They had lost their playoff spot weeks earlier, so when they lost the last game of the season, all the press was looking for from the Sugargliders was a few self-deprecating quotes and an announcement of the first team tee time.
Clark hung in the back of the media scrum. He scribbled a few quotes in his notebook, but he didn't want to write that story. He had a profile on the returning coach to work on, and a piece on their top scoring line that needed to be in tomorrow's paper. He would keep the 'Gliders in the Daily Planet long after the rest of Kansas had forgotten about the playoffs.
Avoiding Lex when he was half-naked was important, too. Lex kept staring at him, Clark kept sneaking glances, and when the cameras moved on to number 24, he got left behind.
"Yo, Kent." Clark spun around, glancing around and pretending for the crowd that he didn't know exactly whose voice that was. "You've been avoiding me," Lex said, leading Clark around a corner on the way to the showers. He held a clean white t-shirt in his hand, and pulled it on over his head. It made Clark feel a little safer.
"I'm not avoiding you, Luthor." Clark played with the name on his tongue, to Lex's apparent delight. "I'm working. You're not the only one on this team."
"I am when you're up there watching me." Lex leaned in, just a bit, setting Clark off balance and reaching for the wall behind him. "Did you see my last shot? Damn, I should have had that goal. Fucking Cloutier."
"He's good," Clark nodded.
"I know. Bastard. They won't win the Cup, though. Second round knock out."
Smiling, Clark corrected him. "Wrong sport."
From across the room, Clark's ears picked up a soundbite: "We're not afraid to smack them around a little for the cameras," in the coach's familiar boom. He reached for the pen in his shirt pocket, but was stopped by a fleeting touch of Lex's hand on his arm.
"You know, I do this thing every year. I drink some beer, burn some steak, and then sit down to trash the first game of the playoffs on TV."
"It'd be a lot more fun if I had someone to make out with during commercials."
Clark pushed away from the wall and into Lex's space when John MacDonald (number 22, right wing) walked out of the shower to remind them where they were.
"Jesus, Luthor, you angling for a front page story?"
"Hey, Mac, why don't I tell the Daily Planet the story about the caddy and your flying putter?"
The Sugargliders weren't afraid to smack each other around for the cameras, either.
Lex's house was too big for a man who lived alone. There were three cars in the driveway, probably more in the closed garage. The Land Rover looked like it could be Lex's, but the Benz didn't feel right. It didn't look right parked next to Clark's Volvo, either. He grabbed the beer from the passenger seat - something with a funny name and a bee on the bottle. The guy at the store thought it would impress Clark's date.
He had decided to go casual tonight (jeans, t-shirt, denim jacket), leaving the tweed at home. Somehow, Clark still felt like a dork standing on Lex's front doorstep. And the beer made him feel unbearably gay, but Lex knew that already. He knocked. Far away, there was yelling, barking, then the door was flung open.
"Clark Kent, Daily Planet," Broussard announced, to the dog, probably, whom he was valiantly holding back.
Howie, panting at Clark's shoes, was Lex's best friend, but Gaetan Broussard (number 4, goal) was the close second. Apparently, tonight, he was also the doorman. Clark glanced sheepishly at the honey brown ale in his hands, but he knew that wasn't the source of Broussard's grin. Lex must have said something.
"Gaetan. Call me Gat." They shook. "He's waiting for you outside."
Lex had said a lot of somethings.
It was okay that Broussard knew. He and Lex had been friends since school in Montreal. Lex was the reason Broussard had chosen Metropolis after his contract with Florida had run out last year. It was the other players milling around Lex's backyard that had Clark a little worried.
MacDonald was digging for beer in a plastic tub. Baxter (number 8, defence) and Kaakaampaa (number 28, center) were playing two-on-two against Regevig (number 35, back-up goal) and Pederson (number 9, right wing) on the tiny basketball court. Baxter and Kaakaampaa were playing skins. It distraction enough for Clark, but not for the shirts. They preferred the heckle tactic, and their cries of "Kaka! Kaka!" were drowning out the Stones on the radio.
Battalier (number 16, defence) was waving his hands around, performing a joke for Motuzzi (number 11, right wing) and Archibald (number 6, center). Something about a woman, a squirrel, and a rabbi, but Clark couldn't follow. And in the middle of everything, standing at the barbecue and calling out the play-by-play, was Lex.
The sudden onslaught of people had Clark shrinking back into the house, just as Howie ran past him on the way out. Clark got turned around, stepped on an errant cord, and pulled a hideous lamp to the floor with a crash. At the same moment, the song decided to end. The party stopped.
"Good job, Kent." Broussard clapped a hand on his shoulder. "I bet you are un tigre on the court."
He bounded down the stairs, holding his arms high. "I got the next game," he shouted. Baxter turned to the noise, missing a pass, and they all had to endure Pederson's victory lap before the game could continue.
"Hey, Clark!" Lex waved his tongs to get his attention, then smiled to get him moving. Clark set the six pack on the picnic table, and stepped up to Lex at the barbecue, as close as Howie would allow
"Hey. Sorry about the..." He gestured back to the house, but Lex shook his head.
"It's no big deal. I warned the house you were coming."
They'd been enjoying this flirting for weeks now. It was a dance Clark had never mastered; Lex was better, even on skates.
"Besides, I've been looking for a guilt-free way to get rid of that thing since Helen moved out."
Clark missed a beat at Helen's name. He remembered the pictures in the Inquisitor. The two of them together at whatever event Lex's publicist had sent him, too. The 'Gliders were a photogenic team, and they ended up on the gossip pages more often than on the sports.
Lex bumped Clark's shoulder. "I'm sorry about the guys. They just kind of showed up."
Clark leaned in a little further. He wondered what the caption would read.
"I'd introduce you," Lex said, "but you already know their names, height, weight, and shooting percentages."
The basketball game had wrapped up, and most of the players had migrated over to the court. They stood in a close knit group, laughing. Clark knew everything about them but their language. He cleared his throat.
"Um, I brought beer." He pointed back to the picnic table.
"Yeah?" Lex craned his neck around to scope the package. "You don't actually drink beer, do you?"
"Well, no," Clark admitted. Lex was smiling. "But the guy told me this was the best of the new microbreweries."
"Gatti! Hey, Gat!" Lex yelled across the backyard, waving his tongs until Broussard turned around. "Take the range, dude."
Broussard jogged back over to the barbecue, taking the tongs from Lex, and giving them a little twirl. "Your meat is in very capable hands, mon ami."
"I don't hand my tongs over to just anyone, you know."
He knelt down to rub Howie behind the ears. "Go play with the boys. And be good." Howie trotted off to the court, while Lex headed back to the house. He turned back when Clark didn't follow. "C'mon. We'll get you something fruity to drink."
Walking through the house, a few steps behind Lex, Clark had the chance to take a closer look. Most of the rooms were only sparsely furnished, even four years after Lex had been traded and moved back to Metropolis. There was a framed map of the city on the wall, a Les Boys movie poster next to it. A mismatched and ragged group of furniture was arranged around the big screen TV in the living room. The recliner was set back, the footrest locked in its permanent upright position.
"Nice house," Clark said. It was the polite thing to say, but mostly Clark just knew it would make Lex laugh.
"Just a place to hang my skates."
The kitchen looked too clean, like just yesterday there might have been a pile of dishes in the sink. Lex pulled a fancy tall glass from the cupboard, a couple of bottles from the sideboard, and a number of weird coloured juices from the fridge. Clark's eyes went wide, so Lex pulled out a barstool and set him down.
"You don't drink at all, do you?" he laughed.
"Wine, sometimes, at dinners. I just never liked the taste."
"Okay, you'll like this. It's called a Sea Breeze. A little bit of vodka and a lot of juice."
Clark sat at the counter, watching Lex build his drink. Through the open kitchen window, he could hear the basketball game continue.
"What did you tell them about me?"
"That you could kick all our asses at sports trivia."
"Here." He set the glass in front of Clark. "Try it."
Clark sipped, not getting a chance to turn away before he made a face. Lex enjoyed that.
"Is that the too much vodka or the too much grapefruit face?" He pulled the glass from Clark's hand, but, instead of lifting it to drink, he set it back on the counter. "Let me taste."
Lex wrapped his hand around Clark's neck, pressing a thumb on his neck as Clark's heart beat faster. He kissed him, leaning down over Clark and pushing him back into the counter. There couldn't be much Sea Breeze left in Clark's mouth, but Lex's tongue searched until he had tasted it all. And then he tasted Clark. His heart showed no sign of slowing down, and by the time Lex pulled away, Clark was panting, too.
"You didn't tell them about us, did you?"
Lex shook his head, then bent down again to suck on Clark's neck.
"I mean..." Clark sputtered the words a little. Lex's tongue and the image of the two of them in the tabloids was just a bit much. "It's not really the best thing for the team, is it?"
"Is that what you think?" Lex pulled back just far enough to look at Clark, leaving a hand tight on his hip. Clark tapped his fingers on the glass. "Yeah. Me, too. For now, anyways."
Clark picked up his drink, taking a gulp this time. He didn't hide the face at all, playing it up even, for Lex's benefit.
"Yo, Lex!" someone yelled from outside. "Your steak's burning!"
He laughed, and pulled Clark up off the stool. Pressed up close in the small space of the kitchen, Lex leaned into Clark's ear and said, "We should get back out there. The game's starting soon."
"Let's go." Clark wanted to hold his hand, but he let go when they stepped out the door.
Archie's wife called barely two minutes into the first period. She timed it perfectly with the Oilers' first almost-goal, and Arch had to explain to his wife that the collective groan had nothing to do with her.
Baxter was next. He jumped up during a commercial break in the second intermission, suddenly remembering a girl he was supposed to meet. "Night, suckers," he crowed, then left.
Mo gave up on the game with thirteen minutes left, when it became clear that Colorado didn't have anything hidden up their sleeves. It wasn't fun when they didn't even try. The Finns didn't last much longer.
Gat left when the game was over. He shook Clark's hand and told him that he was always welcome in the 'Gliders locker room. Lex walked him to the door, and Clark could hear them talking quietly. He turned up the TV so he wouldn't be tempted to listen.
He stretched out a little into the space finally cleared up on the couch. Lex had taken the La-Z-Boy, of course, and Howie sat obediently beside him, stretching up for scratches, and making rounds for the odd chip crumb or popcorn kernel. Clark had been cramped on the couch, first with the Finns, and now Mac, who was telling him a story about Tijuana. He was halfway drunk, and missed the frantic looks Clark sent Lex's way when he returned. Lex just shook his head, beckoning Howie over for a rub.
"You ever done body shots, Kent. I mean, not you, but, you know, off a girl. Everything tastes better when you suck it out of a girl's belly button."
"All right, Mac." Lex spoke up. "Game's over. Time for me to call you a cab."
"Kent here can drive me. He's been a good boy, haven't you?"
Lex stood behind the couch, slipping an arm between the two men. "Mac. I'm calling you a cab."
"Did we win, Tiger?" Mac's head flopped back against the couch, eyes sliding closed.
"Not this time, Champ."
Clark followed Lex into the kitchen, Howie close on his heels. "Maybe you should just let him stay, sleep it off, Lex. The guy'll be passed out before the cab gets here."
"I was thinking," Lex's hand reached out for Clark's as he spoke, "that maybe you should be the one to stay."
The TV was still on, and when Clark glanced back, MacDonald had fallen down on the couch. Wrapping an arm around his waist, Lex pulled him close. He leaned in, breathing warmly on Clark's neck.
"What can I do to make that happen?"
"You could do that some more."
Clark didn't stay that night. He helped Lex get MacDonald settled in the guestroom, and waited at the front hall while Lex put Howie in the basement. They kissed against the door, Lex's hand sliding underneath his t-shirt and pulling deep moans from Clark's throat. They were going to wake Mac, or even worse, Howie. Clark got his hand on the knob, and opened the door, twisting himself away from Lex.
"Hey," Lex said, just before Clark was out the door. "Next time? We do something you like to do."
Next time, Clark would stay.