Thanks to chat for all the help on opera, Bethy for the name.
Lex hands Clark the tiny pair of--opera glasses.
"To see with," he explains, turning them carefully. "Otherwise, all you'll get is sound. Which is nice, but the woman you're looking for is going to be doing a solo and you might want to actually know what she looks like before dinner."
Clark nods, letting Lex show him how to hold them, vaguely aware that in the other boxes, people are watching. Behind them in the shadows, Mercy, flawless and frighteningly beautiful in dark purple, is polishing her gun with a lot of enthusiasm. Hope's standing just outside, tiny headset in one ear, while Lex's people take up key positions for watching out for sudden, random assassinations.
Clark thinks the opera would be a good place to do it, too. Lots of people, easy clear shots, and huge amounts of noise.
Lex is slouching into his chair, already bored. A bored Lex is a very scary Lex.
"You hate *Carmen*." Frankly, Clark's impressed he remembers the name.
"I hate the opera, symphony, name anything where you have to sit still three hours straight, and I'll wish for my own death." Lex flashes him a brilliant smile. The booth doesn't seem quite so dark. "However, deals are negotiated everywhere and anywhere."
"Business." Right, because even recreation is business.
"Politics, too. Cassius told me you didn't pick up your results."
Clark puts down the tiny glasses, giving Lex a look. "Did you ask him what they said?"
"He's very into his entire doctor/patient confidentiality thing." Lex sounds both amused and frustrated. "But he said to tell you to pick them up, one, and two, not to worry, so I assume you aren't dying of anything."
"That's nice." So Clark's a coward sometimes. Needles and test results. Sighing, he leans back into the heavy leather chair, replaying the moment Lex had walked into his apartment and saw Lois. Quick flash--uncomfortable as hell in a way, amusing in another. Right, maybe not in love, but definitely something.
Maybe you never quite get over some old lovers, especially the ones you wanted to marry. Slumping a little, Clark tries to focus on the stage. Damn bad human eyesight.
Warm fingers close over his hand, and Clark looks up to see Lex watching him. "What?"
"Nothing." No smile, but the blue eyes darken. "Just wondering how visible this booth is to the rest of the place." The slow lift of one side of Lex's mouth makes Clark shiver, sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. Looking away, he fixes his gaze on the stage before his pants get tight.
The soft sound of a chair moving tells him Lex has shifted closer, the elegant fingers lacing through his. "Chloe's watching us." Lex sounds amused.
Clark tries to scan discreetly, but well, human eyesight. Sucks. Fuck. Lex leans to murmur in his ear, "Two o'clock, sitting with the editor of the Inquisitor, his wife, and her brother."
"Why--" Clark turns his head, and they're close enough to kiss. It takes everything in him not to do just that.
"Why do you think?" Lex grins, then does what Clark couldn't quite, brushing a kiss across his mouth before settling back. "You haven't talked to her yet?"
Clark grimaces. "Lois took my cellphone and said to worry about it tomorrow."
"Smart woman. There's Daniel. Ah, and look, he's with the mayor's daughter." Lex matches the wave, shaking his head. "He'll never be in Lois' class. Too blatant. Smile, Clark. Your picture is being taken."
"Am I blushing?" He can feel the heat in his cheeks, and it's not helping that Lex's thumb has started a suggestive rhythm in the center of his palm. Achingly slow circles, punctuated with a gentle press into the center, reminding Clark--
"Yes. Very prettily, too." Lex is laughing quietly. "Did Lois warn you?"
"Yes." Forcing his face to remain pleasant, Clark turns enough to see Lex's eyes. "I can take care of myself. I *am* a reporter, Lex. I'm sort of aware of how this goes."
"You're an investigative reporter. There's a difference between being asked, are you responsible for the latest radioactive spill in the Caribbean and being asked, does Luthor like to be on top or on bottom."
Okay, full blush time. "Jesus. How the hell did Lois handle it?"
Lex chuckles. "Dislocated jaw and two broken fingers."
"The reporter that asked?"
Clark can see it. Grinning a little, Clark surveys the room again. "How much security do you usually have?"
"This is higher than usual." Lex sounds slightly distant, like he's thinking about something else all of a sudden. "I didn't want this to be too bad for you."
Hmm. That's not all, though Clark thinks it's part of it, which is both warming and a little disturbing.
"Are you going to assign me bodyguards?"
Lex flashes a quick grin. "You won't know if I do."
Great. "What else do I have to look forward to?"
"Intermissions. People will come here. Chloe most likely as well. Take her down for champagne and have a talk with her if you want. Mercy's been assigned to watch you, so if anything goes badly--"
"She's my friend!" Clark hears the squeak in his voice and shuts his mouth tight. Lex gives him an amused look.
"Yes, she is, and her first instinct will be to protect you. From me, from anyone else. Her second instinct will be to get the story. She's in a bad place, personally and professionally. Lois doesn't cover this kind of crap, so she doesn't have the conflict of interest that Chloe's got as the Inquisitor's best reporter. But I'll bet you Lois called Chloe and gave warning to play carefully tonight." Lex leans back into his chair again, scanning the other boxes.
"She's got someone at The Daily Planet."
"Chloe's got someone everywhere." Lex's fingers tighten in his. "Lois told you no interviews, nothing on the record?"
"Yes." Clark frowns a little. "I don't--Lex, you're running for office--"
"Yes." Supremely unconcerned. So very not-Lex that Clark has to think how to approach this.
"You don't think, in Kansas, not exactly known for its support of political aspirants having anything resembling a sex life, it might have been smarter to be more discreet? What with the fact you just divorced your wife and a day later, you've already--"
"Yes and no." Lex frowns. "I can run again, if it comes to that, but I can't lose in Metropolis, and as for the rest of the state--" Lex shrugs. "LexCorp employs millions all over the world. The other two candidates have managed to fuck up their chances with the last session of the Legislature and that farming bill and they're way too conservative for the current political climate attitudes." Okay, that's interesting. "Unless I'm found guilty of the murder of a hospital of orphaned babies, I really don't think I'll have any problems."
See, these are the moments Clark wonders about Lex's sanity.
"What about the presidency?" Like he doesn't know Lex's greatest ambition. It's nothing less than shocking that Lex shrugs.
"That's years away. By then they'll be used to you."
*By then they'll be used to you.*
Something in Clark tightens instinctively, warm and frightening and a little dizzying, like looking down from the balcony at his apartment these days. "Lex--"
"Shh. It's starting." He's right, the lights are dropping and things are going on down near the stage. Picking up his opera glasses with his free hand, Clark tries to concentrate.
Lex is right about the intermissions. He's introduced to more people than he knew *existed*, and after this many years as a reporter, that's saying something. Lex's hand on his back is both grounding and somewhat disconcerting--this is Lex, guarder of his personal privacy to a truly obsessive degree, making no secret of the fact that only days after his divorce, he's dating.
Dating, by the way, a male. Reporter.
It's almost a relief when Chloe appears, pretty and sharp in silver silk, watching him from behind completely unreadable blue eyes. Lex leans over almost immediately.
"Go take her for a walk, Clark. Just be back here before the curtains open. Mercy will lead you back if you get lost."
Nodding, Clark slips away, the people parting magically before him--Mercy's good for that--and Clark takes her extended arm, painfully aware of all the eyes watching him as they go down the narrow hall. She's quiet until they're down at the lobby, and Clark takes a glass of champagne from a waiter with something like desperation, handing it over to Chloe before taking one himself.
He's going to need it, he thinks.
The blue eyes narrow as they glance around, then she pulls him toward a corner. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Clark?"
So many flippant responses, so many ways to get his toes broken by her very elegant heels. Taking a drink, Clark tries to think.
"I'm dating." Yes, that sounds--completely ridiculous. "You said I needed a life, after all." Right, turning this on her will work. Sure thing.
If possible, her mouth tightens even more. "Cut the crap, Clark. You know exactly what I mean. One minute, you're doing exposes for The Daily Planet, the next, you're fucking the subject of them?" Taking another drink, her eyes scan around behind him and instantly, she plasters on a bright smile. They're being watched. Got it. Dropping her voice even more, she continues. "Clark, what happened with you and Lois?"
"Nothing. Nothing ever happened, and God, what, do you and Lex have the same idiot working for you at the Planet or something?" God, Mom might have heard that rumor. He won't think about that now, though it puts a new reflection on her latest phone calls that he's been avoiding. "Look, Chloe--"
"You're dating a man--"
"I know exactly what I'm doing."
Taking a drink, Chloe's smile widens even further, revealing perfect dentistry. Clark breathes out, so glad he's not strong enough anymore to accidentally breaks fine crystal currently clutched in his hand.
"You're compromising yourself as a reporter," she says very carefully, obviously going for another spot. A pretty good one, too. "Clark, everything you write from now on is suspect--"
"So I don't do any more exposes related to LexCorp. Believe it or not, news is made by other companies and organizations. I'm not going to be out of work or anything."
"Lois is compromised--"
"Oh please. Lois broke up with him--if anything, her integrity is above reproach just on that fact. My professional life and public life are separate, Chloe." Wouldn't Lois have said something? Clark shifts uncomfortably, taking another drink.
"This is a mistake and you know it, Clark. Daniel hasn't slept since that oh so fucking conspicuous little lunch date you two had yesterday." Clark flushes, but by the look on her face, she's not aware of the less conspicuous alley thing. "Your mom's called me four times to find out what on earth is going on. They've taken their phone off the hook, so you'll have to call on their cell phone. Do you have any idea--"
"You didn't notice I grew up, did you?"
Chloe snorts. "Not visibly." Her eyes fix on his collar suddenly. "I got an exclusive with Lex's ex-wife."
Clark's breath catches.
"If I don't run it, I'll be tainted, Clark. My editor is on my ass to get the first interview with you before Lois gets it--"
"Yes, this is beneath her, I know the litany." Chloe's smile fades briefly before she replaces it. "Heads up, friend to friend. The former Mrs. Luthor is considering naming you as the reason her marriage fell apart. Now do you understand how serious this is?"
Clark really needs more champagne. Looking briefly at his empty glass, he glances around, waving over a waiter. Chloe takes one, too, and they sip and stare at the floor.
"Bad enough. She's angry, Clark. Lex filed for divorce and pushed it through so fast she barely had time to wonder what the fuck was happening before the judge signed the order. Lex didn't even fight the prenup agreement, and he fought it the time before straight through the courts. Of course, Linda had the adultery thing, but--do you know how this looks?"
"Like he was getting rid of her."
"Yes. For you. How the fuck he got through all the red tape I have no idea, and how that judge thinks that blatant currying favor is going to help win re-election, even with all the money Lex probably paid him…." Chloe trails off, looking at the floor again. "Luthor's very good with his public image. If I didn't know better, I'd think he's slipping. This is going to be damaging as hell."
Clark takes a deep breath.
"You know what he is, Clark. Of all people--"
"I know." He really does, stuff that Chloe doesn't even know. So much. Finishing his glass, Clark spots Mercy coming toward them and takes Chloe's glass, handing both to a passing waiter. "Come on, I'll walk you back to your seat. Curtain--"
"Don't." She pulls away from his hand so fast Clark almost stumbles. "Daniel's over there and he's hoping for just that opportunity. You know what to do--"
"No comments, no interviews. Got it."
"Good." Stepping close, both arms go around him, sweet smelling Chloe with a hint of smoke and the thick musk of too many bodies in close confinement. "Be careful."
"All right." She pauses, stepping back, suddenly uncertain. Something hardens as he watches. "Tell Lex the story runs tomorrow morning. He'd better have something good to counter it." With another bright smile, she walks away, stopping briefly at this group or another to chat, and Clark takes a breath, letting Mercy slide her arm through his. Deceptively fragile, but she's faster than anyone he's ever seen. Except Superman, of course, who doesn't exist. Now murmuring into her headset, hidden by the folds of hair and dress.
Lex looks--tense. Very tense, and Clark gets a glimpse of something like rage before he sees Clark. Nodding sharply at Mercy, Lex extricates himself from conversation as the first dim of the lights makes it clear it's time to get back to your seat. Lex's hand closes over his wrist as he talks, before turning away, eyes going all around the building before he settles back in his chair, pulling Clark down with him.
Hmm. Their chairs are very close together.
"Something wrong?" Clark asks lightly.
"I could ask you the same thing."
Tell Lex, she said. "An interview with your ex-wife is running tomorrow." Lex says something that's definitely not English or polite. "Senators' daughters take it personally when they're divorced without explanation."
"There's reason," Lex answers, mouth tightening. "Clever girl. Chloe did the interview?"
Lex's hand slides over his wrist, losing the death grip, becoming more absently caressing. "I'll handle it."
"There's no way you can pay off the editor for this one."
Lex laughs. "You're right about that. This will sell them out. No, I--" Lex shakes his head. "Fuck it. If she gets off playing victim, that's fine."
Clark takes a breath, about to mention the rest, but--no. There's no way she can prove anything about Clark being around to cause her marriage to fall apart--hell, Clark had been in the Arctic, staring at gold kryptonite when Lex had first filed the divorce papers. Settling back, Clark turns his hand over enough for Lex's fingers to skate across the palm, shivering a little at the feeling.
"How much longer?" he says quietly, and Lex gives him a slow, sleepy smile.
"I'll make it worth the wait."
Clark feels himself flush at the promise.
Happy New Year! *hugs everyone*