by Vivian Darkbloom
"There was no way to save them," says Batman. Clark doesn't answer. He's gazing out the Watchtower window.
"It was an invisible, lead-shielded capsule in deep space. Even you couldn't have reached it in time and the six hostages were almost certainly dead before the explosion."
Clark still doesn't turn around.
"Clark, the Cerebrians wouldn't have bothered to equip the capsule with sufficient oxygen for six people. They probably executed them before they launched the capsule."
"We don't know that."
"No, we don't," says Bruce. It's weighing on him too but it is crushing Clark. "We do know they were trying to send the League on a futile chase, so we'd leave earth defenseless. To have us attempt to save six theoretical lives by risking six billion."
But logic will not ease Clark's grief for six dead soldiers.
J'onn glides up to join them:
"I will take the next Watchtower shift; I have sent the others home to rest. You should rest as well."
He's addressing them both but his eyes rest longest on Clark and Batman wonders what J'onn can see inside Clark's head.
"It should be quiet for the next few days," says J'onn. "Earth's villains will have been anxious during the Cerebrian attacks. They will wait for stability before launching any new plots."
The exception being The Joker, Bruce thinks grimly. He positively lives for moments like these. He's supposed to be locked up in Arkham but Bruce will fly by and confirm that tonight.
"So you will go home?" says J'onn, addressing Clark directly this time. "And rest?"
"I will," says Clark. "Thanks, J'onn."
But his voice is tight and his eyes are flat and Bruce is worried. Worried enough to shadow Clark back to Metropolis.
Lex set aside work on his latest project to watch coverage of the Cerebrian invasion on the news; he always enjoys playing armchair quarterback. Despite himself, he's impressed by how the League handled it. There's not much he would have done differently and sending the Atom to infiltrate the Cerebrian mothership was a master stroke.
The CNN anchorwoman says:
"Despite projected casualties in the hundreds of thousands, the final death toll remains at just six. The six soldiers taken hostage during the first wave of the invasion will be posthumously awarded full military honours-"
Lex turns off the television and frowns.
Only Lex (and one other person) knows that the shield of kryptonite dust in the walls at LexCorp can be raised or lowered. It can be raised as high as the penthouse or retracted down to the lower labs. Lex picks up a remote control and lowers the shield. He unlocks the doors that lead to the rooftop garden, pours himself a drink, and waits.
If Clark wasn't so preoccupied, he would have noticed that Batman is tailing him. Bruce intends to see him safely back to his apartment but that's not where Clark is going. He veers east. At first, Bruce thinks he's going to the Planet, to file a story on the invasion, which is madness; he's too exhausted to cope with Lois.
Bruce is astonished to see Clark land on the roof of LexCorp.
Lex has been quiet for a few months, which undoubtedly means he's up to something but why would Clark choose to confront him tonight? Clark opens the balcony door and steps inside and that raises another question: what has happened to Luthor's formidable security?
Bruce swings himself up to the top of the globe on the roof of the Planet, the one vantage point in Metropolis that commands a view of Lex's penthouse.
Lex is standing, dressed in white, holding a drink. Superman walks towards him, cape fluttering gently. They circle each other briefly; Bruce is reminded of cats in an alley. The next moment Clark has Lex backed up against the wall.
Bruce is poised to intervene but he pauses. Because this is not Clark working out his stress and grief with Lex as a punching bag. This is Clark pinning Lex to the wall and kissing him and from the way Lex's neck is arched and his eyes are closed, the way he's clutching Clark's shoulder, it doesn't appear that Lex wants to be saved.
Clark pulls back from the kiss. He and Lex stare at each other for a minute, then Clark places a hand on Lex's back and propels him towards a room at the back of the penthouse. Bruce notes that Clark seems to know exactly where he is going. Which implies that he's been here, has done this, before. It's a discomfiting thought.
After an hour, Bruce gives up waiting for Clark to re-emerge and uneasily returns to Gotham to check on the Joker.
The only light in the bedroom comes from the skyscrapers below the windows. Clark has one hand on Lex's shoulder and is using his other hand to undo the buttons of Lex's shirt. He's gotten better at buttons, over the years. Lex wriggles - just a little - the better to enjoy the sensation of being held still. Clark tosses Lex's shirt on the floor and kisses him, kisses him so long that Lex has to pull away for a moment, to catch a breath. Clark sweeps them both towards the bed and throws Lex down.
Lex sits up and tugs at Clark's costume. But the costume has always defeated him - the last and smallest of Clark's secrets. Clark ignores the tugging and efficiently strips Lex of the rest of his clothes. Lex lies back and waits, one hand on his stomach, his cock twitching in anticipation. Clark blurs out of his costume and looms over the bed, bathed in the city's blue light. Twelve long years since the river bank and he's still the most beautiful, most astonishing creature Lex has ever seen.
Clark stretches across Lex, covering him completely. Their nipples brush and when Lex gasps, Clark's mouth is instantly pressed to his. He swallows Lex's next breath, rough urgent tongue working its way inside. One of Lex's arms is pinned between them. He struggles to get it free so he can stroke Clark's back, squeeze his ass. They fight to get closer to each other; lips, thighs, bellies and cocks moving in and out of alignment.
Clark sits back on his haunches and looks around the room. Lex tries to sit up too, if only for the pleasure of being pressed back into the mattress by Clark's hand. Lex had deliberately draped his purple silk dressing gown on the back of the bedroom door, where Clark couldn't miss it. Clark returns with the dressing gown cord, pulls Lex's hands above his head and ties his wrists together, looping the end of the cord around the bed-post.
Clark kisses him, tugging Lex's bottom lip with his teeth. He licks along the curve of Lex's chin and Lex arches his neck to get more. Clark's mouth knows its way to all Lex's trigger spots; the pulse in his temple, the delicate skin behind his ears. He hovers over Lex's throat and deliberately sucks a mark just above the collarbone. Lex is already hard but this small flick of pain makes him thrust his hips up, pushing against the restraint of Clark's big hand.
Clark moves lower to lick Lex's nipples and stomach. Occasionally, his chin dips and brushes Lex's cock and Lex moans, thrusting towards Clark's mouth. But Clark isn't ready to let him come yet and he returns to Lex's nipples, flicking them with his tongue. When Clark does move down, he settles between Lex's legs, clasps his hands around Lex's hips and licks around the underside of his cock. He plays with Lex's balls, sucking one, then the other into his mouth and rolling them on his tongue. Lex's cock, desperately hard, is bobbing between them and Lex has given up trying to restrain the frantic sounds coming out of his throat. There's a freedom in having no control left. It's a freedom that Lex never allows himself. Only with Clark.
Clark raises his head and meets Lex's gaze. He licks his fingers, his face framed by Lex's trembling thighs. Then a finger, hot from Clark's mouth, is easing its way inside him. Lex throws his head back, bites his lip. A second finger, slick with lube, follows and twists inside Lex as Clark alternates kisses and bites along his inner thighs.
Clark pushes Lex's thighs to his chest, spreading them so wide that the muscles protest. Lex is completely open, completely exposed. No one but Clark has ever seen Lex this vulnerable and Lex would die before letting anyone else have the privilege. The first push always hurts and Lex yelps. Clark doesn't pull out but he pauses, giving Lex time to adjust. Lex stares up into his eyes, which glitter in the dark room, as though Clark is lit from within. Clark stares back, the tip of his cock throbbing inside Lex, his hands lightly rubbing along Lex's sides. He bends down to kiss Lex again. Lex tightens his legs around Clark's waist and moans as Clark sinks deeper.
Clark only lasts a few more thrusts before coming but his cock stays hard inside Lex. He wraps his hand around Lex's cock and jerks him off in slow strokes. He dips down for another kiss and Lex whimpers at the competing sensations; the soft lips pressed to his, the hard cock inside him, the big hand wrapped around him. One more stroke, a grunt from Clark and Lex is arching up and coming. Clark watches Lex gasp, shudder; gives him a moment to recover his breath. Then he rolls Lex onto his stomach to fuck him again. The thrusts come deeper and faster this time and Lex lets himself go limp, concentrating on Clark's hot breath on his neck, the arms linked around his arms, the strong thighs pushing his own thighs apart. When Clark comes, he collapses onto Lex's back, warm and heavy.
Clark always leaves immediately afterwards but tonight he stays, one arm looped around Lex's waist, his face nuzzled against Lex's neck.
"You couldn't have saved them," Lex says. Clark, untying Lex's hands, doesn't answer. This is a precarious moment; they've always managed better with silence, with the pretense that what just happened - didn't really happen. It doesn't count if you don't talk about it. But this time, Lex feels the need to press on, even though he's probably the very last person Clark would come to for absolution:
"There was no way for anyone to save them. I designed a simulation and ran every possible action that the League could have taken through it. Your actions could, and did, determine the safety of Earth but, based on the extant data of Cerebrian military patterns, those soldiers were lost before you even knew to go looking for them."
Soft noise behind him and a warm huff of air on his neck. Lex waits for the sudden breeze that will signal he is alone in the bed but it does not come. Instead, Clark tightens his arm and pulls Lex closer.
He has never stayed this long before. Lex reaches down for the sheet and pulls it over both of them. He intends to stay awake, to try and make this moment last even as it is slipping away, but he falls asleep almost instantly, lulled by the warmth of Clark's arms and the steady heartbeat against his back.
The next morning, Superman is back to his usual self. Bruce watches him make his rounds at the Watchtower, joking with Wally, getting an update on the Cerebrian retreat from Green Lantern. When Clark's morale is high, the rest of the League responds in kind. Superman is their barometer and, consciously or not, they take their cues from him.
J'onn glides over to join Bruce.
"Superman's spirits seem.... restored today."
"Yes," says Bruce. "However, the cure may have been worse than the disease."
J'onn flicks a glance his way, then looks back to the radar screen. After a silence, Bruce says:
"I don't like it."
"It is Superman's choice. It is not our place to like or dislike it." From someone else, this would be sanctimony; from J'onn, it is simple statement of fact.
"You can read both of them. You know it's not a wise - or safe - pairing."
J'onn strokes his chin; association with Wally has expanded his repertoire of human gestures.
"I know that it is exhausting to be in the same room with Superman and Luthor. It is easier to ignore the thought waves of a city filled of people than the tangled strands, the layers of history that bind the two of them."
"Luthor could start manipulating the situation to his own ends," says Bruce grimly. "Creating catastrophes just to gain Clark's attention. We both know he's capable of it."
"He is," J'onn's eyes follow Clark as he passes. "But he may not find it necessary."
Which is not an answer Bruce finds at all reassuring.
Lex usually works in the lab until well past midnight. But tonight he is in bed by eleven. If the kryptonite shield is still down, the patio door unlocked, well, it's an omission, nothing more.
He has no expectations. Clark never returns for a second night in a row. Chances are, the next time they see each other, it will be through prison bars or Clark will be at the business end of one of Lex's new prototype weapons.
But then there's a breeze through the room and a warm body behind Lex; there are lips pressing a quick kiss against his neck. Lex says nothing but eases back until his head can rest on Clark's arm. They lie together in silence, for perhaps an hour.
"You came back," Lex says, finally.
"You built a simulation," Clark says.
Lex rolls around to face him, genuinely surprised:
"That's why? That's what it takes for you to forgive-"
And then he stops because forgiveness isn't necessarily on the table and it's a dangerous presumption. Clark stares back at him; their heads are side by side on the same pillow.
"Lex, why do you think that I come to you?"
Lex says, slowly:
"For catharsis. To work out your frustration on a man who deserves to be hurt. A man who heals quickly."
Clark shakes his head:
"No, that's your "prepared" answer. You know that's not why. And anyway, I don't hurt you."
Lex says nothing, waits.
"I come to you when I've failed: Failed the country, the planet, failed to save a life. Because Lex, you were my first failure. I messed up so many times; I bailed on you when you needed me most, left you behind in Belle Reve, let you slip right into your father's shadow-"
"I represent failure to you?"
Lex tries to pull away but Clark's arm is a tight band around him.
"The point is, Lex, you're still here. And as long as you're alive, as horrible as things may have gotten between us, there's still the remote chance you can be saved. You don't only represent failure, you also represent hope."
"The last thing in Pandora's box was Hope," says Lex, softly. "After all these years, I was certain-"
"I thought you'd given up on me."
"Oh, I had," says Clark. "I have. Many times. But I've discovered the hard way that giving up on you? It's not the same thing as being able to give you up. Because we keep coming back to each other, Lex. Over and over. And I have to believe there's a reason for that."
"You think you're meant to save me?" says Lex. He's trying to keep his voice casual but with Clark right there, so near, it's hard.
Clark leans in even closer, his eyes dark:
"What would it take? What would it take to save you?"
He's completely serious, really wants to know. Once, Lex would have answered: your secrets. Later, the stakes would have been raised to: your secrets and your love. More recently, the answer would have been glib and cruel, designed to hurt Clark.
Clark says again, urgently:
"Lex, tell me. What would it take?"
"You, in my bed, every night."
As soon as the words are out, Lex is astonished he said it. It's been years since a spontaneous remark has passed Lex's lips. He hasn't been this honest with anyone since.....well, since Clark. But that was a long time ago.
Clark stares at him and Lex stares right back. If he's wishing he could bite back the words, he's not going to let Clark see that. What's said can't be unsaid. Let Clark take it how he wants: fly off in a huff or dust off a lecture from his repertoire.
Clark laughs. The sound....it hurts Lex because he hasn't heard Clark laugh in ages and if it's hard to look back on the painful memories, it's excruciating to look back on the happy ones, now forever out of reach: drinking coffee with Clark in the Beanery, Clark's shout of excitement at sinking the eight ball, watching the sunset from the loft....
Clark is watching him, tiny rueful smile on his face.
"Some nights I don't get to bed at all," says Clark. It's not a promise, nor a rejection, just a statement of fact. And with that, Lex will have to be content as Clark has fallen asleep, his nose bumped awkwardly against Lex's neck.
"Two nights," says Lex, softly to himself. "Two nights and counting...."
And with the words hanging in the air, like a benediction, perhaps, or a wish, Lex falls asleep as well.
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