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Ham for the Holidays

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DEC. 23

Lex was all smiles when Bruce joined him for breakfast. The staff had set out a small buffet of bacon, eggs, and toast; Bruce set about filling a plate for himself, surprisingly hungry.

"What's up, Lex?"

It was good to see Lex looking happy, but given the week they'd been having, it was unexpected. Maybe Clark was around somewhere. Or maybe Lionel wasn't.

"I have high hopes for today." Lex poured two glasses of juice. "So far we haven't been caught in bed together, in the shower, or any other compromising position by Clark or anyone else."

"The day's still young." Bruce raised his glass in a mock toast and snared a piece of bacon off Lex's plate.

"Lex?" Clark's voice could be heard from the kitchen.

"Brave boy," Bruce muttered. "I would've thought he'd have sworn off dropping by unannounced."

"Who said he's unannounced?" Lex asked coyly.

The door to the kitchen swung open to reveal six feet plus of fresh-faced exuberance. Clark ducked down for a quick kiss, blushing all the while. Bruce could certainly see the attraction in Clark--young and enthusiastic, not tainted by the world yet. Maybe Lex had a point about seeing a younger guy. It was something he'd have to consider when he got back to Gotham. It'd been a long time since he'd had a relationship, and he couldn't rely on Lex to be there every time he needed someone to lean on. It wouldn't hurt to have someone a little closer to home, even if only as a friend.

"Hey, Bruce." Clark snagged a piece of bacon off Lex's plate as he sank into a chair, ignoring Lex's glare.

"I guess your allergy doesn't include bacon?" Bruce couldn't resist.

Clark froze. Blank stare. Sometimes the boy was as dense as a lead-lined box. "Your pig allergy? Bacon is made from ... oh, never mind."

Clark looked like he might get sick. The kid was turning positively green, staring at the bacon as if it might attack him at any moment. Bruce knew Smallville was weird, but he'd never seen that level of fear directed towards breakfast food before.

"You didn't." Clark was holding the meat away from him.

"Butcher the green mutant pigs and make them into bacon? Alas, I left my do-it-yourself abattoir kit at home last time."

Bruce felt a faint tremor of heat blanket his skin, and he could've sworn Clark's eyes were the slightest bit orange. Just for a moment. Must've been a trick of the morning light. Bruce wasn't really prepared to think about what else it might be.

"I make it a practice never to eat anything that glows, Clark." Bruce popped the last of the bacon into his mouth and chewed. "Green or otherwise."

***

Bruce had to admit in spite of the craziness that seemed inherent in Smallville--Gotham was almost normal by comparison--he was more relaxed than he'd been in a long time. There was something about being around Lex again that made him feel at ease, and even if their relationship was never meant to be more than an unusually close friendship, he could live with that.

He heard a knock at the door to the bedroom, half a second before Lex popped his head in.

"Did you get a hold of Alfred?"

"Yeah, everything's fine. Apparently Gotham's been quiet."

"See? Even heroes deserve some time off."

"I'm not a--"

"Oh, don't try to deny it. I know exactly what you are." Lex sat on the edge of the bed. "So, are you ready for a ride? I think Brutus is anxious to get out of the stables."

Bruce adored the black stallion. Temperamental and powerful, it was like riding a tornado. He and Lex had both ridden at school when they were kids, but the Waynes had never kept horses, and Bruce was beginning to think he'd missed out on something. Maybe when he got back to Gotham he'd look into getting a horse. And a boyfriend. Bruce suspected finding a horse would be easier.

"I'll take your grin as a yes," Lex said, getting up to go.

"Wait a sec." Bruce sat up and reached for the book on the bedside table, withdrawing a cream-coloured envelope from between its pages. He leaned across the bed and handed it to Lex.

"What's this?"

"Consider it an early Christmas present."

Bruce took a deep breath and leaned against the headboard. This was either going to go well or profoundly badly, and no matter what happened there were going to be consequences for all of them, especially with Lionel involved. After last night's run-in with Lionel at the Christmas party, Bruce wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing at all, but it was too late to go back. This had been set in motion months ago.

Lex came around to sit beside him, seeming to know that something important was about to happen. Lex had always had good instincts. He slit the envelope with the edge of his finger and extracted the papers within. Blue eyes darted rapidly across the pages.

"What did you do? And when?" Lex's tone was expressionless, and Bruce was beginning to wonder if he'd made a terrible mistake. He put on his best business face and tried to explain.

"It was a good business decision," Bruce started, but he'd barely gotten the words out when he had a lapful of Lex. Arms were around him, hugging him tightly, and Bruce felt the tension leave his body as Lex's squeezed him joyfully.

"What the hell were you thinking?" Lex asked, leaning back and giving Bruce room to breathe. He stared at the sheaf of pages in his hand as if they held the secrets of the universe. "How did you know?"

"When your father started pressuring you to go back to Metropolis, I started doing some checking. This seemed like the natural thing to do when you set-up LexCorp."

Lex waved the stock certificate in the air. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Bruce shrugged. "There was no need to. You had your hands full with running the company and dealing with your father. This was more of a contingency plan than anything else."

"Bruce, you call a five million dollar investment in LexCorp a contingency plan?" Lex settled back on his haunches but didn't vacate Bruce's lap. "And how the hell did you acquire a five percent share in LuthorCorp without my father noticing?"

Bruce grew serious. "Well, that's part of the problem, Lex. He's noticed. It's just that he hasn't been able to trace Dynamics back to me. Or you."

"Dynamics! I'd almost forgotten about that company. It's been so long since I've used it for anything. What were we--thirteen, fourteen--when we set that up? The dynamic duo, indeed."

They'd always figured it would be useful to have something private, separate from their family funds. Something they could use if they ever needed money to get away. It had been something of a safety net, a sliver of hope on the days when life felt like it was closing in around them. Then they would talk about running away to Thailand, surviving on what they'd managed to funnel into Dynamics until their trust funds kicked in. It had been a good dream, and some days it had been enough to keep them going.

"Lex, listen to me." It was important to get Lex down off his high and thinking. They were still in a lot of trouble, possibly more than they'd been in before. "Your dad suspects that Dynamics is linked to me. I played dumb, but I have no idea if he believed me or not. If he finds out I've given you this--"

"He'll try to destroy both of us."

"The five million should be enough to keep LexCorp going until you can pull together your other investors. But don't draw attention to it, for God's sake. And the shares in LuthorCorp will give you some breathing room even if Lionel does make a bid for a take-over. With the stock you already own, you won't be untouchable, but he'll have a lot harder time pushing you out."

"I don't know how to thank you for this," Lex said. He looked more than a little stunned. It wasn't a bad look--it was rare that Bruce got to see him truly speechless.

"You don't have to thank me, Lex. Just help me figure out how to keep Lionel from finding out."

"Is that why you wanted the Gotham plant closed?" Lex asked. "I saw the papers come in on the fax."

"The fewer eyes he has in Gotham, the better. I'll refit the plant and keep the staff and as much of the management as can be trusted. I'll need your input on that."

"Of course. If you asked for my first-born child right now, you could have it. I can't believe you did this."

Now it was Bruce's turn to grin. "Well, aside from the shares I've given you, I do have some of my own, you know. I started buying LuthorCorp stock shortly after I met you." Lex's raised eyebrow just made Bruce smile wider. "It was a good investment. And it couldn't hurt to have a little security if I ever needed it. I was rooming with a Luthor, after all."

Lex feigned a hurt look. "I didn't feel the need to buy shares in Wayne Enterprises."

"You were never as wise an investor," Bruce chided.

"Nor as paranoid."

"Anyway, the important thing is that Dynamics continues to operate as something independent of us. You have access to the shares and the capital, but you'll have to be careful how you use them. And when." Bruce gestured to the papers that Lex held. "The funds are at your disposal whenever you need."

"He'll know it was you," Lex said with ominous certainty.

Bruce closed his eyes. It was a huge risk, but there hadn't seemed like a lot of other options. He was Bruce Wayne, one of the richest men in the world, and besides that he was Batman. Why should he be afraid of Lionel Luthor? But the restless gnawing in his gut just wouldn't go away. Lionel could easily hurt Lex or the Kents or any one of a dozen people Bruce cared about--and he'd do it without a second thought.

"He asked me why I didn't just give you the money you need," Bruce said.

Lex shot him a curious look. "What'd you say?"

"I told him you wouldn't take money from friends."

"Well, that's not entirely true," Lex smirked.

"Yes, but he doesn't need to know that. It's called lying to save your ass."

Bruce slid off the bed, dislodging Lex. He didn't want to think about this anymore, didn't want to talk about it in the mansion where there were too many chances for Lionel to hear something, even though Bruce had checked and re-checked the place for bugs. Right now, all he wanted was to feel the wind in his hair, the pounding breath of Brutus beneath him.

"Let's go for that ride," Bruce said.

***

Lionel put the cell phone to his ear and waited for someone to pick up. He counted the rings as two horses cantered into his view, and then took off at a hard gallop across the estate.

Lionel had never known exactly what to make of Lex and Bruce. Their more recent relationship certainly appeared quite genuine, which was another unexpected twist. Lionel had really thought Lex was involved with the Kent boy, and as much as Lex liked to pretend he played the field, he was far more likely to be monogamous than most people thought.

"Poor boy just wants to be loved," Lionel said, and laughed. The jangling in his ear stopped abruptly.

"Mr. Luthor?"

"Finally. I want everything you have on Bruce Wayne, and I want it sent to me yesterday. Understood?"

"Of course, Mr. Luthor." He clicked the phone shut.

He knew Dynamics was Wayne's company. He knew it. He just couldn't prove it, and that was something. Even the most careful men made mistakes, left loose ends, but so far he hadn't been able to find one shred of evidence.

It was frustrating. And admirable. Bruce was as formidable an opponent as he was an ally. Lionel just couldn't trust him. Bruce cared too much about Lex, and ultimately his loyalty to Lex was going to make him an ineffective tool. Lionel suspected they were both playing the same game, walking a line between lies and truth that was as thin as a blade of grass.

But Lionel knew he had the advantage. He would do whatever it took to preserve his company, and his family name. Whatever it took. Bruce was going to learn that loving Lex could be a distinct disadvantage.

At least, Lionel thought absently, I don't have that problem.

***

Bruce rubbed a hand against Brutus's neck, the stallion shaking his long mane and tossing his head with a frosty snort. If only dealing with Lex was this simple. A well-placed hand, a gentle touch. Sometimes it seemed like that was all it had taken for Lex to trust him, but Bruce knew better. There'd been years of Lex never quite believing him, expecting every touch, every whisper to be a carefully planned lie. There were still times Lex couldn't seem to accept Bruce was in it for the duration. And now Bruce was going to open up something he knew Lex didn't want to deal with. He just hoped it didn't mean Lex would start erecting walls again. It wasn't something he wanted to deal with. Not now.

"Lex?"

"Yeah?"

"Lionel said you'd been digging up family secrets." Portia's head snapped up as Lex pulled hard on the reins. He relaxed his grip and patted the mare soothingly.

"And you believed him." Lex sounded nonplussed.

"I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just asking." The cool indifference of Lex's tone made Bruce cautious. The last thing he wanted was a fight.

"I have a few things I'm looking into."

Vague. Lex could've been talking about potential investments or where to go for dinner, and Bruce could feel the distance unfolding between them, the steady clop of hooves marking time. Lex was pulling away, subtle shifts in his body language as clear to Bruce as if he'd tossed a red flag into the streets of Pamplona.

Bruce reached across the space between them and caught the edge of Lex's shoulder with a gloved hand. Lex's blue eyes swung round to meet him, clear and cold and infinitely far away. Bruce understood why Lex conjured up images of winter when this was the only look most people saw. It was a warning. Bruce ignored it and gripped Lex's arm until he was sure he had Lex's full attention.

"Whatever you're doing, be careful. You're getting too close to something Lionel doesn't want you to find."

"He's paranoid," Lex tossed back casually.

"He's dangerous, and you should know that better than anyone."

Why was Lex being so damn stubborn? Didn't he remember what had happened two nights ago? The moment when Lex had stopped breathing, Bruce's world had come to an end. He'd never moved faster, sweeping Lex off the bed and into the white-tiled shower, cranking the metal taps until they pulsed with freezing water. Bruce had covered Lex's lips with his own, willed his own breath to fill Lex's lungs, over and over, until he'd gasped like an infant drawing its first breath. Maybe Lex didn't remember how that felt, but Bruce wasn't able to forget. It was another scenario to add to his long list of nightmares.

Lex shrugged off his touch with a quick click of his heels, his horse moving forward and away. Bruce fought the urge to tackle Lex into the snow and make him understand that he didn't have to be in danger every minute of his life. Bruce would come for him whether he needed saving or not.

"Bruce, I'm verifying a few facts. That's all. Nothing for anyone to be concerned about."

Bruce pushed Brutus through the thicker snow, bringing him alongside Lex again. "What are you looking into?"

The silence stretched between them like a winter shadow.

"Don't tell me if you don't want to," Bruce said, as if it didn't matter. They both knew it did. "Just promise me you'll be careful."

"I'm always careful," Lex said carelessly, breaking into a grin.

Watching Lex's back as he urged his horse into a canter, Bruce's heart sank with the grim certainty that Lex was about to do something reckless. And there wasn't a damn thing Bruce could do to stop it.

***

Bruce slid his finger along the leather-clad spine of the book in his lap. After realizing he'd read the same passage three times already, he gave up and closed it. He got up and stretched, feeling his muscles protest at the lack of recent exercise. He was used to a more physical life than this, and although the riding was filling a part of him he hadn't even known was empty, it wasn't the same as the adrenaline rush of leaping from a building, or hanging upside-down from a piece of wire eavesdropping on a crime cartel.

In Gotham, when night descended, he always felt the pull of the streets, the need to patrol, to stalk the alleyways and rooftops. It was a physical sensation, a visceral need like any other, as necessary as food or sex and far more satisfying most of the time. It was as if the setting of the sun pulled a silent switch inside of him, made him come alive in a way that he wasn't in the daylight. That pull had only grown stronger since he'd put on the suit. Since he'd taken the name, becoming what--if he was honest--he had always been. In the beginning, there just hadn't been a name for the person who emerged in the alley the night his parents were killed.

Unconsciously his hand went to his side, felt the edges of the scar beneath his shirt, aching in a way it never had except in his mind--even when he was curled in his dying mother's arms, even with his father's cold hand clutched in his, the ragged tear in his own small body slowly staining his white shirt red. He'd lain there for what seemed like hours. Unable to move, unable to breathe, the man's cruel laughter still shrieking in his head, rain making his clothes a soothing compress against his fevered skin. He remembered eyes in the night--red and unblinking, although he'd long suspected it was a trick of the fever. Then there was the flutter of wings in the alley as bats made their home in the walls of the old theatre. Yes, he remembered the comings and goings of bats, the leathery flap of wings as he had lain cold and shivering.

Dying.

Bruce turned, startled, as he felt a hand on his shoulder. Lex looked at him with genuine concern.

"I've never been able to sneak up on you. What's going on?"

Bruce just shook his head. Words had abandoned him, his mind still shivering in a bloody alley sixteen years ago. Lex slid a hand over Bruce's, the one he hadn't realized was clutching his scarred side, fingers wrapped tight in black silk.

"It's hurting, isn't it? Your side?"

Lex carefully moved Bruce's hand aside and lifted his shirt to trace the outline of the scar. Bruce didn't want Lex's tenderness right now. It just reminded him how weak he really was. He stepped away and straightened his clothes.

"I'm going up to the roof."

Bruce headed for the doorway without a glance backwards, leaving Lex standing alone and silent beside the stained glass window.

***

Lex ran his finger along the edge of the plain brown envelope again. It had come by courier, in between breakfast and Bruce's revelation about Dynamics. He wondered what it meant that his fate seemed tied to the contents of envelopes today. Stock certificates and police reports. Lex still couldn't quite believe Bruce would invest so much money in his future. Friendship was one thing, but business was another, and Bruce didn't make emotional decisions about business. He just didn't. That had been the first surprise of the morning.

Lex removed the papers from the envelope and looked at them again. The details contained in the package shouldn't have been a surprise. Lex had already drawn the basic conclusions, but it was different seeing everything there in black and white. He flipped through the photos of a blackened smoking rubble. Eyewitness reports claimed the explosion could be heard for miles, windows had shattered up to three blocks away. There was a clinical report full of phrases like "inconclusive results" and "unconfirmed evidence of accelerant" that reiterated what Lex had already known: Lionel's parents--Lex's grandparents--had perished in a tenement fire while their son had been at work. Lex knew nothing about them except their names.

Lionel's job at the printer's had turned out to be non-existent, and Lex suspected his father's part-time employment had left his hands stained with blood and heroine rather than ink and oil. Morgan Edge's name was there too, Metropolis's biggest crime lord and Lionel's oldest friend. At least according to long-buried juvenile files that it had taken Lex months and several thousand dollars to obtain. It was all there, and still he didn't really want to believe it. He'd known that Lionel had secrets--they all did--but now he understood why the Luthors had always had such large closets.

He closed the envelope and tossed it into the trash. There were other copies in his safe, with his lawyers, copies on their way to Bruce's estate in Gotham. He hadn't talked to him about it. Figured there would be time enough later, when he'd had time to process the fact that his father was a murderer.

Lex felt his chest tighten. His family was so fucked up. Lionel's crimes were calculated, cold, but his mother--God rest her misguided soul--was no less a murderer than her husband. Lex hadn't thought about Julian in a long time. No matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise, his mother was just as guilty. He'd been there. He'd seen it. Lex felt his breathing grow shallow, could almost feel the ghost of his childhood asthma clutching at his lungs.

And Lex was a murderer too. Roger Nixon. He hadn't thought about him in a long time either.

He considered dropping a match into the trash. It was the smart thing to do, but he couldn't be bothered. Everything would come out soon enough. Clark would find out, if for no other reason than Lex was going to make Lionel pay for every unscrupulous thing he'd ever done. He would make him pay for driving Lex's mother over the edge, for depriving him of a family who might've loved him.

And he would protect Clark at the same time. He'd done it before. In a wooded grove while Clark lay half-conscious on the ground and Jonathan struggled to keep a reporter from destroying their lives. Lex could've aimed for Roger Nixon's shoulder, his leg. There had been time to take aim, sight down the barrel of the gun and choose his target. He'd chosen not to take any chances with Clark's life. With his future.

Lex was an excellent shot.

Murder was in his genes, in his blood. What kind of a future could he possibly hope to have? Evil was his destiny, and every day he felt the darkness creep a little nearer, even with Clark's presence to help hold him in the light. He could feel himself slipping closer to the line. One day he would step over it, and no one--not Clark, not even Bruce--would be able to save him.

Or forgive him.

It was as inevitable as dying.

***

Lex was staring out the window when Clark arrived.

"Hey, Lex." Clark wrapped himself around Lex like a warm sweater. "Is your dad still here?"

"He's upstairs somewhere." Lex enjoyed the feel of Clark's arms around him, knowing they couldn't stay this way.

"And Bruce?"

"He's hanging around," Lex muttered, not entirely certain what Bruce's declaration that he was ‘going to the roof' was all about. If it had been him heading for the roof, Bruce would've been trailing behind him like an overprotective hound. Of course, Lex and rooftops had a colourful history, whereas Bruce just tended to throw himself off them for kicks. Maybe he was feeling restless. They had been cooped up together all week. Maybe it was time for a break.

Lex suddenly heard a scraping sound from above, metal on stone, the heavy thud of boots. If Lex had noticed, Clark had certainly heard it.

"What's that noise?"

"I think I might have bats."

Lex wondered what the hell Bruce was doing up there. He saw Clark start to fix his gaze at the ceiling, could almost feel the layers of stone being pierced by Clark's eyes. What if the bastard had brought the damn suit? He couldn't take the chance, and kissed Clark swiftly, distracting him from his surveillance of the ceiling. It was a hard kiss, and Lex felt Clark pulling away almost as soon as he'd initiated it. Clark liked things slow and gentle. So used to harnessing his strength, it took him a while to relax and let go. He didn't seem to know how to respond to strength in someone who wasn't trying to kill him. Lex had learned to give him time, but sometimes it was hard not to take what was right there in front of him. Sometimes he wanted it to hurt.

Clark nuzzled Lex's neck softly, fingers slipping open the first two buttons on Lex's shirt. "Did you hurt yourself? You're bruised." He took a step back and stared at Lex, his eyes asking for an explanation.

Lex rubbed at his throat awkwardly. He'd noticed the purple bruise in the mirror this morning--Bruce's way of reminding him he was loved, even if he was making a complete ass of himself. It was something they'd done when they were teenagers. They left reminders on one another's skin, ways of knowing someone had loved them in the darkness when it mattered most, reminders that daylight couldn't erase who they were to one another, what they'd done. But there was no way he could explain that to Clark, and regardless of what it might mean to him and Bruce, to Clark it was only going to be a sign that Bruce's lips had been trespassing.

"Please tell me that's not a hickey."

"It's a hickey." There was no point in denying it, and Lex had already decided he wouldn't lie to Clark. Even if it cost him everything. Honesty was turning out to be his own personal scorched earth policy.

Clark's eyes flared wide, bottom lip caught in his teeth, biting back the automatic accusation. Clark had clearly been expecting him to lie. Lex wondered what that said about their relationship. About Clark.

"What the hell is going on with you two?" There was a muted flash of orange as Clark closed his eyes, and Lex felt a rush of heat prickling his skin.

"Are you going to let me explain, or are you going to set something on fire?"

There was burst of flame and ash. Lex calmly unscrewed a bottle of Ty Nant and upended it into the waste paper basket. Well, it saved him the trouble of burning the evidence himself.

"Feel better, Clark?" Lex crossed his arms and sat on the edge of the desk. He waited. "Anything else you want to incinerate?"

"You?"

It was understandable, Lex supposed, but he hadn't expected Clark to admit it. "Then you'll never hear what happened."

"I'm not sure I want to." Clark tried to look bored, like nothing they were saying mattered. Lex knew better. Clark's handprints were going to be a permanent part of the decor in a minute.

"I know you think you understand what's happening here, Clark, but it's more complicated than that."

"You like that word, Lex. You seem to think it explains things with you and Bruce. It doesn't. It doesn't explain anything!"

"Maybe not." Lex looked away. "Maybe it should be simple because I love you and you love me, but it's not. It's never going to be anything but complicated."

"Did you sleep with Bruce?"

"Define sleep."

Clark flushed with anger. "Damnit, Lex. This isn't a game. Did you have sex with him?"

"Define sex."

"Did you fuck him?" Clark yelled.

"No." It wasn't Lex who answered. "And I didn't fuck Lex either."

Lex looked up to see Bruce leaning in the doorway. He didn't know whether to be angry or relieved. Clark was royally pissed off, and he had every right to be, but Lex didn't feel like acting guilty or regretful, considering he was neither. Maybe they'd gone about it in an ass-backwards way, but their little tumble in bed last night had reminded Lex what was important in his life. What the difference was between love and being in love. Bruce had been the only person who'd ever come close to convincing him love and friendship could be unconditional. It was kind of screwed up, but Lex knew where he stood with Bruce. Bruce was the only person who could've come within an inch of fucking him, and been doing it with Clark's best interests in mind.

Lex really didn't think Clark would see it that way at all.

"This is a private conversation," Clark said, and Lex wondered if Bruce might get singed a little this time. A curl of smoke spiralled up from the wood beside Bruce's head. He didn't seem to notice.

"So was my conversation with Lionel last night, but that didn't stop you, Clark. You're in no position to throw stones." Bruce was absolutely calm, his voice a low rumble. "And I'd like to remind both of you that Mr. Luthor is still in the house. I suggest you take this elsewhere."

With that, Bruce turned and left as quietly as he'd appeared.

***

Clark stared out the window of Lex's car. They were almost at the bridge where it had all begun, where his world had ended and started, just like Lex's heart. The birthplace of destiny. Who knew revelation would be a silver Porsche and a falling bale of wire on a rain-slick road?

"Where are we going?" He was feeling petulant, and Lex deserved to be annoyed. He deserved to be hung upside down from the bridge and shaken. Clark enjoyed the mental image for the fraction of a second it took to form.

"You know where we're going," Lex said, pulling onto the side of the road beside the bridge. He opened his door and headed for the stairs that would take them to the riverbank. Clark waited until he saw Lex disappear from sight, then followed reluctantly.

This was where it had all begun.

Clark hoped it wasn't also where it would end.

***

"Lex abandon you?" Lionel asked, flinging open the doors to the study. Bruce looked up. No one entered a room quite like Lionel Luthor: as if nothing had happened until the moment he deigned to enter the room. He dropped a stack of papers on top of the desk.

"He went for a drive."

"Good. Gives us a chance to talk." Lionel settled into Lex's chair and ran his hands possessively over the leather. Apparently Lionel's penchant for creepy touching even extended to furniture.

"We talked last night."

"You weren't entirely forthcoming, Bruce." The man's smile held no warmth. "Dynamics. You remember that little company we talked about last night? It seems to have managed to acquire a five percent share in LuthorCorp."

"LuthorCorp trades on the open market, Lionel. Even I own shares."

"I warned you about helping Lex. I don't care what information you have for me, if you use Dynamics to save him, I will destroy you." Lionel's smile never faltered, and Bruce remembered every time he'd watched Lex suffer through things with that same emotionless grin. He'd grown to hate it.

"Lionel," Bruce said with a smile of his own. "Dynamics has been active in the Asian markets for almost ten years. It's a reliable little company. I would've been thirteen or fourteen when it started doing business."

"And how exactly would you know that?" Lionel seemed triumphant, but Bruce could see he was doing the math, and his brow furrowed slightly. He clearly couldn't quite fathom a world where a thirteen-year old (or two thirteen-year olds) could create a successful company out of nothing. Bruce had always been grateful Alfred had trusted him enough to give him access to far greater funds than anyone else would have given a child.

"There's not much that happens in Asia I don't know about. It's been a second home to me. I pay attention. Close attention."

"All right, Bruce. I believe you." Lionel rose from the chair and inserted himself into Bruce's personal space. "But I swear, if Lex suddenly turns up with investment capital and additional shares in LuthorCorp to block this takeover bid, you'll regret it. I promise you that." Lionel clapped a hand to his shoulder. "And I have a long memory."

***

Lex was staring at the river when Clark reached him. Clark bent down and picked up a flat round stone and skipped it along the surface of the water, watching it disappear after the fourth bounce. He didn't want to have this conversation with Lex, didn't want to need to be having it. Why the hell couldn't Bruce just stay out of their lives?

"So is this it?" Clark asked. A second stone followed the first, tiny sprays of white water showing its path across the surface.

"Do you want it to be?" Lex was calm, and Clark didn't want him to be this poised, this polished. It wasn't fair that Lex could stand there with his coattails fluttering in the wind, hands sunk into his pockets as if they ended their relationship every day, exactly like this.

"Fuck, Lex, don't answer a question with a question, and don't act like you're innocent. I'm not the one with a hickey the size of Kansas on my throat."

Lex didn't have any right to be acting like this, as if he were being falsely accused of something, when the evidence was staring Clark right in the face. He could practically see Bruce's teeth marks in Lex's skin, and he did not want to think about what the two of them had been doing after Clark had taken Chloe home last night. Sure, Chloe, who was still a little drunk when he'd steered her through her front door, had locked her arms around Clark's neck and kissed him fiercely, and maybe he'd taken a little longer than necessary to push her away when her tongue had been a bright surprise in his mouth. It was Chloe, and he hadn't wanted to hurt her. That was all it was. It wasn't like he'd wanted it, asked for it, given her mixed signals. It was completely different.

"Something you want to share, Clark?"

Clark blushed as he realized Lex had turned away from the river and focussed his gaze on Clark, examining him as if he were a crime scene. Fuck, Lex knew him too well, and this honesty thing really sucked. Part of him wanted to say something mean, turn Chloe's punch-flavoured kiss into a weapon, but he couldn't quite do it because that was exactly what Lex expected--to be hurt. Clark knew he didn't believe this relationship could last and because of that Lex routinely did stupid things just to see if Clark was paying attention. Clark hated it, even if he understood. Mostly.

Lex's eyes were grey, as if all the blue had been leeched out of them and poured into the cold river that flowed behind him. They reminded Clark of silver Porsches and the metal scream of crumpled guardrails, and somewhere inside he could see Lex was drowning again, sinking to the bottom of an icy river as easily as one of the stones Clark had skipped across its surface. He wasn't ready to let Lex go without a fight.

Clark stepped across the space between them, hands reaching up to Lex's cool cheeks as he covered Lex's lips with his own. Not gentle, but insistent, and Lex opened up to him, let his tongue slide past his defences, let him kiss him as he hadn't in what seemed like forever. Clark realized after a moment that Lex's hands weren't touching him at all, were still clenched fists in his pockets, and his eyes were shuttered as if the world was too much to face.

Lex thought he was saying good-bye.

"You're such an idiot, Lex," Clark murmured. Lex's eyes snapped open in surprise.

He loved Lex, even if he had no concept of lines and was always one step away from destroying himself and everyone around him because he didn't know how to do anything else. Clark had to make him understand that he wasn't going to give up on him, that he wasn't going away. Even when everything about Lex was like a neon sign that spelled danger.

Clark grabbed his arm and pulled him underneath the bridge, shoved him against the wall and kissed him again, fingers spreading the collar of his shirt so he could see the bruise blooming there. Clark bit the tender skin, and Lex moaned as Clark licked away the pain, pressing his teeth into the centre of what Bruce had left behind.

"Tell Bruce to find his own boyfriend." Clark tugged Lex's shirt free from his pants, undid the buttons with clumsy fingers while he licked his way up to Lex's ear, and slid warm hands over the familiar skin of Lex's back, his chest. He didn't care that it was winter. He would keep Lex warm. "I don't share."

"It was my fault," Lex admitted, words a breathless stream against Clark's ear. Lex had remembered what his hands were for, and tangled them in Clark's hair as if he were afraid Clark would disappear if he let go. "Bruce stopped me before things went too far."

Clark didn't want to know that, and he suspected his idea of "too far" and theirs were not even in the same universe. He nipped Lex's ear sharply, pulling a cry from his throat as he pushed him harder against the wall. He didn't want to have to be grateful to Bruce for not fucking his boyfriend. Lex should've never put himself in the situation in the first place.

"You would've let him fuck you," Clark said with sudden understanding. Lex's eyes were clamped shut again. Lex only had two ways of confronting the world: eyes wide open, daring the world to take on a Luthor, or blue eyes scrunched behind closed lids and trying desperately to pretend he wasn't dying inside. There was only one way to deal with Lex like this, force him to look at what he didn't want to see.

"Tell me something, Lex," Clark began. Maybe it was time Lex dealt with his feelings for Bruce, and Clark had to admit that in some fucked up way he wanted to understand why the two of them kept ending up together. He wanted to know every part of Lex, even the parts he'd shared with someone else.

"Anything." Lex's breath was warm against Clark's face, and he moaned as Clark trailed long fingers across his chest. Lex's nipples were tight and pink in the winter air.

"When was the last time he fucked you?" Clark said, stroking a hand across Lex's rock-hard erection, feeling Lex thrust against him, head falling back against Clark's hand where it rested between Lex and the concrete wall.

"What?" Lex's eyes flew open.

"Something simpler then," Clark whispered. "When was the last time you kissed him? Without an audience," Clark added, thinking the charade for Lionel didn't really count. He wanted to know what was happening when no one was watching. The rough wool of Lex's pants was warm under Clark's hand as he continued touching, watching Lex's eyes blur with lust and confusion. "Tell me."

"Yesterday afternoon. In my bedroom. My father interrupted. Bruce was ... surprised." Lex's voice was breathy, uneven. Clark closed his eyes. It was easier when he could hate Bruce a little. He didn't want to be grateful to him.

"Did he kiss you?"

"Last night. After the party. This was a reminder." Lex's fingers touched the hollow of his throat.

"Of what?" Maybe Clark didn't really want to know.

"That someone loves me."

"I love you."

Clark dragged his teeth along the edge of Lex's neck, flicking his tongue lightly over the freckles just below his collar. Lex's skin was like an ever-changing sky, and Clark sometimes wondered if new freckles didn't appear and disappear like stars. Someday he was going to make a map of Lex's freckled constellations.

"When was the last time he blew you?" Clark murmured, and felt Lex's cock flex. The slow drag of the zipper, then Clark's hand was sliding onto damp silk. He wouldn't touch him yet, flesh to flesh. There were still questions he needed answers to, and this Lex--the one with a soft mouth and a bruised neck, the one whose shirt was rumpled and pants half-undone, the one who confused sex and love all the time--would tell him anything he wanted.

"Almost a year ago." After they'd met, and Clark felt an insane stab of jealousy, even though he'd been mooning over Lana then, hadn't given Lex a thimbleful of hope there would ever be anything except friendship between them.

"Tell me."

"We skipped out of a society party in Metropolis. Went to a club. Danced. Didn't dance."

Clark remembered the overheard conversation from the Christmas party, the one where Bruce had suggested they take a turn on the dance floor. "Who said anything about dancing?" Was this what Lex had remembered? A dark club, music pounding in their ears, hands casually brushing each other's bodies before a knowing tug, the slip through the crowd towards a back room or a bathroom stall, ending with Bruce on his knees, Lex's cock in his mouth.

Fuck. Clark didn't want to think about them together, not now, not when he had Lex here, by himself, but somehow he knew Bruce was always going to be between them if they didn't exorcise his ghost. Clark's fingers found hard leaking flesh, and Lex gasped. His eyes flashed, starkly blue again, as if the sky had opened inside him. Lex had always been both bright and dark, and here beneath a shadowy arch, the bridge looming over them like a concrete cathedral, Clark wanted all of him--good and bad, past and present, history and destiny. He wanted everything that was Lex.

"The last time you blew him." Clark's voice had lost the edge of a question, and Lex's shaking head said more about Clark's hand on his cock than Lex's desire not to answer.

"April."

Not that long ago. A matter of months, and Clark didn't wince, didn't make a sound as he pushed Lex's shirt aside, fastened a bruising kiss onto his shoulder, and sucked his name into Lex's skin. Maybe it should disturb him more that Lex's memory of every encounter with Bruce seemed sharp, so close to the surface of his mind. "I was in Gotham. Bruce was--"

"Lonely?"

Clark knew it sounded sarcastic, but he didn't care. This was fucked up, all of this, but he was a super-powered alien and life had never been normal, so he could hardly expect his relationship with Lex to be normal either.

"Broken," Lex choked out, and his voice was broken too. Clark had no idea what that meant. He couldn't conceive of a Bruce who wasn't pretentious and confident and fully in control. "Shattered. It happens every year. In April. I didn't know what else to do, how to help him. To forget."

The hurt in Lex's voice was palpable, the frustration as fresh as new blood. Clark recognized the almost-pain of wanting to help someone and knowing he couldn't. Clark's hand gentled, but Lex's palm closed over his and forced him to stroke harder. He didn't want to be soothed, and Clark obeyed.

"When did he fuck you?"

Savage strokes along Lex's cock, and Clark was feeling it now too, moving himself against Lex's thigh, needing the rough edge of friction to ease the pressure. Lex made a strangled sound, his breath coming in unsteady waves between half-open lips, and neither of them seemed able to get off this runaway train.

"Two years ago," Lex gasped. "I was in Gotham, a plant inspection. I stayed at the manor for two days. We never left Bruce's room." Clark's hand was slick with Lex's fluid. He raised his palm and licked it, tasting the bitterness before wrapping his fingers around Lex's cock in earnest, feeling the easy slide of his flesh against the hard length. "I fucked him, too. We were sixteen again. I had bruises for days. We both did."

Clark's mouth found Lex's throat, and licked as if he could erase every hurt Lex had ever felt. He wished he could show him love didn't always mean bruises and shadows and pain. Lex would never be able to mark him, and maybe that was hard for him, not being able to see himself visible on Clark's skin. It was the first time he'd considered what that felt like to Lex.

Lex's hands were on Clark's hips now, urging him closer, faster, Clark's cock thrusting against Lex's braced thigh. They were so close Clark could smell sex in the air the way he could always smell a thunderstorm approaching. Lex's cock was red and hard, a breath away from bursting, and Clark had to ask one more question before he could let it go.

"When was the last time you wanted him? Wanted him so bad you ached?"

"Last night," Lex whispered, as if he didn't have any control over what he was saying. He thrust into Clark's hand and exploded with an anguished cry Clark barely registered through his own orgasm, cock rubbed raw against denim and the sharp planes of Lex's body. He leaned a sweaty forehead against Lex's half-exposed shoulder, and shook his head weakly. Last night.

Last night, Lex had wanted Bruce, and Bruce had said no. Fuck.

"I was wrong, Clark. It wasn't really Bruce I wanted." One hand reached out and lifted Clark's chin, forcing him to meet Lex's eyes. There was a smile on his lips. "I go through every day so fucking scared of losing you that I end up doing exactly the worst things. Bruce made me realize I can't keep hiding from how I feel about you, scared that you're going to run every time I screw up." He paused. "Because I will screw up, Clark. Big time. Colossal. I will make mistakes and then make them worse without even trying. But I will never, never stop loving you, stop wanting you, stop thinking about being inside you and under you and with you in every way I can be for the rest of my life."

Lex kissed him then, and Clark felt his doubts melt under Lex's tongue. Lex would choose him, even if sometimes he needed a blow to the head to remember Clark wasn't going to leave him, give up on him, walk out on him.

Clark felt a handkerchief pressed into his sticky palm as Lex started to button up his clothes. He shivered.

"Let's go home," Lex said, pulling Clark out from under the bridge and into the winter sunshine.

***

Lionel paused with his hand on the doorframe before turning to deliver his parting words. Bruce was waiting for them, knowing Lionel couldn't let the curtain drop without a final speech. He prepared himself for another round of threats couched in innuendo.

"One more thing. Lex is poison," Lionel said, levelling a gaze at Bruce that would've made another man flinch. Poison. Bruce remembered the scotch, and understood the exact measure of the threat being made. This was a man who was more than capable of sacrificing his child for his company. "He isn't capable of love, and although your loyalty is admirable, it's misguided. He will betray you. It's inevitable. He's a Luthor."

"That's ironic considering you've been asking me to spy on him and Clark. You've never wanted him to have anyone except you."

Lex had been smart enough to realize he couldn't appear to like or need Bruce too much at Excelsior. His demeanor towards Bruce had always been cool when his father was around, and after he'd gotten through being offended, he'd decided to trust Lex's instincts when it came to dealing with his father. The one exception had been the year Reynolds had tried to split them up, and Lionel had intervened. Of course, Lex had threatened to get himself expelled, so it had been a typical Luthor family drama.

"Lex never did have anyone except me. Even when his mother was alive."

"Careful, Lionel. I know what really happened to Julian." Bruce wielded the memory like a sword. It had hurt them all, and it had almost destroyed Lex completely.

"You wouldn't drag that whole business up again." Lionel's lip curled in a bitter scowl. "I might actually garner more sympathy if the truth came out. My wife was a deeply disturbed woman." Lionel watched him carefully. "Besides, it would hurt Lex too much. His mental health isn't what it used to be."

Bruce's eyes narrowed. There was something he was missing, something more than an overwrought mother smothering her infant son to save him from a lifetime of Lionel's brand of parenting. Something more than Lex and Lionel's usual animosity, the Machiavellian practices of Luthor business. It dangled just out of reach like a worm on a hook, and Bruce cursed himself for not being able to figure out what Lionel was planning.

"You can try to protect him, but you won't be able to save him from himself. You know what he's like, the way he'll shape a lie out of the smallest grain of truth."

"There was a reason he lied to you," Bruce said coldly.

"So I've been told." Lionel's eyes were arctic. "Whatever the circumstances of Julian's death, you were there on the rooftop that night. You saw Lex, what he was like."

Yes, Bruce had been there in the rain and the wind. He remembered the blanket in Lex's arms, the way his voice had cracked on the familiar strains of a lullaby. Bruce had tried to get him to come down from the roof, offered to hold the baby so Lex could come out of the rain, but someone had heard Lex singing and Lionel had been summoned. Bruce had shrunk into the shadows, making himself small and silent, listening as Lionel blamed his son for Julian's death, and Bruce had realized for the first time that Lex had lied to his father, had let him think it was Lex who'd smothered the child's cries. It had been years before Lionel had learned the truth when Lex, in a fit of teenage rebellion had told him, screamed it at him in triumphant rage, then drove his Porsche into a guardrail on a mountain road careening towards Gotham at two in the morning. Bruce had thought he'd lost Lex for sure that time. He still felt his skin crawl every time he passed that ravine.

And there had been times when Lex couldn't seem to remember whose hands had held the silk pillow pressed over the baby's face, whose arms had rocked the lifeless infant to a tuneless dirge. Bruce had lost count of the nights when Lex had woken sweating and screaming, Julian's name on his lips, tears soaking his pillow, and Bruce had held him and kissed him, promising him anything he could think of to take the haunted look from his eyes.

"Lex would be fine if you'd leave him alone, Lionel," Bruce said. Even at nine years old, he'd known that was true. Nothing had changed.

Lionel's laughter was biting. "He's my son. I'll never leave him alone."

***

"That was a little fucked up, Clark," Lex said, turning the Porsche onto the gravel road that led to the Kent farm. The whole car smelled like sex, and Lex was freezing. He wasn't used to outdoor sex in winter, even a mild winter like this one, and he and Clark had been under the bridge for what felt like a long time.

Clark shrugged. "I suppose."

"You feel better knowing all the sordid details of my past with Bruce?" Lex asked, glancing over at Clark. He really didn't want to examine the fact that they'd both gotten off thinking about Bruce.

"I don't know if better's the right word, Lex, but I don't want there to be any secrets. Even if they hurt."

Lex nodded. He understood that, and it felt good Clark was beginning to understand it too. Clark knitted his brows together as if he was trying to make a decision, and Lex felt a knot tighten in his stomach. Shit. Clark had a secret, and he didn't know how to tell him. The kissing and touching under the bridge was really just a prelude to Clark dumping his sorry ass, and ...

"Lex? You're gripping the steering wheel like it's a fight to the death, and that blue vein in the side of your head is pulsing."

Lex immediately relaxed his hold on the leather wheel and didn't look at Clark. He could handle this. If Clark wanted to break up with him, he wouldn't blame him, and the unreasonably hot handjob before cutting him loose was definitely a point in Clark's favour. God, he was going to miss ...

"You're such a fucking moron," Clark said, exasperated. "I can see the wheels turning in there. You still think I'm going to break up with you. After everything we've been through."

"I wouldn't blame you, Clark."

Lex had to concentrate on keeping the car on the road. Fuck. He hated gravel roads with their complete lack of lines, nowhere to go but into the ditch if you weren't paying attention. No lines at all, and what kind of fucked up system was that? And oh, suddenly he got why Clark was so pissed off about him and Bruce all the time and their complete lack of lines. They were like this gravel road, threatening to slide off into some hapless ravine at any moment, and ...

"Stop the car, Lex." Clark's hand was on his arm, and Lex didn't have any idea where they were, but he suspected he'd driven right past the turn to Hickory Lane, and it wasn't a surprise considering Clark was leaving him. It was his fault for not being able to see the lines.

"I don't want to be a gravel road," Lex said, as the Porsche came to a sudden skidding halt, snow and gravel kicking up beneath the tires. Lex threw the car into park and whirled on Clark, hands on his shoulders. "I can live with lines, Clark. Hell, maybe I even need lines, although maybe they can be dotted, the kind you can pass through and still find your way back to the right side of the road. Maybe they don't all have to be solid or straight or even--"

Clark's lips silenced him, and Lex forgot what he was going to say. He decided it probably wasn't that good an analogy anyway.

***

The house was silent, and Bruce was nowhere to be found when Lex returned to the mansion after leaving Clark at the farm. Sometimes Clark's super-speed was an absolute blessing. Lex knew he would've been in the shower and cleaning up before his parents even realized he was in the house. There was no need to remind them that he and Clark were having sex. He liked his internal organs where they were, and the last time he'd stopped in Jonathan had been cleaning his shotgun. Clark had said it was just a coincidence, but Lex decided there was no need to push things.

He wandered the castle, looking for any sign of life. The days were starting to get longer again, but it still seemed to get dark too early. There were days when Lex felt the entire house seemed shrouded in darkness from morning ‘til night. The conscientious cleaning staff seemed to have removed the evidence of Clark's small fire, and his father had left a stack of papers on his desk to sign. Lex decided they could wait, until he caught the words "shares" and "takeover." Dammit. His father couldn't give it a rest, even over Christmas. He was going to force his hand.

Lex flipped open his cell phone and prepared to make an exceedingly large number of calls. Those shares Bruce had given him were going to come into play sooner than he'd thought, and there wasn't going to be time to adequately hide either the additional LuthorCorp stock or the five million dollars. The game was afoot, and Lex suspected all hell was about to break loose.

Three hours, twenty-six phone calls, and two bottles of Ty Nant later--he'd had to force himself to pass on the scotch--he felt reasonably satisfied that he'd managed to stave off his father's carefully planned assault on LexCorp. Lionel was about as subtle as a battering ram, and when he wanted something, he went after it with every resource available. It had taken a considerable amount of pressure on the Board of Directors, and some quick negotiating with the employees union, but when Lex closed his laptop, he was certain he would still have a company of his own in the morning. And it had been having access to Bruce's carefully thought out investments via Dynamics that had been the deciding factor. He'd directed the funds through a variety of alternate sources, trying to leave a trail that pointed away from Bruce, but speed had been of the essence, and Lionel wasn't stupid. He would know.

But they'd known this was coming. Lex glanced at the waste container, a thin layer of ash still rimming its basin, and he knew he had leverage against Lionel if necessary. He had no doubt it was going to be necessary.

Lex climbed the stairs to his room, finding it dark and deserted, as was the adjoining room where Bruce's things hung neatly in the guest closet, his small black valise resting beside the desk. There was no evidence Bruce had been here recently, no lingering scent of cologne, nothing changed since this morning.

Lex sighed, knowing what his next stop had to be. With Bruce, it was always a good rule--when in doubt, go up. But it was December, and he'd already had enough exposure to the elements for one day. Lex grabbed a black sweatshirt from Bruce's bag and headed for the stairs.

The wind caught him full in the face as he pushed open the door to the rooftop terrace. It was clear and cold, and he watched his breath waft away in a frosty cloud, as his eyes were pulled towards the heavens. The names of the constellations formed readily in his mind--Orion, Cygnus, The Pleiades--and he remembered the stories he'd grown up with, the ones that pitted man against god, man against monster, and somehow the hero always triumphed in the end. Well, not always.

"I didn't know you were a fan of the Gotham Knights," a voice said out of the darkness. Lex looked down at the sweatshirt he'd hastily pulled on, realizing for the first time that there were words spelled out in bright yellow across the front. For some reason he'd just assumed the shirt would be plain black. Bruce didn't have a lot of colour in his wardrobe.

"I hope you don't mind," Lex said, peering at the edge of the roof. He could just make out the shape of someone standing on the top of the stone wall that bordered the terrace. The shadow didn't appear to have pointy ears, so Lex assumed Bruce had left the bat-suit at home.

"It's been a while since you've borrowed my clothes, Lex, but you know you don't have to ask. What's mine is yours." Bruce didn't move from his perch, and Lex realized if he wanted to talk to more than a shadow, he was going to have to go to him. He eased his way across the pitch-black roof, unable to see more than a few steps in front of him. It'd been ages since he'd been up here, and he wasn't entirely sure of his footing on the slick tile.

"Stop," Bruce said suddenly, and Lex froze. There wasn't a sound when Bruce jumped down from the wall and crossed towards him in the dark. Lex lost sight of him for an instant, amazed Bruce could blend in so easily, and then he was right in front of Lex, pulling something from the floor. When Lex's eyes adjusted, he realized Bruce was holding a jagged piece of tile inches from his face. "Wouldn't want you to stub your toe."

"Have you been up here all day?" Lex asked, grabbing Bruce's arm before he could move away. Bruce had a tendency to lose track of time. There was a hand on Lex's forearm, gentle pressure insisting he let go. Bruce didn't want him here, and Lex had no idea why.

"No, just since dark."

Long enough, Lex thought, although it was still somewhat of a relief. He hadn't meant to leave him alone so long, but things with Clark had gotten strangely out of control, and then Lex hadn't been thinking at all. He'd stopped at the bridge again on the way home, knowing he would never look at it quite the same way again. The bridge seemed to be a nexus point for him and Clark, and it shouldn't really surprise him they'd finally christened it with the champagne-splash of semen against cold cement.

Lex couldn't quite make out the features of Bruce's face. There was no moon yet, and the pale light of the stars wasn't much to go by. He remembered Bruce's reluctance to talk to him earlier, the way he'd stepped away from Lex's touch, leaving him open-mouthed and silent in the study.

He wanted to tell him about the takeover bid, warn him the world was a giant rug about to be pulled out from under them, but something stopped him. It didn't seem like the right time to bring up business. Bruce was radiating tension from every line of his body.

"Anything you want to talk about?" Lex asked, and wondered why he felt the need to be cautious. They'd never been particularly careful with each other, even when they should've been.

"No."

The voice was as chilly as the air, and Lex knew he'd been dismissed when Bruce moved back towards the edge. Lex wanted to reach out a hand, touch Bruce's side, and tell him he understood the way old scars could burn with phantom pain. He remembered how Bruce had held him last night, given him what he needed even before he knew what it was, and Lex felt guilty because he'd traded on their friendship in ways he could never repay. Bruce loved him, as no one else ever would.

"If you want to talk ..." Lex trailed off. Their conversation was too formal, contrived. They were acting like strangers, and Lex wondered when that had happened. What the fuck was going on?

"I know where to find you."

Lex shivered and pulled his hands deeper into the sleeves of Bruce's shirt. It was miles too big on him, much like the Smallville Crows sweatshirt he sometimes borrowed from Clark when he spent winter evenings over at the farm. It smelled faintly of cologne, as if Bruce had slipped it on for a moment, then thought better of wearing it. Lex wrapped his arms around himself and retraced his steps across the roof.

"Did I do something?" Lex asked, almost at the door. He had the distinct impression something monumental had happened while he was away from the mansion. This couldn't just be about Lex being gone all afternoon, or Bruce having a pretty good idea he'd been having sex with Clark. Bruce couldn't be jealous. He'd practically pushed him and Clark out the door and told them to work it out. He could've had Lex last night, could've responded to a hundred different offers Lex had made in various ways since he'd been here, but Bruce hadn't taken him up on anything.

"You'd tell me if I'd done something, right?" Lex repeated, not entirely sure Bruce would tell him anything at the moment. It was like being part of a game with no rules, and Lex had no idea what questions he was supposed to ask to reveal the prize.

"Feeling guilty?" Bruce's tone was curious, not angry. Lex wondered if he was imagining things. Bruce didn't seem upset, but something felt wrong, and Lex had no idea what.

"Goodnight, Bruce."

There was no point trying to make Bruce talk when he didn't want to. Lex pushed a hand against the cold steel of the door, stepping into the welcome warmth of the stairwell beyond.

***

Bruce watched as the door to the roof opened for the second time that night. He saw the silhouette of a man with long hair frozen for an instant against the light of the hallway, and then there was nothing but starlight and shadows.

"Lionel," Bruce said calmly. "I've been expecting you."

"You bastard." Lionel was seething as he strode across the rooftop. "I warned you about helping Lex, you manipulative little--"

There was a sharp cry as Lionel stumbled in the darkness and hit the tile floor hard.

"Careful. Broken tile."

Bruce could feel the hatred in Lionel's eyes as he struggled to right himself on the slippery rooftop. There could only be one reason for Lionel's disposition. Bruce had seen the papers on Lex's desk, knew he'd be forced to move swiftly to block his father's takeover when he got back from working things out with Clark. He'd seen the Porsche pull into the driveway almost four hours ago, had followed Lex's progress through the house by the trail of lighted windows. The three hours of watching Lex's shadow pacing back and forth, a bluish abstract again the pristine snow, had been a pretty clear indication he was working, and when Bruce finally saw the study light click out, followed by a warm glow from his own bedroom, he'd known to expect company.

Lionel's chopper had been en route by then. He'd heard the call from the pilot to the Metropolis tower on his portable transceiver, and Bruce couldn't afford to have Lex in the way when Lionel descended. A quick call to Lionel's cell had guaranteed that Bruce, not Lex, would be first in the line of fire when Lionel arrived.

So here they were, and with any luck, Lex would stay out of it. Bruce didn't like counting on luck, but telling Lex the plan wasn't an option either. He would never agree to it.

"I warned you not to interfere," Lionel said, finding his footing again. "LexCorp should've been a distant memory by this evening, but you couldn't stay out of it, could you? You had to bail him out."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Lionel." Bruce kept his voice void of emotion. Lionel was a master at reading people. He had to play this exactly right, or it would never work.

"Don't give me that!" Lionel shouted. "Lex tried to hide it, but he didn't have time. The funds, the LuthorCorp shares, all held by Dynamics. Your company. Yours and Lex's, I assume."

"You can't prove anything."

"I don't have to. I know and you know, and that's really all that matters." Lionel's teeth were bright as bones. Bruce could see the glint even from ten feet away. "The two of you thought you were pretty damn smart when you were fourteen, I bet. What did you think you would need a dummy corporation for? I'm curious."

Bruce shrugged. "We were going to run away to Thailand. I was going to teach martial arts, Lex was going to teach dancing, and we were going to be happy." He didn't bother to add the part where they lived on golden wine and curried chicken, licked honey off each other's skin and made love on silk sheets every night. The details had come later. When they were older.

"Fine, don't tell me," Lionel said. "It makes no difference."

Bruce suppressed a grin. He'd always figured Lionel wouldn't know the truth if it bit him in the ass. Lex was a hell of a dancer, and it had been a good dream. Bruce still had a thing for silk sheets.

"I didn't call you here to talk about our childhood fantasies."

Lionel was slowly covering the distance between them, more cautious after his tumble. "This had better be good."

"It is. In fact, it's so good I think it'll convince you to leave Lex alone and let him live his life."

Lionel's response was a short bark of laughter. He stepped the last few feet to stand in front of Bruce, moonrise casting his flesh blue in the dark.

"Let me make myself clear, Bruce." There was hot breath in his face as Lionel leaned closer. "No one betrays me and gets away with it, and it'll be Lex who suffers for it. In ways you even can't begin to imagine."

Bruce felt rather than saw the gloved hand reach for his windpipe, and he'd had enough of Lionel putting his hands on him, enough of reigning in his reflexes to keep Lionel from being suspicious. He deftly caught Lionel's wrist in one hand and squeezed.

"Touch me again, and you'll regret it. I know what you are, and unless you want the world to know how the great Lionel Luthor built his fortune on the bodies of his parents, you'll leave Lex alone."

Bruce held up a stack of pages in front of Lionel's face. He watched as Lionel's smile faltered, his expression that of a chess grandmaster who'd been checkmated and hadn't seen it coming.

"Where did you get these?" Lionel asked, ripping the papers from Bruce's hand.

"Let's talk."

***

Lex paced in the space between the bed and the door. This was ridiculous. He'd heard the chopper land, knew his father had come into the house, and still there'd been no angry pounding on his door, no demands to explain himself. Lionel had to know by now Lex had managed to fend off the takeover. LexCorp was still his, and if anything, was on more solid ground than it had been a few days ago. Thanks to Bruce.

Lex sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor-length mirror. Bruce was another issue. He seemed distant, but there was something else. He hadn't wanted Lex around, but there'd been no discernible reason for it, nothing Lex could attribute it to. If Bruce had wanted some time alone, he would've said so. If he'd been pissed off at something Lex had done, he would've said so. They'd never just dismissed one another out of hand.

So Bruce had to have a reason.

The full-length mirror showed the florid yellow of the Gotham Knights sweatshirt, too bright in the room. Bruce hadn't seemed upset, but neither had he wanted Lex around. It wasn't like him to push Lex away without any explanation. Anyone else, sure, but not Lex.

Lex stared into his own eyes in the mirror. Maybe he'd gotten too used to being the exception to all of Bruce's rules. Maybe it wasn't true anymore. It was something he was going to have to consider. Things changed.

But not everything, something in Lex insisted. He knew Bruce better than he knew himself. The whole rooftop scene had smelled of secrets, and Bruce didn't keep secrets from him ... except when he was trying to protect him.

Fuck.

Lex caught sight of himself in the mirror, took a long hard look, and cursed himself for not paying attention, for not trusting his instincts. Clearly visible on the black material was the imprint of fingertips where Bruce had touched him on the rooftop.

Fingertips outlined with grey ash.

It hadn't been the cleaning staff.

Lex bolted off the bed and threw open the armoire. Bruce knew about the secret drawer, the one where he kept the Bat-phone, although he'd never admit that was what he secretly called it. Lex pressed the panel and the drawer slid open. Phone. Cash. Keys. Loaded Glock. Disks. Bat-Nightlight. CD, and oh, he was seriously going to get back at Bruce for that obviously falsified recording of Lex snoring.

No envelope.

He'd stuck a copy in here as soon as the envelopes had arrived by courier this morning, even before he'd looked at the contents. It was the most secure place in the house because he was relatively sure Lionel didn't know about it. The same couldn't be said of the safe in the study.

Lex stared into the drawer. No envelope.

Fuck.

***

Bruce enjoyed watching Lionel squirm as he surveyed the pages Bruce had given him. The photos of the tenement fire, the autopsy reports, police files. Lionel had been a scruffy-looking, gangly teenager with a lean and hungry look in his eyes. Bruce wasn't entirely surprised to see he'd been busted for possession a half-dozen times before he was sixteen. It was funny how that had never come up when Lex was doing the exact same thing, but then again, the great Lionel Luthor wouldn't know about such mundane things as street drugs. Bruce wanted to laugh.

Instead, he leaned back against the edge of the terrace and smiled. "I guess Lex got his looks from his mother."

Lionel sneered. "And his mental health."

Bruce had taken a step forward and was reaching a hand to Lionel's throat before he realized he was being baited. He wasn't sure why he could deal with jibes and taunts from The Joker or The Penguin on a regular basis, but Lionel made him want to wrap his hands around the man's throat and squeeze until blood vessels burst in his eyes. It was not an unpleasant image.

"Remember, Bruce, if you expose this, you'll end up hurting Lex. LuthorCorp, and by extension LexCorp, will take a huge hit from stockholders. He'll end up losing LexCorp. All your manoeuvring with Dynamics will have been for nothing, and he'll blame you for it."

"This isn't about business, Lionel." Bruce sighed. Lionel just didn't get it. He wondered if dressing him up in a purple suit and giving him a bizarre hat and nickname would make him any easier to deal with. The Aubergine Assassin. The Grape-inator. It certainly couldn't hurt. "It's about Lex."

"Because you're in love with him." Lionel's tone was incredulous, as if he couldn't imagine anyone making a decision based on love. Bruce supposed he couldn't, but there was so much more to it than that. Lex had never been good at protecting himself, and though the times when Bruce could put his arms around him and keep Lex's demons at bay had long passed, there were still some ways he could protect him.

"You murdered your parents. For the money. You burned down their building and used the money to start your company. There's no statute of limitations on murder, Lionel, and I'm sure the Metropolis P.D. would be thrilled to receive copies of these ‘missing' reports."

"These prove nothing." Lionel sounded confident.

"Maybe not by themselves, but I know and you know, and that's really all that matters, isn't it?" Bruce threw Lionel's earlier words back at him. He liked the symmetry of it. "There's more than enough here to discredit you, and I'm sure with a little digging, there's evidence. Morgan Edge doesn't exactly have a reputation for being the most scrupulous of business associates. I hardly think your friendship will matter when he's indicted as a co-conspirator."

"Morgan and I were very much like you and Lex. He'd never betray me."

Bruce turned the thought over in his mind for a moment, listening for what Lionel wasn't saying. Interesting, Bruce thought. Lionel and Morgan Edge, lovers? It certainly helped explain why Lionel had always been more than a little lecherous towards him. "I don't care. The only thing I care about is Lex, and you're going to back off. Or I go public with all of this."

"But LexCorp--"

"Would survive." Bruce didn't even try to contain his anger. Was it possible Lionel really didn't care about anything except the company? "And even if it didn't, I could easily help Lex finance another venture, and you know it."

"So, what do you want?"

Finally, they were getting somewhere. Bruce preferred villains who actually responded to threats with some degree of normalcy. "No more poisoned scotch, no more takeover bids, no more investigating Clark Kent."

Lionel's eyebrows shot up. "Come on, Bruce, you know there's something unusual about young Mr. Kent. You can't tell me you're not curious."

"All I know is Clark saved Lex's life. You might try being grateful instead of suspicious. I am."

Bruce had his own hypotheses about Clark and his abilities, but there was no way someone like Clark should be confined to a lab and studied, and Bruce had a pretty good idea that's where he'd end up if Lionel got his way. He couldn't let that happen.

"Just because my son's fucking you, doesn't mean he doesn't feel something for the Kent boy. There's a mystery there, and sooner or later I'm going to find out what it is."

"And who said Lex is the one doing the fucking, Lionel?" Bruce matched Lionel's eyes coldly, adopting the slightest smirk. He could see Lionel shaking his head. One more disappointment to add to all the ways Lex hadn't measured up. Bruce felt like throwing him off the roof.

"Be that as it may, did you ever plan on giving me any information of value, or was it all about Lex?" Lionel sounded genuinely curious.

"That would be telling." Bruce paused. "So, is it a deal?"

"What's my incentive for cooperating?"

"Your incentive is not winding up in prison." Bruce had never wanted to hit someone so much in his life. He turned on Lionel with all of his height and weight. Your incentive is me not hanging you upside down from the edge of this fucking rooftop, is what he really wanted to say. Your incentive is being allowed to continue breathing despite being the world's worst father and the creepiest man alive. He held his tongue. This was still Lex's father, and that counted for something.

"And Lex knows nothing about any of this?" Lionel asked, obviously weighing his options.

"What do you suppose he'd do if he knew?" It was a dangerous question, but it was worth asking. Bruce needed to know if Lionel knew his son at all.

Lionel laughed. "He'd confront me, hurt and outraged, and he'd try to have me arrested. He's frighteningly predictable at times."

"He doesn't know anything," Bruce said. This would only work if Lionel believed Lex was ignorant of the facts because he was dead-certain Lex had been planning to do exactly what Lionel had outlined, and Bruce knew that was a death sentence. "I circumvented his investigations with a few of my own."

"You're positive?" Lionel's voice was suspicious, but he seemed ready to negotiate.

"He doesn't know."

The night was split open by a shaft of light from the open door, and Lex burst onto the rooftop, breathless and angry, looking small in Bruce's over-sized Gotham Knights sweatshirt.

"I know everything," Lex shouted.

Fuck.

***

"Well, that went well." Bruce followed Lex into his room.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" Lex said, giving Bruce a shove onto the bed. Bruce opened his mouth to respond, but Lex kept going. "No, never mind, I don't want to hear it. Stay there, and don't bleed on my sheets."

He went into the bathroom in search of the first aid kit. The sound of a helicopter leaving the grounds could just be heard overhead. Well, finally. Lionel wouldn't be bothering them for a while. Lex hoped his father wasn't going to be too pissed off when he woke up back in Metropolis. His head wound hadn't been bleeding much when they'd put him in the chopper, and thankfully the pilot seemed to expect such things from Luthors. He hadn't said anything beyond promising to alert Lionel's household staff to the possibility of a concussion.

Lex found the first aid kit stuck in the back of the bathroom cabinet. It was looking a little light on supplies, and Lex couldn't remember using almost an entire roll of gauze, but apparently somebody had. It was going to have to do. He walked back into the bedroom. Bruce started to speak, and Lex held up his hand for silence.

"No. We're not doing this right now." Lex started pulling tape and gauze out of the kit. He shook the bottle of disinfectant. Half-empty. He hoped it would be enough.

"If you would've just stayed off the roof, none of this would've happened," Bruce said, ignoring Lex's hand signal, so Lex tried a gesture whose meaning was unmistakable. Bruce fixed him with a glare so cold it would've made blind men shiver and turn away. It had absolutely no effect on Lex.

"You could've told me what you were planning, Bruce. Would that have been so hard? Take your shirt off."

Lex knelt beside the bed as Bruce unbuttoned his shirt, moving gingerly. Lex could see him grimace as the shards of glass embedded in his skin shifted with every movement. This was not going to be fun, and Bruce was such a baby when it came to medical treatment. Lex shuffled through the kit until he found the tweezers.

"I didn't want you involved, you moron. Ow." Bruce winced as Lex seized the first shard of glass with the tweezers and dropped it into the lid of the first aid kit. It landed with a tiny ping. "I was trying to ... fuck, Lex, be careful ... protect you."

"I am being careful. And I don't need your protection," Lex said through gritted teeth.

He braced one hand against Bruce's chest as he extracted another piece of glass. Bruce looked like he'd been attacked by tiny animals with very sharp teeth. There were small cuts everywhere. Who knew crashing through a window could be so dangerous? Lex made a mental note to call his contractor first thing in the morning. He'd pay extra if they could seal up the gaping hole before there were ice sculptures in his bathroom.

"Everything would've been fine. Oh, Jesus, Lex, watch the chest hair. I know you don't have any, but I'm happy with mine where it is." Lex made a point of plucking another hair with the next shard of glass. "Fuck, now you're just doing it on purpose. Give me the goddamn tweezers, I'll do it myself."

Lex sat back on his haunches and held the tweezers out of reach. "No. You're going to put up with my tender ministrations, and you're going to be grateful my father had sufficient head trauma he didn't see you go over the edge of the roof and careen through the second floor window in one of the most graceless acrobatic displays I've ever seen. Somewhere Barnum and Bailey are turning over in their graves."

"I wouldn't have gone over the edge if you hadn't gotten Lionel sufficiently pissed off to chuck a lead crystal ashtray at me, and really, what the hell was that doing on the rooftop anyway?"

"Apparently someone on staff is a secret smoker and likes to enjoy the view from the roof while nipping out for a nicotine hit. I suspect it's Greta from the kitchen. She's always asking me if I can get her Cuban cigars." Lex leaned in and sniffed. "You smell like a tobacco factory, by the way."

"Great. Just great." There was a gasp as Lex brushed Bruce's nipple with the tweezers as he tugged at an embedded piece of glass.

"Sorry," Lex said sincerely, and Bruce nodded through clenched teeth.

"Let's just get this over with."

They were both silent for the next few minutes as Lex worked at removing the smaller pieces of glass. It was important not to miss any. He didn't want Bruce to end up with an infection. Lex fingered the edges of a square-shaped bruise that was just beginning to purple.

"That's going to hurt tomorrow," Lex empathized. That ashtray had been damn heavy. Austrian crystal. It hadn't even shattered when it hit the tile floor, but it had come pretty close to breaking one of Bruce's ribs.

"Everything's going to hurt tomorrow," Bruce conceded. "Are we almost done?"

"Almost," Lex lied. There was still the disinfectant to apply, and that was going to be hell. Maybe he could keep Bruce distracted with conversation. He still wasn't entirely clear on what the plan had been.

"You want to tell me why you were going through my garbage?" Lex asked. It seemed like a reasonable place to start trying to figure out why Bruce had thought confronting Lionel was a good idea.

"What? Oh, the pictures. Well, for one thing," Bruce shifted uncomfortably as Lex checked the cuts for any sign of glass. He thought he'd got it all, but he wasn't taking chances with Bruce's body. He got up and grabbed the magnifying glass off his desk and brought it close to Bruce's chest. "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Checking for glass. Just shut up and tell the story."

Bruce shook his head, started to say something, then thought better of it. "The garbage can was still smoldering when I went back to the study. You managed to get most of the water on the rug, and very little on the actual fire."

"My dreams of being a firefighter dashed like a ship upon the rocks" Lex moved the magnifying glass methodically across Bruce's chest. Moles, abrasions, chest hairs all seemed to have grown to extraordinary size. Lex was fascinated. Bruce had a mole that looked like a seahorse. It was bizarre.

"Lex, you're freaking me out. Stop staring at my mole. You're supposed to be checking for glass."

Lex looked up and grinned. "Sorry. You were saying."

"I was curious. I pulled the stuff out of the trash. It didn't take much to put the pieces together." Bruce paused. "Why didn't you tell me?"

There was a note of hurt in his voice, and Lex tried to chalk it up to the thousand tiny pinpricks riddling Bruce's skin. He continued his search for stray pieces of glass and interesting moles. He wasn't disappointed.

"I was going to. There wasn't time, and then you were distant, and Clark was pissed off, and when I came home my father was trying to take away my company." Lex dropped the magnifying glass onto the bed, and reached for the disinfectant and a square of cotton. This was always the worst part. "I was going to tell you. I already had copies sent to Gotham, so it's not like I was planning on keeping it a secret, Bruce. I just needed a little time to figure things out. It's not every day you find out your father's a murderer."

There was a hand on his shoulder, and Lex looked up into concerned eyes.

"This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you," Lex said, holding up the cloth and giving an apologetic smile.

"Want to bet?" Bruce braced himself as Lex dabbed at his skin. "Fuck."

"So you found out about the takeover, and what, you figured I'd take matters into my own hands and threaten Dad with what I'd found out?" Lex asked, dampening the cloth with more disinfectant before moving to the deepest cut, which flamed bright red at the touch of the liquid. Bruce swore again, and his fingers dug into Lex's shoulder.

"Something like that." His voice was breathless and tight. "Lionel already tried to poison you once, Lex. I thought maybe I could prevent you from painting a target on yourself and walking into the firing range. It was obviously too much to hope for."

"It wasn't your decision to make."

"And you have no sense of self-preservation, as tonight clearly proves. If you would've just let me deal with it, Lionel would have no idea you know anything."

"So he would've had a reason to kill you instead of me. How is that a better solution?" Lex held the cloth against a cut, hearing Bruce hiss with pain. "He's not going to hurt me, Bruce, but he'd have no compunction about getting rid of you."

"I'd like to see him try," Bruce said confidently.

"I wouldn't!" Lex stood up suddenly, splashing disinfectant against Bruce's skin. There was an intake of breath, and Bruce's face turned red with the exertion of trying not to cry out. "I like you alive, Bruce, with all your limbs attached. You're in enough danger in Gotham without cut brake lines and booby-trapped executive washrooms and highly-paid assassins. It's not your responsibility to look after me. I'm not a kid anymore."

"Lex."

"He would silence you in a heartbeat if he thought you were the only one who knew. He wants this buried, and he'll bury anyone who knows."

"Lionel's not that stupid."

"Then he would put your life under--" Lex reached for the magnifying glass on the bed. He always did better with props. "--a magnifying glass until he found something, and we both know there's a hell of a lot to find if somebody's looking."

Bruce put a hand on Lex's arm and the glass tumbled to the bed with a soft sound. "I don't need you to protect me either, you know. Lex, I can take care of myself. I do this for a living."

"No, you run a corporation for a living. You play dress-up and routinely get the crap beaten out of you for fun, apparently." Lex hadn't meant it to sound so harsh, but every time he read about another one of Batman's daring exploits, he felt a tiny hitch in his heart. What Bruce did was dangerous. Lex knew that better than anyone. It wasn't an accident Lex's first aid skills were exemplary. He'd had a lot of practice in high school.

Bruce cupped Lex's face in his hands. "Hey, come on. You know why I do it, and it's not for fun, Lex. There are bigger things at stake."

"I know." Lex's voice had dropped to a whisper. "I worry about you enough with all the freaks in Gotham. You don't need my father dogging your steps too."

"And you don't need to go out of your way to make yourself a target. Now if you're done exacting revenge on my chest hairs, I need to look at your hand."

Lex glanced down in surprise. There was a patch of dried blood on his left hand. He'd forgotten all about it.

"It'll be fine by tomorrow."

"It needs to be cleaned." Bruce reached for the disinfectant and a fresh square of gauze.

"You just want retribution for your chest hair," Lex said, as Bruce cleaned the blood away. "Besides, I wouldn't be bleeding if you had better aim."

"I told you to get out of the way."

"You were throwing flooring at Lionel's head."

"I wasn't aiming at his head."

"Then your aim is off because from where I stood decapitation was inevitable. And what was with you and the tile? I'm going to have to have the terrace completely redone in spring. Don't you carry bat-arangs with you to hurl at unsuspecting executives?"

"Oh, like that would've been a good idea. Lionel would never have suspected anything then." Bruce's voice was heavy with sarcasm as he cleaned the cut on Lex's hand and wrapped it with gauze. "Everything was going fine until you got there. I'd forgotten how pissed off he used to get when you'd borrow my clothes." Bruce fingered the sleeve of the Gotham Knights sweatshirt.

"As good as a public display of affection, he always said. And Luthors don't do that."

"No, Luthors never have sex in public."

"Sex, yes. Affection, no. There's a difference, Bruce." Lex grinned in spite of everything. He was almost positive it had been the sweatshirt that had driven Lionel past the point of anger and into the realm of uncontrolled rage. He hadn't seen his father that angry since Lex had made the front page of The Inquisitor--high, half-naked and handcuffed.

"It took you exactly thirty-four seconds to completely negate everything I'd told him, and another two minutes to make him angry enough to start chucking crystal. The flooring was purely a pre-emptive measure, and I was only using tiles that were already broken."

"Yeah, and what happened to those bat-reflexes? One ashtray to the chest and you were tumbling over the wall like a scuba diver."

Lex didn't have to say it, but Bruce had scared the hell out of him. One minute he was tossing tiles like they were Japanese throwing stars, and the next he was the recipient of a well-aimed ashtray, which started a chain reaction of events that sent Bruce tumbling into oblivion. If Lex hadn't heard the familiar thunk of a bat-arang hitting the stone, he wasn't sure what he would've done. He'd never been so grateful for Bruce's obsessive attachment to his toys.

"Lionel surprised me. I knew he was going to be pissed, but I didn't expect him to start heaving glassware."

"Yeah, he was always more of a stemware thrower at home. The occasional plate. I guess one improvises in a pinch."

"And it was icy," Bruce added defensively. "I'm used to fighting in the suit. More traction. What did you hit Lionel with anyway? When I started going over, he still had his hands around your throat."

Lex grinned. "Bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape. Couldn't have him see your spectacular exit."

"Waste of a good wine," Bruce said. "Were you at least planning to share?"

"Apparently my employees have a number of bad habits." A thought sobered him. "It's also possible I left it up there last time my father came to town. It was empty. It's definitely my vintage."

"I remember." The grin on Bruce's face was wide and nostalgic.

Last time they'd split a bottle--or possibly it was a case--they'd gotten very, very drunk. He still wasn't sure how the Bat-boat had ended up beached at the Gotham Zoo's Penguinarium, but Alfred had grounded them both when they'd hauled themselves home. He hadn't bought Bruce's cover story that they'd been drugged, plied with alcohol, and left to die at the hands of a hundred sharp-beaked penguins, who'd done a pretty decent job of pock-marking the boat's exterior. They were never quite sure whether the penguins had been trying to peck it to death or mate with it, but they'd spent the better part of a weekend cleaning penguin shit off the boat and hammering out the dents. Alfred had put them in separate rooms in separate wings of the mansion, cut off their car privileges, and locked down both the Bat Cave and the wine cellar with a series of security protocols that would've put a federal penitentiary to shame. It might've been more amusing if they hadn't been nineteen at the time.

"I can't drink it without thinking about the damn penguins," Lex murmured. "Alfred was furious with us."

"I still don't know how we got home. Thank God the boat's got an auto-pilot and a homing beacon." Bruce rubbed at his temple, wiping sweaty fingers against the sheets. Lex's brow furrowed with concern.

"Bruce, you were on the roof for hours. You're telling me you didn't notice the wine bottle and the ashtray? What happened to being aware of your surroundings at all times?"

Bruce bristled at the accusation. "I had other things on my mind."

"You were stalking my shadow from the rooftop again, weren't you?" Lex said knowingly. "You know that's a little creepy."

Bruce lay back on the bed, easing his shoulders down carefully. Lex could tell he was hurting. He was about to ask if there was anything he could do when the phone rang.

"It's dad," Lex said with certainty. "I'm not answering it."

"Well, don't look at me. I'm not talking to him."

Lex reached over to the wall and pulled the cord out of the jack. He reached into his pocket and turned off his cell phone. From deep within the mansion they could hear the faint jingle of a phone still ringing. Lex sighed.

"There's nothing he can do, Lex. Not right now, anyway, and everything's out in the open, even if that wasn't the plan. The takeover's been stopped, LexCorp's healthy--"

"Thanks to you."

"--Lionel still thinks we have a relationship, so that should shelter Clark at least a bit, and the fact we both know about Lionel's involvement with his parents' deaths might keep him from doing anything rash."

"Might." Trying to figure out what Lionel might do was about as easy as predicting the weather.

Bruce reached out a hand and tugged Lex down on the edge of the bed. "I really wish you wouldn't do stupid things."

"The feeling's mutual," Lex said. He noticed Bruce hadn't let go of his arm. "I want to expose him, Bruce. He should pay for what he did. He--he killed ... he's a twisted man."

"I know, Lex. I knew you would need to confront him. I just wanted to save you some of that pain. It would've been better to get all the evidence in place, and then go to the authorities. Now we're scrambling just to stay in the game. Lionel's going to be shutting down every source as quickly as possible."

Lex turned to study Bruce's face. He was pale against the sheets, and a thin sheen of sweat was coating his face. Sometimes he forgot how vulnerable Bruce was. "So what do we do?"

Bruce flashed a rare smile. "Same thing we always do. Stick together. Try to stay alive. Find a way to keep Lionel from retaliating."

"We have to protect Clark."

"Lex." Bruce's voice was cautious. "Clark's always going to be in danger. You can't protect him from everything. Sometimes you have to protect yourself." Another tug and Lex was lying beside him on the bed. The cuts on Bruce's skin shone pink in the lamplight. "I think we should call it a night, don't you?"

"You really think we're going to be able to sleep?" Lex asked. He was too wired to sleep, too wound up to do anything except worry and plot. There had to be a way to neutralize his father, and do it quickly, without endangering any of their lives. Or their secrets.

"Probably not," Bruce admitted, shifting uncomfortably. One of the wounds opened up a little, and Lex dabbed at it with the edge of the sheet. "Hey, thought you didn't want me bleeding on your sheets."

"I don't want you bleeding at all." Lex's voice was soft.

"You need to tell Clark everything. He needs to be prepared for what's coming. Lionel's not likely to let this go without a fight. He's been cornered, and that'll make him even more dangerous. We bought some time, that's all."

"I know." Lex rolled off the bed, careful not to disturb Bruce as he moved.

"Where are you going?"

"I think I've still got a few bottles of Chateau Neuf du Pape in the cellar. Since we're up anyway." Lex felt reckless and young. The way he always did when the world was on the edge of falling apart. And he could see Bruce was right there with him, a glimmer of something old and familiar in his electric smile.

"Alfred would still ground us, you know."

Lex ran a hand affectionately through Bruce's hair. Tousled was really a good look for him. "I'm not going to tell him, are you?"

"Not on your life."

***

DEC. 24

Lex anticipated the worst. It was what he did. He was always, always amazed when things turned out better than he'd expected, so he found himself being pleasantly surprised a lot of the time. It wasn't a bad way to go through life, he decided.

"So, things with Clark went all right?" Bruce asked, leaning in the doorway between their rooms. He looked uncomfortable, as if the fabric of his clothing was hurting him whenever he moved, and Lex could feel his wince across the room.

"You should really let me look at your chest again." Lex suspected the cuts were healing fine, but Bruce wouldn't tell him if anything was wrong. It was best to check for himself.

"Any excuse to get my shirt off, huh?"

"You know me too well." Lex grinned and raised his glass in a toast, waving Bruce into the room. He hesitated for a half-second, and Lex felt his grin falter. It wasn't like Bruce to refuse an invitation. Maybe he was hurting worse than Lex had thought.

"You didn't answer the question. About Clark," Bruce pointed out, settling into the chair beside the bed.

Lex thought back. He'd spent the afternoon with Clark at the loft, trying to explain a thousand things he really didn't want to. Like the takeover bid and the fiasco on the roof, which had earned him a lecture about taking stupid chances, and Lex hadn't even told him the bits about Bruce's rooftop tumble. He'd taken a copy of the files from his safe, the papers that told the story of Lionel's shady past. Clark had listened and nodded and held him at the right times, and Lex had been grateful for the simple grace of Clark's touch.

Lionel was a murderer, and Lex was still trying to come to terms with that concept. As much as his father had tested him, pushed him, forced him to grow up well before he was ready, he still felt a complicated mix of admiration and respect for the man. It wasn't love. Lex had learned a long time ago it was dangerous to have any genuine attachment to his father, although he sometimes felt an undeniable connection that might have passed for love. Lex had never known what to call it.

"Clark was great," Lex finally answered. "I think it's the most honest conversation we've had in a long time."

"And you told him everything?" Bruce accepted the drink Lex offered him, and sipped it.

"I didn't tell him you fell off the roof, but I told him pretty much everything else."

"Did you explain about Lionel? Clark needs to know how much danger you're both in. The threat of exposure will only keep Lionel from acting for so long. There's no telling what he'll do if he feels threatened, and we've pushed him pretty far, Lex."

Lex nodded. Bruce worried too much, thought he could look after himself and everyone else. Just like Clark. Heroes, he thought. So damn difficult. Stubborn and brave. Lex looked up as he felt a hand on his shoulder. Bruce was standing behind him, half-hidden in the shadows from the fire.

"You going to be okay?" Bruce asked. "You seem thoughtful."

"Just a lot on my mind. I'm worried about how this will all play out in the end, I guess. Dad will back off for a while, but only for a while. He's too curious about Clark, and now he's got reason to be pissed off at you as well. He doesn't swear revenge lightly." Lex's hand drifted up and covered Bruce's. It was warm and familiar, and Lex clung to it for a moment.

"I'll be careful. I promise. Clark needs someone to help keep you out of trouble, after all."

Bruce's fingers twined with Lex's, and Lex felt the touch of a hand on his head. He closed his eyes and leaned back against Bruce's palm, felt the web of fingers cradle him. Bruce was one of the only people he'd ever allowed that level of intimacy, and the tender brush of fingers against his scalp reassured him all was right with the world. At least the world that was their friendship. It said more than any kiss ever could.

"I'll be right next door if you need anything," Bruce said softly. The regret in his voice cut straight to Lex's heart, but they both knew it was time. It was well past time, and he'd let things go on too long.

Lex knew his voice was shaking when he answered. "And you know where to find me."

He gripped Bruce's hand a little tighter, then let it go. It lingered on the fabric of his shirt for the length of a heartbeat before disappearing.

"I'll always be here for you, Lex. Always."

Bruce's voice was further away, and Lex suspected he was standing in the doorway with his back to Lex. They couldn't do this and face each other. Not tonight, not now. Their emotions were too close to the surface, threatening to spill over, and the least little thing could turn them towards one another again.

"I'm counting on it," Lex said.

Even across the room he could feel Bruce's hesitation, knew it was taking an effort for him to walk out, to walk away, and Lex wondered why it was still so hard for both of them. They'd had a casual relationship for most of their lives. They'd both walked away a hundred times, but there was something different about this. There had never been anyone else who mattered in the mix, and Lex knew Clark had changed everything. He couldn't regret that, but something in him still ached for what he was losing with every step Bruce took away from him.

"Bruce?"

Lex gripped the sides of the chair, as if that would steady the tremble in his voice. He wouldn't get up, wouldn't turn around. He'd never let Bruce leave if he had to see his face, the hurt there, the love. They'd shared a lifetime together before they were eighteen.

"Yes?"

A matching tremble in Bruce's voice, and it seemed only fair it was hard for both of them. Lex closed his eyes, and breathed. Remembered a tall boy with dark hair and eyes who'd appeared from the shadows on his first day at school. Whose laughter was rare, deep and real. Who had never cared he was a Luthor. Lex remembered secrets whispered in the dark and games to keep the demons at bay, rituals that shaped their lives, healed their scars, made them whole again. Kept them alive.

"If you have nightmares," Lex said, "you can wake me up. I wouldn't think any less of you."

Suddenly he was nine again, and it felt right to say the words, right to feel this way. On the beginning of something, but the edge of it too, and they were moving in a different direction, but still together. Always together. Even when they were apart.

"And you know the same goes for you. If you have nightmares." Lex could hear the smile in Bruce's voice. Things would be okay. "Always."

"Goodnight, Bruce." It was almost a whisper, and it felt like good-bye.

Lex pushed his fingernails into the wood of the chair, his heart clenched like a fist. Ghosts, he told himself. These feelings are just ghosts of what used to be. What might've been. Ghosts. Nothing more.

"Go to sleep, Lex."

Bruce's voice curled around him like a warm arm, and Lex could feel a wetness in his eyes that hadn't been there in years. It was unfamiliar. Unexpected.

There was the click of the door closing, and it might've been his imagination, but Lex thought he heard a choked noise from the other room, the sound of breaking glass. He swallowed hard and rubbed his eyes. It was better this way. It was necessary to have lines.

He loved Clark. He did. With all his heart.

They were doing the right thing.

The only thing.

Destiny.

***

DEC. 25

Martha opened the door to find Lex and a tall, dark-haired man standing there. He was as tall as Clark and as broad in the shoulders, but there was a grace and elegance to his movements that reminded her of Lex.

"Merry Christmas, boys! Come in, Lex. You must be Bruce," Martha said, ushering them into the kitchen. Bruce smiled pleasantly and lifted her hand to his lips.

"You must be Clark's mother."

"Call me Martha."

Bruce gave a sad smile. "My mother's name was Martha."

Lex laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, and gave it a squeeze. She saw them exchange a look. Whatever was between these two men ran very deep. Lex tugged gently on Bruce's sleeve and took his coat to the hall closet. Martha almost felt as if she were intruding on a personal moment. It was no wonder Clark was having difficulty with this relationship. She'd never seen Lex so at ease with someone other than Clark.

"We got the gift you sent, Bruce. It was lovely, although you needn't have bothered."

Bruce seemed to regain his composure. "It was the least I could do for the hospitality you've extended to me. Christmas is a family time, and I'm a stranger who's intruding."

"Nonsense," Martha said firmly, and she meant it. "Lex is family and you're his friend. You're always welcome here, Bruce. Now let me get you something warm to drink." She turned to the stove and started to ladle apple cider into deep blue mugs. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Lex giving Bruce a look, as if to say, "See? I told you so." Martha thought it was sweet Bruce seemed to need reassurance he was allowed to be here. It reminded her so much of the first few times Lex had come by, uncertain whether he was welcome or if he would even be invited in.

She handed Bruce a steaming mug of cider as he slid into a seat at the kitchen table. She watched his gaze take in the room: the handmade rug on the floor, the simple decorations of pine boughs and ribbon. It must be so different from living in a mansion.

"You have a beautiful home, Mrs. Kent," Bruce said. "Thank you for including me."

Martha looked at the intensity on Bruce's face--a hunger for a life that was warm and bright--and she had to stop herself from putting her arms around him. There were too many orphans in Smallville, and she couldn't save them all. But she would do what she could. She was glad she'd bought the socks.

"Just consider yourself part of the family, Bruce," Martha said. She had a feeling Lex and Bruce were going to be part of Clark's life for a long time. Somehow it made her worry just a little less.

***

Clark stood in the upstairs hallway and rolled his eyes as he listened to Bruce greeting his mother. A kiss on the hand? What did he think this was, the fifties?

"We got the gift you sent, Bruce," Clark heard his mother saying.

Yeah, some gift. After all the abuse Clark had taken from him about the mutant pig incident, he'd sent them a Christmas ham. A ham with a note saying he hoped Clark's allergy didn't extend to pork products. Jonathan had shaken his head and muttered something about weird rich people. Clark had shrugged and decided not to try to explain.

He ambled down the stairs and pulled Lex into a quick hug. His parents weren't really big on the public displays of affection, and Clark had decided it was best to keep things mostly casual around them. If they didn't have to think about them sleeping together, his parents were more likely to allow them to continue their relationship without a lot of scrutiny. Maybe he'd even be able to talk them into letting him stay at the mansion overnight. That was what he wanted for Christmas more than anything else, a night with Lex where they could take the time to explore their feelings, and maybe take their relationship to the next level. Clark wanted it so badly he could feel the tension thrumming in his blood every time Lex got near.

Jonathan walked into the kitchen with a firm hand extended to Bruce, and a tolerant smile aimed at Lex.

"Let's get this show on the road, shall we?" he said. "Those presents won't open themselves."

***

Lex handed a small package to Bruce. "Here."

Bruce looked at him quizzically and unwrapped a small thin book. Clark glanced over. It was Julius Caesar. He remembered suffering through it in Grade 9, complete with Lex's extensive explanations about the Roman Senate and the political intrigues of the day. Bruce was rubbing a hand softly over the cover and staring at Lex with amazement.

"Are you serious?" he said. Clark saw his parents exchange a look--apparently they didn't see what the big deal was either. It was just a book. It didn't look old enough to be a first edition or anything.

"Absolutely. He's yours."

"God, Lex. I don't know what to say." Bruce looked stunned.

"You'll have to let us in on the secret, boys," Martha suggested, and Lex and Bruce seemed to realize they weren't alone. Clark hated that the two of them could look at each other and the rest of the world seemed to disappear. He knew how that felt, but it wasn't right it should happen with them. He supposed he was going to have to get used to it.

"He gave me Brutus," Bruce explained. "He's a horse. A magnificent horse."

Clark almost laughed. Some present. Maybe Lex didn't like Bruce as much as he'd thought. Brutus was a scary animal, huge and homicidal. It was no surprise that Brutus and Bruce got along perfectly. As far as Clark was concerned, they were a good match, and he wouldn't miss the beast. He'd tried to kick Clark the last time he'd been in the stalls, and Clark had only managed to avoid injury because he was invulnerable and super-fast.

"A horse," Jonathan repeated, clearly trying to figure out if this was a normal Christmas gift for billionaires to give one another. Clark suspected he was still reeling from Bruce's present to Lex. No one had known how to react when Lex had unwrapped a basket full of shampoos from Bruce--dark expensive bottles that smelled like spice and smoke and toasted almonds--and Lex had grinned from ear-to-ear and made some vague comment about peaches that no one except Bruce seemed to understand. Clark wondered if it was always going to be like this, caught in the middle of two men who were potentially sixteen and reckless at any given moment.

"There's something else," Lex said, gesturing. Inside the cover of the book was tucked an assortment of tickets. Bruce flipped through them.

"The Metropolis Symphony Orchestra. The Gotham Ballet. Trying to tell me I should get out more, Lex?"

"Yes. And you'll notice there are two for each event. Take a friend." Once again something flashed between them, and Clark got the impression whole conversations had taken place in the blink of an eye. He wondered if he and Lex looked like that to other people, and secretly hoped they did.

"I'll consider it. But really, Lex, the Gotham Circus? What makes you think I want to spend an evening watching people in weird costumes flying through the air?"

"How is that different from any other night in Gotham?" Lex said with a smug grin, and Clark could've sworn there was something else going on in that look.

"Just for that, you're coming to the damn circus with me." Bruce's grin was wicked. "But thank you."

He reached for a package tucked beside the tree, and handed it to Clark. "A little something for you, Clark."

Clark was surprised as he accepted the neatly wrapped package. He hadn't expected anything, and he hadn't gotten Bruce anything. What did you get a billionaire anyway? He tore the paper off and found himself holding what looked like two familiar books he remembered from childhood. Except there was something different about the covers.

"It's Green Eggs and Ham and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," Bruce offered when he saw Clark's face.

"In Latin," Clark said. Great. Now not only was he being mocked, he was being mocked in a language he didn't understand. It was official. Bruce was never going to let him forget the green pigs thing. Ever.

Bruce's face was the picture of innocence. "It never hurts to have a rudimentary understanding of Latin."

"And the occasions on which I'll need to know the Latin for ‘I would not eat them on a boat, I would not eat them with a goat' are numerous, I'm sure."

"You'd be surprised," Lex said cryptically.

***

Clark stood in the doorway of the living room and surveyed the mess. His mother was tidying up what seemed like enough wrapping paper and ribbon to run a professional wrapping service. His dad and Lex were kneeling in the midst of it with the pieces of Jonathan's new workbench strewn across the floor in front of them. The manufacturer had failed to include instructions in anything except Spanish and Chinese. While Jonathan was bemoaning the loss of American industry, Lex had offered to put his knowledge of Mandarin to work.

Clark stifled a laugh as he watched Bruce carefully extract the instruction sheet from Lex's hands and rotate it 180 degrees.

"Lex, did you pay any attention in Mandarin class?" Bruce asked.

"I would've figured it out. I'm a little rusty." Lex grabbed a piece of the workbench and consulted the sheet while Jonathan looked on skeptically. "Now, it says to attach this to the tentacle. Or something."

"Give me that." Bruce took the paper from Lex's hands. "Tabletop, not tentacle, Lex. Why don't you go see if Clark needs help? Or Martha. I'm sure you could do less damage in the kitchen."

"You speak Chinese too, Bruce?" Jonathan asked, clearly a little awed by their houseguest. Bruce shifted onto the floor, clearing a space amidst the wrapping paper like he was Moses parting the Red Sea. He picked up a screwdriver.

"Yes, although you're giving Lex far too much credit." Lex looked indignant as Bruce calmly began attaching a leg to the workbench. "Being able to order Chinese food doesn't count as speaking Mandarin."

Lex pulled himself off the floor and rattled off something that sounded like complete nonsense to Clark. Bruce raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything as he reached for the second table leg.

"Jonathan, Lex was telling me you like antique motorcycles. I have quite a collection at home. Perhaps you'd be interested in seeing them sometime." Lex had clearly been dismissed, and he was wearing an expression somewhere between chastised and pissed off. It didn't happen very often.

Clark waited while Lex waded through the paper, giving a less-than-gentle thwack to Bruce's head as he passed by. Bruce just ignored him, and Clark could see his dad shaking his head even as he listened to Bruce explaining the kinds of bikes he had. That should keep them going for hours, Clark knew. Maybe he and Lex would get some alone time after all.

An arm snaked around Clark's waist, pulling him back into the hallway, and he felt a kiss against his neck. He closed his eyes and leaned back against Lex's body.

"What did you say to Bruce, anyway?" Clark was curious. He didn't know any other languages--except Kryptonian, and that wasn't exactly something he could put on his resume--but he'd always thought it would be neat to be able to talk to people from different countries.

"Well, it was either ‘may a giant squid suck out your heart' or ‘your breasts are as fair as the peaks of Mt. Fuji'."

Clark snickered. He heard Bruce muttering about "complete and utter nonsense" under his breath, but he didn't figure he'd share that with Lex. Let him have his moment. It was rare he got to see Lex like this, completely relaxed. He hadn't even protested when Martha had given him a hat for Christmas, although Clark had noted he didn't immediately leap to try it on either. Still, it made his mom feel better to at least know Lex owned a hat, even if he never wore it.

"Bruce seemed to like his socks." Clark chuckled. "Mom really didn't know what to get him."

"They didn't have to get him anything, but I know he appreciated it."

"Yeah, right," Clark said. "It was socks, Lex. He was being polite."

The arms around Clark's waist tightened fractionally. "No, he was being sincere. Alfred's probably the only person who's bought him socks since his parents died. It was thoughtful."

Clark stiffened. He suspected he should've known Bruce was an orphan. He'd heard Lex mention Alfred before, of course, and it hadn't occurred to him that no one mentioned the rest of Bruce's family. Maybe because there wasn't a family to mention.

"What happened to his parents?"

Clark dropped his voice to a whisper. Bruce would hear them. He had amazing hearing, and Clark still wasn't sure what that meant, but it felt wrong to be having this conversation in the hallway on Christmas Day with Bruce only a room away, on his knees helping Jonathan assemble the mother of all workbenches. He could almost see the set of Bruce's shoulders harden as he asked the question, but maybe he was imagining things. Maybe.

Lex rubbed a hand across Clark's stomach. "I'll tell you sometime. But not today."

Clark nodded as Bruce laughed at something Jonathan had said. The workbench was wobbling on all four legs now, but there was a shelf and a vise to attach, and Bruce was handier with a screwdriver and a wrench than Clark would've ever given him credit for. Lex appeared to be useless with tools most of the time, or at least Clark had never seen him even open the hood of his car. Lex wielded his cell phone like other people handled a power saw. It was his own personal multi-function tool, and there seemed to be nothing he couldn't fix with a phone call.

"I'm glad you're here," Clark said, twining his fingers with Lex's, breathing in the smells of turkey and baked yams and a little bit of Lex's cologne tangled in between. All the smells of home.

"Me too." Lex's mouth was a warm spot on Clark's neck. "Me too."

Clark had never imagined Christmas could be this perfect.

***

"How did you convince your parents to let you come home with me?" Lex asked when they were finally alone in Lex's room at the mansion.

"Believe it or not, I just asked. I guess Mom felt sorry for me after everything that's been going on."

Clark stretched out on the bed, looking like a satisfied cat, and Lex set about starting a fire in the grate. He needed something to do with his hands, or else he was going to strip Clark naked and everything would be over in less than two minutes. He needed time to adjust to this new development.

Clark was here for the whole night. With permission, and either there had been some kind of Christmas miracle, or Lex was anticipating waking up from this dream sometime before anything good happened. He glanced back at Clark, and shook his head.

"You're not dreaming, Lex." And now apparently Clark could also read minds, and Lex was just beginning to speculate on the applications of that particular talent in the bedroom when he realized Clark's grin had gone from happy to concerned. Well, he couldn't have that.

"I just didn't expect to have you here for Christmas," Lex said, flicking a match into the fireplace and watching as it failed to catch. A flash of light from behind him and the fire roared to life. Heat vision. Right. He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to some of Clark's powers. Lex moved towards the bed. "You caught me off-guard. I wasn't prepared."

"Lex Luthor unprepared? I doubt that." Clark reached out a hand and tugged Lex onto the bed. "What you mean is you didn't have every detail planned, and now you don't know what to do."

Clark seemed to be revelling in catching Lex unawares, and Lex had to admit there was a certain appeal to Clark's aggressive insistence that tonight was the night. Not that Lex was objecting. He'd wanted Clark almost since he'd met him, but he knew Bruce had been right. Fucking made a difference, and if they did this, there would be no going back.

"It's a big step, Clark," Lex murmured, tracing the angle of Clark's jaw. The scratch of stubble under his fingers reassured Lex he wasn't entirely robbing the cradle. Clark had a man's body, a man's needs, and it was only sometimes he remembered he was seventeen. "And you haven't done this before."

"There's a first time for everything, Lex." Clark's mouth was open and good, and Lex closed his eyes and tried not to think about firsts as he unbuttoned a layer of flannel. All of his firsts had been long ago with a different dark-haired boy, and now wasn't the time to remember them.

Clark must have sensed the direction of his thoughts, for suddenly his eyes flickered towards the door. He licked nervously at his lips. "Bruce isn't staying in the next room, is he?"

Lex shook his head. "No, he's taking a room in the other wing for the night." Although Lex suspected Bruce would more likely be stalking the hallways or perched on the rooftop. He'd left the last bottle of Chateau Neuf du Pape in his room with a note that simply said ‘thank you.' Bruce would understand.

Lex didn't think any of them would've been able to cope with Bruce next door, and he didn't want to be thinking about Bruce now with Clark warm and willing in his bed. Lex bent his head and kissed Clark softly, gently, taking the time to trace each full lip with his tongue before pushing deeper, demanding entrance, and Clark tilted his mouth up and let Lex lead the way.

A quick tug and Clark's shirt was messing up his too long hair, and Lex had to twine his fingers in those dark strands and just hold on for a moment, kissing his way along Clark's jaw and up to his ear where he recited a litany of sweet, dirty things he wanted to do, and even in the firelight he could tell Clark was hard and blushing. The sound pulled from his throat was halfway between a whimper and something that sounded like "please."

The fire cracked and Lex licked the shadows from Clark's throat, licked and sucked until he could almost believe he'd left a mark, although he knew it was only imagination and desire painting Clark's skin with a sign that Lex had been there. He wanted Clark to remember everything about this, the way the light danced across their bodies like the last shards of sunset, the feel of Lex's silk shirt coming apart in his hands. He wanted him to remember this for the rest of his life.

Lex eased Clark's hips up, sliding jeans past his erection, cupping a hand over dark blue boxers and squeezing enough to make Clark thrust against his hand.

"Lex."

"Shh. We'll take the edge off. It'll be perfect."

Lex nipped at Clark's neck, not sure if he could last any longer than Clark, now writhing underneath him, hands rippling across Lex's back, hips pushing hard against Lex's thigh. Lex caught the edge of Clark's boxers, tugging them past his knees, adding them to the rapidly growing pile of clothes on the floor.

A lick to his palm, and then he was curling strong fingers around Clark's erection, sliding the length of his cock, slick with pre-come, and all the while Clark's breathless, needy whispers caressed his ear, making Lex as hard as he'd ever been in his life. When Clark came, it was with a sharp snap of his hips and a gush of hot liquid across Lex's palm, Lex's name choked into his shoulder.

Lex wiped his hand on the sheets, and pulled Clark closer, swept a tongue across his lips and kissed him deep.

"God, you're gorgeous," Lex whispered, and Clark's grin swept over him like a Grecian sunrise. Before Lex could blink he found himself on his back, Clark's hands slipping into the waistband of his pants, and Lex held his breath as Clark just looked at him.

A soft kiss, a smile like no other, the tip of a tongue teasing the scar on his lip, and Lex stared into green eyes that promised him forever, and he believed it. He wanted to believe everything Clark was offering, and so he let himself relax, be touched and petted. Clark's large hands swept over and around him, traced the bone-lines of his sternum, each arc of rib, rubbed lightly over nipples that responded instantly to Clark's touch.

"You like that?" Clark murmured, bending a tongue to swirl around the pale nub of nipple, and Lex responded with what he hoped was "yes" but might have been something else entirely. He watched Clark exploring his body with fascination. They'd done this before, of course, but it had always been with a time limit, the knowledge that Clark had to go home to parents and homework and chores, and now for the first time, they had all the time in the world.

"I like everything you do, Clark."

It wasn't a lie. Clark licked a stripe down Lex's throat and seized a nipple between wet lips.

"Teach me."

It was a request Lex couldn't bring himself to refuse. He wrapped a hand along the back of Clark's neck and pushed him harder, made him bite and suck, while Lex whispered yes, yes, just like that, harder, God, Clark, like that. And Clark responded like the perfect student, seizing on each reaction, each halting breath and learning, learning so fast Lex was going to nominate him for membership in MENSA.

Somewhere along the way, Lex realized his pants were undone, Clark's fingers teasing the inside of his waistband with tiny dips towards Lex's cock, and Lex felt a growl building in the back of his throat. He was never going to last if Clark was going to tease, and maybe that was okay. They had all night.

"Touch me, Clark," Lex moaned, and it seemed like all he'd needed was permission. Pants and boxers disappeared, and Clark's huge hands were spreading Lex's thighs, fingers kneading muscles taut with anticipation, and Lex wanted there to be bruises on his skin, so he would remember this tomorrow, and the day after, and forever.

Lex raised himself on his elbows. He wanted to watch, wanted to imprint the exact moment Clark licked his lips and slid his smile around Lex's cock, fingers stroking downwards towards heavy balls. Tongue slicking the tip, and then a deliberate slow suck as Clark opened his throat wider, let Lex push inside, and the world was reduced to flame and shadow and the wet heat of Clark's mouth on Lex's cock. Steady slick movement of Clark's mouth, the lightning flick of tongue against the head, fingers rubbing eagerly across the sensitive spot at the base, and Lex buried his hands in Clark's hair, guided him, set a rhythm that quickly grew ragged against Clark's mouth until he was screaming Clark's name and coming, coming so hard he could almost believe he saw stars.

***

Clark curled around Lex, happy and warm, the taste of Lex in his mouth still strange even after months together. He lay with his head on Lex's chest, tracing patterns of firelight on Lex's bare skin.

"I love you," Clark whispered.

A hand petted through his hair, and Lex coaxed Clark upwards until their mouths were meeting again, slow and languid, the need to hurry tempered with a lazy appreciation of time, and Clark wondered when the world had slipped into slowness the way it did when he was moving too fast to be seen.

"We have all night," Lex said, but Clark's body didn't agree. He was hard again and he pressed his erection against Lex's thigh. Lex smiled against his mouth, his grin greedy, and the hands stroking his back became more deliberate, more practised, and Clark felt a tremor ripple down his spine when Lex slipped a hand along the length of his cock. This was really going to happen.

"Lay on your back," Lex said, and Clark complied. Lex reached into the drawer for something and when Clark opened his eyes, Lex was leaning over him with bright eyes, mouth descending to claim a kiss that felt like thunder and lightning. Clark kissed him back, hard. He'd had enough of gentle, and now he wanted this, wanted it more than he'd wanted anything. He pushed Lex's hand downward, and slick fingers stroked him, sliding lower, lower, until there was the first nudge of pressure against his hole, and he spread his legs to let Lex touch him, open him up.

"It might hurt." Strong fingers reached for his balls and stroked, Lex's tongue in Clark's mouth mimicking the gentle rhythm of a finger sliding inside him, slowly, carefully. Clark squirmed at the unusual feeling, new, but not unpleasant, and he wanted more, wanted it harder and faster, and his hands on Lex's shoulders were insistent.

"Easy," Lex murmured, finger relentlessly pushing deeper, and Clark wriggled against the pressure, wanting more. Lex obliged with a second finger, still too careful, and Clark bit Lex's tongue, a sharp nip that said please and more and now.

"Fuck, Lex, I want this." The air was gone from his lungs, heartbeat thrumming in his skull, and Clark could hear things he'd never imagined. The blood coursing through his veins. Every beat of Lex's wild, uneven heart. The shift and pop of the logs in the fireplace as they burned, heat rising around them like a phoenix.

"Patience, grasshopper," Lex smirked, but he stroked harder, scissoring his fingers as he moved, and Clark could feel the stretch of skin and muscle as his body shifted to make room for Lex, Lex's fingers, Lex's cock, and Clark could almost come from the thought of what it would feel like when Lex was finally inside. Then the room was spinning as Lex was spreading him further, fingers stretching deeper, and Clark bucked up and yelped as Lex connected with a spot that turned him liquid with a white-hot burst of pleasure.

"Fuck, Lex. In me. Now. I'm not going to last." He was leaking again, and Lex was grinning like he'd invented sex, and for all Clark knew maybe he had because nothing he'd ever done had felt like this before. Touching himself had never ever made him see stars, and Lex wasn't even inside him yet. The fingers withdrew and Clark moaned at the loss, but it was only a moment and Lex was turning him over, easing him onto his knees, whispering that he was so fucking hot and oh my god, I want you, I want you so bad, Clark.

Fingers spreading him again, the lick of a tongue along the back of his neck, and Clark rolled his head back and braced himself. The first blunt nudge of cock made him tense. Lex's hands were soothing on his hips, mouth softening his spine with licks and kisses, and Clark found himself spreading his legs, adjusting naturally, as if he'd always known how to do this.

Another inch, and another, and he and Lex were breathing together, breath stopping and starting with every slow slide of cock. A hand splayed across Clark's hip like a starfish, and he could hear Lex's grunt as he eased deeper into Clark, holding himself back so as not to hurt him. Clark was tired of Lex being so fucking careful with him all the time.

"Fuck, Lex. Do it! God, I want you. Just fuck me already. You're not going to hurt me." Clark reached a hand back and grabbed Lex's ass and squeezed, pushing him into Clark and God, Clark could feel him buried deep inside him, balls deep and hard. Clark thought of fire and burning, but it was a good kind of burn, the way his heat vision left his eyes hot and tingling for a section after the flame was gone.

"God, Clark, you're so tight. Fuck." The hand on Clark's hip was gripping him as if he might get away, and Clark wanted there to be bruises there, although he knew there never would be. He memorized the shape of Lex's hand on his skin, the way it felt to curve against him like this, Lex's cock splitting him wide, filling him, possessing him. Completely.

"Do it, Lex. Fuck me." And Lex made a sound that was definitely yes, and God, and fuck all rolled into one, and then he was sliding out and back in. Clark shifted to meet the glide of Lex's cock, and after a few ragged strokes, they found a rhythm, Lex's hand guiding Clark's thrusts to match his own.

Clark reached for his own cock, needing the release, but Lex moved his hand away, licked his palm and stroked Clark hard.

"Brace yourself, Clark," Lex said, and his voice was hoarse, thrusts growing deeper, hitting Clark's prostate with every thrust, and Clark couldn't do anything except crumple the sheets in his hand and ride out Lex's rhythm, Lex's hand on his cock and Lex's cock in his ass, slamming into him with heated thrusts, lips and teeth against his shoulder. There was a moment when he lost all track of time and space and everything except the feel of Lex's skin and the burning pleasure of an orgasm that seemed to last forever.

Clark choked out a cry and collapsed against the bed. Lex's thrusts still rocked into him, slower, shallower, until there was nothing left. When he pulled out, Clark felt the emptiness, the absence of Lex inside him, and wondered if he would always feel empty without Lex. It was a sobering thought.

He shifted, and pulled Lex against him, sweat-slick skin and semen tangled in damp sheets, and the air smelled like sex.

"God, Lex," he whispered, covering his face with kisses. "You're amazing."

"You're okay?" Lex's worried eyes were back, but they were blue and almost sleepy. Clark smiled against him and stroked a hand across his scalp, a rare pleasure, and he wouldn't have been surprised if Lex had purred.

"I'm fantastic."

Clark closed his eyes and held Lex as close as he could, knowing he didn't have to leave. Knowing he would never really leave Lex again.

"Go to sleep, Lex," Clark murmured.

He was asleep without ever really registering the momentary tension that gripped Lex's body before he relaxed into Clark's arms.

***

DEC. 26

Lex wasn't surprised to see Bruce sitting at the breakfast table reading the paper the next morning. Lex poured a glass of juice and helped himself to a finger of toast from Bruce's plate, which earned him a raised eyebrow but nothing else.

Lex looked at him carefully as Bruce folded the papers and set them beside his plate. He picked up his miniature coffee cup and sipped.

"I see you mastered the espresso machine," Lex said sniffing the air. It smelled like some kind of dark roast. Not surprising. Bruce liked everything dark. He made a small noise that might've been agreement.

"Just spit it out, Bruce."

"The coffee?" His tone was absolutely neutral.

Lex narrowed his eyes. He didn't want this to be uncomfortable, and he suspected it was going to be anyway. "Whatever you're thinking. You've got one shot--take it or leave it. Speak now or forever--"

"I was just thinking you're looking remarkably ... well ... this morning." Still neutral, but there was a hint of a smile, and Lex relaxed. He needed Bruce to be okay with this.

"Remarkably well-fucked, you mean," Lex said, smiling. Yeah, he was. It had been a good night, and Clark was still sleeping as only seventeen-year-old boys could sleep. Dead to the world and taking up the entire bed.

"Well, I do know that look from personal experience." Bruce's grin was wider, accepting, teasing, and Lex snorted. Yeah, Bruce knew that look. Better than anyone. Bruce had taught him the meaning of the word.

"Clark's still here?"

"Yeah, he's sleeping. I just came down to grab a glass of juice." Lex couldn't help looking smug. He and Clark had needed last night, needed it in ways Lex hadn't even known, and it had been even better than his fantasies had promised. "Hope we didn't keep you up last night."

Bruce rolled his eyes. "Don't flatter yourself. The walls are three feet thick and made of stone, Lex."

"Still, I thought your sonar might be going off."

Bruce glared at him, but it wasn't his death-glare, so Lex risked stealing another piece of toast, which earned him a slap on the wrist. A light one.

"Did Alfred stop by, or do you always cut your toast into little fingers?" Lex smirked, already knowing the answer. There were certain habits Bruce just couldn't seem to get out of it. Lex would never admit it, but he'd always thought the toast thing was cute.

"Why don't you go back to Clark? If you like, I could bring you breakfast in bed."

Lex choked on his orange juice. "No! That's just fine. You're enjoying this entirely too much."

Bruce shrugged, and reached for his coffee. "It's good to see you happy, although I'm forced to question your taste in companions."

"Yeah, well, I picked you, didn't I?"

"Hm, I thought I picked you."

Lex placed two glasses of juice on a small tray. He took the long way around the table, passing by Bruce on his way out. Lex lay a hand on Bruce's shoulder, squeezed once, resisting the urge to ruffle his hair. He pushed through the door of the dining room, balancing the tray against his hip.

"Merry Christmas, Bruce."

"You too, Lex."

The door swung shut behind him as Lex climbed the stairs back to the master suite, and Clark.

 

THE END