by RivkaT

I read that yellow Kryptonite was "fictional,” unlike all the other kinds of Kryptonite, and somehow that turned into this. Thanks to Doctor Mary Ellen, unwitting amanuensis.

It was an ordinary day, until the windows blew in.

Lex had been sitting with a few of his advisors, discussing the impending midterms. He would have been much happier if he could somehow have abolished or at least suspended Congress, but even Luthor power had its limits.

As the others were getting up to leave, there was a sound like God clapping His hands, and the entire office shook as shards of bulletproof, concussionproof glass flew across the room.

When Lex raised his head, he could see Secret Service agents running towards him, a few brave souls jumping in through the hole in the wall. And three big guys in black, looking grim. The one in the middle said something that was lost in the aftershock of the big bang, and the other two materialized at his sides, grabbing him by his arms and hustling him out onto the lawn, where -

A spaceship the size of a hangar awaited, black maw gaping and interior lights like stars seen through city haze.

In the moment he had to look at it before he was pushed inside, he thought that it didn't look much like Clark's little escape pod. More like an insect with a lot of spikes. How many humanoid alien races were there, anyway? Was God like Star Trek, cheap on the makeup and repeating the same pattern over and over again?

Up the ramp and inside, his assailants' grips strong enough to grind bone against bone. His ears were recovering from the initial blast, and he could hear the whine of some type of hydraulic system as the ramp closed behind him. In the entryway/cargo bay/whatever, another dour-looking fellow, this one with a Ming-the-Merciless beard, stood posed in a leather-esque doublet and tight pants, arms crossed so as to show off his rippling muscles.

Lex cleared his throat and said, "Take me to your leader."

"Gobble gobble de gook gook g'Krypton," the man said, and a little reddish box on his hip said, "Greetings, Mr. President. We are Kryptonians."

Computerized translation - pretty damn cool. Under other circumstances. "Why have you attacked my people and kidnapped me?"

"Gobble gobble Kal-el gook g'gook `Superman,'" he said, and Lex had time to think `oh shit' before the box chirped, "We are here to arrest Kal-el, traitor and son of traitors, whom you call `Superman.'"

"Traitor? As I recall, Mr. -- whoever you are -- Superman arrived on Earth as little more than a baby. It's hard to imagine what crime against the state he might have committed before he could walk."

"I am Zoltar," the man said stiffly, and it was not too different from talking to a foreign head of state whose language he didn't speak. His mind adjusted to screen out the nonsense words, while listening for the original tone. "Kal-el carries the blood of Lara and Jor-el, whose crimes are directly responsible for the death of our world. His life is forfeit for their treachery."

Zoltar was lying; Lex believed this without hesitation. Clark could never have come from parents who could obliterate the world. A legacy like that would have manifested itself just as his own had. "Here on Earth we don't believe that children are guilty of whatever their parents did." Well, that wasn't entirely true, viz. Jonathan Kent, but the subtleties didn't need explanation.

"We are not of Earth," Zoltar pointed out.

"Superman is, now. We won't ask him to follow a barbaric tradition."

"We are not asking. I have altered your technology so that this conversation is being shown across all forms of media, and all men will know what taint Jor-el carries." The translator was clunky, Lex thought as he casually checked to make sure his tie was straight.

Suddenly Zoltar was centimeters from his face. "You are an important man, Mr. President. I think perhaps Superman, the good citizen, would trade himself for you?"

Lex almost laughed out loud. Of all the people in the world, they picked him as the hostage? He suppressed the laughter, but not the smirk, and Zoltar's expression grew stormy.

"A demonstration, then." A quick motion brought two Kryptonians to bracket Lex again, holding him in the kind of bruising grip he'd thought he'd left behind in Smallville. Zoltar grabbed Lex's left hand, held it up (presumably so the camera angle would be right; combined with the rough trade getups, these Kryptonians were revealing a real knack for political theater), and snapped the pinky finger at the second joint.

The pain was somewhere in between a pistolwhipping and a stab wound to the shoulder. The effect was singularly unaesthetic. The finger listed to the side and above the rest of his hand at a clearly unnatural angle. Lex clenched his teeth and didn't cry out.

"I understand that there are over two hundred bones in the human body," Zoltar said. "How many do you think I will have to break before Superman comes?"

"Fewer than two hundred, in my case," Lex said. "Missing a hand, you know." He hoped that America was appreciating his John Wayne impression. And that his citizens would forgive him when he did break down.

"You're a brave man," Zoltar said, sounding impressed. "Kal-el is a coward, to shield himself with you."

There really wasn't a response to a statement that crazy, so Lex didn't try.

He groaned a little and shed involuntary tears when Zoltar broke the metacarpals. Any time now, Clark, he thought as he bit halfway through his lip. Don't hesitate on my account. No, I insist.

The mental patter helped, some.

It wasn't until the Kryptonian snapped his radius and ulna at different places that he actually screamed.

"Couldn't you have thought of a better name?" he gasped out as soon as he could, trying to find a focus other than pain. "I mean, Zoltar - it's such a cliche. How much television did you guys watch before you showed up, anyway?"

Another frown -- maybe the absence of a sense of humor really was a racial thing and not Clark-specific -- and Zoltar stepped closer to administer another lesson in seriousness. He halted when another voice growled something in that ugly -- inflected? -- language.

"Very good," Zoltar announced. "Kal-el approaches."

He'd taken his own sweet time. Knowing Clark, he'd probably been off fighting a forest fire or getting a kitten out of a tree until someone had pointed him to a television.

"We will make the exchange."

"Personally, I'd prefer a refund," Lex grunted and then doubled over around Zoltar's fist.

He was still struggling to stand when the walkway began to open, and the two poker-faced Kryptonians who'd held him down for Zoltar's gentle ministrations took up positions at each side of the entrance.

Zoltar nodded at him, and Lex started to walk down, steady on his feet. He could see Clark at the bottom of the ramp, beginning his journey up.

They met halfway, which wasn't a metaphor for anything in their lives to date.

"Hey," Lex said and tried to smile. He hadn't been this close to Clark since that last lab in Metropolis, lo these many years ago. Sure, he'd received Superman's lectures on proper megalomaniacal behavior since then, but it wasn't the same thing. For once, he could see Clark despite the costume. "Last son of Krypton, my ass."

"My birth parents may have been ... optimistic," Clark said. His eyes were watery. Not afraid; Clark was too good to be afraid. Maybe worried that these new aliens were right about his family.

"Look," he said and used his right hand to struggle with the chain around his neck. He doubtless looked terribly awkward, but his left arm was about as useful as a sock monkey, and probably looked a lot like one. He got the chain over his head -- lack of hair was very helpful at times -- and held it and its slight burden out to Clark. "I made this for you a long time ago. Put it on."

Clark hesitated, long enough for the old pain to twist in Lex's chest, and then accepted it, slipping it on and letting the thick ring bounce against the blue of his uniform.

"Tuck it under the suit, you look girly," he ordered and had to look away.

"Come on!" Zoltar shouted from the craft.

Lex swallowed. "You were the best thing I ever ruined," he said and pushed roughly past Clark, unwilling to touch him with only an artificial hand.

If Clark said anything in response, he didn't hear it.

When his feet touched the lawn, the walkway began to retract into the ship. Hands hustled him away, soldiers stepping between him and the ship. The Secretary of Defense was on the other side of the lawn, watching through binoculars. Lex turned to him and nodded once.

He felt the missiles tearing up the earth a moment before he heard them, and dove for the ground even as the soldiers around him tried to protect him with their bodies. His arm screamed, and he probably did too as the bones ground against one another, trapped underneath a heavy man in camouflage.

The Kryptonite-tipped missiles hit the ship with a sound like heavy gongs. Then secondary explosions began, which was good news. He was facing downwards, getting grass stains on his shirt, and he wanted to see what was happening.

Finally, the soldiers began standing, and he was picked up and hustled into a side door to the Residence. His doctor was there, and immediately rushed over to fuss.

"Lieutenant," he called and the soldier by the door snapped to attention. "I want a full report, now." The doctor was cutting away his sleeves and positioning him on some sort of gurney.

"Sir," another soldier said, holding a secure phone to Lex's ear.

"The craft is down," Johnson said. "We picked it up coming in about forty-five seconds before it arrived -- it doesn't seem to have been shielded from detection in any way -- and we can't find anything else in Earth orbit. We've got long-range scans going up now in case there's something further out. We used half of what we've got."

Translation: if there was a mothership, Earth was fucked.

Think about that later.

"Fine. Start hazmat procedures immediately, everyone gets a filter and no children within a mile until there's not a micron of that poison left. Collect everything you can in case -- we might be able to recycle. And send a team in to -- to look for Superman. Anyone else is to be treated as an active hostile and shot."

Johnson drew in a breath. The laws of war were never designed to apply to a war of worlds. "Yes, sir," he said.

"You may feel a sting," the doctor said in his other ear, but he didn't, among the other tortured nerves.

"That better have been a local anesthetic," he told the doctor as the soldier took the phone away.

"Your bones are broken in nearly twenty places --"

"I was present and regrettably conscious, doctor, I can assure you I'm aware of each one. Get me strapped together so I can stand in front of a camera without anything visibly poking out."

The doctor muttered something under his breath, but wisely didn't argue.

The phone appeared again; it was Pete, calling from somewhere over Colorado. "You all right, sir?"

"Peachy. Anything else of interest happen while I was gone?" Now his arm was being strapped to a contraption that looked as if it were made out of steel Tinker Toys and lengths of white plastic. Just great, one hand Darth Vader and the other a rank-and-file Stormtrooper. He'd bet that would be showing up in Chloe's editorials right quick.

"The stock markets suspended trading. I've been pretty busy with briefings otherwise."

"Come on home, Pete. You aren't getting the job away from me that easily."

"Sir? Cl -- Superman was in there, wasn't he."

Lex swallowed. He'd managed to forget, for a few seconds. "Yeah." His throat felt clogged, scratchy. It was necessary -- once you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane. Besides, if they were telling the truth, the aliens didn't have anywhere else to go. They'd have tried to rule the world, and the position was already occupied. But he wasn't about to justify himself to Pete.

Silence on the other end of the line. Would all Pete's suspicions return, now? Though formally a Vice President was the constitutional equivalent of a backup drive, Pete's political connections were solid enough that he could cause Lex a lot of trouble.

"Kryptonite missiles were one of your contingency plans, right?" Pete's voice was unreadable.

Lex most definitely did not need this. "The defenses were set up in case Superman was turned somehow, maybe blackmailed. We didn't anticipate a whole new set of players, and the only way to ensure they were subdued was to attack when they were in range and all together. We couldn't be sure of getting another chance."

More silence.

He did something he never did: talked to fill that accusing void. "Pete, if I could have -- if I were a private citizen, I would have demanded they fire on the ship with me in it." His voice sounded unrecognizable in his own ears.

Pete sighed. "I know that, sir. That's why I accepted this job in the first place. You're both -- Superman always thought he had to carry the weight of the world on his own, too."

It was the use of the past tense that broke him. "I have to go," he said and turned his face as far into the gurney as it could go, his eyes screwed shut. Shaking as he tried to master his treacherous, weakling body. Bringing his false hand to cover his mouth, trying not to breathe too deep. Eyes closed, because he didn't want to know that the other people in the room were watching him fall apart.

After some time, he reasserted control. Enough, at least, to get him through a press conference, and the world needed him to give a press conference. The doctor, good man that he was, had worked on through Lex's fit, and the arm was now encased in metal and plastic. All told, it was approximately the size of a fire hydrant. It was going to be a damn annoyance while healing, and a separate P.R. hell when Lana had to explain why the President's bones knitted faster than other people's.

"I need to make a public announcement," he said, and the cabal of aides, assistants, deputies, secretaries, and every combinatorial possibility thereof scattered in different directions to make it happen.

Lana came to stand by his side. It was good to see a familiar human face, someone whose reactions he knew completely, who'd turned into an adult while he watched. He knew exactly how far she could be trusted, even better than he knew the advisors and assistants who'd attached themselves to him after Smallville.

Lana knew a fair number of his secrets, and she hadn't left, and he hadn't killed her for it.

All it had cost her was Clark, and Clark never belonged to any one person anyway.

"Am I ready for prime time?" he asked, and saw the sad little princess behind her carefully composed expression and exquisitely subtle makeup.

She took a deep breath, and it was a source of strength to him, to watch her cast off her ceaseless, motionless grief so that she could go on living. "Mr. President, you look like three-day-old crap. That's okay; you're supposed to look bloody but unbowed after what you went through. I want a cold pack for your eyes, so they won't look swollen. Otherwise, no makeup."

"Yeah, fine. You introduce me, I'll make a brief statement, then have Johnson take over to explain what he can about the defenses and the clean-up."

Lana nodded, squeezed his wrist just above where the mechanical hand began, and hurried away. She was a good press secretary. He'd have to remember something special for her at Christmas, to compensate for yet another lost piece of her past.

Fifteen minutes later, his eyes still chilled from the cold compress, he stepped up to a podium bearing the Presidential seal and looked out at the shining sea of cameras, cold alien eyes. His left hand still wanted to grasp the podium for balance, and the reflexive twitching of his muscles sent hot spikes of pain through him.

"My fellow Americans, today a great crime has been perpetrated against us and all humanity. Superman came to these shores as a child, and in America's grand tradition, we embraced him as one of our own. Today we discovered that he was not, as he believed, the last survivor of his race. But the other survivors we met were brutal thugs, determined to punish Superman for the supposed crimes of his parents -- crimes I do not believe existed except in the twisted minds of these lawless strangers.

"They took me hostage to trade for Superman. And Superman came, as he would have come for any one of us, whether man or woman, child or adult, homeless or captain of industry, criminal or saint.

"We could not believe these villains when they said that they came only for Superman. They made perfectly clear that they delighted in exercising their powers against those who were physically weaker. As a result, our dedicated military personnel risked their own lives and executed a plan that should have remained only a what-if scenario.

"The alien ship has been destroyed. The danger to America, and to the world, has been contained. The White House sustained superficial damage, but Army engineers assure me that it's structurally sound.

"Superman --" He stopped, the words disappeared down some sinkhole in his heart. "Superman --. At this time, there are no -- we have recovered no --" He was crying. Lex Luthor, whose greatest political liability had been his perceived effeminacy, was crying on camera, in front of the whole world and possibly Mars. And he didn't care.

Lana shoved something into his right hand. Thinking it was a tissue, he half-raised it to his eyes, then realized that it was a note. Clumsily, he unfurled it on the podium, blinking away the tears that made his vision blur in and out.

He looked up into the cameras. "Excuse me. Urgent matters require my attention. Secretary of Defense Jack Johnson will brief you on nonclassified aspects of the military action."

Lex moved smoothly off the podium, disdaining the helping hand Lana offered, and strode back into territory off-limits to the press. Behind him, the tidal roar of reporters surged and ebbed only a bit as Jack stepped up and began to speak. He could hear Chloe's voice, a separate melody in the wall of sound. Hiding her own grief in the only way that mattered, by doing her job. She'd never admitted knowing who Clark was, and that little betrayal of her journalistic identity, he thought, had eaten away at her more than being stuck at the Inquisitor ever did. He wondered whether she held Clark responsible for it, or herself.

Clark tore holes in people. He had to remember that, if he was going to survive.

"This way," an officer he'd never seen before said, and he followed.

They had to stop to put on hazmat suits, one jury-rigged for his broken arm by attaching an entire suit around the arm of another. The portable airlock seemed to work -- Lex would have to reward the CDC for that -- and they stepped into the chamber.

Clark's body was lying on a low table, feet towards the entrance. Lex, almost hypnotized, walked to the other side. He was soaking wet, droplets of water collecting at the ends of his dark hair and slipping off like tears. Lex remembered their first meeting, when Clark had been just as wet, and felt again the choked agony of breathing with lungs sodden from drowning.

Clark was breathing too, shallow but there.

A respirator mask was over his mouth, fogged slightly. "We've hosed him down to get rid of Kryptonite particles, but we haven't been able to get what's left of the suit off," a voice from another hazmat suit said in Lex's ear. "He's breathing oxygen from a tank, so he shouldn't be swallowing any more, but it would be better if we could strip him."

Lex reached down and tugged at the gold chain that disappeared into Clark's ridiculous outfit. The yellowish ring should be warm from Clark's body heat, though there was no way he could tell with his mechanical hand and the rubber glove over it. He rubbed the ring between his fingers, considering.

The vault in the Residence, behind the hideous Gilbert Stuart. There were a lot of things in it that no one else needed to see. Some of the trappings of the man behind the curtain were there, and two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

"Jacob," he said to the assistant who'd followed him in, "I need you to do something for me." He gave Jacob the combination and the relevant instructions, and sent him on his way with a Secret Service escort.

Clark looked bad, he thought as he waited. Black-green veins were standing out everywhere his skin was visible, distorting his beautiful face into an image from a horror film. For once, he looked alien, and the soldiers and doctors surrounding him were all staring, as if Superman had betrayed them by being what he'd said he was. It was a rare person who could look beyond the surface. Even Pete, who'd known longer than anyone but the Kents, saw only the manikin and not what lived behind its eyes.

Jacob returned with the canister and handed it to him. He noticed that Jacob wouldn't meet his eyes, and filed the problem away to address later.

Lex double-checked the label, because it would be pathetic to get it wrong after all this fuss, and then turned back to the doctors. "Cover his exposed skin with this," he said and held out the canister. "It'll go to solution in DMSO, so do that and give it to him orally."

"What is it?" one of them asked.

"It's a myth," he said, smiling. And if the smile was crazier than it was sane, no one could tell through the facemask.

He stood, watching, as they rubbed the pale yellow powder into Clark's visible skin. There was a fair amount, though nothing to arouse a prurient interest in anyone who didn't have a thing for bloodied corpses. The arms and legs of the suit hadn't stood up very well, which under the circumstances was a good thing. DMSO arrived -- Lex never ceased to be amazed at what could be found within 500 meters of the White House -- and two men propped Clark's head up as another dribbled liquid down his throat.

Clark coughed, but kept it down.

After a time, when Lex had been provided with a seat and twice begged to leave at least long enough to eat, Clark made his first real independent movement since Lex had first entered the chamber.

He slumped over on one side and vomited onto the floor.

Lex eyed the puddle with some interest. Neither particularly yellow nor particularly green, which was what he'd hoped.

The doctors descended like locusts, asking if he was all right, if he knew where he was, if he knew what had happened. Clark was dazed, too confused to answer everything at once.

"Give him some room," Lex ordered, and it was nice to know that sometimes doctors will listen to nonmedical personnel, at least if the person happens to be president. Clark raised his head and looked over at Lex, his eyes widening as he took in the sight of a Luthor encased in a garment roughly as flattering as the Goodyear Blimp. In orange.

"What happened?" Clark asked Lex, his voice muffled some by the oxygen mask.

"Capsule summary? They chose the wrong man with whom to fuck." He hadn't smirked in hours; he was going into withdrawal.

"Are they --"

"Dead. Departed. Shuffled off this mortal coil. Ex-Kryptonians." Okay, he might have overshot and gone all the way to giddy.

Clark looked down at his chest. "The ring --"

"Yeah, it counteracts the effects of Kryptonite." The doctors and soldiers in the room were all staring avidly at this unprecedented interaction. "The ring alone wasn't enough, but I had some more lying around."

"Lex --"

He hadn't heard his given name from that mouth since -- for a long time, anyway. Lex stood, brushing at the ridiculous rubber pants as if their line could be improved. "I've really got to go."

"Thank you." Clark's voice was low and sincere. Not that the latter meant anything. Still, his heart seized up in his chest and he had to take a few deep breaths before he could reply.

"You mean a lot to this country, Superman."

He turned and left the chamber. With any luck, there were a million things to do now, not the least of which was to announce Superman's miraculous survival. And he desperately needed to figure out what he could plausibly wear with his arm done up like a robot's.

Later, after the emergency Cabinet meeting and some time alone with Pete, his secretary buzzed with the news that Superman was waiting and did he have time for a meeting?

Lex took a minute to think. Clark was unlikely to persist after a few refusals, and he wouldn't break through presidential security. He'd consider it rude, at a minimum. They might never meet in private again, if that's what Lex wanted.

Apparently, what Lex wanted was to rip his heart out of his chest and squeeze, just for kicks. "If he can stand it, I can stand it."

"What?" He'd shocked his secretary. Yet another instance of Clark-induced dementia.

"Nothing. Send him in."

It took a few minutes for Clark and his escort to arrive. Lex amused himself by imagining Clark's pajama-like outfit among all the dark suits, rep ties and sensible pumps of the White House staff. Amazing that a shy kid could have developed into an adult willing to wear such a retina-searing costume. Though he supposed that it drew attention away from Clark's face.

There came a knock at the door, and then it opened, admitting Clark. The Secret Service agent watched him almost balefully as the door swung closed. The Secret Service and the Air Force were the only ones who'd always agreed with him that it was a matter of national security to be stronger than Superman, and Lex had just negated Superman's only known vulnerability, or at least the only one a democracy could morally use. `It seemed like a good idea at the time' was not going to be a good enough excuse.

"Mr. President," Clark said, looking around the Oval Office.

"What do you want, Clark?" Because he wasn't scared, he got up from behind his desk and strolled over to the couch. It was difficult to arrange himself casually with his dominant arm useless, but he'd already had half a day's worth of practice.

Clark sat in a wing chair, his hands on his knees like an attentive schoolboy. "The Fortress says that they were Kryptonians, using a battleship from the last war. It can't find any more ships, at least as far as Neptune."

"They weren't on your parents' side, I take it."

Clark sighed and looked away. "I don't think they had `sides' in war the way we do on Earth. Edges, circles, strange attractors ... I finally made the Fortress stop trying to explain. You made it nervous with that little display, you know."

"Good." He should have made it nervous all along, and probably had. Clark hadn't lied nearly as much before the Fortress unfolded itself from its little seedpod. And to think there was a time when he would have believed that Clark couldn't possibly tell more lies. I trust you, Lex. You don't need to do this. There are other ways to win.

"I want to know about the ring." He wasn't wearing the chain, Lex noted, and felt a distant pang. But from some secret pocket, Clark produced the ring on its chain and held it out.

Lex could have reached across the gap between them and taken it back.

He'd be damned if he accepted the return of another gift. "It's yours; let the Fortress tell you about it."

"Will it be able to make more?"

The scientist/lecturer in Lex reared his ugly head. "Possibly, possibly not. Remember how I speculated that the Kryptonite was like a monkey's paw, granting a wish in the worst way imaginable? Human thought influenced the reactions. With this stuff, you have to be thinking --" he looked away, feeling absurd even though he knew it was the truth -- "happy thoughts. So you might need to find a friendly human scientist to repeat the synthesis."

Clark considered the ring in his hand, looking at its polished surface as if he might find a message inscribed there. "What were you wishing for when the meteors came?"

Twenty years was a long while to wait for that question, but Lex decided to answer it anyway. "I wished that my father wouldn't keep dragging me around, showing me off like a prize horse. I wished I were healthy, and unafraid." Overall, not the worst wishes. At least he hadn't been a budding entomologist, or obsessed with electricity like that one kid. If his mother had succumbed the first time she'd gotten ill, he might have been wishing to raise the dead. Instead, the meteor shower had left him unnaturally healthy, bald, and not psychotic, which was at the far end of the good side of the bell curve for Kryptonite reactions.

"And are you? Unafraid?" Clark's hazel eyes bored into his. For all Lex knew, he might have been looking in Lex's brain, tracing the neurons.

"I haven't been afraid to die since that day."

Clark nodded. "Lex, when did you make this --?"

"I call it yellow Kryptonite. It has the same basic atomic structure," he said and shrugged.

"Okay. When did you make it?"

"Does it matter? What if I told you it was an accidental byproduct of an attempt to synthesize green Kryptonite to make it work across large distances?"

"I'd want to know if that was the truth, and when you made it." Clark's gaze was steady, confident.

"It was, actually. The green synthesis wasn't going anywhere, but occasionally I'd get this yellow stuff, and finally it occurred to me to test it. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to protect against the deleterious effects of regular Kryptonite, at least on Earth flora and fauna. I couldn't be sure about you."

"And when did you make the ring?"

Lex sat back and winced as every bone fragment in his left arm registered a separate protest. "You weren't this persistent before."

"Maybe I was and you never made me work for it."

"If you're looking for some kind of confession, I said all I wanted to say earlier. I kept the bulk powder on hand in case I needed to decontaminate an area after extensive Kryptonite exposure, which is now in fact the case. You've got the ring; don't ask me for more."

"But I want more, Lex." Clark did one of his tricks, appearing on the couch beside him in less than an eyeblink. The heat of his thigh was like Proust's madelines, ripping him back to a time when they'd sat like this on the ratty couch in the Kent's barn, or on the long leather couch in front of the big TV in the castle, closer than necessary. Waiting for the moment Lex had finally begun to think was inevitable, when they'd turn their heads at the same time, each one's eyes dropping to the other's mouth, pupils dilating, breath hot and moist. Waiting for the first kiss and, inevitably, waiting for the last.

The grating sound of the brocade against their bodies reminded Lex that this wasn't Smallville, and that Clark had always known intuitively what would get him what he wanted from Lex.

"Fuck you," he said roughly, though the last syllable was said directly into Clark's mouth. Clark's hand was on his chin, holding him in place, while his mouth yielded like the Maginot Line. He couldn't move his arms -- he couldn't feel his arms -- and only his mouth was immune from the sticky paralysis Clark's touch brought like poison.

He didn't hear the knock, and he didn't hear the door open, but he did hear Lana say, "Mr. Pres-ident!"

She finished at a much higher register than she'd started at.

By the time he got some distance from Clark and looked up, she'd slammed the door and had her back and hands pressed up against it as if to ensure that no one else could repeat her mistake. Her eyes were as wide as an anime character's, and she looked as if she wanted to run away before Lex killed her but was afraid that any movement would cause him to strike. He wanted to wipe his mouth, but worried about how it would look.

Lana's open-mouthed shock gave way to laughter, near-hysterical as she brought her hands to her mouth and doubled over, hiding her face. Her hair spilled over her shoulders and he watched her intricate silver filigree barrette shake with her guffaws.

Beside him, Clark started to laugh too.

Laughter is contagious, but Lex was immune.

He might have smiled a little.

Lana straightened up, still chortling. "Oh. My. God. The look on your faces!"

"You're one to talk," Clark said through his chuckles.

"Mr. President," she tried again, still giggling, "is there something I ought to know?"

"No!" That tone was not presidential. It needed serious work.

"You know, the Weekly World News did a story like this --"

"That's quite enough, Mrs. Ross." There, much better. Almost glacial.

Lana sobered up quickly. "I'm sorry, Mr. President."

Clark glared at him, always so ready to come to the aid of a damsel in distress.

"It's all right, Lana," he said, biting down on the sigh. "This was -- a mistake."

The couch cushions trembled as Clark shifted beside him. "Lana, could you maybe come back later? After Lex and I have finished talking?"

He could see Lana suppress the urge to repeat "Talking?" in precisely the tone that the euphemism deserved. "Why were you coming to see me?" he asked, to remind her that Clark wasn't the one giving orders.

"Oh! Uh. Just -- I have a list of interviews I think you ought to do. The New Today Show, a few others."

"I trust your judgement." Now get the hell out. Lana, good girl that she was, heard both statements and turned back to the door. "And, Lana? I'm fairly sure that your husband doesn't need to hear about anything you saw just now."

"Believe me, Mr. President, I am one hundred percent certain that he doesn't. But, sir?" She paused, and after a moment he nodded permission for her to continue. "If -- You shouldn't keep me -- or him -- in the dark about your long-term plans. I'm saying that as your press secretary, not just as your friend." She looked as if she wanted to say more, but recognized that he was at his limit.

"I'll keep that in mind. Goodnight, Lana."

"Goodnight, Mr. President. Clark."

"'Bye," Clark said, waving as the door closed behind her. "Now, where were we?"

"Somewhere we're not going ag -" was as far as he got before Clark was on him, barely respecting his broken arm. He'd forgotten -- no, lie, he'd forcibly pushed out of his mind -- what it was like to have Clark's bulk pressing him down, transfering heat to him like a hot stone in a sauna. Resistance would be futile, he thought as Clark's tongue slipped over his teeth. And, it was probably a mistake not to have touched anyone in such a long time. It made him too susceptible to Clark's hand moving over his throat, down his chest and around his waist until he arched up, pressing himself against Clark's body in every way he knew how.

With the last bit of self-control remaining to him, he smacked his arm against the sofa. He couldn't manage much force, but there were enough loose bones that the pain was more than satisfactory. His involuntary grunt convinced Clark to back off a bit, though his hand was still high on Lex's thigh.

"No means no, big guy," Lex said, too breathily.

Clark pulled away entirely, propping his face moodily in one hand, his elbow on the arm of the couch. "No means `no, not on your terms, Clark.'"

"That's also true," he acknowledged.

"Look, you can't take back what you said when you came out of the ship. I won't believe you if you try. You didn't ruin me, even if you did hurt me, and I want you back too."

Lex looked away and swallowed, trying to think. Without Clark, he'd been stronger. Less distracted, more driven. Less -- permeable. When he looked back, Clark's eyes were filled with knowledge, but not pity.

"How does our story end, Lex?"

"How does any story end?" he responded, and it was like being back in front of one of the castle fireplaces, half-meaningful conversations about myth and history, honor and destiny.

"As I recall, either with a wedding or with everybody dead," Clark said dryly. "Which are you going to choose?"

Lex looked at the man who he'd loved with every proton and electron in his body, the man who'd betrayed him better than Lionel could ever have hoped to do. He hadn't been afraid to die since he was nine, but there were worse things than death to fear. If he let Clark define him again -- and that was what would happen, for all Clark's grumbling about Lex's terms -- he'd always be something of a failure, struggling at decisions that Clark found as natural as breathing.

You don't get to choose who you love. You only get to choose how.

Giving up Clark would be walking away from his own flaws, imagining them into nonexistence like the Emperor's clothes. With Clark, the howling voices in his head might on occasion be silent. No one else could get him to stop planning and spend some time with the glorious wondrousness of a sunset. No one else knew him and still saw so much that was worthy in him.

And sometimes, after the wedding, everybody dies anyway.

To say the choice was, in the end, easy would have been an insult. He knew he'd spend the rest of his life wondering about the alternative.

"Well," he said carefully, ignoring the queasiness in his gut, the same terrible feeling he'd had when he realized that he was going to hit the boy on the bridge, "I did just give you a ring, Clark."

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