And if you've read all of that and still can stand my nonsense, then here you go.
When Clark woke up Lex wasn’t there, but a blanket had been pulled over him, and a pillow nestled where Lex’s thighs had been. It was still dark out, and the sound of cars rushing along the roads was audible through the open windows.
Memories of the previous day didn’t rush back, they crept one by one – the curled fingers of the dead driver in one of the cars, the heavy footsteps of slow moving police officers, the squeaking wheels of gurneys as they were pushed past him. Clark closed his eyes, jaw hard, and took a deep breath through his nose and it wasn’t any easier.
Clark knew all the textures of guilt; knew from the inside, and the outside, and knew the way it felt when it sat heavy on his chest, like now. He could barely breathe – felt as though he’d been fixed down to the couch, and he knew it wasn’t going to go away. There wasn’t anything he could do to bring back the people who’d died because he hadn’t been fast enough, hadn’t heard them. One thing he knew he *couldn’t* do was bring back the dead, and wouldn’t that have been a useful power?
He took another deep breath, and pushed up off the couch, forced himself to stand. He mechanically walked to the kitchen, and poured a glass of juice, like it was any other morning. And maybe, if he kept making himself go through the little rituals of getting ready to go work, he’d eventually stop feeling like this.
And yesterday hadn’t just been about that – the accident – either, and Clark made himself remember that. Images – Lex’s eyes every color and no color at all, like pale fire, hands standing out against Clark’s skin in stark relief, lips red, swollen, bitten – rolled through Clark’s mind, and the tightness in his chest eased somewhat. He remembered falling asleep in Lex’s lap, Lex’s fingers in his hair, and a shadow of a smile crossed his face.
Clark could do this. He could get through the day. It would be okay. He’d be okay. He’d go to work, and come home, and talk to Chloe and Pete, and see Lex, and everything would be all right. Just like any other day – he’d worry about the whole Superman issue, he’d lust after Lex, and he’d hang out with Pete and Chloe.
Superman. There was something about Superman that Clark was supposed to remember and it had something to do with – oh God. The Daily Planet, Superman, the article that Clark was supposed to have written for today by ten and that was pretty much currently non-existent.
Super speed was of some use after all, Clark decided, sitting at the keyboard and powering up the computer and turning on the lamp. He didn’t remember turning it off – Lex must have done that. And somehow, that one small gesture warmed Clark; made the shadow of a smile from before deepen into something more concrete, made him calmer, made him start typing.
Yeah. He could do this.
Eight o’clock in the morning, and walking inside the Daily Planet was like stumbling into fast forward. Everyone was moving, running, shouting – was it possible they were all on speed?
It seemed probable, Clark thought, watching as a woman balanced the phone between her shoulder and ear, typed furiously with one hand, and rifled through a file folder with the other. Was this the way a bullpen always was? Or was today just a big news day? Was he going to be acting like the poster child for better life through methamphetamines someday?
He hoped not. He didn’t really have the coordination.
“You look lost,” a friendly voice chirped from behind Clark. “Need help?”
A skinny young man with a pencil behind his ear offered Clark a genuine, if tired, smile, and Clark returned it, grateful. “Yeah, I’m looking for Lois Lane’s desk?”
The man laughed, an eyebrow going up. “Braver man than me. She’s over there, getting ready to telephonically sharpen her claws on the mayor’s security detail,” he pointed. “Good luck.”
“I, uhm, thanks,” Clark muttered as the guy disappeared back into the frantic swirl of motion. Clark eyed Lois dubiously, before making himself take a deep breath and walk over.
He could handle this. He was friends/lovers/something with Lex *Luthor* and he’d grown up with Chloe Sullivan. He could handle Lois Lane. Really.
Deep breath, one foot in front of the other, clear throat, and…show time.
“Hi,” Clark said, trying out his biggest, brightest, most ingratiating grin and hoping he looked happy rather than queasy or nervous.
Lois Lane arched an eyebrow. She did not look impressed. Maybe he’d landed further toward queasy than polite, dammit. “Clark Kent, right?”
“Yup, that’s me,” he confirmed, and dorky was really not the image he was going for, but somehow it seemed unavoidable.
She rolled her eyes, nails tapping the desk with obvious impatience. “Yeah, I know that. So, what do you have for me?”
“Here,” Clark held out the papers, “it’s…uhm…kind of long, but I figured you could cut it to fit whatever length you wanted. And here,” he fished in his jacket and came up with a disk, “so you can make whatever changes.”
“Kind of long? More like ‘novella’,” Lois mumbled, thumbing through the printout. She pursed her lips, skimming over the prose.
Clark fidgeted. On the corner of Lois’ desk there was a bobble headed doll, a seal, which was a little weird, but kinda cute. He reached down, and hit the head once, gently, and watched as the head bounced up and down, smiling a little.
She couldn’t be all bad, Clark thought hopefully. She had a bobble headed doll. And it was a baby seal. Maybe there was hope after all.
“Please stop clubbing the seal,” Lois said without looking up. “That’s my job.”
Oh. Maybe there wasn’t hope.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, putting his hands safely in his pockets and studying the top of Lois’ bent head as she read.
Clark felt out of place and awkward and time was really taking its…well…time. Seconds ticked by slowly, mega-slowly, hyperbolically slowly, and he wondered if this was how people felt when they were on trial.
She snorted, pulled a pen out of the purple mug on her desk, which proclaimed proudly that she was the World’s Best Cousin, and set the article down on her desk with an air of finality. Crossing her arms, she looked up at Clark, expression measuring.
He could practically hear the drum roll.
“Okay, here’s the deal. Half of this? Is crap, and needs to go, which is good because we only have so much space anyway. I can work with the rest,” Lois told him.
“Oh, I …uhm…” Clark faltered, frowning. “I can rewrite – ”
Lois made an impatient gesture with one hand, cutting him off. “Don’t worry about it. Doesn’t interest me.”
He blinked, unsure how to react.
“Here’s what does interest me, though. You got closer to this Superman than anyone else.” She leaned forward in her chair, crossing her arms on the edge of her desk. “I want you to tell me everything about him.”
“Everything?” Clark echoed, eyes widening. “I…it was only a couple of seconds and there was a lot going on. All I remember was that he told me to save the woman, there was something else he had to do.”
“Yeah, it’s in the article,” Lois drawled, with a nod to the papers he’d handed her. “But you had to have noticed something. Like, what was he wearing? And he *talked* to you. Why didn’t he stay? It doesn’t make any sense.”
He was remembering why he’d spent such a large portion of his life for the past weeks disliking this woman. It was even more intense close up. She couldn’t leave anything *alone*. “I didn’t *ask*,” Clark said, trying to keep his voice even. “I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know why he left. He said he had something to do, so I guess he went to go do it.”
“Yeah, but what would he have to do?” Lois pressed, grinning. “I mean, was he dressed like he was going to meet up with his bowling crew or like he was about to go clubbing? Was he naked? Come on, kiddo, you’re a journalism student. Didn’t they teach you to *notice* anything?”
“What I noticed was the tragic deaths of five people and the near death of another,” Clark snapped. “Not what the guy who pulled apart the huge hunks of burning twisted metal looked like.”
“I didn’t know Boy Scouts like you were allowed to have tempers like that,” Lois needled, grin widening. Clark was beginning to understand that Lois’ grin was pretty much a sign that he was in trouble. And the grin widening could only mean more trouble, and he really didn’t want to stick around for that. At all.
“Listen, if you don’t need me here anymore, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to get to work,” Clark said, stepping back from the desk. “I left my number at home on the article. You know, if you need to reach me or anything.”
“Right, work,” Lois said, leaning back and oh God that was a *smirk*. Clark experienced pure terror. “At LexCorp.”
“Yup, LexCorp,” he agreed, nodding and inching backward. “That’s where I work.”
“With Lex Luthor, who you were with at the fundraiser for Metropolis General’s new oncology department,” she said. “Looking very cozy, I might add. So, what is it? Boyfriend and boss all wrapped up in one?”
Clark froze for a second before forcing himself to respond, and act natural. “Boss and friend,” he said coolly. Or, at least he hoped it was coolly rather than strangled. It probably landed somewhere between the two.
“Friend,” she repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Got it.”
“Right, *friend*,” Clark said again for emphasis. “Anyway, I’ve got to go –”
“—to work,” Lois finished, toying with her pen and studying him a minute longer before turning back to her computer, dismissively. “I’ll call you if I need anything.” And with that it was as though Clark didn’t exist anymore; she was entirely focused on whatever she was typing.
“Great. I’ll talk to you later,” he muttered to no one, before turning and threading his way through the chaos, out the door.
The morning was going slowly and Clark was bored. Which wasn’t really new, because filing didn’t exactly equal intellectual stimulation and neither did fielding phone calls, but it was eleven o’clock in the morning and there was literally *nothing* for him to do for at least the next fifteen minutes.
Lex’s door was open. Clark could see him reading something, leaning back in his chair, with his feet propped up on his desk. He looked tired, but maybe it was the lighting. Clark’s mother always complained about how fluorescent lighting made everyone look tired.
Then again, maybe Lex hadn’t slept.
It probably would be okay for him to get up and go over there – see if Lex was all right. That was perfectly acceptable, right?
Maybe he should bring papers with him. To seem more official. Yeah, papers were definitely a good idea. He grabbed the first file his hand came in contact with, and stood, straightening his tie and brushing out creases on his pants. Jenna shot him an interested look before turning back to the spreadsheets she was discussing with someone over the phone.
Lex looked up, startled, when Clark rapped his knuckles gently against the door. “Yes?” he asked, frowning slightly.
“Hey, can I come in?” Clark asked, trying to restrain the riotous smile that seemed to want to make its way across his face for no particular reason whatsoever.
“Yeah, sure,” Lex responded, distractedly waving him in. “That for me?” he asked, eyes fixing on the folder in Clark’s hand.
“Oh, uhm, no,” Clark responded, blushing. “I just…wanted to say hi.”
Lex said nothing for several seconds, which was ample time for Clark to begin to feel pretty stupid. “Hi,” Lex responded, finally, looking confused. “Is that all?”
Yeah, pretty *damned* stupid, indeed. “Yeah, uhm, just…hi,” Clark said lamely, waving. He sucked in a breath, and forced a tight smile. “Anyway, you look busy and I’m going to just…I’ll talk to you later.”
Bad idea, Clark, bad idea, he thought, turning and leaving quickly. He sat back at his desk, and tried not to look like he’d just been rebuffed completely. Which, of course, he *had* been. Lex had looked at him like he was a stranger – like the past weekend hadn’t happened at all. Or, maybe it hadn’t happened for Lex like it had for Clark.
Maybe Clark was just a one time thing for Lex, and Clark had blown it all out of proportion in his head. He didn’t *do* one night stands, but maybe Lex did. Maybe Lex thought that’s what he was. Sure, Lex liked him…but this was Metropolis, the big city, and maybe Lex was one of those sophisticated people who slept with all of their friends as a matter of course.
Because…there hadn’t been any smiles going on at Lex’s end when Clark walked in. And Lex was probably back to whatever he was doing before, without thinking twice about the exchange that had just happened. Whereas Clark was sitting here, breathing hard, and feeling like he’d been sucker punched.
Was this what Chloe had felt like back in high school whenever Clark had blown her off? If so, Clark *sucked*, like, a *lot*. He briefly considered writing her a very long, very detailed, very belated letter of apology, but decided it would probably be a very bad idea.
It was dumb that Lex meant so much to Clark, dumb that such a tiny exchange could throw Clark into such a tailspin. He took a deep breath, and looked up, busying his hands by straightening things on his desk compulsively.
“Hey, you busy?” Jenna asked him brightly.
He just shook his head, not trusting his voice.
“Great. I need thirty-five copies of this report,” she said, handing him a hefty booklet. “Collated, stapled, the whole nine.”
Oh, and that *really* was going to improve his morning, he thought sourly, nodding as he took the papers.
He flipped the light on in the copy room, and glared at the Xerox machine before putting the report in the slot at the top. He pressed what should have been the right combination of keys and nothing happened.
“Son of a *bitch*,” Clark cursed. “What the hell? Why does this always happen?”
Dammit, why couldn’t anything ever be *easy*? Ever? Why couldn’t the photocopier just *work*? Why couldn’t Lex care about Clark the way Clark did about him? Why couldn’t Clark be *normal*?
He was blowing this out of proportion. He knew that. So he took a deep breath, counted to ten, and then tried again, punching in another combination of keys.
And still nothing happened. “Jesus *fucking* Christ,” he almost yelled, checking himself before he kicked the copier and broke it permanently. “Do I have to perform some kind of ritual sacrifice to get you to work?” he demanded.
“No, you just have to hit the pink key twice instead of once,” Lex’s voice said softly, from behind him.
Clark stiffened, and followed the advice. The copier hummed to life. “Thanks,” Clark said, voice level, steadying himself before turning.
A small frown marred Lex’s expression. “You okay?” he asked, voice low, concerned – the voice that Clark had gotten so used to in the past few days. It was *that* addictive.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Clark said automatically. “You?”
“A little tired,” Lex admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. “Listen, Clark –”
And this was where the speech was going to come in. Something about staying friends, and can’t do this again, and Clark didn’t want to hear it. At all.
“It’s fine, Lex, I get it. You don’t have to explain,” he bit out, surprising himself by how bitter he sounded.
“You get it?” Lex asked, head shooting up, eyes bright.
“Yeah, I get it,” Clark repeated, eyes fixed on the doorframe just beyond Lex’s shoulder.
“Good, because professionalism is important, especially now,” he said, slipping his hands into his pockets.
And this was all starting to sting – a lot. “Lex, I told you, I *get it*, okay? Doesn’t mean I want to hear the unabridged version.”
“Wait a minute, Clark, what do you think we’re talking about?” Lex demanded, laying a hand on Clark’s forearm.
“You’re…breaking up with me. Or letting me down gently. Or something,” he said with a half hearted shrug. “I get it. You’re sophisticated, I’m not, one night stand, whatever. Don’t worry, I’ll be *professional*.” The word tasted harsh in his mouth, like smoke, or ashes.
“That,” Lex said slowly, “is not at *all* what I was talking about.”
And that brought Clark up short. “I…uhm, okay. What…were you talking about then?”
Seemingly of its own volition, one of Lex’s hands came up and made as though to brush hair off Clark’s forehead before Lex curled his fingers back into his palm and dropped it.
“I had a great time this weekend. I had a great time with *you*, but Clark, this is work. I have a lot to get done here. Whatever we have…it needs to stay outside the office, okay?”
And Clark couldn’t have fought the grin that worked its way across his face for *anything*. “Outside the office,” he repeated. “But, it can still happen, right?”
“Yeah, it can still happen,” Lex said, grinning in return, eyes a hot slide of silver. “Definitely.”
“Good, because…I…this might not be really professional, or anything,” Clark said, looking down, blushing and yeah, he was *kicking* his feet, but at least he got the words out, “because, I uhm…I really liked it. And, you know, I like you.”
Clark was a twelve year old girl and proud of it.
He glanced up from under his bangs, and Lex had gone perfectly still, body vibrating with tension, perfectly intent on Clark – and Clark could feel the air getting thicker, could feel the sex in Lex’s gaze.
“Oh wow,” he whispered, words escaping without his permission.
And Lex was kissing him, pushing him back up against the photocopier.
“Jesus *Christ* Clark,” he murmured, biting the skin where Clark’s jaw and neck met. “Can’t *say* things like that.”
“I…sorry?” Clark breathed, smiling, letting his hands travel down Lex’s back, cupping his ass, pulling him closer.
“No, you’re not,” Lex chuckled, kissing him again, tongue tracing the terrain of Clark’s mouth. “Not sorry at all. God I’ve wanted to do this since you walked in this morning.”
“But I haven’t…seen you,” Clark said, eyes slipping shut as Lex nipped at his neck, gently.
“Doesn’t mean I wasn’t watching,” Lex said against Clark’s skin.
And that made Clark even hotter, harder, made him want to be naked, made him want *Lex* to be naked, made him want Lex’s bedroom with that big, beautiful bed.
“Lex…office? Door?” he asked, as Lex’s clever fingers cupped him through the thin fabric of his pants.
Lex looked up, eyes pale and sexy as he licked his lips. “Locked it when I came in.”
And there was nothing Clark could say, nothing Clark could do but kiss Lex again. Sloppy, wet, hot, all lips and tongues and it felt like Lex was on fire in his arms, like Lex was burning Clark everywhere they touched, especially when Clark pulled him closer, rubbed against him.
Made Lex *moan* - this needy little catch of breath against Clark’s neck, and Clark was thrusting against him, rubbing and he could feel how hard Lex was, how much Lex wanted this and couldn’t help the small whimper that escaped. Lex’s head shot up, eyes trained on Clark’s expression – all kinds of focus on *Clark* right now and it was pretty much exactly what Clark wanted, except that he wanted this, this *intensity*, this focus all the time.
Wanted all Lex’s attention, and he couldn’t say that, so instead he let Lex nip his lower lip, and soothe it with a gentle kiss before plundering Clark’s mouth, still rubbing his cock against Clark’s in slow circles.
“Not…very…professional,” Clark panted, brushing helpless kisses against the smooth skin of Lex’s scalp.
"Consider it an example of what we shouldn't do in the future," Lex rasped, kissing Clark again – this time slower, sweeter, less demanding and when it broke off, he stepped back, breathing hard.
“Duly noted,” Clark managed. “I…Lex, damn.”
“Yeah, me too,” Lex said, voice tinged with laughter and a real smile on his face, even as he smoldered with sexual energy. “After work today.”
Clark nodded, mouth going dry. “Yeah, *definitely*,” he agreed before wincing – Chloe and Pete, dammit. “Wait…I promised some friends we’d have dinner, but…after?”
Lex nodded, took another step back, and kept smiling. “I’ll see you later,” he said, unlocking the door and walking out.
And Clark leaned back against the copy machine, which was still humming as it copied, collated and stapled, and tried very hard not to do a victory dance.
“This isn’t salsa, this is Ragu,” Chloe said disdainfully, looking through Clark’s refrigerator. “Ugh, and it’s probably from the Jurassic period, too. Do you have anywhere special to throw away your toxic waste?” she asked, holding the container at arm’s length.
“Ha. Ha. Ha,” Clark replied from the couch. “Really, feel free to mock my stuff. Any time.”
“That’s the Chloe-way,” Pete said, an indulgent smile on his face as he watched her continue rifling through kitchen. “All snark, all the time.”
“Yeah, remind me why I thought it was endearing?” Clark grumbled and she shot him a look over her shoulder.
“Hey now, did you want help on your one man quest to exonerate your boyfriend, or not?”
“Toxic waste goes under the sink,” he replied promptly. “If you’re hungry, I have Doritos.”
“Mm, Doritos do not a meal make,” she said, without turning. “So. Anyway. You got me thinking yesterday.”
“Always dangerous,” Pete said to Clark in a stage whisper.
Chloe turned, and threw a paper napkin at Pete. “You. Big Trouble.”
Pete just laughed, and Clark grinned because this was happily ever after that he was seeing with his own eyes. They were like a married couple already, and it was…it was sweet.
“Anyway, as I was *saying* before I was so *rudely* interrupted,” Chloe continued pointedly, “you said yesterday something about how *everyone* Phelan ratted out has motive to kill him.”
“Which was, actually, a good point,” Pete conceded. “So Chloe and I did some research.”
“Yeah, what he means is that I did research and he watched TV,” she corrected, grinning. “But we made a list of everyone Phelan accused. It’s in my purse, could you get it, Pete?”
Pete stood up, got the purse, fished out the list and handed it to Chloe with a flourish. “For you, milady,” he said, playfully.
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Jeeves,” she replied, but she leaned against him when he put his arm around her shoulders.
Clark smiled again, watching them, but at the same time he envied their unconscious ease. Maybe envied wasn’t the right word. More like…coveted. Because he wanted it with Lex. Wanted to just be able to… hold his hand, but he couldn’t because things were still too nebulous.
And, *whoa* what if things got defined and Lex didn’t want to be open about it? And did Clark want to be open about it? Did he want to be out?
“Clark, would you mind coming back to planet earth for about a minute here?” Chloe asked. “Pete and I both already know this stuff, so this review is kinda mostly for you.”
“Right, yeah,” he said, with a quick reflexive smile. “Clark, present.”
“Good,” she said, still watching him from beneath lowered brows. “You okay?”
Clark nodded, waving the question away. “Yeah, just thinking. Anyway – you made a list?”
“Naughty and nice,” Pete said, holding it up. “Well, mostly naughty.”
“*All* naughty,” Chloe clarified. “According to Phelan.”
“So everyone here is a possible suspect then,” Clark said, pulling the list out of Pete’s grasp. “It’s a pretty long list, isn’t it?”
“Very,” Pete nodded. “But if you look at it, you’ll see some names are crossed off.”
“People who weren’t in the country, are dead, were in the paper the next morning, that kind of thing,” Chloe explained. “So what we could do is research each and every one of those people or – ”
“I’m pretty much leaning toward whatever comes after that ‘or’,” Clark said, frowning. “This is like…ten pages with three columns of names on each one.”
“Or we could look at *this* name,” Pete said, flipping a few pages and pointing. “Peter Vladenko.”
“Crime boss extraordinaire,” Chloe said with a smile. “Recently put behind bars because of Sam Phelan. Couldn’t have done it himself, but with one phone call…” she let the sentence trail off, meaning clear.
“Yeah, but he’s in jail,” Clark said, looking up. “They probably monitor his calls or something.”
“Not necessarily,” Pete replied, shaking his head. “Remember that thing with the warehouse of cocaine? That was Vladenko’s cocaine, and he was in jail when it happened. He’s part of the mafia, Kent. Maybe he didn’t even call the hit himself, maybe someone else did – you know, to get even for putting one of their own behind bars.”
“So you think this is a mob thing?” Clark asked, eager. “Makes sense.”
“The guy the cops picked up at the scene of the drug bust was a long time member of the crime syndicate that Vladenko is known to work for,” Chloe supplied. “It kinda fits.”
“Maybe you’re right, maybe we were too quick to jump to conclusions ‘bout Lex,” Pete admitted grudgingly. “But his name’s still on the list of people Phelan named, and Phelan didn’t have anything good to say about him. Most of the people on here are guilty of something. Maybe not murder, but they’ve definitely bent the law.”
"Broken it, too," Chloe added, with a slight frown.
"Look, guys, I appreciate that you're looking out for me. I really do," Clark began, features tightening with annoyance. "But, right now all I care about is getting Lex off the hook for a crime he didn't commit, okay?"
Chloe held up both hands. "Message received," she told him, appeasingly. "So here's the plan, then: dig up everything we can on Vladenko and his organization. See who the new lieutenant is, and find out if anyone from their syndicate was seen around the jail that night."
"Think we'll get to do any undercover work?" Pete asked, grinning. "You know, like in Donnie Brasco?"
"Pete, I don't see you infiltrating the Russian mafia anytime soon," Clark said skeptically, before frowning. "What do we do about whoever it was that tried to kill Lex?"
Chloe pursed her lips in thought. "I guess the first place to look would probably be any business associates that are unhappy?"
"Good idea, Chlo'," Clark said. "I can ask around at work a little. Keep my eyes open - see what comes up."
"And we'll do some digging from the outside," Chloe told him, before grinning devilishly. "So, Superman, I hear that the Daily Planet is going to have an exclusive about you tomorrow morning, written by an intrepid young reporter by the name of Clark J. Kent."
“Where’d you hear that?” he asked, head shooting up, eyes wide.
“I have my sources,” she evaded, grinning wider. “First by-line and in the Daily Planet, too? That’s pretty impressive. Congratulations.”
Pete clapped him on the shoulder, smiling. “Her cousin works there. You might have met her…name’s Lois?”
“You’re kidding me!” Chloe shook her head no, and Clark laughed. “She’s your *cousin*?”
“Aunt Leila is my Dad’s sister,” she said with a smile. “Lois likes you.”
“She does?” Clark asked, incredulous.
“Well, she doesn’t think you’re a total idiot, anyway,” Chloe told him with a shrug. “Thinks you have *potential*.”
Clark groaned and shook his head. “She’s a monster, Chloe.”
“A monster?” Chloe asked, crossing her arms and cocking an eyebrow. “You don’t think that’s harsh at all?”
Clark just glared.
“She’s a little hard to get along with at first, but you’ll learn to like her. Everyone does,” Chloe told him, patting him lightly on the head. “Anyway, let’s get a pizza. I’m hungry.”
“God, not more pizza,” Pete groaned.
“Blasphemy,” Clark said, and Chloe smacked him.
Pete ducked and gave both of them dirty looks. “Okay, okay, pizza, jeez. I can take a hint.”
“He’s such a good boy,” Chloe said proudly.
Chloe and Pete didn’t stay too long after they’d finished the pizza, and Clark wasn’t terribly surprised, because the smiles the two of them had been giving each other said a whole lot about their intentions, and none of it was meant for an audience. When they left, Chloe slipped her hand into Pete’s like it had always belonged there, like neither one of them had ever been with anybody else, and Clark wondered if he’d ever have that with anyone. He wondered if he’d ever have that with Lex.
He crushed the pizza box and stuffed it into the trash can, giving the counter a quick wipe down and hearing his mom’s voice in his head. “Always clean up right after dinner, or you won’t do it at all.”
The light on his answering machine blinked insistently, and Clark smiled tiredly, knowing instinctively that the voice on the message would be his mom’s. She had great mom-dar; she knew when he was really upset, always had. Clark wondered from time to time if the meteor rocks were somehow involved with that.
“Hey there Clark, just calling to see if everything’s all right,” Martha’s voice said. “Your father and I were thinking about you today – like every other day – and just wanted to touch base. Give us a ring back when you get a chance. Okay honey, bye, love you.”
And it occurred to Clark that he probably should call them, warn them, talk to them about his by-line in the Daily Planet. The idea of that conversation made Clark want to cringe and grin simultaneously. They’d flip over the Superman thing, and they’d probably be kind of apprehensive about drawing attention to himself as Clark Kent, too, but his first *by-line* at age *nineteen* in the *Daily Planet*.
Besides, he really wanted to talk to somebody about what had happened. Sure, Chloe and Pete were his best friends, and Lex would listen if Clark wanted to talk to him (he would, wouldn’t he?), but Clark wasn’t ready to talk with any of them about it. It was too real, too raw, and that’s the kind of stuff he usually saved for long talks with his mom and dad. Habits died hard, and even if he was starting to pick up on the pretty obvious fact that he could really trust other people, he wasn’t used to doing it. He wasn’t used to being vulnerable around anybody but his parents, and Clark wasn’t exactly ready to start with anything this big.
So he flopped down on the couch, and dialed home and smiled when his dad picked up on the second ring, just like always. “Hi, Dad.”
“Clark! Hi there son, how are you?” Jonathan asked. “Your Mom and I tried you earlier.”
“Yeah, I just got the message. I’m okay, I guess. It’s been kind of a…eventful weekend,” he began, taking a deep breath, and frowned, picking and choosing what he wanted to tell his father. “Yesterday…there was kind of…there was a car crash. Outside the Daily Planet. It was a pretty bad pile up…five people died.”
“That’s terrible, Clark, but what does it have to do with you?”
“Well,” Clark said slowly. “I was there. I mean, I wasn’t there in time to stop it, but after it happened – after it happened I got there. I wasn’t able to save all of them, just this one woman.”
His dad drew in a quick, sharp breath. “Did anyone see you?”
“No, no one saw. She wasn’t conscious when I pulled her out, and the police didn’t get there until afterward. But, Dad, I was only a block away. I should have been able to hear it happening, I should have been able to *stop* it,” Clark blurted out, jaw clenching in frustration. “I should have been able to save them all, Dad.”
“Clark, you can’t blame yourself – ” he began, before breaking off. “I know it’s hard, but you can’t save everyone, son. You just can’t. And if you expect to be able to, then you’re going to drive yourself crazy.”
Clark gritted his teeth, closing his eyes. “But I *want* to, Dad, I can’t…I can’t take this. I can’t stand it – knowing that I could have stopped it and didn’t. I mean, you know I could have. If I’d been able to hear it? Or if I’d been looking for it? I could have stopped those two cars from crashing and everyone would still be alive right now.”
There was a soft sound of affectionate exasperation. “You couldn’t hear it, Clark. How could you have stopped it when you didn’t know it was happening?”
“Dad, if you had all of these powers, what would you do?” Clark asked, looking out the window. “Would you hide them? Or would you *use* them?”
“Clark, what are you talking about, ‘use them’?” his father demanded, voice edged with concern. “You know how careful you have to be, you know what could happen – ”
“If someone found out, yeah, I get it,” Clark replied, standing and pacing across his living room. “But they’d have to catch me first, right? I don’t think anyone could catch me if I didn’t want them to – not now that I can fly. Dad, I…when they found me by the car crash I told them that Superman had pulled the woman out of the wreck. I told them I’d only given her mouth to mouth.”
“Clark,” his father began, in a very deliberate attempt to be patient, “you *are* Superman, and I thought we agreed that you needed to keep a lower profile and stay out of the papers as much as possible. You said this all happened *in front* of the Daily Planet? Are you *sure* no one saw you?”
“I am, Dad, trust me. No one saw me, but you’re right. I am going to be in the paper tomorrow. I wasn’t in it today because they wanted *me* to write the article…about me. The Daily Planet is giving me a by-line,” he told his father quickly. “It was a really great opportunity, and it’ll look really great on my resume. You know, when I’m looking for a job out of college, and – ”
“You’re playing a dangerous game here, Clark. Two identities?”
“I wouldn’t go that far…more like, one actual Clark and one urban myth.” Clark stopped pacing, standing in front of the sink and looking down at his hands. “But someday, yeah, maybe it *could* be two identities.” He struggled for a second, searching for the right words. “It’s…I can’t stop. I can’t just ignore everything that happens around me, knowing what I am, what I can do. I don’t know how to do that.”
He expected his father to yell, to argue, to do anything except for sigh quietly and say, “I’m proud of you, Clark. Don’t ever think I’m not.”
“I know,” Clark said, smiling.
Jonathan cleared his throat. “So, a story in the Daily Planet, huh?”
“Yeah,” he answered, smile widening. “It’s pretty cool.”
“Pretty darned cool,” his dad agreed.
“Give me that phone!” Clark heard his mom say, and his dad laughed. “Clark?”
“Did I hear your father correctly when he said that you’ve got a story in the Daily Planet?” she asked.
“Yeah, you did, Mom,” he answered, standing a little taller, grinning a little wider.
“Oh honey, that’s amazing! I’m so happy for you. It’s going to be in the newspaper tomorrow?”
“Yup, in the editorial section, I think. It’s…it’ll be me and Lois Lane, but, I do get my name there, which is a big deal.”
She laughed. “A very big deal.”
“Yeah, kind of,” he agreed, grinning.
“You realize that your father’s probably going to buy out every newsstand from here to Metropolis?” his mother said teasingly. His father protested in the background, and Clark laughed along with her. She waited for him to stop before continuing, in a gentler voice. “Are you sure you’re okay, Clark? I heard…well, pretty much everything.”
“Am I okay?” he pursed his lips and considered, before shrugging. “Not yet, but, I guess I’m better than I was last night, and I’m better than I was this morning, so I’m getting there. I still feel like there should have been something I could have done…” he trailed off, shaking his head. “I’ll be okay, Mom.”
“Clark, I know you’re feeling very guilty and frustrated right now, but you’re forgetting something important.” Her voice was warm, and it felt like a hug, and Clark needed it.
“You might not have saved everybody, but you did save someone.”
“I guess I did,” Clark said slowly, thinking.
“You did,” she said firmly. “Now, tell me you love me, and say good night, because I have to go do some dishes.”
“I love you, Mom,” he obediently told her.
“Love you, too, Clark. Have a good night.”
“Night, Mom, bye.”
Clark placed the phone in its cradle distractedly, rubbing his lower lip and mulling the conversation over in his mind. His mom was right – he had saved someone, and that was better than nothing. It was…it was an entire human life, and he’d saved her. That had to mean at least a little bit, right?
It meant something to him. It meant something to Clark that he’d *done* something, rather than just standing by and letting it happen. He wasn’t cut out for that, and he really couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe his dad was right, and maybe he was playing a dangerous game, but it was a lot better running the risk of exposure than suffocating slowly.
Clark wasn’t stupid; he didn’t go out flaunting what he could do, and half the city didn’t even believe that Superman existed. The risk he ran of being exposed wasn’t half as big as his dad wanted him to believe it was. His parents worried, because they loved him, but looking at it realistically…two identities probably wouldn’t be that hard to pull off.
If he wanted to, but Clark wasn’t sure he wanted to. He didn’t like the idea of going through life as two people – it was like he’d never be able to just be himself, *all* of himself, with anyone except for his parents, and maybe Chloe and Pete, and that kind of…hurt.
Because if he couldn’t really be all of himself, then he would never have what his parents had, what Chloe and Pete had. He’d be alone, both as Clark, and as Superman, and he didn’t think he was up to that. No, wait, he *knew* he wasn’t – his biggest fear had always *been* being alone because mostly…mostly he kind of was.
Even with Chloe and Pete, he felt like they couldn’t see all of him, even now that they both knew pretty much everything about him. The weird thing was the only time Clark felt like he was just *Clark*…was with Lex. And Lex hardly knew Clark at all – or at least, he hadn’t known Clark for as long as Chloe and Pete. But something seemed to tell Clark that Lex *could* know him, that Lex could know *all* of him, if Clark would let him in. And Clark wanted to more than he ever had in the past. He was just…scared.
Scared because Lex might not *want* to know him, scared because what if Lex did get to know him and decided that Clark wasn’t what Lex wanted – and that was the biggest fear. But, also? Clark was scared that it might work out. That he and Lex might end up in their very own happily ever after, because what *then*?
It just brought him back to the questions he’d been asking himself earlier. Did he want to be out? Was he ready for that? Was he ready to tell his parents that he was in love with a man? They’d love *Clark* anyway, he knew that without question…but would they be disappointed? Would they ever accept it?
Maybe the hardest part would be explaining not that it was just any man, but Lex *Luthor*, and just the idea of it was enough to make Clark feel like he was about to crawl out of his skin. His dad would *flip*, but when the dust died down, would he be able to unflip? And be okay with Clark and Lex? Or even, just okay with Lex?
But maybe he was borrowing trouble, thinking so far ahead. Maybe he was being presumptuous in thinking that he and Lex would ever get to that stage. But who was Clark kidding at this point? He knew that he wanted it, wanted to at least *try* to get there, and yeah, he was head over heels already with Lex. He wanted to make Lex smile, and learn from him, and talk to him, and just…*be* with him.
And Lex had told him to come over after Chloe and Pete left, so why not? Clark grabbed his jacket, his keys, and headed over to the penthouse, a small, private smile on his face the whole way there.
The doorman smiled and waved when Clark walked into the lobby and Clark grinned, feeling welcomed. “Can I just go up?” he asked, gesturing toward the elevator.
“G’head,” the doorman answered. “Mr. Luthor said you might drop by.”
Clark’s grin grew, and he happily pressed the button for the penthouse, humming to himself until the doors dinged open. He rapped on the door, knowing that he was blushing, and that he probably looked as in love as he was, and he really didn’t care. In fact, he just grinned wider when Lex opened the door.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi, Clark,” Lex said coolly. It took him a second to notice the pinched look on Lex’s face, the thinned mouth, and flaring nostrils, but when he did his stomach plummeted.
“Who is it, Lex?” Lionel Luthor asked, striding into view, and suddenly the look on Lex’s face made a *lot* of sense.
“A friend, Dad,” Lex said, hand cupping Clark’s elbow and ushering him into the penthouse. “I’d made dinner plans for tonight, so unfortunately I guess we’ll have to cut this father-son chat short. What a pity.” It was like his tone was bladed and he was trying to slice Lionel with it, and Clark wanted to recoil a little from the barely sheathed violence in the room.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Lionel asked, sounding richly amused and imperious all at once. Clark wanted to be invisible, and wondered if that was possible somehow.
“No, Dad, I’m not,” Lex said tightly, holding the door open. “This is your cue to leave, by the way.”
Lionel eyed Clark, smiling lazily. “So what do you want from my son, hmm? Friendship? I doubt that greatly.”
“Dad.” Lex’s voice was even sharper than before – low and deadly. “Enough.”
Lionel barked laughter, and swept past Lex, out the door, pausing to say in an undertone, “Remember, Lex, no one is altruistic. No matter how earnest they might look.” With a parting glance at Clark, he turned on his heel and stalked away.
Lex closed the door very carefully, as though he wanted to slam it. Clark kind of wished that he would.
“I’m sorry about that,” Lex said with a tight smile, turning. “My father’s people skills are somewhat lacking.”
“Not your fault, Lex,” Clark told him, meaning it. Tension was written in every line of Lex’s body – the tightness of his forehead, the straight line of his shoulders and spine, and Clark hated it. Hated Lionel for working Lex up so much, and wondered what Lex would do if left by himself.
Probably drink too much or just work, Clark figured. But he wasn’t by himself – Clark was there, and Clark was bound and determined to help Lex relax. Somehow. Just…how?
Lex took a deep breath, rubbing a hand over his scalp before looking up, and catching his eye. “Let’s try this again. Hi, Clark.”
“Hi, Lex,” Clark responded, smiling, and stepping toward him. “What’s up?”
Lex chuckled dryly. “Oh, nothing much. Just had a talk with my father.”
“Sounds like it didn’t go so well,” Clark said, letting his fingers twine with Lex’s. “Want to talk about it?”
“Not particularly,” Lex admitted, squeezing Clark’s hand. “I’d rather just leave it behind me for the night.”
“Okay,” Clark shrugged. “That’s fair. So what do you want to do?”
Lex raised an eyebrow, lips curling up. “Do I even really need to answer that question?” he asked, voice low and sexy, and Clark’s stomach flipped over at the sound of it.
“Oh,” Clark breathed, letting Lex use their joined hands to pull him in, close.
“I’ve been thinking about this all day,” Lex whispered. “All damned day.”
He pulled Clark’s head down and kissed him slowly, thoroughly, until Clark’s toes were curling and he was panting for breath, and whimpering into Lex’s mouth. Lex pulled back and grinned – a smug, self-satisfied curve of his lips and he walked backwards, pulling Clark toward the bedroom.
“Want to cheer me up?” Lex asked.
“Yeah,” Clark croaked, captivated by the sheer heat in Lex’s gaze. “Definitely.”
“Take your clothes off.”
“Yes sir,” Clark managed breathlessly, grinning. He let go of Lex’s hand and slipped his jacket off, kicking off his shoes and started to unbutton his shirt. Lex sat on the corner of the bed, watching him, and all of Lex’s formidable focus was on *Clark*.
“Are you…are you just going to watch?” Clark asked, pulling his shirt out of the waistband of his pants, shrugging it off.
Lex’s smile then was nothing if not feral. “Yes, yes I am most certainly going to watch.”
And that was *really* hot. Lex was watching him take off his clothes like this was some kind of strip tease, like Clark was unwrapping the best present in the world. Lex was already *damned* hard underneath those tight black pants of his, and it was because of *Clark* and that was really never going to stop being cool, was it?
Clark peeled his jeans off quickly, shucking his boxers along with them, and then he was standing in front of Lex totally naked. And Lex looked like he was about to *pounce*.
He held out a hand, and pulled Clark close. The fabric of Lex’s clothes was maddening against Clark’s skin, like a shifting, silky tease as Lex kissed him again – this time harder, more desperate, biting his lips, sucking his tongue as Lex’s hands roamed over Clark’s back, fingernails scratching lightly, then harder as Clark pressed his cock against Lex’s through the thin fabric.
“Ahh, Lex,” Clark said as Lex bit and sucked his way down Clark’s neck to his collarbone. “I’m sort of feeling kind of…naked, here.”
“You are naked,” Lex said with a chuckle into Clark’s shoulder.
“And you’re not.” Clark rocked against Lex lightly, as incentive.
“You make a good point,” Lex conceded on an indrawn breath, straightening and bringing Clark’s hands up to his buttons. “Take *my* clothes off.”
“Will it cheer you up if I do?” Clark asked playfully, as he fumbled his way down Lex’s shirt.
“Being naked with you in my bed will cheer me up a lot,” Lex said between slow, wet kisses to Clark’s chest. “It’ll be better than Lithium.”
Clark laughed, smoothing his hands up Lex’s chest and pushing the shirt off before running his hands down Lex’s back onto his ass, pulling him closer and rocking against him. “Good to know,” Clark panted, “that I’m the alternative to drugs.”
Lex thrust against him, licking along Clark’s jaw. “You’re so fucking hard for me.”
“God,” Clark muttered, biting the delicate skin of Lex’s neck. “I want you so much,” he confessed, moving with the rhythm Lex was setting, driving harder against Lex’s pelvis, needing *more*.
Lex pulled back just enough to look into Clark’s eyes, run his fingers over Clark’s lips. Without really thinking, Clark sucked them into his mouth, outlined their lengths with his tongue, and nipped at their tips before releasing them. Lex’s breathing got erratic, and he grabbed Clark’s hair, pulling him into a desperate, frenzied kiss.
“I want you to fuck me,” Lex gasped when they broke apart. “Now.”
“Oh, *shit*, Lex. Yeah, yeah,” Clark breathed, kissing him again, working a hand between the two of them to undo Lex’s fly, but it was hard, damned hard to do without looking and Clark wasn’t about to stop kissing Lex to see what he was doing.
“Fuck it. Rip them,” Lex ordered, before kissing Clark again. “I’ve got lots of pants.”
And *wow* Clark hadn’t known he had a kink for that kind of thing, but apparently he did because ripping Lex’s pants open was hot – sexier than Clark would ever have dreamed. He impatiently pushed them off Lex’s hips, along with Lex’s boxers, and finally there was all that white, smooth skin against his. It was like silk pulled over raw *heat* and Clark couldn’t resist rubbing against Lex more, couldn’t resist the feeling of Lex’s cock against his.
And Lex liked it too, because he whimpered, and moaned, before rasping out, “Lube’s in the dresser by the bed, condoms too.”
Clark didn’t quite get the message at first, and Lex had to push him away lightly, grinning and pointing as he hoisted himself up onto the bed, one hand toying almost absently with his nipples. Clark *hated* not being pressed against Lex anymore and moved fast – not too fast – but fast as he dared, grabbing the small clear bottle and a tin foil packet and *shit* he was actually going to fuck Lex.
He gripped the base of his cock and squeezed viciously, because he needed to slow this down or he’d come all over Lex as soon as he got onto the bed.
Clark climbed up over Lex, straddling him, and Lex arched up, almost helplessly, tongue darting out to slip between Clark’s lips as he reached out, grabbing the bottle and popping it open.
“Give me your hand,” Lex demanded, and Clark complied, too busy mouthing his way down the side of Lex’s neck to argue. Cool liquid covered his fingers, and Lex grinned, breathing hard. “You need to stretch me open. One finger, then two, then three, and I’ll let you know when I’m ready, okay?”
“Yeah,” Clark said, and his voice sounded nothing like his own – it was at least two registers deeper and too ragged to be his voice. He gave Lex’s cock one firm stroke, before reaching lower, tracing Lex’s balls, circling his hole and then, then easing slowly *inside*. First one finger, sliding in and out, then two, and Lex was breathing harder as Clark worked him open, making noises of encouragement and kissing whatever parts of Clark he could reach.
He was the sexiest thing Clark had ever seen, probably the sexiest thing ever. Clark was sure of it, especially when he crooked his fingers and Lex arched up, mouth falling open and eyes clenching shut. Third finger in, and Clark kept up a rhythm, brushing that spot over and over.
“*Now*,” Lex moaned, “God, Clark, I need you inside me. Fuck me. Fuck me right now.”
It took a second for Clark to remember how condoms worked, mostly because his hands were shaking. He spread Lex’s legs wider and lined himself up, putting his hands on either side of Lex’s head, and leaned down, kissing Lex deeply. He pushed in, slowly, taking his time, letting Lex adjust and damned near dying in the process. Lex made little broken noises, gasps and whimpers that didn’t sound like anything but pleasure, but Clark stayed still until Lex rocked his hips.
And then Clark was pulling out and easing back in over and over again and maybe he was moaning but he definitely wasn’t breathing. Especially not when Lex grabbed Clark’s hand and wrapped it around his cock, not saying a word but just staring up at him, lips red and swollen, eyes hooded and blue and brighter than anything he’d ever seen before as Lex’s hips kept moving with his, kept that beautiful wonderful rhythm they had going.
Then Clark definitely *did* moan, and Lex started gasping, started calling Clark’s name as Clark’s hand moved, firm and quick, flicking his thumb over the slit.
“God, *Lex*,” Clark groaned, because Lex was so tight, and so *hot* and he was bucking up against Clark, pushing into his hand, and backing into his thrusts and Clark wanted to see Lex come. *Needed* it. So on his next stroke in, he changed the angle, pulled Lex’s legs up onto his hips, and there *there* it was. Lex’s eyes widened, and he arched his head back, hips moving with Clark until his mouth fell open in a silent scream and he came in Clark’s hand.
And that was so hot, that was so beautiful, and Clark could *feel* it when Lex came, feel him tightening all around Clark, and when Lex looked up, eyes lazy and smile predatory and whispered in a voice like velvet, “Now, Clark. Come *now*,” that was all it took. His eyes pressed shut and he felt like he’d been lit on fire from within and he came so *hard* he thought he was going to die.
Maybe he did, because the next thing he knew he was collapsed on top of Lex, who poked him gently in the ribs as soon as he caught his breath. Clark grinned and pushed himself up, and Lex winced as Clark pulled out. He rolled over; removing the condom and tossing it into the trash can beside the bed, before turning on his side to face Lex.
“Better than Lithium?” Clark managed.
“Mmm…lots,” Lex said, kissing him slowly.
“Good, glad to hear it.” Clark drew lazy patterns along Lex’s ribs. “Cheaper, too.”
Lex grinned. “That’s only if I don’t feed you.”
“I don’t eat *that* much,” Clark protested, before considering. “Okay, maybe I do.”
“Hungry now?” Lex asked, raising a brow.
“Nah,” Clark said, leaning in for a quick kiss before becoming serious. “I’m sorry about your Dad, Lex.”
“Nothing can quite kill an afterglow like mentioning my father, Clark,” Lex replied, tone mild despite his words. A moment passed, and Clark opened his mouth to change the subject but Lex surprised him by continuing. “He likes to take every opportunity to point what a disappointment I am.”
“What? How could you be a disappointment? You’re twenty-six years old and you run your own company. Your own a *really successful* company,” Clark protested, indignant. “I don’t get it.”
“I’m weak, ruled by my emotions,” Lex said, in the tone of voice of someone who had heard those particular phrases far too often. “Besides,” he added wryly, “I don’t have the world in the palm of my hand yet. Clearly, I’m a failure.”
“Lex, you’re pretty much the exact opposite of a failure,” Clark told him, sitting up and staring down into Lex’s eyes. “Your Dad’s kind of an asshole, and you shouldn’t listen to him. You’re a lot better than he is. Like, a lot.”
Lex smiled, looked down, and then up again through the veil of his eyelashes. “Do you listen to your father?”
“Yeah, I do,” Clark admitted. “But…not when I don’t think he’s right. Not when I disagree with him.”
“That happen often?” Lex asked, mouth quirking up. “Are you the rebellious son, Clark?”
“Oh, yeah, that’s me.” Clark rolled his eyes. “I’m a rebel and I’ll never ever be any good.”
“I could sense that about you as soon as we met,” Lex teased. “The way you put my father through to the fertilizer plant and pretended it was accidental? I never quite bought that. Not one bit.”
“Yeah, well,” Clark shrugged, grinning. “Guess you caught me.”
Lex grinned back, and slipped his hand into Clark’s and it was such a small thing, but it felt big.
“So what are your dad’s dreams for you, Clark? Move back to Smallville and take over the farm?”
Clark shrugged, pillowing his head on his arm. “I don’t know. I know he’d like that, but he’s sort of given up on it. I think he knows that’s not what I want, and he’s okay with it. He just wants me to be happy, you know?”
Lex said nothing for several seconds, eyes focused on their joined hands. “And what do you want, Clark?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, frowning. “I guess I’m still trying to figure it out…what I want, where I’m going, that kind of thing. It’s scary,” he admitted, looking over at Lex again. “Thinking about the future, I mean, trying to see where you’ll be in four years, but it’s kind of cool, too. Leaves you breathless. ”
“I never had that,” Lex said quietly, eyebrow quirking up self deprecatingly. “I had a destiny – capital D, one my father had picked out for me and I fought it tooth and nail. I lived according to my own plans, my own rules, but I always knew where I was going to be in a year, four years, ten years – or at least where I planned to be.”
“Is this where you planned to be?” Clark asked, studying the small amused smile on Lex’s face.
“In bed with a much younger employee?” he teased.
Clark pulled a pillow out from under Lex’s head and smacked him with it, gently. “You know what I meant. And I’m not *that* much younger.”
“When I was having sex for the first time you were probably still losing baby teeth,” Lex said dryly.
Clark glared, and waved the pillow threateningly. “You’re asking for it.”
“Are you threatening me?” Lex asked, silkily.
“No, just stating a fact,” Clark replied with a sunny smile. “But you never answered my question.”
“Is this where I planned to be,” Lex repeated, stretching again, obviously considering the issue. “Mostly,” he said finally, “with a few small adjustments, yes, I think it is.”