Sunday, April 10, 2005


Title: DT's
Rating: R (just to be safe for language and lignt slash), Clex, Established Relationship, Humor with some angst. AU maybe too.
Challenge: The Clex Fest Eleventh Wave Domesticity - Prompt (Vacation)

Notes: Deep thanks go to my kind beta readers Hrd02ca and BlackPsychi, who graciously put up with a glut of over-used commas, ellipses, and an over reliance on Willow. Any errors and unfortunate changes from their recommendations are undoubtedly my own.

Cross-overs: Bruce Wayne (Batman), President Bartlett and Abby Bartlett (West Wing), Willow (Buffy)

Feedback: Any thoughts and all feedback are appreciated, cozened, pampered, and treated with hospitality and welcome

Summary: When duty becomes addictive, the world never knows that it relies on Lex instead of Clark.


1. Elba

Even though Lex knew what to expect, the sight of Batman carrying Superman's still form stopped his breath and caused a surge of panic to run up his spine.

At his elbow, a sympathetic Willow murmured, "Breathe, Lex, breathe. He's only sleeping."

"Luthor!" Batman growled, "I could use some help here."

Lex rushed forward, but not before Willow's breathy whisper, "Levitas," lifted the young man's supine form from Batman's arms. When Lex reached them, he cupped his hand over the lethargic hero's hip and forearm to guide him to the couch, but stopped Willow, whose gesture was gently lowering the sleeping man to the cushions below.

"It will probably be easier… to… undress him… like this." He said as he moved to Superman's shoulder and carefully unlaced the titanium cords that fastened his cloak to his suit. Meanwhile, Batman moved to the hero's boots and Willow began to gently brush the gel from his hair.

Brief moments later, after they had unzipped the fitted suit from wrist to ankle, removed his belt, and otherwise stripped away any traces of superman, they gently lowered the suddenly more vulnerable-seeming body of Clark Kent onto the couch. As they carefully folded the uniform, all three stared at the boy, struck once again by the distinction between the two identities..

"Can he hear me?" Lex asked.

"Don't know." Willow tilted her head curiously and asked, "Do you want him to? I could wake him up."

Shifting his gaze to Batman, Lex chewed his lip pensively and asked, "He left for the Justice League Headquarters three days ago, but unless he stopped by while I was in a meeting, he hasn’t been back since. How long was he on duty?"

Despite his foreboding costume and ever-present arrogance, Lex thought that Batman almost seemed embarrassed as he answered, "67 hours."

"Damn it, Bru--" Lex bit off his curse savagely as Batman glowered at him.

Taking a breath to control his irritation, Lex continued: "Everyone asked me to make him take some time off, but then you let him go 67 hours straight? What were you trying to do—make sure you got every little bit out of him before… just in case I can't bring him around this time? Damn you."

"Lex, we all pay the price for what we do in one way or another. You know that, and so does he. It's a price that he's willing to pay, and if you're not—maybe you should re-evaluate your relationship."

"Oh… and who would you suggest that he replace me with? You? If you were up to taking my place, you wouldn't have let them exploit Clark like that in the first place."

Lex growled and barely suppressing his angry outburst, said quietly, "You know as well as I do that the Justice League is only too happy to treat Clark as one of Superman's minor personality quirks- to be indulged when it's convenient and ignored the rest of the time. But, if or when he should forget Clark Kent, the person he was raised to be, your sainted league will be the first ones out for his blood—despite the fact that they will probably be at least fifty percent of the reason he does forget."

"Aside from that, we're willing to pay the necessary sacrifices for what he does. It's the unnecessary ones that I resent. And, if you had the common sense to tell the difference, you wouldn't need to step in on our relationship.” Lex bit his lip, instantly regretting his near slip as he almost mentioned the shaky situation between Batman and his former protégé Nightwing. The fact that he was right was probably the only thing that kept Batman's leather clad fist from crushing Lex's nose. That, and the small purple halo of light clutching Batman's fist that Willow's whispered spell had summoned.

"Luthor!" Batman growled.

"Sir?" Willow interjected, "Is what he's saying true? Do they really… not care about Clark?" Her soft inquiry startled Batman into a rueful shrug. There was no way he was going to admit that Lex was fairly accurate in his assessment, but he wasn't willing to lie outright to the young woman.

He finally hedged as close as he could to the truth, "It's not that they don't care about Superman. It's simply that, for the most part, they view the Clark Kent persona as a set of learned behaviors that are not honest reflections of Kal El's powers and potential: the powers and potential he was born to."

Lex snorted softly, knowing that Batman would understand his disdain. Bruce was, in fact, very familiar with Lex and Lionel’s history and easily understood Lex’s animosity to the idea of Clark being forced to live up to presumed birth-rite.

Willow's eyebrow rose, although she otherwise ignored the Lex’s interruption as she asked, "Do you agree with them? That Clark is the persona, not Kal El? That just doesn’t make sense. I mean, he wasn't even raised on his home planet. He didn’t learn how to act Kryptonian from growing up there, only from what the AI on the ship told him. And, that’s not really real, is it? When he hasn’t learned the stories to go with it or seen the kind of culture they turned out to be? He doesn’t have any perspective on what the AI is telling him.”

Willow paused to let her words sink in before continuing, “So, how can Kal El be anything more than the… What did you call it? A set of behaviors that Clark thinks he should have based on what he's learned from computer records? Kal El is sort of like a script. But, Clark is the actor. At least Clark comes from experience. Do you really think that the role he’s playing is more real than the person playing it? Or, that his powers are more important than the person who wields them?"

Lex turned away from them in part to hide his smirk as he spread a coverlet over his lover's shoulder. He had never really been inclined to pray, but he definitely thanked providence for finding an ally like Willow. The young witch, who not only controlled an unbelievable range of occult talents but also possessed a sharp intellect and the same uncanny-though-tortured-innocence that characterized Clark, had become an essential component in Clark's "Vacations". If, for no other reason than she was a stark reminder of the threat that losing touch with humanity could pose, she was an efficient and effective person to have on hand when Clark started to react to enforced down time. Compared to that, Willow’s familiarity with power addictions was only a minor bonus.

He shook his head, retracting that thought. Her familiarity with self-destructive conditions was a bonus that she had paid for heavily; he wouldn’t discredit that. He could still remember her haunted eyes when they crossed paths in London. It was happenstance; really, that Lex just chanced to look through the revolving doors as he went into Harrods to pick up a souvenir for Clark —to see eyes that reminded him of Clark’s. Not because of their color or their distinctive flash of innocence, but because of the painful memories that seemed to lurk just beneath the surface, ready to spill out. Clark wore the same look for months after he had returned from Metropolis that first harsh summer. And, it stopped him cold—stopped them both really, due to the nature of revolving doors.

It took her several seconds to realize that she was blocked until he moved, but when she finally did, she looked up, into his eyes, and saw something. He never knew what she had seen in his eyes. He never asked believing that, like Clark, Willow had some questions that she would never answer—no matter how many times or in how many different ways they were asked. So, he chose not to ask. But, whatever she saw convinced her to wait outside the door for him, to walk with him to a nearby pub, and to quietly tell the story of how she had almost destroyed the world and how she came to London to recover from her addiction to magic. To anyone else, her story might have seemed like an indication of mental illness, but Lex had spent several years in Smallville.

As he considered what her experience had cost her, Lex realized that he hadn't been aware of his thoughts drifting, until a hand closed on his shoulder.

"Lex," Batman's voice had softened, "I apologize. I worry about both of you. You know that, don't you? Sometimes, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier if you didn't have to watch him slip further and further into the Superman role. It doesn't excuse what I said, but I would rather spare you the pain of that if I could."

"I know.” Lex was silent for several long seconds until Batman retrieved his hand, scooped up the neatly stacked uniform, and headed toward the door.

"Bruce,” Lex whispered low enough that only Batman heard, “Call Richard. Let him make that decision."

"I did."

The tone of Batman's voice left no doubt in Lex's mind what that decision had been. He turned to his old friend, but the reinforced, soundproofed door slid shut between them before he could apologize.

Looking back to Willow, Lex asked softly, "I don't suppose you'd have any love potion on hand?"

"Only time, perspective, and sleep can heal broken hearts.” Willow answered soberly. “Speaking of which, why don't you get some rest? If he's been up as long as Batman said that he has, he should sleep another eight hours at least."


2. Coming down.

Clark woke to find Lex perched in a most unusual lotus position – on the coffee table – watching him with an almost owlish expression. Staring up at him, Clark cocked his head to the side and grinned, until he felt the couch’s leather buttons digging into his back and realized that it meant he must have come in too tired to make it into the bedroom again.

“Uhh, I guess I blew it again?” Clark asked sheepishly as he glanced around the room noticing that Lex had left a majority of the lights off.

“What time is it?”

“Don’t tell me,” said Lex with a smirk for Clark’s benefit, but his sardonic smile hid a more serious question, “that your infallible sense of timing is off again?”

“It must be. It feels like it’s around five or six thirty in the morning, but that can’t be right. I know I’ve slept for several hours and the last time I checked the clock, it was four thirty.” Sitting up, Clark scooted over to make room for Lex to sit beside him. His brow furrowed as he tried to work out the inconsistencies.

Nodding, Lex accepted the invitation and answered, “That sounds about right.” Lex’s answer seemed entirely too smug, until something clicked. There was no way that timing could be correct unless… Clark’s eyebrows shot up in alarm, “What day is it?


“Shit!” Clark turned on Lex angrily. Almost yelling, he demanded, “How could you let me sleep that long? Damn it, Lex, Perry’s going to kill me. The team has its playoff’s Saturday and we were supposed to practice everyday this week. The Korean summit starts tomorrow. Red tornado asked me to --” Clark trailed off as he noticed the chilled expression growing on Lex’s face.

“Don’t forget we also had plans for dinner with your parents Sunday night, but I called and rescheduled, explaining that you were finally taking a rest. And, what about the movies with Pete and Chloe Tuesday night? I made my apologies to them as well. By the way, Chloe is getting promoted to editor at the Inquisitor and they will be coming over next Tuesday when Pete can take the day off to celebrate.” Lex noticed with some satisfaction that Clark caught and cringed at his implied comment that even Pete, who had become as much of a workaholic as Clark (without the benefit of powers), was able to take the day off.

“I’m sorry, Lex, There are always just so many things that need--” Even Clark knew the excuse was weak. Lex knew and understood better than anyone else; in part, because he had his own important set of 24/7 responsibilities that affected the lives and welfare of thousands. But, he still found a way to make time for anything Clark needed. It didn’t help matters to know that Lex wasn’t even mentioning the two dates they had scheduled. One was to a museum exhibit that Lex had been looking forward to for months, and the other was to a concert that Clark had talked Lex into seeing with promises of passionate nights to follow.

“Clark, I didn’t let you sleep this long.” Lex held up a palm to halt Clark’s obvious protest, “I couldn’t wake you up. It’s been four days, Clark, and I couldn’t wake you up.”

Despite his best attempt to keep Clark from hearing it, a tremulous note of fear was clear in Lex’s words. When Clark engulfed him in a tight apologetic hug that almost trapped his breath in his lungs, Lex initially resisted but slowly intentionally sank into the offered comfort of Clark’s embrace. His breath quickened with the familiar stirrings that always accompanied Clark’s touches and he turned to meet the lips that he knew would already be approaching his own.

It always amazed Lex that for all of Clark’s experience, his kisses never seemed to lose a trace of newness and awe. In fact, it was one of the small details that kept hope thriving for Lex as though it were proof that as long as Clark could kiss like this, Kal El was safely contained. Leaning into Clark’s breathless kisses, Lex brushed his lips over Clark’s soft and warm —in the kind of gentle teasing kiss that Lex had never shared with anyone else. To his smug satisfaction, Clark’s breathing sped up to match his own. He knew, from long practice, the kind of kisses that Clark found difficult to resist – even during their rare arguments.


Lex cursed inwardly at Willow’s soft exclamation even as she retreated, and wondered if it was too much to hope that Clark hadn’t heard. When he glanced up, the glazed look in Clark’s eyes and the continuing breathless kisses gave him some hope. Pressing Clark back into the couch, he traced the kisses from the line of Clark’s lips down his chin to the hollow of his throat. Under his attention, Clark’s soft breaths quickly turned to moans.

“Lex,” Clark gasped softly.

“Yes?” Lex pressed the tip of his tongue harder into the junction where the collarbone met at the corner of Clark’s throat, smirking as Clark positively mewed in response.

“I heard her, but…” Clark writhed sensuously beneath him.

Lex grinned as he applied his tongue with more force, asking, “But?”

“Ohhh—ooooh. Dammmmn it, that’s good.”

“You were saying?” Lex rolled the tip of his tongue over the pronounced collarbone and slowly drew it down to the Clark’s stiffening nipple.

“Ungh.” Clark’s breath exploded in a gasp as Lex worked his tongue. “La-T-er!”

“Okay. Later, it is.” Grinning, Lex breathed in Clark’s scent and taste, both of which spoke of intense arousal, and wondered what some of Superman’s archrivals would do if they knew that you could put off knock-down-drag-out fights simply by nibbling right there.

Arching into his mouth, Clark almost threw Lex off the couch as his spine stiffened in an incredible bow. It wasn’t a secret that Lex ever intended to share, but knowing that he could bend Superman backwards—like that—was definitely worth putting up with the gauche costume and identity complex occasionally.

“Lexxxxxx. Ohhhh, God-d.” Clark shuddered as Lex moved to the other nipple.

3. Withdrawing

“Damn it, Luthor! You can’t keep me here. You have no right to high-jack my duties.” Kal El’s voice ground out, at odds only with the wispy strands of Clark’s hair, which couldn’t be slicked back simply by the change of personas. Everything else, from the set of his chin to his stance, screamed that Superman was in control of his body, and not Clark, the lover with whom Lex had spent most of the morning with sprawled across the couch.

“Perhaps not, but they do.” Lex slapped down the four-page petition that he had retrieved from his office. “You’ll notice that the top signature is the U.N. Secretary General's. The next is President Bartlett’s. There are thirty-two other world leaders there on the first two pages, as well as numerous senators, chiefs of staff, and federal agency heads, and every member of the Justice League.” Lex shook his head, wondering how Bruce had convinced the league to sign, and then continued, “If you were on the police force, I’d say that you’ve been suspended without pay. But, as they haven’t really seen fit to pay you for your services, that doesn’t quite fit either.”

Clark stared at the pages as if they were vipers—refusing to pick the petition up, but scanning none the less for familiar scrawls and signatures.

“The second two pages are from the people who think that Clark needs to take a break as well. By the way, I don’t think you will need to worry about Perry; his name is first on that list, and he asked me to issue a warning that if you ever write another piece of the 'cynicism-ridden, satirical carping that he’s hired Lois to write, this vacation of yours will be permanent.'”

“Damn it! Luthor, you talked them into this.”

“Clark, your parents signed this, too. So did Pete. You might be able to convince yourself that I talked the secretary general into this, even President Bartlett, but do you really believe that I could talk Perry, Jonathon, Peter, and your mother into this or anything else? Have I ever been able to talk your mother into anything that she didn’t already believe?”

While Jonathon had initially been the most resistant to their relationship, both Clark and Lex knew that he could be persuaded once his pride wasn’t an issue. Martha, on the other hand, was impenetrable and implacable on any issue that she did not agree with completely.

Still fuming, Superman was reluctant to agree but his own code of honor would not let him lie, not even to Luthor. “No! Mrs. Kent would not be so easy to persuade, nevertheless, simply because she is misguided in her belief that I can not function without certain human luxuries, does not mean that she is correct in her assumptions.”

“Clark!” Sincere concern and irritation were at war in Lex’s tone as he chastised the hero. He knew it was always hard for the three-faceted man when he was forced to take a leave of absence; but, even though Superman always tended to balk and Kal EL frequently indulged in angst-ridden rebelliousness, this was the first time the man had openly criticized his adopted mother.

“Is there anyone else, on this entire planet, who knows you as well or better than she does?” he almost hoped that Clark would answer with his name. But, Lex knew he wasn’t really speaking with Clark at the moment, and he knew that he shouldn’t hope for either Superman or Kal EL to admit that he had any importance to them. “And, if you tell me that damned AI of yours, I swear I’ll shut down the satellite that feeds it solar power for the next three months.”

Kal El’s gruff bark of laughter surprised Lex. “That will be unnecessary, Luthor. There are only two people, who can claim that distinction, and Jor El is not on that list.” It was painfully close to the admission that Lex wanted, but Lex knew that it was something Superman and Kal El would never admit to despite Clark’s frequent declarations of his trust and love of Lex.

It was not an admission Lex would ever attempt to force, but he was not above using it to his advantage. He had one more comment to make—one that he hoped would still have the power to end the discussion: “But, you're right, I can’t keep you here. You can leave anytime you wish.”

Kal El grinned at the concession, until he remembered the remainder of the warning Lex had given him the first time he demanded that Superman take a ‘vacation’: Kal El/Superman could leave anytime he wished, but Clark would not be welcomed back.

“That is not an option!” The voice was still Kal El’s, but the sentiment could have only been Clark’s.

“I’m glad,” Lex answered with a frosty smile; it was always difficult to be cordial to Kal El, even when Clark was peeking through, but he could make some concessions. “Why don’t you go get some breakfast; Willow is concocting something utterly organic and wholesome that she probably thinks will put hair back on my head.”

The humorous bark in response to Lex’s comment was pure Clark, as was the light hug and the peck on the cheek that boy gave him before loping in to the kitchen with a wide grin. As he reached the entry, Clark laughed and called over his shoulder, “She wouldn’t dare.”

4. Symptoms

“How is he?” Willow asked with concern, having heard a great deal of their conversation from the kitchen.

“Nervous, tense, twitchy, agitated. You know," Lex shrugged, attempting to lighten the mood, “the usual.”

“Well, that’s good, I suppose.”

Lex answered noncommittally, “If you say so.” It was hard to admit, even to himself, but Lex was becoming steadily more worried about the extent to which Clark’s persona was being increasingly overwhelmed. Each vacation, it seemed to be getting worse, and Lex

“I was worried. With him sleeping so long, I was afraid that he might go right into the worst of it.”

“So was I,” Lex admitted, “Do you think that he still could?”

“I don’t know. Did he have any nightmares when you were watching him?” Willow asked, trying to estimate how long it might be before they could expect the worst.

“No, he didn't seem to have any.” Lex was interrupted by the loud clatter of dishes, rattling as they were scooped from the table and dropped in the sink. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he almost begged Willow, “Please tell me you got rid of the vacuum?”

She nodded with a knowing smirk. “I know he needs to keep busy, but--”

“Three times a day,” he continued.

“Twelve days straight,” she answered.

“Is just too much!” They finished in unison with a laugh. It was a reminder of a difficult time in their early purposeful-partnership that had become an inside joke, which excluded even Clark.

Although Lex had immediately recognized that Willow could be a valuable ally in helping Clark preserve his sometimes fleeting humanity, their initial attempts to work together had been difficult. Even after Willow came to terms with her own power addictions and guilt, there were times when she still seemed almost as fragile as Clark. Knowing this, Lex had hesitated to call on her and had come very close to sending her away from the apartment during one of Clark’s more serious vacations after Lana’s death. Clark’s grief for Lana had struck too close to Willow’s own demons, and Lex began to worry that he might have to face down two super-natural forces instead of one when Willow became uncharacteristically sympathetic with Superman and Kal EL’s often-critical judgments of human morality.

After a particularly difficult argument with Willow – regarding how Clark should be approached about his refusal to discuss Lana’s death – Lex had stayed awake most of the night, debating whether he would ask her to leave in the morning. He had struggled with the decision for several hours, but finally committed to rejecting her help just before dawn. As Lex was rolling over to catch up on what little sleep he could get before sending her away, Kal EL unwittingly provided the catalyst that convinced Lex and Willow that they could work together.

Accustomed to working in the pre-dawn hours by Clark’s formative years spent on the Kent farm, Kal EL had thought nothing of vacuuming the apartment before the sun rose. In fact, he rather enjoyed exercising his x-ray vision to scrupulously hunt out and eliminate every dust particle remaining in the carpet. His enjoyment was short lived, however, and ended when both Lex and Willow stalked out of their rooms, yelling:

“Three-fucking-times-a-day, Clark? Three times a day --!” Lex roared.

“I know you need to keep busy, Clark, but twelve days straight--!” Willow shouted.

“is just too much!” They finished in the same angry breath, then stared at each other for a moment in shock and burst out laughing.

Kal EL’s slack jawed surprise at their outburst only served to help cement their connection by giving them a chance to work together: Lex stepped forward and jerked the vacuum cord and handle out of Kal EL’s hand and dragged the machine over to the tile floor with a significant nod to Willow. Barely uttering a breath, Willow ‘pushed’ her remaining anger into the vacuum, which promptly ‘popped’, scattering bits and pieces across the tile. Without another word, Lex and Willow turned from the befuddled kryptonian and returned to their beds—satisfied that the question of whether they could work together was resolved.

Smiling at the shared memory, Lex nodded and followed Willow back into the kitchen—hoping Clark had left something of her cooking. While Lex enjoyed teasing her about the utter wholesomeness of her cooking, he usually found it to be quite delicious.

Within an hour, the entire apartment had been swept, every window had been washed, and every table had been polished. And, every stitch of folded clothing that either man owned had been taken out of the wardrobe and refolded before the barely winded Clark flopped down on the couch to glare at Lex.






“Wanna make out?” It came out in Clark’s voice even though the glare was still Kal El’s.

“With Willow here?”

“Damn,” Kal El muttered, but Clark finished with a light blush, “Maybe we could go in the bedroom? It has extra soundproofing, right?”

“Yes. Why? Are you planning to make noise?”

Clark was usually too bashful to really feel free with vocal lovemaking, which made Lex enjoy every groan even more. Glancing curiously back over to Clark, Lex recognized a wolfish grin that could only be Kal El’s cross Clark’s face as he answered, “No, but you should.”

As much as Lex enjoyed Clark’s rare attempts at aggressiveness, he had little taste for Kal El’s. He crossed his arms defensively as he answered, “Maybe later.”

“Damn, Luthor, you’re a prig.”

Lex snorted at the thought, but said nothing until he noticed the sheen of sweat beading on Clark’s lips and the tight clench of his jaw.


Clark’s hands balled into fists, clutching the sides of his head as he doubled over.

“Willow!” Lex yelled urgently and dropped to his knees beside the couch as he pulled a prepared trash can around, just in case it was needed.

As he watched Clark begin to heave, Lex immediately regretted sending him into the kitchen to sample Willow’s breakfast concoction. It would have been far less cruel to the boy’s system if he were only returning Superman’s usual coffee breakfast instead of the nut and granola, fiber-rich, whole-grain fare that Willow had whipped up. As Lex held the hair back from Clark’s face, he could feel the beginning of a fever warming the boy’s parched skin.

5. Withdrawal

When Clark woke, he was surprised to find himself in their bed this time. But, something felt wrong about the way the pillows curled into him. Reaching out, he realized Lex wasn’t there. He consulted his internal clock. It was well after one a.m. and he couldn’t remember how late he came in. Lex must be really ticked. It wasn’t very often that Lex was angry enough to sleep on the couch, but it happened occasionally, and usually when Clark came in too late after working too long. His body certainly felt like he had been over-doing it.

“Lex?” Clark tried to sit up as he called out, but realized he was shaking too hard to sit up and his voice was too raspy to be heard well.

“Lex?” he tried again, feeling a pain in his throat with the effort. This time it had the desired effect of waking his, as yet, unnoticed attendant, Willow. Setting her book aside, she left her chair at the foot of his bed and came to sit beside him.

“Clark,” she whispered, “How are you feeling?”

He stared at her in confusion and asked, “Where’s Lex?” Every word hurt, but he didn’t understand why she was in their bedroom instead of his lover.

“Shhh. It’s okay. I was just letting him take a little nap. He’s in the guestroom. I’ll go get him, okay?”

Clark shook his head rapidly, protesting weakly, “No, don’t,” and then gasped as a shaft of intense pain surged behind his eyes.

Willow studied his tightly clenched eyes as she placed gentle fingertips at each temple and murmured something under her breath until the pain seeped away and he opened them again. Stepping back, she searched his eyes again, speaking barely above a whisper as she asked, “All better?”

He nodded carefully, pleased that his head didn’t split open with the gesture.

“Good, let me just go get Lex, and--”

“No need to, Willow; I heard sleeping beauty wake and only delayed to get him a light snack.” Lex’s voice sounded warm and rich to Clark, and alleviated any worry he had that Lex was angry with him.

“Lex.” Clark tested his voice, then flashed a broad thankful smile to Willow.

Willow smiled warmly to him and left them alone.

Settling a tray by their bedside, Lex carefully sat on the edge of the bed, watching Clark with concern.

“How are you doing?” his voice was barely above a whisper.

Hesitant to overuse his voice, Clark answered with a face that set Lex laughing softly.

“That good?” Lex leaned in to wipe a cool cloth across Clark's forehead, and smiled when Clark leaned in to his touch. “Do you think you can eat something?”

While Clark’s stomach did feel like a cavernous pit, he grimaced as it roiled from the thought of food.

“Still nauseous?” Lex assumed. “Then, just some of your mother’s vegetable broth, okay? It should be light enough for you to try at least a few sips.” he held the steaming mug to Clark’s lips as he spoke.

Obediently, Clark sipped at the broth until he drained a quarter of the mug, and Lex lowered the cup, tutting like a grandmother as he checked, “Not too fast now; your stomach has been under quite a bit of stress the past few days.”

“It has?” Clark shut his eyes and tried to remember the previous few days; most of the events evaded him, but finally his mind clicked on one rather obvious detail. “Uh-oh”

“What is it?” Lex’s eyes narrowed. It worried him that Clark didn’t seem to remember the previous two days, where he had struggled to keep anything heavier than water down, and constantly demanded that Lex return his suit and let him get back to work. Between bouts of nausea, Kal El had even resorted to pleading and swearing that he would feel better if Lex would just let him “get back to work” and that Lex knew it, too.

“Willow’s here.” Clark looked away as an embarrassed flush painted his skin delicate shades of rose and gold.

“Yes,” Lex confirmed, but wondered, Clark really should have known that, shouldn’t he have.

Willow had been at the apartment helping Lex care for Clark six days now, and Clark had heard her when they were together two mornings before… hours before the fever came on. The fever had been so high this time, though, that Lex couldn’t help but wonder if it had caused some damage. On the other hand, from their research and Willow’s experience, they knew that memory disturbances sometimes occurred when addicts were going through withdrawal, and there was no telling how closely Clark’s kryptonian physiology matched any of their assumptions. Lex chewed his lip as he worried: either way, these vacations are hitting his system harder and harder. To date, Lex had hesitated in asking Willow to actively treat the worst of Clark’s symptoms. But, he was becoming more and more convinced of the need for her intervention if they hoped to keep Kal El’s addiction to power and adrenaline (or whatever replaced adrenaline in kryptonian brains) contained, and Clark intact.

“I’m sorry.” Clark’s guilty apology was pure Clark. It drew a quick sad smile from Lex.

“No, Clark, I’m sorry that I didn’t call you on the carpet, long before things came to this.” He twined his fingers with the young man’s and brought them to his lips for a long lingering kiss.

Clark grinned softly, and whispered throatily, “That’s odd; are you sure you didn’t?”

Lex flashed him a worried glance. Surely, Clark would have remembered that he hadn’t. It made him wonder just how long Clark’s memory may have been malfunctioning, until he caught an emerald glint in Clark’s eyes. “Because I seem to remember being down on the carpet … a lot.”

Smirking, as he squeezed out the damp cloth and rewet it in the cool water, Lex leaned and kissed Clark's forehead—murmuring, “Perhaps you’re right; I seem to remember something like that, too.”


He paused from wiping the cold sweat from Clark’s forehead. “Yes, sweet?”

“Oh, don’t stop, that feels good.”

Lex gently returned the cool terry-cloth to the boy’s cheek. “I’m glad.”

“I’d like to do that …carpet thing… again soon.”

For the first time in six days, Lex laughed. “Okay, just as soon as you’re better.”

6. Conflicting Demands

Lex peered up from his desk curiously when Clark appeared in the doorway. Still in his loose cotton pajama pants and thin cotton t-shirt, Clark somehow managed to look even younger than his presumed age. Lex suspected it could be due to the still disheveled state of Clark’s unruly black curls, or perhaps it was that Clark was barefoot, or possibly that he was standing in the doorway with the same mix of uncertainty and need for attention that had graced his early visits to the doorway of Lex’s office at the castle.

He never admitted it, particularly to Clark, but Lex missed the castle and Smallville more than he had expected to. The castle had been his first real home, and despite its maudlin exterior, it was where Lex felt most comfortable -- because of Clark. But, though he missed it, it was no longer home. That had changed because Lex’s home somehow became wherever Clark was. And, for the time being, that meant Metropolis was where Clark could indulge his penchant for both heroism and journalism. Nevertheless, Lex still hoped that he could somehow keep Clark and their relationship intact, long enough for Clark to tire of heroism and journalistic sensationalism and long again for the simple life of Smallville’s castle and farms.

“You’re thinking too much, again, ” Clark accused with a grin.

“Guilty as charged. And you?”

“I wish I could stop thinking.” Clark took their conversation as tacit approval to interrupt, and moved over to the couch that Lex had imported from the castle."

“Really?” It wasn’t one of Clark’s usual comments. “Why’s that?”

Silence hung stiffly between them as Clark turned away, almost afraid to meet Lex’s eyes.

“Clark?” Lex joined him on the couch and waited several seconds until it was clear that Clark needed more prompting. Gently, he slipped his fingers under Clark’s jaw line and drew the boy’s face, until their eyes met. “What is it you’re trying not to think about?”

“Going on patrol.”

Lex dropped his fingers as if he’d been stung. Clark had said it. He was certain that had been Clark, who was thinking about going on patrol. “No!”

“It’s not like that, Lex, Clark lied, then caught himself and rephrased it to be the truth, “I don’t want to go out on patrol. I don’t want to be Kal El or superman—right now. I just can’t stop thinking about how many people will die if I don’t. Even with the Justice League taking up the slack, there are people dying right now that I could be saving. There always are.” Clark’s voice got thick and tired as he continued, “It never stops. I know I can’t save everyone, but wanting to and needing to never stops. I can’t stop thinking about it, worrying about it, and feeling compelled to do something about it. Lex, it’s always there. And, I want to stop worrying about it. I do, but I don’t know how to. God, I’m so selfish.” Clark was trembling as he finished.

“Selfish?” Lex wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulders as he murmured, “Clark, are you listening to yourself? Selfish,” Lex huffed softly to show his disbelief, before he finished, “You’re tearing yourself up because you can’t be a god. That’s not selfish. Arrogant, possibly. Or, delusional to think that you could possibly save everyone. But—have you really considered what would happen if you did?”

Clark stared at him in confusion.

“It’s almost a logical impossibility. But, have you really thought about it?”

“I –I don’t understand what you’re asking.” Clark’s eyes narrowed as he searched Lex’s, as if he believed he could find the explanation there without having to be told. It wouldn’t be the first time that he had discerned the meaning of Lex’s cryptic phrases from a single glance. Bruce had even suggested that the ability should be ranked among Clark’s powers – he claimed that no one else had, “the ability to decrypt Lex without a Lex-to-English dictionary.” This time, however, Clark realized that he wasn’t any closer to understanding Lex’s thought process than the rest of the world.

“What do you mean by, 'have I thought about it'? What would be wrong with saving everyone?” Clark’s voice was low and mournful as he tried to figure out what Lex was thinking. He started rubbing his temples before he realized that he was doing it."

“Here.” Lex scooted to the other end of the couch, pulling Clark’s shoulder as he did and guiding Clark’s head into his lap.

Clark resisted until Lex reminded him that he had asked a question and could at least relax while he heard the answer.

“That sounds like I’m in for a lecture?” Clark shot Lex a fake grimace that disappeared quickly as Lex’s fingers moved expertly over his temples and immediately eased Clark’s growing headache.

“I’d forgotten how good you are at that.” Clark sighed.

“I’ve had quite a few opportunities to master the skill.” Lex answered, thinking of the muscle strength that had developed in his fingers from the long practice of easing the many headaches and nightmares that Clark had taken on with his Superman role. As he stroked Clark’s forehead, he worried whether his explanation would relieve those headaches or increase their scope. Watching Clark’s eyes shut, he breathed a soft sigh of relief at the possibility of delaying the answer, but the relief was short lived.

“You were saying?” Clark tried to remind him.

“Okay. For the moment, let’s say that it was actually possible for you to save everyone without destroying yourself in the process. Because you’re right: the danger we put ourselves in never really ends. So, we'll probably need you to save us again and again and again –ad infinitum. And, just for good measure, we can forget that this world has finite resources that are fairly heavily tapped as it is, so that everyone you save will have food and shelter and at least a chance at a decent life. Even better, let’s theorize just for a moment that one of the basic facets of human nature changes. Even the less than righteous people that you save suddenly decide to stop inflicting their pain on others—so you won’t have to worry any longer whether someone you’ve saved to day will kill someone else tomorrow. Then what?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Clark, what would humans be if we didn’t have to worry about wars? Violence? Dying before our time?”

“Great. You could be great.”

“For a while, perhaps, but Clark, we need something to overcome. We thirst for excitement. We learn compassion from pain. We could be good for a while, possibly even great. But, we wouldn’t be able to be heroes anymore. You would have taken our choice to be heroes away from us before we could even make it. As Superman, you’re practically invincible and could potentially rule the world. And, maybe as Clark, you could rule it better and more compassionately than any human has. In doing so, though, what would you make of us? As a people, as sick as it may sound, we need disasters to keep us in touch with the rest of the world. The rest of the time we seem to forget that people are suffering, starving, and struggling for their mere survival. But, when there is an emergency, we somehow remember that we are supposed to care about each other and band together with prayers, disaster relief, charity drives, and everything else we should have been doing all along. We need great pain to bring out our better natures. Our great literature and great art—our masterpieces—all either speak of violence or of peace. They are flip sides of the same coin.”

“I don’t know, Lex. That sounds a bit Luthor-ish to me.”

“Well, you can take the boy out of Smallville, but--” Lex paused when Clark nudged his hip, laughing: “you can’t take the drama out of the queen?”

Relieved to see Clark’s humor returning, Lex smirked and answered, “Something like that.”

Just as Lex started to relax into the couch’s soft cushion, his pager rattled on his hip causing Clark to bolt up.

“Is everything all right?” He asked with concern as Lex read the pager’s small screen.

Nearly biting his tongue to hold back a curse, Lex nodded and said, “Yes, it’s just a call I need to take. Okay?”

Clark nodded and stood to leave, when Lex’s palm closed over his arm.

“You understand what I’m saying, though?”

“Yeah, sort of. I don’t know if you’re right or not. But, it’s something else to think about,” Clark answered with a yawn.

“Good. That’s something at least.” Lex finished, pulling his palm down Clark’s arm and then catching his hand and bringing it to his lips for a parting kiss. Clark responded with a soft sweet smile and a kiss on Lex’s crown, before he padded out of the room and closed the soundproofed door behind him.

Returning to his desk, Lex punched the speakerphone and then speed dial. The receptionist, of course, answered immediately, “Good afternoon, Mr. Luthor. One moment, please.”

After a second, his voice came on the phone, and for a moment – only a moment, though – Lex reveled in the fact that he had the President of the United States on his speed dial. Then, the moment was over as he realized that the privilege might not last very long if President Bartlett was calling for the reason he suspected.

“Good Afternoon, Mr. President.”

“Mr. Luthor. I apologize for interrupting your busy schedule; however, I need to enlist Superman’s aid in rather delicate negotiations, and Fitz-Wallace have led me to believe that you are the gate-keeper"

“Yes, sir. In this instance, that would be a relatively accurate description.”

“Son, relative accuracy is a curious phrase. Would you care to explain the relative conditions on which Fitz-Wallace’s description is accurate?”

“Certainly, Sir.” Lex smirked and weighed his words, appreciating Bartlett’s smooth attempt(s) at reading him. “I serve as Superman’s gatekeeper only during the occasions that he feels my services are required.”

“This is one such occasion, I take it?”

“Yes, Sir.”

The President’s voice grew sharper as he continued, “And, what exactly makes this an occasion where your services are required?”

Lex grimaced. It was a question that he couldn’t avoid, but he knew that the answer wouldn’t particularly endear either Superman, or himself, to this president any more than it had to the previous president.

“Sir, there are rare occasions when Superman is not completely prepared to make some distinctions.” Lex answered, hoping that it didn’t undermine President Bartlett’s impression of Superman.

“Who exactly decides which distinctions Superman is capable of making?”

“Mr. President, that is an intriguing question, considering that your signature is featured prominently among the list of individuals who recently made that decision.” Lex was suddenly glad that he was addressing President Bartlett over the phone instead of in person. It was a fairly safe statement that answered the president’s question without hinting at Lex’s ability to act unilaterally. His voice had remained smooth and steady as he delivered it, without a trace of the smug smile he wore.

“And if, for some reason, I decide to retract that signature?” Bartlett asked, testing Lex’s claim.

“Hmm. That is an interesting question. I imagine, with your also go the CIA, FBI, DEA, & EPA department heads’ signatures, as well as a majority of the Senators who also signed. It’s an intriguing issue. Your signatures comprise approximately one third of the four-page request. Presumably, you’re not asking whether the retraction of your signature would trump the intact signatures of the other thirty-two world leaders, or the Secretary General of the UN--” Lex paused, letting the politically dangerous implication of Bartlett’s question linger several minutes, before he finished, “instead of how, and under what circumstances, he would be swayed by your retraction? But that – I’m sorry to say – that’s a question I can’t answer.”

The President’s answering grumble amused Lex. Bartlett was making his response entirely too easy.

“However, if you and the first lady would care to join us for dinner tonight, perhaps you could discuss it with him personally?” Lex could almost hear Bartlett’s jaw drop as he issued an invitation that the president would have rejected out of hand if he had been thinking from a political perspective.

7. Facing up.

Clark fumbled with one of his cufflinks.

“Do we have to do this? Can’t we just tell him no?” Clark swallowed nervously. He glanced over his shoulder at Lex's reflection in the mirror. The reflection stared back as Lex seriously considered Clark’s question. Then he shook his head, firmly denying Clark’s hopes of avoiding the dinner.

“I do have a choice in this, don’t I?” Clark asked uncertainly. With shaking hands, he pulled the cufflink out, flattened its pin, and tried again. In any other circumstance, Clark would have been excited to meet the newly elected President.

But, in any other circumstance, Clark knew that it would have been unlikely that he and Lex would have the opportunity to have a private dinner with President Bartlett. Lex had explained about the political ramifications he would have to face if he ever decided to run for office, and Clark knew how rare an opportunity this was. Lex was a stout republican, an industrialist with interests contrary to many democratic constituents, a billionaire playboy with an admittedly lurid past, and a highly-public, openly-gay man living with his life partner, who just happened to be a member of the press. It would have been almost political suicide for Bartlett to maintain any sort of association with Lex or Clark.

It was something that bothered Clark a great deal because, having met the new president as Superman, he suspected that Bartlett and Lex could have been well matched as friends. Lex could easily provide pragmatism to Bartlett’s abounding altruism and Bartlett would temper Lex’s cynicism with his idealism. In fact, Clark was sure that if he hadn't dragged Lex into the constant melodramas of Smallville (not to mention being dragged into Clark’s own soap-operatically surreal life), the billionaire would have already been traveling in Bartlett’s circles—and probably be well established in their friendship.

Feeling even more pathetic than usual, Clark stared at his cufflink, wondering whether it was actually possible to have a learning disorder when it came to dressing stylishly. He never understood how Lex could simply put on clothes and they became stylish as if by association, while he could put on the same attire and the garments would immediately become awkward and inelegant. That fact was the basis of the only bet he had ever won against Lex, who had assured Clark that style was little more than having the wherewithal to have a properly designed garment, correctly fit by an experienced tailor to his specific body structure. Lex ended up doing the dishes for an entire week, although he claimed that his getting ‘dish pan hands’ was worth it to get Clark into an Armani suit (even if it looked awkward).

Resting his chin on Clark’s shoulder, Lex wrapped his arms around Clark to take the cufflink from with nimble fingers. He pulled Clark’s wrist closer into his lover’s body so that the simple act of threading the cufflink between the matched holes on Clark’s sleeve also became a warm embrace that he held as he flipped the cufflink’s pin down. After giving Clark a strong squeeze that anyone else would have called a bear hug, Lex reached for the other cufflink and slipped it into place easily.

“Yes, of course you do. That’s what this is all about. Letting him know that you’re a part of this too. Up until now, President Bartlett has only met your spandex-coated, Speedo-wearing, polyester-caped…” Lex smothered a grin as Clark snickered.

“Fashion issues, much, Lex?” Clark chuckled and looked at the mirror to catch the twinkle in Lex’s eye.

“I simply think you look better in silk,” Lex flashed the fake pout he had learned from mimicking Clark, then finished with a sheepish grin (also learned from Clark) as he said: “Or better yet, nothing at all.”

Clark’s snickering turned into easy chuckles as he thought about the headlines. “Lex, the purpose of the costume is to hide my identity. Remember?”

“Your birthday suit would hide your identity,” Lex assured Clark smugly, “because, no one would be looking at your eyes.” He bit down on an almost chuckle as Clark reacted to the joke as he enjoyed the beautiful flush that spread from the base of Clark’s throat, up his cheeks, and well into his hairline.

“God, Lex. You’re priceless.” Clark broke into laughter as he leaned back into Lex’s body, rolling his head back onto Lex’s shoulder.

Lex smiled warmly, pulled Clark closer, and hugged him affectionately until Clark’s laughter slowed into a several soft chuckles and then into a broad silent grin.

“Feeling better?”

Clark nodded and wiped his eyes, but stayed pressed against Lex.

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Anytime, gorgeous.”

Behind them, a reinforced door opened into the bedroom, and Willow peeked around the edge and announced: “Clark, Lex, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but your guests are here.”

Lex nodded to Willow, but kept his eyes locked on Clark’s as he asked, “Ready?”

Clark’s flush paled slightly, but he nodded and intertwined his fingers with Lex’s.

8. Onset

Lex was instantly grateful that he had remembered to invite the First Lady, when she immediately stepped forward and hugged Clark.

“It’s so good to see you again, Clark. Your article on the celebrity auction was so well written that I had to laugh over your description of the event. It made our scholarship fund sound so wonderfully under-supported that donations rolled in for weeks after it was published.”

Clark immediately released his nervous hold on Lex’s fingers to return the hug.

“I’m glad I could do some good.”

The First Lady turned to her husband. “Jed, this is Clark Kent, the young reporter that I told you about, who wrote that wonderful piece about Charlie being hired as your assistant."

“Well, Clark, it’s good to meet you. I didn’t know that you knew Abby.”

Lex was enjoyably surprised when Clark flashed the First Lady a knowing grin as he answered, “Yes, Sir. Ms. Bartlett and I have attended many of the same charity events, and—“ Clark trailed off.

“We wives have to stick together!” The First Lady finished with a smile and a flush appeared in Clark’s cheeks.

Clark smiled sheepishly as he glanced between Lex and the President to see how the men reacted to her comment. Twining Clark’s fingers back into his, Lex shot him a soft grin and turned to the President.

“Mr. President, thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Luthor.” Bartlett noticed Clark’s nervous squeeze of his partner’s fingers at the mention of his last name and raised his eyebrows at Lex.

“Call me, Lex, Sir. Mr. Luthor is my father.” There was clearly no love lost between the Luthor generations, but considering his own relationship with his late father, Bartlett chose to remain silent.

“Very well then, Lex. Aren’t we missing another guest?” President Bartlett looked around the room curiously. He hadn’t expected to see Superman in his costume, but he did expect to at least see him.

“Mr. President?” Lex looked at Bartlett curiously.

“Superman.” Bartlett explained with a flash of irritation. “You had suggested that I would have the opportunity to speak with Superman personally.”

“Mr. President,” Lex answered with some irritation of his own, “I had assumed that you would have reviewed Superman’s files before you came over to dinner.”

“I did!” Bartlett barely controlled his voice, angry with the implication that he had been slipshod. “I read the entire file. Everything you provided. What did you leave out?”

Bartlett only realized that Lex had truly expected him to have pertinent information, which was clearly missing from the files, when Lex pinched the bridge of his nose and began to curse the previous president. “Eversoll! Damn that homophobic, self-righteous, fundamentalist, prig!”

“Lex,” Bartlett said, demanding his attention. “What should I have read?”

Gripping Clark’s fist tightly, Lex turned back to Bartlett with a hard stare, “Mr. President, we gave your predecessor a complete file that disclosed certain details about Superman including the name of his third identity.”

“A third identity?”

“Yes, Sir.” Lex stopped to watch Clark, who was almost vibrating with tension. “Clark?”

“Tell him!”

Bartlett could tell that Clark’s voice sounded strained, but didn’t understand why until Lex continued, “Your predecessor apparently could not accept the concept of a homosexual hero.” Lex paused, watching Clark with concern, until Clark’s grip loosened and he nodded. With Clark’s permission, Lex finished mildly, “Superman’s third identity is Clark Kent.”

“What kind of game are you playing here, Mr. Luthor?” Bartlett almost enjoyed their flinches as he reverted to Lex’s last name. The warmth and concern in Lex’s face immediately shut off – like the switching of a light. Bartlett was impressed that the room seemed to grow chillier with the change in the businessman’s demeanor, but was not going to let the display affect him – although he suddenly understood several comments that Fitz-wallace had muttered about Luthor seeming more alien than Superman.

“I assure you that I have met Superman. While I will admit there is a slight resemblance between the two men, your young friend can feign neither the maturity nor the physical presence of Superman. So, I suggest that you explain why I am really here, if it's not to speak with him?”

“Jed!” The First Lady, who had been carefully watching the interplay between Lex and Clark, chastised Bartlett.

“Abby, you can’t think that—“ Bartlett cut off harshly, deciding that he needed to have a long discussion with her, later, about the appropriateness of interrupting him when he was acting as the President. While Bartlett agreed with Lex’s cursed appraisal of former President Eversoll, he understood why his forerunner had not kept that ridiculous bit of information in the file; although he might have left a note to mention that Luthor had made such a claim. Impatiently, he turned back to the two men. “Well?”

He was surprised to see that Luthor had relaxed.

“Lex, I could change into the—”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Lex scanned the room, and then seemed to look beyond the walls in a way that convinced Bartlett that he was scanning his memory of the suite’s other rooms as well.

“But it would only take a second and he would be able—” Clark protested almost desperately.

“Clark! No!” Lex answered firmly, without looking back at Clark. After a second, when it seemed to Bartlett that he had found whatever he was looking for, Lex turned back to Clark, and said in a much softer voice, “It’s not an option right now. And it wouldn’t be even if it wasn't in Bruce’s safe-keeping.”

Although softer, Lex’s voice and cryptic words had a touch of finality, which lessened Bartlett’s impatience. He didn’t understand what either man was alluding to, but their tones and behavior left the impression that they were discussing something significant and that his answer hinged on the outcome of their conversation.

“Mr. President, if you and the First Lady would join us in the dining room, I believe that I can satisfy your…concerns with a small demonstration.” As he spoke, Lex untangled his fingers from Clark’s and shifted his grip to the boy’s elbow, urging him into the dining room.

As they entered, Lex extended his hand, inviting them to sit before he stepped into the kitchen, and then returned with a wine bottle in hand. Grabbing the napkin from his setting, Lex quickly dried the wine bottle that had apparently been chilling to accompany their meal, and held it out to Bartlett and then the First Lady.

“Mr. President, if you would hold the bottle for a moment to be sure of its temperature?” After they did, Lex raised an inquiring eyebrow to Clark as he handed him the bottle.

Clark propped his elbows on the table and cupped his palms at the base of the wine bottle, letting Lex hold the neck as he began to blow lightly over the lower half of the bottle. The Bartlett's watched in curiosity, then amazement as a Clark’s breath turned into a thin sheath of frost that coated the lower half of the bottle, and evened out as Lex began to turn the neck. When the sheath had thickened evenly, Lex retrieved the napkin and held it out for Clark to lay the bottle on. After sharing a soft reminiscent smile with Clark, he stood up and walked around the table to the President and the First Lady.

“Mr. President?” Lex smiled as he offered the bottle to Bartlett, who was now staring at Clark with an odd expression. Mrs. Bartlett answered instead, “Thank you, Lex,” She paused to stress his first name, and then continued smoothly, “We would both enjoy a glass.”

Taking her lead, Lex popped the cork with a practiced flick of his thumb and neatly filled their glasses and his own—before he wrapped the napkin loosely around the bottle and set it within the President’s reach. Bartlett’s eyebrow went up as he noticed Clark’s still empty glass, but he held his tongue as Clark shifted uncomfortably, noticing the direction of Bartlett’s glance.

Sensitive to his partner’s moods and discomfort, Lex immediately noticed Clark’s shifting and tracked its cause to Bartlett’s appraising glance.

“Clark, I’m sorry. I was a bit distracted. Just a moment.” Lex went into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of Ty Nant. He filled Clark's empty glass before Clark interrupted him.

“Actually, Lex, I think I would like a little wine, if you don’t mind?” The note of appeal in Clark’s tone and his partner’s raised eyebrow gave Bartlett a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Of course I don’t mind. Do you, Sir?” Lex asked to the president, confirming the reason for Bartlett’s malaise. Clark was clearly underage to drink legally.

“Just how old are you, Clark?” Bartlett asked sharply as he frowned at Luthor. Although he had nothing against their alternative lifestyle, Bartlett completely disapproved of the idea that such a young man would be in a committed relationship with someone who might be twice his age.

All too familiar with the line of questioning, Clark blurted out, “Lex is 25 and I’m 20.” He grimaced when he heard Lex’s amused sniff. “Well, I will be soon.”

“Don’t rush it, Clark.” Lex said, then corrected his exclamation with a warm smile, “Clark will be 20 in three months, Sir.”

Bartlett stared at the two boys, trying to figure out why he’d had the wrong impression of their ages. It was easier to understand why he had believed Luthor was older than he actually was; the boy’s baldness gave him an appearance of age and starkness; his well-known youthful exploits had produced a defiant confidence, and his background in the business world had imparted an edgy sophistication. But, studying Clark, Bartlett felt as if he had never looked Superman directly in the face, though he was certain he had – and he still remembered Superman’s unnerving blue eyes. While the boy was tall and well developed, his features were unmistakably youthful.

He glanced at his wife, knowing that he would see the same thought in her eyes. These two boys — who looked so much older than they were, who ran circles around the business and media giants, who were responsible for the lives of so many people – these two boys were younger than his daughters. He tried to mentally count the times he had already called on Superman just in the first three months of his Presidency, and couldn’t. The thought of the dangers that he had already sent this boy to sent a wave of revulsion through him. It must have shown on his face.

“Mr. President? Are you all right?” Clark’s voice sounded soft and concerned.

Composing his thoughts and his face, Bartlett turned back to Clark, touched by the empathy radiating from his eyes… emerald green eyes… Damn.

“Luthor!” Bartlett’s hard voice surprised everyone at the table. “Good job! You almost had me convinced.”

“Jed,” Abby railed, “What is wrong with you?”

“His eyes! Abby, Superman’s eyes are blue: an odd, icy blue, but they are blue.” He turned back to Clark and Lex angrily. “Care to explain that, Luthor?” Without waiting for an answer, Bartlett stood up and ordered his wife, “Abby, get up. We’re going.”

As he reached for her chair, a glacial voice stopped him: “I applaud you for your skepticism, Mr. President; however, in this instance, it is unwarranted.”

It was superman’s voice. Bartlett scanned the room in shock, but it still contained only the four of them. He had a brief second to notice how pale Luthor looked before Superman commanded, “Look at me.”

When he looked back at Clark, the change from the boy to the hero was immediately noticeable. The person before him had not moved even a nanometer, but the openness and youthfulness of the features he had studied only moments before were suddenly erased. Bartlett’s spine stiffened as he reacted instinctively to the superior expression on the man’s face and the haughty amusement flashing in icy, steal blue eyes.

“You are as difficult to convince as Mr. Luthor was.” Superman’s comment drew an immediate reaction from Lex.

“Clark! What are you doing?”

“The President asked to speak with me, Luthor. If he prefers this form to the other, I see no reason not to indulge him.”

The empathy and affection that had previously radiated between the two men seemed lost.
Bartlett felt guilty for the frigid feeling that had descended on the room.

“Clark, you shouldn’t be…” Lex protested anxiously, but Mrs. Bartlett interrupted him with a chill voice of her own.

“I seriously doubt that Jed prefers speaking to you, Superman,“ her voice held a clear challenge as she stared him down. Lex could only gaze at her in amazement when she continued, “and, as for myself, I definitely prefer Clark as a dinner companion.” Even though she was a democrat, if she ever ran for office, Lex decided he would happily bankroll her campaign.

“Mr. President? Is she correct? Is this simply dinner?” Superman turned a challenging eye to Lex. “Or did you have something to discuss with me?”

Bartlett cleared his throat, grateful for his wife’s interference, as he spoke: “Superman, of the many things I have learned over the years, the first and most important is that Abby is always right. I did want the chance to speak with you, but primarily because I am curious about the progress of your vacation.” From Superman’s intense gaze, Bartlett knew the hero sensed his evasion, but it was close enough to the truth that he didn’t even feel his usual level of discomfort with dissembling.

“Really? And, why is that?” Superman’s question was so coolly delivered that Bartlett might have missed the polite undercurrent of distrust- but, Bartlett had learned from many years of politics how to recognize the nuances of distrust. However, verbal parries were Bartlett’s forte, and he felt as if he was back on solid ground.

“Simply put, Superman, I have never met anyone who had to be ordered by the UN to take a vacation.” Bartlett suppressed a smile when he saw the fleeting grin that crossed Lex’s face. He finished with another joust, “Considering your usual attire, I had expected a more balanced attitude toward overwork. Even I visit Camp David occasionally.”

The brilliant smile that Lex gave him for that comment washed away Bartlett’s earlier suspicions that Lex was trying to manipulate and control the younger man. It was clear where the boy’s primary concern lay.

“Very well,” Superman conceded and retreated.

As Superman receded, Clark picked up his wineglass, and held it out to Lex with a look of entreaty. Lex barely paused with a brief glance toward the Bartletts for any sign of objection, then filled the glass and held the bottle ready for a refill if needed.


With a trembling hand, Clark brought the wineglass to his lips and drained the glass slowly – avoiding their eyes.

“Clark?” Lex insisted, “Look at me.”

When Clark hesitated to meet his appraising gaze, Lex left his chair and crouched by Clark’s chair – tilting his head to the side far enough to catch a glimpse of Clark’s eyes. What he saw wasn’t good. The color in Clark’s eyes was still disturbingly frosty blue, although at the edges a warm green translucent sheen was fading in toward the iris.

“Would you like me to get Willow?” he asked with concern.

Gritting his teeth, Clark shut his eyes for a brief second, then shook his head and answered, “No, I think I can… I just need a few moments.”

Lex watched Clark carefully, as he bit his lip in concentration and waited until he saw a thin sheen of sweat break out on Clark’s forehead.

“Clark,” Lex started to stand as he spoke, “You need more time. Let me get, Willow.”

“No.” Clark stopped him. “Stay here. Talk. I can.” He gripped Lex’s elbow to steady himself and walked carefully out of the room.

9. Delirium Tremens

Lex returned to his chair and forgot for several moments that he was the host as he drained his glass, refilled it, and drained it again. The Bartletts waited quietly until the pallor of his skin slowly warmed and he looked up, anxiously, having remembered his duties once more.

“I…” Lex checked his watch, “Oh. Dinner should be ready in just a moment.” Forcing a pleasant expression, Lex stood up to refill their glasses and hurried from the room.

“Jed, this isn’t right!” Abby protested quietly. “They are just boys—younger than our own children. We’re asking too much of them.”

Although he silently agreed with her, Bartlett shook his head. Superman was simply too important of an ally and a resource to discard at whim. Aside from that…

“Abby, I’ve ordered younger men into combat.” His voice was grim as he spoke and he refused to meet her eyes. It was a fact that she already knew. Of course, she knew that and she knew how much it troubled him to make that choice. But, she wasn’t to be swayed by that knowledge—not in this instance.

“This is different, Jed.” She argued, ignoring his quickly set jaw. “You realize that; don’t you?”

“Of course it’s different. He has powers that make his job infinitely easier than any of the others. Additionally, there’s his invulnerability. None of the troops that I’ve ordered into combat have known for certain that they are coming home. How can I not rely on Superman, if it will mean that more of them return safely from their tours of duty?”

Abby stared at him sympathetically. She knew that every one of the phone calls he had made to the next of kin, when a soldier died still haunted him and would always haunt him. But, that still wasn’t enough to dissuade her.

“There’s another difference, too. You don’t send them into a battle alone, without training or commanders to guide them, in the media spotlight, with the world watching their every move, and knowing at the end of the day that they will be judged –personally—for the bad they couldn’t prevent as well as the good they’ve done.” She paused to let it sink in—knowing from his silence that he had actually been listening. “It’s a cruel way to repay them for trying to save the world.”

Bartlett stared into his wine glass for several seconds, thinking through her comments. They were valid, but the nation’s best interests were still his first responsibility. Shaking his head, Bartlett let out a frustrated sigh and asked, “I’m the President, Abby. He is a superhero—emphasis on the words super and hero. It’s not as if he doesn’t have a choice. What would you have me do?”

“First of all,” Abby nodded toward the kitchen. “You could start by calling him Lex. I know you haven’t met his father, but it really is an important distinction on number of levels.”

“Oh, and I take it you have.”

“Years ago, yes. My sister, Zoe went to college with his late wife. And, we only met once, at one of Zoe’s Christmas parties—but ...” Abby trailed off with obvious distaste and suppressed a shuddered at the memory of meeting the unpleasant businessman, but not before her husband picked up on her revulsion.

“Okay. What else?”

Abby smiled at her husband, finally feeling that he was ready to be open-minded. After a second, she nodded again toward the kitchen and answered, “Talk to him; I have a feeling that he has something fairly important that needs to be said – they seem to want you to hear it. And, if I’m not mistaken, you should probably feel pretty proud of that – I doubt they share their secrets easily.”

Bartlett stared at his cryptic wife, but decided that she wasn’t going to elaborate. After a second, he resigned himself to following orders, refilled his wineglass, and walked into the kitchen – in time to catch Lex dashing tears from his eyes as he prepped their dinner plates.

“Lex,” Bartlett announced his presence, startling the young man. “Abby suggested that you could use a hand in here,” he paused lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone, as he finished, “But, between you and me, I think she’s simply afraid that I will bring up an argument we were having about the scope of Natural Duties in ‘A Theory of Justice’.”

“By John Rawls?” Lex thought for a moment. “I remember that section.” He began to quote the section from memory: “The following are examples of natural duties: the duty of helping another when he is in need or jeopardy, provided that one can do so without excessive risk or loss to oneself; the duty not to harm or injure another; and the duty not to cause unnecessary suffering.” His eyes flashed a surprised question at the president.

Smiling in response, Bartlett continued the passage, “The first of these duties, the duty of mutual aid, is a positive duty...” He grinned as he let his offer sink in, and then rephrased it as he set his wine glass down and moved toward the stove: “So, Lex, how can I help?”

On the other side of the door, Abby nodded with some satisfaction. Her husband could be quite charming when he wanted to be. With that taken care of, she turned back toward the other dining room door. She wasn’t certain yet, but she was beginning to think that she was noticing the same symptoms in Clark that she had recognized in another friend, Leo, many years ago.

She could be wrong of course, but Clark’s confusion, anxiety, wobbly steps when he left the dining, and sweating without sign of any other physical activity—were all symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal from what- she wasn’t certain. In Leo’s case, it had been alcohol, but Abby doubted that Lex would have let Clark anywhere near the wine if that was the case. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone’s spouse was ignorant of an addiction, or -for that matter- the first time that a person suffering multiple personalities used alcohol to cope. And that was something else she was certain of, the Superman identity wasn’t just a cover for Clark’s use of his powers – it was a distinct personality from Clark’s that seemed capable of suppressing Clark’s personality at will. From Lex’s earlier comment about Clark being the ‘third identity’, it was clear there was at least one other personality, and perhaps more yet to be discovered.

As she stepped through the door, Abby was surprised to see Clark sitting tensely on the couch as a young woman with bright red hair rubbed his temples. Well, no, that wasn’t really what surprised her: it was the bright peach bubble of light that spread from her fingertips around Clark’s his forehead and over the back of his skull like a football helmet. As the young woman massaged the pressure points by his eyes, the peach helmet thickened in some areas and flared in others. She could only stare at the two of them until she noticed one of Clark’s fists clenching convulsively.


Their faces snapped toward her, and the peach helmet evaporated.

“Are you all right?” She watched the young woman almost suspiciously.

“Oh, Abby. It’s okay. This is Willow. She’s –“ he paused grinning up at the Willow. “She’s my bottle of aspirin.”


“Well, normal medicines don’t seem to work on me because of my... physiology, but…” Clark hesitated looking up at Willow for permission, then continued after she nodded, “a couple of years ago, we found out that another friend of ours could affect me by… uh… using… well…”

“Magic.” Willow supplied when she realized how nervous her friend was about the subject.

“Well!” Abby’s startled exclamation caused both of them to blush. Recovering swiftly, Abby asked, “Well, that’s interesting. How does it work?”

Willow bounced with enthusiasm. “Oh, it’s something like a glamour. As long as I know what the medicine’s purpose is, what it’s supposed to be doing inside of Clark (if he were like everyone else),” she added with a small smile to soften her comment. “and what it’s not supposed to do – you know the side effects. As long as I know those things, I can sort of … write a spell… which is like a sort of like a prayer for it to happen and then make it happen. When you came in, I was just using a pain-relief spell.”

Abby turned back to Clark in concern and asked, “Clark, you’re in pain?”

Clark nodded and shrugged, “I tend to get sort of bad headaches”

Despite his qualification of bad, the sad look that Willow was giving him convinced Abby that ‘bad’ was a serious understatement.

“Anything else?” Abby asked, trying to gauge the severity of his condition.

“Like?” Willow knew that Clark had been bothered by a number of other physical complaints. Everyone knows that fevers and vomiting were never good, but she wasn’t certain which of the others the First Lady would find significant.

“Nausea, vomiting, fever, anxiety, dizziness, insomnia, cravings, restlessness—anything like that?” Abby ran through a list of the most common withdrawal symptoms watching as Clark began to pluck at his sleeve nervously.

After a long breath, without meeting her eyes, he quietly confirmed something on her list with a muttered, “Unh-huh.” Clark understood why Lex felt it was important to tell the President, and he genuinely liked the first lady, but it was difficult to admit that he had so little control over such an important aspect of his life.

“Well?” Abby prompted. “Which ones?”

Clark’s fingers jumped frantically at his sleeve, but he continued to avoid her eyes and refused to answer.

Willow cocked her head as she watched him with curious concern. Avoiding such a direct question without any explanation was unusual even for him. But she remembered how difficult it had been for her to admit her own addiction, and the First Lady certainly had some idea of the symptoms—so perhaps it wasn’t all that unusual… even though Clark was an alien.

After a moment, when it was clear that Clark was too involved in staring ruefully at his hands to answer, she supplied, “All of them.”

Abby only nodded as her suspicions were confirmed as much by Clark’s avoidance of the subject as Willows affirmation.

“Anything else?” She asked again.

Willow paused again, for several seconds, sure that Clark wouldn’t avoid a second question; but, the conversation seemed too much for him and he was scrubbing his hands together with a look that almost bordered on despair. Catching the First Lady’s eye, Willow gestured with a jerk of her head to the other side of the room—hoping a little distance would make the discussion easier on Clark.

“Yes,” she finally answered in a soft tone. “We’ve noticed that he can get agitated easily—“

“Like now?” Abby interrupted.

“Yes, and confused. This morning, Lex also said something about him having trouble remembering things.”

Abby looked at her grimly, trying to weigh her next question carefully. Finally, she simply
asked, “Willow, have you considered the possibility… Is it possible that Clark could be addicted
to your treatments?”

Willow stared at her in shock. Of course, she hadn’t considered that possibility. Clark’s addiction was the reason that she had become involved in the first place, and now Ms. Bartlett was trying to blame it on her. Willow snapped her eyes shut in irritation – understanding why Clark must have seemed nervous about mentioning her powers to the woman before—because he knew she would react badly to Willow being a witch. Suppressing the urge to whisper a harmless little spell that would make every pair of hose that the First Lady would ever own run as she put them on, Willow swallowed and opened her eyes—in time to see Clark shoot a burst of solid flame at his hands, catching his sleeves on fire.

“Clark!” Both women cried out in alarm. As they ran toward him, Clark shot another burst, and then another. Then, to their horror, he seared his hands in a steady stream of flame. Willow cried out as she watched his face contort with pain, but he still glared fire onto his hands as he turned them.

The women stood transfixed by the gruesome scene as they watched Clark’s hands begin to redden and blister. Only Lex’s cursing as he ran through the doorway and practically tackled Clark from behind, forcing his hands over the boy’s eyes and holding his eyes shut, broke their haze.

“Clark! What the hell are you doing?” Lex ground out before a muffled yelp escaped him as Clark’s eye lids fluttered beneath his hand letting flame lash out across Lex’s palm. “Willow, do something!”

Between the First Lady’s accusation and Clark’s inexplicable outburst, Willow was well and truly flustered and confused. “What should I do?” She cried out plaintively, “He’s never been like this before.”

“Can you sedate him?” Abby demanded. When Willow nodded, she ordered, “Then, do it.”

Quickly working out the formula in her head, Willow whispered, “ut nox noctis subsido in oriens”. A small sphere of darkness appeared over her palm that became greyer and brighter as she watched. After a second’s inspection, she cupped her palm around it and pushed it toward Clark. As the Bartletts and Lex watched it approach Clark, the sphere became translucent and pale pastels ebbed across its surface. When it touched his chest, Clark slowly slumped in Lex’s arms.

After a moment, Lex carefully lifted his fingers, checking to be certain that Clark’s heat vision was extinguished. Though dazed, Clark’s eyes were open when Lex looked into them and still seemed somewhat aware. Staring at Clark in anguish, he asked, “My god, Clark. What were you trying to do?”

“The blood wouldn’t come off my hands, Lex. I thought I washed it off this morning, but it’s still there. It wouldn’t scratch off either. I thought I could burn it off. Is it gone?” Clark started to lift his hands again, but Abby shook her head urgently at Lex, who quickly pulled him into a fierce hug that pinned his hands out of his field of vision.

“Clark?” Abby raised her voice trying to catch his attention, “Clark, pay attention to me for a moment, Okay?”

Clark nodded, while he tried to shift to see his hands.

“Clark pay attention. You are having the DT’s. Do you know what they are?”

Clark’s voice seemed a weary echo as he answered her half-heartedly, “Delirium Tremens.”

“I’m going to have Willow help you sleep now, okay? When you wake up, you’ll feel a lot better, okay?” She spoke to him in the soothing voice that she reserved for her most delicate patients.

“But… the blood. I don’t want to sleep with it on my hands.” He whined.

Finally understanding, Lex spoke softly in his Clark’s ear as he pulled the boy closer. “It’s just an hallucination, Sweet. Just close your eyes and go to sleep, when you wake up everything will be okay.”

“You promise?” Out of the corner of her eye, Abby noticed her husband pale as he heard the childlike hope of Clark’s voice as he asked for that assurance.

“Cross my heart.”

“Okay.” With that, he turned, murmured “good night” to the others, and then snuggled into Lex’s chest. Lex wrapped his arms around Clark’s shoulders, holding him gently, and nodded to Willow.

“ut dies fades ut nox noctis.”

Clark’s breath evened out into a soft breathy snore as they listened.

“Can he hear me?” Abby asked urgently.

“No, I don’t think so.” Willow answered hesitantly.

“Good,” Pouring out the fear and anxiety that had building up over the last few moment’s, Abby turned on Lex hurling accusations, “How could you let it get this far? Why wasn’t he in treatment? Real treatment? Damn it!”

“Abby!” The president called her down.

“No, Jed, Clark’s an alcoholic. He was having the DT’s right beneath our noses and they knew about it. Hell. They have been treating him for it—with Magic. With Magic. Jed. People can die during episodes of the DT’s, and he was having an attack right in front of me. Right in front of me. I’m a doctor. If I had known, I could have done something to prevent it.”

Bartlett caught her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake to stop her rant.

“Abby, Clark isn’t an alcoholic.”

“Jed, don’t try to tell me that, I’m a doctor and I recognize a case of the DT’s when I see it. I was right about Leo and I’m right now. That boy is going through withdrawal.”

When Lex finally spoke, his voice sounded hollow and distant. “Clark is an addict, and this vacation is his rehab- of sorts. And you’re right, he is suffering from withdrawal.”

Abby shot a triumphant grimace at her husband, but the president stood his ground—correcting her: "But…his addiction is being Superman."

After a moment, Lex continued, “Or, more precisely, Clark is addicted to the flood of chemicals that his brain produces when he becomes Superman.”

When the meaning of their words sunk in, Abby wilted into her husband’s arms as she broke into tears.


Rawls, J. (1999) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 98.

ut nox noctis subsido ut oriens: as night subsides into morning

ut dies fades ut nox noctis: as day fades into night.

For Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal (


Anonymous Windress said...

Oh bloody christ.

That was beautiful and painful, and I just loved it! I didn't want it to end! I wanted everything to be okay!

People take Clark for granted, because they think Superman is who he is, as well. But as your fic points out in poignant clarity is that he can't _be_ both and remain sane! There must be a division, and in that, a battle for dominance.

I've never hated Superman as much, nor loved Clark and Lex more. Wonderful!


5:16 PM  
Blogger Diane said...


Thank you so much. You've given me a blush that will take a week to fade. I am so glad you enjoyed it.

I do intend to continue it and have written two more pieces in that line.

The first is "Safe Here in My Room" a 100 word/drabble that I initially intended to submit to the CLFF 12th wave Based on the music challenge. Safe is set against the Lyrics to Breaking the Habit, by Linkin Park, which are posted at the end.

The second piece based on the same lyrics but is being submitted to the 12th wave so won't come out until somewhere in May. I am planning to add more between now and then however.

You might be interested to see where I take Kal El also. Basically, one of the pieces I'm drafting now flips the question of who's the original personality anyway, and what would be the ramifications on that personality-
of being held and cared for by Lara for an unknown length of time as an infant
then locked in a space ship essentially amounting to sensory deprivation for a span of years judging by the fact that he's a toddler when he comes out.
combined with survivor's guilt from the death of his planet and family (who we learn in season 3 that he has at least some repressed memory of),
and let simmer over 12-16 years of general alienation
Hopefully it's the right recipe for another poignant tale. Not to mention the self-imposed guilt I have in store for Superman when ... oops, that would be saying to much.

Thanks again.

6:21 PM  
Blogger rentecurto1003 said...

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6:00 AM  

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