The party had been going badly even before Trista stuck her hand down his pants.
Clark yelped. "This isn't, this isn't a good idea!"
"Why not?" she asked, shoving her breasts against him and nipping at his lower lip.
She was so pushy and her hands were everywhere and he just said the first thing that came to mind.
But it didn't work.
"Doesn't bother me," she said. Not only was she not taking no for an answer, his blanket rejection of all things female wasn't getting him any leverage either.
"I'm in a relationship." He was just going to pile excuses together until something stuck.
Trista's tongue was in his ear. "A flexible one?"
"Flexible? No!" He could work with this. "Committed, closed, not flexible at all."
"I won't tell if you won't," she whispered.
Clark felt like a drowning man. He was just flailing around hoping to hit something, a life preserver, a piece of driftwood, a friendly dolphin. He'd even take a shark at this point. Anything to put him out of his misery.
"My boyfriend. He's very jealous. Possessive, almost insane, kind of crazy really. If he even suspects..."
She almost looked worried, but then she said, "He doesn't deserve you. You should leave. Starting now."
"No," Clark said again, "you don't understand."
"I'm sure it's not that bad," she said, doing unpleasant things to his ass with her fingernails. "Your boyfriend can't possibly--"
It hit him like a Porsche flying off a bridge. "Lex Luthor!" he said. "I'm dating--"
Trista recoiled, hands suddenly up in the air like he was arresting her. "Oh, hey, you know I didn't mean anything by it," she said, backing away slowly, leaving Clark with a wet ear, half a cup of warm beer, and an imaginary boyfriend. He'd have to remember that one.
"Come on, Clark, it'll be fun!"
It would not be fun. Clark was sure of it.
"We can spend the whole day there on Friday, polling people when they come out of the movie, then we can make up a bunch of tables comparing the data."
Clark tried his best not to flinch too obviously. "Can't we just do the problem sets in the book? It'd be faster."
"Sure it'd be faster," Spencer said, "but this'll really get the professor's attention. Plus, extra credit!"
There was nothing really wrong with Spencer. He was tall and friendly, and otherwise good company, but for some reason, he loved statistics. Clark was only taking it because it filled a requirement and fit his schedule. Spencer just didn't understand that. In the same way that some people just didn't understand not wanting to go to church.
"I can't," Clark said. And he couldn't. What if he needed to zip off and do some super stuff? It'd be impossible to explain why he kept disappearing for long periods of time. Well, it wasn't impossible. He'd tried the "stomach virus" excuse once, but he didn't like the squeamish looks his date kept giving him. A date! "I have a date!" he said.
"Of course you do," Spencer said. "Sorry, I should have realized. How about Saturday instead?"
Clark shook his head.
"Um. See, the thing is, Lex is really busy and I promised I'd spend the weekend with him. Before he leaves for Japan," Clark added, really selling it. He'd never known Lex to jet off to Japan on a whim, but it sounded like something he'd do.
"You've got a boyfriend." Spencer didn't seem surprised. He sighed. "Okay, we can do the problem sets. Want to go to my place?"
"Sure, pizza's on me," Clark said, giddy with success. Pretending to date Lex really had its advantages.
"And, Kent, I've got you on the thrill-a-minute 'reduced risk' playground donated to the city by LuthorCorp--"
"Sorry, conflict of interest," Clark told his editor.
Justin sneered at him. "What, your daddy work for LuthorCorp back in Tinyville?"
"No, I happen to be involved with someone close to the company."
"I don't care who you're dating as long as it isn't Luthor himself, you're writing...you're shaking your head? You're dating Lex Luthor?"
Clark shrugged with a "what are you gonna do?" look. It wasn't exactly lying if people came to that conclusion all on their own. So what if he nudged them along. It'd stand up in a court of law. Shrugging didn't count.
"Fine," Justin said. "Madeiros, that one's all yours. Kent, you're with Schuler on the Brighton Stadium implosion."
Madeiros shot Clark a glare. So did Schuler. Clark gave them a sunny grin and chalked another one up in the win column.
"Payback time, Smallville."
Clark looked up just in time to see Lois cruise into his dorm room, an evil smile on her face.
"Big news! A friend of a friend is getting married. Not that I like either of them. It's actually more of a mutual resentment thing -- anyway, it's complicated, but the upshot is that I've gotta be there and you're gonna be my date."
"Can't!" Clark said reflexively. "I, um..."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You what?"
He'd found a flaw in his excuse plan. It only worked with people who didn't actually know him. He hadn't realized how much he'd come to depend on his fake relationship with Lex to get him out of this kind of stuff, but now it was all he could think of. He tried to kickstart his brain into coming up with another workable reason for why he couldn't go to the wedding, but it was stalled out, offering nothing but a big red Lois is Scary! error.
"Nothing," he said.
"You owe me, Clark. You may be a total doorknob with women, but you're really hot and I'm hoping that'll make up for it." She looked at him in that way that never failed to make him squirm. She'd seen him at his worst, several times over, and had enough blackmail material to keep him occupied for a lifetime of weddings.
"Wear a suit." She jabbed a finger into his chest. "And no disappearing. Your job is to make me look good. Fail, and I will make your life a living hell."
She'd do it too.
Newly returned from the horrific experience of being forced to carry Lois' purse and hang on her every word, Clark found a message from Lex in his campus mailbox. He and Lex didn't really talk much anymore, not since he'd started college. That was partly why he'd been using Lex as an excuse. It wasn't like Clark was going to have to face him any time soon. Boy was he wrong.
He'd called the number on the card. When Lex's secretary asked if he had plans for the afternoon, he said no without really thinking about it. They'd sent a car for him and now he was sitting in Lex's office wondering what the hell he was doing there.
Lex looked the same as ever. Cool. Slinky. Annoyed.
Clark fidgeted in the visitor's chair. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes," Lex said, with that little smile that meant Clark had said something funny. "Are you free Saturday evening?"
Clark wasn't falling for that again. "Why?"
"I thought you might accompany me to the opening of the new sculpture garden at the Met."
"What, like as a favor between friends?"
"Friends," Lex said. "Is that what you think we are?"
Clark froze, filled with panic and that guilty relief he always felt when Lex got too close to his secrets. This was why he was supposed to stay away. Lex made Clark want things.
Lex didn't say anything else, just leaned back in his desk chair, waiting, Metropolis spread out behind him. He looked like a picture of himself, one of those stupid profiles always showing up in Forbes: Lex Luthor enjoys fast cars, spending money, and being inscrutable.
"Well, what then?" Clark said finally. "Like a date?"
"I don't, I'm not--"
Lex let him stumble through a couple of vague denials, then said, "That's not what I hear."
"Oh," said Clark, because of course Lex knew. "I was just, there was this girl. She was really pushy. I'm not gay!"
Lex's smile got a little bigger. "Yet you decided the easiest way out of an uncomfortable situation was to manufacture a fake boyfriend."
"You were the first person who came to mind." And that had sounded better in his head. He added, "Because you're, you know."
"Hmm," Lex said.
"Wait," Clark said, his old pal panic coming back for a visit. "This isn't a joke? You're serious about this?"
Lex continued to smile, and not in a nice way. "It's a big decision," he said. "I'll understand if it's too much for you."
Clark did some quick math. If he said no, Lex would just show up with some gold-digging harlot and Clark's cover would be blown, his editor pissed, and Spencer, well, Spencer'd probably be overjoyed and insist on studying the data spread on the last census, all of which would be bad. If Clark said yes, then all that stuff he'd said before about dating Lex wouldn't even have been a lie. Sort of. Besides, it was some dumb sculpture garden. Who was even going to notice Clark was there?
"I can do it," he found himself saying.
"Good," Lex said, getting up from his desk. "It's black tie. I've arranged to have my tailor here for a fitting."
"Right now?" Clark asked, as Lex ushered him to the boardroom next door.
"You know what they say," said Lex, which had to be a sign of the coming apocalypse because Lex never listened to what anyone said. "No time like the present."
Clark was suddenly nervous. "Are you sure--"
"I'll pick you up at seven," Lex said, guiding Clark through the door and closing it behind him before Clark could put together a complaint.
Lex's tailor didn't speak English, and Clark spent the next hour being moved around like a puppet and wondering how much trouble he was in. A lot, probably.
Clark still didn't know how to tie a bowtie, so when the buzzer rang at eight, he had it hanging around his collar.
"Be right down!" he yelled into the speaker. He grabbed his keys and took one last look in the mirror. He wasn't sure what he'd gotten himself into, but he could fake it for a few hours, whatever it was.
Downstairs, Lex was standing on the sidewalk. "I'm sorry, should I have just parked at the curb and honked the horn?"
"Or is this the way you treat all your dates?"
"Uh, they don't normally pick me up," Clark said. He gestured behind him at his dorm. "Did you want to...?"
Lex shook his head. "Never mind. Come here."
"What?" Clark said, alarmed. Were there different rules for gay dates? Did they start off with a kiss? He wasn't prepared for that. But Lex just pulled him closer and picked up the dangling ends of his bowtie. "Oh," said Clark.
"Usually this is how men look at the end of a date," Lex said.
Clark blushed, his mind leaping ahead and landing in all sorts of dangerous, slippery places. Lex caught his eye and he blushed even harder.
"Ready to go?" Lex asked, finished with Clark's bowtie.
Lex's smile grew pinched. "This way, then," he said, gesturing to the curb where a long pewter grey limo waited, the chauffeur ready at the rear door. Clark got in first. Lex slid in across from him and poured himself a drink from the bar. He took a long sip, then leaned back, resting one arm along the top of the seat.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked.
The limo was moving now, the interior dim, lit up by the small lights over the windows and the occasional flash as they passed under a streetlamp.
"No," Clark said, watching the light travel across Lex's bare head, the bridge of his nose. It was possible Clark had made a mistake in thinking he could handle this. He scrambled for something to say. "So, um, how have you been?"
Lex raised an eyebrow and took another sip of his scotch. Clark winced and decided not to ask any more stupid questions.
The Met was swarming with fancy rich people.
Lex grabbed a champagne flute as soon as they were inside and knocked back half of it before surveying the crowd over the rim of his glass. Clark fiddled with his cuff links and hoped his hair wasn't doing anything weird. These were Lex's people. Even if this wasn't real, Clark didn't want to embarrass him by being a bad date.
"Relax, Clark, this is supposed to be fun," Lex said dryly, touching his elbow. Clark tensed, taken by surprise. Lex sighed. "At least stop making that face. People are going to think I've started doing business in black market virgins."
"Sorry!" He looked down at Lex's hand resting on his arm. Lex let go and finished his champagne.
At the wedding last weekend, Lois had demanded he put an arm around her waist, tugging him close and hissing, "Make it look good. These vacuous bimbos need to envy me." He wasn't going to do that with Lex, but maybe he could hold his hand. Lex had been touching him, on and off, ever since he picked Clark up. He probably wouldn't mind.
When Lex turned to snag another drink from the waiter, Clark took his free hand. Lex's head swiveled around. "Clark?"
"Hi," Clark said.
"Hi?" Lex was clearly about to say more, but someone behind them called his name. Clark glanced over his shoulder to see a lanky guy with messy blond hair coming their way. He looked about Lex's age and nearly as rich.
"Ah," the guy said. "So that's where you've been all this time, Lex. I was beginning to think you'd finally given up on us ever impressing you, but it seems you were just busy with other things." He gave Clark an appreciative glance.
"Clark," Lex said, "this is Vincent Pardoux--"
"Of the Barton Street Pardouxs," Vincent broke in, rolling his eyes. "Who cares? Tell me about Clark."
Lex went on as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Vincent designed the gardens."
"Really?" Clark said.
"Shh, I don't want that getting around." Vincent winked at him and Clark had a small panic attack. Was Vincent hitting on him? Should he wink back? Say something? What? Vincent leaned against a pillar and Clark laughed nervously and scoped out the nearest exit.
"If you'll excuse us, Clark and I were just going outside," Lex said, tightening his grip on Clark's hand.
"I could give you a private tour," Vincent offered, head cocked at an angle that made Lex smirk and say, "That won't be necessary."
Lex switched out his empty champagne glass for a full one and stepped through the archway to the courtyard, taking a grateful Clark along with him. They were only letting one group into the garden at a time, but the docent waved them right through. In Metropolis, any given line automatically started behind Lex, no matter where he happened to be standing at the time it was formed.
It was warm outside and a breeze rifled through the leafy green hedges that bound the garden. The flagstone path was lit by lanterns that hung from wrought iron posts, their gas flames hissing and flickering inside the glass. The whole thing made Clark feel like he was in Europe somewhere.
The exhibit was laid out like a maze, with taller hedges strategically placed to conceal the artwork from view. They turned a corner and the path widened, opening up to show the first of the granite sculptures, an abstract blob that looked a lot like a stomach sitting on a chair.
"What's that supposed to be?" Clark asked.
"The garden is meant to be viewed at night," Lex said in his ear. "The symphony patrons were getting bored at intermission."
Clark shivered. "Yeah, but what is it?"
Lex sighed and took a sip of his champagne. "I don't know," he said eventually.
"Maybe there's a sign." Clark broke away from Lex to look for an explanatory plaque or something, but couldn't find one. What he needed was a program. "Do you think--"
"It's art, Clark. It's not supposed to be anything."
The next turn brought them to three giant rolls of sushi resting on a square plate.
"What's that you were saying, Lex?"
Lex grunted. "Stone sushi is not art."
Clark laughed and patted the top of the nearest roll, the rock textured to feel like grains of rice, several spears of what was probably supposed to be cucumber poked up from the center. The roll next to it was lying on its side and had an entire tuna sticking out of it. With its head out the front and its tail out the back, the fish had a jaunty look, like it had a party to get to and was just passing through.
"This is making me hungry," Lex said, sounding miserable about it.
Clark took his hand again as they moved on down the path. "They have food inside, you know. Some of those waiters have things you can eat instead of drink."
"On toothpicks," Lex said. His fingers twitched against Clark's and Clark swung their hands a little, feeling proud of himself. He was getting kinda good at this gay stuff.
"I forgot about your toothpick thing."
"I prefer my food to be free of splinters."
"You threw a shrimp at the caterer's head," Clark said.
Lex sniffed and tried to take a drink of his champagne, frowning when he discovered his glass was empty.
The next sculpture was made out of stacked cubes and had something to do with math. Clark liked the sushi better, but Lex perked up, happy to explain the beauty of the golden ratio and its importance in Grecian architecture, among many, many other things.
"Everything we find pleasing about form, including the proportions of the human face, can be expressed by this ratio," Lex said, a wry little grin on his asymmetrical lips.
Clark gave him a shy smile. "Maybe not everything."
"Well," Lex said, like Clark had surprised him.
The last piece was a huge free-standing slab of granite with a square cut out of it, the Metropolis skyline framed perfectly in its rough window. It was like looking at the future through the past. Clark wondered if this would still be here in a hundred years, what he'd see if he stood here then. Maybe that was the point. It made him want to do something he'd still remember a hundred years from now.
"Oh no," Lex said, facing the other direction. "Board member."
Clark snapped out of it. "Can we run?"
The garden opened onto a bricked square where a chamber orchestra was set up and people mingled over drinks and weird foods balanced on tiny pieces of toast.
"No," said Lex. "Unfortunately."
The board member waddled over. "Mr. Luthor, I hope you've taken some time to reconsider the board's position concerning the--"
Clark tuned him out, watching the corner of Lex's eye twitch and gauging how long the conversation could go on before Lex got impatient and did something he'd regret.
"We've been over this," Lex said, starting to look belligerent. That couldn't be good for business. Clark let go of his hand and snagged two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter, giving one to Lex to keep his mouth occupied. The board member blinked at Clark as if he was just now seeing him.
"Thank you, Clark," Lex said. "I don't like repeating myself, Harrison. Don't make me."
Clark laughed, once, and put his arm around Lex's shoulders in what he hoped was a boyfriendly manner. Harrison started up his pompous bluster again and Clark could feel Lex sigh.
"Oh!" Clark said, checking his watch ostentatiously. "Look at the time! Lex, you know I don't like to eat carbs after nine."
"We'd better be going," Lex said smoothly.
They broke away and headed across the square.
"Carbs?" Lex said.
"Lois dated a guy that actually said that to her. Well, one date. Half a date. She ditched him at the bar."
"I honestly can't tell if you're getting better or worse at lying."
"About the same, probably."
The limo was waiting for them out front, the chauffeur holding the door open like he'd been standing there the entire time. Maybe he had. Clark gave him a sympathetic look.
They slid inside. Lex poured himself another drink.
"Would you like to get dinner?" Lex asked. "I can get us a table at La Bête Noire."
"I'm not really hungry," Clark lied. Pretending to be gay was exhausting. He wasn't sure he'd make it through dinner. Besides, La Bête Noire sounded like a bondage club.
Lex made a tsk sound into his scotch, then told the driver to take them to the university. Traffic was light and it wasn't long before they stopped in front of Clark's dorm. Lex put his drink down.
"Do you want to come up?" Clark asked, remembering his earlier mistake.
"I'll walk you in," Lex said.
It was Saturday night and the dorms were practically empty. Clark paused in front of his door, unsure of what happened next. He never was very good at this sort of stuff. Lex was no help at all, staring at Clark like he used to, like he was waiting for something.
"Well, good night," Clark said, and hoping it might put an end to this whole bewildering experience, leaned forward and kissed Lex. He'd meant for it to be quick and painless, but somehow it was neither. Lex's mouth opened beneath his and Clark stepped into the kiss and then they were grabbing at each other, kissing desperately.
One of Lex's hands came up to grip Clark's arm and Clark fumbled around behind him until he found the door and pushed it open.
They stumbled inside, still kissing. The door swung shut behind them and Clark pulled away from Lex, breaking the kiss with a wet noise. They stared at each other and Clark wondered if he was really going to do this, then Lex reached up and pulled on the end of Clark's bowtie until it came undone, hanging loose around his collar, and Clark stopped wondering and backed Lex against the door and kissed him again.
Clark hadn't ever thought about this, about what Lex felt like under his suits, the taste of his flushed skin, the wet heat of his mouth. He'd never thought about sliding his hand down Lex's chest, opening his pants and bringing out his hard, naked cock, wrapping a fist around it and squeezing. Clark had never thought about this, but he gave Lex a few unsteady pulls and Lex gasped and tried to thrust into his hand and Clark figured he was onto something.
"Show me," Clark said.
Lex put his hand over Clark's, made him go slower, stroke harder.
"Oh," Clark said, leaning his head against Lex's so he could look down between them and watch Lex's cock moving in and out of their hands. "Like this?"
Lex didn't offer any further advice, which Clark took to mean he wasn't doing too badly. Lex had his eyes squeezed shut and he was biting his lip, so Clark just kept doing what he was doing, holding the back of Lex's head in one hand so Lex didn't hit it against the door while Clark slowly jerked him off.
Clark was doing most of the work now and the sight of Lex's cock in his hand, its round head peeking in and out of his fist, was making him so hard he couldn't stop himself from rubbing against Lex, pushing his dick against Lex's leg like some stupid kid.
"Lex," Clark said, helplessly, embarrassed and turned on, each amplifying the other, and Lex took in a sharp breath, cupped a hand around the head of his cock and came.
"Oh God, Lex." Clark kissed him and Lex leaned back against the wall, reaching his hand up to pet Clark's face, run a thumb over Clark's lips, back and forth, until Clark opened his mouth. He wasn't sure what to expect, but Lex slid a finger in, wet with his own come, and Clark found he liked it. It was bitter and private and he licked Lex's hand clean, wanted to go to his knees and lick his cock, too, put it in his mouth and suck him back to full hardness. He would have, but didn't know how, so he dragged his tongue over Lex's palm instead, watching Lex the entire time, and some of what he was thinking must have shown because Lex pushed him back towards the bed, forced him to sit, then shoved his hand into Clark's pants and grabbed his cock.
Clark stopped breathing. Lex had a hand on his dick. Lex was touching him. Lex was unzipping his pants and kneeling between his thighs. Lex was talking:
"Do you like this, Clark? Is it what you thought it'd be?"
"Yes, Lex. Please," Clark said, but he would have said anything, and Lex eventually stopped talking and just pulled Clark's dick out, gave it a few healthy tugs and sucked the tip into his mouth and that was pretty much it. Clark was coming before he could do much more than shudder and give a single involuntary thrust forward. Lex swallowed and Clark fell back on the bed.
It drained him, like sweating out kryptonite, and he took a brief mental vacation, staring at the Rockets poster on the far wall and trying to assimilate the fact that he'd just had sex with a guy. It was fun, but weird, and he decided he needed Lex to leave so that he could freak out about it in private.
"Um, my roommate's gonna be back soon, so...I had a nice time."
A girl had said that to him once. It was pretty effective, even Clark had known he was being kicked out. It seemed to work on guys too. Lex's tongue came out to lick his lower lip. He stood and deliberately tucked himself back into his pants, right where Clark couldn't help but see. That almost made him change his mind. He wanted more time with Lex's dick, but it was too late. Lex was straightening his bowtie and stepping out into the hallway.
The door shut.
Clark looked around his room, at its greasy pizza boxes and piles of dirty socks. He hadn't seen the floor since he'd moved in last fall. He hadn't seen his roommate in nearly as long. Clark was pretty sure he slept in the library.
Confident he wouldn't be interrupted, he kicked his pants off and stared at the ceiling for a while, dressed in half a tux, newly blown, and maybe, possibly, a little gay.
Then he fell asleep.
The next morning, Clark had come to terms with his new gayness. He'd decided it wasn't anything a little repression couldn't cure.
This was somewhat complicated by the morning's paper.
Back in his wilder days, Lex had loved playing with the tabloids and was on the record as being straight, gay, bisexual, and none of the above. After a while the reporters learned not to ask. Which meant now, ten years later, when their picture showed up in the papers, Lex wasn't the news. Clark, Lex's mysterious young consort, was.
Clark discovered this the hard way, stepping out of his dorm to get breakfast the next morning. There was a mob of reporters on the lawn, all of them yelling extremely inappropriate questions at him. He called Lex on his cell phone while walking very fast to the cafeteria. The mob trotted after him.
"Yes," said Lex.
"Lex," Clark hissed. "The whole world thinks I'm gay."
"And I'm being followed by reporters."
"I hope you're not talking to me on a cell phone," Lex said.
Clark ignored the non-sequitur. "Did you know this was going to happen?"
"Yes. Is there a problem?"
"I'm not gay!"
Lex was unsympathetic. "Maybe you should have thought of that before falsely aligning yourself with my reputation."
"You've ruined my life!"
"All right," Lex said pleasantly, as if they were agreeing on a time to meet for lunch. There was a click.
Lex had hung up on him! Clark tried calling back, but the secretary wouldn't put him through.
"Oh God," Clark said, his life flashing before his eyes.
The reporters followed him into the cafeteria, and he was forced to stuff a bagel in his pocket and an apple in his mouth and take the back way out. He ended up in the j-school lounge, which required student ID, stranding the reporters outside. They pressed their faces to the narrow pane of glass in the door and tracked his every move.
He pulled the day's papers and sat in a corner where the mob couldn't see him.
The Inquisitor had Clark and Lex on the front page, a shot they must have photoshopped because Clark was sure they hadn't been standing that close together. The Planet, at least, had the good sense to tuck them away in the society pages with the rest of the fake news, and Clark read the companion article grudgingly. The sushi piece, as it turned out, was called Rock 'n Rolls. This appealed to Clark's love of puns and he wanted to tell Lex about it, if only because he'd hate it, but Lex still wasn't taking his calls.
Clark really hadn't expected this to be such a big deal. So they got their picture in the paper. It wasn't the first time. Clark and Lex used to appear together in the Ledger almost weekly. Back home not much would have been made of it. Of course he and Lex hadn't been holding hands in any of those pictures.
He sighed and put the paper down. What a mess.
Two students walked into the lounge, bickering about their plans for spring break, and Clark took the opportunity to zip out the open door, slide past the mob, and run away.
He'd finally managed to lose the reporters, but his torture for the day was far from over.
"Oh, Smallville, this explains so much," Lois said when he ran into her at the Bean Counter. "Word of advice? Stay out of Chloe's way for a week or two. Girl is not happy."
Chloe stormed into the writing lab and slammed a copy of the Planet into his chest. "Seriously? You couldn't warn me you're going to be outed by the major media? I keep your secrets -- all of them -- and this is the thanks I get?"
His mother called. "Clark, is there something you want to tell me?"
"I'm not gay," he said, over and over, but none of them believed him.
His plan had totally backfired.
That was Sunday. Monday wasn't any better.
"I spent three weeks on this project!" Clark said, flapping it at his journalism professor, who didn't even look up from her laptop.
"Sorry," she said. "I can't accept it."
She looked up then. "You chose LuthorCorp as your subject."
"How can I be certain you compiled this information yourself?"
Clark gaped at her. "Who else would have?"
"Clark, it's no secret you're dating Lex Luthor. His secretary could have put this together for you in an hour."
"She didn't! Lex wouldn't--" He took a deep breath. "We're not really dating. We're just friends," he said. The word stuck in his throat like a bone.
"Why LuthorCorp, then?"
He'd chosen it so he could keep an eye out for any of Lex's corporate misdeeds. Having Lex's secretary do the work for him would have defeated the purpose. But he couldn't tell his professor that, so he just rephrased his project summary. It was the best kind of lie: True, but not the truth.
"LuthorCorp has a big presence in Smallville and I spent a lot of time around plant number three when I was in high school. You can look at my list of sources. I did all the work myself."
She sat back in her chair and stared at him through her catseye glasses. She stuck her hand out.
"Thank you!" Clark said, handing her the paper.
"Not so fast," she said.
An hour later, he reeled out of her office and stumbled down the stairs to the quad. He got out his cell phone with numb fingers. Lex's secretary said he was unavailable, just as she had the last ten times he'd called.
"Oh my God," Clark said to Lex's voice mail. "Just because we're seen together once all of Metropolis is acting like you own me! Like you even care what grade I get in info gathering. I mean, my professor accused me of not doing my own work! I just spent an hour getting grilled on my research practices. If she knew you at all, she'd know you'd never let me get away with slacking off and taking credit for something I didn't do. Um, call me?"
He collapsed on a bench.
What had started as a way to get out of work was now causing him even more work. The irony wasn't lost on him. Stupid irony.
He was still stewing over that when a red-headed girl sat down next to him.
"You look like you could use some cheering up," she said. She was cute, with a round little nose and milky skin. Her hair was in two short braids and she was wearing some kind of stringy yellow top that showed off her freckled shoulders.
She tilted her head and pushed her chest forward. Lois, in a doomed effort to make him less of a doorknob, had once drilled him on signs of female interest. This move included several of the top five.
"I could buy you a beer and you could tell me about it." She let their knees bump together.
"Sorry," Clark said, giving a tired shrug. "I'm gay."
He thought he might as well say it. It had turned out to be true, after all. He was gay, and he was okay with that because at this point it was the least of his problems.
"Oh," she said, eyes wide. "Sorry. I didn't recognize you. You look different in...flannel. I've gotta go."
He watched her run off across the lawn and join a game of frisbee, linking arms with another girl there and whispering in her ear. They both turned to stare at him. Clark ground his teeth together and pretended to be engrossed in his cell phone. Lex's secretary said Lex was still unavailable. Clark didn't leave a message.
By the time he got to the paper on Wednesday, he fully expected to be assigned to the lunch menu -- Chloe's favorite punishment for him when he'd pissed her off back in high school -- but Justin just looked at him like he had the plague.
"I don't have anything for you, Kent."
"I could do background for the fuel cell piece," Clark offered.
Justin shook his head. "It's a LuthorCorp project. I can't afford to have your personal bias endanger the integrity of this paper."
"We broke up," Clark said, feeling kind of sick about it.
"Even worse," Justin said darkly.
"Right." Clark shuffled over to the ad desk, defeated. He could probably answer the phone without his personal bias violating anyone's right to free speech.
He glared across the room, where Justin sat at his computer looking like a fire hydrant with hair. Justin was an ex-football player, big and sturdy and smarter than he looked.
Clark idly considered having sex with him. It freaked him out, though, and he had to stop.
The thought crossed his mind that he was as bad at being gay as he was at being straight, which was just depressing. Because he could blame his lack of success with girls on the fact he'd been secretly gay all that time, but now that he was officially gay, he couldn't find anyone he wanted to sleep with.
All right, so he knew one guy he'd like to sleep with. It didn't mean he was in love with him or anything. Lex was just really good with his hands, and his mouth.
Clark dialed Lex's number absently. Lex, he was told, was unavailable. He left a message after the beep.
"If the campus paper had obituaries, that would be my new job. As it is, I'll probably get stuck unclogging the toilets and working the ad desk for the rest of the term. No paper's ever going to print anything I write. Thanks to my association with you, my journalistic integrity is suspect. I should just change my major now." He sighed. "I miss you."
Life, despite his most fervent wishes, did not go back to normal. After several more unsuccessful attempts to call up Lex and blame it all on him, Clark was forced to admit that, really, he'd kind of brought this upon himself. So now he was gay, lonely, and about to get fired from the paper, and it was his own stupid fault. And Lex still wasn't taking his phone calls.
The only constant in his life was Spencer, who was treating him exactly the same as he always had.
"Did you have trouble with the homework?" Spencer asked, perfectly normal, as if Clark's entire life hadn't just totally gone to hell and he had time to do his stats homework in between dodging the paparazzi and reassuring his mother that he wasn't running around Metropolis doing drugs and having unprotected sex. She'd been watching cable again.
"I've been a little busy," Clark said.
"Right," said Spencer. "Want to read my notes?"
Clark almost hugged him. It was such a relief not to have to defend himself or answer stupid questions. Spencer just wanted to talk about sampling distributions. He didn't care Clark was suddenly famous for holding Lex Luthor's hand in public.
His stats prof didn't care either, going by the look on his face when Clark said he hadn't done the reading, but Clark kept his head down and managed to make it through class without drawing too much attention to himself.
"So," Spencer said. He closed his notebook and tucked it into his bag. "If you wanted, I could help you go over the chapters you missed. We could do it over pizza?"
Clark was getting better at being gay, because for Spencer that totally qualified as a come on. Clark thought about saying yes; Spencer was nice and lanky and in no way had the attention of the international news media. He'd probably be a great boyfriend, but there wasn't any tension between them, no sense that they would ever challenge each other. Not like with Lex.
"Sorry," Clark said. "I've got stuff to do."
"Right. I mean -- you've probably got plans with Lex."
"Yeah," Clark said, wishing he did.
"Well, okay. See you next week." Spencer joined the crowd of students pouring out the doors of Bradley Hall and disappeared.
Clark let the press of bodies carry him down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk, depositing him right in front of one of the green newspaper boxes that housed Metropolis' free weekly. The cover asked: "Is gay the new straight?"
The words were printed over a picture of him and Lex. He looked happy. They both did.
Clark squeezed the side pocket of his backpack, checking to see if he had his cell phone, then changed his mind and started walking.
"One moment," Lex's secretary said, looking slightly puzzled to see Clark, like he belonged on the phone and was messing her up by being there in person. She pressed a few buttons on her computer and her face cleared. "Mr. Luthor is unavailable."
"I'll wait," Clark said.
Lex, because he was Lex and believed in psyching out the competition by any means necessary, did not have chairs in the space outside his office. Clark sat on the floor next to a potted palm and made himself comfortable.
Eventually, Lex would have to leave.
At three o'clock, an old guy in a three piece suit stepped out of the elevator and nearly tripped over his own feet. Clark was sitting against the wall with his econ notes spread around him. Clark smiled and went back to drawing supply/demand charts.
The old guy strode over to the secretary and whispered, "What's he doing over there?"
"His economics homework," she whispered, leaning forward. "I let him borrow my ruler."
"You can go right in," she said.
He cast a final look at Clark, tightened his grip on his briefcase, and marched into Lex's office.
The secretary rolled her eyes.
Clark gave her a shrug to show there were no hard feelings.
By six, Lex had seen several more visitors, and Clark had finished his homework and was eating a Pop-Tart he'd found in his backpack. Along with no chairs, Lex's reception area had no magazines, so Clark was reduced to reading his stats textbook for fun.
At half-past, a chime sounded and Connie shut down her computer and got her purse out of her desk. She pulled on her jacket, glanced at Clark, and went into Lex's office.
Clark could hear them talking through the walls -- Connie's precise speech, the low tones of Lex's dissatisfaction -- but wasn't interested in what they were saying.
Connie came back out.
"Let me guess," Clark said. "Lex is unavailable."
"That's the party line," she said, gathering her things. "I'm going home, which would normally mean you are too, but Mr. Luthor seems to think kicking you out would have no visible effect."
"He's letting me stay?"
"I'm letting you stay." She dimmed the lights and left.
When Lex finally came out of his office, it was dark outside, the city black and glossy through the windows. Clark was sitting at Connie's desk with her task light on. Lex looked resigned.
"I suppose you're here to tell me the latest way I've ruined your life."
Clark opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He'd been waiting for this moment for more than six hours and he was just now realizing he had no game plan. God. Lois was right. He was a hopeless doorknob. In the absence of anything to say, mouth still open, he made a squeaking noise.
Lex gave him a tired look, then walked past him to the elevator.
"Wait!" Clark said, chasing after him. "I want to go out with you again, for real this time."
"Won't that interfere with you being straight?"
"Yeah, I might have been wrong about that," Clark said, hoping he sounded youthfully shallow rather than just plain stupid.
The elevator arrived with a ding! and for a moment Clark was worried Lex was going to dive into the car head-first just to get away from him, but they stood there a while longer and the doors closed and Lex sighed.
"But how could that be?" Lex said, with exaggerated patience. "You were very clear about not being gay. You told me so yourself, on three separate occasions."
"I was confused, all right? I didn't know what to think."
Lex wasn't satisfied with this. "You didn't seem confused when I had your dick in my mouth."
It was probably meant to shock him, but Clark felt himself getting hard at the memory of Lex and his soft pink tongue. Clark hadn't been confused about that. It was the next morning the panic had set in. The fear that everyone looking at him knew what he was.
"What if you were pretending to be -- I don't know -- a pirate, and you actually turned into one. Wouldn't you be a little freaked out?"
"You do realize it doesn't work that way?"
"Of course I do. Look, I'm sorry, okay? I was surprised."
Lex, who liked to act as if nothing had ever surprised him, predictably failed to buy this.
"I didn't know I was gay," Clark tried again, desperate for him to understand.
"You didn't know," Lex said, as if he'd tasted something bad. "You told people we were dating, and you didn't know?"
"I'm -- you're missing my point!"
"No," said Lex, "I don't think I am. Go home, Clark."
"No! Not until you listen to me!"
"You're not saying anything I haven't already heard."
They glared at each other.
He was interrupted by the distant sound of breaking glass. That by itself wasn't immediate cause for alarm, but it was closely followed by Lois yelling that her shirt was dry-clean only. She sounded like she was about to kill someone. This was so unfair. He didn't even like Lois.
"Dammit. I have to go."
"I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."
That was never going to work, but Clark had to try. "Please?" he added, running for the stairs. His last glimpse of Lex showed him pressing the elevator call button and Clark's insides did a strange twisty thing like maybe he was going to throw up.
"Oh yeah?" Lois said. "Come over here and say that."
Queasy and pissed, Clark left the building and followed the sound of Lois' voice to a bar on the corner of Tenth and Mill. She was out on the deck and had a crowd of frat boys cheering her on, shouting, "Fight! Fight! Fight!"
Lois had some girl by the neck and was dangling her over the railing, her feet all of three inches off the sidewalk.
"Lois!" Clark awkwardly hopped up over the railing to stand next to her. "What are you doing?"
"Just defending your virtue, Smallville."
"Please don't. Chloe said she wasn't going to bail you out anymore."
"While bail money is very important," Lois said, tightening her hold on her squirming victim, "some things are even more important. Like not being a total bitch."
"Let her go, Lois." Clark got a closer look at the blonde Lois had in a headlock and recognized her as the girl who had groped his ass at a party a few months ago. Trista, the one who wouldn't take no for an answer but finally accepted "I'm dating Lex Luthor" as one.
"You know, I was kind of in the middle of something," Clark growled, hoping it would make Lois hurry up. Every second Clark stood there was one less second he had to explain himself to Lex. One more second for Lex to get further and further away.
"Sex?" said Lois. "Were you havin' the sex, Clark?"
"No," he said a little too forcefully.
Lois released Trista, no longer interested in her. "Go on, fuck off."
Trista wobbled away and Lois regarded him with a pitying look.
"Does he have a headache?" she asked. "Is it that time of the month?"
"Lex is mad at me," Clark mumbled.
"Of course he is. You probably said something stupid."
"Well, if Lex has spent more than a minute with you, he's used to that." She wrung the beer out of her shirt thoughtfully. "Distract him. Actually, that might be impossible, but do your sexy thing or...whatever it is about you that gets him hot. He's a guy. One thought of sex and, poof, no brain."
"He's not a guy, he's Lex," Clark said.
"Point taken. Hey, can I borrow twenty bucks?"
Clark left her there with a wad of cash and one of his shirts. He wasn't sure if she was going to wear it or auction it off, but he knew better than to ask.
He raced back to LuthorCorp, but Lex was already gone. He wasn't in his office. He wasn't in the elevator. He wasn't on the roof or in the lobby. Each place he didn't find Lex made the knot in his stomach twist up all the tighter, and Clark scanned the building, worried that even if he did find him, Lex wasn't going to forgive him this time.
Desperate, Clark expanded his search and found Lex in the parking garage. He'd disabled his car alarm but was just standing there with the door open, staring at the garage entrance.
Clark skidded to a stop, feeling like he couldn't get enough air. Lex was rumpled, his collar unbuttoned and his tie loose. He looked tired and a little lost, like a man at the end of a very long day.
"You waited," Clark said, dizzy with relief.
Lex shrugged. "I didn't have anywhere I needed to be."
That lie was probably the closest Lex would ever get to saying he was giving Clark another chance. Clark wasn't going to waste it. He stepped closer and said the first thing that came to mind. "Will you go out to dinner with me?"
"Now?" Lex asked.
"Well," Clark said, "I'm kinda hungry and I know you haven't had anything to eat since lunch. Then, uh, maybe we could..." He trailed off, too embarrassed to say it, because sex, but Lex smirked like he knew what Clark was thinking.
"I'm sure that can be arranged," Lex said.
Clark smoothed a wrinkle out of Lex's shirt, feeling suddenly shy. "That's good. Because I'd really like to try this again. Oh, except I -- Lois kind of took all my money."
Lex caught Clark's hand and drew him down for an affectionate kiss.
"What about dinner?" Clark asked.
"I'll take care of it," Lex said, kissing him again, and again, soft and sweet, and Clark shivered against him, steadying himself with a hand on Lex's hip. Lex grunted and kissed him harder, biting at his mouth until Clark broke loose and sucked a string of kisses down Lex's throat to that shadowy notch just visible beyond the open collar of his shirt. Clark stuck his tongue there and Lex pulled away, panting.
Clark grinned. He had a feeling he was going to be good at this.