Summary: This was written for the SV Holiday Challenge, for Andariel who requested Clark/Lex at a winter social event, like a charity auction or ball. Big thanks to Dana for the beta!
Warnings: Rated PG-13. m/m
"Step into a Season of Joy," the banner above the ballroom door read. Clark snorted. Nobody ever wanted to admit the truth about the holidays. It was all glad tidings this and good cheer that. He blamed commercialization. How many reindeer sweaters was "The Season of Soaring Suicide Rates" going to sell? What would "Deck the Halls with Bouts of Clinical Depression" or "The Twelve Days of Family Dysfunction" do for business? It was retail mind-control, he was convinced of it, and some year he was going to write an expose blowing the lid off the whole damned thing.
Sadly, this year he was stuck covering the annual Snowflake Festival, part of the problem, not the solution.
"Why did we volunteer for this again?"
"You know why, Smallville."
He sighed heavily. "He's not going to talk to us."
The Snowflake Festival was sponsored by a different company every year, and this was LexCorp's turn, with Lex playing unofficial host for the event. The mood was a little somber. Only days before, a federal judge had dismissed gunrunning charges against Lex on technical grounds. All the people who usually sucked up to him, the same people who'd pretended not to know his name in the midst of his legal troubles, were now obviously confused about what to do, not certain whether they should toady up or steer clear. They'd start to approach him and stop, approach, stop, approach, stop, like one of those remote control cars kids got for Christmas, with a serious wiring problem.
"Hey, Luthor got off, didn't he?" Lois said. "That should put him in a talkative mood."
"You know his rule about no business at social events. And I don't think we're exactly his favorite people right now."
He and Lois had broken the story on illegal weapons being smuggled in LexCorp fertilizer shipments, thanks to information from an anonymous tipster and some investigative help from Superman. That had been five months ago. Clark hadn't spoken with Lex since. This would be the first Christmas without Lex trying to look brave about some "CEOs do it with spreadsheets" T-shirt Clark gave him. It would be the first Christmas without Lex, period.
"We're giving Luthor an opportunity to gloat. Is there anything he enjoys more?" Lois reasoned.
"And then there's that other thing--" He couldn't bring himself to say it.
Lois, of course, had no such problem. "Ah, yes. The announcement of his impending nuptials. I'm sure he'll want to give us a quote about how he's looking forward to marital bliss. How many times does this make now?"
"I'm not sure." It was four, five if you counted Desiree, which Clark didn't since the only reason Lex had married her was because she'd put the mutant sex whammy on him.
"It has to be six or seven," Lois said, with her usual flair for over-dramatization. "Luthor does get around. Oh! Crab puffs." She dragged him bodily over to the food table. For a tiny woman, she really enjoyed a buffet.
Clark let out a long-suffering sigh and held her purse while she piled a plate high with mini eggrolls and stuffed mushrooms. His gaze wandered around the room, past the throngs of well-dressed society hob-nobbers, until he caught sight of Lex, and then he couldn't look anywhere else. He was sleek in black evening clothes, beautiful as ever, but his cheekbones looked sharper, as if he'd lost weight, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His soon-to-be-wife hung on his arm, a statuesque woman with long, dark hair and big hazel eyes. They made a striking couple, although there was something stiff in the way they stood together. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on Clark's part, but they didn't seem to enjoy each other's company very much.
Lois turned up beside him, chewing on a carrot stick. "Trouble in paradise, huh?" she said, following his gaze.
He tucked her purse under her arm. "This is pointless. I'm going."
The real problem with seeing Lex again was that some desperate part of him wanted to make excuses. Maybe Lex really hadn't known. It was all just a terrible mistake. Or maybe Lex somehow thought he was doing the right thing, helping people fight for freedom or defend themselves or something. But then, all the things Clark had seen in the line of duty flashed behind his eyes, the chaos and carnage and collateral damage of third world battlefields. In the end, there was no excuse for it. Exporting despair couldn't be written off as a bad business decision.
Lois caught him by the arm before he could make his escape. "Has anyone ever told you that you give up too easily?"
He sighed. "It sounds vaguely familiar."
"I'd almost think you didn't want to talk to Luthor."
He narrowed his eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm a smart reporter, right?"
"Yes, Lois," he answered, dutifully. "You're the smartest reporter I know."
"I follow my gut, and I--"
"Do your research." He held up his hands. "I know, I know. It's the secret of your success. Is there a point here? Besides, you know, that you're a smart reporter."
She smiled sweetly, and that always meant trouble. "As a matter of fact, there is. Thank you for asking. My point is that with my reporting instincts I would, of course, notice if someone close to me looked like he'd lost his best friend. And, needless to say, I'd wonder why. And, being me, I'd do some checking."
"Lois, it's not what you--"
"You could have just told me."
"No. I couldn't. You'd think my objectivity was compromised, and it isn't."
"What if I think your heart's broken? Are you going to deny that?"
He couldn't face the bright spark of interest he knew he'd see in her eyes and stared down at the floor. "It doesn't matter, anyway. He's not who I thought he was."
"Hmm." The weight of her gaze felt heavy, and he thought about leaving again. Coming here had been a bad idea from the start. "I wouldn't be so sure about that."
His head snapped up. "What?" It was not what he was expecting, to say the least, but then leaving him slack-jawed was one of Lois' specialties.
She pulled a folded-up piece of paper out of her purse and handed it to him. "An early Christmas present. Don't ever say I never gave you anything."
He opened it and took a look, and then his jaw dropped even wider.
"I know. That was my reaction, too. Although I like to think I looked less goofy about it."
"How is this possible? The guns were in LexCorp shipments in a LexCorp warehouse."
"But the profits went to a LuthorCorp account."
"Lex would never do business with his father."
"You think Lionel has something on Lex, and that's why he's involved in this?"
"Maybe." She dug into a chicken wing. "Look, you know I'm not crazy about Luthor--something, by the way, I would have mentioned less often if I'd known he was your best boyhood pal. But in my experience he likes to bend the law, not break it. Smuggling automatic rifles out of the country in sacks of crap doesn't really seem his style."
"He could still be involved in something shady, and that's how Lionel was able to blackmail him."
She shrugged. "Maybe. But you're never going to know if you don't ask him."
"There's that giving up thing again."
"I haven't spoken to him in months. He probably--" The words stuck in his throat. It was hard enough just thinking that Lex hated him, much less saying it out loud.
"Well, you're never going to know that either unless you talk to him." She pointed her finger. "Go. Sort things out. Stop looking like somebody stole your cookie. It's depressing me."
He didn't particularly enjoy facing either Lex or Lois when they were pissed off with him, but he spent more time with Lois and figured she had more opportunity to make him wish he'd never been born. He trudged off in search of Lex, despite his better judgment. He scouted the room, didn't see him, switched to x-ray vision and located someone out on the balcony.
As it happened, it was Lex, standing at the end of the terrace, staring out over Metropolis, no coat, only a glass of Scotch to keep him warm.
"I have no comment. You should know that."
Clark joined him at the railing. "That's fine. I don't actually have any questions, at least not reporter-type ones."
"Yeah? You just came out here for a friendly chat? You thought: Hey, it's been a good five months since I've given my old buddy Lex the time of day, maybe I ought to go check in with him, see how things are going now that he won't be spending the New Year in prison. Is that how that went, Clark?"
"I'd say it was more like: This is the season of forgiveness, so I think an apology is in order."
"You do, do you? Well, I hate to tell you, Clark. A federal judge says I have nothing to be sorry for. So I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that apology if I were you."
"How about if I offer one instead? Would that be okay?"
Lex stilled with surprise. "You've suddenly stopped taking Superman's word on things? Because he says he found those guns in my warehouse."
"Yes, and Lois found the money from their sale in your father's bank account."
Lex said nothing, just stared down at the slate tiles, his jaw stubbornly set.
"What does he have on you?"
"You think the Luthors aren't capable of the occasional joint business venture?"
"What does he have on you, Lex?" Clark asked more firmly.
Lex sighed. "Something I couldn't afford to have exposed."
"Why didn't you come to me? Why did you let me think-- I could have helped you. We could have worked together, figured something out."
"You were the last person I could go to, Clark."
Of course, Clark didn't actually know how it felt to be punched in the stomach, but he had to imagine it was something like this. All the people who had disappointed Lex, betrayed him, lied, cheated, stole from him, and Clark had always been the one, in all the world, that Lex could trust, turn to, rely on. And, God, Clark fucking loved that. Only for some reason, in this case
He blinked. But it couldn't be. He stared at Lex. "I-- You mean--"
Lex sipped his drink, wouldn't look at him, and all Clark could do was stand there, his mouth hanging open for the second time that night, practically in shock. This was all about him. God. Because Lex knew. And so did Lionel. And how the hell had they both figured it out anyway? Clark prided himself on his secret identity skills. He squeezed his eyes shut. All those nights he'd lain awake torturing himself with the question: How could Lex do that? And the answer was to protect him.
"I don't want you making sacrifices for me."
"I had to."
"I can take care of myself, Lex."
"What about your family? Your friends? Can you protect them from every dirtball who comes crawling out of the woodwork looking for revenge?"
"You're my friend, too. And-- God." Not only had he failed to protect Lex, he'd actually given Lionel the perfect weapon to use against him. "I'm sorry."
"That was my father's plan all along. Didn't you wonder where that anonymous tip came from?" He sounded very tired. "He wanted to drive a wedge between us. Get Superman off his back for a while. And take away the only person I--" His hand tightened on the glass.
Clark swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, Lex."
Lex shook his head. "Doesn't matter. It's over now. Look, I have to go back to the party."
"Yeah. I guess you've got an engagement to announce, huh?" He tried not to sound as depressed about it as he felt.
Lex laughed, an ugly sound. "Right."
Clark stared. "No?"
"No, Clark. Elise agreed to stick by me during the investigation in exchange for a handsome sum of money. According to my lawyers, it looks rather bad to a jury if even your significant other seems to think you're guilty. I'm happy to say tonight marks the end of our arrangement."
"You keep saying that."
Their gazes locked, and for a moment, all the pretenses fell away. Clark made no attempt to hide the things he felt but didn't know how to put into words, and Lex's expression had never been so naked before.
Finally, Lex cleared his throat, breaking the spell. "I have to go. Little Miss Snowflake needs to be crowned. A host's job is never done."
Clark caught him by the arm just before he went inside. "Look." He nodded above the door.
Lex followed his gaze. "Clark--"
"I did an article on mistletoe once, when I was first starting out. Did you know in old Norse culture it was a symbol of peace? Enemies would exchange sprigs of it to signify a truce. And the Druids believed it had healing properties, that it could keep you safe from evil spirits. Then, of course, there's the English tradition that everybody's familiar with. My personal favorite."
"This is impossible," Lex said with quiet seriousness. "My father--"
"Has anyone ever told you that you give up too easily?" He touched Lex's cheek. "This is the season of perpetual hope, remember?"
He framed Lex's face in his hands and leaned in.
It might have meant stop, but Clark preferred the other interpretation. He'd waited and wanted so long and almost lost the opportunity forever. Now he had a second chance, and that wasn't something to waste.
Lex's lips were cold at first, but they warmed with his kisses. Lex's mouth opened beneath his, and then everything felt hot, the slick play of Lex's tongue against his, Lex's body pressed close, the delicious tingle every touch sent surging through him. He clutched at Lex, and Lex held on to him equally as desperately, their kisses almost frantic, like they might never get to do this again and they had to make it count.
When Lex finally broke the kiss, his chest was rising and falling heavily, lips bright pink, passion-swollen, eyes bright with desire and maybe a little shock.
Clark's chest swelled with a warm rush of feeling. He stroked his hand along the curve of Lex's head. "I love you."
Lex blinked, eyes lit with hope, just for a moment, before the resignation returned. "That doesn't fix anything."
"Maybe not. But it does make me feel better. Although not quite as good as I'll feel once we've cleared your name."
"Don't do anything crazy," Lex warned, sternly.
"You mean like getting involved in international gunrunning? I'll try to avoid it."
He put his arm around Lex's shoulders. "Don't you have a snowflake to crown?"
Lex let out his breath in exasperation, but there was just the hint of a smile on his lips. Lex might be a master strategist, but there were some things even the best poker face couldn't hide. Love was definitely one of them.
Clark walked him back inside. They shared a look--light with relief and a charge of something hotter that Clark looked forward to exploring in greater detail--before Lex went off to play master of ceremonies.
Clark watched him climb up to the podium and did a little mental bargaining with whatever holiday spirits might be paying attention. If this evening somehow managed to end with Lex naked and beneath him, if they could work things out and give Lionel what he had coming and live as happily ever after as a crime-fighting alien and a law-bending business magnate could reasonably expect, Clark would keep Christmas in his heart for the rest of his life, no matter how commercialized it became. He'd purchase a dozen reindeer sweaters. He'd shop until he dropped. He'd wrack up insurmountable credit card debt buying presents his loved ones didn't need and probably wouldn't even want. He'd get into the spirit of Christmas like no one ever had before.
And he'd never again doubt that this truly was a season of