In & Out

by Hope


I can't give you an exact date or anything, but this takes place in Wendi's O&C/Chapel of Love universe, sometime before Clark gives up his powers, but after Chloe and Wally started dating.


It wasn't a party. That's what Clark told himself as he wound through the teeming mass of familiar and unfamiliar people crowded into the penthouse. Holding two glasses above his head to keep from spilling them, Clark smiled at a broad-jawed strawberry blonde who'd introduced herself as Deena or Deanna, something like that, as he made his way back to Lex.

"Scotch," Clark said, slipping a glass into Lex's hand. He tried to follow his neutral gaze, spanning across the undulating horde, mixed with civilians and heroes in street clothes. In the corner, Wally had turned Lex's nine zillion dollar stereo into a karaoke bar- who knew where he'd gotten the microphone- dazzling his tiny clutch of admirers with the loungiest, lizardiest "Danke Schoen" since Tom Jones had given up Vegas for heavy metal.

John Stewart wore his sunglasses at night, and inside- Clark knew he had to hide the eerie green glow the Lantern had left in his eyes- but the combination of leather jacket and shades made him look like a bounty hunter instead of a partygoer. Diana rubbed her bracelet, and any minute, she would snap and give that oversized frat boy-stoner (who'd come with Deena-Deanna,) a serious taste of royal pain.

It wasn't a party, and Clark started to say that again, for the hundredth time, when Lana waved at him from across the room. A flash on her left ring finger sparkled like her pretty pink smile. Pete slipped an arm around her shoulder and brushed kisses on the curve of her throat, and Clark gave up his protests to the contrary. If Lana was smiling, and Pete was doling out public displays of affection, it was a party.

Turning to Lex, Clark offered him a faint smile. "This happened to me in high school, once."

"I know; I arranged the fireworks." Swirling his glass of scotch, Lex squinted as Lois cut through the crowd with sharp elbows and sharper looks. He'd been avoiding her most of the night in that artificially pleasant way that being a host permitted. Couldn't talk to one person for too long, had to mingle and make the guests, uninvited though they may be, comfortable. Tipping his head toward Clark as he planned his next escape, Lex asked wryly, "You know I believe you when you say that you didn't intend to have a party, Clark. But satisfy my curiosity- who brought the keg?"

Clark blinked, craning to look. "We have a keg?"

-

Okay, the penthouse was a labyrinth, and maybe Lex was the minotaur, but Jimmy Olsen... no wait. Chloe shook her head as she raided the kitchen, picking open sticky fastfood boxes in search of a cache of unconsumed buffalo wings. She'd tried four metaphors, and failed to come up with a truly accurate reflection of just how annoying she found Wally's former roommate.

"So. We meet again."

Chloe didn't bother hiding it when she rolled her eyes. Tipping one of the boxes on its side, she fascinated herself with the contents as Jimmy strolled around the breakfast bar, his head leaned back stiffly, each step an exaggerated heel to toe march that probably had some deep, geeky origin, not that she wanted to know. He could pretend to be Darth Vader or the Borg or Devilicus for all she cared, he'd always be a nasally little pipsqueak with serious boundary issues. "I have it on pretty good authority that the party is in the other room."

"I have it on equally good authority that the food is in this room." Jimmy twitched his head to one side, suddenly cutting her a look from the corner of his eye. "Do you have a license to handle those buffalo wings? I only ask because you're not wearing gloves. Ahh, protective latex, the unsung hero of modern sanitation."

Deliberately sticking her ungloved hand into the box, Chloe pulled a greasy wing free and smiled at him- a great big smile that showed at least ninety percent of her teeth. "Some of us don't have to worry about latex anymore."

Jimmy swirled a non-existent mustache. "I sense a disturbance in the force."

Muttering under her breath, Chloe slowly broke the wing at the joint. "I sense an antacid in my near future."

"I remember being invited to an evening of X-Box on the big screen. A guys' night out, if you will. A celebration of masculine ritual and re-affirmation of manly bonds." Turning swiftly, Jimmy fixed her in an accusing stare, as if she had personally rewoven the fabric of space and time to thwart the original plan. "And yet, here you are."

Annoyed, Chloe started for the door. "Don't look at me, I just wanted to borrow Lex's printer." She needed something to make a grand exit, so she snatched up one of the boxes of buffalo wings in a time-honored insult of depriving a lowly member of the tribe his fair share of food, and stalked out.

Leaning against the counter, Jimmy narrowed his eyes and murmured at her retreating form, "This isn't over, oh homewrecking one."

-

"That one's from my greatest hits album," Wally said as karaoke "Innagoddadavida" faded, winking and pointing a finger at the strawberry blonde who stopped to watch for a minute. In spite of the fact that Scratch was... well, Scratch, Wally had to admit he had the most kick-ass, googlephonic stereo ever. Woofers and tweeters as far as the eye could see, the bass pounding so loud, it tickled all over his body. Even in the naughty spots, which was something he'd have to mention to Chloe later.

That thought dissipated in an instant when he saw a familiar face in the corner. Lunging forward, he bounced at the end of the microphone's tether, setting of a wicked screel of feedback. With a sheepish grin, Wally threw up a hand as he switched the device off. "Move along, nothing to see here." Setting it down, he lunged again, calling out, "Hey, Geeee..." Remembering the civilians at the last minute, he stretched the sound into a vague semblance of "Yawn," coming to a sudden stop in front of John. "Party's pretty kicking, huh?"

Nodding slowly, John took another long, deep drink from his glass. "I'm considering this a surveillance mission."

"Come on, lighten up." Wally's hands danced as he pointed out Diana, still unfortunately cozied up with the stoner. "Even the princess is letting her hair down, hey, Diana, don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

She replied with a cool, leveled gaze that indicated it was unlikely she'd ever do anything that Wally would, and she smacked the stoner's hand when it crept too close to her bracelet.

Melting against the wall in a temporary state of relaxation, Wally rolled his head to look at John. High on the atmosphere, since beer couldn't give him a buzz, Wally waggled his brows in exaggerated arcs. "See anybody you like? I could introduce you. It could be your lucky night."

"Thanks, I'll pass." Clearing his throat, John softened the refusal when Wally's face fell. "I appreciate the offer."

Wally bounced off the wall again, all frenetic energy. "Well, if you change your mind, let me know. I saw this chick with sincerely J-Lo assets that I think you'd like. I could get her digits, pass 'em along, wink wink, nudge nudge." With that, Wally clapped John on the shoulder, and disappeared into the crowd again.

Pushing his sunglasses back up, John smiled and accepted a refill on his drink.

-

Lois leaned in with a confidential smile, her lips painted the same lush shade of crimson as her blouse. Loose across the shoulders, and tight everywhere else, the color only deepened the rich cream of her skin, highlighting the fine, bone shadows of her long throat. Voice warmed with a catlike purr, she raised her glass of wine to mouth the rim. "I can't promise you it would be off the record, but I can promise you it would be fair and impartial, so what do you say?"

"I would say, 'Isn't this a party, Ms. Lane?'" Bruce slipped a hand into his pocket, and shared an immutably neutral smile. In a room defined by primary colors, accented by pastels, he stood out as a sharp slip of darkness, fortunately balanced by Lex, haunting the balcony doors.

"Lex Luthor's never had 'just a party' in his life," Lois said, raising her chin. Her eyes flashed, instantly cutting through the crowd to cast a harbinger gaze at Lex. She took a sip of ruby-dark wine, rolling it on her lips before looking up at him again. "And you're obviously his guest. Wayne Industries has had a long, cooperative partnership with LexCorp."

Unperturbed by her insistence, Bruce shared another cryptic smile as he set his glass aside. He offered his hand, and a non sequitur, both with casual grace. "Would you like to dance, Ms. Lane?"

Lois squinted. "Would that be instead of the interview, or in addition to?"

"There's only one way to find out."

-

With a plateful of liberated buffalo wings, Jimmy leaned next to Clark, watching Lois slip into the arms of tall, dark and obscenely rich. "How many gazillionaires do you know, anyway?"

"One too many," Clark said, tracking the exact position of Bruce's hands on Lois' body. Things weren't this complicated when they were at work. Batman glowered, Superman thwarted Lex on a regular basis, and nobody had sexual identity crises. Having multiple worlds collide in a single party had given Clark the beginnings of a headache.

Oblivious to Clark's internal turmoil, Jimmy sucked barbecue sauce from the edge of his thumb, pondering aloud. "Do you ever wonder what trust fund brats- no offense- talk about? Hey Lex, have you seen my Armani socks? Why no, Bruce, but did I show you my limited edition Swarovski crystal chessboard? Each piece was carved by a certified virgin artisan living in a remote Alpine village."

Clark snorted, distracted. "He doesn't have a crystal chessboard."

"But he could; that was my subtle use of hyperbole in action." Sensing his companion had drifted away, Jimmy glanced up from his plate, frowning at Clark's odd expression. "Come back to the five and dime, CK. You all right?"

A troubled hardness had furrowed Clark's brow, his usually clear eyes clouded over with a purposeful darkness. Handing his glass to Jimmy, Clark nodded as he started into the crowd. "Fine. I'll be back in a minute."

"Hey, no problem, I'd be happy to hold on to this for you," Jimmy called after him, his peevishness only slightly obvious to the entire world, including the deaf, blind, and mute, though probably not to the cheerleaders, especially blonde ones, as they had perfected their geek shielding devices early.

-

"Hey there," the strawberry blonde said, twirling a lock of hair between her fingers as she settled against the wall beside Diana. With a smile wavering between intimidated and curious, she rolled her lips in anticipation of having to say hello again just to be acknowledged.

Barely shifting her gaze, Diana nodded. "Hello."

The strawberry blonde sucked on an umbrella drink (kindly provided by a curly-haired lad who seemed sweet enough, but sadly reminded her of someone she once met at a frat party, down to the name, and that just wouldn't do,) and stole glances that lingered perhaps just a little too long on Diana's backside. When caught looking, she emitted a highnoted giggle. "Sorry. Sorry."

Accepting the apology, Diana merely narrowed her eyes then turned her attention back to the party.

"But, since we're on the subject," the strawberry blonde said, ignoring the fact that they weren't on the subject, and in fact, weren't even conversing, "Where did you find that cute little dress?"

Diana quirked a brow. "At a department store."

The strawberry blonde wheezed out another titter, waving limply at her. "Aren't you funny?" She looked around, fixing a smile on John. "Isn't she funny?" He didn't answer, so she turned back to Diana, scooting a bit closer to her and lowering her voice. "Seriously, though, between us. I mean, we big boned girls have to stick together, don't we?"

Disturbed by the image, Diana finally looked up at her. Literally up, and she wondered if she might not have a touch of Amazonian blood in her lineage. "Pardon me? My bones are a proportionate size and density..."

Gritting her teeth, the strawberry blonde struggled to maintain her smile. "What I mean is, we're both carrying a little junk in the trunk." The strawberry blonde's smile took a pained twist when Diana merely stared. "We've both got something loose in the caboose? Riding high in the rear?" By the time she got to the last euphemism the strawberry blonde's voice had dropped half an octave, and spit threatened to collect at the corner of her very tense mouth. "We've got back?"

Diana blinked. "We do?"

With a violent push, the strawberry blonde flung herself off the wall and stalked gracelessly back into the fray.

Confusion crested on Diana's brow, and she turned to John. "What language was that?"

John shook his head. He wasn't going to touch that one, literally or metaphorically. "Nooooo idea."

-

"All I'm saying is that the wine might get in the way of your credibility," Clark lied, leading Lois by the elbow to a nice, quasi-secluded corner of the penthouse. At least he was, until she pulled away with an incredulous snort.

Her dark hair fell in glossy curls over her shoulders, bouncing slightly with her indignity. "One glass of wine for me, Smallville," she said, lifting her chin imperiously, "Is like you taking an interview over milk and cookies. What's this sudden interest in my reputation really about?"

Coughing on the truth, the one that consisted of an outrageous amount of jealousy completely unjustifiable with him in jeans instead of tights, Clark managed a righteous shake of his head to enhance his faux concern. "I just think if we're goi..."

Lois laughed. "We?" Tapping a polished nail in the middle of his chest, Lois backed Clark up with barely a touch. "We don't have to share every byline, you know. In fact, I did just fine before you came along, and do you know why I did fine? Because I was willing to get the story, wherever it was." She cast a long, dark look in Lex's direction. "Don't blame me for your missed opportunities."

Straightening up, Clark frowned. "We're not talking about Lex."

"And we're not talking about Bruce Wayne, either." Lois smoothed her hand flat against his chest then patted him with a smile. "It's a party. Go unclench and have fun. I intend to."

As she slipped away, Clark threw out his hands, calling after her, "Lois, come on!"

Waving fingers over her shoulder, Lois didn't turn back. "Party, Smallville!"

-

Narrowing her eyes at the back of Jimmy's head, Chloe did her level best to live up to Smallville's freakishly meteorenhanced standards, trying to develop a mind ray that would melt Jimmy Olsen's brains, or at least singe his ridiculous lounge lizard perma-perm.

"Wow, if looks could kill..."

Startled, Chloe nearly dropped her glass, but settled back into her skin instantly when she realized Lana had slipped in next to her. She looked soft and pretty as ever, now with added sparkle from the two-ton rock Pete had planted on her finger. Wriggling her toes in her sandals, Chloe shrugged. "Just trying to get to Zen the hard way."

Following Chloe's gaze, Lana pursed her lips, the expression bordering between a smile and inscrutability. "You know, when I think 'ohm,' I don't instantly picture Jimmy Olsen."

Chloe held on to her bravado for approximately half a second, and then deflated with a frustrated sigh. "He's driving me crazy, Lana. He comes over every Saturday, and spends the entire time glaring at me, or making these disgusting little horking noises in the back of his throat if I come within four feet of Wally."

"They were roommates for how long?" Lana's face smoothed with sympathy as she poured herself another tequila sunrise. "He's probably still trying to adjust to being a bachelor-bachelor."

Rolling her eyes, Chloe sighed, then drained her glass. "I just wish he'd adjust somewhere else. I know it sounds petty, but he's acting like I stole his boyfriend. And you know, I really didn't."

Lana took a sip of her drink, rolling the sweet grenadine on her lips and nodded innocently. "That doesn't sound familiar at all." She peeked up through her brows when Chloe turned her head sharply. Rolling her slight shoulders, she smiled, genuine again. "Sometimes it's hard to let go."

Ice crackled in Chloe's empty glass, and she deflated again, groaning as she leaned against the bar, a hint of a blush warming her cheeks. "I can't stand it when you're sneaky, Lana. It's unnatural. You're supposed to be the sweet one."

"I'm never what people expect." Amused, Lana bobbed her head and slipped away to leave Chloe to her thoughts, still rubbing the sheen of grenadine onto her lips.

-

Stepping onto the balcony, Bruce propped his elbows on the wrought iron railing, a glass of scotch cradled between his hands. He didn't look over at Lex, instead fixing his gaze on some distant point toward the horizon. Far above the city, a slight, cool breeze fingered through his hair, casting it carelessly against his brow as he turned the thickcut glass in his hands. "Balvenie. Thirty year if I'm not mistaken."

"I see your tastes haven't changed." Lex leaned back against the rail and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes darted, following motion and bright flashes of color inside, probably mentally tabulating which objets de Luthor would be smoldering ruins by the end of the night. Considering the guest list, the damage could figure into the millions.

Bruce nodded, taking another sip of his drink. His cool expression hadn't changed, but a hint of familiarity crept into his voice. "I have a soft spot for good scotch."

From beneath the tight cross of his arms, Lex waved a hand expansively. Silvered shadows smoothed across his face, dipping beneath his eyes and mouth to sculpt him like marble. "You're welcome to it; I save dad's old stash for company."

"Just as generous with his possessions as always." With that, Bruce did look over, his pale eyes lifted in amusement or challenge. "Do you remember the Alfa Romeo?"

Dropping his head, chin tucked against his chest, Lex exhaled a soft laugh. "That wasn't my father's. Actually, I don't remember whose that was."

"I don't either."

Their silences weren't comfortable, but they lingered, heavy with significance. The skyline glittered behind them, Lex's city poured out like diamonds on a vast, flat field. The part still roared inside- Wally had moved on to a medley of glurgeful 70s ballads- but somehow, a reserve of quiet shielded the balcony.

After a moment, Bruce shrugged. "Still. It was a good night."

Slowly, Lex drew his voice out, its edge sharp enough to pick at their shared past. "Better than most. Long walk home, though. It would have gone faster with a couple of your latest toys."

Bruce bit down on a smile. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Tell me, Bruce, did you take the elevator up, or did you scale all one hundred twenty two stories?" Pick, pick, pick.

Both brows cresting up, Bruce turned his head with another slow challenge. "Where do you keep the particle accelerator, Lex?"

Teeth sinking into his own lower lip, Lex's expression tightened, then he smiled and shook his head. "I can't imagine what you mean."

Bruce swirled his glass as he pushed off the railing. He moved fluidly, haloed with confidence that didn't require him to look back to speak. Striding toward the doors, he let his voice trail after him. "Interested in taking a walk?"

"Not particularly," Lex said, and followed anyway.

-

In Wally's opinion, which counted quite a lot since he had crowned himself the Crimson King of Karaoke, Bryan Adams had been born a decade too late. Or started recording a decade too late. Or something; there was a decade in there, and even though "If You Really Love a Woman" had no chronological place alongside "Afternoon Delight" and "If You Leave Me Now," it had been officially added to the Wally West Raddest Love Songs Ever List, and had come up on the queue.

Objectively, he didn't have a bad voice, per se. Maybe a little flat in the middle range, and a little grass-breakingly painful when he attempted a falsetto, but as long as he stayed in his comfortable, middling tenor, things worked out all right in the end. And besides, Bryan Adams made a great soundtrack to watch his girl threaten his best friend with a shrimp fork...

The microphone hung in the air for a moment, abandoned when Wally applied just the tiniest hint of speed to his departure, which made it hard to look casual when he stopped next to Jimmy and Chloe, but casual was overrated when a shrimp fork was involved. "Killer party, huh?"

"More like homicidal, with light patches of psychosis." Jimmy angled the shrimp fork away from his jugular with the tip of one finger. Under his breath, he added an afterthought as he rocked back on his heels. "And maybe just a soupcon of pre-menstrual..."

All of the color drained from Wally's face, and apparently transferred instantly to Chloe's. Now an appealing shade of maroon, she cut into Jimmy with a furious scowl. "Where did you learn that one, Simpleminded Rhetoric for Neanderthals?"

Jimmy wriggled his fingers. Hands flapping like a bird's wings, he wavered all over with a shrug. "If the not so fresh feeling fits..."

Being that he was a superhero, Wally stepped between them before Jimmy lost an eye, and Chloe lost a couple of years in the Kansas State Pen. Flattening a hand on Jimmy's chest, and curling a hand over Chloe's shoulder, he forced out a hearty, mirthless laugh. "Hey, it's all fun and games until somebody crosses a line, and why does that sound better when there's an eye involved?"

"The line," Chloe said, bristling, "Has been crossed."

"I can't even see the line from here," Jimmy said. Glancing down at the hand on his chest, he pondered whether sticking his tongue out at Chloe might hurt his case as the innocent, injured party. "I haven't been able to see the line for four point six months, give or take a tenth, and modify for irregular months like February."

Chloe gripped the shrimp fork so hard her knuckles turned white. Jimmy reconsidered the outsticking of the tongue. Sensing that bloodshed might soon occur, Wally wrapped an arm around a shoulder each, jerking them together against his sides. He stopped short of banging their heads together, because it would be uncool to manhandle friends and loved ones, but it took a little effort on his part.

Glancing down at both, Wally summoned up a cajoling smile. "Chloe. Jimmy. Amigos. Why are we fighting?"

"Are you aware you sound like a Mexican Godfather," Jimmy asked.

Chloe gritted her teeth. "Technically, I'm an amiga."

"Look," Wally said, interrupting them both with a genial drag through the crowd. He tried to imagine what Bruce would say in a situation like this then decided that dire threats and jumping off a gargoyle just weren't his style. Instead, he wheedled, because he was good at that, and it usually worked. "I'm flattered that you guys are fighting over me. Really, I am. But dude." He looked down at Jimmy, to make sure he understood that he was the dude, because he planned to call Chloe babe in a minute, and didn't want things to get weird. "Chloe's my girl. That doesn't mean you're not my best bud, but seriously, Jimmy... she has a couple of standard features you don't have, that I really like."

Telegraphing a quick accusation of "Harlot! Strumpet!" in Chloe's direction, Jimmy nodded silently, mostly because he wanted to hear what Wally had to say to the aforementioned harlot.

Wally stroked Chloe's arm, his expression melting to goofy-eyed infatuation when he looked down at her. "And you're my number one babe. The babe to beat all other babes, and I have known some babes, let me tell you..."

"Wally." Chloe arched a brow, waiting for him to apply some of that speedster velocity to his trip down memory lane.

"Yeah, so anyway." Wally grinned. "You're my number one babe, and a whole bunch of stuff I'm not going to say out loud because I like it when you blush just for me, and.."

Jimmy cleared his throat.

Rolling his eyes, Wally got to the point. "So an-y-way, you're my number one babe, but sometimes, I've gotta do guy stuff, and Jimmy's the guy I like to do the guy stuff with."

"Why do I get the impression that you practiced the half of the speech directed at me, and verged toward extemporaneous when you got to her?" Jimmy raised both brows, hmmm??

Puffing up a little, Chloe smiled tightly. "I'll try to be more cordial."

"That's all I wanted!" Brightening instantly, Wally plastered a kiss on Chloe's upturned mouth, then turned, hesitated, and clapped Jimmy very hard, and very manfully, on the shoulder. "So we're good? Yeah? Awesome!" Satisfied he had saved the day (once again!) Wally zipped away to reclaim his microphone.

When Jimmy opened his mouth, Chloe brushed the tines of the shrimp fork against her chin to warn him that cordial didn't mean friendly, and Jimmy slunk away with a muttered "Tart."

-

"Then the itty bitty kitty cat climbed all the way up the tree, maaan," the stoner frat boy said, spreading his beefy arms as high as he could. Dark eyes glittering and wide, he gestured at the imaginary kitten in the imaginary tree, his voice falling low and awed. "All the way up to the very top!"

Bewildered, Diana took a step back, murmuring for Hera to give her strength. Lots and lots of strength. "That's very interesting."

Dropping back down, the fratboy shook his head. "That's not the best part, though. When the kitty got all the way to the top..."

"Hey, Doofer." Her voice a flat monotone, the strawberry blonde put her hands on her hips. The corner of her mouth twitched, and one eye bugged out a little. Her hair disheveled and her lipstick smeared, she looked as though she might snap at any moment. "I thought we agreed to leave."

If they'd made such an agreement, Doofer didn't remember it. With a blank frown, he considered this for a moment then shook his head. "Did we?"

Lashing out with bubblegum pink talons, the strawberry blonde grabbed Doofer by the elbow. She pulled him down to her eye level, ignoring his hiss of confused pain. "Yes. We did." Her attention slowly rolled to Diana. "What are you doing talking to her?"

"Ow, hey, leave the skin! We were just makin' conversation. You know." Doofer pumped his free hand in the air. "Party hardy, dude...ette."

Finally exploding in a cascade of ringlets and wild eyes, the strawberry blonde dragged Doofer toward the exit. Her awkward, wobbly gait made her look like a tank in a miniskirt, and her voice rose to a shrill klaxon then broke to a baritone. "This is the last time we crash a party you "happen" to hear about, Doofer. I just spent the last half an hour cornered in the kitchen by a little Chihuahua named Jimmy..."

"Wait, I thought you liked dogs..."

Her back to the wall, Diana slid a little closer to John. Watching the strange duo storm out of the penthouse, she puzzled over something for a moment then looked up. "That was a man in a dress."

"Yes, it was." John let his sunglasses slip down a little, peering over the tops of them with a smile.

Reviewing the night's conversation, Diana suddenly bristled. "He thought I was a man in a dress!"

John took Diana's glass, slowly refilling it. "Oh now, princess, come on. Anybody with two eyes knows better than that."

With a quick glance toward the now-closed door, Diana stewed for a moment then muttered into her new glass of wine. "The next time we go to a party, I'm borrowing Shayera's mace."

Raising his glass in a toast, John actually smiled. "That ought to liven things up."

-

Shoes dangling from his fingers, Lex watched as the slick black Porsche sank into the river. The strains of pounding club music still issued from the radio, fading as a fine piece of Italian machinery bobbed and dipped beneath the waves. A white haze of bubbles hissed on the surface, marking the Porsche's grave, and Lex turned to Bruce with a half smile. "The Alfa took a lot longer to sink."

"It floated a little further out, too." Gilded with a mysterious smile, Bruce squinted, watching a thin, iridescent sheen rise to the surface to coat the waves.

From his perch on the rocky shore, Lex offered Bruce his free hand to steady him as he stepped down, and merely smiled when he didn't take it. "It's a good thing we left Lois at the party. This isn't a headline I'd want to read in the morning."

"It's not a crime to murder a car," Bruce said, cutting long strides as they started toward the road together.

The night sky unfolded endless, cloudless and dark with a new moon. It wouldn't be a long walk back to the penthouse, not comparatively, and though Bruce's legs were longer, Lex kept pace with him easily. Expensive pants whisked and whispered with each step, a matching flag crackle that stopped when Clark appeared in a blur of red flannel and blue denim.

"I was wondering where you went." Somehow, Clark made it sound like an accusation, his gaze leveled at both of them to spread the blame. Dark brows knit, he shifted his weight from foot to foot, an echo of Jonathan Kent's favorite wavering pose of annoyance.

Exchanging a glance with Bruce, Lex waved a hand to demonstrate his existence. "And here I am."

Less than enthralled with the prospect of participating in a lover's quarrel, Bruce fished a key ring from his pocket, and depressed the red button. In the distance, something electronic chirped, followed by the sudden flash of headlights. A sharkish black car hummed as it rolled down the street, its windows perfectly shaded to hide the fact that it had no driver. With a wry smile, Bruce stepped to the curb and said, "Anyone need a ride back?"

"We're fine," Clark said instantly. He watched with narrowed eyes as Bruce hit another key ring button, opening the driver's side door from four feet away. And he didn't stop watching until Bruce had slipped behind the wheel and hit the accelerator. A haze of rubber smoke wafted up from over-spun tires, leaving a warm, greasy scent lingering in the air.

Caught somewhere between curiosity and annoyance, Lex tipped his head to one side, peering at Clark through his brows. "Which one of us didn't you trust, Clark?"

Relaxed with Bruce already miles down the road, Clark fell into step next to Lex. "Him."

"Boarding school was a long time ago." Hooking his fingers into the heels of his shoes, Lex wandered the side of the road, swaying closer to Clark, their shoulders brushing. "And it's probably not what you're imagining anyway."

With a stiff hint of petulance, Clark snorted. "I'm not imagining anything. All I know is that every time you and Bruce end up alone, something gets broken."

"Oh, the Porsche is probably fine, Clark." Lex smiled crookedly, glancing toward the river again. "Just a little wet. You're welcome to jump in and pull it out, though mouth to mouth is probably futile at this point." He cut his gaze over with the taunt, waiting until Clark ceded a smile to offer his own. His, however, contained a hint of desire, a dark flicker of arousal tightening the edges of it. "How long were you watching us?"

Rolling a shoulder, Clark rolled his eyes heavenward. "You're weird, Lex."

Undaunted, Lex tried again. "I have a more compelling question, perhaps. What were you doing while you watched us?"

"Lex..."

"I'm sorry, were you in a hurry to get back to the party we're not having?"

With a great sigh, Clark finally relented and laughed.



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