Lex was not surprised when he came. All these years, all that had come between them, and there was still a knock on his office door only an hour after he had picked up the phone.
Having dismissed Miguel for the night, Lex answered personally. "Mr. Kent. Come in."
"Mr. Luthor," Kent replied, stiffly, but he followed Lex inside, waited until he had been seated to ask, "What's this about?"
"Do you want anything to drink? No? Not even water?"
"Mr. Luthor, it's past midnight—"
"Yes, and I'm sure you and Ms Lane have a busy day tomorrow. This won't take long. I have something I want you to see."
He took the box from the drawer and set it on the table, waited while Kent scrutinized it, and then drew back a fraction of an inch, broad shoulders stiffening. His eyes raised to Lex's face and there might have been fear there, or caution, or maybe just confusion. "What is this, Luthor?"
"It's a gift. Something to bring back memories of home. You remember where we met, Kent? That bridge in Smallville? I found this only half a mile away. What, you don't even want a look?"
Kent stood, but Lex had already reached over and raised the lid of the lead-lined box. He watched the reporter's face, pale in the green light. "One of the meteor rocks," Kent said, lightly. He had learned how to lie well, somewhere over the years. "You should be careful with those. Radioactive, you know."
"It's officially been named 'kryptonite'. And as Ms Sullivan's theory was never proved, there's only one individual on this planet who has been absolutely shown to have a negative reaction to it." He locked eyes with Kent.
And Clark didn't retreat another step. Only took off his useless glasses, met his eyes and said, with all that guileless farmboy honesty, "I'm sorry, Lex."
As if he knew that was the one thing that would push him over the edge, those three words. Anything else he could have taken, anything else and he could have played it like they always did, heroes and villains, cosmic game of cops and robbers. But this was outside of the script, this appeal to a man who Clark knew was long gone. A pathetic attempt, as if he didn't believe that the real Lex Luthor existed.
That this Lex Luthor was the only one who had ever existed, really. He smiled. Even after all these years of city life...well, if he hadn't learned his lesson by now, it was too late. "I would accept the apology, but it doesn't mean much, coming from a dead man."
Or maybe he had picked up something after all, because Clark moved, almost too fast to see—the kryptonite must be slowing him, but not enough; Lex had no chance to dodge before he was slammed against the wall, hard enough to knock the air from his lungs, a broad hand wrapped around his throat. His eyes weren't green, as they had been under the warm Kansas sun; they were steel blue now, sharp and piercing in his hero's face. Lex felt him tremble through the fingers around his neck, not from the kryptonite but the effort of reigning in his giant's strength, and his grip was still tight enough Lex could barely breathe.
This wasn't in the script, either; too soon, too sudden; it was supposed to come after he jeopardized the city, after he threatened Kent's family, his friends. After he had proved himself undeniably to be not just antagonist but enemy.
But perhaps this was all it came down to in the end, the two of them, no games, no exercises, just two poles, positive and negative, matter and antimatter and the only result of their interaction could be annihilation. And maybe this was why Clark had avoided confrontation, because he had known, and had shied away from the consequences.
His vision was going dark, black flashing paradoxically bright, and he hung limp in the alien hand. Struggling for breath, he choked, "Do it. That's why you're here."
The iron hold tightened fractionally, and the face before him leaned close. "I hate you," Clark whispered, and the words were warm poison against his cheeks. "I hate that you make me feel this. I could end this now—but I'm not you."
And the grip loosened, enough for Lex to draw a breath. Enough that with his restored strength he could snake his hand under his jacket and draw the gun.
Clark let him go, staggering back with his eyes shocked. Lex felt a smile tauten his lips. "Lead barrel, but I guess you can feel what it's loaded with. Did you take me for a complete moron? Go up against Superman with a mere hunk of rock? The bullets are refined—but you could tell that already, I'm sure."
His skin was taking on the sickly hue of the stones, and the tendons of his neck stood out like cords. Lex raised the gun and he stumbled, his legs giving out under the deadly radiation. As he sank to his knees Lex stood over him, brought the pistol's muzzle to his forehead. He was shaking now in earnest, sweat pouring down his face. Gently Lex brushed the black locks of hair aside, traced a curve down the greening skin with the cold metal, and Clark shivered.
"I could blow your head off," murmured Lex. "But the villains never do right away, do they? I have to tell you my plans first. My plots. My bold ambitions." He wound his fingers through the thick hair, feather-soft and resilient as wire, then yanked back his head to bare the tanned column of throat. Clark fought, but with a kitten's strength, helpless, his Adam's apple bobbing.
"What should I tell you?" Lex mused. "How long I've collected data? How long I've correlated observation, calculated possibilities?" He nodded toward the laptop on the desk. "Even after I put everything together, I halfway didn't believe it. Even when I called you tonight. Such a huge coincidence, isn't it, that we could come so far together, without even knowing it? I made you, Superman. Would you have been so determined to be the hero if the villain hadn't been me, I wonder?
"Of course you couldn't kill me, Clark. You're defined by your goodness. Your purity. Your hands must stay clean. But would I be me if I had no blood on mine? Everything you are stopped you—everything I am demands I follow through. You should have taken your chance while you had it."
"Yes," Clark said, faintly. Just kneeling was an effort under the kryptonite's effect; he swayed, his eyes glassy. "But...I couldn't. Wouldn't. You...Lex..."
"I know," Lex said, and leaned down, pressed his mouth to Clark's, forcing his tongue past the closed lips. Clark moaned and he dug the pistol into his temple, held him fast by the hair while he explored every denied crevice. When at last he pulled back, Clark gasped, frantically drawing air through his contorted throat.
"Even the villain gives a dying man his last wish," Lex told him. "I knew all about your puppy-crush...aren't you glad I never returned it? At least I spared you a head-on confrontation with that particular perversion." He stroked his cheek with the gun barrel. "But you're long over that now, aren't you? Found a nice Earth girl to settle down with. I bet by now you've realized it was my fault—since I'm so talented at inspiring corruption. The root of all evil, right? But you were too strong for me."
The gasping had become words. A word. "Lex," he panted, "Lex, please..." There was vulnerability in his entreaty, desperation, and Lex was harder than he had been in years, with those wide eyes staring up at him from the chiseled, inhumanly perfect features.
"It's not heroic to beg," he reminded his foe, and Clark moaned again.
"Not my life," he said, almost inaudibly. "Not...for my life. For...you. For..."
"Show me," Lex said. "You want to show me how you feel? Prove it." He released his grip on his hair, and Clark tipped forward, caught himself barely, his head posed almost to rest against Lex's stomach. Reaching down, Lex fumbled with his belt, undid the clasp and pulled down the zipper. "Show me it isn't personal. Show me you aren't a hero—that you're just a man. That you'll do what it takes it survive, like any man."
He watched the fire flare in the blue eyes, and slowly die down, and at last Clark nodded, weakly. Lex drew back the pistol, and Clark inhaled, some natural color returning to his flesh through the pulsing green. For a moment he knelt in silence with his eyes closed. Before Lex could speak a rejoinder, he opened them. They were bright with what might have been tears, of hatred or shame or pain; or maybe they were dry after all. He leaned forward and took Lex's erection into his mouth.
And then Lex could voice nothing at all, because this was nothing like he had imagined—nothing, and everything, every fantasy made substance, every wet dream come to life. The hero's mask must be a plastic fake, the golden boy only gilt, because there was no way Clark had never done this before—had not done this a hundred times. He knew all points, where to place each stroke, soft then hard, rough then smooth. He knew how to breathe on him, so lightly that Lex felt follicles tighten where there was no hair left to raise. And then even that sensation was lost in the greater flood, touch so exquisite he couldn't focus on its source.
His hands drifted down to trace the contours of the man beneath him. But there was a shudder, and softly a moan that was pain instead of pleasure. He felt the metal ridged and cold in his hand, and let it fall, to comb his fingers through the silky black waves and feel the other move against him in reaction to the caress.
It was harder to breathe than it had been in that strangling chokehold, and he couldn't see at all, neither colors nor shadows; couldn't hear or smell or taste, could only feel. It didn't end, though he thought he must have drowned by now; didn't stop until it exploded out, and spent, he lurched, might have fallen had his hand not found the desk corner.
Clark, still kneeling, brought a hand to his mouth, long fingers just touching his swollen lips, and he swallowed, deliberately, his eyes on Lex. Gracefully he stood, and only then Lex realized he had lost the gun—not lost it, dropped it, as moronic as any Kansas farmboy. He threw himself backwards, grabbing for the lead box on his blotter.
Then Clark was on him, forcing him to the desktop, locking his lips over Lex's, the box wedged between them, still open. The chunk of kryptonite pressed against his stomach and he grunted, falling back, breaking the kiss.
"No," said Lex, not sure at first who he was addressing, not understanding until he saw his hands of their own volition close the box, latch its lid and throw it aside. It landed on the carpet by the door with a dull thump. He had a mere instant to hesitate before all caution was lost, and he had wrapped his arms around the broad torso, running his hands over the shifting planes of his back. Clark's lips were on his neck, fire and water, nibbling with a delicacy Lex couldn't comprehend, feeling the power in the arms imprisoning him. The control he had, to not shatter him in that embrace...how many humans must he have held, to learn his limits so precisely.
A hardness dug urgently into his thigh, and he slipped one hand down, squeezed through the khakis—not gently, with all his strength, but there was only a little give. "Man of Steel?" he snorted, and Clark chuckled, his face buried in his shoulder.
Lex felt himself lifted, but this time he was not shoved against the wall; instead they both tumbled onto the broad couch. Comfortable, as he had ordered it, since he used it more than the bed in his penthouse, and not just for sleeping. The springs sank under them, silently, and he let one arm drop and groped blindly in the drawer underneath. Clark paused in his exploration of Lex's chest—his shirt was only silk ribbons by now—and Lex said, "Don't worry," showing him the tube he had sought.
"And it's not kryptonite-laced?" Clark whispered into his ear, but his tone was teasing, not suspicious, and Lex had to stop himself from laughing, for concern it might become hysterical. None of this was as it should be; this was not the hero, nor the innocent boy he had almost thought he loved, more than a lifetime ago. He had summoned a demon, an incubus who petted and fondled and knew every spot on his body to make him catch his breath. He had had the best whores in the country, but none of them had one tenth this skill. Vaguely he wondered if it were a unique power, or if it were related to the other superhuman abilities, perhaps a combination of x-ray vision and—Clark touched him there and his train of thought was derailed.
And when Clark's slicked fingers slid in, two, then three, he knew just how to do that, too, not so gently that there wasn't any pain, not stopping when Lex hissed, but slowing. When he was ready—and he knew that as perfectly as he knew the rest, not so much as a nod needed for affirmation—he positioned himself and thrust, and Lex was lost in the white-hot rhythm. How often had he done this, to be so assured—insanely, Lex was jealous, kryptonite-green with envy for whoever had experienced this, when it could have been all his, should have, if only they had been anyone else than who they were. And had Clark ever imagined his face, his body, as he had imagined his enemy in place of the lovers in his bed, too many times?
Afterwards, as they lay sated and entangled in one another, he said, with more honesty than he should have been able to muster, "You know this won't change anything."
Clark raised his head from where it had nestled against his shoulder. His eyes were green, or maybe it was just the halogen's golden glow. "Nothing," Lex said, and kissed him, his tongue surely finding Clark's, wrestling playfully, as matched as if they had kissed a thousand times. "Tomorrow," he said, and his fingers playing on Clark's stomach knew how to draw a gasp from him, with just one hard stroke down the cleft of his sculpted abdomen—the erogenous zones were not quite a human's, but he had always been a fast learner. "By sunrise I'll have come up with a dozen ways to use this against you. What I know. Everything. By sunset I'll have put at least three scenarios into motion."
"I know." Clark sounded immensely weary.
"I have the advantage now. Knowing your secret. I will use it. You were smart to keep it from me, Clark."
"I know," he said again, but the hero's face didn't look upset, perturbed, as it should be, or concerned. Only sad, and the grief was as mighty as everything else in him.
And Lex understood. "You can take that advantage away."
"Yes." He had Lex in his arms again, a steel cage as soft as velvet, safe as a womb. "It won't hurt. And I swear I won't touch anything else in your mind. But you won't know this anymore."
Lex might have fought, might have argued. But it was inevitable, really. The only other possible conclusion, to unmake the last hours, so their story could continue. "I have one request." The condemned's last wish. "Take it all. Everything of tonight. So I won't remember my..."
"...your weakness," Clark said, barely a whisper.
"All right." But he didn't, not yet, instead dropped his head again to nuzzle under his chin, and Lex twisted to grab the nape of his neck, and thrust against him, hard.
When at last Lex raised his head again, he saw, through the window blinds, pink clouds shot through the grey sky. Clark sat up with him. He studied the signs of the approaching dawn; then his gaze went to the laptop, closed on the desk, and his brow lowered in a fierce, focused glare. The computer's case popped open with a burst of sparks.
Lex, watching impassively, asked with false nonchalance, "Is there anything you can't do?"
"I don't know," Clark said honestly. "I haven't tried everything yet." He took Lex's face in his broad hands, careful as a man lifting an eggshell. Lex saw sorrow in the calm eyes, and oblivion.
He sat still, did not try to escape, did not even try to talk his way out of it, and hated the part of him that trusted Clark even after all the lies, and all the truths. His weakness, that unexcisable piece of his heart which said that any price was worth these hands on his skin. Even this sacrifice—his very life, for what was he but the sum of his experiences; after all, where did his strength truly reside, but in his mind, his knowledge.
But what he had learned once, surely he could discover again...
That was when he realized that his laptop had only held his most recent inferences, and most of the data that led him to the discovery was safely stored elsewhere. No matter how many relevant details might be excised from his memory, the hard copies still existed. Clark knew he was a scientist, in spirit if not in practice; Clark had to know that he had recorded all his evidence, and would soon enough follow this exact chain of logic again, unknowingly retrace his steps to the same conclusion.
A conclusion, which, truth be told, he should have reached months before—years before, if he hadn't been so blind, so atypically oblivious...
Which he had reached, he realized, with sudden, vivid comprehension.
How many times, he nearly demanded. How many times have I deduced the truth, how many times have you taken it from me...how many times have we...
He didn't. Instead he met those blue eyes and asked, plainly, "Why?"
The hero neither smiled nor looked away. "It's my weakness," he said, and then they kissed, and as the sun rose, the blue washed the night away.