Original prompt from miss_lurker, seconded by debbiiraahh and green_grrl and bluetoads.
And that said:
Breathe Dust, a Somewhere snippet
Set a few months after The One That Got Madelyn and Some Other People A Little Upset
For all the snippets, here. For the storyline, here.
Lois' apartment is the kind of natural mess that Clark's had always been, before the advent of Lex, a housekeeper, and people paid specifically to pick up after the one and only. Not dirty, so much as--disorganized, so unlike the public woman that it's a little disconcerting. Even during their relationship, he'd never felt he knew this part of her, that laid around in sweats and t-shirts on a tattered rug from her childhood bedroom, eating Ben and Jerry's straight out of the carton and watching The Discovery Channel and CNN on split screen.
This was something that was always, always Clark's alone.
She flips the lights with one manicured hand, stepping over an abandoned wonton carton with care for her shoes, carelessly tossing her laptop on the couch to bounce to a slow stop. Outside the door, Lex can almost hear his Secret Service thinking--one Clark friend, two, how many does he need to add to the list? They're professionals, through and through, but that doesn't stop them from thinking, and it shows, even when they think it doesn't.
"Is there a reason you called me here?" Lois is still a razor, cutting sharp and fast, leaving him bleeding before he even knows he's been wounded. It's been a long time since they've been in the same room together for more than five minutes alone. Longer since they've wanted to be. Half of him wants to pack up and leave, fuck her and her cryptic little emails and the way Clark didn't even fucking look *up* when Lex told him he had to go to Metropolis, just a nod and a smile that never seems to reach his eyes. Not even asking why, and he would have, should have, did, used to, all those past tense words that keep Lex awake all hours of the night.
There are more hells that you make for yourself than the mind can comprehend, Lex thinks tiredly, watching Lois turn on the coffee pot and take out two cups. He's almost surprised that he merits a cup.
Turning, sleek and sophisticated in dark blue wool and boots, she looks like exactly what she is--the smartest, most dangerous woman alive, watching him with the professionally blank expression of a journalist with an interviewee they can't stand. "Fourteen hours ago, someone leaked to Daniel that Lex Luthor has been caught engaged in a extramarital affair in the White House during a reception for the Prime Minister of Japan."
Lex's knees weaken, and only will keeps him from grabbing for the door. Jesus. The first time. "That's not possible."
Lois taps one perfect nail against the side of her cup. "I'd let you hang, but surprise surprise, my partner would hang with you. So. You have any ideas who and what they have? Because we don't have much time."
"It's not--" Lex stops, trying to catch his breath, chest too tight. "Lois. There's nothing. There can't be."
"A secret shared by two can only be kept with one dead." Her eyes dart back to the coffee, pouring two cups. "And a lot more know than two. Someone slipped up, someone has proof, and you are *fucked* if this gets out."
In so many ways. Lex thinks of Clark, curled up on that atrocious leather sofa in his room, typing at his novel, blanket wrapped over his knees because he gets cold so easily. "I sweep for bugs five times daily. No one has that kind of access to the residential part of the White House."
"Then it was personal, and it was by someone on your staff who likes money a hell of a lot more than they like you. Not exactly a rarity among your staff, but most have the sense to know they'd be committing political suicide and you don't pull punches when you feel threatened." Her eyes, very dark beneath the feathery dark eyebrows, narrow. "It's one of your few redeeming qualities." Picking up her cup, she takes a sip.
"Or Chloe told."
It's comforting, on some level, that Lois stiffens even more at the mention of Chloe. Family hurts like nothing else. Family betrayal, in some ways, is never really forgiven, the scars never quite healing like they should. "No." Her nail slides around the lip of the cup slowly. "If it was Chloe, I would have handled it myself."
Lex breathes out. "Are you sure?"
"If you told her about Daniel--"
The temperature of the room seems to drop. Lex shivers beneath the soft cashmere of his coat "She won't try to stop him."
Fuck. "It would destroy her, too."
Lois looks up with a strange, sad smile. "Yeah, it would." And unspoken--Lois would make sure it did. It was perhaps the one thing they could count on, that Chloe's self-preservation instincts were as good as his. It would be professional and personal self-destruction. "It's beneath her to do it herself. But she won't stop Daniel. We--had a talk." There are more levels to that statement than there are floors on the latest LexCorp office building, and none of them say anything he wants to hear. Jesus. Jesus Christ. "It's a story, after all." And Chloe was a reporter first, and always, and committed to the truth like he, like Lois, like even Clark, wasn't. She wouldn't ever spare herself.
"I--" Lex stops, not sure what to do, or what to say. Or how to even *think*, that this, the most obvious thing, never occurred to him. Too many years, he thinks, surrounded with his own people only, who lived and breathed on his word, too many years in the perfect safe zone of money and power and birth and position. "It has to be the Secret Service. But--" It can't be. It simply can't be. Not Mercy or Hope, not even on the radar. Not Pete, who had his own Chloe-shaped demons. Not Lana, who would never, ever. And none of them knew about that first time.
"You told him it was only once."
And a fuck of a time for her to bring that up. "It was once. Three days of once. That--" Was something only Clark was owed an explanation of, and Clark didn't want it, even if Lex had an explanation to offer that was worth the effort of breath. Lex pushes away from the door, wondering if he'll make it to the kitchen without throwing up.
Sliding onto a stool, he stares at the cup she slides along the counter. He doesn't think she had time to poison it. "How did you find out?"
"Daniel talks when he's drunk. Luckily, he was drunk with me." Slowly, she sips her cup, eyes blank. "No one, even Chloe, could get Daniel to back down. This will make his career."
Yes, Lex thinks bleakly. It will. "How long do we have?"
Lois takes another sip. "Less than twenty-four hours. I suggest you start making phone calls."
The first time, it was the desk in his office.
He doesn't understand it, the concepts like linear algebra, confused letters and numbers that don't come together in a balanced equation. It was fast and sharp and thick and felt better than he'd believed possible.
It'd been an interview, and it'd been angry, because Chloe never forgot and never, ever forgave. They didn't even take off their clothes, and he remembers her stretched out on the desk, moonlight from the window spilling over her like a parody of a Harlequin romance novel, stunningly beautiful, disastrously forbidden, the fourteen year old girl he'd first met, the seventeen year old he'd wanted to fuck so badly he'd wake up wanting her, knowing she was only a room away.
Years and time between, this brilliant, unforgiving part of his past that he could never forget. The way she was the only link to Clark that he'd had, and he'd do anything, anything to keep it.
He remembers picking up her recorder and stuffing it in her coat pocket, staring at his desk while she pulled up her slacks and straightened her shirt, looking at the wall with blank, unseeing eyes before walking out.
That summer, a lifetime ago, had been bad.
This is so much worse.
Clark didn't leave, after.
Lex didn't expect him to, not really--Clark was as sensitive to political currents as anyone who'd lived in them for over a decade could be. He *knew*, and that's why Lex could breathe, even with Clark a room and a wall away, restlessly typing his nights away, going in front of a thousand cameras every day, smiling and laughing and acting so perfectly that Lex could almost forget that anything had changed.
That made it worse, somehow. That he *could* forget, that he could start to say something, make a joke, touch, and feel the world *stop* for just that second, when a brief flash of reality froze everything in place, reminding him that he's abdicated his rights to anything from Clark. They didn't share a room or a bed, they didn't share a life, and Lex had--forgotten, was out of practice, being lonely.
Two terms, five more years, and Clark will walk away without a backward glance. Lex knows that, but he doesn't know how he'll live through it.
Lois' voice is superimposed over the frantic scrabbling of his secretary, dangerously close to panic. She'll find out what he needs to know, and she'll find it fast, or she won't have a job. Hanging up, he looks at her, an elegant sprawl on her stool, watching him over cooling coffee. "She'll find out."
"I don't doubt it. I'm just surprised it took you so long to find a leak."
He is, too, and that says dangerous things about his overconfidence. His staff--his and Clark's-- "It's got to be someone out to hurt me. Clark was--he was the victim in this--"
"And public humiliation is certainly not a form of pain." Lois snorts, lighting a cigarette with a practiced flick of her fingers. "It's someone gunning for Clark." At his look, she shrugs. "I could be wrong."
Her instincts are better in this than his could ever be. But-- "Who the hell would want to hurt Clark?"
Her eyes widen. "Your entire list of living ex-wives, for one. His ex-friends, for second. Lydia gets her very own category. Some of his exposes. Clark has enemies, just like you do. It could be Chloe they're is trying to get, for all we can be sure. God knows, she has enemies and to spare."
And God, does she. She'd turned the Inquisitor into one of the top newspapers in the world, she had some of the best and brightest of the current crop of journalists, every damn one of them with the ethics of a jackal. She'd kept the most important secret on the planet for most of her life, and to compensate, never let another truth remain unexposed.
He'd given her a second truth to hide, and he honestly couldn't blame her if she had told.
That wouldn't stop him if she'd let it slip, though. Nothing could.
"You're sure it's not Chloe."
Lois' eyes narrow. "Yes."
Jesus, only a million more possibilities, even though there aren't any, there shouldn't be any, and God, what he wouldn't give to undo all of that. There's so little room for regret in his life, and all of it is shaped to Clark. Clark, who never looks him in the eye and performs like a society wife on demand and paces his nights away, a wall between them, close enough for Lex to hear and far enough to never touch. Solitary dinners and quiet evening and painfully silent nights, filled with all the things that Clark won't say. Looking down at his cup, his eyes fix on his wedding ring, thumb rubbing a familiar line over the platinum.
"He's still wearing his?"
She always knows the right place to cut.
Lex drops his hand, rubbing his palm into his thigh. "Yes."
"I wouldn't have." Crossing her legs, she pours another cup of coffee, but her composure breaks just a second, spilling it onto the counter. When she puts it down, he can see her hand is shaking. "I would have nailed you to the wall."
"I know." God, did he know. The dark hair spills over one shoulder before she brushes it back, sharp nails flashing. "He--" Won't talk to me. Won't look at me. He left, Lois, in all the ways except his body. "He was writing tonight."
"Maybe a tell-all autobiography," Lois says, staring at the counter. "Maybe a murder mystery about an unfaithful asshole of a husband."
"He isn't that clichéd."
The dark eyes catch his. "Maybe he learned it from you."
Lex is the first to look away.
The second time had been awkward and slow and wrong, because he couldn’t excuse the first time, so there was no way to excuse the second. The fucking kitchen counter. A fuck like chewing on fucking *glass*, but they didn't stop, grinding through sex like a legal deposition, staring at each other afterward because there was no way on God's green earth that they could even try to lie to each other.
She thought he was scum, she thought Clark could do better, she thought everything and it shone out of her eyes like a spotlight.
It was the first time he knew she was right.
Lois is on her laptop, pretending like he isn't there, so successfully Lex is beginning to wonder if he is.
"Do you still have him watched?"
Lex jerks, forcing himself to stop watching his cellphone, like he'll miss the call if he so much as blinks. "Clark?"
Lois pulls a pencil from behind her ear. From here, Lex can see her screen is nothing but gibberish. Her mind's the same place his is. "You used to, after he was injured. Do you still do it now?"
Lex puts the phone in his pocket, making himself not reach to take it back out. "Yes." He knows what she's asking, even if she only says it with her eyes. She's back to her laptop, typing nonsense, like it's a speech for Congress or the next big expose, and Lex gets to his feet, pacing the length of the small living room.
A ring from his pocket brings a fumble, and Lex almost drops it trying to get it open. "Luthor here."
Clark's voice is too much of a surprise--Lex grabs for the edge of the couch. He can count the number of times Clark has called him since--since, on one hand. "Clark." From the corner of his eye, Lex sees Lois' head turn sharply, fixing him with an unreadable look.
Hesitation. "Is everything okay?"
Leaning into the arm of the couch, Lex closes his eyes, cradling the phone against his ear. "Everything's fine, Clark. Why?"
Another hesitation, longer. "Your secretary's acting kind of weird."
So much for subtlety. He supposes he can't blame her. "There's some information that I need, that's all. Is she bothering you?"
Lex hears the sound of shuffled papers, a keyboard taking a high dive before Clark catches it with his still-amazing reflexes. "Nah. I mean, nothing important. I just--she looked upset."
Jesus, she might as well have taken out a billboard. "She's overreacting. I might have been a little--hard on her."
Clark snickers into the phone, and Lex can't help the smile, the almost-normality of this conversation, the way this moment he can almost-- "Yeah, you're good at that." The laugh cuts off. Lex can feel the second it changes. It still hurts. Lex thinks it always will. "I gotta go."
Too soon. "Okay. I miss you."
Lex listens for the click, then slowly lowers the phone. "My secretary is scaring Clark."
"Considering the pep talk you gave her, I'm not surprised." Lex swivels around to see Lois tucking her hair up in a loose knot, held in place with a sadly chewed pencil. Picking up her cup, she snags his and carries both to the coffee pot, pouring two more cups. "While sparing me the dirty details, give me an idea of--" She stops, and Lex catches an expression on her face so echoingly similar to Clark that his chest tightens. "Someone found out. You were in your office."
"An impromptu interview." Lex takes a sip from his cup. His hands aren't shaking, but it's a close thing. "I don't know--why."
Lois shakes her head, staring at him over the rim of her cup. "Yes, you do."
The third time, in the bedroom, was because if he was doing this, there was no fucking way it wasn't going to go all the way.
She was all fragile, flawless bones and creamy gold skin, blonde hair falling against his skin like sunlight. It'd been over a decade since the last time he'd touched a woman, and somehow, he'd forgotten.
He locked the doors and stretched her out on his bed, on his and Clark's bed, absorbed her through the tips of his fingers, his tongue, reading her body like Latin, shaping the foreign feel of her body to his memory. Peeled off shirt and skirt, bra and underwear, brushing his lips against soft, silky skin, fine as parchment, quivering beneath every touch.
She was a living, breathing, filthy fantasy brought to life, and he never heard the door, never felt the eyes that watched him fuck the life out of Chloe Sullivan.
But he did hear Clark, a single indrawn breath as gentle as the fall of spring rain in Kansas, and when he pulled away from her, Clark was gone.
He hasn't come back yet.
"In your office," Lois mocks. "For an interview--" She stops, frowning. Lex looks up in time to see her turn around, staring at her desk with a blank expression.
"Some of us," she says distractedly, hands groping along the wood surface of the table, breaking a nail when she jerks a drawer off its hinges, "have this thing we do. As reporters. We call it interviewing. We like to be accurate. We like to be exact. We like *quotes*."
Lex's hands shake as she drops on her knees, kicking the trash can out of her way, rummaging in a box beneath the desk before she emerges, hand closed over something he can't see.
"The tape recorder," Lois breathes, and Lex watches her pull out her own, tiny and inconspicuous and vulnerable in the palm of her hand. She stares down at it. "She saves all the tapes. She never finished that interview. I bet she logged the tape and never erased it."
Lex remembers how she straightened her clothes, flushed from sex, stumbling as she put away her notes in her briefcase, hands shaking before she walked out.
Lex pulls out his cellphone, touching a button. "Mercy? I have a job for you."
He falls asleep on Air Force One, with Lois in the seat beside him, straight and unforgiving, following him past White House security into the residential quarters. It's the story of the century, and it's Lois who knocks gently on Clark's door, going inside. Lex gets a single look at Clark's startled face before the door slams shut behind her.
In his hand is the tape, and they have six hours to find out if Daniel has the balls to break a story that has no proof.
In his office, Lex turns on the news with one steady hand and starts his wait.