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Reciprocation

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Seven

 

It made Clark uncomfortable, in a place deep down between his chest and his gut, that he'd needed to come here so bad. That all afternoon and well into the night when he'd been hanging over Chloe's shoulder, helpless to do anything but try and help her track down leads and money trails, because there was nothing solid to tear into, all he could think about was Lex.

He knew Lex was mobile from the fact that he'd left the hospital, but not that he was okay. Really okay. Certainly the hospital wasn't giving out uncleared information and Lex's PR people weren't saying anything that the news hadn't already covered. But Clark knew Lex's PR machine was slick enough cover all sorts of half-truths and blemishes, so God knew how Lex really was.

He'd half hoped for a call, but of course none had come. So he'd fretted, worked himself into something no less disturbing than the black rage of earlier in the day and reminded himself that a lot more people than Lex had been hurt today. And he regretted that terribly, just like he regretted every dismal news report that came through the Planet, plane crashes, earthquakes, rapes and murders. And if he was capable, and could get there in time, he'd try and stop any of those things from happening. He'd put his life on the line - - or as much on the line as his impenetrable body would allow - - for complete strangers and not think twice. But the plain fact was, none of those people were his. Not like Chloe. Not like Lex.

He had no clear idea just what Lex was anymore and he couldn't rely on Lex to clarify the issue because Lex didn't know how to live in anything but a maze of machinations and ulterior motives. How did you go from friend, to unfriend to enemy to fucking and have any inkling how to deal with the situation? But then, when had anything with Lex, during any of those stages, been simple and uncomplicated?

What Clark did know, what was an unshakable reality, was that he needed to see with his own eyes, feel with his own hands that Lex was safe and well.

He took to the air, hoping the night would cover his presence. As long as he didn't bounce into any windows, he would probably go unnoticed. Slow flying was not as easy as rocketing through the air breaking the sound barrier. Hovering took either a great deal of concentration or an utter lack of attention. He was best at it, when he was totally distracted and not thinking about things like simple physics and gravity. He'd already figured out, that the key to flying and flying well was all in his mind. His body knew what it was supposed to be doing, it was just thought processes that kept screwing him up.

Lex was in his office till late, and Clark had to find other things to do to keep his mind occupied. He was in need of a shower, and going home would only incur questions from his mother that he didn't want to answer. So he went to Chloe's and used hers and had to contend with body soaps and shampoos that were embarrassingly unmasculine. Didn't Jimmy ever shower here?

He heard a woman's screams on his way out and stopped a mugging that would have probably turned into something worse in an alley off Darcy Street. It was a satisfying distraction.

When Lex finally did leave the office, when Clark saw that one body in the vast warren of rooms of the Luthor East penthouse, it was like a weight had been lifted.

Until he saw Lex and saw what skin and flesh hid, and then the black rage seeped back a little. And it was probably a good thing that Lex was marginally drunk and a lot doped up on painkillers, because it would have been excruciating without the buffer.

Lex was wavering, regardless and it was only willpower and displaced stubbornness that kept him on his feet. He was maudlin and that wasn't like him, but that was probably drugs and trauma. It triggered every protective instinct Clark had. Made him want to do something impulsive like gather Lex in his arms, no matter the embarrassment factor - if there could be an embarrassment factor after Friday night, or grudges that just didn't seem important right here and right now. But Lex could be prickly, defensive of his own weaknesses and you had to be careful.

"You should probably lay down. Get some sleep."

"Probably." Lex was pressing the palm of his hand into his forehead in little rotating patterns, like he was trying to iron out a wrinkle of pain.

Clark caught the elbow above the cast gently, and tugged him away from the bar. "C'mon. Take the first step. The rest will be easier."

Lex allowed it, with a muttered. "Easy for you to say. When's the last time you had a rack of broken ribs, a fractured skull - -"

"You don't have a fractured skull. I looked. And that would be - - let's see - - freshman year high school for the broken ribs."

"Oh. Yeah. You'll have to explain that to me sometime."

Clark remembered the way to Lex's bedroom with alarming clarity. He remembered the frantic, hands everywhere, rebounding off of walls, knocking pictures askew progress there the last time they'd made the trip. The bed was bigger than he remembered. It hadn't seemed large enough before for everything he'd wanted to do.

It seemed to engulf Lex now, when he settled down with careful movements, like an old man with bad bones. When he had shrugged of his robe, the shadows made the bruises purple, mottled like the skin of a rotten plum. And huge, from his shoulder blade to his hip, covering half his back and wrapping around under his armpit to his side. That wasn't even counting the other smaller bruises, the cuts, the carefully stitched gash, surrounded by purple on the back of his head.

How had Lex been on his feet this long? Fragile human body. Indomitable will.

Lex shut his eyes, with a sigh, releasing tension into the luxury of expensive linen and cloud-soft pillows. Clark stood there a moment, bereft of purpose, then moved to draw the blinds. Dawn wasn't that many hours off and the arrival of the sun wasn't a disturbance Lex needed. Clark was very uncertain what he needed, even if parts of him seemed to have come to a conclusion on what he wanted. Really, he ought to leave. He didn't belong here.

"You don't have to go. " Lex murmured, halfway to gone, like Clark's thoughts were broadcast stereo. "You smell nice."

"Ahhh, Chloe's shampoo." He felt himself blushing. But something else eased, and he settled carefully onto the other side of the bed, his back against pillows and the mahogany backboard. A whole arm's length away. The bed was that big. The pillows were nice and he hadn't really rested since the night before Chloe had been taken. It was pleasant here and the sound of Lex's breathing was even and comforting.

He thought Lex was asleep, but, "You stay at Chloe's a lot?"

"Sometimes." Clark answered automatically, thinking about how soft these sheets were, and how little he'd noticed the other night when he'd been rolling around on top of them with Lex.

"- - You sleeping with her?"

Clark blinked at the mumbled question. Lex's eyes were still closed, his face turned just a little away from Clark.

"No. No!"

"Um. Good."

Which seemed to satisfy Lex, because he didn't say anything else, didn't move again, other than the soft rise and fall of his chest under the sheets.

Clark toed off his shoes put his feet on the bed, shrugged out of his jacket after removing his phone. He made sure it was on mute, in case Chloe called, which he'd told her to, just to check in and let him know nothing untoward had happened. If she didn't in an hour, he'd call her. His optimism wasn't at an all time high at the moment.

He should have told Lex about the men he'd tracked down after the bomb, about Chloe and the Bennet connection before this, so he could get his people on it, but Clark had been distracted and Lex hadn't needed one more reason not to take the rest his body so badly needed.

He watched the shadows in the room. Huge room. High ceilings, clean cut and airy, not at all like mansion back in Smallville that seemed to press you down with the sheer weight of brooding gothic. There was still a ridiculous amount of space here, so many rooms for just one person. This floor barren of life save for him and Lex. He had to wonder if Lex even went into half the spaces here.

He looked at Lex. Listened to the slow sleeping rhythm of his breath, of his heartbeat. Lex at peace finally. Quiet down to his battered bones. There were faint rings of exhaustion under his lashes, but the other tensions were gone, erased from his face by slumber. He reached out his arm, fingers touching the edge of the cast on Lex's left arm. His fingers grazed the skin above it, soft and unnaturally smooth with the lack of hair.

He shut his eyes for a moment, strangely at peace with his fingertips on Lex's skin.

And opened them at the soft tones of a muffled phone. There were bands of wan light striping the floor by the big windows that hadn't been there a moment ago and a rapid look at his watch said 7:34.

He grabbed for the cell that had slipped onto the bed beside him, but it wasn't his phone making the insistent noises.

He tracked down the sound coming from Lex's jacket, flung carelessly over the padded bench at the end of the bed. Lex stirred, making unhappy noises and Clark crawled to the foot of the bed and reached into silk lined pockets after the cell.

Lex held out a hand, eyes half-open and Clark deposited the phone. He reached for his own while Lex was putting it to his ear, to see if Chloe had called and he'd slept through the vibration.

"Who is this?"

There was something in Lex's voice that made him look over before he had the chance to bring up voice mail. Something shaky and on the cusp of angry and Clark turned up his hearing to catch the voice on the other end.

. . . wanted to make sure the message got across, Mr. Luthor. There's no such thing as untouchable.

"Who the fuck - -?"

There was the soft click of a severed connection. Lex stared at the phone like it had grown scales and teeth.

"What. The. Hell. Was. That?" Lex hissed out a curse and struggled up. Cursed a little more from the discomfort of that, but seemed determined to forge ahead anyway.

"Lex, wait." Clark caught his arm and stopped Lex's forward momentum short.

"I just got a fucking phone threat. By the son of a bitch who blew up my car. I know it! How the fuck did he get my private number?" Lex flipped open his phone again and tried to pull up the listing for the last incoming call and got a 'number unlisted'.

"Just calm down." Clark was trying to be cool himself, when upset would have been a much easier emotion to channel. But Lex had the upset covered for the time being, in a weird moment of role reversal. "I've got a number, Lex."

"You've got a - - ?" Lex took a breath. Bits and pieces of thought clicking into place, while his hand was shaking on the phone. "What number?"

Clark took a big lungful of air himself. "I got it off the men who exploded your car. I tracked them down after - - they were just hired help - - but they had a contact number, of whoever is pulling the strings." He trailed off because Lex was glaring at him with something akin to shrapnel in his gaze.

Through clenched teeth, Lex said. "Getting this information would have been so much more helpful if you'd fucking mentioned it earlier. Jesus, Clark, you must be my muscle, then."

Clark blinked at him, lost.

"The opening line of conversation and I quote: 'It wasn't a smart move sending your muscle after my men.' Fuck." Lex pressed his palm against the bridge of his nose and sat there on the edge of the bed while a quiver of pain or fury or black humor washed over him.

Some of the fainter bruises that had been on his back and shoulders were almost gone, the shallower cuts and abrasions half healed already. Clark knew that Lex tended to bounce back from injury quickly, and God knew he'd had enough chances to prove that back in Smallville, but this rate of mending was surprising.

Meteor enhanced healing. The other thing Lex had come away with after Clark's cataclysmic arrival nineteen years ago. Clark just hadn't realized it was so fast.

He doubted bones were mended yet and Lex's very stiff movements as he shifted around to better face Clark were testament to that.

"Would you care to - - I don't know - - Share the wealth of information you've apparently been sitting on? Maybe turn a new leaf and not keep me in the fucking dark about things that are really fucking important?" Lex's control broke on the last part of that request and the final two words got yelled at Clark. Lex winced though, which meant being inside his head right now, while he was in the midst of temper, was not a good place to be.

And okay, he deserved that and Lex could be emphatically forgiven for being pissy about it. Clark held up his hands, a sign of surrender because Lex always liked to win a fight and maybe that's what he needed to curb the anger.

"You're right. I'm sorry. Its about Dr. Bennet, I'm pretty sure."

"Bennet - -?"

"Chloe got picked up outside her apartment at gunpoint Sunday by people who wanted to know what she knew about Dr. Bennet's disappearance. She'd been digging around campus, asking a lot of questions and I guess word got back to the wrong people. They threatened to kill her, Lex and she told them that you'd spirited him away. She wasn't trying to steer trouble your way, and I swear it never occurred to me that they'd come after you. I thought they were drug dealers at worst - - not the sort of people who explode cars just to get points across."

"What point?" Lex asked him, eyes gone so dark it was almost hard to see the color. "Why? If these people are his financers, I don't see where the profit lies. I'd pay not to take the fucking drug. What do they want with him? And what are they trying to do, intimidate me into handing him over? I'll track down their asses down and obliterate them."

Which claim Clark didn't doubt Lex was capable of, with his array of legitimate and not so legitimate resources at hand. But then corporate raiding and quasi-military secret weapons programs weren't necessarily a guarantee of success when dealing with organized crime.

"Lex, if this is some crime syndicate - - the mob - - whatever they're calling themselves these days - - isn't that a little outside LuthorCorp's general realm of influence?"

Lex lifted a brow and gave him a dubious look. "I could take down a small country with enough money, Clark. And they fired the first salvo. What was this number you said you had?"

He almost didn't want to give it to him, not when Lex looked like this. Damaged and out for blood.

"Enough people have been hurt." Clark said slowly, leaning forward and meeting Lex's rage-darkened eyes unflinchingly. "Don't do anything to make more casualties."

Lex canted his head, nostrils flaring a little as if it were a challenge. As if Clark giving him ultimatums pushed every button he had. Which it probably did.

"Don't make any more Brain Simms, Lex. It's not worth it."

And Lex flinched at that, lips parting on an expelled breath, and God, when he was off his balance his eyes could be so expressive and Clark had just pushed him hard. Cold fury one second. Pain/guilt the next. It made Clark feel vindicated somehow, - - good even - - that Lex could be nudged off target by simple guilt. For a long time Clark hadn't thought him capable of it.

"What do you suggest I do, Clark? Sit back and let the police deal with it? Wait for another phone call and see what they want? Maybe I could give them Bennet, if they want him so bad and he could start spinning tales about you? Maybe I should let you handle it, you with your hero complex and all."

"Lex - - the police aren't a bad idea - - the FBI?"

"Are state lines in play?"

"Well, actually yes."

Lex arched a brow, waiting.

"Gotham. The orders came from Gotham. We traced the number there to a guy named John Smith. Probably a fake name."

"You think? I want the number and the phone if you've got it, and whatever information Chloe has dug up and if she gives me grief over it I will give it back."

Lex held up a finger before Clark could complain about that and added. "As talented as I'm sure Chloe thinks she is, my people are better. I'll think about the authorities when I see what we're dealing with. Does that meet with your satisfaction?"

It was probably as close as Clark was going to get, so he nodded warily, and flipped on his own phone while Lex punched a number on his.

Chloe had called him. Twice. And left messages. Once when she was leaving work and once after she'd gotten home. She was okay. It was still shy of 8 am, so she might still be at the apartment. Clark stood by the windows, looking down over the grey tones of early morning Metropolis. It was a spectacular view. He listened to Lex quietly giving directions to someone while Chloe's number rang.

"Hey, Clark. Where were you?" Chloe picked up. It sounded like she was in the middle of chewing.

"Sorry. I had some things . . . Listen, do you think you can do me a favor?"

"Always. What?" she asked, sounding interested.

"I'm going to come by later and pick up the phone, but I need you to gather up all the information you have on Bennet and his contacts, whatever you came up with on the Gotham number - - everything and email to Lex."

There was a big pause. He waited for the inevitable. It took about five seconds for it to come. "You want me to take all my hard work, all my time and effort, information I almost got killed for, mind you and just gift wrap it and hand it over to him?"

"Chloe," Clark said very softly, wishing he were somewhere other than within hearing distance of Lex while having this conversation. "You know you can't sit on this. Let LuthorCorp resources track down what we can't."

"What's stopping them?"

"Chloe, nobody's trying to steal a scoop. It's important."

She sighed on the other end. "I know. I get it. I just don't like dealing with him. Where are you anyway?"

Now that was an awkward question. "I'm at - - uh - - Lex's office."

He glanced over his shoulder at Lex, who was off his phone and watching him with a faint sardonic arch of the brow.

"Okay. I've got most of it on the computer at work. I'm on my way in now. I'll send it over when I get there. What email addy?"

"Email address?" he asked and Lex rattled one off and Clark repeated it to Chloe, who sounded very much like she wanted to grill him on the circumstances that had landed him in Lex's office so early in the morning. He had no doubt he'd get the third degree later.

"Ashamed to admit you spent the night with me?" Lex inquired, mildly amused, after Clark got off the phone.

Embarrassed would be a more accurate word, but Lex had the general idea. "She'll email in about thirty minutes. What are you doing?"

"Getting dressed. I didn't sleep in my clothes, like you." Lex got to his feet stiffly, seemingly unmindful of his nudity. Clark was mindful of it. Last night he hadn't particularly been paying attention to anything other than the extent of Lex's bruising, and easing Lex in to bed rather than letting him collapse onto it in a painfully jarring way.

"You're not going to your office?" Granted, bruises were a detraction, but Lex looked really good from behind. He made himself look away.

"Yes. I am."

"You can't tell me that getting blown up yesterday doesn't qualify as a good reason to cancel work today?"

"The world doesn't stop just because I've got a few broken bones. I have things to see to," Lex walked into the vast cavern that was his closet. Clark had never seen the like. It was bigger than his bedroom at home. By a lot. And brimming, bursting, nearly overflowing with neatly organized clothing. Clark had to blink a second while his mind caught up with the enormity of what was obviously the result of years of a deep-seated obsessive-compulsive fashion disorder.

He got back on track.

"That you can't see to here? Phones are miraculous devices. You can talk to people over long distances - - give orders, get information, intimidate minions, all in the palm of your hand."

"I don't have minions." Lex bent over to put on a pair of what could only be silk briefs and discovered that simple task difficult and probably painful. He glared at Clark like it was his fault and Clark stared at the inset ceiling lights, because really, he was having trouble keeping his eyes on Lex's face and it would be embarrassing to be caught staring below the waist. Or at Lex's legs, which were also really, really smooth and indecently well shaped. He had a little flash of imagery of Lex's pale thighs flung over his and he had to sort of take a breath and turn around so he could shut his eyes and grind his teeth in determination to shut down those thoughts without Lex seeing him.

"Lex, you can't even put on a pair of pants without breaking out in a sweat. Can't you take a sick day and conduct what business you have to from here, where you can be comfortable, instead of sitting behind desk? You know, feet up, pillows behind your back? Pain pills."

"I need my head clear," Lex said from behind him. "I can deal with a little discomfort. And who would be fluffing these pillows?"

Lex brushed up behind him, a grazing slide of loose silk sleeve across Clark's arm. Part of him started like a rabbit caught in open field by a hungry fox. The other part looked down at the unbuttoned shirt, the loose cuffs, the pale strip of hard stomach between edges of pastel silk, and he gleaned a deeper understanding of the fox's instinctual need to hunt down tender prey. God, he thought, if I back him into the wall now, I'm just going to hurt him, so stop thinking like the fox.

"You have assistants for that sort of thing, right?" Clark thought that came out sounding more than a little strangled.

Lex canted his head, eyes more blue than green in this light, a faint, deliberating curve on his lips. He held up his left hand, the edge of the cast visible past the cuff. "I can work a phone. It's one of my many and varied talents. I'm having problems with buttons though."

Clark wasn't sure he trusted his hands not shake if he attempted the task. But Lex was looking at him, unflinchingly, waiting, and maybe there was a little bit of challenge in the glint of his eyes. Of humor, and God knew where he'd dragged that out from, after being spitting mad a half hour ago.

Clark reached out, started about two down from the collar and his knuckles brushed bare skin. Second button. Focus on the buttonholes instead of Lex's face and the skin he was covering up.

"You know, I'm still finding buttons on the terrace?" Lex commented and blew Clark's steadfast concentration, because he recalled vividly how those buttons had gotten there.

Lex's right hand ghosted across Clark's forearm, thumb stroking his wrist. Clark looked up, fingers stalled on the third button, as clumsy at this as Lex with his broken wrist.

Lex half smiled at him, that self-satisfied little smirk he wore when he thought he knew so much more than anyone else. It sort of echoed the challenge in his eyes.

It made Clark want to kiss him. Not the desperate, half angry clash of mouths like the other night, but slow and sweet. He needed to see whether the taste of Lex's mouth was as intoxicating in the light of day, as it had been when he'd been so high on sex that he couldn't form a coherent thought. Because maybe that would prove something - - maybe that he didn't like it. That what they'd done had been a terrible mistake - - that he'd been tricked, or mislead or was having some sort of fucked-up Kryptonian hormonal imbalance.

He dipped his head and grazed Lex's mouth, a gentle brush of lips that felt chaste and vaguely sinful at the same time. He'd kissed Lana the same way, in the loft, during their stolen moments and it had been sweet. It had been what you'd expect from a high school girl, shy and a little passive.

Lex wasn't passive. Even when he wasn't trying, even when he was standing there, letting Clark explore his lips, there was nothing shy and nothing expected about kissing Lex. So really, it evolved from the same way he'd kissed Lana into a heady rush of dissolution. Like lying in a patch of sunlight on a cool autumn day and letting the heat and the pure sensation of golden rays seep into your skin, liquid honey.

That was kissing Lex slow and sweet, and it dashed Clark's half held hopes that he'd been just a little mad last week.

Clark's fingers tightened in the shirt, lost at button three. He let out a breath, staring down at his hands tangled in fine fabric.

"Maybe I will stay in today. I'll have Nancy transfer my calls." There was only a tremor of lost breath in Lex's voice, his fingers stayed on Clark's forearm, though, idly making concentric little patterns on his flesh. It was electric. A distraction that made goose pimples rise on his skin. Everything - - every touch was a distraction with Lex, individual little stimuli that joined as a whole to try and short circuit Clark's brain.

"Are we buttoning or unbuttoning?" Lex inquired calmly, like the most patient man in the world, when Clark knew emphatically he wasn't.

Clark threaded the button through the hole and moved down to the next. Lex gave him a look that hinted disappointment.

"I would have guessed you'd go the other way."

"You're not in any shape for me to go the other way." Clark was trying very hard not to think about the hopeful twitching in his pants. Lex's fingers slid up his arm, past the hollow of his elbow to his bicep. His nails scraped skin that was impervious to - - well almost everything - - and Clark still felt it to his bones.

The ring of a phone made them both start. But it was Clark's cell, not Lex's and pulling away to retrieve it off the bed gave him the chance to gather the wits that Lex was scattering.

It was Chloe calling and he took a ring or two to even his breathing before answering.

"I'm sending the files now, Clark. Don't let him keep us in the dark on this, okay?"

"Okay."

"Clark, everything all right?" She was unnervingly perceptive.

He put on a casual voice. "All things considered, yeah. I'll be by to pick up the phone in a little while." He was good at the lying. Even to Chloe who knew almost as many of his secrets as his mother. Especially to Chloe, who, like his mom, could scent out Clark's evasions with unerring accuracy and he wasn't ready to make Lex public. He didn't know if he'd ever be ready for that.

He glanced back at Lex, still at the Closet doors, a few buttons still undone. Watching him. Waiting for him to speak or act or God knew what. Maybe that was what scared him so badly, that he couldn't keep up with what Lex wanted, with his quicksilver mood changes and unspoken motives.

Scarier still was, that five minutes ago he hadn't cared.

 

 

 

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