Categories > TV > Smallville

For Richer or Poorer

by ingrid 9 reviews

(SLASH, Clark/Lex, No Rift AU, Romance) In an AU future, Lex loses his money, making his husband Clark Kent nearly lose his mind. Will he survive without the best things in life, or will he realiz...

Category: Smallville - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance - Characters: Clark Kent, Lex Luthor - Warnings: [?] [X] - Published: 2006-06-26 - Updated: 2006-06-26 - 15791 words - Complete

This is a very old unfinished WIP that bothered me as such because it was so close to the end. Seriously, it just had to be done.

by ingrid


The day Lex lost all his money was, in Clark's memory, not exactly the worst day they'd ever suffered through as a couple (there was that time with the unthawed Christmas dinner to compete with) but it was certainly not the best of times.

After the Luthorcorp Chief Financial Officer confessed to being bribed to fix every book from here to Switzerland, along with not paying any of the owed taxes for the past six years, the IRS came by with surprising speed, towing Lex's possessions away one by one, not caring a whit about the fact that this was all done without Lex's knowledge, let alone his consent.

Lex's lawyers cautioned him to be patient and await his appeals. Very patient, since they weren't going to be too quick on their feet for a man who currently had no assets to pay them with.

Even his private overseas accounts were inaccessible, due to government freezing. Whoever had gotten him this time, had gotten Lex Luthor, but good.

So it was with a heavy heart, not to mention a sizable amount of anger, that he and Clark watched from the street as the last sports car was taken from the LuthorTower garage, along with the entire contents of the penthouse, right down to the sofas and bed linens.

When they hauled out a large framed photo of himself and Clark on their union day, Lex snatched it out of the agent's hands with a snarl: "I'm keeping this. You can take the rest, you bastards, but this is mine."

The agent shrugged and came back out a minute later with a milk crate full of crystal glasses.

Clark watched this parade of loss with growing concern. "Lex," he asked quietly. "Don't torture yourself like this. Let's get out of here."

"And go where?" Lex asked, rather snappishly, but considering the circumstances, it was understandable.

"To the apartment I kept across town?" Clark reminded him. "To store my "personal" stuff in?" Personal as in Superman sort of stuff, the kind of things he didn't want laying around Lex's penthouse in case thieves should break in. "I fixed it up last night for you to move into." He tugged on Lex's arm, trying to tear his attention away from the sight of his beloved mahogany desk being dragged across the cement like a log. "I'll make us some dinner and we can figure out what to do next."

"There's nothing to do, Clark," Lex said, clutching the photo to his chest, defeat lining his face. His desk chair rolled by and finally ...

"Yeah, let's go," he sighed, taking Clark's hand and allowing him to lead him past the snickering crowd that had gathered. "I'm through with being the world's whipping boy. Let them pick on Bill Gates for a while."

"Oh, they already do, Lex," Clark said, hailing a cab with his free hand. "They already do."


Lex declined dinner, choosing instead to stare silently at the north wall of Clark's tiny apartment for a disconcerting amount of time, still holding onto their wedding portrait.

Clark didn't push him. He could barely comprehend the enormity of Lex's loss, let alone know how Lex felt about it. He'd been born rich, impossibly rich, and to go from that to poverty-stricken in a matter of days? He had no idea how Lex would be able to handle it. Or if he could.

He puttered around the kitchen, doing nothing really. In the middle of an aimless rearrangement of the cutlery drawer, Clark heard Lex call to him from the living room. "Clark?"

He was there in a flash. "Yes?"

Lex looked up at him, his face a mask of sadness. "I won't be able to do the things I used to do for you anymore." A hard swallow. "I'm sorry."

Clark bit his lip, his eyes stinging. He bent over the chair, holding onto the arms, so that he and Lex were face to face. "Can you still do this for me?" he asked before kissing Lex until they both were breathless.

Clark pulled away and Lex blinked. A ghost of smile crept over his face. "I think so."

"Then we're fine," Clark said. He held out his hand. "Come on. Let's go to bed and do something entertaining that doesn't cost a red cent."

"Sleep?" Lex asked mischievously, as Clark pulled him to his feet.

"More entertaining, even."

"Some people pay for that, you know," Lex mused.

"Not me," Clark scoffed, gently pushing Lex into the bedroom, then onto the bed. "I get my hot piece of ass for free."

Lex grinned as Clark scrambled to get undressed above him. "Maybe this could be turned into a moneymaking opportunity. Think someone might pay me for it?"

The sweater stopped mid-pull. "Theoretically? Yes. In reality? Over my dead indestructible body."

"Oh, well. Guess manwhoring is out of the question," Lex said, gasping when Clark whipped off Lex's clothes at top speed. With a pleased sound, Lex arched into the slow heated licks Clark lavished over his chest. "Maybe you could sell it instead. I think you'd make more than me."

"Shut up, Lex," Clark said, before sealing his lips with a kiss.


Fortunately for Lex, a goodly amount of clothing had been stored at Clark's apartment against the few times he'd stayed there over the course of their relationship.

Unfortunately for Lex, the items were out of fashion and not in the pristine condition he preferred but it was better than nothing. It took him an hour or two to master the iron but once he did, Lex emerged from the bedroom looking like a reasonable facsimile of his old self in a dark suit, bright tie and only slightly burnt shirt.

Clark looked up from his morning coffee. He examined Lex with curious eyes. "Where are you off to? You're not going to fight with those losers at the IRS again today, are you?"

"Not at all, Clark. Today I go job hunting."

"It's a little soon for that, don't you think?" Clark asked mildly, but inside he was cringing. Lex wasn't the sort of man used to rejection and Clark wasn't sure how well he'd fare in the lousy Metropolis job market with the city's economy taking a serious dive just as Lex lost all his capital.

"Never too soon to stop mooching off of your partner's salary when you're willing and able to work. I think someone out there must have a use for my talents." Lex leaned down to kiss the top of Clark's head. "And I don't mean my talents in the boudoir."

"You'd better not." Clark tilted his chin up and bestowed a kiss on Lex's lips. "Good luck. But don't be too disappointed if something doesn't come up right away. This market is crap these days."

"Failure isn't something I think about, Clark." He pocketed his keys. "See you at six? I'll pick up something on the way home."

"Um, we have a full 'fridge, Lex. It might be ... uh ... more economical if we use up what's in there first. Don't worry, I'll cook," Clark said quickly.

Lex stiffened slightly. "Right. Okay, I'll see you at six then." He took a deep breath and opened the door with determination. Look out, world, here I come he thought, striding out the door, head held high. He jogged down the six flights of stairs, neatly sidestepping various toys and pieces of trash.

If there was ever any inspiration to get his financial life back on track, this shithole was definitely it.

It wouldn't take long for him to get a great job. How hard could it be? He had an excellent education, experience out the wazoo and in times of trouble, a little bit of fame -- or make that infamy -- couldn't hurt.

It wasn't long before Lex realized that infamy, in the business world at least, was the exact opposite of A Good Thing.

The first few businesses he visited wouldn't even open their human resources department to him, obviously from orders on high. If Lex thought that a little humiliation would make old rivals more than happy to place him beneath their vengeful rule, he was wrong. He'd made enemies through his mastery of the cutthroat side of the markets and it was obvious they were still afraid of him.

Not to mention incensed at him.

Other CEOs deigned to see him but Lex had a sneaking suspicion it was to gain some petty satisfaction from turning him down. Still, he didn't give up, not even after fifteen visits and dozens of phone calls came up empty. He started calling his social acquaintances, but to no avail. It seemed as if he were suddenly a leper of the worst kind -- a leper without a penny to his name.

It wasn't until the sun was dipping deep in the skyline that Lex realized he'd used up nearly all his contacts, including some he swore he'd never speak to again as long as he lived.

Panic started to spread through his chest, forcing him to stop and sit on the steps of the Metropolis Central Library. Slowly, he worked on catching his breath. The want ad section of the Daily Planet felt heavy in his hand, as did the curious stares of passersby. Quickly, he flipped open the paper, pretending to scan the ads but in reality, trying desperately to calm the pounding of his heart.

He couldn't fail Clark like this. He couldn't fail himself like this.


Lex blinked. He once spent a stint working at his college library, in the classics section, mostly to try and bed a fellow student he'd taken a liking to all those years ago. Likely, the job wasn't glamorous, it certainly wasn't high-paying, but if Lex didn't get something right at that moment, his ego was going to take a blow it might never recover from.

Quickly, he folded up the paper and hit the stairs. Butt-slapped one of the stone lions standing guard at the door for luck before asking at information for the main desk. A few winding corridors later, he found it, as well as the master librarian standing behind the ancient wooden counter, looking exactly like a librarian should: round glasses, thinning silver hair cut just above the collar of what might have been the world's cheapest gray tweed suit, compete with suede elbow patches.

Lex could have cared less. If this guy gave him a job, he'd dress like that himself just to make nice. "Excuse me," he said softly.

The librarian didn't look up from the book he was examining. "Mmmmm. One moment, young man."

Lex waited another moment, until he thought his head was going to explode. "I'm here about the job," he said, still softly but with rising urgency. "I have a degree in ..."

The librarian looked up, eyebrow raised. "I'm somewhat familiar with your background, Mr. Luthor. You did contribute quite a large amount of money here over the years, if you remember. I remember well, I'll say that much." Slowly, he closed the book. "And I'd be very happy to give you the job we're offering, but I'm afraid it might be ... how can I put this ... a bit beneath you?"

Lex shook his head. "Nothing is more beneath me than being unable to contribute to my household. Please. I have an extensive background in the classics, I speak five languages, I have a wide range of knowledge concerning rare books and periodicals, my researching skills are topnotch ..."

The man raised his hand. "Yes, yes. You don't have to convince me of your qualifications. But the job that's open will require none of the above, I'm afraid."

Lex took a deep breath. "Mr ... "


"Mr. Monroe, if you offer me this job, I will take it. It pains me to say that I'm desperate. I need to work, if only for my own sanity. I mean, the job is a librarian position, isn't it?"

"Yes ... but ..."


"It's in the children's section," Monroe whispered, looking around, as if fearful some toddlers might actually invade his sacred space. "A most terrible place, Mr. Luthor. You really don't want to ..."

Was the guy crazy? Didn't he just tell him how desperate he was? With a shake of his head, Lex cut him off quickly. "I'll take it. I'm ready to start whenever you're ready to have me."

The older man sighed. "I hope you understand what you're getting into."

"No, it's what I'm getting out of. The unemployment line," Lex said. "I'll see you, tomorrow, perhaps? Would that be all right?"

"Fine, fine." Monroe wagged a finger at Lex, reminding him very much of almost every old stodgy professor he'd ever had. "Don't say you weren't warned."

"Thank you. I won't forget this," Lex said with enough sincerity to surprise even himself. "Ever."

As Lex left the library, it took every bit of inner training he possessed not to jump aboard the stone lions and ride them into happy oblivion screaming "YES!!!!!" at the top of his tired lungs.

Because ... yes ... he had a job!


When Lex arrived home it was to the welcome smell of his favorite dinner on the stove, steak and mushrooms. He couldn't help but smile knowing Clark had cooked it especially against an expected disappointing outcome for Lex.

Little did he know.

Lex was about to enter the door triumphantly, when what actually transpired that day hit him. Yes, little did Clark know that his life partner went from billionaire industrialist to children's librarian in a relative blink of an eye.

Wouldn't he be surprised, perhaps not in a good way.

Hesitantly, Lex stood at the door, contemplating a slight embellishment of the truth. Nothing major, just enough to make the job sound less like it was nabbed in utter desperation and more like a calculated step back toward international success.

He thought for a long time, but while he might have been a genius in some ways, even Einstein would have trouble putting enough positive spin on the situation he was really in.

Sighing, Lex opened the door to see Clark standing by the tiny stove, carefully mashing potatoes.

"Hey," Clark greeted him, chewing on his lower lip just enough to give the impression he was concentrating on the meal instead of worried half out of his mind as Lex knew he was. "How did it go?"

"I got a job," Lex said, pulling off his jacket and tie. Boy, did that feel good. "But you might not be very happy about it."

Clark went back to his mashing, staring into the pot. "Lex, I know you want to get back to where you were right away. And I know that you might be tempted to take any kind of job with, well, the wrong kinds of people in order to provide for us in the lifestyle we were accustomed to. I know it's hard on you to even contemplate living like this. I can appreciate that, but if you are taking the wrong sort of job for me, then please ... don't. As long as we're together, I'm very happy. I just wanted to make sure you knew that." He took a deep breath. "So, what job did you get?"

"I'm the new librarian at the Metropolis Central Library."

The masher fell from Clark's hand. He looked up, radiant with happiness. "No way! Lex! That's ... that's ... great!" He paused. "I mean, it's great for now. You could use a break and you love books and ..." His smile lit up the room. "Librarians are very sexy. You'll be the sexiest one of them all."

Lex snorted. "Not where I'm going. I've been exiled to the kid's section. It's the only position they had in the only place that would take me. I've made more enemies than I thought."

"Oh." For a moment, Clark looked as though he was searching for the right words. "I know you'll do great," he said confidently. "And I still say it'll be just the break you need to get back on track again."

"You think?"

"I know so." Clark reached over the kitchen counter and held up a wine bottle. He handed it to Lex. "And to prove today is your lucky day, here's a little something I snatched from the cellar before those jerks ransacked it. Just one. I was saving it for a special for a special occasion and I think we have one tonight."

Lex examined the label. "Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 1990." His heart lifted. "You know how much I love you, right?"

"Yeppers. Now, do you want your steak rare or medium? They are just about done for rare now."

"Medium," replied Lex, settling in his chair and picking up the corkscrew. "I've seen too much blood already. Most of it my own. I can live without the cow's."


They fell into bed early that night. Clark was snoring almost immediately, but Lex found himself tossing and turning, unable to stop Clark's words from rumbling through his brain in the most infuriating sort of way.

"I know that you might be tempted to take any kind of job with the wrong kinds of people in order to provide for us in the lifestyle we were accustomed to."

The wrong kinds of people. People with all the power and money he used to have. The kind of people with few scruples but having so many other things to make up for what they might lack on the inside.

People whom he could take advantage of in exchange for a little dealmaking of his own.

A little soul-selling of his own.

People who could get him and -- more importantly -- Clark back into a comfortable lifestyle. An existence without worry about the mundane things, like electricity, rent and food -- things he'd never spent a minute thinking about before but now obsessed his brain like gnawing demons.

Peace of mind was expensive but worth the price, his father used to intone repeatedly. His evil father, now locked away in a mental institution after trying to murder his only living son -- again-- six years before.

His horrible father. Lex winced miserably. Was Lionel aware of what happened? What would he think of Lex's new job if he had his wits about him?

Oh, God.

Troubled, he stared at a sleeping Clark. Couldn't help but grin at the way his mouth hung open a little, at how he clutched at the battered comforter with both hands up to his chin, looking so very innocent. Lex had always thought that he'd be happy to live on a desert island if he had Clark beside him. Maybe he'd forgotten that desert islands were okay, but only if you didn't have to eat the maggots.

Or watch your beloved struggle alongside of you.

Clark salary from the Daily Planet had always been something Lex had considered a little mad money on the side, to be used by Clark for an amusement or two, such as taking Lex out to dinner for his birthday or proudly buying his very own cell phone.

Now it was their lifeblood and the thought gave Lex a chill. All sorts of ideas began to flood his brain -- about medical and life insurance, health proxies, powers of attorney, renter's rights, death benefits and inheritance -- these once-small legal niceties not afforded to two men who were married in body and soul, but not in the eyes of the state.

Before, his money bought himself and Clark enough protection for a hundred couples in their situation. Now ... they were on their own, with hardly a dime standing between them and disaster.

Frightened, Lex curled more closely around Clark, pressing his ear against Clark's heartbeat. He shut his eyes tightly. Forced his brain to shut up, except for a single prayer.

Dear God, if I ever get back on my feet again, I'm going to change the laws in this state, not just for me and Clark but for everyone like us.

And after I change the state, I'm going to change the country.

I swear it.


Lex arrived at his post in the library's children's section at exactly 8:55. Taking a moment to look around, he was comforted by the crayon drawings covering the windows as well as a crude quilt hanging over the bookshelves, obviously the product of busy little hands. Beanbag chairs were thrown about in easy chaos and everything appeared as it should ... colorful, inviting and stimulating.

Piece of cake, he thought with an inner shrug. A few weeks here to get his psyche back on track, with some quiet time to plot and life would return to normal in no time.

A shuffle from the far back of the librarian's station, and Lex unconsciously straightened out his shoulders. Tried to school his features into something resembling humorful and relaxed, but knowing he was failing, he let his facial muscles clench where they might.

A middle-aged woman emerged from the back. She had bottle-red hair, unfortunately afflicted with the stiff frizziness that affects many older women. Her clothes looked comfortable, Lex thought generously, starting to fidget in his Armani. And her face ...

Was exactly like a crab's.

Pinched and red and ... pinched again. It was as if all of life's annoyances had taken refuge beneath her skin, festering into a mosaic of a supreme irritation. If she had a species it would be Sourpuss Spectacularus and Lex's heart sank to somewhere around his socks.

To make things worse, the woman took one look at him and said in a voice that had been assaulted by a few million cigarettes: "Well, if it isn't Dandy McFine."

"Hello," Lex replied carefully. "I'm here for, uh, your job?"

How eternal hope sprang. Because if he was replacing her ...

"No, you're here for your job," she snapped back. "Which is working for me."

God, how Lady Luck hated him that week. "I see," he swallowed. He held out his hand, forcing a huge smile. "I'm Lex Luthor and I'm pleased to be working with you."

"For. Me," she corrected. A pause, and she sighed like a tea kettle giving off a blast of steam. "Oh, never mind. There's no point in arguing. It is us against them anyway."

Them? "So, what's your name?" Lex asked, ignoring the warning bleats of "run away!" sounding through his brain.

"The name is Midge. Not that it matters," she replied. "First off, I'm not sending you to the floor yet. I want you to last at least the morning. You can thank your lucky stars that you'll be doing inventory today." She nodded toward two piles of very thin books that seemed to extend straight up to the ceiling. "On the left is entering circulation, on the right is leaving circulation. Think you can handle that?"

"Just show me what to do. Midge." Lex said, having petty little thoughts about how the only decent midges he'd ever met were nasty black bugs in Scotland.

"Right this way, McFine," she replied. "No offense, but in the future you might want to leave your nice clothes at home. Unless you want them destroyed."

After cautioning him to step around a pair of books that looked as though they'd been digested whole and regurgitated onto the floor, she lead him to a computer monitor with a handheld scanning attachment. She hit a few keys on a washed-out gray keyboard, until the monochrome screen read: OUTGOING. Handed him the scanner and opened a book. "See the bar code? Press the trigger, scan the code, listen for the beep. Make sure the number comes up on the database, then put the book in the bin behind you. Can you handle that?"

Fuming, Lex tried not to think about the multimillion dollar deals he'd spent most of adult life handling and took the scanner with aplomb. "I'm hoping to do my very, very best," he drawled, unable to help himself. "Midge."

/You annoying giant fly of the highlands/, he added silently.

"That's my name, don't wear it out," she grouched, her face pinching a few millimeters more. "You may not think it now, but you're going to need me. I've been here for twenty years and in six months I'm retiring. There's nothing you can do or say that will bother me. I, on the other hand, can throw you to the little monsters without blinking. Think about it."

Lex pulled himself up and began to scan books, saying casually: "Maybe they're only little monsters because children have a habit of imitating the adults around them. Have you ever thought about that? Midge?"

Her laughter rang out, hoarse and loud. "You're funny. Keep on being a jerk and I might end up liking you." She reached down and pulled up what appeared to be a few dozen more tiny books. Plopped them on top of the already huge pile Lex was working on and said: "Welcome to Hades, McFine. I suggest you watch your back. And your sides ... and your front, not to mention under your feet. These little brats will get you from every side, if you let them."

Lex's only reply was to pull the trigger on the scanner, trying his hardest not to wish he was holding onto the trigger of something else. He glanced at the clock.

It was exactly 9:00.

Only eight more hours of hell to go.


About a half-hour into his inventory-taking, Lex began to examine his database work with a critical eye.

This was a mistake.

"Is this program running in DOS?" he asked incredulously.

"Who knows?" replied Midge, sipping her coffee and staring at the glass door entrance to the children's section like a Marine staring at a hill he expects Charlie to charge over at any minute. "Does it look like it?"

"Yes," Lex said, squinting closely at the crude amber-on-black screen design. He pulled away from it, astonished. "Do you have any idea how old this computer is? How old this software is?"

Midge shrugged. "This place is like the Catholic Church. It changes every two-thousand years. Feel lucky you're not doing it the way we did when I first got here. I think the pens were still made of feathers."

"This is ridiculous," Lex breathed, reaching for another book, one unfortunately entitled "My Monkey, His Banana." For some reason it was /wet/. Horrified, Lex quickly dropped it. "Why is this book soaked?"

An audible sigh, along with a very visible eyeroll. "For a lot of reasons, each one more horrible than the last. Do you want me to do a scientific analysis on it? Look, McFine, sometimes it's better not to know these things. Just inventory it."

Disgusted, Lex picked it up with his thumb and forefinger before dropping it into the bin. "Yes, ma'am," he muttered.

"Here they come," said Midge, nodding at the door where a pair of women carrying toddlers stood, taking off the children's' coats. She tossed her coffee in the trash and put her glasses on. They were huge and thick and black rimmed, making her eyes look larger than they actually were, giving one the impression that she, like a powerful sorceress, could see all. "Just stick the to stacks and remember, never yell at the mothers. Ever."

"Why would I yell at the ... OW!" cried Lex, as a metal encrusted character from a pop-up book sprang out and scratched him on the wrist. He glared at the bobbing /thing/, disbelieving. "Who the hell would put this in a kid's book? It could kill them!"

"That's why it's going out of circulation," Midge said. "Although I've been tempted to give it to certain special patrons, I'll tell you that much."

/Jesus. Was it lunch time yet?/, Lex thought wearily.

The mothers entered and immediately let their children loose in the room. They took a seat far away and proceeded to engage in deep conversation, oblivious to all else while the kids, a boy and a girl, ran to the shelves gleefully.

"Here it comes," Midge grumbled, oversized eyes narrowing behind the lenses.

The boy pulled down one book. Then another. And another ... and another.

The girl, obviously the more practical one, simply pulled down the entire row at once. Dozens of books hit the floor with a muted splat, honk and squeak.

They both laughed uproariously and continued to pull down books. The mothers continued to talk. Midge continued to glare.

Lex gaped, the scanner still in his hand. "Do you see ..."

"Hard to miss," Midge replied. "Get scanning."

"But ..."

"No buts. Scan, pretty boy. Leave this to me," she said, sliding out from behind the counter and heading toward the children, shoulders squared.

Obviously, the two must have met her before because they hastily scrambled away from Midge and back to their mothers. With a groan, Midge bent and plucked two books from the messy pile and headed over to the women. She handed each a book and said: "Studies say that parents who read to their children live longer."

One mother blinked. "Really?"

Midge bent down very close to her, until their noses almost touched. "Much, much longer."

"Oh," the mother replied, hastily opening the book. "Come on, Jason. Let's read."

Lex watched this interaction, fascinated. When Midge finished restocking the books back into their proper shelves, she returned to her place behind the desk, ignoring his inquiring glance.

"That's quite a talent you have there," he said. "Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve?"

"Does a gunner know how to fire a bazooka in all different directions?" was the reply. Midge sighed as a much larger group of children entered the doors, swinging their scarfs over their heads like boleros. "Don't answer that. We got fire in the hole."

A gum-covered book revealed itself in Lex's scan pile. He winced, trying to open it without actually touching it with his hands. "Should I go hide?" he asked sardonically.

"Yeah, but only for today. Tomorrow you're hitting the front lines, soldier. I can't coddle you forever."

"I wouldn't expect you to," Lex said, swiveling the monitor over so that he and his pile were slightly more obscured. In truth, he was glad to get away from all of them. It would make his computer-induced headache that much less of a pain later on -- maybe.

"QUIET!" Midge roared, as the noise level from the kids rose a decibel or ten.

Or maybe not.


The rest of the day didn't go swimmingly either as after Lex's lunch hour he discovered his neat sets of inventory piles had been tampered with by children. Tampered with as in completely mixed up and strewn all over the floor.

After much arguing and sorting and not-giving-a-shit where the book went, Lex finally stumbled down the library's stone stairs at 8:30, ready to collapse. He didn't remember being this tired after work /ever/, let alone after a job he thought a monkey could do. There was a real difference about being in control of your work environment and being an underpaid cog in a sticky, bubble-gum covered wheel, he thought miserably.

To make the evening complete, Lex realized he hadn't taken enough cash with him to catch a ride home, either in a cab or on the subway. Transportation had never been an issue for him; limos had been at his immediate disposal from the time he could walk, so it was natural to forget but Lex still couldn't believe how damned stupid he was.

With a pained moan, Lex felt around his pockets one more time before trudging downtown, the entire twenty-two blocks home. If he really wanted to, he could yell out for Clark, who'd fly down and scoop him up, but Lex had a feeling Superman might have slightly better things to do than be his easy ride home.

Still, it was tempting, as his feet began to ache with every slow step.

Finally, his apartment building came into view. A few minutes later, Lex opened the door gratefully, only to remember he and Clark lived in a walkup.

A six-story walk up.

With another huge groan, Lex dragged himself up the stairs. All one-hundred and forty-two of them.

Once up them, he had to lean his head against their door to catch his breath before entering. Clark couldn't see him as anything but happy, secure and in control, Lex thought, gasping for air. He opened the door, schooling his face into a huge smile. He was happy, damnit!

Happy, happy. Secure, secure and totally in ... "Hey, honey. I'm home," he croaked. "How's my man?"

Clark didn't reply. He stood in front of the television, engrossed by something on the news. Holding a finger to his lips, he motioned Lex closer.

"Ah, something new in the world of reporting, I see," Lex said, limping toward Clark, hoping his feet weren't actually bleeding or anything like that. That would be hard to explain. "It's not something major, is it? Because I was hoping you and I could have some hot times tonight, now that I have such an easy job and all."

In truth, Lex prayed for a natural disaster all the way home. Nothing too damaging, just something that would be enough to send Clark away for a few hours so Lex could recover enough to pretend he was still the easiest-going librarian on earth.

Clark shook his head. He craned his ear closer to the television to listen and Lex followed suit. The voice over babbled:

"According to "Playgirl" CEO, Christine Swannberg, the five-million dollar offer to the Man of Steel to bare those buns of steel is a perfect investment for the magazine.

The picture changed to a well-dressed woman in a burgundy suit talking into a microphone.

"Who wouldn't want to see the buffest man on earth in the buff? We're hoping that Superman will take us up on our offer to take off his spandex for Playgirl. The money would be a pittance compared to the pleasure of seeing what really lies beneath that cape. I'm sure all you ladies agree. Probably some gentlemen as well."

The reporter on the television screen tittered as the woman turned to address the camera.

"So if you hear this offer Superman, please feel free to come by and talk with us. We're willing to devote an entire issue to you and a five-million dollar check will be yours by the end of the shoot. As will the adoration of a few million new fans."

More tittering before the program went to a commercial.

Lex's eyes practically bulged from his head. Fuck the electroshock. Fuck the desert island. To hell with being taken away to the asylum.

This was the worst day of his life.

The commercial droned on and Clark continued staring at the screen, his face a decidedly warm shade of pink. "Five million. Wow."

"Clark," Lex croaked, feeling as if all the air had been sucked from the room. "Not once during this entire debacle have I wanted to kill myself. But ... but ... if you do this, I'm jumping out the window. Right this minute."

"No, no!" Clark said, turning and gathering Lex into a tight hug. "I'd never do that. I mean ... besides you, what would my mother say? Nothing good, that's for sure."

"Not to mention your father coming back from the dead and all," Lex said, his voice muffled against Clark's chest. "Because you know he would. And boy, will he be pissed."

Clark nodded, but there was still something hesitant in his voice. "Gosh. Five million. Why would anyone pay that much money for ... well ... for ..." Clark's voice faded. "Gee. That's so much money."

"Clark!" Lex wailed pitifully. "Please!"

"Lex, I'd never do that! Really!" Clark protested, but Clark was a lousy liar, this much Lex knew. He could see big wheels turning in Clark's brain and it was a slow, ponderous sight indeed.

"Never without your permission, that's for sure," Clark added, almost as an afterthought.

Oh, God. Oh, Christ. Oh ... shit. "Clark, I will never give you permission to strip naked for the world to gawk at. Never, ever, ever. I don't give a damn how much money they offer you, I'd rather starve than ever see that come to pass. Do you hear me, Clark? I'd. Rather. Starve." Lex tried to punctuate each word with as much dire warning as he could muster. "I'm begging you, Clark. Do you know what begging means?"

"No need to beg," Clark said, kissing the top of his head. "I promise. No stripping for cash."

Lex felt like he was going to collapse. This day had been way too much for him. "Good. Now could you help me over to the bedroom? I don't want to die on the floor."

Clark made a sympathetic noise. He helped Lex to the bed and took off his shoes before tucking him beneath the blankets, still mostly dressed. "Do you want some soup? I can heat it up for you."

"No soup. Just promise me ..."

"I promised! Clark Kent will never strip for Playgirl. There, that's my promise."

"Okay," Lex replied, the tug of exhaustion pulling him under with merciless speed. "As long as you promise."

Clark kissed his forehead as sleep took Lex away almost entirely. "I promise."

His voice was fading, but Lex could have sworn he heard Clark utter a second later ...



That night, Lex's nightmares revolved around a single theme or some variation thereof -- the theme of Clark naked in public for the all the world to see. The most striking image was of Clark flying over Metropolis wearing nothing but his cape while Lex frantically ran in circles below, his arms full of clothes, trying to figure out some way of getting them onto Clark's bare body.

"Put them on," Lex could hear himself murmuring. "Claaaark ..."

He was about to start flapping his arms to reach Clark when the dream abruptly shifted. Suddenly, everything was hot and wonderful and Lex sighed when he felt soft kisses pressed across his stomach, followed by gentle licks down the "v"'s of his abdomen.

So sweet and warm and sexy and Lex couldn't help a sleepy moan. Boy, Clark was pulling out all the stops with nibbles to the inside of his thighs and little licks just hot enough to make his cock stand up and pay full attention, but not enough to wake Lex up entirely.

He was whispering too, in that gorgeous voice of his. Lex smiled dreamily as Clark said, "I love you so much."

"Grgihighah," Lex muttered back, his eyes still too heavy to open.

More kisses. Another whisper. "I would do anything for you."


"Please, Lex. Let me do this. Say you'll let me." The words were punctuated with a leisurely swipe of Lex's cock with Clark's soft tongue. "Let me do it, Lex."

"Do it," Lex repeated hazily. "You want to do it."

Clark's hard body slid up over Lex's. A warm, pouty mouth whispered against his ear. "Say you'll let me do it."

"I say you'll let me do it," Lex mumbled. "You want me to ..."

"Give me permission. Come on, Lex. Say yes."

One of Lex's eyes popped open. Then the other. Wait a minute ...

"What do you want permission for again?" Lex asked suspiciously, hoisting himself up onto his elbows "Could you just spell this out before we go any further?"

A blatant look of "busted!" crept over Clark's face. He quickly covered it up with a mildly annoyed expression. "Way to kill the mood, Lex."

"Don't change the subject. You were trying to seduce me into giving you 'permission' for that photo shoot, weren't you?"

Clark didn't reply, choosing instead to play with an errant thread sticking up from the comforter.

Lex jumped from the bed, sweeping half the pillows off with him. He pointed at Clark. "Of all the low, sneaky, rotten, disingenuous ..."

"Lex, listen to me ..."

"Where did you learn such dirty tricks?"

Clark sighed and rolled onto his back and Lex kept his attention from roving over the gorgeous body spread out before him. The gorgeous naked body that was his damn it to hell. All his!

"Where do you think, Mr. I-Didn't-Know-It-Would-Blow-Up-Like-That?"

"You're not saying you learned this behavior from me, I hope," Lex replied indignantly. "I can't believe this. Not only are you being a sneaky rotten sneak, you're accusing ME of inspiring it. Ever hear of insult to injury, Clark? And as for 'permission' -- didn't we discuss this last night? Or have I inspired brain damage in you too? To match all the times you clonked me on the head?"

Clark angrily shot up from the bed. "Take that back, Lex."

"Not until you apologize for trying to break my heart."

"I'm not going to apologize for loving you and wanting you to have your life back, if that's what you're insinuating." The anger melted, and Clark's expression turned pleading. "Lex, they'll give me five million to do something that five years from now, no one will remember."

Lex crossed his arms over his chest. "Clark, I've been with you a lot longer than five years and I can assure you, the sight of you nude isn't something someone forgets." He tapped his forehead. "It's seared right here. Where it belongs and nowhere else. Period."

"Five million, Lex. I know you. You could turn that into fifty-million in a week, if you were given the chance. You'd have everything back again. All the things you love."

"There is nothing I love more than the fact that I'm the only person in the universe who gets to see you naked. If you take that away from me all the money in the world is meaningless."

With an exasperated sound, Clark threw himself back onto the bed. "God, you are /stubborn/. I can't believe you're being so stupid about this."

"He tries to seduce me into making a sucker's deal and he thinks I'm stupid," Lex grumbled, throwing open a dresser drawer. A few seconds later a fresh polo shirt was tugged over his head. "I'm going to work now. We'll talk about this later."

Stepping into his shoes, Lex stormed through the bedroom then out the front door, making sure the slams reverberated loudly throughout the apartment. Satisfied, he waited in the immediate hallway, knowing Clark would call after him.

One .. two ... three ...

"Lex ..."

Bingo. Feeling superior, Lex stuck his head back in. "What do you want, Clark? I said I'm going to work."

"Without your pants?" Clark replied wearily, holding up a pair of slacks.

Lex looked down. Saw bare knees and quickly dove inside the apartment. He grabbed the pants from Clark's hand and pulled them on with angry yanks.

"And he yells at me about showing my ass," Clark said, to no one in particular.

"Shut up," Lex said, fumbling with the zipper as he stormed out the door, unto the breech once more, this time with pants on. "Just shut up."

"So damned stubborn," Clark said, closing the door with a sigh. "God ..."


Lex's day at work didn't go much better.

Like his wake-up call with Clark, it seemed all right at first but things quickly deteriorated when Midge led Lex away from the inventory piles and straight to an adult-sized chair in the middle of the reading room.

Lex stared at it as if it were an electric chair. "What is this?"

"It's the Story Time chair and you're Mr. Story Time this morning," said Midge, handing him a thin cardboard book with a stickily-cute picture of a puppy on its cover. "Today's work is the scintillating 'Biscuit Visits The Pumpkin Patch.' Try not to get too excited before the day care kids get here."

"Oh great," Lex groaned.

If Midge was impressed by this display of angst, she didn't show it. "It's your job, McFine. So just do it."

He glanced at the book, then shrugged. Reading to kids wasn't such a bad way to spend some time, he thought. It was harmless enough and besides, it might take his mind off of the more pressing matters at hand.

Like his sneaky, rotten, busted husband.

"Say yes, Lex," he mocked under his breath in a high, whiny voice. "Say you'll let me do it, Lex." With an angry snort, he shook the book. "Over mine and Biscuit's dead bodies, Clark."

"Are you done with your soliloquy, Lady Macbeth?" asked Midge, nodding toward a group of small, bright-faced children. "Because the kids are here. Take note; these are the good ones. After this age, it's all downhill. Try not to ruin them for the rest of humanity. Or, at least, me."

"No problem," said Lex as he composed himself with feigned ease. He arranged himself in the chair in that falsely relaxed way years expensive prep schooling had taught him to. "Good morning, everyone. Please, feel free to take a seat on the nearest available piece of floor."

Warily, the little ones gathered at his feet.

Lex held up the book. "Our reading today is called, The Puppy in the Pumpkin Patch."

A little boy pointed at the cover. "Isn't that Biscuit? I have a book with him at home."

"If we're being technical, yes, I suppose it's him," said Lex carelessly. "Of course, if we broaden our horizons a little, we can view this puppy as the uber-puppy, or as some might call him, the Superpuppy."

One of the girls looked confused. "Superpuppy?"

"Yes. The sneaky, lowdown Superpuppy who went behind his owner's back and did something very nasty and was sorry forever and ever." Feeling Midge's glare from across the room, Lex cleared his throat and opened the book. He read: "Biscuit Goes To the Pumpkin Patch, by A. Capucilli."

The tiny children settled in and smiled.

"Climb in the cart sweet puppy and we'll go the pumpkin patch," Lex continued to read. "Woof, woof. Just look at all the pumpkins, Biscuit. There are big pumpkins and little pumpkins."

He attempted to concentrate on the page but try as he might, Lex couldn't put his and Clark's argument out of his mind.

Before he knew it, he was furiously improvising. "But Biscuit was a very bad puppy," Lex growled, staring at the book and seeing nothing except a naked Clark in the centerfold of "Playgirl". "Biscuit didn't want to look at pumpkins with the person who loved him more than life itself. He wanted to run off and wag his tail at strangers who couldn't care less about him. So he took off all his fur ..."

"Ewww!" the children cried.

"And showed off his tail to anyone who'd look at it. His owner cried and cried until finally, he wanted nothing to do with that horrible puppy. They broke up the next day and lived miserably ever after." Breathing hard, Lex snapped the book closed. "The end."

What followed was a profound silence. Lex rose and the children shrank back, their eyes huge.

He returned to the librarian's desk, to where Midge, and presumably the Apocalypse, stood waiting. He decided to bypass all of it. What did it matter anyway?

"You don't have to fire me. I'll just gather my things and go," he said, waving her aside.

Midge wasn't falling for it. "Sit down in the back and wait for me," she said quietly. Too quietly. "And don't argue with me about it, or I swear, you'll go flying home."

Lex blew out a long, tired breath before obeying. He'd have sworn he'd never have been so unprofessional in any capacity, but God ... this was all turning out to be too much for him. Maybe he could get back into the asylum for a rest. Spending the rest of his days doodling with finger paint didn't seem like such a bad idea anymore.

Midge reappeared a few minutes later. She rolled a nearby chair right up to Lex's and sat opposite of him. She didn't look anywhere near as angry as he would have thought, but she didn't look exactly happy either.

"All right, let's get it out in the open. Did you have a fight with your wife this morning?"

"My husband," Lex corrected. "And yes, I did. But that's no excuse for what I did, so if you'll let me get my things ..."

"I'm doing the talking now," interrupted Midge. Her voice softened. "I'm sorry you had a rough morning with your husband. When my husband was alive, sometimes I'd come in here ready to chew the walls down. There were times I couldn't see anything but red, everywhere I looked. I wanted to throttle something ... anything ... and you know what? I couldn't. Because the other people here aren't like other people ... they're children. And children don't understand our world, just as you and I don't understand theirs. That's a great thing in some ways, but rotten in others. It's especially rotten when you think you've reached the end of your rope and there's no one around you can vent to. But I'm here to tell you two things, McFine ..."


"You can always vent to me," Midge continued. "I may not always understand, I might not even take your side, but I will listen. I'm an old broad and there's nothing on this green earth that I probably haven't heard before or, God help me, lived through. So feel free to tell me all your problems, any time you like. Got that?"

Lex nodded, not trusting his voice.

"As for the second thing," she said, her eyes narrowing. "If you ever upset my kids again, for any reason, you'll have to buy yourself one long ass pair of tongs to remove my shoe from the depths of your ass. I want you to have this job, I want you stay here working with me, but as much as they can wear me out, these kids come first. Do we understand each other?"

"Yes," said Lex hoarsely. "I understand." He must have been coming down with a cold because there was a frog in his throat. There was no way he was getting choked up ... no, that wasn't it at all.

"Good. Now get back out there and try to do your job right." Midge got up from her chair with a grimace. "And one more thing," she said. "Don't allude to Nietzsche any more. It makes you look more pretentious than you already are. Superpuppy ... Jesus."

Lex stared after her as she limped away. Slowly, he picked himself up from the chair and headed back toward the story area.

Picked up another book and faced the wide-eyed children, still sitting in their places.

"How about we try this again, guys? Would that be okay?" he asked humbly.

They nodded in reply.

Lex sat down and opened the book. "This one is called 'Brown Bear Takes A Bath' by Gene Willis. Once there was a little brown bear ..."


The next few weeks passed in relative peace.

Lex's time in the library was spent trying to avoid too much contact with the half-eaten candy left between pages, on shelves and in one memorable case, on his seat. At first he thought Midge was getting frisky in her old age when he felt her hand in the vicinity of his ass, but it was only to pull a pink lollipop from the seat of his pants.

He and Clark reached a tentative peace in the home as well. Clark wouldn't consider posing naked and Lex wouldn't consider going to the "Playgirl" main offices and throwing the shit fit of all shit fits, his partner's secret identity be damned.

It was all good, even when Lex found himself dragging a clinging toddler attached to his leg across the floor like some benevolent Quasimodo, his arms filled with a stack of saliva-soaked cardboard books.

Behind him, the kids had pulled all the "noisemaking' books from the shelves and assembled them into a pile which they jumped atop of with abandon, the books squeaking, honking and playing tinkling lullabies with every leap.

The wet books were dumped in the "dry-out" bin and Lex surveyed his noisy kingdom with something that felt oddly like contentment.

It wasn't exactly like flying to Tokyo to make or break a multimillion dollar deal and his weekly paycheck surely left a few zeros to be desired -- okay, five or six zeros to be desired, but all in all, he was reaching a kind of peace that had eluded him his entire life.

The peace of knowing he could be a productive -- and good -- member of society, no matter what his social rank might have been.

This was something worth much more than money to Lex.

Except on grocery day, when Lex discovered to his horror that most human beings operated on things called "budgets' when it came to their food. He'd never imagined not being able to buy the best wines or meats or cheeses and when Clark pulled something that looked like dog food out of the meat case and put it into their cart, Lex felt he had to draw the line.

"We don't have a dog, Clark," he said, picking up the offending package between his thumb and forefinger and dropping it into the case.

Sighing, Clark put it back into their cart. "It's chopped chuck, Lex and people do eat it. Especially people on a /budget/."

Again with that word. Lex hated it so. "I've never met a chuck I wanted to eat, so what makes you think the chopping will make any difference? What kind of chuck is it anyway? Woodchuck?"

"It's beef, Lex. Pure, 100%, grade-A beef."

"Beef covers a lot of body parts. In fact, the entire animal is technically considered "beef," you know."

Clark didn't reply and the silence was ominous. He merely pushed the cart over to the poultry section and dumped an entire thing of chicken legs atop their food. The food that Lex was supposed to be eating at some point.

Horrified didn't begin to cover it. "That's ... that's ... that offal," Lex insisted, unwilling to touch the package, even to throw it back. "Do you know what offal is, Clark?"

"Look, here are some shell steaks for $3.99 a pound. Maybe we can split one, okay? Will that make you feel better? Besides, drumsticks are really good if you bake them in barbecue sauce."

"I'm now officially a vegetarian. Just to let you know," Lex said, feeling queasy.

"Whatever," Clark replied, somewhat grumpily. The return to Meatloaf Thursdays, a staple of his childhood, hadn't settled too well with him either. "And put down that Gruyere. It's American cheese now, pal."

Lex had never shoplifted in his life. Never, not even during his misspent teen years. He wasn't about to either, but his Gruyere addiction was going to be hard to break. Maybe if he could pocket a few samples ...

Clark pointed to something in the supermarket flyer. "Here's a coupon for Hamburger Helper. Fifty-cents off. Are you serious about this vegetarian thing or should I get it?"

Lex glanced at the box, noting with some distress an animated gloved hand waving to him over a bowl of what appeared to be ... yep ... dog food. "Serious as a heart attack. Which is something I think will be the immediate fate of anyone eating that junk. And why is it fifty-cents less if you give them that slip of paper? Are they trying to get rid of it?"

Clark gaped at him. "You don't know what a coupon is?"

Lex shrugged. "Should I?"

"You have how many degrees in business? I can't believe you don't know what a coupon is." Clark was amazed. "It's an incentive to try new products. They print a coupon, the register takes the amount of the coupon off the original price."

"Why don't they just have a sale on it?" Lex picked up a can of Chicken of the Sea, noting with a grimace the amount of vegetable oil the tuna was soaking in. Why anyone would eat this instead of fresh tuna was beyond him. "If you felt ambitious, you could clip all these pieces of paper, wait for proper sales and end up paying next to nothing for your groceries."

"Yeah, well, that's too much work for sane people," Clark replied. He squinted at the artichokes with a farmer's eye. "Two for three dollars? Geez, that's a rip! And they're in terrible shape too."

Suddenly, it was if a light bulb went off in Lex's well-oiled brain. "Where do you get these so-called coupons? If we save enough money on some of this stuff, we might be able to afford real food."

"This is real food, Lex," Clark said, with clear exasperation. "But if you're so inclined, you can get them in newspapers, on-line, the library ..."

"Ah-hah! I have an 'in' at the library. Midge will help me get some and then ..." Lex reached out and patted the package of Gruyere, addressing it passionately. "Soon, my love. You and I will be together once again, never to part. Until then, adieu, mon ami."

Clark rolled the cart over to the checkout counter, shaking his head the entire way. "Oh brother."


By the end of the next week, Lex had amassed enough coupons and rainchecks to make The Frugal Gourmet jealous. He sorted them gleefully during his late break, while Midge looked on with a vague look of pity in her eyes.

"You were born to do that," she said. "No human being is cheaper at heart than a rich person."

"I'm not a rich person anymore, that's why I'm doing this," he corrected, trying not to pump his fist in the air upon discovering one dollar off on those sponge things Clark insisted on purchasing regularly. Lex thought they were gauche at best, unsanitary at worst, but there was no stopping Clark. At least now they wouldn't be cutting into his cheese budget.

"Sorry, McFine. No matter what happens, you'll never be anything but to the manor-born. It's already lodged in your genes." She sipped at her coffee, peering at the clock. "It's almost quitting time. I'll walk you to the bus stop, if you like."

"Not tonight, thanks. Clark's picking me up for a cheap dinner out. But we''d be glad to walk you home," Lex offered generously. As much as they bitched at each other, as much as he wouldn't admit it, he had a soft spot for his rancorous coworker. Besides, he didn't like the idea of any woman walking home alone after sunset in Metropolis. Try as he might, Clark couldn't be on call every second of the day. "It's getting dark early this time of year. You should be careful."

Midge snorted. "What's the matter? Think some punk's feeling lucky tonight? I'd love to meet a mugger. I need some tension release."

Just then, Clark walked into the children's section, looking rumpled and weary. A lock of not-quite slicked-back hair hung down over his forehead, swinging in front of his fake glasses. He looked as though he'd put his civilian clothes back on in a hurry, just to pick Lex up. His tie was askew, his shirt buttons done up wrong and he was an all around tired-looking sight.

Still, Midge seemed impressed. "Yowsa," she said under her breath, so only Lex could hear. "Is that your husband?"

"Yep," he replied, slipping on his coat and waving Clark over.

"Humph. If I had a man like that at home, I wouldn't leave the bedroom. Ever," she said, picking up her coat and purse. "Well, goodnight, McFine.

"Goodnight. Don't kill too many purse snatchers on the way home," Lex said.

"Goodnight," Clark said to Midge cheerily as she trundled toward the door. Receiving only a grunt in reply, he turned to Lex once she was out of sight. "I see what you mean about her. Not exactly Miss Sunshine."

"Not even Miss Mostly Cloudy," Lex replied, putting his arms around Clark and hugging hard. "What's up? You look exhausted and for you, that's a feat."

Clark glanced around before taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes tiredly. "I guess you didn't hear the news."

"Unless it had something to do with Elmo, no, I didn't. Is it bad?"

"The Ultra Humanite escaped this morning and hit Metropolis around noon. Of course Lois ran afoul of him and I just spent two hours trying to find her. He locked her in a soundproof music studio on the west end. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and I could barely hear her."

"It must have been pretty good soundproofing considering the yowls she can produce," Lex said, a little sarcastically. He and Lois and her Superman fetish didn't get along very well. As in, not at all. "But I'm glad she's okay," he said quickly, noting Clark's annoyed look. "Does this cut into our pizza night?"

"I think I can take a dinner break. Wally's zipping around keeping up the search but the big ape seems to have gone underground. For now. Are you sure you want to hit the pizzeria? I think we can splurge for something a little bit nicer."

"Are you kidding? I've been looking forward to this all week," Lex said, pulling some slips of paper out of his pocket. "See? I have coupons! Buy one pie, get the other free. Here's one for a free Super Slurp."

Clark's shoulders slumped. "You have no idea how hard I pray every night that you somehow get your money back. Because you're driving me nuts."

"Speaking of nuts, I have a coupon for those too," Lex said, taking Clark's hand. Together, they strolled out the door. "Two dollars off a pound of cashews. You can do a lot with cashews."

"I don't want to know."

"Crush them for coating, add them to chicken, make some cookies ..."

"I said, I didn't want to know!"


Darkness fell over the city, as within the Metropolis Central Library's philosophy section, an ape-like hand ran over the rows, coming to a stop at a gap in the books.

"Only one copy of Kant's The Critique of Pure Reason, I see. And it's borrowed, of course."

The entire section was furiously overturned. The boom of falling shelves echoed throughout the empty building as the Ultra Humanite snarled at the scattered pile. "The employees of this facility will have to learn the meaning of public service. And learn it the hard way they will."


It was strange, but Lex couldn't remember enjoying a meal more than his two-for-one pizza shared with Clark over a free giant cola Yurpee. There was something delightfully subversive about getting dinner for nothing and after he finished his (admittedly rubbery) pizza, Lex sat back to bask in the glow of his beautiful husband and the sixty-four ounce cup Clark held easily in one hand.

Superman, indeed.

Lex reached out to tickle Clark's thigh under the table. "Let's go home. I'm in the mood for some dessert."

Clark put down the drink with a grateful expression. Somehow he hadn't found the experience as enlightening as Lex had. "Great. I think we have some donuts left over from yesterday."

"I'm not talking about that kind of dessert." A squeeze to Clark's leg to punctuate his point and they were out of there before anyone could say "up, up and away."

Clark must have been in a mood too as he took the airborne route home. They'd barely made it inside the door when Clark whisked off to the bedroom, only to return seconds later in what Lex lovingly referred to as his "manwhore" outfit.

Black, tight-fitting shirt, jeans that Lex had paid hundreds of dollars for because they fit obscenely right in all the best places and bare feet to complete the role-playing fun.

Lex had to repress his laughter as Clark sauntered up to him. "Hey, gorgeous," he said in his best rent-boy voice. "Long time, no see."

"Nice to see you too, beautiful," Lex replied, grinning. While this wasn't his favorite game -- playing a rich john was too close to his old reality to excite him much -- it was still a good time, especially since Clark enjoyed it so much.

Clark bent in to nibble warmly on Lex's ear. "Where have you been? I've been lonely."

"I've been having some money troubles as of late, so ..."

"Poor baby," Clark whispered, biting gently down the side of Lex's neck. "You know you can always come to me. You've been so good to me you deserve a freebie ... or ten."

"Oh, I couldn't do that," Lex replied laughingly, arching into the caresses that were turning hotter by the minute. "I'll have to give you something."

"Whatever you say." Nimble hands undid his belt. "What do you have?"

Lex reached inside his pocket. Pulled out a small slip of paper and gave it to Clark. "Here's a coupon for a buy-one--get-one-free frappuccino at Starbucks. Enjoy."

Clark made a sour face at the coupon but kept it anyway. "You're too good to me," he muttered before sliding his hand into Lex's underwear and stroking. "I'll think of you with every overly sweetened, five-thousand calorie sip."

"I'm hoping you will. And if you're especially good tonight, you might get something a little special. Do you like Pizza Hut?"

Clark snorted against Lex's neck. "You're ruining the deviant sex, Beavis."

A rush of air and Lex found himself sprawled out on the bed. Clark straddled him, pinning his hands down over his head as Lex continued, undaunted. "I think have fifty-cents off of licorice whips too. The black and the red ones."

"I need to do something that will shut you up. Is that what you want?"

Now they were getting into territory Lex liked. "Also, this Sunday at Sears there's a forty-percent off of ties by everyone's favorite designer, Made In China." He winked at Clark. "You know what we can do with those."

"Uh-huh," Clark said, reaching over into the nightstand drawer and pulling out various homespun restraints they'd used over the years. He tied Lex's hands to the headboard with a couple of soft loops of terry cloth, before kissing his nose. "You always get your way, don't you?"

"Hey, I'm paying here, aren't I? Not everyone gets their frosty frappuccino half-priced, do they?"

"Especially in the winter," Clark said, dangling a gag over Lex's head with a smirk. "Now you're going to be a good boy, a quiet boy, while I make you come. Understood? Or no Sunday paper coupons this week for you."

Lex nodded quickly. "Anything but that, Master."

"Oh brother," Clark laughed, before settling in to do exactly as he promised.


Lex's bus ride to work the next morning was a pleasantly achy experience. He squirmed in his seat, still feeling the effects of the night before and he knew the reason for the grin on his face must have been obvious to all but the most oblivious of his fellow commuters.

Jogging up the huge stone staircase to work, Lex turned around and took a long look over the busy main street of Metropolis' midtown. His breath hung frostily in front of him as a bright winter sun shone down on the busy city, while taxis honked and people ran to and fro and Lex could honestly say he'd never had thought he could be truly happy again after his financial downfall -- but he was.

He had Clark, a job he enjoyed, his health and a new perspective on life.

For an unlucky son-of-a-bitch, he was luckier than ever before.

Satisfied, Lex entered the main doors, smiling. He was just about say good morning to the security guard when every nearby door and window slammed shut and locked simultaneously behind him, with an audible "TWICK!"

Bewildered, Lex looked around, noticing that the library lights were dimming, then changing into an eerie red glow that bathed the entire floor.

"Frank, what's going on?" he asked the gaping security guard. "Is this a fire drill?"

"Not one I've ever seen," Frank said, scratching his head. Like most library security guards, he wasn't exactly the toughest fellow in the world. "Maybe I should call Mr. Monroe."

That turned out to be unnecessary, as the head librarian, Monroe, came running up to Lex at that moment, waving a large piece of paper in his hand. Behind him trailed the rest of the library staff, including Midge. "Mr. Luthor! Thank goodness you're here," Monroe panted, trying to catch his breath. "I found the oddest letter on my desk just now and I've called a meeting. It's the strangest thing and I ... oh my, oh my ... I don't know what to think. We're not used to such happenings here and, oh dear, I just can't ..."

Without replying, Lex gently extracted the letter from Monroe's shaking hand. He read it and as he did, the blood slowly drained away from his face.

"To the staff of The Metropolis Library, from Ultra-Humanite, greetings."

Oh shit, Lex thought. Shit, shit, shit ...

"As you know, I've recently released myself from my unjust incarceration in the state holding area. As I left, I must say I was looking forward to enjoying some of the books I assumed you'd have to offer me upon my release, but needless to say that upon arrival here last night, I was vastly disappointed.

Except for a very slim few offerings, your selection is unworthy to be called literature by anyone with a mind that operates above a kindergarten level. A library should be a center of culture, not a cesspool of mediocrity which this one undoubtedly is.

To illustrate my point, to you and all the city, I've decided to teach a short lesson in the classics.

Read carefully.

A large explosive device has been strategically placed inside this building, set to go off one hour after staff opening. The five detonators for this device have been placed inside the pages of five bona fide classics of literature, the only five I could find in this morass of inanity.

Below, you'll get one quote from each of these works. It's up to you to find the book the quote is from and disengage the detonator. Once all five are disengaged, the bomb will be rendered useless.

If not ... well, I won't miss this place.

Here are your quotes. Good luck, scholars. If scholars you indeed are.

1. "If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be his punishment--as well as the prison."

2, "Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him."

3, "It was as if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight of subjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly out of alleys that we perceived to be blind, closing with a little bang that made us look at each other--for, like all bangs, it was something louder than we had intended--the doors we had indiscreetly opened."

4. "You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been."

5. "Silly puppy. You found Puddles."

au revoir,
The Ultra-Humanite

Lex stared at the paper in his hand for another moment, then looked up at the clock. The staff opening was at eight and it was already ten minutes after.

They had fifty minutes left ... to live or die, depending on how fast they could figure out the quotes and then, God help them, actually find the books. Lex turned to his fellow librarians, who looked to him expectantly as if he were still Lex Luthor, Man Who Knew Everything.

Too bad that wasn't the case.

Lex took a deep breath and said, "Guys, we've got a situation. And we're going to have to work together to get out of it."


Minutes ticked past, while all of the gathered library workers stood there in shock. Precious minutes and Lex's pulse pounded in his throat as he tried to pull himself together. He'd grown so complacent over the past few months, his life so much more relaxed, he'd almost forgotten about the super villain population constantly assaulting Metropolis and its citizens, from the richest to the poorest.

Almost forgot, but this fixed that memory loss pretty damned quickly.

"Read the quotes again."

Surprisingly, this terse statement was made by Monroe, who'd been rendered pale and speechless during the recital of the Ultra-Humanite's demands.

At least he gets the urgency of this, Lex thought, slowly reading through the quotes and stopping when Monroe held up his hand after the first one.

"/Crime and Punishment/, Dostoevsky," he muttered, before quickly turning to one of the librarians. "Randal, that's your section. Go get it and bring it here. Quickly now."

Ashen-faced, the young man made a mad dash for the fiction area upstairs, as Lex read the next one. "Damn it," he muttered. "I know this one, I just can't ..."

The desk librarian from Periodicals piped up. "Forster, /Howard's End/. But we have more than one copy of that, certainly. I'm not sure they're all here or replaced yet."

"It should be in the right spot," Lex said, with a shake of his head. "If anything, I'm sure the Ultra-Humanite is a fan of the Dewey Decimal system. Okay, guys, let's go for number three." He read through it, pausing with surprise when the words resonated through him as easily as if he were reading from the book itself. "Henry James, /"Turn of the Screw/. God, that was easy...."

"Easier said than finding it," Monroe said, grabbing "Crime and Punishment" from the shaking hands of a breathless Randal who'd just appeared back from his retrieval mission. "James, Turn of the Screw, now," he ordered and Randal stumbled away, the girl from Periodicals trotting after him. "Not to mention we've moved Forster's work to a new protected section, due to constant vandalization. I'm just not sure where that place is." He peered warily at the book in his hand. "Now where the devil is this thing he put in here?"

Lex took the tome from him and held it up to the light, examining its edges. A tiny spec of silver caught his eye and he quickly opened the book all the way, nearly cracking its spine.

"Do be careful, Mr. Luthor," Monroe complained, wincing behind his glasses. "That's Dostoevsky you're abusing."

"Dostoevsky is going to be nothing more than a pile of confetti if I don't get this thing out of here," Lex retorted, while carefully ... so carefully ... pulling out the first of the detonators.

Everyone held their breath as it peeled away from the paper, the tiny red glow in its center fading to nothing once it lost complete contact with the book. Lex heaved a sigh of relief as he examined the strip, which upon closer inspection appeared to be some sort of flexible micro-transmitter, the kind only super villains could get a hold of.

Super villains and the occasional curious billionaire, considering he'd seen such device in LuthorCorp laboratories years earlier. Removing such things from the underworld population, that would be a new goal of his once he gained his status back.

If he lived long enough to gain it back, that was.

The last quote was still staring at him from the paper. "You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been."

For a second, Lex wondered if his father wrote that, but as bloated as his father's ego was, even he wouldn't consider himself a creator of great literature and this quote rang, as they all did, as vaguely familiar. Wisdom that stings, unwelcome gratification ... what the hell ... it was right there, on the tip of his tongue and ...

Suddenly, all the gathered voice rang out at once. "Frankenstein!"

Randel appeared, wheezing for air as he handed over the James work, as well as Forster's "Howard's End". "I'd been reading it during my lunch hour," he explained when Monroe gave him a surprised look. "I'd never read it before," he protested.

"Hmmph, well, here's one I hope you've read before," Monroe said, sniffing. "Shelley, Frankenstein. Go get it."

Randal gaped at him. "We must have a dozen copies of that. Hardcover or paperback?"

"Bring all you can find of both," Lex said sharply, while he searched for the detonators. "And make it fast. We don't have a lot more time left."

Thirty-one minutes to be precise, but Lex decided not to tell them that as he gently pulled the two strips from the book, making sure their red 'on' lights faded completely as Randal took off once again, with renewed energy. "All right, that's three," he breathed. "Randal's getting the Shelley and we have one more left."

Midge, who'd been grimly silent throughout the entire proceedings, took off her glasses and rubbed them clean. "He saved the worst for last, I'm afraid." She returned her glasses to their perch on her nose and nodded sternly at all of them. "We're going to have to do this together. Every one of us."

Monroe swallowed hard. "Surely, it can't be that difficult. I mean, it's obviously a children's book, with a puppy and some creature named Puddles."

She started to stride toward the children's section and they followed after her, Monroe still chattering. "How many books can fall under that description? It's very simple, really and we won't have any issue with ..."

His voice trailed away as they entered the children's section where a virtual mountain of skinny, flimsy books greeted them. Because of their small size, there were more books here, Lex knew, than most of the other sections put together and he glanced at Midge, whose mouth was set into a hard line. "It's from the Biscuit the Puppy series, in which there are forty-nine books, of which we have all, in multiple copies. Many multiple copies."

"But ... but ... that would be dozens of books to look through," Monroe stammered.

Midge shook her head. "Try hundreds."

Shit Lex thought, suddenly remembering just how many times the friendly face of Biscuit had looked up from a book cover at him. A dozen times a day, at least. A shiny, happy, little puppy-face that was going to be the death of all of them and he stared at the overflowing shelves before looking at his watch.

Twenty-nine minutes left to live.

Lex glanced at Midge, then strode to the first row of books and with one sweep, shoved them from the shelf. They fell to the floor and immediately, Midge knelt to sift through the scattered pile with quick hands.

The other librarians followed suit, as did Lex, all of them frantically ripping through books, as the clock continued its countdown ...


Outside of the library, Superman floated above the stone lions, his face set in a grim mask.

The rest of the Justice League members milled nearby, a few making sure none of the gathering crowd escaped their containment ten blocks away while the others bristled at their helplessness. Batman in particular seemed infuriated at being stymied by such a simple predicament, but as Superman's x-ray vision confirmed, there was no way to dismantle the bomb without disabling the detonators -- detonators hidden inside the booby-trapped building.

They'd also received a copy of the Ultra-Humanite's letter, as did the newspapers. Perhaps that had been the worst moment of all, when Lois handed him a copy over his morning coffee and Clark Kent had to run out at normal speed, without bursting through the Daily Planet's windows as his first impulse demanded. She was probably down there somewhere right now, wondering where Clark was, but he didn't have time to worry about that.

He had something more important on his mind. So much more important.

Frustrated by the coat of lead paint covering an infuriatingly smooth-looking bomb, Superman returned to the sidewalk where Diana and The Flash stood, waiting to help ... somehow. "I can't figure out a way in without setting it off," he ground out, his throat tight. "We're going to have to trust them to dismantle it from inside."

Diana touched his arm. "Lex is smart. And brave. If anyone can figure this out, he can."

"Maybe they can Google for the answers," the Flash chimed in helpfully. The suggestion was met with silence. Embarrassed, he shrugged. "Well, I would."

"Maybe," Superman replied weakly. He couldn't remember ever feeling so frightened and sick, even when near Kryptonite. "I just ... I just have to trust him."

Batman strode up, his mouth set in a hard line. "Fifteen minutes and the wires on the doors are still active. Care to consider taking a chance to make a fast in and out, through the roof? It might be our only hope."

Superman shook his head. To have all these powers and still be helpless -- the agony was almost too much to bear. "Too risky. The phones lines are cut; we have no way of communicating our intentions, they wouldn't be prepared for it. And ... I don't know if we'll be fast enough."

There was silence after this, as Diana reached down to take his hand, squeezing it comfortingly. The Flash's foot tapped impatiently and Batman blew out a long breath ...

The grim vigil continued.


Inside the children's section, there was frantic searching but without success.

The sweat beaded and rolled down Lex's neck, but he kept going. There was no way he was going to die like this. He had way too much to live for -- a man he adored, an adopted family back in Smallville, not to mention that for the first time, he actually, honestly and truly liked himself and the person he was, without the burden -- and convenience -- of money.

He was no longer defined by his wealth and power, yet to his great surprise, life was still more than worth living. Lex Luthor, happy with himself at last and there was no way in hell he was going to die just as he reached that elusive point in his life.

"Is this it?!" a bedraggled Monroe shrieked, holding up a book with a dog on it, upside-down.

Lex shook his head. "Orange dog, not blue." Orange dog ... orange fur ... orange fur he took off ... Lex's head jerked up. Wait a second. Suddenly, he knew the book; it was the first book he'd read in story time to the little ones the week he'd started and nearly gotten fired and oh god, he'd kept that book displayed in a holder on his desk as a reminder to take his job seriously and ...

Heart pounding, Lex dashed to his desk, praying it was still there and, holy Christ, there it was. /"Biscuit and The Pumpkin Patch"/, still there and he wasted no time ripping open the book, nearly yelling with joy when he saw the red glow of the detonator.

Three minutes left and he pulled it out, carefully, watching the light fade, waiting for the click of the locks on the doors to sound throughout the building as they opened.

There was no sound at all.

Nothing but silence, and Lex was about to tear out all the hair he didn't have when Randal ran up, waving a copy of Shelley's "Frankenstein" over his head. Everything went into slow motion then as the gathered librarians screamed and Randal slid on a slippery pile of children's books, the book flying from his hand, landing somewhere in the mess.

One minute left.

Without hesitation, Lex dove in and reached for the dusty book. I love you, Clark he thought, as he fumbled through the pages, knowing the clock was ticking down his last minute alive. He couldn't find the detonator, but he had to find it, he didn't have a choice, he was going to do this ...

Ten seconds left. Nine ... eight ... seven ...


Three ... two ... one.

Superman held his breath as Batman counted down the seconds and when he hit zero, everyone around him stiffened. He waited for the telltale concussion, the explosion that seemed inevitable ...

It didn't come.

More seconds passed and there was nothing. Batman checked the read-out on one of his myriad scanning devices. "The doors have been unlocked."

There might have been relief his voice, but Superman didn't notice as he slowly sank to his haunches, his face buried in his hands. After what seemed like days, he rose and took off without a word, flying to the doors, not bothering to open them as he burst through, the other members of the League racing in behind him.

The entire staff of librarians were already gathered in the foyer, looking shell-shocked among the ruins of their shelves, but otherwise unharmed.

Lex stood with them, holding up by the elbow an older man who appeared ready to faint. "What took you guys so long?" he quipped, helping his co-worker over to Diana, who gently picked him and flew him outside to where an ambulance was waiting. "Not up for the pop quiz, huh?"

"I knew all the answers," Batman rumbled in his deadpan way. "Except for that last one. What was it?"

"My favorite of all time," Lex replied, still holding the book in his hand. He tossed it to Batman, who caught it effortlessly. "Nothing like taking your puppy for a visit to the pumpkin patch to stimulate the intellect."

"Mmmm," the Dark Knight replied, whisking the book beneath his cape, no doubt for later examination.

Lex walked up to a pale Superman, leaned in discreetly and whispered. "Don't be upset, it's all right. Everything's all right."

Clark nodded in reply, hardly daring to look at him, in case he burst into tears. "Is everyone else all right? We're going to take you out of here now, two per League member. Who'd like a ride with me?"

"I would," Midge said immediately, planting herself right in front of Superman. There were chuckles from the other co-workers that she silenced with a narrow look. "I'm not dead yet," she grumbled, putting her arms around Superman's neck. "Life is short, if you dummies haven't figured that out already."

Smiling, Lex took Clark by his other arm and closed his eyes against the cool air hitting his face as they flew outside. He breathed deeply as they landed, stopping himself from kneeling and kissing the ground, as Randal was already doing a few feet away.

Life was so damned good, he could barely believe it. It was better than good ... it was /great/. He discreetly squeezed Clark's hand and was gratified to feel the returning clutch, knowing that's all they would be allowed until later, once this entire mess was cleaned up and the Ultra-Humanite put back behind bars, hopefully for good.

Superman would be busy for a while. He and Clark Kent could have their reunion later. They had all the time in the world.

"How about some coffee guys?" Lex said to his co-workers, some of whom were laughing, a few more of them crying with relief. "It's on me."

"Please," Midge said, smoothing down her eternally frizzy hair, now even frizzier after her flight. "You couldn't afford a tea bag shared in six cups." She pointedly ignored Lex's laughter. "It's on me, because I'm retiring, as of this moment. And don't any of you idiots try and stop me."

"Wouldn't think of it," Lex replied, putting an arm around her shoulder. He turned and winked at Clark. "Because life is too damned short to work yourself to death for any amount of money."


As fate would have it, Lex newly enlightened views on money and the possession thereof became meaningless exactly three days later when a registered letter from the IRS arrived at his and Clark's apartment, explaining in very cold, clinical terms that a mistake had been made, that it was all his CFO's fault -- the CFO who was being dragged away from his Mexican cocktail by two undercover FBI agents wearing parrot-shirts at nearly that very second.

The letter went onto claim that as of this moment, all his assets were unfrozen and available for use. Oh, and they were sorry, but not really, as taking people's lives away from them was their job and don't cross us ever again or you'll be even sorrier, sincerely, The IRS.

For a long time, Lex stared at this letter as Clark danced through the house, virtually doing a soft-shoe on the ceiling, singing "Celebrate", in a woefully off-key voice.

Finally, Lex put the letter down with a shrug and went back to his favorite Sunday hobby which was coupon-clipping.

Clark gaped at his non-reaction. "But ... Lex ... do you know what this means? Isn't it fantastic?!"

Lex shrugged and held up a coupon. "It's nice, but not as much fun as buying one Stouffer's lasagna and getting one free. Do you know how rare that is?" He carefully tucked the slip of paper away in his already bulging coupon filer. "We'll have to get it quick, it expires next week."

Clark's jaw dropped. "Lex ..."

"I haven't gone crazy, Clark," Lex said, putting his hand up at Clark's horrified expression. "There are just ... more important things in life than money." He pondered for a moment. "Although I sure will be happy to have some real cheese again."

"And I won't have to hear you bitch about real cheese anymore," Clark said gleefully. He pulled Lex up by his hands and kissed him soundly. "We really need to celebrate."

Lex smiled seductively at him. "It's likely nothing will be unfrozen until Monday. How would you like to have one last round of sex with a poor guy?"

"Mmmmm," Clark replied, pulling him close and nuzzling his neck. "Can I seduce a billionaire tomorrow?"

"Maybe," Lex replied, tilting his head back with a moan, squirming under Clark's touch. "Depends if I get our king-sized bed and good sheets back. Us billionaires have comfort standards, you know."

Clark's smile turned electric in its brilliance. "That's my Lex."


The next board meeting of LexCorp was an interesting affair. It started typically, with Lex at the head of the long board room table, his underlings smiling and nodding at everything he said, coffee flowing and not shockingly, there was only silence about the ... unfortunate ... events of the past few months.

Until Lex brought it up himself. "As I'm sure all of you know, our former CFO is now in the custody of the authorities for the illegal activities he conducted while employed here, in an action that lead to my temporary ouster from the firm."

Much indignant grumbling echoed through the room, most of it from people who'd pointedly ignored Lex when he was in his more dire time of need.

Lex held up his hand for silence. "This particular situation is now in the hands of the legal system, where we will leave it. However, there is a void that needs to be filled, namely the position of Chief Financial Officer."

Immediately, everyone at the table sat up a little bit straighter, a few of the more brazen ones straightening their ties and smiling. It would be someone's lucky day, it seemed, but who's?

Lex glanced narrowly around the table. "Fortunately, I've already found the perfect person for the job, one with many years of experience in handling, shall we say, 'sticky' types of situations." He nodded at his secretary, whom at this signal, stepped outside and waved someone in. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to your new Chief Financial Officer, Mrs. Midge Lovell."

In walked Midge, as frizzy-haired and crab-faced as ever, wearing the approximation of a corporate suit ... if she'd been working for a corporation in 1975. A grinning Lex rose to hug her and helped her into his seat, at the head of the table.

The board room fell into a profound silence.

Through her thick horn-rim glasses, Midge stared at them for several long minutes, watching them fidget.

"Hello, boys and girls," she said finally, smiling what Lex would forever call "a wonderfully dark" grin. "Welcome to hell."


Broadway Joe, or so he'd been called for the past twenty years, had been selling newspapers and magazines from his stand in Metropolis for as long as anyone could remember. He was famous though, not only for his longevity, but for having the peculiar distinction of being the one person Superman bought his occasional newspaper from, which made him a bit of a local celebrity, especially among Superman watchers.

So it wasn't that much of a surprise when Superman flew down to the little wooden stand, especially not to Joe who greeted him as genially as he did all his customers.

"Good morning, Superman. I have a nice fresh copy of the Inquisitor for you today. Not a wrinkle in it."

"Thanks, Joe," said the Man of Steel. "But I need something else. Did you get the pre-ordered copies of next month's "Playgirl" yet?"

Joe blinked. "Why, I think so. All my pre-editions arrived yesterday."

"Could I ask you a huge favor?"

"For you, anything," Joe replied staunchly. "What do you need?"

Superman blushed. Deeply. "I need to buy all the copies you have in stock. Right now."

"Um ... all right," Joe shrugged, baffled, but hey, this was Superman asking, so it had to be for an important reason. He went to the back of his stand and returned with a large, tied bundle of magazines, which Superman gratefully took from his hands before handing him a one-hundred dollar bill and waving away the change.

"You're the best, Joe," Superman said, easily tucking the thirty-pound bundle under his arm as if it were a single magazine. "I owe you big time."

"Like I said, anything for you, Superman," said Joe. He hesitated. "But if you don't mind me asking, when did you become such a big fan of 'Playgirl'?

The Man of Steel shook his head sadly before taking off toward the sky. "You don't want to know. You seriously don't want to know."

the end

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