The roof of Luthor Tower Two is made of water, running off the edge into nonexistent waterfalls. Broad, slate gray paths arch in meaningless parabolas through the endless pool. There are no railings up here; you can stand at the edge and have an unobstructed view of the world below. Someday, Lex reflects, he will be knocked over the edge by a stray gust of wind, or a wayward pigeon.
It's been years since the island, but occasionally Lex still wakes in the middle of the night and the room seems too quiet, like a thousand voices have gone silent all at once. Then he goes up on the roof and lets the water murmur to him as he looks out over his neon kingdom.
Lex's third marriage is failing. This one lasted longer than the others; then again, Leda has always had a weakness for lost causes. But by the end she was tired: "You don't love yourself, Lex," she said, "and you won't believe that anyone can love you. It's too hard." She hasn't slept in the penthouse for two months. Next week they'll sign the papers, and Leda will walk away with a million dollars and a house in southern Spain that Lex had never really cared for anyway.
Nonetheless, he can't sleep, so he stands on the roof of his building instead. It's late summer, thickening into fall, and the nights have grown colder. This high up, the wind is colder still; he wears a thick white robe as a concession to the chill.
A flutter catches at the edge of Lex's vision. He turns, but doesn't see anything. Maybe just that wayward pigeon. Still, his highly suspicious mind has him scanning the rooftop, seeking anything out of the ordinary. The roof is completely bare save for a wrought iron railing in one corner, where the stairs gape out of the roof.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you."
Lex doesn't start only through long practice. Instead, he turns around smoothly.
Superman, so far, has never been seen at night. He performs his heroic feats by day, and those vibrant primary colors are the domain of sunlight. At night they're reduced to black and blood, spangled by the lights of the city around and behind him. It's fitting, somehow, the new guardian of Metropolis thrown into glowing profile by the orange and red stars of the night.
"No disturbance at all," Lex assures him. "In fact, I'm honored. What brings you here at this hour?"
"Sometimes I can't sleep either," Superman says with what might be a shrug; it's difficult to tell when the person in question is floating, toes pointed down like a dancer's. "This city is. . . loud."
Lex is startled by the admission. He doesn't trust or like Superman, but he doesn't trust or like anyone, really. He dislikes the idea of Superman; he eclipses the ordinary, amazing achievements of ordinary, amazing humans with his superhuman stunts. But he didn't expect Superman to be so candid about his weaknesses. He wonders, for the first time, how old Superman is. It's difficult to tell from the photos; he doesn't stay still for them, always off on some emergency or other, and the best they can do is a distant or blurry shot of a caped crusader catching a train or just looking away from the camera as he darts off.
Now Superman floats almost close enough, his face thrown into shadow by the dazzling city.
"I'll just leave now," says Superman.
"Don't be ridiculous," Lex says, registering a sort of faint surprise with himself. "There's plenty of room for both of us, after all."
"Oh." But Superman seems uncertain, hovering at the edge of the roof like a frightened moth.
"If it really bothers you," says Lex, "I'll go."
"No, that's. That's stupid," Superman replies. "It's your roof."
The response was not unexpected; Lex smiles. "Then I suppose we should both stay."
"I guess." Superman's reluctance is unconvincing.
Lex's offer is not without motive. Superman is new to Metropolis--only a few months--and Lex prides himself on knowing every inch of his city. But Superman is an enigma, the classic fly in the ointment. Who is he? Where did he come from? What does he want? Why is he here? Lex has read all of the Daily Planet articles, of course, but he takes them all with a grain of salt. Half of them are written by Clark Kent, who can't be trusted, and the other half are written by Lois Lane, who can be trusted even less. Lex can only get to know Superman the old-fashioned way: by assessing him in person.
"The city's too loud for you to sleep?" Lex asks half-rhetorically. Interesting; Superman must hail from a relatively quiet place. Alternately, if Superman has some sort of secret life in Metropolis, he might live in a particularly bad part of town, where the night is often broken by gunfire and sirens.
"Sort of," Superman says.
He seems more reticent now. Lex tries to draw him out. "Maybe you should invest in earplugs."
"They wouldn't work." Superman sounds very certain of this. He clarifies: "I have superhearing. That's how I can tell when people are in trouble."
Amazing. Lex wonders how far away Superman can hear, and at what frequencies. Can he hear outside of the normal human range? He feels, too, a sense of smug glee that he now knows something about superman that Lois Lane and Clark Kent don't. Maybe the Planet will pay him for this information.
"So it's. . . hard for me to sleep sometimes," Superman articulates. "Because I can always hear what's going on."
"Do you really need sleep?" Lex queries.
"I get grumpy when I haven't had enough."
The answer is surprisingly casual and familiar. Lex lets himself smile. "We wouldn't want a grumpy Superman."
"No, you wouldn't." There's a pause. Superman looks to the side, his profile edged against the night. "I hate that name."
"Yeah. Lois gave that to me."
Lex notes that Superman and Lane are apparently on a first-name basis. "So that's not what the S stands for?"
"So what does it stand for?"
"It's not an S, actually, but I guess it kind of looks like one." Superman looks down at himself. "It's the crest of my family. Back on Krypton."
Lex frowns to himself. Viewed in the light of a crest or a symbol as opposed to an alphabet letter, the stylized shield on Superman's uniform reminds him of something. He can't remember. He tries not to let it bother him; though Lex's memory is usually impeccable, he's had so many head injuries and poisonings in his life that he knows some parts of it are simply damaged. Exercise and therapy was able to bring some of it back, but they were patchy pieces, not in context, and as such were deeply alarming and troubling more than useful.
"Is something wrong?"
Superman must have superior night vision, too, or maybe he simply has the advantage of point of view, as he has his back to the city.
"Just a little cold," Lex says. "I should probably go back inside." It's not completely a lie; the tips of his ears are numb, and the naked skin of his scalp tingles. Superman must not feel temperature at all, if he's able to zip around in the stratosphere in nothing more than some tight fabric. "Feel free to stay up here as long as you like, of course."
"Thanks," says Superman. "I will."
But back in his bedroom, Lex still can't sleep. He stands and stares out of his bedroom windows at the sharp beauty of the city, and then swallows a pill.
Lex is out on the roof again eight nights later, now officially divorced.
He didn't even try to sleep, instead drinking and watching evening television (none of the news programs had anything about the divorce; it was no longer news, though the deteriorating marriage had been splashed in all its skinned, flayed glory across every tabloid and magazine cover three months ago). He played a very half-hearted game of pool and gave up halfway through Leaves of Grass.
The roof is something else. He loves Metropolis, and Metropolis demands nothing back. He employs thousands of people--millions, if you count the overseas contacts and the companies he owns significant shares in--but in the grand scheme of things, the city does not care if he lives or dies. Metropolis will continue breathing, crying, fucking, laughing, singing, shining.
Superman is there again.
"Can't sleep?" Superman asks.
"I should ask the same of you."
"But I asked first."
It's that strangely playful tone again, like Superman knows him better than he actually does. Lex replies, "I haven't really tried."
"Don't you have work tomorrow?"
The luxury of living where you work is a very short commute in the morning. Lex never has to get up more than twenty minutes before he has to be at work, and he tells Superman so.
"Even you would feel better on more than five hours of sleep."
"I would prefer a little more, yes."
Lex's direct underlings will know that their boss had a rough night. They won't expect peak performance, and neither will Lex's competitors, which is why he has to be at 102% tomorrow morning--today. But there's too much moving in his mind and crawling under his skin, and it's so peaceful up here in the cold, with water around him and Metropolis, who was here before he was born and will be here after he dies.
"What's wrong?" Superman asks.
It's nothing that isn't public knowledge, so Lex says, "I was officially divorced today."
There's a slight pause before Superman says, "I'm sorry." Then, awkwardly, "Do you want to talk about it?"
Neither of them says anything for a while, and the silence stretches sharp and thin between them. Lex is accustomed to using silence as a weapon; it no longer bothers him.
Superman, however, asks, "Did you love her?"
Intrigued by the question, Lex replies, "No."
"Then why did you marry her?"
"It was convenient," Lex answers.
The question--and the subsequent follow-up question--indicates that Superman has some knowledge of human customs, or at marriage, love, and the correlation between the two. Lex forms a tentative hypothesis that Superman might have lived on Earth for a while before actually becoming Superman, at least long enough to gain a knowledge of English (although Superman might be very good with languages, for all anyone knows) and human ideology and body language. He looks very human, after all; he could easily pass, if he hides the superpowers, and it's amazing what people won't see if they're not looking or unwilling to believe. Lex knows that better than anyone. Perhaps, he thinks, Superman has a 'secret identity' even now, hiding in plain sight as one of the masses. Maybe that's why he hasn't allowed himself to be photographed. He should just wear a mask.
"Well, I'm sorry, anyway," Superman says. "That must have been hard."
The marriage itself was more difficult than the divorce, but Lex doesn't say that. He just says, "It happens."
"Is that why you can't sleep? You're thinking about your wife?"
"Ex-wife," Lex corrects him. "And no, I haven't been thinking much about her at all. I suppose I just have a lot of things on my mind."
"And you don't want to talk about it?"
"I believe we've already had this conversation." Lex is very carefully not thinking about all those things on his mind: things about love, and loneliness, and letting emotion rule his life. There's no point in thinking about these things; in the end, he can't really do anything about them. His life is traversing on a fixed path now. Sometimes, you really can't change things.
"Well," says Superman, "if you ever--change your mind, or anything."
"I'll keep that in mind," says Lex. And then, because he wants to keep on Superman's good side, "Thank you."
"It's just what friends do for each other."
Surprised, Lex can only stare. It's been a very long time since he was rendered speechless by anyone or anything; when you're a billionaire with approximately the eighth of the world in your pocket, you fail to be surprised. Finally, he says, "You're right. I should go to bed."
Superman does not seem unduly startled by this sudden proclamation. Either he's a poorer reader of body language than Lex originally thought, or he's just being polite. "Okay."
"Good night," Lex remembers to say.
For the next three weeks, Lex does not precisely avoid the roof, but he doesn't seek it, either. He tells himself he's engrossed in work, and he is; LexCorp is in the middle of a deal that's all over the business pages as the possible turning point in the history of electronics manufacturing, and it requires all of Lex's attention. He works until well after closing, as a hermit crab is preoccupied with its shell, and when he goes up to his penthouse at night he has a few swallows of scotch before falling into a dreamless slumber.
He is not certain why Superman's overtures of friendship bother him, except that he can't figure out why on Earth Superman considers them friends. They've talked all of two times. He can't speak for Superman's experience, but it isn't as if they've been open with each other. Lex is irritated. Does Superman pity the lonely insomniac billionaire who spends his sleepless nights being chilled on the pinnacle of his kingdom? Does he think that Lex Luthor needs a friend? The thought makes a muscle in his jaw clench.
Then another thought occurs to him: perhaps it's the other way around. Superman is the lonely one, and he thinks that he may have found a kindred spirit in the untouchable figure of Lex Luthor, alone on his ceaselessly humming roof. Lex ceases his pacing to stare out the window of his study. Superman, the last one of his kind, forever separated from the masses that he loves and protects so desperately. The very powers that he uses to help his people are the ones that separate him from them. What a tragic, heroic figure. Lex smiles. Who wouldn't want to take advantage of that?
Lex is out on the roof again several nights later. Superman does not fail him.
"You can tell me to go away, you know," he says.
"I can't really make you do anything," Lex points out. "After all, you're Superman."
"But you can tell me to leave," Superman says. "And I will."
"Very good of you," says Lex, taking a step toward him. He wonders why Superman has never actually set foot on the roof; he usually floats just beyond the edge of the building and a few feet up. Lex supposes it might be a security thing. He takes a few more steps, so that he's about seven feet from the edge, and he notices Superman drift a little bit closer, his cape snapping uneasily in the breeze. "Am I making you nervous?"
"You might fall," Superman says, a little reproachfully.
"But you'd catch me, wouldn't you?" Lex edges closer.
"Of course." Superman sounds almost affronted. "But what if I'm not here? You should put up railings."
"That would spoil the view," Lex says, smiling. He's one step from oblivion now, and he savors the rush, turning his head slowly to take it all in, hands clasped behind his back. General Motors to the southwest, CitiGroup to the north, General Electric to the east. "I suppose it's all the same to you, since you fly."
"No," Superman says thoughtfully. "It's never the same."
This as good an opportunity as any. Lex takes a gamble. "The other night, you said we were friends."
"We are, aren't we?" For once, Lex's superior people-reading skills fail him. He identifies anxiety and conviction both.
Lex takes another half-step, and Superman drifts toward him as if magnetized, although ostensibly it's to catch Lex in case he topples. "What if," and now that Superman is close enough to touch, he does, laying the palm of his left hand over that gaudy red and yellow crest, "I want something else?"
"Like, like what?" Superman stutters.
"I think you know." Lex trails his fingertips down to Superman's taut stomach, then further down to the ridiculous red briefs.
Superman sucks in a breath, and those tights don't do anything to hide or help the sudden erection. Lex rubs a few times, scratching his nails over the slippery material, just for the pleasure of hearing Superman moan, and then sets about trying to find a way to get the damn tights open or off. This is almost as good as the time the head of Chiron Corporation cried in his office. He has what is quite possibly the most powerful creature in the universe moaning and gasping on his roof.
"Here, here," Superman pants, fumbling open his belt. It lands with a solid clunk on the edge of the roof, the Superman insignia glinting dully in the artificial light, and now Lex can peel down the tights.
There's the question of whether or not Lex can persuade Superman to move somewhere more comfortable or at least lie down on the roof. Lex doesn't give blowjobs in alleys or back rooms anymore, and the roof is hard and cold. But before Lex can even formulate the question properly, Superman floats--up and up until his cock is at precisely the right height. Superman is breathing hard and his eyes are bright; Lex finds the levitation unexpectedly hot. He hopes he doesn't have some sort of alien kink as he reaches out and pulls back Superman's foreskin, then sucks the head into his mouth.
Superman makes a helpless, hungry sound and bows, placing shaky hands on the curve of Lex's skull. Normally, Lex hates having his head touched like this, but he's too busy being fascinated. Superman looks, smells, tastes, and reacts just like any male member of Homo sapiens. Lex pulls out every dirty, sexy trick he knows, tonguing Superman's slit, pulling back until the head's barely in his mouth and then going in deep, fondling Superman's balls with his other hand. Superman gasps and shakes and moans, his breath hot on Lex's scalp; he tastes human when he comes, too. Lex swallows despite the alarm bells in the back of his head that say he doesn't know what he's ingesting and runs his tongue over his lips. He wonders at the chances of life so similar to man developing on another planet, in another solar system.
Superman's not done, though. He thuds to the concrete with the red-and-blue tights tangled around his knees and grabs Lex for a fierce and completely surprisingly kiss. When Lex finally remembers to respond, Superman coaxes Lex's tongue into his mouth and then bites, very gently. Lex is disturbed to find that he likes the sudden show of dominance.
Then Superman's big, hot hand finds it way down the front of Lex's pajama pants. Lex is already hard, has been since Superman floated himself so that Lex didn't have to kneel, and the first contact makes him gasp. Then he just leans against Superman, staring out over the edge of the world into the electric abyss, while Superman jacks him hard and fast. He alternates his strokes occasionally, slowing down and then speeding up and tracing the moist head with a thumb tip until Lex is practically sobbing, until finally he lets Lex come in a brilliant flurry of shooting stars.
"You should go to bed," Superman says a few minutes later, when Lex's breathing returns to normal, his pulse deep and throbbing at the base of his jaw. He's supporting most of Lex's weight.
"Mmm. Yes." Lex extricates himself from Superman's arms while Superman pulls his tights back up (the dark gives him some dignity, but not very much). He allows the alien to escort him to the stairs, then turns back and says, "Good night, Superman."
"Good night, Lex."
Superman flies away, and Lex thinks that's the first time he's heard his name spoken like that in years.
"Did you sleep okay last night?"
Lex is utterly unsurprised by Superman's appearance this time; in fact, he was more or less expecting it. He's careful to let the corners of his mouth curl up in a lascivious manner, certain that Superman must have superior vision to humans even in the dark, never mind the x-ray business. "Very well," he purrs.
Superman ducks his head in a manner that Lex has come to associate with embarrassment.
"How'd you get so good at that?" Lex laughs quietly to himself when Superman stammers and fumbles for an answer. "It was rhetorical," he tells Superman, though privately he's curious about the answer. The tabloids are always slathered thickly with stories of this housewife or that celebrity who's carrying Superman's child, and Lex imagines that Superman must have received any number of earnest expressions of gratitude, innocent or otherwise, from the people he rescues. But even from what little he knows of Superman so far, he can't imagine him taking any of those offers; it flies straight in the face of all that honest, fresh-faced integrity.
This lends credence to the idea that Superman has a secret identity that's able to have some sort of sex life. Who's possibly gay, though Superman may not have a real concept of homosexuality as humans regard it. It might be very normal for his people.
"You don't have to answer all my questions, you know," Lex says. He knows this is dangerous; he's now giving Superman the power to dictate the terms of their tentative relationship. But he suspects. . .
"But I want to," Superman replies.
Even though he was hoping for that answer, Lex is still surprised. "But why? What if I took these conversations to the press?"
"I don't think anyone but the Weekly World News would believe you," Superman says dryly. "And I don't think you much like the press yourself."
"True enough," Lex concedes. "To both counts," he adds. "But I take it you don't really care for the press yourself; you're often very reticent in your interviews." Actually, Lex's experienced eye can tell from the articles that Superman is one who's familiar with the press, much like Lex himself. The quotes are too perfect for someone who supposedly hasn't had that much exposure to them.
"They never let up," Superman grumbles. "Especially Lois."
That use of Lane's first name again. Lex decides to test their newfound 'friendship.' "But despite your apparent dislike, you're on a first name basis."
"I don't like how she's always hounding me," says Superman, "but that doesn't mean we aren't friends."
Which is probably why Superman deigns to give her interviews at all. It's not as if he can't dictate the terms on which he'll talk to the paper. Lex entertains the idea, briefly, that Superman and Lois are paramours, then dismisses the idea. If anything, Superman and Clark Kent are closer. Kent's Superman articles have more background and longer, fuller quotes. Lex has heard, through the grapevine, that you could even send messages to Superman through Clark Kent, though he can't be certain how much this tale has grown in the telling. At the very least, Kent is the only one who seems to have any reliable means of contact with the alien.
A great and terrible suspicion blooms in Lex's heart.
"And Mr. Kent?" he asks.
"Clark and I are good friends," Superman confirms.
The old memories come tunneling back. The unexplained incidents, the suspiciously good timing, the fumbling lies and evasions, the inexplicable distrust of doctors. . . it all fits, almost too perfectly and nearly. Lex can't believe he didn't see it before.
They talk about nothing in particular for the next few minutes, then Lex makes his excuses and goes below. He lies awake for a long while, turning over every scrap of evidence, every half-formed conclusion, every fragment of memory. At one point, he gets up and makes a list, which he shuts in a drawer and locks. Then he swallows a pill and slides back between the covers.
"Did you get enough sleep last night?" Superman queries.
"What's with all these inquiries as to my sleeping habits?" Lex retorts good-naturedly. "I'm beginning to think you have a fixation."
"Well, you come up here because you can't sleep," says Superman. "Or, I mean, that's what I thought. Besides, 'early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.'"
Dear Lord, Lex thinks with faint horror. He manages, "Well, I'd say two out of three isn't bad."
"Healthy. Wealthy. I don't consider myself particularly wise." Not after what he's been missing all these years.
"But you have to be pretty smart," the alien admits. "I mean, billionaire and all."
"Wealth breeds wealth. I'd hardly be a billionaire today if I didn't have a few to start out with." He does have Lionel to thank for something after all, he supposes. "Besides, knowing where to invest your money isn't the same as wisdom. That's accumulated through age and experience. Where did you learn Poor Richard's Almanac, anyway?"
"What--oh, I never read it. It's something my dad used to say."
"Your father?" Lex feels his heart beat a little faster.
Superman clarifies, apparently feeling that a misunderstanding is imminent. "My human father."
Lex stares. The information is not precisely new--in fact, it fits in with his suspicions exactly--but that Superman just outright told him is staggering. How can he be so trusting? What if Lex used this knowledge against him? Sold it to the highest bidder? His precious human father could be dead tomorrow, or held hostage in return for Superman's compliance in some nefarious scheme.
All Lex manages to say is, "You were raised by human parents?"
Superman nods, his half-shadowed face bobbing up and down. "They found me in my spaceship when I was a baby and took me in."
Lex takes a moment to digest this. The blatant honesty almost hurts. He isn't accustomed to it, and that Superman keeps telling him these things makes him want to yell at Superman to just shut up, stop giving away all your weaknesses. "That's amazing. I suppose we're grateful you were raised by people who didn't want you to conquer the world."
"They always said that I had a responsibility to use my gifts to help people," Superman says proudly.
Lex smiles to himself at Superman's powers being called 'gifts' instead of, well, 'powers,' or perhaps 'frightening, freakish mutations.' "They must be very proud of you."
"They worry about me," Superman admits. He doesn't mention that his adopted father--or, to be more accurate, who Lex believes is Superman's adopted father--died years ago. "I mean, I put myself in danger a lot. But I tell them that I can handle it, and if I don't, who can?"
"Did you always have these powers?" Lex asks tentatively.
"Not all at once. I mean, I was strong ever since I was little, but some of the other stuff--the x-ray vision, the heat vision--developed as I grew older."
"Your parents had a lot to deal with," Lex murmurs. More of those fragmented memories are sliding and locking into place.
"Yeah. I guess I was kind of a, a handful." Lex can hear Superman's grin, but it's suddenly knocked away as Superman's head snaps to one side like a hunting dog's. "I--I have to go," he says, and then he's gone.
There's 150 words about a foiled mugging in the next day's evening edition of the Planet. No quotes from Superman, but then again the article was written by the police beat, not Kent or Lane.
Lex is not on the roof again that night, or the night after.
Six months later, Superman goes missing.
By that time, their rooftop conversations have become fairly regular. There's no set schedule, but if Lex goes up on the roof, he can be sure that Superman will show up not long after. In six months, Lex has learned that Superman hates peas, likes generic pop-rock bands, chose Metropolis because "I don't know, it's Metropolis," and that he was afraid of heights when he was younger (which Lex finds infinitely amusing). In return, Lex has shared very little, although Superman doesn't seem to mind. He doesn't ask many questions, anyway.
They haven't talked about the sex or reenacted it. Lex isn't certain if it's because Superman is uncomfortable with it, unattracted to Lex, or simply doesn't want the complication. Whatever the reasons, Lex is all right with it. It's a little complicated for him, too.
Then Superman disappears after a rather tense battle with gigantic winged creatures over the city, causing rather a lot of property damage in the process. But the monsters were defeated, their remains taken in for examination by scientists. They had never before been seen on Earth; such occurrences are more and more frequent these days. Some environmentalists blame global warming. Lex thinks they're all idiots. This is clearly an indication of something more. Superman's an alien; why shouldn't there be more of them? And then there are always the meteor rocks. Lex himself has seen what they can do to living organisms, their cruel, monkey's paw way of granting wishes. He's living proof of that.
Lex can see from the blurry photos in the Daily Planet that the winged monstrosities--which look like they might have once been vaguely related to bats--have what look like shiny scales embedded in their fur. The scales are a bright, sickly green, and Lex knows that they're not scales at all; they're pieces of rock. Rock from outer space.
While there is no word on whether or not Superman is alive or dead, crime in Metropolis spikes. There are a mass of burglaries, seventeen muggings, and two bank robberies, all in the space of four days. Only the Suicide Slums are unaffected because, well, they're the Suicide Slums, and they bear that name for a reason. Metropolis PD copes grimly with the surge in criminal activity. Lex makes a note to donate more money to Metropolis's crimefighting forces, annoyed by the city's dependence on Superman. They were able to deal with their problems before the alien came along. Meanwhile, the newspapers and newscasts are filled with pleas for Superman to return, laments as to his possible death, and talk of what the future might be like without him. Lex turns the television off out of sheer irritation and ignores the opinion section of the newspaper.
Superman reappears six days after his disappearance, looking none the worse for wear. Lex notes that Clark Kent's byline appeared only once during this time, attached to an article about education on page seven.
"Welcome back," Lex says later that night.
"Thank you. I'm sorry I worried everyone."
"Don't be," Lex says. "I'm sure you needed to recuperate. Are you sure you're quite all right?"
"I'm fine!" Superman assures him by doing a quick flip in the air.
"What was it about this enemy?" Lex asks. "We've never seen you taken down like this before." He watches Superman closely for his reaction as he springs his next question. "Was it the green scales?"
"Yeah," Superman replies easily. "They make me sick."
Superman just dropped his major weakness into Lex's lap. Lex can't get over his astonishment. Why in the world is Superman telling him all this? He schools his expression into one of concern even though he feels like he's cracking at the edges. That Superman's vulnerable to the green rocks that cover Smallville cannot possibly be mere coincidence.
"So I needed to take a few days off," Superman continues. "I went home."
"And your parents fussed over you?"
"My mother did, yeah." Lex can hear Superman's smile. "She's like that."
"You should probably take a leave of absence more often. I'm sure you can use the rest."
"I can't do that," Superman exclaims, horrified. "People need my help."
"People got along fine before you came along," Lex points out.
"I guess," Superman accedes reluctantly. "But I just feel like--"
"Nonsense," Lex cuts him off. "We've been spoiled. As I said, we were able to take care of ourselves before, there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to now. I mean, perhaps not in extreme cases of giant, mutated bats or whatever those were, but the ordinary bank robbery or burglary should not demand Superman's attention."
"But--" Superman begins.
"Please! What if you have another run-in with green rocks, or God forbid catch some sort of alien plague, or one day just decide to go away?"
"But I won't," Superman says softly.
This vow of commitment makes Lex's skin crawl for no discernible reason, like there are worms burrowed under his skin. It makes his chest tight. "Just take care of yourself, Superman," he says. "I'm going to bed."
"Good night, Lex," Superman calls after him.
Superman can't quite seem to contain himself tonight. Instead of floating suspended as he usually does, he soars in slow loop-de-loops. Perhaps it's the recent near-death experience. Lex watches him with a mix of wistfulness and envy; his dim memories of unassisted flight on his first day in Smallville have grown no less aching for the years. Superman gets whatever it is out of his system and resumes his usual master and overlord position over Metropolis.
"It must be incredible," says Lex.
He didn't mean for the longing to leak into his voice like that, but Superman offers, "I can take you. Flying, I mean. If you don't mind being carried."
Lex is speechless.
"If you want," Superman is quick to add.
"No, I--" Lex cuts himself off and starts over, annoyed with himself. He's never his inarticulate. "It would be an honor. A pleasure."
Then Superman is behind Lex, just like that--the superspeed will never cease to amaze him, he wonders what the world looks like from Superman's point of view--, encouraging Lex to stand on the tops of Superman's feet, and hugs him around the waist. Lex braces his hands against Superman's forearms for extra security as they rise, gently and inexorably, into the heavens like a painting of the Ascension.
It's not entirely comfortable; Superman's grip is a little tight in order to keep Lex from losing his balance and toppling, and there's the black, cold sensation of emptiness on all sides. The atmosphere gets chillier the higher they go. Superman, sensing this, stops and begins to rotate in a slow circle. Lex looks down, and all thought of discomfort just falls away. He's never been this high up save in a helicopter, and even then the sight left him greedy and wanting more. This is--something else entirely.
Metropolis is spread out below them like a living thing. The flat plains of Kansas create straight, perfect streets, uninterrupted by mountains or hills. Their bright regularity fuses with the houses and skyscrapers to create an electric landscape reminiscent of circuitry, the relentless workings of a giant, throbbing machine all lit up in its orange intelligence and blue-white power. Lex loves this bright, crushed-opal city with such frantic desperation that he only wants to swallow it down and keep it inside him forever. He thinks, wildly, that Superman sees this storm of stars every night, that he flies over it every day. No wonder, no wonder, no wonder.
They're descending, and Lex realizes that he's shivering with cold or emotion or both. When their feet touch the slate again, Lex twists around in Superman's arms and kisses him, sloppy and hungry and envious. Superman's lips are warm, almost hot to the touch, and Lex tries to tell him with touch and tongue that he understands, he sees the city the way Superman does.
"Come inside," Lex says when they break. "I want you in my bed," in order to forestall any protest.
"Okay," Superman agrees.
Neither of them can stop touching before they get to the bedroom. Superman leaves his cape in a bright crimson stain on the rooftop, and Lex's slippers scatter in the stairwell. By the time they hit the bed they're both naked, hands skating desperately over skin, kissing and kissing.
Superman breaks the kiss at one point to whisper, "Wait, I want it to be just us," and draw the curtains. Lex understands, so he doesn't even turn on the light when Superman returns; cloaked in perfect darkness, they twist into each other until Lex can't tell who's touching who. He just knows he wants Superman inside him, like he wants Metropolis inside him.
"Fuck me," he moans. "Oh God, just fuck me."
Lex slams his fist down against an invulnerable thigh a few times and feels the bones of his hand tingle in protest. "Just do it. Condoms, lube, over there." He points to the nightstand.
"But--" Superman breaks into a groan as Lex arches viciously against him, "but, but--"
"Shit, you've done this before, haven't you?" Lex claws frantically at Superman's invulnerable back.
"Ye-yesss," Superman hisses. "Hang on, hang on."
"Fuck, what are you waiting for, just fuck me already--"
Superman roots out the lube and a condom in a split-second; Lex didn't even know he was gone. He just registers the slick side of tongue against opening; it makes him scream, almost, but he bites his tongue and fists the sheets instead, sweating and dying and loving this. Then Superman works in a finger, then two, and Lex slaps the mattress and grits through clenched teeth will he just hurry it up already, he's dying here. He's so turned on he can't think, and if it weren't already so dark he wouldn't be able to see, either. Superman just takes his damn sweet time, or so it feels, and an eternity later Lex feels the head of Superman's cock against his ass. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply, because it's been a long time since he's done this. Superman is careful, easing in slowly and then stopping to let Lex adjust. Lex breathes him in, and when he's seated fully Lex pulls at his shoulders and demands that he do it harder, faster, even though he hasn't even really started yet.
It hurts the first couple of thrusts, and then Superman hitches up Lex's legs and changes his angle. Then it's just deep and sweet, Lex arching with every push, eyes tightly closed against the sensation. He feels overwhelmed, drowning in his car in a river and being saved again. Superman fists Lex's cock in one large hand and starts jerking, and Lex just opens his mouth and lets it all spill out. He doesn't know hat he's saying, could be a name, God, anything; he thinks Superman is talking too, endless pieces, but he doesn't know what. He just cries out, over and over again, until he comes, and after that everything's just dust.
Superman comes not long afterward, jerking and shuddering. He slumps over Lex like a fallen gladiator, breathing hard. Lex gets them both on their sides, Superman slipping out as he does so. Then he closes his eyes and for once his mind is quiet.
Lex opens his eyes into strange darkness. He sits up and rubs a hand over his face, glances at the clock. It's nearly seven. There is a warm, silent lump in the bed, breathing deeply.
Superman is still here. Lex reaches out to touch him, but stops short, fingers curling back. Instead, he heaves himself out of bed and flings open the drapes.
The early morning sunlight hits golden skin, and Lex is reminded, briefly, of seeing Metropolis all spread out before him last night. He's beautiful like this, bronze and tawny against the creamy sheets, belly streaked with dried come. Superman stirs; Lex can draw the curtains again and crawl back into bed. Instead, he goes to stand by the bedside, the sun at his back, while Clark opens his eyes and sees the recognition in Lex's face. It's as good as lighting a candle.
"Oh God." Clark sounds positively wretched.
"You lied to me," Lex says venomously. "For years."
"I had to! You would have been angry--you hate liars--I was scared--" Clark abruptly cuts himself off, as if sensing that arguing won't accomplish anything here. He backs out of bed and collects the pieces of his uniform, pulling on the tights with a set expression on his face, somewhere between angry and devastated.
All the fight suddenly drains out of Lex. This is not a moment of triumph; he doesn't want this to be a confrontation. "Clark--"
"I never lied to you in the dark," Clark says quietly, looking at the carpet, and Lex realizes that this is true. The bizarre honesty, the strange statements--they make sense now. Clark, who was never able to tell the truth to Lex when they were friends, was finally able to be honest only when Lex didn't know who he really was. "I, I would have told you. There just had to be a time."
"Because you wouldn't have believed that I--" Clark doesn't finish his sentence. "Never mind. I'm sorry, Lex."
Terror floods Lex's throat. It is suddenly imperative that Clark not leave, that they talk this out. What has he done? "No, Clark, I had--I had to know!"
"Why?" Clark is suddenly vicious, deep into Lex's personal space. "Why do you always have to know? Why can't you accept that sometimes, it just is?" He finishes dressing in a blur, save for the cape, which still lies like an accusation on Lex's roof. "Goodbye, Lex."
"Goodbye," Lex says to his empty bedroom.
There's only one place Clark can have gone. Lex is on the road in twenty minutes, barking into his cellphone that it's Saturday, he has no appointments--no, what part of no appointments do you not understand--and that LexCorp can get along without him for a day. If there's a real emergency--and he stresses the word emergency--they know how to reach him. There hasn't been a fit of real temper from him in years, and Faith just shuts up and says 'yes sir' repeatedly. He'll have to give her a raise.
Lex keeps his foot on the gas and reaches Smallville in a record 95 minutes. He spares nary a glance for the storefronts as he tears through their laughable downtown, though he notices that a Starbucks has taken over the Beanery, and a Pizza Hut restaurant has moved in. He will take steps to prevent a Wal-Mart from coming anywhere near Smallville. Lex leaves Smallville proper behind him and speeds toward the city limit.
The Kent Farm comes up on his right like an old memory. Dust dulls the flanks of the Maserati; he slams the door shut with more force than strictly necessary and goes around to the kitchen door, feeling 21 and apprehensive again.
Martha answers the door, looking just as radiant as Lex remembers, though there are more wrinkles around her eyes and the corners of her mouth, and her hair is streaked with silver. Lex apologizes for the early hour, but she waves him off.
"It's a pleasure to see you, Lex," she says. "Won't you come in? Would you like something to eat?"
Lex abruptly realizes that he hasn't had anything to eat that day and says yes, please.
The kitchen looks and smells exactly the same, though the curtains might be new. The counters are still comfortably cluttered. Lex takes a seat at the breakfast island. Martha, with a knowing smile, serves him a generous slice of blueberry cake and a glass of milk.
It's been years since Lex has had milk, but he doesn't remember it being this thick and sweet. He reduces his cake to crumbs and drains his glass. When Martha asks if he'd like more, Lex tells her, "No, I'm good, thanks," and Martha pours him another glass and cuts him another slice anyway. Lex finishes his second helping and imagines all those fat molecules making their way to his waistline. He finds he doesn't care.
When Lex puts down his fork for the second time, Martha says, "So what brings you out here, Lex? It can't just be to see me." Before Lex can even open his mouth to explain, she says, "I imagine this has something to do with Clark."
"Yes," Lex says, trying not to betray too much with his expression. "Is he here?"
"He's sleeping," Martha tells him. "He came home very upset this morning. I'm not certain he wants to talk to anyone right now."
"Oh." Lex gets up. His feet feel like lead. "I should go, then."
"Don't be silly." Martha pulls him back down. Her hands are warm and dry. "I said right now, not ever. He just needs time. Why don't you wait and see if he feels better later?" Lex wonders how much she knows.
"Okay," Lex says, because he doesn't know what else to do.
"Now," says Martha, "while you're here, why don't you make yourself useful?"
Lex spends the day keeping Martha company, helping her cook, clean, and do laundry. He wonders why she doesn't have him doing farm chores, but he learns why when half a dozen rough work hands stomp into the house at dinnertime. Martha introduces Lex as "an old friend, Alexander," and if any of the hands recognize him, they make no sign. Dinner conversation consists mostly of sports, the weather, and local gossip. Lex is uncomfortable the entire time, though he keeps up his end of the conversation well enough.
Afterward, he tells Martha that he'll be staying at the mansion. Martha nods like she expected this and sends Lex off with a boxful of prepared food, certain that he doesn't have anything to eat at the castle.
The Maserati's tires crunch over the weeds that crowd the castle's derelict driveway. The interior of the mansion is a hall of ghosts, all empty, rolling echoes and white sheets draped on furniture. The electricity still works, though, and so does the plumbing. Lex finds his old bedroom made up as if he never left, though the sheets are stiff and stale. He takes a shower and falls asleep still warm and damp. He dreams of Metropolis.
Sunday is apparently an errands day, and Martha sends Lex out with a list of things to buy (incongruously, baking ingredients and hardware) and things to drop off (mostly baked goods and gifts). Those who recognize him greet him cordially, and those who don't treat him with all the kindness any Smallville citizen would give Martha Kent's new errand boy. It's refreshing.
The hands are nowhere to be seen at dinner time. They probably have Sundays off. They enjoy a small, intimate dinner. Martha asks him about Metropolis and LexCorp and never so much as mentions Clark. Lex wonders, not for the first time, why Martha stayed on the farm, if it has more to do with Jonathan or Clark than herself.
He helps her clear the table, then helps Martha dry the dishes and put them away. When everything is spic-and-span as it should be, he finally says, "Clark--"
"Still needs time." Martha gives him a sympathetic look. "It's okay, Lex. He'll come around. But you should probably start getting back; it's a long drive."
"I can stay," Lex protests. He did much of his work from the mansion once; it'll only take a few hours to get it properly outfitted.
"Don't be ridiculous," Martha declares. "You've already been away from LexCorp far too long."
"They're not," Lex tries.
"You can come back next weekend. And if you don't mind, you can bring me this." Martha fishes a slip of paper out of her purse; written in her fine, neat hand is the name of a perfume Lex recognizes as a middle-of-the-road floral scent, not too expensive compared to some of its sisters, and commonly available in many Metropolis boutiques and department stores. "It was Jonathan's favorite when he was alive," Martha explains.
Clark probably associates the scent with 'mother' and 'home.' Lex closes his hand around the paper and tucks it into his breast pocket. "I'll certainly pick up a bottle for you, Mrs. Kent."
"Call me Martha," she chides. She gives Lex a peck on the cheek that leaves him feeling strangely flushed with giddy pleasure and then presses a banana cake on him, 'for the road.'
LexCorp fortunately suffered no major crises while he was gone, though he has to fire a few people for minor ones. He makes a few promotions as well; situations like this let Lex know who the real leaders are in his company. He also gives Faith a raise. He spends most of Monday catching up on missed appointments and unsigned paperwork, and ends up working late. It's not yet ten o' clock, so he gets into the Ferrari and heads over to High Street, Metropolis's major shopping strip. It's still lit with flash, the sidewalks crowded with shopping-bagged pedestrians. Lex slides into the first parking structure he sees and parks on the roof. Normally he'd leave a task such as this to one of his personal shoppers, but Martha Kent deserves a personal touch, despite the strange looks he'll doubtlessly get from the salespeople, and the speculation that will run rampant in the tabloids the next day.
He runs into Clark at the perfume counter.
"Damn you, Martha," Lex says weakly.
"Don't talk about my mother like that," Clark says without much conviction.
Lex eyes the pink-and-gold boxes in their hands. The cashier is too well-trained to say anything; she only waits expectantly. Ordinarily, Lex would offer to pay for it, but Clark would just kick up a fuss. "We'll split one," he suggests. "It's not as if she needs two bottles."
Clark is amenable to this, so they pay their shares and leave.
Clark must have the same sense of self-preservation that Lex does, because their walk down High Street back to the parking structure is mostly silent, punctuated with short bursts of nothing about sports and the weather. Their picture has probably already been taken a two dozen times, and tomorrow the tabloids will be stuffed with speculation on why Clark Kent and Lex Luthor were perfume shopping (as the tasteful little bag in Clark's hand advertises) on a Monday night, and are they gay lovers?
When they reach the car, however, Clark's face shutters just slightly. Lex unlocks the car, but neither of them makes any move to get in.
"For what it's worth," Lex says, "I'm sorry."
Clark shakes his head as if dislodging a fly. "No, I'm sorry too. For lying to you all these years." He looks up. "Are you angry?"
"I was, when I first figured it out," Lex admits. He opens the driver's side door and this time Clark gets the hint. "After a while, though, the anger seemed pointless. It didn't change anything. You were right; some things just are."
Ordinarily, this would be the moment for eyes to lock and destinies to change. Clark, however, is crammed inelegantly into the passenger's seat, which was last adjusted for Lex's much smaller wife. Lex turns on the engine so that the seat adjust buttons work, and Clark moves his seat with a grateful sigh.
"Some things just are, huh?" Clark says, once he's finally comfortable. He dares to smile a little, hesitantly, even as his fingers curl and uncurl restlessly on his slacks. "So what's this, then?"
"This is just us," Lex replies simply as he peels out of the parking space. "That's all."