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Quality Time

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Two

 

The hours of a newspaperman were very similar, come to find out, to those of a farmer. Which was to say, ungodly, and Perry White was a cruel taskmaster, expecting his newsroom staffers in just as bright and early as he was himself.

Getting up at six most mornings, was no great inconvenience on the days Clark slept alone, but on those other, more frequent days, when he had a warm billionaire in his bed, it was sheer hell.

Lex liked to sleep in. Not that he was slothful - - far from it - - it just wasn't often he willingly saw the early side of 8 am. And even though he'd tried to hide it, he'd been stressed and weary yesterday and Clark was loathe to disturb those last few hours of morning's rest.

Which meant super speeding through shower and dressing and grabbing breakfast on the go on the way to work, instead of klutzing around the kitchen and eating it here and generally making enough racket to rouse Lex.

Clark shifted out of his sprawl and rolled towards Lex, who had reverted to his normal compact sleeping arrangement. Clark sprawled like a puppet with its strings cut during deep sleep, limbs flung every which way. Lex always started out loose and relaxed, but inevitably ended curled on his side, taking up as little space as possible, as if he were protecting some subconscious vulnerability.

For a few precious moments, he allowed himself to Lex-watch, fascinated as always, by the sleep induced serenity. All the tension lines eased, all the contained energy diffused. Ten years smoothed away like it was nothing but illusion and all by the grace of letting go - - however briefly - - of conscious burdens.

Clark could almost hate LexCorp for that - - for the demands the company made on Lex. But it wasn't the company, really that expected more than a reasonable man could offer, it was Lex and the expectations he'd been groomed to expect from himself. It was Lex that was never satisfied and Lex that drove himself to distraction. And Lex that came to Clark and wanted to be torn down when it became too much.

But that was okay, because Clark didn't mind deconstructing the Luthor part of Lex, shattering walls and driving away demons. Reminding Lex of things he needed to be reminded of from time to time. Of his humanity, that he was far removed from the man his father had wanted him to be, that love wasn't a dirty word and that he could let go from time to time and trust himself to that love.

Clark smiled, traced a finger across the sleek curve of muscle and flesh where Lex's neck joined his shoulder, then rolled out of bed, parting with gravity just enough to keep from jostling the mattress.

He showered and dressed and idly entertained something ridiculously romantic, like running home and plucking a few of his mom's tulips to lay on the pillow next to Lex, before he headed to work. But he rolled his own eyes a little at the notion, because he wasn't that much of a girl. Besides he didn't want to get subtly ribbed about it later by Lex, so he settled for leaning down and brushing his lips across Lex's temple. Lex didn't even twitch, firmly caught in the grips of sleep.

There was a bagel place on Watson St. that offered cheap breakfast sandwiches. Clark picked up an egg and cheese and sausage one, plus a plain one with cream cheese and two coffees. He was at Chloe's door before the first curls of steam could really start to snake their way up out of the slots in the coffee cup lids.

"Hey, Clark." She was in the midst of pulling on shoes when she opened the door. He grinned and offered caffeine and carbohydrates.

"My hero." She snatched a coffee and grabbed for the backpack she called a purse.

"I'm so late," she moaned, locking the array of deadbolts on her apartment door. "I have an meeting at seven that I cannot be late for."

She took a second to catch her wind and actually look at him once they'd reached the sidewalk outside her apartment building. She was closer to downtown than he was, on a street lined with renovated apartments, neighborhood restaurants and quant little specialty retail stores. Two blocks down some of the cities older office buildings began a gradual rise towards the spires of downtown Metropolis.

"You look like you're in way too good a mood for this early in the morning."

An awesome night of sex had that effect. "It's Friday. I love Fridays. Besides which I'm on page two this morning."

He waggled the paper he'd picked up on his run over at her.

"That's right." She grinned at him, digging in her purse for car keys. "Congratulations."

Meeting Chloe and riding into work was a morning ritual. Working full time at the Planet, he'd thought they'd have more time to connect, but with both of them busy and her on the 20th floor and him in the basement, it ended up less. Add to that that most nights he made a beeline for Lex - - they made what time they could. Sometimes living in the real, 40 - - ha - - 60 hour work week world, sucked.

It was a twenty-minute drive through city traffic from Chloe's place to the Planet. Clark opened the paper to his article while she drove, sighing in contentment at the look of it in newsprint, his name on the byline. It felt good. He'd take a copy home to his mom for her collection.

He hadn't been home in a week - - maybe a week and a half - - and really, there was no excuse, considering he could be there in a few beats of the heart, say hello, make sure everything was okay on the farm and be back in the city before anyone missed him. It was guilt, of course. He acknowledged that he was a giant pussy when it came down to looking Martha Kent in the eye and lying. Or negating to tell the whole truth and nothing but when she asked the time honored questions that seemed to be mother's credo.

So honey, how's the apartment? Is the job going well? Have you met anyone?

It had been eight months. Eight of the best months of his life - - and he still hadn't gotten around to mentioning to his mom that he was sleeping with Lex. That any hetro tendencies he'd entertained in his younger years had been wiped clean by the sheer magnitude of Lex Luthor. He wasn't entirely sure why he couldn't come clean.

Oh, Lex had a plethora of reasons, most of them centering around the upheaval Clark's life would experience if the press got wind he was sleeping with a Luthor. The Luthor since Lionel hadn't set foot in a LuthorCorp boardroom in close to three years or the country in the last two.

Lex worried about close scrutiny from the press outing more than Clark's sexual orientation and that was one of the few things that Lex and Chloe actually agreed upon.

None of which explained why he couldn't grow enough of a backbone to confide in his mother. It wasn't like she would make a beeline for the press. He just didn't want to see her face fall in disappointment, when she realized there was one more strike, in an astronomically long list of strikes, against the normalcy of her son.

He didn't know who he was wronging more, her or Lex, but he'd die for either of them, so it seemed a tragically mute point.

"That happy Friday face has dropped, " Chloe remarked at a stoplight. Clark folded the paper carefully and met her remarkably observant stare.

"Perry's talking about moving me to the crime beat."

"Really?" Both her brows shot up. "That's fantastic, Clark. You have been getting a lot of - - you know - - first account stories."

"Yeah. Lex thinks its okay using it to my advantage - - work wise."

"He would," Chloe said dryly.

"You don't?" Clark stared at her expectantly.

Chloe pursed her lips, and cast him a sidelong, wry look as the light turned green. "No. I'm just saying that he would. Even so, I think it's a good move. Even if it weren't for your abilities - - you still have that whole boy scout mentality thing going - -"

"Hey, that's what Lex said - -"

"Don't compare me to Lex. And hey, it'll get you out of the basement. We could even end up on the same floor."

He grinned again, and dipped his head a little to look up out the windshield at the rising spires of LuthorCorp towers, and beyond them, the gothic façade of the Daily Planet building.

They parted ways at the lobby, Clark taking the stairs down, Chloe the elevator up. He spent the morning doing classifieds and gophering for the senior staffer in charge of the basement staff. Around lunchtime, he called Lex to see if he were free. But Lex begged off, having a business luncheon on the books, but promising to call later in the afternoon.

Which he did, close to five o'clock, because even distracted by business, Lex never failed to make good on promises. Even if it was only to dash Clark's hopes for Friday night.

"I'm sorry, but some unexpected issues came up that have blindsided me and I've been trying to get a handle all afternoon, but it looks like I'll be dealing with damage control well into the evening. Tomorrow, I'll make it up to you."

Clark pouted at the phone on his desk for a few moments, before he realized he was doing it, then shook off the disappointment - - because, God, what was he, twelve? - - and decided to see what Chloe was up to after work.

"Jimmy and I are going to see the new Tarrentino movie." Chloe said when Clark idly asked for her Friday itinerary. "You wanna come, or do you have plans with you know?"

Clark had no desire to be the over large, over obvious third wheel, while Jimmy and Chloe snuggled in a darkened theater. Besides which, it wasn't like he couldn't entertain himself on a Friday night without friends to hold his hand. Metropolis was the third biggest city in the country, rich in culture and nightlife. If he couldn't find something to distract himself on a Friday night, he might as well have stayed on the farm.

"Its Friday night, what do you think?" He gave her a casual grin that she didn't look closely enough to question - - because come on - - when you were dating Lex Luthor, it sort of went without saying that you had plans Friday night. The fact that he ditched you for paper work didn't necessarily need to be shared.

But Clark didn't mind, not really. He'd bailed on Lex enough times, because Chloe or Lois had gotten in a scrape in pursuit of a story, or he'd picked up the sound of something preventable happening in the middle of dinner or a movie, that fair was fair. Lex did have a business to run and Lex generally bent over backwards to accommodate Clark, whose work schedule was generally a lot more structured than Lex's - - Clark being at the mercy of an editor that brooked no excuses and expected top quality work from the lowliest of his staffers.

So, in efforts not to just go home and vegetate in front of the television - - really, there wasn't even anything good on Friday night anyway - - he struck out on his own.

He walked for a while, enjoying the last rays of the summer sun. The shadows were long and the city sweltering, people walking past with loosened collars and coats slung over their shoulders. There were distant clouds though that occasionally flared with heat lightening, that the lazy breeze might or might not blow over the city. Metropolis could use a summer shower. The city always gleamed after it rained.

Well, most of it. There were places, like the eastern end, and little Grenedine and Suicide Slums that no amount of rain could wash clean. Clark thought about walking through those streets, which he did sometimes, one of the very few who had nothing to fear from the perpetual shadows, but he wasn't particularly feeling the need to vent. And it was depressing, knowing what lay across the tracks.

He ended up at a sports bar, slipping in amongst a sparse crowd of working class. Wall mounted TV's displayed various sports channels, though most of them were broadcasting football. He took a seat where he could see one that was showing a Shark's game, ordered a plate of chicken wings and waffle fries and blended into the crowd.

He ordered a beer, even though he couldn't get a buzz to save his life, and watched the Sharks fumble towards another loosing game. It had been a bad year for the hometown team. Lex, who watched select games - - though he generally got distracted by halftime and brought out the laptop or the cell or whatever stack of prospectuses he'd brought home from work with him - - for two reasons; one because he owned the team and two because he liked to watch Clark get caught up in the pigskin conflict, said a major revamp of the current line-up was in the works.

New blood brought in to replace old-time hometown favorites that hadn't been playing up to par for seasons. It wasn't public knowledge yet. Hometown fans were going to be disgruntled. Clark felt a little disgruntled - - he still had a poster in his room at the farm of the Shark's current longtime quarterback, back from his high school days. Lex claimed as soon as the team started winning again, the fans would forget all about a shift in membership. And he was probably right. People liked winners.

He left before the game was over. The clouds have moved in after all and the first fat drops of summer rain had begun to pepper the street. The sun had finally retreated and it was on its way to full dark.

The lure of going home had yet to hit. He could go and see what Lex was up to - - hover outside LuthorCorp tower like a freakish peeing Tom - - or be a little less creepily freakish and take to the skies without agenda.

He didn't do this during the day, unless he absolutely had to, but the night hid a lot of things from casual observation. He stepped into an alley, a few streets down from the sports bar, checked to make sure there were no loitering vagrants in the shadows, then simply launched himself at the sky. He was cloud level in the blink of an eye, leaving Metropolis behind faster than any human eye could reasonably follow, even if someone had been looking out a window when he'd passed.

He'd used to hate flying, before he'd learned the finer points of control. But then, every new power he'd ever developed had scared him shitless before growing into it. Flying was no different.

It was hard to imagine now, being eternally ground bound.

He soared above the storm clouds, the wind whipping his clothes dry as he left Metropolis airspace and flew west. There was no particular destination, just the lure of the sky and speed. He really liked the effortless speeds his body was capable of when he defied earth's gravity.

The Rockies were an undulating carpet of green and browns and whites below him. He swooped low over a remote area and sat down near a high altitude mountain lake. It was beyond gorgeous, smooth dark water with mammoth round white rocks piercing the surface, broad enough to lie down upon spread eagle and gaze at the clear night sky.

He did just that. He ought to bring Lex here. Tear him away from his work and his laptop and his cell phone, and let him absorb a bit of utterly unspoiled nature.

Clark liked the notion. He liked the idea of getting Lex away alone anywhere.

There was a sparkling trail of light in the sky. And another. A meteor shower, so vivid up here it was like someone had created CGI effects just for the occasion.

Clark grinned and rocketed upwards, towards the thin edge of the atmosphere where the trailing end of the shower was in the first stages of its atmospheric burn towards the earth. He snatched a plummeting rock from its trajectory and the thing smoldered in his hand, red hot and glowing and big as a baseball.

It cooled quickly though, cold as it was up here in the stratosphere. The outer layer was glassy and dark and pitted, and there were neat veins of some metallic substance running throughout. It was pretty like fossils and really old relics were and absolutely rare, considering he'd plucked it out of the atmosphere before it could burn up to nothing.

Tulips would have been a silly romantic gesture, but Lex would love this.

With his prize in hand, he decided that home wasn't such a bad idea after all, and headed back east, a long, steep glide back down, the country spread out below him like a giant, textured canvas.

He'd gotten pretty good, during the last few months of figuring out geographically, where he was going. For a while there, when he'd first started venturing out long distance, getting himself lost had been a routine thing. But now, even when the spidery light in the center of North America that represented the lights of Metropolis was obscured by clouds, he still was drawn instinctively towards it. Like with the practice of flight he'd developed some sort of homing pigeon ability. If so, it was a good one.

He descended though the steady, warm rain and touched down lightly on the roof of his brownstone, hopped lightly to the second floor patio and let himself in. He shook beaded water out of his hair, and shed his damp jacket over the kitchen stool. He got rid of most of the rest of his work clothes and tossed them in the general direction of the hamper, donning a white T and jeans so old they were transparent in places and butter soft. Devoid of sports coat and button down and slacks, he felt like himself again.

He flopped down on the couch and turned the meteorite in his hands, wondering idly where it had originated from. Just trash from some orbiting comet made of ice and rock, or had it traveled further than the orbit of the sun?

He laid it down on the end table and flipped on the TV. He found a movie he'd seen enough times not to mind coming in on the middle, and slouched down, stretching his legs out across the coffee table.

There was a knock on the front door. A polite rapping that was probably Mrs. McClusky because the only other people that came to see him habitually used the back. The TV wasn't loud enough to warrant a trip upstairs to complain, so either her cat had gotten out and she needed a hand getting him in out of the rain or she needed some sort of heavy lifting done.

He padded to the door, pulled it open with his landlady's name on his lips and stopped dead. It wasn't a wizened old woman at all, but a young, sopping wet one who looked up at him with a tentative smile and embarrassed green eyes.

"Hi, Clark."

"Lana!" He couldn't have been more surprised if it had been Mrs. McClusky's cat itself, balanced on hind legs and speaking cultured English. He hadn't spoken to Lana Lang since his college graduation and even then it had been uncomfortable, with her boyfriend in attendance and the unsmiling ghost of Lex hovering over Clark's shoulder.

"I hope I'm not interrupting - -" She really was wet, her small fingers clutching the strap of her purse.

"What are you doing here?" he blurted, then realized that his manners weren't exactly firing on all heads. He smiled apologetically and tried again. "No. You're not interrupting. I mean - -you're drenched - - come in. Is everything okay?"

She stepped in, her sneakers making squishy sounds on the floor. Her hair hung about her face in long, sodden strands. It didn't make her any less pretty. "Of course. I was just - - I realized that I'd never seen your apartment - - so I - -" she trailed off, shrugging, while Clark shut the door behind her.

"So you decided to make the drive in the middle of a storm, ten o'clock at night?"

She dropped her eyes, chewing on her bottom lip. She looked back up and smiled wanly. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. I guess I could have timed it better - - but, I needed to get out of Smallville for a while and I just thought talking to you would be a good thing."

"Something did happen."

Her eyes teared up a little, her chin trembled and she admitted in with a heart wrenched sob. "I think I just broke up with Greg. And I really, really just needed to be with a friend tonight."

She flung herself against him, thin arms circling his waist, warm, wet body pressed flush with his while she quietly wept.

He stood there, blinking. Wrapped his arms around her back out of reflex, patting her shoulders, stroking her wet hair and letting her cry. Hurting for her, because it was obvious that she was wounded and seeing her hurt would never set well with him, no matter how long they went between actual conversations.

But he felt a distinct little curl of uneasiness. Comforting a friend in need was all fine and good, except for the fact that it was an ex-girl friend - - the ex-girl friend - - that had also been an ex-girl friend of his current boyfriend, which relationship had not exactly ended well.

He really, really didn't need Lana and Lex crossing paths in his apartment. It was actually a horrifying thought. He shivered a little and swallowed.

"Lana, did he hurt you?" he asked, because he needed to know whether he needed to go back to Smallville and return the favor.

But she shook her head miserably and whispered. "No. Please, I don't want to talk about it right now. Can we just - - can we just maybe sit and you can tell me about life in the big city and your job and - - and just catch up?"

"Yeah. Yeah, we can do that. First maybe, I can find you something dry to wear."

 

 

 

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