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Give and Take

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Give and Take

by P.L. Nunn

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ LEX

Lex Luthor did not attend Clark Kent's graduation. It was a mutual decision, based on several pertinent factors. The least among them being that unlike Met U, whose graduating class was large and generally affluent, the departing senior class at Kansas State was considerably smaller and hailed from families of considerably lower economical background. The ceremony had been held in the college's own auditorium and seating was limited to four tickets per student and those had gone to Martha Kent, Chloe Sullivan, Lois Lane and Lana Lang.

And even though Lex could have swung an invite with ease, explaining why he was there - -and people would have wondered - - would have caused more trouble than seeing Clark fumbling his way to stage in gown and cap was worth. Besides which, Clark had promised, in the heat of a discussion that had gotten rather off topic, to bring the cap over afterwards. But that was beside the point, because the more important issue was Martha Kent, Chloe and everyone else that knew Clark, and the very much larger pool of people that didn't know him, but would be insanely interested regardless, to know he was sleeping with Lex Luthor.

The only reason the world didn't know was because Clark was uniquely suited to making entrances fifty stories up that escaped the notice of the perpetual paparazzi presence that had its eye on the more mundane routes of entrance to LuthorCorp East. And it wasn't as if they didn't go out, they just didn't do it in the spots that Lex usually made a habit of frequenting with his date of the week. Clark had introduced him to some truly horrendous eating establishments in the last few months and though Lex could tolerate greasy fries and chili smothered hamburgers on occasion, he'd really rather not have to watch them being prepared by sweating, pot bellied cooks with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Clark thought his squeamishness was highly amusing. Lex thought it was vastly entertaining to watch Clark try foie gras for the first time, or to choke down a slab of room temperature sashimi.

Clark didn't know how to tell his mother, much less his friends. Clark was still struggling, deep down in some sub-basement of his mentality, with the idea that he was gay. He still couldn't quite say it and he couldn't mention his father without a vague look of panic creeping into his eyes, like Jonathan Kent was looking down on him from high and frowning bible-belt disappointment. None of which deterred him in the least from practicing all manner of sin with Lex, it was just he wasn't in a place mentally to admit to the world. Though sometimes afterwards, he'd contemplate it, how he'd break the news to his mother, how he'd tell Chloe and it was easy to see that the honest part of Clark hated hiding something so integral from the people he loved.

Lex liked to look at the concept more liberally, as not so much a matter of favoring men over women or vice versa, as simply preferring the best possible fuck one could find from either sex. The best possible fit.

Clark was close to perfect.

Even if he was annoyingly stubborn and liked to place his standard on moral ground so high that realism ceased to have practical meaning. Lex could deal with that, because Clark kissed like there was no tomorrow and when he pushed inside of Lex, every problem, every worry, every logistical dilemma that was lurking in Lex's mind, overflow from a tiresome day, fled in the face of absolute bliss. You couldn't buy that sort of relief, nor rent it or bribe it or find it on the catwalks of high fashion.

But Clark was vulnerable in ways that Clark didn't understand. Clark was young and on the verge of making a place for himself in the world outside Smallville. Lex could survive the bad press. Hell, bad press generally ended up working to his benefit, reinforcing the absolute smug, self-assuredness of the very powerful. It didn't hurt if his stockholders thought him fearless, because they certainly had few illusions of his moral fiber.

Clark had a position at the Daily Planet, new and fragile and teetering on the distinction of his performance. Notoriety would do him no good. Being the news instead of reporting it would doom him and Lex wouldn't have it. Clark had worked too hard, and he wanted this too badly for Lex to let anything risk it. The thought of some candid, stolen shot of Clark and himself showing up in the pages of the Inquisitor along with some vicious, gleeful commentary made Lex consider unwholesome ways to avoid it. Bullets might bounce off Clark's skin, but the infamy of being Lex Luthor's newest attraction might destroy him.

So Lex didn't go to graduation. They were very discreet outside the sanctity of the penthouse. A hockey game at Metropolis Sports Dome that Clark had very badly wanted to attend where Clark had screamed and gesticulated with the rest of the crowd and enthusiastically pulled Lex into a bear hug when his team scored a winning goal. But it was nothing the rest of the crowd hadn't been doing, so the lapse in judgment could not be faulted. A car show in the Metro Showplace, showcasing the newest, most expensive automobiles manufacturers around the world had to offer. Lex placed two pre-orders and considered a third. Clark drifted towards the American muscle cars and Lex subtly offered and got a wry look at the attempt. He'd known he'd be refused.

If the papers wanted to report that Lex Luthor had taken up with an old friend, had attended a few masculine oriented events - - completely innocent in nature - - he'd live with that. It wasn't like he didn't give them very showy displays of female companionship to draw them off the trail.

Which Clark hated. And sulked about, and no doubt read the articles concerning, the Saturday after Lex had attended this social function or that with a model on his arm, and gone out afterwards just to cement the misdirection to a club or a restaurant where rumors would be created and pictures likely to be taken.

He hadn't slept with one of them in four months. Not since Clark. And didn't want to, even when soft breasts brushed his arm and lush lips whispered in his ear, suggesting after dinner activities. Clark's lips were no less lush, when they weren't tight with irritation or jealousy, and the notion of Clark jealous did make Lex want to fuck, and badly, but not the woman of the week on his arm.

The first time he'd gone out, on his mission of misdirection, with, God, he couldn't even recall who he'd taken, whoever had been on the cover of Vogue two months past, Clark had claimed to understand the need. But really, Lex reflected, he understood the need for Lex carrying on the bare bones of a normal social life as well as he comprehended the need for research into metahuman physiology. Which was to say, not at all.

He'd been waiting when Lex got home, had maybe even been watching him, with that enviable vision, pull into the garage. Or if he'd been particularly insecure he might have even been lurking when Lex dropped off the girl and she'd leaned in and kissed him, whispering how much she regretted the 'unexpected business' that had prevented them spending the night together.

Yes, Clark seeing that might have accounted for the penthouse elevator doors not quite shutting behind him before Clark was on him, hands fisted in his coat, mouth fiercely demanding things that Lex had been thinking about giving him, most of the evening.

"You've got lipstick on the side of your mouth." Clark had growled at him. And Lex had regretted that, because he was usually so much more careful, even when he wasn't depositing one date to meet the one he really wanted. But it hadn't proven as much a problem as he would have thought.

"Good night kiss." He'd explained, a little breathless, a lot turned on by the look in Clark's eyes and the hard press of his body. "Are you jealous?"

To which Clark had growled something incomprehensible and proceeded to lick the smudge off Lex's mouth, before showing him just how jealous. And Lex had learned that a jealous Clark tended to be a dominant Clark, intent on staking a claim. The part of Lex that relished letting go the constant stress of just being a Luthor welcomed that side of Clark with a passion that verged on fetish.

It had been an entirely satisfying night, and Lex had slept the sleep of the righteously exhausted well into the next day. There'd been a little note on the bed table in Clark's scrawled hand.

Helping Chloe out with a story.
Call me when you wake up.
Sorry about the bruises.

And there had been an assortment, the size of big fingers, along Lex's thighs and hips, that hadn't felt anything but good when Clark had been leaning into him.

It had been past eleven o'clock and Lex hadn't slept past noon in years. The way his body felt, sore and sated, he calculated he was overdue.

Clark graduated college with a degree in journalism eight weeks later. And Lex wasn't there. He spent the day occupying himself going over various proposals of personal interest to him, flipping between CNN's and accidentally landing on a channel broadcasting the Return of the King, only half an hour in. He was immediately snared by that, work mostly forgotten. He couldn't help it, it was a weakness. Clark had kryptonite, Lex had his classic sci-fi and fantasy, his comic books, all the paths of escape he'd buried himself in growing up.

He had a first edition set of signed, mint Tolkien's in his library, and a set of paperbacks that he'd read to dog-eared destruction during his younger years.

He wasted the next three hours on the very broad, very comfortable leather couch that had replaced the old one that Clark had had such issues with, proposals scattered on the coffee table, lap top dark in sleep mode, and watched the winning of middle earth. He was half tempted to break out the first two when it was over, but justifying six hours of escapism was beyond him, even on a Saturday, so he quelled the urge.

He had Clark's graduation gift in the penthouse, all tricked out with the newest upgrades in hardware and software. Clark probably wouldn't need a tenth of it, but he needed a new computer - - his old Dell was a piece of garbage - - and even he couldn't complain it was overkill - - well, not if Lex didn't tell him about the upgrades - - and there was nothing like a sweet, sleek Mac to shake a man out the pc blues.

But then Lex started worrying that it wasn't enough. After all graduating college was a big deal. You only got your first degree once and really, the iBook was hardly bigger than a pizza box on the table. It just seemed - - stingy.

And he had Clark at a disadvantage, because the giving of gifts was customary in these circumstances and he could hardly refuse without seeming contrary. And Lex 'liked' giving gifts, most especially to the people that mattered.

So he grabbed a jacket and took the elevator down to lobby level, where the security perked up with interest at his unannounced appearance.

He waved them off, heading through the secured doors that led from the resident lobby to the public mall with its multitude of shops. One of the security guards followed him regardless, but he did it surreptitiously, far enough behind that Lex didn't feel like he was being shadowed. They were very careful of him now, after the incidents a few months past, very much not wanting repeats of past mistakes. Lex wasn't eager for it himself, but he valued his privacy - - or at least as much of it as he could get, recognizable as he was.

That had been the one thing about Smallville. Even though everyone had known his face, and had probably talked behind his back, they were all small town polite enough not to gawk at him when he walked down the street. Which wasn't to say some of them didn't occasionally try to kill him, but at least he had the peace of illusional anonymity before they went about it.

Granted the building did have his name on it, and he probably could have strolled down the 21st street shopping district and not gotten more than a few stares amidst the flurry of intent pedestrians, but he had a goal and there was an Apple store on the second floor of the mall and he wanted to make sure he had the thing just in case Clark came by earlier than expected.

He did get stares here, and the whispered - -"Is that him?" "Lex Luthor."- - but he was good at ignoring it.

He strolled into the Apple store and trusted the bodyguard who'd quietly stationed himself by the doors to discourage the simply curious from trailing Lex inside. The manager tripped over her feet trying to get to the other side of the counter he was browsing at.

"I'm looking for an iPod."

She hurriedly unlocked the display and pulled out the choices. There was a new Video iPod with an obscene amount of memory, but the updated Nano was very smart. He considered colors while the saleswoman rattled off specs.

He ended up with the big one, because even though he liked the Nano simply because it was small and sleek, and he liked small, sleek technology, Clark had big hands and big fingers and it would be almost comical to see him fiddling with the tiny thing. So the big one was better, with its massive amount of memory. And of course an iTunes gift card, so Clark could download to his hearts content, even if his taste in music tended towards alternative crap.

He took the long circuit around the second story balcony, because he hadn't actually been down here in a while, and he was feeling pleased with himself over the subtly of the purchase - - iBook, iPod, it was hardly like two gifts at all, more like a set and he would hear no complaints.

He bought a cappuccino from a chain store, which was actually quite good, and watched the waterfall tumble with eloquent simplicity down the center of the atrium, while all around people eagerly bartered credit for merchandise. There was nothing quite like capitalism.

He went back to the penthouse, and really, no matter how much he might have liked Clark to show up early, the probability of it was relatively low. Clark had to appease family and friends and show up at the surprise graduation after party that Lois and Chloe had planned meticulously and that Clark had known about almost from day one. Being the guest of honor he'd be obligated to brave it out, and honestly, Clark would probably want to, comfortable in the companionship of close friends.

Lex considered going to the office, perhaps catching up on a few things in the relative quiet of the executive suites sans assistants and secretaries, VP's and office boys and all the other assorted noise that brought the building to life during the weekdays. Despite what Nancy thought, he was entirely capable of finding hard copy files if he needed and could even walk down to the executive lounge and make himself a coffee if the urge arose. It certainly wasn't like he hadn't spent most weekends obsessively busy before Clark had come barreling back into his life - - it was just nice to get back to a point where he didn't feel the compulsive desire to always have his hands in something. Where he could sit down and watch a three-hour movie and not feel twitchy the entire time, knowing there were more important things that needed his attention.

Clark claimed he was good for him. Lex wasn't entirely certain if it was so much that, or that Clark was making him softer than he'd been in years. Either way, Lex rather liked it.


It was maybe 10 pm when Clark showed up. A shadowy figure that simply appeared on the terrace, silhouetted by the subtle garden lighting and politely waiting for Lex to come and invite him inside, even though the terrace doors were almost always left unlocked for him. He stood there and grinned, in jeans and a nice green button down, the flat black square of his cap, tassel dangling, in his hand, a flush of excitement on his face that was simply charming.

"I am officially graduated. One of the working class."

"I thought you were already officially working?" Lex stepped back and Clark moved with him. He smelled of beer and coffee, confectionary and mint. The party had been at the Talon, and Lex could almost picture Clark sitting, flirting with Lana Lang across the counter. It bothered him considerably more than it should have, but then Lana had not been the passing attraction for Clark that she had been for Lex, and their relationship certainly hadn't ended on the same sour note.

"True." Clark admitted, "But 'Official', Lex. It's official. I can no longer be claimed as a dependent so mom says I'm kicked out of the house by the end of the month, which is just great."

Clark sounded drunk, or high, which Lex knew perfectly well he wasn't capable of, so it must have been sheer exhilaration.

"Kicking you out, huh?" Which Lex figured might not be far from the truth if Martha Kent grew concerned enough about Clark dragging his feet about abandoning her for big city life.

Clark's grin grew wider. "I'm apartment hunting this week. Chloe's gonna help."

"I told you I'd help."

"And I told you what I could afford for rent and you laughed at me."

Lex had. Because honestly, no decent apartment in the city could be had on what Clark could afford to pay. Which left the indecent ones and that just sat terribly wrong with Lex. He had considered buying a building and having rent prices adjusted accordingly but Clark would find him out and all manner of shit would hit the fan.

"So how was your surprise party?"

"Not half as bad as I thought it would be. But sort of sad, seeing all the old faces and knowing that it'll maybe be a long time before I see some of them again - - if ever."

"You're moving to Metropolis, not the moon."

"Yeah, but - - you know."

"I know. But that's change. It's almost always for the better." He wondered if Lana were one of those faces Clark was feeling regret about leaving behind and then stopped himself short, because though jealousy wasn't beneath him, he knew it wasn't warranted.

He tugged up the hand with the cap and half smiled. "Let me see it."

Clark arched a brow and shook it out, pressing down over thick hair. The tassel quivered over the rim. Clark narrowed his eyes and cocked his head, giving Lex a look that he might have meant to be scholarly. It looked more pornish and Lex grinned and leaned up to kiss the smirk of his lips. The edge of the cap butted his forehead, so he snatched it off and flung it towards the couch.

Clark did taste of mints. The homemade, buttery kind that melted in your mouth. And domestic beer. And it felt like weeks since Lex had had his hands on the hard planes of Clark's body, instead of a day and half and the kissing almost got away from him, before he remembered that he had graduation gifts to present and Clark to talk into them.

"Wait a second."

Clark had backed them almost to the hall leading to the master bed.

"I've got something for you."

"I'm trying to get it." Clark said.

"An afternoon with a college degree and you're a smart-ass already." Lex extricated himself from Clark's arms and pulled him back into the den, where the laptop lay innocently on the table, a tasteful silver bow covering the iconic Apple symbol.

"Lex," Clark stood staring down, a faint frown marring his brow. "I told you not to get me anything."

"Did you tell Chloe not to get you a graduation gift? Or Lois?"

"No, but they spent like fifty bucks combined. This is like a thousand. And I knew you'd go overboard."

A thousand? Not even close with the upgrades. "Yes, but I make a slightly better living than Chloe and Lois - - combined - - so it all evens out in the long run. Besides which, it's work related. You'll need a decent computer so you won't have to store all your research at the Planet. So you can work at home in a pinch. And how many times did you say your old laptop crashed just this last month?"

"Three." Clark muttered, eyeing the iBook like it was a girl at a dance he was considering working up the nerve to ask out on the floor.

"So this is an entirely practical graduation gift. A necessity even."

Clark took a step towards the computer and Lex knew a win when he saw one, so shut up and let Clark seal the deal on his own. Clark sat down on the couch, brushed off the bow and opened it up. The screen lit up in all its billion points of color glory and Clark sighed, finger tentatively reaching out to caress the touchpad.

Lex slid over the iPod and casually remarked. "It came with the laptop. Promotional package."

Forty-five minutes later, a trail of clothing strewn across the floor, bed rumpled and showers taken, then taken again, because honestly, Lex didn't know how to shower with Clark without having sex against the slick tiles of the stall, and they were back on the couch playing with Clark's new laptop.

Clark leaned against the thickly padded arm and Lex leaned against Clark, naked back to naked chest, Lex in long, loose pajama bottoms, Clark in his boxers, the computer resting against Lex's thighs, Clark reaching around him to vie for control of the touchpad. The flat panel in the wall softly spilled the opening sequence of The Fellowship of the Ring. Lex was entirely pleased with himself.

Because Lex had been giving a considerable amount of thought to suitable apartments for Clark, and had been doing a bit of surfing he veered the sublimely fast Internet connection to Metropolis rentals. Clark was game enough, ready and eager to start his search for city habitation. Clark clicked on the low rent choices, and the options were predictably dismal, one and two room rattraps that had seen better days before either one of them were born.

Lex snagged control and pulled up the mid-range offerings, studio apartments and renovated warehouse spaces in up and coming sections of town. He'd already taken a virtual tour of a few he particularly liked earlier today.

"Yeah, pretty." Clark remarked, then scrolled down to the monthly rent and laughed. "Three thousand dollars?"

"It's not a bad price for a place in that neighborhood."

"I won't be making three thousand a month."

"Of course you will. The Planet has competitive salaries."

"Barely more and I'll want to eat."

"You can eat here."

"It's too expensive. Like three times too expensive."

"If I'm not mistaken the realty company that owns that building is a subsidiary of a subsidiary - -"

"Don't even think it, Lex."

The arms around him tightened and he rolled his head back to look up at Clark's glower.

"Stop trying to manage me, Lex. I want to do this on my own. I've been looking forward to doing this on my own for years."

"Except for Chloe, who's going to help," Lex reminded him testily.

"Chloe's not going to try and buy a building for me," Clark accused.

Lex snapped his mouth shut on a reply, offended, despite the fact that basically the accusation wasn't far from the truth. He pushed against the embrace and Clark loosened his arms. Lex sat the open Laptop on the coffee table and used reaching for the remote as an excuse to put a little distance between them.

"Are you pissed, because you didn't get your way?" Clark had a level of amusement in his voice that took Lex's little irritation and scraped it into something considerably more heated. He never had learned to tolerate being the butt on someone else's humor.

"You'll know when I'm pissed." He stabbed at the volume and Gandalf's voice rumbled out of strategically placed speakers.

Clark laughed at him. Lex narrowed his eyes and glared, considered hurling the remote, but that would only hurt him, when he had to order a replacement when it shattered against that invulnerable, golden chest.

Then Clark moved, sprawled and redolent the one second and bearing Lex backward into the cool leather of the other end of the couch in the latter half of that same second.

"I know you want to help, and I know you're going about it the only way you know how. And don't think I don't appreciate it. I do. I really do."

Clark's weight pressed him into plush cushions, Clark's big thigh, hard as rock and warm as life pushed its way between his.

"But I need to do this by myself. A rite of passage that you can't buy for me, even though you really want to."

Clark's fingers were around the wrist of the hand holding the remote, one thumb stroking the pulse. Lex let go the remote and it hit carpet with a dull thud.

"It'll be great, wherever it is, even if it's a one room place across the tracks and you may hate it, but you'll still come over because it'll need to be christened, again and again - -" this last was drowned out against the side of Lex's mouth, then against his mouth when he turned his head and opened his lips to let Clark in.

It was just damned hard to stay annoyed with someone when they were grinding their hip against your cock.

He slid his free hand around Clark's back, nails scraping against skin, dipping his fingers under the band of Clark's Fruit of the Looms and squeezing the firm swell of his ass. Clark made an appreciative sound, rolling his head and Lex reared up to fasten his mouth to the hard line of Clark's jaw. Liberal use of teeth and tongue, because Clark liked to 'feel' - - and sometimes Lex feared that touches that were too feather soft sometimes escaped a man that could survive a building falling on him.

Clark was grinding his cock against Lex's belly, the tip of it escaping the lip of his boxers and sliding silken wet across Lex's skin. The head would be blushing, vivid rose hues, broad and uncut and like the rest of Clark, large and long and harder than steel.

Lex loved the feel of it. In his hands. Filling his mouth. Inside him - - God, there were no adequate words for that, just jumbled delirium.

"Get off." He murmured, in no position to physically press the issue. "I want your cock in my mouth."

That got through. Of course any combination of the words 'cock' and 'mouth' generally had a straight-line connection to the male brain.

Clark pushed himself up, looking down at Lex with fever bright eyes, flushed cheeks and rose hued lips parted in a sinful smile that belied the angelic look of him. He flopped back against the arm of the couch he'd abandoned. Lex followed him back, between Clark's spread legs, pressing his mouth against the length of Clark under thin cotton, then working his way up to the weeping tip. Clark sighed, staring down at him raptly, breath catching a little when Lex pulled the boxers down.

It sprang up, angling towards Clark's head, a straight line with his navel, and when Lex wrapped his fingers around it, he could feel the pulse of Clark's blood. He leaned over, sliding the foreskin down to bare the slick pink tip. He licked the beaded precome, took the end of it between his lips and sucked hard, reveling in the meaty texture of hard flesh under petal soft skin. Clark gasped, muscles clenching all over his body, hands probably clenching and unclenching in fists. Eyes' following Lex's every move raptly.

Lex swallowed him down, thick, pulsing girth filling his mouth, tickling the back of his throat. His hand clenched around the base, tight fist, loose fist, to mimic the rhythm of his mouth as he worked. He let his other hand explore lower, teasing Clark's balls, caressing the taut skin between scrotum and anus and Clark made sounds. Keening little groans and cries interspaced with Lex's name. Clark's noises were usually more incoherent than Lex's, but he never failed to get the point across that Lex was doing a bang up job.

Clark tensed, and shuddered and Lex knew he was about to come, so he took all of him he could and then some, sucking tight and hard while Clark's hips made little, barely controlled thrusts into his mouth. He swallowed and swallowed, used to the prolonged crisis of Clark's ejaculation. He pulled back a little while Clark slowly softened in his mouth, and Clark's hands rose up finally to touch him, sliding over the curve of his spine, the back of his skull.

"Happy graduation."

Clark half laughed and swung a leg over Lex's shoulders, sliding to the floor in front of the couch before beckoning Lex with a crook of an index finger. Lex lifted brow, interested, and settled facing Clark. Let Clark draw his pajama bottoms down and all the way off, freeing his own needy erection, before Clark drew his legs over his broad shoulders and pulled him to the edge of the couch, mouth level.

Only Clark was feeling creative, high on his imminent escape from the mediocrity of small town life, and his lips fastened on Lex's balls instead of his cock, sucking in one nut and rolling it in his mouth, then the other, big fingers pressing and kneading the muscles of his thighs.

Clark's tongue sliding along the fragile skin of his balls was wonderful, his fingers sliding into the crack of his ass, stroking across his anus were enough to make Lex arch off the couch, but really, his cock needed attention. Lex reached down to appease it and Clark caught his hands. Lex gave him an indignant look and Clark let the nut he'd been sucking slip from his lips and lifted his head with a faint teasing smile.

"No touching, Lex."

God. Clark wanted to play games. And games were all fine and good, hell, Lex loved games, but at the moment, he really just wanted somebody to jerk him off. He wasn't picky who.

He called Clark a name his breath, but reached back and dug his fingers into the back couch cushions anyway. Clark grinned at him and lowered his head, tongue rasping across the skin beneath Lex's balls, then lower, circling and testing the puckered flesh around his entrance. Clark curled his tongue and the tip of it pressed inside, wet and warm and God, he had a long tongue. It was mobile and slick, like a muscley little eel that had crawled up inside him and was intent on blowing Lex's mind. Lex tried to lift himself off the couch, needing to either escape that crafty tongue or come, because if he didn't achieve one or the other, he was likely to die. Clark held him down, one hand on his hip, and the other reaching up to grasp his cock, stroking hard and fast. Lex screamed a little, cursed a little and spurted into the air.

When he could see again, and Clark was sprawled on the couch beside him, he rolled his head and asked.

"Where did you learn that? I didn't teach you that."

"You didn't like?"

Did he like that? Ridiculous question. "Well, yes. But that's not the point."

"Internet, Lex." Clark's smile was wide and self-satisfied. "All sorts of valuable pointers to be found."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ CLARK

Finding an apartment in the city that was within a rent range that accommodated the salary of a first year reporter was proving a difficult task. Clark had gone out Sunday after graduation with Chloe and looked at close to half a dozen places and come up with nothing viable. He'd done a little prowling around on his own Monday afternoon after work, and had gone over to Lex's afterwards admitting that even he had his limitations when it came down to living somewhere where the competition with insects and rodents might prove a monumental battle.

He lamented ever finding a half way decent place. Chloe accused him of being impatient, because three days of searching did not the perfect apartment find. It required finesse and luck and impeccable timing, she claimed. She'd lucked into her little two room place when she'd interviewed the departing tenet and the soon to be vacant apartment was mentioned.

"Keep those spectacular ears open, Clark, you'll find something," was her advice.

Lex's veered along another path. Lex kept trying to convince him that spending over his budget in rent would pay off in the end when it came to actually having to live somewhere and be happy about it. Lex wasn't concerned about the food issue, claiming that Clark was welcome to eat at the penthouse. Which he did on frequent occasion, sleeping over at least three or four times a week.

Which was a big point on Clark's side of the argument. If he was going to sleep at Lex's more often than not, then it hardly mattered if his billing address was a low rent dump.

Lex wasn't convinced.

His mother told him to be patient and seemed to fall on the Lex side of the fence when it came to food and the rent. You can always eat at home, honey. You'll always be welcome. And if you need a little help with bills until you get on your feet, you know I'm always here, ready to help.

It didn't make Clark feel any better. It especially didn't sit well with him that she thought he was seeing a girl in the city. There was a point when he couldn't safely use staying over at Chloe's as an excuse, since Chloe and his mother did on occasion talk, so he stopped using her as an alibi.

His mom was pleased about it, in a motherish sort of way. Happy that he was happy - - occasionally delivering teasing little hints that she'd like to hear about his new 'friend' in the city. But he didn't tell her - - he didn't know how to tell her and it was easier to let her continue along with her misconception. He felt the coward for it, and the ass, because he hated lying to her of all people and he hated treating Lex like a dirty little secret, even if Lex encouraged it.

Lex was practical on the one hand and extravagant on the other. Easier to talk to than anyone Clark had ever known, but prickly and easily offended when his sore spots were prodded. A sleek model of contradiction and Clark loved all the little inconsistencies.

Lex could also talk circles around him and could end up getting him to agree to things he'd started out vehemently not planning to do. Like letting Lex accompany him apartment hunting. Which Clark knew would be an afternoon long argument.

It was Friday, and Clark had come in sinfully early so he could take the afternoon off and scour the most recent entries in the classified. He'd been on classified duty a few days that week and had gotten first look at some of the new apartment openings. He'd mentioned his plans last night, snug on the couch, channel surfing, after he'd won control of the remote. Lex kept asking him to turn to CNN or Cspan and Clark would for a while, before he got bored with the news and flipped to things that required less thought. He dealt with the news all day. It was nice to get away. Clark thought Benny Hill was hilarious. Lex shut his eyes and dozed after complaints when unheeded.

"Are you still at work?" Lex asked over the phone as Clark was shutting down his desk computer and straightening his workspace.

"Just leaving. Why?"

"I'll pick you up on Temple and 20th."

"What?" Clark cast a look around to see who might be close enough to overhear him whine. "I told you last night that I was going alone."

"I wasn't listening. And that's just ridiculous, since you've had no luck so far on your own. And I'm not going to pressure you into anything, or bribe anyone on your behalf, so calm down and accept the inevitable. Besides, I finished up early today and have the afternoon free. Temple and 20th in ten minutes. I'll buy you lunch."

"Lex," Clark whispered in annoyance into the phone, but the connection was dead and when did Lex ever just happen to have a weekday afternoon free if he hadn't meticulously planned it? Or just up and cleared five hours worth of schedule, canceling on people that probably weren't used to being canceled on, upon short notice?

There was nothing to do, but walk the two blocks down from the planet and meet him. And with impeccable timing, a sedate little Mercedes with obscure license plates and tinted windows pulled up in front of the fire hydrant on the corner, and Clark sighed and trotted around to the passenger side and settled into air conditioned cool.

"You're not allowed to call me hard headed, ever again." Clark complained, and Lex's mouth twitched as he pulled back out into traffic. His eyes were hidden behind purple tinted sunglasses, and he had on a light, summer-knit cream pullover, and tan slacks. The cream of the sweater was only a shade or two off from the color of his skin and it looked good on him.

"Where are we headed?" Lex inquired equitably.

Clark huffed in irritation and pulled out his folded classified with its half dozen circled addresses.

Vacancies had already been filled in the first two addresses they searched. The third was just short of needing to be condemned.

The fourth wasn't entirely bad, six blocks away from the Met U campus, but it was tiny, with low ceilings that made Clark feel a little claustrophobic and windows that had been bricked over for some unknown reason. It was overpriced for what it offered, but relatively clean and within his budget. He considered it, distressed by his lack of success.

"You'll never get any work done." Lex pointed out, leaning against the chipped paint of the front door frame, looking miserably out of place against the dingy hallway of an off campus rental. "You'll have college students for neighbors and they'll be up at all hours. You'll find a better place. You've barely been looking a week."

Two chattering girls in short shorts, carrying a baskets of laundry with a portable radio perched on top, blaring out some hip hop tune walked out of the door down the hall, just to prove Lex's point.

"Let me talk to the landlord anyway." Clark said and Lex rolled his eyes, then proved a hindrance without even trying when the landlord recognized him, gaped a little before recovering and the rent quote went up half again higher than the classified rate.

It would have been uncharitable to bitch at Lex for simply being Lex, so Clark stalked out to the car silently and crossed through another circled ad.

The last two were brownstones, where residents were renting out rooms on the top levels. The first was two doors down from a massage parlor/adult bookstore and the landlord came out, stubbly and half stoned, hairy, knobby legs poking out from beneath women's lingerie that had seen better days. A bit of last night's make-up still stained the - - ah, man's face, but his eyes lit up like Christmas come early when Clark indicated the room for rent sign with a sort of stunned numbness. He latched hold of Clark's arm with a 'honey, let me give you the personal tour.' and every instinct Clark had screamed run for the hills.

Lex had covered his amusement - - barely, until they were safely back in the car, then he'd leaned his forehead against the steering wheel and silently laughed while Clark glowered and asked if they could just drive, because the landperson was still on the porch leering.

It was after five, and Clark was down to his last hope for the afternoon, when Lex turned onto Poppy Street, where there were brownstones one block and timeworn shops and mom and pop businesses the next. It was just beyond the chaos of the city proper, so that traffic was reasonable, and the cracked sidewalks were only spotted by pedestrians, not covered in them. But it close enough that you could see the high rises and hear the distant tumult of Metropolis even if you didn't have super human hearing. There were spots of graffiti on alleyway fences, and the disillusioned youth or three loitering at the corner, but there was still a quiet air about the street.

Clark felt a subtle hum of excitement just being here, as if this were the place. His luck finally come through.

Lex was quietly muttering about the necessity of parallel parking and this was why he hated driving in the city. Clark had heard the same complaint several times over the course of the afternoon. He slipped out of the car and checked the street address, looking up at an old stucco coated two story brownstone, tall and narrow, with a sagging wooden gate to one side and an alley no wider than Clark was broad on the other, between it and the neighboring house. There was a cat in the downstairs front window, a room for rent sign tacked to the banister of the front porch.

He went up the front steps, with Lex trailing behind and casting critical looks at the neighborhood, and rapped on the screen door. The cat looked at him curiously through the screen window. No one came to the door.

He rapped again, and did a quick little scan of the house to see if anyone was there.

"Well, obviously either no one is home or they're not concerned with answering the door," Lex remarked.

"She's asleep," Clark said and Lex lifted a brow at him.

Clark knocked again harder and the door rattled. And this time a voice yelled from inside to 'hold your horses,' before a stout woman of about 65 appeared at the door.

She eyed them with the cantankerous expression of someone rudely awakened.

"Hi. I'm here about the room for rent?" Clark dipped his head and put on his best smile for her. She looked at him, looked at him closer, looked beyond him at Lex, who must have worn a less than charming expression because her eyes narrowed a little, before she turned back to Clark and shrugged.

"Come on in then."

The house had been renovated some time in the last two decades, with the sectioning off of the first and second floors in mind. There was a hallway with a door sporting several deadbolts, open now, that led to the recesses of what was obviously the woman's domain and stairs leading up with a second door at the top. The woman stomped up the stairs, digging in her housecoat for keys.

The upper level was clearly still in the process of being finished. A wall had been knocked out to make a bigger living room, debris from that still present, and sheetrock and plaster were sitting against a wall, ready to be used to patch the ragged edges. Paint was worn and chipping on all the walls, except the one with the wallpaper from 1960. It had nice, high ceilings though, and big windows that looked out over the street. It was four rooms, if you counted the bathroom and the tiny kitchen. The bedroom had an actual hearth, a plaster and stone face with an art decoish design on the mantel, though upon x-ray inspection it looked like it had been clogged since sometime before Clark was born. The tub was old and the tiles mildewed and missing. The kitchen counter didn't allow for a lot of work room and was garish orange Formica, but there was another big window over the sink, and a glass paned door looking out over a dilapidated second floor porch with stairs leading down to a narrow, fenced in backyard.

"Needs some work. That's why it's so cheap." The woman said, a little nervously.

"No? Really?" Lex drawled, sarcasm brilliantly veiled, but Clark cast him a warning frown regardless. It needed a lot of work, but the ceilings were awesome and the gutted out main room would be spacious and airy when it was finished and Clark felt like he was home.

"It's perfect. I'll take it." He grinned and the woman registered surprise and Lex opened his mouth, shut it and eventually added a qualifier.

"Of course any foundation materials he has to purchase will be deducted from rental costs. And the lease will take into account that once the renovation is complete the cost of rent will not exponentially rise for the duration of his occupancy."

"If the work is up to par." The old woman shot back, evidently no pushover. "Will the two of you boys be moving in together?"

"God, no." Lex assured her. "Do you have a copy of your lease agreement available?"

Clark stopped listening to Lex playing legal advisor and wandered out the back door onto the porch, already making plans. If he repaired that gate, there was enough of a drive beyond it where someone who hated parallel parking could pull a car up and leave it safe for a night. And though it looked as if the old woman hadn't bothered to take care of the back yard for many a year, there was a tree, and grass and what had once been flower beds along the edges. A little bit of greenness to remind him of home. Maybe he'd plant sunflowers along the back fence. He'd dig some up from the patch at home and bring them up . . .


Clark could have, with superspeed, zipped through the renovations of his new apartment in less than a day. And some of it, he did cheat at, especially the tedious work of scraping chipped paint and sanding rough plaster, taking out debris and removing old tile and grungy grout. But some of the other tasks required more time. Jonathan Kent had always preached that taking a little time and effort on a project, especially one close to your heart, made it all the more worthwhile. Besides which, Clark had an iron clad five year lease, thanks to Lex, with all the out clauses being on his side of the bargain, so he planned on staying for a while. He could afford to take a little pride in the work.

Mrs. McClusky was a lot nicer once Lex was out of her hair and had given Clark the keys Saturday when he came by to sign the amended lease and take stock of what needed doing. The contractor she'd hired to do the renovation had cut out on her two weeks in, but he'd left a good deal of the supplies, so though Clark's checking account had pretty much bottomed out after writing a check for first and last months rent, he had more than enough here to start work.

Lex, who loved negotiation, but was not so big on scraping paint and hauling garbage, occupied himself with other things. Chloe and Lois came by late in the afternoon after he had made a huge dent in the repair work and were suitably amazed at the size of the place, sans the remnants of the old dividing wall, accumulated debris and a fresh coat of under paint.

"My God, Smallville, you're paying how much for this? There's a frickin' fireplace!!" Lois marveled, not bothering to hide the envy in her voice. He grinned, entirely pleased with himself.

"This is big enough for two people. We could room." Lois was brainstorming and like Lex, that often boded ill for Clark.

"One bedroom, Lois." He reminded her and God, wouldn't Lex just love the idea of him sharing an apartment with Lois. He'd never hear the end of it. He'd also never get laid here.

Lois cocked her head at him thoughtfully, then shrugged. "You could sleep on the couch."

"Yeah, in your dreams. Find your own place to turn into a pigsty. Or room with Chloe."

"I heard that," Chloe yelled from her inspection of the kitchen. "Not funny."

Lois crossed her arms and huffed. "I'll have you both know, I'm a joy to room with."

"I've roomed with you, Lois," Chloe said. "And the jury's still out on that one. So, Clark, what can we help with tonight? Those cabinets really need scrubbing out."


Sunday night and he had a second coat of paint on, the bathroom completely scraped free of old, crumbly tiles, and ready for the application of new ones as soon as he could afford to go and out buy a few boxes. He'd been told in no uncertain terms by Lex to save every receipt of every purchase he made towards renovation to present to Mrs. McClusky at month's end. Decorative things like paint and wallpaper couldn't be claimed, but tiles, plaster and wood could all be deducted from his rental fees.

He'd cleaned out the flue the easy way, lying on his back in the hearth and using heat vision to bust through decades worth of accumulated soot and gunk. He'd come away from that project covered in ash and discovered when he'd tried to take his first shower that there were plumbing problems as well to deal with.

His mother had packed a few boxes of essentials, that he'd flown back and forth from the farm to the apartment. Two old chairs that they always kept out in the barn in storage, a fold up table, but mostly cleaning aides and a few towels, an old shower curtain, bath mat, paper plates and plastic cups, utensils and baking soda to help beat the suspicious smells out of the old refrigerator. A lot of things he never would have thought of.

"So, should I send over a construction crew or are you doing reasonably well on your own?" Lex asked when Clark called Sunday evening after the fight with the flue and the shower.

"You know what you can do with your construction crew, Lex. It looks great. You won't even recognize it when you come over."

"I'm coming over?"

Clark slid the corner of a piece of drop cloth across the floor with his boot, feeling suddenly nervous. When Lex was in the mood, he wasn't shy with his criticism. But then, catch him in another frame of mind and he could be criminally indulgent. Clark rather hoped for the latter, because Lex's good opinion of this place was important to him.

"You could. If you're not busy and if you are, that's okay, because I'm not finished yet. It's just a lot better than it was when you saw it. But I understand if you've got things to do and maybe its probably better if you wait until I've got furniture."

Lex waited a few seconds to make sure Clark was finished with his invitation and then his not so subtle retraction of invitation before asking. "Should I bring dinner?"


Lex came bearing the type gift that Clark had no qualms whatsoever accepting. A big bag of Chinese from one of those authentic, high dollar places that Lex preferred to dine in and a bottle of wine that Clark was certain went exquisitely with whatever wonderful things were in the bag.

Lex walked around the big room, hands in his pockets, the emptiness making his footsteps echo a little.

"I was thinking of renting a buffer and seeing if I can't do something about the floors." Clark stood in the entrance to the kitchen and tried to come up with excuses. "Because, they're really in bad shape. And white was the color paint that was up here so I used it, but I was thinking it needs more color and - - "

"Clark," Lex stopped him, turning about with a faint curve of his mouth. "You've done an exceptional job. You saw potential and ran with it and turned this into a very livable space. Two days. I'd advise not letting your landlady up for at least a week or she'll wonder how you managed without bringing in workers."

The little rush of satisfaction almost made Clark's legs weak. He grinned and started spouting off plans, about the deck and back yard and the shelving that would fit just right in the back corner and Lex listened and offered comments and suggestions of his own, while they went through the expansive choice of food. Lex must have thought he was bringing supper for five, because there was a little bit of everything. They ate off of the paper plates Clark's mom had sent, and drank wine out of plastic cups. Lex used the chopsticks that had come with the meal, and Clark shoveled his in with a plastic fork. He'd ordered pizza last night when Chloe and Lois had been over, but that hadn't really felt like a real first meal here. This did, because there was a table, even if it was fold out, and chairs. And Lex.

They sat down afterwards on the floor perpendicular to the tall front windows, finishing off the last of the wine.

"What are you going to do for furniture?"

"There's some stuff stored in the attic, that mom says I can have. The pieces in my bedroom. The stuff in the barn."

"God, not that couch."

"What's wrong with the couch? You sat on that couch plenty and had no problem."

"Yes, in a barn. Are you sure it doesn't have bugs?"

"It doesn't have bugs." Clark defended the couch, offended on its behalf.

"It could, its been in a barn for the last - - what, decade? And your old bed? Isn't that a twin? Between a couch with bugs and a twin bed, comfort issues are going to arise."

"You've got a problem with my bed now?"

"First off, I don't know how all of you ever fit into a twin bed. Second, have you ever tried to have sex on a cot? Its not far off from a twin bed." Lex held his hands out about a foot apart, to emphasize the scant difference.

Clark chewed his lip, thinking that last argument had a lot of merit.

"Let me buy you a bed and a new couch. Its only fair since you made me get rid of my old one."

"No." Clark shook his head, adamant.

Lex hissed through his teeth, and knocked his head against the wall a few times in frustration.

"Its just not right, you giving me things all the time." Clark said, because well, obviously he didn't say it enough because Lex kept trying.

"Stubborn. Stubborn. Stubborn." Lex muttered under his breath. "And not to speak ill of the dead, but you seriously need to stop channeling your father."

Clark swallowed, taken aback a little by that accusation. Not that there was any shame to be had in emulating his dad, but he didn't like to be accused of it like it was a bad thing and he didn't need to be reminded that if Jonathan Kent had any faults, they probably centered around a stubborn streak a mile wide.

Lex canted a look at him and sighed. "You realize, don't you, that you make my life very difficult."

"Yeah, well. Sorry." Clark was trying to decide if he needed to be resentful or simply hurt.

"I don't mean it like that," Lex said, while Clark stared at the back of his hands like the swirls on his knuckles were more interesting than Lex's eyes.

"There's another way?"

"You're high maintenance."

Clark blinked. "I'm high maintenance? I don't ask for anything. I don't want anything."

"Exactly. And you drive me crazy because that's what people do when they're together. Gifts are not an uncommon practice. I keep trying to find ways around this aversion you have for accepting help of any kind and you keep blocking me."

"Because its not right."

"What's not right about it?"

"I don't give you anything. I don't have the money to buy expensive gifts." Clark blurted, feeling embarrassed to admit something that Lex very well knew.

"Oh, God," Lex let out an abortive breath of laughter. "You give me crappy restaurants and Chteau Mouton out of plastic cups and someone to talk to that I don't have to put on a false face with. You call me on my bullshit and I 'need' someone to do that once in a while. You give a damn without a paycheck to encourage it or an ulterior motive and nobody has done that for me in - - a very long time. So let me buy you a fucking bed if I want to, because it's not even close to a fair trade."

Clark took a cautious breath, staring at Lex, who was staring at the ceiling with a faint, agitated flush on his cheeks, the crisp cleanness of his profile barely registering, because sometimes being with Lex was so much more than physical. Sometimes it was like Clark had never been as close to anybody, had never felt as comfortable, despite all the things that set them apart.

"Okay," he said. "You can buy me a bed. But I like my couch."

Lex took a breath.

"Okay." He agreed and leaned over and kissed Clark. Soft, light touch of lips. Then another, deeper. He tasted of wine and egg rolls. Clark figured he did, too.

Lex got a leg over, straddling his thighs, got hands on his face and kissed him deeper. "The porch needs a couch, you could put it there. Be like those families in the mountains that had the furniture out on the porch and shared it with the dogs. I'll get you a nice leather one for in here."

Reply was muffled by Lex's tongue in his mouth, and really that sort of muted rational debate. Clark pulled at the edges of Lex's shirt, got it untucked and got his hands on skin.

Maybe he didn't even need a bed at all. Drop clothes and bare floor might work just fine.

He heard the rap of knuckles on glass, but was too wrapped up in Lex sensation to register it right off. The squeaking of hinges that he hadn't gotten around to oiling and the aborted, 'Hey, Cla - -" got his attention.

Clark broke the kiss, hands still neatly under Lex's shirt and stared towards the back door with a sort of slow dawning horror. Chloe stood there, a potted plant in her hands, the ends of what looked like shelving paper rolls sticking out of her big shoulder bag, her eyes wide and startled in dawning comprehension.

"Chloe - -" Clark couldn't think of a thing to say, with Lex in his lap, looking at him rather than Chloe, maybe waiting to hear his explanation as much as Chloe must have been.

"I - - I just thought - -" Chloe blushed and stammered. "That I'd bring over a housewarming - - I knocked. Sorry." She floundered for words and Chloe never floundered. "Just - - I'm sorry."

She shoved the plant on the counter by the door and fled. Clark could hear the clatter of her shoes down the rickety porch steps.


Lex sat back on his thighs and exhaled a sort of long, low breath, but he didn't say anything, or look particularly embarrassed. Not the embarrassed that Clark felt rising up out of his very pores.

"Oh, God, Lex - - she saw us."

"It's a good argument for locking doors," Lex commented.

He looked at Lex and the absolute misery must have shone through in his eyes, because Lex tightened his lips and grasped the sides of Clark head. "She's done a good job keeping your secrets so far, she'll protect this one more."

Clark felt sick. Really, truly sick, like the Chinese food was thinking about coming up to see the light of day again. "Fuck. I need to talk to her."

"Yes," Lex agreed. "Let her process before you run her down. She's a smart girl, she'll come to terms. And if she doesn't - -" he trailed off, thinking. Plotting. Coming up with scenarios.

Clark groaned and shifted Lex off his lap, rising and pacing to the window, staring out into the darkness and finding Chloe's car as it fled down the street. Lex finished up the rest of the wine straight from the bottle, then pushed himself up and leaned against the wall next to the window, watching Clark look down on the street.

"Will it make a difference?"

Clark blinked and looked at him, not understanding. "What?"

"Her knowing. Will it matter?"

In the grand scheme of him and Lex - - her approval or disapproval wouldn't change what he felt, what he wanted from Lex, what he wanted to give him. But it might make a difference in how he felt about himself, because she was his friend, his confidant, the only person that for a long time he'd been able to share his secrets with and what she thought mattered.

"No." he said softly. Then, "A little. But not about you."

Because there was something in Lex's posture, in the set of his shoulders that was a little tense, and Clark sometimes had to remind himself that despite all Lex's self-confidence and poise, there were things that Lex needed reassurances about, old fears and wounds that he protected with subtle ferocity.

He leaned his shoulder against the window frame and forced a wry smile. "She was going to figure it out sooner or later. I never could hide anything from her for long."

"Obviously you just tried harder with some people than others." But Lex's eyes weren't hard when he said it, so Clark didn't take it as the accusation it could have been.

"She'll try to talk you out it, of course."

"How can you talk somebody out of being - - not straight?"

"Not your sexual preference. Me. I'm morally deficient, self-centered, untrustworthy, I have agendas and very little compunction about using people for my own ends - -"

"What the hell, Lex? Whose side are you on?"

"It's what she'll say."

"And I'll tell her what I'll tell you - - If I can deal with it, she can. And you're not nearly as badass as either one of you think you are."

Lex lifted a brow, possibly taking offense at the underestimation, possibly impressed by Clark's conviction. It was hard to tell, when Lex had on his bland face.

"I think I need to talk to her tonight."

Lex shrugged.

Clark sighed, wondering just how delusional Lex really was that he considered Clark the high maintenance one in this relationship.

"I'll come over after."

"If you want."

"I'll want."


Probably he shouldn't have abandoned Lex to talk to Chloe, but honestly after her interruption, there was no way they were going to sink back into the relaxed mood they'd been in before she'd arrived. Certainly Clark wasn't capable of it. God knew under what sort of stressful circumstances Lex could perform.

Clark would make it up to him. Tonight. Tomorrow night. As many nights as it took. But he had to deal with Chloe now.

He gave her enough time to get home. To get into her apartment and maybe stand with her back to the door for a few minutes trying to wrap her mind around what she'd no doubt been turning over and over in her head on the drive home. He knew Chloe. He knew how she thought.

He knocked at her door and didn't even have to use his x-ray vision to know she was leaning there. He could feel the solidity of her weight when his knuckles rapped the wood. It took a moment for her to open it though.

When she did, she had on a fake smile. Eyes big and green and spewing false levity.

"Hey, Clark. I should have called first. Don't I feel the fool for walking in on something I shouldn't have?"

"Chloe. . ."

She waved a hand at him. "Don't mind me, I'm just tired. I was out all day interviewing runners in the 10 K race today and . . "

"Chloe!" he caught her shoulders, making her look up at him and maybe she felt as utterly lost as he did, because her mouth trembled a little and her eyes teared up. He'd hurt her and he'd never meant to and he didn't know how to make it better because it wasn't like he could change how he felt or who he felt it for and that made him feel guilty too.

"I didn't know how to tell you. Anything else - - but I couldn't figure out how to say this - -"

"Oh, God, Clark. Its not like you have to apologize," she rattled off, nerves making her talk a mile a minute. "It's not like there's anything wrong with being gay. Maybe it makes me feel even a little better, knowing there was a good reason I never had any chance with you."

She was trying to make him feel better, even though her eyes were watering. God. He shut his own and wished he was someplace else.

"It wasn't like I had it figured out back then," he muttered and her eyebrows went up and she laughed painfully.

"Yeah, I guess not, with all the Lana lusting. How did - - I mean when did you - - How did this happen?"

Wasn't that a loaded question? He wished he knew. Oh, the catalyst was clear as day and probably pissed at him, halfway back to the penthouse by now, but before that? How much repression did it take to convince yourself so thoroughly you wanted something that deep down you really didn't?

"I don't know, Chloe. It sorta snuck up on me." Out of the blue. On its knees in front of him in a LuthorCorp executive office. But really, he'd have taken that offering, one way or another, anytime during the last eight years and maybe come to the same conclusion.

"Snuck up on you?" Chloe narrowed her eyes, turning things over in her head. "Snuck up on you maybe around the time Lex found out about your secret?"

"Yeah," he admitted a little hoarsely. "Around that time."

"God, Clark, if you're gay, that's all fine and good - - it explains all the lack of action on your part, when come on, let's face it, people of the female persuasion have been tripping over themselves to get a look from you for years and failed - - but Lex Luthor? Isn't that a little like sleeping with the enemy? Do I even need to remind you some of the things he's done?"

"Chloe," he said softly. "Lex is complicated. Lex has issues and really, dark, dark gray areas, but he's working on it. And I need you not to make this into something where I have to take sides, because I really don't want to."

"Because you wouldn't take mine." She said quietly.

"Don't make it about that. I love you, Chloe - -" "Like a sister."

"Yeah. Please don't let this ruin our friendship."

She wiped the wetness from her cheeks and gave him a defiant look. "You think I'm that shallow? I don't care what type of sexual you are, and just because you've got questionable taste in boyfriends, doesn't mean I don't still love you, too, big idiot. And you can tell him, that if he messes with you, he'll have me to deal with."

"I'll pass that along." Relief. It fluttered out, hopeful of a firm foothold. This hadn't gone so bad after all.

"So, have you told your mother?"

Of course that ruined it . . .

"Well, she did it."

Clark showed up about a foot behind Lex as he was considering pouring a finger's worth of scotch into a tumbler. He hadn't so much as heard the terrace doors open. It was embarrassing to admit that after four months of Clark's abrupt arrivals and departures, it still took Lex a moment to recover from the shock.

"You were right. She used logic and reason and completely talked me out of you."

"Really?" Lex sat the empty tumbler down and turned within the minimal space between Clark and the bar to look at him.

"Yeah, she hit on all your points, and had a few more good ones and I just saw reason."

"Do tell? Elaborate, please."

Clark grinned and edged closer than the foot that separated them. He smelled faintly of fresh paint. There were a few tiny specks of it in his hair that Lex hadn't noticed earlier, some under his fingernails.

"She called you my boyfriend."

"And that turned you off?" Lex lifted a brow.

"That made me think, wow, is he? Are you?"

Lex hesitated, thinking about that scotch, but weeks had bled into months and Clark had shown no signs of coming to his senses. And even though Lex's past experience screamed, 'don't put a name on it. Don't make it official, because there's no such thing as permanency' he supposed 'boyfriend' was a loose enough term not to warrant a death knell.

He smiled, secreting away the fears and conceded. "I've been called worse things."

"So that would make me yours?"

"If you can live with the infamy."

"I think I'll survive."

"Are you okay - - with Chloe knowing?" He tailed the back of his hand up Clark's forearm and felt the fine hairs stir in his wake.

"Yeah. I am. It's a relief."

"It always is - - sharing the truth."

Clark canted a look at him, trying to decide whether that was a dig at him or simply honest insight.

Lex closed the rest of the distance, slid his hands under Clark's elbows to his back. There were a few little holes in the back of the t-shirt, time worn damage. If he slipped a finger in, he could feel Clark's skin.

He backed Clark up a few steps, trying to decide, couch or bedroom. Tomorrow was Monday. Clark had work, he had an early flight out for spec analysis and contract negotiation talks in Cape Kennedy. Bed seemed the wiser choice.

Bed and sleep that probably wouldn't find them for some time to come. It never did, when they were alone and skin was bared. They undressed. Clark was quicker, generally having less care for his clothes, and little care for Lex's if he was in the grasp of too urgent a passion. Lex liked the buttons on his shirts where they belonged, and zippers that weren't mangled on his pants. His tailor was seeing a great deal of unusual repair work these days.

Clark waited while Lex folded his pants, maybe drawing it out a little longer just to see how far Clark's patience would stretch. And it lasted till the slacks were across the bench at the end of the bed, then Clark pushed him back, burrowing his face in his neck, mouth finding the pulse. The tongue scraped down, teeth nipping and teasing along the way and Lex arched off the bed as much as he could with Clark's weight half over him. He ran his hands down Clark's back, pressing fingers into hard flesh, slid them underneath, between them and found the hot, smooth shape of his cock. Clark made a sound that made little thrills of satisfaction race down Lex's spine.

Clark rose up, to get a better leverage and Lex shoved at his shoulder, in the mood to see Clark on his back tonight and Clark's tanned thighs spread around him. Clark was game. Clark was always game. He sprawled back, tousled black hair, big, liquid eyes and kiss-reddened mouth. Irresistible. Inexplicable. Perfect.

Lex slid up his body, fastening his mouth on one coppery nipple, grinding his cock across Clark's, slow and torturous. Clark whimpered a little, fingers grasping Lex's hips. Clark's patience was less defined that Lex's and the foreplay had stared hours ago, in an empty apartment and both of them needed closure.

Lex grinned a little, a feral feeling smile, and pushed himself up, leaning over Clark for the night table drawer and the lubricant. He slicked himself, kneeling there between Clark's legs, and got a leg under his elbow and pushed in. Clark hummed in satisfaction and shoved up to meet him. It was easy to drown in Clark. In hard muscle and leashed, incomprehensible power, sublimely offered up. So easy to lose thought and reason in the union and seek the oblivion that Clark offered. The absolution.

They sprawled afterwards, Lex half atop Clark, damp skin cooling in filtered air, the stickiness of Clark's come on both their stomachs. A shower would be a nice thing. A wonderful thing, and he'd get up in a few minutes, when his limbs had strength again and take one.

He rolled to the side, onto his back and lay there breathing. Clark's hand slid across his, fingers twining. Lex almost started, Clark's little affections sometimes catching him off guard. He tightened his fingers in the grip, sealing it and Clark sighed, shut his eyes and drifted.

Lex watched him, the fringe of black lashes against the taut skin of his cheeks, the relaxed softness of lips, a small smudge of what might have been soot below the fleshy part of his ear, the easy rise and fall of chest in the rhythm of sleep.

Easy to rouse, easy to sleep as if Clark seldom had nightmares to keep him up. Lex did. But they were fewer than they had been and mostly left him on the nights Clark slept in his bed. One more good reason to have Clark there, as often as possible - - or to sleep in his, when he had one. Tomorrow, when he was on the plane, Lex would see about ordering a few things. Clark had given him leave and hadn't had the time or the forethought to add strict limitations.

Lex could argue semantics for days.