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Quality Time

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter four

 

Lex was not always entirely predictable when he was in a snit, but today, Clark got lucky.

He was pulling into the private garage under LuthorCorp East when Clark tracked him down. The presence of garage attendants and security were a deterrent from simply running up to him there, so Clark landed on the penthouse balcony and slipped in through the doors that were seldom locked now, what with Clark's occasional unorthodox entrances.

He moved through the darkened penthouse and stopped in the big room that opened off the foyer, stood there shifting from foot to foot, waiting for the elevator to make the trip up from the basement garage.

The doors slid open and Lex was halfway into the elegant, marble-floored entrance before he glanced up and saw Clark in the room beyond.

His pace faltered, and for a split second Clark was afraid he might turn around and walk back out. But apparently Lex had retreated all he was prepared to for one day, for he straightened his shoulders and continued on. Granted he was scowling and his easy pace had turned into a stalk and the keys that hit the table in the foyer by the door were tossed hard enough to make a terrible clatter.

"Don't you have a guest to entertain?" Lex strode right past him with nothing but a brief, narrow glare.

"Would you just let me explain?" Clark exclaimed in exasperation and padded after him.

"I find my tolerance for fiction today is precariously thin." Lex was heading for the bar. "Why don't you go ply Lana with your tales. She always seemed to tolerate them better than I did."

Clark ground his teeth, beginning to get a little irritated himself. This wasn't his fault, damnit and he hadn't done anything to deserve Lex's claws. He thumped the meteor down on the lacquered surface of the bar and diverted Lex's attention with the motion enough to get another word or three in edgewise.

"We didn't do anything. She just showed up and she was crying and wet and what was I supposed to do?"

Lex was still half staring at the rock, as if Clark had plopped a clod of manure on his immaculate bar top, but he tore his gaze away and slowly lifted his eyes to Clark. "So she showed up on your doorstep unannounced, last night?"

"Yes."

"And stayed the night?"

Clark opened his mouth - - shut it and thought there was just no safe way to answer that question. "Yes, but I slept on the couch."

"How gallant," Lex said dryly. "And you even loaned her clothes."

"She was wet."

"Lucky for her, then."

"It not like she planned for it to rain," Clark muttered.

Lex lifted a brow, with that look in his eyes, the imperious one he wore when he was dealing with people whose intelligence levels were trying his patience. "No, that would be ludicrous."

He turned his attention to a decanter of scotch, poured a measure into a cut crystal tumbler and remarked dryly. "You'd better get home, and make sure she's not raiding the rest of your wardrobe."

There was simply no way Clark was coming out ahead in a verbal argument/debate/whatever with Lex. So he did what he was better at, and acted physically, catching Lex as he was heading away from the bar with the half full tumbler of scotch in his hand, wrapping his arms around him from behind.

"God damn it," Lex growled warningly, the drink sloshing across his hand as he struggled against the embrace. For an intelligent man, Lex never had learned to bow to the inevitable. Clark wasn't letting go.

"We talked. That's it. I tried to get in touch with Chloe so she could stay with her, but she had her cell off until this morning. We did not do anything. It never even crossed my mind. The only thing on my mind was that you were going to completely not understand and freak out - - which you didn't and you did - - if I let her stay the night. But she was upset and it was late and raining and I wasn't going to have her driving home at that hour in it - - so I acted the friend and I let her stay. Understand?"

"I'm capable of grasping simple English." Lex said stiffly, but he'd stopped resisting. The length of his body was warm and solid against Clark. The cold ball of tension in Clark's gut began to unravel.

"Yeah, but do you get it? Because sometimes, I don't think you do." Clark rested his chin on Lex's shoulder, cheek against the side of his head. "I don't want her. I want you."

"I don't suppose you made that clear to her?" Lex let himself relax a little, back against Clark.

Clark winced. "Ah - - not exactly. But its not like she's interested in me anymore, anyway."

He felt Lex sigh. "Why did you bring a rock, Clark?"

It took Clark a second to catch up with the abrupt subject change. He glanced down at the meteor on the bar. "Um - - that's sort of for you?"

"You brought me a rock?"

"It's not a just a rock. It's a meteorite. There was a shower last night and I caught this one before it before it could burn up. I thought maybe you'd like it." It sounded marginally silly now that he'd voiced it.

Lex was very still for a moment, then he shifted wanting loose and Clark dropped his arms letting him. Lex stepped back to the bar, put down his drink and picked up the meteor. "You know my luck with meteorites tends to run badly. We can hope this has no residual radiation or lurking alien parasites."

"God," Clark widened his eyes in dismay, not having thought of that at all. "I hope not. I didn't think - -"

"I'm teasing," Lex said dryly and cast Clark the barest trace of a smile. "You caught a falling star for me. I'm not even sure I can come up with off hand, a more poignantly romantic gesture."

"Sooo - - we're okay?" Sometimes interpreting Lex was like trying to find his way through a particularly snarled maze.

Lex took the rock over to the wall of windows facing the patio to examine it better in the light. "I may have overreacted."

"You ran over my foot."

Lex lifted a brow and looked down at Clark's sneakers. He shrugged. "There were images running through my head. I have a vivid and detailed imagination."

Clark laughed a little helplessly. "Yeah, I'm aware."

"Forgive me for making assumptions, when she was standing there, half naked - -"

"She wasn't half naked."

"With her hands all over you."

"They were not. She was thanking me."

"Is that what you call it?" Lex laughed, but he didn't sound really amused.

"Lex, she was thanking me." Clark insisted, because, well, she had been. "She was embarrassed because she'd showed up such a wreck. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend."

"Ah." Lex waved the hand with the rock. "Then that explains it. Of course she'd run to you."

"What does that mean?"

Lex gave him a pitying look. "For a reporter you can be painfully blind to the obvious."

"Damnit, Lex, you are trying to pick a fight." Clark snapped, offended.

Lex stared at him a long moment, as if he were calculating and weighing balances, then he shook his head dismissively and sighed.

"You're right. I am. I'm sorry. I react badly to the perception of threat to the things I hold precious."

Clark had to smile, despite his irritation, because Lex never said the L word, but he found ways around it. In Lex's mind, declarations of love were the surest path to the downfall of a relationship. He had a long line of personal examples, in case argument of the belief was warranted.

Clark stepped a little closer, leaning his shoulder against sun-warmed glass. "That's sweet."

Lex narrowed his eyes and Clark grinned.

Closed the rest of the distance and kissed the frown off Lex's mouth. Just a soft exploration of lips that Lex leaned into with the fingers tips of one hand against Clark's shoulder.

"So what were the plans for today?" Clark asked, pulling back enough to see Lex's eyes without having to cross his own. In the bright mid morning sunlight, the hazel was so clear they were almost blue. "I didn't expect to see you on a Saturday before ten."

"Obviously."

Clark kept waiting, smiling with stubborn pleasantness and Lex relented.

"The Sharks are holding tryouts today at the stadium and I thought you might enjoy it."

Clark blinked. "For real? That would be awesome."

Lex shrugged, as if he were well aware of the brilliance of his plans.

"We can still go, right?" Clark asked, then. "Wait. You were gonna sit through an afternoon of football related activity for me?"

"An hour or two." Lex corrected. "Tops."

"And you weren't even going to take your laptop?" Clark felt his grin widening again.

"Shut up."

Clark crowded in close again, pressing Lex back against the window. Partly because Lex had gained a grudging glint of amusement in his eyes, partly because - - well, he just liked pretty much any part of him touching any part of Lex and the more the better.

"How could you possibly think I could stray from somebody willing to make that sort of sacrifice?"

Lex made a noncommittal sound because Lex could probably come up with a list. Clark dipped his head and kissed him again before he could dwell on it. Lex kissed him back, one hand curling around his neck, fingers treading in his hair. Clever mouth. Clever tongue that dazzled Clark.

"Or" Clark said, when Lex broke for air. "We could stay here and have make-up sex?"

Lex kissed the edge of his jaw. "That wasn't a fight. That barely registered as miscommunication."

"Oh," If Clark tugged just so on the front of Lex's shirt, he could slip his hand up under the hem - - and God, Lex's skin was the best thing ever - - he could spend hours just mapping out territory on cream pale skin. He had. He knew every inch, every stray freckle, every smooth plane of muscle, dip of sinew, curve of flesh. And every time he got Lex naked, he rediscovered it again, like virgin territory newly claimed.

Clark counted himself extraordinarily lucky.

"Or," Lex countered. "We could go and watch the tryouts - - so you'll have bragging rights to your friends Monday - - get lunch at Dempsey's and - - God, Clark - -" Lex thumped the back of his head against the glass as Clark's fingers slipped up under his shirt and found a nipple.

Lex had really sensitive nipples. It pebbled instantly under Clark's touch, a hard little nub that simply begged to be pulled and twisted. Lex's lashes fluttered and his breath grew harsh, the hand in Clark's hair tightening. Clark could feel another burgeoning reaction against his hip. He thought maybe he'd won the make-up sex verses tryout debate without uttering a word.

But then Lex pushed against him, because Lex didn't like being out maneuvered, and looked up at Clark from under his lashes when Clark had reluctantly taken a step back.

"Lunch at Dempsey's and - -" Lex took up where he'd left off, just a little short of breath, a really nice flush on his cheeks. " - - There's a piece of property I want to take a look at in Little Bohemia and then if you want to come back here and fuck, I'm open to suggestion."

Clark almost laughed. Lex generally didn't utilize the term unless he was in the midst of the activity and engaged in the sort of dirty sex talk one might pay a professional to hear, or really pissed off.

Lex lifted a brow and straightened his shirt. Clark stared at the cityscape over Lex's shoulder for a moment, willing his own erection down - - which just wasn't as easy as it sounded when Lex was standing right there, with a kiss reddened mouth and a good deal of collar bone and chest showing where Clark had managed to work loose the top two buttons of his shirt.

"Okay," Clark said, with a martyred sigh. "If I have to go watch my favorite team trolling for new blood - - I'll make the sacrifice. Do you think Cody Rafferty will be there?"

Lex rolled his eyes.

The subject of Lana was only brought up two - - maybe three times during the course of the day, because Lex was incapable of dropping certain things, even if he seemed for all intents and purposes, to have absolved Clark of guilt in the matter. Lex liked to know details. Like what they'd talked about and who this new ex-boyfriend was that had set Lana on a trek to Metropolis.

Clark felt badly uninformed and testily suggested during one such session - - it might have been over lunch at Lex's favorite casual restaurant - - that Lex might want to give Chloe a call if he wanted to know the details of Lana's recent activities, because Clark had his hands too full with his own temperamental boyfriend to have paid attention.

Lex had stared at him for a moment, a piece of lemon and chive poached salmon on his fork, poised halfway between plate and mouth, before he'd decided on amusement over offense.

"I was merely interested. It doesn't matter," Lex said lightly and Clark chewed on his lip and felt bad for snapping, before returning his attention back to pork medallions that Lex had sworn up and down were better than steak. They were okay, but there were too many mushrooms and he really preferred his pork fried and smothered in gravy.

It was during dessert - - a glass of white wine and a plate of fresh fruit sorbet for Lex and a slice of chocolate cake with white chocolate sauce for Clark - - that Lex expounded on the merely interested, with the idle comment - - "Was it because you had your hands full here, or that it was too painful to know about what she'd moved on to that kept you from wanting to know the details?"

Which was about the time that Clark figured out that regardless what Lex actually said, it did matter and he was going to hold onto it like a dog with a bone until Clark could figure out some way of convincing him otherwise.

If it wouldn't have made a total scene, he'd have banged his forehead against the tabletop.

By the time they reached the quaint streets of Metropolis' arts district the afternoon shadows were just starting to lengthen. Little Bohemia was a haven for small chic shops, dark restaurants and bars that hosted live jazz and poetry, galleries and bookstores and sidewalk artists and vendors that hawked their talents and wares.

The property Lex was considering was a grand old dame of a building that had to have been one of the city's original landmarks. The stonework was massive and hand detailed, bold with Deco lines.

It sat abandoned now, a pretty piece of architecture taking up vital city space. Lex was strong believer in renovation. LexCorp had a half dozen developments in progress in the city, the new paving under the old. But apparently one of Lex's VP's, a man with a soft spot of fine old architecture had brought Lex pictures of the old Hawthorn building and a prospectus that involved restoration instead of demolishing. Retail space on the ground level and fourteen floors of high-end city living above that would appeal to those young urban professionals who had a taste for the bohemian lifestyle - - or at least the luxurious appearance of it.

Lex had a key to the building, and had come on his own to make a judgment call without architects and advisors and sycophants trying to sell the project. Clark's he didn't mind.

"I like it." Clark said, peering through the gloom of a great marble floored lobby, with massive columns supporting a second floor landing where the doors of what looked to be very old elevators sat. There was lots of stonework and hammered brass. "But, it smells like a urinal."

"I would imagine," Lex said, wandering down a set of steps leading to what have been a large ballroom area. His voice echoed in the vast unoccupied space. "That various homeless have found their way in from time to time. The building has been vacant for the last decade. It's a wonder its in the good shape it is."

"Considering when it was built," Clark stood under a great brass and cut stone mosaic on the wall over the front doors, staring up at the clock in the center that had long stopped the telling of time. "It's in really good shape. Did you see this?"

Lex glanced back, from the doorway to the ballroom. "They built things better back then for a fraction of the cost. Reproducing something like this now - - yes, that's very nice - - would be cost prohibitive."

Lex's pocket chirped, and he pulled out his phone, frowned momentarily at the number, then said. "I need to take this." He moved into the ballroom, out of Clark's line of normal vision.

Clark stood for a moment longer, thinking that if Lex tore this building down, it would be almost a criminal act. The city had few enough of its old gems left because it was easier and cheaper to simply bulldoze them and build new cardboard cutouts. It might make a decent story, the plight of the city's history via modernization.

Thinking of work, made him think of Chloe and thinking of Chloe had him wondering how she was making out with Lana. If he was lucky she'd talked sense in to her and Lana was on her way back to Smallville. He pulled his own cell out and hit Chloe's number on his speed dial.

After a few rings, she picked it up.

"Hey. You get things cleared up?" Chloe liked to cut right to the meat of the matter.

"Hello to you, too," he said, kicking a bit of brittle paper debris out of his way on the staircase leading to the elevator landing. "Pretty much. How about you? Did she tell you what was going on?"

He stood at the railing overlooking the lobby. There were really tall, narrow windows with leaded glass panes on either side of the big brass mosaic. He imagined the place bustling with people when it was sparkling new in the 30's.

"Yeah. Mostly." Chloe lowered her voice a little and Clark could hear the sound of her moving, maybe putting a little distance between her and someone else overhearing the conversation. "We're covering it in bits and pieces. But the brunt of it was - - he asked her to marry him."

"Really?" Clark blinked, wondering if maybe he ought to feel more devastated by that news. Once upon the time the mere thought of Lana Lang even considering going on a date with another guy was enough to send him into a bout of depression. What Lex had asked at the restaurant hadn't been totally off the mark. Clark had avoided her because he didn't want to know who she was dating and how happy she was doing it. A lot of years of avoiding her because he hadn't wanted to feel that way again - - and maybe it had just become habit after a while, because right now, he almost felt relief.

"That's a bad thing?" he asked warily.

Chloe sighed. "Clark, don't take this the wrong way, but Lana's had a lot of bad experiences with guys she thought she could trust - - and right now she's in the middle of a major panic attack over committing to man and maybe having it backfire on her one more time."

"There's a right way to take that?" he asked wryly, but he knew he'd been first and foremost among those guys - - he'd never meant to hurt her, but there had just been so many reasons why he had, one way or another. Lies would do that. The ones he'd told her to protect himself and the one's he'd told himself in efforts to deny the things he'd really wanted.

"We're still talking," Chloe whispered. "But she keeps hinting around about calling you and seeing when you think you'll be getting home. She's baring her soul to me, but I really think she wants your shoulder to cry on."

He shut his eyes and grimaced. "Listen, can you just tell her that I had to - - I dunno - - drive to Edge city for research and had to stay the night?"

"Yeah, I can tell her that," Chloe said, but she didn't sound happy about it. "But, you really need to fess up and tell her you're seeing somebody, even if you don't tell her who. Otherwise I can just see the hole you're digging getting deeper and deeper."

"Yeah, I can see that too." He said softly.

He stood there a while after he'd hung up, wondering why he hadn't told Lana last night. The same reason he hadn't told his mother? Because if he admitted he was in a relationship, they'd want to know with who and how long and all the relevant details that he just wasn't sure he was up to selling when he was afraid of the truth.

He loved Lex more than he'd loved anything in his life, but he couldn't just step up and cry it from the rooftops. He couldn't even whisper it in one old yellow farmhouse to the second most important person for fear of what she would think of him because of it. So maybe Lex was right to be suspicious of the depths of Clark's commitment.

He swallowed and looked the way Lex had gone, listening for the sound of movements, the beat of his heart. He heard it, steady and strong, along with the soft sound of footfalls, and the occasional crumple of debris on the floor as Lex moved through accumulated trash paper.

There was an echoing thud of heartbeat and Clark frowned, separating out the distinct sound of a second pulse. He focused his vision, cutting through stone and plaster, finding Lex at the far end of a huge room, near a stack of piled furniture and debris. There was a second figure amidst the tangled forest of chairs and desks, that growled and lunged - -

Clark was there. With out even thinking, his own heart thudding in panic. He put himself between Lex and a wild eyed, grey bearded old man, who'd surged up out of the nest he'd made in the furniture, a mostly empty bottle of cheap wine in his hand.

Lex made a soft, surprised sound behind him, and the old man, who stank of alcohol and sweat and urine stared with wide, shock filled eyes at Clark's sudden appearance. With an incoherent curse, the man staggered away, scrambling to a dark hallway not far away and likely the broken window he'd used to get in.

"Have you completely lost your mind?" Lex hissed at him, stalking around to glare. "Or were you hoping to get a front page outing?"

Clark took a breath, scanning the building for other occupants. There was just the old man, squirming out an alley-facing window.

"He could have had a knife." Clark shuddered, imagining not being fast enough to prevent a blade sliding into Lex's flesh. It made his stomach turn and his mouth go dry.

"He had a bottle of Mad Dog," Lex snapped, angry. "And I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself - - certainly against an unarmed old drunk."

"Sorry," Clark muttered, not feeling very sorry at all. "It's not like anyone would believe him - - if he even remembers in an hour."

"Don't be sorry. Be careful." Lex stalked off, towards the exit, pulse a little faster than normal. Scared. But not of the surprise the old vagrant had given him. Scared of the threat of Clark's exposure. Clark was sorry for that. Lex worried as much as his parents ever had.

Maybe he had more reason, having a better grasp of the dangers curious men with power represented when faced with the unknown.

 

 

 

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