In the eternal battle between good and evil, it's the equivalent of squeezing the toothpaste in the middle.
"I thought we talked about this, Luthor." You land next to him on the loading dock, your cape fluttering out behind you.
Your archenemy regards you impassively. "You talked. I had some scotch and reviewed my portfolio."
"We agreed you wouldn't do this anymore," you say, frowning at the object strapped to the flatbed truck. It looks like a bunch of steel donuts strung onto a pole. You don't know what it does, but you have ten more of them back at the Fortress.
"You agreed." He sounds resigned. This is new and potentially dangerous.
The driver of the truck ran into the warehouse the second he saw you approaching. Now he's got his face pressed against the windowed panel of the shipping office door, a wide-eyed secretary on either side of him. One of them is mouthing your name.
"Just tell me why you need a particle accelerator," you ask reasonably, or as reasonably as anyone wearing a spandex cape and red go-go boots can. Your people had all the fashion sense of a Swedish disco.
He must be thinking the same thing. "It goes with my outfit."
You shake your head, tuck the metal coil under your arm, and fly off.
"We have reservations at nine!" Lex calls after you, shaking his fist. "Wear a tie!"
Normal couples fight over what movie to watch. You argue about antimatter.
"How was work?" Lex asks, taking a sip of his ice water and looking at you over the top of the menu.
"Prevented a tanker from running aground, delivered a donor heart to Juneau, foiled an attempt to build a supercollider in Smallville. The usual."
"Hm," he says. "Whose ship?"
"Can we talk about this?"
"I'd rather not do it here."
"Lex, I'm just concerned you might--" You play with your fork. "Blow a hole in the space-time continuum and destroy life as we know it."
He peruses the wine list. "Should we have a Pinot Noir?"
You plow forward. "I think you should reconsider your commitment to this project."
"I don't see any compelling reason for me to do so."
"You know our mutual friend won't allow you to endanger lives with this facility," you say.
His lips do that smirky thing that never fails to make you want to smack him and then rip all his clothes off.
"Lucky for him it's just a particle accelerator and not a Doomsday machine, as I'm sure he's got better things to do than hang around babysitting a bunch of magnets."
"It's still dangerous," you insist. "He'll be forced to destroy it, and I know how expensive big magnets can be."
He finally glances up from the wine list. "In that case, you'll be pleased to know there's now a section of the LexCorp budget expressly dedicated to Superman related damages. Knock yourself out, Clark. I've got alien insurance."
You flinch and accidentally dismember your fork.
He smiles and returns to picking out a wine. "How about a Chenin Blanc? That should go nicely with the crab pasta."
"Whatever," you mutter, bending your fork bits into an interesting shape. "Doesn't matter what I say, you won't listen to me anyway."
"I heard you, I just disagreed."
"I'm--" You think you hear something, which seems like a good idea so you pretend to hear it some more.
He looks up again. "What?"
"Flash flood. I've got to go."
"Can't it wait?"
"It's a flash flood, Lex." That you'd totally made up. Still, Lex used the A-word and that was playing dirty.
He closes the wine menu and sits back in his seat. "Fine."
You nearly confess right there but settle for kissing his stubborn lips and handing him the valet ticket.
On your way out, you pass the sommelier. You're going to be in a lot of trouble tomorrow when there isn't a flood mentioned in the papers.
Your mom always cleans when she's angry. You stay out all night fighting crime.
Around one in the morning, the police start getting tired of you. They grumble about being reduced to secretaries and make you wait in the fishtank until there's a uniform free to take your statement and your most recent do-badder. You have to remind yourself that Superman doesn't sulk.
It's nights like these that make you wonder if this city even deserves a superhero. You've been on the job six months and already they're taking you for granted. Not that you enjoyed the media circus surrounding Lois' first Superman article, but it was kind of nice to be noticed, even if the Inquisitor called you a bloodsucking Martian and accused you of kidnapping Elvis. The letters in the Planet saying you couldn't be trusted were harder to laugh off.
The Daily Planet trucks hit the streets at four and you stop at your apartment to shower and change. You haven't been there in days and the cockroaches resent the intrusion. They wiggle their antennae and stomp their feet, taking their sweet time in disappearing into the walls. Not even the bugs are taking you seriously tonight.
In the bathroom, you stand in front of the mirror to get rid of Superman. The blue contacts are first to go. They're something Lex developed in his lab, a material able to withstand your heat vision without blocking the beam or melting. You don't pretend to understand how it works, but the rocket scientists at JPL nearly wet their pants when Lex offered them a supply contract.
The slicked-back hair is a combination of styling clay and surface tension and you drag your fingers through it until your messy curls reappear. Lex explained that, too. Something about weak hydrogen bonds and strong disulphide linkages, but that was in bed, and he was behind you, and you weren't exactly paying attention to what he was saying.
You close your eyes. Exhale. When you look into the mirror, someone you used to be looks back. Clark Kent in a Superman suit. You peel him off and get in the shower.
Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home again. You could, but you'd wake up Lex.
It's both too early and too late to crawl into bed next to him. He's probably still mad from dinner. The last thing you want to do is wake him up at five in the morning.
You get dressed. Most of your stuff is at the penthouse now, but you still have a few things in this closet. An ill-fitting suit, a pair of clunky black glasses, a wrinkled tie that never fails to make Lex wince. Meek slouch, unstyled hair, the occasional trip or fumble and you're ready for your other life. This costume's still in the testing stage because it actually attracts more attention than less. It was your mom's idea, but you're considering giving it up for more casual clothes. You want to blend in, not stick out, even if the suit's doing wonders to establish your clueless dork street cred.
In the end, you go to work early to avoid Lex's sleepy glare. The universe quickly punishes you for your cowardice. Lois is there, and she's already had way too much coffee.
"Fucking Republicans. That tool Wu is supporting the measure 49 tax cut. He says now that we have Superman, crime is at an all-time low and we no longer need such a large police force."
You feel a sudden stab of guilt. Your most recent anti-crime spree is only going to encourage that kind of thinking.
"Who does he think he's going to call to report all those death threats he undoubtedly gets? Like Superman has time for him." Her fingers zip over the keyboard. "I doubt they have this problem in Gotham. Hey, check this out. Batman rescued a busload of orphans from The Joker and Harley Quinn last night."
"Orphans," you mutter. That freaky showoff.
"Where were all those orphans going on a bus, anyway? I bet Batman set it up for the good press. Superman would never do a thing like that."
At least Lois is loyal.
"Even if he does have a weird obsession with Lex Luthor."
To a point.
She turns on you. "You live with him. What's Superman want with Luthor?"
You push your glasses up your nose. "What do you mean?"
"Come on, Smallville. Since he moved back to Metropolis, the most trouble your honey's gotten into was parking in a red zone. Now he's suddenly Superman's most wanted? It doesn't track."
Oh god. There's no way you're going to get out of this gracefully. Someone will have to take one for the team. Superman gets the short straw.
"Lex is a public figure," you say. "It can draw unwanted attention."
Lois twiddles her pen with a dreamy look. "I wonder if Superman reads the Planet." Her smile deflates. "I wonder if he can read at all."
It is not your day.
Perry catches you at your desk and your life flashes before your eyes. "Kent!"
"I thought Lane was supposed to be keeping an eye on you. What are you working on?"
The correct answer is not "nothing," even if it's the truth. "I'm waiting for a phone call."
"Not anymore you're not."
Perry sends you out to the Krispy Kreme on Metropolis Parkway. The store's been there a year and a half and traffic is still backed up to the Union Street on-ramp. Plus it's lunchtime. Perry must hate you. You dangle one arm out the window of your Ford and wait for the light to change.
Kate the Krispy Kreme manager is more than happy to talk to you. You get a copy of their sales figures for the fiscal year, a paper hat, and an earful of donut propaganda.
She takes you on a tour that ends in a back room filled with deadly looking bakery tools and several trays of donuts. She smiles, her eyes sliding down your body, lingering at your belt, and then crawling back up to your face. You realize you've been forgetting to slouch. You adjust your glasses.
"Our Metropolis shops are about to get something new," she says, leaning against the counter and pushing a donut towards you. It's fat and round, with no hole. For no good reason it reminds you of a breast implant.
"Try it," Kate says.
You bite into it. It's creme filled, buttery and sweet. You lick your lips and look down at the donut. Its center is a swirl of blue and red.
"We call them Super Kremes!"
Kate tried to send you off with a box of super donuts, but you told her the Planet had a policy against reporters accepting gifts and then escaped to the parking lot.
You should have stayed in bed in this morning. Except you never actually got into bed last night. You're man enough to admit this may be the source of your problems.
Kate did manage to tuck her card into your shirt pocket before you ran off and you prop it up against your keyboard. This is your first exclusive as a Daily Planet reporter and it's about donuts and Superman. Lois is insanely possessive of Big Blue, but even you aren't sure whether she'll laugh or throw things at you for getting this story. With Superman's name in it, the piece is likely to get picked up by the wire services.
You close with a prediction for, surprise, yet more cashing in on the superhero phenomenon, then send the article to Perry. Your phone rings.
It's Lex, and he sounds snippy. "Shall I expect you for dinner?"
Either he's gotten a job as a maitre d' or you're in more trouble than you thought. He must have found out about the flood.
"Yes?" you say, eyes screwed shut in a wince.
"Are you sure? You can always eat on your own if you like."
If you like. Lex has a talent for threats that sound like a personal choice. Like eating alone could ever be preferable to--
Jesus, you're an asshole. "I'll be there."
"Hm," Lex says, and you're reminded of every time you showed up late, left early, or never got there at all. He hangs up and you know he must be thinking the same thing.
Nick at Nite reruns taught you that it isn't unusual for an inattentive husband to come home from work and be greeted by a cold dinner. Lex has more inventive means of punishment.
He's sitting in the formal dining room. "I hope you're hungry, Clark. I had Solange prepare a special menu for us tonight."
"Great." You try to smile but it gets caught in your throat. Lex gives you a critical once-over. You are so dead.
"How was your flood?" he says finally, spreading his napkin in his lap.
"Fine. It was...fine." You have no idea why you're still lying. It might be your complete lack of spine.
"You must have done a remarkable job. I haven't heard a single news report about it. Did you do that thing where you spin the planet around and reverse time?" Lex's lazy twisting gesture looks remarkably rude.
"I told you Lois made that up. I can't stop time."
"Funny, neither can I," Lex says, toying with the stem of his martini glass. His drink is the same sickening green as liquid kryptonite and you want to knock it from his hand. "I guess that's one thing we have in common."
You don't know what to say to that, so you pour yourself some ice water and wait. Lex strokes his cocktail and watches you like a bored shark. He's wearing the cashmere v-neck you got him last Christmas and a pink shirt you've never seen before. Lex hates pink.
Abby brings in the salads and a basket of bread. Now you know why Lex was smiling. He knows how you feel about green food.
You poke at the hot spinach salad with your fork and scowl at your plate. The green specks are probably just capers and not actual kryptonite, but it still makes you nervous. It's not that Lex would poison you, it's that he's mad enough to suggest it in the first place.
Judging by the amount of green on the table, Lex isn't just mad, he's unglued. The bread is spotted with green. The olive oil is green. The salad dressing is green. Even the butter is green, and you know there's some fancy French word for it, but at the end of the day it's still green butter. The very idea makes you queasy. You chew on your dry green bread and ignore Lex's attempts to get you to try the butter. You are going to have to apologize. You know this. You eat a caper.
Soup next. Cold green soup. Abby gives you a worried look.
"Soupa verde frio," says Lex.
"Ingenious," you mutter, dragging your spoon through it.
"It's Portuguese," he says.
This seems to stump him. You spend some time with your soup. Going by the high water mark on the side of the bowl, you manage to eat about three millimeters of it, but you can't taste anything except Lex's anger.
Abby brings in the main course. It's pesto ravioli. In spinach pasta. With broccoli rabe. You crack.
"I'm sorry I made up that flood!"
Lex sets his fork down and wipes the corner of his mouth. "I'm surprised, Clark. I thought for sure it would be the soup that did you in."
It takes you a second to do the math. He's laughing at you, the bastard. "Soup? You thought I'd be afraid of a little green soup?"
"Clearly you're tougher than you look, but I guarantee you wouldn't have survived dessert." His lips curl into that smirk again. This time it just makes you want to rip his clothes off.
"I notice you're not wearing any green," you say, dragging his chair closer with your foot. You run your hands up his thighs and take him by the hips. "Maybe I'll just have you instead."
His eyes fall half-closed. "I'd like to see you try."
"I bet you would," you whisper against his mouth. He tastes green, like apples and rosemary, and you kiss him until he grabs you by the tie and hauls you to your feet.
There's too much furniture between you and the bedroom. You knock one of Warhol's Maos off the wall and Lex bumps into that ridiculous five-legged table that's always tripping people when they come around the corner. He gives it a vicious kick towards the study then pushes you up against the wall and slams into you with a kiss. He drags his teeth along your lower lip and fights with your clothes, fingers clawing at your buttons and seams. You untuck his shirt with a yank and slide your hands up his back, over his bunched muscles and the blood pounding beneath his hot skin. You palm his shoulderblades, his hips, his ass, the back of his thighs. He grinds against you, mouthing your neck like a frustrated vampire, hands fisted in your hair.
You pry him loose and steer him down the hallway, kiss him backwards into the bedroom, strip him of his sweater and shirt and toss him onto the bed.
Hard, chest heaving, pupils blown like a junkie, Lex is yours. You climb onto the bed to hover over him on your hands and knees.
"That's a good look for you," he says, panting and wiggling to himself.
Your dress shirt is unbuttoned to the collar, tie flung over your shoulder, undershirt pushed up to your armpits. It's like you've been hit by a tornado.
You sit back on Lex's thighs, unknot your tie, and throw your shirt to the floor. You reach up to take off the glasses, but he catches your wrist.
"Leave them on."
"Oh?" You run your hands up his chest. His skin is like fresh cream and his nipples are pink and perfect for your thumbs. "The glasses turn you on?"
He arches up into your touch. "You turn me on, Clark."
"Yeah?" You pull off your t-shirt, then drop a hand to squeeze Lex through his pants. He moans, hips shifting against the bed, cock twitching under your fingers. "What should we do about that?"
"You should shut up and suck me," he says, stretching his arms over his head.
"I can do that," you say, slipping off the bed and dragging Lex with you. You stand between his legs, leaving him half on the mattress, half wrapped around you.
"Do it." He squeezes your hips between his knees and watches while you unbuckle his belt. His pants practically require a secret password to get them open and you fumble with the hidden hooks and buttons. "Do it," he whines.
You suspect he wore extra tricky pants on purpose. You take a brief detour and place a few open-mouthed kisses across his stomach. He squirms and tries to kick his slacks off. "Clark!"
"You're awful pushy tonight."
He slaps at the bedspread. "I've been thinking about this all day. Now suck my fucking cock!"
You step back to get his pants and underwear off, his shoes and socks, then lean down to kiss him, slowly, because you're going to be on your knees in a second, but he's on his back right now and you're not the one who needs to shut up. He makes a low keening noise and grabs your arms, kneading your biceps and pushing his thumbs into the hollows underneath.
Point made, you drop to your knees, take hold of his hips and swallow him.
"Unh," he says.
That's better. You pet the soft skin of his inner thighs and give him a nice long suck. He sighs and spreads his legs wider. "Mmm, Clark."
You pull off to lick at his balls, then up to his cock, the wandering vein along the bottom, the sweet spot just under the head. Lex groans, propping himself up on his elbows to watch. The editorial commentary has been suspended and you focus on the little noises he's making instead, the hums and gasps, the way his breath hitches when you run your tongue over the slit. You go back down on him and his arms give out. He mumbles your name, buries his hands in your hair and hooks a leg over your shoulder. He's getting talkative again, short bursts of praise and babbled nonsense that make you close your eyes because he's only human and you love him so much.
He strokes your hair and knees you in the head. It's probably an accident because he apologizes with a laugh, but you grab hold of his leg just the same.
And then your pants ring.
Lex goes soft and throws an arm over his eyes, his lips set in a tight angry line. You let him drop from your mouth and lean down to kiss his hip.
"I'm sorry, Lex--"
His entire body tells you to stop talking, his scarred knees, bent arms, hidden eyes. Only two people have the number for this phone. One is currently pretending you don't exist, and the other isn't technically a person.
You unclip the mobile from your belt and check the screen. Superman's needed in North Africa. A sand worm is terrorizing Bedouins and snacking on their camels.
You spin into costume and make one last stop at the bed. "Lex--"
"Go," he says, arm still over his eyes.
It's not until your glasses fog up mid-flight that you realize you're still wearing them. It's too late to go back so you toss them into the Atlantic and decide to skip the contacts this time. No one in the Sahara has blue eyes anyway.
Real celebrities have agents to organize their public appearances. You have the AI. It doesn't understand why you and Lex need to play cops and robbers, but it still calls to remind you of the scheduled performances.
Your mobile vibrates against your hip. You tidy your desk and set your work phone to go straight to voice mail.
"I'm going out to lunch," you tell Lois. "Can I bring you back anything?"
"Sand worm aggression is on the rise," she says. "Superman cleared out a nest of them near Petra this morning."
"Not before three tourists died." You rub your eyes under your glasses. You are the only person on Earth who buys prescription glasses in bulk.
She shoots you a piercing look. "I'd like to see you do better, Smallville. If Superman hadn't been there, they all would have died. He saved fifteen people from those things. The army didn't even bother to show up."
You sigh. "I read the wire, too, Lois."
"All right then, Einstein, tell me why worm attacks have tripled over the past five years."
"Have they?" This is news to you. You just do the heavy lifting. You don't keep stats.
Lois taps her monitor with a manicured nail. "I've got the numbers right here. Want me to make a pie chart for you?"
"A line graph would be more appropriate," you say, just to annoy her.
"A line graph would be more appropriate," she mocks, wagging her head from side to side and rolling her eyes. "Bring me an iced coffee on your way back."
You have a suit stashed on the roof of the Planet. This time you remember to take your glasses off and put the blue contacts in. You are white America's uber ideal. You hate your job.
There's already a crowd gathered on the lawn that surrounds SIWA Labs. A dome on the roof opens to reveal the silver tip of a giant 1960s ray gun. It has a Jacob's Ladder on the top and series of concentric red rings around its conical muzzle. Lex has been watching bad science-fiction again.
"Luthor," you growl, hands on your hips.
Lex whirls around from a bank of controls. He's wearing a white lab coat and a pair of your black glasses. What a ham.
"Superman," he says, putting his hands in the pockets of his lab coat. "You're just in time to witness the testing of my cosmic ray gun."
The news helicopters start to circle overhead. You struggle to keep a straight face.
"I'm afraid I can't allow that," you say.
"I thought you might say that." Lex takes a smaller ray gun from his pocket and trains it on you. "We'll just have to test my Kryptoray first."
This gun has yellow rings around its nose and no climbing arc. The world still doesn't know of your vulnerability to the meteorites, and you and Lex would like to keep it that way.
You hold up your hands. "I don't want anyone getting hurt."
"Don't worry." He flicks a switch with his thumb and the yellow coils flash on and off. "You're the only one here that's going to get hurt."
"Put the gun down, Luthor."
Lex checks his watch. "No."
You rush him, twist the gun from his hand and crush it in your own. There's a tiny pop and a puff of smoke and you wonder if it was actually functional. Lex starts some kung-fu, but you grab him so he won't hurt himself.
"When will you learn that violence isn't the answer?" You tuck him under your arm.
It was a rhetorical question, but Lex answers anyway. "That's certainly rich coming from you, Superman. Might does not equal right."
You get him in a headlock and whisper in his ear. "You're my hero. Can I melt your cosmic ray gun?"
"You'll regret this!" he yells.
You give the gun a blast from your heat vision, pick up Lex by the waist and fly out of there before the sprinkler system kicks in. With Lex safely deposited on the lawn, you do a fly-by for the television cameras, then shoot up into the sky, one more bridge between Lex Luthor and Superman burning behind you.
You change back into Clark at the penthouse and then stop by the Daily Grind for Lois' iced coffee.
When you get back to the paper, Lois is predictably absent. She probably ran off to SIWA the moment the local networks starting broadcasting. You put the coffee down on her desk and go check your voice mail.
Lois called three times in two minutes, each message getting increasingly more urgent.
You call her back.
"Clark, you moron, why don't you ever answer your goddamned phone?"
What you want to say: "Because I'm Superman, Lois, and you're lucky enough to have the number that goes straight to my mailbox."
What you actually say: "I must have been in the elevator."
"Well, while you were in the elevator for an hour and a half your boyfriend got arrested for disturbing the peace."
"You heard me. Lex got arrested."
"Can they do that?"
"Wake up, Clark. Luthors are just as arrestable as the rest of us."
"Arrestable? Lois, no, I meant he was on private property. His private property."
"Didn't stop the cops from hauling him in. Now get your ass downstairs. I'm parked in a loading zone."
You take the stairs because it's faster. You wonder if Lex will be merciful and kill you quickly or draw it out over several hundred years.
The steps of the police station are crawling with reporters. Lois pushes you to the door, where you adjust your glasses and identify yourself to the officer there. He squints up at you.
Behind you, thirty reporters call your name and ask if Lex has a thing for handcuffs.
The officer opens the door and steps aside.
"I'm with him," Lois says, clinging to your arm.
Lex is upstairs in the squad room, sitting on an orange chair and drinking Pepsi from a can. The lab coat and the glasses are gone and he seems to be listening to the twenty-something next to him. She's as bald as he is, except she's got a black maze tattooed on her scalp. She's wearing a dog collar and a Burger King uniform.
He spots you. "Clark, and you brought Lois. Apparently I haven't suffered enough today. Thank you."
You blink at him, then glance at Lois. He doesn't sound angry at all. If you didn't know better, you'd say he was amused.
Lois obviously doesn't know better. "Only you would think getting arrested is fun."
"Who said anything about getting arrested?" He stands up and recycles his pop can.
"Did they charge you?"
"It was just a misunderstanding." He turns to the girl in the collar. "Bella, it was nice talking with you. Be sure to give my secretary a call."
"A misunderstanding?" Lois says. "Why didn't Superman stick around long enough to get you locked up if you're so deliciously evil?"
Lex leads the way down the stairs. "You're the Superman expert. You'd be in a better position to answer that question than I."
"He seems to have a soft spot for you."
"Interesting theory," he says. "Though I fail to see how it accounts for the several million dollars worth of equipment he's destroyed in the past month."
"He hasn't destroyed you, has he?"
"That's very dramatic, Lois, but we both know your man of steel isn't going to destroy anyone. He has too much faith in the system." Lex straightens his cuffs. "I'm going out the front. Clark?"
Clark. That's you. You adjust your glasses and hold out your hand. He takes it.
"Lois, I assume you'll be joining the slavering mob on the steps?"
"I could. Or," she dangles her keys at him, "you could give me twenty minutes on record and I'll bring the getaway car around."
There's a short staring match. "Ten," he says.
"Done." She clicks off down the back hallway.
Lex gives your hand a squeeze. "You okay?"
"I think I need a vacation."
"We can do that." He kisses you. "Let me just take care of something first."
He pushes through the front doors and the steps erupt in a frenzy of questions. You follow, staring down at your peers and feeling like Frankenstein. These hungry monsters are your creation and you hate them as only a father can.
Lex is speaking with the characteristic head tilt he adopts when in front of the camera. He says it's the only way to stop the lights from blinding him.
"Superman destroyed a project unique to SIWA Labs. I can recreate the work from my notes, but in the spirit of intergalactic cooperation I will first reevaluate both the design and its function." He smiles. "There's no need to piss off Superman any more than necessary."
The next round of questions is interrupted by Lois pulling up to the curb in her midnight blue Audi. Lex grabs your hand and you make an awkward shuffling run for it, the reporters scrambling after you, still yelling out questions. You open the passenger door and Lois jerks a thumb over her shoulder. Because it makes sense to put the tallest passenger in the back seat. Especially in a car where "back seat" is more of a euphemism than a structural feature.
"Hurry up, Clark, or your ass'll be all over the front page tomorrow."
Behind you, Lex clears his throat. "She's got a point, Clark."
You wedge yourself in, feeling a lot like a chicken in a sardine can. Lex slides into the front seat and Lois zooms off before the camera crews can get close enough to scratch her paint job.
She turns on the pen recorder hanging from the rear view mirror. "What do you know about sand worms, Lex?"
"You want ten minutes of sand worms?"
"Keep to the stuff I won't find on the internet."
He shrugs. "They're financially worthless. Their carcasses can't be preserved and decay too quickly to study. Live worms are too dangerous to capture and too big to confine. Their castings have no known pharmaceutical value and aren't a viable source of fertilizer, which isn't surprising considering their diet consists mainly of animal flesh and silicon."
Lois looks sorry she asked. "Worm shit?"
"What made you think 'worm shit' and 'drugs' in the same sentence?"
"It's from a book. Granted, it doesn't have naked pirates on the cover--"
"That was research."
"--so I'm not surprised you haven't read it, but I don't know how you missed the movie. It has Sting in a codpiece."
"Sting? Clark, what the geek is he talking about?"
"Frank Herbert's Dune. Space worms."
"Of course," Lois says. "Next time I talk to Superman I'm going to tell him to destroy your sci-fi collection. That's the real source of your evil."
"Just drop me off at the LexCorp towers," Lex says. "I have a phone call to make."
Lois points at the dashboard clock. "I have three minutes left. Angry, deadbeat worms from space. Attacks have tripled over the past five years. Why?"
"Very funny. I have numbers. Will you look at them?"
Lex looks at her like she's the financially worthless space worm.
"Trust me. Something's going on, and you can be the brilliant scientist that figures it out."
It's Lex's wettest dream and Lois knows it. She's got him trapped. He holds out until the last second.
"Send me what you have," he says.
Lex gets out at the LexCorp plaza and he's not even off the sidewalk before he's ambushed by some drone in a suit. You're still struggling to unwedge yourself from the back seat.
Lois watches in the rear view mirror. "If you're not out of there in five minutes, you're coming back to the Planet with me. You can just sit in the parking garage until you become smarter than the car."
"I thought I was going back to the Planet with you."
She turns around and nails you with a look. You stop cold.
"Look, Clark, I know you're angry with Luthor--"
"Angry? I'm not--"
"Don't be a girl. You've been giving him the silent treatment since we picked him up."
You can hardly explain that was fear, not anger. "I just don't know what to say."
"Oh, don't act so surprised. You know he's been arrested before."
"That was before."
"Whatever, at least this time it wasn't even entirely his fault."
"Superman," you grumble. Lois made the name up, too. She should be writing science-fiction instead of trying to report the news.
"I think Superman's making an example out of him. Either that or the last son of Krypton's got a crush on your man."
"You have a dirty, confusing mind, Lois."
"Something's up. Because if Lex really were bad news, I know you wouldn't be found within fifty feet of him. Now get out of my car."
Easier said than done, but you finally manage to disgorge yourself onto the sidewalk without bending the Audi's chassis noticeably out of shape.
Safely on your own two feet, you lean back into the car. "Thanks, Lois."
She lifts a hand off the gearshift. "See you tomorrow, Smallville."
Lex is watching you from the edge of the plaza. He's alone, standing so still a couple of pigeons strut past him, their iridescent heads bobbing as they circle his feet.
You walk up to him and the birds scatter. "Lois gave me the rest of the day off."
"You'd think she ran that paper instead of White."
"It's a puppet regime."
He grins. "In that case, let's go home."
Lex finds a Porsche parked in one of his three reserved spaces in the basement and after that it only takes fifteen minutes to drive the five blocks to the penthouse.
In the bedroom, you take off your tie and glasses, then unbutton your shirt. You stop when you realize this wasn't what you were wearing when you went to work. That shirt's still on the roof of the Planet. You're going to feel really stupid when you blow your cover just because you can't remember where you left your clothes.
"Clark, you're shaking." Lex is in the room now, his hand on your arm, and now that he mentions it you do seem to be wobblier than usual. "Are you okay?"
"I think I'm tired," you say, which surprises you by being true.
"When's the last time you slept?"
"That's not good. Even you need to sleep sometime." He leads you over to the bed and pushes you down. You close your eyes and let him unbutton your shirt.
"I'm sorry I almost got you arrested." You feel him sit next to you.
"That wasn't your fault."
You laugh and open your eyes. "This whole thing is my fault."
"No," he says, sliding one hand into your hair, brushing his thumb over your cheek. "It's not. I'm doing this for your protection."
"Lois thinks Superman's obsessed with you."
"That's something we'll have to deal with, but you're doing all right, Clark. You're doing good."
You lean into his hand and he cups your cheek and smiles. You kiss him because you're sure you don't kiss him enough. You always get distracted by other things and he deserves better. You lick his lower lip, kiss his scar, nuzzle the corner of his mouth that's still curved into a smile.
He gets your belt off and eases you back onto the bed. Your t-shirt rides up and he presses a kiss to your stomach before taking your shoes and socks off. He tries to stand then, but you reach for him and pull him down next to you.
You kiss him and he cards his fingers through your hair, pets the back of your neck, sighs those tiny sighs that always make you want to hide him. You hold him tighter, squeeze your eyes shut and push your face into his neck. Lex rubs your back and kisses the top of your head.
"They're naming a donut after Superman," you say, "and sand worms give me a headache."
"Don't worry about that now."
"Sorry," you mumble.
You wake up later and you're under the covers, undressed, with Lex sitting against the headboard pecking at his laptop. He sees you looking at him and smiles. You wake up again when Lex pads out of the bathroom and gets into bed, all shower warm and damp. You curl an arm around his waist, snuggle up behind him, and fall back asleep.
"Clark, where are you?"
The sat-phone's reception is so crisp you can hear Lex's annoyed grunt like he's in the room with you. Sometimes you hate technology.
"I already called the Planet. Lois says she hasn't seen you all day."
"I said I'm at work."
"Oh," Lex says. "Then why are you answering your phone?"
"Because it rang and you don't call unless it's important."
The AI beeps at you. It doesn't like it when you try to do two things at once, especially if one of them involves Lex. You put the program on hold. There's a long pause from Lex's end of the line.
Finally he says, "Have you seen my klystrons?"
"Um, should I...have?"
"I can't think of anyone else who'd want them."
You could ask the AI what klystrons are, but it's programmed in Kryptonian and the translations don't always make sense. Plus if it's a sex thing, you're not sure you want the AI to know. It has funny ideas about physical contact. Your people were serious germophobes and the AI sees no reason for that to change. It doesn't approve of Lex and only barely tolerates you saving people. It blasts you with disinfectant every time you step through the door, and if it could get you to wear a bubble suit when in the presence of humans, it would.
"What are they?" you ask Lex.
"They generate microwaves. They're about six feet long and look like pipes."
"Where did you last see them?"
His sigh indicates he is not amused. "In Smallville. Forget it, I'm sure you have no idea what I'm talking about."
That calls for a response of some kind, possibly an offended one, but you're starting to remember a trip home a few weeks ago where you came back with some things that were six feet long and looked like pipes.
"Yeah, probably not," you say.
Lex frowns and hangs up.
Most people have a picture of their significant other in their workspace. You have a special wing in the Fortress dedicated to things you've taken from Lex.
Computers that are probably too cold to ever work again. Huge magnets that get nervous around each other and have to be kept in separate rooms. Miles of copper pipe and wire. And then there are all the parts you can't identify, the metal boxes and tanks and tubes. The Fortress is starting to look like a scrap heap for particle physics, but you don't know what to do with it all. It belongs to Lex, and you can't destroy it or even give it away, so you keep it.
He's been talking about this for years, wants it like a sixteen-year-old wants his first car. You know it's a bad idea, but he won't listen. He thinks you're overreacting, but you've seen too much go wrong in Smallville to let him do this.
The klystrons are propped up in a corner next to some buckets. You wonder how normal people deal with relationship problems.
"Kal-El," the AI says, "I have been monitoring your voice mail. Perry White is looking for you. Martha Kent just wanted to hear your voice. The Metropolis Public Library has a book on hold for you and would like to remind you that you owe them $12.30 in overdue fines."
"Kal-El, Lex Luthor also called but hung up instead of leaving a message."
"Was that before or after I talked to him?"
"It was after," the AI says, sounding particularly smug.
Great. Even buggy alien intelligence knows it's not a good sign when Lex gets indecisive.
"I'm going back to Metropolis," you say, taking off before the AI can offer you gloves and a face mask.
Lex isn't at the penthouse when you stop to change. You stand in the closet and stare at your collection of awful suits. Your shoulders slump just looking at them. You don't want to be Clark Kent today.
Instead, you pull on a red polo shirt and some flat-front khakis Lex bought you. A pair of glasses and some shoes and for once you almost recognize yourself when you look in the mirror.
You go into the Planet and straight up to Perry's office.
"Sit down, Kent. I haven't seen you around lately."
"I've been doing research on Lois' worm thing." You push your glasses up your nose.
Perry chomps on his nicotine gum and glowers at you. "You haven't turned in a story since that fluff piece on Krispy Kreme. I expect my reporters to work around here."
"I know, but the past couple days have been kind of hard."
"Huh, yeah, I heard about what happened between Superman and your," his chewing slows, like a machine about to shut down, "Mr. Luthor."
"It was unexpected. Lex is very--" You break off and stare down at your hands just the right amount of time to make him uncomfortable.
From day one, Perry hasn't known what to do with you. You have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, but can rarely be found when needed. Add to that you're practically married to the most powerful man in Metropolis, and you're both the best and worst thing that's happened to the Daily Planet in a long time. Deep down in the places Perry doesn't like to think about, he's scared of you and he hates that.
"I might need a little time off," you say.
"Take a sick day." Perry rubs his forehead and sighs. "I suppose I could give you a few days of unpaid leave."
"Thank you, sir. I think a week will do. It'll be good to get away from Metropolis for a while."
"Right," he says. "I'll push the paperwork."
You leave Perry to abuse his nicotine gum and go to your desk to pick up your mail.
Lois is listening to a newsclip on the BBC's website. Riots in Bangladesh. People are overturning cars and breaking windows, flinging mud at the gates of the prime minister's house and throwing rocks at the police.
In Lois' first interview with Superman she asked if he had any limits. You chose to interpret the question as philosophical rather than literal and told her you didn't get involved in human politics, religion, or war.
You can't feed the hungry or stop people from killing each other for God or country, and you're smart enough not to try. Lex donates money to charities and relief funds. You work on a scale outside human agency. Some things are not your responsibility.
"Lex is looking for you," she says without turning around.
"I know." Your mail's uninteresting and you shove it in a drawer for later.
"Perry's looking for you."
"I just talked to him."
"I am not looking for you, yet I found you anyway. Just goes to show whoa--" She pulls out her earpiece and goggles at you. "Who dressed you this morning?"
"Jesus, no wonder Lex is looking for you."
You grimace, remembering why Lex was looking for you. It certainly had nothing to do with the way you look in khakis. Though at this point you'll press any advantage you have.
"I'm going to his office now. You probably won't see me for a while."
"Great. Do me a favor and give this to him." She tosses you a manila envelope. "It'll save me a fax."
"What is it?"
"Eyes-only info on space worms."
"Not like it matters now," she says, sticking her earpiece back in and returning to the BBC. "Have fun on your vacation."
You've given up trying to understand Lois. Sometimes she just knows things.
You drive across town to LexCorp and park in one of the reserved spaces. Your battered old Bronco looks like a prehistoric beast next to Lex's coy low-slung imports. It makes his cheeks go pink with frustration that you won't let him buy you a new car, but the Bronco got you through college and you don't want to give it up. You like its leg room. Making Lex nuts is just a bonus.
Connie waves you into Lex's leather and chrome office and you throw open both doors like his father used to. Lex barely reacts. Lionel's been gone for years now. Ran off to South America in the middle of the night and hasn't been heard from since.
"Delivery for Mr. Luthor," you say, putting the file on his desk.
He lets his eyes roam down your chest, then puts his feet back on the floor and presses a button on his phone. "Have the limo brought around." Connie answers in the affirmative and he leans back, chair bobbing slightly beneath him. "What have you got for me?"
"I have good news, and some stuff from Lois."
He slides the envelope to the side, then laces his fingers together. "Tell me your news."
"I, uh..." Now that you're here you're not so sure Lex will consider this good news, but he's receptive to your polo shirt, so that's something. "I got a week off from the Planet."
"A whole week."
"I thought we could go somewhere."
"Let's go to lunch." He stands and comes around the desk. "How'd you get the time off?"
"I told Perry I needed it."
"Hm, that's very forward of you." Lex, flirty and passive aggressive. It's not your favorite look on him. You got enough of that back in Smallville before you realized you had the wrong book and should have been reading "Men are from Mars, Clark is from Krypton" instead.
"Yeah, I'm all grown up. I dressed myself today too."
"I see that," he says. He strides out of his office, dressy shoes clicking against the marble floors. "I'm going to lunch. I may never come back."
"I'll hold your calls," Connie says.
The limo is parked at the curb. You climb in the back and Lex talks to the driver for a moment and then slides in next to you. The bulletproof door closes with a whump.
Lex reaches up to open the sunroof and the noise of the city pours in from above. You tilt your head back and watch the buildings drift past like clouds. Lex's fingers trail down your throat. You try to turn to him but he moves closer, his mouth at your ear, his thumb at the hinge of your jaw.
"Everyone in the lobby was staring at you. Did you see them?"
"They were." He smiles against your cheek and moves his hand down to your leg, fingers just teasing the inside of your thigh as he slowly runs his palm down to your knee, then back up again. "They were looking at you, and you didn't even notice. I love that about you, Clark."
You shake your head, amused.
"When you wear those cheap suits, I'm the only one who knows what's under them, but when you walk around like this--" His hand slides lower and your hips tilt up. "Everyone can see how hot you are."
"I hate the suits." Your head is resting against his and you watch him slip his hand under your shirt. "I wish I didn't have to wear them."
"You don't. It doesn't matter what you wear, Clark. You're mine and no one is going to hurt you."
You shiver and turn your head to kiss him. You get only half his mouth at first so you try again, grabbing the front of his purple shirt for leverage and kissing him until he breaks away, panting in your ear.
"Everyone knows you're mine." He pushes his hand into your khakis and you gasp and spread your legs. "But they don't know what I have. They don't know how much I love you."
"God, Lex." You wrap an arm around his waist and press your lips to his throat.
"They don't know you," he says, taking off your glasses. "Not like I do."
He shifts to straddle your thigh, left foot on the floor, right knee pressed into the seat next to your hip. You push up into his fist and he rocks against your leg and the leather seat makes tiny squeaks and moans under you.
He leans in for a kiss, his blue eyes so much closer now that your glasses aren't in the way. The first time Lex kissed you, you were a senior in high school and you felt pinned down by his open eyes, like he could see right through you. You didn't want to admit he already knew all your secrets and you ran back to the girls who kept their eyes closed when you kissed them.
He catches your lower lip between his teeth and pulls. "I'm going to make you come so hard you'll still be blushing about it tomorrow."
"I don't blush anymore."
"You will after this." He slides to the floor and your head falls back against the seat.
The first time you kissed Lex, you were a freshman in college and tired of hiding. He was your best friend, your protector, your secret-keeper. He knew you and wasn't afraid. You kissed him and kept your eyes open.
Metropolis rushes by over your head while Lex gives you a blowjob that would probably kill a mortal man. He makes you greedy and helpless and you love it, every tight swallow, every unexpected rake of his nails. He presses a thumb behind your balls and you come like a flash of magnesium, white hot and blinding.
"Mmm." He cleans you up with his tongue, gentle now that he got what he wanted, and tucks you back into your pants. He comes up for a kiss and then inspects your cheek with a lick.
"Nice and rosy," he says. "No question what you've been doing."
"Or with who?"
"I would hope that's obvious."
"Well, at the risk of overkill--" You tip him onto his back. He lounges there like it was all his idea, the leather creaking under him with every move. You love that sound.
"Better hurry. We're almost there."
He told the driver to take the long way to the restaurant and the limo's already been circling the block for ten minutes, but if Lex wants it fast, you can do that. You get his pants open and pull them down with his boxer briefs and leave them around his knees. His cock is stiff against his hip and you give him one long wet lick.
"Ah! We'll go, go to Palm Springs," he says, staring out the sunroof like he can see the future there.
You hold him down and suck him off, quick and dirty, your hands trapping his hips, nose smashed into his belly, cock deep in your throat. You swallow around him until he's mewling and squirming and then coming with a startled yelp.
You fix his pants while he breathes like an overworked horse and then knock on the privacy window to let the driver know it's safe to finally stop.
Lex gives you a tipsy grin and sits up. "Come here."
You lean closer and he wipes the corner of your mouth with his thumb. "Your lips are the same color as your shirt now. Have I ever told you how much I like that shirt?"
"Put your glasses on." Lex gets adorably bossy after he comes. As opposed to just regular bossy.
"What's this about Palm Springs?"
"I have a house there."
"You never mentioned it before."
The limo slows to a stop and Lex tries to brush some of the wrinkles out of his shirt. "You'll forgive me if after my summer on the island, I developed a slight aversion to sand."
"Oh, Lex. We don't have to--"
"No, it's hot and sunny. You'll like it."
"But this is your vacation too."
"Yes, and I'll be fine. We'll leave tomorrow."
So, back to regular bossy then.
House is an understatement. It would be like calling the penthouse an apartment. Lex does not have a house in Palm Springs. He has an entire Spanish mission.
Last night the place was lit up like Christmas, white lights outlining the roof and spiralling up the palm trees planted along the driveway. You thought they were pretty. Lex complained it made the villa look like a Mexican whorehouse and had them unplugged.
The master bedroom is big and airy and overlooks a canyon, but you didn't get a chance to notice much else before he had you naked and face-down on the bed. He fucked you with all the windows open and then got up to unpack.
This morning he seems content just to sit on the patio and watch you swim zig-zag laps in the huge geometric pool. The northern edge ends in a waterfall that looks like it empties into the blue of the horizon, and you swim toward it, trying to find the line between the water and the sky.
Lex is stretched out on a chaise longue under an umbrella, drinking fresh orange juice and supposedly reading a book, though you haven't seen him turn a page since he sat down. He's got on a blousy white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and loose linen pants. Yesterday he'd been wearing a pair of weird Italian sandals but he's barefoot now, his long legs crossed at the ankle. You swim over to the edge of the pool, rest your chin on your folded arms and think about nibbling his toes.
"Stop staring at my feet."
"I like your feet."
He scowls at his book. You brace your hands on the edge of the pool and lift out of the water. Lex likes to think he doesn't have any body issues, but he gets funny about his feet. You're probably the only one who knows that about him.
You shake your head to get the water out of your hair and then grab a towel to dry off. You know he's watching so you take your time. Arms, back, bend over to get the legs, up the chest, over your hair a few times. You kick off the soggy black trunks, wrap a dry towel around your waist and crawl into Lex's chair with him.
He acts surprised to see you. "There's a perfectly fine chaise on the other side of the table, Clark."
"I like this one." You throw a leg over his, mixing your feet together.
He runs his free hand down your back and sighs like you're an enormous burden. "I suppose you can stay."
"What are you reading?"
"Something about genetic engineering," he says, hand parked on your ass, fingertips rubbing against the looped fabric of the towel.
You tuck your head under his chin. "Mmm."
"I didn't know biotechnology got you so hot. I would have brought some of my journals."
"Shut up. Read to me."
"No, I can barely believe I'm reading this myself."
"What is it?"
He doesn't answer and you close your eyes and let yourself drift. Lex strokes you and occasionally turns a page in his book. You lie there so long that the sun moves over in the sky and the umbrella no longer keeps Lex in the shade. You could stay there all day, baking yourself between the sun and stone like a lizard, but Lex would just burn. You stretch against him, tilting your head up to kiss the vulnerable underside of his jaw. He's almost halfway through his book and you finally see what he's reading. Jurassic Park. No wonder the snob wouldn't tell you.
You give him another kiss and sit up. "Want to go into town for lunch, or are you having too much fun with your dinosaurs?"
"Whenever you're ready," he says absently.
You shower and change, then pull Lex away from his book and into the Land Rover. He finds a cafe he likes, and after lunch you wander through the shops with him, holding his hand so he can't get away. You buy Lois a snow globe with a palm tree. It plays "Somewhere over the Rainbow" and has glitter instead of snow. She'll hate it.
You make it all the way back to the house before your phone rings. Lex flinches at the noise. You gave the AI orders to only notify you of Superman-sized emergencies and it tells you a sand worm has been spotted near I-15 between Barstow and Las Vegas.
You have to go.
You meet up with the worm outside a cinderblock visitor's center in the middle of nowhere. It's lurking in the open sand behind the building, its ugly head poked out of the ground like a giant upsidedown turnip. It must smell dinner. There's only one vehicle in the parking lot, an empty minivan. Its doors are shut, which could be a good sign. You scan the building and see five huddled bodies in one of the restrooms. Three are child-sized.
You knock on the door. "Hello? It's Superman."
The door opens a crack and one suspicious eye peers out, looking you up and down like you might be in league with the worm. "So you say."
You don't sigh, but you'd like to. "I can keep the worm distracted while you get to your van. Once you're there you should be safe. They don't like cars."
The eye glares at you. "Should be safe? That's not good enough for me. Why don't you just kill it now?"
"It came from a nest. If I wait to kill it, I can follow it back and get the whole colony at once. You'll be safe once you get into your van. Just don't make any more unscheduled stops."
"Are you kidding? I've got three kids. My whole damned life is an unscheduled stop."
Behind you, the worm's head slowly sinks back into the ground. You push the bathroom door open. "Get in the car. Now."
You wait to make sure the two women have the children and are herding them toward the van, and then you x-ray the area the worm was last in. The worms don't have bones, but they have enough of an exoskeleton that they show up as a faint glow. You don't see anything close to the surface. A deeper look and you get nothing but an overlapping lattice of bones, hubcaps, soda cans, and scrap metal. No worm. You could probably look straight through the Earth and out the other side, but at some point there's just too much information coming in and it all becomes meaningless.
The minivan peels out of the parking lot and the worm erupts from the sand next to the access road. You shoot over and give it a hug around the middle. It smells like ozone and rotten flesh. You gag and wrestle it away from the road.
The worm shudders and makes a noise so low you can only feel it as it rumbles through the air. You wait until the van's safely out of range, then let go of the worm and hover a few feet away to catch your breath.
"Do you really have to eat people?"
The worm flops down on the sand, snorting like an angry bull. It's small, about the size of an articulated bus, and it's not interested in you. You must not smell edible.
"What about goats or camels instead? We could make some sort of deal where you don't eat any more people and--"
It rolls over. It has a mark near its mouth, a dark purple crescent. The worm near the visitor's center didn't have that. This is another worm, from a different nest. There's a blast of sand behind you and you turn just in time to get a good look at the gummy maw that's swallowing you whole. You instantly learn two new things: sand worms smell even worse on the inside, and they don't have teeth because they don't need them. You get sucked into a chamber where the walls wring you out like a wet rag dipped in sand. This is how it killed the people you didn't save.
You burn your way out, fry the worm with heat vision and blow its ashes into the wind. Its friend has disappeared and you smell like something hell threw up. You find the nearest body of water and dive in, spinning like a turbine and hoping it'll get rid of the stink.
The sun has set by the time you get back to the rest stop. No tourists or worms around. There's a payphone by the vending machines and you check the coin return before placing a collect call. You don't know the number for the house in Palm Springs so you dial Lex's mobile and hope he has it turned on.
The operator wants to know your name but you take too long to figure out the answer and you're disconnected. You try again. "Clark," you say.
Lex answers. "Clark, why are you calling me collect?"
"I didn't want to leave the area. This is going to take longer than I thought."
"Is something wrong?"
"Could be. I saw worms from two different pods working together. They never do that." You hear him turn on the news and pour himself a glass of scotch. "Lex, I need you to leave Palm Springs. Get in the Rover and drive to the airport without stopping. Fly home immediately."
"Am I in danger here?"
"You could be."
"And what about the rest of the state? What are they supposed to do?"
"That's why I'm out here. I'm doing all I can to protect them."
He sighs. "I know. Be careful." He hangs up before you can ask what that's supposed to mean. He didn't say he'd leave, either, but you did your best.
You have worms to kill. But first you have to find them.
It takes three days. You spend every second searching the desert for worms. You find six nests. You kill worms until your headache is a hot throb behind your eyes, and then you kill some more.
You stay one more day for patrol. You make a promise to yourself. If you don't see any more worms by morning, you can go home.
After four days in the desert you feel like a zombie. You haven't slept or ate or sat down since you saw that first worm. Your head hurts, the air crackles with sticky ozone, and the stench of burnt worm flesh follows you wherever you go. A week alone in the Fortress would probably cure all of those problems, but you don't want to be alone. You want Lex.
The house in Palm Springs is locked up. Even the live-in staff are gone. The penthouse has the usual people in it, but no Lex. He's not in his office or any of the Metropolis labs. On a hunch you fly south.
The first thing you see in Smallville is a huge field of plowed earth. Yellow bulldozers crawl over the land like ants. You fly closer and sure enough, there's Lex, dressed all in black, standing with his hands in his pockets and watching the lumbering bulldozers push dirt around. A sign attached to the chainlink fence announces the site is a LexCorp project.
You land behind Lex and have to take an extra step to stop yourself from falling over. Your legs feel like they belong to someone else. Your whole stupid body does, like it's some android machine you're piloting with your mind. You just wanted to find Lex and go home, but now you have to play Superman instead because Lex is standing on the land he bought for his supercollider. The weight of your disappointment makes your shoulders sag.
You throw it off and assume the Superman Knows Best stance, legs slightly spread, arms crossed over your chest.
"Clark. I was wondering when you were going to show up."
"I'm Superman!" you shout, too shocked to do anything else. You sound like an overexcited six-year-old.
Lex's shoulders shift in the barest of shrugs. Your superposturing is just going to waste. He hasn't even turned around. You let your arms drop and wish for the millionth time that this ugly unitard had pockets.
"Why do you keep doing this?"
"As a young boy I always wanted a particle accelerator."
"This isn't a good idea."
"I don't remember asking you."
"Well, you should have asked me! You have no idea what you're playing with. This thing is going to rip a hole in the universe and not even I will be able to stop it!"
Lex turns to look at you. "If you've got something to say to me, Clark, take off the goddamned cape and say it to my face."
You have a lot to say, but Lex's eyes are hard and his lips are set in a flat line, and it's clear he's not interested in listening to you.
One of the bulldozers hits a chunk of meteorite and its frame crumples like foil. A swarm of technicians in swishy yellow safe-suits runs onto the field to retrieve the rock. It's big and you can feel its effects even where you stand. You're too tired to fight it. You stumble backwards a few feet.
Lex's eyes flash and he takes a step towards you. He hates Superman, but he's calling you Clark, and you're too confused to figure out the difference. You go to the only place that makes sense right now.
You fly home to Mom.
You go in the back door. The kitchen looks interrupted, mixing bowls spread out along the counter and a stack of cookbooks on the butcher's block. You sit down on one of the stools there and hold your head in your hands. Your hair smells like worm guts.
Your mom is on the phone in the other room, pacing back and forth while she talks. You don't recognize the voice on the other end. They're chatting about a bake sale for the community center and complaining about someone named Todd. There's a bag of raisins next to your elbow. You eat a couple.
She finally hangs up and steps back into the kitchen. She gasps and reaches out for the wall when she sees you.
"You should lock the door, Mom. Anyone could walk in here."
She has a hand to her chest like you're the scariest thing she's seen all year. "What are you doing here? Are you all right?"
"Just super," you mutter.
That snaps her into diagnostic mode. She strides over and grabs your chin. You look up at her, feeling miserable and embarrassed.
Her nose wrinkles. "Go take a shower and get some rest."
You trudge upstairs. You have to wash your hair twice but eventually you don't smell like worm any more. You wrap a towel around your waist, pick up the dirty suit from the floor, and shuffle across the hall to your old bedroom. It's the same as it was in high school, just cleaner. You throw Superman to the floor and crawl into your tiny bed. You can't remember high school very well, just the constant fear that the world would end if you said the wrong thing or did something inexcusably weird. Looks like nothing's changed much after all.
You dream that Lex is standing on the front lawn in the rain. He's twenty-one again, wearing a yellow parka and looking in your window.
The red numbers of your alarm clock say 5:47 when you wake up. You heave yourself upright and sit with your feet on the floor, forearms braced on your thighs.
There's nothing but farmboy drag in the closet. Your mother has several men working the farm now, but you still help out when you come to stay for the weekend. You pull on a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt, and a blue and white plaid flannel. You find your old backpack in the closet, too, and shove the dirty suit into it.
Downstairs, the kitchen is filled with racks of cooling cookies. Your mom is on the phone again, but she gets off as soon as she sees you.
"How are you feeling?"
A wave of worry rolls over her face and suddenly she's hugging you, arms tight around your ribs. She's so small. You hug her back.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm fine. Really. I'm okay. I just had a fight with Lex. I was tired and I think I yelled at him."
She pulls away and wipes at her eyes. "Oh, sweetie. What did you do?"
She gives you a look. "Sit down."
You sit. She brings you a glass of milk and a plate of reheated chicken and dumplings. You narrow your eyes. Your mother cleans when she's angry and cooks when she's worried. It's probably not a coincidence that this is one of Lex's favorite foods.
You watch her furiously wipe down a counter. "So I'm in trouble, huh?"
She starts tinning up the cookies. "Have you talked to Lex at all since he came back?"
"Just during the fight." You spear a dumpling with your fork and lift it up as evidence. "You?"
"He's in town working on a new project."
Your mother knows something. You put your fork down. "His supercollider. Did he say anything to you?"
She shakes her head, which only means you'll never know. Sometimes you think she's got more secrets than you do.
You sigh and slump back in your chair. "I told him not to build it, but he won't listen to me."
"Honey, have you ever known Lex to respond well to demands?"
"Asking him nicely didn't get me very far."
"Maybe you should try again."
You sit up and slam your hand down on the table. "This isn't up for debate! I can't allow him to build this thing!"
She purses her lips. "Clark, listen to yourself. If this is the way you've been behaving--"
"This is my job!"
"No. This is your life. This is Lex."
"Lex is my job," you mutter.
"I know you don't mean that."
You poke at your dinner. She's going to push you until you crack like an egg. It's why you came here, but you don't have to like it. "No, but this is dangerous stuff. One speck of kryptonite in that accelerator and it could open a vortex to another world, or end this one."
For a woman with a space alien son, your mother can still look remarkably skeptical. "Have you talked to Lex about this?"
"I did, but I knew that if he didn't agree with me, I could..." You stop and run your hands through your hair. Might as well get it over with. "I was using Superman to deal with the problem instead of handling things myself."
She squeezes your hand. "Apparently, that's been going around."
You look up. "What?"
"You might want to look at the newspaper. Check the recycling." She kisses you on the forehead and returns to her cookies.
Lex and Lois were busy while you were gone. Wednesday's paper has a line graph of worm attack fatalities and a cutaway illustration of what little is known about their anatomy. On Thursday, Lois went public with a DOI-commissioned report linking increased worm activity to rising greenhouse gas levels. Lex accused the administration of gross negligence and cited a leaked memo that recommended letting Superman take care of the problem.
The pull quote was all Lex: "Continued reliance on Superman will be nothing short of a catastrophe."
You lean against the wall and laugh.
You find Lex in his old office at the castle. He's sitting on the couch with his feet up, staring at the fire and holding a snifter of brandy. He glances your way when the door shuts and you hear his breath catch in his throat.
"Fuck," he says faintly. "A blob of undigested mustard. It's not even Christmas."
He's either delirious or quoting Dickens. Possibly both. You realize what you must look like, dressed in jeans and work boots, red backpack slung over your shoulder.
"Hey." You drop the backpack to the floor.
"Featuring Clark Kent as the Ghost of Smallville Past," Lex says to his brandy, sulky and half drunk. He looks at you over the rim of the snifter. "Have you come to show me the error of my ways?"
You roll your eyes. "I came to apologize. Again."
"You've been doing a lot of that lately."
"I've been wrong a lot lately." You sit on the coffee table so you can look right at him. He seems interested despite himself.
You put your hand on his bony shin. "I'm sorry for stealing your supercollider parts. I was being a bully."
His eyes flick over you suspiciously. "That's touching, but I didn't hear you say you'd stop."
"We need to talk about that."
"And what will that accomplish?" He licks his lips. "It's obvious you don't trust me."
"Lex." You slide forward on the table until your knees bump against the couch. You reach for his hand, but he won't give it to you. "That's not true. It's Smallville I don't trust. You didn't see the things I did."
"I can promise you the site will be secure."
"This isn't a question of security. A particle accelerator shouldn't be anywhere near kryptonite. It's dangerous, and it's everywhere. In the soil and the water and even the people. It reacts unpredictably to electricity, radiation, magnetic fields, and radio waves. It's made shapeshifters, werewolves, mind readers, evil twins, fire starters, rapists, cavemen, and three kinds of vampires. That's what frightens me, Lex. Not you."
He looks past you at the fire and the orange light blanks out his eyes. "Why didn't you say any of this before?"
"Maybe because I thought it was obvious?" You squeeze his leg. "I mean, how many times did you nearly die while living here?"
"That's not something I enjoy thinking about."
You're doing this all wrong. You spent your entire life learning to lie and now you can't stop.
"I was scared," you say. "I didn't tell you because I was scared. I didn't want to lose you."
He's quiet as he turns his glass in a circle. "You think I'd give up on you that easily. That I'd let one trivial disagreement be the end of us."
"No." You drop your eyes. "But it wouldn't have been just one disagreement. You're used to getting your way, and so is he."
"Superman," he says, after a pause. "You do realize you're talking about yourself in third person."
"It's just an act. He isn't me."
"He's part of you, Clark, and not always the best part." Lex sets his brandy down and leans forward. He's so close his lips are almost touching yours. "I don't care what name you use. I know who you are."
He touches your face and you lean into him. You don't know how you ever could have thought he'd leave you.
"I'm sorry," you say, your cheek pressed to his.
"You know I'm on your side."
He runs his fingers up the back of your neck and kisses you, pulls you closer, kisses your throat, your ear. "I love you."
It always makes you shiver to hear him say that, but it's wrong this time. You pull back to look at him, his pale face and icy blue eyes. He loves you--
"Do you hate him?" you ask. "Superman?"
"No." He sounds tired.
"Then what is it?"
He slips a hand under your shirt. "There may come a day when it's easier for you to just be one person. To have no emotional attachments."
You stare at him. This conversation would be a lot easier if he weren't being so squirrelly. "You're afraid I'll leave you...for Superman?"
"Clark, you are Superman."
"I know that," you say, matching his annoyed tone. "But it's just a job. I'd never be able to sleep otherwise. I'd be Superman all the time."
"You already are. You were Superman before he had a name. You'd be him even without the cape. Without me."
You finally realize what he's worried about and you take him by his crazy bald head so he can see how serious you are. "I need you, Lex. Superman can go to hell."
He blinks at you in surprise. "Clark--"
"I'm not leaving you, for any reason. Got it?"
"You can't make promises like that," he says, but he's starting to look like he might believe you.
"Too late." You brush your thumbs over his cheeks and kiss him, because Lex doesn't believe in anything, but he's always had a blindspot when it comes to you.
He pulls you closer, fingers digging into your ribs, and you quickly run out of coffee table and have to move to the couch. He won't let you sit next to him and he won't let you drag him on top of you and he won't let go, either. He finally wrestles you onto your back and climbs on top of you.
"I missed you," he whispers, soft-shelled and paranoid. He bites your neck as if to make up for the lapse.
You run your hands up his back, shift him onto his side and turn to face him. He slips his thigh between yours and presses his tongue to the bite mark that isn't there.
"I missed you too."
He makes an agreeing noise against your throat and unbuttons your shirt. "Seeing you in that doorway was like going back in time. I'd look up and you'd just be standing there, waiting for me to notice you."
You wrap your arm around his waist and hitch your leg over his hip. "You never seemed to mind."
"I could barely keep my hands off you in those days," he says, pushing the flannel off and hauling up your t-shirt.
"I remember you managed."
"I remember it being hell. I wanted to peel you out of those shirts and cover every inch of you with my tongue."
"Lex Luthor has a thing for flannel!"
"Conditioning," he says. "I had four long years to learn."
You nibble on his ear, whisper, "I don't think it took that long."
"It didn't." He kisses you, one hand in your hair, the other stroking the back of your neck. You tug him closer, but he pulls back with a frown. "I did not, however, fantasize about these boots jabbing me in the ass."
"Love me, love my boots," you say, feeling lazy and flip in the face of near disaster. As expected, Lex ignores you. He sits up and dedicates himself to untying your shoes. You roll onto your back and watch him. You could have lost this.
He throws a boot to the floor and you catch him between your knees and grin up at him. "So what did you fantasize about?"
"Mm, what am I doing?"
The other boot goes sailing over the arm of the couch. Lex crawls back on top of you and talks directly to your mouth. "Breaking onto the grounds again probably."
"Hey!" You smack him on the ass. He laughs and pulls his shirt off.
"You're in the doorway," he says, dropping back down and dragging a thumb over your lower lip. "I'm at my desk." He feeds you a few of his fingers. You say hello to them with your tongue.
"I ask what brings you by." He takes his fingers back and draws a wet circle around your bellybutton. "But you don't answer, just shuffle your feet and stare at the floor."
"Did I do that a lot?"
"Only when you had something on your mind."
"So, all the time, then."
"No, not all the time. Only in the beginning." He frowns a little. "You're clearly uncomfortable, but just when I think you're going to make an excuse and leave, you come in," he says, shifting to lie next to you, one leg still thrown over yours, fingers moving up and down your arm. You kiss his freckled shoulder. "We sit on the couch, and when you lean in and kiss me I know you want the same things I do."
You stroke his back and think about Lex five years ago, brave enough to kiss you even though you weren't ready. Ten years ago, before you knew him and he was just a pale face in the tabloids. Twenty years ago, when you were a freak tragedy and he was one more life caught in your wake.
"Why haven't I heard this before?"
He noses down your chest. "You never asked."
"What else do you think about?"
"Shh," he says, unbuttoning your pants, "I'm trying to have sex with you."
You laugh, because he can still surprise you after all this time. You pull him up and kiss him and he eases his hand down the front of your jeans and makes himself at home.
Your first day back at work, Superman stops a train from flying off the elevated trestle at Fulton Street. You just happen to be in the neighborhood. You interview the operator, several passengers, and the owner of the bento cart on the corner. You're feeling flashy, so you even get a quote from Superman himself, though he declines comment on Lex Luthor's recent crusade against him.
When you turn in the story, Perry looks like he's going to be sick.
"You were standing right there?"
"Halfway across town, five minutes before you were supposed to be here?"
"I was picking up some coffee beans. Lex likes the fancy imported stuff."
Perry opens his desk drawer and starts digging around. "Right."
"And then before anyone knew what was happening, Superman just appears out of nowhere and grabs the train." You shouldn't be tormenting Perry like this, but you can't help yourself. "If only I'd had a camera with me," you say.
He mumbles something about Jimmy and pops a few tabs of gum in his mouth.
"Though Superman probably moves too fast to show up in a photograph." Now you're just being mean. Lois might have gotten the world's first interview with Superman, but she didn't get any pictures.
Perry squints at you like he suspects you're making his life difficult on purpose. "Good work, Kent. Welcome back."
Job secure for another week, you return to your desk and catch up on your e-mail.
Lois shows up around noon, carrying three archive boxes she can barely see over. She dumps them in her chair. "What is that?"
She points. "That thing on my desk."
You push your glasses up your nose. "It's a snowglobe."
She picks it up and stares at it in horror. "This is the gayest snowglobe ever, Smallville."
"Wind the key."
"I'm going to regret this, aren't I?" She gives it a few cranks and the first notes of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" twinkle out drunkenly. Her mouth drops open. "Oh my lord."
You grin. "I knew you'd like it."
"The next time I go on vacation, you're getting the ugliest souvenir plate I can find."
"That might scare me if I thought you'd actually take a day off work."
"Scare you, huh?" She leans back against her desk and inspects you, arms crossed over her chest, snowglobe still in one hand. "There's something different about you today."
You blink innocently, making sure you took out Superman's contacts earlier.
"You look disgustingly happy, and you're wearing jeans. Something's up."
"Lex asked me to move in with him," you blurt.
"Aww." She tilts her head. "And you blossom like a flower. That's adorable, Smallville."
You roll your eyes at her.
"Hold on. I thought you two were already shacking up?"
"Not totally, I still had my apartment from when I was in college."
"That is such a guy thing to do." She makes a face. "Here I thought you were the sensitive one in this relationship."
"Lex is plenty sensitive!" you say and immediately wish you hadn't. People are staring.
Lois smirks. "I was talking about you and me."
You sigh and pick at the imitation wood of your desktop. "Sometimes we fight. I thought it'd be easier if he didn't have to deal with me afterwards."
"Easier for you, maybe."
"Well, obviously, Dr. Lois. I figured that part out myself."
"Oh yeah? When?"
"Last week," you mumble.
"I'm sorry, did you say--"
"It was two days ago, okay?"
She laughs at you and winds up the snowglobe again. "It's a good thing you're cute. I'd say it's the only reason Lex puts up with you, but I know better."
You sputter, caught between a laugh and a frown. "Lois!"
"You don't fool me, farmboy. You were in the news for a month after that stunt you and your boyfriend pulled at the Met. Nothing embarrasses you."
"This isn't about sex."
"Who said it was?"
"You were implying--"
"Please, if I wanted the details of your tawdry affair, I'd read the Inquisitor. All I meant was that Lex is lucky to have you and he knows it. You can't help it if you're a little slow."
You lean back in your chair and smile. What Lois doesn't know about you could fill a month of Sunday papers. You're the lucky one.
"Don't look so smug. You're still helping me with this mess." She slaps the snowglobe down on her desk and turns to dig through the archive boxes. "We need anything with a March date on it."
"March," you say, watching the glitter swirl up into a pink funnel cloud. You wish you were back in Palm Springs sitting by the pool with Lex, eating breakfast in bed, knocking breakfast to the floor and. A stack of papers is dumped in your lap. "Somewhere over the Rainbow" grinds to a halt. You sigh and get to work.
Punk Maneuverability . http://home.teleport.com/~punkm/index.html
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