Clark knew there was a problem when he found himself yelling at a ten-year-old girl for letting her little brother wander out in the street, where he was nearly hit by a runaway bus. She felt as bad as she possibly could before he started yelling; he knew that, even as he heard his voice rising.
It didn't make him feel any better when the boy he'd rescued kicked him in the shin, shouting, "You leave my sister alone!" But it did shut him up. When he backed away, they were hanging on to each other, both sobbing, and people were coming out on the street to see what all the fuss was about.
Shamefaced, he flew the bus driver to the hospital for treatment of his adult-onset epilepsy, then zipped back to the newsroom. He was able to listen to Lois and Perry berating him for his latest failures for nearly ten minutes before he got a signal from Batman about a supervillain bank robbery in Chicago. He babbled out an excuse about a neighbor's pet fish and hurried away.
Three states, two foreign countries, one feature story and approximately fifty-two snarks from Lois later, he managed to make it home long enough to put a pot of water on to boil for pasta and jump in the shower to get rid of the lingering odor of garbage (Barcelona, some sort of slime monster), but when he was toweling off, there was another League alert, which turned out to involve a giant ant and a warehouse full of canned peaches.
By the time he got back to the apartment, the water had boiled off and the bottom of the pot was a blackened mess.
Clark sighed and put in a call to Pizza Jack's.
They refused to deliver, because of all the times in the past he hadn't been there when the delivery guy arrived. Even though he always paid the next day, it wasn't worth the aggravation, the guy on the phone said. Clark said he'd do takeout; the guy hung up on him.
Clark X-rayed the fridge and saw only food that reminded him of the slime monster, plus a carton of orange juice that had solids floating in it like continents.
He slumped onto the couch - actually, onto the inch-thick layer of newspaper, junk mail and dirty clothes that protected the couch from any contact with the air - and put his head in his hands. Was it too late to drop in at the farm? Mom always had some leftovers - but she'd look at him so sadly.
His phone rang. Clark considered melting it, but then he'd just have to get a new one and that would take even more time. He flipped open the clamshell. "What?" he snarled.
"Temper, temper," a voice like purple silk said.
Clark pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it in dismay. It didn't blow up or turn green, so he gingerly brought it back to his ear.
"L -- Lex?"
"Come to the penthouse, now."
He was too tired and hungry to do more than snort. He had a whole monologue on untrustworthiness, but he couldn't be bothered to deliver it.
"Seriously. You have my word: I mean you and yours no harm. I just want to talk." When Clark didn't respond, Lex sighed and continued. "Also, as you know, my Kryptonite supply has been reduced to nearly nothing after that business with the moonbase, so I couldn't do anything if I wanted to. I've even put the ring away. So come over, Clark."
"If you think -"
"Come over or I'll do something you'll like even less," Lex promised. Clark shuddered involuntarily. Liar he might be, but Lex's threats were always based on a solid core of truth. Also, he'd never called Clark at home before, which in itself argued that investigation was required.
"Fine," Clark bit out and slammed the phone shut before Lex could say something snide about hurrying. He considered taking off the costume, which by the end of the day tended to ride up unpleasantly, but Lex's absolute, undiluted hatred for the clinging fabric and primary colors convinced him to keep it on.
A minute later, he was touching down on the Italian marble of Lex's terrace. The sliding glass doors were open. He X-rayed and saw nothing obviously dangerous to him, though of course there was a large lead-lined safe.
Lex was not in his study as Clark expected, but in a dining room further back into the penthouse.
Warily, Clark moved through the lavishly appointed rooms, noting the priceless artifacts plundered from around the world. One wall was full of pornographic Japanese woodblock prints, which made him blush and hurry on as soon as he figured out just what the folks with the topknots were doing.
Clark stepped into the dining room. Lex was at one end of a table big enough to seat twenty.
It was covered with pizza boxes.
"Wha - what is this?" Clark demanded as Lex looked up guilelessly.
"Pizza," Lex said. "Would you like Chinese instead? I've got that in the kitchen, but after your contretemps with Jack earlier I surmised that -"
The one thing Clark kind of liked about being Superman - other than the saving people - was that it was okay for him to grab Lex by the collar and hoist him off the ground, struggling for breath as his hands batted at Clark's wrists with no more strength than a kitten's paws.
"What are you up to?
Lex wheezed. "About - six - inches off the ground - I'd say."
Clark let go, sending Lex staggering back into his chair. He watched Lex grab on to the armrest with grim satisfaction.
"It's food," Lex said after he'd straightened his collar and tie. "You're obviously too hungry for rational conversation, and I have matters to discuss with you. It's not poisoned - other than with saturated fat and preservatives, but I can't imagine that bothers you any more than it does me. Have something to eat, and read this." He gestured at a report of some kind lying on top of one of the cardboard boxes.
The smell of cheese and meat - spinach and garlic, too -- was tempting. Clark's vision didn't reveal anything out of the ordinary on the pizza. Drugged takeout wasn't Lex's style, either - if Lex were to poison him, it would be with wine. Or possibly with some cunning spritz in his morning coffee at the Planet while his back was turned.
Cautiously, Clark opened the nearest box.
Pepperoni winked up at him cheekily.
Once he had the first slice in his hand, the outcome was inevitable. Pizza wasn't Mom's cooking, but - and he'd never admit this to another living soul - it was almost as good. Plus, he hadn't eaten in - well, it was hard to remember, what with all the natural and manmade disasters he'd been fighting over the last few days. He didn't need to eat, technically, but it was damned nice to have something in his stomach other than coffee.
Two pepperonis, one plain cheese, one eggplant, and one Hawaiian pizza later, he was relaxed enough to look at Lex's report.
Lex, when he glanced over, was paler than usual. Clark briefly wondered whether he was okay, then remembered that he didn't care.
The report, neatly bound and bearing a glossy cover, was entitled "Superhero Activity" in big red letters. Clark flipped it open as he bit into another slice of sausage.
The first few pages were graphs tracking League members' rescue work over the past year, broken down by hours worked, then lives saved, then miles traveled from site to site.
"I don't know what you think you're doing," Clark said, swallowing hastily. "Monitoring our -"
"Keep reading," Lex said. Clark thought about doing something to wipe the smug look off Lex's face, but first of all he'd have to put down the pizza, and second, nothing short of reconstructive surgery could have made Lex look less smug.
The next section of the report was comparative - little colored lines representing each superhero, featuring appropriate symbols, were on the graphs together.
Clark found a moment to marvel at the fact that Lex had a Justice League font with all the symbols. He himself wouldn't have thought of using a little green dragon to represent J'onn.
As the red line with the "S" spiked up over the months since they'd formed the League, the others drifted down.
"That's not fair!" Clark said. "I'm stronger, faster -"
"Turn the page."
Clark scowled, but complied. The next graph was similar, the rise in his activity level and the decline in the others' less dramatic, but still clear. The caption said, "Effort adjusted for power differentials," and mouseprint footnotes set forth the algorithms used to compare speed, strength, ability to shrink, and so on.
Clark turned to the last page, which was graphless. Instead, sixty-point block letters yelled: "TAKE A VACATION."
He stared down at the page.
Lex could never leave well enough alone. "Sometimes, Clark, let it be a job for Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern."
To avoid conversation, Clark turned back to the front of the report, reviewing the statistics. Lex's intelligence was disturbingly good. Some of the incidents tracked were ones Clark would have sworn had remained unknown to ordinary humans. (Clark could hear Lex's sharp response clearly in his imagination: You've called me many things justly, Clark, but never ordinary.)
At some point, Lex must have brought out the Chinese food. Clark only noticed when he let a sesame noodle slip out of his chopsticks to splat across the report, its shape oddly like the black line tracing Batman's feats.
Lex sighed again, theatrically. "Admit it. I have a point. It doesn't matter when you drop food because you're overtired, but pretty soon it's going to be a bus or a giant robot, and I guarantee you'll feel a lot worse when that happens than if you let the world rotate on its own for a week and recharge."
At last, Clark looked up. Lex was the same as always, pale and smooth, a faade of relaxation not quite enough to conceal the underlying tension. He'd loosened his tie and unbuttoned the first button of his shirt while Clark ate. He was holding a crystal glass of some liquid that Clark had no doubt was expensive and alcoholic.
"Why are you doing this?"
Lex launched into an obviously prepared speech. "As one of your most likely targets, I'd prefer you to be rational and not as short-tempered as you've been of late. Not to mention that I do appreciate your hard work saving the planet from people and other entities who aren't me."
"You just want me out of the way so you can carry out one of your schemes," Clark accused. He knew that Lex would have a ready response, but it had to be said. It was like taking turns in checkers.
Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. "I'm not proposing you vacation on Alpha Centauri, Clark - as much as I sometimes wish you would - just go somewhere quiet, with strict instructions to the rest of the League to leave you alone unless the planet is on fire." He looked up at Clark, and his unlined face, asking for belief, took Clark back to the office in Smallville, when Lex was still trying to do the right thing on occasion, in his twisty Lex way.
"How much mischief do you think I could get into with Batman watching my every move? Not to mention the lovely Ms. Lane," he said with the first real anger he'd shown. These days, Lex got angrier at Lois than he did at Clark - another sign that Lex had just given up on him.
Clark hesitated. Put like that - he was tired, in a way that sleep didn't help, when he had time to sleep. Even the sun had lost much of its glory for him of late. If they were able to reach him in case of emergency -
But this was Lex, who always had an ulterior motive, even - especially - when he claimed to speak as a friend.
Lex must have seen the refusal on his face. "What would it take for you to believe that I'm not trying to get you out of Metropolis for my own nefarious purposes?"
Clark had a few more dumplings while he pondered that. His weakness was always taking Lex seriously, even after all this time.
"If you were out of touch with the rest of the world too ..." he said experimentally.
"Ridiculous," Lex said immediately. "I run the world's largest multinational corporation -"
"And I'm the world's most powerful superhero," Clark said. "If it keeps turning without me, I know it will keep turning without you."
Lex stared at him, his mouth half open as if to make additional useless protests. Then he turned away, showing Clark his profile as he took a deep drink.
"Even the President takes vacations," Clark said, letting the challenge creep into his voice.
Lex looked over, assessing Clark's seriousness.
"If I do this," he said, "you have to take a real break too. No superhearing - if I can't take calls on my cell, you can't listen halfway across the world. No X-ray vision if I can't watch television. No flying if I'm stuck in a remote location. No -"
"I get it," Clark interrupted before he heard what Lex's equivalent of heat vision was.
"Fine," Lex said. "We'll leave tomorrow morning."
"Wait - we?"
Lex's eyes narrowed. "You don't trust me to keep my end of the bargain, do you? I know I don't trust you, not with all the seductions of heroism."
He had a point. Not about Clark being trustworthy, that was totally unfair, but about trusting Lex - okay, and maybe the trust issues went both ways.
"Where are we going?" Lex had planned his pitch to Clark, so he must have had a destination in mind.
"An island near the Virgin Islands," Lex said. "Privately owned. You - we - will be alone there."
"If there's an emergency -"
"Yes, yes," Lex held up his hand to forestall petty objections, "all bets are off. You'd better make clear to your superfriends that they should define 'emergency' very narrowly, or I'll unleash a surprise that will show them the real meaning of the word."
Strangely, this threat was comforting, in that it showed that Lex was still himself and not some replacement disinterestedly looking after Clark's welfare.
"If you're all done -" Clark looked down to see that he had indeed demolished the Chinese food - "I have some arrangements to make. You can pick me up tomorrow morning at nine here."
"Pick you up?" Clark echoed.
Lex smiled thinly, his scar like an exclamation point. "I'm not going to leave my enemies a record of a plane flight to an isolated location. Pack light - it's quite warm in the islands."
It didn't take Lex's brains to recognize that he'd been dismissed, which Lex emphasized by standing and turning to leave.
Clark watched him go, the curve of his head the same as when Lex had walked away years ago, the suit a darker shade, the steps never hesitating.
How did he get talked into taking a vacation with his worst enemy? Lex's logic had been persuasive - it always was, if you thought the ends justified the means, only this time the means didn't involve illegal experiments or financial shenanigans, only -
Clark blinked, then realized that Lex Luthor's dining room was probably not the best place to figure out the nature of Lex's game. A flash of X-ray showed Lex in his office, typing rapidly while talking into a phone headset.
Clark headed home to pack.
Lex didn't tap his foot, look at his watch, or in any visible way indicate that he'd been waiting for Clark. Somehow he managed to convey his annoyance at Clark's twenty-minute delay anyway. Maybe it was in the set of his shoulders.
"Sorry," Clark said, because he couldn't stop himself. "There was this thing -"
"Loose nukes in Russia, yes, I know," Lex said. He clenched his jaw, as if he'd wanted to say more. Instead he picked up his bag - surprisingly small, for such a clotheshorse - and handed it to Clark, who took it as gingerly as if he'd been handed a baby.
He decided that his best bet now was to pick up Lex and start flying in the direction of the Virgin Islands. Putting his arms around Lex was awkward, with the bags in his hands - and for other reasons - but he managed.
Lex smelled really good. Citrusy, a little musky, but clean. Clark thought that maybe it was just the contrast between Lex and the rescuees he usually carried like this, who tended to be smoky or bleeding or otherwise extremely distressed. A fair number of those who hadn't already lost control of their bodily functions did so when they realized they were flying. Blessedly, that sort of reaction was getting less common as people got used to the idea of superheroes. Clark's costume was invulnerable, but it took several washings to get out the smells.
Anyway, Lex wasn't like that at all. Despite what Clark knew to be his deep-seated fear of heights, he relaxed against Clark's body like a lounging cat - tiger, Clark corrected himself. They were flying standing straight up, not the most aerodynamic option but one that avoided leaving Lex's legs dangling down or, worse, carrying Lex in that awful honeymoon position that Lois so loved to mock. Lex's body was warm everywhere it pressed against his, making the chill of flying more noticeable. His composure was regal, as if being flown around by aliens was an ordinary method of transport.
Clark put his face forward and flew as rapidly as he dared. Once they reached the ocean, Lex stretched his neck enough to speak into Clark's ear. Clark managed not to drop Lex or crush the bags' handles as hot puffs of breath reeled off latitude and longitude.
The journey was kind of nice, Clark decided, if he didn't think about the company. The skies were clear. The ocean stretched underneath them like an infinite blanket, and the sun on his face made him feel a little less tired.
By the time he saw Lex's island, a small green circle with a bite taken out of it, ringed in white sand, Clark was almost hopeful.
There was one big building on the island, a bungalow the size of one of the McMansions in Metropolis's suburbs, and a few outbuildings. Clark reflexively went to X-ray, looking for people or other dangers.
Lex tapped on his cheek, not gently. How did he know? Clark wondered, but settled for frowning as they touched down on the wide deck in front of what looked like the main entrance. It faced a path heading into the tall, wavy trees leading to the cove Clark had seen on the way down, invisible now through the foliage.
Lex let him go immediately.
The door was unlocked. The bungalow/whatever was simply but no doubt expensively furnished. Clark carried their bags in past the large main living area - it would be petty to hand Lex's to him at this point - and discovered two identical bedrooms. In one, the open closet door revealed a plethora of Lex-looking clothes, which put a very different spin on Lex's light packing. Clark dropped the bag on the bed without comment and went into the other room, slinging his own bag onto a chair in the corner.
Lex was standing in the doorway. "Why don't you take a nap?" he suggested.
My life could not get more bizarre, Clark thought. Braniac made more sense than Lex Luthor looking at him as if he were concerned for Clark's well-being, as if he hadn't tried to kill him with a Kryptonite-tipped javelin not two months ago.
Nevertheless, Lex knew how to make a proposition tempting - something about that didn't sound right, but whatever.
Clark nodded and Lex exhaled, his shoulders lifting just a fraction. "I'll be around," he said, which might have been a threat or a promise, and shut the door behind himself.
When Clark went to empty his bag into the enormous armoire, he discovered a number of T-shirts and shorts, all in his size. There were even swimsuits, everything from baggy surfer-type suits to a Speedo that couldn't possibly cover the essentials.
It was bright blue.
Clark closed the drawer and then shut the armoire's doors for good measure. He'd nap, he'd feel better, and Lex would not be making him feel so off-balance when he was well-rested. He shucked his suit and changed into one of his own well-worn T-shirts and a pair of boxers.
The sheets were softer than clouds - as he had reason to know - and much warmer. He was asleep as soon as he wrapped himself around one of the enormous fluffy pillows.
The sun was setting when he woke. He went to the window and opened the shutters, looking out at a view that reminded him of why he loved the Earth so well. Green trees, their fronds like feathers, were outlined against a sky painted in golds and pinks, luscious and fragile, light reflecting off clouds so that the entire horizon was like a field of flowers seen in softest focus. Above, the sky shaded to the bluest blue Clark had seen outside of Smallville, nothing like Metropolis's polluted skies. Stars peeked through the firmament, and Clark couldn't imagine that a single one of them hosted a better place to live.
With that, his stomach growled, and he laughed at his own romanticism.
Lex was in the main living area when he emerged, stretching and rubbing his stomach. Lex looked up from his book as Clark approached, his face neutral - in Lex's case, that was a gear, idling while he waited to leap from zero to sixty.
"How are you feeling?" Lex asked, marking his place with a thin gold bookmark and setting the book aside.
"Good," Clark said, determined not to be the one who broke their truce. "Have you looked at the sunset? I'm looking forward to six more days of that."
Something between annoyance and amusement flitted across Lex's face. "Five more days."
"You've been asleep for nearly thirty-six hours," Lex said.
Clark's stomach chose to punctuate that revelation with a gurgle.
Amusement won out. Lex stood. "You should eat," he said. Clark followed him to the kitchen area, separated from the main living space by a long counter. Lex began taking ingredients out of cupboards. When he opened the refrigerator to get some tomatoes and green vegetables, Clark saw that it was nearly bursting with food.
Clark sat at the counter. Wordlessly, Lex put a plate of cheese and crackers in front of him, then put water on to boil and began chopping vegetables. Clark watched, fascinated, while he absorbed the snack. At some point, a glass of wine appeared by his elbow. He picked it up, more to have something to do with his hands than to drink it.
"Don't worry," Lex said at his hesitance. "I'm not wasting a fine vintage on you."
"I was just amazed you can cook."
A quick glance his way. "I try to get by with minimal staff. Fewer people try to kill me that way. It's meant a change in my eating habits."
Lex was wearing a white collarless linen shirt, khaki trousers, and loafers without socks. He looked younger, as if isolation had let him take off some of the invisible armor he wore against the tribulations of the world.
His sleeves were rolled up to reveal his forearms. It was so much more of Lex than Clark had seen that he might as well have been naked.
Or - maybe not really. Standing abruptly, Clark went back to the living area, sipping at his wine as he examined the place more carefully. The spare furniture was gorgeous, all dark wood and white cushions. Low bookshelves lined the wall opposite the kitchen area, filled with a mix of modern and classic books. Above the books, large windows offered a view of the lush darkness, probably more impressive during the day.
The shades weren't pulled closed, which was unusual for Lex. Whatever desire he possessed to see the world had been suppressed years ago in favor of protecting his privacy. And, Clark thought as he remembered Lex's statement about staffing, his security.
Clark glanced down at the book Lex had left on the gleaming coffee table. Proust, in French. "'Remembrance of Things Past,' hunh?" he said, looking over at Lex, who was now, bizarrely, sauting the vegetables.
"The preferred translation these days is 'In Search of Lost Time,'" Lex said. "I like that better, don't you?"
Clark dropped his eyes and wished for the superpower of feeling comfortable in any situation. Unfortunately, Earth's yellow sun wasn't any help on that account.
"I did ultimately get those seven weeks back," Lex said abruptly, startling Clark into a wide-eyed stare. "I remember that you left me to be locked in Belle Reve."
"I also remember that you came back. It makes a difference."
Clark stopped, his mouth hanging open, his mind blank. His heart was thumping like an avalanche, thrusting him back to that terrible time and the terrible choices he'd faced.
"Of course, you also did what you could to keep me from regaining those weeks, and that makes a difference too." There was a hiss as Lex dumped pasta and boiling water into a colander. Clark wanted nothing more than to reach out with his hearing to find someone in trouble so he could go fly, save someone, someone else -
"Dinner's ready," Lex said, his voice as smooth as marble.
Clark's stomach lacked the keen sense of being out of place that troubled his mind, so he went back to the counter and sat down as Lex served him an enormous bowl of spaghetti with vegetables and meat sauce.
"This looks really good," Clark said lamely.
"Why don't you taste it before passing judgment?" Lex asked, his tone so familiarly indulgent that Clark replied without thinking.
"I wanted to make sure that I could give you an honest compliment."
Lex was surprised into something that resembled a smile. With a twitch of his lips and a shrug of his shoulders, he ladled out a serving for himself, offered Clark some grated cheese, and began to eat.
Actually, the food was fine - a little light on the spices, in Clark's opinion, but hearty and satisfying.
"Good," he said between bites.
"Thank you." Lex took a large drink of wine. Closer to a gulp, really. Even Clark knew that was a crime against oenophilia. Evidently he wasn't the only one not perfectly at ease.
"Maybe this was -"
"Don't," Lex said, his tone cold enough to freeze vodka. "I'm not in the mood to spend another hour in your arms just now, and you're sure as hell not stranding me here."
They finished the meal in silence. When Lex left his dirty dish on the counter and poured himself four fingers of Scotch, Clark got up and began to wash the dishes. Eventually, Lex returned to his book, the decanter on the end table next to him. Clark explored the food stores and discovered a bag of DoubleStuf Oreos.
'You remembered' would have been a spectacularly stupid thing to say under the circumstances, so he didn't. But there was milk - fresh milk, God only knew from where and at what expense - and he thought that Lex was sneaking peeks at him as he ate his cookies and milk.
After, as he was putting his glass on the drying rack by the sink, he surprised himself by letting out a jaw-cracking yawn.
He looked around sheepishly and caught Lex in an expression more than usually difficult to interpret: reluctant indulgence combined with - longing? He blinked at Lex, confused.
"Go to bed, Clark," Lex said, but gently. "Tomorrow you might even be ready to spend some time on the beach."
Clark did wake before noon the next day, though it was a close thing and he lay in bed for a long time after, just enjoying the idea of having nothing to do. The sun was incandescent in the cloudless afternoon sky as he fixed himself sandwiches and considered wandering down to the beach. Lex wasn't in the living area, and the door to his bedroom was open, revealing that it was empty as well.
Where had he gotten to?
Reflexively, Clark scanned around and even under his feat, revealing a subterranean compound as large as the structure above, full of computers, communication equipment, and the kind of lab facilities that were as common around Lex as silk shirts.
"Damn!" he said, slamming his hand down against the counter hard enough to crack the marble. He'd believed Lex - he was Charlie Brown, constantly hoping that this time Lucy would let him kick the ball, constantly disappointed. After a while, you had to blame hapless Charlie, because Lucy clearly was a sociopath. Clark renewed his scan, letting his vision move out in waves like those caused by a pebble thrown in a pond.
He found Lex about two hundred feet from the bungalow, sitting in the shade, a book in his hand and a drink at his side.
Clark walked deliberately out to confront him.
"Lex," he said in Superman's voice.
Lex looked up at him over his purple-tinted sunglasses and closed the book. "Good afternoon, Clark."
"The deal was that you would stay away from your business and I'd stay away from mine."
"Yes, I recall. Your point?"
"There's a bunker under the house! With a laboratory! A Cray supercomputer!"
Lex stood up, his face tight with annoyance. "It's my island. Did you think it wouldn't be fully equipped? However, I haven't been to the lower levels - you're welcome to check the dust on the steps if you like - and I had no plans to do so. But you - there's no way you could know about the lab without using your powers. So who, exactly, is in the wrong here?"
Clark fumed, his hands fisted at his sides. "That doesn't count. I wasn't looking for work!"
"If I don't get to check my email or engage in any monitoring of the company I've left vulnerable, you sure as hell don't get to use superpowers." Lex was angry too, setting his shoulders back and otherwise projecting a puffed-up aggression.
The ridiculousness of the situation struck Clark with the force of a rockslide. Removed from all the distractions of home, they were still fighting.
"Okay," he said, mostly to see what would happen.
"I don't know what you expected -" Lex said, then paused. "Okay?" he repeated, in a more chastened tone.
"Okay. I get it. No telecommunications or buying stuff for you, no X-ray or lifting heavy things for me. If you ask me nicely I might open a stuck jar, but that's it." Clark was really enjoying the sensation of making Lex run after him, mentally speaking.
Lex shut his mouth in a line so tight it would have required a chisel to get open.
They stood like that, Lex in shade and Clark half in the sun, for long moments before Clark shrugged. "I'm going to look for something to read and go out to the beach," he said, hoping Lex would recognize that he was following Lex's suggestion from the previous night. Maybe Lex would even join him.
Lex nodded and sat down again, picking up his book as if it were a lead shield.
Clark meandered back to the house, wondering how he felt about all this. It wasn't like he could tell - his inability to read humans had nothing on his inability to fathom himself.
The bookshelves proved as varied as Clark could have expected. He picked the latest Stephen King - the man would not retire, and Clark respected that - before changing into one of the baggier swimsuits and heading towards the beach in the little cove he'd seen when they were flying in.
As he came out of the trees, the beauty of the pearl-white sand and the cobalt blue ocean struck him, but immediately thereafter he noticed the boat. Six men, pulling up to shore.
Further out on the water, he could see a small dot - a larger vessel, maybe a fishing trawler, clearly their mode of arrival.
They were all carrying guns.
Clark sighed, preparing to challenge them.
Then he remembered that he was on vacation.
He could take out these losers in a hot millisecond, but Lex had been so mean about Clark's perfectly natural use of his powers.
Clark smiled to himself, watching the men drag the boat onto the sand. It might be fun to see Lex flail a little. He could always change his mind if things started to get hairy - superspeed would let him stop any bullets that went astray.
The men hadn't seen him yet, so he shrank back into the trees, hurrying at human speed to where Lex was ensconced.
Lex hadn't made much progress in his book.
"There are people landing on the shore. They've got guns, but they don't seem to be looking for us."
Lex stared hard at him, as if checking for a joke. "Well, round them up."
"Round them up?" Clark parroted innocently. He wasn't sure he was fooling Lex, but it was fun either way.
"Or whatever you do with armed miscreants. Send them packing."
"I'm on vacation!" Clark protested. Refusing to act should have been difficult, but it sounded right, especially given the look of shock that his outburst put on Lex's face. "We just agreed that I'm not going to use my powers while we're here." He felt righteous, along with something a little more thrilling than righteousness. Yes, tangling Lex up in the very promises Lex had extracted from Clark was sweet.
"Circumstances have changed." Lex stood, the book slipping forgotten to his abandoned seat.
"I guess if you want to get rid of them, you'll have to do it yourself. Use your money, or talk your way out of this." Clark didn't smile smugly, but it was a near thing. Lex would cave in and call on his stormtroopers, and that meant that Clark would win.
Lex's face contorted into a snarl, then cleared. "No, I don't think so. As you pointed out, I'm -- we're on vacation."
Clark considered that. He thought of the guns, and then of the beautiful well-stocked bungalow whose luxuries he wanted to experience for a few more days. "Look," he said, "we need to do something about these guys. Let's go take a look and see what we can do without - our normal patterns."
Lex raised his hands to rub at his eyes. "'What I Did on My Summer Vacation,' by Clark Kent and Lex Luthor."
Clark grinned just a little and looked at him through lowered brows. "Come on, it might be fun."
Lex didn't respond, but he did follow Clark back through the trees. Clark noticed that he avoided some of the vegetation that Clark just walked through, and guessed there was some poison-ivy-type plant around. "Can we use whatever it is you're trying not to touch?"
"Only if we want to kill them." Lex didn't look at Clark. "The manchineel is poisonous; the sap causes blindness and severe burns."
Okay then; no manchineel. It was always surprising to him how much more dangerous the world was than it looked, especially for humans.
The men were standing on the beach when Clark and Lex crept up on them, hiding in the (nonpoisonous) trees. Four of the strangers were unloading boxes, while the two others supervised. Clark's shoulder brushed against Lex as they got as close as possible without revealing themselves.
The sound of the men talking was almost loud enough to understand. Clark nearly kicked his hearing up a notch until he remembered. Their features were hard to make out at this distance, but Clark thought they were all in their mid-twenties to early thirties, five brunettes and one dirty blond. They were wearing what looked like combat pants and big boots, not ordinary sailor-gear.
Lex squinted out at the figures, dark against the bright sand. Clark noticed that the blond worker was wearing a Superman T-shirt - a bad bootleg, the colors all wrong, and dirty besides. He was miffed, if only because royalties from the authorized versions went to his favorite charities, but he didn't think that pointing out the crime to Lex would be productive.
Lex nudged him, preparatory to whispering into his ear. "They're speaking Spanish - something about this being a good place to stash the stuff because it's not on any official map."
Clark made a mental note to lecture Lex about secret hideouts unknown to the government, later. "Stuff? What stuff?"
Lex's low tones turned acidic. "Drugs, gold, plutonium - the McGuffin, Clark! They know what it is, they aren't narrating. As long as it's not Kryptonite, it hardly matters." He subsided, staring intently at the two who weren't doing any heavy lifting. "They're going to send two men to look for a place further inland where they can leave the stuff. That means they'll find the house - it's not a big enough island that they could miss it. And the house has clearly been occupied within the last few hours."
Crouched as they were, tickled by stray leaves and branches, Clark felt a nostalgia for a time that had never been. It was like being on a stakeout with Lois, but also like investigating with Lex, back in Smallville, without all the lies and uncertainties.
Lex wasn't going to make any plans, so Clark would have to figure out what to do.
"Can you take the two of them out without killing them?" he asked.
Lex gaped at him. "Me?"
"It's a vacation, try something out of the ordinary," Clark suggested, keeping his voice soft.
Lex went back to watching the beach, shading his eyes with one hand.
"Probably," he said after another spate of observation. "I assume - never mind. What do you want me to do?"
The men on the beach were finishing up the unloading. One of the men who'd been moving the cargo lit cigarettes for himself and two of the others, while the fourth pulled out a bottle of Coke and drank it down in one long gulp. The two slightly better-dressed ones, who hadn't tired themselves out with actual work, nonetheless sat down, keeping their firearms next to them.
As Clark had hoped, they dawdled before sending two of the minions to look for a hiding place for the McGuffin. The later it got, the better their chances of being able to do some of what they needed to do in darkness. But eventually, two scruffy men loped into the trees, each with an automatic pistol at his side.
Clark and Lex followed. Clark was interested in seeing what Lex could come up with to disable the men. Lex looked - good, in fact. His color was high, his eyes were bright, and he was vibrating with tension as he pushed past branches and vines, getting ahead of the two men, who didn't know how tight a deadline they were on.
The attack, when it came, was almost too fast for human eyes. Lex stepped behind the first man, tapped him on the shoulder, then socked him in the jaw as he turned. Before he'd collapsed to the ground, Lex was on the other one, grabbing him in a chokehold so precise that he lost consciousness in a few moments.
Lex confiscated their weapons and improvised bindings for them from strips of their own jackets, cut with one of the several knives he'd acquired in his pat-down of the men. He tied them to two trees, facing away from each other. Clark wanted to check on the knots - Lex didn't have a good history with definitively getting people out of the way; they tended to pop back up at awkward times instead. But it was Lex's job, so he didn't even use his X-ray vision to examine the men. He felt virtuous.
"What now, fearless leader?" Lex asked.
Clark swallowed. "I'll go check on the others, see if they're suspicious yet."
He hurried as fast as vacationing would allow to the edge of the beach. No movement there. It looked like the four remaining men were sitting around, telling ribald stories, if the self-congratulatory laughter was any indication.
When he returned to Lex and the captives, Lex was squatting in front of one of them, a fellow with a scar on his right cheek and a glare like a bolt of lightning. Lex was making extremely detailed threats in conversational Spanish. Their prisoner seemed impressed despite himself.
"Lex," Clark chided. "Vacation, remember. That means no threats from you. If threatening becomes necessary, I will do it." He hoped Lex wouldn't know that he'd learned Spanish using the Fortress's accelerated language matrix. Even so, speaking Spanish wasn't a superpower, so he thought it would be fair.
Lex glanced over, assessing Clark's seriousness, then smiled like a kid who'd been given a new bike - or in Lex's case, maybe a new Lamborghini. "Right," he said, turning back to the captive and beginning a rapid-fire lecture on how it was Very Bad to bring guns and treasure to strange islands.
Clark should have been offended, or outraged, or something appropriate to Superman. Apparently his moral compass was on vacation too. He stifled his laugh in his hand while Lex checked to see that the other prisoner was still unconscious.
When security was confirmed, Clark motioned Lex to follow him out of the captives' hearing range. "So here's what I was thinking," he said and briefly explained his plan.
"You want me to what?"
"Build a net?" As he said it again, Clark thought that it might not be a great idea. He didn't see all that many vines in the trees, so unless Lex's bungalow had a bunch of rope stored somewhere, that wasn't going to work so well. "Um, never mind."
Lex looked dyspeptic.
"How fast can you dig a hole?"
Lex closed his eyes. He probably thought he was doing Clark a favor by refraining from rolling his eyes, but he wasn't. "Deep enough for a person? In this soil, half a day."
Damn. Superman could have done it in minutes, seconds even.
He wasn't bad at plans. Really. Sure, Batman might do most of the brainwork for the League, but that was a matter of comparative advantage. Clark had survived years before the League, strategizing on his own. It was this self-imposed handicap, the one both of them were too stubborn to disavow, that was interfering with his tactical ability.
"It'll be getting dark soon," he said. "When they realize something's wrong, they'll probably stick together, maybe even call for reinforcements. I'm thinking we need to scare them off - make them think it's a ghost island."
Lex gaped like a goldfish. "Clark," he said when he'd recovered some composure, "are you seriously suggesting that we adopt a plan that never even worked for the villains on Scooby Doo?"
"Who's in charge of plans here, anyway? Plus," Clark continued, "there aren't any pesky kids around."
So that was how he and Lex ended up on opposite ends of the beach, bracketing the invaders, as the sky darkened to a cobalt blue, like a dark reflection of the pristine turquoise of the water lapping against the beach. Each of them had conch shells to use as noisemakers - Clark was proud of that touch. They also carried weapons hastily constructed from branches, torn-up pillowcases, empty bottles, and gasoline from the bungalow's generator. Over Lex's silent but nonetheless eloquent objections, they'd buried the guns they'd taken from their two captives in a random patch of sand.
The night was going to be dark. The moon was new and the starlight, even reflected off the quietly chuckling waters, was not enough to allow anyone to see more than a few feet ahead. The men on the beach had two electric lanterns for the four of them, which they turned on as dusk fell. They probably hadn't anticipated staying this long.
They were nervous, watching the trees and jumping every time a bird left its perch or a lizard rustled through the underbrush. Their hands were tight on their guns, their tones tense as the two in charge squabbled over what to do - build a fire to get better visibility, abandon their two lost sailors or call for more help. Either option was apparently likely to get them in trouble with the man in charge, so they did nothing.
When the stars were out except for a band of fading light at the horizon, Clark raised the conch to his lips and blew. It made a mournful, eerie sound.
They were firing in his direction before Lex answered his call. Clark threw himself to the sand as if he could be hurt, because he didn't want Lex finding bullet holes in his clothing later and complaining about cheating. In Clark's opinion, invulnerability wasn't the kind of power Clark could just not use, but it wasn't worth the aggravation to dispute. So he ducked and rolled while Lex began his own eldritch noise on the other side of the beach, frightening the men further as they spent their bullets raking the defenseless trees.
Clark liked the waste of ammunition, even if it was rough on the vegetation. Startled birds leapt upwards, their cries mingling with the ululation of the conch - Clark remembered to add his own to the noise - and one of the men called to the others, urging them to leave the stuff and go back. Umberto (whoever that was) would find the stuff on the beach when he came, and that would be fine.
The taller of the two bossmen snapped out a negative. Umberto would kill them.
Better than dying here, a third voice said.
At that point, the first explosion rocked the beach. Clark was sure that Lex could have constructed a chemical fuse for their makeshift bombs, but he'd made do with strips of fabric and twigs. One of the men screamed, and fired at the already-burning area at the edge of the beach. Clark wasn't worried about the fire spreading; Lex had placed the bombs carefully, and Clark was pretty confident that the vegetation wasn't dry enough to sustain a fire. He'd use his breath if it came to that.
Lex was moving, the sound of his conch seeming to drift closer as the next few bombs went off, painting the beach in flames in several separate locations, as if they were being shelled.
A bottle shot from Lex's approximate location like a comet, breaking on the boat and releasing its load of flaming gasoline.
Clark was proud of the Molotov cocktails and catapults. He had remembered how to make them from basic materials, and they didn't require great aim on Lex's part.
The guy who'd been afraid of Umberto yelped and dove for cover. Another bottle shot into the sky and splashed a few feet ahead of the one man who'd retained enough composure to fire in Lex's direction.
Clark lit one of his own stock - with matches, not heat vision - and sent one of his own falling, crossing the trail of Lex's third as it went so they seemed to be coming from all sides. By luck - okay, by superaim, but like invulnerability that had a 'hard to turn off' aspect - he hit one of the lanterns, which obligingly exploded.
Just go! one of the men yelled to the others. Let Umberto send someone else to deal with these savages, screw Macario and Hector, they were dead. This was all the incentive the others needed to start pushing the boat back into the water.
At the last minute, one of the leader-guys turned and began to swing his automatic towards Lex's position. Even with the darkness and the chaos, Clark could tell that he'd be aimed just right in moments.
Without thinking, he put his last bottle in the sling and sent it hurtling down the beach, where it smacked into the man's forehead and sent him tumbling on his ass. As it happened, he fell into the boat, and his compatriots ignored him as they started the engine and puttered away.
Clark watched them go with a feeling of profound relief. There had always been the possibility that they'd manage to hurt Lex - he would have used his powers to prevent that, but then Lex would have been insufferable.
When the sound of the boat's engine faded into the noise of the ocean, Clark went to stand in the middle of the beach. He would have collected the broken bottles, but he was on vacation; let Lex clean them up.
After a few minutes, Lex came to join him. "What was that?" he asked, sounding aggrieved. "That guy could have killed me, and you went after him with a slingshot?"
"Why are you upset?" Clark asked reasonably. "I saved you, didn't I?"
"That's not the point!"
"You're complaining because you didn't like the way I saved you," Clark said, slowly, relishing the words. "Don't you think that's a little ... petty?" He didn't need to remind Lex who it was who insisted on no use of powers; he could tell that Lex knew what Clark was thinking, and that it was irritating the hell out of him.
At last, Lex sighed. "They're gone now, I suppose."
They stood side by side on the sand, which was still warm from the day's sunlight, and looked out at the stars and the blue-black water.
"Hey, Lex. I guess those guys never saw Scooby Doo," Clark said when he could no longer hold himself back. He was feeling too good to defer to Lex's pride.
Lex plainly tried to decide whether he was being mocked or Clark was being his clueless Kryptonian self. "I guess not," he said in a voice as dry as sandpaper.
"You did some good shooting," Clark said. "And by the way, impressive hand-to-hand earlier."
Lex didn't look at him. "Mercy is an excellent instructor."
Yeah, it is, Clark thought.
"What are we going to do with those two leftovers?" Lex asked lightly.
"I was thinking - maybe I could use your satellite phone to call Batman to come pick them up." It was only Lex who was supposed to refrain from technological communications, after all.
Lex frowned. "I suppose. But I'm coming with you, so that Batman will refuse any attempts to engage in shop talk."
They stopped for a brief check of their captives' bindings, during which Lex gave the two men water from a canteen he'd been carrying. It made Clark ponder: Lex had secreted a canteen, matches, and probably other survival gear in his casual beachwear. He must never have gotten over his summer trapped on a desert island. Clark couldn't say that Lex's paranoia was unjustified. Witness today's little adventure.
The prisoners' knots were holding. Clark made sure to explain to the men that no good would come of an escape attempt, given that their companions had abandoned them. He wasn't as good with threats as Lex, but he thought he did a decent job.
Batman, who never slept as far as Clark could tell, agreed instantly to come for the two miscreants. Clark could see from the look on Lex's face that Lex regretted offering the Bat a chance to check out his island up close, but to his credit he didn't say anything, or even blanch when Clark didn't need to tell Batman the coordinates.
They went back upstairs and outside to wait. It wasn't cold, but Lex collected downed branches and made a small fire in the clearing where they'd tied the men. They sat by it in silence, watching sparks fly upwards and lose themselves in the sky. The flames snapped and popped, reminding Clark of the sound stars made on the radio spectrum.
It occurred to him that Lex might actually understand and enjoy the comparison, so he said it out loud. Sure enough, Lex's face lit up with interest.
"You hear the stars?"
"Only when I try," he said, modestly.
"When did that start? How do you know it's the stars? How do you sort out the background noise? What does it sound like when a sun goes nova?"
"Whoa -" He held up a hand, laughing. "One at a time, okay?" Because he couldn't see how Lex could use the knowledge against him, he talked, describing his senses as best he could in human terms. He ended up telling Lex about how the stars looked to him, pointing to places in the sky and narrating the amazing colors to be found deeper into the spectrum. Lex followed the path traced by his finger with fascination, his face made young again with wonder.
Clark went on to stories of what it was like out there, the winds on other worlds, the alien cultures and inexplicable technologies he'd encountered. Lex asked a lot of questions, a fair number of which he couldn't answer, making him wish he'd had Lex along at the time. Even the vicarious explorations were electrifying Lex, making him glow with curiosity and the thrill of the unknown. Clark thought maybe Lex was untimely born. If he'd come of age in a world with continents left to explore, or one where spaceflight was ready to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, Lex would have had goals more suited to his talents. For all his citified ways, Lex was a conqueror at heart, meant to lead an army; he always looked happiest at his LuthorCorp pep rallies, where his army of employees roared for him in unison. BusinessWeek called it Japanese-style management, but Clark knew it was about fealty. About belief.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Lex asked too casually as he poked the fire with a stick, stirring up the fuel to keep it burning.
Clark shrugged. "It's just - good to have someone to tell about all this. The League already knows it, and Mom and Dad get so freaked out -"
Lex nodded, though Clark could tell he was still suspicious of Clark's motives. "How are they?"
Clark stared into the ever-changing fire. "They're fine. It's hard for Dad, getting older. Mom isn't as - Dad thinks he's still twenty-five, you know? I wish I could do something to make it easier on him, but I can't exactly take on the aging process in single combat."
Lex made a small noise of agreement. They subsided into silence again, listening to the chatter of the fire and the sounds of their captives shifting uneasily against their bonds. What a weird vaction, Clark thought, then realized that with Clark Kent and Lex Luthor it could never be any other way.
Eventually they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. By silent agreement, they stayed seated by the fire until Batman found them. Lex glowed like an idol made of white gold, his pale skin warmed only a little by the fire, his hands draped over his linen-clad knees, which were drawn up close to his chest. He wasn't wearing socks, Clark noticed. He had well-turned ankles.
Batman appeared before them with barely a rustle of grass. How he got the cape to stay silent was one of the great mysteries; Clark and Wally West had swapped several theories. Wally insisted the cape was just too scared of him to make any noise.
"Do you know what's in those boxes on the beach?" Batman asked, polite as always, as he peered down at them.
"No," Clark said before Lex could bitch, "and we don't want to. But there's this Umberto guy in charge, you might want to find him."
Batman grew impossibly darker and stiffer, a black hole of superhero. "Already taken care of," he said and turned away.
Wordlessly, he cut the two prisoners free - his gloves must have had a secret edge, because it seemed as if he just stared at the torn-up cloth and it shredded apart. At this point, the men were too shellshocked to react with any extra terror at the sight of the Batman, and they went with him like sheep.
As he escorted them away, doubtless to a debriefing that would be even less fun than being tied to a tree for hours, Batman looked back at Clark and Lex. "Have a nice vacation," he said.
Clark raised a hand in a lame half-wave farewell. He would suggest that Batman take a break of his own, but it didn't seem likely.
"That," Lex said as the sounds of the men stumbling through the darkness faded, "is one very disturbed individual."
Clark snorted. "And you don't even have to work with him."
"You'd be surprised," Lex said. They exchanged a conspiratorial glance.
Lex stood abruptly and began kicking sand on the fire to put it out. "You must be hungry. We should eat and get some rest. Tomorrow's the halfway point, and you haven't even been swimming."
Clark considered that. Technically, he'd made it to the beach, but he agreed that scaring off strange invaders didn't count as beach activities, even for Superman. And he was hungry as soon as Lex mentioned it. His stomach petitioned for food, growling loudly enough to make Lex smile. He hurried to stamp out the last embers.
After a simple but extensive snack, they parted for the night. Clark fell asleep to the sound of Lex showering.
The next day, he got up early - which at this point meant before noon. Halfway through the vacation, and he hadn't lounged on the beach even a little bit. Clark was determined to change that.
He made himself an omelet with peppers and cheese and ate it standing at the counter, casting glances at the door that led to the bedrooms. But Lex didn't emerge, even when Clark banged the plates around as he cleaned up.
He put on a pair of swim trunks - black, thank you very much, not bright red or blue - and headed to the beach.
It was gorgeous. Pristine, salt-white sand, dampened to ivory by the surf which rushed up to the shore in cheerful wavelets, foam like lace edging at the tops of the larger waves. The water was clear turquoise, shading darker in perfect blue-green hues as the seabed dropped away from the island. He could see shells and bits of coral through the glassy water.
He didn't realize he was running until he splashed in. The water was warm and inviting; he plunged in until he was up to his neck.
In the salt water, he floated easily. He stayed on his back for a while, letting the sun bake his skin as water splashed and beaded on his chest. He turned somersaults in the water, keeping his eyes open all the way around as the world spun, blue to green to sun-blinding bright. He swam from one end of the beach to the other, up to the rocks that swept out and made the beach into a half-moon curve. He could have swum around the island, but that wouldn't have been a human way to enjoy the day. Holding his breath, he could touch the seafloor, letting the sand run through his fingers and watching it reform as if he'd never passed by.
His fingers didn't prune up like a human's would, but eventually he decided to take a break, swimming back until his feet could touch the sand and he could walk out.
Seawater dripped from his sodden hair into his eyes. He shook his head, sending spray all around, as he emerged onto the powdery sand of the beach.
Lex was there, on the very edge, still in the shade. He was holding a book, but he was watching Clark. His eyes had the old intensity. Their pale blue should have been no competition for the deepness of the ocean, but Clark felt that he was in danger of drowning for the first time.
Lex swallowed, breaking the stasis.
Clark stepped forward. Water continued to sluice off him, drying quickly in the sun. The heat on his back was somehow less powerful than the light in Lex's eyes.
"You're up," he said redundantly. "You should come in the water." There, that was better.
Lex looked down at his clothes, a repeat of yesterday's loose cotton shirt and linen trousers. The mandarin collar of the shirt made him look younger and more vulnerable than he did in his usual bespoke suits. "I don't think I'm properly dressed for that."
Clark squelched the impulse to grab him and throw him fully clothed into the water. These days, Lex would take it the wrong way. "You could change - I mean," he hurried before Lex could read more into that statement than was warranted, "you've got a swimsuit up at the house, right? If you can function without a tie, you can function without a shirt."
"I'll burn," Lex said, his tone inviting rebuttal.
The sun was soaking through him, liquefying his very bones. He was turning molten as he stood talking to Lex, his heart a furnace, his veins made of lava.
Lex blinked rapidly, as if he couldn't bear to look at Clark for more than a second at a time. "Yeah," he breathed. "Okay. I'll - be back."
Clark watched him walk into the cool of the trees, feeling seventeen again. Seventeen and lonely, scared, lost, bitterly disappointed in Lex. Wanting so much to share his alienness with someone - Lex - and afraid of being rejected, despised, scrutinized and put in a glass box like Lex with his Russian manuscript page. Even then, he'd known to fear Lex's intelligence, warped and forged into nothing better than a weapon.
When he'd become Superman, he'd thought Lex didn't know for almost three years, until he'd destroyed Lex's favorite lab and come to work the next day to find a blood-freezing message on his voicemail. Lex hadn't said anything that would count as evidence to anyone else - he was cautious that way - but Clark had known. He'd been more careful after that, only going after Lex as Clark Kent or with the full backing of the League. Lex had been more careful after that as well, moving his labs overseas where the regulations were less stringent, hiding his financial shenanigans under layers of insulation. Clark figured that, if he wasn't keeping Lex entirely honest, he was at least making it expensive enough for Lex to be dishonest that he was choosing the right path more often purely for accounting reasons.
And now this - Lex, on vacation, like an ordinary person. Last night, Lex had listened to his stories with the pure enjoyment he used to show when lecturing Clark on ancient Greek customs and legends.
It had been easy to tell himself he hated Lex. Too easy, he realized now, because Lex was never uncomplicated. Lex probably hadn't been able to tell his Greek histories to anyone in years; Hope and Mercy were fantastic bodyguards, but Clark was willing to bet they weren't any great shakes as an audience.
Lex might be the one person in Metropolis lonelier than Superman.
A long time ago, Lex had asked Clark not to give up on him. Clark hadn't listened then. It had been too late already, no matter what he'd said. Now he'd seen enough to know that Lex Luthor wasn't the worst thing out there. Lionel Luthor wasn't the worst thing out there, though that was a much closer call. He'd also seen enough to know that change was possible, if difficult - so maybe the comment about Lex's clothes had been more pointed than he'd known.
The sun was so bright and the air so warm that he was almost entirely dry by the time Lex returned from the house. Lex was carrying a large, folded white towel that probably cost as much as Clark's entire wardrobe, perched on top of which was a dark, unlabeled bottle (ditto on the wardrobe comparison, since it had to be a specially formulated sunscreen available only to supermodels and Luthors).
The towel was big enough to block most of Clark's view of Lex's upper body; Lex was carrying it oddly close to his chest, as if he were trying to hide behind it. He was wearing a swimsuit even baggier than Clark's. Clark could see the fine hairs on his forearms, golden in the light, and wondered why the meteors had taken the hair on Lex's head but not the rest.
Lex wasn't looking at him. "I need to put on the sunscreen."
"Lie down," Clark said without thinking.
"Lie down. I'll put it on you."
Lex hesitated. Clark wasn't sure it was a good idea, either. Then Lex handed him the bottle, as quickly as if it were red-hot iron, and turned to shake out the towel, laying it on the sand full in the sun.
He lowered himself down like a man wary of a strafing attack from the sky, propping himself on his elbows and staring out at the ocean. Clark knelt on Lex's left, holding the sunscreen as gingerly as if it were likely to contain Kryptonite.
Lex's back was pale and gorgeous, his shoulder blades sweeping up like wings submerged beneath his skin. He'd gotten bigger with age, broadened shoulders and a narrow waist, muscles rippling as he shifted with impatience. The interruption of the line of his body by the swimsuit was a crime against nature.
Clark popped the top and poured a puddle of sunscreen onto his hand. It was honey-colored and smelled of amber, instantly warm against his skin.
He put down the bottle and rubbed his hands together, spreading the slickness, then reached for Lex before he lost his nerve.
Focused on his own breathing, he almost missed Lex's exhalation as his hands settled on Lex's shoulders. He moved slowly, determined to cover every inch of skin, to keep Lex from complaining about any missed spots. His thumbs brushed the back of Lex's neck and traced a line down Lex's spine.
His mouth was sand-dry. Keeping one hand moving in slow circles on Lex's mid-back, he grabbed the bottle, his slick fingers slipping on the brown glass, fumbling with it until it gave up more liquid.
Up to the shoulders, down the back of Lex's left arm, over the slightly roughened skin of the elbow to the smooth slide of the forearm, his hand covering Lex's for a second before he lost his nerve and pulled away, nearly overbalancing and falling on his ass before he recovered and bent again to his task, leaning over Lex's body to get the other arm. Lex was breathing fast now, his shoulders hunched. Clark finished the arm, returned to Lex's back, his fingers sliding of their own accord a few centimeters below the waist of Lex's suit.
Another pause for more sunscreen, and Clark moved down to Lex's legs, the strong quads jumping against his touch, the backs of his knees soft as secrets, the runner's calves, the Achilles tendon taut under his fingers.
There was no need to put sunscreen on the soles of Lex's feet, not really, but Clark was tempted nonetheless.
He was done. He should pull back now; they would go to the water and swim.
Lex was rigid underneath him, every muscle tensed. His ears were flushed -
Clark wasn't done. There was one part of Lex he hadn't protected from the sun.
Taking a deep breath, Clark poured one last dollop of sunscreen into his hands. He expected Lex to say something, encouragement, prohibition, anything, but instead Lex just lay there, waiting for him. Lex had always waited for Clark to tell him the important things, which was his biggest mistake of all.
He put his hand on the back of Lex's head. His hands were so big, clumsy and strange compared to a normal person's, but for once he was glad he could span so much, cupping the curve of bare skin, like a globe with the world - or the universe - inside. Lex shivered, but he pressed up, into Clark's touch, letting Clark search out every centimeter of exposed skin, the pliable rind of his ears, the hollows right behind them hidden by the earlobes from ordinary sight, the bump at the top of his spine like a period, announcing that the buck stopped here.
His fingers brushed over the top of Lex's head like a blessing, the tips barely touching Lex's eyebrows, hidden from his sight by their position.
Clark let his hand fall away, no longer touching. Now he had a decision to make. He could play dumb as always, run to the ocean and let Lex follow when he was ready. It would make him a cocktease, but Lex had said much worse about him before; they'd both survive.
He bent, putting one hand on each side of Lex, feeling the terry loops of the towel almost rough against his slick-soft hands. Lex's head was hanging down, his forehead almost touching the towel as he waited, braced on his forearms.
Clark bit the back of Lex's neck, just below the bump, one animal telling another to submit. His teeth scraped along Lex's skin, salty and a little sweet from the sunscreen, as Lex jolted like he'd been electrocuted. Clark quickly moved so that he was covering Lex's body entirely, pressing them both down to the towel. He could feel the sand shifting beneath his hands and knees, moving aside to let him settle in.
Lex was shaking in earnest now, breathing like a man in the throes of a panic attack. Clark wanted him naked, but didn't want to move away, then remembered that he had control over his personal gravitational field. He pulled his arms away from the ground, hovering just enough that he could hook his fingers into Lex's shorts and pull them down his hips, past his knees, until Lex took over and kicked them off. Then, unable to resist the siren call of so much skin, he came heavily down on Lex's body, groaning as his chest touched Lex's back, hot with sweat and expensive lotion. He scrabbled at his own annoying swimsuit until his freed cock was pressed against Lex, grinding into Lex's ass.
The sunscreen made it easy to rub against Lex, sliding freely against him, almost frictionless. He brought his hands up to clamp on Lex's shoulders as he swirled open-mouthed kisses on the back of Lex's head, his neck, his upper back. Lex spread his legs, giving Clark a better angle to thrust against him.
Clark was dizzy with the feelings, the sun beating on his back like a mallet, the light so bright he could see it through his closed eyes, the heat of Lex like molten gold beneath him.
Lex's jagged breaths resolved into words - "Fuck me," he was saying over and over.
What an amazingly awesome plan. Clark pulled back onto his knees, gritting his teeth, and grabbed for the bottle, which promptly broke apart in his hand. With his last shreds of self-control, he put the four big pieces of glass off to one side, grateful that the bottle hadn't shattered into smaller fragments, and let the sunscreen in his hand drip onto Lex's lower back, sliding down to his ass. He put his left hand on Lex's waist to keep him still as he rubbed around the hole, then pushed his finger in to the first joint. Lex convulsed, his hands crumpling the edge of the towel, but Clark had him firmly in control. He was hot, the muscles pressing tight against Clark's invasion as Clark went in further, then added another finger, working them around until Lex threw his head back and screamed.
Clark didn't want to pull away, wanted to keep feeling the shifts and contractions against his fingers, but he had to have his cock inside Lex now. As quickly as he could without switching to superspeed, he removed his fingers and slicked himself with the last of the sunscreen in his palm. He was pressed up against Lex, one thrust away from heaven, when he looked at Lex's bowed head and realized what was wrong.
Forget saving Metropolis from Mothra, he deserved a medal for this, for pulling back when every cell in him screamed to move forward. "Lex," he said, his voice low and barely intelligible in his own ears. "Turn over."
Lex froze, then shook his head. That convinced Clark that he'd been right to stop, and the raging desire ebbed enough to let him wait. "Turn over," he said again, cajoling. "Please, Lex."
"Fuck," Lex cursed, barely loud enough for Clark to hear, and turned over in a sudden savage movement, his knee hitting the outside of Clark's thigh a solid blow in passing, rucking the towel so that they were half on the sand. His eyes were closed tight, his lower lip red and nearly bleeding from where he'd bitten it.
Clark bent to ghost a kiss across that bruised mouth, then pushed Lex's legs up and apart. Lex had turned his head so that Clark could see his profile and the tendons in his neck standing out like wires.
He'd been waiting fifteen years for this, he thought. Maybe he'd been waiting all his life.
Sliding into Lex was like being reborn into fire.
Beneath him, Lex was writhing like the snake in the Garden of Eden, surging up as if he could obliterate the spaces between their atoms and bring them closer together. With his hands stretched above his head, he wrapped his fingers around Clark's wrists, squeezing so hard Clark could practically hear Lex's bones protest as Clark settled into a rhythm that would allow him to keep fucking as long as possible without his heart exploding.
Their bellies slapped against each other, Lex's legs hooked over Clark's upper arms, stray grains of sand prickling against him in the midst of all that slippery skin. Clark knew his arms must be grinding Lex's into the ground to the point of pain, but Lex wasn't protesting and Clark frankly couldn't make himself care.
He couldn't trust himself to bite at Lex's neck the way he wanted to, not right now. He settled for panting into Lex's skin, feeling his own breath bounce back into his face, hotter and wetter for being so near. Lex was making random, broken noises. Clark pried one hand free and moved it down to take Lex's cock in his hand, stroking as it swelled and hardened, the incredible softness of the skin a contrast to the firm flesh beneath. He ran his thumb over the leaking head and wished that he could somehow be sucking Lex at the same time.
When he glanced up, he saw that Lex had put his free hand over his face, like a mask.
"I'm closing my eyes," Clark said, and suited action to words. Maybe Lex didn't want to know that Clark could tell what he needed - but if Lex couldn't say what he wanted, Clark was just going to have to guess.
With his eyes shut, Clark settled more deeply into the other sensations. Lex around him like the tug of a black hole, his labored breaths thunder in Clark's sensitized ears. Each pinprick of sand like the twinkling of stars sparking across their bodies, his mouth against Lex's neck tasting Lex's leather and salt, moving up over the soft curve of his chin and cheek. The world was red and gold, heat and light and Lex, Lex after so long, Lex always.
When he came, his eyes snapped open and he caught Lex's blue-marble gaze, wide as the ocean.
Clark let the aftershocks ripple through him, like being hit with a day's worth of sun at once. He was too sensitized to stay inside Lex - but Lex was still hard. He moved down Lex's body, his knees hitting the sand as he bent to lick Lex's cock, his fingers still wrapped around the base. No longer pinned by Clark's body, Lex thrust up, as deep as Clark could take him. Clark felt Lex's hands clench in his hair as he stroked Lex's balls, teasing the red-brown hairs there, another of Lex's secrets.
One last vicious jerk and Lex was coming, sea-salt in his mouth. Clark kept sucking and licking until Lex made a pained noise and pushed him away. Clark didn't let go fully, though; he moved to paint Lex's belly with his tongue, venturing out to his hips, up to his navel, and down again to his thighs. Lex tasted like clouds, and it was also a way of keeping busy so they didn't have to talk.
By the time he made his way up Lex's chest, stopping to worship at the hollow of his neck and suck raspberry bruises onto his shoulders, Clark was nearly ready for another round. Lex was petting him as if he were a big cat.
This was, Clark thought, the best vacation ever.
He kissed Lex at last, sweet and wet, his eyes closed because it wasn't polite to look at someone during kissing. The sun ladled light on his back, heating him all the way through. The sand was warm and dry where his toes dug into it, gritty as spilled sugar.
Lex let himself be turned around again, moved to his hands and knees. It was a good position, allowing Clark to feel the long lines of Lex's thighs, the amazing curvature of his ass as he went as deep as he could. There was more sand between them now - the next time had better be in the shower, Clark thought - and Lex groaned whenever Clark rubbed a hand down his back, grinding the sand into his lotion-slick skin.
Clark lasted longer this time, long enough that he forgot about anything else, just sliding in and out of Lex, who trembled underneath him like a hummingbird. It was like flying in the sun's corona, lashed by the radiation, caught inside it.
At the end, he collapsed onto his back in the sand, blissed-out and already sliding into sleep.
He woke to a mouth on his cock - Lex's mouth, wicked in this as in speech, making his hands close into fists. Sand fused into little glass stalactites against his palms. The sun was deep in the sky, headed towards another rainbow sunset.
When he noticed Clark's return to full consciousness, Lex pulled back, making Clark whimper. "The sun worships you," Lex said, looking up and down Clark's naked body. "And God, who wouldn't?" The last was said softly, almost to himself.
Then Lex's mouth was on him again, harder this time, almost biting. Sand-roughened fingers moved on his thighs, the skin behind his balls, the angles of his hipbones, learning him.
Clark didn't try to hold back. He yelled - okay, maybe even yelped - as he came, Lex holding on to him as if he'd never let go.
"I want to fuck you," Lex said as soon as Clark's eyes had refocused. He was leaning over Clark, his shadow joining with Clark's off to one side.
"But this sand is going to kill me - come inside."
"Lex, there's a whole ocean right here."
Lex sighed and sat back. "Fine, but -"
Clark didn't wait for the conditions. He rolled to his feet - yes, he was a bit sandy, coated in it like a chicken ready for the frying pan - and held out his hand for Lex. Lex rose gracefully and, with only the slightest hesitation, let himself be led to the surf.
Whooping with glee, Clark let him go and ran into the water, splashing full-frontal into it as soon as it was up to his thighs. The sea welcomed him, sluicing off the sand, wrapping him in its comforting embrace. He rolled over onto his back and saw that Lex was standing still, up to his waist - Clark spared a moment to be grateful that the water was as clear as blue glass. "Come on," he said, grinning. "Vacation, remember? Fun."
Lex raised his eyebrows at Clark's apparent inability to put coherent sentences together, but then he shrugged and did a half-dive into the water, emerging as wet as Clark was. He shook his head to clear his eyes - only to be drenched by the wave Clark had just created.
Sputtering, Lex charged at Clark, only moderately hindered by the water in his way, tackling him and pushing his head under the water, which Clark allowed with a grin.
They played in the water for a while, wordless as dolphins. Lex relaxed enough to float some, though he was more inclined to dive down and look at the coral and other organic debris on the seafloor, holding his breath until he was forced to hurry for the surface. Clark mostly watched him, gorgeous as he swam through the water, his strong arms churning the currents and moving him forward. Clark floated several feet below the surface, looking up at the sun through the turquoise filter, then hiding under Lex's shadow while Lex floated on his back, until Lex started to look around with concern. Then he rose, catching Lex's waist as Lex thrashed and spit curses that were literally salty.
"That's enough," he said when he'd calmed down. "Inside, now. I can't fuck and swim at the same time."
"You don't need to," Clark pointed out.
Lex shook his head. The water made him sparkle around the edges. "Exotic later. I want to be able to concentrate on you."
Clark had to admit that Lex was persuasive.
Back in the house, they ignored the sand they tracked in, rushing to the shower. The stall was enormous, proof of Lex's desire for luxuriousness even in the middle of nowhere. Clark pushed Lex up against the white tiles, kissing him furiously as Lex groped for the controls. Clark didn't let up even when Lex's first attempt produced only cold water, and sure enough Lex managed to turn it warm after a few more fumbles. He could feel the difference in density in the fresh water, washing the salt from his skin as they kissed and kissed, Clark holding Lex's head still with both hands, his thumbs tracing the line of Lex's jaw.
When Lex pushed inside him for the first time, Clark nearly punched a hole in the wall. His head did crack a few of the tiles when he ducked it a little too quickly, but he thought Lex might not have noticed.
Afterwards, he tucked a towel around his waist and went out onto the wraparound deck, on the side that was getting the most light from the sun. About an hour away from sunset, he thought.
He should have brought a book, but once he was seated on the padded deck chair, he was too comfortable to move. The view was enchanting enough.
Footsteps on the wood of the deck. "Want company? I brought food."
Clark smiled. "In that case, come on out."
Lex had put on pants and a long-sleeved shirt, which didn't much surprise Clark. Lex looked perfectly comfortable naked and perfectly comfortable in five-thousand-dollar suits; he had more trouble with casual, and he probably would have been miserable in shorts and a T-shirt. Even a designer T-shirt. He was holding a large ceramic bowl, blue-and-white striped.
Clark was a bit nonplused when Lex straddled his lap, but he was open to the experience. The bowl was full of fruit - mango, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries. Lex held it with one hand and reached for a cube of mango with the other, bringing it to Clark's lips.
There was some sort of sauce, honey and a little lemon. Clark sucked at Lex's fingers before Lex pulled back.
"Do you know what the French word for 'fruit salad' is, Clark?" Lex asked, feeding him more fruit.
He shook his head slightly. For once he was happy to play the role expected of him, that of wide-eyed listener, like being back in the mansion again.
"It's 'macedoine.' Because Macedonia was such a mix of ethnicities, not a melting pot but a jumble, each with its own traditions and pride, none willing to join with the others. At its best, harmony without sameness; at worst, chaos."
The fruit was delicious, the flavors complementing each other perfectly. Clark looked up at Lex as a drop of sauce fell from one of the berries onto Clark's chest.
Lex didn't pretend to be sorry; he just bent and licked the sticky spot with a broad swipe of his tongue, then fed Clark the berry and reached for more.
"Alexander actually introduced many Asian fruits to Macedonia. Peaches, pistachios, mangoes - though the mangoes never took - a citrus fruit that became the lemon." More drizzle on his chest, leading to another, slower expedition, Lex's hot mouth running over him, punctuated by the scrape of teeth. Clark arched up a little, bringing his hardening cock into contact with Lex's groin through the layers of fabric separating them.
Lex was using handfuls now, letting the juices run down his wrist. Clark's mouth and chin were wet with sweetness; occasionally he chased Lex's hand as it moved away from his lips, seeking out the taste of Lex that was quickly becoming an obsession. Lex moved his mouth across Clark's chest in a pattern that Clark eventually recognized as his Kryptonian 'S,' and the touch burned more than his scar tissue had ever done.
By the time Lex dropped the empty bowl to the deck beside them, Clark's towel was gone, twisted away and ignored, and Lex's shirt was completely unbuttoned, their skin sticking and releasing as they rubbed against each other. "You care about these pants?" Clark asked, his voice unusually thick in his own ears, and then decided not to wait for an answer. Lex made a choked sound as Clark ripped the fabric away, and then he was hot and hard against Clark.
Lex flexed his hips, silken skin better than anything else in the world, and put his fruit-stained hand between them to grasp Clark's cock, jacking it up and down as he ground against Clark's stomach. "What do you want, Clark? Tell me," he ordered.
Clark had to grit his teeth and take deep breaths before he could answer. Lex, impatient, continued to talk. "Tell me what I should do to you."
"Anything," he managed.
"Anything? Like this?" He stroked faster, gripped tighter, and Clark's hands broke both of the deck chair's arms simultaneously. Clark hadn't been this sex-clumsy in years. Of course, he hadn't had much reason.
Lex didn't pause for a second. "You like that?" Clark managed to control himself enough to give Lex an are-you-fucking-serious? look, which made Lex grin.
"Or maybe -" Lex lifted up and, kissing Clark like he was about to leave on a dangerous voyage, moved until he was poised over Clark's cock, then slid down so quickly that a scream ripped from Clark's throat. So fucking hot and tight and, God, he'd been ready for this, he'd planned it. There was nothing Clark could do but lie there, nothing to hold on to, his hands spasming in empty air.
"Yeah," Lex grunted, moving himself up and down with his strong thighs, the muscles flexing against Clark's hips. Using Clark like some really expensive sex toy, rocking back, leaning away with his hands braced behind him on Clark's outstretched legs. The sun made him glow, a pale fire against the backdrop of trees and cerulean sky. When Clark tried to touch Lex's cock, his hand was batted away, and so he just had to watch as Lex stroked himself off, come spattering Clark's belly and chest, clenching around him like an earthquake. Lex slumped forward, allowing Clark to set a new rhythm, hard and slow, grinding up until he went nova again.
He was really tired now; his arms flopped out on either side, the knuckles barely touching the deck. Lex was on top of him still.
There was more after that, more sex and food and sleep and sun. Though in a pinch he could have done without the last three, it was a vacation and he felt himself entitled to enjoy all four. Lex got kind of sore after a while, he could tell, and even though Lex healed quickly, he tried to incorporate enough variety into what they did that Lex would only feel pain when he wanted to. They didn't talk about it - they didn't talk about what they were doing at all beyond the dirty words and instructions involved in the sex itself - but Clark thought Lex knew and appreciated his tactics.
It wasn't as if it were any hardship to take a break and talk to Lex about all the places they'd been and things they'd done over the years since Smallville. Lex had a very different view of Japan from Clark, who'd only ever been in the context of tsunamis and similar disasters. Lex liked Russia more than Clark would have expected, but Lex explained that the frontier capitalism made him feel more welcome than in most Western countries. Clark told him about traveling through Asia after his time learning about his heritage in the Fortress, and about how he'd finally understood the appeal of journalism, bringing people together by telling them about their common interests.
The night before they were supposed to go back, conversation was muted. Several times, Clark started to speak, wanting to ask Lex to stay, to be in Metropolis the man he was here on his island, but he couldn't make himself say the words. He didn't want to hear the rejection, the derision that was sure to follow. Several times, Lex started to say something, probably the mirror image of Clark's swallowed words - an invitation to rule together or a plea for forgiveness that could never be granted, not while Lex was still Lex.
In the end, they went to bed ahead of the sunset, and touched and kissed in Clark's room halfway through the night. When Clark drifted off to sleep, Lex was still awake, silent as he lay turned on his side. His eyes were open as if he were the one with X-ray vision, able to see Clark in the darkness.
They didn't say much in the morning, either. Lex didn't bother to pack up even the few things he'd brought with him. Clark presumed that his people would come and clean the place when they'd gone. For his part, Clark repacked his bag and took the suit he'd worn on the fourth day; Lex wouldn't begrudge him that, and he wanted a souvenir.
Clark made them omelets for breakfast, then washed the dishes. Lex watched him from the counter, waiting until Clark had put the last plate in the dish rack. Clark stopped, not wanting to turn around and see Lex's face. He touched the utensils in the jar on the countertop.
"Clark -" Lex said. His voice sounded as if it had been rubbed against a grater, shredded into fragments of what it had been. Clark realized that his hesitation was no kindness - it just forced Lex to be the one to remind them that vacation was over.
"Yeah," he said. They walked outside, where Clark's bag was waiting. The sun was up, already warming the air to perfection.
He moved to take Lex in his arms. "You can come here," Lex said in a rush before Clark had the chance to take off. "Whenever you - need a break. I won't -" He stopped, and when Clark dared a glance down, his eyes were shut tight, his forehead creased with lines that made him look ten years older.
Clark picked him up and flew.
"It's the sunset, Smallville, it'll be the same tomorrow. Whereas Congressman Scoville will not, not after we run this story, so let's go."
Clark turned to look at Lois and forced a smile. She'd been on him for his increasing distraction for several days now. She'd told him that he'd never looked better after his vacation, but that she was beginning to think that he'd left his mind wherever it was he'd gone - and then she'd asked where that was, anyway. He'd had to invent an elaborately boring story before she gave up.
"Sorry, Lois." He followed her out, where she did a great job of keeping his attention focused so that no one would kill her.
Lex - he wanted to think that Lex's relative inactivity came from the same wistfulness that kept him staring out windows. But believing that would be dangerous. Too dangerous. He hadn't kept safe all these years by taking risks with Lex.
Yeah, safe, a little voice in his head said. It sounded remarkably like a mixture of Chloe and Lois. So safe you had to work yourself half to death before somebody noticed - and that somebody wasn't just anybody.
It took him over a month to decide. He did his share of the Justice League's business; he wrote four front-page stories and a weekly magazine feature with Lois; he went home every weekend to see his parents and help around the farm.
When Lex came home to his darkened penthouse, he stiffened as soon as he entered, sensing some unknown presence.
"It's me," Clark said hastily, before Lex could call in the cavalry.
Lex turned on the lights, his hand still in his pocket, poised over his panic button.
Clark took a step forward. "Lex."
Lex's face had never been as controlled as Lex wanted. Clark could tell that he was uncertain, vulnerable, yearning - all of which made him harder to handle, likely to lash out to protect himself. Still, it was good news, better than calm uncaring control.
"I've been thinking - on the island, we were good together."
Lex carefully put his briefcase down and walked past Clark, shucking his jacket and removing his cufflinks as he moved down the hall. "That was half a world away, Clark."
Clark followed him towards his bedroom.
"It doesn't have to be."
Lex made a soft derisive sound as he opened his bedroom door, flicked on the lights - and froze.
Clark had figured that if this didn't work, one more reason for Lex to despise him wouldn't matter much, so he'd gone all out. He'd moved all the rugs out of the room and a fair amount of the furniture. It had taken him a while to bring enough sand into the penthouse to walk on without pushing through to the floor, and the open door had caused a minor landslide into the hallway. In the artificial light, the sand was chalk-white, glittering, harsher than it had seemed on the island.
"Is that - is that a palm tree?" Lex asked, hushed as if he were in a cathedral.
Clark swallowed as he came up to stand just behind Lex's shoulder. "Only a little one."
"You - how -- Clark," he said, and turned, grabbing Clark so fiercely that a man who couldn't fly would have been thrown off balance. Kissing, kissing like they'd just been reunited after a long war, kissing with Lex's arm around Clark's shoulder and Clark's hand cupping Lex's jaw. Clark floated them to the bed, plunked down in the sand like something out of a dream.
"Come away with me, Lex," he said against Lex's cheek as they fell onto the soft purple comforter. "Take a permanent vacation."
Lex grabbed him tight and rolled until he was on top, his knees pressing against Clark's hips, his mouth swollen and shiny and his wide eyes like the moons of some distant planet. "Clark," he said. As much as he liked Lex's eloquence, he couldn't have hoped for a better result than to leave Lex speechless. His name meant 'yes,' and 'forever,' and 'you belong to me now.' Just like Lex belonged to him.
"You brought me an island," Lex said wonderingly.
"For the man who has everything," he said, smiling up at Lex, who'd always known what everyone but himself needed.
"I didn't," Lex said, and leaned down to kiss Clark again. "Not until now."
Maybe he'd learned something from Lex about big romantic gestures after all.
Notes: Thanks to my beta reader, Celeste, who worked on a very tight schedule and whose running MST3K-style commentary made me laugh out loud. Sample: "Plus," Clark continued, "there aren't any pesky kids around." Celeste: But look out for that talking Doberman. Unfortunately, Clark wouldn't have said a bunch of those things; I'm just glad she did.
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