Author's notes: Special thanks to my betas: Mr. Alax, who routinely floors me; Karen, who kindly nudged me along; Phil, who loved me no matter what; and Dana, who is without a doubt my better half. Love you guys! XOXOXO
Summary: In the false glow of the camera's Flash, the same old same old shines like new.
The night air whipped the edge of his cape against his legs, a constant and subtle reminder of his obligations as he patrolled the city. Superman closed his eyes, breathing deeply and savoring the last moment of peace he was likely to have for the next few hours. Smoke laced the breath he took and he shook his head, glancing toward the source of the rich, acrid scent.
So the stage would be Lexcorp tonight. He felt like he should have been able to deduce Lex's pattern by now, but locale was the one variable he'd never been able to predict.
They were on a strict schedule; Lex never disappointed. Two minor emergencies were always followed by something that would take even his breath away. Tonight would probably be extreme, something unanticipated and shocking. It had seemed haphazard at first, but when he'd marked off the incidents on a calendar, Clark realized they'd been happening in a specific, organized cadence. Like clockwork, only the clock was apparently synchronized with a Luthor's innate publicity-conscious timetable
Frequent enough to keep the masses entertained by and interested in a superhero and his arch enemy, sporadic enough to limit questions about Lex's undeniable involvement.
Clark glanced at the street in front of Lexcorp Tower, watching the emergency vehicles swarm up, lights flashing and rolling red, white and blue in the reflection of the building's mirrored windows. Two media vans screeched to a halt behind the line of newly-strung yellow tape, spilling reporters and crew into the fray. Flies to honey, Lex had once said. This time, Clark had to admit it looked a lot like a feeding frenzy.
He shook his head, assumed a more photo-worthy flight position, one arm stretched out in a fist in front of him, and flew in a wide oval around the perimeter. Brilliant white spotlights centered on the billowing smoke that poured out of a top-floor window. One found him and tracked him through the sky as he lazily glided into a fancy, curvaceous pattern that took him down to the window's level.
He hovered there, peering through the smoke, listening for signs of distress.
A choked "Superman!" jump-started his savior complex before he recognized the mocking laughter that followed.
This routine was getting old, sure, but he'd never considered not showing up. With Lex's fame and fortune came photographers dogging him everywhere he went, and all those flashy, front-page grins had edged the smile that Clark had always cherished with a bitter lack of sincerity. Refusing to attend one of Lex's dramatic scenarios would probably only serve to pull a little bit more of the genuine happiness from Lex's smiles. After all they've been through together, it was the last thing Clark - or even Superman - wanted to do
Besides, in between these dramas, things were always good. The media would have a field day with another Luthor murder attempt, and, as per their unspoken pact, Clark Kent, reporter, would have an exclusive. The lull between tonight and the next publicity stunt would be well worth the spectacle of one evening, even if Lex made him work for it.
So he shot through the propped-open window in a flurry of whirling smoke tendrils and red billowing cape, landing lightly on his feet in front of a smiling Lex.
Helicopter-flying TV crews and paparazzi be damned - Clark couldn't help the smile that quirked on his lips before he cleared his throat and shook his head in his best imitation of Jonathan Kent. "So, Luthor, what's the story this time?"
Lex tossed a stack of folders onto the bonfire he had going, tucking his hands into his pockets nonchalantly as he rocked back on his heels. "Oh, you know, just taking care of some Spring cleaning."
Clark walked from window to window, opening them to ventilate the room. "Looks more like you're trying to heat the great outdoors."
The smoke cleared enough for them to breathe, but the haze made everything seem surreal. Lex, in his suit, burning files and playing a part that Clark would never get used to seeing him perform.
Lex tossed another pile of papers onto the fire and coughed, yanking Clark from his thoughts, He glanced at the fire and the label on the top folder caught his eye. Kent, Clark. He leaned down and reached into the blaze, retrieving it. Feigning interest, he thumbed the file open and flipped through the papers.
Copies of his false birth certificate, his high school and college transcripts, and his medical records from his one real hospital visit surprised him. "Doing a little research, Luthor?"
Smiling azure glinted back at him, the orange flicker of the flames between them shining in Lex's eyes. "Oh come on, Superman, you knew I had those. Hell, you might as well have given me that birth certificate. But I realized there's no point in hanging on to them any longer."
"Oh? Have them memorized, do you?" The jab was directed at an old version of Lex, and judging by the look on his face, it hit squarely in the youthful self-doubt he'd been halfheartedly aiming for.
Lex smirked and turned away, reaching for another folder and lazily tossing it on the pyre. "You know what this reminds me of, don't you, Superman?"
Clark sidestepped an avalanche of smoldering debris that slipped from the top of the burning pile and moved closer to Lex, crossing his arms over his chest and rolling his eyes. "Um, last year when you set Cadmus on fire to conceal your so-called DNA research?"
Lex's eyebrows arched in a tease as he reached for another folder. "Actually, it reminds me of Desiree Atkins."
Glaring, Clark caught his arm, and there was an instant when he thought maybe he shouldn't, maybe it was going too far, but in his moment's hesitation, Lex smiled and that was it. He turned the arm quickly and easily behind Lex's back, eliciting a wince when Clark yanked him back hard, forcing the twisted arm up between them. Body pressed tightly all along Lex's, Clark whispered into the ear that tilted to meet his lips, eager to hear. "Does this remind you of how she manipulated you?"
Lex writhed in his grasp and Clark relented, releasing him and shoving him away just a little. Payback for the reminder of one more woman who had managed to come between them.
"I was referring to the fire she set on me and the subsequent rescue, Superman." Lex laughed harshly, tugging his shirt back into neatness. He brushed at a non-existent piece of lint on his sleeve. "You'd think you'd be over that by now. It wasn't even my fault."
Clark scoffed, leaning back on a metal desk that had been pushed out of the way to make room for the bonfire. "It's never your fault, Luthor. It never has been." His voice dripped with sarcasm and he smiled to soften the accusation.
"Well, I can take full responsibility for this fire, if that would be any consolation to you."
So, just a fire? Simple. Easily cleaned up and swept under the media rug, but not at all what Clark had expected tonight. They were due for some real drama, something legendary that would feed their reputations - Lex's as an invincible, triumphant businessman and Superman as an invincible, triumphant superhero. And Lex was handing him a little fire? Well, the Kents never looked a gift horse in the mouth. The sooner this was over, the sooner he could get home.
Waving a dismissive hand, he turned and yanked the extinguisher from the wall. "No, no. Don't let me sully your blame-free reputation."
Lex shook his head and gestured at the red tank. "That's the best you can come up with? A fire extinguisher? Come on, Superman, we've got an audience to impress! There has to be more to this than meets the eye..." Coughing, Lex nodded sideways, indicating the wall on the far side of the office. "...doesn't there?"
Clark x-rayed through it and found the drama he'd anticipated. A bomb, intricately wired to the thermostat for this floor. A digital thermostat attached to the bomb read 80 degrees on one side, the opposite number fluctuating between 88 and 89 degrees.
A green light shone brightly over the thermostat in the dark space between the walls. The unlit red bulb next to it made him very nervous. There was a detonator attached to the thermostat, and apparently, if the dual readout on the thermometer was any indication, the detonator would engage if the temperature dropped below 80 degrees. He followed the wires through the ceiling and, nodding at the complicated configuration, saw that they were also linked to a pressure-switch on the bottom of Lex's desk chair in his office - one wall away.
Just as he was blinking back to normal vision, a familiar skeleton slid in front of the chair. Clark narrowed his vision again and immediately moved, screaming a warning. "Lex, no! It's rigged to-"
Lex sat firmly down on the chair. "To explode? Yeah, ingenious, isn't it? I could probably stay here all day, if someone hadn't lit that damn fire in the next room. Eventually, I'll have to choose between suffocating in the smoke or being scraped off the ceiling. Not much of a choice, huh?" Lex grinned from ear to ear and picked up a pen from his desk, passing it absently between the fingers on one hand.
Hands on his hips, Clark strode across the room, breathing the cleaner air deeply. "Isn't this going a bit far, even for you? I mean, you know all this life-and-death stuff isn't actually necessary, Lex."
The leather of Lex's chair creaked as he sat forward and Clark sucked in air fast, hands in front of him in warning. Lex eased back in the chair, a sexy smile playing on his lips. "I like to keep you on your toes. Mind tossing another few files on the fire? I think it's cooling off in here, Superman."
"Come on, Lex. This is ridiculous." Clark walked around the desk, arm blocking the white light that flared in his eyes from the helicopter hovering outside. "Tell me how to disable it."
"And ruin the fun for everyone?" Lex plastered a look of terror on his face and eased the desk chair around until the spotlight found him, too. "Besides, Superman does wonders for our ratings."
Clark glanced out the window and saw the LexMedia logo on the tail of the copter. So, he was going to have to put on a show after all.
Flexing against the slick spandex of his suit, Clark flashed Lex a dare and knelt between his legs, a smirk itching his lips. He paused just long enough at crotch level to make Lex shift, but the leather seat squeaked again and Clark grabbed the arms of the chair and held it firmly in place as he made a show of ducking to examine the switch underneath.
He squinted, x-rayed into the mechanism and lowered himself even further, one hand sliding slowly down the inside of Lex's tensing thigh as he moved to lie on the floor and look up at the detonator.
It was a tight setup - nothing he could disable alone, without some kind of instruction. He couldn't take a chance on his speed - even one tiny wound would earn him years of Lex's wrath. He'd never hear the end of it, not from Lex or the media. Besides, Lexcorp would be demolished and all those bloodthirsty bystanders on the ground might be hurt.
Lex was looking down between his knees, and Clark slid his hand up, grasping the seat of the chair between Lex's legs. "Comfortable, Luthor? You look a little hot." Clark laughed at the expression on Lex's face and levered himself off the floor, fingers brushing along the thin wool on the inside of Lex's thigh.
Blue eyes followed his fingertips, Lex's lips parted, his eyes closing in a long, slow blink. Clark's world narrowed to Lex's mouth as it opened and softly panted, panted for three full seconds before resuming that nonchalant little smile.
Clark kicked himself for the hundredth time for choosing such tight, tell-all material for his costume.
He watched Lex bite his lower lip slowly, eyes as hazy and heated as the air in the room was becoming. Tiny beads of sweat forming on Lex's temples and upper lip and Clark clenched his fists to keep from leaning down and licking them away.
He shook his head and turned away, walking towards an asexual fichus plant and taking just a moment to cool off, waiting for a plan to formulate in his mind.
"If all this is beyond your capabilities, Superman, you might want to think about calling in reinforcements."
Clark's shoulders tensed at the suggestion, at the implication that he couldn't handle this on his own. It stung, even if it was just Lex's way of upping the ante. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, reminding himself that this was just part of their game, a game he'd been a willing participant in for years now.
Over his shoulder, Lex sighed impatiently and Clark stalked back to him, squatting down between Lex's knees and glaring, fuming at him, his face inches from Lex's. "This has to stop, Lex. What if I couldn't... you could die." He licked his lips, gathering the confidence to go up against Lex, and Lex's breath caught just a little.
Lex's lips pursed for just a moment, and then he swallowed hard. His sexy smile was full of venom. "Be careful, Superman. We wouldn't want the public to get the wrong idea, would we? Your ego can take it, I'm sure. Even the great and powerful Superman needs help sometimes. Besides, aren't two superheroes better than one?"
Clark blinked and caught himself. He stood, crossing his arms over his chest. Lex threw another carefully measured look of distress out the window and Clark smiled. Lex was just showing off for the live feed and the lip-reading narrator who would relay their every word to the world. Clark got a message the world wouldn't though, loud and clear - two superheroes would underscore the danger of the situation, and would probably have more Metropolitans tuning in to watch the situation unfold.
Clark smiled and reached down to lay a hand on Lex's shoulder, his thumb rubbing a hard, reassuring line along Lex's collarbone in the brief instant of contact. "That's actually a very good idea." Clark winked and laughed as Lex started to say something and stopped. "Don't go anywhere, Luthor - I'll be right back."
"I need your help," he announced as he strode into the JLA headquarters mess hall. Clark balled his hands into fists and glanced impatiently over his shoulder at the door. "Now."
Wally stuffed the last bite of hot dog into the side of his mouth and looked up at Clark incredulously. "Where's the fire?"
Clark smirked at the irony, then shook his head, gesturing for Wally to hurry. "Lexcorp. I'll explain on the way. Let's go."
Wally zipped around the room, circling Clark as he laughed. "Need a little speed behind that steel, do ya?"
"Okay, okay, lemme make myself presentable."
Before he could grit his teeth, Wally was gone and back again, suited up and following him from the room, still mocking him.
"Lead the way, big man. Lexcorp, huh? What's up? Is the wife between a rock and a hard place again?"
As they reached the door, Clark grabbed a fistful of Flash's costume and took off, launching hard, jostling Wally into silence for a few wonderfully quiet moments. He explained the situation loudly as they flew and landed hard enough to elicit a grunt from Wally.
They slipped through the smoke and Wally coughed, his eyes tearing. Clark shot a worried glance at Lex's office door as Wally sped around the fire, swirling the smoke and some charred papers into a spinning funnel in the center of the room.
Clark rolled his eyes. "Come on - he's in here."
Wally followed Clark through the door to Lex's office and walked to the window, waving merrily at the helicopter circling outside. "Sweeeeet. Check out the press!"
"Flash, focus. We have work to do." Clark knelt down in front of Lex again, one hand pausing in the air over Lex's thigh before he bit his lip, silently reminding himself of the boundaries and settling his hand on the arm of the chair. "Don't worry Luthor, we'll get you out of here."
Lex glared at Clark, nodding towards Wally with his eyebrows raised. "The Flash, huh? Christ, he's just a kid. I would have chosen the alien, Superman."
"He's young and fast, Luthor. I thought you'd be happy to see him." Clark leaned against the desk.
Wally turned back to them, throwing a flirty grin over his shoulder at the camera outside. Clark shook his head as Wally walked towards them, his hips swaying a little more than usual, finally striking a muscle-flexing pose beside him and Lex.
Clark tensed with impatience, but a quick glance at Lex told him he was apparently the only one not amused. Lex's lips were pinched tight in an effort not to laugh.
Clark waved his arms in front of Wally's face and yelled, "Flash! Man sitting on a bomb here! Remember?"
"Oh loosen up, Supes." Wally pushed past him and stood next to Lex's chair, shaking his head. "This is a mess. You know, I'm usually in such a hurry," Wally blew on his knuckles and buffed them against his collar bone, "but I think we can take our time on this one." He winked at Lex, then grinned. In a blur of red, he was gone and back again, a chocolate doughnut in hand. At Lex's laugh he mumbled around a huge bite, "What? Bombs give me the munchies! Want a bite?"
Lex shook his head and laughed, and Clark's face heated. He walked across the room to the steel blind controls, punching the button that closed off the helicopter's light and left them in the eerie flickering orange glow from the fire in the next room.
"Mmmm, mood lighting - great idea, man... Shotgun!!"
Clark heard the thin slippery material of Wally's costume brushing as he blurred in the dim light, but when Clark looked again, he was out of sight. He had a fleeting doubt that Wally might desert him, but as Clark rounded the armchairs and desk, he saw Wally on his knees, grinning up at Lex, who was grinning back, his bare head shimmering with perspiration in the thin streaks of light that filtering through the metal slats of the blinds.
Fists balled at his sides, Clark bent down next to Wally, glancing from one to the other, sharp daggers in his eyes as each met his gaze in turn. Wally shrugged under his vehement look and slid under the chair, murmuring, "Standard shotgun rules... in sight of him... man, you'd think a guy in tights would be able to take a joke better."
Lex scoffed and Clark dug his fingers into Lex's shoulder until the muscles there flexed in rebellion. "Luthor, who did this to you?" He knew Lex had done it to himself, but now they had a new audience, and the rules of the game became far less flexible with Flash watching.
Flash's hands spread on the edge of the seat next to Lex's thighs as he levered himself further under the chair. "Yeah, you'd think they would have at least left you some milk and cookies. I mean, you could've been in here all weekend. That's just cruel, man." Flash's head appeared out from under the chair as he sat up, shaking his head, apparently defeated by the complexity of the bomb. "I can't do a thing with that, Superman. We'll have to give it the old one-two, I guess."
"You grab him, I cover the bomb?"
Wally shrugged and Clark nodded, looking down at a suddenly more sober Lex.
Lex gripped the arms of the chair and Clark and Wally both laid a hand on each of his shoulders at the same time, holding him down.
"Easy there, tiger. We've gotcha." Wally knelt back down and locked eyes with Lex. Lex shook his head and looked up at Clark, who couldn't resist grinning down at him.
Lex shrugged off their hands. "That's the plan? A snatch and grab job? Jesus, Superman, next time I'll just send up the bat signal." Clark waved a hand in front of his face, clearing the haze of smoke that was beginning to drift into Lex's office. Lex practically growled. "Christ! Okay, let's get on with it."
"Superheroes at your beck and call, huh?" Wally crossed his arms over his chest, raising his eyebrows at Lex. "Lucky bastard."
Clark grinned at Wally but gave Lex's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "The lucky part's questionable, Flash. Now hurry up!"
"Keep your knickers on, Supes. I have fifteen minutes waiting for me." Wally sped to the blind controls, mashed the button ceremoniously, opened his arms and bowed at the news helicopter that still hovered outside, then zoomed back to Lex. Making a show of it, he tucked an arm slowly under Lex's knees, another behind the small of his back. Clark tried not to fume as Wally paused close to Lex's neck and took a deep breath of expensive cologne, his eyes closed as though he was savoring the scent Clark thought of as his own secret pleasure.
Lex smiled and wrapped his arms tightly around Flash's shoulders, snuggling in more than Clark thought necessary.
Clark gritted his teeth and moved to the wall, punching a hole in it and taking out the detonator and bomb. "Everyone ready? Good. Three, two-"
Wally fell forward, his body crushing Lex's into the armchair. Clark wanted to laugh, but he operated on too much of a hair-trigger himself to make fun of Wally's reaction.
"Jesus, Luthor, give a guy a heart attack, will ya? I almost lost my chili dog all over those expensive shoes of yours."
"Now that would have been a shame. But, Superman, I was just thinking how nice it would be not to have to rebuild Lexcorp Tower. And all those innocent people down there on the ground - we wouldn't want debris raining down on them would we?" Lex's sneer set Clark's nerves on edge. Like he hadn't thought of that before Lex bothered to mention it. Jeez, what did Lex think he was, some kind of amateur? They'd been doing this for years.
Clark moved to kneel down beside the chair again, carefully trailing the bomb's wires along with him. He sat there in front of Lex, who was still cradled in Wally's arms, and fumed, gathering his tact.
Before he could come up with anything that didn't sound completely threatening, Wally sighed and shifted his arms under Lex's body. Clark didn't miss Wally's fingers digging into Lex's side and thigh. "Really, Supes, he's right. I mean-"
"I've got it covered, Flash." Clark glared at Wally for a second, then stared at the carpet of the office, pushing away the ludicrous idea that Flash was stalling, just hanging out there with Lex in his arms, making idle conversation to prolong the physical contact.
"Supes, seriously. I can get him a long way, but where are you going with that bomb? Unless you go straight up - ohhh. Are you sure you can do that?"
And now it was Clark's turn to show off. "You just worry about your damsel and let me handle the big bang, okay? Count. Of. One. Three, two, one."
Clark paused in front of the mirror and glanced at his uniform, frowning at the charred remains of his family crest. His mom would be busy sewing this summer if Lex kept insisting on playing with fire and bombs.
It was pointless to suggest a public truce; Lex had given his reasons before, "It's beneficial to both of us*. You'll be famous and I'll be infamous. The perfect partnership."
If Clark was totally honest with himself, he had to admit that it really was brilliant. But fame wasn't his motivation to play the game, and he suspected that it wasn't really Lex's either.
After all, Lex never faked the situations - he always put himself directly in the path of very real danger, ostensibly so Superman could never refuse to help. And neither of them ever pointed out the fact that any member of the JLA could handle almost all of the threats alone, but it was Superman who showed up first, every single time.
It gave him a giddy, lightheaded feeling to acknowledge that they both needed the public to see them together, even as victim and savior or crook and do-gooder. The secret they shared, their intimacy hidden under a cloak of drama but always there, always just beneath the surface, dangerously accessible for anyone who decided to scratch just a little.
All those eyes on them, watching their smooth, natural interaction with bated breath.
His blood thumped hard in his ears and he closed his eyes, taking a calming breath. He shook his head, tugging off the ruined spandex. Stepping out of a leg, he lost his balance and reached out to the door jam to catch himself. The wood creaked beneath his fingers and he winced at the sound slicing through the silence of the room.
"What took you so long? I've already had a shower and a nap, Superman." Lex rolled onto his back and tucked his arms up beneath his head, one foot sliding up under the smooth sheet, tenting it.
Clark straightened and smiled, absently brushing some soot off his arm as he walked to the bed. "I had a debriefing at headquarters - Lantern wants everything in the computer asap, you know."
Lex gave him a pitying look. "Aww, a Superhero's work is never done?"
"Something like that."
Lex's eyes slid down Clark's body, but he was used to it now and didn't even flinch. "You look a little singed - should I ask if you're okay or would I be wasting my breath?"
"I'm fine. Besides, you're going to need all that breath after I get cleaned up anyway." Clark crawled up the bed, sliding up over Lex's body and leaning down for a kiss.
Lex's tongue slipped into his mouth, stoking the hunger that had been building all night to an even higher level. When he pulled back, Lex caught his arms and grinned mischievously.
"You were incredible tonight, Clark. And that snack-happy friend of yours is getting ballsier. I thought he might try to come home with me." Lex grinned wide and raised his eyebrows in a way that drove the tease even deeper under Clark's skin.
He only paused for a second before stripping the sheets back and pinning Lex's arms to the bed, taking sleek, silky skin between his teeth and biting Lex's side. Lex jerked in response but Clark shoved his arms deeper into the mattress and growled low, licking a long, broad stripe straight up the center of Lex's chest.
Between nips and deep kisses, Clark caught Lex's eyes. "This is a two-person game, Luthor. No exceptions. Besides, haven't you heard of the K.I.S.S. principal?"
Lex twisted a hand into his hair and pulled his head up, breaking his suction on a pink nipple. "Are you calling me stupid?"
Clark grinned viciously and leaned down, teeth clamping down hard on the already erect nipple.
Lex's back arched, his strong fingers digging into Clark's shoulders, pushing him off. "Jesus, alright, alright, next time I'll keep it simple so we can be alone."
Clark tucked his head in beside Lex's on the pillow, sucking gently on an earlobe and whispering, "I wouldn't have it any other way."
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