Lex woke with a crick in his neck and an arm and one leg dangling over the edge of Clark’s couch. He had fuzzy memories of the hind end of the longest conversation he and Clark might have ever held and himself, embarrassingly enough, falling to the throes of exhaustion and dozing off. The consumption of coffee only went so far when running on overdrive for 24 hours straight.
There was a sheet over the couch cushions, a pillow and a blanket, which Clark had made up for him, before Lex had collapsed, thankful for any horizontal surface. and promptly passed out.
Bright light shone through the window, revealing he had slept soundly through the night and well into morning. He pushed himself up, rotating his neck wincing at stiff muscles. There was no clock in sight, so he could only guess at the time. He made the mandatory trip to the bathroom, stared at himself in the mirror afterwards, the lack of scar still holding a fascination for him, then went in search of life.
Clark, he discovered wasn’t home. The bed was haphazardly made and an unwashed coffee cup in the sink. There was a note on the counter in Clark’s scrawl.
Charming, Clark thought he had a pet. Lex let the note fall back to the counter, tapping his nails on the laminate thoughtfully.
Clark had a legitimate point, though. It wasn’t as if a Lex Luthor sighting at the moment, in this particular neighborhood would do anything but destroy a very viable haven. As far as protection went, Clark had always proved more reliable than the hired help. Unless Lex could come up with a particular destination that might prove useful, taking another stroll around the city would be pushing his luck. And at the moment, without a penny he could lay his hands on, there weren’t many viable destinations.
There was a half pot of coffee still warm in the pot. There was a brown paper bag next to it that hadn’t been there last night, which Lex discovered, contained a few fresh breakfast pastries.
Clark rose a few notches on his affection meter. He tried a sip of coffee, but hours old, cheap coffee was more than he could tolerate, so he dumped the old and put on new and sat there making check lists in his head while it brewed.
First thing – – most important thing if he were to get anywhere either legally or on the shady side of legally – – was the procurement of funds. He needed to sit down, take his time and try to recall from memory every personal, private or shadow account he’d set up over the years. There was bound to be something that hadn’t been tapped.
Secondly, he needed to find out how much Tess actually knew. Did she have proof he was a second edition – – the sort that would stand up in court, or make feasible as blackmail material – – or had it all been destroyed when she took out the warehouse when she’d attempted to terminate the project?
There were other things he wanted to discover the extent of her knowledge of as well. He’d been too damned paranoid that he’d die with his crusade unfinished and left a lot of potentially damaging information lying about, trusting his protégée to pick up where he’d left off and do the right thing. Or, considering where his head had been before he’d left for the Artic, the excessively zealous thing.
He’d been judicious in his mentions of Clark and his suspicions, but not judicious enough. Oh, he’d never put to paper or disc or any other recordable format the knowledge that Clark was alien. Even with all the anger and the fear, that had been so personal, so deeply private a knowledge that the idea of sharing it was intolerable. Clark had been his to deal with and his alone. He still was and the thought of Tess Mercer prying into Clark’s secrets, because of hints he’d left, made his teeth ache.
He sat down with his coffee and croissants at Clark’s little desk. The laptop sat amidst scattered bills, newspaper clippings, and varied work-related research. Lex made neat little piles out of the clutter and cleared a presentable workspace for himself.
He spent an hour dredging up accounts, none of which panned out. Tess had been thorough. Which proved again, never underestimate the lengths a woman who felt violated would go. God knew he had enough of those running around with vendettas against him.
He sat back and simmered, hating to be stymied. Pulled out a drawer and began poking through Clark’s things. Found a checkbook and a register, which claimed Clark had a whopping $312.00 in his account. There was a savings account book with marginally more rainy day funds. An even grand.
Lex stared at the tiny numbers in Clark’s cramped handwriting and the account passwords and numbers that Clark had thoughtfully written down on the booklets inside cover. The right man could take that money and make something of it on a good day and have the original amount back in its proper place with no one the wiser. And no one who had an unhealthy interest would ever have to know that Lex Luthor was playing the market.
He clicked on the TV and turned it to a financial channel with its constant revolving band of losses and gains. It was ridiculously easy to set up an account with one of the online traders in Clark’s name, transferring funds from Clark’s savings account into an instant access trading fund.
He bought his first chunk of stock and called Clark while he was browsing the financials of another he was considering. Clark tended to worry and Clark had no particular reason to trust Lex alone in his apartment, so it seemed the wisest course of action to quell any qualms by using the number Clark had provided, instead of having Clark show up while Lex was utilizing his hard earned money to day trade.
Clark picked up second ring, with a hushed ‘hello’. As if he were in company he’d rather not be caught talking to Lex by.
“I just wanted to call and thank you for breakfast.”
“Um. Sure. No problem. And you can come out to see the damage when?”
Lex lifted a brow, doing the math in his head and figuring that Lois was standing very near Clark and not showing signs of backing away.
“Can I assume you’re having an imaginary conversation with an insurance adjuster about a barn fire?”
“Yes. Exactly.” Clark’s voice perked up a bit.
“I can work with being the dirty little secret,” Lex leaned back in the chair, amused. “I just wanted to let you know I was alive and well and hadn’t started plans of world domination. I know you worry.”
“That’s – – fantastic,” Clark said dryly. “I’ve got to work to at least six tonight, so I can’t meet you at the farm today, but an appointment tomorrow sounds fine.”
“Be still my heart. I can barely contain the anticipation.”
Clark made a flustered goodbye and severed the connection. Lex sat the phone back in its cradle, grinning.
The afternoon was whiled away buying the same penny stocks on the downside and selling on the up, over and over, making just enough with each trade to gradually balloon his meager starting funds. By the time 4:30 rolled around and the markets closed, he’d made a healthy profit. In a day or two Clark’s savings would be safely back in their little account and Lex could play with his own earnings. Under Clark’s name of course. Empires were started with less.
He felt entirely pleased with himself. There was nothing like having a plan and running with it.
He’d eaten a little reheated Chinese during the day, but hunger was starting to plague again, after a full day of watching stocks ebb and crest. He looked around for the makings of something more substantial, but Clark’s claim of a bare pantry had not been an overestimation. Oh, Clark had the processed sweets. A box of Twinkies and a half eaten package of Oreo’s, but not much else that Lex, with his admittedly limited capacity for culinary creation, could make much of.
It was rather pitiful and with the lamentable amount of money in Clark’s checking eating out nightly didn’t seem the most economical of plans.
There was a can of crushed tomatoes and a few basic spices. Of course there wasn’t a strand of pasta to be seen. Lex was not above pilfering the neighbor’s stores.
He knocked on the door across the hall. The girl had seen him twice already and not remarked on any curious resemblance to supposedly deceased billionaires, so he supposed one more meeting couldn’t hurt.
She opened the door warily, string out through a four-inch crack. He smiled at her, the charming one that had always seemed to work when he was younger, before people started suspecting ulterior motive behind every kind word.
“Hello. This might seem a cliché reason to knock on a neighbor’s door, but might you have any spare pasta?”
She blinked at him, opened the door a little wider to look beyond him to Clark’s half open doorway, as if expecting Clark himself to appear.
“You’re – – staying with Clark?”
“Temporarily. He apparently has an aversion to buying groceries.”
“Oh. Um. Okay.” She opened the door, stepping back, a naïve girl trusting a strange man into her apartment simply because she thought he was a friend of Clark’s. Clark had that effect on people, as if the mere act of association might make you honest and hardworking and noble – – when in reality, it made you nothing of the sort. Reality was so much worse, where love of him induced all manner of craziness or want of his secrets the path to obsession led. God help you if you were afflicted with both.
“He’s not home a lot.” She told him as she headed for a kitchenette identical to Clark’s. “He works all the time.”
“He is diligent.” Lex eyed the cat that wound its way around his ankles. There were a good number of cat figurines and cat portraits in frames around the room. Despite her feline fixation, she was a mousey, quiet little thing, destined always to fall below the scope of Clark’s radar. It took nothing but brass, a little judiciously utilized hypnosis, or a lifetime of fixation to get past Clark’s shield of obliviousness.
“He helps out when the landlord doesn’t get around to fixing things. He fixed my hot water heater last month.”
“He’s good with his hands.”
She came back with a box of spaghetti . “He’s got a good heart. I can tell. When he moved in here, he was so sad. I think he’d just had a bad break up. He’s better now.”
There was nothing like a neighbor with an eye for observation and crush. Lex’s curiosity got the better of him. “Yes. Terrible break up, so I’ve heard. Has he had many women over since? The overnight variety?”
She blushed, but apparently was not so embarrassed at the topic not to share knowledge. “No. He’s not the one night stand sort of guy. You can tell just by talking to him. There’s only two women who’ve ever stop by and one’s his friend and she’s married, I think, and the other he works with. She used to lease the apartment. She used to have guys over all the time.”
Lois and Chloe, of course. With Lana off limits – – and he still found the methodology of that feat viciously ingenious even for him – – Clark’s circle of female friends would have been reduced to the two. Lex felt vaguely satisfied that no efforts had been made to expand the number.
“So,” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to have any bread?”
It was hard to concentrate on the bone-dry, utterly boring filler work handed down to most first year employees, when all Clark could really think about was Lex. Lex up to God knew what in his apartment. Lex and the clone issue. Lex the target of a very well funded assassination plot. Lex’s skin.
The last one tended to pop up uninvited in the midst of the other legitimate Lex concerns, and he’d gotten good at banishing it as soon as he realized where his mind had drifted. Lois had a sure proof method of getting his priorities back on track. She had a habit of slamming things down on his desk, staplers, hardbound books, cups of coffee full to the brim when she thought his mind was wondering.
“Focus, Smallville. That article’s not gonna write itself.”
He glared, wiping spilled coffee off the edge of his keyboard. There was a nice big splotch of it on the cuff of his shirt. She was pissed. She’d been pissed when she came in and it hadn’t let up. From the clipped comments she’d lowered herself to pass his way, he gathered she’d wasted most of yesterday trying to track down the disturbance at LuthorCorp and come up against impenetrable corporate walls. He had the feeling she somehow blamed him for the failure. He didn’t even want to think about what he’d have to deal with if she knew he actually knew the details – – the intimate, highly newsworthy details – – of what had really happened and was holding out on her. One more friend he had to lie to, to cover Lex.
“Oh, that’s just what I need,” Lois muttered, looking up over her computer screen, eyes fixed on the bullpen doorway behind Clark.
Clark glanced over his shoulder and groaned. Oliver Queen sauntered into the newsroom like he owned it, which, in point of fact, he did, now that he’d merged with LuthorCorp.
Clark had been ignoring calls from Oliver all day, wanting to avoid one more lecture. He knew very well Oliver’s thoughts on Lex and didn’t need to hear a rehash. Oh, he’d known he’d have to talk to him sooner or later, he’d just hoped he’d have a more cohesive idea of what he was planning to do before he had to plunge into the conversation.
“Oliver,” Lois’ voice dripped venom, her smile so false it looked painful. The whole Queen/Mercer merger really stuck in her craw. “Tess isn’t in today, so it looks like you wasted a trip.”
Oliver smiled down at her, smooth white and utterly relaxed, as if he had nothing better to do with his time than loiter around busy newsrooms. “Nice to see you, too, Lois. Actually, I was hoping to steal of moment of Clark’s time.”
Lois narrowed her eyes, the gears turning in her head, trying to figure out what Oliver Queen had to talk to Clark Kent about. “What is it about you, Smallville that immoral billionaires find so fascinating?”
Clark gave her a glare, but Oliver laughed. “Immoral, Lois? I think you’re thinking of the wrong billionaire. Could you spare a moment, Clark?”
Clark reluctantly rose as Lois was muttering something about Scandinavian cover models mile-high orgies.
They took the elevator down to the parking garage in silence. Oliver leaning against the wall with that deceptive casualness that he wore so well.
“I’ve been calling all day,” Oliver finally said, with nothing around them but concrete and empty cars.
“Sorry. I had my phone off.”
“Seriously? Today of all days, you decide to commit yourself to work when we’ve got a major problem on our hands? Are you kidding me?”
“I had a lot of work to catch up on.” It sounded lame right down to his tone of voice and he knew it.
Oliver shook his head, wide eyed and agitated now that there was no one to put up a front for. “That thing Lex created is a ticking bomb and you’re catching up on work? That’s just great.”
“He hasn’t done anything yet and we don’t know that he will.”
“He already went after Tess.” Oliver growled.
“That’s what she says,” Clark shot back. “She’s the one that sent men out gunning for him.”
“My God. You can’t be this naïve. Oh, but wait a minute, you can, because you’ve got this unbelievable blind spot when it comes to Lex Luthor – – and this isn’t even him. It’s an impromptu copy. After what he did to you and Lana I’d think you’d be the last person to make excuses for any version of the bastard.”
“I’m not making excuses. And what Lex did was unforgivable – -but like you said – – this isn’t exactly the same Lex. Maybe he’s different.”
The clack of heels made them pause. People starting to get off work and head to their cars. Oliver caught Clark’s arm and hauled him towards a green sports car. Oliver got in and Clark stood fuming for a moment, before yanking open the passenger door and getting in himself.
Inside the insulated quiet of the car, Oliver stared at him pointedly. “Are you willing to take that chance with people’s lives at stake? How damned bad are you going to feel when somebody dies because he’s trying to get to you or me, or Lana? I’m not willing to sit here and let it happen because I’m afraid to be proactive.”
“So what are you going to do?” Clark asked and remembered all those months after the Arctic when all they could think about, him and his little group of cohorts, was finding Lex, because Lex knew Clark’s secret and Clark’s weakness and wouldn’t be afraid to exploit either. Only he’d spent so much time worrying over where Lex was and what Lex was up to, that he’d never really stopped and considered what he’d do if he actually found him.
“There’s no legal evidence linking him to any of the really bad stuff, so the authorities aren’t an option. They don’t arrest people for being clones that I’m aware of. So what, Oliver? How does this proactive thing work?”
Oliver stared, things going on behind his eyes that Clark couldn’t quite read. Funny how in some ways, Oliver and Lex were alike. Each with all sorts of hidden layers beneath cool facades.
“We’re not killers,” Clark said, quieter, because he knew Oliver believed that and yet sometimes where Lex had been involved, he thought Oliver might have slipped across the line. And it hadn’t even really been Lex’s fault, he’d just been the product of Original Sin, but since the father was beyond Oliver’s grasp for vengeance – – the rage had fallen on the son.
“No,” Oliver swallowed, something flickering in the depths of his eyes before he agreed, tight lipped. “Of course not. But I’m not above following in his footsteps. How many people did he make disappear under the transparent guise of protecting the masses from dangerous meteor freaks? I have a cell waiting with his name on it and I’ll happily keep his clone locked away in it forever, secure in the knowledge that lives have been saved in the doing. And if you think I’ll lose sleep, you’re wrong. I know a few friends of yours who’d agree wholeheartedly.”
Oliver was probably right. But they’d be wrong, Clark thought, feeling a little sick. Because once you started taking the law into your own hands – – where did you draw the line? Oliver was his friend and he loved Lana and always would, but sometimes he thought the both of them believed they were entitled somehow to bend the law or break it entirely to further the ends they thought just.
He wouldn’t let them do it to Lex. Not now, when this version had done nothing to provoke it. Not when this Lex felt remorse for things done and things he didn’t even remember doing. Maybe he wouldn’t have even let them do it to the other one, who gotten so, so damned twisted along the way that the right and wrong he’d used to know the difference between had all become grey.
He had a frightening thought, that Chloe or Oliver might drag Lana into the situation, if they thought it might help Clark around to their way of thinking and though he could handle Oliver, Lana’s intervention would bring up a whole other set of problems.
It occurred to him that he was taking sides and that he’d placed himself in opposition to the people he trusted. For Lex. Not exactly novel, but a lot had happened since those days when he’d been willing to believe almost anything out of Lex’s mouth.
“I have work to finish,” Clark said tightly. “And then I have to patrol. I’ll keep my ears open, but I think you’re wrong about this. Don’t do anything without talking to me, Oliver.”
He said this last standing outside the car, hand on the door, bending down to meet Oliver’s less than pleased gaze. God knew what he was thinking. That Clark had gone off the deep end, most likely. Clark wasn’t sure he hadn’t.
He shut the door and backed up a step as Oliver gunned the engine and pulled out of the space. He trusted Oliver to do nothing about as much as he trusted Lois not to be insanely curious about what he and Oliver had talked about, but he seriously doubted Oliver would guess Lex was holed up in his apartment.
“So what did he want?” Lois asked when he returned to his desk.
“Oh, you know. Guy stuff.”
She narrowed her eyes dangerously at that flimsy explanation. “No, I don’t know.”
“Hold on just a second. Let me finish this sentence.” He typed as loudly as possible to get across the point he was trying to work. She made an annoyed sound, but her pursuit of the subject was hijacked when one of the editors called her over to explain the mysterious workings of spell-check once again.
Clark finished up in a flurry of speedy typing, making himself go just slow enough that the computer could keep up. Sent the article off and grabbed his coat and backpack before Lois could make her way back.
It was early for patrol. He usually waited until dark, but it was easier than going home. Which wasn’t to say he was scared of dealing with Lex – – because he wasn’t. Lex had been shockingly easy to deal with other than the twilight zone moments when Clark couldn’t get his mind off the texture of his skin or the too vivid memory of his hand on his dick. Very uncomfortable moments, to say the least, but not uncontainable, now that he’d sort of mentally prepared himself for their occasional appearance.
Maybe that’s why he hesitated going home – – how easy he fell back into liking Lex’s company. Into liking Lex, when Oliver’s points hadn’t exactly been invalid, regarding the possible danger. Lex had fooled him before.
So he changed into the signature red and blue that was making a name in the papers these days, and headed for the seedier side of town where crime didn’t necessarily wait for the dead of night. It was easy to lose himself in the fight. Easy to just soak in the sounds of the city and pick out the cries of fear or pain or rage. He had to stop himself from interfering sometimes, in the little things. The domestic disputes, the brawls, the things the Metropolis PD were better suited to handle, the things people were capable of settling themselves if given half a chance. He was there to save the lives of innocents, not dictate the course of their action.
It was a slow night though, even after dark, and he could either start nit picking or just go home.
When he got to the apartment, slowing down at the top of the stairs on his floor and walking the rest of the way normal, human speed, the lights were low, only a lamp and the illumination from the TV. Lex was slouched on the couch, battling zombies, having discovered the old Playstation 2 Jimmy had talked Clark into buying when he’d gotten his new system.
It was not a pastime Clark might have expected to find Lex engrossed in, but then it wasn’t like Lex had had a lot of options open to entertain himself. Clark’s time was so divided between the Planet, the farm and the new role of ‘city guardian’ he’d taken on that idle boredom was a thing of the past. He’d turned on the game maybe once since he’d had it.
Lex didn’t glance back at him as he slunk into the apartment, absorbed in reloading his shotgun and blowing zombie heads into small, blood bits.
“There’s pasta on the stove. You’ll have to reheat it.”
Clark blinked and veered towards the kitchen. There was indeed a pot of soggy spaghetti and a pan of pasta sauce that looked as if it might contain mushrooms and peppers. There was a quarter loaf of French baguette on the cutting board by the stove. Clark wasn’t sure if he’d had the spaghetti on hand or not, but he was pretty certain he hadn’t had bread.
“You cooked?” It was not a skill-set he’d imagined Lex having, what with the legions of domestic help that had always unobtrusively tidied his life.
“It wasn’t for you,” Lex said, just a hint of something that might have verged on annoyance in his tone. “I was hungry.”
Clark was too, now that he thought about it. He fixed himself a bowl, without bothering to reheat, and took it and the rest of the bread into the living space.
He sank down on the sofa next to Lex because the chair didn’t present a decent view of the TV and Lex paused in his killing of zombies long enough raise an eyebrow at the familiar blue T-shirt and jeans.
“You wear that to work? Has Mercer abolished the dress code at the Daily Planet?”
Clark shoveled in a mouthful of cool pasta. The sauce wasn’t half bad. “No. I was – – I didn’t come straight from work.”
“Really?” Lex turned his attention back to the game, exploring a cluster of warehouse boxes for ammo.
There was no reason not to tell him. It wasn’t like Lex didn’t know about Clark’s powers. The reflex to cover for himself was simply habit. And maybe it was time to try a different approach and give Lex the occasional detail instead of making him jump to conclusions that didn’t always work out to Clark’s benefit.
“I sort of go out and patrol every night. Do what I can to help people.” He muttered, no idea why he felt embarrassed at the admission.
“The Red Blue Blur,” Lex said. “Could you come up with a more awkward name?”
“I didn’t think it up – -and how do you know about it, anyway?”
“I can read a newspaper, Clark,” Lex informed him dryly. “And you have a few lying around.”
‘Yeah, well, I don’t really care what they call me – – as long as I’m doing some good.”
“You’re incredibly noble,” Lex tossed a grenade and took out a phalanx of undead. “What would the beleaguered Metropolis authorities do without costumed vigilante’s to save the day?”
“I’m not a vigilante,” Clark ripped off a section of bread. “All I’m doing is stopping crime. I’m not out punishing the offenders. There is a difference. And I don’t wear a costume.”
“Its only a matter of time.”
Clark glared, wondering what bug had crawled up Lex’s butt since last night when they’d ended their conversation on a companionable note. He sat his empty bowl aside, considering leaving Lex to whatever snit he was presently in, but then, it wasn’t like there were a lot of places to retreat in a small apartment. And it was his apartment and damned if he was going to let anyone chase him out of it.
He leaned across the coffee table and plugged in the second controller. Lex obligingly switched over to two-person play and a large bosomed female zombie hunter flickered into existence next to Lex’s character.
“You would be the girl,” Lex commented.
Clark glowered and tried to remember which button did what.
“Where’d you get the bread? I told you not to go out. It’s not safe.”
“I’m sorry, were you confusing me with someone who takes orders from you? X fires your gun. R1 reloads ammo. Meg across the hall.”
“Who?” Clark blinked, jerking the controller to the left in a useless attempt to avoid getting a cleaver to the head. It put him into contact with Lex, who was wearing one of his old T-shirts. Warm skin that made Clark lose his train of thought for a moment. The cleaver-wielding zombie hacked off a good chunk of his life in the process before Lex blew its face off with his shotgun.
“Your neighbor across the hall, Clark. The one that’s crushing on you so hard, it’s a wonder she’s not camped outside your door.”
It took Clark a second to absorb that, because really – -it couldn’t be true. The girl could hardly look him in the eye. “That’s just – – silly. Why would she have a crush on me? We hardly even speak.”
Lex sighed, giving Clark a put-upon look. “Do you use a mirror for anything other than a surface for gathering dust?”
“Clark, there are times when looking at you is considerably more appealing than talking to you. I don’t think it was your sparkling wit that got to her.”
Clark opened his mouth. Couldn’t come up with a response and shut it. He felt heat rising in his cheeks. Had Lex just said he liked looking at him? Because, well he’d always sort of got the feeling, back when Lex had used to stare at him like he was walking around with a magic marker mustache on his face – – but he’d figured a lot of that had been Lex trying to figure him out.
“So, you’re saying I’m good looking?” He was pretty sure those words had never left his mouth before. He felt awkward just saying them, but he sort of really wanted to know.
Lex hit the pause button and shifted so he could give Clark a full-on stare. His eyes had that glimmer they got when he was really thinking something over and it made Clark nervous.
“Now see, that’s the sort of question that could really get me in trouble.”
Clark swallowed. “Why?”
Lex’s knee was pressing into Clark’s thigh, Lex’s thumb gently stroking the black plastic of the game controller. “Because we’re in the middle of the Bible belt and proper, heterosexual farm raised boys don’t need to hear what other men think of them.”
Which cleverly phrased non-answer gave Clark all the actual answer he needed – – that yes, Lex thought of him. And maybe not just in the ‘I really want to know how he ticks’, way.
Plastic creaked in his hands and Lex’s gaze shifted down to the crack running up the center of the controller Clark held, then shifted the marginal distance to Clark’s lap, and the embarrassing bulge under his jeans against his left thigh. It wasn’t Clark’s fault. It had just popped up on its own as if it had a completely separate will from his own.
He stood up, flustered, which was probably a mistake, since it put it at Lex’s eye level and claimed exhaustion. “I’ve got to be up early tomorrow. There’s like – – this thing – – interview thing – -”
“Are you sure its not a barn fire?”
“Yes,” Clark ground his teeth. He tossed the game controller to the couch next to Lex and fled to his room.