The Seven-Year Itch

by Corinna

The hallways of Clark's apartment building smelled like coriander and boiled beef. Lex adjusted his carry-on bag on his shoulder as he started up the stairs two at a time, trying to ignore the simultaneous feelings of revulsion and hunger that the smells of a dozen different dinners cooking gave him. He turned the keys in both locks and was about to call out when he heard voices in the far end of the apartment, in the kitchen. Clark's, and a woman's laugh, throaty and unfamiliar. He dropped his bag quietly at the door and silently walked through the living room.

They were at the kitchen table, surrounded by stacks of paper and Styrofoam containers full of Chinese food. Clark had on his dark-rimmed glasses and was wearing the grey sweater Lex had given him last Christmas. Only somehow, on Clark, even Armani managed to look awkward. The woman across from him didn't look awkward at all; she wore a dark green pants suit that draped neatly across her tall thin frame, and her short brown hair was cropped in a perfectly maintained bob. Only the crooked smile on her face as she gestured at Clark with her chopsticks full of food looked out of order.

"Come on, Kent, it's not like it's gonna bite back."

"But... squid? It's just..." He made a face of disgust, and she wiggled the chopsticks closer to his face. "Quit it!"

"You are such a baby!"

By this point, they were both laughing hard enough that Lex had to clear his throat twice before they noticed him in the hallway. The woman shrieked and dropped her chopsticks.

"Lex? I thought -- you're not supposed to be back till next week!"

"If I'd known you were having guests, Clark, I would have called."

"No! No, it's -- I'm -- Lois! Lois, this is, uh --"

"Lex Luthor," the woman said, standing up and wiping her hands. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm --"

"Lois Lane," he said, matching her inflection. "I never forget a face."

"Uh, Lex, we, uh, we're working on this story?" Clark had his hands jammed into his pockets, and he looked anxious.

"Of course. I should let the two of you get back to your work." Lex nodded to Lois and turned to leave. Clark followed him to the door.

"Lex. I'm sorry. That was really awkward." He smiled and ran his hand along Lex's arm. "I didn't even get to say 'welcome home.'"

Clark leaned in towards him, but Lex pulled away with a gentle shake of his head. "You should get back."

"Later? I can --"

"I think I'll turn in early. It was a long flight." Lex took Clark's hand in his own and squeezed it tightly. "You go finish your dinner."

Lex had already sent the car home, so he waited fifteen minutes in the lobby of Clark's building for it to turn back and come get him. When he climbed in the back seat, the driver said, "Mr. Kent's not home, sir?" Lex quashed the desire to fire the man on the spot and checked the messages on his Blackberry.

The next morning, Clark Kent was at Lex's white and chrome office in the LexCorp Building by ten. Lex hadn't expected anything different: after all this time, he knew how Clark would react to almost any provocation. That was why he made sure to be in a meeting with one of his senior vice-presidents until noon. Clark's message was left right at the center of Lex's long glass desk: *Sorry we missed each other -- your place, tonight?*

Superman arrived at Lex's apartment at ten, landing just a little too hard on the granite-tiled terrace. Lex, watching through the French doors from his living room, shook his head as a potted gardenia Mrs. Kent had given him crashed to the stone floor.

"Sorry about that."

"Don't worry. Go get changed." He didn't like Superman much: didn't like the suit or the man Clark became when he inhabited it. It wasn't that Lex was particularly opposed to truth and justice and all that, at least not in principle, but he understood why people didn't recognize Clark Kent in those ridiculous tights. Something about him changed when he was Superman, something deep and profound that Lex couldn't quite name. Whatever it was, it made him seem like a different man: untouchable and, well, alien. Lex wondered if it was something in the Kryptonian materials they'd used to make the suit, or something he'd never seen before in Clark himself. When Clark came out of the bedroom dressed in old gym shorts and a purple Ben & Jerry's T-shirt, Lex could finally smile. "Tough day at the office?"

Clark grinned back at him, and it was like nothing had changed. "Perry made us rewrite the lede on the City Hall story three times. Lois was ready to throttle him." He moved across the living room and in to Lex's arms. "I just wanted to get finished so I could patrol and come here." He kissed him at that, softly and familiarly. "I'm glad you're back."

"I'm glad I'm back too. Are you hungry?"

"No, I'm fine. Let's just go to bed, OK?"

Clark pulled him a little closer, and Lex smiled slowly up at him. "You don't want to talk about it?"

Clark looked confused, and Lex thought a little guilty as well. "About what?" When Lex just kept looking at him, he finally blushed and said, "Yeah, all right. I didn't tell her. I'm sorry."

"Why not?"

"Well... because, well, the first time we did a story on Charlie Glassman, the gay City Council member? She said something, well, rude. About him." Clark pulled away and ran a hand through his hair. It stayed in perfect slicked-back place for Superman, but Clark couldn't keep the curls out of his eyes. "I just -- I really want this job to work out, Lex, and I do like her otherwise, honestly. I just thought that maybe if she got to know me first..."

"That, she wants to do," Lex said.


"Get to know you." Lex wiggled his eyebrows suggestively as he walked to the liquor cabinet.

"Lex! We're just friends. And like she wouldn't be totally out of my league anyhow. Not that I'm looking." Lex opened the Lagavulin and poured himself a double. "Really. It's not like that."

He swallowed a long drink of Scotch. It was warm and smooth, and it tasted like autumn. "Why not?"


"She's interested in you, Clark, and I'm not going to be gone any less anytime soon." The headaches from LexCorp's new European offices only seemed to multiply when he tried to manage them from Metropolis.

"I can't believe this. You want me to cheat on you?"

"It's not cheating if we weren't ever exclusive."

Clark looked pale. "We? I was. I was... exclusive. I've always been."

Lex didn't say anything.

"You -- you haven't...?" There was a long silence. "How, uh, how many?"

Lex tried to make it look like he was counting in his head. "Ten. But that's over seven years."

He'd seen Clark angry and injured and confused before. But he'd never seen him look like this. "T-t-ten? Ten other people?"

"Not when I was with you, of course. When I was away, or you were." Lex took another drink. "Clark, I'm sorry. I should have realized that Smallville's the sort of place where of course you think your relationships are exclusive ones. But I just assumed, if we never lived together..."

"You insisted! In college. You insisted. For my privacy, you said. So you could fuck around."

"And for your privacy," Lex said smoothly. "And so you could fuck around. Isn't that what college is for?" Clark looked enraged, and Lex decided he needed to change the topic quickly before his lover remembered just how easily he could break Lex's skull. "Besides which, you were the one who insisted on keeping your own apartment when you started working."

"Because of what I do! I thought I was being considerate by not crawling into your bed at three AM stinking of soot. Or blood. Or death." Clark looked near tears now, but his voice was steady. "I guess I was wrong about a lot of things."

"I guess you were." Lex felt like he had a sledgehammer in his hands. It was terrible and exhilarating. "But you were so young when we got together. I keep forgetting how little you knew." He finished his drink and put the glass back down by the bottle. "I think we should probably think about taking a break, Clark."

"Yeah," Clark said dully. "I think we should."

Lionel Luthor's retirement was being spent in a hotel particulier in the Sixth Arrondissement -- or, as Clark always called it, a hotel peculiar. The grand house sat well back from the street, ensconced at the center of a perfectly maintained garden. The gardeners, the chauffeur, the house staff, and the very discreet guards at the gates were all LexCorp employees, and they made sure that the old man's exile was at the very least exceedingly comfortable. Lex received a report every week on his father's activities, and he knew his people were punctilious enough that even the conversation he was having with his father on the patio this morning over pain au chocolat and good French coffee would be transcribed and reported back to him. It never hurt to be over-cautious where his father was concerned.

"I'm surprised to see you back so soon, Lex."

He shrugged, and wiped at his mouth with a napkin. "They're having a bit more difficulty than I expected in the Paris office. The home office is doing well enough that I can afford to work from here for a while." He smiled an entirely unconvincing smile. "Besides, I wanted to spend more time with you, Dad."

His father laughed, a delighted bark that sent the pigeons on the lawn fluttering upwards. "Oh, Lex. I do so enjoy our little chats." He took a long sip of coffee and leaned back in his chair. "I'm surprised you can get away, with that mutant menacing your city."

"Superman hasn't been a problem for me," Lex said mildly.

"Not since the power plant disaster," said Lionel.

Oh, and hadn't that been a glorious time to be alive, Lex thought. A few little corners got cut, one failsafe mechanism failed, and suddenly millions of dollars were down the drain, LexCorp had a public relations nightmare on its hands, and Clark wouldn't even speak to him for a full month. The straight and narrow could be frustrating, but in the end it was a lot simpler.

"I stay out of his way, and he stays out of mine."

"That's not the road to greatness, son. You can't spend your entire life staying out of that freak's way."

Lex bit down on his anger and said, as smoothly as he could, "When your potential opponent is both beloved and invulnerable, then your smartest option is to make him your friend."

"No, Lex, your smartest option is to find his vulnerabilities. Everyone has them."

"Not him." Not any Lex would mention, anyway.

"Even him," Lionel said. "If not physical, then emotional. What about that reporter who interviewed him for the Planet?"

"Lois Lane? What about her?"

"Not every man's taste runs to farmboys, Lex. Cherchez la femme."

He could hear Lois's laughter in his head, and something behind his eyes was buzzing, loudly.

"There are two newspapers and four evening news programs in Metropolis. Not to mention the broadcast and cable networks, the weekly newsmagazines, and the larger national papers. Yet out of all the reporters in all the world, he gave his only interview to a young woman. And I'm told she's quite a looker." Lionel's grin was lascivious.

"You think Superman is having an affair with Lois Lane."

"If he's not, Lex, then he wants to be. Mark my words."

A maid arrived with that morning's Le Monde and Times, and the conversation shifted to the difference between the British and French coverage of business news. Lex tried to read a blustery French editorial on oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic, but the words blurred in front of his eyes. What a ridiculous clich he'd been, he thought angrily. The fucking last to know.

He had the company rent him a suite at the Plaza Athenee -- a living room large enough for management meetings, a bedroom bigger than the one he had at home, and a patio with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower. He was in the office every morning by seven. The Parisians had a far more relaxed attitude towards their work than he was used to from his American employees, and he liked to think he frightened them by getting into the office so early and getting so much done.

The hotel found him an adequate salle, and he practiced fencing there when he got the chance, though he'd never yet found a teacher he liked as much as he'd liked Heike. He arranged with Ducasse to have a small dinner sent up to him each weeknight -- usually the sea bass -- and he reviewed the day's paperwork over dinner with, weather permitting, a nightcap outdoors, looking out to the Tower. He didn't search the sky for the familiar flash of red. He knew better than to look for it now.

After the first full week, the packages began to arrive, and soon Lex had a new ritual.

He hired Paul Gennaro right before he left Metropolis. He'd had enough trouble with rogue employees in the past that he'd spent time and effort researching Gennaro before approaching him, and felt confident that this man, at least, was a professional. He wouldn't go further than his contract specified, which was simply to report on the joint activities of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, as well as any meetings between Ms. Lane and Superman. *Don't send me anything if there's nothing to know*, Lex had cautioned, *you'll get paid the same either way*, but every Friday the packages came.

So every Friday night Lex finished his dinner, took a long hot shower, and read. The reports were lengthy and detailed: Kent and Lane lunch together at a midtown sushi bar; Kent and Lane work late into the night at the Planet; Kent and Lane go to a baseball game on a warm Saturday afternoon; Kent and Lane, Kent and Lane, Kent and Lane. Superman was mostly absent, only showing up once in a while to save Lois from the trouble she attracted like a magnet, but Lois and Clark seemed to go everywhere together. Where he could, Gennaro included photographs: Lois and Clark walking down Liberty Street hand in hand, laughing together at Luthor Stadium, dining at the Palm. Lex read through the report from start to finish, and then he looked at any photographs in the order Gennaro had stacked them in the envelope. Just once, but that was enough. Clark looked comfortable and relaxed, and Lois looked happy to be with him. They were holding hands in more than one picture, and one afternoon Gennaro had shot a whole roll of film of the two of them walking arm in arm. After he was done, Lex threw the photos and the report away, dressed again, and went out.

Paris is an excellent place to be young and rich: Lex knew this from his rebellious adolescence the same way he knew how to make 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine in a lab. And in the same way that the bench scientists at LexCorp Paris were honored to have the CEO spend a few days with them learning the way their laboratories worked, the concierge staff at the Plaza Athenee was honored to help Mr. Luthor find the most exclusive new clubs in the city -- though after that first night, when he'd gone out looking like some Vogue editor's fantasy of a rentboy with a pocketful of homebrewed Ecstasy caplets, he'd found his own parties. By the Friday when Paul Gennaro's envelope arrived with a picture of Clark and Lois in Harborview Park, their mouths joined together in the most gentle of kisses, Lex didn't even need to ask where to go to scratch the itch it gave him, just to make an appointment, and if the blood didn't come out of the white Frette sheets, no one at the hotel thought to mention it to him.

He still went to work at seven on Monday morning; this was still his company, after all, his great triumph. But he was starting to notice that his direct reports saved their most dubious and quasi-legal suggestions for meetings held on Monday afternoons. He worked late into the night on Tuesday and Wednesday to catch up with himself, and washed down his Thursday nightcap with a Xanax to make sure he'd get a good night's sleep. He knew how to pace himself now, he reassured himself, and anyhow this wouldn't last. He had a corporation to run, and greatness still within his grasp. He just needed a little time, and then he'd be himself again.

Still, it was on a Monday afternoon at three when he was kidnapped, and his first thought was that he should definitely have had more coffee.

They took him from the balcony of his hotel room, where his luncheon meeting with the heads of the various European divisions had turned into an after-lunch discussion fueled by Burgundy and the foulest cigarettes Lex could ever remember having smelled. He'd walked a few paces from the table and leaned back against the rail so he could listen and still get some reasonably fresh air, and then out of nowhere there was someone grabbing at the back of his shirt and his jacket, and he was being lifted high into the air.

"Hey!" For a moment he thought it must be Clark playing some ridiculous prank, and his arms went up behind him to pry off the hands that had him.

"Careful, Mister Luthor," said a tinny and decidedly unfamiliar voice, and Lex jerked around as they went higher and higher, trying to see his captors. There were two of them, both dressed in metallic silver suits from head to toe, like some futuristic hazmat team, and their headpieces had both a visor and some sort of speaker device at the mouth. The part that was really freaking Lex out, though, was the jetpacks.

For a man who'd spent most of his adult life in a relationship with a super-powerful extraterrestrial, Lex Luthor had a very low tolerance for implausible inventions in science fiction. More than once, he'd drawn graphs for Clark after a movie screening demonstrating how the motor scooters and jetpacks of the film's future simply wouldn't work. "If it's hot enough to cook those burgers, it would've burnt the man's legs off before it got any kind of thrust at all." Clark would murmur something obscene about thrust, or roll his eyes and spend the rest of the evening floating a few inches off the ground just to be difficult. These jetpacks, though, weren't powered by combustion engines. The big metal boxes strapped to his captors' backs had no exhaust system. Electromagnetic propulsion? Lex twisted harder, trying to see.

"Careful," said the second man. "You really don't want us to drop you, Mr. Luthor. It's a long way down."

Lex looked down, and immediately wished he hadn't. The old nausea from being too high up slammed into him and he swallowed hard. Far below, on his balcony, his division heads were pointing upwards and exclaiming loudly: he hoped one of them had had the sense to call the police already. Or maybe some tourist on the Eiffel Tower had a cell phone; they were nearly level with the upper viewing platform.

"It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature, Mr. Luthor," said the man who was holding him. He had a gun in his other hand. "Leaky power plants, radiation research, genetically-modified rice and soy, chemical pesticides and fertilizers... looks like all of your factory-farm chickens are coming home to roost at the same time."

"What do you want?"

"To send a message to CEOs worldwide that they'll be held personally responsible for the poison their companies spew at us," said the other man. He had a weapon in a holster at his waist, and Lex wondered wildly if it was a ray gun.

"Personally," said the man carrying him, "I'd like to see you make a Rorschach blot on the Avenue Montaigne, but my comrades seem to think a multi-million dollar ransom will be more effective in scaring your colleagues." He laughed and tightened his grip on Lex's collar as they started to fly east, away from the city center. "Maybe we'll try both and find out."

Oh, Christ, Lex thought. Let's hope this still works. "Superman?" he shouted. "Superman! Help!"

There was a long silence in response. Lex could hear his own heart pounding wildly over the hum of the jetpack engines. He fantasized that he could hear the threads holding his collar to his shirt beginning to rip free. He looked down at the red umbrellas over the tables in the hotel garden and the dizziness washed over him with renewed force. "Superman!" he called again. "Superman!!"

"Hey, Lex. How's it hangin'?"

Lex had never been so happy to see that stupid blue suit in his entire life. Clark flashed him a quick grin, the same one he'd been so susceptible to back in Smallville, and for just a split second they were back in the Talon and Clark was trying another unconvincing story about how he'd saved Lex from the town's latest mutant. Lex could only shake his head and smile weakly back.

"If you want to keep your jetpacks in one piece," Clark was telling the kidnappers in his most commanding Superman tones, "you'll let me take Mr. Luthor now."

The man who was carrying him changed his grip so that he was holding Lex beneath the ribcage, with his gun jammed up against Lex's heart. "If you touch us, the boy billionaire gets it."

Clark backed away, his hands ostentatiously up in the air. "I'm not interested in seeing Luthor get hurt," he said, and something inside Lex twisted up. "Why don't you tell us what you want, and we'll see what we can do."

"I don't bargain with terrorists," Lex spat, and he could hear his father's voice in his own.

Clark kept looking at the metal-suited men. "Tell me what you want in exchange for his safety."

"This is no good," said the second man. "We make an enemy of Superman, we're screwed. Just give him to him."

"No!" said his captor, and jabbed his gun into Lex's chest again. "Either way we're dead men. I want to make an example of Luthor."

"Let him go," Clark said, his voice a bit more urgent now, "and I give you my word that you can both leave here safely."

"Don't be such a fucking soft touch," Lex said. "If they kill me, you know what they get? My father. He's my primary heir. I've done more for the environment in four years than he has in forty -- they'd just be screwing themselves." His will left Clark a small fortune, and set up a charitable foundation that would promote sustainable agriculture in the Third World and keep Clark's parents financially comfortable as foundation board members for the rest of their lives. But there was no reason not to bluff here.

"This is my negotiation," Clark said. "We do it my way, and everyone gets to walk away. Drop him."


The second kidnapper shouted something incomprehensible at Lex's captor, and kicked him, hard, at the back of the neck. The man screamed, and suddenly Lex was falling, falling so fast he couldn't breathe, and then Clark was slamming into him, grabbing him, holding him close, and his hands were clutching at the suit and at the man beneath it. The cape flicked around his ankles as Clark righted them both, and he was safe again. He managed to choke out a breath, and inhaled again into tight lungs.

"It's OK, Lex." Clark, so close, so solid and warm. "I've got you. I've got you."

When he finally stopped shaking, Lex said, "The hotel -- the group of baffled-looking middle-aged men on a balcony, those are mine."

Clark chuckled. "Tell me where. We'll go slow." He slid one arm firmly around Lex's waist. "Hold on." Lex put an arm around Clark's shoulders and held on tight as they came down.

The directors did indeed look astonished, and Lex didn't think any of them had left the balcony since he he'd been grabbed. He made a mental note to call his headhunter in the morning and put her to work finding some new European executives. "Gentlemen," he said as he stepped out of Clark's embrace. "I'll want you all to speak to the authorities about what you saw today, of course, but I don't think we'll get anything more done here this afternoon." Give the men some credit, Lex thought amusedly, they cleared a room quickly. Even the presence of Superman, his face now masked by his most imposing expression, only slowed them down long enough for each of them to stumble through an awed greeting. When they were all gone, Lex turned back to Clark. "I'd have thought you'd have gone after them already."

"I gave my word, Lex. I'll tell the police everything I can, and hopefully we can stop them before they can try this stunt with anyone else. But I said they could leave safely, and I meant it."

"You really are a soft touch."

"You're lucky I decided to do a morning patrol in Europe," Clark said sternly.

"So, the shouting for Superman thing doesn't work as well here as it does in Metropolis?"

"A lot of things don't work as well when you're not in Metropolis."

It had been a long weekend, but Lex could still see Gennaro's photos in his mind's eye: Lois at brunch with Clark and his parents at the only restaurant worth the name in Clark's neighborhood. "Maybe some things work better."

Clark shook his head with a mixture of disgust and regret. "I swear to God, Lex." He stood at the balcony door and looked up at the clear blue sky. "If you want to stay here and make yourself miserable, that's your business. But get some sleep. You look like something the cat dragged in."

"It's too quiet here," Lex blurted.

Clark turned back to look at him, and smiled, just a little. "I miss you too."

But then the moment passed, and he was Superman again. "Tell the police that if they need a statement from me, I'll be available first thing tomorrow morning, French time."

"Not now?"

"It's a little after eight o'clock in Metropolis. I have to get to work." Lex tried to imagine the effort it took to keep all of Clark's lives going at the same time, and he wondered why he'd never thought about that before. "You can call me in the newsroom if there's a problem."

He scanned the sky, preparing for takeoff, and Lex felt a scrabbling ache in his chest. "Hey."

Clark turned his head and waited.

"Did you see the jetpacks those guys had? Non-combustive propulsion."

"I saw," Clark said. "Tell the police everything you noticed. It'll help."

A gust of wind, and he was gone again. Lex slipped off his shoes and curled up on the large bed.

Clark Kent had three telephone numbers in Metropolis: the Planet, his apartment, and the beeper that got routed through the AI in the Fortress of Solitude. He picked up at the second one Lex tried.


"You're home early."

"Lex. How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks. Are you, ah, busy? I can call back some other time."

"No. I'm just making some dinner."

"Enough for two?"

"Lex," Clark said sharply.

"No, seriously. I slept through the meal on the plane, and I'm hungry."

"On the --? Lex, where are you?"

"Downstairs," Lex said, as he pulled into a parking space on Third Street. God, he'd missed his Spider.

"Oh. Uh, sure. Yeah. Give me a minute, and I'll buzz you in." Lex still had the keys, but he waited for the noise that announced the front door was open, and knocked when he got to Clark's apartment. Clark was still dressed for work, a dark blue-striped tie pulled half-open around the collar of his light blue oxford. "This is a surprise."

"Yes. Well." Lex stepped into the apartment, looking around at everything as though checking for things that had changed in his absence. From the kitchen, he could smell onions and garlic and olive oil.

"I'm just making spaghetti and a salad."

"What? Oh, that's fine. I can -- or if you don't have enough, I can --"

"No, you can stay." Clark motioned his head back towards the kitchen, and Lex followed him in and sat down at the table.

"I would've brought a bottle of wine if I'd known you'd be cooking."

"Why are you here, Lex?" Clark was standing at the stove, facing away from him.

"Why?" Lex had stared down CEOs, politicians, thugs, murderers, and his own father. He couldn't look at Clark. "Metropolis is my home."

"This apartment isn't."

"No." He paused. "I wanted to thank you for what you did last week. And I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry I was so harsh at my place that time."

"When you left," Clark said severely.

"Yes. When I left." Clark turned to reach for a box of Pomi tomatoes, and their eyes locked. "I was trying to make it easier on you."

"Easier?" Clark looked incredulous. "What were you trying to make easier on me?"

"Outgrowing me." Lex tried to say it lightly, the way his public appearance coach had taught him, but there was a bright ball of pain between his lungs and he wasn't sure if he'd managed to not sound scared.

In a blink, the stove had been turned off, the skillet put on a cold burner, and Clark was sitting at the table beside him. "Are you high?"


"Because I know some of that stuff makes you paranoid."

"Don't make a joke of it."

"I'm not." His hand came up against the side of Lex's face; it was all Lex could do not to lean into it. "That's what all this has been? You think you're gonna get hurt, so you push away twice as hard, make sure you hurt first?" Lex didn't respond, but he closed his eyes when Clark's thumb started to gently stroke at his cheekbone. "I thought *you'd* outgrown that, Lex."

He flinched away at that. "It's not like I'm hallucinating, Clark. Your life has changed a lot since you started being Superman. Maybe what you want, what you need has changed too. And I saw you with her -- you were practically glowing, both of you. What was I going to think?"

"Well, for starters, that you should talk to me first?" Clark pulled his tie a little looser. "It's true. There's been a lot going on for me. It's a big thing to do. To be Superman. There's a lot -- everything's different. And, yeah, I was attracted to Lois. I mean, she's beautiful. And smart. And funny. And she needs saving almost as often as you do." He made a wry face. "I hadn't realized that was a turn-on."

Lex wanted to smile back at him, but his throat was closed, and he couldn't quite manage it.

"And, yes, when you left, we..." He stopped himself, and looked straight into Lex's eyes before continuing. "Lois and I started sleeping together about three weeks after you left Metropolis." The buzzing behind his eyes was back, and Clark was talking to him from very far away. "I told her all about the two of us, and what happened, and it turned out she wasn't so much, you know, a homophobe as, uh, really pissed off by Councilman Glassman, and kind of foul-mouthed." He smiled reminiscently. "It was nice. It was... really nice. It didn't last, though. It wouldn't ever have lasted."


"We're better as friends. And, well, I liked it, but I prefer guys, really." His face clouded. "Not enough to fuck around on my partner, of course, but --"

"It was a lie," Lex said, and his voice was shaking. "I was lying. I never.... Until Paris. I never did."

"No?" echoed Clark. His hand came up to Lex's face again. "Then I guess we're even on that score."

And they weren't, they wouldn't ever be even, Lex thought, and, God, he still wished they could. He reached out to touch Clark's hair, and before he could think about it he was on top of him, toppling them both to the floor as the wooden chair squealed and cracked. "Oh, God," he said, and they were kissing.

It wasn't the comfortable quick kiss of homecomings and Sunday dinners, or the familiar passion of a thousand and one nights in the same bed. It wasn't even the way they'd kissed when they'd started out, hungry and hunted and desperate to learn every inch of each other. This was consuming, Lex thought, this was reclaiming -- burning away every touch, every taste either of them had had of someone else, angry and loving and possessive all at once. "Oh, God. Clark." he gasped when he came up for air. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," Clark said, his hands still moving across the back of Lex's head. "I'm guessing my downstairs neighbors were a little freaked out, though. You?"

"I think I threw my back out."

Clark laughed and gently rolled the two of them onto the floor, with his own broad body covering Lex's. "You've got to be careful. Slips and falls in the home are a leading cause of accidental death."

"I don't think that was a fall so much as a throw," Lex said, and then Clark was kissing him again, deeply and urgently, his tongue investigating Lex's mouth and his hips grinding against Lex's own and it was so sweet, so right, and Lex collapsed into it, his body moving through the sensations and his hands pulling at the buttons of Clark's shirt, at his own, anything for more touch, more of this feeling. Clark was unbuttoning his trousers, and he was so hard it was hurting. Lex's hips jerked upwards and he moaned as Clark moved down his body, taking him into his mouth, and his hands clasped at Clark's black hair and strong arms and he was calling Clark's name and cursing as Clark sucked at him harder till he came with a shout, his shoulder blades spasming up from the floor and slamming back down again.

Clark wiped his mouth on his shirtsleeve and grinned up at him, and the whole thing just seemed so ridiculous and right that Lex laughed out loud. He pulled Clark up and kissed him, slow and deep, and his hands moved across Clark's chest, touching and rubbing the way he knew Clark liked it, until Clark was panting before Lex even reached his navel. Lex opened his khakis -- did no one in journalism have any fashion sense? -- and he gasped as Lex began to jack him hard. Lex was still kissing Clark, ruthlessly, skillfully, gently, and Clark's tongue was in his mouth as his hand sped up with Clark's thrusts. Lex pulled away just far enough for their eyes to lock as they moved together, and Clark shuddered as he came.

They lay together on the floor for a while, lazily nosing and nipping at each other. It was the kitchen timer that broke the mood, its shrill bell an awkward jolt. The situation suddenly felt awkward and strange, and Clark pulled himself up by one arm and started to look around for his shoes and tie.

"Terrible tie," said Lex, snaking his arms around Clark's torso again. "Don't think about it."

"It's not the... Lex." Clark's voice was serious and tight, and Lex sobered immediately at the sound of it. "You really hurt me, you know."

"I know," Lex said quietly. "I knew I was being hurtful. And I just kept, I kept making it worse. Like I wanted to see how bad it could get."

Clark sighed. "Do you know what my mother told me once?"

"Now is not the time to be mentioning your mother, Clark."

"She told me that when you're committed to someone, you have to be prepared for the fact that sometimes you don't get bad days or bad weeks, but entire bad years."

"Is that what this is?" Lex asked, his fingers still tracing faint patterns on Clark's ribcage. "A bad year?"

"I wouldn't call it our best."

"Well," said Lex, "we still have a few months. Maybe we can try to salvage something from it."

Clark smiled down at him and something in the back of Lex's mind snapped into place with an almost audible click.

"Move in with me?" he asked.


"Well, not right now. When you hate me a bit less. If. Move in with me." He pulled Clark back down to the floor beside him. "If Perry White gave you a job knowing you were sleeping with me, he's not going to fire you for moving in with me. And I'm not about to start insisting you come to LexCorp events or join me at the opera."

"Well..." Clark sounded unconvinced. "It's not just the appearing in the gossip columns thing. It's the whole, you know, Superman thing too."

Lex understood what he meant by that now. "You mean the coming home in the middle of the night smelling like -- how'd you put it? -- soot and blood and death?" Clark nodded. "Why are you trying to protect me from that?"

"It's ugly, Lex, and it's hard. You shouldn't have to see that."

"But you see it all the time. And maybe you need someone to be there for you when you come home from it." Lex smoothed a stray curl back from his forehead. "That's what I'm here for. That, and being dangled like an idiot above the Septieme Arrondissement."

"You do that very well."

"Well, thank you; I try."

"So," Clark asked in a very amused voice, "you're saying that, along with the getting kidnapped and nearly killed, and all the other death-defying situations you always seem to get yourself into, you want to protect me?"

"If anyone can do it," he said, "it's Lex Luthor."

Much, much later, Lex was awoken from a comfortable sleep by his upper body thudding down onto Clark's bed. Clark was still floating upwards, but eventually he seemed to settle comfortably some three feet above the mattress. "I swear to God," Lex muttered, "if he falls down on top of me again, it's over."

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