Now that I have official permission and all....
It's a form of completely unheard-of wrongness that Lex's secretary, Lauren, who once shot at Superman with Kryptonite bullets, *smiles* at his advent.
"Go right in, Mr. Kent," she says, picking up the phone with a cheery shake of a very blonde head, ringlets bouncing. He doesn't trust the ringlets. She's five two, weighs less than a hamster soaking wet, and can kill a man in under five seconds. Lex likes his people multi-talented. "He's expecting you."
Chinese food does not minister to a mind diseased, nor does Lois when she's in the mood to make his life a living hell. Chopsticks were a new phenomenon without super-reflexes--it turns out he really is naturally clumsy, Kryptonite or no-Kryptonite--and Clark, stares hard at the polished wooden door, wishes wistfully for heat vision again.
Adjusting the now-necessary glasses, Clark considers snapping something out, but she's better with the witty comebacks than anyone but Lois. Taking a deep breath, he tightens his grip on his notepad and thinks calming thoughts. Of bear-massacres and shredded orchids, and Lex that one time that Superman held him over the edge of a building, the time with that stupid plot involving dolphins and bizarre uses of sonic, but it doesn't help much, because one, Superman hadn't dropped Lex, and two, Lex's suit didn't even look rumpled afterward.
Clark opens the door and steps onto fine mosaic tile--probably something Alexander the Great either owned, wanted to own, or considered owning at some point in his short reign over the known world. Lex would know this--probably by this time he's found some psychic to work full time channeling Alexander just for the purposes of giving Lex good advice or sharing world conquest jokes. That might explain a lot.
Fixing his gaze on the floor, Clark flips the door shut--it's still kind of new that full strength no longer means instant destruction, so really, he can slam doors now, and it's comforting to hear it hit with a beautiful loud clatter. Oh yes. Better. Petty as hell, but better.
"Clark." The voice is--pretty much Lex. Smooth like caramel, dark like chocolate, and if Lois had ever shown even the slightest hint of precognitivity or a real feel for his weak spots, he'd say she'd eaten that candy deliberately. "Come in, please."
"Mr. Luthor." Even to himself, he sounds petulant and just on this side of bratty. Well, good. "You asked for an interview." Oh hell, is he really going to play along? Looking up, he sees the smirk--vintage stuff, like fine wine, it only gets better with age, even if Lex hasn't aged to speak of. Maybe the feel of power's stronger, and right, the morals have seriously gone to hell, but--well. He's still Lex. Still lounging in two thousand dollar suits in indecently large leather chairs behind far too-wide desks, the very picture of relaxed and indulgent sophistication.
Oh yeah. Slamming down in the wide, offensively comfortable leather chair across from Lex, Clark tries out a glare. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Sitting." Head cocked, Lex studies him with so much blatancy that Clark feels vaguely underdressed. "How are you?"
"Fine, great, and Smallville, by the way, is losing oxygen by the second, what with the denuding of anything floral." Oh, he's petty and really not great at the witticisms. Closing his eyes, Clark takes a deep breath. "Mr. Luthor--"
"Lex." Lex leans both elbows onto the desk, fixing him with a warm, personal look of true interest. The sort of interest that got socialites out of their underwear, managed to get Lois out of hers, and at sixteen, could have peeled the boxers right off of Clark's completely unprotesting legs in the time it took to light a cigar. "Clark. Really. Relax."
"There's a bear by my desk."
Lex's mouth twitches from the practiced smile. The bastard is about to laugh. "Do you like it?"
Clark hadn't really got past the utter humiliation to decide on that. "That's not the point. You can't--" Clark stops. *Can't* isn't a word in Lex's vocabulary. Like *shouldn't* and *couldn't* and *wouldn't*. "Lex, if this is some sort of--I mean--" It just sounded weird. Lex, are you hitting on me? Lex, is this your idea of foreplay? Lex, it's been years and remember the time I broke all your really cool toys and you said you'd cut out my heart? With a Kryptonite spoon?
Taking a breath, Clark braces both feet on the floor.
"You do still know the meaning of the word 'no', right?" Thing is, Lex might not. Looking up from beneath his bangs--he really needs a haircut--he watches Lex study him. Like a chessboard, maybe, or a particular area of unclaimed land that needs conquering real damn soon.
Or like--well, like he's looking at Clark, too. Like he sees *him*, not Superman, and Clark doesn't miss the hatred or the anger or the barely checked violence that has always simmered beneath the surface of every one of their encounters for so long that sometimes, Clark thinks that those years in Smallville were some kind of Kryptonite-induced hallucination.
It's a lot like being seventeen again, and that's where Clark stops the train of thought completely. Another breath, and he thinks about reaching for his notepad, but that'd be pretty silly at this point.
"Why? You didn't win. I withdrew. Different thing."
"Different thing," Lex agrees, and the smirk vanishes like it was never there at all. "It's just dinner, Clark--"
"Lex? You do remember I actually have a pretty good idea about your dating life, though the bear thing's new. I--" Clark stops, wondering if he can say the words. He can, actually. Leave me alone. I don't want you. I'm engaged to the most brilliant woman in the world.
Lies are easy for him. Always have been. The point of this entire thing was to bring that to a stop, and Clark bites his tongue on the words.
"Dinner, Clark. We can talk." Lex picks up a pen from the edge of the desk, running it lightly between his fingers. He's nervous, which is something on the order of a minor miracle, but the thing that makes Clark pause, Lex is letting it show. To him. "That's all I want, Clark."
Clark Kent hasn't seen the real Lex in far too long. Even this--too-polished, too-calm, too-reasonable, and too-damn smooth--is closer to the real thing than anything Lex has been since Smallville.
"Aren't you trying to conquer the Pacific Rim tonight?" That's--not even close to being snide, and Clark leans back in his chair, watching Lex watch him. And the pen that's stationed between those long fingers is bending under the stress that shows nowhere else, even in Lex's eyes.
Lex isn't playing. At least, not in any way that's familiar to Clark Kent or Superman.
"Dinner." Clark can hear Lois' voice in his head, hear his dad's too, but Lois wins, per usual. She's just louder that way. And a hell of a lot closer. "What time?"
The pen is pushed aside like it wasn't almost bent in half.
"I'll pick you up at seven." And right, jaded sophistication isn't supposed to show relief, but it's there. It's Lex, and Clark knows every mood, every twitch, and it's as obvious as a shout.
"From the Planet. I have to--finish this." Clark looks at his notebook and sighs. He still has an interview to go. Oh damn. "Okay, interview now?"
Gesturing expansively, Lex settles back in his chair, giving Clark a smile that could light up the world. Clark feels a shiver run up his spine at the feel of it, remembering getting that look anytime he wanted it once upon a time. "Go right ahead."
Lex sends him back in a car--Aston Martin, no huge surprise, and the driver, Mercy, keeps giving him suspiciously friendly looks every time their eyes meet. Frankly, it's creepy as hell, but then again, Clark's doubted Mercy's ability for independent thought for years now. She's like this feminine extension of Lex with breasts, or so the cut of her coat suggests. Mumbling something like thank-you, Clark gets out in front of the newspaper, noting Lois, cigarette in hand, chatting with someone from The Inquisitor, but her head turns at the sight of him. Her eyes flicker, telling him, don't let anyone see you, Clark. Unless you want to be front page news.
Clark ducks through the swarm of people on afternoon break, approaching the glass doors like it's any day of the week. He wonders if the fact he's just accepted a date with the archnemesis of the world is written somewhere on his skin like invisible ink. Visible in just the right light or whenever Lois' eyes fix on him too long.
"Clark." Oh hell, he knows that Inquisitor employee. Chloe's buddy Daniel, Jimmy's favorite rival, and possibly the third most annoying human being ever born. Turning with a sigh, Clark watches Lois' eyes narrow as she takes him in, then a slow lift of the corner of her mouth, asking a question, a merrily arched eyebrow that confirms his short, defeated nod in answer.
Like she ever thought anything else.
"Hey, Daniel." Letting the door fall shut with a feeling a lot like doom, Clark turns to face them. Daniel's a lot like a puppy--bouncy, eager to please, but with sharp teeth hidden behind the goofy, gape-mouthed grin, and a mind almost as sharp as Lois'. He fools people like that, and while Clark can't like him, even for Chloe's sake, he does respect him. "I thought you'd be covering the NASA press conference.
"Nah. Got a new kid that Chloe wanted to break in." A shrug of tweed-clad shoulders, and Daniel settles beside him, taking out another cigarette. Lois saunters up, and Daniel's eyes flicker down her body like a conquest waiting to happen.
Oh, stupid. Lois hates that.
Leaning into the rough brick wall, Lois blows out a slow line of smoke like she's warming up her mouth for the oral sex Olympics. Whoa. Clark sucks in a slow breath and Daniel's eyes glaze over.
"Daniel heard about the interview," Lois drawls, tossing it out with all the power of a bomb wrapped in a blanket. Nice. He's seen Lois use every weapon in her arsenal to get a story, but never to keep one from happening. "I was telling him about your history."
Her eyes hold his, and the simple, clean explanation is there. Also, the fact that the body count in the Daily Planet will jump when she finds out who leaked the information to the Inquisitor. Clark could almost pity whoever she discovers.
"You knew Luthor from Smallville?" Daniel asked, shaking his gaze free of Lois' mouth with some difficulty.
"A little," Clark answers, thinking fast. "When we were kids. Lois, I have to get that report to Perry. Did you want--"
"Sure, Smallville." The butt flicks out, just missing Daniel's shoulder when he moves. "Sorry, Daniel, duty calls. See ya." Leaning past Clark, she pulls the door open and Clark ducks inside, Lois on his heels like a frighteningly beautiful bodyguard. The second the glass shuts between them and Daniel, she gives him a look under her lashes that says, you're going to spill everything. And she's right.
But, business first.
"What did you get?"
Clark pulls out his notebook, letting Lois look it over with sharp eyes.
"Good job. You covered the ETA lawsuit and the pending monopoly investigation." Looking up, she hands it back, finishing with an easy stride to the elevator that human Clark legs have issues keeping up with these days. "This'll be your first solo front-pager, kiddo."
Clark stumbles in shock.
The dark head turns as she jabs a finger into the button.
"You've heard of it, right? It's the page that isn't A-16, where articles sometimes appear if they're interesting. Come on, we've managed it together before." A flash of wide white teeth follow the pronouncement like it's the most natural thing in the world.
"This?" He waves the notebook a little wildly, but really, can anyone blame him for being a little off-balance? This has been a really damn weird week. Hysteria should be in his future. Or a padded room. "Why--"
"NASA will have headline, but this?" She flicks her nails at him like she's trying to get dust off the tips, and the door slides open. "Daniel's drooling through his capped teeth. No one gets this and you did."
Oh damn. Taking a breath, Clark follows her as the elevator door opens.
"I'm going to be front page news soon, aren't I?" Clark asks, leaning into the back wall as she hits the correct button.
"Never here." The dark voice softens a little, sharp eyes fixing on him. "But yeah, the second Chloe gets back, your ass is grass. Whoever the hell she has at the Planet probably told everything that's happened, even if Luthor was smart enough to keep his name off the tags. Though when I find out who leaked the interview information--" The full mouth tightens almost imperceptibly, and Clark feels a sudden start of pity for the person or persons responsible. "Never mind. Ralph should be back tomorrow with more details, but I downloaded the livefeed and compressed it for you to look over. Did the--" She stops, frowning slightly. "Have you contacted up north by any chance?"
Well, that would be logical, so of course not. He's still getting used to the fact the first water in the morning in his shower is fucking *cold* and he has to brush his teeth or there will be cavities in his future. Remembering Lois' three days of toothache, he's not exactly eager to find out what that's like. Blinking, Clark considers.
"I don't think I can get back in physically. It's matched to--a different set of prints." DNA changes, that is, and he really hadn't thought much about this, had he? "I can log in through my laptop and see if there's anything, but I checked the math again last night. It doesn't look dangerous."
"Hmm." Lois' mouth purses, rubbing her thumb idly into the gold woven bracelet curved around one wrist. Her itchy look, though Clark's never told her that. He likes the way his face is arranged, thank you very much. "Clark, do you remember a few years ago, when we had all those blackouts?"
"Live Wire." Not a memory Clark treasures either.
"Right." Another slow rub, and Lois' eyes glaze a little. "Leaving out the part where you didn't tell me everything you knew--"
"--remember how there was a pattern that no one could see?"
"You saw it."
"No, I didn't. I just paid attention to the reports." Yes. Because Lois doesn't believe in intuition at all, no matter the she's the case that could prove its existence to any skeptic out there. "You found it. It's--that same feeling now. I've read everything in the public feeds and your analysis, though God knows, I'm not exactly a physicist." She pauses, tongue sliding out to lick her upper lip. "I was watching the feed. The military's acting fine. The spokesman for NASA, Eldritch, was fine. So was most of the NASA staff who was called up to discuss the situation. Dr. Rhinestadt wasn't."
Whoa. The ping of the elevator catches them, but Clark hits the stop button, holding the door closed. Rhinestadt is the best of the theoretical astrophysicists. People bent over *backwards* to hire him after he earned his dual doctorate in astrophysics and astronomy at the ripe old age of twenty. He makes Lex look like a slacker. Barely.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know." The crease between her brows is as good as confirmation. "You're not worried, the government isn't worried, the Justice League isn't worried, and I'm not worried, either. But Rhinestadt is and he's not telling why."
"Got it while you were gone. Tomorrow at two. I'm flying out in the morning." Another frown, before she glances at the door. "Open up, Smallville. Your boyfriend's toys are all safely put away--orchids to the hospital, bear to your apartment. Tell me I can be there when your dad sees it."
Clark bangs his head into the wall, then winces at the sharp pain. Damn humanity anyway. Lois' smirk is unreal.
"By the way, from the look on your face, I'm guessing you have a date tonight."
She steps out of the elevator, once again completely at ease, a hand stroking down the fine wool of her skirt and straightening her jacket. Jesus. Taking a breath, Clark steps out, aware he's yet again the center of attention. Furtive attention--Lois is watching. Head down, he feels his shoulders slump under the weight of all those eyes as he follows her down the aisle, finding their desks by dint of stopping when Lois does. His chair's close enough to fall into, and he busies himself straightening an already immaculate desk. Someone cleaned up the water and stacked his folders up neatly.
"Perry's expecting your report," Lois says softly before turning to her computer. "The bit with Rhinestadt from the press conference is in your email. Look it over when you get back and tell me what you think."
If he can log into the Fortress, he can send it there after and see what it picks up. It's gotten pretty good at analyzing subconscious human physical cues.
"How sure are you?" Clark asks, but it's a rhetorical question. Lois doesn't believe in instincts, never has, but that doesn't change the fact she *has* them, so sharply developed they're as much a part of her as the intelligence and the drive.
"Sure enough that I canceled my vacation time next week," she answers quietly, not looking at him. "I'm running a background check on Rhinestadt as we speak."
Clark nods slowly, standing up.
"Oh, and I sent your good suit to the cleaners. Where's your boyfriend picking you up?"
Clark grits his teeth together. She really won't let this go.
"My *friend* is picking me up *here*." Taking a breath, Clark lets it out slowly. He should have said, I'll meet you there, Lex. Except Clark's car is--embarrassing. So very, very embarrassing. He should have thought to ask to borrow Lois' convertible. Or something.
"Oh good. Pick up your suit at five from Wallington's." Lois had a way about her with dry cleaners. A flash of teeth, a show of strength, and they roll over like--logs. Or some comparison Clark's brain is too confused to handle. Giving a long, dark look to the back of her head, Clark stalks by her towards Perry's office, notes in hand. He can hear her whistle off-key as he walks down the aisle.
Right, work. Let's get to it.
*hugs to everyone* Merry Christmas Eve! And Christmas too, what the heck.
*edited to fix LJ link*