The Real Thing
The Real Thing
The early morning sun sat low over Metropolis, spilling its bright light through the window of Clark's apartment and across his bed. He stretched and was surprised to feel his foot brush against a leg that wasn't his own. He trailed his toes across the soft skin, before he remembered just who was in bed with him.
As his memory of the evening before rushed into his mind, he jerked away from the warm body, quickly rolled to the side, and slipped out of bed, careful not to disturb Lois.
Damn. He'd sworn to himself that he'd never sleep with a colleague, not after what had happened with Chloe. Sure, they'd only been colleagues in the sense that they worked on the Torch together, but their attempt at a romantic relationship had ruined their friendship and ended their working relationship as well.
They hadn't spoken in nearly seven years, not since she left Smallville for bigger and better things. The last he'd heard, she was in New York--somewhere.
And here he was, probably making the same mistake again.
Clark eased out of the room and reminded himself that it had sounded like a good idea last night. An uncomplicated sexual liaison between him and Lois to ease the pain of her knowing she'd never have the person she really wanted. He'd accepted her proposal for the same reason, although he hadn't mentioned that to her.
His unrequited feelings for the great and powerful Lex Luthor weren't exactly common knowledge.
But then again, neither was his secret life as Superman.
Clark reached into the refrigerator and pulled out the stuff he needed to make a quick breakfast.
Superman was able to keep tabs on Lex in a way that Clark Kent couldn't. Clark Kent was nothing but a reporter; Superman was, well, Superman. He knew Lex better now than he'd ever known him in Smallville, yet they were no longer even friends.
Not since Sabrina, wife number four.
"Is that coffee I smell?" The sound of Lois's voice startled him, and the plate he'd just taken down from the cabinet wobbled.
Lois reached around him and grabbed it. "I swear, Kent, you're the clumsiest man I've ever known."
Clark shrugged, trying to shake the irritation that always seemed to follow those kinds of comments. Why did it bother him so damn much when people saw exactly what he wanted them to see?
"But you're one hell of a lover," she continued, giving him a swat on the ass. "Didn't expect that."
Clark felt a flush crawling up his neck. "You were expecting a clumsy virgin, weren't you?"
"Actually, yeah, I was."
"Sorry to disappoint you."
"Hey, I like experienced men. You were great."
Clark didn't answer. He'd had about as much of this conversation as he could take right now, and he just wanted to get his breakfast and go. Somewhere. Away from here.
"So, you ready to do some digging today?"
Clark put the egg sandwich he'd just finished putting together on a plate and sat down across from Lois at the small round table sitting in the middle of his kitchen. "What do you have in mind?"
"LexCorp's been buying up stock again, a small mining company. Luthor's up to something. We just have to figure out what it is before anyone else does." Lois reached across the table and pinched a chunk of bread off his sandwich. She chewed slowly, obviously thinking through her plan. Clark sighed, picked up his food and took a bite, and then waited for Lois to continue.
"We'll head to Smallville after a quick stop at the office."
For the first time that morning, Clark felt his interest spark. "Smallville?"
"The home of Payne Mining. Maybe your hometown connections can get us some inside information."
Lois's smile was a little too bright, and a little too predatory, for Clark's comfort. She knew something she wasn't saying, and that thought was enough to send Clark's sense of self-preservation into overdrive.
"What about that anonymous caller from yesterday?" he asked cautiously.
"He wants to meet at two, so even if we show up early--something we're definitely going to do--we'll have plenty of time to get to Smallville and back."
"Only if you drive, and even then--"
"We'll have plenty of time. Now, hand me the rest of that sandwich and get some clothes on. We've got work to do."
"This is it," Lois said, as she turned onto a narrow road that looked like it had just been covered with a fresh layer of gravel. They'd made it to Smallville in an dangerously short amount of time--right on schedule according to Lois.
"Are you sure somebody'll be here to answer your questions about Lex Luthor's connection to the mine?"
"You just have to have faith sometimes, Kent."
"I do. Otherwise I'd never get in a car with you behind the wheel."
"Ha ha." Her acidic tone made Clark smile. She didn't even realize how easy she was.
Up ahead, Clark saw a gray and white trailer pulled to the side of the road with a gravel parking lot beside it. Lois pulled in beside a blue Buick and gave Clark a smug look before whipping her door open.
Clark climbed out of the car, slammed the door, and hurried to catch up with Lois.
The trailer was dusty inside, and Clark wasn't surprised that there was no one here. Lois, talented woman that she was, had managed to get a window open in the back of the trailer, and Clark hadn't done anything to stop her. Most of the time, he felt like Lois dragged him around by the balls. He wasn't ever going to learn his lesson, apparently. Every time she pulled him into something like this, they ran into trouble.
Prowling through a low filing cabinet, Lois was muttering to herself. Clark stood back, surveying the room. Payne Mining was actually a subsidiary of a larger company, National Industries. Clark was sure that a lot of industry analysts would assume Lex's interest in Payne was related to National. Clark wasn't so certain of that.
He walked over to the desk in the corner of the room, sitting beside a cracked leather sofa. Papers were scattered haphazardly across the top. When he caught sight of the header on a document half-hidden beneath what looked like an employee list, Clark felt his interest peak.
Careful not to disturb anything else, he wiggled the document loose. His eyes ran over the paper, reading quickly, *Red meteor fragment - molecular weight: 60.01 gm; mineral composition: quartz - 15%, feldspar - 1%, trace elements - 4%, unknown - 80%*.
He heard the dull thunk of the filing cabinet sliding closed. Before Lois could see what he held, he folded the page and shoved it into his pocket.
"Whoever runs this outfit needs to be fired. I couldn't find any--" The door rattled, and Lois stopped speaking abruptly. She whipped her head around to stare at the deadbolt as it slid back. Clark grabbed her arm and ducked behind the sofa, pulling her down with him.
The door slammed back with unnecessary force and someone stomped into the trailer. Clark focused, and suddenly he was seeing through the back of the sofa to the man standing beside the narrow desk only a few feet away. The man tossed his hardhat towards them, and Lois jerked when it smacked against the leather. Clark put his hand on her shoulder in the hope that she wouldn't do anything stupid.
No such luck.
One second she was crouched beside him, and the next, she was on her feet.
"Who the hell are you?"
Clark winced at the angry yell, then carefully stood.
Lois was already talking. "I'm Lois Lane from The Daily Planet. Why is Lex Luthor interested in Payne Mining?"
The man's face reddened. He raised his arm and shook his finger at Lois. "What the hell are--" His words cut off abruptly as something slammed into his chest and knocked him to the floor.
In the space of a heartbeat, Clark realized what had happened. He grabbed Lois, spun, and dived, and then covered her body with his as gunshots continued to plow through the thin metal walls of the trailer.
After the repeated loud bursts of an automatic weapon, the sudden silence was deafening.
Lois pushed at his chest and grunted from the effort of trying to move the unmovable. "Kent, get off me."
Clark took a deep breath and slipped to the side. He sat up, but kept his hand planted on Lois's chest to prevent her from rising. With a quick sweep of his x-ray vision, he scanned the area around the trailer for danger.
"I'm not going anywhere. Get your hands off my boobs."
There was no one around, so Clark did as she'd ordered and moved his hand. He resisted the urge to remind Lois of how she'd practically begged him to touch her breasts last night when they were having sex.
But he had other things to worry about right now, things much more important than goading Lois. The man was dead. He was already certain of that.
Sometimes x-ray vision was an unpleasant thing to have.
Lois pushed away from him and crawled over to the man's body.
"He's dead," Clark said.
"How--Oh, shit, you're right." Her voice sounded thin. But then she seemed to pull herself together. "We need to get out of here," she muttered. She turned her head toward the desk. "But first..."
"You're not seriously thinking about going through that stuff now, are you? We need to call the police. If they haven't already been called."
Lois clenched her jaw. "Damn, you're probably right. We don't have time."
"And it's against the law to disturb a crime scene."
"Can't let the little things get in the way of a story, Kent. You should know that by now."
Clark ground his teeth together. The woman was impossibly narrow-minded when it came to her journalistic ambitions. "For God's sake, Lois, a man is dead!"
"And we can't let the person who did it get away with it. I know that. The best way we can help is to get all the information we can and write it up. Splash it on the front page. Draw attention to the crime."
"I'm not sure that's the best way to help."
"Of course it is." She looked around the shattered office. "And I'll bet my next paycheck that Lex Luthor had something to do with this."
Clark sighed. He hoped she was wrong, but after his discovery, he was afraid she wasn't.
They were late. They'd had to make a statement to the police about what had happened. Lois had carefully refrained from mentioning that they hadn't been invited into the trailer. Clark had followed her lead.
Despite Lois's repeated reminders to the police that she was in a hurry--or more likely because of them--the questioning had taken considerably longer than it should have. It was nearly three o'clock when they arrived at the anonymous caller's designated meeting spot--the greenhouse perched atop the ten-story March Industries building.
The building had been abandoned over ten years ago when March Industries had relocated to a more industry friendly city, one more willing than Metropolis to give the smaller company a hefty tax break. The place had been officially condemned three years ago, and it was slated for demolition sometime in the next two.
Clark followed Lois up the dark stairwell, the light from her flashlight bobbing against the walls. Lois was already out of breath but determined to make it to the top.
When they reached the final flight, they could see light spilling down into the stairwell from the half-open door. As she stepped up to the last step, Clark took hold of her arm. "After what happened earlier today, I think you should let me go first."
She looked over her shoulder at him, her outrage clear. "Why the hell would you think that? If this person comes out shooting, it isn't going to matter that much which one of us is in fron--hey! What are you doing?"
Clark stepped cautiously up to the half-open door. "Stay behind me."
"You're going to pay for this, Kent."
Clark didn't reply. He was too busy scanning the greenhouse for signs that their anonymous caller was still here. The floor was littered with glass where the walls of the greenhouse had cracked and broken over the years. The place was made up like an indoor garden, and weeds, some as tall as small trees, had overgrown the dirt-filled beds. When he was sure no one was going to ambush them, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Watch your step," he said over his shoulder.
Lois poked him in the back. "Can't watch my step if you won't even let me through the door. Now get out of my way."
Clark moved over. Lois stood beside him for a moment, staring at the debris that covered the path through the center of the massive greenhouse. She straightened her shoulders. "Come on," she said. "Let's see if this caller has anything interesting to say."
"I don't think he's here."
"Sure he is. He has to know I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to get the goods on Lex Luthor. I want to know what he's got for us."
Clark shrugged and followed as she started down the path.
They were almost to the other side of the building when they finally found something. He was (inconspicuously) using his x-ray vision when he noticed the blood hidden underneath an urn that was turned on its side.
Clark stepped forward without saying anything and used his foot to roll the urn away from the blood.
Lois peered around him. "Hey, is that blood?"
"Looks like it."
"Shit. Our luck sucks today."
"I don't think we're the ones who are having the bad luck, Lois."
She frowned. "It's not that much blood." She glanced around the area. "And I don't see any signs of a struggle."
"Well, he could have tripped, fallen, and cut himself on a piece of this glass, then left to go get sewn up."
Lois stared up at him through narrowed eyes, her frown growing darker by the second. She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out her cell phone. "I'm calling the police."
As much as he hated it, sometimes the dumb-ass attitude was pretty damn useful.
Lois was still pressing buttons when Clark thought he heard the sound of a breath, held, then slowly released. He'd only had this new ability for about three months now, but already, it given him an amazing edge when he was running around as Superman. It hadn't hurt his investigative reporting skills either.
Still, he'd be glad when these abilities quit popping up on him. Useful or not, he was getting sick of everything always changing on him. He wanted a little stability in his life.
Just ahead, the path made an abrupt right turn and disappeared behind a tangled mess of old tables, broken glass, and thick weeds. Clark concentrated and was suddenly looking through it all to the other side.
He swallowed hard. He had to get Lois away from here.
They were on the bottom flight of stairs when he patted his pockets as if he were looking for something. Then, catching Lois's curious gaze as she looked over her shoulder at him, he muttered, "Damn, I've got a hole in my pocket. I think I dropped my keys. We have to go back."
She pulled a face at him, and he knew he'd succeeded even before she spoke. "You think I'm climbing back up those stairs? You dropped them, you can go find them. I have a story to write."
Clark shrugged, then turned and started climbing the stairs again. As soon as he was out of view of Lois, he sped up the remaining steps and burst through the doorway to the greenhouse. Another split-second and he was standing beside the overturned urn.
With a heavy heart, he walked toward the bend in the path.
Lex backed away from the body when Clark turned the corner and stepped into view.
"This isn't what it looks like," Lex said roughly. But his hands were covered in blood.
He wiped them on the front of his crisp white shirt, leaving streaks of pink and red on the fabric. Clark could see Lex's hands shaking, but he didn't know the cause. Adrenaline, anxiety... fear. It could be any of those things or something else altogether. Lex's emotions had always been beyond Clark's understanding.
"Did you kill him?"
"No! Of course not. You know me better than that. I'm not a killer." Lex stared hard into Clark's eyes, as if he were willing Clark to believe him.
But Clark remembered a time when Lex had been capable of killing, even though it had been more than eleven years ago. Clark made a deliberate attempt to sound skeptical. "Then what are you doing here?"
Lex's mouth tightened. "I was asked to come. I was offered some valuable information--for a price."
Clark believed him, even though he knew everyone would tell him he shouldn't. But they knew next to nothing about Lex. No one had spent as much time as Superman had spent studying Lex Luthor. No one knew Lex as well as Clark, not even wife number five.
"You have to get out of here before someone sees you. You have blood all over your shirt."
Lex looked down at himself. He seemed shocked at the sight of the blood on his clothes, even though he'd been the one to put it there only moments ago. "I need the information he had."
Clark glanced down at the body. The man had been in his late forties, maybe a tad older. His eyes were open, the spark of life long gone. The man's chest and abdomen were covered with gunshot wounds, but there wasn't as much blood as Clark expected.
A quick x-ray of the body showed that the man's heart had been pierced from the back by a lone bullet. The blood under the urn could have been from that first deadly shot. Every shot after that one had probably been nothing more than an effort to cover up the skill of the killer.
Clark wanted to close his own eyes and look away, but he couldn't. Something this man had known had made him the target of a killer.
And whatever that something was, it was directly related to Lex. It was something Lex considered important enough to risk being caught searching through a dead man's bloody clothes to find.
Clark blinked, then shifted his gaze back to Lex. "What are you planning to do?"
"I just want to finishing going through his pockets, and then I'm leaving." Lex pointed to a door a few feet behind him. "That's the stairwell I used to come up here. He was lying right where he is now. Whoever did this was already gone when I arrived, and you showed up before I could find what I was looking for."
It was strange, but the look in Lex's eyes was nearly the same as it had been that last time they'd spoken as friends. It was a look Clark hadn't seen in years, and it made his chest ache in a way that it hadn't done in ages. He hadn't even realized he was in love with Lex until it was too late.
Clark nodded. "Find what you need, but then you have to leave. Lois has already called the police. They don't know about the body, but they're still likely to send someone to check the place out."
"What about you? Are you going to tell anyone I was here?"
Lex gave Clark a quick nod. "Thank you." Then he knelt down by the body and started feeling around inside what was left of the front flap of the man's jacket. A quick tug and Lex had pulled out a small square of paper. Clark could see the bold black letters that looked like a combination. He made a point of looking away as Lex quickly tucked the note into his own pocket.
But Clark would remember.
When Lex scrambled to his feet and turned to go, Clark gave him a final warning. "Don't let Lois catch a glimpse of you leaving. If she does, you can count on making the front page, and I won't try to stop her."
Lex nodded again without looking at Clark, then hurried through the door to the stairwell.
Clark watched Lex go, and he wondered if he'd let his feelings make a fool of him.
The last number of the combination was missing. The edge of the paper had been torn by a bullet, leaving the first four digits intact, but the last digit had been completely obliterated. Since this particular model used the numbers zero through forty-one, that left forty-two possibilities Lex had to try to get the combination right.
Unfortunately, his wife's safe had a safety mechanism inside that allowed only three incorrect attempts every twenty-four hours before it required an override with a special combination and a key. Therefore, Lex had been careful to try only two combinations per day for the last three days. He had no intention of alerting her to the fact that someone was attempting to gain access to her private safe.
Lex tried the next combination on his list, but just like the last six, it didn't work. His impatience made him grind his teeth. He had about ten minutes left in which to try a final combination today before Lucy was finished with the masseur. She fucked him on a regular basis and had yet to realize that Lex knew about him--or in fact, any of her numerous lovers.
Not that it bothered Lex. Soon, she would be out of his life, once and for all. Until then, he didn't care who she fucked as long as she didn't try to fuck with him again.
Lois was beautiful. There was no doubt of that. Her body was warmth and softness and everything else a man could want. But Clark didn't want softness and warmth. He wanted scorching heat and the hard, sharp angles of a man's body.
Even now, propped on his elbows over Lois and thrusting into her, he wanted something different. Her gasping breaths encouraged him on, but it was a vision of Lex that kept him focused. Lex's skin, pale and smooth, flushed with heat and passion. He usually made an effort to keep his mind on his partner and away from his impossible fantasies, but tonight, he couldn't seem to forget what he'd wanted for so long.
Clark had first had sex with a man in college, the night of Lex's third wedding. He'd spent the majority of his time inside Jeremy's body wishing it were Lex. Not much had changed in the intervening years, only that the possibility of fulfilling that desire was now an impossible dream, whereas back then he'd still held out hope that Lex would take an interest in him as more than a friend. Now that they were no longer friends, that possibility was gone.
When he came, he did nothing more than groan, afraid that if he opened his mouth, Lex's name would escape.
"He worked for Luthor," Lois said, slamming a file folder down on Clark's desk. "Jacob Peterson. He was just hired three days ago, and he wasn't even supposed to be in that trailer--the cops said he didn't have a set of keys on him, and now they want to get another statement from us."
Clark raised his eyes from the folder to stare at Lois. "I keep telling you to quit lying every time you get caught doing something you're not supposed to be doing."
"Oh, grow up, Kent. If I never lied, you know where I'd be right now? I'd be right where you are, that's where. Instead, I regularly make the front page. If that's where you want to be in a few years, you're going to have to shed this naivet you wear around like a cloak."
"I'm not nave."
"The hell you aren't."
Clark felt his lips thin, and he had to work hard not to shout out some of the things he'd been witness to in the last few years. Instead, he bit his tongue and changed the subject. "So what did you tell them this time?"
"I told them the door was already open when we got there and we were just waiting for someone to show up who could give us a quote for a story we're working on."
"So they're not going to know he somehow managed to get the door open without a key?"
Lois gave an exasperated sigh. "They know he wasn't supposed to be there. That's enough."
"For you, maybe."
She looked down at his desk, not meeting his eyes. "We have to find out what's going on with Luthor, and we can't do that from inside a jail cell."
Clark pushed back from his desk and rose to his feet. "So how did you find out Jacob Peterson works for Lex Luthor?"
"He filed taxes last year as an employee of LexCorp. He was actually working for Payne Mining under the name Jacob Peters. Still don't know how he got past personnel without getting found out, but he managed it somehow."
It was too big a coincidence for Clark to believe what he wanted to believe--that it was a mistake, that Lex hadn't known. Lex must have known. And it was doubly disturbing when he took into consideration the fact that Payne Mining had an interest in red kryptonite.
Clark's telephone rang, and he reached out for the receiver automatically. "Clark Kent, can I help you?"
"Still as polite as ever, I see."
"Oh, L--Lewis?" Clark turned away from Lois's curious gaze and tried not to look as anxious as he felt at hearing Lex's voice. "I didn't expect to hear from you."
"Lewis? I take it you aren't alone?"
"No, not really."
"I need to see you, Clark. I know it's been a while since we've... talked, but... there are some things I think you should know. I also--I need your help. As a friend."
Clark hadn't heard those words in years. Amazingly, he didn't get lightheaded or come close to fainting. He didn't jump up and down, and he didn't yell out in exultation.
What he felt was a bittersweet longing for the days when those words hadn't been out-of-the-ordinary fantastic, when they had been said with the utmost disregard, because neither of them doubted their truth.
It had been five days since the incident at the March Industries building. After two days, Clark had been sure Lex wasn't going to call and offer any further explanation for what he'd seen--whether out of regard for their past friendship or because Clark knew something Lex wouldn't want to get out. Ultimately, Clark was a reporter. Lex might have assumed any further conversations between them regarding the unidentified dead man would end up as Clark's next story.
Clark had to clear his throat before he spoke. "When do you want to get together?"
"Can you meet me at Luthor Towers? I'm in the penthouse. Give your name at the front desk and someone will bring you up."
"Okay. I can be there in thirty minutes."
When he hung up the phone, Lois was still standing there, watching him with an expression of bored curiosity. "Who's Lewis?" she asked.
"An old college buddy." He reached for the folder.
"You can have it," she said. "It's a copy."
"Don't take too long with your pal. We have a story to finish."
"This is your story, Lois. Not mine." With that, Clark gathered his jacket and left, folder clutched tightly in his hand.
The ride up the private elevator was quiet. He was alone--the attendant had entered the code then stepped out before the doors closed. There was probably a camera in here, and somewhere in this building someone would be watching him as the elevator climbed to the top of the tallest building in Metropolis.
He even wondered if one of the people watching him would be Lex. Probably, knowing Lex's suspicious nature. He would want to be sure Clark was alone, and he would want confirmation that Clark didn't have any recording equipment or cameras on him. Just last year, Clark had done a story on some of the newest security devices being developed. He knew it was possible to accurately detect and identify certain hidden or disguised electronic devices from up to twenty feet away. The elevator had considerably less distance than that between its walls and ceiling.
When the elevator stopped its ascent, the doors slid open, nearly silent. Clark stepped out and was surprised that the hallway was empty. He moved forward. Just as he stepped up to the door that was directly across from the elevator, it opened.
Lex stood there, his gaze direct and assessing. Clark wanted to think there was warmth there, too, but he was afraid that was just wishful thinking.
Lex held the door open. "Come on in."
Clark walked by, and into the broad living room of Lex's penthouse home. Sophisticated and cold, the room was different than Clark remembered. It was decorated in a stark combination of black and white, and there wasn't a hint left of the warmly decorated room of nearly seven years ago.
A small smile skimmed across Lex's lips. "Lucy's a fan of Renard's Simplicity designs.
Clark felt a grin tug the corner of his mouth up. "He's very popular."
Lex shrugged. "He wouldn't know a cornice from a frieze, but she likes to fuck him, so I doubt she cares."
Shock killed the grin, and Clark swallowed uncomfortably.
"Would you like a drink?" Lex offered.
With a wave of his arm, Lex offered Clark a seat on the couch. When Clark eased down, Lex moved to the chair flanking it.
"It's strange, but I feel like it was just yesterday when we were arguing about why I shouldn't marry Sabrina."
"I never should have tried to interfere."
"I let it put a wedge between us. That's my fault. I've... wanted to try to make things right between us for years, but I was afraid you weren't ready to forgive me."
"Forgive you?" Clark repeated faintly.
"I know I don't have the right to ask--"
"No," Clark denied. "I'm the one who needs to ask for your forgiveness, Lex. Sabrina almost left you, and then I ruined your wedding. I--" Clark had to stop and clear his throat, then try again. "I loved you, Lex. That's why I didn't want you to marry her. That's why I refused to stand up for you when the day of your wedding came, and that's why I stayed away afterwards. I thought you hated me, after what happened."
"I've never hated you, Clark. You were the best damn friend I could have ever asked for, and I threw your help back in your face. You were looking out for me when I was blinded by everything Sabrina was offering me."
"You don't understand." Clark reached over and put his hand on Lex's forearm. "I was in love with you. I was jealous. I didn't want you to marry Sabrina because I wanted you for myself."
Lex seemed to freeze into place. "I didn't know."
"I didn't want you to know. I was stupid. I thought it would protect me from being rejected if I never told you."
Lex's eyes were filled with shadow and light, and Clark was certain he wasn't imagining the sadness buried in their depths. He held his breath as he waited nervously for some kind of reply.
"You were right."
Clark swallowed hard. "I was?"
"Sabrina was pregnant when she died. I had a DNA test performed on the fetus. It wasn't mine."
Clark squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them to stare at Lex's hard expression.
Then Lex sighed and his face relaxed. "After she died, I waited for you to push your way back into my life, but you never came. I assumed you couldn't forgive me for not trusting you over her."
"I never had any proof that she was cheating on you. I started to think that it was just my own feelings coloring the way I saw her."
Lex stared into Clark's eyes. "I want us to be friends again."
Clark smiled nervously. "Me too."
Lex covered Clark's hand with one of his own. "I want you to look at something for me and tell me what it is. Will you do that?"
Lex stood up and walked across the room to pick up a box off the fireplace mantle. Clark followed him.
When Lex turned around, he'd already opened the ornate lid.
Inside, on a bed of black velvet, sat a fist-sized chunk of red kryptonite.
"What makes you think I know what this is?" Clark's voice sounded strangely high-pitched, even to his own ears, and he was reaching for the stone before he even realized he'd raised his hand. Lex stared intently at him, and Clark wondered if he was waiting for some kind of reaction.
Then Lex snapped the lid shut, and Clark jerked his hand back, horrified at what he'd almost done. If he'd come into contact with that kryptonite, there was no telling what he might have done.
"It's probably best if you don't handle it. I've had a few specialized tests performed on it, and it appears to give off an odd radioactive signature. Just a few years ago, no test on earth would have detected it, but now.... Isn't progress wonderful?"
"As far as I know, it's nothing strong enough to harm anyone, but since it is so unusual, it's better to be safe, don't you agree?"
"Yeah," Clark said faintly. "It could be dangerous." The corner of Lex's mouth curved up in a faint smile. "It never hurts to exercise care when dealing with the unfamiliar."
"What were you hoping I could tell you about that--that rock?"
"I know you and Ms. Lane have been investigating Payne Mining. I'd like to know what you've discovered."
Lois would have a fit if he gave away any of her information. Clark decided to do it anyway. He needed to give Lex something if he expected Lex to be candid with him about his own involvement in everything that was going on. "We know Jacob Peterson worked for you before he went to Payne."
Lex nodded. "He did."
"And I know you took something from that dead man's body."
"The combination to my wife's safe."
Clark felt a momentary surprise at that news, although he didn't doubt Lex's sincerity. "We haven't been able to discover the dead man's identity."
"I don't know who he was. He contacted me anonymously, and so far, no one has been able to identify him."
"He wanted Lois to meet him at two o'clock, but we were late."
Lex returned the box to its place on the mantle and then paced across the room. Clark slowly relaxed now that the kryptonite was no longer near.
Lex stood with shoulders and back straight, hands tucked into his pockets. It was a familiar gesture, one Lex hadn't abandoned in all the years since he'd left Smallville. As Superman, Clark had watched Lex stand on his balcony on occasion, and he'd looked just the way he looked now, confident and self-assured, but still alone.
"I need your word that what I say here stays between us, Clark."
Clark felt a moment of uncertainty, but he ignored the feeling. He was Superman, for God's sake. He could handle a little intrigue. "You have it."
Lex turned to face Clark. "My lovely wife is trying to gain control of LexCorp, but first she has to get me out of the picture. Without killing me, of course. My will assures that Lucy gets nothing in the event of my death. If I'm in prison, she thinks she'll have unhindered access to LexCorp. She doesn't realize I know about her plans, and I want to keep it that way. It's one of my few true advantages at the moment."
Clark frowned. "What kind of help do you need from me?"
"I think if things had worked out the way she had planned, I'd already be under suspicion for the murder of Lois Lane... and you." Lex smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "She doesn't know you as well as I do, and she didn't take into consideration how stalwart you are."
"That's... an interesting way to describe me."
"You've always had an amazing ability overcome whatever life throws at you."
Clark gave Lex a wobbly smile in answer and pushed his glasses up on his nose.
"If I'd known what she had planned, I would have warned you and Ms. Lane. And Jacob Peterson," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"What was he doing there?" Clark asked. "Was he still working for you?"
Lex stared at Clark. "Yes."
"I'm not getting involved in anything unethical, Lex. Not even for you."
"I wouldn't ask you to, Clark. I'm telling you this so you'll know to look out for trouble, and you'll know where it's coming from. I know you care about Lois. That's why I'm warning you."
"Lois is a friend. I wouldn't want to see anything bad happen to her."
Lex's eyebrows rose. "You're sleeping with her. You must love her."
"No. I mean, yes, we're involved, but she knows I don't love her, and she doesn't love me. Not in the way you mean."
"You surprise me. I've always thought you weren't the kind of person who was interested in casual sex."
"I'm not, but the thing with Lois is different."
"Different," Lex said, his tone pensive.
Clark decided it was time to get back to the reason he was here. He didn't want Lex to spend too much time thinking about his relationship with Lois. Hell, he didn't like spending much time thinking about it himself. It was much more complicated than he'd thought it would be. "I just need to know what this is all about. Why does your wife think killing Lois and me will get you out of her way?"
"It's common knowledge that Lois Lane is looking for a story that will bury me and LexCorp. If she were murdered, there aren't many people who would find it hard to believe I was responsible. Especially if there were evidence she was on the trail of a story involving LexCorp and an illegal scheme to defraud the government. I have a reputation as a ruthless businessman. Every business deal I've ever made has had more than its fair share of rumors of wrongdoing associated with it."
Clark ran his hand through his hair. This was getting complicated. He knew Lex was right about the rumors, and he also knew that if Lex wasn't careful, all his efforts to lay blame where it was deserved would backfire. "How do you know so much about your wife's plans?"
"I discovered the evidence in my wife's safe. Evidence I'm certain she's just waiting for the right opportunity to plant."
"And she was going to use Lois to plant it, I bet."
Lex shook his head. "I don't think that's what she planned. I don't think she had anything to do with the man in the greenhouse. There's someone else involved in all this, but I haven't yet discovered who, or why."
For the first time since arriving in Lex's home, Clark thought he detected a hint of something in Lex's voice that didn't ring true. Either Lex knew who else was involved in this or he had a strong suspicion, but he wasn't ready to share that information with Clark. And really, did he have any right to expect Lex to tell him who it might be? Lex's only reason for inviting him here was apparently to warn him to keep an eye on Lois so she didn't get killed before Lex could take care of his wife. Clark hoped there might also be a little worry on Lex's side about something happening to Clark since he spent much of his time in her presence.
Which reminded him that there was still at least one thing he didn't understand about this whole scheme of Lex's wife. "I've never understood what it is that Lois has against you, why she's so set on believing the worst about you."
"When she was first starting out, I offended her notion of journalistic integrity. She was following a lead on a story I couldn't allow her to print."
"How did you stop her?" Clark asked suspiciously.
"I'd rather not say. It's not something I'm especially proud of. But it had to be done."
Clark stepped up to Lex and put his hand on Lex's shoulder. "Someday, I hope you'll tell me what happened."
"Someday I might, but not now, Clark. You're not ready to hear it."
Clark squeezed Lex's shoulder but didn't reply. He couldn't very well tell Lex that he wasn't as innocent as he'd once been, that he'd seen many things in the last few years that had changed him and his outlook on what was right and wrong. Life was no longer black or white, good or bad. The world around him hadn't changed, but he had. He saw in colors he'd never imagined existed before he'd taken up the mantle of Superman.
But he could tell no one of his new attitude, because it wouldn't fit his image. Everyone knew Clark Kent was a nave, harmless fool. And he had no one to blame for that but himself.
Other than his parents, Lex was the only person who'd ever believed he was more than he appeared to be.
Not even Pete knew of the things Clark had been required to do in the last few years as he took on greater and greater responsibility for the safety of the innocents of Metropolis. Clark worried that someday there'd be nothing left of him as Superman became a bigger and bigger part of his life.
They were interrupted by a low ring. Lex frowned and walked across the room to a side table that held the telephone. "Yes," he answered curtly. His expression hardened, before he said, "Let him come up."
He replaced the receiver and turned back to Clark. "I'm sorry, but you have to go."
Clark was surprised at the abrupt change in Lex. He held himself stiffly, and his expression was cold and untouchable. "Sure, no problem," Clark said quickly.
"My father is on his way up, and I think it's best if he not see you here. There's a set of stairs that lead down to the floor below this one. You can catch the elevator there, once my father leaves it." Lex led the way through the living room and into what had to be the master bedroom suite.
Lucy had obviously had a hand in decorating this room too, as the only colors in the room were black and white, and a few dark grays. The room was cold and stark, and Clark hated it on sight. He couldn't imagine Lex being comfortable here, couldn't imagine Lex in the large bed that sat on a raised platform, and most of all, he didn't want to imagine Lex sharing that bed with the woman that was his wife.
Lex pressed a button in the wall near the door, and on the left, a wall slid back, becoming a wide doorway. He followed Lex inside. It was an enormous closet, with an opening on the right which led to a circular stairwell. Lex stopped at the top of the stairs. "Just follow them to the bottom and you'll be in my personal gym. The elevator will be on the left, near the showers."
"Thanks." Clark started to step forward and was caught by surprise when Lex grabbed his arm and tugged him around. He didn't try to pull free, especially when he caught sight of the look in Lex's eyes.
Warmth had replaced the coolness of only moments ago. Lex entwined their fingers, then leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to Clark's lips. Clark felt his eyes drift closed as he savored the soft touch of Lex's lips against his. It was a feeling he'd often imagined, yet his imaginings were nothing. This was real. Lex was real.
Too soon, Lex pulled back. "I don't want to be just your friend, Clark. I want more this time."
Clark felt the heavy beat of his heart, even and strong. He tasted his lips, caught the flavor of Lex's mouth on his tongue, and he didn't even think of replying with anything but the truth. "I still want you."
Lex squeezed Clark's hand. "Next time, try to remember that I'll forgive you anything, Clark. Anything."
It was hard to watch Lex turn and walk away when all Clark wanted was to pull him close and hold him, just to know that this was real.
Halfway down the spiral staircase, Clark stopped. He hesitated a moment before he gave in to need to do what he had to do. With a sigh, Clark zeroed in on the sound of Lex's voice and listened.
*"--think you'll succeed?"*
Clark clenched his fist around the metal balustrade, frustrated that his hesitation to invade Lex's privacy had kept him from hearing the beginning of the conversation. He was doing this to help Lex, after all. He had no reason to feel so damn guilty about it.
*"I don't know what you're talking about,"* Lex said, his exasperation evident from the sharpness of his tone. The sound of agitated pacing followed. *"Payne is part of LexCorp's plans for expansion. My decision to proceed with the Payne buy out had nothing to do with your bid for the company."*
*"Of course it did. LexCorp had no interest in Payne Mining until I made an offer."*
*"You're mistaken, but regardless, I think it would be a waste of your money to fight LexCorp on this."*
Lionel made a non-committal noise in the back of his throat. *"I hear your wife was in Smallville a few weeks ago. Did she find what she was looking for?"*
*"I wouldn't know."*
*"I think she did,"* Lionel said. *"Mr. Sanders was very forthcoming with the information I asked him to gather for me. It was a shame he couldn't stick to our bargain."*
*"You're the one who had him killed."* Lex's tone was flat, and Clark could imagine the cold look of Lex's eyes as he stared at his father.
*"Oh, I think you've misunderstood, Son. I didn't have anyone killed. I merely hired Mr. Sanders to keep an eye on your wife. I was quite surprised when I discovered he had planned to reveal his findings to Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent."* There was a small pause before Lionel continued. *"It's such a small world sometimes, isn't it? Your Mr. Kent in Metropolis, partnered with your biggest detractor at The Daily Planet. By the way, someone informed me he came up earlier. I'm disappointed you felt the need to send him away before I arrived. I would have liked the opportunity to say hi to such an insightful young man."*
*"Leave him out of this. He has nothing to do with any of it."*
*"I think you know better than that. He has everything to do with this."*
Clark was surprised when Lex didn't deny Lionel's statement.
*"I do what needs to be done, Son. I only wish I could say the same of you."*
*"Get the hell out of my home."* Lex's fury vibrated in his voice.
Lionel chuckled, and his footsteps echoed through the apartment and down into the stairwell where Clark hid.
Clark released a soft sigh and then walked down the stairs. The red kryptonite would have to wait. If nothing else, Clark knew Lex would guard it well.
"I know where you were today."
Clark was on his way to his desk when Lois's words pulled him up short.
"You went to Luthor Towers and got on the private elevator." Lois pushed herself to her feet and walked around her desk. "Everybody knows that's Lex Luthor's elevator. You want to explain what the hell's going on here?"
"No. I don't."
She'd been spying on him. He should've expected something like that from her, but he hadn't. He started to walk away, but she reached out and grabbed onto his arm. "Did he threaten you?"
"No. Why would you think that?"
"Because I know what kind of man he is, and I know what he'll do to stop a story he doesn't want printed."
"I have three stories going right now, Lois, and not one of them has anything to do with Lex Luthor."
"Is he trying to use you to get at me, then? I wouldn't put it past him if he were."
Clark let out a tired sigh. "No, Lois, he's not trying to get to you through me. Will you just drop this? I went to see Lex about a personal matter, that's all."
"Lex?" Lois's mouth turned down. "You're on a first name basis with Lex Luthor?"
He was an idiot, no two ways about it. He never should've used Lex's given name within a hundred feet of Lois. "We knew each other when I was in high school, okay?"
"Why haven't you ever mentioned this?"
"Because it wasn't important. We haven't been friends for a very long time."
Lois stared at him as if he were someone she didn't know at all. "It doesn't matter. You should have told me."
"It was none of your business." It was the worst thing he could have said, and he realized that when Lois's expression turned hard and her eyes glinted. "I'm sorry," he said quickly, "but my friendship with Lex is a part of my past I really don't like talking about. For the first time since--since we drifted apart, it's starting to look like we can be friends again."
"How can you be so damn nave? Don't you know what kind of man Lex Luthor is? My God, he's worse than his father ever dreamed of being, and that's an understatement."
"You don't have any idea of the kind of man Lex is," he said, his voice rough. "He's nothing like you make him out to be. I see what other people refuse to see."
"You're an idiot, Kent. And you obviously can't see worth shit." Before he could reply, she turned her back on him and walked away, leaving him standing in front of her desk, staring after her.
He trailed behind her when she left The Daily Planet. An afternoon rain shower meant there were umbrellas everywhere, but he didn't have any trouble keeping Lois in his sight as she made her way to the nearest parking garage two blocks away.
After learning that her life might be in danger, he'd made a point of not leaving her alone for more than a few minutes at a time. It might be nearly impossible to kill him, but Lois didn't have that going for her. Not that he'd made his vigil obvious. He was actually pretty good at going unnoticed.
She was about half a block ahead of him on the corner of Eighth and Main when he heard a young boy scream. Super reflexes and super speed gave him the time he needed to pinpoint the car three blocks ahead, skidding across the wet road, about to slam into the thin figure standing too close to the edge of the street.
Within a millisecond, he was no longer Clark Kent.
Superman zipped in front of the car, dug his heels into the pavement and stopped its sideways slide.
And when it was over and Superman flew away, Clark Kent arrived in the parking garage to find that Lois's car hadn't moved, but she was nowhere to be found.
"Dammit, I need to see Lex Luthor!" Clark's voice rose as his anger and fear coalesced. The imbecile who guarded Lex's private elevator had no intention of letting Clark through, or even calling up to ask Lex if he would agree to see him.
"If you don't leave quietly, I'll be forced to call security." The man glanced pointedly over at the red phone hanging on the wall beside him.
Clark didn't have Lex's private number, hadn't had it in years. He had no way of contacting Lex about Lois's disappearance. And he was afraid he didn't have much time. He had to stop Lucy Luthor and her plot against Lex before anyone else got hurt.
Clark was about to do something desperate when he heard the elevator begin ascending its way to the top of the building. After glaring at the guard, Clark turned and walked toward the exit where he loitered just outside, listening carefully to make sure Lex was coming this way.
A limousine pulled up in front of the building just as Lex and three others stepped through the wide glass doors. Clark stepped forward but stopped when he saw the limo door open and a woman step out. Lucy Luthor smiled toward Lex, took his hand and put her other hand on his chest. Leaning in, she kissed his jaw, and then whispered something in his ear.
Clark caught only the last half of her words. "...too easy. He'll hate you when he finds out you knew." And she laughed, a small giggle of sound that made Clark's heart clench tight.
Over the top of her head, Lex caught sight of Clark. Clark took another step forward, unsure of what he should do.
Lex's eyes held no warmth as he stared Clark's way. With the briefest negative shake of his head, he turned away from Clark, helped Lucy into the limo, and climbed in after her. The door closed, and the car pulled away from the building.
Lex wasn't stupid; he had to know Clark would follow him. Maybe Lex was even counting on that.
Lucy sat across from him in the limo, her hands resting on his knees and the tips of her fingers lightly caressing his skin through the fabric of his pants. One of Lucy's new bodyguards sat on Lucy's right, holding a gun on Lex.
Lex stared pointedly at Lucy's hands, and she sighed dramatically before leaning back in her seat and crossing her legs.
"You don't enjoy my touch anymore, do you, Lex?"
He answered with a roll of his eyes.
"It's him. It always been him. Your obsession with Superman ruined our marriage."
"No, your habit of sleeping with the help ruined our marriage."
She smiled. "We both know the truth. There's no sense you denying it. Just imagine, if I hadn't run across your research, I'd have never known what it was that kept you occupied for hours on end every night. I think your last wife discovered the truth. Her accident was so convenient, don't you think?"
"You didn't run across anything. You hired someone to break into my safe. And Sabrina was drunk. I had nothing to do with that."
Lucy laughed. "Of course you didn't. But I'm not taking any chances, sweetheart. I refuse to be the victim of a senseless accident just so you can keep your obsessions secret from the world."
"There are some things the world doesn't need to know, Lucy." It was not an admission of guilt, because Lex felt no guilt for Sabrina's accident. He'd nearly been devastated when he'd discovered her pregnancy, but he'd dealt with his guilt then, and he'd been rewarded with the knowledge that her baby had not been his.
He'd sacrificed so much over the past seven years, working to limit the damage Sabrina could have caused. But soon it would be over. Soon he would have that which he'd denied himself for so long, because this latest incident had proven to him that self-sacrifice had gained him nothing.
"You've been protecting him for so long, Lex. Cut him loose. Can't you see that he's never trusted you? And he doesn't want you the way you want him, but me, I've always wanted you."
"So much so that you started sleeping around less than a month after our wedding," Lex interrupted.
"You weren't the man I thought you were when I married you, Lex. But you could be. Those other men, they've meant nothing to me, just a way to pass the time while I waited for you to see the truth, to see that I'm the only one with the desire to let you be yourself. I know what kind of man you could be, Lex, and we both know he would never let you be that kind of man. We'll be so good together."
Lex was unmoved. Lucy had failed to realize that Lex was already the kind of man she wanted him to be, but he still wanted Clark--not her. Lucy would never understand the appeal of someone of Clark's nature, and she was right about Clark not allowing him to be the man he could be. But that was exactly why Lex needed Clark so desperately.
Lucy patted the ornately decorated box resting on the seat between her and her bodyguard. "I have every confidence that Superman will make the right choice once he realizes what's at stake. Everyone knows he's in love with Lois Lane. He'll cooperate. I have no doubts." Lucy smiled. "I wonder what she'd think if I told her she was sleeping with Superman and didn't even know it? Do you think she would be angry enough to expose him to the world?"
Lex was certain he already knew the answer to that question, and he hoped Lucy didn't have an opportunity to tell Lois anything.
Because Lex would never allow Lois to expose Clark.
Almost immediately, Clark realized the limo was headed toward Smallville. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he had a feeling that following Lex was the key to finding Lois. Too bad he didn't have the power to read minds. But really, would he ever get lucky enough to have a power like that? Of course not. He was stuck with heat vision and ice breath instead.
He could have swooped down at some point and stopped the limo, but that wouldn't have helped him find Lois, so he stayed out of sight. When the limo pulled down the same road he and Lois had taken to get to the Payne Mining trailer, he felt his stomach clench at the thought of the confrontation likely to come.
The limo passed the trailer, then turned right onto a dirt road. Clark landed in the cover of trees to the left of the road. He ran through the trees, keeping pace with the limo, but he didn't try to overtake it.
The limo stopped next to a large excavator, a good hundred feet or more from the tree line. Clark watched as first Lucy, then Lex, climbed out of the back, followed by a large man dressed in a black suit and holding a gun, each of them kicking up a cloud of dust around their feet.
Lex kept his gaze trained straight ahead, ostensibly ignoring Lucy and the man hovering close beside him.
After a moment of staring out over the barren ground surrounding them, Lucy called out. "Oh, Superman.... I know you're here. Come out, come out, wherever you are...." She held a box in her hand, and Clark realized immediately that he couldn't see through it.
It had to be the red kryptonite Lex had shown him.
Clark sighed and accepted the fact that he was going to have to show himself to discover the answer to that question.
He shot up into the sky, felt the air push against him before flowing over and around his body as he flew. An imperceptible fraction of a second later, he landed in front of Lucy and dust swirled up around his feet and calves.
She gasped and jumped backward a step, and the man holding the gun twitched. Lex did neither. He'd obviously been expecting Clark to make a dramatic appearance, and he hadn't been disappointed.
"Superman, or should I call you Clark?"
This time it was Clark's turn to be startled, and although he tried to hide it, it was obvious from the smirk curving the corner of her mouth that she'd noticed.
"Where's Lois?" he demanded.
"Somewhere safe," Lucy said, then giggled. "Or not. But she has nothing to worry about if you cooperate."
Clark glared, then turned his gaze to Lex. "Do you know where she is?"
"If I knew, this little scene wouldn't be necessary."
Clark nodded and turned his attention back to Lucy. "What is it you expect me to cooperate with?"
"This." And she offered the box she held to Clark. "Open it."
"I don't think so."
"I've read the information Lex has gathered about you, Clark. I used a small piece of the stone in this box to make a ring for you. No more saving the world, Superman. I want you to work for me. I can pay you more than you'll make in a trillion lifetimes as a reporter. And I know you're much more amenable to these types of arrangements when you're under the influence of this rock. Lois lives, and you get to free the man you really are, or you can remain like you are now, a posturing, know-it-all hero of the worst sort, and let Lois die. The choice is yours."
"How do I know you won't kill her anyway?"
"As soon as you put on the ring, I'll tell you where she is. Then it'll be up to you to free her. It's as simple as that."
He hesitated. Would he even want to save Lois if he were under the influence of red kryptonite?
"So," Lucy said, "I was wrong. It's not Lois you're in love with." Lucy gave an almost imperceptible nod to the goon beside Lex. He reached out and grabbed Lex's arm and pushed him forward. Lex stumbled, then fell to his knees beside Lucy. The man held Lex's arm and pressed his gun against Lex's temple. Lex stared ahead, his mouth in a tight line.
Clark reacted without thought. He rushed forward with a burst of speed and twisted the gunman's hand up and away from Lex.
Lucy threw open the box and tossed the enormous chunk of kryptonite as Clark's feet. Her voice echoed in his head, half her words lost in the rush of anxiety and apprehension through his body. "--much more the kind of man I'm used to dealing with."
Clark tossed the gunman aside and yanked Lex to his feet. Lex stumbled against him. "Play along," Lex whispered fiercely.
Clark swallowed, blinked, then his expression hardened. At that moment, Lucy stepped close and shoved the ring into Clark's hand.
"Put it on, Superman, and then we can get down to business..."
Clark glanced down. Surprisingly, the ring was elegantly plain, with the single small red stone in the center. The Krypton symbol carved into the inside caught his attention, and he turned the ring over in his hand to get a better look.
He glanced sideways at Lex, felt a sharp smile curve his lips, felt his heart rate speed, and wondered why he'd never seen it before, why he'd never realized he wasn't alone during all those years of longing for what he didn't have. It was so clear now.
He looked down at Lucy's smugly smiling face. His own expression was hard and cold. "Where's Lois?"
"Do we have an agreement? You'll work for me, do whatever I want?"
"Sure, why not? If you pay me what I'm worth."
"Absolutely, Superman," she said, lowering her voice seductively, "and maybe I'll even throw in a few extras." She trailed her hand across his chest, lazily tracing the S clinging to his skin. "Would you be interested in a threesome? I'm sure we can convince Lex to participate."
Clark covered her hand with his and halted its movement. "Where's Lois? I have a few things to... discuss with her first." His tone was suggestive of other things, but Lucy didn't appear to mind.
"She's at the penthouse, in Lex's bedroom." Lucy leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Clark's lips. Clark didn't return the favor.
She frowned, then continued, "My bodyguard has orders to kill her at exactly six o'clock. If you leave her there, we can use her death to get Lex out of the way and then we'll have it all."
"Hardly." Lex stepped up behind Lucy and pulled her away from Clark.
Clark wanted to grin, but now wasn't the time. He squeezed his hand around the ring, and used his toes to kick the red rock toward Lucy. "Thanks for the offer, but I think I've got things covered now." He reached down and picked up the gun from the ground and handed it to Lex. "Think you can handle her and her bodyguard?"
Lex dusted off the gun and pointed it toward Lucy. "I'm grateful you didn't hurt him. He works for me." Then the driver of the limo stepped out, gun in hand. Clark looked between them and realized that Lex had more than enough people here to help him get Lucy back to the authorities.
"Damn you!" she screeched at Lex. "You ruined everything!"
Lex smiled. "Go take care of Lois," he said to Clark. "Then, if you want, meet me back at the penthouse later."
Clark felt warmth curl in his belly. "I want to," he said, then took off into the sky.
He rescued Lois. It was quick and effortless, and while he was there, he discovered the real box of red kryptonite in a safe behind a false panel in the bedroom wall. He didn't try to break in and take it. There was no need. Lex would keep it safe for now, and as long as Clark was comfortable with that knowledge, he wasn't going to try to take it from Lex.
He didn't stick around as Superman, and by the time Lois arrived on his doorstep, raving about the whole being- rescued-by-Superman-again thing, he was sitting in front of the TV eating a pop-tart and drinking a glass of milk.
"You wouldn't believe how fast he moves, Kent. It's a damn shame he doesn't wear something besides that god-awful suit and cape."
"Maybe he thinks it distracts the bad guys."
"Nah. He just wants to show off his body. That and he's got to be color blind."
Clark felt his latest bite of pastry lodge momentarily in his throat. He started coughing, and Lois leaned over and pounded on his back.
"You want to go to bed?" she asked suddenly.
Clark's eyes widened. "Uh, you know, about that..."
"I, uh, really don't think this is working out. Maybe--maybe--damn, Lois, I think I'm about to start seeing someone, and I really don't think we should continue this--this thing between us."
Lois sighed, but her heart appeared far from broken as she smiled crookedly at him. "I guess it's back to the vibrator for me then." Then she shrugged. "But, hey, at least I got a good look at Superman's package today. Eye level you know, when he was rescuing me."
Clark choked again. He really couldn't help it.
This time, Lois ignored his sputtering coughs. "I wanted to apologize for jumping all over you today about Luthor. I really thought he was involved with those deaths, and until I saw those men pull a gun on him, I thought he was the one behind my kidnapping. I thought he was going to kill me."
"Lex wouldn't do that. He's not a murderer."
Lois stared at Clark. "The Lex Luthor I know isn't the same man you seem to think he is."
Lois was wrong, of course. Lex was to Lex Luthor as Clark was to Superman. Two people sharing the same body, doing what they felt had to be done, but never really happy in that alternate persona. Two people who wanted to be no one but themselves, if they could even remember who they really were underneath all the window dressing. "Lex is exactly who I think he is," Clark said, leaning forward on the couch and resting his elbows on his knees. "We're more alike than you could ever guess."
Different, yet the same.
"I'll never believe it," Lois said softly.
No, he didn't think she would. But then, neither would anyone who knew Superman.
But the thought remained unspoken as he reached over, took her hand, and squeezed lightly. "I hate to run you off after everything that happened to you today, but I have somewhere I need to be in a few minutes."
Lois returned the hand squeeze and then pushed herself off the couch to stand. "I guess that's your tactful way of reminding me that you've found somebody else. You tell her I said she'd better appreciate your special skills in the bedroom, got it? Or I'll steal you away."
Clark smiled. He hated to ruin her mood, but he wasn't going to let her leave with such a serious misconception. It wouldn't be fair. She might eventually find out on her own, and then not be able to forgive him for letting her believe something so untrue.
"Don't," she interrupted. "Don't tell me who it is."
Clark nodded and remained silent as she left.
Lex waited in the living room. He gripped the arms of the chair in which he sat and thought about Lucy and her stupid, thoughtless plans. She had never realized how ridiculous they were.
He'd taken extra precautions after Sabrina, but it had clearly not been enough. Lucy had shown him that his old methods were unreliable. And strangely, he was grateful to Lucy for showing him that. Her decision to use his knowledge against Superman had proven that Clark's secrets needed to stay hidden. Lex would do everything within his power to help Clark keep his life free from people like Lucy, to protect the people Clark loved.
The television was on an all news station, and the sight of an explosion caught Lex's attention. He reached for the remote sitting on the table beside him.
*"--helicopter carrying Lucy Luthor and her two bodyguards exploded over the Metropolis City Jail's landing pad less than an hour ago--"*
Lex hit mute.
He already knew the story. He didn't want to hear it again.
Besides, Clark would be here soon.
Lex pushed himself to his feet and walked across the empty penthouse to the bar. He removed his watch and pressed the combination into the miniature keypad embedded into the back of it. The watch opened, much like a locket might do, and from inside he removed an electronic key that was less than an inch long.
He inserted the key into the nearly invisible slot underneath the edge of the shelf that held the best brandy money could buy.
The entire wall slid back on silent tracks. Light spilled into the semi-dark room beyond, and Lex could see his own reflection in the bank of black screens against the nearest wall. He stepped over the threshold and reached out for the switch on the left.
Computers beeped and security monitors flashed to life. He'd taken precautions after Lucy's break in. The room no longer held evidence that Clark and Superman were one and the same. He'd combed through every bit of data he had, purging anything that could give away Clark's secret. It was something he should have done after Sabrina, but he'd thought he could secure the room better, could make it safe from prying eyes.
This time, he had learned his lesson, and now, the room that had once been his shrine to the only person he'd every truly been in love with, was nothing more than a collection of security monitors and computers.
"I've always been afraid you'd hate me if you knew." Clark's voice came from behind Lex.
Lex swallowed, and then turned. Ready to face the future--so different from the one he'd had to envision for so long, thanks to Sabrina. "I love you."
Lex gestured to the room around him. "I had the same fear, about this room. I was afraid you'd hate me if you knew about it."
"I might have," Clark said, "if I'd discovered it when I was younger."
"When did you discover it?"
"Right after Sabrina died. I needed to know how you were doing, if you were okay. X-ray vision is good for a few things."
"It took a while before I figured out you were spying on me, but I never realized it was because you were in love with me." Lex's eyes flicked toward the wall over Clark's shoulder before he forced himself to return his gaze to Clark's. "But it wouldn't have mattered."
Clark finally entered the room and came to stand in front of Lex. "Why not?"
"Because Sabrina knew about you, and she wanted me to marry her to keep her quiet. I've cared about you for a very long time, Clark, and she knew that."
"I've wanted you for so long that I can hardly believe you feel the same way."
"There's nothing to stop us from being together now. If that's what you want."
"It is. But I'm not the same boy I was."
"You're wrong." Lex stepped closer and rested his hand on Clark's chest. "You're still Clark Kent. You're all that's good and pure and true, and sometimes I did hate you for that, because you're everything I ever wanted to be but wasn't."
"You're Lex," Clark said, covering Lex's hands with his. "You're Lex, and that's the only thing that matters to me."
-- the end --