They were roommates before they were lovers, which may explain why Lex has never felt quite as unsettled as he thinks he should have been.
Home had once been more than just a word.
It had been his mother in Metropolis once upon a time, the castle, until Lionel had moved in that long-ago summer. Lex hadn't had a place since that he'd felt that word. Martha Kent's kitchen had echoes of both, a flow he could feel surrounding him, warm and rich, but it had never been his. Returning to the city hadn't been any different than a thousand places he'd spent his life in. The penthouse had been a birthday present, a subtle way for Lionel Luthor to get rid of his son and keep him on hand. It didn't feel any different at twenty-five than eighteen.
Post-college, pre-Planet, when Clark was still working minimum wage and applying at the local papers. Clark hadn't fought him nearly as hard as Lex had expected when he'd offered a room in the penthouse. It's what friends do, Lex had said. It's just until you get the Planet job, he'd continued. I'll help you look for an apartment when you're ready, he'd cajoled. Luthors know good deals when they see them, he'd explained.
He likes to think his persuasion did the trick, but he's guessing it was Martha, worried about her only chick being alone in the worst part of the city, that pushed Clark over.
It was a slow thing, he thinks now, faced with a warm, broad back and dark hair, skin wrapped around his as familiar and sweet as if Clark's never slept anywhere else.
He remembers shoes in the living room now, that one day coming home from work with the sun already set and exhaustion hanging around him like something visible. Clark's old cross-trainers, the ones that looked as if they'd seen a major war or some kind of maniacal farming device. Ratty and long overdue for decent burial in a trash can somewhere. The maid had been removing them with a look that spoke volumes about her feelings regarding random displacement of objects from their proper environment. More about the presence of a messy twenty-two year old in Lex's ordered world.
Lex remembers telling her to leave them where they were and sitting down on the couch to turn on CNN.
Yes, that had been the first thing.
Maybe a week or two in, when Clark stopped acting like a guest in some expensive and terrifying hotel, another thing. Right after the shoes. Well before Lex started to wonder. The cook had been on vacation and they'd been eating take-out for two days. He remembers being curious at the smells wafting through the penthouse, dropping his briefcase by the door and going into the kitchen like a magnet drawn north, or a starving executive tired of delivery, wondering hopefully if Hilda had returned early.
Bare feet on the pristine kitchen floor--Lex could almost hear Hilda shriek in German on hygiene and invaders in her kitchen. Headphones cranked up loud enough for Lex to hear alt-rock and tinny male voices. Rhythmic steps and random turning as Clark had wandered through the kitchen, carrying spices and cut vegetables. There'd been pot bubbling on the stove, and it had smelled like what the word home always seemed to mean.
He'd set the bar with bowls and Clark had made fun of him for eating three helpings, only a few feet separating them. Two roommates eating dinner together and talking about nothing in particular. Clark had gotten an application in at *The Daily Planet* and Lex had been in the process of taking over another company. Later, Clark had loaded the dishwasher and Lex had put away the leftovers.
He wants to think that's when he figured things out, but it's not. Even though going to bed that night, he'd wondered a little about the thought of offering to cook the next night.
It'd been at the three month mark that Clark had mentioned looking for an apartment. Watching television on opposite sides of the couch, though socked feet were only inches from Lex's hip. The latest in drama hadn't been nearly as interesting as Clark's running commentary on the decline in American pop culture and the quality of current programming.
Lex had cleared his schedule for Saturday and called an agency.
"Lex?" Little stir, a shift of muscles against Lex's hand as Clark rolls on his back, blinking up at the ceiling. "'Wake?"
Lex smiles slowly, studying sleepy green eyes and messy dark hair. "If I say no, would you believe me?"
That gets him a soft chuckle and Clark shifts over, dark head resting just against his shoulder, big arm sliding around him. "Not time to get up yet."
There'd been ten places on the list. Four were acceptable. Two were an outright bargain. One was perfect.
Lex had told Clark he could do better.
They'd gone to dinner and made another appointment for the next Saturday morning. They'd debated utilities included in rent and the restrictions on large dogs through the main course, the current political climate through dessert and coffee, the latest music trends on the way home.
Watched Single White Female at two in the morning and Clark had asked if Lex would think it was creepy if he shaved his head.
It had grown from there.
That same week, Lex had instituted Laundry Day by accident.
Clark would put it off for as long as humanly possible every time. Passing glances into Clark's room had revealed the slowly accumulating piles of clothing that turned into drifts before disappearing at irregular intervals. The maid had been appalled. Lex had wondered why on earth Clark let it get so bad. Clark had finally admitted he didn't like carrying his stuff to the laundromat down the street.
Lex had pointed out his laundry room off the kitchen. Clark had been surprised Lex had one.
They'd made popcorn and watched Star Trek reruns while doing ten loads of random clothing with the maid's eyebrows raised in polite displeasure.
Lex had considered firing her.
Another week, another round of rejected apartments. Lex had gotten in the habit of leaving notes for Clark to tell him if he'd be late. Clark would leave him breakfast in the morning because he left for work an hour earlier than Lex. Hilda had made it clear that she didn't appreciate interlopers in her kitchen. Lex couldn't find it in himself to care.
Fridays developed a routine, and Lex still isn't sure exactly how that had happened.
Fridays were when Lex got in the habit of dismissing Hilda for the weekend and Clark would come home with bags from the local grocery store. Lex was never late. To keep myself in practice for when I live alone, Clark had explained over frying chicken or baking pork chops or stirring chicken and dumplings. I want to contribute, Clark had told him a little desperately. I should pay rent, he finally murmured, bending over a pot. Until I find my own place, he'd said.
Lex had agreed with a thoughtfulness that he couldn't quite make himself express.
Then there'd been the other things.
Accumulation he hadn't noticed, because it all slipped in so gradually. Wednesdays they had dinner out because Clark worked late and would let Lex pick him up at eight instead of taking the bus home late at night. Always Chinese at this tiny place that Lex had discovered during his MetU days and Clark had loved since freshman year. Thursday nights became their must-see TV, when Lex would lock his office door and watch Clark sprawl on the couch, mocking sitcoms over frozen pizza and soda. Saturday mornings were still given to the locating agency, but in the afternoons they went to museums or for coffee at some new shop or one memorable zoo visit.
Lex had completely forgotten the purpose of the agency until the day Clark got the Planet job.
"It's seven," Lex murmurs, turning his face into silky dark hair, breathing in the warm-sleepy scent of Clark. Clark burrows closer, making a protesting noise with an arm tightening around Lex's waist, and Lex closes his eyes to feel it better. "Come on, Clark. Up."
He'd been on a business trip for a week and found himself calling every night like Clark had asked, and three short conversational hours later, would fall asleep in a strange bed with the feeling of something familiar and warm around him. He'd missed laundry day and Wednesday Chinese and Clark cooking dinner. He'd missed the agency appointment, too, and that had been a mistake.
Clark had made him sandwiches in the kitchen and showed him the brochure of the new apartment at two on a Monday morning.
Lex had wondered if destroying the building would be overreacting.
"Why do you want to move out?" Lex had heard himself ask over the remains of two pastrami on rye, shocking himself. The green eyes had come up to catch his before looking away quickly.
"I--don't. I--mean, this was only temporary. Until I could afford a good place of my own." The green eyes had fixed on the surface of the table. "You've been really great, and I know--I know how much your privacy means to you--"
"Clark." You don't make enough. Well, he does now. Clark, you're closer to work here. Well, yes, but the apartment is right on a bus line. Clark, I don't want you to go. "When are you moving out?"
Lex had finished the pastrami, knowing he'd never be able eat it again. "Okay."
Lex almost holds on when Clark finally drags himself out of bed, disappearing into the bathroom, looking years too young to work for a newspaper. Sweat pants that had seen Clark through MetU, no shirt to disturb the view. The sounds of muted cursing drift from the bathroom door left ajar, a razor being applied with undue haste, then the shower where Clark transforms from pretty, sleepy boy into grown-up journalist. Lex watches it every day and never gets tires of it.
Lex remembers the sense of unreality of those last two weeks before Clark's moving date.
Little things had disappeared from the living room that Lex hadn't even known were there. An absence of the picture of Martha and Jonathan Kent on the sideboard. Pictures of Chloe and Pete and Lana from strategic spots in the house. The broken pencils vanished from under the coffee table. Plates no longer were left unattended beside the couch. Cheesy, bizarre bits of tourist-only knickknacks like Metropolis snowglobes and tiny figurine animals from Metropolis zoo taken away. It was hotel-living all over again, and the sense of something missing pursued Lex through every single day, with every thing he watched disappear.
The shoes had vanished from the places in the living room Clark had found to kick them off, and the curious sense of loss had bothered Lex as he tried to fall asleep that night.
It'd been the first week all over again, except it was the last, and the Thursday before moving, Clark hadn't come home until midnight so he could drop off change of address forms and apply for electricity and telephone. Lex had channel-surfed and fell asleep on the couch, only realizing when Clark woke him up that he'd been waiting for him.
Clark's room had become the very image of immaculate housekeeping, and Lex could see Hilda and the maid relax in understanding.
From the bathroom, steam escapes like a ghost of smoke, and Lex breathes in the scent of Clark's soap and grins at the sound of off-key singing. Sitting up, Lex slides to the floor, glancing down at the patterned earthtone rug that Clark had bought for his new bedroom, two days before moving day.
Lex remembers seeing it rolled in the corner of Clark's room on his way to his office and stopping short.
"Clark?" He remembers how his voice had sounded, nothing like the pure confusion in his mind. Clark had grinned at him from a loose sprawl on the bed.
"Yeah, come in."
It's only then that Lex had realized that he'd never been in this room before Clark moved in. Spread of pencils on the desk, but the papers and books have been reassigned to four boxes on the floor. Lex had leaned into the doorway, the sense of vertigo increasing. It was Clark's room. Lex hadn't been able to imagine his things anywhere else.
"Your new place have an office?" He nods to the boxes, a haphazard mess of papers and notebooks and computer software.
Clark had shaken his head. "No. Just a plain one bedroom. No space."
"I could have one built for you."
The dark head had lifted slowly, giving Lex a bright grin. "I know you consider yourself omnipotent, but even you can't make space appear out of nowhere."
Clark had snickered then. "Kind of hard to use when I'm halfway across town--"
Lex had felt the teasing smile that spread his lips and wished it was more real. "If you stay here." It had been a stupid idea, even he'd known that, but for some reason, he'd spilled it anyway. "There's a room adjoining this one, through that door. I could have it remodeled for you."
He remembers now how Clark had sat up. "Lex, I--"
"You'd be closer to work here," Lex had said, and even to himself, he'd sounded desperate. "Downtown is more useful to journalists. Closer to everything."
Clark had just smiled, shaking his head. "Still trying to give me things? I know how much you like having your space to yourself, Lex. You've been great about this, especially considering it's been months longer than we discussed. But--"
Clark had looked at him for an endless moment, something unreadable in his face. "I don't want to--interrupt you life. Bother you."
"You don't bother me."
The green eyes had slid down, fixing somewhere in the vicinity of Lex's knees. "Look, I get you want to help me out, but--I mean, you haven't even been on a date since I moved in. And--and I mean, I've been--interfering with your life like this. Don't say I haven't. I know I have."
Lex remembers wondering why he hadn't noticed that himself.
"And you've--you've been great about staying around and stuff, but I know you've got to be tired of not having your privacy. You know. With--women. Dates."
Sixteen to twenty-two, but time had disappeared when Clark had said those words, with that look on his face. The blush could have been seen from miles away.
Going into the bathroom, Lex picks up the uncapped toothpaste, brushing his teeth. Clark's toothbrush and razor are forgotten on the sink again. He always forgets. Lex puts the cap back on when he's done and wipes away the toothpaste that Clark left on the counter, shuffling Clark's things into his drawer. On early mornings, Lex sometimes watches Clark shave with a sense of fascination bordering on disturbing. Lex doesn't care. Neither does Clark.
The shower stops and Clark steps out, grabbing for a towel off the floor to dry off, a bright smile curling up the corners of his mouth. Dark wet hair shiny and clinging.
"Good morning," he says, brushing a kiss across Lex's mouth, but it never stops there. Pressed into the counter, Clark's big hands are on his hips and a warm, soft tongue is in his mouth. Arousal low and warm and rich that will build all day every time he thinks of this moment, the impression of silky wet hair clinging to his fingertips hours later. Then Clark grins and disappears to get dressed, and Lex stares at the shower and wonders why he has to be a responsible adult with a career.
It just doesn't seem worth it right now.
Clark had looked up at him then.
"I like you here." It must have been then that Lex thought he'd understood, but he hadn't, because Clark had stood up, leaning against the bedpost with a pained look on his face. "You're not annoying me."
"It's not that."
"Am I that hard to live with?"
"No!" Clark had taken a deep breath, eyes slipping down again, away. Bracing himself for that blunt honesty that he utilized so rarely and so effectively. "No, it's just--" Clark stopped. "You're going to, though."
"Going to what?"
The green eyes hadn't moved from their stare at the floor. "Have--people over. Women."
Lex hadn't known how to answer that, didn't even know what Clark *meant*, so no, he hadn't understood, not really. Clark had looked away, sitting back down on the bed with that expression still painted across his face, and Lex had come in, shutting the door behind him to lean against expensive wood, where Clark had hung a whiteboard, now relegated to the piles of things in the corner. "I don't understand."
Clark had winced. "I--it'd be hard."
And he'd thought he'd understood *then* too. "Clark, I'm not--despite popular belief, I don't need sex every night." Not in several months, his mind had added helpfully. What happened to your dating life anyway, Lex? "And I certainly wouldn't invite anyone over without telling you--"
"Lex." And Clark had looked up. "It's not--it'd be hard to see--" The soft lips had tightened and there was no sign of the boy at all. This startling realization of the young man sitting on the bed only feet away, and something had started to click. "It's hard to see you with other people." A little sigh, but Clark had never looked away. "People that aren't me."
Shoes in the living room, dinners and movies and laundry and routines, and falling in love shouldn't have been about that, but somehow, it was. Passion he'd avoided, sex he'd made so casual that he'd never thought of it in terms of love, romance was a fantasy, but this--hadn't been what he'd expected.
Sneaking up like a thief in the night, quiet and subtle and sweet. Insinuating itself into his life and his routines and looking him in the face with quietly devastating acceptance.
This had been the home he'd been looking for all his life, wrapped up in a quiet, routine life and the dejected man sitting on that bed as if he'd expected the world to end.
"I'm sorry," Clark had said, bowed shoulders and pained eyes.
"Sorry--we're out of bagels," Clark tells him as Lex walks into the kitchen, more or less a businessman but still yawning through his hands. Clark gives him a cup of coffee and slides the basket of muffins to the center of the table. "Orange muffins. I picked them up yesterday at this new bakery down the street. Tell me what you think."
"Nice place?" He watches Clark sit down, the paper already open to pull out the business section that Clark passes to Lex with a muffin. Lex takes a bite and forswears bagels for the immediate future. "Not bad."
"I thought you'd like them." Clark grins over a mouthful of muffins. "I tried a sample of their Italian bread. Mind going by and picking some up for dinner tonight? And the dry cleaning, don't forget. Esther called last night to remind me to tell you."
Lex nods as he opens the business section. "I never forget." Clark snickers through another muffin and Lex picks the wrapper off his next muffin and throws it across the small breakfast table Clark had bought a few weeks before. "That was an anomaly."
"I just don't want to deal with you cranky because your favorite pink shirt--"
"It's mauve, Clark."
"--isn't in the closet."
"You--don't have anything to be sorry for." Lex had wanted to move, try to find words, but his body wouldn't obey and his mind a mass of shocky realization. Wanting Clark had been easy to deal with, always had been. Liking him had been unavoidable.
This had been something entirely unexpected.
"I know, it's--this. Before, it was--I could ignore it." The blush had brightened as Clark searched desperately for words. "But--but after this, and then seeing you with other people--I can't do that. I'm sorry Lex, but I just--I just can't."
It wasn't Desiree and pure, unbridled passion, or Helen and falling in love like the flip of a switch. It wasn't anything like anyone else, because it was Clark, best friend and confidante and roommate. He'd made things different, even when they weren't supposed to be.
"It's not just women," Lex had heard himself say, and he'd wondered what on earth he'd thought he was *doing*. Hands sweaty and rubbed into his thighs, trying to say the right thing. Clark had looked up, naked in a way that had made Lex ache somewhere strangely sweet. Clark wasn't hiding now, and Lex had wondered how long he's felt he had to. "Men, too." Something had been catching at his tongue and it was all coming out wrong, but he'd been trying. "I want you to stay."
The green eyes had flicked up to meet his, holding, searching. The rush of something fast and furious, before Clark had been awkward and sixteen all over again, crossing the room jerkily, and Lex had closed his eyes in time for their first kiss against Clark's bedroom door.
The first and the only he'd ever want to remember, falling so naturally they might have done this every day since the first time they'd met. Clark, who'd shaped himself to Lex's hands like Lex had been shaped to this life, soft sounds and warmth and need and a want so deep that Lex could feel it in every bone.
"I gotta run," Clark grabs his milk and drinks it down, getting up and pulling on the glasses he hides behind during the day from the table. A kiss that's sweet-hot and too short, leaving the taste of orange and milky Clark in his mouth, before Clark's whistling on his way out the door and Lex is clearing the table and calling down for his car.
Normal, routine things that make him smile a little as he puts the remaining muffins away and straightens his tie, turning off the coffee pot and shutting the dishwasher before turning out the lights.
Clark's room had become his study after Clark had moved. Three weeks later and one door over, and Lex had watched Clark whistle while he put away his things next to Lex's, happily rearranging the closets and placing a Metropolis snowglobe and a picture of his parents on the nightstand beside the digital clock. Clark had tackled him onto the bed after, christening the new comforter he'd bought for them, making Lex come just with the slow, sinuous movements of his body against Lex's and whispering soft, dirty things in his ear.
"You're mine," Clark had murmured on a bite, making Lex arch. He'd sounded so surprised, so amazed, so happy, and had Lex ever made someone sound like that before? "Just mine."
He'd come with Clark's tongue in his mouth, Clark's hands on his body, Clark's name filling his mind the way Clark had filled his life.
Hilda and the maid were fired. A cleaning staff comes once a week to straighten up what they can't get to during the week. Clark cooks dinner every night and is teaching Lex to make it too. Sundays are still their laundry days and on Wednesdays and Saturdays they still eat out.
Clark's ordered Christmas cards with their names on them and a picture of them in Metropolis Park in late November on the cover.
They curl up together on the couch at night, Clark's head in his lap when they watch television, long body stretched across the smooth leather, shirt unbuttoned and untucked, socked feet against the armrest. Dark hair beneath Lex's curious fingers whenever he wants to touch. Making out sometimes during commercials.
And every night, Lex goes to sleep with his best friend curled around him.
It should have scared him, but it never has.