It's a Saturday night and he calls home. His mother tells him about a calf born just that morning, a new bookstore on Main, his father's constant struggle to repair the porch. The world he left behind is going on without him.
He tells her about the tree in front of his building, his neighbor that works graveyard and always comes home with fresh bread, the old theater he found that shows dollar-fifty movies.
They say goodbye and I love you and he hangs up without mentioning the real reason he called.
When he was six he got tangled in some fencing wire. He bled, scared his parents, ended up with a morse code scar along his arm. It lasted a year, then started to fade. By his tenth birthday it was gone entirely. But he's twenty-two now and he thinks the scar is coming back.
He turns off the lamp. It's still early but he doesn't want to be awake.
On Monday he nearly forgets what floor he works on. He rides the elevator up to the fourteenth floor, back down to the lobby, up again. He has elevator music stuck in his head when he finally steps off on the twenty-fifth floor. He's not sure what it is, but it has the plinky sound of a child's piano, flat and percussive.
Don whistles when he sees him. "Whoa, Kent. Lookin' pretty rough. Wild weekend?"
Clark mumbles something about not sleeping well, moves a plastic fish out of his chair and sits down at his desk. He knows he has to cheer up because if Lois sees him like this she won't leave him alone until he explains himself. It's not that she's concerned about him, she just doesn't want him knowing anything she doesn't.
He starts cleaning off his desk and Lois comes up behind him, already talking. "Chin up, Clark. It's just Monday, it won't kill you."
He shakes his head because Lois never slows down. She's got enough nervous energy to light up Metropolis.
"Tell that to Avery Tyler," he says, tossing a wire story at her.
"He's dead? Shit. I was so close to getting an interview with him." She dumps her coat onto her desk and stares down at the story, chewing on her lip. "'The radical environmentalist blah blah blah found dead in a building he's suspected of setting on fire.' Fantastic! This'll sell. No one liked Tyler."
"It's good that you can see the positive side of things, Lois."
"Maybe I can get the girlfriend to talk to me, who do I know that knows Bethanne?" Lois paces back and forth, talking to herself and chewing on her thumb. "Jane could get me into the club on Seventh and Gregory..."
Lois is on a roll, muttering and scheming, and Clark goes back to sorting through the paper on his desk. He picks up a bulletin that wants to advise him on his retirement savings and something happens to his hand. He drops the paper.
There's a white line across the tip of his index finger. He pushes at it with his thumb and it becomes red. He's bleeding. He chokes, doesn't know what to do. The last time he'd seen his own blood he was fifteen and his parents had been there to pretend everything was fine.
Lois stops her muttering long enough to glare at him. "What's wrong with you?"
He holds up his finger and she grabs his hand, pulling it closer to her face. "Tch! It's just a papercut, Clark. Don't be such a baby." Rolling her eyes, she drops his hand in disgust.
Clark puts his finger in his mouth experimentally. His blood tastes nutty, like seaweed and salt.
Moving again, Lois picks up her coat, digs her palm pilot out of her bag. "I'm going to the Hall of Records, but you'd better stay here. It's not safe, you could get another papercut."
She flounces off, and it's just Lois being Lois but he wonders what else isn't safe for him.
Clark drives a 1998 Jetta. The heat doesn't work and the passenger-side door won't unlock, but that's okay because he rarely has passengers. Clark tries to turn the radio on, but the knob snaps off in his hand and suddenly the radio doesn't work either. He rolls down his window and pulls out of the Planet's underground parking garage.
The traffic in Metropolis is always bad. It's an old city with even older streets and it can't handle the flood of SUVs and town cars that routinely clog Broadway. It's six o'clock and Clark's got another forty-five minutes before he gets home.
Feeling impatient, he decides to take the side streets because at least that way he'll be moving.
On narrow one-way Garfield, a bicycle messenger passes him from behind, flying by so close Clark's surprised he doesn't clip the bumper. Weaving in and out of traffic, the cyclist cuts off an orange Mercedes, zips past a parked delivery truck and turns the corner. The Mercedes skids, crashing into the parked truck, and the driver in front of Clark slams on his brakes. Clark swerves to avoid him, running up onto the sidewalk and hitting a newspaper box instead.
For a moment everything is strangely silent and then Clark opens his eyes and the noise of Metropolis returns. His hands feel numb and when his car door doesn't want to open he can't tell if it's him or the car. Someone is leaning through his window and asking if he's okay.
He turns his head. It's the driver from the car in front of him. Clark tells himself to wake up, tells the driver he's fine. The door needs an extra push, but it opens and he climbs out of the car.
The air smells like heat and broken glass. Across the street, several people are gathered around the Mercedes, disagreeing.
"We're not supposed to move her, don't you watch TV?"
"But what if the gas tank explodes?"
"She turned the car off, nothing's going to explode."
"But what if the gas tank's ruptured? Look, something's leaking!"
Clark jogs across the street. "Everybody stand back, please."
They part for him. A man in a Sharks cap holds up a cell phone. "I called for an ambulance," he reports.
"Good," Clark says. His heart is pounding with what other people would call adrenaline, but, like with most things, he's not sure if that applies to him.
The Roadster is a mess, most of the hood and driver's side door are shoved beneath the undercarriage of the delivery truck and the windshield's gone, disintegrated into glass gravel. The girl inside is crying, one hand held to her head, the other still on the steering wheel despite the deflated airbag. She's just a kid and Clark feels suddenly old, stuck in his role as rescuer.
"Hey," he says softly.
She groans. "Now what?"
"My name's Clark," he says to her through the open windshield. Using his x-ray vision he squints through the twisted metal and scans her skeletal structure. She seems fine except for a broken arm. "An ambulance is on the way."
"Yeah, I know. That's my cell phone."
"Oh," Clark says, because most of the people he rescues aren't this talkative, but he is doing this the slow way for once. "Can you move your legs?"
She looks at him from under her hand. She's got a cut on her forehead and her blood's the same color as her hair. "My legs are fine. The peanut gallery just couldn't get the door open."
Clark grins, because this part he's good at. "Well why don't I give it a try?"
The door is stuck, but Clark just pulls harder and it tears open without too much work. Door open, he crouches down to look into the car.
She wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand and glances over at him. "You're gonna have to help me out. I think my arm's broken."
There's glass on the seats and he can feel it digging into his skin as he reaches across the car for her. She finally lets go of the steering wheel, makes a hitching whine when he picks her up. "Aw, fuck, my head."
And he wants to laugh because this girl knows more about life and car crashes than he does. He was scared by a papercut, but she's got a broken arm and a possible concussion and she's dealing with it like it's nothing.
He gets her out of the car and settles her on the steps of a brownstone. She won't let go of him so he sits down next to her.
"So, Clark, will I ever drive again?"
He glances over at the smashed Mercedes. The license plate says ALINN 1. "Probably not in that car you won't."
"Probably not in any car. My mom's going to ground me until I'm a hundred." She sighs and closes her eyes.
"We should probably call your mom."
Her eyes are still closed and he nudges her gently. "Hey, stay with me now. What's your name?"
"Okay, stay awake, Amanda. We're going to get a pick-up game going here any minute."
She snorts and then moans. "Don't make me laugh."
The guy in the Sharks cap wanders over and hands Clark the cell phone. "Is she going to be okay?"
"She'll live," Amanda mutters.
"She should be fine," Clark tells him. There's a siren approaching from the north and their small group all turns in that direction.
It's the police. They block the street off and assure Amanda that an ambulance is on the way. But because this is Metropolis, the camera crews get there before the ambulance does. The police hold them back, but they're still broadcasting, camped out on the street corners and making up details to pass along to their audiences at home.
When the ambulance finally does arrive, the EMTs call him sir and insist he take a trip to the hospital. They tell him he might have a concussion, and someone should check his arm. The last place Clark wants to be is a hospital, but Amanda's watching him with big eyes and Clark's too tired to argue. He climbs into the back of the ambulance and the technician pulls the doors shut, cutting off the reporters waving their microphones and demanding Clark tell them how it feels to be a hero.
Metropolis is big enough that the local news doesn't have to pad its hour with human interest stories, but it must be a slow news day because there's Clark, looking flustered and worried while an EMT picks glass out of his arms. A reporter asks him something and Clark looks directly into the camera and says, "I just did what anyone would have done." And it's funny because he doesn't remember saying that.
The ER doctor diagnosed him with a sprained wrist and a bruised head. He doesn't remember hitting his head and has no idea when he could have sprained his wrist, but he let the doctor put his arm in a sling and write him a prescription he'll never fill.
Now Clark sits in the hospital hallway, watching himself on TV and waiting for Amanda to come out of surgery. The break in her arm wasn't clean and they needed to operate before they could set it. The anchors promise updates on her condition as they become available, because Amanda is Amanda Hayes, seventeen-year-old daughter of Senator Jackie Hayes, developer of Haywire OS and worth several million dollars.
The television goes to commercial and Clark knows he should call his parents. There's a chance they're watching this, there's a chance most of Kansas is watching it, but he can't admit this weakness now, can't admit he's changing.
The doctor acted like Clark's wrist should hurt, but Clark can't really tell and he worries what it means for him if he's in pain but can't recognize it.
There is only one person who has ever said his name like that, like it means everything.
He turns around. "Lex."
Clark hasn't seen Lex in person in almost three years. He's as smooth as ever, tailored black suit, steel grey dress shirt, black tie, but he's walking a little too quickly. He's the same Lex that gets interviewed on TV, put on the cover of Newsweek, hailed the prince of Metropolis, but he's walking too quickly and there's a hint of panic in his eyes. Clark stands up awkwardly, unused to having one arm held so near his body.
"What are you doing here?"
Lex's expensive shoes make muted taps on the floor as he comes closer. "Clark, are you all right?"
Clark shrugs, and now he can feel his wrist, it's hot and feels like it's vibrating. "I'm okay."
Lex touches his arm and for a brief moment the coolness disappears and he just looks scared.
"It doesn't hurt," Clark tells him, because it feels like the right thing to say.
Lex stares up at him. "God, Clark, how did this happen?"
Clark wants to point at the TV in explanation but it's murmuring about Avery Tyler's death and besides, he's got a feeling that's not what Lex means because he's got this look in his eyes like he knows and that's just not possible.
He shrugs again, tries to smile. "Haven't you seen the news? I'm a hero."
"Clark." And Lex sounds angry but it's just for a second. "Why don't I drive you home."
"Thanks Lex, but I want to wait and see how Amanda is, plus my car--"
"Has been towed to a body shop. Where'd you get that junker anyway? It's nearly as old as you are."
Lex teasing him is both familiar and uncomfortable. They'd always treated each other like equals, like there wasn't half a decade and several million dollars between them. But they haven't talked in three years and Lex is treating him like a little brother, like he's fifteen again and delivering produce to the servants' entrance.
"Some of us can't afford a new Porsche every time the old one runs out of gas."
Lex gives that half-smile he's so famous for and puts his hands in his pockets. "Come on, Clark. I'll take you up to see Amanda."
Amanda's got a private room on the fourth floor. The nurse at the desk informs them that it's not visiting hours, but Lex speaks to her softly and Clark hears his name.
"Clark Kent?" The nurse licks her finger and flips through some papers on a clipboard. Finding something that must satisfy her, she looks at Clark over the top of her glasses. "All right, you can go in. Amanda's still recovering from her surgery, but you can talk to her for a minute. She's in room 402."
"Thank you," Clark tells her and catches Lex giving him a look he doesn't understand.
Amanda's propped up in her bed, wiggling her toes under the blanket and humming to herself. Her arm's in a cast the same color as her wrecked car.
She sees him and grins. "Clark! You've got a bad arm too!"
Clark gives her a wave with the fingers of his supposedly bad arm. "Hi, Amanda. How are you doing?"
"Goood." She hums happily then notices Lex. "Clark! You know Lex!"
And somehow Clark isn't at all surprised. Metropolis is Lex's city. He knows everyone that counts, and Amanda is the daughter of a senator.
Lex steps up to the bed and squeezes Amanda's foot. "Hey kid. They've got you on the good stuff, huh?"
"Mom went to get me a soda," she says seriously. "I've not supposed to have any."
Lex laughs at her. "You're completely out of your mind."
"I knoooow," she says. "I'm all big and pink, but Clark saved me."
Lex looks over at him. "He does that."
It should be satisfying, but Lex sounds strange, almost homesick, and Clark can't figure out why he's acting this way, shifting from aloof to pensive without warning.
Amanda pouts. "But poor orange Sparky, all smashed. Oh! Sign my cast. Pen in the drawer!"
Smiling again, Lex finds a black marker in the bedstand and hands it to Clark. His wrist actually hurts enough now that he doesn't want to use it, so he tries his left hand. Those fingers don't seem to understand letters though, and his name looks like a wobbly three-year-old wrote it.
He makes a face. "Sorry about that."
"Hee hee, Claaark." Amanda giggles, vowels apparently tasting better in her heightened state. "Now you, Lex!"
Lex, who actually is left-handed, prints his name in block letters precise as an architect's and then draws a little smiling car underneath.
"Smiling Sparky! Hey Mom! It's Lex an' Clark."
Clark turns around. Senator Hayes stands in the doorway, holding a can of Pepsi and looking tired.
"Lexenclark," Amanda mutters, "it's a small European nation. They make chocolate and watches and don't get into fights." She sighs. "I'm so high."
Lex steps forward. "Jackie, this is Clark Kent. Clark, Senator Jackie Hayes."
She takes his hand, holds it. "Clark, thank you for getting my daughter out of that car. You will never know how grateful I am." She looks past him to Amanda. "She was so scared."
The senator shakes her head. "Thank god I didn't let her get the convertible."
"Poor Sparky," Amanda moans.
Clark repeats the words he heard himself say earlier. "I just did what anyone would have done, Senator Hayes."
Lex is staring straight at him again. "That's where you're wrong, Clark. No one does what you do."
Lex sounds so serious, so intent, and Clark tries to shrug it off, but Senator Hayes doesn't let him.
"I have to agree with Lex. People are too worried about law suits and personal liability these days. They don't help each other anymore. We're just lucky you were there." She looks over at her daughter. "I'm sure Amanda will thank you herself once she's feeling better."
Amanda's nodded off, pink hospital blanket pulled up to her chin.
"I'm just glad she's okay," Clark says.
Senator Hayes smiles. "She's a tough kid."
"She's got a tough mother," Lex says in that voice where it seems like he's serious, but at the same time it's too light to be a compliment.
Her smile slipping only a little, Senator Hayes holds the door open for them. "Thanks for coming by, Clark. Lex."
"Our pleasure, Senator," Lex says, and Clark knows enough to know that Lex is playing some power game that's got nothing to do with this hospital room. Clark doesn't know what it is, but he never did understand the part of Lex that was LuthorCorp.
The hallway is empty and Clark heads for the stairs, not wanting to wait for the elevator. He needs to get home.
He pauses at the door to the stairwell. Five years ago, Lex had been his best friend, but he'd left and Clark doesn't want to go through that again.
But Lex is standing as close as he ever did, looking up at him in that way that still makes Clark feel like he's the only person Lex actually has to look up to.
"I'm serious about driving you home, Clark."
Clark wants to be stubborn and say no thank you and take the bus, but this is Lex. He starts down the stairs and Lex follows, their footsteps echoing off the concrete walls like there's a hundred of them instead of just two.
Lex is driving a silver Bentley and seems embarrassed by it. "I was at work," he explains.
It's almost midnight. The traffic's eased and the Bentley slips through the streets of Metropolis like an indulgent thief.
"Enjoying your work at the Planet?"
The streetlights pour through the windshield, wash over Lex's bald head, make him seem like some exotic sea creature, phosphorescent in the deep. Clark has to look away.
"I'm just a first year reporter. They don't give me much to do."
Lex runs a red light. "Then you've just got to do something that'll get yourself noticed."
"That's more Lois' style. She's not happy unless she's making waves."
"You should follow her example. Get your name on the front page."
Clark watches the light reflect off the river. "Maybe I don't need my name on the front page."
Lex glances over at him. "Then what are you doing there, Clark?"
He can't answer that, and doesn't.
Lex doesn't push, just drives through West Metropolis, taking all the right streets without asking Clark for directions. The radio plays something cool and distant, like love in space, and Clark rolls down his window so he can be reminded of the world outside this car.
Clark's shabby rowhouse neighborhood has already gone to sleep, curtains drawn and the recycling at the curb. Lex double parks in front of Clark's building and Clark remembers Lex shouldn't know where he lives. But Clark's not surprised. There are probably few things he knows that Lex doesn't.
"You're sure you're all right?" Lex asks. "I could get you something a lot stronger than whatever that doctor gave you."
It takes Clark a while to understand that Lex is offering him drugs and if he weren't so tired, he'd laugh. "Oh no, I'm fine."
Lex's hand tightens on the gear shift, but it barely happens and then he's pulling something from the pocket of his jacket and passing it to Clark. A business card on paper so fine it feels like silk. The LuthorCorp logo winks at him from the corner, pressed in purple and silver foil.
"This is my private line, it will reach me anywhere." In the dim light Lex is serious and worried. "Call if you need anything."
"I will." Clark fumbles with his seatbelt, with the door, finally gets out and turns to look back at Lex. "Thanks for the ride."
Lex's smile gleams. "My pleasure, Clark. Maybe I'll see you around." He rolls the window up and speeds off, leaving Clark to stand in the street and watch the Bentley's taillights melt into the rest of the city. Lex is as dangerous as ever, though not for the reasons that always worried Clark's father. Lex isn't dangerous because he'll find out Clark's secrets, but because Clark wants him to.
Clark's apartment is dark and he doesn't bother turning on the lights. He puts the chain on the door, pulls the sling off his arm, leans against the wall and tries to remember what he's doing here. He should call his parents, but his wrist is sore and his head hurts and he knows he isn't going to call.
Lex left Smallville the summer before Clark's senior year. Clark was seventeen and had just saved Lex's life again. It wasn't meteorite fallout that time, just an angry ex-employee with a shotgun and a grudge. They'd been outside the Talon and Clark hadn't had enough time to think, he just stepped in front of Lex and let his chest take the impact.
The shooter seemed surprised, like his gun had betrayed him. He started to fumble for more shells and Clark tackled him, making sure the man bumped his head on the sidewalk when he hit the ground. Clark had learned head injuries allowed people to let go of a lot of weirdness.
It had been dark, probably not dark enough to laugh off a point-blank shotgun blast to the chest, but Clark tried anyway, zipping up his jacket and doing his best not to sound like he was lying when he said the guy had missed. Lex was shaky and breathing hard and clearly not buying it.
The police came and took their statements and Clark spent the next hour lying to the sheriff and being watched by Lex. Both things made him nervous. With all the lying he had to do he really should have been better at it, but he lacked the basic confidence that all good liars had. Clark simply didn't believe what he was saying. He had a good smile, though, and knew how to lie that way, so he played dumb, shaking his head and insisting they'd been very lucky.
It was around that time that Lex looked away. He seemed angry, and Clark gave Sheriff Paul one last manufactured look of confusion and said he'd better get Lex home.
Clark drove the Porsche because Lex's hands were still shaking. He'd tried to hide it, putting his hands in his pockets and throwing his shoulders back, but Clark knew better. Lex was an excellent liar, but his body gave him away. Clark needed to be alone with him, needed to somehow mend this breach in the pretending they both did, but Lex wouldn't look at him.
The drive was short but it was enough time for Lex to regain his composure. Clark knew he needed to fix this somehow, come up with some spectacular lie that would explain everything, but at this point even the truth wouldn't explain everything, and Lex had already turned himself into the untouchable businessman he was with everyone but Clark.
Clark felt ill, like he'd swallowed a meteorite and was about to be sick, but he had to do this, had to keep pretending. "Good thing that guy was such a lousy shot, huh?"
And he knew it was exactly the wrong thing to say. Clark could feel the end coming, saw it clearly when Lex turned to him, gave him an empty smile and said, "You're right, Clark. We were really lucky back there."
The next week Lex announced he was going back to Metropolis.
Clark spent the rest of the summer missing him. He started reading the Daily Planet compulsively, hoping Lex might be mentioned somewhere in its pages. He often was, showing up in the business section, the society column, the Sunday magazine, the style page. Lex Luthor had returned to Metropolis and that world embraced him like Smallville never had.
Clark's senior year of high school was both boring and unbearably lonely. Pete couldn't hide his pleasure at Lex's departure and Clark found it hard to be around him. Chloe was busy applying for every scholarship she even vaguely qualified for and the only time she seemed to talk to him was to ask if she could pass as Shawnee, if he thought she could cut it in the Marines, if it was wrong to say her dead mother used to golf and the sport held a very special place in her heart. Lana and Whitney had just broken up for what had to be the millionth time, and Clark found himself spending a lot of time with Lana, usually just sitting and not talking, Lana with a book, Clark with a copy of the Planet. It was comfortable and undemanding, but there were times Lana's simple company just made him miss Lex even more.
That spring, the farm nearly went under and Clark almost failed Biology. He applied to University of Metropolis and K-State, but expected to attend Lowell Community College if he went anywhere. They didn't have the money to send him to school. They didn't have the money to hire more hands to replace him if he left. He told himself he would stay in Smallville, that it wasn't a bad life.
He'd written an essay as part of his application to University of Metropolis and one day he came home to a letter announcing his acceptance and the award of a full financial aid package -- scholarships and work study --and suddenly he could go away to school. His parents told him they wouldn't allow him to throw this opportunity away, that they wanted him to go, that he was destined for greater things than being a farmer, and he could see the relief in their eyes, the knowledge that he wouldn't have been able to do this otherwise.
When they called his name at graduation he finally felt that thrill that had been driving Chloe all year. He was getting out of Smallville. He'd have an entire city to move in, six million people who had no idea who he was.
As valedictorian, Lana gave a commencement speech as sweet and optimistic as she was, and even though his crush had faded during their sophomore year, she was still as lovely as ever. She spoke of striking out and making a mark upon the world, and the class of 2005 listened and applauded, but Clark knew Lana would be staying in Smallville for Whitney, so any mark she made would be on this backwards farming community that only took her for granted. The fact that Clark had almost been forced to make a similar decision helped him appreciate just how much she was giving up, and how lucky he was to have a choice.
There was a special addition to the ceremony that hadn't been on the program, so Clark hadn't known to expect Lex, not that he could have possibly prepared himself for it because even standing on a shaky collapsible stage in a high school gymnasium Lex managed to be regal and gracious and charming. Clark should have been indistinguishable in that crowd, just one more student in a sea of crimson robes and square hats, but for a second, Lex seemed to be looking right at him.
There to award a scholarship to the child of a LuthorCorp employee, Lex had an envelope, but didn't open it, just said Chloe's name and grinned. Chloe squealed, popping up from her seat in the back and throwing her arms in the air. Pete whooped and high-fived her so hard his hat fell off.
Lex motioned her up and she squeezed past her classmates, stepping and tripping over them until she was free of her row and in the aisle. Robe and tassel flying, she ran to the platform and took the stairs in two big leaps. Clark had never seen her so excited. Lex handed her the envelope and she threw her arms around him, bouncing up and down, saying thank you over and over. Lex gave her a one-armed hug and smiled for the cameras.
That summer was spent packing, going to farewell parties, letting his parents give him sad looks when they thought he wasn't watching. In September, they loaded his stuff into the back of the Chevy and drove to Metropolis, squeezed three across in the cab with the windows down because it was a work truck and didn't have air-conditioning.
He'd been in Metropolis before, but while making the trips back and forth from the dorms to the truck, for the first time he realized how much easier it was to breathe there. He felt stronger, clear-minded. Even just being near the truck had a dampening effect on him, and as he hugged his parents goodbye and watched them drive away, he knew he couldn't return to Smallville. The meteorites had saturated the land and he couldn't be comfortable there knowing nearly anywhere else would be better.
Winter term he took a media studies class, wrote his final paper on the necessary compromise between freedom of speech and personal privacy, got an A and the professor's attention. There were one hundred and fifty students in that class, and Professor Carlyle pointedly mentioned Clark's paper as an example of a researched and balanced argument. The last day of class, Clark stepped out of the lecture hall and found Lex standing in the lobby studying a display case of antique typesetting tools.
Lex must have seen Clark's reflection in the glass of the display case. "You know, Clark, I have a friend at the Daily Planet. He's the city editor, and I know he'd appreciate someone as observant and well-spoken as you are."
He came close enough to hand Clark a business card, to remind Clark exactly what color blue his eyes were. "You should give him a call." Then he left.
Ever since meeting Lex, Clark has had to wonder what parts of his life were due to chance or hard work and what parts were actually Lex's doing. Clark took an internship at the Daily Planet because Perry White said he'd have to prove himself, start at the bottom and work his way up, and even if Lex's influence had made this opportunity possible, Clark would be the one to turn it into something great.
That was the last time they'd spoken, but Clark still saw Lex on TV, saw him assuming control of LuthorCorp after his father's death, saw him rich and powerful and alone.
The next morning Clark still smells like the hospital, like iodine and gauze, but his cuts and bruises have healed and his wrist's no longer sore. He's back to normal, but in the shower the scar on his arm stands out like a tracing in wax.
He stares at it too long and his x-ray vision flicks on unexpectedly, showing his bones smooth and strong beneath his skin, his downstairs neighbor leaning in close to the mirror to put her mascara on, the storage space under the front steps, the skeleton of some small dead animal. He closes his eyes and waits for it to pass.
He eats breakfast, takes the bus to work, watches the little old ladies on their way to the library, the businesswomen in their trim power suits and sneakers, the men in dirty jeans and workboots. These are the people he lives with, protects, rescues from fires and muggings, floods and tornadoes, all the things he can save them from.
He was always stronger and faster than anyone else. As a child, it took a lot to hurt him, and even then he healed quickly. His parents taught him to be careful of other people, not to grab or squeeze or hit, because they weren't special like he was, and he could hurt them.
He grew up, turned into a teenager, got hit by a car and learned he was invulnerable. His freshman year of high school brought him x-ray vision, freakishly good hearing and the ridiculous and useless ability to float in his sleep. The rest of his powers straggled in over the next four years like gatecrashers who had trouble finding the party.
He could outrun bullets, lift tractors over his head, see through anything except lead and his own eyelids, and if he got angry or cold enough he could start fires with his stare. He could hear a cry for help from miles away, and though his mother warned him he wouldn't be able to save everybody, he still tried.
But he's no longer invulnerable. A sharp edge can cut him open, and somehow his skin remembers a wound from seventeen years ago. Twenty-two years old, and his powers seem to be leaving in the same uneven way they arrived.
The bus stops to pick up a guy with a bicycle and Clark realizes he has no idea where his car is.
Lois is sitting at her desk, gnawing on a pen and reading three different reports at once. "Clark!"
Clark puts his coffee down. "Good morning, Lois."
"Good morning?! Jesus, Clark, I saw you on the news last night, you looked like hell. We'll get Jimmy to take some pictures of you now that you're back to your usual poster boy appearance. Put you on the front page, some sap about being a hero. Your face alone should sell an extra thousand copies."
"Thanks, Lois. I always knew it'd be good for something."
Half an hour with Lex and he's this Clark again. Not the soft-spoken Clark, but the one with edges and a grin. The one that can make Lois Lane stop for a moment. He sees her trying to process his tone and then deciding she doesn't care.
She turns to her computer. "Sit down, we'll do this now."
Clark leans back against his desk, crossing his legs at the ankle and flipping through his mail.
Lois taps away at her keyboard, writing aloud and managing to interview him without actually talking to him. "Just a normal day in Metropolis and Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is stuck in traffic again."
A postcard from Chloe. Mont Ngaliema in Zaire, but it's postmarked Cairo. She'd scrawled, "Out safe!! Pointe-Noire scarier than Smallville. Call you when I get to Paris. Love, C."
She hasn't called and he knows she's back in New York by now because the Planet picked up her story on Zaire's election crisis. He'll have to call and congratulate her.
"Brave, fight, meet. No, no, no."
Clark glances over at Lois. She's flipping impatiently through a thesaurus and shaking her head.
"Writing a poem, Lois?" Perry booms suddenly.
Lois doesn't even look up. "I'm bumping our newsstand circulation up twenty percent, is what I'm doing. Who wouldn't want to read a heart-warming story about Clark saving the senator's daughter?"
Scratching his goatee, Perry sighs and focuses on Clark. "How are you?"
"I'm okay, sir."
Perry puts his hands in the pockets of his brown cords. "Had an exciting day yesterday."
Perry White's been in the newspaper business too long. He can drop prepositions and pronouns until he's got nothing left but a headline, but Clark's gotten used to it and most days he can tell who or what Perry's referring to.
"Oh, you know, no more than usual." Clark shrugs, picks up his coffee.
"Your story's generating a lot of interest. Metropolis wants to meet its new hero."
"Lois. You should be writing this, Clark. Introduce yourself, give us a first-person account, tell us what really happened."
Clark tries not to flinch. "Me?"
Lois makes a smothered sound and turns around to glare at Perry.
"You, Clark. Daily Planet exclusive." Perry gives Lois a look. "In fact, I'm surprised you didn't think of it first, Lois."
Lois huffs and turns back to her computer.
Perry nods, stares at nothing for a second, then heads to his office. "Have it to me by three."
His first big story and it has to be this. Chloe's in far off countries writing about riots and insurrections and Clark gets the "fireman rescues kitten up a tree" story, though there's a reason for that because Lex was right, Clark doesn't do things that might get himself noticed. It's against his nature to draw attention to himself but now it's somehow become part of his job description.
Clark sits down at his desk and logs on to his computer. Across from him, Lois is reading her e-mail and sulking.
Over the years he's gotten to be a better liar. Once he realized people wanted to believe him, he learned how to say what they needed to hear. He's gotten good at creative storytelling, at leaving certain parts out. He can do this.
Clark types "I" and then stops because he's used to lying, but this is a new one.
"People have been calling to talk to you all morning."
He looks up to find Lois staring at him. "Who?"
Her mouth drops open. "Do I look like your secretary?"
Clark refrains from saying the obvious -- that she shouldn't have brought it up in the first place -- because he knows it'd only lead to a "did not" "did too" type argument. Lois is desperate to be noticed, but in many ways she knows even less about the world than he does and she'd have no idea what to do with the attention.
"Of course not," he says instead, going back to his story.
Lois wants to say something. She's mad at him, or possibly wants his help, with Lois it's often hard to tell. Clark tries to ignore her.
The phone rings and she snaps it up. "Lois Lane." Her eyes flick to him. "Yeah, he's here." Scowling, she hands him the receiver.
Clark and Lois share a phone for reasons he's never been able to figure out. It's supposed to be in the middle of their pushed-together desks, but Lois always pulls it closer to her side and Clark's just about given up on teaching her the concept of sharing.
Taking the phone, he pulls on the cord a little to get it closer to him. "Hello?"
"You don't have your own phone?" Lex asks, sounding completely disgusted.
Clark actually considers joking that Lois is his secretary now, but she's right there and she'd make life very unpleasant for him if she knew he was even thinking of it.
"No, but I've got my own chair. I don't have to share it with anybody."
Lex laughs, once, and he sounds startled, like he hadn't meant to do that at all. "Good to see the Planet's not entirely wasting your talents then."
Clark frowns as if Lex can see him. "What are you trying to say, that I'm really good at sitting down? I mean, I do okay, I'm just not sure I'd consider it a talent."
Lois is pretending to sharpen a pencil but isn't pulling it off. She's holding the sharpener, but doesn't have a pencil. Clark turns away from her to face the windows.
"Clark," Lex says, the way only he does. "Meet me for lunch."
"Where?" Clark asks, and he realizes he sounds too eager, but this is Lex, who knew Clark when he was a teenager and had all the subtlety of a hungry elephant. Anything is going to seem like an improvement from that.
There's a clink on the other end of the phone. "How do you feel about sushi?"
"Okay, I guess," Clark says, but even after four years in Metropolis he's still got enough Kansas farmboy in him that the idea of raw fish makes him want to gag.
Lex chuckles. "Trust me, you'll like this."
It's an old instinct that has Clark saying "okay" again. Lex was always good at teaching him new things.
"It's called Ten. It's right down the street from your building."
"I know it." Clark writes this down for some reason, maybe to look like this actually has something to do with work because Lois is still pretending not to listen.
"Great," Lex says. "One o'clock?"
Clark reflexively checks his watch. It's only nine. "One," he agrees. "See you then."
"Yes," Lex says, then hangs up.
Clark has to stretch to replace the handset and Lois catches his eye as he does. She looks mean. "New boyfriend?"
"Old friend," Clark says, not because she deserves an explanation, but because it feels good to say.
Ten is in a restored warehouse two blocks away from the Planet. Clark's been there before with Lois, who always eats cucumber rolls and sits facing the door so she can watch for celebrities.
The sushi bar is filled with downtown professionals, their briefcases at their feet as they chatter and pull small plates from the boats drifting past in the watery moat that circles the counter.
The walls are painted black and clusters of tiny white lights hang from the ceiling like stars. It's simple and classy and just the sort of place Clark would associate with Lex.
Clark doesn't see Lex and he's just starting to feel uncomfortably overlooked when a woman in a black suit comes up to him. She looks Japanese, almost as tall as him, but as thin and precise as a paper crane.
She holds a small leather folder and bows slightly. "Welcome to Ten. How many in your party?"
"I'm just waiting for a friend."
"May I ask the name?"
"Clark Kent," Clark says.
The hostess bows again, deeper this time. "Mr. Luthor will arrive soon. He asked that I seat you."
She leads him past the bar and into a back section of the restaurant that he's never seen before. Here the walls are made of rice paper and seem to glow, a warm yellow that reminds him of dreams.
They turn a corner and she slides open one of the walls, revealing a small room with a low table and two cushions on the woven mat floors.
"You can leave your shoes here," she says, gesturing to a spot outside the room, "and I'll have your waitress bring you some tea."
He toes his shoes off and goes inside. She closes the wall and he's alone.
The floor gives slightly when he walks and it unbalances him, like he's somehow removed from the ground. Not ready to sit down, he goes over to the window in the far wall. It looks out onto a courtyard garden where there's a clear pond with plump red and white koi wriggling from one end to another, their wise-men whiskers and round, moving mouths almost making them look capable of speech. A small waterfall splashes at the narrow end of the pool and Clark stands there and watches the fish glide through the water.
"Sorry I'm late, Clark." Lex slides the paper wall closed.
Clark wonders how many people Lex actually apologizes to. He gets the feeling it's a very short list.
He turns around and Lex seems like he's about to say something, but he stops with his lips parted and for a moment they just stare at each other.
Lex is in his normal black, his shirt and tie the color of an overripe plum. Confident and sharp in what has to be a three thousand dollar suit, Lex is every bit the professional billionaire. Clark's own suit is off the rack, but he knows he looks good in it; the salesgirls are always extra helpful in finding the right size and the dark blue shirt he's wearing was suggested by the clerk at Hudson's who said it brought out the blue in his eyes. His collar's unbuttoned and he isn't wearing a tie because he's never liked the feel of things around his neck.
"Well," Lex says, smoothing his tie down and gesturing to the table. "Why don't we sit down. Us high-level executives only get an hour or two for lunch."
Lex easily folds himself into a sitting position so relaxed and balanced that it's reminiscent of yoga. Clark can't decide if he can see Lex tolerating all that stillness or if the required patience and restraint would suit his temperament.
Trying to copy Lex's easy grace, Clark sits down across from him, but his knees bump into the table and he can't figure out where to put his hands.
"Have you been here before?" Lex asks, arms resting on his knees, long hands hanging loose. He doesn't seem to notice Clark's discomfort, but Clark knows it's an act because Lex notices everything.
Clark nods. "With Lois. She saw the governor here once and she keeps coming back, hoping he'll sit next to her and spill a few state secrets into her lap."
Lex raises an eyebrow and Clark feels himself blushing. "And I didn't mean for that to sound as dirty as it did."
"This is why I've missed you, Clark."
The paper wall slides open then, before Clark can decipher Lex and his private smile. A girl about Clark's age comes in carrying a tray with cups and a squat green teapot. She kneels at the side of their table and puts down the tray.
"Konichiwa," she greets them.
Lex returns the greeting, then launches into a barrage of Japanese, with the waitress interrupting either to clarify or make suggestions. Clark can't tell which.
Once they're finished, she unbends, standing up gracefully and Clark notices her black knee-length skirt is leather.
"Showoff," she says.
"I know just enough Japanese to order lunch or stage a hostile takeover," Lex says to Clark.
"Some days they're the same thing," the waitress smirks. "I'll be back with your food. Try not to colonize anything while I'm gone." She steps out and pulls the screen closed behind her.
"I'm assuming you know her?" Clark asks.
Lex laughs. "Michiko's studying molecular biology at MU. She's brilliant. I keep trying to hire her, but she's full of excuses."
"Excuses?" Clark can't imagine refusing Lex anything.
Instead of answering, Lex reaches for the teapot, filling Clark's cup and then his own. "Normally we'd be having sake, but I've got a meeting later, and while it'd be considerably less irritating to sit through if I were half drunk, that would probably fall into the category of bad ideas."
Clark shrugs. "That's okay, I don't drink much anyway."
Lex looks at him over the black rim of his teacup. "There's something to be said for getting the full experience."
A jolt runs through Clark's body and he fights a shiver. Lex was always so many things to him, advisor, businessman, friend. But now Clark can see the rest of him, the parts he didn't fully recognize when he was younger. This is Lex flirting. Even though flirting is too playful a word for what Lex is doing. Lex is laying siege. And Clark may be older now, but he still can't compete with this kind of intensity.
He can give his best crooked grin though. "I'll try anything once."
"Good." Lex licks his lips and sets his tea down. "Then we'll have to do this again when neither of us has to go back to work."
Lex's voice is making all sorts of promises and Clark can't keep up. It's good to be sitting across from him after so many years, but Clark's got even more secrets now than when Lex first left and even if they're both older they haven't changed that much because Clark still can't tell the truth, and Lex never liked being lied to.
Clark looks down at the table. His tea is there and he picks it up so he doesn't have to meet Lex's eyes. It tastes hot.
"How is work?" Lex asks. "Get your name on the front page yet?"
Clark glances up. "Don't you read the paper, Lex? I was the front page."
"Being in the news is not the same as making the news." Lex looks like a shark, all white skin and intent blue eyes.
"Why do you care so much about the attention I get at work?"
Lex seems puzzled, like the answer should be obvious. "I just want you to get the recognition you deserve."
And this is just one more difference between them. Lex cannot imagine being content with mediocrity, but Clark has finally accepted that ordinary is the one thing he can't be.
Clark stares at his teacup and his x-ray vision flickers in and out. He blinks. "Maybe I don't want to be recognized."
"Sometimes that can't be helped." Lex's eyes are focused somewhere beyond Clark.
Shaking his head, Lex reaches for a small bamboo box that must have come in with the tea. "Hot towel?"
This is the second time Lex has brought up something he doesn't want to talk about. The Lex he remembers didn't make mistakes like that.
Taking the lid off the box, Lex tilts it towards Clark. Two white towels are inside, rolled up like tortillas. Clark takes one and it's soft and steamy.
"So." Lex unrolls the other, uses it to wipe his hands. "Nice weather we're having?"
It's so unexpected that Clark laughs, and Lex's shoulders relax just enough that Clark realizes he'd been tense.
"I don't mean to make you uncomfortable," Lex says.
Clark smiles. "Yes you do."
Looking strangely pleased, Lex smiles into his tea. "I suppose you wouldn't believe me if I said I felt guilty afterwards?"
"Why don't you try me and see?" If he had a chair, he'd lean back and cross his arms. He settles for trying to raise an eyebrow.
Lex has to put his tea down. His shoulders are shaking.
Clark leans forward. "Lex? Are you giggling?"
"No! Absolutely not." Blinking hard and trying not to smile, Lex is ten years younger. "Lex Luthor doesn't giggle."
"Hm, I must have the wrong table, then." Clark makes a show of looking around the room.
"Stop it." Lex drags a hand across his mouth. "This is your fault anyway."
"The look on your face." Lex's lips quirk and shaking his head he gives in to the smile. "You looked like some demented villain from a James Bond movie."
"Hey! Who's demented--" Clark starts to complain, but Michiko comes in with their lunch and he's struck into dumb awe.
Clark's had sushi before, tame things like inari and California rolls, but this is completely different. The square plate Michiko puts down is covered with all sorts of rolls and fish parts and legs. Michiko and Lex are talking about something, but Clark can only stare at the zoo that's supposed to be lunch. From the middle of the plate, two disembodied shrimp heads stare back.
Wincing, Clark looks up to find Michiko gone and Lex grinning at him. "Dig in, Clark."
In addition to what he at least recognizes as sushi, there's things he wouldn't even consider putting in his mouth, like the suckered tentacles curled around the wasabi, or the rolls of orange and red fish eggs.
Lex looks fascinated. "Just try something."
Clark picks up his chopsticks and taps them against the plate. He considers grabbing a tentacle and eating it just to see the look on Lex's face, except it's a tentacle.
"Go ahead and say it, Clark. I know you want to."
"It's raw fish, Lex!" And Clark was embarrassed enough before his voice cracked.
Lex unwraps his chopsticks. "Don't worry about it. Try the tuna."
"I might as well be eating those fish out in the pond," Clark mumbles, wondering which one's the tuna.
"Well, there's still a difference between raw fish and live fish, Clark. Though, they do this thing with live shrimp where you dip them in a sauce and then bite their heads off t--"
"Yeah, all right, I don't need to hear the rest of that sentence."
Lex tilts his head. "You're awfully touchy for someone who was raised on a farm, Clark. Didn't you ever kill those chickens I saw running around?"
"Yes," Clark says, purposely slow, "but not by biting their heads off."
He's rewarded with a flash of teeth and a quick laugh. "Nice try, Clark. But don't think you can charm your way out of this."
Chloe used to tease him about a famous Kent charm it seemed only she could see and now it appears Lex is taking up where she left off.
"So what do I do?"
Lex puts his chopsticks down. "First, don't worry about what you're supposed to do. We're just eating lunch. Impressing prospective Japanese investors is a lesson for another day."
"Hold on, is there going to be a quiz?" Clark borrows Lex's smirk. "Because I left my notebook at work."
"Second," Lex says pointedly, "counterclockwise: salmon roe, flying-fish roe, saltwater eel, salmon, tuna, sweet shrimp, cucumber rolls, Metropolis rolls, deep fried shrimp heads and," he squints at something red near the shrimp heads, "and I don't know what that is."
Clark squints at it too. "Really?"
"It could be a clam." Lex sounds dubious.
"Or," Lex decides, "it could not be a clam. We'll eat around it."
"Okay." Clark pinches his chopsticks together, making little clicking noises like a picky crab. "So, the tuna, huh?"
"Go for it." Lex pours some soy sauce into a square saucer and pushes it toward him, but Clark just catches one of the strips of rice and tuna between his chopsticks and drops it in his mouth.
It's soft and cool and maybe a little fishy, but nothing about the taste or texture suggests he shouldn't be eating it, which was his main concern. He's still not sure he likes it though.
"You look confused." Lex is curious, head tilted, eyes measuring. Clark feels like a knot Lex is trying to untie.
"No, I just -- it doesn't seem to taste like anything?"
Lex grins. "I know what you need."
A blob of wasabi lands in his soy sauce. Lois never uses the stuff so Clark has yet to figure out what to do with it. It looks like green play-doh and Clark pokes at it with his chopsticks.
"Unless you want your head to explode, you should probably stir that in," Lex says.
"It's hot?" Clark asks.
Lex blinks in alarm then gives him a sleepy smile. "Very good, Clark. You almost had me. Though, may I suggest a little less wide-eyed innocence next time."
Clark bites his lip. "Too much?"
Lex laughs now. "Eat," he says.
Lex pays for lunch in some mysterious way that doesn't seem to involve the exchange of actual money, just a receipt and more teasing from Michiko. Clark tried to pay his share, but Lex refused, which is just as well because Clark's sure he doesn't want to know how much all that raw fish cost.
As they walk out through the restaurant, Lex pulls a single key from his pocket.
"Hey," Clark holds the door open for them, "about my car--"
"Mr. Luthor!" Lois shouts, barreling out after them and before Clark realizes it, he's got his back to Lex and his hands up like some kind of bodyguard, but it's just Lois and she brushes past him, struggling with her bag and the effort of trying to find a pen and walk at the same time.
Lois gives up on finding a pen and fixes Lex with an unforgiving stare. "According to my sources, LuthorCorp's shown a lot of interest in purchasing a section of land in Hob's Ridge, but your efforts to build on it have been repeatedly blocked by Avery Tyler and the ELA."
Standing on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets, Lex looks courteous enough, but it's obvious he's not going to respond.
"Lois--" Clark puts a hand on Lois' arm, but she shrugs him off and plows on.
"I'm sure it's not a coincidence that the torched building Tyler's body was found in happens to be part of that property. Adding arson and murder to your portfolio, Mr. Luthor?"
Lex is on now, and his smile is soft and patronizing. "I'm the head of a very large corporation, Ms. Lane. If a division of LuthorCorp were investigating the purchase of certain property, I wouldn't necessarily know about it."
Lois grits her teeth and raises her chin. "It's no secret the ELA has caused millions of dollars of property damage to LuthorCorp holdings over the past three years. Of all the people in Metropolis, I think you'd benefit the most from Tyler's death -- not only will the ELA collapse without his leadership, but now there's nothing stopping you from building a nuclear power plant in the middle of Hob's Ridge!"
"A nuclear power plant?" Lex is enjoying himself. "I'm not sure which area of Hob's Ridge you're referring to, but I think that part of the city would benefit more from some genuine urban renewal efforts rather than the introduction of more industrial pollutants."
"You and I both know that the people's interest has never been of big concern to LuthorCorp," Lois spits.
Lex's smile freezes. "There's a world of difference between what you know and what I know, Ms. Lane. It would suit you to remember that."
This time when Clark takes Lois' arm his grip is firmer. Her hands are in fists and she's so excited she's practically vibrating. There's nothing Lois likes more than a good fight.
Clark shoots an apologetic look at Lex and hauls her away. "Come on, Lois."
Lois must be in shock because they go a whole block before she says anything, and then what she says doesn't make much sense.
"Oh my god, this is unbelievable! That number was unlisted, but I traced it to a block of six-two hundreds registered to the LuthorCorp Tower, and I figured you knew a secretary or some assistant that worked for one of the executives and might know something, but Lex Luthor himself! How did you manage that?"
Clark still has a hold of Lois' arm. He's not sure she'd actually be able to walk by herself, but he's considering letting go. "What are you talking about, Lois?"
"That call you got this morning! How did you meet Lex Luthor?"
He doesn't want to get into this with Lois. "I don't remember."
"Clark, it's Lex Luthor. You don't forget Lex Luthor."
She's walking sideways so she can see his face and she trips over a crack in the sidewalk. Clark rights her then lets go of her arm. She darts in front of him, forcing him to stop walking, and the rest of Metropolis surges around them, passing on either side of their roadblock and grumbling about it.
"Tell me, Clark," she demands.
Clark sighs. "I met him in Smallville," he says, leaving everything else out, the memory of Lex's scared face through the windshield, Lex's cold lips on the riverbank, Lex's amazement at still being alive, at being saved.
"Smallville?" Lois frowns like she's accessing some distant address in her memory banks. A woman's shopping bags hit Lois in the leg and she slaps them away without looking. "Give me a hint."
"Smallville!" She makes a hand motion that wouldn't be out of place in a musical. "After Lex got arrested in New York, Daddy exiled him to Smallville to act as local caesar of LuthorCorp's empire of crap. Had a lot of trouble with the law down there, crashed his car about twice a week, got kidnapped a lot. He spent three years playing farmer in the dell before returning to Metropolis and a cushy new position as his father's right hand."
This is the first time he's heard anything about New York, but the rest is familiar enough. Lois doesn't seem aware of Smallville's high weirdness level or Clark's significant role in it and he can only hope she gets distracted by some other get-famous-quick scheme before she decides to go digging through the Smallville Ledger archives.
"How do you know all this?"
"Are you kidding? The Inquisitor follows the Luthors like they're royalty. You grow up in Metropolis, you know everything about them. But that's not important. I did a little research on LuthorCorp before lunch and they're definitely involved with this whole Tyler thing. I just haven't figured out how yet."
"What was all that about Hob's Ridge, then?"
Lois waves a hand. "That was a matter of public record. Luthor's too cool to let anything slip, but I thought I could rattle him if I just threw enough stuff out there. But next time we really try to get him to open up."
"Um, that might be kind of hard, Lois. I don't think he's going to want to talk to you after that." Clark sidesteps her and starts walking again. As expected, she hurries to catch up with him.
"God, Clark, don't you watch TV? We'll Good Cop/Bad Cop him. I've already established myself as the Bad Cop, now you go in and put the squeeze on him."
Clark squints down at her. "Are you sure it isn't just that you watch too much TV?"
"Trust me, this'll work. Call him up, invite yourself over, and then apologize for my behavior to get him on the subject." She elbows Clark in the ribs. "'That Lois, she's crazy, huh? All that talk about the ELA and Avery Tyler. Where does she get this stuff?' You know, but in your usual meek way so he trusts you. Get some information on him, then bring it to me, and I'll write it up."
Pulling the strap of her purse higher up on her shoulder, she trots ahead of him. "Lex Luthor. This is so great."
"Great," Clark repeats, watching her shove her way through the crowds.
Back at his desk, there's nothing but a blank screen and a blinking cursor to greet him. He'd forgotten that at some point in the afternoon, he'd deleted the "I."
Lois is missing, probably out digging up dirt on LuthorCorp or possibly just out making it up. He's beginning to understand why Lois, despite being several years older than him, is stuck sharing a phone with the new kid.
He sits down, picks up the plastic fish from his pencil cup and makes it swim. He's got an hour to write a story about a car crash. Too bad Lois couldn't do it for him. The fish shakes its head and swims upstream.
The rasp of a shutter release makes him look up. Jimmy takes another picture then lowers the camera to his chest, cradling it like a favorite pet.
"No news is good news?"
Clark puts the fish down and lowers his eyes. "Just thinking."
Jimmy's camera snicks again, and there's a grind as he advances the film. Most of the world's gone digital, but Jimmy still uses the 35mm he inherited from his grandfather. Jimmy's an ex-surfer, thirty-four and so easygoing not even Lois and her aggressive sulking can tax his good nature. His patience is legendary. He's been known to wait for the perfect photograph for hours, an ability that could only have come from having spent half his life waiting for the perfect wave. Jimmy's good at what he does, and Clark thinks that must be a nice feeling at the end of the day.
"Having trouble with the story?" Jimmy asks, sitting on the edge of Lois' desk in a way that would drive her crazy if she were there to see it.
"I don't know." Clark picks up the fish again, feeds it a pencil. "I just don't want to write it."
Jimmy shrugs. "So don't."
"I--" And he knows how to write the article now. "Have to," he mumbles, dropping the fish and turning to his keyboard. Jimmy drifts off and the phone rings but Clark ignores it.
Twenty minutes later the story's done and sent to Perry. It's probably not what he was expecting, but Clark's tired of letting other people think for him. If Perry doesn't like it, he can always get Lois to write a happy, pointless piece on how nice it is to be the center of attention. If he could find her.
Clark looks over at her desk. It's a disaster as usual. Lois claims it's a security measure, but Clark's cracked her code. Since Lois is in a perpetual hurry, most of the time she just takes off without remembering to hide her notes, making it easy to find out what she's working on as long as you don't mind the chance of being caught. Considering Clark can hear Lois coming a mile away, he should be safe.
Sitting down in her crazy ergonomic chair, Clark takes a moment to just stare at her desktop. Somehow it's even worse from this angle, like a newsstand had swallowed a junk store and then exploded.
Clark flips through a pile of charts near the phone, but they're just a bunch of numbers with no way of telling what they're for. A lump under his elbow turns out to be an Orson Welles biography with PROPERTY OF KMET REFERENCE LIBRARY - DO NOT REMOVE FROM BUILDING stamped on the cover. Frowning, Clark nudges it out of sight under a flyer for the new Chihuly installation in the art museum's Luthor Wing. Clark isn't even going to try to figure out which part of that had caught Lois' attention.
Eventually, he finds what he's looking for wedged under the corner of Lois' keyboard. A bundle of printouts, copies of old Planet articles and some official looking documents. Clark takes them back to his desk.
The printouts are from the Earth Liberation Army's website. The ELA call themselves activists, but it's obvious they're just terrorists with a logo. The front page offers a guide to setting fires with electrical timers. "The politics and practicalities of arson. Plus down-to-earth advice and comprehensive how-to's about devices, fuel requirements, timers, security and more!" it says, like it's as harmless as the latest spring fashions. A huge asterisk floats next to it courtesy of Lois. Clark pages through the printouts and feels sick.
A diary going back several years lists recent activities with estimated property damages, and Lois has made excited notes in the margins, starring any mention of LuthorCorp and keeping a running tally of loss. According to the website, the ELA has set fire to LuthorCorp crops, condominiums, offices, parking lots, and construction sites. An item from last November has an asterisk and the scrawled note "Two dead!"
Clark's eyes burn and he rubs at them until his vision turns foggy.
Blinking a few times, Clark tries to focus on Perry. Stares straight through him for a second, but finally gets a good look at his face. He seems confused, like he doesn't recognize Clark.
Clark sits up. "Yes, sir?"
Perry scowls, but manages to look relieved at the same time. "Kent, how many times have I told you not to call me sir?"
"I don't know. I lost count after that first week."
"You know, for a bright kid, you're not so smart."
Clark grins. "Sorry, sir."
Making a grunting noise, Perry drags a hand over his goatee then unrolls the papers he's carrying. "You doing okay, Clark?"
For a second, Clark's sure he's going to laugh, but it fades. "I'm fine. Why?"
"This piece, it's not your usual style."
"Is that bad?" His usual style is covering street fairs and kids playing in Washington Fountain whenever it gets above 70 degrees.
"No." Perry rolls up the papers again, taps them against his leg. "Just wondering why it's taken you so long to find something you want to write about."
"But I didn't--" Clark stops before he accidentally starts whining to his boss.
"You had something to say, whether you knew it or not. You might think about going into editorials, op-ed. I think you'd make an impression there."
It's something Clark never considered. His junior year he wrote an article for the school paper about hazing and how it wasn't as outlawed as the administration claimed. Delta Tau got its charter revoked as a result and Clark suddenly had 78 angry Greeks after him, not to mention every reporter in town. After all the fuss died down, Clark and his parents decided it would be safer not to bring that kind of attention to himself again. It left his journalistic choices rather limited, and he'd resigned himself to being stuck in backpage obscurity at the Planet. Whenever he does manage to find a big story, it's easier to just let Lois take all the credit, which is the natural state of things anyway.
Writing op-eds would put him in the public eye, but it would also give him the chance to do something for once. But he knows it'd be at least ten more years of reporting before they'd even consider him for the job.
"Here's some advice, though," Perry says, and Clark's surprised to find him still standing there. "The glazed look doesn't go over well down there. Carine likes her people sharp."
"I'll work on that," Clark jokes, thinking he better not fake a sharp look or he might actually set something on fire.
"Good," Perry says, staring at something over Clark's head. "Don."
Don's walking across the newsroom and obviously hears Perry because he twitches and starts walking faster. Perry takes off after him, clutching his roll of papers like he wants to beat Don about the head with them. Clark looks at the papers in his own hand.
He spends the next couple of hours going through Lois' research, reading the articles, the press releases put out by the ELA, the angry letters Tyler was known for writing. Senator Hayes' name shows up in many of them. A vocal opponent of both Tyler and the ELA, she sits on a senate subcommittee on eco-terrorism, making her a favorite target of the ELA. In a letter to the editor published in the Metropolis free weekly, Tyler calls Hayes a limousine liberal, condemning her for serving the corporation over the people and claiming she accepted campaign contributions from LuthorCorp that exceeded the set limit. A blurry photocopy of Tyler's criminal record shows he'd been arrested for trespassing, vandalism, and resisting arrest, but was never officially linked to any arson sites.
Clark's puzzling over a map of LuthorCorp holdings in Hob's Ridge when the phone rings.
"Clark! Thank god, we were so worried!" His mother sounds half out of her mind and Clark hates himself for not calling her, but the less tolerant part of him hates that he was stupid enough to answer the phone. Because he's barely dealing with this himself, and it's harder to ignore what's happening to him when his mother is crying.
"Mom, it's okay. I'm okay."
"We called last night after we saw you on the news, but you didn't pick up and when I called again your machine was full. I called this morning, at home and at work, but you weren't there and Lois said she'd have you call and I've been waiting all day!"
"I'm sorry," Clark tries to sound steady, soothing. "Lois must have forgotten to tell me."
He never thought he'd be grateful to Lois, but he's glad he can blame this on her, otherwise he'd have to lie, or tell the truth and blame himself, find some words that meant "I can't talk about this with you" without breaking his mother's heart. Though maybe it's already too late for that.
"I'm sorry," he says again.
She sniffs and he can imagine her pulling herself together, wiping her eyes, her nose. "It's just we were so worried. Your father's out pulling apart that old John Deere again and swearing up a storm. I told him to stop, but he said the cows had heard worse." Her laugh is shaky but honest, and Clark can hear the slap of the screen door as she steps out onto the porch.
"I should have called you last night," he says, and finds he means it.
"What happened, Clark?" Gravel crunching under her feet, she must be walking out to the field.
"There was an accident. The girl was hurt, and I couldn't leave her. I got a little shaken up." And this is the hard part. "But I'm fine now."
"Fine? But you were bleeding, Clark. I saw you, and you're telling me everything's fine?"
He knows he has to get this right the first time or it'll never work. His mother can't help him with this, but he can help her. "I'm fine. If you saw blood, it wasn't mine."
"Oh," she sounds deflated and unsure. "Well, I'm glad you're okay, sweetie. I didn't mean to flip out on you. But you know if something's wrong, you can talk to us, right?"
"Good. Here's your father. Tell him he can stop yelling at his tractor."
"You okay son? You really worried your mother." His father's gruff voice hides his own worry, and there's no way he can know it sounds like an accusation.
Clark sighs. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You know, you could have called."
"I'm sorry. I was--" Bringing up the hospital would be a really bad idea. "Wasn't thinking," Clark amends.
"Try thinking next time. Maybe it'll keep you out of the news," his father says, and Clark knows worry and fear made him say it, but it's too much to hear today.
"Amanda was scared. The cameras got there before the ambulance did. I wasn't going to leave her."
"And we're proud of you, son, but you've got to be more careful."
"Yeah." Clark doesn't want to get into a fight with his father, but he's going to if he stays on the line much longer. "I've got to go. Perry needs me."
Clark hangs up the phone, stares down at the papers spread across his desk. Half of Kansas had good reason to want Avery Tyler dead, and Lois doesn't have any compelling evidence he didn't just get caught in his own fire. Even if LuthorCorp were involved, Lex is too smart to be caught by a junior reporter and her alien sidekick. Clark gathers up Lois' papers and shoves them back under her keyboard.
He sinks back into his chair and notices his e-mail icon is flashing at him. Skimming the subject lines, he sees YOU KNOW LEK LUTHOR!!! It's like really bizarre junk mail until he realizes Lois sent it, and even then he's tempted to delete it.
Clark--Have you talked to Luthor
yet? Call your mom, she's upset
about something. LL.
Clark stares at the computer screen until the words go fuzzy and meaningless. Everyone wants something from him, he just wants to be left alone.
He thinks he hears his name and he blinks and looks up from his computer. The office is nearly empty. Don is sitting at his desk talking on the phone and eating takeout. Beverly's arguing with her printer. Two people he doesn't recognize are chatting by the elevators.
Clark tries to scan the conversations but he can't hear them much better than when he wasn't trying. Don is the closest to him and seems to be talking about baseball and cheap beer, but Clark can only hear every other word.
The blinds on Perry's office are drawn and Clark tries to use his x-ray vision but all he gets is a headache, urgent and unforgiving, and maybe this is it, maybe it's over.
Clark doesn't even shut off his computer. He just gets up and heads for the stairs.
It's dark outside, later than he realized. He's not even winded from pounding down twenty-five flights of stairs, and that's got to be a good sign. He considers running home, but after what happened upstairs he's afraid to try. He doesn't want to discover he's losing that too. Clark never had those dreams where he was being chased and couldn't run. Clark could always run.
He takes the bus. It's a long ride and it gives him time to think things through. He's losing his powers, but it doesn't seem to be harming him. He feels fine, if confused, and after twenty-two years of confusion, a little more isn't going to kill him.
The bus lets him off at the cross street and he has to walk the rest of the way. It's darker than it should be, like his eyes won't adjust, and he realizes he must have been able to see in the dark because he can't anymore. Just one more thing he'll have to get used to.
There aren't any streetlights in this part of town and things are shadowy and indistinct. Clark wonders if this is how the world looks to everyone, to Lex. He can just barely make out his figure perched on the hood of a car parked across the street from Clark's building.
Closer, his vision improves and he can see Lex is driving something black and low. It looks like something from those old science reels with the robotic kitchen appliances and electric cars. Dressed in the same black and purple as earlier, Lex leans against the hood, cool as a magazine ad for imported vodka.
"Why couldn't you be working with Chloe?"
"Lois is--" Clark sighs. "I didn't know she was there."
"It's okay, Clark. I'm used to it." Head tipped back to the dark sky, Lex might be smiling.
Clark sits next to him. "The things she was saying...they're not true, are they?"
Lex doesn't move. "Are you asking if I killed Avery Tyler?"
"No! I just--" He can't put it into words. How he suddenly doubts everything.
"LuthorCorp is interested in that land. But so is the rest of Metropolis. It's on the river in a busy part of town." Lex turns to look at him. "I don't need to kill people, Clark. I have other ways of getting what I want."
It's not comforting and Lex didn't mean it to be. Clark thinks this is probably the wrong place for him to be right now. Across the street, his downstairs neighbor's cat sits in the window, tail flicking the curtain back and forth.
"What else did she tell you?" Lex is playing with him and it's starting to get irritating.
"That you got arrested in New York."
"You're going to have to be more specific."
Clark's going to give up and leave Lex out here in the dark. "Right before you got sent to Smallville."
"The Rambles," Lex says, and he sounds nostalgic and abruptly human. "I haven't thought about that in years."
Clark relaxes, his shoulder brushing against Lex's. "What happened?"
"A couple of New York City's finest mistook me for a lady of the night, which wasn't unreasonable considering what I was doing at the time." Lex's grin is huge and silly.
Clark will not ask what he was doing, but he's already got ideas of Lex on his knees in some dark part of Central Park, glittering and high at the prospect of being caught.
Lex's smile turns almost fond. "Took a lot of money to clear that up and it still got in the papers. Dad wasn't pleased. I was told it's not good PR to have the heir to LuthorCorp selling himself on the street. Probably drives stock down," Lex muses, still mellow.
Clark clears his throat, watches Lex's profile. "I'm, I wanted to say I'm sorry about your father, Lex."
It's flippant, but underneath Lex seems genuinely curious, as if he can't imagine deserving sympathy for anything his father had done. It makes Clark want to spend the rest of his life teaching Lex how family should be.
"After he died, I wanted to call, but I didn't know if you wanted to talk to me. I went to the memorial service though."
"You came?" At twenty-eight, Lex is the head of a multinational corporation and one of the richest men in America. He moves in powerful social circles and owns most of Metropolis, but right now he looks like the orphan he is.
"I wanted to be there, even if--" It hurts too much to say again so Clark just shrugs.
Lex tilts his head. "Why would you think I wouldn't want to see you?"
"Gee, Lex, I don't know. Maybe because you left Smallville and stopped speaking to me?" Clark knows he sounds petulant, but it was a stupid question and he can't believe Lex didn't already know the answer.
"I was busy, Clark. I don't remember you making any effort to reach me."
"I was seventeen, Lex. What did I know? My best friend had just left. I thought the world had ended." It's almost too much to admit and Clark forces a laugh like he was in on the joke. "You knew I wouldn't try to talk to you."
Lex's hand is braced on the hood between them. Clark feels it tense against his thigh and knows he's right.
"Why did you leave?"
"My father wanted me back in Metropolis." The tension in Lex's hand eases and Clark's unsurprised to learn Lex is more comfortable when lying.
"He'd wanted that before."
"I couldn't stay in Smallville forever, Clark. What makes you think it had anything to do with you?"
Which might be a slip because Clark hadn't said it did. He turns toward Lex. "Didn't it?"
It's very possible Lex won't tolerate this much longer, but Clark's got the perverse need to see how far he can push before Lex puts a stop to it.
"What do you want, Clark? The truth? The truth is I was tired of being lied to."
Lex's skin seems to glow in the dark, but his eyes are cold and hard, and Clark is jittery with nerves because he's going to do the one thing he never--
"I'm from another planet."
Lex laughs, an explosive "ha!" But then he's gripping Clark's arm, touching him for maybe the first time ever, saying, "Oh god, Clark," his eyes open and astounded.
There's no good way to put it and it all comes out in a jumbled rush, the meteor shower, the ship buried in the storm cellar, his parents' constant fear he'd be discovered, the new worry that his powers are deserting him.
He finishes with, "You hit me that day on the bridge."
"Clark. Clark, it's okay." Lex, calmer than anyone in this position has a right to be. Left hand still holding Clark's arm, the other on his back, Lex is touching him like it's normal, like Lex has forgotten he doesn't touch anyone.
"Easy for you to say," Clark mutters, feeling light-headed and stupid with relief.
Lex smiles. "I spent three years in Smallville, Clark. So unless you know the secret to cold fusion, this isn't anything I haven't seen before."
"Uh, you heard the part where I was an alien, right?"
"I heard you. Anything else?" This close, Lex is unfamiliar and a thousand times more complicated, but there's something vulnerable too, the scar on his lip like a crack in the mold that made him.
"One more thing," and Clark leans in and kisses him, licks that scar that splits Lex's smile in half. Lex keeps his eyes open and kisses him back until they're both breathless from it.
Lex pulls back first, gasping, mouth open and wet. "Fuck, Clark. I don't think I'll survive any more of your surprises."
"I think that's everything." And Clark grins because what else could there possibly be? For the first time ever, someone knows all his secrets. He darts in to kiss Lex again, who allows it for a second before turning his head.
Undeterred, Clark investigates Lex's ear instead. Lex digs his fingers into Clark's thigh and then lurches off the car, smoothing his tie down and looking up and down the street.
"We should probably go upstairs before we get arrested."
"I thought you liked that sort of thing."
Lex laughs, bright and easy. "Clark, you're going to--"
Lex frowns, like he can't remember what he was going to say. "You're going to ruin my bad reputation." He holds a hand out. "Come on."
Clark slips off the car and takes Lex's hand. They have some trouble getting in the door because Clark won't let go and going up the stairs he trips on the landing, nearly sending them down the stairs in a pathetic domino chain of two. After that, Lex shakes his hand free and tells Clark to go on ahead, muttering about stairs and superpowers.
Clark finds his key and gets the door open. Lex follows him inside and starts to look around, but Clark closes the door and presses Lex up against it instead. A laugh stutters out of him as he hits the door.
"I had no idea you were so pushy, Clark."
The skin at Lex's temple is thin and soft and Clark can feel Lex's pulse when he touches his lips there. "I don't have to lie to you anymore. I hated lying to you, Lex."
"I know," Lex says, and it sounds like forgiveness.
"I wanted to tell you for the longest time, but I wasn't supposed to and I just hated it." Lex's purple shirt is made out of some material so fine it catches on Clark's fingertips and Clark undoes a button or two.
Lex has his head back, hand in Clark's hair, strangely passive as Clark kisses along his jaw. "I know, Clark, I know."
"And I was afraid you'd freak out, but--" Something finally sinks in, and Clark pulls away, leaving Lex blurry-eyed and docile against the door. "You knew!"
"You've known all this time! Why didn't you do something?"
Tie askew and eyes wide, Lex looks honestly stunned at Clark's outburst. "What did you want me to do, Clark? Confront you so you could lie to me some more?"
Clark throws his hands out, feeling helpless in a way that's totally new. Lying had always been his first defense, but now he has to dig up all the evidence and remember how things actually are instead of how he tried to make them be.
"You just, you could have said something, Lex."
"I tried that, Clark. The first couple of times you either offered to let me run over you with my car, or you played so dumb I was surprised you still admitted to your own name. The last time--" Lex wipes a hand over his head and squeezes his eyes shut. "You got so angry at me, Clark, and then that night outside the Talon I watched you get shot in the chest and you just zipped up your jacket and pretended everything was fine. You smiled at me and lied, and there was nothing I could do about it."
Clark slumps against the kitchen counter. "So you left? All those years, Lex. You knew. We could have--"
Lex shakes his head. "I gave you more chances than I've ever given anyone, Clark. You knew I knew, and you still didn't tell me."
"I didn't know!"
"Yes, Clark. You did. It was just easier for you to pretend you didn't." Lex is gentle when he says this, and it makes Clark stubborn.
"I didn't have a choice."
"You always have a choice, Clark." Lex is still speaking carefully, but there's an edge to him now and somewhere during their strange fight he'd found the time to button his shirt again.
"Maybe you do." Clark crosses his arms over his chest.
"Don't tell me you have no control over your own life, Clark, because I don't believe that."
Clark stares at him. "When I was fifteen my parents told me I wasn't human. I lost a lot of my choices right then."
"And you're blaming me for that?"
"I'm not blaming you! I'm just saying if you knew you should have said something. Things could have...been different."
Lex cocks his head like a hawk about to snap up a mouse. "Clark, if I had come out and said I knew you were an alien with superhuman strength, is there any chance that you wouldn't have denied it and then done your best to avoid me for the rest of our lives?"
"I--" Clark wants to think he would have handled it better than that, but back then his father hated Lex so much that it was sometimes hard for Clark to remember he didn't. He drops his head. "Probably not."
Lex's voice is serious and low. "I didn't want to take that risk."
Clark has no idea how these secrets haven't already destroyed them a million times over, but he knows it wasn't luck because Lex never leaves anything up to chance. They're here because Lex has more patience than a vengeful ice age and somewhere along the line he decided Clark was worth forgiving.
It's more than he could have hoped for and Clark closes his eyes, weak with gratitude and all the lies he's told. "I'm sorry, Lex. I wish I could have told you earlier."
"You're telling me now," Lex says, suddenly closer than before. Clark opens his eyes to Lex and his knifelike gaze, the flaw on his lip pale against the flush of his aristocratic skin, and all Clark can think is that he had kissed this man and survived.
"I know it wasn't easy."
Clark screws up his courage, prepares to wince. "So, uh, how much did you know?"
Clark chokes. "Everything?"
Lex's exhale sounds suspiciously like a laugh. "I have eyes, Clark, and you were a terrible liar."
Lex frowns. "I can still remember the look on your face as I crushed your body between my car and that bridge. I hit you, and neither of us should have survived that."
Even after their long awkward conversation about how Clark's an alien, Clark still has to fight the impulse to deny everything and he clenches his jaw to keep from interrupting. Lex's eyes flicker.
"You were always right in the middle of things, stronger and faster than the rest of the Smallville mutants. There were rumors that a spaceship fell along with the meteors, and the rocks didn't bother anybody but you. And then that kid at your school ended up with your powers after that lightning storm and you could barely lift a two-by-four."
"So that's why you showed up at the hospital after Eric tried to turn me into a hood ornament. You were checking up on me."
Lex gets a here-we-go-again look. "I wasn't checking up on you, Clark. I was worried about you. You don't get hurt--"
Clark bows his head. "I do now."
"Oh, Clark." Lex sounds tired, almost as if this were his weakness too. "How long has this been going on?"
Clark shrugs, picks at the edge of the counter where the formica's warped. "I don't know. I just noticed it yesterday. Or I mean, I've known something was wrong for a while, but yesterday was the first time..." He looks up. "I got a papercut."
"A papercut?" Lex looks like he just found a frog in his pocket. "Clark, you also crashed your car, got a concussion and sprained your wrist. And the papercut's the part you remember?"
Clark grins at the floor. "I uh, think the papercut surprised me more."
"Do you know why this is happening?" Lex asks.
Clark loses his smile. "No. Today my, uhm, x-ray vision didn't work."
"Maybe the loss is just temporary," Lex suggests. "Or you said these powers came to you gradually. It's possible they were never meant to be permanent, just short-term abilities to help you survive that period of your life. Maybe you've finally adapted to your environment and don't need them anymore."
Lex is steady and rational, like he's talking about a clever new virus or bacteria, like aliens don't figure anywhere into this conversation, and Clark realizes just how long Lex has known this, all the time he's had to think about it. It's like Lex had this whole other life with Clark's secrets, and Clark's jealous of that life, of Lex and his easy acceptance, of how this is just academic theory to him.
"So what are you saying, I'm becoming a real boy?"
Lex's expression twists into something pained but amused, and it almost makes Clark laugh but Lex touches Clark's face and Clark doesn't want to laugh anymore.
"Clark, you've always been real. You will be real, regardless of whether or not you can act as your own x-ray machine."
Clark can't help his sad smile. He can feel it shiver beneath Lex's hand and finds he has one more secret. "I'm scared."
Lex looks up at him, runs a thumb across his cheek. "We'll figure it out."
It's just too much and Clark closes his eyes. He's been awake so long he can't even remember when this day started, what kind of person he was then.
"Tomorrow," Lex adds, smoothing a curl of Clark's hair.
"Not tomorrow," Clark mumbles. "City council meeting."
"Thursday then. And we'll see about getting you a better job."
Clark opens his eyes just in time to see Lex indulging in an exasperated eye roll.
Caught, Lex scowls. "Clark, if, for some unholy reason you actually like listening to the city council drone about land use and whether the Founder's Day Parade should turn on Broadway or Front, I'm not going to take that away from you. But if you don't like what you're doing, you don't have to do it."
"You're doing this to annoy me, aren't you?"
"Yes," Clark says solemnly, "I spent three and half years at college, worked on the school paper with an editor that hated me, and sweated through three summers at the Planet just so I could annoy you by covering city council meetings. I'm devious that way."
"You are. You're also very tired. So I think it's time for me to go."
Lex steps back and Clark might have whimpered, but he's willing to blame that on being tired enough he's been forgetting to unblink and he wonders how long his eyes were closed that time. "Okay."
"You know how to find me, right?"
"Yeah," Clark yawns, "I've got your card."
Clark rubs his eyes, notices Lex has a goofy smile on his face, and smiles back fuzzy-headed.
"Good," Lex says, and at the door, leans into Clark and kisses him, slow and sweet, like they'd been leaving each other for years and he still couldn't stand it.
The city council meeting starts late, so Clark gets to sleep in the next morning, catching up on all the sleep he didn't get the night before. He feels better than he has in weeks and even the prospect of seven hours with the city council can't ruin his good mood.
An hour in, he's rethinking that. Before they called the meeting to order, the mayor actually made Clark stand up so she could praise his civic-mindedness and simultaneously suck up to Senator Hayes, who would probably hear about it one way or another, though not from the Planet because there's no way Clark's going to include that in his report.
In the press box he's surrounded by laptops and handhelds, but he takes notes on paper because he can doodle that way. The guy next to him is playing solitaire and the girl in front of him appears to be reading a Stephen King novel online. Everyone's got their digital recorders on and their attention elsewhere while the deputy majority leader prattles on about the maximum height of buildings along Skyport Drive. Clark draws a skyscraper with an angry gorilla clinging to the lightning rod and shaking its fist at a tiny bulldozer parked on the sidewalk. He puts an even tinier deputy majority leader in the cab of the bulldozer, complete with bad toupee and boring thought balloon.
The council moves on to the subject of street lights and Clark considers his career options. Cartoonist maybe. Or construction worker. He could run away and join the circus. Be the strong man, or depending on how bad things get, the not-so-strong man. He could sell popcorn and clean up after the elephants. Or maybe he could just decide to stop hiding and actually try to get his name on the front page for once. He wants to talk to someone about this, someone who won't treat him like a confused kid, who won't encourage him to play it safe. Lex is the obvious answer, the only answer, and Clark doesn't know how he survived these last years without him.
Next to Clark, the solitaire player wins his game and the cards go shooting across the screen in celebration. The laptop tries to play a little congratulatory song, but the guy smashes his hand against the speaker and fumbles for the mute button.
"I never win this one," he confides to Clark.
Clark smiles and leans down for his bag. He's got a palm pilot in there somewhere. The Planet passes them out like candy thanks to some research and development deal with LuthorCorp, but he rarely uses his. The strange shorthand language it uses reminds him too much of the symbols on his ship that he's never learned to read, but that doesn't seem as important today.
He finds the handheld in an inside pouch. Lex's business card is in his shirt pocket and he turns on the pilot and scrawls Lex's e-mail address into a new message.
Council member Gennaro is proposing new
street lights along West Shore Drive.
Council member DeFazio opposes the action,
saying there's not enough foot traffic to
warrant the expense. I can't wait to see
what happens next.
The pilot tries to turn Lex's X into a K, and Clark has to try several times to convince it otherwise. He sends the message. The city council votes on an initiative to rename Vistapark Drive to Communications Hill Boulevard. It fails at the last moment and the assemblage gives a confused mutter. The press looks up briefly then returns to more interesting matters.
Clark's palm pilot clicks and he's got new mail: Cute, Clark. There's an opening in the janitorial staff of my building if you're looking for a position that's a little more intellectually stimulating. Let me know. Lex.
They play like that for the rest of the evening, sending e-mails back and forth, making fun of each other's jobs and offering suggestions for new careers. Lex is in his office at the LuthorCorp Tower and Clark's stuck in the tedious hell of city council minutiae, but they've got an open line to each other and Clark thinks he could tolerate pretty much anything as long as he's got Lex within reach.
After the council adjourns, Clark walks back to the Planet to type up the heart-pounding excitement of the controversial Vistapark Drive versus Communications Hill Boulevard decision. He has no idea who actually reads this stuff.
In a shady spot between the library and the park, some enterprising mugger has two women backed up against a tree. Clark's over there before he has a chance to think about it. Wraps one arm around the mugger's beefy chest, grabs the barrel of the gun and twists it out of his hand. The women clutch each other and shriek.
Clark glances over at them to make sure they're okay and the mugger decides to take advantage of Clark's distraction by elbowing him in the stomach.
"Motherfucker!" The mugger stumbles and takes off, holding his elbow. Clark could have told him that wasn't a good idea.
The women are shaky and pissed, doing inventory on their purses and starting a lot of sentences they can't seem to finish. Clark escorts them to the police station to file a report and turn the gun in, then manages to escape without anyone recognizing him. He wonders how much longer he'll be able to do this.
Lois is yelling at someone on the phone when Clark walks into the newsroom.
"Can't you just fax it or something?"
Lois is still digging into the Avery Tyler incident but has broadened her search to include everyone who had contact with Tyler or ever heard of him.
Clark sits down at his desk. Lois glares at him. "No, I heard what you said. I still want to know why you can't fax it to me--" She listens for a second, mouth half open. "Wha--" Another pause, Lois narrows her eyes, snaps, "Thanks for nothing!" and slams the phone down. Clark tries to look busy with his city council notes.
"This is ridiculous. What is wrong with these people? I mean, microfiche! Could the rest of the world please join me in the twenty-first century?"
Clark very carefully does not look in her direction.
It doesn't save him. "Have you talked to Luthor yet?"
"Nope," Clark says.
Lois stares at Clark like she's trying to find the loose thread that'll unravel him. "I read your little rant."
Against his better judgment, Clark makes eye contact. "What?"
"That thing you wrote that ended up in Metro?" Only Lois could sound so dismissive and so jealous at the same time.
"That wasn't a rant!"
"The people of Metropolis need to stop rubbernecking, get up off their lazy asses and go plant a tree?"
Clark shakes his head, looks for his pencil. "That's not what I said."
"Whatever. We'd be out of a job if people weren't turned on by the misfortune of strangers. If they want dippy stories about some kid who smashes her Beamer and the goofy Boy Scout who saves her, who are we to deny them?"
Clark just stares at her.
"What?" She starts to look nervous. "What!"
"Nothing," Clark says, giving her a smile Lex once told him was too innocent to be trusted.
Lois apparently agrees. "What are you smiling about?"
"It's-- Oh, it's nothing. Don't worry about it." Lois sufficiently distracted, Clark returns to his search and spies the plastic fish hiding under some papers. He pulls the pencil out of its mouth and borrows Lois' pencil sharpener.
Lois doesn't notice. She's rummaging through her purse, pulling out a compact and checking her reflection in the tiny mirror. She squints at herself. Clark sharpens his pencil.
Thursday, everyone's attention shifts from Clark's unassuming heroism to the Rockets' phenomenal eight in a row winning streak. It's about eight more games than they won all spring, but most of Metropolis is acting like they personally invented the game of baseball. Lois is convinced the players are using some kind of experimental steroid, even though Clark tried to explain that drugs wouldn't account for the infield's uncharacteristic lack of errors and the bullpen's sudden ability to find home plate. Lois pretended to ignore him but wrote down "bullpen" with a bunch of frantic question marks.
It's sunny and clear outside, the perfect day for a game, and Clark's trying to figure out how to get himself temporarily assigned to the sports page when someone suddenly leans against his desk.
"So, Clark Kent in his natural habitat." She nods, looking around. "Not that exciting. Don't they give you a salt lick or a chew toy or anything?"
"If I'm lucky sometimes there's stale doughnuts."
"Mmm, stale doughnuts." Amanda hops up to sit on his desk, her back to Lois. She's got on a plaid skirt that looks like part of a school uniform and shows her bruised legs.
Clark leans back in his chair. "So how are you doing?"
"Pretty good. Mom's back in Washington. You-know-who is waiting outside. He was afraid to come up. Says journalists are unclean." The fingers on her broken arm wiggle.
"You know who?"
Amanda rolls her eyes and snaps her gum. "Alexander J," she says, then mouths "Luthor" with a pointed look, like Clark's not very smart.
"Oh," he says, wondering how long it'll take before he just assumes Lex is every unnamed you-know-who. "Alexander. Does he let you call him that?"
"I wouldn't say he lets me, exactly." She smiles, nose wrinkling.
"Clark," Lois cuts in, "I know it's your goal to flounder in feeble mediocrity until you die, but some of us actually have work to do. So if you could tell your little--"
Amanda turns around. "I don't believe we've met. Amanda Hayes."
"O-oh," says Lois, like someone just took away her byline.
"And you are?"
"Great, Lois, maybe you could give Clark and I a moment alone?"
Lois blinks, stands uncertainly. She shuffles some papers on her desk, grabs a floppy disk and a stapler, slinks away.
"Wow," Clark says, watching Lois head for the elevator. "I've never seen her back off like that."
"It's all in the wrist," Amanda says, using the drawer pulls of his desk as a footrest and glancing around the newsroom. "This place is dead."
"Not a lot going on today," Clark agrees.
Amanda throws her gum away. "Lex and I went to the zoo."
Clark isn't sure he heard that right. "Lex took you to the zoo?"
"He was supposed to drive me to school, but we played hooky instead. Lex is the best person to go to the zoo with. They let you in everywhere. I fed the penguins. Lex didn't want to, which is funny because the Penguinarium's named after him." Amanda grins. "I think he's scared of penguins."
Clark can't imagine Lex at the zoo, can't picture him rubbing elbows with the unwashed masses, smiling at the kids with their sticky faces and hands, standing at the fence and pointing at the elephants. Though maybe that last one. Lex probably had plenty of inspirational stories about elephants and their use in the Punic Wars.
"And then we came here so that I could say thanks."
"For staying with me after that psychotic bicycle messenger made me crash Sparky?" She gives him another "you can't possibly be this dumb" look.
"Oh, right. You sort of had a death grip on my arm. I wasn't going anywhere."
For a moment Clark thinks she's offended, but it seems she's found something interesting on his desk instead.
"Plastic fish!" Amanda says, pulling the plastic fish out from its hiding place and letting it chew on her fingers. "Where'd you get this?"
Clark shakes his head. "I have no idea. You can have it if you want."
"Cool." The fish tries to swallow Amanda's thumb. Amanda gets a sneaky look. "You know, we're going to the Rockets game, you should come with us."
"Now? I'm kind of," Clark sighs, "at work."
"They won't miss you." Amanda hops off his desk. "Come on, I'll buy you a hot dog."
Clark laughs, looks around him. No one would miss him is the thing. Plus Lex and baseball.
"Okay," he says.
"Great!" Amanda tucks her hair behind her ears and pulls a tiny orange cell phone out of her pocket. "He's got the red Ferrari. I'm not even sure it has a glovebox. We might have to call a car."
She pokes a few buttons on the phone. She's close enough that Clark can easily hear when the call's picked up on the other end.
"Hello." Lex, bored but alert.
"Excuse me?" Slightly less bored.
"Codenames, Alexander. The enemy is everywhere."
"Clark's coming with us to the game. Is there room for all of us or will I have to sit on his lap?"
Lex coughs. "I own the stadium, Amanda. I think they can squeeze us in."
Amanda rolls her eyes. "Yes, I know, you're incredibly rich. I was talking about the car."
"Oh." Squeak of shifting leather. "There's a...back seat."
"That thing has a backseat?" They sound equally skeptical.
"I'm looking right at it. You should fit if you don't breathe very much." More squeaking leather. "Hmm..."
"There's golf clubs back here."
"You don't golf."
"They must have come with the car."
Amanda snorts. "Only you would have these sorts of problems. We'll be right down."
Lex and his red Ferrari are parked in a no-parking zone. Clark expected nothing less, but at least he's not blocking traffic. Sunglasses on, Lex is doing something complicated on his phone, either transferring funds between accounts or playing Tetris. His phone squeals. He folds it in half and looks up.
"Hi," Clark says, suddenly shy of Lex and his movie star life.
Lex climbs out of the convertible, and it must be casual Thursday because he's dressed in slacks, a tight grey long-sleeved pullover, and shoes that could almost pass as sneakers if you were drunk and feeling generous.
"Clark, glad you could join us."
"Amanda said it was part of my reward."
Lex tips his head. "What's the other part?"
"Hey," Amanda puts her hands on her hips and looks into the car. "Are you sure this is actually a seat and not just the ledge where you'd put the dog?"
Lex turns her way. "Do you think I'd let a dog ride in this car?"
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
"Does it sound like one?" Lex gestures with a thumb. "Get in."
Lex and Amanda spend some quality time insulting each other while Clark communes with the confusing array of levers on the side of the passenger's seat. After making it go in several directions and also to vibrate, he finally gets it to fold forward. He helps Amanda climb into the back where she sits sideways and half hanging over the back of Clark's seat, her legs twisted together like a pretzel with knees.
Clark just pulled her out of a wrecked car two days ago; he'd met Lex after he'd driven into Clark and off a bridge, and now they're all in the same small red sportscar. It's like something out of Greek tragedy with taunting the gods and driving too fast.
Lex glances over his shoulder, starts the car. "Don't worry, Clark. I'll drive slow."
They all laugh. Lex burns away from the curb.
Amanda vetoed Lex's attempt to seat them in a skybox. She insisted that isn't real baseball up there, more like the guardtower of a prison. Clark cast his vote with Amanda and Lex gave in with a minimum of complaint. So they're sitting along the first baseline instead, practically behind the catcher, in what Lex called the cheap seats. It's the closest Clark's ever been to a major league baseball game. Any closer and he'd have to play.
It's the third inning and the Rockets are fizzling around the field, bases loaded with walked Sox.
"This is embarrassing," Lex mutters. "Clark, what do you know about baseball? If I buy the Rockets can you make them win?"
Clark looks around Amanda to see Lex. "They are winning."
Lex looks sad. "I'm not sure we can call this winning."
"Shhh!" Amanda hisses.
A few feet away, Sanchez swings at a doddering fastball and pops it foul. The catcher stands, knocks his mask off and then nearly trips on it, but manages to snag the ball and get the third out.
Lex checks his watch. "No wonder they call them the Rockettes. They play like a bunch of women."
Amanda whips around so fast her hair hits Clark in the eye. "Hey! My softball team went to state, so watch it."
"Maybe I'll let you manage them then," Lex says.
The groundskeepers come out to fix the baselines that got scuffed from all the vigorous walking. Amanda stands up and grabs her purse.
"I'm getting a coke, you guys want anything?"
Clark shakes his head, but Lex squints up at her. "Bring me a hot dog."
Amanda sighs like she should have expected that and climbs over Clark to get to the aisle. She takes the stairs and disappears into the special snack bar for the overprivileged.
"So I heard you went to the zoo today. Spent some time at the...Penguinarium," Clark says to Lex, leaning into the empty space between them, leaning on the last word.
Lex is smiling as he unscrews the cap on his bottled water. "Let me guess, I'm afraid of penguins."
"A terrible and paralyzing fear." Clark tries to look supportive.
"Is it possible instead of being terrified by penguins, I just didn't want to get my shoes dirty?"
Lex is sitting with his legs crossed, one ankle balanced on the opposite knee, and Clark peers down at his shoe. Its square-treaded bottom is filled with mashed popcorn and a pink goo that can only be cotton candy.
"No," Clark says.
Lex twists his foot so he can assess the damage. "Ugh. I'm going to have to burn these."
"Did I miss anything?" Amanda asks, squeezing past Clark and dropping into her seat.
"No," Lex says, not even bothering to look at the field.
Amanda consults the scoreboard. "Sox got another error."
Lex takes a sip of his water. "Like I said."
"This is important stuff," Amanda says, making Clark pull the wrapper off her straw.
The pitcher throws a wild ball that nearly hits the batter in the head and the crowd boos. Amanda leaps up, holding the plastic fish like a tomahawk.
"This FISH can pitch better than you, Osbourne!"
They're actually close enough to the field that Clark can see the pitcher's confused expression.
"He's got no arms!" Amanda yells.
Lex slouches in his seat, putting a hand over his eyes like if he can't see the stadium, it can't see him. Clark knows from experience that never works. He pulls Amanda back down.
"You're embarrassing Lex," he says in a loud whisper.
"Oh no, we wouldn't want to embarrass Lex," Amanda says. The fish nips Lex on the ear. Lex bats it away with his free hand. "That's just a lawsuit waiting to happen."
Lex is grinning beneath the shield of his hand and Clark wants to pull his arm down so the whole world can see Lex smiling, because Lex smiles more than his face lets on and like everything he does, he's very good at it.
Below them, there's the crack of bat against ball. Amanda jumps out of her chair, waving the fish and cheering. Lex sits up, drops his hand and watches the home run fly over the fence. Clark watches Lex.
By the seventh inning the Rockets are flagging and so is Amanda. She's slumped in her seat with her head on Clark's shoulder and the Rockets are acting like they'd rather have a nap too.
"Arm hurt?" Lex asks.
"Do you have any more of your pills?"
"I took the last one at the zoo." Amanda rolls her eyes so she's looking up at Clark. "It made the monkeys better."
Clark laughs, shakes his head. "Just say no, Amanda."
"Do you want to leave?" Lex asks.
"The game's not over," Amanda tells him.
"Okay." Lex checks his watch. "I'll be right back."
Lex stands and makes his way to the aisle, touches the top of Amanda's head as he leaves, brushes his fingers across Clark's hair, like a very small game of duck-duck-goose.
While Lex is gone, the Sox get a two-run homer and Amanda boos quietly into Clark's shirt. The outfield bleachers goes through its usual scrabble for the ball, but the girl who gets it throws it back onto the field.
"Good arm," Amanda mumbles. "We should hire her."
"Sure. Who else?"
Clark laughs. "He's been retired for years."
"Excuse me, whose imaginary baseball team is this?"
"My mistake. We'll lure him out of retirement with an imaginary billion-dollar contract."
Lex comes back with another bottle of water and a small shiny square of something. He gives it to Amanda.
"Percocet, same as you were taking before."
"Oh, thank you, Lex."
He hands her the water and she sits there, looking grateful, just a kid with a broken arm whose mom is half a country away. And instead of being stuck in school she's at a baseball game sitting next to the richest man in Metropolis, who cleared his schedule so he could take her to the zoo. Lex's kindness never surprises Clark, but today he feels like he's got some part in it, like Lex is his and Clark's proud of him.
Lex is watching Amanda wrestle with the blister pack, but he looks up at Clark and smiles, and Clark can't believe how lucky he is that he gets this.
Amanda gives up and hands the plastic square to Clark. "Open."
"He's really good at getting the packaging off of cds, too," Lex says.
"Genius level IQ and the man can't get into a cd," Clark says for Amanda's benefit. She giggles and takes back the opened package.
Lex affects a haughty look that Clark recognizes as one of Lionel's. "That's what minions are for."
Clark uses that as an excuse to reach over Amanda's head and cuff Lex, but Lex traps Clark's hand between his shoulder and the seat. Lex is bonier than Clark expected and Clark can feel the sharp triangle of Lex's shoulder blade against his palm.
Amanda swallows her pill and sits back to watch the game, but her eyes are shut within minutes, her head resting on Clark's shoulder again.
The batter fouls a ball off along the third base line and it gets stuck behind the tarp rolled there.
"This is the most inept baseball game I've ever seen," Lex says, looking like he wants to send it back.
Clark grins. "You missed the part where Giambi forgot there were only two outs."
"Please tell me you're joking."
"Don't worry, it's almost over," Clark says. He looks over at the scoreboard to check the count and sees himself looking back, huge and blocky on the superscreen in the outfield. Amanda asleep on his shoulder and Clark's arm stretched out along the back of her seat, his fingers disappearing behind Lex's neck. Lex looking cool and untouchable and Clark wonders what it means that Lex is letting Clark touch him in public, because in all the years Clark spent watching Lex he never once saw him with a man or woman that was anything more than a pretty convenience.
The camera shifts to a girl in a tank top, and Clark can feel every muscle it takes to curl one finger and run it down the back of Lex's neck.
Turning into the touch, Lex seems amused. "Clark."
Clark's remembering how much weight Lex can put into his name. It can mean anything from "I'm waiting" to "I have no idea what you just said." This time it sounds a lot like "I know exactly what you're up to." Which means Clark's little test hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Hi," he says, hoping to change the subject before Lex makes him explain.
Lex smiles. "You have any plans for the rest of the day?"
"N-no," Clark says managing not to stutter, and even if it did take him a while to get past the n, he figures he's got an excuse because it's clear by the way Lex is looking at him that he's got plans.
"Good," Lex says.
Clark wants to shiver or sigh, touch the back of Lex's neck again, but he doesn't want to press his luck. He doesn't know the rules to what they're doing, how far Lex will allow him to go. He leaves his hand on Lex's seat though, and sometimes Lex leans into it when he reaches for his water or moves to get a better look at the batter. Clark can see him restructuring the franchise in his head.
The noise of a failed home run wakes Amanda up in the ninth inning. She sits up and squints at the field.
"Is that us?"
"Yeah, Penzotti stopped a ball from going over the wall," Clark tells her. "Rockets win."
"That's it?" Lex asks.
Amanda rolls her eyes and flicks a peanut shell from the pleat of her skirt. "They only release the lions on special occasions, Alexander the Great Big."
Lex frowns at her. "That was the Romans. Alexander had better things to do with his time than feed people to lions. Aren't they teaching you anything in that pretentious alternative school of yours?"
"Big deal, so Alexander didn't toss any Christians to the lions. He still killed everyone who disagreed with him."
Lex gives a predatory grin. "What's wrong with that?"
"Well, I'm guessing the entire city of Thebes wasn't too happy about it."
"They'd refused to recognize his authority as king." Lex stands, his seat snapping shut behind him. "He gave them a chance to surrender."
Amanda makes a face. "Just what they always wanted."
It sounds like an old argument and it gets them all the way to the car, Lex finishing with, "It was a valid political choice for the time. These days we have to be more subtle." He hits a button on his keychain and the Ferrari chirps at him.
"Subtle?" Amanda starts laughing. "Clark, ask him about the horse."
Clark puts his hands up. "No way. I learned a long time ago not to get between him and Alexander the Great."
"But it's so much fun," Amanda says, squeezing into the car. "He gets all defensive."
Clark swallows a laugh. Lex nods to himself. "Either of you interested in walking home?"
Amanda clutches her arm and looks tragic. "I'd hate to run into a reporter and have to tell them why I was walking home with a broken arm, totally alone on the dirty streets of Metropolis."
"That's a sad story," Clark says. "I'd write it."
"This is the very last time I take you two anywhere," Lex announces, finding his sunglasses and starting the car.
"Uh oh, you've done it now, Clark." Amanda leans over the back of his seat.
"Me? I wasn't the one who brought up Alexander the Great."
Lex mumbles something around the sunglasses hanging from his mouth as he winds his way through the dark maze of the concrete parking mall and Clark realizes that acting like a teenager is probably one of the least attractive things he could be doing right now. He tries to force his smile down to a tolerable level because he can see his reflection in the windshield and he's grinning like a toothpaste ad. Amanda gives up on him and flops back in her seat, pulling her phone out to check her messages.
Lex finally locates the exit and they creep out into the late afternoon sunlight and onto the freeway. Clark's half-blinded by the sun and for the first time in his life he wishes he had sunglasses. It takes a while, but his eyes adjust eventually and if the world still seems a little too bright it's probably just the sun bouncing off the Ferrari's three hundred thousand dollar paint job. Not to mention its three hundred thousand dollar leather dashboard.
"This is a very nice car," Clark says.
Which must sound like "drive faster" to Lex because he does, pushing between two minivans until he's in the carpool lane. Clark can feel his hair twisting into knots but Lex doesn't even remotely look like he's in a wind tunnel.
Clark wipes his hair out of his eyes. It goes right back.
"You know," Clark shouts over the wind, "I used to have a car. It wasn't as nice as this, in fact the doors had a tendency not to open, but it got me to work and back. Funny thing is, I can't find it."
Lex glances over at him, licks his lips. "Bad news about your car, Clark."
"I can't afford to hear this, can I?"
"The engine block's cracked. You're not driving it until it's fixed."
It takes Clark a moment, but he finally identifies Lex's tone as protective. The idea that Lex is guarding Clark from a ten-year-old Volkswagen makes him grin inappropriately. Lex might as well have just gone ahead and forbidden Clark to drive it, but that would probably be too obvious for Lex, who likes to pretend he doesn't worry.
"Who's going to pay for that?" Clark asks, biting his lip so he won't laugh. "Because unless I have a second job I don't know about, it's not going to be me."
Lex is giving him a weird look. "You know I'd be happy to pay for it, Clark, but as I recall the Kents are a little particular about accepting gifts. I didn't want to overstep my boundaries."
Which is nothing but a lie because overstepping boundaries is what Lex likes best, so something else is going on and Clark almost gets the feeling Lex is fishing for some kind of reassurance.
"I think you've confused me with my father. I like presents," Clark says, giving Lex a pointed smile.
Everything must sound like "drive faster" to Lex today. Clark resigns himself to hopelessly tangled hair and Lex's dangerous grin.
They drop Amanda off at home, a menacing modern thing that looks like a bunch of glass boxes stacked on top of each other. Even more disturbing is that it's not at all out of place in their hip East Metropolis neighborhood. The house next door has a moat.
"You'll be okay?" Lex says.
"Yeah, Margot'll burn dinner and nag me to do my homework and then spend the rest of the night on the internet. Business as usual." Amanda shrugs, then seems to remember her arm's broken.
Amanda winces in slow motion, like a drugged turtle. "Yes, Margot?"
There's a blond woman standing where the front door must be. Barefoot and in white capris she's got her hands on her hips and a disapproving look on her face.
"Come inside," she says, shooting a glare at Lex. Lex waves.
Amanda sighs. "I'd better go. Margot'll want to lock me in the dungeon and feed me burnt gruel until I reform." She picks up her bag and puts the strap over her head. "Bye, Clark. See you, Lex."
They say goodbye and Amanda goes up the granite walk to stand in front of Margot, who's blocking the door, arms crossed over her chest like Amanda forgot the secret password. Margot says something. Amanda shakes her head. Margot looks serious. Amanda tosses her hair over her shoulder and turns around with a huge finishing school smile.
"Thanks for the ride," Amanda calls.
Lex waves over his head as he puts the car in gear and they shoot out from the circular driveway like a pinball with five hundred horses.
Clark watches a Victorian mansion go past in a pink and purple gingerbread blur. "Yeh," he says. "You could move the castle here and no one would blink."
Lex is smiling. "Don't think my father didn't try."
"Of course. He never intended to live in Smallville, but there wasn't a plot of land big enough for it in Metropolis. My favorite part is how that pile of rocks was clearly the first thing that came to mind when he was looking for somewhere to stash me. My father read too much."
Clark raises his eyebrows and waits for the punchline.
"He had an overdeveloped sense of metaphor," Lex says, looking amused and ironic and somehow making metaphors sound like a fatal disease.
Clark shakes his head and smiles, wondering if he still would have met Lex if Lionel hadn't decided he needed a Scottish castle and a few hundred acres of estate in the middle of Kansas. He doesn't say this to Lex because Lex would give him that intent stare and a speech about destiny, and no matter how much Clark loves listening to Lex talk, Clark's not ready to hear what destiny's been up to lately. If his own life is any indication, she's probably been dropping acid and making indecipherable notes in her day planner.
They're downtown now and Lex can't go as fast as he wants thanks to things like pedestrians and red lights. Stopped at an intersection in the financial district, Lex takes his sunglasses off and watches the stock ticker speeding along the front of the Hancock building. There's a string of red numbers, and his attention suddenly shifts to Clark.
"What are you thinking about over there?"
"Nothing," Clark says, then switches to, "you."
"Nothingness and me. I'm flattered." But Lex seems pleased all the same. "Does the Planet know where you are?"
Clark makes a scared face. "I hope not. Lois would never let me out of her sight again."
"Well, we can't have that."
"Plus the part about how I left work to go to a baseball game."
The light changes and Lex revs the engine and wobbles the gear shift back and forth, preparing to go from zero to sixty as soon as the Honda in front of them recovers from its stall.
"You're all kinds of bad, Clark. If only people knew."
"Oh yeah, sometimes I take twenty-minute breaks, and last Friday I walked off with one of the bank's pens. I'm no good."
"Definitely headed for a life of crime. Try these," Lex says, handing over his sunglasses and finally just driving around the Honda.
Things are darker with Lex's sunglasses on and in the side-view mirror Clark's reflection is mysterious and unfamiliar. He's not nearly rich enough to be wearing them, but they let him pretend he doesn't see some of Lex's more questionable driving, which can only be a plus with the way Lex is weaving in and out of traffic like a man late for happy hour.
Eight o'clock on a summer evening and downtown Metropolis is incredible, its skyline of steel and glass reflecting the red-orange light of the sun and producing a glare that makes the LuthorCorp Tower seem like it's on fire. Lex lives five blocks over in Luthor Plaza, the tallest building in Metropolis and Lex's favorite pet. Lionel had put him in charge of its development as a welcome back test after Lex's return to the city, and rumor had it that Lex purposely built the Plaza twenty-one stories higher than LuthorCorp Tower just to spite his father. Clark's sure that's only half the story.
"Penthouse," Lex tells the elevator.
Clark's been in the Plaza before, but not in Lex's private elevator, which requires a passcard and security code and has a spectacular view of the city. He'd taken the sunglasses off in the lobby and he stares out the tinted glass as they move up the ninety-six floors to the top.
A helicopter the size of a dragonfly lands on the roof of the LuthorCorp Tower and Clark's eyesight is still good enough to see the entwined LC logo on its tail.
"Is it true you made this taller than your father's building without telling him?" Clark asks.
Lex looks blank for a second, but then one corner of his mouth quirks up, half of a proposed smile. "What do you think?"
"I think that sounds exactly like something you'd do."
Lex rewards him with the rest of the smile. "Doesn't it? My father would have considered it a personal failure if I hadn't tried to one-up him in some way. I could hardly disappoint him. He kept reviewing the plans for evidence of my treachery, but unfortunately he never did have the right set." Lex gives what's probably supposed to be a penitent look, but on him it just looks smug.
"The day they published the layout in the paper and he realized I'd outdone him, he slammed into my office half-mad with pride. 'Lex, my boy, this calls for a celebration!'" Lex spreads his arms and throws his hands up in the air like a dictator rousing the masses. It was Lionel's expansive "and so it is" gesture. Lex shrugs and puts his hands in his pockets. "He took me to his favorite restaurant and we smiled and showed the world how great Luthors are."
Clark remembers the picture. Lionel with his mad rush of hair and piercing eyes, one arm leaning on the table like a conqueror bracing himself before pulling his sword from the body of a victim. Next to him, pale and bald as bone, Lex seemed almost incidental, as if he didn't feel like competing with his father's mania that day. Still, he was smiling, glass of something clear in his hand, platinum cufflinks catching the light as he raised his drink in toast.
"It's the sixth highest building in the world, you know." Lex sounds dissatisfied with this, as if it wasn't what he meant to say. He turns to the window and looks down at Metropolis.
Clark steps over to Lex, stands close enough to see the scar on his lip and the grey in his eyes.
"Do you miss him?" Clark asks.
"No," Lex says, and it's a lie, but Clark's not surprised because they're both liars and it's probably too late to stop now.
"If you say so, Lex."
Lex huffs an annoyed sigh. "Jesus, Clark, don't look like that. He was a sadistic bastard who only thought of himself and measured success by how many lives he could ruin, but he was my father. Happy?"
Clark hadn't meant to look like that, but if it got results like this he'd have to consider doing it on purpose next time. Not that Lex had actually answered his question, but he nearly did and that's a start.
"Pretty happy," Clark says, reaching out to find Lex's hand. Lex had pushed his sleeves up and Clark runs a thumb across the inside of Lex's wrist. His skin is softer than the shirts he wears and Clark can feel the working flex of muscle and blood beneath it as Lex grabs him and holds on.
"Don't let me make you unhappy, Clark," Lex says suddenly, as serious as Clark has ever seen him.
"I will," Lex says, his hand tightening on Clark's, urgent and real, and it's a living marvel that any body could contain such a man.
Clark shakes his head. He wants to say it's only human to fight and feel sorry and make up, but Clark isn't human, and there are times Lex doesn't believe he is either.
"It won't change anything," Clark says. "I won't let it."
Lex looks peevish, like he's the only one allowed to make grandiose pronouncements in this relationship. "Oh really?"
"Yes, really. Anything else?"
Lex has an excellent memory and it only takes a second for his expression to clear, the faint lines in his forehead smoothing away. His smile is crooked with something Clark can't decipher and it gets closer and less mysterious as Lex leans in to bite at Clark's pleased grin. Lex's teeth are as precise as the rest of him and Clark can feel the careful dents they leave before Lex licks them away.
Clark closes his eyes and holds on to Lex, surrenders to his inability to think while touching Lex, while being kissed by him, kissing back, pressed up against the glass of a private elevator thirteen hundred feet off the ground and Clark could spend the rest of his life there with his hand up the back of Lex's shirt and Lex's tongue in his mouth.
Something dings and it takes Clark a moment to realize where it's coming from. His first thought is that his coffee's done but it's quickly overshadowed by his need to spread Lex out and drag his tongue down the dinosaur ridge of Lex's spine because if it feels this good under his hands he can't imagine what it'll be like to follow it with his mouth.
"Clark," Lex says against Clark's neck, then places a bite there as if marking his place for later.
"Huh?" Clark says, remembering his eyes have an "open" setting too.
The elevator doors are open and Lex's shirt is rumpled and untucked. The only time Clark's ever seen him this disorderly was after being attacked by a Smallville mutant. Which is sort of what's happened here, too. Clark tries not to giggle and follows Lex out into the penthouse's wood and chrome entryway. The door takes an actual key and Lex kicks his shoes off in the hall and pads inside. Remembering what a mess the bottom of Lex's shoes had been, Clark glances at his own and decides to leave them outside too.
Lex reappears with a bottle of water and when he touches Clark's wrist, his fingers are cold. "I have to make a quick phone call. There's water in the kitchen. There should be food. Make yourself comfortable, I'll be right back."
"Sure," Clark says, knowing he won't leave this room for fear of getting lost.
Lex disappears down a hallway and Clark wanders around the front room, his socks slippery on the wooden floors that make him glad he took his shoes off because no matter how much Lex likes him, Clark's pretty sure Lex wouldn't appreciate cotton candy tracked across the polished wood or the white and grey area rugs.
The penthouse is worlds more friendly than the castle ever was. Probably due to the lack of medieval weaponry on the walls, but mostly because it feels like Lex. It's clear Lex lives here, that it's his home and not just some place he's staying.
Clark makes his way over to the black leather couch across from the entertainment center. There's a stack of remotes on the glass coffee table, and when Clark sits on the couch something falls to the floor. It turns out to be another remote, bringing the grand total to seven. Clark leans over to pick it up but it's under the endtable and he has to stretch out on his stomach to reach it. A little extra lunge and he picks up the remote. The couch gives a leather sigh beneath him.
Clark puts the control on the coffee table with the others and then rolls over onto his back to find Lex staring at him, his water halfway to his open mouth.
Lex swallows. "You know, I always felt that couch was missing something."
"What?" Clark takes advantage of Lex's surprise and puts his hands behind his head, lets one foot fall to the floor. "Me on my back?"
"Jesus, Clark!" Lex sounds like a man in the grip of an epiphany. He puts his water down and crawls onto the couch, straddling Clark and staring down at him with the fervor of the newly converted. "Look at you. Why hasn't someone chained you to their bed and married you?"
"Blix certainly tried," Clark says, running a hand up Lex's thigh, tucking his fingers into the waistband of Lex's pants.
"Blix?" Lex cocks his head and leans in, bracing himself over Clark with his arms. "Who's Blix, Clark?"
"Let's just say I'll always have a place to stay in Sweden."
Lex gives him a narrow look. "Let's just hope you never have any reason to be in Sweden."
Clark untucks Lex's shirt the rest of the way, slips his hands back under it and discovers Lex has no hair on his chest or the low dip of his belly.
"Mm, I don't know, Lex, what if I have some pressing business I need to take care of up in mnuh--"
Lex swoops in and takes charge of Clark's mouth until Clark stops trying to use it to talk, until Clark forgets how. Chest to chest and Clark's hands are trapped between them where he can feel Lex's heart pounding next to his. He wanted this even before he had the words for it.
"No pressing business of any kind, Clark. Not unless it's with me," Lex says, only an inch away, eyes dark and fierce.
"That's all I want," Clark says. "Just you."
Lex blinks, as if he didn't expect things to be that easy, as if getting here hadn't taken eight years and an age of heavy silence. Nothing about them is easy, though this feels like it could be.
"You're pink," Clark says, bringing his hands up to touch his thumbs to Lex's cheeks.
"Sunburn," Lex says, sounding dazed. "I have to wear sunblock."
Clark sniffs the top of Lex's head, licks it. Lex makes a small noise. His skin tastes warm and salty and only slightly different from Clark's.
"You don't smell like sunscreen."
Lex squirms. "It's very expensive."
Clark holds Lex's head in his hands, pushes his thumbs to Lex's flushed cheeks, leaving two brief fingerprints there.
"I didn't say it worked," Lex grumbles.
Clark smiles at him. "It's okay, Lex. Sometimes, when it's really cold outside, I have to wear a coat."
Lex gives an indignant gasp and Clark can't help himself, he's laughing, shaking from it, Lex stretched out on top of him like a castaway clinging to a raft.
"Very funny, Clark," Lex says, eyes glittering as he sits up, straddling Clark's lap and unbuckling his belt. The couch groans and so does Clark, Lex's fingers tugging and pulling at his waist.
"Sorry," Clark says. "You're just so cute with your pink cheeks."
"Cute?" Lex says, hand dropping down to squeeze Clark through his pants. Clark throws his head back and grabs Lex's thigh, the long muscles there shifting like the flank of a champion thoroughbred.
"Ah," Clark says, dizzy.
Another squeeze and Clark arches up into it with a grunt, lifting Lex up with him, and when Clark's eyes focus again all he can see is Lex looking down at him like Clark's something he wants to own.
"I don't think," Lex says, leaning back and pulling the belt from Clark's pants with a dangerous amount of friction, "that cute is the word we're looking for."
Lex's hands are everywhere and Clark does his best to come up with a witty rejoinder, but all he can manage is, "Fuck."
"Now you're catching on," Lex says, falling forward onto Clark, their hips perfectly aligned so that Clark can feel Lex's cock, hard and hot against him, the most honest and unregulated part of a man who's spent his life lying and being lied to. Lex is wary and suspicious by nature, but Clark knows everything Lex is afraid of and none of it's as bad as Lex thinks. It'll be Clark's job to show him that.
Because someone once said the pursuit of happiness was his inalienable right, Clark takes two handfuls of Lex's ass and just grinds them together, and nothing's ever felt so good.
Lex must agree. "Oh. Forget the junker, I'm going to buy you a car."
"You already tried that," Clark says, trying to get his hands down Lex's pants but stopped short by his belt.
"You're going to keep this one," Lex threatens, punctuating it with a sucking bite to the bottom of Clark's jaw. "Something Italian with an obscene amount of horsepower."
Clark rewards the idea of Lex and an obscene amount of anything by pulling Lex's shirt off and flipping them over so that Lex is pinned beneath him. White skin against the black leather of the couch and at some point Clark's shirt got unbuttoned and the feel of Lex's skin against his is like every sweaty dream he ever had.
"Or something safe, like a, a Volvo, oh," Lex says, flushed and out of breath, one hand caught in Clark's tangled hair as Clark makes his way down Lex's chest with his teeth.
"Crumple zones," Lex says inexplicably.
"Pervert," Clark snickers, jabbing his tongue into Lex's bellybutton. Lex makes a sharp noise and tries to fold himself in half, hands clenched in Clark's hair like he can't decide if he wants to push Clark lower or pull him back up. Clark splits the difference, letting Lex tug on his hair while Clark pushes his face between Lex's legs. Lex smells dark and dizzying, like the color of roasted coffee beans or chili powder and Clark noses along the bulge Lex's cock is making in his expensive pants. Lex shivers and throws a leg over Clark's shoulder like a really dirty game of Twister.
"My bed," Lex gasps, "is better for this."
Clark scratches his nails down the back of Lex's thigh. "What's wrong with the couch?"
Lex hisses. "Nothing's wrong with the couch. The couch is fucking fantastic. I'm thinking of getting it bronzed, but right now it's not big enough for this."
Clark shifts so that they're face to face again, Lex's leg sliding down to hook over Clark's hip and pull them together.
"But we haven't even been on a real date yet, Lex." Clark bites his lip, all wide eyes and farm-fresh innocence. "I'm not that kind of girl."
"Clark. I think you are exactly that kind of girl," Lex says, digging his bare toes into the back of Clark's leg.
And somehow it's the thought that Lex must have taken his socks off while in the other room that makes Clark want to be serious and slow and watch Lex's eyes close as he kisses him, serious and slow, because this is Lex and no one has ever been this important to him. It's very possible no one else ever will be.
"I think you might be right," Clark says as he pulls back from the kiss.
"Might be? When have I ever been wrong?" Lex asks, sprawled lazy and boneless beneath him.
Clark shakes his head sadly. "You're delirious. Remember the summer squash experiment?"
Lex gives him a venomous look. "Don't bring that up."
"I swear to god, Clark, you need to stop saying that word."
Clark kisses Lex's neck, sucks on the point of jaw below his ear. "Don't worry, Lex. The squash can't get you here. It doesn't know the code to the elevator."
"Bedroom. Now," Lex orders, pulling Clark up by the hair and trying to look stern.
"Has anyone ever told you you're kinda bossy?" Clark says, making no move to get up. He likes lying on top of Lex, likes his warm body, his bony shins, his strong arms and freckled skin, and Clark doesn't want to give that up even for a second.
Lex smiles, slides a hand down Clark's neck, over his chest, into the line of hair that leads down his belly and into his pants.
"I'll let you decide. Either we stay on the couch, I fall off and get a concussion, or we go into the bedroom and I suck you until you're cross-eyed."
Clark sits up so fast he sees cartoon stars. "Lead the way."
Lex's bedroom is filled with light, an entire wall nothing but glass and sky.
The sheets are royal purple, soft as water against Clark's back. Lex, naked and hungry, running his hands down Clark's chest, mouth fixed to a spot on Clark's neck that makes him twist and moan. This is happening. Lex, absolutely beautiful in the evening light and touching Clark like he's something wonderful and rare.
Lex finds the scar that winds around Clark's arm and frowns, wipes at it with a thumb, an open-mouthed kiss. Clark cups the back of Lex's head, tries to nudge him away, but Lex won't be distracted from things he doesn't understand.
It's the part Clark doesn't want to talk about, has tried to forget, a symptom of some great failure or fate. He has no idea what he is.
"It's a scar," he says.
Lex looks up. "How is that possible?"
"The usual way, I guess."
"The usual way," Lex repeats. "Did that happen before or after you dropped out of the sky."
Clark tries to shrug off Lex's hand, but Lex has a firm grip and Clark lets him keep it because Clark could still toss him across the room if he wanted and they both know that.
"Either tell me or don't, but don't play games with me, Clark."
Lex's stare is stronger than his grip and harder to shrug off. Even after Lex left Smallville, Clark could still see it, a cool mix of disappointment and anger that clung to his memories of Lex and stopped Clark from trying to contact him.
Clark stares back. "It's not a game."
"You had that look on your face, Clark. I used to see it all the time," Lex says, voice steady and low. "It meant you were going to lie to me."
"That's not, I wasn't going to lie." Clark closes his eyes for a second. "But there are questions I can't answer. It doesn't matter who asks them."
Back when he was still a boy on a farm, Clark had hoped that one day Lex would know his secrets and accept them, but he'd never thought it would happen this way, with this lingering resentment forged by five years of mistrust. The boy he'd been hadn't known enough to understand the consequences of all his lies, but that boy is gone and Clark knows the old doubts will keep them company for a while.
Lex brushes Clark's hair off his forehead, touches his cheek. "It's okay, Clark. You don't have to tell me."
Clark smiles at Lex and runs a hand up the long hot line of his back. Lex's arms flex as he curves into the touch and Clark slips his hand up to hold the back of Lex's head, the knob there fitting perfectly into his palm.
"I know I don't," Clark says.
Lex grins reflexively, like a tutor that's finally gotten a student to understand a tough lesson but who's slowly made himself redundant in the process.
Clark strokes down Lex's back, lets his hand rest on a hip, on the rise of Lex's ass, which feels just as good as all those thousand dollar pants promised.
"I was six years old when I got that scar."
Lex's fingers follow the slashes and dots that curl around Clark's arm and in the bright sunlight of the bedroom Clark thinks the white skin probably has the power to refract light.
"I don't remember it," Lex says.
Clark frowns down at him. "Why would you?"
Lex squeezes Clark's arm, shifts up so they're eye to eye, all the better to intimidate him with, Clark's sure.
"Because I paid an embarrassing amount of attention to you, Clark. I knew which days you had gym. I would have noticed."
"You really are a pervert," Clark teases, knowing it's the exact reaction Lex was trying to avoid.
Lex growls. "Don't change the subject."
"You didn't see it because it wasn't there." Just saying it makes it easier to say. "I got it when I was still young enough to be hurt. The scar started to fade after a year, and by the time I was fifteen it was gone and nothing could break my skin. But a couple of months ago the scar started to come back."
"It came back. That's--"
"Unusual," Lex says, pinching Clark's arm experimentally. Clark bats him away.
"Until it came back I didn't even remember it had happened, but it seems my skin did."
Lex touches a hand to his own bald head. "That's what life is."
Clark realizes he's been complaining to someone reminded daily of his past. He shakes his head, ready to apologize.
Lex drops in and kisses him hard, bites at his lower lip, his chin. Mutters into his neck, "Let's see what else your skin remembers," moves down Clark's chest, tests a nipple with his teeth.
It won't leave a mark, but it doesn't need to. Clark will probably be able to feel that for the rest of his life, at least that sounds like what he's saying, but Lex has already moved on, down between Clark's legs, mouth sloppy wet and devastating and now Clark's really babbling. Because Lex with Clark's cock in his mouth and Clark would like to see that except his eyes have rolled back in his head as predicted and Lex's fingers are rubbing in all the right places and he's using teeth and Clark likes it, likes it so much he can't breathe, which is new and dazzling like a black and blue neon shock because Clark's never had trouble breathing before, sometimes didn't need to breathe at all, could stay underwater forever, but he's panting now, gasping for air like he's just crawled out of the sea and doesn't know how lungs work and he's pushing into Lex's brilliant mouth and saying things he doesn't understand, giving up his secrets and his lies, saying the same word over and over as he pushes his head back into the pillows sucks air through his open mouth and comes.
Still panting a minute later, limp and powerless, heart going like mad and the world an entirely different color, purple and red from the setting sun, purple and red shifting along the ceiling like a reflection off moving water and Lex propped above him and painted the same colors as the sky.
Lex's tongue comes out to touch the scar in his lip and Clark pulls him down, takes his weight on fully, Lex lying on Clark's chest, hands sifting through Clark's hair, pulling at the curls to get Clark's head in the perfect position to lean in and kiss, tongue scraping against Clark's teeth, rubbing along under next to with against Clark's tongue, tasting like Clark, tasting Clark and Clark pushes a hand between them down to where Lex is pressed hard and insistent into Clark's hip. The skin there is as silky as the skin inside Lex's mouth and Clark runs his thumb around the head of Lex's cock, runs his tongue along the inside of Lex's bottom lip and Lex grabs Clark's shoulder and bucks against him.
Lex has a look of intense concentration as he thrusts into Clark's hand, quiet and serious, like this won't be as good if he doesn't pay attention, like this is the most important thing he's ever done and needs for it to be right. Later Clark will do his best to make Lex lose that focus, to forget everything he ever read about the art of war and just give himself up to this, but for now measured strokes and squeezes until Lex closes his eyes, digs his fingers into Clark's shoulder, and then rougher and faster until Lex is shaking, coming, eyes open and saying Clark's name as if Lex finally understands.
Lex collapses on Clark's chest, and they lie there, sticky and done, chests fighting against each other as they try to breathe at the same time. Eventually they compromise, lying side by side, legs still tangled together, Lex still with one hand in Clark's hair, smoothing out the knots and petting the back of his neck.
"Your hair's longer than it was in Smallville," Lex says.
"I keep forgetting to get it cut."
Lex smiles, sleepy and pleased. "I like it."
"Mm," Clark says, pressing a kiss to Lex's shoulder.
"Do you miss it?"
Clark's not sure this conversation makes sense, but that might be because he's half asleep. "My hair?"
"Oh." Clark blinks. "I don't know. It's hard to tell sometimes."
"Lana told me you never go home."
"I can't. It's too hard. All the rocks."
"No other reason?"
This is probably going somewhere, but damned if Clark can figure out where. Clark's tired and Lex's idea of pillow talk could put some of the papers Clark wrote in college to shame.
"Restate your thesis and then pose a new question," Clark mumbles.
"I just want you to be happy, Clark."
"I am, and so are you. Stop analyzing it."
Lex actually harrumphs and Clark kisses him on one sunburnt cheek. "We'll be fine. Go to sleep. Later we can raid the refrigerator and have sex in the kitchen."
Lex laughs, automatic and uncomplicated, and Clark closes his eyes and smiles.
The next morning Clark wakes up at dawn, all alone on his side of the bed, Lex practically a city block away and still sleeping. Clark has to be at work early today, so he gets up and starts the scavenger hunt for his clothes.
Mostly dressed and buttoning the cuffs of his shirt, Clark crosses the room to sit on the bed near Lex.
Lex's bed is huge, a gothic wrought iron four-poster that looks like it could be dismantled and used to fight a civil war and Lex is a nothing but a billionaire-shaped lump under the covers.
Clark leans over and kisses him, whispers, "I have to go to work."
Lex grunts and pushes his face into the pillow. One eye opens. "At this hour?"
"We can't all set our own schedule. Besides, I have to go back to my apartment and shower first."
"I'll drive you," Lex says, not moving.
"I'll just run over before work. Go back to sleep."
Lex drags his hand out from the sheets and rubs his eyes. "Take my passcard. It's in my pants."
Clark smiles. "Ah, but where are your pants?"
"That's, hm, a good question. On the floor somewhere? And the security code changes, but it's 53972 now or just tell Timothy to let you up."
"Timothy," Clark repeats.
"Can't miss him. Are you sure you can't just call in and quit? Or I could buy the Planet and then fire you. Bring me my phone."
"Aren't you sweet?"
Lex aims a weak slap in Clark's direction and gets a kiss for his trouble.
"I'll see you later." Clark smoothes his hand over Lex's head, where the skin's already returned to its usual white.
"Mm," Lex says, burrowing back under the covers.
Lex's pants are actually out in the hall, rumpled and splayed out like a pair of broken legs. Clark takes the card from the pocket then folds the pants over something that's either a chair or an artist's conceptualization of chair. He retrieves his belt from under the coffee table and leaves the penthouse.
Someone's waiting for him when he steps off the elevator. Tall as him, broad in the shoulders and chest, short blue-black hair, silver nosering, three-piece suit and a well concealed gun.
"Timothy?" Clark guesses.
"Mr. Kent. Is there anything I can do for you this morning?"
"No, I'm fine."
Timothy nods and holds the door open for him. "Have a good day."
Which is a really strange thing to hear at five in the morning from a guy with a concealed weapon. Clark can't decide if he's the butler or the bodyguard. Both? That sounds like a bad action movie waiting to happen.
Outside, Metropolis is pink and sleepy. It's cool enough that people are wearing light jackets and sweatshirts, but Clark's fine in just his dress shirt. He walks down Third Avenue and watches the city wake up. The joggers dressed in their designer workout wear, the merchants setting out their coffee carts on the corners, the Daily Planet trucks trundling up and down the streets delivering bundles of papers to the newsstands and hotels.
When Clark said he'd run home, he meant it figuratively, but now there's nothing he wants to do more. He starts out slow, just a guy jogging home in yesterday's clothes, but the speed is still there, ready for him, and he uses it. Zipping through a crowd of strutting pigeons that don't even register his presence until he's gone. Practically flying across the 12th Street Bridge, too fast for human eyes to see. He still has this and if he ever loses it he'll remember this morning, remember the wind against his body, remember the blur of the rest of the world, remember what he had, but right now he's running, running so fast he makes the metal grating on the bridge hum beneath him, running so fast he leaves his fear and doubt behind him.
Today there's a small pink football on his desk, and not for the first time Clark finds himself wondering what goes on at the Planet when he's not there.
As far as he can tell, no one seems to have noticed he skipped out yesterday. Perry's in his office with the shades open. Don's flirting with the mail girl. Lois and Jimmy are nowhere to be seen.
Clark sits down and tries to spin the football on the tip of his index finger, but it wobbles and falls, skipping across a stack of papers with a post-it note from Perry. Another boring assignment that Clark could do in his sleep. Grabbing the papers, he puts himself on auto-pilot and doesn't snap out of it until Lois comes in at nine and throws a copy of the morning paper down on his desk.
"Coroner's report indicates heart attack as cause of death. Fire department says arson, Tyler's fingerprints all over it. Officially ruled poetic justice!" Lois' snort indicates how much she buys that.
"I know," Clark says. "I read it on the bus."
"There's clearly some kind of cover-up going on here," Lois says, sitting down and shuffling through the mess on her desk. "Tyler couldn't have just died. I have to talk to Jensen." She abandons a handful of index cards and reaches for the phone. The index cards pour over her desk and onto Clark's, but she ignores them, tucking the phone between ear and shoulder while she scrolls through her e-mail with one hand and opens an interoffice envelope with the other.
Just watching her is making Clark want to take a week's vacation where there aren't any people or office supplies.
The phone suddenly slips from Lois' shoulder. She picks it up and waves it uselessly in the direction of the base, eyes still fixed on her monitor. Finally she turns, slamming the phone down and glaring at Clark.
"I bet your boyfriend's happy he's off the hook for Tyler's murder."
Clark doesn't bother pointing out that Lois was the only one who'd suspected Lex in the first place.
"When were you planning on telling me that you're dating Lex Luthor?" she hisses, leaning over her desk and sneering up at him like a pit viper. She's actually lowered her voice, but only because she doesn't want to give away her scoop.
"My personal life has nothing to do with this paper."
Lois switches tactics. "But you lied to me."
Clark can't help it. He laughs. "I don't think I did."
Across the newsroom Jimmy waves at them before getting on an elevator. Clark waves back. As usual, Lois ignores Jimmy.
Clark nods toward the elevators. "After all, you know what it's like to have a relationship interfere with your job."
Lois freezes, hands scraping into claws on her messy desktop. Lois likes to think no one knows about her involvement with Jimmy, but the truth is that most of the twenty-fifth floor is aware of their off and on affair. It's currently in off mode, not that it makes any difference because Lois is very careful not to acknowledge Jimmy in any way no matter what the status of their personal lives. Lois may love Jimmy, but she loves her job more. For Clark it's more likely that his job would interfere with his relationship, but he had to put it into terms Lois would understand.
Lois tries to shake it off but she's staring at the elevator now. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Clark doesn't want to turn into Lois, who can't admit to the person she loves for fear of what people will think. Lois doesn't want to be seen as part of a couple, as only half of some bigger whole, but Clark wants to be part of something lasting. He wants people to know. He also wants Lois to act like a human being, but that's a lot to ask. Still, he hasn't completely given up on her. Sometimes she just needs things spelled out.
"Don't spy on me. Don't ask me questions about Lex. And don't expect me to tolerate any of your mudflinging."
"Fine," Lois mutters, scowling into her computer screen.
"Fine, Clark! I won't spy on you or ask you questions or even talk to you! And give me back my pencil sharpener!"
Lois sounds like a sulky child, and she'll break her own promise not to speak to him by noon at least, but hopefully the rest will hold. Clark said what he needed to and that's all he can do for now.
Last night, Clark peeled Lex from his clothes and got him to sigh and moan and laugh. It's probably the most miraculous thing he's ever done.
Clark will wait a few hours and then call Lex. Maybe they can meet for lunch.
It's Saturday morning and Lex is asleep, one hand covering his bare head, one pale foot kicked free of the covers.
The phone is on Lex's side of the bed and Clark leans over for the handset.
He calls home. His mother tells him about a new variety of tomato they're growing, the old Wynn farm going up for sale, his father's daily battle with the fence in the cow pasture.
Clark tells her about the crow he watched steal a pretzel from a street vendor, the friendly new barista at the coffee shop on the corner, the book of short stories he's reading.
They say goodbye and I love you and he hangs up without telling her that he's sleeping with Lex, that his powers are slowly slipping away from him, that maybe he's finally growing up.
Clark lies back down, kisses the back of Lex's head and curls around him like a cape. Lex mutters and relaxes against him.
It's five o'clock in the morning, and if Clark had been home, he'd be milking the cows and feeding the pigs, but he's not in Smallville. He's in Metropolis, and he can sleep in.