Okay, I swear, I will answer comments, I promise. I am totally squeeing over them, really. *hugs* I apologize for the lateness.
Okay, and next.
"How convenient," Lois says over pasta, stabbing at the innocent bowl like she's envisioning Clark's head. He swallows hard, tearing his into his breadstick. "Oh! Did you say, hey, I know *all* about that link between Cassius and Rhinehardt, and here are my notes. And by the way, I've got a friend working *right now* to find out what's up, so why don't you make some calls and put some roadblocks in his way?"
Clark supposes he deserves this.
"Jesus, Kent. You *know* better. Did you seriously think he'd tell you?"
Clark looks up. "Would you believe me if I said I was looking for a reaction?"
"No. You were pissy at your boyfriend and said too much. Or--" Lois brutally stabs a meatball. "How did he react?"
"Weird." When Lois looks up, anger defusing in interest, Clark shrugs. "He's not worried, that much I could tell. Which is--"
"I think we've established Luthor is acting bizarrely. Further commentary on the subject isn't necessary." Lois twirls her fork in the spaghetti, mouth pursed in concentration. "Did the Fortress have an estimate on the size of the meteors? At this point, I'm open to any suggestions on why the government and LexCorp are doing this."
"Alien invasion?" Clark says, and Lois gives him a frown. "Right. No, the Fortress says the sizes seem to be well within the safety zone and the planet's defensive capabilities." Stabbing at a slice of zucchini, Clark wonders if it would be worth the aggravation and try to hack into Lex's computer. Not that Lex would leave anything even vaguely incriminating on it. "This isn't adding up at all."
"No," Lois answers slowly. She's staring at the bowl again, but the dark eyes are unfocused. "The planet's defensive capabilities…. Clark, how big is the biggest piece?"
Lois drops her fork. "How big? Did the Fortress say how big?"
Clark opens his mouth, then shuts it. "I have the exact figures on my computer. I didn't memorize them or anything. What?"
"They're not moving weapons onto the space station," Lois says slowly. "They're all on the ground. I'm--" Lois shakes her head sharply. "Jimmy's got to have something by now. I'll call and see if I can, for once, not get his voicemail." With a sigh, Lois takes a bite, chewing contemplatively. "So how was your morning?"
"I'm getting why you broke it off," Clark answers, stirring the zucchini slowly in its butter.
Lois' head tilts slightly as she puts down her fork. "And you wonder why I don't have a permanent lover."
Clark's head jerks up. "Who says this is permanent?"
"Please. You don't have casual sex. You never have. Hence your lack of a love life for so long." Lois swirls her fork in the spaghetti sauce, then shakes her head. "Come on, Clark. If all you wanted was sex, there are a hell of a lot less--obsessive fields you could be exploring. Instead, what, four days in, you're accepting a date from the one man in Metropolis whose been obsessed with you *and* your alter-ego, for what, most of your life?"
There are times he really doesn't like her much. "I didn't know--"
"What you were getting into? I'd buy that from anyone else. Not from you." Lois shrugs elegantly, taking another delicate bite. "Are you in love?"
Clark's fork skids on the plate, screeching long loud enough for Lois' eyebrows to jump, mouth quirking slightly. Clark bites down hard. It still hurts when he does that. He's got to break the habit. "Point taken."
"What are you afraid of?"
Lex? No. He's been scared *for* Lex, scared of what Lex could *do*, fucking terrified of the things Lex has achieved, but Lex himself? Clark thinks carefully, trying to find a way to say it. "The same thing that scared me when we met. He takes over everything. He wants everything. He doesn't even--I don't think he realizes that--" Clark stops. "Normal people--"
"Normal is overrated." Lois breaks a breadstick in half, dipping it into the bowl of olive oil at her elbow. "Clark--"
"He makes me want to compromise." Clark keeps his eyes fixed on his plate. This, Lois will never really understand. "He always has."
Lois lets out a slow breath. "How much?"
"Why do you think Superman and Lex Luthor are enemies?" Clark asks, pushing his fork aside. "I--" He stops, leaning his head into his hands. "That was safety, you know. Crap. Simpler life my ass. My life was a hell of a lot simpler before."
"You weren't happy."
Clark looks up. "Do I look happy now?"
Lois' slow smile worries him. "You look like someone who is worrying about the wrong things. Don't let him bully you."
"Okay, I know this is a stupid question, but in between fucking him, did you ever, you know, *talk* to him?"
The quick flare makes Clark wince. Yes, this is productive. Piss off the best friend. Running desperately between major crises is beginning to be pick up a glow of nostalgia. Right, he didn't sleep well and he was starting to contemplate Tibetan monasteries, but at least he hadn't felt like everything was falling out of his control.
"In the spirit of our continuing friendship, I'll overlook that." Lois' voice is very even, very cool, that hot temper in severe check. Glancing down, he can see what it's costing her in the slow dig of her nails into the table's edge, cutting through the tablecloth. A long second passes in utter silence.
"I know." The scratch of the chair jerks Clark's head up, and he watches Lois throw her napkin onto the table. "I have a source at MetU who has some information about the meteor shower. I'd better get over there before she changes her mind."
"I'm supposed to go with you." Clark fumbles for his wallet, finding a credit card by touch. He has to hope it's not maxed out.
"Not now." Drawing in a breath, Lois pushes the chair in carefully. "I love you. You're my best friend. Right now is not a good time. Look, call your parents and tell them that you're in the middle of a major story and you'll explain things later. Take a nap. Get in touch with Jimmy and get that information from him so we have something to go on here. Go for a walk. I really don't care. But don't even try to pass off this crap about how you aren't strong enough to deal anymore just because you're sticking to one identity." Stepping back, he watches her take another breath, mouth softening. "I'll call if anything comes up."
A quick turn, and the heels click in quiet rhythm as she leaves. Sighing, Clark hands the credit card to the waiter that appears at his wave.
The leftover zucchini looks up at him forlornly from his plate. Clark picks up his fork and pushes it in the butter, wondering if he could have handled this better. That would pretty much be a yes.
It's close to ten when the knock on his door makes him straighten. Hitting pause on the remote, Clark pads to the door, absently dropping it on the recliner by the door. When he opens, Lex is looking at him with a curious expression.
"I got your message."
For once, Lex didn't look like he was just about to go to a meeting. Lex-casual, beige slacks and white shirt, open at the collar. Beneath the cuff of his shirt, though, Clark can see his real hand is wrapped from knuckles to wrist.
"Come in." Clark steps back, looking at Lex in the better light of his living room. Fading green high on one cheekbone and pale violet around one lip. He heals fast, but there are limits, Clark knows. "What have you been doing?"
"I needed stress release," Lex says absently, looking around. Left leg, Clark thinks, noting the give in his knee, barely perceptible, and this has got to be weird as hell, because he's never, ever seen Lex injured outside their fights. "Your mother decorated, didn't she?"
The gingham curtains probably gave it away. Clark nods, closing the door and pushing the bolt into place, turning to watch Lex pace to the middle of the room. "Stop looking like you're wondering what this will look like when you've torn down the building and replaced it with a parking lot. Are you okay?"
Lex lifts his wrist, wincing when he turns it slightly. "I had a bad fall on the floor after lunch. It's a clean break. A few days and it'll be fine." An eyebrow quirks. "You've done worse."
Well, yeah. Backing off a step, Clark wonders what to say. I'm sorry, I didn't actually mean to throw you into a wall when you were doing your 'I am going to destroy this puny building with my super cool dynamite unless you accede to my demands' routine. Total accident you broke your femur and hey, all those concussions? Sorry about those, too.
"I never asked," Clark says slowly, unblinking as Lex studies him. "Do you always train with them?"
"Yes." Nothing else needed to be said, and Clark wonders how many years and breaks it was before Lex could pin Mercy like that. "They taught me and they're not afraid to hurt me to get the lesson across." Lex flexes his hand and doesn't wince. "I appreciate that."
"You hired them when you left Smallville." Clark still isn't sure about the chronology on acquiring them. One day they were just there, like they'd always been around, slipping so smoothly into position that Clark sometimes has trouble remembering Lex without them.
"That's--an unusual way to put it." Lex's head tilts. "Why are you interested?"
"I asked Mercy once." Back when Clark was still working out what the hell was going on, how life had gotten to the point where he had two identities, a mortal enemy, and a faint sense that this wasn't exactly what he'd been envisioning at sixteen when he thought about the future.
"Interesting. Did she answer?"
"No." Clark hesitates. "I--it's just--I've never fought you. Not on a level playing field. It didn't--I didn't know--" That Lex could *do* that. In theory, he knew Lex had started training from sheer self-defense. Smallville was educational that way. But Mercy and Hope had scared Clark as Superman, utterly careless of the cost if they thought they could hurt him. He can't even imagine Lex willing to take having the shit beat out of him daily until he was good enough to beat them.
"You thought I hired them because I couldn't protect myself?" Lex nods almost as if to himself, a little smile hovering at the corner of his mouth. "That's the correct impression."
That's Lex, won't give anything away. Clark stares at him. "Did I ever scare you?"
"Even knowing--" Clark stops, looking down at his hands. They used to be able to lift cars, tear through concrete, turn coal into diamonds. "I--never thought about it. Before now. You knew what I could do, Lex, even before I became Superman. It never scared you?"
"Why the hell not?" He's not scared of Lex, he can't be--but as Superman, this never came up. Kryptonite could hurt. Nothing else did. Now there's papercuts and bruised knees and stubbed toes. There's Lex, *pushing* him--and him falling. Unable to stop himself, and people can do this to him anytime they want. "Jesus. How do--"
Lex takes two steps, crossing the distance between them effortlessly, too fast for Clark's body to get time to flinch, and he's glad about that.
"How do I what?" Lex doesn't touch him, maybe sensing that Clark would move--it takes everything to stand here. "This is all new, isn't it?"
"You're just getting that? You could--you could--" Kill him. Clark. Hell, at this point, Lois could. She's had training, she has the strength, and God knows, she's got the will. Logic says he's being stupid. Logic didn't see Lex take down Mercy, though.
"Wow." Lex's voice is soft. "I didn't even think of that. You're used to being invulnerable and you're used to being absolute." Clark blinks at the almost wondering expression on Lex's face. "In every fight, every argument, in any given room at any given time, you knew that you couldn't be physically hurt by anyone."
"Yes." His mind's bringing up memories of Lois in the gym, of the thousand times he's stopped muggings and burglaries and brawls in alleys, rapes and attacks and beatings. Fragile human bodies that broke so easily, but it's all new, this--awareness. "Lex--"
"You do know most people don't settle things by beating the crap out of each other? Your experiences as Superman don't apply to a regular life."
"What? It happens all the time." How would he defend himself? Superman had strength and nothing hurt. "God, this is so stupid." Reaching out, Clark takes the bandaged hand, turning it carefully, watching for Lex's wince. It's easier when Lex is at rest. "You let them do this to you."
"I've done worse to others. And had worse done to me." He can feel Lex's gaze. "Clark. I'm not going to hurt you."
Clark laughs a little. Even to himself, he sounds hysterical. Right. Lex can say that and mean it, when two weeks ago he would have killed Superman without a wince.
"Clark." Instantly, the hand pulls away, curling around his palm. Clark takes a breath, forcing his eyes up. "All these years being Superman fucked you up, didn't they? You saw all the worst of it all the time."
"I know it's not all like that." Logically, yes. It's not sinking in. "It's just--I…." Clark shakes his head. "Stupid, isn't it?"
"Smart. It'll save you from any ideas of getting into bar brawls and stopping muggings with your bare hands. If you still feel like playing vigilante these days, at least let me get you a gun." The humor's deliberate, Clark knows. "Sit down. Breathe a little. Otherwise, you'll never leave this apartment again and I really hate it."
Clark lets Lex lead him over to the couch, sitting down and staring at the floor. "Maybe I should take some self-defense lessons."
"Probably." Lex sits down beside him, reaching over to carefully touch him. Just a brush against his shoulder "I'll set you up with Mercy. She likes you."
Clark lifts his head, feeling the little grin spreading his mouth without warning. It's funny, on some fucked-up level of his brain. Man of Steele--hates papercuts, fears needles, and runs from fights. Oh man, Bruce would fucking stroke out laughing. "She likes me? Yeah, I can remember all that liking the last time she held a gun to my head--what was that, Paraguay?"
"Ecuador," Lex answers, smiling back. "Now tell me why I'm here? Besides your sudden bout of insecurity?"
"You can't control my life."
Lex rolls his eyes, leaning back into the sofa. "I'm not trying to control you life--"
"Lex, what the fuck do you call what you're doing?"
"Giving you better options." Lex looks at him, calm and too reasonable.
"You asked if you scare me." Clark meets the blue eyes. "Is that what you want? What you always wanted? Because you can now. And I won't live like that."
He can see Lex processing it, back to calculations and probabilities, and Clark wonders if there's any other way he can explain it that would make sense. "I don't want to scare you."
"I don't--" Though maybe Lex doesn't even know he's doing it. He's a man used to obedience, to people hanging on his every word. Clark can't even be sure it's penetrating that you just don't *do* this sort of thing. "Just--just wait--"
"I did wait." The low voice cuts through Clark's protests, quiet and deadly serious. "I waited for you to grow up and then you were gone. I waited for you to get the fuck over your savior complex and then you became my enemy. What do you want me to wait for this time? For you fall in love with someone else? I'm tired of waiting."
" I won't."
Lex looks at him. Really looks. "I don't believe you."
Of course not. Because that would be *simple*. And completely against Lexian philosophy, which is get what you want as quickly as possible before someone else takes it away. Frankly, Clark's beginning to think he's lucky that Lex hasn't chained him to the bed at the penthouse. Lex might not have ruled out that option yet, either. "Ask me. Ask. Give me reasons. This isn't the way it's going to go It's not--it's not going to work this way between us." Sighing, Clark wonders how he can explain this. If he even can. Superman didn't have to worry about this. But then, Superman never, ever got laid by Lex either. Or had a relationship that worked. Or really enjoyed life all that much, what with the stoppings of death and destruction on a daily basis. "If you want something from me, you ask. Don't ever again try to manipulate me." They were both wrong about nothing changing but the battlefields. This is an entirely different kind of war.
"I'm not trying--" Lex stops short.
"This morning wasn't a threat, was it?" He hates to say it, knows Lex understands the implications by the stiffening of the body beside him. "You forgot I wasn't Superman. I remembered that I'm not." Clark lets out a slow breath. "Look, we--"
"Compromise." Lex says it like a dirty word, but when Clark looks at him, he sees--something, flickering behind blue eyes, raw and very old, very familiar. "I'm not used to it."
"Get used to it." Clark breathes out, then turns on the couch, trying to think how to phrase this. Some way to say it that will penetrate enough for Clark to get some breathing room. "Do you know why I asked you over here?"
"Because I scared you and you wanted me on your own ground." Well, Lex knows his psychology, at least. "I can understand that."
See, Clark really hadn't needed to actually hear that, though. A little too concrete a reminder. "Not just that." Clark glances around the living room. "I've lived here since I graduated."
"I know that."
Of course he does. Sighing, Clark grits his teeth. Say it, just say it. "Lex, this is my life."
Clark can see the muscles along Lex's jaw tighten, eyes flicking away to fix on a point just over his shoulder. "You've already made it clear that you--"
"Oh Jesus Christ, Lex, what the hell do you need?" Lex stares at him like he's gone crazy. That's an attractive option. It'd save a lot of stress. "Lex, we're, for lack of a better word, dating. You know, where people get to know each other and see their apartments and learn about their lives and do you need a fucking *map*?"
And people say he's oblivious to things. Clark watches it sink in. Standing up, he walks over to the recliner, picking up the remote, flicking the movie off, then back to the beginning.
"This is my favorite movie," Clark says, like Lex had asked. "I ordered pizza." Fixing his eyes on the television, Clark takes a deep breath, slowly letting it out again. "I thought we could hang out here, watch a movie. That work for you?" Not waiting for an answer, he drops back on the couch, feeling the faint brush of their shoulders.
Lex is very quiet beside him as the music starts.
"Is this compromise?" Lex asks, very softly, and warm fingers slide across his shoulder for the briefest moment. Relaxing a little, Clark looks over to see the small, surprised smile curving his mouth. Too much to resist, even for Clark. Dropping the remote, he leans over and brushes a kiss across those lips, feeling the sharply indrawn breath, before drawing away with the barest trace of Lex on his tongue.
"This is how it begins."