by Jojo


Clark wakes. It's a Wednesday.

Yesterday was the beginning of his new life and the end of Superman. He's not entirely sure what he's doing. He feels a little out of control and there's a bruise on his hip that hasn't disappeared since the explosion.

He stubs his toe in his miniscule bathroom and curses aloud. Then, because the presence of his parents has never truly left him, he checks over his shoulder.

There's nobody there.

His TV is on the fritz again and he eats his cereal standing up, tie undone, shirt gaping open as he watches the news in between flickers of grey and white. He catches the end of a homemade video recording of the Last Flight of Superman. Every channel is doing a tribute to Superman; the first word on every news presenters' lips is 'Superman'. Kathy Lee is wearing primary colors and The Cartoon Network is touting the release of a new animated series: Superboy. It charts the adventures of the early years of Superman on planet Krypton.

Clark notes the date and time of the first episode. He likes cartoons.

The newsroom is out of control. Lois is deep in mourning, though the box of tissues on her desk is untouched. He taps her on the shoulder and hands her a cup of coffee, which she takes, absently, before turning her back to him and continuing her chatter on the phone.

It seems she's trying to sue The Cartoon Network.

"A cartoon. They're reducing Superman to a cartoon," she seethes as she's put on hold for the third time. Clark sits back and watches. Her energy has always been mesmerizing and now her pain adds a sharpness to her movements that makes it hard for him to predict what she's going to do next.

Eventually, her pain becomes too much for Clark, so he goes through his emails. As suspected, he has messages from Chloe, Pete and Lana. He had his parents call them on Tuesday morning to say that he was still alive, despite claims to the contrary.

One by one, he deletes them all. Click, click, click.

Breathes in too hard and winces.

Takes off his glasses. Folds them. Places them by the red apple he always brings to work for a mid-morning snack. The reflection in his monitor reminds him of fifteen-year-old Clark Kent but he doesn't put the glasses back on.

At lunch, he leaves without telling Lois. He tries on four suits before he buys one in grey. He thinks the salesgirl flirts with him, but he can't be sure. Superman was the one who got all the girls.

She gives him a discount on a strange green silk tie that she claims will bring out the green in his eyes.

Clark catches a glimpse of Lois's article and frowns - it's suddenly clear where else Lois is putting her pain and he's not sure Perry will approve. He touches her shoulder, brings her another cup of coffee. Goes out and buys her a small, flowering cactus (it's prickly, much like her) and leaves it by her keyboard when she's not looking. Tries not to see that her hands shake as she gestures to Perry, explains all the reasons why she's absolutely fine. Really.

He drives Lois home in her car and then follows her up to her apartment. Rarely does Lois remind him of Chloe, but the babbling does just that. He makes her chamomile tea and the fact that she drinks it without commenting worries him even more. She even talks in her sleep, and he switches off her alarm clock before he leaves.

He eats pizza for dinner and then stands in front of his bathroom mirror, sweatpants pulled down low on his hips. The bruise is a strange shade of yellow and he pokes it experimentally, wincing. It matches the faded yellow of his shower curtain.

Lois calls at two in the morning but he was awake anyway. "Luthor did it. I know he did. I'll prove it," she whispers, her voice thick with emotion. Sadness, loneliness, blame and regret.

He tells her goodnight, gently, and hangs up the phone. His alarm clock flashes 00:00 because the building is old and power cuts are frequent.

Lana calls at four because time zones have never really meant much to her. She doesn't come right out and say it, because the last time they discussed Superman on the phone Lionel Luthor had overheard, but he knows she's wondering why Superman hasn't come back from the dead.

"You should come visit," she says, strangely. She's never asked him to visit before.

He makes vague promises. And then claims he needs sleep.

The intercom buzzer wakes him at half past six and Clark is now tired. Tired enough that the unexpected voice at the other end of the intercom doesn't unnerve him like it should. He stands by the door and opens it before Lex can knock.

For a moment, Clark is fifteen, Lex is twenty-one, and Clark has just kissed Lex back to life. At his sides, Lex's fists clench and unclench two and a half times.

"The security here is appalling," Lex says, and his voice is almost normal. He closes Clark's door and looks at the deadbolts and chains too hard. He's wearing a suit that probably costs ten times what Clark's did. Lex's tie is stuffed in his pocket.

"You could buy the building."

"I could." Lex turns and his eyes travel Clark, up and down. He reaches out jerkily and pulls the elastic waist of Clark's pants away from the bruise a little. Clark's muscles leap under his skin in pleasure. "Painful?"

"I think I bruised a rib or two."

Lex nods. "An analgesic cream would probably help." For the first time, Clark notices Lex is carrying a brown bag, which he unwraps, slowly. He produces a tube of cream. It's a brand name. Of course. "Where's your bathroom?"

Clark points and follows Lex. They huddle together in the bathroom even if it isn't that small. Lex paints Clark's hip with the cream, which seems to warm up all by itself. Clark's breath catches in his throat over and over again. Lex's fingers linger too long, one hand spread unmoving on the bare skin above Clark's waist.

"Have you seen a doctor?" His mouth is kissably close to Clark's shoulder, his breathing fast. Clark maps Lex's scull with his eyes because x-ray isn't an issue any more.

Clark shakes his head. He means to say, I will. Soon, but instead says, "Sleep with me?"

Clark hasn't seen that smile for years. He wants to wrap it up and keep it in the brown paper bag with the cream Lex bought him.

They slide under the bedsheets, facing one another, not touching. Clark thinks Lex is getting crows feet and knows they're not from smiling. "Do I look different?" Clark asks, because it's important and Lex is the only one he can ask.

"Yes," Lex says. He licks his lips. "Everything's different now."


Completed: 12 May 04

Thanks to Karen T for betaing.

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