Pitch meetings at the Daily Planet were short and sweet. The news cycle was much too short to waste time. Perry White called everyone into the meeting room, assigned stories, and that was that, the same as it was in newsrooms across the nation. The difference was that Perry White had a 99 percent accuracy rate when it came to assigning stories to people who'd be good at them.

Superman had destroyed a lab in the next state over about an hour ago, and one in South America maybe a half-hour before that. Details were fuzzy on what exactly the lab had been doing, although word on the street was "evil robots," which naturally everyone was skeptical about. There was also a LexCorp connection, although no one knew what that was just yet. White, of course, called a meeting immediately and started pitching. Clark stumbled in late with an excuse about having to feed a neighbor's cat, but White didn't bat an eyelash.

"Kent," he said, "I want you on the Superman piece." Clark nodded; he was almost always assigned the Superman story. "Oh, and either you or Lane is gonna go to the Luthor press conference tomorrow. There's gonna be one."

Clark made a note of this in his planner. Lois would go: she loved press conferences, she was good at asking the hard questions, and Clark didn't have to see Lex. It worked out well for everyone involved.

Until after the meeting, Lois said, "Oh, Clark, you'll have to go."

"Go where?" Clark asked blankly.

"The press conference," Lois said, barely hiding her impatience.

"But you always do the LexCorp press conferences," Clark said with a rising sense of panic.

It must have shown in his voice, because Lois gave him a strange look and said, "Niece's birthday party tomorrow? I told you about it weeks ago."

That was right. Clark had it in his planner, too. And you didn't break promises to six-year olds. That was just low, and you deserved a special handbasket to hell for that.

"You're a big boy," Lois said consolingly, "you can handle a press conference all by yourself."

"Thanks, Lois."

"You're welcome." Lois patted Clark on the shoulder. "Now, go and fire up the Supersignal, or whatever it is you do to get Superman to talk to you."

Clark did maybe half an eye-roll (he wasn't in high school anymore, after all), grabbed his jacket, and went out to get a statement from Superman.

---

Superman, as usual, was extremely neutral. He said he'd noticed strange activity in the area, used his x-ray vision, and discovered an underground laboratory that was, apparently, manufacturing AI software chips. There was nothing inherently nefarious about this, and he had left it alone. Later on, however, he discovered a link between this lab and another, similar one in a war-torn country in South America where the chips had been used to build robots, which had been used to exacerbate an already brutal civil war. Superman then produced one of these chips, which Clark promised to have analyzed.

There was nothing, so far, to link this to LexCorp. Then Clark remembered an article in Business a while back. It had been a small one, just a blurb, but it talked about a new, more intelligent AI that LexCorp had developed, and a subsequent contract to manufacture these software chips for the military. There had been nothing about exclusivity in the contract, Clark thought, but exporting these chips to South America to build a robot army was pretty wrong.

So there were "evil robots" after all. Funny.

Clark thanked Superman for his help and went back to the Daily Planet. It was probably unethical for him to write articles on Superman when he was Superman. Technically, it was a conflict of interest. But he couldn't think of a way to get out of it now, not after so many years. The best Clark could do was report fairly and objectively.

The press conference was scheduled for the next day at one. Clark would have to be there.

---

The press conference was typical, as press conferences went. Some companies might have only a spokesperson present, but Lex always preferred to do such things personally. Company image and all that; people trusted a company whose head made as many personal appearances as possible. Clark suspected it was also the old axiom: if you want something done well, do it yourself. And nobody did public appearances as well as Lex.

Clark sat up straight, notepad and pen at the ready, and looked attentive. The press secretary said a few words, and then made way for Lex. Flashbulbs went off immediately, but Lex hardly blinked. He waited until the photographers were done, smiled, and began to speak.

There was nothing new. Lex said very pretty things about how, yes, the laboratory was underground and hidden, but that was for security reasons. Nothing sneaky there; the laboratory showed up on all his paperwork. He made no attempt to hide it. It was the same with the South American lab, although of course he'd had no idea it was being used to manufacture robots. He promised that an investigation was under way even as they spoke. Clark had no doubt that someone, probably several someones, would be pinned with the blame and fired or encouraged to resign.

"In fact," Lex said, "I'm grateful to Superman for bringing this to my attention. Corruption can exist anywhere and everywhere, even at the highest levels of an organization, and I might never have noticed had it not been for him." He flashed a smile for the cameras and a flurry of flashbulbs went off obligingly. "Now, I'll take questions."

Hands shot up. Clark's was not among them; he tried to think of a question to ask, but the only ones he could think of were personal, such as, "Why haven't you tried to kill me even though I keep messing up your plans, even though you know my secret identity and all my weaknesses?" Then there were the less pressing ones, like, "Do you miss me as much as I miss you?"

He should be taking notes. Clark looked intently at his notepad and scrawled Lex's calm answers to the press's rather hard questions. At one point, he found himself chewing on his pen. Before he knew it, he raised his hand.

"Second row," Lex said, "blue shirt."

Clark realized that he was sitting in the second row, wearing a blue shirt.

He opened his mouth and said the first thing that came to mind: "So how do you feel about Superman?" Realizing that the question was a bit vague, he appended, "Personally, that is." After receiving odd looks from everyone else in the room (save Lex, who was remarkably expressionless), Clark saw how that could be misconstrued and hastily clarified, "This isn't the first time Superman has destroyed your property and set you back millions of dollars. How do you feel about Superman's role in Metropolis as a whole? About his work?"

The question was irrelevant, but Lex seemed to take it seriously. After a few moments of consideration, he answered, "I think Superman does good work. He saves lives and helps people, and Metropolis is now a better place for it. However, I believe that we may come to rely on him too much. He is, after all, only one person, no matter how mighty. And he is not human, and cannot be entirely relied upon to judge human right and wrong." He looked away, and Clark found he could breathe again. "Next question, please."

An auburn-haired woman in a salmon pantsuit asked a question about the status of LexCorp's contract with the military while Clark stared at his notebook and tried to compose himself. It was ridiculous that he should still be affected by Lex after all this time, and it was even more silly that Lex's words cut so deep. They were all valid, but--Clark, unreliable judge of right and wrong? He'd been raised among humans, taught by humans--what made him any less qualified?

Clark jotted down the rest of Lex's answers by rote and returned to the Daily Planet feeling as if he were on autopilot. He wasn't sure if he paid the cab driver or not, but there was no yelling involved, so he guessed he must have given him the correct amount. He might even have overtipped.

Lois wasn't back from her niece's birthday party yet. Relieved, Clark flopped into his seat, propped his notepad up against the monitor, and tried to think of a lead.

Superman destroyed two illegal LexCorp facilities yesterday, prompting Lex Luthor to hold a press conference in which he said that he was "grateful" to Superman for ml;sdamgfl'a


Clark stopped. He didn't want to do this anymore.

---

The first time Superman destroyed LexCorp property was, in fact, when Clark and Lex were still together. Clark lived with Lex through his college years in order to spare himself the burden to having to hide his "gifts" from a roommate (especially considering that Clark still had a distressing tendency to float in his sleep). But even the best soundproofing that money could buy couldn't shield the horrors of the city from Clark's ears. Metropolis was just so big, and day and night Clark could hear people suffering. Day and night he went out, helping people, saving them, but his activities made his parents--and Lex--anxious. They cautioned him to protect himself, make sure no one saw. But they couldn't make him stop, because they knew as well as Clark did that he couldn't stand by and watch people suffer or even die when he could've stopped it. That wasn't how the the Kents had raised him.

"All right, then," Lex said. "Go and save people. It's what you do. But it can't be you."

Clark had been confused until Lex revealed his plan: give Clark another identity.

It was simple, as most brilliant plans are. Clark would have a uniform and a superhero "persona." Then it would no longer be Clark fumbling his way out of unlikely situations; it would be Superman, who didn't have to use excuses at all because he was a superhuman alien who considered it his duty to help those in distress.

Everyone loved it. More accurately, everyone loved Superman. After all, Gotham had Batman while Keystone City had the Flash. Why couldn't Metropolis have its own superhero?

"You're lucky," Lex observed, "that superheroes are trendy right now." And he'd gone back to his newspaper.

With that came the realization that Clark could take himself global. Now that he no longer needed to hide his powers, why stop at Metropolis? Why not help people in Madagascar, India, or Japan? He discussed this idea excitedly with Lex.

"You have to set limits for yourself, Clark," Lex told him. "If you try to save the entire world--well, Clark, you can't."

"But I can help," Clark said. "I can--I mean, the next time there's a flood in China? I can be there. The next time there's a forest fire in Portugal? I can be there." He had to get up, pace, vibrating with possibility. "Maybe I can't save the entire world--but I can make a difference. This is something nobody else can do."

Then Superman destroyed a LexCorp R&D facility. It had been a necessity; it had been experimenting with Kryptonite and human and animal cells. Not strictly illegal, but Superman thought it should be. Afterwards, he'd given an interview to Clark Kent, who dragged up all of Chloe's old Smallville Ledger articles about the volatility of Kryptonite, wrote a story, and gave it to White. The story had run in the Planet a few days later, in Health and Science, and eventually legislation was passed that banned Kryptonite. Besides being a public health hazard, it was a danger to Superman, and the city could not endanger their hero.

Meanwhile, Clark and Lex had a fight.

"Clark," Lex said, rubbing his temples, "couldn't you maybe talk to me about this first? Instead of destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment?"

"I had to do something then," Clark argued. "Lex, you know better than to mess around with meteor rocks!"

"I had it under control, Clark," Lex said calmly.

"Everyone always has it under control," Clark retorted, "until it isn't. Let it go, Lex. It's dangerous."

Kryptonite was on its way to being banned anyway, so Lex let it go.

But that was the beginning of the end. Or maybe it was the end, and Clark hadn't noticed the journey there. Maybe it had ended the moment Clark put on the uniform and became someone else other than Clark Kent, Lex Luthor's lover and moral compass.

Maybe that was what Lex meant when he said that you couldn't trust an alien to decide what was right and what was wrong.

Within the next year, their relationship dissolved into arguments and stony silence. Sex was an angry and hateful thing, and Clark started sleeping in the guest bedroom--when he came home at all. Then, one day, Lex made some mean, hurtful remark about Clark making the Fortress his new, permanent home, since he spent all his time there anyway. Clark snapped that Lex probably needed the privacy to devise new plans for destroying the world and moved into his own apartment a week later.

The next time Clark saw Lex--a televised appearance at the opening of a new wing at the Metropolis Children's Hospital--he was wearing the Kryptonite ring.

---

"Smallville. Hey, Clark!"

Clark's head snapped up. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Yeah, Lois?"

"Jeez," Lois said, "I leave you alone for half a day and you zone out in front of the keyboard." She peered at the screen. "What's this?"

"Article on the press conference," Clark said.

Lois wrinkled her nose at him. "I know that, moron. I mean this?" She underlined the gibberish with one long lacquered fingernail.

Clark winced. "I was--having some trouble thinking up the right words. You know how it is."

Lois wasn't buying it. She gave Clark a penetrative stare, as if she were the one with x-ray vision, and finally said, "I can write it up, if you'll give me your notes."

Was Lois trying to be helpful? Clark must look worse than he thought. "No, it's okay," Clark said. "I just--I need a little break."

As if responding to Clark's thoughts, the phone rang.

Clark picked it up more out of habit than anything else. "Clark Kent, Daily Planet," Clark answered.

"Hello, this is LexCorp Public Relations," said a robotic female voice. "May I speak to Lois Lane, please?"

He must have heard wrong. LexCorp had just asked to speak to Lois. "Pardon me?"

"May I speak to Lois Lane, please?" the voice repeated.

Clark held the phone away from his ear and stared at it. Then he handed the phone to Lois.

"I swear, it's stupid that we still share a phone," Lois muttered as she took it. Then her tone brightened considerably. "Hello, this is Lois."

Clark resisted the urge to use his superhearing. Lois would probably tell him about it anyway. That was the kind of person she was. So he stared at his article, trying to ignore Lois, and finally hit Backspace until he'd deleted the entire lead. There. A clean slate.

"This is she," said Lois. A pause. "I see," she said, sounding surprised. "Of course, I'd be happy to. And what is this regarding?"

Clark gritted his teeth and typed. L-e-x L-u-t-h-o-r a-n-n-o-u-n-c-e-d y-e-s-t-e-r-d-a-y

"I understand," she said. "I most certainly will. Tomorrow at three, you said? I'll be there." She hung up and stared into space with a little line between her eyebrows. Clark continued typing doggedly.

"Lex Luthor just asked me to interview him for the Planet," Lois finally said in an odd voice.

All ten fingers crashed down on the keyboard at the same time, ruining Clark's carefully composed lead sentence. "What?"

"I know!" she exclaimed. "I mean, Luthor--he never gives interviews! Much less to me? And in person?"

"He agreed to do a personal interview?" Clark could hardly believe his ears. Lex Luthor had allowed himself to be interviewed many times in the past, when he'd first returned to Metropolis as a young, rising businessman out to become greater than his father--and succeeding. Now that he was well-established he did the occasional phone interview, made the occasional television appearance. Press conferences and company PR handled the rest.

"With me, no less. Oh, don't give me that look, Clark. I know they call me the Barracuda." The line between her eyebrows grew deeper. "What do you think he's after?"

"Maybe he's just after an interview," Clark said weakly.

Lois gave him a look. "Yeah, right. Next thing you know he missed my face at the press conference."

"Maybe it's because you are the Barracuda," Clark offered. "He figures that if he can get past you, then--"

"Then he's home free!" Lois concluded. "I mean, anyone who survives an interview with me's either squeaky-clean or got nerves of steel, right? That's gotta be it. I'll have to be on my toes on Thursday." She practically threw herself into her chair.

"What--what's the interview about?" Clark asked. "Did they say?"

Lois shrugged. "Something big. She didn't want to say over the phone. Wonder why he wanted the Planet to break the story?"

"Well, we are a very reputable paper with millions of subscribers," Clark pointed out.

"Yeah, I guess." Lois sounded doubtful, though. Then she sat up straight. "Heads up, White's on his way over."

Clark turned his attention back to his work. White passed them by to yell at someone else about a photo caption. Clark managed to get the rest of his article written, but he hardly saw the words at all. He sighed, ran a quick spell and grammar check, and decided to let the copy editors handle the rest.

---

The Planet always closed late when covering big events, and Superman destroying a LexCorp facility definitely counted as a big event. It was something that would hit Science (the AI), Business (LexCorp), World (South America) as well as the front page (Superman), which meant that a great many people stayed in the newsroom well after closing, writing, fact-checking, and copy-editing.

By the time the paper went to print, Clark was exhausted. Not physically, of course; that was a dim memory from freshman year of high school, when he'd temporarily lost his powers to another boy. But mentally and emotionally, he was wrung out.

It was too late for a quick visit home for a pick-me-up, so Clark just took the bus back to his apartment.

Clark checked his mailbox (a credit card offer, an offer to upgrade his cell phone plan, a postcard from Chloe, who was the Berlin correspondent for the Times) and then headed for the elevator. Normally he took the stairs, but today Clark was too worn to contemplate the four flights up to his level. Naturally, the elevator took forever to come, prompting Clark to think that he could've taken those three flights of stairs by now. Just as he was thinking of skipping the elevator, it dinged and the doors opened. He hit the button for level 4 and read Chloe's postcard.

Hey Clark, it said in her girlish script, how's it hanging? Berlin's a blast! You should come visit me sometime. Stop being such a homebody! I'll show you the greatest beer garden. xoxo, Chloe

Chloe didn't know that Clark had been to Germany twice, once to deal with a forest fire and once to destroy a facility that had been attempting to illegally clone humans. He didn't know where the greatest beer garden was, though.

The elevator dinged and Clark stepped out, nearly running into Mrs. Harrison from three doors down.

"My," said Mrs. Harrison, "you're certainly coming home late. Long day at the office?" She had on her bathrobe and slippers and cradled a pack of cigarettes in one hand.

"You wouldn't believe," Clark said, pasting on a smile. "Superman sells papers, but he sure doesn't make things easy on us writers!"

Mrs. Harrison laughed. "Oh, but imagine if there was no Superman--you'd have nothing to write about!"

"Well, the paper survived before Superman," Clark said. "Have a good evening, Mrs. Harrison."

The elevator shut its doors and went on its merry way.

Clark keyed himself into the apartment, threw his keys and mail onto the hall table that had been placed there for expressly that purpose, and hung up his coat. He unknotted his tie, turned on the television (which was already set to CNN), and went about the business of finding himself some food. He almost always had the news on when he was at home because it might be something Clark had to write about the next day. That, and it might be something Superman could help with.

Dinner turned out to be some frozen leftovers his mother had sent home with him last week. Clark returned to the living room to find the television broadcasting various footage of Lex, the newsanchor speculating on how this might affect Lex's rumored future run for political office. Clark changed the channel to Cartoon Network and ate his lasagna while watching Teen Titans reruns.

---

Coming home used to be something Clark enjoyed.

During college, Clark was invariably the first one home, and he would cook dinner unless Lex already had dinner plans. After college, whoever got home first varied. If Clark got home first, then he would cook dinner. If Lex got home first, he got their mostly-obsolete housekeeper, Sybil, to cook.

Some nights, Clark came home late. Very late. On these occasions Lex usually found out about it fairly quickly, because it would be on the news. Lex also waited up on these occasions, because Clark couldn't remember a time when Lex hadn't been waiting for him when he stumbled in covered with Superman's work.

The first such night had been a mudslide in California. The balcony doors weren't supposed to open from the outside, but Lex had paid someone to fix that. Clark came home dazed and covered with filth and mud.

Lex took one look at Clark and said, "Get in the shower."

Clark nodded and did as he was told. He thought he should apologize for tracking mud all over Lex's spotless carpet, but the words never made it to his mouth.

When he got out of the shower, skin steaming, Lex was sitting propped up in bed in his boxers, reading a book. On the nightstand next to him was a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. No question who they were for; Clark sank into bed with a grateful look and practically inhaled them.

"No crumbs on the bed," Lex said automatically.

Clark rolled his eyes but didn't say anything, since Lex rarely to never allowed eating in bed.

After Clark finished his cookies, Lex put his book down and said, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Clark shook his head.

"Are you sure?"

"No," Clark said honestly.

Lex nodded, as if Clark's response had actually made sense. "If you want to talk about it," he said, "just let me know."

"People were dead," Clark blurted out. He looked at his hands. "I couldn't save them. I got there as fast as I could, but--but they were already dead. So the least I could do was find the bodies, and I did, but--and--and I couldn't help them, and." He stopped, unable to say anymore, sense-memories of mud and blood and tears unfolding behind his eyes. When he came to himself again, he was lying in bed with Lex behind him, rubbing soothing circles into his back.

"And there were all these people," Clark said into the darkness, "who'd lost their homes and pets and family members, and they were crying, and I couldn't do anything for them, either." He paused. "One of them said to me, where were you? Where were you earlier? And I didn't know what to say."

"You can't save everyone, Clark," Lex said. He pressed a kiss into Clark's shoulder. "You'll go crazy if you try."

"But what else am I supposed to do?" Clark turned his face into the pillow. His face felt stiff. He thought he might have been crying. "I--I can do more than anyone else can. But no matter what I do, it's never enough."

"It's enough," Lex said. "No matter how little or how much, it's enough."

---

Clark lay in bed and stared at the ceiling.

Superman didn't really do the night patrol thing. That was more in Batman or Green Arrow's line of work. Superman drew his strength and power from the sun. That didn't exclude him from night patrols, per se--Clark did them fairly often--but muggings and assaults in Metropolis were fewer now that Superman had shown his colors. So there was no justification, really, for Superman to go out tonight.

It was probably better than lying in bed unable to sleep, though.

Stupid, that's what it was. Stupid that Clark should be so affected by one lousy press conference, one look. How many articles had Clark written about LexCorp by now? How many times had Clark seen him on television or heard his voice over the radio?

But Clark hadn't seen or heard Lex personally in years. Metropolis was a big city; it was easy for two people to miss each other, especially when one of them wore a ring that was deadly to the other. When it came to getting statements or asking questions, Clark let Lois make all the phone calls and do all the footwork. And now, one little press conference and all of Clark's carefully shored-up defenses went to Hell.

Come to think of it, Lex hadn't been wearing his ring at the press conference. In fact, Lex might not have worn the ring for a while. Clark frowned, trying to remember the last time he'd seen Lex. Had Lex been wearing the ring then? He couldn't remember. He thought that very fact signified that Lex probably hadn't worn the ring for a while, because Clark always noticed when Lex wore it. It was an ostentatious slap in the face, and Lex meant it to be.

But Lex had apparently stopped wearing it. Why? Why was Lois interviewing him? Why was all this bothering Clark now?

Clark rubbed one hand wearily over his face. It was going to be a long night and sleep didn't seem to be anywhere in the near future. He should probably get up and do something productive. Patrol. Brainstorm ideas for future articles. Write a letter to his mother. Check his email. Surf the Internet. Read a book. Write a book. Anything but stay in bed and think about Lex, because that never led to anything good. You weren't supposed to stay in bed if you couldn't sleep; it ruined the association that your mind was supposed to build with "bed" and "sleep."

Associations. Bed. Sleep. Lex. Clark closed his eyes. He needed to get up. He needed to stop thinking about Lex.

Four years. Four years! Four years they'd been out of each other's lives. Sure, it'd been hard at first, lying alone in an apartment across town somehow different from lying alone in the guestroom with Lex two walls away. He'd gotten over it. He'd even dated other people.

Clark didn't get out of bed. Instead, he pulled down his pajama pants and grasped his cock, stroking with his left hand and pretending it was Lex.

Clark hadn't had sex in four years. Not with another person, anyway. There was no one he trusted enough and no one he trusted himself with; Lex knew all of Clark's secrets and all of his powers. He knew all of Clark's buttons: which ones not to push and which ones to push incessantly. He knew when to remind Clark to be careful and when to be careful himself. If Clark punched through the headboard or left a dent in the wall, Lex just quietly got the headboard replace or hung a painting over the bed. Lex healed fast and didn't hurt as easily as other people; Clark didn't know what to do otherwise.

One time, Clark dislocated Lex's arm during sex. He'd been horrified and didn't touch Lex for days afterwards until Lex shoved him up against the wall and kissed the self-loathing and fear out of him.

Lex loved being held down, though he didn't show it; he got off on Clark's alien strength and his ability to make Lex do things he didn't necessarily want to do. Lex, who was so strong and untouchable in his daily life, loved being dominated in bed. He also loved anything that had to do with Clark's powers: how Clark could float them during sex, how Clark could move fast enough that his hands seemed to be everywhere at once, how Clark could x-ray through to see himself in Lex. Clark would probably never have a partner like that ever again.

This wasn't working. Clark bit his lip and stroked harder, thought of sexier things, like all the ways in which he'd had Lex instead of all the ways in which he'd never have Lex again. He thought of the times they'd experimented with bondage (their safeword was "Krypton"). He thought of the time he'd written Kryptonian words on Lex's skin with a permanent marker, words such as "love" and "protect" and "forever." Afterwards, Lex had kissed him silly; a Lex touched by sentiment never voiced it out loud, only showed it in actions. Clark moaned, thinking of how Lex's lips traveled down his arm to his hand, sucking on his fingers, his tongue swirling around the tips. That memory led naturally to Lex's mouth on his cock, warm and hot and wet. He thought of how Lex would swallow him down down down to the root, something Clark had always had trouble with. But Lex had no problems, just got down and dirty. He could make Clark come in three minutes, or sometimes he could draw it out to three hours.

It was the way Lex looked when Clark came that got him. Lex always looked so. . . amazed. Hungry and possessive and awed all at the same time, like he couldn't believe that Clark had come for him. But he always did, and in the four intervening years when they'd never laid a hand on each other Clark still came for Lex, every time, toes curling and head thrown back.

Clark grabbed a few tissues from the box on the bedside table and cleaned himself, then dropped the wad into the trash can by the bed. He pulled his pants back up.

One stupid press conference.

---

The next morning, Clark was restless and irritable in the way that comes from a bad night. He didn't need sleep, or at least not as much as ordinary people did (Bruce Wayne, who seemed to sleep approximately four hours a night, was most assuredly not a normal person), but the simple knowledge that he should have been asleep for seven hours last night but wasn't was enough to make him a little annoyed.

In fact, Clark was so miserable that he considered calling in sick to work. He'd done it a few times before, when Superman needed to take care of some business that would seriously cut into Clark's workday. Okay, so Lex-induced insomnia wasn't nearly as serious as an earthquake in Japan, but Clark could spend the entire afternoon patrolling or something to boost his karma.

Clark stared at the phone next to his bed. It was five minutes until the Planet opened. Clark could get there in time, no sweat, but--

The phone rang. Clark answered it out of sheer surprise.

"Hello?" he said.

"What the hell are you still doing at home, Smallville?"

"I overslept," Clark said. "Sorry. Long day yesterday. You know."

"Tell me about it," Lois snorted. "Anyway, if you're thinking of calling in sick, don't."

Clark had a moment of real fear. Did Lois have superpowers? "I--you--what?"

"Got a call from LexCorp and they wanted to reschedule the interview for this morning and I said yes. I mean, it's LexCorp; they say jump, you ask how far. Anyway, that means I need you here to cover me."

"I don't know," Clark hedged, "I mean, I'm really not feeling well--"

"I don't care," Lois blared back at him. "I've covered you enough times when you took days off, you owe me this one. All you have to do is get your butt in this seat and make these phone calls for me."

Clark knew when he was beaten. "Right. Sure."

"Great. So get your butt down here, Smallville."

Clark sighed and got ready at a normal pace.

Lois was already gone when Clark got to work. Fortunately, White wasn't around to chastise Clark for being late, and Clark thought he'd be able to sneak to his desk without being spotted.

Wrong. Someone was in Lois's seat, and Clark mentally groaned as he recognized Jay, the copy chief.

"Hey," Clark said, slumping into his chair.

"Hey," Jay greeted him. Jay was smiling, which made Clark's stomach turn over nervously. "Coffee?" Clark offered, holding up the other cup that he'd meant to give to Lois.

"No thanks," Jay said.

"So what's up?" Clark asked, rearranging the piles of papers on his desk.

"Nothing much," Jay said casually. His voice was very even and mellow. Soothing. "You know, Kent, we like you a lot."

"Really?" Clark said.

"Yeah. I mean, sure, you don't really know how to use a comma, and you have this terrific tendency to abuse semicolons. But you write really well." Jay crossed his ankles. "And, y'know, big news days like yesterday and the day before are hard on everybody. You get a little sloppy in your writing, y'know, figure the copy team'll handle it."

"Uh huh."

"Except, y'know," Jay went on, "if all the Planet writers think like this, that means the copy team's got a lot of extra work on their hands, y'know, just because the writers can't be arsed to take that extra five seconds to run spellcheck." He said this all in that same hypnotic voice.

"I always run spellcheck," Clark offered feebly, "and grammarcheck."

Jay nodded. "And that's why we like you, Kent. So no more sloppiness like the past few days, okay? You don't want to get the copy team angry."

"No, of course not," Clark agreed. Earning the ire of the copy team could be a complete nightmare, as some of his coworkers had attested. Revision after revision, or rewrites without notice, or "accidents" happened to copies. . . "Thanks, Jay," he said, "for coming to talk to me about it."

"Of course," said Jay. "Like I said, Kent: we like you." And he sauntered off.

Clark breathed a sigh of relief and found the list of tasks Lois had assigned him pinned neatly underneath her Spider Jerusalem action figure. They were small things, fact-checks and phone calls, the sort of thing that you could take care of in a morning. Clark got to work.

Lois returned after lunch looking pale and shocked.

"What is it?" Clark asked immediately.

Lois sat down in her chair and stared at Clark.

"What? What?" Oh God. What had Lex done to her? "Lois--"

"I need to talk to you," Lois said abruptly, seizing Clark by the biceps. "But not here. Let's. Let's go outside. I need a smoke."

"But you just--"

"Go go go." Lois pushed Clark in front of her and manhandled him to the elevator.

"I thought you said we were going--"

"The roof," Lois said. She pushed the "up" button and glared fiercely enough at the doors that Clark was afraid she might melt them.

"Why the--"

"More privacy," Lois answered. "In," she said, and shoved him.

"Jeez," Clark said, "let a guy finish a sentence, will you?"

Lois stared fixedly at the floor numbers and said nothing. It was unnerving.

"Okay, Lois," Clark said as soon as they were on the roof proper, "what's going on?"

Lois took a deep breath and said, "Luthor has cancer."

Clark stared.

Clark stared some more.

Finally, he said, "You're kidding."

Lois shook her head. "No, he has cancer. He wants the Daily Planet to break the news--I don't know why. I don't know why he wants it out in the first place; it's not gonna be good for LexCorp. He wants to control how information gets out, I guess. Better from him now than if he suddenly goes into the hospital, or if it's leaked by an aide or something."

"He. I. I don't believe it," Clark said. "How? Why?"

"Started in his hand," Lois said. "He didn't realize it for--a long time. I get the impression that he's the kind of guy who's used to pain. By the time he got it looked at. . . well, they did everything they could. Cut off his hand, even, to stop it from spreading. He's been wearing a fake hand for the last few months."

Clark swallowed. "But it was too late."

"Yeah." Lois chewed on her lower lip. "It's metastasized. Look, Clark, I know you and him used to be close." At Clark's startled look, she said, "You're my partner, of course I dug up everything on you I could. You were best friends back in Smallville and lived together when you were in college. You broke up about a year after you started working for the Planet. Maybe he couldn't stand living with a journalist, I don't know. I'm telling you this because maybe you still care about the guy."

"I. Yeah." Clark brought a hand to his forehead. "Thanks, Lois."

"He said it was okay to tell you," Lois said.

"He probably knew you would, anyway." Clark took a deep, shuddering breath.

"Look, Small--Clark," Lois said, touching his arm briefly. "I'm sorry about yelling at you this morning. If you want to take the rest of the day off, it's okay. I'll cover for you. Tell White you got sick or something."

"It's--yeah. Maybe you should." Clark closed his eyes.

Lois gave his arm a quick squeeze. "I've gotta get back to work. You--stay up here, okay? Or whatever you want to do." She took the stairs, leaving Clark alone on the roof. He sat down, right there on the roof, and stared at the sky in amazement.

Clark didn't know how he felt. Numb, mostly. How could this happen? Lex was healthier than anyone, stronger than anything--but no, that was probably what was killing him. The cancer cells probably had the same increased healing and replicating rate as Lex's normal cells, and the doctors didn't know how to deal with it. Clark was seized with the urge to laugh. Lex's greatest strength had become his undoing.

And how had this started? With Lex's hand? Oh, the ring, of course. The ring had given Lex cancer. It all made perfect sense. And that was why Lex hadn't been wearing it. Another hysterical laugh bubbled up inside Clark's chest, tickling his vocal cords. Kryptonite to the rescue, once again.

Clark bowed his head in his hands and tried not to cry.

---

Requesting to see Lex Luthor as Clark Kent would have gotten him turned away at the door, and seeing Lex Luthor as Superman would have attracted too much attention. If he wanted to see Lex he'd have to wait until evening, when Lex was alone in his penthouse. In the meantime, he sat on the moon in his Clark Kent suit.

Once, when Clark was younger and just learning how to fly, he realized that his powers allowed him to fly into space without any repercussions whatsoever. He could survive the freezing vacuum all by himself. At the time, the realization had frightened him; it had driven home just how alien he was.

Now, when Clark was angry, upset, or tired, he flew to the moon and punched new craters into its surface or just sat and rested. It was peaceful and quiet here on the moon, unlike at the Fortress. The Fortress was something like an office for Superman, and he got no solace there. Here on the moon, Clark couldn't hear the clamor of the world.

Clark drew his knees up to his chest and stared at Earth. It was beautiful; those space photographs didn't really do it justice. Just looking at it was a reminder of what Clark had committed himself to. Clark had always thought--still thought--that Lex would love to see the Earth from the moon like this. He'd even planned it as an anniversary present at one point and asked the Fortress AI to make a special suit that would allow Lex to travel into space with Clark. The AI had replied that what Clark asked was impossible: with the materials available the Fortress could craft a suit that would allow Lex to survive the stress of space or the stress of leaving and re-entering the atmosphere, but not both. Disappointed, Clark had instructed the AI to keep trying, but suspected that the AI was probably not trying very hard. The Fortress had never approved of Lex.

Lex loved the Fortress, though. It was some sort of scientific wetdream for him. He loved the technology, loved being allowed to interface with the AI (which put up with it much like a dignified old dog allows itself to be mauled by a small child), loved watching Clark in what Lex once called his "natural environment." Clark had replied laughingly that the Fortress could never be his natural environment--that was home, in Smallville.

That was probably what had cut him so deeply when Lex had said, nastily, that Clark might well consider making the Fortress his permanent home. It implied that Clark was nothing but Superman, the alien, when Clark had always considered Superman a lesser part of him than Clark Kent, son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, lover and partner to Lex Luthor. Lex, however, had once said, "You are Superman. Always have been. Even without the uniform, even without the Fortress." Clark hadn't understood at the time, but he thought he might now. Because for Clark--for Superman--it had always been about saving people.

Clark buried his face in his knees. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. But he knew as well as any human being that life wasn't fair, and he'd just have to learn how to deal with it.

---

The balcony doors still opened from the outside. Clark didn't realize this until he was walking through the dark living room, looking for Lex.

"I'm in here," Lex's voice called. Clark followed it to the office, where Lex sat behind his laptop, the room's sole illumination a little desk lamp. But behind the desk Metropolis glowed, bright and tall, black buildings and dark highways striped and busy with lights.

Lex looked tired, thinner, paler, but still in perfect command. His shirtsleeves were rolled up; Clark could see where his right hand ended at the wrist. When he x-rayed it he saw a mess of wires and metal. He felt sick.

"I thought you'd come by," Lex said.

"I had to," Clark said. "I--why didn't you tell me in person? Why through Lois?"

"Would you have come?" Lex sounded weary. "You haven't been to a single LexCorp press conference in the past four years. Save for that last one, of course."

"Lois had to go to her niece's birthday party," Clark replied. His tongue felt thick and clumsy in his mouth.

Lex powered down the laptop and closed it with a quiet snap. He pushed it aside and folded his hands on the desk. "Clark," he began, hesitantly. He looked down at his hands, then up again. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Clark echoed stupidly.

Lex looked off to the side, then back. "I've been. . . unfair to you in the past."

Clark thought of their fights and the radio silence for the past four years. The ring. Lex knew him better than anyone, maybe even better than his own parents, and he'd always known how to hurt Clark the most. But the same was true in reverse. "No," Clark said, "so have I. And I'm sorry, too." He swallowed. "Lex, is--is there anything? That you can do?"

"I've done everything that can be done," Lex said, getting up from his chair. "It seems that the only recourse left to me is death."

"No," Clark said, "there has to be something. The AI, maybe."

"Ah. The Fortress." Lex smiled self-deprecatingly. "I admit the thought did cross my mind once or twice. But I was, I'm afraid, too proud to ask for your help. I thought I'd be able to win this one on my own." He stopped in front of Clark. "I was wrong."

"So that's it?" Clark hated the way his voice broke. "You're just going to die?"

"It's terminal," Lex said gently. "I doubt even the AI can help me now."

Clark brought one hand up to his own face, found the glasses in his way, and irritably took them off and let them drop to the floor. "Lex," he said, his voice thick. "I--"

"I did this to myself," Lex said. "It's not your fault."

"No," Clark said, "it's just--I hate this. I hate that I'm Superman, and I still can't--" He broke off.

"Clark. Look at me."

Clark let his hand fall away.

"If you'd never come to this planet," Lex said, "I would have died at the bottom of a river. If you'd never put on the uniform and become Superman, there are thousands of people alive today who would otherwise be dead." He smiled, and Clark thought he might come apart at the seams and collapse into his component parts on Lex's carpet. "It's all right. Everything--it's all been worth it."

Clark stared and thought, despairingly, that Lex had never been so beautiful and alive as he was in this one moment. "I wish--"

"I know," Lex said. He reached up and touched Clark's face. "It's enough. No matter how little or how much, it's enough."

That was it. Clark broke. They sank to the floor, arms around each other, Clark sobbing. Behind them, Metropolis continued to live.

---

Epilogue:

A week later, Lex took the ludicrously named Lexwing, his private jet, on a round-the-world journey, ostensibly to check on international LexCorp offices one last time before living out his last days in hermitage. The plane crashed in the Swiss Alps. There were no survivors.

Clark had already made his peace. He sensed the pitying looks that Lois gave him but made no response. There was nothing to say or do.

For Superman, it was business as usual. What did Superman care if Lex Luthor lived or died?

Three days after the Daily Planet broke the news, Clark went home.

"Clark!" said Martha. "You should really call before coming over."

"Sorry," Clark said, hanging his jacket. "It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing."

"It's all right, I expect there's enough food for three." But Martha didn't move; she just stood in the hallway, wringing a towel while Clark kicked off his shoes. When Clark looked up questioningly, she blurted out: "Are you okay, honey?"

"I'm fine," Clark said, smiling harmlessly.

"Are you sure?" Martha moved towards him, but not quite close enough to touch. "I read in the paper last week--and I was so sure you'd call, or come by, and I did so much baking. . . but you never came."

"I've been busy," Clark said. "I mean, Lex--it's big news."

Martha looked at him with large eyes. She seemed about to say something else, but then Jonathan opened the door and nearly ran into Clark.

"Clark," said Jonathan, clearly pleased. "Good to see you."

"Hi Dad," Clark said, moving aside to let Jonathan shuck off his boots.

"Your mother's made too much food these past few days, waiting for you to show up," Jonathan said. "Glad to see you finally turn up to eat it." He gave Clark a manly backslap and became more serious. "You know, son--if you ever need to--to talk, or anything."

"I know," Clark said, swallowing the lump in his throat. "Thanks. But it's okay, really."

"Clark. . ." Martha touched Clark's arm. "We know this has to be hard for you."

Clark closed his eyes briefly. "No, really. It's fine. I'm fine. Everything--it's okay." He opened his eyes. "Come on, dinner's getting cold."

Martha bit her lip, but Jonathan said, "That's your mother's line."

A month later, another Lex Luthor turned up in Australia, claiming to be the Alexander J. Luthor's illegitimate son. This was not the first time such a scam had occurred, but this one appeared to have all the correct papers and the correct DNA. The legal wall of thorns around LexCorp was forced to recede. Curiously enough, Lex Luthor had left a strange, seemingly irrelevant clause in his will pertaining to such an event, instructing that any blood kin of his to appear would be given the reins and occupy the same throne that Lex Luthor had once owned.

Clark, of course, did a flyby the night after all the papers were signed and Alexander J. Luthor II moved into the penthouse. The balcony doors still opened from the outside, and he made good use of them. He found Alexander II roaming restlessly around the living room, touching objects with the reverence of someone exploring his past and future.

He'd seen Alexander II, of course. He worked in the media and had seen all the press photos and televised appearances. But this was the first time he'd seen him up close. Alexander II had a full head of red hair and a full red beard as well, but the same blue eyes as his predecessor.

Clark opened his mouth and said the first thing that came to mind: "Why didn't you tell me?"

Alexander II put down the bust he'd been examining and turned around. "You must be Superman." He had a thick Australian accent.

"You know who I am," Clark said. He crossed his arms over his chest, but didn't float a few inches off the ground like he usually did when he was in "Superman lecture" mode. Lex had always hated that and called it Clark's "alien overlord" pose. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Alexander II gave Clark a vague PR smile.

"That cloning facility in Germany," Clark said, "was it yours?"

The smile fell away. Lex looked away, at the bust of Caesar he'd been looking at before. "It was. . . just a hobby, at first. To see if I could. Then I had a much more personal stake."

Clark found that he wasn't angry. He had never, all along, expected Lex to simply lie down and die. He wasn't the type. But to not be told--

"I was afraid it wouldn't work," Lex said. "I didn't want to get your hopes up."

"I would have helped you," Clark said, moving closer.

Lex didn't move. "I didn't want your help."

"I wouldn't have destroyed the lab if I'd known." Clark pulled Lex into his arms. Lex didn't resist, even brought up his arms and returned the hug.

"No," Lex said. "It was within your prerogative. You're Superman. You can't make exceptions." He worried at the top button on Clark's shirt.

Clark knew Lex was right, so he didn't argue. Instead, he said, "That beard makes you look like Lionel."

"Does it really?" Lex brought up one hand to stroke his beard, a worried furrow between his eyebrows. Clark had the sudden urge to stroke his hair, and it made him want to laugh.

"Yes," Clark said, "and no. You're much hotter." Then he became serious again, the sudden burst of mirth subsiding into something quiet and anxious. "Is this--now that--can we start over?"

Lex froze. "If you want," he said carefully.

"I want," Clark replied, but he sensed that wasn't all.

"Clark." Lex stared fixedly at Clark's chin. "I'm not--I can't be the person you want me to be."

Clark kissed him then, soft and gentle. It was strange, different, with the beard in the way, but all his cells were singing that Lex was whole, alive, and here with him again. "It's all right," he said. "It's enough."



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