In Which I Stopped Because I Am Lazy.
Chloe glances up over the edge of her computer's screen at the sound of Daniel's voice.
Daniel's good at secrets, but not so good with keeping his voice down. Swinging the monitor aside, Chloe meets very unhappy eyes and Daniel stares at the cellphone in his hand like he's never seen it before in his life.
"I didn't say cult."
"Yeah, you did." Pushing the keyboard aside, Chloe rests both elbows on the desk, giving Daniel her best smile. "Spit out out, superstar. Whatcha got?"
"That's nice. Did I mention I don't care?" Watching Daniel's mouth open, Chloe presses her chin into her hands. "Do I need to remind you that you're on probation and I'm your editor?"
Daniel swings around. He's brilliant--world class photographer, gifted journalist, and a bulldog to rival Lois Lane in pursuit of a story--but the flaws are just barely outweighed by that. And Chloe wonders how much longer she's going to let Daniel slide. Any other newspaper would have thrown him out on his ass.
Of course, any other newspaper isn't the Inquisitor, developing under Chloe into *The Daily Planet*'s most obdurate rival. And Daniel has a nose for news that has no rivals.
And a gift for printing just the wrong thing if he isn't kept under strict control.
"I was right."
Chloe leans back in her chair, bracing a foot on the edge of the desk, admiring the new Italian pumps to keep from smirking. "Let me get this straight. You had proof that Lex Luthor poisoned Smallville and is responsible for the entire range of unusual and fatal events there? Where is it again?" Chloe slaps her forehead. "Right! You didn't have a damn thing, did you? And you'd better be still on your knees in gratitude that I caught that before it hit publication or the *Inquisitor* right now would be embroiled in enough lawsuits to kill it."
Daniel's eyes narrow. "You believed me."
Chloe picks up a pencil, looking at the ragged eraser thoughtfully. "I don't think his dumping caused all of what your article accused him of, considering some of the events referred to occurred well before he was assigned to Plant #3. But even if I did? I sure as fuck wouldn't publish until I had more than a long list of speculation, unreliable eyewitnesses with a history of institutionalization, and random occurrances to back it up."
He looks unhappy, but Chloe's used to that. He's going to be unhappy until Chloe's sure her paper isn't going to end up wrecked because Daniel doesn't have the wit God gave a sheep when it comes to being sure. Or attempting an attack on the man who is President of the United States and more popular than God and most superstars rolled into one.
"Cult?" she asks, and Daniel sighs, staring down at his phone briefly as if it betrayed him.
"Sun worshippers," Daniel says, and Chloe blinks.
"Excuse me. For some reason, I thought we were talking legitimate news here, not the latest for the *Enquirer*." Yeah, Daniel's way too easy to get information from sometimes. Ego, Chloe thinks with a grin she doesn't dare show, will be his downfall.
"When's the last time you heard of a CEO declaring himself a worshipper of the sun?" Daniel counters. Chloe straightens, kicking a heel into her desk. That's new.
"I don't know much. The CEO of Henderson Corp--and no, it's not Fortune 500, but it was getting there--is liquidating everything and moving into the desert with his entire family and some of his employees. Making noise about finding God during some retreat he and his wife went on this summer."
Now that's interesting. "I thought his official reason was bankruptcy?"
Daniel grins. "Yeah, it is, isn't it? I did some digging--thought LexCorp's new CEO was trying to impress Luthor with his aggressive tactics--and the books didn't reflect anything close."
"Which books?" The eraser's almost gone now. Damn.
"The ones he didn't want anyone to know about. Whatever the hell he used to file for bankruptcy, they sure as hell weren't the actual figures. And his employees that aren't making a run for a new life with their savior of the week are pretty damn confused."
"And you say cult because…."
Daniel turns in his chair, finding his palm pilot and making some quick taps. "Well, for one, because most major religions don't require a cash deposit to join. I've been trying to find something on it, but whatever it is, it's very new."
Tapping her cheek, Chloe considers. "What are you thinking?"
"Maybe go talk to Henderson about his newfound spiritualism. Chat with his family. Maybe take a little ride into Arizona to see what's what." Giving her a challenging look over the top of his PalmPilot, Daniel's voice drops. "Any objections, Your Worship? Or do you want to hold the leash personally?"
Chloe smiles slowly. "You're partnered with Elizabeth."
"Fuck. She's a kid."
"She broke the Metropolis voting scandal before she was eighteen and graduated at the top of her class this year. Better watch it, Daniel. She's going to be the best there is very soon and you probably will want to stay on her good side."
Daniel looks mutinous. "Another Lois Lane?"
Chloe grins. "Better." Pausing, Chloe rocks back in her chair as Daniel frowns. "Brief Elizabeth and get going. And keep me informed."
There are two bills in her mailbox and a courier standing outside her door--Chloe looks at the embossed invitation in her hand for a few long moments before tipping the courier and unlocks her door, going inside. Flipping the lights on, Chloe drops laptop and mail on the sofa before walking to the kitchen island, her thumb absently caressing the thick cream paper.
Purple ink, of course. Black is good enough for everyone else, but for the great Lex Luthor, purple.
"Thanks, Clark," she murmurs, letting the corner of her mouth slip up in a smile before setting the invitation aside. Last minute, very Lex. Invited at all, very Clark. She supposes this is what Clark meant when he said that compromise was what made them work.
Two plane tickets are tucked inside the envelope, as well as a hotel reservation slip. Chloe can imagine Clark doing this all personally--he still doesn't use an assistant, preferring to do it himself or leave it to Charity to handle if it's too big. Or whoever handles his schedule in the White House. Odd rumors float down about the unusual arrangements that Lex has ordered since taking office, and Chloe's wondered often enough whether Lex's isolation of Clark was deliberate or merely instinct.
Lex, generous with everything and all things but Clark himself. Snorting, she sets the invitation aside and picks up a warm soda from beneath the counter, wondering why she's even bothering.
Lois had had a few choice words during the wedding, after all.
"One more time, Chlo, and I'll throw you out myself."
Champagne in excess was never a good idea, not for a reporter, and this wasn't an exception to the rule. Looking up, Chloe surveyed her least favorite rival and took another slow drink. "Something wrong, Lois?"
Hating Lois was too easy, too much like breathing. Brilliant and ambitious and too damn lucky, Chloe hadn't liked her from the word go. Cousin or not, they'd never gotten along well. Today was no exception.
Lois leaned into the wall, eyes narrowing. "One more barbed comment. One more carefully orchestrated disappointed look. One more--and I repeat this, because I'm not sure it will sink in--one more moment of making Clark uncomfortable, and you won't have to worry about typing your own articles for the next month."
Glancing over, Chloe caught Clark leaning back in his chair, Jimmy and someone from the Planet she didn't recognize laughing at something he said. He was--happy. In a way that was completely expected, all white teeth and bright grin, widening impossibly when Lex comes up behidn him, hand on his shoulder, saying something that makes Jimmy laugh harder and Clark blush.
He can *still* blush, even after all this time.
Pushing off the wall, Lois stalked by her without another word, and Chloe did a quick search for Pete and Lana, probably the only other people here besides Mrs. Kent who weren't doing some bad impression of joy for the occasion. From the corner of her eye, she watches Lex sit down, Jimmy passing over champagne from one of the omnipresent waiters as Lois leans over to brush a kiss across Clark's cheek and flash one of her smiles at Lex.
Lex, who just gave her a glass and smirked when she took it without hesitation. Chloe was close enough to hear them talk, and nothing in her could keep her from wnating to hear. "Still regretting you couldn't convince him a life in the Appalacians would suit him?"
"Fuck you, Lex. Mind if I borrow Clark for a dance tonight?"
Chloe was already out of range before she heard the reply as one of the help brought another chair and Chloe watched Lex relax. In that strange way that only Clark could make him when surrounded by people he didn't trust and in a public place amongst people he knew hated him. She didn't have to be told this entire celebration hadn't been Lex's first choice. Left to his own devices, Chloe doubted Lex would have wanted Clark to leave the privacy of their home, but.
Instead. Metropolis social event, Clark's friends and family and admirers and Lex's enemies, all wrapped up into one bundle of nervous tension and endless speculation. Except here, except this moment, with the people Chloe knew Clark had handpicked, the ones he trusted most with Lex's peculiarites, the ones most likely to let him be at ease. Lex was probably the only person here who really didn't get what it *meant*, that Lex was being as carefully protected and shielded as Clark was himself. Chloe thought a little guiltily, he'd had a lot of practice the last few years.
Lois knew, though. Lois, who'd been stalking the edges of the room all night, bright and beautiful and graceful even as she ran interference, and Chloe hated her for every grateful look Clark threw her way. She was too perfect. Too smart. And too close to Clark. And why Lex didn't hate her simply for that was something Chloe understood too well and it hurt. Lex trusted Lois with Clark, the way he trusted no one else. Because when it came down to brass tacks, Lois thought of Clark first, even before herself. And had proved it to Lex's satisfaction.
Lois, who was coaxing Clark to dance with her, patterned red silk and high heels against stark black and white, too bright, like it was her own damn wedding and not hte most unnatural of all occurances, Clark Kent, all around boy scout, reporter, and smalltown boy, marrying Lex Luthor, the antitheseis of all.
"Here." Pete shoved a glass into her hand, and Chloe gave him a grateful look before downing half the contents. The burn of brandy was shocking, but somehow grounding. Taking a breath, she closed her eyes for a moment, taking in the feeling. "Better?"
She snorted as she took a more moderate sip, letting the liquid settle on her tongue. Good stuff. Lex's best, maybe. "Nothing can do that."
Pete muttered something like agreement, and Chloe took a second to check out the level of alcohol in his glass. Across the room, Lana was stopping at the table, and Lex leaned back with a measuring look. It looked--well, interesting. Chloe was privy to enough gossip to know that the Rosses were not anywhere near the top of Lex's list of acceptable company.
Until Lex pushed the chair out with one foot, inviting her to sit, and Chloe's gaze flickered to Clark just in time to see him smile.
Taking another drink, she almost smiled as Pete stiffened beside her. "Play nice, Ross."
What were they supposed to do? Even Mrs. Kent was being strangely supportive, snapping pictures at a moment's notice, smiling, and sometimes, it even looked real. Certainly looked real enough when she hugged her son and then, slowly, Lex, stepping back to look at them with evaluative eyes, as if she were seeing something entirely new. Like now, dropping into a seat at the main table, where Lex's best man, a quiet man Chloe recognized as the head of LexCorp's medical unit, leaned over to murmur something that made her laugh softly.
He's still Lex Luthor, she wanted to snap, as the table broke into animated conversation. You all know who he is, dammit. That's Lex, Superman's enemy, Clark's enemy, God, the world's enemy, and you know his crimes just like I do, and why the fuck don't you care?
Why the hell hadn't Clark cared? What the hell had happened?
The dance ended with Lois in a twirl, and Clark snickered as he pulled her close, a companionable arm around her shoulders, leading her back. She fell into a chair with a smile, picking her glass back up, while Clark leaned over the back of Lex's, murmuring something into his ear. A heart-stopping moment as Lex turned his head, and then reaching up, twining fingers with Clark as the table continued to talk, teh wedding bands blasphemously bright.
Like being a voyeur in all the wrong ways.
"I don't undestand," Chloe said flatly, finishing her glass. She wasn't at all surprised that Pete refilled it, and when she looked at him, his eyes were focused on the group as well.
Clark's wrapped up a blanket by the window, an open book trying to slide off his lap, pags fluttering idly from the vent just above him. Lex stops for a moment just to watch.
He doesn't get many chances like this one, not anymore. Not ever, if he's honest--Clark sleeps even more reluctantly than Lex does, and their schedules seem to be currently at absolute contrast.
That, Lex thinks as he carefully removes coat and shoes by the door, is going to change, making a mental note to talk to his secretary and Chief of Staff tomorrow. Tie's next, cufflinks and watch on the unfamiliar dresser--no matter that it's been months, it's still jarring this isn't their penthouse in Metropolis, the townhouse in downtown Georgetown.
Quiet socked feet pad soundlessly over historical rugs and time-smoothed, polished wood, and Clark doesn't so much as twitch. Exhausting day, Lex thinks, coming to a stop just to look. Little lines around his mouth and eyes smoothed away. Past thirty in human time, but he started his aging late, and right now, he seems barely out of adolescence, the harder line of his jaw still lost under soft skin, stubble the barest trace, short dark hair trying desperately to curl against his forehead. Almost frighteningly young, as if the years they were separated were only marking time, and he's looking at the eighteen year old he tried to learn how to hate.
He thinks cute, though he'll never say it.
Having a dream fulfilled, his father always said, will never be enough. There's always more worlds to conquer, more limits to push, but Lex isn't so sure about that. What Lionel said is always suspect, but this is more instinct.
It's still, in some part of him, entirely new, entirely amazing, to see Clark here. Somehow vaguely shocky still, to walk into the closet and blink at Clark's clothes hanging in neat lines, Doris' work, shoes a mess beneath, that's Clark. He can still remember, too vividly for eight years time, watching Clark dress for work and wondering when the world had changed so much. This endlessly painful desire for it to stay just like this, like any movement would break it.
Crouching, Lex smiles slowly as Clark stirs, slipping back downward. Difference. Clark sleeps to the point of near-coma once he goes down. Has to be a new development--Superman couldn't have afforded sleep that deep.
Shaking the thought aside, Lex rests his hands lightly on both knees, the blanket a warm cushion between. "Clark."
Slightest stir, and Lex shifts to his knees, kneeling up just enough to brush a kiss across Clark's lips. The next stir's more pronounced, a smile curling up the corner of his mouth. "T's late."
"Early. Three, even."
The vivid green eyes fix on him, lit up from within. "You have a girlfriend, just admit it."
"At this point, an affair could only make my life less complex." Standing up, Lex leans over, finding Clark's hand under the blanket and pulling him up. Warm, sleepy body, pliable, and Lex lets himself just hold for a moment, before stepping back, pulling a completely willing Clark along with him. "Wake up. I need to talk to you."
"Mmm." Rubbing his eyes, Clark glances up and around the room, as if he's vaguely surprised where he is. "Correct me--if I'm wrong." Huge yawn, and Clark pulls free to run his fingers through his hair. Lex bites back a smile at how it stands up after. "But weren't you at some Very Important Meeting?"
"It's done and I came home. They do give me time off to sleep." Watching Clark drop on the bed like a happy sack of potatoes, Lex bites back another smile. "How was your day?"
"Long. Very fucking long." Laying back on the formerly undisturbed comforter, Clark grins up at him. "Your secretary called to tell me you'd be late and not to wait up."
"So of course, you slept in the chair instead of this nice, comfortable bed." Lex thinks thoughts of pajamas and of late mornings with coffee in bed and those donuts from Krispy Kreme that Clark consumed like a junkie, but it's been years. Not since before the election. Maybe not since the day Lex announced his plans for election.
Yawning, Clark passes him, falling into the bed with a soft grunt of satisfaction, curling up beneath the covers like a big, happy cat. It's tempting to just fall into bed, but--suit. Lex was raised by Lionel Luthor. He cannot physically fall asleep still wearing a suit.
Clark's mostly asleep when he comes back, but the dark eyes crack open at the first shift of the bed. "So. Is it supersecret or you want to talk about it?"
And here he'd thought that the headache was receding. "Budget."
"Oh. Sleeping aid."