A Date With The President








Prologue



"Mr. Luthor!" "Mr. Luth-" "Mr. L-" "Mr. Luthor!" "Mr. Lut-" "Mr-" "Mr. Luthor!" "Mr. Lu-"

Kellett McBride, the Press Secretary, pointed at a reporter in the fourth row of the LuthorCorp Towers, Metropolis, press room.

"Jenna Moore, MET-TV," the brunette TV-correspondent identified herself as she rose from her seat. "Mr. Luthor, you are the youngest President-elect in U.S. History. Do you think you have enough life experience to undertake the role of Leader of the Free World?"

Along the edges of the room, television cameras adjusted focus. Flash photographers randomly clicked pictures. Lex Luthor stood at the podium at the front of the room, confident in stance and comfortable speaking to the press.

"I think that anyone who lived through the Quake and evacuation of No Man's Land has more experience than anybody should have in several lifetimes," Lex said. "As you know, I was in downtown Gotham three years ago when the man-made earthquake hit and was one of the fortunate survivors. Evacuation of No Man's Land took months and any able-bodied person pitched in to help. I saw more death and destruction than anyone should have to see, and I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. As President, I intend to keep that promise."

Lex nodded Kellett as the room erupted in calls of his name. The mustachioed African American pointed to another reporter.

"Robert Hayes, Oklahoma City Tribune. Mr. Luthor, when you take office at the end of January, what will be your first priority?"

Lex smiled slyly. "Finding a date for the Inaugural Ball."

Laughter. Kellett chose another correspondent to ask a question. "Zeta Flowers, QNBC. Speaking of dating, do you think that being the President will have a positive or negative effect on your being a single male?"

In the sixth row, a bespectacled journalist jotted a question on his pocket notepad. Lois Lane read what he wrote, leaned closer, and whispered, "Good question, Clark. Ask it."

Clark Kent glanced at his new partner, at Lex, and returned his eyes to his notepad. The question was a leading one, opening an avenue for further investigation on the answer. "I don't think I can. You ask it."

"Kent," Lois sighed exasperatedly. "This is an easy first assignment for you. Don't blow it, or you'll end up writing obits for the Daily Planet until you're fifty."

Clark cringed. He didn't want that to happen. He knew he was lucky to be hired as an investigative reporter for the Planet, when he was so young and held just an Associates degree in journalism. Perry White, the Editor-In-Chief of the Metropolis newspaper, had hired Clark based on his freelance coverage of the events in Gotham beginning three years ago. After the Quake, Clark had gone to No Man's Land to help, using his special gifts while hiding beneath an eye-mask. It was therapeutic for him to write at the end of the day. He sold his articles to the highest bidders and donated the money to the Gotham victims' fund.

Now, as a reporter for the Planet, it was Clark's job to ask questions. But why did his first assignment have to be covering Lex Luthor's first press conference after being elected President? Clark hadn't seen Lex in at least five years. Nothing bad had happened between them with their friendship, they had just... parted ways. Clark went off to Junior College and Lex had returned to Metropolis, where he worked ruthlessly to gain control of over half of his father's company. Now, Lex was President-elect of the United States and Clark Kent was his old friend from Smallville. Clark didn't want to use that fact to his own advantage. It wouldn't be right.

Lois didn't know, and probably wouldn't care, about Clark's inner-debate. When the next round of hand-waving came, she grabbed him intimately high on his leg.

Clark yelped in surprise and jumped up. The press room quieted as all eyes shot to him.

Clark felt his infernal blush heating his cheeks. He poked the nosepiece of the thick black glasses frames, cleared his throat, and winced at the squeak in his voice when he spoke Lex's name. "Mr. Luthor, um, Clark Kent with the Daily Planet."

Clark dared a glance at Lex. The bald man had gone completely still. A myriad of emotions crossed his face almost unnoticed, before disappearing behind a polite mask.

"Uh, if-if you could do one thing over again, what would it be?" Clark asked, cursing his nervous stutter.

Lex paused in replying, staring intently at Clark. As the press in the room started to shift, their interest peaking, Lex finally answered. "I would have taken the chance with the person I cared most about." He smiled suddenly. "Thus, breaking the hearts of many by not being the Most Eligible Bachelor in the World."

Clark sat and scrunched down in his seat as the Press Secretary moved the press conference along. Lois leaned over, her dark hair brushing Clark's shoulder, and said, "There's a story in that response, but neither of us do puff pieces."

Lex lightly slapped the edges of the podium. "That's all the time I have today. Mr. McBride will entertain any more questions."

Clark raised his head. His eyes briefly met Lex's again before Lex strode from the conference room, with the press calling after him.

"Mr. Luthor!" "Mr. Luth-" "Mr. L-" "Mr. Luthor!" "Mr. Lut-"



Part One



"Wow, Kent. This is Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff." Clark sighed, hit the backspace key, and watched as the words disappeared from his computer monitor. He was batting zero for three today.

Around him, the bullpen was hopping. The reporters' newsroom was always loud, no matter what time of the day it was. Computer keyboards clacked. Telephones trilled. The AP-Bulletin beeped steadily. Reporters cursed, yelled, begged, and threatened sources. They made bets, played games, cheered and booed the winners. Pages and interns scurried between the haphazard rows of metal desks, stacks of papers, folders, and research material in their arms.

Clark's desk was in the corner, half under the stairs leading to the Senior Editors' offices as well as the office of the Editor-In-Chief, Perry White. While the corner gave Clark a hint of privacy, the pounding of feet on the stairs was a huge annoyance.

"Kent!"

Clark shoved his chair sideways and he rolled out from under the stairs. Looking up at the silver-haired man standing at the balustrade, he answered Perry's bellow. "Yeah, Chief?"

"Where's the piece on the First National Bank job?"

"Printing, sir," Clark lied, his blank computer screen taunting him.

"Good. Bring it up when it's done." Perry chomped on his ever-present cigar and stalked away.

"Okay, sir!" Clark called after him. Dragging a hand through his shaggy, dark locks, Clark rolled back to his desk. The cursor on the monitor blinked maliciously at him.

Despite his total lack of production today, in the three months he'd been at the Daily Planet his byline had appeared on over half of the front page news stories. He'd been in several articles, as well. Or rather, 'Superman' had.

Clark had to give Lois credit for writing serious stories about a guy who flew around in a shocking blue bodysuit. Her articles had all been positive, detailing his actions without making the real heroes -- the police, the fire department, and the EMTs -- seem trivial. Superman couldn't be everywhere or do everything, and he wasn't psychic. Clark had had a long conversation with his parents about publicly using his gifts and they had agreed that he should limit his heroics to major catastrophes. While even a single life was precious, Clark would burn out in mere days if he tried to save everyone, and he'd lose his sense of self beneath the mantle of responsibility.

The costume was one of the ways Clark separated himself from his role as Superman, just like a comic book superhero. The blindingly bright colors and garish design were purposeful. Human memory was a fickle thing; those who saw him would remember the costume and not his face. He wore bulky fake glasses, now, too, when he was himself, rather than Superman, to provide an additional shield. It was amazing how unobservant people really were, even top-notch investigative reporters, like Lois Lane.

Clark removed his glasses, threw them on his cluttered desk, and rubbed his eyes. "Think. Think. Think. First National Bank. The hold-up was a cover-up for an electronic theft. You know the information, now tell the world."

Clark stuck a piece of gum in his mouth, tossed the end of his tie over his shoulder, and glanced around as he cracked his knuckles. Assured that no one was paying attention to the geek under the stairs, Clark let his fingers fly over the keyboard. Less than a minute later, he was proofreading his 1,000-word article, glasses back in place, and calling for one of the pages. "Molly!"

Molly Albright's blond, bubbly teenaged-self scurried over to Clark. "Yes, Mr. Kent?"

Mr. Kent. Clark mentally grinned. He would never get used to people calling him that. "Take this up to the Chief, Molls." Clark handed her his story as soon as it finished printing. "Let him know I have a line on a connection between the teller and a similar robbery five years ago. I'm just waiting for confirmation."

"Will do."

Her footfalls were on the stairs a moment later, causing the calendar Clark had pinned to the underside of the steps to vibrate. Taped beside the calendar was a car air freshener, a menu for Beijing Chinese Take-Out, a matchbook from the Bunny Hut Adult Bar with one of his sources' home address and phone number on it, and a condom wrapper decorated in purple magic marker with a date and a smiley-face.

Muffled trilling came from somewhere around Clark's desk, and he began shifting through food wrappers, empty coffee cups, colorful flyers, coupons, scraps of notes, memos, old red-marked stories, and highlighted clippings from rival newspapers. He found a broken comb, a half-used tube of toothpaste, a line of unused condoms, and his press badge from the Delinquents concert, with the lead singer's hotel room number written on it in purple magic maker.

Clark grinned widely, took the gum from his mouth, stuck it to the back of the badge, and tacked the badge next to the condom wrapper on the underside of the stairs.

The phone continued to ring. Clark found it in his wastepaper basket, the receiver rubber-banded to the desk set. The rubber-band became a necessity after he found himself missing important calls because he'd knocked the phone off the hook.

"Clark Kent."

"Hello, Clark. Lex Luthor. I was about to give up on you."

The familiar sound of Clark's old friend's voice wrapped around him like his favorite worn flannel. Clark stilled his reach for the pen in his shirt pocket, pressing the phone receiver closer to his ear. "Lex?"

"I take it you remember me," Lex said dryly.

"Of course I do!" Clark said quickly. "I didn't expect... it's been... except it hasn't... Lex!"

Lex's warm laughter rolled over the line. "And to think, you're a reporter. I guess your skills with the English language are confined to writing."

"You surprised me, that's all."

"I thought investigative reporters for the Daily Planet didn't get surprised."

"Har-har," Clark said. He frowned. "Wait, how did you know I worked for the Planet?"

"You announced it at my press conference back in December," Lex said. He mimicked Clark. "'Mr. Luthor, uh, Clark Kent with the Daily Planet.'"

"Oh. Right." Clark blushed, feeling like an idiot. He shoved at the glasses on his nose. "So. Uh, hi."

Another deep chuckle. "Hello, yourself."

"I sound like a mega-dweeb, don't I?" Clark grimaced. "Sorry. I just really wasn't expecting to hear from you. Plus, it's been weeks since I saw you at the press con-..." he trailed off, eyes falling on the calendar. It was February.

"Lex," Clark said tentatively. "Where are you calling from?"

"My new office," Lex replied. "Did you know, it's actually more circular than oval-shaped."

Clark dropped the phone.

He tried to catch the receiver before it hit the floor, bobbled it, lost it, snared the curled cord and yanked back. The receiver swung up and clocked him in the mouth. "Dang it!" The receiver hit the arm of his desk chair on the downswing, before Clark managed to wrap his fingers around it.

"Lex?"

"Hmm?"

"You're at the, uh, White House?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Which means you're--," Clark gulped, "--officially the President?"

"Mm-hmm."

Clark popped up his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose in mortification. He was on the telephone with the President of the United States and acting like an utter boob. "M-Mr. President, my apologies for being so informal--"

"Clark," Lex cut him off, "it's 'Lex' calling, not the President."

"Same difference, sir."

Lex sighed. "Fine. But right now you're talking to the same Lex Luthor you've seen naked."

"That... actually makes it worse."

"Thanks a lot."

"Well, what do you want me to say?" Clark asked. "You're the most powerful man in the world and I shouldn't be uncomfortable because I've seen your fanny?"

"Clark, tell me you just didn't use the word 'fanny.'"

Clark groaned in embarrassment. "I should probably hang up now and save myself from further humiliation."

"Don't you want to know why I called?" Lex questioned with a chuckle.

"To prove that I'm still a bumbling farm hick and not a savvy metropolitan reporter?"

"Depends. Are you wearing flannel?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Clark saw Lois making a beeline for him. Her navy pants-suit was streaked with oil and grime and she had a smudge along the side of her aquiline nose. Her dark hair had partially escaped from its chignon and her full lips were pursed in anger. "Ut-oh."

"What?"

"My partner is about to castrate me, I think." Clark turned his back to the approaching woman. "I'd better say goodbye."

"Not until you agree to be my guest at the Inaugural Ball," Lex said.

Clark blinked. "What?"

"The Inaugural Ball. It's this Saturday night. Black tie," Lex said. "I know it's last minute, but I can fly you from Metropolis to DC in under two hours. Say yes."

"You want me to come to DC, to attend the Presidential Inaugural Ball?"

"I do."

"Wow. Oh, wow." Clark couldn't believe it. The press was never invited to these things! "I'd be honored to attend."

"Good," Lex said. "My Social Secretary will be in touch with you tomorrow sometime."

"Okay. I can be better reached by my cell phone, though." Clark could feel Lois's eyes boring into the back of his skull. He cupped his hand over the mouthpiece and rattled off the phone number.

"Got it," Lex said. "It's been nice talking to you, Clark. I'll see you Saturday."

"Bye," Clark said. "And thank you."

He hung up the phone, rubber-banded the receiver to the cradle, and placed the desk set on top of his computer monitor. Unbelievable. The President invited Clark Kent, cub reporter, to report on the Inaugural Ball.

Behind him, Lois impatiently cleared her throat. Clark spun around and jumped out his seat. "Not now, Lois," he said, heading quickly for the stairs. "I have to talk to Perry."

"Clark!" Lois squawked, rushing after him. "You stop this instant and explain why I have oil on my $500.00 suit!"

"Flat tire?" Clark guessed, stopping at the Editor-In-Chief's door. He knocked and pushed the door open at Perry's "Come!"

Perry was seated behind his large oak desk, chomping on the nub of his cigar. An overflowing ashtray full of butts rested near his elbow, and a haze of smoke hung in the air. Hard and fit, wearing a permanent scowl, he waved the papers in his hand. "Great story, Kent. Molly says you've found a connection to a past incident?"

"It should be verified by tonight, sir," Clark said, ignoring Lois, who stormed into Perry's office behind him.

"Good. Good." Perry dropped the pages on his desk. "Now, what do you want?"

"I'm going to Washington, DC, this weekend." Clark puffed up importantly. "I've been requested to cover the Presidential Inaugural Ball."

Lois snorted in an unladylike manner. "You? I don't believe it."

"I'm serious," Clark glowered at her. "I just got off the phone with the President."

"Of Fantasyland, perhaps."

"You're jealous."

"And you're delusional."

"At least I don't look like I've been wrestling a garage mechanic."

"Ooh. You are so paying for a new suit."

"Shut up, the both of you!" Perry snapped. "You're both over thirty, act like it."

"Uh, actually, Chief, I'm only twenty--," Clark began.

"Button it!"

"Buttoning it, sir." Lois snickered. Clark glared at her.

"Kent," Perry said. "DC-- is this true?"

"Yes."

"Then, I want no puff pieces," Perry stated. "I don't give a crap about who wore what, who danced with who, or even which intern is spreading her legs this year." He thumped the desk with his hand. "What I want to know is, who's making under the table deals and which votes are being bought."

"Aye-aye, Chief."

"Lois!" Perry's sharp eyes pinned on her. "Where's my story on the refinery?"

"It had a flat tire, Chief," Lois said with a dirty look at Clark.

Perry growled. "Lois..."

"I need Clark's help, sir," Lois said. She wrapped her blunt, unpolished claws around Clark's arm. "That's why you assigned us as partners, right?"

Perry grunted and waved them away. "Then, get to work. I have an evening edition to put out."

Lois yanked Clark out of the office and rounded on him in the hall. "You are dead meat, buster." She poked him in the chest. "Dead. Meat."

Clark looked down at the tiny spitfire that was his partner. "Is there a problem, Lois?"

Lois waved her fist under his nose. "Be glad that I wouldn't hit a man wearing glasses." She grabbed his tie and began dragging him downstairs, towards the elevators. "I overheard that Heitz was meeting with Fletcher at the BE-3 offices. I need you to distract the viper at the front desk while I sneak past."

"Okay, but I'm driving," Clark said, pulling his tie from her grip and straightening the knot.

"I want to get there before the meeting, Clark."

"Are you saying that I drive too slow for Her Royal Pain-In-The-Ass-ness?

"Jimmy chooses lenses for his camera faster than you drive."

"Ouch. That one hurt."

"Enough to give me the keys?"

Clark smiled at her as they stepped into the elevator, hitting the button for the parking garage. "Not a chance, Maria Andretti."

Lois folded her arms and huffed. The elevator doors closed on Clark's laughter.



Part Two



Clark gaped like a large mouth bass caught on a line, as the limousine pulled up the drive. He was at the White House. He was really at the White House, the workplace and home of the President of the United States. The President. Who was Lex Luthor, suave, sophisticated businessman and prior best friend of Dork Kent, Supergeek of Smallville. Clark once had a spray-can Cheez-Whiz fight with the elected leader of the country. He had taught the Chief Executive of the US how to floor skate in his socks, down the long, newly polished hardwood halls of the castle. Clark had seen the most powerful man in the world naked, as Lex had oh-so-helpfully pointed out over the phone, when playing nursemaid for a month after a more serious Smallville mutant attack on him.

It felt surreal. Clark stepped out of the limo and climbed the stairs to the front doors of the White House. A uniformed man immediately took his winter coat, giving him a numbered coin in return. Another uniformed man with a leather portfolio requested his name before he walked through security.

Clark tried not to look like a tourist, but... wow. He was inside the White House!

His eyes were huge behind his hornrims as he gawked at the opulent decor. Everything gleamed: the marble floor, the dark wood furnishings, and the gold fixtures. The artwork on the walls was undoubtedbly original. The chandelier hanging above cast sparkles that were nearly blinding. The men and women, too, looked lavish in their tuxes and evening gowns. None of them seemed uncomfortable or out of place -- or stared like a kid in a candy store -- as they walked arm-in-arm towards the ballroom.

"Mr. Kent?" Clark turned at his name and found himself eye-to-eye with a woman who put supermodels to shame. She was tall and curvaceous, with smooth cafe-au-lait skin set off by a stunning emerald gown. Her multi-braided hair was twisted in a perfect knot on the crown of her head. She had onyx-colored eyes, high cheekbones, a perfect nose, and full lips painted a deep shiny mauve. She was simply beautiful. Exquisite. Clark could be tempted to go straight, just for her.

"Hi. I'm, uh... uh... me." Clark felt his cheeks heat up. He poked at the bridge of his glasses. "I mean, I'm Clark Kent."

"I'm Charlene Glass, the President's Personal Secretary," Charlene said, her voice like liquid silk. "If you'll follow me, the President has requested your presence in his private quarters."

"O-Okay," Clark stammered, flushed and flustered. He again tried not to stare as he followed Charlene, but the way the lights caught the sequins of her dress was like a beacon guiding his eyes to her posterior.

"Clark?"

Clark's gaze shot up quickly, but his guilt was pushed aside immediately at the sight of his old friend. "Lex!"

Lex Luthor, dressed in a black tuxedo and crisp white shirt, met Clark halfway across the anteroom. Clark was about to embrace the slightly shorter man, when he caught sight of a Secret Service Agent out of the corner of his eye.

"I won't get shot if I hug you, will I?" he asked warily.

"I'll shoot you myself if you don't hug me, Kent." Lex took the initiative and embraced Clark briefly. "It's good to see you."

"Same here," Clark said. He smiled mischievously. "This is a great place you have. A definite step up from that drafty old castle in the corn."

"I almost didn't take it," Lex said. "One of the caveats on the lease was that I had to give up my cars."

Clark gasped dramatically. "All of them?"

"Every single one."

"Including the Lamborghini?"

Lex sighed forlornly. "Even her."

"Harsh." Clark paused, then asked causally, "Can I have her?"

A corner of Lex's mouth curved up. "Your father doesn't allow me to give you vehicles as gifts, remember?"

"Ah, but I don't live with my folks any more." Clark grinned and held out his hand. "Gimme."

Lex laughed without restraint. "Damn, I've missed you."

"Enough to give me the Lamborghini?"

"Not that much."

"Rats."

Lex snickered, clapped Clark on the shoulder, and guided him towards Charlene. "Clark, this is the most powerful woman on Earth, my Personal Secretary, Charlene. Without her, I'd be just a bald guy in a big white house."

"We've met, briefly," Clark said, shaking her hand. He ducked his head and grinned sheepishly. "I'm sorry if I, um, drooled on your shoes."

Charlene flashed him a smile. "Don't worry, they're water-proofed."

"Clark Kent, you were flirting," Lex said, guiding Clark towards the Secret Service Agent standing beside an open door.

"I'm a reporter now, Lex. It comes with the job," Clark said.

"Does it get you anywhere?"

Clark winked. "The women seem to like bumbling geeks."

Lex shook his head. He gestured to the trim, stony-faced man as they passed him. "Tom Hershel, Clark Kent. Tom is the head of my Secret Service detail. I go nowhere without him."

"Must be heck on dates," Clark said.

"I'll let you know."

Clark glanced at Lex, curious about the comment. "Does that mean you plan to keep in touch after the Inaugural Ball?"

"If only to check on my Lamborghini," Lex joked.

They entered a richly paneled study. Dark cherry furnishing decorated the room, with two armchairs situated at angles in front of a fireplace. A bookcase filled one wall entirely. A wet bar stood in one corner. Lex went directly for it and uncapped a crystal decanter.

"Drink?" he asked Clark.

"A short one," Clark replied. He sat in one of the armchairs and accepted the glass of amber liquid with a murmur of thanks.

"So, five years." Lex sat in the other chair, looking regal in his tux. "What have you been doing with yourself?"

"Writing, mainly," Clark replied. He held out his hand. "I now have newspaper ink running through my veins."

"I take it you enjoy being a journalist," Lex said dryly.

"It's the best," Clark said. "In a world full of secrets, I'm exposing the truth, whether it's bad or good news."

It seemed hypocritical. Clark worked at revealing secrets and he had the biggest one of all. It was one of the reasons Superman granted Lois an interview. He presented his alienness to the world because people deserved to know the truth.

But if he told the world the full truth, that he, Clark Kent, was the alien, he would cease to be. Clark Kent would vanish. Instead, he would just be "the alien," and at minimum, he would be discriminated against. At the worst, he would be locked up, or expelled from every populated country, or even killed.

Clark always kept that in mind when reporting and it was why his sources were strictly confidential. He would never print a story that would lead to someone's death, and had quashed one such story at the Planet so far. He simply gave the information to a trusted Metropolis Police Detective, instead.

"Well, you certainly are a good journalist, from what I've read of your work," Lex said, sipping his drink. "Your articles on No Man's Land are especially powerful writing."

"Thanks," Clark said. He frowned in confusion. "I thought you didn't know that I was a reporter until the press conference."

"I didn't. The FBI investigated you when I decided to ask you to the ball. I just read the file." Lex smirked. "You've received a lot of parking tickets, you bad boy."

"A story waits for no parking meter," Clark quipped. He was uncomfortable, however, with having been investigated. The possibility of linking him with Superman was extremely slim, but there was always the chance if he was under scrutiny.

"I am curious, though," Lex said casually. "Except for those articles appearing in various papers, you didn't seem to exist for a few years, between college and your taking the job with the Daily Planet."

Clark adjusted his glasses, his shield from Superman's world. "That's because I lived out of a backpack in No Man's Land during that time. Where do you think I got the information for the stories?"

"Hmm. True."

"Mr. President," Charlene addressed from the doorway. "It's time, sir."

"Thank you, Charlene." Lex rose, took Clark's empty drink, and set both glasses on the bar. "Clark, I have to do a Pomp and Circumstance entrance. Charlene will take you down to the ballroom. I'll see you shortly."

"Okay." Clark followed Charlene back the way they'd came to the residential quarters. He adjusted his tuxedo jacket, straightened his bow tie, and combed his fingers through his unruly mop of hair. He was about to hobnob with Congressmen, Supreme Court Justices, and visiting dignitaries. Hopefully, he wouldn't embarrass himself, or Lex.

The Grand Ballroom was huge. A hundred tables, seating eight each, were spread throughout the gilded room, leaving the wood dance floor empty in the center. A small string orchestra played quietly from a raised dias. Multiple chandeliers cast a soft glow over the ballroom and the lavishly dressed couples seated at the tables.

The tables were covered in ivory linens. The place settings were bone china and silver servingware. Tuxedoed escorts with silver lapel pins seated the guests at their pre-assigned tables. Secret Service Agents, also in tuxedos with gold lapel pins, stood unobtrusively around the perimeter of the room. Wait staff in crisp white uniforms served drinks to those already seated.

Charlene escorted Clark to his seat, then disappeared with a nod of goodbye, leaving him alone with a table full of strangers, who stared at him with unabashed curiosity. Clark pushed up his glasses and sat down between a California blonde playboy-type gentleman and an empty seat.

"You must be Mr. Kent." The blonde extended his hand. "Brad Winters, the President's Chief of Staff. This is my wife, Veranda."

Clark shook Brad's hand as the picture-perfect brunette woman beside him uttered a welcome. Brad continued the introductions around the table. "Across from me is Mr. Vice President James Johnson and his wife, Susan. And across from you is Chief Justice Gordon Levy and his wife, Lucy."

"Hello," Clark greeted with a subdued smile.

There was no time for further conversation, as the orchestra began playing "Hail to the Chief." Everyone stood and turned their attention to the main doors of the ballroom.

Uniformed Marines entered first with the American flag. The flag was posted beside the door. The Marine Honor Guard pivoted and stood at attention. The most decorated one stepped forward and announced, "The President of the United States!"

Applause started immediately as Lex strode into the ballroom. His smile was pure show. He shook guests' hands as he passed by tables. He raised his hand in greeting to others. He was in his element, cool, confident, and collected in the presence of world leaders. He also looked dang sexy in a tux, in Clark's opinion. Running a country, however, took more than the cut of one's clothing. It also required schmoozing the population, and Lex could do that in spades.

"Thank you," Lex said into the microphone set up temporarily in the center of the dance floor. The applause died down. "Welcome, everyone, to the White House and my Inaugural Ball. I wanted to start off my tenure in office on the right foot."

The orchestra began to play the "Hokey-Pokey." Big smile from Lex as laughter filled the ballroom.

Lex held up his hands and people quieted. "Really, though, I do want to thank you all for coming and, whether you voted for me or not, be assured that I plan to take my job seriously. Tonight, however, I am going to eat, drink, and dance, and I hope everyone will join me in doing the same. Enjoy."

The wait staff immediately came out with the first course, as Lex took his seat beside Clark. Tom, the Secret Service Agent, moved unobtrusively into position behind Lex's table, near the wall.

"Mr. Vice President, Your Honor, Brad, ladies," Lex greeted politely. "I assume introductions have been made?"

"Yes, Mr. President," Brad replied.

"Though nothing beyond that," Chief Justice Levy said. He looked across the table at Clark. "Tell me, Mr. Kent, as I seem to be the only one surprised to see you at this table, what is it that you do?"

"I'm an investigative reporter with the Daily Planet in Metropolis, Kansas, sir," Clark said, picking up his fork after a salad was placed before him.

"Clark and I are old friends, Your Honor," Lex said. "We both lived in Smallville, Kansas. I was the dashing rake in the vast castle and Clark was my delivery boy."

"You make it sound so lewd," Clark commented. "Besides, I was more than just the delivery boy."

Lex flashed a grin. "Now who sounds lewd?"

Clark's face heated. "That's not what I meant."

"I know it wasn't," Lex said, briefly laying his hand on Clark's forearm. "Clark was my closest friend in Smallville," he explained to the others at the table. "I helped him to become an adult, and he helped me to relax." He smiled softly at Clark. "We had a lot of good times together."

"They're some of my best memories," Clark agreed quietly, caught up in Lex's smile, which reached his eyes. Those smiles, Clark remembered, were rare to see in public, but Clark had received them often when they were alone, and most were associated with his fondest memories.

Clark had earned one of those smiles when he showed up for a fencing lesson wearing a red bandana on his head and a saran-wrapped whole uncooked chicken tied to his shoulder. Once Lex had stopped laughing, Dread Pirate Kent had stormed the castle and had a long, manor-wide swordfight with King Luthor, up and down the stairs, out on the balcony, through the cavernous halls with their epees ringing, until Clark's dramatic demise on the front steps. Lex had collapsed beside Clark on the stairs, gave thanks for making him play, and smiled with such fondness it made Clark's heart squish. Then, they ate the chicken for dinner.

Clark was on the receiving end of Lex's contented smile once, when they had been lazing around the manor's study. Clark had been on the floor in front of the fire, with Lex on the couch, his bare feet propped on Clark's stomach. They had been talking about nothing and Clark had started to rub Lex's feet, until Lex made a sound that could only be classified as a purr and that smile curled his lips.

Another time, Lex had appeared at the high school Clark's senior year, the day he'd gotten his Lamborghini. He had been leaning on the cherry red vehicle, other students circling the pricy car and gawking, when Clark had exited the school. Clark had gaped in amazement like everyone else and only his lightning reflexes had allowed him to catch the keys when Lex pitched them to him. Then, Lex had smiled happily at Clark and climbed into the passenger seat without saying a word. Clark didn't hesitate, and neither did Lex when he paid $1,050 for Clark driving 150 miles-per-hour in a 45 miles-per-hour zone.

The conversation moved on from Clark and Lex's past relationship as dinner continued. The food was delicious, much better than Clark's usual fare of Chinese take-out, pizza, and the occasional deli sandwich.

The orchestra began playing again after the meal, and Lex opened the dancing with the Chief Justice's wife. The Vice President and his wife joined shortly afterwards, followed by other guests.

Clark noticed that Veranda looked longingly at the dancing couples, but Brad seemed disinclined to ask his wife to dance. Clark stood, rounded the table, and held out his hand to her. "Would you like to dance?"

"I'd love to," Veranda said, placing her hand in his. Clark glanced at Brad and Brad tilted his glass in acceptance.

Clark led Veranda onto the dance floor. Veranda was tall in her heels, almost as tall as Lex, and fit near-perfectly in Clark's hold. She followed Clark's lead without trouble and they joined the slow circle around the floor.

"You dance well," Veranda commented during the second song.

"Thanks to Lex, I do," Clark said. "He taught me all the dances he'd learned while at boarding school, even the Latin steps." A grin played on Clark's lips. "He'd get really silly whenever we tangoed, fluttering his lashes and acting like a senorita."

Veranda shook her head. "I've known Lex Luthor for four years now, and I can't picture him doing anything remotely silly. Brad and I consider him a friend, but the most relaxed I've seen him is by not wearing a tie when he'd come over for dinner."

"Well, it could be because I was only in high school back then and that effected his behavior," Clark guessed.

"You were in high school?" Veranda looked stricken, glanced around quickly, and lowered her voice. "Do not tell anyone that you were only a minor when you and Lex were dating, unless you want to see Lex impeached."

"Dating?" Clark sputtered in laughter. "Me and Lex? Not a chance. We've never dated."

"Oh." Veranda frowned. "From the way Lex has been talking about you for the past few months, both Brad and I had assumed you two were an ex-couple."

"No, we were just really good friends," Clark said. "Besides, Lex is straight as a ruler."

Veranda laughed this time. "Yes, if the ruler is a carpenter's square."

The dance ended, and Clark was tapped out by Brad before he could question Veranda. "I think I would like to dance with my wife now, if you don't mind," Brad said as the next song started.

Clark gave up his partner, made his way off the dance floor, picked up a glass of champagne from the table, and began circulating. Perry would throttle him if he didn't return with a story. He could figure out what Veranda had meant later.

The ball went on into morning, the last guests leaving in their limousines a little after 3:30 AM. Only Clark remained, invited to join Lex for a nightcap in the residence.

"Did you enjoy yourself?" Lex asked when they were alone, once again in the study.

"Immensely." Clark accepted the decaffeinated coffee the night housekeeper had brought for them. "I have enough information for about six stories, if I can dig up proof and verification."

"I take it that you're one of those reporters who's always working," Lex said, pulling off his bow tie and unbuttoning his collar. "Doesn't that upset potential girlfriends?"

Clark raised his brows. "The FBI didn't report that I'm gay?"

Lex went still, mid-reach for his coffee. He looked at Clark for a moment, before a slow, predatory smile crossed his face. "No, the FBI did not," he said. "They only reported that you were single and currently unattached."

"You're not upset or anything, are you?" Clark asked, concerned. He'd hate to lose Lex's friendship now that he found it again.

"Not at all," Lex drawled slowly. "Especially since you're over twenty-one."

Clark frowned. "What does my age have to do with it?"

"Only everything, Clark." Lex picked up his coffee, leaned back in his chair, and smiled mysteriously. "Now, tell me about the six stories you could write from the information gleaned at the ball. I want to know if I should be investigating, too."







Continued