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Reciprocation

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Nine

 

The air was crisp, cold like the taste of fresh mint, full of moisture from a slow moving storm front coming down from the north. The flying came easy today, like he was an old hand at it instead of a nervous novice, and the heights weren't bothering him at all. He was soaked through and through but that was okay, wet didn't bother him when he could soar above the tempest and fly so fast that the air-dried his clothing in moments.

But really, he didn't mind the wet. It was a good day despite the rain.

"Honey, you're dripping on my floor." His mother complained when he stomped in the kitchen door, and Clark grinned and brushed wet hair off his forehead, figuring that it could have been mud as well as water, if he'd run home.

She was baking and the house smelled like fresh bread. There were a few loaves cooling on racks on the counter.

"Did you get Chloe's problem sorted out?" she asked and he had to take a moment to recall what he'd told her.

"Not quite. But we're working on it."

"Have you eaten?"

"Yes," Breakfast had been nice, and before breakfast had been really nice and he remembered that with certain warm buzz of satisfaction while he was peeling off wet clothes in the upstairs bathroom.

While he was looking in his closet for dry ones, he thought about Lex's ridiculous room full of clothing and had to grin a little. He'd ask Lex next time he was there if was any chance that he'd actually wear all of them.

Next time he was there.

He flopped down on the chair before his desk- - the same desk he'd used all through middle and high school - - and took a second to think about that. He was feeling a surprising lack of uncertainty about the prospect.

Lex could be manipulative and calculating and Clark knew this, but he kissed like he really meant it, and when he got hazy with passion something honest came through that Clark knew down to his bones wasn't an act. Like the talks they'd used to have, before misguided intentions and deceptions got in the way, when Lex hadn't been prying and Clark wasn't lying and they'd just seemed to connect. Like what Clark said and thought meant everything, like his teenaged problems had been more important than running the factory and waging corporate warfare with Lionel. Maybe Lex was just that good at compartmentalizing. Or maybe Clark hadn't been the only one harboring unrealized desires. More likely yet, Lex had known exactly what he wanted and never acted on it, because Lex, despite all the cutthroat mentality that had gotten him where he was today, could be surprisingly honorable.

And now that Lex knew about him and Clark was reasonably certain that he wasn't going to use it against him, it was like a weight he hadn't fully recognized was there was lifted off his shoulders.

It felt comfortable in a way Clark hadn't expected, baring his soul to Lex. Like putting on a pair of old, treasured jeans, after being forced into a suit and tie all day.

He went downstairs, sliced off a big hunk of warm bread and slathered it with butter. Just because the rain was really coming down good now, didn't mean there weren't a list of chores that still needed accomplishing. The cows needed to be fed rain or shine, as he father used to say, and there were a dozen odd repair jobs that could be undertaken in the barn out of the weather. The sorts of things that he might actually have to take time with to get right, and had been putting off.

It was past noon and he wondered if Lex had heard anything, then he wondered what Lex was doing, left to his own devices and figured if he hadn't broken down and gone to his office, then the penthouse was probably swarming with staff, carrying his work to him. Clark could always call. He had Lex's private number now, which Lex had given him before he'd left for class.

But he really didn't need to call Lex, and he didn't need to be at the Planet until 2 today, so there was no legitimate reason not to catch up on chores that needed doing. If he cut out on his duty to the farm again today, he'd feel guilty over it all afternoon. Besides which, he'd gotten a promise from Lex, that he would call if his people turned up enlightening information.

He spot welded the back axel of the tractor with narrow beam heat vision and spent an hour of real time labor cleaning and regreasing the parts he'd pulled out in preparation of putting the thing back together. He didn't have the healing touch his father had with all things mechanical. Pulling things apart came easy, but it was rooting out subtle problems and the putting back together that always frustrated Clark.

He rather deal with people. Who didn't fit into molds and who always surprised you with the depths of their motivation and the range of emotion. It was why this internship was so important and hopefully the job at the end of it. He'd used to wonder at Chloe's fascination with uncovering truths on every school paper she'd worked on from grade school to high, but he hadn't really caught on until college, hadn't gotten the bug.

He'd had a three-inch column article in the paper three weeks ago, second page from the back, metro section. He'd gotten paid for it, freelance rate. And Lex had read it. It made Clark ridiculously happy.

He scrubbed off the grease in the shower and dressed for an afternoon at the Planet. White shirt over good jeans and a blue tie that had belonged to his father that wasn't too terribly wide.

His mother snagged him before he could leave the house and tied it for him and complained about his lack of skill in simple, mundane things like tie tying. He grinned at her, and immediately loosened it a little bit after she'd finished. He'd never ever make it anywhere near the world of business, because he couldn't stand the feeling of a collar clinched up tight around his throat.

Since he didn't want to be completely drenched he flew back to the city, rocketing up through the rain and the ominous clouds dumping it so quickly that he only was only marginally damp by the time he got above it. The sky was grey, but rain free over Metropolis.

He landed on the rooftop, just in case he came down faster and harder than anticipated. The loose gravel over the tar scattered under his feet, but he didn't do damage so he regarded the landing as a brilliant success. No one would think twice about him coming down the stairs from the roof, since the roof was a popular smoke-break retreat. There were scattered cigarette butts on the ground and the odd gum wrapper. The huge Daily Planet globe slowly spun above and across the street the glass-paned monolith of Luthor West towered above the Planet building. Luthor East was just beyond.

He couldn't help himself, he had to dial the number. Up here, before he went down and immersed himself in the controlled chaos of the newsroom. Up here where there was only the wind and the occasional high flying pigeon to wonder at the embarrassed edge to his voice.

It was only a call. But it was his first one sort of, that didn't have to do with the asking of favors, or advice or angry accusations or any number of things that had no connection to the recollection of the taste of Lex's mouth or the cleverness of his tongue.

"Hello, Clark." Three rings and Lex picked up.

"Hey." Brilliant.

"Are you at work?" Lex picked up the slack when Clark fumbled.

Clark held the phone away from his mouth long enough to take a breath. He was neither sixteen nor hopelessly infatuated, so he really needed to get a grip.

"Almost. I haven't gone in yet. I thought I'd call first and - - um- - " Check and see if the number worked. See what you're doing. Just listen to you talk. God, he'd had a thought twenty seconds ago - - what had that been about? Oh, yeah, not being juvenile and hopeless. Right. "See if anything turned up?"

"Not yet. Was that all?" There was a faint shade of amusement in Lex's voice and Clark got a mental picture of him maybe sitting on the couch, with one foot tucked under his knee, still barefoot - - absolutely still barefoot - - pecking at his laptop one handed - - frowning because he hated the limitation of the cast. Or maybe not the couch, because the couch was stiff backed and uncomfortable - - maybe the bed - - shit. Clark ground his teeth and turned around to look up at the dull brass of the Planet globe.

"Well, mostly. It's raining cats and dogs in Smallville." Small talk. He rolled his eyes at himself, feeling like a fool.

"Really? Are you wet?" Lex was going along with it.

"Um - - damp."

"That's too bad. Do you have on nice clothes?"

"Work clothes."

"Really?"

"Well, good jeans and shirt and tie. I'm in the basement most of the time so it's not like - -"

"What color shirt?"

"What?" The conversation was veering into the bizarre.

"What color?" Lex repeated, soft voiced, tone dripping velvety fascination.

"White." Clark took a breath and shifted the phone to the other ear.

"And it's wet?"

"Damp." He looked down at himself, at white fabric splotched here and there with rain. It clung a bit to his arms, a little across his shoulders, transparent fabric darkening with the tones of flesh underneath and it occurred to him that he was engaged in a bit of subtle phone foreplay.

"You should come over and dry off before you go in. I'll send Nancy away." The content of the invitation was so blatant that Clark almost missed the last part of the sentence.

"God, somebody's there?" Clark's burgeoning interest in talking dirty to Lex on the phone evaporated in a blaze of embarrassment.

"My assistant." Lex clarified for him.

"Right there? God, you have no shame."

"For what?" Lex asked all practiced blamelessness. And really, other than the sex oozing from his voice, he hadn't actually said anything. Then, maybe to prove Clark's point he asked. "What's the matter, Clark? Haven't you ever done anything dirty in public, where the chances are high that somebody might walk in and catch you at it? Jerked off under the bleachers when you were watching Lana Lang at cheerleading practice? Or in the barn, when you knew there was a chance of your parents walking in. In the locker room at school? Because maybe something you saw in the boy's shower turned out so much more appealing than you thought it could be and if you didn't take things into your own hands, you thought you might explode? Nothing like that?"

"Fuck you, Lex."

"As I said, you're welcome to stop by. I could tell you about some of my public - - experiences - - afterwards."

"I hate you." Clark leaned against the cold stone of the building, concentrating on slow breathing, trying not to think about the ache in his pants.

"I don't think so. And I sent her out to fetch some papers. Your phone virtue is safe. You can stop by after work, if you like. I'll probably know something by then. Aren't you supposed to be in at two? It's five after. You'll never get ahead if you're always running behind."

And Lex severed the connection, having thoroughly gotten in the last word. Clark laughed breathlessly, feeling like he'd just ended up on the losing end of some unspecified battle - - and not particularly minding.

He took a few moments for everything to settle and started down stairs. The newsroom was busy as usual, people hurrying to get stories in before deadline for the 6 o'clock edition. More confusion than usual without an acting chief. The assistant chiefs were doing their best to curb the chaos.

Chloe was at her desk, concentrating on a sticker-covered laptop, typing occasionally. She wasn't alone. Lois was back, perched on the edge of a chair she'd snagged from the desk next door, looking over Chloe's shoulder. Chloe was probably editing whatever story Lois had brought back from her trip - - where had she gone? - - Texas? Lois sucked at spelling, at punctuation and she tended to get wild with her metaphor, but her articles always seemed to have flare, even if the topics weren't necessarily things that the prestigious Daily Planet might consider printing. The Inquisitor had no problem with riskier speculation.

"Hey, Lois, you're back." He strolled up, smiling at the both of them.

Chloe nodded at him without looking up from the screen, fixed in editor mode, and Lois gave him a smirk. "What gave it away?"

He shrugged, ignoring her sarcasm. "How'd it go? Break the big story?"

"Broke a story," she said and held up her right hand to show off unusually short nails with chipped paint. "Broke four nails."

He lifted his brows and asked, since she seemed to want him to. "How'd that happed?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" she grinned up at him.

"Not as much as you'd like to think?" He grinned back at her, not feeling particularly flustered by Lois's irritating sense of humor today.

"If you two would shut up, I'm working here." Chloe suggested. Clark grinned wider.

Lois narrowed her eyes. Canted her head and looked at him like a spider she was trying to identify crawling up the wall.

"Oh, my God Smallville, did you get laid?"

Clark's grin faltered. Chloe looked up from the screen.

"No I didn't get - - what are you talking about?"

"I'm not getting that normal 'stick up the ass' vibe, that I usually get from you. Something else. You're either high, or you got laid. Do you even know how to get high, Clark?"

"I am not - - I did not - - Lois, why are you even in this newsroom? Doesn't the Inquisitor have editors?" In all technicality, he hadn't gotten laid - - today. What was it about people talking about sex in public today? And where had Lois picked up that uncanny sixth sense of hers?

"Who's he seeing?" Lois asked Chloe and Chloe looked up at him with a raised brow, curiosity obviously pricked.

"I'm not seeing anybody."

"Oh, God, it's not Lana again?" Lois rolled her eyes and Clark glared.

"I'm in a good mood. Can't I be in a good mood without being high or having sex?"

"I've never seen it," Lois looked to Chloe for confirmation.

"Weelll," Chloe said considering. "The moments are few and far between. But, really, Lo, he's not nearly as sulky as he used to be. You should have known him at sixteen."

"Yeah, and the both of you can - -"

Lois held up a hand cutting off his suggestion. "Geeze, Smallville, most guys would be crowing about getting a little. I thought you lived in Smallville, not Pleasantville."

Clark glowered, Lois smiled and Chloe put the finishing touch on her edits.

"All done. It's a good story. Put it in your portfolio, Lois." Chloe closed up the laptop and slid it to Lois, who picked it up with a pleased-with-herself grin and sashayed out.

Which left Chloe looking at Clark with an uncomfortable amount of speculation in her eyes. "You know, considering how much you were glowering yesterday, you are in a pretty good - -"

"Chloe," he cut her off. "Who's working on the Luthor car bomb story?"

She rolled her eyes, looking faintly disgusted. "Well, everybody wants to, but Louis Reid got the front page yesterday and he's doing the following up, of course. And Tanya Robertson has the LuthorCorp press pass and is working on an exclusive, but Lex hasn't agreed to talk to anybody yet. Oh, anybody but you. He was apparently talking to you. What gives? Are you suddenly on speaking terms again, now that he - - you know? - - has inside information?"

"Did you think he wouldn't be interested in what we'd found out?" He pointedly ignored going into that.

"Speaking of which?" She gave him an arched brow look of inquiry.

Clark shrugged. "He said he'd call if his people found out anything."

"Yeah. I won't hold my breath waiting. And here I am working on another garbage story. Sewers this time and trash clogging city drains. Can you believe it? I'm going to get a reputation. I'm going to be known as Chloe Sullivan the Daily Planet source on refuse. God."

"Kent!" His senior staffer spotted him loitering and he was off with the older reporter to city hall to cover a meeting involving city council salary hikes. He drifted around the assembly room afterwards, getting comments from the various supporters or detractors of the proposal.

It was boring stuff, but it took his mind off his other problems and Lex. At least for a while.

The slow moving storm finally hit Metropolis and an already grey day turned sodden and dark before 4 pm. Chloe had gone out into it to pursue her sewer story when he got back and he spent the rest of the afternoon copyediting and playing gopher for his staffer. 6 o'clock rolled around and the newsroom let out a collective, if brief sigh of relief at the successful release of another edition. It lasted barely longer than the span it took to draw air, before the never-ending cycle rolled on.

Lex had said come over after work.

Lex had said a lot of things, but he hadn't called yet with any enlightening information. Information would have been a wonderful excuse to go over and not feel a twinge of guilt.

Guilt. Clark turned that over in his head, while he sat in front of the computer he'd just logged off of. It was there, the nagging little stab of something he wasn't quite sure was guilt or uncertainty or fear, but he wasn't sure who he was feeling it over. Who he was betraying by looking for reasons to get into the same room as Lex. Chloe for lying to her for the first time in years? The memory of his father, who'd be turning over in his grave if he knew Clark had slept with another man? Had slept with Lex. Himself for conveniently forgetting or at the very least shuffling back in the order of importance certain activities he knew Lex had been involved in because it felt so good talking to Lex again and touching him?

Lois saw something different in him today. And maybe it was the release of tension sex brought with it. Maybe he was happier today than he had been in a long time and maybe that was where the guilt really came from. Maybe he'd gotten so used to worrying about everyone else, about everything else, that he didn't know anything else.

Lex had said come over after work. Clark really, really wanted to. A planned thing, not flying in like a thief in the night, but a take the elevator up like a normal person sort of thing. And be there and not feel like he was committing a crime, because in the back of his mind he was worried what his mother might think or Chloe or anyone else.

He dialed Lex's cell. It took more rings this time for Lex to answer.

"Yes?"

"Hey. I thought I might stop by."

"All right. I have people here now." He sounded all business, almost short, and Clark heard the rustling of paper in the background, the murmur of voices that weren't Lex's, quietly conferring. He didn't take it personally. If Lex didn't want him to come by, he would not have hesitated to spell it out.

"I thought I'd come in the front way, this time."

There was a pause, then. "Give me thirty minutes to wrap up. Use the penthouse elevator. I'll leave word with security."

Which meant Clark had half an hour to kill. He'd been cooped up in the Planet for the last few hours and rain or no, he was ready to get out.

Since no news about the police catching the LuthorCorp bombers had come through the newsroom, Clark assumed that his tip had either been ignored as crackpot or the three heavies had picked themselves up and fled the scene before the police arrived to investigate. He ran across town to take another look himself, going in through the ally door this time and scanning the backrooms for bodies. There were shady deals going down, for certain, which he heard through the closed doors, but they involved bookmaking, not plots against corporate Metropolis, so he left well enough alone.

He stopped two drenched hookers from cutting each other up next to a dumpster further down the alley by twisting a broken bottle out of one hand and a pocket knife out of the other. It didn't even require much in the way of speed or strength, just a tolerance for a criminal overuse of cheap perfume and bad language as they tried to get at each other through him, cursing and screaming the while.

The flashing lights of a slow moving police cruiser put a stop to that and they both scattered. Clark was out of the alley before either one cleared the dumpster.

He was pretty drenched himself when he showed up in the shiny, brass accented atrium of Luthor East. Granted most everyone who'd come in off the street, was a little wet, but most people had the good sense of umbrellas and raincoats.

At 6:30 the upscale boutiques that lined the first four floors were bustling with shoppers released from work and the four star restaurants already had people lining up in hopes of getting a table sans reservation. There were trees in the center of the atrium and a magnificent plummeting waterfall that spilled down from four floors up that people all along the balconies of the retail levels could look out on in awe.

He had to inquire where the elevators were to the private residences that occupied the upper floors. There was a private, entrance for residents that did not require them to traverse the public mall. An elegant, tranquil place in comparison to the overstated sheen of the atrium. Security in those areas was quietly competent.

Clark felt out of place, dripping on fine carpet, under the scrutiny of uniformed staff. Why had he wanted to come in the regular way again? He asked for the penthouse elevator and the black suited security guard that led him to it, asked for his name and his Id, which he scrutinized like he was memorizing it for later reference, before swiping a card that opened the brass doors, and punching in a code instead of hitting a button.

The lift doors opened on an entrance foyer with a set of closed doors to the left and open ones to the right. He ventured towards the open doors, looking into another of those immaculately clean-lined rooms with two story high ceilings and windows that made up the entirety of one long wall. It was a much more formal room than the one off the terrace. Clark's shoes squelched wetly on the marble floor.

"Lex?"

There was a broad entrance at the back of the room that led deeper into the penthouse. Lex appeared from down the hall, same clothes from this morning, but buttoned and tucked in and sporting shoes. He stopped short upon seeing Clark. Opened his mouth, apparently couldn't come up with adequate words and shut it, lifting a brow instead.

"It's raining outside." Clark felt the need to explain the obvious.

Lex didn't call him on it. Just got a look that was disturbingly similar to one his mother might wear in the same situation and beckoned him to follow.

The smaller den with its white stone hearth and straight lined leather couches was just beyond. The glass topped sofa table was scattered with papers and Lex's open laptop.

"Go dry off." Lex waved him towards the master bedroom. "I've found out a few things you might be interested in."

In the sinfully large bathroom, Clark scrubbed at his damp hair with a towel, toed off his boots and shoved them under the sink, and cheated with his clothes, quick drying them with a gust of super breath. The jeans were only a little damp at the thickest part of the seams when he put them back on, and a lot more comfortable. He left the tie on the bathroom counter and walked back to the den in sock feet. Lex was on the couch, phone to his ear.

Clark debated sitting down in one of the chairs across the table or on the sofa beside him. He chose arm's reach of Lex and sat down.

Lex was finishing up his call, brisk and intolerant of someone's apparent incompetence on the other end.

"What?" he asked when Lex had snapped the phone shut.

Lex looked at him. Looked at him closer in miraculously dry clothing, then waved a hand towards the table with its scattered paper.

"I found out what Dr. Bennet was working on."

Most of the documents seemed to be photocopies of originals that had been scrawled on scraps of napkin, or notebook paper. Almost everything written on them was indecipherable to Clark. The scientific notations of a very disorganized mind.

"Fatal addiction, via smart bug." Lex said with a cold smile.

Clark looked at the papers, then back up to Lex and waited for the inevitable explanation.

"At least that's the hypothesis of my best and brightest. The drug that was circulating around campus was a test run of an incomplete formula that was being refined for the insertion of a nanonodule. A microscopic, complex nanostructure that once in the human bloodstream would migrate to the brain and attach to the amygdala."

Clark lowered his head a little and gave Lex a meaningful stare that translated to 'Speak English'.

"The part of the brain that basically controls craving in an addict. The idea was to synthesize a formula that would support the 'smart bug' and allow it time to dig in before the body's defensive systems could swing into gear and expel it. Hence the almost comatose state after the initial high, in order to shut down enough of the brain's higher functions to give the intruder time to get a foothold. Once there and you've got an addict for life. No other high would ever do, because there'd be a bug in your head basically telling your brain that it was either get a fix of this particular drug or die. Somebody stood to make an tremendous amount of money."

"My God, Lex, you got dosed with the stuff. Chloe did!" Clark felt a little of that helpless panic that came on when no power he possessed was capable of dealing with a problem.

Lex shrugged, as if it were not great concern. "It wasn't complete. That was what he was going on about when I tracked him down. His formula wasn't capable of sustaining the nanonodules in an active state and apparently the people backing the project were not taking the setback well."

"Are you sure? About the no nanobugs thing?"

"Very sure." Lex canted his head and gave Clark a wry smile. "I appreciate the concern."

"And do you know who his backers were?" That was a problem Clark did feel capable of handling. And wanted to, with a vengeance.

Lex sat back carefully, a neutral look on his face that might have hid a multitude of emotion. It was the look that veiled schemes and intrigues and any other of a thousand motivations that Lex didn't feel the need to share confidence with.

"Lex," Clark couldn't come anywhere near the dispassionate mask that Lex had perfected, so didn't bother to hide the frown. "Don't make me regret not going straight to the police with this information. You promised."

"I don't want you jumping the gun."

"I don't - - Damnit Lex."

Lex held up a hand, expelling a short breath and yielding.

"The number in Gotham belongs to a business that exists only on paper. It's a front for laundering money that according to the FBI's Organized crime division is connected with an organization headed by a man named Fredrick Solomon."

"Never heard of him. Where's he at?"

Lex smiled at him humorlessly. "Neither had I, but then I've never had my father's 'underworld' connections. Apparently Gotham has more organized crime families than Metropolis and New York combined and the Solomon organization is one of the oldest and largest."

"Why didn't they do all this in Gotham then?"

"Bennet was here. He had his tenure here, his research. When you're dealing with a prickly commodity, you accommodate. But that's not the curious part."

"There's a curious part?" Clark asked dryly.

"I'm trying to get the Bureau's detailed records on the Solomon family, but from what my people have gathered, it's an old school organization. Fredrick Solomon is close to eighty and has never condoned drug trafficking. Anything else you could file under racketeering activity, yes, but he's always steered away from narcotics."

"Sooo - -?"

"I don't know. I'm withholding assumptions until I get more information."

"And that's all?" Clark asked. They were the start of answers, but not something he could really get his hands on and he wasn't entirely certain Lex had spilled everything he knew.

Lex gave him a look that bordered on exasperation. "You gave me the information a little over nine hours ago, Clark. If you want miracles, go find a saint."

Which was Lex being testy. Probably because he'd decided against the painkillers after all, and had worked all day after Clark had left instead of taking it easy like any sane person the day after concussion and broken bones. And no one on his staff had had the good sense or the courage to call him on it.

The little cut above his temple was half again better than it had been, though, and Clark wondered what other bruises had already started to disappear.

"How's the head, Lex?"

"The head's fine," Lex came close to snapping, but caught himself, considered, then added with a shrug. "Everything's fine. The cast is driving me crazy. I can't work one handed."

"You're a liar." Clark smiled at him tightly, point blank.

"You would know."

Clark's smile grew wider and Lex rolled his eyes, mouth quirking.

Lex leaned in a little and inhaled. "Why do you smell like a drugstore perfume counter, Clark?"

Ah, there had been a lot of wet, perfumed skin against him in the alley. Lex had a sharp sense of smell, because Clark hadn't really noticed. He lowered his head and picked up a faint whiff of the scent now.

"I was downtown killing time." Which was the truth.

"With prostitutes?" Lex inquired mildly.

"What, is there a trademark fragrance?" And why are you familiar with it? Which he managed not to ask.

He got a little bit of teeth with Lex's grin at that, and it was nice to see an honest bit of humor in the aftermath of what had possibly been an afternoon-length bad mood.

Lex leaned his head back and sighed, like it was the first time in hours that he'd shut his eyes and allowed himself the time to relax. "I'm tired of being here. I need to see something other than walls and rooftops out the window. You game?"

"Are you sure? It's still pretty nasty out there."

"You drive. We find someplace to eat, maybe get drunk and go from there."

It was a plan with ambiguity. Clark liked it. "I don't get drunk."

Lex rolled his head and looked at him with something akin to pity. "Interesting. Sad, but interesting."

"I make due," Clark insisted, not sure why he ought to be on the defensive about not being able to get shit-faced.

"Sure. I'm going to change."

Which he did, into a dark pullover of some fine, clingy weave that begged to be touched, black slacks and black overcoat. All killer casual and enough to make Clark feel schlumpy in his rumpled white shirt and soggy boots. Lex didn't seem to have a problem with him though, or at least not one that he was careless enough to mention out loud.

They took the elevator down to a private garage, which housed some dozen fine foreign automotive masterpieces. Lex had either cut back on his collection or he had others housed elsewhere. There was a lot of security down here, probably more than usual after yesterday. If he'd bothered to look when he'd come in, he'd probably have discovered a massive amount of men with arms under their jackets patrolling the whole area, all of them on edge and hair trigger. He wondered how many people were going to catch shit after word filtered up to the people in charge of safekeeping LuthorCorp, LexCorp and all of its assets, that Lex had breezed out without a bodyguard in sight.

"Pick a ride." Lex suggested and Clark stopped worrying about the state of Lex's security in favor of sweeping his gaze along the row of potential candidates. The lure of Lex's cars was no less mouth-watering now, than it had been when he was fifteen. There were some things you just never outgrew.

There were cars he'd never heard of - - from low, long Swedish coupes to round nosed German powerhouses that would have been more at home on the Audubon than the streets of a bustling city. The Lamborghini he recognized, and the steel blue Ferrari Lex had actually had back in Smallville. Clark went with simple. If you could call a sleek, black, four hundred thousand dollar Porsche simple.

It was all soft beige leather inside, with seats that just sort of swallowed you and supported you at the same time. Clark moved his back to accommodate his legs while Lex slid into the passenger side. It still had that new car smell that was almost like - - well, some sort of masculine aphrodisiac, and when he turned the key and it hummed to life, all 500 horses harnessed and waiting under the hood - - it was near heaven.

Lex was looking at him like he was the most amusing thing he'd seen all month and Clark gave him a scowl and pulled out of the parking space. Security popped the gate for them and Clark followed the curving drive up out of the neon lit shadow of the underground garage to the rain filtered gloom of Metropolis. He took a right up towards Temple while Lex tilted the back of his seat back and made himself comfortable.

"So, what are you in the mood for?" Clark asked, a little bit nervous weaving through the streets of the city in something that cost more than what he'd probably make in a decade on a reporters salary. He heard the sound of tires skidding and the crash of fenders crumpling somewhere off to the right and winced, wondering if Lex's insurance covered male drivers under 25.

"Your choice." Lex was watching him, instead of the road, shadows flickering across his face and hiding whatever secrets his eyes might have told.

They reached a crossroads that would either take them deeper into the congestion of the city or to the bypass that led to the interstate out of Metropolis.

"How far do you want to go?"

Clark hesitated at the light and Lex smiled a little, like the answer was self-evident. Clark shifted into gear and headed out of the city.

"Tell me about your day." Lex asked, and Clark wasn't sure if it was because he really wanted to know the mundane details or if he just disliked the silence. Halfway through a description of people protesting city council pay hikes and Clark still wasn't sure, but Lex was a good listener, and even if he didn't care, he absorbed what Clark was saying like it was important.

Clark figured out a destination, twenty minutes out of the city. A Mexican restaurant about an hour out of Metropolis towards Smallville in one of the outlet towns along the interstate. The food was authentic and cheap, and he hadn't had the chance to eat there in a while. It was not the type of place he'd have expected Lex to ever walk into, with the Christmas lights strung along the ceiling and the black velvet paintings of bullfighters and dark eyed dancing girls. Clark loved it.

Lex didn't give him grief over the choice, just a 'if you can dish it out, I can take it' kind of look, and Clark felt a rush of affection that caught him off guard.

There was a fair crowd tonight, families and working class people and they had to weed their way through a couple with three kids intent on reenacting WWF wrestling moves in the middle of the floor. It was seat yourself and Clark had a favorite booth, one in the back with a big, glittery sombrero tacked on the wall over it.

"If you're really hungry, I recommend the Mexi-sampler platter. But their specialty is Chile Rellenos and they're awesome."

Lex glanced at the wine and beer list, then slid it back against the wall with a fatalistic smile. "There's nothing like Mexican beer and tequila to provide a memorable hangover."

"Sounds like something to aim for."

"There's a time and a place for everything," Lex said sagely, then added with a flash of a grin, "even puking your guts up in a Tijuana bar after swallowing the worm at the bottom of a bottle of really cheap mescal."

"I didn't think you drank cheap liquor."

"Like I said. Time and place."

"When's the last time you were in Tijuana?"

"Now that's an interesting story," Lex said and related it while they drank Mexican import beer out of long neck bottles while waiting for the food.

Lex admitted that the Chile Rellenos were indeed good, and had a bowl of sliced limes and half bottle of the best aged tequila the house had to offer sent to the table afterwards, entertaining himself alternating between the two while Clark told him about his last few trips south of the border.

"You're surprisingly well traveled for a Kansas farmboy." Lex remarked with an insolent smile.

"You know, I'm trying to shed the image."

"My advise. Burn the flannel."

"Funny." Clark smirked at him, and wondered how many looks they'd get from all the working class diners, if he slipped over to the other side of the booth and crowded in with Lex? Because Lex maybe had the beginnings of the buzz he'd been looking for and a lazy look in his eyes. And all of a sudden Clark couldn't get the notion out of his head of running his tongue across the teasing curve of Lex's mouth.

Yeah, they'd get looks. And of all the things Clark wasn't scared of, the challenges he wouldn't hesitate to tackle, being outed in the middle of a Mexican restaurant halfway between Metropolis and Smallville wasn't one.

The moon was peeking out from behind a hole in the thinning clouds and the air had that fresh, after the storm smell to it. At the rate the clouds were moving, it had probably passed Metropolis, too.

Lex wasn't the 'drunk' he'd suggested at the beginning of this trip, but he was considerably more relaxed and probably feeling a little less pain. Clark could see it in the way he held his body, not as instinctually careful of exaggerated movement that might cause hurt.

The silence didn't bother Lex as much when he wasn't keyed up and he sank back in the seat while Clark pulled onto the highway headed back towards the distant points of light that marked the city. Other than a marked 'This car goes faster than ten miles over the speed limit, in case you hadn't realized,' most of the ride home was spent in companionable quiet.

It was pleasant. As enjoyable as sitting in a off-the-interstate family restaurant with one of the richest men in the world talking about trips to Tijuana and drinking cheap Mexican beer. If it had been a date, it would have been the best Clark had been on in years - - he stopped himself mid-thought, feeling silly, because a date was something you planned and agonized over and crossed your fingers that the other person wouldn't turn you down flat when you asked - - not a spur of the moment, entirely comfortable excursion with a - - friend? What was Lex? What did you call a friendship that turned hostile and then inexplicably warm again? What did he call Lex? Capricious? Confusing? Overwhelming? A dictionary full of adjectives and none of them covered the whole.

Okay, he'd go with friend, it was a familiar concept for Lex, he just hadn't associated it with him in a while. But what did you call a friend you desperately wanted to fuck? A word came to mind, but Clark hesitated to use it.

The trip back was twenty-five minutes shorter, the absence of rain and Lex's subtle chiding combining to increase the weight of Clark's foot on the gas pedal. It wasn't that Clark wasn't intimately familiar with the feel of speed, he just wasn't used to it behind the wheel of an automobile. The fastest the Kent truck could reach with the pedal to the floor was 80 mph and the engine really didn't like it. Topping 130 mph, on a long stretch of flat Kansas highway felt sinfully good. Clark didn't maintain the speed though, fearful of state troopers even if Lex scoffed at the danger of tickets and fines and black marks on licenses.

The streets of Metropolis were shiny and dark when they breached her limits, the grime washed away by the rain. The storm had chased a good deal of the usual night traffic inside. It was only just past eleven and on a clear night, the streets were still bustling, even on a weeknight. It took a card to get into the private drive off the street, and that didn't count the security at the bottom of the ramp that had to recognize the car, but still walked forward and peered in confirming Lex before the second gate was raised allowing them into the garage.

It was good there was a lot of security and good they took it seriously, even if Lex always didn't. And his mind sort of drifted back to what he'd been thinking before they'd left about security letting Lex out of the building without protection - - because he needed it, and hoped somebody did catch shit.

"That's a pretty fierce scowl," Lex had his door open and was looking at Clark. "I'll let you drive it again, if you're feeling separation anxiety already."

"No."

Lex lifted a brow.

"Well, yeah, that would be great," Clark amended, "but that's not - - how come they didn't give you grief about going out alone, after somebody just tried to kill you?"

"I wasn't out alone."

"You know what I mean."

Lex shrugged. "I didn't require it. Drop the keys off with the man at the security station."

He did, while Lex strode towards the basement elevator with its brushed steel doors. Lex had gotten a bit brusque when Clark had asked him about security, like there were issues he had with it, or maybe it was simply none of Clark's business. Or maybe it was a hint that the date was officially over and Clark ought to get the clue and find something else to occupy himself.

Only Lex was holding the elevator doors open, waiting for him, and God, he wished he could read Lex better, so when the mood shifts occurred he wasn't still two tracks back.

The doors slid closed and Lex let out a slow breath, leaning back against the elevator wall, all black against pale brass. Clark stood in the middle of the car, feeling oddly off his balance.

"Do you need to call home," Lex inquired. The fingers of his good hand loosely circled the rail, fingers idly stroking gleaming metal.

"No, I don't need to call home. I'm not twelve." Clark felt indignant at the assumption. He truly needed the city apartment so he could avoid embarrassing questions like that.

"My mistake." Lex apologized smoothly. "I assumed you wouldn't want her to worry if you didn't come home again tonight."

Clark pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, heart beating a little faster, met Lex's lazy, inquiring gaze and felt a giddy sense of relief.

He wanted to say something laced with just as much careless insinuation, but couldn't come up with anything more eloquent than stepping forward and simply kissing him. Lex tilted his head back against the elevator wall, hands still splayed out on the railing and let Clark into his mouth. Warm. Wet. Tequila and lime. He thought he could happily kiss Lex forever, but the elevator doors quietly dinged and slid open on the penthouse foyer.

Clark pulled away, reluctantly, licking his lips and Lex's eyes tracked the movement, before shifting up to meet his. Not so lazy anymore. Not close.

Lex pushed himself off from the wall and grabbed Clark's hand with his uncasted one, pulling him out of the elevator and through the foyer. There were no lights on, save the sporadic illumination of the view of the city from above and Clark could have gotten lost in here, but Lex knew the way.

Past the den and into the bedroom, and the light that Clark had left on in the bathroom before they left threw shadows on the high ceiling. Lex shed his coat. Let it hit the floor and Clark thought that Lex was probably never so careless with his things. Never so sloppy, unless he was intent on other goals.

He wanted to say something, but the words still wouldn't come. He wished Lex would, but Lex was standing there, staring at him like he wanted to get inside him. Then Lex moved forward, tangled the one hand in Clark's hair and kissed him, open mouthed and wet, sucking Clark's tongue into his mouth. Clark felt his body go a little weak, a little tingly and stopped himself short of wrapping Lex in his arms, and settled for gripping his shoulders.

Lex unbuttoned Clark's shirt, ran his hands over Clark's stomach, his ribs, pressed his lips to the hollow of his throat. Clark helped rid him of the pullover, with the button on his pants. The bruises, even the big one, was already turning an assortment of mottled browns and greens along the outer rim. Clark ran his fingertips across it and felt the shiver of muscle in his wake. It was electric, that quiver of flesh, like a shot of adrenalin straight to Clark's bloodstream.

He dropped to his knees, hands splayed out across Lex's hipbones and took his cock into his mouth. He was hard and solid and the skin so, so soft. Clark drew his hands down Lex's thighs, felt the muscles tense under his palms, slid his fingers around to the inside where the skin was hot, where he could feel the pulse of the femoral artery. Lex shuddered and leaned over him, fingers on his shoulders, nails trying to bite into his skin, saying little things now, like, God. Fuck. Clark.

Lex inarticulate made Clark's cock thrum in his pants. Lex's skin under his hands made him want to come.

He didn't know if he was as good at this as Lex - - didn't think it was possible for anyone to be as good at this as Lex - - but he wanted to take all of him in, and touch everything, and make Lex as crazy and Lex had made him that first night. And maybe he was better than he thought, or maybe Lex was like any other guy with his cock in somebody's mouth and it didn't take all that much skill to get him off. Just persistence and an eagerness for the task. Lex came with a convulsive shudder and an exhaled curse. Clark clutched the back of his thighs and controlled the overwhelming urge to pick him up and toss the both of them onto the bed and let Lex satisfy the screaming need in his pants.

Lex's fingers tightened in Clark's hair, pulling his head back. Clark looked up and met dark, dilated eyes. Lex urged him up and Clark rose, body brushing close, the thickness in his pants pressing Lex's hip. Lex pressed back, breathing still ragged, but eyes focusing with purpose.

He pulled Clark towards the bed, unzipping his jeans as they went, and Clark finished the job, shucking out of his remaining clothes in two seconds flat.

"What do you want to do?" Lex breathed against his mouth, hand on his ass. What Clark wanted to do involved rolling around and slamming Lex into the mattress or the wall and Lex's body wasn't up to that just yet, no matter how fast the outside hurts healed.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You do a little and that's okay," Lex said and pushed Clark onto the bed.

Clark didn't know whether that was a lie or sextalk or an insight so intricate he couldn't fathom it. But with the need was so strong he thought he might explode, so he went with it. Lay back against the pillows when Lex urged it, reaching up and trailing fingers down the center of Lex's chest. Lex brushed his hand away, smiling faintly, reached into the drawer next to the bed - - the drawer where Clark recalled there was a gun loaded with very dangerous ammunition - - and pulled out the tube of lube. He straddled Clark's thighs, popped the top of the tube and squirting a line of clear gel across his belly. Lex leaned forward, smearing it with his hand and ran one slick palm up Clark's stomach, to his shoulder, thumb teasing a nipple along the way. Clark's cock twitched, leaking and needy and so close to the warmth of Lex's thighs that he was likely to die.

"Lex," Clark said raggedly. He caught Lex's wrist, wanting those clever fingers down where they belonged. Wanting some part of Lex - - and at the moment, he really wasn't particular - - surrounding his cock, or really, he was going to have to take care of it himself.

"Impatient," Lex chided softly, but he squeezed another dollop of gel onto Clark's stomach and tossed the tube aside. And this time his coated hand encircled Clark's cock, slicking it with a few quick strokes. He leaned towards Clark, hand on Clark's chest to brace himself as he scooted forward, kept his balance with the fingertips of the casted hand and reached back to guide Clark in.

Clark forgot to breathe, shut his eyes as tight, pulsing heat sank down, slow and maddening, enveloping him. The feeling of Lex's weight on his hips, fully seated, the sound of Lex's hitching breath, of his muscles contracting around the most vital part of Clark.

And then Lex started to move and - - God. Oh, God. He had to keep his eyes squeezed shut, because if he didn't he'd explode in more ways than one, he knew it. The yellow sun could have bled red and he wouldn't have cared. Lex could have taken out that gun and shot him and it wouldn't have mattered.

His mind bled white. He clutched at Lex's thighs and thrust up, spilling everything he had, convulsing into Lex's body.

Lex leaned across his chest after the last shudders had passed, eased off and collapsed next to Clark, overheated skin against overheated skin. Clark was still seeing spots, tremors of orgasmic high leaking out of his body and leaving him limp and sated and wonderful.

He curled around Lex, pressed his face into the juncture of his neck, inhaled the scent of his sweat, felt the incredible beat of his pulse and wondered how regular people survived something like that when it had almost killed him. And then he thought, I love him. Absolutely. Completely.

And then with a weary grin pressed into Lex's shoulder, he thought. I'm so fucked.

 

 

 

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