Title: There is no once, and once only.
Rating: R-ish, Adult if you squint
Length: 1,867 words
Spoilers: future fic, post-series, post Rift
Warnings: slash, anaphora; drunkenness, cruelty and forgiveness
Disclaimer: Not mine, seriously. All belongs to Al & Miles, WB/CW.
Summary: In vino veritas, in cerevisia felicitas. [In wine, there is truth; in beer, there is joy.]
There is no once, and once only. There is only this.
For sixteen years, Clark Kent receives a case of Crater Lake beer at the Daily Planet on Christmas Eve. No signature, no return address, but there doesn't need to be.
And each and every year, Lex Luthor sits across the way at the fountain plaza, sipping a dreadful cappuccino, and watches as Clark walks purposefully out those doors, around the side of the building to toss the case in the dumpster.
The seventeenth year, he doesn't.
He walks out those doors, hoists the case on his hip, and raises one hand to hail a cab.
And because available cabs are so elusive in Metropolis on Christmas Eve, Lex has time. He has time to rise. He has time to cross the plaza. He has time to stand just three feet away from Clark and say, "What makes this year any different?" Of course, he already knows, but he wants to hear him say it, receive that concession.
"Look, Lex, I've had a sucky day, and I'd like to go home and get drunk like regular people do."
And it's Lex, a name that Clark hasn't used in so long, not the familial name, the name of power, but the given one. The one reserved for intimates—family, of which there are none left; friends, of which he has none; and lovers, of which there are few. His breath comes out long and crisp, a cloud that hovers and rises.
"Sucky? How old are you again, Clark?" And he says this softly, as if there is any chance that he could be speaking to the Clark that was any more than he could be the Lex that was. All ghosts and remembrances, a cruel auld lang syne.
For they have stood atop skyscrapers, stood across the Arctic plains. They have stood on the opposite banks of Victoria Falls. They have stood on planets, the distant arms of galaxies spiralling away from them. Each and every time in battle, confrontation, no ground given, until the stars themselves have trembled.
They have stood in all these places. And here, in wool coats and scarves, breath visible and mingling, the distance has never seemed so vast.
For Clark is sixteen and Lex twenty-three, when Lex's hands slide across that skin. Clark lies languid beneath, eyes red with drink and open, so open. And Lex is drunk too and it's too soon, too soon, and Lex knows it but can't stop. Not when Clark doesn't say no but only turns his head slightly to press his own lips to Lex's wrist.
It has only been the once and ends so badly. Clark crying and vomiting in the bathroom, Lex scrambling for the master key to unlock the door, explain and fix it. Or he would if he could find the damn key.
And when Clark claims not to remember much of that evening, Lex believes him, feels an uncharacteristic shame. Lex never mentions it again.
Four years later, when he finally knows the truth, he takes every bottle of Crater Lake beer that he can purchase and smashes them, one by one. Smashes them until his hands are nothing but cuts, blood on the ground, and it's still not enough.
The liar. The filthy, filthy liar.
But when he buys the controlling shares of Crater Lake Brewery, in order to raze it to the ground, he's called in to oversee the removal of the gravel filters. And he laughs, laughs until he's sick, as he plunges his fists into the wet grey grit interspersed with flecks of red and green. It looks like Christmas; it looks like truth. And none of it matters.
None of it matters as he brings the brewery back on line, back into production.
None of it matters even now as Clark shifts the Crater Lake Brewery case from his hip to his chest. At thirty-seven, he's just as magnificent. Even more so.
"Yeah, sucky as in suck-ass. Merry fucking Christmas, Lex." And he shifts slightly again so he can take off that ridiculous charade called glasses and rub his eyes.
Clark never swears. This is something he always holds back, keeps within his throat. It is uncharacteristic. Dirty and intimate. Lex adds this to the list of firsts that he has from Clark, the list of things he has taken.
Christ, he looks tired. This is the part where Lex should gloat, laugh. He is Lex Luthor and he gives no quarter.
For Lois is gone; Lex has more than a little to do with this. He orchestrates the destruction of every relationship that Clark tries to build. He pulls down any space that Clark tries to claim for himself.
She's a marvelous fuck, almost a match for him as she is for Clark. Lex leaves no part of her untouched. Just as Lex touches every woman that Clark so much as even gazes upon.
But Clark, the bastard, forgives her. It's the forgiveness that breaks her in the end.
Perversely, Lex hopes that she's stronger than that. And he fears that she just might be still. If she so much as attempts marital reconciliation, Lex will have her killed, slowly. And he will watch.
It is Clark's greatest fear, his destiny, to be alone. And it is Lex's destiny to ensure this.
It is only the once, and the world pays daily for this cruelty. Lex is a creature of absolutes as well as sliding greys. Paradoxical, but true. For there is anything and nothing and everything in between. There is no once, and once only. There is breath and life and death and he will hold Clark as he breathes his last, as he has once held him when he has shuddered beneath him. He will hold him as heroes do, in battle. He will hold him so or he will die, and it will be Clark that kills him.
There is no once. And the distance between them has never been so vast as their breath curls and mingles on this curb, waiting for the cab that has yet to arrive.
For Lex, there are women and there is Clark, as surely as for Clark, there are women and there is Lex. There is no once, and once only.
Even Lex's electrons betray him as he leans slightly forward. They shift valences, extend and escape. They are borrowed things only, physics teaches him this. But they are his and now they are Clark's. He can only hope, as much as he knows that this is true, that Clark's electrons make that return leap, that small compensation.
He can name every protein, every chemical, every subatomic particle that composes this man, this alien being. He comprises protein chains, molecules, that science has yet to name, and Lex knows each and every one of them.
There is no once. There are fields that fold the universe in upon itself, doors to other universes. Collapse and return. And there is this.
"Merry Christmas, Clark."
There is a universe where Lex stands on a porch and Clark stands next to him, a universe where there is love but also death, a universe that he strangles before it can be born.
For there is power, and there is Clark, and he cannot have both and be anyone other than who he is.
And Clark holds a box. The box is between them. He shifts from one foot to the other and looks away.
This distance, this shared electron cloud, there is gravity here, a force from which there is no escape velocity, only orbit. The path varies slightly, but there is only return.
There is no once.
The cab arrives, screeching sleet upon the curb, almost touching them, but not quite.
There are streetlights and headlamps and all the light seeks out Clark, illuminates him. He is forlorn, yet defiant, and has never looked more beautiful. He is meant for snow and graveyards and pain. He is meant to struggle and be broken and to rise again.
Lex must always bear witness to this. And, if possible, be the cause of it. For if he is cause, then Clark must be effect. They are action and reaction. They are always and still.
Lex reaches out of the shadows and opens the cab door.
Once, in a space that is not today, there is laughter and muted light, the meeting of hands, the sliding of skin. There is drunkenness and open mouths and whispers. Too soon, and now too far away.
There is a vast distance as Clark slides past Lex and gets inside the cab.
Even in the cramped space, box beside him, Clark is breathtaking. And they never see it as he bisects himself, plays the hero and the buffoon. But Lex sees him, for there is no escape velocity, only orbit. The rest are blinded by color, tricks of light, and that is why they are not worth the breath they draw.
He will hold him as he draws his last.
"It's Christmas Eve, Clark. Don't you have somewhere to go?" And Lex knows this is not true but fears it still. "Someone?"
Clark looks at him and disarms him with those amazing eyes. "I'm going home and getting drunk."
There are creatures that can undo a man with their eyes. Clark has always been one.
Lex holds the door open, still, and leans in. "I'll leave you to it then."
And he means it, that he will grant him space and time and isolation. Peace, if even for a short while. Not invade and kill him, as he must one day.
It is Christmas, after all. And Lex and Clark stood on a porch once, both with drink in hand. That Clark is dead and that Lex never existed, but in all the realms of possibility and vectors and chance, there is a space where he can feel that drink in his hand and feel that happiness still.
There is no once, and once only.
And so he asks, "What did you get me for Christmas this year, Clark?" A parting shot, he could hardly leave without one, it wouldn't be wise. For all his generosity, Clark is not imaginative with gifts. As if simple enmity should mean that he should stop giving them.
Lex forgives him this. He doesn't know if he could bear to receive anything that Clark would have to give.
Clark looks at him and undoes Lex one more time. He smiles, just a flittering ghost, but painful for them both nonetheless, and moves the box to his lap.
And Lex, who has had this man at the brink of death no less than thirty-seven times, who has nearly annihilated the world for five of those—Lex, who has bankrolled and bankrupted nations, who has held the presidency of the United States in his hands only to lose it, can merely smile in response and climb inside beside him.
There is no once, and once only. There is once and once again. There is orbit and return.
And there is simply this.