Ten the Hard Way

Pairing: Clark/Lex
Rating: PG-13
Author: Madelyn
Notes: For Nightchik for the Smallville Flash Fiction 2.0 challenge: Future-fic - Clark and Lex meet after not seeing each other for many years, and Clark agrees to be friends again, or at least friendly, mostly for civility's sake. Lex sees this as a second chance to, you know, get into Clark's pants. Because the post-Rift could go down like this. Really, it could! I--yeah. It could! Thistle caught me doing evil grammatical things and probably would have caught more if I'd given her more than a couple of hours with this thing. She's so good. Remaining errors completely my own as this story just would not end.

Clark pushed at the nose of his glasses distractedly, a damp dark curl of hair clinging to his forehead. "I'm sorry Miss Fischer, I think this has to be some kind of mistake. I never entered any contest." It was too early to be dealing with this. He had to be at the Planet in an hour, he'd just gotten back from patrol four hours ago, there was a stack of LexCorp papers that desperately needed archiving and there was a guy in his bed and Clark hadn't asked his name last night.

"Well, that just means you're even luckier then, Mr. Kent!" The girl smiled perkily and Clark tried to ease the door shut without her noticing. But she had eyes like a cat and they were scary when she narrowed them. "You'll need to thank whoever saw fit to enter your name in our seven day, six night getaway to the breathtaking island of--"

"Look, I don't really do the vacation thing, so you can just go on down to the next person on your list, okay?" Clark asked, a bit desperate now. Fuck. Lois had said she would drop by to head out to breakfast with him this morning, and he'd completely forgotten. If she got here when this woman was still here, while that guy was still here…

He shivered, draping his terrycloth robe across his chest tighter, and tying it securely. "So I'm just going to decline the prize." He finished, mumbling. Yes, the door was almost nearly closed. Almost! He was going to make it.

"Hey, dude, nice night. Catch you later." Bedroom Guy had gotten dressed while Clark had been talking, and he excused himself, squeezing between Miss Fischer and the door, pinching Clark’s ass on his way out. Clark stared after him, thrilled. He was Going. To. Make. It.

"The hell you are, Smallville!" Or—well, not. He ought to have been paying closer attention; usually he could hear Lois’ death heels miles away. Crap.

"Lois, Miss Fischer was just leaving."

"Prize? What prize?" Lois asked, eyes widening. "Give me those!" Lois said, pulling her cigarette out of her mouth. "Jesus, Smallville! This is an all expenses paid trip to--!" Lois squinted, confused, tongue twisting over the word. "Look at the damn pictures! It's gorgeous!"

"That's what I've been trying to say." Muttered the overwrought woman. "It's not like I'm trying to sell him dictionaries."

"Don't worry. Smallville's slow sometimes." Lois swiped the small binder out of Miss Fischer's hands so quickly Clark wondered if the girl had gotten whiplash.

"Anyway, he'll call you if he has any questions." Lois continued breezily. "Thanks!" She slid neatly past Clark and nodded determinedly that he should close the door. Clark managed a little nod and wave and secured the lock behind Miss Fischer.

"Lois, I'm not going." He said, already brushing past her and making for the coffee. Coffee was good. Coffee would distract Lois.

"Perry said you should take a little break, and frankly, I agree with him. You've been acting weird, and considering it's you, that's saying something. You’re all edgy and you keep barking at people."

Clark rubbed at his face, hoping he was somehow still sleeping burrowed under the blankets and this was all just some really peculiar dream from the apple juice he'd gulped down in France this morning. Last night. Whenever. God. "It's not weird," He started, but hearing the defensive tone, he spoke more quietly. "It's not weird," he repeated, "I'm just a little tired, okay? People can get tired, especially when they don't have an incessant nicotine fix helping them maintain the will to live."

Lois' eyes flashed in the way that meant Clark Kent You Just Dissed My Cigarettes And You Are Now Going to Pay. At least he hadn't pitched them down the toilet this time. That hadn't been pretty. Clark sighed, pulled out a filter and filled it with fair trade blend.

As it turned out, Lois was even more doggish in her pursuit to get Clark a vacation than she was in taking one for herself, because Clark was on a plane four days later with strict orders from Perry to "see to it he got that little problem fixed up right quick".

Clark hunched into the seat on the airplane uncomfortably, not even wanting to contemplate what horrible lie Lois had told Perry to get him out of working that quickly. He'd called his mother, hoping for an ally, but not only had she been elated that Lois was "encouraging" him to take some time off, but she had insisted he tell the League to deal with things on their own for the week. The talk with his mother had gotten him thinking that if everyone was so worried about him, perhaps this break would be good for him. He could catch up on some reading; soak in a little sun.

His conversation with Batman had been one to desperately block from all annals of memory. He suspected he'd been trying not to laugh at Superman stumbling over the "I'm going to be taking a vacation" part of the conversation, but Batman had just nodded, stiffening slightly when he'd told him that he wasn't going to be using his super-hearing for the duration of the trip. Batman had simply asked for Superman to keep his lines of communication open in case there were an 'extraordinary' event, but that somehow, somehow, the League would survive without its resident boy in blue for a week.

Clark thought it was really something how he’d managed to resist popping him in the jaw, just for one time.

Clark was used to seeing the opulence of hotels like this—he rescued the poor along with the rich, after all, but he wasn't used to actually being the one staying in it. He dumped his duffle on the floor and flopped himself down on the humongous bed. It was like lying on a pile of feathers. Really soft purple feathers. Clark sighed, stretching out spread eagle. He punched the pillow a couple of times, watching as his fist disappeared neatly into the foam. He had to get a couple of these when he got back.

Within a few minutes, he was passed out, lost to the world.

By the second day, Clark had decided Lois was clearly a goddess, and upon his return ought to be placated and worshipped accordingly. To this end, he bought her little t-shirt post-it pads, dark chocolates, a smiley squeeze-it four pack (he anticipated death for those) but no cigarettes. He refused to be an accessory. This place was beyond beautiful, and Clark couldn't believe it was such a loosely populated island. There were some tourists here and there, certainly, but nothing like Clark would have expected from a place that resembled Clark’s vague fantasies of paradise, and Clark was amazed he'd never even heard of Macedon Island. They must be trying to remedy that through the trip give-aways, he mused. Well, so far it had worked. They were all so friendly. Everyone smiled at him in the hallways, even the guests, and on the beach he practically had to beat off the waiters falling over themselves to assist him. He'd spent the early morning indoors, shopping, drinking an indecent amount of iced moccachinos, but the beach beckoned.

Humming nearly silently, he dropped off his purchases in his room and changed into a white t-shirt and shorts. Throwing a book, a towel and some magazines into a bag, he found a relatively quiet spot on the sand and waited for a guy to get up and chase his kids around a sandcastle before taking over his chair. He tugged out his book thoughtfully, and fell into a light half-doze as his eyes flew lazily along the pages.

Clark dug his toes in the sand, watching as the grains sifted in between and got caught, glistening against the sunlight. The children in the water were splashing around, and Clark nudged a seashell with his finger, drawing patterns around it thoughtfully. He sighed and picked up his book again, sprawling himself across his towel as he opened to a point past the bookmark. Maybe it'd get a little more interesting if he just skipped ahead a little. Or, he did have that stack of articles on Luthor to categorize into their proper files.

"Your orange juice, sir." A member of the wait-staff murmured, and Clark reached up unthinkingly and looked down at the colorful frosty glass it was in. Kent, you rebel. Drinking orange juice on your vacation. Yeah, get down with it, he thought, sipping the drink. He wasn't paying attention though, so it went down wrong and he snorted it all over his book.

Well. There was always sleeping, an age old favorite.

On the morning of the third day, the sunlight was glinting through the blinds and Clark was feeling like he ought to actually explore the island instead of snoozing the trip away. Armed with a jelly bean snack pack, his Nalgene bottle and his favorite sandals, he set out, with a vague plan of visiting the tour office, taking a sailboat around the island, grabbing some dinner and wandering around the hotel casino. He stepped off the elevator, pausing to check his pocket and make sure he had his hotel key, so he wasn't paying attention to where he was walking. He dropped his bottle on the floor with a loud thud and as he was moving to pick it up, he saw another hand reaching for it at the same time. Clark grinned up brushing aside his hair to grab the bottle.

"I have coordination issues..." He began brightly, his mouth freezing at seeing the body that hand was attached to.

"I remember you as having excellent reflexes." Long, smooth drawl of the words as Lex tightened his fingers around the bottle.

Clark's mouth was dry, and he could swear he was having actual thoughts, but mostly they seemed to be centered on 'Lex, here, not far away, not blowing something up, but standing here, here, say something!'

"Lex. Hi."

"Hello." Lex said, as he was jostled a little closer to Clark by a couple of passersby.

"Hi. It's been awhile." Oh, God, he did not just say that.

"Tell me you did not just say that hideously bad pick-up line." Lex murmured, holding out the bottle to Clark. It took Clark a moment to recover and actually take it. Lex moved his fingers at the last possible second so both their hands were touching it at the same time.

Clark just wasn't used to this anymore. Sure, he and Lex talked all the time, but it wasn't as though Lex knew that. Their interactions these days tended to be along the lines of "Luthor, you built another psychotic robot?" Or, "Luthor, stop fucking trying to clone me!" But Clark Kent hadn't spoken to Lex Luthor since sophomore year of college, since that horrible night Clark had come in to his dorm room to find Lionel Luthor sitting on his bed, and that had seemed to suit Lex just fine. And it was just fine with Clark too. Fine.

"It was hardly a pick-up line, Lex," Clark remarked, sliding away slowly, tugging on his sunglasses. Lex fell into step next to him silently, and the door was held open for the two of them.

"Too bad." Clark looked up sharply, but Lex continued on blithely. "You and I haven't spoken on any personal level for going on--what, five years now, and all you can say is, hey, Lex, it's been awhile?" Lex asked politely, not seeming to care that Clark was walking a little faster.

"It's not that it's not true, it has been 'awhile'" Lex continued, matching his pace to Clark's and Clark could practically see Lex making air-quotes motions. "But I should think you could come up with something like, Lex, you look good, or Lex, how's the company."

Clark felt his lips tighten. "What the hell does it matter, Lex? It's not like we had an actual friendship left when I was in college. So why can't I just say, hey Lex, and be on my way?"

"Is that what you want?" Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Clark hated talking to Lex when he was using that tone--that inflection that made you think the answer didn't matter one way or the other to Lex, but underneath it, that there was something Clark was just too stupid not to see.

Clark sighed. "It never mattered what I wanted before, so what should it matter what I want right now?"

"Clark, you can be such a teenager sometimes, still." Lex said lightly, even as he swiftly stole the bottle from Clark's clenched hand and took a long, long drink. "You have an incredibly selective memory."

"Maybe I don't like to remember."

"Maybe you don't remember things the way they actually happened." Lex returned.

"Maybe I don't like all these mind-games you always, always played! Maybe I got sick of them, and so maybe when you stopped answering my e-mails, and being 'too busy' to talk to me, maybe I was actually fucking relieved!"

"Or maybe you weren't."

"Oh, what the heck is that supposed to mean?"

Lex gestured expansively, fingers light on the bottle. "I just mean that I know that I missed you, and I'm hoping it was mutual."

"Or maybe you're--what?" Clark stopped cold on the sidewalk.

"It's really a beautiful island, don't you think? When I started this project, I thought it would turn out quite well, but I think my staff outdid themselves."

"Your staff." Clark looked around wildly, scanning for cameras, kryptonite caches, whatever trap it was Lex had succeeded so well in setting.

"There isn't any kryptonite." Lex said flatly.

And the world felt like it had narrowed, narrowed to where Clark couldn't feel his feet, and Lex's face was swimming before him. His voice came out bitterly, breathtakingly easily: "What are you talking about?"

Lex started walking again, leaving Clark to fall into place behind him this time. "Drop it, Clark. I'm done with it. You are an incredibly bad liar for a person with that much to hide, and I'm an incredibly impatient man for so much to lose."

Clark couldn't breathe too well, but Lex seemed to notice, and what was more, actually seemed to care, as he tugged open the Nalgene and pressed it to Clark's mouth.

"My God. You honestly believed I genuinely didn't know." Lex sounded weird, this odd mixture of horror and awe in his voice. "Clark. Jesus. You have all of these abilities in Smallville, and suddenly, there's an alien in town with wearing primary colors and looking exactly the fuck like you?!"

Clark swallowed hard. Lex looked infuriated. "God! You're—- you need to learn how to lie better than this, Clark, or you're not going to fucking reach thirty. And stop looking at me like I'm going to rape you with a kryptonite dildo; no one knows but me, and no one else will ever know if I have my say."

Somehow, out of all of that, the words that stuck with Clark were "Kryptonite dildo?" He parroted wildly.

Lex sighed and ran his hand over the back of his head. "Okay. Back to the 'maybe' part of the afternoon. Maybe I'm not handling this as well as I'd planned. It's a lot for you to take in. I get that. So I'm going to make it easy on you, and I'm going to tell you what we're going to do from here. We're going to try this thing, it's called talking. And we're going to try this other thing, and it's going to be completely new for both of us, but it's going to be called telling the truth while we're talking. You with me so far?"

Clark couldn't do anything but nod, not noticing that the Nalgene bottle now had an indentation that was shockingly enough, just the right size of his hand.

"We'll do this talking thing as we walk. We can walk where ever you'd like, out in the open, back to my suite, or we'll do it as we have dinner tonight." Lex continued easily.

"Lex-— you can't just go around and expect people to fall in line with your every whim." Clark said shakily. Lex knew. Lex-- had known for awhile. Awhile. Wow. He really hated that word. But- but Lex knew, and he had still stopped talking to Clark and that--what the hell did that even mean?

"But I do, and they do." Lex said, as though he were being perfectly reasonable.

Clark stared and Lex broke out into an open smile. Clark hoped his jaw wasn't scraping the carpet, but he couldn't blame it if it was. "It's just dinner. I'm not asking for your future unborn child, Clark. I'll see you later."

Clark stared after him as Lex disappeared, re-entering the hotel. "See you at dinner, Clark. Heel, Clark!" Clark mimicked, finishing the job on the Nalgene bottle. Clark wasn't showing up. Let Lex sit there. He could just sit there, and stew and know all about Clark being Superman and damn it.

Fingers shaking, he managed to make his way back down to the beach. He flopped down on the warm, comforting sand and pulled off his shirt, bunching it underneath his head. He stared up at the sky, wondering, amazed at how in the span of ten minutes, every preset condition in his life was suddenly turned upside down. He had to figure this out, know what he was going to say before he saw Lex again. He shut his eyes, evaluating. So, fact one. Lex understood that Clark was Superman, and basically thought he was an idiot for thinking he had actually managed to conceal this fact. Fact two, instead of using this information to just plant a kryptonite bomb in Clark's underwear drawer, Lex instead went for the grand destruction gestures, but always, always aimed only at Superman. Fact three, Lex had set up a contest to get Clark to an island, to--to what, talk? Mock him for thinking he'd managed to keep Lex in the dark? Clark didn't think there was any kind of shielding around the place; so he could just fly off. And four, fact four was somehow even more daunting than the rest of them. Lex had said he had missed him. Lex had missed him, but he hadn't ever done anything to make Clark think that he'd be interested in talking to him again. Lex had 'hoped' Clark had missed him too, so that meant--what? That he wanted to be friends again? It had been five years since they’d spoken to one another about anything that wasn’t in a press or saving the world setting.

People shouldn't have to think about this kind of crap on their vacations, Clark thought, enraged at the universe. And why wasn't he flying off yet? And why could Clark feel a shadow over his legs?

"I have sunblock." And of course Lex wasn't waiting until dinner to start his next maneuver.

"I—don't get sunburned. The sun's generally pretty good to me, actually." Clark risked a tiny polite smile, eyes opening to Lex kneeling next to him, sunblock in hand and a quizzical expression on his face.

"I want to touch your body and I was trying to be subtle and use this as an excuse." Lex sighed heavily, waving the bottle around nonchalantly.

"I—what the fuck?" Clark scrambled to his feet and brushed the sand off of his pants. "You're--Lex, are you okay?"

"That's helpful Clark, and I mean that in the sincerest sense."

"No, I'm being serious. You're not acting like yourself at all." Clark said, and dared to move closer, reach out and put his palm to Lex's forehead in the classic, hey, is he sick movement.

Lex closed his eyes and asked quietly, "How would you know if I'm acting like myself or not? You haven't been around to see." Lex shifted his pants, and sat down directly on the sand, somehow managing to look every inch the billionaire CEO still. Clark sank down slowly next to him.

"I have seen, Lex." Clark whispered.

"Is it easier to call me Luthor than Lex?" Lex asked suddenly.

It was like falling, like Level Three all over again, sick and scared and his stomach rolling like it wouldn't ever stop. "No." Clark got out. "No, it's not easier, not in the way that you mean. It just makes it easier not to think about it."

Lex was staring out at the ocean, and that let Clark continue. "I called you Lex. Superman calls you Luthor. Because you and I were friends, once, and Superman and you could never be. The distinction makes it easier to remember that, that's all."

Lex looked at him now, blue eyes coming sharply into focus. He was so close all Clark had to do was just lean in an inch and they would be kissing.

...and where the hell had that thought come from? Lex must've seen something in his face because he wordlessly offered out the sunblock.

Clark didn't know what to do, but his body seemed to have figured it out already. If this were some new grand scheme of Lex's, Clark would just have to deal. But for now, he could play along and try and figure it out. Clark turned over so he was on his stomach and he propped his head onto his arms, looking up at Lex through his sunglasses. Light fingers brushed his and Clark drew his arms under his head. "Look at you all, pliant and silent. I could get used to this." Lex murmured, and Clark was about to say something biting when strong hands consoled his back and Clark's world fell into not only an awareness of the fingers kneading the greasy liquid into his shoulder blades but how the rest of his body was feeling about that.

He and Lex sat in companionable silence; Lex alternating his stares at the ocean and Clark's back, and Clark trying to tamp down hard on the feeling that he was a mouse caught in a maze he couldn't even see. It was hard to be this still with Lex right next to him but Lex didn't seem inclined to move or say anything either, and Clark didn't know what to do, so that left the conversation choices to be rather limited.

"I think I'd be up for an earlier dinner." Lex said, already moving to stand.

"What are you saying here?" Clark asked, the words he'd been processing for the last couple of hours finally bubbling out. "That if I don't go with you, or do whatever the hell it is that you want, that you'll expose me?" It hurt, to say it all in the open like that. He shifted uneasily and pulled off his sunglasses, and out of habit, replaced them with his glasses.

"I already told you that if I have my way, no one else will ever know your secret. But I should think the rest can wait until after dinner." Lex held out his hand to help Clark up. Clark stared at it, thinking how amazingly ridiculous all of this was.

But he took it anyway, and it was hard, firm, his nails digging into Clark's palm.

He followed Lex along the beach, narrowing his eyes at the staff who'd been bending over themselves backwards to help him the last couple of days watching the two of them discretely, but with a hungry curiosity that they couldn't hide.

They were seated at the table in a corner of the hotel's main restaurant, an amazing plethora of plants and flora making a job of it for anyone who might actually be trying to watch. Their orders were taken, and Clark couldn't stop wondering why he still hadn't flown off yet. When Lex spoke for the first time since sitting, it was an explosion.

"If others think that I'm targeting you, it makes them believe they don't need to be worried about you quite as much. They think I've got you covered."

After a moment’s initial reaction of scanning Lex’s body to ensure that this was, in fact Lex actually saying these words, Clark swallowed and tried to keep from yelling. "So let me get this straight," Clark started incredulously, his voice cracking around the last syllable. "You try to shoot me with kryptonite bullets, you clone me, you send ultrasonic robots after me, you build these damn bombs that I keep having to rush out of the city and it's for my own good?"

Lex's nostrils flared, only very subtly and if Clark hadn't been watching Lex's face so intently he'd never have noticed it. Lex moved quickly, reaching up to Clark's face and he whipped off Clark's eyeglasses. Clark blinked into the light. "What are you doing?" He asked, surprised, standing up.

"I can't talk to you when you're wearing those. It's distracting. It's one thing in a picture or across the press room, but up close, you just look like an idiot, okay?" At Clark's continued inability to do anything other than blink, Lex sighed and moved his chair closer to Clark's side of the table. Clark sat down again, still curious. "Clark," Lex started, sighing.

"I mean, I just don't get anything here. You set me up so I'd come here, and you could've just called. You could've called at any time, and you didn't."

"The same could be said for you."

"No! It couldn't! Do you have any idea how hard you've made it? I keep looking at you and seeing a guy who was my best friend, once upon a time, and now he's doing all of these things that my friend would never have done. You were a good person, Lex. I thought you were a good person." Clark said brokenly.

Lex unfolded his napkin calmly, and continued as though Clark hadn’t spoken. "Now that you understand that I've known you for who you are, have you had the chance to think why I've let this charade continue?"

Clark blinked at his salad plate, his water glass halfway to his mouth. "I hadn't gotten that far, no."

"I keep you busy, don't I? I keep you from thinking maybe Jor-El has a point, from thinking you're bored and you'd like to venture into red kryptonite again."

Clark gaped. "That can't be why you've been acting like this."

"You weren't talking to me and--"

“Don’t you dare try to blame this all on me.”

“I’m not!” Lex exhaled. “I’m saying that we’re both at fault and it’s time we did something about it. You asked what this was about; I’ll tell you. I want you to tell me the truth about why we stopped talking, and I want to tell you that I find it incredibly annoying that I live and breathe for the moments when I hear you landing on my balcony just to call me evil incarnate.”

Clark narrowed his eyes. It wasn’t like there was anything to lose, not any longer. "You lied. You said you had stopped investigating me my senior year, but you kept the bullets, Lex. You kept my family tree, you kept the simulations." Clark said coldly. "And to top it all off, I had to get all of that from a freaking file from your father, and I laughed in his goddamn face and said he was a liar, and said that you'd never do that to me, because I was your best friend."

Lex looked as though he were about to be ill. "My father went to you." It wasn't a question.

"But I believed you Lex. I believed you when you said that you had stopped looking, and so for a couple of days, I ignored what your dad had told me. But I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I checked. It was true. All of it was true."

"Why didn't you come to me?" Lex asked, his hand inching toward Clark's.

"Why the hell would I? You hadn't been talking to me for a couple of weeks, and—-”

“I was busy with work! That’s all it was!”

“--you had lied, over and over again. I couldn't trust you, and I knew you didn't have any real reason to trust me. And then your father passed away, and I thought maybe you'd call, but you didn't." Clark finished awkwardly.

"I did lie to you when I said I'd destroyed everything." Lex began, and Clark thought it was nice to be reassured of his control levels with his powers. The table wasn't on fire yet. "I did lie, but I never intended to use anything against you. I just had to know, Clark. Don't you understand what it's like? I had someone I consider to be a huge presence in my life and you were lying to me each and every day, and I know you didn't want to make me feel like this, to make me feel like I was nothing, but it still got to the point where I felt this emptiness inside whenever I talked to you. I just had to know; I had to try to understand you Clark. Don’t you understand that I would’ve never done anything about it?"

This was all too much, too fast right now. Clark thought he was going to throw up for the first time. The openness in Lex's eyes was physically making him sick, and when had Lex's hand wrapped around his anyway?

"Why are you doing this?" Clark didn't understand. This wasn't within the realm of anything like understanding.

"Something has to change, or we are going to destroy one another. I don't want that. The lies haven't gotten us anywhere I want to be."

"And you missed me." Clark said.

"And I missed you. And you and I always skirted around this thing between us, and I won't do it anymore."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that I can turn this into blackmail, since that's what you're used to seeing from me. You either trust me from here on out, and I’ll do my best to live up to it, or I promise you, you'll wish you left me in that river under Loeb Bridge." Lex said silkily, hand still rubbing at Clark's. "I'm not doing this anymore. One way or the other. I won’t blackmail you for your powers, but I can still make you hurt." Lex whispered. "Clark, I bought an island, I rigged it so you'd win a trip here, and I’m going to keep trying to show you that what I want from you is anything but short-term. I'm readily admitting all of this, so the least you can do is--"

That shouldn’t be hot. That shouldn’t make sense. But this was Lex, and Clark wanted this like he hadn’t wanted anything ever before, and Clark lived and breathed for those moments on the balcony too. Whatever Lex had been about to say was cut off by Clark's lips pressing to Lex's mouth, tongue licking and teeth biting his lip alternately, and Lex leaned back on his elbows to allow Clark further access. Lex smiled crookedly, breathless, and his eyes remained focused on Clark's face.

"I missed you too." Clark said simply.

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