Gladly Beyond

by jenn



Sequel to "Somewhere I Have Never Traveled"

Author Notes: In which I indulge my sentimentality, hopeless romanticism, AND complete love of domesticity and cliche-ity. Also, no branding, Pearl-o. Thanks to Ann and Rivka T, who did beta and commentary. Pru, Pearl-o, Tstar, and all the prereaders who liked it. Bethy's scarily psychic. Just to clear that up.

Disclaimer: I don't own.

Archiving: SSA, Level Three

Feedback: It's inspiring. Very.


Lex is sleeping when Clark opens their bedroom door. It's not a surprise; the campaign and subsequent post-election planning are sucking energy out of everyone, and even Lex has to give into nature eventually, meteor-enhanced health or not. Clark pauses for a second to admire the sprawl of someone who'd had no intention of falling asleep at all; papers in neat, frighteningly geometrically correct piles; the laptop on standby just short of Lex's lax fingers; the pens in a neat row just beside. Still mostly dressed, though the tie's discarded over the chair beside his coat, shoes and socks in an insanely neat pile on the floor.

Loosening his tie, Clark pads to the closet. He can move more quietly than Lex when he wants to, and practice has made perfect. Quick strip, leaving his clothes in the hamper by the closet door, Clark comes out, pajamas in hand, glancing at the bathroom briefly. He showered at Lois' when they got back to Metropolis, but her soap's too floral and always begins to bother his nose. It's late though, and he's not in the mood for another shower. Sighing a little, Clark pulls on the soft flannel bottoms and crosses over to the bed.

Lex doesn't twitch, even as Clark leans against the thin metal post of the bed, watching with the beginnings of a grin.

"Lex," he murmurs, and Lex makes a sound a lot like a kid being woken up for school. Pure, unhappy denial. "Lex, you're going to get a crick in your neck sleeping like that."

Blue eyes open on him, vividly awake, pushing himself up on one arm like he can completely deny that he was at any point unconscious. Instantly, the clear gaze flickers to the clock. It's two. Even Lex won't try to play this off.

"You're late."

Distraction works, though.

"Planes, trains, and automobiles as yet don't run on magical Lex-time," Clark says, careless of important papers as he crawls onto the bed. Lex, looking sleepily panicked, starts stacking things up, removing them from Clark's line of attack. Stuffed into a folder and dropped to the floor, the laptop and pens barely make it before Clark straddles him, grinning down. "I missed you."

"Noticeably, considering when I said late, I meant, three days. Jesus, you smell like Lois." Big hands rest on his thighs, gently caressing through wool and cotton. "How was the conference?"

"Long. I finished writing up the article at Lois' tonight, though, so I'm done," Clark answers, grinning at Lex's raised eyebrows. "You're talking to a very unemployed reporter at the moment."

Lex doesn't smile, though Clark had expected him to. Lex really, really hates the paper. "You didn't have to do that."

Clark shrugs. "I like credibility." Shrugging, he starts unbuttoning the crisp mauve shirt. "Lois and Chloe and I talked it over. They both agreed that until you leave office, it would be too difficult to balance. Besides, I can still freelance if I get bored." Five more buttons. Lex's hands stop him as he starts pulling the fine silk from his waistband.

"I don't want to trap you."

Clark raises an eyebrow. "I think the specific threat was locking me up in your bedroom." Pulling his hands free, Clark finishes up with the shirt. "Promises, promises, Lex. Your constituents are going to be unhappy if you're this inconsistent with them."

"That's entirely different." Of course it is. For sex, Lex will go to far more creative lengths than he would his career. Shaking his head, Clark braces both hands on the mattress, leaning in for a kiss. Lex submits, but his mind's obviously elsewhere. Pushing himself up, Clark studies Lex, who's still thinking. Probably about the latest poll results and who's making the final cut for his cabinet.

"You know, I've been gone a week, but I'm not feeling the welcoming vibes here." Lex blinks, coming back out of his mind, and Clark slides to the floor. "Get changed, would you? I'm going to get something to eat."

He's in a bad mood, he knows it, and it's actually sort of a blessing that he and Lex have been apart this last week. They'd started sniping two months before election day, made up for it that night at extreme length, only to go back to sniping a week later. Too much to do, too little time, and Pete's not helping, vice president elect or not. He just doesn't like Lex, and Clark's still trying to work out why Lex chose him of all the possible candidates, candidates who *don't* think he's this generation's answer to Attila the Hun. Hell, Clark can't quite work out why Pete accepted, and he really hasn't been that tempted to ask.

Okay, he knows why Pete accepted--VP offers don't come every day--but it really, really doesn't make the domestic situation great. As just Clark's friend, it'd been a lot easier to run interference. But no matter how Lex's campaign manager arranges it, no matter how hard Clark and Lana both work, the two have to spend time in the same room. In public, they're spectacular together--both brilliantly charismatic, highly-intelligent men with all the right connections. The ideal running-mates, the dream ticket of the party. Clark had never doubted they'd win from the day Lex made the offer.

In not-private?

Clark's gotten used to mixing double martinis for himself and Lana in whatever hotel they're staying at just to get through the meetings.

The kitchen's dark--Doris is long in bed, but she's a smart woman, and he finds a plate of his favorite sandwiches in the refrigerator with microwave instructions stuck to the cellophane. Taking it out, Clark removes the plastic and puts the plate in, typing in the times before hopping up on the counter with the gallon jug of milk and taking a drink.

He should spike this. Hell, he should have been drinking on the plane home, even if Lois would have given him that eyebrow-raised look and asked again about domestic joys. Well, fuck you, Lois. So glad I can amuse you.

The thing is, he really didn't want to quit his job, and apparently, no one is quite getting that. Of course not; no matter the Pulitzer prizes and the reputation and the respect, he's still with Lex Luthor. Of course he'd quit his job, he's with to the President-elect and richest man in the world, and that makes him pretty much fit for nothing but cocktail parties and being nice to whoever needs to be made nice to in Washington.

The Lois in his head is laughing again. Well, what did you expect, Clark? she asks, sipping a double latte. Even in his head, she has a caffeine addiction. They expected you to quit when you got together. After all, you're with the richest man on earth. Why should you do anything else? Welcome to the trophy club.

He's getting why Lois runs from commitment so fast and so far.

Clark lays back on the counter and tries to remember again the pros of this entire situation. So far, he's not seeing them.

"Clark."

Watching the ceiling, Clark listens to the low hum of the microwave, the soft pad of bare feet on cold tile as Lex approaches--warily, Clark thinks. Eight years and God knows how many fights, but Lex always, always walks softly after. As if he's not entirely sure Clark will be around when the smoke clears. Tonight, though, Clark can't babysit Lex's mood. He can barely keep up with himself.

"Doris left me dinner," Clark tells the ceiling. He hears the refrigerator door open, sending a quick burst of light through Clark's range of vision before it disappears as Lex gets his usual bottle of water. "Remind me to leave her a note to get milk." But he doesn't need to leave her a note. He's going to be here tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Right up to the day they move to Washington. Where he'll also be every day when he's not needed to be the figurehead for something, like the spouses of politicians everywhere.

It's a few long minutes, then warm hands settle tentatively on his knees. "Clark, look at me."

I don't want to, he wants to say, but he's not quite that petulant tonight. Yet, anyway. Pushing a hand into the counter, Clark sits up, looking down into sober blue eyes, flickering with sparks of color even in the dark. Shirt untucked and unbuttoned, bare feet, like Lex would never, ever let himself be seen outside of their home. The cufflinks are gone, probably discarded on the dresser on his way out.

"I'm just tired," Clark says by way of an apology, but Lex only tilts his head. "Jet lag. Article writing. Floral soap."

"I can see how that soap would cause problems." Lex pauses, hands growing a little more sure. Clark hates this sometimes, hates the way Lex can get this scared and never show it, scared enough to follow him instead of letting Clark work out his temper alone with food, scared enough to believe it would take that little for Clark to walk away.

But it's been a rough few months. Leaning forward, Clark rests his forehead against Lex's.

"I do know how hard this is for you." A gentle hand rests on the back of his neck, hard fingers pressing into too-tense muscles. "Believe me, Clark--"

"I know. I did know. I do know. None of this is new, Lex. I'm just tired tonight."

"You've been tired for a long time." It's a very oblique way of referring to their arguing, yes. Nice job. Clark closes his eyes. "Maybe you should go on vacation. Take Lois. Go somewhere my name isn't quite so--infamous."

"Mars?" That gets him a laugh and Lex shifts closer, hand sliding up his thigh. "Once all of this is over--"

"Then it'll be the presidency and one crisis after another. I don't think it's going to get easier."

"I'll be more used to it." Clark wonders about that, though. He's a private person by inclination and indoctrination. Lex--isn't. That's not quite right, though, and Clark tries to work out the dichotomy. Lex knows how to show and not tell. How to keep a private place in the brightest light, somewhere no one else can see in. He's handled their security, their publicity, everything and anything of them, private and public. There've been people specifically assigned to the care and protection of Clark and his life, because damned if Clark has any idea how Lex pulls it all off so naturally.

But LexCorp's CEO is one thing. The very popular Senator is one thing. The presidency--entirely something else. Clark's used to LexCorp bodyguards who aren't ever seen, who vanish into thin air, so natural he barely notices them. Secret Service and the flashes of a million bulbs all over the world, a new kind of frightening. Clark Kent's replaced Superman as a household name.

That wasn't exactly the trade Clark had had in mind.

"I'm sorry."

Oh damn. "No." Mostly. Reaching out, Clark cups the slim hips, sliding to the edge of the counter to pull Lex closer. "I'm sorry. I'm not making things easier."

"I don't think anything at this point could make it easier. But let me tell you some perks of this brand new lifestyle, in case you've forgotten." Mercurial change of mood, and Lex slides away, hopping lightly onto the counter beside him, hand sliding over his, curling around his fingers. "One, sex in the oval office. Two, sex in the Lincoln bedroom. Three, sex in the Senate chamber, which we couldn't pull off last year. Fucking secret service idiots. Four, sex in--"

"How many of these perks involve sex?"

Lex's eyes narrow, calculating. "Four hundred seventeen."

Whoa. Lex has been thinking. "Skip to the non-sex ones while I get my sandwiches."

"Gourmet cooks."

Clark grins as he slides down, opening the microwave door and getting his sandwiches out. "Don't let Doris hear you say that."

"I don't plan to." The grin flashes bright and sharp. "Okay. Air Force One."

"Your jets are better."

"Oh. You're challenging me." Lex looks interested, and Clark leans into the cabinets, grinning as he takes a bite of a meatball sub. God, he's going to miss Doris. "All right. Power to start nuclear war."

Clark rolls his eyes. "Superman here, once upon a time. I could make two atoms collide any time I felt like it."

Lex's eyes narrow again. "Hmm. I suppose the adulation of the world--"

"Been there, done that. Besides, that's your job now, alien-monster-conqueror-guy. What did Lois call you in the paper again?"

"Jesus Christ, don't remind me."

Clark finishes off the sub, starting on the next. "I'll check the framed copy that's going in the oval office the day we move in."

"You wouldn't."

"In a heartbeat, lover. I still have the entire collection of Lex action figures."

Lex lays back on the counter with a groan. "I hate ebay. I hate it. I'm going to outlaw it--"

"And the cute little model of the Fortress. LexCorp really should have gotten in first and not let Mattel dominate the market. That's kind of sad if you think about it." Three more bites and the sandwich is done. Reaching for a paper towel, Clark wipes his mouth and fingers, absently licking stray tomato sauce off his thumb as he walks over. "You know, there are some perks after all. Besides the sex."

Lex opens his eyes as Clark climbs up on the counter. There's a reason they're so wide. Clark wonders if Doris knows. Sitting down cross-legged, Clark picks up his gallon of milk.

"Do tell." A hand rests lightly on his knee.

"Well, you know, fucking the most powerful man in the world? That's a plus." He's going to miss going to the kitchen for milk anytime he wants. Putting the empty carton down, Clark settles himself on the cool granite

Lex snickers softly. "Fair enough." Slim fingers trickle up his thigh. A moving hand is a good hand.

"Two, interviews. Everything thinks I'm a trophy anyway, so I can say really stupid things now and no one will think worse of me." That's appealing in a very bizarre way. Clark mulls the possibilities. Unless he gets a reporter who knows him. In which case, even more fun to make their lives miserable. "World issues? You mean, like hunger and stuff? Don't know. There's hunger? Where? What's e-co-no-mics again? Math? Don't do math. Like my new coat? It's Armani. Did I mention I'm married to the richest man in the world? We fuck on money every day. Big, big piles of it."

Lex looks in imminent danger of indigestion. "You sound like Senator Kelley's wife."

"Scary, isn't it?" Grinning, Clark stretches out, dangling his legs over the edge so he can see Lex's face as he rolls onto his side. "Nice designer clothes for free--"

"I buy you whatever you want."

"You bought me a designer, Lex. Frankly, that's scarier than anything I could make up in interviews."

"You have the fashion sense of a muskrat."

"Think they'll keep asking if you like being on top or on bottom?" Clark reflects on the possibilities. "You know, I could actually start answering that question. The public's right to know, you know."

Lex blinks, obviously trying to decide how his spin doctors would handle that one. It can't go well. Grinning, Clark shifts closer, sliding a leg over Lex's.

"I could write a tell-all book." Now that's the expression he's been waiting for. Lex sits straight up, eyes wide, mouth falling open. "The Very Secret Life of Lex Luthor, Exposed. I could sell a billion copies. Like, right off the bat. Doesn't LexCorp own a publishing house?"

He's stopped with a kiss--the kind he's been waiting for, and Clark laughs into it, rolling on his back and pulling Lex close, giving special thanks to builders who don't ask why you want your kitchen island quite so wide. Pressing a knee up between Lex's, he pushes gently into his groin, and yes, Lex has missed him.

"Tell me you missed me," Clark murmurs as Lex breaks for air.

"More than anything." Drop to his throat, lips and teeth, and Clark slides a hand around Lex's neck, thumb resting just below his ear.

"Right there," Clark murmurs, pressing into the spot. "The night before inauguration, I'm giving you a hickey right there. And when you take your oath in front of the world, you'll feel me there still and remember how it felt the last night you fucked me as a private citizen."

"That--will show." A too-hard bite into his shoulder, and Clark arches, feeling Lex hard against his leg, moving almost mindlessly into him. Yes. He's been missed.

"Yeah," Clark murmurs, closing his eyes and leaning his head back into the counter. "You mind?"

"Not at all." Lifting up on one arm, Lex looks down at him. "I hate it when you're gone."

Well, Clark's not too hot about it, either, though the balm to his ego had been nice. Last one he'll have for a while, too. Celebrated for his award-winning investigative journalism, Lois grinning over her champagne glass, Jimmy's wide, happy smile. All forgotten the second Lex takes office, and they both know it, even if Lex doesn't ever say it. Wrapping his arms tighter around Lex, Clark takes a deep breath. "I missed you, too."

"I'll make it worth it. I promise." A gentle finger traces down his face, stopping at the corner of his mouth.

"Lex. Stop." Shifting Lex, Clark sits up, trying to figure out a way out of this one. He knows better. He does. "You know what I was thinking about in Philadelphia?"

"Running for Australia?" Lex's voice is tight, and Clark cups the smooth cheeks, shivering at the feel of Lex's skin.

"Election night." He breathes it in Lex's ear, feeling the instant response of the strong body, hand sliding down to his hips, tightening instantly. "Omni Hotel? Remember?"

"Jesus, I'm never going to forget that one--"


two months earlier

"....Jesus, yes."

It's a bad idea. A really bad idea. Clark knows it, even as his fingers fumble the buttons on Lex's tux, ripping one that rolls off somewhere into space to be lost for all time. Oh well. Clark's already leaning back against the desk with the next hard kiss, slick tongue thrusting into his mouth, so close to sex Clark thinks he could come just from this.

His jacket being pushed away by impatient fingers, and Lex is almost ripping at his collar, mouth fixing on the side of his throat and biting hard. "Lex, we--"

"Won." Breathed almost reverently into his skin before a sharp bite. "We won, we always win. I told you." Clark slides his hands beneath Lex's coat, pulling up at his shirt, desperate for skin. "You're my luck."

"Okay, speeches later? Sex now." Okay, so good idea, or at least, Clark's cock thinks so. Clark's cock's absolutely thrilled, come to think, pushing into the soft material of his pants urgently, and Lex's hand finds it without difficulty. Clark bites into his lip. It's been-- "Weeks, Lex. Weeks."

"Trust me, I know. Just--fuck this." Two buttons flipped by an expert hand, and Clark's bent over the desk, cock pushed into hard wood, pants around his knees. Sometimes, he forgets how fast Lex is when he's desperate. Or turned on. Winning always turns Lex on.

Winning after five weeks of abstinence? Jesus. Clark breathes out in relief as two slick fingers push inside him, trying to get his legs farther apart, trying even harder not to come yet. Lex sucks at the side of his neck, tongue following to the back of his neck, placing a gentle bite on the skin before twisting his fingers and Clark loses the ability to breathe.

Oh yes. Oh God yes. "Hurry." It doesn't sound like him, but the grated words seem to make Lex frantic, and he hears the movement of material, Lex's quiet curse, before the wet sounds of Lex slicking himself, then hands on his hips. "Lex."

"Yes." The thrust inside hurts--not enough stretch, too fast--but Clark pushes back into it, panting, as Lex works his way inside. Too--God, too hot, too good after way too damn long without, and Clark grabs for the edge of the desk, pushing back, cheek pressed to satiny wood, trying to get more.

"Faster."

A hand slides between his hips and the desk, pulling him up, then that hand's wrapped around his cock--yes. God yes. No time, it's been weeks and they haven't been alone at all....

"Clark." Whispered against his neck, hot breath against his hair. "Clark, yes, you--"

The hand tightens--Lex knows how to get him off fast, thrust and stroke, thrust and stroke, hot and fast and Clark feels himself coming, voice trapped in his throat, sweat breaking out over every inch of his body. Lex follows in only seconds, a hot rush that leaves him breathless and limp against Clark's back.

Blood pounds in Clark's ears as he lifts his head--no, wait. That's not blood. That's the door.

"Oh fuck."

"Hmm?" Hands gentle on him now as Lex pulls carefully away, and Clark winces as Lex slides out. "Hold on, I'll--"

"People. Door." Afterglow's fading already. Fuck. Ten minutes. That can't be too much to ask, can it? Ten minutes. They're married. This is allowed. They need a law. A special one. Just for moments like this.

"You're kidding." But Lex is already straightening himself, and Clark hears the condom go in the trash. Thank God for decent foresight even in the middle of arousal. Clark grabs for the waistband of his pants, jerking them up, trying to straighten enough to fix himself enough for presentation. The door pounds again, more forcefully, and Clark wonders if whoever is out there is really that stupid. If they were going to come to the door, wouldn't they have answered already? Is the lack of Clark and Lex not a huge clue here?

Turned around by hard hands, Clark submits to being straightened, but nothing's going to hide the creases or Lex's missing button. Or the flush. Or the extremely satisfied look on Lex's face. Winning might have put some of it there, but fucking Clark definitely put the rest.

"We're screwed," Clark murmurs as Lex fixes Clark's bow tie.

Stepping back, Lex grins a little. Not too bad. For people just engaged in fucking over a desk, anyway. "In just a little while, we will be. Again. Possibly for the next week straight." Another grin, before Lex glances at the desk, eyes widening. Instantly, the champagne in the corner loses its towel, and Clark fixes his cuffs before walking to the door as Lex disposes of the soiled towel in the trashcan, neatly over the condom.

Looking back, Clark watches Lex lean into the desk. He radiates sex like air, but right now, it's like a beacon. No one could miss this. God, he's getting hard just looking. "Let them in."

Opening the door, Clark looks down at his worst nightmare.

"Pete. Lana." Stepping back, Clark watches the dark eyebrows arch briefly, a knowing glint in her eyes, before Lana smiles and the two come inside. Pete looks--like Pete always does around Lex. Very, very noncommittal.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

"Mr. Ross, Mrs. Ross." Lex, always carefully polite, and Clark's just beginning to think this could be a Lex-variety insult to Pete in that very formality. Pete stiffens briefly, like he hasn't spent every day of the last few months with the man on campaign. "What can I do for you?"

"Senator Luthor. Final numbers are coming in," Pete says, eyes flickering around the room and Clark could swear, fixing on the corner of the desk. He can't possibly know. He just can't. "It looks as if we took thirty-two states."

"And all the big ones."

Pete nods almost defensively. "Of course."

"Well, better get back downstairs, then. Clark, Mrs. Ross--"

"We'll be down in a minute," Lana says, before Clark can open his mouth. Surprised, he looks down, but Lana's face is practiced impassive, a politician's wife to the core, giving nothing away. Lex's eyebrow raise, but he nods, absently straightening his coat. The button's still missing, and Clark sees the reflection of banked heat in the clear blue eyes before Lex follows Pete from the room.

Door closed, Clark turns to look curiously at Lana. "You need something to drink?"

"Double martini," she answers, and Clark blinks in surprise. One delicate hand over carefully arranged hair, then she looks up. "Sorry. Please. I--had a long night." Crossing to the small couch, she sits down, arranging the expensive pantsuit to keep from getting creases in the silk.

"Long few months," Clark answers, crossing to the bar. Pouring for Lana, he thinks of the fact that there's a long night ahead of them before he's going to get any time with Lex again, then makes one for himself. "How you holding up?" he asks as he gives her the glass, sitting down beside her gingerly. Oh damn, bad idea.

With a grin, she salutes him before downing a quarter of the glass. "Triumph. We wear it well, don't we?" Her mouth turns on the last words, and the red lips tighten. "Sorry again. God, I'm bad company tonight."

"So am I, so hey, we'll do it together." Taking a sip, Clark watches her hands go up, stopping just short of the elegant knot at the back of her neck. "Anything specific?"

She shakes her head, and he can see the tiny diamonds glittering in her ears, picking up light from above. Reaching over, she suddenly gets his left hand, lining it up beside hers, and Clark watches as she fingers their wedding rings.

"Lana?"

"I said if we won, eight more years," Lana whispers, thumb rubbing against her own gold. Lifting her eyes, he sees the tears filling them. "I said that when once I said forever. I'm tired, Clark."

He doesn't know what to say--the inside of Lana and Pete's marriage is something he's not sure even they are completely sure of. Pete's a politician to the soles of his feet, has been for years, but Lana Lang hadn't married a politician. She'd married a lawyer, an activist, a man who swept her off her feet and gave her the security that no one except Chloe had ever managed to make her feel.

Breathing out, Clark lifts his right arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

"I'm sorry."

"So am I." The girl peers at him for a second from behind Lana's clear eyes--passive, calm acceptance, the thing she'd grown out of and somehow grown right back into. Pretty in a dark pantsuit and diamond jewelry, the focus of all eyes everywhere she goes. "I own an interior design firm. I have a MBA and I was CEO of my own company before I was thirty. But do you know what they ask me? Who my favorite designer is. If I like diamonds better than sapphires. How many pairs of shoes I own. If I'm excited to be the wife of the Vice President-elect." Her head shakes, slow, shocky. "I run his finances and I funded half his campaign, but his friends down there don't think I can add two and two together and get the right answer. They never have." Her eyes close again, and Clark sees the damp around the edges, the tears she won't spill until she has privacy. "I'm tired, Clark."

He has no idea what to say--what he can say. Pete needs his stable, traditional family image--Lex needs it too, to counterbalance, complement, his very different family arrangement. This is something Lana knew when Pete ran for public office with her encouragement. He thinks she was ready for almost everything but that one thing, that Pete would become what he always wanted to be.

"I'll be quitting the Daily Planet," Clark says softly, stroking back a strand of her hair, and Lana leans her head into his shoulder, eyes still closed.

"You talked to Lois?"

"Yeah." A pause, and Clark tries to think of what else he can say. "She--said before the inauguration. She figured Lex would win, so she's been looking into things I can do from the White House. Just. Well, you know. Reporter married to the president? Not going to work."

Lana nods against his shoulder. "I suppose not." She laughs softly, lacing their left hands together. "Lucy's doing well with LL Designs, so I'm not worried about it. I still consult. I miss Metropolis."

"Full time in Georgetown sucks," Clark agrees, remembering. He and Lex's house there is great, but it's not home. "I know."

Eyes still closed, her fingers stroke over his ring again. "It won't get easier, will it?"

Clark thinks about lying and telling her that it will, then looks down at his martini. Before he can begin to frame the words, though, she sits up, taking the rest of the glass in a swallow.

"You ready, Clark?" Like that, the politician's wife is back, slickly glossed, beautiful, and somehow, as unapproachable as the girl he'd crushed on in high school. Nodding slowly, Clark takes another drink and puts his glass aside, offering his arm. Smooth, manicured fingers curl around his elbow.

"Yeah." Back downstairs to face the media, the other politicians, and when they emerge into the huge ballroom where the celebration continues, he thinks he understands how she feels.

In a few months, he'll be her, too.

"Clark," she says softly as she smiles for a camera.

"Hmm?" Clark blinks away the glare, seeing Lex holding court on the other side of the room. He looks happy.

"How did you and Lex decide?" She nods gracefully to someone, but Clark's still seeing spots. Blob here, blob there...what?

"Decide what?"

Another flashing smile. God, she's beautiful. And distracting as hell. It's deliberate, he knows it, and he still can't quite resist it. Grinning, Clark waits for another photographer to get a good shot.

"To run for president."

"Easy." Clark hopes his smile's firmly in place. "I always knew."

"But--" she stops, head ducking briefly, before Mercy appears from nowhere at Clark's desperate look, leading them to relative safety and freedom from too many eyes. Turning, Lana pulls away, hand automatically straightening her sleeve. Politician's wife, yes. She's learned. "Abstract and concrete. How were you sure? Especially considering..." She trails off, and Clark nods slowly, understanding what she doesn't say.

"I suppose--" Clark thinks, watching Lana watch him. "There was this phone call--I guess you know how that feels." Lana nods and Clark continues, leaning into a table. "Lex was on before I even got home and right through dinner. And, well, I think he just knew this was the right time."

"Just knew?"

Clark ducks his head. "More or less. It's Lex."


one year earlier

Clark watches Lex pace the length of his office in his headset, listening intently while paging through the folder in his hand.

It's two hours after dinner. It's three and a half since Clark's gotten home. According to Doris, Lex has been on the phone since he got home from work, one hour before Clark.

Picking up his glass, Clark pulls a knee to his chest and watches Lex continue wearing an invisible groove into the carpet.

"Yes. Yes." Lex freezes, stopping in the middle of the handwoven rug Clark had given him as a Christmas present three years before. Muted colors and patterns, subtle enough not to offend Lex's delicate sense of style, but the symbol in the middle is the reason, Clark thinks, Lex values it.

Hope.

In retrospect, Clark's glad the woman who made it didn't ask too closely where on earth he got the design. And it was worth the hours he spent overseeing the work to get that look on Lex's face.

"I'll call you back."

Instantly, the disconnection is made and Lex slips the headset off, staring at it blankly for a few minutes before slowly walking to his desk. Clark hides a grin beneath his glass as Lex blinks at the tray sitting in the middle.

"What--Doris--" Turning around, Clark watches Lex looks at him blankly. "Clark? When did you get home?"

Snickering to himself, Clark finishes up the glass and untangles himself from the couch, watching Lex look him over.

"At my usual time. You know, six." Crossing to the tray, Clark picks ups the a piece of bread and smears it with hummus. "Eat. Your blood sugar must be crashing."

"I--" Clark pushes the piece into Lex's mouth and gets a narrow look before Lex chews rebelliously. "Clark." Swallowing, Lex gets the next piece before Clark can force it through. "What time is it?"

"Close to ten. You seemed to be distracted." Picking up the neatly sectioned orange, Clark extends a piece. "Just eat. You get grumpy when you skip meals."

Lex frowns but takes the slice, and Clark sits back on the desk and waits as Lex, with an interested expression, starts the methodical demolishment of the food in question. "I thought--" piece of French bread, "we were having" tiny quiche, Doris' specialty, "saffron chicken tonight."

"Dinner was hours ago. Now that I don't have to worry about a grumpy Lex, maybe you'll tell me what's making you look like that."

Lex looks at him over the edge of the water bottle, blue eyes lighting up with an incandescence Clark's never seen outside their bedroom. Putting down his glass, Clark scoots back on the desk, watching Lex finish off the bottle and toss it into the trash.

"That was Ronald." Wiping his hands absently on his pants, a sure sign of pure Lex-distraction, he begins to pace. "He's been looking over the numbers."

"I thought Ronald hated you."

"Ronald doesn't hate me. Ronald hates my name and everything I stand for," Lex answers reasonably. "But he loves money and power more than he hates that." Coming to a sudden stop, Lex fixes his eyes on the office window, where Metropolis is spread out in all her brilliant night glory. "This year."

Clark feels the glass begin to slip in his hand.

"What?"

Lex is pacing again.

"I--Ronald was doing some checking for me. I wasn't seriously considering it, but it looks like the field is wide open. In four more years, we can't be so sure, but--" Lex looks up, and Clark catches his breath.

Setting the glass down before he dropped it, Clark took a deep breath, closing his hands over the edge of the desk.

"You said you wanted a higher public profile. More than what your seat in the Senate's given you." More than your marriage to your boyfriend, Clark doesn't say, but he can see the same thing reflected in Lex's eyes.

"I did. I do. I can. I have a year before the elections to do it--the farming bill, the new crime bill. The vice president doesn't have the support of his entire party, though he'll definitely get the nomination. I--" Lex comes to a sudden stop. "I told Ronald to wait. Until I could talk to you about it."

"No you didn't." Slipping off the desk, Clark feels a shot of dizziness. Humanity sucks sometimes. "You hired him and told him to get a staff. I've been listening Lex, and I know your code by now. You're running."

Lex looks at him for an endless moment. "If you say no, everything stops now."

Jesus. Clark takes a deep breath, knowing Lex is telling him the exact truth. Except he knows Lex knows that Clark would never do that.

"Clark--" It stops, just like that. Lex is already looking for the hook, the way to reel him in. He knows that like he knows the color of his eyes and the fact that Ronald's waking up people all over the United States right this second, getting ready for the campaign of a lifetime, of the century. An openly gay presidential candidate, happily married to his long-time companion, and brilliant businessman, third generation money, owner of Metropolis, wildly-popular state senator, national hero.

Clark already knows Lex can't lose. He's rewriting history all over again. He always has.

"You're going to win."

Lex looks at him soberly, but Clark can see the excitement below his skin, like electricity, live current, and if he touches him, Clark might feel it, too. He's been waiting his entire life for this moment. Business power he's always had, his name gave him social, the money's always been there, but now, now....

"We're going to win." The blue eyes are fixed on him, and Clark can almost see the plea in them that Lex's pride won't quite let him voice. "We are, Clark."

It's not as if he hadn't know. Clark had. This isn't like Lana and Pete, with a spiral that went out of control. But he'd thought he had more time--just a little. Two and a half terms as Senator, then Lex would run. More time for them, more time for Clark, and it's sickeningly selfish, but Clark can't quite help the edge of betrayal. Lex wants this so badly he can taste it, and nothing, no one, even Clark, has the right to get in the way of that.

Picking up his glass, Clark finishes it off and forces a smile.

"What do we do?"

Lex doesn't answer, head tilted a little. "Clark--"

"I'm fine, I swear. Just a shock. Do you want me to warm up dinner? I sent Doris off duty after I was finished." Putting down the glass, Clark rubs his palms down his thighs. "The chicken will be fine rewarmed, though I'm not too sure about the squash..."

"Talk to me."

"You can tell me about it while we eat," Clark continues, forcing himself to look past the sharp eyes, opening the study door and going to the kitchen. Flipping the lights on, Clark finds the plate Doris made for Lex, stripping off the cellophane and putting it into the microwave, following the directions on the paper Doris left stuck to the top. Behind him, he can hear Lex, sharp sound of Lex's shoes on the tile, before he comes to a stop on the other side of the island. "Pull up a stool. How long until you start campaigning? Do you have a media director yet? I was--"

"Clark. Stop."

Fuck. Turning around, Clark fixes his gaze on the kitchen island, tracing the lines of the dark granite with his eyes.

"I'll double your security," Lex says steadily, and Clark shakes his head.

"Security's fine. Mercy puts the fear of God in them once a day and twice on Sundays. I'll need to call Mom and Dad to warn them--do you want Lois or Chloe to get the first exclusive?"

"Lois. Clark, look at me."

"I'll tell her tomorrow. We can set up a series of--"

"Clark."

Great. He's acting like a three year old. Raising his head, he meets Lex's eyes.

"What are you afraid of?"

"Where do you want me to start?" Sighing, Clark finds a stool, pulling up to the island, facing Lex. "How well did your people work over my adoption records? Everything that happened in Smallville? My life before--"

"Yes." Both elbows on the counter, Lex folds his hands together. "The adoption's rock solid, as long as your parents stick to their story. As for Smallville--" resting his chin on his hands, Lex smiles. "Being a teenage hero isn't exactly bad publicity."

"Lex."

"I've cleaned up every stray thread, if that's what you're worried about. Unless you're worried about Pete or Lois saying something...."

"Of course not!"

"Chloe's a problem." Lex looks meditative, and Clark straightens at the coolly calculating look. "Her reporters are excellent and she keeps them hungry. They'll want to impress her. How much do you think she knows?"

"Knows or guesses?" Clark sighs, staring down at the counter. "I--don't know."

Clark hears Lex get up, followed by the unmistakable sounds of the coffee pot being turned on, then Lex comes back, plate in hand from the microwave. Finding a fork, Lex sits down, looking at the chicken critically.

"If she knows...."

"If she knows, she's kept the secret for almost fifteen years," Clark answers steadily. "She's never let it slip even to me. So no. She wouldn't tell."

"Clark Kent wasn't going to be in the White House, he was just saving the world," Lex answers with an edge of cynicism in his voice. "And she hates me, Clark. Don't fool yourself on how well she plays nice in public and private. She's made it her life's mission to find dirt on me and use it. We both know that."

Yes, Clark does know that.

"She made her reputation destroying mine. She loves you, Clark, but in the balance--"

"She won't." Jesus, please God, he hopes not. The smell of fresh coffee wafts over him, and Clark takes a deep breath. Caffeine by proxy. Comforting. "She won't hurt me."

"Even if it was a fool-proof way to hurt me?"

Jesus, Lex. Staring at the countertop, Clark tries to answer that with a perfect no. Chloe's among his best friends, one of his oldest, second only to Pete. Pete would die first, Clark's always known that.

"It couldn't hurt your chances for the world to know you're fucking the former Superman," Clark answers shortly, regretting it immediately.

"I'm not fucking the former Superman. I'm married to Clark Kent."

God, he needs a vacation if he's going to say stupid shit like that. "Sorry."

There's a sigh from the other side of the counter, and Clark glances up to see Lex has cleared his plate of all extraneous food. He was hungry. "We do this together or not at all, got it?"

"I want you to have this." That's absolutely true.

"That's not what I said." Pushing the plate aside, Lex pushes the stool back and Clark folds his arm, laying his head down. The brush of Lex's mouth against his cheek makes him close his eyes. "I'm scared, too."

Clark opens his eyes. "What?"

The stool's retrieved, and Clark lifts his head on an arm as Lex settles beside him, reaching for the bottle of water. The smile's a parody of amused.

"What part of my past do I need to worry about?"

Clark grins, holding up his left hand. "I'm probably the only one outside your people and the Justice League who knows for sure, and you know. Testifying in court. I wondered why you were so hot to get married." The Justice League is a different story, but they don't interfere in human political institutions.

"You're such a bastard." The flash of the grin makes it worth it, and Clark snickers softly.

"I want you to do this. I want us to do this." Taking a breath, Clark lets his head slide back down. "I just--need to get used to it, okay?"

"Do you trust me to be a good president?"

There it is. Clark turns his head just enough to catch Lex's gaze. "No. I trust you to be a great president." Grinning, Clark pushes his worries aside. "I mean, you have the money, the reputation, the public adulation, and, well, the best reporter in the world to do whatever you want with anytime you want...."

"Yes, there's that."

"I have two Pulitzer prizes, more commendations than can possibly be mentioned, but also? I've heard I'm very easy on the eyes. People like that."

"I've heard that, too." Slim fingers lace through his hair, softly petting. Clark loves that. No real idea why--something related to the human-primate instinct, maybe?--but it always makes him melt. Lex laughs, and Clark opens one eye curiously.

"What?"

"Just remembering." That look. The one that's Clark's and Clark's alone, that Lex has never turned on another living person.

"What makes you look like that, exactly?" Pushing himself up on one arm, Clark grins as Lex's hand slides down to his cheek.

"I'm so glad I got you drunk enough to marry me."

"I wasn't drunk, Lex."

Lex laughs again and brushes a slow kiss against his mouth. "But the story makes so much more sense if I say you were."


two years earlier

"You can't back out, you know. I have this in ink, filed in triplicate."

Clark looks up from staring at his hand to see Lex leaning into the doorway, looking too smug for words. His bow tie is loose around his neck, jacket forgotten over one shoulder. Lex does sexy like a lifestyle choice without even trying, but when he turns it on deliberately, Clark sometimes forgets to breathe. "I'm surprised you didn't make me sign in blood."

"Flakes off when it dries," Lex answers, shutting the bedroom door behind him with a kick of his foot and tossing the jacket carelessly onto a chair. "Experience speaking. You're still dressed. Why?"

"Some of us have a normal sex drive. And are thinking about the entire life changing aspects of this. You know. Marriage? Legally and morally binding--this is completely lost on you, isn't it?"

Lex seems to think about it as he sits down on the arm of Clark's chair. "Well. You can't testify against me in court. I did notice that."

Rolling his eyes, Clark leans back into the soft leather, feeling Lex pick up his hand, lacing their fingers together. "How stupid will it sound if I say, I really, really never expected this to happen?"

Lex's fingers tighten in his. "Which part?"

"Marriage at all." Clark's still working through that. Somewhere in his mind is this huge realization, though still buffered by all the shocks of the last few months. "It's--" Words aren't working. Of course not. Certainly not when he needs them. Leaning his head into Lex's arm, Clark shuts his eyes. "Lex, I'm married."

Married. He's married. It's not sinking in, still swimming below the surface of his skin, and damn. God. Lex.

"I remember. I was there. Vows, cake, well-dressed people, annoying paparazzi, Lois distracting my head of security, and your mother snapping pictures every five seconds. It's very hard to forget." Fingers curl into Clark's hair lightly, and Clark burrows closer. "I also helped draft the law that legalized it. Tell me what's wrong."

"Wrong?" Blinking, Clark comes back, surprised. "Nothing at all. It--" Dad hadn't been there, but Clark hadn't expected him to be. Somewhere on the farm, doubtless imagining gigantic stacks of hay were Lex and pitchforking them into submission. "I--dammit." Reaching around, Clark pulls Lex into his lap, grinning at the little indrawn breath, then Lex resettles himself like he sits on Clark's lap all the time. He still manages dignity. Just barely. "I'm married."

Lex gives him an amused look. "So am I. Oddly enough, to you, who seems to keep forgetting that. Let's try this again. Life changing...."

"Well. You know."

"Be specific. What changes?" Lex had stripped off his jacket at the door--white-silk-covered elbows brace on his shoulders as Lex peers into his face. "We live together. We sleep together. You're not changing your name. Which, by the way, I'm still protesting. You already have full access to half of what I own. We never did work out daily household tasks, but that's why I have a staff. Ideal, really."

Clark looks back at him. "Yes. So tell me why you asked, exactly? If this is all so normal and hum-drum and nothing to really notice. I mean, besides the publicity--and by the way? Next time a reporter asks me if I'm going to like taking it up the ass legally? His camera goes up his ass and I'll ask him the same damn question."

Lex blinks, instantly sidetracked. The shiny principle, Clark thinks sometimes a little despairingly, but mostly amused. Lex is like a kid. "Someone said that to you?"

They've said worse. Just not in Lex's hearing. Ever. And Clark's never been stupid enough to repeat those comments to Lex--the ones they get together and Lex gets alone are quite enough. Clark's beginning to wonder if they think just because he doesn't ruin their lives means that he's soft on being asked really stupid questions. For a few seconds, heatvision would have been great. Just long enough to roast the little shit. "I'm really sorry I mentioned it."

"I'll kill him."

See, this is why Clark keeps his mouth shut. "You can't."

Both eyebrows raise. "Why not?"

Morals, ethics, practicality? Clark decides to try for all three. "Okay, let's put it this way. You're not killing him because it's wrong. Shut up. Second, it'll look bad should, by some really remote chance, the murder gets traced back to you, Senator. And third, because I already told Chloe and she's taking care of it."

"Chloe? What the hell does Chloe--" The blue eyes narrow. "One of hers?"

"One of her best. Strangely enough, you pissed this guy off a few years ago. Ask me how you pissed him off."

Right. Lex's mouth tightens. "Coward."

"No, smart. He'll get me because he can't hurt you. Fine. And Chloe's taking care of it. He's one of her fledglings--you know how she is with them."

"I want him out of the city."

Clark grins up at Lex, lifting a hand to trace the hard line of his mouth. "Gotham. Let him deal with Bruce for a while."

His fingers get nipped, then Lex pulls back, giving him a long look. Easily, he slides off Clark's lap, bow tie discarded as he walks, and Clark sighs, staring back down at the plain platinum band that just changed his life completely.

Lex is right, though. This is legal, but that's the only real difference. New jewelry, a great party, lots of presents, a front page in the Inquisitor and God knows how many other papers, and a legal document. Maybe it shouldn't feel so huge, so massive, but Clark's still got that shock running in him, metal sharp, like sucking on a penny.

Standing up, he discards the bow tie and jacket behind him, trailing to the bed. Toes his shoes off and kicks them into the distance. Doris can deal with them tomorrow. Socks next. Like any other night, even with the removal of cufflinks he never wears except for dress occasions--such as, say, his wedding--and he's married.

He's married.

Clark thinks of his mother with her camera, obsessively snapping pictures of her only son, an almost genuine smile stretching her lips; Chloe, bright and sharp beside Lois, saying with nothing but her eyes that this was a mistake. Yes, thank you, Chloe. Pete and Lana hovering in the background, trying to appear more supportive than they actually were. All completely superfluous as far as Clark was concerned, along with the media attention and the questions and the decorations and the well-wishing from people he knows don't like them at all. All that damn cake, two that his mother made herself. Frightening mountain ranges of presents. Too much alcohol. And a Lex who'd forgotten the concept of public scrutiny and discretion to drag him into corners and behind pillars and into the damn coat closet and touch him like they were completely alone.

It'd been a really interesting night.

Clark unbuttons his shirt numbly, pulling it off, cufflinks on the beside table. Lex may have a nervous breakdown if he sees the mess Clark's making of their room. Lucky the lights are out. Methodically, Clark goes after the pants, eyes closing as he pulls them off.

His pajamas appear under his hand, and Clark gets them on. The ring feels so different, heavy and strange and right and wrong. He's not at home in his own head. He's--

Married.

He needs to sit down. Almost instantly, Lex is kneeling behind him, warm hands on his shoulders.

"I asked because I wanted more."

Clark leans back a little, turning his head enough so, if he wants to, he can open his eyes, see Lex's face.

"What's more?"

For a second, he's not sure Lex is going to give him an answer--something flip is on the tip of his tongue, Clark knows it, can feel it, but then.

It changes.

"Everything. I want to give you everything. Before you even know you want it."

Clark opens his eyes, fixing his gaze on the wall. "Did you want it?"

"Yes." The pause is almost strained, and Clark almost lets it go, almost stops Lex before he drags out any more, tries to frame in words what he's never said in any way except with his body. That being in love for Lex is more terrifying than a thousand Kryptonian invaders and a million nosy, annoying reporters. That possession is easier to admit, that wanting's easier to say, that doing it like this is Lex's way of trying to tell him it's both of those and neither one.

That Clark--

"I'm in love with you," Lex says, and Clark takes a deep breath, feeling something inside him shiver a little at the words. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want everyone to know that. And I want you to know that, too."

Clark nods slowly, eyes closing again, the shiver breaking all over his skin. This is what he's feeling. Just sitting here, absorbing--yes.

"We're married," Clark murmurs, reaching up and taking Lex's left hand.

"Yeah." And it's in his voice now, that same shocky feeling, the awe, the utter hugeness of what they've done. Clark thinks of a hundred, a thousand different moments in his life, then pulls up, turning around. Lex looks back at him with wide blue eyes and no defenses at all. Clark could hurt him with a look now.

"This is the most important thing I've ever done," he says, measuring out each word. "Will ever do."

"Yes." Lex kisses him--slow and soft, only the touch of their hands, the shared breath when they move apart. Lex studies him like it's the very first time they've ever met, then leans closer, pressing Clark into the mattress. "'Botrus cypri dilectus meus mihi in vineis Engaddi," is whispered into his ear, and Clark closes his eyes as Lex straddles his hips, looking down on him like newly conquered territory.

"'My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the--vineyards of Engedi.'" Clark's breath hitches as warm lips settle in the hollow of his throat. "Song of Solomon. Lex--"

"'Ecce tu pulchra es amica mea;" is caught on the point of his jaw, and Clark shudders at the slow scrap of teeth, the slow, sensual cadence of Lex's voice that rumbles over every nerve. "'Ecce tu pulchra oculi tui columbarum." Breathed down the side of his throat, and Clark digs his heels into the bed, arching. "Ecce tu pulcher es dilecte mi et decorus lectulus noster floridus."

Lex's mouth just a breath away, blue eyes holding his, breath warm on Clark's lips. "'Tigna domorum nostrarum cedrina laquearia nostra cypressina."

"Lex," Clark breathes, closing his eyes for the next kiss. "You've been reading."

"You and your Ruth. Lois keeps saying I'm not romantic enough."

Clark begins to laugh. "You're letting Lois get to you?"

The blue eyes grin back down at him, lit up from within, brilliant and happy in a way Clark's never seen before. He wonders how he could possibly have put that there. "Amicus mea. You know I really like annoying her."


three months earlier

Lois stretched out on Lex's office couch has to be annoying the crap out of Lex. Clark grins, watching the blue eyes narrow instantly at the vision.

"Her feet hurt." Rubbing his thumbs into the pads, Clark gives Lex a wicked grin. "Play nice with your former girlfriend, Lex. I think the Lydia Media War was really enough for one lifetime."

"So she's borrowing my lover to rub them? She can buy a foot massager." Tossing his briefcase on the desk, Lex leans against the polished wood as Lois continues to type. She's in her special zone, where outside annoyances are completely irrelevant. Unless Clark stops rubbing her feet. "And what is she doing here? For that matter, aren't you both supposed to be in Japan until next week?"

"Hot date?" Lois makes a pleased sound when Clark hits her instep, and Clark forces down his snicker at the way Lex's eyes narrow instantly.

"Don't tempt me." Pushing away from the desk, Lex pads over, shoes discarded, and leans down to brush a kiss across Clark's hair. "I'm glad you're back. Though I had a meeting tomorrow in Tokyo and I was going to drop by. Do you know if Doris sent out the dry cleaning yet?"

"Mmm. Romance." So Lois is paying attention. The fast fingers never stop moving on the keys, though, and Clark checks Lex's expression. Not happy. "Wow, the domesticity here is killing me."

"This from a woman who changes lovers more often than her underwear?"

Lois turns her head, flashing a smile. "Lex. You know I don't wear underwear. And stop pouting. I just need to finish this up, then you can have your boytoy back safe and sound. Technically, we're still supposed to be in Japan, so I'm going to take a few days and relax before going back to the office." The fingers still for a second as a thoughtful look covers her face. "There's a new spa down by tenth I want to try."

"I'll never understand why Perry lets you get away with crap like this." Lex picks up the paper from the floor, sitting on the arm of the couch. Clark doesn't miss territoriality when it's resting a hand on his shoulder and is close enough to breathe. Hiding his grin, Clark continues his massage.

"Because Clark and I are responsible for most of his front-page news." Back to typing. "I need to talk to you--" she finishes up with a rapid clacking of keys, and Clark leans over to see. "You're done with your part, Clark?"

"Finished on the plane. I'll edit and send it on to Perry tonight." Obligingly, Lois turns the screen enough for Clark to look. "Perfect. Though your spelling sucks."

"That's what spellcheck's for, kiddo." With a few more flickers, Lois shuts down, spinning her feet neatly off the couch, stretching luxuriously. "God, Kent, I'd hire you just for your fingers full time if I could afford it."

"You can't," Lex snaps, and Clark reaches up to lay a hand on one lean thigh. "Why are you here?"

"Dinner, for one." Flashing another smile, Lois leans back. "Second, your wedding."

"I see you got your invitation, despite my care in not sending one."

He shouldn't enjoy this. Clark knows he shouldn't. It's wrong on a lot of levels, but--God, it's fun. It's so much fun. Leaning back, Clark slides a hand soothingly up and down Lex's thigh. "Doris sent them out a week ago, Lex. I was talking to Lois--"

"You did the paper announcements, and I know you've checked with legal and PR." Pulling a leg up, Lois straightens her skirt. "I want to do your first interview."

"No." Ignoring Clark's hand, Lex fixes a glare on Lois. Clark swallows a completely inappropriate smile. "Absolutely not."

"Lex, you know, your privacy issues? I get them. But guess what? United States Senator. You're marrying your boyfriend. And not just for the legal value, if the quality of the invitations is any indication. I also know you're restricting the media to the ceremony and reception. However--"

"How is this your business?"

Lois ignores him. "This is a very big story. You want me to do it with Clark as my editor or do you want this done by one of Chloe's people?"

Shit, Clark hadn't thought of that. "Chloe wouldn't."

"Chloe will protect you, but the same won't be true for Lex. And she only has so much control over her stable and none at all over Daniel." Lois' smile disappears--all business. "Initial interview to set the tone. Light, friendly, open. Otherwise, the first big article will be about Lex's trail of divorced, deceased, and annulled wives, fiancees, and girlfriends, mark my words. We saw what happened with Lydia when you and Clark became involved. Frankly, the only thing that saved your ass is your actions in the Arctic, and it was still a mess for Clark. I don't want that to happen to him again."

Glancing at Lex, Clark watches the myriad expressions cross his face--anger, frustration, annoyance, and finally, a very, very grudging acceptance.

"Clark edits the article before publication?"

"Clark edits, but I'm allowed any questions I choose. It's the best deal you're going to get, Lex. Especially if you want Clark protected." Looking between them, Lois waits.

"Okay."

"Good." Looking between them, Lois settles in her corner of the couch, a smile curling up the corners of her mouth. "Did I express my good wishes for your approaching nuptials?"

"No. Were you planning to do so or trying to convince Clark to run while he can?" Getting up, Lex moves Clark's hand with a gentle rub to the center of his palm, carrying the paper to his desk.

"I did tell him that I'd swear I lost him in Singapore on our way home, but strangely enough, he wouldn't listen." Cocking her head, Lois follows Lex's progress across the room. "At least your taste is improving."

Snuggling back in his corner of the couch, Clark enjoys the too-rare pleasure of watching Lois and Lex practice their civil aggressive tendencies. Lex snaps his briefcase open, taking out a stack of papers and disks, before closing it with a definite bang. He may need a new briefcase soon. "You know, much as I treasure these chats...."

"Imagine how scintillating I'll be over dinner. Speaking of which, Clark cleared me to interview your staff. Think I'll see what Doris is up to, if you don't mind. We haven't chatted in far too long." Getting to her feet, Lois flashes another smile evenly between the two of them, then saunters out, stopping to pick up her heels from beside the door. "See you in an hour."

Clark grins as he watches the door close, turning his attention back to Lex just as the slim body drops beside him with a sigh.

"I hate her."

"You don't hate her. You just intensely dislike her profession and personality. At least with Lois, we know any blood she tries to draw is figurative." Reaching over, Clark loosens the tie. "Come on. Relax. Here." Putting both legs down, Clark draws Lex to lie down on the couch, head on Clark's thigh. "We got finished up early and--you were coming to Japan?"

Lex nods, reaching both arms above his head in a full body stretch that makes Clark swallow hard. It's been a full week since they've seen each other.

"We haven't been on vacation in a year," Lex says, looking up at him. "Romantic. I was thinking on that."

"You're romantic."

"Yes, I am. Except apparently, with the only person that makes me want to be." Clark leans down for a kiss at that, pulling back with a snicker when Lex tries to draw it out.

"Lois is here, remember?"

"It's an hour until dinner." A slow, liquid movement gets him a lap of an extremely interested Lex, cupping his face gently and looking into his eyes. "I want you."

That voice still makes Clark hard, every time. Shivering, Clark closes his eyes, taking in the feel of Lex's mouth, the quicksilver thrust of his tongue, so fast there's barely an echo of feeling before the next. Lex puts everything into every kiss, like it's the first time, last time, only time. "I missed you," Clark murmurs as Lex finds an interesting place on his jaw to lick. "I--made Lois finish up faster so I could get home."

"We should go on vacation."

"After the wedding." Leaning his head back on the couch, Clark sucks in a slow breath at the fingers circling the collar of his shirt. "Greece?"

"Greece, Spain, Italy, Smallville, the fucking Arctic, wherever you want to go." A slow bite to the side of his throat, and Clark shudders. "A month, maybe."

Clark laughs breathlessly as he pulls up coat and shirt, sliding his hands onto warm skin. God, Lex. "You can't possibly not work for a full month."

"Anything you want." Clark sucks in a breath as Lex's fingers trace his waistband, then Lex looks up with a wicked smile. "Miss me?"

"Lex." Clark catches his breath at the slow slide of knuckles the length of his erection. "Don't--don't tease."

"I don't plan to." Instantly, Lex slides to the floor, pressing Clark's knees apart before both hands fix beneath his thigh, pulling him into a slouch. "Better."

"Lex--" He should protest, but Lex is unbuttoning his pants with intense concentration and a little smile. "Lois--"

"Can watch if that's your kink." Lex gives him a grin. "She does know what I do to you, you know." Lex brushes his fingers lightly over the exposed boxers, grin widening. "I've missed you."

Regular sex is something he's gotten used to. An entire week of enforced celibacy had been bad--but an entire week of no Lex at all was far worse. Clark closes his eyes as Lex works his pants and boxers down expertly, elbows braced on Clark's knees. "I--missed you, too."

"Good." And like that--God, Lex's mouth. Perfect, hot, wet, wrapped around him, and Lex isn't teasing here--it's fast, hard, and Lex swallows him, a hand sliding somehow into the opening of his pants and wrapping around his balls....

"Fuck." Heels sliding on the rug, Clark tries to get enough air to breathe, shivering at the feeling. Yes. Please. God. Now. And those flexible, wonderful fingers moving, stroking and sliding back even farther, and Clark stiffens as the tip of one finger rubs against the cleft of his ass, one push and inside, oh God.... "Lex--"

It's like a lightning strike--fast and brilliant, still burning in every nerve even as he comes down, and Lex draws it out perfectly, until Clark melts into the couch, still panting. He's tucked neatly into his clothes, buttoned and rezipped, before Lex straddles his lap, brushing a salty-bitter kiss across his mouth. Clark forces himself to move, wrapping his arms around the slim body, reaching up for another kiss.

"Let's just stay in here tonight," Clark hears himself dazedly. "Doris can bring us dinner. We don't have to move."

"Dinner with Lois," Lex says, sliding off his lap in an act of complete unfairness.

"Fuck." Turning his head, Clark watches Lex straighten himself, pausing to give Clark a heated look that makes his cock twitch. Double fuck.

"See? That's what I say when she comes over. Come on. Let's go play nice with your partner."

"Bastard." Clark takes the extended hand, pulling Lex close as he gets his feet. "Tell me why I'm marrying you again?"

Lex slides an arm around his waist, smiling up at him. "I'm still trying to figure that out."


six months earlier

"Don't you fucking dare walk out of here."

Clark and Lex have different methodologies in response to intense arguments. Clark, born of Kents, trained by Martha, holds his ground, ready to fight this to the bitter, bitter end. Lex, born of Luthors, trained by Lionel, is trying to make a run for it and sulk.

Not that he'll call it that. There's probably a term. And Alexander the Great was fond of that term, no doubt. Clark, however, is not.

"Oh. So we've gotten to the yelling portion now?" Lex slams down his glass and Clark watches in fascination as the crystal shatters on impact, almost wincing at the sound. "Feel free to fuck off. I'm not interesting in hearing what pearls of wisdom you've picked up in the last however the fuck many years you've been fighting for--what was it again? Truth, justice and the American way?"

"Great, that's mature." This isn't going well and Clark knows it. Picking up his nice, plain bottle of water, Clark eyes the shattered crystal. "You don't want to talk about it, fine. Go to the office and order a hit. Or even better, why don't you go hang out with some of your old friends and see what kind of problems you can stir up? Corporate espionage, a little black market drug deals--"

"I never touched the narcotics trade--"

That's like a murderer protesting he never commits robbery. Sucking in a breath, Clark lets it out slowly, looking for his temper. Nowhere useful, of course. Possibly lost somewhere in the Metropolis night. "Of course not. Too high in the instep for old money to import heroin, right?"

"Son of a bitch," Lex breathes, and Clark watches the temper completely spark, like dropping a match on dry kindling during a heat wave. It's not that Lex doesn't get mad fast. He does. He just loses control slow, fooling you a little as reason seeps away by inches, but tonight? No seeping. Flooding away.

This could have gone a lot better.

"You know, journalism major, not synonymous with moron. I can do basic math. You're laundering money through your campaign slush fund. You think I don't notice this stuff?"

Lex steps over the crystal, advancing two steps before coming to a halt. Pure, naked aggression unleashed just for a second, and Clark watches it brought back under strict, strict control.

"I'd rather ask why the fuck you're reading my account books?" The voice is quiet, but the steel beneath Clark can feel all the way to his bones. Taking a deep breath, Clark puts the plastic bottle aside before something unfortunate happens to it.

"Couldn't be the fact I watched you make three deals today with men I know make their money the really old fashioned way--or have you not been checking out suicide slums and the new crop of underage prostitutes?" Clark crosses the room in two quick steps, spinning his laptop around to the article. "One hundred and forty hours of research to figure out how to connect them with ten fourteen year old girls found with their throats slit in alleys and guess where the fucking trail leads? Ask me where it goes, Lex."

Lex stops briefly, eyes narrowing. "I don't have anything to do with that."

"Yeah, you just make sure the people who do this sort of crap get their money safe and sound." Dropping down on the chair, Clark takes a deep breath. "Ten girls, ten murders, all those guys off the hook because they used your favorite judge and wow, he's amenable to anything from campaign contributions to little girls in bed with him for free. Tell me again how clean your hands are."

"I didn't ask where--" Lex cuts himself off. He hates making excuses, especially for himself. Clark watches the myriad emotions flicker through his eyes, faster than the untrained mind can follow--blank rage, frustration, fear, and below it all, a disgust so deep it goes on forever. Lex has done a lot of things, but exploitation of young girls never entered the ballpark. Drug money laundering was more likely. And probably there somewhere, but Clark hadn't been looking for that.

He hadn't been looking for this either, until that final click of 'how'.

"You don't trust me." The expressions settle, cool and remote. "You're reading my books to see what I'm still doing that you don't approve of."

"No, but should I start?" Getting to his feet, Clark pushes the screen closed, looking at Lex carefully. "You know, I get a politician's life is dirty. I even get that corporate life's dirty. I'm not a kid, I'm a reporter and I know how this goes. But that's beyond dirty. That's bathing in shit and thinking you can come out clean. Just because you don't ask questions doesn't make you less complicit."

Lex doesn't say anything, and Clark takes a deep breath. "I run this article in twenty-four hours. It's implicating three of your business partners. You're a United States Senator. We both know what's going to happen the second someone besides me makes these connections. And they will."

"Are you threatening me?"

Clark stiffens. "I'm giving you fair warning. I could have let this go to press and your spin doctors working retroactively. I thought you'd want something in place in case one of those fathers asks you why his little girl got her throat cut in front of a national audience."

He may have gone too far. Clark knows he has, knows it with the instant stillness of every muscle beneath cool skin. But too far is relative--he's not sure there is a too far after you've looked at ten morgue photographs, done thirty-seven interviews, sat down on the floor of your own bathroom with your boyfriends laptop and prayed you were wrong.

When you find out that you're not.

Even though you know all the signs, the fine hand of Lex Luthor written over every single thing. No one else could have moved all that money. And no one else would have been able to pull it off like this so smoothly that even with the article, Clark knows there's no fucking way a conviction would stick.

"Don't push me, Clark." The voice is low, deadly, and Superman heard it a lot once upon a time. Lex is close enough to touch, and Clark can almost see him itching to open the laptop and find out everything--the damage, what he'll be dealing with in less than forty-eight hours, the fallout. A career balanced against ten adolescent girls. Being the hero of the United States could get Lex free of a lot of things, but Clark doesn't think it'll get him through this.

"Are you threatening me now?"

Sharp blue eyes meet his, and they might not be lovers, maybe were never friends, and certainly don't share this apartment. Clark feels the jar of being pushed back when he's not even being touched.

"Don't forget who raised me," Lex says slowly in the same low, cool voice. "That article will never see daylight."

"I'm not your lapdog, Lex. You want someone who won't give a shit what you do, pick up one of those pretty debutantes that throw themselves at you everywhere we go. How many have to die to make sure your pretty new reputation remains stainless? Can't have a few little girl's deaths on America's hero's conscience, can we? Not if you're still bucking for president," Clark answers, and this is the second he knows he's pushed right over the line. Lex's fist hits empty air only because Clark moved before he'd even fully realized what he was going to do.

Lex and Superman had had a lot of confrontations like this. But Clark's not Superman anymore.

Clark stares back at him with a desk between him, unsure how that had happened, a strange tingle smoothing over the skin of his cheekbone at a blow that never landed. The only sound for endless seconds is panted breath, and Clark doesn't even know which one of them sounds like that.

"Clark." It's breathed in pure shock, and Clark sees the hands Lex has flattened on the surface of the desk might be shaking. Lex doesn't shake like that. It makes everything that much more surreal. "Clark, I--"

"Don't. Just--don't." Can't do this now. Another breath, carefully measured, and Clark grabs his laptop. Fingers almost shaking, he enters a few codes, then hits delete. Spinning it back around so Lex can see the screen, Clark looks up, fixing his gaze on the far wall. "That's what it's worth to you? There. You and your associates are safe." If he says more--Jesus, that was too close. Going out of the study door, Clark moves blindly until realizes he's in their bedroom and about two breaths from simply walking out the door.

The thing is--Clark stops his feet from moving, planting them in the rug. Mindless rage ends now--if he goes out now, he might not come back anytime soon. And Clark's not sure--not at all sure--that he's anywhere near ready to go that far.

He knows he's not. Fucking hell.

Leaving him--kind of without options. Work this out or don't, and Martha's son trumps Jonathan's son these days when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Taking a deep breath, Clark finds a chair mostly by memory and sits down, staring down at his shoes. Habit takes over--he toes them off, picking them up and carrying them to the closet, putting them neatly beside his few others. Clark stares at the line of his clothes, neatly arranged by Doris, some still in their dry-clean-only bags.

Leaning into the wall, he wonders where to go from here.

"I'm sorry."

Clark doesn't turn his head, keeping his gaze on the plastic. "I know."

The silence trickles out, but Clark's tired--exhausted, really. Too much happening too fast, too much for him to deal with, and he shuts his eyes, willing himself to be calm.

"Clark--"

"What makes them more important than your promise to me?" It's not fear--he knows Lex wouldn't hurt him. But that was too close. That skimmed the line. Clark can still feel the blankness of it, even knowing Lex's full strength had been checked the second he realized what he was doing. That flash of pure, appalled horror in very blue eyes before Clark moved. Thank you Mercy for the training. But he shouldn't have had to use it, not in his own home, not with his own lover.

"They're not." Lex doesn't come any closer--not wanting to trap him, Clark thinks a little wildly, knowing if he looks, Lex will be a very correct six paces outside the door, giving him plenty of space. "Nothing is. I didn't think."

Clark feels an unwilling, unhappy grin curl up one corner of his mouth. "This isn't part of the deal, Lex. I did the fighting thing for years. I know what you're capable of. You know what I'm capable of now. In a fair fight, you can kill me with your bare hands and we both know it."

He sometimes wonders why, for Lex, it always has to be reduced to the coldest terms to penetrate. No wriggle room for either of them. Jonathan's son in Clark's skin wants to test this anyway. Let's just get that good old fashioned male aggression out.

That's not how Clark does things, though.

"When you train with me, we both know the rules," Clark says slowly, measuring out his words. "With Mercy and Hope, and when you've been teaching me. If this is what I have to expect at home, we won't train together. We won't be together, either. Got it?"

"Yes."

"Tell me what made you angry enough to cross that line. That made you forget the rules have changed with us. That was more important than us."

He can look up now--and it hurts, Jesus, that's why he can't say things like that unless he's blind with anger or not looking at all. Lex is expressionless everywhere except behind his eyes. Clark looks away quickly, leaving his socks in the hamper before coming out, watching Lex keep that careful space.

"Nothing is more important, Clark." All the anger's gone--like magic, or like a very, very frightened Lex. This won't ever come close to happening again, Clark knows it, and he looks up to watch Lex, solitary and very straight, still standing by the closet door.

But--it shouldn't have happened at all.

Clark shivers, pushing the thoughts from his mind. Deal. Deal. You know and you always knew. Trust isn't trust if there aren't stressors to test it.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Clark takes a deep breath, letting it out with careful slowness. Okay. So. "What are you going to do?"

"Kill them."

Great. This isn't going anywhere productive. "Turn over evidence anonymously. I can do it for you, and LexCorp won't be involved." Taking a deep breath, Clark balances it out in his head, trying to find a middle ground. He compromised himself a hundred times as Superman, but never as a reporter. That's an itch he'll carry until the day he dies. Thank God he hadn't told Lois what he was working on. "I--I can work with the books myself so your accountant won't ever notice a difference. You'll be clean."

"I'm not clean on this, though, am I?" Lex's voice is very quiet, and Clark hurts for him. Lex Luthor, ruthless and calculating and cruel, but who's too well-shielded to really pay attention to all the consequences. This is what years of being an autocrat lead to. You stop knowing, stop wanting to know. A younger Lex would never have let himself get involved in something like this. The Lex of only a few years ago might not have even cared.

Clark shivers. The morgue images flash briefly before he pushes them aside. "You told me you didn't know."

"I didn't ask, either."

Nodding, Clark wraps his fingers in the blanket. "Come here?" It turns into a question when he doesn't mean it to be, and Clark waits as Lex hesitates, then the soft pad of socked feet across the expanse of the rug.

Just barely close enough to touch, and Clark reaches out, hooking his fingers in the barely visible pockets of Lex's pants, pulling him in. Closing his eyes, he leans his forehead into Lex, feeling the tension in the slim body, fear above it all--absolute, unwavering, unblunted fear, and Clark bites his lip against saying anything at all, simply waiting.

Then tentative hands brush against his shoulders, settling slowly in his hair. Careful, like he's sure Clark will shatter, and Clark burrows closer, breathing in the mixed scents of clean clothes and warm body.

"I didn't mean to do that," Lex says, softer, and a very tentative stroke slides through his hair. Terrified of taking liberties now. "I wouldn't do that to you."

"Invulnerability went with the cape," Clark says, eyes still closed. "Just--"

"I'll take care of this." There's an edge in Lex's voice that Clark worries about--that damned temper, banked now, refocused, cold and patient, and Clark wonders if he should give Lex some kind of warning. Don't do anything stupid, don't kill anyone, in the name of God, don't do something you'll regret, but Lex regrets damned so little and most of that has the name Clark attached. Hands pressed to Lex's back, Clark takes another deep breath, then pushes away, standing up. That part comes tomorrow, when they can both think, when Clark's calm, when Lex is calm.

"Let's go out to dinner."

Lex looks back at him, still wary. It's going to be days before Lex can work himself down, and Clark resigns himself to a distant, carefully polite lover who will be so careful of him Clark will be smoking with Mercy outside within twenty-four hours. It's the weirdest and most disconcerting part of his life to date, but Mercy at least doesn't ask him why he looks stressed, like Lois would. She just gives him a cigarette and watches to make sure no one tries to kill him while he calms himself down.

Clark really gets why Lois likes to smoke.

"Where do you want to go?"

Clark can taste the nicotine now. "Palms. I'll get dressed while you make the reservation." He doesn't bother trying to leave it up to Lex--Lex won't make a decision on their personal life for the next month. Reaching out, he closes his fingers over Lex's wrist before he can go. "It's over, okay? It's okay."

Lex nods, but Clark doesn't have to look to see the shadow lingering behind blue eyes. "I was just thinking--" Lex's mouth curls up in a self-deprecating smile that hurts to look at. "I had a plan for tonight before you came in."

"That would explain why you're dressed already," Clark says, trying to sound encouraging. Smoking. Drinking's a possibility, isn't it? Comes with the territory, and Clark fights the need to smile like an idiot. Sliding his hand down, Clark rubs a thumb over Lex's palm, making him shiver. "What was the plan?"

"I don't think it will work now."

Clark rolls his eyes and sighs, letting go. "Fine. You can tell me another night." Walking to the dresser, he opens the top drawer to find his watch, and Lex makes a protesting sound. "Lex, look, I know--" He stops, staring down, breath catching.

Turning around, he sees Lex sitting on the edge of the bed, so straight it's like he's made of stone. Clark looks back, blinking a little, then carefully picks up the box.

"This wasn't here this morning," Clark says unsteadily. There's no mistaking the velvet or the embossing. Or the fact this really wasn't here this morning. Curling his fingers around it, Clark turns back around, feeling that shiver again, starting inside and moving out, until it feels as if even his vision's shaking. "Seriously, I--got underwear out, and this wasn't here." Kind of how a short circuit happens. Clark wonders if he's going to explain how this wasn't here yesterday either. Or the day before. Closing his eyes, Clark takes a deep breath, trying to settle down.

Humans have design limits. Only so many shocks per day before stuff starts shutting down. Like higher thinking.

"Lex?"

Lex balances one ankle on his knee casually, leaning back on one arm, when he's everything and anything but casual, practically vibrating on the bed. "This is the absolute worst timing in history," he says conversationally. "And I mean that in all sincerity."

"Lex." Clark tries again, but his mouth's completely dry, and it comes out a croak. Licking his lips, Clark flips the top up, looks, then closes it again. This is, of course, happening, but Clark's not quite sure he's on the right plane of existence for it. Taking a breath, Clark takes a step and has to stop. His legs are shaking. "Lex. I--"

"I had this plan. I was going to take you to Smallville tonight. Surprise your parents and have dinner with them. Give your father indigestion, which was going to be the highlight of my week, if not month."

"Jesus." Clark manages another step, then another. It's getting easier. Auto-reflexes kicking in. Always good.

"There's this bridge you might have seen before," Lex continues, blue eyes growing distant. "I thought I might drive my car off of it first. But then I thought we'd just do it symbolically and stand on it, since that little problem with possible death would get in the way. There's a--"

"Lex. Shut up." He's close enough to drop the box on the bed, and Clark drops beside it, lying down on the cool comforter. No, sit up. Lay down. Breathe again. "You make things complex. Just ask."

"It's the wrong time."

Clark turns his head. "It's always the right time. For this. I can ask, but you know, it won't be--" Lex kisses him, slow and soft and careful, and Clark curls a hand around the back of his neck. He can still taste the shock in Lex, everything's that happened tonight, but it's still sweet, and Clark falls into the kiss without hesitation. Opens his eyes when Lex pulls back.

Stretched out on his side beside Clark, the little box just sits on the mattress between them, completely innocent and utterly mindblowing.

"Will you marry me?" Lex says slowly, and they don't need to be on a bridge for that to sink in. "You don't have to answer now. You don't have to answer at all."

"Jesus, spare me the speech. Yes. Yes. And yes." Reaching down, Clark flips up the box, looking at the wedding rings inside, then flips it closed. Looking back up, he grins. "No Palms tonight."

"No?" Lex is staring at him, and it's so rare he can completely throw him that Clark feels himself grinning.

"Tell Doris dinner in bed. And lose the suit. We're staying in." Shifting closer, Clark pushes Lex onto his back, grinning down at him. "Tomorrow, we'll give my dad indigestion when we tell them."


three months earlier

"You should both come to dinner."

Clark looks up from washing the dishes, almost dropping one at the determined note in his mother's voice. Someone who's spent a lot of time working against their better judgement, he thinks with an inner smile that comes nowhere near his face.

Balance hadn't been as hard as he thought--his parents ignored the society pages, Clark didn't mention Lex, and life goes on. That's a good way to deal, as far as Clark's concerned--deliberate blindness is how he spent most of his adolescence and adulthood. Know but don't talk about it. Pretend. Frankly, unhealthy or not, it works.

Turning around, Clark notices his dad's cleared the kitchen already. Smart man. Clark wishes he'd thought of the same thing.

"Mom, I don't think--"

"It's been over three years," Martha Kent says calmly, but he can see her hands clenching inside the folds of her apron. "We're your family."

"So is he." Clark bites his tongue at the wince that flickers across the surface of her skin. This never goes well. There've only been two fights about Lex since that first one--both avoidable, but Clark had still been sure he could at least persuade his parents to simple acceptance. At the end of the last fight, exhausted and a nervous bundle of energy, still awake hours later with Lex sleeping quietly beside him, Clark had completely resigned himself to spending the rest of his life with his parents and his lover in completely different cities. Holidays are new and uninteresting acrobatics in complexity.

Life was supposed to be simpler.

"I know." Her voice softens carefully, but he can hear the steel underneath. Forgiveness isn't happening. Welcoming isn't happening. But the resigned acceptance might be. Picking up a towel, Clark wipes his hands and watches his mother watch him. "He's a part of your life and we--don't want to be separate from that anymore."

"We?"

His mother's lips tighten. "I don't. Your father doesn't. This--hasn't been easy, Clark."

"Ask me how easy it's been," Clark says, and wow, he'd known he'd been unhappy about the situation, but the bitterness surprises even him. Taking a breath, Clark leans into the counter and tries to get his thoughts under control. "I won't do this to him or to you."

"Clark--"

Does everyone have to make things hard? "You hate him. I get that and I even get why. Dad--God, I won't even start on that. And Lex isn't not too fond of you either. So you know, all in the same room for dinner? Think about that one."

It's hard to see his mother look at him like that--disappointment and hurt both, but Clark gets those looks from Lex, too. He's getting a certain level of immunity. "Whatever else we think, he's your--companion." His mother's mouth tightens. "Lover. Whatever word you want to use. That makes him part of this family."

To think Lex might have killed or died to hear that once upon a time. Clark looks for words, trying to find a way to explain what should be obvious.

"Clark." His mother's hands on his shoulders bring his head up. "Somewhere neutral. In Metropolis. A quiet dinner with you both. That's all."

"It won't fix anything."

"Nothing can fix it," his mother says, and Clark swallows away the stupid hope that rises on any and all occasions, appropriate or not. It's always there, it'll always come back, and he'll always feel the loss of it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. But he's his parents' son and he wants their approval. Needs it in a place that's never going to be completely satisfied without it.

Somewhere in his mom's head, he's married to Lana or Lois and giving her grandchildren. Fighting the good fight like he'd been taught. Maybe taking over the farm when Dad gets too old. It's always going to be there, and they're never going to see Lex as anything but the person that is stopping that from happening now that every other roadblock's been removed, the man who was their son's most obdurate enemy for over a decade. Clark's alien heritage, powers, and destiny are out the window, and some part of his parents even now will never understand why he isn't doing what they always thought he'd wanted most.

I'm still fighting, he wants to tell his parents sometimes when he feels that disappointment. Being Superman wasn't all I ever was. I'm more than that.

"Maybe." Clark tries to imagine this conversation with Lex and shakes the idea away. "I'll talk to Lex. I'm not--" Promising anything. Sighing, Clark walks to the door, looking at his Porsche casually sitting in the middle of the driveway. Remembering his dad's dark looks every time he sees the car Clark drives. "We'll be in Georgetown all of next month, but the month after--we could do it then."

Behind him, he feels his mother watching him, the words she isn't saying hanging between them like some kind of metaphorical knife, edged to injure them both. He's remembering too many fights, can hear the echoes of them every time he comes in this kitchen.

"Do you like Georgetown?" his mother asks softly, and Clark turns around, watching as she walks to the oven, beginning to put the leftovers away.

"It's okay. The house is nice, the study's wired for a direct line to the Planet, so I can still work. Perry likes having a reporter on the Hill, so." Clark shrugs, wondering what his mother sees when she looks at him like that, quick and pained, before glancing away. "It keeps me near Lex. Neither of us liked being separated."

"Lana came home a few days ago," she says, with painful casualness, and Clark wonders where this is going. "I suppose--" she stops, bending to put the pot in the refrigerator, before straightening and looking back at the oven, avoiding his eyes. "She filed for a divorce in Metropolis. Nell called down to see how she was, since she isn't answering her phone."

That's new. Clark rocks back against the door, hands going in his pockets. "I didn't know things had gotten that bad."

"Nell's been worried for a while." Straightening, she closes the refrigerator and pulls off her apron, wrapping it restlessly between her hands. "But Lana's been very positive about it. She told me the other night that she's looking forward to the end of all this."

"Do you invite Lana to dinner often?" Clark asks, and his mother flushes. Fuck. "Oh. She was supposed to be here tonight, right?"

Not looking at him, his mother goes back to straightening up, folding away pot holders and scraping the remaining pots clean before putting them in the soapy water Clark had abandoned. "I thought you'd want to see an old friend."

"An about to be divorced female friend I used to have a crush on. Are you seeing the cliche here or do I need to spell it out?"

She turns on him, blue eyes dark, simmering with anger. "Forgive me for thinking like a parent."

"I don't mind when you think like my mother. I mind when you think like the mother of a five year old who can't tell the difference between trees and flowers yet." There's no point in doing this again--it's just. Dinner with his parents. Protesting or not, the offer had been made, and now it's smirched. His mother wasn't thinking of mending fences. She was thinking of the best way to lure her son back to the place she thinks he should be.

Adults don't throw temper tantrums like five year olds on a sugar high, though it's tempting. Clark takes a deep breath, reaching for his coat, slung over the back of a chair.

"I've got a long drive, so I'd better go," Clark says, thinking of Lex, probably still at the LexCorp building, working away his night alone.

"I thought you were staying the night," his mother says, and he'd almost say there's contrition in her voice.

"We're leaving in less than a week. I have to get some work finished before we go, and I won't have time later this week." It's a transparent lie, and Clark wishes he'd gotten better at that, at least. "I'll talk to Lex and see what he says about dinner." It's hard to cross the room, but he manages, pulling her into a quick hug, a quicker peck on the cheek. She feels too light, and her hands hold on when he pulls away.

"Clark, I only want what's best for you." There's real pain in her voice, and the kid in him responds, even if the adult's beyond tired.

"I know. I just wish you believed I knew what was best for me." Her hands falls away, and Clark shies from the feeling that he just kicked his own mother. "Where's dad?"

"In town. You should wait--"

"He knows where to find me." Opening the door, Clark emerges onto the porch, looking at the dying sun. A few years ago, he could have been in Metropolis in the time it took to draw a few breaths. But back then, Lex wouldn't have been there to welcome him home, either. Shading his eyes, Clark sees the distant car that contains the security assigned to Clark. They're somewhat better at staying out of sight. "Love you Mom. Tell Dad bye and I'll see you when I get back."

He doesn't look back, taking the stairs three at a time.

"Did you choose him over your family?" she says from the door, and Clark pauses on the smooth grass, half-turning to watch her emerge onto the porch. Her arms are crossed over his chest, her entire posture screaming disapproval and regret. He just wishes she regretted the right things.

"Didn't you do that once?"

Her mouth tightens briefly, but something flickers behind her eyes. Maybe understanding. "That was different."

Clark grins, the heat of sun soaking into his skin. It's not the same as being an alien. It's better. "It always is. I'll call before we leave. I love you both."


Lex is in his office, just like Clark had expected, but he looks up almost instantly when Clark walks in, eyebrows raised in polite query. "I thought you were staying in Smallville tonight," he says, pushing his chair back from the desk with a flicker of his wrist.

"I missed you, too." Closing the door, Clark strips off his coat, dropping it on the leather sofa and crossing to the desk. Sitting on the edge, Clark gives the screen a glance before bracing himself on one arm. "Charity said you were doing your work without sleep thing and I get bored alone anyway. Can't a guy miss his boyfriend?"

"I hate that word."

"You hate a lot of things. Fish sticks, banana milk, cold asparagus in aspic. It's hard to keep up." Grinning, Clark places a hand on the edge of the laptop. "Ten seconds to save before I shut it down. Nine. Eight. Seven."

A few keys are clicked and Lex looks at him and then watches in interest as Clark closes the lid of the laptop. Moving it out of the way, Clark stretches out on the painfully neat desk.

"They stress you, Clark?" asks Lex, like it's a usual thing for Clark to use his desk like a couch. Sighing, Clark turns his head and brings Lex's chest into view.

"Early mornings stress me just about as much. At least my parents are predictable, while Lois will call without warning." Clark can see a half-full glass of brandy sitting on the desk. Clark does some math with a quick glance at the bottle. That's not the first glass "I'm going out on a limb and thinking your night hasn't been that great either?"

"I got a call." The blue eyes look into Clark's for a endlessly long moment before fixing on the wall. "Nothing important."

"Right after I left, did any mysterious source report a soon-to-be-divorced Lana Lang-Ross is wandering free in Smallville?" Clark doesn't need to see Lex's face to know shock's written into every line. It's kind of relaxing to know he can still leave his lover temporarily speechless.

"I see the Kents are hard at work trying to bring their son back to his proper hearth." Lex is far, far behind his eyes and getting farther by the second. Clark wonders if he looks, there'll be an empty brandy bottle in the trash. "How is she?"

"Don't know. She canceled on dinner, I guess."

"Probably that emergency at the office."

Clark lets his mouth curl up in a grin. He should have known. "Probably. Anything irreparable?"

"Nothing she can't fix with some hard work for the rest of the night." The chair slides closer. "Clark--"

"This is my proper hearth, you know. They could parade her naked in front of me, and I swear, I'd only take a lot of pictures. Promise." Turning his head again, Clark catches the frown. "You're unusually moody. Want to tell me what's bothering you?"

"You hate Georgetown."

"I hate chicken tenders, green peas, and light mayonnaise. It can be hard to keep up, so I'm sort of impressed you remembered. What--"

"I thought you might decide to stay here."

Clark frowns, rolling on his side. "You won't be here. The entire point of buying that house was so I could go with you. Remember the entire conversation? I can't live without you, Clark and I'll pine away to nothing--"

"I never said that."

"I was sort of reading between the lines." Clark waits, but Lex isn't biting. Fuck Clark wonders if he can start getting Lex's calls screened. "Okay, you're not saying that I hate Georgetown. You're saying I might like to stay in Smallville more."

Lex doesn't say anything, but he's moving everywhere, even if he's not moving at all--energy crackling underneath his skin, needing release. Yes, Lex is worried. Lex is very, very worried, and Clark wonders why. Fucking mysterious anonymous phone calls. Clark wants them all outlawed. Lex is in the Senate. Can't he do something about that?

"I--you could stay here," Lex says, and Clark lifts up on one elbow.

"Wrong answer." Pulling up his legs, Clark kneels on the desk, careless of papers and creases in cashmere pants. "Are you asking me to leave you? Because Lana might be getting a divorce?"

The tight line of Lex's mouth tells him everything.

"'Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following you;'" Clark says, bracing both hands on the arms of the chair. Sliding off, he's in Lex's lap, and both hands cup Lex's face. The blue eyes flicker uncertainly. "'For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.'"

"You're quoting Ruth to make your point?"

"Better than Plato or Lucullus, your usual sources of all things wise. They didn't get into the entire romance angle very often," Clark answers, rubbing circles into the soft temples with his thumbs. He watches as Lex's lashes flutter closed and leans forward to brush a kiss against the vulnerable line of his forehead. "Let's go."

"I'm done here." Clark slides off Lex's lap as he shuts his papers up in the desk, standing up to give him an uncertain look. "I was going to stay in tonight."

"Take me someplace we can make a few more reporters' careers with all those public displays." Sliding his arms around Lex's waist, Clark leans back into the desk, pulling Lex between his knees.

"Oh, you want to play?"

"I definitely want to play."


one year earlier

Clark's beginning to think he'll never get rid of spots from the flashes. Tightening his hold on Lex's hand, Clark leans close as Lex pauses. "Do they have to use that many flashes?"

"I think they do it to get that deer in headlights expression that makes such attractive front page pictures," Lex murmurs back, turning his head enough for Clark to guess Lex is smiling at him. There's a sharp nip to his lip before Lex draws back.

"You like giving them compromising pictures."

"I like the fact that there's no one on this planet now who doesn't know who you belong to," Lex answers, and yes, he's definitely smiling, even if Clark can't quite see it.

"You act like half the world is after my ass. You did notice that lack of a dating life I had for so many years, right?"

"That's because you never stayed around one place long enough to be chained to someone's bed. Not to mention that double career problem. I don't make have those problems keeping you in place."

Blinking, Clark thinks he can just make out Lex's smug smile as they walk inside, carefully averting his gaze from the flashes. It won't be much better inside--the press has free reign on all public functions--but at least they'll be somewhat more discreet. "You miss Metropolis, don't you? You always give them the best pictures."

"Georgetown is a sewer," Lex answers, and Clark has to agree. "At least in Metropolis, the press hates me openly. Is Lois here tonight or do I get the evening off?"

"Representative Ashlyn is escorting her. She says she got tired of messages on her answering machine and thinks one date will get him off her case. So she's technically off the clock."

"I'll commiserate with him on his choice of partners. Did you know Pete would be here?"

The cool interest in Lex's voice makes Clark straighten, and he scans the room. Too many high-profile people crowded in a too-small space--this is just a recipe for disaster. Most of them hate Lex. Pete being here is just icing on the cake.

"And Lydia." The careful edge in Lex's voice makes Clark pause. Oh this is going to be tons of fun. "Ah. The lovely Mrs. Lana Ross. Let's go say hi, Clark."

Pete and Lana's marital problems aren't so much common knowledge as generally accepted fact, Clark thinks as they navigate the room. Especially at a fundraiser, they'll be even more careful to keep up appearances, but Clark can see from here the straight line of her back beneath the red silk as she chats lightly with a well-dressed man Clark vaguely recognizes as heir to Landry, Inc. Son of the fifth richest man on earth. Too close, Clark thinks a little critically, watching as the man reaches over and takes her empty glass, fingers brushing lightly against her inner wrist. Lana flushes, eyes going down, and Clark blinks in surprise, almost stopping.

"Clark, don't."

"She's--" He's overreacting, of course. That's nothing. Forcing himself to move, Clark tries to smile as Lana looks up, eyebrows raised in surprise.

The introductions are quick and easy. Richard Landry's charming as hell, but then, he's known for that. Known also for sleeping his way across Metropolis' upper class, involved in more than one divorce, or so rumor states. Clark take the glass Lex gives him, watching Lana sparkle under his attention, before the man excuses himself to get another drink. Lex, with an interested look at Clark, excuses himself as well, and Clark watches Lana look at anyone but him.

"I didn't think you were coming tonight," Lana says brightly. Reaching for her arm, Clark glances around, trying to find somewhere semi-private--but not too private. They're both still in the public eye. "I'm sorry I missed your birthday, Clark."

The dark eyes hold his, heartbreakingly pleading. Clark guesses her security with Pete's at an all-time low. He hasn't talked with either one since getting back from Bali--too busy with a new series of articles, Lois more than usually demanding, and still trying to get every weekend possible with Lex when he couldn't come home. And avoiding, very successfully. Taking another drink from his glass, Clark weighs the pros and cons. They're in public. It's a bad idea. He shouldn't even consider this.

"It's okay. I was out of town." Lana shifts uncomfortably, eyes flickering up and fixing. Turning around, Clark watches Lex smoothly insinuating himself into a circle of business associates and fellow politicians, but even from here, Clark can see his focus is on Pete. Oh damn. "Lois said she couldn't reach you in Dakota to tell you the party was canceled anyway."

She winces under the skin, and Clark watches Lex dominate the conversation effortlessly. Pete's pissed, and Clark wonders what Lex is saying.

"Congratulations on your House win, by the way." Lana's gaze turns back to him, something behind her eyes breaking as she looks away quickly, anywhere but him.

"Clark, it wasn't--personal. The campaign manager--"

"Immorality and sexual deviancy," Clark quotes softly, sipping the champagne. "Bring family values to Congress, show Kansas isn't just a state populated by--"

"We didn't know it would be like that." There's a desperate edge to her voice, and Clark believes her. That doesn't change the tone of the ads. They hadn't had to mention Lex's name, or Clark's. It was all there, all implication, completely unanswerable. "Clark, I swear, Pete doesn't run that kind of campaign--"

"I know." It should make him ashamed--he's not the type to poke people just because he can. Usually. Flickering a glance up, Lex leans forward to murmur something to Pete, then excuses himself from the group, finding Clark's steady gaze effortlessly. The slow, smug smile's a classic.

Clark, sparing a quick glance at Pete's stricken face, wonders what he said.

People always watch Lex, always have--Clark still wonders how he manages so effortlessly to project utter ignorance of it. Now especially, and Clark can't help smiling as Lex joins them, one hand resting lightly on the small of Clark's back, taking Clark's half-full glass for a sip.

"Mrs. Ross." Returning the glass, Lex glances briefly toward the group he just left. "Your husband mentioned your work with the Landry Foundation. I didn't know you were so devoted to literacy."

Lana's eyes unexpectedly narrow. "It's a good cause. I'm surprised LexCorp hasn't contributed this season."

"I heard about your promotion to director." Lex pauses, glancing back, and a waiter appears as if by magic or Lexian design, full glass ready. "Congratulations."

She has no idea where this is going. Frankly, Clark doesn't either, but Lex has that look. "Thank you."

"I suppose you made a very memorable impression on young Landry." Lex sips from the glass, frowning a little. Obviously not up to his standards. "He says very good things about you, Mrs. Ross."

She--stiffens, no other word for it. Lex looks over the rim of his glass briefly, then the hand on Clark's back slides up to rest just below his shoulder blades. "If you'll excuse us, Mrs. Ross, there are some people that want to question Clark on his latest expose on the war in Indonesia."

Inescapable pressure on his back, and Clark murmurs something polite and turns, not exactly unwilling, following wherever Lex wants to go. They pause at a waiter for Lex to discard his glass with a frown, removing Clark's as well. "Get us something better."

The waiter, completely expressionless, nods, and Clark gives Lex a sideways look. "What was that all about?"

Lex shrugs, but he's way too pleased with himself. "A little rumor, a little innuendo, what everyone's saying without saying a word."

"Which is?"

"How she got that job, exactly. Not to mention why Landry felt so compelled to contribute to Pete's campaign." The waiter materializes with two new glasses. Taking both, Lex dismisses him with a nod, passing one to Clark.

It takes a few seconds to sink in. "She's not--"

"Pete's been sleeping with Lydia for three months. Frankly, I'm surprised Lana's lasted this long without retaliation."

Clark almost stops. "Lydia? The Lydia? The only person I would consider allowing you to kill?"

Lex smiles up at him, but there's no mistaking the coolness in his eyes. "Yes. I'm sure it couldn't hurt that she was a big contributor to his campaign, either."

Taking a breath, Clark glances back. Lana's on Pete's arm now, sparkling and vivacious, and Clark wonders how Pete could possibly want someone else. "I don't--" Through his mind wanders a hundred parties in Washington he's attended with Lex. He does know--mistresses are sometimes at the same functions as wives. But those sparkling people aren't Pete, his best friend from childhood, aren't Lana. It's entirely separate. They're not those kind of people.

Over a decade of being a reporter, being Superman, just hadn't prepared him to acknowledge this. Pete and Lana aren't like other people.

Except, apparently, when they are.

Taking a deep breath, Clark takes the drink Lex gives him, sipping slowly.

"Are you okay?" Lex's voice is even. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you felt sorry for them."

Clark shakes his head quickly, taking a tasteless drink. "I just--" What? "I forgot how naive I can be." He feels young. He doesn't have actual youth to excuse it, either.

"For someone who fought crime on a daily basis and wrote about it when you were off-duty, you still manage not to be jaded. How do you do that?" Lex sounds honestly curious.

Clark feels his mouth curl up in a bitter smile. "Stupid? Can take the boy off the farm but not the farm out of--"

Lex stops him with a quick twist, pulling him close by their twined fingers. "You're not."

"You keep me around because I'm good in bed, just admit it."

"I keep you around because I'm in love with you and can't stand being away from you." Clark watches Lex's slow smile, then hard fingers are on the back of his neck, drawing him down into a kiss, slow and deep, like they're completely alone. Lex, who cares so much about appearances except in this, in them. "Come on, let's go home."

"Dinner," Clark murmurs when Lex's teeth graze his jaw. He should stop Lex--they're in public, cameras are flashing somewhere, and Clark knows people are watching. This is going to make the cover of a newspaper somewhere. He really doesn't care. "Benefit for something." Fundraiser?

"Don't care. Come on." Lex takes his glass from nerveless fingers, handing it off to a convenient waiter without looking. "Tomorrow we have to go look at houses. Remind me to inform Mercy and Hope."

"Houses?" Clark blinks a little uncertainly, wondering if he's got that deer-in-the-headlight expression now. He can taste Lex on the back of his tongue.

"In Georgetown. I'm tired of being alone in that apartment. You can do your work from there. Negotiate it out with Perry. Next session, you're coming with me."


nine months earlier

"So do you like it?"

Clark circles the car a little breathlessly. As smoothly red as a cherry, convertible Porsche, all his own. "I can afford my own car."

Lex gives him a look from over the hood. "First, that thing with money you promised you'd ignore, or so our credit card bills suggest from that last little jaunt with Lois? Keep doing it. Second, on your current salary, you couldn't afford this car if you saved for the next two years. Third, it's your birthday. I'm allowed to give you things."

Clark glances down at the smooth hood, realizing abruptly that he's been caressing the metal with the tips of his fingers. Cool, almost sensuous--right. He's been around Lex too long if he gets hot from cars.

"It's perfect." And it really is. Circling the car again, Clark traps Lex against the door with both arms, grinning down at him. "You know me way too well."

Hands in his pockets, Lex grins up at him, bright and carefree. "I thought you'd like it."

Clark leans down to nuzzle a kiss just below Lex's ear, and Lex's hands aren't in his pockets anymore. "What are we doing for my birthday, anyway?"

"I was thinking a trip to Bali, but unfortunately, Lois wants you here."

Oh fuck. He'd conveniently forgotten about that. "Surprise party tomorrow night, right?"

Warm fingers thread through his hair, pulling his head down for a brief kiss. "Got it in one. Lana and Pete are still in Dakota, but Chloe and Lois will be there. So will your friends from work--"

"And you?" Lex hesitates, hand dropping, and Clark frowns. "Lex--"

Lex slips his hands into his pockets and Clark gets ready for an argument. The transition between Clark dating Lex and Clark living with Lex hadn't been smooth on any level, and Clark's still not sure who exactly is responsible for that. He's sure as hell not blaming himself. Lex makes it hard--he hates the Daily Planet, most of Clark's friends, and all his family. The feeling is completely reciprocated, and proactively at that--Clark's not forgetting those long, earnest phone calls with his parents, Chloe, or Pete anytime soon. Not to mention the betting pool in the Daily Planet mail room that had led to some of the most creative revenge Clark's ever attempted. It sometimes scares Clark badly that the most sympathetic voice in the entire thing is Lois, and he's pretty sure she does it simply to annoy the hell out of Lex.

God, Lex's regular absences to fulfill his duties as Senator give plenty of fodder for everyone, but while Clark's doubted a lot of things, Lex's fidelity just isn't one of them.

It's like living in some kind of ongoing cold war. Either/or, this or that, and Clark's done with living his life in sections, and wasn't the death of Superman supposed to fix this sort of crap? He lives with Lex and if everyone doesn't start dealing soon, something's going to give.

It could be Clark's sanity.

"You'll be there."

The blue eyes narrow. "Clark--"

"One word for you. Lydia."

Lex shuts his mouth sharply, eyes narrowing. "That wasn't my fault."

Well, no, but that doesn't change the front page of the Inquisitor ten times in the last nearly-two years.

"I went to court for you--yes, I know it was closed session and you paid off the judge, but not fun when you're being charged with alienation of affections, okay? I allowed myself to be interviewed, briefed by your entire fucking PR department beforehand. I let you put security on me, and I didn't do it because I enjoyed it. I put up with being called a fortune-hunting whore by your ex-wife in not one, but three separate interviews. You poisoned me--"

"Jesus, you're bringing that up again?"

"--I even let you fucking dress me when we go out in public, and I won't even begin to describe how much I hate, hate, hate dressing up and making small talk with people who treat me like I'm your pretty, dumb boytoy. I have been, in short, the most understanding, most accommodating, best boyfriend in fucking creation--"

"I hate that word."

"You really couldn't do better, seriously. No one else on this planet would go through this. And you will bend now. Do you get it? You. Will. Do. This." Pushing both hands into the car, Clark stares into Lex's eyes. "You will be at my birthday party. You will play nice with my friends. You will, in fact, be so fucking charming that they will all wonder why on earth you got such a terrible reputation. They'll marvel afterward how they could possibly have misjudged you. They will congratulate me on my perspicacity in picking out such a great lover and they will leave dazzled by your wit and brilliance. Other people will use us as a model of the most ideal couple in creation. You won't poke at them just because it's so fucking much fun. And I will have all the chocolate cake I want and enjoy myself without being the human shield between you and my friends. Got it?"

"I'm supposed to be back in Georgetown tonight."

The lie's so transparent Clark knows that Lex's heart isn't in it.

"Cancel. You're staying home, with me, and my friends, for a night of revelry and joy as we celebrate my birthday, and you will fucking enjoy every minute. And if you don't? Fake it."

Pushing Lex isn't always the brightest way to go about things, and even in the middle of what Clark admits is probably a seriously unfair temper tantrum, and he knows it. It's just--Lex won the Senate seat. No surprise to anyone with a pulse. Clark had been ready for the separation. He's tied to the Planet, Lex has to be in Washington. Clark goes to Washington whenever he has a free weekend. Lex comes home whenever possible. They'd planned for this. And Clark had been perfectly aware of Lex's public profile and image, so getting angry about something he knew damn well was going to happen anyway--also really, really unfair.

That doesn't change the facts of separation--Lex is there and Clark is here and it sucks.

Dropping his arms, Clark takes a breath, letting it out slowly, trying to remember any number of ways he'd dealt with stress as Superman. Running around the planet--no can do. Flying, either. Turning mountain ranges into dust, also not a real possibility, and man, what Clark wouldn't do for heat vision right now. Rubbing his temples, Clark thinks of the cell phone turned off upstairs. Stress headaches. Nothing like X-ray headaches, but no fucking picnic either.

"Did your parents call?" Lex's voice is very low, always a dangerous sign, and Clark takes a step back, almost shaking his head before remembering Lex is perfectly capable of checking his phone log.

"Yeah." Holding up a hand, Clark leans back into the garage wall. "And before you say anything, we didn't argue. I'm going to dinner there Monday after you go back to Washington."

"Then what's the problem?"

Clark stares at the car. "Pete and Lana are in Smallville. Dad told me. After I mentioned how they couldn't make it to Metropolis. Felt kind of stupid to not see the obvious." Clark looks up, finding Lex's gaze fixed on him. "You knew, didn't you?"

"I thought your father would be more discreet than that." The low, even tone doesn't change, and Clark wonders what Lex is thinking. Normally, he'd worry, but right now, Clark just doesn't have the energy to care. "And Mr. Ross, for that matter."

"He's been my friend since we were kids." Pushing away from the wall, Clark shakes his head. "He liked the entire Superman thing. He--didn't get why I gave it up."

"Clark--" There's real regret in his voice, and Clark feels his hands begin to shake a little.

"I get why you hate my friends. You know, I hate yours, but they're nice to my face, at least. And I always know where I stand with them."

"Clark, listen to me--"

"And hey, you know, over two decades of friendship? What's that worth anyway? He--he was the first I told, the first--the first friend I ever had--" Jesus. Breathe. Staring at the car, Clark snickers softly. It'd be funny, if he wasn't Clark Kent. Pete had handled the alien thing, the conqueror-destiny thing, the Superman thing, and even the Lana thing, but somehow, skidded to a halt when it came to Lex.

"It's not you, Clark. It's me."

Clark shakes his head. "No. It's him." Clark takes a deep breath, switching gears. "Let's go to Bali."

The blue eyes narrow. "Clark--"

"I don't want to be in the city. Call Lois and tell her to cancel the entire thing. It'll be more relaxing than anything I could manage here, anyway. I'm going to go for a drive in my car while you do that." Not waiting for an answer, Clark slips by Lex, reaching out to catch his arm as he gets in. "This is the perfect present. Thank you."

"We should talk."

Clark turns on the motor. The slow, sensual purr relaxes something in him that he hadn't even realized was tense. "We'll talk when I get back, okay? Tell the pilot I want to leave by eight." Before Lex can make another objection, Clark slides into reverse and pulls out.

Not quite like running, but it's close. And Metropolis has a lot of roads.


Clark comes back to--apparently, a war in progress in Lex's study.

"Ask me if I give a shit." The study door's open, and Clark carefully closes the door, noting Doris is no where in sight. Fuck. That always means bad things if Lex dismisses the help early. Pulling off his jacket, Clark approaches the study door slowly. "You're his best friend. Fix this."

"You don't want much." Lois. Oh, fuck. Perfect. Stopping short, Clark debates the merits of just leaving again. Metropolis has a lot of roads and he didn't even hit a hundredth of them yet. "It's not that simple."

"Make it simple." Coolly even voice, very Lex. "If I could do it, I would. Shit, if I could think of anything at this point, do you fucking think I'd be calling you?"

Long pause. "I never thought you'd call me for anything short of enjoying my deathbed, so no." Another pause. "You know him. He wants to handle it himself--"

"And look what that's gotten him. He asked me to back off. I did, but this is getting ridiculous."

"Perry got all Inquisitor staff barred from the building and I got rid of both of Chloe's people. Short of assassination--"

"Don't think I haven't considered it."

"Don't think I haven't either."

It's strangely endearing to hear Lois and Lex quietly discuss homicide. Clark's not sure how healthy that is, but well, there it is. Sweet, even, in a very Lex and Lois way.

"Get Chloe and Lana on the phone. Explain to them in small words that they can both, hopefully, understand exactly what they're doing to him. Jesus Christ, he spent over a decade of his life saving their fucking lives, not to mention most of the planet, but all they can think to do now is fuck with him about his living arrangements."

"You know it'd be easier if you broke up with him."

"Watch hell freeze over. Personally."

Well, that settle that part. Carefully, Clark leans into the wall by the door. They're too involved to pay any attention to him.

"I wasn't recommending it, so stop looking like that." Lois makes a sound a lot like a sigh. "Lex--"

"I'll take him away from all of you." Clark straightens against the wall. He's never heard Lex use that voice before, even to Superman. "At this point, I'm beginning to think it may be the only way he's going to get any peace."

"You think that he'd let you?"

"How fucking far do you want to test me?"

There's an undeniable edge to Lex's voice--a particular one, that maybe Clark's never heard, but he can guess. Lex making an irrevocable decision is always a dangerous thing. Lois might be willing to test him--but Clark's not.

He's not even completely aware he's going to do it until the door pushes open under his hand. Identical startled faces stare at him, and he files away the identical flashes of guilt for later amusement.

Years from now, maybe.

"Neither of you run my life."

Lex's mouth tightens--the determined look, the one Clark knows from experience means Lex is about two steps away from making one of those irrevocable decisions. Like, say, suicidal jaunts to the Arctic. Looking between them, Clark takes a slow breath. They care. He understands that.

"I don't even know where to start." Lois, straightening on the couch, looks like she wants to say something but thinks better of it.

"I'm not arguing with you." Lex at his desk is never a good thing. He draws some kind of bizarre, stubborn energy from it, above and beyond the usual Luthor capacity. Already angry, already stressed, and protective Lex is more dangerous than any Lex that Clark's dealt with.

"Yes, you are. I--this is about me. Not about your partner, Lois, not about your boyfriend, Lex. It's my life, my choice, and my birthday, and does anyone in this room getting how fucking bizarre this is?"

Of course, Clark's life is the epitome of bizarre. Normal people can have fights with their friends. Clark has fights with his friends, Lex contemplates homicide or felony abduction. God. Dammit.

"I'd better get going."

Clark half turns, giving her a look. Strangely, she actually seems uncomfortable. Interesting. "What will it take to get the two of you to back off?" Turning, Clark catches Lex's wince and remembers the argument in the garage. Oh right, *that's* the reason Lex doesn't back off. He's got a sulky Clark to deal with. Fuck fuck fuck. "Lois, I'll call you about the party, okay? Don't--" Do anything? Right. "Just make this easy, okay?"

"Always, Smallville." Standing up, smooth arms slide around him, a brush of warm lips across his cheek. "Play nice, boys."

She disappears out the door, as quietly as Lex has ever moved. Turning around, Clark watches Lex circle the desk, going for the alcohol. Because nothing says a Luthor fight quite like a glass of hideously expensive brandy.

"You know, it might be easier just to lock me up under guard. You could, you know. Mercy and Hope, full time, here. Instead of messing around with all this free will crap."

Lex freezes--just a second, long enough for Clark to hate himself for hurting him. "That's not what I want."

"Then what do you want, exactly?" Taking a breath, Clark sinks into the leather.

"For you not to regret--" Lex bites it off, almost slamming down the bottle.

"The only thing I really regret is painting the bathroom yellow while you were gone." Watching Lex's back, Clark sighs. "Though the amusement value of seeing your face really can't be underestimated."

"Dammit--"

"I like it." From the corner of his eye, Clark can see Lex turning around. "I do. In a really weird way, I like that you want to protect me. I also like the fact that you've never forced me to do anything, even when you could."

He's got Lex's undivided attention. "I don't want to control you."

Clark laughs softly, shaking his head. "Sure you do. You just want me to like it when you do." Clark settles into the warm leather, watching Lex watch him. "Just back off. I'll worry about my friends, you worry about getting the bathroom repainted and whatever bill is on the table in the Senate. I can handle some negativity."

"I know. You just shouldn't have to."

Quietly. "I won't leave just because I have stupid friends. Even when you're half a country away."

Right on the money. Clark can see Lex stiffen, ready to refute the entirety of the argument, but there isn't one, not to this.

It scares him sometimes--he can hurt Lex, in ways that as a kid he'd never even guessed were possible. Ways that maybe didn't even exist then, because it takes years to build up this level of disillusionment. Too often, he sees Lex watching him when he thinks Clark isn't looking, as if he expects Clark to get up and vanish at any time, for any reason. Maybe like their entire life together is some carefully constructed fantasy that could fall apart at any moment.

Moments when Clark has to touch him, ground them both. I'll never leave, he tells Lex in every way he can think of.

Standing up, Clark crosses the room, taking the glass from Lex's hand and taking a sip. "Let's go to Bali tonight. They can throw me a party next week if they want to. Lois'll understand." Leaning down, Clark brushes a kiss across brandy-damp lips, closing his eyes when Lex catches his tongue between his teeth before pulling back.

"What about your party? Cake with your friends? Ringing any bells?"

"We leave now," Clark murmurs, close enough to lick a line to Lex's ear. "I'll let you eat cake off me in the plane."

Stepping back, Clark snickers softly at the interested look on Lex's face. Lois will understand. And if she doesn't, she can damn well pretend to.

"Get packed."


one year earlier

It's still new. And he thinks it always will be.

Warm, soft, slick skin under his hands, and he draws his nails down Lex's back, just to get the shiver, the next thrust coming just a little harder. Slow, lazy thrusts, making him arch his back, eyes closing at the brush of teeth along the side of his throat, tongue a soothing afterthought. The kind of sex that only comes with familiarity, with ease, when need's second to being this close, this warm, this intimate.

It's something he's never had with any lover, ever.

A lick to the curve of his ear, followed by soft lips. Clark feels like he's been on the edge for days, cock straining helplessly with every brush against Lex's stomach.

"I bought something," Lex murmurs, and Clark opens his eyes, pushing his heels into Lex's back when the rhythm slows enough to make him ache. God, Lex.

"You--want to--discuss shopping now?"

The low, rippling laugh is as sexy as the kiss, a sweet brush of lips before Lex shifts in him, angle changed. Clark sucks in a slow breath. God. They could do this forever. Just. This.

"Something for us." A little harder, and Clark can hear Lex catch his breath, looking down at him with wide, naked eyes. Lex like this is a gift--open, warm, vulnerable. "Fuck, Clark--"

"Please." It kills Lex when he begs, and he does it just to feel that shudder, trembling just below the skin. Turning his head, Clark breathes it in his ear. "Please, Lex."

"Fuck...."

The next thrust is almost brutal, and Clark sucks in a breath, wondering if he'll leave fingerprints in Lex's skin, the rich purple of his shirts. "Come on, Lex. Fuck me."

A sharp bite to the side of his throat, then Lex braces himself and Clark grins, and God, yes. Perfect. Fast, hot, the best way, a hard hand wrapped around his cock and Clark loses the ability to think, breathe--anything that isn't this. Isn't Lex, deep inside him, breathing his name like a prayer.

Orgasm is every color under the sun.

So it's really no surprise that Clark's almost asleep before he remembers what Lex said. Lifting his head, Clark looks at Lex thoughtfully. "You bought something."

Blue eyes flicker open in drowsy amusement. A post-orgasmic Lex is a sight to see. "You were listening."

"I was incoherent, not deaf. You bought something. For us. Tell me." The arm around his chest tightens, pulling him closer, mouth moving in his hair. Clark grins, pulling back. "Tell."

Lex changes his angle of attack, an open-mouth kiss to the curve of his shoulder. Dammit. "A building." Murmured into his skin, and Clark sighs, pulling back again. "Just a building, Clark."

"Lex."

Coming up on both elbows, Lex studies him, eyes dark and thoughtful. "I was bored. There was a building for sale. I bought it."

"You know, when most of us get bored? We buy comic books. Crossword puzzles. Video games. Movies."

"It's a nice building," Lex answers almost defensively, reaching for the faded red comforter that's covered Clark's bed since he left home. Nostalgia. Settling it around his waist, Lex rests his head on folded arms, giving Clark an assessing look. "I got it for a good price."

"Mmm." Clark's bed is just too narrow--not something he has problems with, though. Lex isn't exactly a cuddler, but limited space always leads to more Lex-contact, and when Lex falls into deep sleep, a polar bear could be sitting on him and he'd never notice. "Why did you buy a building? LexCorp acquisition?"

"First seventeen floors are office space. Convenient to downtown. Around seventh."

Clark straightens, the mattress creaking ominously. He needs to get another one soon. Regular, energetic sex is killing it by inches. "You mean the Bradley building?"

"That's what it was called."

Connect the dots. "Office and residential."

Lex smiles slowly. "You keep up. I went to tour it last month while you were busy ruining someone's business practices via publication--"

"You're losing your sex privileges for that one." Drawing his legs up beneath the comforter, Clark wraps his arms around his knees. "Okay, don't tell me. Fabulous place to live up there."

"Not exactly. The residential floors are a disgrace. The owners didn't have any foresight." Lex shifts on the bed, holding Clark's eyes. "But. We can fix that."

The smile pulls at the edges of Clark's mouth--he fights to keep a sober face. "We, huh?"

"Got the best architect in Metropolis on staff. Engineers. Designers. Flunkies."

Staring down at him, Clark turns the idea over in his head.

"I've been very patient," Lex says, like this is a huge boon. "Almost a full year."

"What difference will it make?" Tightening his arms, Clark tries to work it out. Lex's motives are always five deep or so. "You know, seriously, this fixation--"

"For a lot of reasons. One, I hate this apartment. Two, I hate your neighbors. I hate that Ms. Shanley, who I fucking swear listens at the walls just to complain about how much noise we make. The crime rate. The near-grand theft larceny two weeks ago of my Porsche...."

"It was some kids who wanted a joyride! Jeez, Lex, they would probably have brought it back..."

Lex gives him a look. "I don't think so."

Clark fights a grin. "We spend half our time at the penthouse."

It's only there for a second--blink and you miss it, but Clark catches it, a wistful look, almost longing, settled on Lex's face, and it's not like he ever had any intention of saying no. But that-- "I want more."

Breathing out, Clark leans back into the flat pillow, letting his knees slide down beneath the blanket again. "How much more?"

"Every day. Every night. Every morning." The corner of Lex's mouth curves up. "Unrestricted access."

"Oh. The usual. Everything."

Pushing up on one arm, Lex leans over him, mouth touching his--light and soft and sweet. "Absolutely everything. But right now, I'll settle for this."

Grinning, Clark pulls him down, sliding a leg around a lean hip, eyes closing at the shock of arousal. God, already. Fucking human libido. "Okay."

Lex is perfectly still for a few long seconds. Maybe he'd had an entire debate ready in his head or something; from the blink of surprise, Clark would guess he'd expected a few hours of negotiation before getting his point. It's so rare Clark really gets to surprise him, except he thinks he's always surprising Lex. Those startled looks that fix on him sometimes without any warning--at dinner, at some social function, in bed. Like Clark's still something entirely unexpected, might vanish at the slightest provocation.

"That easy?" Wary. Clark grins up at him, drawing his fingernails down Lex's back.

"That easy. When will it be ready?"

"...tomorrow."

Clark begins to laugh. "Should have guessed."

"The designers are waiting to talk to you first--" Still off-balance. Clark wonders how much fun it'll be to keep him like that.

"No." He strokes up the line of Lex's spine, feeling the instant melting of tension. Lex's body knows him. "Just you and me. Do it all personally."

"You're kidding." Shock's fun, too. "Clark--"

"We'll go buy paint. Curtains. A bed. Furniture." A new mattress. Oh damn, that'll be good. Clark snickers at the shock on Lex's face. "Farm raised, Lex. I painted the barn every spring. I helped Dad paint the inside of the house every two years for Mom."

Lex is looking for a way to fight it, but, well, he can't fight the obvious. Still grinning, Clark licks a slow line down his throat, closing his eyes at Lex's low sound of approval.

"Fine."

Clark smiles up at him. "I knew you'd see it my way."


Bibliography:

My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

Song of Solomon 1:14--1:17

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following you; for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

The Book of Ruth 1:16



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