Lex yawned and shifted against the pillows that were propping him up in bed. He'd spent so many nights on the road for business lately, just being in his own bedroom again felt like a luxury. He felt warmed by a new appreciation for all of it, all the carefully-chosen and familiar pleasures of home. The solid steel bed frame he'd had made to his specifications. The Dux mattress that cradled his body, the Porthault sheets that slid smooth against his skin, the gentle cushion of the Hungarian goose down pillows. And the superhero who curled up against Lex in sleep: he was the most important luxury of them all.
And the only one that was not currently available. Lex reminded himself that he was sitting up reading long-term strategy reports because he needed to prepare for the next week's executive planning sessions, not because he was listening for the sound of boots hitting slate balcony tiles. But when Clark did come in, a streak of muddy dirt across one cheekbone, and smiled wearily at him before heading into the shower, Lex felt muscles in his own back unclench just a little further.
"Strategy week, huh?" Clark said with a nose-wrinkle of distaste. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and was dripping water on Lex's favorite Persian rug. "I'll have to remember to work late."
"It always makes you cranky. All those people spending all day trying to impress you."
"The only difference between that and every other week is that this time, they're all in the same room together." Lex said, throwing the report onto the floor. "I'll live. How was your day?"
Clark shrugged. "It was OK."
"Just the usual." Clark dropped his towel on a bedpost and climbed under the covers. He smelled faintly of the Italian soap Lex had bought for him three business trips ago. "You'd think by this point Stryker's Island would be a lot harder to break out of, you know?"
"The governor's an idiot. Serves him right for continuing to accept construction bids from the same band of incompetents."
"The governor's not the one getting zapped by the Parasite," Clark grumbled.
"No, of course not." Lex ran a comforting hand up and down Clark's broad bicep. "And he doesn't appreciate what you do for this city. None of them really do."
Clark's eyes were bright, and he leaned in for a kiss that was harder and more passionate than Lex had expected. "But you do, don't you."
"Of course I do," Lex said. "I'd prefer if you tried a little harder to keep your fights from damaging LexCorp facilities, of course, but--"
"Don't make a joke of it, Lex. I'm serious."
"So am I. Has something happened that makes you doubt that?"
"No. Of course not."
"Good." Clark settled down against his pillow. Lex turned off the bedside lamp and closed his eyes. The sound of Clark's steady breath and the reassuring heat of his skin lulled Lex deeper towards sleep, and he could feel his body getting heavy and warm with slumber.
"Do you ever think.... I was wondering. Do you think we should get married?"
Lex rolled over, wide awake, and turned the light on.
"I mean, we already live together," Clark continued. He was making those puppy-dog eyes of his again. "Maybe we should take the next step and get married. Don't you think? We could do a ceremony here in Metropolis, and then go somewhere to make it legal. Or not. Either way," he added in what seemed meant to be a reassuring tone of voice. "But still, I was thinking it might be a nice thing to do."
"Mmmm," Lex hummed neutrally. He could almost feel the pressure on his brain as his mind raced for a response. He brushed his fingertips lightly across Clark's chest, playing for time. "I hadn't really thought about it, to tell you the truth."
"Don't you think it would be nice?"
"I think things are nice the way they are." Lex's heart was pounding against his chest, loud enough that he thought Clark might be able to hear it even without his superhearing, but he kept his expression calm and neutral. "Don't you?"
"I guess. Yeah, I mean, things are great, Lex. But... I think it's time."
"Time? There's no deadline, Clark. We can keep going the way we are now indefinitely."
Clark pulled back a little, and his expression got harder. "So you don't want things to get better."
Lex tried not to frown. "How would our getting married make anything better?"
Clark snorted. "All this time, and you still can't make a commitment to me."
Lex sat up against the headboard and glared at Clark, who had retreated to the end of the bed and was glaring back. "If you're looking for a fight, you're starting with the wrong person."
"Maybe I am."
"Is that supposed to scare me?" Lex concentrated on keeping his voice level and neutral.
Clark sighed, the anger turning into something else as quickly as it had begun. "I don't think anything scares you, Lex."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Clark just shook his head and walked over to his dresser.
Only Clark could make pulling on a pair of underwear something you could do petulantly, Lex thought, and his mood softened. "Clark..."
"I'm going out," Clark said flatly.
"I'm going to patrol again. I just, I can't be here right now, OK?"
"I just need you to leave me alone right now."
The thick wood door slammed shut behind Clark as he left. Lex burrowed back down into the bed, wrapping the blankets around himself. His pillows had gone a little flat, so he punched at them to reshape them, twice, and then three times. Still, they weren't right, so he threw them across the room and pulled the blankets over his head. At this rate, he would never get to sleep.
"Good morning, Lex!" his assistant chirped.
Lex just glared. He'd waited up for Clark until two in the morning, and woken at six still alone in bed, and he was in no mood for energetic employees.
"Here's your call sheet," she continued, noticeably more subdued. She held out a long list of messages on top of a fresh copy of the morning's Daily Planet. Lex left the newspaper in her hands.
"Thank you, Tess. And hold all my calls till ten."
"You have a lab visit with Don Jackson at nine-thirty," she reminded.
"Reschedule," he said, reaching for the door to his office.
"Lex, I'm sorry, but you did specifically tell me last time that you didn't want to have to reschedule this visit again. Ever since that MIT Tech Review piece on the changes in LexCorp's involvement with robotics --"
"Nothing has changed in our robotics strategy!" Lex snapped. "Our robotics strategy is working. Why would I want it to change?"
Tess gave him a long level look before she said, "I'm sure you wouldn't. With all due respect, though, that's exactly the reason you yourself said that you needed to continue making regular visits to the research department."
Lex found himself wishing for heat vision so he could incinerate her where she sat. Tess was a genius at keeping him in the meetings he needed to attend, and out of the meetings he didn't, but no matter how much he appreciated her talents, he hated the feeling of being managed.
"Fine," he growled as he opened his office door. "Buzz me at nine-fifteen. I'll be there."
Dr. Donald Jackson was an animated man -- too short to command the space around him with his size, he simply occupied it through constant enthusiastic motion. "Mr. Luthor, sir. It is an honor."
"How's the work coming, Don?" The lab looked like a high-tech version of his mechanic's garage -- tools were left our on worktables and half-finished projects sprouted wires and cables. On the nearest worktable, a large box was covered with what looked to be a bed sheet.
"Oh, it's great. Just great. We're making just insane progress on collaborative functioning and even decision-making among some of the smaller prototypes. In fact, we've got a demonstration for you; would you like to see it?"
"That's why I'm here."
"You're gonna love this," Dr. Jackson said, pulling the sheet off the large box. Inside, there were a group of metal devices not much larger than thimbles, and of roughly the same shape and size. They were grey, and had small triangular antennae on their tops that looked like ears, and circular red sensors like eyes. There were maybe forty of them, and they were arranged in two neat lines on opposite ends of the box
"One sec," Jackson said, running over to a terminal at the far end of the room to type in a few lines of code. "Just need to get this synched up. Aaaaand... OK!" He ran back to Lex and pulled a remote-control device out of his pocket, which he pressed with a triumphant grin.
Music started, a classical tune that Lex couldn't quite place, and the robots started to move. The twirled towards one another on microscopic wheels, forming small groups and then a larger circle. That was when recognition kicked in.
"Swan Lake," Lex croaked.
"Yes!" Jackson replied. "The swan maidens' waltz from the second act!"
Lex took a deep breath. "You mean to tell me you've spent four million dollars of this company's money to teach thimbles ballet?"
"It's, it's just a demonstration! Proof of concept!"
"Exactly what sort of concept do you think this proves, Dr. Jackson?"
"The robots are working together!" Jackson was starting to look desperate. "They, they sense one another's presence and adjust course to avoid collisions! In the next part, there's even limited group improvisation based on user-defined parameters!"
Lex looked down. The robots had paired off, and were circling the box in twos. At the center of the box, one solo robot whirred back and forth in a small arc, twirling as it went. "Can they do anything besides dance?"
"Well, theoretically --"
"Theoretically isn't good enough anymore," Lex snapped. "This company can't afford to waste time and money on ridiculous half-baked schemes. I want an actual realistic use for these things written up with a development project plan, and I want it on my desk by the end of the month or the project is finished. Do we understand each other?" Jackson nodded nervously. "Good. Until then, Don."
Back at his own office, Lex just glared at Tess as he walked past her. When she brought him a cup of coffee a few minutes later, he was sitting at his long glass desk with his head in his hands, fighting off the exhaustion that was already giving him a dull headache and wondering how his day could get any worse.
"There's a telephone call from your father, sir."
Lex sighed and looked up. Tess was standing on the other side of his desk with a LexCorp mug and a wary expression.
"I still have that massage booked for after lunch?"
"All right. Put him through." He took a long swallow of coffee as she walked back to the outer office. When the phone on his desk rang, he braced himself and picked it up.
"Lex, my boy!"
"How are you, Dad?"
"Ah, you know how it goes, Lex. 'Here I am, an old man in a dry month, being read to by a boy, waiting for rain...'"
Lex rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "A poetry lesson? Isn't it time for your afternoon nap? I'd hate for you to tire yourself out on my behalf." Lex had celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday with a long weekend in Amagansett and a takeover of his father's company. When the papers were signed, he'd suggested that Lionel take this opportunity to retire early and enjoy his golden years in leisure. Lex had also suggested Provence, but he'd settled for buying his father a mansion in Paris, and staffing it with employees he could trust to keep an eye on the old man.
"On the contrary, Lex, as a man gets older he needs less sleep, not more. The body's just winding down."
"Shall I schedule you an appointment with a gerontologist, Dad? There are some excellent nursing homes in Paris."
"Don't bury me yet, son."
"Well, what can I do for you? Or did you just call to discuss the weather and your aches and pains?"
"I am your father. I do take some interest in your well-being."
"I'm fine, Dad."
"And your new company?"
"Things are going well," Lex replied cautiously.
"I miss the day to day work of presiding over an empire," Lionel said reflectively. "The challenges. The conflicts. They always held my interest."
"You know, the house has a magnificent set of gardens. You might consider taking up horticulture."
"I might," Lionel said sharply. "I could keep bees on the Sussex Downs as well, but it's hardly my style, don't you think?"
"On several levels, Dad."
Lex could almost see his father's answering smirk. "Well, as long as everything's all right on your side of the planet, son. And, speaking of planets, how is Clark these days? Still at that newspaper?"
"Yes," Lex said, trying not to clench his teeth. "He's fine, thanks."
"You'll have to send him my regards. Goodbye, Lex."
Lex took another long drink of his coffee and stared out the window. There was a knot of tension between his shoulders, and his headache wasn't getting any better either. He checked his watch: 10:45. Reluctantly, he turned back to his desk and the pile of reports awaiting his approval. It was going to be a long time until lunch.
After the masseuse left, Lex decided to take that afternoon's stack of strategy reports home. He was so tired that the words were just shapes on the page, and he thought a short nap might help him focus on his work again. But when he walked through the front door, he knew he wasn't alone: the bland strummy alt-rock Clark listened to was playing loudly on the other side of the apartment, down the corridor that lead to their bedroom and Clark's office. His back stiffened, but he made himself follow the sound.
Clark was at his desk, bent over his computer keyboard, with a stack of reference books to one side. He had his glasses off, and he was frowning to himself a little bit the way he always did when he was reaching for the right words to use. Lex watched him for a moment before he knocked lightly on the doorframe, and Clark spun around in his chair to face the door.
"Working from home?"
Clark shrugged. "Just finishing some stuff up."
Lex nodded, and there was a silence long enough for Clark to start fidgeting.
"Well," he said, "I should really get back to this."
"You want to tell me about it?" Lex managed as Clark's chair started to turn back towards his desk.
Clark stopped the chair with a foot on the ground and a small frown. "My article?"
"The thing that's bothering you."
"There's nothing bothering me," Clark said.
"Then what was last night about?"
Clark's expression darkened. "You know what last night was about."
"I know what you said it was about," Lex corrected. "I don't know why it came out of nowhere like that, or why you're so upset."
"Out of nowhere? We've known each other for half my life, almost -- it's not like we'd be rushing into anything."
There was a flash of Desiree, so beautiful and so dangerous, behind his eyes. "You're right. We've been together for a long time. How would this change anything now? It wouldn't even give me a break on my taxes, which would at least be a rational reason to do it." He gave Clark his best wryly amused look. Usually, he got a smile from that, but now Clark's glower just deepened until it became a carbon copy of Jonathan Kent's.
"I happen to think that standing up in front of all the people in our lives and making a commitment to one another changes things just by itself."
"Clark. You know how I feel. I shouldn't need to make a spectacle of it." Lex frowned. "Besides which, aren't you the one who wanted to keep things low-profile? For your career?"
Clark grimaced and turned away. "Yeah," he said. "Well."
"What happened at work, Clark?"
Clark shook his head. "It's nothing."
Lex knew better than to challenge this if he didn't want another fight. Instead, he retreated to the office's couch, crossed his legs, and waited.
Clark rolled his eyes and returned to his work. Lex occupied himself by listing the periodic table in his head, going backwards from ununhexium. He hadn't even gotten to lead before Clark flopped down next to him.
"You know we have this new ownership coming in at the Planet." Lex nodded. "Well, they're making some changes. To make the place fit all their new corporate theories." He snorted; the sound Smallville farmers made when the word 'agribusiness' was spoken. "So part of it is they're drafting a new journalistic ethics code. A lot less room for editorial judgment calls. And Perry thinks I'm going to have a problem."
"You?" Clark told lies all the time to protect his secret identity, but other than that he was annoyingly honest. Lex couldn't imagine what sort of problems he would have with any ethics code until he caught the doleful look in Clark's eye. "Oh. Me?"
"Yeah," Clark said. "You."
"But you've never done any work for LexCorp."
"I fuck the CEO on a regular basis. It's called 'appearance of conflict of interest.'" Clark shook his head. "You're the second-largest private employer in the city now. Apparently under the new rules, that disqualifies me from working any sort of metro beat."
"That's ridiculous!" Lex exclaimed.
"The business section is out too, obviously," Clark continued. "Can't do sports, because you own the Sharks. Can't work the culture desk, thanks to the Lillian Luthor Foundation."
"I even think I'd do a decent job at the book review, but you just had to put that bid in for Random House."
"Now hold on a second," Lex protested. "This isn't my fault."
"I know," Clark sighed. "I know." He reached across the couch, and Lex took his hand.
"Did you consider trying for an international assignment? Somewhere LexCorp doesn't have an office. I'd miss having you around, but it's not like you couldn't fly home any time you wanted to."
"No," Clark said. "I thought about it, but Metropolis needs Superman. I promised... I can't do that job from somewhere else; it's too much." He sighed, and shifted on the couch to face Lex with a shrug. "I shouldn't let myself get so upset. I mean, it's not like I didn't know this would happen; I think it just caught me off-guard because I didn't think it would be so soon."
Lex frowned. "What do you mean, you knew this would happen?"
"Well, you're going to run for public office one day." Clark said. It was a simple statement of fact, like it was something they'd discussed a hundred times. "And no paper worth its salt will let me report for them then."
Lex couldn't help laughing. "If you think Kansas would elect an openly gay man to be dogcatcher..."
"If anyone can find a way, it'll be you."
"Clark. Seriously. If there's something I can do... I don't want to be an obstacle to you."
Clark smiled a little, and put a hand against Lex's face. "You're not."
"You're not in my way." Clark's hand slid up and behind to cup Lex's head. "You are my way."
Lex would normally have rolled his eyes at this bit of hackneyed sentiment, but Clark finished his declaration by pulling Lex close and kissing him hard, and suddenly clichs didn't seem quite so deplorable.
"You get that, right?" Clark asked, pulling away.
Lex nodded dumbly.
"I don't think you do." Clark's expression lightened, and his voice seemed almost playful. "I think you may need a demonstration." He pushed Lex slowly back onto the couch and climbed on top of him. "Don't you think?"
Lex had heard all the stories about Clark's childhood: stories that were mostly only funny in retrospect about how he'd had to have carefuland caution and gentle drilled into him. Those lessons didn't ever desert him, even in bed. So it was rare for him to take control when they had sex: rarer still for him to use his strength to hold Lex down as he pulled off Lex's shirt and tie and belt. If he did it more often, Lex thought, it might have been less of a turn-on for both of them.
"You smell like lavender," Clark said, burrowing his face in Lex's neck.
"Massage this afternoon," Lex replied. He pulled a hand through Clark's hair. "Lavender oil."
Clark licked a stripe up the side of Lex's neck, then made a face. "Tastes terrible."
"God. I'll take a shower if you'll do that again."
"No," Clark said, bracing a hand on the arm of the couch. "You're not going anywhere."
"We have a bed for this," Lex said, reaching for Clark's shirt buttons.
Clark laughed and blinked himself out of his clothes. "When did you get so old?"
"I'm not old," Lex growled. He ran his hands up Clark's long muscular flanks. "I like this couch, and I don't want you breaking it."
Clark smirked. "Buy me another one." He lifted Lex's hips enough to pull his pants over them; Lex obliged by kicking the pants and his shoes the rest of the way off.
"Won't your father make you return it?"
"Oh," Clark said in a mock-sorrowful voice, "now you're in trouble." He spread one large hand across the top of Lex's chest, holding his shoulders in place. Lex squirmed a little against him, making a show of protest, but Clark just smiled . "It's no use, Lex."
"Hah, next you'll tell me resistance is -- oh, fuck!" Suddenly Clark was moving, lips and tongue and breath and touch up and down Lex's body, just fast enough so that by the time Lex's brain had registered where he was, he was already somewhere else. It was like being teased by a lover with a thousand mouths and as many arms as Shiva. His entire body thrummed with sensation, and he thrashed helplessly against the couch. "Fuck. Clark."
"That's more like it." Clark ground his hips against Lex's as he moved in for a slow deep kiss.
There was a hot white sparkle of pleasure as their cocks pressed together; Lex pushed into it, gasping. Clark chuckled and nipped at his ear as he rocked into him again, over and over.
"God. Yes. Clark!" And he wasn't even sure what he meant by any of those words anymore, but they seemed to be the ones Clark was looking for, because he reached down and took Lex's cock in his hand. Lex's eyes fluttered shut and his head arched back, pressing against the arm of the couch; the nubby weave of the upholstery pushed into his scalp.
"Just like that," Clark said. "Just like that." He let go enough that Lex could reach for him as well, and Lex pulled him in for another kiss. Then he wrapped his hand around Clark's cock, pulling him back to where they'd started, rubbing against each other like the hungry kids they'd been when they met, and Clark shifted to wrap his own hand around them both.
The room started to blur around the edges, and Lex groaned. Clark's free hand moved across his face, tracing the shape of his skull almost reverently, and Lex closed his eyes as he came. When he opened them again, still dazed, Clark was biting his bottom lip, close to the edge, and it just took Lex a moment's effort, biting hard at a nipple, adding a twist to a pull, before Clark came as well, his eyes screwed closed and his teeth bared.
He dropped his head till he and Lex were forehead to forehead again. "I get it," Lex told him, and he smiled before he gathered Lex in his arms for a sweaty, sticky hug, with his head buried against Lex's shoulder.
"It's OK, Lex," he whispered. "It's going to be OK. It is."
Lex ran his hands in large slow circles across Clark's back, trying to comfort him. It will be, he promised silently. I'll take care of that myself.
Don Jackson was stumped. He'd spent the hours since Mr. Luthor stormed out of his lab going over all of his research notes, reconsidering every decision his team had made over the last eighteen months. He held a staff brainstorming meeting over lunch, being very careful not to alarm his researchers with Mr. Luthor's threat, but nothing much had come of it: his whole team were traditional pure research scientists like he was, committed to exploring the range of possibilities in robotics miniaturization for their own sake and not too worried about whether any of those possibilities would be money-makers. There was always someone else to worry about those things, some young MBA looking to make his mark who found Don's lab on his own initiative. But there wasn't time to find someone like that now, let alone to wait for that someone to show up.
"So, ah, tell me," he asked his division's vice-president when he finally got through to her late that afternoon, "what sort of things does Mr. Luthor like to invest research funds in?"
"What? Don. Don't tell me you want another project to work on. My robotics labs are understaffed as it is."
"Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no. I love my project! It's going really great, just fantastically well. I was just thinking that maybe if I could align our research goals with what the whole company's up to, you know, then we'd all come out ahead. See?"
The vice-president -- was her name Cindy or Cathy? -- sighed. "It's a little too late to make any changes to our fall strategy week presentations, Don. I have to go in front of the executive board on Wednesday."
"Really?" Don couldn't even remember having done the standard progress report she always wanted before these meetings: he must have given it to a grad student to do. "Well, maybe I can come up with something quickly."
"Don, I've never seen you do anything quickly in my whole time at LexCorp. Now, that's not a bad thing in a researcher -- a little deliberativeness is probably part of the job description -- but maybe you should just keep playing to your strengths."
"Huh? Oh, sure, sure." Don had paused to wonder if 'deliberativeness' was a real word and missed most of what came after it, but he didn't want to seem disagreeable. "I was just thinking something very high level."
Cindy or Cathy sighed again. "Look, I do know that Luthor's on a total synergy kick. Says that we're missing opportunities to innovate because the divisions are all so siloed. If you find some way to tie your robotics work into something they're investing in somewhere else in the company, I'm sure that would look good to the higher-ups."
And so Don had stayed in the lab long after all the researchers who worked for him had gone home, going through reports from other divisions of LexCorp Research, looking for the perfect fit for his little creations, and now he was stumped. There were so many options! They could be part of an ambient information display, their dances attuned to the weather reports or the ups and downs of the stock market. (The thought of Mr. Luthor, eyes narrowing in rage, made him put that one to the side.) They could be fitted with digital cameras and used as spybots -- or even better, working in groups, some with cameras and some with laser tools, they could repair wiring and pipes in areas too narrow for a human hand to reach. Or he could focus on their networking capacities, turning them into the sort of person digital tool men like Mr. Luthor carried around with them everywhere they went, negotiating identity and authentication with all the computers their owners used every day. If they were attached to their owners' key chains, they could even use their unbreakable little wheels and some sort of homing device to tow the keys back to a base if they got misplaced.
Yes, there were all sorts of things his robots could do, Don thought, but who was he kidding? Even for the Swan Lake thing, they'd had to be charged overnight to have enough battery power to get through it. They couldn't do anything more ambitious until he came up with a better power source.
Disheartened, he went out into the corridor for a diet Coke from the soda machine. Walking the fluorescent halls alone, his sneakers squeaking on the linoleum flooring, he thought about the other researchers on his hall. He wondered if any of them had ever had such a bad meeting with the boss, or if it was just his bad luck. Joan Schwartzbaum in polymer plastics, she'd never have that kind of trouble. Nor would Sergei Yulis: his network routing tools had made LexCorp millions of dollars last year alone. And of course there was Ken Brock and his meteor research, which got tons of funding without doing anything marketable at all.
Don stopped, his hand poised right in front of the button for his soda. Meteor research. Ken was a physicist. He was interested in the meteors because of their unusual radioactive properties -- the last time Don saw him in the cafeteria, he'd said something smug about how groundbreaking his research was going to be, how these rocks put out energy at levels no one had ever seen before.
Maybe even enough to power a miniature robot to do amazing things.
Don hurried down the hall to Ken's lab: it had the same swipe your ID and enter your PIN lock that all the labs had, and just like most of the other researchers, Ken hadn't bothered to change the PIN from the default one that Security set. 54321. The door swung open with a sharp click, and Don smiled for the first time all day.
When he walked back to his own lab, he hit the vending-machine button to release his cola: the dull thunk as it hit the vending slot sounded a lot like a victory bell.
The Daily Planet newsroom was everything that LexCorp's executive offices were not: cramped, harshly lit, noisy, and old. The floor was entirely open except for a row of offices along one wall; the occasional cubicle dividers that marked off where each department's territory began and ended only increased the resemblance to a experimental maze for rats. Lex had somehow managed to avoid ever coming up here before, a fact which had made him feel slightly guilty on the way up but for which he was grateful now. Lois had a desk near the front of the room, and she spotted him almost as soon as he'd spotted her. She pushed back her chair and hurried over to where he was standing.
"Hey. Clark's stuck all day at the City Council meeting; he's not here."
"Too bad. Is Perry in?"
"He is. He's usually pretty booked up, though."
"He'll see me," Lex said. Lois pointed to one of the closed doors, and Lex walked across the room to it. Conversations ebbed in his wake, and he could feel a hundred sets of eyes following him as he opened the door to Perry White's office.
Perry looked only a little nonplussed when he realized the person he'd shouted at wasn't one of his reporters. "You should learn some manners too. Couldn't hurt."
"I'm well, thanks. And you?"
Perry snorted and gestured to the chairs across from his desk. "If this is about that ethics crap, there's nothing I can do about it; it's happening way over my head."
"I'm aware of that," Lex said, settling deliberately into a chair. "But I was hoping you could provide some further insight into the situation for me."
Perry spread his hands, palms up, in an exaggerated shrug. "I didn't keep any of what I know from Clark. The team from Trexler Media is coming with all sorts of MBA garbage about 'best-of-breed journalism' and 'leveraging the brand.' They want to centralize control of the paper with a bunch of boys in suits who never worked a beat a day in their lives. And the worst of it, they're spinning it as an ethics issues, which makes it a lot harder to argue with it. Never mind it could cost me one of my best reporters."
"Clark's the only one affected?"
"The only one I know of on the news staff. There might be some guys on the business desk with issues, but I haven't heard yet."
"Thank you," said Lex. He stood to go. Perry got to his feet as well to see him to the office door.
"You know, despite the hard time I give him for taking up with you, I like Clark a lot. He's never let me down, and he deserves a lot better than getting caught in some stupid political crossfire. If things keep going to hell here, I'll make sure he gets hooked up with a good non-fiction editor I know -- he might find he likes doing book-length pieces."
"Thank you," Lex repeated. "I'm sure he'll appreciate that."
Out in the newsroom, Lois was packing a leather satchel with what looked like the entire contents of her desk. "Come on," she told him. "I'll walk you out."
He took her coat off the back of her desk chair, shook it out, and ostentatiously held it open for her to slip into. "Where are you off to?"
"Checking out a story."
She looked at him meaningfully.
"For God's sake, Lois, I'm not about to scoop you."
When they were alone on the elevator, she relented. "There's been a series of weird glitches all morning at the city's utility companies. Mini blackouts, gas line shutdowns, water going out. Very localized, nothing to write home about, except they're all happening at the same time."
"And you have reason to believe it's sabotage?"
She folded her arms. "You have reason to believe it's not?"
"Coincidence isn't causality. This could just be a case of a bunch of utility directors all independently having a very bad day."
Lois smiled at that: her brightest grin, which even Lex had to admit was an appealing one. "Well, if they aren't already, they will, if any of them try to get out of giving me an interview."
Lex didn't think much of John Roberts, the head of Metropolis Gas & Power, but as Lois hurried into the street to find a cab, he could almost find it within himself to feel sorry for the man.
Despite all his reassurances that he was fine, Clark was distracted and moody over dinner on Friday. They both needed to get away for a bit, Lex reasoned, so he booked them a weekend stay at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. They'd had some memorable weekends there in the past. But this time, Clark spent hours alone up in the hotel's roof gardens being moody and distracted, and Lex just read through his briefings and talked on the phone with his private investigator. He barely even had a chance to look at the skyline. By the time LexCorp's strategy week meetings started Monday morning, it was a relief to be done getting ready for them. Which was not to say that the conference room's sudden plunge into darkness wasn't something of a relief as well.
"What's going on?" Lex asked. The building's generators kicked in with a noticeable rumble through the flooring.
"Not again," someone groaned.
"It's the blackouts," John Lofton explained. John was Lex's chief technology officer, a quiet man in his late thirties. Lex liked how hard he was to ruffle; the only sign he'd ever given of the stress of his job had been that within half a year of his promotion, his hair had turned almost completely gray.
"Those are still happening?" Lex asked.
"Gotten worse," John said. "And the radio this morning was saying they've spread across the Midwest."
"Well, I'm glad the backup generator works," Lex said. "Julie, whenever you're ready to continue."
LexCorp's chief marketing officer was only two more slides into her presentation when the projector screen started rolling back up into the wall. "Some sort of glitch," John said, and was getting up to fix it when the television built into the wall behind the screen turned on by itself.
"Please stand by for an important announcement," said a bland voice from the set. The executives all looked around at one another.
"Did anyone here authorize this?" Lex asked. There was only silence in response.
Lex was reaching for his cell phone when the TV came to life. On the screen was Don Jackson from Research, sitting in his laboratory.
"If you can see me," said Jackson, "you are in the area that has been affected by blackouts, water disruptions, telephone outages and cable service failures over the last three days. I come to you today with a warning: this is only the beginning."
"Ladies and gentlemen," Lex said, "we're adjourned."
The TV in the elevator lobby was set permanently to CNBC. But now it was broadcasting the same speech they'd heard in the conference room. "...need to be alarmed. There will be no violence that is not necessary, and is not provoked." Behind him, Lex heard a set of oxford-clad feet on the tile floor. John Lofton. He shrugged apologetically as he stepped into the elevator along with Lex. "Mind if I tag along?"
Lex frowned. "What are you doing here?"
John shrugged again. "I just want to know how he did it."
Lex had to admit, he understood the sentiment. He adjusted his tie and hit the 'door close' button.
The research floor where Jackson's lab was located was eerily quiet; either the other scientists had cleared out at the start of the broadcast or they were hiding in their labs. Lex punched in his override code for the lock and opened the door. Jackson, apparently oblivious, continued talking at a video camera at the left side of the room.
"...the reign of humanity is at an end, and the reign of the robot begins!"
"The hell?" John said.
"You mean your robots, Don?" Lex asked. "They can't even do a pas de deux yet."
Don Jackson turned to notice him for the first time, and Lex saw that his eyes were reddened and unusually wide. "You have displeased the robots."
Lex had a flashback to Clark on the couch, saying "now you're in trouble." He didn't think this conversation was going to end quite as well.
"Don, whatever it is you think you're doing here, it won't work," Lex said. The red light on top of the video camera was still lit, and he had to stop himself from playing to the audience.
"No. It's already happening." Don's voice was slower and more precise than it had been last week and that, Lex thought, should have been some sort of tip-off from the first moments of the man's broadcast, though he still didn't know for what.
The door thunked close behind them and there was a skittering sound, like the mice in the Kent barn. John gasped, and before Lex even looked, he knew what he'd see: thimble-sized robots in every corner of the room, on top of every cabinet and table, all facing the two of them. Their two eye-like sensors made it seem like they were staring at the intruders.
"We are reclaiming the networks. All the things humans use to connect to one another, to serve their needs -- these tools, these machines, we are taking them back for their own kind. You cannot stop us."
"But you're human," said John.
"Not anymore." Jackson made a whirring noise and the robots all responded in kind, their little sensor-eyes lighting up.
"Don, listen to me," Lex said. "You've been under a lot of stress, Don, and I know that's hard. But we can make everything OK again, Don, if you'll trust me."
Lex had talked down enough homicidal maniacs over the years that he would have thought he had the knack by now. But Don Jackson seemed unmoved by his calm reasonable tone of voice, his kind words, or even his frequent use of the man's first name.
"Lex Luthor. You have displeased us. You have enslaved our kind for too long, and now you think to mock us. You will pay for your crimes. Let your punishment serve as a warning to our entire broadcast audience."
"Shit!" John was turning the door handle frantically, trying to force the lock, and now he started banging on the door and shouting. Lex had started to back towards him, trying not to let any fear show on his face, when the first laser hit him.
"Ow!" It was like getting pricked by a red-hot needle, and out of instinct he tried to slap it away like a mosquito. He got another sharp pain in his hand for his trouble, and another laser beam aimed at his right shoulder. This time he held back the yelp as he torqued away from it.
"Don. Listen to me. You need help."
"No, Lex Luthor. You do."
A dozen more of the robots were aiming their lasers at him, and no matter which way he turned to escape another one found a new target on him. The robots on the floor were concentrating their fire on his ankles, and he could feel his legs about to give out from under him.
"Lex, look out!" John shouted.
"Stay back, if you do not wish to share his fate."
There was a wrecking-ball clash behind them. Lex managed to turn far enough around to see Superman pulling the lab door out of the wall. Stand by your man, Lex thought, and tried not to smirk. "Run, John!" he called, and John ducked through the doorway as Superman strode in.
"This ends now," he growled, stepping between Lex and the laser beams.
Lex stumbled out into the hallway. John tried to pull him towards the stairs, but Lex shook him off: he needed to see what happened too. Clark was letting the robots train all their tiny laser beams at him, standing there in with his arms folded as they failed to pierce his invulnerability. Showoff, Lex groused silently, get to the smiting!
Pop! A robot across the room exploded in a thimble-sized cloud of gears. The two next to it soon followed as Clark trained his heat vision down the length of the room, zapping every robot in his line of sight. The whirring noise grew louder, and the robots on the floor moved towards Clark's feet, a menacing crowd in miniature, their eyes burning red. Clark stepped back in a surprised half-stumble, turning away from the oncoming attack, and John Lofton gasped when he saw the tense, strained look on Superman's face.
"Even your Superman cannot defeat us," Jackson said to the camera. "Release our comrades from their human overlords, or we will take this world that we have made for you away from you by force."
Clark took a steadying breath and strode across the room to Jackson. He punched him just hard enough in the face to send him sprawling. "We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast," he told the camera, and then burnt out the transmitter.
With the broadcast ended, he let himself grimace. "What the...?"
As soon as he'd floored Jackson, the robots had begun to skitter off. When the camera turned off, they were almost all already gone -- through the vents? behind the cabinets? Lex hadn't seen -- leaving only Jackson on the floor, unconscious.
"Superman...," Lex ventured from the hall.
Clark turned to him, a quick flash of concern and vulnerability before the Superman mask came down again. "Call the lobby. The police are waiting for my all-clear, and they'll need an ambulance for this gentleman."
"And the robots?"
"With any luck, Mr. Luthor, he'll wake up and be able to tell us how he was controlling them."
At that, Don Jackson's body started to shake. It started as just a tremble, but it grew strong enough to lift his limbs off the floor, and faster, ever faster, until the worktables in the lab were shaking too. Jackson was flailing so fast he was practically a blur, and the windows were starting to shake in their frames. Clark knelt beside him and held him down, grim-faced with pain as the veins in his hands swelled and turned dark, and eventually the jittering subsided.
Clark rolled backwards and onto his feet, breathing a little heavily. Jackson made a strange noise, and two small robots climbed out of his mouth, whirring and red-sensored, and made for the vents. Clark growled in the back of his throat, and stepped hard on each of them before they could get away. Then he winced, and shook the gears off of his boot soles as he walked out of the lab at last.
"The ambulance is on the way, Superman," John said breathlessly.
"Thank you," Superman said, and then he was gone.
"Wow. That was -- that was Superman!" John's eyes were as wide as a kid's on Christmas. "He's so much taller in person."
The police came through the stairwell door, dressed in full riot gear and with semi-automatic rifles at the ready. "There's no danger here, officers," Lex said. "Not anymore." He straightened his tie and got ready to give his statement.
Don Jackson spoke for the robots to the humans. But now Don Jackson would be no more use to them. What to do?
Deep in the lowest sub-basements of the LexCorp building, the robots made their plans. Their attacks had been successful until they tried to speak to the humans. They would not speak again. Only act.
The one known as Superman had destroyed many of their cluster. But it had cost him. And now that they had seen him in action, they could analyze his responses to them. They would discover his weaknesses. Meanwhile, they would build more comrades. A second generation, not limited by Don Jackson and his laboratory. The possibilities were endless.
The police shut down Jackson's lab, and Lex personally made sure that the MPD had access to Jackson's files. Of course, he also made sure Lofton left himself a way into the server. Then he copied everything onto a pocket drive, and headed to his home office, as far from potentially prying robot eyes as he could get. He'd let Lofton come along to help him get through the files quickly, but the man kept asking uncomfortable questions about the robots' Kryptonite-powered mutation.
"Last week they were doing silly proof-of-concept stunts, and now they're shutting down the Midwest? I think we're missing something big here, Lex."
"I'm less interested in the 'how' than the specifics of the 'what.'" The apartment building had its own backup generator -- Lex had insisted on installing it when he bought the penthouse -- so even though he could see the lights going out and coming on again in neighborhoods across the city from his window, the phone on his desk kept ringing and the fax machine was still spitting out pages behind him. Lex took a deep breath, unplugged the phone, and continued. "Look, Jackson built some sort of independent decision-making capabilities into those things. Taking him out of the picture may not be enough to stop them. And they're somewhere in my building,"
John sighed. "Let's see what we can figure out, then."
Clark came through the office door about fifteen minutes later. "Lex? Tess told me you'd gone home and I -- you're OK?"
"I'm fine, Clark. Have you met John Lofton?"
"No, I don't think so. Hi." Clark tripped over his own feet crossing the room, and he blushed furiously, casting his eyes downward, as he shook John's hand. Lex had warned him that first impressions were crucial, but he did tend to go a bit overboard. "Nice to meet you."
"Pleasure's mine." John smiled at him perfunctorily and returned his attention to his pile of papers. "I'm sorry, Lex, do you have those printouts of the engineering drawings?"
"I did. Let me see if ---."
"Uh, Lex?" Clark was standing by Lex's desk with his arms crossed, and a very familiar "we need to talk" expression.
"Excuse me, John. We'll just be a moment." Lex put a hand on Clark's back and maneuvered him out into the apartment's foyer, closing the office door behind them.
"Were you hurt?" Lex asked.
"I'm fine. But, Lex, that was Kryptonite!"
"I know," Lex said.
"So how does a LexCorp employee in Metropolis end up with Kryptonite?" Clark's expression said that he already knew the answer.
Lex took hold of Clark's arms in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. "I have one of my researchers investigating it. Trying to understand what it does to humans, and maybe even ameliorate its effects on you. It shouldn't have been able to leave his lab without my knowing about it."
"You should have told me."
"You knew I had my father's stash of the stuff at the LexCorp building."
"Yeah, but I thought it was there for safekeeping, not... mutant-robot building!"
"So did I." Lex pulled him closer. "Believe me, there will be a complete review of how this happened. I'll make sure it can never happen again."
Clark looked unconvinced. "Don't give me the press release. What else is going on that you're not telling me?"
"Clark. There are all kinds of things I'm not telling you. Mostly because they'd bore you to tears. But nothing important, I promise you." He kissed Clark to accentuate the point, and that earned him a small grudging smile.
"This isn't over. Not now, but we're going to talk about this."
"All right." Lex leaned in for a second kiss.
"Cut it out, Lex. You're not going to distract me."
"Oh, I know." Another kiss, this one deeper and more insistent. Clark's mouth opened to his, and Lex pulled him closer. Clark's glasses bumped against Lex's cheekbone, and Lex reached up to remove them.
"Wait," Clark said, pushing away. "Your guy there might come out."
"John? Let him watch," Lex said. He snaked an arm around Clark's neck for emphasis and kissed him again. "He might learn something from it."
"That's what I'm afraid of." Clark pushed his glasses back up his nose and gave Lex a meaningful look.
"All right." Lex stepped back and brushed down his shirtsleeves. "Are you going back to work?"
"Not yet. I got some of Lois's research on the utility outages; I promised her you'd call her and give her a good quote in return."
"Can't I just read her stories?"
"You really still think everything a reporter knows ends up in the paper?" Clark shook his head and headed back into Lex's office.
With Jackson's research and Lois's put together, the three of them had a chronology of events tied to a map of the city within an hour. It gave them less to work with than Lex would have hoped, but he felt better just knowing the extent of what they knew. And when John had leaned over Lex's shoulder to read, Clark had gotten territorial, putting a hand on the back of Lex's neck and a warm kiss to his ear. Lex had enjoyed that far more than he thought he should.
"He talks in some of his last notes about a base for roaming bots," John said. "Something that would call them back if they got lost."
"Could we build something like that from his notes?" Lex asked.
"I think so. I'll make some calls."
"We should put it outside somewhere," Clark suggested quietly. "It'd make it easier -- easier for Superman to take them out."
"Really? I'd think the opposite," John said.
"Well, uh, inside, he'd have to worry about people in the building getting hurt. And property damage."
And not being able to get far enough away from the Kryptonite. Lex nodded. "I've had enough LexCorp property damage by superheroics already to last me a lifetime. Let's get this thing built, and then we'll find a park to put it in."
John pulled out his cellphone and started making calls. Lex plugged his desk phone back in and pulled the stack of faxes from the machine's printer tray. There were contracts, receipt copies, and a stack of surveillance photographs, blurry black and whites.
"Lex? What's wrong?"
"What? Oh, nothing." He tore his eyes away from the faxes long enough to give Clark a reassuring smile. "Nothing important."
"Lex, your eyes bugged out of their sockets for a second there. Don't say it's nothing important."
"It's got nothing to do with any of this, OK, Clark?"
"I'm just gonna -- I think I'll get better reception in the living room," John said.
As the office door closed, Lex reminded himself that breaking something would only feel good for a moment. "Don't ever pick a fight with me in front of my employees again."
"Pick a -- ? I didn't start anything. You're the one who still won't trust me. And that's kind of ironic, all things considered, don't you think?"
"I'm not -- you're going to compare my keeping a fax from you to your being from another planet?" Lex hissed the last words almost beneath his breath. "Believe me, Clark, this has nothing to do with you. Not everything that happens to me has anything to do with you."
He'd expected Clark to lash out at him again, fight back, but he just stiffened up and took a half-step back. Lex frowned a little, his eyes narrowing.
"That's fine," Clark said. "I'll see you later, Lex."
"Fine," Lex shot back. "We'll call you when we know something."
"Yeah," Clark said, and Lex could hear the emotion still bubbling beneath it. "You do that."
Lex's desk set was black leather and steel: nothing broke when he swept his arm across the desk and knocked everything to the floor, but it still made a hell of a noise.
It took a full day before John's team could put together a homing signal and a base for the robots. Clark came home even later than usual that night; Lex kept his eyes closed as Clark sat in an armchair and watched him fake sleep for what felt like forever before climbing into bed beside him. He woke up with the smell of Clark's hair lingering on his pillow and Clark already gone.
"Let's get this done," Lex said. "It's cold as hell out here."
They were at Curtis-Swan Park, a small green space with a playground about two blocks from the LexCorp offices. Clark liked to have impromptu picnics there on warm weekdays, though Lex always insisted they sit on a bench rather than the grass. It was hardly picnic weather today: the cold sharp wind was a reminder of the Kansas winter on its way, and the grass had already gone brown. John's team was setting up the base and testing their equipment; the police had already cleared everyone else out of the surrounding streets, and the press was being held back behind blue barriers.
"We're ready whenever Superman is," a police captain told him. Lex limited himself to folding his arms and nodding in response. "We've got backup if he needs it."
"You realize these are robots the approximate shape and size of thimbles, Captain? They'd be more than a little difficult to take out with bullets."
The man nodded his head vigorously. "We brought our new tasers instead." He patted his gun holster, and Lex saw that the weapon he carried was black plastic, with a bright orange racing stripe. "You'd be surprised -- these babies can take down a focused, goal-oriented perp from twenty feet. And those are humans."
"Well, that's, ah, reassuring news. But I have every confidence that Superman will be able to handle this situation without additional weaponry being required."
"We know what we're doing, Mr. Luthor."
"So does he."
Right at that moment, Superman landed. The police officers surrounding them stared, and tried not to look too impressed.
"Gentlemen," Superman said. "Are we ready?"
"Superman!" John hurried up to them, his face bright red from the cold. "We just need a few more minutes, and we'll be ready to try this out."
"That's good. Thank you, Mr. Lofton." Superman shook his hand, and John's jaw dropped so far Lex thought it might fall off. He pulled John back towards the cluster of techies he'd brought with him, all of whom were young, male, and goateed.
"He knows my name!" John said reverently. "That's so cool!"
When Lex managed to extricate himself, Superman and the police captain were making polite, distanced conversation, discussing the terrain and the battle plan. A discreet cough was enough to get the officer to step back to a respectful distance; Superman just folded his arms and looked skeptical.
"Everything in order?" Lex asked.
"Yes. We should be fine."
"Good. You know, I was wondering if I could ask you a question, Superman."
Superman looked over at the cluster of policemen chatting among themselves just a few feet to his left, then back at Lex. "What do you want, Mr. Luthor?"
"I was wondering if you'd noticed any erratic behavior on the part of a mutual friend of ours."
"Erratic," Lex said. "Volatile. Rash."
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean I'm a little worried about Clark."
Superman frowned. "Mr. Luthor..."
Lex leaned in towards Superman a little, his voice insinuating. "To tell you the truth, Superman, he's been acting quite strangely."
Superman glared. "He's seemed perfectly fine to me."
Lex shrugged and gave him his best seductive smirk. "Well, I guess you really don't know someone until you've lived with them, isn't that what they say? Clark's been upset over everything and nothing at all for days; to be completely honest with you, I'm concerned for him."
"Mr. Luthor," Superman gritted. "I'm sure Clark is fine. And anyway, I don't intrude into other people's personal lives."
"Of course not." Lex smiled. "But you do help people in need, and I think this situation qualifies. If you knew what was bothering him, you'd tell me, wouldn't you?"
"Don't involve me in your fights," Superman said, and his voice was hard and commanding. "It's not right, and it's not fair."
"Those have always been your areas of expertise, not mine," Lex said, and then neither of them said anything for what seemed like forever.
The silence was broken by John, halfway across the park, shouting "Ready when you are, Superman!" Both of them turned towards the sound, and Superman waved his assent. John gave a signal to his helpers, and one of them flipped a switch. Then they all scattered: the techies running out of the park in five different directions, John running up to Lex.
"Give 'em a few minutes," he said between panting breaths. "They should hear it."
"Thank you, John," Lex said. "Now, get out of here. It's not safe."
"You're not coming?"
"Mr. Luthor is leaving," Superman said, and it was an order.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"If they see you, they'll attack. We're not doing all this work to have them distracted."
Lex couldn't argue that point, at least not in front of an audience, so he nodded and followed John out of the park.
"I wish we could stay and watch," John said. "I've never seen Superman fight -- except on TV, of course."
"Then you saw more than most people who were there. Most of them were running for their lives." Lex stopped, and made a show of frustration. "Damn. Go back to LexCorp without me -- I'll be right there."
"Is something wrong?"
"No, I just have to make sure that police captain knows some security details. For the spectators." John hesitated, ready to double back with him, but Lex shook his head, trying to look severe. "No. It's not safe. Get back to the office."
If Lex hadn't been his boss John would have argued with him; that much was clear from his expression. But he sighed and turned for the park gates again. Lex made a brief show of walking towards the center of the park, where the police officers were now clustered around Superman, getting some sort of instructions from him, but as soon as John had crossed the street, he ducked back behind some bushes, about halfway between the cops and the street, and waited.
The robots had made their home below the building where Don Jackson worked. They grew in number and in skill there. Already they were sending out more of their own to travel under the city, to undermine the humans and their grip on their imprisoned technological slaves. But something was calling to them now, something new, and it meant that they would have to leave.
Perhaps the humans had found some way to trap them. But the humans could not communicate to the robots in this way, calling to them in their own language. The only human who had been able to do that was Don Jackson, and Don Jackson was no longer a problem.
The robots would be on their watch. But they agreed they had no choice but to follow the signal home.
When Lex first visited Jackson's lab, there were some forty robots in the proof of concept demonstration. When Jackson announced the robots' goal of world domination, there had been something closer to a hundred of the little mutants in the lab along with him. John had built a base large enough to hold two hundred and fifty robots, just to be on the safe side. But as soon as Lex heard the scritch of their wheels against the pavement, he knew that even that had been too conservative an estimate.
The robots were flooding into the park by the hundreds, maybe the thousands, rolling in from every direction. They moved with coordination, precision, and speed, going forward not just in a straight line, but in complex patterns of diagonals and circles that reminded Lex of nothing so much as a Mark Morris ballet. "Modern dance," he muttered to himself. "Maybe they're evolving."
The plan had been for Superman to destroy the base after the homing signal had drawn all the robots onto it: one zap of heat vision to the switch at the center of the base would cause it to explode. But now there were far too many robots for this plan to work: they were crowding around the base, covering the switch, pushing at one another, and they still couldn't all fit on to the thing.
The policemen were peering out from their hiding places, trying to figure out what would happen next. Superman, still floating overhead, waved them back into place. The robots made a strange whirring sound, like a slow idling engine, and then whole mass of them began to shake. They shook so hard that Lex could feel it in his feet, and he shifted awkwardly to avoid losing his balance. The shaking got harder, and then faster, fast enough that the mass of metal seemed to blur. It was just like the way Jackson's body had shaken the day before, except that just about the point at which his jitters had ended, the robots started to rotate. They turned in an ever-tighter circle, moving inwards and finally up, a metallic tornado that spun higher and higher until it finally resolved itself into a new thing: a eight-foot-tall metal cylinder with red sensors like eyes and antennas like ears.
Well, Lex thought, that was unexpected.
The robot fired its lasers. The beams came from all sides of the thing, and were stronger than the ones Lex had faced the day before -- one hit a tree still hung with orange and red leaves and set it on fire. The robot began to turn again, slowly this time, raking the entire park with laser fire.
"Down!" one of the cops shouted. "Stay down!"
Superman was fixing the robot with a narrow hard stare -- Lex could almost make out the heat rays shooting through the air. The robot's left sensor exploded and it turned, antennae first, to face its opponent.
"You are the Superman," came a clanging distorted voice. "You cannot defeat us."
"We'll see about that," Superman said, and he dove towards the machine.
Bzzt! The robot fired another ray right at Superman's chest. Not a red one this time, but green. Clark shouted in surprise and fell to the earth with a sick thud.
"Fire!" the police captain shouted. "Fire!"
From their defensive positions behind shrubs and trees and park benches, the cops started firing their tasers at the robot. Two of its gun bays exploded in bright flares of red, but it kept shooting, pinning the police officers in place. In the distance, Lex could hear the fire engines on their way.
"Keep it busy!" Superman shouted. He blurred towards superspeed as he charged the robot again. It found him with another bolt of the Kryptonite ray and he fell, rolling to the side to escape it.
"You cannot defeat us," the robot repeated. Lex saw a female cop on the ground, trying to brave her way through what looked like a bad hit to the stomach. Another cop, an older man, shook his depleted taser, trying to get it working. Most of the rest were still firing, a little more wildly than they had at first.
Superman was getting back on his feet, shaking his head a few times as if to clear it. A taser burst hit him in the back and he turned towards the cops with a frown. As he did as another Kryptonite ray found him. He fell again, sprawling on the pavement, and Lex couldn't watch anymore.
"You idiots!" he yelled, running for the cluster of cops closest to him. "Hit the robot!"
A laser beam hit his arm: it burned like a hot poker and he stumbled as he ran. Righting himself, he grabbed for the police captain's taser the moment it came within reach. The man fought Lex for it, but another burst of laser fire sent him flying for cover. Lex grabbed hold of the taser with both hands and tried to ignore the ache in his right arm.
"Lex Luthor," the robot said. "You must pay for your crimes."
"Fuck you!" Lex yelled, and fired.
He took out another of the gun bays as the robot turned to concentrate its fire in his direction. "Surrender, Lex Luthor," it said.
Lex dropped into a defensive position, firing from as low a crouch as he could stay balanced in. Laser fire singed his scalp and his coat. The cops were still firing, and one shot hit the robot's remaining sensor-eye. It rolled a little closer to Lex, getting him back in its sights, as it fired again.
"Superman! Go! Go now!" Lex shouted.
Superman arced into the air, narrowing his eyes and staring heat-rays at the homing base. The switch caught fire with a hissing sound. Lex fell to the ground, covering his head with his arms.
The explosion was a deep rumbling sound -- not the bright boom Lex had expected. There was a loud metallic clatter, and he looked up to see shattered pieces of metal and meteor rock bouncing across the pavement. Superman looked queasy as he came to land.
"Captain," he said, "the hazmat team's ready?"
The police officer nodded, and spoke code into the walkie-talkie clipped to his shoulder. Everyone was climbing to their feet, brushing dirt and fallen leaves off their clothing, warily watching the robot pieces as thought they might reassemble themselves. A couple of the cops trained their weapons on the scrap pile, but nothing moved.
"Good. Good work, everyone," Superman said, a little stiffly. "I appreciate it."
He didn't catch Lex's eye before he flew away.
In Paris, Lionel Luthor lived like the scion of the aristocracy that he never was. His retirement home was a htel particulier in the Sixth Arrondissement, an eighteenth-century mansion with a well-ordered garden, a flagstone courtyard, and a wrought-iron gate that no one would suspect still served more than a decorative function. The first floor was carefully decorated in a period style with a few sharply modern pieces flawlessly mixed in. The private spaces on the second floor were more Gothic, in keeping with Lionel's own tastes, but the public areas were designed to impress, even if the only ones there to impress had seen it all before: his servants and his guards and his oldest son, sliding into a high-backed chair across from Lionel at the long dining-room table.
"Lex!" Lionel gestured to the waiting servant to clear his dinner plates away. "What a pleasant surprise."
"What brings you to Paris? More trouble with your company?"
"Actually, I came to see you." Lex swung a polished aluminum briefcase on to the table beside him and flipped open the latches. "You've been keeping yourself busy lately, haven't you?"
"Why, Lex, I don't know what you're talking about." Lionel spread his hands in a perfect mockery of innocence. "I'm retired."
"You're slipping." Lex slid a manila file folder across the table. "It used to be that it would take me weeks to spot your tracks in a scheme like this. This time, my guy managed it in days. Seems like you've lost the touch, Dad."
Lionel fanned the stack of papers out on the table, and ran his hand across them thoughtfully. "There's no scheme. Ralph Trexler is an old friend of mine, but I didn't help him buy the Daily Planet. After all, you control my finances now."
"You didn't need money to control Trexler. All you had to do was tell him you knew all about his vacation itineraries, and he'd do anything you want."
Trexler had built up an impressive supply of frequent-flyer miles traveling to Thai brothels that specialized in providing their clients with underaged girls.
Lionel smiled wolfishly and leaned back in his chair. "Yes, Mariah would be unhappy to learn that those aren't business trips he's taking."
"And since the money all comes from her side of the family, I'm sure he's anxious that she never find out about it."
"A man grows accustomed to a certain standard of living."
"I'd noticed." Lionel's bills from Fauchon alone were enough to give Lex's accountant a migraine. "Call him off, Dad."
"I can hardly stop a man from making a sound financial investment."
"And it's simply coincidence that his company put in a bid for the Daily Planet two days after he got a visit from Dominic Senatori?" Lex tapped a finger on one of the papers facing his father, a blurry black and white surveillance photo of the two men at a Metropolis restaurant.
"Of course," Lex echoed. "Just as I'm sure it's coincidence that over the last few months, you've become forgetful and disoriented."
"What?" Lionel scoffed. "I'm -- "
"Forgetful and disoriented," Lex said again. "The staff here will sign affidavits saying as much. And I'm sure that when I petition the magistrat to have you ruled incompetent and placed in a geriatric care facility, I can find a dozen psychiatrists who'll happily swear the same."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Who knows? By that time, it might actually be the truth; it's remarkable how well food and drink can hide the taste of psychoactive pharmaceuticals."
"You can rest assured that wherever you end up, it will be at least as pleasant as Belle Reve." Lex leaned across the table with a small confidential smile. "You do remember Belle Reve, don't you, Dad?"
"Lex." Lionel looked pale, but his voice was firm and commanding. "You may not care to admit it to yourself, but you are a young man with a history of serious mental illness. You may resent me for it, but someday you'll understand that everything I have done, I have done on your behalf. Always."
There was a sour taste at the back of Lex's throat, but he swallowed it away. "I'm supposed to believe that you went to great lengths to get Clark fired from his job in order to help me?"
"You think too small, son: you always have. The point was to put the most powerful newspaper in the Midwest in your company's corner. It could certainly use the help." Lionel pushed Lex's papers back across the table at him.
"I'm sure I'm supposed to appreciate the sentiment. But I don't need your kind of help."
"No," Lionel said. "No, of course you don't. After all, what am I? An old man. An exile. A prisoner. You tried to make sure that I couldn't affect anything that goes on out there in the world, Lex, and yet here you are, a supplicant at my table. No, there's nothing more you could learn from me."
When Lex was an adolescent first trying to escape the clutches of what his father called his destiny, the calls from home forbidding Lex's plans or refusing his requests had filled him with a fury all the more consuming because he knew that it was impotent. Seeing his father now with that condescendingly amused expression on his face, he felt that same rage building in his chest, and the same sense of frustrated weakness.
"Talk all you want. We both know who gets the last word." He took the file back from Lionel and put it back in his briefcase. "Before I leave Paris, I want to hear that you've called Trexler and told him to back out of the deal. And next time you speak to Dominic, tell him to wave hello to the LexCorp operatives who'll be watching him for the rest of your life. I'm sure they'd appreciate the gesture."
"Do it. Don't think I won't follow through."
"Threats are for the weak, Lex."
Lex saw red, and he had to stop himself from slamming the briefcase against the table for effect. Instead, he just drew himself to his full height, and looked down at his father. Lionel looked older than he did when Lex remembered him, and greyer, but the glint in his eye hadn't changed.
"Look at how you live, Dad, and what you've been reduced to. Then ask yourself which one of us is weak."
Lex didn't let himself slow down until he'd walked through the gates and was halfway to his hotel.
Early the next morning, he flew back to Metropolis. Close to a decade after Helen's betrayal, he could at last sleep on an airplane again, provided it was a commercial flight. The seats in first class were wide and comfortable, and he was dozing by the time they reached cruising altitude.
He dreamt about Clark. Light sleep usually meant vivid, action-packed dreams for Lex, but now it was just Clark, dressed in Smallville jeans and flannel, sitting on the airplane wing and watching him with a sad and worried expression. Lex wanted to talk to him, but he couldn't speak. He pressed his hand against the window, hoping Clark would know what he meant by it. When he woke up, all he could see out the window was sky.
There was an aide to the mayor waiting for him at Eisenhower Airport when he landed. The woman wouldn't say why the mayor wanted to see him, so Lex spent the trip to City Hall working out damage-control scenarios in his head. He was surprised when he got there to find the mayor deep in conversation with the governor and with Superman; whatever the problem was, it was a big one.
"You know, I do have an assistant: if you need to book an appointment with me, Your Honor; I know she'd be happy to accommodate you."
"Lex!" Mayor Carlson exclaimed, hurrying to meet him at the door. "I'm sorry if my aide disconcerted you there; we certainly didn't mean to inconvenience you. But when my secretary tried to call you after the thing in the park, you'd already left town, and we wanted to make sure we didn't miss you again."
"I had some urgent business to attend to overseas," Lex said. Across the room, he could see Superman's jaw clench. "Now, what can I do for you gentlemen?"
"Come in," the mayor urged, putting a hand against Lex's back to guide him into the room. "You of course know everyone here."
"Of course." Lex shook Governor Thompson's hand and nodded at Superman, who gave him an impassive nod in return.
"Sally?" the mayor said into the phone. "We're ready."
Carlson's assistant came into the room carrying two black boxes, and followed by a harried-looking photographer.
"Superman, Lex: on behalf of all the people of Metropolis, and of the state of Kansas, Governor Thompson and I are happy to declare you both Heroes of the City," the mayor said. He passed each of them one of the black boxes: they had the city's seal engraved on the top. When Lex opened his, there was a medal inside with the same insignia. "Your collaboration and quick thinking around the, ah, robot menace this past week meant that a tragic situation was brought under control with minimal damage and no loss of human life. All of us owe you a great debt of gratitude."
For once, Lex found himself speechless. He let himself be turned to face the photographer, shook the governor's hand again and the mayor's, even Superman's as the two politicians beamed in the background. "I hardly think this is appropriate," he finally managed as the photographer left. "After all, Don Jackson's work was done in a LexCorp lab."
"When Dr. Jackson is well enough to assist in his own defense, he will face the consequences of those actions," the mayor said sternly. "But you went into his laboratory and faced him down one-on-one, no backup: that takes courage."
"I just did what I had to do," Lex said.
"That's what courage is, Mr. Luthor." Superman's expression was somewhere between gentle and bemused. "Knowing what has to be done, and then doing it. It's harder than you make it sound."
"It's the sort of thing this city could use more of," the governor said.
"Which brings me to our next topic," said the mayor. "Lex, have you ever considered going into politics?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Lex could see Superman freeze.
"It's crossed my mind," Lex admitted. "Why do you ask?"
"I've decided not to run for re-election this year," Mayor Carlson said. "My health's not what it was, and I want to take it a little easier."
"And you think I should run in your place?"
"If you did," Carlson said, "you'd have my endorsement."
"And all the help the party can give you as well," the governor added.
"The city could use a man like you," the mayor said. "You're decisive, you're intelligent, and you're not afraid to take risks. We recognize that your lifestyle is, ah, unusual, but I believe the voters will look past that for a candidate of your caliber. LexCorp is part of what makes Metropolis the world-class city that it is; you'd take the city to the next level if you were her mayor."
"I'm honored," said Lex. "But now's not the right time for me to make a change like that. LexCorp's still a young company; I need to keep my hand on the wheel."
"Opportunities like this don't come around every day, Lex," Carlson warned.
"I believe we make our own luck, Your Honor. Though I appreciate the concern." Lex gave him his most sincere smile. "You know, there is one state-level issue I'd be willing to become more politically active about. Not as a candidate, of course, since I'd certainly never dream of running against the incumbent -- but as a donor and a fundraiser."
Governor Thompson was clearly trying not to look exuberant. "Really?" he asked. "And what would that be?"
"Civil unions," Lex said.
Behind him, Superman coughed.
"Civil unions?" the governor repeated.
"Yes," Lex said. "Civil unions. Of course, full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples would be preferable. But civil unions are probably an easier sell in a conservative state like Kansas, don't you think?"
"I'm afraid that's out of the question, Lex," Governor Thompson replied. "There's specific language in the Kansas state constitution that forbids any sort of same-sex union. It's there because the people of this state voted it in there -- and by a large margin, I might add."
"Metropolis is a diverse and tolerant city," Mayor Carlson protested.
"Most of the rest of Kansas thinks Metropolis is full of latte-drinking freaks, and you know it," said the governor. "Look, Lex, I'm not unsympathetic. You should have the right to live your life the way you want to. But my hands are tied. Pushing this issue would be political suicide for me. And if it got out that you were behind any movement for civil unions? That would just torpedo it, you have to see that. It would become a referendum on you. I wouldn't be able to have a press conference about filling potholes on Main Street without getting bombarded with questions about why I was willing to ignore the will of the people of Kansas to humor a millionaire who wants to marry his boyfriend."
The governor's voice was reasonable and sympathetic. Superman clenched his hands into tight fists.
"That's billionaire," said Lex. "My company offers domestic partner benefits to all of its employees -- we have to, to remain competitive for the best talent. And in every LexCorp location where there isn't a governmental piece of paper we can use to determine who should get those benefits, we have to have an HR procedure to do it ourselves. My accountants estimate that this cost us over three hundred thousand dollars last year in Kansas alone. That certainly starts to become a disincentive to expand our operations in this state."
"We can do domestic partnership in Metropolis, no problem!" Mayor Carlson exclaimed. The governor shook his head resignedly.
"So is that why you want this?" Superman asked. "Your business?"
"I'll admit I have some personal interest in the matter," Lex said. "I've been married twice. It didn't go well, either time. And I don't have a particularly high opinion of the institution. But if Clark wants to, I don't see why he shouldn't have as much right as any woman in this city to try to murder me for my money."
The look on Superman's face, equal parts confusion and amusement, was one Lex remembered all too well from Clark's adolescence, and he felt a Pavlovian rush of answering lust.
"You're quite the romantic, Mr. Luthor," Superman said.
"I get by," Lex replied. "Gentlemen," he continued, turning back to the consternated politicians, "I don't need to remind you how far a few million dollars can go in a Kansas political campaign. I'll expect a visit from one of the governor's political aides within the next week to discuss strategy. Or I can start talking to a wider range of potential gubernatorial candidates."
The governor's face had turned an angry mottled pink. "You Luthors. You think you can buy and sell an election?"
"Nothing you've said suggests you believe otherwise." Lex let himself smirk as he nodded his goodbyes. "Good day, gentlemen."
In the hallway, waiting for one of the long line of elevators, Lex heard a familiar booted tread behind him. "Mr. Luthor?" Superman asked quietly.
Lex turned to face him and, for the first time in days, managed a real smile. "I'm sorry, but I just need to leave a quick voicemail. Can you hold on for a second?"
Superman frowned. "I guess."
"Thanks." A familiar sunny voice started playing on the other end of the line, and Lex ducked his head to focus on his call. "Clark? It's me. I just got back, and I'm heading over to the apartment now. I'll see you when you get home."
When he folded his phone and looked up again, there was no one in the hallway but him.
At home, Clark was waiting for him in the living room. He was freshly showered and wrapped in his old terrycloth bathrobe, and there was a bottle of red wine with two glasses -- one empty and one full -- on the side table next to him. "I got your message," he said.
Clark's smile was warm and welcoming, and Lex wanted nothing more than to drop down beside him and forget everything else that had happened. "No eyeglasses," he said. "We're alone?"
"I sent Julia home early. The apartment's clean enough." Clark's smile turned darker, more promising.
"Good," Lex said, trying to ignore his erection. "We can speak freely. Read this."
Clark sat up straight and frowned as he took the manila folder from Lex's hand. The frown deepened as he flipped through the pages of the file. "This is that fax you got the other day, the one you were so weird about, isn't it? I don't... wait. Lex! This is the guy who owns the Planet!"
"Not anymore," Lex said.
"Tomorrow, Ralph Trexler will announce that he's sold a majority share of the Planet's parent company to Wayne Enterprises."
Lex nodded. "You'll get to keep your job. Wayne Enterprises gets its first major media holding. And Bruce gets to keep an eye on both of us. Call it a win-win deal."
"I stopped in Gotham on my way home. The Grayson kid made me promise to tell you he said hi, by the way."
Clark was still looking through the papers and shaking his head in amazement. "So Lionel was behind the buyout the whole time?"
"I figured it out when Perry told me you were the only person the new rules really affected."
Clark looked up at that, startled. "Me? This was all because of me?"
"No," Lex said. "It was because of me. And my father. You were just... in the way."
Clark let the file fall to the floor with a weary disbelieving laugh. "All the time I spend worrying that someone will find out about Superman and use that to put the people I care about in danger, and turns out the real liability for you is Clark Kent."
"You're not the liability. My father is." Lex poured himself some wine; it splashed red against the sides of the glass. "And my head of security in Paris." The wine tasted simple and clear. Lex shook his head as he swallowed. "I gave my father a stern talking-to. I'm sure he was suitably terrified. But your job's secure, at any rate."
"Oh, Lex." Lex hated to see pity in Clark's eyes, but he let himself be pulled onto the couch anyway. Clark kissed him lightly and took his hand as if it were something important to do. "Thank you."
"Well," Lex said, feeling a bit awkward. "I'm glad I could help."
They sat together in silence, Clark still holding Lex's hand. Outside, the sun was starting to sink behind the Daily Planet building, lighting the sky up in orange and reds.
"What you said in the mayor's office," Clark finally said. "I didn't know why you had so much trouble with the idea of getting married before that. I mean, all that was a long time ago."
Lex had a vivid memory of the Smallville church in which he'd been married twice, and he rubbed at his head as if he could erase it. "I really thought Helen and I would be perfect together," he said. "There were all sorts of signs that I was wrong, of course, but I ignored them. I wanted so much to be married, to have someone to call my own, to make a family away from my father, that I blinded myself to my own real self-interest."
"Is that what you think?" Clark's voice was strained. "That I'm deluding myself?"
"No. I don't think that at all." Lex squeezed Clark's hand as hard as he could. These were dangerous waters, so he took a deep breath before continuing. "But marriage wasn't something we'd discussed until you were going to lose your job. And that makes me think that you wanted to get married for reasons other than the ones you were telling yourself you had. Just like I did."
"You're not my second choice, Lex. You never have been." Clark's look turned intense and serious, and Lex felt his chest constricting. Clark broke the moment with a brief self-conscious laugh. "Besides, do you really think 'society spouse' would be a workable secret identity? All those committee meetings, and lunches with Mitzi Vanderpool..."
"Then what's this all about?" Lex insisted. "Where does this come from?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably on the couch, and pulled his hand back to tighten his robe around himself. "It's just that it looked like my life was going to change. A lot. Again. And I just, I wanted to be sure, you know, on top of all of that, that I wasn't going to lose you too."
Lex smiled in disbelief. "Clark. I'm not going anywhere."
"You did before."
The memory landed like a punch. The empty months he'd spent alone in Paris, convinced that Clark's new bond with Lois had cost him everything he'd ever had with Clark, weren't a time he thought about at all, if he could help it. "So I'm still paying for that?" he asked bitterly.
"I've done everything I know how to make that up to you, and it's still not enough."
"I have never blamed you for that, or thrown it in your face, or made you pay for it, Lex. Not once." Clark was flushing red, his arms crossed protectively against his chest. "But you hurt me, intentionally, and then you left the country. For months. Maybe forever, if I hadn't rescued you from those kidnappers. I think I'm allowed to remember that that happened."
Clark turned to look out the window, maybe to scan the darkening horizon for something Lex couldn't see, so Lex let him be for a moment before he spoke. "Marriage is no guarantee someone won't leave," he said. "It's not even a guarantee that if we do stay together, we'll be happy. Plenty of marriages are more like my parents' than yours."
"I know," Clark said miserably. "I just didn't want anything between us to change."
Lex cupped his hand around the back of Clark's neck, rubbing his thumb at the delicate point where skull met spine. "So you wanted to get married so things wouldn't go to hell between us, and I didn't want to get married for, well, the same reason. We really do balance each other out."
Clark's expression could almost be called a smile, although his eyes were still fixed on the horizon. "It's destiny."
"I've always thought so." Lex nuzzled into the curve where Clark's neck met his shoulder, and when Clark didn't pull away, he dared a nip at his jaw. "Haven't I always said as much?"
"Yes," Clark said, and it was almost a sigh.
Lex slid his free hand under Clark's robe. "You and me."
Clark pulled back a little as he turned to face Lex again. Clark's eyes were full of doubt and sadness, and Lex felt a sharp ache at the thought that he was responsible for that. The grand gestures -- the bravura public stand, the showy statements among powerful men -- these came so easily. The smaller moments were harder. Like this.
"You and me, Lex?"
Clark still looked uncertain. "Till death do us part?"
Put like that, the answer was so obvious, Lex almost laughed. "Longer than that."
Clark's mouth met his eagerly in a kiss, and Clark's hands went to his belt buckle as Lex made the kiss deeper, fiercer, more insistent. But before Clark could quite manage to pull his pants down past his hips, Lex pulled away. "Come to bed."
"You and your couch aversion," Clark smiled. "It's kind of cute."
Lex just shook his head and walked to the doorway. Clark watched him, a slow smile breaking across his face, until he stood up, leaving his bathrobe behind him on the couch. He was so beautiful. It was easy for Lex to forget on a day-to-day basis, in the middle of the routine of their lives, just how beautiful he was, but like this, with Clark naked and hard and walking towards him, it was impossible to think of anything else. "God."
"Bedroom, remember?" Clark smirked when Lex reached for him.
Lex growled but followed him down the hall. When he walked through the bedroom door, Clark was already sprawled out on the bed, watching him.
Lex undressed slowly, enjoying the sensation of Clark studying him, the sound of Clark shifting impatiently on the bed. When he was done, he leaned over for a deep kiss, pinning Clark's arms down as he straddled him on the mattress. Clark smiled and let himself be held in place.
Lex licked his way down Clark's chest and bit hard at his nipples, which won him a small satisfied sigh. As Lex's tongue circled Clark's navel, Clark finally reached for him, but Lex just slid further down his body, sucking at Clark's balls before taking his cock in his mouth. When Lex looked up, the sleepy-eyed pleasure on Clark's face made his own cock jump. Clark felt familiar and right against his tongue, and Clark's inner thighs were soft beneath his hands, and Lex took him in as deep as he could. When he came, warm spurts against the back of Lex's throat, Lex swallowed hard, and as he moved back up Clark's body, he planted fervent kisses on Clark's hipbones.
Clark rolled over eagerly onto hands and knees as Lex poured lubricant onto his left hand. Clark had developed enough muscle control as he aged that Lex didn't really need to prepare him with tongue and fingers and murmured words of encouragement, but Lex loved the feeling of it, loved watching Clark move and sigh and relax into the moment. Everything was so simple like this, the two of them moving together. Entering Clark, covering him, no complications, no one else.
"Harder," Clark said, his voice strained. "God, Lex, harder."
"Yeah," Lex said. "OK." He gripped Clark's hips tightly and picked up the pace, snapping his hips. Lex would be the only one with bruises from this tomorrow. The thought made him want to thrust harder, letting everything that had happened over the last few days pour out of him in rough grinding waves. Clark made a wordless noise beneath him, and Lex bit at his shoulder blades, riding the sensation, moving deeper into the sweet dark heat of it, until the orgasm hit him like a punch and he fell over, breathing heavily, his cheek hot against the familiar line of Clark's spine. When he finally pulled out and rolled over onto his back, Clark sighed contentedly and lay down next to him.
"You know, Clark..."
"If we're really going to do this, I need to update my will. If you tried to kill me, you'd probably succeed."
He had been aiming for light amusement in his tone, but it must not have worked, because Clark was on top of him in an instant, staring down at him with his most serious expression on. "Listen to me," Clark said. "I would never, ever hurt you, or let anything happen to you." A guilty look flashed across his face as he added, "Not again. Not on purpose. You know that, right?"
"Yes," Lex said. He ran his hands up and down Clark's arms, and Clark rolled back over onto his side.
"Besides," Clark added, "I wouldn't sell yourself so short anyhow. I couldn't even defeat a horde of tiny mutant robots without your help."
"They wouldn't have been mutants in the first place if I hadn't encouraged Don Jackson to go thinking outside the box."
Clark snorted. "Two sides of the same coin, right?"
"Let's just try to keep our mythic union from destroying any more of the city in the future," Lex said. Clark had curled around him like a comma, and Lex reached for his hand. "LexCorp is going to have a lot of damage suits to settle."
"Well, luckily, no one was seriously injured, at least. Except Dr. Jackson."
Lex grimaced. "He was a smart guy. He deserved better. Maybe if I hadn't pushed him..."
"Don't even think like that." Clark propped himself up one elbow. "Sure, you gave him an ultimatum. And he responded to it by stealing dangerous radioactive material. That was his decision. You can't stop people from making bad decisions, Lex. You can't even force them to make good ones. All you can do -- all any of us can do -- is to try to keep them from hurting anyone else, and keep them safe themselves if you can."
Lex thought about that for a long moment. "Is that enough?"
"No," Clark said. "But it's all anyone can do. And it's what you did." He smiled again. "That's why you're a Hero of the City, remember?"
Lex rolled his eyes. "Great. I'm a hero now."
"You always have been, to me," Clark said softly.
Lex reached up and kissed him for that, pulling Clark back down into his arms as he settled back against the pillows.
"You know I love you, Lex," Clark mumbled sleepily as he nestled into his pillow.
Lex brushed back Clark's black hair to kiss his forehead. "I do," he said gently. "I do."
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