by Te

Jenn inspired me. Of course, she's not *done* with the story that inspired me, but still. Inspiration. Yeah.

by Te
April 2002

Disclaimers: If they were mine, the action figures would be a lot more poseable.

Spoilers: A little of everything up through Stray.

Summary: Clark used to believe.

Ratings Note: NC-17.

Author's Note: Mm. Has a lot to do with Jenn's latest story, but then... Jenn's latest story has a lot to do with me stalking her for it. snert For extra points, pick out everything I stole from Livia. An answer to Liv's XF title, SV story challenge.

Also, everyone go download "They-Say Vision" by Res, if only to see where my head was at for this story. g

Acknowledgments: To my We, as usual. To Livia and Jenn for inspiration and audiencing. To Miz E. for the encouragement of evil in all its forms, to Cassandra for same.

Feedback is good for you. thete1@earthlink.net


He thought he'd be okay.

He'd had a good, logical -- if guilty-making -- reason for believing that. One visit to Gotham City had been enough -- he'd thought -- to make him appreciate just how lucky he was to have a city like Metropolis for his own bailiwick. One meeting with the Batman was enough to let him know just what kind of hero he didn't want to be.

Enough to make him want to look at the word hero and try to figure out what it really meant.

The law-abiding people of Gotham had no complaints about the Batman, none that he could hear on a thorough scan of the city. But... Clark has more and more questions about what that means.

It's easy enough to think of it along the lines of 'every people gets the hero it deserves,' or it used to be. When Clark could look at himself in the mirror and see the man his parents raised, and a man his birth parents could have been proud of. When things made sense.

Clark laughs to himself, pressing his forehead against the cool of the fire escape. The instinct of years to flick his glance over passers-by. Light jackets and sweaters. It's not too strange for him to be out here in just jeans and a t-shirt, though he should probably go inside before too much longer.

Never make them suspicious.

It's... tiring.

More than once Clark has spent time thinking seriously about what it would take to kill off the Clark Kent identity once and for all, to ditch the heavy, plastic glasses that always make him sweat beneath his eyes, to live as no one but himself...

There's the farm, but the recession of the oughts had forced a lot of the old Smallville guard sell out their land and homes to LuthorCorp (LexCorp, it's LexCorp now, never forget), and Smallville had grown accordingly.

More of a city than a small town now. Their own police force, their own supermarket where Fordman's used to be. A Starbucks quickly putting the Talon out of the coffee-shop business. Though Lana had said they were still getting a fair crowd for the baked goods and local bands.

He could still run through their back forty, though the years under the yellow sun had made that almost useless as any sort of stress relief unless he did it enough to wear a visible, half-burnt track through the soil. He could still perform a month's worth of necessary chores for his parents, which was far more satisfying than he sometimes thought he deserved.

Though it tended to make his father irritated in frustrating ways.

He can't stop him from aging.

Lex had gotten his private doctors to do more to fix his father's ailing heart years ago than is available to the general public even now.

Lex. Years.

There's a cool burning on his forehead where the chill of the metal fire escape is registering on his system, flaring and fading. It must be getting colder. Clark doesn't want to go back inside, not yet, and scans the windows in the next building over. No one seems to be watching.

And it's Metropolis. Not Gotham, but still... there probably aren't too many people who care enough to wonder about the freak who doesn't know enough to get out of the cold. It can be okay.

Clark is tired. The air is as sweet as city air can get, cool enough to ease the burden of a metabolism that owes far too much to the sun. It's almost time to patrol. Clark is tired of pretending... so many things.

Gotham had been an education. Enough Gothic architecture for the city to earn its name, all shadows and gargoyles and grime. A police commissioner terrifyingly reminiscent of a man in a leaky boat, dying by inches. Heroes who wore black and villains who lived in shades of grey.

Clark couldn't wait to leave, and it hadn't hurt that the Batman had made it very clear that he couldn't wait to see Clark go. They had no place in each other's worlds. The only thing they had in common was a desire to do what other people couldn't, what even the law couldn't.

The Batman was and is a vicious vigilante with severe psychological problems and a penchant for endangering minors in truly fascinating ways.

Clark was just someone with a gift, and his collars arrived at the police station with nothing worse than a concussion or a cracked rib or two -- and even then, that was accidental.

The Batman's collars never had accidental injuries, as near as Clark could tell.

The Batman's collars were almost entirely human, too, which made it harder to respect the man. (Easier to go back home, easier to go back to being Superman) The rational argument is that the Batman himself is human, but the rational argument doesn't stand up very long.

He had seen the Batman in action, after all.

He had seen beneath body armor and scarred flesh to the kind of old breaks and tears that only come for extensive martial arts training.

Lex had been in his arms, naked and amused. One callused thumb smoothing the lines on Clark's forehead. Lex hadn't known about Clark's powers for very long then, but he'd taken it all in stride. Making it easy for Clark to ask about all the injuries beneath the skin, a question he'd been dying to ask almost since meeting the man.

"My father," Lex had said, "is a firm believer in one knowing how to take care of oneself in any situation."

He hadn't had to ask about all the damage Smallville itself had left.

He'd wanted to ask about how much of it Lex considered damage at all. It might have made a difference.

Lex and years. There are times when he flies past the tall, shining LexCorp tower and slows down for more reason than just avoiding sonic boom damage. There are times when he pauses, hovering just outside the fifty-ninth floor, looking in on Lex's darkened corner office and wondering why he doesn't use the penthouse. It seems the more logical choice, from a psychological perspective.

Maybe too obvious.

The penthouse of the tower is a featureless apartment, minimalist even by Lex's standards.

He doesn't pause when the lights are on up there. Not unless he has to. Lex only stays there when Superman has done something to destroy some more obviously malevolent bit of LexCorp business, or when Lois and Clark do the same in more traditional ways.

Lois, he thinks, would probably rip out one of her own kidneys to get the chance to peer in on Lex on nights like those.

Lois has a well-developed sense of personal triumph, the instincts of an intelligent predator and the desires, too. She sees Lex as just another fatcat political animal, with just a bit more money than most. She talks of wounding him and moving in for the kill. She has a kind of accidental morality, Clark thinks. Raised with ideals she has never had reason to question and a massive desire to prove herself to her father that makes her more like Lex than she'd ever want to hear.

Clark would like to have someone to talk to about that, and other things. The blindness of familiarity, the enmity of same.

Lex is nothing, has never been anything like him. Neither of them had ever tried very hard to change that, or perhaps neither of them had ever tried as hard as they could. Lex is clear to him from this distance Clark asked for and receives, muddy only through Superman's necessarily simplistic vision.

Lex would never fight harder, wound more callously than when he was weakened.

"It has to stop," Clark had said, and he'd only been a little older than Lex had been when they'd met. A matter of months, no more, and he'd been so sure of his own wisdom. The moral high ground, if nothing else, provided an enticing view. No, a desperately vital one. Beautiful in its simplicity.

They'd been in the first penthouse, a gift from Lionel Luthor on Lex's ascendance to executive vice presidency. Clark remembers looking around at the strangely schizophrenic furnishings -- the ultimate result of receiving an apartment pre-decorated to Lionel's tastes that Lex had felt no need to refuse before he'd replaced everything to his own.

Metaphors there that had been so easy to believe in, and even easier to disdain with irrefutable proof of everything (everything? Was it wrong to hope?) Lex had done to receive his new position.

Everything he was doing to move higher still.

So easy to hate the boy he'd been for being so willing, so desperate to believe all the half-truths about Cadmus and the meteorites, what Lex was and wasn't willing to do to appease his father, and God, that still stings.

He'd believed Lex, believed in Lex, that nothing was done for Lionel for any reason other than shutting him up, that Lex wasn't doing anything but getting by the best way he could, that Lex's ambitions were no different than Clark's -- pleasant in their unattainability.

So easy to be angry at Lex for never lying about that, for never warning Clark about his naivete when it came to Lex. Lex, of course, had never been anything but wholly honest about his desire to be CEO of LuthorCorp sooner than later, to be greater than great.

How many times had Clark dozed off on Lex's chest, smiling at the images Lex spun of ruling the world? Emperor of the Universe, that was his lover. Ruler of all he surveyed, especially when what he surveyed was Clark.

Even then he'd known he was being petty about that, at least. It was hardly Lex's fault that Clark hadn't wanted to believe in the Luthor Mark II Lex had always been so assiduous about trying to burn into Clark's mind.

He hadn't wanted to believe, and that could never be Lex's fault.

But some part of Clark was insistent, screaming 'he should've known' until Clark was barely able to avoid saying it aloud.

Harder with Lex -- Lex -- looking so betrayed. Eyes wide and blank and grey, face slack with it. The face he'd worn every time Clark had lied to him, back when it was only his own secrets that were important. Young. So young, and the terror of the inevitable future, of the day he'd look back on this one and hate himself for being... young.

The terror had been enough to keep him moving, talking, berating Lex in his silence and begging to be told none of it was true, that it was all a mistake while Lex's expression got harder and harder.


Until Clark was left searching for cues in the flex of muscle and flicker of eyelid. The sort of cues Lex had been training him never to give for years.

"Lex," he'd said, and there was a flicker, but it was gone quickly enough.

Lex had raised his eyebrow. "What are you waiting for?"


"Forgive me, Clark. Sometimes I forget how... inexperienced you are. For future reference, this is your cue to storm out, trailing wounded self-righteousness in your wake." A measured pause. "The door's over there."

And it's not as though he's never gone over that afternoon, looking for ways it could have gone differently, looking for new things to read into Lex's expressions (and the lack thereof). Eight years would be a long time to not spend any time thinking about a breakup, especially a breakup that amounted to the end of his first real relationship.

He hadn't been able to count his time with Lana as anything other than what it was -- a last ditch effort by a teenager to hold on to what he used to believe about himself, when the opportunity arose -- for very long.

Everything with Lex, everything was deeper, stronger. More meaningful. First love.

Would it have been so hard to ask Lex to choose?

That's the question he's never been able to stop asking.

Not when he walked out the door, leaving it open because he hadn't been able to trust himself not to smash it to splinters by slamming it. Not when Lionel, a man nearly as fit as his son, had died of that heart attack.

"I'd love to get a hold of that autopsy report," Lois had said. "Though I'm not entirely sure I'd do anything with it."

Clark remembers the almost exaggerated moue of distaste on her face that day, the afternoon sun pale through the Planet's dusty windows. Remembers how easy it was to see the old women she'd become, worn to muscle and bone and sheer bloody-minded tenacity.

"What are you grinning about, Smallville? Mark my words -- the son isn't going to be any better than the father."

He'd shaken his head. There wasn't anything to say to that, not without encouraging Lois to bring up all those old questions about how well he and Lex had known each other. Easy, then, to be grateful to Lex for insisting on discretion, though he'd had more than enough time by then to muse on how convenient all that secrecy was for Lex.

Lex's endless ambition. Clark knew why he hadn't asked Lex to choose, of course. He'd been afraid of rejection.

Easier to be the one to walk out, to bathe in his own righteousness (some words always come back, always) and believe in himself, if nothing else. He'd felt so adult, something out of a chick show. Empowered woman walks out on scumbag of a boyfriend/lover/ husband or whatever.

She walks outside, looks up at the sky, smiles a beatific-if-edged smile, and walks into the sunset.

He remembers when that didn't come out sounding cynical.

The bar against his head is as warm as he is now, holding, conducting heat in some unlikely science experiment.

He's late for patrol, and it takes an effort to even open up his hearing to search for trouble. It's harder every day, and it makes him feel like something... less.

Something lacking, and he knows the psychology of this. Knows what it means to lack motivation, if not necessarily desire.

There's a car accident at 4th and Eggerton. Theoretically, he could've stopped it, but no one is too badly hurt. The police are being summoned by a woman with a racing heart and the tight, clipped voice of an executive. On the cell phone she'd undoubtedly been using when the accident occurred.

Not a job for Superman.

Screaming deep in Suicide Slum. He listens harder, filtering out as much background noise as he can until he can make out words. Ravings more than words. End times coming. It reminds him of a song, but he can't remember which song it is. The annoyance of the puzzle holds his attention, but that's really an excuse.

It's either madness or drugs fueling the screaming man, neither of which he can do much about.

A baby crying endlessly only a few blocks away. Endless because he can hear the hoarseness to the cries, the cracking sound of a pained throat. Sounds of argument close to the crying. A man and a woman, rent versus a new car. A place to live versus the ability to get to a job to pay for the place to live.

No one's getting hit.

If he strains, a little, he can focus on S.T.A.R.'s maximum security facility for all the metahumans Superman has brought down over the years. The focus isn't as fine as he'd like, but it's enough. No alarms, none of the crumbling or creaks he's come to associate with structural damage. He'd supervised the construction, of course, but he isn't infallible.

Clark had been in Lex's office, Mercy aiming a gun at him. He'd been able to feel Kryptonite in the bullets. Lois had uncovered a conspiracy to cede control of protected marshland to LexCorp for dumping. Lex was days away from being elected as the junior Senator from Kansas. Independent, of course.

Enough money to tell the party machines to kiss his ass.

"It doesn't have to be this way," Clark had said, thinking only of the power Lex would have, the opportunities he'd have, but...

Lex's eyes had flickered the way they hadn't since that last day in his (their) penthouse, and Clark had stumbled on the rest of his arguments.

"Stand down, Mercy." The command voice, and Lex had never stopped looking at him. Searching him for... something.

He remembers struggling over the urge to say Lex's name, to say anything other than the calm, cold 'Luthor' he'd perfected over the years. The moment passed in silence, the bill to sell off the land was killed quietly after Lois' expose.

He thinks it started then. It. The fraying at the edges of things. Lex had been young, of course. His political clout relatively negligible. Still... still. He could've fought for the bill. The area was ripe for development, the deal Lex would've gotten downright criminal.

He'd seen the plans in a routine scan of Lex's files. A condominium development with a river view, the sort of thing to make an already rich man richer, not to mention providing him with lavish gifts to offer the problematic relatives of political cronies.

'Dying to get rid of your drug-addicted daughter before she fucks up somewhere people can see? Here, have a condo. The owners are, of course, discreet.'

The sort of thing Lex could do anywhere, but it was clear he'd done a lot of work, a lot of maneuvering to do it there.

Yet he didn't fight.

There was a basic flaw in his arguments to himself, an assumption of inflexibility in Lex coupled with a firm trust in the swing of his own moral compass. He's not sure which was the most ultimately damaging.

Clark wants very badly to turn to Lois and say, "I'm tired of saving people." Or, not Lois. Because Lois would... He can see it. The familiar look of betrayed trust, wonder and fear that he's painted on the faces of those he holds dear since he first began thinking of confessing the truth about his powers.

(Oh, but Lex hadn't been that way, Lex had always known there was more to him...)

And after that, Lois would be so puzzled. He was Superman, he saved people. It was more than what he did, it was who he was.

And Clark doesn't think he can argue that, not without a therapist nearby, or at least a handy exit.

Superman was created to give Clark a life while still letting him have an outlet to do the things Clark Kent shouldn't be able to do. Natural disasters averted, planes caught moments before terrible crashes. The opportunity to wear traditional Kryptonian fashions and not be considered the least bit odd for it.

Though he could've lived without some of the Batman's comments. As if anyone wearing pointy black ears had room to talk.

Clark laughs to himself and wonders, quietly, how late he is for patrol. Is it so bad? He can hear everything he needs to from here, in terms of Metropolis. The rest of the world can...

And the words don't come easily. He used to be grateful for that, he could see it as proof that he wasn't completely fucked, that he wasn't about to become exactly what he is -- a man crouched on a fire escape, diligently avoiding responsibility with eyes as blank and unseeing as anything Lex could produce. The truth, though... there's something pathetically artificial about his inability to whine properly.

It's not the thought of his father's disapproval, or his mother's disappointment. That would be real. Human. Perhaps even admirable, in a traditionally middle American sense. More than anything else, it's fear.

Perhaps something closer to terror, because fear is Mercy's bullets, and the axe Lex has been holding over his head in perfect, gentlemanly silence since the day Clark walked out.

This is... this is something else, entirely. Deeper and harder and woven tight into his identity. It's who I am, he says to the friend that doesn't actually exist. The friend who could be Chloe or Pete if he hadn't waited so very long.

Lana if he could trust her to see past herself. Lana's eyes have never been windows to anything at all.

Lex, if Superman had existed before Clark left. If he'd never left.

It's who he is, and if it isn't, then everything falls apart. No reason for Superman, but without Superman he's just a guy with too many secrets. Again. God, no, he can't be that again.

No reason to open himself to the endless and oh-so avoidable human suffering every day, every night... and that's the harder one, of course.

If he didn't open himself, there would be such peace, such wonderful peace. He's more powerful every time he goes out into the sun, but he's skilled, too. No metahuman he's met has ever had the kind of ruthlessly practical and efficient tutelage in the use of their powers that Clark had in Lex. He knows just how well he can filter out sound, sight, smell. The temptation of his Fortress is minutes away, miles and miles away from responsibility.

If he did that, he could learn to love humanity again, he thinks. He could study only the surfaces of what they show. The woman with the cell phone would cease to be a menace, fading into just another well-dressed woman of intellect and means, someone his father would love for him to bring home.

The screamer would be someone to ache over. A man whose pain has overcome him, if only for a few small moments.

The fighters would be a young couple, strained by circumstance but still loving. Their child nothing less than the embodiment of hope.

Surfaces are friendly things. Why, after walking through that world for a while, wouldn't he long to put the suit on again? Wouldn't he crave it like oxygen?

Wouldn't he?

Would he?

Surfaces lie, and he's never been able to forget the things he most wishes he could. Human suffering, yes, but so much of that suffering comes from nothing more nor less than human frailty.

"That's what makes you human, son," his father had said. So sweet and so sure, even with all the proof of the lie sitting right in front of him. Stashed incautiously beneath their feet.

There are days Clark doesn't feel very human at all. Days and nights when his suit is grimy with the soot of an arsonist's work, the vomit of a drunk driver's untimely relief and remorse. When it's all he can do to look at those faces and remember his own isn't so different, that the truth of his personality has more to do with the Kents than his rarefied DNA.

"You could really put the nature versus nurture argument into perspective, Clark," Lex had said, smiling with rueful, gentle amusement. Hand on his face after Clark had told him everything, as if Lex had known even then that touch meant so much more than anything he could say.

It's hard. It's work.

The doubts smack of Nietzsche's basest, most terrifying moments, and there are times when Clark wants to ram the irony so far down Lois' throat she chokes on it. The doubts are the moths in the wardrobe, the rats in the cellar. Devourers of memory and sustenance, mocking Clark with the way the world turns and turns, millions of human children raised by people the Kents would disdain.

Millions of children growing into jobs for Superman.


One day, when his parents are long dead, buried deep in Smallville's good, rich soil, Clark will visit their graves and tell them the truth he'll undoubtedly believe by then: "No, Dad. It's not what makes me human. It's what makes me your son."

He doesn't believe it now. Not yet.

Or, if he does, he at least hates it enough to fight.

If not enough to get him off this fire escape. It's not pain inside of him, not pain that makes everything seize up in his body, on his face. Metallo taught him pain, and the terrible irony of Kryptonite helped. Not even emotional pain, not really. That's the loneliness, and the tumor growing in Lex's right index finger, and the knowledge that Lex would doubt him if he told him about it.

It's an emptiness, maybe. His body seizing up, scrunching in on itself to fill a vacuum that only exists in his mind. He's tight, tense all over with no kind of energy he knows how to disperse.

If he calls home, they'll know. Or they'll know enough.

If he patrols... he can at least put on the suit. There's always a satisfaction there, a smile to be had in theories on who convinced the vast majority of Kryptonian men that they should wear their jockies out where the world could see.

They'd probably feel the same way about neckties.

Suit on, and the fire escape isn't as attractive as it was before. He can't go outside in the suit, not without moving fast enough to fool human eyes, pacing the tiny fire escape until he felt like a living vibrator. Flight, then.

He's out and up before he can stop himself, higher and higher until most humans wouldn't be able to see him past the city lights and pollution. This high, the sky is clean, clear and cool. It could be any sky, anywhere.

It isn't.

And God, he's so damned lonely.

Can that be enough of an excuse for this particular change in direction? Clark laughs to himself, sound ripped away by the wind. There's another Clark laughing a mile behind him, five now. A ghost of sound no human could ever understand, tangible and mocking.

He's there.

Another penthouse, angular and minimalist, well-lit and bleak with the lack of himself. Jealousy, pettiness. Lex's home.

Lex is home.

There could be something terrible in knowing skeletons so well, but it was necessary. Even back in Smallville. Surfaces lie. He knows those bones, he knows that ease and economy of movement.

Lex is fighting hard, but Clark knows enough not to rush. The vicious battle of bone to bone, bones that never touch... the other is Hope. A chip missing from a generous pelvis, evidence of repeated breaks to the collarbone... he knows some of those injuries came from Lex himself.

Clark feels his mouth twist. Discovering that the Batman was Bruce Wayne had explained more than he wanted it to. There'd been relief in the fact that he'd known he'd never have the opportunity to ask Lex about his relationship to (with?) Bruce.

Now... now.

Now he's here. Easy enough to land on the roof, only slightly harder to work his way around the security measures here. They weren't made to deter him. That sort of security was for the more official LexCorp buildings. He moves inside, answers a guard's ironic nod of greeting as the guard announces his presence into a comm nodule.

Fleeting, useless wonder when LexCorp would be blanketing the public with them. Safer than cell phones, certainly, and what could suit a cheerfully capitalistic society better than the guarantee of never losing touch? Clark rubs his neck where the nodule would go half-absently and scans the hall until he finds the right door.

It is, of course, the one with the gun-toting skeleton standing just to the side.

He knocks, smiling a little at the way the skeleton startles. Hope had obviously been expecting something more dramatic. Loses the smile at Lex's voice.

"Let him in, Hope." Cool anger, nothing more.

Clark squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, just long enough to get his game face on. Long enough for something inside of him to scream about that. He doesn't want --

"Superman. What can I do for you this evening?" The smile is easy, the eyes are fixed. Lex is wearing grey sweatpants, a loose t-shirt. His scent is high and familiar on the air, even with the equally familiar building nausea from Hope's bullets and Lex's ring.

Clark has no idea where to begin, though Lex's eyes narrow at his silence. He can be grateful for every small crack in Lex's... surface.

Irritated exhale. "I'm charmed by your visit, alien, truly, but I don't have time for the Easter Island idol treatment. The door's over --"

"We need to talk." And it isn't what he wanted to say, God, not that, but he couldn't let Lex finish that sentence. Clark grits his teeth. "Alone."

A twist of Lex's mouth that some people are stupid enough to call a smile. Clark remembers being that stupid. "I doubt that."

"This isn't for your bulldog, L -- Luthor." He manages not to wince. "Call her off. You'll still have the ring that'll lose you that hand soon enough." He watches Lex flicker and hates himself for being grateful for it, especially since it was only a flicker.

"Say what you need to say and get out or make an appointment with my secretary, Superman. I don't have time for you."

And fuck this, but it's enough that he doesn't even know why he's here, he doesn't need --

The meaty thud of flesh on wood brings him back to himself in a flash. He has Lex pinned against the mahogany paneling by the wet bar. Heartbeat and there's a gun barrel pressed just beneath his ear. Heartbeat and the scent of woman-sweat and Chanel no. 22.

"Scents are highly personal, Clark," Lex had said, "but I've yet to meet a woman who didn't smell wonderful with just a bit of 22..."

Sleek, damp flesh of Lex's throat against his palm, and Clark feels himself shudder when Lex swallows. Clark's other hand hangs empty, useless at his side. There's so much of Lex he could be... Shakes it off. "Call her off, Lex."

The briefest flash of a snarl. "Omega six, Hope."

The gun barrel twitches, presses harder. "But, Lex --"

"I wasn't aware the concept of a direct order was lost on you, Miss Garrick."

Hissed intake of breath just behind Clark and the gun is gone. "Sir."

Neither of them move until the door clicks shut, and then Lex shifts against the wall until his posture is almost natural. Dark smile. "Her pride is stung. You owe me for that, alien."

"Cut the shit, Lex. We're alone now."

"Interesting you should put it that way, Clark. What shit, precisely, should I be cutting? The assault and battery charges, maybe? Your secret identity? Or maybe the world would like a closer glimpse at the love life of their 'Greatest Hero?'"

"Or their beloved Senator?"

"Nobody has to worry about me developing X-Ray vision and checking out their hairy asses."

Clark can't hold in a laugh. A deeper one at the suspicious look that flashes across Lex's face. "There was an image I didn't need."

"Why are you here, Clark? Found some new muck to rake --"

"Christ, just shut up, can't you?"

"I'd always heard that you're supposed to keep the hostage-taker talking. Remind him that you're still human and all..." Lazy drawl that punches right through him.

He can't know. He *can't* and it's hard to focus, low-grade nausea of the ring and that isn't it, it's just... he has to be able to read Lex's face for this, his eyes. Narrowed now against him and time is against him, too, because Lex can't see him weak.

He *can't*.

Something like a gurgle and Lex's eyes are wide now, so wide and oh God, no. Clark rips his hand away from Lex's throat and shudders on the edge of holding Lex up for long moments until it looks like he's going to fall.

Has to hold on, then, doesn't he? Has to.

Watches Lex choke, watches bruises forming just beneath the skin. No serious damage. (Not a job for) Bites his lip hard against the thoughts, against the feel of Lex's shoulders beneath his palms. Warm caps of them, so strong. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, he doesn't say.

"What the fuck is your problem, Clark?" Coughed out with real anger, real shock, real... everything. So real. Solid and there. So close.

"You always knew..."


"Always. You called me on it. You looked so betrayed --"

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

And Clark has to laugh because... it's so clear now.

"Clark..." Serious now. Low I-want-you-to-hear-me voice. "Clark, what is it?"

It's so easy to smile. "You always knew I wasn't human, Lex."

Kisses Lex before he can say anything else, swallowing shock and sound too scrambled to be language. Mouth, that mouth, oh he's missed it. Soft as a woman's except for the scar, soft until Lex commits to this, and then it's as hard as he needs. Nearly vicious, opening against his own only to plunder. Lex's tongue still so fast, still so clever, and it's human enough to want the blood of everyone who has felt it since himself on his hands, isn't it?

Clark slips his hand between Lex's head and the wall, cradles it, holds it there and takes everything Lex gives. Sweet, so sweet inside and it's been so long.

"Need you," he whispers, or thinks he does. It doesn't matter.

So long, and Lex is biting his lip, growling and nudging Clark's face aside to get to his throat.

"I can never mark you," Lex had said, voice trapped between thrilled and disappointed.

Different with the ring so close. Better, God, so much better. Just enough to make Clark unsteady, just enough that the first bite feels like a bite. Makes him gasp, mouth open and loosing something between a grunt and a groan. That's the sound, he wants to say, that's the way I always sound when you make me come...

But Lex is clutching him now, hands scrabbling at the uniform, and Clark knows he doesn't have to.

Lex knows how much he needs this.

Feels himself smile and tilts his head back further, pulls Lex's face in closer. "Harder, Lex. You know what --" Sucking bite and Clark's knees buckle. Yes. Lex tries to hold him up, but Clark doesn't want that.

Needs more than kindness.

Drops to his knees and tears the sweats away with one hand, heart thudding at Lex's involuntary thrust. Certain reflexes never leave and ah, God, the scent. Clean sweat and dark sex and anger and just enough fear to remind Clark to be careful, so careful.

Presses his face to Lex's boxers and breathes deep, nuzzling and waiting for something he can't name until he gets it -- Lex's hands in his hair, firm and just a little cruel. Clark grunts at the first tug and looks up into Lex's eyes.

Anger and confusion and yes, God, yes, need. "Suck me."

First promising snap of Lex's hips when Clark rips the boxers off and this is right, so right. What he needs. Opens his mouth and Lex thrusts in, fast and hard, stretching Clark's mouth wide and sliding in so deep.

Need you

Clark groans and sucks hard, swallowing convulsively and forcing himself to stay still. Waiting, waiting...

And Lex yanks him in close, grinding in and in and in until it isn't enough for either of them anymore. Pulls out until Clark can just catch the slick-salty head of Lex's cock with his tongue and then slams back in.

Clark hears himself whining for it and can't bring himself to care. This is Lex, inside him again at last. Fucking his mouth with sweet snapping speed and desperate little grunts.

Bitten-off moans and Clark wants to tell him it's okay, that Lex can be naked for this, can give Clark this because Clark understands now. Hollows his cheeks and looks up again, waiting for Lex to look down again because he always does. Always.

"Ah, look at you, Clark, look at you taking me..." he'd say, eyes wide with wonder and love.

And there it is, Lex watching Clark take him down, teeth bared and eyes wide, so wide.

Clark feels his own untouched cock pulse out pre-come and groans around Lex, eyes fluttering closed at the feel of it. So good, so pure.

"Do it... fuck, Clark, do it do me -- " Lex cuts himself off with a growl and stills for a terrible moment, then starts up again. Harder. Faster.

Clark groans again, begging with his eyes and --

"Ah fuck -- fuck you made me wait... looking down your nose --"

Clark's palms ache with the need to grab Lex's hips and control this, make it better, and he balls his hands into fists and sucks a little harder.

"Clark oh God Clark why?" And Lex's thrusts are getting ragged, brutal. Burn of the ring something on the edge of consciousness, unimportant save for the drain of it on Clark, the way it narrows everything down to this, here, between them.

Lex. So close.

Hands in his hair, pulling, pulling, and Clark wants to be here forever, pressed to all that sleek, smooth skin. Held there, where there's nothing but their need and he can't keep from touching anymore. Grasps Lex's hips, thrusting at air when it makes Lex gasp, and oh, he hadn't expected...

The welcome of it.

Slips his hands around to cup Lex's ass, riding the snap and roll while Lex mutters curses and imprecations that all sound like love. Need.

And then has to squeeze hard and force it faster, making the rhythm his own, and far more merciless than anything Lex had ever, would ever choose to use against Clark.

"You need this --"


"Take it, God, take it --" Lex sounds as choked as he feels.



And Lex thrusts deep one last time and comes gasping, shaking with it while Clark swallows and swallows and feels something well up inside that he can control as long as Lex is in him, as long as they're connected. Please, please...

"Clark, please --" Pained, broken voice and Lex is pushing him off.

Hears himself making some wounded animal noise and only Lex has ever been able to make him blush like this, make him need like this. Pushes his face against one long, lean trembling thigh and swallows it back, pushes it down. He can shake, it's okay, it's okay if he just shakes, if he just holds on because it's only lust.

Only need, so easy to explain.

Push it down.

"Ah, God, Clark --"

"No..." Closer to a thick moan than anything like language, and Lex is sinking to his knees, Lex is close, so close. Pulling Clark's face in against his chest, soft cotton, damp with sweat.

It could be any day, any night. It could be years ago, Lex's arms around him while he cried frightened tears for his father until Lex ran out of comforting words and soothing sounds and kissed him.

"Because, hey, it's not like I'm not already going to hell, right, Clark?" he'd said, laughing with his mouth and needing at him, blatant and open. All in the eyes.

'Love me,' Clark remembers thinking, over and over. Just love me.

It's no day but today, though, and the questions are just beneath the skin of this. Some fragile peace, and what would he do in Lex's position? How many men would cradle their arch-nemesis like a child, stroke him like a lover.


"I don't know if you got an updated version of the manual or not, Clark, but superheroes usually wait until after they've left the villain to have their psychotic breaks."

Has to grin. "Remind me to introduce you to the Batman." Again, he doesn't say, and the laughter is implacable.

Lex squeezes him hard, shifts them until Clark is resting between his legs, head to his chest. Skin, such skin, and Clark can be careful with this.

Precious thing, and he can't decide if this would be easier if he could see Lex's face.

"Are you planning on telling me what's going on?"

Clark smiles. "I'm not human."

"I was pretty sure we'd established that --"

"I've missed that, Lex. The way you pretend to be pissy to cover up the fact that you're confused and actually pissed."

"I'm not the one on the couch here, Clark. Out with it."

"You ever get sick of it all, Lex? Sick of them?"

Lex stills against him, and it's the instinct of years to nuzzle him until he relaxes again, until he starts to stroke Clark's hair again. "Which 'them' would that be, Clark?" Cautious voice.

"The humans. Endless humans, crawling over the planet like... what was that quote you liked to throw at me, Lex? The nature of man..."

"Nasty, brutish, and short, yes, but --"

"You were right. How long have you waited to hear me say that?"

"Clark --"

"Every hero needs a foil. Every villain, too, right?" Clark shifts until he can look into Lex's eyes. "What if I'd never left, Lex?"

"But you did."

"Did you want me to?" And Lex turns away. Weakness, advantage.

"Jesus, Clark --"

Press home. Clark cups Lex's cheek and tugs him back to face him. Close enough to taste his breath. "Did it make it easy, Lex? It did for me. I could just walk right out of your life --"

"Fuck you."

Clark holds him still. "... and into the suit. Black and white, right? And you could watch me leave and get back to taking over the world. Black and white. Nothing ever complicated, no one whose eyes you had to look into at the end of the day. No one who mattered." Wants to kiss the snarl off Lex's face. Waits. Waits.

"Easy. Easy?" Lex laughs, tries to turn away again. Narrows his eyes. "So whose eyes can't you meet, Clark? What's got those bright red panties in a bunch?"

Clark grins. Closer now. Yes. "None of them get it, do they? None of them ever... it never stops, does it?"

Exaggerated eye-roll. "I told you that a long time ago, lover."

"Yeah. You did. It never stops. There's always going to be another tragedy, another innocent in need of..."


"A good killing."

Lex sucks in a breath and Clark listens to his heart pound. Pure sound, and simple, sweet pain just off to the side. Lex's ringed hand is as far away from Clark as it can be and still be attached to his body. Clark can see it twitch at the edge of his vision.

Grins a little wider. "Just kidding. Lover."

"What the fuck happened to you?"

He can't quite hold on to the smile. Just another metaphor for everything else. "Everything falls apart out there, Lex..."

"So you're giving up? Is that it? Off with the cape and screw the world? I never knew you were a coward, Clark."

"A coward? And you have room to talk." Shakes his head and he knows he's baring his teeth but he can't stop, can't stop now. "What do you want with all of this? You've been clawing your way to the top since I've met you and for what?"

"I can make a difference --"

"Like I did? Come off it, Lex. You want to play king of the mountain for high stakes? Fine. Just remember that the mountain is nothing but a giant pile of human shit."

Silence. Breath between them, and nothing else. The way it should be. Lex stares, and stares, and starts to laugh.

It makes Clark want to kill something. "What?"

Lex laughs harder, tears forming. "Oh God, Clark... it's never pretty to watch a man lose his religion."

Something crumbling, breaking inside him and he knows it shows on his face. No room left for shame, though. "I thought you'd understand. You, more than anyone else..." Blinks hard and shakes it off, zooming for the door --

"Clark." Command voice. "Stop."

"Why?" He doesn't turn around.

"Where are you going to go, Clark?" Lex is moving closer, slow and careful. "That marvel of alien technology in Antarctica? Maybe a one way trip into space?"

Clark shudders. He hadn't realized Lex knew about the Fortress. But then, why shouldn't he? "Why does it matter?"

"God, Clark..." Gentle hands on his shoulders. "It matters, okay? It just does."

"To them?" He doesn't bother to conceal the venom in his voice.

Soft sigh. "To me."

Shudders again. Weak. So weak. "I can't do this anymore, Lex. I can't... I can't be this."

Strong arms around his chest, lean and hard and warm. The ring is gone. "You can --"

"Don't --"

"You can be anything you want, Clark. That's all."

Laughs helplessly. "What idiot told you that?"

Slow stroke down his torso and Clark leans into Lex's touch. It's been too long. "It's going to be okay."

Shakes his head. "Not out there."

Low chuckle against his throat. "Cynic."


"Mm. Because it was perfectly logical to come here. Nothing remotely emotional in that."

Clark wants to be able to smile at that. "Do you really believe, Lex?"

"I have to."

"And that's good enough?"

He can feel Lex smile. "It has to be."

"And if it isn't?"

"Then we've both wasted a fuck of a lot of time, haven't we?"

"That's my point --" And there's a hand over his mouth. Clark does not bite it.

"Faith is an integral part of the... human condition. It keeps us going. It makes things rational, even when the center will not hold. It makes the long view slightly less horrifying. It gives us a reason to be. And isn't that what you need Clark?" Lex pets his mouth before pulling away, a lingering stroke.

"I need you."

Sharp breath, and Lex squeezes him hard. "You have me. Clark. Clark... we can work together, you know."

Clark can feel Lex's heart hammering, belying the calm in his voice, but... "Is that what you want?"

"Bastard, you know it is. Christ, all this fucking time --"

Easy to turn in Lex's arms, press close and tilt his head back and kiss him before Lex has time to work up a good head of rage.

Taste of him something too long denied and Clark's not sure which of them is moaning. It doesn't matter. Not with Lex's hands on him, not with that whip-lean body pressed close enough to kill inconvenient memory.

Clark breaks the kiss long enough to lick a stripe along Lex's cheek and God, yes, he's ready for this. "Take me to bed."

Lex nods slowly, pressing a thumb to Clark's mouth and seeming to look right through him.

Lex can have his faith.

Clark has what he needs.


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