking me was a hardship," Lex protested. Clark's hands clenched into fists, which he hid by crossing his arms over his chest.
"But you didn't want her. You just wanted inside that building. You used your body like a—a—"
"Prostitute?" Lex suggested, shrugging. "People sell their skills every day. I use mine for the greater good of the country. That girl had a price for letting me into her father's place, and I paid it."
Clark's mouth moved without any involvement from his brain. "What if that was my price?"
Lex blinked at him as he wished, desperately, for a convenient tsunami to take him away from the appalling thing he'd just said. He should say something, explain—but how could he?
He stood there, gaping like a fish, until Lex shook his head fractionally, stepped forward so that he was an arm's length away, then dropped to his knees.
And now coherent thought was out of the question, since lightning bolts plus Kryptonite had nothing on Lex Luthor, on his knees inches away from Clark's cock.
"I would never want you to be displeased with our arrangement," Lex said as Clark's brain did an excellent imitation of a virus- and spyware-laden PC, refusing to respond to any commands. "After all," Lex continued, indulging in his regrettable penchant for talking too damn much, "it's in my interest to keep you completely satisfied."
Then he put his hand on Clark's crotch, and complete mental breakdown arrived.
When perception returned, Clark was stretched out on Lex's couch and Lex was pressed against him from chest to thigh. Terminal embarrassment would have been logical, but Clark didn't have time for that. Lex was whispering in his ear, and it sounded important.
"You're going to have to help me with the costume. I don't know how to get you out of it." He shifted off Clark, going to his knees beside the couch, giving Clark some room to move.
Eventually, Clark processed this information. He would have ripped the fabric apart if only the damn AI hadn't made the uniform as near to indestructible as Kryptonian technology could get. His body felt like it was immersed in a solar flare, photons exploding against his skin like meteors in atmosphere. Desperately, he fumbled with the belt, pushing the uniform off his hips, unembarrassed when his cock sprang free only because he lacked the emotional capacity for anything but arousal at the moment.
Lex's hand touched his waist first, the cool of his skin a shock in contrast to the inferno of Clark's own body. Clark groaned as Lex dragged fingers and palm across Clark's skin, picking up traces of Clark's sweat as he went. Lex had raised himself away from Clark, enough so that Clark could watch Lex watching himself touch Clark. Lex's face was smooth, unrevealing. He could have been reviewing a briefing book instead of moving his fingers through Clark's pubic hair and around the base of his cock.
Clark's mouth fell open. His eyes wanted to droop closed, but the rest of him was too interested in watching what was happening. Lex's hand moved slowly up, almost experimentally, his eyes narrowing with interest as he reached the foreskin and watched it stretch and wrinkle under his touch. Clark clenched his fists and fought the heat vision for the first time in years.
It felt as if he was breathing in time with his heartbeat, helpless pants. Lex swiped the pad of his thumb over the red, leaking cockhead; Clark ground his teeth. He had a brief flash of how he must look—tomato-faced, chest heaving, helpless.
Swift as a hawk taking a rabbit, Lex bent and sucked Clark into his mouth. The lightning-strike of sensation made Clark groan again. He couldn't see Lex's face from this angle, only the top of his head. Lex's tongue dragged against him, pulling at his skin. Lex pulled back then took Clark deeper. Suction, contrasted then with the feel of Lex's fingers wrapped around the base of his cock. Lex's lips bumped up against his fingers; he pulled away just long enough to jack Clark once, wetting his hand, and then his mouth descended again.
All the blood in Clark's body was rushing away from his limbs.
He hadn't been with another person in—years, really. Clark Kent had never been any more willing to hook up with strangers than Superman, and once people got to know Clark Kent, or at least know his propensity for running off at inconvenient moments, they tended to lose the initial attraction. So college had been relatively lonely, and professional life had left him entirely without intimate contact.
Maybe that was why Lex's touch seemed to coat him like napalm, burning across his skin. He wanted Lex on him forever. They could fly to the Fortress—put a collar on Lex, chain him to one of the crystal pillars—he groaned out loud at the image.
Lex made a soft amused sound. Clark struggled to sit up, tearing at the top of the uniform, pulling it and the still-attached cape over his head and tossing it to the floor. Lex watched unblinkingly, his eyes traveling over Clark's torso as if he were evaluating the terrain for a possible mission even as his mouth continued to move. Clark pulled away so that he could get the tights and boots off.
Clark was naked, hard, vulnerable in every way but the physical. Lex was fully dressed—Lex was still working, Clark realized, doing his job no less than he'd done with that poor Russian girl.
He could damn well do more to serve his country. "Take off your clothes. I want to fuck you." It was amazing how much his hard-on helped those sentences come out without stammering.
Lex looked at Clark, face betraying none of the amusement he must have been feeling. He nodded once, rising gracefully from his crouch on the floor. His hand went to his tie, tugging it loose, then casting it aside—Clark had to wonder why he'd worn a tie to seduce a mafioso's daughter; he would have stood out like a pillar of fire in the kinds of clubs she was likely to frequent. But then Lex would stand out even in a McDonald's uniform flipping burgers—Clark's line of thought terminated abruptly when Lex, seeming to sense his distraction, quickly shed his shirt, the thick expensive fabric crumpling to the floor with far less grace and fluidity than the man who'd been wearing it.
Lex unbuckled his belt. Clark watched his hands move rather than stare at his chest, almost afraid of his own reaction. Sex—with another person—with a guy who thought he was supposed to be James Bond—okay, sure, plenty of people fantasized about Superman, but sexual prowess wasn't part of his skill set like Lex's.
Focusing on the hands helped—strong, long-fingered, veins on the back like an echo of the ones elsewhere on his body. Lex dropped his trousers and stepped out of them, naked now.
Clark tood a deep breath—smooth, flesh as perfect as God must have created Adam's—and smelled the sex from Lex's earlier dalliance.
Lex was opening his mouth to say something. Clark didn't want to know what kind of condescension his gape-jawed observation had provoked, and in any event he had other priorities. "In the shower."
Lex closed his mouth with no sign of pique. Clark found himself annoyed at Lex's ability to read him, and knew it was unfair. So now he was horny and guilty, and mad about that too. But it didn't matter so much once Lex turned around, the muscles of his ass and legs working as he walked away. Clark rose from the couch, kicking away the pieces of his uniform, and followed, caught as surely as a meteor in Earth's gravitational field.
By the time he entered the apartment-sized bathroom, Lex was already in the pebbled-glass shower stall, a pale blur behind the blued glass. The sound of the water rushing down helped to push away Clark's disordered thoughts.
Clark pulled the door open and stepped inside, not crowding Lex because the space could have accommodated a football team (and possibly had, he thought before clamping down on speculation). The wall tiles were cobalt, like an ocean's dream of itself. The water was warm, shading towards hot. Lex was holding a bottle of something amber in one hand and a sort of scrub brush with a sponge on the end in the other. He squeezed a dollop of gel, the musky scent rising immediately, onto the sponge and held it up. "Shall I wash your back?"
It would never have occurred to Clark, but the suggestion sounded good. He nodded and turned around.
He'd forgotten what it was like to be touched so erotically by another person. Like they had all the time in the world, like he was something worth exploring slowly. The sponge was soft and scratchy by turns, stimulating every nerve it passed over, tracing the muscles of his back, then his arms, up to his neck and down to his thighs. There was a pause, the sponge clattered to the tile floor, and then Lex was using his hands, slick with gel, massaging the backs of Clark's legs as he knelt behind him.
The humid air filled Clark's lungs, heavy and lulling. He was still aroused almost to the point of pain, but it didn't matter. The water sheeted down, the huge showerhead diffusing the spray so it was almost like being caught in a summer storm. Lex's hands were warmer than the water, moving against the flow, making Clark's legs tremble as he braced his hands and forearms against the slick warm glass of the shower wall.
At last, Lex's hands slowed until he was simply gripping the backs of Clark's thighs, rubbing his thumbs against the skin there, just grazing Clark's ass. Clark's splayed fingers squeaked against the glass as he struggled to control himself.
When his control snapped, he spun around, surprising Lex into sitting back on his heels. Lex was half-hard. The water coating him seemed to make him softer and smoother at once, pale and silken against the dark blue of the wall. His eyes were open and unblinking despite the flow.
Slowly, Lex rose to his feet, his eyes never leaving Clark's. He gestured at the shower gel in invitation.
Clark lost pieces of the next few minutes, erased from his usually photographic memory—a cruel instance of sensory overload. The waterlogged air was a constant—then his fingers breaching Lex, whose shoulders tensed and relaxed. Muscles flexing in his back, runnels of water sliding down his skin at different rates as the slope changed. He watched the water touch Lex all over at once, feeling the same on his own skin. Lex spread his legs further, leaning forward, and Clark took this as an offer impossible to refuse.
Sinking into Lex felt more like drowning than anything he'd ever experienced. His breath came shallowly, as if his lungs had shrunk. Lex flowed around him, drew him in, until Clark was pressed against him, his chest against Lex's back, skin squeaking as they pressed so close that the water couldn't come between them.
He was making noise, grunts that rose above the patter of the falling water, his mouth hanging open as if that would help. Lex was almost silent, breathing a little fast, shifting when Clark pulled him back, not quite balanced. Clark liked the feeling of holding Lex up, embedding himself inside Lex, showing off his strength. He moved faster, forcing an acknowledging sigh out of Lex, pushing him up on his toes.
Clark dropped his hands to Lex's hips, holding him in place. He could barely breathe, hot water and hot air and Lex's body driving out his own consciousness. Lex moved with each thrust, following him for once. Clark watched Lex's fingers slide over the wall tiles, clenching into fists as Clark moved faster.
He came like he was the million drops of water filling the air.
Eventually, Lex shut off the water, even though it was still warm, and Clark pulled away, sliding to the wet floor in exhaustion, back against the side wall. Lex paused, then turned and knelt down beside him, eyes roving from Clark's bent knees to his torso, up to his face. Lex's expression flickered from meaningless neutrality to concern. "How are you feeling?" he asked. Clark had the sense that Lex hadn't asked exactly the question on his mind.
"I'm good," he said, for lack of anything more accurate.
Thus began a golden period in Clark's life. He worked on his stories in between rescuing people from crime and disaster, sometimes helping out the government when the requests made sense to him. When he was tired and world-weary, he'd go to Lex's apartment. If Lex wasn't there already, he'd show up within fifteen minutes. A few times he called and left a message that he was on his way. Clark didn't mind waiting so much, once he knew Lex was coming. He'd climb into Lex's bed and nap, surrounded by the smell of Lex, exotic wood and leather. Lex would slide into bed behind him, already naked, and press his face into Clark's neck.
It was perfect, every moment of it, as long as Clark didn't think about why he had such access to Lex's apartment, his bed, his body. As long as Clark didn't think about what was going on in Lex's mind.
Smallville had been good training for that. People could ignore a lot more than you'd think.
After the first few weeks, Clark started buying groceries, filling the empty shelves in Lex's kitchen. That lasted a couple more weeks. Then Lex started using a delivery service to keep Clark's chosen foods in stock. "The least your government can do is feed you," he said, though Clark knew it was Lex's own money paying for it, and Lex probably made more in interest on his trust fund every day than his salary brought in. Clark didn't fight, because it really seemed to matter to Lex and because, truth be told, feeding himself on a Daily Planet salary was not the easiest thing, especially when he couldn't exactly afford the time to look for bargains. There wasn't much choice between coupon-clipping and tsunami relief.
Clark made the dinners, so that he was at least contributing. Lex said he liked everything, but that, Clark figured out, was another lie, so he stopped making turkey and learned how to cook more Asian dishes. Lex never commented, but after a while cookbooks started appearing next to the refrigerator.
They'd eat dinner and talk—current events, history, even popular culture.
Lex could have done the cooking, he insisted occasionally, because a good spy can do anything. Lex even claimed, not very plausibly in Clark's opinion, to have masqueraded as a waiter for over a week to carry out an assignment. When Clark asked what it was, Lex told him the mission was to get a key from a research scientist. Clark decided not to inquire further.
He asked, once, about Lionel.
"When I was in my second year at the Agency, my father called. He asked for a face-to-face meeting, and I agreed. When I arrived, he told me he knew who I really worked for, and he said he wanted my help. There was a congressman who'd been recalcitrant about some agricultural subsidies—it's true they weren't supposed to go to pesticide production, but my father never lets other people's intent get in his way. He wanted me to break in to the congressman's office and get certain files he believed would prove persuasive.
"I told him I'd sooner eat my own liver." Clark could imagine Lex's face—and Lionel's. "He'd been prepared for that, of course." Clark nodded; if Lex had been thinking, he hadn't even gotten up to leave, because that would give Lionel a victory just by saying something to make him stop. "He told me that the break-in would proceed whether I participated or not—and that, if I didn't, I'd be implicated in this and several other incidents of espionage, Lionel Luthor's disowned son attempting to get back in his father's good graces by using his newly acquired spy skills to steal information. I'd be destroyed, he'd still have the goods he needed to blackmail the congressman, and he'd be cleared. Wouldn't it be much easier to go along and do it right? Surely I didn't want to go to jail."
Lionel was proof that no one who used the word "surely" was making a logical argument, any more than someone who said "honestly" was telling the truth.
"I told him that he could expose me, he could send me to jail, he could have me flogged and branded with a scarlet letter, but I wasn't going to help him. I wished him luck with his new heir and I left."
"What did he do?" Given that Lex was neither publicly known as an agent nor in prison, Lionel had stayed his hand, but Clark didn't find that reassuring at all.
Lex looked away. "I don't know. The break-in happened, I think—LuthorCorp got the subsidies. He's just keeping his threat in abeyance." Clark looked at him closely. Lex's breathing was slow and controlled—too even to be natural. His eyes were the thin blue of a distant horizon. "He's going to betray me someday, when he thinks some goal is valuable enough to justify the cost. If I survive, he'll think I'm worthy of further attention. If I fail and get myself killed, he'll think he didn't lose anything important. I can't control what he does. I can only be ready."
Not too long after that, Clark accidentally confessed everything to Lois.
Well, not accidentally—he'd been carrying it around on his own too long, and he'd desperately wanted to tell someone that Clark Kent was getting laid on a regular basis (even if it wasn't on his own merits), but his mom was out for obvious reasons and Chloe for less obvious but equally compelling ones.
And he didn't exactly confess; Lois sat on his desk and threw one long, black-stockinged leg out to block his way past her, refusing to budge until he told her why he'd gone from mopey to dopey.
And, in fact, he didn't tell her everything, because he wasn't stupid and Lex's secrets weren't his to confide. But Lex's name alone was enough to send her into conniptions.
It took two hours just to get her to realize that, (a) this was society-page news, and she had contempt for society-page news; (b) disclosure would mean Perry would feel obligated to take him off the roughly forty percent of local stories that were LuthorCorp-related in one way or another, and that meant that Lois would have to come off those stories too; and (c) disclosure would also ruin Clark's life, as the cameras all swiveled in his direction. He was pretty sure that she didn't care about (c), at least not without the added weight of (a) and (b), but she was, in her crazy way, highly loyal, and a bonus was that she began to make excuses for him when he needed to run out, though he tried not to abuse the privilege.
And once that was settled, with Lois prodding him periodically for details, it was easy to convince himself that he and Lex really were together.
That was how he forgot himself over sushi (he'd been too tired to cook, and Lex had dived for the phone with an enthusiasm that would have insulted him if he'd had the energy) and told the story of how he'd discovered his heat vision, complete with names. Lex had been listening intently—but he always listened intently—and Clark didn't realize what he'd done until he was saying, "—and so she's still ..."
Lex raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Um," Clark said.
"I was wondering when you'd notice," Lex said. "Don't worry about it, Clark."
He got up, knocking over his empty beer bottle. It fell to the floor and rolled out of his line of sight.
Lex looked down, then met his eyes. "I've known for a long time. You probably should have gone further from home than Metropolis."
Clark's heart flipped in his chest like a pulsar. "Does this mean—is Homeland Security watching my mom?"
Lex shook his head slowly. "I've known. But I have an advantage that most people don't. I know what Smallville is. I've told no one. Secrets like this are hard to keep."
"Secrets like this get people killed," Clark told him, remembering.
Lex only nodded, then took him to bed. Lex didn't do much initiating (another thing Clark didn't like to think about, so didn't). More than surprise, what Clark felt was relief.
Often after that, Clark would tell stories about his youthful adventures in Smallville. Lex liked the story of Eric Summers best; he said that hearing about how Clark lost and regained his powers in the space of a few days was evidence of a greater destiny at work: lightning struck. But then Clark made it strike twice. (Clark always said that a generator wasn't lightning, but Lex said that wasn't the point; Clark had wrested power from the meteor rocks, and that was what mattered.)
Sometimes Lex would tell him spy stories. Clark suspected Lex of severe exaggeration, though he bet that Lex thought the same thing, even though Clark was telling the absolute truth.
Lex carried out every mission given him with a fanatic's dedication. After a while, Clark came to the conclusion that Lex didn't trust himself not to become his father. Following orders—serving a greater good—was the only thing that let him believe in his own worth. Lacking faith in an ethical code of his own, he'd attached himself to an entity that promised to do the moral calculus for him.
It seemed to be working.
Clark did the occasional surveillance job, but in fact the government asked very little of him. Lex said it was because they couldn't figure out how to use him. "You're not very covert," he pointed out when Clark asked. "You show up on radar and you cut a pretty noticeable figure in a crowd. You're like a nuclear weapon that gets followed by paparazzi."
"So why approach me in the first place?" Clark wondered, propping himself up on one elbow.
Lex patted his shoulder. "A combination of optimism and fear that someone else would recruit you."
At least he could fly Lex in and out of jobs, which at a minimum cut down on the amount of time Lex had to be out of Metropolis. And sometimes he hung around just to watch Lex work, which was nervewracking at times but usually entertaining, if only to look at the various wigs Lex used. Frankly, Clark thought he used the disguises more to entertain himself than for any other reason—and the times he dressed up as a woman were definitely just for kicks—but it was still highly watchable.
After the first two times he swooped in to get Lex out of what appeared to him to be immediate and life-threatening danger, he decided that it wasn't worth risking Lex's fury unless he could identify a particular bullet that was about to hit. Lex could sulk like nobody's business, and somehow he could intersperse that with lectures about Clark exposing Lex as a government agent, as if that were really what he worried about.
When Clark lost his powers for two days due to the Ultra-Humanite's latest zap ray, Lex turned grim and unspeaking, running tests on him until they'd figured it out and Clark had returned the big gorilla to his not-high-enough-security prison, smashing the alien artifact at the heart of the ray to its component atoms in the process. "Why do you have all this equipment, anyway?" Clark asked him, afterwards, looking around the lab that ostensibly was part of an FDA field office.
Lex shrugged. "I'm supposed to gather any information on your powers, your limits, your vulnerabilities."
Clark stopped, staring at a gleaming chrome centrifuge. The autoclave let out a hiss, as if to punctuate the moment. "What?"
"You and I are watched," Lex told him, as if reminding him.
"But I—" Clark began, thinking of all the things he'd said—oh God, all the things they'd done—
Lex shook his head. "I've disabled all the monitoring at the apartment," he said. "My colleagues are natural voyeurs, and I respect that, but I had to insist on privacy."
"Didn't you get in trouble?" Clark moved away from him, looking at the stainless steel tables—wondering if they'd serve as dissecting tables in a pinch. He scanned the cabinets, looking for knives, and found three sets. His stomach turned.
"I provide a summary of our work-related discussions. I believe I've convinced the relevant people that it's much more important to keep the two of us comfortable than to watch our every activity."
People—unknown people—knew about him and Lex. He imagined asking Lex 'Why didn't you tell me?' and knew the response: What did you think I was doing?
Obviously he hadn't been thinking about it at all.
"So just how much about my—'vulnerabilities'—do they know?" He used the Superman voice, the one for miscreants.
Lex looked up at a corner of the room. Clark followed his gaze, switched his vision, and saw the camera. He picked Lex up and headed to the Fortress, heedless of the wind on Lex's exposed skin.
When he put Lex down in the center of the ice floor, Lex staggered a few steps away. His hands and face were red with windburn, but he'd heal fast; his face was blank with wonder.
Clark didn't want him wondering. "What have you told them?" he demanded.
Lex turned back towards him. "They know there's something that makes you vulnerable. Your fights with my father have made that clear enough. I've told them you don't trust me enough to reveal what exactly it is, but that I believe it's some sort of exotic particle. I'm working on something plausible but misleading, but it's not simple—our government has devoted significant resources to the problem. Eventually, they'll give my father what he wants in return for his information."
Now Clark wanted to sit down and process the shock, but Kryptonian design wasn't big on comfortable seating.
He couldn't make sense of it. His own government, trying to find a way to hurt him. "But you gave me those enhancements for my suit, to resist Kryptonite."
Lex took a step towards him, then read his face and moved back. "That was ... extracurricular. I really don't like my father."
Clark couldn't look at him. Didn't want to see his own stupidity reflected back from Lex's calm eyes.
"I never lied to you," Lex said, almost pleadingly.
It was as good as permission. "You didn't tell me!" He was yelling. "You let me—you pretended that we—that it meant something!"
"You told me your price and I paid it," Lex said. His voice was even, smooth like marble, but there was a vein of something molten running through it. "I could be charged with treason for what I've hidden for you—I've already been accused of being my father's catspaw—so please don't presume to play the victim with me."
Clark rubbed his hands over his face, feeling too exposed in his costume. He wanted Clark Kent's suit and glasses; he wanted to disappear into the crowds on the streets of Metropolis. "What's in your reports?" he whispered.
"Just what I said," Lex told him. He heard the sound of expensive leather on dull ice as Lex came closer. "Nothing personal."
And there was an appropriate epitaph for this disaster. Clark looked up, hardening his face into Superman's. "I'm taking you back," he said. "I want to see everything you've passed on."
He didn't wait for Lex's acquiescence, just scooped him up and flew, faster than thought, back to Metropolis.
He left Lex at his apartment with instructions to call when his reports were ready, and headed out to fight crime and ignore his problems. He zipped around the world for nearly forty-eight hours, stopping only to call in a few stories for Perry, until he was tired enough that he could sit down without wanting to fly out of his own skin.
Lex still hadn't called. If Clark had been stronger, he would have stayed away. But he couldn't help himself, so he touched down on Lex's balcony—a familiar habit, now painful—and looked in.
Lex wasn't there. Instead, there was a DVD on his coffee table, labeled "For Superman."
Clark hurried in. He put the disc in the player, fumbled at high speed to figure out the nuclear-reactor-complicated remote, and played it.
Lionel Luthor's face filled the screen, larger than life and four times as ugly, snarling enough to make Clark lean back reflexively. "Hello, Superman," he said jovially. "I have something for you to look at."
The camera panned down to the floor. At first Clark wasn't sure it was Lex—the face was almost unrecognizable, covered in blood, eyes swollen most of the way shut, nose plainly broken—but then he moved and Clark saw a flash of blue eyes in the midst of red. The homicidal intent there was as individual as DNA.
There was a crunch as the remote disintegrated in his hand.
"My men didn't mean to do so much damage, not yet anyway," Lionel continued, offscreen. "But you know Lex. He just won't—stay—down," punctuated by kicks that made Lex jerk. Clark could see bare, bruised and scratched shoulders, but nothing more.
"I told his employers that my foolish son had thrown in with you. He was always weak, you know, subject to emotional appeals over duty. They held out hope for him for a long time, but it's recently become clear that his loyalties are, at best, divided.
"So this is what is going to happen. You're going to come here, to Plant 3 in Smallville, where we can talk in comfort and privacy about what you can do for LuthorCorp." He didn't bother to make any promises about Lex. On the floor, Lex was shaking his head, not to clear it but in violent negation. The mushy sounds out of his mouth were incomprehensible, but Clark understood them well enough: Don't.
In the corners of the frame, where Lex's body and the spatters of blood didn't obscure the view, Clark could see dark green lumps. The enhancements Lex had created for his suit couldn't protect him against a large amount of Kryptonite, only slightly delay the collapse.
He'd have to hope that would be enough.
Right as he was about to launch himself into the sky, his head cleared and he stopped moving.
What if this was a trap? Well, obviously it was a trap, but what if Lex was willing bait? What if Lex had told them about their fight, and the higher-ups had decided that Clark was no longer controllable?
If Lex had ever told him the truth, it was that he hated and distrusted his father. Lionel's own blood was his testimony.
No, Lex hadn't endorsed this move.
And that meant that Lex needed him. Everything else could be worked out later—if there was a later.
He flew back to Smallville, looking at the land below him as if for the first time. He'd only ever wanted to help people, to make his parents proud, to make all the loss he'd brought to Earth mean something. Affairs of state had never interested him. But Lex was right: the world made its own demands.
Too quickly, not quickly enough, he arrived at Plant 3.
Though Clark paused to scan before he went in, he didn't get much useful information. Underground, the building was lead-lined—that was new since high school. There were a number of armed guards around the perimeter. He zipped through and stood outside the door to the lower level, looking into the camera placed there.
He didn't wait long. The man who opened the door waved Clark down the stairs with his gun. Clark didn't feel the sting of Kryptonite just yet, so the man following behind him didn't make him nervous.
The door that swung open, buffeting him with the familiar green pain, was another story.
Gritting his teeth, he stepped forward.
Kryptonite was embedded in the walls and the floor, scattered all around. Green light flared as he approached. He was not quite stumbling yet. Before his powers failed, he scanned Lex's naked body, which was lying like a bundle of sticks near the middle of the room. Lex was breathing shallowly; there was internal bleeding. He needed treatment or even his system was going to be overwhelmed.
Clark was having problems of his own. He struggled to stay upright, to stay in control.
There was one chair in the room, one with straps and buckles and other dangerous things. A nearby table, covered with implements, testified to what had been done to Lex and what might very well be about to happen to him. A generator hummed quietly just past Lex's still form.
"Superman," Lionel said, his voice full of satisfaction. "How nice of you to join us."
"Why are you doing this?" he asked, thankful that his voice wasn't yet wavering, though it was coming soon. "He's your son." He took a shuffling step towards the chair, bracing one hand on its back.
"He's weak." Lionel stepped closer, not within reach yet, still wary.
The Kryptonite was working on him. When he looked down, his hands were green-veined, monstrous.
"I expect that we'll lobotomize you—it shouldn't be that hard, with these rocks here, and you never did strike me as all that bright in the first place—and then learn whatever we can from your body." Now Lionel reached out, pushing Clark's shoulder. He lost his grip on the chair, and when Lionel pushed again, he fell to the floor.
He closed his eyes and tried to gather his strength. It was clear that he was only going to get one shot at this. He could hear others entering the room—the butchers Lionel planned to use on him, no doubt. The Kryptonite was choking his veins, cramps in every muscle, bright green balls of pain hitting him just like the meteors striking the earth so many years ago.
A new pain, sharper, against his wrist. He turned his head and saw that Lex had managed to grab him—but there was something rough and painful in Lex's palm.
Kryptonite, he realized, just as he looked beyond Lex's hand on his wrist and saw Lex's other hand doing something to the generator.
Lightning, a seizure, like staring at the sun, like how it used to feel when, as a kid, he'd hang with his head off the bed until getting up made the world spin as the blood rushed back.
The only light in the room was from the Kryptonite.
But he wasn't feeling any pain. Lex had—Lex had recreated the incident Clark had told him about, with Eric Summers, and now Clark was just a human.
He jumped up, while Lionel and the others were still cursing and trying to figure out what happened, and punched Lionel in the head. He went down, and Clark followed him, slamming his head into the floor repeatedly, until emergency lights flickered.
Clark looked up. The others had fled, apparently unaware that Superman's sudden recovery was due to his extrahuman powers being gone. The lead-lined door was closed.
He ran to Lex's side. Underneath the blood, he could see Lex's skin pulsing with Kryptonite poisoning. He'd been in bad shape before he'd taken on Clark's vulnerability, and he didn't have Clark's insulated suit for even partial protection. "Lex," he said. "Lex, hang on."
Lex blinked up at him and smiled through his destroyed mouth. "'ood job," he said. "Knew you—" His eyes fluttered closed.
The door was locked. Clark pounded on it for about half a second before he thought to go to Lionel's silent body and find the gun Lionel carried as a last line of defense. He shot at the lock, and when that didn't work, he shot out the hinges and kicked the door until it fell over.
He left the gun with the other instruments of destruction, picked up Lex, and carried him out. The hirelings from before had apparently decided that discretion was the sum total of valor in this particular instance, and he went unmolested.
Lex was limp, more like a roll of burlap than a living being in his arms. Distance from the Kryptonite made the black-green veins fade a bit, but they didn't go away.
Outside, just beyond the fence that circled the plant, it was a beautiful spring day, trees and flowers and singing birds. Clark looked at it all, the meaningless beauty, and staggered to a patch of grass where he could spread Lex's body out for the solar rays.
"I know you wanted to know what it was like to fly," he told Lex, needing to say something, "but this is going a little far even for you."
Lex didn't respond. When Clark put his fingers to Lex's wrist, he couldn't feel anything.
But that had to be fear numbing his fingers, and what did Clark know about taking a pulse anyway? He bent over Lex, trying to feel Lex's breath against his skin.
"Stop it," he said. "Lex, stop it right now." Even to himself, he didn't sound all that sane.
It had been years since he'd taken Red Cross training—he left that sort of thing to the doctors and paramedics to whom he brought rescuees. Shaking, he opened Lex's mouth and put his hands on Lex's chest, pushing as he breathed for Lex.
First he forgot his lack of strength and hardly pushed at all, then he overcompensated, leaning down on Lex like he was trying to pound a fencepost into the ground. Breath, breath, compression. It had to be fast, faster than once a second, he remembered, but it was so hard with these human hands and muscles.
Another breath, pinching Lex's nose closed, then back to the compressions.
His arms wouldn't cooperate, stupidly exhausted from carrying Lex up and out and then these frantic efforts. Something was falling on Lex's face—he was crying, like a little kid, and now he couldn't even breathe for Lex, useless, helpless.
Superman could take revenge, though Superman never would. Clark Kent couldn't, but right now he wanted nothing more than to burn the whole building to ash, and then continue on to every man in a dark suit who had ever answered to Lionel Luthor.
With a choking cough, Lex spasmed under his hands, almost flinging him off. Clark panted in time with him, relieved beyond measure. He hurried to prop Lex up and support his neck as Lex drew deep shuddering breaths. The blackish veins began to recede, and while the blood didn't disappear, Clark was confident that Lex was healing as fast as Kryptonian strength would allow.
Lex blinked up at him.
"What were you thinking!" As Clark said it, he knew it wasn't the ideal reaction but nothing else came immediately to mind.
Lex coughed experimentally, then struggled to sit, pushing Clark gently away. "Believe me, no one's more surprised than I am that it actually worked." He paused, turned his head, and spat out what Clark identified as several bloody, broken teeth. "And for the record: Ouch."
Clark had to laugh. He knew intimately how uncomfortable the rapid healing could be, though it was a darn sight better than the alternative.
"We need to get that Kryptonite out of the facility before my father reclaims it for another attempt," Lex said, then looked down at his nudity. "Clark, could I impose on you for the loan of your cape?"
Clark fumbled with the clasps holding the cape to the rest of the uniform. "Here."
Lex, who seemed to be recovering his equanimity along with his health, quickly fashioned himself something like a toga from the fire engine-red material.
One second he was standing up, settling the folds of the cape around himself, the next he was over by the now-deserted LuthorCorp building. Clark wondered briefly whether he was as annoying when he used his powers to get ahead, then decided that would be impossible. He hurried over to join Lex.
"They'll probably return as soon as they get a strike team together," Lex said. "Can you get the Kryptonite out of that room?"
Clark gave it some thought. "I'll need a pry bar and a lead box for you to carry it in. The whole floor is lined with lead—you can make a box out of that."
Lex nodded, then squinted at the building and put his fist through the wall, looking like a man rummaging through a cubbyhole. When he pulled his arm back, he was holidng a length of ribbed metal that had been part of the building. As Clark watched, oddly charmed, Lex pinched the top to flatten it and bent it slightly, presenting him with a workable pry bar.
Clark headed back inside, trusting that Lex hadn't done any damage to the building's structural integrity. The emergency lights were still flickering. He realized that it had been only minutes since Lex had taken his powers. Lex was adjusting well, he thought, then tried not to think about it as he trotted down the stairs.
Lionel was gone, doubtless through some bolthole. He ignored that problem for now.
Fighting monsters and natural disasters was often hard work, but it rarely required backache-inducing labor. Clark had rebuilt buildings and the like, but he'd always avoided pain from the repetitive, grinding motion required to dig chunks of rock out of concrete floors. For all that he occasionally longed for human frailty, he preferred to imagine it in a reporter's life, not a construction worker's. At least the bits in the walls were just embedded in plaster.
It was strange to handle Kryptonite without being sick. Up close, it was sort of pretty, black-tinged green faceted like quartz. The fragmented surfaces, smoothness interrupted by sharp corners, gleamed until he smudged them with his dusty fingers. He wondered if this body were capable of meteor mutation. They were cool in his hands, cool when he piled them in the center of the room. Such little things. It was hard to believe that they'd done so much damage, harder still to see past that to the fragments of a dead world.
He'd spent the last twelve years of his life trying to make up for all the harm his fellow travelers had done, first in Smallville and then expanding his range, saving people to atone for all the people he hadn't. Now, human again, understanding what had happened as he hadn't when Eric Summers had accidentally stolen his powers, he had the luxury of imagining what it would be like to stop. Just stop. Save the world the way everybody else had to, one small step at a time.
Then he thought about never flying again, and the prospect seemed less appealing.
At last all the Kryptonite was gathered. There was still dust and a few chips embedded in the floors, but it was the best he was going to do without specialized equipment. He went back into the hallway and found a large, makeshift lead box with thick seams still warm from heat vision. An extra piece waited a few feet away, propped against the stairs, to cap the box when he finished. Lex, observant as usual, had made the box so closely sized to the Kryptonite that Clark actually had to shove it in at the end. When he was done, he hauled the slab of lead over and, with the last of his strength, managed to plunk it down mostly on top of the box.
Lex came down the stairs at his yell and made Clark go upstairs—as lookout, he said; he'd had to set a couple of trees on fire to deter approaching snipers, so Clark had to make sure they weren't being approached again. Clark knew it was more to keep him from being struck by molten lead. Then they had to wait, because Lex couldn't figure out the freezing breath for a while (it was definitely one of the less explicable powers), so the warm lead wasn't set enough to move, and he also had to keep darting upstairs to scan around with broad-spectrum vision.
"It's cooled," Lex said at last, after prodding the box for what seemed like the fiftieth time.
"I'll get out of here—I can hitch a ride—and you take the Kryptonite somewhere safe."
Lex shook his head. "Did you notice you're dressed like Superman? Sit on top of the box and hang on."
Clark had a bad feeling about this endeavor, but he complied, sitting cross-legged on the uneven lead and gripping the still-slightly-warm seams on the sides for a measure of stability.
Lex picked him up and, after some stomach-jangling lurches, they flew.
Clark told himself he didn't feel inadequate just because Lex was using his powers less than an hour after acquiring them. He remembered how long it had taken him to get the heat vision under control, and the flying hadn't been consistent for—he gulped and tried not to think about it even as his fingers tightened on the box.
He couldn't see Lex's eyes, but the tight set of his jaw suggested that he was worried about his ability to sustain the performance too. Lex was flying steadily but without much grace, the box held in front of him so Clark was elevated.
By the time they got to the farmhouse, they were both exhausted, but Lex insisted on opening the box to get some Kryptonite and then splicing the power line to switch them back right away. "To avoid unnecessary temptation," he said, and Clark didn't argue, though he guessed that Lex had no thought that the temptation might be other than one-sided.
At least his mother was off visiting friends. Clark hadn't the slightest idea how he was going to explain Lex to her, especially when Lex was just wearing his cape.
After a sufficient time to recover (and raid the refrigerator for pie), Clark flew them back to Metropolis, to Clark's underused apartment. Lex left from there, and Clark didn't ask where he was going.
Lex came into the newsroom two days later. Nobody dared to stop him on the way in, though Lois rose from her desk and started peppering him with questions, even physically interposing herself between him and Clark's desk.
She looked pretty surprised when Clark was the one to move her out of the way. Maybe he shouldn't have picked her up.
Clark and Lex stared at each other. Lex had never come to see him as Clark Kent—maybe a friendship between them could have been explained, but Lex had never been inclined to try, not with his father still monitoring every move.
"We'll be in the conference room," Clark said hastily, and dragged Lex away while Lois was still sputtering.
"My father did what he did with the full knowledge and consent of the government," Lex said grimly as soon as the door closed.
Clark sagged into a chair. He'd suspected, but it was harder to hear it said as fact.
"They fear your independence. From their perspective, you don't just have superpowers. You are a superpower, and one operating right in the middle of the homeland."
Lex held his hand up. "Don't tell me."
"What am I going to do?" He had been raised to be a patriot. Even now, he was sure it was just a matter of explaining things to the right people—but how to find the right people?
Lex sat down next to Clark, looking grim. "I have a few scenarios. In the short term, we need—"
"We?" Clark asked, bleakly. Lex had resisted his father because Lionel was evil, but now that he knew the source of the decision, it was back to duty for him. Clark couldn't expect—
"I have the greatest respect for your abilities, Clark, but devious plotting is really something you should outsource, don't you think?"
Lex looked up at him, confused.
"Why would you help me?"
Lex opened and closed his mouth. "Their plan is a mistake—"
"You don't question orders. Not when they don't give you the leeway to question."
"How do you feel about me?"
Lex looked at him as if he were speaking Kryptonian. "What does that have to do with anything?"
Lex probably had a better working knowledge of Kryptonian than of his own emotional landscape. Suddenly, a lot of things were making sense, and for once the surprises were pretty good ones. "Do you like me?"
"I really don't see what that—" Lex leaned back, not looking at Clark's face.
"Just answer me and we can get back to the devious plotting."
Lex sighed and folded his hands on the conference table. "Clark," he said, "everyone likes you. You're likeable."
Clark shook his head and leaned in closer. "Everyone else likes Superman. You think that power corrupts but you still trust me.
"But I thought I was just a job for you."
Lex did look at him now, startled. "Your ego is really quite disproportionate to your attributes, you know."
He refused to be deflected. "I wanted you to want me, Clark Kent, whether or not I had superpowers."
Lex shook his head, plainly befuddled. "But you do. It's part of who you are—whatever the physical separability, the psychological—"
"What would you do if I lost them for good?"
Lex's expression turned fierce. "I'd lock you up so you wouldn't run off and get yourself killed."
Clark nodded. "See, I didn't know that. I thought you'd give me a handshake and send me on my way."
Lex still seemed angry, and not a little confused. Clark decided to savor it—subtly, though. Anyway, he wasn't entirely sure how to proceed. Lex wasn't a flowers and chocolates guy—at least not unless the flowers were bound with concertina wire and the chocolates poisoned.
"What is this all about?"
"It's about you being more than just a spy, a tool, something people can use. It's about you being mine and me being yours. The sooner you admit that, the faster we can concentrate on the stuff that isn't certain, like how the heck we're going to get the government off our backs."
This appeal to reason—Lex-reason, anyway—had the intended effect. Lex shut up and thought. Clark could see his eyes moving rapidly under closed lids. The subject of happily ever after was far from settled, but he'd at least put the facts out there for Lex.
"For the sake of argument," Lex said, "I'll accept that. I need a place to work, now that I've lost my official privileges."
Clark smiled, his heart soaring. "How would you like to take a vacation up north?"