For xNiteLite who had the prompt: ‘The office party was in full, noisy swing. People laughed and chatted while a quartet played jazzy renditions of Christmas songs. The mood was festive, and yet he felt a sense of...’
In addition, a woman named
Summary: ‘Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting love / As all the hopes of all the years are met in thee tonight’. A Metropolitan Christmas story.
Rating: A soft R
Thanks: To Madelyn, for flattering me (oh how well she knows me!) into writing this soft, slightly misshapen piece of fic-fluff. I had a ball.
Merrily On High
The office party was in full, noisy swing. People laughed and chatted while a quartet played jazzy renditions of Christmas songs. The mood was festive, and yet he felt a sense of curious detachment. The partygoers swarmed around him, but their blurred forms were so distant he had to check that he was in fact standing still, that he hadn’t slipped into high speed without noticing.
In the strange haze, only one figure remained distinct. Tall and slim, with smooth brown hair and fair skin. Smile that was less about light than pure electricity.
Across the room, a million miles away, and even the man she was smiling up at, her hand on his arm, seemed fuzzy and dim.
Of course, the chances that he actually was dim were exceedingly slim. Lois liked them smart. Clark decided to regard the six weeks during which she had deemed him clever enough to date as his greatest intellectual achievement, after that one time he’d beaten Lex at Boggle.
Heh. That had been fun. And mildly life threatening. Which was also fun. Clark was at peace with his inner extreme-living danger freak. You had to be to pull off Superman everyday. And to be friends with Lex Luthor.
The momentary lightening of his mood was quashed with aplomb when Lois leaned up and kissed Mr. Not-So-Dim, Mr. Smarter-Than-Your-Average-Superhero, Mr. Soon-To-Be-Incinerated right smack-bang on the mouth.
Clark slumped against the wall of his alcove and bounced his head against the wall behind him. Lois fucking Lane.
“The support beams can only take so much, Clark. Think of the innocent lives you’re risking.”
Clark slanted his eyes sideways and gifted Lex with the filthiest in his repertoire of dirty looks.
Completely ineffective. Lex’s smirk only deepened. Clark thought Lex must have the strongest mouth muscles of anyone alive, just from all the goddamn smirking he did.
“Look at them, Lex. She only broke up with me on Tuesday. Now she’s all over some – some – suit.”
“His name is – ”
Clark put up a hand. “Don’t! I don’t want to know.”
Lex leaned in and whispered, “You mean you want to wait ‘til tonight to look him up in the database at the Fortress, so you can sit there in your big comfy cloak and stew in super-gloom.”
Oh, that was just - Clark turned from the party and used his extra inches to tower over the smugly reclining man now leaning against him. Lowered his mouth to Lex’s ear. Growled. “Don’t push it, human.”
Lex went still, then started to shake with laughter. Lifted a hand and patted Clark’s chest softly. “Ah, Clark, you know I love when you do that.”
Not even the evidence of Lois’s continued engagement with Mr. Soon-To-Be-Painstakingly-Researched from his peripheral vision could suppress the delight he always felt, all through him, when he saw Lex laugh like that. It happened way more these days as well, and not just because Lex found seemingly endless entertainment in the (usually dire) state of Clark’s love life.
When Clark had told Lex the biggest secret he’d ever had, the biggest secret he’d ever even heard of, Lex had stared at him in wide-eyed, trembling awe, and for a long time, Clark had been unable to do anything other than stare right back, letting himself unfurl in a new kind of space. It had been the most solemn occasion of his life.
Then the nerves had kicked in and Clark had spilled orange juice all over his flannel shirt and Lex’s sofa, and Lex had blinked, slowly and dazedly, and roused himself enough to call Clark a moronic alien klutz. Then he’d hugged him tight, damp shirt and all, and Clark had cried, just a little bit.
That was six years ago.
Innumerable, immeasurable life-altering events had occurred since, ghastly and glorious, but Clark still drank orange juice whenever he needed comfort, and Lex still made alien jokes, although always very, very quietly.
“You wanna get out of here?”
Lex rolled his eyes a little and said, “Fuck, yes. But I have to talk to Perry first. Can I trust you not to reduce the new guy to a smoldering pile of ash while I’m gone?”
Clark scowled. “I am perfectly capable of controlling my base urges, Lex.”
Lex swallowed, then grinned. “Sure you are, Clark. That’s why you have Bagel Heaven on speed dial.”
“Shut up, Lex. I need the carbs. Anyway, I think I’ll go. I want to walk for a while.”
Lex glanced across at the glass panelling of the room, and out at the swirling snow beyond. “Wait for me. I’ll come too.”
“Lex – ” An eyebrow. “Fine. Don’t come bitching to me if your nose falls off from frostbite. Not even you could still be attractive with no nose.”
Lex grinned. “True. How would I smell?”
Clark knew this one, and grinned right back. “Awful.” Although, truth be told – “Actually, you smell really good.” Clark still regarded truth as a luxury, but nowadays he could luxuriate with Lex, which was, of course, the greatest luxury of all.
“New cologne.” Lex was already moving away, spotting Perry alone in a far corner. “Meet you in the lobby, at the top of the steps.”
And then Clark was alone again, but this time the throng around him remained real, full of people, not swirls. Unable to resist, Clark glanced one more time in Lois’s direction as he crossed the room towards the door. She looked perfect, shining and effervescent in the warmth of the room. Clark wondered why he hadn’t been able to keep her. Why she’d stopped wanting him. Why he could never make it last.
That thought sent memory spiralling back through a history of not-quite-Miss-Rights. Skipping over two big messes in college and the disaster that was Katy in his last year in Smallville, Clark landed on Lana with a melodramatic misery he almost viewed with affection, nowadays. The differences between 15 and 25 may not be that obvious in his love life, but he seemed to have lost the ability to wallow in mournful regret quite as persistently as he once had. His angst-filled musings were always interrupted precipitously by a small Luthorian voice in his head refusing to shut up until he could laugh at himself. Love-life traumas were always harder to really nurture with Lex around.
Clark left the elevator and went to stand in the empty, cavernous foyer. It was an enormous space, usually filled with all the people now upstairs wiggling en masse to some dreadful up-beat version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, and Clark revelled in the eerie navy-colored silence. Listening hard, he trained his ear on the plaza outside, hearing only the soft whisper of snowflakes settling atop each other. Across the square, a cat was sitting under the building’s generator to keep warm, and two cars were waiting at the stoplight at the top of the street. Suddenly, unaccountably, Clark felt a rush of wellbeing sweep through him.
“What’s with the grin? Where did you hide his body?”
Clark smiled again, big and warm, and pulled his hands out of his coat. “I dunno. I just - feel happy.” He turned and looked at Lex, who was in the process of putting on his own overcoat, scarf, gloves and hat. “Here.” He pulled Lex’s coat open by the lapels, and Lex stood there, looking at him, as he re-arranged the scarf to wrap it twice around Lex’s neck and head, as high as it would go, before crossing the two ends across his chest. Then he pulled the coat closed and did up the buttons. “My dad always used to do it like that for me, when I was a kid.”
Lex stepped away and started down the steps to the outer doors. “Oh, indulge your parental impulses towards me, by all means, Clark. Want to re-tie my shoelaces? I believe there’s a rhyme of some sort involving a rabbit that teaches how it’s done. I’d love to learn it.”
Clark pattered down the remaining steps and held open the door for Lex, watching him brace himself against the cold air as they moved into the snowy night.
“Actually, I don’t know the shoelace poem, sorry. I broke so many laces that all my shoes as a kid had to be Velcro-fastened.”
“Not much need for poetry with Velcro.”
“Velcro is a poetry of its own, Lex.”
A muffled snort came from inside the scarf, and Clark let out another contented sigh, watching it turn to dragon’s breath in the cold.
“Clark. Don’t you think the city’s looking very beautiful tonight?”
Uh-oh. Clark knew that tone. He bit off a smile. “Yes, Lex. Very pretty.”
“Oh, very. Only pity is, of course, that we can’t see more of it.”
“That is sad.”
“Tragic, really. We are mired in tragedy, you and I, Clark.” Lex turned a mournful face toward him. He had a snowflake on the eyelashes of his left eye. “Think of the glory of our metropolitan home cloaked in the pristine blanket of almighty Nature. That’d really be something to see, don’t you think? Such a pity we have no way of doing it.”
Clark was trying not to laugh; it really wasn’t a good idea. “Lex. The air up there would be even colder, you know.”
Lex stopped and grabbed his arm. “But I have my Jonathan Kent copyright scarf on! I’ll be fine. Come on, Clark, it’s Christmas.”
“Lex – are you wheedling?”
Completely unabashed. “Is it working?”
Clark stopped and looked around the street, then scanned it properly to make sure. All was still. Visibility – for humans – would be practically nil. Back to Lex’s excited, chilled face. “Yes.”
“For the sake of my dignity, Clark, I am not going to say ‘Yahoo’. But you understand that there is a good chance that I am saying it on the inside, yes?”
Clark walked him into a nearby alleyway and put his arms around him. “Put your arms around my neck, Lex. Ow! Your nose is freezing.”
“Mmm. You’re all warm. And you smell pretty n- … Clark, is that my cologne?”
“You’ve got new stuff now, Lex. Stop bitching and hold on. We’re gonna go up the side of the building and then over and out, ok?”
Clark felt the cold point of Lex’s nose nod up and down against his neck, and took that as a yes. Spreading his fingers across Lex’s wool-covered back, he rose off the ground and floated up towards the overcast sky above them.
Hot huffs of breath against his skin, then Lex twisting in his arms to see out. “We’re confusing the poor snowflakes.”
“We confuse everyone, Lex. Okay. We’re out. Where to?”
Lex turned again so he had his back to Clark, head resting against his own. “Let’s take a tour.”
So that’s what they did, circling slowly above the city, watching the lights downtown blinking through the falling snowflakes, looking down on the few tiny figures moving about below as they stayed silent and aloof, together.
“Lex, why do you think it didn’t work out with Lois?” Clark’s voice was quiet and calm.
Lex sighed. “I’m not sure, Clark. I’m sorry. I know you liked her.”
“I still like her. She’s amazing. But I didn’t love her. I don’t – I don’t think I’ve ever really been in love.” Below them, the People’s Park was slowly becoming blanketed, and a flock of birds was amassing in the center of the lake. “D’you think it’ll ever happen?”
Lex, in his arms, pushes closer, and squeezes his hand through gloves. Turns sideways so Clark can see the lines of his face in the darkness.
“Clark… I don’t know.” Clark startled, momentarily thrown to hear such a phrase from Lex. Strangely disturbed by the soft brush of Lex’s eyelashes against blue-shadowed cheeks as he openly admitted infallibility for the first time in years. “I don’t know much about love.”
Clark flashed on a mental picture of Lex’s left hand, which still bore the faintest imprint where a third wedding ring used to rest. “Um… huh?”
“Eloquently put, Clark.” So dry, Clark’s tongue watered. “I don’t know much about romantic love. I saw it happen, once. From the outside.”
“Wait – Lex. You – you’ve been in love.” Clark didn’t know why he needed to be sure.
“What makes you say that?” Honestly curious.
Clark couldn’t keep the incredulity out of his voice. “Well - three marriages?”
“You know better than that, Clark. Don’t you?” It wasn’t really a question. This time, Lex’s voice was as soft as his down-turned eyelid. Clark felt like a prize idiot. He knew the feeling – accepted it again – and it hurt, as much as ever. Moron.
And then came the roll-call. He hated the roll-call, hated the flat, empty tone of Lex’s voice when he gave it.
“You know I married Desiree because I had no choice. I married Helen because I thought I had no choice. And I married Paris…” – smirk – “because I liked the symmetry.”
Clark could almost feel the small wooden horse beneath his fingers, the loose grained surface abrading his once-teenage skin. Fucking Troy. Only Lex would marry the scoundrel to banish the ghost of the temptress. Only Lex would fail so beautifully you had to stare for years to realize it was anything other than success.
A thought caught like a skein of lambs wool on a barbed fence, and pulled him from spiralling Lex-theories back towards the snowy night, and his own curiosity.
“You saw… love? You saw it happen? What - who do you mean?” Clark thought, jarringly, of Lana, then blushed with a bright burn at his stupidity.
Lex looked meditative. Clark forced his cheeks to cool and waited.
“Amanda. I saw her fall in love with Jude Royce. I watched it happen.”
The tone was calm. But Clark knew that there were few people Lex watched like he must have once watched Amanda.
“What did you see?”
Lex didn’t answer right away. He seemed to be searching for the right words. “I can’t quite explain it.”
“Try. Please.” It suddenly seemed very important that he know.
“They had been seeing each other a while, a month maybe. They got on well at that point, and the three of us were out together a lot. Then one night – we were in Zero, if you can believe it – we were just sitting there, laughing and getting high, and Jude was telling some stupid story about his boss when Amanda just – looked at him. Like nothing before. She was always looking at him, of course, but this time was different. It was as if something inside her saw him, chose him, and – oh fuck, I don’t know, Clark – something shifted inside her –”
Lex broke off, seeming to draw a halt to the strangest speech he’d ever made. It thoroughly unsettled Clark, and not just because of the conspicuous lack of verbosity and copious classical allusions.
Lex nodded. “It was – it was like her center of gravity became altered. She didn’t move differently, but you could see that she wasn’t who she had been; she wasn’t just Amanda anymore. She was… Amanda-loving-Jude, and that changed her on some deep level.”
Something resonated within Clark at that. He chose to believe that it was the cold getting to him, as he knew it must have been getting to Lex. Sure enough, Lex began to shiver in his arms, and Clark started to scout for a safe place to land.
“Really, though, Clark, it mustn’t be too strange, falling in love. People do it every – oh my god, Clark, avert your innocent eyes.”
Clark, naturally, craned round to see what Lex was staring at. Ah. Threesome on the twenty-second floor of the Janson building.
“You’d be surprised how often that happens, actually, Lex.”
“Not that particular maneuver, I hope, Clark, or the women of Metropolis will start a revolt.”
Clark chuckled against Lex’s back, and they touched the ground. “Ha-ha. I mean that I see stuff like that all the time when I’m patrolling. People do the funniest things.”
Lex unlatched his chilled fingers from Clark’s neck and stepped back. “If you think sex is funny, Clark, you’re doing it wrong.”
Clark rolled his eyes and took Lex’s elbow, steering him towards the entrance to the old brownstone on the left of the street.
“Why are we at your place, Clark?”
Clark pushed open the door and watched Lex breathe in the warm air. “I wanted you to see my Christmas tree.”
Lex gave him a patented ‘my-baby’s-all-grown-up’ smile and followed Clark up the stairs. “You trimmed it all by yourself?”
“Martha didn’t come and do it?”
“Martha didn’t do it in Smallville and have you fly it back here?”
“Shut up, Lex. No. Now come in and be quiet.”
Clark unlocked his door and breathed a sigh of relief at the warmth of the room. He’d remembered to set the timer, good. He hadn’t planned on having Lex over tonight, but a warm apartment was nice for him to come in to. Serendipity. He steered Lex into a corner, keeping the lights off and the room dark. The tree was just a dark hulk at the far end of the room. Letting go of Lex, he bent down and found the plug for the tree lights, suddenly breathless with excitement for no discernible reason.
“Yes, Clark, I’m ready.” Lex at his most indulgent.
Clark flicked the switch.
Silver blue light crept through the room, seeming to travel much more slowly than its wont. In the corner, the tree glimmered, casting cool beams across the furniture and walls of the apartment. Round glass ornaments twinkled in the reflective rays, throwing random shadow patterns against the ceiling. Clark had spent the day before making them with his heat vision, and the irregularity of their form enhanced the strange refraction. The green-black needles of the tree soaked up the glow, and an aura of almost sanctity filled the room.
“Clark. It’s really beautiful.” Clark smiled at the wonder in Lex’s voice.
He turned to watch Lex look, and his eyes widened, slowly. In the silver light, Lex looked ethereal.
And then, right then, Clark felt it happen.
Lex had described it quite well, actually, he thought. It was like an inner shift. As if some of his atoms were not just his, but – what was it? – his-with-Lex. He drank in the sight of his best friend in the pale darkness, and waited for the feeling of soul mutation to sweep over him.
Clark jolted his head back towards the tree, struggling to keep his breathing even. What was happening? Or rather – why was nothing happening? He’d felt it – the moment of realization, the epiphany. He had, in the darkness of the room, finally seen the light. So why the hell did he feel exactly the same?
“Lex?” Swallow, Clark. Lex tore his gaze from the tree and turned to Clark, calm and happy. “The way Amanda looked at Jude, Lex. I look at you like that everyday, don’t I?”
Clark watched goosebumps wash across Lex’s skin, saw his throat work and his jaw clench.
Then - “Yes.”
Clark nodded. “How long have I been in love with you, Lex?”
Lex glanced away to the tree, then back. “From the beginning, I think.”
Clark nodded again. “That makes sense.”
It did. Clark felt as if he’d been looking at life with the wrong prescription glasses on for the last ten years, unable to figure out why everything listed a little to one side, or seemed just a bit off somehow. He’d been in love with Lex the whole time. Of course. He slotted this new information into countless memories, and suddenly they made sense. That was why he got so good at pool so quickly, why he stole that blue bottle, why he ran away and why he came home. That was why he told Lex the truth. That was why it had never worked with anyone else.
And just as all these revelations unfurled before him, another presented itself and waited to be acknowledged. Oh. Wow. Clark looked up. “You love me, too.”
Lex was hardly breathing. He simply nodded.
Clark thought some more. Then some more. And the more he thought about it, the more annoyed he got. So much had been so out of whack for so long because he hadn’t understood this. So many dumb things he’d done, people he’d hurt, so many times he’d been confused and clueless, and all along, Lex had known why.
He turned a reproachful gaze on his silent friend. “Why didn’t you tell me?!” He was startled to hear his voice was barely above a whisper.
Lex’s, however, when it came, was strong and biting. A flush of anger washed over his skin and he stepped closer.
“What the hell was I supposed to say? Oh, sorry you’ve been dumped again, but by the way, there’s a good chance the reason it never worked with Lana or Katie or Jess or Lois was the fact that you are very possibly in love with me? What did I know about it?”
Abruptly, all the fight went out of him. Clark reached out, instinctively, as Lex’s shoulders slumped.
“Besides, Clark, I – I wasn’t entirely sure that it would ever be a good idea to talk to you about this. If I told you, we might have to do something about it. Our histories in love are both pretty shining examples of what not to do in romantic relationships. We suck at love, Clark.” Clark didn’t have to think very hard before he was forced to agree. “But we’re really, really good at being best friends. Why would I ever risk that?”
Hunh. Clark gave it some thought. “Maybe you’re right.” Lex’s eyelids drooped. Clark wanted, sudden and sharp, to lick the skin right there. Realized he’d always wanted to, and had never known it before. “Except…” And that gaze was back on him, clear and strong. “Bear with me here. This is sort of new. I’m in love with you, right? And I have been for years. Okay. So if I don’t just love you, but I’m in love with you, that must mean I think you’re hot, yeah?”
Lex’s head jolted upright and he stared wide-eyed at Clark.
Clark smirked a Lexian smirk. “Eloquently put, Lex.”
Clark watched that one sink in, watched Lex shake himself and deliver Internal Lecture Number 7 – A Luthor Must Never Appear Surprised, Never Be Taken Unawares. Clark thought that the way he frowned when he did it was really, really cute.
“Come on, Lex. I need your help here. I think we’ve proven that if I have to sort this stuff out on my own, we could be here some time. It’s taken me a decade to get this far.”
Lex cleared his throat. “Well…” A pause. “Well. I – yes. I guess that’s logical. That you would feel that way. About me. If we’re extrapolating.”
“Oh, I think we’re definitely extrapolating.” Heh. Clark beamed. “Cool.”
“Cool?” Lex was beginning to regain his equilibrium, no doubt boosted by Clark’s mega-watt smile. Clark was drowning out the tree, and he knew it.
“Yeah, cool. So now we know. We’re in love. And we – wait – you do want me, right?”
“Oh yes.” No hesitation.
“Right. Good.” Clark sniggered. “Good. Then I think we should probably have sex now.”
All signs of amusement fell from Lex’s face. That which replaced them made Clark’s lungs clench and his groin tighten. “Oh, you do.” Lex stepped closer.
“Yep.” Clark bounced a little on his toes.
“Right now.” Closer again.
“Uh-huh.” Clark raised his hand and ran his fingers lightly along Lex’s neck, under the ear.
Lex’s eyes drifted shut and Clark decided right there and then that he’d lived far too long without kissing Lex Luthor, and that he was going to fix that immediately. He bent his head and tilted it slightly, then felt his own eyes close as all the parts of him that had become Clark-with-Lex finally found their way home.
Their mouths fit together, Clark thought. They just fit. He stepped into Lex’s body, slotted up and against him like a binding spell had been whispered nearby. Clark could feel the floor beneath his feet, so he knew he wasn’t floating, and truly, he was feeling anything but weightless. He felt dense, solid, as if the perfection of this moment had made him more real, more substantial than he had ever been before. Lex’s soft moan passed directly into his mouth, and it made Clark press even tighter as he temporarily lost control of his senses. When he came out of it, they were forehead to forehead, arms and bodies wrapped tight around each other, panting warm breaths that mingled and then dispersed in the warm room.
“Lex,” Clark panted, “Have you always kissed like that? Have you been kissing other people like that all these last ten years?”
Lex blinked a couple of times before he answered. Clark knew this because he could feel the eyelashes move as they kissed his cheek. “Never – never quite like that, Clark.”
His voice was gravelled and hoarse. Clark shivered in his arms. He was grateful for his new-found solidity, because otherwise, he knew, he’d be falling apart under the pressure. How had Lex described it? As a change in his center of gravity. Yeah. Clark pressed a grin against the side of Lex’s neck as he thought of it.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re my centrifugal force.”
Lex didn’t laugh. In fact, he sounded quite shocked. “Oh.”
“Yup. And I’m not too sure of the physics behind that statement, but it sounds about right.”
Lex laughed. “I like it.”
“Yeah?” Clark lifted his head and moved his mouth to whisper in Lex’s ear. “You like being my magnetic north? You like being my Pole?” Lex sniggered. “You like being the Pole around which my life… orbits?”
Lex’s voice contained laughter, and something much lower. “Clark, are you comparing this relationship to pole dancing?”
He was grinning like a complete idiot, but wasn’t finished yet. He moved his mouth back to Lex’s ear and whispered “I’d straddle you and swing anytime.” Then he pushed out his tongue and licked.
Lex gasped and pushed him back. Before Clark could move, Lex was reaching for his clothes. “Take it off. Take it off. Take it all off now, Clark. Fuck. Fuck.” And Lex was pulling at his jacket, his shirt, yanking and hitching in a crazy scramble towards nakedness.
The feel of Lex’s hands on the bare skin of his stomach was electrifying. Fuck gravity, this was a force beyond nature.
And Lex was laughing. He put his hands above Clark’s hips, and leaned his head forward on his chest, breathing in and out and staring down at the floor. “Oh Clark. This… this is so great.”
Something endlessly sweet unfurled inside Clark and spread to occupy the space in his chest. “I know.”
Lex smoothed down his now bare back, over his belt, dragging fingers over the back of his pants and tracing the cleft with two thumbs. He was breathless and incessantly moving. One hand cupped him firmly and the other tripped up his front to his neck, then his hair. “Better than the flying, even.”
Clark smiled into his mouth. “That mean you’re going to actually say ‘Yahoo’ out loud?”
Lex’s heart was thundering bird-fast against his chest, one hand pushed deep, deep in his hair, and Clark could feel himself beginning to shake.
“Not even for you.”
Clark didn’t have time to get offended before Lex sucked his upper lip into his mouth and nipped at it with his teeth.
Clark summoned a response.
“Can’t you hear it all the same?”
Clark pulled back and looked at Lex’s blissful face in the shadowy light. And then he smiled and knew himself, at last, in love. Because he could.