Clark knew there was something wrong the second he walked into the cafeteria. He was used to drawing attention--the S shield tended to do that even on the Watch Tower surrounded by other costumed heroes--but he wasn’t used to this kind of attention. Every single person in the cafeteria had stopped eating to stare at him, whispering to each other as softly as they could. He heard anyway.
“Do you think he really--?”
“How could he do that?”
“I thought they hated each other.”
Clark focused his hearing on the hum of electricity in the walls of the station and ignored the whispers. This was worse than high school. At least the people whispering about him then weren’t grown men and women with better things to do. Things like saving the world. He straightened his shoulders and walked across the room to join Diana and Bruce at a table in the back.
“Okay,” Clark said, setting down his tray and looking at his friends. “What’s going on?”
Diana looked pointedly at Bruce, before turning a compassionate smile Clark’s way. “I’m supposed to be on monitor duty, so I’ll see you later."
Clark watched Diana leave, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Once she was gone he turned his attention to Bruce, trying to read his expression, but even when he cheated and used his x-ray vision to see underneath Bruce’s mask, Clark couldn’t get any clues.
“Just tell me what’s going on,” Clark said with a sigh.
Bruce didn’t say anything; instead he pushed a newspaper across the table to Clark. Clark took a deep breath and glanced down at the headline, which read, “SUPERMAN-LEX LUTHOR SEX SCANDAL” in all capital letters.
“What?” Clark exclaimed. He flipped the newspaper over, not wanting to look too closely at the grainy picture underneath the headline, his stomach dropping.
“So are you denying it then?” Bruce asked quietly.
“I can’t believe the Planet printed this!” Clark hissed, purposely ignoring Bruce’s question.
“I take that to mean it’s accurate,” Bruce said, his voice tightly restrained. He leaned closer to Clark. “What were you thinking?”
“It’s not what it looks like.” Clark flipped the paper over and scanned the article. He was relieved to see that Lois wasn’t responsible for it, not that he thought she would have been. “The Planet could use a better fact checker.” Once he’d read the article he rolled up the newspaper and stood up. He was going to kill Lex.
“Where are you going?”
“To talk to Lex.”
“Is that wise?” Bruce asked. He paused to glare at Green Arrow and Black Canary, who were heading toward their table. They took one look at his face and turned around to find another table. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but—“
“Don’t worry about it,” Clark snapped. “I’ll take care of it.”
The last thing he needed right now was a lecture from Bruce, so Clark turned on his heel and left the room at super speed. He went straight to the teleporter and before he had time to stop and think about what he was doing, he was standing on the roof of LexCorp headquarters in Metropolis.
The roof access door was locked, so he yanked it off its hinges, setting off an alarm in the process. He didn’t care. All he wanted to do was look Lex in the face and ask why. Well, he also wanted to punch Lex, but as much as he wanted the satisfaction, he knew it wouldn’t be a good idea. Every time he thought things were different with Lex he always ended up with mud on his face.
Clark ran through the familiar hallways, too fast for the armed security to see him, let alone stop him. For once he was glad he’d had to break into this building before because it meant he knew exactly where he was going. He made it all the way to Lex’s office without being challenged, but as soon as he got near Lex’s desk, he was hit with a wave of nausea and came to a sudden stop, grabbing the back of a chair in order to stay upright.
Lex was standing in front of him, his fist held out like a shield, and he was wearing that damn kryptonite ring.. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Clark took a deep breath and forced himself to ignore the nausea. He was glad that he hadn’t eaten his lunch--throwing up on Lex’s carpet wouldn’t be very intimidating. He tossed the newspaper he was carrying at Lex, taking a perverse pleasure when Lex flinched. “What’s your game?”
Lex only gave the newspaper the briefest of glances. “Do you really think I would do that?”
“Do I think you would try to discredit me any way you could?” Clark asked, digging his fingers into the chair, destroying the leather. “Yes, yes, I do.”
Lex rolled his eyes. “You really are as naïve as you look, aren’t you? I guess you can take the boy off the farm--”
“Lex,” Clark hissed, looking behind him at the open door.
“They’re all gone,” Lex said. “Evacuated on my orders. After all, I would hate for my employees to be hurt by an unstable alien menace.”
It was Clark’s turn to flinch. Lex always made the word “alien” sound disgusting.
“Think about it Clark. I know your true identity. If I wanted to discredit you don’t you think I would have used that instead of a sex scandal to do it?” Lex asked, speaking slowly as though to a child.
“Unless that’s what you want me to think,” Clark replied. “I don’t take anything for granted with you.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Lex burst out before taking a deep breath and returning to his usual, unflappable demeanor. “I’m obviously the target of this article, not you.”
“How do you figure?” Clark asked.
“A gay sex scandal breaking three days before the primary is hardly a coincidence. It’s wrecking havoc on my position in the polls,” Lex explained. “Do you have any idea how many people I’m going to have to buy off just to get close to the Governor’s mansion now?”
“I wish you wouldn’t tell me things like that.” Clark’s stomach turned, reminding him that he might have skipped lunch, but not breakfast. He nodded at the ring. “Do you think you can put that away?”
“But Clark, you’re the one who insisted on an honest relationship,” Lex said sarcastically. “And I’ll put up the ring if you promise to play nice.”
“You know I wouldn’t hurt you.”
Lex looked at him for a long moment, evaluating him, before he lowered his hand and took the ring off. He slipped it in a small lead box and put it in his pocket. As soon as the ring was shielded by the lead, Clark’s stomach settled and he stood up straight, letting go of the chair.
“Sorry about the chair,” Clark said sheepishly when he saw the holes his fingers had gouged in the leather.
Lex looked at it and sighed. “Do you have any idea how much that chair cost?” He shook his head and walked around behind his desk, taking a seat. “Of course you don’t. I bet you don’t have any idea how much the door to the roof is going to cost to repair either.”
Clark sat down in the damaged chair, slumping a bit. “I’m sorry, I was angry and then there was the kryptonite…”
“Forget it,” Lex said, waving away Clark’s apologies. Unfortunately, he couldn’t wave away Clark’s guilt.
Clark picked up the paper and studied the picture closely for the first time. The image quality wasn’t great, but it was clearly he and Lex making out in this very room. Lex was laying across the desk and they were—Clark shook his head, hoping he wasn’t blushing. He tore his eyes away from the picture and looked out the window at the other buildings, wondering where the photographer had hidden, scanning to see if there was anyone with a camera today.
“I had privacy films put on the windows this morning,” Lex said, following Clark’s eyes. “I should have had it done ages ago.”
“So you really think this is aimed at you?” Clark held up the paper, while he finished studying the nearby buildings. “Aren’t there easier ways to create a scandal?”
“I’m sure there are,” Lex agreed. “But considering I turned down all of the other men who hit on me last week, they had to take what they could get.”
“All the other men?” Clark said, all of his attention back on Lex.
“It seems someone has been paying men to proposition me.” Lex picked up a half empty glass of brandy and took a deep drink. “Probably the same person who tipped Cat Grant off about my ill-spent youth at Club Zero. Have I mentioned that I hate reporters?”
“I’m not too fond of them right now, either,” Clark said. He rubbed tiredly at his face. “I have no idea how she kept it under wraps. Usually if a story this big is going up I’d know about it.”
“You’ve been on League business all week though, right?”
“Yeah,” Clark replied. “Teach me to skip work.”
“I don’t know why you work for that rag in the first place,” Lex muttered. “Speaking of the League, how am I to know that this isn’t an attempt by you and your fashion-challenged friends to keep me from winning the nomination?”
“We would never!” Clark exclaimed, sitting up and glaring at Lex.
“You have to admit the timing of our…reconciliation…was a bit suspect.” Lex shrugged. “But then again the nuances of politics have never been your little group’s forte.”
Clark was beginning to wonder why he and Lex had “reconciled” last week himself. “The only thing suspect is my judgment.”
“No arguments here.” Lex smirked, almost a real smile, and somehow Clark found it comforting. It didn’t feel mean like most of Lex’s insults. “We need to talk damage control.”
“I thought your solution was to throw some money at the problem and call it a day,” Clark said.
Lex narrowed his eyes at Clark, but didn’t rise to the bait. “The picture quality is poor at best. I can probably manage to spin it as another invasion of LexCorp by the alien menace if you agree to play along—“
“Will you stop calling me that?” Clark gritted his teeth and took a deep breath. “Let me get this straight, you want me to tell the media that I was trespassing to what? Cram my tongue down your throat in an aggressive act of interstellar warfare?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. They can’t see what we’re doing in the picture and the article is nothing but yellow journalism. The fact that anyone believes it at all is astounding.”
“It’s true though,” Clark whispered.
“Truth is in the eye of the beholder,” Lex said. “Fine, how about if I announce that it was a misunderstanding over my latest research into defensive lasers? That way we both come out clean.”
Clark dropped his eyes to Lex’s desk, tracing the whorls in the wood with his finger. “You want to lie about it, pretend like it never happened?”
“Yes,” Lex said. “We have to put a stop to the rumors before my campaign is run into the ground. If I schedule a press conference for three o’clock, will you be there?”
“Is this really what you want?” Clark asked hollowly. This whole conversation felt like Lex’s way of rejecting him. He didn’t know what he’d expected to happen, but this wasn’t it.
“Clark,” Lex said softly. “You can’t want this to get out for real.” He pointed a remote at the television in the back of the room, tuning it to Fox News.
“Superman is bad for America. Not only is he an alien from who knows where, illegally working in this country, but now with this sex scandal he’s made an attack on traditional family values,” a man was saying, a copy of the picture from the Daily Planet on the screen next to him. “He’s attacking human values with his hedonistic alien views on sexuality. What are parents supposed to tell their children?”
“That’s insane,” Clark said.
Lex clicked the TV off. “Of course it is, but it’s the reality of the world.”
“It shouldn’t be.” Clark made a decision and straightened up in his chair. “Okay, Lex, I’ll say whatever you want—within reason—but not because of that crap. If you want to deny this thing, whatever it was, then fine. Nothing happened. Back to the status quo. “
Regret flashed over Lex’s face, but Clark didn’t know if he was regretting sleeping with Clark or the fact that it was never going to happen again or even just the fact that he’d been caught at all. Clark wasn’t sure if he wanted to know, but there was one question he needed to know the answer to.
“I’ll read from your script at the press conference, but can you tell me one thing?”
“What are you more ashamed of, being outed or the fact that it was me?”
Lex’s eyes widened. “When did you become such a cynic, Clark? You’re the reason I turned down all of those other men.”
That wasn't the answer he had expected and Clark almost regretted asking. It would have been easier if Lex was rejecting Superman. He was used to that.
“If it makes you feel any better,” Lex continued, “when I’m elected, I intend to legalize gay marriage in the state of Kansas.”
“In your second term, no doubt,” Clark said bitterly. “When you don’t have to worry about reelection. Or maybe you’ll just wait until the end of your presidency?” When Lex didn’t deny it, Clark stood up.
“What exactly do you want from me, Clark?” Lex asked, tiredly. “This isn’t my fault.”
“Are you saying it’s mine?” Clark asked, a decade of fighting Lex making him defensive. “All right then, it’s my fault for thinking that anything would be different this time—that we could start over. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Clark turned and left the room, refusing to go to super speed until he was all the way down the hall, hoping that Lex would stop him, but he didn’t.
Clark stared at the blinking cursor. He was pretty sure it was mocking him, because he’d only managed to write three words in the last hour. He just didn’t know what to say. Perry had insisted that he get an interview with Superman about the sex scandal, refusing to accept the article he’d tried to turn in about Superman’s work with flood victims in Bangladesh. Perry hadn’t even looked at that article. At least Lois was out of town following a lead, or she would have probably jumped off of a roof just to get an exclusive.
He sighed and glanced at his phone as it started buzzing. Chloe again. She’d called five times in the last hour alone, but he wasn’t in the mood to talk to anybody, so he had been letting all of calls go to voicemail. He didn’t want to lie to Chloe--he lied to enough people in his life already--but he wasn’t sure what to tell her.
Talking to his mom had been hard enough, but Clark hadn’t had a choice there. It was bad enough that she’d been blindsided by the article, he wasn’t going to leave her hanging without an explanation. He’d actually gone straight to Smallville from Lex’s office and told her the truth—the whole truth—before the press conference. It had been one of the most uncomfortable conversations of his life and he was afraid she was never going to look at him the same way again.
She had asked him why, why Lex, but the only answer he had for her was that there wasn’t anyone else. There had never been anyone else, not really. For more than a decade his life had revolved around Lex Luthor. Friendship, obsession, hatred, it didn’t matter what they were to each other; they were connected in a way that Clark couldn’t deny any longer. Except apparently he could; just a few hours ago he had denied it all in front of the cameras, even though the words tasted like ash.
The worst part was, people believed him. At least three experts had already stepped forward to claim that the picture was obviously photoshopped and only one of them was on Lex’s payroll. The Planet was even going to print a retraction and an apology in tomorrow’s paper. Clark knew he should be relieved; it wasn’t like he wanted the world to know about his sex life, but watching Lex vehemently deny the rumors--deny the fact that he would ever lower himself to be with Superman--hurt.
Clark sighed again and closed the document without saving it. There was no point saving three words, two of which were “Lex Luthor.” He would have to write it later, but it wasn’t like he would get scooped; if Superman decided to lay low, then Perry would just have to deal with it.
He gathered his things together. He couldn’t sit here anymore; the newsroom was starting to feel claustrophobic. He ditched his belongings in his car, quickly stripped down to his costume, and took off into the air.
Once he got above the buildings and into the clouds, his head began to clear. Clark listened absently for his name, but all he heard was gossip, not cries for help. He blocked out the chatter and flew in aimless circles around the city, trying not to think about anything at all and just letting the tension drain out of his shoulders.
He regretted not paying attention to his path when he ended up above the LexCorp office building. Not able to resist, he aimed his x-ray vision at the roof, only to be blocked by the familiar lead shielding. The lead on the roof didn’t actually serve any purpose except to annoy him, but to Lex that was more than enough reason to install it. Rolling his eyes, Clark landed on the roof of the building across the street and used his x-ray vision on the tinted windows.
Clark’s eyes automatically sought out Lex and he found him sitting at his desk tossing back glass after glass of brandy while he watched coverage of the press conference on the news. Clark had a wild moment of jealousy, wishing that drinking away his problems was an option, but unless he wanted to experiment with kryptonite in the distillation process he wouldn’t even be able to manage a buzz. Lex, though, was an expert at drowning his sorrows, and a small part of Clark was glad that Lex felt bad enough about this whole thing to get smashed. The larger part of Clark hated seeing Lex so obviously unhappy and he left after a few minutes, not wanting to watch.
Deciding that Metropolis was too small for both he and Lex right now, Clark headed back to Bangladesh to search for more flood victims.
Clark lifted a large chunk of concrete out of the roadway and carried it to the debris pile in the center of town. He set it down carefully, afraid that if he dropped it the impact might shake the ground enough to cause another building to collapse. He turned around to continue clearing a path for the rescue crews, but was surprised to find Bruce standing in his way, arms crossed.
“We need to talk.”
“Sure,” Clark agreed. “Once I’ve cleared this town we can—“
“Now,” Bruce said.
“But there are still survivors. I can’t just leave.”
“Diana and John are taking over,” Bruce said. “They’ll clear the town. Now, come on.”
Sure enough, as Bruce guided Clark through the town to his plane, Clark saw John lifting debris with his ring while Diana flew a survivor to the medical tents set up just outside of town. He must have been really focused on his work not to have heard them arrive; sometimes Bruce managed to sneak up on him, but he was usually the only person who could.
Once they were inside the plane, Bruce leaned against the closed hatch, as if he was afraid that Clark was going to try to leave. “What’s going on, Clark?”
“What do you mean?” Clark asked, genuinely confused. “There was an earthquake here two days ago.”
“Not that,” Bruce said. “What’s going on with you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Clark said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” Bruce growled. He held up his hand and began ticking points off on his gloved fingers. “First there were the floods in Bangladesh, then the landslide in California, then the tornadoes in Oklahoma, and now this earthquake. When was the last time you were in Metropolis?”
Clark shrugged. “Things have been busy, people needed help—“
“People always need help,” Bruce interrupted. “That’s why we have the League, so that no one person has to do it all.”
“That’s rich coming from you.” Clark laughed hollowly. “When was the last time you let another League member into Gotham?”
“We’re not talking about me,” Bruce deflected. “But, if we were, I would point out that I have showed up to work every day and attended three charity functions this month. When was the last time you took off your cape?”
Clark sighed. “I’m fine, Bruce.”
“You’re about a week away from a breakdown,” Bruce disagreed. “Your body might be able to run on nothing but sunlight, but your mind can’t.”
“What? Are you afraid you’ll have to use that kryptonite in your pocket?” Clark snapped. “I told you I’m fine.”
“Of course you are,” Bruce said, his eyes fixed on Clark’s face. “Did you know that while you’ve been gone, Lex Luthor won the party nomination and is a lock to win the governor’s seat?”
“Good for him,” Clark said, walking over to the cockpit door and looking out the front window so that Bruce couldn’t read his reactions. “It’s everything he’s always wanted—power.”
“I don’t particularly care what happened between the two of you,” Bruce said. “But you can’t keep running.”
“I’ve known Lex since I was fifteen,” Clark said, closing his eyes. “I’ve been running most of that time.” He opened his eyes and turned around to look at Bruce. “I actually thought it might be different this time. For the first time in years, his business is mostly legal; he even halted the experiments in his secret labs.”
“And you think he did that for you?” Bruce asked skeptically.
“Of course not,” Clark scoffed. “He did it for the election, but the point is that he did it. I’m not fifteen anymore, I know the world isn’t black and white…and I was willing to accept that.”
Bruce frowned at him.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Clark said. “You’re no angel yourself.”
“I don’t kill people.”
“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do anything for Harvey,” Clark retaliated.
Bruce clenched his fists. “Harvey is ill, he needs help. Luthor knows what he’s doing and doesn’t care.”
“He cares,” Clark said. “He just tries not to. He wasn’t always a monster, Bruce. Once upon a time he was my best friend.” Clark walked over to one of the seats and sat down. “Did you know that he once traded himself for a room full of teenage hostages? He wanted to be a better man, but I was too young to be the friend he needed at the time.”
“His actions aren’t your fault.”
“No,” Clark agreed. “But if I can’t save the man I love then what’s the point of all of this?” He gestured at his mud stained costume.
Bruce didn’t say anything and Clark held his eyes. Finally Bruce sighed. “You can’t do anything if you keep avoiding Metropolis.”
Clark rubbed his face. He was tired--not physically, he’d been in the sun too long for that--but mentally he was exhausted. He looked up at Bruce, forcing a small smile. “Catch a ride?”
Bruce nodded, not questioning why Clark didn’t just fly himself. “It’s on the way.”
Clark followed Bruce into the cockpit, taking the copilot’s seat. He stayed silent until they were in the air, and then turned to look at Bruce. “So, I guess the press conference worked, or did Lex find another trophy wife to prove his heterosexuality with, too?”
“Actually,” Bruce said. “He added a pro gay marriage stance to his platform.”
“What? That’s political suicide.”
“Not when you stuff the ballot box,” Bruce said dryly. “He’s also increased his bribes to key party officials and appears to be blackmailing his opponent to keep it a non-issue in the debates.”
Clark tried to fight down the smile that was tugging at the corners of his lips, but he couldn’t. He knew that illegal political practices shouldn’t make him happy, but in this case they did.
“Don’t look so happy about it,” Bruce grumbled. “He’s not a good man, Clark.”
Clark shrugged. “He’s a work in progress.”
Bruce gave him a doubtful look, but didn’t argue with him.
Once Clark got back to Metropolis, things fell into the old familiar rhythm of work and patrolling. Perry forgave Clark his extended vacation when he presented him with an article detailing Superman’s recent humanitarian efforts around the globe. He had also thrown in a few reaction quotes about the sex scandal which, while late, made Perry happy.
Unfortunately, any thoughts of visiting Lex had been immediately hampered by the campaign. Lex was traveling the state, making speeches and kissing babies, and the last thing Clark wanted to do was show up as Superman and risk another front page headline. Besides, he wanted to be Clark Kent the next time he talked to Lex, so he kept putting it off until he saw that Lex had scheduled a speech in Smallville. There just seemed to be something right about being back in Smallville together.
So, that weekend, Clark found himself standing in the back of the Smallville High School auditorium, listening to Lex speak. There was a good turnout, but it was a mixed crowd. Smallville had always had a love-hate relationship with the Luthor family, and Clark could hear angry whispers from people who had been hurt by LuthorCorp or LexCorp over the years. He tried to watch Lex and also keep track of the dissenting voices just in case one of them got ideas; after all, you never knew when a meteor mutant would show up.
Lex was in his element, speaking passionately about job creation (that one got a few boos from former plant workers) and agricultural grants. Clark had heard it all before, but it had been years since he’d really listened to Lex speak like this. It made him remember all of the impromptu history lessons Lex had given him around the pool table. To this day, Clark managed to surprise Bruce with his extensive knowledge of Alexander the Great.
When the speech was over, thankfully without incident, Clark slipped out and went straight to the castle to wait for Lex. He was pretty sure that Lex had seen him in the crowd and would know to find Clark here. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, the doors to Lex’s old office opened.
“My security is getting lax,” Lex observed as he entered the room.
“It was always lax,” Clark said, grinning.
“You had an unfair advantage,” Lex said, walking over to sit on the edge of his desk. “Do you have any idea how many security guards I fired because of you before I figured out your secret?”
“Sorry?” Clark said, not really sorry at all.
Lex shook his head. “What are you doing here?”
“Don’t you think it’s a little early in the relationship to be eloping?” Lex asked.
Clark felt a blush creeping up his neck, but he ignored it. “When has that ever stopped you before? Does Desiree ring a bell?”
“Touche,” Lex said, picking up an empty glass and raising it in Clark’s direction before filling it with brandy and taking a sip.
“Tell me it means something,” Clark said seriously.
“When have you ever known me to do something without meaning?” Lex asked.
Clark studied Lex’s face intently, searching for some sign that this really was the gesture he thought it was.
Lex stood up and walked over to the pool table, his back to Clark. “You’ve been gone nearly a month. Did you know that firemen are perfectly capable of rescuing kittens without you?”
Clark laughed softly. He joined Lex at the pool table and grabbed a cue, waving it at Lex. “For old times' sake?”
“It’s less fun when I know you’re just humoring me,” Lex said.
“Lex, if we were playing basketball, I would be humoring you,” Clark said, getting out the balls. “But pool requires geometry and precision control, things that favor you.”
“Well, when you put it that way…I’ll break.” Lex picked up his cue and executed a nearly perfect break, sinking at least half of the balls in the process.
“See,” Clark said, shaking his head.
Lex shot Clark a quick grin before walking around to line up another shot and suddenly, Clark was fifteen again, playing pool with his best friend. For a single moment it was almost like nothing had changed, but Clark wasn’t fifteen anymore and he wasn’t going to let this moment pass.
“Lex,” Clark said quietly. “I’m not ready to give up yet. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give up.”
Lex didn’t say anything, but Clark could see his hand shaking as he took the next shot, causing him to scratch. “That’s not playing fair, Clark.”
“I’m sorry,” Clark said, walking around the table until he was standing next to Lex. “But you need to know that you've been the center of my world since I was fifteen.”
Lex looked up, his blue eyes softening. “We’d have to keep it quiet at first, until the scandal is a distant memory.”
“Sometime after the election,” Clark commented.
“Yes,” Lex said. “But this isn’t just for me. If we do this, I’m getting involved with Clark Kent, not Superman, and you wouldn’t want anyone drawing a connection.”
Clark nodded and moved closer, leaning down to brush his lips softly against Lex’s. “The labs need to stay closed,” he murmured. “I don’t want to have to bust you and ruin this.”
Lex wrapped an arm around Clark’s head, pulling him closer and deepening the kiss. Clark knew that Lex was doing it, at least in part, to avoid discussing the labs, but he’d worry about that later. At the moment, he was just going to enjoy the feel of Lex’s body against his. The future could wait.