Lois felt a breeze on her face. She dropped her cigarette, took half a step and pinned it to the concrete without looking. Smiling broadly, she ground it out with the heel of her shoe.
Clark landed on the roof, shaking his head. "I thought you said you quit."
"I thought you were going to be back in Metropolis on Tuesday." Lois held out her arms. Clark picked her up and whirled her around once.
"I missed you," he said, and kissed her. Lois wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Bed's too empty when you're gone," she said. "I had to seduce the pizza boy just to get a good night's sleep."
Clark set her down, frowning. "You had pizza without me?"
"Saved you some." Lois couldn't help but beam as Clark grinned. They stared at each other for a chest-tightening moment, and then they were kissing again, like they'd never stopped since she'd sent him off a week ago. Like they'd never had to stop, and never would. God, Lois thought. If anyone-- anyone in the world-- could see her now.
She knew what most of her co-workers at the Planet thought, and she could guess what they made of her back in Smallville: Lois Lane, cool-headed, cold-hearted big city journalist. So career-focused that she still refused to make an honest man out of Clark Kent, though he was totally devoted to her and they'd been living together for nearly three years anyway. She'd once overheard one of the mailroom boys telling another, "Well, it's not like she'd take his name."
Which was true enough, Lois had to admit. Even if it hadn't been Clark that she'd fallen in love with.
Clark kissed her softly and pulled away, and Lois raised a hand to flick his bangs back off his forehead. "See you at home?"
"You, me and the pizza boy." He tapped her nose with his finger, and lifted into the sky.
Lois watched until his red cape faded to a speck, then closed her eyes. She'd always been more practical than romantic. Her relationship with Clark was defined by the realities of their lives, including his lives. Superman couldn't wear a wedding ring. People would realize he had a secret life, and that would be the beginning of the end.
She paused at the stairwell, debated for a moment, then sighed and left the quarter-empty pack of Pall Malls in the garbage can by the doorway. Cracking her knuckles, she headed back down to the bullpen.
Clark couldn't wear a wedding ring, so... Lois wouldn't. She remembered the desperate apology on his face as he'd stammered out his proposal, down on one knee on the path by the rosebushes in Worthington Park. She'd known then it just wouldn't work.
So she'd said no, and showed up that weekend with a U-Haul to move the rest of his stuff into her apartment. Nobody carried anybody over the threshold, but maybe it worked better that way.
If she'd said yes, Clark would feel like a liar and a heel every time he looked at his left hand. If they weren't actually married then it wasn't a problem.
Such an old-fashioned boy, her man.
In some ways, of course. Not all.
"Hey, you," said Cat Grant as Lois stepped off the elevator.
"Cat." Lois wiped the dopey smile off her face, raising an eyebrow, but it was too late. Cat was smirking. As the Daily Planet's society columnist, Cat took every opportunity to fawn over the Daily Planet's most high-profile on-staff couple, even though it drove Lois nuts. Mainly because it drove Lois nuts, she sometimes suspected; and unlike Lex Luthor, Lois' current boyfriend he didn't tend to mete out punishment to journalists who wrote things about him that he didn't like.
"Now there's a got-the-cream look." Cat grinned, falling into step with Lois. "And I ought to know. Mister Man getting home tonight?"
"His flight gets in at eight," Lois said. Actually, Clark didn't mind at all when Cat threw their pictures all over the society page, because it helped counter the 'Lois Lane, Superman's Girlfriend' stories that some Metropolis tabloids still dragged out every now and then.
"Sweet," Cat said lazily, winding a long curl of red hair around her finger. "Any special plans?"
Lois considered hinting, 'rhymes with fuck-like-weasels,' but refrained. "Quiet night in."
"Great," Cat said, and linked her arm with Lois', tugging her around the corner towards Cat's office. "Hey, you have a second, right? I could use your input on a little thing I'm putting together."
"Sure," Lois said. Cat smiled, flipped her hair back over her shoulder, and held open the door of her office. Lois walked in, glanced at the man in the seat in front of Cat's desk, and froze.
He rose smoothly. "Lois."
Lois shot Cat an exasperated glare. It bounced off, just as expected. "Oh, yeah," Cat said, circling around her desk and clicking on a portable recorder. "You two know each other, don't you? Mr. Luthor-- I can call you Lex, right? Lex, do you have any comments about your recent divorce? The rumors that--"
"Good day, Ms. Grant," Lex cut her off, turning sideways to pass by Lois and walk out of the office.
Lois followed him, shutting Cat's office door firmly behind her. "Lex, wait," she said. "Look, I didn't have anything to do with that." He didn't stop walking towards the elevators, and she frowned and quickened her steps, hurrying after him. "Lex. You know that's not my style."
"You can tell Ms. Grant another paper will be covering the re-opening of Metropolis General's pediatric wing." Lex's voice was cool as he punched the down button for the elevator. He stuck his hands in his pockets and pursed his mouth, watching the lights over the doors. The way he always had when he was angry.
Lois sighed. "Lex. I was sorry to hear about Patricia."
Lex smiled bitterly-- obviously thinking of a response, but holding back. He'd had that look on his face for most of the time they'd dated. Saying nothing, for fear his comment might end up a headline.
He'd never trusted her. It still stung, but she didn't say anything about it. She really didn't want to rub salt in Lex's wounds. Cat had probably been hoping that she didn't give a damn any more; that their ancient breakup would make his personal life fair game for Lois' usual no-holds-barred style. But then, there was a lot Cat just didn't get.
"Clark tried to call you," she said. "He said you never called him back."
He glanced at her, surprised, and Lois frowned, confused. Surely he'd at least gotten the message? Or maybe he was just startled that Lois knew.
"We don't have secrets from each other," Lois said, then winced when Lex did. "Hey. I didn't mean that to be..."
"A cheap shot?" Lex said lightly as the elevator finally arrived. "I believe you, Lois. Like you said... not your style." He stepped into the elevator. "Give your partner my regards."
Lois watched him go and sighed, rubbing her finger across the bridge of her nose.
Turning on her heel, she headed back to Cat's office, sticking her head in the door and smiling brightly. "Hey, Cat," she said. "You want to tell Perry who got the Planet banned from Lex's hospital bash, or should I?"
"A quote about his divorce from the Senator's daughter would've balanced that out," Cat shot back, scowling. "You tell him, Lois. And make sure to add that you cut Lex Luthor a break 'cause you used to date him."
"You tell me when I've cut LexCorp a break and I gladly will!" Lois retorted, then lowered her voice. "Cat, I've been involved in Lex's personal life. As a reporter, I kind of have to pass that by. You want to tack his spleen to the wall, be my guest, but be a big girl about it. I can't cut your meat for you."
She closed Cat's door quietly and stalked back into the bullpen. Leave it to Cat to ruin the best mood she'd been in all week.
If she knew one thing about Lex, it was that he didn't like to fail. One annulment and two divorces before thirty... shit, he had to be hurting now. Lois actually knew the extenuating circumstances of the annulment, thanks to Clark. But she didn't imagine the circumstances made it any less painful in Lex's memory.
Lois sighed a little, heading over to her desk and pulling out her chair. So damned ironic. She'd met Lex first, dated him for months, but she'd never really known him that well. She'd learned more about Lex from Clark, later, than she ever had from dating Lex himself.
Irony pretty much abounded when it came to the Kent-Lane household and Lex Luthor. Cat probably would've had better luck springing Clark on him, if she'd wanted to get an unpredictable reaction. Lois was the only one who'd dated him, but Clark... Clark had actually loved the guy. She could see it in his eyes whenever some tabloid splashed lies about Luthor across its front pages. Whenever Lex made the latest move in his obsessive games with Superman. An old, unrequited ache.
Lois sat down at her desk, hitting her mouse to wake up her computer. Clark's desk was pushed up against hers, and she reached across and grabbed the framed picture he kept next to his own computer. It was of her and Clark in Smallville, sitting on the porch swing out in front of the Kents' house. Snuggling under a quilt with a silly smile on her face; this picture was horrible for Lois' reputation. Clark was on orders to hide it in his desk whenever she had an appointment with anyone even vaguely important. She smiled at it for a second.
Clark was such a softie.
She sighed. Clark and Lex had been playing games before she'd ever met either of them. Maybe things weren't exactly broken beyond fixing, but Lois didn't quite see any way for it to end well. The worst possibility was Lex discovering Clark's secrets. Lois lay awake at night sometimes, wondering what they'd all do if that happened.
Worrying didn't help anything, though. Lois put the picture back on Clark's desk, turned back to her computer and started to type. She didn't want Lex Luthor as an enemy, but if it ever came to that? She'd step up.
Just like everyone said. Lois Lane was one cold-hearted bitch on wheels.
She'd do what she had to do.
The weekend, and the opening of the new pediatric wing, passed uneventfully. Lex gave instructions to have any representatives of the Daily Planet turned away at the door, but none showed. Upon reflection, he could almost find it in his heart to be grateful to Cat Grant for her little stunt. He hadn't been looking forward to a public encounter with either half of Lane and Kent. Not right now. Not when he was still finding Patricia's shoes under the bed, her scent on his sheets no matter how often he sent them out to be laundered.
Lex tried to leave those thoughts out of the office, though. And he was slowly regaining his equilibrium, his sense of routine. There was a certain Monday morning ritual, for instance. A constant for the last few years, no matter what else happened in his life.
Discipline was a virtue. Lex always made himself wait until the he heard the outer doors of the foyer to his office click shut behind the messenger before he reached for his letter opener and disemboweled the thick envelope on his desk.
Obsession was... something else. The photographs and typed reports spilled out onto the top of his desk. Lex gathered them together in his hands, stacking them neatly on the oak surface before leaning back in his chair to flip through them, one by one.
Once this fixation had been searingly intense, the hunger for knowledge something that had almost turned him inside out, left him wide open, raw and empty. These days, if Lex was going to be honest with himself, he had more important, more everyday things to command his attention. Like the new hospital wing, and his plans for a riverwalk down near Montgomery Pier. These days, the Monday morning reports were little more than habit, and a need to be informed about the happenings in his city.
He paused halfway through, and swallowed hard.
After almost five minutes, he stretched out a hand and tapped the intercom button on his desk. "Ms. Tessmacher."
"Yes, Mr. Luthor?" his office administrator answered.
Lex stared at the black-and-white photograph in his lap. He hadn't had a drink in almost three years, but he was tasting Scotch in the back of his throat. "Hold all my calls till further notice."
Lex could've had Ms. Tessmacher connect him to the Daily Planet immediately. Probably directly to Clark's extension. But instead he called directory assistance himself, spelled out K-E-N-T when the Planet's voice-mail system prodded him, and listened to Leonard Cohen muzak for three minutes until someone finally picked up the phone.
"Clark Kent, Daily Planet."
He closed his eyes. "Clark. It's Lex."
"Lex?" Clark said. He sounded pleased, then stopped and moderated his tone. "It's been a while."
"Yeah," Lex said. "Too long." He didn't say he was sorry. The gap between them now wasn't entirely of his own making, and besides, he wasn't really that sorry. The people in Lex's life now didn't lie to him; mainly because Lex ensured that they couldn't. But could you really put a price on peace of mind? "Listen, Clark, some things have come up. You and I need to talk."
There was a short pause, and Lex wondered if that had sounded too much like an order.
"Okay," Clark said guardedly.
Lex decided he didn't care. "In person."
Another pause. "Lex, I just got back from Austria on Friday. I'm still a little jet-lagged. Whatever it is--"
"Clark," Lex said tiredly. For about the thousandth time, he wished he'd saved the 'trust me' card till a little later in the game. It might have come in handy at times-- now, for instance. "It's important."
"All right." Clark sighed. "When?"
"I'll send a car," Lex said automatically, then flinched.
"Forget it." Clark said, sounding disappointed. "See you in ten." He hung up.
When Clark arrived, he seemed to have softened somewhat. "Hi, Lex. Um, I just wanted to say, I'm sorry about--"
"That's not relevant now," Lex said, tightening his hands on the arms of his chair. Whether he meant Cat, Patricia, or something else entirely. It really didn't matter. "Here." He stood up and came around the desk, waving Clark over to the low leather couches in the far corner of his office. Clark regarded him warily through the ridiculous emo glasses he'd started affecting in college, mere months after Lex had lost the right to tell him, as a friend, that he looked like a huge, fucking geek.
Lex turned away, only glancing back to check Clark's reaction as they neared the huge glass windows that looked out over downtown Metropolis. But apparently Clark was the one guy in Metropolis who wasn't impressed by the view from the eighty-eighth floor.
That wasn't what Lex had to show him, anyway.
Clark sat, and Lex sat down across from him. The envelope, empty now except for a few photographs, sat on the glass-topped coffee table between them. Clark looked at it for a moment, checked Lex's eyes, then reached for it. Lex stopped his hand.
"Clark, first of all, I want you to know I'm not doing this to hurt you," he said. Clark stared at him, hard-eyed, and pulled his hand away, sliding the envelope over to his side of the table.
Lex stared down at Clark's reflection in the glass tabletop as Clark opened the envelope. He knew what Clark was seeing. Superman landing on the roof of the Daily Planet, Lois Lane throwing herself into his arms. Their hands all over each others' bodies as they kissed.
Lex hadn't ever had Lois tailed while *they'd* been dating. He wondered now if that had been a mistake.
"She's cheating on you," he said quietly, and Clark's head snapped up.
"What? How-- how could you do this? God, how dare you!"
Lex had expected to be a focus of Clark's anger; he'd even expected it to hurt. Just not quite like this. Clark's hands were shaking so badly that the photographs rattled against each other. "You would've done the same," Lex said quietly, reaching out to touch Clark's arm. "You have."
Clark jerked away and stood up. "I can't believe this. What, spying on me got old, so now you're spying on my wife?" he demanded. Pictures still clutched in his hands, he moved away towards the windows, shoulders hunched forward. Lex blinked, staring after him. As far as he knew, Lois and Clark hadn't even lived together long enough to qualify for common-law marriage.
Clark, however, didn't seem to realize he'd said anything unusual. "I wasn't watching Lois," Lex said, rising to follow Clark. "I've been tracking the alien."
"Oh, yeah," Clark said without turning, voice heavy with sarcasm, "and gee, where'd you tell them to look? Lois! Everyone knows she's..." He choked and turned away, so that all Lex could see was the back of his neck.
'Superman's girlfriend,' Lex thought, but didn't say. "You realize," he said, "you just called her your wife?"
That got his attention. Shock and pain were warring in Clark's eyes. "I love her."
"She won't marry you," Lex said softly. "She sleeps around--"
"God, will you just shut up!" Clark roared, advancing, and Lex broke with a lifetime's training and actually took a step back. "I love her, Lex! And not that it's any of your business, but Lois and I have-- have an open relationship, so you can just-- she is not cheating on me!"
Lex couldn't help but snort, then immediately cleared the amusement from his face, trying for honest sympathy. "Clark," he said, reaching out for his arm. "You never were a very good liar."
"Fuck you." Clark jerked away, stalking past Lex to the coffee table. Scooping up the envelope, he started to collect the photographs and stuff them back into the envelope.
Showing his disbelief had obviously been a major tactical error, and Lex kicked himself for it. Still. Open relationship, Lex's pale hairless ass. You could take the boy out of Smallville, but you couldn't take the Smallville out of the boy. And Clark Kent was Smallville to the bone.
Lex could understand more than anyone the importance of saving face. But he could also knew how much it hurt not to have anyone you could be real with, at the end of the day.
He closed his eyes and let Clark stalk out of the office, then broke and strode after him. He didn't run.
"Clark," he said, catching his arm, forcing Clark to stop. "Listen to me. I swear, I didn't do this because--" He swallowed hard. "I thought you'd want to know."
"I did know," Clark gritted out, and he'd either gotten better at lying or he was actually telling the truth, because Lex really couldn't tell any more.
"Right," Lex said, and maybe he still sounded cynical. He couldn't bring himself to regret it for more than a bare moment, though, because before he knew what the hell was going on, Clark's hand was fastened around his wrist like a manacle and Clark was shoving him inexorably back against the wall. Clark's mouth was hot on his, tongue slipping into his mouth as he gasped. Clark pinned his hand to the wall and kissed him, hot and hard, his other hand roving over Lex's body like a brand. He pinched Lex's nipple through his shirt, groped his chest, then slid his hand down the front of Lex's pants and squeezed once before pulling back.
Lex stared at him, shell-shocked. He was hard as hell and stunned as fuck. The photographs of Lois and Superman were scattered at their feet like a concrete metaphor for all his best intentions. Of all the secrets he'd ever suspected Clark was hiding from him, this... this hadn't been one.
He raised a hand to touch Clark's face, gently, wondering just how he'd been so blind, and Clark's eyes slowly drifted closed. He was breathing hard through his mouth, looking down at the floor, shoulders rising and falling. Lex pushed away from the wall and kissed him softly, slowly, leaning into his warmth. Clark shivered, and pulled away.
"I've known I was bisexual since the first time I saw you drive a stick-shift," Clark said with a soft, hoarse laugh. "Lois is into aliens." He swallowed. "Good relationships are about compromise."
Lex laughed without thinking. Clark's eyes crinkled behind his glasses, and then he grinned. For a moment, as Lex watched, he was the pretty Smallville farmboy again, innocence and loyalty and everything Lex had ever wanted. And then he turned on his heel and walked out, through the thick black doors of Lex's office.
He didn't look back.
Clark's stomach hurt.
He was lying on the couch in the living room in his t-shirt and jeans, staring at the ceiling. Sometimes when he got lost in thought, half-asleep, he tended to float. Thanks to sudden phone calls or the apartment's doorbell ringing, he'd actually caused about eighty percent of the cracks in the ceiling. With x-ray vision, the spackled and plastered sections stood out like blotchy scars.
He'd never cheated on Lois. He'd never even come close. People asked, or they offered: sometimes to Clark, mostly to Superman. They were grateful, obsessed, curious-- they wanted to kiss him, blow him, have his kids. And sometimes it was tempting. The time he'd stopped terrorists from taking the Miss America contestants hostage, for example. Wally West still joked about Clark having been invited to "visit the tri-state area."
Lois hadn't even blinked. She'd thought it was funny.
She trusted him.
Clark sighed and closed his eyes. When she got home, she was going to murder him. How would she ever be able to trust him after this? Of course he'd told her all about Lex, a long time ago. How he'd been in love with him, and lied to him. Even if he hadn't really known it was love for most of that time. Even though he'd never meant to hurt him.
He shouldn't have kissed Lex. Twice. Even if he'd just been trying to prove a point. Of course now he could see he'd handled everything completely wrong. After all, what did Lois care what Lex Luthor thought? It had just seemed-- it had seemed so important, at the time. To prove that Lex was wrong. That Lois wasn't unfaithful, unworthy of love, that Lois wasn't a liar-- oh, jeez. Clark groaned. Could his unresolved issues be more obvious? He pulled a couch cushion over his head, wondering if he could smother himself if he just tried really hard.
The unforgivable part was that after that first kiss, he'd lost track. He'd... he'd realized he was kissing Lex after all these years, and for a second, he hadn't wanted to stop. God, Lois was going to rip his head off and spit down his neck.
"I'm home!" Lois jangled in through the front door and kicked it shut behind her.
Clark hunched down and watched through the couch with his x-ray vision like a chickenshit coward as she hustled through the apartment, a bag of groceries clutched in one arm and her coat and leather satchel in the other. Tossing her satchel and coat into the yellow armchair by the door, Lois stuck the grocery bag in the kitchen, then came back into the living room, stripping off her blue pinstriped blazer with a sigh of relief.
"Hey," she said, rolling up the cuffs of her white blouse as she came into the living room. "MetroMart had those gold kiwis you like."
"Thanks," Clark said, stabbed through the heart.
Lois kicked her shoes off and clambered easily over the back of the couch, collapsing on top of Clark in a way that probably would have seriously injured anybody human. "You never came back to work," she said, their noses an inch apart. "What did Lex have to say?"
"He, um," Clark said, and Lois raised an eyebrow. "Well, it was interesting."
"Apparently you're cheating on me," Clark offered. Lois' brow furrowed in outrage before he added, "with Superman."
"Oh no." Lois covered her mouth with her hand, horrified and amused. "Oh, shit! For sure? He has proof?"
"Pictures," Clark said. "From last Friday. I guess we should've expected this eventually. I mean, you know he's obsessed with Superman--"
"Oh, I know! Son of a bitch!" Lois was still laughing. "What did you tell him?"
"I said already knew, and I was okay with it," Clark said, and Lois laughed harder. Clark put his arms around her waist; in a second, she'd probably start yelling, and maybe flailing, and he didn't want her to hit her head on the coffee table.
"No, seriously," Lois said, "what did you say? Aww. Did you have to act wounded? Aww, baby."
"I said we had an open relationship!" Clark insisted. "Then I kissed him."
"What?" Lois stopped laughing.
"I just wanted-- He said you were cheating on me, and it was like he felt sorry for me, and I just got so pissed--" Clark framed Lois' face with his hands. "For a second... for a second it was like... But then I stopped. And I left."
Lois swallowed, her expression growing serious. "For a second," she said, "it was like what?"
Clark made himself look into her eyes. "It was like a real kiss," he said quietly. "I'm sorry, I didn't... It was stupid, but I just..." He stroked her cheekbones with his thumbs softly, knowing he should just shut the hell up, but unable to stop talking until he'd told her everything.
"I don't know," he finally concluded helplessly. "I think I surprised him enough with the-- I mean, maybe he'll buy it. What do you think? I mean, we could always split up for a couple of weeks-- Fake split up!" he hurried to add. "Just a separation, and then I, y'know, pretend to forgive you and we get back together... I mean, if you're not still mad at me. Lois, please don't be mad. It was a mistake and I know that, I just..."
Lois stared at him, mouth pursed. She bent her head until her forehead was pressed against Clark's chest, and then her whole body shook once, a choked sound slipping out before she pressed her hand against her mouth. Clark squeezed his eyes shut so tight it hurt, tightening his arms around her waist and pulling her close. "Lois, I'm sorry. C'mon, don't..."
Something tickled his chest, and he sat up, Lois sprawling in his lap, helpless with sobs of laughter. "Why are you still laughing?"
"'Don't be mad, Lois!'" Lois imitated him, opening her eyes wide. "Aw, Smallville, baby--" She broke up again, pounding her fist against his shoulder.
"Dammit, I was worried!" Clark said, stung.
"I know, I know. Sorry, just the image." Lois snickered, rubbing at her eyes. "Open relationship! Kissing him! Oh, I can just see his face." She sighed, tipping her head to the side as she grew serious again. "Clark... I get it, okay? He was your best friend for like forever, the first guy you ever wanted, loved, and he's hot-- hey, you're Superman, but you're just a guy, okay?"
"Okay," Clark said, taking a deep breath. Lois smiled, putting her hands on his shoulders and giving him a little shake.
"And by the way," she said, "just forget about this splitting up thing. That's a bad plan. Bad."
"Yeah?" Clark slumped back against the couch, and Lois snuggled against his chest.
"Oh yeah. Really, I think the open relationship story will fly," Lois said. She was quiet for a moment or two. "So," she finally said, "when you left... did Lex look convinced?"
"I don't know," Clark said, looking at the ceiling. "Maybe."
"Hm." Lois fingered her earlobe lazily. "Really... really convinced?"
"Yeah, I guess... Hey!" Clark sat up straight. "What exactly are you suggesting?"
"Babe," Lois said, smoothing his hair, "I knew you were Superman when I promised to share your life. And I knew then it wouldn't be easy." She caught her tongue between her teeth, and grinned at him. "I knew there would have to be sacrifices."
"And you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb?" Clark said, voice heavy with irony.
"Is that a Kent saying? I hear they're often true." Lois snickered and slid off his lap. "Now, where's my phone? I think Lex and I need to have a talk."
She leaned over the yellow armchair, checking her coat pockets, and Clark hurried after her, grabbing at her wrists. Lois slipped out of his grasp, giggling, and continued to rummage.
"Now, Lois... honey... sweetheart, come on!" Clark protested, cornering her. "Wait just a second now."
Lois turned in the circle of his arms and grinned up at him.
"Honey, I appreciate your willingness to-- to sacrifice. I do," Clark said, biting his lip. He looked into her eyes, trying to look noble. "But I would never ask you to do anything that I wasn't willing to do myself."
Lois looked at him appraisingly. "I have heard this wild rumor," she said slowly. "Something about how we work better as a team?"
Clark blinked, then tried really hard not to grin. "Well, sure, just like always," he said. "You and me. Partner."
Lois raised her eyebrows at him, opened her hand, and held out her cellphone.
Clark flicked it open, one-handed, as he kissed her.
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