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Standing in the Common Spaces

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Peter's always felt that New York was a part of him.

Could use the theories from psych class to explain, but he's never bothered. He knows. Spiderman couldn't be anywhere else, couldn't feel it the way he feels the city around him. The history that's almost palpable, filling every breath, trembling on the edges of every nerve like something living. Huge buildings, big as time itself behind them, alive with people. He knows how many; sometimes, he even thinks he's seen them all now, faces and names blurring into memory after memory of night patrols and too-little sleep.

Huge, he thinks. New York, beautiful and heavy, like everything it is fills every breath.

Metropolis, though--there's something about the sharp edges that makes his teeth ache, like biting down on tinfoil. Shiny-bright, brilliant under the sky it shares with New York, but it feels--so different. Glass and chrome and all the modern world crushed into this finite space, and he turns in a slow circle, bag slipping off his shoulder as he looks through the airport windows.

Downtown, LexCorp glows yellow-white in the coming dusk, the ultimate symbol of the differences between the two cities.

"Mr. Parker?"

He doesn't mean to jerk around--no tingle of worry, this isn't a threat, but he's gotten used to sensing people long before he sees them.

Metropolis is this, too. Alien in a way New York can never be.

A suited man waits, hands loose at his side. He's used to people with tight nerves, maybe, no expression on his face. Lawyer, Peter thinks irrelevantly, taking in the tailored suit, as sharp and immaculate as the city outside.


"Jason Sands. I've been assigned as your driver."

Harry never bothered. Too close of a friend, maybe, to think of anything but picking him up himself. Peter nods slowly, pulling his camera bag back over his shoulder, and the man turns with something that's almost a bow, but--not quite.

"Your luggage will be delivered, sir. Please come with me."

Not-New York again. New York belongs to no one.

Metropolis belongs to Lex Luthor.

They go to LexCorp Plaza--somehow, Peter doesn't expect that, and the security guard clips the ID on the lapel of his plain dress shirt with barely a glance. His picture's on it, and Peter takes a moment to wonder about that before following Jason to an elevator half-hidden behind huge potted plants--lemon trees, he thinks, glancing up at the skylight above that can't possibly let in enough sun to nourish them. The smell's sharp and bright, like the city, like the building. Not quite enough to cover the scent of filtered air, though, and the elevator closes around him with a finality that makes him shiver again.

Nice, anyhow, paneled light wood, elegant and old fashioned like the fifties movie theatre he goes to near home. His hearing lets him listen to the sound of every gear moving to pull them up, and he notices Jason slide a card unobtrusively into a slot in the control panel, typing in a quick set of codes that even Peter's sight can't quite differentiate. Possibly deliberate, that. He wouldn't be surprised if the codes here were changed twice a day.

Maybe more. He thinks he knows the man well enough to guess.

They open on a lobby--done in the same bright, almost summer colors, tan and pale wood, huge windows letting in the last of the sunlight from the orange-pink dusk that stains the floor like watered blood wherever they walk. The--secretary? Personal assistant?--stands up, pushing a button.

"You can go in, Mr. Parker." Her smile's a meaningless stretch of red plastic lips. Manicured fingers lay quiet against the desk, and for some reason, it's that taste again, unpleasant, metal-sharp.

Jason stops at the desk, and Peter looks at the plain wood door only a few feet away. Cool grey carpet hisses jarringly under the soles of his cheap shoes, and he feels more out-of-place than he ever did with Harry. Maybe less to do with wealth than with the assumption of it--or no, the attitude of it.

Shaking his head, he gives them both a smile and forces his feet to move. Three steps to one step, and he's opening the door, going inside and looking at a man he hasn't seen in ten years.

"Have a good flight?"

The voice is the same--low, almost lilting on every word, like Peter's listening to how honey looks when it's poured onto bare skin. There's a tingle that has nothing to do with powers, and he shuts the door with an unnecessarily loud click, wincing at how the sound echoes in the quiet room.

The man standing behind the desk doesn't smile, but he doesn't need to. Amusement's as heavy in the air as the tang of lemon even here, the sharp metal, the feeling. Peter doesn't move--maybe doesn't breathe--when every instinct that he's ever trusted tells him to run.

All the instincts but one. It's that one that lets him cross the miles of space between them, lowering himself into a chair and stare over the polished glass and ebony of that desk and smile.

"Yes, thank you." First class, a brand new experience for Peter. He worries his wedding ring until he realizes that glass doesn't hide a lot of sins, then clasps his hands together. "You have a job for me, Mr. Luthor?"

And Lex--smiles. Not like the woman outside the door, who's like smoked glass, nothing reflected, nothing visible, but real, sunlight spilling through for just a minute, and Peter catches his breath because he remembers the first time he ever saw this. How two men are inside that slim body and he knows only one of them. He can pretend, anyway, forcing relaxation into the warm leather and smiling back.

"I do."

It's strange, that days and decades can peel away this easily. Still exquisitely tailored armor of wool and silk, pale lavender shirt on solid black, no relief in sight from the sense of immense power. Peter could feel it like heat on their first meeting, can feel now. Wrapped around him like his personal space, but more so. Blue eyes as clear as the lake in Central Park during the height of spring when it's nothing but a brilliant blue mirror, reflecting everything that glides across its surface.

"Pictures." Lex slides a folder across the desk, fingers withdrawing seconds before Peter can think to reach, and he takes it the rest of the way, flipping it open as he studies the contents. A variety of photographs--professional and amateur, some obviously newspaper quality, others probably with no more than a disposable camera at the right place and the right time.

"Superman." When he looks up, Lex simply nods. Peter gestures at the pictures. "Superman isn't hard to catch on film, Mr. Luthor."

The long fingers steeple together on the glass before Lex leans back, staring briefly out the window.

"Neither is Spiderman, in your hands." The barest trace of a lazy smile curves his mouth, but Lex doesn't look at him, letting him shift in relative peace. "You see things other people don't. I trust your skills are up to this job?"

Maybe. Peter's learned a lot about photography in a decade. Nodding to himself, he flips through the papers and pictures of Superman, coming to a slow and almost painful stop at the last ones, and his fingers hesitate over the glossy black and whites that he knows don't exist outside....

"Hobgoblin," he says slowly. Art-class, someone with an eye for light and shading. Deliberate choice of medium--there's an ultraclarity that's almost painful, like living in a black and white film. "Where did you--"

"Private collector," Lex answers. Peter feels himself flush at Lex's raised eyebrows. "You'd be surprised what enough persuasion will gain you, Mr. Parker. These are stunning."


They are. Instinct and training, created inch by painful inch in a basement lab with the most expensive chemicals, the perfect equipment. Everything's about computers and digital photography now, and Peter uses them as much as the next photographer, but they lack the intimacy of hands that know what they're doing, coaxing something more out that mere images.

A few of Mary Jane lie below, ones Lex Luthor shouldn't even know exist. Peter flushes at the sight of his wife before sliding the folder closed. Offense isn't quite possible, not presented in this cool, matter-of-fact way. Lex is nothing right now if not a businessman through and through.

"I'll need access to a lab." Peter swallows, glancing briefly out the window, wondering what Lex is looking for in the coming night.

"You'll have everything you require." The eyes fix back on him again--opaque blue and expressionless, like something is trying to fight its way out even now. "Is two weeks enough time?"

"Yeah." It should be.

"The last page is the price you quoted to me," Lex says carefully, and Peter forces himself to open the folder again, flip through Superman, Hobgoblin and Mary Jane, finding the single sheet of paper. He breathes out at the number. "As you can see, I adjusted the original sum somewhat."

Yes, he did. Peter nods slowly, letting out a careful breath. Mary Jane would never believe it. Never. Thought after random thought chase one another through his head--a new car, maybe a better apartment, a vacation in the Caribbean--MJ had always wanted to see the ocean there. Stretched out on warm towel, soft and sweet, golden skin and red hair on white sand.

Refusing may not have been much of an option before, but it isn't one at all now.

"All right." He forces the folder closed before he does something stupid, like touch that simple sheet of paper. "How many?"

"Five to fulfill the contract. As many others as time permits, with a bonus per picture as stated." Lex looks at him for an endless second--there's something going on behind those eyes, something that Peter wants to explore badly. "There's an apartment on tenth street for you, and the lab has already been installed. Whatever supplies you require, Jason is your liaison. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

It's a dismissal. The Lex he remembers wouldn't have let that show, would have phrased it better, but Peter can't finger what's changed, or really, what hasn't. Nodding slowly, he stands up, wondering if he should shake hands, but no.

Lex isn't that type of employer.

"I'll expect daily reports," Lex says, and Peter feels the smile tugging at his lips.

"I wouldn't expect anything less, Mr. Luthor."

"Harry, you won't believe--"

Peter skids to a stop in their apartment's foyer, shocked to silence by the slim figure swallowing the center of the room. Like everything's dark around him, and Peter's spider-sense is on, vicious and awake, whispering something vaguely at the back of his head that's not the danger he's used to feeling.

Something else entirely, and Harry's a shadow that makes the introductions.

"--Lex Luthor, CEO of LexCorp."

Blue eyes, pale skin. All shaded in extremes, hard blacks and crisp whites. Peter feels his hand taken in a firm grasp--callused edges, not like Harry, hard fingers pressing just enough, then pulling away.

"Hi." It's, God, so embarrassing, and he realizes he's still holding his camera back against his chest like a stuffed animal in bed. Quickly, he drops it on the couch, turning around to see Harry extend a glass of--brandy?--to him.

He doesn't drink usually, but this is the exception that proves the rule. His hand closes over the cut crystal and he takes a drink, feeling the slow burn in his throat. Alcohol rarely does anything for him anymore--not that he's tested that hard. Just imagining Aunt May's face if she knew he was drinking is usually enough to kill even the temptation, and then there's Mary Jane....

"So. Um." Words. Small talk. He's not good at this, never has been. Another drink to cover for it, and he can see Harry's grinning, and God, that's good to see. So good. Mr. Luthor is looking between them with a curve of his mouth, like he's thinking some private joke he doesn't ever want to share. "What brings you to the city, Mr. Luthor?"

"Lex." A hint of white, white teeth, before he finishes his own drink, putting the glass aside. "Harry asked, actually." A glance from the corners of very blue eyes, another flicker of secret-joke, then the man shrugs carelessly. "I have some contracts with Oscorp pending and it seemed--wiser--to handle it personally here."

Right, all that lack of an Oscorp board thing, and the replacements are morons, according to Harry. Nodding, Pete feels himself beginning to shift--Luthor is looking at him again. Open, curious, with something lurking on the edges that makes Peter ultra aware of his uniform underneath his clothes for some reason he can't entirely explain.

The ring of the phone breaks everything--Harry jerks, and Peter sees the disappearing traces of a frown as Harry turns away, almost tripping over a coffee table on his way to grab his cellphone from the couch. Fumbling it into one hand with a muttered curse, he pushes the button too hard--another cellphone with a short lifespan, Peter thinks with almost a sigh--before the remains of the frown disappear under the cool business face Peter would swear Harry's been working on in the mirror recently.

"Yeah, I can--no. No. Just. Now?" Nineteen and owner of one of the largest corporations in America. Peter takes another drink of his glass, using the moment Luthor watches Harry to take him in again. Still that shock--the word Pete doesn't quite have, though if he was pushed, he'd say he's felt it before.

When that weird sense he's got tingles and tells him something's not exactly wrong, but something's not completely right either. Luthor is watching Harry like a cat watches a mouse. Secretly and not without intent.

LexCorp--that name's familiar, though Peter can't quite figure out why or how. Something Harry's said, maybe, though Peter can't pin it down and won't bother even trying. He can ask later. Finishing off his glass in a rush, he turns to put it down on the table behind him just as Harry slams the phone into the couch.


"Lex, I'm sorry. I have--" Harry runs a hand absently through his hair--managing to do what a day of heavy humidity and some kind of physical intimacy with his girlfriend couldn't do, making a mess of the carefully arranged curls, and Peter tries not to laugh at the way it sticks up after in uneven tufts. "I'll be back in a few hours, Lex--"

"Just call me. You know my hotel." The look of predatory interest hasn't faded so much as been compartmentalized. Harry nods, looking for his coat frantically before Peter rescues it from under the end table and hands it over for Harry to stuff his cellphone in.

"Thanks, Pete. I'll see you later." Another hand through his hair--right, he should tell Harry how he looks, but it's just too funny for words, and Peter watches him go, door slamming behind him with a decidedly dramatic flourish. Even in temper tantrums, Harry likes to be noticeable.

Which leaves--Luthor. Here with him. Blinking, Peter turns around to see the man sink down comfortably on the couch, like he has no intention of doing anything else, and Peter picks up both their glasses, finding Harry's brandy on instinct, because he's not sure what else to do.

"So, um--" Small talk, right, like he knows anything about this.

"Harry tells me you're a freelance photographer for the Bugle."

Peter pours carefully, wondering how they got on that subject.

"The only person to get pictures of the--Spiderman?" The careful drawl in Lex's voice draws out the word, almost mocking. Curious? Turning around, Peter extends the glass mutely, wondering vaguely why he didn't make a run for his room when he had the chance.

How does one entertain CEO's anyway? And why should he have to?

"Yes." Not that his name is known for those pictures yet--Harry, apparently, has been paying more attention than Peter had suspected. He's not sure how he feels about that. "I mean--"

"Considering your age, that's quite an accomplishment. A sophomore at NYU?" The man on an old couch is almost mindbending--somehow managing to avoid even the appearance of creases, but utterly relaxed. "I'm impressed."

Peter can't help the flush of pride. Stupid. So very, very stupid.

"I got lucky." A lot, he doesn't say, but Luthor's eyebrow says it for him. Noticing things. Shifting onto a chair, Peter leans back, trying to copy that flawless sprawl. His body's just not made like that--doesn't relax like bones are just options. Even with the DNA changes. "Get lucky. Um. How do you know Harry?"

"Our fathers did business." There's a little tilt to his mouth that Peter can't quite define, interesting, and Peter files that away for later thought. "Also, summer camp. And the usual."

Right, the usual. Sometimes Peter forgets that Harry's--well, rich. Not just has money, but rich, and it's such a stupid thought, but there it is.

The silence--Peter thinks it should be uncomfortable, but it isn't quite. CEO at twenty-two--there we go, Lex Luthor, Lionel Luthor of LuthorCorp's son, and Peter sips at his drink and tries to pull up the rest. Something about a little town in Kansas and some scandal, but Peter's feeling lucky he remembers this much.

"How long are you planning to stay?" Peter asks, more because the brandy's running low in his glass and he doesn't want to get up to refill it for something to do.

"Overnight," he answers easily, shifting slightly on the couch. "The contracts are complete--I just want to have my lawyers make sure everything's airtight." A pause. "This is my first time in New York since I was a kid."

Oh. Peter feels himself nodding along like an idiot and forces his head to stop. Luthor smiles at him--bright teeth, grin, really, not quite fitting with the immaculate suit. Rumpled, Peter thinks, and blinks his way out of the sudden curiosity whether Luthor has ever been rumpled in his life.

"So, Mr. Parker," and Peter blinks at the sharp formality of the address, "would you care to join me for dinner, since Harry's been called away?"

The apartment's nice--done in impersonal earth tones, almost like a hotel, frigid except for the laptop in the corner and the cellphone by the door. A short list of numbers is on the desk, and Peter picks it up as Jason pauses beside him.

"My pager and cell phone number are both listed," Jason says calmly. Peter nods, noting that Lex's cellphone and office numbers are listed as well. "I'm at your disposal at any time." Something is pressed into his hand, and Peter looks down to see car keys. "Mr. Luthor's arranged for you to have a car, but there's also a driver on call should you feel you need guidance in the city." Jason makes it plain he thinks Peter will, and Peter closes his hand over the cool metal, grinning a little.


"Will you be needing anything else?" Obviously, Jason's bored. Probably chauffeuring a freelance photographer around didn't show up in the recruitment speech when he joined LexCorp.

"Not now. I have my list--" Putting down his camera bag, Peter shuffles through it, finding the much-folded paper. "This is what I'll need by tonight. Can you--"

"It will be delivered in the hour."

Uh huh. Peter shifts, watching the man watching him. Curiosity, and no, Peter doesn't needed to be told this was a very private commission.

"Great. Then that's it." He never liked dealing with Harry's servants either. Jason nods, turning sharply on a heel and leaving with a kind of spooky quietness that sets Peter's teeth on edge again.

"The lab is through that door," Jason says pointing, as if Peter couldn't search an apartment on his own. "Good-bye."

Not hostile, but close. When the door closes, Peter allows himself a little laugh, leaning into the desk to look around.

He should call home soon, at least leave a message. Hearing MJ's voice on their answering machine isn't the same thing, never is, and he turns away from the cellphone, checking through the apartment more from generalized curiosity than anything. His luggage is already in the bedroom, and the door Jason pointed at must have been the second bedroom. New door--heavier gauge. Harder to open and close. Important when you're developing pictures.

Going inside, he flips on the main lights, grinning at the metal-shuttered window. No ambient light, good. Neat stacks of equipment--more than Peter has at his lab at home, really. Unorganized--good, someone didn't try to anticipate how he wants things done. Going through it, Peter marks off the list in his head. Someone familiar with the old fashioned art of this obviously was assigned to make sure he had everything he needed and some things he didn't. The spots for the chemicals are ready--and someone who knows his science training provided him with an excellent selection of everything he could possibly need for measuring.

Leaning into the table, Peter shuts his eyes as his fingers run over one basin. Lex, maybe--not Mr. Luthor, but Lex. He probably didn't do this personally, but Peter can imagine he might have. Someone who knows that the line between science and art is as unfocused as a shot through a lens.

Peter wonders what this has to do with Superman.

"You do develop them yourself?"

It's a nice restaurant--not too classy or above Peter's limited budget, thank God, just nice. Steak and some kind of winter vegetable mix, salad and the best rolls that Peter's ever had.

He could gorge on just those. He has been gorging on those for the last hour.

"Yeah." Peter finishes off the roll, taking a drink of water. "I--like how it feels." His chemistry teacher's been interested in his results, his photography professor, too. "To do it myself. Besides, I've corned the market on this. No reason to take chances."

"No, I see what you mean." Luthor is fascinated with the basics. A biochemistry major, Peter found out, which explains a lot. There's no need to dumb down the terminology, and the shorthand's so much easier with someone who knows. "You do excellent work."

"You study photography?" That doesn't fit.

"Twelve years of boarding school and an Ivy League education," is the dry answer. "There wasn't much of a way to escape exposure to the arts. Not that I have anything approaching expertise."

"It's interesting." More so than Peter had expected. This had been a way to get money. But he finds himself carrying his camera everywhere, catching single moments that hit him all anew, like something in him is waking up. A woman and her daughter in the park when it was raining--the woman's face turned up, smiling at the sky like it'd just granted her a prayer, her daughter wrapped around one leg.

That moment had pulled on something in Peter, and he'd snapped the picture before he'd known what he was doing.

"I imagine it is." There's something in his voice that draws Peter back to the table. A vivid, not completely understandable smile is curving his mouth. "We're going to have a hell of a time getting through that crowd."

Peter glances out the wide windows to the street below, then the crowd in the distance.

"This happens every year. Oscorp hosts it." Distant enough for Peter to see only the vague masses of people, and he wonders if the huge balloons have already been put away for the year. This restaurant has a great view--it's like being on patrol with dinner perks.

"I never knew people took the term dancing in the street literally," he answers, and the note in his voice makes Peter wonder. "In Smallville, they have the corn festival." The smile twists. "I suppose you can't imagine small town life."

"I can't imagine it," Peter agrees. "Or you in it." Which is--true. Lex is so cosmopolitan. The little Lex has said about Smallville--well, it most decidedly isn't. "I--you like it there?"

"No. Maybe." Luthor leans an elbow on the table, picking up his glass again. He's been drinking steadily through dinner, aperitif and wine with no real sign of intoxication. Peter might not drink, but he's watched Harry, been to the frat parties, driven home the people at them. Another little mark he makes in his mind, noting the perfectly steady hand that's lifting the glass again. "It's not what I expected."

This may qualify as one of the oddest dinners in Peter's life, and he's counting the one he had with that blind old woman on Richmond as Spiderman, when she made him sit down to dinner with her after rescuing her cat. Luthor hasn't done much more than pick. His too-thin fingers touch on everything but never settle long. When the waiter comes to take their plates away, Luthor looks at Peter. "Dessert?"

"No, thanks." He should make an excuse, go on patrol, but it's only dusk now, no need quite yet. Luthor nods, exchanging a few words with the waiter before standing up. Peter struggles to his feet. There's no actual exchange of money--Luthor signs something, saying something else, then smiles that smile, the blank one, the one that's like tasting a bruised lip, metal-clear.

Maybe patrol would be a good idea after all.

"You want to go to Times Square?" Peter says impulsively. The smile fades, replaced with thoughtful interest.

"Down there?" There's a world of dubious surprise, but not rejection in his voice, and Peter feels that focus snap on, like when he'd described photography. Like Lex is really listening to him.

"It's New York," Peter says with a grin as they get their coats. Outside, it's cooling fast. Luthor, cold-pale, seems carved out of ice even beneath the overcoat. "You can't come to the city and not see this."

It's a half mile walk, but there aren't any complaints or a call for a car. Luthor doesn't miss much, Peter thinks, watching the blue eyes always moving. The noise is almost overwhelming. Peter focuses away from it, feeling the itch of crowded spaces that has nothing to do with what he is and more to do with instinctive dislike of too many people. Automatically, his hands go for his camera--no Spiderman tonight, of course, but anything could happen.

"Even now," Luthor says as they come upon the edges, grinning at the way Peter has to pry his fingers from the camera.

"It's kind of addictive," Peter admits, though he's not feeling the connection yet. "Maybe it's more than money after all."

The music's a heavy beat felt in the balls of the feet, vibrating up tightly wound tendons and into the back of Peter's knees. He doesn't really mean to walk in rhythm, but he knows he's doing it and knows Luthor is too.

"Wow," Lex murmurs, and Peter grins, giving up and looking through the lens. A picture of the crowd--not bad. Jamieson will like it, even if he'll say he doesn't. He takes it and follows Luthor, who parts crowds like Moses at the Red Sea. Leather coated hands, Pete sees, one circling over the collar of his coat briefly before he looks up at the balloons overhead with a kind of calm wonder.

The hard beat echoes in the backs of his ears, thrumming hard. Peter sees Luthor press against his own ears, giving him a smile that's bright and brilliant. When his hands come down, the smile's still there, and Peter can't help the itch of his finger, the inner flick of connection. A moment, capture would be so easy, and then Luthor glances at the camera, and maybe that alone stops Peter from doing anything.

Waiting while Luthor eyes the proof that journalists are everywhere.

Peter lets the camera fall loose around his neck and shakes his head. The professional photographer, like Spiderman, is taking a night off.

Luthor smiles at him. Brilliant, bright, and more vivid, more real than the entirety of the crowd, and Peter blinks away the pseudo-sunspots from his eyes at that look. CEO stripped away, whatever had been coating him vanishing into thin air, like the man's playing hookie for the night, like Peter is.

Lex, his mind supplies, smiling back. It fits now.

They're so close to the music that Peter can taste it. Luthor--Lex reaches out, grabbing the strap of the camera bag and pulling Peter willingly behind him.

It's too bright. Temporary overhead lights make the night brilliant, so many people, and so many smells that make Peter's nose itch. This is another reason he hates crowds. But he lets himself be dragged, not sure why, until they're closer to the stage, and everyone's dancing around them, packed heat of bodies in a contained space. Peter's already sweating through his layers and vaguely regrets being dressed for duty as well as dinner.

New York from the ground, surrounding him. He's almost forgotten what it's like to be a part of the crowd, not apart from it.

And maybe the wine and liquor before and with dinner did affect him, maybe them both, because Lex is moving--maybe consciously, maybe not--but the pound of the music won't let either of them be still anyway. Rhythm's in the blood, Peter thinks vaguely, pushing the camera out of his way, shifting to watch the people.

Lex's hand on the strap gives up its hold--resting now, lightly against his chest, as if he's forgotten it's there at all. Peter hasn't. Through soft-looking leather and his own coat, his shirt, he can feel the heat of it, and a part of him wants to reach up and move it. But not remove, not give it up, and when Lex looks at him again, maybe it shows on his face.

So much does, he thinks. That's why he wears the mask.

A curl of fingers against his skin, a second that's split decision or maybe hesitation, and there's a moment where Peter thinks Lex will draw away. Then--movement, slide to his shoulder, wrapping around, and Peter--doesn't think. Lets this take over, here with someone as different as he is, even if he can't figure out why. Just two people in the middle of New York, and right, they're dancing, and maybe it's another score for superpowers that he doesn't have that adolescent awkwardness anymore unless he tries for it, works at it, and for Lex--

--for Lex, he doesn't want to be awkward.

The fit's perfect. There are inches of controlled space between them, wrapped in loud music and the energy of a crowd of perfectly normal people having one night of utter freedom. No Green Goblin tonight, no monster for Peter to fight, no responsibilities or power, just what's made here, now.

He can touch Lex, his fingertips burning over soft cashmere and wool, pushing beneath for the silk of his shirt, the heat of skin underneath. Lex's hand on the back of his neck, his fingers on Lex's waist. There's nothing else, but God, it's almost too much.

Lex is close enough to breathe, sweet sweat and some cologne like citrus in the summer, that first tart bite of an orange after peeling it, and lips only inches away.

Blue eyes go on forever and don't ask any questions when his fingers brush the uniform under Peter's shirt.

He uses the first night to study the city.

Metropolis has dark spots, like Suicide Alley, where he stops a robbery in progress. Nothing challenging. Metropolis is Superman's home city, the other side of the coin.

And maybe, just maybe, he's not alone tonight.

A quick turn, and the hovering shape overhead seems to blur for a moment. Strange, vision bending, and Peter squints briefly, trying to fix the sight in place. Then--a slow, controlled drop, and something blue-red and huge is taking up the space of the alley.

Ah, Superman.

"A little out of your way, aren't you, Spiderman?" Like Lex, no flat edge of Midwestern in his voice, cultured undertones with the lightest trace of a drawl on every vowel. Nothing casual--too intense, too focused, even for Peter.

So much power, drawn inside and banked by choice. Peter's never felt anything from Superman--maybe it's the lack of humanity that does it, but Peter's always thought it really had nothing to do with alien origin or alien thought. It was just--him.

"There's no law against it." Actually, there might be. Vigilante laws are on the books in Metropolis, though unenforced. Pushing himself up from his crouch, Peter cocks his head, considering the figure in front of him.

"Enjoying the city?" There isn't an etiquette book for superhero meetings, possibly because they're so rare. Territorial to the point of obsession, and yeah, it's never been said superheroes are the healthiest kids on the block. You've got to have some trauma working behind the need to martyr yourself for others on a daily basis. Usually the same kind.

Who didn't you save, Peter wants to ask. Unlike Spiderman, though, Peter thinks he's facing the man. The mask is the person who walks the streets in daylight. If there even is one.

"Actually, yes." He spins a web because he has nothing else to do. He's not quite used to being a lesser power, aware Superman could blow him out with a single look. Squashed like a bug, and Peter laughs when he catches the top of a building, freeing the web and jumping to half crawl up. When he turns, Superman is hovering, watching him.

Dark eyes, no human, stare back. Peter may split his personality a little to work his city at night, but he thinks he might be an amateur at it. This is surreal.

"Just visiting?" Like maybe Peter will get so enamored of all this chrome that he'll change residences. Superheroes don't like interlopers. Supervillains either, for that matter.

It amuses him to wonder if Superman and Lex Luthor sometimes have to chat to get rid of those who threaten both their holds.

A little higher, just a little--

The flash of a camera makes Peter laugh, hard, and Superman spins in midair. Peter knows what to do, how to do it--moving fast, getting the camera from its webbing and he's moving. Superman's fast, right, but Spiderman's flexible, and he tucks the camera under one arm and just goes.

Playing chicken with Superman in his own city can't be considered the brightest entertainment in creation, even for him, but he's laughing when he swings through the city.

Metropolis might not be that bad after all.


Lex is shaping his name; it's too loud to hear the word. Peter wouldn't have words if there were. He's moving forward--just those bare breaths between perfectly strange and completely surreal, and Lex's mouth is soft, so soft.

Surprising, somehow, and Peter moves back, catching the taste of sweet wine and Lex that he'll never forget as long as he lives.

The fingers on his neck are loose--not indecisive, Peter thinks, and he's lightheaded and shocked at himself, shocked at Lex, shocked at everything, but shock's a cushion that lets him do it again, just close the distance and take it. No one dies if he does this. No one is going to get shot or strangled, no one's going to starve or get into danger, and the world won't end. It's just a kiss, and it's sweet, this time against a mouth that opens just a little, tempting him--there's only been Mary Jane before now, and that girl in freshman bio, the one who liked his presentation on spider DNA, but this isn't like that.

Taste, touch, they're only touching here and there and there, three spots of blinding heat surrounded by the cool of the night and the mill of bodies, and somewhere there's a world where Spiderman was just watching, where Peter Parker wasn't a part of this night.

It goes on forever, the slow movements that don't bring them any closer but don't draw them farther away. Lex's fingers are so soft on his neck, so gentle, sliding up into his hair, tilting his head, and the kiss deepens, rich and still soft, still so sweet. He could sway here, do this, never move again and be perfectly content.

Lex, whose eyes are closed, is moving into it as if there's nothing else for him either. When Peter draws back, he watches a pink tongue slick out, licking away his taste. He wants to put it back, leave it all over Lex, somehow.

When Lex opens his eyes, there's pure shock glazing the blue, disappearing in the time it takes Lex to draw a breath.

Peter tightens his grip, pulling Lex closer--hip to chest, so warm. And Lex smiles, slow and thoughtful and brilliant like the lights overhead. Blinding. No place Lex was could be dark.

It's a moment.

"I want to take your picture," Peter whispers.

Three nights of stalking give him a good working base, and he opens his lab.

The first ones aren't great. Peter expected that, patiently working each one out. Glossy black and whites, the ones that have never been under his name anywhere. Ultra focused, perfect shading, and he looks at the prototypes.

Not quite right. A face that doesn't belong to anyone Peter can imagine as being living. Something carved out of marble, maybe, painted by some ancient artist seeking perfection, the fantasy of the super man.

He's seriously getting why Superman got his name.

Hanging the first ones, Peter steps back, studying them.

No, this isn't going to work. His fingers itch for his camera--somehow, holding it, he thinks, will help. When he can focus the lens himself, move it to just the right angle, catch whatever he's missing so spectacularly.

There's a message waiting on the counter. Someone came in and left, and Peter was too involved to notice. That's not comforting, and Peter pauses, wondering when the last time was that he involved himself so deeply in his work.

Shaking his head, he picks up the card. Purple ink in a fine, clear hand. Someone polished wrote this, and it's no surprise when his gaze slips to the signature.

There are only two lines.

Benefit dinner tonight. I'll pick you up at eight.


The suit hanging neatly by the door isn't a surprise either. Shaking his head, Peter glances at the clock and decides to call Mary Jane.

Harry's not home--Peter's glad about that, doesn't want to explain anything. He spares a thought to wonder if Harry will spend the night in whatever office he's in now, pushing the deadbolts home before turning around. Lex is stripping off his coat with precise movements, cashmere smooth as water flowing over the back of the chair.

Turning to look at him with a reddened mouth and eyes that seem to reach under his clothes. Somehow, Peter knows he won't ask any questions, even as an eyebrow crooks upward, the corner of his mouth lifting in a slow smirk.


"Um, right upstairs, next to--my room." He has no idea how to do this, but Lex only nods, disappearing in a single graceful swirl of sharp black and white. Taking a deep breath, Peter considers what instinct is yelling into his ear every second, what his body's aching for without completely understanding why.

And doesn't this just buy right into basic sexuality theory from psych? He's grinning when he goes in his room, stripping fast, uniform squirreled away in a bottom drawer and his shirt's just pulled back on when his door is pushed open.

Lex, discarded jacket, forgotten tie a loose noose around his throat. Rumpled, Peter thinks on a sucked-in breath, but not enough.

Leaning into the doorway, giving him every possible way out if that's what he wants. Blue eyes fix on his chest and he can see the sudden pound of Lex's pulse, dilated eyes and quickened breathing.

"I've never done this before," Peter says, and God, that's so stupid, but it's true. Lex nods slowly, almost dreamily, and when he crosses the carpet between them, Peter realizes he's not wearing shoes or socks.

Gloves gone, too, so hard bare hands are on his face, thumbs pressed into his cheekbones, looking into his eyes.

"You might not believe this, but neither have I." The kiss takes away the answer that Peter might have made, probably a bad joke about how he doubts that, but he thinks he understands what Lex means.

Or maybe he doesn't, but it's not important.

The deep, sucking kiss is better than breathing--wet, hot, slick, and nothing like it was outside, nothing like MJ or that girl from bio, nothing like anything but Lex, who's creating new standards by the second. A warm tongue that explores his mouth like Lexis searching for something, lingering every place that makes Peter twitch.

Slowing when those hands slide down to his shoulders, fingernails on his chest, drawing slow circles and he's so hard it hurts. An ache that he can feel everywhere, intensifying with each touch. His bed's against the back of his knees, and right, they've been moving, and he sits down, Lex straddling his lap like it's something they've done every day of their lives, like coming home.

It should be strange, awkward, unfamiliar, but he's reaching, sliding his hands under Lex's shirt and touching skin. Smooth, more hairless than he is, and he loves that, loves how the muscles shift beneath for every touch, how Lex stretches against him like a cat with every stroke. He'll never get tired of touching, reaching for everything.

Lex kisses like he feels, smooth and subtle and strong, and Peter finds himself stretched out on the bed, wrists pinned beneath Lex's hands, Lex's shirt half-unbuttoned, revealing strips of pale, flawless skin visible with every breath.

This is how it happens, Pete thinks a little wildly, and there's laughter under everything else.

His mind is snapshotting everything now, filing it away. The scar on Lex's mouth, the dip of his head, the curve of his spine when he bends, sucking a line down Peter's throat, licking his collar. He could break the hold without even thinking, but he doesn't want to. He arches into everything, every touch of that mouth, rock of those hips, his--his cock pushing desperately upward, through old jeans and wool pants.

"You're amazing," Lex whispers against his skin--sensitive skin that feels so different now, like it's all new. Everything is new. No one's touched him like this in his life, ever wanted to, ever pushed against the surface of his skin with a tongue and learned him that way. Like Lex is taking pictures out of touch. Lex's mouth fastens on the raised hard peak of his nipples, sucking, biting, bringing him off the bed, making sounds that don't, can't exist.

"Lex--" Head moving restlessly on his unmade bed, fingers grasping at nothing. "Lex, I--"

"Shh." A biting kiss to that soft place just beneath his jaw, the hands on his wrists pushing off, Lex sitting up, Unbuttoning flawless white silk in fast, crisp movements, and Peter's just watching, unable to help it. Seeing little peeks of skin with every flickering movement. Lex stares down at him, hungry and hot and asking for anything, everything, and Peter can't imagine the person able to say no.

Can't imagine being a person who would want to.

His hands finally start moving, belatedly wrapping fingers in the edges of the shirt, levering himself up. Just--staring down, touching before thought can penetrate, and oh, smooth, different from a girl, from a guy, Lex, hands loose at his sides, lets Peter unwrap him like a present. Taking each wrist and unfastening the cuff--he knows all about cufflinks from Harry. An easy, flexible lean to drop them on the beside table. The watch next, expensive and heavy.

"Napoleon," Peter murmurs, looking up at Lex, seeing the trace of a smile in the blue eyes, the surprise. "Imperial first issue."

"You recognize it."

Peter nods, setting it aside. The tie next, a loose pull turning it into a simple strip of silk hanging between his fingers.

Lex is so--here, like there's nothing else in the world to do. All that focus, bright and almost frightening if it weren't so hot. Like he's being studied from the skin in, searched. A hard hand wraps around his, lifting it so warm lips suck on the inside of his wrist. God. Oh God. Peter just touches, anything and everything--the delicate ridge of Lex's collarbone, the indentations between his ribs. Lex is just on the edge of too-thin, all smooth skin and whipcord muscle, fascinating to simply feel. He leans forward enough to brush a kiss over one bared shoulder, mouth lingering when Lex arches into it, with the brush of hard teeth on his inner arm.

Warm, living skin, and he tastes like he smells, which is even better. Mouthing everything silk lets him, Peter pushes aside the shirt to get to more, and Lex frees his hands, letting Peter push it off, floating to the floor like a ghost of good sense.

The slow, natural kiss after--Peter could do this forever, but there's so much to taste. The skin is thin, sensitive, over Lex's jaw; warmer, thicker, more addictive on his throat. Smooth, pale lines, and his tongue can find the faintest ridges of scars not apparent to the naked eye. Lex's fingers slide through his hair, which is too short to do anything but pet, really, a novel argument for ignoring Aunt May the next time she tells him to get a haircut. There's warm breath against his temple, his ear, and the slow undulation of hips--not enough to do anything but ride the sensation, slow and sweet.

Lex trembles whenever Peter touches him. Here, in the hollow below his ribs. The soft skin just above the hip. Lex's hands are on his shirt, pushing it off, tossing it somewhere behind him.

"This is--Lex." And Lex is moving with intent. Teeth and lips roam his throat, hands splayed on his back, a twist of the hips that bring naked hunger, naked want, and Peter's reminded how hard he is, what this is that they're doing, and it's scary, yeah, but as long as those hands stay on him, as long as he can keep touching, not so much. Deft fingers find his belt, unfastening in quick, sure motions, and Lex pulls away with a wet sound that makes Peter's cock twitch, looking at him.


Peter nods slowly, not trusting words right now. He shifts when Lex urges him back, cool cotton under his bare back, lifting his hips to let Lex pull jeans and boxers down. A soft, endless kiss against his stomach, tongue in his navel, and Peter watches, riveted. Flickers of a warm, wet tongue draw patterns into his skin. Chemical formulas, he thinks, equations of biochemistry, maybe. It's almost enough to make him laugh, and Lex grins up at him before ducking just that bit more, hot breath on Peter's cock.

It almost shoots him bolt upright when Lex's mouth closes over the head.

And--oh. He's read about this, he's heard Harry's stories, he's a guy who's a geek but not a complete moron, and now he's a geek with another guy's mouth on his cock. That's got to be a step up, and he watches because he can't help it.

Sweet, hot, so good that he's shaking, and he grasps blindly for the sheets, not sure what else to do ,and he stops caring when Lex swallows around him--yes, it can get better. It can feel like that, and that guilty jerking-off under the covers at night doesn't have anything on this.

"Jesus, Lex--" That's all the warning he can manage--one second this hovering, like he's staring down at the city for the very first time from the top of the tower--the next is like falling, no web, no way to catch himself and he doesn't even want to.

Landing is the bed, sweat hot and slick all over his skin, oddly prosaic, and nothing compared to the sensory overload. He can feel Lex crawling up his body, slow and easy, skin dragging on wool and skin. Lex's hands are braced on either side of him, staring down with eyes gone dark and opaque, licking his lips.

"Whoa." The ghost of a smile curves up the corner of Lex's mouth, and he leans down. Tongue tracing his lips, and Peter tastes it, tastes himself, and salty-bitter, not too strange. Reaches up with a strengthless hand, touching Lex's face. He seems to get it, leaning down farther until the kiss deepens. Peter finds that taste all in him--overlaying citrus, overlaying everything else, marking Lex inside.

He likes that, and it makes him reach up and pull Lex down. Lex is hard against his thigh, rubbing distractedly against him, and that wool has got to go.

"Hey, let me--"

"Don't have to--"

Like his manners are that bad. Enhanced flexibility's so useful. He rolls over in an easy twist, pinning him down, flushed and laughing. "I was taught better than that." Aunt May might not have anticipated this particular situation, but etiquette is etiquette. Can I--"

"Go right ahead." Both pale arms slide behind Lex's head, grinning up at him. And yes, this is so cool. Lex is stretched out under him, rumpled, pink and cream, fragmented red mouth and bright blue eyes that stare into Peter's, glinting with challenge.

Peter sits back on his heels, shifting back until he's straddling Lex's thighs. The belt's easy to unfasten, and Lex lifts to let him slide it away. Two buttons--inner and outer. Not familiar, but he doesn't rip anything, he hopes. His hands stick briefly to the wool, but that's good, it makes pulling the pants away so much easier. Soft boxers below--flannel? Peter runs his hands over them, feeling the outline of the cock beneath, but the focus is on the feeling. So soft. So not-Lex, not what he would have expected. He catches with his fingers and pulls down, but slowly.

Even better than a present at Christmas. Lex, all relaxed sprawl and half-closed eyes, breathing slow and sharp. Peter bends to trace the jut of a hipbone with his tongue, and Lex's hand brushes against the back of his neck. Gentle, just maybe the need for touch, and Peter presses against him, smiling into warm skin at the hollow of Lex's hip.

He has to close his eyes briefly to think about the next step of this little exploratory mission. He pushes himself up on both arms, Lex's hand falling away, and that is definitely someone else's cock.

Pale as new cream, the stuff Aunt May used to buy at the organic grocery store down the street. It's smooth, arched almost against the near-concave line of Lex's stomach, and Peter holds his weight on one hand, reaching down to draw his fingers over the crinkled skin. Lex catches his breath, sharp and loud, and Peter grins.

"Pretty self-explanatory," Peter hears himself say, and right, they're at the bad jokes part of the evening, but Lex lets out a little, choked laugh, and Lex is easy with the humor. That's good, because Peter's humor usually isn't funny. "I--uh--"

"You don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with." And the weird thing is, Peter's sure he means it--truly means it. Which makes it more fun to stroke his fingers again, just a little of the clinging fibers in his palms pressing outward and Lex arches--oh wow. He likes that.

And it's kinda sad that Peter never thought of trying this on himself. From Lex's reaction, it must be pretty damn good. Another stroke, curving his fingers to shape, kinda like jerking off from a totally different angle. Oh yes--a full body shudder for that one, gasped indrawn breath from Lex. That's great.

It's all easy after that. Just jerking off, a little awkward at first, he's used to a completely different angle, but hey, Lex likes it, every twist and jerk and hips thrusting up into his hand. Too much friction, maybe, and Peter considers the problem for a long, serious few minutes before pulling away. Lex's eyes open slowly, almost reluctant, probably wondering if the freak-out will commence, and that's when Peter licks his hand. Fibers down--no need to test that and lubrication.

Lex makes an impossibly hot sound, and Peter keeps licking. Some of Lex's taste on his palm that he cleans off, rolling it on his tongue, then more. Shiny wet, looks about right, and Lex groans low and pleased when Peter wraps his hand around his cock. Arches, slow and easy, and Peter--oh, he really loves this. So easy.

He leans down to brace himself on one hand and just watch.

"You're--" Lex laughs through another moan, and that's hot too. It makes Peter laugh, want to get closer and want to see this forever, to catch this look of sheer pleasure, the way Lex breathes, too fast and too shallow, sucking in air like he can't ever get enough of it. "Fuck, Peter--"

"Heh." Bad joke he kills on arrival in his head, and he shifts, running his thumb over the head. Lex makes an inarticulate noise, and the muscles under Peter tense up, that feeling, yes, he remembers this, and he speeds up, pushing, wanting to see this happen.

Lex's hand on the back of his neck tightens briefly, tellingly, head going back, arching throat, it's an offer, has got to be. Peter leans down and can't help it, bites, and Lex comes. Comes hard in his hand, with a slick wet mess and a series of really hot noises that are making Peter almost-hard again just listening to.

He draws it out, like he does himself--slows it down, finally letting the soft cock free and drawing his hand up. Huh. Applies just the tip of his tongue, testing, and it's weird but not bad.

Closes his eyes and just tastes. It's easier to do than think, and he's learning that's a nearly universal truth. When he opens his eyes, Lex is looking up at him. Definitely rumpled, flushed, sated in some way that's just as hot as blank need.

Rolling on the bed beside him, Peter stares up at the ceiling. Yeah, he's got a stupid grin, but that doesn't bother him at all.

Eight on the dot--Peter grins at the sharp knock on the door, closing down the laptop.

"Come in."

The door opens easily. Peter unlocked it before sitting down to check his email. Lex is immaculate in black, hints of a deep plum shirt beneath, a darker match for the pale lavender circles beneath his eyes. Lex is still balanced on that fine edge between utterly exhausting health and semi-starvation. Peter has his own theories on that; he's had years, after all, and more news articles than he can count. A secret for a secret, and he stands up, letting Lex making a tiny circle around him, hands behind his back like a general during muster.

When Lex faces him again, the hint of a smirk's playing just on the corner of his mouth.

"You clean up well."

"Didn't think I had it in me, huh?" His camera is wrapped in the new leather case he found on the kitchen table this morning. Slinging it over his shoulder, he grins. "Now tell me why I'm going?"

"You'll like it." Lex's head tilts, eyes narrowing a little. "There's someone I think you should meet."

Fair enough. Lex's eyes linger on the camera bag, but not like he didn't expect it.

"You still refuse the digital age?"

"Everyone's got their quirks." He'd point out the abundance of purple in Lex's wardrobe, but the arch of an eyebrow tells him Lex gets the point without a word being spoken. "I use digital for the newspaper usually. Some things, though, need a personal touch."

"Your work is very highly admired," Lex says. Pale fingers go to his tie, straightening it carefully, moving the camera bag enough to fix the drape of the suit. Peter grins back, unmoving. "Better."

"I'll be a mess by the time we go out the door."

"No surprise there." Lex steps back, eyeing him critically. "Ready?"

Peter pats his bag. "Ready."

There's a limousine, of course. Peter imagines Mary Jane laughing herself sick if she could see it. Harry hadn't been into limos much when they dated--expensive, pretty cars, yes, but not limos. He makes mental photographs; smooth leather, butter soft, like Lex's driving gloves. Slick interior, all chrome bright, like new, like no one's ever been in here before. Lex lounges on the other side of the long seat, staring out the window, eyes fixed on the sky as if he's searching for something.

"You're running for the Senate this year."

Lex's gaze jerks back--oh, that focus. Like the entire world's been narrowed down to just them, nothing else existing.

"You pay attention."

"Imagine me knowing about the CEO of LexCorp." Peter shakes his head. "I work at a newspaper, Lex. I have every baseball score and every football score down, too. Can also tell you what the Prime Minister of Great Britain had for dinner most days of the week."

"Your sense of humor's as bad as ever."

Peter laughs. "I like to think I've been consistent."

It's a slower smile, starting reluctantly in the eyes, spreading downward, and Peter's hands itch--the perfect dappling of light and dark as they come to a stoplight.

A man who doesn't belong to history nearly as much as he belongs to himself.

"Think I'll win?"

Peter cocks his head. "When haven't you?"

The loose lounge of his body's an endless fascination. Peter can't figure out how he does it, how he makes just a simple sprawl look elegant, cultured. Naked. Naked and still more dressed than anyone Peter's ever seen.

Jeans on but nothing else, Peter crouches at the foot of the bed, waiting, feeling Lex watching him. Just--and it happens, so fast, that inner click that makes his finger move, capturing a moment that's all pale skin and a ghost of a smile. So perfect.

So very, very pornographic. Dear God. He's still pretty damned surprised Lex is letting him do this.

"My instructor would kill to get you to model for class." So much contrast, it's amazing, even just here. Lex exudes wealth like air, and on this bed, cheap sheets, thin plywood headboard, and worn comforter, he's the biggest contrast of all.

"Mm." Lex rolls onto his stomach, snickering when Peter takes another shot, just for the hell of it. "Yes, that would go over well in the business community."

"You'd be very popular." Moving off the bed, Peter finds his desk chair with an ankle, unwilling to look away even for a second. Pulling it over, he sits down, one ankle resting on his knee, leaning forward just enough to keep perspective. The moonlight is so perfect this could be an old movie.

He may never find another subject this fascinating again.

"In the porn industry, perhaps." Head on neatly-folded arms, Lex looks at him carefully through sleepy eyes. "What are you going to do with these?"

"Private collection." Peter's got several. There's no actual monetary value in any of them, he thinks, but it's growing, slow and steady. Emotion caught in pure image, and Peter remembers every time it's happened, even more vividly every time he's missed. "You know, when I started, it was just for money."

Lex snorts. "It's always for money. A fortunate few get their life calling at the same time. Looks like you found yours."

"I'm not selling these." His voice is way too earnest for the moment, but Peter can't help it, can't help making the assurance again, to make sure Lex understands. "I--this is me." Weird, how true that is. "I--these are too much of me. I couldn't sell them."

"I know." Lex pauses before sitting up, and Peter catches the transition--single, liquid movement of muscle and bone, head tilted just like that. Jesus. He could take thousands of Lex alone and never catch everything he can see.

The growl of Peter's stomach interrupts, and Lex grins. "Hungry?"

"Always." Which is true. God, his metabolism is freaky. Even after a year, it still bends the mind, how much he eats. Lex eyes the wool pants briefly, only looking up when Peter swivels in his chair, reaching for the dresser and finding some jeans. "Here. Should be more comfortable.'

Possibly a mistake, but the right kind. Lex naked is something to see. Lex in jeans and an unbuttoned white silk shirt is like something out of a fantasy. Loose cuffs, one graceful hand rubbing absently on the back of his head as he walks out, bare feet an almost soundless patter on the floor. Catching his breath, Peter follows him out and down the stairs, automatically looking around the living room, wondering if Harry happened to have come home.

Whoa, there's a thought Peter's not going to follow anytime soon.

"Take out?" Lex asks, going to the phone and dropping on the couch in a breathtaking rush of too much skin and denim, looking up from the little cache of take-out menus stacked haphazardly on the end table. "Preference?"


"Works." Lex sorts through the menus, apparently finding one that's up to standard and dialing the phone, absently tucking it between shoulder and cheek before standing up again. There's beer in the refrigerator, and Pete stares at it for a few long minutes. He feels Lex behind him before he sees him, a graceful drop under his arm, reaching inside and taking one of the bottles.

So, beer it is. With pizza, this is sort of a must. Even Harry agrees with that. Getting one himself, Peter turns around as Lex twists off the top, taking an absent drink. Jesus.

He even drinks sexy.

"What do you like?"

Peter's really beginning to wonder about that himself. "Um. Anything." Right, food. Which is another weird thing that Peter doesn't think about too often. Taste bud mutation, check. He's caught himself eyeing insects with unusual interest. Not comforting at all.

Lex nods, talking into the phone before hanging it up, taking another drink from the bottle before turning that gaze on Peter again. "Will Harry be back anytime soon?"

Glancing at the clock, it's something of a shock to realize it's only eleven.

"Maybe. Probably not though--he usually falls asleep on whatever couch is handy when he's working." Or remembering, or whatever. There's a not-healthy reason why the alcohol content in their home has jumped so fast.

Lex nods, turning back around, almost a saunter to the couch, sitting back down, eyes focused on his beer. Peter twists off the cap on his beer effortlessly, heading back to the bedroom. When he comes back down, Lex is staring out the window with that look again--purely wistful, the memory of pain written into his face.

It's caught on film before Peter can stop himself, and he watches Lex take another drink.

"Why are you really in New York?"

Lex's head jerks around, eyes flashing, and it's belatedly occurring to Peter that he might have pushed too far. But. Something about sex tonight--about the entire night--or hell, maybe Peter's drunk or hallucinating due to some random spider-related sense, but he doesn't want to back down. So he stands there, waiting, until Lex looks away first, taking another drink of beer as if he needs it.

"My annulment went through today."

And that didn't make the news, or hasn't yet, though Peter vaguely recalls something about a wedding related to the name Luthor. Slowly, carefully, he crosses the room, forgetting to move human-loud, because Lex doesn't.

Slowly he sinks down on the chair across from Lex. Lex looks at him, lavender under his eyes and a tightness around his mouth that Peter remembers from Harry's Dad during those last days.

"I'm sorry."

"I am too." It sounds like a confession, but it isn't, not really. "It was a--the normal danger of someone in my position." The shrug's self-mocking and resigned at once. Not even surprised, Peter thinks, and he wonders if he should ask for details, push, but he doesn't think he needs to.

The emotional landscape that Pete can see on Lex's face is like his own, watching the city from on high every night. Helpless anger, bitter regret, and an almost painful wistfulness. He's always felt it, but since the powers, it's even more there.

Peter thinks of Mary Jane in the cemetery. Of getting what you never thought you could have and then having it taken away.

"Was it worth it?" It can't be, not ever--not when you twist awake at night and feel that slow, steady burn of ache, right there. Her.


Peter jerks his gaze up, and Lex is looking at him. Seeing him, seeing it on his face, and Peter wants his mask again.

Lex sees, too, he realizes with a shock, remembering the fingers on his neck, all those not-questions.

"You really think that? I mean, after--"

He can still taste her. Sweet and tentative and so sure. The way he can't be.

"Yes." Though he could swear, maybe, that every instinct in Lex's body and mind are screaming no. No, it's not, no, it never will be. No, don't believe it, don't trust it, some people are meant to be alone. "Yes, it has to be."

"Has to be?" He's echoing like an idiot.

"It has to be," Lex says, almost to himself, and he looks away. "If--if it's not, then nothing's worth anything, is it? It's not living if you don't at least try." The smile's so bitter Peter can feel it on his own face. "I--don't know for sure anymore, but I have to believe this."

Peter stares down at the bottle.


The knock at the door startles them both--Lex stands up, going into the bedroom, leaving Peter standing uncomfortable and awkward. He has to answer the door, see people, and he's had sex.

Whoa, this is going to take some assimilation, big time.

But Lex comes out, wallet in hand. In Peter's jeans, shirt partially buttoned and even sexier for that--like a walking, breathing invitation to touching and tasting. The pizza boy may not recover from this anytime soon.

Peter hides his sudden grin under his bottle and watches Lex pay and take the two boxes, shutting the door on the stunned boy on the doorstep, turning around with a little grin that says he knows exactly what affect he has on people when he looks like this.

"Still hungry?" The grin widens, a slow, sexy smile that makes Peter swallow hard.


He's introduced to more people than he can remember--hand after hand shaken, too many expensive scents. Lex is never far away. They give him speculative looks, like they're wondering what the deal is here. Peter would kinda like to know that himself, but it's Lex, and public or private, he likes the oblique approach. So he just has to wait and try to find it.

Or it comes looking for him.

Lex's focus isn't a thing you can ignore. When it switches on, you feel it, even if it's not on you. One moment, light, careless chatter over cocktails, as bright and sparkling as the champagne in their crystal glasses; the next, blue eyes flicker up, holding for a searing moment, and Peter follows it, but--

But what?

A woman. Tall, elegant, with sharp eyes and sharper motions, determination written into every line of her body, pacing the room like something caged and not liking it much. The man with her is almost an afterthought, trailing behind her in a badly fitting suit, disappearing into every shadow she creates. There's an impression of thick black glasses and very green eyes, too brief, before they disappear into the crowd.

Lex excuses himself and Peter from conversation with flawless grace, and Peter lets himself be skillfully led away. Not obviously, not at all, but somehow, they manage to be exactly where Lex seems to want them to be, ground zero for that woman's approach.

"Luthor." She says the name like it's dirty, dropping it as quickly as possible into space. Peter blinks, watching her gaze flicker over him briefly, weighing, measuring, and dismissing all in a single look.

Wow. It's been years since Peter felt so completely intimidated.

"Ms. Lane." Lex doesn't bother extending a hand--a social solecism that Lex makes look even more insulting than it actually is. His voice is too smooth, body tensing. Huh. "Peter Parker, Lois Lane, reporter for the Daily Planet."

"The Spiderman pictures." Peter almost sighs. Yes, the Spiderman pictures. Ignore his resume of some of the best photography ever taken for a New York newspaper, it always comes right back to that. He's not inclined to dislike it usually, but he doesn't like the way she says it. Lightweight, it suggests. One-trick pony, she seems to imply. Beneath notice, she isn't saying, but hell, she can certainly do it all with a single flickering look.

Or facing down a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist just isn't as good for his ego as one might think. And Peter can't help but smile when he thinks about that, extending a hand and practically daring her to reject it.

"Lovely to meet you, Ms. Lane. I enjoyed your latest article on the rioting in Latvia."

The shake's firm and hard, but her gaze barely stays on him.

"Clark Kent," Lex adds, almost as an afterthought, and Peter extends his hand again, taken in big, strong fingers, weather-toughened palm, not at all what he'd have expected in a reporter--

--looking up and something clicks over in his head. Like the shutter of a camera, like the first breath of air. Blinking past green eyes and messy dark hair, through glasses and a shabby suit. Peter hears something about Clark's background in farming while he withdraws his hand, but Peter knows history when it's written in images, and Clark's like something out of Egypt. Pictographists could study him forever and never catch everything.

Peter gets five minutes. He wants more.

"Can I get a picture?" Peter hears himself ask. He's broken into whatever conversation Lois has going on, but Lex only sends him an amused look. Lois opens her mouth, as if to protest, as if coming in here there weren't a thousand photographers outside who would shoot without warning, but she only nods, and Peter lifts his camera.

It won't be a good moment, a perfect one. He'll have to make due.

"You could try to smile, Clark." Lex's voice is all rich amusement, and Clark lifts his head, just enough--one fall of light, one moment of dark green eyes that are almost a challenge--and the snap is Peter's finger on the shot, captured perfectly.

A few more comments, barbed, if Peter's any judge, which he probably isn't, and then Lex is excusing them, elegant fingers resting on his shoulder. Right, nothing significant in that, and Peter's tempted to turn and find out who it is aimed at. Tucking his camera back into its case, he matches Lex's pace, taking a new glass of champagne off a convenient waiter.

"You know, I'd love to figure out what that was about."

Lex chuckles.

"I like bothering her. Lois and Clark are the best reporting team in the city--the country, possibly."

"And you know, that's pretty much a complete non-answer." Grinning, Peter takes a drink.

"I knew him in Smallville," Lex says, almost reluctantly. Almost. "He's an excellent reporter. And highly underrated."

"Like I am as a photographer?" Who says Lex doesn't have patterns?

The quick glance is more than amused. "If you'd publish more--"

Peter shrugs, taking another sip. At the parties at work, Jamieson doesn't shell out for the good champagne and Peter wants to take advantage of this while he can. "I love what I do."

"So does he." Lex's eyes flicker briefly, and Peter wants to reach for his camera again. Lex is so alive. Power, motion almost impossible to condense into a simple picture, energy so vivid you can see it moving beneath his skin, desperate to get out. Half turning, Peter catches a glimpse of Clark Kent and Lois Lane vanishing into the crowd. Like that woman.

Utterly unlike the man on her heels. He's everything that Lex isn't.

When he turns his head, he sees Lex watching, too, and it clicks into place. He hides his smile under the edge of the glass.

It's closer to midnight than one, and Peter feels Lex stretching, the head on his stomach turning just enough to catch his eye. A hundred photographs are spread over the blankets.

"You do some good work. A good eye."

"Art class," Peter says, idly stirring the pile with one finger. "Catch everything--Central Park in the fall is amazing. I could have stood there forever and just watched. It was hard to even remember to take pictures."

"I imagine." Lex flips through them, sometimes pausing to study closer. "Ah. Mary Jane."

Peter blinks. "How the hell do you know that?" Harry, he thinks instantly.

"Only the fifty thousand or so pictures here of her and the fact Harry's mentioned her name a time or two." Lex is studying her--almost like appraisal, maybe, then sets it aside, and Peter can see the brilliant wash of color of her hair before another picture slides on top. "Pretty girl."

"Beautiful." Peter can't help reaching for it--and this shouldn't feel so perfectly normal, with a half-naked guy using him like a pillow on his bed, but that doesn't make it bad or anything. Only different.

"First love." Lex sounds indulgent, lifting another picture from the stack. "I--remember that." Pushing the pictures aside, he rolls, lithe as a cat, long arm bent pale across Peter's stomach, resting his head in the crook. "She's perfect, isn't she?"

Peter pauses, running a thousand images like snapshots through his head.

"No. Nasty temper," he answers, and the grin breaks over his lips. "Hates broccoli. Kicked serious ass in fifth grade with her first growth spurt and everyone made fun of her. Fragile in the places you don't expect it. But. Bright. She--shines. Everywhere." Peter draws in a breath, letting it out slowly. "Even when she doesn't."

The blue eyes are unwavering, fixed on his face.

"It's--that moment." Lex's voice is thoughtful. "You see someone across a crowded room and your breath stops."

"Like there's no air." Yes. Yes.

"And you know--"

"--that this is what they mean by destiny." Peter nods slowly, uncoiling one arm and reaching down, brushing his fingers across the swollen mouth. Instantly, they're sucked in, a little grin curving Lex's mouth as his eyes fall half-closed, and he does that thing with his mouth. That thing that he did on--on Peter's cock, and the visual and memory are enough to make Peter lose what air he has, a shiver crawling through every muscle, leaving liquid behind, boneless and pliant for whatever Lex wants to do to him.

Fingers sliding out, shiny-slick, and Lex's grin widens, taking him in with a single, long look that's like the sun in July, burning into everything it touches. God.

"I want to fuck you."

Peter blinks. Well, that's--blunt.

"Um. Okay?" Which might be crossing some serious lines in the entire heterosexual department, but he's in college and if he needs to, he can blame that for--everything. As if he's not in bed with a force of nature itself.

Lex laughs, sitting up, and Peter misses the contact, but it's almost made up for by the next long look. "We'll need some things--" A quirked eyebrow, and Peter tries to think, what--oh. Right. "Tell me you have condoms."

Oh, that's funny.

"Lex. Nerd. You're lucky I have any idea what we're doing."

That gets another laugh, another long look, then Lex pulls himself to his knees, buttoning his shirt rapidly, and that's not a good sign. Surely Harry has--

"Come on. Get a shirt." Lex is searching the floor, shoes from under the bed and pulling them on--strangely surreal shiny black against the worn jeans. Another grope and Lex tosses out Peter's cross-trainers. "There's a store down the street--"

"There is?" And Lex noticed? But he's grabbing for his shoes, pulling them on without bothering with the laces, and a pile of leather hits him in the lap as Lex comes out of his closet and goes out into the living room.

Quick check--yeah, erection showing. Even his longest shirt won't cover that, and Peter drags it over his head and pulls on his jacket, walking out to see Lex in his cashmere overcoat.

Peter has his camera before he knows it, getting the moment. A elegant ruin, untucked silk, rich dark cashmere, denim, black on white on pale.

"You are going to have some excellent blackmail material in the future," Lex comments as Peter checks for his keys, and long fingers brush a burning line across his jaw. A mark no one can ever see, but Peter wonders if he'll ever stop feeling. "Come on."

The Ferrari is gorgeous. Peter could seriously get far too used to this, top down, sunglasses out, flying along rural roads at a probably dangerous speed.

Oh damn, it's good being not-quite-human. He supposes Lex might agree.

A bundle of photocopies are stacked on the seat beneath his jacket. Reaching down, he gets the top one blind, pulling it out. Sticky fingers are just so useful for high speed convertibles.

Local Teen Saves Billionaire's Son

Trust Lex to ignore the details. This is the most bizarre job of his life, the Spiderman thing included.

It's gorgeous out here, though. Peter slows down, watching the flat land go by. Cows. Fields of corn. He's not rural, never will be. A part of him is still searching for old stone, skyscrapers towering overhead, and the heavy sounds of traffic. The silence is disconcerting, at very least. Also peaceful, reaching inside and soothing something Peter's never known was tense.

Spiderman, he thinks, isn't needed out here.

The bridge is almost pathetically easy to find--right on the route, no problems at all Slowing the car, he does the unthinkable and comes to a complete stop in the middle of the road. It's not as if traffic is a problem. Another grin as he gets out, photocopy in hand, pacing to see a guardrail eleven years old. One hand slides over it. It bears the wear and tear of eleven years, but he can see the seam lines, feel the difference in texture and style, though it's almost invisible to the untrained eye. Leaning over, he looks down, imagining a Porsche buried in water and mud.

"I didn't expect to see you here."

He's not a bad liar, but Peter's been watching the car follow him since he left the apartment. A slow turn brings Clark Kent into focus--cheap suit shed, and Peter's getting the same impression of blankness. If Lex is motion, Clark's absolute stillness, inside and out. Except it teases him, this feeling of something blanketed, deliberately held back.

Just a glimpse through a lens of whatever is under it, and Peter wonders if he can see it again.

Flannel and denim, work boots that look like they were around during Clark's teens. Too-long hair that gets in his eyes, almost defensive, like Clark's hiding. He slouches, but even so, he's so tall. A man that shouldn't be able to blend into his surroundings so perfectly that even Peter can't quite feel him out.

Squinting a little, Peter takes off the sunglasses, watching Clark study him as minutely as he's studying Clark.

"Lex offered to show me the sights," Peter lies, leaning his elbows behind him into the guard rail. "A meeting came up, so I came alone. Clark Kent, right?"

The flicker would be invisible if he hadn't been looking for it, and Peter watches it disappear as fast as lightning in a clear summer sky. Just the impression of something huge that can't break through, but that glimpse--yeah. Peter's fingers itch for his camera, and he presses them into the guardrail to squelch the urge.

"He told you about this?" One hand waves awkwardly, and there it is again. Clark's holding back deliberately, like Peter used to do before he got comfortable in his own skin, learned to live with everything he was. The separation between Peter Parker and Spiderman is a little less every day.

Cocking his head, he thinks of Mary Jane and watches Clark as he slowly approaches the guardrail, glancing down. Peter knows it's anything but casual, no matter the big hands thrust into loose pockets.

"You grew up here?"

Clark nods, eyes fixing downward. Shy, if you read the obvious body language that screams country hick, and Clark's really good at projecting that. Peter lets his gaze slide over the fields, feeling Clark getting ready for--something.

"How well do you know Lex?"

He even says the name with meaning.

"We met years ago. Some contract negotiations with Oscorp." Pete turns his head, just enough to get Clark in his line of sight. "My best friend was the heir of the former CEO. Lex wanted to oversee the implementation personally."

"Harry Osborne." Knows his facts. Of course, he's a reporter. Peter wants to push a little. He gets the feeling Clark's deliberately holding something back, waiting for the right time to launch it. "That's a long time since the last time you met Lex."

Oh, a warning. Maybe.

"Harry was lousy at business at first," Peter says, surprised to feel the soft burn in the back of his throat. Harry. God, Harry. "He got better. I think he and Lex--talked a lot. Advice. History of difficult fathers. You get the idea."

"He's not the same man."

And there goes any hope of a tangent. Bulldog, Peter thinks, almost sighing.

"I know exactly what he is."

Clark's look is sharp now, the inner glimmer strengthening as Clark focuses. New information is being weighed against the old, stacking on this side and on that.

"Do you?" Soft, and it'd be sarcastic, but it isn't.

"Yes. Do you?" Peter holds the gaze. Clark's eyes summer green, like something out of someone's fantasy of what summer should be. They darken when they study him, falling down to the ring on Peter's finger, staying there.

When he looks up, the question's as plain as day. And subtlety this man does not have, or just chooses not to use it. Peter gives his best blank look back.

"We used to be friends. A long time ago."

Peter nods--he hadn't needed anything but a look at them last night to tell him that.

"People change," Clark continues, like he's reciting some long-ago lesson, learned by rote until it became unquestioned doctrine. "You don't know--"

"I'm a photographer for a major New York newspaper," Peter says, and Clark's gaze focuses. Just like that. Jesus, like Lex all over again, and it'd be scary if it wasn't so familiar. It's a physical effort not to withdraw, nailing his fingers into the metal and thinking about the last supervillain he ran across. Who really had nothing on Clark Kent on a mission. "There's not much I don't know of public record, or private. I don't need protection."

"Lex is dangerous."

"Balance," Peter says, pushing off the guardrail--intensity like that he just can't take anymore. It stirs up echoes he can't fully push away, old guilts, old conflict, and like he really needed this today. Uncle Ben and Harry and--no, not now.

Teeth set together, Peter retreats, and he knows it's a retreat, to the hood of the car. Distance enough to breathe again, think again.

"What's that mean?"

Peter shrugs, wondering how he can put it. Clark Kent, who maybe is part of this rural life, rural world, all intense colors and vibrant life and too much happening too fast too see everything.

"It means he's my friend." Sort of. One of those flexible words that can be stretched any way. Temporary employer and acquaintance and once-lover--well, close enough, shorthand it to friend and leave it there. Lex likes complicated relationships and delineated lines that blur here and there, Peter thinks.

"Lex doesn't have friends."

"I didn't say I was his." Softly, but the best way is sometimes the soft way. Spiderwebs are silky smooth and tangle fast, hold better. He sees it drape itself over Clark, penetrating by degrees. "It was nice meeting you again, Mr. Kent."

He'll be a while untangling that one, Peter thinks a little maliciously.

Clark opens his mouth, like he means to say more, but Peter's just not up for it right now. There's echoes in his head, inner voices that are reminding him of a dozen, hundred failures.

In the driver's seat, breathing deeply, he leans into the steering wheel and shuts his eyes. Let Clark Kent fucking watch if he wants, wonder, whatever. Peter's just not in the mood right now. Reaching down blindly, he feels the cellphone, punching in the number by memory.

It's only the answering machine, but Peter plays Mary Jane's voice eight times, letting the lyrical sound of her voice take up residence in his head, driving out everything else.

At least for now.

There's three alleys and four blocks between Peter's apartment and the convenience store in question. And Lex is like something out of Penthouse, and Peter knows he's being seduced, blatantly, and he likes it. Loves it. Backed into cold, wet stone for a too-fast kiss here, a quick grope there, a sharp bite he can feel thrumming across every nerve.

This night, when Spiderman should be crawling the buildings. Maybe he should feel guilty for taking a night off, but he'll worry about it tomorrow. Not today. Not now. Not with Lex's hand on his ass, Lex's tongue in his mouth, a paper bag in his pocket, and an entire night ahead of them.

A strong shock, a hum to the back of Peter's head that has nothing to do with arousal. Oh damn. Sometimes he hates spidersense.

"Don't move."

Lex tenses against him and Peter slits his eyes open. Fuck. Robbery in the middle of the night, the one night Peter's just not on.

A flicker of unhealed, unclean anger freezes arousal, and Peter's suddenly aware of what he's been touching, who he's been kissing. Lex's mouth is a thin line, and there's that--that edge of power.

And pure, unbridled, unthinking rage, and the word impetuous kick starts through Peter's head. Lex won't let this happen, he realizes with a sick sort of not-surprise. Won't hold up his hands and let this guy take his wallet. Peter thinks wistfully of the usual victims, who don't fight back and don't get shot.

"Don't," Peter whispers, but he's not sure Lex hears him. All that focus is set behind him, and Peter sucks in a breath, letting it out slowly.

He moves, and it's too fast, he knows it, no way to play it down. Lex is behind him against the wall and not happy about it at all. He can lie and pretend with the best of them, but he can't let--

The gun goes off, shockingly loud. Some part of Peter Parker's aware of the silencer, so it shouldn't be. Aware of the slick black sweater and coat so the man blends into the night, the professional hold on that gun, and this is--

--not a normal robbery, not in New York.

The gun's on the ground under Peter's heel within seconds. He's leaving indentations in the metal he'll never be able to explain, but so the fuck what. Fingers wrap around a vulnerable throat, and he pushes the man against the opposite wall.

"Who sent you?" And why?

"Tell Dominik he won't get my dad's approval for this one." Lex's voice sounds low and amused, but Peter can't look back, even when he feels Lex behind him, that unthinking anger spilling over, playing havoc with Peter's instincts. God, it's like fighting himself and this--assassin?--and it's too hard, the disparate instinct between preservation and killing.

The balance between costs him more than he ever expected, and it's like Uncle Ben's killer falling all over again, hitting the ground with a meaty thud and no regret.

None at all.


"I'll call the police," Lex says calmly, unhurried, and Pete listens to his step disappear down the alley, back into bright streets. And he wonders what kind of man could see Lex, feel him, and think a bullet would ever be enough.

"You were hired?" That's a good place to focus. The man looks away--clean shaven, blue eyes, dark skin sheened in sweat. Peter lets his hand tighten briefly, watching the eyes narrow.

Human. Before anything else. Before Spiderman and before Green Goblin and before the spider bite, there was Peter.

It's hard to remember, with living flesh in his hands and no mask to hide behind.

"Just a job," the man whispers as each of Peter's fingers loosen, one by one. "Nothing personal."

It never is. There's something nasty about that phrase, and as he listens to the sound of sirens, Peter feels Lex behind him again, and the anger, if not gone, is at least blanketed.

It's thirty minutes before they get let go. The man has bruises the shape of Peter's fingers, and Peter can only hope they don't notice the dent in the weapon as the waffle bottom of a cross-trainer. Lex is beside him, cool and unshaken, and he's still not saying anything.

Which of course, is good, right? He can't tell, so it's better not to ask.


"My eyes were closed."

Stopping, Peter finds Lex outdistancing him, before the expensive shoes stop and Lex turns around. Looking at him--seeing him--and then not.


"I had my eyes closed. I don't know how you disarmed him." Lex's hands are relaxed at his sides, and it's like the walk to the store without the groping. The feeling in the alley is gone like it was never there at all, but Peter wonders who it was telling him to worry about.

That man with the gun? Or Lex?

"You--had your eyes closed." It's a blatant lie, so much so that even Peter doesn't buy it. "You were two feet away from me, Lex."

Lex cocks his head, the beginnings of a bitter smile curving his mouth. The streetlight here is broken, it's that sick gloom of late city-nights, and Lex still shines. Something bright and brilliant, and Peter knows he'll never forget this moment. Not with the tacit offer and the unasked questions.

"Why don't you ask?" Peter whispers, and it's a broken sound. Even Harry asks, with that quizzical smile that reaches into him and knots something in his guts every time. MJ asks, though not so much, maybe drawing her own conclusions. But Lex doesn't. Isn't.

"I don't want to hear you lie to me."

There's probably history behind that statement. No, there is history, and it's old and sharp and Peter thinks he can taste it like he sees it in every line of Lex's body--the casual lift of broad shoulders, the slow, easy tilt of Lex's head, and the open-handed willingness to simply look away. It's all there.

There's history behind that, and Peter opens his mouth for the right words. "I'm Spiderman."

Well. Not exactly what he meant to say.

"Can I have you dissected for scientific inquiry?" There's a quirk to Lex's smile, like something's amusing the hell out of him.

"No. I'm good as is."

"Ready to go back?"

"Son of a--" Peter's still getting used to the cursing thing, and he feels the flush when he says the word, "--bitch."

Lex takes the few steps between them, giving Peter a quick, hard kiss with a promise in it that Peter can't quite wrap his mind around. When Lex draws back, with sober eyes and a warm, reddened mouth, Peter lets out a slow breath.

Light fingers tug against his hand, pulling him along, and Peter follows, dazed and confused and so high, like he's spinning his way across the top of the world and there's no way he can ever fall.

"Mr. Luthor?"

Peter waits until Lex finishes on the phone, taking the seat indicated as Lex continues whatever conversation. It gives him a chance to look, and he takes it, studying the room like something entirely alien.

It's just about right, Peter thinks. Solid, and it has an almost military precision, spartan in the extreme. Expensive furniture and beautiful art, like any CEO's office in the history of business. Doubtless autocratic cavemen had their rooms decorated by only the most skilled of the Neanderthals with the best comprehension of straight line stick figures.

He really needs to get out more.

After few brief seconds, Lex puts down the phone, smiling impersonally over the length of the desk.

"You wanted to see me?"

Carefully, Peter slides three photos across the slick surface of the table. Color, brilliant and shocking, then the night photos. He watches Lex pick them up--Superman in flight, Superman saving a kid from a burning building, Superman hovering near a train that's just been saved from imminent derailing.

They're glossy, beautiful, and Lex nods, looking into each picture as if he's trying to live the moment itself.

"I'm almost done," Peter says, but he's not entirely sure of that. "I should have the final results ready for you by early next week."

"You're very efficient."

"I pride myself on my work, Mr. Luthor." He watches Lex's fingers tap a slow, discordant rhythm into the surface of the desk. "Do you need anything else?"

"I'd like a copy of that picture of Clark." And amazingly, Peter had anticipated that. It's still hanging on the line, and Peter's spent not a few hours studying it along with the others. No real reason, he thinks, but that's not true. He knows a perfect moment when he sees it. He just doesn't know why sometimes.

"I'll have it." Standing up, Peter straightens his suit--they always rumple, no matter how hard he tries for flawless. Lex's gaze flickers up and he nods.

The cold of the office has sank into Peter's bones by the time he gets to the elevator, waving a hand at the confused secretary who has no idea what to make of him. On the way out, he glances at the newspaper on her desk, hiding the grin when he sees his face splashed across it, a half-dozen pictures of him and Lex at the dinner.

Speculation is speculation, he thinks, shaking his head. Metropolis really is a lot like New York after all.

He has Lex against the door before it's even closed. Wanting to just touch, pulling off soft cashmere, sliding his hands underneath to find wonderful, soft skin that shivers with the touch of cold hands. Lex's mouth is addictive, hard and wet and soft all at once.

Peter wants this.

Lex's hand is on his cock, rubbing him through his jeans--oh yeah, hell yes, that's good--fingers braced against his jaw, and Peter moves them both. His room, because, well, sex in the living room, not good. Sex on a rumpled bed's better, blankets stripped off, pictures scattered everywhere, and Lex is stretched out on the sheets, eyes closed, back arched when Peter ignores the mostly-unbuttoned shirt and pulls desperately at the jeans.

"I can climb walls," Peter whispers, ducking his head to breathe across the nearly-concave stomach, letting his tongue follow. Lex tastes so good. "Webs. Strength."

"You'd be surprised how non-shocked--oh God, yes, Peter--I am." The jeans slide off with an upward twist of lean hips. Lex in nothing but a shirt, so hard, mouth open and so beautiful it hurts. "Spiderman. Great name."

"Accident," Peter murmurs, wrapping his hand around Lex's cock, watching the twitch of skin, bulge of veins. "I--I can do this." And he doesn't give Lex any time to process, ducks his head and runs his tongue over the head. And--wow, yeah, different, his mouth stretching, using memory like a visual aid, remembering how this looked, how it felt. Lex is arching into him, fingers drawing lines across his hairline, settling briefly, moving away. Grabbing for the sheets and moaning and yeah, this rocks.

Not so weird. He looks up to see Lex's eyes close slowly, blue slivering away by inches.

"Hey." Peter waits for Lex's eyes to open. "I thought you were going to--fuck me." Got it in one.

Huge smile. "I didn't think you could say the word." Lex sits up, breathing out when Peter draws a quick tongue over the head, then pulls back. "On your back. Knees up. Where's my coat--"

"By the door--"

"Yeah." Breathing hard, staring at him while Peter pulls off his t-shirt, skinning jeans and boxers off. He's breathless and amazed and so hard it almost hurts. A graceful hand rests on his chest, just a slow, luxurious feel up and down. It's so good he's like a cat, moving into it, and he could be purring, before Lex is off the bed, going toward the door.

Peter forces himself to move, shifting on the narrow bed, looking up just in time for Lex to drop something beside his head. Lex's mouth lands on his, hot and wet, rough, possessive in some way Peter doesn't quite understand. Hands shaping to his body like he's molding clay, desperately sexy.

"Lex--" There's not enough air, too much contact, it's overload. Lex's hands smooth down his thighs as he sits up, pulling Peter down, enough for him to simply look. Eyes black as night, ringed in neon blue, naked hunger that's completely new.

The smile's just as hungry.

"I want to take your picture," Lex whispers.

He's flushing. "Like this?" He can't even wrap his mind around it, but his cock's on board completely.

"Just. Like. This." Lex reaches for something--oh yes, that tube that Peter's not been really thinking about, opening it. "I want to remember."

No real thought. Black spots are dancing in front of his eyes with the slow circle of Lex's fingers, sliding and slipping around the hole that's become a very, very new thing. Brand new, foreign and strange, which makes it so much better.

The camera's on the floor. Lex sits it beside them, then grins, sliding backward on the bed, and Peter lifts himself on his elbows, pretty sure that's now--

"Oh God." Lex's tongue. Just behind his balls, slick and hot and wet and soft, somehow hard, too. "Lex, you're not--" And there. Right there, wet and pushing inside, and does everyone know about this except him? Not enough air becomes no air, and Peter hears himself making sounds that can't be real. Words forgotten, he can't remember language, and he's pushing into it, into Lex's mouth, his tongue stroking inside and around, circling and making him want--oh yes, please now.

Strong hands are on his thighs, almost soothing, and the man's got to know Peter could kill him by accident with a single flex of muscle but he never seems to care. Peter's back is a permanent arc, head back, and then Lex's finger--slick, cooler, hard--pushes inside, hitting something that turns the entire world so bright Peter thinks he could be screaming.

Or that's the flash of a camera, and he opens his eyes to see Lex coolly unwrapping a condom and moving the camera off the bed. A flickering grin.

"You're going to like this part." Lex shifts between his legs, and Peter doesn't think he'll ever move again--but he wants to. Energy's circulating through him, wanting out, but muscles like water won't oblige. He wants to wrap himself all around Lex, that mouth, those hands, and then it's all gone again when Lex pushes two fingers inside him, hitting it again--

"What the hell is that?" Peter breathes. He's barely capable of forming sentences. He hopes those are actual words and he didn't just imagine it.

"Prostate," Lex answers prosaically, and then his fingers are gone. Thighs lifted, and Lex is looking down at him with such intensity. Like there's nothing else in the world, nothing at all. "This might hurt--"

Peter swallows hard. "Nothing hurts anymore."

The slow insinuation is completely foreign. He has nothing to compare it to, even the blowjob, and his body's making rumbling, confused noises on the entirety of the issue, but Peter doesn't care. The way Lex is looking at him--the concentration, pleasure an afterthought, being so careful, and Peter can feel the stretch through his entire body. Slow, relentless, opening him inch by inch by endless inch, and it's good.

He reaches up and touches skin, Lex's face. Lex's wet, warm mouth sucks his fingers in, and that's--oh, double shock, pushing inside and being pulled inside, and Peter can't help the low moan. "Lex. More."

More. Oh hell yes more.

The thrust is a shock. Not pain, but it brushes that place again, and Peter can't scream because there's no air to do it with. Lex is settled all the way inside him, fingers biting into his thighs, holding still, waiting for him, and Peter realizes his eyes are closed. He forces them open to look, and Lex is--

Absolutely amazing, flushed and panting quietly and focused, so focused. Like this has to be beyond perfect.

"Do it," Peter hears himself whisper, and he's never heard his voice sound like that. "Just do it, Lex."

It doesn't surprise him at all. Four days of avoidance, and now Superman is all but stalking him, with a careless ease that makes Peter think he's been doing this for awhile. He lets Superman have his fun, flying through the air on the thin strands of his web and pretty much enjoying the entire fun of trying to lose the ubersuperhero behind him.

This is freedom, in some way, and he remembers taking Mary Jane through the city the night of their engagement. The cling of her arms and the smell of her hair, the soft catch of her breath. Making love in the soft summer night at the top of the Empire State Building, her hair the only bright thing in all the world.

His feet find the top of a building and he catches the impact, balancing briefly before half turning to watch Superman decide that playing secret stalker's kind of boring. Superman alights beside him, light and annoyingly graceful, and Peter shakes his head.

"You're a lousy stalker. I could hear you for miles."

"I wasn't exactly hiding."

Great. There's got to be a support group for superheroes with these kinds of issues.

"Any particular reason? One superhero to another."

Superman's all about perfect grace. It's kind of annoying to see it; Peter's never going to move that smoothly, that perfectly. Tall and huge and imposing as hell, and this explains a lot about Superman's pacifism policy. You don't need to fight when you can scare your opponents to death with just a look.

"You don't have any reason to be in Metropolis."

Oh great, superhero territorialism. This is why Peter avoids Gotham so thoroughly.

"Would you like to pee on the outskirts of the city?" He pauses--right, Superman doesn't have a sense of humor. And Peter's humor still isn't great.

"Peter Parker and Spiderman in the same city, guest of Lex Luthor--I shouldn't be curious?"

Low blow. Secret identities are supposed to be a quietly familiar secret to all of them. If you find out, pretend you don't know. Straightening, Peter refuses to let himself feel intimidated.

"You pay attention."

He could swear the man smiles. Or it's a trick of the light. "It pays in the long run."

"I want to take your picture."

That gets him. Nice. Startlement, suspicion, and a lot of other emotions play across his face, running back and forward and all around.

"You have one."

Several, actually. "Consider it a personal favor, hero to hero." He pauses for a few seconds, then paces to the edge of the building where he left his camera. "You get your picture in the paper all the time."


"I like it. A hobby." It makes him wonder if Superman has any or he spends all his time chasing the world for something to save. Something niggles at the edges of Peter's mind as he picks up the camera, and he has to file it away for later thought. "No big deal, right, Superman?"

The dark eyes survey him like an unwitting adversary, and Peter's doing his damndest not to be intimidated, but God, could he turn off the stare for a little while?

"All right."

Peter thinks, pacing a slow arc. No moon, tons of ambient light from the city. Camera up, Peter waits, trying to feel the moment.

It's not quite there yet.

"How do you know Lex?" Peter asks, and it's actually a legitimate question--he gets the personal feeling going on here. And that did it, kind of like he thought it would. That second, he gets a perfect expression, familiar, and Peter snaps the picture, slowly letting the camera down.

"I don't."

That's true. He says it like something absolute and unquestionable, like Superman's devotion to saving or Peter's devotion to duty.

It's sad, somehow. Peter stares at him, fingering the camera, thinking hard. There are words, but he's not quite sure how to use them. Framing something that he's not sure is even true.

"Thanks, Superman," Peter says, and the man frowns, like he wants to say something. But not tonight. The raw spaces are still there from Clark Kent, and he doesn't want Superman fingering them, pushing at scabs that aren't ready to be touched. Turning, he slings out a web, and the air's freedom, always has been, but--

Not today.

He's back in the apartment so suddenly. There's vague awareness of lost time and finding the fire escape with both feet is a shock. Swaying, he leans into the window before pulling it up, sliding inside to see the neatly made bed with its simple tan comforter, the plain white walls and bright lights. It's almost comforting. Nothing like home, really--far too impersonal, like anyone could live here, anyone at all.

The uniform goes back in the slit in his luggage. The film is pocketed in old jeans, and he doesn't bother even stopping, pacing out and to the darkroom, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Setting out everything in order, the scientist in him taking over, mindless work. Chemical mixes and careful attention to detail, tongs ready, before he takes out the negatives. He moves the first pictures aside, making room for new ones.

All mindless, autopilot, and this is why he loves his work.

Flipping a switch, the red lights come on, and he moves the paper from the first basin to the second, watching the picture develop. And it's always amazing, watching a picture come into being. Outlines that fill in, become shapes that come together, forming faces and places and people.

It's art, like this. Where instinct and training fuse, better than the laptop at home and the digital camera that makes every shot too flawless to be real. He's learned how to time it by the itch in his fingers, judged hair-fine and always right. Superman stares up at him, dark eyes and set mouth, no smile lines to mar the perfect planes of his skin.

Third basin, emulsifier, setting the picture. Lex will like this one, Peter thinks, grinning a little.

There are ten more to do, and Peter sets himself on automatic to finish, losing himself in a routine that is never boring, never mundane. It's no time, or timeless, before he's looking up at the neat row of ten pictures. He stares at them all before taking a step backward.

He sees things that other people don't, or choose not to. Lex had it right, even if he didn't know why.

Clark Kent, bad suit and forthright stare, black rimmed glasses, profile unobscured by hair or bent head or Lois Lane. Superman, too close and too personal. Say Lex's name, and the expression's the same.

Jesus, he loves his work. These are the moments he lives for.

The stool is close enough to fall into, and Peter does, a breath let out in something like a laugh, catching hard in his throat and choking, but it--makes sense.

Lex is very, very good at choosing what not to see.

It's hitting Peter all anew that this is sex.

Sex, with a guy he just met, with a guy, and even trying to wrap his mind around it is impossible, no reason to even try. Lex shifts, drawing a low groan out of him--oh wow, this is just--

"Okay?" Harsh whisper.

Okay? Great. Spectacular. Unreal.

"Sure." His voice is diluted to a whisper, drawn out in a sucked in breath when Lex shifts experimentally, and this could be--oh God, this is--


It's so slow at first, and Peter finds himself bucking up against it, faster, and Lex is grinning down, breathless, shifting enough for both hands to be braced on the mattress before the rhythm jumps, fast and hard and good.

Amazing, sensation coming from everywhere, and Peter can barely breathe, can't think, doesn't care. Hitting that place every time.

"God--" Hard thrust in, rougher, strange and Peter's arching into it, trying to get more. It's as if Lex is trying to reach his spine with his cock or something, and right now, it just doesn't seem like a bad idea. "Harder. I--harder. Please. Lex."

The slow smile down at him is perfect, and Peter closes sticky hands on the headboard at the next thrust. Far away, someone's yelling: random, needy sounds that could be him or Lex, or hell, anyone at all, and it makes Peter hotter. The sounds of flesh on flesh and panted breath and God, the feeling, like his skin's turned inside out.

This, this is sex, this is what's only been theory and vague thought, crystallized into vivid reality, like the difference between a vision and a picture. It's stark, unreal. He's hyperfocused on every nerve, salty-damp smell of sweat and sex.

"Peter, God, Peter, Peter..." Lex's voice is a low chant, and teeth graze his neck, sharp and fast, and Peter turns his head enough to catch a messy kiss, all wet-heat and tongue, too good, pushing him into the bed. Nothing good can last this long, and then Lex shifts his weight, working a hand between them, tongue in Peter's mouth, and it take one stroke of his cock.

One hard stroke, clever thumb on the head, and Peter breaks.

Not like flying or falling though it's like both, and Lex swallows every sound that escapes his mouth. It's raw and pure and terrifying and so good, so incredible, he's shaking, unaware of anything but his body, of Lex above him, of the convulsions racking through him, landing him on the bed again only to feel Lex stiffen over him, the spread of heat inside him, Lex saying his name like it's the best word ever created.

A few decades pass before Peter can force his eyes open. He watches as Lex lazily rolls beside him, all slow, languorous movements, stripping the condom and tossing it into the trash can, a loose sprawl of skin against him, hot and sweaty.

"Oh God," Peter whispers, and he can almost feel Lex's grin.

"Yeah." Low, richly satisfied drawl, rolling through the air, and God, how can someone sound like sex feels? A warm mouth fastens on his shoulder, licking idly, sucking, hands on his skin slow and heavy.


"Shh." Lex's tongue travels up his shoulder, tracing over his collarbone. His cock twitches, too sensitive, making him wince, and Lex laughs, reaching down and tracing with light fingers. "Nineteen's a great age, isn't it?" Something like satisfaction. "Nice."

"Shut up." Do normal people get three erections in one night or is this a new spider thing to ponder? He's not sure he cares when Lex lifts up on one elbow, drawing grids on his chest with the tip of that talented tongue, a quick bite to a nipple, and Peter shivers.

When Lex lifts his head, the grin's incredible.

"Think you're ready to fuck me?"

It was really only a matter of time--Peter sits up from the couch at the sound of the knock. No spider sense warning needed, and right, this one comes as no actual surprise.

Frankly, with all the articles about him and Lex, Peter's surprised that it hasn't happened before.

"Come in, Clark." It's not like he locks his door when he's here. There's some weird, fatalistic thing going on, and he can almost feel the man's hesitation, lowering himself slowly back down to the couch to stare at the ceiling again. The cellphone's discarded on the floor beside him, fallen from his hand when he feel asleep, perhaps.

It's like counting down to the coming of a storm.

One Mississippi two Mississippi three Mississippi....

The door opens, and Peter waits as the footsteps hesitate, door shutting, before crossing the room, coming to a brief pause only a few feet away. There's a moment of uncomfortable shifting, while Clark works up to whatever he wants to say.

With his foot, Peter kicks the photos he left on the edge of the couch, listening to the whisper of their spill onto the floor. He can hear Clark kneel, picking them up.


"Harry Osborne," Peter says, closing his eyes. "You might know his other name."

"Hobgoblin." There's a hint of steel in Clark's voice. "Surprisingly, he did make the papers in Metropolis, Peter."

Peter's mouth quirks up slightly in memory. "Betcha that you're one of maybe ten people in the world who connected the two. Harry's wife didn't even know."

"I'm paid to be observant."

"Too bad you only do it for money." There's an ache centering over his eyes--maybe a stress headache, possibly sleep deprivation. He never sleeps well outside of New York, away from MJ. On the floor, Clark tenses, and Peter feels the first flickering buzz of sense telling him, potential danger. Here and now.

Like that's a surprise.

"Your name's in all the papers." Should be a complete non-sequitur, but Peter's pretty sure it's not. "Lois is doing some digging into your history. Your wife--"

That brings him upright.

"Isn't any of your concern. Superman." There've been few times Spiderman's faced down someone he knew he couldn't beat. This man is the latest and the same strange, reckless energy fills him. This insane desire to drag him outside and put on a show Metropolis will never forget.

Clark's still crouching, photos forgotten beside one worn shoe. He's wearing an old t-shirt and jeans, jacket thrown over it all, college shabby, almost disarming. An impulse visit, then, before he could think better of it. Peter presses both hands into the couch, forcing down the rush, the energy spike that's half hysteria and half simple, bestial instinct. Maybe some sort of male thing. Frankly, Peter can't see Diana feeling the need to try and kick Superman's ass just because he exists.

He's human. Maybe not only, but first. And attacking people who can swat you down like a fly is never too bright.

"You think it's good for your image to be in the gossip columns of the Inquisitor?" Clark asks, and his voice is quiet. "For Peter Parker. For your life."

"You mean, my reputation may be in danger because I'm visiting a friend?" Peter hadn't really considered that angle, and he kind of likes it.

"He's not anyone's friend, Peter. You're from--"

"My best friend was the Hobgoblin, Clark Kent. Who the hell do you think you are?"

"He's dead." Clark's voice is quiet, almost sad. It's odd, how that still hurts, twisting the knife. Peter suspects that will never change, not until the day he dies. "You--you may think--"

"It was years of separation," Peter says slowly. MJ understood--probably no one else on earth would, even Lex. MJ, who understood balance, what it took to make it, hold it. What happens when you lose it. "At his funeral--at his funeral, the only thing I could think was the time we lost being enemies."

Clark can't see it, maybe.

"He--" Clark's trying to wrap his mind around it. One of the many, many problems with morals written in stone. There's no room for the gray spaces. It's all got to be blanket statements and complete one way or another. There's nothing like death to destroy any hope of clinging to those. "I don't understand."

"No, I don't suppose you do." The energy's gone. Hobgoblin had died a hundred times in Spiderman's mind, but no half-formed fantasy had ever come close to the moment Harry Osborne breathed his last. It wasn't Hobgoblin who looked into Peter's eyes, no mask or uniform or all the ways that they'd both camouflaged a simple truth between them. "He was my best friend when he died. I can't ever get back the time we lost."

The silence stretches. Peter's too tired to break it, bone tired, exhausted somewhere that's never completely rested. After a few seconds, Peter pushes to his feet, grabbing his jacket off the arm of the couch. "I'm going. Lock the door on your way out."

"Why are you here?" Clark's voice is painfully low, making Peter pause.

"Because I was asked."

Harry's voice is very loud.

"Oh fuck." It comes from somewhere around Peter's left, and he turns, slightly surprised by the fact there's someone sharing his bed. He'd half expected Lex to be gone before morning. "This can't go well."

A low groan, and then Lex is rolling on his stomach, one arm thrown over Peter's waist. "Tell him you have company and to go away."

"Yeah, right." This is weird. For lack of any better ideas, Peter strokes the long line of Lex's arm, twining his fingers through Lex's, studying the contrast of brown skin on pale. So smooth, smoother even than he is, and he lifts carefully, bringing the hand to his mouth.

"Hmm. Harry have any issues I need to worry about?" The low smoky voice creates an instant erection and Peter shifts, letting out a breath. God.


Slow, lazy lift on one elbow, and Lex bites his shoulder, lightly. A vague impression of teeth that fades almost instantly. "Homophobia. Freaking out. Shooting unwelcome intruders."

"Uh, no idea." It hasn't exactly come up or anything, but now Peter's eyeing the door. Wow. This could go very, very badly.

"Hmm." Lex sucks gently before shifting up to his throat, and Peter lets his head fall back. "Want to test it?"

The pay phone's removed from his hand. He doesn't try to hold onto it, letting it be pulled from nerveless fingers, gently set back on the hook.

"Peter. Stop."

He's pulled out into a drizzly night, the kind that's somehow vaguely symbolic, the kind he likes best these days. Low visibility for normal people, easy to rescue and not be seen, but that's not why he loves them.

There's no color anywhere he looks. Black, white, grey, only variations between.

It's cold and steady, already soaking his jacket, dripping into the collar of his shirt. Icy lines of water dribble down his back and chest, and he doesn't look up when the leather-coated hand rests on the back of his neck, the only warm thing in all the world.

"Why am I here?"

He can feel Lex's slow smile. "Because I pay attention."

That almost makes him laugh, and he has to look up. Lex isn't so immaculate, overcoat soaked, jacket beneath no better, water sliding down his face and probably soaking his shirt.

Rumpled. And the bluest eyes in the world, as clear as water.

"How'd you find me?" As if it isn't obvious.

"I had you watched, of course." Lex shrugs carelessly, sending a small, fine mist of water off his shoulders, and the hand disappears.

"This really isn't the greatest way to show off your ruthlessness, Lex. Could spoil your image."

"Don't worry. I have spin doctors to take care of things like this." And the hand is back, brushing against his face, as light as the drizzle, wet and warm pressure as fingers shape against the lines of bone. Peter can't help leaning into it as Lex takes a step, leaving only inches between them. "You're my friend."

"I know."

"And I'm your friend, too." A pause that takes forever to slide by, easy and freeing, like flying. "Come on. Clark's rifling through your photos--we shouldn't disturb him."

"He's--" Well, Peter can't say he didn't expect it. He might as well have left out an invitation, after all. "He's going to be surprised."


They're on the tip of his tongue, half a dozen questions. Because there's an alley, a long ago night, and an offered lie between them.

"Yeah." Deep breath, in and out. "You didn't give a damn about the pictures, did you?"

"I like photography. A guy I know turned me onto it." Lex cocks his head, studying him like some particularly unusual molecule beneath a microscope, then glances at the phone booth. Something flickers--something Peter can't quite read, but he doesn't need to. "You still have her voice on the answering machine."

Peter shuts his eyes.


This pause is different. The blue eyes are distant, sheened blank, and then Lex steps back, hand gone, leaving cold skin and cold water behind.

"Was it worth it?" Lex asks, as precise as a surgeon placing stitches, light as air over an unhealed wound. Peter draws in a breath that shakes, and it flashes like a slideshow--red hair and brilliant eyes and a smile that could light up a world.

"She was everything."

"I know." And looking up, he thinks Lex might. Lex, gaze fixed on something Peter can't ever see. "It's the first time you catch their eye across a room or the first laugh that you never forget."

"That makes it worth it," Peter answers slowly, though it's almost a question, but it doesn't change anything. It never can. Shaking his head, more water spraying out, and it makes him laugh a little brokenly. "I never asked for this."

"No one does."

Somehow, the quiet finality pisses him off. "You did. You--you chose this." The flinch is under the skin, all feeling, nothing visible, but it feels a mean kind of good to know he can do that. To Lex. "You knew what you were giving up when you chose this life. When you thought power was better than--was better than--" The words won't come, can't come, shattering behind clenched teeth, squeezed in clenched hands "You can't compare, Lex. There's no--you chose it. I didn't."

"Sure you did." A few brief steps, and only Lex would come up to him so close that there's no way to escape it, no way to fight it. Lex is a lot of things, but coward never comes close to being accurate. "You had just as many choices as I did. And you had as many reasons as I did to decide." Closer, now, wet cashmere pressed to soaked leather, and Lex doesn't let him look away. "Don't insult your grief and her death by making this about you. She died because someone killed her."

"She died for Spiderman." It cuts. "She--she died, Lex--"

"Bus stop. Subway train. Random act of God. It happens all the time. None of them have anything to do with Spiderman. Five years ago, the subway went down and Spiderman saved it with her inside. Ten years and it was the Green Goblin at Times Square. You want to wallow in guilt, fine, but do it for the right reasons. Be guilty for the stupid shit, like you didn't buy her favorite perfume on your anniversary or you had a stupid argument the night before, or whatever it is people use to make the pain make sense, but don't you fucking dare make this all about Peter Parker and his destiny." Lex seems to harden. "She chose it, too. Don't take that away from her, Peter."

"She didn't know what she'd be giving up--"

"No one does." The hardness cracks--fragmented like a mosaic, like a crumbling building, revealing something intense and painful underneath. The twenty-two year old CEO he met ten years ago, with that endless rage that never had a target. Someone who needed to be saved and never could be. "You don't get guarantees. You had her. She had you. Do you think she would have done anything differently? Fuck, did she mean so little that you would?"

It's always there, just below the surface, and Clark Kent and Lex Luthor are good at this, finding the wounds, pushing inside. He has Lex's back against cold brick, wet and slick, feet inches off the ground. One squeeze and Superman--

--Clark Kent will be Peter Parker, standing beside a grave with a host of regrets that can't ever be healed.

"Fuck you, Lex." The breath catches hard in his throat, a lump that brings back rational thought and the feeling of cold rain.

"I have a thing for superheroes," Lex murmurs with a quirk of the lips, and it should say a lot about them both that Lex is grinning while Peter's strangling him in downtown Metropolis.

"How many have you had?"

"Only one--that I know of." The blue eyes challenge--sharp, bright, utterly honest, and Peter lets go, letting Lex slide down the wall. He takes a step back, watching Lex not-bother to straighten his coat, head cocked, a modern-day autocrat soaked to the skin and alone in an alley. Peter can understand why people fear him so relentlessly, why they love him so blindly. The petty dictators and tyrants come and go, but Lexes are once in a hundred years. Maybe more. Power is like a scent and is as irresistible as the ocean, and it's all just him. Maybe not quite human, but that isn't what makes Lex what he is.

This is why Clark Kent can't ever let himself get close again.

"I don't need your pity." His voice cracks.

"I know. I don't need yours." So alone. A space around him that has nothing to do with proximity. Like Clark, maybe, like Peter, too. "I chose this. So did you. And--and it would have been easier, not--not having before--" Lex stops, the words crumbling into a pain that's too familiar, too real, and nowhere else, no one else, Peter thinks, will ever see this. "I wouldn't give that up. Even knowing how it's turned out, even knowing--even knowing he hates me--I wouldn't give it up for anything. The only thing I regret is that I didn't get more time."

"He's not dead, Lex."

"There are many kinds of dead." Lex turns away--straightening his coat, armor back in place as if it had never disappeared at all. "Get some sleep." Lex is walking away, and Peter almost follows--feet moving on their own, because he knows Lex would let him, welcome him. He could go back with Lex to that penthouse, crawl into his bed cold and wet, and for a little while--just for a little while, they could both....

It won't be cold, won't be alone, and it might not be entirely real, but it'd be better than this.

That's a choice, too.

"Would you change it?" Peter hears himself say, and Lex flickers, and Peter reads the answer in the flick of his coat before Lex disappears into the grey-black night as if he was never here at all.

"I'm not the only one who chooses not to see," Peter whispers into the dark, then turns into the wall, head scraping against cold brick, soft, rhythmic almost-pain that's not enough, won't ever be.

Harry's giving them these looks.

It's kind of funny, and Peter cooks eggs as if this is any morning that Harry's come home half-hung over from sleeping across his desk, checking the toast in the toaster while Lex reads the paper Harry brought in.

And he can see that Harry's reacting to Lex. Lex, who's giving off these incredibly intense vibes, huge amounts of energy, and does the man ever get tired? He'd borrowed one of Harry's dress shirts, a little too big, cuffs rolled mid arm, still has Peter's jeans, and Harry's trying so hard not to draw any conclusions. Trying so, so hard.

Failing, too.

"Fried or scrambled?" Peter asks Lex as he gives Harry his plate. Harry can't cook to save his life. Aunt May tried to teach him, but only once. The fire pretty much killed any aspirations in that direction. Harry's barely allowed in Aunt May's kitchen anymore.

"I'm not picky." Lex glances up with a slow smile--he's just enjoying this far too much. Peter grins back and goes back to the pan, adding butter while Harry picks over the eggs. Not nearly comfortable enough to even ask a question, and Peter--okay, yeah, he's enjoying this, too.

"When does your flight leave?" Harry asks after a bracing bite of eggs. Peter wonders if Harry's added alcohol to the coffee.

"Ten," Lex answers calmly, sipping his own coffee. "The car should be here to pick me up in a few minutes."

"I'll hurry with the eggs," Peter answers, and cracks two into the pan. He has to wonder if Harry's going to ask him once Lex is gone. Or not-ask with those long, penetrating glances that are worse than questions, because how the hell do you answer them?

"You have class this morning, Peter?" Lex asks as he gets more coffee, brushing against Peter's back in a way that sets every nerve alight. Peter shakes his head a little dazedly. "Get some rest. You look tired."

Peter almost loses an eggshell in the pan. Harry makes an unclassifiable noise and Peter can hear him groping for napkins.

Oh yeah, Harry's going to be getting him for this one.

Clark's sitting on the couch when Peter gets back, and that he doesn't expect at all. There are photos are stacked in a neat pile, ones that Peter had brought from New York, immortalizing a long dead day.

This isn't good. Clark's got one on top that, frankly, Peter would have guessed would have sent him running.

Dropping his jacket, he rubs his hands and hair dry on a towel in the kitchen and paces back into the living room, glancing down at the top of Clark's head.

"He knows who you are." Clark's voice is painfully low. Shocky.

"I'm going back to New York," Peter says, and Clark looks up. Dark green, wet leaves, so much color, making everything else fade into grey around him. "I finished tonight. The flight leaves tomorrow. Tell Lois to back off."

"Why did you tell him?"

That's the question. Peter's rolled over in his mind more times than he can count. It could have driven him crazy if he'd given it half the chance.

"He gave me the opportunity to lie," Peter answers, testing the words. Reaching out, he brushes his fingers over the picture of Lex--the twenty-two year old resting on his couch, shirt unbuttoned. Even in black and white, Lex shines. It's still there, Peter thinks. Even time can't wear it away. "He's the one you couldn't save."

He doesn't need an answer to that. It's written on Clark's face, maybe been there all along; it's been in his own mirror for far too long. In Lex's, too, if he thinks about it, but Lex is better at hiding, better at cutting himself into pieces than Peter will ever be.

The silence is too--something. Like it's waiting, though hell if Peter knows for what or why. There's a lot to say but nothing that they both don't know.

"I--" Clark stops, breathing out sharply. The big hands clench into fists on the faded knees of his jeans. "It's easy for you. You don't live here. You and Wayne, you can afford to be his friend, you don't have to see him every day, know what he's planning, have to stop it. You can--you can separate because he's not yours to fight. I don't have any buffer."

"I know." Peter breathes out, lowering himself to his knees. Jesus, it never stops, not for any of them. It's Peter and Harry all over again. "I--I know."

"There's nothing worse than fighting someone you love."

Yes, there is. You can lose them. Lex is wrong. There's only one kind of death.

Clark picks up the stack of pictures, going through them almost at random, and the last one stops Peter, the one that Clark looks down at without words. Big, shaking hands, fumble over the slick surface, and then Clark lets it drop, wafting on still air into Peter's lap. It's him and Lex in that long-ago bed. Lex must have set the camera for that one, or maybe Peter had, but the warm, intimate sprawl under warm blankets is--must hurt.

"It's a choice," Peter says slowly. This is what Lex was talking about, and this is MJ and Harry, Lex and Clark, too. "Do you think he should be alone? That he deserves that?"

Clark looks up shockingly fast. Maybe it's hard to see the superhero under the faded t-shirt and worn jeans usually, but it's impossible to ignore now, when Superman's there too, when both men are staring at him like he's asked the stupidest question in the world.

Well, he probably has. This may be the one place where both men are one and the same.

"No. I just wanted it to be me he wasn't alone with." Standing up, the rest of the pictures spill onto the floor in a glossy wash of black and white. "I want him to be the person he could have been. I want him to be less good at what he does so I don't have to worry, so I don't have to keep my distance. I want that--" a kick at the pictures that never connects, "--to be mine. He can't give me that, but he can give it to you, and he can do it in front of the world. How am I supposed to forgive that?"

"You think I don't get that?"

"No, I don't think you do." And Clark's kneeling beside him, pushing the pictures aside. He's too close, but Peter can't back away, frozen by the unhealed pain that matches his own. "He touched you here tonight." Fingers trace the air above his cheek. "You can be seen with him. Metropolis isn't New York." Clark's voice shakes, and the touch is hot, almost feverish, burning below the skin into places that won't be able to forget.

Slow, even breathing between them, and Clark's mouth brushes his cheek. Hot and wet, and Peter closes his eyes at the touch, the feeling of it. Big fingers curling around his throat, and a single flex would break it, like Lex in the alley, how ironic, how--

"Clark--" His breathing stutters out. God, so dangerous, this is why Lex is obsessed. Clark kisses his name away--and he's nineteen again, getting his first serious kiss from his first lover. Lex leaves his fingerprints on everything he touches, even here. But soft and sweet, the way Lex never could be.

The warm mouth settles beside his ear, a lick within that makes him shake. "Peter. How would you have felt, if this was you and Harry?" And Clark pulls back, holding Peter in place like--oh damn, like a fly in a web, unable to move from beneath that gaze. "If I'd gone to your city and did everything with him you couldn't--" Clark jerks away, wiping a hand roughly across his mouth. It'd be so easy to reach across the distance and see how far they could take this. They're not different except in everything. Lex would never forgive him. Clark would never forgive himself. "Get the hell out of my city. Now."

Jesus, yes. Yesterday if he could. His fingers brush against his own mouth, and he wonders if Clark could taste Lex on his skin. "You're not being fair."

Wet eyes stare back at him, and all that leashed energy, all the ways Clark hides himself, all the brakes, are gone.

"No, I'm not. This isn't a choice."

The airport's crowded as hell, and it's torture to get through, but the people bothers him less today. Endless chatter, bright and meaningless, buoys him slightly, and he looks out the huge windows into a Metropolis caught at twilight.

Brilliant and vivid and so much less painful. It's not New York.

The plane won't leave for over an hour. Peter finds a chair, setting the carry-on in his lap, fingers running over the worn exterior. MJ had given this set to him for their first anniversary, and when he'd asked her why, she'd only grinned and said for when they traveled. Like Spiderman had the option of a vacation.

She would have loved the Caribbean.

Closing his eyes, Peter leans his head back into the headrest. He's in the first class lounge, quiet enough to leave him alone with his thoughts, and he really doesn't need that. He's too restless, energy sparkling through him, and every glance out the huge window that shows the Metropolis skyline makes him want to--

He shakes the thought aside before it can fully form. It'd be the wrong kind of peace if he stays.

Unzipping the bag, needing distraction, he pulls out the large envelope, neatly addressed to Lex, already stamped and ready to go. It's lined with cardboard to protect the contents, and he slides the bag to sit between his feet, carefully flicking open the prongs holding the flap closed, letting the pictures slide into his lap.

Vivid blacks and whites. He's always loved color, but it's been a long time since he's used it. Color was Mary Jane's hair, her smile, the way she lit up everything and everyone. Somehow, it's--easier, to see the world without it when it has to be without her.

He catches himself staring at the door, half-expecting Lex to walk in, sure step and slightly amused expression. Lex, who came too close--oh God, too damn close--to making an offer. Peter, who came too close to accepting.

The cell phone Lex gave him comes out of his pocket and into his hand before his nerves can break. Speed-dial one. Quick, almost rushed rings that still take too long, picked up on the third.

"Peter?" Caller ID must be a very necessary thing for someone like Lex.

Peter draws in a breath that shakes.

"Is it still worth it?" Peter asks, and his tongue feels numb, his head feels like it's floating. Surely this breaks some part of the superhero code. It sure as hell fucks around with everything else, but-- "Is it worth the cost? To know? For sure?" His lap is covered with the only kind of proof Lex will have no choice but to accept. Even Lex, who can take denial to the point of deliberate blindness, who has. There's no other explanation possible for this.

"Peter, where are you?"

"Answer the question." No, it's not worth it, not when the price is the memories. To keep this one thing with no regrets. To be able to do what you have to do and let nothing stop you. If Peter had lived his whole life not knowing Harry was Hobgoblin, he could have been happy.

And Hobgoblin would have had a very, very short reign of terror. Shutting his eyes, he thinks of the only other way Lex will ever know for sure. It won't be Clark standing over that grave, after all.

You see things other people don't.

Lex is ready to see now.

"Yes." Lex's voice is breathless, like he's been running for so long he's forgotten how to stop. Peter should have thought of that. Lex is a lot of things, but coward never comes close.

The first boarding call makes Peter jump--or maybe it's the sound of Lex's voice. Undistracted by his expression, by his smiles, by his ability to be a living, breathing lie, the voice gives everything away.

"First class desk," Peter says, and shivers, thinking of New York and what's waiting for him there. Some things should be hard. That's what makes them worth it. "They'll be waiting for you."

"Peter--" The voice stops, and maybe he's done the impossible, made Lex Luthor speechless. There's a thousand things in that voice. Inevitability and pain, excitement and regret all at once. How Peter felt last night. How denial feels when it breaks.

"You have time," Peter says, wondering if Lex will understand, and there's envy there, thickening his voice, making the words sharp, painful. He could hate them both for having what he can't. "You have time, Lex."

Th quiet on the other end of the line is as good as acknowledgement.

"Good luck." He hangs up, dropping the phone on the seat beside him, standing to glance out the windows one last time.

He imagines he sees Superman a tiny dark shape in the sky, but the light from LexCorp blocks it out.